Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good Night & three pennies

Isn't there some adage about people dying in three's?

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Freshly baked from CNN:

ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Michelangelo Antonioni, one of Italy's most famous and influential filmmakers, has died at the age of 94, city officials in Rome say.

Considered the cinematic father of modern angst and alienation, Antonioni had a career spanning six decades which included the Oscar-nominated "Blow-Up" and the internationally acclaimed "L'Avventura" (The Adventure).

His death on Monday night followed that of Swedish film legend Ingmar Bergman, who died on Monday aged 89.

"With Antonioni, not only has one of the greatest living directors been lost, but also a master of the modern screen," said Rome mayor Walter Veltroni Tuesday. His office said it was making plans for Antonioni's body to lie in state on Wednesday.

Antonioni's deliberately slow-moving and oblique movies were not always crowd pleasers but films such as "L'Avventura" turned him into an icon for directors like Martin Scorsese, who has described him as a poet with a camera.

Antonioni was born in 1912 in the northern Italian city of Ferrara. He directed his first feature, "Cronaca di un amore" ("Story of a Love Affair"), in 1950 at the age of 38.

Over the next two decades Antonioni worked with some of the greatest names in post-war Italian cinema like Marcello Mastroianni but it was not until the 1960s that he emerged on the international stage.

Read the rest of the article, press here

a few pertinent youtube clips:

Trailer from Criterion Collection edition.

Amazing long take from the film Professione: Reporter (1975)

Relevant articles from Senses of Cinema.com

Biographical piece by James Brown

Essay on L'Avventura by Gregory Solman

Discussion of Blowup by Jonathan Dawson

Film studies programs the world over need to brace themselves.
Any director who became famous or received critical acclaim just before or just after the world wars are going to make headlines within the decade.

pic cred: google image search

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Smooth Criminal and Funny Face club scene: the less obvious comparison

It is fitting to discuss Fred Astaire when analyzing Michael Jackson's dancing style. However, a less obvious comparison may be Audrey Hepburn. Note that she too wears white socks with high-water, skinny black trousers and black penny loafers. The club scene in the film Funny Face (Stanely Donen, 1957) and Michael Jackson's video for the song "Smooth Criminal" are deserving of a close, comparative study. Jackson does at times move with the grace of a true ballerina.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Victimless crimes?

I was searching "angry drivers" last night on youtube and came across this short clip:

Probation for throwing cup of ice into car
Judge decides against prison; woman was mad at driver she said cut her off

Updated: 3:26 p.m. ET Feb. 22, 2007

STAFFORD, Va. - A woman convicted of a felony for throwing a cup of ice into a car that cut her off in traffic was sentenced to probation instead of prison, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Jessica Hall faced between two and five years in prison after she was convicted last month of maliciously throwing a missile — the cup of ice — into an occupied vehicle. No one was injured in the incident last summer.

Read rest of article here: MSNBC

I was wondering what people think about prosecuting victimless crimes. I'm not sure what the legal definition of the term is (if there is one), but is it absolutely necessary to bring charges against someone who might have intended to harm but in the end nobody is physically hurt?

Or, is it a waste of taxpayer's money to prosecute someone when their actions--however stupid, mean or technically illegal--has no immediate negative consequences to anyone?

For instance, you take a can of coke and you want to throw it at someone's face but you miss. Nobody is hurt and no property is damaged. Or, you catch your wife cheating on you and in a moment of rage, take a plate and throw it at her. You miss and it hits the wall and breaks. Nobody is hurt. The wall is not damaged--it was your own plate you broke.

Ultimately, what should ever be put on trial? The outcome of a person's actions or the motivation and intentions of that person's actions? (not counting what the prosecution needs to prove in order to charge someone with murder vs. manslaughter, eg. motive OR/AND intent)

Im not suggesting that I think unsuccessful crimes should be dismissed. But, it's a thought-provoking issue.

A person cannot be arrested or prosecuted for thinking about doing something illegal--but they can be for attempting and failing to complete the doing of something illegal.

Ironically, very few people are rewarded for wanting to do something good and trying to do something good but failing at doing something good. Eg. teachers who wont give students brownie points for effort.

I wonder why that is. No good deed goes unpunished. No points for trying (unless youre trying to do something wrong and mean and evil).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jailhouse, Rocks...

Inmates in the Phillipines doing a choreographed routine of Michael Jackson's Thriller....

Apparently they've also done Queen...I think this is a hugely innovative way to boost morale and channel energy for jails. Not that I'm an expert on rehabilitation, or anything.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Stole My Face! or the world of celebrity twins

Two examples of celebrity twins.

The first set: Mia Kirshner (The L-Word, The Black Dahlia, Exotica) and Amy Adams (JuneBug).

Mia Kirshner on the Craig Ferguson Show.

Amy Adams on the Craig Ferguson Show.

The second set: Elias Koteas (Exotica, The Thin Red Line, Shooter) and Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU, Oz, Runaway Bride).

Elias Koteas in Fallen (Gregory Hoblit, 1998)

Christopher Meloni talking about Law & Order: SVU

Come to think of it, they both look like Robert De Niro.

Originally posted at Sthemingway

pic creds: yahoo movies, google image search

Monday, July 9, 2007

From the archives: following up on Kate Bush

This is reprinted from a post from my live journal, dating May 5, 2006

For some reason, alternative British musician Kate Bush reminds me of experimental filmmaker Maya Deren, not just as a result of a somewhat striking physical resemblance, but the from what I've seen of Deren's Meshes in the Afternoon (1943), thematical similarities as well. So it was that sthemingway's post with the story reminded me of Un Chien Andalou (Luis Buñuel, 1929) and she brought up Maya Deren, and I remembered Kate Bush, and then I began to wonder what was up with her now. I check periodically every several months to see if there is any news from this brilliant, but very reclusive songstress. Much to my surprise, Kate had indeed recently released a new album, entitled Aerial, marking her first new musical foray in 12 years since The Red Shoes.

I love Kate Bush. I don't own all her albums, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because her songs can be patchy, but when she's good, she's absolutely brilliant. The Hounds of Love is one of my favourite records ever, probably second ONLY to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (this is understandable). The story goes that Bush was a protege of Pink Floyd's, in particular of David Gilmour, and that they helped bring her onto the British scene. Her U.S. commercial success was not so great and she goes unheard of here, minus some radioplay of "Running Up That Hill" in the 1980s and of "This Woman's Work" because it was on the soundtrack for that movie "She's Having a Baby." However, in London, I still hear the original version of "Wuthering Heights" and even "The Kick Inside" on the radio from time to time, and no doubt she ranks pretty high up there among 'best female musicians.' Sarah MacLachlan and Tori Amos owe quite a lot to her, as they have indicated.

I need a whole other post to talk about The Hounds of Love. It's a concept album; by then, concept albums weren't anything new. Pink Floyd themselves helped pioneer it with the just as brilliant, though not a favourite, The Dark Side of the Moon. However, what a concept album The Hounds of Love is. It's a 2-part album, with the second half a mystical journey through the mind of a woman who is drowning.

But back to Aerial. It's lovely and it's very soft. It's probably her best effort since The Hounds of Love and certainly her most thematically coherent. It's a thought piece on the cycles of life. While I loved individual songs on The Sensual World a lot more, that record was all over the place. No song on here is as good as that title track; however, as a whole, it's remarkable. Kate Bush's piano playing is rich & lovely to listen to among the sparse instrumental arrangements. My only hope is that Kate does not wait another 12 years to release a followup.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cool Reads at Senses of Cinema

I declared myself a film major at Emory University in the spring semester of my freshman year (2000). At this time, the Internet was not a reliable enough source for academic research unless A. the web site or page from which one gathered information was maintained by a credible person (professor, industry expert) or organization (a film school, a museum, a library, an official site, online news sources) or B. the professor had recommended it for consulting. Reception studies (the study of how a text is consumed, processed, and manipulated by critics and the general population; aka part of the content of MIT professor Henry Jenkins's book Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture) wasn't as widespread then as it is now.

By the time I started taking film classes in my sophomore year (2000-2001), I found myself having to use the net to research the Japanese anime Revolutionary Girl Utena. By the time I graduated from undergrad in 2003, professors were more willing to accept a "Works Cited" page consisting of credible online sources. While I was in Emory's graduate film studies program (2005-2007), online research was deemed integral to the process not only because the number of legitimate cites had increased, but also because the kinds of research done--cultural studies, interdisciplinary studies, reception studies--sometimes demanded the incorporation of these sources.

One of the online sources that I used many times during my undergrad and graduate careers was a place called Senses Of Cinema, an online journal maintained by academics of a variety of humanities fields. I was browsing the site today and came across two very interesting and well-written articles, one about digital video and film stock, the other about the film Blade Runner.

Of all the many discussion board entries, essays, and columns written about the former topic, this one by Professor Wheeler Winston Dixon of the University of Nebraska is the best. Here is a brief excerpt:

Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) on DVD, for example, 21st century viewers realize that they are watching (optimally) a 35mm negative transferred to digital memory and then downloaded to a DVD for home use, and that the final image they watch “copies” the filmic nature of the original image, but at the same time gives only the “impression” of its original source material. But given this a priori assumption, 21st century viewers quickly move past this empirical certainty to embrace this newly digitised image as the simulacrum of a 20th century medium. There is no sadness in this and no betrayal of the maker’s original intent; it is merely a translation from one image capture medium to another.

Certainly it can be argued that this is an oversimplification of a rather knotty problem; film comes with one set of values inherently present in the stock itself (a tendency towards warmth in colour for some film stocks, or towards cooler hues in others, as well as characteristics of grain, depth and definition which are unique to each individual film matrix), while the digital video image offers another entirely different set of characteristics, verging on a hyperreal glossiness that seems to shimmer on the screen. To achieve a reconsideration of the basic states of representationalism inherent in any comparison of these two mediums is a difficult task, calling into question more than a century of cinematic practice, and a host of assumptions shared by practitioners and viewers alike

VCRs, along with a host of other factors, eventually killed drive-ins, making it possible to view a film at home with ease and convenience; DVDs wiped the VHS format out of existence a few years after their introduction. In the same fashion, second-run theatres were also killed off by the burgeoning DVD market, as the window between VHS and the theatrical release of a film and its appearance on DVD dwindled into nonexistence. And yet, as the public audience for 20th century cinema film becomes increasingly specialized and narrowly segmented, to the point that American Blockbuster stores no longer even bother with a token “classics” section – even such reliable standbys as Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) are ignored in most of the chain’s stores – for those who embrace the past a wider range of films has become available. Often these DVDs go out of print in a matter of months, so one must purchase them immediately upon their release, as fetish objects that also have a temporal existence of their own, and a thriving bootleg “industry” exists as well, making copies of all but the most fugitive films available to the private collector.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

I've fallen asleep every time I've watched Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982). David C. Ryan's, assistant communications studies professor at the University of San Francisco, piece on the 25th anniversary edition, though, is remarkable. It has the best introductory paragraph ever. Yes, ever. Here is the introduction:

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner opened twenty-five years ago to scornful critics and a disappointed public confronted by a moody, violent and densely layered science fiction film governed by existential themes and Marxist tendencies. Most journalistic critics found the film’s tone aloof, its themes remote and its story too stark to digest. Although the film was valorised for its bold and rich production design and was praised as the cinematic phenomenon of technological artistry, Blade Runner was largely condemned and discarded as a curious and expensive debacle – full of powerful images yet plagued by inert intellectual rewards. Diverse American critics such as Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffmann complained that the hero’s humanism lacked depth and verve, and that the story is clouded by confusing themes. Scott, they said, was far too interested in developing style rather than content, more interested in detailing his sets than developing his script. These views were (and are) unsatisfying.

To read the rest of the piece, click here.

Because I like Senses of Cinema so much not only for research but also for enlightenment, I have included it as one of the links on the right side of the main page.

Intuitor Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics is also a fantastic film-related site that I read just for fun. I haven't had the opportunity to write an essay that would make use of the site. It is also located on the right.

Artists Separated at Face: Maya Deren & Kate Bush

Dancer and experimental filmmaker Maya Deren's short film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)is probably the most widely screened example of avant-garde and experimental or feminist filmmaking. I first saw it when I took Introduction to Film Studies in 2000 and found it simultaneously mesmerizing and unsettling. I watched some more of her work when I took a female directors graduate seminar in 2005. After a few more viewings of Meshes of the Afternoon, I was still mesmerized but not nearly as unsettled.


A Study in Choreography For Camera (1945) is really fascinating as well (and not the least bit unnerving).

Maya Deren was also a philosopher and film theorist.
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Her films are often included in the curriculum for film classes and feminist theory classes, but I'm not sure about dance classes. A choreographer and filmmaker visited Emory in the spring of 2004 to give a talk about how video technology and choreography intersect. I attended the lecture to do research for my Operational Aesthetics paper on televised football. During the Q & A section, I asked if Maya Deren were making her films now, how would her work be received? The choreographer gave the audience a very brief bio about her "in case anyone wasn't familiar with her work." I wouldn't be surprised if more students out of Intro to Film or Psychoanalysis or Women's Studies knew her name and had seen Meshes of the Afternoon than students out of Dance Theory.

The title of this entry is so named because there is another female artist whose work I find absolutely intriguing and who could be Maya Deren's twin aesthetically and creatively. Her name is Kate Bush.

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Bjork might be more blatantly eccentric and surreal than Kate Bush, but I think there's an unmistakable Maya Deren presence in Kate Bush's music videos. I don't remember the first time I heard Kate's song "Running Up That Hill," but it was on a cassette tape a poet friend of mine sent to me years ago, and it sounded so familiar. There is a moment in my past that I cannot recall!

Musically and lyrically, some people would more readily cite a Tori Amos connection with the following song (a reverse connection that is, since Kate Bush was releasing music a decade before Tori). To me, though, the visuals make the song more Maya.

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If she feels so inclined, Ishtar might reprint an entry she wrote on Kate Bush in her personal blog.

Also posted at Sthemingway

pic creds: google image search

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Love Road Basketball Glory

I’ve always been more or less neutral towards basketball and futbol. Though both sports are momentum-driven and require their athletes to move with lightning speed pretty much all the time, I never took to either sport via telecasts.

March Madness comes and goes on TV without a glance from me; same thing with the NBA Finals. A friend of mine is a huge basketball fan and while I was working on my thesis, he would frankly insist that shooting hoops was superior to making touchdowns…conceptually and in actuality. Basketball, he argued, demands a lot more out of its players than football does its own. Excelling at the former sport utilizes a combination of intelligence, athletic ability, and talent that surpasses that of the latter.

I still love the gridiron game, but I have to admit that my appreciation for basketball has increased considerably after watching Love & Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000) and Glory Road (James Gartner, 2006).

I vaguely remember Gina Prince-Bythewood’s film being in the theatres. As it turns out, I was less familiar with its plot than I was with the film’s place in the year 2000. Prior to watching the film, I had not read up on what the film was about–I knew there was basketball and a romance subplot. I didn’t know that the lead female character would be playing ball too.

Written and directed by Prince-Bythewood, Love & Basketball follows Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) from childhood to early adulthood as they pursue their NBA dreams and grapple with the distractions and tensions commensurate with realizing their respective goals. The film is divided into four parts. It begins with Monica and Quincy as pre-teens (played by Kyla Pratt and Glenndon Chatman respectively), establishing how they first meet. She’s the new next-door neighbor and can play ball just as hard as he can.

The second, third, and fourth sections of the film focus on a different period of their lives. “Second Quarter” covers the 1988 basketball season at Crenshaw High School where Monica plays on the girls team and Quincy the boys. “Third Quarter” spans the 1988-1989 schoolyear at USC where Monica and Quincy also play basketball as freshmen. The “Fourth Quarter” looks at both characters’ lives in 1993; Monica has been playing for Spain for seven months and Quincy is recovering from a torn ACL injury he sustained while playing for the Lakers. The love component to the story manifests itself through Monica and Quincy as they realize that they mean more to each other than default friend.

In addition to developing the mutual attraction and affection between the two main characters, Prince-Bythewood’s film also uses this relationship to raise questions about gender roles and equality. Monica isn’t simply characterized as a tomboy or even slightly more athletic than her mother would like. She is feisty, temperamental, and a fighter. Quincy’s “personality” is less complex and functions more as a counterpart to Monica. In fact, as sports movies go, Love & Basketball virtually reverses the gender dynamics of its two primary student-athletes–at the very least, it assigns certain qualities typically associated with the (male) athlete to Monica rather than to Quincy.

For instance, the object of most sports films is to present a coming-of-age or redemption narrative by forcing its protagonist (an individual or a team) to learn the hard way how to succeed. Whoever is a bit too cocky, a bit too introverted, or a bit too unruly are all made to recognize and then relinquish or re-appropriate those characteristics. Along this journey, the protagonist must overcome obstacles and conflicts such as his own pride or fear as well as others’ critcisms.

Love & Basketball re-works this narrative pattern by offering cockiness and stubborness to Monica. She exhibits the attitude of an athlete who prioritizes the game above all else. Quincy, on the other hand, provides a contrast to that mentality by assuming somewhat of feminized position within their relationship. She is “better” at the game than he is; and while he still participates in archetypically male behavior (with female characters), the film is more interested in defining him in terms of or against his father, a former Clippers player (Dennis Haysbert) who proves to be a less than ideal role model. When the like-father-like-son mentality that Quincy had been carrying all his life suddenly fails to suffice, his insecurities become too much for him.

I would argue that Prince-Bythewood’s film is more about Monica and Quincy as individual basketball players one a thematic level. Furthermore, it is the way in which their lives play out on and off the court that builds and fuels the viewer’s concern. I’m not one to pull out the “F” word lightly, but I think it’s relevant here. From a narrative and ideological perspective, Love & Basketball can be considered a feminist film. That the film features a real high school (Crenshaw) that is known for its great girls and boys basketball teams and real USC women’s basketball players or that the story depicts Monica as more of the athlete (including being shouted at repeatedly by her USC coach) is just part of it.

I think the film has feminist undertones because it allows basketball to serve metaphorical purposes for Monica instead of Quincy. I don’t want to give away the last important scene in the film (or the film’s ending for that matter) because I really enjoyed Love & Basketball and highly recommend it. I will, however, say that the game means to Monica something that is usually associated with young males.

This film conveys the basketball-is-not-just-a-game message but through the eyes of a female. I’m sure some feminists would find it problematic that the film can’t tell this story without making Monica adopt a few male-athlete personality traits but I have no complaints. I don’t even mind the love thread–in the end, it works out better than I could have imagined. So go Netflix it or Blockbuster it today!

Originally posted at Sitting Pugs. To read about Glory Road, click here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

You Remind Me of Someone: Deleting Memories

According to a Yahoo News article, "Researchers at Harvard and McGill University (in Montreal) are working on an amnesia drug that blocks or deletes bad memories. The technique seems to allow psychiatrists to disrupt the biochemical pathways that allow a memory to be recalled."

Good idea or bad idea?

Good idea:

1. "Now I never have to remember that lousy date."
2. "I can finally forget I ever saw that piece of lard of a movie."
3. "I can forget that pathetic mess of potatoes and butter you call mashed potatoes."
4. "I can forget how bollocks freshman year was at college."
5. "We can break up and not have to remember the good times we had.

Bad idea:

1. "Danggit. I was there, Detective. I was at that restaurant! I was with a lousy date...but I don't remember anything about that night."
2. "Damnit...I've seen this movie already--and it still sucks."
3. "Ewww.. why you feedin' me this, fool?"
4. "Oh man, I think you lived down the hall. I think you were the only kid that didn't annoy the schittballs out of me. Damn. Wish I could remember more."
5. "Didn't we sleep together once? You smell familiar."

What if:
1. The memory-erasing drug only cancels out the information and stimuli your conscious mind processes. In other words, you may recall details of that night, for instance, what color car the suspect was driving or that he smelled like pizza and clam sauce, that do not directly relate to the memory of the lousy date.

2. You still remember that you saw it and thought it a waste of time and money--you remember this as a fact, but as far as the film itself...that is what you do not recall.

3. see #2.

4. see above.

5. see above.

This drug is bound to get into the wrong hands/be used for the wrong reasons. Think of all the crimes a person could get away with because eyewitness accounts would become even more unreliable or non-existent.

Megaman Music at the Kennedy

I might as well admit it publicly--my boyfriend is an avid, practically obsessive video game music fan and he's slowly starting to convert me. After five years, god knows how many tracks of blips, bloops, midi-rips, and Megaman remixes, I'm starting to appreciate the fact that the soundtracks to games I enjoyed during my childhood are experiencing a renaissance under the hands of some very creative, very talented, and very professional musicians.

Everybody knows the classic Super Mario Bros theme a sort of ragtime/calypso homage with a 6/8 back beat to keep the player moving forward. Well, here is just one example of how the hands of artists are making a more than 20 year-old game come to life again for new and old audiences alike.

What's more, the music produced for video games today is also some pretty sophisticated stuff, capable, in many cases, of standing on its own outside of the context in which the games are played. I remember when, I think it was the Outrun game series, developed an option where you could listen to different music as you played. It was only maybe something more jazzy and something neutral, and something metal rock I think--all the same theme.

Flash forward a decade or so, and Grand Theft Auto had several different soundtracks in the form of discreet "radio stations" you could turn on in your car as you played. Each station had pretty extensive song lists and usually funny DJ and commercial segments. GTA was really seminal, in my mind, of breaking through stereotypes of what kind of background music a game had and for good reason, the general public began to sit up and take notice of just how much an elaborate soundtrack can add to the gaming experience.

But don't ask VGM officionados. They'll tell you that although the memorable tunes may have started with Mario and Zelda, the industry has always pushed the boundaries in what people have often thought of as disposable electronica. Their hard work and some intrepid fan loyalty has paid off. Today, masterworks like those in the later versions of the Final Fantasy series, Halo, or Myst, rival something Ennio Morricone or John Williams might write.

And as filmmakers and video game executives become more and more interdependent, I wouldn't be surprised if one day, after it's finally released, Halo, the movie, actually did get an Oscar nod for best score.

And so we come to me being backstage with some some of the most prominent American video game music composers, Jack Wall and Tommy Tallarico during the Video Games Live concert here at the Kennedy Center in our nation's capitol.

The sold-out, two day concert featured the National Symphony Orchestra playing orchestral versions or medleys of some of the most popular video games of all time. Audience members often come in costume for a contest that, at least when I was there, pitted a cardboard, duct-taped, red Tetris block against a blue-spandexed Megaman. Tetris won, and I was just grateful to have my eyesight preserved after Megaman did a few too many revealing poses.

Here's a sample. That's Jack Wall conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

During the concert, montages from the video game featured play in sync with the orchestra. This may not only be a good way to reference how the music augments the game playing experience, but also a fabulous way to promote the games, themselves, not to mention keep the highly ADD audience interested.

There are also segments where audience members are selected to come up and play Frogger or Space Invaders, two dinosaurs of the gaming world that are so kid friendly and simple they'd bring a smile to even the coldest censor's heart. It truly is a show for all ages that doesn't seem to forget its roots, although much of the music from games I didn't know (God of War, Medal of Honor, Advent Rising etc...) sounded very similar in format and style. Maybe it was that all of it was orchestral, maybe it was that the sound mixing was so bad.

It was often hard to distinguish the chorus, female soloist, or Tommy playing his electronic guitar for the finale from the orchestra and that was pretty frustrating. It sounded like a lot of good stuff was going on that just went over my head because of the acoustics.

Given you have Tetris blocks and Megamen running around, you can guess that the audience is usually really enthusiastic, which I think shook a few NSO member's nerves as they were trying to play. On the other hand, they all realised it was probably the first time they'd played to an audience of 2500 (each night!) in many years.

As I sat in the backstage area for the NSO, surrounded by autographed photos of illustrious musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, with the Nat's game blaring on the TV in the background, I spoke with some members of the strings section.

While one violinist was a little bit snobby about it, the other musicians seemed to enjoy playing the music and were pretty generous with their praise. You could tell many were truly enjoying themselves on stage as well. One bassist even started head-banging with Tommy during a piece.

It was at this point, that I realised that when I'm old and my children are going to concerts of music that's probably a-tonal to me, old folks homes and elementary school bands will probably be playing video game music, where they once may have played Superman and Love Story themes.

Let's face the facts. Hollywood is becoming less and less profitable, and films are being released as DVDs more and more quickly. Video games are also becoming an increasingly important component to a film's merchandising offering. Steven Spielberg already knows this and has been getting his feet wet with a few select video game projects, most notably Medal of Honor.

Socially, we're bowling alone on our Wiis, texting instead of calling, chatting on AIM instead of hanging out, and logging on to play video games with people all over the world from our living rooms. Who knows if a few years from now, our trend toward self-isolation and personalization of our electronic world will lead to the triumph of the "choose your own adventure" video game over that of the summer blockbusters.

And the music will be there, bigger, better and more influential then ever, thanks to fans/musicians/artists like these:

Monday, July 2, 2007

Yes House Follow Up: Jackie O, We Loved Her So

Visual aids for Ishtar's post on sibling incest in film.

A clip from The House of Yes (Mark Waters, 1997).

A clip from the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena (Kunihiko Ikuhara, 1997) based on the manga by Chiho Saito.

A clip from Angels & Insects (Philip Haas, 1995). Warning, graphic state of undress.

FYI:Based on certain scenes in the film, Eugenia (Patsy Kensit) is certainly willing to have sex with her husband and several times (at least thirty minutes into the film). I recommend this film for Kristin Scott Thomas's fantastic performance. Haas's film is based on A.S. Byatt's novella Morpho Eugenia.

The Fashion Tightrope

People who know me are well aware of my obsession with fashion. Although I believe I can appreciate every piece of clothing’s special artistry, from graphic tee-shirts to cocktail dresses, I read Vogue magazine with special interest, hoping as I flip the pages of couture that I will be afford to purchase one of those amazing pieces. I’m not an indiscriminate follower of fashion—I of course find certain trends ridiculous and for example, have never been comfortable with low-slung pants or the need to show one’s thong to others. But I try to keep with the times and think I manage to blend the best of my taste with the current.

On the surface, there seems to be nothing more to note about this interest of mine. So many women share it that it’s hardly remarkable. But a conversation that comes up repeatedly between a friend of mine and me deserves analysis. We’ve titled it the Tension of Fashion. It’s the strain between what we should wear in any given situation and what we really want to wear as individuals. This question has nothing to do with sexuality. We’re both fairly conservative in terms of dress; add to that the fact that we’re both thin and you see that sex appeal is something that’s in the eye of the beholder. The conversation has more to do with what appears appropriate to everyday folk and what appeals to our so-called heightened sensibilities.

I have a black spaghetti-strap dress in a post-modern shape—it curves out on both sides like a tulip and finishes with a series of pleats that fan out from the chest. When I purchased it, I imagined finding a decorated headband (the kind that goes across the forehead) and adding elbow-length gloves to finish the look. It is not a sexy dress. It is a fashion dress out of synch with regular life—even at a party. My mother thought it dreadful, and my brother took one look at it and asked what I had been thinking when I bought it. It garners no attention from men. But I like it tremendously. So does my friend who keeps up with fashion.

I also have a black halter dress, low cut with an open back, which I wore to an important fund-raising dinner. It’s a sexy dress; though nobody besides me noticed, my black bra showed through its open neckline. It’s not unusual in any sense. Of course I like it, but I know its function. And so when I wear it, I bring nothing to the table except a pair of modest heels and a little red lipstick. Anything else would look out of place. But at this dinner, I got ample compliments on the dress by both men and women. The speaker of the event even made a very subtle pass at me (so subtle that I didn't catch it until someone else pointed it out).

Clothing and fashion, whether “high” or “low,” plays an important role in our lives for better or worse. It sets a first impression. It affects how others judge us. A well-put together person is associated with a well-put together life. So it is inevitable that clothing also gives people an unfair first impression. A girl’s outfit is still blamed by society as an invitation for sex—indeed, who hasn’t heard of the “too sexy” outfit’s responsibility in violence against women? One rape survivor I knew could not wear spaghetti straps for years after the incident.

This is an extreme example, of course. The conundrum I speak of is not determining the rules of modesty, but of balancing individuality and accepted social norms. Every day, women (and men, too, of course) make choices about the clothes they wear. Do women feel compelled to dress a certain way at work because they feel they must to be taken seriously? More often than not, the decisions made are based on others’ perceptions of what is appropriate. Patients prefer physicians not to wear high heels or long earrings. So how would it look, for example, if a physician wore an up-to-the-minute knee-length bubble skirt to work? How appropriate is it for an attorney to wear skinny trousers and a long tailored jacket in the office? Are high-waisted slacks worn with suspenders appropriate in a boardroom? If modesty is the only relevant issue, and this base is covered, than why is it that following fashion continues to be considered a frivolous interest, though it plays such an enormous role in our day-to-day lives? Is it because of the emphasis on women in the industry?

Virginia Woolf once remarked that when a novel addresses war themes, for example, it is immediately deemed an important book. But if a book is to center on topics of interest to women, and here she mentions fashion as an example, it is disregarded and passed over for longevity. Come forward about a hundred years and things haven’t really changed.
No one has actually made a connection between the quality of service administered and the fashion consciousness of a particular professional. That said, to judge someone’s commitment to their work or their intelligence simply based on the fact that they like interesting clothing is unfair and reeks a bit of misogyny. Great clothes—and I don’t just mean designer-made pieces, but anything that is well designed and original—require us to bring more of ourselves to the table creatively. They ask us to think outside the typical boundaries of life and break with routine—all those things that business consultants are constantly asking for in the corporate setting. This is no different. So walking the fashion tightrope is just another expression of one’s self and asks for the best from us daily. And anything that asks us for our best is a worthwhile endeavor.

Sibling Incest in Film (spotlight on The House of Yes)

As I was looking into this concept, I was mildly surprised to find that it is not at all an uncommon theme in myth, literature, and cinema. Incest among siblings may be particularly relevant among fraternal twins of the opposite sex, where one could claim the bond is stronger. In Balinese culture, twins were forced to marry because of the assumption they had sex in the womb. Native American Mohave culture regards male-female twins as having been married in heaven (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twincest).

As incest is taboo in most cultures (though the definition varies), its’ revelation is always shocking and monstrous. It destabilizes social relations once it is no longer a secret. In the film Cruel Intentions, incest takes on a more sinister turn as it manifests a rivalry between two step-siblings (Ryan Philippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar). In Clueless, it is almost cute. In The Royal Tenebaums, Richie Tenebaum (Luke Wilson) is in love with his adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). We tentatively accept it in these cases, though finding it mildly scandalous, because of the lack of a blood relation.

Incest between siblings is also a fairly common concept in Japanese animation. In Revolutionary Girl Utena, members of an elite high school circle compete for possession of the mythical “Rose Bride.” In her incarnation as a high school student, the Rose Bride-- Anthy Himemiya-- engages in a semi-consensual incestuous relationship with her sexy, but dominating older brother Akio. He himself has a literally split personality, which expresses itself as two separate characters during the series. Anthy is torn between her long-standing duty to serve and to protect him and her unconventional love for her friend Utena.

The most well-known implication of an incestuous pairing is probably in Star Wars, where twins Luke and Leia develop a romantic attraction to each other prior to realizing that they are related. While there is definite sexual tension between them and even a kiss, it is replaced with filial affection once they both know the truth, and Leia herself becomes attracted to Han Solo before this fact is revealed, thereby conveniently avoiding tragedy.

In A.S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects, a Victorian naturalist marries the beautiful Eugenia of a rich family that has been his patron only to discover that she has been involved in a long-standing incestuous relationship with her brother which goes further than just incest, but also to inbreeding. All of her children are discovered to be those of her brother’s and Eugenia reveals that though she had tried and wanted to be normal and good, she was unable to put a stop to it.

Of course, all these examples invite the question—why? While incest implies a breakdown of normal, human relations at the most primal level, at the same time, it is primal in and of itself, and falls comfortably into Freud’s concept of the uncanny—“that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known and long familiar.” ("The Uncanny", p. 200). We are all attracted towards the familiar. Daphne du Maurier’s use of incest in her writing is related to the concept of “home” or the attraction towards that which is familiar, unconscious or not.

Perhaps the most compelling, clever, and layered use of it as a thematic device belongs to The House of Yes (Mark Waters, 1997), a film based on a play by Wendy MacLeod. The film adaptation is at once a gothic horror spoof, dark comedy, and historical reenactment—but mostly I feel that it operates with the precision of a Greek tragedy and the gut-wrenching emotional impact of Racine. The film stars Parker Posey as Jacqueline Pascal or “Jackie-O” and Josh Hamilton as Marty Pascal, reunited after an indeterminate period at Thanksgiving (during an unseasonable hurricane). Marty has brought home a fiancé, whom Jackie is meeting for the first time. During the course of the night, it is revealed that Marty and Jackie had been having sex with each other for a very long time. It probably began at age 14 with an Ides of March party in which they attended as John F. Kennedy and Jackie Onassis, as Posey's character relates, “in a pink Chanel suit, pillbox hat, and blood on my dress.” Posey, who herself has a twin brother twin in real life, owns the film. Her performance is visceral, frightening, and poignant.

On the day of the Ides of March party, the twins had invented a ritualistic game --a reenactment of the Kennedy assassination (in which Posey's character as Jackie Kennedy doubles as the killer), to enable them to break boundaries and to make love to each other (http://wendymacleod.com/plays/house_of_yes.shtml). Fraternal, opposite-sex twins are as close to each other as any man and woman can be. They are closer to each other than any friend or future significant other can be. That is somewhat tragic, because other women and men will always be sidelined (I’m not sure if I could be with a man who had a twin sister—I’d know I could not, nor would I want to, compete with that). This is of course not to say that all twins are incestuous because evidently the majority of them are not, but more to put the question out there: If they are already that close to each other, is sex between them really that shocking or unnatural? The twins’ mother tells Marty’s fiancé, “All I know for sure is that Marty and Jackie belong to each other.”

In the myth of Narcissus, our mythical Greek character is unable to come to terms with his own reflection, and drowns in it. Freud defines Narcissism as “unbounded self-love . . . which dominates the mind of the child and of the primitive man” (The Uncanny, p. 256). Jackie tells her twin, “Now you and I Marty, have a great deal in common: parents, DNA, bone structure.” Younger brother Anthony feigns being appalled by the revelation of their sexual liaison (though it’s clear that he himself always knew) and exclaims, “It’s like fucking a mirror!” In incestuous narcissism, according to Gail Finney, “erotic energy is transferred from the narcissistic individual to the object most like himself, his sibling.” (“Self-Reflexive Siblings: Incest as Narcissism in Tieck, Wagner, and Thomas Mann. The German Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 2, p. 243). Finney’s analysis concerns siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde in Richard Wagner’s “The Valkyrie,” in which the two find each other after a long period of separation. The attraction develops as they recognize the similarities in each other and they end up having sex. Sieglinde gives birth to Siegfreid, an iconic figure in Norse mythology. Finney writes, “Sieglinde realizes that only upon seeing Siegmund did she become fully conscious of herself. . . Siegmund is her mirror” (p. 247). In The House of Yes, Marty attempts to argue with his fiancé that sleeping with his sister is analogous to sleeping with himself.

Towards the end of the film, Jackie (in particular) and Marty both began to confuse the historical memory of Kennedy's death with their reenactment game, and with the departure of their own father 20 years ago on the same day. Jackie asks Marty to reenact the game with her one last time, promising to then restore him to the real of normalcy. The tragedy is that ultimately, Marty and Jackie’s relationship presents a crash of their world with the “normal” world and there is no room for reconciliation. Marty and Jackie are in love with each other and it’s not a love that can exist in the world outside of their own house. At the end, they are both aware of and confront and embrace this truth.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sun sets over Evening

As a fan of Claire Danes,

Patrick Wilson,

and Hungarian directors, I went into Evening (2007) with much enthusiasm. I left the theatre feeling anything but enthused. Based on Susan Minot's novel of the same name and directed by Lajos Koltai, Evening mixes reverie, different time periods, and gorgeous cinematography to tell the story of a dying woman's recollections of her past, specifically the wedding of her best friend decades ago.

The previews suggest that young Ann Grant (Claire Danes) and a Harris Arden (Patrick Wilson) character are responsible for the death of their friend Buddy (Hugh Dancy). The film certainly addresses this plot point....but doesn't delve into consequences of this event. I haven't read the book, so I don't know about its structure in terms of when and how the past and present collide or transition into the other, but the film is non-linear, going back and forth between the time periods as the narrative deems appropriate.

Amazon.com provides a tiny, tiny excerpt from the book as well as a scan of the back cover. Based on the book's plot synopsis, the film version altered character details and possibly the point-of-view of the story. Not POV in terms of narrator, but POV in the sense of how invested the audience is in what happens.

The past consists of the weekend of Lila Wittenborn (Mamie Gummer) and Carl Ross's (Timothy Kiefer) wedding and the circumstances that lead to the death of Lila's younger brother Buddy. The present is comprised of Constance (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette) spending time with their mother (Vanessa Redgrave) on her death bed. The conversations that take place in the present cover topics such as whether Nina is happy, whether Nina is ever going to settle down, and why Nina is so curious about the people that her mother mentions during fits of half-sleep. The scenes of the past explain who these people are to the viewer. Constance and Nina never get these visuals. There's a brief segment where they are looking through their mother's old letters and cards, but there aren't any photographs that the viewer is aware they have seen. The viewer learns about what Ann Grant was like as a young woman, her daughters do not. Nina gets a healthy dose of life lessons--too bad she's not nearly as compelling. In fact, the past is a much more interesting place than the present; it's certainly more pleasing to the eye.

The cinematography, courtesy of Gyula Pados, is fantastic. He only has a dozen titles to his resume as a director of photography, but as Kontroll (Nimrod Antal, 2003) and Fateless (also directed by Lajos Koltai, 2005) demonstrate, Pados is more than qualified for the job. Furthermore, having worked with Koltai once before on Fateless, adapted from the novel by Hungarian novelist Imre Kertesz, he undoubtedly developed an awareness of the director's tendencies and modus operandi on the film set.

The past segments are strikingly reminiscent of Edward Hopper and Maxfield Parrish paintings.

Here's the film's poster. The film beginning credit sequence is similar to the color's here.

Edward Hopper's paintings.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

by Maxfield Parrish.

Evening has so much going for it. A great cast, amazing visuals, and solid directing throughout. So why did I leave the film saying aloud to the parking lot, "I didn't like it." I probably need to read a longer passage from the novel to get a better understanding of the novel's structure and "mise-en-scene," but from the short excerpt provided by Amazon.com, it seems that Koltai has effectively captured the tone of the source. Observe:

A new lens passed over everything she saw, the shadows moved on the wall like skeletons handing things to each other. Her body was flung back over a thousand beds in a thousand other rooms. She was undergoing a revolution, she felt split open. In her mattress there beat the feather of a wild bird.

I found it very refreshing that the past and present didn't meld into one another via tracking or pan shot of an object or crossing a threshold. Narratively, the film's weakness had to do with what happened after Buddy dies. Aside from a lot of tears and a mother played by Glenn Close convulsing, the whole concept of guilt as an emotion or legal consequence never surfaces.

The film does, however, convey the notion of regret but not in any devastating kind of way. I guess it would've been too cliched if Nina's curiosity takes over the furthering of the plot (and subsequently the scenes of the past) by discovering specific letters and photographs of the relevant people; and thus she pieces together what happened that weekend that would cause her mother to hover over it while she's breaths away from death.

FYI: Susan Minot co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Michael Cunningham, who also wrote the novel on which The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002) was based. He also produced it. So whatever wrong with the adaptation is "hard to pin down."

Meryl Streep plays old Lila.

Barry Bostwick and Glenn Close as young Lila's parents.

Susan Minot's book:

Here's a funny story about this film. Evening and Nancy Drew are connected in at least three ways.
1 The film makes a direct reference to Nancy Drew in a dialogue piece.
2. Barry Bostwick is in both films.
3. Patrick Wilson was in Little Children with Jennifer Connelly, who was also in A Beautiful Mind. Ed Harris was in A Beautiful Mind as well as Step-mom, and so was Julia Roberts. Her niece is Emma Roberts, the star of Nancy Drew.
4. Claire Danes was in A Little Women with Susan Sarandon, who was also in Step-mom with Julia Roberts, whose niece is Emma Roberts, the title character in Nancy Drew.

The trailer of Evening

pic creds: google image search, yahoo movies, amazon.com

Originally posted at Sthemingway

A revised version of this review can be found at FilmThreat