Sister Novena's PortaPulpit
freedom, liberalism, movies, and truth

Saturday, July 10, 2004
The Children Of Sick Celebrities

I've never been much of one for celebrity-worship; I've met a couple, and I have experienced the strange, confusing familiarity that comes when you see someone famous on the street. Mostly I've always been astonished to discover that the vast majority of television and film stars are considerably shorter than me, which is a weird sensation.

But there have been a few cases when a seriously-ill celebrity has caused me a bit of low-level, sympathetic sorrow, only because I've known their kids and I feel bad for them. David Bowie's current heart problems are a case in point: I went to film school with his son (the one originally called Zowie, although he no longer uses that name), and now that I'm reading about David Bowie in the paper, I feel really bad for his son. This isn't because Bowie Jr. was a friend of mine -- he was a few terms behind me, and while I met him and drank with him a couple of times, I didn't even realize who he was until just before I left school. We weren't even remotely close. And yet, while David Bowie is cool and all, I feel a lot more sympathy for this guy I barely knew, who's no doubt doing a lot of sitting at the hospital with his sick dad these days.

A similar thing happened a year or two back with Warren Zevon, whose daughter Ariel attended my college at the same time I did. Again, I knew her but we weren't particularly friendly... I always caught a whiff of unappealling snottiness from her, although to be fair that could also have been garden-variety guardedness. If I'd been raised by Warren Zevon, I'd probably be pretty guarded, too.

But when I learned that Warren was suffering from terminal cancer, all I could think about was Ariel -- how awful for her, how terribly sad. It happened again when he died (especially what with that rather black album coming out just prior).

I didn't particularly care about these celebrities; I didn't particularly care about their kids. So why does it bother me in this context?
7:17 PM ::
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Random Assortment

My horoscope for today, excerpted:
A powerful desire to radically change your life might fill you today, Amy, and you might find yourself considering some rather outrageous courses of action, such as selling everything and hitchhiking across Australia.

Were that "everything" was worth enough to pay for that; I'd be gone within the day. Anyway, I've been wanting to hitchhike across Australia since I was 8 years old. (Okay, maybe not hitchhike... I'd cross on horseback, though.) Score one for the dodgy seers.

My recent letter to my old and new potential professors, excerpted:
The Co-op created a massive shift in my perspective on filmmaking. Prior to getting involved with the Co-op (and even somewhat afterwards) I was very industry-focused; I had been trained to be useful to the industry, and I limited my indie enthusiasm to documentary film (which I also adore). Through the Co-op, however, I have met people that made me deeply question my assumptions about filmmaking. First among them, of course, are the filmmakers with whom I work on an ongoing basis, but also included are those who have come into contact with the Co-op over the last couple of years, people like Kelley Baker, Rob Nilsson, and Todd Verow, people for whom independence is more important than popular success.

All of this gradually created in me a new passion: the belief that we are at a pivotal moment in the medium, when technology has finally advanced to the degree that filmmaking becomes a viable means of expression not only for the select few, but potentially for everyone. I believe we're at a revolutionary point, the moment just before the dam breaks and the industry changes profoundly and permanantly. Exactly what the shape of this new industry will be I don't know -- although I am intensely curious and impatient to see. But I look forward to having a vastly expanded body of work -- a body of work that will ultimately rival that of literature, or music, or the visual arts -- and all the new potential for innovation and genius that comes with it.

This revolution is what I am interested in working in now. There are a multitude of questions and issues in play, and I have already spent a great deal of time considering and discussing them with others. It is my wish that I might help foster this shift in some way, and much of my current work is chosen to that end. So, my proposal for my Plan of Concentration should I return to it in January, is to take a systematic look at the issues, problems, and possibilities surrounding the re-invention of film as a popular creative medium. I understand that this is a big subject and not wholly related to what I was doing before (although also, I think, not wholly unrelated.) I'm sure I have a great deal of background to fill in, although I feel that I've done the most important part of that already -- I've been working here in the trenches for several years now, and have formed contacts with people who have been doing this work for far longer. I have not as yet applied a focused, analytical eye on the subject, but I have a reasonably deep pool already in place on which to draw. I am deeply familiar with many of the problems and frustrations entailed (too familiar at times; I would love to see a bit more of the potential). I intend to stay involved, and I suppose on one level I'm looking to establish a basic theory for my future work.

I'm feeling restless and a bit isolated tonight... I get this way from time to time. I need something... but, what? (Well, I actually know what, but best to leave that alone, I think.)

Instead, I'm spending the night curled up on the sofa watching movies... Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (not bad, kindy cartoon-y, not really buying the fountains of blood); City of God (excellent, remarkable); and an old Eddie Izzard special. If it weren't for the mosquitos and cloud cover, I'd go out in the yard and look at stars.

Anybody up? Anyone wanna chat? Anybody out there?

(((sigh)))

PS: I've added a little "quote of the week" box over at the left there. Who doesn't love quotes, right? (Mostly, I've just been wanting to use that quote, and couldn't find any other context. It just makes me so happy every time I see it; it's one of the funniest lines I've heard all year.)

3:02 AM ::
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Thursday, July 08, 2004
On My Agenda

So, there's one feature film down, and one to go. Beginning Sunday afternoon and continuing straight through August and into September, I'm working on another film production. It's an entirely different kind of thing this time -- a lighter-weight film, but a much more structured kind of shoot -- and I am happy to have shed my A.D. duties for camera operation, something I'm much more interested in. I'm a little rusty; it's been a while since I've shot anything but doc material. But I'm sure it'll come back to me easily and god knows I could use the practice.

And hey, I've even got a contract this time. I never assume (or even expect) that deferred payment will ever translate to an actual check in my hand, but if this film should ever find distribution, I've got the documentation on my side. A girl can hope; I think the production is solid, and you never know what'll happen.

I'm currently embroiled in my annual fight with my mother -- it's a long story that doubtless doesn't entirely make me look good, one of those fun multi-day arguments that starts with an ill-considered offhand remark (from her this year) and eventually scales every peak and valley in our relationship, touching on every past argument and unspoken tension in our shared history. She's pissed off at me, I'm pissed off at her, and as I write this we're in our separate corners resting up for the next round. It'll all be okay -- we argue so rarely, we just kinda pack it all into one big fight -- and in another day or two we'll have burned out and peace will once again prevail until next year. But right now I'm seething.

Finally, my application to get back to school is underway. If things go according to plan, come January I'll be headed back to Vermont to finish that pesky B.A. At least it'll get me the fuck out of Memphis.
7:12 PM ::
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Whither Dubya?

There is a debate going on among liberals that has been in progress since approximately January of 2001. The question: Is George W. Bush an evil fuckhead or merely an incompetent ass? Where you stand on this issue, while not something that threatens to divide the team, has a direct influence on your assumptions and anxieties regarding the administration. Those on the "evil fuckhead" side of the discussion tend to be angry and somewhat paranoid, while the "incompetent ass" folks are more inclined towards melancholia and existential angst. The question, really, is one of motive and intent... does Dubya intend to destroy America, or is he just doing it because he doesn't know any better?

Anyway, I read something today that I think fits in fairly well with my own opinions:
I am beginning to think that behind all the bluster, George W. Bush is a frightened, confused individual, totally unable to understand the magnitude of the decisions he got talked into making, and dealing with it by becoming paralyzed, letting the individuals who represent power centers within his administration, such as Rove, Powell, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rice run off entirelly on their own. Those who are able to manage the president's message, such as Cheney, are at a bureacratic advntage. But politically, this White House is a sitting duck, and as a matter of psychology, I think the Final Days of this crowd will make for amazing reading.

The Decembrist, via Pandagon

Although I have spent some time flirting with the position that Bush is a figure of pure malevolence, over time I have gradually been swayed to the argument that really he's just a rather pathetic figure who has been handed the reins of a beast that's far too powerful for him. Painting Bush as an evil genius has some dramatic appeal, but it strikes me as just too tidy for something as messy as real life. I think there is malevolence in the form of profound self-interest inside the administration, and believe it or not, I also believe there is a potent streak of badly misguided idealism at work as well. Staggeringly, I actually think a lot of these folks are doing what they genuinely think is best for the country, and I think that Dubya is among them. His rigidity and sense of entitlement and self-righteousness mean that he has swerved from an arguable position to a wildly, even obscenely unrealistic one, but I'm quite convinced that his particular path to hell is paved with good intentions.

Those in the "evil fuckhead" camp might argue that I'm naive, and that my willingness to give Dubya the benefit of the doubt (on intent, at least) is a dangerous thing that prevents me from fully recognizing the enemy. Maybe they're right. And I absolutely don't mean to imply that just because in his twisted little way Bush means well absolves him of responsibility... there are people in the administration (like Dick "Go Fuck Yourself" Cheney) who I think absolutely qualify as evil fuckheads, and as their purported leader, Bush bears responsibility not only for his own actions but for the actions of those who work under him. That makes it all the more tragic, in some ways... looked at in a certain light, Bush becomes an almost Shakespearean figure, the blundering fool who is brought down by his few potentially admirable qualities, trust and loyalty.

Anyway, to paraphrase my current personal saviour Bill Hicks, why are we arguing whether George W. Bush is an evil fuckhead or an incompetant ass? Can't we all just get along? He's an evil fucking incompetent asshead!
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Tuesday, July 06, 2004
My Little Prayer

Everyone is absolutely certain that Kerry is going to announce his choice for Vice President any minute now. Or sometime tomorrow morning at the latest. I admit, I can't wait to see what the Veep Fairy leaves under our collective pillow.

But just to ward off the evil spirits, let me say this:

Not Gephardt, not Gephardt, not Gephardt, not Gephardt... please, God, not Gephardt.

Update It's Edwards. Yeah, okay, I can live with that. Can we start campaigning for real now?

PS: Yes, I too was greatly amused by Rupert Murdoch's little foray into Aussie Rules Journalism. Life hands you these moments so rarely nowadays.

PPS: Extra points to Kerry/Edwards for announcing the news on the miserable failure's birthday.

12:56 AM ::
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Sunday, July 04, 2004
Just One More Post About Michael Moore

I approve wholeheartedly:

Moore: pirate my film, no problem

Controversial film-maker Michael Moore has welcomed the appearance on the internet of pirated copies of his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and claimed he is happy for anybody to download it free of charge.

The activist, author and director told the Sunday Herald that, as long as pirated copies of his film were not being sold, he had no problem with it being downloaded.

"I don't agree with the copyright laws and I don't have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people as long as they're not trying to make a profit off my labour. I would oppose that," he said.

Sunday Herald

So, all those of you who haven't yet gotten to see it because you don't live anywhere where it's been released, Michael Moore is here for you. I will personally entertain requests for copies if anyone's really hard up. (It does play better in a cinema, but that's not the most important thing.)

Also, check out this rather excellent editorial he wrote for today's Los Angeles Times:
I think it's time for those of us who love this country -- and everything it should stand for -- to reclaim our flag from those who would use it to crush rights and freedoms, both here at home and overseas. We need to redefine what it means to be a proud American.

If you are one of those who love what President Bush has done for this country and believe you must blindly follow the president to deserve to fly the flag, you should ask yourself some difficult questions about just how proud you are of the America we now inhabit:

Are you proud that one in six children lives in poverty in America?

Are you proud that 40 million adult Americans are functional illiterates?

Are you proud that the bulk of the jobs being created these days are low- and minimum-wage jobs?

Are you proud of asking your fellow Americans to live on $5.15 an hour?

Are you proud that, according to a National Geographic Society survey, 85% of young adult Americans cannot find Iraq on the map (and 11% cannot find the United States!)?

Are you proud that the rest of the world, which poured out its heart to us after Sept. 11, now looks at us with disdain and disgust?

Are you proud that nearly 3 billion people on this planet do not have access to clean drinking water when we have the resources and technology to remedy this immediately?

Are you proud of the fact that our president sent our soldiers off to a war that had nothing to do with the self-defense of this country?

If these things represent what it means to be an American these days -- and I am an American -- should I hang my head in shame? No. Instead, I intend to perform what I believe is my patriotic duty. I can't think of a more American thing to do than raise questions -- and demand truthful answers -- when our leader wants to send our sons and daughters off to die in a war.

Exactly.

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Funny Joke

How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?

Seven:

(1) One to deny that a light bulb needs to be replaced.

(2) One to attack and question the patriotism of anyone who asks questions about the light bulb.

(3) One to blame the previous administration for the need of a new light bulb.

(4) One to arrange the invasion of a country rumored to have a secret stockpile of light bulbs.

(5) One to get together with Vice President Cheney and award a one million dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton Industries for supplying a light bulb.

(6) One to arrange a photo-op session showing the President changing the light bulb while dressed in a flight suit and wrapped in an American flag.

(7) And finally, one to explain the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.

Props to Doc
2:22 PM ::
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Happy Fuckin' Fourth

I'm always skittish about the Fourth of July (aka Independence Day). As a holiday, it just seems so frought with existential peril... if the 1-penny firecrackers and M80s don't take off a chunk of flesh, then you can at the very least expect to be gently oppressed by some big hairy guy with a beer belly and an American flag decal on his truck. I tend to stay away from Fourth of July picnics for the same reason that homophobic guys tend to stay away from gay bars... I don't want those people to think I'm one of them.

And yet, and yet... this is just a knee-jerk reaction on my part, and doesn't actually have much to do with my genuine feelings on the subject of patriotism. It's just that, while I'd much rather say, "God Bless America, With a Few Qualifications and Caveats, and Pointing Out That Saying This Emphatically Does Not Make Me a Right-Winger, Just So We're Clear On That," it doesn't seem to have the same, y'know, punch as just "God Bless America." Which is pretty much the liberal dilemma in a nutshell.

Anyway, since fireworks and other small incendiary and/or explosive devices are illegal for sale or use in Shelby county (in which lies Memphis), all the people who like to blow shit up have to cross the state line into DeSoto County to buy their fireworks. Thus, the surrounding area becomes a haven for brightly-colored tents housing a fairly pedestrian array of small explosives. My favorite this year is "Jerry Lawler's Fireworks Stand," named for Memphis hero, B-list professional wrestler and former Mayoral candidate Jerry Lawler. I always like seeing Lawler's name around town, not because I once shook his hand at a high school pep rally, but rather because this is the man who bitch-slapped Andy Kaufman on the Letterman show. As such, he's a kind of secondary holy relic to me: this man actually smacked the great Andy Kaufman.

But I suppose the blowing-shit-up crowd needs a day, too, and they'd better seize it while they can, 'cause it's supposed to rain for the rest of the day. Incidentally, none of these fireworks stands (not even Jerry Lawler's) are terribly interesting... they've got the usual assortment of Black Cats and roman candles and sparklers and so on, and always one or two enormous 200-dollar fuck-off motherfuckers to a) impress the yokels and b) give the really drunk guy something to blow a wad of cash on. If you want really interesting fireworks, you have to go Boomtown Fireworks Superstore in Illinois or someplace similar. Those places carry all the freaky fireworks from China and Japan, the latter apparently being particularly obsessed with the Civil War (or, if you want to be Confederatorially Correct, the "War Between The States"; or if you want to be Confederatorially Assertive, the "War of Northern Aggression"... no shit, a surprisingly large number of people down here still have a bug up their ass about the civil war. More on that in a moment.) The Japanese name all their fireworks things like "Johnny Reb" and "Rebel Yell." But my all-time-favorite firecracker, purchased at aforementioned Boomtown, was a Chinese thingy called the "Egg Laying Chicken." It was a cardboard chicken, about two inches long and one inch tall, that blew its little head off in a shower of sparks and shot fireballs from its ass. Brilliant.

The Fourth of July can be a contentious holiday in the South. In Vicksburg, Mississippi (several hours south of here), I believe they still refuse to acknowledge the day completely. Y'see, 141 years ago the town of Vicksburg was sacked by the Union army under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on the Fourth of July, and ever since then Vicksburg has been playing the offended Southern belle and refusing to participate.

But Vicksburg has certainly not been alone in the South as far as boycotting (or all but) Independence Day; the South has never been as enthusiastic about the holiday as northern and midwestern regions have been; up in Vermont there were always big parades full of Shriners in vaguely offensive "oriental" costumes and fezzes driving teeny-weeny little cars in looping circles up and down the street, and of course shitloads of marching bands. These parades have always been harder to find in the South, where people are quite happy to take the day off work, but they don't want to put too much effort into it. (This, it seems, is less true for African-Americans, who have enormous community barbecues and family reunions on the Fourth... and there's probably a thesis in there somewhere, but I'm just not up to it tonight.)

Only since patriotism became a Core Republican Value has the South begun to embrace the Fourth of July (no small thing since it's invariably hotter than Satan's nutsack down here in July), which brings us back to where we started... I avoid the Fourth because I don't want those people to think I'm one of them. These days it often seems as if a second Civil War (the War of Southern Aggression?) is ultimately inevitable... there's so much tension between people that it feels as though the country is about to split at the seams. Independence Day has become just another point of tension and pressure.

Could that correctly be called "ironic"?
2:13 AM ::
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