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

Saturday, August 28, 2004
Saturday Morning Letdown

I was out rather late last night on film-related business; painfully, I have to be up early this morning to go work on one of Lee's shoots. To be frank, I would rather tweeze off my eyelashes, but I'm obligated. I curse the day I agreed to work on the film... but I've probably bitched about that enough already.

Anyhoo, my standard practice on these occasions -- involving potential for three hours of sleep or less -- is to stay up all night, which makes me feel like shit but not as bad as I would feel if I slept for an hour and then got up to work. Seeing as the overnight period in question was Friday to Saturday, I thought I'd take a peek at what passes for Saturday morning cartoons these days.

I am appalled. I know what I'm about to say is cliche beyond belief, and a sure sign that my youth is mostly behind me, but it MUST be said: Saturday morning cartoons were much better back when I was a kid. Granted, it's been twenty years since I kept abreast of Saturday morning cartoon politics, and the landscape has changed dramatically: back in my day, the lucky kids whose parents paid for cable (including my own at times) were blessed with Nickelodeon, a channel that carried vast treasures from Canadian and British kids TV, giving me a taste for "The Tomorrow People," "The Third Eye" and the unparalleled "You Can't Do That On Television" (but also, to be fair, the less stellar "Today's Special".) We didn't have fifteen channels of all-kids fare at our disposal, just the network stations, the UHF channel, and maybe Nickelodeon.

But even so, I came up during what now appears to be the last gasp of cool kids' TV -- I am (barely) old enough to remember the last days of the Sid and Marty Kroft empire (although I thought "The Bugaloos" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" were shows I'd invented in my head until I was in my early 20s)... hell, I'm old enough to remember "Land of the Lost" seeming technologically-advanced. And I expect I am among the last generation of kids to see cartoons that were not imported from Japan -- which isn't to say there's anything wrong with Japanese animation, just that it has rather taken over the cartoon landscape. And we had crap back then, too -- "Dungeons and Dragons," anybody? -- but most of our cartoons were still pure.

Today, though... ugh. When I was a youngster, it was accepted that the primary role of cartoons was to give corporations a place to plug sugar-coated cereal and cheap plastic toys to highly-impressionable young consumers, but there was still a sense that they had to earn our attention with reasonably cool cartoons. Now, apparently, they don't bother with the cartoons anymore, they just churn out extra-long animated commercials for their crap and assume the kiddies won't know the difference. I was witness to what is, I believe, the first cartoon based on a video game ("Q-Bert"); now, apparently, all cartoons are based on video games. That seems very... sad.

The specific cartoon that offended my adult sensibilities today was "Winx Club". This cartoon is about a collection of female entities that are sort of like fairies, and who are apparently able to pull convenient-but-previously-undisclosed powers out of their cute little asses without explanation. I mean, seriously, that's just sloppy storytelling; even Superman -- the most powerful superhero ever -- still has a set of specific powers and limitations; he doesn't just get to make shit up as he goes along. More important than these too-convenient powers, though, was the image of hyper-femininity portrayed. The Winx' primary purpose in life -- despite the absence of any apparent male counterparts -- was to be pretty, presumably for the benefit of other Winx. They squealed prettily, they sat around in vaguely-provocative poses, they apologized to each other for not having brushed their hair (yes, seriously), and they feared pimples more than death. This is nothing new of course -- yes, I had a few Barbie dolls when I was young, although they did tend to meet bizarre and disfiguring ends even without the aid of male siblings -- but at least Barbie was faintly artful about it. This was not only misleading about the real nature of femininity, it was enormously obtuse and insulting to one's intelligence in the process.

These cartoons -- I'm telling you, they're really making me consider whether it wouldn't be much better just to keep kids away from television until they're old enough to watch it critically. I say that with reservations -- even now I rather pity the kids that were raised in TV-less homes, with their woeful lack of knowledge about Cousin Oliver and Silver Spoons; we kids who were raised on heavy doses of bad television look slightly down upon the deprived with an air of damaged superiority, in much the same way that people who grew up in broken homes secretly look down gently (though enviously) on people who grew up with both their parents. We quietly say to them, "we sacrificed precious brain cells to "Muppet Babies," and we're going to talk about it uproariously and at length, and not care that you're excluded." Our damage is a source of pride. (Yeah, that's fucked up, but it's honest.)

And while I'm ranting, is it just me, or has there been an explosion in movies about princesses aimed at young girls? Didn't we already deal with this Prince Charming bullshit? Jesus... the two most damaging influences in the world to young girls are love songs and Cinderella: both are based on lies, and if those lies are believed, your chances of ever enjoying the real thing -- genuine, healthy relationships with men and imperfect-but-fulfilling love -- are immensely reduced. I'm against 'em.

Bah! Humbug!
5:44 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Thursday, August 26, 2004
Two Per Day

In 2003, we spent 10 months at war. In those ten months -- which included the ironically-labelled "major combat operations" -- 482 American soldiers were killed.

In 2004 so far, we've spent 8 months at war. In those eight months, 488 American soldiers were killed.

That's six more dead in two fewer months. In 2003, the daily average was 1.68 dead soldiers; in 2004, it's 2.04... which is a round-about way of pointing out that this situation is not improving. But we keep hearing predictions from the White House that things are on the verge of getting better:

On May 1, 2003, Bush pronounced "Mission Accomplished;" we had turned the corner. Since that day, 618 American troops have been killed.

On December 13, 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured; we had turned the corner. Since that day, 557 troops have been killed.

On July 28, 2004, George Bremer handed over "sovereignty" to the interim government of Iraq; we had turned the corner. Since that day, 112 troops have been killed.

These are 970 families that have lost children, parents, siblings, spouses. Why? What have we achieved for all this death? What has been accomplished that was worth the loss? To all those who are old enough to remember the threat of losing friends, spouses, and family members in Vietnam, why do you now stand by while younger generations are sent to die? How many more lives will you allow to be spent before the cost becomes too high? These are your children, and my generation's siblings/spouses/friends/loved ones. I don't want them to die.

Did you learn nothing from Vietnam?

A distraught father who had just been told his Marine son was killed in combat in Iraq set fire to a Marine Corps van and suffered severe burns Wednesday, police said.

Three Marines went to a house in Hollywood to tell the father and stepmother of Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo that their 20-year-old son had died Tuesday in Najaf, family members said.

The father, Carlos Arredondo, 44, then walked into the garage, picked up a propane tank, a lighting device and a can of gasoline he used to douse the van, police Capt. Tony Rode said.

He smashed the van's window, got inside and set the vehicle ablaze, despite attempts by the Marines to stop him, Rode said.

When the couple saw the Marines walking toward the front door, "My husband immediately knew that his firstborn son had been killed -- and my husband did not take the news well," Melida Arredondo told reporters before police escorted her to the hospital.

"It doesn't surprise me that he was so traumatized. He went crazy," she said.

I'd go crazy too. I never truly appreciated what my family went through during the Gulf War. With my baby, I'm starting to understand.

PS No, I haven't forgotten about the thousands upon thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi civilians. God forgive us; nobody else will.
3:54 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Looks like the Republicans have Kerry dead to rights with this one:

Guard-Dodging Charges Haunt Campaign

A new Republican-financed negative ad is accusing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of fleeing to Vietnam to avoid serving in the Alabama National Guard.

The ad, airing in most of the so-called battleground states, attempts to contrast Sen. Kerry's alleged guard-dodging with the storied Alabama National Guard heroism of the Republican nominee, President George W. Bush.

In the ad, a narrator asks, "When the Alabama National Guard called young Americans to serve, where was John Kerry? Thousands of miles away, in Vietnam."

The commercial ends with a black-and-white freeze-frame of Mr. Kerry, over which the narrator asks, "John Kerry -- reporting for duty?"
(more at the Borowitz Report)

Thanks to Denny for pointing it out.
2:49 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink


Well, the new approach to the workshops seems to be off to a promising start. I ended up with an entirely different (and arguably more competent) group, so nobody knew what I was talking about when I said nobody seemed interested last week, but it didn't make any practical difference anyway. We have a tentative shot list for next week's workshop, and people seem curious about what happens next; those were the only two real objectives tonight, so I guess I can call this mission accomplished.

I hung around afterwards and shot the breeze with various Co-op buddies; we really do have a good bunch of people there, and I feel lucky to know them. (And I'm not just saying that because somebody teased me for having a "negative" blog... I really mean it.)

Tomorrow is my designated sleep-all-day-and-never-leave-the-house day. I don't have to work on Lee's film again until Saturday, but I have another sorta-kinda gig on Thursday evening which might -- might -- lead to some steady work. Maybe. Maybe not. We'll see.

I managed to completely miss John Kerry on the Daily Show tonight; I'll have to catch the repeat tomorrow afternoon. Many people are scoffing -- the Democratic nominee on a comedy-news show? -- but I think it's a very savvy move... it won't do much to win the little old lady vote, but I think smartass 20-somethings (and there are many of us) are going to give Kerry some serious respect in the election booth, and some part of that will stem from this appearance. I'm not a big TV watcher, but the Daily Show is utterly brilliant, and it's one of the few things I do try to catch when I can. Great stuff.
2:08 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink

Monday, August 23, 2004
Mistress Novena, Queen Bitch Of The Workshops

Now that Lee's film is (mostly) done, it's time I turned back to the Co-op workshops. I admit, I've been dreading it, not only because they've gone off-track while I was otherwise occupied, but also because I've been courting burn-out. I've been running the workshops for going on a year now, and the last six months have been particularly intense; in that period of time -- 24 workshops total --I think there were only half a dozen that I didn't personally lead (and that counts the recent ones that essentially didn't happen at all.) That's a lot of workshops for one person to handle.

The basic problem is this: I feel like I'm just giving the same workshops over and over and over again. Last week, when I prodded the small attending group what they wanted to do over the next few weeks/months, I got the standard laundry list of workshop ideas: lighting, shot composition, introduction to the equipment, and -- my favorite one of all -- "filmmaking 101". Like I could explain basic filmmaking in two f'ing hours.

Compounding the problem is the fact that this work doesn't pay; there's not really much in this deal for me. I already know this stuff, and the folks who turn up are thankful but not, y'know, appreciative... after a while you start to wonder why you're doing it if it doesn't produce some kind of action in those you're trying to reach. If I were making $20/hour it would be different, I would submit and answer these same questions ad infinitum as it seems I am expected to do. But unpaid, I'm under no obligation to sit still. The punters pay no money, so I figure they owe us in effort.

Most of these people care in only a superficial way. And that's cool, y'know, whatever they do with themselves is none of my business, I wouldn't presume to judge. But if I'm gonna drag my ass up from Mississippi and put all this time and effort into it, they need to fucking well do something to make it worth my time and energy.

Does that sound too harsh?

Anyway, the question becomes, how do we provoke them into ceasing to ask the same boring (for us) questions, and to begin to answer them for themselves? This is, after all, supposed to be a workshop, not a lecture series. We provide the shop; we only ask them to provide the work. The solution we came up with is this: they want to make movies? Cool. Let's chuck 'em in the deep end and see if they sink or if they swim. It's a great way -- maybe the only good way -- to learn: don't know how the camera works? 'Salright, you won't break it... keep pushing buttons till it does what you want. Don't know how to hold the boom? No problem; hold it however seems right to you, and if it sounds like crap, you know that's not the right way. We -- the self-annointed wise ones -- will be there to answer questions and guide the exercises, but we aren't managing them, we aren't running the show, and we aren't going present it all on a silver platter anymore. That didn't work anyway.

So, tomorrow night, rather than talk and show clips, I'm taking a simple scene from a (hopefully) unfamiliar film, and these demanding bastards are going to make something of it. I don't care what they do or how they do it; I only care that they do do it.

(And yeah, some of 'em might not come back; that's okay. It's a whole new crowd, and I'm not especially attached to any of 'em. Better they leave before I go to the trouble of learning their names. Gonna make 'em rue the day they said they wanted "hands-on exercises.")

Addendum: If anyone's interested, this week I'm going to take a very brief selection (about 1/8 page) from Kevin Smith's magnum opus Clerks and make a group of people who know exactly nothing about directing a scene plan out a shot list. The next week we'll shoot it and see where they went wrong. Gonna let 'em learn by fucking up, just like I did.
10:40 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink