Thursday, April 28, 2005
Une Chienne Andalou

got me a movie
i want you to know
slicing up eyeballs
i want you to know
girlie so groovy
i want you to know
don't know about you
but i am un chien andalusia
wanna grow
up to be
be a debaser


I don't know if it's just being up here out of the fray, but I feel like the hardened outer shell of my filmmaking identity has been peeled back to expose raw flesh -- 'cause everything is blowing my mind. Having spent a few years studying the technical practice of making films, and then a few more trying to convey that knowledge to other people, I came back to school to discover that I had moved completely beyond Bordwell and Thompson and into terra incognita. Now everywhere I look I see strange monsters. At times like this, all I can do is stare gape-mouthed and the inherent bizarreness of my chosen medium.

Check this out:

The rods [of the retina] contain a pigment, rhodopsin, that bleaches in the light and resynthesizes in the dark. This led the nineteenth-century physiologist Willy Kuhne to devise an experiment in which he was able to take a picture with the living eye of a rabbit. First, the rabbit's head was covered to allow rhodopsin to accumulate in the rods. Then it was uncovered and held so that it faced a barred window. After a three-minute "exposure," the animal was killed, its eye removed, and the rear half containing the retina "fixed" in an alum solution, so that the bleached rhodopsin could not be resynthesized. "The next day" [George] Wald reports, "Kuhne saw, printed upon the retina in bleached and unaltered rhodopsin, a picture of the window with a clear pattern of its bars."

From Future Cinema: the Cinematic Imaginary After Film


"Okay," you say, "apart from the vivisection of a helpless little bunny, why is this significant?" Well, it all has to do with the concept of the camera and the eye as the filmmaker's means of transmission. What we're talking about here is the direct interface of my brain with my camera with light with chemistry with a projector with more light with your brain. A camera isn't an eye, it's a machine, but the relationship between camera and eye is one of the big nodes of existential confusion in this medium. A camera doesn't "see" because it doesn't have a brain; but the filmmaker can't manipulate and record light without a camera. So by picking up a camera and shooting something, you become a kind of artistic cyborg. The same is true when you watch a film, 'cause film doesn't happen in the camera or in the projector or on a strip of film or a ribbon of digital tape, it all happens in your head. Some of it's physical, and some of it's psychological, but the essence of film takes place within the confines of your skull. This is real-life Cronenberg stuff, the sweet union of meat and machine to produce visions in people's heads.

And when you consider that little morsel of cinematic truth, then Armageddon starts to seem less like a bit of harmless fluffy entertainment and more like a betrayal of everything cinema should be. Here we have an enormously direct and visceral medium at our command, and Bruce Willis movies are the best* we can do? Eisenstein formulated the montage theory nearly a century ago; apart from technological advances, what have we added since then? We should be further along than we are, film should be more developed as an art form. We're letting our pedecessors down.

So now I have this new, vast expanse of unknown (to me) possibilites before me, and I have to/get to start learning film all over again. This is why I love this medium the way I do: it's not just a medium, it's a super-medium, and an inexhaustable source of new insight to uncover, new skills to acquire, new things to think about. It would take lifetimes of study to take it all in, and that's not even considering the new cinema-defying forms that are almost certain to erupt within the lifetime of work I'm alotted. Which, of course, is frustrating... but it's good to know your subject will never be exhausted.

PS: It took me four hours of trying this evening to get this post published. I think it's about time we rename Blogger "Slogger."


*"best" in the sense that that's what everybody and their grandmother's dog pays to see
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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
In Which Sister Novena Broadly Doubts Her Abilities

I'm finally -- finally -- done with the Deren paper. It came out to 18 pages (7600 words) in the end, complete with visual aids. I think it turned out okay, although I find myself gripped by the sense that it's not remotely good enough. It's not my ability that's in question, it's just the scope of my knowledge -- there's just so goddamn much I don't know, so much I don't adequately understand. It's honestly very humbling.

Anyway, if anyone wants to read it and give me feedback, drop me a line; I can use the input.

Now that that's done, I've only got one paper left to write for this term -- it's a big one, but I've got two or three weeks to knock it out. I have a bit of an academic dilemma ahead next term -- given that I've only briefly met my actual plan sponsor once (and then for less than a minute, total), I don't actually know anything about the guy. What insight I've gathered into his teaching style is second- and third-hand, overheard in conversations between other students who've studied under him, and a little bit from other teachers. My acting plan sponsor informed me last week that he "doesn't really do papers"... that might prove to be a bit awkward given that my plan is mostly paper-based. Mightn't he have mentioned that before?

So I've been hunting around for someone else who knows about film to read my papers. My acting plan sponsor has little practical knowledge of filmmaking, so she doesn't fit the bill (although she's great with lots of other things.) I've asked the visiting film professor, who teaches my screenwriting class, if he'd be willing to read them -- I like him, and he's been very supportive of my work this term, so he seemed a likely candidate. And he's willing to do it... but not for free. It's possible the deans would be willing to cough up a little dough, but it's equally possible that they won't. So that might not work out.

That same professor -- the one teaching screenwriting -- was really complimentary in a meeting a few days ago, telling me (against my protests) that my writing is "really very good." The thing is, I'm not sure it actually is. I mean, I know it's pretty good, but is it good enough to get paid for it?

But before I get around to all that, I have to spend this summer doing interviews with filmmakers and (*gasp*) making a film. I feel pretty good about the screenplay I've written for said film; I think it's actually not half bad (again, if anyone wants to read it and give me feedback, I'd be most appreciative). Whether or not my filmmaking skills will measure up is another question. I feel like I know basically what I'm doing -- that seems to be as much as any filmmaker can ever claim -- but having not tested myself much in the last few years, I acknowledge that my ideas of what I'm currently capable of might be distorted or false.

This is why guys have it easy -- when they suffer a crisis of confidence, they've got women around to massage their egos for them. (It's one of my specialties.) Women, on the other hand, knowing that men aren't generally as good at that as we are, lack that luxury.

Bleh.
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Saturday, April 23, 2005
Actively Doing Nothing, Passively Doing Something

I got a bit of good news from my acting-Plan sponsor: apparently I've already accomplished enough work this term to get a pass on to my final term. It seems that most first-term seniors accomplish very little real work (lots of research and reading, not much outward production), so in having knocked out nearly 40 pages already this term, I've done more than many. Which isn't to say that it wouldn't be good to do more -- better to spend that last term developing and revising than drafting -- but that I don't need to worry much about "not getting done." I find that slightly difficult to believe -- 40 pages of writing in a term is considered pretty light at this school -- but then again, the senior year is something of a separate phenomenon with its own rules and conventions.

I don't know if this is down to ambition or maturity or what, but it seems to be a recurring theme in this reprisal of my academic career: I'm demanding and expecting a great deal more from myself than anyone else is. I came in with an academic idea that's probably more suited to a multi-year doctoral thesis than an undergraduate research project (however sophisticated that project might be); and have been frustrated by the increasing obviousness of the fact that I'm not going to finish everything I set out to do... at least, not here.

On the other hand, there's a good deal of relief in knowing that I've already passed the mark and that from here on out everything I do -- however beneficial and encouraged it is -- is voluntary. I've come to a realization this term that intellectually I really don't do my best work with a lot of immediate, external pressure -- I need some deadlines for motivation, but the minute I start to feel as though I'm being judged, I actually become less able to do work that will be judged favorably. This is true creatively -- the thing that most quickly kills my creativity is the sense that whatever project I'm working on will be decisive in determining my genius or lack thereof -- and true intellectually, where the harder I struggle to be brilliant the less brilliant I am. If I can relax, it all comes easily; but fostering both productivity and relaxation is something I haven't quite mastered yet.

But now I know that I don't have to fight anymore this term, that from here out I can basically cruise, and immediately my enthusiasm for the work has increased. Maybe it's just down to my childhood experiences, where getting a good grade was (in my childish mind) the measure of my personal worth. Facing up to something that won't produce a guaranteed good grade causes anxiety and a kind of mental freezing-up; that probably has something to do with why, as an adult, I'm such a staunch defender of the Good Try and the Valiant Effort. How much easier it would be to actually do things if I weren't terrified of failure.

I still want to do a good 40-page draft of the other (ostensibly more important) paper before I go home for the summer. I've gotten so wrapped up in Deren-ology that I've neglected the project I really came here to do, and now that I'm mostly finished with her I can turn my attention back. I'm still writing with an eye to a book eventually, but now I'm thinking it's really a shame nobody's written a good, accessible biography of Maya Deren. Hmmm...
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Thursday, April 21, 2005
Maya Deren Is Eating My Brain

I've been forced by my reticent intellect to throw in the towel on the Deren paper for the time being; I managed to clear a dozen pages (a dozen well-written, heavily referenced pages, I'd point out, and adding up to over 5,300 words in total), but I still have quite a bit of writing to do before I can confidently consider it a good, solid draft. That's seven pages of writing just tonight, nearly eight hours of continual work; I feel like my brain's bleeding, but maybe I'm just over-identifying with my subject.

I'd hoped to have this draft done yesterday; now, I figure, I've still got at least two days' worth of work still to do. Then, of course, there's the other paper, the big one, which I've done only basic research for -- man, this is going to be a tough two weeks. And I have to write a scene for a screenwriting project this weekend, too... ugh. At least my solo screenwriting project is done and turned in; I'd hate to think I had to do something that creative on top of everything else. I'm moving resolutely into an intellectual consume-digest-regurgitate mode; creativity doesn't really fit into that plan.

Ow. Headache. Sleep now.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Nature Be Not Silent

I'm supposed to be writing right now -- writing something other than this, I mean. I'm only six pages into what's meant to be a 20-page paper, and already every paragraph is like pulling teeth.

I wish I had something I could use to record sound -- the critters that inhabit the space outside my window make the most amazing noises ever. There's a family of birds living in the eaves just above the window -- I'm pretty sure they're woodpeckers. Sometimes -- most of the time, actually -- they make typically bird-like chirpy sounds -- not tweety chirps, more throaty chirps. But now and then something up there makes a sound that's completely different, almost like a hawk, or (to borrow a word from my mother) a very small pterodactyl. And obviously sometimes they make pecking-wood sounds, too.

Then, down below the window, there's something that makes a different kind of chirping sound -- not a tweety chirp or a throaty chirp, more of a clucky chirp. I think those are actually frogs, though, since I only hear them at night. I've also heard a few lonely peepers out there, but they haven't reached their typical midsummer plague-like numbers yet.

And tonight, for the first time, I'm hearing something really cool -- it's a prolonged trill, lasting for ten seconds or more, that periodically changes pitch. It sounds like something you'd hear on the soundtrack of a movie scene in a swamp.

And every morning at dawn, an ornithological mass choir sets up directly outside the window; they do as good a job as any rooster. Those fucking robins are on thin ice with me. But it's preferrable to hearing my downstairs neighbor play Weezer's "Sweater Song" fifty times a day. (Enough with the Sweater Song already! Jeezus!)
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Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Too Poped To Pop


And now I feast on BRRRAAAIINSS!


The bad Papal news: it's Ratzinger (sorry, I mean Benedict XVI), former-Nazi former Hitler-Youth and current passive accomplice in the molestation of children.

The good Papal news: this is exactly how it's supposed to go according to history. After a long papcy, the follow-up guy is usually worse. BUT -- and this is important -- he also doesn't usually last too long. (Given that Ratzo here is already 78, that seems like a reasonable prospect.) And the pope after the pope after the really-long papacy is usually completely different. So we're still on track for Pope Francis the Super-Groovy in the next ten years or so.
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Monday, April 18, 2005
Film Notes

I cannot tell you how much I want to see Todd Solondz' new film, Palindromes.

A little story: I saw my first Solondz film late at night on my 23rd birthday, alone; it was Happiness -- I still have the ticket stub. I emerged from that movie just after midnight, literally shaken by the hellish view of humanity I'd just seen. Now, don't put that down to my naivete -- I assure you, I possess a real talent for the invention of "dark little poems" as Bill Hicks called them, id-inspired eruptions of vile, noxious imagery aimed at society's core values and deeply-guarded insecurities. (I like to think I possess a particular ability with sicks jokes intended to offend one's existential angst.) It's not something I bring out often -- it's not exactly a suitable ice-breaker at parties -- but I point it out as a way to demonstrate that I'm not exactly an innocent when it comes to the kind of black humor that leaves you weeping softly in the parking lot after the movie lets out. But that's exactly where I was left after I saw Happiness. It was the first and only time I've ever watched a film and found myself thinking afterwards, "things like that should be illegal."

Truly, it's a work of genius.

I've seen it several more times since then; the second time I was less offended, and the third time I was laughing my ass off. Certainly I no longer think it should be criminalized -- if anything, I wish more films had that kind of visceral effect on me. It has inspired numerous lively debates about which character is the most revolting, which the most sympathetic (characters in this film are the next best thing to Rorschach inkblots), and I know of few other recent American films that so reliably provoke a reaction. I'd even argue that the opening scene of Happiness between Jon Lovitz and Jane Adams is genuinely a seminal bit of cinema. Solondz' other feature films are also wonderful, entirely based on the kinds of real, universal interpersonal horror that we all experience in our lives (as opposed to the provocative but ultimately flaccid hatefulness of a filmmaker like Neil LaBute -- Solondz' genius is in his ability to not only shock and disturb, but also to draw out of his audience a sympathetic, even tender identification with his wretched protagonists. LaBute never really mastered that trick.)

Anyway, when I read that his new film begins with Dawn Weiner's suicide, I knew it was going to be a good one.

On the academic side of things, apart from writing deeply about a small handful of specific films and filmmakers, I'm beginning to despair that I'll ever obtain a broad perspective on film history. I've been studying film formally and informally for most of my adult life now, and even so there are vast gaps in my knowledge. Independent film leads me to leads me to experimental and avant-garde film, which leads me to direct cinema, which leads me to cinema verité, which leads me to the French nouvelle-vague, which leads to the Italian neo-realists, which has currently led me to post-Soviet Russian film and kinopravda -- no matter how quickly I try to plug the holes in my knowledge, there's always another one further along mocking my ignorance. I just finished watching Dziga Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera (after years of always meaning to), and the relationship to my current subject Maya Deren is undeniable. Round and round we go. Meanwhile, in the background, the steady drip-drip-drip of interesting new work is leaving me behind on current developments.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I won't get to see everything that could arguably relate to my current work; there just isn't enough time in the day, much less ready access to video copies, to see everything I "should" see. But that fact is still a thorn in my side.
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Sunday, April 17, 2005
Why I Hate Fundamentalism


how to recognize the enemy


Look, I really don't have any particular beef with religion. I was raised -- at least for a time -- in a relatively religious home; my father was a lay minister (he pretended to have a D.Div., but that was about 80% bullshit), and I had numerous extremely formative experiences with the church. There was the time -- I think I was three, maybe four -- when we went to see my father lead a sermon before his then-congregation at the Rusk State (Mental) Hospital; I was very young and didn't understand where I was, but I could feel the crazy vibes coming off those parishoners like a wind of inchoerence off the lunatic sea, and the mix of Jesus and palpable insanity is one that a tot doesn't easily forget. Then there was the minister with the missing hand -- I can't remember what his name was, but as young as I was I didn't fail to notice his deformity -- who used to demand hugs and pat the top of my head with his stump. I remember the back corners of the church where my father served, the dim rooms containing cassocks and vestments on racks, the overpowering sickly-sweet astringency of sacramental wine, the "apartness" of the atmosphere. That kind of thing leaves an impression on a four-year-old.

More sublime was the almost-frightening awe and pleasure of hearing Bach played on a pipe organ, and the unintentional images formed in the stained-glass windows that only a young child would notice. I was sent to a private, Anglican-ish elementary school, and had a good head for Bible stories. I have no doubt that I inherited an affinity for religion from my father -- god help me, I hope I'm not the self-righteous hypocrite he was, but if anything I'm even more fascinated by religious meaning -- and spending many childhood years deep in the Bible Belt certainly encouraged me to take a rather gothic view of spirituality.

My own beliefs I keep private; they are many-layered and, I like to think, very nuanced; certainly not simple or easy to explain. I understand what people find in religion, even as I resist the urge to fall into simplistic thought patterns or to end my search with easy, self-flattering conclusions. I have long argued -- at least to anyone interested -- that science and religion are twin products of the same basic human impulse, that the scientific method as it is usually practiced qualifies in anthropological terms as a religious ritual (and I can prove it with a sheet of paper and a pencil). I strongly feel that when used for good religion is a hugely beneficial element of human experience.

But I'm going to say something now, pointing out that I don't say it lightly:

I hate fucking fundamentalists.

Now that we've rescued our gay, lesbian, and transgendered sistren and brethren from the untrue and unjust label of "mentally ill," I suggest we fill the empty pages in the Big Book O' Psychiatric Disorders by redefining fundamentalism as a malignant, sociopathic form of insanity. Fundamentalism is the cancer festering in the lymph nodes of humanity, the pustulent boil on mankind's collective psychic ass that prevents us from thinking about more important things. Sure, we've got other problems, but until we lance the sore and drain the pus, we're not going to get a goddamn thing done -- and once we do, imagine how much better we'll all feel.

And I don't just mean Christian fundamentalists -- although obviously as an American those are the ones who most often torment and offend me -- but all kinds of fundamentalists: Islamic fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, atheist fundamentalists (Madalyn Murray O'Hair is as much on my shit-list as James Dobson), vegan fundamentalists, capitalist and communist fundamentalists, the lot -- you show me a Buddhist or a Unitarian Universalist fundamentalist, and I'll denounce them, too. Because it's not the religion that matters, it's the shitty, self-righteous, narrow-minded, willfully-ignorant attitude that makes fundamentalism what it is. Have you ever met a laid-back, open-minded fundamentalist? Of course not, it's impossible; the very idea is self-contradictory. These people are in it first and foremost to be insufferable assholes, and to make the lives of sane people an endless misery.

"What brought on this tirade?" I hear you ask.

Bill fucking Frist, that's what. As part of the earliest stages of his assumed 2008 run for President, self-admitted leisure-time cat-vivisectionist Frist is getting all cuddly with the would-be theocrats who want to turn our flawed-but-functioning democracy into a totalitarian Gilead. If these evil fucks ever got their way, the United States would make Iran look like Canada. These are people who are willing to deny a life-saving vaccine to young women on the basis that "they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex." These are people who want to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on their own judgement of the moral validity of those prescriptions. These are people who not only want to deny gays and lesbians their constitutionally-guaranteed equal rights, but re-criminalize "sodomy" (except for their own, of course) so that they can toss the fags and dykes in jail. These are people who would happily watch the earth burn in a carcinogenic smog of greenhouse gases, since we're not going to need it after our impending Armageddon anyway. Women will become broodmares, men will have their porn criminalized, evolution will be denounced as heresy, scientific thought (except the kind that makes it easier to slaughter brown people) will be abolished, and all of us will have a simple choice between praying to Jesus or facing the consequences.

Yes, they're extremists, but moderate conservatives are happily letting them push and push, slowly making theocratic principles the core values of the Republican party while the sane stand by and passively watch. They've let them undermine the basic freedoms built into our society as they tirelessly work to replace ten amendments with ten commandments (always leaving loopholes for capital punishment and every man's god-given right to blow away anyone who breaks into his house.) They've said nothing when the fundamentalist-driven right makes veiled threats against the judiciary. They've supported the slaughter of thousands in an ineffectual attempt to thwart brown-skinned terrorists while saying nothing when a home-grown terrorist gets off with a plea bargain. They squeal indignantly about even the smallest perceived slight against their psychotic religious beliefs while happily grinding the religious rights of others into the mud. Fundamentalism in all its forms is a scourge, the enemy of civil discourse and social peace, and must be treated as such.

Of course, exactly what should be done is a trickier question. In the sixteenth century, England had a problem with fundies -- they called them Puritans -- and found a tidy solution: send 'em packing to the new world. They've obviously benefitted from the arrangement, since Europe now has a very manageable fundamentalist element, while we're completely overrun. And of course, there aren't many enormous empty (or, at least, mostly empty) landmasses left now; short of packing our modern-day Puritans onto a shuttle and launching them into the cold-but-morally-pure depths of space (at which point paradise would instantly descend upon those of us left here on Earth), there isn't much we can do but contain them, quaratine them like bearers of a plague.

Or we could always try treating them. There are more sane religious people in this country than you would ever think from the ruckus the nutjobs raise; perhaps if they became more vocal, more willing to go on the offensive and reject the putrid label with which they've been tarred by association, maybe more Americans would realize that being liberal and being Christian are not merely not-contradictory, but that in fact liberalism is much more closely aligned to the actual philosophy of Jesus than anything Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell ever dreamt of in their fevered hallucinations. It isn't liberals who lack morals; we collectively possess a principled, nuanced code of ethics that we can follow even without the stimulus of threatened eternal damnation if we don't. It's the money-grubbing, judgemental, self-righteous, hypocritical religious right that lacks the moral depth to see beyond Leviticus to the human reality that surrounds them throughout their lives, asking something more from them than blind self-interest, reactionary fear and pedantic adherance to dogma.

Imagine how pleasant the United States would be without fundamentalists -- we could all politely disagree again; we could acknowledge that none of us has exclusive rights to truth; we could learn how to appreciate each other for our differences instead of demonizing each other; we could discuss our problems like reasonable, responsible adults and not like psychotic infants. In time, the rest of the world might come to trust us again; we might even come to trust each other. How great would that be, to feel certain that even those who disagree with you still have your best interests at heart? To know absolutely and for-certain that they don't secretly fantasize about gloating from the bucket seat of a fluffy SUV-shaped cloud while masturbating to the sound of your horrific screams as your flesh melts away in the undying fire for all eternity? Wouldn't that be a refreshing change from the way things are now? You know it would.

There's only one thing standing between us and a renewed America, folks. All we have to do to reclaim our greatness is to reach out a hand, give each other a big, patriotic smile, and slap the fucking shit out of these fundie bastards.
7:21 PM ::
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Thursday, April 14, 2005
Terry Jones Is One Of Us

I don't have much to say about this -- it's just nice to know that Monty Python is so firmly on the side of Good.


Let them eat bombs

The doubling of child malnutrition in Iraq is baffling

Terry Jones
Tuesday April 12, 2005
The Guardian

A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now.

This, of course, comes as a bitter blow for all those of us who, like George Bush and Tony Blair, honestly believe that children thrive best when we drop bombs on them from a great height, destroy their cities and blow up hospitals, schools and power stations.

It now appears that, far from improving the quality of life for Iraqi youngsters, the US-led military assault on Iraq has inexplicably doubled the number of children under five suffering from malnutrition. Under Saddam, about 4% of children under five were going hungry, whereas by the end of last year almost 8% were suffering.

These results are even more disheartening for those of us in the Department of Making Things Better for Children in the Middle East By Military Force, since the previous attempts by Britain and America to improve the lot of Iraqi children also proved disappointing. For example, the policy of applying the most draconian sanctions in living memory totally failed to improve conditions. After they were imposed in 1990, the number of children under five who died increased by a factor of six. By 1995 something like half a million Iraqi children were dead as a result of our efforts to help them.

A year later, Madeleine Albright, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, tried to put a brave face on it. When a TV interviewer remarked that more children had died in Iraq through sanctions than were killed in Hiroshima, Mrs Albright famously replied: "We think the price is worth it."

But clearly George Bush didn't. So he hit on the idea of bombing them instead. And not just bombing, but capturing and torturing their fathers, humiliating their mothers, shooting at them from road blocks - but none of it seems to do any good. Iraqi children simply refuse to be better nourished, healthier and less inclined to die. It is truly baffling.

And this is why we at the department are appealing to you - the general public - for ideas. If you can think of any other military techniques that we have so far failed to apply to the children of Iraq, please let us know as a matter of urgency. We assure you that, under our present leadership, there is no limit to the amount of money we are prepared to invest in a military solution to the problems of Iraqi children.

In the UK there may now be 3.6 million children living below the poverty line, and 12.9 million in the US, with no prospect of either government finding any cash to change that. But surely this is a price worth paying, if it means that George Bush and Tony Blair can make any amount of money available for bombs, shells and bullets to improve the lives of Iraqi kids. You know it makes sense.

Terry Jones is a film director, actor and Python. He is the author of Terry Jones's War on the War on Terror
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Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Drug-Addled Racist Obsessed With Oral Sex

Oh Rush... Rush, Rush, Rush...

LIMBAUGH: When does he start up this stupid little network? August? Yip yip yip yahoo. You know what Gore said about this? It's going to be liberal. It's going to reflect the point of view of young people.

What the hell is that, Al? What the hell is the point of view of young people? Blow jobs, that's what they're doing out there. They're out there getting oral sex all day long, that's what they're talking about. That's the point of view they can't wait that your boss,

Al made sure that's become the number one sport in high school today. So, I guess you're going to have a BJ network out there, Al, is that what you're going to do? You're going to call your network the oral sex channel out there, start competing with MTV?

No, it's not going to have any of this stuff out there, folks, it's going to be talking about liberalism, no, no, no, that's not what we're about. Classic cannot even admit who he is.

(If you're a masochist, you can listen to the clip here.)


Apparently, as a younger person (Al Gore's network is designed to appeal to 21-35 year-olds), and especially as a liberal, oral sex is the defining element of my daily life. That's all I do, that's all I think about, I've got a cock in my mouth morning, noon, and night; it's the sum freakin' total of my existence. (And there I was worried the Republican Party might not take me and my concerns seriously.) And not only that, but I'd never have gotten started if Bill Clinton hadn't been the first person on Earth to ever think of inserting his erect penis into another person's mouth. In the Republican mind, apparently, Bill Clinton's dick is the source of all evil in the world.

What an ass Rush Limbaugh is.

Secondly -- and I'm actually rather sad about this -- Gore has said that he has no intention of making his new network a liberal version of FAUX News. Personally, I think that's a sadly missed opportunity, and I think his actual idea sounds pretty dodgy, but whatever. So by saying that Gore said "it will be liberal," Rush is lying his ass off.

Third -- isn't shouting about blowjobs on the radio in the middle of the afternoon, like, an FCC violation or something?

And finally -- apparently Bill Clinton doesn't cause oral sex among teenagers, fundie-funded faith-based pro-abstinence training does. Suck on that for a while, Rush.
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Footnote This

I had a meeting with my screenwriting professor this morning, and was really gratified to have him praise my short adaptation of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez' Eyes of a Blue Dog. He even said he thought I'd improved on the story in some ways -- impossible, of course, where Garcia-Marquez is concerned, but flattering to have said just the same. It still wants a little tweaking -- a few points need to be clarified, the dialogue probably needs a once-over, and then there's the task of planning out how the film would actually look, but I do feel like I have a very "ready" screenplay in my hands. And I guess that means I'm probably going to make the film.

Does anyone reading this happen to know if there are any older images (paintings, I assume) of blue dogs? I know there's a well-known blue dog painted by George Rodrigue, but the chronology is completely wrong -- Garcia-Marquez wrote the story in '61, and Rodrigue didn't paint his blue dog until the 80s. Anyone know of a blue dog in Picasso's work, or the work of some other painter from that general period?

I'm currently sweating my way through the Deren paper; I'm still waiting for books for the technology paper so I can't start on that yet. Writing on Deren last night, I remembered why I always used to curse the existence of footnotes -- they're sticklers about references and citations here, and presenting a badly-footnoted paper is bad mojo. But footnotes -- I think I'm still allowed to express this opinion -- suck ass. I hate 'em, the fiddly little fuckers.
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Monday, April 11, 2005
We Are Zogg

Behold, the generation the Boomers raised.

My Little Golden Book About Zogg

I had this book when I was very, very small (the original, not the Zogg version.) I'd completely forgotten about it, would never have thought about it or remembered it on my own, but when I saw these illustrations, I recognized them instantly.

For future reference, this is exactly the kind of thing I find absolutely f-ing hilarious.

I will pair bond only with fellow Zogg.
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Sunday, April 10, 2005
I Can Stop Any Time I Want

MODERATOR. One more question on that. The training--What did you consider the Vietnamese? Were they equal with you?

CAMPBELL. The Vietnamese were gooks. We didn't just call the VC or the NVA gooks. All Vietnamese were gooks and they were slant eyes. They were zips. They were Orientals and they were inferior to us. We were Americans. We were the civilized people. We didn't give a ------ about those people.

MODERATOR. Mr. Eckert, you stated that you witnessed an old Vietnamese woman shot by security guards in Quang Tri Province. Could you elaborate and tell us if she was a VC or a civilian?

ECKERT. I was up in Quang Tri visiting a friend of mine who was on security, which is like a rat patrol. They go out in the little jeeps and patrol the perimeter. We were out about five o'clock in the morning, just about coming in, when they spotted this old woman about--she looked about fifty but she was probably about twenty-five--and she was running across some trees and everyone in the jeep--no one was supposed to be out there, of course, it was not a free fire zone but from the hours from dusk to dawn there's not supposed to be anybody out there, and if there is, you're supposed to stop them, check them out, and eliminate them if you have to. So these guys decided that they would kind of play a little game and they let her run about fifty yards and they'd fire in front of her so she'd have to turn around, and then they'd let her run another direction and then they'd cut her off. This went on about a half hour until the time the sun started to come up. So then they decided it best to eliminate her as soon as possible, so they just ripped her off right there, and then the guy, the corporal that was in charge, he decided that they'd better check her out for an ID card just to be safe about it and they went over and, of course, she didn't have an ID card; she didn't have anything. Her only crime was being out probably tending to her buffalo before the time she should have been. These guys just took it upon themselves to waste her.

Winter Soldier Investigation

Q: When did you begin to turn against the military and the war?

DELGADO: From the very earliest time I was in Iraq, I began to see ugly strains of racism among our troops--anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiments.

Q: What are some examples?

DELGADO: There was a Master Sergeant. A Master Sergeant is one of the highest enlisted ranks. He whipped this group of Iraqi children with a steel Humvee antenna. He just lashed them with it because they were crowding around, bothering him, and he was tired of talking. Another time, a Marine, a Lance Corporal - a big guy about six-foot-two - planted a boot on a kid's chest, when a kid came up to him and asked him for a soda. The First Sergeant said, "That won't be necessary Lance Corporal." And that was the end of that. It was a matter of routine for guys in my unit to drive by in a Humvee and shatter bottles over Iraqis heads as they went by. And these were guys I considered friends. And I told them:" What the hell are you doing? What does that accomplish?" One said back:" I hate being here. I hate looking at them. I hate being surrounded by all these Hajjis."

Q: They refer to Iraqis as "Hajjis"?

DELGADO: "Hajji" is the new slur, the new ethnic slur for Arabs and Muslims. It is used extensively in the military. The Arabic word refers to one who has gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But it is used in the military with the same kind of connotation as "gook," "Charlie," or the n-word. Official Army documents now use it in reference to Iraqis or Arabs. It's real common. There was really a thick aura of racism.

(...)

Q: How were the civilians killed?

DELGADO: It was common practice to set up blockades. The Third Infantry would block off a road. In advance of the assault, civilians would flee the city in a panic. As they approached us, someone would yell: "Stop, stop!" In English. Of course they couldn't understand. Their cars were blown up with cannons, or crushed with tanks. Killing noncombatants at checkpoints happened routinely, not only with the Third Infantry, but the First Marines. And it is still going on today. If you check last week's MSNBC, they dug out a father and mother and her six children. We were constantly getting reports of vehicles that were destroyed (with people in them) at checkpoints.

Read the whole thing.
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Saturday, April 09, 2005
One For The Road

Did I just say no politics? Well... yeah, I did. But this one's just too ugly to pass up. Check this shit out:

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is a fairly accomplished jurist, but he might want to get himself a good lawyer -- and perhaps a few more bodyguards.

Conservative leaders meeting in Washington yesterday for a discussion of "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny" decided that Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, should be impeached, or worse.

(...)

Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."

Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said.

(Washington Post)

Whaaaa... what?! He accuses the guy of being a Marxist/Leninist, and then quotes Stalin against him? What the fuck?

Let's have a look at the original quotation:

"Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."

Death?!

Y'know, maybe I'm crazy, but that sounds a fucking hell of a lot like using the words of one of history's great totalitarian tyrants to make a threat -- potentially a veiled death threat -- against a federal judge. Does Vieira intend to harm Judge Kennedy, or to encourage others to harm him? I doubt it. But the fact that those words could even escape his lips in public, especially in the context of a spate of judge-murders and conservative aggression against judges doing their jobs, makes me really, really nervous.

If the United States manages to avoid going through an overtly fascist phase, it won't be because there weren't plenty of conservative extremists just itching to put on brown shirts, nor because there weren't plenty of conservative "moderates" willing to play along with them.
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The New Way Of Things

It looks as though posting on this blog is just going to be permanantly reduced from its earlier pace. The thing is, for me, posting = politics, and politcs = a distraction from my work. I can spend hours cursing and muttering under my breath about the obscene corruption of Tom DeLay, I can waste an afternoon wallowing in the threat of a June attack against Iran, I can easily devote half my day to posting on the Greek tragedy that has become the War in Vietnaq. But I just don't have time for that now.

I've got about a month of solid academic time left in this term -- technically I've got six weeks to go, but I have to have most of my papers at least mostly done before exams start (I don't have any exams myself, but exams influence faculty schedules, which means they influence my schedules), and anyway, those last two weeks are worthless for serious work. And I've still got plenty to do. I didn't exactly keep up with my 20-pages-per-week plan (what, you didn't really think that would happen, did you?), but it was only a self-imposed target anyway. What I still have to accomplish, though, is this: one long paper (30-40 pages, maybe) on the technical history of independent film; one 20-30 page screenplay (although hopefully I've already got a good start on that); one medium-lenth (20 pages, give or take) paper on Maya Deren; one shortish paper on Dogme 95, ideally another paper on Mike Leigh, and maybe a couple of other short papers on peripheral issues -- but those'll be the first to go if I can't get everything done.

So that's a total page count in the general neighborhood of a hundred. None of 'em have to be polished, or even completely finished, but there's gotta be something there to launch from next term. And it's all gotta be fully referenced from the fifteen or so books I've put away this term (and I'm still expecting two more), plus dozens of journal articles. I've learned a thing or two about independet film, yes-indeedy -- it's all pretty muddled and unclear in my mind right now, but I know it's in there.

But that workload means no distractions, and thus no politics.

It's an unbelievably beautiful day here -- the sky is profoundly blue, the first new growth is appearing, the temperature is perfect; for six weeks a year, Vermont is paradise. I'm hoping to go out on the campus trails tomorrow, find a quiet spot in the woods, and get some reading done while listening to songbirds.
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Three Men, Mapless

This is the Huia:


#12, the Huia


The Huia is no more; bereft of life, they rest in peace. Off the twig, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible.

Similarly, this is the Winter:


#13, the Winter


Sadly, the Winter, too, has ceased to be. But where the Huia left nothing behind but a few stuffed carcasses and some fancy hats, the Winter left us some recorded documentation of their existence. Interestingly, one references the other.

The Winter's final album, Swansong (for the Huia) centers on extinction, both their own and that of their honoree. The music is challenging -- apart from a brief spoken word track detailing the Huia's demise at the hands of Victorian-era high fashion, there are no words here, there's no standard song structure, and no markers to tell you where you're being taken. This can, admittedly, be tricky territory for neophytes like me; after a lifetime of listening to music that tells you exactly how to feel at any given moment, being left adrift with only your own immediate responses -- and no hint as to whether they are "correct" or not -- can be unsettling. The interest of listening comes not so much from accessibility or even straightforward aesthetics (depending on your personal taste, of course), but from listening to three musicians circle and signal each other, collectively building a strange kind of single entity out of their disparate influences. When they find each other, different things can happen -- sometimes a brief groove emerges, giving the listener a place to pause and find their bearings, but sometimes not. The not knowing is part of it, I think -- this music is more about process than product.

These pieces range from bewilderingly chaotic to quietly delicate, sometimes both on the same track. At times it's incomprehensible; at others it gets its ideas across eloquently. It asks for some effort from the listener, even a little patience, but after a while it does begin to grow on you; other music begins to sound too routine, too predictable. To say that you "like" it -- in the way that you might "like" whatever catchy hook is currently on heavy rotation on the radio -- isn't quite the right word; rather, you become involved with it, you develop a relationship to it, something more complex than you could form with easier music.

It's worth a few bucks for the adventurous and intrepid, and worth some time and energy for those willing to put their expectations aside for an hour in the hope of scouting a new country. If you're interested in hearing this album, I'm sure Dave would be very happy to hook you up by way of his website; you can get the Winter's other work while you're there.
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Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Bored To Death Of Death

A request to famous people: stop fucking dying. Give us a two-week moratorium on celebrity death; you're bringing us all down. And yeah, that goes for Mitch Hedberg too -- especially him, he had no business going and dying when he was just getting good. And for future reference: the deaths of persons over the age of 80, or who've been ill for more than ten years, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Old guys die -- what, you didn't see it coming? Nobody even noticed Saul Bellow's death, and I'd wager he did more for the good of mankind than Prince Ranier ever did. (Seriously, what did he ever do for us? Unleashed Princess Stephanie on an unsuspecting world? Phphpht, please... like we needed another Stephanie going around acting like a Princess.)

As the WWII generation reaches antiquity and the Boomers move into the early phases of the Great Boomer Die-In, dead famous people are going to become more and more common. We can't be having week-long retrospectives every time a Mick Jagger or a Jack Nicholson karks it (at least one of which is virtually guaranteed within the next ten years); there isn't enough time in the programming day. Maybe we could segregate it all on some kind of all-celebrity-death, all-the-time cable network. Call it "Ex! Entertainment Television."
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Sunday, April 03, 2005
Does This Font Make My Text Look Big?

In spite of my minimal skill with cascading style sheets and HTML, I've done some minor tinkering with the template for this blog: the text is a little bigger, and a little darker. I think the overall cohesiveness of the design is reduced -- I don't have it in me to fiddle around with the rest of the blog's innards so's it all looks smooth -- but I think it's more easily readable now.

Not that your opinion matters (I keed), but if you have thoughts or advice, leave 'em in the comments.
6:11 PM ::
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Unspeakable Genius

I completely forgot to mention that I saw the final version of the first of two films I worked on with Morgan last summer. He had a good deal of what I would regard as difficult footage, which is part and parcel of his shooting style -- his methods give him both opportunity for truly creative work and frequent complications, and certainly his films don't much resemble your typical Hollywood stuff. In any case, I think he did a really remarkable job. AwayAwake is less linear than Blue Citrus Hearts was, but I think it's still accessible for those viewers who don't mind putting themselves to a little more effort. Nobody (including Morgan) knows when the second of the two films will be completed -- currently he's getting ready to shoot another film over this coming summer, one that, according to him, will be the most linear and straightforward to date. I'll be looking forward to what he does with the uncompleted one -- the current film includes brief glimpses of some characters who have rather extensive film lives of their own, detailed in the film now floating in limbo, and it would be nice to see that potential realized eventually. But we'll see how things progress -- perhaps those characters will eventually be known only to those who were there when it all happened. That's an interesting angle in itself, I think.

I am continuing to have my world rocked by Maya Deren.


I'm currently reading her 1946 chapbook, An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and Film, which is really an amazing piece of writing. Every page seems to hold a minor revelation -- you think I'm exaggerating, but I promise, I'm not. It's a classic case of having all those things you've known, that you've had floating around inside your mind without ever quite being able to pull them together, finally click into place so you can see them and hold them and begin to understand them more deeply. It's really a seminal work, definitely up there with the likes of Godard and Cassavetes (and pre-dating them both); it makes me rather angry that in nearly a decade of studying this medium, nobody has ever so much as mentioned Deren's name, much less advised me to read her writings. The argument could be made, I suppose, that as a pivotal avant-gardist, Deren's work doesn't bear as much relation to mainstream film -- film theorists and historians have constructed a high wall between the avant-garde and everything else -- but that's complete bullshit. And yes, part of me is inclined to attribute at least part of the neglect of Deren's work to the fact that she was a woman; even taking straight-up gender politics (always a tiresome subject) out of the equation, I think there's some kernel of truth to the idea that men and women do make different kinds of films.

I'm inclined to point to the other major female genius of the cinema as a second reference to this point, but since she was a dirty stinking Nazi -- I'm referring, of course, to Leni Riefenstahl -- we're not really allowed to talk about her work. The cause she glorified in film is, obviously, a repugnant and shameful one, but that doesn't lessen the innovation present in her films. Interestingly, Riefenstahl's studies of cinematic representation of human motion (I'm thinking specifically of the diving sequence in Olympiad) are probably most closely echoed by Deren's similar studies of cinematic representations of dance. Interestingly, both Riefenstahl and Deren started out as dancers; and while Deren shot endless anthropological footage in Haiti, Riefenstahl eventually did similar work in Sudan. Of course, Riefenstahl lived to an absurdly old age, while Deren died young (directly of a brain hemmorhage, but indirectly because of severe malnutrition and attendant heavy use of amphetamines to overcome the effects of slow starvation.)

It's just interesting, I think, that in the years I've spent studying film -- in both a deep-thinking liberal arts setting and in a nuts-and-bolts film school setting -- that for all the hours we spent watching films and discussing historical innovation, neither Riefhenstahl nor Deren were ever so much as mentioned. The one time I was made to watch Riefhenstahl's films, it was always with a general imposed attitude to silent disgust without discussion -- socially and politically warranted, yes, but not helpful when the subject is technique and aesthetic. Strangely, those same instructors would discuss D. W. Griffith's equally-innovative (and far more viscerally, repulsively offensive) Birth of a Nation with due reverence, even if always with a disclaimer attached.

Funny how that works. Anyway, yes, I'm digging on Deren.

I'd forgotten how yucky New England can be in the spring -- yesterday and today have both been cold and rainy, dreary grey. It almost seems to feel colder the warmer it gets. We're having minor flooding problems -- it's raining constantly, which leads to some standing water, but the rainfall also facilitiates the melting-off of all the accumulated snow, and we had a lot of snow this year. All the rivers and streams are overflowing from the runoff from the mountaints; the beaver pond on the local road is threatening to crest over its banks. But, as everyone continually reminds themselves and each other, at least it's not snowing. And that's an excellent point.

PS: For anyone interested, Morgan Fox's Blue Citrus Hearts is available at NetFlix, GreenCine, and Blockbuster. The current cover art is a minor atrocity (the original art was much, much better), but the film's worth a look. And yes, I worked on that one, too.
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Friday, April 01, 2005
In Which Sister Novena Is Consigned To Hell

As if that animated gif on Monday wasn't enough...

(Uhhhhh... don't read this if you're like, sensitive and stuff.)

The Dead Pope Collector: Bring out yer dead!

[a Cardinal puts a Pope on the cart]

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Here's one.

The Dead Pope Collector: That'll be ninepence.

The Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I'm not dead.

The Dead Pope Collector: What?

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Nothing. There's your ninepence.

Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I'm not dead.

Dead Pope Collector: 'Ere, he says he's not dead.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Yes he is.

Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I'm not.

The Dead Pope Collector: He isn't?

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.

The Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I'm getting better.

Cardinal with Dead Pope:No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.

The Dead Pope Collector: Well, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.

The Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I don't want to go on the cart.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Oh, don't be such a baby.

The Dead Pope Collector: I can't take him.

The Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I feel fine.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Oh, do me a favor.

The Dead Pope Collector: I can't.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long.

The Dead Pope Collector: I promised I'd be at the Robinsons'. They've lost nine Popes today.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Well, when's your next round?

The Dead Pope Collector: Thursday.

The Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I think I'll go for a walk.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Isn't there anything you could do?

The Dead Pope That Claims It Isn't: I feel happy. I feel happy.

[the Dead Pope Collector glances up and down the street furtively, then silences the Pope with his a whack of his club]

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Ah, thank you very much.

The Dead Pope Collector: Not at all. See you on Thursday.

Cardinal with Dead Pope: Right.

Hey, don't blame me -- that's what the old guy gets for dying -- er, almost dying -- that is to say, hovering on the very edge of death (is he dead yet?) -- on April Fools' Day.
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