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MEDIA UPDATE: Watching More May 29, 2008

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The Fall

It’s true, the movie’s kind of boring. Why? Despite a brilliantly funny child actress playing an injured girl in a infirmary, The Fall simply lacks any forward motion and conviction. We don’t know where it’s going and we don’t care. Lee Pace — however much I adore him — is not a strong lead. He’s depressed about something and lacks the gravitas or viciousness (either would be fine) to make us care. When we do find out what’s his problems are — and what he plans to do about it — we care even less. The problem is trivial and its solution maudlin. Tarsem spends too much time in this world.

His fantasy world is more interesting, but here too, slow editing and an uninteresting storyline plague the plot.

Everything needed to be faster, wittier and much much more provocative. At almost 2 hours, the Fall should have been 90 minutes, with the majority of that time spent in Tarsem’s beautiful but not nearly complex enough or sardonic enough fantasy world.

What’s sad is that there are clearly glimmers of brilliance. There’s an interesting subtheme about the dawn of cinema — specifically “special effects” cinema — that could have been further explored. Still too, some of the characters in the real world had fantasy world doppelgangers. Both characters would have been enlivened with more context and character development.

Redbelt

Isn’t as transcendent as it wants to be, but Mamet smartly bends the conventions of the sports movie — spending more than half the movie explaining how the fighter got to the match. As is typical for Mamet, the dialogue is dense and rapid and the plot slightly convoluted (but flows easily). The makes the movies engaging to watch, distracting you from realizing that not much is happening.

In the end, the themes are familiar: one lone man has the faith to believe in something greater than money or self-gain and has to fight the forces around him — including his wife! — to vindicate his belief in the higher power. Mamet stops at the vindication, cutting off the movie right when it should end: after our hero, up to his neck in crap (a lawsuit, counter-suit, suicide, betrayal, debt) and perhaps his convictions dwindling, realizes his ideals can still empower him.

Chiwetel Ejiofor leaves the film as something of a sex symbol and a more acting cred to boot. I’ll put it plainly: he’s hot.

Indiana Jones

It was entertaining. But I don’t remember the previous ones, I was too young when I saw them. So I have no strong feelings on this. :(

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MEDIA UPDATE: Watching May 28, 2008

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I’ve seen a lot of movies lately! I’ll roll them out slowly. Here’s two

Baghead (okay I lied. Saw this weeks ago at Philly Film Fest, but it’s coming out in theaters)

Interesting. It’s an interesting film. It does in fact bend genres: mumblecore-like realism, horror, comedy. Problem is, it’s not very memorable. You leave the theater thinking “weird. cool” and then you never think about it again.

But I like the Duplass Bros. They’re taking risks, and that’s great. They’ve assembled a cast — as they did in The Puffy Chair — of almost mostly unsympathetic young people. This time, unlike in the Puffy Chair, we get the pleasure of seeing them freak each other out — and they have nowhere to run! Yes. The Bros. still use to stylistic conventions of mumblecore: lots of close-ups, handheld camera, inane dialogue, to give the movie that realist edge. Dance with the one that brung ya. I’m eager to see how long they will.

Reprise

I liked this movie. But I thought I would love it. Maybe it was all the critical raving. The words used to describe it “kinetic,” “energetic,” “youthful,” “exuberant,” “fresh,” “savage,” are all true. To that I would add “confident.” Trier clearly had a vision of how he wanted to tell this story: broken in time with the past clear and the future conditional (this and that “would” and “could” happen, his freshest idea). Maybe because it was so confident I hoped for just a little more. My expectations were high.

Part of what blunted my enthusiasm was the focus on male artist angst. It’s just a pet peeve. I don’t really care about the guy who can’t write because his debut novel was too good or the friend who doubts his talent. You got a book deal, shut up, suck it up and live. That these men treat their women badly pushes my buttons even more. Trier is smart enough to add commentary from  women, to hint at what pricks these men must be (in one smart line, a graduate student says: “it must be so hard to have problems in this group”). But the overall lack of perspective suggests Trier actually wants us to love these self-indulgent would-be-men.

Still, the man knows how to work a camera and get pretty subtle emotions to register strongly. In what may be the strongest scene in the movie, the disturbed, post-suicidal Phillipe asks his ex-girlfriend to relive their trip to Paris. He asks her to pose in the exact same way  she did by fountain in a park months earlier. She is disturbed. She has to oblige him — he’s clinically depressed, after all — but the love that grew during their first Parisian trip is gone. She realizes this, but Phillipe does not. Later, she doesn’t even get laid. Am I mean for calling Phillipe a wimp and an asshole?

Anyway, Trier ends the movie with a kind of rosy “would-be” future in which everyone has a girlfriend and is happy. This is the future we doubt will happen, but we suppose Erik (Phillipe’s bff and 1/2 the film’s main duo) thinks it might. This is where the film is smart: young people also think of the future that could be. What actually happens is less important. Too bad I was thinking of the great movie this could have been, instead of the very very good movie it actually was.

FIRST ENCOUNTER: “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism” May 22, 2008

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Ryan Trecartin - I-Be Area, 2007

Today, a reading of a classic essay by art history titan Rosalind Krauss: “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism.” Full of sharp insights still relevant to video art today, I found it especially relevant — though ultimately insufficient — for understanding the phenomenon of YouTube and mumblecore (a paper I’m working on).

The central idea is simple: the medium of video is narcissism, or, in less Freudian terms, an obsession with the self.

“In that image of self-regard is configured a narcissism so endemic to works of video that I find myself wanting to generalize it as the condition of the entire genre.” She asks: is “the medium of video is narcissism”?

Krauss gets to her point when she brings in Lacan. She uses Lacan’s theorizing of the mirror stage to suggest that video is like the silence in a therapy session. A person realizes he is a construction or object of himself. He, in my words, becomes a stranger unto himself. The difference between a mirror (Lacan’s metaphoric image) and video is that video collapses time, subject and object. The performer is able to see himself as an object. Subject becomes object. This phenomenon is pretty erotic (Krauss cites Benglis’ Now) and leads to obsession: hence, narcissism.

This self-obsession doesn’t say much, Krauss implies. It’s self-satisfying and provides no criticism or evaluation of subjectivity or objecthood.

I agreed with most of her point, and I relished finding an essay from 1976 that talks about the camera as a tool for self-broadcasting. It’s hard to find predecessors to YouTube beyond the 90s-00s webcam movement. Most of video/films prior to that were cinema and homemade videos, neither of which completely suffice.

New media has, however, transformed the camera. It has allowed users — or performers — to work through issues of self-alienation and despair. The most recent example being the 16 year-old girl who cried in despair at the loss of her legal prosecution of her alleged rapist. These “working through” moments, in my opinion, is less about disassociation — being alienated from oneself — than narrativization — writing one’s own story. Through narrative, people feel whole. It’s a stunning process to watch and it’s productive not only for the performers themselves, but for the viewers as well, who watch in occasional cynicism but more often in wonder.

Krauss says video cuts the self (object) away from external objects. It’s more than lonely, it’s solipsistic, she implies. But in new media, the self is networked with others as well. This makes it possible to have a open, human, intimate spaces, as opposed to a myopic, objectified spaces (the spaces of Foucault, Lacan and Barthes if you’ll allow me to get carried away). It suggests the postmodernist, psychoanalytic framework might not be enough to describe how video operates in the 21st century.

It’s telling that the videos Krauss describes are not overtly emotional — some video art was — or when it was emotional, it was “put on.” I think YouTube, as a potential space for emotional honesty, is a foil to this. Some vloggers — most? — are denser and deeper than objects and different kinds of subjects.

MEDIA UPDATE: Watching May 20, 2008

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Mister Lonely – Loved it, although I can’t say watching it was always a pleasant experience. The film has a sadness to it, and part of it came with my unease with celebrity impersonators. I cannot imagine living through someone else — but the film has a good way of addressing that unease.

Harmony Korine has a big theme going (note to anyone reading: I look for big themes like squirrels look for nuts) about the ability to improve the world through belief in something bigger than oneself. The movie has two storylines: one about a commune of celebrity impersonators and one about a group of nuns who jump from planes — I’m dead serious. The link between celebrity and religion is an obvious one — celebrities are idols, the new religion, etc. But Korine doesn’t wallow in easy comparisons. Instead, his delicate and virtuoso handling of the nun storyline — mystifying, scary, painful, hopeful — escalates the thematic tension: he has something to say.

The celebrity impersonators, like the nuns, are trying to better themselves through a belief in something (their celebs, their craft, but also each other). They aren’t doing any harm, and they haven’t lost their souls, they’ve just found another use for them. They want to make people happy — they put on a talent show.

What’s sad is the impersonators see themselves as outsiders — yes, “black sheep,” a convenient but important metaphor in the film — they don’t participate in the world, living miles outside Paris. How can you improve the world and encourage togetherness when you are alone? Diego Luna’s Michael starts the film thinking he’s alone, he ends it realizing we’re all together.

The religion here, then, is the world, it’s people, who by merely living show life is worth living. Once Michael learns that the impersonators are not alone in trying to improve themselves, living for something else other than the self, he is finally free. The idols are not the celebrities, “people,” writ large, are the idols. Korine believes in faith, not religion (and the fate of the nuns at the end proves this).  So the message of the movie is simple: believe in each other and we can all “live forever,” as Diego Luna says .

The movie is slow, it demands patience, but some of his scenes are downright brilliant — as many reviewers have noted. You simply have to see for yourself. And sometimes Korine’s choices seem oddball and unnecessary. That may be true. But I’ve never felt so odd during and after a movie. Korine managed to get at themes of togetherness and faith through celebrity impersonators. Freaky, unsettling.

Description and reviews.

Oh yea, I saw Prince Caspian. One word review: Watchable.

RESEARCH UPDATE: An Interviewee Interviews Herself May 13, 2008

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Hi all:

So this post comes from my ethnography of camp performers on YouTube. I wanted to share with you all one of my “interviews,” with a very funny and vivacious performer named Crazie Tracie. Crazie Tracie, after I sent her the interview questions she requested, decided to interview herself. Here’s the video she made and how I described it in my report.


One interviewee interviewed herself. I sent Crazie Tracie a list of questions at her request – she did not want a live interview. She soon told me she was “working on the video” and “will load the video and send it tonight.” When this video was posted, Crazie Tracie had assumed the identity of Barbara Stalker of ABSee News – a play on Barbara Walters of ABC – to interview herself using my questions, more or less. Methodologically, this was an interesting example of how YouTubers – and new media users, in general – can take control of their own representations. Many of my interviewees do this every day in interesting ways. Her responses to my questions were good, but necessitated follow-up. More interesting, however, how she showed her own personality – her love of impersonation, assuming characters – she spent more time as Barbara Stalker in the video than Crazie Tracie, though both, I assume, are somewhat fictional.

MEDIA UPDATE: Watching May 7, 2008

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The Visitor: Subtle yet powerful, the perfect post-9/11 movie about New York and America. The storyline unfolds gradually and quietly. A couple — both Muslims, one Senegalese, one Syrian — accidentally get caught living in the apartment of a bored, lonely economics professor (international economics, no less!).  The movie is at its best when it’s dramatizing the subtleties of cross-cultural connections: the street music players of various cultures — Chinese to African — who play for New Yorkers everyday; the (mostly white) New Yorkers listening to the (mostly of color, international) men playing drums in Washington Square Park; the woman who buys the necklaces made by the main female character, Zainab, and to whom, when Zainab says she’s from Senegal, she says, “Oh, I went to Cape Town…” (which is thousands of miles away). But the movie demonizes no one — except implicitly the Bush Administration.

The movie so asks: who are the visitors? The immigrants? Or are New Yorkers/Americans tourists in their own city/country? At the immigrant detention center keeping Tarek, the male half of the couple, posters on the wall say immigrants are part of America and one mural memorializes the twin towers and the Statue of Liberty.

All of this would be overbearing if the film’s editing was not so quiet and steady. The themes slip into your mind before you realize they are there. This is how great movies about big subjects are made.

Tom McCarthy, of the Station Agent fame, does well with the larger narrative. The Station Agent was a charming movie, but The Visitor manages to be charming, insightful and powerful all at once.

MEDIA UPDATE: Watching (Tribeca FF) May 5, 2008

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More watching, from Tribeca:

Katyn: I must confess my ignorance of early European history and say I wasn’t completely aware of Poland’s precarious state throughout the war and in its aftermath. So much of this movie was exciting for me only because some of it was news to me. This movie was beautifully shot and extremely well-told. World War II movies are often bogged down with weighty, plodding narratives, poor character development, and too often end with an either glorious or tragic end to the war. Katyn — the movie named for a massacre by the Soviets during the war — had neither. One of its messages seems to be that the war never ended for Poland; it s aftermath and horror lived on in the culture psychologically for decades.

Following some realist conventions, the movie’s editing did not compel the viewer forward, per se. What we saw instead where glimpses of several stories played out subtly and across time, all of which eventually came together in the story of the mass murder. The movie held back on the horror until the end, which softened the tone and prepared the viewer for the brutal finale. Artfully done. I loved it — except when I left I wanted to kill myself.

SqueezeBox!: I also enjoyed this documentary on the 1990s late night party. More than a well-made film (it was good), it is valuable as an historical document: as a story about how subcultures reacted to the Giuliani regime and his crusade against vice (though this is of course not new and has happened in most coastal cities since the dawn of cities); as a much-needed installment in the history of drag and camp (the movie addresses the prominence of rock in camp); as a way to understand the historical antecedents of New York hipster culture; as an entree into the psychology of 1990s/1980s performance art; and finally as a way to understand how New York has changed so drastically in the past twenty years, to realize what has been lost but also what has been gained. That the party ended right before September 11th and midway through the HBO series “Sex and the City,” right before the producers really turned up the dial on glamour, is significant. (That movie is coming out a month before Sex is also telling).

A friend of mine, Madison Moore, who frequented the now-gone hipster party, MisShapes, said SqueezeBox is a clear antecedent. Both parties are sex- and sexuality-inclusive, both used Don Hills as a venue, both are predominantly queer, etc. So they are similar, but MisShapes is also different: less about putting on makeup and more about realizing that all clothes are makeup, less about hard rock and more about alterna/electro/retro rock, less about sex and more about dance. SqueezeBox was still a “gay club,” MisShapes was a “dance club with a lot of gays.” MisShapes fits much easier within New York’s glam/celebrity/fashion scene: more Silmane/Dior, Commes des Garcons, etc. These are culturally significant shifts that have a lot to do with New York’s changing economy but also with its demographic and broader generational shifts.