Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Friday, January 27, 2006
If you get on the downtown Fourth Avenue Local (that's the R train to Brooklyn newcomers) in midtown, you'll cross under the East River, turn in roughly the opposite direction from hipster-infested Williamsburg, skirt the edge of writer-heavy Park Slope, and eventually arrive at the Eighty-sixth Street station, in the heart of the guaranteed literary-mystique-free white ethnic enclave of Bay Ridge. Which I did one sultry August afternoon in return-of-the-native fashion, walking past the location of the now extinct record store where I bought my first 45s ("He's a Rebel" and "Monster Mash"), the still flourishing Leemark Lanes, where I bowled unironically and unalone, and the car lots and body shops for which the neighborhood is justly famed, to arrive at the not quite accurately named Bridgeview Diner, an establishment featuring several acres of faux marble and silvered mirrors, to share coffee and conversation with another native son, the novelist Gilbert Sorrentino.More here
The fifth season of "24," the phenomenally successful Fox television series, premiered on January 15. Composed of 24 one-hour episodes, the show chronicles the workday of the fictitious L.A.-based Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) as it desperately attempts to thwart a catastrophic terrorist attack. (In season four, they stopped a stolen nuclear weapon from exploding above a major U.S. city.) The "real-time" nature of the series confers a strong sense of urgency, emphasized by the ticking of a digital clock and accentuated with hand-held camera shots and split-screens showing the concurrent actions of various characters.
Even the commercial breaks contribute to this sense of urgency: Before a commercial, we see an on-screen digital clock signalling it is "7:46." When the action resumes, the digital clock reads "7:51." The length of the break in our, the spectators', real time is exactly equivalent to the temporal gap in the on-screen narrative, as if the events nonetheless go on as we watch commercials. This makes it seem like the ongoing action is so pressing, spilling over into the real time of the spectator, that even commercial breaks cannot interupt it.
This brings up a crucial question: What does this all-pervasive sense of urgency mean ethically? The pressure of events is so overbearing, the stakes are so high, that they necessitate a suspension of ordinary ethical concerns. After all, displaying moral qualms when the lives of millions are at stake plays into the hands of the enemy.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
44 ~ George Lucas
Charges: It needs to be said: George Lucas is an awful writer and a shitty, shitty director. His second Star Wars trilogy absolutely sucked from beginning to end, and was in fact the least brave creative endeavor he could possibly have chosen, a guaranteed grand slam. Lucas has grown so accustomed to massive commercial success that he has no idea he’s putting out the worst work of his career, and no one dares to tell him. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because an army of sexless, sedentary thirty-something dweebs with an unhealthy fixation on Princess Leia will insist that his schlock is brilliant as if their lives depend on it, and an absurdly disproportionate media blitz always brings the kids in. But everything that was great about the first trilogy—reasonably decent acting, an engaging storyline and cool model-based special effects—is gone, replaced by detestably unsympathetic characters reciting torturously bad dialogue in a manner so wooden that coaching from Keanu Reeves would have helped, and CGI effects that, while painstakingly crafted down to the nanopixel, somehow looked less real than plastic spaceships and Muppets.
Exhibit A: Already revising the new trilogy for DVD releases.
Sentence: Cast into the gaping maw of Tatooine’s all-powerful Sarlacc and digested alive for a thousand years, along with a talkative Jar Jar Binks.
3 ~ George W. Bush
Charges: Simply put, the stupidest man ever to lead this country. Bush’s lobotomized Will Rogers routine is a satirist’s dream, a European intellectual’s caricature of the dipshit cowboy American, all balls and no brains. Often responds to questions by attempting to define the word he finds the most challenging in them. Thinks press reports of his various crimes are responsible for his waning popularity, rather than the deeds themselves. Interprets the constitution like a Unitarian interprets the bible; for maximum convenience and with no regard to the actual text. Foreign policy vision is less serious and more simplistic than an issue of Captain America.
Exhibit A: “I want to thank the President and the CEO of Constellation Energy, Mayo Shattuck. That’s a pretty cool first name, isn’t it? Mayo. Pass the Mayo.”
Sentence: Trapped for eternity under shoddily manufactured Diebold voting machine, unable to reach nearby refrigerator full of hot dogs and bourbon.
2 ~ Dick Cheney
Charges: At the forefront of nearly every administration effort to anihillate the constitution. A true psychopath with only one motivating force; insatiable greed. Insists that we can only remain "free" through torture, spying and secrecy. Bears the crooked ugliness of a man whose entire life has been devoted to a senseless pursuit of power, and whose most effective weapon is a total lack of ethics, or even decorum. So cartoonishly evil he defies parody.
Exhibit A: “I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”
Sentence: Strapped to chair; eyes removed with melon baller. Nursed back to health. Lips sewn to a rubber hose connecting him to a 500 gallon nutrition shake. Nursed back to health. Fingers, hands, toes, feet, nose and genitals devoured by hungry pigs. Nursed back to health. Legs and arms ground to stubs with belt sander. Nursed back to health. Fitted with earphones that play only Christina Aguilera songs, and left alone to think about what he has done.
1 ~ Pat Robertson
Charges: If Pat Robertson’s local Starbucks caught fire, he would claim that God was punishing them for giving him a caramel latte when he ordered vanilla. Robertson has always been a demonic charlatan with the credibility of Miss Cleo and a lust for Armageddon in his vile, rat-toad heart, but this was really his year to shine. In 2005, Robertson called on God to vacate seats in the Supreme Court (the almighty obliged, killing Rehnquist), advocated assassinating Hugo Chavez, said ‘judicial activists’ were a more serious threat to America than terrorists, called criticism of the war treason, said John Roberts should be thankful for Hurricane Katrina, which he implied was “connected” to Roe v. Wade, attributed Ariel Sharon’s stroke to divine retribution for the Gaza pullout, said “the Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today,” and implied that God would wipe the residents of Dover, PA off the map for rejecting Creationism. Not to mention raising huge sums of cash from his zombie army, much of which is diverted from his charity operations to his business interests, including African diamond mines. Has long advocated that America simply ignore the Supreme Court. Robertson’s God is an insecure, misogynistic, homicidal fanatic—just like Pat.
Exhibit A: Vehemently opposed to voluntary abortion in America, but okay with forced abortion in China, where his cable investments depend on the good graces of the government.
Sentence: Repeatedly struck by lightning.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état imaginable.Kurt Vonnegut
I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".
George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.
To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!
Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.
PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!
And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.
So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.
They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.
Learn the rules, and you can get away with anything.
A general rule: if enough people predict something, it won't happen.
It was an excess of fantasy that killed the old United States, the whole Mickey Mouse and Marilyn thing, the most brilliant technologies devoted to trivia like instant cameras and space spectaculars that should have stayed in the pages of Science Fiction. . . some of the last Presidents of the U.S.A. seemed to have been recruited straight from Disneyland.
Sex times technology equals the future.
The number of exhilarating, important experiences is limited. There's that school of anthropologists who have come up with the "Village Theory." They found that everybody had basically the same pattern . . . you had, say, two powerful sexual partners who transcended all the others. You fell in love once, there was one member of your family you really loved, etc. In your life you're going to meet two adult friends whom you're going to be really close to--if you've had them, you've had them--the slots are filled in the brain, because the brain has a certain finite capacity for friendship . . . And if you have too much experience, you exhaust your capacity for further experiences.
[Joseph] Conrad once said that it's necessary to immerse yourself in the most destructive elements of the times, and then attempt to swim . . .
I always tell the truth . . . It's a new way of lying. If you tell the truth people don't know whether to believe you. It helps me in my work.
The only definition of real happiness: to find yourself and be who you are.
(From RE/Search Publications' J.G.Ballard: Quotes
The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy.
The American Dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It's over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now...
Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer's role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there.
We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind -- mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery . . .
The president of the United States bears about as much relationship to the real business of running America as does Colonel Sanders to the business of frying chicken.
Modernism: The Gothic of the Information Age.
Money: The original digital clock.
If you can smell garlic, everything is all right.
Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.
Each of us is little more than the meagre residue of the infinite unrealized possibilities of our lives.
Bruce Sterling on JG Ballard.
Interview conducted by Chris Nakashima-Brown.
Bruce Sterling is a prolific science-fiction writer, futurist, social critic and design professor, best known for his bestselling novels and seminal short fiction, and as the editor of the Mirrorshades anthology that defined the ‘cyberpunk’ subgenre. His nonfiction includes works of futurism such as Tomorrow Now; a regular column and blog for Wired; and his Viridian Design listserv that presciently riffs on climate-change issues and Green design. He’s also wrapping up a one-year tenure as Visionary in Residence at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In his hometown of Austin, Texas, Sterling sat down in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, after a day spent visiting the local evacuee center, to talk about the continued importance of JG Ballard in an increasingly apocalyptic world.
More here (Part 1)
Bruce Sterling's blog: Beyond the Beyond
I always suspected that the "Tarantino Haters' Society" was small enough to hold it's AGM in a phone booth, but I consoled myself with the assumption that the quality of the membership compensated for it's obvious deficiency in quantity. In conclusive validation of my hypothesis, this very evening, I was delighted to discover that I'm sharing a phone booth with one of my literary heroes, J.G. Ballard.
Kill Bill Volume I, which I rented the other day, is dreadful. It was scarcely a film at all - just a lot of cinematic posing by Tarantino, who has obviously completely run out of ideas. It's just a compendium of film cliches, which weren't wittily transposed or played upon. Dreadful. It's appalling to think there's a Volume II, and even conceivably a III and a IV somewhere in the echo chamber of Tarantino's imagination. It's a fast-forward experience if you want to save your sanity. I've got 60 years of film-going under my belt, and Kill Bill I is definitely on the all-time bad list.
And, if that wasn't enough, award-winning documentary-maker Nick Broomfield has confessed to being a fully paid-up member of our ever-expanding society.
This will earn me some enemies but I'd have to say Kill Bill - Volumes I and II (in response to the question "Pick your most hated movies of all time"). It's like watching a schoolboy's fantasy of violence and sex, which normally Quentin Tarantino would be wanking to alone in the confines of his bedroom while his mother is making his baked beans downstairs. Only this time we've got Harvey Weinstein behind him and it's on at a million screens. That's why I think all those male prepubescent film critics loved Kill Bill so much. It's acting out all their fantasies. I think Tarantino is very confused in his mixing of sex and violence. On that level he just feels like a young guy whose been let loose in the candy store, and there's suddenly all these violent bitches around that he can put in his movies, and have a lot of fun with. As they say in the business, Kill Bill should never have left the lab.More here
Looks like we'll need a bigger venue for next year's meeting.
Sure, there was Rousseau and the Enlightenment. Yes, Lafayette helped oust the British. But it can't be overlooked that one of the greatest advocates of American democracy was another Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who in 1831 traveled across the nascent United States gathering source material for his landmark work, Democracy in America. Nearly two centuries later, Bernard-Henri Lévy, France's leading contemporary philosopher, repeats Tocqueville's experiment and shares his predecessor's qualified admiration for this still-young country. B.H.L., as he is sometimes known, spoke with VanityFair.com over coffee and croissants at the Carlyle hotel, in New York, to discuss his impressions of that journey and the new book that sprang from it, American Vertigo (Random House).
What do you mean when you talk about "American vertigo"?
I mean it in two ways: it's my vertigo when faced with this sick and magnificent country, and it's the vertigo of Americans themselves when faced with the challenges that lie before them and the problems they are going through. I think America is truly in a moment of Hitchcockian vertigo. But who's the murderer? Now, that's the question.
French celebrity intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy has certain things he wants to say to America, and he wouldn’t mind saying them on The Daily Show. “Jon Stewart for me is the best,” he says. “There is nothing equivalent in France. I often read that in America there is nothing similar to BHL. So it could be a good combination.”
If you’ve never heard the initials BHL, which is what Lévy tends to go by, if you’ve missed his appearances on Charlie Rose or this year’s Vanity Fair best-dressed list, he’s hoping that will change with the publication this month of his new book, American Vertigo. In it, he travels the United States “in the footsteps of Tocqueville.” The trip was the idea of the Atlantic Monthly, which serialized his observations and hired a young assistant to chauffeur him down the open road because BHL doesn’t drive. (“It’s my infirmity,” he apologizes.) The book, his 30th and the first to be published in the United States before France, is a somewhat expanded collection of those dispatches.
“The trip was under three shadows,” BHL explains. “The shadow of the war in Iraq, the shadow of an election, and the shadow of Katrina,” although the hurricane hadn’t struck at the time he wrote the book. “The anti-ci-pated shadow of Katrina, as you see. I was in New Orleans four or five months before Katrina, and I more or less foresee what is going to happen.”
BHL, 57, is not a man particularly encumbered by modesty. When he comes downstairs from his room at the Carlyle—where he’s stayed whenever he’s been in town for the past 30 years—he’s wearing a black velvet jacket and a white shirt unbuttoned, as is his habit, to display his tanned chest. A self-described “Baudelairean,” he is adamantly libertine, with a long history of mistresses. He’s also clearly rich—his father owned a large lumber concern, and BHL owns a palace in Morocco and is married to the extraterrestrially beautiful actress Arielle Dombasle....
This is, after all, a man with many mistresses, and this country is just one of them. But, in the end, what did he like best about the U.S.?
“Everything, my dear. I will tell you. Sometimes in your private life you have a mistress you love, love being with. You spend time to time in a grand hotel, with good room service, great champagne, and you separate—and when you are really in love with her, you inevitably think, Could I wake up with her, near her every morning? And then you try it. This is exactly what I did in America. America was a great mistress. I had a great fuck with America. It was like a weekend in the Hotel du Cap.”
from Vanity Fair, January 2003
The most media-savvy French philosopher since Sartre, Bernard-Henri Lévy is a globe-trotting champion for peace and social justice—when he's not making waves in the cafés of Paris. A profile of the passionate former libertine and his movie-star wife, Arielle Dombasle.
At dinner in Montparnasse last spring with the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, his wife, the actress and singer Arielle Dombasle, and Nicole Wisniak, the witty creator of Egoïste magazine, I looked at Bernard-Henri and said, "Who are you?"
We had been talking for weeks. I had interviewed him in Marrakech and Paris, read his books, read his columns, seen him on TV, read the torrent of words that poured from all sections of the French press at his every move, seen people come alive at the sight of him, heard him say, "I am someone who thinks he can influence things and do it with fire and passion and energy, and then the other side of me speaks up and says, 'Just write,'" and watched him run a meeting as council president of the egghead TV station Arte, yet the more I saw, the less I knew.
"Bernard, who are you?," I repeated. Dombasle was eating wild rice, Wisniak was playing with an antique gold watch they had given her, and Lévy was sitting in the late François Mitterrand's customary corner seat at Le Duc. He looked at me with his intense, dark eyes and said with a loving smile, "You tell me."
Bernard-Henri Lévy, known to the French by his initials, B.H.L., and Arielle Dombasle are the most famous couple in France. He's a unique figure, an action-driven intellectual who moves fast, writes fast, and is listened to with respect. Lévy's access to power and speed of action are virtually without precedent. Philosopher, publisher, novelist, journalist, filmmaker, defender of causes, libertine, and provocateur, he is somewhere between gadfly and tribal sage, Superman and prophet; we have no equivalent in the United States. Lévy represents no party and holds no job or elected office. Every year, because of his position with Arte, the government contacts him to ask if he wants the Légion d'Honneur, and every year he says no. The question most often asked about him is not whether he's sincere but whether he's real. Not since André Malraux has a French intellectual managed to be so present on so many fronts.
Joan Juliet Buck
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Philadelphia's fabulous, genre-defying, hip-hop/swing/latin crossover outfit Jimmy Luxury & The Tommy Rome Orchestra will make their UK debut at Vegas at the Ocean Terminal, Leith on Saturday 29th April 2006.
Check out samples from a couple of tunes from their "Hotels, Limousines and Lawn Chairs" album below:
Big Strong Man
Monday, January 16, 2006
Philadelphia rapper Jimmy Luxury's latest project is psychedelic hip-hop outfit Brentwood Estates. They describe themselves as sounding like "Tom Waits meets Ol' Dirty Bastard."
Follow the link below to preview a couple of their tracks, "Classic Rock Girl" and "Whiskey."
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Saturday, January 14, 2006
The face I was to face was 360 seconds away. But I was nearby; close enough to observe the rendezvous – a mail collection box – without surfacing the G-Sub.
I knew this hide well, and though the grid spread out in front was jammed, it was all first-time buyers, click-clack broads and Americana jet-set-era. Maybe it was a little more crammed than I figured, but I mean, it wasn’t like it even mattered. Only one or two cabs and GM’s were giving me the sweat as they crept and parked and parked and crept along the side street, up to the mail box and then, off they moved.
It wasn’t even a mailbox anyway. I guess it was one of those keeps that bridge-and-tunnel mailmen leave their second round deliveries in. Set back on the inside of the sidewalk like a top-heavy paperweight, perched up about a meter off the ground on a painted black pole. The only mark of any descript on the whole thing was white graffiti on the side that faced me. I remember saying it spiralled into what looked ‘like a Gotham City number three’.
12.55pm. Five minutes now. Man, I think I’m out, where‘s my, where is my timber? Got it. Strike. Ah, that’s better. Counting, counting, counting. Gotta take the edge off. Relax now, G.
Behind the box, what the? No, no that’s nothing. Just the railings that have always been and growth that looks half-agreeable, half-Yellow Stone plastic.
I was foot-to-foot now like a peekabooin’ flyweight by a punch bag. Down the hill, no one showing teeth. Up to the left, yet more realit.v. trash. Some guy walking fast. Far too fast? Ah, must be those dyed out, pink-white denims. Or that suede second skin. Why do peoples wear that?
I bet that fool Alex'll walk straight past too.
My recess was safe still, dark and detached. Like I was looking down a spotlight beam. But I mean, I was getting tepid already. The alcove air mighta been Sun-Pat smooth but the end of the tab was crunchy. Like Vinny always says though, a quick-fire smoke takes the edge off in times like these. Better still, it might lick your tongue serrated.
One minute now and my head is fucking racing. Here I am, standing on the shoulder of the last defender, waiting for a weighted pass.
And then, the telephone.
“It’s Alex. Where are ya?”
“I’m close by.”
“What, in that – oh right – I see you.”
Sprung. By somebody far unwiser than me. Plan B then. (Heh, I never mentioned the plastic dough-&-osives stuck to the underside of the mailbox. Don’t worry about it though, I got the whole handful back later).
“Why you standing here, G?”
As he pocketed cellular with port, he shoved an open palm out to the right, taking me in as he did with a bookmakers squint. Then a straighter, neck-reclining, back-foot-defining peer. He would have been six foot at least if he had a backbone.
“You know what Alex? You gotta be about the stupidest, sleaziest fucking punk I ever met."
"You asked my cousin's moll out for a walk last year, didn't you? Didn't you! You really think – that I think – that you don't know the consequence of that? Ha, or maybe you do but, you are, I don't know, what?”
“Aw no, what? That was nothing."
“You’re damn straight it was nothing you rodent rat fucking peasant piece of shit.”
“Hold on wait a minute, I didn’t know! I’m, that was nothing, honestly. It was a misunderstanding okay. I was having a, I mean, I thought I, it was nothing okay. I swear to God, it was nothing. I swear to God, G. What do you mean, rat?”
All through this I locked on a colden gaze. It was far from sub-zero, though. Matter-a-fact, it was about as close as that creep got to seeing a 37 degree real me. And whatever anyway. It wasn’t like it was my squeeze. Or even my first cousin. Far from it. But I had to make certain that he knew I knew just how pitiable and pathetic he was. It was a tragi-com moment for me.
And then again he was using his hands.
“I’m sorry about that shit, I really am. But it was nothing. And I meant no disrespect."
"It aint about me."
"I know, I know. Please though, the reason I wanted to see you today alright, the reason you’re here okay, is because DC asked you to. And me, I asked DC real nice to see if you could maybe fix me a solution to a problem I got.”
I raised both my eyebrows and smalled my nose. This low life had some serious front.
“You know what I’m talking about... my 2nd Street back room. It’s a regular finger burn. I got a member list of gorillas three nights a week that reads like a Coney Island rash. They got no style. No charisma. No integrity or even any good will. They’re pimps. But I gotta be careful about handling this because I got no sense if anyone's connected. That whole gangster bullshit is spooking me the way out.”
“So what are you telling me for, Alex? You imagine I’ll what, launder your money through your tables? Make known what goes on in da mist? Plant a sniper on the Woolworth? Hmmm, let me think. Nah, no nose job for me on Thanksgiving.”
“I said no thanks, Alex. Don't forget I’ve seen your social, alright. And if you know what I mean, none of your cufflinks or trinkets have been Hallmarked. So if you want my advice, forget about it. Close down for a month."
He just about stumbled. "Can't do that."
"Fine,” I took a breath, “maybe there’s one thing you can do instead."
"Follow them. Follow all of them, one at a time, into the John. Go with the hardest nuts first. All you gotta do, alright, is wait for the right moment. Maybe ten seconds into their leak. I mean, when they're at their most vulnerable."
"Uhuh... for what?”
“To cross the streams.”
“Cross the streams?”
“Sure Alex, you just got to cross the streams. It’s a code familiar with tough guys the world over. Shows you mean business. And believe me when I say that it'll put an end to all of your nonsense.”
"Just like that? Wow. I mean, wow! Thank you. Okay, I'll try it tonight, yeah, tonight. That is, if you're sure?"
"Sure I'm sure."
And with that, he stumbled on unto a certain death.
Friday, January 13, 2006
If you were out of the country, or out of your mind, for the past year, you may wish to know what you missed. One glance at the titles of the most admired films, and you will wonder what the hell was going on. “Brokeback Mountain,” “Broken Flowers,” “Crash”: that’s an awful lot of breakage. Yes, you might say, but those are fancy pictures. How about the rugged weekend viewers, hauling their good sense to the multiplex? What did they pay to watch? “Wedding Crashers.” Ouch.
There is nothing new, of course, in the promise of fracture. Whether you crash a wedding or an Imperial Starcruiser, movies are the place to do it. This year will mark the seventieth anniversary of “San Francisco,” in which Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy keep body and soul together in the jetsam of an earthquake. After the literal wreckage of 2005, which began with the aftershock of an undersea quake, and whose litany of the homeless stretched from New Orleans to Kashmir, cinematic fantasies of disaster feel more flippant than ever. Yet “San Francisco” is an exercise in American stoicism, and the wryness and proficiency with which its characters respond to chaos remain a defensible dream. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, amid the finger-pointing, lay a tempting thought: If only Spencer Tracy had been in charge.
No wonder Hollywood has turned to old John Carpenter films. He was one of the last directors to trade repeatedly in underreaction, that most precious of screen commodities. In his glory days, he made wiry thrillers like “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976), which closed with this exchange between a cop and a prisoner:
“You’re pretty fancy, Wilson.”
“I have moments.”
Both that film and “The Fog” have been remade in the past year, neither to any purpose; producers, in their lavish innocence, seem to believe that cool, like Christmas leftovers, can be reheated ad infinitum. Still, one understands their plight. CGI has encouraged cinema to hit levels of bombast that even Cecil B. De Mille, dozing in his boudoir, would have considered a touch de trop, and if we worshipped Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, that is because he seemed elfishly underwhelmed by the very spectacle that was wowing the rest of us. Hence the crushing comedown of this year’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” Ridley Scott’s crusader epic, in which Bloom wore the air not of a militant knight but of a worried boy who badly needed to pee.
In its dicing with political prejudices that it dimly knew to be important and its fatal inability to relax, “Kingdom of Heaven” was a workable median for the movies of 2005. From the unarguable tripe of “Alexander” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” at the back end of last year, through the torn families of “Proof” and “Cinderella Man,” to the furrowed indecision of “Munich,” there has been a marked reluctance to breeze through any setup. Movies come loaded these days, more like a cart than a gun. The forthright Bill Murray of “Ghostbusters” (“This chick is toast”) was anesthetized into the Bill Murray of “Broken Flowers,” cast as an unfeasible Don Juan in search of former belles, and urged to sit perfectly still in a tracksuit, with the lights turned down, until we saw in him our common nullity. Even “Brokeback Mountain,” for all its delicacy, felt obliged to add a couple of chunky scenes, not in Annie Proulx’s original tale, in which Jack rebuked his father-in-law, and Ennis chewed out a pair of apelike bikers. As he stood there, with Fourth of July fireworks flaring behind him, I thought, O.K., we get the point—gay men can be strong Americans, too.
The box-office returns for 2005 are not yet complete. “King Kong” is still slugging it out with “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and my money is on Tilda Swinton to beat the crap out of the primate. Other slots have already been filled, by such masterworks as “Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “War of the Worlds,” “Batman Begins,” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” All their plots depend on a fear of the unknown (or, if you are Brad Pitt, a fear of Angelina Jolie), and yet their creators’ deepest fear is that we might not know in advance what the unknown consists of. That is why most of the highearners are either sequels or remakes—born, in other words, with brand recognition intact. We must not kid ourselves that the market leaders of old sought to frolic with the avant-garde; the most successful movie half a century ago was Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp,” and a decade before that it was “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” with Bing Crosby in a dog collar. Nevertheless, today’s contrast between the mayhem onscreen and the splintered nerves of the industry behind it feels freshly ominous. The studios, hunting for templates, trust nothing but a proven winner, however ropy it was in the first place, and they dread to think that we, in turn, might dare to take new characters on trust.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Write something, even if it's just a suicide note.
Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.
Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.
Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either.
It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.
Never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.
Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they're scraping the top of the barrel.
I'm a born-again atheist.
It is the spirit of the age to believe that any fact, no matter how suspect, is superior to any imaginative exercise, no matter how true.
I like the way you always manage to state the obvious with a sense of real discovery.
I'm all for bringing back the birch, but only between consenting adults.
I have found that there is no attitude so bizarre that one will not encounter it sooner or later if one travels far enough.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
That is exactly what she asked. And I gotta tell you, I stopped still for a sec. It was the Ravenite Social Club, Thursday night, and suddenly this chick at the 21 table was pushing me the hot breath.
“Look lucky, my charm is that I’m charming, alright! Balance to the fact that – from time to time – I’m wrapped up and alarming.”
“Yeah sure. I alarm.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Listen coco-pop, you don’t need to get it. I mean, you don’t even got to dig it. I aint trying to coo-coo ya, see. It’s just that, now and then, I do moments. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them episodes – no – I wouldn’t go that far at all. But there can be periods when, I don’t know, I want to cause a three-syllable furorê in my soul. Sometimes for a wafer thin reason, other times, no reasonable raison d'être.
"Like, look at him… see that soft cigarette packet in his T-sleeve? Looks hard huh? Real tough and cool as fuck, no doubt. But I bet you a nickel to a dime he’d rather keep that scar there classified. You see that!? I bet he’s pissed about dat. And when he gets back tonight and maybe looks in a vanity, he’ll wonder: ‘Ugh, did she see my scab? Shit! Shit! Shit! I should have worn the jacket. Oh man...' and he’ll over-ponder. It's fucking senseless.
"But none of this really matters, CC Real. What’s important, alright, is that I seem to charm. In fact, I’m all for it in the main. The alarm part, it don’t matter so much no more. It used to happen alot when I was in the Outfit. Especially – and regrettably – I'd get a moan on at my nearest and dearest if ever I sensed a lack of understanding or whatever. But it don't distinguish overly, it's not a bonding characteristic, if you know what I mean. So it seldom features now.
"You remember Linus, that blanket-boy kid from Charlie Brown? With the blue rag? People all over the world were saying for a hundred years: ‘Yeah, I definitely identify with that. I remember when mother hid my blanket...’
"Well... let me tell you sugar puff, it aint about that. Blanket-boy had a serious seven day rage. It was there in black and white. The blanket was blue cos he coloured it so with his language. All day he would mutter 'Fuck right off' into that dirty cloth. At times, I'm sure he led a swarm of flies around too. Other days, he wore an exc!amation halo. I knew why, Woody could tell, Charlie B too. Hell, I bet even motherfucking Snoopy knew. So Schultz gave him a blanket to a) muffle him up and b) chew on when he got really angsty. That's why they never made a Peanuts movie. He woulda been a major handful on set."
“I didn’t know that.”
"Now you do froot loop, now you do. But listen to this; the furious anger and great vengeance or whatever don’t mean shit unless you channel it. I mean, why keep everybody at arm’s length, huh? You just don’t do it. What you got to learn – and this is important, alright – you got to learn to channel. Zone right out. It’s ways and means. Means and ends. Because there’s no sense in that shit. It’s better to think on a cubic level.
"But you know what? In the waste disposal business, it’s wise to wind the alarm for whenever you're awakened. Like, today for instance; some garbage-pick-up goombah got all grievous down the wire at 7am, just because a jiggle-brained dope fiend was sleeping out in a wheelie bin South of Lexington. And now, a nutcracker, hair-lacquered lioness is giving me the A while I'm on a royal streak. I mean, either way, I reserve the right to bite back. But twice in 24 aint so nice, so be a cub, lucky charm, and scram.”
And good as gold, she folded there and then.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Everyone agrees that print newspapers are in trouble today, and almost everyone agrees on the reasons. Foremost among them is the vast improvement in the technology of delivering information, which has combined in lethal ways with a serious change in the national temperament.
The technological change has to do with the increase in the number of television cable channels and the astonishing amount of news floating around in cyberspace. As Richard A. Posner has written, “The public’s consumption of news and opinion used to be like sucking on a straw; now it’s like being sprayed by a fire hose.”
The temperamental change has to do with the national attention span. The critic Walter Benjamin said, as long ago as the 1930’s, that the chief emotion generated by reading the newspapers is impatience. His remark is all the more pertinent today, when the very definition of what constitutes important information is up for grabs. More and more, in a shift that cuts across age, social class, and even educational lines, important information means information that matters to me, now.
And this is where the two changes intersect. Not only are we acquiring our information from new places but we are taking it pretty much on our own terms. The magazine Wired recently defined the word “egocasting” as “the consumption of on-demand music, movies, television, and other media that cater to individual and not mass-market tastes.” The news, too, is now getting to be on-demand.
Instead of beginning their day with coffee and the newspaper, there to read what editors have selected for their enlightenment, people, and young people in particular, wait for a free moment to go online. No longer need they wade through thickets of stories and features of no interest to them, and least of all need they do so on the websites of newspapers, where the owners are hoping to regain the readers lost to print. Instead, they go to more specialized purveyors of information, including instant-messaging providers, targeted news sites, blogs, and online “zines.”
Much cogitation has been devoted to the question of young people’s lack of interest in traditional news. According to one theory, which is by now an entrenched cliché, the young, having grown up with television and computers as their constant companions, are “visual-minded,” and hence averse to print. Another theory holds that young people do not feel themselves implicated in the larger world; for them, news of that world isn’t where the action is. A more flattering corollary of this is that grown-up journalism strikes the young as hopelessly out of date. All that solemn good-guy/bad-guy reporting, the taking seriously of opéra-bouffe characters like Jesse Jackson or Al Gore or Tom DeLay, the false complexity of “in-depth” television reporting à la 60 Minutes—this, for them, is so much hot air. They prefer to watch Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on the Comedy Central cable channel, where traditional news is mocked and pilloried as obvious nonsense.
Whatever the validity of this theorizing, it is also beside the point. For as the grim statistics confirm, the young are hardly alone in turning away from newspapers. Nor are they alone responsible for the dizzying growth of the so-called blogosphere, said to be increasing by 70,000 sites a day (according to the search portal technorati.com). In the first half of this year alone, the number of new blogs grew from 7.8 to 14.2 million. And if the numbers are dizzying, the sheer amount of information floating around is enough to give a person a serious case of Newsheimers.
Astonishing results are reported when news is passed from one blog to another: scores if not hundreds of thousands of hits, and, on sites that post readers’ reactions, responses that can often be more impressive in research and reasoning than anything likely to turn up in print. Newspaper journalists themselves often get their stories from blogs, and bloggers have been extremely useful in verifying or refuting the erroneous reportage of mainstream journalists. The only place to get a reasonably straight account of news about Israel and the Palestinians, according to Stephanie Gutmann, author of The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Struggle for Media Supremacy, is in the blogosphere.
The trouble with blogs and Internet news sites, it has been said, is that they merely reinforce the reader’s already established interests and views, thereby contributing to our much-lamented national polarization of opinion. A newspaper, by contrast, at least compels one to acknowledge the existence of other subjects and issues, and reading it can alert one to affecting or important matters that one would never encounter if left to one’s own devices, and in particular to that primary device of our day, the computer. Whether or not that is so, the argument has already been won, and not by the papers.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want to see a movie?”
“Which movie would you like to see: there are four playing now.”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you just prefer to go home?”
A scene not unlike the hallmark footage from the Ernest Borgnine movie “Marty” where two barflies trade rehearsed pleasantries, however this particular exchange was a variant on many which played similarly over this past weekend when my step-brother came for a visit. Aside, from being an exceptionally bright boy, I imagine he is a pretty typical fourteen-year-old: scruffy, attracted to skateboarding, and a natural but unholy obsession with acquiring an “I “heart” NY” thong for his Baptist girlfriend.
At supper, he would devour everything at the table while wearing his ipod. He would join the conversation when something piqued his interest, and only after asking us to repeat what we’d just said. Evenings were spent with the TV on while he SMS-ed friends from his cell phone on the couch, broken by: frequent checks of his email; Instant Messaging a completely different set of people; and surfing the web. Occasionally, he would check back with us and the program he was “watching.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard either: “Is this the part where…?” or “Did I already miss the…?”
Miss what? What could you possibly miss? I haven’t seen that much electricity coursing through anyone without a switch being thrown and a late stay-of-execution. Yet still, Chris is a brilliant boy. He’s a worldly traveler - mixing into multiple cultures with an ease that is enviable. How much of that is being recanted through iphoto scrapbooks and DVR replays? Is this now what passes for genuine experience? How do you catalogue “fond memories?”
If you can be everywhere at once, are you really anywhere at all? Of course, this transition is not without precedent, presently I sit here streaming audio on my laptop, typing eighty words a minute and answering occasional phone calls and email. The genealogy is highly traceable down to the generation we’ve arrived at. Yes, Chris is the next wave. Where once I might have once had my pretenses at cutting-edge, my domesticated evenings are spent thrilling at Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network – soft-focus risotto recipes are hardly edgy fare.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“Plugged In, but Tuned Out: Getting Kids To Connect to the Non-Virtual World,” Oct. 6, 2005) singled out this post-Y generation from, well… the rest of us. If mine was the generation that saw video games kill pinball, then his is the generation that could care less that last week, in a now multi-billion dollar industry, EA games was routed for screwing its employees on overtime pay.
The WSJ article bemoans what most of us have participated in over this last decade regarding the infringements of technology on personal space and how it shakes the family tree. There is nothing new there, at least in middleclass-America. It’s no longer a matter of wrestling with convergence technology or cross-platform models… that’s so 90s thinking, what with its picture-within-picture and interactive TV. His generation is adrenalized – a generation raised on multi-tasking would of course result to multi-tainment. Why suffer marginal television when you can do that plus… ? Why eat dinner with your family when you can listen to a comedy, text your friends, “and” have dinner?
“To repeat something once is one thing, to do it over and over is another thing again. Through repetition we can be led to a place where it may be difficult to differentiate, where there may be no telling where we are. If all is the same, over and over, then nothing is distinguishable; deprived of the means to measure, of the ability to tell one moment from another, or one point from the next, we slip, merge into an enveloping sameness and lose our place [ ed. Emphasis mine]” – Graham Gussin, “Out of It,” from “Nothing,” p.11, 2001
Which blue is your blue again? The desire for specificity and exclusivity are growing. As “simplicity” was largest marketable aspirant of the late 90s, I offer that we are now a society moving into more selfish territory. Drawing lines is vogue because of the overload. We no longer find it palpable to coat our environment with thin zen and canned hubris. Name it. Design it. Brand it. It is said, that Television destroyed the neighborly aspect of society. People no longer had reason to visit for entertainment or to fill the void. It would follow that personal television and other forms of isolated entertainment would continue that trend wrenching the individual away from their peer group or family (always maintaining that opt-in element. “Is this the part that… ?”)
His voice, right from the opening, amazing "I got up this morning/Put on my shoes/Tied my shoes/Went to the mirror" makes me think of some barrel drum on fire in a soup kitchen cordoned-off area under a flyover of some sort on the way out of Bumsville.
Imagine you seen. Picture it. I don't even know myself what it looks like, but I know it's obscene. This is a song about "Mr Ugly" that to me, feels like a wake up call for some tramp teetering on the edge of tin pan Willy Maley.
Maybe not. But for sure that voice and then the fantastic guitar refrain that bumps and jerks and pumps the clavicles, and gets your elbows like they on a two-way cycle, gots you moving before it stops. And stop it does to rinse you, before you realise the voice has got you again, right up until the rhythm flats out to dose you with an ongoing-until-closing drum thump - on every strum - which thins and fans through whims o' t'whams to stop and pop some solo pills. There's bass in there too, but it's so tight I just got to write. It does that over and over unto the end. Great song. Get a lend.
Monday, January 09, 2006
In the United States, there has been a lot of serious academic research – and some not so serious – into the curious phenomenon of the Hot Hand. In all sports, there are moments when an individual player or whole team suddenly gets hot, and starts performing way beyond expectations. When this happens, the player or team seems to acquire an aura of self-assurance that transmits itself to supporters, fuelling a strong conviction that things are going to turn out for the best. This sense of conviction then reinforces the confidence of the players in their own abilities, appearing to create for a while a virtuous circle of infallibility in which nothing can, and therefore nothing does, go wrong. The quintessential instance of the Hot Hand (which gives the phenomenon its name) occurs in basketball, where certain players suddenly and inexplicably acquire the ability to nail three-point baskets one after another (in basketball you get three points for any basket scored from a distance of over 23’9’’, a formidably difficult feat which means even the best players miss more often than they score). When a player gets the Hot Hand, his or her team-mates know to give them the ball and let fate take its course. Anyone who has watched a game in which a player acquires this gift will recognise the feeling of predestination that descends on all concerned: players, spectators, commentators (above all, commentators) just know what is going to happen each time the Hot One lines up a basket from some improbable position on the court. He shoots! He scores!
What the research shows is that all this – the sense of destiny, the effect it has on a player’s confidence, the virtuous circle – is an illusion. Exhaustive analysis of the data has revealed that making a sequence of three-point baskets has almost no bearing on the likelihood of making the next one, which remains determined by a player’s basic skill level (some players are more likely to make the shot than others, but that is just because they are consistently better at it, not because they are intermittently Hotter). What we experience as the Hot Hand is simply a result of the random distribution of chance, which determines that some players, inevitably, will string together a successful series of shots, just as if you get enough people tossing a coin, some of them will get heads 20 times in a row. We believe these sequences reflect a kind of destiny only because we are predisposed to remember the occasions when the sequence seemed to go on for ever, and forget all those other occasions when a promising little sequence went kaput. This is exactly the same as our propensity to recall and fixate on those very rare instances of dreams or horoscopes that appear to ‘come true’, as some must do under the law of averages, and to ignore the countless others which turn out to be groundless and are instantly forgotten. The Hot Hand, like astrology, is a fallacy, though there is some argument about whether or not it is an ‘adaptive’ fallacy, i.e. one we might have good reason to cling on to anyway, because it helps to remind predominantly self-interested, cocksure players that they are better off passing the ball to the best three-point shooters on the team. Whether adaptive or not, fallacies like this are evidence of a persistent human tendency to imbue randomly distributed events with magical properties, particularly when they conjure up an ability to peer into the future.
In sport, the magic that everyone is after is a sprinkling of the fairy dust of ‘self-belief’, that elusive quality that is so often said to separate out the winners from the losers. It turns out that really and truly believing the ball is destined to go through the hoop makes no difference. But this doesn’t mean that there is no magic out there. The clearest evidence that mysterious forces are at work on the sports field comes from the unarguable impact of home advantage in almost every kind of sporting contest (in professional basketball the home team wins about 66 per cent of the time, and in Premiership football the home team wins nearly 64 per cent of the available points). There has been a lot of academic work on this phenomenon, too, but there is nowhere near as much consensus about what is causing it. Some have argued that the advantage of playing at home derives from a series of ‘technical’ factors – away teams are tired by long journeys, have to sleep in uncomfortable hotel beds, may be unused to local playing conditions – which means that it is no different from the other technical advantages, such as fitness and skill levels, that players bring to a game. The problem with this view is that although the advantage of playing at home has declined somewhat over the century-plus history of professional sports, it hasn’t declined by much; meanwhile, the technical disadvantages of playing away have been greatly reduced by significant improvements in all aspects of travel: first-class flights, fancy hotels, on-site physiotherapists etc. These days, no big league team should ever arrive at an away game tired, tetchy, homesick (the top players lead such bicoastal, transcontinental, post-nuclear lives that it’s not clear what it would mean for them to be homesick anyway); yet winning away from home is still very hard.
Something else is clearly going on: something happens during a game that makes home teams raise their performance levels, and away teams drop theirs. In fact, it seems likely that two things happen, though no one is sure what their relation is to each other. First, even though football pitches and basketball courts are more or less the same, familiarity with one’s surroundings, however anonymous they might appear from the outside, seems to enhance confidence in the performance of repetitive physical tasks. Teams that move stadiums, even from one identikit arena to another, tend to sacrifice a big chunk of home advantage until they familiarise themselves with their new surroundings. The other thing that improves performance is an audience – any audience, so long as it is relatively benign (home advantage is more or less constant between the football leagues, regardless of the size of the crowds). Home fans like to think that what makes a difference is the noise they make, but in fact it seems that they make a difference simply by being there, and by wanting things to go well for their team. Away players, who can’t be nearly so confident of how the crowd will react when things go well for them, don’t have this advantage.
Where do modern football managers, those devotees of the gospel of self-belief, fit into this magical/mechanical universe? Can they, like the home crowd, really make a difference to their players’ innate abilities by instilling that ineffable something extra? Or are they, too, at the mercy of the Hot Hand, mere surfers on the inexorable waves of chance like everyone else? Patrick Barclay’s portrait of José Mourinho, with its subtitle ‘Anatomy of a Winner’, promises an answer to these questions. But in fact it simply confirms how little thought even the best football writers are willing to give to the workings of chance in the building and destroying of reputations. Barclay buys uncritically into Mourinho’s self-created myth which holds that he is ‘A Special One’, a manager who promises great things and then unfailingly delivers them. In the lazy phrase that Barclay uses as the title of his first chapter, Mourinho ‘does what it says on the tin’. The evidence for this is that Mourinho, fresh from delivering the Champions League title to his previous club, Porto, arrived in London in the summer of 2004 promising to make the difference for Chelsea, and within nine months had presented them with their first league title for 50 years. Barclay talks to a number of other coaches, including David Moyes of Everton, who originally believed that Mourinho had made himself a hostage to fortune by his blind faith in his ability to shape his own destiny: ‘The initial feeling was that you just couldn’t display that kind of arrogance in this country and get away with it.’ But when Chelsea swept all before them, Moyes also became one of the converted – here truly was a manager with something special to add.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Critics are hailing Woody Allen's Match Point as a return to form. I'd say the bespectacled New Yorker has just double-faulted at love-forty down in the last game of the final set. Sadly, we're not talking about the final at Wimbledon either: this is an ignominious first round reverse in a meaningless veterans' competition at the tail-end of this once-brilliant auteur's career.
With Match Point, Allen has, at least temporarily, abandoned his beloved New York and relocated to England. If Allen's cinematic representation of his Manhattan milieu always seemed artificial, Match Point's "London" possesses insufficient depth to masquerade as one of Madame Tussaud's mannequins. Allen's London-lite lacks even the semblance of accuracy required to constitute caricature and should reconcile itself to a future in a child's pop-up book.
Even at the peak of his career (Manhattan, Annie Hall et alia) Allen's Gershwin-soaked sentimentality bore approximately as much relevance to contemporary New York as Vanilla Ice's oeuvre has contributed to the history of hip-hop. Even if Woody's rose-tinted spectacles compensated for crippling myopia, it was impossible not to exclaim "Get me a one-way ticket Woody World!" A world stuffed with ingenues who look like supermodels, talk like Dorothy Parker and are irresistably attracted to physically unprepossessing, but intelligent, older men says "ideal holiday destination" to me. Any passably-attractive, moderately-witty guy the right side of septegenarian would, surely, get more action in Allen's Mock Manhattan than Keanu Reeves might encounter in Surf City.
Match Point's not-so-naive neophyte looks like Scarlett Johansson, but talks like an android oscillating between pre-programmed "seductive", "insecure" and "possessive" modes. Sadly, Scarlett traversing the gamut of emotions from A to B is, by far, the most passionate aspect of the movie. She looks every inch the femme fatale and, compared to the lifeless cadavers who constitute the rest of the cast, just watching the divine Miss Johansson (even whilst spouting Allen's flat-lining dialogue) is an activity so overloaded with eroticism it must surely constitute voyeurism.
"Did anyone ever tell you you have sensuous lips?" is Chris' (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) opening gambit upon meeting the beguiling Nola (Scarlett). It's a perspicacious observation, equivalent to asking Pinocchio if anyone had ever commented upon his elongated proboscis, but it sets the tone for what follows: instead of a delicious medley of extemporanea, Allen serves up an unappetising plateful of predictability. The only appropriate response is a desultory backhand into the net. Unfortunately, the ball catches the top of the net, trickles over, and the plodding baseline rally that is this movie continues onwards, seemingly ad infinitum.
Match Point appears to be a meditation upon the capriciousness of chance, and the audience are left to reflect on the excessive misfortune heaped upon them as a result of merely electing to purchase a ticket for Allen's movie in preference to, say, Cheaper By the Dozen 2.
If Allen's dialogue is so bad it sounds like it's been translated into English from Aramaic, his depiction of London has all the depth and authenticity of a picture postcard painted by a Martian. This is a city presided over by a "sophisticated set" of power brokers who make Tim Henman look like John McEnroe. In a movie purged of wit, Allen has swapped the Algonquin Round Table for the Kensington Squares. This cabal of dispassionate, tennis-playing, opera-loving, nepotistic, financial market-dabbling, city slickers are wetter than monsoon season in Dhaka, but infinitely less potent. At an early stage in the proceedings we're told that Chris's dim-but-nice friend Tom's sister (soon to be Chris's wife) Chloe (Emily Mortimer) is "incredibly intelligent", but the rest of the movie fails to provide any evidence to support the proposition. Chris himself is, allegedly, a disadvantaged Irishman, but talks like a toff long before his assimilation by Chloe's family (the Hewitts, representing the aristocracy of Allen's Ersatz England).
Presumably, Allen expects us to buy into the idea that membership of this dispassionate clique is a prize to be coveted, but even Nick Leeson wouldn't invest one thin dime in the possibility that Chris would consider eliminating the only person who threatened to inject a hint of vitality into his life. Nevertheless, Chris is hell-bent on saving his loveless marriage, preserving the patronage of his inanimate in-laws and clinging to a job he's clearly unsuited for. What kind of monster would commit a crime of passion to safeguard such a dispassionate life? Quite clearly, if Chris had any cojones, he would have slaughtered the rest of the cast and headed back to the States with Scarlett.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?
(Interview with William Burroughs and David Cronenberg, reprinted from Esquire, February 1992, pp 112-116.)
by Lynn Snowden
Deep in Kansas, darkly dressed, William S. Burroughs, a man who shot his wife in the head and waged war against a lifetime of guilt, who has sucked up every drug imaginable and survived, and who has made a fine career out of depravity, can't on this particular afternoon take another moment of a simple midwestern housefly buzzing around his head. "I can't stand flies," grumbles the seventy-seven-year-old author in that distinctively sepulchral voice, which retains a vestige of his St. Louis roots despite his many years on another planet. The fly swoops down onto Burroughs' plate of cookies. "Terrible," Burroughs exclaims, exasperated, attempting to backhand the fly into oblivion.
"William, that's my pet fly!" cries David Cronenberg, a man who may love insects but not necessarily people, the director who is perhaps best known for turning Jeff Goldblum from scientist into bug in the 1986 remake of The Fly.
"Now, Julius, I told you not to bother people," Cronenberg commands the fly. "Not everyone likes flies."
Not everyone likes giant meat-eating Brazilian aquatic centipedes either, but they're featured prominently in Cronenberg's current film of Burroughs's chilling masterpiece of a novel, Naked Lunch. Now that the movie is in the can and Burroughs is out of the hospital after having undergone triple-bypass heart surgery, Cronenberg has showed up in Lawrence, Kansas, Burroughs's hometown of the last ten years, to pay his respects to the laconic sage. With two examples of evil incarnate wandering around town at the same time, Lawrence suddenly seems like a haven for drug-crazed refugees escaping the Interzone, the fictional horrorscape of Burroughs's Naked Lunch.
In the Interzone, we are told, "nothing is true, and everything is permitted." In Lawrence, however, not nearly so much is permitted, but if everything I've heard about William Burroughs and David Cronenberg is true, then the next couple of days will severely test my capacity for revulsion. Burroughs's books, for example, are phantasmagorias of buggered boys, bloody syringes, talking assholes, and vaginal teeth. The old gun-toting geezer himself has been referred to as "a green-skinned reptilian" by no less an authority on manhood than Robert Bly.
"Well, I don't think you'll find him to be that bad," said Cronenberg, the forty-eight-year-old Canadian director who has known Burroughs for seven years. Of course, this is David Cronenberg talking, the creator of such lyrical films as Scanners (exploding heads), Dead Ringers (gynecological horror), and Videodrome (sadomasochistic public-access TV), who last night giggled while telling me, "I would like it if you could say that I was the embodiment of absolute evil."
But with both Cronenberg and Burroughs in the same town, let alone the same room, and with so many disgusting, revolting visions between them, how's a woman to choose? No, perhaps it is better to simply enumerate their revulsions, because if William Burroughs and David Cronenberg are aghast at something, then the odds are the rest of us will be a little queasy, too.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Regardless of acrimonies, bad publicities and controversies, the upcoming releases of Lonely Hearts and Chapter 27 should propel star-kissed Jared Leto into the saturated spotlight. If only Lindsay Lohan, his asthmatic missus, remembers her lines and flakes on cue (respiratory problems brought-on by malnutrition), he’ll surely be everywhere. Most fortunately, in cloak & dagger-eyed Russian émigré Alexandre Plokhov, Leto's got a guerilla great guy in SoHo.
For me, personally, I think I shall be ordering myself a particular neck tie, as modelled ever-so elegantly here by Gary Cooper. Indeed, tack-sharp Ionesco Soldiers would be correct in suggesting that it's a faux pois design in heavy woven silk, light grey on a black background! Recreated by Monsieur Jean-Claude Colban of Charvet, one can only order one by saving €110 and emailing email@example.com, requesting thelondonlounge club tie. Say. No. More.
1- David Lynch's Inland Empire
2- Brian De Palma's adaption of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia
3- Richard Linklater's adaption of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly
4- David Fincher's Zodiac
5- Abel Ferrara's next movie (rumoured to be either Go Go Tales or the prequel to King of New York)
1- David Cronenberg's A History of Violence
2- Terrence Malick's The New World
3- Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
4- Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins
If there were any other intelligent, provocative, stimulating, engaging, aesthetically pleasing, well-written, artfully-directed movies emanating from Hollywood in 2005 then, sadly, I missed them. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Batman Begins proved you don't have to be dumb to be entertaining, but, in an era where the sole indice of cinematic achievement seems to be box office returns, A History of Violence was, arguably, the only challenging, subversive, paradigm-shifting American movie of 2005...and it was directed by a Canadian.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Random Transmissions 9: Douglas Coupland ~ Extracts from Generation X's Glossary of Neologisms for an Accelerated Culture
Poverty Jet Set:
A group of people given to chronic travelling at the expense of long-term job stability or a permanent residence. Tend to have doomed and extremely expensive phone-call relationships with people named Serge or llyana. Tend to discuss frequently-flyer programs at parties.
The act of visiting locations such as diners, smokestack industrial sites, rural villages - locations where time appears to have been frozen many years back - so as to experience relief when one returns back to "the present."
In clothing: the indiscriminate combination of two or more items from various decades to create a personal mood: Sheila = Mary Quant earrings (1960s) + cork wedgie platform shoes (1970s) + black leather jacket (1950s and 1980s).
The need of one generation to see the generation following it as deficient so as to bolster its own collective ego : "Kids today do nothing. They're so apathetic. We used to go out and protest. All they do is shop and complain."
To force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess: "How can I be a part of the 1960s generation when I don't even remember any of it?"
To tell oneself that the only time worth living in is the past, and that the only time that may ever be interesting again is the future.
Using an object with intellectual or fashionable cachet to substitute for an object that is merely pricey: "Brian, you left your copy of Camus in your brother's BMW."
Lurid thrills derived from talking about celebrity deaths.
The act of classifying music and musicians into pathologically picayune categories: "The Vienna Franks are a god example of urban white acid folk revivalism crossed with ska."
A life-style tactic similar to Status Substitution. The nonownership of material goods flaunted as a token of moral and intellectual superiority.
To espouse a philosophy of minimalism without actually putting into practice any of it's tenets.
The tendency to make flippant ironic comments as a reflexive matter of course in everyday conversation.
A life-style tactic; the refusal to go out on any sort of emotional limb so as to avoid mockery from peers. Derision Preemption is the main goal of Knee-Jerk Irony.
The attitude that no activity is worth pursuing unless one can become very famous pursuing it. Fame-Induced Apathy mimics laziness, but its roots are much deeper.
The tendency when looking at objects to guesstimate the amount of time they will take to eventually decompose: "Ski boots are the worst. Solid plastic. They'll be around till the sun goes supernova."
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
"What is Your Dangerous Idea?"
Our desire for entertaining virtual realities is increasing. As our understanding of the human brain also accelerates, we will create both imagined realities and a set of memories to support these simulacrums. For example, someday it will be possible to simulate your visit to the Middle Ages and, to make the experience realistic, we may wish to ensure that you believe yourself to actually be in the Middle Ages. False memories may be implanted, temporarily overriding your real memories. This should be easy to do in the future — given that we can already coax the mind to create richly detailed virtual worlds filled with ornate palaces and strange beings through the use of the drug DMT (dimethyltryptamine). In other words, the brains of people who take DMT appear to access a treasure chest of images and experience that typically include jeweled cities and temples, angelic beings, feline shapes, serpents, and shiny metals. When we understand the brain better, we will be able to safely generate more controlled visions.
Our brains are also capable of simulating complex worlds when we dream. For example, after I watched a movie about people on a coastal town during the time of the Renaissance, I was “transported” there later that night while in a dream. The mental simulation of the Renaissance did not have to be perfect, and I'm sure that there were myriad flaws. However, during that dream I believed I was in the Renaissance.
If we understood the nature of how the mind induces the conviction of reality, even when strange, nonphysical events happen in the dreams, we could use this knowledge to ensure that your simulated trip to the Middle Ages seemed utterly real, even if the simulation was imperfect. It will be easy to create seemingly realistic virtual realities because we don't have to be perfect or even good with respect to the accuracy of our simulations in order to make them seem real. After all, our nightly dreams usually seem quite real even if upon awakening we realize that logical or structural inconsistencies existed in the dream.
In the future, for each of your own real lives, you will personally create ten simulated lives. Your day job is a computer programmer for IBM. However, after work, you'll be a knight with shining armor in the Middle Ages, attending lavish banquets, and smiling at wandering minstrels and beautiful princesses. The next night, you'll be in the Renaissance, living in your home on the Amalfi coast of Italy, enjoying a dinner of plover, pigeon, and heron.
If this ratio of one real life to ten simulated lives turned out to be representative of human experience, this means that right now, you only have a one in ten chance of being alive on the actual date of today.
Pickover's "dangerous idea" dovetails with Nick Bostrom's theory that we are, in all probability, living in a computer simulation.
From "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon"
First, before I begin to bore you with the usual sort of things science fiction writers say in speeches, let me bring you official greetings from Disneyland. I consider myself a spokesperson for Disneyland because I live just a few miles from it -- and, as if that were not enough, I once had the honor of being interviewed there by Paris TV.....Philip K. Dick
So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe -- and I am dead serious when I say this -- do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.
Of course, I would say this, because I live near Disneyland, and they are always adding new rides and destroying old ones. Disneyland is an evolving organism. For years they had the Lincoln Simulacrum, like Lincoln himself, was only a temporary form which matter and energy take and then lose. The same is true of each of us, like it or not.
The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides taught that the only things that are real are things which never change... and the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus taught that everything changes. If you superimpose their two views, you get this result: Nothing is real. There is a fascinating next step to this line of thinking: Parmenides could never have existed because he grew old and died and disappeared, so, according to his own philosophy, he did not exist. And Heraclitus may have been right -- let's not forget that; so if Heraclitus was right, then Parmenides did exist, and therefore, according to Heraclitus' philosophy, perhaps Parmenides was right, since Parmenides fulfilled the conditions, the criteria, by which Heraclitus judged things real.
I offer this merely to show that as soon as you begin to ask what is ultimately real, you right away begin talk nonsense. Zeno proved that motion was impossible (actually he only imagined that he had proved this; what he lacked was what technically is called the "theory of limits"). David Hume, the greatest skeptic of them all, once remarked that after a gathering of skeptics met to proclaim the veracity of skepticism as a philosophy, all of the members of the gathering nonetheless left by the door rather than the window. I see Hume's point. It was all just talk. The solemn philosophers weren't taking what they said seriously.
But I consider that the matter of defining what is real -- that is a serious topic, even a vital topic. And in there somewhere is the other topic, the definition of the authentic human. Because the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans -- as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland. You can have the Pirate Ride or the Lincoln Simulacrum or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride -- you can have all of them, but none is true.
In my writing I got so interested in fakes that I finally came up with the concept of fake fakes. For example, in Disneyland there are fake birds worked by electric motors which emit caws and shrieks as you pass by them. Suppose some night all of us sneaked into the park with real birds and substituted them for the artificial ones. Imagine the horror the Disneyland officials would feel when they discovered the cruel hoax. Real birds! And perhaps someday even real hippos and lions. Consternation. The park being cunningly transmuted from the unreal to the real, by sinister forces. For instance, suppose the Matterhorn turned into a genuine snow-covered mountain? What if the entire place, by a miracle of God's power and wisdom, was changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, into something incorruptible? They would have to close down.
In Plato's Timaeus, God does not create the universe, as does the Christian God; He simply finds it one day. It is in a state of total chaos. God sets to work to transform the chaos into order. That idea appeals to me, and I have adapted it to fit my own intellectual needs: What if our universe started out as not quite real, a sort of illusion, as the Hindu religion teaches, and God, out of love and kindness for us, is slowly transmuting it, slowly and secretly, into something real?
What Is Your Dangerous Idea?
After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.Sherry Turkle
Consider this moment from 2005: I take my fourteen-year-old daughter to the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit documents Darwin's life and thought, and with a somewhat defensive tone (in light of current challenges to evolution by proponents of intelligent design), presents the theory of evolution as the central truth that underpins contemporary biology. The Darwin exhibit wants to convince and it wants to please. At the entrance to the exhibit is a turtle from the Galapagos Islands, a seminal object in the development of evolutionary theory. The turtle rests in its cage, utterly still. "They could have used a robot," comments my daughter. It was a shame to bring the turtle all this way and put it in a cage for a performance that draws so little on the turtle's "aliveness." I am startled by her comments, both solicitous of the imprisoned turtle because it is alive and unconcerned by its authenticity. The museum has been advertising these turtles as wonders, curiosities, marvels — among the plastic models of life at the museum, here is the life that Darwin saw. I begin to talk with others at the exhibit, parents and children. It is Thanksgiving weekend. The line is long, the crowd frozen in place. My question, "Do you care that the turtle is alive?" is welcome diversion. A ten year old girl would prefer a robot turtle because aliveness comes with aesthetic inconvenience: "It's water looks dirty. Gross." More usually, the votes for the robots echo my daughter's sentiment that in this setting, aliveness doesn't seem worth the trouble. A twelve-year-old girl opines: "For what the turtles do, you didn't have to have the live ones." Her father looks at her, uncomprehending: "But the point is that they are real, that's the whole point."
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
What is your dangerous idea?
The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?
Daniel C. Dennett
Ideas can be dangerous. Darwin had one, for instance. We hold all sorts of inventors and other innovators responsible for assaying, in advance, the environmental impact of their creations, and since ideas can have huge environmental impacts, I see no reason to exempt us thinkers from the responsibility of quarantining any deadly ideas we may happen to come across. So if I found what I took to be such a dangerous idea, I would button my lip until I could find some way of preparing the ground for its safe expression. I expect that others who are replying to this year's Edge question have engaged in similar reflections and arrived at the same policy. If so, then some people may be pulling their punches with their replies. The really dangerous ideas they are keeping to themselves.
But here is an unsettling idea that is bound to be true in one version or another, and so far as I can see, it won't hurt to publicize it more. It might well help.
The human population is still growing, but at nowhere near the rate that the population of memes is growing. There is competition for the limited space in human brains for memes, and something has to give. Thanks to our incessant and often technically brilliant efforts, and our apparently insatiable appetites for novelty, we have created an explosively growing flood of information, in all media, on all topics, in every genre. Now either (1) we will drown in this flood of information, or (2) we won't drown in it. Both alternatives are deeply disturbing. What do I mean by drowning? I mean that we will become psychologically overwhelmed, unable to cope, victimized by the glut and unable to make life-enhancing decisions in the face of an unimaginable surfeit. (I recall the brilliant scene in the film of Evelyn Waugh's dark comedy The Loved One in which embalmer Mr. Joyboy's gluttonous mother is found sprawled on the kitchen floor, helplessly wallowing in the bounty that has spilled from a capsized refrigerator.) We will be lost in the maze, preyed upon by whatever clever forces find ways of pumping money–or simply further memetic replications–out of our situation. (In The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells sees that it might well be our germs, not our high-tech military contraptions, that subdue our alien invaders. Similarly, might our own minds succumb not to the devious manipulations of evil brainwashers and propagandists, but to nothing more than a swarm of irresistible ditties, Noφs nibbled to death by slogans and one-liners?)
If we don't drown, how will we cope? If we somehow learn to swim in the rising tide of the infosphere, that will entail that we–that is to say, our grandchildren and their grandchildren–become very very different from our recent ancestors. What will "we" be like? (Some years ago, Doug Hofstadter wrote a wonderful piece, " In 2093, Just Who Will Be We?" in which he imagines robots being created to have "human" values, robots that gradually take over the social roles of our biological descendants, who become stupider and less concerned with the things we value. If we could secure the welfare of just one of these groups, our children or our brainchildren, which group would we care about the most, with which group would we identify?)
Whether "we" are mammals or robots in the not so distant future, what will we know and what will we have forgotten forever, as our previously shared intentional objects recede in the churning wake of the great ship that floats on this sea and charges into the future propelled by jets of newly packaged information? What will happen to our cultural landmarks? Presumably our descendants will all still recognize a few reference points (the pyramids of Egypt, arithmetic, the Bible, Paris, Shakespeare, Einstein, Bach . . . ) but as wave after wave of novelty passes over them, what will they lose sight of? The Beatles are truly wonderful, but if their cultural immortality is to be purchased by the loss of such minor 20th century figures as Billie Holiday, Igor Stravinsky, and Georges Brassens [who he?], what will remain of our shared understanding?
The intergenerational mismatches that we all experience in macroscopic versions (great-grandpa's joke falls on deaf ears, because nobody else in the room knows that Nixon's wife was named "Pat") will presumably be multiplied to the point where much of the raw information that we have piled in our digital storehouses is simply incomprehensible to everyone–except that we will have created phalanxes of "smart" Rosetta-stones of one sort or another that can "translate" the alien material into something we (think maybe we) understand. I suspect we hugely underestimate the importance (to our sense of cognitive security) of our regular participation in the four-dimensional human fabric of mutual understanding, with its reassuring moments of shared–and seen to be shared, and seen to be seen to be shared–comprehension.
What will happen to common knowledge in the future? I do think our ancestors had it easy: aside from all the juicy bits of unshared gossip and some proprietary trade secrets and the like, people all knew pretty much the same things, and knew that they knew the same things. There just wasn't that much to know. Won't people be able to create and exploit illusions of common knowledge in the future, virtual worlds in which people only think they are in touch with their cyber-neighbors?
I see small-scale projects that might protect us to some degree, if they are done wisely. Think of all the work published in academic journals before, say, 1990 that is in danger of becoming practically invisible to later researchers because it can't be found on-line with a good search engine. Just scanning it all and hence making it "available" is not the solution. There is too much of it. But we could start projects in which (virtual) communities of retired researchers who still have their wits about them and who know particular literatures well could brainstorm amongst themselves, using their pooled experience to elevate the forgotten gems, rendering them accessible to the next generation of researchers. This sort of activity has in the past been seen to be a stodgy sort of scholarship, fine for classicists and historians, but not fit work for cutting-edge scientists and the like. I think we should try to shift this imagery and help people recognize the importance of providing for each other this sort of pathfinding through the forests of information. It's a drop in the bucket, but perhaps if we all start thinking about conservation of valuable mind-space, we can save ourselves (our descendants) from informational collapse.