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Why I need an iPhone (A rambling example):

Sometimes I forget what this blog is for now that I have Facebook, but I think one of its core functions should be to contain cool stories from my life which I feel like detailing at great length but which are quite possibly too boring for many people I know to physically listen to. To wit:

So I went to go see The Killers at Shoreline with some friends on Saturday, a hastily arrived at and ultimately awesome show. Now not having planned on going to it I had no clue who the opening act was. I hate when that happens, even though it happens approximately every time I go to a concert. Once we get to the amphitheater we figure out that the opening act is The New York Dolls, only we barely have a clue who they are. One of us thinks they remember something about them being a glam rock band from the 80s, not a promising notion. Part of me keeps thinking about that old Kinks song "Johnny Thunder" though, didn't I read somewhere that it was about the lead guitarist of The New York Dolls? When did "Village Green Preservation Society" come out? Late 60s to be sure right? So if they were being referenced by The Kinks back than that'd make them likely some sort of proto-punk outfit (Possibly good) and completely ancient (Very possibly bad). Interesting.

So The Dolls take the stage, fronted by a guy who is actively trying to look like Mick Jagger, only he doesn't really have the skin for it. At this point I rather prejudicially decide that, while I was right and these guys are clearly the remnants of a seriously significant band, their set is going to be terrible. I was never much of a punk guy anyways. Honestly though I might have given them a shot if I hadn't spent those initial 30 minutes imagining them as an 80s glam rock band. After that false impression I just couldn't regain serious hope.

Anyway I'm kicking back, texting occasional Mick Jagger jokes to my friends, and studying the guitarists just for something to focus on. One of them seems pretty good based on their speed (I'm wearing lousy ear plugs so I can barely hear anything but the bass) and the other seems maybe a little less accomplished, but there's something about him… He's a bit younger than the others, though he's wearing the best retro-proto-punk outfit of the whole bunch, with crazy hair, and he's got a serious amount of swagger, real presence you know? I almost feel as if he's familiar, but I chalk that up to the perfectly tuned iconography of the outfit. Clearly he'd make a good solo act I think, probably a lot better than this band he's touring with which I'm substantively ignoring.

The Killers rock, I hit a party after we get back to the city, and then I get home after a very very long walk. Then, not having anything more pressing to do at 4:30 in the morning, I wiki The New York Dolls. Turns out Johnny Thunders has been dead for a good while and when the band reformed in the 00s they hooked up with some random session guitarist you'd have to be deeply into some bizarre niche culture to have ever heard of. Say maybe if you were an anime fan with a heavy love for Yoko Kanno and you'd once spent a few weeks obsessing over the cataloging of your Cowboy Bebop soundtrack mp3s you might've glanced the name. Wait… I- ah fuck. That's me. And I just spent 45 irretrievable minutes ignoring a Yoko Kanno collaborator. Not just some random one either, but Steve Conte, who sang the album version of Bebop's end theme, and Living Inside the Shell from GITS: SAC , and a half dozen other great songs.

I mean dammit… As far as I can specifically recall I've been moved to tears twice by art. Oddly both times it was anime: The first time was during Grave of the Fireflies, the second time was in Cowboy Bebop, when Faye leaves the ship at the end of "Hard Luck Woman" and the ad hoc family formed by the crew begins to disengage person by person. I watched that scene way back in high school and it profoundly fucked me up. It still never fails to fuck me up. Consequently my touchstone for how to properly utilize pop music on screen is essentially based on how Shinichirō Watanabe uses Conte's Call Me Call Me in that scene. So, if ever there was a moment when I wish I'd been paying more respect to an artist, it'd be that New York Dolls set. I mean he was even singing backup and I didn't hear a note of it.

The moral here is that life isn't properly experienced without a constantly accessible reference source, and most days your own brain is a poor substitute for Wikipedia. I need a damned iPhone :)

Whimperings


My final for Film Production, an abstract narrative originally conceived by my friend Sean and executed as a group project with myself and Adam. Some director's commentary about its conception should prove helpful: At the beginning of the semester everyone made short films out of found footage (Whatever previous students had left in the editing trim bins). It was a great creative exercise, and in a way what we set ourselves up to do with this project was replicate that experience by creating our own supply of disassociated images we could seek narratives in. The footage would relate to one of the three themes in Sean's original treatment: the campus with and without people, a man with a gas mask, and a vase. We did a lot of location scouting, scheduled as much shooting time as we were allowed (About 12 hours) and ended up with 15 minutes worth of 16mm footage (Not cheap, even before you consider the shipping or processing fees). Then we all split off and did separate editing jobs to submit for a final grade.

Now me, I was sick for a good third of the semester. The sort of sick where you lie awake at night imagining you can hear flagellants scourging themselves outside in the dirt, gasping in pain and ecstatic grief and praying in grit-toothed silence that their suffering might bring back those they have lost, while you cough and whimper and wish for a silence that may only come when both they and you are black and dead.

But I digress… Only, not too much do you see? I was too sick to help on the second day of location scouting and the first day of shooting, and so my creative focus meandered off, snagging on the post-apocalyptic imagery of the man in the gas mask which we shot on our second day, and on the hacking cough which wouldn't leave me then and has yet to fully even now. What I ended up with by the time I needed to turn something in was this piece, which I really like the shape of but which isn't properly done. (If you haven't already go watch the film and then come back and read what I think needs work)

There are three or four cuts that need serious tightening (Not the first one, maybe the last two). It needs a proper soundscape and maybe a touch of music, though I tried a few ambient pieces and found that nothing wanted to work. And lastly it does need to make just a faint bit more sense. Because it made perfect sense to me while I was editing it, and while I'm not about to take a functional abstract narrative and fuck it up with title cards or a voice-over I'd like to keep tweaking the visuals and sound until the sense of the story is a little more evident. So love it or hate it you should leave me some impressions or questions or whatsoever you wish in comments so that I can focus group the nurturing of my expensive little film baby.

(Anticipating the obvious question: What's it about Chris? It's about the wind, the peace it seems to lend to the reclaimed ground of the campus, and the fitful death with which it scoured the place long ago. It's about exploration; picking through the ruins to find the old memorial to the victims, and imagining what it must have been like to watch the beginning of the end.)

A good reason to be happily agnostic:

Been mulling over this CNN article about a Pew Research survey that found a correlation between church attendance and support for governmental torture. That's the sort of result that so closely reflects my thinking that I have to be careful to make sure that it's actually saying what I think it's saying. I'm fairly sure that it is though.

First and foremost what it says to me is that I shouldn't have to listen to any more crap about how people can't be moral without an institution underwriting their beliefs. I raised myself independent of what little religious dogma I was exposed to because I thought the opposite was true; that institutions made morality an impossible goal. I'm not sure if I still believe that's the case though. People who feel the need to base their morality on their own study and intuition need to cultivate an above average sense of empathy. Likewise what this survey demonstrates is that people who feel a need to base their morality on institutional dogma need to do an above average job of evaluating the interests of those they trust to interpret that dogma for them. There's not much difference there really, and whenever people need to do an above average job in order to make something work there is going to be quite a lot of failure.

It also reminds me of John Dean's supposition that the Bush years weren't about Conservatism vs. Liberalism in a classical sense, but about Authoritarianism vs. Thinking for Your Goddamned Self Even if You're Scared. It's that legacy of Authoritarianism that connects Nixon (Tax raising, EPA founding, drug treatment supporting, China visiting Nixon) to the modern Republican party. It's that Authoritarianism which I think church goers have largely failed to protect their institutions from. This corrosive effect of the government on the religious is what Roger Williams based the whole principle of separation of church and state on. That really ought to be understood better.

A preview of coming attractions:


Why were these sculpted death shrouds locked away to molder in the abandoned handball courts behind the stadium? I love my fucking campus.

Look for these to feature prominently in my experimental end of the semester class project, just as soon as I do every other little thing involved in making it beyond just location scouting.

How busy am I you ask?

Yesterday was Saint Patrick's Day. I happen to have a bottle of Jameson in my apartment. It is still full. Further more to that: Hilary Clinton was in Northern Ireland yesterday addressing the recent sparks of violence there, providing me – for once – with an actual excuse to blog about Irish politics. Yet there is no post on these matter. That is exactly how busy I am.

Gods… I'm busy, and miserable, and almost happy too. Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Happy Birthday to you half dozen or so friends with March birthdays. No, I have no earthly notion what I'm doing for mine. Somebody figure that out for me and let me know, I'll happily attend.
The National Film Board of Canada is a fascinating organization. I've nurtured a small interest in them for a long time, and since I started taking classes on documentary film that interest has grown substantially. And then as luck would have it I found out that they'd just started making all 70 years worth of their archives available online for free.

You should all help me trawl their site for good new old stuff. They've been a tent-pole of the international documentary scene almost since their founding, so obviously there's a lot of documentary stuff to be seen, but the archives also feature many animated projects and other shorts. And then there's this here below; the last silent film of Buster Keaton, produced in color in 1965. Watch, enjoy, and let me know in comments at which point you finally crack up laughing. I've got a hunch it'll be different for each person.

The Oscars

Ya know, I kinda just don't care this year. My interests have their peaks and troughs, even the career worthy one, and I haven't felt like doing much movie going lately. I think the only movies I've seen in theaters in the past two and a half months are Frost/Nixon and Coraline. What this has highlighted for me is how counter-productively inconvenient it is to have all the Oscar contenders come out in December. Even if I had felt like it I wouldn't have been able to see everything, as things stood I was completely put-off from the task.

I'm just gonna say the obvious: If Heath Ledger were alive he would still deserve the Oscar.

(Okay, I do have more thoughts obviously)

WALL-E should be up for Best Picture, Best Animated is an ghetto and Frost/Nixon is overrated. I do really wanna see Frozen River. Changeling should not win Best Cinematography and if it does I'm gonna hunt down Eastwood and paint him a bright shade of blue; if Changeling is any indication he'll really fucking hate that. Lastly I actually don't think Dark Knight should win Best Editing; I do think it's a nearly perfect movie but my reasons for qualifying it as "nearly" lie solely with the editing. Lee Smith is a good editor, he's done great work with Peter Weir, and what's more he did great work for Chris Nolan on The Prestige, but he has no business cutting together fight scenes, and he introduced a continuity flaw into an otherwise flawless script through the way he handled the Harvey Dent interrogation scene.

P.S. If you wanna see good editing, or even if you don't care about editing, Netflix yourself a copy of The Pawnbroker. It's the best movie I've seen since I got to SFSU, second only perhaps to Harlen County U.S.A.

Quantum Story Musings

Pull up a chair and imagine something with me. It's the paleolithic era and a man has decided to gather members of his tribe (Much as I'm doing with you now) to hear a story. It is a time before the broadening of language, before the development of poetic form. Stories in this time are starkly functional: The story of what has happened, the story of what is dangerous, and the story of the unexplained.

The story the man tells is of the latter kind. It's a simple story of a cold night's journey, a wooded hill traversed in cloud veiled darkness, and a lightning strike. The man tells how the lightning split a tree into a smoldering stump and how the fire made from its cinders kept him warm through the night. A simple story, a beginning middle and end, articulated properly enough to be repeatable. And not long after it is told one of those who heard it sits down with a new group and does just that. And so it goes, group after group.

And then a graduate student shows up. The fire, she suggests, is symbolic of life itself; its chance nature highlighting the mystery of creation and its waning indicative of death. This, she suggests, is why the story is popular. And then someone else arises to point out that, intertextually speaking, we must presume that the sun rises soon after the fire has burnt out and that the presumed presence of this second larger source of light raises questions pertinent to the third portion of that thesis. Hearing this some other person goes off to form a religion. And the original storyteller stands to one side, trying to explain that the story was but a recollection of something that happened a moon ago, and that yes indeed the sun had risen at dawn.

So, a question: When did the story of the fire become a work of art? Did it become art when the man experienced the events and interpreted them into a narrative? When it was first told to someone else and subject to a differing interpretation? When it first proved to have resonance? When it was subject to formal interpretation? When it inspired something?

Are stories inherently art?

All hail President Geek!

Our nation's comedy institutions are facing a problem: They can't seem to find an angle on Obama. The Daily Show looks to be off to a very rough start finding humor in the Obama administration. Late-Night doesn't seem to be doing any better. SNL missed their chance to be relevant for the next few years when Palin/McCain lost. Doonesbury has like a dozen story-lines to fall back on and so has no need to tackle Obama directly. Mallard Fillmore… is never even slightly funny, but should probably be put on suicide watch at this point.

In the midst of this The Onion, which hit its nadir after Bush's re-election and has since been slowly crawling back towards relevancy, seems to have found a very promising angle. Namely that, as reporters have been delicately hinting for some time now, our President is a huge fuckin' geek. People are coming to this realization at their own speed of course. I realized it back at the end of the campaign when Newsweek related a story in which Obama (And I am not making this up.) bent down and spoke into his wife's belt buckle to emphasize that it looked comically like a Star Trek communicator. She got the reference. Other folks no doubt realized it when it was reported that Obama collects Spider-Man and Conan comics, which The Onion has now used as its springboard. But some may never come to accept this fact if The Onion's angle fails to catch on, and that would be a shame, because we should all be proud that this country put aside its prejudices and elected a geek.

Now this first Obama geek joke has its problems; it's a rather broad caricature of geek mannerisms, the headline itself doesn't have a lot of punch to it, and like all Onion articles it could stand to loose a paragraph in the middle, but speaking on behalf of the geeks of this country I think we can stand to see a lot more like this if it helps the nation lighten up.

The truest words about art I've ever read:

I discovered this old Brian Eno essay a few weeks ago and it hasn't left my head since. Actually the ideas he presents in it have been been in my head for years, half-formed and simmering away. Over the last few months in particular, since I've lately been making stuff that I'm actually comfortable calling art, I've found myself working with those idea with increasing frequency. But I couldn't have explained any of them as perfectly as Eno does. Here's a nice example:

"Familiarity breeds content. When you use familiar tools, you draw upon a long cultural conversation - a whole shared history of usage - as your backdrop, as the canvas to juxtapose your work. The deeper and more widely shared the conversation, the more subtle its inflections can be."

That last sentence is especially important but the whole essay is so perfectly aligned to my thinking that I nearly choked up while reading it. It also makes me feel terrible for having hardly any Brian Eno in my iTunes. But besides engendering mushy feelings of liberal arts student hero worship the piece has got me thinking about some really cool ideas for actual projects. I'll get into those a little later though, go read the essay.