Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So, I saw Flowers in the Attic... THE MOVIE


That is all.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

So... Rees is sponsored by Sprint?

I've sat on this one for about a day now since I followed the NBC29 link in Waldo's recent post to the campaign website of Brad Rees. At heart, when I discovered Rees' website and this sort of manifesto, I wasn't interested in coming down on it for party reasons. To put it bluntly, I don't think he has a chance; the need to defend Perriello against him is the last thing on my mind. He's just a long shot trying to get his ideas out there, so whatever.

Still, even the above attempt to depoliticize fails, as it implies allegiance to Perriello (Disclosure: his father was my doctor from infancy till only a few years ago, and technically right up till his retirement). More importantly, in stating my doubt for his chance so bluntly, I can be accused of swaying voters. For one reason or another, people tend to not vote for or give their time/money to support lost causes.

Perhaps there is an utter futility to trying to claim politics do not matter here, in the sense that I, as a Democrat (or a crazy independent wolf in Democratic Party clothing), am criticizing the website of a Republican candidate. Nonetheless I insist that my interest is more broad than that. It is the content of his piece that interests me, and while I'd like to think that I'd be just as hard on a Democratic candidate, I'm not really interested in who did what first or how many worse things Republicans think Democrats have done. I'm interested in criticizing the content of Rees' multi-media post "Welcome To A New Kind of Campaign From A New Kind Of Candidate" because I think it is... well... special.

The tiresome 'I hate lawyers' rhetoric and the not very new approach of 'I'm a working Joe like you' (even if he is one) are of little interest to me other than the basic problems of representation that crop up because of them. The aspect that makes this a multi-media post--a video entitled "What if Firefighters Ran the World?"--however, I find fascinating.

Where do I begin?

The video is a neat little piece of blue collar catharsis. A sort of Regan era down with the eggheads mentality permeates it as the firefighters breeze through problem after political problem, unanimously agreeing to fix each--speaking in unison even. Sure, it's funny, but while it seems to praise firefighters, doesn't it also mock them right alongside the bureaucrats they replace? Did the tensions of the last three presidential campaigns not leave us with some degree of heightened awareness of just how complex politics can be? Don't we find the utter naivete of the video repulsive? The representation assumes that the firefighters must purely tackle problems as opposed to issues (problem + solution = done, as opposed to situations where either/or the problem or the solution cannot be unanimously accepted, where there are causes and consequences). Of course, I'm saying the obvious, but nonetheless is this a wise representation of the blue collar worker for a self-proclaimed working Joe politician to evoke right off the bat? Yes, yes, lawyers are teh bad... but they have a fluent knowledge of laws and argumentative/problematic variables, things one should want in a politician. A representation like this makes me question that a candidate opposing them would as well.

Another creepy issue I have with the video is the arguable discrepancy between the title and the content. It says it is about firefighters running the world but it very clearly shows them running America. While we can suppose that a similar scene is occurring in other locations around the world, the logistics of it are difficult to actually imagine. Instead what we have is America (the flag is just barely visible in the top of the frame, and of course there's not exactly much evidence that this is occurring in, say, Russia) as the world. Maybe also not a wise image to associate with running for office.

Then there is the simple intertextuality of firefighters in politics. Over eight years after September 11, I'd like to think that we can dissociate firefighters in general with the heroics of those at the World Trade Center, but when they are placed in such a blatant political context, it's still nigh impossible. Both parties have evoked 9/11 numerous times throughout the decade for political reasons, but Republicans in particular have come under fire for it as a rally cry for Iraq. Bush fell back on it in tight spots so often it was almost like a special kind of TS. So as indirect as it is, again it strikes me as a bad move for a politician to take who is claiming a "New Kind of Campaign." But it gets worse. I've been dancing around one of the most striking things about this video being used in a political campaign:

It's an ad for a cellphone from Sprint.

That's right. It shows firefighters, talking on cellphones, running congress (and the world from congress?), and it's a phone advertisement. So if the issue of exploiting the heroics of firefighters bothers you, here we have them being doubly exploited first by an cellphone company of all things and then by a political candidate. Then there is just the pure issue of having an ad woven into your major introduction to your website and campaign. Is Rees sponsored by Sprint? Did he get permission to use their ad? Are cellphones a big part of his platform? Are firefighters?

There is something appealing about the underdog DIY mentality of utilizing external media to get around the annoying reality that it does take a lot of money to run a campaign, but ultimately is it really a good idea? Most politicians try to avoid addressing their relationships to large corporations helping fund their campaigns. Rees proclaims to be "The guy with no money to speak of" but uses a Sprint Cellphone commercial as a welcome mat.

Regardless of political views, to anyone interested in pursuing politics, I think Rees offers an example for the textbooks of how NOT to run an underdog campaign website.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sacha, Can't You See Michael Jackson is Burning?: Too-Soon-Ness and Icon Exploitation

I'm not particularly interested in writing about Michael Jackson's death. My parents called me in a short game of phone hopscotch to let me know about it after my dad heard the news on the radio. My reaction was indifferent, I liked a lot of his material and am old enough to remember when he was still huge, but besides a recent look back at his material after seeing The Nostalgia Critic's episode on Moonwalker, I just don't think of him often enough anymore to really feel anything. I was honestly more upset about Farrah Fawcett dying.

That said, I find myself somewhat fascinated by the media reaction. I suspect that this is less a particular fascination as it is the first incident of this kind I've been aware of post-college (particularly post-media studies courses) and in a moment of semi-leisure where I could actually critically take it in.

There are two incidents that fascinate me. The first is rather typical of a pop-icon's death or really any iconic figure's death. I am of course talking about the immediate need to exploit that death. It becomes the fixation of the media, prioritizing it over almost any piece of news that might actually be relevant to the lives of readers and viewers. As in life, the person continues in death to be a free-for-all commodity to be traded and sold. This relationship between person and image is embedded in their very title as icon, a term which loses the person in the "pictorial representation" of the person when their "form suggests its meaning" and becomes something in itself. Calling someone an icon thus creates a separation of the figure--of their form--from the literal intimate person, who becomes a source of tension and instability (e.g. Jackon's image of being a great humanitarian who loves children being all but utterly obliterated by accusations of child molestation later in life) essentially till their death. At which point, the process of shaping their total life into the particularly lucrative product of narrative becomes virtually stable (the imposed form of narrative onto the total life is completed by a formal and definitive end of the story).

In the case of Michael Jackson we can see the perversion in icon commodity value not through the under reported events of relevant news (well... we could... but who reads anything beyond the front page anyway? ;) ), but through the comparative valuing of another iconic figure's death on the same day: Farrah Fawcett. I think Larry King made this about as apparent as it could be made with his tasteless comment on CNN Live while plugging his show for that evening. Originally planned to focus on Fawcett, he said, "this puts that story into the past" (skip to the 1:50 mark if you can't stand Larry King and just want to get to the point). What is so striking about it is the admission that Michael's death does not mean that Fawcett's focus will have to be dimmed down to accommodate two icons dying, but that it means Fawcett is officially a less valuable commodity. She is yesterday's news. The stock has officially plummeted for Fawcett icon sales in light of the sudden rise of Michael's.

At the same time that the media floods the market with products of the disembodied body, the icon husk of Michael Jackson, there is another phenomenon of restraint which can be witnessed. In the case of Jackson, we can see an example of too-soon-ness in the choice to omit a scene in Sacha Baron Cohen's new Movie Bruno where he gets a-hold of La Toya Jackson's Blackberry and tries to get Michael's number. Ain't it Cool News reporter "Beaks" provides an account of the scene:
Earlier this week, I saw BRUNO (Cohen's follow-up to BORAT directed by Larry Charles), and thought nothing of a scene in which the flamboyant Austrian talk show host interviewed La Toya Jackson while sitting on, um, Mexican furniture. As with most of the bits in BRUNO, it was in spectacularly bad taste. But while Cohen was definitely taking advantage of Ms. Jackson's shocking naiveté, it actually turned out to be one of the least cruel vignettes in the entire movie. And what is cruel about it really has nothing to do with La Toya. In fact, the highlight of the scene - where Bruno commandeers Jackson's Blackberry and attempts to relay her ultra-famous brother's phone number to his assistant (in German) - actually elicits a kinda cute response from the giggly La Toya.
Unless he is grossly downplaying the scene, it appears that it has little to do with Micheal at all beyond the phone number, in which case the too-soon-ness of the scene would appear to lie not in its making fun of a figure whose recent death places them in high sympathy which as a result would hurt the
Bruno's sales, but the more subtle case of simply addressing Micheal after the fact.

How do we reconcile these two acts? How is it acceptable to flood media with icon commodity and yet in poor taste to address the deceased?

A consistency does occur upon closer examination. The commoditizing media produce essentially two kinds of products: "Jackson is dead" and "Remember Jackson" (this second one of course branches into multiple subcategories from nostalgia to narration to reexamination of past narrative, among others quite possibly). What is apparently so inappropriate despite the chronology of the film to Jackson's death, is the illusion that Jackson is not dead in the present. Bruno is something new, and will be seen as something new, but it is a world of the past which exists unaware that it is a product comprised of the past. This tends to happen with any contemporary fiction (acknowledging of course the problems with calling Bruno fiction in the conventional sense) that is not date specific, a sort of space-time split where the fictionalized present is either an alternate universe or simply in the close future. As such, Bruno becomes out of joint with the current, like the long unseen friend who upon bumping into you in town asks about some mutual acquaintance unaware that they're deceased.

What is likely to become (if it hasn't yet) the classic example of this phenomenon is the digital removal of the twin towers from Sam Raimi's Spider-man. While the media was generally called on for its exploitation of the incident, it was essentially accepted that images of the towers being hit and collapsing could be shown over and over (and over) again, but the idea of showing the towers in some of the last films that captured them before the attacks as if they still existed was somehow too upsetting. It recalls to me the Freudian story of the father who dreams of his son burning so that he will not wake to the horror of him actually being dead and burning as it was reinterpreted by Lacan and introduced to me through Zizek:
Why do we dream? Freud’s answer is deceptively simple: the ultimate function of the dream is to enable the dreamer to stay asleep. This is usually interpreted as bearing on the kinds of dream we have when some external disturbance – noise, for example – threatens to wake us. In such a situation, the sleeper immediately begins to imagine a situation which incorporates this external stimulus and thereby is able to continue sleeping for a while longer; when the external stimulus becomes too strong, he finally wakes up. Are things really so straightforward? In another famous example from The Interpretation of Dreams, an exhausted father, whose young son has just died, falls asleep and dreams that the child is standing by his bed in flames, whispering the horrifying reproach: ‘Father, can’t you see I’m burning?’ Soon afterwards, the father wakes to discover that a fallen candle has set fire to his dead son’s shroud. He had smelled the smoke while asleep, and incorporated the image of his burning son into his dream to prolong his sleep. Had the father woken up because the external stimulus became too strong to be contained within the dream-scenario? Or was it the obverse, that the father constructed the dream in order to prolong his sleep, but what he encountered in the dream was much more unbearable even than external reality, so that he woke up to escape into that reality.
To understand this theory that the dream of the boy is more terrifying than the actual death of the boy, we must note from the set up that the boy is already dead. The horror of the dream is the confrontation with the desire for the son, The World Trade Center, and now Michael Jackson (the element of the absurd in this statement does not escape me) to live. It is traumatic in that our desire cannot be fulfilled. Our dreams show us what we want but can never ever truly have. With are own anxieties of death, is the unbearable reality not the fear of non-existence but rather the horror that we don't want to cease existing but will anyway? That our underlying nature is in an inherent conflict with the real, which as a result reveals a fundamental riff in our sense, or rather our illusion, of control?

The films show us things that are no more and act as if they still are, and like the long unseen friend, we tell the screen that they aren't, but we wish they were. Of course, I doubt Sacha or Raimi were really thinking about this when either made their call, but does it not explain this inconsistency? How exploitation is met with cynical but nonetheless complacent disgust while the phenomenon of films like Bruno and Spider-man evoke a need for self-censorship? The exploitative supplements our desire for what can't be through the persistence of the disembodied body, the commoditized icon. As Elton John put it, "your candle burned out long ago/ your legend never will."

Monday, June 22, 2009

God Bless France: A Secularist Feminist Critique of Sarkozy's Objection to Burqas

NOTE: I should in fairness stress that my following of this incident has been limited. I looked at a few other stories online which seemed to be summeries of the Google article, so the analysis is based almost completely on this one account. If you feel the article does not represent the incident or Sarkozy well enough, please feel free to leave alternative accounts in the discussion below with links. I'm headed out of town and had to scramble to finish this before it became too dated. I expect that even with the proof reading I'll want to edit this thing to death when I see it again with fresh eyes two days from now.

There are a few things about French President Sarkozy's reasoning against the wearing of burqas in his country that I find curious. Living in Virginia, where it is illegal for an adult regardless of sex to wear a mask or other substantial face covering in public, I find it surprising that the most pragmatic argument against allowing the wearing of a burqa--that it conceals the wearers identity in public--is apparently not an issue with regard to safety for Sarkozy. Where I cannot walk down the street wearing a full Richard Nixon mask over my head without a police officer being concerned that I'm going to commit a crime (yes, like rob a bank), Sarkozy seems more concerned about someone completely covered from head to toe posing a threat to secularism and feminism.

As a secularist and a feminist (yes men can be feminist too) Sarkozy's angle bothers me.

First of all, there is the simple inconsistency of his secular argument as it's presented by Google News. He seems to want to have it both ways, saying that the Islamic burka (or burqa) is not welcome in secular France but at the same time saying, "The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience." How can it be both not a sign of religion and undermine secularism? While shifting the focus to feminism this quote in effect manages to secularize the burqa which poses even more trouble for his agenda when we look at how it supposedly undermines feminism.

Since Sarkozy has relieved us of our burdensome preconceptions about ignorant Islamic barbarism, let us indulge a bit more and lay down the baggage of western (arguably still white) middle-class/bourgeois feminism. That is to say, let us attempt to look at the Burqa as a completely secularized object devoid of as much preconceived bureaucracy of dynamics as possible. What we are left with is an object that virtually conceals all aspects of appearance, forcing wearers to define their selves in a non-superficial manner. When we are freed from the the notion of the non-consensual wearing of the burqa, the male order forcing women to cover up so that their sexuality does not undermine some patriarchal chauvinist order, we see the woman (or wearer of any sex) is just as freed from the objective gaze. Instead of the physical prejudices which influence our opinions of people (what is beautiful, ugly, sexy, etc.), relationships with and between burqa wearers would seem to develop on the basis of personality, one's intelligence, beliefs, tastes and so on. In this light, is the burqa not potentially the physical preexistence of the condition of early internet socializing?

With image and video an ever increasing aspect of internet society now, it is easy to forget that in the early days there were no or very limited avatars and profile pictures. In your home you were you with all your physical characteristics, but on the internet you were essentially a name, a being of text to be judged by the content of your text. This relationship hasn't utterly vanished. For example, I've never bothered to put a photo of myself up on this blog, so for the visiting reader I am essentially these words. You can't see if I am buttoned down and neatly dressed or unshaven and covered in grass clippings, fat or trim, if I look like an Old Navy model or your cousin who plays Halo 3 all the time, to give but a few of the many possibilities. Without an external relationship, I'm freed of virtually all visual coding by you the reader.

A personal example of this absence of visual codes as a positive is found in the many late nights in college talking with a Muslim friend of mine. Though she did not wear a burqa, she did adhere to many formalities in public which coded her very much as Muslim, which, all things September 11th aside, left a sense of treading eggshells for a ferocious secularist fighting the Marshall-Newman amendment like myself. Yet, this baggage was quickly obliterated within the disembodied space of the internet where she would initiate wonderful conversations with me about, among other things--and of all things--Nietzsche. (This occurred often at three in the morning while we both wrote papers due the next day). While I never disregarded her customs, this idea of Muslim other simply broke down, and I found myself able to talk to her more or less as I would anyone else.

The Burqa seems to function mostly in the same way. Inside one's home, it is not worn (among family); it is something put on to enter the public sphere which makes interaction something outside visual coding. This however is not as effective as the internet for it still retains the cultural dimension of the specific garment, which admittedly can become exceptionally coded, especially in contemporary times. While it prevents me from seeing not only if I am sexually attracted to wearer's physique, it also prevents me from making preconceptions about them based on fashion sense... except that they are Muslim. That detail of course is one betrayed by Sarcozy in claiming the garment to be "not a sign of religion." Secularized, it is a garment that, like the text-based internet, actually encourages intellectuality and personality as the definers of identity and relationship.

Isn't that what most feminist want? To be identified as people and not just sexual objects?

I am not unaware of the enormous problem with what I've argued so far. Sarcozy, or any sensible feminist who wants to strangle me write now, is arguing that women are forced to wear these so men don't have deal with their urges. Feminism is as much a psychological movement as a political one, and in most circles it is the gaze itself that is the issue, not what is being gazed at. My point is simply that the object, the burqa, separated from the context of who decides for who, is not a fundamentally bad thing. It is not genital mutilation or some other extreme form of misogyny at its core, but rather something which one could even conceivably choose to wear as a means of separating their identity from their body. This could even be an act of feminist resistance to the sexual objectification of one's self.

Let us consider how identity is addressed by Sarkozy. Instead of framing it as a necessity that others see one's identity for their benefit (ridding all criminals and law abiding citizens alike of the luxury of visual anonymity), Sarkozy focuses on the woman's need to show her self for the benefit of being seen. "We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity." Identity here becomes something bestowed by society, projected upon the woman's exposed skin. Identity is thus superficial. I think I just heard Camus roll over in his grave.

What this 'need to be seen' really means is that to have an identity others must see you, and (because of the extreme coverage of the burqa) you can't wear too much clothing while being seen. That strikes me as the opposite of feminism, and even smacks of the same subversive motivations as heterosexual men insisting that women should have the same equal rights to walk around topless. If Sarkozy is seriously concerned about feminism in his country he should (like Obama, who he makes a point of differing with) stress the woman's choice to wear or not wear a burqa and oppose anyone depriving them of the right to choose for their selves. He should even insist that men have the right to wear them as well, destroying the gender connotation.

I swear, as he argues it, even the use of "submissive" becomes suspect. Don't people have the right to wear submissively coded clothes? I get that he's probably as hard on nuns for the way they dress, but can we expect him to crack down on corset wearing emo-types as well? Should we be bracing for a full-scale shut down of fetish clubs and a mass deportation of gimps from France in the coming months?

Jokes aside, Sarkozy's argument has a perverse undercurrent to his reasons against the burqa that should not be overlooked by our cultural imperialistic progressive urge to cleans everyone of barbarity. I haven't even gotten to what, as a secularist, I find to be perhaps the biggest problem with his statement that, "The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience." More than the inconsistency of the statement we should be asking who is he to say that it isn't a sign of religion? What he is doing is as a president--one of the highest positions of political authority--is imposing a theocratic position on his people. How the hell can he call himself a secularist and do that? Imposing a theocratic view from a political position as an argument for potential legislation is about the greatest undermining of secularism anyone could conceivably commit.

The purpose of a secularist government should be the insistence of pragmatism and utilitarianism as the means for determining laws. Drawing from the premise of theologian Roger Williams that marrying church and state corrupts the church, secularism can be as much a pro-religion institution as opposed, understanding the necessity of the state not to favor one religion or particular interpretation of a religion over others in a multi-faith populace. As I pointed out at the beginning, there is a perfectly good pragmatic reason to object burqas for reasons of safety, but Sarcozy is not quoted addressing it, choosing instead to tell citizens what does and does not represent their faith and that they cannot represent their faith. While the movement to forbid politicians from wearing signs or otherwise outwardly designating themselves as members of a particular faith is not beyond the scope of how secularism can be practiced by a government, the implementing of such restrictions on civilians elevates atheism in the very same problematic way as elevating a given religion. Politicians bare a responsibility to everyone that they represent, which in a secularist state requires some personal sacrifice to ensure one serves equally, but to impose the same on civilians as citizens is pure religious oppression. Sarkozy seems more interested in an atheist state than a secular government for France, which anyone truly serious about secularism should oppose.

So yeah, damn you Sarkozy for making me defend burqas!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

People Carrying Guns Discussion

So this blog hasn't been very philosophical of late in the fashion that is used to be. I've threatened in the past to make it a movie blog and I've enjoyed thus far taking it in a more media studies oriented and personal direction. That said, I've been a bit of a windbag over at Jackson's blog, discussing people that carry guns, so if anyone (who doesn't already frequently read Rule .303) misses my old stuff or is just interested in the issue, check out his post and the subsequent discussion board.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thoughts on Drag Me To Hell

I'm not going to go into a great deal of depth because there is a possibility I will have to review this again later in the year (more on that... um... later in the year) and don't want to rehash it all again.

That said, it is problematic but very enjoyable, especially in a movie theater, which feels like the only way one should watch this film. I really did like it a lot and found it a very fun date movie (something I've very rarely been able to say about any horror movies this decade). The lead actress, Alison Lohman, hindered the film at several places where she very visibly didn't seem to know what to do. Raimi has a very distinct style of camp that requires a very specific style of over the top camp (as Edward pointed out in the previous comment board) It was never Téa Leoni bad, but their were flirtations towards that realm. Still the character did manage to walk the line between being someone you care about and someone you can enjoy watching put through the slapstick abuse (and oh yeah, Raimi doesn't go soft. She get's smacked around just about as much as Bruce used to, rest assured). The subplot about how she is trying to turn her back on her southern roots is particularly amusing when her accent creeps through in certain moments of duress. It's an almost Cohen Brothers touch (there was a lot of early collaboration between the three, as well as actor Bruce Cambell). While the problem is a lack of camp in some moments with Lohman, it is ironically quite refreshing to see Justin Long (great porn name, by the way, but it must have been hell working with Kevin Smith because of it) get a goofy but straight dramatic role. I hope more people give him a chance, because he was quite likable in this.

As for the film itself, it is refreshing in its effort not to rely on gore. Instead it goes for grossing out (think of a PG-13 Pink Flamingos) with bile and mucus and slime and other such fun things you wouldn't want in you mouth. In addition to grossness, it's a jump scare film to end all jump scare films, and this is where it gets problematic. Its almost a love letter to jump scares, they are everywhere and the amazing thing is they mostly work even though they are everywhere. It's a strong argument that jump scares seem cheap because people sell cheap jump scares and that they're is a still quality to be found if them if executed by directors with talent. Still they do almost become annoying in their endless onslaught. The secret to many jump scares being the sound scape, this film latterly beats you up in the theater. It's like having a trashcan thrown over your head and being bashed repeatedly with baseball bats. This film is not for people with heart conditions! The opening is in particular a bit forced in its pacing, showing just how aggressive the demon is by making it raise all hell (literally) the moment someone tries to test it. You just want more breathing time, more effort to make the story creepy in itself (like The Orphanage for example, or The Gift to draw on another Raimi film) but then again, this is Evil Dead II territory, it's about having fun with horror, and it does that. It's hard to describe the style of this fun, for it's not like Shaun of the Dead or Fido, but very much a strange mix of John Waters glee for the gross (though not sexual in this case) mixed with the Cohen's cruelty. Another film I've repeatedly thought of for some reason is Death Becomes Her, which it really isn't like at all beyond that sense of being very dark and yet very fun. It's a film to laugh with and jump through and just be silly while watching.

Drag Me To Hell proves that a pg-13 movie can be scary, even if it isn't exactly scary itself. A better actress and less CGI, and this would be unquestionably one of the best horror comedies and even flat out horror movies in many many years. Viewers going in should realize that its high praise and love is as much for what it represents as what it is, and in some ways more the latter. Torture horror and the kind of bleak hardcore horror that the French have been leading in have had their run, but its time for them to go like J-horror before them. I'm not saying gore must end, but I think a lot of people look forward to horror lightening up a little while still being good. Drag Me To Hell is a suggestion of where horror can go in the coming decade for its next phase, and personally, I'm stoked if it happens, but only if people improve on what Raimi has offered instead of offering more feebler fare. Hard R horror was needed in response to Hollywood fodder like The Haunting remake, and I don't want to see a simple relapse back into that crap.


(Huh, I guess that wasn't super brief. Oh well.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fear and Loathing at Mount Vernon

Me and guided tours do not often mix well, or at least have had a less than glowing history. They are the kind of activity I get dragged along to which makes me want to wear Hawaiian shirts and keep a sharp eye out for bats while walking around in a bowlegged fashion. I've been to Mr. Jefferson's house so many times one can't help but call on and compare the steely looks of the nice southern ladies -- their smiles designed to display pearly white teeth capable of taking my nose off with the veraciousness of Danny DeVito playing the Penguin -- when I ask about "the slaves." This was a sport for my teens, but even when I was littler I was quite capable of being a shit on such tours. I can recall one guided tour through the Luray Caverns, where the line was so long through the narrow tunnels that by being somewhere near the middle, I could make up names for rock formations and the people behind me would continue to point them out, not knowing any better since they couldn't hear the real tour guide talking up ahead.

But now it seems of I've become a reasonable mature member of the tourist herd. That or being engaged to a tour guide with a tendency to drive around with broad swords in her car has put me in my place. Whatever the case, I went to Mount Vernon today and behaved myself quite well.

1. At no point in the presence of a tour guide did I...
a) ask where they keep Washington's pimp wagon (because seriously, the guy's presidential carriage was tricked out).
b) I didn't follow said question with a comment about Washington's mad "grill."

(However, when my sister asked what his cause of death was, I did suggest gingivitis.)

2. When discovering the stain glass mural in the main entrance to the grounds which displayed many great moment's from Washington's life (yes, including the damn cherry tree) I did not respond to its suggestion of Catholic Sainthood with any number of possible jokes from the subtle "blessed was Saint Washington" to the full on Reverend Cory Fallswell mode, preaching how all must "give your mon-NAAAY to the holy concession stands, so that YOU can savor the cherry FLAVOR of our presidential savior!"

3. When waiting in the hour plus long line to Washington's house with the couple behind me talking about Demon Seed, I did not offer that maybe the guy's wife didn't like the film because it is all about a robotic house trying to rape a housewife played by Julie Christie and that most wives don't like movies about being raped by houses.

4. I completely ignored the children's wooden guns that were being sold EVERYWHERE. Didn't even touch one.

5. I didn't ask the gift shop people for an Axe.

6. I didn't make any references to thee Jaws Universal Studios ride while on the boat tour.

7. I never brought up the Free Masons. This in itself isn't that shocking since, really, I don't care about Free Masons. I'm pretty indifferent about the whole lot more or less, and I only bring it up because I found the utter lack of masonry involved in the construction of his house hilarious. It looks like it is made from large bricks, but it's actually all wood painted over with a sand based substance to make it look like stone, complete with indentations in the boards to give a brickwork pattern. HGTV was also not addressed.

So yeah, I behaved. Go me.

It's not that I have any real grudge with Washington, or Jefferson for that matter. But I'm not a touristy person. I hate lines. I hate being out in the hot sun. I hate people talking to me in a very robotic fashion, while other people are gathering behind me to hear the same thing again after I proceed on to the next room. Things like this more me to maddness about 85% of the time if not more, so I become a bit evil to stay sane. Yet I've learned to keep it mostly to myself (or at least, hold off to share them on my blog it would seem).

Finally, having been to Washington's house, I can say that the Monticello people really have their act way more together, despite my teasing them for taking things so seriously. Go them for putting up with my asshattery and always having an answer to questions I'm sure they want to kill every annoying hippy/punk kid or Princess Diana grave robbing adult for bringing up for the eighteenth time that afternoon. If anyone is planning a trip to Mount Vernon and sees a long line to the house, SKIP IT. They rush you through, its not a terribly interesting house on the inside, and only one of the four respectable questions that I asked (pertaining mostly to furniture) were the guides able to fully answer. And, you really need to ask questions on the house tour to get a lot out of it, because in a couple of the larger rooms I was able to stick around to hear the compartmentalized guides repeat their rehearsed information and discovered that sometimes really, really cool details about the rooms were not covered when someone asked and only if someone asked (tip: look for and enquirer about the large key on the wall in the glass case). I'm not trying to rag on the place and the people. Everyone was nice, but you really will get more out of the grounds and going to the museum and the other activities offered than waiting all day to walk through the lower levels of his house. If your heart is set on it, then apparently it's a lot better to see the house in December (less people and you get to go to the third floor then). Also, if you've got all day, then yeah, why not? But if you're making a long drive to check it out, I think there is a lot more to be experienced doing everything except going inside.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sick Day Movie Marrathon

So I've been sick and useless all day. Actually, I was sick most of yesterday as well. Not feeling like writing or doing anything physical, I laid around with a quart of soup and watched a bunch of movies. Not particularly great films per se, but more sick day films, and not even necessarily perfect selections of sick day films, because I was just streaming things from netflix. Anyway, I figured I'd share my thoughts on what I watched.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

There is something about a good Ray Harryhausen that is simply perfect for starting a day. Maybe it's the Pirates of Dark Water fan in me, but films like Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts that just capture that magic of Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. Like Most of his Sinbad films, I had missed out on The Golden Voyage and boy was it a treat. Not a really a masterpiece on any level, it's just a fun sword and sandals on the high seas kind of adventure, but like most good Harryhausen films, it feels like something you would imagine as a kid in the best sense and not like most adventure films that only approximate that experience. It just a lot of fun, and made me want to go back and read all of Sinbad's adventures. Sinbad rules.

I should correct one thing though in saying that it isn't a masterpiece on any level. It is without question an essential for stop-motion animation and Harryhausen geeks alike for one simple thing: the Shiva duel. Anyone blown away by the Skeleton duel from Jason and the Argonauts
will be floored when Sinbad and his men take on a statue of the six-armed goddess. There's a cheat here and there where she is basically just using her front upper arms only, but there are at least two parts where she is dueling multiple men with all six that had my jaw on the floor. Keeping track of that many thing... if you are familiar with the process of stop-motion by itself, let alone having the puppets imposed such as to directly interact with real people, than it will simply blow you away.

The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick

Q: What's a good sign that your documentary is bad?

A: When it is on a subject that I'm intensely interested in and I still stop watching it fifteen minutes in.

I'm not even going to use the fact that I'm ill and wanted mindless entertainment as an excuse. This was not well crafted. Editing is the heart of documentary in all its forms. The documentarian has limited control over every element except how the element they have to work with are arranged, what is focused on and what is left on the cutting room floor. In one interview someone goes on and on trying to tell about how funny this one incident at a party with Dick was and keeps laughing the whole time as she tries to tell it, because she thinks its SO incredibly funny, and then when the joke is finally told, through all her laughing, it's rather mundane - all we learn from it is that Dick wouldn't say something funny he said earlier again - one wonders if anything was cut at all. It's just a really bloated moment that goes on past the good part. It begins as a conversation about smoking in Dick's novels, and should have cut to something else after the interviewee quotes what Dick had to say about the matter (that while his characters often smoke and she had never seen him smoke, his novels also often have a lot of sex--which she also probably hasn't SEEN him engage in). But no, it goes on and shows awkwardly past what feels very much like the moment.

Editing bits like the one above were annoying, but as I said before, I'm a Dick fan, so by themselves they wouldn't have made me quit. What really drove me bonkers was the damn animation segments. Either they didn't get the rights or there is apparently a limited amount of footage of Mr. Dick, because of what I watched I'm not sure I saw any. In place of images of the writer, what we get are poorly drawn animations of him that make Dr. Katz look like the work of Miyazaki. The opening credits are the most frustratingly slow process with each title page having to be a sheet of paper that he pulls from a stack, sets in his typewriter and then types. The process takes about ten seconds too long for each one. Opening credits should be a smooth transitional thing, not something laborious for the viewer to sit through. When they finally got to some recordings of Dick's voice and decided to have this terribly drawn cartoon Dick speak them. I said out loud to my computer "fuck it" and moved on. So congratulations Mark Steensland, you made a documentary on one of my all time favorite sci-fi writers, and I didn't last 15 minutes before turning it off (I just checked my netflix account and I only lasted for 14 minutes and 28 seconds).


This is a movie I will blame being sick for my not finishing it. This was sometime later in the afternoon when I was getting tired and the pace of the movie was just too slow to keep me from falling asleep, so I cut it to avoid wasting free streaming time. It really does seem like the kind of movie I would love in the right mindset. It music is largely done by the Eurythmics and is strikingly good (I guess I haven't heard enough non-singles Eurythmics), ambient and surprisingly not dated sounding after all these years. Still, despite the great casting and wonderful dystopia, I found that slouching back in my chair, I couldn't help but expect the film to burst into a Pink Floyd number at anymoment, or for the the protagonist to dream that he is a birdman (yes, I know Brazil came afterwards, but I still was waiting for it). That's the problem with making a film out of Orwell's novel. It's been quoted and expanded upon in some many films since it was published that one can't help but feel something is absent when watching just the original story. So as good as it did seem, I suspect that when I do finish it I will leave the film with a sense that it doesn't quite retroactively hold up to the legacy it's created. Still, looked pretty top notch for what it is.

Men in Black

After that fun, fun downer that I wasn't in the mood for, I felt like watching something goofy, something I hadn't seen in a while and could probably finally laugh at again. Men in Black largely hit the spot. I forgot that Vincent D'Onofrio was Edgar, and enjoyed the character all over for how offbeat he was for him (kinda reminded me of Keaton as Beetlejuice in that you forget that its him). Not much to add other than how much I love bits like the Morgue scene. I always wish MIB had stayed small, eased off the saving the world scale missions. That was the biggest problem with the sequel and in many ways why I expect (and hope) we'll never see a third. I was the Bazooka goofy answer to X-files and before it was even finished with the first film it lost sight of that. Still, lots of fun.


Bob Clark made three movies that make everything else he has turned out not matter. Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Porky's. Porky's is the birth of the raunchy teen movies, Meatballs was right there with it Porky's was operating on a whole other level. It's like someone took American Graffiti and gave those kids a stack of Playboy with maybe a Hustler or two to boot. It's foul-mouthed, sex-charged and full of sex and nudity. Seventeen years before American Pie, it still feels edgier. It has more nudity than most modern sex comedies, but there is something more to it than that which is why I can hate most of those films but actually love this one. Porky's has character's that feel real, exaggerated, but real. They are mostly interesting people. Even if they repulse you, there is something there that makes you care what happens to them. I never felt that with American Pie and what few of the other films of that generation I saw. The kids felt superficial and picked off of television shows and the plots felt completely contrived. Porky's has basically two major sex gags--a noisy orgasm, and the hole in the wall shower scene that is so symbolically potent (particularly but not exclusively considering Clark's background in slasher films) that it manages to elevate the film's academic value with its lewdest scene in ways molesting a pie will never touch. Sure, there is the giant condom bit, the killer husband gag and the hilarious "Tallywhacker" scene, but as far as visually lewd gags of the type that There's Something About Mary, American Pie and other films would later embrace, it isn't very jam packed.

A major subplot revolves around one of the member's of the gang being racist thanks to his abusive criminal father and the tensions between him and a new member of the gang that is Jewish. When the Jewish kid beats him in a fight, his father beats him up even worse. The character's arch to becoming friends with the Jewish kid isn't exactly ground breaking or unpredictable, but it's not something you are bound to get from modern sex comedies. At best you could probably hope for a character to quit smoking pot.

Porky's is a coming of age adult comedy for college students done right. I wasn't kidding when I said it is American Graffiti meets Playboy (old school Playboy, that is). It has that same kind of charm with its kids, just hornier.

Well, that's my movie-going experience for the day. Please pardon any typos (though feel free to point them out so I can correct them) as I'm still fairly sick and haven't thoroughly spell-checked this as much as I hope to in the future.