Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Essentials of Clear Expression (archive)

a, an

Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage: a, an

(I'm going to read this front-to-back and I learn best by writing, reading and restating...)

Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage: The Essentials of Clear Expression

The basic rules are these: use a before a consonant sound; use an before a vowel sound. Before a letter or an acronym or before numerals, choose a or an according to the way the letter or numeral is pronounced: an FDA directive, a U.N. resolution, a $5.00 bill.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa: What the overly PC critics of 'Slumdog Millionare' still don't understand

A Bollywood Ending: What the overly PC critics of 'Slumdog Millionare' still don't understand.
by Alvaro Vargas Llosa
The New Republic


The critics forget a few facts. The film is based on the novel "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat. Although the director and the scriptwriter, both British, made changes in their adaptation of the story, they kept the essentials: An Indian slum orphan is arrested for getting too many answers right in a TV quiz show and the subsequent narration of his journey reveals to us that his correct answers did not come from cheating but from street wisdom picked up in a succession of experiences that attest to his instinct for survival. Not to mention all the on- and off-camera Indians associated with the movie, who feel proud of their role in it.


The charge that "Slumdog Millionaire" exploits Mumbai's poverty is so absurd that by the same token Charles Dickens' entire body of work would have to be invalidated as a defamation of 19th-century England. Like all accomplished stories, "Slumdog Millionaire" is probably resonating with audiences because it gives a glimpse of complex truths and tells us something about ourselves that we had trouble defining. In that sense, the Motion Picture Academy did not honor a "foreign" film, but one strangely familiar.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Toronto J-Film Pow Wow: Our Top Ten Favorite Japanese Horror Films

Our Top Ten Favorite Japanese Horror Films
Toronto J-Film Pow Wow

While Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" was widely dubbed "The film that introduced the world to Japanese cinema" during the 20th-century it could easily be argued that films like Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Kairo (Pulse)", Hideo Nakata's "Ringu" and Takashi Shimizu's "Ju-On" were the films that introduced a whole new generation to Japanese cinema in the 21st-century. At the start of the new millenium audiences had already been haunted, stalked and dismembered by a gallery of boogie men from Leatherface to Freddy Krueger and frankly the standard scares were getting a bit stale. In an attempt to devise new ways to keep people sleeping with the light on Hollywood turned East and found inspiration in the atmospheric and exotic horror being produced in Japan. The major studios started buying up the distribution and remake rights for a wide variety of films from a diverse group of filmmaker like the names mentioned above, but also more "extreme" directors like Takashi Miike, Shinya Tsukamoto and Sion Sono. The work of this loose group was was dubbed "J-Horror" and for a few years it was the hottest thing in genre filmmaking. Unfortunately we live in hyper-accelerated and fickle times and once the best horror from Japan had been bought up and recycled studio execs were left picking over whatever sub par product was left and the hot new sub-genre quickly fizzled out.

Regardless of the fact that J-Horror has gone past its sell-by-date that burst of attention at the start of the decade opened doors for a wide variety of not only Japanese but Asian films in general to make their way West and horror fans now have a whole new crop of cinema classics that can join "The Exorcist", "The Shining" and "Night of the Living Dead" in the pantheon of fear. To honour the genre that got so many of you interested in Japanese cinema in the first place we at the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow wanted to pull together our list of Top Ten Favorite Japanese Horror Films from across the history of Japanese cinema. Proceed at your own risk...

To See the List and Read the Descriptions

Richard Wolff: Capitalism Hits the Fan--On the Economic Meltdown

Media Education Foundation

Documentary Website


Film School (Irvine, CA: KUCI)
Hosts: Nathan Callahan and Mike Kaspar

An interview with THAVISOUK PHRASAVATH co-director of THE BETRAYAL — the epic story of a family forced to emigrate from Laos after the chaos of the secret air war waged by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. A Lao prophecy says, "A time will come when the universe will break, piece by piece, the world will change beyond what we know." That time came for the small country of Laos with the clandestine involvement of the United States during the Vietnam War. By 1973, three million tons of bombs had been dropped on Laos in the fight to overcome the North Vietnamese, more than the total used during both world wars. With the rise of a Communist government in Laos, killings and arrests became common among those affiliated with the former government and the Americans. Families were torn apart-some finally emigrating to the U.S. In a collaboration spanning more than 20 years, Phrasavath the main subject of the film worked with co-director Ellen Kuras. Phrasavath takes us through his youth, his escape from persecution and arrest in Laos, his family's reunion and their journey as immigrants to America, and the second war they had to fight on the streets of New York City. Drawing on the techniques of experimental film and the traditions of Laotian culture, The Betrayal is a tale about a country, a family, and a young man who discovers the power and resilience of the human spirit.

To Listen to the Interview (MP3)

University of Kentucky Spring Sustainability Series: Vandana Shiva (3/4)

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock)

On Wednesday, March 4th, Dr. Vandana Shiva will deliver the Spring Sustainability Lecture at 7pm in Memorial Hall at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Shiva is an internationally-renowned scientist, author and activist with strong interests in sustainable development, feminist theory, alternative globalization and bioengineering. She is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds working in the interdisciplinary field of sustainability. Dr. Shiva is also the founder of Navdanya, a participatory research initiative to provide direction and support to environmental activism.

This is the second lecture in the President’s Sustainability Lecture Series and Dr. Shiva will be discussing the importance of higher education’s role in sustainable development.

For more information about Vandana Shiva.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

University of Kentucky Socialist Student Union Lecture Series: "Socialism and the Economic Crisis: Whose way forward?" (2/25)

"Socialism and the Economic Crisis: Whose way forward?"
part of The Socialist Student Union Lecture Series

U.K. Socialist Student Union
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
5:00pm - 6:00pm
Room 111 in UK Student Center
Avenue of Champions/Euclid Avenue
Lexington, KY

Contact Info

You are invited to the lecture, "Socialism and the Economic Crisis: Whose way forward?" presented by Aaron Kappeler and Patrick Bigger.

The lecture will discuss the socialist movement and the struggle for a dual power in light of current economic events, specifically the significance of the shift from neoliberal to keynesian style policies as a tactic for dealing with the crisis of accumulation. The lecture will also include a discussion on socialist strategy.

Light refreshments will be served. Drinks to follow at location TBA.

Lecturer Bios:
Aaron Kappeler is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology and Political Economy at the University of Toronto. His current research centers on the agrarian reform in Venezuela and the transformation of the state, society and livelihood in the Bolivarian revolution. He can be reached at aaron dot kappeler at utoronto dot ca

Patrick Bigger is a Geography student at the University of Kentucky.

Benjamin R. Barber: The Educated Student--Global Citizen or Global Consumer?

The Educated Student: Global Citizen or Global Consumer?
by Benjamin R. Barber
Liberal Education (Spring, 2002); available from Find Articles

I WANT TO TRACE A QUICK TRAJECTORY from July 4, 1776 to Sept. 11, 2001. It takes us from the Declaration of Independence to the declaration of interdependence--not one that is actually yet proclaimed but one that we educators need to begin to proclaim from the pulpits of our classrooms and administrative suites across America.

In 1776 it was all pretty simple for people who cared about both education and democracy. There was nobody among the extraordinary group of men who founded this nation who did not know that democracy--then an inventive, challenging, experimental new system of government--was dependent for its success not just on constitutions, laws, and institutions, but dependent for its success on the quality of citizens who would constitute the new republic. Because democracy depends on citizenship, the emphasis then was to think about what and how to constitute a competent and virtuous citizen body. That led directly, in almost every one of the founders' minds, to the connection between citizenship and education.

Whether you look at Thomas Jefferson in Virginia or John Adams in Massachusetts, there was widespread agreement that the new republic, for all of the cunning of its inventive and experimental new Constitution, could not succeed unless the citizenry was well educated. That meant that in the period after the Revolution but before the ratification of the Constitution, John Adams argued hard for schools for every young man in Massachusetts (it being the case, of course, that only men could be citizens). And in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson made the same argument for public schooling for every potential citizen in America, founding the first great public university there. Those were arguments that were uncontested.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century this logic was clear in the common school movement and later, in the land grant colleges. It was clear in the founding documents of every religious, private, and public higher education institution in this country. Colleges and universities had to be committed above all to the constituting of citizens. That's what education was about. The other aspects of it--literacy, knowledge, and research--were in themselves important. Equally important as dimensions of education and citizenship was education that would make the Bill of Rights real, education that would make democracy succeed.

It was no accident that in subsequent years, African Americans and then women struggled for a place and a voice in this system, and the key was always seen as education. If women were to be citizens, then women's education would have to become central to suffragism. After the Civil War, African Americans were given technical liberty but remained in many ways in economic servitude. Education again was seen as the key. The struggle over education went on, through Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896--separate, but equal--right down to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared separate but equal unconstitutional.

In a way our first 200 years were a clear lesson in the relationship between democracy, citizenship, and education, the triangle on which the freedom of America depended. But sometime after the Civil War with the emergence of great corporations and of an economic system organized around private capital, private labor, and private markets, and with the import from Europe of models of higher education devoted to scientific research, we began to see a gradual change in the character of American education generally and particularly the character of higher education in America's colleges and universities. From the founding of Johns Hopkins at the end of the nineteenth century through today we have witnessed the professionalization, the bureaucratization, the privatization, the commercialization, and the individualization of education. Civics stopped being the envelope in which education was put and became instead a footnote on the letter that went inside and nothing more than that.

With the rise of industry, capitalism, and a market society, it came to pass that young people were exposed more and more to tutors other than teachers in their classrooms or even those who were in their churches, their synagogues--and today, their mosques as well. They were increasingly exposed to the informal education of popular opinion, of advertising, of merchandising, of the entertainment industry. Today it is a world whose messages come at our young people from those ubiquitous screens that define modem society and have little to do with anything that you teach. The large screens of the multiplex promote content determined not just by Hollywood but by multinational corporations that control information, technology, communication, sports, and entertainment. About ten of those corporations control over 60 to 70 percent of what appears on those screens.

Then, too, there are those medium-sized screens, the television sets that peek from every room of our homes. That's where our children receive not the twenty-eight to thirty hours a week of instruction they might receive in primary and secondary school, or the six or nine hours a week of classroom instruction they might get in college, but where they get anywhere from forty to seventy hours a week of ongoing "information," "knowledge," and above all, entertainment. The barriers between these very categories of information and entertainment are themselves largely vanished.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

John Lennon: I Am the Walrus

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock)

Watch Amazing Oscar-Nominated Short "I Met the Walrus"

Background/Description for the Video

Conservatism I Support: Wendell Berry

(For my Kentucky students)

Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky

Wendell Berry: The Way of Ignorance

Wendell Berry: Open Letter on the Proposed Plan to Clear-Cut 800 Acres of Robinson Forest

Thinking About the Purpose of Education with Maxine Greene and Wendell Berry

“The Agrarian Standard.” Orion (2002)

“Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” Cross Currents (Summer 1993)

A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” Orion (March/April 2003)

“Conserving Communities.”

“The Failure of War.” Yes (Winter 2002)

“A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey.” (1985)

“For the Love of the Land.” Sierra Magazine (May/June 2002)

“Getting Along With Animals.” The New Farm (September/October 1979):

“Global Problems, Local Solutions.” Resurgence (May/June 2001)

“Health is Membership.” (Delivered as a speech at a conference, "Spirituality and Healing", at Louisville, Kentucky, on October 17, 1994)

“The Idea of a Local Economy.” Orion (2002)

“In Distrust of Movements.” Resurgence (January/February 2000)

“The Joys of Sales Resistance”

“Lest We Forget.” (Excerpt from a Short Story: 1992):

“Life is a Miracle: Classification in Science.” Whole Earth Review (Fall 2000)

“Peaceableness Toward Enemies: Some Notes on the Gulf War.” (1991)

“The Pleasures of Eating.”

“The Prejudice Against Country People.” Progressive (April 2002):

“Private Property and Common Wealth.”

“Thoughts in the Presence of Fear.” Orion (2001)

“Visions for Rural Kentucky.” Whole Earth Review (Winter 1998)

Lannan Readings & Conversations: Wendell Berry with Jack Shoemaker

Wendell Berry: Compromise, Hell!

Wendell Berry: Excerpts from “The Work of Local Culture”

Mark Engler: Why Wendell Berry Matters

T.C. Boyle, Orion, Wendell Berry, Fear, Local Economy, James Howard Kunstler, Prozac, and A Friend of the Earth

Fora TV: Robert Reich -- 2009 Economic Forecast

Robert Reich: 2009 Economic Forecast
Fora TV

As the economy nose-dives into a crisis of unknown depths, hear renowned economist and former Secretary of Labor Reich lay out his thoughts on what lurks around the financial corner in 2009.

Drawing on his years of experience both in and out of the political sphere, and sifting through the mountain of financial data, fiscal indicators, and government spin, Reich - who has been rumored as a contender for a position in the Obama administration - will cut through the hysteria and hyperbole to reveal where we're headed in '09

To Listen to the Speech

Dave Kehr: Filmmaking at 90 Miles Per Hour

Filmmaking at 90 Miles Per Hour
by Dave Kehr
New York Times


Mr. Friedkin was a rising young filmmaker with four features (his unlikely debut was the 1967 Sonny and Cher vehicle, “Good Times”) and several documentaries to his credit when the producer Philip D’Antoni approached him about “The French Connection.” The story, essentially true, was derived from a book by Robin Moore that described how two narcotics detectives, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, broke up a drug smuggling ring in the early 1960s, resulting in a record seizure: 120 pounds of heroin, worth more than $32 million.

“We felt, at the time, that the story had everything for a great police thriller except for one thing, and that was a great action scene,” Mr. Friedkin said. “Because it was mostly about an investigation that took place between 1960 and 1962, it was mostly listening in on wiretaps, following guys. There was no action. It was all police work.”

As the producer of “Bullitt” (1968), with its famous car chase through San Francisco, Mr. D’Antoni knew something about the importance of action. Joining Mr. Friedkin in Brooklyn for the DVD shoot, Mr. D’Antoni reminded him about a brainstorming session: “I remember meeting you at your apartment, and we went for a walk, maybe 50 blocks. And somewhere along the line an elevated train went by. You said, what about doing this? We got so excited we raced back to Ernest Tidyman, who was our screenwriter, and page by page we gave him our version of what the chase would be like. Later, when you shot it, it was changed three times again.”

The concept evolved into a parallel setup: as the sniper commandeered a train on the tracks above, forcing the motorman to drive at top speed, Popeye would hijack a passing car on the avenue below, and try to head the train off at the next station.

The car was driven by Bill Hickman, a veteran stunt coordinator who died in 1986. “Bill Hickman drove the car at 90 miles an hour,” Mr. Friedkin recalled. “I was in the back seat holding a camera over his shoulder, focused on the street ahead. There was a camera in the front seat looking out the window, and another one on the front bumper. The reason I handled the camera was because the camera operator and the director of photography both had families with children, and I didn’t.”

Riding in the shotgun seat was Randy Jurgensen, a police officer moonlighting as a technical advisor for the film. (Later Mr. Friedkin would base “Cruising” on one of Mr. Jurgensen’s cases.)

“We took off, with Billy telling Bill Hickman, ‘Give it to me, come on, you can do it, show me!’ ” Mr. Jurgensen said in an interview. “We had a police siren on top that people could hear, so that those who were able to get out of the way, could.”

There were no permits and no planning — just sheer nerve. “After 26 blocks, from Bay 50th to Bay 24th Street, I ran out of film, but I knew I had enough,” Mr. Friedkin said. “The fact that we never hurt anybody in the chase run, the way it was poised for disaster, this was a gift from the Movie God. Everything happened on the fly. We would never do this again. Nor should it ever be attempted in that way again.”


To Read the Rest of the Article and See Video Commentaries/Trailers

Cormac Deane: The Embedded Screen and the State of Exception: Counterterrorist Narratives and the War on Terror

(I came across this essay as I was researching into the process and effects of "framing" knowledge for my students who are wrestling with ideological positions [their own and their sources] in their history projects. This was a pleasant surprise in that it demonstrates how "form" is just as important as [and complementary of] content. The essay also engages Slavoj Zizek's conception of the performative clustering effect of ideological keywords, Giorgio Agamben's analysis of the concept of the "state of exception," and how power is asserted and expressed through rhetorical-paradigms. This is a initial insight that should be explored...)

The Embedded Screen and the State of Exception: Counterterrorist Narratives and the War on Terror
by Cormac Deane
Refractory (Melbourne University, Australia)

Abstract: The embedded screen is a key feature of contemporary film and television texts featuring ‘terrorism’. Recurring chronotopes in these narratives, such as the control room and television news programmes, present us with frames within frames that have two complementary functions. First, embedded frames enact circular modes of logic, such as tautology and autology, which are crucial in the creation of a coherent notion of ‘terrorism’. Second, embedded frames are the screen-manifestation of the legal concept of the state of exception, which must be invoked so that the forces of law and order can take extraordinary measures in the face of a ‘terrorist’ threat. The rhetoric of interiority/exteriority that is enunciated by the frame within a frame reflects and constitutes sovereignty’s reliance on the notion of the state of exception in order to establish and consolidate itself. Just as, following Giorgio Agamben and others, the state of exception is at the heart of the power of the state, so is the embedded frame at the heart of the depiction of power in contemporary narratives. This analysis is based primarily on the television series 24 and on films based on novels by Tom Clancy.

This article proposes a political reading of certain aesthetic tendencies in contemporary action thrillers about “terrorism”. In particular, I examine the embedded screen, where the frame of one screen is enclosed within the frame of an outer screen. This is a prominent device in highly technologized thriller narratives concerning the pursuit of “terrorists” by counterterrorist agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Patriot Games (Phillip Noyce, 1992) or the Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) in the television series 24 (Fox Network 2001-). I propose that the rhetorical effect of the embedded screen as it appears in these narratives is to establish a political norm, thereby sanctioning certain political acts. It does this by indicating that, in contrast to the full screen, an embedded zone exists in a state of exception. This embedded screen offers us a manifestation, therefore, of the political situation where sovereignty or political authority is established and consolidated in the act of declaring a state of exception (also known, depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances, as martial law, state of emergency, state of siege, etc.). The description of certain types of violence (such as “terrorism”) as deserving special treatment by the forces of law and order is familiar both in the real world (as in the contemporary “War on Terror”) and in screen narratives concerning “terrorism”. In the following, several political science concepts are introduced in some detail before the film/television analysis proper, which attempts to show how these concepts are manifested in Patriot Games, 24 and other narratives.


At its simplest, “embeddedness” is the appearance of one image inside the frame of another. There does not necessarily have to be a similarity between the two images for us to use the term, though it is often the case that there is a resemblance of type, proportion or dimension. Where there is a distinct similarity between the two images in question, we usually speak of mise en abyme, which refers originally to an element of a heraldic device which is itself a facsimile of the entire device in which it is embedded. When applied in non-heraldic contexts such as painting (e.g. Velázquez’ Las Meninas) or film, the peculiar power of this type of embeddedness is realised by extrapolating its logic on either an increasing or a decreasing scale, or on both scales simultaneously. For example, if an image contains itself in miniature, then the smaller version must also contain that image, which in turn must also contain the image, and so on – a process of extrapolation that can have dizzying consequences (abyme means “abyss”). The same effect is achieved if a given image is regarded as already being part of a greater whole, which can be perceived only by zooming out, so to speak.

In 24 , there are multiple instances of screens embedded in the screen that we are watching. The key characteristic of 24 is simultaneity; the countdown of the clock of each episode is supposed to correspond with the passage of time as experienced by the viewer. Several narrative strands run simultaneously throughout each episode, but the links between the various plot lines are not achieved by standard parallel editing, such as that developed in The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915), where the audience is presented with alternating scenes from separate fields of action, such as the chasing posse and the pursued man. Rather, 24 accentuates the simultaneity effect by tiling the screen with two or more of the various fields of action that are currently in play. The tiling effect is reminiscent of the manipulation of windows on a computer screen-desktop and is therefore in keeping with the highly-technologized aesthetic of the show; in this way the television screen suggests that it may be more than the one-way medium it is conventionally taken to be, intimating instead the interactive possibilities of computers and of digital television.[1]

I suggest that in relation to scenes such as that illustrated below, the term “embeddedness” is more useful than the commonly used phrase “split-screen” because it describes both how the screen has been split and how any given image can also contain further framed screens within itself (as is the case at top left). Regarding all of the various frames in this image as instances of embeddedness emphasises the fact that what we usually regard simply as split-screen is in fact the emplacement of multiple frames inside the main frame of the primary screen. This emphasis draws attention more effectively, in my opinion, to the fact that the establishment of any frame both sets the ground for an act of enunciation to be made and is itself an enunciation. The importance of this will become more apparent later when we examine the political theory that argues that power establishes itself through acts of decisive enunciation.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Craig Phillips: French New Wave (A Primer)

French New Wave
by Craig Phillips
Green Cine

An artistic movement whose influence on film has been as profound and enduring as that of surrealism or cubism on painting, the French New Wave (or Le Nouvelle Vague) made its first splashes as a movement shot through with youthful exuberance and a brisk reinvigoration of the filmmaking process. Most agree that the French New Wave was at its peak between 1958 and 1964, but it continued to ripple on afterwards, with many of the tendencies and styles introduced by the movement still in practice today.

Immediately after World War II, France, like most of the rest of Europe, was in a major state of flux and upheaval; in film, it was a period of great transition. During the German Occupation (1940-45), many of France's greatest directors (René Clair, Jean Renoir, Jacques Feyder among them) had gone into exile. A new generation of filmmakers emerged - but wait! This isn't the New Wave, relax, we're not there yet - and chief among these was René Clément, who had co-directed the classic surrealist fairy tale Beauty and the Beast with playwright Jean Cocteau, and then in the 1950s, furthered his reputation with Forbidden Games. After the traumatic experience of war, a generation gap of sorts emerged between the more "old school" French classic filmmakers and a younger generation who set out to do things differently.

In the 50s, a collective of intellectual French film critics, led by André Bazin and Jacques Donial-Valcroze, formed the groundbreaking journal of film criticism Cahiers du Cinema. They, in turn, had been influenced by the writings of French film critic Alexandre Astruc, who had argued for breaking away from the "tyranny of narrative" in favor of a new form of film (and sound) language. The Cahiers critics gathered by Bazin and Doniol-Valcroze were all young cinephiles who had grown up in the post-war years watching mostly great American films that had not been available in France during the Occupation.

Cahiers had two guiding principles:

1) A rejection of classical montage-style filmmaking (favored by studios up to that time) in favor of: mise-en-scene, or, literally, "placing in the scene" (favoring the reality of what is filmed over manipulation via editing), the long take, and deep composition; and

2) A conviction that the best films are a personal artistic expression and should bear a stamp of personal authorship, much as great works of literature bear the stamp of the writer. This latter tenet would be dubbed by American film critic Andrew Sarris the "auteur (author) theory."

This philosophy, not surprisingly, led to the rejection of more traditional French commercial cinema (Clair, Clement, Henri-Georges Clouzout, Marc Allegret, among others), and instead embraced directors - both French and American - whose personal signature could be read in their films. The French directors the Cahiers critics endorsed included Jean Vigo, Renoir, Robert Bresson and Marcel Ophüls; while the Americans on their list of favorites included John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and Orson Welles, indisputed masters, all. There were also a few surprising, even head-scratching favorites, including Jerry Lewis (thus beginning the stereotype about France's Lewis obsession) and Roger Corman.

Many of the French New Wave's favorite conventions actually sprang not only from artistic tenets but from necessity and circumstance. These critics-turned-filmmakers knew a great deal about film history and theory but a lot less about film production. In addition, they were, especially at the start, working on low budgets. Thus, they often improvised with what schedules and materials they could afford. Out of all this came a group of conventions that were consistently used in the majority of French New Wave films (similar to, but less encapsulated than, Denmark's Dogme 95 "manifesto"), including:

# Jump cuts: a non-naturalistic edit, usually a section of a continuous shot that is removed unexpectedly, illogically

# Shooting on location

# Natural lighting

# Improvised dialogue and plotting

# Direct sound recording

# Long takes

Many of these conventions are commonplace today, but back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this was all very groundbreaking. Jump cuts were used as much to cover mistakes as they were an artistic convention. Jean-Luc Godard certainly appreciated the dislocating feel a jump cut conveyed, but let's remember - here was a film critic-turned-first-time director who was also using inexperienced actors and crew, and shooting, at least at first, on a shoestring budget. Therefore, as Nixon once said, mistakes were made. Today when jump cuts are used they even feel more like a pretentious artifice.

Many will argue (and rather pointlessly when it comes down to it) which film was the first of the French New Wave; officially, the first work out of this group wasn't a feature at all, but rather, short films produced in 1956 and 57, including Jacques Rivette's Le coup du berger (Fool's Mate) and François Truffaut's Les Mistons (The Mischief Makers). Some point to Claude Chabrol's Le beau Serge (1958) as the first feature success of the New Wave. He shot the low budget film on location and used the money raised from its release to make Les cousins; with its depiction of two student cousins, one good, one bad, it's the first Chabrol film to contain his uniquely sardonic view of the world. Les cousins is particularly interesting when looking at the typical qualities of early French New Wave works, because of its long, memorable party sequence which climaxes in a very cruel joke.

To Read the Rest of the Primer

Monday, February 23, 2009

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson: Doing Film History

Doing Film History
by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
David Bordwell's Website on Cinema

Nearly everybody loves movies. We aren’t surprised that people rush to see the latest hit or rent a cult favorite from the video store. But there are some people who seek out old movies. And among those fans there’s a still smaller group studying them.

Let’s call “old movies” anything older than twenty years. This of course creates a moving target. Baby boomers like us don’t really consider The Godfather or M*A*S*H to be old movies, but many twentysomethings today will probably consider Pulp Fiction (1994) to be old — maybe because they saw it when they were in their teens. Our twenty-year cutoff is arbitrary, but in many cases that won’t matter. Everybody agrees that La Grande Illusion from 1935 is an old movie, though it still seems fresh and vital.

Now for the real question. Why would anyone be interested in watching and studying old movies?

Ask a film historian, professional or amateur, and you’ll get a variety of answers. For one thing, old films provide the same sorts of insights that we get from watching contemporary movies. Some offer intense artistic experiences or penetrating visions of human life in other times and places. Some are documents of everyday existence or of extraordinary historical events that continue to reverberate in our times. Still other old movies are resolutely strange. They resist assimilation to our current habits of thought. They force us to acknowledge that films can be radically different from what we are used to. They ask us to adjust our field of view to accommodate what was, astonishingly, taken for granted by people in earlier eras.

Another reason to study old movies is that film history encompasses more than just films. By studying how films were made and received, we discover how creators and audiences responded to their moment in history. By searching for social and cultural influences on films, we understand better the ways in which films bear the traces of the societies that made and consumed them. Film history opens up a range of important issues in politics, culture, and the arts—both “high” and “popular.”

Yet another answer to our question is this: Studying old movies and the times in which they were made is intrinsically fun. As a relatively new field of academic research (no more than sixty years old), film history has the excitement of a young discipline. Over the past few decades, many lost films have been recovered, little-known genres explored, and neglected filmmakers reevaluated. Ambitious retrospectives have revealed entire national cinemas that had been largely ignored. Even television, with some cable stations devoted wholly to the cinema of the past, brings into our living rooms movies that were previously rare and little-known.

And much more remains to be discovered. There are more old movies than new ones and, hence, many more chances for fascinating viewing experiences.

We think that studying film history is so interesting and important that during the late 1980s we began to write a book surveying the field. The first edition of Film History: An Introduction appeared in 1994, the second in 2003, and the third will be published in spring of 2009. In this book we have tried to introduce the history of cinema as it is conceived, written, and taught by its most accomplished scholars. But the book isn’t a distillation of all film history. We have had to rule out certain types of cinema that are important, most notably educational, industrial, scientific, and pornographic films. We limit our scope to theatrical fiction films, documentary films, experimental or avant-garde filmmaking, and animation—realms of filmmaking that are most frequently studied in college courses.

Researchers are fond of saying that there is no film history, only film histories. For some, this means that there can be no intelligible, coherent “grand narrative” that puts all the facts into place. The history of avant-garde film does not fit neatly into the history of color technology or the development of the Western or the life of John Ford. For others, film history means that historians work from various perspectives and with different interests and purposes.

We agree with both points. There is no Big Story of Film History that accounts for all events, causes, and consequences. And the variety of historical approaches guarantees that historians will draw diverse conclusions.

We also think that research into film history involves asking a series of questions and searching for evidence in order to answer them in the course of an argument. When historians focus on different questions, turn up different evidence, and formulate different explanations, we derive not a single history but a diverse set of historical arguments.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Pete Kozachik Cinematographer of Coraline: 2 Worlds in 3 Dimensions

(Also check out David Bordwell's appreciation of and commentary on Pete Kozachik's article on the techniques used in this film: Coraline Cornered. Laura asked me to watch this film with her and I was blown away by the innovative imagery. Highly recommended!)

2 Worlds in 3 Dimensions
Pete Kozachik, ASC details his approach to the 3-D digital stop-motion feature Coraline, whose heroine discovers a sinister world behind the walls of her new home.
American Cinematographer (The American Society of Cinematographers)

Exciting events tend to happen as soon as conditions are right, and Henry Selick’s stop-motion feature Coraline, based on Neil Gaiman’s supernatural novella, rides in on a host of new innovations, including advanced machine-vision cameras and the emergence of practical 3-D. Most instrumental was the birth of Laika Entertainment, Phil Knight’s startup animation company in Oregon, fresh and eager to try something new.

I made it a priority to line up talented and experienced cameramen early. Leading their three-man units were cinematographers John Ashlee, Paul Gentry, Mark Stewart, Peter Sorg, Chris Peterson, Brian Van’t Hul, Peter Williams and Frank Passingham. Most of the camera assistants and electricians had shooting experience of their own, making the camera department pretty well bulletproof. With more than 55 setups working at the same time, we needed guys that were quick, organized and versatile.

From the beginning, we knew the two worlds Coraline inhabits — the drab “Real World” and the fantastic “Other World” — would be distorted mirror images of each other, as different in tone as Kansas and Oz. Camera and art departments would create the differences, keeping the emphasis on Coraline’s feelings. Among the closest film references for the supernatural Other World were the exaggerated color schemes in Amélie, which we used when the Other Mother is enticing Coraline to stay with her. The Shining and The Orphanage provided good reference for interiors when things go awry.

Image banks such as were a good source for reference pics, and including those shots in my lighting and camera notes helped jump-start crews on new sequences. Artist Tadahiro Uesugi supplied a valuable influence for the show; his work has a graphic simplicity, like fashion art from the Fifties, with minimal modeling but an awareness of light. It helped in spirit to guide us away from excess gingerbread, which is typical in both art and lighting for stop-motion animation. Our film has plenty of interesting things to look at, but we did our best to make every bit of eye candy contribute to the main story. Uesugi’s handheld stylus gives lines a slightly wavy edge, which the art department used to weave more life into architecture.

To Read the rest of the article

Electric Sheep Magazine: Alex Fitch talks to Guy Maddin about his new film "My Winnipeg" and to Kinga P about her experience of growing up in the city

Alex Fitch talks to Guy Maddin about his new film "My Winnipeg" and to Kinga P about her experience of growing up in the city.
Electric Sheep Magazine

To Listen to the Interviews (archived on Internet Archive)

Kim Newman: From Romance to Ritual -- Barry Lyndon

From Romance to Ritual: Barry Lyndon' takes its inspiration from Thackeray's source novel. But in Kubrick's hands the tone - and the hero - are transformed.
By Kim Newman
Sight and Sound (British Film Institute)

One of the mysteries of Stanley Kubrick's career is why he seized upon William Makepeace Thackeray's The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon for adaptation, since the novel is most notable for its use of a literary device Kubrick was constitutionally unable to embrace - the unreliable narrator. In Kubrick's films, narrators (like directors) are authoritative. Humbert Humbert (James Mason) of Lolita, from Nabokov, and Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) of A Clockwork Orange, from Anthony Burgess, tell their own stories with vivid, revelatory narration. Though they talk of much that is to their discredit, they are honest chroniclers; they may work mendacious wheedles on other characters, but they do not lie to us.

The first version of Thackeray's novel was serialised as The Luck of Barry Lyndon: A Romance of the Last Century. By Fitz-Boodle in Fraser's Magazine in 1844, but was revised in 1856, whereupon its title became (deep breath): The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq., of the Kingdom of Ireland. Containing an Account of his Extraordinary Adventures; Misfortunes; His Sufferings in the Service of His Late Prussian Majesty; His Visits to Many of the Courts of Europe; His Marriage and Splendid Establishments in England and Ireland; and the Many Cruel Persecutions, Conspiracies and Slanders of Which He Has Been a Victim. In the earlier version, the narrative of Barry Lyndon (né Redmond Barry) - which purports to have been written as he is dying in Fleet Prison - is mediated by footnotes from 'Fitz-Boodle', a fictional editor who contradicts the autobiographer on points of fact. In the revised text, Fitz-Boodle is dropped: the novelist has gained confidence that readers will perceive a different picture behind Barry's statements such as: "For the first three years I never struck my wife but when I was in liquor."

Thackeray's Barry is as much of a monster as Alex, and as murderous a terror to his family as Jack Torrance in The Shining. He is a bully, swindler, looter, card-sharp, murderer, cad, spy, deserter, snob, drunkard, whiner, braggart, philistine and rake. He betrays every friend or relation, considers others' misfortunes only insofar as they affect himself and becomes a low-rent gothic villain as his captive wife pens pleas for rescue in lemon juice, between the lines of letters to her milliner. As Fitz-Boodle notes, he is also embarrassingly devoted to his own reputation, and any possible admission of low character or motive is followed by "a duel, in which he is victorious".

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Ziga Vodovnik: An Interview with Howard Zinn on Anarchism

An Interview with Howard Zinn on Anarchism: Rebels Against Tyranny


ZV: Anarchism is in this respect rightly opposing representative democracy since it is still form of tyranny – tyranny of majority. They object to the notion of majority vote, noting that the views of the majority do not always coincide with the morally right one. Thoreau once wrote that we have an obligation to act according to the dictates of our conscience, even if the latter goes against the majority opinion or the laws of the society. Do you agree with this?

HZ: Absolutely. Rousseau once said, if I am part of a group of 100 people, do 99 people have the right to sentence me to death, just because they are majority? No, majorities can be wrong, majorities can overrule rights of minorities. If majorities ruled, we could still have slavery. 80% of the population once enslaved 20% of the population. While run by majority rule that is ok. That is very flawed notion of what democracy is. Democracy has to take into account several things – proportionate requirements of people, not just needs of the majority, but also needs of the minority. And also has to take into account that majority, especially in societies where the media manipulates public opinion, can be totally wrong and evil. So yes, people have to act according to conscience and not by majority vote.

ZV: Where do you see the historical origins of anarchism in the United States?

HZ: One of the problems with dealing with anarchism is that there are many people whose ideas are anarchist, but who do not necessarily call themselves anarchists. The word was first used by Proudhon in the middle of the 19th century, but actually there were anarchist ideas that proceeded Proudhon, those in Europe and also in the United States. For instance, there are some ideas of Thomas Paine, who was not an anarchist, who would not call himself an anarchist, but he was suspicious of government. Also Henry David Thoreau. He does not know the word anarchism, and does not use the word anarchism, but Thoreau’s ideas are very close to anarchism. He is very hostile to all forms of government. If we trace origins of anarchism in the United States, then probably Thoreau is the closest you can come to an early American anarchist. You do not really encounter anarchism until after the Civil War, when you have European anarchists, especially German anarchists, coming to the United States. They actually begin to organize. The first time that anarchism has an organized force and becomes publicly known in the United States is in Chicago at the time of Haymarket Affair.

ZV: Where do you see the main inspiration of contemporary anarchism in the United States? What is your opinion about the Transcendentalism – i.e., Henry D. Thoreau, Ralph W. Emerson, Walt Whitman, Margaret Fuller, et al. – as an inspiration in this perspective?

HZ: Well, the Transcendentalism is, we might say, an early form of anarchism. The Transcendentalists also did not call themselves anarchists, but there are anarchist ideas in their thinking and in their literature. In many ways Herman Melville shows some of those anarchist ideas. They were all suspicious of authority. We might say that the Transcendentalism played a role in creating an atmosphere of skepticism towards authority, towards government.
Unfortunately, today there is no real organized anarchist movement in the United States. There are many important groups or collectives that call themselves anarchist, but they are small. I remember that in 1960s there was an anarchist collective here in Boston that consisted of fifteen (sic!) people, but then they split. But in 1960s the idea of anarchism became more important in connection with the movements of 1960s.

ZV: Most of the creative energy for radical politics is nowadays coming from anarchism, but only few of the people involved in the movement actually call themselves “anarchists”. Where do you see the main reason for this? Are activists ashamed to identify themselves with this intellectual tradition, or rather they are true to the commitment that real emancipation needs emancipation from any label?

HZ: The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchist don’t want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.

I think that probably the best manifestation of that was in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – SNCC. SNCC without knowing about anarchism as philosophy embodied the characteristics of anarchism. They were decentralized. Other civil rights organizations, for example Seven Christian Leadership Conference, were centralized organizations with a leader – Martin Luther King. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were based in New York, and also had some kind of centralized organization. SNCC, on the other hand, was totally decentralized. It had what they called field secretaries, who worked in little towns all over the South, with great deal of autonomy. They had an office in Atlanta, Georgia, but the office was not a strong centralized authority. The people who were working out in the field – in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi – they were very much on their own. They were working together with local people, with grassroots people. And so there is no one leader for SNCC, and also great suspicion of government.

They could not depend on government to help them, to support them, even though the government of the time, in the early 1960s, was considered to be progressive, liberal. John F. Kennedy especially. But they looked at John F. Kennedy, they saw how he behaved. John F. Kennedy was not supporting the Southern movement for equal rights for Black people. He was appointing the segregationists judges in the South, he was allowing southern segregationists to do whatever they wanted to do. So SNCC was decentralized, anti-government, without leadership, but they did not have a vision of a future society like the anarchists. They were not thinking long term, they were not asking what kind of society shall we have in the future. They were really concentrated on immediate problem of racial segregation. But their attitude, the way they worked, the way they were organized, was along, you might say, anarchist lines.

ZV: Do you thing that pejorative (mis)usage of the word anarchism is direct consequence of the fact that the ideas that people can be free, was and is very frightening to those in power?

HZ: No doubt! No doubt that anarchist ideas are frightening to those in power. People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them, yes.

To Read the Entire Interview

Michael Benton: Pantheist Anarchists -- Should We Fear Them?

(This a response to a kind, but condescending person who mistakenly believed that I am not what I say I am: a pantheist/anarchist... my reply is to an email which I will not produce, but I think you can get the drift of the original statement)

I appreciate your considerate response.

I am an anarchist. Anarchist philosophy is considered to be one of the four major public philosophies in the US: along with socialism, conservativism and liberalism. It has nothing to do with a desire for a violent, chaotic anarchy and everything to do with a belief in small, mutable collectives working toward the public good (with a heavy dose of skepticism toward dogmatic systems--religious or political). In this we celebrate personal responsibility, intellectual integrity and moral complexity. We do not believe that it is ok to excuse our actions onto a controlling narrative like: christianity, communism, profit-line margins, and, yes, democracy. We believe that we must develop our moral complexity through interaction with the world (peoples/places/beliefs) and that we are responsible for our own actions. In other words you would never hear an anarchist say I did it because I was ordered to do it, or god commanded me to do it, or we had to sacrifice workers for the good of the corporation. Personal responsibility (authenticity) is probably one of the driving forces of all of the many weird and wonderful anarchist collectives. We can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but we are struggling to make sense and will always seek to engage with other ideas. Can we say the same of the other three major public philosophies?

Don't buy into the gross stereotypes of anarchism perpetuated by our controlling capitalist narrative (it probably didn't help that the communists also marked anarchists out as an enemy). The problems in Africa are symptomatic of the after-effects of the earlier European colonialism and the continuing American imperialism. It is a form of Darwinian free-market capitalism in places like the Congo (later referred to as gangster capitalism) and a destructive duel of controlling monologic political and religious narratives (Zimbabwe/Sudan/etc). Anarchists do not support these types of systems.

The French revolutionaries were not anarchists. Perhaps you might look into the later history of the Paris Communes who we would look to for inspiration--are you familiar? Once again I appreciate your concern, but your history is very flawed. Have you actually researched these things or did someone tell you about them?

I would discuss anarchism, revolutions, the cause of the African chaos, problems with the American political system, radical pedagogy and utopian possibilities with you (or anyone else).

Pantheism has nothing to do with the worship of nature. Take the word apart--simply "many beliefs". It is Bakhtinian dialogism in its essence. A belief in the power/benefit of multiple perspectives. I do not subscribe to any one religion, instead I seek wisdom-from/engagement-with all belief systems. I am simply ideologically becoming and desire to rub up against other modes of perceiving the world. When will I be a complete being--as I die, until then I am always learning, studying, engaging and researching (for simplicity's sake... "becoming"). We could think of it as a "being as becoming"

I do not agree we are all pagans. For instance, the email from the tech person professing god this and god that as if we all will simply understand what god he is ranting about. Obviously he is referring to the god of the Christian church that dedicated itself to eradicating pagan thought and beliefs. The Christian leaders did this because they were unable to reconcile themselves with the fact that some group of people may not want/desire to follow their "way". Like any good monologic, dogmatic, controlling narrative the Christian leaders decided these beings that defied the Christian narrative of the world through simply living their own lives had to be destroyed for everyone's good. For if others live a different way they challenge their controlling way of life. This is the same problem tyrants and dictators have with free-minded folks. Suppress all opposition. If that doesn't work... Eliminate all opposition. A truly dystopic reality for all involved (master and slave).

I guess you might also call me an anti-theist (because there are those who seek to trademark pantheism). Now before you get worried that I have slid into a nihilistic conception of a meaningless world, let me explain...

Anti + theism = against institutionalized religion and dogmatic systems and controlling narratives

No good has ever come of them. If you think the French revolution was bad you should have traveled the French countryside during the 100 yrs war and the 30 yrs war and all of the other religious wars that ravaged that nation.

I prefer my spiritual intoxicants uncut and unfiltered, I do not need a priest or a preacher or a prophet or a church to outline my connection to the higher forces of the universe. However, I do appreciate mediation through my interactions with art (in all its forms), philosophies (all belief/knowledge systems), peoples (all peoples), places (the physical world), but they must be put into "play" with each other... play, in the fullest sense of the world. Against controlling narratives, for the free play of multiple perspectives, so that we can learn and experience as much as possible... does this sound dangerous?

If you hear anyone complaining about the crazy pantheistic anarchist teaching in our college I would appreciate it if you pass this along to them.

Pura vida!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

KEXP Live Performances: Crystal Stilts

Crystal Stilts
KEXP Live Performances (Seattle)

Brooklynites Crystal Stilts wash the KEXP airwaves with their moody and quite reverb-friendly garage-pop during this exclusive live performance.-W. Myers

To Listen to the Performance

Free Speech Radio: Did Israel use "cancer bombs" in recent Gaza attack?

Did Israel use "cancer bombs" in recent Gaza attack?
Free Speech Radio

Doctors treating survivors of Israel's recent attack on Gaza say they have never seen certain kinds of injuries before: a Norwegian doctor described wounds that appear to have been caused by a mine detonating – yet there is no shrapnel. A German doctor treating survivors in southern Gaza says that tiny particles can be found eating away at organs, rendering treatment ineffective. So what kind of weapon caused these injuries? Conn Hallinan is an analyst at Foreign Policy in Focus, and next week, he will publish a piece outlining what he says is Israel's use of so-called "focused lethality" weapons – that is, a type of weapon that causes shattering injuries on its victims with minimal explosive damage. Israel has so far denied allegations that it's used these focused lethality weapons. It also initially denied using white phosphorus during its recent incursion into Gaza – citing their adherence to international law. Israel was later forced to admit that they did, in fact, use the devise after eye-witness accounts confirmed it. In this FSRN exclusive, Hallinan talks about the destruction the weapon causes.

To Listen to the Interview

Fora TV: Power & Sex--America's War on Sexual Rights

Power & Sex: America's War on Sexual Rights
City University of New York
Fora TV

Has the conservative agenda come to dominate the national and international conversation on sexual rights?

Obama's victory and the vote against abortion bans in Colorado and South Dakota brought some sexual rights back from the edge of a political precipice, but others remain in the balance.

... scholars, journalists, and policy makers to talk about how we can help the new administration change policies and reframe national and international thinking on sexual rights.

Participants include Dagmar Herzog, author of Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics and Professor of History, Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, and Faye Wattleton, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Women.

Discussant: Rosalind Petchesky, author of Sexuality, Health and Human Rights and Distinguished Professor of Political Science. Moderated by Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY - City University of New York.

To Listen to the Panel Discussion

Alexander Zaitchik: Twitter Nation Has Arrived--How Scared Should We Be?

Twitter Nation Has Arrived: How Scared Should We Be?
By Alexander Zaitchik


Earlier this month, a Twitter styleguide was released, and the first national Twitter awards ceremony, known as the Shorties, was convened in New York. Hosted by Twitter's own Walter Cronkite, CNN's Rick Sanchez, the awards ceremony featured acceptance speeches limited to 140 characters.

Can it be long before the entire country is tweeting away in the din of a giant turd-covered silicon aviary? And how scared should we be?

There is evolutionary logic to the building Twitter surge. The progression has been steady from blogs to RSS feeds to Facebook.

But Twitter brings us within sight of an apotheosis of those aspects of American culture that have become all too familiar in recent years: look-at-me adolescent neediness, constant-contact media addiction, birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity. When 140 characters is the ascendant standard size for communication and debate, what comes next? Seventy characters? Twenty? The disappearance of words altogether, replaced by smiley-face and cranky-crab emoticons?

I am a veteran Twitter hater -- a "twater" in the cutesy Twitter mode. People like me have shadowed the site since it was still crying blind in the nest. As early as 2007, tech blogger Robert Scoble called Twitter hate "the new black." The first wave of Twitter hatred tended to be visceral and knee-jerk, a reaction to the site's unique ability to make everyone using it sound annoying and pathetic.

How can you not hate a site that encourages people to post, "At the park -- I love squirrels!" and "F@*K! I forgot to tivo Lost last night." How can you not want to slap these people with a mackerel? It's no coincidence that the second-most Twitter-happy people on Earth are the Japanese, the undisputed champions of self-infantilization. Twitter provides the closest thing most people will ever get to their very own paparazzi or reality show, a trail of imagined eyes on their every move, thought and taste.

The old Twitter hatred now feels quaint. Before, the site and its users were simply annoying. Now there is serious talk about "Twitter Journalism" and "Twitter Criticism." What was once just a colorful special-needs classroom on the Internet is starting to look like a steel spike aimed at the heart of what remains of our ability to construct and process complete grammatical sentences and thoughts.

Twitter's defenders roll their eyes at such criticisms. People have been saying this about the Internet for years, they say. You're just a grumpy old snob, they say, as if it's elitist to care about functional literacy. (It's true that at 34 I am old by social-networking standards, three years older than the average Twitter user. But nothing reveals age more than being terrified of being thought old, a fear that is obviously driving so much uncritical Twitter praise.)


To Read the Rest of the Article

Peter Thompson: Face to Faith

Face to faith: Religion is not a delusion but a quest for 'home'. Let's locate this here on earth
by Peter Thompson
The Guardian (United Kingdom)

According to Ernst Bloch, "only an atheist can be a good Christian and only a Christian can be a good atheist." Since Bloch's death in 1977, he has been largely forgotten as a significant contributor to the debate about the role of religion in society. But in an age when theism is constantly in the news, it is time for a more considered atheistic response to the reawakening of faith than those of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. What Bloch meant was that the Aunt Sally atheism as practised by those writers brings us no further in understanding either the historical or social roots of religion. For him it was not enough to posit religious belief as a delusion. The basis of belief, he said, rests in a social context.

So far, so Marxist. But where Bloch differed from other Marxists was in his insistence that it was not possible to simply dismiss religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature in a hostile world" without recognising that the sigh contained the pre-illumination of a different and better world. The familiar reproach towards Marxism that it is simply a materialist version of religious belief was thus inverted by Bloch to state that, on the contrary, religious belief was always a form of social liberation which had misunderstood itself due to its historical untimeliness. Of course, the death of Marxism may partly explain the absence of Bloch's ideas from the philosophical scene, but that does not obviate the need to examine those ideas, not least because the demise of Marxism as a social alternative is arguably one of the factors which has contributed to the re-emergence of religion as a reaction to the new world order.

The resurrection of God presents a challenge to those such as Dawkins and Hitchens because they continue to perceive religion as an opiate which is handed out by states and their tame priests and mullahs in order to keep people quiet, rather than as a home-grown product consumed by people in order to dull the pain not only of global economic disadvantage but also of a deep, yet unidentifiable sense of loss. And again it is Bloch who gives us a clue as to where this sense of loss resides. In The Principle of Hope he states that what drives us forward is the paradoxical desire to find our way back to somewhere we have never been: home.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Offscreen 13.1: Iranian Cinema

The newest issue (13.1) of Offscreen is on Iranian Cinema and includes these essays:

* Baizai Returns to Cinema With Cinema: Initial Reactions to When We Are All Asleep by Najmeh Khalili Mahani

* An Interview with Bahman Ghobadi by Gilda Boffa, Zoya Honarmand

* Shirin as Described by Kiarostami by Khatereh Khodaei

* Food for Thought: Sensorium of the Iranian Cinema by Najmeh Khalili Mahani

* Samira Makhmalbaf’s latest film, Two-Legged Horse by Gilda Boffa

Friday, February 20, 2009

God: Knock It Off!

(Courtesy of Ear Candle Productions)


When Ads Start Watching Us

An Eye For An Eye
On the Media (NPR)

What if the ads you're watching are watching you back? A company called Quividi designs software that allows advertisers to guess your age and gender using tiny cameras inserted into billboards and video displays. Quividi's chief scientific officer Paolo Prandoni explains how the ads work.

To Listen to the Interview

On the Media: National Security Monitored Domestic Communication of American Journalists

It's All On the Line
On the Media (NPR)

Late last month, former National Security Agency analyst turned whistleblower Russell Tice said definitively that the NSA monitored domestic communications of American journalists. Reporter Lawrence Wright, who has long believed he was a target, says he's not surprised by the allegation.

To Listen to the Episode

Feministe: North Dakota House Passes Bill Giving Rights to Fertilized Eggs

Feministe passes on and comments on the sickening news that North Dakota House Passes Bill Giving Rights to Fertilized Eggs

A measure approved by the North Dakota House gives a fertilized human egg the legal rights of a human being, a step that would essentially ban abortion in the state.

The bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that extended abortion rights nationwide, supporters of the legislation said.

Representatives voted 51-41 to approve the measure Tuesday. It now moves to the North Dakota Senate for its review.

The bill declares that “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” is a person protected by rights granted by the North Dakota Constitution and state laws.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Michael Benton: American Culture - Sex and Sexuality, Pt. 1

Random thoughts...

Sexual mythology is rooted in our sense of self. Indeed, our sexual myths are reflections of our attitudes towards society, and even towards humanity itself, for there can be no separation between sexuality and society. Contrary to the common Western paradigm, in which sexuality is seen as something private and sacrosanct, the very core of culture is dependent on, and entirely derived from, our sense of self. As evolved organisms, we are driven to reproduce, for without sex – without reproduction – society, culture, art, literature, and everything that we hold dear, would not exist.
(Source: Life Without a Net: 2009)

1) I was browsing Scarleteen and I came across the sections on the body and read the post for young males fearful that their penis might not be adequate. It is so sad the misinformation that runs rampant in a supposedly scientific and rational society. Reading these young, fearful males' posts and the editors serious, straightforward, rational answers, I was struck by how terrible it is that this kind of honest discourse is missing from our society and how wonderful it is that someone is addressing this issue.

2) When I screened John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus in my film class I prefaced it as an example of an honest exploration of sexuality in a society that markets/commodifies sex constantly, but never honestly addresses issues of human sexuality or emotion. Despite the uncensored trailer's (easily googled) emphasis, the sex in the film is minimal, although very explicit; instead Shortbus is a powerful exploration of our psychosexual hang-ups, our collective/individual pain (post 9/11 NY), the need for honest discussion/exploration of human sexuality, and, most importantly, the redemptive power of human engagement/connection. The first ten minutes are sexually explicit and challenged even me when I first watched it. A couple students in one of the classes were most hung-up (even angry) about a gay threesome later in the film where one of the participants hums the Star Spangled Banner during a sex act (a gay geography scholar at UK, who shows the film in a "sexuality and space" course, said it disturbs those who have a very limited sense of American identity). For me, it is one of the most powerfully emotional films of the last ten years. I usually cry during the film and there were students weeping in my class both times I showed it. It also prompted some of the best papers I have read.

3) A friend was visiting a couple of weeks ago and he had heard me talk about Shortbus. He started playing it and was completely horrified by what he viewed as "aberrant" (as if there was such a thing outside of force/torture of an unwilling partner) sexuality in a few scenes and he got mad at me for recommending it. He is very liberal, but, unfortunately, he was brought up in a homophobic working class mindset. Of course this is the same person who has no problems sending me (actually mass emails to his friends) countless ridiculous/offensive imagery of females (as in grossly exagerrated and distorted imagery designed to mindlessly objective/commodify). I guess this is acceptable because it reinforces an aggressive male heterosexuality in which everything is to be used to prop up the structure of this conformist institution?

4) When I showed Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano I had two students complain about the sex scene, while accepting without complaint the extreme misogynistic violence against the female protagonist. The students complained that the sexual scenes were dirty and unnecessary because it violated the sanctity of marriage; while, even though they didn't agree with Alisdair's disfigurement of his wife (in which he violently attacks her sexuality as well as her creativity), they understood his anger because his wife could not control her sexuality. Missing was the whole issue of "control" of sexuality. Whose sexuality is to be controlled and whose sexuality is to be explored? Alisdair and Baines both seek to control Ada's sexuality (and by implication her creativity/mind) while seeking to fully explore their own sexuality (and dominance/control of people and land).

5) In order to explore our unreflective acceptance of violence and our knee jerk reactions to sexuality (and nudity) I related an experience where I was in a house once with a bunch of people watching an action cop/biker film where there were a series of very violent, shocking (and I would say ridiculous) scenes. The film came to a point where the bikers were in a strip club and a woman was dancing topless. It was at this point a mother in the room put her hands over her 13 yr old son's eyes and told him to leave the room. I was shocked and disturbed and stated it openly. Why would you allow your son to watch the most brutal, senseless, cartoonish images of violence, and then, when a woman's breasts are exposed, tell him to leave the room. What kind of message are you providing for this human being who is in the midst of discovering his own sexual identity and desires. It was an example of how we are trained to tolerate violence in our culture while we are indoctrinated into this idea of sexuality (and our bodies) as somehow being dirty, not in the sense of getting down and dirty, more like evil or sinful or disgusting. Is this the kind of warped training that produces obsessive guilt-ridden, addictive cycles of sexual gorging and/or denial?

Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World

(Courtesy of AlterNet)

Cara, at Feministe, wrote about a website that needs our support and I checked it out and I agree. I wish that I had access to such an honest, factual site like this when I was younger, but I am glad that it is available now at my current age...

Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World

I have often wondered what it would be like to live in a society that treated sex/sexuality as a subject worthy of serious discussion and not a product/process to be used to manipulate, panic, and/or control people.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Battle of Algiers/Battaglia di Algeri, La (Algeria/Italy: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966

(For my ENG 282: International Film Studies students. In class film: Battle of Algiers. Outside viewing: Taxi to the Dark Side and/or Standard Operating Procedure. Thematic readings on Critical Theory, Documentary Films and Political Films)

Battle of Algiers/Battaglia di Algeri, La (Algeria/Italy: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966: 121 mins)

Criterion Collection: Battle of Algiers

Jean Martin: 1922-2009 (played Matthieu: Criterion)

Peter Matthews: Battle of Algiers--Bombs and Boomerangs (Criterion)

Battle of Algiers: Clips (Google Video)

Sheila K. Johnson: The Battle of Algiers and Its Lessons (Common Dreams)

Charles Paul Freund: The Pentagon Film Festival--A Primer for The Battle of Algiers (Slate Magazine)

Democracy Now: The Battle of Algiers—1966 Film Depicting Algerian War of Independence Against French Occupation Parallels Brutal U.S. Occupation of Iraq

Alexander Billet: A Marxist Poet--The Legacy of Gillo Pontecorvo (Monthly Review)

Kevin Berry on The Battle of Algiers

Critical Theory:

Frantz Fanon (Post-Colonial psychoanalyst/activist/theorist)

Postcolonial Texts

Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature: An Overview



Cultural Hegemony

Optional Outside-of-Class Response Viewings:

Taxi to the Dark Side (USA: Alex Gibney, 2007: 106 minutes)

Alex Gibney’s latest film Gonzo

NOW on PBS: Torture Tactics—An Interview with Alex Gibney

Taxi to the Dark Side and the Bush Administration’s Torture Policies

Film School: Alex Gibney on Taxi to the Dark Side

Trailer for Alex Gibney’s Gonzo

Why Democracy: Notes, Context and Resources for Taxi to the Dark Side

Standard Operating Procedure (USA: Errol Morris, 2008: 116 mins)

Errol Morris: The Photographs Actually Hide Things From Us

Studio 360: Errol Morris on Standard Operating Procedure

Marilyn Ferdinand: Response to Standard Operating Procedure

Errol Morris: Will the Real Hooded Man Stand Up

Laurie Calhoun: Death and Contradiction--Errol Morris’ Tragic View of Techno Killers

Official Website for Standard Operating Procedure

Errol Morris’ website

Documentary Films:

Cineaste: Extreme Makeover--The Changing Face of the Documentary

In the Battle for Social Reality: Social Documentaries in the U.S.

Jon Bang Carlsen: How to Invent Reality

Morris Dickstein: Through the Documentary Looking Glass

American Cinematographer: The Art of Filming Dangerously

Offscreen: The Gap--Documentary Truth Between Reality and Perception

Christian Science Monitor: Documentary or Propaganda?

Center for Social Media: Changing the World One Documentary at a Time

Media Rights: Using Grassroots Documentary Films for Political Change

Confessions of a Documentary Film Teacher

Witness: See It, Film It, Change It (Human Rights Videos From Around the World)

Green Cine Primer: Documentary

Photographic Truth in the Digital Age (archive)

Representation in the Arts

International Documentary Association

Politics and Filmmaking:

Cineaste: The Art and Politics of Cinema

Julie Hilden: Free Speech and the Concept of “Torture Porn”

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and activist/author Naomi Klein: The CIA’s Love Affair with Shock Therapy

Road to Guantanamo Actors Questioned Under Terror Act After Film Festival

Bright Lights Film Journal: The Altered State of War

David Crawford: Realism vs Reality TV in the War on Terror

Political Film Society

Green Cine Primer: Political Thrillers

Assignment 2: HUM 221

(For HUM 221 students)

Write a 600+ word response in which you demonstrate your understanding of the concept of ideology as defined at Wikipedia:

Definition of Ideology

through your response/engagement/analysis of ONE of these options below (include a link to the cultural text(s) you are analyzing and provide a thesis statement):

1) Read "Matrix Philosophy: Blue Pill or Red Pill?"

and using your understanding of the concept of ideology discuss/explore the questions being raised in the essay.

If you want to watch the film The Matrix we have a copy in our library and it is available at every video store in Lexington.

2) Watch these videos of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero"

and "Imagine"

and using your understanding of the concept of ideology discuss/explore the meaning of these two songs. In both of these songs John Lennon is questioning the ideologies we are indoctrinated with from an early age--something he did throughout his career:

3) Remember most of our popular culture, much like traditional education, masks its ideological underpinnings (perspective the cultural text is communicating) and methods of indoctrination. So another tactic in an assignment like this is to take your understanding of ideology and apply it to a popular artist (band/filmmaker/painter/performer/etc...) and analyze their underlying message. Remember, while some artists mask their own ideological position, some artists are also demonized for stating honestly what they see as problematic in our society--an example is Marilyn Manson discussing the hypocritical attacks on his music in the aftermath of Columbine:

4) Analyze the ideological position/message of an advertisement (individual or collection). Remember these are complex texts. Some examples to get us thinking:

Benetton ads (I found the examples I was looking for in class):

Benetton Ad Campaigns

Adbuster Spoof Ads (click on icons on the page--how are they exposing the underlying message of the ads):

Adbusters: Spoof Ads

Gender Ads

Analyzing the Images of Gender in Ads

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rick Hancox: Film--Is There a Future in Our Past? (The Afterlife of Latent Images)*

(Thanks to Laura Webb for introducing me to this important new journal!)

Film--Is There a Future in Our Past? (The Afterlife of Latent Images)*
by Rick Hancox
Incite!: Journal of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics

Is film dead, or are rumours of its death–as in Mark Twain’s response to the gaffe about his own demise–“greatly exaggerated”? Rumours of film kicking the bucket are nothing new–“FILM IS DEAD” was a banner headline in Daily Variety in 1956 when videotape was invented. Maybe I should have called this talk “A Fleeting Filibuster on the Future of Film,” but it seemed that a title relating to the past was appropriate, thus “Film – Is There a Future in Our Past? (The Afterlife of Latent Images).” The idea of the latent image–exposed film waiting for development–is one of the key differences between film, and its bond with the past, and video, with its virtual window on the present. Of course once the latent image is developed, and comes to life on the screen, it only knows the present tense. Thus, the notion that film’s future as a medium is in its past, is one of the ironies I want to explore.

“There’s a Future in Our Past” was actually the 1978 motto of a Main Street renovation project in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the city where I spent my childhood. That was the year I started the long shooting process for my experimental documentary, Moose Jaw: There’s a Future in Our Past (1992). By the end of the film, after mocking Moose Jaw’s commodification of its past in museums and other tourist attractions, I wind up myself in the Museum of Western Development as a virtual wax figure, frozen in the act of filming a Model ‘T’ Ford with my 16mm Bolex camera (a museum piece itself in the video “revolution”).

Taking obsolescence a step further, in 2000 I started taking pictures exclusively with disposable, one-time use (non-digital) cameras. With the limitations this presented–fixed-focus, wide angle lenses that distort at the edges, no control over exposure or shutter speed, automatic flashes, parallax error, and of course, latent images–I found myself experiencing a certain freedom: less technical options meant the photographic act became one of concentration solely on composition, colour, form and light, and the effect of these on picture content. Eventually I found myself documenting disposability itself–many of the pictures reveal some kind of deterioration or other transitory state, while others display veneers, reflections, and dubious likenesses. With the entire photochemical process threatened by digitization, disposable cameras have taken on an extra significance. Disposabilities reveals how contradictions of material and immaterial, of things lasting and temporary, become impregnated with each other–how all that is solid melts into air.

The museumization of film reminds me of Mary Anne Doane’s recent book, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, and the Archive (2002). In this book she addresses the condition of cinephilia–something she defines as a love of marginal details in cinema, which she links to its photographic indexicality and predilection for contingency. Doane says film theorists have become interested in cinephilia “as though the aim of theory were to delineate more precisely the contours of an object at the moment of its historical demise.” This is just like Minerva’s owl in Roman mythology. Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was accompanied by an owl, which Hegel said spread its wings only with the falling of the dusk–meaning philosophy comes to understand things just as they pass away. And as Harold Innis pointed out, Minerva’s owl takes flight when civilisations are in decline. We could debate extensively the presumption of the cinema’s decline, but this symposium has asked a more specific question: is film dead? One frequently hears the terms cinema, film, movies, and video used interchangeably. For example: “I used the latest DVCPRO HD video camera to shoot my film,” or the more generic “I just finished filming my video.” Thankfully the symposium has defined filmmaking as emulsion-based practice, or image-making on celluloid, and while consumers today probably don’t care about these distinctions, it is nevertheless important for producers to know the difference.

The debate about which medium is better, cheaper, or less “dead,” really started heating up in the 1970s. In a 1981 article entitled “Is There Film After Video?” B. Ruby Rich wrote that for more than a decade, despite “proclaiming the end of film-as-we-know-it, and trumpeting the arrival of a brave new world of video… the world hasn’t crashed down around our heads… no sinners have plunged into hell, nor dead souls risen from their graves… and yet the dogma marches onward.” As she pointed out, incumbent forms of expression survived previous media revolutions. Theatre, newspapers and magazines, radio–film too, with the advent of television–all had to re-invent themselves. Film may be constantly in a state of dying, but, to borrow from Kierkegaard, it’s also in a state of becoming.

Almost as long ago as Rich’s article, American Cinematographer Magazine recognized professional video practices in an issue (March 1982) focusing on the new concept of “electronic cinematography,” a term designating video techniques modelled after filmmaking (in contrast to live television). The difference was largely the degree of control which could be exercised over each aspect of production. Shooting video “film-style,” with a single camera, permitted greater control over lighting, staging, and composition. Editing sound and picture separately during post-production also offered improved possibilities for control. Yet important differences were still noted by the magazine: “film is similar to drawing each frame on a new slate, while video makes use of the same slate over and over again, nearly erasing each image with a less than ideal eraser before each subsequent frame.” The most limited aspect of video was seen as its comparatively narrow luminance range, giving a latitude of only 4 or 5 f-stops. Anton Wilson said in the same issue, “film negative has a far broader luminance ratio of over 128:1, or more than 7 stops.” That was 25 years ago, and there has been no reason for Kodak or Fuji to stand still. Advances in film emulsions have evolved to the point where those seven stops have become twelve, and films with speeds of 500 ASA–with no noticeable grain–are routinely shot. Here the new technology is built into the film itself, not the equipment. Producers don’t have to re-equip every time the rules of the game are changed. The information in a 35mm negative, or even a well-scanned 16mm negative, already exceeds the resolution required for HDTV. (And 16mm filmmakers can still use the same reliable, inexpensive Bolex cameras the Swiss built like watches years ago).[1]

With videotape a change in format means re-equipping. Now the buzzword is digital, and even though we’re still talking about video recording on a chip, we’re told the newest format is “revolutionary.” Despite promises that the latest technology is as “good” as film, today’s top-of-the-line High-Definition camera will eventually wind up in a garage sale. Obsolescence guarantees a steady revenue stream for Sony, Panasonic, and all the rest, supported by consumers who assume all Hollywood has switched. Protested one cinematographer, “I’ve been shooting Hi-Def for over thirty years–it’s called film.”

The notion that the forward direction of time guarantees technological progress (and social advancement) is one of the great myths of the modern era. It’s true in many instances, but what is also happening is simply the creation of markets for new gizmos and the production of obsolescence. Imagine for a moment that the advent of film and video was historically reversed. Someone shows up on a feature video set with a “new media” film camera. This new device has variable speeds, twelve stops of exposure latitude, subtle detail in highlights and shadows, a sharp colour viewfinder, hundreds of lens choices, and a beautiful, high-res image which can be held up to light and seen with the naked eye. If the name on the side says “Bolex,” this new camera is not affected by power outages or dead batteries, since it can also be wound by hand.

To Read the Rest of the Hyperlinked Essay