Posts from 9th September 2004

Sep 04


Do You SeePost a comment • 310 views

Defending Dune: I like Dune, having seen it twice. Once at my house, once at a friends. Both times have something in common (other than Dune). I was drunk, and getting more so.

It is not true that all films seem better when you’re drunk. Films you know well often seem much longer. Films with a serious moral point, or with beautiful and haunting camerawork, or with a complex yet coherent narrative, generally do not suit the inebriated eye. Films like Dune, though, which are basically a series of ridiculous and gaudy setpieces, are terrific when you’re drunk and can either shout at the screen (in company), or go ‘oooh’ on your own. Additionally, because it makes no sense, if you stumble in halfway through or fall asleep before the end it doesn’t matter*. Should Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle not appear on this list – and looking at the list so far you can have a fair guess as to whether it does – Dune and for that matter The Fifth Element are a pretty good substitute (assuming booze is added).

I would take Dune drunk over most alright films sober, which is why I supported its nomination. In most artforms some respectability is attached to the idea that the context a work is experienced in is crucial, though of course the assumed ‘norm’ changes all the time. In music for instance a perfectly acceptable critical gambit is to say that some band or other sounds better live; in books there’s the tacit admission that certain novels will read better on a beach than in a living room. Enemies of dance music will regularly say that it only sounds good if you’re off your head, as if this was some kind of criticism: it isn’t, and some films are like that too, and for me Dune is one of them.

*(except that Dune has one of the best endings ever, when the preternaturally wise young girl turns to camera and sez “FOR HE IS THE KWIZATZ HADERACH” for all the world as if it’s meant to explain anything.)

FT Top 100 Films 34: TRON

Do You SeePost a comment • 818 views

FT Top 100 Films
34: TRON

If Tron taught kids one thing, it is that films that look good, and are about things we like, will not necessarily be good. It possibly allowed breathless sci-fi kiddies to consider The Return Of The Jedi to be better than it actually is, because it is better than Tron. Better, in as much as it makes sense. Y’see the problem with Tron is, it is clearly written and directed by someone who has absolutely no interest in computers at all, and how they work. So rather than a breathless computer/human interaction thriller (which we got later in War Games), we got a day-glo version of the Numbskulls.

So the idea is that inside the computer there are these different avatars running around, doing allthe calculations for us, embodied in shiny suits as programs. None of this makes any sense of course, nor the idea that the Central processing Unit would rule the computer like some form of concentration camp commandant. For Tron is a prison escape movie with laser-cycles and silly hats. Jeff Bridges Flynn, zapped into the computer is clueless as the writers, and the gigantic floating At-At like hinks are impressive, but why are they there?

Ironically the graphics were mainly drawn, rather than done on computer, and again this shows. Tron is an ambitious film whose raison d’etre can be boiled down to one line. “Hey, have you notied that kids like computahs!” Disney went off half cocked and spoiled the dreams of hundreds of kids who were literally willing Tron to be any good, in as much as it would convince their parents to buy them a Spectrum. Instead they dragged their parents to see a po-faced Alice In Wonderland, which probably put their parents off of computers for life.

That said, what film these days would dream of having Norton Anti-Virus as its titular hero?

A question about narrative complexity.

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 473 views

A question about narrative complexity. I am buying a birthday present for my five year old nephew and as dutiful uncle tend to err on the side of books. What books do you get a kid who is only just starting to read? Previous brithdays I have upped the anti every year, with nice big picture books, andincreasingly more words – I assume to be read to him. Just because a story needs to be told in less words though, does not mean it has to be about ridiculously twee subjects.

All the suggested books for five year olds either seem too young or are about animals. Which is fine if you look at kids as living in some sort of sweet innocent paradise, but since his main recreational entertainment is television, all seems a bit babyish for him. Scooby Doo (a favourite of his from age two) is more mature in both subject matter and – yes even narrative complexity – than books supposedly aimed at five year olds. But then the point I suppose is to get him to read, which means it has to have shirt, easy words. But doe sit need to also have overly simplistic ideas too.

(Genuinely I remember a frustration at this age between what the school thought I should be reading, and what I was/wanted to read. But i was an early starter and obnoxious show-off which my nephew isn’t.)

Poor old Robbie Savage

TMFDPost a comment • 310 views

Poor old Robbie Savage. Finally the “Robbie Savage Fact” as it had become known, is no longer true. Robbie, a scamp, a teaser, a mullet topped rascal of the highest sort (for which read dirty little bugger) has finally been sent off, and not only that but in an international to boot. And I will probably not be the only one who finds irony in the fact that his sending off was probably not justified. Not that a grown man crying proves this, but his infamy in pub quizes is now ended.

For anyone who sat through the England Poland game (in the bath in my case), the hints of the exciting stuff going on in the Wales / Northern Ireland game was manna from heaven. Three sendings off in the first half. Lord knows exactly what the emnity between Wales and Northern Ireland is, but I would imagine the heat will be turned up ten times this amount when they finally get to kick the teeth in of England players. And with kicked in teeth, they might actually have an excuse not to talk to the press, rather than yet more petulant sulking.

I suppose if I had one problem with Before Sunset

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 234 views

I suppose if I had one problem with Before Sunset, it was that the characters, having grown up, had become less interesting. This may seem odd, considering more had happened to them in the past nine years, but in getting older their personalities were more defined. In Before Sunrise there was still the sense that these people were developing. In Before Sunset they had developed.

But – hold up – this is the Brown Wedge. You don’t talk about films here. Except that Jessie Wallace, like his co-creator, actor and co-writer, he is also an author. And reading Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke, you get an idea what kind of author Jessie might be: this is method acting to the nth degree. Almost paralysingly introspective, trying to battle with an inate flair for constructing almost absurd vignettes. There are two personalities pushing on Ethan Hawke the writer, the desire to be deep and meaningful, contrasted with telling a rollicking story about interesting people. The battle is interesting to watch. A five page meditation of faith can suddenly turn into well realised piece of playful sex. The climatic sequence where the leads cannot get out of a Mardi Gras locked New Orleans is as much about the newlyweds personal tensions than it is the life and death situation.

And yet like Jessie in Before Sunrise/Sunset the passages often linger on uncharacteristic (for the characters) and out of place musing on the world. His leads are stock indie movie dysfunctionals and would be tiresome if either were given the entire book to narrate. Jessie is probably Hawke’s best role, and Ash Wednesday shows why he can pull off such a potetially annoying character with elan. Given the choice between taking the logical conclusion to his book pitched at tragedy, he makes a double take and lets the Hollywood in him take over. Which is no bad thing, the other ending is written in our head. But it is interesting that the two more than half decent novels I have read by actors this year (this and Shopgirl) spend the entire book building to tragedy, and then wriggling out of it.

4th Annual University of Toronto Physics Jamboree

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 429 views

4th Annual University of Toronto Physics Jamboree

Despite the silly name, this is actually a very creative introduction to the work done in our department. The concept : in alphabetical order, each professor must present an introduction to their work in exactly three minutes. In today’s case, that’s 38 three-minute talks. It’s an oppurtunity for new grad students to get a “who’s who” of the department, as well as a glimpse of all the research being done so that they can start thinking about what they may want to study.

What can you possibly talk about in three minutes? In short : nothing. For an old fart such as myself (even though I’ve never gotten around to seeing the Jamboree on any of the other three occasions), most of the entertainment is watching a succession of professors, all in vain, try to communicate minute details about their research. And get cut off by the absurdly piercing three-minute bell. It seems so obvious that the only sensible strategy is to talk about the “big picture”, i.e., outline only the problems in your field, since there is no time to explain the solutions. And yet I am amazed that people choose to show complicated graphs and attempt to explain them to an audience of non-specialists in the final fourty-five seconds of their talk. Hell, even an audience of specialists wouldn’t be able to digest it that quickly. As if, amongst a field of almost forty talks, anyone’s going to remember one particular data feature in one particular talk in a field they’re unfamiliar with.

All this was followed by the annual beginning-of-term party, whose open bar seems to close earlier and earlier each year. Yes, I am complaining.

The Webs We Weave

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 112 views

The Webs We Weave
Mark Lombardi at the AGO

Lombardi draws the connections between money, people and power?the famous ones mostly, the connubial bliss of the Papal states and the Banco Ambrosia in Italy, The Charles Keating S and L Wall Street Orgies, the Contras and Ollie North, the legitimization of the Mob as power source from the 30s to the early 90s, the nonsense Bush and Company were involved in with Arbusto, basically the dozens of interconnected corruptions and scandals that have been fairly well known for decades in the circles t hat wear tinfoil hates and hate America. Recently teasing out these connections has come slowly into mainstream focus, as what was assumed to be the paranoiac of the left has turned out to be good sense. (Lombardi is leftist, and although there is one diagram of the Clintons here, there are no discussions of Alger Hiss or the Cambridge Spies or any of the other problems that his side of the fence engaged in)
When I say draw, I mean it literally?they are in art galleries, supported by New York institutions and down around the world because of the delicacy of the mark making, of the clear and gentle lines, and how they resemble post minimalist graphite drawings. The political nature of the text is denuded by having them in the hard word floors and white cubes of the biggest art gallery in Ontario.

The works, with there easy to read codes mapping the hidden and the known secret international power in the last forty years are unique. Reading about these connections in articles and books, in pulp and academic theory, it became almost impossible to find where everything was leading, you assumed (everyone assumes since the 60s), a mutual belief that the male, stale and pale are taking advantage of us, but this quickly becomes fogged in, basic details impossible to trace in these Byzantine labyrinths. Lombardi makes it elegant, allows you to find one name, and trace it through one graph, and when you exhaust that one, move to another, find how Charles Keating was involved in Peru, Nicragugia, and London or find out the origins of Sir Mark Thatcher?s decade long history of unsettling Africa with Guns.

They are sometimes too simple though, one dark solid line for personal relationships, one spotted line for money, he always notes the money, 10 million here, 500 000 here (always tiny sums, in the grand scheme of things), what he doesn?t note is how close the relationships are?Dianne Feinstein?s Husband was a New York bankers who?s company did mean things in Central America, does this mean that the California Senator was complacent?
This leads to the most unsettling question that surrounds Lombardi, his work has the care to attention and detail, the obsessive longing towards sense that marks Schizophrenic Paranoid Delusions, but what he is saying has been carefully documented in a million sources, and is knowing making play in places like the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly and Economist, what was assumed has become gospel?even though these works show a new, and better way of finding patterns, are they as solid as we think they are ? His is political discourse as graphic intervention, necessary and powerful, and aesthetically forward. They need to be told, but they are more ambiguous then we think.