How Can You Make A Bargain With A Pack Mule?

Recently at a busy opening, filled with illustrations, installations, and videos, I sat still, under headphones, for 29 minutes, while friends and strangers circled about intermittently, curiously, impatiently. Normally I would have returned at a quieter time to view the whole piece. But I could not interrupt the program, I tell you. I was mesmerized by Barry Doupé’s magical media potion, At The Heart Of A Sparrow. I contacted Mr. Doupé about sharing the mesmer here, and he kindly pointed me to a stream of the complete work at Lumen Eclipse, linked below.

UPDATE: Barry just sent along this link to an interview he gave in 2008 talking about his process and other sagacities (I hope I made that up). Thanks Barry!

How You, Too Can Leave The Kindle Conversation Behind

I find myself talking about the Kindle more often. At this stage of the game, the conversations still always mine the idea Paper Vs. Electronics. I have heard, and offered open-minded considerations of this comparison. Although as one who resents the increasing time required to maintain an operating charge in the increasing number of devices which require it, who has spent unacceptable amounts of time and money rehabilitating damaged electronics, replacing stolen electronics (and taking extra measures to prevent further theft), downloading and installing new versions (at brokenother times wishing I could download when some wrinkle between me and the internet is preventing it), who worries about the growing mountains of discarded electronics, I naturally enjoy the Neo-Luddite position in these conversations. Fanciers of coffee table books and cookbooks often join me, and I appreciate those perspectives as well.

Increasingly, however, this has felt like an exercise, like insincerity, and I have finally had opportunity and inclination to investigate that feeling. My conclusion? Debating paper versus electronic books is like debating roast turkey versus roast turducken. You can only take it so seriously. In a reductive mood, you start to hear it as “’but I love it as it is’…’yes, but this is MORE of it.” And you realize you are really debating whether or not more is automatically better. More books, and simultaneously more freedom from their physical burden.

Will you gain more physical space as you replace paper books with ones and zeroes in the clouds? Yes. You would also gain that space by reducing your furnishings to one bed. It could serve for sleeping and for sitting, and could seat several people for entertaining. But the number of people who actually need to reclaim the space taken by either their furniture or their books is much smaller than the number of people who argue that this is a benefit of e-readers.only a bed

Will you have access to more reading material in mobile or remote situations? Yes. How long is your commute? How brief is your attention span? How long are your vacations? How little do you have to fill your vacationing time? The number of people who have been inconvenienced by a bulky burden of reading material, even after including students, is much lower than the number of people who argue that this is a benefit of e-readers.

And yet these are the conversations we cordially entertain, without even a hint of the ridiculous. I, for one, am committed to greater Kindle-honesty in 2010, and I invite you to join me. Let us admit to its superfluous, gratuitous nature, and get on with some lively discourse on gadgetphilia or marketing or planned obsolescence.

My Sigur Ros Experiment

I tried to reconnect with the Sigur recently, after the third or fourth time seeing them on a “best records of the decade” list. I have done this before. It’s because they are routinely described in ways that draw me in, with words like experimental and otherworldly, tales of fainting audience, comparison to bands I love, like Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Stars of the Lid, and hypotheses on the complete reinvention of music.  So, as I tend to do in the face of unanimous recommendation from peers, I try again.

But, as with oysters, I can’t seem to develop the palate for this. They sound to me like television drama montages. Correction, they sound like tv drama montages of today, which may be a hint that this is another bittersweet lesson in getting what you wish for, like when “alternative” became mainstream in the nineties. Nirvana on classic rock stations? Cool. Legions of grunge bands creating a sound so ubiquitous it blends into muzak today? Heartbreaking.

This time, however, I thought I would second guess myself. I went to the SR site where they give away a very generous collection of songs from various recordings, thinking that this author-selected sample would be the fairest representation of their music for my experiment. I then used roughly the same portions of the songs, more or less, to further eliminate subjectivity (ok, actually out of laziness.) I grabbed a fan montage of clips from the CSIs, NCIS, Without a Trace, House MD, Grey’s Anatomy, and Cold Case, fired up the Singer and sewed them together without regard for craft (more laziness…it’s not my thesis or anything). Just to get a sense, you know. The results are below. Try to ignore the shocking sameness of the clips, despite their origins in 8 or 9 different series. You already knew that. But listen to the safety and familiarity of this music, and for that matter the sameness of it despite representing 12 songs from six albums.

Not trying to be a hater. Just felt like having a little fun with a critique of the band’s typical reviews.

UPDATE: maybe there was some hatin after all. I can only assume that some kind of universal reprimand is at play here, since I know my way around online video pretty well, yet have been unable to find any format/third party/plugin combination to make this little joint go. So it’s now an exercise in imagination, loyal readers. Fire up your nearest Sigur Ros track, and dream up the drama.


DIY Storytime

I had thought that performances by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman automatically created, if not masterworks, then certainly exceptional, outstanding cinema. In retrospect, that’s crazy talk and I don’t know what I was smoking, great though they both are. I came to understand this watching Doubt. His performance seems flat to me, considering the story and his role in it. Good thing she presents as complicated and magnetic a performance as ever. Right? Well, sure, if you’re not all greedy about stuff like theme and plot.  Or at least not impatient about these things. Because Doubt always feels like it’s about to boil up, so you stick with it, focus on Meryl, second guess where it’s going to go. And then – it’s – over? Fast forward with me now past the anti-climax and disappointment and confusion, through to the surprising delayed engagement this story had planted in me. The movie is made from rich enough concept that you can work out all kinds of premises, subtexts and motivations, all on your own! (If you have a good chunk of time afterward which will make no demands on your mind.) It’s a tell-yourself-a-great-story kit.

Just to Give You An Idea


Just saw this joyous collaboration of James Dawe and Fallon, wherein he has adorned their die cut cover of the re-printed One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich with his gleaming and exploding collage goodness. I was transported back to my first experience of the novel, during my eleventh summer: the summer of solitude and self-discovery. Solzhenitsyn’s depictions were so rich, I was romanticizing even *gruel*, hating Mom’s stew a little less when I was made to eat it. Now go check out Dawe’s stuff.

James Dawe.


In Other Words, Smoking Helps

Hurrah, I have finally seen Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s award-winning 2003 film based on the Columbine school shootup. If I’d written this post last night, it would have been passionate, maybe all caps. I was a little stoned. Today, I am still inclined to post on it, but with the knowledge gained overnight that it hasn’t had the impact on me that I originally thought it had.

Strangely, I think both the immediate impact and its rapid dissipation come from the same feature of the film’s design: shallowness. Watching the slaughter of characters you’ve been getting to know for an hour or so is called Everynight TV, right? The reason you can yawn around between that and decorating and dancing shows, at the same time as you’re in IM on your laptop, is the artifice. You can recognize a Benz from the grill, and you can recognize a cop show from the music, cinematography and script cliches. You can only be so drawn into those stories, when you are constantly aware it’s Season 4 Episode 9. With Elephant, however, Van Sant presents you an unrecognizable scenario, in part by working improv with non-actors. But also by withholding dramatic devices which could be recognized as tropes: character arc, plot progression. The parts of your mind that normally turn off once they recognize the tropes, don’t turn off. You are observing more keenly. When the shit hits, you feel it more. Thing is, you developed no relationships, and you contemplated few or no concepts, so it doesn’t stay with you, like, in your heart. It stays in your brain as a masterful cinematic exercise, certainly. But you are untouched, ultimately, once the shock wears off.

And here is Gus Van Sant cutting the bugger on a FLATBED EDITOR. Divine.

Roy One Pynchon Zero

Well, I finally finished it. A friend who is an avid reader, and more to my point, a socially avid reader, in that she participates in a book group, tells me that she knows a number of people who have not finished it. A number of people. She had told me this before I finished, but I don’t think it spurred me on. Although I do carry some baggage around my multiple failed attempts to finish Gravity’s Rainbow.

I thought I would feel relieved when I finished. Not just because I had been finding it hard to stick with, but also because I was out of renewals at the library and was reading it on ever more costly overdues.

I didn’t feel relieved. I felt disappointed, at first, and actually I felt an expected disappointment. There had come a point in my reading The God of Small Things when I started expecting ultimate disappointment. I lost faith. But then, having finished, I read the laconic author bio on the back sleeve, and “first book” restored my faith. After all, I had enjoyed beautifully conjured settings, lush atmospheres, and an important social commentary. I suspect it will be memorable. My disappointment was only with a payoff that did not match its buildup. (Nor would I want it to. The payoff was fine. It needed less buildup.) A structural thing, really, and that reminds me of the kind of chop that gets honed with practice.

I hope Arundhati Roy will write a second book.

Mostly lists, not many reviews yet, but you might consider that a blessing.

And Now I Want To Die Too

I am a longtime apologist for slow pacing in cinema. There is something about that spacious temporal environment that feels luxurious to me. In the hands of a talented filmmaker, obviously.

Abbas Kiarostami is a director whose evangelical fans include Martin Scorsese, Jean-Luc Godard, and Akira Kurosawa. His work is compared to that of Tarkovsky.

One of the most highly acclaimed Kiarostami films is 1997 Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry. I recently chose this for crossing-off from my discouragingly long list of cinematic masterpieces I’ve not yet seen. Here’s what I saw: a guy drives around and around on a dusty, barren hill, expressionless, occasionally engaging with strangers on the enigmatic job he offers. Well, the job becomes less enigmatic with each encounter.  But the driving does not become less around and around, the hill does not become less dusty or barren, and the expressiveness of this character does not increase.

He plans to commit suicide, and for some reason he wants to be buried in this remote, anonymous hillside hole after the fact. He’s already dug the hole, he just needs someone to refill it once his corpse is at the bottom. His prospective hole-fillers offer no interesting explanations for their refusals. I would estimate that there are 85 or 90 minutes of this movie in which the frame is the hero’s expressionless, driving face, or clay-coloured dust clouds billowing around the hero’s vehicle as it progresses along the dirt road that winds around the dusty, barren hill. The movie’s first ending is the guy in the grave, still alive. The movie’s second ending is the revelation of the cinematic device, in other words, shots of the director and collaborators on location.

Crafty Spot

Wanted to give this spot props for its manipulation of our understanding of how to identify whose story it is we are watching. The whole thing turns on that, and I don’t think I’ve seen much exploitation of it before. At least not without dialogue insurance.