BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR

Such lists make no sense, and we all know it.  For one thing, only the films made with guaranteed distribution deals — fewer and fewer, these days — are released in theaters the same year they have their "premiere" at a film festival.  If I saw a film at a festival this year but it isn't in a theater in my city until next year, when did it "come out"?

Secondly, films come out in theaters and on DVD months or even years apart depending on where in the world you live.  A few years ago, New Yorkers, Londoners and Parisians could imagine they had seen just about every film in the theater that was worth seeing, and cinephiles in Hong Kong could procure a DVD of just about any film as soon as the filmmaker had burnt a copy for a festival — but this is also rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  The only chance anyone has of seeing the bulk of the most interesting, innovative and important films in a given year would be to globe-trot from Venice to Cannes to Toronto to Sundance to Edinburgh to Rotterdam to Tokyo to Thessaloniki to Ann Harbor, ad infinitum.  

These facts make any list of the "best films of the year" highly suspect, because it takes either a genuinely or willfully ignorant person to believe they have had a chance to see all of the likely contenders — let alone be surprised by a first-time filmmaker or experimental work.  Most people's best-of lists look like an advertisement for their local megaplex, fully accepting and promoting the pretense that the studios and cinema corporations are going to serve up the coincidentally most important and most profitable films of the year in global cinema.  At the very least, these lists should come with a lengthy introduction of acknowledged biases and shortcomings — to not do so is at best misleading and indecent, at worst ethnocentric and damaging to the struggle of independent filmmakers to have their films seen.  Slightly less idiotic but still outrageous are the claims that any given year was "a bad year for movies" — which operates under the same pretense that the best films were the ones that had the movie stars, the huge budgets or the theatrical distribution in say, Los Angeles.

My generation seems to be far more enlightened and mature about their music than their films.  I have never seen a friend or a reputable magazine claim that the Grammy's represented the best albums of the year, or that all one had to do was tune into their local corporate pop radio station during their commute in order to be exposed to the best that the music world has to offer.  In both cases, most adults I know seem to distinguish between "popular culture" and the rest of it — but in the case of film, a lot of people I know and many contributors to cultural discourse that I come across make little or no effort to seek out the non-commercial, the international, the independent and the original.  In short, I don't know many people who would say with a straight face that the latest Beyoncé record represents the finest achievement in the art of music this year, yet I am inundated with similar claims for Black Swan, Toy Story 3, The Fighter, etc. 

I find it useful to think about the differences between the way we speak about film and the way we speak about any other art form, as it betrays the extreme value and burden that is placed upon moving images as the official conduit of mass culture.  If anything, film is discussed in similar terms to literature — we have our genres, our light fare, our masterpieces, our classics, our gender-specific categories.  What we don't have in literature, however, is the commonplace serious assertion that John Grisham's The Confession was the most noteworthy and finely written novel produced anywhere in the world in 2010.  While we are happy to describe such books as guilty pleasures, we stop short of giving them the ultimate praise for their "entertainment value", and yet in film, there is a pressure to only consider a film as great if it was able to "entertain" us.

We do not ask our paintings to "entertain" us, nor our sculptures or other fine arts, and this is perhaps due to some strict ordering of our experiences of all things "narrative".  More sinisterly, and accurately I fear, it is clear that "entertainment" is an extremely loaded term — one which carries with it the desire to see reflected back at us our own supposed desires, fetishes and foibles.  We want to see the film that everyone else has seen, that has made an obscene amount of money or cost an obscene amount of money to produce, the one which titillates us with it's giddy fetishizations of women's bodies, in part, I believe, because we seek an experience that is essentially masochistic.  This is the success of the culture industry: to have replaced our desire for emancipatory, ecstatic, beautiful and meaningful cultural experiences with a matter-of-fact hopelessness — that "good film" is either boring, too difficult, or simply a pretentious fallacy — which is gratified with increasingly exaggerated and distorted representations of violence, meaninglessness, fear and bigotry. 

I can't blame people who have no time or access to find the thousands of truly beautiful, enjoyable, and important films made around the world every year because their stores, their cinemas, their reviewers and their friends make no mention of them.  I haven't been able to see many of the films that have played around the world this year that I would want to see.  I do, however, blame reviewers.  They have a clear choice — to pretend along with the studios that the films that win at Cannes are in fact to boring to be enjoyed by "normal" people, or to actually do their homework and attempt to look at the culture of their time in a historical and economic context.

I also take our Facebook, twitter, blog and forum reviews seriously as non-professionals since we all know that such opinions have a greater and greater aggregate effect all the time in relation to the official reviews and awards.  Let's acknowledge that we haven't been able to see the best films of the year because they were under-funded, censored, unrecognized and hidden from us.  Let's acknowledge that we have been lazy about finding them and supporting them.  Maybe then we will get pissed off enough to change this sorry, sorry state of affairs.

PLAYLIST 05: WINTER

Tara Jane Oneil is an American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, audio recording engineer, and visual artist based out of Portland, Oregon. O'Neil has collaborated with a diverse community of friends and advisers, scoring theater productions and short films, playing improvised shows, and working with dancers and painters. Her previous bands include Rodan, Retsin (with Cynthia Nelson), The Sonora Pine, The King Cobra, and Drinking Woman. She has played live and on recordings with Mount Eerie, The Naysayer, Come, Mirah, Ida, Sebadoh, Jackie-O Motherfucker, K., Michael Hurley, Papa M, and Amy Ray. Solo she has released several albums as Tara Jane O'Neil, formed the Ecstatic Tambourine Orchestra, and crafted soundtracks for film and theater.

Ólöf Arnalds is an Icelandicsinger/songwriter and indie musician who has been active within the Icelandic music scene for quite some time. Apart from doing her own music as of lately and being a touring member of Múm since 2003, she has cooperated with bands and artists such as Stórsveit Nix Noltes, Mugison, Slowblow and Skúli Sverrisson. Between 1988 and 2002 Ólöf studied violin and classical singing, and in 2002-2006 she studied composition and new media at Iceland Academy of the Arts. In 2007 her debut album Við Og Við was released by 12 Tónar. The album features a set of songs performed mostly in a traditional troubadour style.

Adam de la Halle, also known as Adam le Bossu (Adam the Hunchback) (1237?-1288) was a French-born trouvère, poet and musician, whose literary and musical works include chansons and jeux-partis (poetic debates) in the style of the trouveres, polyphonic rondel and motets in the style of early liturgical polyphony, and a musical play, "The Play of Robin and Marion", which is considered the earliest surviving secular French play with music. He was a member of the Confrérie des jongleurs et bourgeois d'Arras.

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French Late-Romantic composer, organist, conductor, and pianist, known especially for The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah, Piano Concerto No. 2, Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, and his Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony).

Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist who composed in the Romantic period. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt (which includes Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King), and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer and one of the most prominent living composers of sacred music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs a self-made compositional technique called tintinnabuli. His music also finds its inspiration and influence from Gregorian chant.

General Electric: Extremely Bad Liars

WARNING:

THIS POST CONTAINS OBSCENE CORPORATE PROPAGANDA

 

While cautiously perusing the Huffington Post the other day, my morbid curiosity bested me: I clicked on a GE ad on the right of the page which had a faux-naive drawing of a cow on it.  I proceeded to be accosted by an uber-cute, child-like animation of a day glow, up-beat, sultry-yet-approachable taking cow telling me that besides continuing to offer herself to me for food, she was now going to provide me with clean energy.  According to this every-cow, the "geniuses" at GE found a way to turn her waste into "renewable" power.

They forgot to leave a section for feedback from me, the viewer — an oversight that seems endemic in the new-media advertisement age.  Here's my response:

Dear GE,

I'd like to call your attention to a few factual errors in your advertisement.

  • You did not discover trapped methane power.  As you well kow, subsistence farmers, collectives, environmentalists and bio-engineers have been using and developing this technology for a century. 
  • Cows are not happy, or renewable.  They require immense amounts of non-renewable resources, and your cartoon personification of such an unfortunate creature is perverse considering the objectification you are violently enacting upon living beings when you label them as renewable.  
In short, I don't want your animal concentration camp energy.  Your coinage and use here of the word "ecomagination" is a crime against the English language, not to mention any semblance of advertising ethics.  You and whatever shit ad agency is responsible for this disgusting piece of work can kindly go fuck yourselves. 
Sincerely, etc., etc.

 

Un/fortunately, I can't find that ad online now, but a quick and nauseating perusal of the Ecomagination YouTube channel has provided me with more lovely examples of the kind of advertising employed by large corporations when they know you'd have to be an idiot to believe what they are saying.  First: treat the audience like a 5 year old. Second: create cartoon-like parodies of utopic worlds so absurd that they make even the most level-headed viewer question their grasp on reality.  Perhaps the slight cultural distance from their Chinese ad campaigns can illustrate this even more effectively:

And while the Chinese audience is presumably swayed by industrial and technological visions of paradise, we Americans require that familiar stink of nostalgia to make us so confused we give up:

I hope Donovan feels like a total ass for selling them his song "Catch the Wind".  (Is it possible that he was in fact thinking about trapped farts when he wrote it?)

We American consumers shouldn't be proud of GEs evident belief in our being more effectively stultified by saccharine pastoral landscapes, folk music and the dreams of children than our Chinese counterparts.  GE has also wisely provided Americans with sufficient amounts of the cartoon mockery of our intellect —  technique we arguably are responsible for imagineering:

This is of course just a minute bump on the landfill of big energy advertising pretending to pander to our concern for the environment while slapping us in the face with the complete absurdity of entrusting the fate of the planet to profit-seeking criminals who spend the other 98% of their time wreaking devastation.  Nevertheless, I think it is important to attempt to convert some of this waste into useful thought.

A bit of Kantor, 20 years on

 

Tadeusz Kantor (6 April 1915 – 8 December 1990) was a Polish painter, assemblage artist, set designer and theatre director.  His work and his writing about his work is what first sparked a real interest in theater for me, as well as an understanding that there are no limits to the transformative power of live performance.

I want to state openly that
this need to create theater
and visual arts
that would be   d i f f e r e n t
from the reality of political terror and
of police vigilance
was grounded neither
in a moral obligation
to create
a   R e s i s t a n c e   M o v e m e n t ,
nor in feelings of   p a t r i o t i s m ,
nor in the   h e r o i s m   of the underground movement.
I do believe that this process of
creating a   d i f f e r e n t ,
o t h e r
reality whose freedom is not
bound by any laws of any system of life,
or the act itself, which is like a demiurge's act
or a dream
is the aim of art.
I keep stubbornly repeating this thought
because I am suspicious that
in the epoch of "the Springtime of the Masses,"
and of the fight for political and economic freedom,
this notion of
the biggest freedom
that is demanded by
a   r   t
will not be understood,
or will even be deemed unnecessary...
Freedom in art
is a gift neither from
the politicians
nor from the authorities.
Freedom exists inside us.
We have to fight for freedom
within ourselves,
in our most intimate interior,
in our solitude,
in our suffering.

— Tadeusz Kantor, 1990 (translated by Michal Kobialka)

DROP THE I-WORD

Drop the I-Word is a campaign to expose the racist impacts of referring to immigrants as "illegals." This i-word is a damaging term that divides and dehumanizes communities and is used to discriminate against immigrants and people of color. The i-word is shorthand for illegal alien, illegal immigrant and other harmful racially charged terms. The campaign’s goal is to eliminate this terminology from popular usage and public discourse. Visit droptheiword.com to learn more and take the pledge.

Noam Chomsky: The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism

I'm a year late, but I've finally found this and watched it — a few times.  In this lecture — one of a series held annually in honor of Edward Said — Chomsky clearly contextualizes the Obama administration's foreign policy within the recorded and verified history of Imperialism.  He lucidly displays the direct historical relationships between the Berlin Wall and the Wall of Annexation in Palestine, the genocide of Native Americans and all other genocides that have resulted from Western expansionism.  This is not new ground for Chomsky, but it is as succinct and yet far reaching as any single talk of his I've heard, seen or read. 

I cannot say that I find Chomsky's analysis entirely satisfying, but his scholarship and rhetorical precision are as always unreproachable.  I have never found his theoretical assumptions or conclusions to be entirely coherent or providing an understanding of how Imperialist, racist and genocidal worldviews emerge or how they cohere with the philosophical, economic or wider cultural systems and situations in which they flourish and take root.  Where I find a failure of imagination (empathy) arising from an automatic, inhuman conspiracy of intentional, human forces, he seems to only find a failure of a type of human being.  Whether his ultimatum—to be either an Imperialist or a Libertarian—is a genuine existential condition he experiences or a rhetorical strategy aimed at instigating a crisis of the Imperialist imagination, I cannot say, but the scholarly and analytical tools he virtuostically demonstrates are of value to any emancipatory movement.  I do not — I cannot — stomach the dismissal of his work by the Maoist and Sparticist intellectual left as lacking or even contradictory to dialectical materialist critique and revolution.  His dedication to emancipatory theory, and his involvement in the real struggles of colonized, oppressed and dispossessed, in any honest estimation, puts the radical academic left to shame. 

The dismissal or simple ignoring of his work in mass culture is not worth explaining — he himself has done it better than I or any one else could via the Propaganda Model.  There is more to say there in terms of the human mind and imagination — as David Edwards and others have attempted to do — but I suspect that in careful analysis of this and other works of his, such levels of interpretation will be possible and fruitful for the indefinite period of struggle ahead.  The ongoing dialogue between the ideas of Chomsky and Said is certainly one such avenue. 

 

PLAYLIST 04: AUTUMN

Marcel Duchamp was a French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Duchamp's output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art. He advised modern art collectors, such as Peggy Guggenheim and other prominent figures, thereby helping to shape the tastes of Western art during this period.Duchamp’s first musical work, Erratum Musical, is a score for three voices derived from the chance procedure. During a New Year’s visit in Rouen in 1913, he composed this vocal piece with his two sisters, Yvonne and Magdeleine, both musicians. They randomly picked up twenty-five notes from a hat ranging from F below middle C up to high F. The notes then were recorded in the score according to the sequence of the drawing. The three vocal parts of Erratum Musical are marked in sequence as "Yvonne," "Magdeleine" and "Marcel." (Duchamp replaced the highest notes with the lower ones in order to make the piece singable for a male voice.) The words that accompanied the music were from a dictionary’s definition of "imprimer" - Faire une empreinte; marquer des traits; une figure sur une surface; imprimer un scau sur cire (To make an imprint; mark with lines; a figure on a surface; impress a seal in wax). Duchamp’s first musical work, Erratum Musical, is a score for three voices derived from the chance procedure. During a New Year’s visit in Rouen in 1913, he composed this vocal piece with his two sisters, Yvonne and Magdeleine, both musicians. They randomly picked up twenty-five notes from a hat ranging from F below middle C up to high F. The notes then were recorded in the score according to the sequence of the drawing. The three vocal parts of Erratum Musical are marked in sequence as "Yvonne," "Magdeleine" and "Marcel." (Duchamp replaced the highest notes with the lower ones in order to make the piece singable for a male voice.) The words that accompanied the music were from a dictionary’s definition of "imprimer" - Faire une empreinte; marquer des traits; une figure sur une surface; imprimer un scau sur cire (To make an imprint; mark with lines; a figure on a surface; impress a seal in wax).

Thea Musgrave is a Scottish composer of opera and classical music. Rich and powerful musical language and a strong sense of drama have made Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave one of the most respected and exciting contemporary composers in the Western world.  Her compositions were first performed under the auspices of the British Broadcasting Corporation and at the Edinburgh International Festival. As a result her works have been widely performed in Britain, Europe and the USA, and at the major music festivals, such as Edinburgh, Warsaw Autumn, Florence Maggio Musicale, Venice Biennale, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham and Zagreb; on most of the European and American broadcasting stations; and on many regular symphony concert series. "Black Tambourine", on six poems of Hart Crane, is performed as a continuous 18 minute span. The cycle captures the wide range of moods of the poetry, from the madrigal-like trio of ‘Pastoral' to the tinkling salon piano of "My Grandmother's Love Letters".

Camberwell Now were formed in London in 1982 after the demise of This Heat featuring one of the founders of that group, drummer and vocalist Charles Hayward, bassist and vocalist Trefor Goronwy, who had joined This Heat to replace Gareth Williams after the latter had quit the band, and This Heat's former sound technician Stephen Rickard, who brought the studio to the stage with the revolutionary and possibly unique "tape switchboard".  In all, the band released one album, The Ghost Trade, two 12" EPs, MeridianGreenfingers, two tracks for the Sub Rosa Myths/Instructions album and a track for the Touch audio cassette/magazine. Most of this material was later reissued in CD form as All's Well by RecRec Music in 1992, and this compilation was remastered and reissued in November 2006 by ReR Megacorp.

June of 44 is s an American rock band which was formed in 1994 from ex-members of Rodan, Lungfish, Rex, and Hoover. The band's music is often described as 'math rock'.  The band's name refers to June Miller, wife of author Henry Miller.  The band toured extensively and reached as far as Australia. Often referred to as the punk rock pirates of the math rock world, June of 44 were a collective from 1994–2000. All the members were living in different cities at the time. Often cited for their artistic hand crafted record packaging, June of 44 had six releases in as many years before members went on to form HiM, The Sonora Pine, Shipping News and Rachel's. This seminal band created music that ranged from experimental jazz to ambient dub to angular post punk.

A Minor Forest was a San Francisco-based math rock band in the 1990s. They were musically related to the Louisville scene of post rock groups like Slint and had personal connections to the San Diego scene of Three Mile Pilot and related bands. Their songs had pop music, progressive rock, and punk rock influences and featured changing time signatures, sudden dynamic changes, silent pauses, unintelligible screaming, catchy, repeating melodic passages and absurd, in-joke titles. Their slogan was "A Minor Forest Supports the Destruction of Mankind." They formed in San Francisco in 1992 and, in addition to other smaller releases, put out three albums: Flemish Altruism (1996) and Inindependence (1998) on Chicago label Thrill Jockey, and So, Were They in Some Sort of Fight? (1999), a career-spanning compilation on My Pal God records. They played their last show on November 1, 1998 at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

The Swords Project was formed in late 1999 in Portland, Oregon. Under this moniker, they released an ep, 2001’s The Swords Project, which was followed two years later by their only full-length album, Entertainment Is Over If You Want It. In 2003, the band shortened their name to Swords. In 2006, the band announced they would be breaking up.

ACCIDENTALLY SPRAYED

Accidentally Sprayed

by Gonzalo Escobar (2008)

From Gonzalo Escobar's Vimeo page:

Winged performers in the streets, armed with water sprays bottles, become a metaphor to the relationship between a Colombian filmmaker living in the United States and the aerial fumigations of coca crops occurring in his native country. Different perspectives of the topic are explored through images and sounds, but especially, through his opportunity to travel to southern Colombia, where the fumigations have been taking place. Aspects of documentary filmmaking are mixed with elements of the film essay genre. Animation, news, and found footage also take part of this visual and sonic collage that thrives to represent the filmmaker’s position and to some extent, the position of any viewer.

Gonzalo is the lead performer in my film Oh My Soul, and a good friend.  This video taught me a lot about the issue of crop fumigation in Colombia as well as strategies for investigating the social and political through personal filmmaking.  I hope he makes more soon!

IAMPETH

 

IAMPETH (the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting), which describes itself as "an international, non-profit association dedicated to practicing and preserving the beautiful arts of calligraphy, engrossing and fine penmanship," has an absolutely wonderful, treasure-trove of a website at www.iampeth.com.

Highlights of the IAMPETH's website include the gallery of Master Penmen from the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship (replete with biographies and work samples), but by far the greatest thing this site has to offer is a PDF library of dozens of scanned, downloadable rare books filled with beautiful calligraphic designs.

 

Medical Choreography, part 1

The Epley maneuver:

The Brandt-Daroff maneuver:

From ehow.com:

Vertigo is a disorder of the middle ear, caused by small crystals that have colonized in a sensitive part of the inner ear. These crystals become displaced, causing the dizziness of vertigo. Usually a physician who specializes in dizziness and balance disorders will perform The Epley or Semont maneuver to help settle the displaced crystals. The Semont maneuver is a calculated and rapid moving exercise, performed only by a doctor in the safety of a doctor's office. Brandt-Daroff exercises are similar to the Epley maneuver, but they can be done at home. These exercises can benefit anyone with dizziness, vertigo, imbalance, lightheadedness or faintness. They are safe and easy to perform.



Le roman de renard

Le roman de renard (or The Tale of the Fox) By LADISLAS STAREVITCH — 1930

(from Wikipedia:)

In the kingdom of animals, the fox Renard is used to tricking and fooling everyone. Consequently, the King (a lion), receives more and more complaints. Finally, he orders Renard to be arrested and brought before the throne.

This is the legendary feature film by Wladyslaw Starewicz (or Ladislas Starevitch, or Ladislas Starewicz, or Ladislaw Starewicz, or Ladislas Starewitch, or Ladislaw Starewitsch). It is also his only one, and he directed it with his wife, Irène Starewicz. The story is an adaptation of a compilation or medieval French legends called "Le roman de renart". It's an entertaining story, a social satire, but most of all a landmark in early animation. I find the stop-motion truly remarkable, even by Starewicz's standards. The facial expressions and the movements are very smooth and fluid.

It had a good reception when it was first released, but as it was wartime people quickly forgot about it. They later exploited in under the form of shorts, since it contains many independent stories with one linking narrative.