East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Three thoughts on China

1. While China has accepted the reality of climate change more quickly than some nations that should know better (except in Cali, yeh), the sheer size of its population, and their reasonable expectation of improved living standards, means it will be perhaps the key determiner of the global environment's future. Breathable air is essential to improved living standards, of course, and word is that local government, in Beijing for instance, is responsive to the demands for cleanliness made by the emerging middle class. But carbon pollution isn't as immediate an issue, especially in the absence of NGOs and pressure groups to make it so. The investment required for carbon stability would be like building a Three Gorges Dam every year, and even if you only consider financial costs it's difficult to see how they could be met internally.

2. You can buy a hundred copies of "Sunflowers" for eight bucks each if your standards aren't too high. Up through Benjamin's time, manual reproduction of art was seen as forgery, but that's no longer the case. The primary value of the copy is no longer the aesthetics of the original work but that of the labour necessary to imitate it. So don't you think the painter deserves more than 40 cents a work?

3. I don't believe in Orwell's pigs-look-likemen schtick, but reality is increasingly backing it up. So neo-neocons who think Rumsfeld pulls his rhetorical puches should take notes from this guy. Those Iraqi insurgents: they're just un-American motherhaters. Everyone outside your country will think you a fruitcake, but they're not the ones you have to please.

The first ever Why Not? weekend football picks

Cal @ Tennessee -2 2:30pm
Tennessee have their rabid fanbase, but the last time they played at home, Vandy doomed them to a losing season. Cal does have weaknesses: an inexperienced secondary and a tendency to make special teams blunders. The Vols, however, won't be well-oiled enough to take advantage of them, and the Bears' RBs will eventually break them.
Pick: CAL BY 7

-7.5 Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech 5pm
First game up, we'll find out how iffy Notre Dame's defence is. Georgia Tech's offense is less iffy, and if WR Calvin Johnson goes berzerk, they'll have a chance in a shootout. Otherwise, their excellent pass rush has to be firing: if the Irish aerial game gets time, it'll skewer the Yellow Jacket secondary.

Florida State @ Miami -3.5 5pm Mon
Last year Florida State finally broke the curse, but playing in the Orange Bowl is a different order of tough. Despite the dramatic improvement of the Seminole passing game over the last year, it'll be a defensive battle, and you don't bet against Miami in defensive battles.
Pick: MIAMI BY 7

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New favourite band contender: Art Brut

Better concepts than anyone else to emerge this millennium. Who else could you imagine building a work around the line "modern art makes me want to rock out"? Godard, maybe, but these days only if he was being patronising. Yes, for Art Brut the words are what matters, though the riffs are functional enough.

Frontman Eddie Argos inserts a memorable phrase into even the least of his songs: I was going to adopt "popular culture no longer applies to me" as my slogan until I realised it didn't apply to me. When he and the band bother with some melody, whether ironically like in "Moving to LA" or ebulliently like in "Good Weekend", they're unstoppable. Argos is also eager to insert bonus tidbits and lyrics into live performances: clarifying that "Bang Bang Rock and Roll" is dissing the Velvets' 1993 reunion, not White Light White Heat; explaining that in fact he had seen Emily Kane recently, he had a drink with her over the holidays in fact. Also, he told me-yes-you to form a band, and in a future life when I can play an instrument I will.

Reliability: Only one album so far. Despite word that the next album is going to be sweet, Argos must run out of ideas sooner rather than later.

Potential for greatness: Reasonable. He just needs one really cute concept.

The record:
Bang Bang Rock and Roll (2005) A (my #2 album of 2005)
All-time top 10000 quality songs:
1. Emily Kane
2. Good Weekend
3. Bang Bang Rock and Roll
4. Moving to L.A.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Nearly new movies: Who needs flesh?

The Descent (Neil Marshall)
In which a bunch of young women go into a cave; not all of them make out. Despite a worrying International Standard Art Film opening (mitigated by shock value), the rest of this Brit-horror chiller is accomplished. Claustrophobia builds the tension even before the gore starts, and the real horror is delayed until some time after that. Three or four of the characters are distinct enough for us to care about their survival; the demises depicted are an apt mix of the noble and the needless.

For the US release, Marshall has ditched the last minute of the original version (still easy enough to find on YouTube), so that what was formerly a trick ending is now the final beat. I-want-more fans have whined, but the new ending is about a zillion times more psychologically frightening. To survive a situation like this, you have to primitivise yourself, which requires suspending your acquired morals for something baser. But that's not something you can just walk away from.

Drawing Restraint 9 (Matthew Barney)
In which Bjork wails while the Japanese whale. It's the Da Vinci Code of gallery film, except it's better because Barney has enough respect for images to prevent boredom. His vision consists of a bunch of things he likes, and even if you don't like the same things, his Melvillian fascination with processes, from tea ceremonies to petroleum jelly-setting, is kind of sweet in a outcome-obsessed world. OK, so his discussion of Orientalism is nothing more than a directive to think about the subject, but his imperatives to contemplate texture and tactility have some aesthetics to motivate them. The mutual flesh-stripping of the finale is terrific kitsch at the least, and the bigness of the Field Emblem (TM, all rights reserved M. Barney) is effectively documented. If Barney knew how to deploy his camera more effectively than Ron Howard, he might have made something Spectacular Spectacular.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blogathons ahoy: catching up/anticipating

  • I've half-finished my piece on Ken Jacobs' Star Spangled to Death for Girish's quite wonderful avant-blogathon, though I seem to have lost half of that half. I'll finish it when you least expect it.
  • I haven't done any viewing for Brian HoFB's Freleng blogathon, so I'm not going to get that in on time either. So let me commit to eventually blogging about the highest-placed of my Arbitrary Top Ten Friz Films (all Warners of course) that no one else gets to:
  1. Little Red Riding Rabbit (Red is one of the few of Bugs' adversaries with the moxie to compete with him)
  2. You Ought to Be in Pictures (Daffy convinces Porky he should be a live action star, mayhem ensues on the Warners lot -- I'll be shocked if no one writes about this)
  3. Bugs and Thugs (Thug: "Stop right there rabbit! How much do you know?" Bugs: "Oh I know uh lotsa things! Two and two is four, Carson City is the capital of Nevada, uh, George Washington was the first president...")
  4. Slick Hare (Humphrey Bogart wants rabbit for dinner, Elmer tries to oblige)
  5. The Three Little Bops (the Three Little Pigs as jazz musos)
  6. Back Alley Oproar (yeah those Warners guys really liked their opera spoofs)
  7. Bugs Bunny Rides Again (Yosemite Sam: "This town ain't big enough for the two of us"; Bugs builds a bigger town)
  8. Tweetie Pie (first Tweety & Sylvester)
  9. Bad Ol' Putty Tat (Tweety becomes a shuttlecock)
  10. Life with Feathers (pre-Tweety, this time a bird wants Sylvester to eat him)
  • All this reminds me why I no longer write for Real Publications with Real Deadlines.

Friday, August 04, 2006

RIP Arthur Lee

The guy who said "I could be in love with almost everyone". He also said "Oh the snot has caked against my pants/It has turned into crystal". I miss the Sixties.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oh wait, here it is: Star Spangled to Death

(Text from Jacobs in italics.)

STAR SPANGLED TO DEATH is an epic film costing hundreds of dollars! It combines many found-films with my own alternately off-the-cuff and intensely staged filming (I once said directing Jack and Jerry was like directing the wind). It is a social-critique picturing a stolen and dangerously sold-out America, allowing examples of popular culture to self-indict. Race and religion and monopolization of wealth and the purposeful dumbing down of citizens and addiction to war become props for clowning, In whimsy we trusted. A handful of artists costumed and performing unconvincingly appeal to viewer imagination and understanding to complete the picture. Jack Smith's pre-FLAMING CREATURES performance is a cine-visitation of the divine (the movie has raggedly cosmic pretensions). His character, The Spirit Not Of Life But Of Living, celebrates Suffering, personified by poor rattled fierce Jerry Sims, as an inextricable essence of living.

Osa and Martin Johnson made a series of extremely popular safari films in the Twenties and Thirties which had the unfortunate, if unsurprising, habit of staging "oh those crazy natives" shots; they were better at filming animals. Yes, CBS really did call their mid-Fifties science show Conquest. In The Road Is Open Again, Dick Powell, under the supervision of Washington, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, writes a song about the NRA -- that's the National Recovery Administration, not one of the things we FDR fans like to recall: in exchange for certain concessions to workers like minimum wages, some firms were allowed to circumvent antitrust law, and the whole thing was struck down as unconstitutional after a couple of years. The song's pretty catchy, though not as much as "Soldiers of Industry". Oscars notwithstanding, no one ever took de Mille seriously, did they -- especially with something like The Crusades, which makes The Da Vinci Code seem respectful of history. The thing I find weird about the Checkers speech is that they'd give the vice-presidential challenger airtime to explain himself (and to diss Stevenson), uninterrupted.

I was 24 when I began the film, Jack 25. Jerry in his early thirties seemed middle-aged to us. Jack later said, I think appreciatively, I taught him to hate America. We met in 1954 and got to hanging around, broke most of the time as we walked the streets "shadow starved" for movies a mind could fix on. Max Ophuls' SINS OF LOLA MONTEZ even in its producer-reasssembled state stood out out in its love of the art, in showing what a camera could still do. Hollywood with some few exceptions had gone numb in this time of fascist ascendance and cultural impoverishment. The enemy had been switched from Right to Left at the end of World War II and the owners had returned with a vengeance. Their mesaage was simple: "Shut up and do what you're told." War had done the trick of loosening industry from its Depression fix and war would now be America's raison d'etre. War would serve to rid the country of excess wealth lest more equitable distribution shake its class structure. In light of how much bullshit it takes to win a war, consider the bullshit it takes to sell ongoing war-to-war-to-war; we were inundated. Only the Abstract-Expressionist painters had been left to proclaim the old radical hopes (because the liberties they took were abstract). The Sixties were nowhere in sight.

Jacobs, below, will claim that he's made concessions to the audience -- that it's more focused on specific themes than the original version. But the shape of the film, though not amorphous, is still dangerously open-ended. He's placing a great deal of trust in the audience -- although anyone willing to sit through the movie will recognise the found-footage isn't to be taken at face value, sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to make of it. Jacobs's commentary is often in the form of single-frame flash texts, which DVD viewers may finally be able to decipher. Good for him for not telling us what to think, but this shouldn't prevent analysis.

Then one day on the set (the rear courtyard of the W. 75 St. brownstone where I was janitor) Jack pushed a copy of ON THE ROAD into my hands, saying, "It's about us." I'd been reading Paul Bowles and H.P. Lovecraft and a smuggled in copy of LOLITA and the drop in writing level was too steep. "You'll be able to stay with it on your sixth attempt", Jack said, which proved correct. It caught some things right, quirky ephemerals that hadn't registered as events. Of course it helped stir a social revolution (disowned by Kerouac) and maybe STAR SPANGLED TO DEATH would've participated in that great humanist eruption if I had completed it and got it out in its proper time. Over six hours even then, there was no way I could pay final sound-joining and printing costs. I screened camera original a few times to phono records and spoken commentary but money didn't happen and, pissed, in 1963 I put the film aside to continue with affordable works (like near-cost-free shadowplay). Its moment, I felt, had passed. Its invention, the very look of it, its texture was no longer unique and my pride was wounded. People were treating me as if I was normal. I got a measure of Jack's fame when I heard a girl address her dog as Flaming Creature but he chose -- at a time when patrons were available to him -- not to help. Like maybe his movie might be seen as coming from somewhere. I let it go and had another life, who knows but a better one than might've resulted from the release then of STAR SPANGLED.

(to be completed in 2050)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The only Top Ten that matters

  1. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy (live, Top of the Pops)": Back when I watched TOTP they had Robson and Jerome on week after week. This year they had Lily Allen and this, in which Cap'n Cee-Lo turns out to be one of the great singers of our time. (You'd think I'd have suspected this earlier, but no.) So of course it's now that the Beeb cancels the show.
  2. Dixie Chicks, "The Long Way Around": All that you can leave behind (only you can't really, it comes after you), or, Go North, Young Women! Would've been #1 if it had any politics in it.
  3. Kocani Orkestar, "Siki Siki Baba": Where have I heard this before -- is it in a movie? Or maybe it just sounds inevitable, with its simple melismatic ooaahs not quite echoed by busy horns.
  4. Wussy, "Airborne": The three chords are in ascending order: they never take off, but neither do they crash, which would at least be a resolution: they just make futile take-off attempt after attempt. Meanwhile, the couple both sing "Why in the world I hung around it's hard to say".
  5. T-K.A.S.H., "How to Get Ass": This half-black, half-Pnoi associate of the Coup knows this song's more likely to get himself ass, as in assassinated, than the Prez. The track doesn't constitute treason, but I wouldn't like to be his lawyer.
  6. Nelly Furtado, "Maneater": Doesn't her very existence signify enough? Well, no, but who needs meaning when you've got Timbaland?
  7. Cham, "Ghetto Story": Keeping it neoreal. I need to find the remix with Akon, since it inspired the best writing about an individual song I've read this year.
  8. Built to Spill, "Goin' Against Your Mind": Another attempt at a "Like a Hurricane", or maybe that should be a "Marquee Moon". Normal people can wait for the next live album; fans will eat this up.
  9. Wussy, "Motorcycle": Because a careful escape isn't an escape at all.
  10. E-40, "Tell Me When to Go": I've been waiting two years for an unstupid version of "Drop It Like It's Hot". This isn't it, but to its credit, it's stupid in a fun way.
Ten more: Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man"; The All-American Rejects, "Move Along"; Anthony Braxton, "Waltz for Debbie" and "Green Dolphin Street"; Beirut, "After the Curtain"; Camera Obscura, "If Looks Could Kill"; Nelly Furtado, "Promiscuous"; Jolie Holland, "Sascha"; The Little Willies, "Love Me"; Wussy, "Yellow Cotton Dress".