Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Actor's tricks...

I'm seeing a lot of movies lately and there's plenty of bad acting along for the ride. If you start from the premise that everyone on screen wants an Oscar, it's pretty funny to watch these needy souls ham it up with enough honey-glaze to slather a mastodon. Watch, you'll notice.

I'll admit, it's got to be hard up there in front of the camera, having to pull a character out of thin air and make it believable in a medium that has little to do with our own universe. I've noticed there are a few tricks that actors use again and again. I should add that I've never acted and know nothing about the craft. These are just some layman's observations.

Most of the trouble starts when you have actors in service of a rigid plot. The gulf between actor and story becomes glaringly obvious. The Prestige is a great example of this. Director Christopher Nolan has so many twists and turns and details he needs to cram into this mystic pizza, the actors (and the audience) are worn out in the first half as he ticks items off his to do list. Better movies seem to allow (great) actors the freedom to play with a loose narrative structure - to let the story match the characters in an indistinguishable blur (i.e. Venus).

So, an actor's trick: You can just hear a crusty ascot-wearing acting coach telling Brad Pitt that he has "magnificent arms and hands" and that he should use them frequently to "lead the action." So everywhere you see this guy, he's out there holding up walls, pointing at this, pointing at that. Didn't his mother tell him about pointing? And don't get me started about Renee Zellweger's mouth pout.

Which reminds me, another frequently seen trick is the micro-muscle movement, aka the limited-engagement facial tick. Here, in close up, at a moment of great intensity, a stand off between two characters can be silently punctuated by the subtlest twitch of an eyelid. Or a scorned wife being lied to by her husband for the millionth time might just give us the tiniest lip quaver. These motions are intended to be worth a thousand tears, punches, words, etc. But once you're on to it, the micro-twitch is as distracting as a ding on a brand new Porsche.

Putting full frontal shots aside, that whole good side/bad side of the face business is real. Cary Grant insisted on being shot from his right (the side where his laser beam part is. Have you ever noticed how he spends most of his time on the left side of the screen?) Sometimes you get two actors in a scene whose chosen facial aspect don't jive. This is where you'll start to see some funky blocking (actors situated in bizarre configurations so that we are blessed with two good sides) or editing (excessive cuts from one face to another).

The bad mustache. If you're an actor who discovers himself in a bad film you need to have at least one scene (preferably the whole film) where you sport obviously fake facial hair. If you can see the wire mesh and the glue holding the thing in place, all the better. It is a message to the audience that says, "You know and I know this is a piece of shit, but I need the money and at the same time I'm going to punish you and my agent and the director and anyone else remotely involved in my being here!" Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls wins the prize for this one.

OK, I could continue, but this is waay too strange a territory for me to be lavishing so much attention on... All of this narcissism and useless critiquing is making me see sick.

(Bogart lavishes attention on "the girls"...)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

All the colors in a gray rainbow...

Being handed a sign that says, "Congratulations, you're the oldest person in the world," is an experience few of us will ever get to relish. Yone Minagawa, still chugging at 114, is said to be youthful and fond of sweets. Clutching the sign that declared her most senior status, flashbulbs popping in her face, Minagawa declared to the assembled media circus that she was "grateful," and then she smiled.

If you're looking for a slightly meatier and more dramatic insight into the nature of the aging, gray psyche of Homo sapiens, you must run to the nearest theater and see Venus. It's a beautiful and unflinchingly hilarious film about dying and acting and the things we need to keep us alive. How can I make that sound more appealing? Does Peter O'Toole getting it on with a teenager make you hot and bothered? Oh, just bothered? Well, go see it anyway.

A man died. I never met him, but I was related to him in a remote and roundabout way. I didn't know much about him accept that he loved Star Trek. I heard he was buried with a Star Trek captain's insignia pinned to his finest suit. I woke up with this thought.

Aging is not what it appears to be.

Monday, January 29, 2007

They shoot horses don't they?

RIP Barbaro, I was routing for your full recovery. But, as you know, a horse with a shattered leg is like a bird without wings. An animal that loses its natural abilities, its physical purpose, is swiftly ejected from the river of life. Even the courageous adaptability of this poor little deformed kitten, Lola (who has learned to walk on its front legs), probably won't get her too far. I was impressed by Barbaro's owners dedication to his health. Most end-of-career racehorses are quickly and quietly destroyed.

A good forthcoming documentary on the fate of racehorses is Homestretch by Sheri Bylander. It focuses on the two-bit race circuits and horrific slaughter auctions that non-winners face. It shows how every year thousands of young horses fail to meet their owners’ expectations. The magnificent creature is reduced to a red mark in an accounting ledger - a loss not to be sustained. For every Barbaro there are countless Ferdinands, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner who was sold to a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002. Homestretch also investigates a few exciting new prison programs where end-of-career racehorses are paired with end-of-term prisoners on prison-owned farms in the countryside. The lifesaving rehabilitation of both man and beast is really something miraculous to see.

Previous Barbaro post here.

("Horse Tongue" by Tim Flach)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Pure Genius of Fred Rogers...

Go ahead, get your giggles out and then watch this and be reminded of the importance of being earnest. The man's got balls and vision well worth the $20 Million Meow-Meows he scores at this Senate hearing...

(Thanks Laurel)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Retro Mirren...

OK - Helen Mirren. Oscar on its way. Shoe in. Yes yes, The Queen, uh huh, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, sure, Excaliber, yup. But let's go waaay back to when she was a budding young actrice starring in Michael Powell and James Mason's 1968 co-production of "Age of Consent." This is a crazy and, in many ways, wonderful film, well worth seeing if you ever get the chance (it's not on DVD).

Mason stars as an Australian painter who can't bear society and especially the horror of urban art galleries where his work is sold. He loads up his paints and takes off for one of the little islands in the Great Barrier Reef where he finds a pigeon-filled cabin and sets up shop on the pristine and desolate beach. Until... it turns out that the island has a few other inhabitants, one of whom is the sartorially challenged Miss Mirren, who spends her days splashing among the waves, making mischief, and looking for conch and other shellfish to sell back on the mainland. Taken by her form, it's not long before Mason is paying Mirren to model for him.

Now I know what you're thinking, since when did James Mason become the movies' pedophilia go-to guy? But the twist here (and what's great about this character) is that he's genuinely taken by her as a muse. Even though this dame can't keep her kit on, he doesn't seem to have a sexual thought in his head about her. It's everyone else on the island (including Helen Mirren's drunken old sea hag of a Mum) who thinks Humbert Humbert has landed on their shores. And frankly everyone in the theater was initially thinking the same thing too. And that's where Michael Powell (sans his chum Pressburger) really fuels the fire. As the screen smolders with youthful sensuality and lush, wet, and warm Technicolor settings, the story keeps us focused on the paintings (done by Arthur Boyd). They are incredible - we see that indeed the beauty of the place and the model have been captured and distilled into essential and ecstatic artworks. It is a triumph of the artist's vision over the dirty old man's leer, though few who originally saw the film could get beyond the skin. Which is a shame because what we have here is a totally unpretentious tale of aesthetic sublimation. OK so yes, they get it on in the end, but it's not about that. Really. Despite the tone of the poster above. Or what the press reported.

The film is deadly funny too. The supporting cast is among the best I've ever seen - cartoony yes, but indelibly so. Mason is all rough edges and cantankerously charismatic, holding back in all the right ways, and completely believable as a painter. There is so much to relish and yet the film ultimately works as a result of what is left out - despite the glut of on screen information, there is no explaining or spoonfeeding. At times you feel you have to crane your neck to see what's around a corner or what Mason is painting.

I think Powell might have been the more experimental of the Archers. As a film, there are some bold cinematic mistakes in Age of Consent, and all of them are great risks that deserve full cheers from us progressive types.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Needless v. Needful Suffering...

When it comes to suffering, there seems to be almost universal agreement that "needless suffering" is wrong. But why the need for the word "needless" in there? It strongly implies that there is such a thing as NEEDFUL suffering. It is a concept not spoken of directly, the phrase gets no usage.

That said, it does seem that many troubles in society are the result of a judgment that needful suffering is acceptable. Many governments, corporations, and individuals are in the business of condoning needful suffering (often from afar). But don't blame them outright... the urge to cause and experience a multiplicity of sufferings lies within us all. It is clearly a fundamental part of the human condition and the basis of many religions. Still, I'm not exactly sure what needful suffering might be.

Is needful suffering the pain of innocent people who lose family members in the course of a "just" war? Is it the last ten minutes of a mass murderer's life in the execution chamber? Is it Christ on a cross? Is it the guilty payback an unconsciously masochistic CEO brings upon herself? Is it the inhumane processes of an industry that supplies meat to the masses? Is it the waterboarding of terrorist suspects? Is it childbirth?

Busy Americans tolerate a war that happens over there. But the fabric of our nation changes radically when something bad happens on our soil. There seems to be an undercurrent in this vengeful world that certain types of suffering should occur as long as we (you or I) don't have to inflict it or witness it. Armies and executioners do much of the heavy lifting for our dark wishes and agendas as well as our sense of justice. Maintaining an "out of sight/out of mind" mentality, and enjoying the fruits of countless unsavory, undeclared actions are key ingredients to the illusion of civilization. Maybe, Jack Nicholson was right.

("Helen Keller and Phiz" photo circa 1902)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

We are what we eat...

The first thing you'll want to forget about when eating elk is venison. "But isn't an elk just a big deer?" you ask. Technically, yes Cervus canadensis is the largest member of the deer family, but it's a bit like asking, "Isn't a turkey just a big chicken?" There is no comparison. (Elk technically falls under the generic "venison" rubric too, but what we generally mean when we say venison is deer.)

Venison is a gamey and tough meat that borders on the revolting. I might describe elk as filet mignon without the greasiness of beef. The tenderloin is a smoothly dense but delicate meat filled with astoundingly rich (but never overboard) flavors. Elk has less fat and more protein than beef or chicken and is often served with extra thin slices of bacon in order to add a self-selected morsel of fat to each forkfull. Delicious in the extreme. Thank you elk. You are a part of me now, and for the first time I understand the quality of elkiness.

For any vegetarians out there, I accept that this information is useless and possibly offensive. I've been a vegetarian. It's a drag and (for me) it's dishonest. Nature intended for us to eat one another. Life must consume life in order to live. I believe that upholding this cycle, eating only what is necessary to survive, and honoring the animals who give their lives for us is the system we are part of and should strive to keep in balance. Drawing a line somewhere that delineates what life you will consume (vegetables) and what life you won't (animals) is just a game that threatens the cycle, a hubristic trick of consciousness to assuage your needless guilt. {Then again, maybe I'm full of it. As creatures of free will, drawing lines is what we do and should be doing. PG1/26}

Best place for elk in Los Angeles is, without a doubt, The Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabassas, where Sarah took me for an unforgettable birthday dinner last night. It's a carnivore must.

("Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" by Windsor McCay)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

If only she could talk...

Koko, the "talking" gorilla, for those of you who are wondering, is alive and well. She is 35 years old and living in California. She has plans to move to Hawaii in the near future. She needs to escape all the hubbub surrounding her recent sexual harassment suits.

Yes dear readers, society has reached a new litigious low. An ape has been dragged into several prolonged court cases on account of her alleged nipple fetish. I'm just going to cut and paste from Wikipedia here, so enjoy...

"Koko has been involved in several sexual harassment lawsuits. At least three former employees, all female, have claimed that they were pressured into showing their breasts to Koko. They alleged that Dr. Patterson [Koko's primary keeper] encouraged the behavior, often interpreted Koko's signs as requests for nipple display, and let them know that their job would be in danger if they 'did not indulge Koko's nipple fetish.' Koko has been known to playfully grab both male and female nipples without warning or provocation. Dr. Patterson claims that Koko uses the word "nipple" to refer to humans. All claims of harassment have been permanently dropped as of 21 November 2005 after the foundation and the parties involved reached a settlement."

Considering the fact that a silverback gorilla is capable of tearing the engine out of a truck, I would think twice before offering my nipples to one, eloquent or not. But since it is the good doctor who keeps insisting that Koko really likes sweater puppies, one has to wonder who the real fetishist in this case might be...

All of which goes to say, was Sen. John McCain really asleep at Bush's State of the Union address last night? If so, Koko has the perfect wake up remedy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Anatomy of Comedy...

I was disappointed to see that "Children of Men" was not recognized by the Academy this morning at the nominations announcement. (Although certainly Emmanuel Lubezki should take home the Oscar for cinematography). Disappointed but not surprised. I agree with the New York Times - the voting body of the Academy is decidedly "prim."

I was happy to see Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" make the cut. I feel that somehow, that film could factor into our country's presidential future. It's a shame to make global warming a political issue. But policy matters with regards to the environment are too importantly different to ignore. Something to pay attention to in Bush's State of the Union address tonight.

Speaking of comedy, I was sad to see that "Borat" got the snub. As I see it, comedy is the most difficult of the performing arts for two reasons. The first is that some overly-associative function of the human brain says that while drama should be taken seriously, comedy can not. The perception that comedy is more frivolous and dismissable than drama is an unfortunate illusion. The second reason is that the way we experience comedy is cumulative. It can not borrow from its own material the way drama can. What made us laugh yesterday won't work today. In order for a comedy to truly inspire new and deep laughter, it is culturally obligated to surpass its previous high-water marks.

Fearing this challenge, most comedy either avoids this by going instead for the heartstrings (i.e. "Little Miss Sunshine") or running blindly into the realm of taboos ("American Pie" a million others). Crossing into the forbidden zones is the easiest way to up the ante, but of course it's what you do when you get there that counts. Cutting-edge comedy understands this - it's not about childishly summoning a taboo, it's about making all of us confront it. Doing that intelligently requires a dose of divine madness and a confident understanding of human folly. It is an art that few can muster. (I'll hand Best in Show for this ability to the British, hands down.)

Because good comedy is so hard to make, and because it has been reduced to simply chiselling away at the paradoxical underpinnings of society, our comedy reserves are being seriously depleted at the hands of amateurs. It is hard to say what this will mean in the future. Which will get us first? Global warming or a drought of new laughs?

("Fore!" by the devilishly outdated Art Frahm)

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Les cataphiles" of Paris...

Who doesn't love hearing about a secret society? The mere mention of those two words sparks the imagination in a way that few human endeavors can. They control the world after all. Whether they are up to good or no good, matters less than the fact that they are out there somewhere doing something off the charts. Of course, actually belonging to one of these underground groups would be a serious commitment. And once the secret is gone, all you are left with is the agenda, the big egos, the embarrassing rituals, and some moth-eaten robes. At the end of the day, it's probably a lot more fun to imagine what it's like to be in the Skull and Bones than to have actually been a member.

The Guardian reports that, in 2004, a fully-equipped cinema and restaurant was discovered in one of the forbidden sectors of the catacombs (with their famous ossuary) that sit beneath much of Paris. There are few clues as to who was using this cavern clubhouse, save some racist graffiti on the ceiling, a pressure cooker behind the bar ("for making cous cous" says the article), and a cache of films and video tapes dating back to the 1950s. The entrance was found off of an uncharted section of the catacombs located across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. It was marked as a closed building site and was wired with audio tapes of barking dogs and closed-circuit tv's to record any unwanted faces.

"There exist, however, several secretive bands of so-called cataphiles, who gain access to the tunnels mainly after dark, through drains and ventilation shafts, and hold what in the popular imagination have become drunken orgies but are, by all accounts, innocent underground picnics."

I'm sure...

(photo of boneyard in Paris catacombs by Vlastimil Juricek)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Barnacle sapiens...

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky was a Ukranian minerologist and geochemist who coined the term "noosphere," (which I'm sure you use liberally in your waterfountain chats). He is most known for his 1926 book, "The Biosphere," in which he speculated that life is the geological force that shapes the Earth. In other words, life and human cognition are integral parts of the earth and its development. In other words, we are to the Earth what plaque is to our teeth. Ideally, I suppose, we should be more like what Scrubbing Bubbles is to your bathroom.

V.I. Vernadsky

(top photo by Mona Kuhn)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Times Rolling Square Stones...

(aka: "How a Saturday afternoon became consumed by crashing computers, lost blog entries, and a final confrontation with my sub/urban rock & roll youth and its depressing but show-me-something-better-that's-come-along-since inconography")

Speaking of parallel paths, I'd like to draw a direct comparison between Times Square in Manhattan and the rock band The Rolling Stones with regards to their rise and fall over time. To help illustrate this juxtaposition, there's a handy timeline for Times Square here and one for the Stones here.

On January 20, 1904 (103 years ago today) a cornerstone was laid on the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway for an ultra-modern building that would house the new towering offices of The New York Times. What had been known as Longacre Square was officially renamed Times Square on April 18, 1904. On July 26th and December 18th of that year, respectively, Michael Philip Jagger and Keith Richard (the "s" was added later) were born somewhere in England. The first sprang from the union of a peacock and a pipecleaner, the second from a crocodile and a bottle of rum.

Over the next sixty years Times Square saw increasingly hard times as major businesses left the city for the cheaper suburbs. Their departure created a vacuum that sucked in all manner of scabrous and sinful lowlives. A seemingly endless array of porn theaters and sex shops and massage parlors spread across the area like so many fishes and loaves. Buildings fell into serious disrepair, and remained standing only because of the unconscious junkies and winos jammed into their door and alleyways. Meanwhile in England, there was a similar gray and depraved palor that characterized the urban centers, one of which was where a strangely youthful Jagger and Richards began strumming guitars and making devil music with Brian Jones and some other longhairs.

By the mid 1960s Times Square had "spiraled downward from a place of cheap thrills to one of total debasement." The police, aka "The Fuzz" could not keep up with the crime and violence of the seedy neighborhood. Meanwhile in 1964, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" became the first number one song to feature the fuzz guitar effect that would come to dominate rock music for the next thirty years. The Rolling Stones were quickly becoming known as "not the Beatles" as in, not cuddly or cute, but a preening, marauding band of sex pirates come up from the underworld straight into your daughter's underpants. They were on a mission to destroy authority and corrupt youth with all the booze and pills and powders and black magic in the book. Marketing ploy or not, in the latter half of the 60s they would make some of the most compelling and sweetly satanic music the world had ever tasted. It was as if the band were in lock step with the horrific grit and grizzle of Times Square, they fed off of the urban depravity all around us and spun it into the soundtrack of our lives. When a young fan was stabbed and killed by one of the Hell’s Angeles hired to run security at the Stone’s free concert in Altamont California in Dcember of 1969, it was as though the die were cast for the decade to come.

By the 1970s there was not a trace of pride or romance left in Times Square. The place was abandoned – a stinking hellhole left to suffocate in its own fetid and pathological sauce. I remember this version well from my youth (more early 80s actually, but well before the cleanup). The images flicker: A drunk extracts all the money from my wallet with the promise of being able to see a naked woman behind a locked door. I bought a homeless man a harmonica. He wanted one. Who was I to say no? I am sitting between two giant stacks of watermelons on a hot summer day watching the police arrest a young hooker. How could I, a sheltered pair of eyes who grew up around trees and open fields, not be fascinated and drawn into this parallel rotting universe? The decay was so indisputably real and alive, and somehow even beautiful in its honest portrayal of the basest notes of the human condition. Strange educations will find us.

The 70s was a decade full of magnificent bottom notes for the Stones as well. Wealthy and famous, holed up in foreign castles, on the run from taxmen and drug pushers, indulging in carnal pleasures that made Roman orgies look like May pole dances, and exploring new creative frontiers from the depths of their uncensored excess and debauchery, the band was also making some searingly brilliant and possessed music. Music that could only be borne of their collective descent into the shit and garbage covered seabed. And just as some covet the sweet meat of bottom-feeding crustacea, so too did global youth devour the Stones’ dirty messages. They were bad for you and you liked it.

Much of this response had to do with Richards firm control over the band’s creative output. He wanted the blues, but he overshot them and took us into the blacks. But as his self-abuse rendered him increasingly incoherent and horizontal, it was Jagger, another London School of Economics enrollee, who reclaimed the reigns. His first mandate was to get the band out of bell-bottoms and into spandex. Disco was in the air and Jagger was determined to hear himself on the dance floor at Studio 54. It was a bold move, not without its moments, but not without its embarrassments either. Like two ships passing in the night the power shift from Richards’ journeyman to Jagger’s businessman created an intensity that would produce their last great (and disco-free) album: “Tatoo You” (side two of which remains one of the great end-of-summer lazy afternoon stretches of so-called rock music).

The rest of the story, the parallel paths of Times Square and The Rolling Stones are not worth going into at length. With the dawn of the 80s came the death of John Lennon, the loss of creative vision, and the ascent of shoulderpads and Reagonomics. The band and the square both became brands and very soon, greedy parodies of their former selves. As cliche as it sounds, the Stones sold out. With a back catalog no intact act could match, no (good) new material was needed, only excuses to tour. And so the creative plug was pulled. In the case of Times Square, it was clearly time for a change. It is easy to glamorize decay in retrospect, but crime and violence and crack babies falling out of windows is entirely indefensible. The center of the city had become a black hole and the new world order was ready to flex its muscle. That under the heavy hands of Giuliani and Bloomberg it would become a 21st Century Disneyland, a safe place for the MTV generation to bask in its own neon glow and spend its disposable income at forgettable consumer havens, is sad but unsurprising.

And so the parallel paths converge, not in the distance, but here in our present. Keith Richards is set to appear in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the Stones will tour again borrowing equity from their past. Times Square will continue to glitz it up and become a Hollywood-style theme park all to ready to forget it’s grimier days. Even The New York Times is getting a new home.

Is there any chance that any of these tired institutions will be able to drum up another interesting chapter? It’s unlikely... Once you’ve scrubbed the stripes off a tiger there’s no going back. Or is it better to say that Stones gone square and Squares that don’t roll can only gather moss?

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Will to Feudal Darwinism...

This recent BBC article gets my goat. It reports a theory by London School of Economics evolutionary theorist, Oliver Curry, that the human race could peak in the next 1000 years and then split into two new sub-species, a dominant "upper class that is tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative," and an "underclass who will have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat, goblin-like creatures."

Hmm... London School of Economics and human evolution... so glad our speculations for the future are in the hands of the money people. I don't know what Mr. Curry is thinking. He's the expert, and I don't want to derail his academic investigations. But to me, this kind of "parallel path" thinking takes Darwin's notion of survival of the fittest to new lows - what we've got here seems nothing less than an unconscious yearning for and psychic engineering of a "lackey" class. It's what I call Feudal Darwinism. I thought we'd sort of already addressed this concept with that little slavery experiment our species tried out for a few thousand years. But hey, if it was a really bad idea the first time, why not put it out there again?

Americans are obsessed with class, it's true, but leave it to the British (who might be one good reason why Americans are so obsessed with class) to come up with this grim and divisive vision of the future. (They've already done it with their airlines.) Self-fulfilling prophecy? Wishful thinking perhaps? Or maybe it's true: Humanity is just a vain, shallow, two-tiered clusterfuck of haves and havenots scrambling for a genealogical destiny that will reflect one's inborn sense of entitlement or oppression.

Again, I would argue that any future "snapshot" of humanity comes down to the dominant threads we actively sew into our collective consciousness today. We have at our disposal an incredible range of tools that can spread ideas and initiatives to the farthest corners of the planet. If we continue to ignore the deep evolutionary content of our media and milk those airwaves for every nickel and dime possible, well, we will get the future we deserve. If we happen to own or contribute to a media outlet, and get into the business of promoting out-of-context excerpts of big ideas that can tamper with our destiny, then I guess we have only our grotesque, selfish notions and an increasingly warped future to look forward to. Will we recognize the warp once we're in it? Do we now?

("Saturn Devouring One of His Children" by Francisco Goya)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Centaurs & Minotaurs...

With all of this modernity around, how easy is it to get your centaurs and minotaurs confused? Pretty easy. Let's get the basics straight once and for all...

Centuars, half man and half horse, were born from the union of Ixion, a king of the Lapiths, and a cloud that Jupiter changed to resemble Juno. In mythology they are described as savage and course creatures and are symbolic of the basest level of human nature. They look like this (on the left):

The Minotaur is a singular beast, said to have the head of a bull and a human body. It is the offsprign of Pasiphae, the wife of king Minos of Crete, and a bull sent by Neptune. Upon receiving the bull, Minos decides to keep it rather than sacrifice it. Neptune is insulted and as punishment makes Pasiphae fall in love with the bull. Daedalus makes her a cow costume which she wears in order to approach the bull and make love with it. Nine months later, out popped the Minotaur. Freaked out, Minos commissions Daedalus to build a Labyrinth in which the Minotaur is locked. Seven men and seven maidens are handed over to the beast each year as a sacrifice. The Minotaur probably looked like this (from behind):

("Minerva and the Centaur" by Sandro Botticelli, 1485)
("The Minotaur" by George Frederick Watts, 1885)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mousepad Traveler...

Cold enough for you? Even here in Los Angeles the citrus has frozen in the trees. It's going to be a scurvy-filled springtime. After an extended late-night, Google-powered, travel-porn, bourgeois-fantasy session, I've decided that the best place to escape the chill is in Morocco. I've never been, so I won't pretend to know what's what. On the surface and from a distance, its exotic draw is mighty.

These two mod medinas, Dar Beida and Dar Emma, in the bohemian beach town of Essaouira seem like the kind of chic retreats where you and your closest comrades could plan a revolution (or at least the outfits to wear to one).

More Moroccan getaways here. Tablet Hotels is, by the way, an excellent service, and a great way to satiate your exotic boutique hotel curiosities from the safety of your own dull existence.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Information Cake...

I know, I know... my theories have all of the intellectual rigor and complexity of a small fluffy white cloud. But ultimately, Gazpachotzoid crackpot theories are at your service - they're entertainingly brazen, they contain seeds of truth (embedded in a core of pure fantasy), they wobble, and ultimately you get the pleasure of popping their flimsy structure. Like bubble wrap. I'm the Willy Wonka of half-baked confectional notions. I won't hide my admiration for the great eccentric and esoteric theorists, true geniuses like Rupert Sheldrake, who attempt to turn the universe upside-down in a few sentences.

Sheldrake is a celebrated British biologist and author who has put forth many revolutionary and hotly contested ideas about untapped aspects of our biological nature. He is best known for his theory of morphic resonance and his basic experiments (or proofs) that anyone can perform. Morphic theory simply proposes that "phenomena - particularly biological ones - become more probable the more often they occur... Biological growth and behaviour become guided into patterns laid down by previous similar events. The laws of nature are better thought of as mutable habits that have evolved since the Big Bang." (from Wikipedia)

So, as things recur they create readable patterns, waves, or morphic fields, which evolve as they are "read". Even abstract things such as thoughts emanating from a brain, are recognizable morphic fields which can be tuned in and "inherited" by others.

"The morphic fields of mental activity are not confined to the insides of our heads," writes Sheldrake. "They extend far beyond our brain though intention and attention. We are already familiar with the idea of fields extending beyond the material objects in which they are rooted: for example magnetic fields extend beyond the surfaces of magnets; the earth’s gravitational field extends far beyond the surface of the earth, keeping the moon in its orbit; and the fields of a cell phone stretch out far beyond the phone itself. Likewise the fields of our minds extend far beyond our brains."

He continues: "The morphic fields of social groups connect together members of the group even when they are many miles apart, and provide channels of communication through which organisms can stay in touch. They help provide an explanation for telepathy. There is now good evidence that many species of animals are telepathic. Telepathy is normal not paranormal, natural not supernatural, and is also common between people, especially people who know each other well."

Test your morphic fields and telepathic abilities here.

("Information Cake" photo from here)

Monday, January 15, 2007

NIT Theory and American Karma...

You've heard of string theory. I'd like to propose NIT Theory. N.I.T. - Necessary Initial Toxicity. My theory, not pretty, states that there are certain mass human endeavors that require nasty beginnings in order to get their system going. This negative phase can be the result of ignorance or direct intent. Once the proposed system is underway and functioning, then it can be corrected, elements of toxicity can be removed or whitewashed, reconfigured, or neutralized through a built up tolerance. The way in which the toxic beginnings are dealt with down the line is directly tied to the overall health and sustainability of the culture behind the system. There are many examples of NIT Theory to choose from... Take agriculture/nutrition in the 20th Century.

As the United States and other parts of the world took on the task of feeding their masses (engaged in the industrial revolution and no longer able to farm their own food), pesticides came into wide use. These pesticides were bad for you, some downright deadly, but... They kept the bugs and the diseases away, and places like the United States were able to keep the majority of people from going hungry. As time has worn on, and we have come to see the damage that pesticides can cause, we are seeing a huge resurgence of organic farming and other agricultural/nutritional practices that reflect a less taxing system.

Another example would be energy/automobiles. The gas combustion engine was a necessary evil on the road to our mass locomotion. We now want cleaner energy sources, cleaner cars. We're not there yet, but the issue is on the table. No one can deny the toxic element, it's just a question of how embroiled the archaic system is in our leadership and our national habit/adaptability.

Another example would be the elimination of native people from the land in order to create our present day USA. The indigenous cultures were perceived as threats and obstacles to our forefather's vision of a new world order. Ugly things happened. And yet a very interesting and progressive country was born. How we've dealt with this issue (whitewashing, denial, reparations, reservations, etc.) is arguably connected to much of the way we behave (and suffer our own ignorance) in the world today.

John Wayne, aka The Duke, aka a boy called Marion, thought taking the land away from the Indians was the right thing to do. He was famously quoted in Playboy as saying, "The Indians were selfishly trying to keep America for themselves!" Wow... with that kind of logic, I wonder what John Wayne made of Martin Luther King.

(John Wayne in hot pants w. lady shoes and bag. Correction or Corruption?)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Aventure vs. Experiment (after seeing Mogambo)...

"Adventurous is not experimental. Experiment belongs to the laboratory. Adverture to life. Much of recent art has been merely experimental. It tries poetry with first one element then another omitted. It leaves out the head. Then it is too emotional. It leaves out the heart. Then it is too intellectual. It leaves out the feet. Then it is free verse. Adventure ends in the poorhouse. Experiment in the madhouse."

- Robert Frost

From "The Notebooks of Robert Frost" (exerpted from Harper's)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why does so much art...

...look like "art"?

("Column II" by Keith Sonnier)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blonde & Expressionless...

"It was a blonde.

A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."

- Raymond Chandler

(Jean Seberg, Debbie Harry, Corrine Marchand, not smiling)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Biofeedback: Meeting People is Easy!

What did His Holiness Pope John Paul II and Marlon Brando have in common with the Canadian Women's Alpine Ski Team? They all used biofeedback in their professions to help them reduce stress and find their "natural" selves in public situations.

Let's face it, hell is other people. You walk into a space full of them, say a party, or a gallery opening, or while walking around the Holy See, and suddenly you're bombarded by all this haywire energy ricocheting around you like a million bouncing rubber balls. At moments like these, communication can seem like an impossibility. The sheer spectacle of humanity overwhelms the senses and can prevent any meaningful participation.

On the other hand, it can be great. We all feed off the energy and attention of others, at times in the extreme, and once in a blue moon, like Takeru Kobayashi locked up in Pinks. Social situations can be so surreal at times they can bring about an OBE. Which can be welcomed or horrifying.

But whether or not you are consciously up to meeting with others, there's another factor at play. There's always going to be a part of our unconscious-caveman-brain that feels threatened in groups. "Who are these people and what are they going to do to me?" murmurs that deep, inner club-wielding voice. In some, this triggers a mild panic response: your hackles go up, your palms sweat, your heartrate increases, and your thinking becomes disorganized. People who deal with these issues often consider themselves shy, and avoid public situations. Which is sad. Many of those people would bring tremendous offerings to group dynamics.

Which brings me to biofeedback. Many shy and stressed-out type-A types swear by this tech-managed behavior modification. Actually, I have very limited information on this practice, I just remember reading about Marlon Brando constantly using an EMG machine. My understanding of it is that you are systematically training yourself to control your nervous system, to regulate your responses to external stimuli, especially things that might make you anxious such as crowds or public performance. By being able to see and monitor your heartbeat, your body temperature, and other functions, you can gradually learn to curtail the involuntary metabolic spikes and muscle tightening that prevent you from behaving "naturally," i.e. the relaxed sense of self you have when you are alone or with a loved one.

In the case of Brando, I believe he was doing the opposite. He was training himself to be able to spike, or "freak out," at will. He was attempting to deconstruct the stronger human emotions, break them down into their physical components. You would assume that this would be for his acting, but I'm not so sure. Brando was a world-class kook. He was one of the great self-experimenters and a serious dabbler in the sciences and pseudo-sciences. He was also years ahead of his times - investing (and ultimately squandering) his millions into organic soy-based foods and hemp-based-manufacturing, wind farms, solar energy, human rights activism, and lobster research. (I'm guessing that the last one included melted butter research as well.) It is a little known fact that Brando attained such a level of control over his body and mental state through biofeedback that when he decided to be circumcised later in life, he went under the knife without anesthesia.

Finally, I wonder what the relationship is between these biofeedback machines and the Scientologist's beloved E-meter? I suppose one could do a little more research before blogging, but I never claimed to be an expert. Only the generalist gets to know and enjoy the full extent of his or her curiosity without being bogged down by all those pesky, time consuming details...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The anthropic principle...

Hey you, over there, with your breathing and your heartbeating and your lazy ass in a chair. What's the deal? Why are you here? What makes you so special? Huh? If your answer is, "the anthropic principle," well, you may just be right.

This is a broad term cosmologists and physicists use in discussing the overwhelmingly improbable organization of the universe after the chaos of the big bang, and more specifically, how this organization seems strangely conducive, and even hospitable to life. Starting macro, consider the number of dimensions our universe has, the physical constants, the neat dispersement of galaxies, keep going until you get all the way down to the precise placement of Earth in our solar system - a sliver of orbit perfectly zoned for complex multi-cellular lifeforms (who are in turn capable of observing this "friendly" universe). One little change in the order of things and poof, we don't exist.

Ultimately, this is THE great mystery - "a philosophical goldmine" - since no rational, scientific model of turbulence driven structuring could possibly yield such a stable and elegant arrangement of matter after a big bang. In short, either the universe is by nature a sort of life making machine, or us conscious beings are just one possible, random byproduct of the conditions that occur in the making of universes. We're either here because we must be, or we're here completely by accident. For further distinctions (and deubunkings) of these so-called strong and weak anthropic principles have a look here.

There is of course another take on all this. Intelligent design. There are believers and cosmologists who argue that the anthropic principle suggests the existence of God. Some religious folk will take this further and use the principle as proof that the Earth is actually the center of the universe, and that all of this stuff was built around us as a theater for some epic drama in which we are all players. To say that this flies in the face of science seems unnecessary. Personally, I am deeply intrigued by the murky reach of our understanding, the terra incognita out beyond the fringes of science where things don't make sense anymore. Where all we are left with is the fact of our existence and our ability to make myths. Out there on that shaky metaphysical branch is where we need to be if we have any intentions of recreating the universe to form fit our own mythological template.

(Space Baby from 2001: A Space Odyssey)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I enjoy Bill Barminski's anti-logos...

By now we will have seen many variations of this kind of work, but Bill Barminski is really very good at it. These symbols look really good big and in person. And they look really good here in digital form too (click on zee pic). See lots of BB's work here. I wonder if he does work for Adbusters? Or Wacky Packages?

Monday, January 08, 2007

John Cage Silent Ringtone...

Thanks Tatiana for passing this on (via Jumbrella). Great!

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats has created the world's first silent ringtone, a bootleg of John Cage's famous piano piece that contains four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Cage performed 4'33" live before an audience in 1952. But, says Keats, Cage was limited by the technologies available at the time. His silence wasn't perfect because it wasn't digital -- nor could it be freely distributed via sound files. So Keats wrote "My Cage," a 4:33 minute ringtone of pure, unadulterated silence. You can get it for free from Start Mobile, a ringtone distributor, and Keats urges people to remix and mashup his ringtone as much as they wish.

Highly recommended!

John Cage I Ching anyone?

Unusual version of 4'33" here.

(photo by William Gedney)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Job Security...

You want to use what you've got. You figure it couldn't be that nature would equip you with tools that don't apply to this reality. You scan the horizon, you open every door, you scrutinize the underside of every rock and the wet depths of every cave. It's hard to find a match. You paint wall-sized murals of ancient mythological themes and they want someone who can print the coupon circular on a grain of rice. You have a knack for clog-dancing in the headlands and they want someone who can noodle for flatheads in the riverbeds. You can perform painless open heart surgery with a violin bow and glitter, but no one believes you. You start to lower the bar, devalue yourself. Be sensible man! Maybe you should work your way up to flipping burgers. Start with the grease fryer. Give it your all! At least you got in on the ground floor. Phew! Doesn't that feel better? Security is on its way... with early injections of embalming fluid at no extra charge.

Aim "high" amigos. I put that in quotes because really, there is no hierarchy. The ladder is mostly an illusion. There's no set climb. Where you end up is mostly a reflection of your self-worth and your perception of how this all works. Your awareness of the relative arbitrariness of things like money can make all the difference. As my friend Jonathan, a dealer of rare books, says, "You can deal in books that are worth $10 or you can deal in books that are worth $10,000. It's the same amount of work." As I see it, most people tend to get stuck on the shelf they slot themselves into. Better choose that shelf wisely. Is it better to be a $10,000 book than a $10 book? Don't even try to answer that, it's a trick question.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Euro bucks buck...

Not much time to write today, we're on a secret mission, but I would suggest that if you are interested in geopolitics, economics, war, and the future of the planet, I'd be keeping my eye on the global shift from economies based on the wilting US Dollar to the blazing hot Euro... Who's switched over, who hasn't, who wants to, and who might try to stop them. As always: Follow the money.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Dehydrating planet...

Remember those fantasies you used to have as a kid - the ones where the oceans dried up and you were able to walk along the ocean floor and find all the sunken treasure and other interesting stuff that had fallen into Davy Jones' Locker? Don't hold your breath, but don't give up on the idea entirely.

As climates become indisputably warmer and wetter, the big question is will evaporation exceed precipitation or vice versa? Many high altitude lakes are experiencing all time high water levels because of the increased snow melt that warmer weather brings. But in less mountainous areas, the opposite is true. Lakes and other inland water bodies are evaporating away. Even in places where the warm weather brings about an marked increase in rainfall, the lakewater temperature, even at bottom depths, has gone up enough to accelerate evaporation beyond the rain's replenishing powers. Less water means greater concentrations of salt (if present) and pollution (most likely present). If you hear a fish coughing on your next camping trip, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Without sounding too much like Al Gore, I can not suppress my personal alarm any more. I believe we've made it too easy to destroy our own home. A radical shift in our collective perception of Nature is what we need. Our connection to it and impact upon it. I believe they used to call that education, before the media co-opted our minds... Speaking of which, in the great new film, Children of Men, set twenty years in the future, we see a cold, cruel, corrupt world (which is aesthetically a million times more interesting that what we've got now, but that's another story). Power struggles fear and myopia (not to mention a literally barren future) have brought man's tyrannical instincts to the foreground. The Earth chokes underneath. Only the hippies get it right - hang loose, have fun, fuck authority, love your friends, love your planet. Hippies always get a bad rap on account of their scrappy habits and frizzy hair, but this film does a good job of reminding us of their strengths. Michael Caine is fantastic.

OK where was I... Urbanization and sprawl of the (sub)urban worldview have estranged us from the massive living organism beneath our feet - the one that keeps us all from imploding in the vacuum of space. Time for a new understanding, a new relationship, a new action plan. Forget the labels, forget the stereotypes. Hang the greedy idiots who are enabling our planet's cancer and our own self-asphyxiation. We use the economy as an excuse to destroy ourselves. How about economies that serve life rather than enslave it? I know that's just too damn rosey a notion for many of you to take, but trust me, even if the planet were given a 100% clean bill of health, we would still find dozens of brilliant ways to manifest the evil we hold so dear.

(this amazing photo comes from here)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Which "Nature" were you speaking of?

"Kinski always says nature is full of erotic elements. I don’t see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing; I think they just screech in pain. Taking a close look at what’s around us, there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder."
- Werner Herzog, probably not the next president of the Sierra Club.

("Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo" by Henri Rousseau)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"The Killshot" and other Endgames...

Not to start 2007 off on too much of a down note, but... I do feel it's my journalistic responsibility to keep you informed of various doom scenarios as they cross my path.
I mean these are things you might want to know before you put money down on that timeshare in Mauritius.

Major Edward A. Dames is a retired U.S. Army and CIA intelligence officer, known for his claim to be able to conduct remote viewing or RV. Using this technique, he has made some frighteningly accurate predictions about the future, such as an 8.7 magnitude earthquake that occurred in Indonesia in March of 2005, and the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Korean Peninsula in 2006.

Perhaps his biggest claim to date is that a deadly solar flare, aka "The Killshot," is heading our way. Dames claims the Killshot will destroy between one and two-thirds of all life on Earth. He originally predicted the flare would hit by early 2007, one so strong that it would take out all satellite communications and a significant portion of terrestrial bio-matter along with it. Currently, he appears to have adjusted his prediction to "some time in the next ten years." If you want to find out how to survive The Killshot, you'll have to buy Major Dames' DVD on the subject for $24.95. It seems a small price to pay.

If The Killshot doesn't meet your personal eschatological requirements, there are plenty of armageddons out there to choose from. Go through the list and see which scenario lights your fire. Pick a date that works for your schedule. Just remember, ordering a la carte is always more expensive.

Want to have a go at remote viewing? Here's a fun test.

(Solar coronal mass ejection, or CME, with strong proton showers, Nov. 2000)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Choosing your lens...

This is my semi-cracked, unifying, socio-economic film theory of close-ups and long shots... It is an attempt to align the worldview of particular classes of people to certain types of camera lenses and cinematic compositions. It's a bit reductive and deliberate. Give me a break, I've got a nasty cold. I'll lay out the suitcases and you can unpack them.

Wealthy/Conservatives are all about the long shot. The way the unflinching rich live (and the conservatives who defend their lifestyle) requires the formal distance and indifference a wide field of view offers, where troubling details (such as the horror of poverty, death, and human suffering) are drowned out by grand, curated spaces and bedazzling vistas. And even when close ups are necessary, it's still a long way to look down one's nose, beyond one's entitlement and ideology.

Poor/Liberals are all about the close-up. Their world happens right in front of their eyes. Every pock mark, every flaw, every cruel detail is right there asserting a reality that won't go away. The way the poor live (and the liberals who fight for their rights) is typically about marginalization to less desirable and less spacious spaces. Pain, death and suffering are regular occurrences, immediate and intimate. The value of small things comes into sharp focus.

You can see this exemplified in thousands of movies, but I think the best is Rules of the Game or La Règle du Jeu, (1939, image above). Here in the legendary hunt sequence we first see the magnificent pageantry of the hunt: the grand estate, the tweedy costumes (a conservative form of drag), the endless rules and expectations, the chess board maneuvering through wilderness (with the underclassmen stirring the rabbits from hiding), and the ultimate lack of any real talent (the terrified rabbits are run straight into a wall of twittering houseguests armed with shotguns). Animals, tiny blips on the screen, are killed thoughtlessly while their murderers chit-chat and manage their petty intrigues and affairs. But then Renoir gives us an important break from all of this grand eye candy. He inserts close ups of the rabbits being shot, he stays with them as they draw their last breath and their muscles spasm and contract. We see the perspective that the pre-occupied guests have lost. In order for their system to work, they must be able to inflict death upon lesser creatures and think nothing of it. This requires lots of space to reduce the intensity of their actions.

By the way, I knew I'd seen Marcel Dalio, the actor who plays Robert de la Chesnaye in Rules of the Game, somewhere recently, and now I remember where.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Sending '06 out with a bang...

Sarah's new-found obsession with making ultra-deluxe pinatas is amassing an enthusiastic cadre of followers... Her fantastic thanksgiving turkey tapped a bloated crowd's final energy spike before the inevitable L-triptaphan crash. It was over fast and furious after five sugar-high drunkards went spastic on the well-girded bird.

And last night, just seconds before twelve bells, her "2006: Bye Bye to Rumsfeld & Pluto" (seen here from the Rummy side, giving forth its booty) was the undisputed hit of the festivities. This paper mache orb was filled with miniature liquor bottles, gold confetti, and tiny horses, of course. It took nine people whacking the whiffle bat to get to the goods. And dozens more to cheer on and confuse the dizzy bat swinger. Whether you're looking to energize your beloved comrades, or thaw a group of hipsters, or make that shy guest come out of his or her shell, girl's got her eye on the best hanging item this side of the Euphrates.

(photo by Paul Gachot)