Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In trying to articulate my own "theory" of art, of drama, what-have-you--in short, an explanation of the why my work is what it is--I find myself coming back on attempts at representation in art, by which I mean literal representations of an issue or event in a given medium.

None of my writing, for the screen and the stage, is naturalistic. I don't take an extreme, Samuel Beckett-lite absurdist route, and I always grapple with issues of motivation. But the behavior of my characters, whether it's in speaking entirely in iambic pentameter or committing genocide on people of a certain hair color, is not something you would ever see in the real world, even amongst the craziest of crazies. In those given examples, it's actually a heightening of a characteristic that already exists. The best explanation I can think of is that in dealing with issues and ideas, art (or at least my art) works best when naturalistic representation is eschewed in favor of symbolism, or a warping of reality into something more extreme. Since we all interpret events differently, what better way to communicate that interpretation than by presenting not as it literally is, but how I see it?

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

This sounds totally ridiculous, but this post was spurred by the video above, one Andrew Sullivan's Mental Health Award Nominees. I have no idea what, if anything, it's trying to say. But the bizarre imagery on display in the graffiti freaked me out much more than anything I saw last night in the first two parts of "House of Saddam" (which nonetheless looks like a pretty good mini-series) last night. I think the very unrealness of the animation is what makes it so unsettling. Live-action representation of the extreme can never fully succeed, it seems, because the real is attempting to recreate, in a fictional context, real horror. An animation, because it is, voices excluded, wholly removed from the real world, operates in its own context outside of regular reality. This is why Peter Weiss, in his forward for The Investigation specifically warns against trying to re-enact both the Auschwitz trials and the atrocities described. Nothing can possibly do them justice, and so we reach for symbols and gestures to illustrate the horror.

I could write a play directly addressing some issue burning a hole in my mind, but I don't. For one thing, most straightforward, "issue" plays don't interest me and come off just in concept as extremely preachy. I prefer to make the situations even more extreme, absurd, grotesque, in order to highlight their folly without having to spell it out. Religious fundamentalism, and much of religion, aspires to supremacy but is intellectually impoverished; what better way to illustrate this than to re-enact a particular religious atrocity with the characters speaking the kind of heightened language of their holy books employed to beguile others? Even with the linguistic and dramaturgical benefit of the doubt the vacuity of the religious (fundamentalist) case is there for all to see.

This isn't to say I don't enjoy naturalism. If I didn't, I'd have to skip most cinema, even drama. But for me, addressing ideas, which are themselves intangible, is best done by symbol and metaphor and employment of the unreal. Attempts to manipulate the real world for such an end will never be fully successful. For me, anyway. Better artists seem to do quite well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Court of Appeals

Buried in this New York Times story about five 9/11 planners trying to get an easy death sentence was this nugget:

For the first time, the Pentagon arranged for relatives of 9/11 victims to travel to Guantánamo to attend the session. A group of them, who spoke to reporters afterward, said they were struck by the extensive rights accorded the accused men.

This is a cheap emotional appeal, designed to stir up memories of 9/11 and divert the focus from not just the questionable legality of these military tribunals, but also the torture that was used to extract information (at least from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad), a fact that isn't mentioned in the article at all. What happened on 9/11 was awful, but it in no way qualifies anyone to be an authority on the "extensive rights" given to the prisoners.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Tempest is Music to My Ears

Elliot Goldenthal is set to score his partner/wife Julie Taymor's adaptation of The Tempest, which will hopefully be out next year. Goldenthal is my favorite film composer (his Alien3 work is frightening stuff, and Titus has an amazing eclecticism), and while it was a given that he would do the soundtrack--he's worked in conjunction with Taymor for years--it's nice to see it in writing and confirmed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"In the Future, Everyone Will be Famous for 15 People"

Via Andrew Sullivan, we have a post from Arianna Huffington about the deepening of the financial crisis, and using blogging as a means of coping.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to unpack my reasons for starting this blog, and for (so far) doing little to promote it. I've always had strong opinions about politics, and think that at least once in awhile I can dress my opinions down in some fine caustic wit. I'd wanted to blog for awhile and even did so at ProgressiveU in a scholarship competition, but there were guidelines on content and length, and so it felt like a lot of essay writing with little of the conversational tone that my favorite blogs contain. Eventually I stopped because it was just too much work. I did have an occasional audience, though.

I myself am not sure why I haven't told all my friends to come visit my blog. A large part of it is probably insecurity (note the qualifer 'probably,' itself denoting my uncertainty). Blogging is rather geeky and narcissistic, and on some level I don't want them to know. On a more deeper level, I would like to enjoy some level of anonymity, which is hard when the only people who know your page exists are the people you interact with in the real world every day. Finally, perhaps a part of me doesn't want this to be read. Oh, it's in the public and so I'm not going to say anything too shaming, but it is putting myself out on a limb, and I would prefer the people who visit this site do so out of an interest in what I'm saying, and not as a voyeuristic means of peering into my mind. But it is nice interacting with people. At the beginning of last (school) year I was tapped to moderate at ProgressiveU, but I turned the offer down because I was too busy. I may inquire about offer after I graduate. What else am I going to do?

Yes, another reason for starting this is the vain hope that I get noticed and someone will eventually want to pay me to bloviate. And with the future so uncertain, I figure I might as well start sending out some feelers and making the most of my skills (opinion writing, cartooning, playwrighting/acting(/directing?) to see if something sticks. Unfortunately my skills lie in the arts, which are always the first to suffer financially, if not creatively, during an economic downturn. It's a hell of a time to join the job market, but at the end of this year I'll be financially and academically tapped out, and need some time to recharge. Joe Strummer once said the future is unwritten, but in this case it is more so, in part because our leadership of the last eight years has been illiterate. Writing is my greatest strength, however, so I guess I am most qualified do something about it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memo to Myself on India

I have little of substance to add regarding the atrocities in Mumbai of the past few days. I will note, though, that 9/11 and the ensuing 7 years have given us a stark example of how much mayhem a handful of maniacs can carry out--by letting their enemies (that's us!) self-destruct in knee-jerk paranoia. India has seen much more domestic terrorism of this sort than we have, and hopefully its people and government are better equipped psychologically than we were.

Words, words, words

I was reading TNR's lovely takedown of Slavoj Zizek and came across a passage talking of his obsession with Jacques Lacan. I've recently been exposed to a most incomprehensible sample of their thinking in an article (subscribers only, unfortunately. Go to school!) on cannibalism and revenge. I was utterly befuddled by all of its hifalutin talk of the Real and the Symbolic, so I was quite happy to see my opinion validated on Lacan's Wikipedia page.

Hey, Deconstructionist! Deconstruct this!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Stop Believin'

via Andrew Sullivan:

The Washington Blade reports that stories of Obama sitting on ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell are premature.

“These decisions will not be made before the full national security team is in place,” the spokesperson said.

What a world we live in, where trying to let teh gays in the military is a national security issue.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I should note (for myself only, at this point) that I find much of the Dogme 95 manifesto to be a ridiculous fetishization of many tenets of the Mariachi Style, which as I said was dictated largely by necessity. A lack of technical polish of any sort--even of the limited means available to low-budget filmmakers--does not make an audience "more engaged as they do not have overproduction to alienate them from the narrative, themes, and mood." It has the opposite effect of drawing attention away from the acting and characters and story to the film's technical poverty. For the musical equivalent, listen to Metallica's St. Anger.

For a literary equivalent,

I think even Beckett and Faulkner would have drawn the line there.

Travis Wilkerson's "Who Killed Cock Robin?", a relatively obscure piece screened at the (now sadly defunct) True West Cinema Festival in 2004, used a similarly extreme lo-fi approach and ruined any good will I might have had. This is significant because I caught his documentary An Injury to One, which was essentially about the same subject (the troubled story of Butte, Montana), and was very sympathetic to the story and idea. But the tinny sound and the nauseating camera distracted from all of that, and I curse it bitterly.

I'm not saying all movies should have the best tech specs (for a fine example of rough camera work put to great use, see Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later). I just think, and I reiterate, that in any endeavor, people should make the best of everything they have available. I know I'm just talking to myself about a disbanded movement, but the point of this blog is not only to tell others what I think, but also to better understand it myself. I don't want my senior project to be ugly. I want it to be valid, at least in my eyes, and to be able to take it places. And though my efforts will be about as effective as a monkey screaming into a hurricane, I'll do my part to oppose unnecessarily ugly art.

Of course, maybe my opinion would change if I actually saw a Dogme 95 film. But, I think the fact that none of the filmmakers could live up to its Vow of Chastity tells me all I need to know.

(edited to fit the literary example in the page frame)

Chinese Democracy

On Purity

In attempting to figure out how I'm going to shoot a film for my senior project (if indeed I am to shoot an entire script, a prospect still uncertain), I've looked to various schools of thought and methodologies on low-budget filmmaking and have come to realize the limits not just of certain ideologies, but of all pigeon-holing and classification.

Of particular curiosity to me is the Dogme (Dogma) 95 movement of Lars von Trier, and Robert Rodriguez's 'Mariachi Style' of film-making. Dogme 95 is an extreme in independent film circles, with a number of requirements such as no additional lighting or post-production tinkering (like a soundtrack), rules intended to take the focus away from big-budget artifice and put it on characters and story. A noble goal, to be sure.

These standards proved so ascetic, however, that not even their proponents were able to live up to them. Dogme 95 films were "certified" after filmmakers took a "Vow of Chastity" which speaks volumes about how misguided the whole endeavor was. One is either chaste or not; either a virgin, or not a virgin. As the failure of Abstinence-Only Education shows, for most such lofty expectations are impossible.

Yet 335 films were officially catalogued as Dogme 95 films, even though surely some corners were cut along the way. Is this pragmatism? Compartmentalism? Turning a blind eye? I can't speak to the filmmakers' intentions, but I would suspect among them is a desire to strive for an ideal, even if it is essentially unattainable. This probably is true for any group, whether political or religious. Eventually the founding members did away with the approval board and left it up to the consciences of the individual film-makers themselves, to check a box saying they "truly believe that the film ... has obeyed all Dogme95 rules as stated in the VOW OF CHASTITY." Of course, it need not be a matter of belief. The requirements are quite specific and concrete; either they have been followed, or they haven't.

Rodriguez's philosophy is based less around artistic self-immolation than pragmatism. He doesn't see lighting and camera setups as impediments to budgeted film-making in themselves, only when given too much license, and so the hallmark of the Mariachi style is cutting costs at all cost, usually through creative solutions. This certainly made for effective filmmaking for El Mariachi is particular, but it's important to note how much circumstances dictated the way that film was made. For one thing, it was Rodriguez's first, and he was operating on very limited resources. Cost cutting was not (just) a heroic, principled stance but a necessity. The movie was also made in Mexico. Granted Rodriguez encourages aspiring filmmakers to make use of their surroundings and connections, but this is a bit bigger than that: it's simply cheaper to get just about anything done in Mexico (or by Mexicans, hardy har har).

For my part, if I decide to make an entire film (and I would like to, provided I can overcome and subvert my limitations) for my senior project, I would love to have the extra thousand dollars of grant money that my school is offering. It could mean a difference in technology (like a detachable hard drive to save all my raw footage on) and props (a $25 dollar Jesus portrait, for instance) as well as an ability to feed my people, making them much more likely to take the time out of their busy schedules to help me--and allowing me to stay on campus and edit instead of go home on break to earn grocery money. Rodriguez has been making movies as part of the studio system ever since Mariachi, and while he has always been one to keep costs down, he's never made another movie like it. But that doesn't make him inconsistent. He's just making the most of his circumstances, whatever they happen to be.

Having a belief system or ideals is fine, perhaps necessary; but one's behavior and policy should always be tempered by reality and on-the-ground conditions. That goes for waging war, and making movies, and everything in between.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Really Reaching Now

There once was a time when a new bin Laden tape could strike fear into our hearts, but that was mostly immediately following September 11th. In 2004 bin Laden released a tape just days before the presidential election to which some attribute Bush's victory. At that point he might have had some measure of influence

Yet the last time we actually saw bin Laden on tape, as opposed to listening to voiceovers, recall, was in September 2007. More notable than any of the usual "Death to America" tripe, of which there was comparatively little, were mentions of the news of the day like "the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes." He sounded like he was making a run for elected office.

Now the news making the rounds is that bin Laden's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri has resorted to calling Barack Obama a "house negro," a remark which on a political circle rests somewhere to the left of Ted Rall's use of the less polite version of that term on Condoleezza Rice, and to the right of Rush Limbaugh's "Barack the Magic Negro" song.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, no doubt. But perhaps we can claim it as a strange, minor victory that the terrorists, whose very occupation involves sewing fear, are sounding less like an existential threat to western civilization and more like the outer fringes of our punditocracy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Evidence Against Evolution

I finally get it!

One Step Forward...

It's certainly great news to see Ted Stevens won't be coming back, but I'm wary of all this talk about bringing Democrats coming closer to the filibuster-proof 60% majority. For one thing, as we've all learned in this last election cycle, Alaska isn't like the rest of the country. It's economy is entirely dependent on oil; if Sarah Palin had been a serious candidate and not a cynical joke, this would have been an important strike against her: how would we have transitioned to alternative energy sources with a person whose constituency's economic interest run counter to, well, everyone's long-term health?

The same problem applies, though obviously on a lesser scale, for Mark Begich. He's a Democrat, but on the global warming issue specifically he won't be of any help to the party, as noted by Matt Yglesias. It's not in his interest if he wants to be re-elected.

This goes for other states as well. Part of the Democrats' 50 State Strategy, recall, is backing more conservative candidates in more conservative districts. Democrats may be more united than Republicans on Iraq, but what about taxes? Or health care? Big tents are nice, but we should keep in mind that without any national ideological shifts, it could end up that those who opposed us outside the tent continue opposing us, but from inside.

Then again, Obama's victory may yet translate to a progressive nudge amongst our other elected officials.

Monday, November 17, 2008

About that Protest in Boise...

The Idaho Statesman reports a turnout of several hundred. That's great news.

It's Getting Hot in Here...

I'm certainly not one to side with Christian assholicism, but I'm not a fan when my side behaves douchily either. That these people were in the Castro district trying to convert people from homosexuality shows that they're clueless; that they did it so soon after the passage of Proposition 8 shows them to be tasteless as well. But that they needed police protection and were hounded the entire way out shows that neither side has a monopoly on tact. Frankly, the nastiness of the whole incident (especially the guy who comes in at 1:57) brought back bad memories of the nuts that McCain and Palin were attracting in the final weeks of their campaign.

I don't buy the testimony of one of the group members who claims to have been molested, but the fact of the matter is that in this country no one should have to worry about people abusing and throwing things at them over matters of free speech.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Protests

I made it to the protest in front of Boise's city hall, albeit belatedly, an hour late and just as it was winding down. There I counted some forty people; it's a given there were probably considerably more before I arrived, so I'm encouraged, I guess. Andrew Sullivan received an email from one of his readers in Greenville, South Carolina that described about 70 people in attendance, which sounds about right for a perpetually red state but is also about the same number had at a protest held when Bush came to Tamarack three years ago (that one was certainly inflated by Secret Service agents, though). Reaction from passing traffic was hard to gauge--I was busy sketching, and screw consistency: until I get a readership I'm not taking the time to scan my damned sketchbook--but there was a honk of approval probably at least once a minute, including a loud one from a food produce truck.

I was there for less than an hour, after about which the number of protesters had dwindled to about seven, but it might be worth noting that the parking garage my friend and I parked in had a line extending at least three levels high both when we parked and when we were leaving. It might mean something, it might not.

Liberal demonstrations in Idaho always leave me at a loss, because it looks and feels so anomalous. That these ideas have penetrated into the fringe, however, means there is a base from which these ideas, which have already taken hold in much of the rest of the country, can grow. Know hope, Andrew says. Today's modest display is better than no hope, I suppose.

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

(edit: forgot to tag)

I've got high hopes that today's protest in Boise, part of some 300 that are taking place across the country simultaneously, will shift people's perceptions on Idaho as a haven for the bass-ackwards. Although my precinct's turnout for the election was embarassingly, awkwardly middling--basically the same as the city council elections last year--Ada was supposed to have been busy. And as Obama's February visit showed, there are liberals stirring in The Great Republican Stronghold.

Assuming I can find a ride, I will try to get some pictures and sketches up here, and pretend people are paying attention to this page.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bad Political Theatre

More About Me

What better way to introduce myself than to note how much I have in common with the President-Elect? We both:

- collect comics (not actively, but I was a huge Spider-Man and X-Men freak back in the day)
- are left-handed
- enjoy Scrabble
- love Bach (not sure if I'd consider him an all-time favorite, but definitely as far as classical/orchestral goes)
- hate the youth trend for trousers to sag beneath the backside.

I wonder if there's an obscure facts list about McCain floating around with which I can compare myself.


Geriatric Marriage—Gey Marriage for short—consists of the wedding or enduring marriage of the elderly. There are numerous reasons to oppose this practice.

- Gey marriage redefines the meaning of marriage. Before the germ theory of disease and the advent of life-prolonging medicine, humans tended to die young, sometimes even in their thirties. There was never an assumption of ‘growing old together’ because people never grew old. Gey marriage is a radical, modern development with no historical foundation.

- Senior citizens debase the institution of marriage by ending their relationships, often without provocation. It is a fact that the elderly surpass all other demographics in citing death as the cause of a broken relationship.

- After old folks die, their surviving spouses sometimes remarry. This is a dishonor to their partners, who stayed with them until it (and their heart) just wasn't working anymore. Surely the survivors can wait a little longer before they are reunited in Paradise?

- The wedding of two elderly people has no procreative end. Even in cases of couples who are parents, they will produce no more children. A marriage without kids is like Guns ‘n’ Roses without 4/5 of the group’s founding members: it violates the original spirit of the bond.

- It’s unnatural. As humans age, their sex drive is reduced, their bodies grow frail, and their reproductive organs shrink and dry up like old fruit, which is only good for trail mix and cereal anyway. Obviously copulation at this stage is a violation of nature’s design. What other reason do any two people have to get married than a moral sanction of carnal knowledge (which in turn begets offspring)?

- Finally, imagine your grandparents having sex. Hard to believe something so disgusting is legal, isn’t it?

Gey marriage must be opposed. Senior citizens should no longer be allowed to wed, and all existing marriages should be annulled. Some may think this an extreme stance to take, perhaps even hateful. But these people are too blinded by sentiment and emotion and consideration of real-life impact on people they know to look at the cold, hard facts and realize there really is no good reason for Gey Marriage to have existed in the first place, much less to continue.

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