Monday, April 28, 2008
First things first. I'm a HUGE Alan Ball fan. Six Feet Under is my favorite show of all time, and American Beauty is an astounding film. So, I'm maybe a little biased.
Be that as it may, the trailer for Towelhead (formerly called Nothing is Private) has me confused about the maelstrom of hell that this film has gotten from critics who have indicated their desire to bludgeon Alan Ball to death, not to mention the film.
I mean, the trailer looks pretty decent. This doesn't look like totally typical Alan Ball fodder (OK, so the adult male seducing the young girl reeks a little of American Beauty, but still). It seems way more fast-paced and less visually sparse with lighting. I don't know. All I know is that I intend to see it.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Words escape me tonight. I know that you know that's pretty unfathomable, because alas I not only like to talk, I like to use lots of words when I do it. But Jimmy Joe Roche and Dan Deacon have changed that, and tonight I will be silent. I let their work speak for them. I need only say that whether you are a fan of Schwarzenegger or not, your mind will be sufficiently blown if you watch all six parts of this thing.
May I present you with Chapters 1-6 of 40-minute-epic Ultimate Reality. (Watch it as soon as you can. It's only up for a week, and I don't know how long it's been up. Then again, you could always buy it on DVD.)
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Internet Privacy Rights victory
Today is one of those rare days when I get to sit in my underwear and actually feel PRIDE in my home state of New Jersey. The NJ Supreme Court ruled that internet surfers can expect a reasonable degree of privacy on the internet, and that in order to get users' information, law enforcement agents need a grand jury warrant.
Labels: internet privacy
"to hold a future body so close to one's own"
I went to college with experimental film/video maker Evan Meaney, whose work has continually surprised and inspired me. His most recent endeavors have been contained in the large body of work entitled "Ceibas," which is an exploration of myth: the myth of the Ceiba tree, as well as the myth of digital video. In the series, Meaney has been exploring the infrastructure of digital video, and the ways in which it breaks down both naturally and forcibly by hacking the hexadecimal and ASCII coding. His images are stunning and visceral despite often feeling incredibly passive, which is a testament to Meaney as both a maker and an editor. The work is also largely devoid of text (minus "prologue – How Mayan Lovers Might Find the Next Life" (2007)), which has previously been a signature of his work.
The newest installation in the Ceibas cycle is "to hold a future body so close to one's own," an online-gallery-based work that seeks to explore the passage of time. Time degrades all things, and it is no secret that digital media are vulnerable to this decay. However, where previously this decay and glitching has been transparent, written off just as simply as hairs or dust on a film print, here the decay is not only forced, it is the focus. These video portraits of 27 people have been dutifully hacked, but the differences between them are astounding.
This difference is possible because each video was originally compressed with a different video codec. What Meaney brings out in this simple, face-to-face examination is how startlingly differently each codec handles the synthesis of digital imagery through the web of pixelation. While different film stocks have always rendered different styles of images, they have all maintained the same basic physical infrastructure of silver hallide crystals on a celluloid emulsion. However, what Meaney makes clear is that the underlying structures of digital codecs are not subtle in their differences, and it is far from inconsequential what codec one uses. The result is staggering. What is equally exciting is that some codecs that might not be preferable initially to those concerned with as much image fidelity as possible become the ones that yield the most starkly beautiful decay, reminding the viewer that things are never as they seem, and of an overwhelming sense of transience.
Also, Meaney's choice to use portraits of people, rather than any kind of stagnant scene or simple color backdrop, is integral. Besides the obvious metaphor that "all people are different," the use of different faces becomes integral to the advancement of the Ceibas myth exploration. The subjects of these portraits become endeared, and the forced-decay of their visages invokes the lament of past lovers, lost to the sands of time and the breakdown of memory. Thought of in this light, the work yields startlingly fruitful emotional territory that rests complimetarily against its more somber predecessors of the series. As Meaney thinks of his codecs and decayed videos as children, so too do the subjects become our own wards, to whose faces we feel a sense of responsibility.
Evan Meaney's choices in exhibition method are crucial. The reason it exists on the internet rather than in a physical gallery, Meaney says, is that "these works wish to inhabit screens; as many as they can." And he has made good on this promise by including downloadable versions of every single clip for mobile devices. Which is part of the reason why this work is so important. One of today's most crucial discourses is happening between the old powers and the new, the copyright and the copyleft. The internet allows all digital media to be infinitely available to every person on the planet, which is a harrowing prospect to some. But others in the new generation understand that the desire to possess and control properties (intellectual or otherwise) is passé and unfashionable. The new face of distribution is limitless, and "to hold a future body" is a recognition of this fact.
Since its inception, digital video has largely been accepted as a transparent medium due to its pervasiveness in society and internet culture, its availability to the masses with terrifying ease. Its foundation, its structure, however, has hardly been explored or addressed in any forum outside of the technical community. While many past works have sought to utilize and exploit the medium for its lo-fi feel, the realism that it falsely professes due to its faster frame rate, and other reasons, no one has gone to the lengths that Meaney has in deconstructing the medium into its parts like an atom-smashing particle physicist. And, in doing so, he has revealed the medium to be a much more vibrant and beautiful one than previously believed. It is this previous lack of exploration that makes Meaney's work so timely and necessary.
Ultimately, this work is a confrontation. It is a confrontation with faces, a confrontation with history, and a confrontation with a thoroughly, and now revealed to be unjustly unexplored medium. And ultimately, it poses a question: What does "archival" really mean, and who will wait for us until we, too, are gone?
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Saw this one a few nights ago. What a treat! This movie takes its cue from the standard break up, meet someone new who's so much better for you when you weren't trying to meet anyone, but it adds its own flavor. The Apatow-buddy supporting players add some great comedic moments (Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill doing some legwork). Jason Segel carries his weight, as well. He is hilariously awkward, executes the deadpan stuff perfectly, and the chemistry between he and Mila Kunis is surprisingly genuine.
Despite the fact that it looks like a pretty standard romantic comedy, I feel like Nicholas Stoller, Judd Apatow and Segel were trying to do something new. The first time I realized this was in the beginning breakup scene, which includes THREE SHOTS, albeit brief, of Segel's junk. Seeing this movie in the suburbs of New Jersey, where NO ONE expects to see dick on screen, made these moments even more hilarious. The audience was shocked, maybe even a little repulsed, but I think they still found it hilarious (though I could hear murmurs of old people asking why they kept showing his penis). And they made sure they got one more full frontal on Segel before the end.
Also, the moments between the main character Peter Bretter and ex Sarah Marshall are startlingly real. They talk about genuine things related to their prior relationship in a very adult, uncinematic way. These moments are combined with personal flashbacks to moments that illustrate a feeling they express, or directly counter something that they express. These flashbacks are not handled in the typical way: no sound effect with a fade to white, or some kind of transition, just hard cuts, employing some good old Soviet montage, and putting a little faith in the intelligence of the audience. And, after the flashbacks, there were no violent head-shakes trying to clear away the thoughts, or any other acknowledgments that what was just seen was a flashback. It just continues on, and we see the looks on the characters' faces in a new light. The audience does the work, here, which is a pleasure to see.
All throughout, discussion of sex is very frank. There is no holding back of profanity, no indirect reference (other than a line where Peter's step-brother says "You don't need to put your P in some girl's V," and Peter says, "No, I need to B my L on some girl's T's). When promiscuous new boyfriend to Sarah Marshall Aldous Snow advises a stranger on good sex, he makes no effort to avoid talking about Deep Penetration and Stimulating the Clitoris.
Basically, it looks like the ensemble came together to put a real and comedic twist on a tried-and-true genre, and I think it paid off in spades. While it's not the funniest movie I've seen in a while, it beats out plenty of others. It maintained my attention the whole way through, had me laughing, and I came away feeling some genuine affection for the Mila Kunis/Jason Segel couple.
Oh, and extra points for using Jason Bateman in a clip during the credits.
Monday, April 21, 2008
New UNIQLO Line/Campaign
Wandering the streets of this fair city today, I discovered a very fun new campaign for UNIQLO.
In honor of the arrival of spring, UNIQLO has released its new UT (UNIQLO T-shirt) line featuring work by well-known artists, photographers, etc. What caught my eye about the campaign were the photos of Chloe Sevigny. I had to do a double take to make sure it was her, but it certainly is. While some of the photos simply splotlight the attractive models, many are pretty funny in their absurdity; Sevigny's and her partner in crime Tadanobu Asano's poses and expressions are often hilarious or awkward, all wrapped up in the always-taken-with-a-grain-of-salt style of fashion photography. And they all pop nicely against the plain grey gradient backdrop.
The photographs themselves are taken by Dan Jackson (not to be confused with one of my favorite contemporary painters, Daniel Jackson). I went to his site, and I have to say from what little I've seen, I think his work is terrible. It's uninteresting, kitschy, and seems largely unconcerned with any kind of intelligent discourse. But, he's obviously done something right to land the UNIQLO campaign, and I like what he did with it, so I guess that says something.
All in all, I'm psyched about this campaign. I love UNIQLO, I think the photos are fun, and it's great exposure for Asano, as well as Sevigny, who has proven time and again the versatility of her look and her capabilities as an actress and as a model.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Here's something interesting to put in your pipe.
We all remember the 2000 election. We all remember how much it sucked. And we all lament about it daily when we remind ourselves that George W. Bush is still the god damned president of this shithole of a country. So I'm curious to see what HBO's done with this real event in its dramatization that seems to be helmed by one of my favorite male actors, Kevin Spacey.
But what I find really curious is that this is an event that happened less than eight years ago. EIGHT YEARS. The only fictionalized films about more immediately real historical events are the ones they did about September 11th, 2001's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
We've ushered in this bizarre age, where we think about history as it's happening. It used to be that people looked back on history in film, at past events. Now, we're talking about the shit that's still happening. And technology is the same way. Technology is evolving so fast that it's updating by the day! We're in the middle of a bizarre compression wave where everything is this sort of instantaneous fulfillment or analysis. There's no buffer zone anymore.
Before you know it, we'll be talking about the future before it happens.
A pinhole camera is a very simple device. You poke a very small pinhole into the outside of some light-safe object, sometimes round and sometimes flat-backed. Inside, you place film, with a cover over the hole. Then, close the case, open the hole to expose the film, and cover the hole again. Then process the film!
This works on a simple principle. Narrow, small holes will function as a lens by inverting light and then projecting it forward. Even old keyholes do this! Because the hole is so small, it functions as a very small aperture, allowing for maximum depth of field so that almost everything will be in focus. As a result, it works best in very bright conditions. Otherwise, you would need extremely long exposures.
This property of small holes was first exploited in the Camera Obscura (which is where the name "camera" comes from.) Camera means "room" and obscura means "dark." So, a camera obscura is a "dark room." Even a small camera that you might hold in your hand is still a "camera obscura." It's just too small for you to fit in it!
OK. So, now that I've explained that, hopefully you're excited about the possibility of making one of these suckers yourself! A pinhole camera, that is. Well, Photojojo has supplied a few super cool designs for free pinhole cameras! OK, the thing does require materials which will somehow cost you something, but the idea and designs won't cost you a cent!
Make Pinhole Pictures! Then, find the right Flickr Group to post your magnificent images.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
OK, I'd like to take a moment to talk about Noise-rock of any kind. This is a genre that really, really confuses me. My introduction to noise-rock occurred about two years ago not by being introduced to the music itself, but by being introduced to Kip.
Kip's head was in the right place - art, film, and music, across the board he had good taste. Kip was a sweetheart, too. True, he lived a bit on an island that could make him a bit difficult to access. But he was nice. Kip had a noise-rock band in Syracuse whose name had something to do with Skeletons and Closets. Kip told me stories about throwing around large sheets of metal to make noise, and the gashes it cut in him and others. Injuries in general, he informed me, were commonplace when his Skeletons and Closets namesake band performed. This gave Kip a weird street-cred that didn't really seem all that earned, and yet he had it.
Since then, my experiences of noise-rock have been few and far between. But when I watched this video of Ptv live performance by Health, a noise-punk band, I felt like I wanted to try to "talk it out:"
Watching this makes me think two things:
1) This is ridiculous for me, as a spectator, in the pejorative sense.
2) This reminds me of jambands, where the disparity between the experience of producing the music and listening to it seems massive.
Now, I can appreciate what's happening here. There's something exhilarating and important about reductionism, not in the sense of tonality or rhythm or anything like that, but in the reduction of the self - the stripping away of the ego and superego. Noise-rock seems clearly driven toward exposing a raw sense of self through the exploration of sound as it comes out of the body, in a feral way. As Dr. Arthur Janov will certainly vouch, there is a therapeutic benefit to accessing deep, primal sounds and noises. Others, too, would agree that there's plenty to be gotten out of a combination of childish and animalistic freedoms of behavior. And I think it's something everyone should consider.
Also, on an intellectual level, I get it. Music sometimes seems to have hit a wall, and there's the desire to break through the wall. Rock 'n' roll, punk, noise. These were all primal desires to break through the wall of staleness. To do something new. To appeal to the inner flame of innovation against stasis. So I get it there, too.
But who wants to watch this? I mean that not sarcastically. I mean, obviously people want to watch these kinds of bands perform because otherwise there would be no bands, much less bands playing on Pitchfork TV. But why not just do this stuff yourself? It seems that all the thrashing around and screaming that the crowd might be doing are so close to what the band is doing, that it's kind of just like an orgy.
Maybe therein lies the rub. The counter-point could be that like with an orgy, where one could choose to just have sex alone or with one other person but chooses to have it with many partners, the orgiastic primalism of noise-rock concerts beg the throngs of the masses to achieve something that can't be achieved just thrashing and screaming at home.
And hell, this is actually kind of pretty to listen to (also Health):
Monday, April 14, 2008
OK, so I stole the title of my post from BSLS, but it's so right on that I had to.
In yet another superduper move from the Kanye team, "Flashing Lights" a make-over. I've already blogged about how awesome the original video is, but this one kicks things up a notch. Combining the visuals of Wong Kar-Wai's film 2046, and the song by Kanye, the video below is a sensational blend of styles and culture. And there are plenty more videos in a similar vein.
The place is 54th St., just west of 10th Ave., and right next door to The Colbert Report's studio. It is a small, but elegant, theater called Ars Nova.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending the closing night performance of Boom, a show I'd been eagerly looking forward to seeing since it opened a month or so ago. This was one of those rare cases of judging a book by its cover, and its cover alone. We've all made those impulsive purchases because we like how something looks, and we all know that sometimes those purchases pay off in spades.
This was one of those times.
I went alone, which was not a bad thing in my mind. I was eager to see how my hunches were faring these days, and was relieved that I didn't have to be concerned about whether my company was having a good time. The theater was small, but nice, with a dynamic light design to keep me mildly interested for the half hour or more before the show began. The curtain was a brazen red.
With no fanfare, the "narrator" walked down the aisle and began the performance. She made a little bit of noise on a drum, accompanied by quirky facial gestures and a rigid posture. A cheap laugh, perhaps, but the audience seemed to appreciate it (though I was skeptical).
When the curtain was pulled back, it revealed the scene that would remain the milieu for the duration - a meek laboratory with cabinetry, a futon, a small countertop, a table, and a fish aquarium with four fish swimming within it.
The plot is simple. According to the site:
Jo answers Jules's craigslist "casual encounters" ad for, among other things, "intense coupling."
To add a bit of my own detailed information: Jules is a homosexual biologist who has calculated the imminent arrival of a comet that will wipe out all of civilization. Jo is a twenty-two-year-old college girl studying journalism and looking for a story of genuine hope that doesn't include an array of restricted topics such as the homeless, the disabled, etc. So she has answered Jules's ad in hopes that it is in the fleeting moments of random sexual passion that she will find that hope.
I'll summarize so I can get to the meat: yes, the two lock themselves in. Yes Jo is pissed. Yes, the comet does indeed land and destroy all of civilization and most life on earth. Yes, the two manage to help propagate life on earth (but no, not in the way you think).
This play was fantastic and entertaining, despite the premise being so ludicrous (every time I re-read the description online, I got slightly more skeptical.) It doesn't seem like it would make for good drama, but it does. There are actually two narratives running at once: Jules and Jo, but also the slowly unfurling story of the quirky, passionate narrator herself. It turns out this show is actually an exhibit in the far future that shows how life came to (continue to) exist on Earth, and this narrator is the one who is in charge of the display. Her story contributes a very interesting element of self-awareness, and her passion yields surprisingly fruitful emotional territory.
To return a moment to Jules and Jo... It is a well-worn structure, at its heart. A man and a woman, who hate each other from the outset (well, minus when Jo still thinks Jules is straight and that he wants to have sex with her) suddenly come to appreciate and love each other despite all odds, or rather as a result of them. The two reveal insecurities and vulnerabilities to one another despite their inclinations, and when their perspectives finally come about face, it is a glorious moment. There are a precious few minutes where they actually get to relish in their feelings for one another before their plot comes to its exciting, dramatic denoument. But it is magical, dear readers. Make no mistake.
What makes this show really beautiful is the narrator's desperate, noble desire to save this "show," a show of which she has been orchestrator since its inception, but which her superiors have deemed to be ineffectual and expendable. "Tonight is the last night I get to do this," she says with great conviction and lament.
Boom is a curiosity of fits and starts. For a while, when the story of Jo and Jules reaches some kind of head, it is frozen in time by the narrator so that she can tell a joke, or some kind of story. There are times when these interruptions are a nuisance, but only just enough to make one realize how much one is invested in the main story. By the end, this woman's interjections do not freeze the main narrative, but rather run tandem to and coincide with it - meld with it. The two become one story. The emotional peaks and intensities of the two collide and compliment each other: two narratives separated by massive amounts of time, one commenting on the other, but together creating a whole larger than the sum of its parts. On several occasions I found myself teary-eyed by its profundity.
While I am always thrown off by theater acting at first (the strangeness of the reality that I am watching performances, and that they know they are performing, and that we mutually recognize that we're there at a specific moment for each other, always puts me in my head, whereas film tends to convince me that I am a voyeur looking upon an already-documented event), I was able to settle in and accept the peculiarities that I don't always like about the style. Each actor gave his or her role the fervor required to make a believable character. No one hesitated or held back, and I believe that as a result, the show is a success. Such a bizarre performance could easily be gimmicky, slapstick, or otherwise falsified, but enough risk was taken that the show was not relegated to such half-witted atrocities.
Another huge success of Boom is its execution of climax through the cunning exploitation of effects. The crashing of the comet is brilliantly invoked through relatively simple means. Gradually, the light outside the door gets brighter and brighter. Then, the room goes absolutely silent, and the lights go out. In the tension of this moment comes the ever-so-slightly-delayed "crash," and light landing on a cascade of smoke pouring from the ceiling. Nothing is visible on stage. When the lights come back on, the set is in total disarray. The characters lay unconscious on the floor, the shelves have all come somewhat loose from the walls and opened, spilling out contents. The lights are out save for two lights running on a backup battery. It is a stellar use of relatively simple toys and tricks, running on a small budget that creates all the magnitude of a giant rock hitting the surface of the Earth. Like the scene in Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited," wherein Adrien Brody and the boy he tries to save are pummeled under the surface of the water, or in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" when the helicopter crashes, the impact is visceral and startling: enhanced, surprisingly, by the lack of sound.
Likewise, the final scene when the door is opened at last is also bolstered by effects. A blinding light, the rise in the volume of everything, the particles blowing in from outside, and the urgency of the characters' love for each other and need to leave all come together brilliantly to enhance the ultimate climax of the entire play. No special effects needed, just a decent light and good acting.
As any good work of literature, film, or theater does, the play reminded me of the beauty of storytelling (in much the same way that "Paris, Je T'aime" did for me with filmmaking only a few weeks ago) and acting. The actors were not simply acting, they were truly invested in what they were doing. When they returned for curtain call, the lead actress was crying. It was closing night, and she had given it everything. It was clear that she was attached to this project, those people, that character. And I found, when the lights came on, and everyone was leaving, that I, too, was sad. The source of the emotion was a sudden sense of loss. I had grown attached to these characters, even if they were a little over the top, and the story, even if it was a little outlandish. I was stunned by the fact that something that, in pieces, looks nothing but comical, was able to come together in such a real, vibrant, and stunning show of what it means to be human, to be alive. It tapped into something very real, and very necessary. It succeeded in being a good drama.
Magic doesn't just happen in the movies.
Megan Ferguson - "Jo"
Lucas Near-Verbrugghe - "Jules"
Susan Wands - "Barbara" ("narrator")
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
(Sorry, I wrote this post way back on the 6th, but forgot to finish writing the draft, so it's a little late)
It is with at least a little bit of relief that I share with you, today, the teaser trailer for Fernando Mereilles's Blindness. Why it was released on MSN, I have no idea.
A few good things:
The trailer seems very concerned with the visuals, i.e. simulating some of the "white blindness" that afflicts its characters. I have hopes that they might have some extended scenes of pure white, or white with minimal detail. It has a phenomenal cast, and doesn't seem to take place in any recognizable country, which was one of the exciting and off-putting things about the book.
A few bad things:
The narration in the trailer is horrible. Affected and uninspiring, it doesn't bode well for either the content or the people it tries to appeal to. Furthermore, it is cut like a horror film. Bad choice, since it's not a horror story in the sense of the film genre.
Obviously it's just a trailer, but who likes speculating with as little information as possible more than film people
(Answer: The US Government. If you answered right, send us your UPC plus shipping and handling for a free "I <3 Freedom" mug!)
My good friend Zach is in the process of visiting the beautiful land of vino, cheese, pasta, and hot hot sex: Italia. In particular, he's staying in Firenze (Florence), where I spent a good month one summer a few years back, so I took it upon myself to send him an e-mail with some suggested places to visit. Here is that e-mail, tailored slightly for the blogotron, in the event that you find yourself in Florence!
There are so many places I went in Florence, and some of them were just cafes or lunch joints, so I can't give you everything. But here's a few stuffs. It's enough to keep you busy for a couple days.
A) Via dei conti 5 (cinque - "ching-kwei") - my old abode. Drink it in... while you can't get into my place to see the high ceilings and beautiful stairwell, you can have a nice espresso at the corner cafe, and linger on the thought that on one side of you is my old apartment, and on the other side is the apartment of the girl with multiple piercings and tattoos who became the second girl with whom i had sex. Watch for the smartcar sportscar/convertible.
B) Head northeast only a block and you're at San Lorenzo. A lovely little church. Enjoy some lunch on its stairs, head inside for the Da Vinci museum, or walk around it on a warm afternoon and you might catch the open air market that springs up, selling cheap belts, t-shirts, sunglasses, etc. It's like Chinatown! But fewer Chinese! Also, you'll notice a large amount of African men trying to sell their own wares. You're close to Africa.
C) From there, you can head further north and a little west to the Mercato Centrale (Central Market, if you didn't pick that up). You can get anything fresh here, and it'll make you wonder why you haven't been living here your whole life. Meats, cheeses, fruits, candy, the works. I suggest coming here around lunchtime: In the back corner (Northeast corner?), there's a little stall near the lunch tables. The stall will hopefully have a long line, so you can get a feel for what's going on. When you get to the front of the queue, ask for "il panini" (the sandwich) and when he asks you if you want such-and-such on it, say, "Si." What you will receive is a godsend of a sandwich. Fresh bread piled high with meat, and slathered in an oily, pesto sort of sauce. Have a seat. Enjoy. Don't get up too quickly if you have a weak heart.
D) Head back down southeast for the Duomo. This thing is a tourist trap from hell, so bring hand grenades. I never went inside because I didn't have the patience to wait in the line. But if you're not like me, it would be worth it to head all the way to the top for a view of the entire city fit for a god. Outside on the street in front and to the right, feel free to imagine a mob that has stopped traffic, a couple of buses, and me standing on top of one chanting some kind of victory song when Firenze won a soccer game that kicked it up to a higher division that it had previously been in. Then imagine me getting sprayed in the face/eyes by a fire extinguisher as someone tries to break up the crowd.
E) By now, it is probably dinner time, so hit up Il Latini at Via dei Palchetti 6 (that ch is a hard "k" sound) for the most amazing meal of your life. Don't forget to make a reservation ahead of time, and get there early anyway. You'll be met by a crowd of people and a closed restaurant. When they finally open, hope they call your name, then head in for a five or so course meal for a fixed price. Buon Apetito.
F) After you leave Il Latini you'll be really drunk, seeing as all the wine and dessert liquor is free with your meal. Walk through this lovely little square, complete with a carousel, to feel like maybe you're in some French New Wave film (not Italian Neorealism... there's no happiness in that movement, and no night adventures, in comparison to French new wave). The warm glow will make you feel like you never want to leave.
G) If it's still open, check out the huge Gelato joint around here. There's one on Via Roma itself, and there's one on a side-street to the right (if you're coming from the south).
If you've still got the energy head back north to the Duomo's square. The moment you get out into the open space of it, hook around to your right for the obscene foreigner-friendly bar with a balcony whose name escapes me.
After a nice night's sleep,
H) Head over to the train station and buy a ticket to Viareggio for a day at the beach! Or,
I) Hit up the small square of vendor stalls in the old city here, where it's laid out like a grid the way god intended cities to be.
J) Then head south and enjoy the sexy view of the Ponte Vecchio. Bring some Gelato and watch the boats.
K) Once across the Ponte Vecchio, continue on the same road, which has become Via Guicciardini. When you reach the huge open space of Piazza de' Pitti and its massive stairs, climb up the stairs to the entrance of Boboli Gardens. Meander around this massive backyard all afternoon observing sculptures, greenery, and some great secluded make-out spots.
L) Head back up across the bridge, down along the Uffizi Gallery, and into the Piazza della Signoria. There's a great statue/fountain here, and it's just another great place to people-watch and enjoy the fact that you're in Florence. In the windy back-alleys to the north of that are some stores, but if memory serves me they're rather overpriced.
M) By now you've worked up quite a sweat and have hopefully eaten a small lunch, but it's probably about time to be thinking of dinner. So, head virtually straight north and walk past the park at Piazza dell'Indipenza. Continue northeast on Via di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria. Cross the busy road of Viale Spartaco Lavagnini. Keep heading north and slightly west along Via Fratelli Ruffini. When you hit the park, cut through it to the northwest corner and go left onto Via della Cernaia. Coming up shortly is a small pizzeria. I can't remember the name, but this place was voted to have made the best pizza pie in the WORLD only a few years back (and perhaps again since). So, there's that. Mange that down, and head back down south. Or venture north. Or east. Granted, this area of town is a bit quieter, and perhaps not as nice or maybe even not as safe. I don't really know. I doubt there's too much of a ghetto, though, so find yourself a nice bar either here or elsewhere more familiar.
Now go get drunk.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
It's tough when important, good people die. I myself began reading and loving Kurt Vonnegut only a year or so before he died. For better or worse, the guy was always true to himself. He acted like every word was a throwaway, but he meant everything he said, even if it seemed off-hand. When he died, despite the fact that I'd "known" him for a lot shorter of a time than others, I was bummed.
So my first inclination when I saw a review for "Armageddon in Retrospect" on the AV Club was to be excited with a tinge of mournfulness. It's clear that the reviewer had the same feeling when he first was aware of the book. But his review expresses the same inconsolable truth that comes when someone dies: "He'll never come back." I can't help but grimace when reviewer Zack Handlen says, "there's something uncomfortable in reading a son trying so hard to emulate his father. When Mark Vonnegut fumbles a joke early in, it's impossible not to feel that his dad would've handled it better."
Sad, but perhaps true.
If you've never read any Vonnegut, get out there and do it! My first experience with him was Cat's Cradle, and still arguably my best.
Michel and Olivier Music Video
I don't have much to say about this, other than to report it. The idea is not bad, its execution is (expectedly) flawless, the song is decent, and I love New York and LA.
Labels: music videos
Team Gallery and Ippudo
Yesterday had two fantastic, new experiences in it that are well worth talking about (and neither one of them was doodoo freakin' everywhere)
The first was the new Ryan McGinley show at Team Gallery. The photos are the result of a massive cross-country trip taken by McGinley with a group of models. Entitled "I Know Where the Summer Goes," (named for an old Belle and Sebastian tune) the show stays true to its name. Part fashion photography (minus the fashion... the models are all nakey), part reportage, and part portraiture/fine-art, the series is a magnificent crystallization and localization of the construct of what it means to be "young."
While the nudity in the photos lends a sexuality to it, this sexuality is kept in check by the seeming naivete and fleeting interests of the models. Whether they confront the camera's gaze or engage themselves in their surroundings, there is a consistent honesty to the models' faces that gives the illusion that the photos are all candid.
And yet none of them are. Each day, McGinley would talk at length with the models about what mood or style he aimed to capture that day. The locations are all his choosing. And yet while some images like "Question Mark," or "Highway" bear the distinct impression of staginess, the raw truths of "Ann (Windy Truck)" and "Coley (Injured)" and countless others far outweigh any reservations one might have.
The photos run the gamut in both size and style. Some come as single or dual color schemes, others are vibrant. Some are tiny, almost 4x5, and others span an entire wall. All in all, the only place that McGinley seems to fail is in his staged surrealities. The most glaring of these is "Dusk Flip Smoke Trip." This photo is a stark departure from the rest of the series, approaching a somewhat contrived fine-art approach to human form and the element of time that is so often confronted by uninspired works. And while images like "Fireworks Hysteric" occasionally reek of the same posed unnecessary special effects budget," they at least attempt poke through the veneer of youth consciousness to get at something honest and bare, and the bodies of naked women flinching in the face of sparks that, presumably, probably kind of hurt at some point, combined with the sprightly, fleeting points of fire dancing in the visual space, cannot be completely discounted.
Small miscalculations aside, "I Know Where the Summer Goes" is a fantastic approach to making static something that is inherently fleeting, in a way that is simultaneously accessible and exciting. I intend to go back for a second viewing.
Following my trip to Team Gallery, I met with Rose for dinner at the brand new Ramen-ya, "Ippudo." The new American location for Tokyo Ramen mogul Shigemi Kawahara, Ippudo is great from the moment you spot its facade on its otherwise thoroughly bland block of 4th Ave. The outside is beautiful, crisp, and darkly alluring, like any good Tokyo Izakaya or Ramen-ya. A blend of glass, wood, and calligraphic signage, the facade is nothing short of alluring.
When you step in, you are greeted by the traditional Japanese, "Irrashaimasse!" and a friendly staff waiting to take your name for what is already a long wait. At 6:30, when I went to put my name down, it was a one-hour-and-twenty-minute wait. And that guess turned out to only be a three minute overestimation. At the bar I had a beer (I was early, waiting for Rose, and was now realizing it would be a while before I could put food in my hungry stomach. So beer seemed the logical choice). There were only two taps - Kirin and Sapporo. But the Sapporo, when I ordered it, turned out to be shot. So I got a Kirin. Halfway through it, the bartender (a sweet young Japanese girl) told me that she'd gotten more Sapporo, and that if I wanted one, it was on her. Ah, the kindness of strangers. Rose arrived, and there was still more waiting to be done, so I eventually took the bartender up on the free beer. Not a moment after saying "I wonder if they called my name already?" did the host yell my name in a beautiful Japanese accent.
Escorted through the dark, mirrored interior by our Japanese speaking guide, Rose and I marveled as the narrow walkway opened up into what could have been the interior of a wooden hut that had been renovated by some contemporary interior designer. It had a blend of Japanese classicism and homey New York cosmopolitan freshness. The chairs we sat at were low, a bare white, more like sofas. My chair only had an armrest on the right, and Rose's only had one on the left, as if they'd taken a small Ikea sofa and cut it in half. The table was a nice, semi-finished wood, and the smell of the place was nothing short of enticing.
I asked the girls next to me what they were attempting to eat (a spicy tofu noodle bowl appetizer) and ordered one for the two of us, as well as the NY special dish, based on the Kawahara/Ippudo special blend from Tokyo. The food came out hot and in perfect installations. We were never out of something to be putting in our mouths, and likewise never overwhelmed by having too many plates at once. The dishes bore the right amount of spices and flavor, the noodles were cooked well, and despite the large serving of the main course, every morsel was eaten gladly and gratefully.
On top of everything, the service is sensational. Everyone who works there is at your service, with no concern for who your "waitor" is. When I asked one woman where the bathroom was, she told me. Another man, the one who had seated us (and who seemed to enjoy my ability to speak a little Japanese), overheard the conversation and guided me to the stairs I needed to take. At our seats, the woman who took our order was different from the man who served us was different from the woman who took our dessert order was different from the guy who took the money for the check was different from the person who gave me my change. Every one of them had a genuine smile plastered on their face, and half of them touched my shoulder gently upon any inquiry. These people are, clearly, there to help.
Nothing is perfect. The music reflected a comical understanding of what music is considered "cool" that seems to be a Japanese tradition. Rage Against the Machine and some post-pop-punk sensation were among the bands played. But, it was low enough (or the house was loud enough with the sounds of happy diners, cooks, and servers) that it wasn't remotely detractive - more a momentary novelty to be commented upon. The dessert we ordered, while elegant, was a bland concoction that combined the matcha flavor of Green Tea ice-cream and creme brulee. Each spoonful (and my God, the spoons were so tiny, they were adorable) posed the same question: "Is this good?"
However, I shouldn't be cynical or snarky. This restaurant is delicious, the environment is fantastic, and the service is excellent. And to top it all off, I walked away totally stuffed, and this fancy feast totaled only $44 dollars between the two of us!
This place has my full endorsement.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Explosions in the Sky
Tonight I had the privilege of seeing Texas instrumental post-rockers Explosions in the Sky.
Wow, what a show. First of all, the guy in the band who actually says anything into the mic at all is about as sweet as the day is long (so about 24 hours worth of sweet... but packed into every word). He graciously pointed out at the beginning that it was the largest show they'd played on their own (meaning a headliner and not a festival), and when the crowd begged for an encore, he came back out to express his genuine gratitude, saying how much it meant to the whole band to have such a positive response, and that it was his regret to have to say that they wouldn't come on for said encore (for the record, they've only done like three in their entire career). You could tell he meant every word he said. Which is awesome.
As for the music... I compared it to hearing their album for the first time. When you first hear "Greet Death," for instance, opening "Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever," it's hard to express the awe you will feel if you enjoy it. It is incendiary shit. After listening to them for years, it doesn't dull down how rapturous the music is for you, but it's more familiar. But then, seeing them live, it is comparatively the same experience. This was the first time I'd ever seen them live, and every moment was nothing short of sensational. I used the word "rapturous" a moment ago in a literal sense. I would imagine that if Jesus Christ exists, and one day he returns to Earth to judge our souls in a time of both incredible suffering and incredible bliss, it would sound and feel like seeing Explosions in the Sky live. Never in my entire life have I wanted to hear something so painfully loud for so incredibly long and want to bathe myself in every decibel.
The band members themselves, you can tell, are into it. Each has his own signature move, which he does for the entire duration of the concert. Whether it be standing, leaned slightly back, with arms locked in an extended fashion, or rocking out, or looking like you intend to, on the count of three, launch your guitar into orbit using nothing but centripetal force and bliss, he does it from beginning to end. And in the last gutwrenching moments of their performance, every note on every guitar is played with arm and fist slamming. Every guy on stage looked like he wanted to KILL HIS GUITAR in the ultimate expression of an undying love, and I grinned like a fucking idiot to see it.
Frat boys and other misplaced idiots aside, their was nothing about this concert that I didn't like. There were a few minutes perhaps where I felt like it was long, or had a headache from the sheer volume and the thrashing of my head and body that I was engaged in, but at no point did I feel like I was having a bad time. All in all, it was perhaps one of the (if not THE) best concert experiences of my entire life. They played everything I wanted to hear, the concert was exactly like I'd imagined and hoped it would be except more real and even better than I could have purported, and my ears, somehow, aren't painfully ringing. If you get to see them live, you'd be a fool to turn it down.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Bad Choice, Mr. Hipster!
If you moved to Williamsburg/Greenpoint twenty years ago, you weren't moving into a nice neighborhood. There was a chance you would be injured or killed on your way... anywhere. And there was nothing to look at, besides the view of Manhattan, that anyone would want to. But, if you did move out here back in the eighties, you had some CHEAP ASS RENT.
Now the condos are springing up everywhere. It's a "boom town." People live here, make art here, raise FAMILIES here, and not just the lower class. The word "gentrification" comes to mind (and conversation) often when talking about this area of Brooklyn.
However, what few people seem to understand and realize is that Williamsburg is a toxic cesspool. The air is completely unfit to breath, the soil contains oil that seeps into the home, and there's a nuclear waste facility that would kill everyone if it exploded.
Don't believe me? Watch this:
Monday, April 07, 2008
Best Game Ever
If you play a sport as a kid, especially when you do it because you like it, it's easy to entertain pipe dreams of making it to the big leagues, being a super-athlete with screaming fans and big paychecks. Sometimes, just being on the field and making a big play is enough to feel like you've already made it.
Of course, it helps to have all those screaming fans, and a jumbotron with NBC sports doing the announcing. That's why Improv Everywhere decided to take it to the fields in their most recent stunt, selecting a random Little League game to make two teams worth of ten year olds feel like they're in the majors.
Improv Everywhere strikes again.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
What Time is it There?
I just finished watching "What Time is it There?" by Tsai Ming-Liang. As a general response, I thought the movie was pretty good. I was engaged and invested the whole way. There are a few things in particular that I am excited about in it, that I wish to discuss:
First of all, the film features stellar performances from non-actors. The woman who plays the mother in the film is the owner and operator of a small cafe in Taiwan, and has played the mother in all of Ming-Liang's films. There wasn't a single crack in the veneer of her character or performance, and her emotional moments were nothing shy of amazingly real. In particular, one scene struck me as ringing extremely true, and yet it was thoroughly simple. In the scene, she harps on a fish in a tank, finally talking to it as if it were her dead husband. Her words are few, and the emotion is exorbitantly powerful. Her simple line, "It's so hard," is heartbreaking.
Another key feature of this film is its lack of dialog. Long stints of verbal silence govern the film, regardless of what is happening. Sexual explorations, experimentations, and indiscretions, as well as eating, resetting giant clocks in city squares to the wrong time, and a chubby naked stranger in a bathroom stall holding a clock over his penis: these are all occurrences that are unaccompanied by dialog, which is stunning. What is even more stunning is that the level of engagement I had with the film was completely unimpacted by the fact that no one was talking for easily an hour, save perhaps for a line or two. This is a true testament for any filmmaker. In my own filmmaking I consistently explore things like this; how little can I show, how little can I give, how long can I look at something (Ming-Liang also features very long takes), and not lose my audience? So it is always gratifying for me to see feature films tackling the same issues, and tackling them successfully (another filmmaker who pursues these interests is my personal favorite: Apitchatpong Weerasethakul) Ming-Liang describes himself as an observer, and the actors as NOT performing. I share and respect these views which make themselves pleasurably apparent in the film
Finally, more as a point of novelty than anything else, the film features a cameo by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who plays the main character of Truffaut's "400 Blows," a film featured in "What Time is it There," becoming a point of both irony and intrigue.
Ultimately, Tsai Ming-Liang appears to display no pretensions whatsoever but, rather, appears a humble man interested in watching actors and characters live truthfully in the simple realities of the worlds he does little to create or affect. Despite the weight of the issues and concerns it tackles or addresses, the film seems light as air and, like a wisp of smoke, lifts easily when the film ends.
The d-bags over at Pitchfork released a behind-the-scenes "audition tape" as a preview for Ptv, as well as to test their video player. They've encouraged everyone to put the embedding code on their sites to test out to see if it works, and I wanted to oblige them. While not all that funny, the clip does poke some self-deprecating fun at Pitchfork and its elitist nonsense, which I definitely appreciate vis-a-vis my last post about their douche-baggery.
Anyway, here's the player. Let me know if you have any problems with it:
Friday, April 04, 2008
Over at Kitsune Noir yesterday, I discovered the Tumblr blog of Clayton James Cubitt, a well-known fashion/fine art photographer. The blog is called "The Constant Siege." His blog is fairly simple - a place to put things. Words, thoughts, images, all his own. He calls it his "working notebook."
I had seen Cubitt's series "Damaged Doll," photographs of a porn star, but didn't know his name. Today I looked through the rest of the galleries section of his website called "Art" (he also has a complete other gallery of what he calls "work," which is primarily fashion-related photography) on his site. I have to say, his work is startling and immediate. I found it impossible to go through any single photo series without some kind of physical and/or emotional reaction. His portrayals of genitalia and sex acts oscillate between viscerally sexual and inquisitively disembodied. He manages to explore the female vagina with the kind of painstaking completeness of an eager, but diligent, lover, and considers no sexual interest or endeavor to be taboo or not worthy of inquisition.
His portraits are equally stark, purported purveyors of truth and meaning. Shy is clearly a foreign word to Cubitt, his camera, and the subjects that they examine together.
Pitchfork can suck it.
God, Pitchfork hates freedom.
The thing about Pitchfork Media is that it is a great resource. I hear about new albums, singles, music videos, all kinds of stuff. For someone like me who's not always the best at finding blogs and alternative sites to this kind of thing, it's the perfect one-stop-shop for me.
But here's what I hate about it: Pitchfork is full of cynical hipster fascists, who are so certain that their own opinion is right that they just go balls to the wall insulting people. This is nothing new for them, alas. Their sarcasm grows more and more with each passing year, and while I have found that sometimes this yields hilarious news tidbits, headlines, and the like (making for fun reading alongside news that's important to me), it has equal potential to just plain infuriate me.
Today, Pitchfork posted about the announcement that Natalie Portman will be in an upcoming Devendra Banhart music video. I don't like Devendra or his music (although I have a greater appreciation after I saw a recent documentary on the freak-folk movement). Recently, I have come to appreciate Portman as an actress, facilitated by her performance in Closer and her small role in Wes Anderson's Hotel Chevalier. I believe Chevalier, along with The Darjeeling Limited, is Anderson's best work today because it is flawed. He took a chance on exploring (new) emotional territory, and tried to break out of his repetitive style, and for that he earns commendation in my book. Hotel Chevalier in particular was very exciting for me, in part due to its release on iTunes for free.
Enter Paul Thompson of Pitchfork:
When I read that, I was infuriated. As I said, I'm of the opinion that Hotel Chevalier is a good film. It seems to have become a trend that slandering and debasing respectable work and people in a casual, off-hand manner is considered "funny." And, well, I don't buy it. It doesn't make someone more intelligent, more knowledgeable of a topic or field, and, with the exception of K.R., I like to think that I never insult people or work on this site unless I feel they deserve it, and back up why. Granted I am guilty of this behavior in my conversational speech, but that is only amongst friends who share similar opinions and senses of humor. Not in a massively public forum.
And let me just say, for all of the K.R. lovers out there who are so certain that I don't see the other side of things, that I do recognize that Pitchfork can (and, dare I say, should) express their opinions to the max. For one thing, it is the expression of their opinions coupled with their ability to be on top of information that got them to where they are in the first place. As someone who runs his own opinion-oriented site, yeah, I get it. But also as someone running an opinion-oriented site, I get to say: Pitchfork writers, you suck. You're full of yourselves, and completely entrenched in your indie-hipster superiority complex. If I could I'd knock you down a couple of notches, I would.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
If you like Harmony Korine, or even if you don't, I'm excited to find a trailer for his new film, "Mister Lonely," on Kitsune Noir today. Another bizarre film for sure... but it looks like it might be a great drama nonetheless, driven by great character acting.
Also in the vein of movies, Dave has pointed me in the direction of Hollywood Elsewhere, another opinion-oriented blog, that looks like it's coming from someone with both a lot of knowledge and a lot of access to the inner workings of Hollywood. I like some of what he has to say, and will continue to familiarize myself with his blog, and post any nice tidbits here.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Yesterday was an incredibly busy day for this pilot, so this morning (AFTERNOON!) is a roundup for yesterday.
- Ptv -
OH MY GOD. Less than a week left in the countdown to Pitchfork TV. Admittedly, I wasn't excited about it at all. I figured it'd be a great way to see some new music videos, nothing all that different from the Forkcast.
I have been so wrong.
The first week opens with the full length documentary about the Pixies, "loudQUIETloud," various documentations of shows, interviews, my God, who is going to have the time to WATCH this fucking thing?!?!?!?!?! I, for one, intend to just abandon all responsibilities to watch nearly full-time. Mark your calendars: April 7.
- Architecture -
Another beautiful Stumble find, this site of badass architecture needs no further introduction or description... which is lucky, because I know ZERO about architecture.
- Space Collective Gallery -
Still trying to wrap my head around what "Space Collective" is exactly... but this gallery of lots of things Space-Collective is sure to keep you busy for quite some time. Art, philosophy, design, and tons more, it's like wading through translucent mud and then deciding to put on a snorkel and stick your head under.
- M83 -
Just got their new album, which is fairly enjoyable, but seems to cop off of the previous two (similar vocal lines, story-telling clips). But regardless, I really like them because of their ability to project and propel me into a headspace that feels like I'm running away from some mecha-beast 100 years in the future.
Sorry, I don't know where I was going with that. If you like skateboarding, M83, and/or explosions, you're gonna LOVE this:
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Google Strikes Again!
Google is constantly making your life easier. You can spy on your neighbors, you can make calendars for other people, you can chat and e-mail at the same time, and you can search the entire internet for ANYTHING.
And now, you can render time meaningless.
Thanks to Google Custom Time, now you can send an e-mail an hour ago, a day ago, even YEARS ago! The next time somebody tells you you didn't send them that report that you owed, or you forgot their birthday, or there's NO WAY you've met before, now you can prove them wrong! Just send an e-mail and date it back to whenever you need, and tell them, "Uh uh, check your mail again!" Thanks Gmail!!
Another thing Google is good at is April Fools.
Before and After
Death is a concept frequently addressed in all forms of art: in painting, skulls and other ephemeris were placed into still-lifes, film addresses both the philosophies and realities of death. Photography, too, has been no stranger to death. BoinBoing posted a beautiful, but sobering, series of photos by Walter Schels and his partner, Beate Lakotta. Accompanied by brief exerpts of interviews and summaries of the people, these photos serve as testament to the fleeting enigma that is life.
Stumble - Milk
Boredom led me to the StumbleUpon site, a service I was aware of but had never really used. If you don't know how it works, you put a plug-in on your browser and hit "stumble" and you end up at a random site. End of story. But they're sites that people post to the service, and it tries to cater your stumbling to your previous tastes. But you can also just use the site to find random stuff.
Enter "Milk." If you've ever wanted to have sex with sleek design (think the last few years of Mac design), you're going to need some time alone with a tissue box on this one. The Milk is a fantastic solution to a desktop catering to your computing and badass needs.
Keep your pants on.