Category Archives: Culture

Last night I dreamt I went to McKittrick again…

I left the McKittrick Hotel on West 27th Avenue at around ten PM after three hours of walking up and down five floors of the building. I walked to the nearest PATH station wearing a white Venetian-styled mask sitting on top of my hat. My hand still felt mentally sticky despite washing them of the chocolate that covered a naked man about forty-five minutes ago. My right foot had a sharp jabbing pain. It was another pretty fun and bizarre Saturday night in the city, although this one more bizarre than usual.

On October 23rd, I saw Sleep No More, a play created by the UK-based avant-garde troupe Punchdrunk. The play devoured the insides of a building and replaced it with a 1920s hotel, mixing it with Shakespeare and Alfred Hitchcock – and just a little Stanley Kubrick – to create a non-linear retelling of Macbeth. After constant haranguing from my good friend Jeff, I decided to make a trip down from southern Massachusetts to the Chelsea district in Manhattan to see if it really deserved the hype.

There is no sign for the show, and the looks on the people waiting on line to a large midnight brown door showed doubt if this was the right venue at all. From the attire of the people waiting at the front, with women in flowing velvet skirts and men in retro three-piece suits, it was clear I was at the right spot. Despite buying a ticket for a later showing, which cut the length of the performance considerably, I tried my luck by showing up early. Luckily, my plan worked and I found myself holding my ticket – an ace of clubs playing card—underneath the red lights of a bar. One of the ushers, a slender woman in a tight black dressing, handed out the mask I’d be wearing the rest of the night. I asked a bartender from southwest England what the special was — to no surprise, it was absinthe punch. I pounded mine down after hearing the semi-aristocratic and spooky voice of one of the ushers calling for us to the elevator. He said “Welcome to Manderley” to me as I passed by. “Sure thing, Olivier,” I replied.

Another usher wearing a tuxedo spoke out the rules to all the watchers before he pressed the button on the elevator: Wear our mask at all times, don’t speak, and follow the instructions on the ushers wearing black masks. As a joke, he’d let out a few of the audience in groups, closing the doors behind them as he continued. There is a secret sixth floor open to random chosen audience members, but no one got lucky in my group.

He let the remaining watchers on the third floor – a long lobby with a concierge desk in front of a wall filled with hooks for room keys. Bookcases lined the walls and taxidermy animals and other foreboding early 20th century knickknacks sat on the top of bureaus and tables. I looked around until the first actor walked into the room. She played the role of Mrs. Danvers, the antagonist from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca,  in the style taken from Hitchcock’s adaptation of the novel. She slowly moved around holding a tray full of glasses with a pitcher.  Oddly enough, that actor was the most attractive of the night, at least to me, despite her white hair and the conservative servant’s dress she wore. I followed her, but she disappeared into a hidden door. The usher blocked me, so as I looked for another room, I took one of the room keys as a consolation prize and pressed on.

I found myself in the balcony overlooking a stage where a pair danced under blue lights. The female dancer – I assumed she was one of the three witches – was very androgynous, and the line blurred even more when she threw off her wig to show her shaven head. She like, many other performers I saw that night, was towering and lithe. Later that night I saw her in a chapel, performing a dance-attack mix attack on an actor kneeling in prayer. The room was so small that I almost took a kick in the chest when penitent actor flipped over the altar table. In another moment of assault, another actor charged through the crowd and jumped between metal walls, propping himself up in quick bursts and then sliding down. Later on the stage turned into a ballroom under lights of a warmer color, and seeing all the dancers move in unison even while performing in very difficult maneuvers was impressive.

It was during one of those dancing scenes that I picked up another keepsake. One of the witches and a male dancer passed a king of clubs to each other sensually from their mouths while performing on a pool t table. They left the card there and I snatched it the moment the crowd left.

I moved on floor by floor, moving away from most of the directions the crowd headed to save for a few times the characters ran to other places for a new scene. When forced into the crowd, I tried my best to fight my habit of pushing through older women, which was hard to do in the middle of a charge up flights of stairs. I was on my own most of the time.  I ran through a thicket maze that led to a hospital room where an actor filled a bathtub with water. I touched it after the scene ended – it was cold and had a slight orange hue. Foreboding, that scene definitely was. I saw Banquo’s death and Mrs. Danvers hounding of poor Mrs. de Winter from afar.

Performers randomly interacted with members of the audience. The first one I saw involved a speakeasy bartender motioning a woman from her husband and to the bar. He played a card game – he put down three cards and one on his forehead. She guessed correctly and as a prize, he pulled out a bottle from a locked box and brought her over to an upturned box. He poured two glasses and drank one. He raised his foot on the box and moved closer to her, lifted her mask, and helped her drink the other glass. Later on that night, one of the witches grabbed another audience member and pulled her behind a hidden door.

In my disjointed path through the floors, Lady Macbeth had the most interaction with the audience. She slow danced with a male audience member, and handed her necklace to another person. My personal moment happened right after she let go of the necklace and fell to the floor. She put her hand out in the hopes that someone would pull her up. I stood dead center from her, so I reached out and grabbed her hand. She had stringy blond hair and wore a sequined black dress. I looked right into her pale hazel eyes as she moved in closer. She whispered to me and caressed my mask before kissing it on the right side. Later on, I saw her naked and crying, sitting in the bathtub as she rubbed the orange-tinged water on her body to clean the imaginary bloodstains off her body.  Despite that scene, It was the moment when her face was inches away from mine that is embedded into my memory.

The one thing I wanted to make sure to see was an intense verse version of Macbeth’s visit to the witches, which my friend named the “techno orgy scene.” It became my only priority when I reached my last hour of the performance. The sound of throbbing bass coming from the fourth floor above me increased my desperation as I ran through the third,  and  I got lost in the maze and the hallways on the fifth– I don’t know how I skipped a floor, I wasn’t thinking straight at that point.  As soon as I entered the fourth floor, I saw a small group of the audience walk through a slightly opened mirrored door leading into a room with flashing lights pouring out. I walked in and joined them as we surrounded the three witches and Macbeth. The bass wasn’t as loud as in a club, but it had this primal thump.   The dancers slithered on top of each other, their clothes disappearing between flashes of light. One of the witches placed a black goat mask on Macbeth, transforming him into a clubbing Baphomet. The music turned brutal and the lights flicked rapidly. One witch held a bloodied baby doll in her arms, while another held up a small miniature tree as a priest would hold up a Catholic host. I turned to see the third witch pouring a black liquid on Macbeth’s chest. It trailed all the way down. It was around this time I did a conservative Jersey fist pump to the beat for a few seconds before anyone noticed it.  The lights cut out and the music stopped. When the lights came on again, the only thing left was the baby and the tree. Seeing as it would be impossible – and insane – to steal the baby, I took the tree as a consolation prize. At least, I tried to. It fell out of my pocket on my way to the grand finale.

The entire audience returned to the stage to see Macbeth in the gallows. I saw the scene from the balcony next to Mrs. de Winter, rubbing her now pregnant belly, and the austerely posed Mrs. Danvers. The lights were deep blue, and when I peered down I finally realized just how many of us had walked through the five floors. The floor, packed with the white masked voyeurs, watched as our tragic hero stood upon the table – originally made for the banquet seen where the ghost of Banquo drives Macbeth mad—used as a makeshift gallows. After he made his last shout before the pulling of the lever, there was no sound save for clapping – no whistles or hoots or shouts. Even after the usher showed people the way back to the lounge, they made no sound. It was a quick shuffling of mutes.

The thing stuck to my mind, even as I write this, is that a persistent feeling of walking into a house of ghosts. Don’t confuse it with the feeling you get walking through a haunted house.  Walking alongside them, hearing them whisper and at times making physical contact that serves as a reminder of the barrier of the scene that is unfolding. I hope I get to see something as mind-bending a feeling like sometime in the near future. For the time being, I’m going to go watch Hitchcock. I wonder what they would do with Vertigo.

 

Deconstructing a New Criticism

 

Willie Osterweil declares the Hollywood system dead. Long live the Hollywood system.

Film editor Willie Osterweil proposes a new type of criticism on The New Inquiry,  one that is more egalitarian and eschews  the director/marketing complex of  an industry that sells movies like Juno the same way it sells movies like Transformers. Except, the concepts hes puts forth aren’t new, or that his jabs at sacred cows undermine his delivery of the message he’s making, along with the message itself.

1.

He starts with a classic film student break play.  It starts with a Cahiers du Cinema pass, a couple of dribbles from Herzog to Kar Wai Wong before setting up for his kill shot, his “film current” idea. This is his description of the concept:

“A manufactured zeitgeist, a false urgency sustained by the barrage of advertisement, conversation, and criticism about a movie that creates a sense that films reflect their cultural moment.”

He bemoans the way the current’s whitewater crushes any ounce of true criticism due to marketing tricks blinding critics and moviegoers. It’s a bloated idea that is best dissected using the word zeitgeist. By saying that there exists a constructed “spirit of the age”,  he assumes that the ones before it were completely organic structures or that the entirety of moviegoers then were any less easily captivated by mediocre or bad films as they are now.

 

His attempt in convincing us to destroy the use of film critics shows how much farther down he is in the currents of reality, let alone a film one. His choice of letting the people choose and comment on a movie instead of the experts is a foolish one. People are easily swayed in the age we live in now. He should read up on how companies in other industries use Search Engine Optimization and social media to go past the critics and drive their marketing at the doorstep of the consumer. Criticism is, in many respects, a dead thought killed by the crowd-sourcing reviewers Osterweil is hoping will come (Hint: they’re already here, and they give us homogenized crap).  He needs to read up on Christopher R. Weingarten’s attacks on the new democratic system in music criticism today.

2.

On to the manufactured part of his idea – Crash is a mediocre movie at best.  Whether by marketing ploys or by undeserved accolades, he thinks it’s a no-brainer to see its flaws. His complaint is a nicer way of saying, “Here, here! This is bad!, Why are you watching it?”

That is a complete waste of time.  To think that Crash made every single review on the movie, and by effect on race relations, have merit or effect is asinine. You can go through forums throughout the internet and see comments on the movie that boil down to “This movie portrays white guilt!” or “This movie shows how racist you are!” It sounds eerily similar to the way sports fans or political junkies talk. That is how human nature works, Mr Osterweil, through mob mentalities that aren’t going away anytime soon.

As far as his beloved “sheeple”, at this point of Crash’s legacy, it is already showing signs of general disdain and is easily forgotten. This is not only from critics, but the masses as well. Go ahead, Google “most overrated Oscar winners”; I’ll wait.  As for Slumdog Millionaire, we’ll see how well it fares in a few years. With critics like Salman Rushdie at the top of an already large number of Indians slamming it for its depiction of poverty tourism, that will wash away like anything else in his current, with almost no trace of it left behind. The bears will always catch and eat the weakest salmon, no matter what part of the current they are at.

3.

He then takes a  stand in rooting for the entire production crew of a movie instead of the director, a  form of  Marxist theory with a spotlight on the real Hollywood proletariat instead of the cinematic one in, say, Battleship Potemptkin.  Another example at an attempt of creating a new form of criticism, the Schreiber theory proposed by David Kipen, barely any meat to it as well.

As for his use of statistics to show the horrible disconnect between the working masses behind the sets and the uber-auteur, let’s go back to music. The BLS has their total at 240,000. Another industry, Authors, writers, and editors have 281,300 . Now, off the top of your head name as many as you know in each profession. I’m sure it will be as comparable to the 200 Osterweil mentions in his manifesto. He’s making exceptions for an “exploitative labor relation” that happens in many industries, which makes his pseudo- “power to the people” idea very stale. Don’t bring numbers to a fact-checking fight.

4.

It is true that many directors develop a cult of personality using the umbrella of the auteur mystique without really deserving them. What he fails to see is that directors themselves eventually lose their power, just like the rest of us. Film-makers like Scorsese keep theirs for longer while others like Shyalaman grind it away outright.

Osterweil concentrates on Nolan as his sacred cow/red herring to slaughter. His mention of Batman Begins as “a historical footnote” makes no sense in that Nolan’s use of an existing intellectual property in a different way led to The Dark Knight, one of the best action movies in a long time. That led to the casting of great actor (in this case Heath Ledger as the Joker) whose performance blew away almost all iterations of the character. To see a skilled actor like Ledger work on The Dark Knight and putting his all into it is a testament to both men, not just the director.

He also blames Nolan in failing to use his clout to push the envelope. Nolan is not as powerful as a producer/director like Steven Spielberg, who can do whatever he wants. His studio might have wanted to cast DiCaprio instead of someone Nolan thought fit the role better and lost that fight. They might have attempted to release the movie in 3D and hastily slap them in the shots and he won that one. No one is completely invulnerable to an industry owned by five major companies that have ruled the industry with an iron grip since day one. That’s why the indie film scene exists, Mr. Osterweil. If you don’t like being put down by the cinema “Man”, there are other ways of appreciating and hyping the movies that you like. Go use some of that newfangled social media idea to go around the big studios.

5.

His comparison to Nolan with Michael Bay is clearly made to make a false polemic. That’s when you can start to notice his internet trolling at work. Read his article on technology enslaving us. He writes fourteen paragraphs to say what my high school chemistry teacher said on my calculator use: The machine is only as good as its user. All the small bites he makes in both his manifesto and that article show a severe lack of perspective on his part and a propensity to develop a florid, grandiose way of presenting incredibly simple ideas. All he wants from the reader is to make an educated response to make his criticism relevant to the discussion. It isn’t, mainly because it’s full of tired gripes and poorly used tactics on people who really know what they’re talking about. Osterweil needs to learn from Armond White: If you’re going to troll, do it right.

What I Really Want To Do On My Birthday ( A Self-Indulgent Wikipedia Facts Poem)

Saludo al coraje de los hombres de Puebla en esta dia,

But what I really want to do today

is go to Saint Helena  and throw a party in Napoleon’s cell,

and just to piss his spirit off,

 fly back to the States,

  and throw an original Memorial Day in our Waterloo.

When I get tired, I’ll make the trip international,

go to Ethiopia, see the second coming of  Haile Selassie,

have him lend me a few minutes to sit on his throne

  as he puts Kublai Khan’s crown on my head

while Marx takes my oath of office with my hand over On the Origins of Species,

before I throw it at William Jennings Bryan’s head before his opening statement.

Once I become a one-day king,

I’ll send a package of loaded Iranian guns to Oliver North’s house

snitch on his ass and laugh with my friends

as  the ATF arrests him on Fox News.

After the antics, go bar-hopping with Kierkegaard

 in a free West Germany,

get arrested with Sacco and Vanzetti after too many drinks,

and if I get too rowdy, take a caning on the ass by Singaporean dancers.

I want to start a one-man riot in Greece

just to get an article written by Nellie Bly and Bryan Williams.

I want to rock out to a band with me on guitar,

 Ian McCulloch and Adele on vocals,

 Bill Ward on drums,

and have the album produced by Delia Derbyshire.

I want to take acting lessons from Roger Rees,

 John Rhys-Davies, and Lance Henriksen

just so I can kick Henry Cavill out of his Superman gig.

And then, right before I go to sleep,

wave at Alan Shepard along con mi familia

as Mercury-Redstone 1 blinks its way  across the night.

– Note: I just wrote this and cleaned it up five minutes before midnight West coast time while  sober. Go me.

Precognition to Femme Fatale

Lately I’ve been reading  Feeling the Future, a paper from Dr. Daryl Bem from Cornell University that tries to put evidence for psychic precognitive abilities in people. MSNBC’s Cosmic Log has a pretty good story on it with a lot of links to other articles at the bottom of  it.  I’m gonna keep my eye on this story.

While I’m still on crazy sci-fi stuff happening in the real world, CERN has captured antimatter atoms. Let that one sink in your head for a bit. We made ANTIMATTER (OK, so they were only antihydrogen atoms and they don’t last very long, but still).

Also, from Warren Ellis’ blog: DIY exotic weapons. Now you can make that 9mm SMG you’ve always wanted using plumbing pipes! Seriously, this is becoming a Fallout 3 world day by day.

For all you alternate history heads: Mandela’s historic election victory almost didn’t happen because of hacking. Imagine a story that could be developed from that angle: a cyberwar in South Africa , sprinkled with apartheid and all the turmoil that was happening during that time.

To cap it off, here’s a great cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” by Aloe Blacc:

FoldIt to Heinlein

It’s always cool to find some science articles, so I’m going to start of a bit strong with it today. First off,  some researchers over at the University of Washington have used video games to start  FoldIt, which is a game where users can guess how the protein will fold. Now, anyone who knows about the structure of protein knows how difficult it is to determine it (if you don’t, here’s the Science article for FoldIt that can help you understand it a bit better). Using crowd-sourcing to figure out some of the things of the universe is not a new idea of course ( Seti@home comes to mind), but the gaming angle brings other ideas to mind. If this game or another one like it could capture the same amount of users as say, Farmville, this could really help with research efforts in the future.

Alasdair Wilkins over at io9 posted a pretty interesting article on how our ticket to a longer life is not in the DNA in the cell nucleus, but in the mitochondria. I also read the abstract posted, and for some reason it set off certain flags in my mind. I conferred with a friend to help me figure things out, and to make things easier for those of you that don’t know much about cell or molecular biology, there’s a lot of other external factors that need to be addressed when it comes to DNA (Like how metabolism affects evolution in bats, for example).  While this take on aging  is a new and interesting one, I’m going to have to see some more research before we can start rubbing beetle juice on our faces.

While reading an article on James Franco he mentioned this poem, “The Clerks Tale“, by Spencer Reese. All you nine-to-fivers, give it a read, it’s a good one.

Top end it, I found one of my favorite quotes and decided to put it up. It’s from one of sci-fi’s greats, Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Alt/1977 to Maury Chaykin

To kick this series of oddities I find interesting off, Alex Varanese went on a serious reverse anachronism kick and took tech back to the 70s with his ALT/1977 series of false ads for electronics cool enough for both Steve Jobs and Burt Reynolds. Here’s a sample:

Comic book writer Matt Fraction had a great presentation at Comic-Con this year titled The Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines, where he talked about comics, his mother’s medical struggle and how that affected him, why Stilt-Man sucks so much, and how it all fits together in the grand scheme of things. It sounds like a rambling mess, I know, but trust Fraction, his work on Invincible Iron Man and Casanova are really top-notch.

Shaenon K. Garrity  has made a pretty humorous interpretation of Edward Gorey’s recorded love for Star Trek by drawing the famous “Trouble With Tribbles” episode in his style:

i09 dropped a pretty good list of advice taken  from sci-fi and fantasy books. There’s some pretty good ones from people in the comments section too, check that out.

Some of you might have seen this already, but for all the mashup/Palahniuk/Pride & Prejudice fans out there, I present to you: Jane Austen’s Fight Club:

Morgan Meis’ article on video games and the book Extra Lives is actually pretty refreshing and intelligently written. At one point the article reminded me of a line from “Little Weapon”, from Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool:

Imagine if I had to console
The families of those slain and slayed on game consoles

And I’m going to have to end it with a bit of bad news: the great character actor Maury Chaykin passed away yesterday at the age of 61. In honor of him I’m putting down a clip from A Nero Wolfe Mystery, which was a mystery program on A&E from 2001-02 taking Rex Stout’s stories and putting them on TV. Chaykin is the one playing the eponymous character sitting down:

Ayahuasca to Witch Trials

Now that the World Cup is over I can kick-start the dump of info I’ve been grabbing since kick-off. First up, courtesy of Mr. Warren Ellis is this article talking about an evolution of ayahuasca called changa, if you can call smoking an Amazonian hallucinogenic plant and DMT “evolution” from drinking it. Now, as a South American I do take a bit offense to some new-agers freebasing off of plants from my neck of the woods. Still, it did make me wonder if sometime in the future some psychedelic genetic engineers would try to make a one-stop shop plant that had both MAOIs and DMTs needed for the trip instead of needing two, for experimental purposes of course.

Moving on, one of my favorite Asimov stories, “The Last Question”, is up for your reading pleasure, thanks to Thrivenotes.  Check it out, and make sure to read the last line.

This one needs no details: DNA robot nanospiders. Just kidding, what that really mean is that scientists from four universities (Caltech, Columbia, Arizona State, and U of Michigan) have found a way to program DNA molecules to act much like the robots you’d make with a Lego Mindstorms set, only you know, at the nanoscale. How could they do this with such a small sort of material like DNA, you ask? Well, that’s when my good old friend DNA origami comes into play, which I mentioned in a post a while back. This is just at the proof-of-concept stage, they aren’t curing cancer or building new cells yet, but give them time. We’ll be killing ourselves with ourselves soon enough.

And to finish this off, the Central African Republic’s issues with taking witchcraft to court seems like something out of Franz Kafka and Terry Pratchett, but this is actually happening.


Top Fives Racial Stereotypes by Special Guest Kali Baker-Johnson

I’ll admit that when I came up with the idea for this Top Five, I thought this was going to piss off people. But then I remembered that there are enough people who loved Dave Chappelle and South Park to know how to take a joke, and went with it anyway. To my luck, I also have someone who is willing to take the hit and get all the hate e-mail (actually, I’ll still get them, but at least I know I wasn’t the one that they’re meant for). without further ado, here is my friend, Kali Baker-Johnson who is a part of the A Room Full of Monkeys blog . Big warning: this post has lots of profanity and, of course, racial slurs: Read the rest of this entry

Heavy Rain and the New Cinematic Experience

My friends and I watched Quantic Dream‘s latest, Heavy Rain for the last couple of days. I say “watch” for this, a PS3 game, because in reality only one of us played it while the rest watched what happened on the screen. This is not an entirely new phenomenon in my group of friends; we had done the same for games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Batman: Arkham Asylum. what made this one much more interesting to me was that, as a lover of film and the way the medium works, it was really amazing to see how work normally used for film-making could really be applied to video games, and how that in turn can change the way we as gamers play games. Read the rest of this entry

Wallace Stevens and other Links

Ryan Ruby’s article on poet Wallace Stevens and how his imagination superseded that classic need to be a roustabout like the Beat poets is a pretty good one (Courtesy of More Intelligent Life). Oddly enough, I spent some time yesterday in the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and I wondered at the level of discomfort a “square” like Stevens would have had in there, especially during the Howl days.

In another stroke of coincidence, the bookstore was at the edge of Chinatown, which reminded me of a Lev Navrozov  article on why China will rule the US. In my opinion, it’s a very alarmist and seems to be pandering to the Glenn Beck set, but it did pop two images into my mind:

and

And to cap it off, I want to help out Doug Williams in his continued quest to work with Neill Blomkamp. It doesn’t hurt that his art is pretty cool too.