I'm Chuck Tryon and I'll probably spend a lot of time writing about popular culture, since I teach cultural studies at Georgia Tech. I may also spend a lot of time writing about politics, since I have an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation. We'll see how it goes.
drivin' n' cryin'
Sunday, March 30, 2003
Just emailed my application for a film panel at the Rocky Mountain MLA in October. It's basically going to update some of my concerns about cinematic representations of digital technologies that I raised in my Dark City paper, but looking at Kathryn Bigelow's 1995 film, Strange Days. After talking with Jay Telotte about my Dark City paper, I've become a little more motivated to get focused on my book project--which argues that time-travel films often function as a means of engaging with the encroachment of digital technologies on the photochemical process of filmmaking (very brief synopsis, I know). It's taking me a while, but I think I'm starting to recognize the contribution that my project can make in the field. I'm not sure if it's too much modesty or simply being a little dense, but I've really struggled with seeing the importance of my work, so I sometimes fail to foreground what are actually the most compelling claims about cinema's engagement with new media (generally digital) technologies.
I've also been thinking about Terry Gilliam's 1995 film, Twelve Monkeys, in part because I'm teaching it in my English 1102 course, especially in terms of its use of information technologies to address the identity fragmentation associated with postmodern life. In a sense, these are the two films that sparked my initial interest in thinking about film as a time machine, and I vividly remember watching Strange Days on video with several friends from Purdue and recognizing the film's enticing commentary on spectatorship and identity. Several weeks later, I saw Twelve Monkeys, and the two films became inseparable for me. It would take years before I would be able to recognize the importance of digital technologies to my concerns, but I think it's important for me to be able to point back to that pivotal moment in my life when I had that brief moment of recognition.
Went to see Gaspar Noe's Irreversible tonight at the Plaza. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the film, either. The film opens with the credits, scrolling "backwards," up the screen, and suggesting the film's premise of telling a story in reverse chronological order, followed by a scene of tremendous violence, with two men savagely beating a man (significantly in a gay sex club called The Rectum). We gradually learn that Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and his friend are avenging a brutal rape of Marcus's girlfriend, Alex (Monica Bellucci). The handheld camera, with its jerky movements, suggests a world out of synch, that "we" are in a state of total chaos. The camera then pans and tilts in a counterclockwise spiral, and with it we "travel" back several hours to witness Alex's rape, which is graphically filmed in a narrow tunnel with red lighting to accentuate the scene's violence and to prevent us from looking away, or at least looking at anything else on screen. Then, with another spiral movement of the camera, we are taken back even earlier in the evening, and so on. The film closes (as I expected from previews) on a shot of Alex reading a book in a placid green meadow, children playfully jumping over her into a sprinkler, the camera spiralling counterclockwise against the spray of the water.
Basically, unlike Memento, a complicated film that reinscribes film noir tropes in a meditation on photography and memory, Noe's film seems to have a very simple message: Time destroys everything. The use of the reverse chronology technique doesn't undermine or challenge our expectations or knowledge as viewers; instead we are given everything, and the payoff isn't nearly as strong. That being said, Bellucci, Cassell, and Albert Dupontel give emotionally powerful performances that convey a great deal of emotional depth.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about the rape scene. First, I don't want to place myself in the position of censor. It's tempting to regard it as gratuitously long, but I think the discomfort that the scene creates denies any real visual pleasure, at least for me (the viewer is as helpless as Bellucci's Alex). Because of the camera positioning, it's clear that Bellucci is not being placed on screen during the rape for erotic contemplation, and yet, I can't help but feel that the scene was voyeuristic, in part due to the clinical distance with which we regard the scene, in many ways recalling the infamous rape sequences in The Accused, which Carol Clover has helpfully associated with the exploitative genre of rape revenge films (like I Spit on Your Grave). Thus, the film's message (Time destroys everything) relies upon violence against women and revulsion against homosexuality. At this point, my temptation is to view Irreversible as a somewhat juvenille attempt to say something profound about time and lost innocence. In this sense, Irreversible's nostalgia seems quite troubling, especially since it relies so heavily upon our revulsion at the sequences filmed at the gay sex club.
Roger Ebert reads the film a lot more generously than I do:
The fact is, the reverse chronology makes "Irreversible" a film that structurally argues against rape and violence, while ordinary chronology would lead us down a seductive narrative path toward a shocking, exploitative payoff. By placing the ugliness at the beginning, Gaspar Noe forces us to think seriously about the sexual violence involved. The movie does not end with rape as its climax and send us out of the theater as if something had been communicated. It starts with it, and asks us to sit there for another hour and process our thoughts. It is therefore moral - at a structural level. This is a tempting reading--it's the one I want to make--but I still can't shake the fact that the sexual violence is being used to make the point about time, not the other way around.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Decided to join the AtlantaBlogs webring after reading George's discussion of finding his blog on a directory of Kansas City blogs. Found it interesting that AtlantaBlogs maps its collection of blogs on the map of MARTA rail lines for two possibly related reasons: (1) it privileges MARTA as an important part of the city's landscape, a primary means of negotiating a city whose highway system is often criticized for its complexity and traffic, but (2) it also (perhaps unintentionally) calls attention to the gaps of such a mapping, what happens to those sections of the city that exist outside the lines of MARTA's somewhat limited reach.
Whenever I look at the MARTA map (which is often since I use it to commute to Georgia Tech), I can't help but imagine how Atlanta could have turned out differently, picturing the alternate versions of the city (in much the same way that Mike Davis imagines alternate versions of Los Angeles in City of Quartz) buried beneath (beyond?) what exists. What if the state had required that surrounding suburban counties accept mass transit? What new configurations of urban space might exist in a city characterized by nightmarish and essentially soulless suburban sprawl? Growing up in Atlanta (from the late 70s until the early 90s) and returning after several years away has given me a chance to re-evaluate the complexities of the city's growth and development.
It's also been intersting to talk with my architecture students, who have been studying Atlanta as a "text," including their reserach on the Atlantic Station project, in which homes, apartments, and shopping centers are being built on the old Atlantic Steel site. The Atlantic Station website itself is interesting in the ways that it emphasizes the traces of this lost past even as the physical space of the factory itself will be "buried" underneath the newer buildings that replace it. Even so, I see the redevlopment of urban space as a generally positive thing that will hopefully reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
I've wandered a long way from my original reflection on AtlantaBlogs, but I do see this geographic configuration of blogging as an interesting one. In a genre (medium?) that seemingly resists spatialization (one could compose and read a blog from anywhere with an internet connection), it's interesting that we return to some of these older organizing categories.
Time Travel as Defense
Found this article on Blogdex amsuing, especially given the subject of my dissertation. It seems that Andrew Carlssin, who is accused of insider trading, is claiming to be a time traveler from the 23rd century in order to explain his uncanny stock success during the recent bear market. Apparently he has gone from a $800 investment to a fortune well over $300 million in just a few months. Whether time traveler or inside trader, you have to, hmm, appreciate the man's hubris, making that much money when everyone else's retirement protfolios are dissapearing so fast.
The story reminds me of Ken Grimwood's "time-travel" novel Replay, in which a character, Jeff, relives the years 1963-1987 (roughly the year the novel was published) several times, in each case creating new alternate realities. The character's first impulse is to rack up a fortune in Vegas and on the stock market. In one of the realities, Jeff and another replayer decide to go public with their experiences. The result is a near fascist government that operates by pre-emptive strikes against smaller governments that it finds threatening. Sound familiar?
Went to see David Cronenberg's Spider tonight. The film, based on a novel by Patrick McGrath, stars Ralph Fiennes as Dennis, a mentally ill person living in a halfway house in England. Dennis, a schizophrenic, struggles with the memories of his traumatic past. The film was well acted, with Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, and Gabriel Byrne all giving effective, compelling performances, but the narrative left me feeling a little dry. Not sure if that's a product of Cronenberg's clinical approach to filmmaking or something else lacking in the film. I'm not really calling for a simplistic psychologizing of Dennis as much as a more explicit presentation of the confusion about what is real and what isn't. Of course, in some ways, it's an interesting followup to his previous film, eXistenZ, which more explicitly attached ontological questions to digital technologies, specifically a virtual reality program that blurs the boundaries between VR and RL. Spider also represents something of a departure for Cronenberg in that it is far less overtly corporeal than most of his recent films, especially eXistenZ and Crash
Friday, March 28, 2003
Campaign Blogging Reform
Democratic Presidential candidate Gary Hart has entered the blogosphere. Hart comments that
From time to time, I'll post my thoughts on current policy matters, as well as share some stories about where I'm traveling and the people I'm meeting. I'll also ask some of my friends to share their thoughts as well. I cannot promise to be as skillful at this as many of those who have made the blogger universe such an important part of the internet. However, I'm committed to using the Internet as a vital tool to engage people on critical policy matters and the future of our country. Hart's blog includes a comments feature (already widely used), managed by a campaign assistant. It's interesting that many of the comments have addressed how blogs might function as a public forum outside of "normal" political discourse. Of course I can see it fitting within several traditional narratives about political campaigning: the comments function as a kind of "town hall" and of course blogging is a cheap way to sustain a quasi-personal relationship with a potentially large audience that is now becoming savvy to blogging. In the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure what effect Hart's blog will have on his campaign; instead, I'm more curious how his blog may affect blogging itself because of the public nature of his campaign.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Details and Emotions
The title of this blog comes from Jill Walker, a graduate student in Norway, who amplifies some of my earlier observations about Lt. Smash's blog. She writes:
Lt Smash on the other hand rarely notes details. A hard sarcasm filling every word. Perhaps that's the only way he can cope with his life right now. When the sarcasm lifts set phrases appear: "We will not forget. And we will not rest as long as our freedom and safety is threatened." But these ritual patterns of words are only another kind of linguistic protection. Certainly, one of the major reasons that Smash avoids details might be the secrecy associated with and demanded by the military, but like her, I find myself much more compelled by Salam's blog in ways that seem to go beyond my own political identifications, and that seems to grow out of the ways in which Salam and Smash tell their stories, their narrative styles, if you will.
I myself have been thinking about this topic a lot--perhaps too much--on this blog, but I think that may be in response to my own inability to do anything to prevent this war from happening. I've participated in rallies, both virtual and material. I've talked to students and colleagues, and yet I can't fight the nagging feeling that my viewpoint on the war isn't being acknowledged, hence the obsessive musings on my blog. But it's hard to think of anything else when human death is being translated into a video game.
Just found out that Vic Chesnutt is playing the Echo Lounge on Friday, April 4. If anyone in Atlanta happens to be reading my blog, it's definitely a show well worth seeing. Chestnutt is more or less a local musician whose stripped down acoustical stream-of-consciousness songs caught the ear of Michael Stipe who has produced and sung on several of Chesnutt's albums. Bit of trivia: he also has a bit part as one of Dwight Yoakum's hard drinking buddies in Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade. Should be a cool show.
Always be Excellent
Just began reading The University in Ruins (1994) by Bill Readings. Readings addresses some issues of deep concern to me as an academic. More than just observing the corporatization of the Western university, he highlights the reasons behind this transformation, noting that:
The Univeristy is becoming a different kind of institution, one that is no longer linked to the destiny of the nation-state by virtue of its role as producer, protector, and inculcator of an idea of national culture. The process of economic globalization brings with it the relative decline of the nation-state as the prime instance of the reproduction of capital around the world. (3) Readings then argues that rather than reproducing a national culture, universities have become more concerned with the "discourse of excellence," an intentionally vague term that positions the university as providing a service for its student customers (annual articles in US News and World Report essentially reproduce this logic). Thus far, the book looks to be an important read for anyone within the Academy (and works to challenge some of the more conservative academic jeremiads, such as Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind). I'm hoping to begin thinking about Readings' arguments in the light of economic and political transformations (including recent anti-French sentiment) since the publication of University.
Also just started reading The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties, edited by Jon Lewis, which looks like a useful collection of essays on the state of contemporary film (and film theory). More later on that.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Tokyo Rose and Salam Pax
Just read William Gibson commentary on Salam, and it's worth checking out. I'd agree with Gibson's assertion that Salam is not an Iraqi ruse, but his suggestion that intelligence organizations are learning from Salam seems like to more intriguing, albeit scarier, claim in my opinion. Of course, on an ideological level, blogs are operating in all kinds of complicated ways, including the ways in which Salam's blog has been discussed and appropriated in the mainstream media.
A colleague, Doreen, has started her own blog, Diary of an Aging Protestor, where she addresses the vosual and verbal rhetoric of the war in Iraq. In her March 25 entry, The Military Eye, she powerfully discusses the ways in which embedded journalists "are so insidiously part of the military machine." It's a powerful account of the ways in which the TV viewer's POV is "cybernetcially connected to the war machine." It seems that despite efforts to counteract criticisms of Gulf War I coverage, the embedded journalists sill provide us with little more than a militarized viewpoint, aligning the visual frame with the sites of the gun, a video game imposed on a grand scale on Iraq. Doreen's post recalls Paul Virilio's fascinating arguments in War and Cinema about the intersection between violence and ways of seeing.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
While reading materials for this week's electronic pedagogy seminar here at Georgia Tech, I've been thinking pretty heavily about coverage of war and weblogs. Given some of the questions that Beth E. Kolko, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, and others have been addressing regarding hypertext writing and identity consturtion, I haven't been able to think of anything but the weblogs that claim to document the current war in Iraq from a variety of perspectives. In addition to Where is Raed, written by Salam Pax, which I find incredibly compelling, I've also briefly discussed several others by journalists, all of whom claim a slightly different position in relation to war coverage (independent vs. embedded journalists, etc).
Most recently, another blog, Lt. Smash, ostensibly written by an American soldier, has come to my attention. As with Salam Pax's blog, my immediate reaction is to regard the blog with some degree of incredulity, although comments by someone who identifes as Lt. Smash's father give it some credibility. Regardless, the blog demands some attention, too, but I'm not quite sure what to say about it yet. I do feel less compelled by it, certainly in no small part because it presents an affirmative narrative about the war and by comparison to Salam Pax's blog seems rather devoid of content. Typical entries seem to be arranged much like war poetry and offer few details about the daily experiences of the soldier himself:
It’s quieter now.
In fact, the comments are more interesting, in some ways, than Lt. Smash's actual blogs. I'll be interested to see what other perspectives emerge in the days ahead as the war continues (and I sincerely believe it will continue for some time).
I can hear distant jet engines, high up in the night sky.
But there’s no navigation lights.
As you may know, Kevin Sites' weblog was temporarily discontinued at the request of CNN. In an IM conversation, George and I discussed the possibility that Sites' blog actually undermined CNN's claims to authentic coverage of the war. In response to George's comments, I said something like "given the personal nature of blogging and 'our' mistrust of the media after the Gulf War, Sites' blog seems really threatening." There seems to be a conscious effort by the military and mainstream media to make the coverage appear more objective and complete in response to criticisms of Gulf War I coverage, and Sites' blog (perhaps unintentionally) challenges the authenticity of CNN (or whatever network).
I don't want to ramble too much longer, but I think one of the interesting things about them is their self-consciously temporal nature, the fact that they are updated in much teh same way as a diary, journal or (maybe) episodic novel. They seem to challenge the conventional notion that information, specifically online, is spatial. Certainly I go "to" a website or weblog, a space, to read Lt. Smash or Salam Pax's narratives, but I experience them temporally, checking them at least daily. On the other hand, the narratives themselves have a ring of conventionality to them. They do follow a story: the build up to the war, the war itself, and eventually the aftermath. Of course there is no necessary ending to the narratives, unless, God forbid, one of the bloggers is somehow incapacitated, either by physical injury or by logistical problems (loss of electricity, server, what have you). I'll address other issues later, but this post is getting particularly long right now.
Back from Florida
Returned from the ICFA [International Conference for teh Fantstic in the Arts] on Sunday afternoon, but I've been too tired and busy to blog since then. The paper was well received, and I made several useful connections during the conference. Had the chance to meet and converse very briefly with Brian Aldiss, author of the story that AI: Artificial Intelligence is based on. He actually attended my panel and spoke briefly about his relationship to Kubrick and Speilberg in response to a paper on AI. More than anything, I enjoyed the collegial atmosphere of the conference, and the swimming pool and warm Florida weather didn't hurt.
I have been thinking about blogging, the war, and other issues over the last few days, and I want to think more systematically about these issues in paper, possibly for a conference. For now, I just want to revisit my observations about Under Fire, which I discussed a few days ago. A recent Salon article addresses debates about the veracity of Iraqi broadcasts of Saddam Hussein speeches. Intelligence reports suggest that these broadcasts are not live, but taped, therefore implying that Saddam may have taped these broadcasts before the war in order to maintain the fiction that he is still alive. Many observers, however, note the specificity with which he describes certain battles in order to contend that he is indeed still alive.
Certainly there is more going on here than the mere "deceptiveness of images" argument that we see in a theorist like William J. Mitchell. One of the immediate complications is the question of how perceptions of power function in the narrative that is being offered here. There seems to be an implication that without Saddam Hussein, Iraq may not have anything to fight for or may choose not to fight. It's interesting to me that the US can rely on our awareness that images may be deceptive in order to cast doubt on Saddam's speeches (including the brief suggestion that one of his look-alikes may be delivering some of the speeches), but the same incredulity is not generally extended to American media sources. Not sure I have much to add about that point right now, but it is a consistent concern and one that I may entertain further later.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Leavin' on a Jet Plane
Just finished my paper on Dark City, and I'm generally pleased with it, given the limitations of a conference paper. I'm off to Florida in a few hours. More than anything, I'm preoccupied with thoughts of the upcoming war. The precedent of pre-emptive war is deeply troubling to me. The precedent of pre-emptive war with such flimsy evidence regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction is even scarier. The manipulation of American sentiment after September 11 is disconcerting, too. Looking forward to the conference and an opportunity to get my mind off of things.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Turkle vs. Stewart
I'm finishing up my conference paper for the ICFA conference in Ft. Lauderdale, and as I've mentioned in previous posts, my major struggle has been to consider how my argument might respond to Stewart. In "Body Snatching," published in Alien Zone II, Stewart writes that the Strangers' simulated photographs mark
the outmoding not just of photography by the simulacral mock-up but of cinema, from within itself, by computerized encroachments of every descritption. (246)Throughout the essay--and his book, Bewteen Film and Screen--Stewart then illustrates how this digital encroachment becomes identified with the possibility for simulating human identity--the artificial memories that are fabricated for the human inhabitants of the displaced, constantly morphing city. This digital fabrication, Stewart argues, results in a cultural nostalgia for the dying photomechanical past, one that is represented in the hero's desire to return to the safety and comfort of his "childhood home," Shell Beach. Of course, there is no Shell Beach because it is merely part of John's artificial past. this nostalgia also prevades the film's representation of the past, the "stolen memories, different eras, all rolled into one" that provide the superstructure for the Strangers experimental base. The nostalgia argument is pretty convincing; it's certainly there: the smoky clubs, the Automat, even the characters' language all suggest "simpler times".
So my most recent move is to consider the film in light of Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen, where Turkle argues from the position of a practicing psychologist that the Internet and Web (and other computer tools) allow us to see identity in a fluid way. Her position is much more affirmative about this identity fluidity, and I tend to agree. In a New York Times interview, she comments,
When people are on line, they tend to express different aspects of themselves in different settings. A businessman might call himself Armaniboy on one mailing list and Motorcycleman on another. They begin to move fluidly among them and have an experience that encourages them to challenge traditional ways of thinking about identity. They find ways to think about a healthy self not as single and unitary, but rather as having many aspects. People come to see themselves as the sum of their distributed presences on the windows they open on their screens. And the computer serves as a metaphor for thinking about the self: the technical metaphor of cycling through computer windows has become a way to think about the relationships among aspects of the self.Here, the fluidity of identity is seen as productive, something to be embraced. I need to go back and look at my copy of Life on the Screen, but I think Turkle provides me with a way to rethink Stewart's position that science fiction film narratives are frequently "digitiphobic" in response to the encroachment of digital effects on the photomechanical process, and of the simulacral on the human. I'd also add that this fluidity is frequently embraced in specifically American narratives; the possibility to reinvent yourself is wrapped up in many American myths--I use the term myth in a looser sense here--and I think this film is caught up in that logic.
My blogging will likely decrease (possibly cease) over the next few days while I'm in Fort Lauderdale for the conference, but I'm looking forward to hearing other people's work, and I'm not complaining about spending a few days in Florida, either.
Monday, March 17, 2003
Under Fire in Baghdad
With war in Iraq appearing increasingly inevitable, I'm having a hard time thinking about anything else. Particualrly concerned with questions about media representations of the war. In his March 16/17 blog, Kevin Sites asks some important ethical and safety questions about covering the war:
It seems somewhat cyncial, unforgivingly opportunistic to feed a career on carnage of war. But we do. If I'm forced to rationalize it, i'll do it like this--the motivation will make me to work harder to take more chances on the story.
I'm not entirely sure why, but Sites' observations remind me of the 1983 Roger Spottiswoode film, Under Fire, starring Nick Nolte and Ed Harris. Perhaps the visual critique of all of the journalists waiting for the next conflict to erupt (parallel sequences shown at the beginning of the film, implying that nothing chnages) The film focuses on the 1979 Civil War in Nicaragua, and Russell (Nolte) a star photographer is drawn into the conflict by his admiration for the rebel leader. I found the film compelling for a number of reasons, most significantly the photo that Russell takes near the middle of the film of the dead rebel leader appearing to hold that day's newspaper. The rebels use this image to suggest their leader is still alive, thus implying that the revolution itself still lives. It's a powerful suggestion about the role of the media, specifically photography, in times of crisis, especially in a film that apears just a few short years after Vietnam (in a film theory context, Garrett Stewart's reading of the film in terms of a photogrammatic ontology is also pretty provocative). Later in teh film, other photographs taken by Russell have a much different effect, as his images become appropriated by the oppressive government.
The people that are here, that cover these thing are often the same faces I see wherever war is brewing or in play. It's both an avocation and an addiction. A search for moral absolutes in uncompromising violence.
But Sites' post clearly asks some challenging questions about his role, and the role of his colleagues, in the upcoming war with Iraq. I'm not sure that I have a profound observation here, but I have been thinking about Under Fire in the context of these debates for the last few days (in part because I've been reading Stewart) and wanted to introduce it to my discussion. More than anything, I am conscious of the power of images and language and conscious of the ways in which media coverage will alter the way that I (we?) perceive the events of the next few weeks.
Sunday, March 16, 2003
War and Digital Reproduction III
Okay, I need to stop riffing off Benjamin's title, but with war appearing to be increasingly likely, I've been thinking about these questions with an increased sense of urgency. I was IMing with George this evening when he mentioned that Liz Lawley had come across an Iraqi blog, Where is Raed. The sections that I've read are quite powerful and seem to complicate some of my earlier observations about war and the media, specifically digital technologies, such as weblogs that are so deeply identified with the personal. I am struck by his consciousness of a primarily western audience, but more importantly, I am struck by the power of some of his descriptions. It's difficult to actually confront some of the real crises that he anticipates facing in the days ahead...I find myself resisting reading his blog in spite of my best efforts.
In a slightly different context, George and I were talking about the experience of reading other peoples' blogs, and I made the observation that when reading certain blogs, I feel vaguely voyeuristic, like I am reading someone's journal without his or her permission. That feeling usually doesn't strike me with "celebrity" blogs, such as Kevin Sitesor William Gibson'sblogs or even "Where is Raed." I'm not completely sure how their celebrity status affects my reading. Many of these blogs talk about "personal experiences" in much the same way that other "non-celebrity" blogs do. With "non-celebrity" (NC) blogs, I feel a little like a "list-serv lurker," someone who silently receives a discussion, but never comments on it. It may be that NC blogs more adequately invite my participation, encouraging me to comment in some way or it may be an artificial distance which becomes articulated when dealing with celebrities, or it may be something more self-consciously public about "celebrity" blogs, but like many other bloggers, I am very interested in the form, especially in its nascent phase when blogging is far from "transparent" for me.
Received the good news that my review of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation was accepted for publication by Scope, an online film studies journal, affiliated with the University of Nottingham. I'll post a link to the review when it appears online, hopefully later this year. Writing the review turned out to be a fun--but challenging--process. In particular, I enjoyed following the discussion of the film on the Adaptation weblog on Susan Orlean's website, which strangely enough (given the film's meditation on writing) is now being written by an assitant. Looks like this is mostly a "link-and-comment" kind of post, to use Liz Lawley's term, but I've been wanting a reasonable excuse to add some Adaptation links to my blog for the last few days, in part becuase I've spent a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about that film.
Le Cercle Rouge
Just got back from Garden Hills Cinema where I saw the re-release of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge, a great example of late-1960s French cinematic cool (lots of cigarette smoking and contemplative male rebel figures). Until recently, the film had never been seen in the US in its original cut, but was re-released with the support of John Woo. The heist scene was extremely well done, definitely recalls some of the highly stylized images from Woo's films. Also enjoyed the film's references to the Hollywood gangster films of the 1940s and 50s.
Check out Manhola Dargis's review. Her suggestion that the film's concepts of honor recalls the code of honor among enemy soldiers in Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion makes a lot of sense to me.
J. Hoberman also has a solid review of the film in The Village Voice, calling attention to the film's stylized images--including the posh world of gangsters that seems out of place in the aftermath of May 1968, and the self-conscious shot of a police roadblock during Vogel's escape (at the beginning of the film) in front of a sign proclaiming, "Niepce invented photography in this village, 1822."
Saturday, March 15, 2003
War and Digital Reproduction II
While digging around on Blogdex, came across Christopher Allbritton's weblog, Back to Iraq 2.0. Allbritton, an independent journalist, plans to investigate the human effects of the war on Iraqi citizens. There's also an article in Wired. Allbritton plans to work as an independent journalist, rather than as one of the "embedded" journalists affiliated with the US military (such as Sites), and is soliciting donations to cover his costs (transportation, etc), and he asks some powerful questions about the relationship between the military and the media during international conflicts.
Allbritton also called my attention to a January 18, 2001 Onion article that now seems disturbingly prophetic.
War and Digital Reproduction
I've just returned from a small peace rally at Piedmont Park. Once again, we receieved general enthusiasm from passing drivers, and it's genuinely exciting to share a few hours of solidarity with other people who are questioning the necessity of going to war with Iraq. While at the rally, I began talking to other Brittain Fellows and friends about the role of the Internet and World Wide Web in the dissemination of information about the conflict, from various points of view. I think that resistance to the war has certainly benefitted from the ability to cheaply and quickly distribute information about peace rallies to a wider audience. Web sites such as The Georgia Peace Coalition have been extremely valuable to anti-war efforts.
At the same time, I have also been struck by Kevin Sites' "first-person" blog. Sites, a CNN correspondent, has been providing nearly daily updates from the "front." The first-person descriptions of kebab meals in Terhan restaurants and bridge-building competitions among Marine companies create a weird reality effect, almost a suggestion of unmediated access to the potential war itself. I find myself giving him a much greater degree of credibility than I might give the same information if it were broadcast on CNN. But it seems significant that I am most compelled not by Sites' images but the "simple" narratives that describe his everyday experiences, the impatience, the boredom, and sometimes the desperation, that he feels while wating for the next big story. Sites himself comments on these questions in his March 10 blog, "Ring Tones and Screen Savers:"
"This war, if it happens, will be the ultimate E war (for electronic) with it's satellite guided munitions, night vision goggles and pilotless drones. And not just for the military. When journalists embed with fighting units-they'll carry the gear that will theoretically allow them to report live from the front lines, and send back video and still images as quickly as they can fire up their satphones."
Paul Virilio, of course, has long maintained the connection between military conflict and visibility technologies, in such books as War and Cinema. In this particular case, I'll be interested to see how these first-person accounts will be received. Naturally, these images will be far from unmediated; images captured and disseminated by other technologies (film cameras, for example) will, by necessity, be read in different ways than images and information disseminated by electronic or digital technologies. Later that day, for example, Sites comments in "Da' Bomb:"
It's on the grapevine that the U.S. Air Force has developed an electro magnetic pulse weapon at Kirtland Air Force that could be used in war against Iraq. The concept is devastating simple; flying over the target area, the military emits a microwave swath, which basically fries the electronics of any appliance or device in its path.
Such technologies would make it impossible for war correspondents to send images back to the US via satellite, with the result that we may have to use the now obsolete technologies of film cameras, not widely used since Vietnam, to cover the war. It's a question that Sites doesn't specifically ask, but I'm wondering how (or even if) the use of a different medium--with its reference back to the startling photographic images from Vietnam--might change the way that images from this potential war might be received.
Strangers on a Train
Wasn't feeling well yesterday, so I watched Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. One thing I'd forgotten about the film was its use of deep space in a couple of shots, especially early in the film when Bruno's parents are talking about him. Bruno is in the foreground in close-up on the right side of the screen while his parents are shown talking in extreme long-shot. The distancing effect is really nice. Also never realized that Raymond Chandler was involved in writing the film's screenplay.
The other really interesting shot I'd forgotten is the murder of Miriam itself, seen in reflection in the lens of her glasses. The shot, more than being an innovative way to show a murder, seems also to call attention to vision itself as an important motif in the film. Of course Miriam (Guy's working-class wife) is visually echoed by the character of Barbara (sister of Guy's wealthy lover) through the eyeglasses. This comparison is reinforced when Bruno demonstrates his stragnling skills on a party guest and Barbara says, "It was like he was strangling me." Both Miriam and Barbara are independent, unlike Guy's lover, Anne. Not sure I have anywhere else to go with this reading of the film, but it was nice to revisit Strangers last night.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Coming soon to a "theater" near you
Here's yet another clue that we are trapped in some sort of psychic time travel: the US military, in conjunction with Regal Entertainment Group, currently has plans to make Movietone style "film reels" documenting the experiences of soldiers during the imminent war on Iraq. What seems most disturbing to my mind is the fact that the article does not question the status of these films as propaganda tools:
Lance O'Connor, a partner in Santa Monica, California-based American Rogue Films, which trained and equipped soldiers with new high-definition digital cameras to shoot the video, said the reels will be made in the same vein as documentaries.
"It's not about propaganda, it's about documentary work. If it were propaganda, it wouldn't work," he said.
Kuhn agreed. "It's not being done to create a statement on policy one way or the other," he said.
I'm not quite sure what O'Connor means by "documentary" here, given that the choices made in a documentary are never neutral and are always informed by the values of the filmmakers. It appears that with the mere possibility of war, the culture industry is already willfully forgetting any kind of critical consciousness. To borrow loosely from Jean Baudrillard: The images of war meet the war of images.
All that is solid
Still thinking about my Dark City paper. I'm trying to work through the larger implications for my arguments about the film's nostalgia for the photographic mode of representation. In my dissertation, I had commented that the images of "tuning" reminded me of Marshall Berman's reading of Marx's comment in the Communist Maifesto: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face with sober senses the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men." I haven't refreshed my memory in terms of Berman's reading of the passage, but this emphasis on the "disintegration" of social relations by capital seems to be reinscribed through the digital effects in the Proyas film. My argument is complicated in ways that I don't wish to address right now by Proyas's clear privileging of the inidividual over the collective, but digitalization--clearly identified with the Strangers' manipulations of the city--can be identified with the melting of all social bonds (to the point that relationships between the characters in the movie are no longer "real").
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
The Midtown Music Festival is back for its tenth year this May. Major artists playing will be Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, LL Cool J., but now that Midtown has become an Event, it's no longer very appealing. The first MMF was pretty cool with bands such as James and Cracker. I would enjoy seeing Drivin N Cryin, my favorite local band, but I think I'd rather see them in a smaller setting. I finally had a chance to see Kevn Kinney perform at the Star Bar in Little Five Points a few months ago: very cool show, although people clearly responded more to his DNC stuff.
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Just learned the sad news that avant-garde filmmaker, Stan Brakhage, has died of cancer at the age of 70. I vividly remember being frustrated, amazed, and overwhelmed by his Dog Star Man, when I watched it as a graduate student at Purdue, with its strobing images, silent soundtrack, and experimental montage. He is truly one of the few filmmakers who, as Werner Herzog put it, produced "new images."
My mind is primarily occupied with my article on Dark City right now. One of the issues that strikes me as most complicated is the assumption that digital photographs are inherently more deceptive than silver-based photographic prints. In The Reconfigured Eye, for example, William J. Mitchell writes that "by virtue of the [digital photograph's] inherent manipulability, it always presents a tempation to duplicity. So the inventory of comfortably trustworthy photographs that has formed our understanding of the world for so long seems destined to be overwhelmed by a flood of digital images of much less certain status" (19). As we discussued in an electronmic pedagogy seminar at Georgia Tech, what Mitchell overlooks the long history of photographic fakes, including the example of the young girls who appeared to capture photographic evidence of the existence of fairies--the subject of the film, Fairy Tale: A True Story. Thus the photograph appears, in Mitchell's argument, to have access to some form of indexical capacity that digital technologies consistently overturn with their immateriality. Supporting this type of claim seems to be an assumption that photographs have a material base that digital images apparently do not have because the "original" is not a photographic negative but merely information, a set of ones and zeroes that can be changed at will. I'm still working through Mitchell's argument, but it clearly invokes a nostalgia for the supposed reliability of the photograph. Here is where I begin to struggle, however, because in many ways, my criticism of Mitchell (and by extension of Dark City ) begins to dovetail with the points Garrett Stewart makes in Between Film and Screen. The questions I'm struggling with--the reliability of the image--are certainly at the core of Dark City, but I'm not sure that "photography" wins at the end of the film...in part because John must adapt and use the "tuning" technology against the Strangers in order to regain control of the city.
Was convesring with George Williams about the CNN article on blogging going mainstream. As George points out, the piece mostly focuses on Google's purchase of Blogger, and the recent campaign by Dr Pepper to lauch its new flavorde milk drink on popular teen blogs. George's points about the problems of the "biological metaphors" of "content Darwinism" are very helpful. Like George, I am troubled by those metaphors and see within the CNN piece some of the risks involved in the creation of a more effective search tool for navigating blogs.
Monday, March 10, 2003
I watched Alex Proyas's 1998 film, Dark City, this weekend while working on my conference paper about the film. To my mind, Dark City is a stunning film, one that challenges viewers to think about the relationship between visual technologies and memory. Ebert's commentary track on the DVD is amazing. He reads the film very thoughtfully, specifically in terms of visual details. The most compelling points that he makes involve his observations about the slides that John (Rufus Sewell) views with his "Uncle Karl" (Marxist reading anyone?). The camera rests behind John and Karl, who are in front of the screen as Karl operates the projector, amazed that John can remember none of these events. As we watch the film, we learn that according to the memories fabricated by the Strangers, John was badly burned in a house fire. Rolling up his sleeves we realize that John is not scarred, therfoer communicating through evidence "on the body" that these images are fabricated, fakes. In passing Ebert comments that he imagines the Strangers working "on Photoshop," carefully crafting these images in order to create a visual documentation of John's past (photographs operate in a similar way in Blade Runner, as many critics have noted). Ebert's passing comment underlines my observation about the film--the way that digital technologies seem to provide us withe greater access to manipulating images, a position endorsed by such critics as William J. Mitchell and Lev Manovich. Anyway, it's a compelling little scene (as Ebert points out), with the beautiful contrast between the sad, rundown "Neptune's Kingdom" amusement park where Karl lives and the bright images of Shell Beach where John's artificial memories situate his past. What amazes me about a film like Dark City is the ways in which it requires me to develop new terms for describing the concepts created by the film. Finding ways of talking about the film's reinterpretation of human identity and memory is an increidbly challenging task.
At any rate, Ebert's commentary track is quite nice, very thoughtful, and he uses the medium of the DVD very well to guide the viewer through the film, including a discussion of a special effect use in the scene in which Emma (Jennifer Connelly) visits John in the jail and during a sequence of shots where John's coattails knock a knife to the floor. His discussion of the shot-by-shot breakdown of the film that he conducted at the University of Colorado sounds incredibly fruitful. There is something fascinating about the devotion to cinema that allows him (and others) to watch a film that closely over the course of several days.
On a completely different note, Atom Egoyan's Ararat is playing at Garden Hills theater as part of the Peachtree Film Society's on-going project to bring interesting independent film to Atlanta. Really looking forward to the opportunity to see Egoyan's take on the Armenian holocaust (Egoyan himself is Armenian-Canadian). Exotica and Sweet Hereafter are among my favorite films.
I'm just taking my blog for a test drive right now. I'm struck by the form and want to spend some time experimenting with it. I'll post more later. Just wanna see how this works.