Today's Guardian asks twelve actual historians to lend their authoritative-sounding accents on politicians' arguments that Iraq is the next [check all that apply]
1939 Germany
1956 Egypt
1967 Israel
1991 Iraq
1963 Vietnam
1899 South Africa
1936 Ethiopia
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Naboo

As someone who made a movie (S(N01)) about looking at the past (WWI) to make sense of the present (Sept. 11), I'm interested. One big lesson is best expressed by Simon Schama: "I'm allergic to lazy historical analogies. History never repeats itself, ever. That's its murderous charm."

Another: historians are almost as likely as politicians to slip from historical analogy to histrionic advocacy. For example Andrew Roberts' unsubtle derision: "The League of Nations, on the morning after Poland was invaded, had on its urgent agenda the standardisation of European railway gauges. Today's United Nations is fast shaping up to be equally ineffectual." (See if you can read between ' lines.)

And even though it would catapult S(N01) up the relevance scale, I hope Norman Davies is wrong comparing Iraq to 1914 Russia:

So what about 1914? The strongest military power in sight (Germany) is made to feel insecure by a terrorist outrage. Instead of confining its response to the known source of the terrorism (Serbia), it lashed out at one country, which it suspected of abetting the terrorists (Russia), and then at another country (France), which was linked to the first. Then it lost the plot. Worst of all, it calculated that the war would be won by Christmas.

February 18, 2003

Dirt Mattress, Shirt Basket

Gerry film still, image:

Watch Matt Damon and Casey Affleck stagger, scramble and trudge through the desert in Gerry to forget the snow that you staggered, scrambled and trudged through to see it. If that reasoning's too circuitous for you, though, skip the movie; it's deeply self-referential and hermetic. It's the kind of film where half of the audience got there half an hour early, all eager, and half got there three minutes early, sure they'll be the only ones there. Even with an audience pre-sorted by reviewer warnings that Gerry could be a walkout movie, the Gerrys in front of us walked out.

To hear Gus Van Sant talk about it, making Gerry's the same directorial reboot that Steven Soderbergh got from Full Frontal, questioning his way to some essence, a filmmaking stripped of its accreted editing, language and genre conventions which result in product "as uniform as a McDonaldís hamburger."

Van Sant's"real-time filmmaking" (translation: wordless seven-minute takes) references Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr, whose films, you pretend you've seen (or whose films you've actually seen and fallen asleep in). But Gerry also reveals a far more popular inspiration, one that's as meaningless to film critics as Bela Tarr comments on American Idol: computer games.

Zeus screenshot, image:
Gerry's first extended dialogue is a fragment of Damon's story about a woman who blew it on Wheel of Fortune. And at least half the film's dialogue is Affleck's tale of conquering Thebes, only to run into trouble 'cuz there wasn't enough marble to build a sanctuary, and then Demeter blighted the crops and they couldn't train the horses and... Sounds "fraught with bogus allegorical weight," as the Times' Stephen Holden says, until you realize he's talking about Zeus: Master of Olympus!, an ancient Greek variant of SimCity. In the hermetic world of Zeus, placating Demeter isn't bogus or allegorical; it's a question of survival. In it's own world, it's as life-or-death as, say, buying a vowel. Did you gerry the mountain scoutabout and find yourself stuck on a 20' rock? Just shirt basket a dirt mattress and you're homefree.

Gerry's another example, then, of the language of videogames influencing film. Questions of character and motivation become as relevant for Gerry as they are for Mario ("But why is he trying to get past the monkey?"). It's a movie that suceeds on its own terms, and that creates an engrossing bridge between two wildly popular mediums.

February 17, 2003

Location, Location, Location

A fine parking spot in front of my house, which I gladly ceded to another car shot
Our street gets relatively little through traffic. The result: it's usually an oasis of easy parking, and it's tertiary (at best) on the snowplowing list. After opting for the garage, last night, though, this Mercedes pulled into our favorite spot (the one right in front of our house, duh) as we walked back. (That's an S-Class buried there, btw; I can't tell the make of the car being snowblown under across the street.) This morning, I'm free of the twinge of regret that comes with losing a sweet Manhattan parking spot.

Forget Rupert's minions walking in Foxstep, Code Orange, duct tape, Sadaam-huggers and cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Thanks to this one-day storm, you're gonna have to pry our SUV's from our cold, dead hands.


Like the $20 tickets for Rent, you had to get there early if you actually wanted to reach the site of today's protest rally in NYC. By the time I printed out my sign at Kinko's (above, made in Powerpoint, thank you), the rally became a march and the march came to us. We never got closer than 3rd Avenue and 55th street, and spent a crowded hour+ getting back to Bloomingdale's, five blocks away. It was like the Saturday before Christmas shopping-meets-WTO; stores were open everywhere, and full of consuming marchers. The beverage of choice for NYC peacelovers: Diet Coke. I'd have had an easier time finding a roll of duct tape in Arlington.

Our calculation of the crowd size, using Prof. Clark McPhail's technique: 250-300,000, which turns out to be low.

While exhilarating, no one really got my sign, which is fine. It means I < heart > Old Europe. But when an art world friend saw it, he first thought it meant, "I < heart > Olafur Eliasson." [Which I do, don't get me wrong, Olafur...]

  • Everyone's busy making giant puppets for this morning's protests.
  • Everyone's in Palm Beach [good explanation of why it's easy to park on the upper east side, but not why my email volume dropped to zero]
  • Everyone's at daVinci or Matisse Picasso [but we took a chance last night and had MoMA QNS practically to ourselves at the opening. Traffic sucked, though.]
  • I changed my DNS settings, and now my mail forwards in the reverse direction from before.

  • February 14, 2003

    Get Your War Plan On

    Highlights from a Clear Channel memo showing how the war will play out on their homogenized network of radio stations (via robotwisdom):

  • " If War breaks out after 10AM M-F please make sure that we call Joe and Jack to come in and take KSTE into long-form as well.
    Our Coverage will be called America's War with Iraq In writing copy please call our coverage, 'LIVE In-Depth Team Coverage of America's War with Iraq.' "
  • "Remember, don't do local just to do local. This is an international/national story and the nets do a great job...If you are going to make a mistake, do too much network. Especially early. THIS IS WAR."
  • "The initial hours of coverage are critical. People who have never listened to our stations will be tuning in out of curiosity, desperation, panic and a hunger for information. RIGHT NOW, convert them to P-1's, or at least make them a future cumer. [sic]"
  • " Monitor TV networks and local stations for contacts and leads. If they have good ideas, turn them around and quickly make them our own. Don't forget, when appropriate use language like 'a Newstalk 1530 KFBK exclusive' 'a story you are only hearing on KFBK' or 'a story you heard first on KFBK'. Make sure we own being FIRST."
  • "...if we have specialty shows that can't or won't talk about the war, we will probably blow them off. Even Dr. Laura. Remember, no fishing shows, gardening shows. We are AT WAR. In the opening minutes of coverage blow off commercials. Contact me immediately."

  • February 13, 2003

    It's A Small World After All

    Disneyland's It's a Small World, by Mary Blair, image: It's time we're aware designed by Mary Blair image:

    Which, according to some people, should make it easier for the US to tell it what to do.
    Sarah Lyall's Times article: "A Sense of Fine Qualities Trampled and of Something 'Terribly Wrong'"

    For future reference, Ben Hammersley's interesting Guardian article about emerging bands like The Grateful Dead, Phish and others who are starting to let concertgoers to make and trade high-quality recordings. brings them all together, and the Internet Archive has even more. Brewster Kahle mentions it, too, while preaching about the coming paradise of shared human knowledge in this LOC speech. {via boingboing]

    Daniel Bozhkov's Larry King crop circle, image:

    Hmm. Wethinks the lady doth protest too much. Hannity gets a mention, as does Colmes, but Charlie Rose is conspicuously absent from Tina Brown's column on her "round table discussions rather than solo interviews" talk show. So who'ser daddy? "Solo interviewer" Larry King, of course. Tina's gleanings from the master:
  • "mastery of the lowbrow"
  • "iron-butt stamina"
  • "a toddler-like short attention span"
  • "Everyman questions that defy the danger of Deep Thoughts"
  • "[I am] on a crusade to make every bore interesting."

    Bonus 1: The artist Daniel Bozhkov created a giant crop circle of Larry King. His exhibit about the project (including on-air discussion of the project by Larry and his guest, the art critic formerly known as Matthew Perry) closes at Andrew Kreps Gallery this weekend [Where's the website, Andrew?]
    Bonus 2: Talking Points Memo has hilarious-but-painful-but-true commentary on Larry's interviewing style. Required reading for new talk show hosts. You will be graded on this.

  • Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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