January 31, 2003

Because You Keep Asking...

I give you the 2nd edition of greg.org answers, wherein I provide the information you thought you'd find on this site, but didn't.

Q "The best This American Life" (greg.org Googlerank: 3rd of 4 results)
A I did answer that, last April (Conventions, with John Perry Barlow). But my weasely, equivocating prose ("perhaps the best TAL episode in my memory") is about as slippery as, well, let's just say "the case still needs to be made."

Alex Gediman, Tom Jones impersonator, from the music episode, image: thislife.orgStill, "the best" is tricky. The TAL Staff give their favorites, which hasn't been added to since 11/01, so we're missing about 15 months of judgment calls.

When TAL won the Univ. of Georgia's Peabody Award in 1996, the jurors cited three episodes from that year: The cruelty of children, When you talk about music, and From a distance. Ostensibly chosen to show TAL's range, these episodes--which include stories of gay teen anguish, a Tom Jones impersonator, and obsession with celebrity--actually reflect the "we're the center of the universe!" ecstasy that overtook Georgia in 1996, when hometown girl, Ru-Paul, ruled the world.

You could always buy the CD. Lies, Sissies, and Fiascoes: The Best of This American Life has 12 stories on 2 discs. Until Ira Glass starts taking my calls again, that's the best I can do.

Carambar, image: frenchfeast.comQ "Buy Carambar online"(Googlerank: 2 of 12)
A "Always popular, Carambar is a chewy caramel baton-shaped candy," the French cash register equivalent of chocolatey Ice Cubes and crack pipes with little roses in them. Sure, Donald Rumsfeld dismisses Carambar as "Old Europe," but isn't that what you'd expect the ringleader of the global aspartame conspiracy to say?

Buy Carambar online from the excellent French Feast:
box of 200 (1750g) - $25.00
individual (8g) $0.15

Saint Flanders, Christianity Today - Feb 2001, image: christianitytoday.comQ "Simpsons conservative fansites" (Googlerank: 5th of 9 results)
A Since "Blessed Ned of Springfield" graced the cover of Christianity Today, the story practically wrote itself: Conservatives actually love The Simpsons. Clearly the article's author, Mark Pinsky, is a fan; he wrote The Gospel According to The Simpsons. But he's also a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel; are there any non-journalist fans?

Simplistically equating conservative and religious, I found Noah Gradofsky's The Simpsons Talmud and JVibe's "Hey man, don't have a leavened bread!" site for Passover ritual, The Homer Counter.

Of course religious and conservative are not synonyms, unless you're a godless communist. The #1 conservative Simpsons fan has to be National Review editor-at-large, Jonah Goldberg, who's May 2000 article, "Homer Never Nods: The Importance of The Simpsons," sets a thoughtful, hi-larious high bar for contemporary conservative writing. And UVA Professor Paul Cantor's essay, The Simpsons: Atomistic Politics and the Nuclear Family" in Political Theory, provides the intellectual foundation for conservative Simpsons appreciation. Still, I'd have to count these as professional fans.

Q "David Gallagher Shirtless Pictures" (Googlerank: 106th of 376 results)
A Dude. Do you know who this is? I had to look it up. It's the kid from 7th Heaven. Cold comfort that he turns 18 in less than two weeks; any shirtless pictures are from when he's a kid.

I don't know which is more disturbing, that you were looking for these pics in the first place, that you trawled through eleven increasingly irrelevant screens of Google search results before clicking on my site, or that what probably caught your attention on Google was the phrase, "shirtless Aryans," (which I used in a discussion of contemporary art's influence on film to describe the Bruce Weber-y American History X.)

I've had enough for now. Two other answers must wait, I'm afraid:
Q "eyeing each inert mien and artificial plan" (hint: it's a quote from the Herbert Muschamp/Showgirls parody. I'm still looking.)
Q "Matthew Barney Cremaster on DVD" this is by far the most-asked search that goes unfound here at greg.org. But don't despair. I'm working on a very interesting answer for this one. Stay tuned.

January 31, 2003

On Seeing 11'09"01

Just got back from 11'09"01, the collection of eleven short films produced by Alain Brigand. It's at Lincoln Center today and tomorrow. Short answer: overall, it's impressive, and some of the shorts are quite powerful and moving. Others suck.

[Stills and director interviews are at the official site. Also, check posts from Dec. and Sept. for various synopses, articles and links.]

Ken Loach, 9'11
Longer answer: Alejandro Gonz∑lez I“∑rritu's mostly audio submission is easily the most wrenching. It's far more than enough to revive the horror of that NYC morning. If you have the slightest moral integrity, Ken Loach's segment (above) about the US-backed assassination of Chile's President Allende on Sept. 11, 1973 will sadden and anger you. (And if you're Henry Kissinger, you'll steer clear of extradition-prone jurisdictions.) Sean Penn's earnest Borgnine segment was fine, but slightly disappointing; a little too sweet. It may have fared better earlier in the show (it's 10th). Mira Nair told the true story of a Pakistani-American paramedic, a New Yorker, who was missing for months, suspected of terrorist links, but whose remains turned up at Ground Zero; he'd rushed to offer emergency assistance before the towers collapsed.
Idrissa Ouedraogo, 9'11
The biggest surprises: Idrissa Ouedraogo's touching/lighthearted segment (above) about a schoolboy in Burkina Faso who sets out to capture OBL so he can buy medicine for his mother with the reward money. He enlists his friends' help, and they're enthralled calculating how much AIDS drugs $25 million would buy. (Little did they know they could also get a penthouse at the AOL Time Warner Center. Monthly fees not included.) And Amos Gitai creates the anti-Russian Ark, one exhaustingly intense continuous shot of the chaos following a Tel Aviv suicide bombing. The idiotically opportunistic TV reporter who bumbles frantically around the scene, while refusing to comprehend that she got bumped by "some story in New York," is a little too much, but it's a bracing segment nonetheless

The biggest annoyances: Shohei Imamura's segment about a WWII soldier so traumatized he thinks he's a snake misses the mark. But Youssef Chahine's segment takes the cake for annoying. Never mind the highly sympathetic suicide bomber; that's to be expected, or at least understood. Chahine's segment is a sappy, self-important melodrama, the Egyptian equivalent of a telenovela, one starring a vastly important Egyptian filmmaker who is repeatedly addressed as maestro. Please, just wrest the camera from my hands and sit on me if I ever display such hubris.

January 29, 2003

Strictly (Sundance) Business

First, rather than just say, "Called it!" (which I did, thank you), let me congratulate director Stewart Hendler and company (including DP John Ealer) for winning Sundance's Online Film Festival with their short, One.

Second, third and fourth, check out the following roundups of Sundance deal-making and film performance. The takeaway (sorry, Holly Hunter): Wo unto those who maketh their films for buzz, for verily, they have their reward.

Mary Glucksman takes a thorough and incisive look at indie film and distributor performance in 2002 in Filmmaker Magazine. Last year, only eight festival-bought independent films grossed more than $1 million. (The population of acquisition execs who passed on the non-festival My Big Fat Greek Wedding is enough to fill Park City. In fact, it just did...)

Zooey Deschanel and Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl, image:filmmakermagazine.com.

Glucksman picks apart seven 2002 Sundance deals to uncover the winners and losers, finding three-time Sundance vet Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl to be the win-win deal of the year for all involved. Interestingly, Gary "win-win" Winnick's Tadpole results in sweet deals for everyone but Miramax, who bought the film in a classic Sundance frenzy for $5 million (it only made $2.8 at the box office). [Harvey, if you're overpayin', I'm playin'. Give me a call.]

Filmmaker also has a handy Sundance Box Office 2002 Chart, which you can cut out and put next to your editing station, to remind you of the financial folly you're undertaking.

In the Voice, Anthony Kaufman casts a (now understandably) sober eye at this year's deals, calling bulls**t on both the supposed value of festival buzz and the overheated acquisitions it spawns. Or, in the words of Sony Pictures Classics prexy Michael Barker, "We've been burned before by the Sundance frenzy. In fact, we've had more success with films that we've revisited after the festival outside the context of sleep deprivation. And that's what we're going to do in the coming weeks."

"She [Paris] has a cameo [presently uncredited, -ed.] in Cat in the Hat with MIKE MYERS. She called me yesterday from Universal at 11 and said: `Mommy, I'm tired. I've been here since 6:30, I think they're going to keep me here till 1.' She'd worked one half-hour all day. She said, `I've read two JACKIE COLLINS books, do you know who she is?' I said, `Sure I do.' `Is she nice? ' `Yes.' Paris said, `I want to meet her.' I said, `All right.' "
-Kathy Hilton, mom, quoted in the NYTimes.

Herbert Muschamp, the Professor Emile Flostre of architectural empathicalism, gives his blessing to the THINK team's proposal to build a World Cultural Center at the former WTC site.

Think, Stan Reis Photography, via NYTimes.com

There are several things to like about the proposal, not the least of which is to turn the emphasis from the overwhelming commercial interests on the site, which the market can take care of just fine, thanks. Think's proposal most closely ressembles Paul Goldberger's call for an "Eiffel Tower for the 21st century," which would place greater importance on technological and symbolic marvel than on purely functional architecture (go ahead, tell me how many rentable square feet is the Eiffel Tower?). And I thought the WTC-WCC connection struck a powerful chord.

Enough with the turn-ons, now the hang-ups: the awkward relation to the oh-so-holy footprints; the lattices' form, too-close-to-the-originals evocation of the towers which, I think, will age poorly; skepticism of such a project's survival in the pathetic, poisonous political environment of the rebuilding process.

For my part, such open towers would make my own idea for a memorial possible: large, quiet halls in space (x,y,z space) near the points of impact on the original towers.

January 27, 2003

Can't Wait To See It

Lost in La Mancha, image: smart.co.uk

Anthony Lane on Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's documentary, Lost in La Mancha: "For anyone who suffers from the wish to make movies, or who fears that this terrible condition may strike at any time, here is the cure."

William Pfaff wins a free screening tape of Souvenir (November 2001) for his column in the Int'l Herald Tribune

American commentators like to think that the "Jacksonian" frontier spirit equips America to dominate, reform and democratize other civilizations. They do not appreciate that America's indefatigable confidence comes largely from never having had anything very bad happen to it.

The worst American war was the Civil War, in which the nation, North and South, suffered 498,000 wartime deaths from all causes, or slightly more than 1.5 percent of a total population of 31.5 million.

The single battle of the Somme in World War I produced twice as many European casualties as the United States suffered, wounded included, during that entire war.

There were 407,000 American war deaths in World War II, out of a population of 132 million - less than a third of 1 percent. Considering this, Washington does not really possess the authority to explain, in condescending terms, that Europe's reluctance to go to war is caused by a pusillanimous reluctance to confront the realities of a Hobbesian universe.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons Puppy, Jeff Koons, $1,650
Jeff Koons just walked by in his overcoat and sweats (!), with a cute little white dog. (No, a live one.)

Since my most recent short film, S(J03), is about a guy who finds aesthetic pleasure and takes solace in ironing, I thought I'd surf up some relevant ironing links, to see if I'm crazy (or if I, and other people, are crazy):

  • The Pleasure of Ironing a Fine Cotton Shirt by Roy Earnshaw, published in a 1987 Land's End catalog, no-nonsense, with a bit of downhome, Garrison Keillor-y romanticism:
    I plug in the iron, check the water level, turn the setting to ů what else ů cotton. Then pause for a few moments to let it get hot.

    The room where I iron is a barren one. No furniture, just the ironing board. A "room we haven't figured out what to do with yet," having just recently bought this house...

    ...The finches in the back room start to peep as first light looks in the windows. Time for me to go.

  • The rise of Ironing John by David McKie, in The Guardian, a goofy sports story sports a literary lede:
    How pleasant to sit on a cold December day in a warm and welcoming room, listening to the servants going about their work: the washing machine roaring and whirring and at moments of excitement even advancing a little across the floor; the dishwasher clunking and clanking and buzzing to show it has finished; the fridge, though a less demonstrative creature, positively purring with pleasure...

    And yet in the midst of all this automated activity there still sits the obdurate, unreconstructed iron, as incapable now as it was in the 19th century of getting on with its business unless compelled and propelled. So many old chores have been swept away: this one remains.And remains, I had always supposed, predominantly for women...
    Yet that isn't so any more. Over the past 12 months, it appears, the young men of Britain have developed a taste for ironing.

  • Pressing Matters by Maggie Alderson, in the Sydney Morning Herald, colloquial, Australian:
    I love ironing. About once a year. That's about how often I actually get round to it. The rest of the time the pile of it grows in a corner of my spare bedroom like the European Butter Mountain. But crease-y, rather than greasy.
  • Channel 4 announces extreme ironing documentary, press release from the Extreme Ironing Bureau, the dry sarcasm British TV wears you down with:
    With stunning locations and beautifully turned out athletes, this film follows the fortunes of žStarchÓ, žPower CordÓ, žIron MatronÓ and žSafety SettingÓ as they struggle with their delicates and make battle against the highly organised German and Austrian ironists.

    Extreme ironing was invented in Britain, but, like football and cricket, it already seems that Johnny Foreigner is better than us.

  • Practice Areas: Consumer Products, sales information for PR firm CRT, track record and attitude? Why go anywhere else?:
    We cut our teeth helping build great brands like Advil, CorningWare, Robitussin and Eskimo Pie. Hey, if we can get a bowling ball on Letterman and a new iron on CNN, there's not much we can't do.
  • Iron your worries away! by Kailah Eglington, on her personal site, Kailah's Korner, life-affirming and inspirational messages to help you catch your dreams:
    Next, I randomly split the ironing into two piles - the "Yes" pile and the "No" pile, then put on a relaxing CD. I start ironing the "No" pile. As I begin to iron, I visualise that the trousers or shirt that I'm ironing is a worry over which I have no control. As each wrinkle is smoothed out, I see that particular worry becoming less and less important. I have no control over it, so as the wrinkles get ironed, I gradually let the worry go.

  • Video Quartet, Christian Marclay, image:artnet.com

    Last night I heard the artist Christian Marclay talk about Video Quartet, his enchanting, mind-boggling music/film work at Paula Cooper Gallery. It's a 13-minute musical composition of nearly 600 separate film clips, on four simultaneous channels, projected onto a 40'-long screen. It was commissioned by a friend, Benjamin Weil, a curator at SFMOMA, where it was shown last summer to wide acclaim. [Naturally, Jason Kottke wrote about it then; so did Wired.com.] Rather than parrot or try to outdo other reviews, or gush about my own experience (I've now seen Quartet ten+ times), I think it's worthwhile to look at how Marclay actually made the piece.

    Video Quartet owes its existence to the recent emergence of real desktop editing software, and the artist's highly unconventional use of it. Amazingly, Marclay learned and used Final Cut Pro: "I sat in front of a computer for almost a full year," he said. With the concept and an abstracted narrative structure in mind and starting with the films he knew, Marclay gathered scenes with music, performance, or sounds. He made bins for various categories (e.g., piano playing, singing, gongs, violins, tapdancing), hand-building a database of clips to work from.

    Then he started constructing passages or scenes and built "bridges" between them. (One thing he said he'd wished he'd done differently: start at the beginning and build it sequentially. Hey, no complaints from me.) Along the way, Marclay would search out additional films and pull from them "the right combination of music and image." (Musical strike two for Richard Gere: Marclay wanted to use Gere playing trumpet from The Cotton Club, but the combo just didn't work.)

    But how can you edit four video+audio channels in FCP, which plays multiple audio channels, (but only one video channel) at a time? By ear, apparently. He'd layer the four video+audio channels, set sound levels, and then adjust the timing of edits by outputting tiny animated versions, side by side. The result is exquisitely composed sound throughout, with absorbing images choreographed across four screens, flecked with just a touch of visual chance.

    Knowing the basics of Marclay's method adds a layer of complexity to Quartet, a layer that deepens with even a little hands-on experience in Final Cut. The last time I watched it, I began seeing the clips on a timeline, picturing a. What had seemed impossible or magic before was now revealing itself as a complex creation, the product of arduous, inspired effort.

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process‚ÄĒmy 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 greg.org that time.

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