Sunday, May 25, 2008


Yesterday I went to the Guggenheim to see the exhibit by Cai Guo Qiang: I Want To Believe. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, there was a line to enter the museum, which I've never seen at the Guggenheim. A straight line at that: surely the queue should have been rounded? Regardless, I left without seeing the exhibit. I want to believe, but I'm not going to wait in line to do so.

Too nice a day to be disappointed, I went to Central Park. I walked for a while in looking-without-thinking mode, and watching the people play and interact, I was overcome with a sense of euphoria, mixed with feeling like an idiot for being so happy that I was on the verge of tears. A guy was playing the vibes and a short distance away, a duo of girls sang while playing violin and acoustic guitar. I searched for a spot where I could hear both equally, hoping to mix Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" with Guns & Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine." At one point, I thought of the park as Heaven, except that most of the people were white. I sat on the ground, taking photographs of birds and running my hands through the grass as if I was patting the Earth on the head.

It was a familiar sensation. On July 12, 1997, my friend Lynn and I took Ecstasy and went to Central Park. The reason I know the exact date is that Sleater Kinney was playing a free show in the park, and to my ears at the time, their music sounded like RUMBLE RUMBLE RUMBLE "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" which I now know is not a bad description of their sound. We sat there talking and I ran my fingers through the grass and I felt good. But after yesterday, I wonder if it wasn't the Ecstasy so much as it was the park.

I feel its necessary to record these moments of bliss, of pure joy at being alive, to remember when things in life aren't so good.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Glamorous Sights of New York City

Living in New York, you get used to the sight of tourists taking pictures just as you get used to how slowly they walk and how they're not really looking where they're going. I've learned, as a courtesy, that if someone is taking a picture, to walk around their back so as not to ruin the shot. I often glance at where they're aiming their cameras and think "what are they taking a picture of?"

Not today - today it was fairly obvious. I saw a guy dressed in camouflage pants, t-shirt, white Yankees' cap, taking a photo of one of Manhattan's great landmarks: the Hooters sign which hangs about the restaurant.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Message For President Bush

Thank you for the $600 rebate check. Really.

However, you can't buy my love or approval for a lousy $600. My first inclination is to donate this to the Obama campaign, but given how bad our economy is doing, I'm saving it. Sure, I need new clothes for work, but I was going to buy them anyway. I'm not picking up any books or cds that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. The $600 is going to sit in the bank until needed.

While it's always nice to get $600 you weren't expecting, it doesn't begin to make up for the thousands of people, American soldiers and innocent civilians, killed in Iraq due to your war.

There are many scenes in The Sopranos, where, after gangsters beat someone close to death, they give him some money as a "make good." It's seems so familiar now...

So, thanks again. Really.

But it doesn't change how I feel about you or your administration.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

John's DVD of the Month Club - May 2008 Pt 2

Gone (an episode of Spaced written by Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg, directed by Edgar Wright)

So the theme of this month’s dvd was duality: two selections from two different media (film and television) showing two cultures (East and West), each highlighting the conflicts between men and women, reality and fantasy, comedy and tragedy. May is the first of two months partially under the sign of Gemini the twins*. Etcetera, etcetera.

After the creepy beauty of Miike’s Box, there’s something refreshing about the frantic silliness of Spaced. Anyone who stays over at my apartment is inevitably introduced to Spaced, and what starts with “You might like this – let’s watch this one episode” invariably ends three hours later after watching an entire season in one shot with promises made to watch the remaining episodes the following day. There’s only two seasons of Spaced, a total of 14 episodes, which is both a source of frustration and an explanation as to why the show is so good. They stopped before they ran out of ideas.

The setup is this: Tim and Daisy are friends who must pretend to be a couple in order to rent a cheap flat. Around them rotate Tim’s friend Mike; Daisy’s friend Twist; Brian, the artist downstairs; and Marsha, their perpetually pissed (in the British sense, not the American) landlady. The setup is nothing: it’s almost deliberately sitcom-cliché and rarely figures in the show. It acts as a frame on which to hang a fast array of jokes: visual humor (the way the S on a canister doubles as the first letter in “Six Hours Earlier”), character humor (soldier-wannabe Mike’s wistful “yeah” in response to the description of men as being nothing but destroyers), verbal humor (“There’s been a misprint on one of the covers of the new issues.” “Which one?” “Total Cult.” “Oh.”), slapstick (the climatic shootout) and pop culture references. There’s so much funny coming so fast that the number of jokes that do work is remarkably high. What’s more impressive is that the jokes that don’t work don’t ruin the show. The characters never act out of character just to score a laugh. Even when indulging in the most outlandish fantasy, it remains true to the characters and their situation. And funny.

An example of how good Spaced is is that its pop culture references don’t annoy the hell out of me. I’m beyond burnt out on comedy based on pop culture, which means my taste is completely out of fashion with contemporary humor, which seems like nothing but pop culture references. Not jokes, mind you, but references alone. “Tina Yothers” “Charles Bronson” “Gary Coleman” are considered witticisms in and of themselves. The backbreaking straw was when, apropos of absolutely nothing, a moose showed up on the Simpsons’ front lawn accompanied by the theme from Northern Exposure. There’s no joke there, no context, and no commentary of any kind. The moose is only there to flatter those who recognize the reference. This was when I began to dislike The Simpsons. But when Tim and Daisy mimic the frozen Jack Nicholson from the end of The Shining it’s funny because it builds off the previous line of dialogue and because their faces are funny. You could also argue that this is how Tim and Daisy see the world: real-life experience filtered through a media-based framework. It explains Tim’s description of their night out being represented by cartoons and the slow motion "gunfight" at the end.

I feel a certain nostalgia watching Spaced because it reminds me of my twenties and early thirties, years spent living with roommates, hanging out with friends in bars, enjoyably wasting time so as not to worry about the future. The show is a pleasant fantasy: there’s something reassuring about its philosophy of silliness as a way of life. Who doesn’t want to live in a world in which you can escape a beating by spontaneously playing shoot-out with a bunch of hoodlums?

I thought Spaced was coming out on dvd in the US next month, but it's not currently listed on Watch for it - it is well worth getting when it does come out.

*the best sign in the zodiac, I might add.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

John's DVD of the Month Club - May 2008 Pt 1

Box (a segment from Three Extremes directed by Takashi Miike)

Anyone who recognizes his name certainly can’t be blamed for saying “Uh-oh” when they read “A Takashi Miike Film.” Miike is a Japanese director who works very quickly, finishing three or four features a year. Even though he works with different genres and in wildly different styles, there’s always a sense of menace to his films. He’s perhaps best known for Ichi The Killer and Audition, films that, all hyperbole aside, feature some of the most graphic and disturbing depictions of torture and mutilation ever caught on film. Any trepidation on the part of the viewer is certainly understandable.

His short Box is the third part of an anthology film Three Extremes, which includes work by three of Asia’s leading genre directors, the other two being Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan and Korea’s Chan-wook Park. Part of why I like Box so much is that I hated the other two Extremes – context is everything. Chan’s section features a hazy, soft focus style that recalls soap operas and tampon commercials and his story was about a food that keeps you eternally young: dumplings made out of human babies. When the main character discovers the food’s secret ingredient, she continues her diet of baby dumplings because, you know, women are so vain. Park’s film is an exercise in offense in both form and content. It’s about an extra taking revenge on a film director by forcing him to make a heinous choice: if the director doesn’t kill an innocent child, then the extra will kill the director’s wife. An ugly story done in an in-your-face style I hate, one that uses showy but pointless camera moves and a self-consciously cartoony set design. But Miike’s film hooked me as soon as I saw its quiet opening shot of a bare tree in a winter field that’s blue with cold.

I have the movie playing on the other half of the computer screen right now but the images are too distracting; it’s taking me twice as long to write this as it should. It has the easy prettiness of a music video – with a different soundtrack it could be a Smashing Pumpkins video. However, unlike music videos, the pace is slow, contemplative. The lingering shots mimic the magician’s obsession with the one girl but also draw the viewer into this world and its mysteries. The cold of the city that contrasts with the warm reds and oranges in the circus tent. The silence during scenes of horror versus the overamplified roar of fire and crinkling of a plastic sheet.

Hypnotized by its beauty, but the story also interests me. Box is, along with The Wizard of Oz and Mulholland Drive, one of the few films in which the “oh it was all a dream” ending doesn’t feel like a cheat or a cop out, but is instead a clue to the psychology of the main character. The question is: what is the dream and what is the reality? The obvious answer is that most of what we have seen (the circus act, the tragic death, the magician’s revenge) is the dream of one half of a pair of Siamese twins which reveals her desire for independence mixed with guilt for wanting to be free of her sister.

But the film ends with the magician walking away from the field where the girl has been buried alive, which creates another interpretation: most of what we have seen is real, and the sequence with Siamese twins is a brief fantasy occurring right before death, and an acknowledgement that she will never be free of her sister.

My apologies to those with kids. I meant to include a warning with this month's dvd that it was not appropriate for young children but forgot. Again, my apologies and I promise to include such warnings from now on.

Tomorrow: a discussion of the West half of the disc.