Pick that up, will you, Dierdre?

Monty Python fans will know what I’m talking about. Holy Mackerel!

Refusing help, woman gives birth aboard T
By C. Kalimah Redd and Mac Daniel, Globe Correspondent and Globe Staff, 7/31/2003
A 42-year-old Braintree woman gave birth to a baby boy while standing on an inbound Red Line train yesterday morning, refusing help from stunned passengers who heard her moan and seconds later looked down to find her baby on the floor.
Witnesses told police that Joyce M. Judge, a former nurse who later said she was on the way to a Boston hospital, kept quietly refusing help during and after the delivery.
” `Thanks for your concern, we’re OK,’ ” she said, according to Chris Chin of Duxbury. Standing 4 feet away from Judge, Chin said, he saw her tie the umbilical cord in a knot and wrap the baby in a silk scarf. ”She cradled the baby in one arm and grabbed the handrail with the other and continued to ride the T and stare out the window.” ”

By way of Die Puny Humans


Dir. David Lynch, 1984
Inspired by the overview of the novels found in last month’s issue of The Believer,
I decided to finally watch the Lynch version I bought on DVD last September in Taiwan (not a bootleg, mind you). I’ve seen the film once before, on British TV back in the late ’80s, and remember very little except lots of troops and explosions.
So another look. You can see the things that Lynch finds interesting (the evil, rapacious Baron; the floating elephant foetus thing; the dreams; the prophecy; the decor and the retrotech we would now call steampunk) and the things he finds utterly boring (the aforementioned explosions, the plot, the regal lineage and the large cast of characters).
You wish he had been a bit more daring with his adaptation, and I wonder how much of a Frank Herbert fan he was growing up. The plot is essentially that of betrayal/banishment/transformation/return/success, the thought behind it one of theological (and ecological) revolution. But the film seems in no rush to get to this story. I also wonder how popular a story like this would be now, dealing as it does with a native people of a sandy planet banding together to proclaim a “jihad” against the imperialists who are stealing its natural resources. And the leader of this violent overthrow is the film’s hero! Blimey.
In fact, the first hour is not so bad, with the most amazing sets and design that seem lost to most recent sci-fi (The Matrix is not exactly the most exciting film to look at, and Reloaded’s underground city showed us nothing new.) What other film has a factory with a chimney the shape of an open baby’s mouth? Not many. When the first battles begin the editing and pace falls apart. It looks either like Lynch didn’t shoot enough, or too much, or that they let an intern have at the flatbed. The film becomes incomprehensible just in the visuals. And then the poncing around in caves, and the low-rent blue screen effects just suck. Lynch fans who desperately want to see the director-disowned “television cut” that adds another hour to the film are either under the delusion that there’s some brilliant Lynchian weirdness hiding on the cutting room floor, or masochistic.
I did enjoy seeing all the actors who would soon populate Lynch’s better works: Kyle McLaughlan (large hair that constantly screams “soundtrack by Toto”), Dean Stockwell (with a ridiculous moustache), Everett McGill (rugged beard), Brad Dourif (Willy Wonka Temp Agency hair) and good ol’ Jack Nance (a total of five lines of dialog; I guess Lynch just wanted him to hang out on the set).
And then there’s Patrick Stewart, whose finest moment comes when he leads a charge in the first battle, holding the dead emperor’s pug dog, and yelling “Long Live Emperor Leto!” or something. The shots of the pug throughout caused me much mirth, and I would have liked to have seen more soldiers going into battle carrying pugs, or perhaps a pug riding a giant sand worm, or a pug growing so large and eating so much Puppy Chow Now With Added Spice that it learned to fold time itself.

Lucia, Lucia

Dir. Antonio Serrano, 2003
Retitled from the unwieldy “La Hija del canibal” (Daughter of the Cannibal),
which, though the true to the original novel, suggests that this is a horror movie, instead of the mid-life crisis film it actually is. The movie starts off energetically, and I was a bit excited wondering whether again I was watching another chapter in the rebirth of Mexican cinema. Lucia (Celia Roth) plays a 40-something children’s book author whose husband mysteriously disappears at the airport just before a vacation trip. As the plot unwinds, she befriends two men in her apartment building, a young man and an old revolutionary, and they help her get to the bottom of the rather convoluted mystery. Of course, she grows as a person, and falls a bit in love with the younger man. It’s a bit like Shirley Valentine crossed with Under the Sand crossed with Y Tu Mama Tambien crossed with When The Cat’s Away, but not in that order.
Unfortunately, the movie has zero dramatic momentum. Lucia doesn’t seem to have lost much and if her marriage was so loveless, where’s the desire to get the husband back? The director throws in a lot of tricky narrative moves (which may be in the novel) and toys with subjectivity (she’s an author, see, and you know they make stories up) to no effect.
On a personal level, my wife is currently on a business trip to Mexico City and experiencing that city for the first time, so I got a kick out of seeing the locations. I almost expected her to have a walk-on as an extra.
After the film (which was a preview I was invited to sit in on) a fellow theatergoer asked my viewing companion what he thought. When he replied with lukewarm sentences, she said “Well, I guess you have to be a middle-aged woman,” which, in fact, she was. Nothing gets my goat like a phrase like that, as if to enjoy the Wizard of Oz you have to be a) 12-years-old b) from Kansas c) a girl and d) have survived a tornado. It runs counter to entire notions of what art is and can be.


Dirs. B.Z. Goldberg, Justine Shapiro, and Carlos Bolado, 2001
Poignant documentary that sets out to understand the Israeli/Palestinian issue
through the eyes of seven children from both sides, some religious, some secular, all living 15 minutes from each other, but, as the film points out, worlds away. After spending time with each kid (ages 9-13) and providing some context as to their economic background, family life, etc. the filmmakers then engage in two involvements–taking one Palestinian kid, Faraj and his grandmother past Israeli lines and to the site of their old village, the one the grandmother was forced to flee from and what has since been razed; the other is arranging for the two secular Israeli twins to come and play with Faraj and his friends (shades of the fabled WWI soccer match in the trenches).
All the children are well-spoken and articulate, and speak with a maturity that comes from living in a war zone. That is save Moishe, the rather plump Jewish kid living in a right-wing settlement; he seems very slow and talks as if his prejudice is giving him a sinus infection.
He got me thinking about the settlements. You could almost make a parallel between the settlements and the cookie-cutter McMansions that are eating up all our natural space, and not just in the architecture and the economic status of the homeowners. Both seem to be built up in the middle of, and to ward off, fear; the Jewish settlers’ fear of violence is way more tangible than sunny CA, but the whole design is the architecture of isolation and separatism, not unlike the “white flight” that leads to bland SoCal houses, large SUVs, and families huddled inside oversized family rooms, worrying about blacks or Hispanics breaking in, where they will sodomize the children and cause their property value to plummet. Moishe’s utter refusal to have anything to do with the people just a few chain link fences away remains unchanged; Mahmoud, who lives in Jerusalem proper and can travel freely, is just as blinkered on the Arab side. And though the ultra-orthodox Shlomo is much more worldly and articulate, he winds up saying the same thing, only more in the abstract and with a smile on his face.
I began to wonder what would happen if all the motorist checkpoints were taken away. Would it lead to more violence, or would it slowly lead to assimilation?
Lastly, though the filmmakers do a competent job with limited funds (all shot on video, and sometimes not even good video), the only false note is hit when the camera cuts from the crying Faraj (who knows that no matter how fun the day was meeting actual Israeli children his own age, once the camera crew go home, the problems will start again) to a weeping B.Z. Goldberg, who has been the kids’ on-screen go-between. They should have held it just on Fazad; as it is, Goldberg seems intent on letting us know how torn up he is (and how much we should be).

The Culture of Complaint – Robert Hughes

Oxford University Press, 1993
Originally subtitled “The Fraying of America” for the hardbound first edition
that I just read (the one currently is called “A Passionate Look into the Ailing Heart of America,” and I’d be curious why and when this changed.) Ten years later, how does Hughes criticism of America hold up?
The Victimhood Culture is still with us, though as it applies to feminism and on campus, I think this has mutated into what Hughes would probably term “un-PC.” Debates over what to call people, places, and things don’t really exist now. Either they’ve been accepted and subsumed into culture (gender based job titles seem a thing of the past) or they’ve been dropped from simple unweildiness. Yet, America is full of victims, and from out of that comes costly litigation. The current lawsuits against big tobacco for causing cancer and against fast food chains for causing obesity are just two examples. (Myself, despite my distrust of big business, consider most of these suits completely frivolous. I still believe in free will, and I don’t believe that people 50 years ago had no ideas of the dangers of smoking. Maybe they didn’t know all the dangers, but I don’t think they thought it was good for you. Still, those same people no doubt thought alcohol was nothing but trouble, yet here’s doctors telling us today a little tipple keeps you healthy.) Victimhood is tied into exploitation and big business (drug companies) and shows no sign of going away.
Many of the worries that Hughes was concerned about were based upon a country where the concept of free speech was being debated in context to art movements (his chapter on Mapplethorpe, Serano’s “Piss Christ”, and the NEA scandal seems so very long ago; when was the last time art made headlines except for earning milllions at auction?). Now free speech itself is threatened by Christian fascists such as Ashcroft, nobody’s really worried about whether a photograph is rude or not.
Hughes wrote and published this just as Clinton was being inaugurated, and part of the book is taking stock of 12 years of Reaganism. He’s not too sure about Clinton, but he has little of anything good to say about Bush. Again, how long ago it feels.
Hughes also sees the dumbing down of American education as a result of anti-elitism, cultivated by the Right, enacted by the Left. Here I think he’s still correct. The basics are not being taught, and students are coming to college knowing nothing (and this is based on my experience working with them). On the other hand, there’s free will: if you really want to learn more and keep on learning, you can do it.
There’s a nice section where Hughes talks a little bit about his education and life growing up in Australia, which taught me a thing or two. It wasn’t too long ago, either.

In those days we had a small, 95 percent white, Anglo-Irish society, in whose public schools you could learn Latiin but not Italian, ancient but not modern Greek. What we learned of the world in school came through the great tradition (and I use the word without irony) of English letters and English history. We were taught little Australian history. Of the world’s great religions other than Christianity–Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam–we were as perfectly ignorant as a row of cats looking at a TV set; or would have been, if Australia had had television in 1955, which, luckily, it did not.

His defence of multiculturalism as an addition to culture, not as a separate or “better” culture is particularly well argued and written, and says what I’ve always thought. Increase knowledge, not replace it.
His last chapter on art makes the case against people who believe art shoud somehow been “good” for you, like a curative. Hughes traces this thought back to the Puritans, and the early Americans first shocking encounter (a few generations on) with European culture. (This brought me back to a SBCC class I had years ago (maybe it was just a onetime lecture) about American art, pre-20th century. Oh, how achingly dull I found it.) If America had been founded by Catholics who somehow had broken from Rome, but kept all the artistic stuff (painting, architecture, the lot), how different America would have been…perhaps.
Anyway, 1993 sounds like a time when the culture was being debated. Now we’re watching our entire country be destroyed and petty artistic or linguistic squabbles are not on the table. Still, it’s a worthwhile book. Hughes is certainly no friend of the ultra-left, and he loathes the right, yet he isn’t a middlebrow. He’s just an independent thinker who calls America his home. I wonder what he’s been thinking recently?
Lastly, while reading the book I sent this thought to my friend Chris a week ago.:

“The situation that Hughes writes about in the CofC, esp. on the Left, has
largely disappeared. I don’t think there’s a hysteria anymore on what to
call somebody or something (even if the hysteria was media created,
perhaps). What *has* happened, and what Hughes and the Left didn’t see
coming, was that PC talk, and the things it tries to hide, has been taken
and adapted by the Right. How else could they use the phrase “class warfare”
and get away with it?”

All right, class, now discuss.

I Writes ’em, They Likes ’em

Tonight I hung out with Ari Rosenzweig and his crew at my favorite Japanese restaurant Edomasa. Not only did I write the article on Ari’s company for the News-Press, but I wrote a review of their Thursday night performance for the same paper. It’s exceedingly rare that I get to meet the artists that I review, but Ari had many nice things to say about my writing, all of which I’m too modest to repeat here.

I’m more than happy to feed these hungry people who have been in America for over a week and have yet to find the sushi they crave. Sushi, man? They’re mad for it, ‘as it ‘appens. Tagging along was fellow performer Fernanda, and their lighting guy Michael, who I hadn’t met before as, well, he’d been in a booth working on lights. While eating we talked about…food! And some of my travels in Asia…and more food! I like people who like food, yes indeed. And beer.

Talking about food, and because Ari and co. are from Denmark, I should have mentioned my love of Havarti cheese. Mmmm, Havarti.

Your Friends and Neigbors

Dir. Neil LaBute, 1998
A depressing bit of cynicism from one of America’s main Miserablists
(Todd Solondz being the other), my friend Olivia lent me this one to check out (all she would say at first was “Well, Catherine Keener kisses Nastassja Kinski in it, so watch it.”). In the Company of Men left me cold, despite the huzzahs from critics (as if feeling “bad” after a film is aesthetically better than feeling “good”). YFAN takes six characters with varying degrees of unlikability, and watches them fuck each other, then fuck each other over, with nothing decent in any of them to grab a hold of or of which to mourn the passing. If you can get past the foul language and the mood, which surprised middle America, the characters aren’t even written well. Ben Stiller’s “intellectual” is of course too “wordy” and “thinks too much;” Keener’s bisexual character is icy and unpleasant. And Jason Patric might as well have “asshole” tattooed on his forehead (of course he tapes himself talking dirty during sex; of course he calls women cunts; of course he goes off in rages; of course his “best fuck” was anally raping a boy in high school, etc. etc.) And to have Amy Brenneman’s character to end up with Patric in the end is completely forced, a writer’s conceit.


Dir. Godfrey Reggio, 2002
Gentlemen and good ladies of the court, I present to you Exhibit A
in this capital punishment case against Postmodernism.
Godfrey Reggio is, based on this film and 1991’s Anima Mundi, almost completely artistically bankrupt. I got the sneaky suspicion after watching the latter last year at Philip Glass’ “Shorts” concert, that Reggio is not even a filmmaker, but an editor, and not a coherent one. The third and perhaps final installment on the “qatsi” series that never needed to be a trilogy is a dull hash-up of stock footage and iconography. You could take a random assortment of famous 20th century people, places, and things, apply random After Effects filters to them, string them all together and play some Philip Glass over the top and you’d have this film. If, as Greil Marcus says, MTV is “the pornography of semiotics,” then this is a Red Shoes Diary marathon, not even offering a bang for your buck.
I know it’s a lot to even expect a message or even an idea from a Reggio film, but at least Powaqqatsi was visually interesting. The cheapness of the effects are apparent, and any shot that looks nice is the work of somebody else.
My friend Jon has never liked Reggio, and disagrees with me that at least Koyaanisqatsi is good. If Reggio makes any more films, I may have to give Jon his due.
(And what’s up with the poster: “America Is Test Driving the Future”? Perhaps the marketing department thought that the film was just a collection of commercial footage. Oh, wait…)



Dir. Yasuzo Masamura, 1964
Nicely rediscovered and released by Fantoma DVD, this is a tale of whacked-out obsession based on author Junichiro Tanizaki‘s novel. I’ve seen another film based on a book of his: “The Key,” which came out around this time, directed by Kon Ichikawa.
Kyouko Kishida plays Sonoko, a upper class housewife who begins an obsessive lesbian affair with a fellow student at her art college, Mitsuko, played by Ayako Wakao. Two complementary men (Mitsuko’s creepy fiance and Sonoko’s wimpy husband) provide the complications, though Mitsuko is the stormy center. From the get-go, the acting is set on level 10, and the action is reduced to a series of claustrophobic chambers, similar in feel to the anti-social level of “In the Realm of the Senses” and any number of S&M films from Japan (like the most wonderful “Wife to Be Sacrificed”). With the constant refrain of lover’s suicide, there’s no way this film could get translated for the west. And while death is a usual way out for lesbians in most films pre 1980, Manji’s lunacy goes beyond that, and in fact, Masamura has little to say about lesbianism per se.

Sonoko has an attachment to Mitsuko more along the lines of “Death in Venice”–Mitsuko as unobtainable art object and beauty personified, who attracts (and destroys) men and women alike.
Pretty funny all the way through, and I’m not sure how much was intentional.
The DVD transfer is okay. Full Toho-scope ratio, but there’s a strange blue-green pall to the film (though reds and whites look fine). There’s a brief 30 seconds where a really awful print has been used to, I assume, fill in the gap missing from the original negative.

So Fresh, So Clean

Another classic from Jack Chick. This one features two worrisome examples of “yoof culchur” learning to fear Jesus and the “Lake of Fire” that they’ll be tossed into if they don’t tow the biblical line. Apparently, where the artist is from, scary teens wear (stolen?) National Park Ranger hats. By the by, there is no link; this is from a Chick pamphlet given to my dad in a park. And the Jack T. Chick site seems to be down. Could it be….Satan?