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January 30, 2004

Evolution Saga Continues

After the AJC reported on the state's new science curriculum, which would ignore the last century of biological research, Kathy Cox was forced to defend the proposal:

She said it was not designed to appease Georgians who have religious conflicts with the scientific theory that all living things evolved from common ancestry.

"This wasn't so much a religion vs. science, politics kind of issue," Cox said. "This was an issue of how do we ensure that our kids are getting a quality science education in every classroom across the state."

She said students need to understand that science is constantly changing and they need to be exposed to all legitimate theories.

Cox said that could include the teaching of "intelligent design," though it is not specifically mentioned in the proposed curriculum.

Cox later called "evolution" a "buzzword," implying somehow that "biological changes over time" and "intelligent design" are not. So far, according to the article, over a thousand people have sent letters of complaint regarding the new curriculum, and a relatively unsceintific AJC poll shows overwhelming opposition to the changes.

Posted by chuck at 10:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

Chris Hedges Talk

Last night, I had the great opportunity to attend a talk at Emory by Chris Hedges, the New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief, who has covered wars in Central America, the Balkans and the Middle East, including the first Gulf War. Hedges is the author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, a provocative book that explores the reasons we tolerate (and often embrace) war. You may know Hedges best as the speaker who was booed by a Rockford College audience during a graduation speech.

Both the book and the talk emphasize what might be called the erotics of war, the excitement and purpose that war provides. Not sure I have much to add right now, but Hedges' experiences in El Salvador and the Balkans, especially, provide a chilling antidote to the nationalist dicourses that are often used to justify war.

Posted by chuck at 6:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Do the Evolution, Georgia Edition

Or, as some Georgia educators prefer, "Do biological changes over time."

I'm a little too outraged to comment on this story in detail, but the Georgia Department of Education has decided that the best way to correct the state's educational problems is to no longer require teachers to cover evolution in detail (if they mention it at all) in their science courses. As one proposal would have it, the word evolution would be replaced with the euphemism, "biological changes over time," because, as one educator suggests, evolution conjures up the image of that whole "man-monkey" thing.

Biology teachers across the state are rightly angry about the curriculum, with 26-year North Cobb High School biology teacher Wes McCoy pointing out that less experienced teachers will take their cue from the state requirements:

"They're either going to tread very lightly or they're going to ignore it," McCoy said. "Students will be learning some of the components of evolution. They're going to be missing how that integrates with the rest of biology."
More significantly, buried about fourteen paragraphs into the article, the author notes that
Georgia's curriculum exam, the CRCT, will be rewritten to align with the new curriculum. And the state exam is the basis for federal evaluation, which encourages schools and teachers to focus on teaching the material that will be tested.
So, in order to get federal funding, teachers will feel obligated to teach towards the state test, which will make it even less likely that Georgia students will have adequate understanding of evolution's importance to scientific theory.

Information about the proposed curriculum, including a contact page, is available here.

Updated to express further outrage.

Posted by chuck at 10:38 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 28, 2004

Cloud Cult: Political Remixes

Just listened to Cloud Cult's "State of the Union" off their most recent CD, Aurora Borealis. The song mixes together various Bush speeches in creative ways, with the result that we hear Bush saying things like, "I will fight for the complete devastation of the environment" (I'm paraphrasing for now). Based on the Album 88 DJ's comments, it sounds like they'll be hitting heavy rotation soon.

On their website, Cloud Cult reports that they donate 100% of their profits to environmental causes, and the band, led by Craig Minowa, is basically a grassroots project.

Posted by chuck at 9:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2004

Evangelical Colleges

Jason discusses a Time article on Azusa Pacific University (APU), an evangleical Christian university in California attempting to challenge "the stereotypes of evangelical colleges as weak academically and ultraconservative socially." As Jason points out, biology professor Jon Milhon's half-hearted introduction to Darwin's evolutionary theory needs to be interrogated. To be fair, at the evangelical college I attended, the biology professor actually taught evolution relatively straight, without snide comments about Darwin's faith. Still, in an environment where George W. Bush is pushing faith-based initiatives and further blurring the lines between church and state, the academic missions of these colleges need to be carefully considered.

I would point out, from personal experience, that the article's discussion of evangelical colleges glosses how politically and socially homogeneous many of these campuses are. Class discussion invariably starts from a very specific worldview, one that regards some questions as "dangerous," which often had the result of making me feel alienated from most of my fellow students and unable to be open about my (then moderately liberal) politics on campus. More than anything, my experience was that the campus's insularity prevented any real confrontation with difference, and for the most part, the article ignores that dynamic almost completely.

Update, 11:15 PM: I've been struggling with this entry for most of the evening (I even thought about deleting it), in part because I feel like my experience at an evangelical college may have been unusual; I'm hesitant to make any general claims based on anecdotal evidence; and I don't think these colleges are nearly as simple politically or socially as I've described them. But I do think that by focusing solely on one evangelical college and limiting interviews to people who generally support the university's goals (APU students and professors), the article only gives us a limited part of the story.

Posted by chuck at 10:36 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

I'd Like to Thank My Agent

This year's Academy Award nominees are out, and as expected, the choices tend to privilege films made in major studios. And while I find these award shows absurd, I usually buy into the hype of reacting to the choices and compaining about the films I feel were overlooked.

The best picture nominees were a little disappointing. I found Seabiscuit and Mystic River to be overrated films, and I would have liked to see either 21 Grams or House of Sand and Fog recognized here. One other major complaint here: to my knowledge documentaries, among other films, have never been considered for best picture. Why not recognize one or more of this year's solid crop of documentaries with a nomination for best picture?

The acting nominees pretty much fell into place as expected, and I'm actually quite happy that Johnny Depp received recognition for his work in Pirates of the Caribbean. Also happy that Shohreh Aghdashloo was acknowledged for a quietly powerful performance in House of Sand and Fog. Patricia Clarkson has deserved recognition for several performances (including All the Real Girls and The Station Agent). Major omission: Jennifer Connelly, also in Sand and Fog.

I'm generally satisfied with the choices for direction, but would have liked to see 21 Grams among the choices. I am excited that City of God's director, Fernando Meirelles, received a well-deserved nomination, although I'm not sure why his film was snubbed for best foreign-language film (best guess: because Miramax released the film, it somehow didn't qualify).

I didn't see Barbarian Invasions, but Canadian director Denys Arcand has been doing outstanding work for a long time, so I'm happy to see his work receive attention in screenplay and foreign film categories. Also happy to see Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman nominated for American Splenor's screenplay. Sand and Fog and 21 Grams were left out here as well.

Not sure I have much else to add. Looking through the rest of nominees, it looks like a solid year for documentaries (Capturing the Friedmans, Fog of War), and of course, Lord of the Rings scored a basketful of nominations, as expected. To be honest, I'm usually much more interested in the Independent Spirit awards, but the Oscars are good water cooler discussion. So what do you think?

Update: Roger Ebert explains that City of God would have been up for best forign film last year, but the Academy's best foreign film committee simply dropped the ball.

Posted by chuck at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2004


Palimpsest, a weblog "devoted to teaching langauge and literature," is now up and running. Thanks to George Williams for all his work in getting Palimpsest up and running.

Posted by chuck at 9:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 25, 2004

Mystic River Monster

I saw two new movies over the weekend that have been receiving major critical acclaim, Clint Eastwood's new drama, Mystic River (IMDB), and Patty Jenkins' first major film, Monster (IMDB).

Both films have been praised for the performances of the lead and supporting actors. Just minutes ago, in fact, Tim Robbins won a Golden Globe Award for supporting actor for his performance as a child molestation survivor in Mystic River, while Roger Ebert proclaims Charlize Theron's performance as Aileen Carol Wuornos, imprecisely described as the world's first female serial killer, to be "one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema," which probably overstates things just a little. However, Eastwood's crime drama left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, while Monster's treatment of the Wuornos story shook me pretty deeply, and I was impressed by the film's unwillingness to offer any simple explanations for Wuornos's behavior.

Both films open with flashback images of childhood memories: In Mystic River, we see three boys playing street hockey in a working-class Boston neighborhood when one of the boys, Dave, is picked up by a child molester posing as a police officer. Years later, the boys have grown up and gone their separate ways, but the opening scene is played as a traumatic event that determines every choice they make for the rest of their lives. Jimmy (Sean Penn), the brashest of the three, grows into a life of small-time crime and has a teenage daughter who is mysteriously killed. Jimmy immediately suspects Dave, and some circumstantial evidence uncovered by police officer and third boyhood friend, Sean (Kevin Bacon), points towards Dave's guilt. By focusing on the single childhood event (I've heard that Dennis Lehane's book offers more detail from their pasts), Mystic River puts entirely too much weight on it.

The film's treatment of gender also left me feeling somewhat cold, with the wives of all three characters left pretty much unexamined. Marcia Gay Harden, playing Dave's wife Celeste, is given little else to do other than frown and simper when she begins to think her husband may be a murderer, with no real explanation given for her sudden betrayal. Laura Linney, playing Jimmy's (Penn) wife, does little in the film until the final scene when she attempts to comfort her husband in a scene that felt like something out of a different movie.

Monster, on the other hand, seems to use the flashback in a slightly different way. Aileen (Theron) narrates in voice-over that she "always wanted to be in the movies," but we see and learn quickly that her life didn't go as planned. By the age of 13, Aileen was already a street prostitute, and we soon see her under a highway overpass, contemplating suicide. She goes into a local bar (apparently not realizing at first that it was a lesbian bar) where she meets Selby (a good but thankless performance by Christina Ricci), another lonely individual searching for friendship. In fact, one of the best sequences of the film shows them dancing together in a roller skating rink while Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" plays in the background, suggesting for a brief moment the tenderness the two women briefly shared.

But Monster doesn't reduce Aileen's actions to a single moment or decision. Instead, her violence (which sometimes even seems to surprise her) seems to grow out of bad luck, bad decisions, and a series of abusive relationships. This is where Theron's performance, filled with awkward gestures and false bravado, really seemed to define a character. The first murder, in fact, is portrayed as self-defense against a "john" who has raped and beaten her. The low-angle camera shot captures Aileen's vulnerability and the violence enacted upon her. Wisely, however, the film avoids reducing her murders to this single event; in fact, it seems to avoid identifying a singular cause altogether, which I found to be one of Monster's greatest strengths.

The final shot also supports this reading: it shows Aileen being led away from the courtroom with the knowledge that Selby has identified her to the police in order to avoid prosecution on other charges. She quotes various cliches that people have repeated to her in the past: "Faith can move mountains, everything happens for a reason." Then after a pause, she laughs and says, "Well, they gotta tell you something." This sequence is, as Cynthia Fuchs suggests, "testament to the combined horror and banality of Wuornos' story."

Posted by chuck at 8:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

Kodak Layoffs

I've been blogging a lot this morning, but I felt it would be negligent not to mention that I wrote my entry on Kodak before I learned the news that Kodak plans to layoff at least 12,000 employees, cutting its workforce by nearly 25 percent. Kind of makes my reflections on photography feel pretty trivial right now.

Posted by chuck at 9:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Power Point Anthology of Literature

Power Point jokes are pretty obvious at this point, but the Power Point Anthology of Literature is pretty funny. So is the Power Point Gettysburg Address. Both via CalPundit.

Posted by chuck at 9:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wolfman, RIP

Doyle Rogers, the famous Atlanta furniture salesman known as "The Wolfman," has died at the age of 67. His deliberately awkward commercials, usually featuring intentionally goofy spoofs and his catch phrase, "Ask for the Wolfman," have aired in Atlanta for well over twenty years. Unlike many other local advertisers, Rogers and his daughter Donna (also featured in many of his commericals) got the joke.

Posted by chuck at 8:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 22, 2004

The First Rule of Fight Club

...is that you don't talk about fight club or at least the narrative twists in Fight Club. I've been teaching Fight Club this week in my cultural studies and composition course, and in teaching the novel (in some sense, alongside the film), I've been confronted with an interesting "disciplinary" dilemma. On the one hand, I feel obligated to discuss certain narrative details about Fight Club, namely that Tyler and the narrator are the "same person." On the other, when I discuss a text such as Fight Club, I catch myself falling into the disciplinary practice of a filmgoer who quickly learns that he or she is not supposed to reveal important plot twists in order not to spoil the shock effect for others.

This conflict between two very different institutional organizations (the classroom and film audiences) became remarkably clear last spring when a student group completed project called "Twisted Celluloid" that focused on films (Usual Suspects, Memento, Sixth Sense) with narrative twists designed to revise our knowledge of everything that happened in the film until that point.

My thoughts here are following two unrelated lines right now:

  1. In general, I'm intrigued by what these films are doing, what they offer to viewers. The effect is obviously something that many viewers find pleasurable, given the popularity of this type of effect. Of course the idea of the secret itself seems like an important part of the successful marketing of these films (The Crying Game would seem to be the best example here), but the narrative shock effect offers a pleasurable disorientation or destabilization that seems important. In a recent essay, Linda Williams compares this feeling to the shock effect offered by roller coaster rides, an observation that I find promising.
  2. How do you talk about these texts in class? When teaching the novel, especially, I wanted to be careful not to reveal the "secret" too soon for readers who were unfamiliar with the text. Again, at some point, you have to assume the students have read far enough into the book, but I constantly find myself questioning how and when to reveal this kind of information, a hesitation that I think is primarily based on my desire to remain complicit with the expectations of movie audiences not to give away the ending.

Posted by chuck at 3:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 21, 2004

Sundance Goes Really Low Budget

I unintentionally deleted my original post, so now I'll just link and comment. Wired reports the story of Jonathan Caouette, an independent filmmaker debuting Tarnation at this year's Sundance Film Festival. What makes the story incredible is that Caouette made the film for a grand total of US$218.32, using Apple's easy-to-use editing program, iMovie. Gus Van Sant and Jonathan Cameron Mitchell have expressed interest in the film.

For more information about Tarnation, check out cinema minima, a useful digest for movie makers, filmmakers, and digital video makers.

Posted by chuck at 1:35 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

Watching The Trials of Henry Kissinger (IMDB), Eugene Jarecki's documentary film based on Christopher Hitchens' controversial book, I found myself increasingly troubled by the accusations against the former secretary of state. I was already aware of many of these accusations such as claims that Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War and that he supported the Chilean coup that replaced the democratically-elected Allende with war criminal Pinochet, so I wanted a better understanding of how the film produced the response that it did.

As Roger Ebert's review suggests, the film's partisan take on Kissinger is a little too transparent. Kissinger's opponents, including Hitchens, are given ample time to state their case, to lay out their arguments in some detail. His supporters, however, including Alexander Haig, often appear to have their comments taken out of context. This technique is not unfamiliar in documentary media, of course, and I was certainly aware of the careful framing of Kissinger's story, the fact that the film had already essentially framed things through a loaded question, presuming his guilt in advance. Such an approach does not imply anything about Kissinger's guilt or innocence (I think there are sound reasons to question Kissinger's "diplomacy"), but this approach may actually be detrimental to understanding his role in American and world politics in the 1960s and 70s.

What I found interesting about the film is its loose reliance on the genre of the trial movie (for an excellent analysis, see Carol J. Clover's discussion of this genre) to make its case. As Clover points out, courtroom dramas position viewers "not as passive spectators but as active ones, viewers with a job to do."* While Trials is not properly a courtroom drama, it does clearly position the viewers as "jurors," presenting evidence that we are then asked to negotiate. Unlike many trial movies, however, the viewer-juror is left somewhat powerless. We've seen the evidence (stacked as it might be), but we are prevented from seeing any form of justice served, essentially short-circuiting what had been until the end of the film our active role in sifting through the evidence, leaving me feeling a pretty intense feeling of passivity. I haven't completely worked through these ideas, but I think Clover's discussion of the courtroom drama may explain in part why this film left me feeling so uncomfortable.

* Clover, "Judging Audiences," in Reinventing Film Studies, 246.

Posted by chuck at 4:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

It's The End of Photography As We Know It

Via CityCynic: Kodak has announced that it will stop making film cameras, which raises important questions about how this decision will change photography:

Eastman Kodak Co. (EK) on Tuesday said it will stop selling traditional film cameras in the United States, Canada and Western Europe, another move by the troubled photography company to cut lines with declining appeal in favor of fast-growing digital products.

But the Rochester-based company will continue to sell one-time use cameras in the West and expand its sales of these and other film-based cameras and supplies in markets such as China, India, and Latin America, where demand is on the rise.

The article goes on to suggest that declining demand for film cameras in the US led to this decision. I imagine that once the buzz over digital cameras subsides a little, occasional bouts of nostalgia may lead to renewed interest in film cameras, but that's just a guess. The more significant questions, I think, will be how the increasing turn toward digital photography and digital video will change the way we record and remember the past, how we store it, and who will have access to these technologies.

Posted by chuck at 12:10 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (IMDB) documents the failed April 2002 coup in Venezuela againt populist president Hugo Chávez. Although he is portrayed throughout the film as a "man of the people," someone who listens to the poor (he even does a weekly call-in show and assitants compile hand-written notes submitted to the palace), Chavez has been portrayed as anti-democratic by Venezuela's wealthy population and by current US leaders.

Filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain had come to Venezuela with the intentions of making a much different documentary, one that focused on Chávez's rise to power and his promotion of literacy and economic programs among the nation's large poor population (several poor Venezuelan proudly display copies of their constitution), but the filmmakers happened to be present in the presidential palace when the coup, led by a small cabal of millionaires who oppoesd Chávez's plans to redistribute the nation's oil wealth, began happening around them. Two days later, the filmmakers are still in the palace when the palace guard, still loyal to Chávez, retake the palace, capturing many of the coup's leaders while others, including the newly installed president, manage to escape. What is perhaps most amazing about the entire event is the civility with which the coups took place: many of the opposition leaders who attempted to oust Chávez remain active in the opposition to this day.

The documentary raises several questions about globalization, and I'm intrigued by the different readings the film seems to have inspired. Roger Ebert--in a highly sympathetic review--focuses on the film's subtle implication that the CIA, or the Bush White House, may have supported the coup. To be honest, this is not a reading that I really gleaned from the film. Certainly Chávez's resistance to globalization and his attempts to restructure the Venezuelan oil industry have not won him many popularity points with the current US regime, but the film offers no real evidence to support such a thesis (as the less sympathetic New York Times review points out).

One of the film's more significant points seems to focus on the media coverage of the coup. The filmmakers are careful to emphasize the fact that Venezuela's private media are accountable to the oil companies and the wealthiest 20% of the population. They then proceed to show the stark distinctions between the news coverage and the events themselves, which the filmmakers capture with their camera. In general, it's a very successful tactic. The private media appear slick and over-produced, and the news commentators are called into question by their absurd critiques of Chávez, including one commentator who suggests that the president has a "Freudian sexual attraction" to Fidel Castro.

They also interview a fired news director who comments on the editorial decision to implicate Chávez's supporters in the deaths of ten Venezuelans using careful editing to distort what actually happened: the supporters were merely defending themselves against snipers, not firing into the crowd, as the television broadcast suggests. Meanwhile, the coup's supporters shut down the one public television station, which had provided Chavez with a primary outlet for communicating with the people. Like Walter Addiego of the San Francisco Chronicle, what struck me most about the film was that "political invective and media manipulation have real victims," and the uncertainty about what was really happening both inside and outside the palace walls. The film makes clear the ways in which economic interests determined how the events of the coup were covered in the privately-owned media.

Revolution is definitely well worth seeing, its critique of the "unreality" of televised images an important one. As the film suggests, media coverage can have profound consequences on people's lives. Chávez's status as leader of Venezuela continues to be contested, especially given the United States' significant economic interests in the region.

Posted by chuck at 12:37 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 17, 2004

"I Ain't Gonna Study War No More."

Check out the BushFlash animation in honor of Martin Luther King, who would have celebrated his 75th birthday on Thursday (warning: it may take about two minutes to download on a 56k modem). The animation is sponsored in part by United for Peace and Black Voices for Peace and designed to encourage participation in the March 20 anti-war rallies, marking the one year anniversary of the start of the war.

After seeing President Bush's disruptive appearance at the King Center on Thursday, designed to garner black votes as well as support for his faith-based initiatives, it's nice to see this flash movie reclaim King's emphasis on peace and social justice.

Posted by chuck at 7:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"The Highest Bar Fight I've Ever Seen"

After talking to my students about Fight Club (yes, I know I've just broken the first two rules of fight club), I had one of those much needed whirlwind nights where several of my colleagues and I were in constant motion until they dropped me off at my car sometime after 1 AM.

We started with a brief post-teaching drink at the hotel at Technology Square, Georgia Tech's new high-tech conference center where they make some very good gin martinis.

Then we kept moving, stopping off at several different local art galleries for several exhibitions which were participating in ATLart[04], a citywide event offering exhibitions, lectures, tours and special events from Atlanta’s leading art galleries and museums. ATLart[04] effectively connected several of Atlanta's up-and-coming art spaces, which are scattered all over the city.

Two exhibits were most memorable: First, Saltworks Gallery, a gallery/studio specializing primarily in conceptual art featured a cool exhibit by New York artist Larry Miller and a video installation, Cakewalk, by Jeremy Helton. I especially enjoyed Miller's treatment of popular culture figures using what appears from a distance to be giant pixellated images, creating a halftone effect, which on closer inspection turns out to be created by heavy paint strokes. The play with popular culture (painting included images of Audrey Hepburn, Vincent Van Gogh, baseball images) was also interesting to me, especially in relationship to Warhol's prints.

The other gallery I really enjoyed is tucked away in an area just south of Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome and directly west of the state capital in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, which appears to be targeted for revitalization. Skot Foreman Fine Art had an amazing exhibit of late twentieth century art featuring works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Howard Finster. Finster, who lived in Georgia, has seen his "outsider" work popularized by musicians REM, the Talking Heads, and Vic Chesnutt, and mixes mass media images (Coke bottles, especially) with fascinating mystical and religious images. Really cool stuff.

After a few other gallery stops we wound up at the Peachtree Plaza Hotel (designed by John Portman), at one time the tallest hotel in the United States. The top floor--seventy-odd storeys up--has a revolving bar and restaurant with overpriced but tasty drinks (I had a mango daiquiri--mildly disappointing), and when we arrived the bar happened to be fairly crowded with conference people and, I think, a few hockey fans in town for a Thrashers game.

Our group was briefly joined by a muscular guy in his twenties who was drunk enough to mistake us for his group of friends (for reasons that are not clear at all, I think he claimed I was his roommate). A few minutes after the guy found his way back to his group, we hear a loud crashing sound. Chairs falling. People scattering. Slurred threats. Looking along the circular bar, we see the guy in fighting position, another guy (who somehow managed to take off his shirt, showing off his back tattoos) ready to fight back. It got a little scary when we were more or less stuck between the edge of the bar and the sparring guys, but fortuntaely, order was restored pretty quickly and nobody got thrown out any windows.

I think now I can safely say, as one of my friends put it, that it was the highest bar fight I've ever seen.

Posted by chuck at 2:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2004

A "Shack Up" Manifesto

A spectre is haunting married people--the spectre of unmarried, gay, and lesbian people. All the powers of heterosexuality have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Cheney and Ashcroft, the Traditional Values Coalition and Focus on the Family.

Where are the single people, gays, and lesbians in opposition? Who will these leaders prevent from getting married in order to honor traditional marriage? What single mothers will they "advise" to get married? Against whom must marriage be defended? It is high time that single people, gays, and lesbians should openly, in the face of every cable news station in the United States, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of unmarried people with a Manfesto. To this end, unmarried people of various sexualities (including metrosexuality) have assembled in the blogsophere, and sketched the following Manifesto to be disseminated on the airwaves on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will and Grace and by that guy on Survivor.

In the earlier epoch of the 1950s, we find almost everywhere, especially on Nick-at-Nite, an uncomplicated arrangement of society into suburban marriages, in which fathers went to work while mothers stayed at home and cooked dinner and cleaned the house. The modern society that has sprouted from the ruins of Woodstock, Stonewall, and the 1960s has not finished battling against heterosexual marriage. It has but established new families in place of the old ones, which can be very confusing for many people.

In short, unmarried people everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing order of marriage and family. Single people disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare their ends--the destruction of marriage as we know it--can be attained only by broadcasting televised images of single, gay, and lesbian people on commercial television. Let the married people tremble at a "single, gay, and lesbian" revolution. People who would be married have nothing to lose but their "ball-and-chain" (and some tax benefits). They have a huge deficit, exacerbated by harmful tax cuts that will mortgage our future* to gain.

Okay, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

* CBS, a Viacom company, which ultimately caved to pressure not to air the miniseries on Ronald Reagan, is strongly hinting that MoveOn.org's Super Bowl advertisement (referenced here) will not pass "standards and practices" and therefore will not air the advertisement during the Super Bowl.

Posted by chuck at 8:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 13, 2004

The Kid Stays in the Picture

Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen's documentary, The Kid Stays in the Picture, about legendary film producer Robert Evans, has been out on video and DVD for several months now, but I've been waiting for the right moment to see it. The documentary is based on Evans' autobiography and makes beautiful use of Evans' gruff storytelling style, with Evans himself narrating his story in voice-over (although Morgen takes a screenwriting credit).

The documentary itself is fascinating, primarily for the narratives about the Hollywood studio system that it invokes, especially the nostalgia for the turbulent "New Hollywood" of the late 1960s and 1970s--also seen in Peter Biskind's Easy Riders Raging Bulls and the Ted Demme/Independent Film Channel documentary A Decade Under the Influence (my review).

As Salon.com reviewer Stephanie Zacharek points out, the Evans documentary clearly plays fast and loose with the facts from the very beginning:

There are times when baloney tells a better story than fact ever could, and "The Kid Stays in the Picture," narrated by Evans himself, is one of them. Evans sells himself to us in exactly the same way you imagine he might have sold one of his hit pictures to the bigwigs at Paramount during his golden years.
Unlike Zacharek, who suggests that "getting the absolute, undecorated truth would be too crushing," I don't read this technique of emphasizing Evans' breezy style psychologically. Instead, the approach seems to celebrate the very superficiality of the Hollywood studio system, taking pleasure in Evans' image as a charming, brash golden boy. In this sense, the film seems less about Evans, although his cult of personality dominates the film, and more about a nostalgia for what is increasingly considered to be the golden age of American cinema.

The film builds from the story of Evans' early career as a mediocre actor (Evans describes his acting as "half-assed") who was discovered poolside by Norma Shearer, who cast him in Man of a Thousand Faces and then starred in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises despite the objections of Hemingway and several of the film's stars, who all co-signed a telegram sent to Darryl Zanuck demanding that Evans be fired. According to Evans, the diminutive Zanuck stood up and decreed that "the kid stays in the picture." Evans reflects that he realized after Zanuck made the declaration that he no longer wanted to be an actor but wished to have the power to say "the kid stays in the picture." In short, the power of a studio chief.

The film then relates Evans' rise to power at Paramount, where he essentially saved the studio, in part by supporting some of the best and most profitable films of the 1960s and 70s, including Love Story, Chinatown, The Odd Couple, Rosemary's Baby, and The Godfather. In fact, in one the documentary's key sequences, we see clips of a film (directed by Mike Nichols) in which Evans is pleading with Paramount--then in the midst of a major financial crisis--to keep its studios open long enough to make Love Story and The Godfather (the complete sales film is an extra on the DVD).

Evans' rise to power is punctuated by his purchase of a Bevery Hills mansion he had admired when he was younger, but his classic success story becomes marred by greed and self-destructive behavior, including his divorce from Ali McGraw (after her affair with Steve McQueen), a drug bust in the 1980s and a scandalous trial in which an investor in one of Evans' films was murdered. The decline associated with Evans' personal life seems connected--at least loosely--to a decline in the New Hollywood itself, which became associated with excess in the early 1980s. His final act (and the film's final act, leading to what might be called a "Hollywood ending") is his re-emergence as a player in the 1990s. He recently produced the financially successful film, The Saint, among others, and the film emphasizes his recent marriage (his fifth), while neatly ignoring several of his earlier marriages. The documentary suggests someone bigger than life, a Hollywood hero manufactured in part from his press clippings, from Hollywood gossip, and from his own stories. In a sense, The Kid Stays in the Picture is a film about surface, about the artifice itself. As Evans himself says in the film's epigraph:

There are three sides to every story: My side, your side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently.

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January 12, 2004

Teaching Resource Blog News

It looks like George's suggested teaching resource blog will soon be up and running. Go to his blog for more information on how to get involved.

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January 10, 2004

House of Sand and Fog

House of Sand and Fog (IMDB), based on a novel by Andre Dubus III, is a formally exquisite and morally compelling film. The film opens with a shot of Behrani (Ben Kingsley, jumping into the ethnic chameleon machine one more time), an Iranian military officer looking from his balcony as several giant pine trees are chopped down to provide him with a view of the Caspian Sea. The shot suggests a certain amount of hubris, and his actions displease his wife.

The film then crosscuts between Behrani, now living and forced to work two jobs (on a cosntruction crew and in a convenience store) in the United States, and Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), living alone in a modest split-level house with a meager ocean view. Kathy's life seems to be careening out of control. An early sequence shows Kathy on the phone with her mother, who lives across the country, lying about her broken marriage and financial stability, and her only form of stability is the cabin left to her by her father. Kathy's life is then disrupted when the county siezes her house claiming that she has failed to pay business taxes on the house. One of the officers, Lester (Ron Eldard), seems sympathetic and directs Kathy to a lawyer to fight back for her house. However, Lester, who is married with children, is also clearly attracted to her. Behrani, seeing an oppurtunity to get rich quickly, buys the house at a bargain rate with plans to sell it for a large profit so that he can support his family and send his son to college. Kathy, unable to find anywhere else to go, begins sleeping in front of her old house in her Pontiac (one of her few remaining possessions).

The film, directed by first-timer Vadim Perelman, thus establishes a complicated set of moral questions. Both Kathy and Berhani are essentially entitled to the house; they have also both made mistakes. Kathy should have opened her mail and paid her bills sooner; Berhani, perhaps, should have been more understanding of Kathy's dilemma, but it's easy to understand why he would want to preserve his family's comfort level, especially after the luxurious life they were forced to leave in Iran (it's implied that he was in the Shah's army). In this sense, the film evokes a complicated take on the Amerian Dream. Berhani, the immigrant, is working hard to make a better life for his family in the United States while Kathy sees the home that her father worked thirty years to buy dissapearing from her grasp.

Perhaps the only character with whom I had no sympathy was Lester, the police officer who leaves his wife and family for Kathy, and not simply because he leaves his wife, but more likely because the film doesn't show us much about his family life. We only get one or two scenes of Carol (Kim Dickens) confronting Lester, and his desire to leave her seems more motivated by a night of steamy sex with Kathy than anything else. When I was discussing this film afterwards, I read this decision as a directorial mistake, one that simplified the story a little, but on reflection, I'm trying to recuperate it because the decision to not show us that part of Lester's life now seems rather deliberate (and may also be influenced by the tone of the novel). My reading now is that Lester is simply drawn to Kathy's self-destructive tendencies (she's a recovering alcoholic and smoker), and in fact, he begins to encourage her self-destructive behavior, buying cigarettes and alcohol for her.

I don't want to give away any other details about the plot, other than to say that once the conflict is set, it has a certain inevitability. The characters all make choices that we understand, but given our knowledge of their world, we also know the devastating consequences of their choices. House of Sand and Fog is beautifully filmed by Roger Deakins (Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Shawshank Redemption, among others) in a style that is generally naturalistic without being showy. One powerful shot, however, clearly evokes film noir, with Lester walking away from Kathy in a point-of-view shot. Lester is back-lit by a street lamp and is transformed into silhouette in the dark night. It's a beautiful shot for evoking the film's complicated moral questions, setting in motion a series of devastating choices.

House does have one sequence that I found improbable, and I won't mention it in too much detail, but I think that Behrani's son's action near the end of the film seemed fairly implausible and perhaps a little manipulative. Overall, though, the film sustains its complicated moral dilmemas, produced in part by the very effective use of crosscutting between Berhani and Kathy.

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Early Bollywood/Early Hollywood

I've been thinking more and more about Bollywood lately, and while reading Cubitt's The Cinema Effect, I've been intrigued by Cubitt's discussion of Dadasaheb Phalke, considered by many to be the "father of Indian cinema" (IMDB). Phalke, among other accomplishments, legitimated showing women on-screen in Indian films and provided the "genotype for the Bombay melodrama" (59). Phalke also accomplished his impressive body of work without the benefit of being involved in the European cinema cultures in anything more than a peripheral way.

Cubitt compares Phalke's films to the fantasy films of Georges Méliès, the innovative director who used stop motion, mattes, and other special effects to produce what are often regarded as the earliest fantasy films, including his most famous film, Le voyage dans la lune (1902). What I find intriguing about Cubitt's reading is that he argues that while Méliès's urbane fantasies might be associated with the "cinema of attractions," in which visual pleasure derives from spectacle rather than narrative development (and eventual closure), Phalke's films tend to privilege narrative, specifically as it might be connected to Hindu epic tradition.

I (perhaps obviously) don't have much background in Bollywood or in Phalke, but Cubitt's discussion seems to highlight a gap in how film is studied in the United States. Specifically, I'd suggest that Anglo-American film theory seems to either bracket off or ignore Bollywood viewing experiences and practices. I realize there is a lot of good scholarship out there on Bollywood, but in much of the scholarship I've read and many of the introductory film courses I've encountered online, I rarely see theorists paying much attention to such an important and influential film culture.

Any suggestions? Do any of my readers have experience with teaching Bollywood or dicussing it with their students?

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Blogging and Peer Review

Brian Weatherson comments on Brian Leiter's recent posts on whether or not academics should receive scholarly credit for writing in their blogs. Both Weatherson and Leiter agree that blogs can count as service, an opinion I certainly share.

In fact, given some of the discussions that have taken place this week focused on starting a collaboratively-authored blog for sharing teaching resources, I'm inclined to believe that "service," rather than publication or research, might be how blogs best support academic labor in the humanities, although I'm not ready to exclude the possibility that blogs could serve as scholarship.

I've mentioned this discussion recently, but I think it bears further emphasis. These tools would automatically be subject to some form of review and revision as different professors adapt them to their classrooms and their needs. It would also, I think, contribute to some interesting cross-fertilization in terms of discussions of how to teach and interpret cultural texts. Another potentially significant use might be the public nature of the website itself. Because humanities faculty have frequently been subject to critique for their use of jargon, a website/blog/wiki that further contextualizes what we really do might also be of value.

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January 9, 2004

Little Pink Houses

Joe Conason reports in Salon.com on a new anti-Howard Dean ad playing in Iowa. The advertisement is sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth and accuses Dean of seeking to raise taxes on the average American family by $1900 a year (a misleading assertion in the first place).

However, the advertisement's other "message" is a bit more disturbing. Set in a "typical" American barbershop, somewhere in John Cougar Mellencamp's middle America we get the following image:

"I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading," barks a man leaving a barbershop; a woman with him completes the sentence: "... body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs."
Conason expresses dismay at the ad's attempt to associate Howard Dean with cultural elitism and points out (rightfully) that the people who financed the ad aren't your "average Joes and Janes." What I find more insulting is that there seems to be an implied bias against the very middle Americans the advertisement seems to target. I've spent a little time (several years, in fact) in the midwest, and they (gasp) have sushi restaurants, espresso bars, and even Volvo dealerships. They even have movie theaters where popular Hollywood films sell out on a regular basis. Yeah, the advertisement's sponsors (who also dig Hollywood films and get their clothes tailored at fancy boutiques) are being hypocritical, but I think they're being just a tad condescending as well.

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January 8, 2004

The Cinema Effect

I picked up Sean Cubitt's The Cinema Effect (MIT Press, 2004) at the recent MLA book exhibit in San Diego. The book looks to be a promising consideration of cinematic temporality from the perspective of the digital, and I'll likely be returning to it from time to time.

Cubitt starts with the assertion that he is interested in understanding "what cinema does. [...] Cinema does something, and what it does matters" (1). He then situates his project as reconciling psychoanalytic semiotic (Metz, Mulvey) and "phenomenological"* (Deleuze, Sobchack) film theory through a consideration of the object. This appraoch guides his decision "to anchor the discussion in the material of the film, and to shape the whole as a retrospective historiography of images in motion from the standpoint of the digital era, written for a digital audience" (3).

Cubitt traces the development of cinematic time in part to "the specificities of time in the age of capital and globalization," acknowledging the increasingly mechanized measurement of time produced by industrial capitalism and teh development of railroads and communications technologies that required a homogeneous, standard time (a concern that very much informs my own work) (6). This claim has, in a sense, become a standard observation about early cinema, but other than asserting that the digital leads to the exponential acceleration of time and contraction of space (a claim that seems rather overstated), I'm not sure I've encountered a convincing claim about how the digital changes things, so I'll be interested to see where Cubitt takes this line of thought in later chapters.

So far, I have been most intrigued by some of his claims about narrative, in part because of the selfish reason that they might clarify some ideas I'm developing in my own research (time-travel films often have heavily overdetermined narrative structures). Cubitt notes that some of the early Lumière Brothers' earliest films (especially Sortie des usines Lumière, which features a single, static shot showing a group of female workers leaving the Lumières' factory) can be understood as "events of showing" rather than as narratives (38). Cubitt observes that "cinematic events" can be managed into narratives, but that narratives is not a necessary quality of film. Instead, in classical and post-classical cinema, "narration sets itself the task of constructing a temporal system that can contain that drifting mobility" (40). In itself, I'm not sure this claim is entirely new (I think Tom Gunning's claims about the "cinema of attractions" are somewhat similar), but it does provide an important starting point for thinking about the nature of cinema.

I'm currently reserving judgement on what I perceive to be a strange move by Cubitt in this book. Using the langauge of the "digital" he reserves the term, "pixel" to describe cinematic frames passing in time, essentailly "the cinematic present" (33). Cubitt is reinscribing "pixel" from a spatial to a temporal category in order to assert the need--produced by our existence in the digital age--to think about the humanities "mathematically." From my perspective, such a move risks abandoning the material distinctions between the digital and the properly filmic (light passing through a celluloid strip divided into frames), but I want to give time to think through this conceptual shift.

As I move towards writing the foundational chapter of my book, I'll attempt to sort through some of Cubitt's ideas in greater detail, and my sense is that I'll be placing Cubitt's work up against Mary Ann Doane's 2002 book, The Emergence of Cinematic Time, which I read over the summer.


* I don't think that Deleuze's approach to cinema can accurately be described as "phenomenological." Nevertheless, Deleuze is concerned with relations between images, which is what I believe Cubitt is suggesting when he implies that Deleuze is intereested in "sensation."

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Sharing Teaching Resources

In a recent entry, George proposes developing a collaboratively-authored blog for sharing resources for teaching English language and literature. George suggests that such a blog could function by the same logic as "open source" programming:

I'm not talking about software, mind you, but I'm agreeing with the assumption that the open source philosophy can be successfully applied to all kinds of projects. We're all going to be coming up with course materials anyway. Why not collaborate or at least share?
The blog would allow teachers of literature (as well as film and other cultural studies topics) to share resources such as assignments and glossaries with their colleagues.

George offers a guide to the mechanics of quoting and paraphrasing soucres in MLA style and mentions Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style as resources that our students might find both useful and convenient. While chatting with George and Jason, I happened to remember Dino Felluga's very helpful Guide to Literary and Critical Theory. But instead of just accumulating resources, George's suggestion would allow teachers of English (again, loosely defined) to exchange and collaborate on course materials.

After receiving so many useful suggestions for supplementing my class discussions on Fight Club, I think it's a great idea, and I've already agreed to participate. If you're interested, go to George's blog and leave a comment. Also, spread the word by mentioning George's post in your blog so that other readers can find out about it.

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January 7, 2004

Time Travel and Disaster

Quick memory link to Jenny Edbauer's intriguing reading of Memento (and possibly The Butterfly Effect) via Maurice Blanchot's The Writing of the Disaster.

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January 6, 2004

What's the Matter With Ikea Boy?

Quick question while I'm sorting out the schedule for my spring semester English class (yes, I know I should be using Moveable Type; maybe next fall): I'm teaching Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (and probably David Fincher's film adaptation), and I'm trying to find a couple of critical essays that tackle Fight Club's treatment of consumer culture and masculinity. I have Henry Giroux and Imre Szeman's "Ikea Boy Fights Back," but I think their resistance to the film needs to be complicated by an essay that affirms the film's critique of consumer culture.

I think it's important to find an essay that finds value in the novel and film as critical texts, in part because I know many students will be entusiastic about them (with good reason), and I don't want to position film and literary critics as "censors" who think that the popular is somehow bad or wrong. I realize that Giroux and Szeman aren't making that argument, but when professors talk about the popular, students seem to anticipate that we will reject it.

Any suggestions? Has anyone taught Fight Club (either novel or film) in their classes?

This question grows out of an experience on the first day of class yesterday in which I was asking students to introduce themselves and to mention a film they had seen recently that they either liked or hated. After most of the students had introduced thesmelves, mentioning what I considered to be a relatively broad range of recent films, one student apologized for the class having such popular tastes. I'll admit I'm kind of a movie snob sometimes (though not always--I just don't like Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, Tom Cruise....), but the student's response, given on the first day of class, seems to suggest an unconscious perception that liking the popular is somehow wrong, particularly in a college classroom. There's a larger question brewing here, one that I'm struggling to even ask, but I think the reputation of English professors as elitists makes teaching students a critical engagement with the ideological contradictions found within any popular text an even more difficult task.

Then again, maybe I'm reading way too much into a throwaway comment....

Update: Thanks to Steven Shaviro for the link to the Amy Taubin article, "So Good It Hurts."

Posted by chuck at 10:28 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January 5, 2004


Speaking of brands, I came across an interesting site surfing on Blogdex, "monochrom," which purports to "evaluate the actual power of brands by making Austrian people draw a total of twelve logos (nine international, three typically European) from memory, 25 people per brand." The brands include Coca-Cola, Toyota, BP Oil, and a few others I didn't recognize (many of which are European companies). To be honest, I was impressed by the number of people who couldn't accurately remember these logos very well (especially Toyota's, which I'm not sure I would have remembered).

My favorite was most certainly the individual who, rather than drawing the Lacoste (Izod) alligator logo, simply drew a dollar bill with the phrase "La Kost" beneath it. La Kost, indeed.

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January 3, 2004

False Memories in the Movies

Doing some last minute surfing before classes start on Monday (yikes!) when I came across the Guardian article on false memories. In the article, Laura Spinney reports that Elizabeth Loftus, a UC-Irvine psychologist, has "implanted" false memories in experimental subjects, including Hawkeye Pierce, umm... I mean, Alan Alda, who developed an aversion to hard-boiled eggs based on a childhood memory of an event that never happened [Brief aside: maybe this explains my fear of wearing turtleneck sweaters?].

What Loftus describes is much more about the suggestibility of human beings, the ability of a speaker to use loaded questions and images to convince people they had seen something they really hadn't, such as seeing Bugs Bunny (a Warner Bros. character) at Disney World.

But what I find interesting are the number of films that have come out recently that are dealing with the concept of implanted memories that have appeared in theaters in the last few months and years. In theaters now (or very soon) are two major Hollywood films, neither of which I've seen: Paycheck (IMDB) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (IMDB).

In the last couple of years, we've also seen Vanilla Sky, which is a remake of Abre Los Ojos, a much superior film, and while Being John Malkovich isn't exactly about implanted memories, it's doing something remarkably similar with John Cusack and Cameron Diaz's characters assuming control over Malkovich's body at various points in the film. Strange Days uses VR to similar effect although the characters never abandon "themselves" entirely like the characters in some of these other films do. Any other films that people can remember off-hand?

I think there's a really enticing paper somewhere in this mix, but I'm still sifting through the ideas, and I'd actually like to devote myself primarily to my book project this spring, so perhaps this is just a signpost pointing towards a possible direction for future thought, but I would suggest taking a visit to the Eternal Sunshine official website for a nice parody of some of those quack-medicine websites.

Posted by chuck at 7:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Zombies and Time Travel

I came across Matthew Yglesias' discussion of zombies and time travel while blog surfing. It sounds like a cool philosophical problem, but I'm not sure I have much to say about it right now. I just wanted to remember where I found it (See also Brian Weatherson).

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January 2, 2004

21 Grams

21 Grams (IMDB) uses disjunctive editing to reflect not only on the nature of cinematic time but on the nature of existence itself. Guillermo Arriaga's scrrenplay, Alejandro González Iñárritu's careful direction, and Rodrigo Prieto's gritty cinematography (the three also collaborated on Amores Perros) combine with solid performances from Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro to create a challenging, thoughtful film.

21 Grams opens with a grainy shot of Paul (Penn) and Cristina (Watts) reclining nude on a bed, each lost in his or her thoughts before a series of disconnected shots takes us on a whirlwind tour of their lives: Cristina at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Paul in various doctors offices learning that he has only a few months to live, and Jack (Del Toro) in a Pentecostal church after reforming from a life of crime. As the Village Voice review points out, their lives--their connections to family--seem to contain a seed of fragility within them (in this sense, the parallels between Cristina's family and Jack's family, reproduced by the associative editing technique, seem crucial). This fragility--the sense of contingency--becomes the primary subject of the film as the characters' stories gradually come together as a result of a car accident that kills Cristina's husband and two daughters.

As the film unfolds, we gradually learn that Paul is a professor of mathematics, and he reflects at one point that "there are so many things that have to happen for two people to meet." Of course, viewers know that Paul has manipulated the situation; seeking to repay his debt to his heart donor, Paul has paid a private detective to find Cristina, but I don't think that negates the film's philosophical premise about time and contingency. Instead, I read that moment as a genuine attempt to understand why Paul's life was spared while another life ended so suddenly.

Prieto's cinematography (he also did the camerawork in 25th Hour and Frida, among other films), utilizing grainy, handheld, close-up shots beautifully reinforces this sense of uncertainty; many of the images, including the shots of Cristina and Paul in bed together, appear washed out, creating an effect of a new form of realism that I'm still at a loss to describe (although I witnessed something similar in 25th Hour as well as All the Real Girls).

As Cindy of making contact notes, the film isn't perfect: Penn's voice-over narration (where we learn the title of the film) was unnecessary and overly-sentimental. 21 Grams also privileges the traditional family as the site of happiness (implicit in the fragile nature of both Cristina and Jack's families, and to a lesser extent in Paul's wife's desire to bear Paul's child). Overall, the film mediates the relationship between time, cinema, and death in a fascinating way. The use of associative, non-linear editing serves a clear purpose here, unlike the gimmicky and shallow film, Irreversible (scroll down for my review). Instead of a simple fall from grace, the very possibility of grace (embodied in Jack's struggles to hang on to his very tenuous faith) becomes contingent upon a bewildering set of accidents, although the film does not at all negate Jack, Paul, and Cristina's struggles.

(Once again, I've found a film that challenges me deeply--I'm not sure my review can come close to capturing the complexity of 21 Grams.)

Recommended Reviews: Steven Shaviro, making contact, Village Voice.

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Looking Ahead/Looking Back

In a sense, all of my blog entries are Janus-faced, looking in two directions simultaneously: into the past they are in the process of recording and into the future where they may (or may not) be received. The beginning of a new year seems to enhance that tendency both for my own blog and within the blog community in which I'm lucky to participate. With that in mind, I'm going to heed Liz's call to "count my blessings" and Kathleen's call for my hopes (and goals) in 2004.

First, my blessings:

And now, my goals for 2004:Now, to work on accomplishing those goals.

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2004 SCMS Program Online

The tentative program for SCMS is now available online. Here's the panel I will be chairing:

Saturday, March 6, 2004 5:15-7:00pm

L4: The Screen is Alive: Digitization and Cinema's Identity Crisis

Chair: Charles Tryon (Georgia Tech)

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January 1, 2004

Questions of Time, New Year 2004

The beginning of a new year invariably leads to meditations on the human understanding of time, and this year is no exception. An interesting piece in today's New York Times by Brian Greene focuses on some of the big questions we have about time.

Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia (and author of The Elegant Universe and the forthcoming The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality), emphasizes the power that conventional representations of time have over everyday experience--notably the fact that every year millions (if not billions) of people gather at public places, religious rituals, or private parties (I had a good time at the party I attended, by the way) to mark the beginning of a new year.

He then discusses the radical changes in our understanding of time over the last century, specifically the changes created by relativity and quantum mechanics and suggests that scientists' views of time will likely undergo a radical change in the coming years:

Today's scientists seeking to combine quantum mechanics with Einstein's theory of gravity (the general theory of relativity) are convinced that we are on the verge of another major upheaval, one that will pinpoint the more elemental concepts from which time and space emerge. Many believe this will involve a radically new formulation of natural law in which scientists will be compelled to trade the space-time matrix within which they have worked for centuries for a more basic "realm" that is itself devoid of time and space.
I'm still trying to grasp exactly how these changes will be articulated, but Greene's discussion of the tendency to compartmentalize time--to separate scientific and subjective representations of time--is quite interesting.

I do have a few other observations that I'd like to work through, perhaps in ways that inform my book project:

(By the way, there's a rumor floating that bloggers can create permanent links to Times articles without having to pay for access. Any suggestions or information would be welcome.)

Update: Thanks to Jason J and Invisible Adjunct, here is the New York Times link generator.

Jason also links to The Weather Project at the Tate Museum, which reminds me to think about the connections between representations of time and weather (but I'll put that project on hold for now).

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