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Canyons in Crawford? Ri-i-i-iight.
The following paragraph appeared in the LA Times, concerning Bush's and Colin Powell's recent trip to the coffee shop in Crawford, Texas (via Hullabaloo):
Unlike Washington, this is an environment Bush knows and loves, from the canyons on his ranch to the patrons of The Coffee Station. And, here, far away from the partisan capital, the warm feelings are mutual.And here's my response to that nonsense, originally posted in the Hullabaloo comments, which I am personally qualified to make having lived several years in the county where Crawford is located (McLennan) and still having kin nearby:
To anyone who knows that part of the country well, "ranch" is a stretch, and "canyons"--no way. The words evoke the extreme terrain in the western part of Texas, but the center and east are much more like the American South. The countryside around Waco--where Bush bought his property--is mostly rolling hills and farmland (cotton, oats, sorghum). To find drier, rockier, thornier "cattle country" you have to go further west. There is a line down the center of the state where the ecology begins to change dramatically to a "Southwestern" climate and terrain, but Crawford is east of that line. This is not to say there aren't cows in eastern/central Texas, but it's hardly the rough open range of the cattle drives. Bush may have stream beds or gullies on his property, but not canyons (a Texas source tells me he has a limestone sinkhole, but that doesn't count). The real canyons are even further west, in the Panhandle (Palo Duro Canyon) or Big Bend National Park. Pictures of the not-very-rugged terrain around Crawford can be seen here, in case you're looking for a nice "ranch" in the half-million range.So what's the point of all this? That the property in McLennan County isn't really a "ranch," even though the press keeps saying it is over and over. It's just ordinary "rural land," purchased within the last three or four years and called a "ranch" to give the President a hardy "western" image. Bush's people are banking on press ignorance of Texas ecology and terrain, and so far it's working.
Wandering around Hell's Kitchen, my old hood, today, I noticed a sickening thing: a 20 story residential building going up at 55th and 9th, where the A&P used to be. A complete eyesore, all out of scale to the neighborhood. In the past, Clinton neighborhood groups had been vigilant about the incursions of greasy developers: what happened this time? Midtown continues its inexorable march west, bye bye funky old neighborhood.
An inspiring sight at Barnes and Noble at Broadway and 67th: three kids camped on the carpeted floor of the graphic novel section, completely lost in the big manga comics they were reading. All were sitting, the two boys with backs resting against the shelves (right where I was looking for something, of course) and the girl with arms and legs twisted in a tight pretzel of total concentration in the middle of the floor. An airplane could have hit the street outside the building and not pried their eyes away from those books. This is the sort of behavior that would have made my own mother question my mental health back in the day, so I silently saluted them.
Lastly, two movies worth seeing: Buffalo Soldiers and Dirty Pretty Things. Regarding the first, which was delayed in release several times, I think we can handle a black comedy the message of which is (1) the military is stupid and wasteful, and (2) recruiting volunteer soldiers as an alternative to prison results in violence whether there's a war or not. This was true in 1989, when the movie was set, and it's still true. In a "terror war" who needs a friggin' permanent Army, anyway? New kind of war, new kind of defense response: having an army and bases all over the world without an actual, tangible, global military enemy (like the good ol' USSR) just encourages adventuring, such as we've seen in Iraq. And please don't talk to me about "Islamofascism," or "Islamic Nihilism," as Christopher Hitchens now likes to call it. Nothing's going to change, though, till the twisted, paranoid generation of the Cold War dies off (including, unfortunately, young fogeys like Bush).
The excellent blog erase steered me toward an interesting body of film criticism lurking in the crevices of the Internet Movie Database. The prolific reviewer Ted G (or "tedg") reviews movies almost exclusively in visual terms and by Orson does he have a viewpoint! (Sorry, I've also been reading Alan Moore lately.) Ted G's core philosophy can be found in his review of Panic Room: "Ambitious directors have two holy grails: mastery of the self-referential narrative and establishing a new grammar of space, usually with architecture." Almost every review cycles back to these points, relentlessly. Here's a quote combining the two principles, from his review of De Palma's Snake Eyes ("the most ambitious mainstream film that explores the architecture of narrative"):
A central question in most art concerns the role of the viewer. This dominated easel painting, then was the center of evolution of the novel and now sits at the core of thought about film. Is the viewer an omniscient God, or can the viewer be fooled like a person? Is the viewer a passive observer, or does she 'walk' with the participants as an invisible character? [...]To Ted G, actors are only interesting to the extent that they can command or project into filmic space, or riff on narratives outside the movie's frame of reference (he also has a weird thing about redheads). Writing and stagecraft are subordinate to the "hungry," "curious" eye of the camera. I've said similar things, but not as singlemindedly. I fired off an angry letter to Salon over its visually illiterate review of De Palma's Mission to Mars (which Ted G puts into a elegant dialogue with 2001: A Space Odyssey), but my screed was probably just too strange for them. Didn't "everyone" hate that movie?
De Palma thinks the camera is a whole new thing, The camera is a type of character, part narrator, part actor, part god. It can lie, be fooled, search curiously, document, play jokes. So this is a film about the camera's eyes. `Snake' both because the camera can snake around following [Nicholas] Cage, going places that Cage cannot, but also `snake' because the camera sees with forked tongue.
Besides De Palma, Ted G also reveres Atom Egoyan's Exotica (me, too! me, too!) as well as a thousand things you'd overlook if you only care about story and acting. Here's more from that Panic Room review, just to give you the flavor:
Ambitious directors have two holy grails: mastery of the self-referential narrative and establishing a new grammar of space, usually with architecture.He likes Hulk, too.
[David] Fincher is an ambitious, intelligent director who in past projects has explored the first of these. This time around, he explores the second. Hitchcock did this in `Rear Window,' a film often compared to this one. It has NO commonality at all except the architectural aspiration.
One can see these architectural ambitions in the team he assembled: writer David Koepp did the amazing `Snake Eyes' [...]. Cinematographer Darius Khondji is one of the recent fellow travelers of this emerging expertise. See the poetic underwater architecture in `In Dreams.' See what he did for master Polanski in melding image and narrative in `Ninth Gate.' Look at how his camera creates a city in `The City of Lost Children.' He is not master of this yet (not like Welles and Kurosawa) but he is familiar with what can be done, and willing to take risks. Khondji was fired from the film by barbarian financiers because of his expensive pains. Some of his work remains, especially in the first third.
[mean stuff about actors snipped for space]
One knows from the first that what Fincher has in mind is an architectural exploration, starting with the titles. Each credit assigns a name to a building. Each name except Fincher's who is notably suspended in space.
Slap, slap one is quickly introduced to the building in the part of the film where one normally meets the characters. The characters here don't matter: they are furnishings. What matters is the physical relationship of spaces: four floors, stairs, elevator, etc. Right away we are also introduced to the bank of video monitors. This house is not only seen, but sees. (Shades of both `Fight Club' and `Snake Eyes.')
Then we are given a remarkable tracking shot that outdoes De Palma, Altman, Anderson. This starts out with various angles on Meg in bed, then goes out the room, between the balusters and down the stairwell. It eventually takes us all through the house as the baddies break in. On and on it goes, in and out of a keyhole, through the handle of a coffeepot, through floors and walls. Each moment thrills.
Then Khondji is fired and the tiresome wheels of the story grind and the requirements of the genre force us into bankable cliche. But that first third is nice.
Here's an idea for a short story; it's literary freeware if anyone wants to run with it and do the hard work of exposition, fleshing out characters, building up tension, etc. It's a science fiction/fantasy story. The protagonists are named Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. A rip in spacetime causes their minds to be transported to Iraq and placed in the bodies of a couple of regular army guys. Simultaneously the army guys' minds go into a kind of limbo, like a pleasant sleep. Perle and Wolfowitz wake up in army cots, are disoriented, and start demanding to be taken to the top brass. Their superiors think they're crazy, and dispatch them under heavy guard to the infirmary for psychiatric exams. On the way to the infirmary, their Humvee is attacked. The vehicle explodes in flames, and here's where it gets really spooky: the soldier's body occupied by Richard Perle sustains no injury, but Perle's actual body, back in Washington DC, which has continued to go about its business (in a parallel continuum), DISAPPEARS! One minute he's feeding his lovely mug with foie gras in a DC restaurant, dreaming up new U.S. military adventures and ways to profit from them personally, and the next minute he's just...gone. Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Wolfowitz is dragged out of the burning Humvee by the Iraqi resistance, taken on a tour of the back streets to see the wounded people and destroyed homes he missed last time around, and then dumped back at the US Army base. He spends a few more days living the dangerous life of Iraqi Occupation troops, trying to convince his superiors he's Paul Wolfowitz, evading bullets and bombs from angry Iraqis. Eventually he's taken to the brig, and suddenly, mysteriously returns to his own body, back in DC. His "Iraq memories" merge with the "DC memories" of his parallel world double. The soldiers' minds return to their bodies, which are unharmed. Alternate endings: Wolfowitz (1) goes insane trying to reconcile his two contradictory sets of experiences and ends his days in St. Elizabeth's, in a room next to John Hinckley; (2) does a Scrooge and becomes the war's biggest opponent. In both scenarios, Richard Perle remains mysteriously vanished. Okay, writers, it's yours!
UPDATE: This was obviously written before the pajama-clad Wolfowitz got awakened by a missile hitting the floor below his Baghdad hotel room. They said he was visibly shaken--good! Meanwhile, news of self-dealing by the corrupt Perle continues to come to light.
Maybe because the Matrix Reloaded was so [fill in pejorative], you could be forgiven for not picking up the Animatrix tie-in DVD. The first short in the collection, Final Flight of the Osiris, ran briefly in theatres; this Final Fantasy-style synthespian adventure made me want to run screaming for the exits (something about seeing texture-mapped gooseflesh on a human butt projected two stories tall...). The Animatrix includes 8 more films, mostly in the straight anime style and by Japanese directors, which fill in back story and sidebar details to the main movies. Quick report: the next two shorts after Osiris, depicting the Rise of the Machines, the desperate blacking out of the sky by humans, and the conversion of people into batteries, are pompous and ridiculously violent, although there's one sequence of a factory with machines building other machines that's rather, er, riveting.
The two best shorts are "Beyond" and "Matriculated." In the former, set in the weedy back streets of Tokyo in the summer, a young woman searching for her cat discovers a disturbance in the Matrix that neighborhood kids call "the haunted house." In this abandoned building, the laws of space and time break down; the kids amuse themselves by jumping face first from the second floor and entering slow-mo "bullet time" right before they hit the ground--a kind of invisible safety net. The inside of the building, where doors lead into black voids, dogs change colors, and inexplicable rain pours from the ceiling, has the look and mood of "the Zone" from Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. While the children explore the house, Agents are dispatched in a futuristic exterminator truck to seal off the area and repair the "error" in the Machine's simulated city.
In "Matriculated," by Aeon Flux's visionary director Peter Chung, an outpost of humans captures a robot and forces it to "jack in" with it their little group, coaxing the befuddled Machine into a weird, Aeon-like world of digital hallucinations. By doing this, they hope to create conditions where it will bond with its captors and reprogram itself voluntarily to do their bidding; whether this is for ethical or practical reasons isn't entirely clear. Some amazing tripped-out stuff here, featuring Chung's trademark queasy psycho-sexual imagery. A classic Aeon moment: the robot sticks its head into a sort of bio-mechanoid glory hole and gets trapped; our POV is looking at its back but then the camera swings around to the other side of the hole and shows the creature's head and neck protruding from a Looney Tunes logo inside a miniature movie theatre. The robot's skin peels off, rolls into a ball, and drops into another hole of brushed aluminum resembling a dentist's spittoon. Frantically trying to recover its skin, the scalped robot...anyway, you gotta see it.
Postscript: The Wachowskis owed Chung big time for the scene in The Matrix where spyware is inserted into Neo through his navel. This is a more or less direct cop of Trevor Goodchild's "custodian"--a spindly robot also inserted navelly--in the AF episode "The Purge." The spyware's later removal as a disgusting squidlike glob sucked into a vacuum container is also pure Chung.
Speaking of html (see previous post), Mark taught me a new trick, which is making little pixelist drawings big by assigning them bigger values in html. I know, duh, but I was surprised to discover that the edges of the pixels stay really sharp (provided the pics haven't been saved and/or compressed too many times). Below is a drawing of mine posted a few weeks ago (actual size about 100 x 133), all pumped up on digital steroids at 400 x 450:
There's still some fuzz in there--I'm going to try some more and see if I can make them cleaner.
Unfortunately I missed the opening event at Team Gallery kicking off the Beige/Paper Rad etc "SUMMEr oF HTML" tour, but photos (with funny captions) are here. The lineup included "performances and videos by: Extreme Animalz, Paper Rad, Jamie Arcangel and the Arcangels, Bitch Ass Darius, Taketo Shimada, DJ Jazzy Jess, Beige Records, Dr Doo, Insectiside, plus live HTML!!!!!! and new 'html' work by Mark River." The official tour page is here, and James Wagner has a report with more pictures on his weblog.