May 2006

Monthly Archive

Hours were mapped out on a napkin provided by the Indian restaurant we’d come to find ourselves in– suddenly there were four of us instead of two… Three days, little rest, rules in place and travel arrangements were made… Time off of work, phone calls and e-mails but it’s hard to get excited about something more than a month distant…

Off of work early, walk through the panhandle and collect a co-conspirator… To the house, last minute packing and the triple check while she drinks my beer waiting impatiently… Hop the train downtown, off to hop on another train and we meet our third on the platform… Across the bay and onto a shuttle and unloaded at the edge of the terminal where I annoy everyone by demanding a moment to smoke a cigarette before passing through the security gates… A lone traveller shares out ill-designed wind shelter in a t-shirt… I notice he keeps glancing over at us desperate for some trivial conversation… Happens at every bus stop in America, I suppose, so I know how to watch other’s actions in reflections and how to keep my attention diverted… Eventually he comments to no one about the cold and we have to respond… He’s from Long Beach and doesn’t understand the Bay Area… Nothing we can do for you, sir, except bid you a good flight… Now that I think about it he may have been waiting for a ride but the moment has passed…

Before September 11th I was a liability to anyone running late for a flight– security loves to have a chat and a look at my posessions, pockets, ankles and waist… After measures were heightened I ceased setting off alarms and raising suspicion… They finally stopped me, pulling my suitcase off to the side and running it through an additional x-ray machine… Opened up, swabbed for explosives and then a mysterious item from a manicuring set I’ve had for years is deemed unsuitable for travel… The woman seems apologetic about confiscating it and I comment how I’ve never used the damn thing… “You only need it when you don’t have it” she says and I think it’s a funny thing to say to someone as you’re taking something from them… I’ve yet to need it…

We’d been bumped to first class for free which is a little uncomfortable… People don’t spit on us as we board before the coach sitters nor do they glare as they pass our spacious, comfortable seats… Warm nuts, free drinks, do you want to hang your coat up? I wonder how were are viewed– later someone suggests we probably were taken for band members what with the tattoos and ratty clothing… “Would it be offensive to offer you a gratuity?” I ask waving a crumbled five dollar bill at our stewardess, embarassed and uncertain… She smiles more than humanly possible, shooing away my inept offering… “You were polite, that means everything…” so I pocket the bill… Not sure if I’m going to repeat this on my return flight…

Collected by our friend and we drive south through Tacoma stopping at the 24 hour drive through Starbucks… The passanger up front begins to wave a six-foot inflatable penis (in box) at the cashier and we find ourselves engaged in conversation with a desperate soul… “You can’t shock me, I lived in San Francisco for five years” It’s hard to pry ourselves away as he keeps rambling on…

Olympia, green and quiet and inviting… We don’t do much, buy some groceries and beer and insepct the accomodations… Everything’s quite nice but it’s getting late and we have a lot to do tomorrow…

We watched Twin Peaks from the unaired pilot (stopping with fifteen minutes left to spare ourselves the original ending) through 29 episodes and ending with the posthumous prequal “Fire Walk With Me” from Friday afternoon till late Sunday night… Breaks intersected the 45 minutes episodes with pots of coffee being made, soup set to simmer, pie cut and dished, bathroom visits… We went to a one year old’s birthday party and left with food, I didn’t leave the house all day Sunday… No loud food, no alcohol, no whining or talking of any kind… We devolved into a small cult speaking only in references, sleeping five or six hours a night… My sentences became difficult to decipher, people shuffled back and forth in pajamas and untied shoes, someone snorted pie up their nose accidentally… By five in the morning as dawn hit Monday I felt as though I’d been on one of my old

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three day speed benders… My mind was lost in a haze, my movements aimless and jerky, unable to contemplate sleep or interaction with anyone… At least I didn’t feel disgusting like drugs used to make me feel after the come-down…

Monday was spent driving through the central Washington towns in search of filming locations… North Bend, Snoqualmie, Falls City and the hills above… The ultimate super-fan geek move and we even had a map from a website printed out… We walked across an old train bridge, wandered around an abandoned mill, contemplated closed diners and stood in awe of a massive waterfall… To make matters worse we ran into a suspected Twin Peaks fanatic at more than one locations– hopefully were were less obvious than the guy with cameras slung over his shoulder, shorts on, frosty Starbucks coffee concoction in hand…

Now I’m in Seattle attempting to readjust… It’s been okay, I can talk to people who weren’t with us through the valley of season two… Walked through northern Seattle, visited the locks seperating Puget Sound and Lake Oregon, sat on a hillside above I5 watching the sun sink behind downtown while drinking a MGD Reserve and ate in a restaurant providing TGIFriday’s fun for a more sophisticated crowd… Saw someone for the first time in two years and met her husband, listened to someone plan their next step while they’re still midway through this one, ate something other than cherry pie and coffee…

This officially qualifies as vacation– I received pay while watching Twin Peaks…
-Brendan
Greenwood District, Seattle Washington

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All my senses tell me that Aristotle’s Poetics is in vogue. This work enumerates the principles writers should adhere to in order to produce imitations of life that are believable and relatable to other people. It is the Newtonian physics of drama and portions of it are clearly applicable to almost every form of storytelling. With regard to the visual aspect of what audiences experience, Aristotle suggests, “In constructing the plot and working it out with the proper diction, the poet should place the scene, as far as possible, before his eyes.” Modern dramatists are able to present the images the language and action of their film is built around with vividness impossible to achieve in Aristotle’s time. Through this and the possibilities created by the ability to record rather than perform live, the film is a medium that automatically bleeds beyond the boundaries Aristotle draws. DOGME 95, arguing that, “by using new technology anyone at

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any time can wash the last grains of truth away in the deadly embrace of sensation,” introduced a set of rules that in some ways returned the film medium to a form that would have been more familiar to Aristotle–with its strict rules regarding light and sound eliminating use of some film production techniques and devices that distance the film from life as our senses present it. Poetics’ treatment of medium is obscure and seems to reflect a lack of opinion when compared to other sections. He simply lists different musical ensembles that may be utilized and clearly bores himself as he describes some different rhyme schemes and meters, concluding with, “So much then for these distinctions.” He has a lot of good things to say about Homer, and doesn’t seem to mind a bit about all the deadly revenge his protagonists serve both cold and with vim. Rather than condemning the use of music, he considers it a useful tool. In this light, DOGME 95 must be seen as going a step further than mere corrective measures against the perverted and excessive Hollywood filmmaking ethic. The ethics laid out in DOGME 95’s Vow of Chastity act in the category Aristotle defined as “medium.” The apparent goal is to liberate filmmaking from bloated conventions, exaggerated scenarios, and tired genres—though it is controversial because of the constraints it places on filmmakers. There are good DOGME 95 movies, and there are also good movies that have soundtracks. Lars von Triers’s evolving working relationship with the problems in drama–discussed in Poetics or otherwise–is an article unto itself. You can find it here. In summary, himself as a pillar of DOGME 95 no longer adheres to his original manifesto. Directors Wes Anderson and Richard Kelly have earned the reputation for controversy that also marks Lars von Trier’s career. Anderson and Kelly have both shown themselves capable of using unlikely music to establish complex moods, with lyrical imagery and lush visual styles that can utilize rubber monsters and CGI with equal ease. They create emotional and changing characters that are often forced to confront the disconnect between their own desires and the part they’re expected to play in the lives of those around them. They’ve gotten interesting and useful performances out of actors like Patrick Swayze and Jeff Goldblum. In most ways, their films are effective and offer many excellent scenes. Irreproachable on a technical level, most of the criticism of these directors seems to center on the spontaneous nature of their plots, which present serious contradictions. Kelly’s Donnie Darko presents a time puzzle the solution of which is something like looking at your right eye with the left. I have argued amongst friends with a 100% failure rate that Cate Blanchett’s Cubby in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is actually pregnant with her lover Owen Wilson as Ned Plimpton, who may or may not be Steve Zissou’s

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son. Thinking of the film in these terms illustrates the problem many have with the film. The Life Aquatic features tragic loss as the first act and as the second to last act. It is confusing because it avoids the tragic plot outline Aristotle breaks into first and second introductions and deductions. There is no second deduction to elucidate the plot, but instead a senseless, joyful conclusion that explains nothing. Multiple viewings have convinced me that Anderson avoided clarifying certain situations and confounding the audience revelations that typically codify film plots, with his shift resulting in dramatic storytelling where emotion and subjectivity are constantly producing the sort of unreliable narrator Fitzgerald specialized in. Zissou’s recreational drug use, vanity, and penchant for escapism and giving play to his ego are reflected in the structure of the plot, as well as Anderson’s setting of the film out of time and space. In both this film and Donnie Darko, the conclusion finds the protagonists laughing at the futility of their plans, in full knowledge that their own actions have caused the death of a loved one. The emotional contradiction is an excellent imitation of life, while the plot swings freely between satirical and fantastical episodes and depictions of the commonplace. To achieve this effect requires the director to abandon some of the plot guidelines found in Poetics as well as similar conventions that appear in most movies. The extension of spontaneity to new aspects of a film is a risky business as directors run the risk of “stretch[ing] the plot beyond its capacity, [being] often forced to break the continuity.” Woody Allen’s brilliant and notoriously uneven productions may serve as fair warning for these directors, although the sensitive relativism of their style is applied to protagonists more diverse than those found in Allen’s films. But in any case I would rather some non-sequiturs than the garish and overwhelming continuity that spreads through Jerry Bruckheimer’s catalog. The man must dream the same dream every night. “Then Nicholas Cage does a pushup. Then Nicholas Cage steals a car. Then Nicholas Cage . . .”

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“WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR
DO YOU SMASH IT QUICK
DO YOU TAKE THE GLASS
AND SLASH YOUR WRISTS”

From ‘Identity’ by X-Ray Spex

Hollywood physics would have made the scene impossible without a bong anchoring our little circle… Dim lighting, Hank Williams revolving slowly in the corner and meandering discussion of art certainly seems the likely result of some serious puffing and gagging but really there was a nearly empty box of Pacifico in the kitchen and many more empty cans of Pabst in my own personal history predating that… Somehow someone had pulled a notebook from a shelf and we were examining a quick sketch of an image from a dream and I was surprised that someone would attempt to preserve a memory by drawing– maybe this is another reason why discussions of art typically find me out on the porch or back stairwell smoking a cigarette…

Meanwhile the kids, both past and present conscripts at McArt, were a little mystified about my concentration on the events of my (rare) remembered dreams over the setting… Looking at the sketch I couldn’t possibly imagine trying to relate in any detail what was pictured but I guess the crux of their curiosity is that it never really would have occured to me to take a moment to mention what things actually looked like while I swam around the horrors of my sub-conscious

 I’m pretty sure this is how we ended up with my head needing scratching… Are you gonna wear your suit (recently bought to appear as a flackey in someone’s recent wedding) for Twin Peaks? If you could dress to immitate your ideal what would that be? At first I took this as a gentle jab about my slovenly nature but a quick study of the other two in the room found little room for such criticism… I didn’t understand, rambling about how I’m not very flamboyant, but apparantly my course was still set for a reef… If you could dress up without any societal constraints and ‘become’ someone or something what would that be? Like in bearskins? There was a begrudging yeah while wheels spun inside heads… Mine jumped the rails:

I used to run around town wearing this grey (soft)collared shirt that a friend had given me to impress prospective employers up and down the downtown offices… It may not seem particularly fancy but a grey button-down and Ben Davis was a big step in a direction from my evaporating t-shirts and jeans with holes in the seat… Obviously I never got any of the jobs but every time I was waiting outside smoking a cigarette watching the suits and bums stagger about I always felt like I’d infiltrated something– like a secret agent but with cheap plastic sunglasses that didn’t shoot lasers at foreign dignitaries… I obviously didn’t belong anywhere around here, certainly had no business standing on the steps of some 30-story office block, but this costume let me slip in and out of places effortlessly… Usually I get followed around the store when I buy toilet paper…

 Since I’d been drinking all day I related this to the other occupants of the room but the earlier begrudging yeah was revoked and I was stamped ‘ignorant’ and the

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matter moved on to some other one in the morning heart-felt, mind-expanding topic… But somewhere in the head the conversation had found a corner and taken a nap and when it woke up the next morning it began raising hell, demanding attention and wanting to know if I still thought it was beautiful or not…

It reminded me of a friend who worked at a TV station which was decidedly unhip and clueless… She had purchased and on occassion wore a studded belt which I thought was some serious Hot-Topic contrived bullshit but she found liberating… When she wore a belt people at her work had no idea what to make of it… Was she a slut? Is she into bondage? Maybe it’s punk-rock? None of these were true but because people supplied their own answers she could exploit their interpretations and live as something other than herself for a little while…

If I had time… But I don’t…

Â

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Pierre-Étienne-Théodore Rousseau worked on The Forest in Winter at Sunset (above) for over twenty years. As I disappeared into the warm thrill of its terror, it occured to me that no matter what I do in my life it’s unlikely that I will work on anything for twenty years, much less ten or five.

I was visiting the Met in New York, and this revelation – along with other works I saw there – brought to light an obsession I have with greatness. Not just my personal progress or regress towards an idea of it, but how it has changed over time and what it actually means.

In the past, to be canonized traditionally meant you had a single piece and/or a body of work that was impressive in its difficulty. Whether this meant massive tedium, groundbreaking insight, or thriving in spite of adverse circumstances varies from genius to genius (and those labeling them geniuses). For whatever reason, it was something that could be appreciated – but not duplicated – by

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a large population.

Greatness used to be reached at an early age because people just didn’t live that long. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist when he was 25 but he only lived until he was 58. Yet the age that genius is expected to emerge has remained static. If you haven’t found your calling by the time you’re 21, settle in for a nice long life of anonymity. The cycles of greatness have also become tighter and tighter, now averaging only a few years. Even consistently popular artists like the Rolling Stones simply spark new cycles rather than continuing the first (started when they were around 20 years old I might add).

Part of this fickleness has to do with the dilution of the product. The celebration of the everyman – recently brought to the vomiting point by ironically named reality television – as well as GarageBand, digital photography, and blogs, has eroded the barriers to entry into

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the gallery of popular awareness. This gallery has become so expansive that there are no longer Mona Lisas or Beatles, but only temporary and disposable Survivors (both show and band) and Piss Christs, and your projected life-span will not carry you through more than a relatively small number of these exhibits.

Perhaps we are witnessing the creation of Borges’ Library of Babel, with its invariable distribution of galleries and absence of landmarks.

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And like Borges’ story, I imagine that we travel in our youth to find a book, until our eyes are too poor to read, only to find ourselves a few galleries away from the one we left.

But the truth is that the times of greatness are romantically desirable and realistically horrible. We’d rather live longer, have our views expressed to even a modest sized audience instead of not at all, and build our personal kingdoms.

The current system of greatness both inspires – by demonstrating the amazing potential of the human race – and oppresses – by raising the fruit of cultural capital above the hands of the masses. A more inclusive system of greatness does not necessarily mean a lowering of standards, but perhaps a more comprehensive documentation. Biographies and stories of triumph read like grad school resumes: They string together life’s events as if they were always leading to their destination. In reality, even the most profound geniuses have their failures, doubts, and red-herrings. On the other side of the coin, many instances of brilliance go uncelebrated because the surrounding context did not support the incident.

Many of us collect artifacts of greatness as if our selective appreciation of genius or heroism would somehow allow us to bask in its glow. I would recommend a complete disposal of this practice if it didn’t leave us all directionless and empty. I still might. The best we can do in the meantime is to practice a more robust value system and realize that yes, as readers we play a vital role in the meaning of cultural artifacts, but we still didn’t make them.
Update: A strange parallel to this entry was posted on wired.com today.

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