Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I arrived in her small cramped store to be greeted by a heavily accented, “What you want?” I politely explained I had an appointment for a dress fitting and she told me to follow her upstairs and change into the gown. The upstairs was a maze of multicolored garments, most half-finished. I looked around for a changing room, but there wasn’t one. Instead, she had me change in front of her as came behind me with her cold fingers and a measuring tape to take my measurements, without informing me that she was going to do so. I put on the dress and she howls, “Who let you to order this size? This not your size! No dressmaker makes mistakes like this!” My dress is three to six inches too big everywhere and she is appalled. She pins the dress, has me strip in front of her and retakes my measurements (again, without asking). “You no trust the American clothes. Not European girl like you.”
This strikes me as odd - I don’t have an accent; I’m not wearing anything that identifies my nationality. I shake it off as crazy ramblings and ask when I can expect the dress and get a quote on the price. I left the store completely amused by the exchange and hop on the T to go to work. On the ride there, I thought about her European comment. She’s right; I am European. All four of my grandparents are from Ireland. There is not a single drop of my blood that has mixed with any American blood. I’ve never thought of myself as anything but American since my family has been here since the 1940s, but genetically, I’m as Irish as the Irish and European as the Europeans. The average height of a full-grown woman in Europe is over an inch shorter than a woman in the USA. So now, I’m not going to consider myself short – I am the exact average height of a European woman, 5’3”.
A great Anti Bacterial soap currently on the market is made by Bath & Body Works. The soap is liquid on the inside and weighs about 8.75 oz. The wonderful thing about this product is that it is not just your average hand soap. The soap dispenser appears just as regular hand soap. However, there is a mechanism inside of the dispenser that allows the users to push down on top of the spout and as the users do this the soap dispensper does not release just liquid but instead mechanism inside of the dispenser releases into into a free flowing hand-full of foam. There is then no reason to rinse and lather simultaneously because the foam cancels the lathering portion of the process, rinsing is your decision.
Pros: A soap for the lazy hand washer, Bath and Body Works makes wonderful smelling products, there are a number of different scents that are under the foaming hand wash category.
Cons: I have noticed that this foaming mechanism does not always work--instead you end up with two hands filled with just soap, also be sure to clean the area in which the the soap is dispensed--otherwise you get foam flying everywhere, specifically onto your pants, lower shirt or whatever article of clothing or part of your body that is parallel towards the soap dispenser.
Bath and Body Works Foaming Hand Soaps are sold in the following scents: Black Raspberry Vanilla, Brown Sugar & Fig, Cherry Blossom, Coconut Lime Verbena, Country Apple, Cucumber Melon*, Enchanted Orchid, Exotic Coconut, Fresh Pineapple, Freshwater Cucumber, Japanese Cherry Blossom*, Midnight Pomegranate, Moonlight Path**, Pink Grapefruit, Sea Island Cotton, Sensual Amber, Sparkling Peach, Sweat Pea*, Tropical Passionfruit and Warm Vanilla Sugar
You can find Bath and Body Works Foaming Hand Soap at your local Bath and Body Works (the mall). Although there are other knock offs but I prefer the ones made by BABW.
Cost: about $5 per dispenser
Rating: 4/5 for innovation only
Monday, April 28, 2008
Sunday, April 27, 2008
It is Tuesday and I have time before class. I stop by SCAN. I open the office door and immediately see filth and disarray but this is somehow welcoming. An empty Sunkist bottle lies horizontal on top of a massive digital server worth a frightening amount of money. An orange drop of liquid falls mute to the shiny surface, the first of what I am sure will be many stains to come. A Snickers wrapper dangles lightly over a nearby keyboard. The chocolate flecks inside have almost certainly found there way to the many crevaces between the lettered keys. “It’s fucking hot in here!” Guthrie Andres, computer genius for the T.V. station explains to me as I make my way into the office. Guthrie is sitting at a nearby computer, his feet resting on top of the PC tower. He is wearing his shirt tied on his head like a shabby turban. I hear the door open. Matt Lubicky, senior SCAN member and advertising mastermind comes in and shows me the latest ad he made for the school newspaper. It has a picture of a bird on it and there's an arrow pointing at the bird with the words "the bird is guilty" added in bold lettering over the arrow. At the bottom of the ad, almost as an afterthought Matt included SCAN's general information. "I like it" I say. The door shuts again and I look up. Sabino San Juan IV enters. Sabino is the General Manager of SCAN. He is brilliant with technology, able to deconstruct and construct any mechanical thing and perhaps most significantly he sincerely believes he is a wolf in a human's body. "Did you see this?" he asks, holding up some piece of computer equipment I will never understand. "It just came in...and...basically...it's really good..." Sabino proceeds to bombard me with technical information, the specifications on whatever he's holding. I just nod, wanting sorely to shift conversation. The T.V. at the front of the room is playing VH1 Classic. Phil Collins sings passionately "take, take me home". Then Nate Lord, SCAN celebrity and senior member walks in and gives his usual shouted greeting, "just the losers I wanted to see…hey, hey boys!!!!!" Nate and I proceed to theatrically make fun of each other for as long as the other people in the room laugh. Jon Waugh, SCAN member of several years and instrumental to the short lived SCANNATION T.V. show slides in behind us holding up a large white tube. “Know what this is, boys???” he eagerly asks to the room. “What’s up Johnny?” we reply. “New Batman poster…it’s got the Joker on it…so good…oh my God, so good” We all admire the poster and then meander about the room. Some of us doing work. Some of us watching videos on youtube. Others talking and not talking.
This is the room where I met my best friend, where I edited for eight hours straight and where that kid in the dog collar told me he was a wolf. This is where I learned to accept my eccentricities and become publicly creative. This is where I wasted countless hours and where I am proud to belong – SCAN TV 24.
SCAN TV 24 is the campus television station for the University of New Hampshire. It comprises a studio for filming live television shows which are broadcasted throughout all campus dorms and an office complete with digital server and three computers with professional Final Cut Pro editing software. The club is responsible for the proper handling and maintenance of many thousands of dollars worth of equipment and hardware. It is also home to one of the most diverse and motley groups of UNH students on campus. At SCAN you are sure to find an unlikely tableau - roomfuls of impressive technology juxtaposed with immature, uninhibited and messy fun.
SCAN is open to all and prides itself on its unbiased and diverse membership. Despite this, very few members of the UNH community feel comfortable walking through SCAN’s office door. I didn’t at first, and for good reason. The first time I entered the SCAN office was during my Sophomore year. While timidly viewing the awful raw footage of an unfinished short film I had shot earlier that day, Len Mazzone, resident tech nerd in the group several years back, singled me out solely to mock me. In the middle of a conversation with another SCAN member about how “the majority of UNH students were dumb and obsessed with sports,” Len looked at me and presumably by my “jock-like” grey sweater and jeans combo assessed “that’s kind of like you, isn’t it?” I think the intimidation of SCAN, what’s slightly frightening about it is that there are members in SCAN who aren’t afraid to call you out; who are loud, theatrical, and at times abrasive. What is also slightly frightening is that you generally have to prove yourself in some way before you can crack the social barrier between “UNH student” and “SCAN member”. The initiation varies with the passing years and with the rolling membership, but I know I didn’t feel comfortable in the SCAN office or studio until I dedicated a lot of time to the club and produced a lot of content. Productivity was my in. For other people, it’s holding an executive position. For others, it’s simply knowing a SCAN member.
SCAN is criticized for its output and adored for its uncaring attitude toward its output. You can literally film anything and have it broadcasted on the SCAN TV 24 broadcasting loop. The contents of SCAN’s scratch space (essentially the digital library for all of the saved material on SCAN’s computers), comprises material for actual television shows, commercials, short films, and other miscellaneous bits predominately of a strange and irreverent character. In the scratch space, you will find “SCAN ids," or short commercials for the T.V. station which new general members are required to make before they can advance within the group. The ids are often between 30 seconds and one minute in length and are almost always of an exceptionally random nature. Like the one where lounge music is played over a scene from a dubbed Chinese martial arts film or the one where the sound of manic laughter is played over a slow zoom into a bowl of disgusting leftovers sitting in someone's sink. Also in the scratch space are short films. These come in both the successful and failed varieties. They are largely compiled during the film fest season, toward the end of spring semester when everyone frantically attempts to produce their thirty seconds of fame in the off hours when they should be sleeping and / or writing papers. The range of short films is large and includes five minute experimental animations produced over months and 10 minute embarrassments wherein screenshots of the video game Halo are edited to music taken from someone’s I Tune’s library.
Today I went on to Pitchforkmedia.com (I hold back my love/hate relationship with the site for the purpose of this post) and I noticed that one of the album reviews was of the band Titus Andronicus. Fortunately for them they recieved an 8.5 rating. Which in a world where Pitchfork literally makes or breaks new (indie rock) bands they got the good end of the stick receiving a "Best New Music" award. The reason I post this is because my freshman year I happened to have attended Monmouth University in New Jersey. I was also in a band and I was good friends with a bassist in a band called Library Of Congress. My band played some shows with them. Library of Congress disbanded when my buddy left to go to Washington, the remaining members formed Titus Andronicus. I am proud and almost in shock to say: YOU SHOULD REALLY CHECK THIS BAND OUT! I used to party with them, MAN! So when they are on Conan in two weeks I can say, "Hey I know those guys". But in all seriousness, they are quite amazing.
Starring Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, Lili Taylor
Seized with nostalgia for my days as an English Lit major, I put Starting Out in the Evening on my Netflix list last week. Frank Langella (Superman Returns, The Ninth Gate) plays Leonard Schiller, an octogenarian novelist struggling to finish his latest book when a beautiful grad student (Lauren Ambrose of bit parts on random tv shows fame) suddenly appears to interview him for her thesis/revive his career. Unfortunately, the film had a completely different effect than I had hoped for; rather than making me yearn for those days when I thought a career in literature would be a Utopian existence, I came away convinced that everyone associated with academia is a complete fuck.
Starting Out in the Evening creates a world where having four out of print novels and a modest teaching career is enough to finance a lifetime in a swank Manhattan apartment building with a doorman and a marble foyer. Being a cranky old author also gives you license to have weird, grandfatherly sex with any grad student whose life was changed when she read your book (bonus points if that grad student only wears designer evening wear). Also, in case you were worried about your legacy, everyone remotely associated with you (like your daughter's on again off again boyfriend) will periodically reread your books and remind you how much they respect and admire you. Despite not publishing in decades, you also still get invited to numerous literary events and parties where you can schmooze with other intellectuals, show off your new arm candy, and compare the contents of their floor to ceiling bookcases with your own. Authors can even have major strokes with no lingering side effects except needing to nap more frequently and when your grad student mistress finishes her thesis you'll still be fit enough to tell her off and give her a good slap for wasting your valuable time.
There's no denying Langella delivers a strong performance as Leonard Schiller but he's hardly a sympathetic character (although the frontal nudity was a bold play for vulnerability points) and Lauren Ambrose's tenacious student is scarcely more likeable. Whether she's pressing Schiller to admit the influence of D.H. Lawrence in his work or accusing a hip East Village journalist of going soft on Lou Reed, she comes across as completely insufferable. Their on screen chemistry is almost non-existent and by the end of the film I was bored to indifference, hardly caring that she learns a valuable lesson about life (what I'm not exactly sure) and that he discovers it's never too late to start over again. Unless you have a soft spot for passionless spring/winter romances, you can probably skip this one.
David Mamet is a critically acclaimed novelist, playwright and screenwriter. He is best known for his works like "Glengarry Glen Ross" for which he won a Pulitzer Prize and "American Buffalo". "The Old Religion" is the tale of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner who is falsely accused of the rape and murder of a young girl who happened to work at his factory. The book holds nothing back, the events are fully disclosed together with the testimony against Frank--including the one by the man who actually murdered the girl and several of his untrusting, anti-Semitic coworkers. "The Old Religion" takes a look into the psyche of a powerful Jewish man living in the South. It's a story of a man who will do and say anything to try and hide or blanket his Judaism in a world where he is seen as nothing but someone who just doesn't belong. Mamet creates an utterly original novel by showing a man who tries everything to be just an American--but instead his religion is constantly at the forefront. In addition, Frank is imprisoned but later abducted by an angry mob and lynched. Pictures of his corpse were later photographed and sold as postcards across the south for many years. "The Old Religion" seems provcative at it's core but it is really a statement on the still lingering hatred of the unknown in which we call "Minorities" in America.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Friday, April 25, 2008
Starring - Alysson Paradis, Beatrice Dalle.
Lately I had been in the mood for a hard-hitting horror film and when I read about last week's US DVD release of Inside (A L'Interieur) I thought I had found exactly what I was looking for. Touted all over the internet as an impressive addition to the resurgent French Horror genre, Inside is the story of Sarah (Alysson Paradis), a pregnant young widow besieged by a crazed intruder (Beatrice Dalle) intent on forcibly removing her unborn child on Christmas Eve.
There is no shortage of brutal and exploitive horror films as directors now go for broke in an attempt to shock and frighten jaded genre aficionados, and though all the reviews I read warned of Inside's potent violence I was unprepared for just how far directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were willing to go. To call their movie scary is to damn it with faint praise; Maury and Bustillo are adept at composing sickeningly elegant shots - both visually and aurally - and their violence is a step above their peers in artistry and realism. They almost completely avoid the campy scares and/or redemptive moralizing found throughout the genre and despite the lack of context offered by the film it avoids being violent just for violence's sake. Lest the audience forget just how vulnerable she is, shot after shot focuses on Sarah's pregnant stomach and Inside becomes an incredibly anxious film about obsession and fear. Even Sarah's relentless tormentor is not above succumbing to the tension, screaming in animalistic frustration when her goal eludes her. Both women are so emotionally invested in the fate of Sarah's baby that it becomes impossible to watch the film with any kind of detachment and each successive minute reveals more cringe-inducing brutality and heart-pounding tension than the last; mercifully the film is only 80 minutes long.
I find it difficult to criticize a film that so ably accomplishes its goals but I also hesitate to recommend this to anyone who doesn't know exactly what they're getting into. If you're looking for a good scare, chances are this is far too graphic and intense and if pure gore and thrills are what you're after, Inside is likely too emotionally and psychologically demanding. Unless you're looking to spend an hour and a half with your heart racing in terror and disgust, there is little satisfaction to be found in Inside and you will be glad when it's over.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
In an early form called Raymond, this band played at my high school when I was in 10th grade.
This song is called "Warm Out" and it is from their new ep, Cellphone.
I'm not a big fan of the video, but I really like the song. (*after a third viewing, I actually really like the video)
Equal parts 80's pop new wave and nu-metal (uhh, what? no seriously), they wed the best of both worlds, bearing a heavy yet very palatable child.
I saw them perform two weeks ago at Piano's and they were super tight.
I really enjoyed their self-titled full-length debut, released a year ago.
Since that record, however, their sound has gotten much sharper, cleaner, and more focused as evidenced by their new ep.
I don't live in Boston, but from what I can gather they are pretty popular in Beantown.
If you enjoy, here's their myspace, via which you can grab a copy of their ep and their full-length.
Hooray For Earth!
Two videos from the EP plus the album single "I'm Good, I'm Gone"
Also check out this delightful live performance of "I'm Good, I'm Gone" filmed in a public restroom. Spoons!
Just the other day I was lamenting the fact that no one smiles in music videos anymore. Bless you, Ray J, bless you.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead opens with a jewel heist that leaves an old woman and the burglar both dead. The narrative immediately flashes back to three days before the crime and the film seems destined to become a clever yet predictable modern heist flick. However, the script by playwright Kelly Masterson aspires to much more than criminal intrigue and in the hands of director Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men) it becomes a tragedy of epic proportion.
Brothers Hank (Hawke) and Andy Hanson (Hoffman) are both financially overextended – hot shot real-estate broker Andy has been stealing from his firm to pay for a secret drug habit and sweet, hapless Hank is three months behind in child support and tuition for his daughter’s fancy private school. Flashbacks reveal that they have plotted to rob their own parents’ jewelry store; they know the layout, the security, the employees, and their consciences can rest easy knowing that anything they steal is fully insured. Unfortunately for Hank and Andy, it becomes painfully obvious how this seemingly perfect crime went horribly wrong as the flashbacks reveal their miscommunication and criminal ineptitude.
In the hands of some directors non-linear narration is like a magic trick, misdirecting the audience’s attention and building expectation before unveiling a final, stunning twist that leaves you wondering how you possibly could have seen it coming. Lumet, however, seems completely uninterested in fooling his audience; he grimly lays out all his cards in the first third of the film and proceeds to patiently explain exactly how this particular trick has gone wrong. His characters seem to think they are operating in shadows and darkness but the film is sun drenched and overexposed; even when they’re inside, bright light pours in through every window and emanates from the harsh fluorescents of ceiling fixtures and appliances. Beneath this revealing glare we know all the characters’ secrets long before they do and there is a morbid fascination in watching them scheme and lie to avoid what we know is inevitable.
It is a pleasure to see Lumet deliver a film this ambitious and aggressive so late in his career and all of his actors rise to the occasion to give inspired performances. Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Boogie Nights) smothers Andy’s barely concealed desperation in sleazy nonchalance; he brags that he knows all the angles and watching his cocky façade crumble is a treat. Ethan Hawke (Training Day), typically reliable yet unspectacular, gives a fine performance as younger brother Hank, spending most of the film looking like he’s about to throw up. His ex-wife (Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone) – and his daughter – routinely remind him that he’s a loser and it’s a shock that he musters up the backbone to have an affair with Andy’s wife, played by Marisa Tomei (In the Bedroom) in a small but sexually and emotionally charged role. The film’s best performance comes from Albert Finney (Big Fish, Miller's Crossing) as the Hanson family patriarch. Blindsided by the murder that opens the film, he takes it upon himself to investigate and much of the film’s suspense is derived from watching his joviality transform into mournful vengeance.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead stands as one of the finer films released in recent memory. Curiously ignored around awards time (even given the number of excellent films last year), it deserves a second look on DVD and will likely stand as an impressive addition to Lumet’s already illustrious filmography.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Women's leaders: Dire Tune (Left -eventual winner), Alevtina Biktimirova (Right - second place by 2 seconds)
Men's leader and eventual winner Robert K. Cheruiyot
Other notable finishes:
Lance Armstrong 2:50:58
Karen Gillespie (my mother) 4:41:57
Saturday, April 19, 2008
23 November - 14 December 1974
by Werner Herzog
"My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself."
Upon learning that his friend Lotte Eisner was dying, Werner Herzog packed a small duffel with the essentials (compass, notebook, jacket) and set off alone on foot across half of Europe to save her. He walked for three weeks, sleeping at night in barns and deserted summer cottages and chronicling the details of the trek (both beautiful and ugly) in his journal. In an early entry he notes he would have made the trip in about an hour and a half by plane but anyone familiar with Herzog's work will find his preferred mode of transport unsurprising.
"Only if this were a film would I consider it real."
Like his films, Herzog’s journal remains firmly in the moment. His nightly entries capture the changing momentum and feel of his days as the weather and physical demands of the trip alternately frustrate and exhilarate him. Although he allows himself the occasional rant, for the most part he eschews personal introspection and epiphany hunting in favor of an avid interest in everything around him. Equal weight is given to the solving of an unfinished crossword puzzle in a home he has broken into as he devotes to choosing his route. His egalitarian perspective on the import of events creates momentum and makes for an exciting reading experience (aside from a break to grab a beer and some pretzels, I found myself compelled to finish this in one sitting).
"At the market was a boy on crutches, leaning against the wall of a house as my feet refused to cooperate anymore. With a single, brief exchange of glances we measured the degree of our relationship."
Stylistically, Herzog's prose borrows from both his feature and documentary film making styles, combining poetic austerity with more blatant philosophizing. In his films he is adept at exposing the beauty in found moments (Kinski and the butterfly in My Best Fiend, the opening of Aguirre, etc...) but in his documentary narration he is prone to pushing for a meaning beyond what seems to be inherent (for example his comments on the bear that killed Treadwell in Grizzly Man). There are plenty of musings of the latter type in his journal but he also seems to intuit which moments are best left with a minimum of superfluous description. I came away impressed with the quality and momentum of Herzog’s writing and although familiarity with his films certainly enhances appreciation it’s hardly a prerequisite to enjoying this wonderful little book.
Friday, April 18, 2008
My parents divorced when I was very young. Me, my sister (the oldest), and my brother (the middle child) stayed with my father in our house on
My sister was a smoker from the age of 16 or thereabout. Every time I was around her when she lit up, I would lecture her about the harmful side effects of smoking, how it's killing her, and be generally dripping condescending incredulity. She would always say the same thing: "Gotta die somehow." A cliched smoker's response (she never said it without cackling afterwards), I always thought it was the worst defense. I found myself saying this recently when someone suggested I stop puffing on a Camel.
Like many people who are lucky enough to take the 4 year vacation known as college (and now have to PAY for it...), many things changed when I went to school. I began drinking and smoking pot. Not out of rebellion, but out of both curiosity and a sense of decorum. Nothing about shedding the straight-edge skin was painful. It was a blast. However, it made me reconsider certain values I held, the most glaring of which was tested two years into college. One day without much thought, I purchased a pack of cigarettes and started smoking. My friends alternately approved and disapproved.
So, why did I, and why do people in general, start smoking?
- From a sociological standpoint: The standard sociological argument is that it's a parroting effect - teen sees person she wants to be like or be near smoking so she herself starts smoking. Other factors are prevalent, such as smoking parents, but really, from that point of view, it boils down to the parrot effect.
- From a cultural standpoint: "Coolness" is (like, almost always?) the reason one starts smoking. Whether it's out of rebellion, the urge to do what is not allowed, or the desire to partake in what cool people partake in (most cool people smoke, or so it seems), smokers tend to trace their picking up of the butt to an image, idea, or person. Of course, smoking also is an act that has no justification outside of pure self-gratification, so in that sense, it represents an aspect of the American character - straight, undiluted, 200-proof self-gratification. This is often taken as the essence of cool; a sum of unexplained acts originating from a self that resists standard labels, explanations, and expectations. So if smoking could be considered cool, it would be naive to say that Miles Davis, Keith Richards, or Dont Look Back have nothing to do with it. People who start smoking for these reasons would probably never admit it or, at least, would disregard the attempt to explain the "why" of smoking when, duh, the lack thereof is part of the fun.
- From a phenomenological standpoint: Smoking is relaxing. It occupies your basic motor skills, helps you regulate your breathing, and helps you take time. It tastes great, especially when paired with coffee or red wine.
As far as I can tell, smoking was once as casual as drinking water. Now, there are signs in bodegas urging smokers to protest the proposed cigarette tax increase ($6/carton!) that New Yorkers are currently facing. Not only that, there are industries, profit and non-, built around helping people quit. Why has smoking become so bad? Depending on your sources, either one pack takes 7 minutes off your life or if you quit by the time your 26, there is virtually a 0% chance of developing lung cancer due to smoking. Clearly, evidence has indicated that smoking can and does kill all too often. Can cigarettes be enjoyed responsibly? And hasn't everyone "Gotta die somehow"?
Wes Anderson tends to make very pointed use of smoking in his films. Whether it's an issue of realism or not is beside the point; to me, smoking, if I may wax philosophic, is a token of the smoker's Dionysian acceptance of their own mortality. If that's too Romantic for you, the urge to smoke is antithetical to the urge to remain alive. It concerns quality over quantity, how one lives as opposed to how long. In a sense, every person that smokes a cigarette is performing their very own miniature crucifixion.
Every morning I scale 6 flights of stairs in a grimy building occupied mostly by hardworking immigrants. On the second floor, I always pass two older Eastern European men sitting on a bench, smoking and chatting in their native language. I at first tried smiling and nodding at them, but they would just scowl (understandably), and I would move on. Smoking, though it's often associated with rebellion, is also an expression of solidarity. Who huddles outside bars when it's 2 degrees outside? Smokers. Who's "Gotta die somehow"? Smokers. Am I a smoker?*
*OK, this piece has two endings. Here's your chance to fill in the blanks. You can choose the one you like the best:
1.) Doubtful, but I do enjoying smoking.
2.) Sure, aren't you?
Thursday, April 17, 2008
First thing I noticed was no one was running or even rushing. The EMTs and cops were taking their time, and I kept hearing this guy (one of our neighbors from the 3rd floor; loud voice, wearing red flannel) talking about how he was once an exterminator and that "it" smelled like dead rats on the 3rd floor "but a little different, y'know?" Second thing I noticed was that no one was crying, and I was uncertain what this meant. Did someone die? Or were they not as badly injured as thought? Third thing I noticed was that I never heard anyone speaking directly to the sick person.
After waiting for a half-hour behind my door listening for answers, I overheard this conversation between the Spanish-speaking neighbor across the hall and a Muslim mom from the 4th floor: (paraphrased) "You know that guy up in C5 with longish hair down to here [Spanish-speaking neighbor makes reference to his shoulders]? He's been dead 2 whole days up there! ... It started to smell up the 3rd floor [holds his nose; grimaces dramatically] and so Zurab [Turkish landlord] called the cops... [in a whisper] overdosed." Both Spanish-speaking neighbor and Muslim mom shook their heads and went back into their respective apartments. I turned away from the peephole in the door only to hear two women upstairs calling the dead man's cat so they could remove it from the apartment.
The prevailing feeling that I got from what could be seen as a very tragic and dark moment, was anything but grave. People's expressions were grave, but despite the long faces, it felt almost like a block party with everyone's door open, everyone talking to everyone else, the EMTs and cops making light with the neighbors, all present agreeing just how smelly it was and sort of laughing like "Wow! Who would have thought we were smelling a dead guy for 2 days!" and then following up with "What a day, huh!" (as it's 70 degrees and perfectly sunny this afternoon). This is not to say the tenants of 1718 66th Street were uncaring or dismissive of the dead man. Among themselves, they located the dead man's father's phone number and contacted the building manager to talk to the EMTs. It's just that there was a certain lightness that was prominent; a giddiness, if you will, to take part in this team effort of remembering all one could remember about the dead man that no one in the apartment building was great friends with or related to.
On a personal note, this "phenomenon" of people living and dying all over you, as natural as it is to do so, is at times so compelling and other times so alienating to me. Initially, I wanted to go out and talk with all the neighbors about this man's death, and yet I felt uncomfortable that everyone (including myself) was suddenly in this man's tragic business. For me, it raises questions like: Is everyone completely desensitized to tragic situations, but not to entertaining situations after one has lived here (namely an urban environment) or simply just lived a considerable amount of time? Or is it more appropriate to say that everyone here is at one with the inevitable human shame that comes with life, and that this acceptance prompts a certain entitlement among everyone to know since we're all involved with everyone else eventually (i.e. a stranger smells your dead body and calls the cops)? Or is it neither, and rather an insatiable, universal desire for humans to know and speak of distant tragedy (in other words, tragedy that does not directly involve them)?
All I can know for sure is that, should I pass away in my apartment at 1718 66th Street, it will take about 48 hours until the neighbors call the cops.
Here is the trailer for the new Errol Morris documentary "Standard Operating Procedure".
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Not surprisingly, literature and film have embraced the underlying ideas of chaos theory. My favorite post-modern play, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, focuses on the mathematics behind fractals during the 1800s and contemporary times. Chaos theory also plays a large role in the movie "Pi".
While searching the wikipedia page for chaos theory, it also mentions that chaos theory is mentioned in the films "The Butterfly Effect," "Chaos", and "The Science of Sleep." I haven't seen the other two, but I don't remember any mention of chaos theory in "The Science of Sleep" - does anyone else remember it?
Here's a cool webpage on fractals. The image above is also generated by fractals.
The interview is divided into six segments and can be watched in its entirety above. It lasts slightly less than one hour.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I recently got my hands on a 2005 re-issue of John Lennon's 1974 album "Walls and Bridges". This particular album is important to the Lennon Discography for a couple of reasons. First of all it was recorded during Lennon's infamous "Lost Weekend". According to close sources this was a time in Lennon's career where he was estranged from wife, Yoko Ono for a period of 18 months. During this time Lennon reportedly lived a life of excess going on essentially an 18 month bender of alcohol, drugs and sex. The album itself is a gem. It was originally intended to be a stripped down acoustic album but with time it morphed into a rather overall bluesy yet upbeat feeling endeavor. Although the album is rather upbeat sonically there are obvious lyrical evidence of Lennon's emotional pain at the time of recording. For instance the song "Scared" produces the following lyrics: "Hatred and jealousy go the best of me; I guess I knew it right from the start". "Walls and Bridges" was produced by Lennon but he received a lot of creative input by friends and collaborators such as Harry Nilsson, Elton John, Jim Keltner, Ken Asher and even 11-year old Julian Lennon. This album is really quite amazing and even though it was #1 upon it's release in the States its status seems to have been overshadowed by other post-Beatle Lennon albums like "Mind Games" and "Plastic Ono Band". I recommend this album to anyone who likes life or doesn't. *****/5
Old Dirt Road mp3
Monday, April 14, 2008
My Favorite Trailers Playlist
Once – I was let down by this film and I blame its excellent trailer, which judiciously selects the most dramatic scenes from the film and promises a killer love story. Trailers are all about moments, and Glen Hansard asking Marketa Irglova twice to stay the night is devastating. That scene - and the entire film - came across completely differently in its entirety and I couldn’t help but feel misled.
No Direction Home: The strength of this documentary was the raw, rarely seen Eat the Document footage from 1966, and whoever edited this trailer wisely focuses on those clips. Like the Once trailer, this stands alone as its own tiny film full of dramatic moments and rising tension. I must have watched this 50 times the first week it was posted; I still tear up every time the “he’s changed from what he was at first” line plays – the hurt and betrayal in the boy’s voice kills me.
L’Avventura –The music and the narrator are alarmingly urgent considering this is a two hour plus film about emotional isolation; calling the film an erotic adventure isn’t necessarily untrue but its certainly misleading – the Time quote calling it a “myth for the anxious age” is more apt. You have to have seen L’Avventura to really appreciate what makes this trailer wonderful. There’s far more ennui than bed-hopping and this trailer stands as a clever re-edit in the mode of the classic spoof on The Shining.
Spiderman 3 – I was still buzzing from the Chabon authored triumph of Spiderman 2, and this teaser trailer seemed to promise more of what made that film wonderful – friendship and betrayal, torrid and complex romance, and Peter Parker’s struggle with his own identity. Something went horribly, horribly wrong between the editing of this trailer and the final rewrites, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the masterpiece I imagined the first time I saw this.
Chinatown – Most trailers build anticipation for a film by using teasing clips and leaving you dying to find out what happens next. The Chinatown trailer takes a different approach and instead shows you nearly every important moment from the film in chronological order – no small feat considering how lengthy and complicated the film is.
Children of Men - It's a rarity to find a great film that also has a great trailer and I liked this trailer so much that I almost didn't want to see the film for fear that I would be let down. I remember getting choked up the first few times I saw this (about 1:30 in when the music shifts) and if I had an Academy vote I would have voted this Best Picture based on the trailer alone.
I feel slightly lame devoting two of not many posts entirely to web links, but I don't care. The website is slate.com - http://www.slate.com/ - and I am not sure how well known it is, but if you haven't checked it out, it's worth a look. It's a kind of online journal / database of collected Alternative Press stories / original content / blogger input. There are consistently great pictures in the "today's photos" section at the top right (the photo in this post is one of them). And I always check the "today's papers" section at some point in the day (it's a rundown of all the big stories in all of the big papers for the given day)
- reading that section is probably, more than anything else, a reliable structural marker to my daily routines - it makes me feel more responsible / older than I actually am. I have come across some pretty sub par videos in the various video links and I don't agree with the emphasis on the 2008 Presidential Election often evident on the home page but on the whole you can find a lot of interesting reading material here. check it out.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Fists in the Pocket focuses on Alessandro, a death-obsessed epileptic living with his misfit family in a secluded Italian villa. He passes the time reading fake newspaper headlines to his blind mother, neglecting his retarded brother Leone, and making incestuous advances towards his sister Giulia while normal elder brother Augusto acts as reluctant caretaker to the entire family. Augusto has aspirations to one day marry his pretty girlfriend and move to town but as long as he is responsible for his dependent family this is impossible. Alessandro (who bears a disturbing resemblance to Marlon Brando crossed with Doogie Howser) plots to hasten his brother’s middle class escape by offing their helpless family members one by one.
In an early scene, Augusto chides his younger brother for having no ambition or drive, and the murders reflect his criticism. There is no spite or perverse satisfaction in Alessandro’s murders, no terror or suspense in his scheme; he very literally takes his victims by the hand and leads them to their deaths, dispatching of them with as little effort as possible. By the time he actually kills his first victim his intentions are so obvious that there is little to be surprised by. The murders become incidental to our understanding of Alessandro and a scene where he attends a dance with Augusto is far more revealing of his character than watching him lead his blind mother off a cliff.
Reviews for Fists in the Pocket invariably describe it as a “rethinking of the horror genre’ and in the broadest sense this is an apt description; the classic elements of a horror film are all there – murder in an isolated setting, helpless victims, and a killer whose twisted physical aberrations match his internal deformities. However, the film emerges not so much as a horror film but as a film about horrific things. First time director Marco Bellochio had worked with Pasolini early in his career, and visually and thematically Fists in the Pocket has more in common with traditional ‘60s European art house cinema than its Italian horror contemporaries.
If this film is indeed a “rethinking of the horror genre,” then Bellochio has rethought it right out of the genre and almost into the realm of social drama. Unfortunately for Bellochio, there are far better films to choose from in either genre and while this hybrid is certainly stylistically interesting, it falls short of its contemporaries. Horror fans seeking an elegant and stylish B&W horror film would be better served seeking out Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) and if artful examinations of dispassion and social morality are your cup of tea, then there are any number of bold and audacious films that merit a viewing sooner than this one.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Thelma Schoonmaker met Martin Scorsese when she was taking a brief six-week course at New York University's Tisch School. She was instantly charmed by the fledgling film student and decided to help edit a short he had just made entitled "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?". A previous editor had massacred young Marty's film and so she thought it was a nice gesture. By 1970 the two edited Woodstock together but it would be another 10 years before they would meet again. Since 1980 the two have remained best friends and Schoonmaker has edited every Scorsese film since Raging Bull. Thelma Schoonmker has been nominated for six Academy Awards in the field of editing and has won three for the following films: Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed. Schoonmaker is set to edit Scorsese's highly anticipated Shutter Island.
An interview with Thelma Schoonmaker
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The last issue of Adbusters drew my attention to Michael Rakowitz's "hot commodity" known as the "paraSITE."
Like a residential home's dryer, most buildings' HVAC systems give off heat - and a lot of it. Bright idea: recycle this otherwise wasted energy and use it to help those in need of a warm spot to rest or read in. I still think there's something slightly absurd about the whole idea, but I think that's the project's subtle punctuation mark.
It is pretty absurd how much energy is wasted by your standard HVAC system. But hey, this is America, waste is what we do best!
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
I've been doing writing on my family for a "research project" on and off for the past few months. I thought I'd share some interesting moments during this research with all of you / reflect on my findings. The reason I chose to write about my family was because I felt distant from them in certain ways and hoped this project would provide some kind of a means to a stronger relationship. I also wanted to clarify some of my thoughts on family members by writing these thoughts down - I had never been able to write about my famiy in the past, at least in any coherent manner. I started the project thinking I would love to know about distant relatives and what they did - research areas in New England where my family came from - research Fall River, Massachusetts mills and the rise of industry in Pennsylvania. I lost interest in this immediately. Shifting to direct conversation with living family members, I quickly found that this was often awkward, forced, and frightening (definitely for me, if not also for the given family member). At the end of a phone call to my grandfather, now living in Pennsylvania, he said "have a nice life" provoking serious confusion in myself. After writing my grandmother about a recent trip to New York, she got defensive in her response letter (at least that's how I read it) citing all the things she had done in her past trips to New York and asking me if I had done the same. "I climbed the Statue of Liberty...did you?" After talking to my father about his grandparents, he remarked "any more questions for your writing???" This all makes sense because, throughout my entire life, I have had only limited contact with family members outside of my immediate family. I think these initial conversations and questions felt a little strange and foreign for everyone; either because we weren't used to talking on a personal basis or because I felt uncomfortable doing what, despite my best intentions, seemed to be nothing more than harvesting information from loved ones for a "research project". All of that aside, the project has helped me learn that sustained contact with many members in my family somehow makes me feel more healthy than a lack of contact does (and also, I think most of these relatives appreciate the contact). As a side note, I find it frightfully easy to prioritize other things, anything, over calling a distant (even intimate) family member. A habit I hope to break. Some fun facts about my family include: 1. my father and both of my grandfathers are / were electricians 2. my mother's brother died attempting to rescue a downed ship in the blizzard of '78 3. my father's father is one of 11 kids in his family; all 7 of his brothers were in WWII 4. my grandmother eloped with my grandfather out of high school 5. my grandfather built a house (for himself and my grandmother, right next to my grandmother's parent's house in Salem, MA) with his father in law as a means of winning him over after said unsanctioned eloping with my grandmother 6. my uncle drag raced for a living instead of college 7. my parents stole a dog from the Humane Society kennel because they couldn't wait til it opened the next day 8. my cousin is a gay opera singer who leads professional bird watching tours all over the world 9. my dad described me as "the mummy's curse" in a home video from when i was about five 10. half of my family came from Germany. the other half's back story will probably forever remain a mystery as my mother was adopted at infancy. *the picture is of a miniature card my mother wrote to her grandparents when she was a child, informing them of her loose tooth*
Sacks describes each case in wonderful detail which helps the reader connect with his patients. This book shows those with and without neuroscience backgrounds the amazing possibilities of the human mind and how music seems to be more deeply encoded in our memory and minds than our own day-to-day life experiences.
Some of the most amazing cases concern Williams Syndrome, a genetic developmental disorder that causes mental retardation, heart problems, and usual facial features. Individuals with William’s Syndrome are extremely friendly, have large, fluent vocabularies, and often have a passionate love of music. One woman with an IQ of 70 (which is the cutoff for mental retardation) is a professional opera singer with a repetoire of over 2000 songs in 35 languages, yet she cannot add 5 and 3.
Some other phenomena/disorders discussed in the book are musical hallucinations, absolute pitch, amusia, amnesia, aphasia, Alzheimer’s, synesthesia, autism, and Parkinson’s disease.
"I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it." - Robert Sapolsky
I think that this has always been my philosophy, but it took the right amount of time and self-reflection to come to this conclusion. For those of you wary of science yet still curious about what science may have to offer us concerning the complexity and mystery of the human condition, I suggest checking out any of Oliver Sacks’ books. My other favorites are The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Island of the Colorblind, and An Anthropologist on Mars.
Early prediction for the show: Canceled immediately following the pilot episode. Unless T.O. makes an appearance in the first episode, we'll probably never get a chance to check out his acting chops. In the meantime, we should all amuse ourselves with this Sal Paolantonio article explaining why T.O. is overrated. As for Flav, he has overstayed his welcome in the world of cable television and this latest sorry endeavor further emphasizes how far he has fallen since the glory days of Flavor of Love: Season One. Flav has long worn the crown (literally and figuratively) as King of reality t.v. but it's time he does the right thing and gracefully step aside to make room for Brett Michaels's legitimate ascension to the throne.
The Natural Disaster Slam Poetry Club will have a special meeting for anyone that wishes to get together and vent any pent up frustrations toward the Milky Way Galaxy. Because, if we are passionate enough, maybe this time, it will finally listen.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Listen. I'm in the midst of a process here. My roomate and I have decided to make a documentary on the life and times of a Vietnam Veteran/American Hero/Elks Member/Philosopher named Rodney Rodgers. He was created out of pure alchoholism and spite. I believe he is the bane of all our existences and primary life goals. He is pretty much why I am an asshole and why I don't like America or Michael Moore (fat fuck). My primary goal in this project is to educate the ill-informed on why America's Heartland is suffering (West Virginia, Georgia, Rapeland, Indiana, Yahoo City, Montana, etc.) and I mean SUFFERING. He makes his mark as an excited Vietnam Veteran and is soon seen as more. A giving philanthropist, followed by a record collector, coin collector, French physicist and librarian. Or whatever. The point of the matter is, is that you watch and decide. Because come may or April 30th we will be here on your tv screen deciding why you should vote for us. Thank You.
Examples of some of her finest songs:
He's Got the Power: The Exciters
Be My Baby: The Ronettes
Ellie's music also appears in numerous films and has been used to great effect by Martin Scorsese, who has chosen her songs as the soundtrack to some of his most memorable shots, such as the Goodfellas tracking shot and the opening credits of Mean Streets
After the mid-sixties girl group boom, Ellie Greenwich remained in the music business, working as a composer and arranger and even reluctantly trying her hand as a solo artist. She is still involved in music and I recommend the following articles to learn more about her impressive career and refreshingly honest perspective on one of the most exciting periods in music history:
Cha Cha Charming Magazine
Sunday, April 6, 2008
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
- e.e. cummings
Inspired by these lines from e.e. cummings and fond recollections of my weekly duck feedings near my old apartment, I recently purchased a bird feeder. I picked out an inexpensive model that suction-cups to a window and was delighted by the idea that I would awake every morning to pleasant and discreetly chirping flocks of chickadees and nuthatches (the types of birds promised by the bag of seed I purchased) feeding only a few feet from my bed. Alas, this was not to be.
My plans immediately began to go awry when I discovered that the suction cup that worked so well on the side of a vitamin water display at Wal-Mart was not strong enough to hold to the window when the feeder was full of seed. Undeterred, I climbed out on the roof and hung my feeder from an overhanging tree branch and reconciled myself to putting my glasses on each morning to watch the birds. A few weeks passed with no bird sightings, only squirrels who didn't even bother to climb up to the feeder - plenty of seeds fall down to the rooftop whenever the slightest breeze blows. Finally about a week ago I received my first genuine avian visitor - a blue jay. Despite their impressive plumage, blue jays were low on my list of desired birds as they have an annoying call and are notoriously aggressive and unfriendly to smaller more melodious species. However, given my lack of birds to this point I was open to any species and even managed to overlook the fact that the blue jay - like the squirrels - ignored the feeder itself and ate directly from the rooftop.
This weekend I awoke to frantic squawking and looked out to see a largish dark brown bird trashing my feeder while two of his comrades raucously cheered him on from a nearby branch. I didn't get my glasses on fast enough to identify the birds and they flew away, leaving my feeder completely empty, seeds strewn all over the roof. I brushed off the assault as an isolated incident and refilled my feeder, optimistically telling myself that it was only a matter of time before word got out amongst the other birds about the free food. I was foolish and naive. The very next morning the overhanging tree was full of large, angry birds with dark brown bodies and blue heads who were taking turns swooping down and spilling seed from my violently rocking feeder to the waiting masses on the rooftop. I tried rapping on the glass, but they continued on undeterred. When the feeder was nearly empty they moved on, taking up residence in a treetop across the street.
I did some research at my local library and learned that I had been visited by grackles - a notoriously thuggish species of bird. Grackles are distinguished by their song which is described as "a harsh, unmusical "readle-eak," like a rusty gate" (click here to listen to a sample). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology site also lists "Cool Facts" about each species; the grackle is noted for "taking advantage of whatever food sources it can find. It will follow plows for invertebrates and mice, wade into water to catch small fish, and sometimes kill and eat other birds at bird feeders." This rather grim "cool fact" was confirmed when further research yielded this chilling video.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
#5. The Get Up Kids- Something to Write Home About: An integral part of my early high school years and an important part of the popularization and eventual backlash of "emo" music, the Get Up Kids wrote some pretty damn catchy tunes. This is by far their strongest album. With comparissons to Weezer (I don't see it) these guys wrote pretty formulaic songs with smarter than your average emo-Joe lyrics. The album still remains in my I Tunes library.
#4. The Counting Crows- August and Everything After: The mid-90's was a tough time for popular music. The FM dials and MTV was flooded with post-grunge bullshit and a lot of corny rap. "Mr. Jones" was the single that made me (and millions of other assholes) buy this album. Yes I would like to punch Adam Duritz in his dreadlocked face but he does have a knack for writing a great pop song.
#3. The Wallflowers- Bringing Down the Horse: Bob who? I recently listened to this album on tape when my parents and I took a trip to see some relatives for Christmas. Everyone knows "One Headlight" but that hit single isn't even half of this underrated piece of work. While the album as a whole isn't "great" the entire first side and the first two tracks on side B are. Although the Wallflowers never really returned with anymore hit singles after this album was so popular, I don't feel all that bad, amazingly this record stands the test of time and I'm embarrassed to say, I LIKE IT.
#2. Boz Scaggs- Hits!: Until I saw a picture of Boz Scaggs when I was about 15 I finally realized two things: 1) He's not black and 2) He likes Miami Vice, a lot. Between this and every single thing Steely Dan ever recorded my mother subjected me to these all my childhood. Boz Scaggs is kind of an intersting guy, he grew up with Steve Miller and eventually went on to play on a few of his albums before making it as a solo sensation. Scaggs has soul, so don't hate.
#1. Various Artists- Lion King Soundtrack: I recieved this CD as a birthday present from a friend when I was in the third grade. The Lion King as a film blew me away. It remains my favorite Disney movie for a pleathora of reasons. I know every lyric on this album, sadly and I still own the original CD I recieved as a gift more than 13 years ago. Oh, Simba.