Monthly Archives: February 2012

Art in the Future

Friday night. Felt like blagging.*

Just watched a fascinating documentary (appropriately posted over on YouTube) about the future of art in modern western culture, in the face of this exponential technological revolution, the ease with which art is produced by younger, poorer, less-educated people, and what it all means to a whole slew of writers, filmmakers, artists, and musicians.

You can find the video here;

And about halfway through I got all worked up about some of the pretentious things some of these “artistic types” were saying and had to just say my piece.

Which is to say, though there were many positions taken in the film and many issues brought up, my stance on some of the broader and semi-controversial issues is such:

One, art is about the product, and the communication of that product with the audience. Art is communication, usually of an emotion, and so requires two people: the artist and the audience. Many people disagree with this and point toward art as a kind of internal meditation or cathartic process, which indeed it can be, but that’s not art–What that is is either masturbation or therapy.

Art is telepathy, art is discussing those ideas that run below our material world with signs and symbols that speak toward a conversation bigger than ourselves.

And so art is not about process. Process can seek to add a deeper meaning to a work, but that is only one way of critically studying a piece of art, and should by no means be an exclusive explanation to disregard someone’s art. So whether the song is produced on a computer over the course of a day or in a studio over the course of three months, the art should stand regardless.

Because many young people can now access materials for cheap to make music and film, simply because they have the means and produce does not mean that the quality is in any way lessened.

Though indeed, because now everyone can, a lot more people now think they can. Due to this, there is a plague of mediocrity. But this should prompt, not a blanketing of our culture in “gray goo,” but instead a more critical viewing eye on the part of the audience. Which is what I try to do by, frankly, shredding every new horror movie that arrives in theaters in the desperate hope I’ll see something withstand (a la Black Swan or Perfect Sense). Maybe even as a culture we’re being trained to be too nice, too supportive, too open, coddling what’s not quality art. (This could lead to a rant on bullying, but I’ll leave that to another day).

Though, this also leads to the question of what is bad art? If we as a society lower our collective level of critique and are so rewarded with intellectual, emotional experiences from mediocre productions, is that bad? I think so, because I’ve seen some of the crap hollywood produces, heard the music on the radio, and read some of the fiction circulating and I don’t know how we can engage in any kind of stimulating discourse on the matter.

“I don’t think a young Hitchcock or Scorsese would make it in this business. Slap up their early stuff on Facebook, on YouTube, it would get lost in an ocean of garbage. Remember in 2007, Time Magazine gave the award of best person of the year to you, ourselves, you and I. It’s global masturbation.”

-Andrew Keen (who I kind of disagree with everything he says but love to listen to anyway)

But what is overlooked, it seems, is that good art will always transcend mediocrity. If art is good, it is operating on a level that is there awaiting recognition by anyone so prepared to engage with it, and so long as there is an audience, even of only one, there will be a place for good art. At worst, good art will become again elitist, as was suggested in the film.

As for our definitions changing for what kind of forms art will take in a new digital age, there’s an important difference in how it’s distributed; distribution is politics. It’s economy. It’s industry. That’s not art, and while a fascinating topic of discussion, should not influence our reception of art. As far as art taking new forms, new styles, new genres, and new media, HELL YES. So whether it’s dubstep, or stories told through internet websites, or a movie made through a series of vlog-style videos on youtube, whatever it is, that can be art too; so long as there’s an intellectual and/or emotional discourse that accompanies it.

That’s why, if I may rant, I can’t really stand it when people blanket-hate on dubstep. I’ve seen dubstep music infect audiences more than many other kinds of music during performances. I love it because I, myself, cannot help but move when I listen to it. There’s something powerful there, and that’s what music is all about, isn’t it? Who cares if there aren’t guitars and it’s very beat-heavy? What difference do the mechanics make?

Toward the end of the movie, these producers started making distinctions between performance of a song and a digital mp3 file, or the difference between track-based music culture and record-based. What’s the fucking point of making such distinctions and calling one better than another?

Who the fuck cares if you listen to a song for four minutes through an iPod or a sixteen-track record on your turntable. If it’s a musical experience that we’re lost in, what’s the difference?

Concerts, in the film, were argued to be some kind of future of music, because it’s a more immersive experience than plugging in headphones; which is true in some cases, but to compare one to the other is apples and oranges. When it becomes performance and collective-based, it’s a different genre of art altogether.

My point then comes down to this; art is art. And to get fuddled up in the details about media, process, and what the future might look like, is too often (and quite often, as the movie relays in fascinating fashion) missing the point. After that it’s people afraid of change and too caught up in their own pretentious definitions of “true” art that reject what’s happening on the foundational level.

</rant>

Fascinating excerpt from the film that scares the crap out of me:

What are your thoughts though? If you watch the movie or just read my blog? Is art doomed? Is process important? Am I just too bored on a weekend? Sound off down below.

*”Blagging” see, http://xkcd.com/148/

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Rebooting Night Stalker?!

What news is this?!

I see that Disney has hired Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright to helm a new Night Stalker movie? With Johnny Depp set to star and produce?

I’m still reeling on this one.

The Night Stalker was originally a 1972 movie that spawned a sequel and a short television run that was quite popular at the time. It starred Darren McGavin in the lead role of Carl Kolchak (if you don’t know your older tv stars, well, shame on you. He’s the dad on A Christmas Story. If you don’t know A Christmas Story, well.. Get off my lawn. Or I’ll shoot your eye out, kid). The original formula was quirky, using comedy and a lighthearted wit to present a reporter looking into some darker supernatural topics.

That said, ABC ran a remake in 2005 starring Irish actor Stuart Townsend. This version of the show took a much grittier spin on the show, replacing the original wit with a kind of brooding darkness that turned off many original fans instantly.

I might be, to date, the only person who respects the reboot–nay, who adores it. I think it was fucking brilliant. The show was elegant, with little musing monologues to book end the episodes to the haunting tunes of Philip Glass. The show was another X-Files spawn, but this time intensely thematic, twisting the ideas of evil from the supernatural to the natural, from serial killer types to the more ghostly, all the while questioning reality and the nature of inherent evil within the flawed antiheroic rebooted main character. It was doing some real intellectual work and I loved it. Then ABC cancelled it in the middle of a two part episode just before sweeps.

It didn’t work because the pilot episode was very, very slow, the show was under-marketed (a shame since it came out right about the same time as Supernatural and would have competed perfectly), and they dropped it in a time slot against the MLB playoffs, the Apprentice, and I possibly Grey’s, pitting it against the top shows on TV at the time, where the only people who knew about it were the fans of the old show, who saw the more serious twist as a butchery, and without giving it a chance, it shriveled up and died.

(Still it lives on anyway, at least for anyone who’s seen the inside of my car, who might take note of my homage that I hope one day some passing fan might notice and appreciate, and perhaps we’ll share a moment. And, well let’s be honest, if she’s hot and a Night Stalker reboot fan, I’ll probably just put a ring on it right then and there.)

The show still lives on over at Hulu.com, for free. I highly recommend it. I’ve embedded the fifth ep here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And so I find myself in a bit of a strange place. Now we’ve got this NEW remake in the pipes, but I can’t help but get excited. Depp in the lead seems like it might take some getting used to but if I think hard enough, (we’ve seen him with the white bermuda hat in Rum Diaries or the like, aye?) I can start to see this old Kolchak.

Further, Edgar Wright is one of my most favorite directors of all time; no one else utilizes filmography to the comedic extend that he does. I’m in my comedy happy place any time I watch one of his films. So much cleverness and dry humor. I can’t get enough.

So my call on this?

HELL YES. Make this happen. I mean, like, tomorrow, please. It might take some getting used to, especially for me, as I was never very sold on the original version. I already know the fans are a tough sell, but I think the formula is SET, and can stand to be a fantastic modern addition. (Rants about remakes aside).

But what do you think? Were you a fan of the original series? Did you watch the reboot when it was on ABC six years ago? Will this be a hit or should they just let a sleeping dog lie? Sound off down below.

Looking from the road, her heart falling, she grabbed his shoulder, hard, and shook it. For a moment, he opened his eyes and looked to her hand and stared. She didn’t realize how hard she was squeezing until she saw her knuckles white and the fabric of his shirt clenching. She lessened her grip and said, “Will?”

He put his hand on hers and held it there.

Perfect Sense, a review

So a couple weeks ago I had a chance to watch the apocalyptic love story Perfect Sense, but can’t for the life of me find a good theatrical release date. For a while, internet sources said the tenth, but then the tenth approached and it seemed to slip from the radar. As best I can tell, it’s still making the limited release run and will hit DVD in the next few months. However, it’s been up on iTunes for the last few weeks, and is still available to rent. (or ya know, you can go do illegal stuff, fall in love with the film, and then buy the Blu Ray when it comes out down the road. Aaaaaand SOPA just crushed my website for advocating piracy).

But seeing as Valentine’s Day is quick approaching, whether you rock it early this weekend or on Tuesday, staying in to watch a movie might be my three-nights-a-week date, but if you’re snowed in as we are here, might I recommend this movie, a bottle of wine, disappointing-but-cute-for-the-effort-chocolate-cheesecake and a blanket fort? (Accidentally omitted the Oxford comma. But now I’m LEAVING IT OUT FOR THE WIN)

So, the movie.

A chef and a scientist fall in love as an epidemic breaks out.

This is the premise of the gradually-released film festival-hopping apocalyptic romance featuring Eva Green and Ewan McGregor.

The epidemic first comes with a moment of grief, of mourning for everything you’ve ever lost, everyone you’ve ever hurt. There are torrents of tears before your sense of smell passes. Then, with another burst of emotion, another sense. A few weeks time: again the loss of another.

It’s simple and brilliant: In the slow parallels between finding meaning in love and the little things, as slowly the world loses grip on what was once so important and utterly taken for granted. Boy and girl are discouraged in love, find each other, something inside alights. Boy and girl go through honeymoon stage, doubt, sex, fight, fall apart, and come together again. When painted against an apocalyptic backdrop, a traditional (and yes, almost boring story, on its own), becomes so human it begins to leak humanity, those universal truths found in tender emotion.

The cinematography is beautiful. The writing takes its time, and indeed occasionally almost lapses into the sentimental, which might put a bad taste in your mouth, but for only a moment before the narration ends and the story resumes. Certainly this film could try to broaden its scope, to cover more religious angles perhaps, cultural response in the face of impending disaster, but that would be very wrong, and even the best filmmaker would struggle not to lapse into again, that sentimentality, diatribes, ramblings.

Because this is a movie about two people.

And in these two people is the world.

Through their eyes (at least for a while, do you

see?)

we watch how they cope with the loss of each sense. In the way of losing what you have, you discover the importance. Like any descent narrative, there’s revelation in loss, a world in emptiness. Perfect Sense is perfectly aware of this fact, and builds so slowly as to incorporate the viewer as a participant, to experience, to understand the slow revelation that eventually all that will be left is darkness

and for a while, touch,

and that to which you cling.

I’m not ashamed to note the tears on my cheeks in the films final minutes, but I’m not going to say this is a tear-jerker. It’s not a Pay it Forward or It’s a Wonderful Life. But this film studies a simple truth, and should you engage, be you alone or

clinging

with someone close,

it might crawl inside and do its work, reminding, steady, slowly,

that what we hold close as the world burns is, and has always been, our essence.

And in that reminder–in that experience–this movie does the truest work.

Perfect Sense is available on iTunes right now and is directed by David Mackenzie

Standardization… or not?

Another three am night, laying in bed with the brain buzzing and sketching out paragraphs and details. Tonight it’s for this blog. So it’s now sitting up in bed, typing, brain buzzing still. But there’s a cool breeze through the edge of the window. The room isn’t yet cold. I’m still awake and classes don’t start til noon. So I’m writing.

Today, I got a post on my facebook wall from a guy who I think has written me before about some kind of group that is looking to standardize methods within the field of paranormal research for groups across the nation. Upon reading my answer, I felt that I came off a little too harsh. Now, I’m not sure the OP even saw my response, as I noticed he’d hit about twenty other walls at the same time, I did want to throw the issue out to you guys.

Standardization. What of it? 

We’re talking about multiple paranormal teams putting together some set of “professional” rules for conduct, method, and technique for approaching paranormal research situations, to (I’d imagine) bring more credibility to the field and likely more progress toward becoming established as (what? A science? A reality?) at least a, we’ll say, field of credible research.

I’m putting words in mouths now, but I believe that these are implied or at least tangential issues relating to standardization of the field. I see there as many ways of approaching this, and as toward what I lecture on, we have to put it in context.

Context first:

Of where the paranormal field stands today in the public eye (because we’re seeking credibility, refinement of image, acceptance). And in the public eye recently, the paranormal was at first an oddity, something undiscussed, something that our society had done away with with the advent of science and progression in technology and medicine. Equally so, with the progression of colonialism, the “forward” progress of the West (capital W), we saw our way as the right way, our knowledge as True knowledge, and all other ways inferior to our own. Any reflection of different cultural or spiritual belief that wasn’t in keeping with “refined” or “modern” thinking was noted as sub-par. This kind of thinking echoed into and through the late nineties, where in pop culture, the supernatural began to again rear its timely head.

We all know the story. Ghost Hunters hit the television market and brought exactly what the field needed as the first step in credibility; down to earth people studying in a down to earth way what finally could be seen as a down to earth phenomena. It revolutionized public thought toward the matter. It became alright to discuss these goings ons. Hip, even. Teams sprang up across the nation. Thousands of teams who wanted the cameras and the EMF readers just like TAPS. Before long, Ghost Hunters had a monopoly on the market of budding research teams.

Equal to this fad and acceptance was the excitement on the homefront. People thought they were being haunted right and left when in fact, they weren’t. How many times did I go on a residential case and hear a homeowner say that they knew something was going on because “they watch all those shows on TV.”

As if to balance out the worry of the reality of ghosts was TAPS’ undying skepticism and method of systematic approach. Unfortunately this alienated a whole slew of different approaches to the field, many of which carry some credibility and history. The animosity toward psychics and mediums generated by misunderstanding of TAPS principles bordered on hatred. Which still strikes me as ironic.

But that’s been leveling out lately again. Right now, other shows have sprang up successfully that illustrate different approaches. The dialogue has begun on public forums and at various paranormal events and conferences across the nation. This is wonderful. We’re dealing with a realm we know very little about. To decide that we know how to investigate it and draw firm theories is presumptuous.

The Personal Level:

To say that approaching this subject with anything different than “scientifically” or “technically,” is to have the mental state of being Scientistic (assuming that we can not truly know anything that isn’t empirically valid–which essentially discounts direct experience).

This area may possibly be from a plane that isn’t completely scientifically documentable. The same way we might never be able to put God in a laboratory or weigh True Love on a scale, we might never be able to document a ghost. Indeed, much of our interaction with the other side might be inherently personal, and in so being might contain many different methods of approach. To shut down these methods with standardization would be very wrong.

But that’s on the personal level. That’s for those of us who want to experience more directly this field we’re researching, who aren’t in it to help people, who aren’t in it to prove it scientifically, who don’t care about the general acceptance of the community at large.

The Paranormal Level:

As a community of researchers looking to help people, yes, standardization may not be a bad thing. TAPS does it and it certainly seems to do more good than harm. When most cases are debunking or spreading simple awareness, then yes, there are many very effective methods that can be semi-standardized. TAPS has already done it, building their “approved” family member teams across the nation. It’s done them well and they have a solid network. If someone (like the man who wrote on my wall) was interested in doing the same thing but with different specifications than TAPS, then so be it. It’ll be a long climb, but certainly can be done if you feel it necessary. First you need to establish a very well-reputed team and then begin to network with other teams that share similar thinking.

But be wary. We just emerged from a period of narrow-sighted, narrow-minded thinking, to the exclusion of other very possibly legitimate processes (that need further study, in their own way). Whether that be psychics, mediums, the processes of astral projection, out of body experiences, or study of different planes of consciousness, or even mysticism. We don’t want to go back to that.

The World:

Now then there’s the larger community in general. The world. This comes to issues of “progress” and “advancing the field,” which means to legitimize the work. To bring realization to those on the fence and non-believers, to confirm that something is happening. In the world we live in, better or worse, like it or not, that means scientifically. If we want to “prove” something to the masses, it must be done in a laboratory. Because, unfortunately, we are a scientistic community. In which case we would need results, publishable, applicable (to steal from the opening monologue of A Beautiful Mind), and replicable results. To do this, there needs to be not standardization but four to ten years of college education. Process. Tests. Publications and repeat, verifiable testing.

And to do this, no standardization of homebrew hometown teams is going to matter one bit. A unified field of researching working claims of residential hauntings hasn’t in the last ten years and will not bring further legitimacy to this field in this scope. What this field needs is a serious and reputable scientist (or, frankly, many) to get serious about the real science of it (not the waving-an-EMF-meter-around-stuff we like to call science).

So regardless of what was on my wall, regardless of what was meant when different people discuss the issue different times, it matters in one of these three ways, be it on a personal, on a general, or on a wide scale, discussion of the issues of “standardization” need to be very explicit and very specific, if they even need to be discussed right now at all.

But that’s just what I think. Love to hear from you guys too. As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below.

Cold and Alone

Acryllics on canvas.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place

You might try then, as I did, to find a sky so full of stars it will blind you again. Only no sky can blind you now. Even with all that iridescent magic up there, your eye will no longer linger on the light, it will no longer trace constellations. You’ll care only about the darkness and you’ll watch it for hours, for days, maybe even for years, trying in vain to believe you’re some kind of indispensable, universe-appointed sentinel, as if just by looking you could actually keep it all at bay. It will get so bad you’ll be afraid to look away, you’ll be afraid to sleep.

Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.

And then the nightmares will begin.”
― Mark Z. DanielewskiHouse of Leaves

“It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.”

-Anthony de Mello

Woman in Black Review

Has it been so long? That I saw this trailer in the early fall of last year, frustrated at the wait through the winter months? And fittingly so, it was nearly a half hour drive through a couple inches of snow across town to get to the theater. While outside the snow painted Colorado Valentines against the trees, inside was a foggy gothic romance of different variety.

Out with it: I was underwhelmed. But that’s not to say it was bad.

The trailer promised eerie mansions, fog-enshrouded countryside, brambly graves, screaming spirits, candlelight, carriages, and heavy doses of shadows thick enough to part by hand and eeriness like blood in Kubrick doses.

And here you get exactly that. Which is really the biggest problem with the movie; it promises a return to the gothic, that brand of horror that seems so forgotten in favor of possessions, shaky found-footage, gore-fests, and teen death-flicks. But the Gothic alone is not enough–

for me anyway.

Which is to say, it’s great fun. We had a great audience, yelping at all the good parts, laughing afterward, and fully embracing the more lighthearted moments designed to lessen the oppressive mood. The first three quarters of the film is a theme park ride. You get about an hour of Daniel Radcliffe wandering the hallways looking frightened finding nothing behind doors but jump-scares. And oh, the jump scares. Entertaining if you treat all horror movies with the entertainment of Paranormal Activity, but doesn’t the Gothic demand something a bit more subtle? A steady building of dread through setting and mood alone? Rather than gimmicks? Add in a good dose of village people forcing shady conspiratorial looks that quickly turn obvious and you’ve got, well… a ghost flick.

The last half hour finally pulls back the curtain for screaming veiled ladies and dark-eyed children, which are well done. In fact, during one of the more climactic finales, I actually got chills–to which I’m not sure a horror movie has ever done before. Past that it’s a glorified episode from first season Supernatural. 

Anything deeper… there’s interplay between women in black and women in white, touches of the emotion of parenthood and the suffering of losing children and loved ones (a touch at best though; indeed for as much loss as there is in the movie, the director seemed to think the brooding landscape alone was enough emotional study than to really dwell on the drama of what any one of these townsfolk or main characters was going through). There’s cinematography that really only leans on the spectacle of the setting. Even the deeper themes were overt, beating us over the head with ideas of lost souls and hope of reunions beyond the grave.

And then there’s Daniel Radcliffe, who though his acting was decent enough, looks young enough to be only parading pretend in his father’s suit, let alone donning period costume and having four-year old children.

Yeah, it’s another horror film giving horror a mediocre name. Yeah, it’s another film that could have done far more, taking the gothic to a new level for modern audiences, playing heavier with themes or emotions or more intensely on the stresses that Radcliffe’s Kipps undergoes in the struggle to keep hold of his son and sanity in the face of constant mortal reminders.. But all we really get of that is longing looks at hand-drawn calendar pages and clumsy hugs.

If you dig the gothic, you’ll go away satisfied. But if it’s an intellectual wine and chocolate course you’re hoping for, looks like you have to settle for Barefoot and Hershey’s Dark this time.

B-

It was just announced earlier today, yesterday, right now if you’re god, tomorrow if you get distracted when you spill your drink in this first sentence all over your computer, that DC comics is going to be releasing prequel comics for Watchmen. Lots of hype about this, whether it’s awesome because more of a good thing is good, or terrible, or because you’re touching a classic and the author isn’t on board.

Indeed, that’s actually a big downfall for many enthusiasts, because writer Alan Moore is not going to have any hand in the matter, in fact condemning DC for being unoriginal and not coming up with fresh material.

I wanted to point out the overlooked point that it’s a comic book, and many comic series are written and re-written by many authors over the course of sometimes more than fifty years. I still adore Batman even if he’s had some bad books written about him (goddammit Joel Schumacher). And I’ve also never been one to have an original work ruined by a lame sequel (see Boondock Saints and Donnie Darko).

So is this a big deal, should DC make this happen shamelessly? Or is it like writing a prequel story to any “literary” modern classics?

Me? I’m a huge Watchmen fan, I think it’s astounding and brilliant and no, I don’t really care for a prequel, but I don’t really mind that it’s happening.

Who’s Watching DC Comics?