Archive for June, 2009

“The Case Of The Bloody Iris” is a movie filled with so many stupid and cheesy moments that it’s impossible to list them all here (just an example: a bloody corpse is discovered in the elevator of a high-rise apartment building while the sun is still up; after several hours, the night has fallen, a woman tries to get into the elevator, and the corpse is still there, lying at the exact same spot – apparently none of the tenants cared enough to call the police). So I’ll just mention the two things that bothered me the most:

1) The dubbing is terrible. The actors who dubbed in the voices of the original cast sound so bored that you wonder if they even got paid for their work or it was simply forced upon them. There is barely ONE LINE that sounds right in this film.

2) Edwige Fenech is gorgeous but ridiculously wooden as Jennifer. She wears the same “scared” expression throughout. A totally bland “heroine”.

This IMDB user is someone who never should watch another 1970s Italian horror movie. Complaining about wooden acting, plot inaccuracies, and bad dubbing. Come on now. If I swallowed that thunderously cliché portrayal of the predatory lesbian, a body languishing in the elevator past its due-date shouldn’t hurt anyone. Aesthetics, Watson! It’s all about aesthetics. (And entertainment. It’s about entertainment too.)

I was once at a museum and asked the security guard which painting was his favorite. He pointed to a painting of a ship on a stormy sea and told me he liked it “because it looked real.” He was guarding a room, not writing hefty tomes on art history, so that’s okay. I remember a painting teacher I once had, the brilliant and elitist (but he knew what he was talking about) David Schoffman, a man who changed the way I looked at art, telling the class dismissively that “anyone can paint realistically. Complimenting a painter for painting realistically is like saying someone is a great writer for having flawless grammar.” (I’m not sure I’d go that far — and like almost anyone with a more than superficial interest in linguistics, I have a big long rant readymade about “proper grammar” — but point taken.)

David was the one who taught me to stand as close to a painting as I possibly could without getting yelled at by security guards to study brushwork. He also gave me permission to admit that Picasso had some shitty paintings and that Monet was not so great at composition (in other words, that these weren’t untouchable heroes beyond my grasp but were humans — extremely talented but not infallible). For the sake of comparison, he pointed out the neurotic attention to composition displayed by Degas, a man who added thin little strips of paper to his pastel drawings because otherwise it just wasn’t right. I also recall David telling us: “You want an easy job? Go to medical school. If you’re an artist, you have to compete with God. That means every time you paint, you’re trying to top the Pacific Ocean!” (Yeah. It’s no wonder that those days I saw the red apples of my still-life when I closed my eyes at night, shimmering, fading in and out, and gliding over each other like images printed on semi-sheer sheets.)

My point is that art, at its core, is not about flawless rendering. There are reasons one can have for not liking this breed of movie, including that you find wooden acting painful to watch, but assuming that every movie should have the aim of mirroring reality, or at least of not being obviously “fake,” is pretty ignorant. If you were to cast some deep/complex method actor in “The Case of the Bloody Iris,” the inclusion would be extremely jarring. The movie isn’t about character development or believability so why should you expect to find that in the acting?

I think by now I’ve linked almost everyone I know to this lecture, but I’m going to post it again anyway: The Artful Brain. It’s by V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and professor in the psychology department and neurosciences program at UC San Diego. The whole thing is interesting, but I especially wanted to draw attention to the bit about Tinbergen’s study.

Here’s the excerpt in question:

[….]you need to go and look at ethology, especially the work of Niko Tinbergen at Oxford more than fifty years ago. And he was doing some very elegant experiments on seagull chicks.

As soon as the herring-gull chick hatches, it looks at its mother. The mother has a long yellow beak with a red spot on it. And the chick starts pecking at the red spot, begging for food. The mother then regurgitates half-digested food into the chick’s gaping mouth, the chick swallows the food and is happy. Then Tinbergen asked himself: “How does the chick know as soon as it’s hatched who’s mother? Why doesn’t it beg for food from a person who is passing by or a pig?”

And he found that you don’t need a mother.

You can take a dead seagull, pluck its beak away and wave the disembodied beak in front of the chick and the chick will beg just as much for food, pecking at this disembodied beak. And you say: “Well that’s kind of stupid – why does the chick confuse the scientist waving a beak for a mother seagull?”

Well the answer again is it’s not stupid at all. Actually if you think about it, the goal of vision is to do as little processing or computation as you need to do for the job on hand, in this case for recognizing mother. And through millions of years of evolution, the chick has acquired the wisdom that the only time it will see this long thing with a red spot is when there’s a mother attached to it. After all it is never going to see in nature a mutant pig with a beak or a malicious ethologist waving a beak in front of it. So it can take advantage of the statistical redundancy in nature and say: “Long yellow thing with a red spot IS mother. Let me forget about everything else and I’ll simplify the processing and save a lot of computational labour by just looking for that.”

That’s fine. But what Tinbergen found next is that you don’t need even a beak. He took a long yellow stick with three red stripes, which doesn’t look anything like a beak – and that’s important. And he waved it in front of the chicks and the chicks go berserk. They actually peck at this long thing with the three red stripes more than they would for a real beak. They prefer it to a real beak – even though it doesn’t resemble a beak. It’s as though he has stumbled on a superbeak or what I call an ultrabeak.

Why does this happen?

We don’t know exactly why, but obviously there are neural circuits in the visual pathways of the chick’s brain that are specialized for detecting beaks as soon as the chick hatches. They fire when seeing the beak. Perhaps because of the way they are wired up, they may actually respond more powerfully to the stick with the three stripes than to a real beak. Maybe the neurons’ receptive field embodies a rule such as “The more red contour the better,” and it’s more effective in driving the neuron, even though the stick doesn’t look like a beak to you and me – or maybe even to the chick. And a message from this beak-detecting neuron now goes to the emotional limbic centres in the chick’s brain giving it a big jolt and saying: “Wow, what a super beak!” and the chick is absolutely mesmerized.

Well now what’s this got to do with art, you’re wondering?

Well this brings me to my punch line of about art. What I’m suggesting is if those seagulls had an art gallery, they would hang this long stick with the three red stripes on the wall, they would worship it, pay millions of dollars for it, call it a Picasso, but not understand why – why am I mesmerized by this damn thing even though it doesn’t resemble anything? That’s what all of you are doing when you are buying contemporary art. You are behaving exactly like those gull chicks.

In other words human artists through trial and error, through intuition, through genius have discovered the figural primitives of our perceptual grammar. They are tapping into these and creating for your brain the equivalent of the long stick with the three stripes for the chick’s brain. And what you end up with is a Henry Moore or a Picasso.

The advantage of these ideas is you can test them experimentally. You can actually record from cells in the brain which sort of fire when you show it a face in the fusiform gyrus. Now some of them will fire only to a particular view of a face. But higher up you’ve got neurons which respond to any view of a given face. And I’m predicting that if you present a Cubist portrait of a monkey face – where you present two views of a monkey’s face in the same place – that cell will be hyper-activated. Just as the long stick with the three red stripes hyper-activates the beak-detecting neurons in the chick’s brain, this Cubist portrait of a monkey face will hyper-activate these face-detecting neurons in the monkey brain – and the monkey says: “Wow! What a face”. So what you have here is in fact a neural explanation for Picasso, for Cubism.

I was so excited when I heard that for the first time. It’s still a theory of course, but it potentially makes everything I ever thought about art make sense. Aestheticism hardwired into the brain! Yeah! Red tempera-paint blood is my seagull beak, guys.

Apologies if this has come across as pretentious or meandering. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Basically, I am a devoted lover of anything that is aesthetically interesting. If it’s rendered realistically, fantastic. If it’s not, wonderful. If it has some cultural significance or philosophical meaning, great, but it sure doesn’t need to. (I mean, beyond the cultural significance/philosophical meaning that anything has by virtue of just existing.)

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1) Studied for a solid block of 24 hours.

2) Frantically got dressed and took a taxi to class so we could hand in the resultant paper in time.

3) Ate a surreal, sleep-deprived lunch.

4) A trip to Mondo Macabro, followed by hearing strains of “Thriller” in the street. Followed my ears to the Obelisk where there was a DJ playing a Michael Jackson tribute, breakdancers (apparently — there was such a crowd that I could see nothing), people in costume, posters, what have you. It was beautiful witnessing and taking part in a spontaneous and large gathering of strangers dancing and singing. I’m going to miss that aspect of living in a big city. Buenos Aires, too, loves Michael Jackson.

5) Two people approached me with a microphone and camera. They asked me if I was a “fanática de Michael” and then if I’d say “I want to see the video for You Rock My World!” in both English and Spanish. So it’s possible I’ll be on TV — the Argentine version of MuchMusic, if anyone happens to watch that.

6) Had dinner, slept twelve hours. Had a dream about befriending and cuddling with a group of rhinoceroses, then watching in horror as an evil villain poured liquid feces from the window of a nearby tower, drowning and killing my lumpy gray friends. Yes, this is the valuable information my subconscious had to share with me after stifling its expression for a night.

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oh dear

PAT BUCHANAN: [Puerto-Rican] Judge Sotomayor is up there at school in New York, she gets a scholarship to Princeton, she’s graduated with all these big honors and awards they said she never won. What’s she doing there in the summer? They said her adviser told her to read children’s classics so she can learn English better. How do you graduate number one in Princeton if you’re in the summer and you’re reading Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White? [laughter] […]

PETER BRIMELOW: I really do recommend the language issue because you know that polls better than immigration and affirmative action. Eighty-five percent of Americans say they would favor official language policy. The wonderful thing about this issue if you look at what’s going to actually happen here is you’re going to find that the Obama administration is going to gradually institute institutional bilingualism in the country. It’s going to be required to speak Spanish in key positions, the police force and so on. This is a direct attack on the American working class because they are not going to be bilingual.

[From ThinkProgress]

Okay, wait. Because Obama hasn’t gotten enthusiastically behind the “make English the official language” campaign, he’s a part of some big evil Latino conspiracy? Does Obama even speak Spanish?

Also, only Pat Buchanan would act as if graduating number one in Princeton after growing up in a Spanish-speaking home were somehow less impressive. I don’t know who this “they” is that’s claiming she didn’t win awards, but I do know plenty of people who learned English as a second language and have absurdly high GPAs.

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Another tip for those in Buenos Aires. If you love books, art, music, and movies, there is a lovely little bookstore in Caballito I can recommend. Mind you, I’m not using “little” as an affectionate cutesy-poo diminutive. The store is legitimately tiny. It’s called Cobra Libros and can be found at Aranguren 150 near el Parque Centenario. (It’s always so awkward inserting Spanish phrases into English sentences and vice versa. At least when it’s written, I can avoid the question of whether or not I ought to switch accents as well.)

Despite its smallness, Cobra screens movies, hosts concerts, and displays art as well as selling books. It also sells zines and handcrafted notebooks and is a good place to find leaflets about interesting events.

Anyway. In addition to promoting a place I like, I wanted to show off. I’ve been taking a bookbinding class at Cobra and today I finished my second book.

Now let’s rewind.


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Bette and Richard

I recently commented to a friend that the only time leopard print is okay is when it’s on the frayed mini-skirt of some punk rocker. I would like to modify that remark to state that leopard print is also acceptable on divas like Bette Davis. So unless you’re coupling it with torn fishnets or you’re an absolute divalicious wonder (and don’t kid yourself if you’re not), seriously stay far away from leopard print.

This interview is amazing. Johnny Carson is a strong man for not jerking his head wildly in both directions to gawk at the two stars in disbelief, twitching all over like a fiend, collapsing on the floor short of breath, and stuttering “oh my god I can’t believe I’m here, I– I can’t believe I’m here” with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. That’s the only way I can imagine a normal person reacting to being in the same room as both Bette Davis and Richard Pryor.

Man, is that woman fantastic. Chaaaaarming. I don’t care what anyone says, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” is a much better/scarier movie than “The Exorcist,” “The Shining,” “The Omen,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” etc., etc., etc. Positively bone chilling. The acting is impeccable. I remember vividly Bette Davis’ over-the-phone impression of Crawford’s voice– a dead ringer (so to speak, ha-ha).

Also, for those who like laughing and haven’t seen these Richard Pryor classics, here are some Richard Pryor classics:

An impression of kids lying that I’m not allowed to embed, apparently.

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She makes the most amazing faces in this video! Never has diabolic been so cute.

As a bonus, I share a birthday with her. My mom’s friend has a story about Eartha Kitt snatching the olive from her martini without asking. I love that image.

It’s too bad she’s no longer with us. I wish I could have met her.

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Free to Be… You & Me

Some blessed soul on youtube has uploaded the entirety of “Free to Be… You & Me.” If you ever wondered how I learned to be so loving, accepting, socially-conscious, egalitarian, gluten-free and post-consumer recycled material… take a peek. The cast is crazy! Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack, Kris Kristofferson, Mel Brooks, Marlo Thomas, Rosey Grier, Dionne Warwick, Harry Belafonte, etc. I remember when I saw the Atalanta bit as a kid, I was sad that she didn’t marry the guy; he seemed so nice! “When We Grow Up” and “It’s All Right to Cry” are genuinely very beautiful songs. Also, looking back, “Circle of Friends” was probably my first-ever exposure to what people look like when they’re really fucking high.

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I’d heard a lot about “Audition” for a very long time. Most of what I’d heard/read described it as a profoundly disturbing masterpiece. I liked it. But really? “Audition” was not profoundly disturbing* nor was it a masterpiece. I’d describe it, rather, as eerie and flawed-but-good.

The plot basically is: Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife dies. Years pass. Aoyama’s son tells him that he’s getting old and should remarry. Aoyama’s friend, a movie producer, stages an audition for a movie that may or may not ever be filmed. The purpose of this “audition” is to allow Aoyama to observe many interesting, talented women and to ask them questions. If there’s one he likes, he would then theoretically follow up with her. Before he ever even meets her, his interest is spiked by the resumé of Asami Yamazaki. However, none of the girl’s mentioned references exist. In fact, no one seems to know her. Aoyama’s friend thinks she’s creepy. And I’ll end this here.

What follows might be spoiler-ish, though I think I was decent at avoiding anything that’d ruin the movie: (more…)

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I’ve been reading up on this Arnold Schwarzenegger park closure thing. It’s funny; I hadn’t thought about them in a while, but now that I am, I truly miss California redwoods. I miss craning my neck to see how high they reach, the soft musty feel of their bark, their deep earthy scent, the star-shaped patch of blue sky in the middle of a redwood circle, and building forts inside their burnt-out hollows on camping trips as a kid. I’m suddenly struck by a powerful desire to go, right now, to the Muir Woods.

Is there anything, anything, more beautiful than these?

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Buenos Aires has some phenomenal trees. Nonetheless… Redwoods, guys. Redwoods.

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Last night I saw Damo Suzuki playing with members of Pez, Ül (ex-Reynols), Honduras, and Compañero Asma. It was this amazing 2.5 hour psychedelic jam session. I love the way Damo shrieks, can sing in his “normal” voice, but can also somehow adopt a deep gravelly voice that songs like an aging blues singer. He sung with his head tilted strangely to the side and was extremely courteous and “thank you so much for coming” the whole night.

Because I don’t know yet who the audience of this blog is/will be, this is Can, a band Damo Suzuki sang with once upon a time.

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