Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Tellurium-Plated Life

As I'll be busy throughout the fest, I thought I'd post the official Telluride Film Fest widget in the regular part of the blog. I'll update my own schedule and this little contraption is pretty neat, given that it will feature updated information as it happens at the fest. Moreover, there will be some clips of on-the-street interviews shown on Starz! through the weekend and apparently Turner Classic Movies (my home theater!) will be featuring two days of TFF material. The lineup, by the way, has already been announced. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I'm here! (And already having issues with altitude.... maybe some wine will help....)

Saturday, August 23, 2008


D: David Cronenberg, Canada, 2000, approx. 7 minutes.
Source: Viderdrome (Criterion Collection version)

A narrator starts to tell a story off-camera: "One day, the children brought home a camera." It's a simple statement; it starts simply, with a man -- no, not a man: an actor. Images of the children with the camera are intercut with images of a nice gentleman with graying hair, shot with a video camera in medium shot. As he continues, however, the (video) camera starts to push forward, so that the man is in close-up when he announces something unexpected: "When you look at it in a cold light, photography is death."

Camera continues a fascinating interplay of images as the actor delivers a monologue about the "dangers" that the Camera proposes. The children matter-of-factly do all the tasks needed to make a movie: check lights, process film, measure the f-stop; these are all shot in a very matter-of-fact manner as well, with relatively "normal" lighting and camera distances. These are all in stark contrast to the images of the actor, who the video camera moves into shots so close that we as viewers feel uncomfortable. The actor appears unattractive, even sinister: the light from the windows appears too harsh, his eyebrows are thick and menacing. The actor is also edited in an odd manner: often, we are presented with jump cuts to sudden extreme close-ups of his eyes. The images are not necessarily horrific, yet the tone established throughout this piece is horrific.

In many ways, Camera is an interesting precursor to Cronenberg's 2005 feature film A History of Violence, which cannily comments on the movies in a similar way. In that film, scenes of violence and gore which would otherwise titillate the viewer are presented in a stark, cold manner than unnerves even the most seasoned viewers, making us question the very nature of the horror film genre. (One can argue he this is a common preoccupation for the director, also seen in eXistenZ, Naked Lunch and especially the brilliant Videodrome, which also featured Leslie Carlson, the actor featured here.) In Camera, Cronenberg does not present any gore and yet the whole film is structured to terrify. I particularly like this piece because the link between photography and death so clearly derives from Roland Barthes' tragically final work Camera Lucida. These ideas were not academic for Barthes: the work is inspired by his mother's death, and every photograph of her does not remind him of the joy that her life brought, but instead serves to mock him, reminding him that she is dead. Cronenberg highlights something very similar: the life captured by motion pictures only demonstrates that such moments cannot be repeated and taunt us with what once was and can never be again.

Camera becomes truly haunting in the last minute or so, when the children bring the large, old 35mm camera into the room with the actor. They apply make-up, change everything around and then a young boy (bespectacled, like Cronenberg) says, "Action." And suddenly, the image changes: it is warm, gorgeous, widescreen. And suddenly we realize that the harshness of everything that has come before is largely due to the use of video instead of film. (This section was actually filmed with the very camera seen throughout the short.) And yet, as soft and beautiful as this looks/sounds/feels, we are acutely aware of everything that the actor has noted before this. He repeats his initial line -- "One day, the children brought home a camera" -- but the line is changed, no longer innocent. And this time, the shot hangs on just a little too long. It catches the actor's face in a private moment: in the last seconds of the film, Carlson's face breaks for just a moment, his eyes watering and distant, filled with despair. The film cuts away to black -- and the effect is terrifying. Can we watch movies again the same way?

This entry is part of the Movies About Movies Blogathon hosted at GoatDogBlog -- please feel free to visit the other entries listed on that site. This is also cross-posted as the first entry at the newest incarnation of The Short Films Blog, the blog associated with my course this semester. New entries on short films will appear every day until December 11th, with students starting to post next weekend. Please visit there often -- and comment on the students' work, since they earn extra credit for more comments!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Of trains and sewing machines

Hide and Seek

We were introduced to this song, I'm almost ashamed to say, because of So You Think You Can Dance. (Yes, admitting it.) And this song completely bowled us over, so much that Angela bought the song for her ipod. This is somewhat surprising on the surface, since she's not exactly a fan of electronic music at all. Yet she's listened to it non-stop. It's also become an earworm for me, enough that I tried singing the tune to Xan in an effort to calm him down at some point over the last day.

We might be a little obsessed.

I have since found Imogen Heap's whole website, where she has ridiculously cool video-blog entries about the creative process. The song also seemed ripe for use by collegiate a-cappella singing groups -- and, sure enough, I found that the group I sang for (well, the summer version, I never even tried to make the regular version since they had ridiculously talented basses already and I didn't stand a chance in hell) has a pretty decent version.

So what's your favorite earworm these days? Or did I just provide one for you?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Just like Casey Kasem...

Right now, we are counting down to several things:
  • The first day of classes, for the whole family;
  • The first day in "Green Room" (aka the Big Kids' Room), for Xan;
  • J&A's departure for Telluride, which happens during the first week of classes; and
  • the relaunch of this.
We can't do anything if you want to participate in the first three; for #4, however, please e-mail me if you're wondering how you can participate in making my students' lives that much better or worse. (Yes, grading is involved. Señor Pájaro, here's your chance!)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I don't watch movies. I prefer good film criticism.

I just found out that Metropolitan, one of my favorite movies from the early 1990s, just got release on Hulu, of all places. The movie was an oddly daring debut from director Whit Stillman, and garnered a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for a talky piece about some rich kids maneuvering through the upper echelon of Manhattan.

I saw this when I was a freshman or sophomore in college, just before I started really appreciating "films" and yet I found this movie utterly refreshing, having giggled incessantly throughout. I thought that perhaps it was because I was at Dartmouth, where many of these people who were really so full of themselves seemingly ended up (or so it seemed, work-study kid that I was, surrounded by what seemed to be very privileged people). On my exchange term at UC-San Diego, however, I convinced someone on my hall -- a very loopy, arty guy that I respected -- to come to a campus screening with me, and he laughed throughout the whole movie and thanked me profusely when it was over.

There's a great moment which, I'm sad to say, isn't spoken by my favorite character, the insouciant Nick (played with gleeful abandon by Chris Eigeman), but rather in an exchange between Audrey (Carolyn Farina) and Tom (Edward Clements). (I wasn't able to snip out a clip from Hulu, so look for it around the 27-minute mark.) Not so surprisingly, Audrey loves Jane Austen and is unnerved by Tom's vehemence against her work -- when all of a sudden he admits the he's never read Austen at all. "Oh no," he says, "I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking."

Every so often, I wonder about whether literature (and film) professors in general suffer from this conundrum. And then they wonder when people like Audrey, who rightly live in the pleasure that the book provides, think that we're nuts for looking too closely at what we read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Las olimpiadas peruanas

The Olympics are on again, which means that NBC must remind everyone in this country that no one cares about anything that the Americans don't win. Though I am as swept-up as the next guy with the impressive swimming out there, the constant rah-rah becomes tiresome, overshadowed only by the singularly dumb "commentary" offered by the "sportscasters" who seem more interested in Philip Dalhausser's lack of hair than his playing ability. My good friend laloca seems to be upset that equestrian events are being given the short shrift in television coverage; I think that she should thank her lucky stars that she doesn't have to hear about how Gandalf really loves to eat carrots in the morning. I try to alleviate all the flag-waving by checking the medal tracker every day to discover heretofore unknown athletes from countries you wouldn't expect to get a medal. (For example, I see that Togo has won a bronze medal in kayaking! Why isn't there a story about that? I bet you it's big in Lomé right now...)

All this brings me back rwenty years to August 1988 when I was just starting my senior year of high school in Lima. Peru has never been one to make a huge presence in any international sport these days (in soccer, for example, I thank God for Bolivia for keeping Peru from the bottom of the pack of the South American World Cup standings), but that year the country sent a world powerhouse team for one sport: women's volleyball. Strange but true: Peru used to be a feared presence in women's volleyball.

To the delight of millions of Peruvians, the women made it all the way to the final game, where they played against the "Confederation of International States" -- which is to say, the Soviet Union, having just broken up and not figured out what to do in time for the Olympics. Given that the big event was happening in Seoul, the medal match got under way very late at night, probably around 2am or so. I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the game, even though it was a school night, although I was so tired I couldn't stay awake.

When I woke up, I turned on the TV to see what the final score was -- and discovered that the game was still going on.

Indeed, after soundly winning the first two sets, Peru subsequently lost the following two sets, leading to a do-or-die fifth set, with both teams trading points. The game was still going strong when my family realized that the school bus was on its way -- and with my school all the way on the other side of town and us not having a car, I had to race down the stairs to get the bus on time. Someone, probably Vicente, had a portable radio to listen to the rest of the game; I remember Jenny complaining about a lack of equestrian events being shown in Peru. (Some things really never change.)

The bus ride offered one of the more surreal images I will ever see. Despite the fact that it was rush hour and the route to school traversed some of the most traffic-laden roads in Lima (and that says something), there were barely any cars at all. The bus zipped to school in no time flat -- and the only people we saw on the street were all crowded around electronics stores, which had graciously turned on television sets in their display windows so that dozens of Peruvians stood staring, immobile, at a single screen.

When we got to school, the game was still on. A teacher had a portable TV in the trunk of their car and various teachers crowded around; we students were stuck with radios. I had never seen the final points until tonight when I happened upon a sketchy YouTube clip of the final ten minutes of the game:

If you look at this video, you will note around the 7-minute mark the point where Peru had this in the bag: 15-14, championship point, Peru serving. I distinctly remember this moment being transmitted over the radio. The ball went into the air --

And the transmission stopped. Silence.

Everyone who was listening at school basically let out a loud cry of "WTF?!" in both English and Spanish. What happened? Satellite feed? Sendero Luminoso? Crappy Peruvian 1980s technology? Aaaaigh!

Less than two minutes later, the feed came back. Just in time for us to hear the announcer say that the Soviets had just gotten the last point. 17-15. Peru lost.

Peruvian women's volleyball never came back to that high point on the international stage: despite being recognized as a major player throughout the 1980s, you will note that Peru is not playing in the Olympics this year in that event. The loss at this game still meant that Peru won the silver medal, one of only four won by Peruvian athletes at any Olympics. This merited a major celebration when they got back home, which remains memorable.

That is, maybe, until 2020. Since, apparently, if Alan García gets his way, Peru won't just be a major player at the Olympics: Peru will be the Olympics. Hell, that Great Wall ain't got nothin' on Macchu Picchu, man. Can Francisco Lombardi match an opening ceremony to the level of Zhang Yimou? And if the athletes can take Beijing's smog, how will they do in Lima? (Actually, Lima's probably better than Beijing in that department. Maybe.) There are those who think the idea of a Peruvian Olympics isn't so bad. Then again, this comes from the government so full of itself that it actually, seriously tried for a bid for the 2016 Olympics... even though the deadline had passed nearly a year ago.

Still, check out the "promotional video!" I, for one, am convinced.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Scene: Int. Night. Somewhere on the blogosphere.

A door is in the middle of the screen. It is fairly non-descript, lacking adornment beyond a round doorknob and a small sign with a hand-printed sign that says "Summer 2008."

Slowly, the doorknob turns. The door slivers open, creaking ominously. An EYE peers out. Blinks once.


The door creaks open further, and a HEAD pokes out. This is MIDDENTO, a slightly frazzled guy with dark hair and glasses set askew on his face. Behind him, glimpses of a richly colorful, playful images can be seen in the background: a young boy and girl on a swing; a carousel horse; the Ann Arbor art fair; many, many road signs; a squirrel stealing a green tomato; Peruvian food consumed by many; The Dark Knight.

Quickly, MIDDENTO steps out of the door and slams the door shut. He brushes some dust off his hands and the top of his jeans. He looks around.

Well. I guess I should get back to blogging.

He looks around, offers a perplexed eyebrow.

I wonder if anyone is still here. Or will mind if I just jump back in after being away for so long.

He looks at the camera.

Cut to black.