Archive for May, 2003

Starbucks Photo Collection

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

So here is a website that is posting lots of people’s Starbucks photos.

Marooned in Iraq

Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

Another great Iranian film. It’s amazing how many fine films have come from Iran in the last ten or fifteen years. (Better enjoy them while we can, before Bush, Rumsfeld, and company destroy the country). Anyway, Marooned in Iraq, by Bahman Ghobadi, takes place in Kurdistan, in isolated, mountainous territory on the Iran/Iraq border. An old musician goes with his adult sons to look for his ex-wife, rumored to be in a refugee camp after Saddam’s chemical and bombing attacks against the Kurds. What he finds, or what the film finds as it follows him, is terrifying, surreal, sometimes almost absurd and carnivalesque. Like many other Iranian films, Marooned in Iraq relies on non-professional actors, real locations, and picaresque, relatively unscripted plots. Ghobadi, however, is more expressionistic in his style than many other Iranian directors; also, his insistence on the Kurdish language and Kurdish ethnicity is something of a political statement. All in all, this is a powerful, deeply affecting film, moving from grotesque comedy to sublime tragedy to a very tentative humanist affirmation.

Under Another Sky

Monday, May 26th, 2003

Under Another Sky, by Gael Morel, is a French/Algerian film about clashing cultures that leaves no easy answers. Samy is French, but of Algerian ethnicity. When he gets in trouble with the cops, his parents ship him back to relatives in Algeria. He finds himself in a strange landscape–he doesn’t know the language, the customs, or the politics (the threat of fundamentalist terrorism), even though Algeria is ostensibly “his” country. This is a grim, tormented film, shot in a carefully controlled, but understated style: there are mostly tight closeups in some sequences, handheld cameras in others; the style varies according to what is happening, but it is always claustrophobic and relentless. The film is both political and psychological; it seems impossible for Samy to find release, let alone freedom, in either France or Algeria.

Soft Pink Truth

Saturday, May 24th, 2003

The Soft Pink Truth is Drew Daniel, who is otherwise one half of Matmos. But the new Soft Pink Truth album, Do You Party?, is a goofy, chintzy pop album, very different from Matmos’ experimental electronica. Catchy beats, silly lyrics, electronic bleeps and squiggles. This is what pop music ought to sound like.

Rana’s Wedding

Saturday, May 24th, 2003

The 29th annual Seattle International Film Festival has started; I’ll be seeing a lot of films in the next three weeks or so. The first film I saw, Valentin, was a well-made, but lame and overly feel-goody coming-of-age film from Argentina. But Rana’s Wedding, which I saw today, was quite good. A Palestinian film, directed by Hany Abu-Assad. A young woman is given an ultimatum by her father: either she must get married by 4pm, or else she has to leave Jerusalem with him, and go into exile in Egypt. The young woman has a boyfriend, but she needs to track him down, convince him to marry, and get all the necessary things accomplished for the wedding before the deadline. The film has little plot; it is more about the passage of time, and the struggle to meet a deadline in the face of many obstacles. Most of the obstacles are due to the Israeli occupation–roadblocks, searches, armed and trigger-happy soldiers marching about. What makes the film work is how these obstacles are not foregrounded, but just portrayed as aspects of everyday life, annoyances that need to be taken for granted, and taken into account. Such a portrayal is far more effective than an in-your-face political denunciation would be, in conveying how the occupation dominates Palestinian life.

Starbucks photo

Saturday, May 24th, 2003

Here, as promised, is a photo taken in Starbucks. I ordered a latte, and as it was being made, and after I had paid, I handed my friend Ted the camera, and he shot the photo. One of the workers said, “you aren’t allowed to take pictures here”; I replied, “I know, I am taking the photo as an act of civil disobedience”; and she didn’t do anything further to stop me.

Photographing Starbucks

Saturday, May 24th, 2003

A story, via BoingBoing, originally from Lawrence Lessig, reports that it is not permitted to take photos in a Starbucks, “because this was an absolute violation of Starbuck’s copyright of their entire ‘environment’–that everything in the place is protected and cannot be used without Starbuck’s express permission.” Lessig mischievously ponders: “I wonder what would happen if hundreds of people from around the country experimented this holiday weekend by taking pictures at their local Starbucks…” I’ll try it this afternoon, and post the results here.

Breaking Open the Head

Saturday, May 24th, 2003

Breaking Open the Head, by Daniel Pinchbeck, is the most cited, and probably the best, book on psychedelic experiences since the works of the late Terence McKenna. I read it with great eagerness, and found it delightful in parts, irritating in others, and finally vastly disappointing…

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

I haven’t thought much of most of the “alternative” New York (I think) bands that have been hyped in the last year or two. I find Interpol deadly dull; The Strokes are just a bunch of snotty rich kids informing the world how much cooler they are than anyone else; and the rhythm/dance bands like Out Hud and The Rapture just aren’t funky enough to play the sort of music they are trying to. But I’ve been won over by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Basic punk, I suppose, but the guitar is edgy and off-kilter enough to keep things interesting, and Karen O.’s voice is brilliant, finding just the right point between pretentious declamation and fevered hysteria. Their new CD, Fever To Tell, also reveals a variety that I wouldn’t have guessed at from their previous EPs. All in all, I’m pleased that Punk Lives, and even manages to sound fresh, so many years later. (I’m showing my middle age here, I know, but so be it).

Comic Book Metaphysics

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

A comment on Electrolite responding to a comment on MemeMachineGo about The Matrix: MemeMachineGo says that the metaphysics of The Matrix is overrated, that it cannot bear serious comparison to Philip K. Dick; Electrolite says that to say this is to overrate Dick, who mostly uses epistemological questions “as titillation and decoration,” and that we shouldn’t take these pop entertainments too seriously. Nor should we believe in the inherent “intellectual superiority” of SF novels “to action movies and comic books.” –Now, I agree with this latter point of Electrolite’s; but I also agree with MMG’s dis of The Matrix (at least of the first one; I haven’t seen the new Matrix Reloaded yet). The point is, it’s not a question of genre, but of a certain willingness to go over the top. The Matrix‘s Gnosticism/Baudrillardism, or whatever you want to call it, is far more interesting than, say, the cosmology of Star Wars; but it doesn’t hold a candle to the metaphysical anguish of Dick; nor, for that matter, to the wild inventions of such comix writers as Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis.