A Healthy Dose of Cleverness

November 13th, 2008 § 1 comment

Around Penn Station I hesitated at a stoplight, despite the walk signal, because of a man handing out newspapers. This itself did not strike me as strange, as “free” papers are shoved daily into the outstretched hands of a mass of workers heading toward various offices. The man handing out this particular paper, however, was different: why had I never seen him before? a free New York Times? a young, Columbia-like student handing out papers? breaking news that did not make the press? I almost continued on my way, hesitated, stepped back, and reached out to take a paper. The way he handed it to me, carefully folding it in half, suggested it was an item of significance, and this too struck me as strange. Who still carefully fondles a newspaper most of us read online? It is safe to assume I read too much into the way people handle and view objects, the chances of this being like any other “promotional paper” were much higher than it being different, but in this case I was lucky in being correct.

iraq war

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Pallet-Knifed Ambition

October 29th, 2008 § 0 comments

“We love our children, and we long for the children we used to be.”

marla olmstead

Though My Kid Could Paint That (2007) is a documentary that follows the story of a little girl, Marla, who became an art world darling in 2004 when she was four-years-old, I would venture to say this film has little to do with children or art. The main themes deal instead with parents, their children, talent, and society’s encouragement for the former to exploit the latter two. Marla alone, the painter and artist in the film, emerges with her integrity—she is protected from her own grubby story by her innocence, childhood, and her strong refusal to be a pawn in adult games. Do you want to talk about your paintings? NO. Do you like riding in limos? SILENCE. It is not really clear if Marla’s mother Laura knew or not that her husband helped her daughter paint, though it seems she didn’t in the beginning and gathered as much in the end. The director, Mr. Bar-Lev, states that he saw his documentary as a film about “modern art,” though in the end he saw it more as an exploitive disaster he had not intended to make; however lovingly he edited his footage of the Olmstead family, he leaves little doubt that this child did not paint those paintings. As A.O. Scott states of the director, “he has made an excellent documentary, but it would have been better if he had not made it at all.”

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Philippe Petit’s Gesture

October 19th, 2008 § 0 comments

The most inspiring fairytale, as it turns out, does not involve a prince, a castle, or a kiss, but is simply a gesture beyond the rationality of “why.”

philippe_petit_01

My only complaint with Man On Wire would have to be that the creators of the documentary forgot at times that no matter how they told, filmed, recreated, or edited the story Petit himself would still remain far more interesting. French men don’t tend to have excessively extroverted and magnetic personalities; they are almost too French to have that smiles-at-nothing charm of American celebrities—if you are inclined to think that is charm. Petit, arguably the world’s greatest tightrope performer, has the combined presence of an actor, a performer, a dancer, a lover, a comedian, a poet, an acrobat, and an artist. In 1974, after years of obsessive planning and preparation, he managed to string a wire between the newly erected WTC, walking back and forth across it eight times on a cold and foggy morning in Manhattan—the art crime of the century. The opening of this film shows the towers under construction, grainy images of steal beams stacked like toy blocks, creating hugely ugly towers. In light of the now gaping hole in the financial district, full of dozers and dirt, his “crime” seems more like the perfect memorial for all those towers could have stood for, and what they metaphorically stand for now.

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West Philly for Obama

October 12th, 2008 § 0 comments

Yesterday’s Obama rally in west Philadelphia had me thinking again about the anti-war protest I joined in Washington D.C last March, and the similarities between the experiences suggested that political rallies are akin to political protests. They both extend deep into our public conscious as our democratic right to support or critique the policies our government endorses. Certain rallies, as well as certain protests, stand out in my mind as some of the most over-played media clips, and they define the “public” mood of certain historical events. They are both also surrounded by the myth of an individual’s power when combined into a solitary voice of the masses, a myth carefully maintained through romanticizing the act itself.

philly 1

Taking part, however, washes away notions of romantic unison and brings forth the gritty character mobs or masses–in this case an estimated 20,000 supporters–inevitably take on. I recall a story about a town that used its citizens every year to create an aerial image of the American flag. One year the people decided it was not right that only the photographer could see the “real” image, and they demanded to be allowed to leave in groups to view the flag from above. The whole event rapidly fell apart, the people below could not wait their turn and gradually, though they were all running up stairs to view, without them there was no flag to be seen. The soft-spoken, college freshmen who volunteered for yesterday’s event, with their pleading voices telling us not to push and shove, that we would all get to see Barack, reminded me of that kind of futility. They were contrasted sharply by secret service men in suits with earpieces, looking ruthlessly self-important. All in all I was glad the crowd, despite the unprecedented turnout and frustrations, remained peacefully single-minded in their attempt to hear Obama’s speech and catch a glimpse of the man himself, and no fights (that I am aware of) ensued.

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Vicki Christina Barcelona (& Gaudi)

September 13th, 2008 § 0 comments

If you believe, or at least accept the idea, that love doesn’t pan out the way you wish, or the way you think it should, then Woody Allen’s ideology toward life must make perfect sense. If instead, you believe in notions of fate and order in love, then his films, provoking maddening encounters that result in a chaotic muddle, must feel aggravating. Struggling somewhere in the middle of these extremes, I try to find a balance between my own experiences with love and life, and those ever appealing and tidy stories I wish existed in the world. According to Allen, he was asked to make a movie set in the lovely city of Barcelona, and after he received his “retainer” he found it quite an inspiring place. Most reviews suggest Vicki Christina Barcelona belongs in a category with his “middle ground” films; it is not one of the greats such as Match Point or older classics, but does not crash down like his self-centered comedies. The film is a disconcerting and somewhat unexpected exploration of self-expression, desire, and inexplicable connections, all forced into the context of a summer vacation in Barcelona.

I was surprised to realize that the film is not about three women in love with one man, nor about one man in love with three women, but about three women. Javier Bardem, with all his Spanish charm, is simply the figure around which the female characters are explored. I appreciate that Allen’s women are not relegated to the sidelines in importance, and he never explores relationships without recognizing, considering, or questioning what it is they contribute. Allen is a master when it comes to creating normal, almost cliché characters with sharp edges, and there is a multifaceted quality of universality in the women portrayed in the film. However unbelievable the storyline might become, these protagonists always remain grounded in a moral reality that feels vaguely familiar.

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