A Brutal Metaphor

January 14th, 2009 § 0 comments

What I actually know about communism, or specifically what I know about life under a communist dictator, is admittedly very little. Observing the residue of a country submitted to these circumstances while briefly visiting my in laws in Tirana, Albania, is about all I can boast of when it comes to “personal” knowledge. From an undeniably American stand point, the fascinating aspects of Albanian life are the daily conditions under which culture bends and life goes on. Tirana is an old city camouflaged by recent decades of chaos, and while life under Enver Hoxha might have been oppressive, the roads were paved and the cities infrastructure remained intact. Visiting involved walking in densely dirty streets, past stray cats and deteriorating industrial appliances, through peaceful yards and into snug, comfortable, and friendly apartments. Our American fear of poverty often excludes the fundamental fact that “things” do not necessarily grant the gift of quality, especially where the “quality” of life is concerned. Carefully dressed for a night out, wandering the violated and rocky streets toward the city center, I was surprised to find the city awake, vibrant, and seemingly carefree. In most ways the people seem to make do, and are even proud of, the history of events that befell their country.

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Gate, Bridge, but Golden?

December 20th, 2008 § 0 comments

If San Francisco is an iconic and beloved city that defines the west coast to outsiders, then the Golden Gate Bridge is more an iconic symbol of California than the grizzly bear prowling the state flag. Like Highway 1 and the coastline it winds along, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of California’s greatest attractions. I have driven on, walked across, and taken a boat tour under, that bridge.

The 2006 documentary, The Bridge, aesthetically resembles countless postcards of the Golden Gate, and the surrounding areas it connects together. It feels as though it were filmed from every geographic point from which the looming red gate can be seen, and it captures, much like a living object, its different personalities. We see the Golden Gate from above, below, and behind surrounding parks. Time-lapse photography allows its appearance to change in seconds as fog rolls in and out of the bay, clouds linger or pass across the highest suspension points, as rare San Francisco mornings of bright blue push yesterdays clutter from the sky. Quoting an article from the New Yorker entitled “Jumpers,” on which the film was based, “there is a fatal grandeur to the place.”

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Eight Years Can Be a Long Time

November 15th, 2008 § 0 comments

W. is a difficult movie to get a hold on as it slides back and forth between fiction and reality, and realities that seem like fictions. Unlike JFK or Nixon, Stone’s latest political biography is strangely more biographical and less political than expected. The film comes across as an “oddly sympathetic” portrait of a sad man caught in a sad life that he is sadly still enacting. While it is clear than Stone, echoing a current 24% approval rating, is disgusted with Bush, he grossly underestimates the cunning, calculation, and sly tactics of our commander-in-chief.

bush sr & jr

The most frightening and problematic aspects of the film deal with time and timing. Though the conversations, motivations, and chain of events in the film are (somewhat) speculative, it is hard to separate actors in excellent “political drag” from the administration currently running our crumpling country. While we may have become resigned to what GW has already done, it is horrible to imagine while watching the film’s portrayal, what he is currently still doing. The questions of historical distance surrounding the film are awkward at best. Speculating on what else might happen between now and January of next year could drastically change how this man is perceived—an impeachment, perhaps? It is also too soon to contemplate the full consequences of what has been done, the administrations policies grasp on the future is too firm. If Stone wanted to call awareness to the man it seems he could have done it before the vast majority of the country was consumed by a buring desire to have him removed from office, and if he wants to offer us an insightful glimpse into GW’s deranged soul, it seems he should have waited. The film still has it merits, it is Stone after all, but it is uncharacteristically unpersuasive.

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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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