SETH 05.15.15: Grow A Plant

I’m gonna use this space to admit that I’ve been fighting with some real darkness boiling under my surface layers over the past month. Haven’t talked about it at all, really, maybe cause I realize that most of us are dealing with the same currents. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is probably exactly the reason to find a way to publicly acknowledge such things and give them some air. We need to be heard and felt, with sincerity on both ends. It is particularly hard to see the sincerity and compassion when social medias are our main spaces for discourse. We know this well. 

 

This was agitated when I allowed myself to follow a link posted by a relative last night on the ol’ FB news feed about ISLAMIC COMPOUNDS IN THE U.S. Florida! Upstate New York! Michigan! Texas! I’ve tried to steel myself against the horrorshow that happens in comment sections, particularly when they are comment sections on clips from news outlets that are clearly looking to agitate and divide people. But there I was, staring down comments...LOADS of them...from people talking about pouring pork’s blood in their hollow point bullets and sealing them with wax, about my god is a god of compassion, you dog, you pig, and how could you believe what you do? On and on. I slept with nightmares. Derailed trains, rumbling fault lines, fat police men seated on bikes spraying pepper into a crowd with a smile. Peaceful protests over police murder becoming riots that very closely resemble the ‘color revolutions’ in other countries that turn the twin image buildings of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ into dollars lining business suit pockets. Why are they closing down all these WalMarts across the country, laying off hundreds with barely a notice, for “plumbing issues”? Why is Jade Helm 15 flexing military muscles in American cities for 2 months straight? Why so many black helicopters over Manhattan? Yeah, I’m a nut. I’m asking questions...

One interesting observation that my wife and I were discussing about a week ago had to do with ‘energy currents’. If one looks at life forms (however one defines such) as conductors and transmuters of various current flows, it makes sense to think that life forms, according to their physico-mental makeup, conduct and transmute in wildly different ways. This thought came up after she had mentioned that in sharp contrast to the thick human agitation that was hanging in the air that day, she noticed that the birds were full of energy and song. Many of them, singing back and forth, swooping down to check her out, playing, laughing, it almost seemed. Likewise, our cat, not even a year old, has simply exploded over this past month in terms of personality, creativity, and shows of affection. It has been amazing to witness and frankly a huge help with the darkness that follows when stepping into metropolis for my work day. 

If I water this odd plant, will it grow fur? 

If I water this odd plant, will it grow fur? 

I don’t think it is crazy to suggest that there has been a massive increase in the intensity of ‘energy currents’ that we don’t fully understand over the past years and particularly months, and we need to heed how it is affecting our behavior and our mentation. I see such self-destructive and Other-destructive impulses all around me when it seems that this is the time when working together to alleviate each other’s suffering and shouldering the weight in groups might actually get us to a novel reality. We’re crumbling when we could be building, and I think if we look to nature and other life-forms, this song is being sung loud and clear if we’re willing to listen. 

Hey, humans, stop arguing and start finding a way to send me food from down there! 

Hey, humans, stop arguing and start finding a way to send me food from down there! 

Here is something I believe: an event or movement that is a joyous occasion for the forward momentum of life can easily be perceived as a negative event or process from an egoistic human perspective - especially in a time when so many humans are trying desperately to build god helmets in an effort to control and command resources and the natural mighty flow of life. Time after time, Babel crumbles, suffering ensues. But from a wider perspective, a thick crust has been tilled and a novel epoch is free to sprout. 

'Love lies bleeding' baby sprouts. 

'Love lies bleeding' baby sprouts. 

So I want to endorse growing plants this summer, wherever you are. If you live with a garden or a yard, make this the year. If you are lucky enough to live in the city with a balcony or roof (honestly, my balcony is possibly the only thing keeping me from screaming over these rent prices) start a container garden. If you only have a window, you can still grow plants. No window? Join a community garden (yes, they exist in this city), or do a guerilla plant somewhere and visit it to check on progress. It is an amazing experience. 

'We weeds are not weeds at all...' 

'We weeds are not weeds at all...' 

This year, we planted seeds for the first time. How awesome to watch these sprouts, with such strength, unfold and stretch toward the light, wearing a little helmet that once was the entirety of their being. We like to sing to our plants, to ask them questions and expect that we’ll get answers (even if we have to adjust to a different time-scale). If you think this is silly, then you are missing the point.

Plant life has generated the only true democratic societies on earth. The oldest living beings on this planet are plants. They regularly harmonize the universal principles of plurality and unity within themselves. Plants seek, they communicate, they bear fruit, they problem solve, some even hunt. They seek the sun. They serve life. When I involve myself in their process, hoping to make some small contribution, I’m reminded to do the same.  

Strawberries! 

Strawberries! 

Love,

Seth

Posted on May 15, 2015 .

JOE 05.15.15: Jail Guitar Doors

http://jailguitardoors.org/

Jail Guitar Doors is an organization designed to provide musical instruments to prisons for use in rehabilitation. It's run by Billy Bragg and Wayne Kramer (MC5) as a force against the dehumanizing effects of incarceration.   From their website:

"Jail Guitar Doors USA believes our country’s human and financial resources should be dedicated to education and ending poverty, the primary source of crime. We support public safety. We believe in accountability in a civilized society. We believe the punishment should fit the crime and that one is sentenced to prison as punishment, not for punishment. We believe in reform and that if we expect more of offenders and empower them with the necessary tools and resources they need to change, most will choose to change and not repeat offend. We work for better implementation of best practices in ways to treat non-violent offenders and minimize prison violence. We believe prisoners provided with the musical tools to create songs of their own can achieve a positive change of attitude that can initiate the work necessary to successfully return to life outside prison walls. Creating music, along with other educational and vocational programs, can be a profound force for positive change in a prisoner’s life. Our goal is to aid the ‘correctional’ aspect of corrections that can only come from a regenerated belief in ones future as a positive, contributing member of society."

They work with these prisons to set up musical education programs and performances for inmates. The positive effect on the quality of life for these inmates is inspiring.  Some to the testimonials are extremely touching.  (http://jailguitardoors.org/about.html

The overwhelming scope and never-ending growth of the prison industrial complex in this country is terrifying and debilitating. More non-violent criminals are locked up than ever before, and it's incredibly important to keep in mind that these are ordinary people, not cattle, not slaves, not pariahs.  Many of us have grown up with the impression that the bad seeds are behind bars because they deserve to be, and that the rest of us are safer for it.  Those involved with Jail Guitar Doors know better and they're doing what they can to help. Any of you have some gear you might wanna donate?  

-Joe

Posted on May 15, 2015 .

MARK 05.15.15: Flying Lotus - "Never Catch Me" (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

I am firmly in the Joe Stratton camp of people who think Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly is outstanding. I'm not a Kendrick completist, though, evidenced by my not having heard this awesome track that features KL from Flying Lotus's record You're Dead, which, it turns out, is great.

Poking around for music videos the other night I found this one:

What a great video! And what a killer track. Give it a spin and also note the dozen or so examples of Thundercat being an insane genius bass player. Seriously. That guy is so good I love him so much. Plan on seeing a full Thundercat endorsement in the future. For now, dig "Never Catch Me."

-Mark

Posted on May 15, 2015 .

MARK 04.10.15: Stanley Clarke, "Silly Putty"

I never knew much about Stanley Clarke, other than the name and that he held some kind of luminary status for bassists. He's kind of entered my consciousness lately and so I've been given him a whirl. I have to admit that I have a really hard time with jazz fusion or acid jazz or progressive jazz or jazz rock and think (in my limited knowledge) that it had a window of about '68-'76 where that stuff was relevant. Pretty much anything after that either jumps the shark or is just a shadow of that fertile period. And I've always had a bad taste in my mouth for flaunted virtuosity. Anyway, that said, there's just a small sliver of Clarke's catalog that I can stomach, but I'm here to say, Jesus Christ. This is some wild and fun shit! I know this is going to sound ridiculous to anyone who has ever heard Stanley Clarke, but that guy is so good at playing the bass guitar! Whoa! 

My absolute favorite jam I've found of his is "Silly Putty" from the record A Journey to Love. I listened to that song while walking in the city during the 15 minutes of nice weather we had this spring and felt like the coolest motherfucker. That constant 16th note thump from the bass, the clavinet and ARP twiddling about. Not to mention that cucumber beat.

Check out the album cut:

So. Funky. Now listen to the bonkers live version from the Live 76-77 record, which has literally my least favorite kind of drum sound in the world but it's worth listening to for the solo at around 3:30. I can not believe that that man is just doing that with his hands:

And finally, a short clip from sometime obviously in the 70's of Clarke and drummer Steve Gadd just fucking around on the main riff of "Silly Putty". Just a couple of bananas jazz cats giving each other the business. Really fun:

Posted on April 10, 2015 .

SETH 04.10.15 - John Oliver's Edward Snowden Interview / Wake Me When I Leave by Tyler Rubenfeld

I'm not the Wikileaks guy, folks... 

I'm not the Wikileaks guy, folks... 

I’m gonna take a break this week from my filmy philosophizing 2014 Cinematic Investigations Log to spotlight one particularly important issue coming up next month: Section 215 of the Patriot Act is going to expire...er, retire...On June 1st, the sun is setting on Section 215. Do you know Section 215? You’d better be sure that Section 215 knows YOU. 

I’ll call on John Oliver and Edward Snowden in a minute to help illustrate why it is important that we pay attention here.

But First!

I had another movie going experience that was lovely this Saturday (getting the idea that all I do is watch movies? You’re WRONG!) at Videology in Williamsburg. Ashleigh and I went to check out the premiere of a new one by a filmmaker named Tyler Rubenfeld. It was starring our friend Jenna D’Angelo (who can be seen in NBP’s Promiscuous Music Video), and to be honest we didn’t know what to expect. The name of the film is Wake Me When I Leave and the genre is tagged as ‘Experimental / Psychological Horror’. 

image.jpg

What a fantastic film! Jenna is absolutely amazing in it, infusing her subtle performance with a sense of dread that increases in pitch as the movie’s feeling of linear time unravels. She is a total natural who seems to feel right at home in a film with no trustworthy narrative progression or easy anchor of ‘factual information’ from scene to scene. Her work reminded me of the seemingly effortless comfort with difficult material that actresses like Tilda Swinton exude. The supporting cast is spot on, too, filling scenes with memorable, off-kilter, and sometimes menacing exchanges.

Director Tyler Rubenfeld pulled from a strong lineage of (as he put it) ‘women having visions’ films (Bergman’s Persona, Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.) while managing to never buckle under their weight. It is clear that he has a vision and aesthetic voice that is completely his own and worthy of material support so that it might expand and deepen with access to more resources and a wider audience. Wake Me When I Leave is genuinely unsettling with bursts of laugh-out-loud humor of the oddball variety. I had a blast concocting elaborate thematic and narrative theories all day after watching this one. I can’t wait to see where he goes next!

I hope that this film will find its place in the festival circuit, but far more than that, I’d love to see Rubenfeld’s work featured and available on a great streaming service like Fandor so that you can enjoy it too. 

For now, though, I recommend checking out Tyler’s short film Vlogger on Vimeo. This one also stars Jenna D’Angelo and Michael Fentin. I sort of see it as a companion piece to Wake Me When I Leave, the latter expanding and deepening many of the ideas explored in Vlogger while shifting weight from a male to a female POV. The contrasts between the two in this context are pretty fascinating. Oh, it also features our friend Dave Bombay from WFMU’s Knuckle Sandwich as ‘The Drug Dealer’, making good on his deep dry deadpan. Sup, Dave?

_____________________________________

Alright, Patriot Act. Get your ugly ass in the room so we can get a look at ya. 

It seems pretty important that every U.S. citizen with a body and a brain cell take some time to think and talk with each other about Section 215 of the Patriot Act as June 1st approaches. For example, when ‘Generally Law Abiding Citizen Q’ hears a vague story on the news about government surveillance, perhaps this sentence pops into his head:

“Well, I’m not breaking any laws so nothing for me to worry about. Besides, it does seem to be for our own good cause ISIS.”

However, if ‘Generally Law Abiding Citizen Q’ goes out and tests this supposition by getting into a genuine conversation with another American, there is a chance that said other American might be hip to the fact that section 215 is essentially an anti-constitutional manipulation tactic and threat leveled at all citizens of this country:

‘We have a gun. We’re going to point it at your head. We won’t pull the trigger unless you do something bad. Trust us.’

It becomes a bit tougher to be ok with someone like that tracking and storing your phone calls/metadata trails. Speaking of metadata, here is a quote from the former director of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden:

“We kill people based on metadata”. 

Okie-dokie. So thanks to this alarming conversation, ‘Law Abiding Citizen Q’ might begin to want to research this further, understanding that it is a very risky proposition putting one’s trust in the words alone of the sort of government that spies so extensively on its citizens in case they step out of line. ‘Law Abiding Citizen Q’ might also discover that Section 215 has NEVER ONCE stopped a genuine terrorist threat. Certainly since the Patriot Act came into play there have been plenty of opportunities, no? And who are these people that Michael Hayden is offing using metadata trails? If they were terrorists, wouldn’t the media be non-stop victory squawkin?

I’m gonna let John Oliver do the talking from here because that man is sharp and hilarious. Please take 30 min to watch this episode of Last Week, wherein Mr. Oliver discusses surveillance and travels to Russia to interview Michael Snowden. You will laugh. You might cry, too, when you begin to consider that Section 215 could reach it’s death date and be quietly renewed AGAIN with no major protest from an American public who genuinely don’t seem to give any sort of shit about government surveillance or its implications unless it involves their personal private super special dick pics. 

So, get talking. Share this video. Click here if you are looking for some more information about what real reform would look like, and here for a convenient way to tell Congress that your phone calls are your own fracking business.

Until next week, 

Seth

 

Posted on April 10, 2015 .

SETH 04.03.15 - Cinematic Investigations Log, PTIII...

Welcome to PTIII of Subject 6400’s Cinematic Investigation Log! If you missed PTI and PTII, I suggest you dive in here and here...

Why do we make art? This is a big question that is connected to many other big questions. This Cinematic Investigations Log is meant, at least in part, to explore intuitive understandings built up over time through exposure to one particular medium. The larger personal quest is to investigate how I think about art in general. I’m trying to gather my presuppositions into a basket, hold them up by the handful, and turn them around in the Friday sunlight (REASON). Whether or not you do anything with this is entirely your choice. However, the fact that I am submitting this publicly suggests that I am attempting to communicate; to clean house so that I can open up a spring window and let you in for a visit (yes, all my friends enter my mind-space through the window...just like Sam in Clarissa Explains It All). Cleaning house is important if you want to make space for the presence of others!

'Hi, Sam.'  

'Hi, Sam.'  

It seems important, especially in our confused Individualist post-modern times, for thought to be consistent with practice. In other words, our beliefs should line up with our actions and reinforce one another. In my life, I want both to aim toward coherent goals during each NOW moment of experience. That being said: If I have to ignore facts of experience in order that my ideologies be self-consistent, then I want nothing to do with such shallow systems. Violence must be committed to shake them loose. While such symbol systems may be useful and efficient (or even elegant) in the commanding of limited life factors, they tend to lock a person into a pattern that, regardless of how complex it may be, will fail the demands of the NOW miserably at some point. When the NOW kicks you in the Belief Privats, the whole structure is incapacitated, all previous constructive efforts rendered essentially useless. From a psychological perspective, this is an utterly devastating moment, so akin to physical death that some individuals don’t survive it. G.I. Gurdjieff liked to call this ‘crystallizing on a wrong foundation’. In order to avoid being destroyed by such a collapse, it is suggested that one do regular violence to self-concepts to shake them loose. In order to evolve with a world in constant evolution, one must become capable of killing that to which you gave birth in order that it may give birth to you. This is beginning to hint, I think, at the function of art in life. 

Q: What is an individual?

A: An Individual is an actual occasion of experience.

Q: Do individuals endure through time?

A: No. Individuals are moments. Societies are collections of Individuals and endure through time. 

Q: Do Individuals exist to serve societies?

A: The reverse. Societies exist to connect individuals so they may realize mutual goals. 

Q: Can individuals exert influence on one another?

A: Individuals cannot exert influence on contemporary individuals. However, individuals are influenced by previous actual occasions before becoming determinant, then exert their self-will in such a way that may influence future actual occasions. In other words, individuals In-Form each other through conversations in time. They open their windows and let each other in. 

_____________________________________

Last week, we took a look at The Darkness - at a CHAOS that threatens to render our experiences completely meaningless. And yet, even amidst the perception of chaos in our environment, it is clear that we still presuppose much in practice. We presuppose the existence of linear time, of causality, of physical surfaces. We presuppose the existence of other minds because we still attempt to be understood. 

Q: How is this so? 

A: (...)

Q: Why does it seem that something actual must die in order that something actual might be born? 

A: (...)

Q: Can we truly be possessing of a unitary ‘I’ or ‘Selfness’ if our mythology, art, and psychology is haunted by so many doppelgangers, doubles, impostors, and enemies?

Well, it turns out the opening epigraph for our next film serves as a perfect primer for the above questions.

 

Enemy (Dir. Denis Villeneuve // Canada)

image.jpg

“Chaos is order yet undeciphered."

This line is the first thing we see in Enemy. It is a quote from Jose Saramago’s The Double, the novel of which the film is intended as an adaptation. I haven’t read The Double, but I am a huge fan of Saramago. In general, I would consider adapting his work to film a fool’s errand. Blindness turned out to be a rather clunky film that sucked all the life and glow from the novel’s haunting poetry. 

Director Denis Villeneuve is no fool, however. As an adaptation, Villeneuve’s Enemy is a truly rare film. This adaptation doesn’t attempt to emulate the author’s prose or style in the audio/visual format, but still manages to honor the deeper spirit of the book. Where most film adaptations cut away the novel’s details to reduce countless epiphanies to one central heart, Villeneuve ADDS major A/V detail to his film that are nowhere to be found in the book, but manage to unearth the plurality of themes in an additive, associative, intuitive way. The only other contemporary filmmaker I can think of that has managed such a feat (and multiple times) is David Cronenberg. The added sex scenes in A History of Violence were his creation and they strike right at the heart of the book’s themes in a way that utilized HIS medium’s strengths. I won’t spill the beans on Villeneuve’s theme-expanding A/V innovation, aside from hinting that the above poster is likely itself a visual puzzle piece, but I will affirm that if you wish to make sense of the film - to decipher the order - you’ll be grappling with this chilling symbol long after the credits roll. 

Maybe it is because I just finished Infinite Jest, but it seems that the effect toward which Villeneuve is striving with his psychological thriller is very much in line with what David Foster Wallace was looking to achieve with his masterpiece. There is clearly an attempt to speak to the audience’s narrator (REASON) at the same time as speaking to their creative intuition - a double dialogue. DFW, in one interview, evokes a projector in the description of his novel’s movement:

“There is an ending as far as I’m concerned. Certain kinds of parallel lines are supposed to start converging in such a way that an “end” can be projected by the reader somewhere beyond the right frame. If no such convergence or projection occurred to you, then the book’s failed for you.”

and from a different interview:

“Plot wise, the book doesn’t come to a resolution. But if the readers perceive it as me giving them the finger, then I haven’t done my job. On the surface it might seem like it just stops. But it’s supposed to stop and then kind of hum and project. Musically and emotionally, it’s a pitch that seemed right.”

So, given that we’re talking about an experience that is meant to converge well after the final page or frame, I want to honor the sanctity of ‘NO SPOILERS’ and simply discuss a few aspects of the work meant to entice and intrigue. However, if you don't want any of my ideas clinking around on your  first viewing, I'd say skip to the end here and come back to play later!

IMAGE/SOUND: Enemy basks in the stained yellow glow of amniotic fluid - punctured by brief smears of red, and the sick blue glow of technology screens. Smog permeates each frame that contains a cityscape. Harsh clean lines and grey slabs of concrete compose the cityscape. Is this a Westernized Montreal, and by extension the U.S., through the lens of an outsider Quebecer? 

These images are grounded by barely there drones and the squawk (silence) squawk of sneaky reed instruments. Strings shudder with goose pimples, but the wind barely blows and the air looks stale. 

PERFORMANCE: Jake Gyllenhaal has my deep respect after his work in YR 2014. The Oscars looked to honor his work in Nightcrawler, and I agree that his performance in that film was truly chilling. However, when it comes to film performance I find myself far less satisfied with films that seem to exist simply for said performance. Gyllenhaal’s work in Enemy, on the other hand, could emphatically be called the best ‘Male Performance’ (in the sense of articulating something fundamental and knotty and hidden in the male psyche) on screen all year because it was woven masterfully into the fabric of a film that was operating on many layers. This performance served those layers by infusing them with electricity and expanding them, as opposed to running parallel to them. Unlike Villeneuve’s additive A/V style, Gyllenhaal’s performance task with Enemy was a work of subtraction - of bringing two opposites so close that they became indistinguishable by physicality or language. 

Contrasting this performance technique to Jessie Eisenberg’s work in The Double (the other double movie from YR 2014, making a Double-Double), we can feel how the easier route of distinguishing two identical characters using language or physicality alone tends to serve as a yellow highlighter marker - ‘THE MEANING OF THIS ARCHETYPE IS THUS...”. Enemy trusts its audience more, and by utilizing a subtractive performance to explore the double theme, the action in the psyche of the viewer is additive, turning over contradictions and ambiguities and discovering new surfaces that were hidden by preexisting structures or the paralyzing chaos of fear.

'I don't really like movies...' 

'I don't really like movies...' 

Gyllenhaal plays a college history professor. His lecture, repeated twice, is on totalitarian regimes and the way in which they gain control by censoring any means of individual expression. How is this done? 

One way is to turn a self-determinate impulse from the outside, and turn it again, until the linear trajectory of said original impulse sticks to a loop instead of a ‘becoming’. Language can be drained of its constructive content and used as an ‘ideology suit’ for subversive content. Orwell’s double-speak: Extraordinary Rendition, Right to Work, etc. The examples of this are everywhere. 

The study of history reveals one cluster of answers about manipulation tactics, but the experience of encountering one’s double crumbles ideologies into dust. It is sink or swim. It is kill or be killed. 

Gyllenhaal II plays an actor, an extra, his IMDB page a parade of figurants populating the frames of entertainment cartridges. The bellhop. The bar regular. How does an individual become a double? Does it have to do with automatic reproduction? Did the master get into the wrong hands? Where is the master?!

It has been suggested that an individual made to experience isolation exercises one final act of irrational creativity, and does so completely unconsciously. The silence clicks, the fan begins to hum, and the SHADOW projector calls the Enemy to our doorstep. It is sink or swim. It is kill or be killed. 

I leave you with a quote from one of Saramago’s other books, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis:

“There is no lack of spiders’ webs in the world, from some you escape, in others you die. The fugitive will find shelter in a boardinghouse under an assumed name, thinking he is safe, he has no idea that his spider will be the daughter of the landlady...a dedicated nationalist who will regenerate his heart and mind.”

(Enemy can be found streaming for free on Amazon Prime. For some fun musings on the ending of the film, to be read AFTER viewing...don’t kill the fun!...check out this Slate article)

_____________________________________

So, all the above gathered in fist let me make an attempt at giving an answer to my initial question: ‘Why do we make art?’ Can a worthwhile function be suggested?

Here goes: 

The art practice is a cooperative self-determination process in which hidden interior darkness is brought to the light of conscious thought. It’s beginning is an act of self-will, and it is necessarily intuitive and irrational. The following impulse to share art is about embedding (birthing?) reference symbols into our environment that allow other individuals to apprehend the unearthed patterns directly. When other Individuals apprehend the symbolic results of the original impulse, this information mixes with the perceptions of the receiving Individual and is transmitted back to the source of the original irrational impulse and either confirms or denies it (or, shades tending toward confirmation or denial) through the rational process which identifies REASONS, VALUE, and CAUSES. Because the art process is bound up with both ecstasy and guilt, the level of sincerity at every stage of this process, from transmitter to receiver and back, directly corresponds to the actual value of the art process to life lived in the NOW moment by any Individual. Sincerity unearths possibility. The art process balances oppositional forces of creative intuition and analytical reason. 

We create art because we know that individuals are not 'windowless monads'. We choose to open our windows to directly apprehend the creative divine impulse coursing through shared experience from moment to moment. This is the order that chaos can never fully obscure...

 

Obviously the above is a way clumsy attempt to put language to the ineffable. Music, film, dance, theater...now these experiences are capable of putting you right in the zone.

Stay tuned for next week! I’ll take a look at another Quebecer’s brilliant work: Denis Cote’s oddball fable Vic + Flo Saw A Bear.

Love, 

Seth

<<<<< Back to Friday Endorsements 04.03.15

Posted on April 3, 2015 .

JOE 04.03.15: Richard Feynman- FUN TO IMAGINE

I don't know very much about Richard Feynman, though I've read a book or two (or part of a book) and I surely can't comprehend half the physics he's on about, but he's a great figure to learn from, especially in videos like this where you can see the endless wonder of the natural world animating his face.  

He looks and sounds like a lot of the older born&bred New York guys I work with.  For some reason I'm always charmed by that accent. And the fact that Feynman's older in these videos makes him seem loving and avuncular. Dude's adorable, what can I say?   Easy to listen to people like this.  Watch them all, go ahead.

Posted on April 3, 2015 .

MARK 04.03.15: Criminal Podcast Ep. 15: "He's Neutral"

Oh, man. This got me. I'm not a huge fan of the podcast Criminal. I think it's pretty good but a lot of the stories don't really have the juice to keep me engaged week-to-week. But this one was so shockingly delightful. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I've listened to it a couple times. The second time I listened to it I leaned over to my friend after with tears in my eyes and said, "I love this story so fucking much." 

The subject of the podcast, Dan Stevenson, is just the best dude. Super cynical, kinda jaded, seems to keep to himself (and his wife, Lou), he's the kind of guy who likes what he likes and if he doesn't like something he fixes it. He got a little more than he bargained for when he tried to do something about a mounting pile of garbage that was pissing him off. The results are hilarious and give me hope for humanity.

I can't say much more about it without spoiling, but, please, take 16 minutes and have your life enriched by this story.

<<<<< Back to Friday Endorsements 04.03.15

-Mark.

 

Posted on April 3, 2015 .

Seth 03.20.15 - Cinematic Investigations Log, YR 2014, pt2

Welcome to PT2 of my Cinematic Investigations Log for YR 2014! If you missed PT1, you can catch up here

Before moving on to #18 in this collection, and as a transition toward it, I’d like to make an attempt at generating a synthesis of the two films already endorsed (A FIELD IN ENGLAND X CLOSED CURTAIN). These days we’ve so internalized the ‘freedom of choice’ offered to ‘consumers’ by Free Market Capitalism, not to mention the aid our technology has provided in the obsessive search for ‘The Very Best ____ Market-wide’, that treating synthesis between two seemingly distinct things as an exercise can be quite valuable in opening up different ways of seeing and experiencing, particularly with regards to art. ‘World-views create worlds just as much as worlds create world-views’, someone smarter than me once said. I’ll let you be the value judge in this attempt at generating synthesis. It’s a game!

I’ll start with the suggestion that capital R Reality is composed of many interpenetrating dimensions, which correlate to one another as expressed in the ancient Hermetic Maxim ‘As Above So Below’. There is something fractal about the nature of things. Experience (or LIFE or MENTALITY) is present at all levels. The experiences of 1D can only ever be a partial realization of the experiences in 2D, and so on as far ‘up’ as it goes. 

Another way to state this idea would be to say that each atom or particle or element in the physical world has a corresponding pole in the mental world. There is no separation of ‘soul’ and ‘body’, so one cannot be considered a byproduct of the other. 

In addition to experience being present at every level, I will add that FREE WILL is present at every level. This makes our reality a PROCESS REALITY, wherein individual occurrences on various planes ‘cohere’ in order to achieve satisfaction of some mutual goal. A goal is formulated based on VALUE. An acorn becomes an oak, a fetus becomes a child. This is cooperation. Working Harder Together. 

We’re used to thinking of causation strictly in the material sense, because it is the type of causation that we can measure using our current scientific tools. However, the above suggestion brings formal causation (acorn becomes oak), and final causation (teleology, goal-setting) back into the picture of ‘why stuff happens’.  

This brings me to Carl Jung and his conception of Archetypes and Alfred North Whitehead and his conception of Eternal Objects. I think these two ideas are expressions of the same process, for Jung in the psychological realm and for Whitehead in his post-modern cosmological/metaphysical schema. (side note: interesting that Whitehead is the name of the main character in A Field in England, and he is an ‘Astrologer’s assistant’...a coincidence, synchronicity, or intentional reference?) 

Given the above suggestions, what are Archetypes and Eternal Objects and how do they operate in our world? According to Jung and Whitehead (or at least according to my very incomplete interpretation of their ideas), Archetypes and Eternal Objects are essentially entities that exist outside of the experiences of linear time, but inform the shape of what occurrences happen in linear time through the preservation, calculation, and presentation of POSSIBILITY and VALUE. They can be thought of as memory nets that collect individual occurrences through time and sort them based on their value for certain goals and processes. There is more information content in an individual Archetype than in any 3D moment of linear time, so often expression happens across multiple dimensions (as an example: a synchronistic relationship between weather patterns and an individual human psychological experience, as can be seen explored during A Field in England). 

Notes on Whitehead's conception of Eternal Objects taken by Martin Luther King Jr.. 

Notes on Whitehead's conception of Eternal Objects taken by Martin Luther King Jr.. 

A positive aspect of the expression of these entities in human experience can be found in the effects of any Genuine Magic in the occult. A Field in England is certainly interested in this theme. Dark Magic pretends at control of immaterial forces through spellbinding (a psychopathic tactic), but genuine magic reduces human agency in the magical act to its ability to approach the surface of an Eternal Object (ARCHETYPE) by consciously modifying its subjective content to align with supra-personal goals. This is a discipline of subtraction (removing FALSE PERSONALITY) in order to ‘clear the channel’ of habitual debris. The magical force, in this case, is the information content of the atemporal higher dimensional entity (Eternal Object/Archetype) allowed to flow like a current through a 3D surface that has deliberately modified its shape to conduct this flow. This allows the 3D human subject a temporary active role as ‘the electric heel of Zeus’. Heavy emphasis on temporary, there...

A negative aspect of the expression of Archetype and Eternal Object in our experience of reality has to do with the destructive quality of evil, as explored microcosmically in Closed Curtain. Eternal Objects manifest themselves in 3D constantly, but usually through the force of unconscious habit. Most individuals are not magicians (whether of the Dark Magic or Genuine Magic schools). The Truth is ‘what happens’, a series of experiences or events, but this Truth is assembled for humans through countless slightly different subjective lenses, all of which tend toward the favoring of energy conservation as a default. Energy conservation on an individual level = the highest possibility for self-preservation and endurance with the least possible effort. This is the general value equation by which animals and most humans almost mechanically pattern their actions and choices. This unconscious process serves many Archetypal goals just fine (the utilization of subjective value to attain higher value), but being largely unconsciously chosen these goals can also be easily usurped to serve Evil at the expense and harm of the collective via selfish and parasitic individual drives. When a parasite dominates a body and drives it to general destruction this can be called Genuine Evil. 

Check the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’ 

The ability to gradually make the unconscious conscious through discipline is an activity that is, as far as we know, exclusive to life at the human developmental level on earth. This activity increases individual free will by increasing the recognition of possibilities via the processes of Eternal Objects. It takes loads of energy, but isn’t a requirement. If we do not undertake this task, Genuine Evil has an entryway into our psyches via the concept Jung coined as SHADOW.

All this being said, an important distinction: Archetypes are CONSTRUCTIVE entities, even when they manifest destructively in any given dimension, even when they utilize  apparent evil to clear the way for the influx of higher value. However, Genuine Evil (a sort of antithesis to Genuine Magic) is the total dominance of destruction in experience (CHAOS) and is not useful to constructive Archetypal processes beyond simply collecting the memory of factual occurrences in an environment of general meaninglessness. Genuine Evil thwarts a cooperative process working toward mutual satisfaction to meaningless individual facts that can be rearranged to suit self-serving needs only, and even then only temporarily. 

Jafar Panahi’s artistic output from the beginning of his career up until his arrest could be viewed as such a cooperative, goal driven process of realization. His arrest and sentence locked him into an Evil dominated experience, and the obvious effect is the breakdown and dissolution of goals that were working toward some sort of satisfaction through his output. This is a still growing ‘Body of Work’ that has been given the death sentence, contained, and left to rot. Qui Bono? Certainly not Panahi, and certainly not his audience. 

In summary: an individual can choose to consciously and creatively align oneself with Archetypal processes under play and in constant permutation by a) recognizing them through their shapes and values (POSSIBILITIES), and b) playing an active role in an aspect of their expression in 3D space (RESPONSE-ABILITY, GENUINE MAGIC). This is a cooperative discipline. This is Working Harder Together. 

One can also choose to attempt individual control over Archetypal forces by a) obscuring their symbolic representations of information content by arresting symbols between false binaries of choice (THE TWO TOWERS), or b) isolating individuals who were previously part of meaningful processes, and dominate their experience with chaos by ‘fixing the facts around the policy’ in illusory constructs (PROBLEM--REACTION--SOLUTION, GENUINE EVIL). 

This is essentially the effect we see in our current world when individual psychopaths and sociopaths seek control over their experiences through various manipulation tactics. Psychopaths don’t work together, they feed their own need and the compounding result of many of these self-serving entities flooding a human body is increased chaos, breakdown of meaning, and general destruction. This form of parasitism has a way of reflecting our own unconscious destructive patterns (SHADOW) back at us, so that we unintentionally aid in the magnification our own personal suffering and goal-sabotage. Soon we cannot see others, we are isolated units floating in meaninglessness. We have only reference to ourselves and project our pain outward onto our environment.  

This is The Darkness, this is Genuine Evil. The next film in the series is focused on addressing the Chaos head on. Read on, if you dare...


18)   A Spell to Ward off the Darkness (Dir. Ben Rivers, Ben Russell // UK, USA)

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Ben Russell (BR) is from US of A. He is an experimental filmmaker who likes to shoot on film and ask questions about film. His creations have an affinity for ethnography and tend to blur the lines between fiction and documentary. However, unlike ethnography, which cheats around the problem of THE LIE OF REPRESENTATION by aligning itself with the sciences, Ben Russell likes to tackle this problem head on as an ‘art problem’ and organizes his films to investigate various experiences of knowing/not-knowing. He uses editing to question whether cultural codes are written into both space and time.

Ben Rivers (BR) is from UK. He is an experimental filmmaker who likes to shoot on film. His creations have an affinity for ethnography, and tend to blur the lines between fiction and documentary. He is particularly interested in marginalized humans embedded in a larger environment, and the ways in which this environment is modified to reflect the inner experiences of the subject. His subjects create worlds within worlds, and Ben Rivers films are intended to be worlds and not theses. He views his process of editing as taking material images that have no meaning alone and giving them a rhythm that enables them to become a unique film experience and not a pretend representation of something else. 

In YR 2009, BR + BR toured with a gallery program of their individual films titled We Cannot Exist In This World Alone. Both filmmakers clearly have overlapping affinities, but their approach is distinct. For this program they chose to not distinguish authorship of their individual work. This was for the audience to discern, if they so chose. 

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In YR 2014, BR + BR decided to meld their individual approaches even further. They created a film together called A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness. Keeping consistent with one of their overlapping process goals, ASTWOTD is both materially a film and literally a spell. 

The shape of this particular spell is a circle surrounding a triangle. The opening shot is captured at the center of a lake and pans slowly. The sky is blue above. The water is grey below. At the center of the frame wrapped all around the horizon is land and it is pitch black. The land may consume you, the viewer, most certainly will consume you. However, perhaps the spell will allow for some autonomy before it does so?

An ideal way to experience this spell would be with the opening shot (CIRCLE) on display covering all of the wall surface of a circular room, visible from all angles. The following three distinct sequences of the film (each a surface, their intersecting moments forming the points of the TRIANGLE) would form a triangle inside the circular room. The viewer, mobile throughout the space, would be free to choose any of the three sequences in any order they liked, and titrate between them. However, even without this interactive-editing set up, the film still beckons for our involvement. 

The three surfaces of the spell’s triangle are simple explorations anchored by a single subject: black metal musician Rob AA Lowe, who roves in an out of focus in each environment. 

 a. On one surface, the audience witnesses Intentional Community: the geometry of a hut, the distribution of duties, the exploration of music, a conversation regarding conflict resolution and efforts made for the supra-personal. One woman discusses Temporary Autonomous Zones (T.A.Z.) in connection to rave culture. These people on film are two real Intentional Communities brought together for a week of filming, actually working together materially and conceptually, with a few ‘replays’ of organic conversations that happened off screen. Part of the experience of this surface of the spell has to do with the audience’s active investigation of the parameters intuited from the screen interactions and transposing them to their own patterns of living. Is a genuine sense of autonomy against The Darkness a result, and what would necessarily be modified in my own patterns in order to accommodate such a cooperative flow? What work would I have to do in order to actively participate in equitable and volitional information distribution? What roles would I specifically play? What value would I bring to the functioning of the whole? 

b. The next surface is pure Whitman solitude. Rob Lowe is embedded in an open environment. Now the questions are simplified further: what are my basic material needs? What limitations does my environment impose? What limitations does my solitude impose? What does the Free Will space afforded between these two sets of limitations feel like, and what do I want to do with it? By the end of this segment, the actions of Rob Lowe make it very clear that this surface offers up the possibility for autonomy, but it too is temporary in nature. 

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c. The final surface is a black metal concert. Rob Lowe is a guitarist and singer, and the whole band has painted their faces white. The sweat melts channels into their faces. Lowe lets out a primal scream. The music pummels and the camera flows around the space in nearly one continuous take. The effect is hypnotizing. The type of T.A.Z. explored here is of the Dionysian variety. Instead of an voluntary cooperation between unequal egos in order to foster a conscious group ‘superego’ that is participatory instead of imposed by a culture-at-large (a.), this sort of social T.A.Z. is about the dissolution of ego into a spontaneous and sensual feeling together. The individual is dissolved entirely and there is no separation between entities. It is extremely liberating, and extremely temporary. This section of film features a most successful editing effect to foster this feeling: at one point a song seems to end, but as the camera floats over the audience in silence they are still each bobbing together in rhythm, slowly, slowly, one massive organism. 

Can A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness truly succeed as Genuine Magic? Can a landscape transform into something that frees the individual from their preconceived norms? Temporarily, yes, and only if the individual transitions out of the initial time-conditioned flow experience into a continuous life dance: affirm, deny, reconcile. A triangle within a circle. 

A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness can be found streaming on Fandor. 


Thanks for reading Subject 6400’s Cinematic Investigations Log, YR 2014. Stay tuned for next week, when I attempt to endorse more movies using less words!

-- Seth

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Posted on March 20, 2015 .

MARK 03.20.15: THE JINX

I'll just start by saying I was massively affected by this show for days after watching it. Because I was confined to a bed with illness, I was able to watch it all in one setting, which is how I recommend taking the show in. I felt like my mind was a whirling chasm of conspiracy and crime. Right up until the absolute jaw-dropping ending of the final episode. It's crazy-good television and I can't believe the filmmakers pulled it off.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, is a six-part documentary series by HBO about Robert Durst, super-rich NYC real estate heir who was implicated in the disappearance of his first wife, the murder of his best friend 18 years later in Los Angeles and the murder and dismemberment of his neighbor in Galveston, TX the following year. He has remained a free-man all these years, even being put to trial and acquitted for the murder/dismemberment, which he definitely did. As Matt Zoller Seitz said in his New York Magazine review of the show, "I've never known trouble to follow people who weren't themselves trouble, have you?" It's a very strange story with a bunch of amazing, weird characters, chief among them is Durst himself. In an interview portion, Durst displays such odd behavior and ticks that certainly elevate him from "weird guy" to probably mentally ill. Still, it's captivating.

The show is beautifully shot and paced. There's a lot of information to get across in six episodes, and you get it all very clearly, with space to think about how crazy it all is. The reenactment shots are very elegant, done more for texture than story. The story comes completely from the mouths of those involved in the decades long ordeal and its clear there's still a lot of emotion about it. 

I had heard about all the controversy surrounding the show before I started watching. Durst was arrested in connection with the Los Angeles murder the night before the final episode aired. If you read about it, then you know that the media was not very careful with show spoilers in reporting on the arrest. I don't blame them. They couldn't be spoiler-sensitive as the show and the arrest are inextricable linked. I worried that knowing what I knew would make the show less interesting but I was so completely wrong. I think you could know everything or nothing about the story and still be completely taken away by the show. It is THAT wild.

Do yourself a favor and binge watch The Jinx. You won't regret it. Actually, you might regret it because you will not be the same afterward.

Mark.

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Posted on March 20, 2015 .

JOE 03.20.15: Boosted Boards

Since the snow's all melted away here in Huge Dork City and the streets are dry and grippable, I charged up my Boosted board yesterday and took it out, immediately reassured that this is one of the coolest things on the planet.  

This is an electric longboard. It's got a sleek motor on the rear wheels that can boost you up just over 20mph with a push on the handheld bluetooth throttle. All the wiring is underneath the griptape and the motor's pretty quiet so when you're whizzing around on this thing it can seem pretty surreal. I see a lot of perplexed and curious faces. I also get some cool shout-outs. Last night a guy on a bike laughed and yelled "Nice motorboard! Heck yes!"  This was after I passed him. I pass cars too, all through the city, and many cut me off because nobody expects a dude on a skateboard to be going so fast. It's dangerous. I should get a helmet.  

The battery can take you about 7 or 8 miles per charge, depending on the rider's weight and average speed, how many hills you take, etc. (Boosted says you can save battery by going slower which is a ridiculous suggestion.)  It also recharges a bit when you brake, like an electric car.  (The ability to brake is killer.) At home, you plug the board into the wall and it's fully charged in about 90 minutes.  

It weighs 15 lbs and there's some resistance on the motorized wheels so it's not ideal for skating around once the battery dies. You can do it but it ain't fun.  You also can't ride it through water/rain without risk of shorting it out which is a major downside.  These cons got nothing on the pros, though.  I feel like Batman when I ride this thing. Edge-cutting. 

Boosted started producing these on a large scale just last summer but it probably won't be long before you start seeing them all over the place. There are some competitors popping up already too.  Try one if you have the opportunity.  And get your pedestrian ass outta the street if you see me coming.

http://boostedboards.com/

--Joe

<<<<<< Back to Friday Endorsements 03.20.15

 

Posted on March 19, 2015 .

MARK 03.13.15: Please stop suing songwriters.

I fully agree with what this article in Slate says about the "Blurred Lines" verdict. It was wrong to find the creative team behind that song guilty of copyright infringement. Yes, I do believe that some amount of credit, and thereby money, should go to the Marvin Gaye estate, because that song so obviously bites from the specific song ("Got To Give It Up"), rather than the genre of funk more broadly. And I'm no Robin Thicke sympathizer, but the courts took it much farther than it needed to have been taken. And while, yeah sure whatever that song was focus-grouped to be a hit, it's still bad for creativity to keep artists in fear of biting too much, whether it's "paying homage" or just an accident. 

I also think of the whole Sam Smith/Tom Petty thing. Obviously there are undeniable similarities between "Stay With Me" and "Won't Back Down". But to my ears they are very different songs. And I'm sure if you reached further back and deeper, you'd be able to find someone who used that very simple rhythm and very simple chord structure before Mr. Petty. Pop songwriters are working with a very limited palette and it seems perfectly reasonable to me that this was an accident. With something like the Rolling Stones/kd Lang situation in the 90's, that seems a little less likely. 

Point is, maybe Sam Smith, Thicke and Pharell just fall in to the "Good" column in the Pablo Picasso model of artists as copiers and thieves, not the "Great" one. Copyrights exist for very good reason, and it certainly is a little more foggy to pick up on plagiarism in songwriting than literature. I'm no legal scholar but the "Blurred Lines" decision seems like an abuse of copyright law and I support being a little more lenient on songwriters in the wake of it. And I say this knowing you know how much I HATE burglary.  Now I'm gonna go listen to "Got to Give it Up" on repeat.

Mark

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Posted on March 13, 2015 .

SETH 03.13.15: Cinematic Investigations Log, Subject #6400 POV, YR 2014

I like to watch... 

I like to watch... 

Ok! I want to spend some time endorsing a collection of outstanding films that were made available or released in my US of A home country of origin in YR 2014. I’ve waited until after the obligatory ‘award season’ both because even in the best city in the world to be a movie lover, it takes a lot of time and effort to track down certain movies when it isn’t explicitly your job to do so, and also because during ‘awards season’ in my US of A all is eclipsed by feverish hand-wringing over a handful of lauded selections handed down by a gaggle of mostly old mostly caucasian mostly gentlemen who mostly live in Manhattan’s UWS. In short, the WORLD of living and evolving cinema where folks continue to dare and stretch the medium with active investigations is swept aside for the **mandatory big time celebration event** of fare that has had its formula (paradigm//genre//message) determined far in advance (DOA). 


I have curated this list with the above aforementioned factories in front of mind. It is my hope that I will be able to pique your curiosity about some films you maybe never heard mentioned last year and get you excited about seeking out cinema that attempts to transcend expectation (both about the medium itself, and about life in general) by asking new questions and creating open-ended experiences that resist reduction or classification. Dig the invitation to adventure, ya’ll, and get the old psychic furniture rearranged! It’s fun! 

STATATTACK: Notably, only 4 of the films on this list of 20 were recognized in any category at the Oscars, and only 5 were produced exclusively in America (as a country, we have loads of celebrities but very few genuine visionaries in my estimation). 3 of the following films feature house pets as their primary muse, two feature toy helicopters at integral moments, 3-4 were made on consumer grade cameras and technology with extremely minimal budgets, and 4 could be considered ‘debut’ films. Two of the films took nearly 20 years to reach an audience. One was made illegally.

The broad point here is simply that film manipulation is both an art form and an industry, as we know, and the line dividing one guiding impetus from the other is often pretty difficult to follow. Film as an evolving art form in conversation with an evolving humanity (one hopes (!)) is in need of more people who are willing to take whatever resources are available to them and ask questions about film (or whatever art form, really) as a medium and simply investigate their own lives. Start there. I’m pretty sure that is something I heard Jean Luc Godard say in an interview this year, at 83, after having just finished the most mind-blowing and genre-exploding experiment in 3D most anyone has seen before. If you feel compelled to make some stuff, don’t let imposed barriers, whether conceptual or material, block you up!

Because what’s the alternative? People in genuine conversation with an art form are treated, and sometimes totally become, disseminators and rabid consumers of The Entertainment (100% in the Infinite Jest sense). 

So, let’s go see film and discuss it. Give me feedback about these selections, and offer me some to check out that I missed. Let’s argue. Let’s shoot a movie with our iPhones, or assemble a new narrative out of stacks of discarded VHS cartridges. Let’s be generous and hospitable with our creative environments and activities in an effort to encourage and surprise each other while resisting commodification!

Due to pretty awesome advances in accessibility of worldwide content via online streaming this past year, YR 2014, almost all 20 of these films are available for you to track down and wrestle with little out of money’s pocket regardless of where you live. I will try to direct you to the best platform to click with each film. I will keep it to only a few films per endorsement, cause words.

Ok, ok? Go now!

 

20) A Field in England (Dir. Ben Wheatley, UK)

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A Field in England is a film that seamlessly borrows much from my favorite traditions in UK cinema (most notably the ‘Folk Horror’ genre), without kowtowing to any of them. Director Ben Wheatley is obviously a free range bird who love movies enough to break their rules by looking to open up unexpected tonal spaces. The result is incredibly surprising! A Field in England features gorgeously gritty B+W photography, pitch black scatological humor marble-mumbled, hilarious terror, two song interludes, as well as one of the most brilliantly edited hallucinatory sequences in recent memory - jagged flurries of morphogenic shapes that both invoke awe and seem capable of swallowing you whole. What information guides these shapes, and why don’t we see their constant movement during ‘normal’ life moments? The film got under my skin and had me returning to it mentally time and time again. All of this without much of a plot to speak of, as well:

While a Civil War in 17th century England noisily rages on, a handful of individual deserters find each other and become a group of deserters. A man name Whitehead is, they all guess, their leader as they traverse an empty field. That is until they (unwittingly?) make some stew with large handfuls of psilocybin mushrooms and encounter an alchemist on a dark quest to find gold buried in the field. The alchemist enslaves Whitehead in a truly terrifying way, and so enslaves the others by default. Their trip on gold uncovers something much more powerful and dangerous than they expected...we think. You see, plot is almost useless when recounting a trip of this nature. Something happened out there, Jim. Something BIG. 

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I think the element that will most stick with me in this film is its emphasis on shapes imbedded in open environments. Often the characters are found unexpectedly in religious-looking tableau, still but not totally frozen for a number of seconds before action resumes. It made me wonder about symbol and archetype as living entities, inhabitants of spaces much more expansive than the shapes we see with our eyes can convey. We make contact with an aspect or surface of an idea, but the map is never the territory.

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Field in England can be found streaming for free on Amazon Prime, streaming rental from Amazon is $3.99, or on disc rental over at Netflix. 

 

19) Closed Curtain (Dir. Jafar Panahi, Iran)

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Alright, this one is complicated. As you may already know, the circumstances of director Jafar Panahi’s current personal life are inseparable from the fiber of his last two films, This is Not A Film and now Closed Curtain. Panahi has been sentenced by his government to house arrest in his home country of originating, Iran, until YR 2016 and has been forbidden to make films for 20 years. Closed Curtain is his second film produced since this sentence. This is Not a Film was Panahi filming himself using iPhone cameras, marking out in the space of his living room the scenarios to films he cannot make. It was smuggled to Cannes via a zip drive hidden in a cake. For real. This film felt dangerous and hopeful in a visceral way. 

With Closed Curtain, the political is just as inseparable from the art. Panahi has had his creative life ripped out from under him essentially because the Iranian government sees him as having become a propaganda instrument of the West due to  a documentary he and fellow filmmakers were working on about Iran’s Green Movement. The Green Movement has multiple times declared themselves as independent of of US interests or money, but the uncomfortable truth is that the US of A’s very own alphabet soup agencies have had a very long track record of infiltrating other country’s organic social movements and seizing positions of influence over said country’s various non-profit organizations and networks of human interest groups, usually all the way to disastrous and society destabilizing events - so called color revolutions, wearing the name tags ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. These ‘color revolutions’ usually end up in the installation of a government better suited to the US of A’s financial interests. Ukraine is the most recent example of how this tends to turn out. There is at least some evidence that destabilizing Iran has been ‘part of the plan’ for US foreign policy for many years now, well before the ‘nuclear power’ ‘threat’. So, I don’t blame the Iranian government for being hyper vigilant against this sort of thing. 

But I have to work... 

But I have to work... 

This being said, the Iranian government has apparently also banned walking dogs in public as an unclean practice and influence from the West. Police are shooting outside dogs, humans are being arrested. This is the basic premise of Closed Curtain: a screen writer smuggles his pet pup to his beach house, seals the curtains, hunkers down and tries to write a movie. He is unsuccessful and begins to question whether it is worth being alive. He is interrupted by a couple running from the police. The woman stays and haunts him as possibly a character from the film he is trying to write. He questions reality. His dog watches other dogs on TV news getting shot in the street in the most heartbreaking piece of dog acting I have ever seen. Panahi enters the film, unacknowledged by the screenwriter, and we know that we are currently all (director, screenwriter, audience) imprisoned in his mental and physical space - the artist’s existential crisis unfolding in real time. 

‘I must go on i can’t go on i’ll go on’...

Jafar Panahi makes movies. This is all he knows to do. He likes to film cities, outdoors, real life events unfolding in social spaces. He is particularly in tune with the women’s liberation struggle in Iran. With this sentence, his expressive voice is imprisoned and his sense of joy and even meaning in living is completely arrested. All of the main actors in the film have had trouble with the police since it’s export out of the country. For Panahi to do his work and not negatively effect others he must increasingly isolate himself. This cruel treatment aims to effectively neuter any positive social effect he is capable of producing using his only medium of expression. In short: Corrupt State Smashes Art and Dissolves Community.

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The bottom line, as I see it, is that regardless of whether this sorrowful film exists because of corruption in the monotheistic religion of Islam, in the theocratic government of Iran, or the predatory behavior of US imperialism, or all combined, State Sponsored Art Smashing and Community Dissolve should never happen. Everyday people like us around the world should exert every social pressure at our disposal to stop this sort of torture and imprisonment. The right to community gathering and freedom of expression should be universal. The right of a large gathering of peoples (Idea: NATION) to group-determination without the parasitic influence of other gatherings of peoples (Reality: GOVERNMENT) should be universally accessible and reinforced by people and not weapons//war. 

When government is allowed to exert this type of control over people’s individual lives and perceptions of reality  (they like to call this ‘fixing the facts around the policy’) the clear result is a breakdown in creativity, loss of connectivity and vitality, and spiritual (+sometimes physical) death.

Will the US government continue to try and control the whole world? Will the Iranian government lift Panahi’s sentence? Will Panahi make another movie? Chaos generating machinations have and will grind ever forward, and so it seems that the decisive constructive factors and possible outcomes in all of the above questions depends on us non-predator (pro-creative) type humans. It is worth always remembering that empathy-equipped humans make up most of the world. As much as we may be made to experience isolation from one another, the ‘feeling-together’ can be activated and nurtured with a simple increase of information. The experience Closed Curtain puts before us, in spite of its knots of Gordian complications, is still capable of this fortifying social function. 

Closed Curtain can be found streaming on Amazon Instant Video ($3.99 rental). 

 

Stay tuned for next week when I take a look at experimental filmmakers Ben Rivers and Ben Russell's attempt at film as magic spell, rave over Jake Gyllenhaal's incredible embodiment of the unconscious war raging in the male id/ego, and celebrate the under awknowledged Québécois film movement!

Love, 

Seth

<<<< Back to Friday Endorsements 03.13.15

Posted on March 13, 2015 .

JOE 03.13.15: Run the Jewels 2

 

I finally got around to listening to Run the Jewels 2. Lord have mercy, I love it. Have mercy, mama! Holy merciful mama, love some hip hop with me.

Run the Jewels 1 was pretty good. 2 is mega. The production is fantastic and the MCs are in top form. Killer Mike is intense and intelligent. El-P is cool and subdued.. They're a mighty duo, and I've liked each of them on their own, but here their vocal/lyrical skills are multiplied mounted on this brilliant electronic backbone. ---Music is evolving so well. My blood approves.

Some of the beats on this record are invigoratingly fresh. A few are so good I slow down when I'm walking to relish in them. I'm thinking specifically of my favorite tracks "Love Again" (which has the worst vulgar hook to have on a loop in your head all day) and "Blockbuster Night Pt. 1" but there's hardly a weak track on the album. Big props to Little Shalimar who had a hand in producing, and Wilder Zoby and let's not forget Boots.

Amazing, electrifying, badass record. And good news for you: it's free to download. http://www.runthejewels.net/

Joe

Posted on March 12, 2015 .

Mark 02.27.15: Are You Man Enough For The Men's Rights Movement?

This article by Jeff Sharlet about the "Men's Rights Movement." It's a #longread but totally worth it and just crazy.  

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201503/mens-rights-activism-the-red-pill?currentPage=1

Paul Elam, leader of anti-feminist group, A Voice for Men

Paul Elam, leader of anti-feminist group, A Voice for Men

Also follow Jeff Sharlet @jeffsharlet on twitter. He's great in general (often heartbreaking in his capacity for empathy) but has also been posting some hilarious responses he's received for writing this piece. 

Mark. 

Back to Friday Endorsements 02.27.2015

Posted on February 28, 2015 .

Seth 02.27.15: Exposure of Chicago PD's CIA style 'Black Site'

This is the sort of horrorshow that shouldn't be shocking in our current state of USA affairs, and yet...

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This Tuesday, Spencer Ackerman, writing for The Guardian, exposed the existence of a site in Chicago operated by the police department wherein detainees aren't read their Miranda rights, aren't booked in any way or allowed phone calls, and ARE routinely subjected to torture techniques, and in at least one instance, killed (or 'allowed to expire' if you wanna get nice and Orwellian). Check the article here:

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/24/chicago-police-detain-americans-black-site?CMP=share_btn_tw

The CIA has been running 'Black Sites' in other countries for quite some time, disappearing people that never have a chance to defend themselves, and the issue tends to remain abstract in our minds when it is 'over there'. But you know, it somehow breaks into sharp focus when such practices are 'brought home', as they often inevitably are when corrupt governments have the reins. Since the writing of the piece, folks have already begun speaking out about their personal experiences.

Take this article from The Intercept as an example:

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/26/exclusive-chicago-black-site-detainee-speaks/

I endorse Mr. Ackerman's exposure of the disturbing issue. I endorse the brave people that are speaking out after having been the victims of psychological operations perpetrated by an organization that is supposed to protect them.

It isn't too much of a leap to wonder if such sites exist in other USA cities, and if they do exist, I hope that the above will help expedite their exposure as well. 

 

-Seth

Posted on February 26, 2015 .

JOE 02.27.15: Man in a Dress by Jackson Bennet Schwier

 

This poem was recited to me late, late one night in Bushwick a couple of months ago by a man named Jackson Bennet Schwier, a traveler sent my way by a mutual friend in London. We were drinking and laughing and drinking, you know, carousing, and then someone decided it was time for a poem. "Give us a poem, Jack!" and the man transformed. The poem popped out with flare and nimbleness. --I'm sure I've never used that word before, nimbleness, but it's the right word now. That shit was nimble!

I was blown away by the sudden burst of stage persona and of course by the content of the piece, a subject very near to my bloody heart. It's astounding how much flack a guy still gets, in this very present day and even in so freakful a city as NYC, for simply wearing "women's" clothes. What's the big deal? I know our collective gender-feathers get ruffled when the lines blur and it gets tougher and tougher to tell who's who and what to fuck, but this poem expertly doesn't say what doesn't need to be said and instead it reads free and healthy and I love it. I made such an enthusiastic deal about it that he typed me up this copy and sent it rolled up in a red tube, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Great dude. Great poem.

Give him some love on the winternet: https://www.facebook.com/jackson.b.schwier

Thanks, Jack! How about an audio version?

Joe

 

Back to Friday Endorsements 02.27.2015

Posted on February 26, 2015 .

Mark 02.20.15 Mekong Delta Cafe

222 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD

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I'm in Baltimore for the weekend, kicking it at the American Craft Council Show at the Convention Center downtown (come hang, Baltimorians!). And my opinion has always been that's difficult to find good, authentic food in the inner harbor area. Until now. A little off the beaten path, in what appears to be some sort of corporate-y shopping center food court, unglamorous and inconspicuous, lies perfect Pho. If you're a Pho-fan like myself, you'll flip. Well-balanced aromatic and tangy home-made broth with tender slices of chicken (or rare beef if you prefer). It's clear the owners of Mekong Delta have been doing this exact thing for a very long time. And why would you change if you got something so right? If you find yourself in the downtown Baltimore area for whatever reason (like, you showed up to our show here Saturday a couple hours early), and you're hungry for something perfect and satisfying, go to Mekong Delta. 

Mark

<<<< Back to Friday Endorsements 02.20.2015

 

Posted on February 20, 2015 .

Seth 02.20.15: Drummer Brain

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Science says: Drummer Brain operates using non-linear rhythm processing. In theory, we problem solve differently than most people - you know, the beat of a different drummer and the like. I'll take the 'community building' hypothesis in these studies as an optimistic challenge - one that I take very seriously. It certainly helps explain a lot of my creative drives...I'm just a pattern recognizing organism connecting dots across space and time.

Affirm, deny, reconcile, ya'll. And don't forget to jam with a drummer!

 http://m.mic.com/articles/89363/science-shows-how-drummers-brains-are-actually-different-from-everybody-elses

 

-Seth

 

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Posted on February 19, 2015 .