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Tuesday, Jun 24, 2008

From a Perfect Sound Forever reader: “ARE YOU GUYS SERIOUS WITH THE NEW ISSUE JUST READING A 96’ DELTA 5 INTERVIEW AND I SEE SOME WEIRD STUFF FLOATING AROUND ON YOUR FRONTPAGE HOPE ITS A JOKE ALWAYS THE BEST KEEP IT UP.”  And then a follow-up: “I guess respects need to be paid in some sense, but I thought the esoteric integrity seems shot (sublime, janet jackson, thurday).  All I am saying is, I love your guys articles, interviews, etc.. and I don’t want to be a jerk, but please, just don’t turn into Rolling Stone.”  From another PSF reader: “Worst issue ever!”  It’s probably the most controversy that Janet Jackson has seen since the Superbowl- her picture on the cover of a zine.  So, are they right and did I foul up the standing of my publication but giving virtual space to Ms. Jackson and other above-the-ground artists?


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Tuesday, Jun 24, 2008

My expectations may have been all wrong for the Takashi Murakami show, (originally I mistakenly wrote Haruki) which is currently at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Murakami is perhaps most notorious for designing bags for Louis Vuitton and making a retail location for their sale an installation in his show, so I expected some investigation of consumer culture and branding as contemporary forms of art—a problematization (to use a good Foucauldian word) of the preeminence of branding in our culture. But instead it was “superflat” to use Murikami’s own term for his style—lifeless and at every turn unprovocative, blankly cheerful when embracing motifs derived from toys, unconvincing when aspiring to creepiness, with the lone exception of a video piece about a E.T. like robot-boy character who wants to be able to love like a real-life junior high school boy, presented as a series of fake commercials for a nonexistent TV series. That piece succeeded in messing with where we placed our empathy as viewers and made us reconsider what nostalgic fantasies of adolescence and sci-fi-themed escapes are about. Teen alienation is literalized, refigured in a way that makes that pain palpable and truly ridiculous at once—a far cry from the way teen angst is an empty, stylized trope in our culture at large, and definitely in a different league of artistic inquiry than the Super Mario World juvenilia, the McDonald’s Playland-like installations, the self-satisfied gestures toward commerciality in the rest of Murakami’s show.


Presumably we are supposed to be at a point where we are not expected to be outraged at the commercialization of art, and are instead being asked to appreciate the artistry in the creation of a brand campaign. But if that is so, the joke is still on us for going to see an inferior execution at a museum when much better campaigns are taking place all around us. We’d be better served going to the long awaited grand opening of the Ikea store in Brooklyn. That is branding, democratization of design, identity crafting through purchases meant to shape the field of everyday life on perhaps the largest scale in the world. At the Murakami show, I felt like the artist was trying to cajole me into granting him leeway for the shallowness of his creations, as though they weren’t exactly his fault and merely expressed the democratic spirit inherent in niche marketing: Everybody gets their products—Louis Vuitton bags for the rich, stuffed animals and sticker sets for the less rich. But that’s not an excuse for creating works with no frisson, with nothing that seems ingenious or provocative. Instead, there were hollow gestures—a statue of anime characters with big breasts squirting a milk lasso; a mushroom cloud landscape; a room wallpapered with cutesy eyeballs. Was it a comment on how surveillance infiltrates our lives under the guise of welcomed entertainment? How we mistake Big Brother for something cute and cuddly? It just didn’t seem like there was enough evidence to attribute such ideas to Murakami; I felt like I was going to my own bag of argumentative tropes to try to engage with what I was seeing, that I was reading it all against the grain rather than reveling in what was supposed to be, I think, a dazzling tour de force of sensual overload, of fun, flashy surfaces.


In the end I wasn’t convinced that pop art is anything other than a dual-edged mockery of actual pop culture and the kind of art consumers who’d rather engage with his work than other sorts of fine art that requires more cultural capital—more knowledge of artistic tradition, etc. The wall cards suggested that Murakami was modifying various Japanese aesthetic traditions, and maybe you need to be Japanese to appreciate the subtlety of his approach. But that ended up making me think Americans looking for an analogous experience should skip Murakami and instead go to DisneyWorld. Murakami seems to want to bring the spirit of childlike wonder and unreflective excitement typical of theme-park goers to the museum, but instead he made me feel like I now had to take the solemn spirit of museumgoing to the amusement parks. That’s the problem with trying to collapse that particular dichotomy—the dominant term (in this case high culture) wins out and corrupts the populist and potentially subversive pleasures to be found in the subordinate sphere. The inversion of values doesn’t stick; pop culture isn’t afforded new respect while remaining truly popular—the popular audience just ends up being alienated from what once seemed like simple pleasures made for all of us by the new audience ironizing and problematizing it all by force of habit.


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Tuesday, Jun 24, 2008

Allen’s Latest Gets a Preview
Yahoo Movies has landed the exclusive trailer for Woody Allen’s latest, the love triangle themed Vicky Christina Barcelona. Starring Oscar winner Javier Bardem, along with international beauties Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, the 15 August opening promises lots of sexy subtext. You can find the first look by clicking Yahoo






Mummy 3 Finally Gets Its Trailer
While few are clamoring for this third trek into CGI spectacle, Rob Cohen is really trying to sell his take on the Mummy material. With Jet Li on board, and a distinct Jason and the Argonauts feel to the initial images (gotta love swashbuckling skeletons!) this could be some cornball, b-movie fun. It could also be some overdone summer schlock. The first full length trailer offers a clue. Rob Cohen Blog





Frank Miller Blogs for The Spirit
White hot after the success of Sin City and 300, Frank Miller is bringing his version of the classic comic hero to the big screen. While The Spirit won’t hit theaters until Christmas 2008, the writer/artist turned director is blogging about his experiences during production. Check out his latest entry Frank Miller Blog and look over some of the amazing graphics and teaser posters at the official SITE





Oscar Tries to Clean Up Troubled Categories
In a move many find to be far too long in coming, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is revamping how the Best Foreign Film and Best Original Song Oscars are given out. Controversy has surrounded the categories over the last few years, as numerous eligible tunes were purposefully disqualified, while some films (Dreamgirls, Enchanted) dominated the category with three nods each (oddly enough, both went home empty-handed). Under the new rules, no movie can claim more than two slots comes showtime. Also, in a bid to remove the reputation of failing to nominate the best movies from the international community, a committee of members will select the first six choices each year, with an executive group picking another three to make sure no quality selection (Persepolis, 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days) is left out of contention.




Spike Lee’s Latest Tackles Time Travel
According to Variety, the African American auteur, having just wrapped up his take on the legendary Buffalo Soldiers of World War II (Miracle at St. Anna, September 2008), has just bought the rights to the memoirs by Ronald Mallett. One of the nation’s first African-Americans to earn a PhD in theoretical physics, Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality should be his next project. Read more about it here. Variety





JJ Abrams Newest Shrouded in Mystery
Only the mind behind Cloverfield and Lost can think up something like this. After reading an intriguing New York Times article on a weird Manhattan apartment and the eccentric couple who spent several million dollars turning it into a collection of hidden compartments, puzzles, poems, codes and games to amuse their four kids, he immediately bought up the rights with an intention to turn it into a big screen comedy. Read more about it here. Wired





Lucas to Take on Tuskegee Airmen
After completing work on the upcoming CGI Star Wars film (and eventual TV series), George Lucas has gone into preproduction on Red Tails, a historical epic focusing on the efforts of the all black Tuskegee Airmen. Vital to the success of World War II bombing missions, the LA Times has an in-depth story on both Lucas and some of the men behind the accounts. LA Times






Obituaries

Stan Winston


George Carlin

DVD releases of Note for 24 June

Charlie Bartlett
Definitely, Maybe
Demons Among Us (Troma): Read the SE&L Review HERE
The Hammer: Read the SE&L Review HERE
In Bruges
Long Dream: Read the SE&L Review HERE
Offensive Behaviour (Troma): Read the SE&L Review HERE
Persepolis
The Spiderwick Chronicles
10,000 B.C.


Box Office Figures for Weekend of 20 June

#1 - Get Smart: $38.3 million
#2 - The Incredible Hulk: $21.7 million
#3 - Kung Fu Panda: $21.5 million
#4 - The Love Guru: $14.1 million
#5 - The Happening: $10.0 million
#6 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $8.3 million
#7 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $7.0 million
#8 - Sex and the City: $6.4 million
#9 - Iron Man: $4.0 million
#10 - The Strangers: $1.9 million


Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
Wall*E - Pixar’s latest, the story of a lonely robot left behind when Earth becomes inhabitable, promises to be this weekend’s box office monster. Rated PG
Wanted - In this new geek masterpiece, lowly office drone Wesley Gibson discovers his heritage, and lineage, to a secret society of assassins. Rated R
Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl - It’s the Depression, and budding reporter Kit Kittredge helps her family run a boarding house as she investigates claims against the local hobo community. Rated G


Limited
The Legend of God’s Gun - a superb psychedelic spaghetti Western, akin to Alejandro Jodorowsky on even more peyote buttons. Rated R
Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot - this documentary follows a several street basketball players as they pursue their dream of being crowned king of Rucker’s Park in Harlem. Rated PG-13
Finding Amanda - Matthew Broderick and Brittany Snow star in this alleged comedy about a hack TV producer forced to help his niece find escape from her addictions. Rated R


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Tuesday, Jun 24, 2008

I read this article in the Guardian today—a brief interview with author/poet Luke Kennard. The interview is a standard Q&A, but some of the questions are quite probing. Like this one, for instance: “How do you survive being alone in your work so much of the time?” I don’t know if I’d have Sarah Kinson’s courage to point that one anyone’s way let alone a writer (let alone a poet). But that’s why we have the Guardian, I suppose. This question, though, did not elicit the interview’s best response. That came to this question: “Do you find writing becomes any easier over time?”


Kennard, author of The Solex Brothers, responds:


It always feels like starting again—like I have to relearn everything I thought I’d got the hang of. Sometimes I just sit there screaming into my hands.


What a great and terrifying image. It got me thinking—what do other writers think of this notion of writing “getting easier” with time? I did some Googling and I found that many writers are asked just this very question. Here are some of the more interesting answers:


Hubert Selby, Jnr said this in an interview with Cune Press:


The writing itself has been much easier since Last Exit [to Brooklyn]. I spent six years writing Last Exit to Brooklyn, but that time was spent learning how to write. And I started [to develop] the necessary tools in that process to do whatever it is needs to be done. But I have a very difficult time physically sometimes just getting the energy to write. Right now I have some energy, so I just keep writing. The Willow Tree was very difficult from that point of view. I just couldn’t get a sustained rhythm going. I’d write for a while and—for a couple of weeks—and then maybe a year I couldn’t write anything. So each time I did get back to writing, I spent most of my time getting back into the rhythm of the book. So as a result, my main time was spent on editing and rewriting. It was a monumental job, getting rid of all that repetition. Ahh. (Shakes his head.) So the actual writing was only a few months, but it was over a period of years. But the actual act of writing does become easier. Any job becomes easier when you apply the necessary tools to do the job. So you have to keep giving yourself challenges. I enjoy doing things I haven’t done before. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail.


Read the rest of that interview here.


Samuel Beckett wrote in The Critical Heritage:


For some authors, writing gets easier the more they write. For me it gets more and more difficult. For me the area of possibilities gets smaller and smaller.


.


I found that on a Google Book Search.


Rani Manicka, author of The Rice Mother, answers the question in her book’s Penguin Reading Guide:


The writing process is easy. There is no struggle with words, only with distractions: the garden, the phone, the television, the fridge, the pub. But usually I can be trusted to wake up in the morning, crawl downstairs, get a mug of tea, and switch on the computer. Good days mean I walk away having fed the computer 2,000 words, and lazy days mean I have turned away before even reaching 1,000. Like all things, writing gets easier with practice. Certainly I learned a great deal when my book was edited for the first time. Looking back at the original manuscript now makes me cringe.


My favourite response, though, is this from UK author Louise Doughty. She tells the Telegraph: “Writing gets easier once you know your allies and banish your enemies.”


Ahh, what a brilliant thought.


Now, look at this: A really cool poem by Luke Kennard called “The Murderer”.


 


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Monday, Jun 23, 2008
L.B. takes a look at some of the issues raised in the ZA comments about assessing a game in the culture of rabid fans and supporting new video games.


Much derision and digital ink has already been spilled on the topic of fanboyism and video games. One cannot post a negative review of Smash Brother Brawl, no matter how popular you are, and not expect a mountain of steaming hate to be heaped at your door. The same goes for countless other revered games, be it Halo 3 or Twilight Princess. Any attempts to pose a poignant and insightful criticism of a game that has been hyped by the media is generally a good way to get kicked in the back of the head. Yet give it a few months and the tides always roll back, the fans move on to another game. Or even better, they calm down enough to actually notice the flaws in the game and maybe agree with you. What kind of relationship do we then establish with this “no negative thinking allowed” approach to criticizing newly released games?


 


The first question is what exactly is motivating these people to rabidly defend this stuff. The always-illuminating Brainy Gamer had a great essay and several comments that hit at the heart of the issue. The average underage gamer probably only gets one or two games a month along with one console. There is a natural instinct to defend that purchase as the best choice because it is, no matter what, that gamer’s choice. Abbott also makes the distinction between a critical piece and a review, since one involves the cultural importance of a game and one involves whether it’s worth shelling out the cash. One is looking at the game’s importance in terms of the growing canon of video games, the other is looking at how much fun it is. These do not always coincide nor do many consumers necessarily care. Zork is a historical landmark in video games. The average player should look at it to gain a better understanding of the medium’s origin and appreciate the clever dialogue. But I can’t imagine many people advising someone to shell out twenty bucks for it just to play for fun. When we tell people they really need to play a game, how much should that advice be conditioned to our wallets? Because once someone drops the hefty price on a game that’s fresh out the gate, that’s it.


 


Another observation on fanboys is Leigh Alexander’s oft-cited piece the Aberrant Gamer essay, which outlines the problems in expecting any kind of objectivity from gamers or reviewers anyway. We are psychologically conditioned because of our familiarity with a mascot to like a game. We trust Mario, we like Master Chief. Anything they do is going to garner a more favorable response than something entirely new. It’s also inherently a part of gamer culture to identify with its symbols and icons.


Yet beyond the rabid screaming posts of death that makes many journalists quiver, there is also the fear that giving a game a bad review is like giving video games themselves negative input. GTA IV received so much press and attention from non-gaming media that for the brave few who pointed out flaws in the games, it almost comes across like they’re insulting video games themselves. They’re insulting our public image by criticizing our daring attempts at being art. Which makes dealing with the fans all the more difficult when you know you’re shooting them and your beloved art form in the foot.


 


All of these issues are something a critic should be aware of before ripping into a newly released game: some people like a certain title no matter what, there will be plenty of time to say a game isn’t a classic, and the standards of greatness are not the same as the standards of marketability. And like it or not, game critics play a role in developing an artistic medium in our slightly disturbing way. The final issue with these problems is the outcry that objectivity is the ultimate solution. The problem being…people who want this don’t quite understand what they’re asking for. Objectivity is not about being unbiased, it’s being able to accomplish a task without any emotion or concern for the consequences. A truly neutral reviewer is perfectly capable of explaining why a game deserves a 1/10 just as much as they are capable of explaining why a game deserves a 10/10. They do not see a game or art, they see a thing. What the objective viewpoint then asks is what they want the thing to do. Do they want it to be good? Bad? Irrelevant? And in my personal experience with lawyers and objective thinking, most people are horrified, disgusted, or confused by this. Not only is the objective opinion fully capable of agreeing and supporting everything you say, it’s capable of making your opinion look stupid and idiotic at the same time. An objective opinion may look at a game neutrally, but it is still being steered by something.


 


Unlike Sergeant Slaughter, who wisely advised me as a child that knowing is half the battle, I believe that being aware of these issues is pretty much all of it. What you choose to do with your writing while being mindful of these issues is up to you. Between the gamer who has already spent cash on a game they now must like, the personal prejudices, and the dangers of objectivity…how do we talk about video games? Lester Bangs, a prominent music critic, once wrote, “Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.” It does not seem so great a leap to conclude that the problem with fanboyism is that they are looking at one face and game critics are looking at another. Destructoid’s 4.5 for ‘Twilight Princess’ comes from the lack of innovation and how quickly the game will be forgotten. 1UP’s perfect score of 100 for the same game comes from how fun and rewarding it is for Zelda fans thinking about buying it. Such a system of dual-perspectives on video games is not just necessary in terms of proper critical assessment, it’s about being fair to the games themselves. Not every game can change the way we think and play video games. There can only be so many breakthroughs like Ocarina of Time per decade, per century. For a critic looking at both sides of a game, perhaps the higher standard of the future can wait for the right time.


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