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by Diepiriye Kuku

29 Mar 2009

Despite exploiting Hollywood’s time-honored race-baiting, and employing ‘other’ hating tricks- the fallen hero wears black, gels his hair like a sissy, sways his hips to funk and works it out in beatnik jazz scenes - Spider-man III does manage to offer a timely critique of the socio-political world that characterized those times. As the ensuing election proved, Americans were indeed fatigued of their own arrogance and propensity towards global domination. Arguably, these sorts of films helped pave the way by building awareness of the need for, and utility of coalition and dialogue, which are so central to the new administration.

Hidden beneath the more superficial narratives is the superhero’s mortal alter-ego Peter Parker’s rejection of a ‘normal’ life however romanticized by the aged widow. Spidey prefers to be a hero. Or, is it that we really do need to reject the Mary Magdalene, the savior’s wife. Must our heroes be ascetics?

“Revenge,” Aunt May cautions young Peter Parker, “is like a poison. It can take you over…turn us into something ugly.” Our protagonist had gloated in the now trademark cowboy slogan We got ‘em after his alter-ego’s alter-ego (the dark-suited Spider-man), acted as judge, jury, and executioner of his uncle’s alleged murderer. In the earlier Spider-man entries, our hero deals out capital punishment to the sand demon Flint Marco, AKA the Sandman, a criminal on the run for general crimes, and especially for widowing Aunt May and slaying the unlikely hero’s only patriarchal figure- the benevolent Uncle Ben. Yet the issue here is Spidey’s self-righteous mandate to defeat the axis of evil, which, like writer David S. Goyer’s Batmans (2005 & 2008) and arguably the newer Harry Potter’s Order of the Phoenix, only emerges in response to the hero’s arrogance.

Summer 2007’s blockbuster sequel asks the audience to sympathize with Uncle Ben’s killer, who became criminal impulsively under duress from poverty and finding a way to secure life-saving medical care for his withering young daughter. We are shown a lengthy scene of Flint gently caressing his sickly offspring, resisting the distraught mother’s accusation that the Sandman is a common criminal along with ensuing connotation that he is a bad person, all of which transpires in front of their daughter. His image has been demonized and demoralized. What seems an increasing and urgent trend in these trying times is that just like in the film John Q. Moviegoers are asked to ponder who’s ultimately responsible for the societal destitute that gives rise to such desperation in the face of such opulent wealth, such as the sort found in the film’s other villain.  Interesting that filmmakers choose health care to resonate with mainstream audiences. Our health care system is premised upon an individual’s ability to produce wealth. Yet without any cash to begin with, living and eating well is itself a challenge, not a right, which, like our economy, wrecks havoc around the world. Only those with wealth may survive, LITERALLY.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” repeats Uncle Ben in Spidey’s visions. Visually, the filmmaker almost over emphasizes the ghostly nature of Uncle Ben as Peter Parker/Spider-man recalls the fateful night of the patriarch’s untimely death in Spider-man. It is a testament to the holiness of his words, like God entrusting Jesus to communicate with humanity- go forth and save ‘them’ for they know not how sorely they sin. In our cinematic fantasies we believe that we will be saved by a super-being who can walk on water and, perhaps, change water into wine, or at least live beyond reproach like an ascetic. Again, the Jesus/Oedipus narrative gets repeated here in all too convenient ways. Uncle Ben and Aunt May don’t have their own kids, so their parenting young Spidey is almost immaculate, and unsurprisingly the couple are portrayed as such. Ben appears in Spidey’s mind like divine inspiration, like God speaking directly to his son the savior. And poor May is just a weeping old woman whose heart is pure, and forgiving- worthy of adoration one supposes à la Mary. And for Hollywood’s sake, romantic love is threaded through.

Aunt May is steadfast in her convictions even when her young savior reveals that her husband’s violent death has been violently avenged. Do we feel any safer with capital punishment? Aunt May says no to our leader, our modern martyr. It is the classic Oedipus triad where the son can only come to terms with his humanity by realizing his father’s omnipotence through his demise. The (almighty, infallible) father must exist however ethereally. Consequently, he cannot exist on this planet, cannot be shown to be near humanity, if the ideology of patriarchy is to exist: We must have faith in there being one perfect man, that he is white and wise. To fulfill all of this He cannot walk amongst us, otherwise He would in some way face his own fallibility and humanity, therefore He must at some point perish, and His son must be super, if we are to all persist in the belief in the highness of man, and here I additionally cite Superman and ethereal visions of his parents, and a similar narrative in Superman Returns. In other words: our belief system is reduced to God with a big “G”, and patriarchy with a big “P”.

“Well, miss Vale”/“Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light?”
“I always ask that of all my prey”/“I just like the sound of it”/(screams)

Resolution to this conflict arrives when Peter Parker finally heeds his Aunt’s advice: to place his ego behind the needs of other. Notably, this is just as the Sandman had done, albeit initially through criminal tides. Facing loosing his friend, Spider-man put aside his ego and asked for help. He allied himself with friends old and new to defeat his own arrogant, self-righteous, vengeful ego, which had spread and taken an even more insidious form: Venom. Spidey’s arrogance caught up with him when his enemies decided to take sides with one another. Alongside the Sandman, there’s Venom, who came to being due to the scorn of mutual arrogance and competition. To reiterate, Venom and Spidey, as well as Sandman and Spidey came to blows over money and power, too. Their egos raged over money and (power over) pussy. The two villains teamed-up and threatened Spidey’s only friend.

The real battle was resolved when Spider-man’s own consciousness was raised, the internal battle over the famous tagline about responsibility and power. Only when he sheds his mean, funky, hip black persona can he re-ally himself with friends in order to prevail, and save his city from the menace.  Guess where this redemption will take place?

Crowds will sit perched on their seats for the final showdown- so action ridden is the scene. After having suffered from his own follies, isolation and arrogance, our hero learned the value of coalition building, Spider-man demonstrates the most powerful attribute accumulated from all of his great power: Forgiveness. Interestingly the internal struggle took place in a religious place of worship, where the most compelling social commentary of the film went down. In this scene our protagonist’s new archenemy enters church, and at the pulpit on bended knee, in the most ardent and heartfelt, he manner whispers this prayer: God, please kill Spider-man. Is even God against ‘our’ enemies? Isn’t the same God with them? Isn’t this the modern day Crusades.

Strengthened with the power of vengeance, Peter Parker/Spider-man breeds his own enemies, much, without much conjecture, like America’s arrogance fed Al Qaeda. Irrespective of one’s socio-religio belief system, praying for the death of another cannot sit easily.

Compassion triumphs in this flic, where even Spidey and his patriarch figure’s murderer come to peaceful terms, each finally able to see the other’s humanity through finally accepting their own. Like in real life, such arrogance and self-righteousness only succumbs to its own match. Rarely are we introspective enough to question our own beliefs and arrive at our own (in)humanity unless provoked. Yet, in Spider-man III, even the bad guys aren’t so bad if we can just see beyond our own egos. What’s more, it friendship, rather than romantic love, than conquers all.

by Lara Killian

29 Mar 2009

Yet another distracting factor in my ongoing mental vacillation between coveting Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s Reader: Sony has recently teamed up with Google to get access to all those public domain digital versions of Jane Austen and Shakespeare Google has been stockpiling.

by Jason Gross

29 Mar 2009

By now you know Blender has joined the unfortunate ranks of music magazines that have gone under. I had pretty mixed feelings about this myself. I’d written for them before, plus I knew people who worked there and liked some of the list-making and funny/snarky features that they’ve done. On the other hand, like Rolling Stone, I usually hated the covers (the subjects and the photos) and didn’t think some of the wild energy matched say Creem in its heyday. Nevertheless, its passing is a big event, with lots of ramifications in the music business.

One sign of that came from a missive that Signal to Noise magazine (“Journal of Improvised and Experimental Music”) sent around to its writers this weekend. Signal to Noise, as the editor noted, is about as far part from Blender, in terms of coverage and tone, as a music magazine could be. Nevertheless, the editor knew that this was an important moment in music journalism, wondering aloud ‘if it could happen to a powerhouse like that, are we gonna be in trouble too?’  Good question. 

And the sad answer is yes, this does spell trouble all around. Part of the problem is online strategy. No Depression readily noted that this is what killed the print edition, even though they’ve been able to revive themselves online. Harp pretty much acknowledged as much too, though they were also reborn now as Blurt (and coming out in print now too).

Similarly, when I stopped by the Spin offices a few weeks ago, a big meeting was going on where they were talking about their online strategy and how they could best target their audience nowadays. It’s obviously a conversation that needs to be had but I was also kinda worried that this kind of talk needs to accelerate or have happened a while ago.

And what about the writers involved? Some of the staff at Blender will go to Maxim but others won’t. Similarly, freelancers will have to find other gigs in a market that’s rapidly shrinking. Sure, they can blog to their heart’s content (like here), but for many of them who rely on it as their first income, this is pretty troubling. We as readers stand to lose some important, thoughtful voices in this field or will have to hunt around to find where they land elsewhere.

(As a side note, this also poses an interesting problem for Press/PR people. Where they’d once know to include a big dog like Blender on their list to work with, they’re gonna have to turn to online sources more and more. You might think “that’s great for blogs and more sites are gonna get taken more seriously!” Not quite though. Even online, there’s hierarchies and favored destinations so basically, what’s gonna change is that a new set of noted gatekeepers are gonna rule the roost on the Net)

Let’s go back to Signal to Noise‘s worry about Blender and think about this—if Blender can collapse, who might be next?  We think of magazines like Rolling Stone or Vibe as the government did about AIG—they’re too big to go down. One big difference is that if the magazines are able to go under, there’s not gonna be any bail out for them.

“So what?” you might say about publications. “They can just go online.” After all, the Christian Science Monitor‘s done that and after closing their print edition, Seattle P.I. did the same. That’s all good and well but the fact of the matter is still that the ad dollars (aka the life blood of a publication) are much less online than they are in print. So while the publication would save money with printing and distribution by going online-only, they still stand to lose much more when their revenue shrinks in ad dough. Not surprisingly then, Seattle P.I. will be much smaller online than it was in print.

The other shrugging argument is that with Blender and other publications disappearing, the action will just go on elsewhere online as it has been going on anyway. The problem with that is that it’s a half-truth. By design, music nuts will have to look elsewhere for music news, recommendations and such, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s online will take up all of the slack from the publications that disappear. Pitchfork doesn’t and can’t and neither can zines like mine—we each fill our own niches and though that sometimes intersects with the work of other magazines, it doesn’t take up the slack all the time either.

We can hope and dream that the patchwork of sites, blogs, zines and such will be enough to cover the bases in the music world (or we can even try to make it happen ourselves) but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t always and it can’t. Other publications will eventually pop up in their place but they’ll face the same problems of how to stay alive in a Net age. And as you might have heard, there’s no reliable model for that yet so there’s no guarantees for any of the up and coming pubs to survive either. That’s what’s kind of unsettling to me and if you’re a real music fan, it might just creep you out too.

by Bill Gibron

27 Mar 2009

One of the great things about art is its ability to make you see the common and the familiar in a totally different and unique light. Painting puts a stylistic impression on the world, while music translates ideas and feelings into sound and sonic expression. Film is perhaps the most endemic of the many formats. It allows for the greatest combination of facets, plus is relies on reinvention and reinterpretation to stay fresh and alive. This is exactly what happens to the horror film in Ben Rivers deconstructionist delight Terror! As part of Provocateur DVDs new Experiments in Terror 3, this brilliant breakdown of the standard fright flick is so radiant, so drop dead eye-opening in what it says about the genre, that it should be required viewing for all scary movie buffs.

As they have in the past, the Experiments in Terror series collects unusual and outsider examples of sinister short films from around the world. Past participants have been Damon Packard, Bill Morrison, and J.X. Williams. This time up, we are treated to six sensational examples of avant-garde artistic invention. Williams shows up again with the Christmas themed Satan Claus, while famed underground legend Mike Kuchar conjures up the mummy mania of Born of the Wind. Rivers’ Terror! costars with Jason Bognacki’s The Red Door (more of a trailer for an upcoming feature than a full blown film), Carey Burtt’s toyland expose of The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase, and the silent film fascination of Marie Losier and Guy Maddin’s Manuellle Labor. Add in Clinton Childree’s It Gets Worse and a pamphlet describing each offering, and you’ve got a killer compendium - both figuratively and literally.

It all starts with the animated atrocities of insane maniac Chase, a real life criminal who believed he was a vampire. Inspired by Todd Haynes and his Barbie doll based Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Burtt using basic stop motion techniques and some careful framing to tell the sensational story. There are moments of high comedy and sequences of unsettling psychological damage on display. By using the innocent items associated with youth, Chase’s crime become more compelling - and disturbing. Similarly, the black and white turn of the century cinematic techniques displayed by Losier and Maddin, as well as Chidree, change the entire nature of the horror film narrative. Both feel like malformed comedies, humor derived from death, birth, and the mutations that accompany each.

Elsewhere, Williams works his magic on the Mexican kiddie classic (and Mystery Science favorite) Santa Claus. Taking a subplot involving the rich boy and his inconsiderate parents and turning it into a tale of devil worship and demonic possession - with a little Profundo Rosso thrown in for good measure - we wind up with a wicked Yuletide treat. Even Kuchar manages a bit of bedevilment in his typical homage hysterics. This 1964 farce features the standard company from the underground icon and a plethora of his peculiar motion picture style. There’s high camp, over the top sexuality, significant gore, and a last act reveal that’s so outrageous it hurts.

Oddly enough, the only outing which lacks true impact is Bognacki’s Red Room. There are hints of incest, abuse, spirituality, and murder in this music heavy promo. Just as things start to sort themselves out, we get that most dreaded of creative con jobs - the tag “to be continued”. In fact, much of this prostitute vs. John vs. phantom presence plays like a music video for a forgotten ‘90s Goth act. All we need is Marilyn Manson showing up with a jaw spreader in his craw and we be rockin’! This is not to downplay Bogmacki’s talent - the material looks fantastic, and the post-production touch of placing an animated scar across the ghost’s eyes really works. Too bad it’s all in service of something insignificant and incomplete.

But everything here, no matter its value, is raised several substantive notches by the inclusion of Rivers’ genius dissection of modern fright. Terror! takes several recognizable films - everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween to City of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th to showcase the standard cinematic stereotypes and formulaic filmmaking techniques involved in manufacturing fear. We get the simple set up, the shot of feet stumbling in the dark, the unexpected reveal of the villain, the last girl struggles, the inept desire to explore the unknown, the sudden shocks, and most significantly, the gruesome, gory end game. This last facet is the most fascinating element in Rivers’ routine for many reasons - many of them very telling indeed.

Like pornography, horror’s unwholesome relative, there is a definite desire on the part of scary moviemakers to start out somber and build to a climax. All throughout Terror! , we anticipate the killings to come (especially once the individual films reveal themselves) and then spend nearly 20 minutes waiting for the payoff. All the while, the normal beats that keep us on the edge of our seats become delayers of our gratification. As Rivers randomizes the edits, drawing us closer and closer to the blood orgasm to come, we truly want the relief - and when it comes, it’s almost sickening in its satisfaction. Of all the films made about fear and the movies that monopolize said emotion, this is one of the very, very best.

And that’s par for the course when it comes to Provocateur and its itinerary of titles. One should simply sit back and expect the unexpected, whether it’s action figures and crayons creating blood-drinking dread or a famed filmmaker using his love of antique Tinsel Town for a fabulous play on words. No matter the age, ability, or aspirations, all of these ‘experiments’ succeed in showing that talent in any form - feature length or substantially shorter - can lift even the most mediocre of overdone genre. Horror definitely fits into such a mangled category. For all the good work done, there are thousands of genuine junk piles. This trip into terror is significant for many reasons, the least of which remains their artistic integrity. Like all good masterworks, they mean as much in retrospect as they do in reality.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Mar 2009

The new Super Furry Animals album Dark Days / Light Years releases digitally via Rough Trade on April 14th and in physical form on April 21st. Of course, as many of you know the Welsh popsters have already released it digitally on their own website. Here’s a slice of the tunes on offer, “Inaugural Trams”.

Super Furry Animals
“Inaugural Trams” [MP3]

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article