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by Bill Gibron

9 Sep 2009

There are very few visionaries left in Hollywood, with even fewer arriving every day - and with good reason. It’s not easy pitching your quirky, esoteric product to a group of suits solely interested in the bottom line. Today’s business model is about money, not the mind’s eye. Not matter how artistically pleasing or aesthetically sound, you just can’t stay completely true to your muse and not face some strong commercial (and career) backlash. That’s why Shane Acker’s story is so intriguing. After an Oscar nomination highlighted his beautiful, baroque animation approach, filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov championed his jump to feature films. The result is 9, a stunning, if narratively stunted exercise in optical bliss and plotting hit or miss that could have been better if it wasn’t so basic. 

As one of nine living burlap puppets in a desolate, post-War environment, our title hero hooks up with the rest of his reanimated brethren: 1, a despotic leader; 2, a kindly sage, 3 and 4, twins who work in an information archive; 5 whose one eyed façade hints at the horrors in this frightening new domain; 6, who sees prophecy in the images he draws; 7, a female fighter with more nerve than other of her kind, and 8, a lumbering bodyguard to 1’s stern leadership. Together, they must figure out what happened to the human population while stopping a massive factory-sized machine from creating destructive devices bent on bringing about their own demise. Eventually, 9 uncovers a secret about why he’s alive, and the power that such a status holds in bringing humanity back from the brink of utter extinction.

9 is the kind of movie that breaks your heart. It shows so much promise, but then wastes it on the same old fuddy duddy future shock storyline. After all, how many times do we have to sit through a “man vs. machines” parable where our arrogance and technological drive leads to our eventual undoing. Sure, director Shane Acker dresses it all up in World War I/II paraphernalia, the Nazi/Fascist overtones carried throughout with sledgehammer like subtlety. True, the tone is not child friendly, but geared more toward the Goth guy/gal and geek mentality. And yes, the voice work is absolutely amazing, everyone from Elijah Wood (as 9) to Crispin Glover (6), John C. Reilly (5), and Jennifer Connelly (7) spot-on in their delivery and demeanor.

But that doesn’t make the mechanical monster mash any newer or more novel. 9 constantly reminds the audience of The Matrix (especially in the look of its villains), The Terminator (in it’s A.I. gone gonzo themes), and numerous other examples of the speculative type. Along with an equally schizophrenic spiritual message - more on that in a moment - we are stuck following formulas that would barely work at all if not for Ackers amazing artistry. Indeed, the one thing that saves this proposed CG epic is the jaw-dropping production and character design. Whenever the story starts to lag, whenever the references become too recognizable or obvious, Acker delivers a robot or wide reaction shot that will absolutely floor you. He crafts vistas that take your breath away while populating them with particulars of equal optical excellence. Like the best kind of magician, 9 misdirects you from the misguided man behind the curtain to visual splendor that steals the show.

Still, we are stuck with narrative facets that don’t feel right. The whole “soul” situation makes little or no sense, the ability to trap such an enigmatic ideal in a tiny doll appearing counterproductive to the rest of the story’s set-up. In fact, it feels like a cheat, a way of showing audiences that, in the end, the human race will be saved. It doesn’t help that each of our nine leads are locked into caricaturist confines - champion, coward, iron fisted ruler, deliberate dreamer - making their path to the planet’s repopulation sketchy at best. And Acker never really explains his sci-fi rules here, something that is imperative in making this material work. Clearly, he was busier with the nuts and bolts of the film’s look than in trying to make everything in his wistful wasteland work in a literarily sound way.

And yet 9 defies you not to be moved by its visual acumen. Acker is clearly a genius in combining ideas, using a clever combination of the Victorian and the high tech, the junkyard and the completely foreign to forge a unique and memorable ideal. Sure, his puppets are nothing more than your standard sell-through figurines, but the rest of this rotting world has a perverse polish all its own. The villains here are undeniably evil in their cobbled together terror tenets. While the story never knocks us out, the action sequences and attention to detail certainly do. By the end, when we’ve wandered over from battles to matters of belief, the contrasts become more obvious. We need the bad to shore up the good. Without it, the treacle takes over, and the result is something that never quite feels new, even with all the up-to-date aspects of its approach up on the screen for all to see.

With an inferred demographic who will find this frequently flying way over their grumbling gradeschooler heads, it’s hard to see 9 becoming anything other than an obvious cult classic. Those who adore it will excuse the lack of narrative nuance, while others in the cinematic sect will worship individual elements like they are sure signs from God himself. One thing is for certain - Shane Acker has a seemingly boundless imagination that can salvage even the most simplistic, standardized sci-fi plot. 9 could have been a true animation masterpiece, the kind that rarely come along outside of a place called Pixar. Instead, it wastes a lot of creative energy on a concept that’s been before - and frankly, outside of the CG eye candy involved, better. 

by Rob Horning

9 Sep 2009

In the past few posts I have been trying to get at ways in which the fantasy of perfect markets can be deployed ideologically, used normatively to shape people’s thinking and aspirations, how we assess how reasonable our behavior is when we attempt to be “objective”. Here are some more propositions:

1. If the laws assume a particular institution, subjects will conform their thinking to accommodate the institution in that mandated form.

2. If attempts to legislate a rational market into existence occurs, to simplify governing and entrench advantages already embedded in the status quo, then people must be forced to become homo economicus, must habitually restrict self-knowledge to cost-benefit analysis.

3. Perfect markets imply an ongoing process of equilibria being found. A chief way of trying to legislate perfect markets into existence is to try to force equilibrium, mandate it as a norm.

4. Market rationality is not merely the presumption of calm, omnipotent calculation in an instant. It also incorporates the assumption that we are always arbitraging as equilibrium are coalescing—this activity is presumed to fashion the equilibrium, but only after certain already-favored parties have already taken advantage of the imbalance in the process. This exploitation can then be popularly conceived as justice, as inevitable, as harmful to impede.

5. In an economy with alleged, presumed or mandated perfect markets, timing is what is always at stake. We exploits the discrepencies on the way to equilibrium, and who suffers the equilibrium as fait accompli. This is matter of how information and the opportunity to act on it is distributed. The advantages of timing—the arbitrage opportunity—tends to disappear from the macro view, hiding any exploitation or injustice.

6. All of this is an elaboration of the observation that the useful fiction of efficient markets can be used as an ideological tool to browbeat people and curtail freedoms, and also to hide actual imperfections pertaining to timing. It’s an ex post facto alibi for unfair outcomes.

by Sean Murphy

9 Sep 2009

Following my ardent endorsement of Rashanim (the great trio who have just released what may well be the best album of the year: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/109489-rashanim-healing-music-for-unrighteous-times/), I would be remiss to not also mention a new name we can hope to hear much more from in the years ahead. Yoshie Fruchter, also a guitarist, released his debut on (John Zorn’s label) Tzadik entitled Pitom in late 2008, and it is as indispensable as any of the Rashanim releases (”Pitom”, incidentally, means “suddenly” in Hebrew). It is similar in that it’s (mostly) rocking jazz with an explicitly Jewish sensibility, but where Madof’s traditional roots are always discernible, Fruchter sounds somewhat like a precocious younger brother who found the stash of ’70s prog rock albums and never put them down. In a (very) good way. Indeed, the kinship with the great King Crimson outfit of the early-to-mid ’70s is undeniable, not merely because both bands feature the same instrumentation (drums, bass, guitar and viola): there are songs on Pitom that recall some of the more adventurous tracks from Red and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.

Check it out:

by Allison Taich

9 Sep 2009

Jimi Tenor and Tony Allen
Inspiration Information Vol. 4
(Strut)
Releasing: 12 October

Eclectic Finnish musician Jimi Tenor teamed up with Afrobeat drumming legend Tony Allen to complete the fourth installment to Strut Records’ Inspiration Information series. The collaboration was recorded last November at Lovelite Studios in Berlin, and concluded this year with added sessions in Finland and Paris. In just over five days of jamming, the two successfully developed what has been described as a raw culmination of: full range Afrobeat repertoire, homemade instruments, vintage keyboards, dark humor, solid grooves, analog recording, and tight, “firing musicianship”. Members of Tenor’s Kabu Kabu band sat in on the sessions, in addition to Berlin-based guest MC Allonymous.

SONG LIST
01 Against the Wall feat. Allonymous
02 Sinuhe
03 Selfish Gene
04 Path to Wisdom Feat. Allonymous
05 Darker Side of Light
06 Mama England
07 Got My Egusi Fix
08 Cella’s Walk
09 Three Continents

 

by Diepiriye Kuku

9 Sep 2009

Anything for straight hair. The first lady of the nation and the first lady of Hip-Hop all have straightened hair. “Just to get those kinks out.” Every girl in my family has gone through this, and I wonder why we really need to get our hair “done.” Rough. Abusive? What about charges? Haven’t we all already abandoned her, anyway. We’ve already told her that she ain’t no body unless your hair gets done! Why can’t we be nappy, kinky, happy some-bodies! People regularly talk as if nappy hair was the most negative thing on the planet. We won’t feel good about ourselves with this intact. We’ve long since abandoned this girl.

Nappy ass hair …  Broke ass kitchen

If we are to be honest about who we are, white America needs to know the pains MOST black girls go through in order to arrive at an acceptable—let alone respectable—place in this nation. Indeed, all our black icons straighten their hair. Most, like the mother in this video.

Self-hate amongst the formerly enslaved runs deep, and no amount of denial can mask black Americans’ attempts to not be so damn black. Consider this video circulating on YouTube each time you view Beyoncé on stage, hopping and hollering, gallivanting and hair shaking.

“Now, some online viewers were so disturbed by this that they have even started their own investigations, trying to trace the little girl and the woman so that they could file abuse charges with authorities, but this has prompted a great deal of debate online and a lot of soul-searching among African-Americans,” says NPR’s Tell Me More host Michel Martin, who (notoriously) wears her hair naturally nappy.

“Everybody wants hair that moves,” my mother says. Sure, whites tan, spending hours and major cash on bronzing tools to look like they are not white! Yet, the power equation is wholly different for the oppressed. Whites can flip on any channel, open any glossy, or page through any journal and see all sorts of images that show the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

“Nappy head girl,” the adult woman says, straddling the small child down on the floor, briskly combing out her hair. The clear statement here is that your ‘nappy ass hair’ is just plain WRONG. Another young girl can be heard commenting in the background. She is perhaps the videographer, capturing a ritual to which she is probably already numbed, as are many reading these words. Straightened nappy hair is the primary way that most are exposed to nappy hair.

My charcoal-skin little cousin has but few resources that remind her that she’s not just “dark, but beautiful”, as people have said, as if to excuse her for being so damn dark. Yet, none of her teachers in school remind her, none of the glossies we buy tell her, none of the channel surfing we do on cable, and none of the music on the radio convinces her that black is beautiful.

That’s why “I’m Black and I’m proud” is political. And for those few years when James Brown was between his conk, for the few years that the Godfather of Soul wore his own natural hair, he made it a statement. He picked his nappy hair out, releasing all but a few of those kinks, to form an afro—a hairstyle that requires much ado about nothing. (Though admittedly it was much, much more than the legacy of the nation’s first female and first Black millionaire had done.)

Madam C. J. Walker made millions helping black people get rid of those naps. Have we felt any freer? Years later, the wealthiest (self-made) woman in America is black. And no place does she go with her won natural hair. It’s damn straight. She’s got her own TV network, and save for her roles in The Color Purple and Beloved, her kinks are long gone.

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