Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

The summer stickiness has pretty much dissipated (though nothing can completely kill the subway’s trademark stink), and All Hallows Eve is all but upon us. So, you know what that means: it’s CMJ TIME!!!! That’s right, the industry conference to dwarf all other music industry conferences kicked off in New York City yesterday and will continue through the weekend, hosting hundreds upon hundreds of newbies, up-and-comers, and soon-to-be superstars. As always, PopMatters’ Events crew is out in force, chronicling every inspired solo and dutifully noting every errant riff. While you’re waiting for our extensive breakdown of the conference’s best (and worst) performances, how about a few snapshots from the middle of the mayhem? Check back tomorrow for more photos courtesy of our friends at Flavorpill...


Check out Flavorpill’s CMJ preview...


CMJ Begins
Press and fans from around the planet descended on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to gather their CMJ badges, stock up on free swag, and play Halo 3. People recovering from hangovers and jet lag were comforted by some afternoon-friendly indie pop and classically influenced cover tunes. The coy, unassuming sound of Takka Takka started things off, followed by the cutesy boy-girl vocals and organ-tinged rock of Saturday Looks Good to Me—leaving us early birds yearning for the Festival’s proper beginning later on at night. Also performing the afternoon show was rock and roll violin group the Section Quartet and acoustic folk chanteuse Jennifer O’Connor. A great way to start things off before we head to L’Asso for $1 pizza, as CMJ 2007 prepares to launch tonight with Bouncing Souls, Voxtrot, Q-Tip, and many, many more.
Joe Tacopino


VOXTROT


Venue-Hopping at the CMJ Festival
Before we were off to see Austin’s Voxtrot, with young Canadian sensations the Most Serene Republic and Dean and Britta (who sound like a more mellow Thurston and Kim), there were a host of shows just south of Houston street where venue-hopping at CMJ is at its best. At Arlene’s Grocery, the Swedish synth-pop band Mixtapes and Cellmates took time in between their Postal Service-like tunes to pay homage to Baywatch heart throbs David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Just around the corner at Pianos, Benji Cossa and Rocketship Park gave us some pedal steel-inspired country rock before we headed into the dungeon-like space at Fat Baby, where Centipede E’est whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their psychedelic stoner rock. Finally, at the aptly titled Living Room, the band Clint, Michigan, playing with delicate vocalist Amy Bezunartea, lulled the crowd with their banjos, fiddles, and mandolins.
Joe Tacopino


THE ROSEBUDS


THE MOST SERENE REPUBLIC


DEAN & BRITTA


More photos


STYLOFONE
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

There’s a 2006 documentary still making the rounds, deserving of your attention.  Bling covers the connection between many rappers’ obsession with diamonds and the inhumane conditions of the many workers who mine them in Africa (Kanye West’s “Diamonds in Sierra Leone” was also part of this wake-up call).  One true believer is now rapper/bling entrepreneur Paul Wall.  His website now has a blood diamonds statement where he promises not to help exploit these workers anymore.  In the film itself, he went to Sierra Leone and met some of the workers who didn’t even have shoes (he bought them some) and saw miners working naked in horrible conditions.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Oct 16, 2007

Last week, in an issue that went out of its way to demonize Che Guevara, the Economist ridiculed the recent efforts by the Venezuelan government to reshape its public education system in accordance to Marxist theory.


the aim of the new education plan is “the formation of the new man”.
That phrase was coined by Ernesto “Che” Guevara in the early years of the Cuban revolution. His “new man” would be motivated by moral rather than material incentives. Cuba’s communist government has pursued this chimera in vain for decades. Now its Venezuelan ally is embarking on the quest. “The old values of individualism, capitalism and egoism must be demolished,” says the president. “New values must be created, and that can only be done through education.”


All public educational programs are ideological in nature; it’s state-sponsored training in how to be the kind of docile citizen it expects. (Hence, phys ed classes.) So there’s no sense in criticizing Chavez for making the attempt. But it is strange to see an educational program that seems plausible only as a marginal, oppositional, and subversive pedagogy enacted by fringe radical instructors rolled out as a top-down national initiative. The agenda outlined in the Economist article—“children will be taught that capitalism is ‘a form of world domination’ associated with imperialism,” ” ‘a critical attitude towards any attempt at internal or external aggression,’ ” “the need to replace capitalist with socialist “hegemony”, by taking over those institutions that transmit the values of society”—are all things that back in the day many of my fellow Freshman Composition teachers used to fantasize about bringing to our classrooms under the innocuous guise of teaching critical thinking. And I wouldn’t repudiate any of these goals now. But critical thought is primarily a matter of challenging official doctrines and resisting to whatever degree is possible indoctrination of any sort, including that administered by your leftist literature teachers. When the state dictates some new hegemony, it remains hegemonic; it’s still the institutional culture, which itself carries with it the traits that we idealistically hope education will take the edge off of—conformity, superficiality, suspicion, hierarchical discipline, rigidity, etc. The instinctual response to institutional culture often seems to be skepticism, so it’s hard to imagine indoctrination working. Hegemony is never complete enough to eliminate the space for the viewpoints you are trying to eradicate. Indoctrination is much more effective when it operates indirectly, outside of institutional culture, or in what is perceived by participants as interstitial to it—the talk at the water cooler, what your hippie teacher gets away with saying, the shared jokes between individuals about bureaucratic rules as they carry them out, the things the police condone. True hegemony is achieved when these spaces too are reiterating the dominant culture, as they seem to in capitalist society, where individualism and consumerism are played out as pseudo rebellions rather than conformist posturing, mouthing a party line. Sociologists—Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefervre—have theorized this interstitial space as “everyday life,” and much is made of how it subverts the official version of how things are that makes it into recorded history—the speeches of leaders, survey results, economic data, that sort of thing. If the state seeks to leverage everyday life to its advantage, though, it needs to be subtle and circumspect about it, figure out ways to present oppression and restriction as advances in freedom. Platitudes and maxims about the “new man” are probably not enough to create this impression. The best kind of education is that which engenders beliefs that it can’t explicitly pursue as goals, education that works despite itself to create students who are curious, self-motivated, and sufficiently critical.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Oct 16, 2007

Paul Steiger, outgoing editor of The Wall Street Journal, proposes a foundation-backed method for gathering investigative journalism.

Photograph by Soffia Gisladottir

Photograph by Soffia Gisladottir



In Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the first sign that the environment was degrading irrepairably was that owls—the symbol of wisdom—began to fall dead from the skies. It’s an image that didn’t make it into Ridley Scott’s epoch-defining film adaptation of Dick’s novel, Blade Runner, but he heaped other, different symbolism into the movie, which became a vision of a ruined world that continues to gain influence. In 1995 Martin Walker interviewed William Gibson and wrote: “When he first saw Blade Runner, Gibson staggered from the cinema in despair, fearing that someone else had already cornered his nightmare future. Slowly, he realised they had the street scenes and the landscape but not the mindscape, not the alternative sensory universe of the Net.”


In an interview in Wired magazine this month Scott talks about a newly-tweaked version of Blade Runner he’s just released and the movie’s influence on urban planners and architects. Wired asked Ridley Scott what it was like to be discussing a movie that he began 25 years ago.


It’s been ongoing so long, it never went away. So I’m used to it. It kept reemerging, and that’s when I realized that it had really unusual staying power. And it’s all very well, at the time, as the person who made it, to say, “Well, I knew it had.” But I didn’t, really, at the time. I knew I’d done a pretty interesting movie which, in fact, was extremely interesting but was so unusual that the majority of people were taken aback. They simply didn’t get it. Or, I think, better now to say they were enormously distracted by the environment.


Wired: What do you mean, “enormously distracted by the environment”?


Scott: Well, we — I mean I had new ground to address: the idea of doing a film that is not necessarily futuristic in the sense of the, futuristic science fiction, but actually more as a look into the future, and the future possibility, which can be more interesting. Because then you’re touching on various possibilities of, like, replication, which now are quite commonplace, but 25 years ago they were barely discussing it in the corridors of power where you have to — you know, like the Senate and things like that. They hadn’t even gotten to that point. I’m sure it was firmly in biological institutions and laboratories, but they hadn’t yet gone for permission. It was almost 10 years or 15 years after Blade Runner that I read about replication. Now, the film is not really about that at all, it’s simply borrowing that possibility and addressing it and putting it to making a sort of unusual protagonist or antagonist that will be leveraged into a Sam Spade or one of those detective, film-noir kind of stories. So people will be familiar with that kind of character, but not at all familiar with the world I was cooking up.


Ridley Scott talks about at the time being aware of the spectre of environmental breakdown, what we now call global warming, and giving that a futuristic aspect. What he created, in a way, was a kind of speculative investigative journalism. The question is now, since we’re living in a Blade Runner world, who is going to notice the owls falling, the erosion of wisdom, when the kind of investigative journalism undertaken by major newspapers as a public trust is disappearing?


One of the feeds I subscribe to is Jeff Jarvis’s Buzz Machine and he writes today about a new organization, Pro Publica, created by outgoing Wall Street Journal editor Paul Steiger.


I think that if we analyze the staffing and production devoted to investigation in American journalism, we’ll find that it’s a pretty damned small proportion of news budgets. And I suspect we’ll find that if it is not supported by large media organizations, it could be supported by foundations and public donation. That could come from independent organizations like Pro Publica and others (in its list of comparables, the Times misses the Center for Public Integrity). It also could come from independent journalists like Josh Marshall.


There is one caution to this: These organizations can be backed by and run by people with axes to grind. And so we may find an imbalance in investigation. That’s why the role of the editor, the journalist upholding public standards, remains important. Jay Rosen saw that when he started New Assignment and initially planned on having the public assign the stories (which I hope he still does); the editor stood in the way of the axes. And at Pro Publica, I have every confidence in its independence and intellectual honesty because it has Paul Steiger at its helm. It’s hard to name a more respected editor in this country.


No, foundations are not the salvation of newsrooms as we knew them. But this one could demonstrate that we could save — even expand — the scope of investigative journalism. I’ll be eager to watch.


Jeff Jarvis. Buzz Machine.


Jeff Jarvis links to a New York Times story about Pro Publica:


Paul E. Steiger, who was the top editor of The Wall Street Journal for 16 years, and a pair of wealthy Californians are assembling a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets.


The nonprofit group, called Pro Publica, will pitch each project to a newspaper or magazine (and occasionally to other media) where the group hopes the work will make the strongest impression. The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations.


Nothing quite like it has been attempted, and despite having a lot going for it, Pro Publica will be something of an experiment, inventing its practices by trial and error. It remains to be seen how well it can attract talent and win the cooperation of the mainstream media.


Richard Perez Pena. The New York Times. October 15, 2007


 


 


 


 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Oct 15, 2007


In the world of horror, you either “get” Lucio Fulci or you don’t. After starting his career in Italian cinema as a genre jack-of-all-trades (moving from comedies to westerns to musicals), he found himself hated by his homeland when he made the scathingly anti-Catholic Don’t Torture a Duckling (which hinted at the whole “priest-pedophile” issue years before it was acceptable). It took almost a decade before Zombi 2 (or as we here in the States known it, Zombie) refurbished his box office clout, turning Lucio into one of the most recognizable international brand names for excessive gore epics.


Zombie was followed by The City of the Living Dead (AKA Gates of Hell), a notorious bloodbath featuring young women vomiting up their internal organs and a man getting an industrial drill thrust through his head (all witnessed in loving close-up). Toward the end of his career, he was accused of repeating himself (The House by the Cemetery) or creating low budget, incoherent junk (House of Clocks, Cat in the Brain). Right in the middle of it all was the film that many consider to be his masterpiece, the often misunderstood and named The Beyond (or The Seven Doors of Death or And You Will Live in Terror: The Afterlife). It combined the guts and grue of Fulci’s newfound fondness for flesh rendering with a hyper-stylized visual flair and somber, sullied Southern Gothic overtones.


Over the twenty-five or so years since its release, The Beyond has developed a loyal and loud cult that champions its artistry and voices frustration at the horrible hack job it is usually made available in. For a long time, the only way to see this Fulci flick was to rent or buy an abysmal, pan and scan full screen edit job with the strangely suggestive Seven Doors title. Missing most of its slaughter, a good five minutes of mood setting prologue, and rendering the already jumbled film into an even more disjointed collection of random cuts, it was the stunted remnant the rabid Fulci fan had to dig his or her claws into. Thanks to the efforts of the unlikely duo of Sage Stallone (Sly’s son), who oversaw a major restoration of the movie, and Quentin Tarantino, who distributed it through his Rolling Thunder prestige label, The Beyond got its comeback (sadly, Fulci died before the rediscovery was in full swing). The end result, however, may be a small swatch of disappointment.


Our story begins when Liza Merrill inherits a dilapidated hotel in Louisiana from a distant relative. Naturally, she moves from the big city to the Big Easy to start anew. When one of the workmen helping to refurbish the place has a horrible accident, it seems to portend terrible things to come. A plumber named Joe is attacked and killed in the basement, and a long dead corpse is discovered. Joe’s wife dies of an accidental acid bath to the face. Then Liza runs into a blind girl named Emily who warns her about the inn’s haunted past. More gory accidents occur.


Soon it is learned that sixty years before, a warlock named Schweick lived in the lodge and occupied Room 36. The hotel was apparently built over one of the seven gateways to hell, and the strange sorcerer was either working to keep it closed…or trying to find a way of opening it. With the help of a local doctor and an ancient book, Liza must discover the truth about the “doors of death” and face down evil before the dead walk the Earth and plunge the planet into a nightmare world of malevolence.


The Beyond is an incoherent, chaotic combination of Italian terror and monster movie grave robbing that is almost saved by its bleak, atmospheric ending. It is a wretched gore fest sprinkled with wonderfully evocative touches. It has more potential than dozens of past and present Hollywood horror films, yet finds ways to squander and squelch each and every golden gruesome opportunity. It’s a movie that gets better with multiple viewings, familiarity lessening the startling goofiness of some of the dialogue and dubbing. It is a film that is far more effective in recollection than it is as an actual viewing experience. It would probably work best as a silent movie, stripped of the illogical scripting, stupendously redundant Goblin-in-training soundtrack drones, and obtuse aural cues.


Fulci is more than capable of creating stark and moving visuals, and there is nothing wrong with linking them together to form a dreamlike state of ambiguousness, but the problem with The Beyond is that the stream of consciousness style fails to build into an effective state of dread. Instead of being mortified at what’s around the corner, or what waits in darkened Room 36, we are pitched about like Tilt-a-Whirl patrons, the film hoping we are pleased with a less than smooth suspense ride.



The Beyond also suffers from the drawbacks of its ethnic heritage, a mishmash of ogre overkill that could be called the Pasta Eater’s Prerequisites to Heavy-Handed Horror. First and foremost in any Sicilian scare-a-thon, there must be a blank-eyed woman who seems determined and empowered in one scene, but that can also become completely useless and scatterbrained the next. She must radiate innocent virginity as she embarks on soul blackening escapades. There must be strange entities materializing from the ether, ghouls, ghosts, or spirits hanging out in the material world to warn or haunt us. There is always a pissed-off dog or monkey hanging around, some manner of mauling mammal to boost the beast factor.


And as with all pathways to a Roman roundelay, all Italian horror roads lead to zombies: slow, dull-witted, seemingly nonchalant members of the living dead who are more sedate than scary. Indeed, Fulci is not out to make his flesh eaters visions of cannibalistic evil. In some ways, the reanimated corpses in The Beyond are like plot point speed bumps, ambulatory path blockers that mandate the characters maneuver around or circumvent them in order to advance the storyline. They are never menacing, never seen munching on arms or even breaking a sweat. About the most macabre thing any of the clamoring cadavers do occurs when Joe, a plumber turned pus bucket, forces a wall spike through the back of the head (and up through the eye socket) of an unwitting victim.


The ocular issues of Italian filmmakers are another concern altogether. Speaking of peepers, Fulci does have his own unique fixations, fear fetishes if you will, that get overplayed and exaggerated in The Beyond. He must have had some blunt trauma to the eyeball at some point in his life, or a desire to deliver said, since he is absolutely obsessed with removing the gooey sight orbs from out of their slushy sockets. Ghouls poke them out, spiders chew them up, and random acts of fire burn and blind them. When we’re not witnessing the purposeful removal of the soul’s windows via cruel and unusual punishment, we are compositionally close up on them, director and cameraman filling their frame with bloodshot or baby blue marbles emoting to beat the band. Fulci is a director who takes the description of cinema as a “visual” medium both figuratively and literally.


Still, the focusing on one’s corneas is not the only thing obsessing this Mediterranean maniac. Lucio also likes to place his characters and action underground, usually in a filthy, body-strewn catacomb or water filled basement. Doesn’t make any difference if logic and location renders the setting stupid or impossible, if he can bury it beneath the Earth, Fulci is placing his plot in it. This means lots of darkened shots of people standing around, wet and dirty, just as confused as the audience about where they are and what lies ahead. Of course, this should all be incredibly moody and spine chilling, right? Sure, and tiramisu was Julius Caesar’s favorite food. Unfortunately, these fascinations are more monotonous than affecting. The choices are all obvious, the symbolism as rote and routine as a grad student’s short story. Yet without them, the film would be missing one of its main selling points. It just wouldn’t be a bit of Lucio lunacy without them.


And then there’s the gore. Italians in general (and Fulci specifically) love to ladle on the red sauce, and we ain’t talking about Mama’s homemade manicotti gravy here. If there is a chance to feature the inner workings of the human body in all their claret giving grisliness, Fulci will provide untold moments of chests bursting open, guts flowing like Vesuvius, and wounds gaping like waterless goldfish. A gash is not just a cut; it’s an open pipeline to the human circulatory system. When something bites or bashes someone, it causes untold internal hemorrhaging that always finds some way to spray out and spill all over the surfaces.


Blood is poured like syrup over dry IHOP pancakes and the camera is always moving in to capture the viscera and cartilage as it’s folded, spindled, and mutilated. Unlike the surgeon’s precision of Tom Savini or a warped weirdness of Rob Bottin, the Roman and Tuscan tongue gouger enjoy languishing over the mayhem their makeup creates and even muck it up a bit more to increase its lunch loosening. They can produce some truly spectacular and disturbing imagery, but they are also capable of constructing everything to look as fake as the forehead on an Irwin Allen alien. Imagination and malignancy are not attributes missing from their latex and greasepaint gross out kit, but occasionally, things can really look more or less mannequin.



So, with all these potentially nauseating engrossments in hand, it’s hard to understand why The Beyond is not a better movie. There are boatloads of body parts and blood. There are incredibly atmospheric settings and sequences. We get excellent shock value out of seeing a little girl’s heads explode in two and a dog rip huge chunks out of its master’s throat. Rotting corpses rise from filthy bathtubs and acid melts the faces (and most of the rest of the head) of random characters. So why aren’t we cheering in cheesy delight or mortified beyond our own moral tolerance? One answer could be overkill. After all, even a movie like Day of the Dead knew to throw a little politicizing in with its vivisection.


All The Beyond (or City of the Living Dead, or Zombi 2 for that matter) wants to do is wallow in lurid disgust until the organs offend you with their over-the-top gore and then add a scene or two of inspired visual poetry to offset the smell. Fulci is going to beat you over the head with the clots and sideswipe you with the sinew. Now fellow foreigner Dario Argento creates dream imagery we can relate to, attaching the nightmares of childhood into the real world reality of adults to disturb and unarm us. His hallucinations may seem as intangible as Lucio’s, but somehow he manages to fuse tone and texture together to create a truly unnerving experience. Fulci is all about the fester, the feel and pong of rotting flesh. Once you’ve sampled the repulsive stew, he kicks back and regroups until it’s time to serve another heaping helping.


Or maybe it’s the fact that gothic horror is just a hard sell in today’s short attention span marketplace, where werewolves battle vampires in Matrix inspired fight scenes filled with hectic stunts and CGI cartoon creatures - and yet the game playing fanboy still screams for more. Something as languid and repugnant as The Beyond just can’t register. Perhaps at an even slower pace, with more stunning images and settings, this movie would really spook. As it stands, its startlingly short running time and slapdash cinematic approach to story and scenes guarantees that once Fulci looses his audience, it’s going to be hard as hell to win them back…that is, until the ending.


It’s one of the few times where Lucio understands what he’s actually got going for him. The setting is remarkable, the acting pitch perfect, and the overall effect engrossing and yet incredibly disconcerting. It almost single handedly makes up for the previous exercise in jigsawed juvenilia. If the entire film had been handled like the last five minutes, fulfilling the prophecy the previous ninety minutes had all but mucked up, The Beyond would be a stellar work of breathtaking cinematic scope and power. As it stands, it’s just an above-average offering from a director gripped by heart juice, sewers, and tearing out tear ducts. The Beyond may be a celebrated work of forgotten genius, but why it is held in such high regard may just be “outside” your comprehension.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
PopMatters' LUCY Giveaway! in PopMatters's Hangs on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.