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Thursday, Oct 25, 2007

Must be some kind of zeitgeist thing but I’m noticing articles that complain about how works are art are over-explained in program guides. I really liked a piece by Alice O’Keefe (Information overload) which inspired me to wonder if we crits sometimes overdo it when we try to explain “difficult” art.  The answer is of course that we do sometimes instead of, as O’Keefe suggests, letting the work explain itself and connect with the audience.  Which isn’t to say that ANY kind of context should be tossed out the window but let’s not get carried away.  Another piece about classical music in the Philly Inquirer (Like exegesis with that?) echoes this idea as well as a hilarious piece at the Huffington Post (A gentle plea).


 


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Thursday, Oct 25, 2007

In BusinessWeek (which you may not recognize since its strange retro redesign) is an article about auto dealerships moving toward a “one-price” system, meaning the price the salesperson quotes you is actually what they intend to sell the car for, rather than being merely the opening act in a negotiation melodrama that will be followed by hard-sell histrionics, faked meetings with managers, some good cop/bad cop, and finally a deus ex machina deal. According to the auto dealerships, which create the bulk of their margins by mystifying the base price and burying its customers in bullshit, some people actually preferred the old system: “Dealers experimented with this before during the 1990s, only to be deluged with complaints from traditionalists who felt they weren’t getting a good deal unless they had the satisfaction of seeing a salesman cut the price right before their eyes.” I’d hazard that these “traditionalists” were so accustomed to distrusting car salesmen that they wouldn’t accept that a given price from a salesman was anything but a ripoff. No one can possible prefer a system where pricing is more opaque—car sales is the classic example of asymmetrical information distorting the market. If the salesman can assure that he always knows more than the customer, he can always work to maximize the rip-off. Or to translate into economic terminology, the salesman can make sure price discrimination works with maximum efficiency and buyers pay as much as they are willing to, not as little as the salesperson will accept. The haggling scheme is great for customers who can bargain on a fair playing field, as perhaps they might have been back when the deals were for horses and not theoretically identical machines. You could look in the animal’s eyes and into its mouth (unless of course it was a gift horse), get a sense of its spirit, get a feel for how it would hunt. For men in Trollope novels at least, this is an essential skill, a way to demonstrate one’s savvy, one’s practical worldliness. (This in no way justifies Trollope’s interminable fox-hunting sequences.) Some of this may have survived into car negotiations, as the article’s author suggests, but that was long ago, before it became apparent that the situations weren’t analogous.


Americans may have become too passive of shoppers to tolerate much haggling, which ceased to be a meaningful part of our culture early in the 20th century, when department stores lured customers with promises of haggle-free purchasing. This expectations has made prices much more sticky—they can’t adapt to inflation and to fluctuations in the values of currencies. Canadians are being punished by sticky prices right now— to cross the bridge to Niagara Falls costs you $2.00 American and $2.50 Canadian, even though the dollars have recently achieved parity. When you are talking about a few cents per unit here or there, sticky prices don’t seem too big a deal, but car dealers are faced with losing more like hundreds of dollars per sale at least, most of which probably hits the commission-earning salesman’s paycheck. But there is considerable psychological comfort in fixed prices, because you don’t have to feel like someone else got a better deal than you and your rights as a consumer-citizen were somehow grossly violated.


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Wednesday, Oct 24, 2007


Okay – so you’ve read the rules to making successful independent horror. You’ve learned the revisionist ropes and no budget parameters. Still, as a legitimate ‘learn by example’ individual, you’d like a few more examples of the digitally driven genre before stepping behind the camcorder lens and exercising your aesthetic. Well, you’re in luck. There is a wealth of worthy motion picture models out there, each one capable of proving that originality, innovation, and cinema art can indeed be forged out of blood, sweat, and poor credit rating tears. While each suggestion does suffer from the inherent limits of absent cash and amateur apprenticeships, they still remain a significant step in that ongoing clash between mainstream moviemaking and a new, more adventurous breed. On the other hand, it will take a great deal for future projection to match these movies’ trendsetting facets. They truly represent the best in handmade cinema. 


Before the bellyaching starts, certain titles already championed by SE&L are being purposefully left off in order to make room for some fresh faces. These otherwise notable novelties include anything by Eric Stanze, Chris Seaver’s sensational Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker and Destruction Kings, Scott Phillips living dead deconstruction The Stink of Flesh, several crackerjack Campbell Brothers films including Demon Summer and The Red Skulls, and Justin Channell’s comic classics Raising the Stakes and Die and Let Live. A quick overview of the 15 months of content available here will reveal that, for the most part, we’ve sung the praises of these films before. No, it’s time to shed some light on those outsider gems that struggle to get recognized among the slew of Sci-Fi Channel level product tossed onto the market in the most haphazard of ways. Therefore, in no particular order, here are 10 titles you’re truly going to love, beginning with a recent jewel:


The Blood Shed


Imagine if David Lynch and Rob Zombie had a baby, gave said malformed infant to John Waters to wet nurse, and allowed Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar Brothers to come over and babysit. With Tobe Hooper and Jack Hill as godparents and Edith Massey as life coach, the results would begin to resemble something similar to the wonderfully weird brain damaged b-movie The Blood Shed. The conceptual offspring of couture auteur Alan Rowe Kelly, this tasty take on the entire Texas Chainmail Family Massacre strikes an intriguing balance between scares, surrealism, and satire. It’s an eager exploitation experiment that’s a joy to behold.


Midnight Skater


Midnight Skater is a classic example of a “look beyond” film. If you can “look beyond” the amateur antics, unprofessional production values, and overall neophyte nonsense, you’ll really enjoy yourself. Getting there may require Ritalin, a gross of sugary juice boxes, and about a hundred trips to the video store - or at least a couple readings of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. This is horror hilarity as channeled through a TV eye mentality, issues of Fangoria, and untold reams of fan fiction. Brothers Andy and Luke Campbell pepper their film with unforgettable characters, and great gore set pieces, creating a brilliant bargain basement slasher epic.


Bleak Future


Bleak Future is simultaneously smart and stupid, realistic and retarded, wholly original and a complete and utter rip off. It borrows liberally from such future shock spectacles as the Mad Max movies, A Boy and His Dog, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, starting out as a solid spoof before becoming a frighteningly inventive take on humanity, horror, and the universal lack of Armageddon coping skills. Offering up a believable premise and a directing style that cribs from the likes of Kubrick and Lucas, Raimi and Tarantino, Brian O’Malley and his mates have made a true kitsch classic, a nerd’s nutzoid splatter fest.


Gory Gory Hallelujah


Sometimes, something so original comes along that it takes you aback for a moment, throwing off your usually sound and set criteria and aesthetic. Though it’s smartly realized narrative kind of falls apart toward the end, and its breakneck pacing means that much of the subtleties get lost in the chaos, Gory Gory Hallelujah is still one exciting, engaging film. Part religious rant (pro and con), part faith-based freak-out, this thoughtful provoking farce casts the keen, clear satirical eye of writer Angie Louise and director Sue Corcoran, to function as both Bible bashing and spiritual re-awakening. It’s a bloody, ballsy good time.



Jerkbeast


For a movie formulated out of a cable access program that’s premise basically consisted of brain dead pre-teens calling up the hosts to try their hand at swearing, Jerkbeast is brilliant. As an example of homemade cinema, with cast and crew working from little more than a dream and an extended credit line, it’s excellent. As a standard motion picture comedy, it’s a little wanting. Not everything works here. Some of the attempts at humor are obvious and lame. Still, as a genre joke starring a guy in an ogre suit and two tame slackers who want to start a band, it’s very endearing and engaging.


Buzz Saw


Serial slaughter…alien invasion…hopelessly inept handymen…you name it, Buzz Saw has found a way to add it into its mixed-up menagerie of the macabre. Imagine the Coen Brothers as the kings of carnage, or Wes Anderson exposing the true secrets behind Area 51 - that’s the visual vibe and narrative tone achieved by directors Robin Garrels and Dave Burnett. Beyond its bizarro world tendencies is a film that fully understands the requirements of a fictional realm. The filmmakers give their movie about murder and extraterrestrial menace untold dimensional details, making it as authentic and inviting as it is arcane and insane.


The Manson Family


Audacious, inspired and overdosing on the scurrilous and the sleazy, Jim VanBebber’s The Manson Family is one of the most remarkable films ever made about Charlie and his criminal clan. Its flaws are as obvious as the gore that flows from the victims’ bodies, and the moments of genuine revulsion are equally effusive. In his attempt to recreate the defining moment of the 1960s, VanBebber has struck upon a uniquely individualistic ideal. Instead of making that mad monk messiah the center of his story, the filmmaker strives to capture the essence of the Manson movement as filtered through a ‘70s exploitation recreationist’s approach. He manages magnificently.



Inbred Redneck Alien Abduction


The plotline couldn’t be more promising - invaders from outer space target a group of hopelessly hick hillbillies for their icky “experiments” and the government comes calling. Thankfully, writer/director Patrick Vos and his co-writer Adam Hackbarth do more than just flesh out this funny business. They create a comedy so novel and unusual that recent Hollywood horse-hockey just pales in comparison. Aside from the fact that bumpkins are basically humor gold, these devilishly deranged filmmakers find ways to give FBI agents and egregious E.T.s their own sense of silliness and savvy. The result is a misguided masterwork, an outsider opus you’ll revisit again and again.


Scarlet Moon


Dripping with ambition, dense with ideas and attempting the epic while maintaining the idiosyncratic, this attempt at a new modern mythology works, most of the time. Warren F. Disbrow is like a directorial encyclopedia of horror. We see sci-fi and fantasy elements merging with macabre to become a definitive statement of one man’s love for the scary and speculative. There are obvious nods to ‘60s drive in classics, ‘70s shockers, ‘80s teen slasher romps, the ‘90s kind of ironic eeriness – even a couple of non-horror classics get passed through the dissecting device. The final product is a mishmash of comedy and corpses, devil worship and dumbness.


Killer Nerd/Bride of the Killer Nerd


This is a certifiable classic, a perfectly executed premise of such outrageous originality that it’s amazing no one had thought of doing it before. After all, geeks are the original pecking-order punching bags, the bottom-of-the-esteem-food-chain freaks. What better way to celebrate an AV club member’s memories of how hellish high school really was than to turn a card-carrying corporal in the slide rule sect into a blood-and-guts slasher of the popular people? Bride does its predecessor one better. It takes the terror back to the hallways of senior year where it belongs, and makes the bullies of youth pay for all their verbal abuse.


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Wednesday, Oct 24, 2007

Loved the cat-slapping going on this week between lovers and haters of the new Gossip Girl TV series. The guys at The Intelligencer think the show is the greatest thing ever invented and that anyone who disagrees is, like, way uncool, while Lesley M.M. Blume thinks the show is not only complete crap, but a terrible influence on its young audience.


Blume, for The Huffington Post, writes:


Along these lines, Gossip Girl seems to tell us that there’s nothing to look forward to, and there will be nothing to look back upon ... except more of the same. We’re not just destined to become brittle materialistic adults; we already are brittle materialistic adults by the time we hit puberty. We have no choice. We’re wired for misery. If we have money, we’re destined to be miserable with it. If we don’t have it, we’re destined to be miserable without it, and spend our lives with our noses pressed up against the glass.


Intel his back:


We know (from photo evidence) that [Blume] hasn’t been in her thirties long enough to actually forget that the whole point of high school (and anything else leading up to the age of 21, at which point everything irrevocably and nightmarishly reverses) is, was, and will always be about getting older as fast as possible.


Hmm, Blume, I think, makes the better argument. The purpose of the Intel piece is to criticise Blume’s “reading” of Gossip Girl. However, it counters but a few of Blume’s key points—just the easy ones. Blume feels sorry for the kids today who have The OC and this new show to reflect their youth, while Blume had Heathers and Clueless and smart movies with smart teens. Ooh, Intel retorts—she’s just a jaded child of the ‘80s who also watched Alf. TV, Intel says, is supposed to be silly and far-fetched—hello?, they practially squeal. What was the argument again—something about reality? Alf fits in ... where?


Blume’s point is, on the whole, that in her day teens acted like teens—as they did in Alf and Growing Pains and Who’s the Boss?, and every show Intel mentions. Kids today, writes Blume, if you listen to shows like Gossip Girl, have lost what it was that made teens teens—innocence, naivete, and all that other good stuff. Intel tries again:


Lesley’s point here is that they try to make Blair’s character on the show act way older than her age, which, duh, is totally correct.


And then you realise they’re just not trying. You win, not through intellienget debate, but by metaphorically poking people in the boob and running off. Take that Lesley Blume! And, by the way, you look like Paris Hilton! It’s the anti-ouch, really, when your rival proves your point for you.


On Gossip Girl—check out EW‘s interview with show producer Stephanie Savage.


 


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Wednesday, Oct 24, 2007

There’s an interesting article at CNN about a Brazilian dance music phenom called technobrega that actually thrives on piracy.  Rest assured that the RIAA doesn’t approve…


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