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Thursday, Sep 6, 2007

Excellent article by Cory Doctorow in the Guardian explaining why DRM can literally never be foolproof and can always be defeated. Also worth noting is this wonderful article in the Boston Globe by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland about why arts education is so important and why it’s not for the reasons that you think.


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Thursday, Sep 6, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

David Dondero “Rothko Chapel”


From Simple Love on Team Love Records
From the acclaimed songwriting troubadour David Dondero comes Simple Love, David’s second release for Conor Oberst’s Team Love Records, and the follow up to the critically lauded 2005 release, South of the South. Few songwriters have experienced and expressed the sinking depths and uplifting optimism of humanity like David Dondero, and his ability to shine a light on the human condition (his own included) is inspiring.


Octoberman “Run From Safety”


From Run From Safety on White Whale Records
Upon first listen, it’s evident that Run From Safety is not only an album title but also a bold statement of intent. The album sublimely captures the sound of an artist abandoning the tried and true and striking out in unknown directions. While still fuelled by wanderlust, Octoberman’s music continues to remind us that not all journeys can be measured by distance alone.


Boddicker “Mississippi”


From Big Lionhearted and the Gallant Man on Banter Records
At 16 years old, Caleb Boddicker recorded a 22-track demo in the bedroom of his parent’s house in Mississippi. He was a sophomore in high school at the time and sold the demo online as a means of funding his future college education. He managed to sell over 1,000 copies to fans that were lucky enough to stumble across that gem of a record. In October of 2006, Boddicker entered Engine Studios in Chicago for a three-week recording session. The result is nothing short of a masterpiece. Boddicker’s gift of writing simple, yet powerful songs, combined with Deck’s production brilliance, culminated into a mind-blowing piece of work. The songs bounce from genre to genre, providing a glimpse into Boddicker’s erratic perception of the world.


Adrian Orange & Her Band “You’re My Home”


From Self-Titled on K Records
Rogue West African prison-funk from Adrian Orange and his rambling pack of peyote-laced thieves. These are outlaw anthems of life on the margins; Favella-core Latin American punk-hymns to Qaddafi and the insurgency. Machine gun stabs of sex and danger, love and death, life on the highway and lust in the jungles. This will probably be the last cohesive album of songs by this artist. It is in the process of vanishing in to the all, the beautiful unknown; where obscurely we-will-lay, willie, like lilies or be gulls, indefinitely. So get in, get out.


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Wednesday, Sep 5, 2007


For fright fans, Dario Argento’s career as a movie macabre master started going downhill right after the release of his spectacle splattefest Opera. With the advent of videotape, and the steady release of his past efforts onto the format, a whole new audience was appreciating his work, and Hollywood was starting to take notice. Invited to America to continue his career, he made the interesting anthology entry based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Two Evil Eyes, and helmed a US based thriller entitled Trauma. Neither film was a hit, and Argento was angered by issues of studio interference and MPAA censorship. He had been burned back in the ‘70s when companies such as Paramount and Fox decided to distribute truncated versions of classics like Suspiria. Now, he needed a project to propel him back into the good graces of his always agreeable European constituency – and a book by psychiatrist Graziella Magherini seemed to hold the answer.


Dealing with a subject described as “art enchantment” - a surreal fugue state where individuals feel emotionally overwhelmed and personally connected to paintings, sculptures, and other aesthetic works – this ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ seemed to be the perfect idea for a film. Of course, it would take some tricky special effects to realize his goal, and Argento needed an actress he could trust to take on the grueling, slightly gratuitous lead. He envisioned a woman who was young enough to play the ingénue, sturdy enough to pass for a cop, and complex enough to handle the several personality changes that occurred throughout. Even worse, this performer would have to lay herself bare during a trio of tawdry rape scenes. With an air of oddness that only Freud could successfully decipher, Argento flummoxed convention and hired his 21 year old daughter Asia. Long a fixture in the film world, this would be her most demanding role to date.


And thus cameras rolled on the icon’s big creepshow comeback, a psychological thriller that took both parts of that label all too seriously. A strange combination of police procedural (Asia is Anna Manni, a policewoman on the trail of a serial rapist), character study (after suffering at the hands of her subject, Anna starts to slowly unravel), and exercise in exploitation (women are brutalized and butchered by this maniacal blond sadist), the results divided even the most ardent aficionados. Some saw it as a return to past glories. Others argued that, while decent, it forewarned of worse things to come. Indeed, in the next decade, Argento would release four more career confusing efforts – his overdone and sexualized Phantom of the Opera take, a good giallo called I Can’t Sleep, the static CSI statement The Card Player, and a weird homage to a long time idol entitled Do You Like Hitchcock? So oddly enough, The Standhal Syndrome appears as his last legitimate offering, a movie mythologized all the more by its odd home video treatment.


Somehow, Troma got a hold of this film, and released it way back near the beginning of DVD. The 1996 package was pretty good, containing a commentary by the director, an interview with the filmmaker, and lots of company come-ons. Fans frothed however, citing the fair to middling transfer and the overall lack of respect offered by the infamous B-movie factory. Over the last 11 years, they’ve hoped that a company like Blue Underground would salvage this forgotten film and bring it back to the state of semi-respectability it so richly (?) deserved. Well, now those prayers have been answered. The Big Blue U has indeed stepped up and delivered a brand new two disc digital package (available 25 September) that illustrates the best that the medium has to offer, while questioning the extent to which businesses will invest in context for the fans. 


If the film had been more endemic of Argento’s lush, luminous style, the lack of format support would be unconscionable. But Stendhal stands as a decidedly different effort for the director, a movie made up of particular movements, each one attempting to address a different aspect of a woman’s destructive descent into madness. Viewed in parts, we see the suggestion that rape reduces a female to a series of onerous questions. There is doubt of self, doubt of sexuality, and doubt of safety. All three of these misgivings are illustrated here, as daughter Asia goes from confident cop to psychological mess in the span of two event filled hours. The transformation is both physical and mental. At first, Anna Manni is a long haired brunette, a capable officer working a high profile case. Post attack, she cuts off her overflowing locks and takes on a more tom boyish persona. Finally, after a terrifying confrontation in a water main, our heroine becomes a femme fatale, long blond wig providing a post-modern noir nod.



Within each section, Argento hints at the horrors going on in Anna’s head. Initially, everything revolves around the title issue. The use of then new CGI to realize the symptoms of the syndrome is unique and, though dated, gives the visuals an excellent otherworldly quality. Asia also does a good job of expressing the emotional distress that surrounds the problem. When she swoons over a classical canvas, we believe the delirium. She is also a brave actress, allowing herself to be very vulnerable and physically ‘open’ during the rape scenes. Actor Thomas Kretschmann (who would later rise to notoriety in big budget films like Blade II and Peter Jackson’s King Kong) is an amazing villain – the kind of debonair demon that you can easily see as a smooth talking psychopath. The interaction with his victims is noxious, and he really helps establish the lasting effects of his horrific crimes.


The second phase takes us through a denial of femininity, as Asia goes guy to try and hide her pain. This is a very interesting segment, one where Argento pulls back on the dread to deliver some drama and dark humor. When a previous paramour makes a pass at Anna, she responds with belligerence and foul-mouthed dominance. Equally, when boxing with an old male friend as part of a workout, her love of physical brutality is obvious. All throughout the first two acts, we sense a rematch with out rapist, and long for the moment of mandatory cinematic comeuppance. As a director, Argento toys with us, leaving us guessing right until the very end as to how this confrontation will play out. Even after it’s over, we still wonder if there’s not more to the story. As with most works by the Italian maestro, a climatic moment usually triggers another tangential terror.



Which brings us to the third phase in Anna’s story. Feeling slightly more empowered, and working through the leftover trauma with her specious therapist (a real red herring if ever there was one), we see an attempted reclamation of her beauty and allure. The long headdress is initially shocking, since it tends to hide most of Anna (and Asia’s) inviting ethnicity. This is crucial in understanding where the character is headed. The color of the wig, the newfound lust and desire, the overwhelming possessiveness – all of these facets are supposed to provide subtle insight into the shifts our lead is experiencing. Since he’s a master of pacing and paradigm, Argento lets issues lie, creating tension by building on both expectation and the unanticipated. Even after the denouement, when we learn just what’s been going on in Anna’s head, our director is not done. We watch as our fractured female is swept up in a sea of men, the patriarchy once again arguing for its role as protector and provider of the species.


As a result, it’s hard to call The Stendhal Syndrome “horror”, though it definitely deals in dreadful things. This is more like a literal psychological thriller, a film that rises and falls by the sinister and sick psyche of its characters. As it moves from element to element, as it references Argento heroes (there’s a lot of Hitchcock here) and establishes its own inherent greatness, we sense the struggle inside the director. For over three decades, he was viewed as a fantasist and fabulist, someone placing the surreal inside the scary to create a kind of dream theater of nightmare novelty. But Argento got his start making standard crime films, giallos that mimicked the mean-spirited narratives of the yellow covered pulp novels the genre took its name – and inspiration - from. To be pigeonholed because of his rare artistic flourishes was unfair, and yet all throughout this film, such flashes also appear. The contradiction would soon cause his canon to crash.


Oddly enough, the DVD doesn’t go into a lot of perspective or overview. Instead, Argento appears and discusses the production – including how uncomfortable he was directing daughter Asia. The author of the book which inspired the director – psychological consultant Graziella Magherini - explains the Stendhal Syndrome while F/X guru Sergio Stivaletti talks about the confusing world of computers. We also hear from AD Luigi Cozzi and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. Their anecdotal insights help us understand how hard it is for Argento to complete a project. Apparently, forces both normal and unexplainable are against him. As for the long debated technical aspects of this release, this latest DVD image is outstanding. It carries over the filmmaker’s original vision, and is presented ‘uncut and uncensored’. The clarity is amazing, and the comparison to the previous Troma release is clearly night and day. Shadowy scenes from before are now rendered in bright, anamorphic beauty.



Still, it’s hard to fully fathom where The Stendhal Syndrome resides inside Dario Argento’s reputation. Many will marvel at the avant-garde aspects of this feature and wonder why the director ditched them for a hoary old period piece (Phantom) the next time out. Some will see it as a misogynistic mess, a film that forces females into the role of subservient sickos who can’t suppress their inner whore long enough to avoid the suffering. Gore fiends will enjoy the novel kills, including the slo-mo bullet time, and Argento’s directorial flourishes still mandate attention, even within this far more realistic setting. Either as signature or stumble, art or atrocity, there is no denying that as a filmmaker, the man responsible for bringing Italian terror to the mainstream remains an important cinematic fixture. Thanks to the efforts of Blue Underground, his legacy will remain intact, if not necessarily indestructible.


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Wednesday, Sep 5, 2007

The wailing about the death of the newspaper focuses on the diminishing editorial standards due to the lack of money flowing into the newspapers because of the dwindling sales of newspapers in their paper form and the migration of advertising to other, online forums. But I’ve seen the future and the newspaper looks electronic and more flexible there.


Plastic Logic flexible screen reader

Plastic Logic flexible screen reader


The newspaper is a remarkably enduring form, something of a mythological archetype. The blogosphere can seem like one enormous covalent bond glued together with permalinks to New York Times stories, and the hugely successful blog forum, Wordpress, on its second birthday recently, stopped merely listing the most popular blogs (the darkly humorous photographs of cats, I Can Has Cheezburger routinely tops the list) and rearranged its home page so that now resembles the International Herald Tribune, with selected posts listed as if they’re drawn from newspaper sections. What’s crucially missing is electronic newspaper hardware. Newspapers are currently trying to squeeze and transform themselves to fit devices that are alien to their style of presentation and their essential ephemerality and flimsiness. Plastic Logic, is working with a group of newspapers to develop a flimsy, flexible screen device. But Forbes magazine suggested, in April, that what’s probably needed is an impresario like Steve Jobs to come up with a sexy piece of simple newspaper hardware to bring the electronic newspaper to life.


Newspapers have attracted readers because they have content people value and respect. Less staff means fewer fresh stories and ad-sponsored columns diminishes the credibility that has been the industry’s calling card since the first newspapers hit the streets in the U.S. in 1690… So, if anyone is going to save the newspaper industry, it isn’t any of the moguls who think they can breathe life into a dying technology. It is more likely to be someone like Steve Jobs who can devise a really appealing way to make newspapers available digitally. Sony, Microsoft and others have tried to come up with digital readers but so far most people aren’t that excited. But suppose someone invented a digital newspaper, connected wirelessly to the Internet, that people actually enjoyed reading over coffee in the morning or taking along their morning train ride. …Make no mistake: The only way to stop the slide of the newspaper industry into oblivion is to replace the traditional paper “form factor” with a technology that can compete with pay-per-click, per-per-action and contextual advertising. Anything less will only accelerate the industry’s decline.


David Evans. Forbes. 24.4.07


 


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Wednesday, Sep 5, 2007

If you thought politics made strange bedfellows, look what happens when politics and pop culture combine. That’s right, inveterate rapper and former crack dealer 50 Cent, has weighed in on the 2008 Presidential race (why not?). Here’s what the artist told MTV News in a recent interview:


“I’d like to see Hillary Clinton be president. It would be nice to see a woman be the actual president and ... this is a way for us to have Bill Clinton be president again, and he did a great job during his term.”


While I’m sure Hillary is pleased with the psuedo-endorsement, she might take umbrage with the last part of 50’s statement concerning her husband’s role in her future administration. The former first lady has been attempting to deal with the overbearing popularity of her crowd pleasing companion. In any case, the nod is a welcome addition to a campaign competing with the rockstar status of Barack Obama who has been courting support from the black community.


There are other, more politically astute, hip-hop artists which have not yet vocalized their thought on the current crop of presidential contenders. So this begs the question: When will Kanye West will put in his, er, 2 cents?


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