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Tuesday, Mar 27, 2007

Motown signer Mary Wells released “Two Lovers” in 1962. It was one of her first big hits, paving the way for her biggest, “My Guy,” which is in some ways the diametric opposite of the earlier song. “My Guy” salvages some schmaltzy lyrics with a poised, restrained performance that hints at wayward thoughts being repressed—when Wells the ending refrain “There’s not a man today that could take me away from my guy,” it sounds a little as though she is trying to convince herself.


“Two Lovers,” however, can be seen as one of the better songs about cheating, because it is such a cheat itself. It opens up with the baldfaced declaration—“Well, I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed, Two lovers, and I love them both the same”—as if no one in the world could have a problem with that, as if the news were going to make us all celebrate too. It’s as startling in its own way as The Crystals “He hit me, and it felt like a kiss,” another semi-deviant ‘60s pop hit. When you think of all the effort we’ve put into stifling female sexuality and enforcing patriarchal notions of property, this becomes an extremely radical way to start a pop song, and you almost have to expect the way in which this subversion is going to be ultimately snuffed out by the time the song ends. But for the time being, for those first few measures, it as though an alternate universe has been created where women don’t need to fear becoming a slut by affording themselves romantic options. But then it starts to turn on itself. The other “lover” treats her badly, and it turns out, is simply the same guy as the first lover, who is apparently a capricious jerk: “You know, he treats me bad, makes me sad, Makes be cry, but still I can’t deny that I love him.” So far from being polyamorous and proud, the singer is now yet another masochistic woman tolerating rough treatment, no different from the woman in “He Hit Me” (”...and I knew he really loved me”)—indeed, she goes on to apologize for giving the appearance of having been untrue, taking the blame for his bad behavior. So the song is not progressive at all—by the end it’s depressingly conventional.


But this retraction of the radical way the song began doesn’t negate it; instead it enhances its power. We are expected to jump to the wrong conclusion and relish in how wrong we were when we are reminded that what we first thought is really impossible, really can’t be validated publicly and openly in popular song. The song reminds us how we an let ourselves think the unthinkable, reminds us how close to the surface it is, how quickly we can shift our whole way of evaluating what behavior is permissible. That illicit thrill appears to mirror the actual feeling of cheating, and the letdown mimics how reality inevitably encroaches. But the thrill is not in getting away with something—not in the betrayal of cheating at all—but in the very fact that it seems for a moment that there is nothing to get away with. What’s thrilling in “I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed” is the way that multiple, complicated, ambivalent desires are acknowledged and thereby simplified, naturalized. It extends the promise that simply being honest about the feelings could resolve them into the complacency that Wells so adeptly conveys. For the moment you forget that in reality this sort of honesty is not especially welcomed and it certainly doesn’t simplify anything, no matter how natural it may feel.


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Monday, Mar 26, 2007


Forget all the other offerings this week. Pay no attention to the tepid horror films from an overhyped festival or those carefully commercialized cartoons. Heck, just avoid the whole stinking lot and make sure you pick up a copy of Alfonso Cuarón’s spectacular Children of Men. More or less rescuing sci-fi from the constant Star Warring of George Lucas and his ilk, this stunning cinematic achievement was criminally overlooked come end of the year awards season. Here at SE&L however, we put it right up there with The Prestige, The Fountain and Pan’s Labyrinth as an indicator of 2006’s best. Though the lack of a theatrical setting will cause the scope to shrink a bit, there is no denying the power in what Cuarón created here. All other releases this Tuesday are forced to take a back seat to this astonishing movie. For further comment on this classic, look no further than our proposed pick for the week of 27 March:


Children of Men


One of last year’s most amazing motion picture experiences (and illegitimately ignored titles) Alfonso Cuarón single handedly reinvented the speculative fiction genre with this look at a world gone infertile. Some have argued over the movie’s metaphoric meaning, which looks at life in London during a rebellion-suppressing siege, and suddenly see symbols of the current Western war on terror. But there is more to this magnificent masterpiece than party politics. What Cuarón accomplished was the ideal immersion of subject matter and audience member, creating a perfect parallel universe where we recognize ourselves, and imagine our reactions to the situations occurring. Then there is the brilliant camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki (who should have his own golden statue), cinematography stuffed with amazing tracking shots and brilliant war zone ambiance. For this film alone, Cuarón would demand respect. When placed within his already impressive oeuvre, however, it becomes an omniscient omen of great things to come.

Other Titles of Interest


AfterDark HorrorFest: 8 Films to Die For


You have to admit – it’s a nifty gimmick. Take eight low budget, under the radar horror films, stick them together in a single marathon festival showing, and hype the holy Hell out of it. This is what the people at AfterDark did, and now seven of the onerous octet are arriving on DVD. You too can experience the shattering scary movie letdown of seeing publicized terror turn tepid right before you eyes.

Color Me Kubrick


It’s the perfect story for a film – a homosexual travel agent named Alan Conway fleeced dozens of people in the mid-‘90s by impersonating (rather badly, most say) the famous reclusive filmmaker. And in John Malkovich, director Brian Cook has the perfect gone to seed lead. But for some reason, the random events depicted never add up to anything meaningful. The result is a film that feels humorless and half-baked.

Happy Feet


This year’s unlikely Oscar winner (beating out Cars and Monster House) proves that penguin power is still alive and well. Besides, it’s cool to think of Mad Max‘s George Miller picking up his first Academy Award for a CGI kid flick, not some amplified action adventure epic. If you can survive the shtick provided by a couple of the voice cast members (why, Robin Williams – WHY???), you’ll clearly treasure this musical treat.

Turistas


Thank you, Eli Roth. Thank you so BLOODY much. When Mr. Cabin Fever released his masterful post-modern Ugly American condemnation Hostel on an unsuspecting world, many cited it as the beginning of a new, nauseating horror genre – violence porn. They were wrong. THIS is the actual result – a horrid hackjob about adolescents gone gratuitous that offers none of the terror or talent that Roth exhibited.

Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj


How do you make a sequel to a movie that your original star no longer wants to be associated with? Why, pick on a supporting player and start shooting – film, that is. While some might think this kind of goofball gross out comedy went the way of the Farrelly Brothers’ Me, Myself and Irene, the reality is that small budgeted idiocy of this kind continues to make a minor profit - thus this pointless follow-up


And Now for Something Completely Different
Pervert


Proudly proclaiming its debt to Russ Meyer and the frisky exploitationers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, outsider auteur Jonathan Yudis (most noted for working on Spike TV’s Adult Party revamp of Nickelodeon faves Ren and Stimpy) has ALMOST made one of the best worst movies ever. Starring “adult film star” Mary Carey (who does bear a decent resemblance to her Grammy winning namesake) and a remarkable Darrell Sandeen in the mandatory Stuart Lancaster roll, what we get here is part horror film, part softccore smut fest and a whole lot of bare naked bosom. In fact, the film is flawless for its first 40 or so minutes, easily mixing screwball comedy and lots of Carrey caressing her cans. When she finally leaves the narrative (for reasons that won’t be spoiled here), her replacements can’t keep things afloat. The rest of the randy monkey business kind of flops around, never finding the perky pace of the previous pulchritude. As long as you ignore this questionable quibble, you’re sure to have a good time.

 


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Monday, Mar 26, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Evidence
All Said & Done (LP Version) - Evidence feat. Kobe [MP3]
     


Chase the Clouds Away (LP Version) [MP3]
     


Believe in Me (LP Version) - Evidence feat. Res [MP3]
     


“March 20 saw the release of the debut LP, The Weatherman, from Evidence of Dilated Peoples. Featuring “Mr. Slow Flow”, “All Said & Done” feat. Kobe, “Hot & Cold” feat. The Alchemist and “Believe in Me” feat. Res. Guest Appearances by Rakaa Iriscience, The Alchemist, Little Brother, Defari, Planet Asia, Madchild, Slug, Joe Scudda, Res, Chace Infinite, Sick Jacken and more.”—ABB Records

Buy at iTunes Music Store


Roger Waters
Hello (I Love You) [MP3]
     


Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Bomb Repeat Bomb (1954) [MP3]
     


Goldrush
Heaven’s My Destination [MP3]
     


Maria Taylor
A Good Start [MP3]
     


Lost Time [MP3]
     



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Monday, Mar 26, 2007

It’s pretty easy to mock management theory for its proclivity for taking something that’s fairly commonsensical and presenting it as if it were a miraculous discovery. Amazing but true, but people dislike “change” and resist it! Believe it or not, workers feel “empowered” when their opinions are solicited. And they even like it when you explain to them why they have to do what you tell them in the way you’ve requested, as this WSJ piece by Phred Dvorak (not Fred) reports with wide-eyed surprise.


Management gurus agree that employees are most likely to get on board when they are involved in the decision-making process. In the many cases when that’s not possible, the next-best thing is to make employees feel as if they were involved, consultants say.


I don’t want to even think about what these consultants probably got paid. Dvorak does point out some of the niceties behind this insight, namely, it rarely suit management to have their authority undermined by opening up decision-making processes to criticism.  Management can often justify its existence by conserving and mystifying its knowledge of the systems it has put in place—this makes them indispensable and irreplaceable. In other words, it’s not usually an innocent mistake when you are kept ignorant by a boss, but on the plus side, if you deduce their reasons and start disseminating them, you may very well find yourself co-opted into a management position yourself.


Oddly enough, workers dislike being treated like interchangeable parts being plugged into a system that has no regard for their individuality—and the task of the manager is to overcome this fundamental obstacle. The obfuscating discourse of the pseudoscience of management furthers this end, helping to mask the humanity of those being managed and institutionalizing their needs into the production process—so many 15-minute breaks and ritualized pats on the back, as advised in whatever management guru’s (and they are invariably gurus) book is in vogue at the time. Management theory is useful in that it abstracts interpersonal behavior away from our ordinary human impulses, or tendency to drift toward the golden rule, the categorical imperative or whatever you want to call it, and allows managers to treat other people instrumentally—precisely how the managers themselves would not wanted to be treated. This is not to criticize managers—industrial-scale production and the division of labor forces the integration of a variety of individuals into a unified mechanism, one that requires the surrender of that individuality that elsewhere we are taught to prize and proudly flaunt. Managers have the unhappy task of enforcing that surrender of individuality, of breaking the sad news that you can’t simply do things your own way any more.


The consequences of this surrender of individuality is that workers stage small-scale clawbacks—decorating their cubicles with signs of the person they are outside of management’s clutches. I tend to resist this impulse personally and try to blend into anonymity; it just feels too desperate, like admitting that the battle for my soul has already been lost.


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Sunday, Mar 25, 2007


When last we left director Terry Gilliam, he was waging a one man war against THINKFilm and their Region 1 DVD release of his latest effort, Tideland. Angry over the way in which the addled “adult fairy tale” was treated – from a purely technical standpoint – he had called for a kind of boycott. The disagreement was over that most tenuous of digital dynamics, the original theatrical aspect ratio. THINKFilm made a decision – rightly or wrongly – to change the film’s framing from a longer and thinner 2.35:1 (how it played during its short big screen run) to a wider and more ‘open’ 1.85:1. To make matters worse, only the Region 2 version from Revolver Entertainment maintains Gilliam’s original ‘vision’. All other presentations have, for some reason, perverted his compositions.


Some have questioned the filmmaker’s motives in this case, citing various conspiratorial reasons why he would purposefully decide to undermine his own film. Such sentiments were further amplified recently when Gilliam released yet another statement, suggesting that anyone who bought the Region 1 release of Tideland place black masking tape across the top and bottom of the image. He even provided some crude instructions on how to freeze-frame the opening credits and apply the image-blocking material. Instead of destroying our TV sets in such a manner however, SE&L has decided to apply science to a question of tenuous technology. With a copy of both the Revolver release from Region 2 and our trusty THINKFilm’s Region 1 title, we’ve taken screen caps of similar scenes from the film, and offer them up for comparison. Pay close attention to the black bars featured on the overseas transfer. It is the supposed telltale sign that something is amiss with this release.



Jeliza-Rose Meets Dell - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose Meets Dell - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose Dreams of Life Underwater - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose Dreams of Life Underwater - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose and Dickens Play Dress Up - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose and Dickens Play Dress Up - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)


From an initial look, it’s obvious that the Region 1 edition provides a minor amount of additional information at the top and bottom of the screen. In the scene where the character of Jeliza-Rose is imagining her life in an underwater world, you can clearly see more of the floating table in the top right corner and make out the base of the pillar in the front foreground. In the sequence where Dickens and our lead share a quiet, intimate moment, more of the man’s leg is visible. In the first images of Dell, all that’s obscured is the top line of the horizon. In fact, throughout the Region 2 version of the film, insignificant moments like this have been cropped. In addition, it’s quite clear that NO information is lost along the left or right edges of the frame. Some websites had complained that, in order for THINKFilm to maintain the compositions created by Gilliam within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio readjustment, the print would have to be digitally “zoomed”. Clearly that is not the case here.


As the result of such a side-by-side comparison, what stands out most of all here is that this entire OAR argument appears to be a case of much ado about principle. As we have seen, the movie doesn’t really suffer from the rather unnecessary reconfiguration. The visuals are still stunning to look at, and THINKFilm has not altered the size of the images to fit its designs. Watching either version of the title will still provide you with the aesthetic intent of the cinematography and art design. What does suffer, however, is Gilliam’s rights as an artist and a man of integrity. His film has undoubtedly been fiddled with, and it appears to be a situation out of his control. What this says about the future of the digital format, and how the creative clashes with the commercial for the sake of some higher ethical standard could be something very concerning indeed. In fact, it could be the beginning of a whole new ‘pan and scan’ style argument – the kind that more or less killed off the VHS format.


When one starts with the basic acknowledgement that Tideland is definitely NOT being offered in its original aspect ratio, two questions immediately cloud the conversation – (1) why was this done, and (2) is it really a circumstance worth committing career suicide over. While the later inquiry may seem harsh, it does hit on the reality behind the reaction by Gilliam. A filmmaker already walking around with a dark cloud of difficulty surrounding his reputation doesn’t need to add further fuel to such a raging character inferno. All throughout the commentary track on the DVD he complains about the difficulties of working independently and how he longs to be back in the mainstream moviemaking fold (at least, he admits, until he gets booted out again). He definitely doesn’t earn any employability brownie points with this kind of schaudenfreuda shenanigans. Or perhaps, it’s a case of whistling past the given graveyard. Gilliam really isn’t anyone’s fool. He clearly knows his already skittish status in Hollywood. Maybe he thinks this kind of goofball grandstanding will endear him to someone looking for an outsider desperate to crawl back in. Either way, he doesn’t lose so much as deflect attention back toward his distributor.


That’s why the first question is a far more intriguing – and lasting – consideration. It seems clear that THINKFilms felt it could marginalize this movie, removing the black bars present on the Region 2 release to “open up” the image. Little else about the DVD itself is different – both versions contain nearly the same exact supplementary features and added content. Maybe they still believe – as company’s like Blockbuster and Disney claim – that audiences prefer home theater images that fill the frame. And since they couldn’t get away with a standard 1.33:1 edition, they instead decided to make the letterboxing as likable as possible. Of course, this remains a mere theory, especially since the Academy screener they sent out in November was also formatted for the 1.85:1 image. If Gilliam is to be believed – and there is always a bit of the carnival barker about this extremely talented man – all of this was done without his knowledge. Whether he even had the right to interfere and demand his original vision be offered is another story for another day.


In the end, it appears that the Tideland scandal – or whatever lesser variation of said word you want to use – boils down to idealism vs. intent. On the pragmatic side, the OAR has been altered, and yet the effect is negligible. On the motivation surface, it seems THINKFilm’s undermined its product by presenting it in a manner that made its creator very angry. No matter how much salt one takes with Gilliam’s basic ‘boycott’ comments, you don’t want the maker of your merchandise calling for a embargo. Visually, you are not missing anything if your purchase the Region 1 DVD. But behind the scenes, away from the camera and the cast, the issue lingers. Was it just a mistake? Was it meant to be a kind of demographically demanded compromise? Was THINKFilm simply out to lunch when they made the decision to handle this already tripwire title in such a manner? The plot thickens. Sadly, we may never have an answer. Leave it to Terry Gilliam and everything he touches to always remain a pleasantly puzzling enigma. 


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