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Sunday, Feb 4, 2007
by tjm Holden

I was trolling for my next idea, letting seconds pass in the LA Times California Politics Blog (which doesn’t make much sense since, as you know from my last post, I have all the politics one might wish to feast on closer to home), when I came across this off-site link.


Now, anyone, familiar with the Six Degrees concept would appreciate that this YouTube offering is a misnomer. After all, the idea is supposed to be that there are only six degrees of separation between one person and anyone else. The most widely cited (and demonstrable example) being the famous parlor game in which six steps (or less) can be found to separate Kevin Bacon from any other actor who has ever worked in Hollywood.


The “six degrees” concept had been rattling around in my head for some weeks, most proximately the result of this piece on former California Jerry Brown, again from the Times California Politics blog. Somewhere embedded in there was a link to Brown’s “MySpace” space and out of curiosity I diverted some more of those all-precious seconds over there. What I encountered—aside from Booker T. and the M.G.s performing “Green Tomatoes”—was an inset with a listing of Jerry’s friends. Among them was Bill Clinton, who—as one of the world’s most-traveled, gregarious characters God (should she truly exist) ever invented—just about everyone seems to know.


And, clicking into the former President’s MySpace page, that got me thinking. Swaying to Bill’s selection of U2’s “Vertigo” as his official theme track, I wondered how far the six degrees concept would play out in cyberspace. Because, actually, knowing what I know (or at least think I know) about the web, I had a hunch that it wouldn’t. Not to say that it couldn’t, but that, in the main, it is more the case that there is a nearly infinite number of iterations of separation between you and I; which is to say, folks who are generally non-contiguous strangers. So, just to scratch my intellectual itch, I decided to track from Jerry to Bill to . . . wherever else in five more moves, and see where it might lead me.


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Sunday, Feb 4, 2007

As much as you might admire the New York Times or Salon, you have to wonder if some dictate from above is now steering their content to mention themselves as much as possible now.


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Saturday, Feb 3, 2007


Kitty is an angry young woman who channels her aggression in less than helpful ways, usually against the more amoral members of Hong Kong society. When a horny hairdresser hits on her in front of his pregnant girlfriend, the vicious Kitten stabs him repeatedly in the groin with a rat-tailed comb. This gets the attention of Tom, a disgraced police officer recently back on the force after accidentally killing his own brother. The fizzled flatfoot falls instantly in lust with the wild woman, but she has other perverted fish to fry. When her father is killed by an adulterous letch, Kitty seeks revenge by breaking into his office building and killing several hundred people.


But her escape is not guaranteed, and just when it seems she will be caught, a haute couture hit woman named Sister Cindy helps her escape. Cindy offers to train the anti-social angel in the art of the professional assassin. Soon, the deadly duo are crisscrossing the globe, committing all manner of murders for hire. But when fellow female executioners Princess and her gal pal lover Baby (both former students of the glamorous Cindy) become adversaries to Kitty and Company, it sets up a tantalizing game of erotic catfight and mouse between the four fatal females with the troubled Tom caught in the middle. Who lives and who dies in this deadly world of honor, loyalty, and lesbianism will be determined by who is the most skilled, the slyest, and the most capable of being a cold blooded Naked Killer.


It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, not even in your wildest, most freaked out girl-on-girl fantasy. Imagine taking a small bit of John Woo’s The Killer, adding a sprinkling of A Chinese Ghost Story, incorporating Daryl Hannah’s deadly gymnastic replicant from Blade Runner with some of the over the top cinematic style of Peter Jackson circa Dead Alive, and mixing with a heavy dose of erotic Asian lesbianism featuring some incredibly fine looking Chinese chicks who kick all kinds of ass, and you’ve got just a small idea of what the Naked Killer is all about. Except it’s much more than this. It’s a meditation on feminism and chauvinism. It’s a telling cultural commentary on the paternalistic nature of Hong Kong/Chinese society. It’s a take-back-the-night style empowerment statement about sexism and perversion.


But mostly, it’s a fantastic, unbelievably entertaining look at four vivacious kung fu killers, vigilantes of vice who are equal parts beauty and beast, uniformly capable of inflicting pleasure and pain with their deadly hands. Naked Killer uses stylized sets, unusual camera angles and lens, super model montage moments, and your typically brilliant quick-cut Asian action set pieces to create a world unto itself, a place where the police are bumbling incompetents, where fashion plate divas are highly skilled and trained terminators on the destruction prowl for the sexually sick and twisted, and where there is admiration and redemption amongst even the most vicious slayers. Naked Killer is like witnessing the creation of a new form of film language, one in which the cartoon, the carefully choreographed, and the cautionary tale are weaved into one wild, wacky, totally satisfying entertainment experience.


It’s hard to describe, in simple terms, why Naked Killer is so special. It’s like a decadent, deadly Pachinko game come to life. It’s a stylized girlie graphic novelization of psycho hot babe killers as channeled through and re-imagined by Quentin Tarantino. It’s violence made feminine and therefore, far more brutal and precise. With its hierarchy of anti-heroes and villains, we see the seductive and manipulative Sister Cindy sitting on top and playing the battling factions of the dominating Princess, the ersatz innocent Baby, and the femme fatalism of the cruel Kitty against each other until it becomes an entire Asian fetish magazine collection moving and murdering in the flesh. But this is not a film completely bathed in the nonsensical nudity of its cast; in reality, there is very little skin shown here. What we get instead is a sensual, shocking experience where the same sex overtones are far more spicy than any actual bed aerobics.


Indeed, the action scenes are much more passionate and provocative than any babe-on-babe ballyhoo could be. When Cindy and Kitty battle to escape a high rise building parking lot together, the deadly duo’s tag team reign of terror and destruction is far more erotic in its Sappho sisterhood than some softcore exchange of cheek pecks. Between the oversized firearms in Kitty’s “claws” and Cindy’s supersonic throwing daggers, the phallic weapons of man turn the tables on their testosterone fueled creators, helping the “weaker” sex beat and blast their brains out. Naked Killer is girl power gone gonzo, a geek’s wet dream doused with libido lightening messages about Chinese society’s misogyny.


Still, this isn’t all serious political grandstanding. Naked Killer acknowledges that nothing beats incredibly attractive Chinese women massaging and fondling each other, all in the name of honor and power. And the stars are all drop dead(ly) gorgeous. Wai Yu’s performance as Sister Cindy is a combination of socialite and scholar, teacher and terrorist. The fact that her fashion is as deadly as her fists is what makes her such a standout center to the film. Chingmy Yau’s Kitty is dangerously ditzy, the out of control novice who needs a few hard knocks to understand her own inner skills. As the sinister and seductive Princess, Carrie Ng combines menace with exotic mystery perfectly. And Madoka Sugawar as Baby personifies her name, looking childlike and cold-blooded at the same time.


As the sole male lead, Simon Yam as the befuddled cop Tom is also very good, but he does occasionally seem to be lost in a far more intense drama about personal blame and attempted redemption. He doesn’t seem able to capture the proper camp qualities that his cast mates can. Still, under Fok Yiu Leung’s masterful direction, with its eccentric perspectives and brilliant compositions (an overhead shot of Kitty and Cindy lounging is particularly memorable) everything comes together delightfully. Aside from all the gratuitous violence, kinky sex, and hidden sociological agendas, Naked Killer is first and foremost a fun filled rollercoaster ride with a great group of fetching female action stars. What more could you want from a movie?


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Saturday, Feb 3, 2007

Maybe I’m a jerk, but I had some trouble working up any sympathy for the model profiled in this front-page WSJ story today. The story details an aspiring American model’s trip to Milan, where the competition is fiercer than in America, where visa restrictions moderate it: “After four days and no bookings, Ms. Gomez was devastated. She sat outside the Milan office of her agency’s partner firm, and cried. ‘I hate it here,’ she said. ‘They don’t treat models as humans.’ ” It’s sad to see her disillusioned, but what business did she think she was trying to break into? Of course they don’t treat you like a human: The whole point of modeling is to objectify yourself so that clothes can be promoted and sold. Treating one another like humans isn’t going to sell fashion products, which thrive on insecurity, class contempt, status hierarchy and egotism—in other words, on our capacity for inhumanity. This is probably what happens though when someone realizes the sales potential of your looks; you are encouraged to exploit yourself, and self-exploitation seems like such an oxymoronic conundrum that you probably don’t believe it’s happening until you find yourself crying in some foreign city and wondering why no one respects you. It seems that girls noticed as beautiful can become stunted by the recognition, which sends a powerful message that the inner you will have little to do with what you can accomplish. The temptation to disappear into one’s body must be strong. (Anyway, this is why it always freaks me out when I see adults praise little girls for how pretty they look; it’s a compliment to how compliant they were when they were dressed like a mannequin.) By the end of the article, Gomez has learned her lesson—blame yourself for the inhumanity and do a better job of objectifying yourself more completely: ” ‘I need to try my hardest and not let anything get in my way,’ says Ms. Gomez. ‘Even if you are having a bad day, put a big smile on your face and act like nothing fazes you.’ “


Apparently globalization has made the modeling business much tougher: “Supply has soared, as aspirants from developing countries stampede into the field. At last season’s New York’s fashion week, the quintessentially American design house of Calvin Klein didn’t send a single American down its catwalk. Twelve of the 22 chosen were from Russia and Eastern Europe.” And as one humanitarian in the fashion industry notes, “The Brazilians and Eastern Europeans are hungrier.” (That comment works on many levels, when you think about it—these Brazilian and Russian models are more eager to be objectified because they come from developing economies and literally can’t afford as much food as Americans? Or does it mean they are simply starving themselves more effectively?)


Also, models no longer garner the covers of fashion magazines, so far fewer of them are becoming celebrities in their own right—they are back to being anonymous pieces of attractive flesh that don’t distract us from the expensive clothes hanging on them, which makes them much more disposable to the industry. According to the article, the average modeling career lasts two years, which puts them somewhere close to their male counterparts, pro football players, who likewise sacrifice their bodies for a diverting but ultimately pointless spectator sport.


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Friday, Feb 2, 2007


The duality of Andy Goldsworthy is the film Rivers and Tides is an inspirational example of how the world of a filmmaker can merge seamlessly with the world of an artist to jointly produce a new work altogether. The artist, working intimately with German director/cinematographer/editor Thomas Riedelsheimer, is able to create beautiful, enduring images of nature as art. It is Goldsworthy’s unique, uncompromising visions of the natural world (along with his attempts at explaining his artistic and thought processes) that give the film life. Is Rivers and Tides a film about art or a film about an artist? Is it simply just art?


Juxtaposing the ordinariness of this Scotsman’s home life (in the kitchen with his many children and wife eating bacon or simply milling about his small, picturesque village) with his life in the world of contemporary art, in addition to showcasing him in a way a feature film might present a leading man, the filmmaker smartly creates an art world anti-hero that is easy to root for. He’s not at all like the avant garde Matthew Barney (one of his contemporaries in the world of modern art), you’re not going to be treated to a pretentious three hour art installation/film about whaling, and that’s a good thing. What Goldsworthy brings to the table with his stunningly original eco-friendly artwork is the ability to make high art relatable for those who don’t usually go for it. His rugged personal charisma is as much a tool used for making art here as rocks or wood or leaves.


While the artist tries to offer up simple explanations for why he works (sometimes getting tongue-tied and then wisely stopping; which humanizes him even more), the more interesting thing to watch in Rivers and Tides is the actual construction of his pieces; each step leading up to the completion is a complex, painstaking task in itself. Goldsworthy shows that working with water, potentially hazardous plant material and wood may be incredibly time consuming, but for him, it is a rewarding way to connect with the planet, although the glory can be short-lived. He says that the pieces are all formed to look “effortless”, as though they were assembled by Mother Nature herself.


In Nova Scotia, Goldsworthy meticulously pieces together a sculptural corona of icicles that reflects the sun’s natural light. It then melts when the rays brutally shift towards it. He then constructs a white “whirlpool”-shaped hut made of wood that floats away with the tide. The installation represents, for the artist, movement and “seeing something you’ve never seen before, that you were blind to.”  The challenge that comes with working with such non-traditional art materials can be perplexing with the ice cracking and breaking unexpectedly, yet Goldsworthy soldiers on.
He creates this fleeting imagery out of a noble love of the land and part of the beauty of watching them be constructed is watching them get quietly destroyed. The “whirlpool” is a striking image as it swirls at the convergence of the sea and a river, losing pieces with each turn. His gentle, poetic love of nature, combined with a craggy, Scottish sense of the outdoors make him so relatable that when one of his pieces made of stones falls apart, it’s easy to feel very bad for him, but just as easy to laugh along with him. It’s this particular sense that Goldsworthy lacks any real self-seriousness that makes a film about an experimental artist’s relevance and process more palatable.


Spectacular displays of natural light and other environmental phenomena captured by the filmmaker’s with laser precision (the images of a rainbow in the sky, the moon at night; every work possessed of a violent, natural color) are equally important when framing Goldsworthy’s installations. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of Goldsworthy’s life and mystique and forget that this is also just as much a fantastic achievement for Riedelsheimer. Are we buying into Goldsworthy’s charm, his actual art, or his lifestyle? Luckily Rivers and Tides doesn’t force it’s viewer to make a rash choice, it offers complete package with multiple perspectives on the world of art, each living independently, yet harmoniously and comfortably next to one other.


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