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Sunday, Dec 10, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Various Artists
Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album


Imaad Wasif: “The New Year”
The Robot Ate Me: “Wonderland”
Mary Timony Band “Hapi Holidaze”


 


“Joy to the World, The Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album is here! Thirteen tracks from Kill Rock Stars friends both old and new playing playing holiday standards and original songs inspired by the season.”—Kill Rock Stars



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Sunday, Dec 10, 2006

In the latest move to garner hatred from the public, my dear friends at the RIAA are now setting their sites against songwriters and publishers, asking a group of judges to pay the artists involved LESS money for their efforts in newer electronic media (i.e. ring tones).  An IGN article appropriately tags a roll of toilet paper with the term “RIAA” while Slashdot uses search terms for this story like “greed,” “asshole” and (my personal favorite) MAFIAA, which they should change their name to just to stay honest (for a change, I mean…).  Still, they haven’t gone as far as suing the artists to blame them for their troubles, at least yet.


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Saturday, Dec 9, 2006


Harlan Hollis is known world wide as The Junkman, a humble business bloke turned fabulously wealthy multi-media mogul on the back of his scrap auto business. He makes movies, owns diamond mines and oil wells, and lives a jet setting eccentric lifestyle. A widower whose wife was killed by a drunk driver, he divides his time between his mega-buck empire and his teenage daughter. While readying his latest stunt filled film, he makes time to celebrate his child’s birthday, attend a James Dean festival that he has sponsored, and arrange the world premiere of his near completed masterwork. But gathering forces outside his insular life want Hollis dead, and they send a band of highly trained assassins out in cars and planes to kill the trash heap Trump once and for all. Will our high living, fast driving hero make it to the festival on time? Will he ever get to see his child again? More importantly, will his latest cinematic experiment have a boffo box office weekend? Or is it possible that this will be the time that The Junkman joins the rest of the metal in his yard?


Taken at face value, all one can say is - WOW! Junkman is one weird mamma-jamma of a movie. This möbius film strip motion picture functions like an Escher print come to life, cross and direct referencing itself and its makers so many times, and skittering in and out of reality so often it threatens to turn into Ouroboros and consume itself. It’s a true story told as fiction with most of the real people playing themselves. It’s a car crash fiesta formulated as a Citizen Kane style send-up of filmmaker and stuntman H.B. Halicki. The reference to Welles 1941 classic is not co-incidental. Halicki, here as Hollis, uses the same multi-media style (stills, news reports, flashbacks, and interviews) to tell the pseudo story of his life, except in this case, Rosebud is a tricked out Cadillac Eldorado running a supped up V-8 engine under its shiny hood. And unlike W.R. Hearst’s worst nightmare, the future salesman for Paul Mason wines didn’t load his narrative with an extended 45 minute car chase.


That’s right, forty-five minutes of automobile anarchy: chases, crashes, stunts, and impossible moments. Basically divided into four separate sections, kind of like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons except with larger insurance premiums, we get ten or fifteen minutes of fact filled narrative and set-up and then the pedal and the bumpers start hitting the metal as elaborate vehicular feats are hurled relentlessly at the camera for the sake of excitement. This movie is reportedly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the most destroyed modes of transportation (planes, trucks, and cars) than any other movie in history. And while it seems hard to believe it in light of past (The Blues Brothers) and present (Speed) examples of the genre, one thing is for sure—The Junkman sure does have a lot of Detroit’s finest ramming into each other over and over again.


In some ways, Junkman reminds the viewer of Richard Rush’s exercise in inversion, the classic black Hollywood come-tramedy The Stunt Man. Similar in structure (with the “is it a movie or is it real?” ideal in full flower), it differs in that there are no performers the like of Peter O’Toole or Steve Railsback to sell the satire. Instead, Halicki casts himself in the lead, and then wisely as both director and writer, gives most of the dialogue and emoting to the one or two professionals (Hoyt Axton, Christopher Stone) in the cast. Still, there is nothing wrong with the amateur acting antics of the mostly playing themselves persons. Indeed, the natural charm and realistic line readings create an aura of authenticity that helps save The Junkman from sinking under the weight of its lofty ambitions. Sure, Halicki is interested in featuring metal on engine block action, but he also wants to work myth, murder and intrigue into the mix. Frankly, from what we see of Halicki/Hollis real life, a biopic of the eccentric entrepreneur would be an equally intriguing cinematic prospect. In love with all cars, he owned a huge warehouse “office” (the size of a football field) where he housed his mad collection. He also loved toys and had hundreds of thousands of rare and vintage examples.


He was also responsible for the drive-in cult classic, the original 1974 Gone in Sixty Seconds. And he truly started life in the junk business. And yet all of this takes a colorful backseat to the non-stop, no special effects stunt driving and crashing that makes up the vast majority of this movie. And while said action footage is first rate in a kind of late ‘70s early ‘80s shot as it happened fashion, adding more of the bizarre business life of Halicki/Hollis would have moved the entire movie beyond its B-movie roots into something a little more special. But as it stands, The Junkman is unlike any car crash movie you’ve ever experienced. It has to be seen to be believed.


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Saturday, Dec 9, 2006

Even though there’s something artificial and reifying about these kind of packages, I still recommend reading the entire special section on the year in ideas in this week’s NY Times Magazine. It’s essentially a list of insights and memes and piquant research findings from the past 12 months, the sorts of things you probably are already half familiar with if you spend much time reading blogs, only cataloged and alphabetized. Here’s a sampling:


1. Cohabitation can harm women’s health: The gist of this is that women adopt unhealthy male eating habits over the long run. Is this evidence of how deeply our culture inculcates the female imperative to submit? It seems to suggest how women compromise by default in order to sustain traditional relationships.


2. “Digital Maoism”—this is a phrase coined by computer scientist named Jaron Lanier, who from the illustration looks to be a white guy with dreadlocks (This, I must admit, makes me question his judgment and discount his theory.) He is skeptical about the power of the Internet to aggregate the wisdom of users into infallible products and predictions, which would seem to make him a skeptic of markets and hayekian spontaneous order. But because things like Wikipedia tout their open format but are actually managed by a small group of contributors, this phenomenon is presumed to resemble China’s approach: talk about collectives while concentrating power in the hands of a few. But those who maintain Wikipedia are self-selecting, they don’t hold on to what dubious power they may have by anything other than their own effort. They aren’t oppressing or silencing other people who want to contribute. Yes the propaganda surrounding “the wisdom of crowds” can be overstated, but it seems we are in little danger of forgetting the contribution of the individual—if anything, capitalist society fetishizes individualism and propagates the “great man” theory of causation and history (cf, the fundamental attribution error). There are two different processes at work—the first process has individuals coming up with ideas they think may be useful, which prompts the second process, using the Internet to distribute the idea and subject it to the collective modification of those out there with any investment in the idea. The Internet expedites the aggregation of useful ideas, and the knowledge that one’s ideas will much more likely become useful for a greater number of people much more rapidly provides individuals with incentive to concentrate more on innovation. It matches thinkers with the audience capable of helping them sharpen that thinking. If this is Maoism, I’m for it.


3. Eyes of Honesty: the title the editors devised for this one is a little portentous, but it refers to psychology researchers in England finding that even a picture of watching eyes was enough to encourage people to obey the honor system at a beverage stand. Perhaps they might have called it the Big Brother effect, or the pretend panopticon or something. With the ubiquity of surveillance cameras and whatnot out there, someone virtually is watching us all the time. But with the newfangled attention economy, perhaps in our eagerness to display ourselves in hopes of being watched, we forget this. It seems as though our awareness of surveillance is always shifting dialectically in relation to our exhibitionism; the more we want to be seen, the less we realize we are already being observed and vice versa. This would allow rampant narcissism to coincide with conformity without the ideas necessarily colliding. A related idea from the list: “sousveillance”—being watched from below, using cell-phone cameras to capture truth and speak it to power, as the saying goes.


4. The Hidden-Fee Economy: I blogged about this before but I can’t find the link. A paper by Laibson and Gabaix offered an explanation for the sort of hidden fees that are encrusted to rental cars and hotel rooms and electronics products and cell phones and whatnot. Because this kind of pricing selects for shortsighted customers who supply the fattest profit margin for services, there’s little to gain by trying to educate how competitors are taking advantage of them. If you educate the customers, the profit margins go down for everyone in the sector. This helps explain why advertising cannot be considered to be more informative than misleading, and why heightened skepticism is always warranted: It’s in a business sector’s best interest to embark on a de facto collaboration to befuddle us.


5. Hyperopia: A word coined to describe our being too preoccupied with long run consequences and thus neglecting our urge to indulge in the moment. In the long run, we’ll actually look back fondly on our hedonism as peak experiences. It’s the short run impact of guilt (which doesn’t last long) that makes us err on the side of prudence and circumspection. This corresponds with the gist of happiness research that suggests risk aversion and endowment effects makes us overly conservative to our own detriment. It’s actually hard work being impulsive, which suggests useful life skills can be learned from occasional casual gambling.


6. Negativity Friendships: I’m a pretty negative person, so this cheered me—social psychologists found that its the negative opinions that friends share that make them close. This may be why people are loath to express negative opinions; they want to preserve boundaries and not let people into that sphere of intimacy where “real” opinions are shared. This has a reinforcing effect; negative opinions likely seem more real as they are relatively rarer and riskier, they yield no immediate benefits (no one likes to network and hobnob with cynics and naysayers) and suggest a long-term strategy of deep friendship. A negative opinion about someone else has no use value other than inviting a conspiracy of intimacy.


7. Smart elevators: I know these are supposed to save energy and all, but entering a buttonless elevator seems creepy to me. It reminds you how dependent you are when you’re commuting into the sky and reminds us of the disturbing trade-off of autonomy for efficiency. It’s wasteful when individuals have full control of how they transport themselves (see Northern Virginia traffic, for example) but few would voluntarily surrender the convenience of control for a gain in public good.



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Saturday, Dec 9, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

The Klezmatics
Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah


“Hanukah Tree”
“Spin Dreydl Spin”


 


“The Klezmatics play soul-stirring Jewish roots music for our time, recreating klezmer in arrangements and compositions that combine Jewish identity and mysticism with a contemporary zeitgeist and a postmodern aesthetic.  Since their founding in New York City’s East Village in 1986, the Klezmatics have celebrated the ecstatic nature of Yiddish music with works which are by turns wild, spiritual, provocative, reflective and danceable.”—Jewish Music Group



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