Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Double Feature: The Brown Bunny & Fellini's Casanova

fellini's casanovathe brown bunny
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I've been wanting to start an "interesting double features" series where I pick two films and mention briefly how I think they're linked, and recently my friend and pen-pal D.J. Carlile — translator of Rimbaud: The Works, erstwhile critic, poet, and playwright — wrote the following remarks to me in a letter that fit perfectly with this idea.

But first it's probably worth mentioning that he hates Vincent Gallo and The Brown Bunny. "The scenes you cite are indeed the finest things in it (the rain on the windshield... the mummified parents — especially Dad... the salt flats... the solo melancholy vistas) — but I am not convinced that Bud's tale is the stuff of great cinema. [...] I hope Gallo makes another film, honestly I do. But it had better not be about an alienating and alienated loser driving long distance in his truck/van to settle some old score that he's obsessing over. He has now made this movie twice. I don't get it. (But maybe I'll change my mind after the next opus. As Diaghilev once told Cocteau: "Astonish me.")"

The second paragraph contains a major spoiler for The Brown Bunny.

Reprinted with permission.

* * *

the brown bunny salt flats
"I watched The Brown Bunny again WITH THE SOUND TURNED OFF. Better to observe the visuals... You know, it struck me this time that — with its preponderance of profile angles of the protagonist and his disconnect from his body and emotions — it struck me that this is the Anti-Fellini-Casanova (stript bare).

fellini casanova
In both films the "hero" ends up with a nonexistent woman (for all of his previous "womanizings") — a ghost in The Brown Bunny, an automaton in Casanova. Both main characters are shot almost exclusively in profile. Scenes with Parents are halting/disconnected. But the one is a dark, Baroque dreamshow and the other is a minimalist verité on a shoestring. (Both made by guys with Italian names.) Actually, The Brown Bunny and Fellini Casanova would make a great double bill, I think.

fellini casanova dollbrown bunny daisy chloe

fellini's casanova dollthe brown bunny daisy
Both films are consumed with loathing. Fellini, after reading the Memoirs, grew to utterly hate Casanova and was sorry he'd signed up to make the film. Vincent Gallo is simply consumed with disgust...

Casanova is probably the weakest of all F.F.'s later films due to this disconnect with his main character, but it still has some rather glorious treats (the escape by boat across the sea of heaving plastic tarps, the head of Venus rising from the canals of Venice, the creepy Praying Mantis ballet, the final scenes on the frozen canal)... The Brown Bunny is probably the finest of V.G.'s films because the emptiness at its core is so naked.

fellini casanova set venusthe brown bunny

fellini casanovathe brown bunny vincent gallo

fellini casanovathe brown bunny

fellini casanova dollthe brown bunny daisy chloe

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pictures taken during the March 20th anti-war protest in D.C.

As much as I was tempted to fill this entire post with innocuous, non-protest related photos we took on Saturday, I decided against it figuring that the amusement would be high for me but low for everyone else.

I didn't attend any anti-war protests in 2009, but from what I read, they were all poorly attended. This has been attributed to the fact that Obama's election took the wind from the sails of the many Bush/Cheney detractors as well as contenting many of those who were simply fed up with Washington's ineptitude. Since Obama is clearly intelligent, and because he's better at putting up a front than his predecessor, many people feel satisfied with the political situation. Yes, they're still against the war(s) if they were before, but now that it's the responsibility of a more competent administration, they've washed their own hands of it.

Thinking about all of this led me to consider what brought me to the point where I lost the urge to go to protests myself. People tend to get more cynical as they age, and I know for certain that most of me believes that protesting is only capable of moving the dial a few notches at best (and even then only within a preselected framework). And I've always questioned whether or not protesting in general is an easy way to make yourself feel like you're doing something, assuaging any guilt you might feel during the time you spend doing other things. People are great at fooling themselves, so it's hard to tell. I did (and do) have an incredible amount of disgust for Bush II, and that's certainly a motivator. I guess I was compelled to go to the anti-war protest in D.C. this weekend because I've almost reached that same level of disgust with Obama. It's silly to personify outrage and focus it all on an individual, I know. But it's also too daunting if one attempts to focus energy on protesting the entire system we live in. That's part of what D.C. was about anyway, the absolute madness of living in a country that has a military budget the size of all the other countries budgets combined. A tiny fraction of it is enough to provide free education and health care to everyone in America as well as feed the entire world, yet it continues to increase.

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
The protest on March 20th apparently drew the largest amount of people in any anti-war protest since Obama's inauguration, but I was still very disappointed with the turnout. Protest organizers gave 10,000 as the number of people who were there, and most newspapers simply reported "thousands" since there's no precise way to tabulate. A Park Police officer quoted in the Washington Post gave the number 2,500, which definitely seems too low. If I were put a number on it I would say 4,000 people minimum, 7,000 maximum. (I have absolutely no idea how good my crowd estimation skills are, however.) We managed to fill up 4 blocks worth of DC road space, fairly tightly packed, so use your imagination. Whatever the number, it was paltry compared to the IMF/World Bank protest I attended in 2000, but at least our numbers were large enough to shut down the streets for awhile, which gave me some satisfaction.

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a tour bus waits

No doubt the economic situation might also have something to do with the low turnout, with many people focused on trying to find or keep employment, pay their bills, and keep food on the table. Unless you live in the city, it's going to cost a minimum of 10-20$ to get there, and if you have to stay overnight, it'll obviously be much more. Perhaps the emotional investment is also too draining in the midst of all of these economic worries. Better to go see a Hollywood movie or go out drinking when you have a few extra bucks. At least it'll take your mind off things.

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
Actor Jon Voight was also in town giving a speech to the anti-healthcare protesters, a turnout that was also reported as "thousands" in all the articles I saw, except in some of the right-wing reports. (25,000+!, according to The Daily Caller). These self-proclaimed tea-baggers appeared to get more coverage and discussion than the anti-war protesters, even on liberal shows like Keith Olbermann's Countdown, where the anti-war protests weren't even mentioned (unless it was during the last 15 minutes; I stopped watching after 45!). Olbermann devoted an entire segment to the anti-healthcare protest to talk about the many racist epithets yelled at Reps. John Lewis and Andre Carson and the homophobic vitriol leveled at Rep. Barney Frank. It was also reported that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was spat on by someone who was detained by police and later released. (Which reminds me: what ever happened to that guy who threw his shoes at George W. Bush? Personally, I'd rather be hit with a shoe than with saliva coming from the mouth of someone who, in all likelihood, doesn't brush their teeth.) Rachel Maddow also devoted a segment to the racism displayed at the anti-health care protest while ignoring the anti-war protest. I wonder if they were reluctant to show opposition to Obama and wanted instead to focus on right-wingers who made fools out of their entire group? Probably. (I didn't check how Fox News covered anything).

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
Obama was kind enough to come out and chat with us

I hope that some of the more level-headed people who went and saw this behavior -- especially those who brought their children -- will think about some of the people they were standing next to and reevaluate what the entire Tea Party movement represents. But then again, it's probably impossible to know if these few were really the many or if the majority of the crowd rebuked them and distanced themselves from the more radical members (if indeed that's what they are). I know that the people who smash corporate windows are usually the sole focus of the media whenever there are anti-globalization protests, so it would make sense for a few of the more fringe members of the tea-party to be used as a stand in for all of them1. (It's a simpler, more dramatic narrative.) But with report after report of this kind of behavior and pictures of poster after poster at the rallies containing racist content, one is eventually forced to conclude that to consider these members "fringe" is to give the movement too much benefit of the doubt. It's clear that the bigots appear to make up a fair portion of the movement.

Going back to the "thousands" of tea-party protesters (it is also worth mentioning that this protest was advertised in the mainstream media by the likes of Glenn Beck), I regret not going to the Capitol to investigate how many people were there, so I could compare the crowd to the anti-war protest. We saw a handful of anti-healthcare people on the train ride down -- at least the ones who brought their signs and American flags -- but none at all once in the city. More interesting, and something I didn't even think about at the time, would have been to see how many police were sent to handle their protest. The boundaries set up for us were filled with police, and there was even an armored Humvee parked nearby (mostly, I assume, for intimidation, though it did look to be equipped with an LRAD).

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
Judging from the number of police out, it seems likely that they, like the protest organizers, were expecting a larger turnout.

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war                                           Here I am in the foreground. (Please don't be embarrassed
                                          by my age dear reader.)

Most interesting of all was the fact that by far the largest protest over the weekend (it took place on Sunday) was without doubt the least covered:

"As the healthcare vote gripped the Capitol, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Washington in a major rally for immigration reform. Estimates of the crowd size ranged from 200,000 to as much as 500,000. Organizers held the “March for America” under the slogan of “immigration reform for new American families, economic justice for all American families.” Democratic Congress member Nydia Velázquez, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called on Congress and President Obama to back immigration reform."

1 Personally I'd rather be with a group whose fringe members hurl bricks through corporate windows than with a group whose fringe members hurl epithets at minorities (and not just because I have no particular problem with destroying corporate property).

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
top left: secret service watching from the roof

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
Getting more people to attend these events will be an uphill battle. The anti-war protest organizers have been fined tens of thousands of dollars for putting up posters in Washington, D.C., and felony charges were brought against activists in Los Angeles and San Francisco for the same offense.

To read an overview of the protest written by the Associated Press, go HERE.

<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war<br />march 20 DC protest anti war anti-war
not real blood - this woman was carrying a bloody baby doll

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A 15 second video I took that gives an impression of the crowd. I was standing somewhere in the middle at the time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

happy deaths

207 BC: Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after watching his drunk donkey attempt to eat figs.

1673: Molière, the French actor and playwright, died after being seized by a violent coughing fit, while playing the title role in his play "Le Malade imaginaire" (The Hypochondriac).

1814: London Beer Flood, 9 people were killed when 323,000 imperial gallons (1,468,000 L) of beer in the Meux and Company Brewery burst out of their vats and gushed into the streets.

1871: Clement Vallandigham, U.S. Congressman and political opponent of Abraham Lincoln, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered in court while representing the defendant in a murder case. Demonstrating how the murder victim could have inadvertently shot himself, the gun, which Vallandigham believed to be unloaded, discharged and mortally wounded him. His demonstration was successful, and the defendant was acquitted.

1912: Franz Reichelt, tailor, fell to his death off the first deck of the Eiffel Tower while testing his invention, the coat parachute. It was his first ever attempt with the parachute; he had told the authorities in advance he would test it first with a dummy.

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"Unfortunately, pranks are usually identified with -- and limited to -- pre-adult stages of development. At the point of "adulthood" the multiplication of mischief must cease; youths are supposed to "grow out of" the need to perpetrate pranks as they accept society's restriction of their spirit through the progressive conventionalization of their behavior. The role model of the adult prankster is a scarce archetype indeed. But -- pranks can continue until one's dying breath: when he died, the great Surrealist Andre Breton was taken to the cemetery in a moving van."

Friday, March 12, 2010


nabokov butterfly svevo
I understand perfectly the compulsion some people have to drop everything and disappear. It's not so much about reinventing yourself as it is freeing yourself from the environment that causes you to identify who you are. As we grow older, we're constantly changing, constantly shedding previous versions of our selves. Physically, however, we will always be identifiable — our true changes will not register in this way. The sight of our face in the eyes of our friends and family will always bring up a long history that they'll use to give us our identity and personality. Even our name, mentioned by itself, is enough to bring up years of memories whose very existence make us feel like we belong to everyone we know in small, foggy puzzle pieces. After awhile we experience the feeling of dragging around 20 or 30 phantom corpses of our previous selves, versions we feel compelled to reanimate around old friends, parents, or people who knew us from a specific time in our past. It would be best to sever ties to these dead-selves at once, but we are extremely reluctant to do so because we feel that our friends and family will likely go with them.

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"My life could provide only a single note with no variation, fairly high and envied by some, but horribly tedious. Throughout my life my friends maintained the same opinion of me, and I believe that I, too, since arriving at the age of reason, have not much changed the notion I formed of myself.

The idea of marrying may therefore have come to me from the weariness of emitting and hearing always that one note. Those who have not yet experienced marriage believe it is more important than it is. The chosen companion will renew, improving or worsening, our breed by bearing children: Mother Nature wants this but cannot direct us openly, because at that time of life we haven't the slightest thought of children, so she induces us to believe that our wife will also bring about a renewal of ourselves: a curious illusion not confirmed by any text. In fact, we live then, one beside the other, unchanged, except for an acquired dislike of one so dissimilar to oneself or an envy of one who is our superior." —Svevo1, Zeno's Conscience

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"I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader's mind. No matter how many times we reopen "King Lear," never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert's father's timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person, the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen." —Nabokov2, Lolita

1 For anyone who might be unfamiliar: Italo Svevo is a highly regarded author and Zeno's Conscience is considered by some to be the finest Italian novel of the 20th century. (I don't regard it quite as highly — and I certainly haven't read enough Italian novels to make this claim — but I can agree that it's definitely worth reading.) James Joyce admired Svevo and helped him get published. He also met him from time to time to give English lessons when he was working as a destitute tutor. He often asked Svevo (whose real name was Ettore Schmitz) about Jewish customs, and it has been said that Svevo was somewhat of a template from which Joyce sketched out Leopold Bloom.

2 If you do not know who Vladimir Nabokov is, please click HERE.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Something interesting I saw in my friend's child development book:

The universal tadpole shape that children use to draw their first picture of a person:

The tadpole soon becomes an anchor for greater detail as arms, fingers, toes, and facial features sprout from the basic shape. By the end of the preschool years, children produce many complex, differentiated pictures... A major milestone in drawing occurs when children use lines to represent the boundaries of objects. This enables 3 and 4 year olds to draw their first picture of a person... Western parents spend much time promoting 2 and 3 year old's language and make believe play but relatively little time showing them how they can use drawings to represent the world.

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Drawings by non-schooled 10 - 15 year old children of the Jimi Valley of Papua New Guinea (a region with no indigenous pictorial art) when they were asked to draw a human figure for the first time:

Many produced non representational scribbles and shapes (a), "stick" figures (b), or "contour" figures (c). Compared with the Western tadpole form, the Jimi "stick" and "contour" figures emphasize the hands and feet. Otherwise, the drawings of these older children resemble those of young preschoolers.

It's interesting to see literal examples of how culture changes and shapes peoples view of the world. I wonder if children in cultures with pictorial traditions draw the tadpole shapes because they've seen other drawings of people before, because their parents demonstrate something similar as an example, or because the giant head of the tadpole -- an enclosed, autonomous system that could just as easily stand for ego and vanity as it could for physical identity and individuality -- represents the way their culture sees itself (or people in general)? Or is it simply because they've been taught the function of the brain and value (or overvalue) its importance? Not only is the head left open in Jimi Valley drawing "c", but everything from the head down connects openly to the land below. (Granted, this could simply be because they don't understand the concept of lines the same way most people do, though some of the Jimi Valley children clearly do -- see drawing "b"). The hands and feet are usually more important than the head and face in the Jimi drawings, which seems to show identification with a more physical existence, and one that has more emphasis on community than on individuals.

Friday, March 05, 2010


I'm still around... My plans to start posting more regularly have been thwarted by my suicidal computer (I'm using a friend's laptop to post this). I've been slowly trying to fix it but it's a long, tedious process (made longer and more tedious by the fact that I'm far from an expert on such things). Hopefully I'll be back soon.