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Archive for January, 2012

Theo Angelopoulos, RIP

[ 5 ] January 24, 2012 |

Probably the greatest Greek filmmaker ever has died, killed by a motorcycle on the set of his film-in-progress. Angelopoulos received a good bit of publicity in the U.S. during the mid 90s, which is when I began to watch film. Landscape in the Mist is probably his most popular film and it’s one of the better road film movies (a genre that many find overrated and can definitely suck, but which I am inclined to forgive). The first Angelopoulos I saw was Ulysses’ Gaze with Harvey Keitel. Keitel plays a filmmaker traveling through the Balkans at the height of the violence. He ends up in Saravejo during the siege, leading to a wonderful scene of people walking around in the fog, feeling relatively safe. Angelopoulous’ films could be difficult to say the least and few have much distribution in the U.S., but he was a giant of film and will be missed.

Claustrophobia, as Wolfgang Petersen recognizes, is a cumulative effect.

[ 26 ] January 24, 2012 |

(The continuation of the previous post which, like this one, is yet another one of those posts.)

I was going to jump right into the episode of Doctor Who I’m teaching tomorrow, but due to a non-Whovian coup, I’m going to prove my point differently first. To that end, I asked my however many Facebook friends I have the following:

Please name the five most claustrophobic films and/or episodes of a television show you’ve ever seen. If your nominee is chosen, I’ll honor you by naming you by name in the post I’m going to write this afternoon. (Not much of an honor, but hey, it’s better than nothing.)

Patrick Slaven, Kyler Kuehn, Carrie Shanafelt and Gary Farber all recommended Das Boot, and since I own a copy of said film, Das Boot it is. Short plot summary: back when Wolfgang Petersen had talent, he directed a film about a German U-boat and its discontents, and because the majority of the film took place on the boat, it had plenty of shots that approximate the “coffin shots” I discussed yesterday. (Being stuck in a metal tube leagues and leagues below the sea is roughly equivalent to being buried alive.) But unlike the frames discussed yesterday—in particular, the awkward image of Reynolds in his coffin—Petersen relies on standard scaled shots to create a claustrophobic atmosphere for his audience. So long as the audience grants him the conceit that the men in his film live precariously in a long metal cylinder, he need not 1) employ conventional “coffin shots” nor 2) improve upon convention or go whole hog (as Rodrigo Cortés did in Buried).

Petersen’s audience knows that these men are confined behind a brittle shell of metal and will miles below the sea, so the enclosed atmosphere of the film is implicit. But that’s not enough. As I mentioned yesterday, audiences key in to conventions in ways that subvert their effectiveness. A director can put a person in a closed coffin, but because so many have done so previously, the effect is merely communicative. The simple fact of being entrapped comes across, but the sympathetic feeling of entrapment doesn’t.Das Boot is different. It lacks any of the obviously constricted shots and opts instead for a directorial ethos of tight framing (much as I discussed in my counterfactual Bones yesterday):

Doctor who daleks2012-01-24-14h24m32s161

That’d be a typical dinner shot. It lacks the ostentation of Reynolds in a coffin, but by framing this medium close-up as he did, Petersen’s use of shallow focus indicates that there’s little more to the room than what’s seen here. Typically, shallow focus emphasizes a face (or faces) and blurs the unimportant background into a hazy nothing; here, however, the shallow focus reveals that the walls behind these folks abut them so closely that they can’t be excluded from the shot. There’s simply no way for them to be in focus and the walls around them not, which an audience will realize (even if it doesn’t consciously understand) means that these men are very close to their walls. (Or vice versa.) It’s not a “coffin shot,” merely a medium close-up with a depth of field that reveals, in its entirety, how little there is to see. Stack a few hundred similar shots together and the claustrophobic intent of every director who’s ever buried an actor for effect can actually be realized. Just to prove my point, here are some other shots from the film:

Doctor who daleks2012-01-24-14h24m59s172

That shot of the living quarters need not be perfectly centered in such a way as to create a frame whose composition is so damn mathematical as to be oppressive, but Petersen’s got an agenda. Also:

Doctor who daleks2012-01-24-14h25m10s25

There are many ways to depict a man amongst his crew, but framing his head as Petersen has (in a close-up) and situating it in the composition against many other similarly framed heads limits the scope of the frame to this head and these other ones. The face, again, is in shallow focus and yet because every other head’s within the depth of field the constricted effect is only heightened. Imagine watching a film composed thus for 209 minutes (if you spring for the director’s cut): the knowledge of the predicament of the crew is augmented, visually and viscerally, by the manner in which Petersen frames them.

All of which is only to say that a claustrophobic effect isn’t bound to a claustrophobic situation. Certainly, both coffins and U-boats lend themselves to a claustrophobic treatment, but the reason Das Bootsucceeds where yesterday’s episodes and films failed has nothing to do with the narrative situation. It’s all about the mechanics of how such a situation is filmed.

Tomorrow, I promise, I’ll address this within the dictates of my class and discuss Andrew Gunn’s direction of “The Victory of the Daleks.”

I Am Not The Reason God Made Oklahoma and I Resent Your Slanderous Accusations

[ 51 ] January 24, 2012 |

I’m certainly not going to speak against Any Which Way You Can, which clearly provides the greatest chimp-Eastwood pairing we will ever see. And higher power of your choice knows that I would never say anything bad about a song written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, not to mention one performed by either David Frizzell or Shelly West, not to mention sung by both. And in fact, Oklahoma is one of my favorite states to drive around.

But Oklahoma sure has some crazy politicians. The state that brought you such necessary bills as outlawing Sharia law in a place that wouldn’t know a Muslim if he prayed to Mecca at the Oklahoma City Memorial has taken wingnuttery to the next level:

A bill introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature has some folks scratching their heads, as it prohibits “the manufacture or sale of food or products which use aborted human fetuses.”

Since the bill was introduced late last week by State Sen. Ralph Shortey, a Republican from Oklahoma City, corners of the Internet have been buzzing with the news, as people try to figure out two things: 1) is this real; and 2) is there any reason the bill might be needed?

I love this justification:

The senator says that his research shows there are companies in the food industry that have used human stem cells to help them research and develop products, including artificial flavorings.

“I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be. What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here,” Shortey tells KRMG’s Nicole Burgin.

It may be, it may not be, who knows. But we’d better pass a law to make sure. Note that the same principle may also apply to Oklahoma-alien miscegenation. Our women will not commit interplanetary race suicide!

This is really too bad as well. My favorite abortion clinic is in Lawton. I was going to drive there next month in order to pick up a special fetus drawn from a woman fed only on butter and truffles for the 8 1/2 months before she was forced to undergo a partial-birth abortion. The blood from that fetus is great in soup. Since it feels pain, the stress is feels as the abortionist is beating it to death with a hammer adds extra flavor.

Tim Thomas

[ 32 ] January 24, 2012 |

In what will likely be the only hockey-related post I ever write, let me say that Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who refused to attend his team’s meeting with President Obama, may be a teabagging wingnut of the first order. But you have to give him credit for his authentic 18th century capitalization stylings.

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

Now if he’ll only play goalie in a tri-cornered hat.

It figures a guy named Fielder would end up as somebody’s DH

[ 89 ] January 24, 2012 |

fielder

Per the Twitter, the Tigers have just signed Prince Fielder to a 9-year $214 million deal. Since Detroit already has a pretty good first baseman who is also signed to a long-term megadeal, this means there’s either a trade for Cabrera in the works or that Dave Dombrowski has read The Obesity Myth.

Breaking . . . supposedly Cabrera has agreed to move to DH. Can Fielder, you know, field? I’ve only seen him hit home runs.

Also, what about Victor Martinez? He has a torn ACL, and is supposed to be out for all of 2012, and isn’t expected to be able to catch again. He’s basically going to be a DH for the rest of his career.

Could Cabrera move back to third? He has soft hands and a decent arm but at this point his mobility is slightly better than a sleeper sofa’s. This must be what it’s like to root for the Yankees. In other words, fun!

Mitch Daniels to Deliver State of the Union Response

[ 111 ] January 24, 2012 |

In case you were questioning how central Republicans’ anti-labor zealotry is to their program, they are choosing Indiana’s Mitch Daniels to deliver the state of the union response. Daniels is currently shepherding a right to work a person to death law through the legislature. Despite his odd choice not to run for president in 2012, the business leaders love him and he’s a likely candidate in 2016. John Nichols has more on why this all matters, particularly on the state-based campaigns Republicans are running to destroy working-class lives.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Shitty?

[ 203 ] January 24, 2012 |

This was truly a banner year for terrible movies, with most of the worst directors in Hollywood coming out. Schumacher! Emmerich! Bay! Snyder! Marshall! Several films from Adam Sandler’s Straight-to-Video Quality Films LLC!

But I was interested to see several critics in the New York survey mentioned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. About 15 seconds into the first time I saw the preview it was clear that it was going to be a major threat to be the Academy’s middlebrow doorstop of choice. And that was before I knew it had been directed by Stephen Daldry, the homeless man’s Lasse Hallström and the most obvious choice to produce the kind of kitschy “serious” films that simulate content without having any. It’s based on a prominent bad novel using one horrible historical event as a backdrop, and also invokes two other horrible historical events while telling you nothing you didn’t already know about any of them or about anything else. It has an annoying precocious kid, who encounters Noble African-Americans. It has Tom Hanks. I mean talk about your Oscar bait. So did it get nominated? Oh, yes, and I can’t imagaine anyone thinks this is surprising. Has anyone seen it? Could anything be as bad as it looks?

More From the NCAA Cartel

[ 47 ] January 24, 2012 |

Nocera is doing great work:

When his coach, Jim Calhoun, broke the news that the N.C.A.A. was still investigating him, Boatright collapsed in Calhoun’s arms. In tears, he called his mother, Tanesha, who began weeping uncontrollably. As I chronicled on Saturday, it was her acceptance of plane tickets a year or so ago that had caused his first suspension. The N.C.A.A. had ruled the tickets an “improper benefit,” and had ordered him to sit out six games and pay a $100-per-month fine to repay the tickets. What more, she wondered, could the N.C.A.A. want?

A lot, it turned out. Tanesha is a single mother raising four children on a small salary. The N.C.A.A. investigators viewed her circumstances as a cause for suspicion, not sympathy. For instance, she owns a car. Where did she get the money to pay for it, they asked? How did she pay for her home? And so on.

Concluding that she had no choice but to cooperate — otherwise, her son would surely pay a severe price — Tanesha turned over her bank statements, as the N.C.A.A. demanded. Four N.C.A.A. investigators pored through her financial records and conducted interrogations in Aurora, seeking “evidence” that she was getting money from “improper” sources. (Tanesha declined to comment.)

When the investigators saw a series of cash deposits in her bank account, they demanded to know the source of the money. She told them: Friends had given her money so that she and her children could have a joyful Christmas. The investigators said they didn’t believe her; they felt sure that she must have gotten the money from an unscrupulous sports agent or some other party outlawed by the N.C.A.A.

This rules would be silly and remarkably intrusive even the NCAA actually afforded some measure of due process, which of course it doesn’t.

Mittens and Regressive Taxes

[ 51 ] January 24, 2012 |

If this is what he pays in the tax returns designed with public scrutiny in mind, one wonders how low the rate was in previous years.

What You Missed At the GOP Debate

[ 22 ] January 23, 2012 |
  • First you get the beet sugar.   Then you get the power    Then you get the WOMEN!
  • The GOP is proud of its appalling and extremely unpopular behavior in the Schiavo case.   Also, according to great historian Newt Gingrich apparently Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Tony Lazzeri took legal resources that should have been used to file frivolous lawsuits denying Terri Schiavo’s will.
  • I think a “self-deportation” plan that started with these four men would have some promise.
  • Ron Paul still wants to return to the success of VanBurenomics.

…and, seriously, see Clara Jeffrey on “self-deportation.”

Claustrophobia is a cumulative effect.

[ 8 ] January 23, 2012 |

(Yet another one of those posts.)

Representing claustrophobic situations on screen should be simple enough: you take a person, put them in a confined space, and then you bury them alive. Doesn’t matter if they’re Buffy (in “Bargaining”):

Read more…

Ríos Montt to Appear Before Guatemalan Court

[ 21 ] January 23, 2012 |

Interesting news out of Guatemala today. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former genocidal president and darling of right-wing America, will be forced to appear before a Guatemalan court, a move that could lead to charges of genocide.

It’s difficult to overstate how deep the United States is in the long-term destablization of Guatemala. The CIA-approved coup of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 began a long process of undermining the small nation, even today. You could certainly also argue that the Arbenz episode is merely a flash point in a relationship of exploitation that began with the banana companies in the late 19th century and goes on today. During the 80s, Reagan’s support of right-wing leaders in Central America, especially the evangelical Ríos Montt, is well-known. The genocide charge is appropriate, as during his rule, indigenous villages were eliminated under the general premise that Mayans were communists. During his year in power, nearly 600 villages were destroyed and thousands of indigenous Guatemalans killed.

Said Ronald Reagan about Ríos Montt: “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. … I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

And it’s not as if Ríos Montt’s actions led the American right to reject the man after the fact. In fact, his daughter, a right-wing Guatemalan politician and defender of her father’s actions, is married to former Illinois Republican congressman Jerry Weller,.

Today, Guatemala faces a new period of instability due to the expansion of drug gangs from Mexico and El Salvador into their country and its unfortunately convenient stop on the drug highway to the United States. Whereas thirty years ago, people wanted to dismantle the police force because of its horrifying repression, today people are putting hope in the police as the one thing that could stand in the way of a new generation of shocking violence.

Forcing Ríos Montt to face trial for his crimes is not going to solve any of Guatemala’s enormous problems, but it might at least force the defenders of violence in that nation to think twice about their actions.

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