The return of the auteur?

As you probably already know: Sony Pulls the Plug on Dec. 25 Release of ‘The Interview’ After Threats

As major movie chains moved to pull “The Interview” from their holiday lineups after threats from the Sony Corp. hackers, Sony has decided to shelve the film.

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the company said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

Freddie De Boer also notes:

There have been widespread claims that recent blockbuster movies like the latest Transformers have been written so as to appease Chinese censors. There’s nothing wrong with writing movies to reach out to a particularly huge foreign box office– why wouldn’t you want your movie to play to Chinese moviegoers?– but appealing to the Chinese government is a whole other ball of wax.

I’ve complained about the fact that much of modern cinema seems toothless and feels as if it was neutered by committee style writing. I also think it’s very hard to be an auteur style filmmaker (or musician or comic artist) because audiences are used to high production values. A filmmaker in the 1970s who had a great or at least provocative idea for a story (think Abel Ferrera or Doris Wishman) could collect a meager budget, make the film and earn some some small success, usually as a step towards a greater career. Viewers were more forgiving of cheap special effects because even the big players didn’t have particularly awesome effects. (Think about how fundamentally cheesy the creatures in Steven Spielberg’s Gremlins looked.) But once we entered the era of massive CGI it was hard to make a decent action or sci-fi orientated film without being compared to the Transformers or Planet of the Apes reboots (the latter of which I think have some great stories.)

I think this idea that blockbuster movie companies are running scared from internet terrorists and the Chinese censors may be a great thing for cheap, auteur storytelling. If the big players are too afraid to create stories that take chances, then poor (in money, not talent) writers, filmmakers and comic creators have a void they can fill. And there’s a hunger for that kind of storytelling.

Can quantity make up for quality?

There’s an old Bill Hicks joke:

“It’s hard to have a relationship in this business…it’s gonna take a very special woman…or a bunch of average ones.”

I was reminded of this while I was reading through a book on ebook publishing. The book made the claim that even if the market was flooded with free ebooks, excellent ebooks would always sell because quality will always sell. Ten mediocre books do not equal a great book.

Is this true? It seems to make sense. Certainly I would like it to be true. But I also have a nagging sense that when I occasionally do hear about an exceptional product for, say 10 bucks, there’s a little voice that says, “eh, you’ve got plenty to read/listen to/eat etc. that’s free.” It’s not that uncommon, especially when you’re broke, to trade in the proverbial special woman for a bunch of average ones.

The Danny Kay/Kramer Connection

I watched “White Christmas” for the first time last night and was struck by how much Danny Kaye’s character reminded me of Michael Richard’s portray of Kramer on TV’s “Seinfeld.” I was so struck by the similarities I looked online to see if there was any discussion of this. In fact, it’s right there in the wiki article for Kramer which states…

It is interesting to note that many of his mannerisms resemble those of Danny Kaye’s character in “White Christmas” though it has never been mentioned as an inspiration for Richards’s characterization of Kramer.

But that’s not all. Over at this yahoo page an observer notes:

Danny Kaye died shortly after appearing on The Cosby Show, in 1986.
Kramer (Michael Richards) died horribly (career) after making racial comments at The Laugh Factory, on the, “Cosby Stage”, in 2006. Exactly 20 years to the day.

Coincidence?

It’s clear that the Danny Kaye/Kramer connection exposes the machinations of a secret society that has been controlling world governments since time immemorial!

And I like this gal’s spin on things.

It’s amazing how much Danny Kaye looks like Seinfeld’s Michael Richards. Perhaps Richards should star in a remake of “White Christmas”? After the “N” word incident, it would give the title a whole new meaning.

What if everyone died?

There’s a particular conundrum I’ve been musing over but it’s hard to capture it in words. I guess I would say it comes down to this question: what is real?

For example, I’m sitting here at Starbucks. Is this Starbucks real? Well, I think the physical materials of the Starbucks are real; I think the wood of the table I’m writing on breaks down to molecules that are real, and from there to atoms, and presumably from there to quantum particles etc. I think those are all real physical elements (though I think there are some schools of philosophy and quantum theory that might dicker with even that seemingly obvious point of view. Let’s ignore them for now.)

What about the idea of Starbucks? The concept of Starbucks as an enjoyable coffee bistro, a place that welcomes both happy hipsters and urban professionals, a place that plays eclectic but inoffensive music, a locale with great coffee and astoundingly bland food… is that real? Obviously when I say, “I’m going to Starbucks,” no one questions its reality, but this idea of Starbucks is not really real in the same sense of the physical materials that make up an individual Starbucks store.

So how do we define reality? Let me approach this a little differently. What if everyone on earth died? What would be left? I think the Starbucks I am at would still be around (for a while) but the idea of it would be gone. In fact, all ideas would be gone. There would be no more communism, sexuality, chaos theory, social justice, individual rights, copyright protection, evolution and on and on. All ideas would be gone. We would just have stuff and time.

(I haven’t really said whether or not all animals or even all life on earth are gone with humanity in this scenario so maybe some of these ideas would survive in the minds of animals but, again, let’s ignore those issues.)

This unreality of ideas seems pretty obvious. However, most of the joys and miseries throughout history and the modern world are derived from these unreal ideas. For example, I was a big fan of Spider-Man as a kid. The sight of his red and blue costume excited me. But Spider-Man is not real. The Spider-Man comics are real, in so much as they are created from real materials (paper, ink etc.) but the idea of Spider-Man is completely held within the minds of humans.

I love music but, Jesus, what could be less real… sound waves in the air that create certain psychological perceptions when experienced by the human brain?

In some sense, a weight lifts off your shoulders when you realize this. None of the bullshit people are constantly yammering about – politics, culture, art theory, sex games, gender wars etc. – really exists. These are simply the ideas mankind has constructed and agreed to bicker over. If we are all wiped out by a radioactive space comet, these ideas will fade away… well, that’s not really correct; they can’t fade away because they were never there in the first place. Let’s put it this way: their impermanence will be revealed.

And yet these things, these ideas, actually feel more real, or at least more meaningful, than what actually is real (materials and time.) Again, these ideas are what provide most peoples’ joys and pains.

Even the idea I’m touting here, that ideas are not real, is not really real.

Ain’t that a motherfucker?

On nudity

I’m the first to admit things are pretty slow around here, mainly as I am assaulted with the problems of life. I did want to note this amusing quote from Shelly Winters on the topic of onstage nudity.

“I think it is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were twenty-two with a great body it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive, religious experience.”

Can learning be fun?

I’ve longed complained about modern education and I’m far from alone. Most people look back on their years of institutionalized learning (in schools, universities, private lessons etc.) as being unpleasant.

But I’m a great fan of learning. I love reading books, consuming knowledge etc. This opens up an interesting question. Why is “education” so painful and “learning” so fun?

I stumbled across an interesting site on teaching guitar and the author has several articles on learning theory. In one he gets tackles this general issue.

It may seem odd then that in the mind of many individuals, the idea of learning has quite negative associations. This springs from two main sources: Parenting and Schooling.

The word ‘learn’ is often used in anger and frustration by parents:

“When will you ever learn / Why can’t you learn / You’d better start learning…
… to behave/ to do as you’re told/ to be sensible/ to sit still/ to be quiet”
…etc. etc. This introduces, from an early age, the idea that learning has an element of duress attached to it.

When your child comes home from school complaining of boredom – it is not learning that has bored him – remember: “Learning opens doors, widens horizons, adds colour to our experience, makes life more interesting.” Rather it is a lack of learning brought about by the less than ideal conditions that modern education systems attempt to operate under.

Although improvements are continually being made to education there remains the basic set of problems that spring from the financial and logistical restraints placed upon schools where typically, one teacher is charged with the task of causing learning to occur in as many as 30 children simultaneously, often in subjects they have little or no natural interest in.

Unfortunately it gets worse. The whole subject of teaching gets mixed in with the subject of control and, where teachers feel particularly vulnerable, outright subjugation.

Both points strike me as spot on. I think part of the problem with education is that it tries to invoke learning when it’s simply not desired. Some kid is digesting a big lunch while dreaming about the girl he has a crush on and he then walks into a class and is supposed to care about the table of elements. Not gonna happen.

Of course, one might argue that the solution is to give kids more control over when they learn. Don’t make them enter their biology class until they’re ready. But with kids being the impetuous and lazy bastards that they are, that method probably wouldn’t work either. Perhaps there’s some middle ground?

Out of Our heads, Continued

I recently mentioned my thoughts and confusion while reading the book “Out of Our Heads” by Alva Noë. I was somewhat dismissive after reading it, but while I’m still not quite sure what it was saying, I find some of its ideas still percolating.

The book seemed to be about defining where the limits of a person are. Obviously our physical bodies can be said to extend to our skin (though one could quibble with even that point.) But if you refer to a person as a sum of their experiences, thoughts, beliefs, perceptions etc… where does a person begin or end in that view? Noë’s claim, and I think he’s probably correct, is that modern neuroscience would generally say that the borders of the nervous system (brain and nerves throughout the body) are this beginning and end point.

Let’s consider our conscious experience of life – by this I mean our sights, tastes, smells etc. as well as internal thoughts, feelings and so on. If we consider that sum of perceptions as “us” where do we begin or end?

Think of seeing a bird. What’s going on there? In short, light particles/waves reflect off the form of the bird and some of them make their way to your eyes and to certain retinal cells designed to respond to different wave lengths of light (what we see as different colors.) Those retinal cells connect to other cells, travel up your optic nerve and into you brain where the “information” is “processed” by the brain and this results in our internal perception of the bird. So where is the “us” in this process – who is seeing the bird? Conventional science would probably say, again, that it’s the nervous system (the eyes and brain etc.) And that not a bad view to take, especially for medical purposes. This view would say our perception arises out of the signals traveling through our eyes, optic nerve and brain. But let’s consider what’s happening before those signals fire from our eyes. Light particles bounce off the bird and go to out eyes. In a sense, those particles could be thought of as signals (at least as well as the electrochemical firings of your nerves can.) So could those particles and indeed even that bird be thought of as part of “us”? And where do those bounced light particles come from? If we’re outside, the sun is likely source. So is the sun not a part of “us”?

At this point one starts to sound rather new agey, essentially claiming that “we” are the universe—a complex system of signals of “information.” I’m not really willing to take it that far (though the case could be made.) But I do find it interesting to think of ourselves (if we define “ourselves” to include our conscious perception of the world) as more than just our brain but also our surrounding environment.

And this aligns with another meme you often see in psychology, Buddhism, new age thought etc… that your environment has a great effect on you and thus by placing yourself in the right environment you can flourish. (The opposite would also be true. And I might argue that the real trick is making whatever environment you are in “positive.” Like the prison lifer who nonetheless thrives.)

To see and observe

I’m the first to admit that blogging has been light around here; just the complexities of real life intruding.

I have been doing a lot of drawing lately and have noticed something interesting. Much of drawing (or any kind of representational artwork) isn’t about technical skill (say, the ability to draw ovoids), it’s about observing. It’s about really understanding what you are looking at or what’s in your head. I was working on drawing a dragon’s head recently and I referred to some picture of lizards to aid me. I started to become conscious of the peculiarities of how lizards are constructed. They really are rather birdlike in their skull shape. In some cases the scales around their jowls are bigger that those around the tip of the nose. I’ve seen this for years but have not been really aware of it. (As Sherlock Holmes once told Watson, “You see but you do not observe.”)

I was drawing the neighbor’s house yesterday and had a similar epiphany. I realized that what I take to be their front door opens into some kind of enclosed yard, not their foyer as I had presumed. Of course I’ve stared at this house for years without realizing this.

It makes one aware of how much we miss when looking at the world.

Out of Our Heads

Recently I read yet another brain related book. This one was more philosophical than medical and was titled “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are not Your Brain and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness.” The author the academic Alva Noë

What was the book about? Umm… hard to say… it was pretty vague reading. It seemed to be a rebuttal to the materialistic neuroscience view that argues that every facet of consciousness can be explained as the result of (not yet understood) machinations in the brain. However, the book’s argument was not spiritual; it did not argue for the existence of the non-material soul (I think.) Instead it seemed to argue that a conscious experience involves many systems and is not limited to the brain. If you reach out and poke a bear with a stick then your arm, your stick and perhaps even the bear are part of this experience. The environment the brain is in (including the body surrounding it) are somehow part of the conscious experience.

Hard to understand? Yeah, I didn’t get it myself. However, I do get the sense that there maybe some kernels of truth in the book’s ideas. There is a popular view that we are totally self dependent entities and we “make our own fate.” In this view, environment is not really an issue. But Noë would probably argue that where we are is as important as who we are (and in fact the two aspects are intertwined.) I found myself thinking back to my days in LA. I was, before I moved there, not much of a fan of country music. But I stumbled onto the country scene at the Cinema Bar and fell into it. It was my environment that determined, in essence, who I became (e.g. an alt-country fan of sorts.) Now that I’ve moved away from that I really don’t listen to or associate with alt-country much – that self-definition has faded. The point being that without that environment, I would have been a different person.

This all sounds rather obvious I suspect, but there seem to be a few ideas here contradictory to a lot of the philosophies at work in modern culture. One being: you are not entirely self determined, you are subject to the winds in your environment. (I personally doubt the existence of free will entirely but that’s another story.) But on a sort of flip side, you can determine you sense of self but aiming to place your self in certain environments. (Sort of like the scoundrel characters in much of fiction and real life who assume an identity and hobnob with the wealthy elite. But placing themselves in a different environment, they become a different person.)

New Art/Music video

I recently posted on youtube a new video slideshow featuring some of my comic art as well as electronic music. Here it is: