Wednesday, October 31, 2007

icarine dreams

. . . and just when heaven seemed within our grasp, gravity in its spite did intercede, and apparent possibility did ever vanish.
. . . and hope wept.
. . . and faith did turn her back and spread her wings, abandoning her supplicants to shadows and imitations.
. . . and the night stretched on unto death, and ended thence the suffering of the innocent.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

understanding the mind IV

From Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language, 2002.

Friday, October 26, 2007

we are frogs

. . . .and the water is slowly coming to a boil.

I wish we were lobster. Then, at least, we could fight our damnedest against the encroaching night, instead of letting it slowly wash over us and deplete us of our humanity.

Mankind fought for millions of years to develop the sense of self, the individual. Now that he has it, he doesn't know what to do with it. And the luddites and pessimists and politicians and any cock-sucking, shit-eating, motherfucking jackass who has a smidgeon of additional power to wield over another can't think of anything constructive to do with it but rape the poor sucker's sense of self: tell him he isn't good enough, isn't smart enough, isn't free enough, isn't capable enough, isn't worth enough without this stuck-up, pocket hitler, tin-hat dictator making him better / freer / richer / more capable.

If you think you need X (insert: "education," "money," "health care," "safety," "security," "a loan," "a car," "the fire department," "40 acres and a mule," "a girlfriend," "crack," "the environment," etc.) to be free, i.e. to be an individual, autonomous, of worth, self-determining, then you're just as much a part of the problem as the tin-hat, small-dicked, crackpot, petty Hitler-wanna-be, imaginationless, hereditary aristocracies that you keep voting into power over you: you slave.

Yes, slavery really can be voluntary: for empirical confirmation, look in the mirror, sucker.

Monday, October 22, 2007

BEEM, 2nd place: DOA (Dead Or Alive)

[Best Editing in an Exploitation Movie Award]

"I know everything about this city; I came to Japan before you were born, cooking here at this stove . . . but even after 5,000 years, each day, a different flavor. Can you understand that?"

DOA, 1999, brought together for the first time Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi, the two undisputed kings of Japanese V-Cinema. Takashi Miike, the greatest director of Japanese exploitation cinema (delivering examplary films in all exploitation categories short of straight-up pornography) has made better movies, perhaps, but none quite so excessive and exploitative. In fact, despite the thoughtful story and potent drama, it's hard to imagine DOA as anything other than a straight-to-video release. The sheer audacity of the imagery (a businessman snorting a 25 foot line of cocaine, a Sesame Street bird costume at a yakuza birthday party, a graveyard in the sand, a bonfire of bodies on a roof in the middle of Tokyo) strips the viewer of any lingering demand for realism, leaving him exposed to the emotional conflict which underlies the excess.

Thematically, the film explores the same subject as all of Miike's films: familial obligation and dynamics. In this case, the dedicated cop Aikawa's akward and tentative relationship with his sickly daughter and untrusting wife is contrasted with the "healthy" familial relationship exemplified by (Miike and "Beat" Takeshi regular) Susumu Terajima (who, curiously, tends to play "bad cop" when the duo interacts with criminals) on the one hand, and the strained fraternity exemplified by Takeuchi's relationship with his younger brother on the other. Takeuchi exemplifies another Miike theme, the dispossessed: in this case, as so often, embodied by 2nd generation Chinese youth in Japan, forced to bond together against both the Japanese and the 1st generation Chinese immigrants who dominate the criminal underworld. Takeuchi will stop at nothing (quite literally!) to force the other gangs out of business; Aikawa, likewise, refuses to accept the ensuing criminal rampage. The ultimate face-off between these twin stars of exploitation cinema may be disappointing from a plot standpoint, but faithfully delivers the sheer energy and violence demanded by the preceding 90 min. of this sonnet to excess.

the trailer for DOA:

memorable editing moment: DOA begins with an absolutely mind-blowing 7 min. montage, an exemplary microcosm of plot construction. Like a shotgun blast in reverse, numerous fragmentary images (a stripper falling from a 12-storey building, police beating a schoolgirl, a businessman snorting a 25 ft. line, a gangster assassinated while fucking a rentboy in a public toilet, the blood from his severed carotid spraying the tile wall and his orgasming partner equally, a bare-chested stripper, a shotgun hidden in a clown's bicycle basket, a cascade of noodles exploding out of a Triad's stomach as it dissolves under uzi spray) coalesce into larger and larger chunks until a coherent plot emerges: one gang attempts a takeover of another to the chagrin of the dedicated cops.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

the plot

"Consciousness is a plot to keep the parasites feasting off our bodies alive. Civilization is a conspiracy of microbes: they've tricked us into creating music, science, medicine, art, plumbing . . ."

~ Ivan Brunetti

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

doubly special relativity

Special Relativity is special because it places an upper bound on speed: speeds faster than that of light are simply impossible. What does this really amount to, though? - an upper bound on the speed of time. Why? Well, if we distinguish different moments in time by the different events which constitute them, and if every event has a cause, then temporal change is constrained to the same speed as causal change, i.e. the speed of light.

So we've constrained time, but what about space? Doubly Special Relativity posits a limit on space analogous to the limit on time. What does this amount to? - a smallest unit of length. Just as there is a fastest speed, there is a smallest size.

Of course, this smallest size would be pretty damn small. However, the positing of a smallest size resolves some ancient conceptual problems about infinity. If space is a continuum, i.e. infinitely divisible, i.e. there is no smallest unit of length, then we seem to have a real infinity right under our very noses. Zeno's paradoxes all turn upon the puzzling nature of such an infinite. Of course, resolution of paradox alone isn't a good enough reason to adopt a theory, but it does increase its intuitive interest. . . .

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the "peace" prize

And he raised conflict and strife across 7 continents and 7 seas,
And he called upon the Third World to suffer for the sins of the First,
And he aggrandized himself at the expense of accuracy,
And he demonstrated the most profound hypocrisy,
. . . himself committing the sins for which he faulted others,
And he cried "Wolf!" - and then he cried again,
And Hollywood finally heard him, and its cretinous denizens,
Uneducated, Ignorant, and Gullible, but endowed by fame with Supernatural Power,
Called upon their Dark Gods, and themselves followed his hypocritical path,
Themselves they flew in private jets to lecture their betters on the sin of Emissions,
And there was confusion and delusion and panic across the land,
And each man was weighed heavy by his guilt,
But only the Rich were exonerated, paying for the privelege to pollute with free conscience,
And class differences grew as a new mark of status arose,
And He, in his majesty, was rewarded for spreading ignorance and fear,
And crowned as all great conmen eventually are crowned:
The Prince of Peace.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

the music industry

An army of pencil-pushing beancounters, devoid of talent, foresight, courage, or wit, who have made their living pimping out artists and marketing talentless teenage models as "musicians" and "artists" - these vampires deserve a slow death at the hands of internet "pirates." Like all bloodsuckers, they can't take a bloodletting; terrified that self-distribution might allow musicians to make a living again without the bloated publicity apparatus they provide, they have retrenched under the banner of "artist rights" ~ Hypocrites! They bought the radio stations and the DJs so music could no longer be discovered by the public, but only by imagination-less agents and executives, now they seek to control bandwidth and place information itself under lock and key. May whatever divine forces still hold sway over this corrupt and pustulant realm curse their legal dealings and condemn every last one of their noxious, parasitic souls to a sonic hell, their limp, flayed carcasses strapped to 40 mile high woofers, rattling their wounds with the hook to Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" for eternity!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

understanding the mind III

From Bela Julesz, Dialogues on Perception, 1995.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

BEEM, 3rd place: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

[Best Editing in an Exploitation Movie Award]

"Here, have some grass, Aunt Susan won't see."
"Ooo, no thanks man, in a scene like this you get a contact high!"
"This is my happening, and it freaks me out!"
"Oh, it's a stone gas, man."
"Pray, we must make haste, my time is not my own,
Before the clock strikes twelve, I must be back at Forest Lawn!
Come I know of a cozy little dungeon where just the two of us can get off with the chains and a spider . . .
[upon discovering the bedroom in use]
. . . Delighted to see my hostages in such happy daliance;
Pray, let them joust in peace!"

Former WWII combat cameraman Russ Meyer's Vixen, 1968, a potpourri of satirical violence, taboo violation, and cheap sex, was a phenomenal success on the film circuit, playing for so long at one single-screen cinema, the owners were forced to build a second building across the street for additional movies. Meyer had produced the film himself and was enjoying a noticeable financial success with his particular brand of tittie-flick. 20th Century Fox, having failed in the latter half of the '60's to tap into the new sensibility and, consequently, suffering financially, took a risk and hired Meyer purely on the basis of his films' efficient budgets and box office success. The product of this unlikely partnership, written by Meyer and film critic Roger Ebert, was 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The film served it's purpose, becoming a box office success with its whimsical portrayal / parody of the rock & roll scene in LA.

Stylistically, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is consistent with the rest of Meyer's oeuvre; however, Meyer was well aware that this would be his only chance to implement this style within the bounds of the studio system and its resources. Meyer makes full use of the advantages offered by a large crew and (comparatively) large budget. The result is the most lush and polished of all Meyer's works.

the original trailer for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:

memorable editing moment: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls exemplifies Meyer's idiosyncratic editing style. Two distinctive Meyeresque techniques: i) close-ups are cut before the subject blinks (leaving the women with an absurdly wide-eyed appearance); ii) Meyer's patented up-through-the-bed shot, where the camera looks up through the mattress springs at fornicating lovers. Additionally, several instances of Meyer's exceptional use of the montage sequence can be found. In this clip, we can see the montage which Meyer uses to illustrate the conversation between the lead singer of a female rock band and her lover (the manager) about going to LA. The interaction between the words and images is nothing less than brilliant. There are at least three types of image: i) shots from later in the film, ii) footage of characters from the film in surreal situations which never occur later, and iii) stock footage of objects / events. Correspondingly, there are at least three distinct ways the images illustrate the words: i) literally (showing smog with the word "smog"), ii) as a pun on the literal meaning (showing a head of beer with the words "cool head"), and iii) as a commentary on the words (juxtaposing both a rich urban environment and a shack on the hill with the word "LA").

[Note: the above description refers to the first minute of this video; starting at 1:26 are a sequence of randomly arranged clips.]

Thursday, October 4, 2007

understanding the mind II

Schematic of the wiring of a robotic "crab." The bottom layer represents the world as seen by the crab's eyes in terms of the degrees of freedom available to its arm, this "representation" allows the crab to anticipate the movement of objects in its visual field and grab them with its claw.

From Churchland and Sejnowski, The Computational Brain, 1992.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

the victim of theft

. . . marauders through his dream left him with a sense of loss, a fumbling for that which should be there (shouldn't it?) but which can't quite be found. Upon awaking, satisfaction can never be his, for the culprits are no more, though the absence remains.

Monday, October 1, 2007

BEEM, 4th place: Peking Opera Blues

[Best Editing in an Exploitation Movie Award]

"If I am afraid of dangerous, I'll not be an army. . . . Talk louder with bigger power."

Before he launched Jet Li's ascension from regional to global stardom with 1991's Once Upon a Time in China, before his production of former choreographer Ching Siu Tung's 1987 A Chinese Ghost Story became an international success, before he rescued floundering director John Woo from a mid-career slump by producing (and, by some reports co-directing) A Better Tomorrow (1 and 2) and The Killer, Tsui Hark directed the epitome of HK-genre cinema, Peking Opera Blues, 1986. Political intrigue, violence, melodrama, sexual innuendo, Marx Brothers-style slapstick, gravity-defying martial arts, gender-role reversal, and romantic comedy can all be found in Peking Opera Blues, but no one genre or style predominates. Although the plot is absurd in the extreme, its execution evinces none of the awkwardness, expository gaps, or gratuitous stylistic flamboyance which mar most of the great HK films.

Unlike Hard Boiled, the editing of Peking Opera Blues is not showy and obvious, it does not cry out to be praised. Nevertheless, it is this very subtlety which proves its success. Take, for example, the role of martial arts in the film. The bursts of action which demonstrate martial prowess are edited with all the flourish of the best martial arts cinema, but they are always justified by the plot and are marked by a brevity and restraint uncharacteristic of pure "martial arts" films. One protagonist, surrounded by soldiers in close quarters, his disguise about to be exposed, hurls himself into the air, landing with his back to a chair which then slides through the open door as the he fires into the crowd. The move itself is straight out of any acrobatic fighting movie, but the sequence, though constructed from several shots, takes less than a second. Only a single acrobatic move was needed, so only a single acrobatic move was used, but this move itself was given the full treatment of any action moment.

the trailer for Peking Opera Blues:

memorable editing moment: In the film's climactic scene, our heroes (revolutionaries of both sexes) are running from the local police across a rooftop at night; they (the revolutionaries) are all dressed in traditional Peking Opera garb (for extremely entertaining and bizarrely convoluted reasons). The great Bridgette Lin (most famous in the West for her role as the blond woman in Chunking Express), who for most of the film has been dressed in male military garb, is now "disguised" as a Manchu warrior prince. In an attempt to draw fire from her colleagues, she runs across the rooftops towards the local police, firing a pistol continuously in slow motion. After injuring the police chief (who, earlier, had murdered her father and tortured her viciously), she herself is wounded and, falling, smashes into the other end of the roofbeam which supports the police chief. As the chief (by a levering or see-saw effect) is propelled through the air (3 angles in quick succession), her comrade begins to slide down an adjacent roof (1 shot), Bridget falls through the roof and into the building (2 shots), her comrade slides from the roof (2 shots) and, passing through one of its windows, enters the building through which Bridgett is falling, intercepting her, and carrying her through the opposite window to safety (3 more shots) ~ much of all this in slow motion. This moment of action is exceptionally implausible, requiring a synchronistic intersection of three, distinct trajectories of humans through space; nevertheless, it expands into a brief ballet, thrilling and, strangely, convincing, through the coherence and rhythm of the editing.