Film Micrœview #462: BlacKkKlansman

09.26.2018 § Leave a comment

Rating: Good.

I loved it. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I shuddered, I almost jumped out of my seat.

I’m going to take a look at this film through the lens of the public disagreement between Boots Riley and Spike Lee. Riley has shared a few pages of criticism of this film. To summarize, he thinks the film, which is pitched as a true story, has had the facts changed to make the cop a hero. Riley explains that in real life, the police force Ron Stallworth worked with did not infiltrate white supremacist organizations in order to combat them, but to empower them in a mutual fight against black power organizations.

I have to sympathize with Riley here because it’s frustrating as a filmmaker to have another filmmaker disingenuously sell a film on it being a true story when it has significant departures from the essence of the truth. It’s an unfair business tactic, plus gives its champions unfair fodder to defend their interpretations. I don’t care if there never was a bomb attack and the truth wouldn’t have stuck to the screen as vividly, but then maybe don’t put the “true story” part so front and center.

But if Riley’s intent is to say that it is wrong to make a film about hero cops and push it as real, then I must disagree. I do not believe Lee’s goal was authenticity. I believe his intent was go beyond adherence to the way things really typically are today, and paint a picture of what great determination and love can achieve.

We can see this in the scene toward the end when the bad cop gets busted by his own team. It’s the answer to the earlier scene in which Stallworth confronts a couple of his closest peers about said bad cop, only for them to argue that the ends justified the means, that keeping the team working together like a family was necessary to maintain the other important work they do for the community. Stallworth submits that this makes them no better as an organization than the one they’re infiltrating. By the end, he has reprogrammed their ethos through his words and actions, and they have their priorities straight and realism recalibrated.

I cheered in this moment, in spite of myself; the scene which followed in which the investigation was shut down and secrecy about it was asked for felt more true to life. So we got a taste of both.

I was fortunate enough to attend a screening where Spike Lee himself introduced the film and participated in a Q&A session. He said that Jordan Peele had pitched the project to him in six words: “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” It doesn’t really matter what amount of the film was true. The premise was a substrate upon which Lee built an entertaining adventure, humanizing material for both those who fight for truth and justice and those who plot out of fear and hate, and a compelling wake up call to action.

In fact, Lee does portray Stallworth as initially infiltrating the Black Panthers. I was riveted during this sequence, and disappointed that it lasted so briefly. It could have been an enormously complex and distressing chapter for Stallworth to work through: he’s the first black cop on his beat and making sacrifices from the get go to establish a foothold for his people in the law enforcement power structure. But at what point does he cross the line from sacrifice into betrayal of his brothers? That’s a fucking intense internal and external conflict, and one with deep resonance for modern America. I expect that had Lee allowed his Stallworth character to descend into some darker decision-making along this thread, Riley may have been satisfied that the film recognized the direct truth of Stallworth as well as systemic truths about American police. Plus it might have upped the dramatic stakes a tad (I don’t think we see Stallworth fail enough).

By the way, I understand the motivation for changing facts to make Philip Zimmerman’s character Jewish, but also think this might have taken away from the potential depth of his character’s growth in the face of this conflict.

A central conflict in Lee’s film, between Stallworth and Patrice Dumas, captures the difference of opinion between Riley and what Riley thinks Lee is saying about the role of the police in black liberation. Lee, I think, with absolute clarity, conviction, and poetic power, expresses that both points of view are right, and that it’s fucking complicated. Patrice says that cops are the enemy, and that change from within the system is impossible because white oppressors will not give up power without a struggle. Stallworth believes the light of truth can be shone through those who put their lives on the line to defend our people and their values. In the moment their argument reaches a head, a knock at the door summons them into the fall, where they are greeted by the looming visage of the burning cross. Guns drawn TOGETHER, they stare down evil. Internal strife in the community is a given when under the duress of violent persecution. Progress must occur amidst it.

I cannot speak to Riley’s sense that Lee is bed buddies with US police in light of his ad campaign for the NYPD, not having seen these ads myself or knowing much else about the situation beyond this film, Riley’s words on it, and whatever Lee had to say in his Q&A.

I have heard people are reacting with distaste to the incorporation of the real life current events in Charlottesville, and the honoring of a white person who died for the cause. Obviously Lee cannot change the fact that the one person who died in that violence was white. I imagine detractors must wish him to choose a different conflict which would give him a platform to honor a fallen black person. I assume that Lee’s choice of Charlottesville was complex and took into account a number of factors to make it cohere with the script and themes. I felt that it was perhaps even an intentional choice because she was white, to help express how racial violence imprisons and destroys black people and white people. Not equally, of course, but if that scene got more white bodies in the fight, that’s worth something.

Well, so in conclusion, BlacKkKlansman is an unforgettable cinematic event. Genre conventions were executed with strength and inventiveness. In particular I am thinking of the faces floating illuminated in the Panther rally scene, the lie detector test scene, the photo op scene (though with that in the film, I’m not sure we also needed the final phone scene with David Duke), the parallel edited “white power”/”black power” scene, the shooting target scene, and the “Butter Biscuit” moment (which was a master stroke and socked me right in the gut).

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Film Micrœview #461: Mandy (2018)

09.24.2018 § Leave a comment

Rating: Bad.

I was hoping this would be artistic. There was a chance, given moments of genius in Beyond the Black Rainbow, but since most of BtBR failed to impress me, I went in knowing there was just as much, if not more of, a chance that it would be dumb. I guess my key hope was that Cage would be the magic that would bring Cosmatos to full power. But no.

At the very very end of the film Cage’s character, Red, looks at the titular character with a crazed expression. Much of the audience reacted with laughter. I think it was difficult to see this film on opening night with a crowded auditorium of Mission yupsters. I did not read this moment humorously at all, and it really threw me out of the entire relationship between myself and the picture. I’m sure this highfalutin bit betrays my film studies pretension, but I appreciate Nicolas Cage on a deeper level than those bozos. I’m the guy who watched the clip that went up on YouTube where he breaks down his most memorable performances over the years and gripe about why Wild at Heart didn’t make the cut. I was just watching a different video analysis on Nicholson recently which posited that we should appreciate actors not only for the breadth of emotion they can portray, but also the depth with which they can plumb a specific emotion over the course of their careers. I like this idea and it plays into how actors – whether they get fully typecast or not – enter into these parasocial covenants with their culture, which needs individuals to take on the helm as an avatar of specific desires and phantoms. Nicholson’s emotion was anger. I suppose Cage’s would be hysteria. So Nicholson is capable of conveying frustration, indignation, fury, etc. Nicholson, likewise, unlocks the door to all manners of hysteria, inflected with anything from paranoia to obsession to individualism to outright terror. He has a million crazed expressions, many which cannot be pinned down or named. This concluding thought of the film was one of them. It encapsulated everything the film was and could or should have been into one moment – the quintessential flawed fulfillment of revenge – his permanent loss shaded with the impossible persisting spiritual connection, twined with his descent into the very darkness which had taken her from him in order to punish. I mean, sure, chuckle all you want when he rips the demons jaw out of its skull and Cage’s eyes flash with a frenzied flavor of hysteria – come on – I’m sure in such a moment, that brief flicker of efficacy and release, he would feel that way.

Now yes I did give the film a bad rating and I don’t think Cage was enough to save it. I’m peeved at reviewers who said things akin to “unfortunately no one can be told about Mandy… you have to see it for yourself.” Bullshit. Not quite as bullshit as “pulp Tarkovsky”, which I also read. Look, I’m sorry, but there’s a big fucking difference between the images that Tarkovsky captures which shatter your soul and then help you reassemble it, and whatever this was, I mean, I guess I would call it randomly cranking up various Photoshop effects and always making sure to smear rainbows over everything. One scene was all magenta with a weird fading blue shadow echo that effectively conveyed both types of bad trip in the same scene: dread, and unhinged emotion. The pace and flow of images in Mandy alternates between convention and some really trite imbalanced compositions.

Why do we know that bad man likes Carpenters and Mandy likes Sabbath and Crüe, but not what Red likes? I love the song Starless by kC – I sang it at karaoke on my birthday a few months ago – but I don’t get it as the opening song here. I briefly entertained the thought, about halfway through the film, that if nothing else, Mandy might qualify as the most metal film ever. But it really isn’t. I mean it’s got the Jesus-hate, and brutality… but the Johann Johannsson score doesn’t do it any favors.

More than anything though, I just came away feeling like I had watched a horrible porn film. The expression on Red’s face as he crushes the bad man’s face (surely a Blade Runner reference, as was Bill Duke’s presence a nod to Predator, by the way) was clearly orgasmic, and this is moments after the bad man offers to suck his dick in a panicked ploy to survive. And the blood splattered all over Red’s face in all the promos is a thinly-veiled facial of blood instead of cum from a demon with a machete dick. We never see Red in rapture with Mandy. Instead, this film gives us a surrogate sexual adventure where he instead has a type of horror-sex with her murderers. I kind of knew this was what the movie was going to be, thematically, before walking in, and I am open to this as a substrate for a worthwhile cinematic experience. But it would have needed far more inexplicable poetry like the moment with the tiger, things felt ripped from the Jodorowsky band of the midnight movie spectrum, for it to work. It just wasn’t artistic or imaginative enough to justify its existence. It felt kind of like Cosmatos had watched Twin Peaks season 3 and was trying to recreate some of its trippy mood but a) had nothing to say through it and b) had no talent to execute it.

Cheddar Goblin was pretty great, but it wasn’t enough for the film to quality as funny either.

Dream 566: A New Home

09.22.2018 § Leave a comment

I awake inside the car, on the side of the road, in the shadow of a cliff face.

We’re driving to our new house, atop a wide, shallow, sunny neighborhoody hill.

And yet it is also out in the wilderness, at night.

My dad says he almost thought of stationing his Coca-Cola team at this house he liked it so much.
Our mudroom opens with saloon-style swinging doors (though solid from floor to top frame) into the backyard. On the porch I find a black and white cat that looks like Isosceles, but a robotic replica of him. He’s also mean, so when I reach out for him he bites me. His face begins to reveal its unrealism, and his legs splay out to the sides unnaturally and he begins to float along, following my finger tip he supposedly latched onto but not accurately following it, lagging glitchily and emitting strange distorted and drawn-out angry meow sounds.
Our neighbor is driving his bulldozer back and forth across our yard. My dad explains that he’s welcome to do so; he’s terraforming our pond into a brook.
I spot a goldfish on the cliff face on the opposite side of the brook, playing with a giant penny. As I approach the penny, it shrinks in size proportional to perspective such that by the time it is within my grasp, it takes up the same amount of space in my field of view as it did when it was a giant one in the distance. The goldfish has fled, but the penny is still caged in a tangle of rotten wood and bent rusty nail tips. Carefully I extract it, without touching anything dangerous, and yet I still feel a sting – perhaps from some unseen wasp or spider.
The next morning the robber is still collapsed on our lawn. I’m assertive that he stole something from my brother. “No, he didn’t,” my family is sure, or at least diplomatic, or forgiving. “Yes, you did!” I insist to them all, through him.

Film Micrœview #460: Sous le Soleil de Satan

09.17.2018 § Leave a comment

Rating: Good.

Look, I’ll just freely admit. This movie felt beyond me. Usually I can cope. I’ve got plenty of tools. But this didnt come at me with any tricks I knew how to handle. I’m not saying I didn’t get it. I don’t think the film actually makes sense or is supposed to in the standard sense. But the emotional impact came through. I came away feeling bludgeoned. Universal, existential pain was rendered through unfamiliar means. I’m really at a loss to explain it. Reading about Pialat, and comparisons to Bresson with whom I am deeply familiar, are helping me. I will be watching more of his films.

Dream 565: Robocomposer

09.15.2018 § Leave a comment

Gus has composed a piece for robots to perform. I feel like it doesn’t really seem like the robots had composed it themselves – it still very much feels like a human composed it for them. Gus, visibly frustrated, explains that he wasn’t trying to make it sound like it was written by the robots, where the hell did I get that idea?

Autobet font

09.14.2018 § Leave a comment

I’ve built a font (using Calligraphr to fiddle with characters from Roboto Slab) where every character is created by rotating, mirroring, or translating either another character or itself. I named it Autobet (a cross between ‘alphabet’ and ‘Autobots’, one of the groups of Transformers, because the font is created by transforming letters of the alphabet… nyuk nyuk).

Download your preferred font file format here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/uizr89s0lxr5xv9/Autobet-Regular.otf?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/tf9aziqbqepnyi7/Autobet-Regular.ttf?dl=0

This only includes the uppercase and lowercase Latin alphabet, Arabic numerals, and a few punctuation marks; it is not a complete font. Also, I couldn’t find effective transformations for F, T, R, and K, so I had to get a bit creative with those. Feel free to play around with it though.

Outside

09.09.2018 § 2 Comments

Outside*

welcome home
welcome to mumbo kidney misery
tombstone lumps
welcome to the muñeca and misery
I nicely crawl on my breasts, nurse in a mitten
besides that, I’m curious.

horn in a half-hearted mouth, ramble in a mite
held as she sleeps and sleeps
all night roundabouts
tomorrow suddenly
I am going to replace it
afterwards peeling off
and squirting morning snowboarding
at the same time
standing on foot
beginning together
satellite morning harvest
 
pleasantly and conveniently
to grab it, to grasp it
to grab it and to grab it
to grab it and to grab it
take hold of it
grab it and others
and when to grab
gotten from you
from the outside

on the other hand
sandwiched by vegetables
soy sauce sipping hands
sorry, this, sir

sorry for late confinement
I do not have a mental arthritis
I do not have a mumbo

bring it to the shop
turnaround alternative
sorry about that

* What’s funnier than Google-translated Japanese?

Google-translated yomikata — purely phonetic readings of Japanese — i.e. strings of hiragana without any kanji to help to mark word boundaries and differentiate between words with the same pronunciation (of which in Japanese in particular there are many). Google Translate was surely not designed to cope with missing this critical semantic and morphological information.

This is a poem I cobbled together out of such nuggets of ridiculousness on a website for traditional family crests. I had searched for those containing the Japanese word for “outside” (hence the title). I have barely begun to experiment in this medium; in fact, I haven’t even checked out the results for a single other query yet (read: it might get way better than this).

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