A Pocket Full of Clemsonite

September 28, 2009

Cowtippers Anyone? How About Cow-Gender-Balance-Tipping?

A few comments on the ramifications of this article:

More Cows and More Milk Mean More Headaches – NYTimes.com.

Here’s the cowtipping with a new technological twist: no matter what offspring the bull wants, the centrifugal machine will help the farmers have almost only “girls”. Too bad the effect on our table is more of the low-grade milk you can find in grocery stores. Or about the same amount, but cheaper (which would be normal).

A watchful eye will find here a source of concern: if the same technology can be safely applied to humans, then a few decades from now, the world will look quite different from the one we know.

So far, I have a local solution to the yucky milk: the Happy Cow dairy in Pelzer, SC: http://www.happycowcreamery.com/
Cows roaming free on pastures, under the sun, provide 100% natural (and with vitamins A and D) milk, sour cream and delicious butter ($8 for a 2 pound bar) made locally.And, most of all, it does not contain the bovine growth hormone partially responsible for the high incidence of obesity in America.

I’m just dreaming of a day when our “farm owners” will start considering that we could deliver a better quality “milk” (which can be anything: work, discoveries, offspring, books, cultural achievements etc.) if we are let to roam free, instead of having to sit in cubicles or, in general, in our designated social niches.

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August 1, 2009

Pop music? Michael Jackson. Pop Art? A Michael Jackson Portrait Signed By Andy Warhol

The BBC article lets us know that an 1984 Warhol painting , a portrait of Michael Jackson, will soon go to auction:

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Warhol’s Jackson goes to auction.

I guess it’s a tough luck that given the economic circumstances, the auction will not yield a record price. Well, I was not interested in art as a money-making sports, anyway.

But this can entice someone to do well during the next economic cycle, so that as soon as the manufacturer of Campbell soup cans will go belly up, they will be able to snatch the famous Warhol paintings of them.

As for me, I saw them two years ago at the New York Museum of Modern Art.  Let’s just say I saw there many other works of art that deserve much more attention.

July 11, 2009

What’s In The Mind Of An Iranian Fundamentalist Militia Man

Filed under: Doom & Gloom — Tags: , , , , , , — floreign @ 5:33 pm

Inside the Iranian Crackdown – WSJ.com.

The early Hitler had the Brown Shirts volunteers. Ceausescu relied heavily on the Securitate and its network of informers. Had his network been as developed as the Basij militia, he wouldn’t have been executed by his own army who eventually sided with the people. Still, the former rank-and-file members of that network flourished even after the collapse of communism in the Eastern European Bloc. I’m sure other totalitarian regimes have had their share of such friendly thugs.

Now we see the religiously conservative Iranians in the Basij Militia having the same perks, which will definitely build a ruling caste in time.  They have all it takes: do what they are told, beat and kill before asking questions, and, most of all, believe uncritically that they are right in what they do and have the right to do so, even at the expense of other people’s lives.

The only optimistic part is in the end of the article: the underdog female gender could be able to call for a reality check (and overall improvement of our species). It’s beyond my understanding how a repressed female population could have voted for the denial of  their most basic rights during last month’s elections.

May 6, 2009

Close-Up on Joan of Arc: from Jacques Rivette’s “Jeanne de Pucelle” to Carl Dreyer’s “La passion de Jeanne d’Arc”

I am still under the effect of a rather random arrow of time when it comes to watching films. Mainly, this means that, since I am making up on new releases over time (when they are no longer new releases), I am at the mercy of certain momentous interests and fortuitous coincidences as to the time the films I am watching in a particular period were made. Well, sometimes it works for me, and other times not.

I remember many years ago, when I finally got to see the entire “Nixon” directed by Oliver Stone. There’s nothing particularly bad about this film, except that it’s almost a dry historical account of the most important events of his political career, obviously culminating with the famous Watergate scandal. In retrospect, it has a lot of good background information, and very little, if any, fictional element. But this richness in details makes this film good scaffolding if one wants to watch the amazing “Secret Honor” directed by Robert Altman. There is one heck of a close-up on a political character which will be difficult to be ever surpassed.

The two parts Jacques Rivette film “Joan the Maid” / “Jeanne la Pucelle” have this historical quality. We see the re-creation of the fifteenth century of a France at its lowest point during the 100 hundred year war. There’s little humor involved, the director limits himself to watch Joan (Sandrine Bonnaire) going through her adventure of freeing Orleans from the British troops and coronation of her king, then through her prison ordeals culminating with her being executing by burning on a stake for heresy. This is not quite a “period drama”, though. At least, if we are to compare this film to the late Eric Rohmer’s “Astrea and Celadon” , with which it has some similarities in style, we are focusing more on the legend, and in this case the legend is the character Joan, including her frequent contacts with the saints who inspire her in her deeds.

We do not see epic battles. Instead, we get to see a few people fighting here and there, winning some and losing some. Needless to say we don’t get to see any special effects. Everything is so concrete that you begin to wonder where God and the other saints in all that soup are. So yeah, we are mainly seeing the humans. Normal people, including the Dauphin and the haunted Joan, evolve or devolve throughout the film.

We get to see a less known side of Paris (the non French one, back then it belonged to Burgundy, a British ally) and the king’s humiliation, when he admits to have made a pact with Bourgogne. We also get to visit a castle where Joan is detained for a while and we even get a glimpse of the motivation that drives the castle’s seigneur to deliver her to England. Further, we get to witness the trial proceedings, which to me look like a rigged trial against a political dissident carried out in a communist country. We finally see what makes her abjure and then recant her abjuration, which leads her straight to the burning stake, with barely a communion granted at the last minute. Joan is sent to Heaven while the Holy Cross is shown to her from the sides.

Yes, lots of good material here. Well, the natural question comes then: where’s the close-up? The answer regarding the close-up to a film made in the mid 90’s is in a film made in the late 20’s. Or it can be one of the answers, if you like this better. At least, this was what I saw in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Passion of Joan of Arc” .

Passion, that is, like the narratives of the lives of saints, containing the accounts of the ordeals they have gone through. It is worth mentioning that Joan of Arc, despite being excommunicated for heresy, was eventually beatified in the twentieth century, not long before this film was made. Starting from the records made by hand in the fifteenth century, Dreyer’s film focuses on her trial in Rouen, which is condensed to one day.

If one wonders what the charm of the old and perhaps silent films is, watching “The passion of Joan of Arc” can release much of the mystery, for it is a beautiful example of how emotion was expressed in film in a time when the talkie was nonexistent yet (there are a few late recreations of this fashion for communicating expressions, two titles come to mind: Mel Brooks’ “Silent movie” and Aki Kaurismaki’s “Juha” , both are “technically” silent films). We are given the chance to observe first-hand the emotional expressions of Joan, here played by Marie/Renee Falconetti. No, this time we do not have a pretty girl to watch. Instead, Joan’s face is everyone’s face, when dealing with accusations, schemes and betrayals, verbal abuses and she has little in control over what will happen to her. This is when we see her dressed like a man, with a male haircut, wide wondering eyes, freckles, tears and so on. She knows what she had seen, and remains undeterred by suggestions that she has in fact communicated with Satan. Even at the sight of the instruments of torture, she cannot understand why the heretic is her, and her torturers are in fact people of God. The only shed of light comes from the prison’s window, cross-shaped, which leaves on the floor a distinct shadow of the cross (yes, we can definitely recognize here what Lars von Trier had done with it in his “Epidemic”). But this cross is fading whenever the judges are stepping on it.

The illiterate girl falls into the trap of believing one priest as being the messenger of her king, but on the other hand she does not fall into other theological traps (“are you in a state of grace?”). But instead, she irritates her judges by telling that regardless of God liking or not the English, their fate is to leave France, except the ones who will die. Another sensitive aspect is her male outfit. She is even made to choose between remaining in this outfit (which by now we identify with her personal integrity and pride) and participating to the Catholic mass. A trick into a trick built into another trick.

Long story short, she can’t win. This actually means the fight is too uneven and the outcome has already been decided for her: the English want to make from her an example, so that the French will fear fighting against the English, due to the punishment associated with this. What she can do is choose between her death and her soul’s death. In other words, she can either sign a statement in which she abjures her stated heresies, or she will be excommunicated and executed. She takes the advice of some people in her court and she signs, but also marks a cross on the document, this meaning “I actually didn’t mean that”. Well, formally she has complied with the request, and instead of death, she gets the smaller sentence: life imprisonment and humiliation.

In Rivette’s version, her changing of mind is caused by the harsh treatments in prison, the French filmmaker is even staging a rape attempt. Here, Dreyer hints to an access of remorse when she gets the prisoners’ haircut: she is also stripped of her dignity. Realizing what she has done, she “abjures the previous abjuration” and ends up on the stake which was prepared for her long before that.

In the execution scene, carried out in Rouen, we get to know another character; the crowd. They are definitely aware of Joan’s ordeals, but they simply do not have the power to stop it. They are witnessing her death (beautifully shot), and realize she remained one of them, and the judged killed a saint. A public revolt ensues, but once again the city is ready for this, so the soldiers reply wielding chain maces against them and eventually kick them outside of the city walls.
This is where Joan’s legend will live on, and from where it will return with a vengeance. Now, Joan’s spirit is inseparable from the French popular spirit, and this is what (as we are suggested in the film) will ultimately change the war’s outcome.

This was my second incursion into Dreyer’s films, after viewing Ordet, and from this perspective I am not very competent to lead to the fine details. All can I see is that his films are growing into you, and will leave an indelible mark. Yes, Dreyer’s spirit is living into us, even without us knowing anything about it. This encounter is so rewarding…

March 1, 2009

Marco Ferreri’s “La grande bouffe”, not for the faint of heart, or *art


Imagine a certain group of influential people who have reached their expiration date on this earth. A good example that can be
found today is the investment bankers’. Except that they’re not the first, and certainly not the last. A somewhat practical question is: how to describe their disappearance? Since we are not talking about, say, dinosaurs, lost hundreds of millions of
years ago, but about humans, it has to be done by resorting to human traits. And since for the human watcher, the following
assertion applies: “I am human, therefore nothing human is foreign to me”, as Terence once said, it must have a special effect
to stick to certain traits that are human, but exacerbated. Abominable, disgusting traits or drives will work, too.

Nowadays, people have a high disrespect of the financial establishment, whose greed is already proverbial, and this world is
crumbling under its effect of its own greed. So it would make sense that, if one wants to make a film about such guys, describing them die while incessantly eating would not be too far off.

There is a problem, though, with this approach. It’s not that it’s not realistic, in the artistic sense. It’s that the idea was
used decades ago, for the purpose of describing the end of bourgeoisie, as we know it. (La grande bouffe) is maybe the pinnacle of this approach. Let’s review: four successful people (all males), for reasons that are not fully explained (but we are allowed glimpses into it), decide to retreat in one week-end to a manor and, taking advantage of the great chef skills of one of them, to eat first class food until they literally die. We get to see awesome gourmet dishes going down their throats. Whose theirs? Well, the characters have the actors’ last names: Ugo (Tognazzi) the chef, Michel (Piccoli) the entertainment business tycoon, Marcello (Mastroianni) the airline pilot who can’t spend any single night without getting laid, and Philippe (Noiret), the sexually-repressed judge. As we can see, opposites come together here as parts of the same socio-economic niche.

We are introduced into their preparations for the final rides of the four protagonists (or knights of Apocalypse?) and arrival
to the manor, where we witness an unforgettable adaptation of Othello’s monologue “To be or not to be, that is the question”,
in the manor’s yard, with a cow’s head in the hand. One has to suspect that Jeunet’s (mostly known for “Amelie”) “Delicatessen” take on post-apocalyptic gourmet food, is in fact a pastiche (a pretty good one, I must say) of Marco Ferreri’s film.

The first night of feast passes as planned, with only pictures of naked women on the screen. But the next morning Marcello
threatens to leave unless he can get his hands on some girls. So he snags a few “lost souls”, but there’s also a “real woman”,
a grade school teacher, attracted by the men’s clout and the good food, who will come to spend the night with them. This woman is actually a character which can also be found in “end of times” films like Jiri Menzel’s “The End of the old Times”
(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097681/) or Eldar Ryazanov’s Cruel Romance / The Girl Without Dowry (see a lyrical excerpt here ), a woman-accessory, without actually being considered fully as an equal. Although the scenes in which she is involved are extremely funny. First, she wants to tie the missing buttons of Philippe’s pants, and then she moves on to… you know what. Philippe’s reaction is maybe the most hilarious scene in the entire film: he asks her to marry him. He even sticks to his decision even after she gives herself (not because she is being “frivolous”, but out of the *goodness of her heart*) to the other suffering guys there.

We get to witness several side effects of over-eating, effects which should be reviewed by some corporate decision-makers in
financial institutions thriving on pushing credit. First, it’s the “*art” from this review’s title, which is actually a sign of relief from the stomach pain. Also, Marcello gets to know another painful effect on what he hurts most: severe difficulty in
maintaining erection and reaching orgasm. This, more so than overeating, is pushing him to death. Last, but not least, is the
logical problem of residue: if you’re eating too much, there’s the obvious problem of feces, which nastily overflow and give
everything a brownish flavor. Over-producing consumer crap issue, anyone?

Words to the wise: I consider this as mature artistic vision, and the author is not to blame for the vision his artistic eyes
are set on more than Zapruder getting on celluloid the murder of a president. And, if we do not reduce Marco Ferreri’s film to
a Nostradamus-like prediction of the end of the financial burgeoisie, we can appreciate it for what it is, in its wider scope.
It is, to a certain extent, parallel to another masterpiece of the cinema which can sometimes be perceived as abominable, just
because it speaks clearly about some human traits that are less praiseworthy, and some viewers lack the inner hinges to fully
grasp it. I am talking about Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo”, in which Italian fascists do unspeakable things to a group of
youths, in a visionary warning about a consumerist society which has no saints, no morals, and will likely end up by reducing
itself to nought. Unfortunately, in this case of Salo, the director fell first prey to his vision. He was assassinated close to
the beach where Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 was shot, and later his film was banned for so many years.

Coming back to “La grande bouffe”, everything goes as planned. The whores, not getting the point, leave after overeating a few times (they also exhibit a few side effects of eating too much), and the teacher assists them while they make steps toward their passing, A specific scene, when she gives pleasure to a dying Ugo who doesn’t stop eating, is reminiscent of a scene in Roman Polanski’s “What?“.

But it is the magnificent ending which is leading us back to the philosophical question “To Be or Not To Be”. Since the dead bodies have taken the place of the meat in the fridge, the next batch of fresh meat which is delivered cannot fit in, hence it is left in the yard, next to the dogs and other animals. A carcass is even put on a smaller tree. Leaving us to wonder which is the next carnivorous species who will replace this breed that has just disappeared. Like the sheep in Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel” ( recently released in the US in the Criterion Edition) replacing humans in another bourgeoisie-bashing film made by a director happy to hit on bourgeois morals.

Needless to say that this is not a film to recommend watching with minors or people with rigid morals around. Judging by my
experience, I would not even recommend a masterpiece like Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” to be watched in such conservative environments. But the deep meaning of the film is, ironically, very understandable even by the adopters of “doom and gloom” attitude. So, it’s more about being flexible enough to discuss it, even view it as a scenario coming time and again in the cyclical historical time, make steps to come to terms with it, and move on.

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