Saturday, July 31, 2010

2 x 2


I.
hunter s thompson napalm dog
"On Xmas eve we are going to burn a dog with napalm (or jellied gasoline made to the formula of napalm) on a street where many people will see it. If possible, we will burn several dogs, depending on how many we find on that day. We will burn these dogs wherever we can have the most public impact.

Anybody who hates the idea of burning dogs with napalm should remember that the American army is burning human beings with napalm every day in Vietnam. If you think it is wrong to burn a dog in Aspen, what do you think about burning people in Asia?

We think this will make the point, once people see what napalm does. It hurts humans much worse than it hurts dogs. And if anybody doubts this, they can volunteer to take the place of whatever dogs we have when the time comes. Anybody who wants to try it should be standing in front of the Mountain Shop about four o'clock on Xmas eve, and he should be wearing a sign that says "Napalm Dog." If this happens, we will put the jellied gasoline on the person, instead of an animal. Frankly, I'd rather burn a human warmonger than a dog, but I doubt if any of these will show up.

Sincerely,
"Adolph"
(for obvious reasons I can't
state my real name)"

From a letter Hunter S. Thompson sent to his local newspaper in 1969.


II.

"The Pentagon no longer officially uses the brand-name Napalm, a combination of naphthalene and palmitate, but a similar substance known as fuel-gel mixture contained in Mark-77 fire bombs was dropped on Iraqi troops near the Iraq-Kuwait border at the start of the recent war.

"I can confirm that Mark-77 fire bombs were used in that general area," said Colonel Mike Daily, of the US Marine Corps.

Colonel Daily said that US stocks of Vietnam-era napalm had been phased out, but that the Mark-77s had "similar destructive characteristics".

On March 22 a Herald correspondent, Lindsay Murdoch, travelling with US marines, reported that napalm was used in an attack on Iraqi troops at Safwan Hill, near the Kuwait border.

[...]

A Pentagon official told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that US forces used the Mark-77 fire bombs against Iraqi forces in their drive towards Baghdad and defended their use as legal and necessary.

[...]

"The generals love napalm," the paper quoted Colonel Randolph Alles, the commander of Marine Air Group 11, as saying. "It has a big psychological effect."

Napalm was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980, but the US did not sign the agreement. The US military considers the use of Mark-77 weapons to be legal."


vietnam napalmshock and awe




I.
starving dog art Vargas
It is impossible to find out the truth about Guillermo Vargas' 2007 conceptual piece Exposición N° 1. A petition started circulating on the internet in October 2007 claiming that an artist had tied a dog to a rope in a museum with the intention of letting it starve to death.

"The most extreme claims about this exhibit maintain that the dog, a stray captured from the streets, was continually mistreated, confined in the gallery and denied food and water for several days until it finally starved to death. Other accounts state that the exhibit was deliberately set up so that the dog appeared to be neglected while the gallery was open to the public, but the animal was otherwise properly cared for. Yet other reports (such as an article about the exhibit published in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa) quoted the gallery's director as asserting that the dog was in fact well-fed, and that it had not died (of starvation or any other cause) but had escaped from the gallery during the night.

The artist's point was to highlight the hypocrisy demonstrated by people's making an apparently sick and ill-fed dog the center of attention when it was presented as an art exhibit, even though many of them would ignore the same dog if they encountered it roaming the streets. He also noted that no one tried to free the dog, give it food, call the police, or do anything for the dog.

In an interview with El Tiempo, Vargas explained that he was inspired by the death of Natividad Canda, an indigent Nicaraguan addict, who was killed by two Rottweilers in Cartago Province, Costa Rica, while being filmed by the news media in the presence of police, firefighters, and security guards."


II.

Vanda DuarteVanda Duarte costa
In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000)


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

notes: Workingman's Death (Michael Glawogger, 2005)


Workingman's Death
I've been trying to write about Michael Glawogger's documentary, but I haven't been happy with any of the results, so in lieu of my original plan I've decided to throw some scraps together in an attempt to bring a little attention to this beautiful, visceral film. If nothing else, check out the pictures!

* * *

Workingman's Death is largely comprised of footage of people performing tough manual labor for survival wages in a handful of locations around the world. It opens with the bold part of the following quote:

"There were many things I could do for two or three days and earn enough money to live on for the rest of the month. By temperament I’m a vagabond and a tramp. I don’t want money badly enough to work for it. In my opinion it’s a shame that there is so much work in the world. One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy." William Faulkner

Based on its title and the quote that opens it, I was expecting Michael Glawogger's film to be a depressing polemic against work, focusing specifically on inhumane conditions and the never ending struggle of workers. But, my dear reader (I know you won't believe it!), I was wrong! Yes, the film contains these elements, but it does so mostly from the point of view of respect and curiosity, and Glawogger's philosophy driving the film is simply to let the images speak for themselves. Despite its subject matter, Workingman's Death is ultimately a celebration of life and people; thus, sadly, the cyanide I prepared and had sitting on my nightstand will have to wait for another night. I simply cannot kill myself after feeling rejuvenated.

Workingman's Death
Some of the other themes/topics the film touches on/raises questions about include: technology, industrialization, community, class, violence, death, nostalgia, and religion.

* * *

Workingman's Death
Chapter 2 of Workingman's Death, Ghosts, is an incredible short film. At times it's reminiscent of Weerasethakul's languorous narratives and his focus on sensuality and physicality (Tropical Malady in particular). It's complex, simple, epic and small-scale all at once, and it has quickly found its way onto my imaginary list of favorite short films.

Early on we see people winding up a foggy mountain slope, and it's hard to imagine that Glawogger isn't purposely evoking the spectacular opening sequence of Werner Herzog's Aguirre.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

The difference is that, for these workers, gold doesn't lie in some fabled city but atop the volcanic mountain they're climbing, and it's waiting there for them in the form of precious yellow sulfer crystals.

Workingman's DeathWorkingman's DeathWorkingman's Death glawoggerWorkingman's DeathWorkingman's DeathWorkingman's Death documentaryWorkingman's DeathWorkingman's DeathWorkingman's Death
* * *

Chapter 3: An open-air slaughterhouse in Nigeria filled with bones, blood, burning tires, and dirty water -- evocative of hell. A woman walks by dragging the bloody skin of a bull across the muddy debris-covered ground as if it were a picnic blanket. The animal parts and rib-cages, mixed together in an every-day fashion with the surrounding people, creates simultaneous wonder and revulsion. Sometimes it seems like an unreal place, and instead of a documentary I felt like I was watching an experimental performance piece by the Vienna Actionists. But by the time this chapter was over, my impression of it had changed dramatically.

Workingman's DeathWorkingman's Deathglawogger Workingman's DeathWorkingman's Death documentaryWorkingman's Death film
* * *

Glawogger ends Workingman's Death with a wonderful epilogue and credit sequence, both of which, in their own way, give a new perspective. He had originally wanted to conclude the film with The Rolling Stones song Salt of the Earth but wasn't able to secure the rights.

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's drink of the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let's drink to the salt of the earth

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Spare a part for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth


I'm glad he didn't. The film already has an ominous score by John Zorn, and since it doesn't contain any voice-over narration it seems incongruous to all of the sudden have overt editorializing, even if only in the form of lyrics.

Workingman's Death
For an interesting double feature I recommend Nikolaus Geyrhalter's documentary Our Daily Bread (2005), specifically to question whether or not technology has improved workers lives. The two films play off one another in various ways and share many similarities, but they also function as intriguing opposites. One takes place almost entirely outside and captures natural light, the other takes place almost entirely inside and captures sterile, florescent light; one is about low-tech jobs in low-tech places, the other is about high-tech jobs in an interconnected, high-tech world; one makes a point to show people as individuals, the other shows people as parts of a whole (or machine); one film shows the ways in which people earn their daily bread, the other literally shows the production and processing of the food people purchase and eat.

Our Daily Bread documentaryOur Daily Bread
Our Daily Bread

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

a coincidence

A little while ago I was in the mood to watch some Kenneth Anger films...

After finishing Rabbit's Moon I put on Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, and a few minutes into it I noticed something peculiar:


It's one thing for your house to share a fairly uncommon(?) object with a film you're watching, but quite another to have this object in such a position as to cast its shadow double right onto the film itself!

And yes, I realize that this could very well be one of those "you had to be there" moments that amuses only me. But what if I were to tell you that, before the film began, such a lamp never even existed in my basement!?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Wendy and Lucre


I.

Kelly Reichardt's film Wendy and Lucy (2008) has often been compared to Vittorio de Sica's Umberto D. (1952). Both films are about poverty, loneliness, and marginalized and discarded people searching for dignity, whose best friend is their dog. Both films are rooted in the small, ordinary details of day-to-day existence and focus on elements that usually remain off-screen. And both films favor natural environments and a documentary-like aesthetic.

Another film that struck me as similar to Wendy and Lucy was Robert Bresson's L'argent (Money), a movie which more-or-less follows a counterfeit bill around and shows its influence on those who come into contact with it. Wendy and Lucy doesn't follow any particular bill around but it does focus on the influence money has on the main character (Wendy) and the people she comes into contact with. Every person she encounters, save the woman at the pound, revolves around, or contains a mention or exchange of, money. Both films are filled with numerous shots of transactions, figures, bills, coins, and use personal stories to express how capital degrades human relationships. (I am reminded of one of Mark Twain's famous witticisms: "The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.")

Dehumanization is a theme in all three of the aforementioned films, but Umberto D. focuses on dehumanization through bureaucracy, while L'argent and Wendy and Lucy focus on money itself as as a means in which to portray people forsaken by society.


l'argent bressonl'argent bressonl'argent bresson
L'argent (1983)


II.

A few months ago Glenn Beck spoke on his television show about a book called We Are an Image from the Future: The Greek Revolt of 2008. Naturally he was trying his best to mount a cohesive argument against it, but really he was just mocking it in his own inimitable way. During the segment he mentioned the slogan "people over profits" in a way meant to smear any group linked to it (by his logic this somehow proves they're communists, and of course being a communist somehow proves you're evil and think Stalin was a swell guy). By deriding "people over profits" he is acknowledging that such a mentality is in opposition to our current capitalist system, which, in his eyes, automatically marks it as something fundamentally flawed. But of course -- as people -- it doesn't make a bit of sense to be against such a philosophy in the first place! His smear is so utterly ridiculous that it becomes comical, yet too few people seem to view it as such. (Glenn Beck and his listeners are just one easy example; I don't mean to use them as a barometer of public opinion.) A lot of us, many who don't even realize it (I hope), have bought into a system where money is everything and people are merely a means in which to acquire it. We think within the system. We work immoral jobs. We buy immoral things. The mantra is everywhere. It is the drumbeat of capitalism. Profits. Over. People.

Gassing up in Erlanger, Ky., 40-year-old Lee Pullins of Springfield, Ohio, said the [BP] spill is "absolutely horrible" but will not affect where he buys fuel.

"I go where it's the least expensive, even if it's only two pennies cheaper," he said.

How does one arrive at the point where "people over profits" is seen as an evil slogan? Surely this illustrates how ideological thinking can lead to the banishment of rational thought, but it also exposes money (profit, production) as the true God(s) of our culture. Only by giving something a supernatural power over us could we end up viewing it as being more important and valuable than our very lives.


winston smith money tree

III.

Recently in Greece, a group of anarchists walked into a store, loaded up some bags with food, smashed open the cash register, took the money, and then walked outside and burned the wad of cash in their hand. Sure, it's easy to burn other people's money (though I guess it's technically theirs once they've stolen it), but the act still holds some symbolic value.

"Money is sacred in our capitalist society. And despite a lifetime of passing it around, very few of us have ever thought to destroy the lucre in our hands. We spend our lives working to earn it, and when we are feeling generous we donate it or if we are feeling frugal we save it. But we never flush it down the toilet or burn it or do anything else that would take it out of circulation. And even the thought of doing so can provoke anxiety.

To break the allegiance of the people to idolatry, Moses destroyed the golden calf, Jesus chased away the money lenders and Muhammad smashed the 360 false gods in the Kaaba. Today the paper bills we pass among us have become our idols and Mammon our god. To smash consumerism, we must do more than simply circulate our money to "green" or local businesses. We must also liberate ourselves from the religion of capital and the belief that money is sacred and can solve all problems." --Micah White

This recent act in Greece reminded me of an argument I had online a few years ago with someone (let's call him Steve) about Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer's 1996 book Into the Wild. Steve knew McCandless from having recently watched Sean Penn's film version of the book, and, based on this depiction, he criticized McCandless for being a "very selfish individual." By itself this criticism wasn't enough to raise my ire, but when I asked him the reasoning behind it I became very annoyed with his response. I was expecting him to say something about McCandless leaving his family, but what he said was that McCandless was selfish because he had taken his last bit of money and, instead of "giving it to someone who needed it," burned it symbolically on a rock somewhere out West. I argued that this criticism was totally without merit unless Steve was willing to apply the same label to himself, for surely he had "burned" his own money on televisions, computers, stereos, dishwashers, CDs, movie rentals, and all manner of other unnecessary things, instead of "giving it to someone who needed it." After I said this Steve went ballistic: "I don't know who you are, but I don't want you to ever speak to me again!"

b. kliban peeing
By destroying the symbol, McCandless was spitting in the face of everything Steve worked for. It wouldn't matter what McCandless did with his money just as long as he put it to use.

During middle school some friends and I used to occasionally take dollar bills out of our pockets on the playground and tear them to pieces in front of some of our classmates for the sole purpose of pissing them off / shocking them (it worked). The reaction this caused was not unlike what happened when my friend Justin took a Bible to class one day, noisily tore out a few pages in the back of the room, and blew his nose in them. (He performed this beautifully, as if it were a completely normal thing to do.)

The reaction destroying money causes in some people exposes not only their fanatical devotion to it, but also the power inherent in destroying it.


IV.

wendy and lucy
"Consume Less, Share More"

wendy and lucy
Wendy and Lucy (Reichardt, 2008)


Wendy and Lucy exposes a world in which our dealings with one another are usually predicated on some monetary exchange, where people with less are worth less, where "people over profits" sounds a bit impractical, and where we have come to view one another as commodities, customers, competition.

When we meet someone for the first time the first question normally asked is: What do you do? What's being asked, of course, is not what we like to do or what we care most about, but how do we earn money. We define ourselves by our jobs. I am a lawyer. I am a mechanic. I am a sales manager. I am a janitor. I am a CEO. With these phrases, status and place are assigned. What does Wendy do? Nothing. But she's going to Alaska to work in a cannery.

Because she is without status, Wendy is slowly pushed to the margins of society, and out there on the margins she clings to the few tenuous links -- a wad of cash and the dream of a future job -- that keep her from falling completely by the wayside.

[spoilers follow]

The key scene comes after Wendy has been confronted by the homeless man in the woods where she was sleeping. She runs to find somewhere she can go, hysterical, and ends up in a bathroom. Once inside, she lifts up her shirt and unhooks the money belt she has strapped around her torso, and only after the belt has been removed does she let out a sigh -- a great gasping for air followed by sobs of anguish. A giant weight has been lifted and she can finally breathe again. The money is the only thing that differentiates her from the homeless man in the woods. It is her dream kept alive, her purpose and destination. Yet only when she is without it does she feel free and unburdened. The money belt chains her to a world that pretends not to notice her.

wendy and lucywendy and lucy williams
The only genuinely kind and helpful character in the film is the security guard Walter. He goes out of his way to help Wendy whenever he can, and he appears to be genuinely concerned with helping her find her dog, Lucy. He's probably more apt to help her because he's with her in spirit (similarly, one of the jobless people in line at the recycling plant appears to be nice to her). Walter has been down and out before, he knows the system is a sham, and he does not approve of it. As he says to her at one point: "You can't get an address without an address. You can't get a job without a job. It's all fixed." When he finally comes to help her out near the end of the film, he's out of uniform -- no longer on the clock. Previously throughout the film, he was always around to help Lucy incidentally because he was already there, standing outside looking after the store. Only after showing up on his own time does he hand her some money -- an amount too small to really do anything, but all he can afford. The exchange is a symbolic gesture. Walter feels as though all the things he did before and all the kindness he showed her wasn't enough. Up until now he never went out of his way to do anything; after all, he was getting paid for his time. But on their last meeting he wants to prove to her (and perhaps himself) that he truly cares, and he does this by giving her money. He believes, or perhaps thinks she believes, that money -- not kindness -- is what really counts.

wendy and lucy
"I want you to take this. Don't argue."

wendy and lucy Reichardt
By focusing subtly on money, Kelly Reichardt shows us a down-and-out woman trying to make a better life for herself in a system driven by profit, where most people have been conditioned to play out their part even when it's contrary to their own well-being or the well-being of others.


wendy and lucky Reichardtwendy and lucy williamswendy and lucywendy and lucy Reichardt
lottery - win $41,000

wendy and lucywendy and lucy williamswendy and lucy williamswendy and lucywendy and lucyWendy calls a relative who immediately stresses that they have no money to
spare and therefore cannot help (even though that wasn't why she called).

wendy and lucywendy and lucy Reichardtwendy and lucy williamswendy and lucywendy and lucy ReichardtThe mechanic gives Wendy a "deal" by only charging her 30$ - instead
of the usual 50$ minimum - to tow her car a just
a few hundred feet.

wendy and lucy williamswendy and lucy filmwendy and lucy Reichardtwendy and lucy Reichardtwendy and lucy ReichardtKen Kesey's novel is about about a group of union loggers at a mill who "go on
strike in demand of the same pay for shorter hours in
response to the decreasing
need for labor due to the introduction
of the chainsaw. The Stamper family,
however, owns and operates
a company without unions and decides to not only
continue work,
but to supply the regionally owned mill with all the lumber the
laborers would have supplied had the strike not occurred."

wendy and lucy
$REWARD$

wendy and lucywendy+and+lucywendy+lucy williamswendy+lucy williams
An inversion of the gilded cage

wendy and lucywendy+lucy williams