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Friday, September 29, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated, The U.S. vs. John Lennon 

This Film Is Not Yet Rated:

Even if you don’t know what the Motion Picture Association of America is, you know its work. The G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 system is their baby, designed to help parents decide what is safe viewing for their children. Of more than 30 similar agencies surveyed worldwide, the MPAA is the only one to operate in complete secrecy; no one knows who makes up the ranks of the raters, nor what their criteria are. Creator and former chair Jack Valenti often said this was to protect the board from “outside influences,” which would be a noble sentiment if the MPAA didn’t answer to—and only to—the seven largest studios in the country.

You see, the MPAA is “voluntary.” It’s set up by the studios and not by the government so the movie industry can appear to be self-regulating. Conveniently, this means civil necessities like “transparency” and “public accountability” are sidestepped. Likewise, a filmmaker does not have to submit his or her film to the MPAA to get it shown. But since the MPAA is hooked up to every major studio, distributor, and theater chain in the country, not getting an MPAA rating is tantamount to committing career suicide. Sure, you can get your film made. But if no one in the country will promote it, carry it, or exhibit it, what exactly was the point?

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The U.S. vs. John Lennon:

The U.S. vs. John Lennon has access to a staggering array of people, ranging from a florid Gore Vidal to a totally unrepentant G. Gordon Liddy. Seemingly everyone who had an impact on America in the 70’s is here; writers, artists, musicians, politicians, journalists, FBI agents, and activists from both sides of the political aisle. So why does the whole exercise feel so superficial?

The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a “rock doc,” as those hipsters at VH1 call it, and it has all the depth one might expect out of a typical episode of Behind the Music. The glamor is there, the glitz, the hint of the optimistically progressive spirit of the counter-culture 70’s. But there’s no fire under all the smoke. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is content merely to catalogue a basic surface history.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

The Black Dahlia 

Late one morning in Los Angeles, 1947, a gruesome discovery was made. It was a young woman’s body, nude, savagely beaten, mutilated, and bisected. She was later identified as Elizabeth Short, and though her horrific death caused a sensation, no one was ever convicted of the crime. Even now, the Black Dahlia’s murder—so named for Short’s resemblance to an actress in The Blue Dahlia, and her propensity for wearing black—remains perhaps the most sensational unsolved murder in California history.

But Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia isn’t really about Elizabeth Short at all. Like the James Ellroy novel it’s based on, it’s far more interested in the constellation of people and desires around her. In many ways it is the classic murder mystery: Unknowing character steps into something straightforward, only to have his illusions and assumptions stripped away as the complexity of the world around him becomes apparent. The crime is merely the catalyst for the true journey.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Path to 9-11, Fact/Truth 

It starts off looking long and then becomes instantly accessible. Read it all the way through. It won't take as long as you think.

Here. Read, then come back for the rest.

I don't necessarily agree with every point made. As that poster recognizes, the stories of tragedy and experience -- large and small -- are as much about the emotions of those involved as they are about the hard data. Emotion requires documenting, too, if you want the "whole story" -- and emotional renderings of real-life occurences are by definition subjective. Art, in this case United 93 and World Trade Center (and most certainly not The Path to 9-11 or Pearl Harbor), is about expressing emotion rather than factual data. It is not the duty of art to cross the t's and dot the i's. To be perfectly flaky, art strives for truth. Journalism strives for fact.

(There is a difference.)

The Path to 9-11's obvious political agenda is enough to infuriate, but its claim to accurately represent fact through dramatization is not only dishonest, but morally reprehensible. Jim Emerson claims (when speaking of WTC) that any dramatization of an actual occurence is by nature political, as it "makes choices about what to show and what not to show." Oliver Stone, on the other hand, has said "It seems to me that the event was mythologized by both political sides, into something that they used for political gain. And I think one of the benefits of this movie is that it reminds us of what actually happened that day, in a very realistic sense." (Emerson rightly comments that it isn't as realistic as all that, as it's "a PG-13 movie about mass murder." The full scope is lost when you have to soften the blow for the MPAA so kids can see it.)

We may have a confusion here over use of the terms "political" and "personal." Emerson sees agendas, and Stone is working as an artist. And of course it is impossible to document and dramatize every action of every person tied to that day -- especially when no one can agree on what determines if someone was "tied" to it at all. Relatives of those who died? Friends-of-friends? That WTC is not a political film is accurate; no projections are made about who was responsible, or what came after, or indeed anything outside those 48 hours. The people involved don't yet know what's going on, you see, and can only deal with the immediate situation. Credits roll before aftermath begins.

But it is a personal film, edited, cultivated, and shaped for dramatic effect and the more practical concern of time constraints. What it does -- and very well, I thought -- was show those who were not physically present what it was like to be under or near the twin towers when they were struck, and when they fell. To those who claim they don't need reminders, that they remember it quite well -- no, frankly, you don't. Only a handful of people personally experienced what these men and women did, and fewer still survived it.

But whether you need or want that reminder is a personal choice. So is interpreting the events and putting them through your own personal filter for others to see -- that is the role of an artist. It is not morally "wrong" to do so. Stone may trumpet his "this is not a political film" a little too loudly, but one can only imagine the kind of heat generated when a director like him took on a project like this. But he performed his duty as an artist to his audience, and he did so admirably.

And there ain't a damn thing wrong with that.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lea Hernandez. 

Doubtless you've heard, but if not:

Early this morning, the Texas home of award-winning writer/artist Lea Hernandez, my friend and co-creator of the graphic novel Killer Princesses, caught fire and burned. Half her house is now gone, and the rest is smoke-damaged. In addition, she lost at least six of her family’s beloved pets, two dogs and four cats. If you knew Lea, you’d know how devastating that is.

She’s lost a great deal of her family’s possessions, including irreplaceable art. She doesn’t yet know the full accounting of what’s been lost at this time.

Most know Lea as the brilliant creator of such works as Rumble Girls and Cathedral Child. She drew the Marvel Mangaverse Punisher book, and has drawn for Transmetropolitan, among many other accomplishments. She is also the co-founder and original editor for Girl-A-Matic, one of the most important venues for female-friendly comics created to date.

She’s also my friend, and it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have a career in comics if she hadn’t asked me to write Killer Princesses for her to draw.

And finally, Lea is one of the last great firebrand hellraisers in comics.

Lea has two (wonderful, amazing) special needs children and right now they need a place to stay and some clothes to wear. More than that, they need
some help, and fast, in the form of donations to her paypal account. Lea’s a proud person so I’m going to ask FOR her. This is important, and a great chance to do a wonderful thing for a creator who has consistently enriched this industry we all love so much. Please, take a moment and send WHATEVER YOU CAN to Lea’s paypal account and help make this time a little bit less painful for someone who would do the same for you if the positions were reversed.

If you’re a retailer, I ask that you set up a donations jar. If you’re a creator, I ask you to think of how devastating this would be to your career and donate what you can. If you’re a reader, I’m asking you to take a moment and hit the paypal link. You’ll be doing something heroic and you’ll feel great about it, I promise.

Read what Lea had to post on a neighbor’s computer while wearing her pajamas at: Livejournal.com/users/divalea

Donate (PLEASE) to her paypal account at: divalea@gmail.com

Finally, if I understand the story correctly (as told to me by Lea’s good friend and current Girl-a-matic editor), it was Lea’s daughter hearing the smoke alarm that allowed the family to get out in time, so for God’s sake, do everyone you love a favor and CHECK YOUR SMOKE ALARMS.

Thank you so much for helping. Really, any amount you can send will make a difference. That’s all I can say.

Sincerely and gratefully,

Gail Simone

Idiocracy. 

Is actually hilarious. It's Mike Judge's latest, and not unlike how Fox completely fucked Office Space (only to see it go on to become one of the best-selling DVDs of all time), they've totally killed this one out of the gate. Did you know it came out last weekend? Most of the rest of the world didn't, either. When I saw it with my buddy Joe, we were the only two guys in the theatre.

At 7:55.

On a Saturday night.

Opening weekend.

Salient information here.

Ignore the tedious script summary of the opening sequences and skip right to this part:

The film was originally titled "Uh-Merica" and later referred to as "3001" (this title was always known to be a place holder title), and was shown to test audiences around March 2005. There were unofficial reports of very poor ratings from that viewing. Some re-filming purportedly took place in the summer of 2005. Release was even further stalled, possibly relating to a civil suit in which several companies (Costco, Starbucks and Fuddruckers) were unhappy with the way they were satirized in the film.

In April 2006, a release date was finally set for September 1, 2006. But less than a month before it was set for release, numerous articles [1] revealed that the film's release was to be put on hold indefinitely. Although the release went ahead as planned, it was only a limited release (125 theaters), as opposed to a wide one (2,500-3,000). Initially, the film has been released only in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago and three cities in Mike Judge's home state of Texas--Dallas, Houston, and his hometown Austin.

According to Austin360.com, 20th Century fox, the film's distributor, has done nothing to promote the movie -- no trailers, posters, television spots or even press kits for media outlets are being provided.


(Not quite true. I did see a poster -- once -- in the theatre I saw the movie in, a week before its release. By the time it actually came out, the poster was gone.)

I would also recommend reading the Austin360.com article. That reporter finds that almost no one is talking... and you can tell sources are slim when the reporter turns to the nutsacks in the IMDB message boards for reasoned reviews.

(Seriously, IMDB.com is a good factual resource and an absolute breeding ground for people with no critical thinking skills and a lot of loud opinions. It's a frightening combination.)

But what is it about this country and satire? Do we not actually have a sense of humor anymore? Are we so cowed, so dull-eyed with straightforward story, that we can't distinguish the message from the messenger?

I ask because about half the people who talk about Idiocracy don't seem to get that it's not a celebration of vulgarity. (For that matter, neither was Beavis and Butthead.) Both use vulgar humor effectively, but anyone with even an ounce of sense (or anyone who's read an interview with the articulate and intelligent Judge) can distinguish between merely reveling in self-absorbed stupidity and venting anger at it.

Mike Judge has long decried the rise of narcissistic stupidity in the world and America in particular. Beavis and Butthead were both his avatars of this perfect self-absorbed ignorance, and in case you didn't notice, they got kicked around quite a lot by all kinds of people. The horror of it, of course, is that the two boys are so oblivious to anything around them that they don't get it, and so continue on in their meaningless existence completely unchanged.

Humor is rage transformed. Idiocracy is a perfect example, and an excellent satire that works on both obvious and subtle levels. It takes a true master to use vulgarity to make sly observations, and Judge is just such a guy.

See it if you can.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Calling all Kentuckians. 

For very specific reasons to be named later, I'm wondering if anyone reading this has access to a weekly alternative paper called Ace Weekly. It's published out of Lexington, Kentucky. I'm looking specifically for the August 31st edition.

I need a hard copy of this particular edition. If you can get your hands on one, please do so and let me know at ringwoodcomics at gmail dot com.

Thanks.

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