Bits and Pieces: contemporary cinema and Summer blockbusters, gender and Science Fiction, President Gore and more June 8, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bits and Pieces.
Sitting at an iMax during the week watching the trailers before “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in 3D I was struck by a comment John Patterson made in the Guardian last weekend. Writing about how Soderbergh’s ‘Behind the Cadelabra’, his film on Liberace, has not found a cinematic release in the US due in no small part due to the craven attitude of the distributors to the fact that Liberace was gay he notes that:
…presumably because they figured the Red States wouldn’t take to its central gay relationship or its queasy 70s Vegas excess. In any case, they had already endured Brokeback Mountain.
That reluctance is sadly reminiscent of the old studios’ near-total reticence on racial matters until the late 1960s, for fear of alienating the Jim Crow moviegoers of the Deep South. Hollywood congratulated itself to death over Brokeback Mountain, years after Will & Grace had put a gay man smack-dab in the centre of the primetime lineup and the American living room. The studios are still like the Republicans on gay issues, actively hostile or paying lip-service of the wrong sort; TV is, like the Democrats, open-minded but not unmindful of expanding the demographics and upping the profit margin. All of which suggests that Soderbergh and Douglas should forget about Oscars and start valuing Emmys, those things they give to Mad Men, The Sopranos and The Wire, and not to fluff like Argo.
And he comes to the conclusion that:
Are we near the moment when the initiative in American film-making passes from movies to television? TV is getting all the respect these days, and absolutely deserves it. While the studios are fixated on tumescent pubescents and the Comic-Con demographic, cable TV is remembering the rest of us, normals and weirdos alike. And, let’s face it, the moviegoing experience has entirely lost any glamour it ever had and become just another fast-food experience.
Watching the trailers for Pacific Rim, Superman and something so useless I’ve already excised it from my memory simply proved his point about the Comic-Con demographic. Now, okay, it is the Summer and that is the time of 3D CGI laden excess – even Star Trek cannot escape being roped into that category, although, although, it has at least the virtue of being part of a cultural strand stretching back five decades now. But it was just depressing to see the man-child/child-man fighting stuff of Pacific Rim (sure, delivered to us by Guillermo del Toro, and with Idris Elba in there too, but even so), and yet another run-through of the Jor-El (it appears that there is now some sort of sulphurous compact that every generation must labour under the weight of its own interpretation of the Superman mythos).
As for Star Trek:ID, well, colour me Cumberbatched, but it was the first time I’d seen 3D that I really liked, and while far from perfect the film itself was more than good enough, and vastly superior to the last few outings of the ST:TNG cast.
If I have a problem it sort of relates back to Patterson’s initial complaint (and it’s possible that due to daily exposure to the cinema and television tastes of the five year old creature at home that I’m more sensitive to this than I might otherwise be because it is chilling how pre-programmed those can be). And having seen in no particular order but all being recent big budget films, the Hobbit, Skyfall, Avengers Assemble, and one considerably lower budget but distinctly genre (and excellent) Cabin in the Woods amongst others it is troubling to report that Cabin and Skyfall seemed to me to be the most adult of the lot. Don’t get me wrong, Avengers was an excellent genre run-through. But… but…
This is far from academic in the world of SF. There was (rightly IMO) a controversy over the non-appearance of any women SF writers or writers from non-white backgrounds in the The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction. No question that’s a major fail. No Tiptree Jr./Sheldon, no Le Guin, no Delaney, no… well look it’s not as if in 2013 there isn’t a long long list of people to call upon.
Speaking of SF, what of a female Doctor Who? The possibility arrives with the news that Matt Smith, perhaps the best Doctor since Tom Baker, is leaving at the end of the year. I’m kind of agnostic on the issue. Gender determinism in a character who can regenerate appears a little beside the point, and it would make a most interesting experiment both conceptually and in terms of execution.
Just on Doctor Who Smith left at the right time. Short enough that he would be missed and he’d avoid typecasting (one hopes). Perhaps four years was about as much as he could take. There’s been a lot to like about his tenure, and not just him.
Meanwhile, here’s an odd one, from New York magazine from three or so years back, Memories of the Gore Administration.
Ten years ago this month, a Supreme Court ruling ushered in George W. Bush as our 43rd president. We asked five (sometime) novelists to imagine the past decade as if the election had gone the other way. America: This is your parallel life.
It’s kind of fascinating to read some of them, though Glenn Beck’s contribution…
Bits and Pieces May 25, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bits and Pieces.
This is fascinating, the plume from the Pavlof volcano in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska as seen from the International Space Station. As Phil Plait notes on Slate, the interesting thing about this is, well, okay, the useful thing, is that you can view objects from an oblique angle giving them both scale and depth. And as he says, it is incredibly dramatic. Look at the way in the first photograph the mountain peak beside the volcano pokes up through the cloud base and in the second how the plume (six kilometres high!) stretches in a curve for… well, I don’t know how far. Plait suggests hundred of kilometres ( and the curve is due to it being blown by the wind ). Stunning stuff.
Meanwhile should you wish to know the answer to the question how many people are in space right now, simply go here.
Funnily enough every time I think of the Aleutian islands I think of this particular aircraft, the Grumman Goose flying boat, for when I was a kid it was synonymous with Aleutian Airways.
Kind of equivocal about the following from 2005 or so. Deep Dish good – and Fleetwood Mac too, come to think of it, but what, if anything, new is brought to the song?
For those who like the 1970s series UFO, strange hybrid Gerry Anderson creation that it was, here are some interviews with the actors of the show. This from George Sewell who played Alec Freeman is almost endearing in the way there’s no pretence that this was other than a job for him. In a world of Cons and internet coverage and so on and a fuzziness between actor and role that’s sort of refreshing. Ed Bishop who had the role of Commander Straker plays the game a bit more. Starlog #55
As is customary, let’s end with a libertarian reference. There was some discussion here recently about the way in which workers have little or no autonomy in workplaces. And what’s this? A piece from the UK based Libertarian Alliance whose overall thrust is in agreement with that idea, even if it scurries off to a utopian position at the end. It’s actually quite an interesting leaflet on Classes, Rights and Interests, even if unfortunately it gets quite a bit wrong in terms of analysis of the left and class.
I noted earlier that capitalists have an advantage over workers in that they can earn more wealth from the productive assets which they control. They also have another advantage in that the sources of their income are more secure. The average wage-earning worker is in an insecure economic position because his entire income depends on supplying one single service to one single customer, namely his employer, and if his job is threatened for some reason, his whole livelihood is threatened. A capitalist, on the other hand, can spread his risks by holding shares in several different companies, which gives him an income from several sources. A capitalist has a further advantage in that he can sell some of his productive assets for cash in the event of some crisis in his life, while a worker cannot sell himself or part of himself into slavery.
The economic insecurity of workers is significant because, in a free market, changes in consumer demand and advances in science and technology mean that the pattern of employment is constantly changing. Old industries are constantly declining and being replaced by new industries, with the result that some jobs disappear and new jobs appear in their place. If, however, a worker’s entire livelihood depends on his present job and he has no alternative source of income, it is very tempting for him to demand state intervention or even resort to violence in order to preserve the present pattern of employment at all costs. This has been demonstrated very clearly by events in the British coal and newspaper industries in the 1980s. A worker who is also a capitalist is in a better position to adapt to economic change because he has the income from his investments to fall back on while he is looking for a new job.
Sadly the author doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion from the above which is that given the dubious merits of the system he proposes why would any worker choose a libertarian right system that would even by his own lights perpetuate such instability and imbalance in regard to power relationships with capitalists. Full marks for trying, though.
Bits and Pieces: Gravity trailer, Guardian Essential Summer tracks, Pew polls on Religion and Science and anarcho-socialism and anarcho-capitalists… May 11, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bits and Pieces.
This looks… good:
Gravity from Alfonso Cuarón (who previously did Children of Men). Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and presumably others. What strikes me is how… real… it all looks. It has none of that fuzziness and overly reflective surfaces of most CGI.
Yeah whatever, I’m only into bands who haven’t formed yet.
For your entertainment some (admittedly short and straightforward) questionnaires.
…yeah, that’ll work.
Bits and pieces… February 23, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bits and Pieces, Culture.
Let’s start with the news that the Boomtown Rats have reformed in order to play the Isle of Wight festival later this year has not been greeted as an unalloyed good, at least to judge from some of the entertaining comments under this article.
Here’s Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy column with Slate talking about massive stars in the Lobster Nebula. Interesting in itself, but he talks about some stars which are so massive that they’re unable to last for more than a couple of million years. I never knew stars could have such (relatively) brief lives.
Cousin Claudette: Today’s figures for operations in the urban area alone account for the elimination of a total of 2,750 pounds of conventional editions, 836 pounds of first editions, and 17 pounds of manuscripts were also destroyed. Twenty-three anti-social elements were detained, pending re-education.
Rewatched Truffaut’s Farenheit 451 recently, after a gap at least thirty years. I seem to recall the first and only time I saw it was on a small black and white television, so the vivid colours were a bit of a surprise. But it’s an interesting if flawed piece of work. So much to like: the 1960s concrete dystopia, the subtle camera trickiness and nods to surrealism – Truffaut did love winding the film backwards, the flatness of the surfaces, the heightened colours, the prophetic widescreen televisions, and the general dreamlike air – all that and Cyril Cusack as well at his most mercurial. And if Julie Christie and Oskar Werner are emotional ciphers, well perhaps that’s precisely the way it should be in a film that is, in its own way, a love letter to book based fiction. Particular kudos for the initial title sequence which I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Though no kudos at all for this atrociously inept and misleading trailer.
On a related topic I had to admire the monorail that features prominently in it. This was from the SAFEGE experimental track in France – now long since abandoned. What’s interesting is how relatively few monorails there actually are. Of course way back when that was as much a signifier of the future as space travel, perhaps more so because it seemed so achievable.
On an entirely unrelated topic here’s an infographic on trolls.
And to conclude for the moment… here’s our obligatory Objectivist or libertarian themed link… a reflection on Rand and her – most interesting – editor.
Bits and pieces… February 9, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bits and Pieces, Uncategorized.
I always liked Buffy, found it smart and fun and I’ve been rewatching it from the start over thnow and have sort of synchronised with Angel. I’m amazed how well it holds up still. I saw most of it when it first came out and haven’t seen it since, and I’ve rarely enjoyed television so much. Anyhow, here’s a curiosity which I only saw recently, the 25 minute unaired pilot. Different Willow, interesting how the actor who played her would have developed, but much else that is the same – though the more elaborate Library would have been a treat.
Meanwhile, did anyone else catch Secret State – the update of A Very British Coup.
Entertaining, but not great and in places downright… well… I want to be kind given its provenance (Chris Mullin is a lucky lucky man to get two adaptations from one book). There’s Gabriel Byrne playing a British PM (and with an accent of intriguingly unknown origin) surrounded by conspiracy, or who knows what, and if it’s all a bit predictable, red shirts are done away with abandon, well, so be it. There are some nice touches and it looks spot on from the Cabinet room to the place Byrne as Prime Minister gives press conferences. But it can’t quite decide if it is political drama, comedy, thriller or some combination of all three, and therefore falls between all those stools.
In a way it was telling how this is avowedly non-party political. Was Byrne’s government Labour or Tory? We can’t tell. And perhaps that was the point – though somehow it makes the stakes oddly enough seem lower. But in that it lacks the transgressive quality of the original where the PM was defiantly Labour and left Labour too. And then there’s the point that in his closing speech Byrne references a list of woes, banks, etc, etc, and then the… er… ‘unions’. Huh? So, A Very British Coup it ain’t.
The following is where Marty Willson-Piper of the Church proves he should have a show on music, or something…
And this. You’d never know with a Guardian spoof competition on posters to dissuade migrants from Britain, it could go one of any number of ways, but some of these were kind of funny.
And to conclude for now, the poll tax riots came up in discussion recently. So check out this from mises.org, a libertarian right view on the issue… interestingly they weren’t happy with it either, though not – perhaps predictably – for the reasons most of us would find fault with it.