Monday, September 19, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Perspectives

The onscreen introduction of each costumed hero is framed through a specific point of view; each is obscured at first glance and requires processes of clarification. For Batman, Superman takes the longest and Wonder Woman the shortest (the re-assemblage of pixels on a screen).

I've now seen BvS several times in both incarnations (I prefer the Ultimate Edition). The film is unique for me in that I generally loath Snyder's body of work (perhaps I should revisit Man of Steel) and yet its first half is among the most complex things I've seen this year. It's second half remains flat and uninspired, not the ending, mind you, but the Doomsday fight. Still, this is one of the best cinematic explorations of emotional and psychological perspectives that I've seen; Sully being another 2016 master treatise on the subject.

The film is more about trauma and how it shapes one's hermeneutic processes of perception and interpretation than it is about "justice"; it's barely a superhero film at all, which is probably why I love it so. Both titular figures are post-traumatic subjects navigating a precarious landscape of shifting allegiances. For better or worse, Wonder Woman remains an erotic enigma. My problem with the film's second half is rooted in this concern. Luthor and/or Doomsday should be given the same consideration for their perspective instead of being mustache-twirling loons (see my initial thoughts here), a problem made more apparent by the deliberate depiction of Batman as a fascist goon in need of redemption.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

NBC Coverage of Men's Springboard Qualifiers

Notes from watching the Men’s Springboard qualifying on NBC live (8/15/16) 

NBC does not show all of the athletes. They show only two other countries and the U.S. athletes. These other two countries are not simply the highest ranked during the qualifying process, but they are Russia and China. Throughout the coverage, athletes from Mexico held the second and fifth spots; higher than either of the U.S. athletes. The narratives were focused on Russia and China. These national athletes became surrogates for the two most discussed countries in the US election-crazed 24hour news cycle. One could make a compilation of Trump alone speaking these names: Russia, China, Russia, China, Russia, China, Russia, China. However, the Russian and Chinese athletes are among the best in the world.

Drama was created by the conditions of the outdoor diving pool. Diving pools are typically indoors, but in Rio the pool is outdoors. On this day they were facing 40 mile per hour winds. This had a dramatic effect on the diver’s performance. At one point a Russian diver was blown into the diving board. Perhaps it was a plot! The CIA pressured the Rio Olympics committee to build the pool outdoors so that their athlete could humiliate Russia and China on the world stage; to make American Men’s Springboard Great Again.

The NBC coverage immediately framed this as a “battle of the minds” wherein the wind is said to play tricks on the diver’s minds, causing them to make mistakes. NBC interviewed a coach for the American team who said that wind plays tricks with the mind and the US team practiced to not have wind affect them. NBC then cut to an expert commentator who reiterated this line of thinking. She said that wind has a mental effect on the divers, and sometimes can have an effect physically as well. As in 40 mph winds could possibly impact the direction of your dive but that the US athletes trained to not let this affect them through the sheer power of will.

NBC cycled through the coverage of these five athletes: two American, two Chinese, one Russian. When these athletes were not on the diving board NBC cut to commercials featuring the US athletes selling liquid dish detergent and bank finance options. Thus, the NBC coverage alternates between two things: selling the superior stock of its white male athletes against the precarious mental states of its largest economic boogeymen and selling consumer products.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner, 1987)
Cool surprise! Police hand drivers ice cream instead of tickets (The Today Show, Aug. 5 2016, original video by Kevin Landis)

Monday, August 1, 2016

July Viewing Diary

extant thoughts on some visual culture highlights of the month.

Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas. Two all-too-familiar examples of systemic police racism and one the tragic-but-not unexpected response. It was Malcom X who described the violence sweeping across the American continent as “chickens coming home to roost”. America is not only a society built on systemic inequalities and violence, but is wholly incapable or unwilling of conversing about these complexities. The visual evidence of these murders circulated the viral culture, picking up interpretations along the way: concrete visual evidence of the systemic racism inherent in the police, a dark legacy carried through from histories of militant slave patrols and KKK lynch mobs. For the angry white nationalist only Dallas mattered: a scene ripped from a Christopher Nolan Batman film of chaos and murder gussied up as protest. The calls for “law and order” threaten to overpower the demand for dialogue by Black Lives Matter mobilization.

Aping Richard Nixon, Donald Trump dons the sash of the “Law and Order Candidate” and for the first time in over a decade I opted out of watching either party's national convention. I cherry picked speeches on YouTube and gleaned bits of information from the streams of networked social life and algorithmic newsreels. Of all the images and all the stories and all the speakers what remains most striking is the image of Trump standing before a rectangular jumbotron projecting his giant face. But it’s not the aesthetic lineage of dystopian cinema that made the image utterly fascistic, but the throbbing cock terror dreams of his nightmare speech. Vivid images of brown bodies “pouring” over borders and “roaming” suburban white communities. His theme music: Neil Young’s Mideast Vacation.

Was it Max Weber who said that communism tries to politicize art, but fascism aestheticizes politics?


A curio from my research on internet pornography that has stuck in my mind like a brainworm. This Webm, which I ripped from 4chan, has popped up repeatedly across various forum sites in threads dedicated to fap culture and sharing the things that "get you hard as diamonds". The video is sourced from a 2011 YouTube upload titled "Hot Girl doing Matrix on mechanical bull 8-|". The music is "Bitch" by Allie X from 2014, a romantic synth drip with echoes of Grimes' "Oblivion". The lyrics of "Bitch" present a romanticized nostalgia for traditional gender roles, albiet without reference to anatomical sex: "Gonna bake and make your dinner / I'll be your cook / You can bring me home the bacon / And chop the wood" and "Make the bed and do your laundry / Tuck the corners in / Read the news, the business section / Tell me how it's been." And while the chorus sings "Whatever it takes to get you off" the song repeats: "We do things a different way / It's up to you and it's up to me / I'm you bitch, you're my bitch", lyrics that suggest a consensual partnership or a restructuring of traditional roles without the inequalities that provoked revolt against them. Yet in the context of this video's remix, the nostalgia for an atomic family partnership is re-inscribed into a heterosexual matrix: the bull rider's dance of seduction doing "whatever it takes to get" the presumed male viewers off.

Circumstances had me seeing Star Trek Beyond  twice in one week, something I wouldn't normally have done but am glad that I did. It's a strange and beautiful film, but first viewings always highlight the problems. While many decry Abrams' abandoning the vision of Roddenberry, it is quickly forgotten that his utopian future Earth is not without its serious problems; problems that can be seen circulating the discourses on Hilary Clinton (is the vision of a multicultural liberal utopia, or a nascent imperalist that has rooms for gays and blacks and women?). Beyond signals a return to the Roddenberry vision of a multicultural liberal utopia, one that jumps over difficult questions of class and race and capitalism in favor of a united body politic. There is a strange nationalism in Star Trek, not unlike Verhoeven's vision of a future fascist utopia in Starship Troopers. Verhoeven gets what so many filmmakers forget: that fascism is beautiful for those who benefit from its structures. For a fleeting second the film seems to tackle this very subject. It's arch villain (another mindless rubber goblin bent on vague revenge) is a product of the frontier, the border pushed by the Federation. Echoes of the Hollywood Western and dispatches from Occupied Palestine ring forth. The great function of Hollywood (if there can be a single coherent function) is often to transform critiques of the nation into existential threats to its very existence. But we soon learn that these rubber goblin are actually specters of the nations' violent militaristic history, mutated through the centuries and back with a vengeance to unravel peace. Justin Lin's Star Trek is more Byron Haskin than Abrams.

Star Trek Beyond is a gorgeous meditation on finding one's footing in a polysemous universe. The set pieces of the York Town space station, with multiple centers of gravity, the camerawork from the opening shot that uses tilts to displace the center and orientation of the objects and characters, the frequent use of mirror images, the physical mutation of bodies. The only constant is transformation itself. Lin's figures, here a dynamic family unit akin to his Fast & Furious work, must navigate these changes; must find their footing. These figures are searching for a tenable ideology in a universe that enables nihilism to take hold. Lin's sense of movement and space create a visual universe of transformation and of shift where bodies, images, and ideas coalesce into a single kaleidoscopic vision.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Take A Look At These Hands (Vertov, Varda, Marker)

Dziga Vertov's first Kino-Pravda ends on a curious note. After glimpses of what has become proper newsreel footage like national figures, marches, a refugee crisis, and a political trial of note, Vertov "plays out" the remainder of his film with pedestrian shots of everyday workers. Specifically, he ends with a prolonged sequence of a toy-maker's booth and the customers purchasing his wares. 

The camera frames a street scene, but someone (is it Vertov?) holds up the products of his labor and displays them for the camera. Here we not only end the short film on common people and daily market-place life, but with an ad-hoc representation of the filmmakers: their hands touching their own subject.

At one point the toy-maker turns to view this activity, thinking the hands belong to another customer. When he realizes these are the filmmakers, he returns to his actual work.

This technique, of filming one's own hands to display objects, becomes a trait of the essay film. It is one of the many reflexive techniques that reminds us of the authorship of the work: that this is primarily a tactile medium constructed through one's labor and individual perspective.

It is possible to view Vertov as the progenitor of these practices. Not only the use of hands, for what does that matter removed of politics, but of weaving common people and laborers into a hand-made document of a social and cultural moment. We see this again with Varda in The Gleaners and I, a film that traces national and cultural currents through a vox pop approach among those who occupy the margins of free society.

Woman with a Movie Camcorder:

There is a third example here, just as committed to social revolution but here focused on an individual man. I am referring to Chris Marker's AK.

The distinctions are written in the images. Marker here is not using his hands to frame objects in the physical spaces that he found them. Instead, he is using a similar technique within a staged cerebral space that in the context of the film is contrasted with his "raw" verite footage of the production of Ran. Instead of objects his hands "hold" the media that construct his essay: the audio of Akira Kurosawa speaking, something that could have easily been played as voice over to images of the director, but here is attached to the very technologies that produce, store, and exhibit them. The hands still function as reflective signatures of the construction of the essay film; both personalizing the work and undermining the erasure of construction and perspective that mark the traditional documentary form. I also think it just looks neat.