Monday, March 24, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
[Found via Coudal Partners' Blended Feed. Awesome.]
Monday, March 17, 2008
For one, I watched Primer. Before I move on, I want to note that this is a very good movie. This may be some of the best cinematography and acting I've seen in a $7,000 film, regardless of genre. That being said, I have two criticisms. For one, the film struck me as being kind of reactionary in it's intent: to create a science fiction movie that did not dumb down to it's viewers, that contained zero special effects, and that made no attempt to explain either plot machinations or the (tenuous) mathematics and physics it exploited. Which gave the whole thing a kind of angry, "let them have it" cast. I'd much rather the director use a few recognizable film tropes to meet the viewer halfway, than feel like I was being corrected in some way.
The other, more important thing I was bothered by has to do with the praise heaped on the film due to it's complexity. And it is a complex movie-- at least 7 different simultaneous timelines, with an equal number of "versions" of the main characters, made it nearly impossible to untangle. It is a movie that will only get better with subsequent viewings, although I admit I chickened out and read up on the plot after the fact.
However, the people who made this film made the conscious decision to prioritize complexity of plot over complexity of character, at nearly every point. Most of the depth was in the machinations of where and when, not in showing the (considerable) change in each character, as flaws are revealed and conflict blooms. Which made it a lot closer to a few episodes of 24 than to Memento, which manages an equal concentration on both. Which, to me, seems like a waste. This sort of concentration on surface complexity is an annoyance that seems endemic to the genre, handed down from almost every forebear from Philip Dick to H.G. Wells. It's usually easy to overlook because there is little character development to really show in a lot of SF, but here there was clearly plenty going on, a fact that was highlighted by the sparse sets and near-constant facial close-ups. The total lack of any continuity between scenes made the slow dawning of each character's growth difficult to parse. Still, if you haven't seen it, do.
I also ran to the library and grabbed the latest William Gibson reference, Spook Country, which ended up pretty solid, if nowhere near as great as Idoru, or even Pattern Recognition. Gibson's done a pretty great job of transitioning from cyberpunk prophet to contemporary commentator, while still keeping things entertaining. A lot of this is due to the fact that he writes very similar sentences to Raymond Chandler, able to make a bit of interior decoration or landscape have as much backstory as the people inhabiting it. I do wish he'd remember that Chandler wrote some pretty goofy shit into his books as well, though-- too often in this book the characters were going about their actions so soberly that it seemed like everyone was on Paxil. Maybe less stepping back, less awareness would do some good.
But credit where it's due: Gibson is still the best male SF writer at writing women naturally, the best SF writer at weaving in cultural references (and inventing new ones) without seeming awkward, and the best SF writer at doing what I thought lacked above-- not only giving the internal some presence in the book, but tying it into the surface of the plot in an important way. He is still writing the books that, from his nonfiction statements, one wishes Bruce Sterling would write. That being sad, Billy, I did cringe when you tried to justify your earlier technological missteps by bringing back VR helmets for some tacked-on scenes. Weak. Don't let it happen again.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
I'm already somewhat weary of the "I AM NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE INFLECTION AND IT IS MAKING ME HOARSE" tone she takes during speeches, but this is far worse. Maybe one of her advisors told her that she has to sound confident and inevitable. Things started off fine--she said some (debatable) things about redoing the primaries, and deferred on the "Obama Veep" question. But the minute Inskeep got the tiniest bit confrontational (about experience, what else) she got all brash and swaggering and, well, kinda douche-y. And I had to turn the radio off.
I follow the issues the best I can. I keep up with national politics on a daily basis. But when it's all said and done, I'm just going to pull the lever for the person that makes me feel the least embarassed. Sad but true.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
So Jacques Herzog said at the Tate Modern yesterday, reported by Tom Dyckhoff for the Times Online. The Times has has always been reliably pro-behemoth and pro-superstar (see the sidebars: "world's ten most ambitious new buildings, from CCTV to the Freedom Tower," "View a stunning slideshow of buildings designed by architect Frank Gehry,") even if they are also reliably critical of the blandness of common development. Thus H&dM justifying their choice to build for the Olympics was given a quick gloss rather than a more in-depth editorial. "Whew!" Dyckhoff seems to say, "glad we got that out of the way!"
I really wish I was there to hear the rest of the lecture. Here is a longer snippet from the same article:
“It's very cheap and easy for architects and artists and film-makers to pull out or to make this kind of criticism,” Herzog says. “Everybody knows what happens in China. All work conditions in China are not what you'd desire. But you wear a pullover made in China. It's easy to criticise, being far away. I'm tempted almost to say the opposite...How great it was to work in China and how much I believe that doing the stadium [and] the process of opening will change radically, transform, the society. Engagement is the best way of moving in the right direction.”
“It would be arrogant not to engage,” de Meuron adds. “Otherwise no politicians could go there, no athletes. You would just close the borders.”
I appreciate the forthrightness above, even if I'd like to see more concrete examples of how the "bird's nest" is transforming political and social realities in China. The closest the article gets to quantifying anything is to mention the broken-down scale and lack of hierarchy in the structural system, followed by Herzog claiming “The Chinese love to hang out in public spaces. The main idea was to offer them a playground.”
So this means that this project won't be under the kind of permanent security lockdown that characterizes ever other major area I can think of? Using attached public space as a justification for buildng sports arenas is rarely taken seriously in the U.S., so why should it in a country with less personal freedom?
Hell, I might want one of those in LA.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
For today, I present the impeccably curated Paimio Sanitorium tour on Alvar Aalto's official website. This slideshow does a better job of presenting Aalto's ability to create a harmonious "total design" - in this case including the iconic Paimio chair, as well as light fixtures, handrails, and a pretty awesome door handle, and a whole host of other furniture and hardware. Paimio is one of the few early modern projects that has maintained almost all of its immediacy. Someday I will visit this building, and it will be fabulous.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
The stress starts before I even go in, because the risks and expectations are so high. This is something on the surface that strangers will use as a starting point for judgment from the first second. It says loads about my character, my income, my sexual preference... all to people that I might never get to speak to. It's like having a second face-- one that needs to periodically be remade.
I walk in and start the consultation, and immediately hit a snag. I have no idea how to communicate the desired outcome. Hell, I'm not even sure what the desired outcome might be. I begin gesturing vaguely and punctuating my sentences with "you know" and "kinda." In a panic, I begin using words I have heard other people using, words that don't really understand but hope will convey that this person is talking to an expert, someone who knows exactly what they want and will be furious if their high expectations are not met.
This is not going well. My song and dance routine seems to have simply confused matters more. Exasperated, I point to a picture featuring some fantastic result, usually belonging to some model or celebrity: "there. I want that." This seems to work, but the anxiety has not lessened at all. After all, my circumstances are completely different from the person in that photograph. And I'm almost certain that I am not hiring the same person as Mr. Fantastic in the picture. How can this person possibly replicate what I have asked for? I didn't do any real research before I walked into this place. A friend said that they did an okay job, and they didn't seem too expensive at the time. How can I have gotten this far without asking for references? Or a diploma? Or maybe even a quick chat-- this person is going to be awfully close to my life for a short while, and I barely know their name! But I'm too far in-- the cutting has already begun and all I can do is shut my eyes and pray.
The actual operation is messy and unpleasant, during which everything looks terrible and I can barely move. They can clearly tell I'm in incredible mental pain, but seem totally oblivious and focused on their job. Focused, that is, except when they're on the phone with someone else-- how can they be talking to someone? My job is only half done! They've clearly moved on mentally to the next customer-- how well can this possibly turn out?
At last there is the final reveal, and... it looks great! Or terrible! I really have no idea. I make up my mind very quickly and rush out the door... I over tip, rudely rush out the door, and talk to Katy, who in fifteen minutes has told me whether I paid for a masterpiece or a fiasco. Regardless of the outcome, it's too late to go back. It's done, and I have to live with it.
Luckily for me, haircuts cost less than $20 and grow back in a month. For people wanting a new home, the stakes are a little higher. I'll try to remember this the next time I have a meeting.