Film Essent Archive for March, 2012

Piracy, Again? Arrrrrggggh.

When is pirating movies not stealing something you didn’t pay for out of a misguided sense of self-entitlement? According to Mike D’Angelo, it’s not stealing if he does it, at least. Or it is stealing, but he’s entitled to steal it. Or at the very least, hey, stealing’s not bad if you’re only pirating movies you really, really want to watch on Blu-ray but don’t want to buy. Or if you delete it after you watch it, if you don’t like it, or add to your wish list to purchase for when you decide you can afford it. Got it?

D’Angelo wrote an earlier post a little over a month ago, confessing his movie piracy (and getting duly attacked on Twitter for it), and then yesterday wrote this follow-up piece for Indiewire, further attempting to explain what he really meant. Which apparently boils down to: Yes, he pirates movies, and no, he doesn’t feel bad about it. I’ve read both pieces, and all the comments on both, and D’Angelo’s response to pretty much every argument against pirating really boils down to, “Too bad. I want to see these movies on Blu-ray. I am entitled to see these movies, which I do not own and did not create, for free if I want to. I don’t want to pay to buy them, but I’m still entitled to illegally download and watch them, because — were you not paying attention the first ten times I said this? Did you not read my blog post? I really want to watch them, on Blu-ray, right now. Period, end of line.”

I’ve been accused at times of being too black-and-white in my own moralistic viewpoint on certain issues, but for me, the issue of piracy is just a no-brainer. If you don’t own it, you don’t have the right to set the terms under which you or anyone else gets to have it or watch it, period. I don’t care how hard or impossible it is to find pre-2000 movies for rental on Blu-ray. Big fucking deal. So you don’t get to rent Anatomy of a Murder on Blu-ray. Life’s hard. If you want it, you have to actually buy it. Cry me a river, dude. Get over your overblown sense of self-entitlement and find a real problem to deal with.

Reality check: People around the world are dealing with civil war and unrest, famine, joblessness, homelessness, no health care, terminal illness, people dying from diseases that no one in 2012 should have to worry about, crushing poverty and oppression by military dictatorships. The GOP is attacking women’s rights at every possible opportunity, trying to take control of abortion and birth control. There are people around the world — dare I say, a LOT of people — who don’t even have access to books or a basic education. For the much of the world, there are more pressing problems to deal with than whether one can afford to own a region-free DVD player or watch Anatomy of a Murder on Blu-ray. People are too busy figuring out how to keep food in their kids’ bellies, or schlepping five miles with a water jug on their heads to get access to something we can just turn on at a tap in our kitchens and bathrooms to worry about piddly shit like access to Blu-ray rentals. But hey. Being able to rent Blu-rays of every single movie you might want to see is a Really Pressing Fucking Issue that we should all take up arms and fight for. Give me a break. Talk about a First World “problem.”

We are at a period in our history where we are at the cusp of either uniting for a major revolution that will profoundly shift the way in which our societal structure is organized, or plummeting headfirst into a future where the Christian right controls our lives and sets the rules under which we live, or possibly just destroying our planet over religious differences, war and good old-fashioned avarice. And your biggest problem is whether you’re able to rent Anatomy of a Murder on freaking Blu-ray? For real? Look, for me, piracy is one of those issues in which there really is very little wiggle room or moralistically grey ground. Whatever justifications pirates come up for for their stealing, however intellectual they try to make their arguments sound, really it all comes down to, “But … I want what I want, when I want it and how I want it, so that makes it all okay.” Sorry, kids. It doesn’t.

You are absolutely free to make your own movie and put it out there freely accessible by all, as Nina Paley did with her film Sita Sings the Blues, which she, as the owner and creator, chose to make freely available for viewing and sharing under a Creative Commons License. The key words here are “owner and creator,” as in, she had the right to decide everyone can watch her movie for free. She, the owner. Not a film journalist who felt entitled to watch her work because he really, really wanted to watch it. So you can download and watch Sita Sings the Blues all day and night, without worrying about stealing what doesn’t belong to you. And there are probably plenty of indie filmmakers out there who would be happy to make their films freely available to you because they just care about someone, anyone who’s not their friends or family, seeing the work they created.

Unfortunately most movies are not freely available under Creative Commons or anything else. They are owned by companies, which either paid to make them or paid to buy them from the people who made them, who in turn had the right to sell their creation to the highest bidder. If it’s not easy to rent the Blu-ray version of a given film, well, too damn bad. You’re free to write the distributor and tell them you’d really like them to make this or that movie available for rental, on Blu-ray. You’re certainly free to come up with a solution yourself for how to offer such rentals to anyone else who might also have a pressing, urgent need to rent a Blu-ray of Anatomy of a Murder or Killer of Sheep right now. What you’re not free to do is blatantly steal what doesn’t belong to you, and then essentially brag about what you’re doing, thumbing your nose at the people who own what you’re stealing, and then wrap it all up in a pretty package of self-righteous indignation about how essential it is to your life and well-being that you be able to see whatever movies you want on Blu-ray, whenever you want to see them, without paying the owners of said property for that privilege.

Honestly. Reading the debate in the comments threads on both these posts is a lot like listening to a parent arguing with a two-year-old at playgroup:

PARENT: No honey, you can’t just take Tommy’s toy, it’s his.

2YO: But I WANT it! It’s mine!

PARENT: I’m sorry, you can’t have it. It doesn’t belong to you.

2YO: Why?

PARENT: Because it belongs to Tommy. It’s his. If he wants to let you play with it, he can, but you can’t just take it.

2YO: But I WANT it! It’s mine! I want it NOW! Wahhhh!



Racism: Alive and Well in America

SPOILER ALERT: Major spoiler for the film The Hunger Games contained herein. You have been duly warned, so no whining if you choose to read more.

News flash: Racism is alive and well in America.

Not that this is shocking news, I know. I may be a socialist liberal white girl living in Seattle, but I grew up in Oklahoma, where racism is much more out in the open than it is in these parts. Even here in Seattle, where we pride ourselves on our lauded diversity, we still tend to prefer most of our diversity to keep to its own neighborhoods. But hey, apparently there are people out there who are way more racist than that.

Take, for instance, this Jezebel story this morning about a Tumblr blog that’s collecting the stupid racist remarks people have been making about The Hunger Games. Specifically, apparently some people have their white sheets panties in a twist because they were shocked — in spite of it being very clear in the book that these characters have dark skin — that Rue and Thresh were, wait for it — Black. I’m not making this up: It is shocking – and offensive! – to these people that characters clearly described as dark skinned in the book would be cast with African-American actors. Or, maybe that there are any Black actors in the film at all, hard to say.
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Answers to Six Unanswered Questions About The Hunger Games

Over on, John Gholson boldly admits to being wrong in underestimating the box office potential and audience hunger for the first installment of The Hunger Games, and has some lingering questions about the story. I’m kind of with you, John, in that I was a late arrival to The Hunger Games and underestimated its popularity for the longest time. I like to keep up with what my kids are into, and sometimes I find that I also like what they like. I read (and loved) the Harry Potter series. Read the Twilight series, and liked it well enough, for what it is. Even read the True Blood series while I was recovering from surgery, and got totally absorbed in it, although I’ve never watched an episode of the series. So, The Hunger Games, I figured I could take it or leave it … until it got closer to time for the movie to come out, and my daughters really got into the books. So I finally read the first book, making it maybe 2/3 through before we went to the midnight premiere on Thursday (I just started the second book this morning).

Gholson, who has not read the books, has some unanswered questions about The Hunger Games, and since I had some perspective on answers for (most of) them, I thought I’d kick my Monday off with a response. So here you go … with a warning that there are spoilers galore within this piece. So if you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, and don’t want to know anything, go away now and come back later. If you have a different take on answers to Gholson’s questions, feel free to chime on in down below.

1. If the games come every year, why don’t all the districts prepare for them?

My read on this from the book is that only the richer districts (particularly Districts 1 and 2) select their most capable young athletes and train them to compete in the Games, and that in these districts being chosen for the games really is considered an “honor,” as opposed to the more superficial acceptance of the designation of “honor” that the poorer districts display. I’d equate this to, say, the way that the US Olympic teams in the more expensive sports (skiing and snowboarding, for example) tend to be weighted with kids who grew up in families that had the money to take kids skiing from the time they can walk. Naturally if your family lives has the resources to afford vacations like ski trips, you have a greater likelihood of becoming a champion skier. In a poor coal mining community in Appalachia (where District 12 is), people are barely scraping by a hand-to-mouth existence to just keep alive. Katniss and Gale hunt illegally to keep their families fed, and in the book it refers to it being rather commonplace for residents of District 12 to starve to death. They don’t have the resources to spend on training kids for a once-a-year competition; in District 12 the citizenry is so beaten down that they’ve come to accept that the Reaping is a mandatory sacrifice, not something that will lead to victory for the children whose names are drawn.

2. If you can volunteer for the games, as Katniss does, why wouldn’t a district have their very best competitors offer themselves up?

It’s established in the book that it’s allowable for someone to volunteer, but it’s also established that when Katniss steps up for Prim, it’s the first time in the history of the games that this has happened in District 12. The idea of sacrificing yourself to certain death isn’t a part of the moral code of the poorer districts, and there’s no competitive code either, because they expect their Tributes to lose, period. This is further established in the book in an aside about Rue, when Katniss sees this tiny girl who reminds her so of her own sister, and mourns that no one stepped up to volunteer in Rue’s place. When Katniss steps up, she’s stepping up to her own death, not to the expectation that she stands a chance of winning.

Further, while the movie makes this fairly evident, the book does make more clear the extent to which the Capitol uses the Games to punish the Districts, not only by killing two of their young people each year, but by making it mandatory that everyone watch it happen, and then rubbing salt into the wound by forcing the Districts to celebrate the slaughter of their children by honoring the winner on the Victory Tour, which always takes place at the midpoint between games. It’s part of how the government keeps its boot heel on the citizenry, and it’s also how they’ve been punishing the Districts for seven decades for the last major act of rebellion, the result of which was the complete obliteration of District 13 the establishment of the Games as both punishment and reminder of the cost of rebelling.

3. In the book, are the odds ever against Katniss?

Gholson argues that in the film, it’s made too clear that Katniss will ultimately be victorious. I could argue that this is pretty obvious at this point anyhow given that we know the book is a trilogy, but taken purely from a plot standpoint in evaluating this first film, I disagree that it’s patently obvious to either the audience or the other competitors that Katniss will be victorious. If anything, Katniss being rated an 11 by the Gamemakers – especially after the opening ceremony when all eyes were on the Girl on Fire – puts a target squarely on her, especially from the perspective of the better-trained Tributes who always expect to come in as the favorites. She knows they will be coming after her full force. Further, because Haymitch so strongly advises her to ignore the cornucopia and get away as fast as she can when the Games start, Katniss has to abandon hope of getting her hands on the bow and arrow that are her best shot at survival. She nearly perishes of dehydration before she finds water, and the Gamemaker forces her closer to her competitors by flushing her out with the fire. She does take out a few competitors with the wasp nest, but that’s clearly shown as Rue’s idea. It’s not really until Rue dies that Katniss feels angry enough to really fight hard to win, and that she accepts that she might be able win.

4. At the end of the game, what would’ve happened if Peeta and Katniss did nothing at all?

The book might do a better job of establishing this, but it’s actually Peeta, early on, who says to Katniss that there has to be a way to hold on to something of who you really are, who you were before, even in the midst of horror. He doesn’t articulate it perfectly, but what he’s getting at is the idea that true honor means knowing when to stand up and say, “No, I won’t” rather than just acquiesing. Katniss and Peeta’s clear willingness to eat the berries and die rather than killing each other is a major act of rebellion. It takes control of the game out of the hands of the Gamemaker and government, because they know the populace loves Katniss and Peeta and the first romance to have ever emerged from the Games. This poses a serious problem for the government; they don’t really want Katniss and Peeta to resonate too much with the citizenry, because they sense that popularity carries the seed of rebellion. The last thing they want or need is to create two martyrs and have no winner to parade around to the Districts. If Katniss and Peeta had just done nothing, the Gamemaker would have kept throwing things at them until one of them finally died.

There are other elements that foreshadow rebellion hinging around Katniss. The mockingjay pin she wears is a clear slap in the face of the government that Katniss gets away with only because they have to let her bring one symbolic thing from home to the Games. Katniss further rebels against the norm by singing Rue to “sleep,” by covering her body with flowers, and most of all, by acknowledging her death to the people of Rue’s district, District 11, when she gives the three fingered salute to them over the cameras she knows are on her, knowing the government will not turn the cameras away from a moment of death. The people returning this salute to Katniss further foreshadows that Katniss is the emotional center of a coming rebellion. The berries are just the final rebellion that Katniss acts out during the games. It’s her “screw you” to the government that would force her to kill her friend, this boy who loves her, for the sake of their entertainment and oppression.

5. Why are only youth selected for the games?

The book makes it clearer that the Games are set up to lottery draw from the Districts’ population of children because there’s nothing worse you could possibly do to a parent than force them to give up their child to death without a fight. What better way to oppress your citizenry and show them they have no control over their lives than this? Kind of like how slave masters in the old South would callously sell of the children of their slaves, and there was nothing the parents could do about it. In the book, it’s also more clearly posited that the Games are about showing the citizens that the government controls, and always will control, your life, your death, and your future. Life, such as it is, is a gift from your beneficent government; your death, or your children’s deaths, is also controlled by their whim.

6. What’s the deal with the dogs that materialize out of nowhere?

I’m kind of with Gholson on this, as it was one of the weaker points of the book for me as well. In the book, the dogs, called “mutt-ants,” are actually mutations bearing the characteristics of the dead Tributes. There’s a Glimmer dog, a Foxface dog, even a Rue dog, all coming after Katniss, Peeta and Cato. They are created for the game, and like the fireballs they send after Katniss that burn her leg badly early on, the damage they create is very real. In the book, by the bye, Cato’s death is a much longer, more drawn-out and gory affair that goes on all night before Katniss finally ends it. By far the weakest point of both the book and the movie for me.


Review: The Hunger Games

Fans of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy should be absolutely thrilled with this faithful adaptation of the first book of the series, directed by multiple Oscar-nominee Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence — in a role that is, in many ways, not terribly far removed from her role as Ree in Winter’s Bone, for which she garnered an Oscar nom for best actress. In both stories, we have a young girl who’s been forced by life circumstance to grow up too soon, with the responsibility of keeping a younger sibling alive thrust upon her by a weak, incompetent parent. And in both stories, we have a strong female lead who has no choice but to go on a dangerous journey, a daunting mission at which she stands little chance of succeeding, while having to outsmart ruthless people who would hurt or kill her. It’s a hero story, a journey story, a coming-of-age story, all wrapped up in a political and social allegory that’s, sadly, very relevant for the times in which we find ourselves living. And as executed here, it’s completely riveting and engaging.

The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic America, reinvented out of the ashes of devastation as Panem. There is a benevolent-but-also-evil dictatorship, a “Dear Leader” of sorts in the form of Donald Sutherland as President Snow, and a Capitol that controls everything (and whose citizens revel in a life of luxury, fine foods and fashion courtesy of the work of the citizens of the outlying Districts). There are 12 Districts, each of which is responsible for producing goods for a singular area. You’ve got your districts for Agriculture, Luxury Items, Fishing, Technology … and then there’s District 12, Coal, the poorest and most remote of the districts (its geographical area is somewhere in Appalachia). At some point, we learn through some relatively brief exposition, there was rebellion amongst the districts, a little class warfare, as it were. One might even say, an uprising of the 99% of this fictitious world; but that uprising was shot down when the Capitol ruthlessly brought the 12 districts in line, and completely obliterated the 13th along with all its citizenry, as an example of what happens when you rebel against Donald Sutherland.

But people are slow to learn and quick to forget, and so the Capitol came up with this fabulous idea to keep the boot-heel of the Capitol firmly on the throats of its citizenry: The Hunger Games, a yearly ritual in which each district, in a Lottery-inspired ceremony called The Reaping, must offer up one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 as “Tributes,” who are then forced to battle to the death until only one is left. It’s quite an honor. To make things even more sadistic, young people are “allowed” to put their name in the lottery draw more times in exchange for a year’s supply of grain and oil for themselves and family members. It’s a gamble: a year’s supply of grain to keep you from starving to death, in exchange for an increased possibility of almost certain death in the Hunger Games arena. And of course, it’s the poorer segments of the populace who must put themselves at greater risk by signing up for this little bonus, and the children of the Capitol are immune from the Reaping and see it all as a fun game (you know, kind of like how almost no one in Congress actually has children of their own fighting in the wars that they like to declare on other countries).
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Dear RNC: Please Stay Out of My Ladyparts. Thanks.

I’ve been talking to various friends over the last few weeks, trying to figure out exactly when and where this apparent Republican war on women has its roots. This has to have been going on for a while, in subtler ways, even though it feels very much like it sprung out of nowhere in full bloom. I don’t think more than a day has gone by lately that there haven’t been at least a couple posts in my Twitter and Facebook feeds about a Republican politician saying something that’s blatantly misogynistic, or yet another bullshit piece of legislation aimed at controlling women and their ladyparts. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so goddamned serious. I, for one, am getting awfully tired of old Republican men crawling all up in my vagina. If I didn’t invite you there, you don’t belong there.

My home state of Oklahoma passed a version of personhood legislation, which officially makes the Oklahoma legislature more stupid than …. well, than all the states that have shot down this legislation. If you are a liberal, a feminist, a supporter of the right of women to control their own bodies and their own lives, the personhood movement should scare the shit out of you. So should every single item on MoveOn’s list of Top Ten Republican Attacks on Women.

It baffles me that any woman would be a member of the Republican party at this particularly dark point in its history. I don’t care what your fiscal politics are, or if you think Obama care is Socialism (it is, but that’s not a bad thing to everyone, kids). If you are a woman and you are a Republican, if you are out there supporting Santorum or Romney or Gingrich, and most especially if you are, God forbid, a female politician drafting or supporting or voting in favor of anti-woman legislation, it is time for the rest of us to stand up and say: You are being a traitor and a disgrace to your gender. Period. We’re just past the point where we can be nice about it.

Look, I get the emotion behind the anti-abortion stance. There was a time in my life when I, raised Catholic as I was, aligned myself with the pro-life movement. When I was in the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature in college, believe it or not, I authored and supported pro-life legislation. But sometime in the years right after college, around the time I got divorced and left Oklahoma, my views underwent a major shift. I’m not sure I can pinpoint what caused that shift, but certainly many of the conversations and debates I had over abortion legislation with liberal friends back in those college days had an influence. My personal views on abortion didn’t change; it would still take something really extreme for me to consider having one myself. But what I came to realize is that I can hold that value for myself, but that I can’t make that decision for another woman. And I don’t want anyone else making it for me.

To control the access of women to abortion and birth control is to reduce the worth of women to nothing more than incubators. It’s more than just a slippery slope, it’s an avalanche. You know how you stay in power when you’re afraid of a large chunk of society opposing your views? You dehumanize them, you legislate away their self worth. In Nazi Germany, they did this by chipping away at the rights of Jews a drip, drip, drip at a time — a curfew here, a law about who could sell to a Jew or buy from a Jew there, a gold star here, taking away property rights there, a ghetto here, a train to Auschwitz there. Those Nazis sure knew how to dehumanize an entire race of people, but more importantly, they knew how to numb the populace to the horrors they were perpetrating: by committing those horrors a bit at a time, and then by fear.

We’ve been sitting back, jaws agape, while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow express our outrage. But where is our collective outrage? Where is the outrage that drove the suffragists, who fought for the right we have to vote these assholes out of power? Where is the outrage that drove our mothers and grandmothers to burn their bras, to march for equal rights and equal pay (which, AHEM, we still do not have)? Women need to be uniting here. Organizing marches. Protesting. Occupying, even. If we don’t all stand together to protect the rights of women in this country, if we allow the Republican party to control this conversation and pass laws that shackle over half our population, we really are headed to hell in a handbasket.


Disney Out $200 Million on John Carter? Zing.

Here’s the story over on Reuters.

$184 MILLION box office and still $200 MILLION in the red. That is fucking insane, people. I liked John Carter, a lot, and completely disagree that it was hard to follow. My eight-year-old followed it just fine and he’s certainly not familiar with the source material. The marketing was ambiguous at best. The title was boring. Leaving the title as “Princess of Mars” probably would have made it seem inherently more interesting, although Disney would probably have drawn the ire of smart-ass, overly sensitive women like myself for calling it “Princess of Mars” — even if that was the original title — when it’s really about a man saving a woman. But whatever. “Princess of Mars” sounds like it has stuff happening. A princess in peril, a civilization — nay, a world! — in dire need of an unlikely hero! Whereas “John Carter” sounds like your boring, closeted gay uncle who likes to talk about his insect collection and has tufts of hair growing out his ears and fidgets with his change in his pants pockets incessantly.

But the reported $250 million budget boggles the mind, does it not? I get that it’s all relative, and so long as you make a profit and not a $200 million loss no one really cares. But man. You could make a lot of indie films, if you had that much money to put into a trust fund, and dole out a few films at a time. Yowza.

Random Thoughts from a Haze of Busy-ness

I’ve been a bit AWOL this week, not because I don’t like you, but because I’ve just been way too busy for my own good.

I’ve hit one of those life crossroads where there are suddenly a great many different paths to take, and you can see with greater clarity than usual what the possible consequences and outcomes of each choice might be, but that doesn’t necessarily help you make decisions. It’s all laid out for you like a fieldstone stepping path through an enormous garden, where this path might take you to beautiful roses that will cut you with their thorns, or that path might reveal something rich to harvest if you’re just persistent enough to hack though the weeds to get there. Or maybe you’ll just choke in the weeds and not get anywhere at all. I’ve been in this place in my life several times before and it’s just never my favorite state of introspection to be in. But on the plus side, I’d have to say most of the major life choices I’ve made when faced with such a crossroads have worked out pretty well, at least for a while.
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Finger Wagging

All of these sternly worded emails about the Hunger Games screenings in my inbox this week are simultaneously amusing and annoying. You MUST sign a review embargo agreement! You MUST NOT bring your cell phone to the screening! You MUST sign over your first-born son for us to sacrifice to the fickle Box Office Gods (okay, that one I made up, but tell me someone hasn’t thought of that).

Seriously, people. It’s The Hunger Games. A movie. Adapted from a book targeted at the YA market. Not the Ark of the Covenant or a state secret that could potentially threaten national security. Probably the studio spent too much money making it, and yes, they have a lot riding on its financial success. And certainly, some people breaking embargo on films generally has threatened the studios and created these situations that infantilize working press who are just trying to do their jobs, but the studios also feed that, do they not, by creating these situations where they’re sternly wagging a finger at some press, while freely granting embargo breaking to others. Same shit different day, I know. Some days it just grates more than others. And kinda makes me care a lot less about whether I review a particular film or not.

Review: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

Every now and then, I’ll watch a movie that really strikes a chord in me for one reason or another. This is one of those times, so bear with me a bit, will you?

One night when I was in ninth grade I was sleeping over with my best friend Monica, and she reverently pulled from her fairly impressive collection of LPs this Throbbing Gristle album she’d gotten from God-knows-where. This was Oklahoma circa 1982, it’s not like we were in growing up in a hot-bed of alternative music and culture. Maybe she stole it from her ex-stepdad, a very nice hippy-artsy type who smoked a lot of pot and was into art and weird music and anti-nuclear protests and nudist camps.

However Monica came to have Throbbing Gristle’s Greatest Hits LP in her possession that fall of our freshman year, we had it, and we dug it. We’d never heard anything like it, all this noise and dissonance and screeching, but also beauty; every song sounded different, and none of them sounded anything like the music our parents listened to, or the Top 40 music they played on KJ103, the bubblegum station favored by the preppy set at the Catholic high school. We were both starting to get very interested in matters of sex, drugs and rock and roll, though up to that point we’d only dipped our toes in the pool, so to speak. But 1982, now, that was the year we started pursuing matters more seriously.

Monica, who was already into reading the serious kind of books I hadn’t yet begun to really consider, had recently turned me on to Naked Lunch and Howl, and while I hadn’t quite wrapped my spinning brain around them, we both got it firmly in our heads that year that being a serious artist required experimentation with drugs and sex (not that I disagree with that even now, but at the time it was a novel concept to me …). We lived in a conservative place, although my brother and I grew up thinking everyone’s house smelled like pot and incense, and Monica’s mom and step-dad took her to nudist camps and protests for women’s rights and against nuclear anything. Perhaps being exposed to things a little outside the mainstream contributed to us being so immediately open and accepting of ideas around altered states and sexuality and gender identity. And once we latched onto exploring those ideas, we were hooked. We needed experiences. We were deep thinkers. We had big feelings.

You know how it is when you’re 14.

Monica and I liked Throbbing Gristle for the same reason we started listening to bands like the Sex Pistols and the Butthole Surfers: because their names alone sounded like something that would get you in trouble, and their music was pretty much guaranteed to make your adults say, “What the hell is THAT?” I mean, I liked Velvet Underground and the Beatles, but my parents did too, so there was no shock value, no differentiation to be found there. But Throbbing Gristle, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, they had serious parent-stressing potential. We also got very into David Bowie and Alice Cooper, and it wasn’t long before we agreed that all these albums would sound even cooler with the help of a mind-altering substance or two. Clearly, that was what the artists would have wanted, how they intended their music to be experienced. So we tried that out, and hey, whaddya know, we liked that even better. Eventually, we moved on to Rocky Horror and got really heavily into Pink Floyd and acid trips and mushrooms, and Throbbing Gristle became less a part of our regular soundtrack. Teenagers are fickle creatures.

All this came back to me the other day when I watched a screener of The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a documentary in which director Marie Losier explores the relationship between the industrial music pioneer Genesis P-Orridge (one-fourth of Throbbing Gristle) and his longtime partner in life and art, Jaye Breyer (otherwise known as Lady Jaye), who passed away in 2007. Losier skillfully interweaves photographs, home movies, interviews and footage of performances in painting this intimate portrait of Genesis, who grew up a picked-on outsider and became a rebel with a serious cause, and his/her ladylove.

It would have been easy for Losier to make a documentary focusing on the contributions of Genesis to industrial music and performance art, but she chose instead to tell the story of Genesis through the story of his/her marriage and long-term artistic partnership with Lady Jaye. The resulting film is a remarkably intimate exploration of the relationship between Genesis and Lady Jaye, whose most important performance art project together involved the pair of them delving into pandrogeny, a concept that involves a man and woman shedding away their physical (and especially gender-based) differences to merge themselves into something that’s essentially one being. Toward that end, the pair embarked on a series of surgeries, culminating in breast implant surgery on the same day, to make themselves look more and more alike. Seeing Genesis and Lady Jaye together, it’s impossible not to get how consuming and complete their love for each other was, and it’s fascinating to watch these pioneering artists explore through their own bodies and lives the artistic and philosophical concepts they espoused.

Talk about living your work.

Losier uses her film about these experimental artists as an experimental art form itself, pulling in bits and pieces from here and there, weaving in this bit of archival footage of a sound check before a show, that clip of Genesis in drag and a Hitler mustache, this bit of handheld of Genesis and Lady Jaye hanging out, with interviews with Genesis reminiscing about Lady Jaye and a life spent on the fringes of society, challenging the status quo. Genesis is proud of this body of work, and he/she should be. How many people can legitimately claim to be one of the founders of an entire genre of music, an influence on the work of the artists like Trent Reznor, and to have palled around with the likes of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin?

But the heart of the story, which Losier never loses sight of, is the relationship Genesis and Lady Jaye had with each other. How rare is it to see a film – any film – that explores the idea of a relationship between a man and a woman that’s so deeply rooted in mutual respect and equality and trust? Losier intimately captures the heart of this remarkable pair of artists, and it’s fascinating to watch the way her roving, hand-held camera work and unconventional editing mirror the film’s subjects.

Monica committed suicide a two years after we first listened to that Throbbing Gristle album, and never had the chance to fulfill her own artistic ambitions. It’s too bad, because I think she would have done something amazingly cool with her life, if she’d lived it. But I’m grateful to Marie Losier for making this film that so intimately explores Genesis and Lady Jaye, and for stirring inside me that dormant memory of lying on the shag carpet in my best friend’s bedroom, getting my first taste of industrial music, when I was at the very beginning of starting to think about whether I might be brave enough to be an artist of some sort myself some day.

Review: John Carter

The rather mundane title of John Carter belies the epic scale of this enjoyable, pulpy cacophony of heroic adventure, war and romance. Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) off a script co-written by Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, the film follows Civil War-era former Confederate Captain John Carter as he gets magically transported from a mysterious cave to Mars, where he’s first a prisoner and then a hero. The script was adapted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 serial that eventually, post-Tarzan-success, became the book Princess of Mars, arguably one of the most influential pieces of popular fiction ever written, at least in terms of the scope and breadth of its lasting influence on science fiction and fantasy.

As such, there are familiar elements within the frames of this film reminiscent of everything from Star Wars to The Princess Bride to The Neverending Story to Somewhere in Time, from classic Westerns to Avatar to Braveheart to Mars Needs Moms. The question is whether that’s just because all those films (and more) were so strongly influenced by Princess of Mars to begin with, or because this John Carter has in turn been influenced by the way in which those films built on Burrough’s ideas. (As an aside, we can all agree to just pretend the atrocious 2009 Princess of Mars starring Traci Lords just never happened, right? Right.) I’d argue probably a little of both, though I’m not sure any of that really matters in terms of how much you’re likely to enjoy John Carter for what it is.

It’s not a perfect film, but there’s a solid, classic story structure here that does a good job of breaking down a great many players and a somewhat complicated plot into a mostly digestible two-plus hours of fun and action. There is a lot going on here, but honestly, I didn’t find it so complicated that I couldn’t keep up with what was going on most of the time, and my eight-year-old son, who attended the screening with me, kept up with everything and was utterly enthralled from start to finish. The script takes a lot of information and smartly breaks it down with (relatively) minimal exposition and a good deal of action, which is pretty much what you want from a fun, pulpy adventure story about a hero who finds himself on an alien planet that turns out to be not so very different from the Old West on Earth he left behind.
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SXSW Pick: Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine

I don’t run a lot of posters and clips here, for big studio films at least, but every now and again a pitch will catch my interest. In this case, it was an email about Amy Seimetz’s feature film directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, which is having its world premiere at SXSW. Seimetz, of course, starred in Megan Griffith’s The Off Hours, a well-received feature that debuted at Sundance in 2011. And I’m on kind of a mission to support and write about female filmmakers right now, in anticipation of both another Cannes and another awards season that will be dismally bereft of female directors, writers and producers. Also, it stars Kate Lyn Sheil, who was in both The Color Wheel and Green last year. These two, along with Sophia Takal (director of Green) are perched to be strong female voices on the indie film scene.

Clip to the film is after the jump.
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On Kirk Cameron, the Religious Right, and Our Future

The other day I posted this CNN video of former Growing Pains actor Kirk Cameron, who’s now a grown-up, well-spoken, fundamentalist Christian evangelist, and it’s stirred up a bit of a heated discussion. I said when I posted the link to that piece on Twitter that Cameron is dangerous, Roger Ebert retweeted it (thanks as always, Roger) and that spurred some interesting comments from the Christian side, folks who aren’t necessarily regular readers around here. And it’s been an interesting discussion, but the whole issue of the fundamentalist perspective on homosexuality, and the impact the religious right has on the future rights of both the LGBT community and women’s rights, deserves more serious discussion.

First, to clarify, when I said that Cameron is “kind of dangerous” on Twitter, I absolutely meant that. He’s not dangerous in the sense that I think he’d personally go out and beat up someone who’s gay that he saw walking down the street, but he is the kind of dangerous that has the potential to incite others to act on their own passionate feelings. He’s not the kind of guy who’d tell people to go out and commit hate crimes, but I bet he could rouse his fanbase to get to the polls on election day. And he’s “dangerous” to those of us who hold to a more liberal perspective, for a number of reasons, some of which I already articulated in the comments of the previous post, and some of which I’ll go into a little more here.
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Movie Heckling 101

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via Alison Wilmore

Oh, Kirk.

What’s scary is that when you listen to Kirk Cameron speak, you can see how people predisposed to a certain mindset would listen to him and think what he says is perfectly reasonable. Guys like Kirk Cameron are, in their way, as bad as guys like Santorum is, or Rush Limbaugh is, or Andrew Breitbart was. Actually, maybe worse, because a guy like Cameron, who talks in a calm sort of way and just defends his position, and who actually makes the occasional valid point, as he does when he makes the point that everyone has a set of moral values against which they judge things, and that the other side does the same thing they accuse the religious right of doing, encourages people to listen to him and agree with him. He seems so innocuous and reasonable, right?

He’s absolutely right on that point, of course. Everyone’s entitled to their beliefs. It becomes an issue when people’s personal moral beliefs become a part of controlling the right of other people to live their lives according to their own values, which is what the religious right wants to do. They don’t want to just be free to live their lives the way they want to, they want to control how you live YOUR life, too, to force you to live (outwardly at least) in the way that makes THEM comfortable, which is where I call bullshit.

It’s kind of like in Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything, where the people of Krikkit went to war with, well, everyone who wasn’t from Krikkit, because they couldn’t handle that there was a whole universe out there that wasn’t THEM, for 2,000 years. They were a peaceful, happy people, except when they were brutally killing everyone else. Of course, they were being manipulated the whole time by an intelligence named Hactar, the intelligent remains — the soul, if you will — of a computer built for the purpose of designing a weapon that would destroy the Universe.

In the book, the entire planet of Krikkit and all its occupants were locked in an envelope of Slo-Time in perpetuity until the rest of the Universe died, at which time they would be freed to live out their solitary existence with people who were all like them. Unfortunately, the envelope of Slo-Time option doesn’t work for us because that doesn’t exist, which means we all need to get a little mindful, a little Zen, as it were, of the rights of other people who aren’t like us to exist and live the way they want. Peaceful coexistence. You worship your God your way, and I won’t interfere, so long as “your way” doesn’t involve killing me or mine or trampling all over our right to live our way.

We attend a Unitarian Universalist church, and my husband and I co-lead the middle school youth group there. When people ask me what Unitarianism is, I tell them that I can only say what my own understanding of UU is, which is that it’s not so much a faith as it is a group of people of common moral and social values coming together to fill needs for companionship, commiseration, and activism in support of those shared values. For me, faith is what I have that’s mine alone, between me and whatever higher power I believe exists, whereas “church” is where I go for fellowship and to live some of those values by giving back in working with youth.

I believe absolutely that Kirk Cameron has the same right to hold to his own set of moral values as I have to hold to mine. He’s certainly not an idiot, in spite of the propensity of some of my outspoken atheist friends to assume that a person who holds to any type of faith must be intellectually inferior. He strikes me as probably being a really good dad who loves his kids and spends time with his kids, and who, if his kid came out as gay, would genuinely and lovingly try to help his kid see that making a “choice” to act on his gay feelings would be to act against God, and what he should really do is just push that aside, deny who he really is, get married, and raise up a quiver full of kids. And I believe that Kirk Cameron would believe, most sincerely and deeply, that he was saying these things to his child from a place of love, and of trying to help his child steer a Godly course through life that will preserve the salvation of his eternal soul. If you really believe that the Bible is God’s word, and that we are called upon to obey it, and you really believe that God made a mistake in creating some people gay and wants them to deny how He made them, then it makes perfect sense that you would do all that you could to save your child from making a choice that you believed would condemn their eternal soul to burn in a lake of fire, does it not?

I don’t happen to believe those things myself. I have dealt, as a parent, with losing a close friendship with a Christian family whose kids were all good friends with my kids when my daughter Neve came out as a lesbian last year. I listened to my friend telling me that she and her husband did not want their daughters coming to my home anymore, because Neve was a lesbian and might try to do lesbian things to them or recruit them into the lesbian brigade or something, and also because she was interested in paganism and wicca. And apparently those things could potentially open a portal to Hell in my daughter’s bedroom closet or something. Who knew?


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon