Friday, July 22, 2005

The Doctor... Is In


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Don't Phunk with My Ph.D.

All right, y'all, sorry for the si longue absence, but we're back to Zero Hour, and I've been revising, extending, reordering, copy-editing, and even retitling this dissertation to suit the needs of my committee and get ready for Dissertation Defense 2.0, which is supposed to go down tomorrow at 3:00. We're up to 332 pages now. I swear to you, the only things this dissertation doesn't have at this point are a kitchen sink, a brand new bag, and a Scientology chaperone.

Loyal readers—and y'all really are loyal, if you're hanging in there through the Bad Period surrounding this dissertation defense... anyway, loyal readers know that funny things can happen on the way to a defense, so I'm just taking it on faith that I'm not going to get another dyspeptic 1:00 phone call. The air is weirdly quiet, like when the soldiers draw up to the shore of Guadalcanal at the beginning of The Thin Red Line. Is this a good or a bad thing? Nick can pick flicks, but his Dissertation 'Dar is not always, as we have seen, in perfect working order.

In fact, the only place it isn't really quiet right now is in my apartment, where Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" has sort of emerged as the official Dissertation Defense Theme Song – especially since, after the June episode, I really have been around this track a few times, and it's not just gonna happen like that again. Nick's rolling into the defense with a little bit of 'tude, I have to admit. I mean, this baby is not perfect: a little baggy, a little overwritten, stuff that could go here instead of there, etc. But as someone once said:

"I want to dance, I want to win, I want that trophy"

And as someone else once said, pardon my discourse, but
This Shit Is Bananas! [B-A-N-A-N-A-S!]

So, let's rock. Let's roll. I'll report in tomorrow night.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Gothic Nightmares

Ever hear the one about the deranged movie star who clung with Apollonian vanity to the fading vestiges of stardom, imprisoning a tender young up-and-comer in a desperate final bid to win back a fickle public?

If you haven't, you can hear it now. Twice. First, Glenn Close has signed to reprise her role as Norma Desmond in a film musical of Sunset Boulevard. The musical, of course, was based on one of the greatest American movies of all time, though considering the adaptation is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I have a feeling that it is not one of the greatest American musicals of all time. True, Norma's signature track, number, "As Though We Never Said Goodbye," is pretty enough, and Glenn's performance at the Tonys in 1995 was memorable. I love Glenn. I'm excited that she's been crawling back into the spotlight with the current arthouse release Heights, even though I'll be stunned if the movie is better than mediocre.

Perhaps, however, someone can explain to me how Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman have both signed on as co-stars? Assuming the musical is reasonably close to the film, I can't think of who the second younger man could be....

Meanwhile, also ready for their closeups are the increasingly ghoulish Tom Cruise, his zombie betrothed, and her "Scientology chaperone." Whaaa?? The indomitable Safire tipped her readers off to this hot-off-the-press W Magazine interview with the brainwashed ingénue itself. I swear, the photo you see at left is a still from the W photo spread, not from the upcoming Tim Burton animated opus The Corpse Bride. Seriously. I wouldn't lie about this.

How did Katie Holmes go so quickly from being the interesting upstart making smart, durable choices—Go, Wonder Boys, The Ice Storm—into this empty-headed vessel of pre-teen bubble-gum babble? How is anyone gon' sign up for a "religion" in which it is a recognized practice for the most devoted worshippers to commit themselves to the church for a period of a billion years? Seriously, read the article.

TomKat is more than a celebrity flare-up. It is genuinely grotesque, a real-life invasion of the body snatchers, except that "real life" doesn't really seem to play into it, anywhere. I continue to maintain that Tom Cruise is not gay, and I had George Michael pegged back in the days of Faith, so listen up, scouts. The 'dar is not pinging. Actually, that pinging sound you keep hearing is just the echo that results when a gust of air blows into Tom Cruise's ear.

So that is the big state secret: Tom Cruise isn't gay, he's just monumentally cocooned inside a narcissistic mental matrix of his own making, and now he has kickstarted the solenoids inside his greatest creation, a woman who says nothing except "I love you, Tom," in the manner of a parrot...which, come to think of it, was the same manner in which Katie delivered her performance in Batman Begins. Maybe that's the secret nature of their blood pact: she won't tell anyone that he's crazy like a platypus, and he won't fess up that she, under all the makeup, is not a humanoid at all, but a trained bird.

If Tom® and Katie™ want to go make sweet, naïve, plasticine, new-money, mumbo-jumbo, Mattel-style love under the polestar of L. Ron Hubbard, then let them have at it. But so long as they're chilling in outer space, could they send us back one of those cool memory-wipers from Men in Black? I'm trying to forget that I ever took either of them seriously. And as for the future, Katie, when you pen your Little Girl Lost tell-all book about how you just had, like, no. idea. what it would feel like to have the whole Cruise® PR Machine crashing down on your every move, shadowing every flick of your diamond jewelry and every maniacal cackle emitted by your daddy-substitute, I. am. not. buying. it.

I don't even think this relationship is a "hoax," per se. I think it's what happens when dumb people fall in love, loudly, in front of microphones. It doesn't even count as a fatal attraction, or a dangerous liaison, and it's more than a reversal of fortune, and more than a big chill. To use the only Glenn Close title that applies in this context, this is what it looks like when Mars attacks. Or, to plunder Katie's own filmography, this is straight-up Disturbing Behavior.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Your Perfect Post-G8 Film Rental

One of the best movies I saw in all of 2004, and easily one of the most extraordinary documentaries I have ever watched, was Flora M'mbugu-Schelling's 1992 film These Hands. Africa and its struggling economies have recently received an uncharacteristic boost in the attention of global media, but now that the G-8 conference and the Live 8 panoply have both come and gone, I can't help but wonder how long this well-intentioned media campaign will survive. If you're trying to keep learning, keep considering, keep caring about African poverty, no document has ever made a more lasting impression on me than this one did.

Combining the class consciousness of Harlan County U.S.A. with the expressive minimalism of Night and Fog, These Hands is a 45-minute movie that lacks any whiff of exposition for the first 35 of those minutes. All you are watching are huddles of women sitting or crouching in the open sun, orbiting rubble-piles of fist-sized stones and using tiny hammers and chisels to break them down into smaller and smaller shards. This, ladies and gents, is how construction-grade gravel is produced. M'mbugu-Schelling, the film's German-Tanzanian director, doesn't resort to any aestheticizing tricks, and she doesn't intrude any leering overseer or flagrant abuse into the scene. She needn't: the pure fact of this hard form of labor speaks for itself. These Hands is weirdly fascinating—the montage suggests, quite rightly, the tedium of the work, but it's smartly edited to prevent that tedium from dulling our own sensitivity or our intellectual responses to what we are watching. But what are we watching? Again, the spectacle is so foreign and yet so self-evident that it compels our rapt attention, but we can't help wondering about contexts and backgrounds.

With 10 or 15 minutes to spare, These Hands drops a pretty big bomb, as one of the toiling women puts down her hammer and begins a remarkably jubilant dance on top of the stone pile. Her fellow workers begin clapping hands and singing along with her gyrations, and this continues, uninterrupted, for several beats. No one comes to bother the women; nothing further explains this sudden swerve in tone. Eventually, having gotten whatever it was out of their system, the dancer and the singers resume their tasks. A quick worker's meal is had. The work continues, and the end of the day draws nearer.

At the literal last minute, These Hands rolls its first expository captions. These women, it turns out, are self-employed; this is not a labor farm or a rock plantation, per se. The quarrying they perform by hand pays roughly $6/week, and this salary, like the autonomous working conditions, counts as an enticing extravagance to workers, many of them refugees, who would be hard-pressed to find any better deal. In fact, the film implies, for Tanzanian women and Mozambiquean refugees this deal is pretty good. Could there be a more heartbreaking truth, and could it be delivered with more rigor, less sentiment, greater clarity than These Hands achieves? The yakkety-yakking and back-patting of the G-8 crowd suddenly comes into focus, as does, miraculously, an entire economic order—perhaps the hardest thing in the world to evoke within an image, but Flora M'mbugu-Schelling does it.

If you're curious to see These Hands, and I hope you are, you'll definitely want to visit the absolutely priceless trove of African and African-American film and video art at California Newsreel. I've got a leg up because my university library and the progressive library in my town both carry several titles apiece, but consider ordering some copies for yourself, your school, or your organization. (On a much more chipper but still politically illuminating note, Djibril Diop Mambéty's The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun is an absolute charmer.)

African movies, like African hunger, African poverty, African medicine, African politics, African genocides, and African everything, get next to no attention in this country; when they do, the scale of the continent's crises is rendered so vast that you wonder where to even start. Here is a place to start. Here, here, and here are places to continue.

Photo © 1992 California Newsreel. Though this still from the film has been rendered in black & white, the film itself is in color.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Nice 'n' Smooth

While banging out the final revisions to my last dissertation chapter, the one about lesbian and "apparitional lesbian" cinema, I had an inexplicable, utterly atypical urge to visit a local organic health-foods store. You do the math. I am now a happy little FlickPicker, having discovered the easiest drink in the world that is also totally delicious:

1 C. carrot juice
1 C. Lemon Ginger Echinacea juice
2 small, ripe bananas, chopped up

Blend all that together, which is enough to make 3 or 4 glasses of this juice. It's best, of course, if the juices are already chilled before you blend them. (As for Lemon Ginger Echinacea juice, I didn't remotely believe my recipe book that this is a totally customary, off-the-shelf juice buy, but there it was, literally as described. Go figger.)

Here's the best part, though: grate 1 Tbs. bittersweet chocolate shavings on top of the juice, after you've poured it. If you're a kitchen type, even at the minor-league level, you need a $12 MicroPlane zester. Among the best buys I ever made: grate your own fresh cheese, fresh lemon & citrus zest, your own chocolate shavings, perfect for baking, drink flavoring, or making dinner look pretty on your plate.

This is about the best you can do for non-alcoholic summer drinking by the side of the glittering pool laptop. If you're really good to me and come help me pack my apartment and move, or you visit me in Hartford after I've arrived, I might let you in on my Bourbon Slush and white chocolate martini recipes.

And by the way, speaking of nice 'n' smooth (and, well, speaking of apparitional lesbians), the blog entry on Missy Elliott's The Cookbook has been delayed, because the album is too hot to minimize with a dashed-off capsule entry. Suffice it to say that "Irresistible Delicious," Missy's duet with Slick Rick (!!!) is an instant classic of the Missy canon, and my new Summer '05 theme song. But more on this to follow.