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First uploaded March 1, 2020
Updated August 18, 2020 with entry #7
PICKS OF THE MONTH
February 2020 Picks
1 (Art fairs, Curating)
one of the social media teaser ads for the 3rd Kamias Triennial
The 3rd Kamias Triennial.
It's a smart thing to continue to operate your third triennial event from and with home galleries if you're running it simultaneous to the giant ArtFair Philippines in the Makati CBD in order to provide an argument against, or to offer an alternative to, the more moneyed gallery associations' overarching influence on the Philippines' art culture.
And so, this year's Kamias Triennial festival, titled Sawsawan: Conversations in the Dirty Kitchen, did just that, running from 7-22 February. Filipino-Canadian artist-founder Patrick Cruz and friends (including Canadian curator Su-Ying Lee and curator Allison Collins) titled it so to reflect their likening their ideal for art consumption to people's food consumption and appreciation, referencing Filipino cultural writer Doreen Fernandez's consideration of the sawsawan (dipping sauces) as "representative of a cultural ethos of sharing labour, authorship and power." The inclusion of the "dirty kitchen" image in that same title alludes to the Philippine outdoor kitchen as a place "where the foundational, but sometimes messy task of cooking is done."
The home galleries-based festival was composed of exhibitions, performances, film and video screenings, discussions, and tours, with all events offered for free and open to the public. Again, as against ArtFair Philippines' limited tickets.
Click here to read our earlier prompt for the festival. Then click here to read Public Parking's interview with the festival's curators, conducted by Luther Konadu. Then click here for critic Lena Cobangbang's journal notes on the festival events. Finally, click here to see the festival website, and here to see the event's Facebook page.
2 (Television documentary)
a sequence from "Africa," the 7th episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet
select sequences from "Africa," the seventh and last episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet, the 2019 BBC series now on DVD.
Although carrying multiple agendas that could perhaps have been curated in another way, Netflix's Our Planet (released 5 April last year) was probably still the best nature documentary of 2019. BBC (i.e., BBC Natural History Unit, in cooperation with BBC Studios, BBC America, and then with ZDF, France Tťlťvisions, Tencent Penguin Pictures, and CCTV 9) likely felt they had to release their own similar production, also with Sir David Attenborough as the talent on the presentor's chair, and surprised us with Seven Worlds, One Planet, launched in the same year (on 27 October). Like Our Planet, this latter series would also have a complex brew of agendas, but this time divided into seven-continent chapters instead of themed ones, thus the series title.
Seven Worlds, One Planet has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray, with episode 1 launched on Amazon Prime last January 18. The sixth episode was released on Prime just this 22nd of February, simultaneous to the series' premiere on BBC America.
We'd recommend you watch all of the episodes, of course, wherever you can access them, just as we'd recommend you watch the entire Our Planet series. But we'd like to focus here a bit on this seventh episode of Seven Worlds, titled "Africa," released on Prime only today (29 Feb in the US, 1 March in the Philippines). Perhaps you could say that our favorite sequences in the series are here:
Aided, of course, by the writing and direction of Giles Badger, the music of Hans Zimmer and Jacob Shea, and the work of the six-man editing crew, the first of these favored sequences is that one with the cheetahs, starting at 15:38 and lasting up to 22:29. Using the latest HD cameras (multiple ones) with the best zoom lenses and the best dolly and drone equipment the crew of 11 photographers could bring, this sequence is quite an action one. But apart from the aesthetics of the action and the high definition photography, there's actually another thing here that might pique your allegory-identifying interest: as the narration reveals, cheetahs seem to have formed an unusual alliance recently. The group of five seen here "is one of the largest ever recorded" (BBC Earth would later release an alliance of 8 on YouTube). "Two sets of brothers and a lead male," continues the narration, "they've now hunted together for the last three years." Which should say a lot about the cheetah's ability to adapt to likely lean times, don't you think?
Most visceral to us is the sequence that starts at 25:53, which is an almost-exploration into the question of which animal species will be the last one standing in a near future of a more drought-stricken hot southern Africa. Drama-wise, there are some tremendous shots of the landscape as well as of the animals here, especially those with the hyena, looking very much as if the animals are actors that took their cues from the director.
At 42:05, the topic moves to elephant tusk ivory- and rhinoceros horn-poaching. Attenborough would later appear here beside the last two females of a rhino subspecies to drive home a tragic point. . . . Then there's the narration about pangolins poached for their meat and scales, the latter used in Chinese traditional medicine. Incidentally, only this February Medical News Today announced that a 99% match was found between the coronavirus found in pangolins and the 2019-nCov.
By 47:04, the episode's topic has transitioned to other extinction cases and conservation and protection efforts. But come 49:03, the episode closes with a self-gazing take on how difficult it has been for the on-location crew, especially during the shoot of a deep jungle sequence on gorillas that would soon have this crew enveloped by mosquitoes and ants that would force them to retreat to an elevated resting hut just outside the jungle. In the morning, while watching an elephant go near a body of water, the crew hear gunshots and decide to evacuate, nervously, to a far camp. After reaching the camp one of the female crew members had this to say to the camera: "It's the remoteness of these parts that there's been no picture that's been recorded in the last 20 years. So this is a really significant moment. And it's a really sad moment because it means that . . . as it becomes less and less remote, the animals are in more and more danger."
Quite an ominous story it is these sequences tell, if you have the ability to think beyond the present.
"Mind & Body" - Applegatarian series
"Pig" - Applegatarian series
"Meat & Veggies" - Applegatarian series
"Sustainable Farming" - Applegatarian series
"Self-Destruct" - Applegatarian series
"Types of 'Tarians" - Applegatarian series
Applegatarian, Terri & Sandy's TV ad series for Applegate Farms' Applegate brand.
The new TV ad series for the American "natural, organic, and clean" meat product brand Applegate (produced by Applegate Farms), created by Terri & Sandy, grants the brand's image a new clean treatment. Released this month, the series of 15-seconders sports 1950s to '60s minimalist Pop Art graphics and design to bring home that clean hard-edge look that we mentioned, all for a message of trendy cleanness. Trendy, we say, as this may also be paying tribute to a lot of animation being used on YouTube short documentary videos, such as those by Vox, that come up with some similar-looking visual communication designs for optimal accessibility in order to spread knowledge about academic topics that people of average education urgently need to know more about.
Of course, some may want to know more about how clean, natural, or organic Applegate's products really are, but that would already be for an advertorial (or manufacturer-sponsored documentary), or otherwise an investigative report, to address.
There would be no need for a semanticist or semiotician, however, to know what the first ad about appetite, titled "Mind & Body," means by its use of the word "clean." There may be confusion with the visual of a fat tummy that might have other people reading "clean" there as meaning "fat-reduced" instead of truly clean, but thankfully the series as a whole is clear about the brand's agenda, however quickly it is delivered via a mere glimpse of that brand slogan below the brand's logo. That slogan might lead readers to google the brand itself. The agenda of the series is to push the brand message from the products brief that seems to point to such memory bites as "a cleaner wiener without chemical nitrates and artificial preservatives" or "humanely-raised bacon that aims to produce positive enjoyment" (hooray to the Humane Slaughter Act!).
And since this overall message does try to sound progressive enough, again primarily through the brand's slogan under the logo , why not raise a flag, too, for pansexuality? In "Meat & Veggies," it does just that while it tries to promote a burger blend blending beef (from grass-fed cattle or turkey) and mushrooms.
The claim of sustainable and regenerative agriculture for the Applegate brand is key, as it aims to address consumption that's "good for the soul," as it were. That point is carried by both the Applegate hotdog and the Applegate burger product ads, officially titled "Sustainable Farming" and "Self-Destruct" respectively. For while hotdog is associated with pork, which is less controversial among green progressives than beef, hamburgers are often from beef, just as the brand's Blend Burger is. But if, with the latter product, one can lessen the beef by blending it with mushrooms, as we said, one's environmental sin might be lessened, footprint-wise. That's not being vegetarian to be 100% environmentalist, but it at least meets beef-eaters halfway, which is probably what one can do at the moment while we still await Greta Thunberg's and the rising sea level's domination of the hourly news. As for pig lovers who are also bacon lovers, portrayed in "Pig," Applegate comforts them with the applegatarian position still available for further occupancy.
Then there's the ad in the series that tries to enter that very word, "applegatarian," into the vegan dictionary, by placing it after two words referring to two semi-vegetarian practices. Tough luck, that one, but the effort does maybe count.
4 (Animated series)
Screenshot from "Angela": Netflix
BoJack Horseman Season 6, the Netflix series' final season, returned last January 31 after the holiday break, promptly surprising us again, as always, notably with episode 14, officially titled "Angela," written by supervising producer-writer Shauna McGarry.
In the episode previous to this written by Amy Schwartz, BoJack Horseman was "exposed" by Hollywood entertainment reporters as a drug addict whose power over people around him was somehow responsible for co-Horsin' Around star Sarah Lynn's death by heroin overdose, as well as a sex addict who has exploited women acquaintances and friends and hurt them (and their families) emotionally in the process. Quite a hit this exposť should be in the decade of #MeToo. . . . This "revelation" would lead people to "cancel" BoJack out and judge him wherever he goes, even bring a "victim" of his to ask for a multimillion dollar settlement. This latter would usher in BoJack's status decline, with him ending up selling his house and restaurant and running out of liquid money and settling for a starring job in a seedy film.
In "Angela," BoJack (Will Arnett) receives an unlikely call from the network hosting Horsin' Around, specifically network executive Angela Diaz (Anjelica Huston), who initially seemed like someone who might rescue BoJack from his current situation (the angel Angela/Anjelica, right?). This expectation would disappoint BoJack when he discovers that she is only after his signature, for which, in return, the network (ABC) would give him money that he presently badly needs―the network would like to edit out all of his appearances in Horsin' Around so that its entire material can be transformed into 8-minute episodes ("perfect for today's ADD-addled youth"). The show shall then be re-titled as simply Around, in emulation of supposedly how the producers of The Cosby Show got rid of discredited comedian Bill Cosby's name and presence in the series, renaming that one simply The Show. :D
We would recall that, in season 1 episode 8, it was Angela in the '90s, as Horsin' Around's chief executive producer, who was tasked with approaching BoJack to pressure him into refraining from supporting Herb Kazazz (Stanley Tucci), Horsin' Around's creator and writer, in case the network decides to let go of Kazazz and Kazazz asks BoJack to quit the show with him. Supposedly, the network had already decided to fire Kazazz after his having been outed by the media as gay. Herb was BoJack's friend who brought BoJack into the show to become its lead star. Herb never forgave BoJack's betrayal after the latter was offered by the network a role in an upcoming movie about his idol and dad, eponymously titled Secretariat, and threatened with the killing of his own career.
Angela would return for the first time in present time this season, in the episode we're currently talking about, and the episode was named after her. A flashback to the '90s, particularly to that day of Kazazz's firing, it opens quite appropriately with men in ABC's elevator laughing over someone's sexist joke laden with anti-fat bias. Angela enters the elevator, sending us the message that she, a woman in a man's world and possibly an immigrant, was already quite a presence in this network's toxic atmosphere; no, in this industry's toxic atmosphere. One of the men refers to her as the president of ABC and the men in the elevator as the board.
Ironically enough, BoJack is later told in the present by Angela herself that she has a 40-year-old woman companion.
Then again, maybe that is not so ironic. For also in the present, after BoJack agreed to sign the paper releasing himself from the show, Angela reveals that her speech in the '90s threatening BoJack with a dead career was a bluff. Her job would have been on the line if BoJack left the show, implying that had BoJack decided to stand by Kazazz, the network would have yielded (this means that the network might have consequently defended Kazazz in the media or simply given him a long leave with pay).
So, Angela is truly quite the angel in the episode, then. Our angel, at least, giving us (the audience) angel lessons. Telling BoJack this, as well as the fact that he wasn't exactly left without a choice during that day, has led us to think that maybe it was this betrayal of his that started his life of guilt and gave him a deadened heart that would find it easy to perpetrate those other sins (Vulture thinks so), inclusive of all the hurtful words that came out of his mouth that decorated all of his dialogues in BH. Fortunately for BoJack, though, Angela has the soul to admit that she and him are the same (oh, a companion!).
While all the other main characters of BH seem in this episode to be at a turning point―moving toward better lives (even Diane [Alison Brie], who's moving to Democrat Houston in Republican Texas, about which move she jokes that it'd be hard to get an abortion then)―, it seems that BoJack's hell is the one only starting to get worse, if it hasn't gotten worse already.
Fret not, fellow fans. There's one more episode after "Angela" before the Raphael Bob-Waksberg-created series' final one. You're sure to find out what resolution or redemption could happen around and to such a guilty antihero of a persona as BoJack Horseman after a final unraveling of his damaged persona's manifestations. We suspect, however, that it's not so much poetic justice that's coming for him as a chamber music of love that might make him feel comforted inside, being an antihero, as we said, and not a villain, in case you've forgotten there's a difference.
After all, in the era of Donald Trumps and William Barrs, BoJack, for all his pitiable ugliness as another sort of very stable genius, is not one of these invulnerable Donalds and Williams of our time, each of whom has no socially redeeming value. In fact, for all their (innocent) hubris and/or weaknesses or defects, many of the various characters in the cruel industry (and American neighborhoods) portrayed in BH have all a part in them that still renders them loveable/huggable. Some people will still cry when they die.
Loveable/huggable in a way that a king of whatever once-republican-now-monarchist party can never ever be. Unless, perhaps, that king gets locked up, too, for a serving of that poetic justice we mentioned. Because, after that, you know people. People have short memories, as Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) puts it in the final episode of this final season. It's the best and worst thing about people.
The cover for Babehoven's third EP Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height
Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height is Babehoven's third EP self-released 7 February on Bandcamp and CD Baby.
Recorded in Vermont with sound artist, recording/mixing engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Albert at Albert's family garage, it was co-produced by Albert and Maya Bon (Babehoven), with the two practically collaborating on everything else from instrumentation to album artwork. For the mastering, they hired Greg Obis of Chicago Mastering Service.
According to Babehoven in her album notes, "This EP is an attempt to externalize a period of time within my body and mind. Grief, loss, love, and the search for self-acceptance are key themes in my writing. Pairing pain with humor, I attempt to make light of the often brutal aspects of life."
So, what the now-Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter has come up with here is actually a sort of poetic diary, a personal nikki bungaku, containing stuff that are laments but actually more. More, because they're more like sad idylls with humor, or black-comic pastoral elegies ringing alarm bells on a dying (if not already dead) relationship that, nevertheless, she still finds worth crying about now for the sake of some kind of revivification tomorrow. But while this may not sound unique among all the other ever-self-flagellating sadcore products that came out on the new-releases shelves of recent months, Demonstrating does more than make you feel utterly sad, it also works as an allegory and then as inspirational book for our times of destruction and power trips.
First off, the album title. Which already raises as metaphor the usual setup wherein the guy in a relationship would be taller than the girl, if not in physical height, then in money and power. In that setup, the girl would always end up trying to catch up, or trying to take care of the mundane mess (while the guy reads the daily news), forgotten like an old bric-ŗ-brac.
Babehoven records the emotional decay in her house through details of humdrum: what she's feeling now towards this hair on top of her head or that difference in height or that new pair of shorts. But these everyday objects would become metaphors, as we said, for more global systems as she inserts here and there such lines as "What narcissistic treat, as the world is depleted" or "The world's on fire, I'll leave the light on."
Tragicomedy is also inserted into the picture here and there, perhaps to give a signal that she's still sane, via verses like "Maybe they like me tired. / I can do that for them. / When my eyes cross, / I'd feel so lost / If I keep it in."
Like in many a lo-fi sadcore, Babehoven's singing here is stony, glazed over sweet guitar riffs and limp drums. Let's go through the five tracks:
The opener, "Only So," moves from being a song of defeat and hopelessness and regret to being one of resolve to either go away ("There's only so much destruction I can take") or go on and try to start things all over for the sake of the family ("Though I have it down, maybe you'll see how much I'm broken. / I want you back; I want my family around me").
"Confident and Kind," meanwhile, looks back to a time, only a year ago, when she liked to stare up at him looking 7 feet tall, the way he looks now standing on a wall. She is trying new shorts today, for the first time, feeling confident and cute and kind. Noticed some other things about herself this day, too, and then she goes to the salon to treat herself and restore her health, but soon feels guilty about it. All this makes her feel like she doesn't know her body, ". . . like I am just nobody / Unless I have some silky soft hair down my back."
Then comes "Asshole," which is a pretty double-edged sword of a song. Sure it narrates a scene where there's been a reconciliation and some sex, and she feels sorry for being an asshole, for being such a dick in many a morning, and now jokes about seeing his asshole. But then the song goes on to sing about the mess in the room, and though she tries to convince herself she's there "to motivate / Some movement / And some play," soon what comes to the fore is her wishing she could just "sing it all away, / A sorry every day, / Keep them coming, I can't feel anything anyway." This is our cue. The dude's an asshole.
"Maybe I'm Bitter" may be making a maybe out of one's feelings, but all the verses actually paint a realization. "Your toes touching your head, your limbs wrapped around, open spread. / I thought that I liked it, / But, Iím realizing, maybe I donít. / You might not notice, / Seems like Iíll always stick around, / But this dog bites me, / I donít think he likes me, / I think that he doesnít like me." Then again, realization is perhaps overstating it, because what Babehoven is painting here is maybe a kind of female stupidity in relationships that keeps coming back, like the ones she describes so: "Maybe Iím bitter. / Maybe Iím meant to be insane. / I canít pack my suitcase, / I feel like thereís cotton in my brain. / Maybe Iím dreaming, / Maybe Iíll go to sleep again."
"Close Behind" furthers this portrait of stupidity, swinging between saying she's had it with this guy and putting on the brakes, saying "Somehow I can tell you can feel it well, you can feel me loving you. / I want you to, I want you too." In the end, the surrender to the myth about their oneness ("seeing your face in me") wins, and she sings: "Iíve been banging round, but I want nothing more, / I would like nothing more than to be waiting, right. / You keep me right, you keep me close behind. / I could never lie to you, I could never lie."
Behind the dulcet overall tone, Demonstrating has a weightiness to it, evidenced by Babehovenís singing suddenly turning febrile here and there, seeming to sound an alarm, as we said. The album may be a diary that's recording a feeling of confinement, but its mission definitely has not entirely been trounced. A revivification of some kind, concerning new laws about relationships, may still be possible. Thanks to testimonies like this.
After Class official trailer
After Class on DVD.
After Class is now on DVD, launched this month, following its theatrical release in the US December 6 last year. Writer-director Daniel Schechter's oeuvre portraying a bevy of complex relationships of constant conflict, After Class pivots from the person of Josh Cohn (astoundingly played by Justin Long), a 38-year-old adjunct professor of creative writing at a New York university. We're not talking about romantic relationships here, although there are those too, but equally of filial, professional, social, even political ones.
In these relationships, there is constant dysfunction, composed of mundane arguments as well as wedge issues that never let up. The arguments here may either be embedded inside intents to joke around or have pretty serious pronouncements/announcements in them. And if it's seriousness (serious to the person making the statement), it would either be quickly denied by its carrier or simply fail at getting to the head of its receiver. It seems that everyone here wants to be listened to well, understood well, even while no one is really interested in stopping to listen, really listen. And often one is made to feel ashamed about pressing on and be so serious.
The squabbles here would range from clashes with family members over, say, how one talks or acts or what one said . . . to political conflicts over, say, one's well-meaning innovation in a class that may have acted as a trauma trigger to one receiver of the same innovative gesture or lecture.
The script also hints that certain paraphilias may be a byproduct of this systemic failing. Josh himself has a sexual relationship with an Italian nanny who, like him, likes rough sex (BDSM, etc.). Their difference is she doesn't like commitment while he would like to cuddle and kiss sometimes. Is Schechter proposing here the difference between European and American needs from relationships today?
What we have here is too heavy a stuff for dramedy, but it still gets that dramedy treatment, the reason perhaps why it doesn't threaten to have the effect of a film that might cause a rally. But the social tension makes the dramedy mixture here more drama than comedy; in effect, at least. Meanwhile, it is both Josh's good intentions and honesty that keep us on his side, along with his cluelessness about the right thing to do to resolve the crises that come his way, most notably concerning that student complaint about his forcing another student to be truthful about a masturbation scene the latter had fictionalized, the trauma triggering act that we mentioned above.
As we said, everyone here is focused on his/her rights as the offended party. The film almost becomes a critique on political correctness and of liberal dictators who like to hijack conversations, so much so that it's almost a thesis on the bipartisan role of microagression. But, soon, it also pooh-poohs advocates of a reverse discrimination theory who want Josh to join their Internet group against the snowflakes of the school.
Towards the complaint against him, Josh is defensive for the most part of the film, until later. But although people around him have advised him about a personal apology that would certainly make things go away fast, clear the air, so to speak, almost everyone in this film is actually defensive too. They may not be defensive now while they're not yet being attacked, but that doesn't mean that their formulaic or legalese approaches to life, like the dean's associate's attitude towards Josh, wouldn't make them so at the slightest contestation of their conventional wisdom.
The family tension (around Josh's divorced parents, a "too liberal" sister, a conservative brother, a dying beloved grandma, a complex mother, a father who had distanced himself along with his hate-rich new wife and equally hate-filled new young son, etc.) does signal possibilities of a family resolution every now and then, simply perhaps because it's family. That environment of potentials, however filled of debates, softens the social politics that forever shake the other side of the film's story.
But here's the thing: you as a viewer may find the yelling or semi-yelling or on-the-verge-of-yelling (or even just the irritating lack of seriousness in each one) quite tiring, to the point that you may even already wish the protagonist would just pick up a bottle and smash it now on the head of his brother or his dean's assistant or another antagonist. The movie's main protagonists don't go that way, however, thank god; this is not a Scorsese movie, after all. But it's that absence of violence that actually makes the narrative environment here just more tensive, because it denies us both catharsis and the satisfaction of a crime.
There must be resolution at the end of this, though. And sure enough there is. But even there, what we are given is a semi-resolution left to us to complete or extend, towards either a worsening or happier end beyond the film's end.
Is this Schechter's answer to David Mamet's Oleanna? We don't know. But it's definitely got one of those best cast ensemble acting of the year, so good that it brings out what we'd like to think is the main intent of the film, which is to dramatize societal interactions wherein one must needs be more professor-like or academic in one's articulations of one's thoughts as well as of the true meaning behind those articulations, lest they be misunderstood. In fact, during that scene where the student and Josh finally have their confrontation in front of the dean and her assistant, the student articulates her position in a language more academic than what we'd been hearing from Josh throughout the film. Unless Schechter wants to portray the student as one of those social science heads.
After the clarifications and the apology, the student still decides not to return to Josh's class. But we can't really be sure about that, can we? Unless all we care about are the words we hear.
7 (Documentary film)
The official trailer for Miss Americana
Filmmaker Lana Wilson's Miss Americana is, of course, about Taylor Swift, that all-American pop superstar of the 2000s-present. Oops, did we just say "all-American"? That's a highly contentious hyphenated word nowadays in light of its associations as a colloquialism with racism, white nationalism, and the dangerous optimism of American exceptionalism.
But that's precisely what the documentary (produced by Morgan Neville, Caitrin Rogers, and Christine O'Malley) examines. It looks at Swift's entire career up to the film's present (the present where she's writing with Alex Somers), beginning with her start as a symbol of the happy WASP girl, a creature from a proud 1950s poster of the American dream, launching her vocation by singing the US national anthem at a baseball game played by Latinos or a football game mostly played by African-Americans. Of course the documentary would soon become an Americana by itself, an artifact examining through Emily Topper's camera a pop icon that quickly evolves into a victim of America's complex culture of contradictions.
The evolution begins with her coming face to face with one of America's brew of symbolic problematics, in this case an African-American male from hip hop culture who flaunts a kind of reverse racism towards her representation as a blonde country pop element during an MTV Video Music Awards presentation. The ironic thing is that while this African-American representation, in the person of Kanye West, came up onstage to protest Swift's win at the 2009 awards event over another black female star named Beyoncť, which symbolically looked like a comment on Swift's image as an all-American middle class hieroglyph overshadowing the presence of a rising black feminist in pop music, West would later deliver misogynistic statements about Swift at a concert of his, egging on his audience to shout "fuck Taylor Swift."
The documentary doesn't anymore go to other controversies involving West, since this isn't about him, controversies such as the rap star's signing on to the MAGA camp after Trump's win and ultimately gaslighting the entire civil rights cause itself. But the documentary need not go there, because the audience can connect things on their own. Here's the funny thing: this blonde girl who would very much be a welcome image on Fox News becomes a constant target of that channel, and the black now-full-on Republican rapper and his reverse racism towards Swift would be hugged by the white nationalists of Trump's side of America. That is why Swift's life is being treated as a museum piece worthy of study by this Americana of a film about the messed-up culture of imperial white "America".
Here's one sweet part to this whole cinematic presentation, however. Whilst the film ignores how West became such a flip-flopping political ignoramus beloved by his anti-truth neo-Nazi allies in the Republican camp, it highlights (thanks to the scissors of the five-man editing team that includes Ms. Lindsay Utz) every statement of clear-headedness from Swift, never mind if it wouldn't always be as eloquent-sounding as her studied lyrics. While West may have been doing all those things that he did for the gift of controversy brought upon a male star via the economics of populist branding, Swift did hers with bravery towards the threats brought on by controversy upon female figures of the "entertainment" industry. We doubt that West hasn't heard of that John and Yoko song yet titled "Woman Is the Nigger of the World," but an unequally-educated people for a market would likely have a majority leaning towards acceptance of sexism and misogyny, and a controversy-fed product like West would find it easy to pretend that that song doesn't exist in order to get that majority's idolatry.
So, this, finally, is a film about womanhood in America, about how it is to be a female star there even in the present, also fighting it out with practitioners of sexual assault who can't be threatened in court even by a celebrity. A female star also fighting it out with another weird presence, anti-feminist female politicians that number a lot in this country. This film is one fine portrait of how fucked-up America has always been behind the WASP-ish happy image of its historical, political, scientific and technological triumphs.
8 (Television comedy)
Trailer for "Insufficient Praise"
Curb Your Enthusiasm season 10's fifth episode, titled "Insufficient Praise" (written by Larry David and Jeff Schaffer), came out on HBO February 16. It displays CYE's concept brilliance once again as a well of wit, helped along by the show's actors' and guest actors' continuously perfectly-working retroscripts.
Now, while CYE involves itself with the particulars of American daily social life as material for comedy, it also functions quite well as a nervous laugh over creator-writer-actor Larry David's fictive character's troubles with certain social norms and beliefs. We do laugh with the jokes, but many come out as black comedy lines also, even as parodies or a mockery, and such occurrences abound in "Insufficient Praise."
The episode's title mainly pertains to guest actor Clive Owens' unnatural grief concerning his not-so-applauded one-man play and acting in it. This alone comes out as quite a take already on spoiled entertainment industry actors (and pretenders), which rings beautifully in our era of thin-skinned narcissists in both show business and politics.
Then there's Larry's urinal work of genius for his upcoming coffeehouse, which however is criticized by his assistant Leon (J. B. Smoove), who has implied that its design somewhat excludes people with longer johnsons.
Larry himself is threatened by a potential lack of sufficient praise in the near future, given that Ted Danson has just bought into Mocha Joe's, the competition. A treatment on big business against small business? We'd like to think so.
Meanwhile, while Larry displays no qualms about Miller v. California, he has a hang-up with the use of a sex doll that has been sent to him as a prank. It seems that Larry (along with the mailman who delivered the doll, his estranged wife, Ted Danson, and then his Latin-American Catholic housekeeper) regards sex doll ownership as shameful, probably because to him this is already a surrender to the possibility that one's person is already having insufficient praise from women. This shame is not shared by Leon, who is a black person in a white neighborhood. Anyway, Larry ends up giving the doll to elderly Uncle Moke who's into porn.
At a lunch with pretentious friend Richard (Richard Lewis) and his new girlfriend, Carol (Isla Fisher), Larry ends up giving Carol his mother's mink stole, but it would turn out that he was simply fleeced into giving the stole to her during her crying episode about her mother who supposedly died trying to retrieve her own stole that fell into a railway track. Larry would only realize he had been fleeced (as were minks, get it?) when he learns Carol is a professional crier. Still, it would be Larry who would later suggest to Clive Owens' handler Jeff (Jeff Garlin) the employment of Carol in order to boost Clive The Pampered Actor's dwindling confidence.
The episode ends with this crier trying to retrieve the mink stole that she swindled from Larry after this stole gets thrown into the middle of the road where a van is speeding towards. Professional criers in the service of narcissist actors beware!
9 (Short film)
Due West's trailer
Then, check out Due West, a short film "in competition" in the All About Women category in this year's MyFrenchFilmFestival (January 16 - February 16), the festival's tenth year.
An innovation on the festival concept, MyFrenchFilmFestival is open to short films done by amateur filmmakers. These films are primarily shown via the Internet through MyFrenchFilmFestival's website, accessible to the public all over the planet, and secondarily in festival-participating movie theaters in select countries.
Due West, by Alice Duard, got our attention for the subtle statement of its effort to contribute to the #MeToo era. While it is just right to come up with something like the feature film Bombshell for approaching the subject of (even "conservative feminist") women in recent decades and the present, Due West covers a seldom-tackled angle for this purpose. Seldom tackled, perhaps because it is one which the anti-PC world might embrace as a castigation of overly-anxious liberals reactive towards good intentions. On closer inspection, however, any anti-PC, anti-liberal sentiment one would attach to the film would be short-lived, given the fact that the reasons for the father's "overreaction" to her pubescent daughter's activities with her male friend would need no explanation to the public, as this public would readily understand that reaction, reading it as nothing more than a realistic response in our times of worry. This is, after all, the age of the Internet where news (even fake news) about rape and sexual harassment travel fast, making such stories innumerable in the present compared to the number of similar stories of abuse that you can count from the past's mirage of statistics.
Above all, by entering into the All About Women competition category a pubescent character that is likely not to be abused by her oh-so-innocent male friend in the story, the film places its thematic focus on the father instead of the daughter, as we hinted above, ultimately offering a rationale for male feminism―that male feminism that many a macho stalwart, who may lack the imagination to vicariously experience a victimization of a member of his family, might find hard to understand.
Activist films like this would be deemed by others within the cause as a distraction from larger or more urgent themes and subjects, but we think that those scenes in feature-length films where there is either present or absent worry before anything in the story even happens . . . are quite big stimuli for us to judge ourselves and others in regards to the human (especially male) capacity or incapacity to imagine possibilities, whereby in the imagining there may be a vicarious experiencing of trauma. They're handy, especially in our time of recklessness rampant in current gung-ho governments. . . .
What happens in later scenes in such feature-length films, travel towards a rally for progressivist feminist legislation or otherwise vigilantist calls (remember Lipstick?), belong to an entirely different discussion.
10 (Television comedy, Philosophy)
Clip from "Whenever You're Ready," the 13th and final episode of the final season of The Good Place
"Whenever You're Ready".
The Good Place is a comedy. It's also actually a pop take on metaphysics as well as religious concepts concerning the beyond, punishment, measures of goodness, and so on. It actually borders on parody, or mockery if you will, beyond being a mere exploration of these concepts.
It's just a comedy, you say, and the series' eponymous The Good Place looks very much like a well-off, uptown American gated community that can't possibly be mocking anything. Well, yeah, sure. But the issues it jokes around and elliptically mocks are actually issues in this place as school, as the Good Place also looks like a clean school ground for the now-well-off. And over these issues, people have actually been murdered throughout earth's history.
There is 1) the human aspiration for reaching God or the godhead, which we can all relate to, and then there's 2) the idea about what and how God is, even the idea about what God would want you to kill another man for, which we've all been arguing over these past centuries. Those are two entirely different things, things which actually decide an earthling's survival at the hands of a religious fanatic or user of religion for power. So, regardless where these are tackled, a slum or a clean neighborhood in the beyond, they allude to real thoughts going on everywhere on this planet today.
Besides, bear in mind that The Good Place is trying to tackle these issues head-on not in front of religious authorities in Afghanistan or Kansas (with whom a discussion would usually be pointless) but with the very "people" in the beyond itself, or at least in what religious writings would purport to be how the beyond looks like, populated by angels and demons and judges and so on who know the real truth beyond the reach of any Christian Right element claiming to have been possessed by the Holy Spirit.
As TGP's finale episode, added to Amazon Prime on 30 January, "Whenever You're Ready" puts us face to face with the biggest religious concept of them all―the questionable idea of "eternal happiness." Written and directed by Michael Schur himself, the Jewish creator of the series, sure it takes the concept literally, but perhaps also to challenge us to come up with a non-literal reading of that concept that would be believable enough to survive the series' writers' pool's questioning.
In the end, the episode resolves that problematic with a seemingly philosophical Taoist view that goes beyond any idea of a good place, one where human conceptions mustn't try to reach, because they can't, not yet at least. You see, if there is something to be learned from the philosophical Taoist-like position that this final episode seems to be alluding to, it is this: that the greatest sin a human being can commit is the sin of simplifying God and the beyond too much to make them fit into one's conception of It and That.
That said, it would seem that today's world populace is not yet ready to face the Truth, it being so content with dwelling on the religious arrogance of its own various truths. Dude, there is no good place or bad place beyond the event horizons. There is only a puzzle we cannot claim to really know the truths behind, unless we are eager to commit now the mortal sin of either Taliban- or MAGA-like simplifications, punishable by . . .
"Give Blood to Give Time" (American Red Cross)
The American Red Cross and American Cancer Society's "Give Blood to Give Time" TV ad via BBDO.
Expressionists, gather 'round. The American Red Cross' and American Cancer Society's communications concerning cancer patients and blood donation, conceptualized with BBDO, would have it in black and white. Yes, in order to provide opportunity for the only colored object in a transfusion shot to shine. Must also largely be a cinemagraph or video snapshot kind of thing accompanied by melancholic music, right? Yes. As with the black and white idea, to evoke life and life struggles as a collection of photographs, of memories. Motion photography here and there, wherever it's best with it, though, yes? Yes. As with the abovementioned blood-transfusion realist color, to show the real motion of an ingoing flow.
12 (Political cartoon)
"Mask over the eyes" political cartoon by Matt Davies for Newsday.
"Under Control," cover illustration by Brian Stauffer for The New Yorker magazine, March 2020.
Hong Kong-based artist Eric Chow's February 4 Instagram satire post.
Matt Davies' "mask over the eyes" political cartoon for Newsday, Brian Stauffer's cover illustration for The New Yorker titled "Under Control," Hong Kong-based artist Eric Chow's "When the chief of @WHO praised China..." satire post on Instagram, and Michael Cavna's The Washington Post report about the three artworks.
To illustrate the White House response to what the media and health organizations describe as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic threat, Newsday political cartoonist Matt Davies and The New Yorker contributor Brian Stauffer both came up with this idea of placing a now-common sight, the surgical mask, on Donald Trump's face. Not on his mouth and nose, mind you, but on his eyes. Hong Kong-based artist Eric Chow actually did a similar thing earlier in February, albeit on WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' eyes and on social media, satirizing Ghebreyesus' praise of China's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. To understand the story behind those spot-on artworks, in case you don't know already, read Michael Cavna's report about them in The Washington Post.
[March 3 addendum: For those who still have no clear idea what the first two artworks on Trump are alluding to, you may additionally watch this video or this. Additionally, the end result of such a Christian Right-backed anti-science stance would be something like this.]
13 (Installation art)
Alfred Marasigan with Rhoy. Drag. 2020. metal on textile. 84" x 98"
detail of the piece
Revisiting that Alfred Marasigan Inertia show at Altro Mondo Creative Space before its February 9 last day of display, we got to take a second look at the artist's curtain piece which he put up in collaboration with Rhoy. Titled Drag, the piece was essentially made of four curtains with a Philippine Army camouflage pattern, the likes of which you could probably get at fabric-and-curtain-selling stalls in various marketplaces of the country. The curtains in Drag covered a fictive window 98-inch wide and 84-inch high, actually one of the transparent-and-frosted-glass part of the north wall of the second-floor room of the gallery where Inertia was.
A curtain cord held the left-most half of the curtain, but instead of the usual fabric rope Marasigan used a metal chain for his cord.
So, given the military imagery of the installation, everything in the interior-design-alluding composition was transformed from being a piece of design and decoration into a statement of machismo or military strength. The chain here, therefore, could not merely be said to have held the leftmost curtain aside; it would be more proper to say it was dragged aside. (Might it also mean something that the curtain dragged aside was the "left"-most curtain, to refer perhaps to the dragging of the Left to the side? Or, conversely, that this metal chain at the left [of the Left] has dragged aside an Army curtain aside?)
It must be noted that the camouflage is meant to hide a percentage of its wearer's visibility within a green and brown jungle or similarly-colored landscape. That context is totally reversed here, since the window is a hole on a wall made so that a person on this side of the wall can see what's outside the same, what's behind the wall. Thus, if there was supposed to be a green and brown jungle or similarly-colored landscape outside of Drag's fictive window, then we could say that the viewer inside the room with these curtains was being prevented from seeing much of that vegetation outside, or, say, much of camouflage-wearing soldiers present outside. The window as a "blinded vision," then.
Then again, we might be reminded that a window is also a hole usually made on a wall to let light from outside come in. If so, then the fictive window might actually be turned into a symbol for a source of enlightenment. Historical enlightenment, perhaps, from where the once-hidden atrocities of the past come to light. Especially if what one would see outside this fictive window is not at all a green and brown jungle or similarly-colored landscape but something very, very white.
True, interior design is not exactly limited to "soft" design and themes, having in its lexicon things like the industrial look or products of distressing, and so on and so forth. But though one might wonder if the chain in Drag can be made to fit into the industrial look of a certain design, there is still no escaping the original context of the military camouflage, whether this is worn on the fashion ramp by a haute couture model or used as a curtain for a country vegetation-emulating room. The best of interior designers can try. But we suspect that all liberating contexts one might assign to the pattern would still end up dragging the senses back to where the pattern has always belonged.
One of four print ads for Farnham Ale & Lager released this month.
"A bit bitter #4," one of four A bit bitter print ads made by Lg2 for Canada's Farnham Ale & Lager.
One of the bitterest products of the rift between the vocal/engaged elements of the millennial generation and baby boomers who are throwing the former red herrings for their arguments, red herrings that may vehemently gaslight even some millennials' most innocent or sincere points for a certain direction or other, . . . just found its way into a print ad co-made by ad agency Lg2 with Canadian client Farnham Ale & Lager.
When used as a retort to many boomers' tendency to pull out of an argument via a fallacy in the classic manner of an Internet troll, the "Ok Boomer" sneer can be spot on. It says, if you don't want to recognize the validity or intelligence of my arguments qua argument, no matter how ignorant they may be of certain factors as per your knowledge's assessment, then I'll return the favor and spit on your continuing presence, disrespecting your importance or voice to this issue, sir/ma'am. Phew! That would certainly be a bit bitter! Not necessarily bad, nor something someone out there aged 58 or more wouldn't deserve.
(Note: our editor is a 1961 Boomer, our publisher a Gen Xer, both of whom have tasted how bitter a glass of Farnham can be.)
15 (Short film)
Fantasia (Fantasy) by Teemu Nikki from It's Alive on Vimeo.
Thanks to It's Alive's uploading of a digital file of it, the 2016 Finnish short film Fantasia (Fantasy) by Teemu Nikki, embedded here, can already be watched for free via Vimeo.
37 Seconds' official trailer with English subtitles
Launched just this 31 January on Netflix a year since it won the Audience Award at last year's Berlin International Film Festival, 37 Seconds (written and directed by Hikari) was shown in the film's own country, Japan, only this February 7. [WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS CONTAIN SPOILERS]
The film has a different kind of take on the social model of disability. Yuma, an aspiring young manga comics talent with cerebral palsy, seems to be feeding the fake fame of her pretty cousin. Able to go outside and ride the bus with the aid of a wheelchair, thanks to Japan's disability-considerate culture, Yuma (Mei Kayama) is a symbol of ability: she shows here an ability to separate herself from her parasite cousin and seek her own fame by approaching her cousin's publisher and calling other publishers as well, finally showing up in one for an interview; an ability (albeit from a courage that's a result of her innocence) to seek experience from strangers after this last publisher or editor (Yuka Itaya), who happens to primarily produce hentai material, told her to seek sexual experience first and then return; a courage to run away from home; a persistent/determined personality that would bring her to Thailand to see her twin sister; and, finally, the courage to initiate affectionate gestures with her mom during a reconciliation scene.
It's also a story about "normal" people's own disabilities, questioning their real competence within society's usual ableism: it tells us about Yuma's talentless cousin who's claiming Yuma's talent as hers; about Yuma's mother who, it turns out, was disabled from keeping her marriage when she put all of her attention on young Yuma, and then later was also disabled from getting custody of Yuma's twin sister when her husband went away; Yuma's free-spirited father who, despite his desire, couldn't get himself to visit Yuma; the gigolo who was later unable to get it up; the prostitute and her disabled client's driver who would both later help Yuma (prostitutes are often disabled by their state from finding other jobs, the same with chauffeurs); and her twin sister, who also couldn't muster the courage to visit Yuma back in Japan.
But if audiences would applaud Yuma's abilities, they would do well to also do a standing ovation on the abilities of some of these same characters we mentioned: her mother's ability to raise Yuma on her own and to be patient with her up to the present; her free-spirited father's small courage to always send her postcards, which would be the device that would enable Yuma to look for him later; the prostitute's and her disabled client's driver's ability of personality to help Yuma all the way without asking for anything in return, especially when Yuma ran away from home, and then to also tell Yuma to call her mother; the driver's ability of heart to accompany Yuma in her quest to see her father and, later, to rural Thailand in Yuma's desire to see her twin sister; and, finally, Yuma's twin sister's last-minute found ability to muster the courage to tell Yuma about her fears, a simple change that would signal a likely happy ending beyond the film's end.
Now, while other films on disabled characters would concoct a more obvious situation of heroism in order to make the statement that even disabled elements of our ableist society can make heroic acts, 37 Seconds tells of a simple but large 37-second "heroics" of sacrifice that Yuma already gave someone at the very, very beginning.
Parasite's official trailer
Parasite on DVD.
We missed this film when it showed here in a few Philippine theaters middle of August last year. So we got a sigh of relief when this 2019 Palme d'Or- and 2020 Oscars Best Picture-winning film, by auteur Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host, Memories of Murder), was finally released on DVD and Blu-ray this 28 January.
So, you ask, what do we have to say about it?
Well, . . . indeed it's a story with a riot of a concept, and on the whole puts forward the 20th-21st-century problematic called class conflict through a family's deed that appears both criminal and revolutionary. Director Bong (who co-wrote the script with Han Jin-won) pushes the film's narrative not only through usual anecdote-telling but also via the allegory. He makes something out of the city's stairs leading up or going down the city's hills, the recurrent flooding in the city's lower parts, the poor's affinity with both superstition and loan sharks, and so on.
The film doesn't always make the symbols clear, however―the unhappiness of driver Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) with the disgust towards the smell of homeless or poor people by wealthy Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), the same disgust that led the former to stab the latter during a peak scene, could have used a little more foregrounding and repetition. However, in sum, Parasite churns out a hell of a social realist story that proceeds from the springboard of a realistic fantasy, surprisingly achieving a perfect parable about the possible and the impossible.
In the end, the impossibility of the poor's ever winning is what wins, as it almost always does in social realist stories that tries to solicit society's (sublime) anger. But what Bong's film ultimately arrives at in the end is a challenge for creating other possibilities around the impossibilities mandated by the social structures of the status quo―a challenge for viewers to come up with their own plans, then, for upending their own parasitism.
[Best to watch the DVD in either a house similar to any one of those featured in The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, a bunker, or a hut in the slums.] [d]
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