26 February 2012

My daughter is on TV

I'll go into a little background here, because the story's emblematic of how information gets pushed around in 2012. 

 My son saw a post by my daughter on the timeline of her friend's Facebook. Her friend is a smart ass who, with my daughter, tried to foist a few Situationist schemes on their high school. Smart kid, as well as a smart ass. 

Anyway, I look at the clip my daughter posted. It's on YouTube, in a section where young teens do a self-shot video asking the world if they're pretty. Within me, buried not too deeply, is the hardwiring of a Latin patriarch. So, for a split second, I was overwhelmed with shame and horror and immediately wanted to lock her away. With the nuns, perhaps. But only for a fraction of a second. Then I realized it was some take, some joke, some meta-play on the theme of "Am I Pretty." particularly because of the context -- she'd posted it on her wise guy pal's page. Then I experienced a burst of paternal pride. I'm glad she can see through the dome the media likes to construct, and that she can manipulate a meme.

Next, her clip shows up as an illustration on Jezebel. For anyone who doesn't know, it's an online publication written for and by simple-minded and programmatic feminists. The writer's take on the Am I Pretty phenomenon, then, is utterly predictable: horror, outrage and a call to make these videos illegal. A typically low-grade totalitarian response. My daughter's video was chosen because it illustrates the writer's thesis in a backwards way. 

My daughter is objectively and certifiably pretty -- something which both astounds me and worries me as her father (see Latin patriarch hardwiring above). So the tacit theme is: if even pretty girls are doing this, then what hell the poor ugly ones must be going through. Jezebel is read by many young ambitious women on the make. One of them read the article, saw the clip and passed it along to the czars of the Today show. They contacted my daughter. They must have been in a warm sweat, with a story that combines elements of teenage sex, girls, narcissism, easy righteousness and concern, all in a single spicy stew. My daughter, easy on the eyes, would be a much better interview subject that an actual plain girl, eliciting both sympathy and incomprehension.

Even though she was tempted to take the Situationist prank to a whole new level, she decided to tell the truth about her age and motivations. It was an art piece, created as a project dealing with the same themes as the media wanted to deal with, but in a more nuanced way. 

Of course, the producers lost interest. They want an innocent to feed up to the cameras, not someone who is in control of the narrative. But then the local newspaper became interested. The Today Show had gone with the story about Am I Pretty videos. The Kansas City Star found a new, local angle: An art student who's work investigated the theme. IN the meanwhile, her video appeared on television stations around the country and during a montage on the Today Show itself. YouTube viewers left comments spanning the range from encouragement, praise and the usual fucked up foulness. (I only read a few; my daughter isn't reading them, but collecting them as part of the work.) 

 The local TV station, clued in by the newspaper, sent its interviewers over, and that's the end of the story. It all happened over a few days. Friends have asked me how I feel about it. I'm proud of her work, and it's an insightful way of cracking the problem open, or, at least, examining it from a new angle. I'm glad she's getting attention, and I wonder if it presages some kind of Warholian ability to ride the zeitgeist. I'm also impressed by my daughter's smarts; she's used the exposure to mention her upcoming gallery show in a prominent space. She's handling everything well, and I hope that this becomes an opportunity for exposing the rest of her work, which I think is funny, moving and brilliant by turns. 

About the issue itself, of Am I Pretty

I think they're painful to watch, with their naked yearning for validation and for acceptance. An adult, if any are around, should tell them that what other people think doesn't matter, and point out that many women with unconventional features became attractive, had as many lovers as they wanted, and became great by force of will and by cultivating themselves. By work, in fact. The girls won't believe that adult, but maybe it a few years, they may start to learn it on their own. 

Older people, who should know better, are caught in that hell of making the world a mirror to hold up to themselves. But, who knows? Most people never really certain at any age. Am I pretty, handsome, attractive? At a point, if you're smart or tough or, perhaps, so goddam attractive or so obviously hideous, you move beyond that need to be stamped with a seal of approval. It helps if you just decide, yes, I am. And then forget about it. 

 These girls, like the rest of us, are caught in the horrible cycle of narcissism and critique that's the foundation of a consumer society. We're all little critics who can't distinguish between rating things and then people on their surfaces. People become things for consumption, or interchangeable parts in a machine. That's the real tragedy, that most of us can no longer see the difference between a shiny new iPad and a breathing, imperfect person, and use the same standards on each. 

My daughter has used the resources of art and acting, subterfuge and analysis, shape-shifting and crafting to come to terms with the madness that's all around us.

19 February 2012

18 February 2012

Time and chance

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” - Ecclesiastes 9:11

17 February 2012

Tornadoes bigger than the Earth

NASA video of tornadoes on the surface of the sun.


PRIME from thismustbetheplace on Vimeo.

15 February 2012

Wuthering Heights

Death's Warning

I looked upon the old walls of my land —
Once they were strong, and now they fall away.
Tired with the march of age, thy may not stay —
Their strength has vanished, and they scarcely stand.
I went out to the fields, and from the sand
The sun drank up the brooks that broke to play
And drank the crying flocks that stole the day
From off the mountain with their shadowy band.

I went into my house, and there I found
The rotted leavings of an ancient race:
I found my staff more twisted and less sound,
I felt my sword that crumbled in the breath
Of age, and saw no thing in all the place
That did not seem a harbinger of death.

red, white and seed



Dillinger Gang's Weapons

12 February 2012

Good day

My current acting teacher, Jennifer, told this story during our class.

A famous writer, Pulitzer winner, lets it be known he was going into therapy the next day.

A friend asks him why he was going to visit a shrink.

"I want to kill myself."


"Because yesterday I had a good day."

Bad Girls

09 February 2012

What you're looking for

So, Blogger lets you see the search terms people use to arrive at your blog. This is today's list.


Betsy von Furstenberg by Stanley Kubrick



America's most literate cities

Washington is America's most literate city, again - CNN.com: "America's Most Literate Cities in 2011:
1. Washington
2. Seattle
3. Minneapolis
4. Atlanta
5. Boston
6. Pittsburgh
7. Cincinnati
8. St. Louis
9. San Francisco
10. Denver

New York City didn't make the list. Or Portland. And, please note Easterners: Washington is a state, not a city.

08 February 2012

Vanya research

I'm taking another acting class, which is already much better than the last one. I'm currently working on a scene from Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. In the scene, Astrov, the part I play, tries to persuade Vanya to return a jar of morphine that he stole, presumably with the intention of killing himself. I decided to do a little scrounging around on YouTube.

The results show just how differently the same scene can be interpreted. It never really is the same play.

Uncle Vanya -- Russian movie version, 1986
The scene starts around 2:28
This is a classic, straightforward interpretation.

Andrei Konchalovsky, Tarkovsky's former collaborator who's directed some good movies in Hollywood as well as Russia, recently mounted a production that seriously stretches the conventions of Chekhov, bringing farcical and tragicomic elements forward.

Here's an interview with him, which gives even non-Russian speakers a colorful overview of his take on the play.

Close by were a couple of pretty raw clips of Konchalovsky directing this production. He's direct and pointed with his actors, perhaps even merciless. He's also very precise about the movements and gestures of the players. Clearly, every detail matters. What impressed me -- the way he has his Astrov wipe his boots as he enters the "house" -- just the sort of realism in the midst of the fantasy of the set that makes it vivid to an audience. It brings home the given circumstances -- the muddy yard of a provincial farm -- home in an unfussy, direct and yet beautiful way.

Another time he instructs the actor playing the Professor to not just pick up the apple, but to smell it -- to inhale its scent. The guy asks why. The director responds, so the audience can smell it.

Konchalovsky in rehearsal part 1


 part 2


 Maly Theatre of St. Petersburg -- opening scene with Astrov and Marina. This comes close to how I'd initially imagined a staging of the play. The actors are very good. But I wonder if the classic approach isn't maybe too expected? It makes me wonder: how many straightforward, faithful interpretations of a play does the world need? One per generation?

Still, this Astrov is impeccable.


 Later scene from same production, still Act 1


 Vanya on 42nd Street -- Astrov and Elena
I think this movie's overrated and not at all the definitive version. I object to Mamet's adaptation, which is thoroughly streamlined, and so, completely misses the point of Chekhov. The acting's American, nice and lean and simple, but the whole thing occupies some realm that doesn't quite honor the original text and doesn't really make it to the level of an intelligent re-visioning of the work. It's not horrible, just not as good as you'd think it would be, given the team behind it.

  BBC TV version, 1970 with Anthony Hopkins as Astrov
The scene starts at 1:40:57.
More classicism with great skill -- but, again, are these people Russian? Plus, it suffers from the bell jar quality that plays staged for TV always have -- like butterflies you trap in a jar. Plus, Hopkins is really too young to convey that resigned yet desperately middle-aged character of the good doctor, Astrov.


04 February 2012

RIP Ben Gazarra


Shot over a weekend on an iPhone 4S. You can read more about it on Zacuto.

01 February 2012