Posted by Job O Brother, June 2, 2011 12:42pm | Post a Comment

Happy Ascension Day, Mortals!

Today is the perfect day to fire up the barbeque, emulsify marshmallows in their own, meaty juices, make necklaces out of macaroni and firecrackers and teeth, roast corn on the cobweb, take pictures of your auntie, run through the sprinklers praising God in His infinite wisdom for creating a world and people that would one day invent sprinklers which must therefore be a part of His Divine Plan for the Glory of All, post pictures of your auntie online, bob for apples without safety pins hidden inside them by your heathen neighbors next door, pop popcorn, scream for ice cream, sing hymns, taunt your auntie by telling her the pictures of her have gone viral and now her privacy will be compromised, her bank accounts plundered, and her likeness will be used by terrorists to bring down the American Government, jump on a trampoline and pretend you're ascending yourself, make peace with zombies, fly a kite, cut some ribbon, pick up litter, drink the salty/sweet tears from your auntie's quivering cheek-beds.

And enjoy these Ascension Day tunes!

(In which we learn the true story of St. Patrick.)

Posted by Job O Brother, March 14, 2010 06:52pm | Post a Comment


I’ve only just returned from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where I spent the morning with my pal, Señor Danger. I was eager to visit one of their current exhibits, American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915, because it showcases one of my favorite works, Watson and the Shark, by hunky bad boy John Singleton Copley.

I’ll be honest: there was a moment when Señor Danger and I silently tried to work out a plan where we could sneak the painting out under my jacket or something, but my jacket isn’t 35 feet wide, so we opted to just stand there and marvel at it a bit.

The exhibit is fantastic, and anyone who can should check it out. I realize that most people don’t live in Los Angeles, but still, make an effort. As an added incentive, anyone who travels to the LACMA from more than 100 miles away gets a free Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army revolver autographed by Mary Pickford!*

This Wednesday is Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s also the birthday of Nat “King” Cole, John Wayne Gacy, Seneca St. James, Emperor Shijō, and Nalii DeLap. What do all these people have in common? Uh, their birthdays are all on St. Patrick’s Day – are you paying attention or what?

For many of us, St. Patrick’s Day is a mildly amusing 24 hours, most commonly marked by drinking beer the color of anti-freeze and getting to pinch and touch fellow co-workers without being sued for sexual harassment. But this day means more – so much more. So very much more. More. Much.


The history behind St. Patrick’s Day is rich, and vital to understanding the psyche of the Irish, for whom March 17 is a national holiday. (I don't have anything to substantiate this claim of Irish psychology, but that's okay because... of... um... OH WOW LOOK!!!)

(Taken from his Grindr profile)

Almost nothing factual is known about St. Patrick. Thankfully, this has never stopped the Catholic Church from deifying, believing and creating rules and tradition based upon someone. What we do know is that he was born into a wealthy, Romano-British family whose pottery collection was the envy of every patrician across the Isles.

One day, while dressing up like corned beef & cabbage, he was kidnapped by a gang of hungry Irishmen who shipped him to Mayo, Ireland. While working part-time as a slave, Patrick had a dream in which God told him he should escape his imprisonment. (It’s interesting to note that Patrick didn’t  come up with this idea on his own. I mean, really – you needed Divine Intervention for that? Do you think Jesus also descended from Heaven and advised Patrick to eat food using his mouth and not his elbows? Or to never stick harpoons into his eyes? There’s certain common sense concepts for which we shouldn’t have to rely on mystic visions to comprehend. But I digress…)

Patrick followed God’s suggestion and escaped back to Britain. He eventually got a job being a bishop (which was good – provided full health and dental) and spent his time saving souls from an eternal damnation of hellfire and collecting thimbles.

"God appeared to me and said I should never try to kiss these."

In 432 AD (the same year that saw the death of everyone’s favorite emperor, 赫連定 - boo hoo!) Bishop Patrick returned to Ireland to convert its people to Christianity and maybe grab a tour of the Guinness Brewery. While he wasn’t the most successful of all the early Missionaries, he was the only one that could crack his knuckles two different ways.

Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, assigning one leaf each to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (This is the origin of our association with shamrocks and St. Patrick’s.) One day, when teaching this very lesson, he unwittingly used a rare, four-leaf clover, which resulted in their being one leaf extra. When the crowd of pagans listening to him asked what the extra leaf represented, Patrick, on the spot, blurted out that it represented his Aunt Gina.

“How is she an equal to God?” the crowd asked.

“Well,” Patrick fumbled, “She’s sweet and... just... she makes real good scones.”

The crowd was displeased with this answer and insisted that their local baker, Dáirine Cétchathach, made the best scones ever – they even had a bit of jelly in the middle “which ye wouldst find most yummy” – prompting those gathered to begin worshipping at the bakery, where the Eucharist was administered on disposable paper doilies with a sprinkling of powdered sugar meant to symbolize the suffering of Our Lord on the Cross, and cappuccinos were sipped to represent His Blood (sugar cubes Transubstantiated into Jesus’ body were optional).

Patrick flew into a rage and threw the four-leaf clover to the ground.

“This turn of events is most unlucky!” he cried to his secretary, a hearing impaired man who quickly made note of this.

Years later, everything that’s happened so far in history took place and that’s how we came to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day now.

And that's the true history behind St. Patrick's Day (except for the untrue parts). Yippee.

*Offer not valid to children under 4 years of age, the sight impaired, pregnant women, or anyone else at all.

Youth Is Revoltin': The Valley of the Bees (1968) & Logan's Run (1976)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 17, 2010 06:36pm | Post a Comment

Ondřej begins Frantisek Vlácil and Vladimír Körner's The Valley of the Bees as a teenager jealous of his ogrish father, Lord of Vlkov (Zdeněk Kryzánek), who's just married Lenora. She's Ondřej's age, and he clearly has a crush on her, expressing his anger by giving his stepmother a basket of flowers with a bunch of crippled bats at the bottom. She freaks out, to which the father responds by picking up his son and throwing him against a stone wall. Fearing that his son might die, and to assuage his guilt, the Lord promises his son to God if the Almighty will spare Ondřej. He survives, and is sent to the North to become a warrior monk under the tutelage of Armin (Czech heartthrob Jan Kačer) in the Order of St. Mary of Jerusalem, the local equivalent of the Knights Templar. 

The Order functions for Armin like contemporary Gospel music does for its male performers, as a repressive sublimation of homosexual inclinations. He's a true believer who warns Ondřej (now played by Petr Čepek) to not give in to the materialist temptations of the Pagan world, telling him what became of some of their brothers not properly committed: "Some knights were mercenaries, and did not seek salvation. Instead they sought beautiful women and riches, only to drink their own urine in the desert, cursing God and their mothers." That is, "suffering is the way to God." Or, in a sort of Pascalian wager -- this being the Middle Ages -- you're going to suffer, so it might as well be for a higher purpose. The only joy allowed here is jouissance, taking pleasure in the pain of monastic denial. Ondřej has his doubt, feeling only his balls getting cold in the water in which he lies with Armin.

Ondřej's real crisis begins when he sees how the Order deals with an errant knight. Rotgier explains that he's had enough of the monastery and wants to return to his land where he can live as a civilian. Having been forced into this life, Ondřej understands and is willing to let him go. Instead, the Order recaptures Rotgier, breaks his sword and makes him walk out of a window to a canine death. Fearing ideological contamination, Ondřej is put into solitary to fast and ruminate. Too late, he goes on the lam, with Armin tailing him. The Soviets saw too much of a parallel with their own bureaucratic order in the film and banned it after taking over Czechoslovakia later in 1968. Vlácil doesn't leave much doubt where his sympathy lies and which side Ondřej's on:

An order of warriors who are as ruthless and unforgiving to their own brotherhood as they are to anyone else defying God's Law sounds a lot like Michael Anderson and David Goodman's Logan's Run, but with a central computer, Lifeclock, filling in for the deity. The 23rd century is a perverse mirror of Vlácil's medievalism, where "paganism" has won, but nothing much has changed in the operations of ideological power. After some major catastrophe that's reduced most of the former cities and landscapes to the proverbial middle ages, citizens live in vast metropolitan domes, fucking like rabbits and seeking nothing but pleasure (of the non-painful kind). "Do what thou wilt" is almost the whole of the Law, with one catch: they've gotta expire at age 30. The little lifeclocks on the palms of their hands go black to tell them when it's time. The hedonic ratiocination here is that any long-term moral repercussions to a society devoted purely to pleasure are taken care of by giving a time limit to the life of leisure. Should a citizen try to avoid the one commandment, Lifeclock sends its "Sandmen" to enforce the big sleep.

Coincidentally, The Valley of the Bees was released in May of 1968, the month of revolution, with its bellwether taking place in France. The youthful members of the New Left saw it as a time for a potential overthrow of totalizing ideologies of all stripes, including Stalinism, not just capitalism. It was not to be, however, with the majority of Western baby-boomers settling into their role as consumerist citizens. As Christopher Hitchens concluded two years ago:

At the time, I thought 1968 was the beginning of something. Later, I understood that I had instead been part of the end of something: the last gasp of red-flag socialism (which actually persisted until the murder of Salvador Allende in 1973 and the overthrow of Portuguese fascism in 1974). But the antitotalitarian ethos embraced by the best soixante-huitards [the "sixty-eighters"] remains an option, and I believe that it will have further opportunities to declare itself—in Cuba, to take one vivid and imminent example—long after the pseudo-revolutionary silliness has been forgotten.

Ondřej is more in the spirit of the youthful Hitchens, rejecting a totalitarian order, his Brotherhood, to live life as he sees fit, including returning home where he finally reunites with his stepmom, Lenora, who is now a widow. Vlkov is something of a ghost town, where its remaining inhabitants continue to act as if their repressive Lord were still alive. He cursed Lenora, so she spends her days flagellating the impurities from her soul. Ondřej's renunciation of the church begins to free her and the town of this spectral hold the former Lord has over them. At least, until Armin shows up on the couple's wedding day and violently restores the old order.

As one might expect of a futuristic hedonist society, the only people who seem to work are (not unlike Hollywood) in the service industry: cops, hookers and plastic surgeons. Logan 5 (Michael York) is the future's parallel to Ondřej, a Sandman who has a crisis in faith after being sent on an undercover mission by Lifeclock to infiltrate a rebellious group known according to their ideal destination, "Sanctuary." The group's pagan symbol is the ankh, standing for eternal life. The idea of Sanctuary is the reactionary inverse of Ondřej's rejection of his Brotherhood: ultimately, it stands against the continual youthful revolution, and for the reestablishment of a forgotten dead society. It wouldn't take long for the hedonist to figure out that dying at 30 isn't much fun, so faith is necessary (just as it's necessary to give Armin a reason to live his life in denial and suffering). What Lifeclock promises is much the same as Christianity: the potential for renewal, but in this world, not the next. It warns the people that they'll die anyway, but running guarantees a swifter and more permanent annihilation. Thus, the citizens follow the rules and show up for "Carousel" where they're obliterated with the hope of reincarnation.

Logan 5 sees the same ankh symbol on Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), an employee of the Circuit (which is the 23rd century's brothel), that he and his partner, Francis 7 (Richard Jordan), recovered from a runner earlier in the picture. Unlike Ondřej, who was never completely sold on the Order to begin with, Logan 5 doesn't begin to question the system until being placed among the heretics. Once on the outside of the city, he discovers an inhabitable nature, the remnants of an ancient democracy (the U.S.), and an elderly man (Peter Ustinov) with a knowledge of historical tradition -- all of which puts the big lie to the Lifeclock's ageist suicide doctrine and myth-spinning. And he finds old-fashioned "true love," rather than the transitory "hooking up" with Jessica 6. More concretely, Logan 5's palm lifeclock goes clear -- he's "renewed" as Francis 7 puts it -- on the outside, while beginning to sympathize with the rebellion. 

Leisure instead of suffering, sex-on-demand instead of asceticism, torture for beauty instead of bodily abjection, mandated suicide instead of a mandated lasting as long as God sees fit, and a worship of the pagan material world instead of the Christian's afterworld -- yet faith in ideology functions the same in the future as it does in the past: living for the Other, rather than taking responsibility for oneself. Both The Valley of Bees and Logan's Run seem to be getting at Jean-Paul Sartre's libertarian ethic: "you can always make something out of what you've been made into." (It's been too long since I've read any Sartre, so I took a crash course.) We're free, because as consciousness ("being for-itself") we can negate/transcend the mere facticity of our bodies ("being in-itself") and the internal constraints placed upon us through the interaction with ideology, society, etc. ("being for-others"). Whether we go with the ontological flow or resist it, we are ultimately responsible for that individual choice. (Both films make for a good contrast with the very anti-Sartrean Knowing.)


spoilers ahead!

With that in mind, both Francis 7 and Armin make for psychologically interesting cases of the faithful, or in Sartre's term, bad faith. During a fight to the death where he comes up losing, Francis 7 goes out believing that Logan 5's clear lifeclock got that way because that's what Sandmen are promised, renewal for their service. All that he experiences on his path (similar to Logan 5 and Jessica 6's) doesn't make him waver in his service to the Lifeclock. As such, he abdicates any responsibility for his choices, simply assuming the course that's been programmed. Armin, on the other hand, is a man searching for questions to fit his answers. He resists the way he is -- i.e., homosexual -- by suppressing life around him that doesn't conform to the ideology that keeps his latent desires in check. His only bodily contact with another that he initiates is the aforementioned arm-locking with Ondřej in erection-defying, icy cold water. When a blind Bohemian girl he meets asks to touch him in order to "see" his face, he threatens to cut off her arm. This has nothing to do with his being potentially tempted, but rather a disgust for femininity signifying the pagan contamination of his friend (and repressed love object). That he wants Ondřej to share in his repression (as close to sex as Armin will allow himself) is made clear when his solution to his friend's wedding is to slit the bride's throat. Since Ondřej won't conform to his worldview, Armin remakes his friend's world so that he'll have no choice ... or, at least, feel as if he has no choice.

Armin is thrown to the dogs for the murder, but accomplishes his mission: Ondřej is seen returning to the flock in the end, giving into the inauthentic existence he had attempted to escape, while making Armin a martyr to the cause. The antitotalitarian ethos to which Hitchens refers is crushed. Bringing the old man along as evidence, Logan 5 returns to his brotherhood, too, but with the intention to destroy the ideology he no longer believes in. When the Lifeclock scans his mind, it discovers that there never was any physical place called Sanctuary and self-destructs, blowing holes in the city's dome, and releasing the citizens. Whether or not they're freed is another matter. 

As a priest says at Ondřej's wedding banquet: "Bees are like people. They fear and sense disaster. You can destroy their homes, but they begin building a new one right away." As pure ideology or belief, the Lifeclock can't compute Sanctuary as an opposing ideational construct, so it terminates itself. Logan 5 has caused the revolution, but what the citizenry does with it is up to each individual. The ending is made to seem triumphant, but is it? Such freedom requires responsibility. It seems more likely that an irresponsible people, accustomed to living for the Other won't find freedom any more computable than Lifeclock did Sanctuary. That is, much like Ondřej's returning to the Order, they'll opt for another totalizing ideology "right away" to fill in the hole, perhaps that of the old man's tradition.

Knowing is Half the Battle: Knowing (2009)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 10, 2010 09:42am | Post a Comment

Having a blu-ray player finds me watching some stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise, because there's a limited amount of quality features available to the format (about 20 titles at last count). Alex ProyasKnowing is one such example of techno-fetishism overwhelming my aesthetic expectation. Roger Ebert really liked it, but he was about the only one. As The Crow and Dark City showed, Proyas has something of a singular vision -- although I'm not quite sure what it is, but it probably appeals to James O'Barr's decaying Goth fiefdom back in Detroit. Lots of confusion and brooding, this time with Nicholas Cage. He's an astrophysicist who discovers a code in a string of numbers that his son brings home from school. It was written by a little girl 50 years ago and buried in the elementary school's time capsule. As it turns out, the numbers predicted the time and place of every major and not so major catastrophe over the intervening years since its burial with only a few dates still pending.

Cage lost his wife in an accident and now believes there's no meaningful order to the world (scientists are never allowed to come to a viewpoint through reason, only by emotion in this type of film). As he explains during a lecture, everything's either deterministic or chaotic (ignoring the deterministic equations of Chaos Theory). That's not a very sophisticated metaphysics, but makes it easy to follow the intended message of the movie. According to Cage's physicist, a meaningful existence can only come from a preordained order, in which all events were determined at the outset of creation. He surmised after his wife's death that since it was for no purpose, everything must be random. Thus, discovering a code which predicts all these tragedies helps to restore his faith in the great plan and that there's a meaningful narrative to his life and her death.

spoilers ahead!

With the new agey, self help Christianity that tends to get promoted these days, I give the film credit for being unabashedly Calvinist and for making angels coldblooded enforcers of Divine Providence, but it's a screwy way to restore a man's faith in existential purpose. Knowing comes down to three doctrines of Calvinism: (1) total depravity -- the final prediction is that the whole world will burn, with everyone, both those we mortals might call good and evil, going up with it; (2) unconditional election -- a few children, including Cage's boy, are selected by the angels to be taken away in their spaceship, but not based on anything anyone's done; and (3) predestination -- as already mentioned, all of this had to happen, like the total of adding numbers on a calculator. What could make for a more arbitrary life than that? He's a variable in someone else's equation. Irrespective of what Cage might do or has done, he's going to be punished for simply being born into original sin. His son, but not him, is selected for salvation for no apparent reason, certainly not based on agency or some purpose -- all just because Divine Will has decided it so. This is order without any personal meaning. It's all been arbitrarily chosen by something else, which is exactly where Cage's despondency began. Only at the end, he's supposed to be feeling some sort of redemption. The "randomness" or "chaos" is still with him, but it's been displaced to the Divine Agency that's calling all the shots. Good thing the Earth is incinerated before he realizes it. 


Posted by Billyjam, October 31, 2009 09:00am | Post a Comment

Forget MySpace and check out MyFace, or, rather, the art that gifted face paint artist/illusionist James Kuhn does, displayed on both his Flickr page and his Face Paint In Motion YouTube channel. The self-described James Kuhn"Artist, Face paint illusionist, Drag Queen, Performance Artist, and full time Christian" has been uploading videos of his face paint art, such as the Rocky Horror "Sweet Transvestite" themed clip above which he posted two days ago, or the brilliant Golden Girls clip (below) that he produced and uploaded six months ago.

Ever the perfectionist, Kuhn said of the Golden Girls piece at the time, "I planned on painting Sophia on my forehead! but ran out of room... I need a bigger head! I am not too happy with this one, I should have searched for better pics to use as my models. The ones I pulled up were too small and Bea was in black and white. I should not try such a big project on a weeknight! Better for Saturdays when I can play all day long and am usually more rested. I gotta get some new glasses too."

On the Three Oaks, Michigan artist's YouTube channel, which is subtitled BibleArtWork, Kuhn has an impressive 234 different videos of various face paint illusions uploaded, usually with a cool accompanying soundtrack, ranging from Bettie Page Pin Up Girl to Miss Piggy & Kermit to Dracula and many, many more.

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