30 July 2010

Feminism & movies...

Worth a look.

The Bechdel Test for the presence of women in movies is a simple test that, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of movies fail. Check out the link for a quick rundown of what the test is, how many movies fail it, and to generally ponder the depressing lack of female presence in cinema in general.

My take: This is funny but sad, and the test is simple and to-the-point. It also makes you realize how many movies that are supposedly geared toward women really miss the point: see most rom-coms. Also notable is the dearth of big-name female directors in movies, although Kathryn Bigelow's well-deserved Oscar win for Hurt Locker helped in a facile way. Seriously, think about it. I could probably name the female directors I could think offhand of on one hand, maybe two if I really struggle. Anyway, 'tis some food for thought.

28 July 2010

Act of God (Jennifer Baichwal, 2009)

If you have an interest in any of the following things -- the hypnotic prose of writer Paul Auster (the genius behind City of Glass and more recently Invisible), the invigorating experimental music of Fred Frith, the man-meets-nature style of cinema expressed by Koyaanisqatsi or Jennifer Baichwal's stirring previous documentary Manufactured Landscapes, the awesome power of nature, and, above all, the dazzling random phenomenon of lightning -- then I have no hesitation in recommending the cool, mostly astonishing documentary Act of God. The film revolves around a series of interviews with people who have survived lightning strikes, or have otherwise been involved in shocking encounters with this natural event. The interviews are bolstered by wonderful footage of swirling lightning storms and sublime nature, as well as being underscored by Frith's often eerie, moody music.

Coolness in human form.

While not all the interviews are completely gripping -- the movie takes a while to get up to speed -- more than enough of them are, not the least of which are that of a Mexican woman and the tragic fate of her children on a hill during a religious ceremony, as well as a Frenchman who has dedicated his life to operating a museum dedicated to lightning photography. Auster's own concluding monologue is absolutely astonishing -- up there with some of his best writing; I almost wish I could get a copy of it written down -- as he recounts with calm naturalism and mounting tension the fate of him and his friends on a nature excursion during summer camp. Just like a good storm, Act of God ends with one grand crescendo of a climax.

I definitely have a special interest in this movie, given my fascination with nature photography and cinematography and the work of Paul Auster. But even if you don't share my particular inclination towards these things, Act of God gives you something profound over which to ponder while simultaneously thrilling the eye and the ear. A-

Also, please check out Invisible and, especially, City of Glass for some of the most exhilarating writing and storytelling in modern times. But... I suppose that's a whole different post. I also want to check out more of Frith's music now.

01 July 2010

Summer reading

So here's what I've been occupying my mind with lately, book-wise.

Ulysses. Oh, Ulysses. A foolhardy endeavour indeed, but, I felt, a necessary one given my interest in all things Beckett. Joyce was a mentor, a friend, and something of an inspiration for Beckett, and thus, he must be read. Well, by me, anyway.

For the uninitiated, Ulysses is 950 "thrilling" pages of stream of consciousness Irish weirdness meant to combine the basic storyline of Homer's Odyssey with the various intertwining lives of various characters over the course of one day in Dublin. It's so dense and filled with tangents and random sentences and musings that it's damn near impossible at times to even figure out who is doing or saying or thinking this particular thing.

Of course, given Joyce's obvious talent as a writer, even these tangents prove fascinating. Parts of Ulysses are great, exquisite even. In the 150 or so pages I've managed to slog through so far, there has arisen some moods and images that are downright evocative. But so far, the great parts aren't leading to a complete and satisfying whole. In fact, I'm finding it far more unreadable than Beckett's The Unnamable, to which a certain professor referred jokingly as "The Unreadable." The thing is, I understood what Beckett was going for: his bleak sense of humour in the novel trilogy was invigorating for me, and his attempts to match the style of the writing to the psyches of his characters were largely intriguing and successful.

I can't say I understand everything in Beckett, nor can I say I understand everything (or even most things) I've encountered so far in Ulysses. But so far, the overall effect of Beckett is proving much more gripping than that of Ulysses. Of course, I'm massively jumping the gun with this post, and I might (I hope) feel differently by the end of the book... whenever I finally finish it. Joyce is a master and worth reading, but fun, enjoyment, or emotional/intellectual stimulation are not necessarily guaranteed here.

I also picked up Falling Man from Don DeLillo the other day. Considering how wackily awesome I found his White Noise, and how intrigued I was by the premise of this guy taking on 9/11, it was a pretty irresistible find. The shifting points of view and the focal point (although in a looser sense here) on a particular (and more horrifying) day is actually reminding me of Ulysses, but it's certainly easier to read, and at least slightly less confusing (though still fairly perplexing at points). The novel basically jumps around from differing accounts of the World Trade Centre tragedy of different people who were involved in it that terrible day in different ways. Cool... and I look forward to finishing it.

I am also about 30 pages into the 1200+ page phone book that is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Yes, I actually bought it -- one of the most loved/respected/reviled/mentioned/mocked/shunned books in modern history. Given my love of Rush and the band's frequently espoused lyrical debt to this particular writer, I had to at least give it a try... although given what I've read of Rand's politics and philosophy, I've been reluctant. So far... the writing is a bit thick and overly elaborate, and the refrain of "Who is John Galt?" is already becoming a bit pretentious. But I can't say I hate it yet, either. The idea of a man in a high-up position just randomly quitting his post for seemingly no reason has me intrigued to find out more about this dude, and the train waiting helplessly before a red light (that seemingly will never change) in the middle of nowhere has echoes of existentialism and even Waiting for Godot, which I always tend to fall for hook, line, and sinker. Hopefully, Rand decides to take these images and ideas in interesting directions. Or, at least, crash and burn in an amusing way.

Happy reading!