There are a lot of routes into depression in the waning months of each year. Even the most dedicated Christmas celebrators may also be reminded, by virtue of its omnipresence in American culture and despite the war supposedly waged against it, that time is passing and another year is coming to a close. This in and of itself can be cause for celebration, whether you’re especially forward thinking or had an especially shitty year, but holiday rituals can also accumulate, over time, into a series of snapshots focusing on unavoidable changes—or the lack thereof.
ATTN: people who’ve been to the Yeezus concert
Yeezus hits Houston next week. Surprisingly, tickets are still available. I’m tryna go with one other person but finding two seats together is proving difficult, except for sections at the most far corners of the stage. Or I can pay for GA tickets which I honestly wouldn’t mind doing (goodbye $200!)
So, my question is: is the set-up so ANY seat is a good seat? Can you see White Jesus from anywhere? Where is that giant floating screen? Is there a “sweet spot” for the show? Would GA be cool or mostly a waste of money?
I think I’ll just throw a die. A three: you just wish someone would be there by your side. One: your eyes are fixed on all of the hands being held and eyes interlocking. Six: you hold back texting their friend to see if what they said was true. Five: your mom asks if you’ve met any nice black girls, the answer is always an eye-roll and a negative. Finally a two: the song says it was bound to happen. “Bound” is such a frightening word.
Everyone at The Singles Jukebox did a fantastic job writing about “Bound 2” this morning but David’s blurb almost brought a tear to my eye. “Bound 2” is as multi-sided as a die, part-heart-on-sleeve romantic, part, as Daniel says, “Def Jam Comedy shit,” part four-minute exhalation to the preceding nine songs of puffed-up-chest angst, part Kanye-getting-back-in-touch with something consciously, defiantly missing in the rest of Yeezus (missing since Graduation really—and it’s worth noting, as Will does, the sample is pitched down, and not up, giving credence to Katherine’s assertion the song “knows its audience, and resents it”). Every time you roll it—listen to it (extended metaphor ends here)—you get something else. For most of 2013 I’ve gotten that wipe-the-sweat-from-my-brow sensation, Brenda Lee’s “uh-huh honey” the reassuring voice in my mind, yes, it will be ok, if I follow my intuition.
Here’s what David gets at, though: “bound” is a scary word—round, oval, takes up a lot of real estate, full of sneaky implications about duty, devotion, legality, and inevitability. “Bound,” as suggested by its instantly-iconic video, can also imply motion toward somewhere—homeward bound. (For the record the Rogen/Franco take on “Bound 2” > > > the Galifianakis/Oldham version of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” if only because the remade “Bound 2” amplifies the inherent hamminess of the original, instead of warping its message into something to be LOL’ed at. [This is subjective obviously.])
Sorry but “we made to Thanksgiving, so hey, maybe we can make it to Christmas” is more romantic to me than reams of centuries-old poetry. Especially now, with this weather, this week, in the middle of the holidays? I imagine myself standing at the altar—“when a real nigga hold you down, you supposed to drown.” I picture the wedding party arriving to, “this that prom shit, this that what-we-do-don’t-tell-your-mom shit.” Then the ringbearer comes: “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches.” The flower girl: “Maybe we could still make it to the church steps.” Here comes the bride, just in time for the final Charlie Wilson bridge and extended outro. What kind of church will pipe the song in through the PA though?
i’ve decided whether or not i think a person’s art or output is “good” is officially the test whether or not i can stomach their unofficial prattling, it’s why i am here for kanye and not so much here for other people, even people who make good talking points, but make lousy art. i just wanna be like, “chill out and focus on making better shit.”
Philme Logue #3
Frances Ha (2013)
I’m sick of New York City, I’m sick of the French New Wave, I’m sick of Woody Allen, I’m sick of modern-day black-and-white movies, I’m sick of Greta Gerwig, I’m sick of David Bowie, I’m sick of Adam Driver, I’m sick of Girls (even just having to think about it), I’m sick of Brooklyn, I’m sick of private liberal arts colleges, I’m sick of nepotism, I’m sick of the word “hipster,” I’m sick of jokes about texting, I’m sick of observations about technology, I’m sick of those scenes in movies that appear to be off-the-cuff but are really the director and/or writer’s way of putting their hand up to their face and talking out the side of their mouth like Yes This is What This Movie is About So Pay Attention Right Now and We’ll Call Back to This Later, I’m sick of Wes Anderson, I’m sick of Whit Stillman, I’m sick of upper-class white people, I’m sick of aimless 25+-year-olds, I’m sick of Serge Gainsbourg, I’m sick of Paris, as a city, I’m sick of Paris, as an idea, I’m sick of that way some white people talk, like saying “21st century, what up!”, I’m sick of visiting home as a way of cleansing yourself/taking stock, I’m sick of self-destructive protagonists, I’m sick of movies as “love letters” to anything/-one, I’m especially sick of movies by men as “love letters” to their S.O., I’m sick of knowing, sardonic, class-based humor, I’m sick of self-indulgence parading as satire, I’m sick of guys who ride motorcycles, I’m sick of the type of person who would write for SNL, I’m sick of SNL, I’m sick of dance montages, I’m sick of characters getting drunk so they can editorialize and/or expositize (that’s not a word), I’m sick of references to music, I’m sick of references to other movies, I’m sick of the same six or seven directors whose names I see in reviews for everything, I’m sick of classism disguised as film criticism, I’m sick of knowing every little detail about modern yuppies and their lifestyles, I’m sick of the word “bourgeois,” I’m sick of the word “mumblecore,” I’m sick of the trope of a character (main- or side-) leaving the country only to find out their personality follows too, I’m sick of jokes about Tumblr, I’m sick of college kids, I’m sick of self-aware privilege masquerading as guilt-induced hedonism, I’m sick of movies that try to create catchphrases, I’m sick of movies in general, I’m sick of 2013 movies especially, I’m sick of gimmicky title cards, I’m sick of gimmicky chapter titles, I’m sick of “reveals,” I’m sick of movies that exalt a lifestyle in the name of “putting a magnifying glass on” it, I’m sick of modern choreography, I’m sick of The Beatles, I’m sick of vinyl record fetishism, I’m sick of collector-culture, I’m sick of trinkets for the boring middle-brow, I’m sick of critical theory presenting itself in works of art, I’m sick of using the words “sincere,” “compassionate,” “empathetic,” “surprisingly,” to describe everything I do like, I’m sick of auteur theory, I’m sick of statements of intent, I’m sick of movies shot on low-tech cameras, I’m sick of movies shot “in secret,” or “on-the-go,” or “in improv,” I’m sick of seeing the same fucking shit presented in the same fucking way…
yet I really liked Frances Ha.
Gimme the Loot (2012)
A movie so lightweight it shrugs off the screen. Like a shrug, this simple movement communicates many things: unease, insecurity, non-commitment, but it can also be resistance against an easy answer, or it can be the easiest and most passive form of resistance; a shrug is not an explanation, and a shrug doesn’t offer one, and it doesn’t promise or implicitly suggest one either. It’s a gesture that’s so itself and in the moment it exists only to move past the moment and into the future. You can Kanye-shrug and be like, “I’m just sayin,” but even that is just a slightly more aggressive shrug which only aims to please the shrugger, and not the shruggee.
I wish independent movies weren’t currently in this no-man’s-land where a movie might play for a few weeks or make festival rounds, then unceremoniously land on Netflix a few months later, or be available to download from the same iTunes I use to impulse buy mid-aughts R&B albums (Amerie’s Touch, what up!). Some of these types of movies really are being seen by a larger audience than ever before, which is great, but something is lost in translation, and it further promulgates a New York-Los Angeles-Toronto domination of independent film where even the arthouse theaters here show Thor 2.
Where are the new voices? Where are the independent movies that don’t want to make you weep white tears or pander to your condescending needs? Gimme the Loot is radical in this light, because its story is so minuscule it flips the script on a similar strain of no-plot indie film that could be epitomized in something like Frances Ha, which at least has the decency to be good.
A girl and a guy who are not related but also not romantically involved are taggers in NYC who sometimes sell weed. They want to bomb the Mets’ home run apple in Shea Stadium, are told to pay a guy $500 for entry into the stadium at night to do the deed, then set to get $500 before the day is over. Along the way, charming lead Malcolm is called Drug Dealer by four white twenty-year-old Girls, the buoyant Sophia is harassed on the street, and a side of NYC that’s rarely filmed hits the
big small screen. It side-steps an all-rap soundtrack, instead landing on classic soul and funk, which removes a safety net of familiarity someone lame like me would probably get off on. It hits no grand revelations, no comfortable political messages, ignores most cliches in the indie film rulebook, and manages to be genuinely sweet in the most honest and non-cloying way. Ideas and emotions are expressed visually, not with dialogue, nothing lasts longer than it should, and it ends on a note of stark ambiguity galling in its audacity, like a book that ends mid-
Proof that white writer/directors don’t need to be so up their own ass to tell a story—and given the right kind of money and talent, new voices will eventually be heard through the noise of your Netflix queue.
- Nipsey Hussle: Imagine the experience of walking in the store and seeing the artists in there, in their element, recording. Working on a song. scratching off their lyrics on a paper, then ballin’ up the paper and throwing the paper away. Drinking champagne, listening to the song back. There is going to be speakers in the store, so when we feel like sharing the experience we just press a button and everyone inside the store gets to hear the raw session. It's going to be like a traditional Japanese restaurant, where you take your shoes off and leave your phone at the front, so that it can't be pirated.
- Noisey: Wow.
- Nipsey Hussle: Listen, we were making music before there was any business. It was a human thing that happened out of necessity. We base success off of this dude on the radio, he sold this many units. What about the guy that made 15 songs of pure truth? This kid was going to kill himself but he heard his record and he got something from it. What about that, that's got no value? Again, I'm just me and I can't pretend to be anything other than who I am. I'm just a regular person with flaws like everybody else. That calling, that purpose is bigger, so at least I should try.
Thank You For Not Being Basic: A Love Story, by Matthew Ramirez
saturday night i saw andrew bujalski’s latest movie, computer chess, at MFAH, and he made some remarks before and held the floor for a decent amount of time for a Q+A after. bujalski is probably considered one of the most if not the most influential director of “mumblecore” films which is a horrifically titled sub-genre that started about a decade ago with his 2003 movie funny ha ha and blossomed for awhile before losing relevance in like 2008.
his 2005 film, mutual appreciation, was the one that had the biggest effect on me when i saw it about a week after graduating high school. this is the movie bishop allen is in. i don’t recall the movie perfectly but i think it’s about the most restrained love triangle in film history between justin rice, bujalski, and bujalski’s girlfriend. when i saw it in 2007 i had a perhaps naive but real reaction to it: “so this is what being an adult is like.” nights out were not jump-started under a looming curfew. you didn’t need a reason to go out, you just went out to get out. bands play to ten people and consider that a success. even the movie’s title gives you some hint on what its world considers love or romance. etc.
computer chess was billed as a departure for bujalski but it is resoundingly not. as he said in the Q+A after, he has a contrarian streak. tell him his movies are the same, he’ll disagree. insist they are different, he’ll insist they are mostly the same. computer chess is like if mutual appreciation was about inarticulate computer programmers instead of inarticulate new yorkers (whose inarticulation serves as a refreshing rejoinder to art/independent cinema’s obsession with talkiness/self-absorption) with the most subtle sci-fi elements tossed on top. i fell asleep for what was probably a total of 15 minutes but i still think i loved it. i also think it triggered a huge revelation for me.
art is as much about what it is (and as ebert famously insisted, how it is) as much as what it provokes. computer chess goes in circles and the two storylines at the heart of the movie (between the titular conference over a weekend at a hotel, and an adjoining conference of new-age healers) don’t cohere like i’d want them to. there is a lot of hemming and hawing that is supposed to be funny but kinda isn’t and plays like a weak night at an improv class. but.
computer chess is the first movie that’s made me really ponder my relationship with technology. the average person’s frame of reference for computer chess as a concept probably only extends to knowing that sometime in the ’90s an IBM computer named deep blue beat kasparov, a benchmark achievement in technology that is neither trivial or grand. but that’s it.
what was interesting to me, and was echoed by an older gentleman during the Q+A who frankly rambled but gave a lot of insight into his former job as a programmer, was the computer programmers were not interested in chess, just programming. chess was an exercise they were using to strengthen their skill set and analytic thinking. i know this is not a groundbreaking fact, but maybe because i was honestly kinda bored i started thinking about how much progress is made disguised as one thing when it’s really another thing. and how long does it take before huge technological progress is just a given. i used to think deep blue was nbd, because couldn’t you just program every possible move into a computer and be done with it? that shows my complete ignorance of how programming works but i figure you take 64 squares and there are only, technically, a finite amount of moves to know so for every move just program more moves until…
but as the closest thing to a lead character in the movie says at one point, you start with 64 squares, but every move opens up exponential potential for further moves. to program, or even attempt to program, every possible move in chess would technically take longer than the recorded history of humanity. then i thought, holy shit, these nerdy programmers weren’t just glorified clock-punchers, filling out a finite amount of code working toward a finite “end” of something, ie, making the “best” computer chess program, but people using their skills as well as human intuition to create a simulacrum of what could potentially be.
i know nothing about coding. this ignorance has led me to believe perhaps one of the most commonplace misconceptions about computers—they can do literally anything. they can’t, i mean, not really. even as time has progressed and technology has moved to the point of exponential algorithms that can be created to do squillions of reams of equations at a rate that would certainly give any computer programmer from 1982 a heart attack, they are still limited by human imagination and skill. technology, as i thought about it saturday, is essentially unknown. technology is a tool, but it’s a tool that’s only as good as we want it to be, and further, what we can even think we want it to be. technology manifests itself through the drive to code, to program, to make tangible some desire/need that exists but has no workable solution. the psychological and emotional influence of computer technology, especially now, to laypeople, is thinking we can do anything we want, somehow, if only someone somewhere can write the code or program.
a few weeks ago hot sugar posted a link to an online point and click game called dating ariane. it is one in a series of “adult” games that are essentially choose your own adventures writ large. there’s an authorial bent, though, as some of the creators of these games insist on calling them playable novels. i don’t think that is something to scoff at. before a few weeks ago when i thought of point and click games i thought of myst or the well of similar games that sprung up in the ’90s. but suddenly i found myself very invested in this silly game that definitely felt unrealistic and slightly pervy but gripping nonetheless. i played the sims some especially when it first hit consoles about a decade ago but games like those always felt like an elaborate way of checking off boxes. you check this one box off, and get this result. you check off a bunch of boxes and get a bunch of results that are still technically limited by a finite number of combinations.
but with dating ariane there was a charge of literally being able to do anything. there are certain sequences of clicks to make in order to really “do” anything—these are non-negotiable deals, because the date will be cut short if you attempt to kiss her too much before leaving the room you meet in. but move past that and suddenly there are seemingly infinite possibilities. it becomes as much about intuition and wants as whatever technological limits exist to keep the game on rails.
as computer chess unfolded i thought about dating ariane and how my playing it (and much to my lulz, getting other friends to play it) wasn’t so much about doing the “right” moves and hoping to have sex with ariane at the end of the date. rather it was about expressing a kind of free will, of having this tool in front of me that was only as good as my own imagination. i mean obviously there are emotional stakes involved in simulating a date, just like there is an entire skill set required to play chess. but the relationship with technology—what we want out of it, how we even go about knowing what we want out of it—is the mitigating factor. it’s why IBM created deep blue, and eventually, watson.
the entirety of computer chess is in black and white but there is one scene that becomes colorized, as the film’s least likable character is locked out of his hotel room and goes to his grandmother’s house to crash, then becomes obsessed with finding a box with something in it. sorry if this is hazy, like i said i fell asleep, but i think a big part of this scene is not knowing what he’s looking for. however even to me this scene was strikingly obvious: the movie had become a computer program, and this scene, with this character, who lamely and unsuccessfully tried hooking up with the only woman at the conference, who knocked door to door to find a hotel room to crash in, had become stuck in a loop, a repeating line of code, colorized to illustrate the progress of a repeating pattern. (observation changes the thing just by looking at it; repetition is a form of change. yeah yeah we all read the brian eno cards)
the movie is essentially what happens when artificial intelligence tries to ape reality. if mumblecore movies were indifferently inept pieces of filmmaking made by nerds who weren’t into computers but were into movies, then computer chess is the ultimate realization of a dead movement. it dramatizes the struggles of the weak and nerdy, who know they want something and try to have it only to be foiled by their, and technology’s, limited ability.
the movie becomes a commentary on insular independent filmmaking under this lens, as armond white suggests, or a similar comment on nerd pecking order w/r/t computer programmers. or it’s a piece of software that warps and loses its way because the artificial intelligence wasn’t smart enough to build a completely 100% coherent narrative. (the subtle sci-fi bits—like a computer that becomes conscious then flashes a fetus onscreen—or the ending image of a sex worker removing her hair to display a circuit-board, not unlike the itchy and scratchy characters at itchy and scratchy land—seem to be the most convincing evidence for this interpretation.) it’s worth noting even the movie notices this. toward the end the lone female programmer (the movie has wonderful observations about what roles women play in nerdy hierarchies) notes how the people in the movie move like chess pieces. after playing dating ariane i found myself making decisions in a strict binary fashion.
technology aims at doing something—i think this emphasis is what separates technology from mere knowledge. a stress on application is what matters. if a world doesn’t understand technology, it doesn’t really understand itself, its wants, needs, desires, wisdom. this line of thinking had me questioning artificial intelligence as a real thing and not just a dumb anthropomorphization of technology, like so many sci-fi movies (2001 and AI come to mind, obviously) have shown. artificial intelligence may not be the human-trapped-in-a-machine, like what spike jonze’s sickeningly twee trailer for her suggests, but the machine trapped in the human. and before computer chess i had never really considered that thought before.