Thursday, March 31, 2011

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ebb and Flow: Les Olympiades and Elche

In both "Les Olympiades" in France and the shoe manufacturing industry in Elche, Spain have created hybridity by breaking down traditional European boundaries between "home" and "work."

In the former, the residential/commercial complex has been repurposed and blended to create a community that takes on characteristics of self-sufficiency -- homes, food markets, restaurants and artisan shops all reside within the structure.

In the latter, home space has been co-opted to allow housewives -- and even children -- to become part of the manufacturing process without leaving for a factory building... or being subject to regulation of working standards.

While these new arrangements provide an environment of opportunity for socially (and thus economically) disadvantaged individuals to find work and support their costs of living, they also serve to isolate and insulate those involved. The immigrants in "Les Olympiades" could conceivable live, eat, work and recreate in the building complex and never leave it for weeks, or longer. Likewise the clandestine nature of the shoe industry in Elche encourages the female workers to shut their homes away from view, and makes them subject to coersion from both landlords and the shoe industry.

Both situations have transposed features on the urban landscape that would normally be either dispersed or centrally located. In "Les Olympiades," all of the features of what would normally be an entire neighborhood have been condensed into a contiguous set of structures, making vertical an environment that must normally be traversed in the horizontal. Conversely, in Elche the traditional environment of industrial production -- the factory, usually a complex of centrally located buildings -- instead finds itself dispersed to encompass an entire neighborhood.

Friday, October 23, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance?

Shown above are three clips of solo performances from three different versions of So You Think You Can Dance? (Fuller and Lythgoe, 2005) The first clip is of Jason Glover during Season 5 of the original American version of the show. The second shows Talia Fowler from Season 2 of the Australian incarnation, while the last clip comes from the Scandinavian version's contestant Robin Peters.

As can be seen in each of these clips, the format of the show is virtually identical in all three versions -- right down to the set. Contemporary music, particularly American favorites, also tend to provide the sound track for the dance, with some variation. In fact, a critical eye shows that perhaps the only thing unique about each clip is the dancer and his/her unique style (the solo dances in particular, in contrast to the couples' dances, are self-choreographed).

This points to a strong homogenizing force in the franchise; in the absence of close familiarity with any version of the show, or any spoken dialog outside of the performances, a casual observer would not be able to tell that these three clips came from versions of the show in other countries entirely. Conversely, the deployment of this franchise is still fragmentary. You do not find audience members of one show having much context to speak with audiences from the other shows, since neither will be familiar, very probably, with the contestants from the other shows.

Perhaps, though, there is some strength in the show that stems from its cookie cutter programming. This homogeniety -- the format, the set, even the repertoire of music and dance genres -- can function as a sort of blank canvas onto which the contestants can stand out starkly in their individuality. The success model of the show would seem to thrive upon audience members finding at least one contestant to admire and empathize with. This is facilitated -- whether by design or simply by some egalitarian nature that the field of dance possesses -- by the broad spectrum of ethnic, social and formal backgrounds possessed by the contestants who are chosen for the show.

So, while the franchise programming in and of itself does little to bring people together on a global scale, it does create a common context within each market which promotes cultural hybridity in its locality -- that is, the nation. With the world's societies, especially in Europe and the English-speaking world, becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, a form of expression that has naturally evolved to be lend itself to fusion and fluidity across the borders of genres if not nations, might actually be a common ground of the small scale in which cultures meet -- in this case, around the proverbial water cooler as people talk about last night's show.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

George Kuchar

I enjoyed George Kuchar's films quite a bit. The two works of his viewed in class, Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966) and The Inmate (1997), were wonderful, entertaining films that I consider to fall in the category of films about the filmmaker himself (or herself, as the case may be).

Both films make use of the intervention technique of "breaking the fourth wall," whereas the narrator addresses the audience directly. In this way, George Kuchar takes on a curious dual role as both the presenter and the presented. Hold Me While I'm Naked seems to me to be an exercise in self deprecation, and it's humor is at once earnest, silly and sad. We see George Kuchar as a film maker struggling to put his vision onto film in spite of the obstacles in his path -- uncooperative actors, an overbearing mother and even the wistful escapism that he engages in vicariously through the film project his character (himself?) struggles to realize.

The Inmate shows an older version of Kuchar -- distant from his younger incarnation in both physical and mental years. Here, Kuchar struggles to make an autobiographical documentary by sharing his stream of consciousness with the audience. As a result, however, the video rambles from topic to topic and even segues completely at one point from his trip to Convict Lake (in the "here and now" of the film) to footage that is a flashback (implicitly at any rate) to the regular trips he takes to Oklahoma to chase storms. This version of Kuchar seems more confident and less afraid to let go and engage his audience in a conversation -- albeit one-sided, perhaps -- to draw them into his world. This attempt to place the audience in the film maker's shoes is a continuation of the same goal in Hold Me While I'm Naked.

Admittedly, I probably have an affinity for Kuchar's work because my videos thus far have had a similar style -- attempts to expose and share aspects of my personal existence with the audience, even when those attempts inspire humor with their awkwardness and pathos.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Duck Soup & Der Lauf der Dinge

The Marx Brothers' movie Duck Soup can be considered an intervention on the traditional narrative structure of cinema as it had been established to that point. For one thing, it is difficult to consider any of the characters -- even any of those played by the Marx Brothers -- as protagonists. Each of the characters is presented as a broad caricature with a loose set of motivations that gives them a reason to be part of the plot. These character goals almost invariably put them at odds with every other character. Only two pairs of characters operate with any sort of cooperation, those being the ambassador and the famous singer, as well as the characters played by Chico and Harpo Marx. And in the case of the latter, the cooperation is haphazard and uncoordinated (at least as characters) at best.

But even in these circumstances, the adherence of the various characters to their goals and motivations is tenuous at best; few, if any, opportunities to make a joke or prank at the expense of forwarding the narrative go unused. The narrative itself becomes a mockery of normal continuity. Since none of the characters are really intent on seeing their goals through, the sequence of events that define the plot tend to be either simplistic or outrageous.

To me, it felt much more like the movie was merely a vehicle for carrying the antics of the Marx Brothers to the silver screen. I consider characters and plot progression to be the core of any movie I am prone to enjoy. Since those aspects of this film are specifically abused, I found it very difficult to engage in Duck Soup.

If Duck Soup is an exercise in destroying the normal cause and effect of narrative, then Der Lauf der Dinge ("The Way Things Go") is an exercise in building a narrative where one would never expect to find one. This film was made by Swiss film makers Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and it features a massive linear machine that recreates the same sort of incidental complexity of Rube Goldberg's famous cartoons. The basic nature of narrative -- that is, a series of events in which one follows as a direct consequence of one or more events before it -- is made visible and tangible by a collection of wheels, jugs, pans and levers.

While it is easy to make the superficial assumption that the elements of the machine in the film are simply arranged as a matter of convenience, I got the vague sense that there was a theme to the sequence in which one machine element triggers the next. I would actually liken Der Lauf der Dinge to the visual equivalent of a symphony, with its "notes" (the individual gimmicks for transferring kinetic energy from the previous to the next) that are arranged in sensible patterns. The machine is divided into "movements" (long sections which repeat specific gimmicks in a theme, such as "weighted wheels" or "ignition sources") that experience fast rhythms and slow, crescendos and decrescendos of kinetic energy. The movements are given identifiable transitions, which to me seemed to be the large chemical pans which took several extra moments to foam up and spill over (and also giving the artists a practical place to pause the filming -- I suspect that each "movement" of the machine was assembled and filmed seperately, and assembled via editing to grant the illusion of one long, contiguous assemblage).

In many ways, the two films Duck Soup and Der Lauf der Dinge are complimentary images of one another. One seeks to deconstruct a sequenced narrative into a haphazard collection of gimmicks, while the other seeks to construct a haphazard collection of gimmicks into a sequenced narrative.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Media Burn

Ant Farm's Media Burn intervention was a successful demonstration of just how modern media is a manufactured phenomenon. Certainly a lot of thought was put into the symbolism and the level of satire that guided almost every aspect fo the performance. I do have some criticisms, however, specifically that it has the feel of an over-elaborate joke that drags on for too long. It is, perhaps, an extension of my reaction to events like pageants, parades, awards ceremonies, or which Media Burn pokes fun at, so perhaps on that level the artists got it right, even where I think they got it wrong.