Sunday, 31 October 2010

Porn is Boring - Sofia Coppola's Somehwere (with spoilers)


The opening scene of Somewhere is painful to watch. 

Camera in a small hotel room in a medium-wide lock-off as twin strippers dressed as candy stripers do a pole dance routine.  The scene goes on forever – their routine timed to a song, their moves half-hearted, their sexuality absent.  So boring it is almost assaultive, Jonny Marco takes the easy way out; he simply falls asleep.

Welcome to LA via Sofia Coppola, Mistress of Our Discontent.  As she did in the fantastic Lost in Translation, and the possibly too much maligned Marie Antoinette, Coppola shows us the result of decades of material isolationism – complete personal disconnect.  Celebrity is the topic, but not the issue – Johnny could literally be anybody.  His jeans, work boots and faded t-shirts, along with his ever-present beer make him an American everyman who happens to live in a hotel and drive a natty sports car.  Still, Jonny doesn’t seem to know he is prosperous.  Presumably somebody somewhere pays his hotel bills and child support, but generally he just asks for things and they appear.

He doesn’t ask for his daughter, but she appears as everything else does, in some bubble of time and space. After taking her to skating practise, he seems impressed.  He asks how long she has been doing it and she replies three years.  Somehow, he failed to notice.
Required to go to Italy by yet another phone call telling him where to go and what to do, Marco has to take Cleo. The Italian sequence plays like a parallel universe La Dolce Vita.  Marco’s life is not sweet but brittle; it is grandiose and weird and takes place around you, but doesn’t involve you.  The only women are over-accessorized and most are trying to sleep with you for bragging rights.  The ones who have slept with you already are mad at you and the only way to shut them up is to sleep with them again, which angers your daughter, but her you can appease.
Stephen Dorff/Elle Fanning

Any actual sex is off-screen.  Onscreen, Marco is a sexual narcopleptic – falling asleep whenever he’s supposed to be stimulated.  This is reality porn – a slice of life without a cum shot.  He goes through life as a sleepwalker, doing what he is told, no matter how boring or unpleasant.  He shrugs off awards, press junkets, and parties he is having completely orchestrated by others with equanimity.  He does not seem to know what to do with himself at all when someone is not giving him the very next task.  Only Cleo’s presence seems to thaw him to life, but perhaps too little too late.

The film’s only almost a-ha moment comes when Marco drives Cleo to summer camp.  Her mother has now taken indefinite leave of LA and parenting.  Elle Fanning’s stoic Cleo breaks down in tears as they drive into the desert, suddenly becoming the child she is, wondering what she will be coming back to when camp is over.  As Marco says goodbye to her as he stands under the already whirling helicopter, he has a moment where he almost decides to become a man and her father, yet somehow, lets it fall short.  She has not heard; he makes no effort to comfort her or even himself.

The film’s ending seems to leave us near where we started.  Marco has come to some level of self-awareness, but we’ve no idea if he’ll use this to help himself or destruct completely.  His blubbering phone call to what is most likely an ex is a typical feature of Los Angeles modern life.  She has no time for him and his self-indulgence, as he probably had no time for her needs when she presented them.

With it’s aridity and heat, LA does not eviscerate, it evaporates the lives of its humans.  Marco is just another patch of desert sand hoping to hide a gusher underneath.  Coppola unfolds this slowly, carefully, sleekly and elegantly, delivering a movie dripping with the sorrow of loneliness, and ultimately more haunting than any genre film you may take in over the Halloween weekend.

Sofia Coppola


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Practivist of the Week - Mark Walton

Well - here it is - the first pracitivist feature!  He's answered my "Practivism Questionnaire" and here are the responses.

Mark Walton

Practivism Questionnaire

Name:  Mark Walton

How old are you, if you don’t mind?

I’m 41 – and even if I did mind there wouldn’t be much I could do about that.

What is the main focus of your practivism at this time and how does that manifest?

The main focus of my practivism is currently The Waterways Project @ CIVA. It’s a new project that I set up with a friend in August this year to explore the potential for the development of community assets and social enterprise on and around Britain’s canal system.

British Waterways, the public body that manages the 2,200 miles of canals in Britain, is about to be transformed into a charity. We want to ensure that as many communities as possible benefit from this change. We believe that the canal system, as well as being a magnificent piece of industrial heritage, also has the potential to be the biggest piece of sustainable infrastructure in the UK. Think about New York’s 1.5 mile High Line then multiply by about 1,500...

What route did you take to get here?

When the government first started to publicly consult on the idea of turning British Waterways into a charitable body, my mind started racing with ideas at how this could open up opportunities for communities living on and around the canals. But the canals have a long history and some long-standing user groups and so there was also a fear that only those people already interested would get involved in thinking about this new opportunity.

I racked my brains for someone to talk to about it and thought of my friend Ben Metz. We used to work together in community recycling organisations many moons ago and we get fired up about the same kind of issues. We met up for beers a few times over a number of months and our excitement grew. We sketched out an idea for a big conference to bring people together and went to a funder to ask them to back it. They liked our idea but sent us away and told us to come back with a bigger project. So we did.

The Waterways Project will run for about six months. We have two paid part-time workers, a couple of interns and we are busy seeking pro bono help and approaching business schools to see if we can get some of their students working on projects for us.

The transformation of British Waterways into a charity was confirmed by the government in the last couple of weeks and we only have a few months to influence how it happens, what it ends up looking like, and to excite a whole load of new people into thinking differently about our waterways.

We believe there are opportunities to develop new social enterprises in the fields of housing, energy generation, food growing and a range of other sectors that could provide new income for the charity as well as jobs and other benefits for local communities. We’ve created an online map so that local canal users can get involved by suggesting ideas in their area. More generally we are also developing a business case for each of the sectors we are exploring.

What makes this practivism?

The government in the UK is currently looking to offload a whole range of assets from public into private / charity / community ownership. We could have just thrown our hands up in horror and complained about it. We could have never taken it beyond the pub, or Twitter, or Facebook.

Instead we looked at what was happening and asked ourselves how we could turn this to the advantage of social entrepreneurs and communities. We looked at our own knowledge and connections and skills and decided how we could best use them. Then we convinced someone else that it was worth funding us to do it. 

From here, where?

Who knows? This project is focused on one particular case of an asset being moved from the public sector into charitable ownership. But there will be others.  We are looking to see where we can apply the lessons we are learning in this project and how we can develop our approach to create genuine new opportunities to involve communities in the management of our commonly held assets.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

beauty in the hood - first in a series

Yeah - am completely behind with this blogging thing, which you'll notice when you realize I'm still blogging LA stuff and am 3 weeks gone from there!

I took these videos in the hood - this is part of the outdoor space between LACMA and the Tar Pits. 

This is what art is for - to bring beauty and tranquility into daily life.  I like to watch these clips when it's getting a little hectic in my world.


Calder always had a way with public art - featured here Hello Girls!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monday's Quote - Lee

"Use that which works, and take it from any place you can find it."

-Bruce Lee

I find this to be a particularly liberating notion. 

Happy Week!

Friday, 22 October 2010

the birth of practivism?

Practivism:  proactive, pragmatic, promotable activism.

As far as I know, I just came up with this word or contraction.  Maybe I should google it.

It's been a strange week - an explosive pub owner, and a full moon on the rise -- I've been witnessing a lot of rants, even more than usual even for a spoken word artist.

(I have just googled.  It appears Canadian designers are using the term.  Canadian + designer = double progressives.)

Rants are good chest-clearers, but they can lead to hating.  And we all know being a hater is not where it's at. 

Is going to rallies and marches being an activist?

So many people in the grassroots community refer to themselves as activists, that it makes me wonder sometimes what we think that term means.

Tweeting that you are upset about a jury verdict in a police brutality case - does that make you an activist?

Does just having, holding, and perhaps occasionally speaking an alternative opinion to public policy make you an activist?

I say no.

I say working solidly within your community to build it to a better place makes you a practivist.

So now I'm thinking I might highlight some practivists every so often.  Lucky for me, I know quite a few.

: )

Monday, 18 October 2010

Monday's Quote - Basho

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought."


Ah....lovely....welcome to the week!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Monday's Quote on Tuesday -- Planck

I claim yesterday as a travel day.  And today as a jet-lag day.  And, no, that's not the quote.  This is:

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

-Max Planck

That's physics talking.  Make of it what you will.

Monday, 4 October 2010

the books are here!

and they look awesome!

: )

Monday's Quote - Beal

Welcome to the first Monday in October!  Let's make it count!

"Love they neighbour as yourself, but choose your neighbourhood."

-Louise Beal

This meant a lot to me when I first encountered it.  If you have comments or thoughts, leave them below.

Oh, and the SWIMMING THROUGH AMBER book release is tonight!

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

the social dilemma

I was going to do a review-style blog on The Social Network, but then I read Joe Morgenstern's fantastic Wall Street Journal review, and decided there was no need.  As a movie, this is the ugly underside of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and the true inheritor of the original Wall Street's mantle as definitive of a generation's relationship to power, money and avarice.

Eisenberg's Zuckerberg and Timberlake's Parker get the bad mojo rolling

What is gnawing at me about the movie, though -- one of the best and tensest dramas I've ever seen -- is the implications of the truths it lays bare.

1:  Was the largest social construct ever created outside of civilization itself engineered by a sociopath?

2:  If there was no Facebook would Tyler Clementi  have killed himself last week?

These beg a lot of questions.  Most importantly:  is Zuckerberg a sociopath?

Just for fun - here's the Oxford American definition:

sociopath |ˈsōsēōˌpaθ|nouna person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

After sitting with the movie for a bit and mulling over Zuckerberg's behaviour, the answer is, well, not exactly - not yet or rather, not in the time frame of the movie.  He certainly has tendencies.  The urges behind those tendencies get channeled into programming and then you get Facebook, and we all know where we are with that.

There are a lot of chicken-egg scenarios here, and the potential for circling logic.  If he wasn't such a great programmer would he have become American Psycho instead?  Or, if he wasn't such a great programmer would he also not have the same sociopathic tendencies.  He didn't exactly commit crimes, he committed indiscretions.  Those may have come from his being emotionally immature which may have been the result of his age, or those may have come from his upbringing, which we don't see in the movie, or they may just be part of his character.  The question is whether the same Mark Zuckerberg, with tiny changes in situation, could have evolved into someone very different.  Say a Unabomber type.

Again, a lot of assumptions, but here's what I'm really interested in.  What happens when a person who has a whole lot of trouble with humanity in general and individuals specifically is the architect of the web that now binds us beyond time and geography.

Well, the answer is we don't know.  In the words of the movie, "we don't know what it is yet."

But what do we know?

That a very promising young musician committed suicide last week because his privacy was violated in the most intimate of ways.

For the recap - his roommate and a friend had a webcam going in the room while Tyler Clementi had a date with a man.  They not only watched this from the room next door - they streamed it.  This not only exposed someone's most intimate moments, it also outed him as a homosexual.

What does Mark Zuckerberg have to do with this?   Nothing.  And everything.

We exist differently since Facebook.  Myspace did not change our behaviour in the ways that Facebook has.  We exist collectively, we will be assimilated, all the while flailing our arms exclaiming our individuality.  We will lives our lives in public, then post links to the erosions of our privacy.

We were never very good with boundaries as a species.  We overdid it in Victoriana and the 50's, then we got wildly free in the 60's and 70's until STD's and HIV put a stop to that party.  We have spent the Oprah decades oversharing which might have been okay if not for Facebook, and Twitter, where we can completely disconnect our impulse controls, circumvent out own judgement and tie our brains into the collective grid.  William Gibson called this "jacking in" and it seemed like a far-off concept in Neuromancer.  It doesn't anymore.

When Tyler's roommate and his friend were streaming live video, they were committing an extreme case of oversharing.   They were sharing somebody else's private moments.  Before you argue, think about times you might have posted things on behalf of other people without their permission or prior knowledge,  say "Alfie and I just had an awesome brunch at The Griddle" or "my prayers go out to so and so and their family on their loss," (I imagine there are a lot of those out there now about Tyler) perhaps even linking them to your post, so others have theability to examine their lives .

Tyler's roommate and his friend were doing it as a lark -- in another pop culture moment, they were punking him.

Mostly, and this is sad, I suspect they were doing it because they could.  And because it was cool.  And both of these things are concepts Sorkin's screenplay and Fincher's movie tackle.

Mallory climbed Everest famously, "because it's there."  Hackers and coders have long had that same sense of adventure, though they do it from home.

Zuckerberg built Facebook because he could see it and because it opened a window on the coolness he coveted  that might possibly lead to a door.  He and Saverin argue repeatedly over the economics of cool and Saverin always loses.

Tyler Clementi's is not the only casualty of this type of human digitization.  There are plenty of cases of kids being cyber-bullied and trying to hurt themselves as a result.  There are plenty of cases of feuding exes and de-friendings.  Like the real world, the virtual one has its ugly side.

But Tyler's story is just particularly awful.  It's awful because there is some implication that the two people who did it had absolutely no sense of the humanity of the subjects of their prank.  As they imagined and enabled the 2-D version of reality, they lost all sense of the 3-D world.  Tyler and his date were no longer people to them - they were images.  They were a good story or a good joke and the uploading and streaming of the moment would make

No matter how you look at it, the story is heartbreaking.  No matter whose role you take in the events -- Tyler's, his date's, his parents, family, roommate, classmates, orchestra-mates -- you are left fractured.  This didn't have to happen at all - in fact - shouldn't have happened.  No matter how robust our technology and our ability to pump it up gets, we still need to remember how fragile a psyche is.

Zuckerberg's main character flaw is a fairly universal one.  He feels that no one's suffering is as poignant or deep as his own.  He sees the world as a bunch of haves, and himself as an unfairly deprived have not.  His actions stem from wanting to correct that balance - a sure product of our survival instincts, but one that allows him to steal, lie, cheat and be conveniently "wired in" whenever the emotional shit hits the fan.

No, you don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

So now what?