Watch a Slime Mold

October 31, 2010


unshakable cliches no.1

October 30, 2010

.you can not care for others if you fail to care for yourself.


Smoke is built around a Brooklyn smoke-shop, and its owner Auggie. From there, it expands to include Paul (a novelist, lost in writer’s block), Rashid (a teenage runaway), and (briefly) Ruby (an ex-girlfriend from Auggie’s distant past).

Auggie – at first straightforward – turns out to be the key to the film’s most interesting themes, rendered with quriky poetry.  For years, every day, at 8am, he has been taking a photograph of the same street corner… “…it’s just one little part of the world, but things take place there too, just like everywhere else.” And the Christmas story told by Auggie… “the best Christmas story you’ve ever heard. And I’ll guarentee that every word of it is true”.

I like Smoke despite its uninteresting film-making.

Like a wound-up film-student, I usually dislike movies into which as all the creative energy is spent on plot and dialogue, with little (apparent) time given to film-making as a craft. I want film-makers – directors, editors, cinematograher and (increasingly) computer animators – to make a distinct mark on their films.

Some movies roll almost like stage-plays; the camera functions as a recording device. I want something besides the mechanical repition of what the actors did in front of a camera. (This is, I admit, an illusion. Any movie is constructed from multiple versions, shot by several cameras, edited together. But some seem shot and edited to avoid intruding on the action).

The filmmaking of Smoke is not without a few (brief) intrusions.  I found Auggie’s photographs fascinating, and oddly stunning. We are once treated to a series of them filling the screen. Smoke’s narative structure is unusual: divided into sections, each starting and finishing with one character’s story, with other stories woven in.

Like any good story I’ve every met, Smoke plays with a tangle of themes… The pacing of life, an eggshell between estrangment and reunion, the patience required to find beauty in the mundane, and gems like truth and kindness engineered from make-believe.

Me and the Pigeons

October 27, 2010

A researcher (University of Kentucky psychology professor Thomas Zentall) studying the gambling behaviour of pigeons has – so far – concluded two things:

(1) Pigeons will gamble, despite the odds being against them. Pigeons were presented with the choice between two options: (a) provided a certain three food-pellets, (b) gave an average of 2 pellets, but featured a random bounty of between 1-5 pellets. Despite its poverty (and conventional biology-wisdom that claims that animals would not engage in gambling), most pigeons chose option (b).

(2) Pigeons who are bored are more prone to falling for the lure of gambling. In a follow up study, pigeons were kept in one of two conditions: (a) a cage without stimulation, (b) a large enclosure with toys and other pigeons.  Group (a) was significantly more prone to gambling.

How many of us are bored out of our minds?…
Or, at very least, under-stimulated — rotting below human potential?

When thinking about how our societies should be organized, who considers boredom?

uncredited photo (pest removal site)

photo by Jan Helle (Flikr)

La double vie de Veronique (1991)
Krzysztof Kieslowski

I  don’t remember the first time I saw The Double Life of Veronique. It was probably the revue cinema in Peterborough… my habitual seat, near the front, left of center.  Whatever…

Double Life is not to everyone’s taste, but it is to mine. It’s not without flaws, especially: some of the acting is an embassaly earnest. (I rarely think of acting – compared to
directing, lighting, editing, etc – as a noteworthy topic. Unless, that is, its illusion is cracked by some ineptitude).

There is an real character to Double Life. The plot – built around a mystical connection between two strangers – seems to be told without the demand that it be
completely believed. It is, visually, intensely stylized. Like the a puppet show contained in the story, the film maker s have made no attempt to hide their hands.

Doub le Life is shot usin g coloured filters and ornamental lighting. So many scenes are bathed in richly coloured lighting that the few w hich are naturalistic seem oddly surreal… (I doubt that this was not calculated). When awakened by a late-night phone call, the lighting of Veronique’s face slowly increases as her grogginess lifts. The streets of Krakow are shot through grey-beige light. Other scenes are swamped in warm yellow-gold and an oddly beautiful green.

Camera-motion is kept short of a gimmick… the gaze o ccasionally follows a character’s vision, tilt ing and in one case, f alling to the floor.

Almost all movies confine any abstract visuals to behind the opening credits. In Double Life, the screen dissolves into a several abstract shots and short passages. Intense eroticism is amplified by a close camera and the blurred results of an extremely short focal length… like eyes struggling to focus.

The plot manages to peek and then hold my interest and curiosity. (Again, this is unusual. Like acting, I most often find plot to be of only minimal interest… not infrequently an excuse to keep the film rolling).

The plot of Double Life manages to be both subtle into grandiose,

The plot is decorated with visual symbols and meticulous self-references. Sometimes cryptic, these are not essential to the story and usually avoid tackiness, choosing instead to allow its audience to miss, or manage to notice them. They are always unimportant enough to the story to avoiding turning the film into a frustrating exercise in puzzling… but relevant enough for them to enrich repeat viewings.

Besides storyline, the plot devotes its attention to themes of love, companionship and solitude. Veronique quits singing (breaks with teacher). Veronika goes to Krakow to visit her aging Aunt, leaving behind her lover. Both Veronique and Veronika have tender, loving relations with their fathers and have lost their mothers. When we first meet Veronique she is making love to a man who, minutes later, she does not allow to stay. The subplot involves a lie about intimacy. A character turns the pursuit of intimacy into a game. There are co-incidences between characters who never meet. A hotel room is oddly furnished with two single beds pushed together. The story has Veronique, in several different senses, looking at herself. And finally: most central of all, there is the mystical link between (French) Veronique and (Polish) Veronika.

The ending of Double Life was re-edited for release in the US. It’s actually not terrible (such things, of course, are plenty to provoke a cringe). This alternative ending does not even destroy the closing of the original version. It does, however, wrap what is the film’s most cryptic moment within a bit of extra narrative. This makes it more palatable to anyone who does not like the unsettling feeling that they may have missed something.  On one hand,  Kieslowski is to be admired for creating a film so rich and complex while not poking his audience with that irritating feeling. I think audiences should feel curious, not taunted.
…still, I prefer the original ending.

taste, picture this -No.2

October 25, 2010



Vineyard at Chateau Beaucastel. Southern Rhone, France....... ---(not my photo, source lost)



October 24, 2010

cowards and martyrs

October 23, 2010

On this day, in 1983, suicide bombers attacked two targets is Beirut.

I was eleven, and my memory is terrible, but I remember Reagan calling it a “cowardly act”.




October 21, 2010

traffic in Lahore, Pakistan --- photo Usman Latif

taste, picture this -No.1

October 18, 2010



vineyard, Santorini (Greece) -photo Sarah Gould(Sarako, Flikr)