Sunday, December 21, 2008

VW Bus in Bullrun II

I know who I'm rooting for this year.

Bullrun is the quasi-road rally reality show that moves from Spike to SPEED this year that breaks up its 'rally' sections with precision driving challenges. Last year's season went to a Trans Am against an old Olds and a F-150. Ultimately the show amounted to fuel capacity and navigation, the challenge dominating Lotus Exige was eliminated after getting lost on a second leg. The fragile Murcilago eliminated itself after the drivers tried to limp on by having their car towed through the legs of the race, providing validation for my dislike of supercars.

Now I have a reason (other than a thin part of the racing season) to watch the show.

You have to scan ahead to 6:21 to see the Bus that'll be taking it to the other tuner cars (unpimping their autos, as it were) this February:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I do things without asking. Lists updated, of course can be undone.

It's Here!

My field recorder!

Two more steps and my project is underway!

If I had gotten the camera first, that'd be a much better picture of the recorder. Also, apparently when you buy used you get a whole lot of packing material but no manual. I'll have to download one.

Like most huge electronic purchases it's just sitting there refusing to entertain me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who Knew You Could Use "Brechtian" and Jean Claude Van Damme in the Same Sentence?

Well, now you can. Being on foot while working has meant that I have walked by theaters and have had some impulse viewings of films I've mentioned here already in an attempt to actually follow through on things I had hinted were interesting. That has meant seeing the previous posts' Repo! The Genetic Opera and the meta-action Jean Claude Van Damme movie, JVCD.

Having already discussed the premise in my earlier post, the movie lived up to its billing. We are treated to a down on his luck, misunderstood Van Damme. If the character of himself is to be believed, even he doesn't like his movies.

The movie is heavily desaturated with the light blown out. The Brecht comes in the form of a monologue delivered among the hanging lights above the set where Van Damme gives a 30% justification 70% apology for who he has been and the movies he has made (or if you're cynical, 25% justification, 35% apology, and 40% audition for serious roles that don't involve kicking anyone.)

This isn't a clumsily done attempt to rebrand an actor, even if it is clearly an attempt to rebrand an actor. Audience information is carefully controlled to create conclusions that the film later questions and the film does not even allow him the minor victory that is crafted at the end that would frankly have diminished the rest of the film. As a critique of media and cult of personality it falls short of many better attempts, but overall pretty interesting.

My only real complaint is that if you're going to blow out all the light in the film, color the subtitles so they don't get lost.

He also all but calls out Steven Segal to make the same move. Now that's something I'd like to see. But then, I am from the generation of appreciating things ironically.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Idiot Proof Filmmaking?

You've no doubt had this conversation. You're trying to discuss your disappointment with a film with someone who you didn't realize was a hard core fan. Maybe your critique is mild, you just didn't think an aspect worked but you still overall liked the movie. And then they hit you with it, "You have to appreciate it for what it is."

And there it is, the ultimate trump, the 'get out of jail free' card of what would otherwise be an undefensibly bad film. Like all easy outs, it's founded in a legitimate complaint that has been banged, stretched, and drawn over until it has almost no meaning left.

Can you really say that you can measure Citizen Kane and Young Frankenstein or Heat with the same stick? I would argue, as others, that a movie has to at least primarily be evaluated within its genre (and I swear I'll one day do that big ass genre post that I created this blog for in the first place one day), but beyond that intent, time, wouldn't be productive to compare all films to The Bicycle Thief.

But where does that end and simply making excuses for lazy film making begin?

I bring this up because it's been a week of follow up, I actually watched Repo!: The Genetic Opera and JCVD, both of which had been prompts for recent posts. I'll get to JCVD in another post that, if you read in page order you've already read but I haven't written yet...cosmic...

Repo! is largely what could be expected from the billing. It does have Paris Hilton's face falling off, for what's that worth...

It's wall to wall guitar with a score that doesn't so much sound like separate songs but rather one long track, as if Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody had been two hours long. I have to correct myself in that it is not a musical conceived for film but actually did start out as a stage piece first. There were stylistic elements that seemed to overlap - a whole subplot appeared to be created just to give the 'streetwise' narrator character a motivation as he acted like The MC in Cabaret. But there was no pay off for him. Further complicating that is the use of comic book panels to handle other aspects of exposition.

Which is not to say that it's all bad, it manages to create a complex and ultimately compromised anti-hero and a devil's bargain ending that creates a not often used third option for the protagonist.

In its opening week it only played in 8 theaters, one less by the time I saw it. Its per screen average was a respectable $6k in it's opening week, but has suffered a 64% drop.

But as I left the theater I stopped and looked at the midnight movie listings (I missed The Warriors showing with gang costume contest) - is it going to matter? There is really little to no chance for this film to gain mainstream success. Lightening could strike, word of mouth on this film is actually pretty decent for this film in the right crowd, if the people who had prompted me to actually quest for the film are anything to go by. But if they are, then the success or failure of the movie isn't going to matter.

Any criticism of this movie for them will be brushed off as not appreciating it for what it is. Soundtracks will be bought, small theater productions staged, and midnight screenings (perhaps with costume contests) will be had. In it's theatrical run they likely haven't even made back Hilton's salary, but in the slow burn DVD sales and cult following from Saw fans, or Skinny Puppy fans, or the gore/goth/whatever else that this movie taps on the head will likely be a steady check for at least a few years.

And once it's there, it's idiot proof. What's it going to matter what a critic says? What difference will its theatrical release make? Dismal showings will only build the movies legend, the fact that it was screened in a single digit number of theaters only cinches that. This goes beyond appreciating a movie ironically, which may be at the root of this practice but has long since been left on the side of the road wondering what happened.

So far my completely unscientific poll of two whole people who have seen it automatically make excuses for it as they tell you they like it.

Ironic appreciation has evolved itself into an idiot proof film formula. I don't know how I feel about it. With the DVD/midnight movie cult, movies that are too high concept to be really have any mainstream hope have a chance to live, and therefore made. But at the same time I grow tired of having to defend a critique by assuring the person that I'm not comparing their movie to Casablanca just because I felt a particular subplot was unmotivated.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Can't Say No

I just bought the last major piece of my audio kit, hopefully paving the way for my new career as a field audio mixer for television and film (mostly television, documentaries etc. Film is a whole different set of gear and demands).

Ultimately, this was a good deal. It's a quality recorder, has all the functions that I need, and I picked it up used at a third of the price it or a like recorder would go for.

And yet, a few mere hours since placing the order, I'm a wreck.

I realized a while ago that my problem with making decisions and buying things specifically is that I never view it as selecting one thing, but rather turning down a bunch of other stuff. I didn't decide to buy a mixer, I instead decided not to get any of the following-

- A less functional recorder and a still camera.
- Same less functional recorder and a used 3 CCD miniDV camcorder
- A cheap motorcycle
- A barrier mic
- A better shotgun mic
- Any of the other half dozen recorders I was looking at
- Replace the cool box in my bus
- Side tent for my bus
- PS3 or Wii

I could go on...

There are reasons that I made the decision that I did, and even better reasons that I didn't make any of the purchases I didn't make. But that doesn't mean that once I make a decision I don't feel like I shut down all the other options. I'm honestly more comfortable sitting here thinking of all the things I could do.

This might be from being poor-most of the time any amount of money I spend is in my fantasy world. It's hard for me to make the transition to all those fantasies to one reality is a hard one for me to handle.

This is probably the most telling aspect of my personality. I'm far more enamored with what could be than actually is.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Want Lieberman Back in the Caucus

I always feel ridiculous when I do political posts for a number of reasons. The world really doesn't need another political blog, especially from someone as unqualified for it as me. Not that it really needs a media criticism/social commentary blog with a loose premise that we've all but abandoned early on, but what ever.

Lieberman has his problems, and the aforementioned blogs have no doubt gone over and over it again and again, and I think their reasonings are at least in part right. There are valid reasons to want him out, and I get it.

But here's the thing-I didn't like Obama because he gave great speeches or that his candidacy was historic or his health care plan or because he was against the war. Icing. What I liked was he was someone I could disagree with. Look, I'm not going to agree with everything any president does, it's just not going to happen. I wouldn't agree with everything I would do as president in all likelyhood. What I wanted was someone who was open to the discussion. I wanted discourse, something that hasn't been around for the past, say, eight years.

And that means that you can't really punish dissent. Yes, Lieberman said some crappy things during the campaign, yes he was as nasty as those he supported, yes he campaigned against his own party down the line. All bad. But if I want discussion against things I don't agree with Obama with, that means that I'm going to have to want discussion against Obama with things I agree with. Is there a limit? Perhaps. I just don't want to have the first at bat set it.

Alright. Enough with the politics. Back to talking about movie trends for movies I haven't seen...(JVCD opens this weekend in SF!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Pseudo-documentary

Last night, Walrus, Jen and I went to see John Hodgman speak at the City Arts and Lectures series at the Herbst Theater in SF. It was, as was anticipated, highly entertaining--Hodgman's quirky genius for bullshit is unmatched.

It got me thinking, though, about bullshit of all kinds, and a semi-private wish that I've harbored for a long time: the pseudo-documentary. This is distinct from the mockumentary in that it is not intended as a platform for satire, like Waiting for Guffman or Zelig, but is rather a dead-serious film intended to inform the audience about something that does not, in fact, exist. There are glimmers of this on occasion; The Discovery Channel's The Future is Wild came awfully close by speculating (wildly) about what life might be like in hundreds of millions of years--the spear-chucking tree octopodes were pretty awesome, and shows like Star Wars Tech almost get there, but fall short by turning into ads for their subject matter.

What I really want to see is what's on the Discovery Channel in the Star Trek universe. It seems to me that some really cool ideas are being done a disservice by the need to connect them to a narrative with characters, resolution, and conflict.

Walrus and I had a brief opportunity to do something like this when we produced a magazine for a wierd sci-fi spaceship simulator we were involved with in the early '90s. We became the creative force for shaping the narrative surrounding this uber-geek enterprise, and it mainly took the form of an in-context magazine written for the consumption of not the players of the game, but for their in-game personae. I guess it was kind of an exercise in role-playing, really, but I liked the idea of it in a more abstract way.

I'd like to kick around the idea of a Journal of Unreal Studies--a forum for all that doesn't exist yet bears discussion nevertheless. Any ideas out there?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What Would "Back" Look Like?

There was an argument that would happen from time to time with me and SR about whether or not the film musical was 'back.' He was for, I was against. It seemed to me that it was a short trend that would last no longer than occasional bursts of westerns (remember the summers of Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, and Wild Bill that followed the success of Unforgiven? Then a whole lot of nothing except the occasional 3:10 to Yuma.)

But westerns are still being made, if occasionally. And so are musicals. Big budget musical films have continued to be produced year after year, tracking back to Chicago to this year's Mamma Mia!. Certainly they have been made with greater frequency than westerns.

But does that constitute 'back?' Does 'back' merely mean that they exist separate of isolated 'me too' trends in movie releases, or does it have to compare to the heyday of the film musical, the thirty year run where the film musical was king?

I have to admit that my criteria for denying that it was back was nested partly in that it was too early to tell, and partly in what a high watermark that musicals have left.

But now I have to conclude that this is an unfair standard. Part of what drove the film musical was the old studio system. Packaged stars and a near factory approach to film making as well as a more thoroughly integrated system meant that theaters could literally be flooded with musicals year in and year out. Most of the assessments of the musical cite the rise of rock and roll and changing sensibilities as the death of the musical, but it seems that it would be no coincidence that the decline of the musical coincides with the decline of the studio system.

Certainly the dissolving of things like the Hayes Code would change thing, changing the landscape of films from all having a more or less vanilla morality to them to grittier movies like The Man With the Golden Arm and The Bicycle Thief, that helped break the code down. Certainly there would still be room for a South Pacific in such a world, but room still had to be made.

The truth is that no single type of film could ever achieve the complete dominance the film musical used to have. The only real 'type' of film that can compare would be the blockbuster, since movie studios use these films as 'tentpoles' to support riskier projects, losses, and regular old studio maintenance.

But the thing is, these can come in any flavor, and certainly have come in the guise of musicals such as Chicago, Dreamgirls, Moulin Rouge!, Mamma Mia!. But there have been losers as well, in Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers. In fact, it seems for every major success of a movie musical there is a two laying at their feet.

However, they're still being made. For near release there is Repo! The Genetic Opera, Dark Streets, and Christmas on Mars. Unlike Dreamgirls or Chicago, none of these are based on a stage musical. Each actually attempts a new take on the musical, Dark Streets a smokey jazz fantasy/thriller, Repo! A Genetic Opera a sci fi musical from the producers of Saw, and Christmas on Mars essentially a rock band film in the vein of The Wall or Tommy, but this time for The Flaming Lips.

Honestly, none of these are likely to make much of a splash at the box office. But the thing is, they're still getting made. Not to mention upcoming releases of Jeckyll & Hyde, Aida, Jesus Christ Superstar (I was as surprised as you are), Footloose and Wicked. It's been six years since Chicago, seven since Moulin Rouge!, and almost two decades since Beauty and the Beast and Nightmare Before Christmas arguably opened the door for the modern film musical.

If I bury this in enough quasi-film paper nonsense I can quietly admit, yes, the film musical is 'back.' But it's a diminished back, a back that does not come even close to restoring its prominence. It's not a back that can rely on the Great White Way. It is a back that still carries a higher than normal risk-it doesn't have a 'place' in the calender like the spring romances, the summer action films, or the fall prestige films. And it is a tenuous back. And has been well into my denials.

But that doesn't mean that I'm going to admit that the fantasy film is back. It would have to have had a 'there' to be back from...

Friday, November 07, 2008


In a fit of boredom I added some new toys to the list on the sidebar. Most of them are for me, lazy little ways to know if their is anything new out there without me having to actually look, and a racing calender that I'll more than likely delete sooner or later, or forget it's even there. I tried to add "You Are Here" to the list of sites that alert updates but it didn't work, so you'd still have to check manually to know if she did.

I also added a subscription link, which if it works the way I think it does, means that the blog will tell you when it updates instead of forcing whoever might still be marginally interested to make futile, optimistic checks to see if we've gotten off our butts and written something. I also re-added sitemeter so I can see just how in vain it all is again. SO-42 is the camper package in my bus, Westfalia SO-42, the most common.

That's whats passing for contribution today. I wanted to add that cool 'most recent comments' thing from Incertus but I couldn't find it and it would just depress me anyway since there are hardly ever comments anyway...

EDIT: Ah, just click on it and follow instructions...and yep, instantly depressing...
EDIT II: More toys, the little question at the end of the posts that allows you to be dismissive passively...disappointing that the question cannot be customized for each post, and definitely have to come up with a better question (SR, if you got one just go ahead and change it) because I'm not so much a glutton for punishment to deal with all 'meh' responses. Palin spellings due to space.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Meta Action Hero Duel

Parallel production isn't all that uncommon-back to back summers hosted dueling volcano movies (Dante's Peak vs. the more direct Volcano) then Killer Asteroid movies (Armageddon vs. Deep Impact). I compared before battling up-coming 're-dos' of franchise films.

Coming soon two very different kinds of action heroes are staring it two very different kinds of self-referential films. This, of course, is not new. Marked by some as the beginning of the end for action hero turned 'governator,' The Last Action Hero was essentially a ham-handed commentary on Schwarzenegger's career. This new pair of films combines The Last Action Hero's 'treatise on the star' element with open referential elements in movies like The Player, Being John Malchovich, or the recent What Just Happened?.

First up is JVCD, starring Jean Claude Van Damme as Jean Claude Van Damme, aging, relevance fading, barely enough energy to keep up even his tarnished star. The down on his luck Van Damme finds himself in the middle of a hostage crisis - no stunt co-coordinators, no fight choreographing - just plain pedestrian victimhood, seasoned with the reputation of a former action star. His groin aching splits and lightening kicks don't win the day, but instead appear as a side show display in an attempt to amuse his captors and prolong his life.

The other side of the coin is My Name is Bruce, starring Bruce Campbell again as Bruce Campbell, B-movie star drunk (almost literally) on his own niche fame. In contrast to JVCD's image in contrast to stark reality approach, My Name is Bruce has the reality meet the fantasy of Campbell's persona. Ultimately they are the same story - actor meets 'real' situations that they have portrayed in movies and has to deal accordingly. It just so happens that Campbell's world is of pure fantasy.

On the surface, these stories are not new. Comedies such as The Three Amigos and Galaxyquest have dealt with actors famous for a genre of film being thrust into a 'real' situation. There's even a Twilight Zone episode where a cowboy hero finds himself face to face with the 'real' Jesse James.

My Name is Bruce takes the traditionally self effacing route, appearing to paint himself as comedically incompetent after previous false bravado. (the trailer seems to even take a swipe at Van Damme as the overly arrogant Campbell touts his action hero credentials including, "Speaking English.")

The self-effacing also has a strong tradition, such as in Free Enterprise where William Shatner leans heavily on his reputation of being a slightly off balance good natured ego maniac (in the film hoping to stage a one man show production of Hamlet).

In contrast JVCD seems to take a slightly more sober 'treatise on the twilight of stardom' look, a sort of high kicking Sunset Boulevard. (Alright, I admit that at this point part of me is just seeing how many films these two can be said to drawing upon)

This is keeping with dueling concept movies, Dante's Peak being the slightly more sober volcano movie to Volcano's over the top 'volcano in LA' premise, Armageddon's 'rock star drillers on an asteroid' vs the 'there's nothing we can do but accept that we're going to get hit by an asteroid' Deep Impact. For what it's worth, over the top trumps sober every time. (though that doesn't seem as likely this time as Campbell will be touring personally with his film, joining Tarantino's Grindhouse throwback to personality driven B-movie hey day. (seriously, once you start it's hard to stop...) and JCVD will have traditional release)

Which means in all likely-hood I won't be able to compare them (not that after my long to-do about Diary of the Dead I actually saw it...<.< >.>) unless this suddenly becomes a well read and often updated site making me an actual critic and I get invitations to these things. But for that to happen these rambles would have to come to some sort of conclusion. But for a dueling themed movies, I'll take self-examining action heroes over asteroids any day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Return of Lonesome Rhodes

I don't want all of my posts regarding media and culture to relate to the same three movies, but it's far to appropriate that avoiding it would be conspicuous.

Lonesome Rhodes, for those who don't know, is the name of the character played by Andy Griffith in the 1997 Elia Kazan film, A Face in the Crowd. The movie tells the story of Rhodes as he is discovered by a radio documentarian in a rural jail. His folksy wisdom soon earns him a following that is exploited by the people around. His popularity is snowballed until he and his handlers start to fancy him a king-maker and he becomes corrupted with his own power.

There are two reads to this-that Rhodes was an essentially good man who was corrupted, or Rhodes was a mean man that a cult could conceal for only so long. The movie certainly leans on the former, with Walter Mathau's line, "You gotta be a saint to stand all the power that little box(TV) can give you." For the purpose of this discussion, it doesn't really mater.

By now, I'm sure, it's obvious why I'm bringing this up. Just about every one has talked Joe Wurzelbacker in some capacity or another by now, to the point that I don't have to give any background on it. But it's exactly that kind of attention that brings me to mention him and one of my favorite movies.

Since Joe's debut in the final election he has had what could be considered a predictable arc. The media camped out on the man's lawn and mined him for every opinion he might have. Lou Dobbs has endorsed the man for the Senate. He has a book, publicist, and is even considering a album. And Joe is on the campaign trail. Consider for a moment this scene from A Face in the Crowd-

Lonesome Rhodes: This whole country's just like my flock of sheep!
Marcia Jeffries: Sheep?
Lonesome Rhodes: Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president - and you'll be the power behind me!

In my previous post comparing a media figure to Rhodes (and Howard Beale and Brian from Life of Brian) I gave the figure credit for having enough of a sense of irony and self awareness to not be consumed by it, Howard Beale style. I don't know that it is true of our friend Joe.

There are two paths for Joe now, depending on how the person who thrust him into the spot light fares next Tuesday-he will either be the everyman kingmaker that saved the day for McCain or an Alamo-like symbol for a party looking to create a new identity after a devastating loss.

Either way, he is a product of the machine now, and the machine is not kind. The Lou Dobbs Chris Crocker-esque defense of Joe will only last so long. We won't need a Mel Miller to flick on a camera feed to let us know the real Wurzelbacker.

A Face in the Crowd contains one of the best and prophetic monologues at the end of the film after Rhodes is exposed for the bastard he has become (or always was)-
Lonesome Rhodes: Listen, I'm not through yet. You know what's gonna to happen to me?
Mel Miller: Suppose I tell you exactly what's gonna happen to you. You're gonna be back in television. Only it won't be quite the same as it was before. There'll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: "Why don't we try him again in a inexpensive format. People's memories aren't too long." And you know, in a way, he'll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won't. Oh, you'll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you'll have a show. It just won't be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody'll ask: "Whatever happened to, a, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh by the way, have you seen, a, Barry Mills? I think he's the greatest thing since Will Rogers."

After that, Miller calls to the applause machine operator to leave Rhodes with his canned audience.

That was fifty years ago. Before we went from three channels to hunderds. Before the internet and Web 2.0. Miller's life cycle still exists, but it now has an almost Moore's Law quality to it. He has to strike while the iron is hot because it cools quickly these days. It's not there is a lack of precedent, former Survivor contestants co-host shows, former reality show subjects host other reality shows as the monster eats itself.

But cynicism aside, we are a content hungry audience and novelty only will get you so far.

I don't know that Joe is ready for his own spotlight, much less his future as a footnote in presidential elections. It's easy to imagine your life as a kingmaker, not always as easy to imagine your life as an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.

Pt. 11 Finale:Berlin's Rough Patch

Berlin had a rough fifty years in the latter half of the twentieth century. If nothing else, it certainly as made the really good at memorializing.

First up was the Jewish museum. The only building in Berlin with more barriers and security (including the Reichstag) was the U.S. consulate. It's not so much for the threat of someone attacking it, but rather the demonstration of how serious they were about it.

The architecture was remarkable, and purposefully disorienting. It's dominated by this crazy criss-cross pattern.

Apparently this can be reconfigured into the Star of David.

Among the various instilations meant to deal with themes like diaspora, there was this one-

The room, with a ceiling several stories high, was filled with thousands of metal carved faces-

The visitor is invited to walk on them, which once suggested becomes a disturbing prospect. It's at once a hamhanded and effective symbol. In the antiseptic atmosphere of the museum, sharing the Perganon Museum's audio tour silenced vistors-wandering out onto the instillation is a little surreal. The clanks of the metal faces against each other under foot echo through the chamber. I noted that it sounded a bit like their cries, and was disturbed by the fact that it made me walk further. Not to say it was a metal Stanford Prison Experiment, but still.

One of the center pieces was an instillation that was supposed to memorialize the disorientation of the uprooted Jewish people. You exit the building into a into a courtyard with uneven floors and tall rectangular columns with a plant canopy filtering the sun.

It's impressive, not so much the second time-

Apparently, when it came time to build a Jewish Holocaust Memorial there was a contest on the design. The winner? A large expanse with an uneven floor and tall gray rectangular columns. One hundred feet from the Jewish History Museum, with it's display with an uneven floor and tall gray rectangular columns.

Also, disappointingly, it's the Jewish Holocaust Memorial because the counsel representing the Jewish community did not want to share this memorial with other victims of the Holocaust, meaning that homosexuals and gypsies had different, non-central memorials.

Across the street was a clutch of shops and restaurants, one of which had this out front-


There were reminders of that dark part of Berlin's history-a plaque down the street from my host's apartment noted a former train depot where Jews were loaded on board. It was a little harrowing, at least this time I had something to compare it with. It was the same feeling that hit me when I found out the mall I performed as the Easter Bunny was on the site of a Japanese internment camp. Not as severe by orders of magnitude, but still...

But that history doesn't leave the same kind of scar as the Berlin Wall. They only recently have started to create the memorial to that, preserving one section-

complete with 'zone of death'-

It's hard to imagine any country would want to build something like this again.

Just sayin'.

Well, that's it-that's the Germany trip. If you read through each update hoping for something like, "How the hell did someone like you end up in Germany?" and "Who is 'the host'?" well, sorry. Maybe later.

The complete photo album can be seen here. Maybe I'll even get around to labeling all of them...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pt. 10 Graveyards

It may seem a little 'Goth,' but we spent a little time in Berlin's cemeteries. There was a reason, of course-Berlin is the home of Bertolt Brecht.

Who had what seemed an appropriate grave-

But it was the graveyard that had been partially uprooted for the split between East and West Germany where, between the amusing one upmanship between secret and super secret or really secret or whatever advisers to royalty (my host has tried to explain the difficulty in translation, but it is not nearly as amusing as the grave stones that differentiate between secret and really secret advisers), came probably one of the more sobering things.

All throughout Berlin you can see the odd unrestored building riddled with bullet holes. I've spent my life where no war has scarred the landscape, war is an abstract to me. But what really hit me was walking through the graveyard.

Many of the tombstones were damaged and covered with bullet holes. Of course, I cannot imagine war, nor do I have much of a desire to. But that-this was the last gasp of the war for Germany, a street by street fight with a Soviet army that wasn't going to go easy. How horrifying, how morbid, to have this last stand among the graves. Some of the tombstones taught the military service of the person buried there or their children.

Afterward I became more aware of the stories of the bullet pock marks-imagining the sniper that must have held up on Museum Island that attracted the small group of bullet holes.

What made it worse was the graveyard had to be partially uprooted for the Berlin Wall to be made, a section of which was still up.

Actually, a great deal of it was still up, now used simply as the cemetery wall.

Which is I guess where all those authentic pieces bought by tourists are supposed to be coming from...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pt. 9 "The Garage"

I have to finish these posts, I'm starting to forget the name of this place. Whatever its name, it was awesome. Essentially a classic car showroom and storage facility for collectible cars, it was also open to the general public to wander in and out of to do the ultimate window shopping.

The cars on tap ranged from a 'lowly' Fiat 500-

to F1 boss Bernie Eccelstone's personal Thunderbird-

to this Audi...I gotta be honest, I have no idea what it is beyond Audi...

Two Enzos where on tap as well and it didn't occour to me to photograph them. That's how cool the cars were.

While no split windows, there were some Buses (or 'Bullis') there as well. The best thing about this one?

You could rent it. I spent a long time trying to come up with a reason we needed to rent a crane.
Eastern block cars were available as well-naturally the Trabant-

(Two fun side notes on the Trabant-first is that there is a Berlin tour that is conducted by a caravan of puttering Trabants, which I didn't take but did witness. The second was the explanation for what was going on on the back deck here-

It turns out, the roadside stop is really more of an American thing-in Europe at least for a while, once you were out of town, you were on your own. So it was common to bring along your own toilet paper, which modest people would knit cozies for... My host informed me that while a touch unnecessary now, it's still common for older people to have the little TP cozy in the back.)
There was also a Czech Tatra-

Not the cool 'Batmobile' style with the giant fin, but still cool. Also available for rent.
In the wild we spotted one of these-

Which was your alternative to the Trabant if you were an East German. (that's the new Fiat 500 in the background there, which seemed about as popular as the new Mini is here)
This seemed like the most functional of hood ornaments-

-except I imagine hard to read when in use.

The floor had silhouettes of famous racing circuits including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Daytona, Le Mans, and of course-

Avus. Which is also part of the Autobahn that still serves Berlin. And I totally drove on it. Awesome.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Pt. 8 Museum Island, or 'No autofocus!'

In the center of Mitte (which itself means 'middle' or something like it) there is an island with a collection of museums, the center piece of which is the Pergamon Museum which contains the Pergamon altar and the Ishtar gate. On display there was a massive Babylon exhibit divided into 'myths' and 'reality.' There were no photographs allowed, so I don't know where this came from.

By this time we had been to enough museums to decide to do away with the audio tour. We had been dragging these clumsy bastards around to only listen to maybe three tracks that more or less just repeated what was on the wall next to the display. Rather than jostle with the crowd for a cumbersome device to do our reading for us, we jumped ahead to the exhibit. (besides, we had an all museum pass, so there was no dallying...)

The result was on of the most surreal experiences of the trip. Among all the glass enclosed antiquity, massive throngs of museum goers shuffled around occasionally gathering in semi-circles to stare silently at displays. When the signal in their ears told them, they would shuffle off in small groups to stand in silence in another semi-circle around another display.

We darted in and out of these clusters, vaguely following the map that suggested our route. As we poked in and out looking for signs or sometimes not caring the silent people would move around us like water.

It was kind of wasn't even library quiet, it was quiet quiet. Footfalls and the occasional voice.

The 'truth' was stuffy and warm. Myth was air conditioned and spacious. I don't know if this was by design, but it certainly made me like the myths of Babylon a lot more. Plus, there was porn (for the 'whore of Babylon'), so that's always good.

We passed through other museums, the New Museum and Old Museum, where I was taking these pictures when I encountered the strangest photography restriction yet-

A kindly but heavily accented curator came up to me and said, "No autofocus." (well, actually, he was one of the few people that didn't just automatically speak to me in English. Apparently I scream, "Not German.") We figured that since I was taking close ups they were afraid the that the lens moving in and out might hit the sculpture.

The real highlight (well, there were a lot) was the Turkish street vendors on the bridges selling 'authentic' Soviet paraphernalia, mostly hats and pins. My host informed me that for ten year after the fall they were selling 'authentic' chunks of the Berlin wall (which can also still be bought in the store next to the Brandenburg Gate, across from The Museum Kennedy...we had to look because the name was odd.) While the East Berlin government buildings have been torn down due to asbestos, the Marx and Engels statues were still up.

Also what my host kept calling the 'television tower.'

It was interesting to see a product of what I had studied in college. During the occupation the 'west' and 'east' had very different ways of dealing with the communications and film making in Germany. The East kept them nationalized, naturally, and churning out works, the west tore them down (which conveniently opened the door for British and American films that had already made their money domestically. This is a phenomenon that continues on, with American movies filling the theaters and American shows taking up the television programing. I was reminded of the line from a Wim Wenders movie, "The Americans have colonized our minds.") After re-unification the studios are now oriented in the East where they still stood and operated.

I never actually went to Checkpoint Charlie, though I did contemplate getting something with the "You are now leaving the American controlled sector," but it seemed too predictable...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pt. 7 Who Kills Mitte?

In far away Germany I managed to find something that was as familiar as home. My host took me through some of the areas that had some nice old buildings. Since reunification Berlin has been rapidly filling in the empty spaces and renewing as much as they can. (Which is what prompted this, which we initially thought was a bit of snarky graffiti-

-which reads, "What, no house here yet?" or something like that. Turns out, it was guerilla advertising for a chat website...ah well...

In fact it's hard to find a place in Berlin where there isn't some sort of building going on.

(that photo really happened because moments prior I had concluded erroneously that Berlin didn't have pigeons. I swear it posed.)

The construction in some of these formerly East Berlin districts has created some familiar juxtapositions.

This building had been filled with squatter artists in the years following reunification. In a time when the rest of Berlin was draining out of the area and no one was investing, the artists started to stage their own renewal. The glass on the building was apparently new. Now, after they've invested into making the place interesting, the money is coming back.

So now this-

is next to this-

Much like those of us here on Treasure Island, or like the hippies and artists who founded Sausalito's floating home community, or of my former home Santa Cruz, the poor and artistic who made unwanted districts desirable essentially waiting to be shoved out by the rich.

There is a courtyard that embodies both the artistic spirit of Mitte and the encroaching commercialism. It's covered in graffiti-


was behind one of these sculptures-

-which for a Euro would do a dance-

And a very Banksy stencil, though I don't know enough to tell if it was Banksy himself or not-

UPDATE: As it turns out, the artist's name is right there for me to see, it's Alias, and he contributed much of the art in the courtyard.

But all of this is making way for tourist stores and boutique shops like the Ampelmann Store (which I have to say I made a specific visit to) and this amusingly named restaurant-

Artists will ask themselves forever-

But the artists of Mitte know the answer to this one-

"People's Luxury"