Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fuck You 'Quarterlife'

Maybe I'm not being fair, I didn't start viewing until about 10 minutes into the first episode. Maybe there was something redeeming, something that could have excused the remaining 50 minutes. But somehow I doubt it.

This pandering ridiculous piece of crap that at best gets to benefit from the post-writer's strike gulf of new programing is brought to us, apparently, but the same people that created the popular 30Something, a show I never watched. If this sad caricature of youth culture coming of age is any indication of their first effort, I'm glad I missed it.

Where to begin? The cliche's are so prominent it might as well be Rent: The Non-Musical TV Series . It even has its aspiring film making trio which includes the uncompromising visionary, the cocky 'money' guy whose parents funded the equipment (incidentally, how do they fuck that up? The crew uses a single chip hand held, not a prosumer camera used by, well, fucking all of us. I'm sure at least ten people on the crew owned at least one...) and the comic relief tech/editor guy.

(one might dismiss this rant as being angry that they were filming a spec car commercial which is something I've been working on. But frankly, most of us are working on something like that, if it had been handled with even the slightest respect for the audience it'd be different)

If that was all, it'd be fine. But then there's the female cast which includes fragile woman who wants to be an actress. She gets dressed down by her acting coach in front of the whole class (a teacher who she slept with, no's as if the network notes went, "Scolded by an acting teacher for not being 'genuine' enough, not hacky if she slept with him...). Then there's the frumpy 'sell out' who works as an assistant at some corporate entity who balances her counter-culturalism with her corporate ambition. And of course she struggles with corporate culture, 'Oh noes! My boss stole my idea! How will I cope?'By, of course, video blogging about it on a sight where the show gets its name.

But wait, we had that network note again, "More hacky!" Enter a love triangle. Arty film guy is in love with his best friend (who is dating the comicly jerky money guy) and blogger girl is in love with art film guy.

Seriously? Add some video blogging and digital film making to cliches of youth that were outdated when they tried to sell them to my generation and this is suppose to pas for something for the new youth coming of age? Fuck that. And fuck you, Quarterlife for thinking your audience is that fucking stupid.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Make it Work

In the same way that Jules in Pulp Fiction is a vegetarian, I have found myself a viewer of Project Runway. I discovered a long time ago that I should generally avoid reality TV because I can't fight hundreds of thousands of years of primate evolution and be entirely indifferent when the bitch fights and backstabbing start--monkeys who failed to pay attention ended up on the wrong side of the petty and large intrigues that are the birthright of all apekind (as Animal Planet seems determined to make clear with its programming), and, as a direct result, had a much harder time passing on their genes.

Anyhow, I have definitely been pulled in, and I've got my favorites (I'm really hoping (despite the fact that nobody on the show seems to even consider it a possibility) that Chris can somehow manage to win the whole thing), but I think the strangest thing about it all is that this show has affected my teaching. You see, I'm convinced that Tim Gunn is one of the best teachers I've ever seen, live or on television.

This all comes at a time when I'm making pretty significant changes in my own classroom approach. I'm trying to design my composition courses so that (1) I don't have to do any grading at home, (2) my students actually receive and process my comments, and (3) I don't spend a lot of time yammering on about a process that is deeply individual and not especially easy to boil down to general comments. What it means is that my classroom is more of a lab than a lecture hall (something that I couldn't do when the dean wasn't scheduling me in the computer rooms). I meet with every student, every week (although this is a lot harder at the JC that it is at the business college, owing to the larger class sizes), and I essentially coach writing rather than teach it--eight students, eight sets of issues and eight approaches to teaching.

I've often compared teaching writing to psychological counseling (on a good day when I feel like I'm actually helping) or palm reading (on the bad ones). However, what I'm seeing is that it is, ideally, more like what happens every Wednesday night at ten. Students are working on a "challenge" where they have their own ideas, and I kind of stroll around the lab, nudging them in the right direction, being skeptical of the more bizarre or ill-advised choices that they make, and, generally, wanting them to "make it work."

This is where Tim Gunn is an artist. He's able to make critically important observations without ever projecting the doubts that he must have that the designer might not, or even probably won't, be able to pull it off. He starts with the assumption of competence, and it kind of becomes like begging the question. He doesn't give people the space in which to undermine themselves, and so they never do because they're caught up in dealing with the higher-level problems that Tim has pointed out. His good nature, intelligence, and expertise serve to complement this basic strategy.

I don't know I feel about emulating a fashion guru (my general feelings on the matter of fashion are in an earlier entry), but I guess we take our role models where we find them.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Other Van's Moment of (sort of) Fame

My workhorse van can be seen in this Avis ad. It's the white Vanagon with tinted windows parked next to the 'hero' car.

Here's the sad part-I got paid as much as I would have for a full day of work to leave it there for half a day.

Had Veronica not been vandalized she would have been there, too. Damn kids.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Gen X Candidate

It was sobering realization. I was discussing the wins for Barrack Obama at the jabbering place and it occoured to me...Barrack Obama is not only the first 'serious' black candidate for president, he's the first serious Generation X candidate for president.

And there it is.

Granted, it was bound to happen. The likelyhood of the presidency skipping a whole generation was pretty slim. But I don't know that I was in anyway prepared for it. It doesn't seem like that long ago that Baby Boomers were coming to terms with their first president and now here we are.

Maybe I should ask a Boomer what they felt, how they copped with it, but that's never really been Gen X's style. If this was a 'real' blog I could interview Douglas Copeland about how he feels about the generation that bares the name he gave it coming of age. We were defined, partly at least, by stalling adulthood as long as necessary. And yet again one of our Generation's over achievers went and defied that-just like all those head down computer tweakers defied the bleakest predictions about us and created a whole different economy.

I guess I should feel bad, kind of like I felt duped when I was living the life of Richard Linklater's Slacker and they were all living War Games. I was affecting an air of dissatisfaction at coffee shops and they were changing the way the world did business. And I was left behind. Jokes on them, me and my kind get to tell their stories. The Kevin Smiths, the Judd Apatows...we still get to tell stories of developmentally stunted man-childs.

But now one of us is one of the most energizing candidates in our lifetimes. What the hell? I don't know, should I feel proud? "Ha! You got us wrong again!" Should I feel ashamed, I'm still living a life not signifigantly different than I did when I was 20. Hell, I still have my woolly goatee.

I think I have to settle on strange. I feel very very strange.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

First Person Narrative in Film

George Romero is returning to his stalwart zombie series this summer with his movie Diary of the Dead. While it capatilizes on one of the biggest trends right now in franchise films, the franchise reset (seen in Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and the upcoming Star Trek, what is more intriguing to me is being a new entry in the First Person film, a narrative film told from the point of view of the person filming it.

This first came to public conscious, of course, with The Blair Witch Project. The horror movie relied on a viral campaign that created the illusion that the footage was 'real.' It was an interesting and important change in the way film was experienced. The story of the film was as important as the film itself. Now the success of this is up for debate (I really hated the film ultimately), but the dialog with the audience was intriguing.

Recently the first person narrative in film has been revisited with JJ Abrams' Cloverfield. Again with this film viral marketing was integral to the film itself. While not relying on creating the illusion that it was 'real' (which is to say, we were not led to believe that New York was destroyed by a giant monster and had just forgot), but as with Blair Witch the story of the film was an integral part of the film itself. The content of the movie was purposefully anemic on the details of the premise. All we know is what the people who lived the attack would know. There is a monster, and it is destroying New York.

What Cloverfield did that Blair Witch did not was comment on how we experience spectacle in a world where everyone has a camera. While at some point you begin to wonder why the Blair Witch crew hasn't put down their cameras (even though they are documentarians) Cloverfield relished in a YouTube world that Blair Witch could only dream of. The best example of this is the scene just after the head of the Statue of Liberty lands in the street and it is instantly surrounded by people taking pictures of it with their phones.

Pretty much as soon as the camera phone was invented people started to explore the narrative possibilities of that medium, but Cloverfield was the first major film to explore that world.

Romero seems prepared to take that to it's next step. A group of filmmakers happen to be filming when the dead rise, at this point not much different than Blair Witch. The difference comes from a director with a dark sense of humor and a knack for social commentary. The last line of the trailer says a lot about his potential take, "If it's not on camera it's like it never happened, right?"

I'm intrigued by this, there hasn't been a really new narrative style in film for a while, even Tarantino's broken chronology goes back to Citizen Kane. I'm looking forward to seeing this movie and hopefully expanding on this post afterwards.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Please go check this out at Industrial Disease.

Fucking priceless.

Re-Inventing the Wheel

Once again, this was going to be about something else. I had a new essay theme I was going to do that I thought would motivate me to actually post on a semi-regular basis. As it turns out I instead fell into a semi-regular problem, re-inventing the wheel.

For me this personifies not with the wheel but another common and available technology. You see, every now and then while I'm walking, or waiting, or doing something that otherwise requires nothing of me other than my presence I start problem solving in my head. I could problem solve the 'small' things, the little things, things immediately relevant to my life. I could. If I wanted to think small.

But that's not the way I roll.

I go for the big problems. Namely, perpetual motion. While I haven't had a direct conversation with that part of my brain, I can only assume that it truly believes that if I just think about it long enough that I'll come up with a solution despite my lack of a background in thermodynamics or engineering.

And I get close, to, dammit. Almost every time. I can see it. It starts off with a simple mechanism, usually shifting back and forth of a weight with reduction gearing. And then I start thinking of a weight that would be more constant, more...fluid.

Before long I find that I have re-invented hydro-electricity. The disturbing thing is the number of times I've actually done this.

It's not always something I know exists that I inadvertently re-create. I witnessed the rise and fall of my theater career in the six hour span of when I came up with the idea to do a stage version of Refer Madness and when I got back on the internet to find that there was already a successful stage musical version that was being shot for Showtime.

This is extra disturbing for someone who hopes to make their living creatively. But I sooth those fears with two thoughts. First, I am not one idea. I come up with and forget at least four or five ideas a day. Not all of them are gems, in fact there is a good reason I forget most of them. But coming up with them isn't a problem. It's sorting through them and figuring out which ones are worth a second thought is where it's at.

Second, I firmly believe that art is in the execution. Perhaps this again comes from starting off as a jazz musician. There isn't really a concern over doing someone elses song. In fact, especially during the be-bop era, performers just grabbed chord changes and tunes from popular songs, sometimes not even bothering with melodies (a la Donna Lee). It didn't matter where the song came from, it mattered how you play it. It wasn't, and isn't, uncommon for player to even 'quote' other players solos. They aren't 'ripping them off,' they're playing a theme. They could be saying hello, or showing someone how it's done, or just taking a good sounding lick in a different direction.

Which is a long way to say that it's in how you do it. Saying that people can't do similar ideas is like scoffing at an artist, "Pfff. A portrait? Perhaps you haven't heard of the Mona Lisa?

So this was going to be one of those. I had this idea for a theme that Sous Rature tactfully pointed out someone already does, probably better than I was going to. That was, link ads that I see in my over-consumption of television and comment on them. Slate apparently already does this.

But for the above reasons, and because this blog has all of 2-3 readers and this thing is updated so infrequently I don't think it will really matter. So there. That's my lengthy excuse for the post that I might get around to that Slate already re-invented wheel.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I Tube'd...

I finally broke down and put my old college documentary on YouTube rather than relying on UC Santa Cruz not noticing that it's still up.

So, here it is. Thus defeating my contrived attempts to keep my real name off the internet.