Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot"

My review of Batman Begins can be found here, though the link will probably only work for the next week or so...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Pre-montage scribbles

Though he's best known - and deservingly so - for splitting cinematic hairs as the leading theorist of montage-based cinema, Sergei Eisenstein was also an enthusiastic artist and cartoonist, as this new website launched by the Daniel Langlois Foundation demonstrates. It's a very flashy display of cartoon-filled notebooks kept by young Sergei as a teenager, long before he ever dreamed of dialectical materialism and the montage of attractions.
We're at a place called Vertigo...
There is a moment that many rock performers have reached, the perilous point just after they have been named The Big New Thing . For many, the next step is a disastrous one, the stage where they Believe Everything That Is Written About Them, and the list of BNTs who crashed on its rocks is a long one. In fact, it’s not even necessary to fall for your own press releases; Simply having the public think that you do is sufficient.
The members of U2 have, almost miraculously, avoided such a disaster, though there was a time (somewhere around Rattle and Hum and through the early 90s) when it looked otherwise. Their response to the tightrope-walk set up by their own success has been to stay hungry, to continue producing new and original music of the caliber of 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” or last year’s “How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”. Is there another act old enough to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but still functioning as a significant contemporary act rather than cruising through tours on the strength of their greatest hits? A few – Springsteen, Prince - but there aren’t too many other names from the early 80s hat haven’t already walked the slow crawl from MTV to VH1 and on to “classic rock” oblivion.
Having said that, I’m sure there are plenty of cynical folks who resent U2’s success and find it easy to denigrate Bono’s image as a globe-hopping do-gooder. Needless to say, the new book “Bono, in conversation with Michka Assayas” is not going to appeal to them. For fans and those interested in the singer’s increasingly significant role as a diplomat, this lengthy interview provides many answers as to how the band has survived for so long as well as well as to the sincerity of his work for debt relief in Africa. Assayas, a French journalist, knew the band in their early days but had just renewed his acquaintance with them after a long absence when he decided to approach Bono with the idea of collaborating on a book.
The project must have grown in ways that Assayas didn’t expect. It’s not the “life story” of the singer, despite the claims of the jacket, nor is it particularly strong on celebrity gossip or sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll anecdotes, yet neither of those absences prevent the book from being an intelligent and illuminating portrait of a thoughtful and innovative artist.
What seems to take Assayas by surprise, and what ultimately comes through as the book’s strongest theme, is the sincerity and the informed nature of Bono’s commitment to African relief. By the final chapters, when every conversation seems to somehow lead into Africa, the interviewer seems just a little frustrated and tries to poke holes in Bono’s idealism, but the singer usually manages to provide commonsense answers to every one of Assayas’ doubts. Make fun of him, call him “St. Bono” if you will, but the man has done his homework and isn’t just signing on to a celebrity-cause-of-the-day. What ultimately surfaces from Assayas’ book is the portrait of a serious and sensible man who has achieved fame as a rock star but has used the privileges his musical career has provided to ask hard questions about the economic realities of the world.
If you’re already U2 fan, Assayas’ book is a useful guide to understanding some of the directions that the band follows. If you’re not necessarily interested in U2, you should at least take a look at some of the relief projects Bono has sponsored and see if they’re deserving of your support.
Check out DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa)
The One campaign..

Monday, June 06, 2005

Salman Rushdie on atheism.

Here's a short and simple note on the "intelligent design" controversy from Salman Rushdie, someone who know his share about facing down the forces of fundamentalism.....

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Loving the Alien: The Very High Notes of Klaus Nomi

The first time I saw Klaus Nomi perform was in the 1981 punk/new wave concert anthology Urgh! A Music War where his unusual collage of styles – electronic space opera with a touch of Cabaret ( I remember being reminded of some of the Blue Meanies in Yellow Submarine as well)– stood out even among the self-consciously trend setting New Wavers. That one brief appearance wasn’t enough to make it clear if Nomi was a put-on or a genuine avant-garde crossover, but a great new documentary The Nomi Song (now in theatres and coming to DVD on June 14th) makes an indisputable case for the latter. Andrew Horn’s excellent account of Nomi’s brief career (he died of AIDS in 1983) on the fringe of art/pop tells the story of a lonely, slightly eccentric young German man with a distinctive falsetto voice and a love for opera who came to New York, fell in with the punk crowd and grew into an unusual and unclassifiable performer of highly theatrical operatic techno-pop. Of course, the pop music industry rests on its ability to pigeonhole performers, so Nomi remained a minor figure for most of his brief life, his widest public exposure being a guest slot as back-up singer for David Bowie on “Saturday Night Live”. With personal recollections from his band members and friends and a generous assortment of musical performances, The Nomi Song suggests that his work deserves reassessment, but also offers a strong look at the art-meets-punk cultural landscape of the early 80s.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

This group deserves your support and encouragement.
Film Aid International is an organization which helps people around the world by using movies, first by presenting educational films to help people deal with health issues and other concerns, secondly by providing film screenings to entertain the millions of people currently living in refugee camps and recovering from the effects of war, poverty, starvation and disease. Sounds like a simple idea? Yes, and a brilliant one.
On July 3rd Turner Classic Movies will use their annual screening of The Wizard of Oz to draw attention to their work of Film Aid International, with the organization’s founder Caroline Baron introducing two showings of the film. This is a great opportunity to draw attention to their work and to remind the audience for this much-loved film of the power of cinema to make the world a better place. Don’t miss it. And in the meantime, check out their website and consider making a donation.
(The website also features a link to a Sarah MacLachlan video called "World on Fire". Even if you're not a fan of MacLachlan, this short piece makes a powerful comment on charity by comparing the budgets of charitable organizations like Film Aid to the production costs of a typical music video.)