open letter to the hipster man

this is an open letter to the hipster man
in line in front of me at the thrift store

I saw you standing there, fishing
for your cash, your crumpled bills
teased out from your tiny pockets
slim smashed up against your thigh
stitched tight across your skinny
legs, the jeans looked at me, pleading
for a twelve year old girl with pig tails
or justin beiber, which is the same

I hated your arrogance, your fickle irony
your sense of worth and self-satisfaction
exuding from beneath the brown tweed
and useless little scarf, colored red
the color of the blood of men, dried up
and squeezed beneath the flat cap
that once graced the head of a real man
as he worked and sweated and lived
a thousand lives for your smug cup
of starbucks indy mainstream emptiness

I was there for a coffee table, a humble plank
and four little legs, a scratch, and water stain
something to fill my empty low-rent apartment
creaking in the night with a thousand whimpers
for upkeep and proper heating, but you, you fake
were hunting for your properly aged bit of vintage
to preen before your trucker pated phony friends
never once thinking of the long hours shifting
from Santa Fe to Baton Rouge to Memphis
too many hours on shitty coffee and mesmerizing lines
sweating into the seat leather until back and seat mingled
staring through insect carcasses and pitted glass

take your tiny, ineffectual scarf, your uppity sneer
in the face of the homeless man, begging for your reality
and not your feigned fashionable pity, scraping
for the lion’s share of what you spend on your outdated
walkman tshirt tattoo boots beard shades and skinny jeans
and leave this store, where sometimes vintage means
real savings for poorer folk who are glad of the discount price
and chance to use another’s cast off goods for another year
in place of making do with plastic forks and fast food condiments
oh, and the wretched of the world, they wish you stayed in bed
in America, and left well enough alone. Your kind don’t help.

fuck off

sincerely,

me.

SWD: On Filmmaking

I haven’t said much in my Star Wars: Deconstructed series about my underlying philosophy of film or my background in film study. This is intentional. Going through over 13 hours of film 10 minutes at a time in an in depth analysis of story and human behavior is a monumental task that I am struggling to finish in under 6 months. I won’t make it, unless I start writing many of these posts every day and overwhelming my readers. My first SW:D was in October of 2010. I am ten days from beginning a fifth month and am only halfway through the second film. So, in directing my focus solely on two aspects of the film, I am hoping to make my initial task manageable.

But, I am intrigued by much more than I am currently writing about, and hope to touch on that in the future when my first run through the saga is completed. To that end I spent much of today in research, both of the Star Wars films, and of filmmaking in general, and I have decided to post, unannotated, a few quotes I came across today that I think are relevant to comments I have made about George Lucas and his filmmaking.

“In order for audiences to not get bored…tune out, in other words, not believe what is happening on the screen, because believability is what filmmaking is all about. If you believe what is happening on the screen is real and believable then you stay locked in to that film. If it’s not, then you start looking at your watch and start wondering where you are going to go to dinner that night or ‘has anybody got any popcorn?’ or ‘why am I here in the first place?’ You lose it. You wonder why the hell you even came.”

Norman Jewison, Director the Hurricane, Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Jesus Christ Superstar, Fiddler On the Roof

“Effects these days are in the hands of Everyman. You can go shoot a movie on your own, of high quality, of broadcast quality, with camcorders. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we are seeing better movies. Shakespeare didn’t have a word processor. When we got word processors, we didn’t get Shakespeares. We’ve got to separate the two out: there’s creativity and there’s technology. The two are interrelated, but technology is not necessarily creative.”

Harrison Ellenshaw, Associate Producer and Visual Effects Supervisor TRON, Superman IV Visual Effects Star Wars IV, V

“If you try to over-control the process, you limit the process. I mean, I have a pretty strong idea of what I want, but I don’t feel that I create an atmosphere where people can’t speak up and have ideas, because often times people come up with wonderful ideas that are gonna make the movie better and you would be an idiot not to take them.”

Brad Bird, Director Ratatouille, Incredibles, Iron Giant, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

“The theatrical cinema, as we know it, is storytelling. The technology is used to tell a story. And that’s the whole point. Its really the filmmaker and how well they are able to tell a story that counts in the end. The digital characters are really what I need to tell the Star Wars films, so I could tell a story that was more like the one I could think of in my head.”

“Very rarely do I not get what I want.”

George Lucas

I will come back to these quotes and discuss them, but at a later date. For now…food for thought.

Knocking On the Sky

I really like the movie TRON: Legacy. My favorite line from that film was Kevin Flynn’s mantra: “I’m going to knock on the sky and listen to the sound.” I love the poetry of the line: the imagery, the emotion, the zen. I have adopted that mantra for myself.

It reminds me of my father’s conversion to Christianity in 1978. He was 18 and filled with despair at life. He wondered if all he experienced was all that life had to offer. In desperation, he wandered outside and gazed up at the stars. Being a ardent fan of science fiction, his mind was filled of fanciful tales of aliens, spaceships, and worlds beyond the small confines of earth. Not really expecting an answer he spoke to the black: “If you are out there, come get me, because whatever you have has got to be better than this.” It was not much later that a casual friend invited him to church and my father, finding value in what was said there, became a Christian.

I have heard this story many times throughout my life. I’ve lived all my life, unlike my father, in a home full of committed Christians. In particular, we were Baptists, which, if you know anything about Christian sects, is a fairly fundamental, conservative brand of the Christian religion. I grew up being taught everything there is to know about being a Christian, going to church at least three times a week, and I thought of myself as a committed Christian. I talked like one, tried desperately to act like one, and was ready to convert the world. But as I grew older, I started to question, to reason, to wonder. Now, as a young man myself, I reflect back on my life and I no longer call myself Christian. I no longer believe what I used to, or think like I used to. I don’t go to church, and I don’t read the Bible.

Anyone who has lived free of any religious entanglements might not really understand what I mean, and might have radically different thoughts about the nature of religion. I follow several admitted atheists on Twitter, and I routinely read disparaging comments they make about those who choose a religious path. At this point I am not an atheist, but having been a Christian myself, and being surrounded by a family full of them still, I know that Christians are not always as they appear, or are portrayed, and even general attacks on them is hurtful to me. Religious bigotry is no more right than racial or sexual or economical or political bigotry. Real people live everywhere, and some of them believe in one god, some of them believe in two, some of them believe in many, and some believe that the idea of god is absurd: but none should be mocked for their beliefs.

All my life I have let my spiritual beliefs be dictated by those around me, those I perceived as having authority over me, and those I respected and looked up to. Such a life has led me to live at odds with myself. Always I battled against my innate beliefs, my natural inclinations, and my thoughts. I was forced to reject or ignore what I felt in favor of what I was told was right. Even though I have been to college, graduated, and got married to the love of my life, still I found myself quieting my doubts and disbeliefs for the sake of those around me.

I can no longer do that. I can no longer keep quiet about what I truly feel. I can no longer let those whom I love and respect dictate what I believe, even passively. I must discover such things for myself. I do this as gently and as quietly as possible because I do not wish to upset or concern those who love me. I am unable to be callous and uncaring. Many care deeply about my well being and the state of my soul, and are compelled to do so because of their love for me and their sincere beliefs, and I will not begrudge them that.

As Shepherd Book says in the science fiction film Serenity, “I don’t care what you believe: just believe!” Book is a holy man, a part of a religious order traveling with a brigand Captain. Captain Reynolds used to believe in god, but an unjust, brutal war burned the belief out of him. As a result of believing in nothing, Reynolds was unfocused and haunted. Book didn’t care if Reynolds believed in his particular religion, but he knew that some sort of belief was essential to the human life.

Atheist or not, there is no denying that part of the human condition is a need to believe. A cause, a god, a purpose, a goal, a mantra: all people believe in something. The business man believes in business. The politician believes in social service. The soldier believes in battle. The mother believes in nurturing. The Christian believes in god. The writer believes in words. All of this is messy, blended, confused, and interwoven. There are no clear cut definitions. We are all of us searching and learning and assimilating and growing and every day our beliefs are reinforced, either negatively or positively or neutrally. It is human.

So, because I am especially confused and thoughtful and searching for some clarity in my spiritual life, I am going to knock on the sky and listen to the sound and find something to believe. I am doing this formally in my blog and publicly in my blog for two reasons: first, I find it very hard to write unless I have the illusion that someone out there is reading what I write, and secondly, I hope that something in my struggle and my process of working through what I believe can help someone out there somehow. Perhaps an atheist will realize that Christians are not self-deluded idiots willfully believing in what they know to be a fanciful and absurd make believe world, or perhaps some Christians will realize that it is ok to doubt, to question, and to think deeply about what they believe, or perhaps someone living somewhere in between the two will read one man’s exploration of belief.

Don’t mistake me: I don’t have any answers, but I do have questions. Back when I was learning ancient Hebrew in an effort to understand the Bible better, my professor told me that it was ok to live in the questions. So here I am, Brian: I am living in the questions, and they are many.

SWD: Home Sweet Murderous Rampage

Anakin Skywalker returns home to Tatooine to find that not much has changed, except that his mother has been tortured to death, and he takes that rather personally. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi does some super sleuthing on Geonosis and uncovers an evil plot.

Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones (01.11.19-01.23.08)

Watto was able to find the bill of sale for Shmi Skywalker which helpfully included the address to the Lars Homestead: somewhere in the desert on the other side of Mos Eisley. Anakin is reunited with his droid friend, C-3P0, as he approaches the familiar homestead, but as with everything and everybody in this scene, Anakin does not care. He appears to be consumed with finding his mother, but really he is consumed with himself: his pain, his anger, his insecurities, his frustrations, his desires. This theme continues through the next segment and into Revenge of the Sith, but it is begun here. Notice: Anakin descends into the Lars homestead and is introduced by Threepio, and Owen in turn introduces himself and Beru, but Padme is left to introduce herself while Anakin glowers around at everything, barely acknowledging anyone’s presence.

I find myself wanting to find fault with Anakin’s behavior while at the same time excusing it. He has a terrible premonition that something bad is happening to his mother, but at the same time he doesn’t know anything concrete. I compare this to Luke’s vision about Cloud City from Empire Strikes Back, since this is obviously the same exact sequence (for the most part) and while Luke was tormented by his vision, tight lipped, and conflicted, he was ultimately able to function. Anakin barely functions, but that fits his obsessive, brooding nature. Still, not introducing Padme and not engaging with people who have invited you into their home (especially when they are family) is the purview of a jerk.

Cliegg Lars, Anakin’s stepfather, then appears and tells the sad tale that Shmi was kidnapped by the local Tusken Raiders. (Aside: given Lucas’s out-of-control copying of himself, it is rather shocking that Beru is not pouring blue milk for her guests.)

I like the fact that the Tuskens are involved in this tragic little sequence: they move from minor antagonists in A New Hope to a group of people that have some sort of culture, place on Tatooine, and a back story. Lucas establishes that the Tuskens are people: savage, maybe, but people.

A few more homages later (“Where are you going?” and Anakin staring at the suns – 01.13.48) Anakin takes off to find his mother, following some internal Force compass. Again, I like the quick scene in which Anakin seems to be getting directions from a group of Jawas: it reflects back to A New Hope while flushing out the Jawas just a bit more.

But, this is where things get bad: Lucas has built the tension, the mystery, and the agony of Anakin knowing his mother is in some sort of danger, having those fears confirmed, and then racing off into the night to find her in a desperate, hopeless journey and then Lucas just kills it by arbitrarily cutting to Obi-Wan on Geonosis. The audience has connected with Anakin’s mounting anxiety and fear, and is on the edge of their seat (sort of) wondering if Shmi lives and if Anakin will find her when all of that investment is cast aside.

Obi-Wan looks around, sneaks around, and eavesdrops on Count Dooku and his posse of Separatist collaborators. This scene is slow, expositional, and political all of which equal: boring mood killer. Besides which the political stuff is confusing. It is something about pledging support, signing some undefined and never mentioned again treaty (I wonder if this treaty includes a clause that legalizes the Trade Federation’s occupation of Naboo?), and putting together an army of battle droids to overwhelm the Jedi, thereby forcing the Republic to capitulate to a series of “demands”. Perplexed? Me too.

I thought the Separatists wanted to Separate from the Republic because they believe (correctly, by the way) that the Republic is corrupt, unable to function, and in need of serious reformation. So, why is Dooku allying with a bunch of corporations? He talks about tens of thousands of star systems joining his cause, but he has not one single political entity on the Separatist council. Why would a bunch of concerned politicians join with a bunch of corrupt and sleazy businessmen? Especially since a major player is Nute Gunray who is still in charge of the Trade Federation and who is still responsible for the largest galactic outrage in the past ten years (who is also still somehow blaming Amidala for his loss at Naboo instead of Sidious even though doing so makes no sense) (but it is nice that someone is remembering that someone is supposed to be trying to kill Amidala instead of letting her picnic in open fields and take a little jaunt over to Tatooine).

You see why this totally kills the Anakin-desperately-trying-to-find-mother-in-distress tension?

But, just as soon as Obi-Wan conveniently hears everything he needs to hear, the audience finally gets to catch back up with Anakin who is sneaking into the Tusken camp to find his mother, which he does, and she dies in his arms having apparently held on to life in order to see his face once more.

Touching. Tragic.

And then Darth Vader appears in all of his horrific, evil glory.

This is the moment in which Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader. Sorry, Obi-Wan, he was not seduced: he chose it. Killing Dooku on the bridge of Greivous’ ship is a mere formality. Stopping Mace Windu from assassinating Sidious is beside the point. Slaughtering Jedi children and the Separatist council are just two more heinous war crimes yet to be committed. This is the moment. Right here Anakin closes his mother’s eyes and chooses to punish an entire clan of men, women, and children for the crimes of a few, or perhaps even just one. Anakin chooses rage, passion, wrath, and revenge over serenity, compassion, understanding, peace, and forgiveness. Anakin chooses Sith over Jedi.

Anakin murders everyone. Anakin deliberately chooses to commit horrible evil. Anakin deliberately chooses to become Darth Vader.

(I know that Anakin just tragically witnessed his mother dying. I know that Anakin has unresolved mother issues. None of that excuses wanton murder. At all. Ever.)

That part of this sequence makes sense; it has been building for quite some time. What doesn’t make sense is that George Lucas once again kills all emotion, tension, and suspense by cutting as quickly as possible from Anakin’s unleashing of hell to a completely superfluous and unnecessary scene in Yoda’s quarters where he senses Anakin’s pain. The other horrible consequence of framing Anakin’s murderous rampage this way is that it distances the audience from what he has just done and seeks to excuse it. Immediately the focus shifts from the unjustifiable killing of many to Anakin’s pain, to Anakin. Poor Anakin who has just lost his mommy, not poor Tuskens who didn’t ask for genocide.

And, even if the scene shift to Yoda was for story reasons, for instance, teasing Qui-Gon Jinn’s return from death (“Anakin! Anakin! Noooo!” 01.20.54) and Obi-Wan’s subsequent Force-ghost existence, that is a very, very bad reason to cut because that is a very, very minor technical world-building detail afterthought. Even having Qui-Gon’s disembodied voice in this scene at all is confusing, jarring, and never explained until the end of Revenge. It is a “huh? what was that?” moment that pulls the audience out of the story completely.

Anyway, Anakin’s decent into evil is distanced some more and the emotion is scattered a bit wider when the scene cuts back to Obi-Wan who is fiddling with his CB radio, which he does for far too long boring the audience completely.

At any rate, Anakin is traveling back to the homestead while Obi-Wan leaves a message on his answering machine instead of calling any other Jedi that might be in the area.

(01.23.08)

Concerning: Faramir

I am reading through the Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien as has been my annual pleasure for the past ten years. I started just prior to the release of the film version of Fellowship of the Ring in theaters, and have just finished The Two Towers for the tenth time. Next up: Return of the King.

At the end of the Two Towers, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee encounter the young captain of Gondor Faramir in the empty forests of Ithilian. Frodo bears the One Ring of Power, forged in secret by the dark lord Sauron, and has been sent on a mission to destroy that great physical evil forever. Earlier, at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir, Faramir’s brother, was overcome by his need for the Ring and physically assaulted Frodo in an attempt to possess it. He was unsuccessful, and Frodo escaped.

Now Frodo encounters Faramir, and he wonders if he must endure a second assault. However, in their discussion on such matters, Faramir comforts Frodo with these words:

“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using this weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo….

For myself I would see the White Tree in flower again for the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Arnor again as of old, full of light, high and fair…War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all, but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor…”

Frodo still is unsure, because Faramir does not know, at the time he said those words, that Frodo in fact carried the Ring and meant to destroy it. Later, while slightly touched by wine, Sam inadvertently reveals the location of the Ring, and Frodo’s purpose with it. Realizing his grievous error, Sam confronts Faramir:

“Now look here, sir! Don’t you go taking advantage of my master because his servant’s no better than a fool. You’ve spoken very handsome all along, put me off my guard….but handsome is as handsome does [sic] so we say. Now’s a chance to show your quality.”

And Faramir replies:

“So it seems. So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way – to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality!

“Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!…We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it [sic] I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I would take those words as a vow, and be held by them.

But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee….Fear not! I do not wish to see it, or touch it, or know more of it that I know…lest peril perchance waylay me and I fall lower in the test than Frodo son of Drogo.”

Clearly Faramir has no desire whatsoever for the Ring of Power.

Yet, in the film version, Faramir’s character has changed one hundred and eighty percent. He chooses to take the Ring to Gondor, and acts no differently than Boromir. There, in the wild, with a host of men at his command, he forced Frodo and Sam all the way to Osgiliath, near to Minas Tirith, and only when pressed by attack, and at wit’s end, did he relent and allow Frodo to leave (after a moving speech by Sam).

I have no idea why Peter Jackson and company so changed Faramir’s character, and it frustrates me. Sure, many other things were changed between book and film, and needfully so, but I am at a loss to explain this alteration. It does nothing to change the ultimate course of events, only the character of one man who was written to be set apart. He was a cunning warrior who in a book of warriors did not love war, or welcome it. Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas, Theoden, Eomer – almost every other warrior fought was one who loved war, and who fought for valor, but Faramir alone was unmoved by the call of glory, and was not compelled to advance himself or his fortunes, or even the fate of the city he loved, by stretching out his hand for the Ring. He knew that the way thereof was vain folly. Why, then, change what made him unique for the sake of the film?

In the movie, his “chance to show his quality” was nothing more than a bid to gain favor in the sight of his father, Denethor, not to stand firm and reject the seductive allure of the Ring of Power. He was so cheapened and diminished.

I freely admit that I am a Lord of the Rings nerd, and a geek in general, but as my once and future posts on Star Wars prove, I seek most ardently the truth of writing: that which is most accurately a portrayal of the human condition, and while there are weak humans aplenty, there come in every generation those who stand incorruptible, and in the context of the Lord of the Rings, Faramir was such a one.

“Sam hesitated for a moment, then bowing very low: ‘Good night, Captain, my lord,’ he said. “You took the chance, sir.’

‘Did I so?’ said Faramir.

‘Yes, sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.'”

(pages 656-657, 665-667 The Two Towers)

App: Instagram

I am an amateur photographer.

Until recently I was considering buying a point-and-shoot compact digital camera, something like a Canon Powershot or similar variety, but, after upgrading to an iPhone 4, I’ve changed my mind.

I had an iPhone 3G for over two years, and while the phone had a camera, it wasn’t the best and didn’t take exceptional photos. It snapped grainy, low resolutions pictures like most other camera phones. The iPhone 4 takes much better pictures with its upgraded camera which boasts higher resolution, increased megapixels and LED flash.

Quality is certainly a factor in a camera purchase, but a secondary consideration I had was pocket space. I don’t carry a man purse, messenger bag, or any other such device for hauling stuff around with me. My every day inventory is limited to what I can hold in my pockets. Currently that is a wallet, a moleskin notebook, a pen, a pocket knife, my keys, my iPhone, and on days that are sunny, my sunglasses. I don’t have an extra pocket for a camera, and even if I did, many small cameras are still bulkier than I want to shove into a pocket.

My last concern was ease of use, and while this isn’t a problem with actual cameras (power on-point-shoot-repeat), it was with the iPhone. My 3G was feeling its age, and barely was able to run the iOS 4 software and that made taking pictures painful. I would have my nieces over, and one of them would do something cute, and I would want to capture it, but by the time I whipped out my iPhone, unlocked it, activated the app, and waited for it to ready the camera, my ever-in-motion niece would no longer be in the same place doing the same adorable thing. To my satisfaction the super-speedy upgraded hardware that inhabits the iPhone 4 activates the camera app as quickly as my fingers can manipulate the touchscreen and I am ready to take a photo in seconds.

Having decided to make my iPhone my camera, I looked into apps that would further facilitate my creative impulses. There are a plethora of photo taking apps available in Apple’s app store, and if you’ve an iPhone or iPod Touch, I recommend having a look around. My go-to app, thus far, is Instagram.

Instagram
Instagram
The app allows me to take a picture, apply one of several filters to alter the look of the photo, and then post the photo to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr! and other popular social networking web sites. Instagram is so easy to use that, once I have decided what to take a picture of, I can snap a picture, choose a filter, give it a title and a geolocation tag, and upload it to the world wide web all in about 45 seconds. Even better? The app is Free.

I like Instagram so much that I have decided to challenge myself to take one picture with it every day for an entire year. So far I have taken 11 consecutive photos which you can see here. I plan to peruse the App store and try out other photography apps, and when I do, I will post reviews of the ones I like and choose to use.

Photography is a huge field, but what I really appreciate is the breadth of opportunity within it. There are high end, expensive, well-crafted cameras for the expert photographers and there are ordinary, cheap, well-crafted cameras for the amateur photographer. For my simple purposes, there is an iPhone with an app for that.

man on fire

full metal jacket soothsayer
hammer stroke’s purging fire
boring holes with veracious hunger
smoking through every liar

familia es importante, no es verdad?
la hermandad de muertas
y la pintura de muertas
obra maestra maravillosa

lost little lamb
el hombre del fuego
he’s arranging the meeting
el Dios y el diablos