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instinct
  • 310362.1744

    This was to be Tarantino's homecoming. As a son-of-the-south, QT has slipped his homestate Tennessee among thousands of other references in his now extensive library. Tennessee is Butch's escape haven in Pulp Fiction, Aldo Raines (Inglourious Basterds) is a descendant of Tennessee persona Jim Bridger. Like another southerner, D.W. Griffith, Tarantino visits the antebellum at his own peril. And where Griffith plowed into a fantasy revenge on behalf of the owners of the south, Tarantino charts a revenge brokered by the other side. It has the beats, all the verbal wit, the endless exploitation riffs, all the logical fury of canon QT, what it lacks is Tarantino's knack for emotional bonding carried by carefully plotted visuals.

    There are glimpses. Only few moments bring back the narrative dementia of days of yore Quentin: in a cabin of mumbling trackers, a kerchief-masked Zoe Bell peers into an 1800's stereogram viewer. As she slips it in, the focus narrows and we get an unsettling sensation of 3-D as the images combine. In the view is an early photograph of the Parthenon, in the foreground are what appear to be slaves. The image serves a few purposes: it's an indictment that savagely skewers our current 3-D technology, a wry director's statement to the audience: "I'm not going 3-D, but I'm going to doctor this image and make you think it's real using a 3-D effect." And the image isn't merely a technological comment, it historicizes the film's themes by placing slaves in the ruins of a culture that became powerful through the economics of slavery. Even better, it's a comment on the greek revival in antebellum architecture, Candie's plantation bears a passing resemblance to the Parthenon. That hint is: slavery will soon be history. That's about 8 seconds of screen time. Bruce Dern as the owner that sends Django and his betrothed into the open market, carries the only other moment of sheer brilliance. He peers down on Django like a demonic billboard high above Times Square. He's the real monster to slay.

    Surrounding these moments is an overwritten, underacted retread of themes already broached in the more developed Inglourious Basterds. Want to know why Django Unchained isn't up to speed? Try reading Rene Girard's Violence and the Sacred. He knows the how-why-what of violence coded in ancient myth. The basic gist is: spilled blood, sacrifice, revenge are all elements of basic human rituals. QT is a director who specializes in modernizing ancient bloodrites (as well as spotting and raiding B-movies that did the same). All that tension and release we've been experiencing in his films isn't merely bloodlust. It's the control of bodies, of imminent fears, not merely the rage of revenge.  Until Django, Tarantino's main characters were validated semi-mythic, experiencing death (Kiddo in Kill Bill), defying death (Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction, Shosanna in Inglourious Basterds) and dying to serve mythic requirements (Vincent in Pulp Fiction). The most realistic myth of his is Resevoir Dogs, where impending death sanctifies Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) so much so that Mr. White (Keitel) is willing to kill for him. There, and before Django, the emotions are symmetric. In Django, death comes down to earth as merely a plot mechanism that decides how the next scene will be written. It breeds no symmetry either visually or emotionally. Where the death of Vincent and the escape of Butch work hand in hand to fashion the offscreen myth (literally the "pulp fiction") that Marcellus is forced to create to save face in Pulp Fiction, in Django no circle of logic levitates the film's body count into an unknown, metaphysical arc. The bonding forced on the heroes of Django is lifted entirely from Basterds yet it has none of the lyrical urgency of the earlier films. The label "charade" is applied by Christoph Waltz's characters in both films, even a brief German language scene inverts the English spoken in the LaPaditte farmhouse in Basterds. It's too similar without breaking new ground. But there are glimmers. For brief moments we're shown the film he should've made. They're earlier reminisces of Django as he relives escape and capture. The sequences are vivid off-exposure nightimes, chases out of B-movie hell, and a garish daytime POV of Bruce Dern. That was the real film, where Dern was the real plantation owner, and Django feared both life and death.

    The pivotal scene of Django, its 'philosophical moment', is the "Skull War" scene (see the book Skull Wars about Harvard's 1800s "race science"). Here Candie exhibits, then saws the skull of his father's houseboy, ostensibly the skull of Stephen's (Samuel L. Jackson) father. The soliloquy is handled with an almost apologetic fury, and it shows Tarantino blowing his best hand. Even though the skull is the wittiest of his visual parallels (to the white cake - both are cut - both are served after dinner - both are 'made' by African-Americans) it doesn't freak the audience enough, it's not truly demented. Problem is there's no relish, no surety in the ethnic science Calvin's preaching. It's all screamed by the boy-plantation owner as DiCaprio plays Candie. Tarantino's Nazi's were much more threatening because they remained urbane, calculating. Here the charade remains only a parlor game. The drama comes from a too mechanical sudden shift, a left-field reaction by Waltz (Tarantino has to force his hand with a cheap memory insertion - the unwilling mandingo fighter's death-by-dogs). The comedy comes from the audience's realization the father figure of the house isn't Candie, it's the skull's descendant, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). He's breached protocol, already seated in the library, warming himself a brandy when Candie enters for his fatherly talking to. The man charged with observing everything is really in charge, yet he's a slave outside this library. Both Stephen and Django have inner/outer performance masks. Outside, Django is a terror to his own ethnicity, pretending to be the Mandingo trading expert, while Stephen is standard issue Uncle Tom. In the privacy of Candyland's closed doors their masks come off: Stephen becomes the brutal father-figure, Django the lovelorn softie.  When revenge comes, Django doesn't even shoot the the skull he's compared to indirectly, he just blows Stephen up along with the house. It's a bruiser's version of Tarantino, he's finally begun making the films he imitates. The former slave walking away from the same type of house Zoe Bell stares at in her stereoscope. This is the first of his films without any grand pulp fiction. Still worth seeing. Better than 99% of films in release.

  • 310157.0942

  • 31078.0706

    Lisa Miller uses Xanax and describes in New York Magazine a culture of fear endlessly popping chemical shields to a key mammalian growth mechanism: anxiety. A must-read for anthropologists, sociologists, and public health thinkers, a quote:

    "Xanax and its siblings—Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and other members of the family of drugs called benzodiazepines—suppress the output of neurotransmitters that interpret fear. They differ from one another in potency and duration; those that enter your brain most quickly (Valium and Xanax) can make you the most high. But all quell the racing heart, spinning thoughts, prickly scalp, and hyperventilation associated with fear’s neurotic cousin, anxiety, and all do it more or less instantly. Prescriptions for benzodiazepines have risen 17 percent since 2006 to nearly 94 million a year; generic Xanax, called alprazolam, has increased 23 percent over the same period, making it the most prescribed psycho-pharmaceutical drug and the eleventh- most prescribed overall, with 46 million prescriptions written in 2010. In their generic forms, Xanax is prescribed more than the sleeping pill Ambien, more than the antidepressant Zoloft. Only drugs for chronic conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol do better.

    “Benzos,” says Stephen Stahl, chairman of the Neuroscience Education Institute in Carlsbad, California, and a psychiatrist who consults to drug companies, “are the greatest things since Post Toasties. They work well. They’re very cheap. Their effectiveness on anxiety is profound.”

  • 31022.0607

    There are animal-themed invitations, using live puppies and turtles as messengers. There are glow-in-the-dark schemes. One student at Lincoln High School spelled it out in candles: "HC" (homecoming), "yes" and "no." The date blew out her answer (yes).

    -From the L.A. Times "A simple 'go to the dance with me?' doesn't cut it anymore."

  • 311339.0848

    Unlike Karl Mannheim, who saw ideology through a generalized lens, Bruehl viewed ideoloy as a window into archetypes, neurosis and personality; in effect, she saw the breaking down of racism/sexism/ethnicism as a struggle for psychonanlysis to bear. More 20th century front-loading, but still an involving read. There are fairy-tale abstractions in Bruehl's approach to psychonanlysis.

  • 311334.1000

    Viewed without preconception in 1995, the second incarnation of Meier's "The Shining" began at Winnie's on NYC's Avenue A and after a quick beer and a signing of a waiver (physical contact), the seven or so ticketholders boarded a bus for a surreal trip (narrated by a thrift-store cat puppet) to a then non-museum P.S. 1, where one-by-one, disorientation rising, ticketholders were led to a darkened school hallway, where we were given a very slight taste of Stockholm syndrome attitude. Screamed at, cajoled into removing our coats, we were then forced to wait on a bench while Throbbing Gristle blasted from the former school's gymnasium. Then one by one were were thrown into the gym, and told "follow the light." After sixteen years, Meier's craziness gets its revival. Should be seen. Begins at New York Arts Live and travels to an undisclosed location.

  • 311276.1641

    An Anthro-Bio-Chemist, Ott has botanically observed hundreds, perhaps thousands of plants that yield varying amounts of altered states, from a library and research lab in Mexico, recently damaged by arson. For proof of his studies, check out Pharmacotheon. He analyzes many chemical forms, shows inferior paths, and discusses policy and history. Footnotes tell the real story, and are half the size of each chapter. Continuing Gordon Wasson's unusual and maybe ground-breaking constructions of ancient ceremonies utilizing medicinal tools that altered users, Ott writes the only ethnopharmacogosy of entheogenic drugs. A chemical zoom lens into the brain. Volume 2 is delayed, but Volume 1 is a must have.

  • 31141.1555

    "It is our despair at the textural inadequacies of

    language that drives us to heighten the structural ones toward"

    From the back cover:

    "THE SUN HAS GROWN DEADLY...

    THE WORLD HAS GONE MAD, SOCIETY HAS

    PERISHED, SAVAGERY RULES

    OVER ALL. ALL THAT WAS KNOWN 

    IS OVER, ALL THAT WAS FAMILIAR IS

    STRANGE AND TERRIBLE. TODAY

    AND YESTERDAY COLLIDE WITH TOMORROW.

    IN THESE DYING DAYS OF EARTH, 
    A YOUNG DRIFTER ENTERS THE CITY"

     

    The book William Gibson wrote an introduction for and admitted he didn't understand. If Cormac McCarthyism has a counterpart in science-fiction, it is Dhalgren, the most absurdly accurate 'apocalypse' set in some form of earth, in a time-frame no one is exactly sure about. And hallucinations occur sometimes in words that no longer exist (you'll have to read it to see what I mean). It might be a work that outlives us and tells future generations what we really knew about the decay of knowledge and the oral histories that will travel along our children's, children's children. Memories barely of the beginings of the end: "the riot began with a murder, some say it was a plane that crashed. No one really knows. That was the time of fear." The hero is an amnesiac who is labelled "The Kid" and enters the soon to be mythic city of Bellona, only now its inhabitants live mostly in memories, and whatever fragments of life can be scraped by on - temporarily, since cities have no purpose except to store mass memories and here, there are few being made. Just living from cans, having sex, and fighting and sometimes group socialization. Oh, wait, it sounds like our present day cities, only without electricity, cars, running water... Maybe the memories will have meaning. The following chapter-heading paragraphs transition to third-person immediately afterwards.

    "2  It is not that I have no past. Rather, it continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now. In the long country, cut with rain, somehow there is nowhere to begin. Loping and limping in the ruts, it would be easier not to think about what she did (was done to her, done to her, done), trying instead to reconstruct what it is at a distance. Oh, but it would not be so terrible had one calf not borne (if I'd look close, it would have been a chain of tiny wounds with moments of flesh between; I've done that myself with a swipe in a garden past a rose) that scratch.

    II   Here I am and am no I. The circle in all, this change changing in winteress, a dawn circle with an image of, the autumn change with a change of mist. Mistake two pictures, one and another. No. Only in seasons of shortlight, only on dead afternoons. I will not be sick again. I will not. You are here.

    ..How can I say that that is my prize possession? (They do not fade, neither those buildings or these.) Rather what we know as real is burned away at invisible heat. What we are concerned with is more insubstantial. I do not know. It is as simple as that. For the hundreth time, I do not know and cannot remember. I do not want to be sick again. I do not want to be sick."

     

  • 312300.1009

    The most ingenious theory you've never heard of is Susanne Langer's process philosophy. An intellectual descendant of A.N. Whitehead (he was her thesis advisor), Langer blended his views of the mind's power (some of which she later rejected) with myth-symbolist philosophers like Ernst Cassirer, then combined them with advances in the behavioral sciences, cognitive science, neurology, genetics, and evolutionary sciences developed through the second half of the 20th century and arrived at what might be the most articulate view of what DNA and the brain hold dormant for us. Everything. The entire history of our earth's geology and biology may lie hidden in various manners as yet untappable inside its nearly infinite chambers and fluids. Her arguments are compelling and her data ranges from earth science to astronomy to zoology to neuroscience. To sum it up is a pity, it must be experienced to be understood. Although her key text is considered Philosophy in a New Key (and should be read), the true volumes of her revolutionary work are a trilogy called Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, a strangely titled masterpiece that may have laid the groundwork for the next few centuries' discoveries. The trilogy has been condensed slightly into a single volume now in-print.

  • 312180.2043