Date Archives December 2011

A film review of ‘Network’

Poster for the film Network

One of the greatest ironies of today remains the modern addiction to news media while simultaneously cursing its existence. I think everyone is guilty of it. You either can’t stand the right, the left, the middle, and every talking head who says something you don’t like. Even if you can stop watching they won’t stop talking and you’re stuck, either with your head in the sand or mesmerized as to how things got that way. Ours is a world of media inundation, where popularity and high ratings lead to financial and social freedom. But not always.

Network is the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.

Who is Howard Beale? The legendary, mythical television news anchor whose ratings are in the pits. As this classic from 1976 begins, Beale, played by Peter Finch, states he is going to kill himself live on television. In a week’s time, he ends up starting an evangelical movement of angry Americans and his ratings go up. The rallying cry is now infamous: “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!” Initially repulsed by his promise of bloodshed, the parent company changes tune when the ratings skyrocket far beyond any news show, hell any television show. The network executives throw the bloodthirsty executive Diane Christensen (Faye Dunaway) at his producer (William Holden) to sustain the show as the highest rated on television. Beale leaks his sanity day by day, claiming America is “sick” and is corroded by television and money. Lamenting the moral ineptitude of the nation and its economy, Beale sighs, “All I know is, you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, goddamn it. My life has value.'”

Much of the verve in Network is in its forceful, prodding dialog. Paddy Chayefsky’s script might be his finest achievement in his impressive career. Echoing the self-inflicted death of Christine Chubbuck, Chayefsky took that point and proverbially “rolled with it.” Network could have been about a disgruntled worker or a eulogy for the dying art of news reporting. Instead, Chayefsky turned a simple concept into a scathing critique of then-modern television and economics. He gently prophisized evangelical television. Diverted the fear of the Cold War into distrust of Big Oil Conglomerates. Revealed the false comfort of populism as a residual effect of commonality of capitalism. In short, it’s a masterful work to read, yet with so many heavy hitters in this film (Finch, Dunaway, Holden, and Robert Duvall) and a great director, the script feels effortless.

But the heavy-handed politicking of the film doesn’t. Network’s highest points seem to be the ones that strike the viewer’s moral well being. Ned Beatty, playing the owner of a megaconglomerate, delivers a monologue that sticks to the ribs. Hitting a larger issue of the global economy, his attempt to scare Howard Beale straight seems just as much an attempt by Chayefsky to speak directly to the viewer. The speech, which lasts about five minutes, marks the hopelessness of nationalism and populism in the face of commerce and the power of capitalism. Theory, books, studies all mean nothing in the great “corporate cosmology” that governs the world we live in. When Beale starts blubbering about being “totally unnecessary as human beings, and as replaceable as piston rods,” he couldn’t hit closer to home.

“You are television incarnate, Diana,” Holden tells Dunaway, “indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality.” Under this prism, the rest of the film plays out as a bitter satire of not just the entertainment industry but those who consume it as well. There is no “right or wrong” coverage, just news that gets viewers and those that don’t. In this “dollars and sense” era, informing the populace to the truth is the last thing on the agenda. Misinformation and disinformation are the new soma, untouchable and essential all at once.

The film’s prophetic qualities are almost unmatched. I remember when Jurassic Park came out, every major media source jokingly talked about bringing back the dinosaurs. That wasn’t prophetic. That was rubbish. Network could have just been a commentary on television. Instead, with 35 years of age, it’s almost like looking at the painting of Dorian Gray. Holden ditches his relationship with his wife for a fling with a woman who can’t love him back. Finch parlays his anger into a career, gaining followers as mindless as those he indicts on a nightly basis. Faye Dunaway’s addiction to career opportunities overpowers her sexuality. Humanity is losing itself to profit margins and cheap thrills with nothing to show for it.

Inevitably, telling people what they already know and reminding them of the difficulties of their lives is the last thing they want to hear. And with that, I tip my hat to this film for doing it for me.

Eric Ko, Stillicide

Stillicide by Eric Ko

Stillicide by Eric Ko

There’s something mesmerizing about this short video, Stillicide, by Eric Ko. Maybe it’s watching the drawings of houseparts floating around like they’re in soup, or the otherworldly sounds (by Alex Cook) floating in the background that make the video a delight. The only kind of story I could piece together from this video is that a someone dreams that both he and his house are falling into a kaleidoscope. The video was made by Ko for an intermediate animation class at RISD.

‘J Dillalude’ by Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper

The track starts with a scratchy voice. It’s a voicemail. And it’s Q-Tip. Arguably hip hop’s greatest producer, J Dilla, had passed away in the past year. He wants Robert Glasper to play some J Dilla tracks. “Trio style.”

J Dillalude is exactly that – a four minute jazz exercise and tribute to one of the icons of hip hop. Houston born Robert Glasper, one of the marquee finds of legendary jazz label Blue Note, creates a quick medley of some of J Dilla’s most iconic beats. Glasper has a subtle style, sometimes criticized for being too palatable. Actually, that’s his greatest gift. By being able to blend R&B, hip hop, and post-bop era jazz, Glasper’s style may feel familiar but it is a romantic, nuanced take on modern piano playing.

There is a light touch to this medley. His rhythm players (Damion Reid on drums, Vicente Archer on bass) do a great job of augmenting and retaining the head-bobbing characteristics of hip hop. The trio churns through some of the most familiar pieces in the J Dilla catalog. Most recognizably, Common’s “Thelonius,” Slum Village’s “Fall in Love” (cooly rearranged into Bill Evans-esque phrasing), and De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” make appearances. It’s a fitting tribute to not just Dilla himself but to the people who think jazz and hip hop are one and the same.

This track comes from In My Element, one of the best jazz releases this millenium. Cop it.

Christopher Porter wins the Romeo and Juliet Re-Covered Books contest

Christopher Porter's cover for Romeo and Juliet

Christopher Porter's cover for Romeo and Juliet

Christopher Porter's cover for Romeo and Juliet

After a slew of beautiful entries, I’ve chosen my winner for the Romeo and Juliet Re-Covered Books contest – Christopher Porter. Chris is a designer from Falmouth, Cornwall who wanted to create something contemporary:

I’ve tried to go with a direction that would appeal to younger generations, the Irvine Welsh generation, the sort of people who are more than likely to judge a book by it’s cover.

I think he’s done exactly that. I like his cover for a few reasons – typography, color palette and choice of image. As with a lot of entries, typography, or the lack there of, tends to be a major problem. Chris uses only two typefaces, both of which are appropriately used. The script used for William Shakespeare is so damn beautiful and gives his name such life, it’s a perfect application.

As for the imagery, I love this old photo he found of a dead couple. What I find most interesting is that they aren’t perfect of beautiful, they’re real people. They might not be the correct age, but I think that’s ok. I’m sure we’ve all felt that yearning for true love at many stages in our lives, and this reflects that in some ways. I also love the addition of “Love Is Toxic”, which makes me think of Britney Spears, and I’m guessing others would as well. Overall this one felt the strongest, especially because he created a whole package to show the full idea. Well done Christopher!

Check back in the new year for our next contest, and if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see, please put them in the comments.

Bobby

The Desktop Wallpaper Project featuring Sol Lewitt

The Desktop Wallpaper Project featuring Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt

This week on the DWP we have a very special artist that I’m really lucky to have be a part of the project. Sol Lewitt was an American artist known for his minimal and conceptual work, creating both paintings and sculptures that are always amazing to see. But he was also an avid photographer and took a number of photographs of New York’s Lower East Side taken back in 1979. Morgans Hotel Group, along with Paula Cooper Gallery, are currently displaying 120 of the photos on the side of the Mondrian Soho in New York. Awesome for us, the folks at Morgans approached me about using some of the photos for a wallpaper, and of course I said yes.

It’s pretty fantastic to see the world of late 70’s New York through the eyes of such an artistic genius. As I was selecting images I couldn’t help but wonder what drove him to shoot some of these photos. Was it the colors? The naturally beautiful compositions of some haphazard posters, wheat pasted to a wall? Also, when I look at the layout of the photos, I can’t help but think of how much it looks like Instagram, only 30 years removed.

I hope you enjoy the wallpaper, and check back next week for a winter-y, adorable wallpaper.

Bobby

The Moses Bridge by RO&AD Architecten couldn’t have a better name

The Moses Bridge couldn't have a better name

The Moses Bridge couldn't have a better name

The Moses Bridge couldn't have a better name

When we traditionally think of a bridge, we imagine it spanning over the top of the water.The folks at RO&AD Architecten though have taken the concept and tweaked it a bit, instead putting the bridge in the water. Called The Moses Bridge, the bridge is made from Accoya wood, “a high technology wood that is supposedly harder and more durable than some of the best tropical woods. It is treated with a nontoxic anti-fungal coating.” The bridge actually leads to a 17th Century Dutch fort, and the water you’re seeing is a moat that surrounds the fort. All in all it’s a clever idea done rather well, so well in fact that they’re a finalist in the Dutch Design Awards.

Found through My Modern Met

Bobby

The twisted illustrations of Connor Willumsen

The twisted illustrations of Connor Willumsen

The twisted illustrations of Connor Willumsen

The twisted illustrations of Connor Willumsen

Yesterday I was introduced to the work of Connor Willumsen, a Montreal based artist who’s making some of the most unique web comics I’ve ever seen. So far I’ve read two of his works, Everett and Explanation For Sator Stuff, both of which are extremely weird but brilliant. I highly suggest taking the time to read both of these, I had so much fun reading these, scrolling has never been so rewarding.

Be sure to check out his Flickr, as well as this interview from VICE.

Bobby

Freedom of Speech and Art: 3 Things to Know

I think it’s a good time to reexamine the concept of Freedom of Speech. You know, that ballyhooed concept that the United States was founded on. And for all you illustrators / graphic designers / writers / photographers out there with a single political thought in your head, this would be a nice explanation. And if you have been at any of the Occupy rallies, you should know some of your simple rights. I’ll try to keep this as neutral and objective as I can.

1: You are entitled to a great right, one few countries give
The First Amendment affords you not only Freedom of Speech but Free Exercise of Religion, Freedom of Association, Freedom to Congregate, and Freedom to Lobby. Basically, outside the most vile and ugly words / images, you can do whatever you want. Famously, a young man wearing a “F**K the Draft” jacket in front of Los Angeles City Hall was protected by this right.

When it comes to protest, traditionally the government has held time / place / manner restrictions. Public parks (such as Zucchoni Park and City Hall Park) are common, accepted places for the assembly of citizens. While the government can’t express viewpoints in these public spaces, YOU can. It can be almost anything. I think this is why so much art in the streets takes place on publicly owned grounds – they are the perfect display for free expression.

2: Except when you aren’t
Ten years ago, the Patriot Act enabled all law enforcement agencies to search any document / conversation in your life in the name of defense. This includes voicemails, texts, doctors prescriptions and blog posts all the same. The FBI has already admitted to more than 1000 instancse of abuse involving the Act. If that’s not scary enough, last week the National Defense Authorization Act was overwhelmingly passed by the U.S. Senate. This Act allows the military to arrest U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them in military prisons without the right to legal counsel or a trial.

That’s right. Your elected representative has chosen to pass an Act that could strip you of your Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, adequate representation, and a fair trial. Glenn Greenwald hit the nail on the head, pointing to the exact provision in the Constitution that gets overturned. Even in the height of the Cold War (read: the possible nuclear extinction of the human race), the government never found it mandatory to place such an invasive ordinance. Senator Joseph McCarthy never had the guts to do such a thing because, back then, it would be un-American. Apparently it takes some nutcases with dookie and lighter fluid to make the Congress want to arrest the very people who gave them a job: the American Citizen.

3: It isn’t getting any better – so use your voice responsibly
In the face of these two acts, both of which severely infringe on your Constitutional rights, it is a prudent time to be responsible with your protest. Any police action taken against the Occupy movement specifically opposing the content of the speech is an abuse of power. A trademark of the occupy movement has been not stating goals even though most of the protesters (the ones I know range from photographers to tax attorneys) have clear objectives. The First Amendment doesn’t say you need a defined reason anyways.

There are other ways to watch what you are doing. If you want to read up on all varities of art law, you couldn’t do much better than Starving Artists Law. Or, if you are interested in learning more about the right to assemble and protest, this link is a great resource. If your voice is strongest online, it couldn’t hurt to check the Legal Guide for Bloggers.

And above all, don’t stop doing what you do best.

Alec

The Incredible Lego Houses of Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle Lego house

Mike Doyle Lego house

Mike Doyle Lego house

Last week I wrote about Lene Wille’s beautifully minimalist installation Metaphorical Horizons and since then I’ve had a number of Lego enthusiasts contacting me about work which they’ve made using the small plastic brick. One piece which really caught my attention was these incredibly detailed houses by Lego artist Mike Doyle. Mike’s sculptures are an incredible testament to both Lego, and his skill and patience. His largest and most recent construction Victorian on Mud Heap (above), uses nearly 130,000 pieces and took about 600 hours to complete.

With true dedication to the project Mike built these without using any foreign materials – there’s no wood, no glue, no paint in these – it’s just pure Lego. It’s a pretty amazing feat of design. Mike’s got a number of ‘making of’ shots on his blog which are worth checking out; I know my first reaction when seeing these were ‘no way, they can’t be real’ so it was wonderful to see some progress shots of them being made. Go check them out!

Salewa Headquarters by Cino Zucchi Architetti and Park Associati

Salewa Headquarters by Cino Zucchi Architetti and Park Associati

Salewa Headquarters by Cino Zucchi Architetti and Park Associati

This is the new headquarters of Salewa, a European mountain gear manufacturer that has been around since the ’30s. Their new headquarters, located in Bolzano, Italy, was designed by Cino Zucchi Architectti working with Park Associati.

The company describes their new headquarters borrowing a phrase from the 2010 Venice Biennale, saying “people meet in architecture” and going on to say that their new headquarters is where “nature and technology meet.” Clearly, a lot of things are meeting in this building, and other than the usual office program, there’s also a quite visible climbing wall (not terribly surprising for a mountain gear company but still exceptionally well done– I think it looks a bit like an unbuilt Eisenman tower), a fitness center, a bistro and what has alternately been described as a kindergarten and nursery. Even if you think the rocky-looking mass of the project is a bit too obvious for a company that makes mountain climbing accoutrements, you have to admit that it looks like an incredible place to work.

Alex