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Update 4.16.2004: I'm now at Lossless.

February 26, 2004 at 01:24 PM in Personal | Permalink

Commercial jingle

In lieu of an actual update, I give you... song lyrics.

You could travel for a lifetime
And still stay where you are
You could wait until the right time
Resolve to make or mar

People tell you what they know
They're mostly wrong from the word go

It's under the surface and it's up in the sky
That's why you won't reach it, so don't even try

The lines are old, yet still not weakened
You don't kow what to do
Cause everyone else around is sleeping
The choice is up to you

Now you better watch out what you're saying
These words could cut like swords
You better watch out while you're praying
Find out what you're praying for

People tell you what they know
They're mostly wrong from the word go

Cause it's under the surface and it's up in the sky
That's why you won't reach it, so don't even try

It's so unexpected, now how could it be true
I never would detect it, if it hadn't been for you
Now I got this notion, and it's bottled up inside
A swamp of emotions, there's no need to hide

It's under the surface and it's up in the sky
That's why you won't reach it, so don't even try

People think they know where you are, based on where they've been. But however much they might care about you, they don't know and can't know. You have to find your own way.

February 20, 2004 at 03:06 AM in Music | Permalink

Mark Kozelek live

Last night, Mr. Sun Kil Moon / head Red House Painter came to the Middle East upstairs for a solo acoustic set. It was the kind of dependably enjoyable show that I've seen Mark Kozelek put on. He was segueing smoothly from song to song, while covering much of his back catalog - everything from Grace Cathedral Park and New Jersey to Duk Koo Kim and Gentle Moon. He did seem less chatty than usual. Perhaps it was his health - he had cancelled some of the dates on this tour after losing his voice. He sounded great last night, though.

In one of the memorable moments, he added these lines to Glenn Tipton:

Some like Michael Hedges more than George Winston
Judas Priest was gayer than Iron Maiden
There's a fine line between Pauly Shore and Hayden

Here is a nice photo-diary of the Kozelek show in San Francisco on 1.22.2004.

February 5, 2004 at 12:51 AM in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

Short cuts

Savath and Savalas - Apropa't

I was having a hard time getting into this record in the past few weeks. It's not as catchy as the last Prefuse 73 album, and maybe I was missing that incredible immediacy. But I guess this one is designed to be a very different record.

Then things came together two nights ago. Earlier in the evening, I wanted to talk to her, badly, but I couldn't find her. Later that night, I listened to the album. And it clicked. It made perfect sense. I could barely do anything but listen.

Sorry if that sounds really corny. I'm just grateful when that happens - when I feel like a piece of music has come along at the right time, and was there for me at the right moment.

themilkfactory.com review

LFO - Sheath

Confession: I don't own Frequencies. I'm not even sure if I've ever listened to the whole album from beginning to end. Sure, I've heard the singles oh so many times. But I've been guilty of praising the greatness of the album without remembering much of the details. It's lazy but easy to get away with, given the universally accepted status of Frequencies as a classic.

So when I listen to Sheath, and I feel nostalgic, I guess it isn't nostalgia for Frequencies. It must be for the mood, or the general sound of it all.

I would also like to use this as yet another occasion to deploy one of my favorite quotes about music: someone said of Kraftwerk that perhaps it's enough for an artist to have changed history once in a lifetime, and it's too much to expect him or her to keep doing it. With Sheath, Mark Bell isn't trying to make history again, and I don't mind at all. Sheath is fun because Bell seems to be having fun - albeit in a dry, English-techno-boffin sort of way.

Warp site

January 31, 2004 at 07:06 PM in Music | Permalink | Comments (3)

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation has received several Oscar 2004 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bill Murray. LiT was a film that I had been looking forward to. Whispers of how it resembled In the Mood for Love had doubled my curiosity. In the end, I was disappointed. There were several lovely moments, but I could not get past the portrayals of Japanese people and culture. Some background: I've been a lifelong Japanophile; I spent two summers in Tokyo as an intern for Japanese companies; I speak some Japanese, and understood all of the dialogue in the film.

Much of this MetaFilter thread about the Oscar noms discusses the issue of whether the film is racist. I don't believe the film or Sofia Coppola is racist. What they are guilty of is perhaps closer to bad taste, ignorance, laziness, insensitivity - sins that don't necessarily add up to racism. One anti-LiT article is Totally lost in translation, which seems too one-dimensional a critique. It's so shrill that it's as unconvincing as the counter-protests of "But Tokyo is exactly like that!" A more nuanced analysis can be found in both "Lost in Translation" Is Lost With or Without Translation and Is "Lost in Translation" Racist? These two articles provide the cultural, historical and narrative contexts within which we might evaluate the question of racism in LiT.

For my part, instead of looking outwards from the content to the context, I thought I would look into the formal qualities of the film. One of the arguments made in defense of LiT is that the casual stereotyping of Japanese people and culture is acceptable because it reflects the point of view of the Western couple. As the argument goes, the Japan we are shown must be understood as what the two flawed characters experience. Take this MeFi post: "These are deeply alienated people - their own spouses seem one-dimensional and dehumanized to them - and so compound that with the full-sensory assault of an extremely unfamiliar culture, and of course they're not exactly behaving like engaged amateur cultural anthropologists... The movie's not condoning Bob and Charlotte's indifference to and occasional mockery of their surroundings, it's just depicting these actions as honestly as possible."

But is the film "depicting these actions as honestly as possible"? I believe the film has two modes of editing with respect to the scenes where the two characters encounter Japan in various ways. I'm calling them "mockery mode" and "reverence mode". Two examples are analyzed below. Click on the stills for larger images. (Disclaimer: the stills below are taken from the trailer. The trailer is clearly not the film; the edits are often different. I believe the edits below are nearly identical to the actual scenes in the film. Since I would never download a pirate copy of the movie's Oscar screener - oh the horror! - I will have to wait until the DVD release to know for sure.)

Mockery mode

In the infamous "LIP MY STOCKING!" scene, a series of medium two-shots is used to frame Murray and the woman. We are denied a shot from Murray's POV, kept at a distance to observe coolly, and invited to laugh at the woman and the situation. The absurdity is presented as an objective element, and not at all an interpretation through the eyes of Murray's character. If I remember correctly, the same style of framing and editing is used for other scenes of mockery, confusion and rudeness - such as when Murray interacts with the restaurant chef.

Reverence mode

In contrast, a different editing style is used for the scene of Scarlet Johansson witnessing a traditional Japanese wedding. Here, Coppola cuts from a one-shot of Johansson's staring face to a shot of the wedding procession. Through the close-ups, we are clearly placed in the perspective of Johansson's character. We are invited to share and identify with her POV. The gaze of the camera creates a sense of wonder, curiosity, respect - and we are led to attach those senses to Johansson. Again, if I remember correctly, the flower-arranging scene is similarly constructed, alternating between Johansson's face and the close-ups of the trees and her hands.

A pattern emerges, and it affects how we see what we see as an audience. When the film is in mockery mode, the edit does not provide a fixed POV, and the main character does not seem quite so rude or mocking because his or her perspective is not shown. When the film is in reverence mode, the edit places us firmly in the POV of a main character, who is appreciative and respectful and rendered in a positive light.

Thus, the perspectives of the two main characters are not presented in a consistent manner. In some instances, the attitude portrayed is indeed one of "indifference and occasional mockery", but in other cases, it is one of respect and reverence. What I'd like to argue is that Coppola has shot and edited the film in such a way that it always puts the best light possible on the characters. She is unable to maintain the distance and neutrality that may lead to an "honest" depiction. Perhaps she is unwilling to condemn them to their human failings. As a result, the flaws of the film's portrayal of Japan cannot be so readily aligned with the flaws of the characters.

January 28, 2004 at 01:38 AM in Cinema | Permalink | Comments (7)

Memories of Murder

Wow. This film is well worth the hype as one of the best Korean films of 2003.

In Darcy's review at koreanfilm.org, he says the movie is "at turns blackly humorous, thought-provoking, and horrifying", and indeed it is so satisfying because it works on those multiple layers. As grim and intense as several scenes are - the plot is based on a true serial-killer case from the '80s that remains unsolved - there is also some very funny Korean dialogue, flavored with countryside accents, amidst the dark situations.

I'm impressed with how well the whole thing holds together. It could have been the sort of mess where the film doesn't quite know what genre(s) it belongs to, or rehashes one cliche after another. Certainly, it helps to be blessed with steady direction, quality acting, tight plotting. But beyond that, I think this film works because it doesn't attempt to be deep or flashy. Above all, it values simplicity and economy.

Take the relationship between the two cops and the unknown killer. The filmmakers resist the temptation to make it more complex than it probably was in real life: the killer runs and the cops chase - that is what they do. There are no strings attached to the purity of that relationship, as in so many bad psychological serial-murder movies.

Or take the shooting style. It's a textbook demonstration of economy in filmmaking. Camera movements and framing are carefully designed - you sense the deliberation - and no shot feels wasted. It's wonderful to feel like the filmmaker knows what he's doing and is in control of his craft, and it's a sad statement that I rarely feel that way. Or is it just my ego?

Song Kang-Ho (the actor on the left in the poster above) is priceless. I've seen 9 of the 11 films he has made, and my respect for him grows with each film.

Trailer (WMV)
CJ Entertainment site
koreanfilm.org review

January 25, 2004 at 02:01 AM in Cinema | Permalink | Comments (2)

Short cuts

Stasis - Past Movements

After all these years, Steve Pickton gets a well-deserved best-of treatment. As Stasis, Pickton was part of the early-'90s UK electronica scene, along with the Black Dog / Plaid, B12, As One and Carl Craig. Pickton was supremely consistent in his high-quality output; I'd buy everything produced or remixed by him that I could find. For fans of Detroit-flavored IDM, this is one of those must-have "blueprint" collections, along the lines of the ART label's Objets D'art 92::95 and Carl Craig's Elements 1989-1990.

Boomkat page

M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts

French kids try to cover My Bloody Valentine using Casio keyboards. I like the results, but after a while, I just end up wanting to listen to Loveless instead.

Pitchfork review

Pixies - The Purple Tape 2

Worth it for the first track alone, the unreleased I Can't Forget. Scratchy guitar licks hint at the Police's Every Breath You Take, while Black Francis sings "I've loved you all my life / That's how I wanna end it / ... / The summer's gone / But a lot goes on forever". So good.

January 23, 2004 at 02:12 AM in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

A note about sad songs

The best songs for times of heartbreak have a little of the sweet mixed in with the bitter.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, especially if you're a fan of High Fidelity, which explores the link between listening to pop music and feeling the blues.

It's best to wallow on the shallow side of the pool, not the deep end.

January 20, 2004 at 02:01 AM in Music | Permalink

H2

During the winter break, I finished the complete collection of H2, a highly addictive manga by Mitsuru Adachi. I had a great time, digging into a lengthy serialized manga for the first time in a long while. It also made for a fun refresher course for my slowly rusting Japanese.

H2 is a story about high-school baseball, romance, friendship. At the center are two best friends on two different baseball teams: Hiro the ace pitcher and Hideo the star batter. (You know what's coming, don't you?) They are joined by Hikari and Haruka: Hikari is Hiro's childhood friend, Hideo's girlfriend, and the first love for both of them; Haruka is Hiro's budding sweetheart. Hence, H2 - it refers to the duel of Hiro vs Hideo, as well as the 2 couples whose names all begin with "H".

The story follows Hiro through the 3 years of Japanese high school. It begins with Hiro enrolling in a school without a baseball team, after giving up baseball because he is mistakenly diagnosed with a young-career-ending injury. It ends with a head-to-head matchup between Hiro and Hideo at the national high-school baseball tournament, the shobu (win-or-lose fight) that both of them have dreamed of. In between those two plot points are numerous baseball games, romantic interludes, subplots about teammates and opponents, and a death in the family. The story is told with subtlety and humor; H2 is a very funny work, loaded with verbal puns and setups worthy of the best sitcoms.

But events do not drive H2's story. What makes H2 special is Adachi's deft handling of the changing dynamic among the characters. During the gradual progression towards the final duel, the 4 H's develop and reveal their feelings about love, friendship, and winning and losing. The nail-biting moments in H2 don't take place during the bottom of the ninth inning, but in conversations, arguments, confessions. Much of the exposition is open-ended: in what feels like a rare feat for manga, Adachi asks the reader to work a little to understand the characters - to read between the lines, to study the facial expressions. Given Adachi's craft, it makes for pleasurable work.

Continue reading "H2"

January 10, 2004 at 11:57 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (5)

2004 preview

Movies
2046
Kill Bill Volume 2
The Ladykillers
Spider-Man 2
Hellboy
Howl's Moving Castle
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles

Music
Savath & Savalas - Apropa't
The Avalanches album
Boards of Canada album
Wilco album
Plaid DVD
Pixies reunion (or at least the DVD)
Sonar 2004

January 1, 2004 at 03:42 PM in Cinema, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)