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Parker’s Poem Corner – Lights

December is a confusing month. It never feels accurately represented anywhere in my opinion. Watching things about the holidays and seeing all the standard shit that pops up in this month always feels wrong. Advertisements don’t do it right and all the big Christmas movies don’t really ever do it right either. I think a substantial part of the problem is that Christmastime becomes very loud, raucous, and sterile against its own will. Yes, it is largely because the holiday has been steamrolled by consumerism, but that’s not really news. I think the volume of holiday comes from how habitual it is. Something consistent to look forward to, where people do the same things and wear the same stuff and drink the holiday drinks, et cetera. It’s a calendar routine that marks a completed year, and I think that spreads and oversaturates, casting an icky, clumped sludge of fabricated holiday spirit and corporate hullabaloo that is just as regular as a random Tuesday in April. Opening my piece this way definitely makes it seem like I don’t have any holiday spirit, which is entirely untrue. I just have a weird relationship with Christmastime. I love it dearly, but there’s a very particular strain of distanciation and vacancy that crops up in this month. Driving through my regular places, which sway somewhere in between suburban, rurality, and soft urbanism, there’s a new warmth that pops up during December that is matched with an equivalent loneliness. I find this word trite, but it really is melancholic, and it’s certainly bittersweet. Everyone moves in closer to each other to stay warm, and they move their activities inside. Quality time contains a nearness that isn’t present in the rest of the year. At the same time, it’s yet another December, where the cold eases in and settles down. It gets darker much earlier and the world feels much slower, lonelier, and dense. It is a strange and conflicting time. The holidays are about togetherness, evidently. I think about this while I drive around during December and I see all the Christmas lights dancing along balconies and up in trees. Who lit those lamps behind those curtains? Who strung those lights around their balcony railing? What company is within the confines of each of these rooms? What relationships are warming all of these walls?

It has been a very difficult year for all of us. Amidst the bleakness and isolation that this year has crammed down all of our throats, having to sit beneath all the “unprecedented, troubling times” bullshit is even more vacating and nauseating and makes the whole thing feel even more hollow and doomed. I’m a glass half full kind of person, and I am known to be that, so you may take my views of this film, the holidays as a whole, and honestly my life right now in general as true to form, coated in my standard happy-go-lucky optimism, which is entirely okay. This year has trampled me with some of the bests and worsts of my life so far. The future is oblique, prickly, and entirely abyssal and I’m certain that fear is not a trait that is unique to me. The walls of my tiny little room feel particularly narrower than they have before. However, at the same time, when I am driving back to my house, I can see my window from the street through the trees. I can see my lamp peeking out through the dark and lighting up my room. I can see the poster that I had framed and successfully hung up after 3 months of feeling so defeated and vacant that I couldn’t even manage to rig the screw into the drywall. I’m wearing all black but my socks are cozy. I can smell new carpeting, and pretzel M&Ms, and my dryer sheets on borrowed clothing. The string lights are working, even though I have to pull the couch forward to plug them in. The lamp works great, even though I bump my hand into it when I reach for my water bottle. I should get a straw for that.

A very wise person in my life once said to “always look for the contradictions, because that is where the truth reveals itself.” The cold closes in around us in December. The onset of winter is a very sad thing. Thus, we turn to each other to warm our souls back up. We turn to little decorations and twinkly sparkly somethings lined around our trees and our lampposts. When a person puts up their own lights, it warms their own space and offers a shred of that warmth to the world outside. Everyone in their own worlds does that together and it accumulates to quite the shimmering glow. That is all the holiday season needs to be, I think.

Anyway, all of this indulgent waxing to be said, Marie Menken’s Lights explores this with a very quiet, youthful gentleness. Menken slings her camera around with the fuzzy abandon that blankets the month of December for many of us. I recommend y’all watch it. It’s the only Christmas movie that accurately captures the warmth that slowly eases into our increasingly frigid winter lives. It is an entirely lonely and entirely comforting, snug piece of filmmaking. It’s my favorite one.

Whoever is reading this, in December of 2020 and beyond, hope you’re staying warm and lovely. Go buy a set of twinkle lights or set up a new lamp, or just reach toward any little slices of light that poke their heads into your universe. It does all of us good.

-Parker

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Blog Hot Takes

Hot Take – Horror Cinema

I’m not very good at writing about things that are terrifying. My writing style and general outlook on life tend to naturally carry me away from that, into more flowery and romantic things. I only know that I’m bad at it because as I was beginning to write this piece, I tried to establish some bleak and dreary tone about the state of society as it relates to Halloween and Horror cinema, and I found myself just dumping vaguely creepy platitudes about the way people see the holiday, and it was all goofy and shitty and dumb.

I think this kinda happens to encapsulate the exact phenomenon I find so puzzling about the way Halloween works. I must disclaim that October is absolutely my favorite month of the year. It feels like life is happening, the weather is perfect, everybody is together celebrating the season. October in Athens is particularly special, although it’s pretty hard to pin down why. Everybody just kinda is in on whatever we all get to share this month, and it’s wonderful. That being said, every year without fail people hype October to oblivion. “Spooky season is coming! Spoopy!” Everybody chants this stuff almost ritualistically in September, posting that same gif of that person in those black tights dancing with that Jack O’ Lantern on their head. As the month continues, everyone does the costume parties, goes to the pumpkin patches, eats the pumpkin stuff, yada yada.

People watch the same horror movies, too. People watch the schlock, the classics, and the contemporary stuff. This is not a bad thing, and I’m not downplaying horror films in the slightest. There are lots of truly wonderful horror films, and some of them are quite scary, but nevertheless I have always found it a bit puzzling. You settle in, pop your popcorn, surround yourself with the people you care about (or at the very least the people that you’re interested in) and then you watch the scary stuff.

This glib approach to it all comes with several clarifications, naturally. I am not saying here that Halloween is stupid, and horror films are stupid, and it’s all dumb and not even real! And I’m better than you because I know that! I’m not saying that, although I kinda felt like I had to start off the essay by making it seem like I was saying that because it’s kinda fun to be inflammatory sometimes. However, I am by no means placing myself above the holiday celebrations that come with Halloween; that’s haughty and elitist. I love all the October stuff and Halloween stuff as much as the next person. The fact remains, though that when people enter the Halloween season, they do the same things. They perform the same rituals, revel in the same activities, watch the same films, and share the same togetherness. And they always will. This is a good thing, and a happy, wonderful thing. October is a lovely time of year, and it’s probably my favorite.

But, the fact of the matter is that all this, all these activities and especially all these films…it’s kinda all…..the same.

Horror film, and the spectatorship henceforth, exists with this same flavor of…sameness. Horror is arguably the foremost example of true genre, and thus it arguably is the foremost example of a cinema that just chugs through the same things. Any horrifying film, with variation, prances dramatically along the same formulaic illusion: that it’s all genuinely horrifying, and these real terrors should haunt us all the time forever. This guides me to the central question that I want to posit, all of these things being kept in mind:

How is all of this sameness considered scary at all?

When I think about things that are truly horrifying, shocking, and terrifying, I almost always find myself naturally tracking to the unknown. The fear of losing all this life, the fear of some safety or peace being corrupted by some human, specter or force that is far more formidable than anything I’ll ever have at my disposal….the terror of whatever that thing is that no human has ever or can ever understand…….THAT’S the truly horrifying stuff. Many horror films tap into this. General horror tropes give audiences glimpses and emulations. There’s the glance toward the shadowy black forest, a void expanse that seems to stretch into the furthest reaches of our subconscious while sitting directly in front of us, the ambient hum of a room or location that the audience clearly knows contains whatever darkest fears exist that we have yet to imagine. The genre tropes give us glimpses into that feeling. They provide insight. However (and this is the most crucial difference between what we as audience members have experienced as horror cinema and what actually constitutes a genuinely horrifying cinema) insight is only emulation when placed at the foot of genuine experience. Settling into a seat with popcorn and loved ones to watch a scary thing is not immersion into something fearful. It is immersion into one’s own safety. We watch horror films to recognize how safe we are. What about these sitting around and watching a movie that you know is going to end, that you know was filmed in a studio, is ever going to generate true terror? (Aside: Blair Witch is arguably the only mainstream exception that truly challenges this; a film that convinces millions of its authenticity succeeds in approaching true horror. The Exorcist gets kinda close, but that’s just because of all that Christian rabblerousing.)

If true horror only comes with being confronted by things that truly threaten our sense of safety, whether that be emotional or physical, than I will argue that the only truly horrifying cinema is cinema that is unconcerned with convincing the audience that they are scared. Cinema that transcends the necessity to provide the audience with the expected shocks and scares, opting instead to reach into abstraction to extract some deeply seeded and ravenous part of the unsettled soul….that is where only the most authentic horror lies.

Black Ice, one of the most popular films in Stan Brakhage’s 1990s silent series created entirely with paint on film stock, is inspired by a nasty fall on ice that Brakhage experienced in the late 80s. The fall resulted in injuries that required intensive eye surgery for the director, and he almost lost his vision as a result. The film is much like the rest of Brakhage’s films in this series: it consists of brief flickering images, all created by Brakhage’s brushstroke. The frames move so quickly that, in silence, the visual sensation of motion fades into one’s subconscious, and the flowing tones and shapes meld together and guide the viewer into a serene and subliminal state of dissociative reflection. Black Ice is different from the rest of his filmography however, because the image performs in a dynamic language that is not present in any of his other films. The blobs and hues seem to shove themselves toward the audience, and the motion begins to convince the viewer that the colors and images on the screen are seeking to reach out and suck you in, so that you can be trapped with them inside their refractory vortex of frozen shade. I don’t want to suggest that horror film must be directly related to some tangible, provable trauma in order to become convincing and/or authentic, but Black Ice’s elegant sense of unease communicates a lack of safety that is hard to find in any studio-made horror film. Gone is the sense of time or closure, gone are all concerns with character, resolution, outcome. There is only movement and darkness. Complete uncertainty, total alienation. Will I be trapped in this when it’s all over? THAT is a horror movie.

Toshio Matsumoto’s Atman functions within a similar structuralist belief system. A singular figure wearing a terrifying mask is positioned in the center of a field somewhere, and the camera appears to move in a circle around them. At the beginning of the film, the camera erupts into an overwhelming pattern, the camera rushing closer to the figure and backwards, around and around, flashing strobe patterns across the screen to the grating, disquieting sounds of shrill electronics. The motion is entirely unlike any that we find in our regular lives, and entirely unlike any that we find in horror cinema. It is aggressively uncomfortable, especially when the image in question is trained upon an imposing and terrifying figure. It confronts the audience with the most primal sense that an audience member can have: when will this be over? When will I finally get relief from this torment?

Halloween is all about the spooky things and the scary things, and everyone loves to watch a horror movie around this time of year. Halloween is about the togetherness that we share, and I would venture to say that most horror cinema, on social function alone, operates within this optimistic and unified framework. A horror film can hardly ever be horrifying, because inherent to the social framework of the genre is a sense of being with those that you love, in a time of year that you love. The only truly terrifying cinema is the cinema that forces us into things that we don’t understand, into an incongruent and incomprehensible place of association, uncertainty, and darkness. These movies are examples of that, and honestly, films like these are the only things that I personally think constitute genuinely horrifying cinema.

You can find these films on YouTube. Watch them with your friends and laugh and have a good time to completely prove me wrong and render this entire essay meaningless.

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Blog

Parker’s Poem Corner – Flo Rounds a Corner

MEMORY

Bazin said that the photograph embalms time. Drawing a parallel between a mummified corpse and the image feels wrong, because one is preservation of physical flesh, a sacred rite founded from reverence and a fear of the unknown, and the other is light exposed onto stock. A crucial pillar of photography exists in this observation because photography is memory, arguably above all else. It is difficult to determine for certain whether the photograph is more so a manifestation of appreciation of the moment or the fear of losing it to oblivion, but point remains. Photography is preservation, the casting of a careful glaze over of the past and its placement into the kiln.

The general population takes advantage of the image’s tendency toward preservation. Everyone brings along their camera so they can document the moments they’ve all decided as a culture are significant. Everyone brings their camera along when they go on vacation. Everyone’s camera rolls have a bulge in photo count surrounding moments with their friends, nights doing cool and unusual activities, et cetera. People preserve the memory of the things they deem important. Maybe it’s because those things are genuinely important to them, or maybe it’s because they’ve been told those things are important. Maybe they film those things because they fear losing them. Regardless, important moments deserve documentation, and people know this. Whether they recognize which moments are the important ones…that is a topic for a different essay.

Once the photograph begins to move, suddenly the embalmment reorients itself along a new axis, and a decision must be made. The moment is moving now, it is charting a voyage along the passage of time…is this mummification? Is this preservation or extension? Is this the avoidance of glaze and kiln altogether, substituted for the malleability of the original clay? Has the frozen image morphed into emulation and recreation? Is that even more of a bastardization of the original experience?

PATIENCE

One of the many dilemmas concerning the moving image is its consideration as a fountain of providence. As soon as the image starts to move, its spectators start to demand more of it. Film functions for many as the provider of answers, the provider of closure, of escape, of distraction. The anticipation of the next event is not something any of us deserve.

memory

But now we’re (stuck in it)(get to stay in it)

She rounds the corner. What else do you want?

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Blog Reclamations

I THOT I WUZ FREE

Petra Cortright’s i thot i wuz free is a video installation that is a minute and 23 seconds long.

Cortright exhibited her work at the Wellington City Gallery in 2017. The exhibit included the majority of her work, which consists of digital paintings created in Photoshop, as well as other films similar in style to i thot i wuz free. She conducted a very brief interview for the Gallery which was shown on their promotional YouTube page. In the interview, she bluntly explains the very simplistic hobbyism that provides the foundational process of her work. She said:

“I’ve been collecting very strange, weird webcam softwares, mostly for Windows-based computers, for like ten years, and I’ve always thought of them as self-portraits. I’m kind of like the director, the actor, the editor…everything in one take, because they’re always live. I can see what I’m doing.”

Cortright offers all of this almost lackadaisically, matter-of-factly stating that her work stemmed from a place of pure curiosity, not through happenstance so much as through genuine interest, but as in any authentic conversation, there are more profound truths shrouded across these simple statements. The idea of a self-portrait, the fact that she “can always see what [she] is doing”…there is subtle evidence of a stimulating ideological bridge that Cortright has crafted between herself, her perspective of herself, and the webcam’s input and output. The webcam is regarded as a mechanism for artistic expression, and even further, for deeper identification of (with?) the embodied self.

Full disclosure: I loved i thot i wuz free on first watch because it was really cool, and it is. There was one day where I had just rewatched it, and I had written some rambling, topical words on Letterboxd about it. The next day, I got into a Zoom call to chat with some friends. As literally every person nowadays knows, Zoom gives you a prompt right before you join a call to “Join With Video” or “Join Without Video”, and it shows you what your webcam is seeing, presumably to help you test it but also to confirm that you don’t jump in with some stupid shit on the camera. Before you join a public group of people, it shows you a picture of yourself. There you are.

Seeing oneself processed into pixels and presented on the screen creates an unsettling flavor of distanciation. Especially when juxtaposed against the function of a mirror (which is technically identical to that of a webcam), there’s a puzzling and uncomfortable disconnect between what one is looking at and what one is perceived as. On a voice call, the feeling comes in waves. The conversation ebbs and flows, there’s laughter and discussion, but then I notice myself again, and for a moment, it all compresses my brain again. There I am. Is that what people see?

This question becomes even more complicated when the concept of spectatorship is introduced. It becomes slightly paradoxical very quickly when you investigate it: Am I seeing myself, or spectating myself? The answer is clearly both, but the boundary of the ego starts to take some poke and prod when the question is posed. In the webcam-produced image, I am both seeing myself and spectating myself. As I input a movement with my very own flesh, it is reiterated to my eyes for me to view at my leisure. For children entering the grocery store, this existential question breezes through their heads and quickly becomes a game; a silly face and a wild jump function as a test of the camera, to see if the thing they’re looking at really is the physical form that they happen to be controlling. Is that me? Well, sure it is! I’m jumping, and person on the screen is jumping too! Aren’t we the same?

In i thot i wuz free, Cortright’s casual behavior simultaneously emulates the youthful test of the CCTV and considers the ideological challenge that is offered by the webcam toward the corporeal. She sits and observes herself, the tacky first position of the livestreamed self. As Danny L Harle’s “Awake For Hours” flutters in bitcrushed joviality through the speakers, Cortright begins a naturalistic performance that can be likened to the way anyone behaves when they are home alone: she stares at herself on screen, then at the webcam itself. She smiles, and she dances, and she lip syncs to the music. She just does her thing. This behavior is almost too simple, an evocation of the silliness and selfdom that shines through in all of us when we know that no one except ourselves is there to spectate us.

While this is going on, the image on screen duplicates consistently until it reaches sixteen fragmented slices. The webcam captures Cortright, but the output shows the image flowing in fragments from left to right, so as the real-time editing shreds the moment into choppy ribbons, glimpses of the moment right before flash and decay toward the right side of the frame, fizzling across a wave, away into digitized nothing. Individual frames are sliced into sixteenths and carted off toward the right, and echoes of Cortright’s actions are all we can extrapolate from.

A consideration of digital physicality flows through i thot i wuz free. Cortright uses the dazzling, jittery webcam software and performs as usual, but her behavior is engulfed by digital effects, so that her complete, organic personage becomes warped by the jigsaw electricity she inflicted upon it. The film wonders, “Who is performing for whom? Whom exactly am I presenting when I offer myself to the screen? Who am I really seeing?” These anxieties looms over the keyboard and pierce through the screen. The lyrics of “Awake for Hours” frame the existential musings of the images: “Teardrops feel like showers / I thought I was free…Lying awake for hours / Time stands still around me.” There is a youthful freedom in Cortright’s joyous behavior on screen, but the boundaries of the digital frame still haunt it. She moves organically of her own accord, but the software works diligently to interrupt the humanity of her movement.

i thot i wuz free considers the subtle fractures in the relationship between the digital self and the physical self. It challenges the perceived balance between the spectator and the depicted. Audience is regarded as a vacillating institution, a delicate and meandering construct of personality that, through the webcam, is revealed to be inherently bound to whatever performer or performance is depicted on screen. The deterioration of Cortright’s performance by way of her webcam software elegantly explores the photographic image’s feeble imitation of one’s physical form. The bittersweet cybernetic nature of the webcammed self shows that there is no difference between spectator and spectated; everyone is constantly performing for themselves and everyone else, with themselves and everyone else in mind.

When Zoom asks its users to “Join With Video” or “Join Without Video”, all cards are laid on the table. One must decide if they are willing to offer a warped, pixelated version of themselves to the people waiting beyond the prompt screen. The screen functions as an oppressive barricade between the people with whom we interact and the selves that we offer to the camera. Even as we view ourselves in the top-left corner, the idea of the presented self splits between what we offer in our flesh and blood and what we offer to the looming eye at the top of the screen. i thot i wuz free fights almost desperately against this as a reclamation of the organic human form. Cortright’s personality bursts from beneath the generative software. Her intense gaze directly into the camera is defiant, a direct resistance to the digitization that is, according to the spectator, completely consuming her appearance. Her dance moves do not lose any of their ecstasy amidst the visual disconnect. As of this writing, the piece is four years old, but it displays a victorious, unified collision of the organic and the digital that will persist forever into the technological future. Richard Brautigan put it succinctly:

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

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Blog

Parker’s Poem Corner – Neon Genesis Evangelion

I would absolutely love for you to read this article. But, if you don’t know anything about Neon Genesis Evangelion, please, for the love of all that is holy in this universe, do not read it. I’m a pretty good writer and there are almost certainly pretty good words below the ones you’re reading now, but if you haven’t seen any of Neon Genesis Evangelion, these words will have to wait. So will the words of any IMDb page, fandom wiki, or YouTube reaction video, but those should wait forever.

I’m not going to summarize Evangelion or explain anything. It would take too much time, and even though my passion for the show would render that time well spent, it would still be a waste, because it goes against the show’s grain and would to make this article a substitute for watching the show. This is not an Ending Explained article. However, spoilers will naturally arrive though my investigations of the psychological and philosophical explorations of the show. I mainly just don’t want your interpretation and/or experience with Neon Genesis to be spoiled by mine, which if you read this, it will. Hideaki Anno, the writer and director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, said in a November 1996 interview with NewType:

Evangelion is like a puzzle, you know. Any person can see it and give his/her own answer. In other words, we’re offering viewers to think by themselves, so that each person can imagine his/her own world. We will never offer the answers, even in the theatrical version. As for many Evangelion viewers, they may expect us to provide the ‘all-about Eva’ manuals, but there is no such thing. Don’t expect to get answers by someone. Don’t expect to be catered to all the time. We all have to find our own answers.”

Interpretation is something that pervades human life in a deceptive and overwhelming way because it is so tightly wound with perception. Every person’s experience with life is inherently individual. All of the words we think and the feelings we feel regarding the world around us are tinged with our own personalized flavor of worldview. In this sense, life itself is only ever individual, a miraculous flurry of raw human input that each of us can only ever process through our own machinery, no one else’s. It is a known and harrowing talking point amongst people trying to half-assedly blow their own minds, that any given thing we are experiencing cannot amount to much more than electrical impulses in our brain. Using this fact to scrape the absolute tip of the philosophical and existential iceberg is lazy at best, but it is still worth mentioning, especially when considering the individuality that comes laden within media and the experience thereof. Excepting its outward simplicity, the human experience is still coated by this thick film, by the limitations that interpretation places on it. The way we see the world is warped by what the world has offered us. Everyone deeply desires to connect with themselves, and everyone desires to deeply connect with others, but there is the strain of individuality that walls it off. Everyone’s perception and experience is so different, and even further, everyone’s internal life can only ever be extremely private, the world that is inside them that no one else will ever truly have access to.

If you watch the show, it will not recreate inside of you the feelings that it has made inside of me. Anyone who I share my thoughts with will never fully and completely understand my reaction to it. It is always my own interpretation of what I’ve felt, a verbalization of private, individual feeling that is automatically tarnished and depreciated, externally by the walls that have formed, of my own volition or otherwise, around me and internally by the distance between my true thoughts and the delusions, fears, and preconceptions that mask them. It is hard for anyone to truly experience another individual, and it is arguably even harder for someone to experience themselves.

If I were to try and fix that, though, how would I do it? How do I close that gap? All these vain attempts at injecting feeling through words at an attempt to provide insight on my feelings…how do I make them less vain? How do I let you in?

Before I lived with my roommates, I was close friends with them, and the house I live in now was already our HQ, so to speak. I came over regularly to play fighting games, or to hang out before we would go out together. One time, I told him that I was coming over to play Super Smash Bros. He told me that he was going to hop in the shower, but that the door was unlocked, and I could go ahead and come on in. When I showed up, the game was already set up, and he had already selected our characters for us. He was showering, but the game was waiting. I think about that way more than he would ever realize. I don’t think he knows that I cried about it.

On the fifth of June, in 2019, I ran into one of my best friends at a stoplight. We were both on our way to our friend’s house, our HQ. We were coming from different directions, and we both went to grab a bite to eat at the same exact place beforehand. We didn’t mention to each other that both of us were doing that. There’s a picture of me flicking off her camera with cars all around us.

When we were all headed down to the beach, we passed a gas station called “Parker’s.” The color of the station was green. I completely lost my shit and couldn’t stop laughing. There’s a picture of it that I really love. I’m glad he took that picture.

The other day, my dad’s 50th birthday. My older brother and my dad were grabbing a to-go order from inside a restaurant, curbside or whatever. I have been skeptical about their mask wearing habits, about the nature of my mom’s work, about my sibling’s regard for the danger of it all. My mom took it personally and confronted the fact that I’m always critical of everything around me, and that I’ve always got something to say when something unfolds in a way that I dislike or in a way that I disapprove of. I’m so glad that she knows me well enough to have a complaint. I am so glad to have a quality that someone has to confront and hold me accountable for. I’m so grateful to be known.

DESIRE TO LIVE / DESIRE TO DIE

Everything around me is green…
I need it to all be bigger than me, so I can drown in how massive all the beautiful things are…

FREEDOM = NOTHING

BECOMING : UNDOING :: UNDOING : BECOMING

If you wish for the existence of others, psychological walls will divide everyone again. The fear of the other will begin again.
– “It’s okay. Thank you.”

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Blog

Parker’s Poem Corner – Safe

When I’m sitting behind a keyboard, I feel at odds with myself. There is the immediate onset of feeling extremely lost, and I’m sure I share this experience with most. I feel this way when I’m trying to write in a journal, and particularly when I’m speaking face to face with a person. I am always desperate to link my words with my feelings, but words never can perfectly recreate the ambiguous, potent feeling that is bound to my reaction. That’s what I think is so beautiful about talking, writing and every other form of expression; there are infinite ways to string words together, endless ways to get as close as you possibly can to recreating a moment, or a feeling.

However, it is never perfect. You can never recreate the feeling through the words alone. It is always a ballpark summary, a distant abstraction, or an explanation of events, devoid of the real-time feeling. This seems bleak initially. In the past, I have buckled under this immediate and crushing bleakness; the idea that my words will never be enough for my thoughts / feelings, that my internal life will only ever be my own, and I am doomed to careen unstoppably towards the inevitable human rot, destined to die wielding my own personal inexpressible.

But there’s light that shines through.

When you get close to emulating the feeling with the words, there is a swell that fills in the extraneous space, a sort of emotional grout that solidifies the tiles that you placed by initially feeling the feeling in the first place. Even if the words don’t articulate and/or recreate your feeling perfectly, the attempt to place terms to emotion functions as a vehicle, a pipeline to the same, or at least to a similar, head-and-heart space.

Something that I’ve learned to accept is that the words themselves will never be enough. Creatively, emotionally, really everything-ly, this has been an enormous speed bump for me, because I thought, “Okay, just let me get my words down. Let me express this emotion and be concise and accurate. Then I’ll be articulate, then I’ll be actualized, then I can move on with my life.” No matter what, though, the words are just going to end up close. Feeling is insurmountable. Raw stimulus is impossible to verbalize, and even when you try to talk or write about the experience, there is a new stimulus that is created by actually reading the words. The experience is now threaded with memory, with individualized newness. Potent, different, but not in its original form. It has evolved, and it will continue doing so.

Carol has an experience that is virtually undefinable, impossible to explain or recreate. She just drank that milk, drove behind those two trucks, ate that cake, and suddenly she was bleeding and wheezing and seizing. She just stumbled into a circumstance, took in the raw stimulus, and stored it away. Her body reacted, and it shut down.

How is she supposed to explain that? Her husband, her doctor, her best friend all inquire but their questions are loaded with predisposed disbelief. They were not there. They do not have the feelings or the experience. When she tries to explain her circumstance, the stress and complexity leaves her stumbling over her words, which perpetuates perceived incompetence and mania. She has all this pain and difficulty inside of her, and she cannot articulate it. The outside disbelief catalyzes, and the problem deepens.

How much of our experience’s validity is confirmed by our ability to explain it? As soon as we feel the initial feeling in its full potency, it evaporates, and every attempt to connect with that feeling again is scrambled at some percentage. Recreation is tarnished by memory. How, then, are we to actualize our internal life, when any attempt to fashion it into something comprehensible (or even physical) ends up alienating either ourselves or the puzzled person trying to interpret it?

Todd Haynes posits this question for two hours in Safe. Vacant figures waft through dingy, stark interiors, melding with cathode ray imagery and sonic backwash, flitting in between nothing and nothing. The camera leers against a protagonist whose plight is so visceral, individualized and unconventional that her loved ones AND her caretakers cast nothing but looks of sheer bewilderment her way. Her internal life is virtually incomprehensible, to the point that when she is spotlighted for a speech, she sputters endlessly until someone rescues her with, “To Carol.”

Our internal life might be exclusively our own. We can connect and interact with the people around us, whether they believe us or not. No matter what, all we have at the end of the day is our notepad in the mirror. We write our most honest words, we speak our most earnest “I love you” directly into the mirror, but even those are tainted with the disbelief that others have injected into our brains. The improbability of our own individual happenstance is so difficult to trust. Telling the mirror might not be enough. Is it?

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Blog

Parker’s Poem Corner – Ratatouille

It’s always strange to find yourself in a new frame of mind, or a new perspective. Maybe the realization is disillusioning, maybe it’s eurekaic, but it’s always refreshing, in newfound peace or newfound pain, to find yourself in a completely unfamiliar sightline. The things you know and love become different, somehow. The way you feel about the world around you has a different flavor, in a way, like someone or something spit shined your eyeballs in a way you had no clue you needed. This could be considered change, although some may disagree. I definitely consider it change. It maybe is the most potent form of change, as a matter of fact, as one realizes that for a long while, however long that while may be, their experience has been changing in the minutiae, incrementally and imperceptibly until their reality is unrecognizable.

I had this revelation recently (ish?) because I noticed that exactly this was happening to me. Suddenly, I was in an entirely different place, I was seeing things differently, I had new feelings, flavors. Obviously, this isn’t unique to me; this is a foundational pillar of the human experience because it is so crucial to the universal definition of growth. As I investigated this within myself, I discovered that I was naturally turning to my favorite art for answers. I turned to the familiar places, looking in the corners of the world (physical or intangible) for parallels, for new feelings, for some new sensation or stimulation to latch onto and explore for the sake of finding difference. Why did I look to the places that I know? When someone looks for new perspective, they typically find it in a place that is entirely new to them, where completely unfamiliar ideas crop up and shake the habitual down to their most basal roots. Why, then, did I (do we?) search inside the media we consider home?

Immediately, one might think that this is just comfort food, but I think it runs deeper than that. I think that the favorites that remain favorites, the things that we find truly otherworldly and resonant, hold that position and withstand tumult and weather in that way because they wield within them newness and oldness at the same time. As a person, and as an experiencer of whatever brand of reality you’ve had forced upon you, you are the only individual that has a true grasp on your internal life. You are the only person who gets where you’ve been and how it differs from where you are now, if at all. When a piece of media reflects this and marches to the beat of both drums, it provides you with a new form of wholeness. It is when you see a personal favorite with a recent set of eyes, when you notice something that you didn’t notice before or understand, and feel the allure of home breathing through you in tandem with the fresh perspective that has been gifted to you by the passage of time, THAT is when a something becomes truly transcendent.

And thus, Ego takes a bite of the Ratatouille. Accumulation of bitterness collides with the warmth of familiarity, causing the “perspective” he requested to congeal with his past. Old and new procreating, generating a new link between what built him and how that relates to what has ended up being built.

Who am I to expect anything different from myself?

Why would I ever think that there’s a disconnect between what built me and what has been built? Why would I ever think that in order to grow, find peace, move forward, keep living, that I’ve got to rescind formative experience? Why should I ever allow things to be one thing?

I keep finding flat circles. I’m now, and I’m then, and the places where I’ve found love are both as well.

Anyone can cook.

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Hot Takes

Hot Take – Trolls World Tour is good

An adage frequently referenced in film schools posits that all films are political, because any given film reflects its circumstance and its context, whether it be that of the filmmaker, the subject, or the generation that surrounds it and that it blooms from. I generally agree with this. The ideological exhaustion that comes from not being able to loosen ones shoulders and enjoy something just for what it is is something that I am very familiar with, and so I do believe that, for what it’s worth, a movie is inherently valid as entertainment. But, the message and/or perspective of a movie is far louder than its entertainment value, especially when viewing critically and ideologically. Thus, with an accommodating asterisk, yes. All films are political.

The contextual relevance of Trolls: World Tour is undeniable. That’s been screamed from every mountaintop that you can see and I don’t really care to fully and comprehensively do it again. Yeah, this film probably changed the moviegoing experience and the structure of film production, distribution, and exhibition to the same extent that Jaws did, that’s not what I’m here to say.

Instead, I want to focus on the ways that this movie plays into the general clash between the constitutional moneymaking nature of movies and their enjoyability. Godard, in one of his many rebukes of Hollywood and the American industry, said that cinema is capitalism in its purest form, and he’s right. It is a well-oiled machine that is perceived as soulless, because it is. Hollywood is fueled by profit, plain and simple. This isn’t news. But, in the case of many, many recent movies, the self-aware masses that attempt to engage with the media that they consume and the environment that said media sprouts from write off pictures like these as blatant product pictures, skeletal representations of capitalism and the movie-watching majority’s pliability and susceptibility to distraction. Such is the case with this sequel to one of the worst instances of product moviemaking, Trolls. It functions as a cash grab, fodder for toys, a 2-hour reprieve for parents. Apparently, with the risk that the film represents regarding format and distribution, as a cash grab this grabbed quite a lot, and is continuing to grab. It didn’t grab mine, I ripped it, although spoiler alert, I did purchase it again to watch it with a family a few weeks after my first viewing.

I started this up really for the sake of completionism–I wanted to see what this was all about, and to be able to say I’ve seen it in case the conversation ever comes up. What I wasn’t expecting was to laugh the entire time. I wasn’t expecting a foundational racial theme that bests pretty much any attempt that nu-Disney has made both in authenticity and fullness. I wasn’t expecting the music to be so fun, for this to be paced so well, and just to enjoy it so damn much!

It is so easy to passively write off movies like this with a laugh, claiming it as another Hollywood death trap, another cheesy factory picture lab-tested to assuage and distract and coddle. Maybe I’m too optimistic, maybe I’m too glass half full to let myself buy into the bleakness that loudly surrounds movies like this, even moreso the context around this film in particular. But there’s such a warm core in this movie, there’s something to it. There’s something really genuine here. The message about diversity feels different, it feels a bit more open and welcoming. The “differences do matter!” theme transcends the vast majority of colorblind fake woke liberalism that is so present in family films of the last decade. Technically, the animation is great, All recent animation is technically impressive, but the animation style here is just so fun and filled with personality. Overall, the style of this movie just totally rocks. The worldbuilding surrounding all the different musical kingdoms, the way they all compliment each other and make every plot “checkpoint” so to speak feel like it has a reason to be there, the way the different trolls and worlds and songs all confirm and bolster the general message about diversity…it’s just so great. It’s so impressive to me.

Again, Godard would be spitting on his screen if he read this. Things look bleak. The industry is damned and corrupted. But there’s something here. I had a great time watching this movie, and its message is good. It is surreal and hilarious and reflexive, and just a wonderful, easy watch. Maybe it’s naive of me, maybe I’m ignoring things, but I really don’t think I am. I think if you see the good in things, you’re gonna find it, and there is lots to find here. I’m not unaware of it’s potential thinness. I don’t have on context blinders, I just had a great time watching this and I think this movie is really fucking good. And that’s fine.