A case study in societal evolution, part 1

Because I was so blown away by the wonderful work of Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll, I went back and watched her earlier work. In particular, I viewed — for the first time — the 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader.

I became intrigued by the difference between the reception this film received 20 years ago. Back then the reviews were almost universally negative, whereas today it is lauded as one of the most important films in the gay cinematic canon.

Clearly it is not the movie that has changed. It is we who have changed. But what has happened in the last two decades to cause such a radical reassessment of the very same work?

I think this question raises all sorts of issues that go beyond a single movie. In fact, this question touches on the issue of how a society evolves and becomes more enlightened over time.

More tomorrow.

Eating the future

Euphemisms about the future often describe our relationship to it in active terms. We are “creating the future” or we are “making the future happen.”

But when you really think about it, we are sort of doing the opposite. Simply by existing, every day of our lives we convert another day of the future into a day of the past.

In that sense, there is less and less future all the time. What had once been the future is continually vanishing right before our eyes, only to become the past.

I guess in metaphysical terms this all makes sense. The future is our temporal sustenance, the very food of our continued existence.

In order to live, we eat the future. We just have to hope that our food doesn’t end up running out too soon.

National emergency, part 2

So is the “wall made of giant steel slats” an actual deal with the Devil? Well, I guess this is a case where the devil is in the details.

If Evraz, the company largely owned by Russian oligarch and Trump family friend Roman Abramovich (and possibly the only steel company with the capacity to build such a wall), gets the contract, then there is a smoking gun. But even that wouldn’t mean anybody is guilty of collusion, only that they might be.

Still, it would be quite a thing if the massive wall ends up actually getting built and Evraz ends up supplying the steel. That would end up raising all sorts of questions about exactly what favors are owed by our President.

But there’s no point in getting ahead of ourselves. The chain of connections here could be completely innocent.

Yes, the proposed wall is a slightly loony boondoggle, since there are far more effective ways to ensure border security, with a considerably smaller price tag. Still, our dear President could be guilty of nothing more than desperately trying to keep a badly thought out election campaign promise he made to his base back in 2016.

I guess we will see. In any case, this has all been one helluva thin excuse for a national emergency.

National emergency, part 1

There is an amazing conversational exchange in The Godfather, when Bonasera asks Vito Corleone to do him a favor, and says he is willing to pay. Corleone responds to Bonasera as follows: “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day…”

What Bonasera doesn’t realize is that he has just made a deal with the Devil. The time will come when that favor comes due. And when that happens, there will be no choice of backing out of the deal.

It seems that our country may be witnessing a similar scene playing out on a very large scale. Except in this case, the favor involves the price of steel.

More tomorrow.

Emotional Subtitles index

This evening I rewatched Annie Hall once again. I had last seen it in 2011, and as always with this film, I gained emotional insights from it that I had completely missed on all previous viewings.

Annie Hall is one of those great works of art that changes and grows as you yourself change and grow. It has the capacity to illuminate life in many different ways, depending upon where you are in your own life when you see it.

One of the many wonderful formal innovations in this film is Woody Allen’s use of subtitles in a scene that takes place soon after Annie and Alvy have first met. As they each lurch their way through an awkward conversation, the subtitles clue us in about what they are both really thinking.

I found myself thinking that it would be wonderful to have an “Emotional Subtitles” option while watching such a movie on-line. The text along the bottom would simply tell us what the characters are actually thinking and feeling.

In a really good film, this text would rarely be the same as the words coming out of their mouths. In fact, a reliable indicator of a bad movie is that people say exactly what they are feeling.

Maybe we could rate films by how thoroughly their Emotional Subtitles would differ from the spoken dialog. In films with a high ES-index, this difference would be large.

Alas, films with a low ES-index often make a lot more money at the box office. Especially if they have fancy special effects. Sigh.

Cinematography and editing

There is something weirdly comical, if unbearably sad, about the decision of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to move the categories of cinematography and editing out of the main broadcast.

There are exactly two parts of moviemaking which are unique to cinema: Cinematography and editing. Pretty much everything else is borrowed from other forms of entertainment.

Of course the reason AMPAS is doing this is so that audiences at home can better focus on watching glamorous movie stars walk up the aisle to accept their statuettes. In other words, the Academy is making a decision to downplay the actual knowledge and understanding of the craft of movie making, in favor of whatever can get the highest ratings as TV spectacle.

Imagine if we elected our presidents not on their actual knowledge and understanding of the craft of government, but only on their ability to get high ratings as TV spectacle. In a few short years our country would become the laughingstock of the world.

Oh wait, we already do that. Never mind.

Unexpected art

Today I needed to create an example, to show my students, of how to use my noise function to create visual patterns for procedural textures.

I set out to make something really basic, but then I felt a compelling need to fashion something beautiful. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

You can see the full result by clicking on the image below. I think of it as a kind of visual tribute to one of my heroes, Jim Campbell.


The Answer

It is still early in this year.
I find myself just sitting here
Counting days since it begun.
Yesterday was forty one.
But then today that number grew,
Today is number forty two.
And that’s The Answer, so they say
The number that will show the way
To what the Universe is for,
The key that will unlock the door.
It seems so wonderful, although
What was the question? I don’t know.

A kinship that transcends time and culture

I’ve been doing a deep dive into the lives of the young Mary and Percy Shelley and their contemporaries. It’s all part of preparation for our forthcoming immersive VR theater piece about Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein.

One outcome of that research has been a growing awareness that young intellectuals from 1816 were really no different from young intellectuals of today. Being in one’s late teens or early twenties, while being a wicked smart rebel, pretty much remains the same experience down through the ages.

Finding myself face to face with this knowledge has been giving me existential shivers. It has forced me to confront the strange alternate timeline of subjective human existence.

On the one hand there is the linear timeline that we all learn in history class. On the other hand there is the strange and inexplicable parallel timeline of each individual’s journey through life — from childhood through adolescence and beyond.

However old we may be in any given year, each one of us is bound up with all the other humans who have ever been — or ever will be — the same age that we are now. It is a kinship that transcends time and culture, and there is something about it that is ineffably beautiful.

Time machine

This week I’ve been pushing forward on a massive clean-up of my apartment. This Sisyphean task is far more than a single week’s work, but this past week I’ve made some real progress.

It has felt like traveling back in a time machine. And in the course of operating that time machine I’ve made some real discoveries.

Well, more like archaeological finds. Here, for example, hidden in the zippered inner pocket of a pair of pants I clearly had not worn in a very very long time, was a genuine NYC subway token:

I brought the token to our lab to show around, and most people there had absolutely no idea what it was. I found that fact to be equal parts delightful and horrifying.

As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past. It’s just stuck in the back of your closet.”