Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Inside Ilewyn Davis

What's cooler than a new Coen Brothers' film? A new Coen Brothers' film set in Greenwich Village in 1961.

Loosely based off of Dave Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the Coen Brothers' intend on capturing the place and the time of the folk hub that was Greenwich Village, New York.

The film will be interesting not because of the Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell references, but of the context  of the folk music scene that formed in the coffee houses, cabarets, and bars of Greenwich. While there are numerous films on, or dedicated to, Bob Dylan (No Direction Home, Don't Look Back, I'm Not There), a film on the culture and characters that shaped the '60s folk movement will be refreshing.

The Coen Brothers will have to capture a lively time, the year before Dylan released his first record, Bob Dylan, and where he primarily performed covers of Woody Guthrie, or his contemporaries like Dave Van Ronk. Bob Dylan, according to an article in Monday's New York Times, "kind of, sort of" shows up in the film.

It's funny how the article mentions a venue called Gerde's Folk City, because Dylan first gained publicity through an article written by a Robert Shelton from the Times after a performance in September of 1961.

Clearly, evident of the trailer, the film will be full of rich history.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stuffed Pomeranians: Even the Lavish 1% Can Spend Excessively

The pink tank top clad wife of timeshare king David Siegel walks through the skeletal foyer of a 90,000 square feet replica of Versailles. That room-sized space is Jackie Siegel’s closet. The camera pans across a basement full of crates, “that’s what five million dollars of marble looks like,” Jackie says with a gleaming smile.

Despite internal feelings of disgust, envy, or even nausea towards the decadent family of 10, Lauren Greenfield examines the Siegels as an allegory for excess in The Queen of Versailles. The Queen walks through a hall of mirrors and reveals the tragedy of excess in the values and history that resulted in the 2008 financial crisis.

David Siegel is the founder and CEO of the largest timeshare company in the world, Westgate Resorts. Jackie Siegel, 30 years younger at 43, is a former Miss Florida and a mother of eight. In 2004 the family started constructing the largest house in the United States.

“Everyone wants to be rich, if they can’t be rich the next best thing is to feel rich,” Greenfield cuts from the bright lights of Westgate Resorts’ sign to a growling Siegel in his grandiose throne, “if they don’t want to feel rich they’re probably dead.”

The Queen effectively weaves the lives of the Siegels during their financial height, as well as when the economy collapsed in order to capture the moral of this story.

Greenfield did not completely portray the Siegels with malice; in fact, she reveals Jackie’s complexity as she slowly becomes the heart of the story. The film untangles her humble origins. After earning an engineering degree, Jackie worked at IBM until she was inspired to live her life as a model.

While she was physically abused in her first marriage, Greenfield juxtaposes her interview with a scene where David locking himself in a room upon a pile of papers threatening to cancel the electricity, and refusing to accept Jackie’s kiss.

“The American dream is raising way above what you’re starting with,” said the mother of Jackie’s childhood friend as the Siegels moved into a substantially smaller house, “and that’s what she has done.”

Though Louis XIV who had Versailles built for him, the Siegels bear more resemblance to Napoleons spreading a financial empire too thin. Instead of exile, however, they too get a taste of financial struggle in a culture of acting upon excess want.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lupe Fiasco Creates a Fiasco

Yesterday was Inauguration Day.

On a stage at the Hamilton in D.C. Wasulu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, performed more than 30 minutes on a single song at the inaugural music celebration set up by the concert Startup Rockon. After announcing he didn't vote for Obama, he began criticizing the President's foreign policy for the entirety of his set. That is, until security pulled him off stage.

Some lines included "Gaza Strip was getting bombed // Obama didn't say shit."

Though, his last words until being escorted off the stage, "I'm part of the problem, my problem is I'm peaceful."

The moment he criticized himself for being peaceful dissent got him kicked off stage. He gave a message to his fans and audience to act unlawfully in order to create change. His free speech wasn't violated, the moment he hinted at violent civil disobedience he was taken off (Brandenburg v. Ohio). The 30 plus minutes before that the guards let him rant.

On CBS in 2011, Lupe Fiasco reported calling Obama "the biggest terrorist," along with the military-industrial complex, and our nation's foreign policy. He also arrived on the O'Reilly Factor, and this is a bit surprising, O'reilly defends Obama (yes, you read that correctly) and Chicago-born, African American Lupe criticized Obama.

Whether or not you agree with Mr. Fiasco, I'm glad he wasn't taken off stage during his first 30 minutes until he said his problem is being peaceful.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Django Unchained and Unfettered (Revised)

       Two black slaves fight to the death in the bar room of a filthy rich plantation, like gladiators before their emperor, in this cruel game called Mandingo fighting. Pops are heard as bones break and joints dislocate. The victor picks up a stone to smite the ill-fated loser. Set on the brink of the American Civil War, the all-star cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained wrestle in a game of power.
Starring Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave who is freed upon the appearance of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), the two journey into the pastoral South of antebellum America.
       Django immediately grasps attention with its cast, unique setting, and Tarantino’s trademark grindhouse elements. The entire film tugs like the Mandingo match as Tarantino directs a black protagonist to kill white people. He explores the themes of power interplay between the owner with the owned, and the black with the white.
       The script engages, and unnerves, as the dialogue escalates. In the same bar room Leonardo DiCaprio asks Foxx, “You got me curious,” and Foxx quips, “I’m curious what makes you so curious.” Silence fills the scene until Waltz interrupts.

"I'm curious what makes you so curious"
       While the script is full of clever word play, Tarantino creates a formula within his films that result in predictability. Ala Inglorious Basterds, a long exchange of insults are heard, until, suddenly, many people are killed. Though entertaining, the climax takes too long to reach in this three hour long film.
       The usual grindhouse elements appear in Django, but the film also revealed influences of spaghetti western and ‘70s blaxploitation films. The camera expresses the push and pull sensation, as in one moment the camera narrowly focuses on Waltz and Foxx, then cuts to a panoramic of their foes. These exchanges feel like a classic western showdown through Tarantino’s lenses.
       Our country carries a terrible burden of the past, and Django’s story makes it all the more bearable. Tarantino succeeds in portraying racism as ridiculous through his portrayal of the immature KKK, or in the caricaturization of black stereotypes, like Samuel L. Jackson’s deliberate performance of an Uncle Tom.
       Like a modern day gladiator match, much of Django is entertaining showmanship, the action exchanges back and forth until an eruption of tension, yet after viewing Tarantino’s other films the victors and losers are revealed long before the end. Despite its length and Tarantino’s familiar structure, Django will try to entertain like a southern gentleman.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Django Still Chained

          His fate casted to the Gods, like the Herculean gladiator, little did he know he is but a pawn in the game of vengeance. If he was not owned by a white man, surely he was owned by the instinct of revenge. Retribution finds itself nearly through every scene of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, and viewers will move in their seats from the build up to the action.
          Starring Jamie Foxx as Django, an slave who is freed upon the appearance of a bounty hunter (played by Christoph Waltz), the two journey into the pastoral South of antebellum America.
          Complete with an all-star cast, a unique setting, and Tarantino’s filmmaking ingenuity, Django immediately grasps attention. The entire film tugs like a gladiator match; it was a long-winded confrontation between two entities about who held the upper hand. If the setting and dialogue don’t grab you first, the characters will.
          The usual grindhouse elements appear, but the film also revealed interesting influences of spaghetti western ‘70s blaxploitation films. Yet, at the same time, it becomes difficult to view this violent film outside the context of the awful recent shootings. Full of shocks, Django offers little surprises other than the lurid action scenes.
          While the unconventional structure and build up of tension during the dialogue of Tarantino’s latest film, Django doesn’t feel evolved from his other work. Tension crescendos simultaneously with the dialogue, until a lot of people die. Despite its unconventional structure, Django becomes predictable within the patterns of Tarantino’s past films (Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds).
          By the end of the play the acts don’t add up to a single theme other than revenge. Between the acts the characters’ motives become transparent, their personalities develop through actions (or inaction), and while the conflicts seem unreal, it gets easy to become tied to the characters.
          Our country carries a terrible burden of the past, and Tarantino acknowledges this. He succeeds in portraying racism, along with its bastard cousin of phrenology, as ridiculous. He allows us not to forget about the past.
          Django is entertaining, it is sensational, the production is impressive, yet when fitting the scenes together and thinking about the possible themes, one may leave with a punch-drunk smile.
          Like a modern day gladiator match, a lot of Django was entertaining showmanship, the action would finally erupt after tensional build up, yet after viewing Tarantino’s other films the theme of revenge will leave you hungry for something more substantial.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Music & Identity Blog: The Class, The Blog, The Tunes

I set this blog up for my Music & Identity class. If you like music history you should check it out for updates.

Or just check it for some classic tunes. Your ears will thank you.


The New York Times Launches "Snowfall," a Multimedia Masterpiece

The New York Times started a new project,"Snowfall," on last February's Tunnel Creek snow avalanche. Launched last month, featuring multiple chapters and integrated multimedia, the feature feels more like an experience than an article.


While the clips and moving maps might be unpredictable, the project works because the transitions are smooth.

The reader is not only pulled in, but invited in. The top of the article shows a video loop of snow falling off of a mountain cap, along with its title "Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek." Scroll down, and it reads like a conventional article, including a video interview with Elyse Saugstad, a survivor of the avalanche, on the right side. Farther along the article a birds' eye view tour of Washington's Cascades is given through a mp4 video file. The article resumes, a skier skids down a hill and the snow hits the camera lens.

All six of the chapters follow a similar format. After a scenic title, a few short paragraphs, and an image becomes a clip interspersed within a body of text. The project combines static words with the movement of both two and three dimensional maps and diagrams.

Still, writers wonder, is this the future of journalism?

It's an experiment. The New York Times demonstrates with "Snow Fall" how old, established publications can integrate new technology for the future of journalism.