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9th-Jan-2006 03:02 pm - This Is The End
My only friend, the end is only a beginning.

While my LJ days are limited, please visit me at The Kolog.
Charlie, thanks for the round.

I wanted to get this up here before it slipped my mind.

The book by Theodore Gracyk, Professor of Philosophy at Minnesota State, Moorhead, is called I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity. It's published as part of a series, Sound Matters, edited by Michael Jarrett. I'm trying to recall how much there is regarding Punk. I know he mentions the Clash and the Sex Pistols, but I don't remember the depth of the discussion. It rather exhaustively chronicles pop music with a rock bent from the fifties through the mid-nineties, at times glossing over key movements to focus on others. I especially enjoyed Gracyk's discussion of appropriation and the double standards often applied to musicians of one race/ethnicity as compared with another. For what it's worth, it was the Co-Winner of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music Book Award in 2002. Here's the review printed on the back of the book:
I Wanna Be Me is a fine book that grapples with a number of contemporary debates about the cultural significance of rock music, as well as broader issues of interpretation of texts and artworks. It challenges some of the influential but extreme views that have dominated discussions of political identity in connection with art. Not everyone will agree with Gracyk at every stage. He is more comfortable with the mass art character of rock than are many culture critics. I applaud the book for taking strong, but considered stances on issues of interest within a number of fields.

—Kathleen Higgins, Professor of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin, and author of The Music of Our Lives.

His previous book, which I have not read, is entitled Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock . If anyone's interested, here's a link to a review on Salon.com.

You can explore his site at http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/. As I mentioned at the bar, I always enjoy checking out what he's listening to.
30th-Nov-2005 08:42 pm - Michael North
Maybe it's just because this was the first speaker I have attended here at the U of A, but Professor North's speech today was invigorating--great motivation reminding us GATs why we're here. I thought the comparison between Keaton and Vertov was creative. He discussed Keaton's work in great breadth, while concentrating primarily on Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera . Nevertheless, while I would have liked him to discuss more works by Vertov, I always enjoy an analysis of the relationship between popular culture and high art. His presentation was articulate and well-organized, despite the curve-ball thrown his way by the fact that his power-point presentation would not work on the computer equipment in the room. I particularly enjoyed the way he set up the clips before we viewed them. It ended up serving as a good introduction to his paper. And, Christine, he seemed to be in conversation with you and your paper topic at certain points in his speech. How valuable!

Furthermore, the Q&A, at the end, was informative and inspiring. Again, I don't have much with which to compare it, but the faculty seemed to engage Professor North in an intriguing conversation. I really didn't want it to end. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during tonight's dinner.

In an attempt at some criticism: Professor North addresses the way in which the camera in Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera stars in the film while, as he puts it, recording itself. As we discussed in class after viewing Vertov's film, the camera obviously does not record itself, yet when we talk about the film, we, as well as Professor North, refer to the camera in the singular rather than the plural, which makes it seem like it is in fact recording itself. The same conflation occurs when we refer to Vertov, or Keaton for that matter, as the sole filmmaker of a project. While it may be convenient, for conversational purposes, to refer to the camera and/or the filmmaker in singular terms, it seems to be problematic. Professor North claims that the mechanical eye allows us to be in two places at one time; however, while we may be able to view, through the process of mechanical reproduction, two perspectives at once, we, including the machine, are still in no way in two places at one time. It seems to be a theoretical conundrum still at large.
I’ve been thinking about incorporating some psychoanalytic theory into my paper but thought it wise to run it by you first for some feedback. I want to apply Freud’s theory of the fetish to my analysis of direct cinema documentaries.

I will argue that technological advancements serve as a surrogate for the inherent lack of truth/reality in mechanical representation. From the early days of cinema, filmmakers have believed that the cinematic apparatus could allow the subject to tell his or her own story (for more see Vertov). For instance, Richard Leacock has a sign hanging in his office that quotes Tolstoy in 1904 declaring that the invention of the camera negates the creative role of the author: “With this we can go out into the real world and photograph Russian life as it is. We have no need to invent stories” (qtd. in Levin 202). For Tolstoy and Vertov, reality or truth is restored in the mechanical representation of the moving image. However, in the 1950’s, Leacock, Robert Drew and Albert Maysles (among others) noticed that non-synchronous documentaries could not show life as it really is—truth is somehow missing when the subject cannot literally speak for him- or herself. Direct cinema disavows the medium and implicates technology. According to the rhetoric of early direct cinema filmmakers, truth would again be restored to the cinematic representation of reality if only they could develop the equipment to record image and sound synchronously. Sync sound recording becomes a new surrogate for truth.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but this is my first attempt to write it out. If you have the time (I know we’re all busy), let me know what you think. Is this worth including in my argument? Perhaps I’m way off base here. Perhaps I’m opening up a can of worms better left alone. I guess this is why we have the Livejournal.
22nd-Nov-2005 05:05 pm - Voice in Libra
I was confused at times by Delillo's occasional insertion of the first-person narrator. It was eerie the first time I noticed it. Oswald and Robert Sproul are buying a gun at a "cheap hotel above the business district, among muffler shops and discount furniture, in the January chill" (42). Captain Ferrie is the dealer. Robert Sproul freaks out and leaves. Oswald's "sense of things was that he was one step ahead for having stayed" (44). In the midst of Ferrie's musings, the first-person voice emerges out of nowhere:

"''If you allot your time, you can accomplish fantastic things. I learned Latin when I was your age. I stayed indoors and learned a dead language, for fear of being noticed out there, made to pay for being who I was.'
He forgets I'm here.
'My father was a cop,' he said, making it sound like..." (45).

He forgets who's here? Logically, the first person-voice in this passage would be assigned to Oswald, but it disappears as enigmatically as it first appeared. Delillo always returns to the third-person narrator. What effect does this have on the reader? It gives the appearance that Delillo is speaking for Oswald, which I would argue if Delillo did not employ the first-person voice to speak for other characters throughout the text.

In the following passage, I can't figure out to whom the first-person (plural) pronoun seemingly belongs. At first, I think it indicates that George de Mohrenschildt is speaking, but that theory quickly folds:

"Larry couldn't help laughing. It was all so curiously funny. It was rich, that's what it was. Everyone was a spook or dupe or asset, a double, courier, cutout or defector, or was related to one. We were all linked in a vast and rhythmic coincidence, a daisy chain of rumor, suspicion and secret wish. George was laughing too. A wonderful woodwind rumble. They looked at each other and laughed" (57).

This occurs again in the first full paragraph on page 78. I can't figure out what Delillo is doing. I could understand if he, stylistically, chose not to use quotes, but he uses them throughout the rest of the story. So, why here, why now? The only pattern I see is that when he omits the quotation and blurs the voice of the narrative, it is to indicate internal dialogue.

We see this with Jack Ruby towards the end of the story:

"He went across the street and filled out the form to send the money. The clerk time-stamped the receipt 11:17. Jack was even later than he thought. For the first time he put a little hurry in his day and in less than four minutes he stood in the dark garage below police headquarters.
If I get in this easy, it means they want me to do it.
He walked across the deserted parking area..." (436-437).

Throughout the story, what is in quotes is spoken outloud in the context of the scene, but these passages, all without quotes and thrown in the middle of a story that is told in a third-person point-of-view, represent internal thoughts uttered only in the character's head. Subtle, but effective.
I can't believe it.  I'm watching President Bush greet a group of U.S. military soldiers in Osan, South Korea.  It's like the U.S.O shows, as if I know anything about those.  The president wears his military jacket a la the "mission accomplished" speech aboard a U.S. aircraft-carrier more than two years ago.

Today, the crowd is rowdy.  It's morning in South Korea.  It's past midnight in Tucson on a Friday night.  I can't imagine anyone in our class is watching this broadcast on CNN International.  In a way, I'm embarassed to be watching it myself, but its profound.  Once again, in his speech, President Bush segregates military families from ordinary civilian families as though one cannot understand the other -- a strategy of divide and conquer. Senators at home demure the President's agenda, but any debates regarding the future of this conflict are stifled by accusations of political opportunism. 

The President conflates the war in Iraq with a larger war on terrorism.  I've listened to him guide the discourse back to 9/11 on several occasions in this one speech.  Whether or not the war in Iraq has anyting to do with Al-queda, the problem lies in a conflict on abstract principles -- a war on terrorism, a war on drugs, a war on poverty.  We've been here before.  Who are we fighting?  What is our plan?  I never once imagined raising these questions because I never agreed with the justifications of this war, but now I must acknowledge the dilemma we face as a country.  In a lame attempt at trying to relate this post back to our class discussion, what documentaries will speak of this contemporary issue?  I'm sure you've seen some, and I ask that you respond to this impulsive post in order to share your knowledge with me and our community. 
15th-Nov-2005 08:32 pm - From staged to stock
Two weeks ago, I took a load off and went to see George Clooney's Good Luck and Goodnight.  I've heard an array of reactions to the film. I liked it, but then again, I'm sitting in the choir.

I was suprised by the film's relevance to today's audience.  Obviously, I expected the commentary on a culture driven to paranoia by fear to speak to our contemporary social temperment, but I was not anticipating the indictment against the corporate take-over of American journalism (admittedly, I try not to read reviews, promos and the like before seeing a film, so I'm often quite surprised by things that other viewers may come in expecting to see). The film defines the confrontation between Edward R. Murrow, CBS News and its sponsors as a beginning to the end of mainstream media outlets independent from corporate influence. The film argues that Murrow, morally speaking, won the battle, but we all know we lost the war. The Internet has been a saving grace for the dissemination of independent news; however, as an interactive medium, it asks Americans to get off the couch, which the majority more often than not refuse to do. Nearly all of the news on television, where the majority of Americans still get most of their information, is warped by corporate, bottom-line agendas.

Anyway, stepping down from my soap box--there were several documentary techniques that I could not ignore in light of our class. There was virtually no soundtrack. There is some music but it comes from a jazz band who are characters in the film. Furthermore, one scene early in the film shoots Murrow and his team around a conference table. The camera is handheld, and as it pans from one character to another, it struggles in-and-out of focus, zooming in-and-out on a face. It reminded me of the shots in Primary , Don't Look Back , and Gimme Shelter . Remember the shot of Jackie Kennedy's hands as she made her speech at the rally? The directors regret the cut that had to be made from a larger shot of her speaking to the close-up of her hands. In later films, they will move from such broad shots to close-ups via zooming as we see with that great shot of Keith Richards in the recording studio (think snake-skin boots). Anyway, the shot around the conference table in Good Luck and Good Night  has the effect of placing the footage in a particular era through cinematic techniques. As with the use of black-and-white, the raw recording of a handheld camera causes us to forget that this is in fact David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels and George Clooney acting in the twenty-first century. As a result, the fictitious shots blend more seemlessly in with the stock footage of Joseph McCarthy. We are less jarred by the cuts between staged- and stock-footage.
10th-Nov-2005 11:48 am(no subject)
I have only begun to look at various sections of The Warren Commission Report, but already I am overwhelmed by the density of the text.  The breadth and scope of detail bolsters the appearance of objectivity: "Rather than a paradigmatic organization centered around the solution to a puzzle or problem, observational [texts] tend to take a paradigmatic form around the exhaustive depiction of the everyday" (Nichols 39).  Obviously, November 22, 1963 was not an ordinary day, but The Warren Commission Report does represent it in exhaustive detail.  The commission provides the reader with what seems like such a complete account of the event that I forget it is just that--an account.  As subjective as any other text, the subjectivity is masked by a technique of the observational mode of representation. Of course, the quote from Representing Reality is problematic when applied to The Warren Commission Report particularly because the commission was organized and mandated by the president to indeed solve a tragic national puzzle.  However, history, or at least JFK (which I am going to watch again after reading the report), has shown us that the commission ends up raising more questions than it answers.  And while it is impossible to penetrate the minds of the authors at the time they wrote the report, I cannot help but wonder how confident they were in their conclusions; but that is besides the point.  What is important here is the assurance that the authors provide the reader that what is contained in these pages is the truth.    They have documented the events surrounding the assasination of President Kennedy exhaustively, leaving little room, it would seem, for questions.  In well over 800 pages, what could they have missed?
8th-Nov-2005 05:57 pm - "A Prose Documentary"

After researchig direct cinema's arduous attempt to remove the author/filmmaker from interfering with the audience's reception of the documentary, I couldn't help but notice how John Rechy intentionaly inserts himself into his text in order to realize his conception of "prose documentary".  Considering how we, as a class, have grappled with the slippery boundaries by which to define (confine?) the term, I found Rechy's choices of what characterizes a documentary intriguing:  "The stark style I attempted--diferent from that of all my other books--and it's 'black-and-white' imagery are intended to suggest a documentary film.  The 'essays' function as 'voice-overs' and speak at times in affirmation of Jim's actions, at other times in questioning, still others in argument, even opposition" ("Foreward").  I find anyone's choice to use black-and-white images so as to establish a sense of authenticity fascinating particularly because it immediately reveals the in-authenticity of the representation.[i] In all my research of direct cinema and the manic drive to develop sync sound recording equipment for the sake of capturing life as it is, there is no mention of a desire to shoot in color.  Obviously D.A. Pennebaker shot in color while making Monterey Pop and the the Maysles shot in color while making Gimme Shelter, but as far as I can tell from the scholarship, the need to represent real life in color seems inconsequential to these filmmakers.  Anyway, back to Rechy.  Unlike Pennebaker in Don't Look Back (black-and-white) or Capote in In Cold Blood, Rechy manipulates the reader's interpretation of the text.  In his attempt to craft a prose documentary, he returns to the conventions of expository filmmaking that dominated early documentaries.  As Bill Nichols reminds us, the various modes of representation tend to emerge and go out of fashion only to resurface later in a new context.  Rechy employs the voice-over, but it is far from conventional because he juxtaposes it with techniques taken straight from direct cinema, and even Joan Didion's non-fiction, to create a novel:  "In writing The Sexual Outlaw, I attempted what I consider a new approach to the so-called non-fiction novel: I arranged random 'real' experiences so that their structured sequence would stand for narrative development".  Rechy seems to move from the observational mode in the "experiential" passages to a more reflexive mode in the "voice-over" essays without flinching.  While he wants to represent reality he feels compelled to acknowledge his role as the creator of that represention.

[i] I saw Good Luck and Goodnight over the weekend.  George Clooney, director, shot the film in black-and-white so that he could juxtapose the fictitious footage with the stock footage of McArthy.  There is a terribly reflexive moment in the film during which the character played by Robert Downey Jr. asks his wife which tie to wear and she responds, "the blue one".

25th-Oct-2005 04:35 pm - "Another story without a narrative"

As I read "The White Album", I interpreted the descriptions of Didion's illness as a metaphor, in a way, for documentary philosophy of the sixties.  Describing the organic disorder to her central nervous system, Didion seems to depict, indirectly of course, the documentary impulse underlying direct cinema: "During the years when I found it necessary to revise the circuitry of my mind I discovered that I was no longer interested in whether the woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor jumped or did not jump, or in why.  I was interested only in the picture of her in my mind: her hair incandescent in the floodlights, her bare toes curled inward on the stone ledge" (44).  This passage seems to describe the philosophical changes of the preceding decade that are at the heart of documentary filmmaking.  Documentaries, constructed of historic images, are inevitably a re-telling of the past -- a revision of the circuitry of the mind, if you will, in the sense that expository documentaries explicitly attempt to revise the audience's way of thinking about that past.  The filmmaker's job is to create an arrangement of recorded sights and sounds to lend meaning to the past.  How he or she does this, of course, is crucially important.  Didion seems to echo the philosophy of direct cinema filmmakers in her attempt to avoid narration and commentary.  She does not care if the woman jumps or not because, as she writes later describing her own life, this is "another story without a narrative" (47).  Life is too complicated to adhere to any script.  Didion has to confront a disease with symptoms that "might or might not appear, might or might not involve my eyes. They might or might not involve my arms or legs, they might or might not be disabling.  Their effects might be lessened by cortisone injections, or they might not.  It could not be predicted" (46).  I may be stretching it here, but perhaps there's a kernel of truth in some of this.  In such an unpredictable environment, what is the filmmaker to do but observe?  Who is the author to comment why the woman jumps or does not jump?  Why Dylan is or is not a complete prick or utter genius?  Having said that, we as an audience look for those narratives no matter how disguised they may be.  We dig for that commentary even in its absence, which is why, I suppose, the artists creates in the first place.  Didion cannot find the meaning in all this, but maybe we can.

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