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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: July 7--December 30, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009:

I'm back living in Maine with Bev and Cora. I'll write about it sometime. But I've decided to also start occasionally posting garbage from my sketchbook because it's easy. This one made me laugh a little.

I'm thinking about drawing a whole series of poorly-conceived and incompetently-executed craft projects like this.

CURRENT MUSIC: Puking and Crying by S.
USEFUL MONEYSAVING TIP THAT CAME TO ME IN A DREAM LAST NIGHT: Save money on postage by purchasing stamps from eight-year-olds who are smart enough to raid their parents' desk but not smart enough to charge you the full value printed on the stamp!
TIME: 6:05 p.m.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009:

I've had a nice week or so. You are going to sit there and hear about it.

Thanks to Juli's generosity, Jess and I got free tickets to see Dean & Britta at The Power Center last Thursday, performing songs to accompany 13 of Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests." I'll copy the summary from the evening's program: "Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, which number approximately 500, are revealing portraits of hundreds of different individuals, shot between 1964 and 1966. The subjects--both famous and anonymous--were visitors to his studio, The Factory. They were asked to pose, lit with a strong keylight, and filmed by Warhol with his stationary 16mm Bolex camera on silent, black and white, 100-foot rolls of film. Each screen test lasted only as long as the roll of film. The resulting 2 3/4-minute films were projected in slow motion so that each lasted four minutes."

The films themselves were interesting studies of the human face, projected huge and flat on a screen, with a tone that varied according to the subjects' attitude. Ann Buchanan defiantly refused to blink for the entire 2:45 film, even as tears rolled down cheeks pulled taut over a determinedly clenched jaw. Only half of 17-year-old model International Velvet's face was lit, with an additional quarter of it hidden behind a daunting curtain of dark bangs beneath which one eye stared transfixingly forward. Dennis Hopper, on the other hand, had clearly never attempted to sit still for as long as the length of 100 feet of film in his entire life, and was jittery even at 16 frames per second. I wasn't always entirely sure what Warhol would have me take from the individual films--am I seeing proto-punk antiestablishment playfulness from Ingrid Superstar or merely the effects of cocaine?--but I also suspect that I wasn't supposed to quite put my finger on it in the first place. Sometimes it's a deep criticism of the superficiality of celebrity, and sometimes it's just fun to watch a young Lou Reed being a mannered smartass by swigging from a bottle that he takes pains to display is labeled "COKE."

The four-minute songs Dean & Britta (accompanied by Matt Sumrow, of the Comas' touring band, and Lee Waters, who's toured with Camera Obscura and The Essex Green) performed on the stage below these films were pretty thoroughly gorgeous. They ran the gamut from minimal electronic drones to firebrand Velvet Underground noise to, as Jess suggested, pop that could have easily segued (but mercifully did not) into "Walking on Sunshine," but they all sustained a vibe of heady, contemplative cool. As far as I can tell, the studio versions of their songs are available only on the DVD of the Warhol Screen Tests and haven't been released in CD or MP3 form. It's kind of a bummer, because some of those songs beg to be on night-driving mixes in cars zipping all across the land. It was a fantastic show.

On some songs, Britta Phillips was playing a MicroKorg of the sort I'd been attempting to win on eBay for the past month. Luckily, I finally procured one on Friday, so it's probably for the best that I didn't bum-rush the stage and take hers.

On Friday, Sarah Palin gave me the best early birthday gift a boy could ask for: a public meltdown that has all the indications of stretching on for quite some time. Now, during election season, I naturally found Palin completely infuriating because of the very real possibility that this dangerously stupid hypocrite and liar could be what some commentator (probably Ken Layne, though I can't find the quote) described as "one Ambien overdose away from the presidency." Ever since this nation sidestepped that landmine, though, I've found Ms. Palin's public antics increasingly hilarious, as a personification of the GOP's sorely deserved implosion. I can't get enough of her nonsense. So her babbly resignation speech--clearly hastily slapped together, in a manner that even hardline Republicans like Ed Rollins described as weird, and with even her sympathetically deranged attack dog Meg Stapleton thousands of miles away--put a spring in my step that will last through winter.

The past few days have seen plenty of commentary (or, you know, the journalistic equivalent of Dana Carvey's John McLaughlin impression) attempting to unravel what the hell happened there, with sporadic interjections from Palin herself that serve only to dig her hole deeper, so I'm not going to try to rehash what others have more astutely said. However, there was one bit of her dazed rambling that struck me as such a weird leap of logic that it made my head spin, and yet I haven't seen anyone mention it in their analyses. Check out the following paragraph from her speech (copied verbatim from the official Alaska Governor's Office transcript, so all creative punctuation is hers):

And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn't run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks... travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade - as so many politicians do. And then I thought - that's what's wrong - many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and "milk it". I'm not putting Alaska through that - I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! ? That's not how I am wired.

Maybe no one has specifically pointed this out because it's so obvious and there are plenty of other monkeyfuck crazy things in that speech to discuss at length, but... it sounds to me like she has never considered that "milking it" is not the only road that's available to a lame duck official. Myself, I'd think it would be a blessing for a dedicated elected official with nearly half a term ahead of her to be free from the distractions and worries of a reelection campaign, as she could then use that time to focus exclusively on racking up those "efficiencies and effectiveness!?" that she'd promised. But that's not how she's wired.

Let's look at it this way. First off, I think everyone agrees that she is certainly within her rights not to seek reelection if she chooses not to for any reason whatsoever. Now, if, as she asks us to do, we take her at her word--or those bits of her word that are intelligible and not demonstrably false--for argument's sake, and assume that she's not bailing (a) as part of some truly incomprehensible strategy that she thinks will better position her for a 2012 presidential run, (b) in the hopes of landing a FOX News gig that will feed her addiction to the spotlight and let her run her mouth unfettered by cumbersome requirements of "knowledge" or backing her words up with action, or (c) in preemptory anticipation of some imminent scandal (or as a condition for someone keeping mum on said scandal) that she would have us think she could legally gag us from speculating upon, I think that leaves one conclusion: her resignation is a tacit admission that popularity--and attendant electoral victory--is her only motivation for attempting to accomplish anything.

Whatever else you'd care to say about her--and you could say lots of mean things and I would cackle along with you--she is a fighter. There was nary a point made against her during the 2008 campaign that did not prompt her to come out swinging and claiming those points were invalid, whether she was claiming media sexism, condescension on the part of Katie Couric, below-the-belt attacks on the children she was toting along as props, whatever. She's not brainy, but she's a scrapper. And she's continued to evince that ill-considered lust for battle long after the "real America" that she claimed to represent issued her a resounding "NO" last November. For instance, she recently won something of a Pyrrhic victory against David Letterman in that she got an apology out of him even though it only ratcheted up her reputation as someone who is either an embarrassing, shrill opportunist or a genuinely dense lunatic. (Or both.) She loves the feeling that she's conquered something, even if that means something as unsportsmanlike--not to mention pathologically cruel--as shooting wolves from planes.

So if the pull of another 18 months in office, during which she could push whatever agenda or effect whatever change she believed in her ostensibly divinely-guided heart was right, without fear of reprisal from a potentially disillusioned electorate who may not Get It, wasn't enough to convince her to finish the term of office she'd committed to when she ran for it without a gun to her head... clearly her motivation for action lies solely in the thought that it might lead to some personal victory. Some check mark for the "W" column, that doesn't signify accomplishments, but says, "I defeated Thus-and-So." Absent that chance to raise her arms triumphantly above her head [tasteless McCain joke redacted] as they slip a medal 'round her neck as the 2010 gubernatorial champion, she couldn't care less about what she does or doesn't accomplish in the remainder of her term. Lame duck status holds no trophy in it for her, regardless of what other opportunities it may present. So may as well opt out of it.

Personally, I'm holding out hope for a scandal because my schadenfreude knows no bounds, but if she's breaking with tradition and telling the truth, that's my reading. You?

Anyway, my actual birthday was Sunday, and my dad took me to see Moon, starring Sam Rockwell and directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie's kid!), at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole worker on a lunar mining base who, coming up on the end of his three-year contract, starts hallucinating in a way that causes himself injury, which in turn causes far bigger problems of identity for him. I really liked it a lot. (THE VAGUEST OF SPOILER-ISH MATERIAL AHEAD) I agree with some of the criticism I've read that says the third act would've benefitted from some sort of a tense setpiece as opposed to the existing linear wrap-up that, though emotionally satisfying and well earned, feels somewhat anticlimactic. But part of what impressed me most about Moon was that it didn't overreach. It's a small film with a very small and talented cast (the only notable non-Sam Bell character in the film is Gerty, a computer voiced by Kevin Spacey whose smiley-face palliatives suggest a Malibu Stacey take on HAL 9000), confined mostly to a small set, with small narrative ambitions that Jones knows he can knock out of the park. I'd much rather watch a film like Moon, which is certainly not stingy with clever revelations but which wisely limits its scope to twists it knows it can sustain, than something like, say, Arlington Road, which throws in implausible left turns in the hopes that the audience's adrenaline rush will cover the plot holes. I suppose it's ultimately a little safer than it could've been, but it still feels like a complete film, and there's a certain backward audaciousness in an indie film like this refusing to go off the rails in a way that would negate the world it spent 90 minutes building. I definitely recommend it.

On the ride home, Dad and I discussed the movie and filled in holes in each other's theories about what we were supposed to infer from certain scenes. I was actually very proud of Dad, because there are moments in the film that are fairly jarring--not in a shock-cut way, but in a disorienting way where you're clearly missing vital pieces of the puzzle. And Dad has, over the years, developed a deserved reputation for interrupting movies with questions about what's happening, in the Homer Simpson style of "Who's that guy? What'd that guy say when I said, 'Who's that guy?'" I vividly remember having to pause The Brady Bunch Movie as Mom, T-Bone, and I attempted to explain the plot intricacies to Dad.

So the fact that Dad not only followed along with Moon, patiently awaiting answers that he realized would be forthcoming but not immediately, but spent chunks of the film angrily muttering, "Just be patient!" under his breath at the women sitting behind us who were asking each other about each successive shot, made me feel very pleased that I'd finally prevailed upon the old man not to demand instant, straightforward gratification from his movies. That was also a fine birthday present.

So basically, this most recent checkpoint on my inexorable march towards the grave was pretty boss. Thanks to all who participated.

CURRENT MUSIC: Ambivalence Avenue by Bibio.
Pretty okay!
Zone Press, on Arvin Short's Reckoning: "For three young boys, an innocent campout at some caves is disrupted by an escaped murderer hiding out in their favorite summer getaway!." (Hat tip to Kerri.)
9:45 p.m.


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