Saturday, September 19, 2015

Never Odd Or Even

The new play by Title: Point Productions, NEVER ODD OR EVEN, is a show inspired by palindromes, those weird little phrases that are the same spelled backwards or forwards.  Do geese see God?  Some men interpret nine memos.  No trace, not one carton. 

Palindromes are fun to see, they're fun to say.  But say too many of them, and all sentences start to assume their weird, lurching diction, where sentence construction is purely suited to the arrangement of letters.  The usual concern of diction– what is being communicated?– falls away, and a purely systemic logic takes over.  It's unsettling, because it raises the question of how much day-to-day expression is indebted to the needs of the system, rather than the needs of the user.  

Palindromes are the spectacle of a system confronting its own limitations. We use a very small number of symbols to write phonemes; when you have only a few pieces, those pieces will sometimes fall onto the board in comically surprising ways.  We don't like to think that we're just dropping pieces randomly on the board.  When we write Hamlet, it's because we wanted to write Hamlet, not because we're one of an infinite number of monkeys.

Systems have a way of drawing attention to their own limits.  The paradoxes of infinite set theory seem at once impossible and plainly true– as Georg Cantor said, "Je le vois, mais ne crois pas."  These paradoxes happen because math is not a physical thing that exists, subject to all reality's laws of logic and causality: math is the abstracted signifier of an order at once implacable and unreal, a set of manipulable symbols, and abstractions have a way of getting away from their source.

But it's not just an abstraction, right?  Math works.  It has to work.  The mathematical principles work whether you're holding up a concrete bridge or a cotton blind.  To witness a system eating itself is to question the system's value as signifier.  Anyone who does that deserves to be thrown off one of our nice, solid, dependable bridges, into the systemless chaos of water particles surging coldly below it all.

Palindrome are prison, hallways with no beginning or end.  They cannot be refuted, because they have no logic.  Like Zeno's Parodox, an infinite-set paradox that makes it impossible to take a single step, a palindrome makes the very possibility of momentum seem absurd.

But we don't live in palindromes.  We may fear or welcome historical cycles, cycles of violence, the reliability of human nature, the comfort of dependable genre films, the implacability of destiny.  But our lives can only be cracked palindromes.  Our end is generated by our beginning, but they are not the same.  Death is nothing to be welcomed, but it's an effective refutation of the horrors of infinity.  Nothing is infinite, really, because nothing lives forever.  Much as we might, in our presumptuous imaginations, wish it to.

Our lives are a tension between our galumphing, unpredictable, infinitely varied bodies, and the graceful, dependable, tightly-bounded ouroboros we've constructed to keep us going within them, like the crisp beam of a projector washing across an actor's lumpy torso.

The play is also really funny. And scary.  And it looks cool. It's a good play.  It's a good life.  But it's scary.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Candida Royalle, 1950 - 2015

RIP to a dearly beloved friend, Candida Royalle.

Candice was one hell of a filmmaker, in a genre that doesn't usually acknowledge that talent.  Her porn films were super hot, and proudly feminist, but most of all, they looked great, with a sensitive eye for color, smart compositions, cleverly selective lighting, and camera setups that really evoked the subjectivity of the women on screen.  Nearly every scene Candice shot had some clever visual idea– a bit of costuming, a well-chosen angle, a nicely placed shadow– that made them charming as well as sexy.

Candice's films were porn from a woman's point of view, but just as importantly, they were porn from an artist's point of view.  You could always sense visual and cinematic intelligence behind the camera.  If you want to see just how good a porn movie can be while still being plenty effective as porn, check out UNDER THE COVERS– shot on video, with a starvation budget, and it still manages to be both great-looking and plenty hot. 

Candice was a great friend, a wonderful human being, and an inspiring entrepreneur. She transformed porn in ways that porn still hasn't caught up to.  But most of all, she was an artist.  And I will mourn, and miss, the artist as much as the friend.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


My Splatoon review is up at Slant. Tl;dr: It's really cool, and totally original, but we'll see if it's sustainable. I did have a couple of save-it-for-the-blog thoughts, though, so… Here's the blog!

The lack of voice chat is a real shame, not just because chatting is fun, but because it really pushes against the game's best qualities.  A game this unusual demands new strategies, and without voice chat, it's almost impossible to try new things.  So games too often descend into either standard online dynamics or a bunch of colorful monads, which is both less enjoyable and less interesting than the bizarre plans people might concoct to master this very odd game.

But it's worth noting how very Nintendo the online experience is.  You don't talk to the people you're playing with; your main interaction is in the pre-game lobby, where you can see other people's characters decked out in unique costume items and displaying Miiverse drawings.  The only bonding experience is that everyone who plays must watch the day's unskippable video broadcast, which lays out what today's maps will be.  Nintendo has always been mistrustful of the internet, but it's really something to make a 2015 game that's visibly nostalgic for broadcast media!

The general good cheer of the Miiverse means it's friendlier than most online games, but it's also asynchronous, so instead of getting to know people, you see what they're wearing and try to get that style for yourself; there's even a sketchy back-alley character who makes knock-offs of clothing designs you just have to possess. This is the first Nintendo-made game to have such an interest in clothes that they release official– and pretty good-looking!– fashion shots.

This is a very different mood from other major Nintendo games.  While franchises like Legend of Zelda and Mario World are suffused with nostalgia for a rural idyll, Splatoon is gleefully urban in its emphasis on fashion, speed, and the anonymity of a crowd.  But it's very Nintendo in its commitment to recreating a specifically Japanese experience.  Most games follow the American model for online interaction, where the virtual game space is like a midwestern mall: cliques of young people talking shit and getting into fights, while respectable citizens try to enjoy the entertainment.  Splatoon's world is more like an online Harajuku, where anonymous individuals pose for each other but you're all basically alone.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Inherent Vice

The graininess of Inherent Vice makes every frame backwards-looking; the story's nostalgia for 60's dreams mirrored in director P.T. Anderson's nostalgia for 70's filmmaking, and for celluloid itself. But it's also well-suited to the movie's own story and themes. After all, film gets grainy when you're losing light.

Inherent Vice is a movie about left-behind people. They're scuttling around the fraying edges of the counterculture, trying to stay warm by the dying embers of their past, trying not to notice the shadow of money and power as it slowly covers their entire life. Doc Sportello's stoner paranoia is a funny, sad attempt to imagine there's more to the story than the oldest story in the world: greedy assholes taking everything that was free and selling it.


The plot kicks in from the first scene, when a Doc's lost love Shasta Hepworth shows up with a story about her married boyfriend whose wife is plotting to get him institutionalized so she can take his money. When Doc first sees Shasta, he comments on how she's done herself up all respectable-like, not knowing just how sucked into the system she is; the plan is for a legal kidnapping, the square's version of a heist. The wife isn't mad about his habit of boinking hippie girls, which is just standard bourgeois infidelity. But she's determined to stop his hippie-influenced plan to give up building expensive condos and start building free housing. We can only imagine the delight she takes in making a flower child's honeypot part of her reactionary scheme.

One of the major themes of the movie is a world where all the things once free are being packaged for sale. And the commodification of free love is a big part of that. The scenes of a wanna-be-hip dentist swapping easy sex for good coke may play as a laugh riot, but it's a lot sadder when you consider that these snow bunny deals are being made in an office complex built on top of the vacant lot where Shasta and Doc were once drugless, in love, and free. Making it all the more pointed that Doc is distracted by coke and ass as anyone. As in Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, joy and freedom can only happen in the empty places where money has not yet begun to scheme, and as soon as anyone with power notices, they'll be plowed right under so that someone can sell admission.

And in the movie, as with the historical 60s, ubiquitous sex is the promise that gets suckers through the door. Doc gets a free preview of the pussy eater's special, but the girls are just trying to distract a guy they think is a cop. A closet full of naked-lady ties is a souvenir of all the bodies that real estate money can buy. And when Shasta strips, it's a sure sign that something terrible is happening. Black revolutionaries and Aryan bikers may be the era's rebel motherfuckers, but they end up pawns as surely as the hopeless junkies who will always be good customers "as long as American life was something to be escaped from."

Eventually all the interlocking stories are revealed as a plot of The Golden Fang, a vertically integrated 60s-eating monster, encompassing hard drugs, new age therapy, cosmetic dentistry and pricey real estate– everything you need to build the white man's Los Angeles. The Fang came into the 60s like Dracula drifting in by sea, and sucked the optimism out of the 60s with teeth made of precious metal. But the moneymen washed in on a wave of teenybopper sex, all those drugged-out, hope-addled girls irresistible victims for the dealers, the hustlers, and the frequently name-checked Charlie Manson. Doc's got a good heart, and he wants to save everyone. But he can't stop listening to his dope and his dick, and they keep him wrapped up in obscurantist insights and too-easy pleasures, never seeing the pattern that's right on the surface.