Monday, November 12, 2007

When All I Wanted Was a Little Nappy Nap...
It's just time for that Swiftian kind of honesty...

I was beginning to worry about me there for a while. I was afraid that I was about to get delinquent on showing up to just say...well...anything...

After all, the weather's getting a little cooler (yes, even here in sunny southern California), the holidays are fast approaching...those wonderful overwrought consumerism spectaculars...and let's face it, there's nothing about a warm mug of cocoa that makes you wanna say "Hey, what the hell am I doing? I've got work to do?"

I've always been an advocate for the U.S. adopting a state sponsored "Naptime Program", that could easily be modeled after the Spanish siesta. I don't want to rehash all my thoughts here on that personally hallowed subject, but I will reiterate that an after lunch glass of milk and a stretch on a little padded mat for a while has never sounded bad to me. (And in an attempt to be PC for all them lactose intolerant folks out there...we could substitute apple juice...maybe orange...grape might be pushing your luck...but I refuse to serve anything that's chockful of Corn Syrup!)

Now that winter's almost upon us, I'm nearly to the point of advocating hibernation...or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

At the same time, I don't want this to sound hypocritical in light of my (somewhat) recent bashing of energy drinks. I still think all of that is silly...and it's not as though I myself am now filled full of lethargy. No,'s the onset of the end of the year...the holidays...and since it is winter...what better than hibernation? (Assuming the bears and other woodland creatures have any need to hibernate now that Washington state will probably be the same climate as Tampa Bay with the rate we're going)

Anyhow, it's the speed and the pressure that somehow gets smacked onto us at this time of year.

I mean, I've had a pretty productive year. I wrote two novellas. I did a bunch of paintings (and one really big one!). I revamped my website. I started writing blogs again. I started cleaning my ears again. I mean, I've been busy. But there's something about that end of the year, that always makes me think that I didn't do enough...

...and what's gonna stop me from getting more done? That's right...that's right: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Maybe I'll have to retract some of what I said it's just occured to me...maybe I can get my naptime here in banning all the holidays. After all, a recent report I saw said that Americans work more hours than any other country in the world, and we're still not as productive. So maybe, we could make up for that gap by banning holidays...(and then maybe we could get my naptime referendum introduced...cuz if you're going to be working 16+ hours a day, you're gonna need a nap.)

Let's think about this logically. You got two types of holidays: the forgotten and the overproduced.

Now judging by how many folks besides myself were cruising in and out of the closed post office parking lot this morning...I'd say it's a safe bet that I wasn't the only one who didn't realize it was Veteran's day. Not to be crass, I feel that our veteran's do deserve recognition and some thanks, but obviously since no one in corporate America's figured out how to market it to death...we've sort of forgotten this one. And what the hell is Columbus day supposed to be about anymore? Not only were there people here when he got here...we've pretty much figured out that Vikings got here first...and now there's plenty of speculation that the Chinese were already hanging around the west coast long before Chris took the risk of not falling off the edge of the world. And it's not like anyone really gets the day off for either of those (and many others) except for bank employees and postal works (I'd include the rest of the government..but from what I've seen lately, I'm beginning to wonder if we should just mark the handful of days on the calendar that they actually do seem to work), and I somehow doubt that the bulk of those who do get it off spend the day in reverence for our fighting forces, or having a beer for Columbus.

Well, they might have the beer, but I doubt they give three cheers to the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria before downing it.

Then there's the overproduced: Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween (although at least it's kept most of the fun about it). I'd include St. Patrick's day, but I don't remember the last time I got the day off for that one either. And Thanksgiving sort of rides the's not quite as oversaturated in the marketing department as those above...and the only consumerism it really advocates is just food. Then again, that's sort of my problem with Thanksgiving...who the hell are we thanking? What percentage of the populace grew any of the stuff they're eating? How many of them went out to the old stump with the axe to give the ol' Tom Turkey the big shave? How many of them were starving to death, and had to turn to Native Americans for help? And how many of them wouldn't have just eaten entirely too much that day anyway?

Back to Christmas though...which in a lot of places you're not even allowed to call it that anymore...which has always made me wonder: do the atheists and whomever else who get all uppity about the use of the word Chrismas really think that it has much religious significance to most people these days? I mean, lest we forget, just saying "God" or "Jesus" used to be considered blasphemy...and once upon a time blasphemy could be a stoning offence...but when's the last time you said "Jesus Christ!" in exasperation and somewhat beaned you up side the head with a big chunk of concrete?

Anyhow, it seems to me that all most people even do anymore is shop for stuff...constantly. It's the only way to explain why when I drive cross country, the outskirts of any town (and in some cases all the rest of it) have all began to look the same. The Appleby's and Circuit City's and Bed, Bath, and Beyond's and so on are everywhere, and as I rarely see any of them closing down it must mean that someone's shopping there. And once Starbucks of the Coffee Bean has landed...your small town is finished...usually because the Wal-Mart's pretty much killed every thing else. So...why do I need a holiday that's become nothing but an excuse to buy more stuff for each other that we probably would've bought for ourselves anyway? (Unless you X-mas shop exclusively at Spencer Gifts, Adult Bookstores, or other fine novelty shops)

And if we got rid of it...that's another day of work to buy more stuff anyway! Perfect!

Not that I want to leave out good ol' Valentine's Day. I remember as a kid it being the cutesy day where we all made little paper bags with construction paper hearts as a little inner classroom mailbox for slips of paper featuring our favorite comic book, cartoon, or movie characters which we all handed to each other (after spending time trying to figure out how to ditch out on giving one to that one kid we really didn't like). Then somewhere along the became all about jewelry...or rather my obligation as a male to buy some for my significant well as some sort of ridiculous date within which to present it. Now, I guess men are somewhat back in on the action as Valentine's means buying all kinds of crap for each other...and mind you that's the only way to prove your love on that special day...because X-mas isn't've got to buy more crap! So it's good you worked that day to be able to afford it.

Which brings me to my final thought on all this...which isn't holiday related...but it's close in spirit: Why do we still pretend that Saturday and/or Sunday are days off? Remember that thing about blaspheming above...well, there used to also be rules about working on the weekends. But if you work retail (ie. selling sh!t) and I've worked retail, when could you ever count on Sunday as of rest?

So let's just stop more holidays!...and no more weekends! We've got money to make and crap to buy...and it's high time we got on with it.

And then maybe, just maybe...I wouldn't feel like I still had so much to do at the end of the year...

AND I imagine that dropping from exhaustion will help me attain that nirvana-like state of hibernation I now feel myself to be in pursuit of...

See how a good plan always comes together?


Monday, November 05, 2007

Never Gonna Fall For...Modern Life...Never Gonna Fall For
Only the French could do it like this...

Thanks to a film I viewed a few weeks ago, I was trying to think of another movie that made me laugh out loud, and at the same time, frankly, depressed the hell out of me...

Actually, I should be more specific. The 90's version of Cyrano de Bergerac with Depardieu makes me laugh and by the end makes me really sad, but that's not really what I'm thinking. Come to think of it, most modern romantic comedies depress me...but usually don't make me laugh. Anyhow, that's a whole other issue...

I'm talking modern life...or just life in general...or the human condition...that kind of high-falutin' silliness.

The first movie that sprung to mind was Mike Judge's Idiocracy, which barely saw release last year. It's depiction of a future overrun by the proliferation of the lowest common denominator was both laugh out loud funny and very obviously meant to shame you for laughing at its stupidity at the same time. It was something Judge had certainly been perfecting with Beavis & Butthead. The sad irony being that over time people stopped looking down at their moronic antics, and began to identify with them. (The "bliss of ignrance" so to speak...)

Someone just tossed in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, which is another fine example. It's a d@mned good combination of Orwell and Huxley's visions of the future. It doesn't try to deliver on the laughs in a typically comedic fashion, but it certainly has some classic funny moments. Hell, Robert DeNiro as a revolutionary air-conditioning repair man (I know, I know...Heating Engineer) is pure hilarity in and of itself. And yet, it has one of the most horrific moments ever when the same character is a scene that simply has to be seen.

So why was I thinking about this? Because I sat down and watched:

Playtime (1967)
written and directed by: Jacques Tati

The Story: On his way to appointment, M. Hulot ends up spending a day trapped in the new modern section of Paris where he constantly crosses paths with a pretty American tourist who can't find her way free to the classic parts of the town.

The Review:
Playtime is another one of those massive undertaking's that became a cinematic pariah in it's time when it was considered a disappointing failure after much anticipation during it's 3 years of production and massive construction of several city blocks for the set. Now, of course, it's come to be considered a masterpiece, not only of Tati's well regarded work, but of cinema in general. I felt it well deserved that distinction while watching it.

But it wasn't exactly easy...

The words "oppressive" and "alienating" don't fit in to the description of many comedies, but Playtime could easily be described as both. The meticulously constructed sets of steel and glass with little but black and grey tones for a color palette were at once amazing, and utterly frigid. The angles and planes of..well, everything...reminded me of the futurist drawings of Antonio Sant'Elia but drained of any of the character or humanity. So, they were at once fascinating to look at it, and horrific to imagine occupying.

Not that it's easy to imagine that as the whole film was lensed at a distance not wholly unlike watching the whole film through a security camera. That's not to say it was a bad thing. There are so many rich details to watch in the edges and corners of any given frame. Hulot and the tourist girl aren't the only figures who seem to be wandering in circles through this glacial modernity. If you look around, you'll see the same distinct little figures move through the frame, and by the end, they're almost like the people you see each day around your neighborhood that you don't know and likely will never speak to.

And yet, there's still something very funny about watching Hulot get whisked through it all. One particular standout moment is a scene on a shopping center's showroom where people are wowed by an array of useless but interesting modern gadgets. It's sort of a preview of The Sharper Image 10 years before said company first opened it's doors.

By the last third of the film, it warms considerably as Hulot is snagged into a new modern restaurant that's barely finished construction before it opens it's door to the public. There are a number of wonderful comic moments such as couple who never gets served their dish which sits on a tray in front of them with waiters constantly coming to prepare it only to be called away. The restaurant's construction is shoddy, and as the evening really gets under way, the public all but tears it apart piece by piece. In the midst of the chaos, however, is where most of the human connections take place (mostly lorded over by a archetypically "Ugly American" tourist).

Believe me, I've only mentioned a few highlights, there are plenty more wonderful jokes and sight gags (the best one involves the door of the restaurant...but I'll say no more). Not to mention that I could write an entire analysis of the design "flaws" the movie pokes fun at as "form" rules over "substance" much to the chagrin of the people dealing with it.

By the end, I was exhausted. Mostly because of the conflicting emotions watching the movie, but also because it seemed so much more relevant to our lives now than perhaps it did then. Or perhaps it was a truth that they weren't ready to face about the potential for alienation in modern life. However Playtime presents that alienation in the modern structural forms from office buildings to office cubicles, all the elevators and escalators in between, and out to the endless cycle of traffic outside. In reading the wikipedia entry for Tati, it seems that his last project was meant to be another comedic take on the sort of alienation that's even more pervasive today: "'Confusion' was a story about a futuristic city (Paris) where activity is centered around television, communication, advertising, and modern society's infatuation with visual imagery." (

I'm sure if computers were as much a part of daily personal life in Tati's time (he died in 1982), he'd have had something to say about them as well. In some ways that brings to mind another movie...David Cronenberg's Videodrome (which...well, isn't a comedy). Although it was about television, it really had so much more to say about the future of computers, and the anonymity and potential alienation contained therein.

In any event, I recommend you get a copy of Playtime, give it a whirl, and maybe give it some thought.