Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Documentarian

Sherman's March: Favorite Documentary of the Moment

Pyramid of Mass-Cult Quotient

Someone once told me I was a ‘documentaries’ person. Immediately, I objected. It made me sound like I was an indiscriminate consumer of any and all non-fiction film. This is not true.

I decided to look at some of the documentaries I’ve watched recently and break them down. I think this will become an obsession.

Because this is a beginning, it is rudimentary and somewhat slapdash. But here are some qualities I look for when watching a documentary. (This initial list applies mostly to anthropological documentaries as opposed to historical or vérité-style documentaries, some of which are included in this list, which will require an additional set of standards or dilation of the current standards).

1) Curiosity – The documentarian’s curiosity should be macabre, libidinous or slightly off-kilter such that the content of the film is surprising and potentially unsettling. And the unsettling aspects should be honed in on and thoroughly fleshed out for you, who may have macabre, libidinous or slightly off-kilter tendencies.

2) Delivery – (This applies to documentaries where the filmmaker is an exhibitionist and puts him or herself in the documentary) The research should be conveyed in a way that seems like it was obtained without effort and delivered with earnest, self-effacing humor that causes you to laugh not only with the filmmaker but also at her/him.

3) Edification – It's best if you learn things that the filmmaker did not intend for you to learn. After watching the film, you should be compelled to go on the internet and learn even more about the things you learned in the film. One should also want to find any other films this filmmaker has made and watch every one of them in consecutive order.

4) Charisma – If the filmmaker is going to be and exhibitionist and provide a voice over or put him/herself in the film (see Werner Herzog, Ross McElwee and Errol Morris in his HBO series First Person), s/he should be very smart and have spent at least 10,000 hours making movies.

5) Mass-Cult Quotient (MCQ) – (Temporary working phrase) This is the degree to which a film is useful in relation to the percentage of random people you'd be able to hold a conversation with about it at a cocktail party or dive bar. There are multiple factors on which MCQ is determined (such as novel use of technology, subversive content, cult status, awards won and topicality (the last quality often roughly translating to “dubious intent” or “bad” though not always. This element is crucial since it almost ensures that even a film you don’t like will have value: at least you can pontificate on why you hated it. A high MCQ will most likely prevent you from having to say, “I will never get those two hours of my life back.” I try really hard to never have to say that.

So here is a short, non-exhaustive MCQ pyramid (which I will, over time, make look like a pyramid):

Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog)
The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris)
Fast Cheap and Out of Control (1997, Errol Morris)
Civil War (1990, Ken Burns)
Encounters at the End of the World (2007, Werner Herzog)
Capturing the Friedmans (2003, Andrew Jarecki)
Crumb (1994, Terry Zwigoff)
Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee)
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999, Errol Morris)
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997, Werner Herzog)
Titicut Follies (1967, Frederick Wiseman)
The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (3 short films, 1974 – 1976, Werner Herzog)
Land of Silence and Darkness (1971, Werner Herzog)
Mobutu, King of Zaire (1999, Thierry Michel)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tweet 3D: Tweet Cloud

The Coolest Thing Ever; Well, Almost Ever

Tweet 3D: View My Tweet Cloud

Yanira is hiring a Social Media Optimization guru. I don't really know what Social Media Optimization is, but I think I do. Anyway, MIT Media Lab came up (won't go into it unless it actually happens), and that really excited me. I also just like saying Tweet Cloud.

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Death and Champagne

Not Famous in Brooklyn

I saw Ralph Fiennes at the Cherry Orchard last night. He was with a beautiful woman. His head was shaved and he wore a cream tweed jacket and pretended he wasn't famous. Marcus said, People didn't fall in love as much.' I agreed. How could they with all those red pillows and Turkish carpets and the guy on stage strumming his guitar. On stage, someone said of a fake person "he died of champagne." Chekhov's last drink was champagne. After, I told Marcus I cried when I went back to visit my grandmother's house, in Serbia, because it was soundless and I had spent so many summers there when I was little. Once each week the barber would come by and shave my grandfather with a straight blade in front of the roses. Marcus said, That's very Chekhovian. Then I remembered to ask Marcus to tell me how evil he is, and he started to but the lights got dim.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Heart Oppenheimer

And His Funny Hat

The bomb is everywhere, I'm just saying. In the fall at the Metropolitan Opera, it was Dr. Atomic, by minimalist John Adams, the anxiety of the test at Los Alamos and Oppenheimer poking fun at General Groves's cake-eating. Then Mike Daisey, in a monologue, talked about Oppenheimer's inexperience and his youth, and pulled out a piece of green radioactive trinitite that he bought at a junk shop near the site called The Black Hole. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about Oppenheimer, says he tried to poison his tutor at Cambridge and that he was savvy, which is why he made it to Trinity despite his youth and why he didn't, like some other geniuses, fall by the wayside. Then there's fall-out shelters being all the rage. The Believer had an article about Greenbrier and the new craze in not only flocking to fall-outs, but building your own personal bomb-holes. This rash of bomb-related theatrical (and other) expressions reminds me of Rite of Spring, ca. 1913, a dance so vulgar and music, the insistent rhythm of which was so unfamiliar that everyone was in an uproar, because they were all sensing in some subconscious way the impending political situation. They took it out on the poor choreographer and composer. Gertrude Stein pretended she was there, it was that important. No one was in an uproar at the opera last fall, or at Mike Daisey's show or, I suppose, when visiting a fall-out. Maybe people don't get into uproars anymore. I want an uproar. But I will take an off-kilter hat.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

For Once: A Piece on Being Happy

James Yeh on Elimae

My good friend James just had a great piece published on Elimae alongside Rick Moody. It makes me feel good. (I just used the word good that bad? or good?)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


My Favorite Terrorist

Painted in September 2001, or maybe October. I don't remember. When the air still smelled like burnt rubber.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tweet Beat

Dark Horse Black forest

At the age of 11, having composed several worldly-wise works, Julian, Scriabin's son with de Schloezer, was in a boating accident: drowned.

I love Maira Kalman

Monday, January 12, 2009



"Sand is not the same everywhere."

I didn't write that. I selected it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What My Friend Said

Bummed Out About Sky

My friend said, "Look out the window at the clouds." This was on email. He is in South America, traveling. I did. The most that can be said, now, of the sky in New York is that it looks like dirty snow. All of it. Communicating with a traveler when you are not traveling is like talking to someone who is high when you are not.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Watching Listening

La Rondine

The last act of the opera, I sat next to Wayne Koestenbaum, who is a culture critic and gay. Wayne Koestenbaum writes about gay men's penchant for opera. He wore red rimmed glasses and yelled 'Brava.' Before that, I bumped into Reese by the bar. I said, Gheorghiu's voice is like red wine; but Fleming's is like prosecco. He said, Her top gets louder as it gets higher. I'm learning to speak cleverly about "top." Before that, I was on my couch and almost didn't go out.

Tacos Avant Garde

Watched three short films by Aaron Balkan sent to me by my HTML Giant secret santa. In the first, 12 Jobs, a boy watered his front stoop then slid back and forth on it, barefoot. In another, three people on the street fight in Chinese over a car dent. I liked those best. All of it was shot in Beijing. I sat four feet away from my TV on the floor.

Watching the film about WTC, I thought less about WTC, and more about tourists and bright blue backpacks. If my mind went to WTC, it was blocked by my memory of that day - during my eighty-block walk from Soho, I saw Charles standing on the street. Two years had passed since I'd seen him. He said, "Do you want to have lunch?" I said, "Maybe another time." Then a building fell.

The promotional video of Las Vegas got me to not think about Las Vegas - a city I don't like - at all, which I liked.

Great gift. Thank you secret santa.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Ha Ha Ha

To laugh: see Lincoln Michel's piece on Yankee Potroast: Now That Ridley Scott is Attached to Adapt the Boardgame Monopoly, Other Directors Follow Suit.

Tweet Beat

Tomb Epigraphs or Wovel, Dark Horse is Not

An interesting write up of the Twitter collaboration I'm doing with Yanira Castro and her dance performance Dark Horse Black Forest, can be found on the website of the organization HASTAC ("haystack"), or Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, a consortium of humanists, artists, scientists, and engineers, of leading researchers and nonprofit research institutions committed to new forms of collaboration across communities and disciplines fostered by creative uses of technology.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Trouble with the Eve

For James and Lincoln

The point is not being there, but to have a place to be. To have a place to be necessarily means you might not have a place to be. Because you are aware of this when you are there, being becomes hard.

It is possible to forget for a moment about being, and not being, when talking about new uses of "whale."