Does true “culture” have to have generations of tradition? Steve Wauck’s rail against Riverdance (and the “eclecticism” that it represents) on The Guild Review is articulate and thought-provoking as usual. However, while I do think there are dangers in picking up bits and pieces of out-of-context wisdom from other cultures, I’m concerned that such an opinion can justify bigotry. I agree that Riverdance is not deep culture — it’s pure theatrics and sensationalism. However, I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that it “marked the victory of modern eclecticism over integral culture,” mostly, because I’m not sure what integral culture is. Is culture more than a collection of traditions that are connected to a deep human need and sentiment? I’m trying to dig back into my memory of Peiper‘sLeisure, the Basis of Culture. Perhaps part of the problem with Riverdance is that it’s not born of leisure, but of spectacle and salesmanship.
Jim Bedford recently shared “The Commitments” with the staff at Telluride, a fun movie about an Irish Soul band in the early 1990′s. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at The Commitments trailer to get an idea of what it’s about:
I’ll share this memorable quote from the lead character, Jimmy Rabbitte:
Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.
The movie undoubtedly has soul (beyond the musical genre it celebrates). It’s noble theme is the struggle of the working class to find hope in desperate conditions, and how art brings us to a deeper place. The humor of the movie is also it’s irony: that a culture with such a rich musical tradition turns to another culture’s music for inspiration. Not only does it turn to another culture, it turns to the great America, the melting pot of “culture,” and finds solidarity with the music of another downtrodden culture. If “soul” music isn’t “eclectic,” I don’t know what is. And, if this is eclectic, then I think eclecticism is beautiful.
Anyway, besides its lack of plot, low budget and occasional over-acting, the movie is impressive. Almost all the actors actually play their own instruments and sing with their own vocal chords. And it’s not without (soon-to-be) stars. The young Glen Hansard (“Once”) plays an assisting role. And the stunning Maria Doyle Kennedy (The Tudors) steals the screen’s attention during “I Never Loved a Man.” That song alone recommends the movie, as does a the New York Times “Critic’s Pick.”
Isn’t all culture bits and pieces of influence from other places and peoples? What matters in the end is soul, that expression of solidarity between people sharing the same experience of misery and joy.
Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper. - Thomas Jefferson
At first the concept sounded weird to me, mostly because I wondered how many people actually have experience flying business-class. However, the UP_IN_THE_AIR script (PDF) is worth reading if you liked any of Jason Reitman’s other films. Similar to the book, the script begins with a tellingly ironic juxtaposition of quotes:
There is no I in team. – Common business axiom
Secure your own mask before assisting others. – Common pre-flight instruction
These quotes perfectly set the story’s irony and theme. As Jacob wrote a couple weeks ago, Up in the Air (IMDB), the anticipated new film by Jason Reitman starring George Clooney, is based on Walter Kirn’s book by the same title. Following on the heels of Reitman’s previous successes, Thank You For Smoking and Juno, “Up in the Air” is bound to be a fast-talking, satiric movie that cuts a caricature of life in the business-class world of air travel. Upon reading rumors at SlashFilm that it could pre-screen at Telluride this year, I decided to read the novel, which is funny, pathetic, aimless and sharply pointed all at the same time.
It cuts deep into what drives our culture by examining the condensed, “stiff froth” or our society in the echelons of Airworld. Essentially, “Up in the Air” is about spin, marketing and corporate culture. Mostly, it’s about hypocrisy.
The book tackles the idiocy of marketing as a science and simultaneously warns of and mocks the existence of a large corporate conspiracy aimed at controlling and profiting from the desires of consumers. “MythTech” is the fictional company that is aiming to be the Google of the markets, decoding the “genome” of market economics. Posed with the hypothetical problem of how fiber optics, red meat and propane are related, one of Kirn’s characters says:
“Gas plus red meat equals grills and patios and heart problems and the insurance that covers them and all those ramifications. But fiber optics? Maybe a gas grill that’s somehow data-linked to a repair center whose low-wage workers only lunch at Wendy’s or McDonald’s not just because it’s a grunt job and they’re broke bu because they’re on call to diagnose malfunction and can’t leave their screens for more than fifteen minutes? … Or maybe it’s like automated cattle ranches fed with real-time commodoties reports that lead to higher profits per animal and thus increased contributions to co-op ad campaigns promoting beef versus chicken?” (p. 246)
Once MythTech can decode the intricate relationships between all consumer actions, market domination will result.
“Fact is, the money we think we’re making now… is actually just a loan from MyTech’s future paid backwards to us in the present so we can eat until they’ve got things nailed down and they eat us. We’re all Thanksgiving turkeys in their barnyard and tomorrow is November first.” (248 )
Besides the silly exaggerations about consumer culture and corporate conspiracies, the book takes a look at what holds society together. More than once I realized that I was looking at the world from the mind of a sick man. But it’s subtle, the way it pulls you into his view of the world. That’s why the book is good. A few lines grabbed my attention early on, which struck me as the book self-consciously commenting on itself. In the first chapter our protagonist, Ryan Bingham, describes “Airworld” culture, remarking,
“My literature—yours, too, I see—is the bestseller or the near-bestseller, heavy on themes of espionage, high finance, and the goodness of common people in small towns.”
Is Bingham talking to an imaginary partner on the plane, or is Kirn talking to us, the readers? The chapter ends with, “I hope you’re not mad that I kept you from your book. I didn’t want to spoil things by telling you, but I read it when it was in hardback. There’s no plot.” (emphasis mine)
And, just as promised, “Up in the Air” has very little plot to speak of. The only real hook we have is to see if he ever earns his million miles. But the enjoyment for me was seeing the world from the mind of an intelligent, jaded executive, brimming with MBA jargon and completely disconnected from real society. In the first chapter it’s obvious he doesn’t recognize the emptiness of his life.
“We’re a telephone family, strung out along the wires, sharing our news in loops and daisy chains. We don’t meet face-to-face much, and when we do there’s a dematerialized feeling, as though only half of our molecules are present. Sad? Not really. We’re a busy bunch. And I’m not lonely. If I had to pick between knowing just a little about a lot of folks and knowing everything about a few, I’d opt for the long, wide-angle shot, I think.”
Despite this initial attitude, in the end his saving grace is his connection to his family. By caring for his mentally ailing sister he gradually becomes more human. (I don’t know if the screenplay keeps his relationship with Julia, his sister).
It’s a critique and sort of a celebration of the world that is always flying above our heads. If the movie can pack the rapid-fire lines and stylistic cohesiveness of Thank You For Smoking (and I have a feeling George Clooney is perfect for the smooth-talking lead), it will be a success and may even be Oscar material.
One of the hot design and motion graphics studios in the biz right now is Shadowplay Studio in Los Angeles. Check out their reel. I’ve been reading about Jason Reitman’s new film, Up in the Air, and happened upon the Shadowplay website. Besides doing some really cool title credits and graphics (for two of Reitman’s previous films, Juno and Thank You For Smoking), Shadowplay also produces some cool content. (A few months ago I included the title sequence for Thank You For Smoking in my top 7 movie title sequences.)
I was especially struck by the simplicity and effectiveness of their short for USA Network’s Burn Notice: Sam’s Tales: Carmen (click to view video). They use still images and creative transitions with narration very well. It goes to show that it’s not all about the tools and latest technology; it’s about creativity and artistry. Way to play,
On a sort of relevant tangent, I was talking to a friend on the Telluride Film Festival staff, and we both thought it would be really cool to produce an award-winning film with a mobile phone video camera and Windows Movie Maker (or iMovie). Yes, it could be done.
Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper. - Thomas Jefferson