The New York Film Festival begins on Friday, September 30. I didn’t buy any tickets, although it’s not because there aren’t any good films playing. There are some great films scheduled, as there always is. But the late Annette Michelson gave me a pro tip: these films will all come out sooner or later in wide release, and if wait a few weeks, and you can see them at a discount.
In 2002, I had bought tickets for a lot of films, including the Hong Kong crime thriller, Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, 2002). At the time, I had two friends from California in town on a production tour for Simple Shoes. I also didn’t have many friends in New York those days. I gave the tickets to a fellow graduate student at NYU to spend time with these friends. He saw the movie in my stead.
Infernal Affairs became a commercial and critical hit. It represented a milestone in Hong Kong cinema, and it even was remade into different films, including Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning, star-studded film, The Departed (2006).
For the twenieth anniversary of the film, Film at Lincoln Center is screening the three films of the Infernal Affairs trilogy, through Thursday, September 29, on the eve of the 60th New York Film Festival. (Note: Film at Lincoln Center stages the annual New York Film Festival so it’s very closely connected.)
I went last week to see the three films over a five-day period to atone for missing it the first time around. I especially liked that I saw the first Infernal Affairs at the very same place where it was screening in 2002. Technically, Infernal Affairs screened at Alice Tully Hall in 2002, and I saw it at the Walter Reade theater, but both these theaters are on the Lincoln Center campus.
Here’s my spoiler-free hot takes on the three films:
Infernal Affairs1 is the best of the lot. The stories of the two infiltrators are really deep and complex, and the layers of deceit make this a nerve-wracking experience.
Infernal Affairs 2 gives the background of the two infiltrators and how each came to be. I didn’t find the stories to be as interesting as they were in the story events of IA1, but there were some great revelations throughout.
Infernal Affairs 3 is the most restrictive in terms of character’s point of view. Unlike IA1 and IA2, it focuses more on the story of one of the infiltrators and the trauma he’s living after the killing of the other infiltrator. It also wraps up the trilogy and it’s theme of living in an eternal hell—hence the infernal in the trilogy’s name.
The proprietors of Screen Slate have curated nifty film series at Anthology Film Archives. Screen Slate is, among other things, a website and daily newsletter of New York City independent, repertory, experimental, and artist-focused film and video screenings and exhibitions.”
The series, 1995: The Year the Internet Broke, brings together mostly-American films about the Internet that were released in 1995. The idea was to look back at Hollywood’s view of the Internet just as it was becoming a mainstream communications platform and “cyberspace” became a trendy buzzword. The series starts today, March 5, and runs through Thursday, March 12.
Some films in the series include Hackers (Iain Softley), Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii), Johnny Mnemonic (Robert Longo), Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow), and The Net (Irwin Winkler). I’m planning on watching Virtuosity (Brett Leonard) on Friday night.
1995: The Year I Became an Internaut
I first went on the real Internet in 1995, and, holy hell, that was 25 years ago!
Back in 1995, my friend Paul was well-versed with computers and introduced me to some early Internet applications beyond email that I could use through my university’s UNIX account. He showed me Usenet newsgroups, anonymous FTP for downloading shareware and freeware programs, and uuencode/uudecode to convert 8-bit binaries to 7-bit ASCII files suitable for transmission through ZMODEM. He also introduced me to the World Wide Web through the Lynx text-based web browser, skipping the menu-based Gopher altogether.
I should note that I accessed these applications through a shell on a university computer; I dialed in to the modem pool to get a terminal. I searched for a graphic to illustrate what this looked like, but I couldn’t find anything. Twenty-five years is a long time ago.
By summer 1995, I had learned how to configure SLIP and later PPP connections so that I could put my computer—a Macintosh Quadra 640—on the Internet. It could run Mac applications for FTP (Fetch), mail (Eudora), and a graphical web browser (Netscape). My life quickly evolved to integrate my computer and these Internet applications. I would say that 1995 marked the end of the Analog Stage of my life.
A lot has changed over the last 25 years. We now access the Internet on pocket and wearable devices, not just on computers. We now use many more Internet applications, including ones that control our light bulbs. And we now have weaponized the Internet for all kinds of nefarious actions, like spreading political propaganda and all kinds of misinformation. We’ve come a long way from hoping it would be a tool for peace, community, and education. Oh well.
And yet, over the last twenty-five years, my only regret is that I couldn’t get the term “Internaut” to catch on. It sounds so much cooler than “users.”
The tips included bringing a set of reusable utensils to keep at your work space, bringing a spoon/stirrer and a mug for your cups of coffee, keeping a tote bag around for shopping trips made during the workday, and getting a reusable water bottle to avoid using water bottles.
Not only did I find her suggestions useful, I noticed that I already have adopted the majority of her recommendations.
Like her, I work at an office that allows me to easily adopt these tips. Although I do the majority of my work at home, I do work at an office a couple of days a week. This office has a refrigerator and microwave oven, making it easy for me to bring in my lunch. It also has a kitchen sink where I can easily wash out my utensils and dishes.
Since I had already been exercising these recommendations, I wanted to share the tools I used for not only using less plastic but also for generating less trash.
Ms. Trent’s suggestions to bring from home a set of utensils is a good one. I have been using this spork as an two-in-one utensil for my lunches since 2014. It’s great because it works for most any kind of food that requires a fork or spoon. That’s why they call it a spork, right?
The ur-cup for the fussy coffee hipster crowd. I have had one of these since 2014, and I don’t know how I haven’t yet broken it. The price is a bit steep—a 12-ounce cup costs about $20, but it’s outlasted all the less expensive thermal mugs I’ve bought over the years. However, unlike most thermal mugs that vacuum seal, you can’t throw this cup into a bag and it not spill. Curiously, on more than one occasion, when I’ve brought the cup to a coffee shop for some drip coffee, it was on the house.
This too can seem expensive at first but compared to all the other water bottles I’ve bought and used over the years, this one has outlasted all of them. Of course, the different materials for bottles have different advantages and disadvantages. A glass bottle is both heavy and likely to break, compared to plastic and metal. These bottles come with a silicon sleeve that has protected the bottle from breaking when I’ve dropped it. By far the biggest advantage is that it won’t change the taste of your water and you can wash it forever. As long as you don’t break the bottle, it’s one that you won’t have to throw out. I can’t say the same about all those plastic and metal water bottles of the past.
Tom Bihn sells dedicated grocery bags, but since I regularly travel with a backpack, I just stash my purchases in my backpack.
I noticed that a lot of these items are pretty expensive. A $200 backpack, a $20 water bottle and coffee cup, and a $10 spork seem indulgent. But remember that the aim here is to reuse things, and I find it harder to throw away things that were costly, especially if I find them useful on a regular basis.
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The Criterion Collection gained an almost divine status in the film world, at least to me, at the dawn of the DVD age. As DVDs were being dumped on to an insatiable DVD-buying public, the overall quality of some titles, particularly those that catered to a small audience hungry for classic, arthouse, or non-US fare, were sadly of dubious quality. Some were poor transfers. Others offered no “bonus features,” which was a bit of a waste of the multi-title DVD format. And some non-English titles displayed English-language subtitles that were burned into the image.
Criterion changed this. When you bought a Criterion disk, you knew you were getting a high-fidelity transfer, at least one bonus feature—such as filmmaker’s or a film critic’s commentary—and at least one set of removable subtitles and captions, often in multiple languages.
Shortly after FilmStruck’s closure, Criterion announced that it would be launching its own streaming service—The Criterion Channel—in 2019. They posted a signup page for Charter subscribers, offering them an extended free trial and a discounted membership. I entered my email and with the holidays and new year, promptly forgot about the service and hadn’t thought about it since.
Earlier this week, I received an email with a teaser. It featured a close-up shot of an envelope with a brief “Here’s your key. Bye” message written on it.
The email challenged us to identify the source of the close-up with a link to the new Criterion Channel website. The landing page allows Charter subscribers to stream this film. (The close-up image, by the way, is from Wong Kar Wai’s Chun-King Express.)
Currently, the service is in a kind-of soft-launch beta until its actual launch on April 8, 2019. Between now and then, Charter subscribers are allowed to stream one movie a week through a web browser or through some Internet-connected TVs.
However, despite this technical limitation, I was still able to watch the film on my iPad. The website promotes that the Criterion Channel will be “available anywhere” on “desktop, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, iOS, and Android devices.”
In addition to getting early access to the Criterion Channel, Charter subscribers will also get $1 off a monthly subscription or $10 a yearly subscription for as long as their account stays active. A Charter subscriber will also get an extended 30-day trial. Presumably a trail starting after April 8 will be a shorter 7-day—or 14-day—trial.
After AT&T Warner Media shut down FilmStruck, a few thoughts came to mind. First, why didn’t Apple buy the Criterion Collection and offer that as part of its forthcoming streaming service? Second, why didn’t I get FilmStruck? Now that it’s gone, I predict that it will attain the reverence and cult-status similar to that of the Z Channel’s demise in the late 1980s. I won’t be able to share in the nostalgic melancholy of having it ripped away from me.
Although I didn’t get FilmStruck and can stream a lot of Criterion films through other venues, I love early-adopter deals like these and already signed up as a Charter subscriber. You should too.
Note: After posting this story, I was able to figure out how to stream to my Apple TV, but I think it’s a secret, and I won’t reveal it here. Yet.
The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.
SATURDAY, Feb. 9: Don’t let the name fool you:F*** Fest #3 is only an orgy of the non-literal, artistic kind. The day-long festival, organized by the longtime Capitol Hill studio-space-meets-incubator Studio Current, features live performance, music, video screenings, snacks and “cheap drinks”. Look out for film screenings with sound scores by DJ Onesies, performances by Nic Masangkay, GRIEF GIRLS and Angel Alviar-Langley, among others, as well as drag performances by Sugar Darling, Juan Monroy, and Angel Baby Kill Kill Kill. FYI: Right before the clock strikes midnight, the party moves to Vermillion’s dance floor. Studio Current, 2 PM – 11.30 PM
For the record, the last time a Google Alert was about me was in June 2017, after public radio station KPCC published an article about crime in downtown Los Angeles. They used a photo that I shot and posted on Flickr. When they credited me as the source of the photo, it trigged the Google Alert.
My friend Moira bought an decommissioned school bus and, over last summer, converted it to an art studio and clubhouse-on-wheels, that she named the Art Heart Bus. Currently the bus is parked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, inside the shared outdoor cafe area of the Italian restaurant Ringolevio and the adjoining bar-lounge Four-Fix-Six. It’s winter and the outdoor patio space is closed, but it’s being used a holiday market, and Moira’s bus is there.
On Saturday, she invited a few musicians over to play inside the bus. After running an extension cord to power a space heater and a couple of amplifiers, the music got off to a start. I snapped a few photos of the event.
I have been impressed with how quickly and effectively Moira planned this whole bus project and how she hustles to organize and promote events. And this one was a nice, small gathering that brought us together on a bus.
The bus and the Humboldt Holiday Market will be there on Saturdays and Sundays, from about 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM, through Sunday, December 23. I kinda hate the concept of brunch, but I can confidently admit that the restaurant has pretty solid and reasonably priced brunch.
After the holidays, the bus will be returning to the streets of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, usually around McCarren Park. You can also rent the bus for a party or other event.
Earlier this week on WNYC’s newish program, Midday on WNYC, Barbara Ehrenreich spoke with guest host Kai Wright about her new book Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. (Buy through this link and I’ll get a commission, or get it from her website.)
There were a lot of great insights into this interview, especially her critiques of medical testing, wellness, fitness, and mindfulness that mirrored a lot of Michel Foucault’s work, particularly that which deals with surveillance, discipline and what he calls “discourse,” knowledge that is produced by a power structure. Here are a few takeaways from the interview:
Ehrenreich describes the dedication to fitness as a kind of control one exercises (ha!) over the body. In an age when people feel powerless over various social and economic conditions, exercise acts as a mechanism to maintain a sense of power.
Ehrenreich argues that the contemporary obsession with wellness can function in two ways, largely dependent on economic class.
For the working class, it acts as a form of Taylorist surveillance for the employer to manage the employee’s health. This is done in the name of reducing health insurance payouts but in effect trains the employee to shape his or her behavior.
For the upper class, wellness is a form of conspicuous consumption, where rich people can show off their commitment to fitness through expensive workout regiments and pricey foods and nutritional practices. While Ehrenreich illustrates this trend with a wellness coach who advocates eating pearls to combat aging. I immediately thought of the boutique gyms that pepper affluent cities and communities that were the subject of a recent Washington Post article. The article describes a diversity problem—a disproportionate number of young, rich, and white people in an otherwise demographically diverse cities—at expensive, boutique gyms. However, I think that the diversity problem is largely due to the uneven distribution of wealth, especially among younger people who have ascended economically since the Great Recession of the last decade. Hence, these gyms function as a token of affluence and commitment to health.
Ehrenreich also critiques the recent surge of mindfulness as Silicon Valley’s solution to the problem they created with digital devices and their distracting platforms. What began as a spiritual ritual practiced by Buddhists has been emptied of any religious properties and reduced to an app on a smartphone or Apple Watch.
I do quibble with one of her suggestions: to Google your health questions and add a few keywords such as “controversy” or “evidence based.” I think one of the reasons that so many people have become followers and practitioners of junk science is because of this very practice. On the Internet, good information and quack-pot theories are almost indistinguishable, especially to many who lack the training or experience in doing research.
Overall, however, I do appreciate her larger message that I would paraphrase as this: life is too short to worry about death.
The older I get, the quicker time passes, and it’s quite unbelievable to think that it’s been over twenty-three years since I first went to an informational meeting to began doing a radio program on KCSB. I started as a trainee on the closed-circuit AM station in 1994, moved up to an on-air program on the FM-broadcast station and also worked as the publications director in 1995, and was then elected general manager of the station in 1996. Having peaked early in life, I began my steady decline including being less involved with the radio station. After 1997, I remained an active volunteer and still did my radio show, Die Social Misfit, but I ultimately left the station around 1999. I passed on the tape archives of my last program to a friend. I don’t know if she still has them.
A lot has changed in the twenty-or-so years since I left KCSB. In the 2014 KCSB video made Film and Media 103 students, I noticed that some visible changes that have occurred over the years. Some things I noticed include:
a new mixing console in the FM control room, although it looks like the same microphones we had in my day.
a new computer system that probably does more than just play electronic CARTs, which was why we installed computers in the control rooms in the first place.
a new title for the internal music director, who is now called the “Librarian.”
a newish KCSB advisor named Marta Ulvaeus. I guess she was around before Ted Coe took the reigns.
Yet, there are somethings that remain unchanged. In the video, KJUC manager Madeline Kardos references how she spends downtime at the radio station. I did the same. As a young adult, I gravitated towards the radio station offices after I finished classes and after I finished working. It was a great gathering place for other people, and I found a nurturing community there. It was also, in an age before smartphones, a place to read and write emails. I’m sure there are tons of places like that on every college campus, and I’m glad that KCSB was there for me during those years.
Another thing that appears unchanged about KCSB is its commitment to diversity and eclecticism. Cutting my teeth at KCSB was a blessing for me because it made me curious about what else there might be out there: be it for music, TV shows, films, etc. It is important not only for the young people who do programs at the station but also for listeners in a rapidly gentrifying and homogenizing Santa Barbara–area.
Finally, another thing about KCSB hasn’t changed is the phone number for the request line. There’s something musical about “893-2424,” and anyone who had a radio program will have recited that phone number hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
As I get older, I forget about some of the things I’ve done that not many others have. Case in point: I took two pornographic film classes as part of the my film studies curriculum.
The first was as an undergraduate at UCSB that was taught by Constance Penley, who Rolling Stone called a notorious professor in 1998. By the time I took the class, it had been taught several times and was not the hot-topic around campus as much as it was when it was first offered. Nonetheless, Penley ran the class as an historical survey of pornographic film, no different than any other professor would teach a survey of animation, documentary, or French cinema.
The second class was as graduate student at NYU, although our instructors were a bit sly about the subject matter of the class. They called it Explicitly Independent, insisting that we were studying experimental, independent film that pushed the boundaries of representing sexuality. This class was not meant as a broad survey of explicit film, as my undergraduate class was, but instead was meant to address a number of topics that our instructors were studying.
Both classes made clear a couple of facts about pornographic film:
it has been around a long time: about as long as motion pictures themselves have been around.
more people consume pornography than you think: it’s pretty much close to 100% of film viewers.
a stylistic history of pornography tracks closely to the stylistic history of cinema at large: the golden age of pornographic film is in the 1970s, which is the same decade as the golden age of New Hollywood.
Light Industry is presenting nine short films on Tuesday, February 20, beginning at 7:30 PM: a program they call The Smoker: A Brief History of the Stag Film. The term “smoker” refers to the smoke-filled rooms where men—and only men—would watch sex on film as part of some weird homosocial ritual to prove that each guy wasn’t “a homo.” If you ever wondered what your grandfather did with his buddies at an Elks Lodge meeting on a Saturday night, it was probably watching these films.
As someone who watched a lot of these kinds of films with an audience that isn’t there for sexual gratification, I will tell you will initially feel a bit awkward when you recognize the situation of watching porn while sitting next to strangers.
Light Industry seems to recognize this. They will screen the films silent in the spirit of historically accuracy. It was common for men to hoot-and-holler while these films played, and indeed, Light Industry’s website notes “in the spirit of smokers past, we encourage attendees to provide their own soundtracks.”
I would go a step further and encourage you to provide your own beverage, too. But, remember that this is the twenty-first century: there no smoking during these smokers.
The folks at UnionDocs is offering a three-day intensive workshop on the essay film, called A Letter to the World: Experiments in Essay Filmmaking, between September 8 and 10, to enable artists to articulate their ideas and explore new methodologies in crafting their work. The workshop will be led by filmmaker Lynne Sachs and will feature guest instructors Alan Berliner, Akosua Adoma Owusu and Roger Beebe, with scholars Timothy Corrigan and Nora M. Alter, co-authors of the book Essays on the Essay Film.
The workshop is open to filmmakers, students, artists, scholars, etc.