Tuesday, June 24, 2008

20 Years in a Nutshell

I recently connected up with an old friend from high school on Facebook. After a couple reintroductory messages back and forth, he posed this question: "Take me on a brief tour of your life these past 20 years?" What follows is my attempt to answer that question...

OK, let's see. What's salient and interesting from the past 20 years of my life?

In 1988, without a lot of forethought, I went off to college in Binghamton. That place was suitably depressing and boring to ensure that I focused on studies and entertained myself with recreational drugs and just generally acting crazy. They had no photography classes, which was disappointing, but I found myself drawn to film and video classes, where we did all kinds of weird experimental art projects with film, video, and computers and learned almost NO skills that might be useful in the "film industry". By my third year of college I was already sick of being there, so I spent the first semester of my fourth year studying in Prague, then I graduated early, and then spent another 5 months living in a suburb of Paris.

Coming back to the US in the summer of 1992 I determined that the last thing I wanted to do was be in New York, in the part of the country where I had lived all my life (albeit, moving around the NY metro area a lot). So, I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico with a friend who was going to grad school there. The friendship only lasted about a year after that, but I stayed in New Mexico for 7 years.

Hmm, what did I do in NM? Worked some crappy jobs; realized I had to go back to school if I didn't want to continue doing that; dated an immature manic-depressive guy for waaaaay too long (6+ years); got a Master's degree in, essentially, interactive media; worked for DoD contractors; went to massage therapy school in the evenings for a year; took a lot more recreational drugs (thanks to the BF, who was big into self-medicating); explored a bit of the new age thing going on out there (determined that some of it is sincerely spiritual, and a lot of it is just another market used to exploit people's neediness); made some life-long friends of the very creative, very nerdy type; and then ultimately realized that the only way to end this back-and-forth no-future relationship with the crappy boyfriend was to just leave New Mexico (which I had always planned to do anyway). So in the summer of 1999 I moved back to New York.

Back in New York there was an internet bubble expanding, so I took my background in interactive media and got a job at EW.com (website of Entertainment Weekly) right before the bubble burst. It worked out ok tho, because we had a lean staff that was part of a huge multimedia conglomerate, so they had enough resources to keep us on, and they didn't care what we did. It was like working at a little startup with the resources of a media giant. I got to play with web pages, build metadata systems, and write comic book reviews and articles about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Do you remember our fellow classmate Rohanna? I lived with her for 3 years and then moved into my own place in the East Village.

Eventually the internet industry started to recover and then people (mainly AOL) did start to care about what we did at EW.com, and then it got kind of bureaucratic and boring. I stuck around for a couple more years, and then eventually moved on to being a consultant at [web consulting company]. This was a funny turn of events because when I first heard about that company, it was in 1999, in a Wired article about the two guys who ran the company, and I thought they kind of sounded like douchebags. Of course, a lot had changed since then, but I still never would have expected I'd someday be an employee of that company. Anyway, that's what I've been doing for the past 2+ years.

Hmm, that's a lot about work. My career has been pretty interesting, though. I've been writing and speaking about the Semantic Web for a while, and despite not being a particularly technical person I've built sort of a reputation and I've got the ear of some of the major people in the field, when I want it. So that's pretty fun.

I'd say that my life since moving back to NYC has been characterized by working and doing lots and lots of cultural things. In addition to the web and digital whatnot, I love to experience film festivals, comic conventions, museums, theater, live comedy, public art and mischief. This is why I can't see myself being in any place other than NYC. I also used to go see a lot of live music, but I kind of lost interest in that a couple years ago. Believe it or not, it's a lot of work to keep up with what's going on in the music scene.

Well, that's a lot of words, but I think that's about as brief as I can make a 20 year synopsis, and still have it make sense and be entertaining. How did I do?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival - Wednesday, April 30

Tonight's film was Milky Way Liberation Front. I was super tired, and I don't feel like I can say that much about this odd Korean movie. There were definitely some funny moments, but I guess I expected it to be more absurd wackiness, and less surreal romantic comedy.

Tribeca Film Festival - Tuesday, April 29

I saw a single film on Tuesday - Guest of Cindy Sherman. The thing that it's important to know about this documentary is that it's not primarily about Cindy Sherman. It's mainly about a guy named Paul H-O (also the co-director) who used to have a public access TV show about the NY art scene. He met Cindy and for some reason the notoriously private and press-shy artist agreed to let him tape a series of interviews as she worked on her next show.

They end up dating, and even live together for several years. By all accounts she seems to be a fabulous girlfriend, but she becomes more and more famous and the art world took on a sort of celebrity and fame aspect, and his ego couldn't handle being the accessory to her growing success. His frustration culminates in an event (a dinner in her honor, if I remember correctly) where he is shunted off to a distant table, with a name card that simply says "Guest of Cindy Sherman."

It's sort of interesting and sort of disheartening. Paul wants to be in the art world, more than he wants to be an artist. And above all he seems to want attention. You get the sense that the relationship couldn't survive because he couldn't tolerate living in her shadow. But the title of the film, ostensibly a reference to the offending name card, is also an admission that the thing Paul H-O is most famous for is having been Cindy Sherman's boyfriend, and if he doesn't invoke her name, a lot fewer people would go see it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tribcea Film Festival - Sunday, April 27 (part 2)

The third film I saw on Sunday was called Trucker. It stars Michelle Monaghan as a truck driver whose 11-year-old son from a very early marriage pops back into her life. She's used to being kind of solitary, and really isn't prepared for this. The director, James Mottern, told us beforehand that Michelle couldn't be here, but she really wanted us to know that she did drive the trucks herself. She didn't even have a regular driver's license at the time, but she went to school to learn how to drive the big rigs.

Nathan Fillion plays yet another character that you can't help but fall in love with. Not a bad thing to be typecast as! The actor (Jimmy Bennett) who played the little kid was very subtle for a child actor. I asked about him during the Q&A and Mottern said "Yeah, he's really a 40 year old man." Pretty amazing.

The last question came from Michelle's brother, who said she made him promise not to embarrass her, but that didn't stop him from asking "Did she have to stop every half hour and take a piss, liks she did on family vacations?" Apparently he was ok with breaking his promise.

My final movie of the day was Idiots and Angels, a kind of film noirish Bill Plympton feature. It's about a bastard-y guy who grows wings and they somehow make him start to be a better person. Very interesting look. I liked the film a lot, but I was too tired by that point to be able to form any coherent thoughts about it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival - Sunday, April 27 (part 1)

This was my most ambitious day at the film fest. I saw 4 films!

The first film I saw was Chevolution, a documentary about the iconography of Che Guevara. The first section was about Che himself, and the events in Cuba leading up to the taking of the photo, perhaps the most widely recognized portrait in the world. Next there was some discussion of how the culture, politics, and aesthetics of the times helped make it into such an iconic image. With the lack of copyright on the image, and Che's untimely death, the image essentially became the logo of revolution. The next section was about how the image became co-opted and inevitably exploited by capitalism. Oddly enough, the photographer (Alberto Korda) later reclaimed the copyright in the '90s. His desire, which is now upheld by his daughter, was to protect the integrity of the image (and Che's memory) by putting constraints on the way the "Che brand" can be used.

It's a pretty complex issue. The image means so much to so many different people. The film raises many questions:
* What did Che stand for?
* What does the image of Che stand for? Can the two be separated?
* Is it more true to what Che stands for to let people freely use the image for whatever they want, or to keep it only for things he would believe in?
Really fascinating documentary.

Next I saw Terra. I have mixed feelings about this one. It's an animated feature about a peaceful alien culture invaded by humans. I have a pet peeve about movies that are ostensibly for children, but in fact are way too disturbing for kids. The thing is, the director said that he wanted it to be a more dramatic animated film - they don't have to all be comedies, and that's fair. Just take a look at Princess Mononoke to see how an animated movie can be serious, dark, and represent complex moral situations. But, the film used several conventions of traditional animated children's movies - heroic children that rise to the occasion, cute/funny sidekick, thick-necked foil that's eventually won over, and an irrationally evil bad guy who never heard of the concept of "diplomacy." And yet a good portion of the film is a huge battle scene. We're talking explosions, destruction of a city, and hundreds of casualties, quietly glossed over. The film felt like a cross between Horton Hears a Who and Battlestar Galactica (the new one), and, beautifully done as it was, I just don't think that's really appropriate for children.

Getting really tired now. I'll write about the other two films tomorrow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tribeca Film Fest - Saturday, April 26

I saw three films today, plus some shorts.

First up was Bitter & Twisted - the first film by writer/director Christopher Weekes, who also stars in the film. I had mixed feelings about this one. The film starts with the death of a young man, and picks up three years later to see what impact this has had on his family and ex-girlfriend. It was more of a mood and character study, and it has some really effective performances and scenarios. But the plot itself has a lot of storytelling cliches, since the story mostly serves to move things along so the characters can develop in accordance with the way they handle their grief. It was really well done, and for a debut film I'd say it was excellent. But I'd like to see Weekes direct something with a stronger script next time.

Later I saw Man on Wire - an amazing documentary about Philippe Petit, the man who walked a highwire between the Twin Towers in 1974. This was the NY premiere of the film. I have to admit that my response to it was complicated. At the beginning, I felt an irrational sense of anxiety while hearing the people describe how they repeatedly bypassed security to sneak into the towers to do surveillance, and ultimately to set up the wire and perform the trick (which they figured was probably illegal).

But as the film went on, at least some of that anxiety was replaced with a sense of wonder and beauty. And I was able to, as director James Marsh later put it, "reclaim the memory of those buildings for something else." As an added bonus, Philippe Petit himself was there to answer questions after the screening. He, as much as the film, got a standing ovation.

At the end of the night, I saw a midnight screening of Baghead, the new Duplass brothers film. It's hard to know how to talk about this one without giving too much away. It's sort of a combination of a thing-in-the-woods low budget horror movie, with a more character-driven independent movie. Plus it's about four actors trying to write themselves a script, so it's got some great insider-y self-referential things going on. Quite entertaining.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that earlier today I stumbled across the American Express Insider Center. It provided a quiet place to sit for a while between screenings, and they were also showing some of the festivals shorts. I saw 3 of them - "I Think I Thought" (written by, directed by & starring Matthew Modine), "Irish Twins" (written by, directed by, and starring Shiloh & Rider Storm), and a German genre-bending office-heist short called "Shift." Later, waiting on line to get in to Baghead, Shiloh and Rider and their friends were right in front of me. As we walked in I told Shiloh I had seen the short and enjoyed it, and after the screening I ran into them again and told Rider as well. They seemed kind of tired (it was 1:44am), but they were happy to pose for this photo with me!

Tribeca Film Fest - Friday, April 25

This evening I saw my first film of TFF 2008, Sita Sings the Blues, by Nina Paley. It was a very cool animated feature about the story of Sita and Rama. The story was told in four different ways, with a variety of styles of animation.

The basic story of Sita is that she was kidnapped by an evil king from the forest where she lived with her husband, Rama. She was so tremendously devoted to Rama, and he came to rescue her, but then he decided that maybe her purity had been compromised. She proved her devotion to him, and they returned to the kingdom, but then his people were dubious and he banished her, despite the fact that she was pregnant with his twin sons. Through all this, she remained loving and devoted to her husband.

So, the most traditional telling of the story was told in two styles of animation - one painted, and one a sort of stop-motion looking style done with postcard images of the characters.

This was intertwined with a more casual, improvised discussion of the story by three "shadow puppets", and segments where blues songs from the late 1920s were used to show another side of the story. The fourth element, woven throughout the film, is the tale of the animator herself, who was living in India with her husband when she returned to New York for a business meeting and he dumped her by email.

It was beautiful, funny, and kind of brilliant.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival Plans

Several people have been asking me what I'm going to see at TFF this year, so I figured I should probably just post it one place, with links and all kinds of bloggy goodness. Also, this can serve as a reminder that I'll be posting reviews, photos and other interested tidbits throughout the festival.

So here's what I'm planning to see (and yes, this schedule is a little bit mad):

Friday Apr 25
8:15PM - Sita Sings the Blues

Saturday Apr 26
1:00PM - Bitter & Twisted
5:30PM - Man On Wire
11:59PM - Baghead

Sunday Apr 27
1:30PM - Chevolution
4:00PM - Terra
6:00PM - Trucker
9:30PM - Idiots and Angels

Wednesday Apr 30
9:00PM - Milky Way Liberation Front

Thursday May 1
10:30PM - Hotel Gramercy Park

Friday May 2
6:00PM - War, Inc.
8:15PM - Let the Right One In

Saturday May 3
12:00PM - Theater of War
6:00PM - Shorts: Identity Crisis

Sunday May 04
1:45PM - "Made in NY" Narrative Competition Award Winner
5:00PM - Playing

Neglecting my blog

And my scrapbook, too...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Movie Review Haiku: I Am Legend

I was talking with my friend Robert tonight, and his comments about the movie I Am Legend inspired the creation of this Movie Review Haiku:

If you don't believe
in Jesus, then the zombies
have already won.

It's not the best I've ever done, but it's been a while since I wrote many movie review haikus. And besides, it cracked us up.

(Eventually I'll add this haiku to the page with the rest of them, but it's going to take some old school HTML juggling to do that, and I don't have time at the moment. I'll update the page someday!)

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Been watching these videos of Jason Bateman and Michael Cera promoting Juno. I love the movie, but seeing the videos really makes me miss Arrested Development!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sex with Robots

It's been a while since I've mentioned anything about uncanny valley, but Stephen Colbert has instigated the conversation a bit with this interview of David Levy, author of Love and Sex With Robots.

My inner child is a teenage boy

I've suspected that for a while, but tonight (while watching Anton Corbijn's Control), it also occurred to me that he's a gangly British mod-punk-glam-rocker. He's also angsty, of course, and (unlike me) he probably smokes.