Notable film and media links--September 8, 2009
---The difficulties of marketing Ellen Page.
---The avant-guarde art(?) of YouTube.
---Libraries no longer need books:
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’
---Instead of reading books, we can revel in our fully augmented new reality even as print desperately tries to defend itself from the ever-encroaching internet.
"But to Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, this supposed pleasure center didn't look very much like it was producing pleasure. Those self-stimulating rats, and later those humans, did not exhibit the euphoric satisfaction of creatures eating Double Stuf Oreos or repeatedly having orgasms. The animals, he writes in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, were "excessively excited, even crazed." The rats were in a constant state of sniffing and foraging. Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn't experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, Panksepp writes, "where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy" (and Panksepp wasn't referring to Bing).It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking. Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals, and he says, "Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems." It is the mammalian motivational engine that each day gets us out of the bed, or den, or hole to venture forth into the world. It's why, as animal scientist Temple Grandin writes in Animals Make Us Human, experiments show that animals in captivity would prefer to have to search for their food than to have it delivered to them.For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.The juice that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose," Panksepp writes. It's a state humans love to be in. So good does it feel that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system aroused—cocaine and amphetamines, drugs of stimulation, are particularly effective at stirring it."
---A. O. Scott contemplates the authentic woman in Almodovar's All About My Mother.
---Big city alienation and U2's video for "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight."
---Truman Capote explains Holly Golightly.
---Recession-worthy living: Sean Dunne's Man in Van.
---TimeOut London compiles the "50 greatest directorial debuts of all time."
---Charlize Theron tries to laugh off rude Zach.
---The scrap metal aesthetics of Shane Acker's 9.
---The Guardian exhibits Paul Newman as The Times shares some playful Charlie Chaplin/Alistair Cooke footage.
I was stunned by how playful Godard is in that film. It also reminded me of silent film comedy techniques. While I have vast admiration for Jean-Luc, there are some films of his I have not finished. I could only take so much of One or Two Things before turning off the TV, and yet A Bout de souffle is one of my all-time favorites.
Admittedly, I should watch more of his movies to really know to judge.
So with that in mind, no, I don't Godard is flattering us just for being able to sit through his films. He's interested in a cinema of ideas, and he wants to provoke thought and discussion, to challenge audiences. Maybe that doesn't always carry through -- over at my blog, Marilyn Ferdinand and I have been discussing whether or not challenging cinema like this can really connect with audiences -- but I think the intellectual inquiries in Godard's films are genuine, and genuinely worth grappling with.
As for the 2 films you specifically mention, I think Le petit soldat is a surprisingly straightforward early work from Godard, when he was still settling a lot of his own ideas and aesthetics. It's not a bad film by any means, but I wouldn't consider it among his best. It does deal with torture, though, and also with the fragility of political ideals, themes that would carry through much of Godard's later work. Masculin feminin on the other hand is a masterpiece. I'm occasionally frustrated by the characters -- which you're supposed to be, since Godard is again mocking their shallow understanding of things -- but never by the film, which is utterly charming and inventive in its structure.
This is shocking and discouraging - as I sit here during my free period at school - my 24th year of teaching 8th graders and seniors how to read perceptively and write effectively.
Every year it gets harder. More students have trouble writing with pencil and paper. I find fewer students I can call on to read aloud fluently. I find, each year, students getting farther and farther away from a functional mastery of their own language. I find foreign students who can write English better than many American students. I find fewer and fewer students who like to read.
I feel that my job is to carry on the torch that represents a love of reading and writing - but fewer students carry on the torch.
I know exactly what you mean, Hokahey. One feels like one is teaching an ancient esoteric skill. The social media gurus claim that texting and e-mail encourages writing, but as long as students tend to forgo reading books in favor of video games, watching videos on the internet, and Facebooking, then they often have difficulty with deep critical reading and constructing a coherent and nuanced paragraph. I'm lucky to have top-notch students, but no matter how bright they are, one can never assume anything about their ability to write. I sometimes wonder if they would benefit from staying away from the internet, and only having books around to amuse and instruct them. Movies are so well-designed to distract students, it sometimes seems hard for them to learn to appreciate good writing.
There are times when I get burned out on movies, and want to revel in words alone. I'm already rereading Lorrie Moore's brilliant new novel A Gate at the Stairs.
I also totally agree with you guys about the importance of books. A bookless library is utterly idiotic, and I really hope that others see this as absurd as it is, and that this doesn't become a new trend. Even if digital is the future for reading everything (which I'm by no means sold on) the technology is nowhere near the level now where we can think about dispensing with books altogether. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and reading a novel on computer screens would be unbearable.
Also, thanks for the tip on the new book. I've been despairing about the recent releases. Seems like it's all mysteries or vampire romances. It's hard to find a compelling new novel.
I don't know if you would like A Gate at the Stairs or not. The novel is a little thin on plot, but it is extremely well-written, a nice return to form for Lorrie Moore.
Thanks, Wow Gold.