OnFilm's Layers Program

I was excited to see the short-film program "Layers" by the University of Rochester OnFilm group. It was an impressive collection that centered around the "layers" theme and all the ramifications it can entail.

Starting out was 45 7 Broadway (Tomonari Nishikawa, 2013, 5 min., 16mm) in which Nishikawa shot scenes in Times Square successively with black-and-white film filtered with red, green, and blue filters, then made a color composite by merging the three resulting films to form a pseudo-color image. The effect was marvelous, often presenting rippling true-colors in stationary objects and overlaid colors in those that moved. At one point, I felt like I could smell the city.

Volcano Saga (Joan Jonas, 1989, 28 min., video) was an interesting interpretation of the Icelandic Laxdeala Saga — a tale of dream analysis — given an experimental-video spin. Capitalism: Child Labor (Ken Jacobs, 2006, 14 min., video) was a disorienting interpretation of a stereo-view of child workers in a factory. Jacobs quickly alternated between the images creating the illusion of continuously spinning, and added detail views that seemed to rotate on their own.

In Her + Him Van Leo (Akram Zaatari, 2001, 32 min., video), Zaatari visits the photographer who created a scantily-clad image of his grandmother which he discovered in his mother's closet. I found the repetitive technique a bit annoying at times, but the film was rather humorous and overall interesting. Of note to me was that Van Leo had a large-format camera which looked nearly identical to Jenn's camera in her new studio — particularly the heavy wheeled tripod.

I was a bit lost with Castro Street (Bruce Baillie, 1966, 10 min., 16mm). It was an experimental view of trains and industrialization … I guess. I'm not good at guessing, though. Likewise, Lot in Sodom (James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, 1933, 28 min., 16mm), being a Biblical tale I didn't know (like most of them), I was kind of lost as to what was going on. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see their experimental filming techniques that rivaled what people were doing 30 years later.

Waves of Betrayal (Jae Matthews, 2007, 5 min., 16 mm B&W reversal transferred to video) was an interesting bit of film: according to the OnFilm description, it "is a home processed short where the ocean documented in the film was also used as the mixing material for the developer, stop, and fix baths". This resulted in a unique tonality to the film and scratches from sediment. Let me just say that it is the knowledge of the process that makes this film interesting.

Concluding the night was O'er the Land (Deborah Stratman, 2009, 52 min., 16mm), a view of modern American patriotism in many forms. I personally found it upsetting to have the idea of America's jingoistic militarism echoed back to me so strongly. Contrasting it with the waning natural wonders we have, the effect was even more profound.

Dude, Where's My America?

So now it's July 1, 2009 — just short of 233 years since the United States of America declared its independence from England. And, you know, I don't believe in it anymore.

I was raised with the notion that America was a place where the smart and the hard-working were rewarded. Taught that we control our government, not the other way around. [In Soviet Russia, government controls you!] That anyone can step forward and change the country for the better.

But what I've found is that none of that is true.

There was a confluence of several things that got me here.

The "Cash for Clunkers" law is the poster child for everything that's wrong with the legislature today. The goal set before them was to set America on a path to reduce pollution and consume less oil. What they did was to create a law that caused more consumption: building a new car consumes more energy and creates more pollution than keeping an old one on the road. And all because the actual problem won't fit in a sound-byte. Plus, the law reinforces the new American model of mass consumerism.

Then there was a discussion I had about class reunions. It's rare that you get a truly random sample of America, but people who came from the place you did is a pretty good random sample. I mean, just because our parents chose to live in the same place doesn't mean we're anything alike. Anyway, when I think about my reunion, I realize that — unlike my self-selected group of friends — that in fact, only about 5% of people even remotely believe in the same ideals as I do. Most are thrilled that America is at war all the time and that we do things bigger than other countries.

Finally, there's the curious case that American's, by-and-large, don't hold mass protests, and certainly don't get violent (police excluded). When you watch other countries people deal with things they disagree with in the government, it's friggin' serious. But here, it's just a bunch of jobless hippies who protest. The reason is that we have a superior government where you can simply write to your representatives and they get the same message. If you don't like what they do, just vote them out. The truth of the matter is that our representatives do whatever they please, and it's good marketing (with lots of money) that gets them reelected.

So the illusion is over. America is what it is. Have a good birthday, old man.

Just War

I woke up in the middle of the night, and as often happens, the demons in my head took hold and won't let me get back to sleep. This time it's that I'm trying to reconcile killing someone for my own convenience.

The United States is at war with Iraq. What that means is that there are people sent by the U.S. who are encouraged by us to stay. There are a lot of people in Iraq, on the other hand, who want those people to leave. We sent our people there with all sorts of weapons so they can kill the people who want us to leave — and likewise, the people who want us to leave try to kill the people who we sent.

This will continue until our President shakes hands with somebody and people sign some papers and then the people we sent will come back home.

So switching to the concrete, there is someone in Iraq right now whose direct relative has been killed by an American. That is, there is someone whose brother, sister, father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter has been killed by an American.

There is no way anyone can convince me that this is a good thing.

The reason that person was killed is because the U.S. sent someone there who killed them. If that American were never there, then that person would not have been killed.

I pay my taxes and I will continue to do so. If I don't, I'll go to jail. My life will be disrupted in an unfavorable way, but there is pretty much no risk that I'll die if I don't pay.

However, those taxes have been used to fund the war. If I had not spent that money, perhaps there would be one person who didn't go to Iraq. And because they wouldn't have been there, then some person in Iraq wouldn't be dead tonight. And their living relative would not have to experience the unbearable loss of their kin.

That's the nature of the faulty logic of my sleepless mind.

However what keeps me from going back to sleep is that someone is dead — and more importantly that someone is being killed right now, and tomorrow it will happen again. And again and again.

Think about the person you love the most in the whole world right now.

Now bang: they're dead.

Somewhere there's a person who knew this was going to happen. What he did to stop it was to write a couple letters to people telling them he thought it would be a bad idea. But he also sent those people money — a lot of money — knowing full-well that they intended to use it to kill your loved-one. To be completely fair, that person would have his life disrupted — he'd go to jail if he didn't pay the money.

So on the one hand, you've got the corpse of your loved-one. And on the other, you've got someone who wasn't willing to spend a couple years in prison to stop it. Both are cases of lost years, but in one case it's the absolute remainder of one's life and in the other, a few years of my life.

I can't figure out the morality of the whole thing, but I sure feel terrible that someone's loved-one is dead because I didn't want to stop it.

Now maybe I can shrug and go back to sleep.

Dr. Strangelove and Bridge on the River Kwai at the Dryden

I rushed to get to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It turned out to be quite the popular movie and it wouldn't have mattered if I hurried or not for I just ended up at the end of a long line. I also ran into Rebecca and her boyfriend, so the three of us got together for the film.

I've long enjoyed it as the blackest of the black comedies — I mean, it really doesn't get funnier than "mutually assured destruction" [perhaps save for "mutually assured self-destruction"]. The very idea that one erroneous step in the arms race and kaboom: life would be far different now than it turned out to be.

Last Wednesday I headed there (the Dryden, not nuclear apocalypse) to see The Bridge on the River Kwai. I hadn't seen it before, but Stanley Kubrick blurs the line even further between black comedy, satire, and drama. I mean, can you really do a serious movie about war — or more particularly, the logic of war? It just doesn't make any sense outside its absurd context, as if the rules of life were completely dumped topsy-turvy.

But both films really dismantle the idea of the romantic view of war as some kind of beautiful peak experience. The reality is it's bat-shit fucking crazy. It really gives me, well, strange feelings toward our troops in Iraq.

On the one hand, I genuinely dish out gratitude for their actions. I get confused as to why, exactly. I mean, I'm not glad that they're killing people. And I don't believe that what we're doing is making anything better — short-term unquestionably worse, and long-term unlikely better — at least from my broad, detached, ill-informed [thanks media, government!] view. But then for what? Perhaps that they believe — they believe so much in America that they're willing to go to a far away place where people want to kill them and stand up and say "I'm an American" and shoot anyone who tries to shoot them.

I kind of envy that kind of thinking, for it's not so simple for me. I think the Constitution was a fantastic architecture for a government, and the Bill of Rights is a stupefyingly excellent invention. But the constant attempts to leverage power — oy!, enough already! Maybe it's inevitable human behavior to abuse power, but if so, then why permit authority in the first place?

So then the jingoist asks, "so are you for America or against it?" Let me answer this way: "I am all for my version of America." The one that puts the individual at the head of the pack — not the judge or the President, but the individual. I mean, imagine the difference it would make to hear, "I'm your representative: how can I help you?" rather than "I'm your leader: do what I tell you."

I'm kind of an idealist about the whole thing. I mean, I believe that, given freedom, that people will behave well toward one another. Unfortunately, I'm up against people who believe so strongly otherwise that they will demonstrate behavior counter to my ideal for the purpose of proving it false.

But hey, that's the nature of war.