Archive for August, 2012

Frost/Nixon (TheByteScene Review)

4 Pseudo-Biographical-Documentaries out of 4

It’s not a film so much as a documentary leading up to and including the events of the interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon. It’s not meant to produce any major resonance in the hearts of the audience – we already know who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. Many of us already know the story behind Richard Nixon’s resignation, and even if the details are incomplete we recognize the scandal behind Watergate. For the minority that remains unaware of Nixon’s involvement in the scandal, the film begins with a series of clips swiftly detailing the event.

Indeed, though much of the film’s conflict centres around Frost cornering Nixon into confessing his mistakes and his involvement in the events of Watergate, the film makes no effort to hide the fact that its primary focus is on the interviews and not Nixon’s policy. Frost/Nixon takes an editorial approach to the 1977 interviews between British television host turned journalist David Frost and former US President Richard Nixon. It’s revealed that each of the involved have their reasons for choosing to accept the conditions for the interviews. Nixon wants a chance to give his side of the story and he wants to remind the American people that he made more positive contributions than negative. Frost just wants fame; near the beginning of the film a character remarks that Frost has sad eyes and it’s true.

Throughout much of the film Michael Sheen plays David Frost with a talk show host’s sense of apathy – we see him smile and grin in almost every scene excluding the interviews. After each failed attempt to force Nixon into confessing, he reassures the members of his research team – Zelnick, Reston, and Birt, played by Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Matthew Macfadyen – that the next day of taping will mark an improvement. In many ways Sheen’s portrayal of Frost is perfect, and I struggled to find any literary flaws with the character – we see little of Frost’s pessimism. After failing to secure bids from America’s top networks, he decides to finance the interviews using his own capital, and the money of friends and other interested parties. After failing to make any progress with Nixon, he continues to smile and grin with his sad eyes. He reduces himself to effectively groveling for financing, yet he smiles through it all on the sheer optimism that Nixon will be forced to confess through some sort of editorial miracle.

Contrarily, Langella’s Nixon is an unrelenting force that serves as the perfect foil for Sheen’s Frost. We see the former president conferring with his team regarding his political aspirations following his resignation, hospitalization, and subsequent discharge and they’re all adamant that his recovery – both physical and otherwise – is imminent. Langella’s Nixon is portrayed as a hardened fighter who revels in each decision he’s made showing no regret in any of his choices. Only two moments show Nixon in a moment of weakness, and even while recovering from phlebitis he seems agile-minded and sharp. The audience is treated to a man who genuinely believes that he will succeed in acquitting himself of any charges in the court of public opinion following the interviews.

History proved otherwise, though this fact is lost on the film’s script; the audience knows who wins and who loses – we know that Nixon would go on to suffer a swift defeat at the hands of Frost and we know that his return to politics would never occur, yet these truths don’t change the fact that it feels like we’re watching history happen.

Because of the film’s documentary-style we are.

It’s interesting to note that neither Frost nor Nixon are recorded for a one-on-one interview with the camera. It’s even more interesting to note that we never feel like we’re watching the events unfold as they happen, but that we’re watching a recreation of the events that possibly did unfold. It seems a direct contradiction to my earlier statement, but the hypocrisy is only grammatical and not literal. Praise should be aimed at Salvatore Totino for his cinematography, and Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill for their editing. Scenes are almost perfectly shot, and transitions are made in such a fluid manner that much of the film’s success rides on its stye and editing.

Ultimately, the film is a mockumentary of sorts, though in style alone. Had the voice-overs and camera interviews been delivered by the actual figures and personalities, one would be excused for believing that Ron Howard had directed an actual documentary on the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977, with a few artistic liberties taken for cinematic purposes.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Peterborough; An Ode to the Hometowns

If I spent every day crafting new memories in New York City, then I spent every day reliving old ones in Peterborough. I’ve had a significant amount of difficulty deciding how to chronicle my latest trip, and I considered writing another travelogue, like with America. I considered detailing each city I spent time in, and I debated writing an article for each of these experiences, to continue my desire to compile a list of memories. Listing off the small towns I visited would have produced enough articles for six days, and my writer’s block would have undoubtedly been healed faster if I had spent any amount of time trying to write about each city I passed through in these past six days, but I won’t.

There’s no need to.

I thought that each city would help me overcome my writer’s block, and I genuinely believed that I’d find inspiration to write – in a way I did – but the truth remains that there really is only one city that compelled me to create anything. In the past six days, only a single city – though it’s more appropriate to say a single county – inspired me to produce any amount of creative work: Peterborough, a city I spent two years living in ten years ago; Peterborough, a city I hadn’t visited in over five; Peterborough, the first city that I could genuinely call home in this native land.

Peterborough is an ode to the hometowns.

It’s a city where not knowing someone is impossible, and where it’s genuinely easier to find someone than it is to avoid them. It’s a city where gossip floats around the stratosphere for everyone to gather, but where everyone is amiable, amicable, and respectful, even to those they can’t stand. It’s a testament to the small-town mentality, where the children are brought up, raised, schooled, educated, grow up, and eventually leave, only to return when they’re older, wiser, and hopefully more experienced than when they left. It’s a city where the young leave, and the old return, often to never leave again. It’s a welcome home that’s protective of it’s people, but is never controlling – it’s easy to leave, and easy to come back under almost every conceivable circumstance.

Peterborough is a city of memories.

It’s a city where everything happens for the first or last time, but never for the last or first time. It’s home, in one way or another, for everyone who’s lucky enough to move through it even if they’re only there for a few days. It’s small enough to never get lost, but big enough that there’s always something to discover, and it’s a city that grows everyday. The concept of a city is usually the last step in economic evolution of a piece of land, but though it expands on a daily basis, it’s impossible to feel out of touch there. It’s not a relic of a different time, but a window that looks at the possibility of combining both yesterday and tomorrow in a way that’s both harmonious and compelling.

Unlike some of it’s neighbours, Peterborough manages to combine the impossible notion of the “Good ole’ days” with the startling economic growth that capitalism yields. The city doesn’t join together facetious old time charm with the culinary end of a strip mall, as some cities have often tried to do, but accepts that the times are indeed changing. Choosing to build yesterday and tomorrow into a single entity – instead of idolizing the rural past and fearing the capitalistic future – Peterborough accepts that it’s possible to find balance between old and new in a way that isn’t discouragingly bleak.

Peterborough is a city of environmental and ecological splendour.

It’s a city that’s surrounded by country, and land, lakes and rivers, and an amount of sky that is startling. Situated as the hub of Peterborough county, it’s surrounded by small town after small town, village after village, farm after farm after farm, and cottage after cottage. It represents a fascinating evolution of ideals acting as the urban centre of its rural surroundings. Willing travellers can spend a single day driving through three of four small towns found in and around Peterborough county; it’s entirely possible to have breakfast in Peterborough, go to Bobcayjeon out of boredom, have lunch in Buckhurst, and finish the day watching the sunset in Lindsay, Fennelon Falls, or Bridgenorth.

I’ve attempted to avoid sounding like an overbearingly cliche travelogue, but every story has to include cliche in one way or another. It’s not difficult to see why I love Peterborough and why it inspired me as much as it did; it has to do with finality. Peterborough marked a succinct end in a reasonable chapter in my life when I first moved there. When I left it marked the end of another, and now that I’ve gone back it once again marks another end. It’s illogical of me to correlate the city with every aspect of finality in my life, though it is reasonable for me to say that Peterborough is like home; no matter when I go back, no matter how long I stay, no matter what I do, and no matter who I may see I always feel like I belong.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

The Startling Fear of Intelligence Makes No Cultural or Evolutionary Sense; A Discussion of Gross Vocabularies, Brilliant Grammar, and Adequate Punctuations

TheByteDaily’s tagline of “Gross Vocabulary, Brilliant Grammar, Adequate Punctuation; Hilarity Ensues” is one of the few promises that I genuinely try to keep. The promise of operating with a relatively large vocabulary in order to produce articles that are grammatically accurate, if not exuding a certain perfunctory absence of appropriate punctuation, is quite possibly the only one that I haven’t turned my back on. Words are, without a doubt, the second most important aspects of verbal communication, with tone and presence occupying the number one spot with a considerable amount of tension between the two. Generally speaking, tone and presence produce the same result, with the only variation being that tone requires one to use their words instead of their actions as presence does.

It’s due to this adamant belief in an immense vocabulary that I often draw criticism for appearing haughty or pretentious, despite the fact that using “Big words” is nothing more than an artistic frivolity that I permit myself to toy with. It’s really easy to understand that the size of a word doesn’t change the meaning of a work, and that the smallest words can have the greatest meanings if they’re applied properly. Likewise, using grand or majestic words, idioms, and phrases guarantees a greater, and broader, sense of definition, allowing a writer (or anyone who would consider using words) to say a lot with little – without needing to resort to needless explanations that lend themselves to repetition.

My promise to maintain a large vocabulary has effectively managed to attract and repel would be readers on every position of the spectrum; there are some critics who find me needlessly frivolous, others who don’t stay long enough to maintain a position, others who agree with my use of language, and some who stay despite their inability to understand why or to find a reason for their lack of departure. Despite the fact that the words I use are quite standard, and are by no means “Large” or “Overly intellectual,” I still manage to find critics that disagree with my word choices for being needlessly complicated and far too convoluted to be enjoyed. I mentioned earlier that tone and presence go hand-in-hand when it comes to communication, but I admit this is mostly only true for live conversation where both parties are capable of taking in their companions’ presence and appearance.

For conversations that exist without the ability to see the alternate orator, the only other measure for one’s meaning is their tone – the same applies for written conversations carried out without an actual voice to interpret. Therefore tone and vocabulary are the only two paradigms I have available at my disposal to convince an audience of the validity of my opinions and words. Which leads me to question the belief that weakening one’s words will further validate the statement being made, because a wider audience can be included in the conversation.

It’s a trope and a cliche’ to have a headstrong character cry out to the resident scientist, doctor, intellectual, professor, or academic “Speak English to me,” as an attempt to force the intellectual to “Dumb down” themselves so the so-called “Regular audiences” can understand what they’re trying to say. It’s a tactic often used for comedic effect because the program’s writers know that any regular audience is more than capable of understanding the “Convoluted and complicated” terms that the intellectual is using. Joey Tribbiani from the hit NBC sitcom Friends would often ask other characters to give him time to process relatively straightforward information that the others have already moved past. The program’s writers produced a character that many would consider “Dumb but loveable,” a veritable ditz or “Idiot Hero” for comedic effect. At times, Ross Geller, the program’s Ph. D and paleontologist, would drone on to comedic lengths to draw an exasperated reaction from not only Joey, but any of the show’s cast of six friends. The purpose of using Geller as an intellectual that uses “Big words” and Joey as the adorably dumb, but occasionally wise and fascinatingly mystical, funny man who only uses “Small words” is a comedic ploy that has its origin greatly rooted in the Nerd or Geek stereotypes that still manage to remain perpetuated.

I must mention that explanations for the audience often also exist within impossible realms with possibilities that don’t exist within the “Real word.” In such circumstances, dumbing something down isn’t done for comedic effect as much as it’s done to explain the unbelievable. I digress, however.

Despite the fact that intelligence is a powerful paradigm that leads to a better understanding of one’s self and those around them, it’s still somehow feared – especially in cultures that have cultivated intellectualism, art, science, technology, and some of the greatest minds known to humanity. Obviously using a single NBC sitcom to validate an argument is not enough proof – The Big Bang Theory plays on CBS, after all – neither is any sitcom of any kind for that matter. Comedy is one of humanity’s greatest treasures, and the beauty of a joke is that anyone can find themselves at the end of one, regardless of their intelligence, social status, physical appearance, monetary worth, net income, place of worship, place of work, home life, sexual orientation, or any other definition that requires social derivation.

The fact of the matter is that, in an age where intelligence plays one of its most important roles in history, the social norm appears to be that being smart – regardless of how much I disdain the simplistic virtue of the term – is not to one’s advantage, and is something that should be ridiculed and put down instead of encouraged and cultivated. It would be foolish to assume that I refer strictly to stereotypical definitions of the term “Smart,” since I refer to any form of intelligence when I use the term, whether this includes “Book” or “Street” smarts, spiritual intelligence, physical and metaphysical intelligence, philosophical intelligence, psychological intelligence, or even a working knowledge of the manufacturing process of a pencil.

As a society that extends far beyond community, city, and country, we’ve brought it upon ourselves to claim that certain kinds of knowledge is more important than others, that the pursuit of raw intellectualism is a needless and pointless feat, that there is no need to know things when the answer can easily be “Googled,” that retaining any form of trivia is both banal and trivial, and that, somehow, big words are equivalent to a big brain. The fear is one of the most rational ones that exist within the psychiatric spectrum, since not being able to think is both an evolutionary and culturally useless trait. Not being “Smart,” in any way, shape, or form, is dramatically dangerous to one’s self, and the propagation of a species, and it makes sense that one should fear being “Dumb” or not knowing things. However, it is far from rational or logical to claim that the solution to this fear is to render everyone equally dumb; It is irrational and illogical to believe that overcoming one’s fears is only possible by eliminating the singularity that initiated the fear.

One doesn’t overcome a fear of heights by destroying tall things, one doesn’t overcome an irrational fear of enclosed spaces by removing closets and cabinets, and I can’t possibly fathom how one would go about eliminating a fear of the outdoors based on these principles.

Fear is an evolutionary advantage that warns one about the prospect of imminent demise, and it makes sense to be scared of things that can kill you, but the path to overcoming fear does not exist by eliminating that which scares and confuses us. This strange fear of intelligence makes no cultural or evolutionary sense, apart from masking a sensational insecurity in the minds of those who are afraid, and I genuinely believe that this is the case. The fear of intelligence stems from the insecure feeling that there are those who are more intelligent than ourselves but instead of condemning these individuals, we should be striving to reach their heights – regardless of the difficulty associated with this task. I stand by my belief that taking the easy way out of things is fundamentally negligent towards the momentum of a task, but at least taking the easy way out of being smart is better than avoiding intelligence entirely.

Ultimately, my point remains as such – mocking intelligence, high IQ’s, and intellectual pursuits is the task for lazy screenwriters incapable of producing interesting ideas for their audiences to draw entertainment from. The simpleminded belief that intelligence should be scorned, or that knowing things is unnecessary, or even believing that there’s no need in striving for greater intellectual feats, is exactly that: it’s simpleminded.

Intelligence, the ability to know, analyze, quantify, and understand events, is the true human advantage, and fearing it is both negligent to the species, and to the wonders of the universe. Until such a time that intelligence is no longer feared, I’ll be using every “Big word” I can find to push the movement forward, regardless of the critics, their claims, and their supporters (few as they may be).

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

It Was a Fascinating Trip; My Last Day In New York City, and a Discussion of Repetition, Interest, Stagnancy, and Movement (TheByteWeek Issue 16)

I originally planned for this final article about New York City to be published on July 31st, since my last day took place on the 30th, but circumstances arose and a momentary case of writer’s block managed to aid in delaying the publication. To be succinct, my last day had me visiting the Jackson Heights neighbourhood in Queens, attending a short film festival at the Queens Museum of Art, returning to the MoMI for a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s well-known thriller Vertigo, and ending my day with dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I was hoping to spend some time in Central Park – the entire day actually – but the film festival seemed far too compelling to pass up, and though the offerings were less than enticing, I don’t regret attending it.

The event featured a few short films from the Kashish-Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, a four day event held in the city of Mumbai every year. The selections opened with a short documentary detailing the prominence of homosexuality in India, featuring several prolific and key players in the movement to bring awareness and legality to their cause. Though the introduction was reminiscent of many PBS specials, it was undeniable that the presence the documentary held was well felt by the crowd, especially since the feature was shot candidly, with attention only being paid to the members of the movements, their reasons, their motivations, and the facts, never antagonizing one group or polarizing another. I will admit that the documentary was the highlight of the selections, with only one other short film truly catching my eye. The remaining few were an amalgamation of cliched writing, poor directing, disappointing editing, and even worse acting.

To say that the features were amateur would be an understatement, though the core principles of storytelling were still intact – the only problems the directors seemed to have was utilizing these principles in a meaningful and interesting way.

I’ve commented on the difference between a cliche’ and a trope, and I stand by my statement that a story doesn’t need to be told in a new or different way as long as the end result is interesting to experience. It’s easy to misunderstand and misconstrue this statement as contemptuous and an insult to artists the world over, but my point is not that there isn’t such a thing as a new story, or that artists and creators don’t need to challenge themselves – and those that experience their work – by attempting to create something fresh. Instead, my point is merely that art needs to be interesting, fascinating, intriguing, and enticing to both the creator and their audience in order for it to encompass any derivation of the word “Good.” The directors, and their writing staff managed to grasp the main tenements of storytelling, but simply failed to do anything interesting with them – not new, but interesting.

Repetition is even more important to understand in order to recognize that there’s nothing wrong, and there is certainly no shame in repeating themes, ideas, or opinions in order to tackle them in interesting ways. Alfred Hitchcock, a director, writer, producer, and filmmaker renowned for making thrillers that instilled fear in the minds of their respective audiences often used similar themes throughout his entire repertoire, choosing to repeat ideas in order to influence his audiences in interesting ways. Certainly, he created new work, and used different plots to interest his viewers, but the core principles of his work were always the same; his goal was to inspire fear, and though his films aren’t scary by 2012’s horror-show standards, audiences in his time, and mine, were, and are, aware that the plot devices he uses – in addition to the directorial choices he made – are universally known to send chills down one’s spine.

Excluding the fact that Hitchcock’s main purpose was to instill fear, his films also often focused on illuminating the supposed weakness of the female form, and almost all of his films feature a female character receiving justice for her deception, or decision to sin. Whether his reasoning was personal or otherwise is beyond my scope, and what must be derived is that he chose to repeat this theme in almost all of his films, for whatever reason. It doesn’t dilute his work knowing that he repeated himself in any way, since the original goal remained intact; to this day, Hitchcock’s films are regarded as fantastic thrillers that deserve to be analyzed, critiqued, and viewed.

Ultimately, Hitchcock’s films, including Vertigo, are interesting.

This human desire to be kept interested and intrigued extends far beyond the realm of film-making or art, and Hitchcock or the directors at Kashish are in no way the only ones forced to combat interest. It’s undeniable that humans actively seek to be fascinated in every aspect of our daily lives with concepts like boredom or ennui being regarded as matters that require dissection and analysis to eradicate and eliminate. We don’t want to be bored because we don’t like to be bored for the simple reason that standing still or not moving is a psychological and physical impossibility. I’ve often brought up the topic that the only path to move is forward, with difficulty needing to be overcome, conversation needing to be maintained, opinion needing to be provided, and ideology needing to be challenged and discussed.

Not doing so is strange and an abdication and resignation of the most basic human desire to know, despite the fact that adamantly maintaining one’s stance on an issue, and issues in general, requires just as much movement as stillness. It’s humourously paradoxical that stillness is nothing more than the equal balance of movement, especially since the two paradigms are entirely contradictory. Clearing one’s mind for meditation or concentration doesn’t eliminate movement, it merely changes the focus to another more pertinent topic that occupies a more important and more interesting spot in our collective cerebrums. It changes the focus and scope of movement by providing the illusion of stagnancy and stillness.

Whether through a film, or a vacation in a once visited city, or even taking the bus instead of flying, ultimately, any matter of movement is a matter of stagnancy and stillness, any discussion of novelty is a discussion of interest and the appropriate application supposed novelty. I don’t digress by saying that my trip to New York has revolved around these concepts; everyday I spent walking and exploring the city was a day spent exploring a new environment to discover something interesting – if experiencing a novelty wasn’t the core idea to begin with. My vacation is now absolutely and irrevocably over, but the point is that, for a few fleeting days, I overcame the psychological and physical stagnancy that I’m seemingly predetermined to struggle with until the inevitable end. My vacation is undeniably over, but the memories I’ve gained and the experiences I’ve accumulated will always remain interesting.

The journey is over for now, and though it was a repetition of a previously made trip, I must mention the fact that the repeated quest for interest never really ends. Until, of course, The End.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK