One of my favourite movies from the last few years was A Winter’s Bone. Harsh, dark allegory in the small hills and hard lives of the Ozarks. Brilliant noir meets western sensibilities in a morality play about how norms, rules and power play out in the shadow of the law. Like the Coen brothers without any of Tarantino’s glib distance from what’s happening.
How dark are you willing to go? Snowtown (or, for North Americans unlikely to pick up the box of what sounds like a ski-weekend comedy, The Snowtown Murders) is a kind-of horror movie, sans both the genre’s exhausting titillation and its sense of the Gothic. Rather, a depressing window on the conditions under which criminality gets normalized. In that way like Breaking Bad, except it doesn’t try to win points by having protagonists you care about. Very violent, with some scenes of torture made all the more nauseating when you know the movie is based on real case history.
A “lighter” option (because it is about terror rather than horror) is Animal Kingdom. By making a movie about bank robbers without any bank robberies, the writers are able to create the perfect setting for a portrayal of the fear of living with people who you know are not only capable of profound violence, but also under constant threat of becoming its victims. That set up is executed perfectly, by having the camera rather than the dialogue do most of the heavy lifting. Had my adrenaline running to the point I actually had to pause it at points, even though there are no explosions, no quick cuts, no firefights, and only one (very subdued) chase scene.
Another great movie that lets the camera do most of the psychologizing is Martha Marcy Mae Marlene. Also some unsettling violence, but here most of it is implied rather than played out – save one startling scene that thankfully ends quickly. Provides an insider’s view of what it might feel like to join a cult, and in particular, of the way in which transgression is used to maintain group coherence, and what that means for members if and when they leave.
A cute, off-kilter take on cults, though one that provides less insight into what we are like as social beings is The Sound of My Voice. I dare you to watch the first 12 minutes (which you can, online) and not feel like you have to see the end game. Replaces the sociology of Martha Mae with the soft-focus metaphysics of a freshman dorm-room. Is she or isn’t she? The narrative provides just enough misdirection to make you feel at the end that the answer can only be “both.”
If dark and disturbing are not really your style, I guess I would ask a question: how do you feel about Wes Anderson? He made Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums. If you are into his style (and there is really no mistaking it), then rush to see Moonrise Kingdom. It provides all the twee, odd, strangely paced artifice and nostalgia, painted in pastels and tartans over the surface of every one of his films, though with less of the pathos that marked, say, Tennenbaums. Some people find his focus on art design rather than art frustrating, and can’t connect to films without the veneer of Hollywood “realism”; if you are not that person, then you will probably find more than a few things to like in this particular take on his one-man genre, a particular interation that dips more directly into the style of kids’ adventures books than anything else in his oeuvre, in some sense even more so than The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Though this one has nothing on par with the latter’s amazing wolf-on-the-hill scene.
An older movie that also borrows from the school of valorizing presentation over representation and flair over fervour, is Rian Johnson’s Brick. In its essence, it’s like a film school project on genre mixing, bringing together film noir’s mystery, caricature, hard knocks and careless violence with the lightness, nostalgia and dramatis personae of a cheesy high school romantic comedy. Except for a few moments where Johnson allows the awkwardness and doubt of actual teenagers to poke through the script’s surface, the mastery of the film lies precisely in how well these two elements are balanced, giving what is obviously pastiche the patina of reality.
Speaking of bank robberies, and of old movies, have you seen Inside Man? A Spike Lee joint that seems the most significant departure from his usual efforts to capture the lived realities of America’s black communities, the film proves that his skills go much deeper than just a commitment to faithful storytelling. By letting the narrative unfold both forward and backward toward the heist’s punchline, Lee is not only able to make a movie about the thrill of constructing and executing the job (a la Ocean’s Eleven) but also provides a mystery, or really two mysteries, one of which is as political as you would expect from one of his picture. Except for the spent payoff of knowing how the hell they pulled off the job, the whole thing held up under a recent second viewing, as well.
A movie that really lets the camera do a lot of the work, and some might say too much, is Meek’s Cutoff. For those who played it, the idea that this is “the best movie never made about the Oregon Trail video game” is sure to catch a few laughs; the movie, on the other hand, is unlikely to catch any. About the madness of heading of West in the early years, it seems to star the scenery more than any of the actors, portraying plains so flat and desolate that they allude to an unspoken intent to kill. Probably falls into the “too subtle” category, but only if you think there is supposed to be some point beyond simply portraying what it was like to be there for the people crazy enough to start the journey. Very. Slow.
The movie I am most excited for the release of this year is Upstream Color, not because I know next to anything about it, because it was made by Shane Carruth, and that he made Primer. Primer is like Rian Johnson’s most recent movie, Looper, in that it’s about time travel, except that it was made on less than 1% of the budget, is much smarter, and actually takes that subject matter seriously. Too often, science fiction gets caught up in chasing the possibilities of “what if?” in a way that ignores that all fiction works on exactly the same premise. Rather than chasing “aesthetics of the future” that almost always reveal more about present neuroses than presenting any real thought about how technological change, social change and design might interact, the film simply takes the “what if?” seriously, letting particular characters in a particular place respond to the disruption of a new technology. You could say that Carruth is also “too subtle” here, in the sense that catching the drift of the narrative probably requires a second or a third viewing, but that is a feature of a film that is unafraid to work with the real consequences – moral, metaphysical, psychological – of messing with one of the fundamental building blocks of our experience.
Rob Ford has been removed from office (or, as many of my friends have written on facebook “ROB FORD HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM OFFICE”). Let me tell you, that makes-a-somma people angry! Say, and this may surprise you, Christie Blatchford.
I haven’t been able to read past the fold, but that’s more than enough. Here’s her headline
Christie Blatchford: 383,501 Torontonians voted for Rob Ford — not one voted for the men behind his ouster
Let’s be clear about what happened in this decision. In fact, let’s let Ivor Tossell do it, because he gives the clearest breakdown of the actual run of events I’ve seen to date:
Rob Ford runs a football foundation. He tirelessly fundraises for it from people he meets, including developers and lobbyists, and lately he did it with city resources. This is against the rules. The city’s integrity commissioner entreated him over and over to follow these rules–another person telling him he can’t do this, can’t to that—but to no avail. And after years of breaking rules that merely put him on the hook for financial penalties, Ford finally broke the rule that cost him his job: He got up in council and argued that he shouldn’t have to pay just such a penalty. Then he voted against parting with the money. That’s a conflict of interest, and some of the finest lawyers in town weren’t able to convince the judge otherwise.
Given this context, the only way of reading Blatchford’s argument, I guess, is that politicians shouldn’t be be removed from office for breaking conflict of interest rules – because it’s undemocratic. This is weird, but common: People have this vision of a democratic system where you elect a supreme ruler for 5 years and dude gets to do whatever the hell he wants. That’s not how it works, nor how it should. Politicians, especially municipal politicians, are elected to do a job. Breaking certain rules are going to get you fired, though apparently gross incompetence and not showing up to work won’t. It seems totally reasonable to me that, where the employer has clear rules about not getting involved in decisions that impact your own finances, losing your job should be a possible consequence.
Lots of people who are happy to see Ford go have nonetheless hedged their glee with the caveat that “this isn’t the way that they want to see him go.” Some of the hand-wringing seems to side with the “it’s anti-democratic” side. Me? I have no qualms about politicians who break the rules getting kicked out of office before their term is up. Others, however, are worried about the potential political fall-out from the decision. No matter the reasons of those whose renditions of “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” are sung in slightly hushed tones, their argument is, on the one that ”the law’s the law” and so the judge had little choice but, on the other hand (thanks again, Ivor!): “The law is too crude an implement and deserves to be revisited.”
Again, I am not so sure. As easy as is to attack the lack of discretion the legislation gives the judge – it required him, once he found a breach which did not result from inadvertence, to “declare the seat vacant” – I am not sure that people have really thought through the alternatives. Many, I suppose, would like to see a law that gave the judge a wider set of penalties to draw from, based on the severity of the offence. The problem, of course, is that people very seldom violate a law like this so egregiously, so blatantly, so audaciously. Which means that, unlike in criminal law, there is very little precedent for a judge to rely on.
If the law had provided room for discretion, the judge would, essentially, have to decide himself what the penalty should be for Ford’s misconduct. Should it have been less because the amount in issue was “only” $3500? Should it have been more because the violation was so brazen, as in cases where “punitive damages” are applied? Should it have been less because it was done so clearly out in the open and not hidden, or does that mean it was brazen and contemptuous of the rules and everyone else’s compliance with them, and should be punished more? Should it have been more, or less, because he got involved in a decision on not paying money he owed, rather than on, say, awarding a contract to himself? These all seem like difficult questions to me, and were the judge had discretion, the answer provided would be fraught with even more political overtones. Can you imagine that anyone would have been happy with this decision if the judge had found Ford guilty and, say, “only” fined him $10000? Or if he had let Ford stay in office, but banned him from running in the next election? What decision could the judge have made in such a situation which would have seemed non-political? The judge himself – the full text of the decision is here – apparently would have liked more wiggle room:
The mandatory removal from office for contravening s. 5(1) of the MCIA is a very blunt instrument and has attracted justified criticism and calls for legislative reform
I am not so sure. Once you accept that courts can remove politicians from office for fraud, it seems to me that a “zero tolerance” approach is the only way to prevent the decision-making process from taking on terrible political proportions. The law is good enough as-is.
To be clear, I do wish that Rob Ford had not been removed from office in this way. Thanks to people like Christie Blatchford, this case will be used to attack the legal system and to boost the idea that the left, somehow, does not play fair. It may also, paradoxically, increase Ford’s chance of staying in office. But I also wish that Toronto’s mayor was not such a blustering, arrogant buffoon that he would break fundraising rules for city councillors, violate conflict of interest rules, ignore legal advice, and assume that the rules did not apply to him. It is the fact that he is, and that he did, which ultimately provides the fodder for Blatchford’s thoughtless, incoherent tirade. Not the judge. Not the conflict of interest law. Not the complainants in the case. Once more, Tossell nails it: Rob Ford got himself fired.
As for the meat of the decision, the only defences Ford had to rely on was that the rules weren’t actually the rules, that he broke them accidentally, or that the amount at issue was “insignificant.” Ford has said he will appeal. The judges rulings on the first two issues seem watertight. Which means, given that they have to rule under the existing law, they could keep Ford in office by deciding that the amount is “insignificant.” But let us be clear: this would be a court saying that, when a city official owes the city $3500, there are no consequences for him voting on whether he has to pay it or not. I imagine that many taxpayers wish they had the same luxury.
But back to Blatchford’s analysis,
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been given the boot from office because an opportunistic citizen hired a smart and politically savvy lawyer who found a club of an arcane statute with which to tie the hands of a judge who was willing to play ball.
That’s the short and dirty version of the bombshell that has dropped
She seems to be saying : i. the people who wrote a law allowing city councillors who brazenly, purposefully violate conflict of interest laws were wrong to do so. ii. the people who brought this case to the courts to see if the law had been broken were wrong to do so; iii. the court system was wrong for hearing the case, despite having absolutely no discretion over what cases to hear. Each of these propositions seems wrong to me; I cannot read any further.
Earlier this year, a couple of high-level staff at the IMF’s research department and a colleague at the IBRD published a paper on the determinants of long-term growth – that is, of growth spells that continue over time rather than sinking countries into depression and stagnation. Among the determinants they found were: “the degree of equality of the income distribution; democratic institutions; export orientation…; and macroeconomic stability.”
That is, the more equal the income structure [...More] ‘ Once more the refrain: Inequality is bad for growth ‘
Saturday, in catches and glimpses, unordered: learning by doing • designing by making • art as its own language • art as its own, different way of interpreting the world • or each artform as a unique way of interpreting the world • Nancy Adler: strategic planning by design, rather than by analysis • or designing an option worth choosing, not choosing an option • or focusing on a positive vision, rather than a negative [...More] ‘ Thinking Art Brain Dump ‘
McGill’s very cool, very innovative, very cutely-named Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas (IPLAI, i.e. “I play”) is running a fascinating workshop this Saturday on Thinking Art, which I was lucky to grab a spot in. The session seems akin to the participatory, open-ended unconferences of the barcamp model, displacing the “talking-head parade” which provides the skeleton for most academic conferences. In inviting working artists to interact with university-based scholars, it also [...More] ‘ Hacking Humanities ‘
A friend asked me what I have to say about the results of the ‘historic’ Quebec election. It seems that the French press have slightly misread the tea-leaves on this one if those relying on such coverage see the victory as having some meaningful contribution to global independence movements.
After all, support for sovereignty among Quebecers is at historic lows after the separation question was narrowly defeated in a 1994 referendum. The newest generation of [...More] ‘ An ‘historic’ victory in Quebec ‘