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ARTSY: For They Shall Inherit The Earth

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Street Face by Lee Jeffries

Photo by LEE JEFFRIES

LIGHT BOX: In 2008, accountant and amateur photographer Lee Jeffries was in London to run a marathon. On the day before the race, Jeffries thought he would wander the city to take pictures. Near Leicester Square, he trained his 5D camera with a long, 70-200 lens on a young, homeless woman who was huddled in a sleeping bag among Chinese food containers. “She spotted me and started shouting, drawing the attention of passersby,” Jeffries says. “I could have just walked away in an embarrassed state, or I could have gone over and apologized to her.” He chose the latter, crossed the street and sat with the woman. The eighteen-year-old, whose complexion indicated she was addicted to drugs, told Jeffries her story: her parents had died, leaving her without a kit home, and she now lived on the streets of London.

This experience had a profound effect on Jeffries, sharpening the focus on the subject matter of his street photography—the homeless—and defining his approach to taking pictures. He didn’t want to exploit these people or steal photographs of them like so many other photographers who had seen the homeless as an easy target. In an effort to make intimate portraits, Jeffries would try to connect with each person on an individual basis first. “I need to see some kind of emotion in my subjects,” Jeffries says. “I specifically look at people’s eyes—when I see it, I recognize it and feel it—and I repeat the process over and over again.” Jeffries tries to keep the contact as informal as possible. He rarely takes notes, feeling it immediately raises suspicion, and prefers to take pictures while he is talking with his subjects to capture the “real emotion” in them. “I’m stepping into their world,” he says. “Everyone else walks by like the homeless are invisible. I’m stepping through the fear, in the hope that people will realize these people are just like me and you.”

Self-taught and self-funded, Jeffries has used vacation time to travel to Skid Row in Los Angeles three times, as well as Las Vegas, New York, London, Paris and Rome, to continue his project. The way that Jeffries processes his images and the heavy use of shadow and light within his pictures is a direct reference to the religious overtones he felt while photographing the beggars and homeless in Rome. The underexposure in camera and process to dodge back light where he wants it—although done in a digital environment—relate more to the traditions of analog printing. The effect of the subjects on the photographer is equally heavy: “When I’m talking to these people, I can’t then leave that emotion, so when I get back to my computer so emotionally involved, sometimes I will start to cry when processing the image,” Jeffries says. MORE

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GUNS N’ ROSES: Viva La Normalización!

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Shep Fairey Guns Roses

Artwork by SHEPARD FAIREY

NEW YORK TIMES: Alan Gross was the obstacle that would not be moved — the American contractor whose imprisonment in Cuba kept relations between the United States and Cuba locked in place, as paralyzed as a seized transmission. Now, in both Washington and Havana, the obstacle has been removed as the rusty gears of Cold War diplomacy have begun to move. Mr. Gross’s release on Wednesday, in conjunction with the release of three convicted Cuban spies held in the United States, amounts to a collective break from more than 50 years of distrust, anger and inertia. Though both President Obama and Raúl Castro, the president of Cuba, will find their own ways to describe what they have done, it is clear that they have both taken a chance on pursuing a path of reconciliation. The prisoners held by each country have been a central complaint of those in Washington and Havana who favored the status quo between the two nations. But Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro have now gone against the hard-liners in their midst by engaging in a simultaneous release of prisoners who have been used and reused, over and over, by critics who have long known — and favored — distance and enmity. The president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba. Both leaders now have victories to point to — and concessions that they will have to explain. But the steps they have taken so far, and the broader policy changes the White House announced on Wednesday, have the potential to transform relations between the United States and Cuba, perhaps in ways not seen since a rebel named Fidel came down from the Cuban mountains. MORE

Complete White House statement after the jump…

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#TORTUREREPORT: What If The Boot Of Oppression Were On The Other Foot?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

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By @JENSORENSEN

Empathy is the capacity to put yourself in the shoes of others. The absence of empathy is the primary characteristic of a psychopath.

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WORTH REPEATING: Everybody Must Get Stoned

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Mushroom Bloom

 

“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong. […] History is ending because the dominator culture has led the human species into a blind alley, and as the inevitable chaostrophie approaches, people look for metaphors and answers. Every time a culture gets into trouble it casts itself back into the past looking for the last sane moment it ever knew.

And the last sane moment we ever knew was on the plains of Africa 15,000 years ago rocked in the cradle of the Great Horned Mushroom Goddess before history, before standing armies, before slavery and property, before warfare and phonetic alphabets and monotheism, before, before, before. And this is where the future is taking us because the secret faith of the twentieth century is not modernism, the secret faith of the twentieth century is nostalgia for the archaic, nostalgia for the paleolithic, and that gives us body piercing, abstract expressionism, surrealism, jazz, rock-n-roll and catastrophe theory.terence-mckenna

The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom dotted plains of Africa where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are. And why does this matter? It matters because it shows that the way out is back and that the future is a forward escape into the past. This is what the psychedelic experience means. Its a doorway out of history and into the wiring under the board in eternity.

And I tell you this because if the community understands what it is that holds it together the community will be better able to streamline itself for flight into hyperspace because what we need is a new myth, what we need is a new true story that tells us where we’re going in the universe and that true story is that the ego is a product of pathology, and when psilocybin is regularly part of the human experience the ego is supressed and the supression of the ego means the defeat of the dominators, the materialists, the product peddlers.

Psychedelics return us to the inner worth of the self, to the importance of the feeling of immediate experience – and nobody can sell that to you and nobody can buy it from you, so the dominator culture is not interested in the felt presence of immediate experience, but that’s what holds the community together. And as we break out of the silly myths of science, and the infantile obsessions of the marketplace what we discover through the psychedelic experience is that in the body, IN THE BODY, there are Niagras of beauty, alien beauty, alien dimensions that are part of the self, the richest part of life. I think of going to the grave without having a psychedelic experience like going to the grave without ever having sex.” ― Terence McKenna

RELATED: Who Is Terrence McKenna?

WIRED: Terrence McKenna serves as this hidden world’s most visible “altered statesman.” He has written five books – two with his brother – and has developed a worldwide following. Brainy, eloquent, and hilarious, McKenna applies his Irish gift of gab to making a simple case: Going through life without trying psychedelics is like going through life without having sex. For McKenna, mushrooms and DMT do more than force up the remains of last night’s dream; they uncover the programming language of mind and cosmos. “The psychedelic experience is not the equivalent of a dust bunny under your psychic bed,” says McKenna. “It’s a product of the fractal laws that govern the world at an informational level. There is no deeper truth.” McKenna is the most loved psychedelic barnstormer since Timothy Leary, the self-appointed guru of LSD who died in 1996 amid a flurry of digital hype about online euthanasia and his plans – which he scrapped – to undergo cryonic preservation. Like McKenna, Leary was an intellectual entertainer, a carny barker hawking tickets to the molecular mind show. MORE

TerrenceMcKennaQuote

RELATED: Though I began researching Acid Test, a book about the revival of research into the use of psychedelic drugs for healing, in 2007, my interest in the subject really began 30 years earlier, when I was a college student at the University of Florida. The UF campus is surrounded by a rural landscape, including thousands of acres of palmetto and pine-studded pasturage used to raise cattle. My friends and I had learned to slip gingerly through barbed wire fencing and, keeping an eye out for shotgun-wielding ranchers, hunt for recently deposited piles of cow dung, from which sometimes sprouted the creamy, brown-tipped caps of psilocybin mushrooms. We plucked the mushrooms with rising excitement, as if we were pulling nuggets of pure gold from a mountain stream instead of fungi from cow shit. We knew the power contained within. Steep them in a pot with tea and drink, and before long we would see the world, and ourselves, from a novel vantage point. It was like being able, for a few precious hours, to climb above your life and view it from on high, a perspective every bit as revealing as seeing a too-familiar landscape from the top of a mountain. Instead of individual corn stalks or oak trees or buildings, you saw checkerboard patterns of fields, serpentine forests following the course of a river, villages arrayed around ascending spires of churches. You saw, for once, how it all fit together. MORE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

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Illustration by TERRY WOLFINGER

FRESH AIR

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Performing live comedy is like “a series of little scientific experiments,” says John Cleese. “When you do comedy in front of an audience, they are the ones who tell you whether it’s funny or not,” he tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies, and each subsequent night on stage is an experiment in making jokes land better than the night before. Cleese — who co-founded the Monty Python comedy troupe, and co-wrote and co-starred in Fawlty Towers, Life of Bryan, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life — has just written a memoir called So, JohnCleeseSoAnywayAnyway…. The book actually covers relatively little of his 50-year career in radio, television, film and theater. Rather, it’s about Cleese’s childhood, education and his early years in show business. Early on, Cleese wrote and acted in British radio and television, working with his future Monty Python collaborators and others, including Marty Feldman, Peter Sellers and David Frost. The book is a breezy collection of memories, insights and funny observations — such as his impression of the upper class boys he got to know in school: “I realised how different their lives were,” he writes. “They genuinely liked chasing things and shooting them and hooking them out of the water and asphyxiating them. Death seemed the inevitable result of all their entertainments, despite their excellent manners.” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: In 1969 Michael Palin quit smoking, a pasttime he was quite fond of, through sheer will power. Having achieved a victory for mind over matter, Palin Palin Python Diariesdecided to raise the stakes — he would keep a diary for the next 10 years come hell or high water. What makes this enterprise interesting to people like you and me is that the decade he chose to document would also see the rise and fall and return of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In clean, dispassionate prose spanning some 650 pages, Palin documents the trials and tribulations of the daring, off-the-wall comedy ensemble from humble-but-edgy beginnings (the name Flying Circus was foisted on the lads by the bullying BBC) to globally-recognized comedy institution (when translated for Japanese television, it became Gay Boy’s Dragon Show).

PHAWKER: Let’s start out with a localized softball: You mention Philadelphia rather fondly in the book.

MICHAEL PALIN: I was just looking at that. That’s the beauty of diaries — you look back in hindsight and say, “Oh I love New York, I always loved going over there” and then I read the little entry and I couldn’t wait to get out of New York and Philadelphia was like the Promised Land. The good thing about diaries is they remind you of things like that. If I hadn’t written that down I would have just carried on with this misconception that New York was more fun than Philadelphia, which clearly it wasn’t. We came to Philadelphia two or three times, I remember once, which is in the diary, we get flown in to do the Mike Douglass show and the helicopter flight from New York landed on top of a huge skyscraper, we rushed down to the studio and thenpalindiaries.jpg back up to the helicopter and back to New York. Crazy times, not the way I’d like to travel nowadays.
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DR. DOG: Heart It Races

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

The clip features the Dog in a beautifully raucous live setting performing their cover of Architecture In Helsinki’s “Heart It Races.” The track is featured on Dr. Dog’s forthcoming live album entitled Live at a Flamingo Hotel which arrives this January 13th. With Live at a Flamingo Hotel, Dr. Dog has captured the essence of their legendary live show; no matter the venue or town, the medium is the message. “That’s the point of a Dr. Dog show,” says bassist/vocalist Toby Leaman. “Transporting you in some way, whether it’s a shit basement in Texas or an amphitheater in Philadelphia, it doesn’t matter, this is the place; this is what we do, no matter what.” The band will perform eight nights in New York City in January to promote the release before embarking on a U.S. tour throughout the end of the month and February. Tour dates after the jump…

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EUREKA: A Q&A With Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Monday, December 15th, 2014

NYE2

Artwork via THE DAILY OMNIVORE

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Tomorrow night , the Merriam Theater will host An Evening With Bill Nye, bow-tied science communicator, advocate for reason and critical thinking skills, wouldbe astronaut, bane of creationists and climate science denialists, not to mention superstitious kooks and cranks of every ideological stripe. Last week we got Dr. Nye on the horn. DISCUSSED: Why he believes in evolution and you should too, Carl Sagan, marijuana, why he wouldn’t sign up for the one-way trip to colonize Mars, why better batteries and sea water de-salinization technology are crucial to the survival of the human race, the moral cowardice of climate science denialism, the societal dangers of literal interpreters of the Bible, whether or not UFOs have been visiting Earth and probing the rectums of rednecks, why GMOs make him nervous, and why he is the U.S. patent holder for the ballet slipper.

PHAWKER: You’ve just published a book called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. Let’s play devil’s advocate and pretend I’m a creationist: Give me your elevator pitch as to why I should believe in evolution.

BILL NYE: It’s not something you believe in or not; it’s a fact of nature. I would ask you, “Why don’t you believe in Evolution? What makes you think that the Earth could somehow be 6,000 years old? What made you think, for example, that a bookUndeniable written about 5,000 years ago that has been translated a number of times [and for hundreds of years was stored on nothing more reliable than people’s memories — The Ed.]. What makes you think the information in there is more scientifically reasonable than everything we can observe in nature?

PHAWKER: Every Sunday, my minister says it’s so.

BILL NYE: Well, I strongly encourage you to look at the facts: How could we have light from distant stars that are clearly more than 6,000 light-years away, that are only 6,000 years old? How could we have radioactive elements incorporated in frozen lava flows, if the radioactive elements weren’t chemically the same as the calcium and sodium that they replaced? What entity would rig it up so all of those systems would not work? It’s magical thinking, and I find it completely unreasonable, especially since we’re talking on the phone, which depends in every way on our understanding of science. How can you accept all of this technology without accepting the way that works?

PHAWKER: That’s true. If Alexander Graham Bell was a creationist, we probably wouldn’t be able to have this argument over the phone, would we?

BILL NYE: No. That’s interesting to me.

PHAWKER: One more question in the area of evolution and we’ll move on to some other topics— Evolution seems entirely understandable and reasonable, up until you reduce it to the very beginning. The only difficulty I personally have as far as grasping all of this is, how is it when you go back to the very beginning, to the Big Bang, how is it that something came out of nothing? Which is what happened, according to most scientists. For eons, there was nothing. Then — BOOM! — there was something, which was the beginning of the universe.

BILL NYE: How do you know there was nothing?

PHAWKER: Don’t we have to assume that was the case? Are you saying there’s always been something, the universe has always been here? Is that what you’re saying?

BILL NYE: I’m saying that whatever happened before the Big Bang we don’t understand. We know that something happened before the Big Bang. We just don’t know what that is. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The fundamental difference between my side of it and the creationist side of it is that just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Because it’s really hard to get your head around four and a half billion years doesn’t mean there weren’t four and a half billion years [between the beginning of Earth and now]. There were four and a half billion years. The thing about science is that we don’t know drives us forward, instead of making us cower in the corner.
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WORTH REPEATING: Oral History Of Boogie Nights

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Roller Girl copy

Illustration by ALEX WELLS

GRANTLAND: Boogie Nights began as a teenage boy’s wet dream. Nearly a decade before its 1997 release, it was a fantasy to chase. The year was 1988. The boy was a precocious, plotting 17-year-old named Paul Thomas Anderson. He was growing up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, obsessed with the studios all around him. He wanted in and hustled plenty — sneaking onto sets, working a Betamax camera from the age of 12, filming everything — but he also gained entrée from his father, Ernie, who was famous from his voice-over work for ABC on shows like The Love Boat. The Andersons had a pool — where funny-guy actors like Tim Conway and Robert Ridgely frequently lounged, cracking jokes and pouring drinks — and their own Shetland pony. The absurd and the domestic were one and the same.

Anderson also became consumed by porn and the Bizarro Hollywood industry that claimed the Valley as its Fertile Crescent. His relationship to the material differed from that of the average high schooler. There was the fucking, sure. But the real seduction was in the imagined backstories, the circumstantial tragicomedies of the casts and crews, which inspired Anderson to write and film The Dirk Diggler Story, a 32-minute mockumentary-style short about the pursuit, delusions, and costs of fame.

When he was 26, Anderson’s first full-length feature, Sydney, had run into problems. The production company Rysher Entertainment made its own cuts to his Reno-set gambling story and released it under a different title, Hard Eight. During the process, Anderson squabbled with producers, barred them from the set, and refused to show any edited footage or make any significant suggested changes. But he didn’t have final cut and was eventually fired and locked out of his own editing room.

In the fallout, Anderson told a reporter that his experience on Sydney “created a sort of paranoia and guardedness in me that I’m glad I have because that will never, ever happen to me again.” When he set out to film Boogie Nights, it was with a resolve bordering on arrogance. Compromise wasn’t part of the plan. Still, after an intense production and postproduction period — one in which the director had to manage a cranky, confused Burt Reynolds and an untested, rapping underwear model named Mark Wahlberg — Anderson was forced once again to fight studio heads for his cut of the film.

But Anderson’s vision prevailed this time. Nearly 20 years later, Boogie Nights endures. For its beautiful portrait of nontraditional families; for Reynolds and Wahlberg, the surrogate father and son, who were never better; for Philip Seymour Hoffman, squeezing into character and breaking hearts; for its prodigy director sticking to his guns and nailing it; for John C. Reilly’s hot-tub poetry; for Roller Girl. Is everybody ready? This is the making and near unmaking of Boogie Nights. MORE

WIKIPEDIA: The film was Anderson’s first real production having experimented with what he called “standard fare”.[1][2] Anderson conceived the film when he was 17 years old[3][4] and a senior at Montclair College Preparatory School.[1] Anderson called his friend Michael Stein, telling him to come over for a production meeting, and told Stein his idea: “John Holmes”.[5] Stein loved the idea and was cast to play the role of Dirk Diggler; he selected his own wardrobe.[5] Stein showed Anderson some video of his friend Eddie Dalcour, who was a professional body builder, which Anderson loved and cast him in the role of Reed Rothchild.[5] Anderson’s father, Ernie Anderson, narrated the film and Robert Ridgely, a friend of Anderson’s father, played the role of Jack Horner.[5]

The film was shot in 1987[3] using a video camera and steadicam provided by Anderson’s father.[5] Some scenes were shot at a motel.[1] Anderson raised money for the film by cleaning cages in a pet store.[1] Being influenced by This is Spinal Tap at the time, he decided to do a mockumentary[6] and used the John Holmes documentary, Exhausted, as a model for the film, even taking some dialogue almost word-for-word.[5] Anderson worked from a shot list and wanted the actors to be serious since the characters took their work seriously.[5] Anderson edited the film using two VCRs.[7] According to Anderson, the film drew admiring laughs when it was shown at a University of Southern California film festival.[2]

The Dirk Diggler Story was expanded into Anderson’s 1997 breakout film Boogie Nights[3][8][9][10] with a number of scenes appearing almost verbatim in both films.[5] Two actors had roles in both films; in Boogie Nights, Robert Ridgely played The Colonel, a pornography financier, and Michael Stein had a cameo appearance as a stereo store customer.[9] The main differences between The Dirk Diggler Story and Boogie Nights are the mockumentary versus narratives styles in the former and latter films, respectively;[6] Diggler’s stint in gay porn in the first film versus his prostitution in the second;[5] and Diggler’s dying from an overdose in the first film versus his happy return to his former roles and lifestyle in the second.[7] MORE

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CINEMA: Black Men Dream

Monday, December 15th, 2014

#Blackmendream from Shikeith on Vimeo.

NPR: Nine men sit turned away from the camera; their faces are never shown. Many are shirtless or naked. They answer questions like: When did you become a black man? Do you cry? How were you raised to deal with your emotions? This short film, called #Blackmendream, is the latest piece by Philadelphia-based multidisciplinary artist Shikeith Cathey. His work centers around the social, cultural and political misconceptions about black men in America, and the new film explores the emotional experience of black men, born out of those misconceptions. The men seem both vulnerable and powerful as they thoughtfully respond to these basic, but piercing, questions. To the viewer, there’s a feeling that you’re eavesdropping on a therapy session. “That’s the response that I would get after wrapping the interview,” Shikeith, who goes by his first name, tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “The participants, the men, they would say, ‘I haven’t been able to express like this in so long and it feels like a weight was lifted off of my shoulder.’ ” He says most of the interview subjects were strangers, but it wasn’t hard to get them to participate. “Honestly, I just asked — and that was the point. These questions, as simple as they are … they aren’t discussed. I couldn’t remember a time when someone asked me, ‘How do you feel?’ ” he says. “I think it’s just assumed that I’m angry as a black man. It’s assumed that I don’t possess these feelings that are part of my humanity.” Shikeith does all of his work in black and white and says the aesthetic composition of this piece — the nudity, the fact that we never see the faces of the subjects — is all symbolic. “I wanted to expose what it was like to be dressed in assumptions, before even opening your mouth to say hello.” MORE

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: The Benjamin

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

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Artwork by WORKBYKNIGHT

SMUSBY WILLIAM C. HENRY On November 18th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the complete destruction of the home of the Palestinian man who on October 22nd had driven a car into an Israeli crowd resulting in two people dead and several injured. None of the man’s surviving family members who occupied the house were in any way suspected of involvement in the attack. Who knows, maybe Elohim privately beseeched the “Minister” to add a bit of crushed brick and mortar now and then to offset all the calf and lamb fat. Too profane for your palate? Somehow I doubt the surviving family members would object.

Benji’s retaliation revival was apparently precipitated by the recent “slaughter” (in the Middle East and especially in Israel and Gaza the context of this term tends to fluctuate depending upon under what circumstances how many of whose oxen are being gored) of four men and a policeman at a synagogue complex in West Jerusalem. As he had previously, the PM has again determined that the homes of these alleged killers too will be completely demolished in spite of the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever of the surviving family members having had any involvement.
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WORTH REPEATING: The Electric Warrior

Friday, December 12th, 2014

The Slider

 

THE GUARDIAN: Indeed, he was so good at it that it sometimes feels as if his image overshadows his music. In the popular imagination, his career is condensed into the astonishing run of hit singles that began with Ride a White Swan and ended with 20th Century Boy; thereafter there was irreversible decline, an embarrassing failure to match the achievements of his friend and rival David Bowie. As The Vinyl Collection box makes clear, it was a bit more complicated than that. It picks up the story in 1970, missing out the years when he tried his best to convince the world he was a hippy. The records he’d made in the 60s as Tyrannosaurus Rex had worked best when you could hear Bolan’s natural feeling for pop and tough rock’n’roll chafing against the buttercup-sandwich whimsy of the era. On T Rex he finally gave up trying to fit in, and allowed his instincts to the fore: more electric guitar; sharper, simpler rhythms; vocals doused in the old-fashioned slapback echo found on Heartbreak Hotel; strings accentuating his penchant for what Julian Cope would later characterise as the “Glam Descend”, chord sequences lurching in downward patterns that sound simultaneously melancholy and triumphant. By the time of the following year’s T Rex Vinyl CollectionElectric Warrior, he was the biggest star in Britain, rashly claiming he could write No 1s for ever. It was outrageous hyperbole, but Electric Warrior and its followup The Slider could have made you believe him: almost every track could have been a hit single. He made pure pop – the melody of Telegram Sam sounded like a playground chant – but saw making pure pop as no reason to sacrifice a sense of depth. It was wryly self-referential – scattered with references to how pretty and successful Marc Bolan was – and marked by the disquieting feeling that something rather sinister lurked at its edges, occasionally finding its way into the lyrics. Nothing overbearing, just odd, ineffably creepy lines amid the crunching guitars and assertions that life was a gas: “All schools are strange”, “I danced myself into the tomb”, “It’s a shame I’m like me”. His music was also filthy, in a way British pop just hadn’t been previously. Audiences had screamed at plenty of pop stars before, but Bolan was the first pop star to make it abundantly clear that he knew exactly why they were screaming. The British charts had never really played host to anything quite as direct as Jeepster’s closing scream of “I just wanna SUCK you” or Baby Strange’s intimations of S&M: “In winds of passion, my whip is lashing.” MORE

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CINEMA: The Reincarnation Of Alvy Singer

Friday, December 12th, 2014

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TOP FIVE (2014, directed by Chris Rock, 102 minutes, U.S.)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC There is a pretty wide swath of agreement that Chris Rock is one of the funniest guys alive, so why has it taken him so long to produce a decent movie vehicle for himself? Since stealing scenes from Eddie Murphy in 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II, Rock been a fixture on movie screens but almost never in something worthy of his talents. (The one exception was his turn with Julie Delpy in 2012’s 2 Days in New York. And maybe Pootie-Tang.). Rock’s best vehicle was his old HBO talk show The Chris Rock Show (the white guy-centric talk show world sure could use him again today) so it isn’t surprising that Top Five scores not by finding the right character for him to embody but by letting Chris just be Chris.

Or Andre Allen, who is clearly a stand-in for writer-director Rock in the same way that Alvy Singer was a stand-in for Woody Allen in Annie Hall. (There’s a little Stardust Memories in there as well.) The set-up shows Andre as a comedian in a mid-career crisis, trying to stay sober and sane as he traverses New York City with a beautiful New York Times reporter named Chelsea (the always-engaging Rosario Dawson) who is writing a profile. Bonding over their AA experiences, Chelsea demands a greater honesty from him than the typical PR-savvy snippets, leading Andre to share with us what being an African American superstar is really like.
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THE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO SERIAL: Episode 11

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Serial Poster

 

photo-13BY MOLLY KASSEL This week on Serial, Sarah Koenig addresses the pack of rumors about Adnan that have circulated online and spread like a virus across the vectors of social media, and like an armchair virologist she attempts to trace the seemingly substantive ones back to their points of origin. Most of the rumors are started by people who claim to know Adnan through his mosque and arrive on Koenig’s doorstep via anonymous texts, emails, and phone calls. These tipsters insist on maintaining their anonymity because, they say, in their small, insular mosque community, gossip spreads quickly and nobody wants to be associated with Adnan in the wake of his being convicted of murder.

These rumors speak more to Adnan’s character, and less to the critical facts of his case. Most of these rumors don’t stand up to scrutiny, but there is one that Adnan acknowledges is true: That he once stole money from donation boxes at the mosque. He tells Koenig that during the summer he was in 8th grade, he and a few of his friends would sometimes take money from the donation boxes, which they would use to go to the movies. Adnan chalked this up to his youthful indiscretion but recalls how disappointed his mother was when she found out. Adnan was so ashamed, he says, that he never stole again. Some of the rumor-mongers assert that if Adnan was capable of stealing from their religious community, he is capable of much worse. However, the president of the mosque at that time was unfazed by the ‘crime,’ and dismissed it as ‘boys will be boys.’

Koenig also interviews Charles Ewing, a lawyer and forensic psychologist who has “evaluated several thousand criminal defendants, and testified in more than 700 criminal trials as an expert witness.” Recently he’s been specializing in murders committed in intimate relationships, and “homicides committed by young people.” He says that for most part people kill “because something happens that pushes them over the edge.” Outside of psychopaths, killing is usually not a “planned event.” That’s why it is so hard for those close Adnan accept that the murder of Hae was premeditated as the prosecution argued successfully.

Many of us suspect that Adnan is a psychopath, someone so adept at lying and manipulating people that he is capable of persuading friends and family that he is innocent. Ewing defines a psychopath as someone that has a great deal of “superficial charm” who “cannot empathize with other people’s feelings,” and “effectively manipulates other people.” Koenig is unconvinced that Adnan qualifies. “I don’t think Adnan is a psychopath — I just don’t,” she says. “I think he has empathy, I think he as real feelings because I’ve heard and seen him demonstrate empathy and emotion towards me and towards other people.”
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Via BuzzFeed


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