Monday, May 31, 2010

Notes on Avatar

Always a little late the party, I managed to bring myself to see Avatar over two nights this long weekend. Each viewing was accompanied by a pair of martinis, and chicken on spinach or cauliflower. When the roommate leaves, me eating habits become elemental, and my drinking habits alternate among martinis, bourbon on the rocks, and Liberty Ale. It;s a reduced life, but the solitude is pleasant. In that mood, I climbed the stairs to take advantage of my upstairs neighbor's absence to use his Hi-Def TV for my Avatar experience.

I don't like adventure films, and I define the genre broadly. They seem contrived, and because they rarely are based on genuine psychological portraits, they tend to employ cheap plot tricks whose only point is to induce thrills in those who enjoy the suspension of disbelief. I have no problem with that ... I am not trying to be a snob. I just don't enjoy this particular set of cheap thrills. Of course, my reductions here are informed more by extrapolation than by filmic experience. I have probably choked my way through fewer than a dozen "adventure" films in my life. I couldn't force myself to watch the third Lord of the Ring after almost ripping my hair out watching the second ... "will this never end" I quacked. I did enjoy The Shining, but you know how long ago that was.

So I came to Avatar a skeptic.

And I left a skeptic also. That said, I quite enjoyed it.

But first the good part. The special effects, even without 3D,were fabulous. But what I would want ... and I recognize that I am in a tiny minority here ... would be a steady state, plotless, anthropology-style excursus on life on an alien planet. All the drama and the cheap plot just get in the way of a perfectly lovely fantasy.

So to the cheap plot. One wonders why Mr. Cameron employs such a thin kitbag of character stereotypes. Tuf and gruf, goofy but likeable, balsy female pilot, hero with a heart of gold but confused. Of course such banalities of character loom as Einsteinian relativity beside the single-digit algebra of the native population. It is a curiosity that liberalism prefers to depict primordial or universal religion in terms so reminiscent of the popular representation of Native American religion that I expect a pow wow to break out. And indeed, eventually one did.

Notwithstanding the central action of an improbable battle in which arrow-firing cavalry brings down a massive modern air force, and notwithstanding the underlying theme of the struggle of nature against technology and the fight of primary extractors against the military/industrial complex, I think this is fundamentally a religious film. The society of the natives is riven with religion, and indeed nature itself on Pandora is religious in its geo-biology. Not too much intelligence is spilled in constructing this pantheon ... there is a simple pantheistic god and lots of mystical communicating via trees and dandelion seeds and what not.

I am sure that most people came for the adventure and the special effects. I wonder what they make of the pantheism. Is it just that this sort of religious prattling is common in scifi? Or do they just not care.

A recent states that fully 18% of Americans no longer profess a religion. I suspect the figure is actually radically higher, but most people like to pretend they have a religion because it is generally thought to be expected. That Avatar's religious message exacted so little chatter is a sign to me that the religious debate in this country is controlled by that tiny array of fanatics who strike fear into those who would say the emperor is nude. Many more Americans are actually pantheistic quasi-animists than would admit or even know it. I think that is why the religious content of this movie provokes so little discussion.

Religion and war go together of course, and so too in the movie. But while the religion presented at least had some intellectual pretenses, the military stuff was a joke. I mean, cavalry in a jungle. 2,000 troops are all they could muster? And suddenly firearms appear without apparent explanation.

But that too, I suppose, is part of the adventure genre. It is not about the sense of it, nor is it about the factors or the psychology. It is about setting up the action and then riding it.

I enjoyed the ride, but I could not suspend disbelief. I'm waiting for the documentary.

Photos by Arod, from Quane Alley, I believe.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gutpela gaden mekim gutpela kaikai

In 1983, my best friend Ian ... sometimes referred to as Frobisher in these scribblings ... suggested that I accompany him on a trip to Papua New Guinea where he planned to observe and photograph an total eclipse of the Sun. We tacked on to those 6 weeks an additional 4 weeks of travel in Indonesia. That trip was a turning point in my life in every sense.

The most difficult part of the trip was an excursion in the highlands. We walked for five days from Lake Kopiago, where the road ends, to Oksapmin. Many stories to tell about that trip and I promise to get to that at some point. Todays post is in aid of a promise made to a new friend on Twitter who wants to see the T-shirt I got in Oksapmin. There was a recently started gardening project that supplied food for cash to mining operations. We each bought the T-shirt. It reads:

Gutpela gaden mekim gutpela kaikai

Which means

Good gardens make good food

A lesson that any steward of the earth might profitably learn. Imagine if BP had taken such words to heart.

Anyway, here are the T-shirts, front and back. The other one was from the Port Moresby Sing Sing that we attended and photographed. All my photographs are in slide form, and it is in my stack of projects to rip those to a hard drive.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chattels, Personal Change, and Chugging Along

I have not been blogging, and so I bought myself a "Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II 4TB Quad Interface Dual-drive Storage System with RAID".

That's not a non-sequitur. And nor is any of this.

My roommate who longed eschewed social media has taken up blogging with a vengeance in aid of his great hobby, fine cocktails. As I write this first blog that I have attempted since March, he is busily photographing tonight's offering, the Singapore Sling. His still life photography is very fine indeed, as I think anyone perusing his blog will agree. But tonight's photograph presented a problem. He uses objects from around this madhouse of my numerous collections and accretions for his still lifes. He asked me if I had an idea for objects that might evoke Singapore. Well, alas, Singapore's national identity is pretty much wrapped up with squelching anything with character or difference in favor of a landscape of towering apartment blocks unhindered by vegetation or affectation. He settled on some fresh bamboo from the garden.

Photography is at the root of my own blogging behavior, and a few months back I made an error in regard to its electronic piece. I switched from iPhoto to Aperture without spending the time to master Aperture, and meanwhile my storage capacity slowly got close to maxing out. That's where the RAID drive comes in. If I stretch my space, maybe I can settle back into it.

I did a similar thing with a 60-gallon tank in the living room. I've always had water problems in that tank, so I moved the last of the fish into a 40-gallon tank that had some space due to the final demise of an ancient Rottkeil. This opened up a vast surface that permits me to play and move stuff around and create a new installation. I bumped into some wayangs today ... shadow puppets from Java for those not as anchored in the Indonesian reality as I am. I figure I will make some bases and stand up a bunch of my wayangs on that surface, and then for good measure make add back in a 10-gallon tank with some plants and fancy goldfish.

You see, I have always used chattels to burst through personal blocks.

I am a thing person. I like things. And things are attracted to me. Things seek me out magnetically and stick to me. Eventually things and I make a deal: I give them a little spot and they stay there, nice and pert. I dust them off twice annually ... for the Christmas Party and the July first or fourth party, depending on the year. And once in a while I move them around. I like to fondle things and, to be frank, I talk to them as if they live.

So it is not such a stretch to use these bloody things to burst through my personal blocks.

Of course my inability to re-seize my photography life from the not-so-difficult embrace of Aperture is really an excuse. Here's another excuse. Twitter has seized control of me. I'll write a post about its sublime joys in due course, but suffice to say that I spend the time I used to spend blogging composing 140 character koans. And it provides the same little blast of 'lectric sociality. I like to say ... If Facebook is the broad Mississippi, then Twitter is a fast-rushing mountain stream. In that paradigm, blogging is the open ocean. In another vein, if Facebook is marijuana, Twitter is crack, and blogging is old-fashioned alcoholism.

So, I'm evidently not a crack addict and pointedly not a stoner, as if there is anything pointed about pot. But I like my booze, and I like blogging.

So I bought a RAID drive, I emptied my 60-gallon tank, and I sat down and wrote this post. There.

Photos by Arod from my trip to Toronto, my old hometown, in April. First time I have looked at them. Feeling ok.