Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's Been a Quiet Week in Lake Wobegon... it hasn't, which is why I haven't posted anything in over two weeks. It seems that writing papers and take home exams is a great catalyst to writing blog posts. The more one HAS to write a paper, the more one becomes inspired to write anything but. However, upon completion of said assignments, it's like all the words drain out of you and the thought of forming thoughts into sentences is just way too hard. Hence, blog silence. Lo Siento.

Also running quite slow, but for better reasons, is my "Last 7 Movies" lineup over there on the right. It's true, 2008 has seen a major slow down in my movie consumption. Besides busyness, life-style adjustments (monetary mostly) and exhaustion, the main thing slowing down the movie roster turnover is my hard core venture into TV seasons on DVD. Perhaps I need to change my list to "What I'm watching" instead of what movies I've completed. But for now, I can at least say how much I've enjoyed my summer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (4 more seasons to go), the aforementioned Rome, the Office (US), and of course, the frakkin' awesome Battlestar Galactica. And when the times comes, I hope to be visiting Deadwood and Carnival pretty soon.

I hope to reflect/review some of these guys at some point. For now, still kind of slow on the whole typing and thinking thing.

Happy Back to School time! (Wait, was I supposed to leave school at some point? I missed that bus I guess)

Friday, August 15, 2008

In Memory

I came home to find an email in my inbox tonight announcing that Priscilla Allen had died. Most of you won't recognize her name (but once explained, might recognize her face). Priscilla was an important and beloved actor in the San Diego theater community. It didn't matter which of the major theaters you subscribed to, you would eventually see Priscilla onstage, and when you saw Priscilla, you never forgot her.

But Priscilla (or Ms. Allen as I knew her) was also a teacher. In fact, when I left elementary school and headed to the San Diego School of Performing Arts back in 1993, it was Ms Allen who, for some reason, let little seventh grade me into her Technical Theater class, which was suppposed to be for sophemores and up. It seems funny when I think about it, that my main school experience with Priscilla was a tech theater class, since neither she (nor I) are known for our set designs or lighting plots. But the chance to be in that class, with people who seemed 20 years older than me (but were actually only 4 grades apart), reading plays by Athol Fugard and having assignments that let my imagination run wild in tangible ways, rooted me in a sense of my own creative expression that I think few people get to give voice to by the age of thirteen. Many of the ideas generated in that class became foundational for how I think about storytelling, symbolism, metaphor and the social contexts of art.

But more than all those big words, I believe that Ms Allen letting little Kj into that class, gave Then, Now and Future Kj the freedom (and propensity) to follow my own inclinations and intuitions regarding my education and passions. I never do things in the right order, and my interdisciplinary DNA always leads me to the strangest combination of things, that when left to a standard course rotation, might never emerge. Meaning? Ms. Allen bent the rules for me, and I've been bending them for myself ever since. I'm grateful for mark she put on me and how i think about learning and art. I was honored to learn from her, and always felt giddy with pride when seeing her perform locally. (She might be the first actor I ever waited by a green room door to greet after a show- a very big deal at the time).

Priscilla passed away with her family with her, and she leaves behind a community of friends, co-workers, artists, students and audiences that loved her bawdy, sonorous, witty and passionate presence in our lives. Since to the rest of the world, Priscilla Allen is known as the "Fat Lady" in Total Recall who is actually Arnold Schwarzenegger in disguise. I don't know if her name will pop up in any random blogs as sometimes happens when "That Guy From..." or "The Lady Who..." passes away, but as much fun as she had with her odd and memorable stand outs both in film and onstage, I'm glad that she always had audiences to play for, scenery to chew, and a community that truly valued her.

Thanks Ms. Allen

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watching ROME while reading Romans

So I just (as of 3 minutes ago) finished my 14 page take home exam from my Greek/Biblical Studies class, "Textual Synthesis: Romans" and by next week will be done with my research paper for it as well. Partially by coincidence and somewhat on purpose, I spent the last week and a half concurrently doing research for said assignments and watching Season One of HBO's series ROME. This should be a required process for all students of Romans (caveat- this inter-textual experience will involve exposure to graphic violence and sexuality, but that's in some ways, part of the point. Just don't say i didn't warn you).

The makers of the series repeatedly mention that the show was their attempt to de-Hollywood Rome, and for that matter, de-Enlightenment it as well. What does this mean? Well, when you picture Rome, what do you see? Likely, lots of white: white togas, white columns, white men. The series not only fleshes out the ancient center of the world with color, human and environmental, but it also strips away the Judeo-Christian morality that has hovered over it for centuries. While you identify with the characters, as you would in any good piece of storytelling, you are forced to shift your perception of right/wrong/ appropriate. As one of the actors explains in the commentary, Romans were incredibly religious, but it had nothing to do with morality. For most of us, no matter how hard we try, its nearly impossible to imagine the past without the stamp of Christendom. Watching Rome will make that process about 90 times more possible. You begin to understand Rome as a culture that did not hold compassion or love as a virtue, but rather, power and honor. Mercy brought shame whereas a well-timed murder was not only justifiable, but prudent.

It's also illuminating to set aside a North American perception of slavery and see instead the many echelons of slave culture in the ancient world. You see the paradox of a culture where slaves could work towards freedom and move up in society, but who at the same time were treated as invisibly as air. if viewers are surprised by the flagrant amount of sex and nudity in the show, they may be more shocked at the fact that these scenes always take place in the presence of numerous servants who stand by as if a meal were taking place, not an orgasm. if the deaths are brutal and visceral and the sex is full frontal, then it serves to help the viewer understand a culture that treated life totally different than we do today. What we hide, they advertised and much of what we consider intrinsically human, they would view as weak and disgusting.

So how does this affect my reading of Paul's letter to the Romans? Well, first of all, anyone whose ever struggled to understand New Testament language about slaves and masters will find most of their bugaboos done away with by watching the series. You get a much clearer picture of what it must have been like for early Christian communities to be made up of nobility, tradespeople and slaves, and why slavery would not have been viewed as a social pariah. At that time, questioning slavery would have been like questing the existence of grocery stores or tennis shoes. Why question something so prevalent and benign?

Secondly, since the Book of Romans has almost entirely been interpreted as Paul's grand theological treatise on life, the universe and the essentials of all Christianity, it might be helpful to flesh out a picture of the community he was actually writing to, even if its just to remind you that he was indeed writing to specific people, not writing a master theological opus to span centuries. If you're going to read Romans, then get to know something about the Romans who originally received the message.

Final thoughts: I love anything that helps me picture a historical period as real people with real homes and real lives. It's pretty tragic that this is rarely considered necessary or beneficial when interpreting scripture. Frankly, the interplay of watching Rome with reading Romans did far more for bringing the reality of the gospel message home to me than any Jesus film ever has (do they ever?). As someone trying daily to understand what it means to let a scared text shape my life, it helps to see the lives of those among whom it was originally formed. (Now, if only they were speaking Greek instead of Latin, that really would have helped me with my homework!)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hip-Hop, the new Baroque Period

I recently learned about artist Kehinde Wiley who, as a kid was inspired by European portraiture of the 1700's. Now he paints giant canvases in opulent colors of Rap and Hip Hop artists (but primarily just guys off the street) in the style of grand portraiture. The Brooklyn Museum describes him this way:

"Kehinde Wiley presents large-scale portraits of young black men as saints and angels, in poses inspired by paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. In creating these monumental paintings, Wiley borrows poses, imagery, and titles from works by master painters such as Tiepolo (1727–1804). Dressed in their everyday clothes, the figures float over flat, brightly colored backgrounds suggestive of infinite space. By placing these "new" subjects within the context of art history, Wiley challenges the prevailing representations of black men in contemporary American society."

Not only do I love the dialogue of Baroque opulance and grandeur with the pomp and self-aggrandizement of Hip Hop culture, but I love Wiley's re-interpretations of classical hero imagery, and especially how he casts and interacts with famous Christ images and saints paintings. It's both playful and dead serious.

Check him out

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Watching Goonies at the Space Needle

On a RARE Friday when I wan;t working, I joined some MHGS peeps, new, current and graduated last night to watch The Goonies outdoor at the Seattle Center. It was gnarly!

Note to self: next time, remember your cold, shivering body and the limbs that lost all feeling so that you'll bring blankets (plural) and buy one of those little back rest camping chairs.

It was totally fun though, and arriving three hours early assured our having a great spot, and plenty of time to play Spoons; something I should really only do in vast, open spaces like the mural amphitheater lawn at the Seattle Center, because I really can't control my screaming in that game. Seriously, it's out of control.

But some quick reflections on watching The Goonies in 2008:
I know I've watched it in the last eight years, but it felt farther away while watching it again last night. First of all, I forget how many well timed uses of "Oh Shit" take place. That's right. Back in the 80's, family movies involved tons of cussing, and heck, Rowlf the Dog talked about how much he loved to smoke. It was a more innocent time...

Also, what used to be one of the funniest scenes now has a huge cringe factor to it. Corey Feldman guides a non-English speaking house keeper around the house "translating" for the mother of the house but inserting info abut drug paraphernalia and torture devices, while the mother goes on explaining about linen closets and Rosalita gets more and more terrified. This used to be one of the funniest bits. Now i just sat there wondering about the ethics of the 1985 humor factor of a mother hiring a woman who didn't speak English, how she nicknamed her "Rosie" right away, and the fact that we're all laughing as she gets teased. That scene just feels awkward now, no matter how brilliant Corey Feldman is.

I also wonder how Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus ever came up with the idea of a Frankenstein-like man horribly disfigured from child abuse, chained to a wall who loves pirate movies and chocolate. Would've liked to be at that brainstorming table.

But for all it's cheesy dialogue ("Hey! I'm no Liberace!" she screams as they're about to fall to their death) and problematic content of a 23 year old film, you can't help but love The Goonies with their screaming, their earnest monologuing about "our time, not their time", their obsession with finding "the rich stuff," their awkward make-out scenes and their awesome soundtrack. It's a classic and always will be. I'd freeze to death for them again anytime.
**Space Needle shot from Jeremy Dew

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mean Spirited ITunes Clean-Up Haiku

Those songs used to be
about you. No more. And I've
erased the Playlist.