Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Life in Photos: Noah takes a photo of himself everyday for 6 years

Apparently this video has been viral for the last four years, so I guess I'm just really not up to speed.  Apologies if everyone has already seen this, but I just recently discovered it and liked it a lot.  It obviously took a lot of dedication to keep it up over 6 years (actually he's still doing it, so it's been more like 11 years now).  There are a lot of other time lapse videos out there, some started before his and longer lasting, but somehow his struck more of a chord.  It might be his eyes--very melancholic eyes that seem to stare into your soul.  It might be the music, composed by Carly Comando.  I don't know for sure, but I do know it's more than the sum of its parts.  And there are a lot of parts.  Enjoy.

One of the things I liked about Noah Kalina's project more than others is that the background constantly changes.  There are repeats of course, and it's mostly indoor, bedroom scenes--but angles change, lighting changes, rooms change, life happens.  A lot of other people chose to photograph themselves against an unchanging background, often a white wall.  I think it is supposed to highlight the changes in them over the years--everything from face structure and hair loss for the really long-lasting ones to the trivial--hairstyles, fashion, glasses, zits.  I guess this is the idea with time lapse projects.  What I liked about Noah's was that it seemed to flip this around--everything around him changes; in fact, because of slightly shifting photo centers and some being a bit closer than others, and in no small part due to his wild hair, he appears to be spinning around and around in a wheel of time, a Billy Pilgrim for a new generation of disenchanted skeptics and soul-searchers.  Everything around him rapidly becomes a blur; he is the one constant.

And I feel that for that reason, combined with the haunting music and his large, sad eyes, his becomes less of an artsy, "neat-o" project, and more of an intimate connection with another human being.  Do we know him?  No.  Can we gather from the blur of self-portraits flashing before us in rapid succession what he has gone through in those six years, what joys, what depths of despair, what losses, what happinesses, what events--from the mundane to the life-shatteringly transcendent?  Of course not, barely more than he can gather of our lives from looking mournfully back at us.  But we want to know, we yearn to make a connection with this fellow traveller on Earth, one whose art reminds us of how fleeting, how ephemeral life is.  Six years condensed to five minutes.  A life condensed to photos. 

So it goes. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lessons from The Little Prince: On Death

Il ne répondit rien à ma question, mais il ajouta:                      He made no answer to my question, but he added:
-Moi aussi, aujourd'hui, je rentre chez moi...                          "I, too, am going back home today . . ."
Puis, mélancolique:                                                                     Then, sadly--
-C'est bien plus loin... c'est bien plus difficile...                       "It is much farther . . . It is much more difficult . . ."
                            ***                                                                                                 ***

Il avait eu peur, bien sûr! Mais il rit doucement.                        He was afraid, there was no doubt about that.  But
                                                                                                       he laughed sweetly.

Je me sentis glacé par le sentiment de l'irréparable.  Et             I felt myself frozen by the sense of something                        je compris que je ne supportais pas l'idée de ne plus jamais      irreparable. And I knew that I could not bear the              jamais entendre ce rire. C'était pour moi comme une                thought of never hearing that laughter any more.            fontaine dans le désert.                                                                For me, it was like a spring of fresh water in the

-Justement ce sera mon cadeau... ce sera comme pour              "That is my present. Just that. It will be as it was l'eau...                                                                                             when we drank the water . . ." 

-Que veux-tu dire?                                                                           "What do you mean?" 

-Les gens ont des étoiles qui ne sont pas les mêmes.                     "All men have the stars," he answered, "but they                Pour les uns, qui voyagent, les étoiles sont des guides.                are not the same things for different people.  For               Pour d'autres elles ne sont rien que de petites lumières.              some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For               Pour d'autres qui sont savants elles sont des problèmes.              others they are no more than little lights in the sky.      Pour mon businessman elles étaient de l'or. Mais toutes                For others, who are scholars, they are problems.                   ces étoiles-là elles se taisent. Toi, tu auras des étoiles                 For my businessman they were wealth. But all                        comme personne n'en a...                                                                 these stars are silent. You--you alone--will have
                                                                                                           the stars as no one else has them--" 

-Que veux-tu dire?                                                                            "What do you mean?"

Quand tu regarderas le ciel, la nuit, puisque j'habiterai                 "In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them                dans l'une d'elles, puisque je rirai dans l'une d'elles, alors                 I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars            ce sera pour toi comme si riaient toutes les étoiles.                       were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . .                                


Tu auras, toi, des étoiles qui savent rire!                                       You--only you--will have stars that can laugh!"                   Et il rit encore.                                                                                   And he laughed again.

Et quand tu seras consolé (on se console toujours)                       "And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes               tu seras content de m'avoir connu.                                                 all sorrows) you will be content that you have 
                                                                                                            known me.

                              ***                                                                                                          ***

"Cette nuit... tu sais... ne viens pas."                                                  "Tonight... you know... do not come."
"Je ne te quitterai pas."                                                                       "I will not leave you," I said.
"J'aurai l'air d'avoir mal... j'aurai un peu l'air de                                   "I shall look as if I were suffering... I shall look a               mourir.  C'est comme ça.  Ne viens pas voir ça,"                                little as if I were dying.  It is like that.  Do not                      ce n'est pas la peine."                                                                          come to see that, it's not worth it."

"Tu comprends. C'est trop loin. Je ne peux pas emporter               "You understand... it is too far.  I cannot
ce corps-là. C'est trop lourd.                                                            carry this body with me.  It is too heavy."                           Moi je me taisais.                                                                                I said nothing.

"Mais ce sera comme une vieille écorce abandonnée.                      "But it will be like an old abandoned shell.
Ce n'est pas triste les vieilles écorces..."                                         There is nothing sad about old shells..."

Il hésita encore un peu, puis se releva.  Il fit un pas.                       He still hesitated a little.  Then he got up.  He took one Moi je ne pouvais pas bouger.                                                            step.  I could not move.

Il n'y eut rien qu'un éclair jaune près de sa cheville.                         There was nothing but a flash of yellow close to his ankle.
Il demeura un instant immobile. Il ne cria pas.  Il tomba                    He remained motionless for an instant.  He did not cry doucement comme tombe un arbre. Ca ne fit même pas                    out.  He fell as gently as a tree falls.  There was not even de bruit, à cause du sable.                                                                   any sound, because of the sand.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


While sitting here alone at the computer during one of the years I've found it hardest to make any connections with people, let the record state that I do recognize the hypocrisy and irony in the title of this poem which I just wrote.  William Wordsworth called poetry "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility".  I was too impatient to wait for the second half of that.  Without further ado:

Do not discuss; only connect.

Chairs shiver on the lonely, leaf-strewn terrace outside.
Vulnerable, exposed to an ashen, lowering sky,
The flash of a neon sign and the leering Chuck-E-Cheese mouse
Across the parking lot.

Abandoned like a hooker to the night,
As street lights sputter to life,
In a naïve attempt to fight the darkness of a winter thought.

Vanity of vanities! says the teacher.  All is vanity.

Abandoned for the warmth of easy chairs and soy chai lattes within.
No vicissitudes here, just
Gratitudes and platitudes,
The pulchritudes and turpitudes of local art,
And a Hippie dude in the corner on his laptop.

The clank, hum, whir of coffee burr grinders,
Murmur of incessant voices,
Noises!  Noises!
Trying to quell the silence.

If the eyes are windows to the soul,
The curtains here are all drawn.
People nodding, shaking, smiling, frowning,
Reaching out, and not waving, but drowning.

And all hoping against hope that we don't die alone.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A felicitous passage!

I'm in the middle of reading Moby Dick at the moment.  It has been slow-going, to put it mildly; but every now and then Melville throws in some soaring prose that hits the nail of the human condition on the head and makes you sit up straight and reread it.  Here is a wonderfully written short chapter that I loved, titled "The Lee Shore":

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, new-landed mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.  When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!
Know ye, now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God - so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing - straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Rhetorical Question and a Reminder...

The last few days, I've been asking myself: Why is it that we are so much quicker to be kind or understanding towards someone who we know is going through hard times?  On the face of it, the answer is obvious, but really, how many people do we encounter everyday whose stories we don't know, and yet if a confrontation arises we seldom give them the benefit of the doubt, or allow them some slack before judging them?

With the same mouths we praise God and curse men.  Note to self: quicker to listen, slower to speak.  Quicker to laugh, slower to anger.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

Although the trailer for Inception did pique my interest a little, I didn’t have it rated as one of those blockbusters I had to see or I would DIIIE!  Well really, the last one that imperative for me was Lord of the Rings, so you can see the level of passion needed to awaken the movie monster in me.  But such was the buzz surrounding Inception in the last couple of weeks that I decided to watch in online a couple of nights ago.  I loved it.  I can’t recall the last time I finished a film that enthused—possibly The Departed four years back, although the sombreness of that movie meant it was a totally different experience.

If you haven’t yet seen Inception, I can best sum it up this way: it is The Matrix of 2010.  Not as mind-blowingly revolutionary as The Matrix, admittedly; nor as philosophically and ideologically probing.  But it is a very, very enjoyable film.  At no point was I aware of the time or wondering how much of the movie was left.  Much of this was down to impressive acting by Leonardo DiCaprio as the eternally guilt-ridden Dom Cobb, one of the protagonists.  Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe all turned in solid performances too, while Marion Cotillard is terrifically dark and menacing in the scenes she makes an appearance in.  A lot of my unawareness of the clock was also due to the action (almost continuous but never gratuitous) and special effects (breath-taking in parts—keep an eye out for the hallway scene).  But for me the real interest lay in the logistical and psychological complexity of what was going on.  As I’ve mentioned, it does not perhaps pose as many ideological questions as what you could take from a movie like The Matrix (which I keep comparing it to because they are similar in scope and subject matter, to a degree), but the logistical depth will certainly keep the wheels spinning.  If I have a quibble with the film, it's simply that it didn't quite reach its potential with some of the themes it touched on.  Some more introspective and nuanced questions in the philosophical and ethical realm would surely not have gone amiss.  That said, it was a great spectacle, and highly recommended.

The basic premise is this: sometime in the not-too-distant future, it is entirely possible to enter another individual’s dream, whether consensual and innocuous—in order to share the experience, for example, or for more devious purposes—to steal information and/or influence a person’s thoughts.  Although the majority of dream invasion centers on stealing information, it is the latter, much harder task of influencing a person’s thoughts that is the focus of the story.  After Watanabe’s character Saito catches Cobb extracting information from him, he offers him an extremely difficult job in exchange for safe entry into the U.S., where Cobb’s children are.  For reasons not immediately known, Cobb is wanted in the States and as such hasn’t seen his children for years, but Saito's ability to pull legal strings through his weighty business connections provides a potential solution.  Cobb assembles his team in order to perform his toughest task to date: Inception.  This involves planting an idea in the mind of Saito’s business rival, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy).  The reason it is so difficult (and herein lies the psychological enjoyment of the film) is that, for the idea to truly take hold and develop to the point where it influences his thoughts, his actions—even his character—it must be subtle and convincing enough for him to think it is his own.

In order to do this, the team quickly realizes they will need to design and orchestrate not a single-tiered dream, but one of three levels—effectively, a dream within a dream within a dream.  Therein lies the logistical complexity of the movie, as we follow the team on their journey through different layers of the subconscious, having constantly to keep in the back of our minds which level they are in, and how that influences both previous and subsequent levels.  Added to the mix is the notion of ‘kicks’, or physical jolts designed to bring the dreamer back to a higher degree of wakefulness.

 The hallway scene

I won’t go further into the plot because it would take some of the suspense and excitement out of it, but suffice to say that it keeps you on the edge of your seat for all two and a half hours of the film.  It is an action-packed blockbuster, no doubt, but it is more--at times acutely poignant, such as the penultimate scene with DiCaprio and Watanabe; sombre at many others; and with a very ambiguous ending (I as an eternal optimist choose to interpret it accordingly) that offers a glimmer of redemption.  And although I’ve said it doesn’t quite live up to The Matrix’s probing questions, maybe I’m being unfair; it does raise some interesting points.  For example, What is the genesis of an idea?  Is it even possible to come to a conclusion objectively, or will we always bring our baggage and the thoughts we want to believe rather than what we know to be true? And if that conclusion harms no one and makes us happy, is that an acceptable alternative?  Is it ever alright to act on someone else’s behalf in their interests, even if those actions go against their will?  If so, where is the line drawn?  On a larger scale, at what point does the greater good outweigh individual benefit, or a person’s right to privacy? On a less ethical but nonetheless abstract level, how does the dreamworld work?  How is it that we can simultaneously create (often to extraordinary detail) and perceive within it without being conscious of the fact?

All interesting questions.  But my advice to you is to leave those for after.  For the two and a half hours of action, just enjoy the show.  And don’t worry about keeping up with the logistics—you can do that on your second viewing.  Or fifth, whatever.

My rating: 8.5/10

Runtime: 148 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Studio: Warner Bros.
MPAA: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to be alone

I saw this video posted on someone's blog and liked it.  It's a bit cutesy, but it's well-made and I think the message is good.

It was made by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman and Singer/Songwriter/Poet Tanya Davis.  You can also find it on YouTube, where I got it from.