Archive for February, 2009

NYC Film Community Takes Hits

blog-nycIt’s been a rough start to 2009 for Manhattan cinephiles still lamenting the loss of Mondo Kim’s video archives to an eccentric Sicilian: New Yorker Films, the venerable distributor of foreign classics, has folded after 44 years; Film-Makers’ Cooperative, a distributor of avant-garde films fronted by Jonas Mekas, is facing eviction from its TriBeCa space; and the Film Society of Lincoln Center recently laid off a quarter of its staff.

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The Strange Trials of Staying True

blog_ice-tIt seems tougher and tougher for purists from all walks of life to encourage others to keep it real these days: Dick Cheney is aghast at W’s refusal to pardon Scooter Libby for the Valerie Plame debacle, insisting that W’s actions reflect an unwillingness to sacrifice for a loyal neocon brother; a new offering from Triple Canopy uses Ice-T’s anger at radio rap and its embrace of vapid newcomers like Soulja Boy in order to frame a discussion about authenticity — or the lack thereof — in modern pop culture; and an ad campaign from a new Broadway play will use naked pictures of “real people with real bodies” in order to elicit a “What the fuck?” reaction from a general public obsessed with physical beauty; meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick examines the legal questions related to another mode displaying nude pictures — “sexting,” a popular passtime among 14- and 15-year-olds in which they text nude pictures of themselves to each other. –SS

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Will the Real Lincoln Please Stand Up?

lincolnIn the wake of Old Abe’s birthday, here are two articles that attempt to dispel the simplified myth that pervades our collective national consciousness when we think of the Great Emancipator: first, The Root’s editor in chief, Harold Gates Jr., explores the paradox of the man who freed the slaves yet included snippets in speeches like, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races;” and Christopher Hitchens argues that history is correct to show Lincoln in a favorable light even though he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, closed the most newspapers, arrested the most political rivals, opened and censored the most mail and executed the most American citizens without trial of any American president. -SS

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This Week in Strangelove

blog-mushroomTake cover: The second of two remarkable collisions with catastrophic implications occurred when two nuclear submarines, one French and the other British, collided in the mid-Atlantic earlier this month; meanwhile, the US Strategic Command said there was no connection to Suday’s sightings over Texas of a “mystery fireball” and last Tuesday’s collision of satellites from the US and Russia (in a strikingly Strangelovian warning, the chief of Russia’s Mission Control says clouds of debris from the collision will circle Earth for thousands of years and threaten numerous satellites, the AP reports); and if anyone out there is fearing mushroom clouds sprouting up to the opening strains of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again,” rest assured — the BBC reports that there could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy. More to destroy!

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What’s Love Got to Do with It?

blog_flowersAs the saccharine taste of mid-February develops, tales of bastardized un-love assume strangely attractive qualities: Slate presents an outstanding analysis of the PR crisis that Portland Mayor Sam Adams finds himself in after a steamy fling, and its author wonders if the political fallout would have not been more severe had the city’s chief been involved in a heterosexual tryst; famously uncuddly odd-couple Israel and (occupied) Palestine shared a tender moment as Israel fleetingly unparalyzed exports from Gaza to allow a shipment of 25,000 carnations bound for European lovers just in time for V-Day; and the current issue of The Believer features an interview with Mary Gaitskill (whose short story was adapted into the Sundance darling The Secretary) in which Gaitskill, with all due respect to her husband, admits her desire for a wife because they have been traditionally so helpful to writers. -SS

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The Unintentional Laughter Factor

blog-mods“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand,” Mark Twain once wrote. And how would those words stand up to the parade of questionable looks streaming down the catwalk at the Paris and Milan men’s fashion shows this week, as captured in this Los Angeles Times slideshow? The assault of laughter, tough to stifle. Enjoy.

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Jazz Moves On, In a Silent Way

blog-hankTimes are getting tight for America’s greatest musical art form: While praising the splendid history of Blue Note Records on its 70th anniversary, Nate Chinen of the New York Times acknowledged the paradigm shift at the label, which has drifted into “the adult sophisticated pop area” and is facing the grim prospect of deleting some key recordings in the back catalog that do not sell, on average, a mere 350 copies per year; the Los Angeles Times recently questioned the odd, off-message choices in the jazz category at the Grammys; and a sincere farewell to saxophonist Hank Crawford, pictured here, who passed away last month. For more of our take on jazz, check out The Jazz Issue, released in 2008.

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The Mindbending Developments of Digital Books

blog_cell_phoneDo you love staring at tiny electronic screens? Google and Amazon sure hope so, as they’ve begun to concentrate efforts to format digitized versions of books so they are readable on mobile phones — can’t stand the weight of 700 pages of Dostoyevsky on your legs? Plan on digesting In Search of Lost Time in fifteen minute increments during your subway commute? There’s your solution (does David Lynch feel the same way about reading books on iPhones as he does about watching films on them?); meanwhile, Robert Darnton, the head of the Harvard library system, pens a stern, thoughtful warning to the public in the New York Review of Books that we must stay vigilant of Google’s commercial interests as a recent class action lawsuit settlement will likely allow it to begin to build what is essentially the largest library in the world. Ever.

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Does Joaquin Spell Wack?

blog-nwaGary Coleman might have been involved in 21 police altercations since 2005, Hillary Duff is too lightweight to realize when she is outclassed by a classic actress and Ashton Kutcher showed signs of spoiled detachment by not realizing most working Americans are awake at 7:30 am on a Thursday morning — but has any former child actor generated a spectacle as tone-deaf as Joaquin Phoenix and the whole launch of his hip-hop career, including this latest — and most surreal — installment? No, impossible — it’s the cheesiest of the bunch. And no, the Rick Rubin beard isn’t helping. It just… It just isn’t working. You’ve got 99 problems, and yes, that’s one.

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Contributor Roundup

blog_malvoTwo pieces by STOP SMILING contributors Alexander Provan and Hua Hsu appear in the current issues of Bidoun and the Atlantic, respectively; Provan, who is a SS editor-at-large, provides for the Mid-Eastern art and culture quarterly a deep and imaginative history of Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of the two “Beltway snipers,” that weaves together the sniper’s past in Kingston, his militant training by the older of the pair in the US, and an array of pop culture influences that are further brought to life by drawings found in Malvo’s cell — of Neo from the Matrix (see above), Hannibal the Barbarian and Tupac, among others — which are presented on the website with Provan’s piece; meanwhile, Hsu provides the Atlantic’s Jan-Feb cover story, which explores the gradual de-whitening of the United States through the lenses of hip-hop, blogs, academia and even The Great Gatsby. Both are must-reads.

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