Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Iterations of a Dislocated Cowboy: Reviews of Rick Perry Presidential Campaign Ads

Rick Perry’s Presidential Campaign has been characterized by controversies and public “slip-ups.” The personage of the candidate himself, broad shouldered worn copy version of former President George W. Bush’s cowboy posturing, yet prone to strangely flamboyant and uncoordinated movements lends itself to the cliche’d clown caricature leaders must manifest since Hitler mimicked Chaplin. But it could be said that the trajectory of the 20th into the 21st century has been marked by an increasing and ultimately self destructive tendency toward laughter.

The following ads demonstrate the political personage’s sometimes confident yet dislocated relationship to his own image.

“Proven Leadership”

Obama’s America rendered in post apocalyptic overcast and displayed by abandoned streets, the iconic “hope” poster is torn and bears down on the dirty streets similar to how shots of iconography populate the unpopulated by human streets of dictatorships

A distinct tonal shift is initiated when Rick Perry is invoked as the savior of this fallen grey America under Obama’s leadership. Saturated colors and motion in Michael Bay surfaces. Americana with aesthetic steroid muscles.

Perry says America is “Earth’s last hope,” coupled with a satellite image of a globe, the shot is a standard one but is given a fresh angle here, typically the shot from space diminishes the size of the Earth but the reverse happens in this case. Reminding one of the anecdote from “The Devil’s Candy” in which Director Brian De Palma’s reluctance to include a shot of an airplane taking off during the making of Bonfire of the Vanities, challenging a second unit director to make this cliche’d shot utilized for pure narrative information have a visual heft.

Helicopter camera angles swoops past a cross topped church in a sun-drenched Americana valley, the angle of the Christian cross con-vexed enough by a camera lens just before leaving the frame’s lower edge seems likely to pierce through the frame and puncture the viewer.

Last shot a slow motion walking military salute gesture from the candidate, a punctuating endnote like a gun blast.

“Romney’s Remedy”

Centering around the abstracted and vaguely understood menace of “Obamacare,” Perry levels an insidious critique of fellow Republican rival Mitt Romney’s past support of similar measures. Formalistically, the “right wing” words and personage of Mitt Romney are shown to dissipate and change shape into the devilish and hated “left wing” President. A tense and frantic montage, punctuated by lightning flashes which literally reveal Romney’s mirror image briefly be that of Obama, situates Perry’s rival as bearing a false cloak and the evil of transference itself.

“Leno Ad”

This is ad is oddly named by Perry’s campaign in reference to the comedian, whose consistent employment has largely been ascribed to his inoffensiveness, who is not shown nor referenced in the advertisement. Following the template of the direct address, separate from the dynamic montages which characterize Perry’s other ads, the candidate tries to explain his most embarrassing and public misstep, forgetting the third Government department he confidently stated that he would abolish as President.

Perry tries to humanize this foible as indicative of his authenticity above his rivals. However, the nature of this memory lapse, given the scale of the argument the candidate was intending to make coupled with the defiance in his voice prior to the dead air “oops” would suggest that this event isn’t comparable to other slip-ups characteristic of anyone who manages to survive the unreality of life-in-public, rather the boldness of claims registers more inward scrutiny than their consequences.

The candidate references his mistake also as a joke at his own expense. While amusement toward his or herself is obviously a preferable quality for a candidate or a person if compared to humorlessness, wouldn’t it be more preferable to invoke the vacuousness, fictionalizing nature of how the media treats the campaign itself? Wouldn’t this be the opportunity to remind voters about the nature of the narrative “gotcha” moments tendency to distract from what’s supposedly of value? The joke at his own expense seems like what those in public are often told to do in like situations. Self effacement is an automatism too natural for those built for public life, reaffirming the fears that to bear that harsh light, ultimately nothing must truly matter.


The titular “Momentum” is less a call to action for the viewer to help ignite as a much as a quality that the ad argues to be already attributable to Governor Perry. Moreover, the ad makes its case operating under the assumption that the viewer does not perceive the candidate as possessing the quality of “momentum.”

Newspaper headlines are inserted to tout Perry’s success in the Republican Primary and to possibly correct the overriding media perception that he has been gaffe prone (“Strongest Performance,” “Solid and Convincing”...). But these headline blurbs are abstract enough to be interpreted as being statements in praise of Governor Perry’s handshake alone, which is isolated in holy slow motion, and executed in a manner comparable to the quoting of positive lines removed from the full context typical of television spots for a major Hollywood motion picture. Some reused Americana shots from the “Proven Leadership” mixed in with new ones throughout.

The highlight arrives with excerpts from Perry’s largely criticized debate performances, here visually recontextualized from the overriding perceptions that have surfaced in the reporting by being projected off of TV screens. While Governor Perry talks about the eventual debate he will have against President Obama, shots of the President looking sad and sullen are interspersed with the Republican’s critical words against the mythologized menace of “Obamacare”, visualizing an almost too ideal future for partisan Republicans. A similar juxtaposition later in the ad uses footage of Iran’s capture of the American spy plane but is clumsily executed as shots of the plane unpopulated by jingoistic shots of a turbaned mob are blandly lifeless.

Rather than minimizing the perceived weakness of the candidate, here an ambitious yet not wholly convincing attempt is made to revise it into his greatest positive.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The BEST films of 2011

Hey gang, even though I still have some screeners to watch of "Take Me Home Tonight", "New Year's Eve", and "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" here's how the 2011 year-in-film pans out, ranked most best to least best.

1. Cars 2

John Lasseter’s moving spy-movie parody sequel boldly switches genres from its predecessor, (the apocalyptic film from 2006 in which sentient automobiles waged a war against humanity) deftly orchestrating this exceptional and moving tale of American exceptionalism.

2. The Artist

In the theater when the credits rolled, I applauded along with many elderly ladies, an experience of movie-going magic not had by myself since the release of Slumdog Millionaire during its award season run-up in 2005.

3. Green Lantern

Ground zero for fans of color coded myth-making. Despite large scale special effects, star Ryan Reynolds manifests the films greatest movie magic with the kind of charismatic soulfullness only a real Canadian could provide.

4. Red State

As a subscriber to Kevin Smith’s "Smodcast" podcast, a vocal member of the Askew universe online forums, and an attendee of View Askew conventions across the country, I feel uniquely qualified to evaluate the significance of what this film means to the director’s career as a person whose success vicariously ignites the desire within myself to get out of bed and bravely regard my own ugly dumb white guy face in the mirror everyday.

5. Larry Crowne

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, individually and as united through inspired casting, speak to challenges specific to 2011 and beyond. A rough hewn poem for America’s wounded economy.

6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, individually and as a duo united on-screen through inspired casting, speak to the challenges specific to 2011 and beyond. The infamous movie goer who yelled out "Too Soon!" during the trailer for Paul Greengrass’s United 93 now has the 9/11 film he or she has been waiting for.

7. Water for Elephants

As soon as this adaptation of the best selling novel opened with an old man leading us to a long flashback of what he wistfully remembered about the majesty and wonder of the travelling circus, I knew I would be compelled and engaged intently throughout.

8. I Don't Know How She Does It

In a cinematic device which mimics the structure of a novelistic aside and television’s "Saved By the Bell" series, Sarah Jessica Parker’s titular "she" freezes the on-screen action and directly addresses the camera, reiterating the difficulties for ladies everywhere in balancing work and family. As Ms. Parker’s powerful and aloof boss in the big city, Kelsey Grammer’s freeze-framed brow (surgically resisting a full furrow) remains the most indelible image in movies.

9. The Zookeeper

"He saw an animal that liked to growl

Big furry paws and he liked to howl

Great big furry back and furry hair
"Ah, think I'll call it a bear".

-Bob Dylan "Man Gave Names to All the Animals"

10. Atlas Shrugged Part 1

Although managing to only achieve .05% of what the brilliant philosopher Ayn Rand achieved with her landmark novel, what remains is a stark "outsider art" vision shared by an insular and abnormally un-introspective cult .

Honorable Mentions: Jack & Jill, Anonymous, and Just Go With It.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Decision 2012: The Man of Ideas and a Displacement of Images

The first campaign ad produced by former Speaker Gingrich since his unexpected and likely temporary (given the illusory demands of the accelerated culture) rise to frontrunner status, "Rebuilding the America We Love" appears to reinforce the impression that his Presidential campaign is not guided by a sincere intention of achieving the highest office, but rather of enhancing the visibility that comes with the intention and posture of race running.

To be honest, my favorite Presidential campaigns tend to be the ones designed not to succeed. Furthermore, if I was to reach my own personal goal of managing a prospective Presidential candidates campaign, my approach would be distinctive, ambitious but with no actual intention toward winning the race. As we are always in the process of becoming in our own lives as individuals, there is value in the performative politics echo-ing possibility in its pure form on the spectacle stage.

Newt's ad consists of perfunctory recreations of President Reagen's 1984 "Morning in America" ad juxtaposed with Newt in a library, seemingly disconnected from the technically warm and glowing yet lifeless images that accompany his narration. My favorite of these is the shot of the male and female co-workers of different races happily entering a corporate office elevator unimaginatively un-displaced from Newt's narrated line "...and respecting each other."

Ultimately the problem is that Newt seems truly disconnected from the visual language of the beautiful America slow-motion poetry and appears to be under no pretense (though ultimately cynical in this awareness) that he is a charismatic Reagen-esque figure to guide a new Republican revolution. He is lazily drawing on the past rather than suggesting a visual language specific to his own campaign and personage. Though this falls in line with Saturday Night Live's punchline of Newt "not really wanting" to actually win the Presidency, which itself is more likely motivated by the only heavyset cast member Bobby Moynihan being the least creative performer on the show next to Jay Pharoah, Newt reaffirms this with such un-dynamic efforts.

But what sort of visual language would suit the Newt Gingrich campaign? Though the former speaker converted to Catholicism in recent years, the florid image based religion's iconographic and sensual tradition does not suit his political personage, as it did Reagen and George W. Bush, which Newt feabily attempts here in an uncommitted manner. The "Man of Ideas" belongs in the word based visual rhetoric of the Protestant tradition and this need not be evaded but rather should be embraced and hyperbolized. So this does not mean that there is no visual rhetoric open to him.

What's often forgotten is that every word is an image of a word. There are visuals that suit the rhetorical life of word based things, possibilities suggesting the living and breathing energy of ideas. I see the former Speaker excitedly writing across the chalk board at the front of a large college lecture hall and the class is filled with the American people. The music is perpetually urgent, yet hopeful. The only true visionary candidate in the 2012 Republican Primary has a command over the class of America and the chalk sketched phrases and shapes, articulating in shorthand his "Contract with the 21st Century," begin to reveal a world inside the lines that form the words, and soon after the world inside every word is revealed.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Decision 2012

Republican Presidential Primaries are my favorite time, as anyone who knows me knows. Thoughts on the candidates below based on my viewing of the last debate on Youtube.

Santorum - Scared and uncertain. An endlessly defensive squint in the form of political personhood. A light-sensitive soul determined to be in the light but unwilling to ask himself why.

Bachmann - Unmitigated and unsettling certainty. Primitivism and a return to ages of dirt. Hers is not a vision of sky and horizon but of hands held in a small room, gazes shared downward. Existence itself denied to human bodies not linked at that moment.

Pawlenty - Punchy and sardonic. The calculated move from the card-board charisma-less lightweight has miraculously influenced growth of a more organic sort. The trail has deepened him but soulfulness is relative.

Romney - Testament to performative professionalism and the charm of the sitcom dad. Political theater in historic Americana museum terms.

- Conceptually-based campus politics sharing the same seat with stand-up comedy truths, leadership in conflict with our collective delusions. His commitment, secular though sharing the same social function as religion.

Gingrich - The only candidate who leaned on their podium in a contemptuous posture. In his voice, one can hear the Speaker talking himself out of his own interest, comic strip word bubble sentences which increase in transparency, completing in total invisibility by the point of punctuation. But known only to him, these words simultaneously rise in volume. The career highlight was the theatrical pounding of the gavel. The real guitarist still plays air guitar, the former Speaker still mimes the gavel pound motion in solitary rooms. He can never not sound like a man who longs to be alone.

Huntsman - The dreamer of the day though not uncynical enough to know the collisions ahead. A not-fully formed pound of clay. Do we surrender to the self-perpetuated perceptions we can’t shake, climb up the hill knowing the peak may be unreachable or let gravity guide a smooth roll?

Cain - The meter and momentum of his speech has a diagonally downward trajectory. A legacy of racially determined punishment learned to be received as comedy, parallel to the titular joke of “Godfather’s Pizza.” There are generations of ghosts who silently walk with him, translucent figures who look to others for laughter as it is no longer within their capacity.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Und Friede auf Erden

Here are the excerpts I've posted from a long form project I've been developing. It's the continuation of Our Summer in Oklahoma 1990 and Von Erichs: Of Birth and Blood.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dear Dr. Bennett

I still love your radio show Dr. Bennett. My ex-wife and her boyfriend were nice enough to send me a video tape of my son's pee-wee football game (since the lawyers all agreed I can't attend in person). And so I watched the tape of my son's football game with the nyquil I bought beforehand and I fell into the bottom of a deep and upturned water well in the sky, far above and at the height of airplanes. I found myself watching the game forgetting the particulars and simply observing the line of scrimmage as it formed and reformed at the beginning and ending of each play of the long game. The pure form of it and the repetitive/alternating stillness and entanglements of that line. So I woke up this morning and the sun was already out and the tape ran out but somewhere the game's still going.

Also Dr. Bennett, When I brought the nyquil to the checkout counter, the pregnant teenager behind the counter asked if I'd been crying, I said "no" of course but later
on and throughout the night I talked to myself in my empty motel room while pretending I was confessing everything to her. I had a dream later in the night in which I followed the pregnant teenager and her boyfriend in the mall, closely and unseen, as a body-less spirit. She was chiding her boyfriend for having "killed her brother" in a manner that wasn't too casual yet not exactly marked by trauma. The peculiar incongruity of her tone of voice was un-captured by my memory but I hope it comes back to me. You know those type of terrifying bright yet freezing winter days? In which it's as though the sun itself is emitting the cold? I think that her peculiar tone of voice will somehow come back to me on a day like that, if ever.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hitler: The Rise of Evil (Christian Duguay 2003)

Convex angles of a wide lens oscillate the foreground against background, a constant of its reality as the motion of Michael Bay's alternate universes unceasingly breathe off of (the only briefly applied) Deep Zooms of Vertigo and Jaws. Duguay's near consistent intra-frame tertiary executes the visceral immediacy of violence but the exaggerated spaces mainly execute history as psychology and Hitler arrives psychologically fully formed after the opening credit sequence summary of childhood.The rounded edges make literal mental interiors and the TV movie's institutional limitations and its historical and political obligations confine the direction to the didactic end. Similarly, The Godfather and Cabaret are short-handed as reference points, a deliberate distancing from the anchors of historical authenticity.

A brief gag on the violence of kitsch in the Nazi propaganda innovations: A future (and eventually regretful) right-wing sympathizer of the Fuhrer spotting him in the primitive beer hall speechifying days, noting that Hitler "is a cartoon" but begins his pull into the whirlpool. And of course there's the important discovery of the mustache, "The Chaplin", which I once had myself and regret feeling obligated to shave because of the day-today dangers therein. I wore the mustache to feel more closely aligned with icons of clownishness, failure, i.e. a spiritual self beyond my own time. Granted, a gesture I might have not pursued had history had been altered such that Hitler had not already ruined it for everyone.

The question arises if the Nazi conclusions would have been reached without Hitler, but something outside the frame, the transgressive death work is always waiting and desired. By giving a concrete articulation of and extending the language of the transgressive, the Nazi image-makers made it easier for the the transgressive world/self to fall more easily inward. It's not 1/100th as resonate or brilliant as the reverse Wagner of "Hitler: A Film from Germany" (Syberberg 1978), but that's the best film ever made.