Friday, October 27, 2006

Powells -- Proof of G-d's Existence?

Powell's Books is the most insanely cool bookstore in the world. Portland has many neat things to recommend it as a city to visit but the number one reason for me is Powells. The City of Books. Takes up a whole building. It's in sections and they actually have a fold-out map to the bookstore. Pretty darn cool. All the new books are arranged alongside the used books so often you can choose betweeen new and used of the same book, which is very cool. And they have a coffeeshop in one corner. But you can't get to it directly. You have to discover the entrance by walking through the whole store so it's like a secret.

If I could live anywhere in the United States it would be Portland. You have lots of historical buildings and new shiny scrapers in a manageable city gorgeously laid out right next to a river with drawbridges and all sorts of other neat stuff. People walk all over. People ride bikes all over. Everyone is cooler in Portland. In Portland people are just fucking cool. In Portland everyone's reading and drinking and there are tons of great microbrews. It rains a lot. It's so damn green it's like your RGB balance is off.

And they have the best bookstore in the world. Seriously. I am not sure that there is an afterlife, but Powell's is all the proof I need that there is a G-d. When I am enclosed in its warm, full, and enfolding stacks, I feel like I am in Olam Habba. Seriously.

Gut Shabbos to you.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hartford trip Photos

I'm too lazy to put them here. Go see them here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

There are Limits

Ok. Went to D-Land last Friday. Stuff is decorated for Halloween. Including the Haunted Mansion.


Isn't that like trying to tart up a prostitute? Isn't the Haunted Mansion, by its very nature, more than Halloween-y enough?

Well, of course it is. Perhaps if you think about D-land's mania for beating the crap out of every cross-selling opportunity, it will start to make more sense. And so the Haunted Mansion is being used as a giant 3-dimensional billboard to advertise a movie. Their movie The Haunted Mansion was a flop. So which movie? The Nightmare before Christmas. Very odd. Kind of cute. But it's contrived and fake and such a stretch. It just didn't feel right. The regular Haunted Mansion was spookier and scarier. The folks at D-Land must have immediately been confronted by someone on the planning team raising the simple objection that uh, the Haunted Mansion, the essence of Halloween, does not need to be decorated. It IS Halloween already. And everyone else saw a boundary to be crossed and decided they had to go for it, that some was good, but more would be better.

I think the same sort of unnatural stretching is being used in the new movie The Short Bus. Rather than just have explicit sex in pornographic movies, the makers of this film (including the actors - the movie was kind of a collaborative/collective thing) decided to make a movie that had explicit sex but was a real movie with a real story and themes. It's getting mixed reviews, more good than bad. Of course, many mainstream reviewers are just not going to see the movie. No serious religious reviewers (except pagans, perhaps) will see the movie. And those who DO see the movie and write for papers like the Village Voice, LA Weekly, etc, all the Alternative press, will be under pressure to praise the movie, because we live in a world where a movie like this is, merely because it transgresses all sorts of boundaries, deemed Art.

(And we all know that today, we are too intelligent to think that Art can be Bad. It's all Subjective. And so it's all Good. So the same movie without explicit sex? That can be judged on its merits, but toss in explicit sex? That's Good merely because it makes some people uncomfortable. No effort, of course, can be made into investigating whether the uncomfortable people have a legitimate critique, because their critique is Just Their Opinion. All opinions besides positive ones are Just Their Opinion.)

Anyway. Haven't seen the movie. But sex in movies, real or faked, is problematic --

Most of the time, as appears to be the case in this movie, not really necessary to tell the story, and thus gratuitous. Stories of love and lust have been told for what, a hundred years in film? Hundreds of years in books? And there are thousands of great books dealing with these issues perfectly well without explicit sex.

But sometimes, sex is necessary to tell the story. Unfortunately, that sex is generally transgressive and abusive and so very hard to watch, and probably damaging to whoever sees it. The best example of this is Irreversible, the 2004 French film that had a nine-minute, brutal anal-rape scene, among other terrible things. But the violence and transgression and horror of this protracted, real-time violation is a central part of the movie and not at all gratuitous. The movie, thematically, is all about the permanent damage done by all sorts of terrible things. Similarly, another French film, Baise-moi, that came out a couple years earlier, deals thematically with violence towards and marginalization of women by having its female characters spend the movie having sex and killing men. Similarly, there is nothing gratuitous about the sex or violence in Monster.

Perhaps I am arguing that all happy sex that ends well is gratuitous, and I think that's a perfectly valid argument. For instance, some scenes in movies take place in bathrooms. Do we need to show streams of urine leaping from privates to urinal or bowl? Do we need to hear the shit plopping into the water, the farts echoing from the walls? Course not. We get the idea. We know what a bathroom involves. And there are boundaries that are not violated if one is wise. We are still reeling from the idiocy of the Baby-boomer generation deciding that boundaries were bad because they stopped movement past a point. But sometimes, there need to be boundaries. We do not see a problem with guardrails on curves or staying to one side of the yellow lines when driving. We understand the need for walls and roofs. We don't think it's necessary to poke our heads into a jet engine simply because we're told not to. Often, the boundaries of society are much more important for us, and yet because the consequences of violating the boundaries are not immediately apparent, people think the boundaries archaic, sexist, prudish, reactive.

Well, off to work.

And Good Shabbos to all.