25 greatest electronic albums of the 20th century
I own ten of these. Couldn't it just be the best of all time? Or were there electronic albums in the 19th century?
Then why do all babies look like Richard Nixon?
Found a link from BoingBoing to Beautycheck, a fascinating site about research into facial attractiveness. I wasted a good half hour surfing the site because it encompasses all the various beauty theories I'd heard before:
- attractiveness is averageness (Langlois & Roggmann, 1990: "average faces are most attractive")
- the 'symmetry hypothesis' (Grammer &Thornhill, 1994; Thornhill & Gangestad 1999: "facial symmetry has a positive influence on facial attractiveness ratings")
- theory of 'multidimensional beauty perception' (Cunningham, 1986: "attractive faces show a combination of signs of sexual maturity and babyfaceness")
- correlation between attractiveness and attributed social qualities (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972: "what is beautiful is good")
Some interesting excerpts from the research summary:
"By calculating prototypic very attractive vs. unattractive faces for each gender, we were able to show that these faces are remarkably different in their attributes, such as skin texture, proportions etc. Additional surveys showed that attractive female faces are narrower than unattractive ones, and that they possess a brown skin and full, well looked-after lips. The distance between the eyes is larger, eyelids are thinner, there are more, longer and darker eyelashes, darker and narrower eyebrows, higher cheekbones, and the nose is narrower than in less attractive female faces. Surprisingly, more or less the same is the case for attractive male faces: they, too, have a browner skin, a narrower face, fuller lips, thinner eyelids, more and darker eyelashes, darker eyebrows, and higher cheekbones than the less attractive ones. Attractive male faces can furthermore be characterized by a more prominent lower jaw and chin."
"Finally, the results of our studies on social perception suggest that there is a well-defined stereotype of attractiveness: People with more attractive faces were assessed to be more successful, contended, pleasant, intelligent, sociable, exciting, creative and diligent than people with less attractive faces. These results particularly show the far-reaching social consequences human facial attractiveness may have."
"To sum up, our study shows clearly that the most attractive faces do not exist in reality, they are morphs, i.e. computer-created compound images you would never find in everyday live. These virtual faces showed characteristics that are unreachable for average human beings."
Sigh. If only I had a narrower face, higher cheekbones, and a more prominent lower jaw and chin. Thankfully, the remnants of my sabbatical tan remain, which is perhaps why everyone says I look healthy.
Unfortunately, the site drew no conclusions as to why people all seem to gravitate towards faces with these characteristics, which is perhaps the more interesting question. Is it some quirk of genetics, some built-in bias in our perceptive organs, or is it developed over time by social stimuli? Do we find such faces more attractive because we know that our children will be more likely to pass on our genes if they look fit the socially accepted standard of beauty? If we took people that were blind from birth and suddenly gave them sight, would they judge beauty the same as people who'd had sight all their lives? If Daredevil had been blinded from birth, would he still think Jennifer Garner was beautiful when he "saw" her reflected by the rain?
By the time I returned from my sabbatical and got my head in gear, SIFF pre-sales had already been open for a few days. Knowing the fanatical lengths to which movie buffs go to secure tix to desirable movies here in Seattle, I was concerned that all the best movies would be sold out. The truth wasn't quite so bad, though a few movies I wanted to see were no longer available in exchange for passes and had to be paid for. So, not too bad.
The problem with SIFF is always selecting movies to see. Most are movies I've never heard of, and the problem was worse this year since I had spent the last 3 months in other countries, out of the film circuit gossip loop. There are over 200 movies at this year's fest, and the most you'll learn about any of them is the one paragraph marketing-oriented description of the plot in the Seattle Times special SIFF section. It's not much to go on, and the last thing you want to do is wait in line for an hour to see a dud. But that's the risk you take in the hopes of seeing something interesting at a film festival in which most of the entries will never make it to the big screen in your neighborhood again.
My selection strategy involved all of the following: seeing movies I'd heard good things about from other film fests or movie fans, eliminating movies I couldn't see because they would play during work hours, selecting movies unlikely to be released in theaters, attending movies where artists I admire would be present to speak, and focusing on the cinema of countries which had produced interesting movies in the past. And occasionally, I'd just guess.
Here's what I ended up with. If you're in Seattle and planning on attending any of these, let me know and I'll hold a spot for you in line with all the other crazies (I think it was The Stranger that last year referred to SIFF full-series passholders as passholes, and there's much truth to that characterization):
- Valentin (May 22, Paramount Theatre): opening night gala. I don't know what this movie is about, but it came with the Christmas special ticket package I bought.
- Owning Mahowny (May 24, Pacific Place): the always entertaining Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a gambling addict.
- The One-Armed Swordsman (May 25, Harvard Exit): one of SIFF's special programs this year is a screening of numerous archival and restored 35mm prints of classic martial arts movies.
- An Evening with Ray Harryhausen (May 30, Egyptian): the genius behind the first stop-action King Kong movie will be in attendance! Jason and the Argonauts will be screened.
- Animatrix (May 31, Egyptian): before it comes out on DVD, a chance to sample it on the big screen.
- Hukkle (June 1, Harvard Exit): sounds interesting. A montage murder mystery from Hungary with little to no dialogue.
- The Eye (June 2, Egyptian): another flick with an intriguing description...a blind woman has her sight restored and starts seeing strange things. The horror movie capitol of the world has moved to Asia.
- American Splendor (June 4, Egyptian): a Sundance Grand Jury prize winner, adapted from Harvey Pekar's comic book about himself.
- Springtime in a Small Town (June 5, Pacific Place): from the director of The Blue Kite.
- 11' 09" 01 (June 8, Egyptian): 11 big-name directors memorialize Sept 11 with 11 minute, 9 second, 1 frame long shorts.
- Vertical Frontier (June 8, Egyptian): rock climbing documentary.
- Le Cercle Rouge (June 8, Harvard Exit): Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Delon also collaborated on Le Samourai, one of my favorite movies of all time.
- Infernal Affairs (June 9, Cinerama): my Hong Kong cinema guilty pleasure.
- The Legend of Suriyothai (June 15, Cinerama): most expensive movie ever made in Thailand, and also the biggest box office earner. The trailer hints that it's the type of movie that will take advantage of the Cinerama.
Summer begins when TV shows end
What marks the beginning of summer in Seattle? No, not the end of 4th of July weekend, though from a weather perspective you wouldn't be far off. For me, it's marked by the season finales of the fall TV programs I've been watching. When those end, there's no reason to stay home in the evenings or to download from the Tivo. It stays light out later into the evenings anyway, and those two things combined get me out the door more often.
Bye bye Buffy (it was time, but it's still sad), and 24, and The West Wing. Another benefit of the Tivo, for me, is the ability to watch four or five episodes of these shows back to back. The shows taste better consumed that way. It's especially true of a show like 24, which was dragging on and on for me before I left for South America. Watching the final 6 episodes all at once, instead of dragging those 6 hours out over a month and a half, prevented the suspense and convoluted plot from dissipating. Perhaps, in the age of short attention spans, I've lost my ability to appreciate the serial thriller in its native weekly frequency.
By the way, my Tivo has never recorded anything interesting for me. I read stories about how people love to come home to see what their Tivo has chosen for them, but mine records reruns of Ally Mcbeal and NYPD Blue. I feel like the parent of a child who's last in his age group to learn to speak. Is something wrong? Is my Tivo developmentally challenged? Did I get a lemon?
Copper river salmon, monkfish, and artichokes
It's copper river salmon season again. Delphine was in town for a thoracic conference so I showed her and her roommate Joey around town this weekend. At Pike Place Market, copper river salmon was everywhere.
Everyone around town seemed to know that several thousand thoracic researchers were congregating at the convention center, because every store I walked by, even artisans selling crafts off of plastic tables in Pike Place Market, had "Welcome Thoracic Society" stickers and placards displayed for all to see. It wouldn't have surprised me in the least if a homeless guy begging for change had one of those stickers taped to his cup.
At the place where they throw fish in the Pike Place Market (after countless visits, you'd think I'd know the name of that store), a monkfish was on display.
The fish tossers had wired a hook through its body to its mouth and would tug on that when young children walked up to gawk, causing the monkfish to convulse. This caused the children to squeal with delight. This fish market also had a parrotfish on ice. Can you eat those?
On Queen Anne hill, at the park on Highland Ave. (again, you'd think I'd have memorized the name of the park, but I always forget), the attraction that most delighted Delphine was not the panoramic view of downtown Seattle and the Puget Sound but an artichoke plant in a pot by the sidewalk. None of us had seen an artichoke plant before. It reminded me of seeing lions mating at night in Africa. I'd never wondered what that would look like until I saw it for the first time, and it's not something I'll soon forget. Nor will the image of an artichoke plant soon leave me.
Matrix Reloaded, reviewed, because everyone else has
The Matrix Reloaded is more intellectually stimulating than emotionally moving, and so, in the end, it is less effective a movie than it could have been. Movies which inspire philosophy books always raise warning bells in my head; the strength of the moving picture medium has always been its ability to tap our subconscious through the fusion of sound and image and, to a lesser extent, words. Movies tap emotions much more naturally than books, which are much better suited for exploring complex ideas (for example, mathematics or advanced philosophy).
The first Matrix movie inspired lots of books dissecting its philosophical messages, but tellingly those were written by fans, not by the moviemakers themselves. That movie obeyed the basic storytelling edict of "show don't tell." Sure, Morpheus offered Neo a brief lesson after he chose between the red and blue pills, and the Oracle offered some fortune cookie paradoxes while baking cookies, but for the most part the characters acted out their roles and steered clear of long asides on the deeper meanings of the Matrix and reality and life. The philosophizing was of the "there is no spoon" variety, which was just implicit enough to let the viewer make his own conclusions.
No such luck in the second movie. This time, the Wachowski brothers have written the philosophy lessons into the script. We get long speeches from the Architect, Oracle, Morpheus, Agent Smith, the daemon Merovingian. Making matters worse, snly the Merovingian and the Oracle seem to speak with any flair instead of delivering their dialogue in the holier-than-thou diction preferred by Morpheus. Even Roy Jones Jr., in a cameo, has to tone it down a bit (I really wanted him to give a shout out to his homies in Pensacola). Why has every denizen of the Matrix been reduced to speaking like a constipated monk? This style of delivery overemphasizes the profundity of its content, much like the verbally-italicized dialogue in a David Mamet movie. It took me a second viewing to absorb everything they said, and that's not a compliment for a movie (whereas it might be for a book). The first movie seeped into my brain like warm brandy, and the ideas it represented weren't much less sophisticated.
The ideas discussed were fascinating, but all those speeches stray from the strength of the movie medium. It is enough that the characters all have names laden with meaning; Persephone, Merovingian, Zion, and Niobe are just some of the names pulled from religion and mythology for very specific reasons. That's as explicit as the moviemakers needed to be. Codifying the philosophy in long-winded speeches A movie can be both intellectually and emotionally substantive, much like a classic book of literature. There is The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and then there is Finnegan's Wake. There are corn flakes, and corn flakes with raisins. I know which I'd rather read, and which I'd rather eat. If the first Matrix movie was the perfect blend of action movie and art-house allegory, the second doesn't spend enough time in the blender--it is at times a skillfull but empty action movie (as with the chase scene and the Neo versus the men in black) and at other times a philosophy 101 lecture. My recollection of Philosophy 101 in college was that it sounded more interesting than it actually was.
A second reason the movie fails to connect on an emotional level is the tabula rasa that is Keanu Reeves. His naivete and wide-eyed imcomprehension worked well in the first movie, when he awoke to the reality that his reality was anything but. In the second movie, when we need to empathize with his cause and his love for Trinity, which causes him to choose the door his 5 predecessors avoided, we can't. When the albino Milli Vanilli twins close the parking garage door on him and he opens it to find a giant mountain range, I visualized his thought bubble: "Oh no, I'm back in Little Buddha! I thought I had rescued my acting career from the garbage heap!" Most people who criticize the Matrix Reloaded say it lost its humanity, but there's never been much humanity in either movie. That's not because most humans are dreaming in the Matrix but because the protagonist Keanu Reeves is called on to deliver lines like "I love you too much." The humans here are more Jedi Knights than normal folk in their emotional detachment. Just as Luke lays down his lightsaber and screams for his father's aid at the end of Return of the Jedi with the passion of a son in need, perhaps Neo and Trinity and Morpheus will become more human in the third movie now that their belief in the Prophecy has been shattered.
Another emotional dampener is that the fight scenes are understood to be virtual, both literally (Wired and Time and a whole host of magazines have dubbed John Gaeta and team's new development virtual cinematography) and figuratively (the fights occur in the Matrix, in a virtual reality). Furthermore, Neo's superman-like powers mean left me unconcerned that he'd be hurt in any of his fight scenes. In the first movie, you felt a sense of dread everytime an agent appeared, because you knew Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity all flirted with death each time an agent appeared on the scene (Morpheus gets tossed through a toilet by Agent Smith, who also lands about two thousand punches on Neo in the subway, and Trinity barely escapes death in the opening chase scene). In Matrix Reloaded, it doesn't matter who Neo is fighting, you know he'll either come out on top or soar away. Since the fights are all virtual, anyway, they lose an element of drama. When Neo leaps from one agent Smith to the other, you can feel the lack of physical impact--it recalls the cartoon-like movements that plagued the special effects in Spiderman. The visceral dread I felt while watching the first movie was absent. Since the movie has moved into the real world for the final chapter of the trilogy, that may be merely a middle-chapter problem.
The last flaw is the soundtrack. In the first movie the soundtrack moved in perfect rhythm with the action on screen, but in the Matrix Reloaded it calls attention to itself at inopportune moments. Don Davis atonal score did not, to my ears, make any growth from one movie to the next. It remains, like many of the movies ideas, detached and at times even abstract, disconnected from the visual narrative.
The Wachowski brothers are still exacting and ambitious architects, and in other areas of the movie that is to be appreciated. When Trinity uses Nmap to hack the power grid computer system near the end of the movie, the audience full of Amazon software engineers burst out in laughter (understandably, the less technical audience I later watched the movie with couldn't appreciate that touch). Other movies would have resorted to typical visual shorthand to represent the hack for a mainstream audience, but the Wachowski brothers are not so lazy. Most of Zion consists of minorities, a fact which makes sense when you think of what segments of society would be most likely to rebel against the status quo (perhaps a flaw of the Matrix is that it doesn't eliminate socio-economic stratification along racial lines inside its virtual reality?). Along those lines, it's no surprise that Cornel West is on the council of Zion. The special effects, of course, are visually innovative, and the fight choreography is of the expected Yuen Wo Ping quality. The brief fight between Neo and the Oracle's bodyguard was a humorous homage to martial arts movies in which brothers or old friends always greet each other with a brief and serious fight and then suddenly stop and embrace in laughter at the confirmation of each other's skill.
Though the movie didn't move me, I still admire its style, ambition, scope, and technical skill. After the highway chase scene, I want a Ducati more than ever, and I've stopped wondering why everyone wears sunglasses in the dark setting of the Matrix. If I were loaded into the Matrix, I too would ask for sunglasses to match the leather duds I couldn't afford in the real world. The philosophical puzzles are ones I want to know the answers to. How does Neo retain his powers in the real world at the end? How does Agent Smith cross over into the real world? Is that even the real world, or is Zion just another layer of artificial reality? Why can humans only leave the Matrix through a land line (I'm sensitive to the issue since I just returned from 5 weeks in South America, where the cellular network is far more reliable than the land line system; perhaps all of the Matrix is served by AT&T Wireless, which never gives me a reliable signal in Seattle)? Is the failure of the Prophecy to come true an indictment of organized religion? I'll play the videogame, Enter the Matrix. I'll watch The Animatrix, which offers further background and back story on Matrix Reloaded. And I'll be in line for the Matrix Revolutions, opening night.
Personally, I'm glad just to have been able to review the movie without resorting to any quotes like, "Perhaps my opinion of the Matrix is simply a programmed response within the Matrix." If I hear another guy at the vending machine outside my office asking himself if he's been programmed to select the Cheetos, I'm calling for an exit.