Tuesday, March 27, 2007

by Chris Rodley

"When was the last time a gynecologist was in a movie, even as a figure of fun? There’s something taboo there; something strange and difficult.” True to Cronenberg’s assertion, Dead Ringers is both wholly original and uniquely disturbing. It dares the very taste buds of cinema with concerns so far beyond the polite, and so far beneath the easy shock, it could have been made by an alien: a being with a healthy disregard for the normal operations of commercial cinema, but with a unique sense of the human condition.

Since 1976, audiences worldwide had been aware of Cronenberg as director of some of the most shocking, perverse, and original scenes of body horror ever conceived for the cinema. His early excoriating excursions into science and the flesh were often dismissed as low-budget “schlock horror” by conservative critical establishments. But Cronenberg had long since matured as a filmmaker, even as his obsessions remained intact. And over the years, in the tradition of Europe’s greatest auteurs, he had imposed an entirely new, hermetically sealed sensibility on cinema: Felliniesque, Bergmanesque, and now Cronenbergesque.

Dead Ringers’ starting point was the stranger-than-fiction real life story of identical twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus. Discovered partially decayed and almost naked in their New York apartment in 1975, they had died from barbiturate withdrawal.

While magazine articles and a semifictionalized book -- Twins -- intrigued film executives, they were nervous about the subject matter. Initiated in 1981, the movie was to pass through several script writers, potential backers, and one serious false start before Cronenberg eventually assumed the role of main writer and producer in 1988.

Dead Ringers eschews the cliché of the good twin/bad twin. In Cronenberg’s hands, Elliot and Beverly Mantle are one soul, split into two bodies and two mutually dependent minds at the point of conception. Issues of good and bad become issues of maleness and femaleness, here destructively divided. Elliot’s sexual and professional conduct is as confident and ruthless as Beverly’s is modest and sensitive. As both man and woman, they are a closed circuit, their stability precariously preserved by the virtue of their splendid isolation.

Patient Claire Niveau, a woman possessed of a wondrous but quite useless three-chambered womb, becomes the circuit breaker. Beverly’s love of her -— heart and soul -— reveals that the latter cannot be annexed. Separation can be a terrifying thing, and Beverly’s descent into mental collapse and drug addiction inevitably delivers both twins to a fate befitting all rare creatures.

Dead Ringers’ stunning trump card and major special effect is Jeremy Irons. Cronenberg had already relinquished his early visceral/visual techniques of blood and gore for an emotionally affecting cinema centered on the disintegration of the mind as opposed to the flesh. Irons’ portrayal of both Mantle twins is not only an acting tour de force, but also a realization of the director’s most heartbreaking testament to the mind/body split.

The movie is relentlessly interior in its depiction of personal chaos. We are allowed only two glimpses of the exterior world, in the first and penultimate scenes. Carol Spier’s brilliant production design keeps us locked in a strange, alien mindset purposefully reminiscent of an aquarium. Elliot and Beverly, far from being demystified, are viewed as exotic creatures by virtue of a cruel twist of biological fate. As Cronenberg has observed: “Dead Ringers is conceptual science fiction, the concept being: ‘What if there could be identical twins?’ I’m suggesting that’s impossible. I can imagine a world in which they are only a concept, like mermaids.”

Ambitious motion-control camerawork, allowing the seamless “twinning” of Irons, is both staggering and kept firmly in its place. Mere technology is never allowed to distract an audience from the film’s ultimate subject. This has little to do with twins or gynecology. Dead Ringers is a definitively melancholic meditation on our very existence—on the sadness of what Cronenberg has termed “unrequited life.” If the movie seems tantalizingly, even dangerously, personal, it is because it delivers its maker’s sensibility and aesthetic so directly and artfully. Its troubling existence is as cathartic as it is exhilarating.

Chris Rodley is an independent filmmaker and the editor of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and Lynch on Lynch.

Friday, March 23, 2007

by Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America and the author of the new book, Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Can Learn From Conservative Success, just released by John Wiley & Sons. The views expressed here are his own. (Copyright to Paul Waldman, TomPaine.com)

All over Washington, the sage barons of the establishment media are warning Democrats not to get cocky. Don’t move too fast, they say. Don’t push a bunch of wacky, left-wing ideas. Seek compromise, give ground, hew to the center, for only there lies the greatest prize of all: the praise of David Broder and Joe Klein, the nodding approval of the Washington Post editorial page, the admiration the Beltway cognoscenti reserve for those who know their place and know whose rings they should be kissing.

Bull. What Democrats need to do is spend the next two years crushing their opponents like bugs. It’s not about mercy, it’s not about manners, it’s about three fundamental goals: limiting the damage the Bush administration can do, passing whatever legislation they can in the short term to help the American public and laying the foundation for future progressive victories.

Democrats finally have the upper hand, and now’s the time to use it. Here are a few things they can do to get started.

1. Investigate—But Smartly

The combination of the most secretive administration in modern times and the most supine Congress in memory meant that Congressional oversight utterly disappeared over the last six years. Democrats have an obligation—to the people that elected them, and to democracy itself—to make up for lost time. Investigations should be rolled out on a carefully planned schedule, to maximize both news coverage and pressure on the administration.

But that doesn’t mean they should simply investigate anything and everything for no purpose other than laying siege to the White House. As the Boston Globe reported last November, when Bill Clinton was president the Republicans took 140 hours of sworn testimony on the pressing issue of whether the administration had mined the White House Christmas card list for potential donors. Yet they took only 12 hours of testimony on the Abu Ghraib scandal. “The government reform panel alone,” they wrote, “issued 1,052 subpoenas related to investigations of the Clinton administration and the Democratic National Committee from 1997 to 2002, and only 11 subpoenas related to allegations of Republican abuse.”

Democrats could distinguish themselves from the excesses and omissions of their predecessors by focusing on one new investigation to be started each month. Iraq, corruption and the administration’s unwillingness to abide by the Constitution are the three areas that most cry out for oversight—and it wouldn’t hurt to add an investigation of Republican dirty tricks during this past election (Rick Perlstein has a good rundown of the horrors that went on here.) Goodness knows, it won’t be hard to come up with 24 things to investigate between now and the 2008 election. Which leads us to…

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Pick Fights

The White House will resist any effort to subpoena documents and testimony on the matters Democrats want to investigate. So Democrats should let them. Let them proclaim that they are above the law. Let them initiate a constitutional crisis. Let them take it all the way the Supreme Court. The resulting controversy will help Americans understand the deep anti-democratic strain that rushes through the arteries of this administration like a virus.

And Democrats should find every opportunity they can to embarrass Republicans by forcing them into uncomfortable votes. On the first item on the Democrats’ agenda—raising the minimum wage—it looks as though President Bush is going to do what he often does when backed into a corner: surrender, then claim victory. Democrats should welcome his capitulation, but make sure to characterize it as such. Thanks for finally giving millions of hard-working Americans a break, Mr. President, but it’s too bad it took you six years and a thumping at the polls to be forced into it.

The prospects for another of their agenda items, enabling the federal government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare, look far tougher. But Democrats should wage the fight anyway. Two outcomes are equally likely: Either they won’t be able to pass such a bill in both houses, or they’ll pass a bill and Bush will veto it. Either way, it shows whose side they’re on, and whose side the Republicans are on.

Bush also said he wanted to reintroduce his plan to partially privatize Social Security. The defeat he suffered the first time around on this issue was one of the key events leading to the Democrats’ victory. It showed them that when they stay united and make a stand on fundamental progressive values, they win. It also showed them that they could ignore the pleas of the “sensible” centrist talking heads scolding them for not having a “plan” of their own. So they should dare Bush to try again. “Let’s talk about your Social Security privatization plan, Mr. President. Bring it on.”

3. Boycott Fox

The Fox News Channel has been a reliable megaphone for White House talking points, a veritable RNC house organ proclaiming that Republicans are noble public servants and Democrats are whiny hippies who, if not engaged in an actual conspiracy with al-Qaida, are certainly serving the ends of America’s enemies. It has also functioned as a safe haven for Republicans to run to when things look bad. Shoot a guy in the face, and you can do your first interview with Brit Hume, secure in the knowledge that he won’t ask any tough questions.

So Democrats should say the following to Fox: You want to spread GOP propaganda all day? Be our guest. After all, it’s a free country. But don’t expect any Democratic newsmakers to legitimize you with their presence. We’ll go on every other network, be interviewed by every legitimate news organization. But we don’t consider ourselves under any obligation to pretend that buffoons like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson are news professionals who deserve a moment of our time. We’re not going to try to fight you; we’ll just act like you don’t exist.

This can be a lesson to the rest of the media—not a threat, but an indication that they need to change the way they think about Democrats. For years, journalists have looked on Republicans as tough, smart and skilled—in short, winners. Democrats, in turn, were viewed as wimpy, stupid and weak—losers. If Democrats want the media to treat them like winners, they should start acting accordingly. Stop worrying about getting reporters to like you, and start thinking about getting them to respect you. And if the David Broders of the world start complaining that you aren’t playing nice, that’ll be evidence that you’re doing something right.

4. Attack Conservatism

After President Reagan left office, a group of his supporters formed the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, whose goal was to get something—a school, a bridge, a building—named after Reagan in every county in every state in America. Their goal was not just to honor a man they revered but to elevate Reaganism. If Reagan can become the name on every public works project, he moves out of the realm of contestation to achieve the kind of status accorded to figures like Kennedy and Roosevelt. We don’t argue about whether Kennedy was a good president, we just accept it.

Democrats should do the same thing in reverse to the current president. The Bush Legacy Project should seek to make George W. Bush an albatross that can be strung around the neck of every Republican for many elections to come. They should continue to write books about how awful his presidency was, to heap ridicule on him, to make his name synonymous with incompetence and stupidity and corruption.

The message is this: When George W. Bush was president, conservatism failed and conservatism was rejected. Apart from “small government,” conservatives enacted much of what they had been clamoring for for years. They slashed taxes on the wealthy. They ballooned defense spending. They got their war on Iraq. They ignored or cut back regulations on the environment and workers’ rights. And what happened? The American people recoiled in disgust.

Democrats need to understand that they are engaged in a war of ideas, one that stretches far beyond any one Congress or presidency. In order to not just win today’s victory but to make tomorrow’s more likely, they have to continually discredit the other side’s ideology. The fact is that conservative governance failed, not because of a run of bad luck or a few bad apples, but because it is deficient at its core.

Democrats can and should use the excesses of the Republicans they defeated as bludgeons against them. Katrina. Terri Schiaivo. Jack Abramoff. Mark Foley. George W. Bush. These names should be strung around Republicans’ necks as often as possible, so Americans don’t forget why they voted Democratic in the first place.

Democrats should wake up every day thinking, “How can we keep Republicans on the run?” Never give them a moment’s rest, never let them advance their agenda, keep them on the defensive so they have to apologize for being the standard-bearers of a discredited ideology and a disgraced president. Do that, and every legislative battle and election to come will be that much more likely to swing in your favor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Intacto is a film thriller first released in 2001, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.

It stars Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eusebio Poncela, Federico Mónica López, Antonio Dechent, and Max von Sydow.

The film depicts an underground trade in luck; where fortune flows from those who have less to those who have more. Rooted in magical realism, the premise purports that luck can be amassed and transfered as any other commodity.

The story follows several participants as they engage in literal games of chance, each one more risky than the last to eliminate the unlucky. The early rounds are quite simple (which one will a moth land upon, for example), yet as the tournaments continue they become more hazardous.
from Wikipedia

The New Weird is an avant-garde literary movement or literary genre that may or may not be presently in progress. The writers involved are mostly novelists who are considered to be parts of the science fiction or speculative fiction genres. The only author all critics agree on as a "New Weird" writer is China Miéville, who self-describes as such. Other writers who have been variously described as "New Weird" include Steve Cockayne, Storm Constantine, M John Harrison, Mary Gentle, Ian R. MacLeod, K.J. Bishop, Thomas Ligotti, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Jeffrey Ford, Kathe Koja, Hal Duncan, Justina Robson, Steph Swainston, and Jeff VanderMeer.

There is considerable debate about whether or not New Weird is a movement amongst like-minded authors, or merely a label that has been applied to them after the fact to describe perceived similarities between their works. Many of the authors who are associated with the movement either disavow belonging to it, or simply don't care what categorical labels their readers craft to name their work. Some also question how it differs, if at all, from slipstream. On a panel at the 2005 Armadillocon, writer and critic Lawrence Person, while denying it was a useful critical category, suggested that New Weird uses genre tropes but doesn't worry which genre it's pulling its tropes from, mixing together science fiction, fantasy and horror.[1]

The core idea most frequently ascribed to New Weird is that literature should transcend the genre in which it is written. Writers are encouraged to blur the borders between genres. The genres most frequently used in New Weird writings are science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Opponents of New Weird note that the divisions of genre are built for a reason and that the traditional divisions of genre are based on which types of ideas work best together. Other opponents claim the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy have always been one genre. Supporters speculate that the New Weird will become an important part of literary tradition.

This genre ultimately has its roots in pulp author and legendary horror icon Howard Phillips Lovecraft, whose specific brand of story is often referred to as a "weird tale." Weird tale as a label evolved from the magazine Weird Tales which published most of Lovecraft's work during his lifetime, as well as numerous other works written in a similar vein. Lovecraft's stories often combined fantasy elements, existential and physical terror, and science fiction devices. Lovecraft has influenced countless authors and artists including Stephen King, Clive Barker, Roger Zelazny (The Chronicles of Amber), Chris Carter, Anne Rice, Alan Dean Foster, Robert Jordan, the Wachowski Brothers, and even Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Ghostbusters, for example, contains the monstrous Zuul and the "gateway to our world" (a fantasy element), proton packs (science fiction), and ghosts (horror). The interaction of fantasy-horror elements with science fiction technologies is a popular idea in a great deal of contemporary fiction.

A further influence on the genre, especially in the case of China Miéville, is Michael de Larrabeiti's Borrible Trilogy. The first volume of the trilogy was initially published in 1976, and mixes realist and fantasy genres with the classic children's adventure story, such as Treasure Island and King Solomon's Mines, and subsersive, pseudo-anarchist political themes.

Consider also Stephen King's mammoth Dark Tower saga. It is set in a parallel universe where Gunslingers are the last knights of a fallen utopia, and the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, is out to save Mid-World from the fall of the Dark Tower, the hub of all existence. He is beset by a demon called the Crimson King and his friends include a recovering drug addict, a schizophrenic civil rights activist, a reincarnated 12-year-old boy, and a hybrid between a raccoon and dog called a "bumbler", named "Oy," after his bark.

In Italy the most important representative of the New Weird is novelist and historian Valerio Evangelisti, who has been developing his own fictional world, based on medieval history, science-fiction, fantasy, horror and gothic since 1994.

The Television series Doctor Who has always contained a combination of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Other cited television examples include Farscape and The X-Files for examples of New Weird. Writer/director James Gunn claimed that his film Slither was a genreless return to the "weird tale" of Lovecraft. The film combined elements of horror, comedy, family drama, and science-fiction.

Consider also K A Applegate's Everworld series, which mixes high fantasy with science fiction.

A critical anthology on the new weird has been announced by Jeff VanderMeer, to be published in the Spring of 2008 by Tachyon Publications.
by Michael Cisco

Literary history is heavily invested in scenes and schools, portable assemblies (Surrealists, Romantics, Beats) put together by critics. Hindsight naturally makes this assembling work easier, at least in part because the mill of arguments will have ground to a halt (it’s easier to snapshot a stationary object), and the vast profusion of determinative details that are so easily missed and which no one point of view, I think, can encompass, have been forgotten. Arguments about the meaning of a movement are any movement’s primary content, regarded as something bigger than the sum of its parts; the questions and answers, the political map of positions, usually turn out to be more important than any resolution posited at the time, or, to put it better, those resolutions in the moment, rather than eliminating questions or arguments, join them in a general manifold. Trying to name and adequately describe the scene as it unfolds in the present is like cutting cookies out of the fog, but perhaps that irreducible vagueness should encourage people to try.
Now there is the sense of a trend, loosely identified with a heterogenous company of writers as varied in their works as China Miéville and Jeffrey VanderMeer. For the sake of keeping ourselves in circulation, we might provisionally describe this as a tendency toward more literarily sophisticated fantasy. In bookstores, Fantasy means the Piers Anthony/J.R.R. Tolkein section; the word is an abbreviation for a standard content, like a brand. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Alice in Wonderland, The Golden Ass, Gulliver’s Travels or Naked Lunch are not shelved there, although they are all fantasies. This has everything to do with selling books, making sure the buyer finds what he or she is looking for, and reflects no judgement with regard to the literary status of this or that work of fantasy. A certain amount of work is produced specifically for the purpose of stocking shelves in the Fantasy section, where the index of novelty is best kept low. The serendipitous constellation of contemporary fantasy writers that belong to or generate the “new weird” seem generally and in varying proportions to blend the influences of genre writing and literary fantasy, and to weave in non-fantastic signals as well.
Poetry restores language by breaking it, and I think that much contemporary writing restores fantasy, as a genre of writing in contrast to a genre of commodity or section in a bookstore, by breaking it. Michael Moorcock revived fantasy by prying it loose from morality; writers like Jeffrey VanderMeer, Stepan Chapman, Lucius Shepard, Jeffrey Ford, Nathan Ballingrud, are doing the same by prying fantasy away from pedestrian writing, with more vibrant and daring styles, more reflective thinking, and a more widely broadcast spectrum of themes.
Every year The New Yorker releases its new fiction issue, profiling the important new writers, and every year they get it mostly wrong. An inessential, NPR tepidness prevails, and this is plainly not where it’s at. Lucius Shepard’s Handbook of American Prayer is where it’s at. Handbook, Veniss Underground, The Troika, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Etched City, My Work Is Not Yet Done, are not examples of good fantasy writing or good genre writing, but they are examples of good writing. Fantasy writing is no more inherently inessential than any other variety, and no more inherently escapist, either. What makes writing escapist is not a matter of whether or not it involves magic but whether or not it involves something meaningful. Fantasy writing is if anything increasingly relevant because it involves building and representing the whole world, fantasy worlds, sci-fi worlds, hidden gnostic horror worlds. This proliferation of worlds seems to me to be bound up with the extent to which the world has become immersed in trademarked representation.
The “New Weird,” as I’ve said, is a topic for critics and not so much for writers. Nothing could be more unenlightening or useless than a New Weird manifesto. What strikes the observer is precisely the spontenaiety with which so many different writers, pursuing such obviously disparate literary styles, should vaguely intersect in this way. Instead of a set of general aims, we have a great proliferation of correspondences on a more intimate level, like a sprawling coincidence of idiosyncratic choices. Mapping out a scheme won’t yield us much insight into what’s going on, although it might add something interesting of its own. The richness of this new writing recommends a depth-diving model rather than a breadth-sweeping one, such that none of its variety or perversion is planed out. The writing in question is more extensively and usefully defined by the unconscious or spontaneous choices the authors are making than by the directed ones; maybe this is most often the case. Certainly, none of the writers thus far invoked have, to my knowledge, set out to be “New Weird” writers, in the way that Andre Breton et al set out to be Surrealists.
Why pronunciations and definitions, if not to elicit counter claims? Sometimes it seems as though the winners in these matters prevail more as consequence of sheer exhaustion, which can mean a depletion of the store of endurance but just as readily of the store of interest, so that the received definition of any given wave is the final score in a game called on account of rain and indefinitely, maybe permanently, postponed thereafter. The New Weird has come into being, such as it is and whatever it should be, on its own and not by dint of any decision or program, so the attribution of decisions and schemes to it ought to be seen as prescriptions rather than as descriptions. This is only a problem if the prescription is mistaken for a description, that is to say, X, precisely because he believes the New Weird is such and such, doesn’t say this is what it “should be,” he says rather “this is what it is.”
It’s not as though literature preserves a province unto itself, and that genre stands in compartments below the level of general literature. All works of literature will express characteristics of genre. In his prologue to The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares, Borges touches on the tendency to disparage the adventure story, the mystery story, and contrasts them to the “formless” modern psychological novel. The formless psychological novel is a genre which, moreso at the time in which Borges was writing and somewhat less so now, ascended to pre-eminence on the smouldering remains of other genres. It may be that, in order to exist, genres may engage in a weird disembodied war that cannot be entirely explained in market or in aesthetic terms. More likely, this war is a blind for something more frankly political.
The distinction between genre literature and general literature is bogus, at least in any non-colloquial sense of these terms. What is “general literature”? If we begin to define it, even assuming this definition can be uncontroversial, we are already outlining tendencies or rules which are indistinguishable in kind from those that are used to define genre literature. The distinction between genre and general is an evaluation from the outset, and not an innocent differentiation. The “New Weird” might be better defined as a refusal to accept this evaluation of imaginative literature, whatever form it may take. So it is not for reasons of influence alone that such authors as Borges, Calvino, Angela Carter, are invoked by many of those in the imaginative camp, but also because these authors are obviously both fantastic and literary. Each after their own fashion, as you would expect.

Dradin, In Love - a novella by Jeff VanderMeer
The Release of Belacqua - a short story by Jeff VanderMeer
in the hours after death - a short story by Jeff VanderMeer
The Man Who Had No Eyes - a short story by Jeff VanderMeer

I'm back from vacation, by the way.