October 28, 2004
| October 28, 2004
Men in Skirts
In the last couple of years, when everyone had given up on coming up with new ideas for decent films, antiquity came back to haunt us. Filmmakers believe that if their film has a couple beefy guys wearing togas, it will be an instant success (historical epic = Oscar). Yet this is not such an accurate assumption. There is, of course, Gladiator, but this film is only an exception, and I do believe the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Russell Crowe the Oscar only because he should have gotten it for The Insider.
Filmmakers believe that the American public (everyone, actually) is dumb, so the idea is to make a movie that seems smart and is historically based and, presto, it’s an award-winner. However, this does not always happen so smoothly. Take, for example, Troy. It has very complicated, digitally-enhanced battles, and it has both Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in skirts. This movie, however, received less-than-stellar reviews across the board and remained in theaters for a brief period. A.O. Scott, reviewer for The New York Times, commented on the film last May, “Some moments may make you rue the existence of cinema, or at least of movies with sound, since the dialogue often competes with James Horner’s score for puffed-up obviousness.” There are other films that share the same qualities as Troy. The Four Feathers, a film about British imperialism in Sudan in 1898, and the much anticipated Alexander, about the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, a film slated to emerge next month, both work in this vein. While Alexander has a cast of thousands, including Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer (taking a break from being Moses) and Anthony Hopkins, I suspect that it will be more than a lot of hype and a big let down. This toga craze is not only limited to films — HBO has recently caught up with the trend. With Sex and the City over and The Sopranos off the air until 2006, HBO needs something worthwhile to fill the empty time slots. Fresh concepts for shows are slim, and with ABC headlining Desperate Housewives, a series worthy of HBO viewers, there does not seem to be innovative and groundbreaking story ideas coming through the woodwork. The series Rome, scheduled to debut next fall, appears to be the answer to this problem. Rome is currently filming in Italy and will end up costing $100 million dollars for the first year. “We’ve got a lot at stake here,” said Chris Albrecht, HBO’s chairman and chief executive, in a recent interview with Sharon Waxman of The New York Times. “We’ve got one opportunity to make it right, but we only get one shot.” HBO is under pressure to produce something worthy of acclaim and they are getting cold feet, which is understandable considering the magnitude of a series such as this one. It tells the story of Julius Caesar through the eyes of two of his soldiers. It will supposedly portray the nitty-gritty of upper and lower class conflict in 50 B.C. with intense, graphic detail. There have been bumps along the road; one of the main actors and the director were replaced and producers have come and gone. The filming has been pushed back and postponed, yet it is now moving in the right direction. I’m skeptical of such an enormous undertaking by HBO, the network is known for its cutting-edge urban comedy and drama. Perhaps a move to ancient Rome may be pushing the envelope. The new series bears the question: why resort to the complex and elaborate when their success comes from simply capturing the essence of human existence and how normal people, that we can relate to, act from day to day?
Archived article by Amanda Hodes
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October 29, 2004
With one of America’s most heated elections around the bend, Kroch Library sponsored a panel discussion, “Representation, Democracy, and Electoral Machinery: Four Years After the Florida Vote” yesterday afternoon with Prof. Stephen Hilgartner, science and technology studies, as moderator. The event, a joint collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology Studies and the Cornell University Library, accompanied the recent installment of an exhibition titled “Get Out the Vote: Campaigning for the U.S. Presidency,” spotlighting campaign materials from 1796-1960 at Kroch Library. The panel discussion featured Prof. Walter Mebane, government, Prof. Michael Lynch, science and technology studies, and Prof. Sheila Jasanoff, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Hilgartner introduced the panel discussion as “timely for an event that will happen in five days. The changing perception of voting technology in America, he observed, is evidenced in our views today compared to the days “prior to the 2000 election, when people tended to view the electoral process as if it were a measurement of the will of the people.” The discussion started with Mebane, whose topic, “Failing to Count All the Votes,” revolved around voting inaccuracy in a supposed highly regulated and precise process. A voter comprehension problem was a main reason for inaccuracy, Mebane pointed out, as illustrated in the butterfly ballot fiasco at Palm Beach, Fl. Because this “confusing creation” displayed its punch holes down the middle rather than on one side, 2000 or 1 percent of the votes in the county erroneously went to Buchanan instead of Gore. A second problem Mebane addressed was undervoting, often caused by issues with punch card technology. Because many voters used a pen or pencil to punch through the holes in the machine rather than the designated device, many chads were not punched through the entire way and could not be counted. Third was the prevalent phenomenon of accidental overvoting. Mebane pointed out that in Duval County, Fl., where voters selected different candidates for the same office because of misleading instructions on the ballot, 26,000 or 9 percent of all votes in the county were discarded, causing an voting error rate 80 percent greater than the best county in Florida. He concluded, the 2000 “election was decided more by election procedures than anything else.” Lynch centered on the theme of human error in voting and the limits of “mechanical objectivity,” the idea that a vote is sometimes “an intelligible vote to a human reader but not to a machine count.” Lynch contrasted two opinions on mechanical objectivity: one supporting “unambiguous rules, infallible machines, and uniform standards” that “treat machines as blameless,” the other allowing for “flexible, judgmental compensation for non-standard actions.” This difference of opinion raises Lynch’s question, “What exactly do you count as voter intent in the materiality of the ballot?” On some ballots from the last election, where the fill ovals were not right next to the candidate’s name, voters drew in their own oval by the candidate; these ballots were not counted in the election although it was evident whom the voters preferred. Lynch concluded that although Americans “put a great deal of trust in mechanical objectivity and rules, intelligible actions exceed the limits of systems. Ad-hoc judgments are necessary to retrieve the intelligibility of non-standard … actions.” Jasnanoff discussed “Voters and Voter Intent in America”. First noting that “in many areas of public life, individual life is placed by statistical data,” Jasnanoff underscored the tension between the clinical gaze, which endorses the importance of the individual, and the epidemiological gaze, which sees the individual as a small contribution to an aggregate statistic. Arguing that the voting process is one of the last remnants of the clinical view, Jasnanoff likened the voting booth to a confessional space, where in theory a person can “declare intent” and exercise “individual right.” At the same time, she noted CBS News’s coverage on the election results as something that took “individual acts of intent and report[ing] them in an uncluttered way” — in essence, an epidemiological gaze that reduced individual votes to a statistic. Jasnanoff also touched on the reliability of polling and the problem of “volitional exclusion,” the idea that many voters are not expressing their intent by not participating in the election process. The goal of the archive and the panel discussion is to “provide students with resources to experience voting technology,” said Elaine Engst, university archivist in the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. Eli Brown, head of program and project management in the same division, added that voting technology becomes “a visual reality” during the exhibit and that “chads … are a novel experience in real life.” Hilgartner explained that one of his impetuses for creating the exhibition was an “interest in understanding how technology systems operate and what happens when they fail.” v The exhibition, an eclectic showcase of mugs, walking sticks, sunglasses, soaps used as promotional material and of voter ballots and machinery, was made possible with a grant from the National Science Foundation and the joint efforts of Hilgartner and Jasnanoff. Archived article by CATHY XIAOWEI TANG Sun Staff Writer
October 29, 2004
In this era of pre-packaged, overpriced, polyester costumes, it’s all too easy to buy into the tawdry celebrity of Michael Meyers, Snow White, and Harry Potter. In the hopes of resisting this horrendous lack of imagination, we offer a small selection of lesser-attempted, movie-related costumes for this Sunday: Jesus Christ (The Passion of the Christ) What you need: thorn branches; a ragged loin cloth; a large, wooden crucifix; a group of enemies with barbed lashes. Halloween costumes are getting grosser and grosser these days, and no film character has ever looked more disgusting than Jesus from Mel Gibson’s The Passion. This costume is fairly simple. First, arrange a thorn bush into a crown, and then dig it into your scalp until you bleed. Then strip yourself down to just a loin cloth, assemble four of your closest enemies, and let them kick the living shit out of you for a good ten minutes. If it helps you get into character, make sure they insult you while doing it. Then drag your bleeding, half-dead carcass up, gather your cross, and get on your way! For added realism, have your enemies continue to beat you as you trick-or-treat. Shark (Jaws) What you need: A car; glue; wire; newspaper; surfboard fin; a mannequin resembling Quint; a lighter. Build a skeleton out of wire. Then construct an elaborate paper mache replica of a 25-foot shark. Paint it blue and gray. Put the surfboard fin on top. Then place a mannequin in the shark’s “mouth” (i.e. under the car hood). Kids, get your parents to help because now comes the difficult part: Once you’re done cruising the streets of Ithaca, pull over in the “ocean” (the middle of The Commons), and throw a match in the gas tank. A shark-car-inferno in a public area has never been so timely considering this heated election year. “Smile, you son of a bitch!” Asami (Audition) What you need: A black apron; black rubber gloves; piano wire; humongous hypodermic needle; acupuncture pins. The high-priestess of mutilation and torture from Takashi Miike’s horrifying Audition is an easy and fun costume for anyone. But it’s more important how you trick-or-treat when dressed as Asami. So, when a kindly old man opens his door and starts giving you candy, act demure and sweet and start up a conversation. Once things get going and he invites you in out of the cold, stick him with the hypodermic. Remember, it paralyzes his muscles, not his nerves, so the poor bastard can feel everything. Start jamming the acupuncture pins into his pressure points, creating unbearable amounts of pain. When you have him screaming, take the piano wire and start slicing off his limbs off one by one. Isn’t Halloween fun?! Frank Booth (Blue Velvet) What you need: Nitrous Oxide; leather jacket; a woman who will let you abuse her mercilessly. This isn’t really a costume; it’s a way of life. All you need to do is make your date sit in a chair while you stare at her and huff laughing gas for around two hours. That’s it. Now hit the town. From time to time, yell, “Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants to fuck blue velvet!” or “Don’t toast to my health! Toast to my fuck!” Don’t worry about staying in character. The laughing gas will take care of that. Stan Brakhage (Dog Star Man) What you need: A parka; an axe; dead tree branches. Struggling with reconciling a shamanistic vision of ontological stratifications of the ethereal, mortal and subatomic? No? Well, try this costume anyway. Just stumble around, carrying your axe and dragging branches from the dead tree you just battled for twenty minutes. Remember to look haggard and confused — you were just railing against your impending mortality, after all. Occasionally, you should fall down, preferably down a hill. Also, don’t forget to suffer frequent seizures and bouts of hallucinatory delirium. Roger O. Thornhill (North by Northwest) What you need: A suit; a duffel bag with change of clothes; a fake gun. Sure, it’s a cop-out to portray a character without a stable identity. But for the indecisive party-goer, it’s a godsend. Start the day as a trim ad salesman, and once you hit the party circuit, get a fake gun and keep talking about killing communists. This raises the problem of how to falsely portray a character with a false gun. Our advice: Keep a real loaded gun on you the entire night. You’ll need it once that Jaws costume goes off. Jerry (Some Like It Hot) What you need: A suit; maybe a bass case. It’s funny enough to wear a costume of a character wearing a costume. But, even better, just walk around in a suit. When people ask what you are, say you’re Jerry from Some Like It Hot. When they complain that you’re not dressed like a woman, say that part of the movie hasn’t happened yet. The downside: To dispel the temporal discontinuity, you’ll need to dress like a female Jack Lemmon for the remainder of your adult life. All Terrain Scout Transport (The Empire Strikes Back) What you need: A hollowed-out 1957 Auto-Point compute; tin foil around legs and arms. We concede that the only purpose of this costume is to find a Star Wars character that hasn’t been a costume yet. And, hell, we might be wrong. Maybe thousands of people are All Terrain Scout Transports every year. Fuck if we care about those nerds. Any civilized adult who frolics around sterile convention centers dressed like an ewok deserves no praise from the Cornell Sun. Readers may wonder if there wasn’t some other character who hasn’t been done to death every Halloween and who doesn’t necessitate the destruction of a room-sized computer. We looked. No, there isn’t. The Queen Alien (Aliens) What you need: a team of sculptors; 1,000 pounds of rubber; aluminum; familiarity with robotics; countless hours of free time. Well, we don’t think this costume is really possible, but it would still be pretty damn cool to see a twenty-foot tall alien walking down the street. Also, so many great characters from films are men, so this one’s for the ladies. Despite the apparent logistical problems in building a two-story xenomorph, there are other issues, like how do you make the queen move? We suggest building an exact replica, and then using poles to walk the beast door to door. Make sure to rub it down with Vaseline for that slimy effect. Archived article by Zach Jones and Alex LinhardtSun Arts & Entertainment Editors