24 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #10

So we made up for Saturday with Sunday, making it a day of full-immersion film festival to-ing and fro-ing. A nice finale.

The day started at 2pm with Machinima, a bag-o-tricks (and sadly not much else) of live-video-digital-manipulation things. Cute for an opening act, bad as the main course. Most of the digital manipulation was crude to put it mildly. Your TV weatherman does superior reality-altering tricks every night on the news. I suppose the big news here is that you can now do such things on your home computer. Yippee.

Most of the presentation revolved around the idea that you can take a game engine (the core programming and APIs that make things like Quake II create it's textures/landscapes "on the fly") and use it to do things other than strictly games. Well duh, the nerd in me thinks to himself, but the general public seems amused.

It's not that the core idea here is a bad one -- you are in effect creating "live films" by using live action to direct or interact with the instantly-generated backgrounds, sort of a living cartoon if you will. With sufficient computing power and software, you can point a video camera at a person and his movements will be fed into the computer with the output being that a computer-generated character moves and talks like a mirror image. Maybe this is big news out in the sticks, but I remember seeing this done back in the earliest days of TechTV, some five years ago. By talking to a blue screen, the host could "interact" with a computer-generated character a la Max Headroom. Yes, it probably took a $50,000 computer system to do it then, and today you can do it for about 10% of that cost.

This could set precedents for animated films, naturally, but I can't see it making much of an impact outside of that. Perhaps in a decade or so when the quality of the output rivals that of Pixar's rendered present-day stuff, okay.

From there we went quickly on to a real treat, The Sweatbox. My review of this film will be on Film Moi very shortly, but suffice to say that I attended it with a Disney contractor and he was vigourously nodding his head throughout.

Next up was a program of "International Shorts" and this year I'm glad to say the selection was outstanding. While not every film was a hit with me, the collection of them represented wide ranges of style, viewpoint and cultural background -- which is exactly what they should do.

We kicked off the program with some animated efforts, beginning with a couple of Angry Kid shorts (this festival will come up with any excuse to show more Angry Kid films!), Dolly and Swollen. They were ... well, Angry Kid films are becoming a commodity, they were typical of the bunch. I can't wait for the day when I can get like 50 of these little hit-n-run films on one DVD. Yeah.

This was followed by the slam-dunk favourite (and award winner for best int'l short) How Democracy Really Works. It was almost painful, particularly in Florida, to see how votes turn into electricity for the men's washroom at the Parliament building. More than a few in the audience clearly think as much of the voting process (and what effect it has on our leaders) as the filmmaker.

Then there was the Little Cow in yet another episode, A Small Christmas Problem! Oh this made us soooo happy, even though we didn't understand a word of it. Some kind soul had thoughtfully translated the Hungarian cow's lyrics into English, but printed it very small on a light blue piece of paper, which we were somehow supposed to read in the dark. Duh. Oh well, it was still hilarious. I predict Little Cow will soon be the next Net Star. You read it here first.

After these sure-fire hits came the "experimental" portion of the program. A Canadian film Flux, done in the style of Ralph Steadman's drug-addled drawings, brought us the cyclical nature of life; festival darling Signe Baumane from Latvia brought us her dream-interpretation piece Woman, which absolutely nobody understood but was nonetheless well received for it's breathtaking quantity of imagination; then we had Just A Little Bit of Love, a semi-animated semi-live-action piece where a lonely woman creates a life-size doll of her singing idol who comes to life -- in her mind.

The final part of the program was meant to be the "art as mirror" portion of the show, but was cut short by the omission of about 35 minutes worth of the program as two of the scheduled films did not make it in time. The Enzian, in a classy move, made up for this by leaving free passes for everyone to come back and take in a regular (non-festival) feature at a later date. Kudos to Enzian for this imaginative and crowd-pleasing idea.

The other shorts we did see included a Spanish film called Dos Mas, about two lovers, one's mother and the absent husband, and the dream made real (unfortunately). The motif, that of a educational tourist film of New York, actually ties everything together much better than I thought it would. A surprising if slow-moving piece.

The last short was Shadow Man, which definitely made the audience extremely edgy. A little girl gets lured inside a house where a couple of squatters reside. No harm comes to her, but was any intended? Were the men genuinely befriending the girl or preparing a great evil? The teenage sister didn't seem to mind ... what exactly happened there? You leave this film with more questions than answers, and maybe a little challenged. Good art.

Now all that would be enough for one day for most people, but not us! Oh no! We went straight over to the Park 11 Theatre (the unsung hero of the festival, helping out with a second screen and doing a mighty fine job overall) to see Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. I love documentaries about colourful characters and they don't get much more colourful than this guy. He recently passed away (just after the film was finally completed) and I had seen parts of this as a "work in progress" a couple of years ago. It's a marvellous tale both of Dowd's amazing life (started out as an intern at the Manhattan Project, moved into the music biz, almost single-handedly invented 8-track recording, Atlantic Records' soul repertoire and the Southern Music craze of the 70s) and the soundtrack of our lives ... the soulful music of the Motown acts (later Atlantic acts), the maturation of jazz, the evolution of rock-n-roll into "rock music" (his work with Cream and Eric Clapton being just one example) and later his promotion of Southern rock (yes that was him behind all those classic Southern hits). Everything this guy touched turned to gold, and the testimonials to him are unusually effusive even for a tribute film. You'll be amazed that one person could pack in this much livin'.

The evening ended not with the awards ceremony (I never go to these; they are dreadfully boring to be at in real life, and the winners are listed on an email or piece of paper just minutes after the ceremony ends anyway), but with Fritz Lang's 1953 noir classic, The Big Heat. By this point in his career, Lang's reputation as an innovator was fading away, but he still turned a more-or-less typical crime drama into a stylish, shocking symphony of violence and moody camera angles. The sudden and punctuated ugly moments in this film are not easily forgotten, and extremely well-played by the cast (Glenn Ford as Good, Lee Marvin as Evil, and the smoldering Gloria Grahame who shines above all of them as The Moll). I wasn't as impressed with the "recently struck 35mm print" as I should have been for a 50th anniversary release, but again seeing such movies on the big screen and in a group is a wholly different experience than seeing the same film on TV. The nuances of the performances and screenwork really come out. Well-shot, well-acted films really shine more on the theatre screen where they were intended to be seen, and The Big Heat does both its genre and its director proud showcased this way.

Now you might think this is where the diary ends -- the festival is over, right? Ah, but surprise! There's another entry coming. Stay tuned.

19 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #9

Saturday was the day it all caught up to us hard.

We did manage to go see the 1981 movie Thief with James Caan -- and with Mr. Caan actually in attendance at the screening. The movie was an above-average gangster movie, illuminating the lonely life of a professional thief very well. It is also one of Caan's few leading-man parts (another one being Rollerball, which was screened as a midnight movie).

Where Thief really shines is in it's handling of dialogue -- you can really see where Quentin Tarentino gets his patter from. This has to be one of his favourite movies.

From the moody Tangerine Dream score to the muted 80s colour schema (the movie is set entirely in sombre, overcast Chicago), Thief's elements all zoom in to focus on one thing -- James Caan's character. He's an anti-hero in the classic mold, he barely communicates at all, even in intimate moments, and he doesn't emerge from this picture a winner or a changed man, but nonetheless the film stays with you.

Kudos to Heather for correctly spotting the Green Mill Lounge, a legendary nightclub/venue in Chicago that's used as Caan's HQ in the film and where we have spent a memorable evening ourselves. Good place for the blues, the Green Mill.

As I mentioned, James Caan himself was on hand, and graciously answered a few questions after the show. Pity his interviewer was not really up to the task, prefering instead to polish his James Lipton impression. We left to eat and spend some time together.

Then I made my big mistake.

Noting that we did not plan to attend another film until 7pm, I decided to have a nap. Having not slept much the previous days, this was risky -- but I was prepared and had set my dollar-store alarm clock to wake me.

After a week of serious sleep deprivation, it was folly to think this would actually work.

Before I knew it, it was 5:30am Sunday morning. I had slept right through Only the Strong Survive and yes, even Rollerball! I am still kicking myself for this. Watching a fun 70s sci-fi flick like Rollerball on the big screen with a large crowd of other hip film mavens, and possibly a return appearance by Caan ... oh it must have been heaven! Curses! Drat! Etc!

Still, as they say about the rain in this time of the year, "it was much needed." To have slept for almost 14 hours indicates that maybe my body and mind were trying to tell me something. Heather claims she tried to get me up earlier in the evening but I was having none of it. Ah well.

Coming up tomorrow: the festival winds down just as I'm warming up.

17 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #8

Friday was another day to explore some of the goings-on at the festival outside the realms of strictly film and video. I headed down to Festival HQ to take in an Apple software demonstration. Since I'm well familiar with Apple and it's offerings, I was really there to see who was presenting, how good they were, to see if I could squeeze any tidbits out of them, and to hopefully get to play with a little new hardware. I also performed my usual function of making sure the presentation kept rolling by asking hopefully-intelligent questions when the audience went dry.

It went well, and the presenter was a good one. I learned a few things (which I always like), made a contact I hope to exploit later, soothed a ruffled feather and most importantly got to play around a little with the new 12" G4 Powerbook. Hubba hubba, you want one of these babies. Even hard-core IT people (the closest thing Microsoft has to "fans") drool at the sight of it, and the touch is amazing. It's much lighter than I expected (that full pound they shaved off the iBook's weight really makes a huge difference, but then it is a 25% reduction), yet the machine feels incredibly sturdy and keyboard is unlike anything you've felt in a laptop ever. Jaguar purrs like a kitten on it too. Argh, why can't I find $1799 in spare change under the couch cushions?!

I also took in the various digital installations and other art exhibits around the festival HQ. No offense to the people who worked hard to put NEXTART together, but most of the displays (and most of the NEXTART exhibits, and a fair few films as well) are centered around repurposed game engines and other uses of OpenGL textures. I can see where this would be interesting to the general public, but it's really not that revelatory to a computer geek -- we've been living with OpenGL and it's peculiar "texture" vision of reality for more than five years now. Admittedly there were some clever employments of it (such as the recreation of a Japanese interment camp and a later presentation integrating live motion), but it was nothing out of the ordinary to most gamers. We're seeing it in music videos and TV ads every day, people -- setting up a big joystick in the middle of the room to make it "interactive" isn't exactly novel.

Having killed the best part of the afternoon, I decided to rest until Heather came home, when we could both go to the Filmmaker's "Wrap" party (I swear these festivals will come up with any name to have an excuse for a soiree), which this year was held at Colonial Lanes, a bowling alley stuck forever in the very end moments of the Nixon administration. James Lileks would be downright proud of this place for many reasons, but the "regulars" -- who all look like they were forcibly shanghai'd from Chicago or Des Moines just before the Disco Era began -- are the crowning touch. They hate it when these durn young people with their fancy hair and their gum chewin' come a-rattlin' up their souped-up hot rods, which suits these juvenile delinquents just fine.

After sampling the mediocre bar-b-cue (ah, B's, come back all is forgiven!) and enjoying the camaraderie of the filmmakers (as well as watching the culture clash of white-trash bowling aficionados* and art-film sophisticates interacting awkwardly), we headed out for the first actual film of the day, the Animated Shorts program.

*not all bowlers are white trash of course; just these guys.

For those of you keeping score, we were sitting at 52 films seen as of the start of Friday. Add the 13 shorts and you get 65 so far.

We started off with The F.E.D.S, a hilarious short in the style of Waking Life -- that is to say painted and distorted animation overlaid on top of and based on actual footage of real people. In this case, the real people were those poor souls who demonstrate/give away food samples at your local supermarket. Oh the stories they tell!

Set Set Spike was described as "a poetic meditation on motherhood and volleyball." Mixing live action with animated scenes with bad poetry, it boasted good music (Yo La Tengo) and performances but was really kind of aimless.

It's extremely difficult to describe the black-and-white visual assault that was Bathtime in Clerkenwell. This film is actually a music video for an artist calling himself "(The Real) Tuesday Weld" (aka Stephen Coates) and the "plot" such as it is might be described as "cuckoos take over London and force people to live in cuckoo clocks." Imagine if Terry Gilliam did Heckle & Jeckle cartoons while on methamphetimine and you begin to get some idea of the riotous use of monochrome in this thing. It's only three minutes long and it's just great, but you're relieved when it's over. Used parts of my optic nerve that haven't been touched in long, long time.

Roof Sex can only be called "Furniture Porn." It was fantastic. This is what people want to see from a shorts program -- something unexpected, mindblowing and extremely funny. More please.

Then we come to the incredibly well-done and funny film with the best title in the whole festival, The Man With the Smallest Penis in Existence and the Electron Microscope Technician Who Loved Him. Well, what more need be said after a title like that, eh? You already know if you have any interest in seeing it, don't you? I really enjoyed the rich, Adobe Illustrator-inspired style of the film and the main setting, the "Big Barn of Proctology." I could have done without the full-colour colonoscopy photos from both the celebrities (not really) and the director & crew (yes, really).

This was followed by Unearthed, a disturbing but rivetting look at a potato that gets an eye from a cat and uses it to see injustice. Too bizarre to describe properly, but you'll wince and then look again.

A Conversation with Haris is a six-minute piece illustrating an interview with an 11-year-old Bosnian immigrant talking about the war and how it affected him and his family. It's animated using a paint-on-glass technique which allows us to focus on Haris on an emotional level.

A trend I'm noticing more and more often in animation shorts is what I call the "illustrated dream" approach. That is to say that the films often don't have any "plot" per se but are more like visual representations of dreams, complete with nonsensical and abrupt starts and finishes, odd characters that may randomly return even after death, heavy use of symbolism or whimsy and usually a disjointed feel that often leaves the viewer confused unless they grasp the intent, which is not to inform as most "linear" story films do.

One such film in the program was Call of the Wild in which a bunch of weird animals do odd but familiar domestic things (in their own way -- for example a walrus flosses his teeth), all while talking away on their telephones. Point? None to be had, but as much as I complain about the lack of a point in some films, I'm actually okay with the concept as long as it's easy to understand that this is the filmmaker's intent.

A more linear story (actually more like a parable) could be found in See the Truth, a claymation short dealing with racism in a great and accessible way. It's a pity very few children will ever see this film, it's exactly the sort of thing they need to see, as it does a good job both in explaining why racism exists and how it keeps perpetuating itself without being even the tiniest bit preachy or condemning. I kept thinking how great it would be if this could be show in all the elementary schools in Alabama, Mississippi and the other hotbeds of racism. Sigh.

Pan With Us is simply an artistic interpretation of the Robert Frost poem, done very well but with nothing to make it really stand out. A better vocal performance might have made the difference.

Another claymation short, another parable (I don't know why claymation is the preferred style of choice for parables -- starting with Gumby and Pokey and continuing on today). The Box Man is actually inspired by a Kobo Abe novel but could easily (and uncannily) apply to the US these days and the culture of fear we both live in and created for ourselves.

Unlike last year where computer-animated stuff dominated and ended up overdone, The Freak is the first all-computer short we saw this year, and it's a good one almost, but not quite, worthy of Pixar (the director will no doubt be working there soon enough). If I had to boil it down, I might describe the story as "Alfred E. Neuman goes on an innocent rampage and the rest of the world freaks out." Fun but disposable.

The final film in the shorts program was also it's greatest. The harrowing, beautiful and depressing Eternal Gaze was a stunningly animated, "lit" and scored bit of computer animation that reminded me strongly of early works by Tim Burton/Henry Selick and the Brothers Quay. Based in a poetic sense on the life of groundbreaking artist Alberto Giacometti and his work, it brings to life (with an almost Herschfeldian design) the tortured artist and his struggles both internal and external. Carefully mimicking the stop-motion style, director Sam Chen brilliantly "hides" the computerishness completely and allows us to get totally involved in the story, which is told without dialogue. As a film, many may find it depressing and it's stark black-and-whiteness does nothing to relieve you of the impression that this is heavy going. As a work of art and as a technical achievement it surpasses expectations and, I think, does Giacometti and his artistic vision proud.

There -- see what you miss by sticking to boring old Hollywood/mainstream features? :)

16 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #7

Today we get to talk about something other than strictly film, thanks to the NEXTART program that is also running inside the Florida Film Festival. In a nutshell, NEXTART is almost anything digitally-based that is outside the scope of regular film or art.

Thursday was again a relaxed day until the evening, starting at 4:30 with a screening of The Occularist, a short about a man with an extraordinary talent for drawing human body parts and how he decided to use his artistic skills to begin fashioning articifical enamel eyes for people who had lost theirs. While several parts of the doc were hard to watch due to their graphic nature (such as inserting plaster in the patient's socket to get a mold for the eye), the end result was breathtaking ... a soft insertable "mask" that can (depending on the patient's remaining muscular control) move in sync with the "real" eye. The young patient profiled certainly went from being someone to be stared at to a normal-looking kid in the space of about 15 seconds after all the weeks of work had been completed.

This is the kind of movie that makes me wish there was an all-documentary or at least all-short-film sort of channel. Who cares if things start at 11:10 or 4:14? This country desperately needs more venues than just film festivals (which tend to be populated mostly by rich, well-educated types) so that the public at large can get some exposure to the world around them beyond their own little sphere. Surely there is a viable way for some company to put together such a channel? With 500 channels (400 of which are utter tripe), I can't help but think there's a niche for this thing, and the filmmakers could really use another market to sell to. By it's very nature, short films are not as commercial as features, and thus there are a lot fewer outlets to go to in the attempt to actually make a buck on em.

The feature of the day was MAMA/M.A.M.A -- a seriously journalistic and thorough look at the bizarre world of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, and whether it's a true condition or an invention by a handful of overeager doctors, some of whom have clear conflicts of interest.

For those who don't know, MSBP refers to a mental condition where a parent (almost always the mother) deliberately abuses or poisons her child to induce a debilitating illness (not generally to the point of death) in an effort to get attention and sympathy. Over the years, scores of women have had their children taken away from them -- sometimes from the moment of birth -- due to accusations of Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy.

The filmmakers take a long time to sort out the very very complicated facts in the cases of three example mothers and through the history of this "illness" and determine that in most cases (as well as a startling number of "cot death" or "crib death" cases), the real culprit may well be the neurological agents often prescribed by the very doctors trying to treat the medical problems of the child.

The film, unfortunately, becomes mired in its own minutia and while it succeeds in its aim to cast doubt on the legitimacy of most claims of MSBP, it bogs down in it's clearly-biased and hostile approach to doctors and bureaucrats who disagree with them. No matter how convincing the filmmakers try to be that a group of ultra-powerful neurological drugs that were never intended for children but which routinely get used in treating stomach/digestive problems in infants are the real root cause of most accusations of MSBP, the fact of the matter is that it is an emotionally-charged, difficult issue and it will take a long time to clearly test and establish if their claims are true.

If they are, of course, more than 25 years of parental abuse and traumatizing childen will become a Salem Witch Hunt-like footnote in the annals of medicine, and that is what gives the filmmakers their sense of urgency. But resorting to graphic portrayals and character assassination isn't really going to solve the problem, though MAMA/M.A.M.A. may indeed help shed light on the subject which could speed up the discovery process.

Obviously, this film is more than a little tough to watch, with it's endless scenes of crying parents, extremely ill and dead children, and heartless, detached medical experts. From dirt-poor southerners who have completely lost their chance to reclaim their children to dirt-poor Scots who ended up going to prison not for MSBP but for trying to protect their kids from abusive foster care, it's clear that the system is fucked up and needs reform quickly. I'm not sure, however, that cheap-sensationalism propaganda -- even when it's designed to counteract the propaganda that's already out there -- is the right tool to get the job done.

The last film of the day wasn't a film at all, but an interactive artistic experiment called "Terminal Time." Three creators, using mostly ordinary home computers (Macintoshes, quite naturally, with their built-in graphics/audio/video capabilities and superior speech technology) and off-the-shelf software (in this case Supercard along with a few databases), produce a self-generating, audience-influenced, constructed on the fly presentation detailing a version of events of the last millenium -- highly slanted to the whims of it's audience. One presenter has called it "the future of television" and in an extremely broad way I think he's right -- we're already seeing "narrowcasting" as a trend, this presentation just takes it another step further in customising the experience for maximum audience tailoring.

The computer puts up a series of questions chosen from a larger list at random. An "applause-o-meter" type device measure the response of the audience (though as we saw at this performance, one loud person very close to the mic could override popular choice). Based on the audience answers, the computer then generates an approximately 30-minute overview of the history of the last thousand years, using video and still pictures spontaneously (and sometimes seemingly randomly) sequenced and with a audio commentary that is again generated and read on-the-fly but biased in the audiences favour. For example, when a gender-makeup question is asked and the answer shown to be largely female, the presentation tends to keep coming back to the question of how historical events benefitted women's rights, and also touches on the role of children in historical events. When the machine determines that the audience is largely not religious, a strong anti-church tone becomes evident.

There are actually about six or so influencing factors on the makeup of the presentation, which means that you could have one of several thousand possible variations in the final product. In the show, we went though the entire procedure twice, and sure enough the results of the first showing were totally different than the results the second time (where we were much more "aware" of how our answers would affect things).

The presentation, which wasn't well attended (barely a half-full house) was a big hit with the audience who had lots of intelligent questions and comments on the logic and/or fallability of the system. Despite having asked the filmmakers directly, I'm still not sure if the main point of this is to showcase a new idea in interactive technology, to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate history presentations to please your audience or to subtly show people that they are almost always being manipulated by the media in one way or another. Both presentations of history that we saw -- the pro-union, pro-technology, anti-religious version and the pro-female, pro-child, anti-war one -- were historically accurate and full of interesting facts. There was nothing made up and no untoward slant on the part of the machine, just an influencing of the facts selected for presentation that made all the difference. I suspect that when the novelty of this finally wears off and works its way down to the school level, it will be an eye-opening experience for youngsters of all ages.

14 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #6

Ack, still trying to catch up a little bit. Let's review the films of Wednesday before they get too cold.

The day started at 4pm with another shorts program, five little films averaging about 20 minutes each. The first one, Bun-Bun, was a cute and beautifully shot (on 35mm -- somebody's daddy is rich!) little effort about rugrats and their toys and the lengths (yuppie white) people will go to to keep them happy. It had a lot going for it, was very well-directed and looked great, but ultimately came over very empty. You wondered why everyone had gone through all the obvious effort they did to make something that was ultimately not going to change anything or anybody. Not every film has to be a Big Important Statement, but every film should say something, even if the message is nothing more substantive than "tits are great."

The only thing Bun-Bun imparted to me was that having kids is a bad idea, which I doubt is what the filmmakers intended. Problem is, I can't tell what they intended. Did they think it was cute to show parents willing to debase themselves and make others' lives a nightmare just to satiate their own brat? Are they trying to tell us that we've let our kids get too dependent on material needs? Or is the child's dependence on Bun-Bun a metaphor for our own spoiled-rotten society?

Actually, I think I've probably inferred more meaning into the film than has ever crossed the filmmaker's minds.

Continuing with the "why did they bother" theme, comes Last Day, a film about some guy's last day at an office where he spent far longer than he intended. They set this up like there's some big coming-of-age message like a yuppified American Grafitti, but there was no payoff whatsoever in the film. As a slice-of-life documentary about white morons and their cubicle existences, I guess it sort of worked. It just seemed to me like this was one of those films that sounded good in the pitch but in the execution they ended up with a far less interesting film than the setup had promised. Note to filmmakers: making the audience care about the characters must have been covered the day you were sick at film school.

Things picked up a bit with Rules of Love, based on a play about a woman, a priest and their triangular relationship with their god. Really well-performed, costumed and filmed, this one actually had something to say and characters you could get into. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever seen on this topic (that would be Ballykissangel season 1), it was a worthwhile effort.

The next film the program was Virgin, but I talked about that in the previous FFF diary entry (see below) so suffice to say it was the highlight of the program.

Finally we came to The Cutman, which I had hoped was going to be a mini-doc about this now-obsolete fight-doctor type profession. Instead it wussed out into a father-son tribulation thing. Ugh, like we don't get enough of these. Still, this film also hit most of the right notes: well shot, good performances from the cast, glimpses of a world rarely seen. I think they could have explored the Cutman's feelings of impotence and his struggle to re-establish his self-worth in a less meandering way and without having to bring in the unnecessary son angle. And of course the old guy dies in the end -- ho hum. After all, we wouldn't want the old guy we've spent so much time investing in to actually find redemption and come to terms with the changes in his life, now would we?

Next up was the Japanese feature Princess Blade. Despite a lot of buzz at the festival about this one, I considered this a colossal waste of time (I know I sound awfully cranky here but it wasn't just a bad hair day for me, honest!). Japanese filmmakers keep trying to meld martial-arts action pictures and boring arty chick-flick type stories (a la the manga comic book upon which this is based), and it just isn't working. You end up looking at your watch for 70 of the 90 minutes, waiting for the next action sequence -- and unlike a porno movie, you've got no fast-forward control. Result: suckage. Given my penchant for Asian babes (and this movie has several), you know this must suck bad for me to hate it this much. The fight sequences were great, but we just didn't need 15-20 minutes of really lame and only half-explained exposition to set up each fight scene. This movie reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy X (and the influence is very clear here) -- lots and lots of story, little bit of action, lots more story. Problem is, it's not much of a story. Maybe some tits would have helped. Yeah.

The last event of the night was a midnight showing of music videos. Ninety minutes (with intermission) of music videos. The program was exceedingly well-attended for a Wednesday night, and well-received to put it mildly. You'd almost think there was an audience for the concept of watching music videos. You'd almost think that maybe somebody should put on a channel on TV that did nothing but show music videos. Naaah, that's crazy talk.

Here's a rundown of the bands featured: Nerf Herder (funny!), Flaming Lips (nice!), Taking Back Sunday (eh!), Sigur Ros (depressing), Prodigy (bizarre!), Death Cab for Cutie (cute!), the Hives (damn the Hate Bombs must be kicking themselves now!), Badly Drawn Boy (Doug Henning would have been proud!), Queens of the Stone Age (surprisingly good for such a "alternative mainstream" band), Rob Dougan (eh!), Johnny Cash (stole the show covering a NIN song!!), Money Mark (Japsploitation?!), Zero 7 (bad 3D and kinda jazzy), Interpol (video games have really influenced mv directors!), The White Stripes (very cool!), Powder (cute but kinda manufactured), The Avalanches (woah!) and Moby (another good video from him). Kudos to Will Brown who selected the clips, and to those who think hip-hop/rap was underrepresented -- you're right. Now go away.

So let's see ... that makes 50 films (counting the shorts as one film each but counting all the music videos as 1 film total) so far. On to Thursday, the buildup to the climatic final weekend.

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #5

Tuesday was the day when it all kind of collapsed like a flan in a cupboard. Instead of being a conscientious Film Reporter, I stayed up all night working on this blog and other projects, then collapsed into bed early in the morning and slept right through the Student Workshops. I felt bad about this, but only a little -- I've attended a number of them over the years and to be frank, the work shown is almost universally lousy. Much of it is comprised of truly terrible stuff largely being made by the Full Sail students whose parents paid waaaaaay too much money to get them out of their hair. Too many of these students look to be killing time and cash and seeking an easy way to get laid. These are the groupie-driven rock stars and casting-couch "producers" of tomorrow, folks.

Sure, there are students at Full Sail who are both talented and serious -- I've met quite a few, particularly in the technical stage and recording-engineer areas. These are people who know that the fields they are getting into are low-paying and unglamourous, and as a result tend to be the ones who are really dedicated to the craft. The rest are mostly just bored rich kids with dreams of easy living pushing mediocre crap on the sheep-like public -- the Jethro Bodines of our generation. Heaven save us from their flood of direct-to-video, soft-porn mush.

The UCF kids aren't much better, for much the same reason -- only minus the rich parents. Their efforts tend to fall into one of two categories: either "I have vision and skill, but lack resources!" or "I have no vision and no talent, but I will hide this with pretty girls and/or editing tricks." Sometimes you get lucky and some aspect of the film stands out -- good acting, clever cinematography, solid editing, stellar sound, competent direction. Rarely does it all come together.

I mention this because I actually did see two student films this year (from FSU in Tallahassee of all places!) where it did all come together: great story, great actors, great technical. The only area they fell down on was an obvious lack of budget, but as a longtime Doctor Who fan I can easily overlook wobbly walls and bad makeup if the story and acting are convincing. The first one, Serial Games, would make a terrific horror feature fleshed out to 75 minutes or so. A near-future "parody" of reality TV, an illegal immigrant with dreams of citizenship signs up for a game show where contestants are dropped into a trap house with a real serial killer and must get out alive to "win." The lack of money was painfully apparent on screen, making it look like Manos: The Hands of Fate, but everyone gave it their all and the sheer amount of heart in this picture (not a gross pun there for once) made a difference.

The second, Virgin, was just a breathtakingly good film in almost every respect. Occasionally a bit of "student acting" crept in, and again the lack of money did make itself felt, but this was a really stylish and well-told coming-of-age flick that would make a lousy feature but makes a great short film. The leads were spectacularly good-looking and sincere -- hard to believe in a student film. Great things coming out of FSU these days, I must say. Now if only somebody would give them some freakin' cash.

Another tragedy that happened on Tuesday was that due to extreme fatigue and Heather's illness we were prevented from seeing The General, the 1927 silent Buster Keaton masterpiece, shown on the big (outdoor) screen in Winter Park's Central Park. Hopefully there is a remastered DVD around somewhere to help make up for this, I'm really kicking myself for missing it (I've seen the film before, but decades ago).

Thus, we only caught two films on Tuesday: the intriguing half-hour short Ferry Tales, and the full-length doc Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story.

Ferry Tales features without a doubt the most unusual subject for a documentary I've yet seen: the ladies room on the Staten Island Ferry. Like most ladies' rooms, this one is a world unto itself -- but even with that criteria the Staten Island Ferry's restroom is unique, with women of all ages, colours and lifestyles joining together to form a very cliquish clique that is equal parts hair, makeup and friendship. The uncommon bond that unites these ladies turns the Ladies' Room into a combination hair salon, confessional and psychic hotline. Outsiders must earn their way in, and the toilets are "just for show. You do not use the toilets."

We were privileged to have the film's instigator and music composer, Cassia, answer questions and even seranade us with her version of the film's closing number, complete with accordion.

The main feature, Cul De Sac, purports to be a documentary about a bizarre 1995 incident where a fellow in San Diego went bananas, stole a tank and for about half an hour rampaged around suburban SD destroying tons of cars and trailers but miraculously hurting nobody other than himself. What the film really is, is a warning like a huge red toxic-chemical sticker: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE DON'T MOVE TO SAN DIEGO!! STAY AWAY!! UNCLEAN!!

In a convoluted and overly-complicated attempt to show us what drove Shaun Nelson, an unemployed plumber, ex-Desert Storm soldier and frequent methamphetamine abuser (which is, you will be shocked to discover, roughly the generic description of all males between 30 and 50 in this town) to go beserk, filmmaker Garrett Scott goes back to the founding of San Diego as a dumping ground for returning vets in WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars. For a while the plan worked -- cheap housing, good jobs (in the defense industry), great weather. But the traumas of war drove the soldiers to booze, and the plant closings in the 70s were the straw that broke the camel's back. Many men (mostly the Vietnam vets) turned to "crystal meth" -- which many of them had been given by the gov't during the way -- as a way to cope. Freakouts similar to but usually less bizarre than Nelson's are actually rather commonplace in San Diego.

Along the way we meet and fear Nelson's drugged-out, brain-damaged family, friends and neighbours. You haven't seen a group this scary since the 1994 Republican Congress, and these older visions of Beavis and Butthead will put you off the idea of ever visiting San Diego faster than you can say "Duuuuude!"

The backstory supplemented with simply astonishing footage from the local news stations (including a prolonged interview with the burnout loser roommate who shows off the 25-foot mineshaft Nelson had dug in his backyard looking for gold) make for a riveting if hard-to-follow tale. In part this was due to the drugginess of the moron neighbors, who kept saying things like "he said he was gonna steal a tank and destroy stuff, but I didn't believe it", and part because of the incredibly awful sound which made some of the testimonials impossible to understand. In the Q&A following the movie, the filmmaker apologised for the poor sound but didn't make it sound like it was the projection of the film which was at fault, which makes me wonder if the film is broadcastable/sellable as is if the sound is really that bad.

Over the ongoing chant of people saying what a "good man" Nelson was (he was killed by a policeman inside the tank, again shown in a breathtaking climax to the news-station footage), the unfocused and wandering nature of the narrative starts to annoy after a while, but when you have a story this rich and neighbors that make the Osbournes look coherent and erudite, it's hard to go completely wrong. If this plays at a festival near you, go see it -- unless you're in San Diego. Get the hell out of there!!

13 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #4

By the end of the day Monday I realised that I had seen 42 films of varying lengths so far, and the festivals not even half over. Zoinks!

Monday was a more relaxed day, not starting until 7pm. As a fan of Italian cinema, I wanted to check out Respiro, a slice-of-life type film based on an old Italian fishing village legend. People who go to such films expecting action or drama are going to be largely disappointed. As in the tradition of Michaelango Antonioni films such as L'Eclisse (The Escape), very little happens in the course of the narrative. The flimsy plot is merely an excuse upon which to hang a careful study of life in an isolated community. The idea here is to get a feel for the people and way of life.

In a nutshell, there's this lively, sensual, passionate woman who really doesn't fit in with the conservative community around her. Her long-suffering sons and husband love her but are routinely embarrassed by her. When her family attempts to send her away to Milan to see a psychiatrist, she rebels with the aid of her eldest son, the pubescent Pasquale.

The story is resolved in a manner of speaking, but again that's not really the point. The film has a message about conformity and society's oppression of the individual, but that's still not really the point. Respiro is about life in a community, about how every group needs its outsider, about how people add flavour and colour to life, particularly when they have very little. There is a scene in which the younger son (a real scene-stealing ham, that one) finally wins a train set after many tries. Everyone immediately gets caught up in assembling and playing with it -- adults, children, the dogs, you name it. That is what the film is about, the simple joys and the necessity of variety.

After that we sat in on a couple of music documentaries -- one on Richard Thompson (Solitary Life) and one on the late Jeff Buckley (Everybody Here Wants You). The Thompson doc was infinitely richer, benefitting from the fact that the subject is still alive and more popular than ever. From his Fairport Convention roots to his present life in California (with a long detour into his marriage and divorce from Linda Thompson, his partner in song and love for 10 years), this look at one of Britain's great folksinger/songwriters hits all its marks and gives us a good well-rounded overview of his career.

The Jeff Buckley film, on the other hand, was disappointing. While equally thorough in its coverage of his life and death, the uncritical nature of the testimonials made the whole thing seem more like one long video eulogy. I suppose this is inevitable with the tragedy of dying so young (and who didn't leave behind a huge body of work or substantial amounts of interview footage), but it still felt more like a wake than a celebration. The large amounts of home-video footage of Buckley performing was a treat, but oddly enough his biggest successes (which all came post-mortem) are glossed over. The definitive JB doc is still waiting to be made, methinks.

Tomorrow we'll attempt to catch up a bit, covering both Tuesday and Wednesday's films.

12 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #3

Geez, it's already Wednesday and I'm just now getting to chronicling the events of Sunday. In part this is due to the fact that a film festival like this one really messes with my admittedly-odd sleep cycle. People don't think of attending films as "work," but in my case it definitely is. While I enjoy the films, it's disorienting to spend much of the day in a dark room, only emerging occasionally out into the light like some kind of cinema groundhog. It produces an odd fatigue, throws off meals and generally messes with my admittedly-odd sleep schedule something awful.

Another factor is that no matter how much you plan your time at a film festival, changes invariably pop up. You run into friends who want to go grab a drink, you find yourself not in the mood for a heavy film you had planned to see, or you get reminded that other obligations are waiting. In the case of Sunday, the day started with some quality family time rather than movie time. That's just how these things go, and the trick (particularly in Florida) is not to get stressed out about it.

So we only saw four films that day -- two shorts, two features.

The King & Dick is a cute little short (about 10 minutes, just the right length) documenting one of the most bizarre meetings in recent memory -- Elvis Presley visits Richard Nixon. Working with public-record photos and archival memos and remarks by those who were there, the film slaps together an entertaining account of a truly strange event. It would have been nice if they had re-interviewed or gotten access to the surviving witnesses like H.R. Haldeman, but the archival material is enough.

This was followed by the 90-minute (too short!) feature Tribute, a film about the trials and tribulations, the drama and the glory of being in a rock-n-roll tribute band. I'll write more about this one over at Film Moi soon, but suffice to say that you start off laughing and end up cheering. This is a "Behind the Music" special in style but a lot like "Spinal Tap" in execution, and is far more dramatic than some of the actual bands whose songs are being covered. A terrific film.

Later in the day, we got a rich helping of the two sides of Cuban life. The brief Dissident takes a look at the actual life of a Cuban dissident living in Havana. It was a sobering visit to a world completely removed from our own, and yet just 90 miles off our shore. Any look at Cuba today is an interesting one, since the land seems so very "frozen in time" for the last 40 years.

We then moved on to the main feature, Los Zafiros (The Sapphires), the biggest pop vocal performers in Cuba from the early 60s to the early 70s. Deftly blending traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz with doo-wop style and arrangements, they created a sensation that made them international stars outside the US and permanently beloved by the Cuban people. As with the subject of Dissident, the pride and patriotism of Cubans comes across loud and clear; they have a unique land and culture and are intensely protective of it. The film focuses on the reunion of the two surviving band members, one having stayed in Cuba, the other having departed for Miami 20 years ago.

The film is highly sentimental and nostalgic and runs about 15-20 minutes longer than it needs to because of this, but as someone who lived in Miami I can tell you that the film's values are reflective of the mindset of the Cuban people and appropriate for the subject matter. The final number is a stunner, and the film lovingly shows many performances of Los Zafiros both from historical footage and the two survivors singing and reminiscing. Everything in Cuba is pretty much as it was 40 years ago, lending an eerie parallel to the archival footage. If you love Cuban music and culture, you will probably love this movie.

Tomorrow we'll talk about Monday's movies - Respiro, Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You and Richard Thompson: Solitary Life.

11 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #2

So what happened to Entry 1? Er, I've decided that the T. Arthur Cottam career overview I posted on Film Moi on Saturday was it. Go and have a look.

So now it's Monday (actually ungodly early Tuesday morning) and I've seen 35 films so far (bear in mind that not all of them -- or even most at this point -- have been your standard 90 minute "movies." Many have been much shorter, as little as two minutes).

Time for a recap and "our story so far."

Friday night -- schmoozing. Saying hi to all the people at the festival I know. If you want to see what it was like, here ya go. By sheer coincidence, most of the Orlando area bloggers were at or near the festival's opening, which gave me the idea to re-organise the links to your left to separate "local" blogs from "national" ones. We're going to try and put together an Orlando Bloggers Dinner and Awards Banquet (hey, nobody else is going to do it) at some point in the near future (if you're a local blogger to central Florida and not linked in the list, let me know!).

Saturday began the film festival proper with the "Family Shorts" program. Five Wallace & Gromit minis, a documentary called Little Monk, more W&G and then a documentary called Sing!

I was a little concerned when I saw the large number of kids that were coming in for this. Sure, they'd love W&G, who doesn't? But will they be able to get through the two 30-minute documentaries without ruining it for the rest of us?

I needn't have worried. The Enzian's clever staff made sure that the two docs were about kids, and in the case of Little Monk actually directed by a kid. Almost every child in attendance was very well-behaved, with only one incidence of crying (removed by the parent very quickly).

As much as I like W&G, five shorts in a row begins to wear thin surprisingly fast. Out of the 10, there was only one that really struck me as hilarious: "Snoozatron," in which Wallace invents a sleeping aid that only David Lynch could possibly have topped. Disturbing and yet hilarious.

We moved on to Little Monk, a documentary made by 13-year-old Chaille Stovall about a little 6-year-old Tibetan boy in India named "Little Potato," who is given by his parents to a monestary to become a monk. Stovall focuses on comparing LP's lifestyle to his own, Western lifestyle, but that's only part of the story. As Stovall himself says "Here's a kid that only had one toy ... and he gave it away."

HBO helps to fund Stovall's efforts and they have certainly gotten their investment back on him. The kids in the audience were quite taken with the concept of another kid being the director/narrator of a film, almost as much as they were amazed at Little Potato's squalid life and the changes and attitude that took hold in the monastary. The film is considerably bolstered by the presence of an interview with the current Dalai Lama (which he had gotten a couple of years earlier and used in another doc) on the topic of monks and personal sacrifice. Stovall is still so young that his narration comes off like an incredibly elaborate book report (not everybody just flies to India when they need a reference, do they?) but it certainly shone a light on a kid's life in another part of the world, always informative for both adults and youngsters. Little Potato could teach a lot of kids here a few things about appreciating what you have, about discipline and about determination.

This rather sobering doc was followed by a few more W&G, then on to Sing! which was much more cut-and-dried in its style, but again illustrated some kids' lives out of the norm. Everybody in the room who was in band practice or chorus in school paid careful attention. It is the story of the LA Children's Chorus and the vision/determination of a handful of key people to make in all happen in spite of grievious budget cuts and general ignorance of the arts by school boards and governments. Anybody seeing this doc would immediately understand what a positive influence things like the LA Children's Chorus has on young people's lives, but wisely the filmmakers don't hammer it in too much. As with the previous doc, this one also boasts a surprise cameo, this time by Placido Domingo, the Italian tenor and opera star. The kids, being all above average by this point, are thrilled. It is also rewarding to see how the kids progress, some by talent and most by training, into the higher and more complicated choral arrangements.

Later that day, we went to see Robot Stories and then still later, the Midnight Shorts (always one of the most popular programs in the entire festival). My review of Robot Stories will be up on Film Moi in the very near future, one of the shorts (a little ditty called Pornographic Apathetic) is already reviewed there, and as for the rest -- well that blog entry will have to wait until later today or tomorrow, kids. I'm going to bed.

08 March 2003

Misc. Notes

The full CULTural Calendar for March is now broadcast. You can see it here, or if you use iCal you can subscribe to it here.

Ultra-Deb rocks my world.

The real action around the CHASbah for the next week to ten days will be over on the other site, Film Moi. I'll be attending the 12th Annual Florida Film Festival, and I hope to have a new set of reviews up each and every day over there (in honor of Mike Menello's "new trailer a day" performance art, which we may talk about more later). Just so you know.

Just by coincidence, today I socialised with every blogger in Orlando I know. Heidi from The Sushi Worshipper, Rich from Suburban Limbo and the aforementioned Ultra-Deb. If we can find another couple of local bloggers, I'd be interested in arranging an Orlando Blogger meet-up of some kind. Get in touch (see email address to your left, under the picture of the smug guy).

Death and Judaism

I hate to always apologise for the lack of recent entries, but as the title above may suggest, we've had a death in the family -- in this case, my wife's grandmother, a beloved figure in the close-knit clan known as the Rubins. Per Jewish tradition, the days immediately following her very unexpected passing have been a flurry of activity and mourning. And now the Florida Film Festival is underway and apart from my posting to my film blog, you'll probaby not see much of me again for another week or so. Sorry. In the meantime, though, let's touch that touchy subject of religion with something rather shorter than a ten-foot pole and see what our poking and prodding reveals. If you fear treading in controversial waters, I have to ask you: what in the world are you doing here when Reader's Digest has a nice safe website?

I myself come from a highly dysfunctional religious background. There was the enforced CofE, the childhood years at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church (lots of good memories there), and lots of interest in oddball religions like Hare Krishna and Deism and Buddhism. Just before I got married into a Jewish family, I took a class about Judaism not in preparation for conversion but for self-enlightenment -- and I promptly discovered that every Christian religion's view of Judaism is completely and utterly incorrect, down to almost every detail.

Ultimately, I have to categorise myself as a Secular Humanist, a value system that is distinct from but not incompatible with Judaism. Both beliefs place high value in the acquisition of solid, provable knowledge; they both state that ultimately people are fully responsible for their own actions; they both decry cruelty and suffering with enormous vigor and (by comparison with most Christians) thoughtful action. Another interesting similarity between Humanism and Judaism ... there's no commandments dictating that we try and shove our beliefs down anyone else's throat. Quite the opposite, in fact. Not like some religions we could name. ;)

Where the two belief systems differ, of course, is in a belief in a Supreme Being who takes an interest or hand in our lives, a belief in a Messiah, and a belief in an afterlife. I don't pretend to know if the Universe follows the grand designs of a Maker, but Humanists believe that any Supreme Being that might be out there has no direct influence on our lives, luck or destiny. Humanists believe that the "soul" is a chemical reaction of the brain and ceases at the moment of death.

That said, I have nothing but admiration and respect for Judaism and the Jewish people. When my in-laws gather for religious occasions, I am not apart from them -- I am with them, I pray with them, and I take their words of faith very seriously. Unlike some people (religious and non-religious), I don't pretend to know that I'm right. I could be wrong. Maybe I'll burn in Hell for eternity, maybe I'll wind up in the next life as a shit-fly as punishment for my heresy. Perhaps I'll be the fellow at the Pearly Gates trying desperately not to avoid Jesus' eye, trying to switch nametags with someone more pious. Beats me. Maybe it really was a white-bearded, insubstantial but definitely Caucasian deity that gave me this darn "free will" and "doubting nature."

But I doubt it. :)

Anyway, what started me on this screed was having to deal with the Jewish Way of Death for really the first time since I've been involved in a Jewish family. There are differences from the way Christians handle this, and similarities. Call me morbid, but I think it's all quite intriguing.

For starters, right from the moment of death there is great urgency placed on getting the body into the ground. No embalming is used and no fancy caskets or any such folderol -- the deceased is cleaned and clad in simple white garments, placed in a plain pine box with a simple shroud. This was instituted, like everything in the Jewish religion, for good reasons that take into account human nature: so that the poor would not be shamed and the wealthy would not compete, and because all humanity is equal before their Maker. We start off equal and we finish up equal -- it's the in-between time where all the trouble starts. :)

The speed of burial seems, to an outside observer, somewhat callous. But again this is founded on common sense and dignity -- since Jews do not use embalming materials (it is considered a desecration of the body), it is logical to bury the body swiftly. It is also a reminder to all that the soul of the person has moved on, as should the mourners. There is no viewing of the body (an insult to the person who is not being seen as they were in life), and no "wake" in the Christian sense. The only "funeral home" is the burial society where Jewish workers clean and prepare the body for burial. As you can imagine, a Jew is not the undertaker's best friend.

At our grandmother's funeral, there was no music, no flowers (again considered inappropriate -- they die!). Just a simple and dignified service, some memories to honour the deceased, and the part I found to be the hardest of all -- the tossing of dirt onto the casket in the ground.

I hate caskets, all kinds -- even the humble pine box the Jewish people use. To have your physical presence, which for many people is a good part of what you are to them, reduced to a rectangular box just rubs me the wrong way. Our grandmother in particular was not a "square" type of person, either physically or mentally. To be compartmentalised like that -- the "ultimate cubicle" as I once described it to someone -- tears at my non-comformist soul. To help bury the deceased by tossing dirt on them seems (again at first) just appalling. It was explained to me later that it is done for symbolic reasons, to help us accept the loss and put it behind us, which makes sense as usual. It still bothers me though.

Indeed, the whole concept of burial in the cold, hard ground is troubling to me. Jews quite naturally abhor the alternative, cremation (a ritual they avoided many millennia before the Holocaust, by the way) as desecration of the body. I see their point, but I still can't help but feel I'd prefer something other than ground burial (which led me to what I think is a great third alternative, but which I'll save for some other morbid post in the future).

Next up is the period known as shivah. Each night, family and friends gather, prayers are said, the deceased is remembered and food is eaten. It's a lot like a wake but more religious, more dignified and with ethnic foods involved. Shivah lasts about a week more or less, and after that you are expected to get on with your own life, secure in the knowledge that the dead have been duly remembered, honoured and prayed for. Friends and neighbours come to help the family with their duties, to promote the sense of community, and to share the burden of loss.

Immediately after that is the resolution of unfinished business the deceased may have left behind. Worldly goods are divided, the will executed and debts paid to the extent possible as quickly as possible. Again to outsiders it may seem a bit calculating, but it's all part of divorcing the memory of the deceased with their now-gone physical presence. Just as the dead live on in the memories, they live on in the things you inherit or the little trinkets you get to remember them by. All in all, I judge it a very healthy, healing process.

I mention all this because the majority of people who read this aren't Jewish, don't know many Jews well enough to have attended a funeral and have little insight into how this ancient religion deals with the second-most important thing in the universe ... the first of course being life. I hope this provides you with a chance to compare and contrast your own faith's with those of Judaism -- not to promote it as superior, but simply to expand the knowledge in the name of wisdom and understanding.

I hope reading all this talk of death has not left you depressed, but dying is something we all have to consider and of course most of us don't bother until we are confronted with it. Despite my decidedly unromantic beliefs that when you die you're dead and that's that, I share with Judaism a profound belief that the dead live on inside us, that their examples shape our lives, that their influence continues to affect us. Religions vary in their views and practices, and even the non-religious have their rituals and traditions, but in the case of Millicent "Mio" Kopman -- our Grandmother -- she really could not have been sent off to what my mother would have called "her Reward" any better, and I suspect it all went pretty much as she would have wanted. Her presence in our lives hasn't diminished one iota -- we were just lucky to have her company for a while.

01 March 2003

Seen in a Sig #1

Canadian: "What proof do you have that Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction?"

American: "We kept the receipts."