Tag Archives: animals

Tea With Chris: Koan Bush

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: I’d like to share a couple of things I stumbled on while working on this profile of Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields for Salon.com: He told me about a synthesizer he’s using created by Don Buchla, called the Source of Uncertainty, which generates unpredictable sounds based on how you vary the voltage. Or something like that. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I do like to see and hear it in action:

Second, at one point in our conversation (mostly not used in the piece) he went off on a tangent about the Thai Elephant Orchestra (that page will lead you to music and more). His riff, meanwhile, went a little something like this:

“Music is still something that’s done only by people – except the Thai Elephant Orchestra. There’s something called the Rock Cats playing here in Los Angeles, but people have to train them to do that, so it’s not necessarily not about people. Whereas the Thai Elephant Orchestra is really not about people, on some level. They’re not trained; they’re given instruments that they could play or not, as they felt like it. The elephants enjoy playing the harmonica – they inhale and exhale and they have fun with that. They use the whole harmonica at the same time, of course. And then they had these gigantic xylophones that they used more by strumming than by getting individual notes out of them. In the future of human-designed elephant-played instruments, they might want to have much, much larger instruments, in order to encourage the elephants to differentiate between the notes. But then that would be human manipulation in a deliberate way.”

Like a John Cage piece, the Source of Uncertainty or the Thai Elephant Orchestra, another way to create music that liberates it from the confines of human will turns out to be to slow it down exponentially. This has been a popular thing to do the past couple of years, perhaps most famously to Justin Bieber, but I’d never heard it done with a song or artist I had a close personal attachment to. I want to listen to this 36-minute-long version of Kate Bush singing Wuthering Heights first thing in the morning every day, as a kind of Zen practice.

Chris: This video mashup, by the Jigglypuff-guised Stephen Swift, is maybe the most insightful piece of music criticism that anyone’s produced on Grimes so far. Maybe.

Lisa Hanawalt owns the big-horses-with-tiny-horses beat.

If you live in Toronto and like dancing to Larry Levan remixes, you should come to That Time of the Month tonight. If you don’t like Larry Levan remixes, all I can give you is some Paradise Garage bootlegs and my pity.

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Friday Pictures – Simen Johan

 

From the series, Until the Kingdom Comes
 
 
 

 

From the series, Until the Kingdom Comes
 

 

 

From the series, Until the Kingdom Comes

 

 

 

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) – Written and Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

By Margaux Williamson

(I didn’t know too much about “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” but I liked the title and I had half-noticed that the word “art” kept being used in relation to it. Somehow the “art” was not mentioned in either a flattering or negative way, just a descriptive way. “Art” can mean a lot of things, like that the characters will have a lot of feelings or that it will be either pretty unpleasant or extremely pleasant to watch or that the movie will be going after something difficult to catch. Very quickly into “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, it was clear that the “art” in this case related to the words “intuitive” and “unusual” – and also maybe “going after something difficult to catch.”)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is made up of separate stories that happen in various times and places. They are connected literally and/or metaphorically by the title Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Servants carry a princess through the jungle. It looks pretty unpleasant to carry a princess through the jungle. But also, it looks maybe a little bit erotic. The princess has a face darkened with a scar or birthmark. The party comes to rest at the base of waterfall. There, the princess tries to convince herself that intimacy with one of her servants is love. It doesn’t work. She sends the servant away and collapses alone by the water’s edge. She cries and voices out-loud her longing for pure and white skin and also for true love. At this point of despair a catfish begins to talk to her from the surface of the water. “Are you a ghost?” she asks the catfish. “No, I am a catfish”, the catfish says. She eventually enters the water with abandon and has sex with the catfish. Something is being promised to her but we are not sure what it is.

There is a big bull tied to a tree. We stay with the bull for a while in the half-dark. We start to relate to him like any character in a movie. He makes a noise and we sort of know what it means. It seems kind of awful for such a big creature to be tied, by the neck, to a tree in the middle of a field. But maybe it’s ok. In a quick moment he yanks his rope free and lightly runs his giant body to the outskirts of the jungle and then stops there for a bit. Eventually, a man finds him. The man gently leads the bull back towards the field.

Uncle Boonmee has a farm where he grows tamarind and sweet and sour honey. Uncle Boonmee’s kidneys are failing and he thinks he will die in two days. He wonders if it’s because of his karma. “I was bad to the communists”, he says during his dialysis treatment. On the porch, he eats dinner with his sister-in-law and her friend when it is dark outside.

At the dinner table, the ghost of his long-dead wife appears. His ghost-wife looks like a normal wife, but younger. Then a monkey-ghost, the transformed body of his long-lost son, comes to sit down. The monkey-ghost looks amazing. He explains that he was trying to capture something with his camera, on the outskirts of the jungle, when he mated with a monkey-ghost and became a monkey-ghost himself. He explains that now the creatures and ghosts can sense Uncle Boonmee’s illness and are coming closer.

They all sit together at the table quietly. There is very little small talk. The whole movie feels like this, as though every living thing is cautiously acting and speaking as simply as possible in order to make room for some understanding.

Eventually, the wife-ghost and the monkey-ghost are shown photo albums of the years they have missed.

Later on, we are shown still photos too. The photos we see were taken in a field during the day: of a monkey-man being led out of the jungle with a rope tied around his neck by a soldier in camouflage. These photos are the strange cousins of horrific photos we are familiar with from history, but here, in this movie, we see and think about the photos in a different way. Which is good because they are difficult to understand in a logical way.

There is another photo of soldiers, laughing and smiling – it seems like something bad is happening to the monkey-man. Then there is a last photo of the soldiers and the monkey-man posing together, the rope still tied around his neck, everyone smiling. Maybe it is OK we think, but probably it really isn’t.

Later, back in real life at Uncle Boonmee’s farm, Uncle Boonmee, his ghost-wife, his sister-in-law and her friend start on a journey away from the farm and into a field and down into the jungle. The ghost-wife is leading. Uncle Boonmee is trying to make the best sense he can out of his good and bad deeds before he dies. This journey is the best he can do now. They go deeper and enter a cave that looks like the frozen stalactites of centuries-old falling water. They travel deep down into the cave, Uncle Boonmee moving slowly. At the very bottom, they find a tiny pool of albino catfish. This is where Uncle Boonmee lies down.

The movie is not an exploration of filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s wild ideas. It is him trying wildly to make sense of the best and worst of life’s absurdities by expanding and examining them with intuitive logic.

If you are adept at intuitive logic (and with navigating the trauma that was the 20th century) his film will be as clear and seductive as early dusk. It will be as practical and as heartbreaking as any story about injustice, hope and despair could possibly be. Funny too. And beautiful.

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Mind Game (2004) – written and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, based on the comic by Robin Nishi

By Margaux Williamson

(I watched this animated movie at home with my boyfriend. We were going to go to the movies, but decided to stay home and watch a DVD and make popcorn. I didn’t know anything about it other than a probability website estimated that we would both like it 90% and that it played at the MOMA. Also, I liked the title “Mind Game”. I liked that it wasn’t pluralized, that it promised just one game.)


A young man, who doesn’t have enough courage to try to win the heart of his childhood sweetheart or to become a great comic book artist, gets shot in the anus by an angry gangster.

It happens at his childhood sweetheart’s family restaurant. He’s there with her by chance (she is now a beautiful young woman). The young woman’s new fiancé (stronger and more handsome than our man), her father (a no-good womanizing drunk), and her older sister (who runs the restaurant) are also there when a tired gangster and an angry gangster walk into the restaurant looking for the drunk father. The father quickly slips under the bar to hide. The beautiful young woman stands up to the angry gangster, and is then knocked down by him. The strong fiancé goes after the angry gangster but gets knocked unconscious. Our young man cowers in the corner on all fours. The angry gangster returns to the beautiful young woman, suddenly interested in raping her. Our young man makes a fearful noise from the corner. The sound distracts the angry gangster and he moves towards our whimpering man. He rests his gun against the young man’s anus. As the young man tries to get out a sentence, the angry gangster pulls the trigger.

As the bullet leaves our young man’s head, he goes to heaven. God (a radically shifting form) is getting ready for a date and explains to our man, with a great deal of distraction and irritation, what is happening and tells the young man to walk over there (God points somewhere to the right), towards his disappearance. The man begins walking to the right, but then he suddenly turns and runs the other way – back towards the world. God, now a tiger, tries to catch him, but can’t keep up with the young man’s sudden burst of courage. As the young man falls to earth, God watches from above, now admiring, and says quietly, I’m on your side. The young man arrives back in the world in the moments before he is shot. This time, things will be different.

This time, he saves the day and himself, killing the angry gangster. He flees the bar with the two women and leaves the drunk father and the tired gangster to each other. More heroics and panics ensue until the three young people end up in the belly of a whale with an old man. There, they have no other choice but to love, live, laugh and pursue the culinary, comic book and performing arts. Eventually, they attempt an escape through the whale’s mouth.

Before all this, the movie begins with a sequence of brief scenes. Some of it is familiar, but most is not. We can make out some “old footage” of westerners arriving from the sky with Astro Boy there to confront them. There is also a familiar 70 disco scene, a little boy getting a watch for a present, a beautiful young woman racing for the subway. Watching these scenes move by so quickly makes you feel a little bit like a confused and passive observer – observing things you don’t yet understand.

After the main story, we see this sequence again. Now we are familiar with most of the footage, the unfamiliar parts were from the story, some representing the characters’ earlier choices. There is also some new footage of the many possible futures for the characters.

I think the movie can be understood in lots of different ways. But for me, it told one of my favourite stories: The story about how maybe a person can slip back into the recent past and stop a terrible thing from happening – only to then learn that time is real and the past can’t be changed.

I’m not sure if this is an old story (told repeatedly by humans to themselves as they see some terrible event of their present turn into unchangeable history) or one that grows specifically out of the meaningless tragedies, missing gods and the puzzling physics of the (mostly) 20th century.

Here, in the beautiful “Mind Game”, it’s a video game fantasy of trying to stop something terrible from happening that has already happened. The movie contains literally shifting perspectives, subjective confusion, jokes about perceptual misunderstandings, a character wondering aloud if video games can be real – if this mind game can be real. It explores the path of being as heroic as you want to be, of saving the day (even a day that has already been written), of winning your love with patience and courage, and even of learning how to be an artist while killing time in the belly of a whale.

The heartbreaking thing about this movie is that it almost seems true.

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Le Bonheur (Happiness) – (1965) written & directed by Agnès Varda

By Margaux Williamson (mostly spoilers)

( I went to Suspect Video, the best video store in Toronto, to look for Agnès Varda’s 2004 “Ydessa and the Bears” but they didn’t have it. Though it is one of my favourite movies, I haven’t seen “Ydessa and the Bears” anywhere other than at a 2004 film festival. I think maybe it was never distributed. Instead, I rented Agnès Varda’s “Le Bonheur (Happiness)” because I had never seen it before and because it was in colour. I popped it in when I got home just to see the what the first 5 minutes was like. It was so weird and gorgeous that I didn’t turn it off.)




“Happiness” starts with a young family. Their joy with each other is obvious and they have a simple, pleasurable life. The husband then falls in love with a different woman whom he sees often in his work. The husband and the other woman begin an affair that is easy, happy and not so sordid. The husband reasons that what he has is simply a double happiness. When his wife points out, during a picnic in the country, that he seems doubly happy, the man looks suddenly troubled and confesses to his wife that he loves both her and another woman. The wife is initially hurt but then seems to quickly follow his reasoning and recover. What is best for the family is best for her. The husband and wife then have reconciliatory sex, there on the picnic blanket in the country. She wakes up before he does, leaves him and their two small children who are taking a nap close by, walks down to the lake, and drowns herself.

This is followed by alarm, an appropriate mourning period and then a gentle reconciliation of the two remaining lovers. At this reconciliation, they decide to be together. In the following scene, the woman walks to work the next day. Foreboding music only comes once in this movie, and it comes here. To me, the foreboding music sounds like a warning of moral judgment approaching. I peer around the woman in the movie’s frame as I watch her walk through the town, looking for reproach. It is a small town after all, and we are inside a fable.

But no stones are thrown. And there are no real bad intentions from anyone’s side. The foreboding music is for something more sinister: life moving on easily, happiness returning. We watch one human effortlessly replace another: in a marriage, at a family picnic, in the children’s bedrooms, with not a whimper of protest from the universe.

Behind the camera, Varda is a happy and curious God – as interested and amazing by a vase with flowers as she is in a family at dinner or in the strangeness of elbows as they move about during sex. I think when things comes naturally to one, one is often suspicious of those things. And here, it seems as though Varda the director is like the husband – each scene of the movie filled effortlessly with spaces and objects and people of incomparable value and importance but all taken in with equal attention and wonder. Varda would have been a very good painter.

The only review I could find for “Happiness” was a 1966 New York Times review from A.H.Weiler. Though Weiler praised Varda’s movie in some ways, he also says “Miss Varda’s dissection of amour, as French as any of Collette’s works, is strikingly adult and unembarrassed in its depiction of the variety of love, but it is as illogical as a child’s dream”.

I wonder if people said that about Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (where a family’s main breadwinner, Gregor, wakes up one morning to discover that he is a monstrous verminous bug) which “Happiness” made me think of – particularly at its most sinister and truthful moment. This comes at the end, after the nightmarish alienation and slow death of the now repulsive and useless Gregor. After he dies, Gregor’s family leaves the house together in a state of tremendous relief and take a tram towards the country – towards fresh air. They are suddenly giddy with the future and with possibility. This is when the parents notice how their remaining child has become so beautiful, voluptuous and strong. We catch a tiny glimpse of the parents imagining a potentially prosperous new future through her. We see her in the instant before (we imagine), before she is ushered into the rotting shoes of the family bread winner.

Both fables make you feel sorry for humans – and also quite wary of them and their human natures. We all know what it’s like to feel like a cog in the system, but it is easy to forget that our homes and families are systems too. That even there, where our beauty and usefulness are often most greatly appreciated, we are so easily replaced.

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Wild Ocean (2008) – from GIANT SCREEN FILMS

by Margaux Williamson

(I went to two screenings this week. One was at Ontario Place (an artificial island of amusements jutting out over a small section of Toronto’s waterfront). There, on the island’s Cinesphere, I saw a section of “Wild Ocean”. The other screening was an evening of short works curated by Jon Davies (including scientific and novelty films and contemporary art videos). It was called “Animal Drag Kingdom” and was screened at night outside in a downtown Toronto courtyard.)

At the water park in Ontario Place, there are only three rides and really no place to swim (the fences keep you out of the lake). So after we went down all of the rides, my boyfriend and I walked around the made-for-human-amusement island. The island has beer stands and donut tents, an exhibit on cute animals and an extensive and confusingly obvious exhibit on “The Weather”. The attendants at the most promising amusement, the Cinesphere, at first didn’t let us in because we only had bathing suits on, but we wore them down.

We walked into the spherical theatre maybe 20 minutes in to “Wild Ocean”. The screen, filled up with the ocean, was enormous. It was a little disorienting to suddenly see dolphins, sharks, humans, penguins and sardines running wild. It was like the opposite of an aquarium. The movie’s narrative was about how the dolphins, sharks, humans and penguins were after the sardines.

I went alone to the “Animal Drag Kingdom” because I like animals. I sat in a folding chair 3 rows back from the free standing screen. There were about 9 videos. It was a really beautiful night.

Movies always involve seeing things through someone else’s eyes.. unless you make the movie yourself. It is very effective to see something through someone else’s eyes – even though it is always hard to tell how great or how little someone else’s eyes are connecting with your brain – or how successfully someone else’s brain is connecting with your eyes.

In “Animal Drag Kingdom”, we run through a lot of eyes very quickly. We move from being an animated pig in a bonnet mourning the random hit and run of our trench-coat clad neighbour chicken – that chicken went down as tragically as Meryl Streep would have, we think (Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’ animation “When the Day Breaks”) / to looking at 1960s black and white film footage of families at zoos with our 1960s professor who is doing his best to find platonic meaning in the gestures of the universal family man. If you don’t know what the hell is going on, we think, you might as well start at the zoo (experimental anthroplogical lecture “Microcultural Incidents in Ten Zoos”) / to being the humorously clunky or painfully indifferent camera stuck in the woman-who-is-afraid-to-die’s apartment. We cannot run away when the cat vomits in front of us and the woman is talking to the psychic on the psychic hot-line because we have no legs (Kathy High’s “Everyday Problems of the Living”)/ to watching a family play-act a surgical procedure that turns their little girl into a cheetah. Then we are a little girl walking around her house with her new cheetah eyes. We think, things look different now that we are a little girl-cheetah waking up from play-acting surgery (Kristen Lucas’s “Smaller and Easier to Handle”) / to thinking we are watching an art video of a man filming himself and a crow, a crow that is tied to a tree branch, then realizing we are a director filming an animal trainer train a crow, then realizing we are watching a director train an animal trainer to train his crow, and finally realizing we are our ordinary selves and the crow is gone and there is only one man training another man, and we feel for the other man like we first felt for that crow. When the human gets the directions from his trainer wrong here, we think, we love that human’s nature as much as we love that animal’s nature (Guy Ben-Ner’s “Second Nature”).

The further we wade into shifting perspectives, appropriation and increasing instincts towards empathy, the more likely it is that we’ll get things amazingly wrong. We are sometimes warned away from an empathy that extends beyond the loyalty of our families and communities and radiates to foreign communities and onward towards animal kingdoms and plant kingdoms – and we are sometimes encouraged towards it. In any case, moving towards empathy and moving away from it is the thing that makes us most human.

And, in any case, I am bound to get a family member’s feelings as wrong as I would a dolphin’s, but that doesn’t mean that I should stop trying.

We didn’t stay for long in the Cinesphere (because we promised the attendants that we wouldn’t) but from my limited time and specific perspective, I think “Wild Ocean” was about freedom.

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