A few weeks ago I was invited by Gil, a friend of a friend (and aren’t friends-of-friends the best?) to become the new host of CreativeMornings’ Porto chapter. Despite my loathing of tasks remotely resembling ‘production’ in my film school times, and my networking skills being more George Costanza than Ari Gold, I immediately said yes. After all, I had grown accustomed to working through TODO lists in recent years, I can answer email on time as to stave off unanswered mail tsunamis, and am comfortable talking in public (meaning in front of students), so I surely am qualified for the task. The Morning part of Creative didn’t speak to me as much as it would were they BeforeLunch, or, even better, LateAfternoon, but still: onward!
Having secured the ongoing contributions of CreativeMornings/Porto great team of volunteers and the continuing sponsorship of Espiga (a local coffeehouse I was already fond of for its very fine sausage-and-spinach omelette), many e-mails, some TODOs and a few Excel spreadsheets gave origin to the first CreativeMorning under my stead, in which local young documentary film-making duo Joana Nogueira and Patrícia Rodrigues talked about animation as a means to represent reality. (Many thanks to Joel Faria for the above illustration of the proceedings.)
So, one done, on to the next! Keep tuned!
Here’s a site that does one thing well: personal movie reviews and ratings. Here’s my profile and my favourite part, my movie watching diary. Of course, I’m only interested in keeping a record of my film watching habits at someone else’s site inasmuch as Letterboxd is promising that a public API will be available soon, so I’ll be able to back up my records to my own server — and integrate them in this site’s reviews page.
The Old Web, today. An impressive exercise that goes beyond The Wayback Machine and actually emulates old web browsers and their respective hardware. Here’s this very website running on Tim Berners-Lee’s very first WWW browser. It’s impressive that it’s kinda readable despite being rendered by a 25-year old HTML engine.
Even though I’m a long-standing Tumblr user, starting in the paleolithic age of early 2007, back when Tumblr was a small beta website in the age of Friendster and Hi5, I have to admit I’ve always had minimal interaction with Tumblr as a community, and such interactions have over the years mostly consisted of sparse likes and discarding private messages asking me to give up my beloved found username in exchange for a number of followers (how does such an exchange even work?) or more faves or whatever I can well do without.
Therefore it was fascinating to read this long article on Tumblr teens, which are mostly of the alienated variety that thrives under perceived anonymity, therefore the kind of kids that would have been building Geocities websites were they born 15 years earlier; but also, in a turbocapitalist twist, the kind of kids that fall for the Get Rich Quick schemes standing for contemporary Web Marketing (eg. affiliated links, clickbaiting, clickfraud, & etc.) and thus find themselves locked out of their own websites for infringing Tumblr or Google Advertising’s less-than-transparent ‘rules’ (or perhaps arbitrary and somewhat fraudulent on their own, even). It must be noted I find such measures equally deserved and nauseating: on one hand some kind of retribution from On High being served upon the brats that tricked other kids into buying sketchy diet pills in exchange of too much money and a temporary taste of Los Angeles’ glamour; on the other hand the crime of deleting a kid’s website, perhaps the very activity that brings meaning to the kid’s life, perhaps a meaning most of us won’t ever find in an activity, therefore a small (in the unfortunate context of world affairs) but certain violation of human rights.
All over these nine years Tumblr has mostly been for me a very convenient way to blog on my own website, as I’ve been using its API in order to sync posts to my own web host almost from day one. It’d be sad if found were to be deleted someday (or Tumblr ended API support), but my stuff would always still exist somewhere, both online and in regular offline backups. And herein lies the lesson: online, Big is Bad. Big users with big followers will suddently cash in and serve diet pill advertisements (or maybe ads loaded will malware). Big services with big users will suddently pull the plug, either because they don’t feel like sending that paycheck, or because a picture post once contained a nipple, or because that big service turns out to be insolvent and abruptly disappears one day. Big goes against the grain of what makes the web great.
The End of the Halcyon Days, released February 20th 2000, is one of the old mixtapes I have been uploading to my Mixcloud account (and here’s a bonus 20 minutes of stuff that didn’t fit the original 74m CD-R). Like the Y2K Mix I wrote about before, this mixtape is note particularly well-mixed or thought out: I was just a kid with a shareware version of Cool Edit Pro downloaded from someplace such as Tucows, some CD ripping-software besides a cache of MP3s that found their way into my computer via Zip disks, and a willingness to release these mixtapes online as 32kbps Real Audio streams in humble self-made websites with names such as Detuned, Bleep (before Warp Records came with a Bleep of their own), or Radio Deluxe; sharing their URLs on music IRC channels I used to hang out at, often getting kicked for the mixes’ electronica slant not being the ops’ cup of tea.
Therefore, such uploads can be regarded as exercises in nostalgia, both for a drive to experiment and do really badly at stuff that it was alright to later lose interest in (except for a brief relapse a few years later, I had moved on from online mixtaping once I discovered blogging), and for that old dream of an anonymous, untidy, independent Web. Still, things evolve: as we are able to travel back to the 128kbps streams that never were, the artists so dramatically and poorly ripped off in the making of these mixtapes can get some kind of compensation though the financial deals established by these centralized platforms such as Mixcloud & etc… right?…
People who hang out with me know that even though I don’t have any pets anymore, I am quite fond of street cats, always stopping to greet and (try to) pet those cute little killers. I am not that interested in that endless supply of cat pictures and videos found online, but I can’t but browse through any vintage photo gallery I come across. Lo and behold, both interests intersect in this gallery of 1950s London cats. Enjoy.
Since I started writing these film flashbacks, I never had any trouble picking my three favourite films of the year, ranked. Not for 2015, however: a year that had strong movies and a few strong disappointments, but overall felt like an average year as most movies basked in the afterglow of last year’s award season contenders (it must be noted that many of the movies on other 2015 best-of lists will only arrive in Portuguese theatres in a month or so). So, sorted chronologically rather than by rank, here are five of my favourite films of 2015:
Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre. No other filmmaker that I know of has Nanni Moretti’s ability to walk such a fine line, making a film in which the protagonist (a filmmaker herself, because Moretti — he writes what he knows) must deal with her mother’s fading health as finds herself with already a lot in her plate (a terrible shoot, a separation, jealousy of her brother, etc) without either giving in to melodrama or to ‘dramatic comedy’. The film doesn’t demand the audience’s tears, but doesn’t give any kind of relief or 'silver lining’. There are no lessons here, only what happens. Mia Madre feels real in a way that very few films do.
Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights vol. 1, the Restless One (and only volume 1). Gomes’ six hour opus may be the very definition of cinematic ambition: to weave documentary, drama and both literary and popular myth in a movie that is about the impact of this Long Depression in Portugal. Released in three parts, I believe the first part does justice to the whole enterprise. Pity then, that some macro-editing issues show in volume 2, and totally undermine volume 3. Perhaps a truly masterpiece exists in there, as a two-part, 4.5 hour movie.
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. When I went to watch The Force Awakens, I spent most of the time enjoying the movie, perhaps with a big grin on my 3D-bespectacled face, while at the same time taking note of all the obvious paralelisms with A New Hope; getting angrier and angrier at said paralelisms after leaving the theatre, realizing I’d been had. When I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, I spent most of the time enjoying the movie, perhaps with a big grin on my 3D-bespectacled face, while at the same time taking note all the things I hadn’t yet seen in such a straight simple action movie before; noticing more and more things as I replayed the movie in my head while leaving the theatre, growing more fond of the movie and realizing I had seen a classic.
J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year. Proof that if you film it like The Godfather, even a story about some guy who needs to raise money to finish the purchase of a lot for his trucking company can be truly compelling. There’s a lot to be learned about cinema here.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep. Chekhov in Cappadocia makes for a just recipient of the 2014 Palme d'Or.
There were disappointments, of course: I had high hopes for Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, for instance, but it ended far below Baumbach’s previous works (which is still good, but still…). I also felt promising portuguese filmmaker João Salaviza’s first feature Montanha was a dud, a kind of anti-Moretti (shoot about and over-aesthetize what you don’t know). In the pop side of things, Spectre brought back Mediocre Bond (and worse Blofeld), while The Force Awakens was, as I mentioned, the strangest of objects: a film that doesn’t disappoint while you’re watching it for the first time, but infuriates a couple of moments after the credits roll (and apparently I’m not the only one feeling this way — or the opposite).
I watched many other notable films in 2015. Alejandro González Iñarrittú’s Birdman and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash deserved their take during the last award season. Paul Thomas Anderson gave us perhaps the best Thomas Pynchon adaptation film as a medium will ever allow in Inherent Vice — but I still felt such a project was doomed to be slightly unsatisfying from the very start. Each episode of Damián Szifrón’s Relatos Salvajes / Wild Tales is perhaps destined to become a conversation classic (“that film in which the explosives engineer blew up the impound lot”, “that film in which the two guys killed each other in a road rage incident” & etc.), as well as Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (“that film in which a 17th century swedish king entered a present-day pub on horseback”). Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was perhaps the most interesting science fiction film I’ve seen last year, a kind of dark and claustrophobic counterpart to 2014’s Her. Ridley Scott’s The Martian was also a very solid piece of sci-fi and a welcome reminder that Scott can be a great filmmaker when working to preserve a script’s verissimilitude. I found Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation a great action film (from what I’ve seen in 2015, second only to Mad Max), the best M.I. at its fifth instalment, handily beating Spectre at its own game (and am I the only one to notice how weirdly similar — down to locations — both films’ plots are?). Finally, both Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth made the uninteresting — eg. the inner lives of affluent and undecisive expatriates in Switzerland — compelling and engaging. Sorrentino’s more of a baroque (for which some critics won’t ever forgive), of course, but masterful still.
There is exactly one meal a year in which I actually look forward to having some boiled potatoes (with codfish and greens): Christmas dinner.
Have a Merry Good Time, everyone!
The Y2K Mix, as the name implies, was a digital mixtape I made for New Years’ Eve 2000. Heavy on IDM and electronica, I find it quite a time capsule for a feeling of technological optimism — a 1999 in high spirits despite fears that the Y2K bug would launch nuclear missiles & etc. — that contrasts heavily to our current state of techno-pessimism (or techno-realism), despite a general sense thare are no immediate existential threats posed by technology (fears of AI notwithstanding).
Remember how in 1999 the Segway was going to utterly change our cities and way of life, while being a step towards Back to the Future-style hoverboards? And how the Segway turned out to be a ridiculous device used by senior tourists and mall security, ‘hoverboards’ are poorly manufactured electric skateboards, and for a car to be ‘eco’ or ‘green’ means it’s as untrustworthy as a piece of Windows ME-era warez?
Technology mirrors society, so pessimism toward tech is pessimism toward the forces that shape it and how it’s used. Perhaps the Segway would have been a great solution for personal transportation if it hadn’t be ridiculed by everyone invested in cars. Perhaps we could have had clean nuclear fusion energy if a couple of nuclear accidents hadn’t frozen nuclear power in its early technological stages — as if we all still travelled in 1930s aeroplanes because a few DC-2s crashed — while everyone seems very willing to forget oil and coal generate global warming and incredible amounts of misery and cancer and death as they go about their usual business. Perhaps this future could have been as awesome as the future of the 1990s, a nanotech utopia with Star Trek-like universal guaranteed income for all, as the fruits of automated labour were shared.
We need renewed technological optimism. I’ve been listening to the Y2K Mix again lately, struggling with my cheapo $20 headphones’ Bluetooth connection at the gym. Remembering how sixteen years ago I had first published it online as a 32kbps Real Audio stream.