Random Movie Review: Gattaca

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Gattaca is a dividing movie that people either love or have selectively forgotten. Director Andrew Niccol, who, if I may digress, also directed Nick Cage’s best film, Lord of War, paints an incredible portrait with Gattaca‘s stylised near-future First World. Where Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow failed to integrate a post-WWII fashion sense, Gattaca brings it with architecturally stunning shots populated by beautiful people in perfectly tailored, vintage-future clothing.

The main story line is carried by Vincent (Ethan Hawke) who was born as an in-valid, or person of lesser genes. Vincent dreams of flying in space, and so gains access to the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation by pretending to be the genetically perfect, but now paralysed, Jerome (Jude Law). There is much male hair-brushing, nude body-scrubbing and urine-collecting as Jerome and Vincent successfully swap identities by duping Gattaca’s genetic-scanning system.

Perhaps the most overdone moment in this film is a flashback to Vincent’s childhood as he competes against his younger brother in an impossible swimming challenge. Under grey skies, an orchestra of ever-swelling strings accompanies the boys as they struggle against choppy water. The sequence beats us over the head, illustrating the fragility of human life but serves a necessary purpose in revealing the protagonist’s overall dedication and perseverance.

Nothing says 90’s blockbuster like Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, and, introducing Jude Law. Gattaca was culturally topical, too. The eugenics-obsessed Western World was primed for this film, it being released a year after IRL scientists in Scotland introduced the world to Dolly the Sheep, the first successfully cloned mammal. Trust me, in 1996 that was a really, really big deal.

Gattaca‘s brand of speculative fiction schlock is right up my alley. Overwrought and extreme genetic tinkering, Big Brother scanning our DNA, with a duplicitous murder mystery plotline thrown in for good measure. Science fiction liberates storytelling by providing a brutal mirror to shine against our modern society. For similar reasons, Gattaca was nearly demoted to “Natalia’s Second Favourite Film” by the much grittier Children Of Men. But this was fuelled mostly by my short-termed celebrity crush on Clive Owen.

Gattaca succeeds because it is a well-conceived movie. It is complete, as Art should be, in its casting, costuming and set design. I also commend Gattaca‘s pacing. A continuous underlying tension carries this film, skillfully buried beneath the forced grace and poise the protagonists must maintain to pull off their scheme. Our dark personal secrets make life challenging enough. Imagine also having to obsess over the idea that losing an eyelash might condemn your freedom forever.

Check the super 90’s trailer here:

How I Became a Katy Perry Sympathizer

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is this parenting blog post about our responsibility to teach kids about “good music.” Or, as the title states: “How to Talk to Your Kids About Their Shitty Taste in Music.” It’s a weakly argued call to arms in reaction to the whole VMA/Miley Cyrus twerking debacle.

What a load of hipster-douchebag crap. My retort: How on earth did your kids get exposed to this “shitty” music in the first place? Pro tip: don’t leave your kids in front of Disney XD all day, or they will think music is meant to be overly synthesized, un-artistic pop.

I’ll admit, pop music is heavily marketed to our young people. Whether you realise it or not, a lot of money is spent on product awareness — that’s the music biz. What is on the album takes back seat to the mysticism or hype built on what you think is going to be on the album. You already know what to think and feel, before hearing a note. That is marketing.

If done well, the potential audience will be worked into a frenzy. So let’s get accountable for our actions: instead of pointless, complain-ey blog posts, why not get our mom-and-dad brains into the game? The question should be: Are your kids getting caught up in marketing? Do they know what marketing is? Do you know what marketing is? Do you understand the intersection of marketing and the arts?

Few people, including most people who work in the music biz, care to understand this concept. They willfully ignore it, and gleefully get caught up in it. And, so, our kids follow suit. New Arcade Fire anyone? Gawd, white people — adults, even — are SO PUMPED about their new album. It’s exhausting.

So when my 8-year-old daughter decides her favourite singer is Katy Perry, what do I do? Is Ms. Perry a suitable role model, considering the mainstream options? Is anybody? Or is this an opportunity to impose my jaded, post-feminist, post-indie rock opinion?

In my mind, my daughter must make her own decisions. If I listened to my parents, I would only like Kenny Rogers and 80’s Tina Turner. Our kids must create themselves for themselves. Our job is to give them a loose set of rules, parameters inside which to make good and positive decisions. When my kid asks to listen to “the radio” in the car — which inevitably means Top 40 dance pop stuff — I abide. We listen. I tell her to listen for the sidechain compression, the auto-tuned vocals, the recurring use of beats and fills, arrangement structures that are copied form song to song. I want her to listen with her brain, unhindered by any marketing message.

Point being, life is a perpetual learning experience to be enjoyed. This is the main lesson I teach my children, and happens to be my prime directive. Most music, yes, is shit. Katy Perry balances on the razor’s edge of being a mega-YOLO-slut (ever listen to the lyrics to “Last Friday Night“?) and being a young, powerful, inspiring woman with an incredible voice. RAZOR’S EDGE, PEOPLE.

So sure, we’ll watch the “Roar” video on YouTube together. We did that with “Gangnam Style,” too. Trendy music will ebb and flow, but it’s those times when we’re walking home from school and my daughter is humming “Ring My Bell” by Blood Sisters that I feel a tinge of redemption.

This entry also appears on HuffingtonPost.ca

Portrait of Us


Check this painting/portrait of Murray and myself that was part of a recent series by Quebec City paintress Caroline Jean. She also did one of The Dears’ Patrick Krief and Maia Davies of Ladies of the Canyon (who are, incidentally, opening our Wednesday Oct 13th residency show in Toronto).

Apathetic Art World

I found this “inspiring” lamentation on Tavi’s Style Rookie blog. A vintage interview, Kubrick in conversation with Playboy:

While I don’t feel particularly in a “style rut” – as Tavi cites – (when am I not in a style rut, BTW), I can pull creative rut-ness from it. Recently my friend Stacey started a blog called Points of Entry, a novel posted in 49 parts. It’s inspiring, as I’ve been working on my own sci-fi dramedy on back-burner terms. Oftentimes I get ideas for creative projects: some are musical, some writing, some visual, and I usually turn an apathetic eye to them. In my mind, I am full of self-doubt: not about the end-product, but about the necessity of the project.

I really feel the entire art world is saturated with, well everything. Too much music – especially and immediately from where I’m standing. Too much prose, too many words, too much art, too many photographers, filmmakers, painters, illustrators. It seems that everybody with a laptop is an “artist” these days. One half of me, the hardened half, takes this saturation at a definitive sign that my “art” is not required. While the other half, the recently awakened, newly positive half, feels that everybody’s artistic expressions are absolutely needed. Why self-filter? And what’s the point of automatically rejecting everything else?

I don’t want to be a snob, a hater, a disabler – and basically that’s what the hardened half of me sounds like.

When I was teenag’d, everything was inspiring: shitty art and amazing art. I produced some shitty stuff and some amazing stuff. Insider and outsider. I was a writer, illustrator, photographer, musician, digital-to-analogue-cut-and-paste rebel. Fifteen years later, I wonder where all these ideas have gone. Have they gone? I don’t think they’re gone, they’ve simply been reallocated to the other creative things I do in my life; like being a mother and being in The Dears.

But then why now? Why at this point in my life am I turning in this direction? And why, absolutely, am I questioning this when in reality, I’m loving it. As Kubrick mentions, we get older and fear deafens our perception of the world. The End outweighs the existence. I think my loss of “faith in the ultimate goodness of man” has reached its pinnacle, and I’m ready to start shaping something ultimate. I’m now entering the Masterpiece years.

Pastoral Space Fire

What did I do today? Well, many things: woke up, had a coffee, had band practice, met with the CBP, had lunch, rode my bike and hung out with The Grainge. Finally, I got Photoshop. How did this final event make my day more productive? It did not, as evidenced by this piece, entitled: Pastoral Space Fire.

Power Blog

This is a power blog. I am doing what feels like a billion things at once: planning the tour book with Chris and Laura; checking our cashflow and budgets; scheduling a visit with my Cousin Laura in NYC; locking down press; blogging. All before my noon appointment with Lisa for a haircut. Anyway, it feels great and the coffee makes it seem possible though I definitely will crash hard later. I feel the stress-knots in my back tightening…nothing some morning yoga won’t fix.

This has been my daily thing for the last two weeks. It’s intense. It’s the pre-tour mania I’ve been blogging about.

The main inspiration was this newsletter my Cousin Laura forwarded to me about Canadians in New York: Upper North Side….anyway I can’t figure out how to include the email newsletter here but it announces The Dears shows we have coming up, but also my Cousin’s art show she has opening next week. Our family is all over that thing!

New Yorkers (Long Islanders?) go check out Sheila Ross and (Cousin) Laura Ten Eyck’s YC3 outdoor installation project at Art Sites Gallery. Opening May 2nd. More info here.

Art Machine Journey

Since it is literally -30C degrees outside, I have been trying to think of ways to entertain Neptune and myself by remaining indoors. We sat on the couch this morning: her watching PBS and me trolling the internet. Let me share the journey.

All internet adventures start with the bookmarks list. I have Wired.com in there, which is where I found: art machines: I want a “Sub-Sonic Dissidence Propulsion Device”. The amazingly D&D meets gothic art constructions are fascinating, and I only wish I could see the pieces by Kris Kuksi in real life. One piece that I can’t link through to (on Page 3, called “The Deadly Sins”) is particularly magnificent. This work teeters dangerously on the border between gothic-pop genius and fantasy/sci-fi rubbish. I love it.

From there I went back to the Wired article which brought me to artmachines.org. A delightful compendium of tech-inspired art, sculpture and photography. You can see Kuksi’s “The Deadly Sins” here, too. But scrolling down through other pieces, I came upon some always fascinating interpretations of the Rube Goldberg machine. Neptune is in a serious Looney Tunes period right now, especially the Roadrunner and Coyote so the Rube Goldberg is always on my mind.

And so I watched these two clips: one from a famous installation called “The Way Things Go” from the 80’s:

The next a corporate spin-off, entitled “Cog” commissioned by Honda. It does very cleverly re-interpret car parts; especially the wind-shield mobile. Apparently the interesting fact is that they tried to run their machine over 600 times, and this is the only success:

Now you don’t have to go outside, either.

Wonderland

There are times when I feel art is hopeless: inundated by music and the unpleasant plethora of bad art, that vision has become secondary. Yet every now and again I pull my head out of the sand, to realise that there is a whole world of non-music, multi-disciplinary art out there. I am reassured that musicians aren’t in it alone, knowing that there exists an equally unsettling amount of bad non-music art. Anyhow, not to say that I am a barometer of any sort on what makes art “good” or “bad,” but today I was intrigued by this…

I was just reading the pages of a blog I enjoy called design*sponge, and they were talking about a Korean artist named Yeondoo Jung. He had asked a bunch of 5 to 7 year old kids to do drawings which Jung then reinterpreted in photographs. Here’s an example, but you should check out the entire project called Wonderland.

Doris Lessing and the Nobel Prize

Usually after I post a particularly “down” blog entry, I get concerned emails from friends and family. It’s nice, knowing there are 1) people out there that care about me; and 2) people out there that actually read this blog. Thank yous all around.

After a moderately gloomy and relatively cynical music-industry-vs.-art conversation with Amanda in our kitchen, she emailed me some sobering words used by author Doris Lessing in her lecture for winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature:

We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

It’s a hopeful message, but it’s interesting how the media is only reporting on how winning the Nobel Prize has rendered Ms. Lessing incapable of writing. That the media frenzy surrounding the prize is exhausting and, well, they just won’t stop bothering her about it.

So I went and read her entire Nobel lecture, which can be found here. It is a long ride, with a great range of poignant emotion. In one section I found a comforting universality on the desecration of art through publicity, popularity and fame:

Let us now jump to an apparently very different scene. We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We cynically enquire: “Is she good-looking?” If this is a man: “Charismatic? Handsome?” We joke, but it is not a joke.

This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of hype begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening. He, she, is flattered, pleased. But ask in a year’s time what he or she is thinking: “This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.”

Some much-publicised new writers haven’t written again, or haven’t written what they wanted to, meant to. And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears: “Have you still got your space? Your soul, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold on to it, don’t let it go.”

It’s so hard for some to “hold on,” especially — if I may, apply this to music — with the way we consume music. Because it is an art that must be recreated live, performed and communicated with others, and how do you convince musicians that art is something that is true and pure if they don’t believe in art that way? When so often the worth in what you are doing can appear intangible if nobody is “talking” about it; if someone else isn’t telling you how amazing you are? Art is art, and regardless of the medium, if you like it then you have to hold on to it, tightly — either as consumer or creator — wheedling the life out of it just to bring some happiness and redemption into your own.

The Death of All the Romance

I wrote this in March 2005 for some magazine, though I don’t even know if it was published. More of my usual rhetoric, and an interesting little omen…

Romance has been dying slowly since its heyday in the late 18th century. Art has so quickly been forgotten and observation falls by the way side. What can possibly be left for a society that fails to appreciate the world in which it lives? This is where we find ourselves now, in a barren emotional climate.

In 2001, the United States of America was shaken awake, kicked out of bed for sleeping in late. The dirty, hungry and hard city of New York was jostled out of its daze by two explosions from the sky. A population that lives for money and success was forced into a brief faze of brotherly love; of appreciation for the fragility of life. But this sentimentality would get washed into the Hudson by acid rain, swept from New Yorker’s memories like countless hangovers of the past. They remember how painful it was, but honestly, its better and easier to just get on with it.

It takes disaster to awaken our senses, mass death to appreciate how simple life is. World War II reminded us of the value of family and of the fragility of love: the Earth was forced to abandon any security and to hold on to whoever was there to help, to whatever they could carry in their arms. War reveals how easily human vulnerability and kindness can be taken advantage of.

Since then, our hearts have been hardened by resent, progress and competitiveness. We must rebuild our familial empires and honour those who died for our freedom, but at what expense? We have so materialised our society that we’ve alienated ourselves from each other, posted invisible barriers around our hearts, left territorial pissings around our souls. We know more about hate than we do of love.

Modern institutions – namely government and education – have done nothing to help. Politicians are frustrated to see tax dollars going to the arts, and teachers are so overworked that the idea of offering any sensitivity in the classroom is annoying. If kids are lucky, they get a field trip to the museum: a chance to peer into the carcass of Romance, but not touch it. Then back to the classroom for a cold, heartless discussion of what they think they may have seen. Then an essay assignment that counts towards final grades. So kids, there’s no pressure…art is enrichment, remember?

But how can it possibly be? How can any child think outside the cold rules grown-ups have unwittingly set? It’s all we can expect out of children borne from complacency, from strict MOR parameters. Grupsters aside, the majority of parents don’t enjoy reading, take no pleasure in writing, can’t see the point of self-evaluation, hate thinking critically and never want to talk to their spouses – let alone get up to change the TV channel. “I work hard, make money for food and clothes, what else can I do? When I get home I just want to drink beer. What’s wrong with that?” Nothing, really, when you embody what’s become of the American Dream.

Our fundamental problem: the cheapening of the great American Dream. Why do we seek success as our approval from others? Why must we “fit in?” Look at our world: we rely on drugs to keep us happy, to make us sleep, to help us forget, to get us to pay attention, to deal with others; we turn to religion to think for us, be moral on our behalf; we crawl to CNN for guidance and to tell us what our opinions are; and material wealth has become that which defines our identities. We are monsters who cannot stand to even live in our own skins anymore.

The psychological and spiritual mutation must end, but this will happen by no easy means. We are faced with a slow transition, with each of us, with our hearts, at the center of the solution.

We can look forward to a renaissance in music, at least. Modern music and art is getting more adventurous, more daring, all the while remaining true to the artist’s heart. Anyone can write a song or paint a painting, but most can only create meaningless art. We must take heed to art that makes us feel, that reminds us of who we are and that reconnects our souls. It’s a Soft Revolution led by bands like Doves, Arcade Fire, Stars and The Dears (cheeky!), just to name a few. If we start by remembering our hearts, then society will follow our lead.