Stanley Cubic

Kubrick, Who’d Have Been 90 & the   
Odyssey to a Future That Never Was

A New Yorker who spent most of his life in the U.K., Stanley Kubrick had been an accomplished photojournalist before his movie career as a director took off. His 1946 series for Look magazine, Life and Love on the New York City Subway, displays the same keen eye and compositional style that would mark his filmography later on.
In just a few years, the man who would say at one point that ‘the most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.’ went on to become anything but, with a string of now classics, such as Path of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, to name a few.
Today, when he would’ve become 90, Stanley Kubrick is intrinsically connected with the future that he realized with his movies, more than anything he’s ever envisioned. And that’s no small feat for such an overachiever. Even as he just missed the dawn of the iconographic year that named his sci-fi masterpiece, much of what he and Arthur C. Clarke anticipated is finally rising on the horizon of our times.
Not that we should feel too nostalgic about the future that could’ve been, with its interstellar travel, and dreams of finally understanding our evolutionary connection with the ‘indifferent’ universe surrounding us. We’re actually lucky that another one of his disturbing dystopias of what may lay ahead, A Clockwork Orange, based on an Anthony Burgess book, hasn’t quite materialized. Yet.
Before going back to those pictures of a post-war Manhattan, and to a few interesting audio and visual tchotchkes about Kubrick we’ve found on the Internet, let’s do him some justice. For even at the heart of his enormously challenging techno-futuristic visual parables, there was his deeply humanistic option for a different construct of our own fate.
From his anti-war trilogy of sorts, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket, to his portraits of individuals at odds with an all too powerful system, either stoically like Spartacus, or as a crook, like Barry Lyndon, or even one succumbing to his own creeping madness, as in Stephen King’s The Shinning, Kubrick remained faithful to his non-religious but highly moral Jewish working class roots.

The Museum of the City of New York has some 40 thousand negatives that the young photographer took of Manhattan in the 1940s. Some of his pictures are so cleared eye they could’ve been taken now. Subway riders fast asleep, hanging from the overhead bars, or with their faces buried in newspapers. Yes, you could make that iPhones, but the underlying content would be the same.
Calling him Stan Kubrick, the Camera Quiz Kid, Mildred Stagg wrote in 1948 about ‘the boy who said that had turned nineteen a week ago, and has been a staff photographer for Look magazines since age seventeen.’ And registered the kid’s own impressions about (more)
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* The Shinning
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* Checking In
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Curtain Raiser

The Age of ‘Lock Them Up,’ Colltalers

In the White House-sponsored nauseating tour back on time, we’re hitting all the ‘right’ stops. That’s one way of giving some context to this renewed urge for mass incarcerating people under the assumption of culpability. A clear historical parallel is the 1942 Japanese internments.
In still less than two years, the administration has implemented a radical agenda of racial oppression and xenophobia towards immigrants, while taking steps to further push the Supreme Court into a subservient role. And that’s not mentioning the Christmas tax cuts for the rich.
To say that every cruel error of judgment and knuckled-headed executive order are somehow unintentional or lack equivalence in American history makes no sense. Not just there’s a method to this brutal cavalcade towards fascism, but also plenty of half-forgotten past examples.
What may be arguably new is how little pushback what Nobel laureate Paul Krugman calls the Republican war on the poor is getting from the Democratic establishment and party leaders in Congress. And that, of course, the Supreme hasn’t had such a heavy partisan run since, well, ever. If it’s up to these institutions, it’s getting worst before getting any better. But it’s still up to the American people to say ‘Stop!’
Again, we’re not getting into corporate complicity to the status quo, because it’s obvious they’re being benefited from it; or the boot-licking support from a now dominant media, which often dictates policy; or how devastating the attack on civil rights and the environment has been.
We’re just taking the issue of imprisonment, not out of criminal behavior, but for those who have become inconvenient for the enforcement of a white supremacist narrative. That means annihilating a considerable core of the American experience, by going after every person of color.
It’s a vicious irony that the country that has already more prisoners than any other nation on earth, is now building temporary facilities to hold yet even more people. And it’s no surprise Continue reading


When Snow White, Rapunzel & Oz
Meant Much More Than Fairy Tales

Video games may be the modern equivalent of fairy tales. But if child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim was right, those ancient stories about damsels in distress and their rescuing knights are far from having exhausted their appeal. The good old doc should know it.
He survived the Nazis only to fall in disgrace for enhancing his resume and being nasty to his pupils. Alas, the man who taught us about warding off life’s demons, could not handle his own. He suffocated himself to death with a plastic bag wrapped around his head in 1990.
After such a florid intro, though, we’re switching gears to focus on some hardly known facts behind two classics of children’s literature, Rapunzel and Snow White, and a book written a century ago that became a breakthrough movie, the Wizard of Oz.
They all share an underlying common trait: the confusion and hardship typical of impoverished children going through puberty. While predating even the concept of childhood and adolescence, there’s never doubt about what demographics they were catering to.
Behind a veneer of an idealized world to which the young protagonists long to belong and conquer, and a patina of virtue and redemption righting all wrongs, deep down, the stories are suffused with intrigue and betrayal, brutal competition and carnage.

For all the high-def graphics and sensory numbness-inducing FX of video games, and all modern entertainment for that matter, they’re no match to the emotional intensity and masterly manipulation of deep-rooted fears, which are the currency of fairy tales.
All are about lonely children transitioning to adulthood, trapped by conspiring circumstances and on the verge of defeat until the very end, often when their rivals perish. Strife and miserable family bonds are never far from center stage, and neither is the threat of annihilation.
For Bettelheim, beyond their imagery, these tales are loved for offering kids happy outcomes, which they can come up with on their own. Behind the Dark Ages’ ambiance and archaic social settings, (more)
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Curtain Raiser

The Lead of the Irish, Colltalers

In two months, Ireland has taken a leadership position on two crucial, global issues: women’s reproductive rights and climate change. Both decisions were reached by its democracy doing what’s supposed to: to represent the will of the majority. Startling, that’s relative these days.
Both themes acquired urgency lately, as the Trump administration seems bent on fulfilling an extreme right wing agenda. Short of popular opposition, Americans may soon lose the right to decide what’s best for their own bodies, or even protest against our reliance on fossil fuels.
The president, by the way, was in full evil clown mode on his latest mini European tour, and few were laughing. In a chaotic series of visits, he chastised our NATO allies for not spending more killing people, that is, buying American weaponry, and humiliated U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, while finding kind words for her political enemy, Boris Johnson, and of course, Vladimir Putin, who he’ll meet next. Prepare.
But despite massive protests and becoming once again a joke on the European media, Trump accomplished what many are still to realize: it’s all part of a plan. With his goofs, he turned the coverage onto himself, while pushing forward his own interests, and that of the defense firms.
Through apparently incoherent public statements, he managed to throw mud on the issue of immigration in Europe, avoiding questions about his own approach to the matter – children in cages, anyone? His staged nonsense also serves him well for manipulating media coverage, just like any certified reality star, and snake oil salesman, would know how to do it: every one of his asides and diatribes was faithfully broadcast.
What the Irish showed the world, though, is that we must keep our eye on the prize, and not get so distracted by what now should be all too familiar to anyone. The president will lie and deceive and do what he can to retain the narrative; it’s up to the people to impose their own.
In May, a referendum showed that the majority in Ireland favors the removal of a constitutional anti-abortion clause. That may open the way to legislation granting women what’s theirs by nature: control over reproductive issues, and rights to a full and religious-free health care. For such a strongly Catholic-influenced country, Continue reading

Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may sooth your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Choose to Remember, Colltalers

How crucial it is for a nation to confront its painful past? Here are two contrasting approaches: Chile sent nine soldiers to jail for murdering a singer, in a 1973 military coup; Brazil was censured by a human rights group for not protecting a journalist killed in 1975 by the dictatorship.
The issue is relevant to the U.S. too, as an upsurge of racial intolerance and religious prejudice threatens to turn back the clock on civil rights. As the Trump administration goes after made-up enemies, it’s also encouraging the biggest terrorist threat to the U.S. today: angry white men.
The same demographics concocted a horrific past in America, when hanging people of color was considered public entertainment. The hurt and open wounds of that time still resonate now, and before Trump, we were but in the early stages of a process of healing and redressing it.
No other president has been so lenient to displays of blatant racial violence by neo Nazis, or named at least one assumed white supremacist, Steve Bannon, to his cabinet. And his rallies have become festering, malodorous focal points for hordes of unhinged racists to congregate.
Trump and his enablers may come to regret the support of these groups, as they’re bound to become an out of control danger to the security of everyone. But that we’re allowing a comeback of an ideology with a proven track of cruelty and destruction, is beyond baffling, it’s egregious.
History provides centuries of examples of what happens when a leader creates villains to be demonized out of the demographics they don’t like, while giving a pass to ideologies Continue reading

Pleading the Fifth

An Amendment Linking Fine
Americans & Notorious Hacks

It all may have started with the number of fingers. To write a full post about a particularly random number between, say 1 to 10, is, of course, a fool’s run. But, as your uncle Bob once said, after having a few at the local water hole, ‘life ain’t worthy without taking chances,’ while tossing you up in the air. We’re taking the fifth and running with it.
Constitutionally, as you may remember, the expression is often associated with tax dodgers, counselor-instructed crime bosses and your garden-variety white-collar crook. Historically, though, it may have had its defining moment during the 1950s, with Senator Joseph McCarthy-led infamous witch hunt of many fine American artists and intellectuals and their supposedly illegal activities.
For those who need a refresher, the Fifth is the amendment of the U.S. Constitution designed to protect the accused of self-incrimination, and of being ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ It’s often associated with the Miranda Warning, given by the police to criminal suspects, before they can be interrogated in the presence of an attorney.
Such association is not casual and stems from the 1966 case of Ernesto Miranda, who was arrested for stealing $8, and told the cops he’d also kidnapped and raped a woman a few days earlier. He was neither told that he could have a lawyer present during questioning, nor that he had the right to remain silent.
Miranda was promptly convicted based on his confession and sentenced to twenty years in prison. But, as his lawyers appealed, the Supreme Court eventually ruled that his self-incriminating statement was not admissible in court and that law enforcement officials must establish safeguards to protect this right of the individual being questioned. Thus the Miranda ruling.
As for McCarthy, surprise surprise, he succumbed to its own paranoia, was censured by the Senate in 1954, and died of alcohol-related hepatitis three years later. The damage he caused was already irreversible to many movie professionals, though, as Hollywood slammed its doors to them, helped by secret files that the likes of Ronald Reagan and others compiled on them.

The episode, however sad, became emblematic in the way it showed the Constitution as a defense mechanism to protect citizens against a dangerous nut in power such as McCarthy, even when it’s not as swift as needed. The same about the Miranda case, which may serve (more)
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