by Phil Segal
The Mill Valley Film Festival recently wrapped. I was lucky enough to catch five screenings, four at BAMPFA, one (Ninjababy) online.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul has always been happy to let audiences’ eyes and ears wander around the frame at their leisure rather than controlling their attention (he likes minds wandering, too). Despite some worries I had about an “English language debut” featuring, at least compared to his previous work, a superstar, putting Tilda in the movie hasn’t changed anything: she’s just occasionally one of the things in the frame that you can choose to focus on, a useful tool compositionally because her body is a powerful set of lines. In the earliest days of film, shots would be composed to utilize lots of diagonals to create something visually dynamic in spite of a frequently stationary camera; frequently here Weerasethakul does the same, holding stationary shots that nevertheless keep your eyes in motion, and he has painter’s eye for arrangements of color and light as well. Even the shots that went on for minutes I felt like I hadn’t finished looking at and hearing. The purpose of shots is not to advance what little plot there is but to create visual and aural arrangements to be appreciated in the moment; if you can approach it in that way, it’s a generous, welcoming experience.
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds
Two sisters, long estranged, have a tense meeting in which one is unwilling to budge. Until, that is, the other sister mentions trouble with her husband, providing a catalyst for the two women to unite. This Chadian drama celebrates women watching out for each other in a world where men can’t be relied on or trusted and makes the case for the necessity of safe access to abortion. It’s well-performed, incredibly timely, and uplifting. What it isn’t is very cinematic, with veteran director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun sticking to the standard realist style of modern message pictures, but the lack of distinctive film style is ultimately inconsequential compared to what he does right with his screenplay and his handling of tone. The film doesn’t downplay the struggle its characters face or how serious the risks they take are, but focuses on resilience and resistance, resulting in an ultimately energizing film rather than the noble downer you’re likely expecting from a film about abortion rights.
Rakel, the heroine of Ninjababy, also wants an abortion but finds out she’s much farther along in her pregnancy than she realized despite showing no signs. She frustratedly declares that it must have been some kind of “ninjababy” in order to sneak up on her like that. An aspiring graphic novelist who’s constantly scribbling on the scenes around her in her mind (one of the inventive blendings of animation and live action throughout the film), it’s not long before she’s drawn the “ninjababy,” which immediately takes on a life of its own, popping up on papers and walls to argue and make demands, much to her chagrin. Yngvild Sve Flikke’s film is an unusually raunchy, strange, and frequently hilarious look at an unwanted pregnancy, a film with characters called things like “Dick Jesus,” a sequence featuring stop-motion sperm, and one of the more charmingly irresponsible mothers-to-be in film history. In the end things get more heartwarming and sincere, and that’s all handled well, but it’s the crude and comical (in multiple senses) journey to get there that’s the original and exciting part
Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest is another confirmation of her impeccable skill as a filmmaker. Her films are some of the most fluid being made right now; every scene ends a little before you expect it to, hard cutting the moment someone finishes talking or comes to rest, so that there’s a ceaseless momentum to her films, and the frames always include exactly what is necessary to convey information about her characters and no more for only as long as it takes to absorb that information, so that your attention is continuously stimulated and carefully controlled. It’s truly auteurism in that it creates the same effect as literary narration, the world described with a distinct voice and point of view, through visuals and cutting. An identifiable “prose” style runs through her work, the filmic equivalent of the brisk, well-constructed sentences of a Hemingway or Didion. I was slightly disappointed by what she wrote this time out, with the qualification that I’ve never had any attachment to Bergman, although as the film goes on and adds new layers it becomes more interesting. If her previous films like Things to Come hadn’t set the bar so high I would probably be more impressed by this one, which is quite good but no Things to Come. Graded against anyone other than herself, though, it’s an unqualified recommendation.
Drive My Car
Drive My Car is three hours long, with a narrative that unfolds in a relaxed, winding manner, and yet I never felt my attention flag or that anything Ryusuke Hamaguchi opted to show wasn’t adding to the film. A lot happens in the lives of the characters we meet over the course of the film without it ever quite feeling like a plot. The interest is not so much in seeing how one thing will lead to another; instead, it’s just what these characters will do in each situation they encounter, where their conversations will take them, because they come across as rounded people full of contradictory impulses and motives that aren’t always clear, even to themselves. Adapted (apparently loosely) from a Haruki Murakami story, the film deals with the world of theatre, large parts revolving around rehearsals for a multilingual staging of Uncle Vanya. It’s in part a film about the power of art to bring people together, to help people process things that happen to them, and to reach across time and space to speak to us. Mainly, though, it’s a film about people, the steady accumulation of detail over the three hour runtime reminding us that there are few things richer and more mysterious than what goes on within and between human beings.
by Phil Segal
Ahead of the CineSpin event on November 12th when they’ll providing an original live score to Kote Mikaberidze’s Russian silent film My Grandmother, I had the chance to talk with musicians and composers Gabriel Sarnoff and Miles Tuncel. You can check out music by Gabe and Miles here (Miles appears on track 2, “Satisfaction”). Our talk covered improvised music in the Zoom era, what makes accompanying a film particularly exciting, and what they hope people will get from the CineSpin experience.
BAMPFA SC: Why don’t we start with an introduction and go over what led you here?
Miles Tuncel: Hi, I’m Miles, I play primarily saxophones. I’ve been playing saxophones for ten plus years now, since I was in middle school, and I met Gabe in an ensemble at Berkeley-- Ben Goldberg’s class, who’s a big hero and teacher of ours. We sort of took off from that, improvising and composing together, playing a lot of different genres of music, a lot of different settings. We also played in Myra Melford’s group on campus, which is an improvisational based music class. I’d say those two classes and those two people have been huge inspirations for us in terms of how we approach composing and improvisation and playing with each other.
Gabriel Sarnoff: To go off that, I came at music starting in ninth grade. I started playing guitar, played in a pretty “hard rock” band throughout high school with some buddies, and then towards the end of high school got into playing upright bass. I was the electric bassist of this band, and then wanted to play upright base, joined the school’s small orchestra (I went to a tiny school), and that’s what got me into reading music and classical music. Then I came to Cal, studied music as one of my double majors, and met Miles in that class in our junior year, and from there kinda found myself in this corner of the music department at Berkeley, and just generally music in the Bay Area, of improvised music primarily. Ben Goldberg and Myra Melford are pretty well known in that area of music, very respected, and they’ve become mentors for us. We’re following in their footsteps but doing our own thing. We approach music I think a bit more from— at least I do, and I think Miles as well— Miles has more of a jazz background whereas I have more of a rock/folk background, but we both appreciate that other style of music, and so we come together and create a synthesis of the two and pair it with improvised music to get something really special that we think will go well with the silent film. We’re excited for this opportunity because it’s super-unique, to say the least.
BSC: How did you end up getting this opportunity to do CineSpin?
GS: I think I got an email. I’ve known about this event, I went to it two or three years ago, and I was like, “Wow, I really wanna do this! This is so cool.” So I saw the email and we sent in a song that we had made for a new jazz ensemble. We actually sent in a song that we made over Zoom, because we were doing everything over Zoom during COVID.
BSC: Were you improving over Zoom?
MT: Yeah, it was a big part of our lives for a year or so. It was a really different experience trying to play music over Zoom. It’s a difficult prospect but it led to some interesting results. We would never really have thought about playing music or composing in the ways we did before everything happened.
GS: For example, the song we sent in, we were playing along with a friend of ours, Evan, who was in this ensemble with us. He was playing bass clarinet I believe, [Miles] was playing saxophone, I was playing guitar, all over Zoom. I think it was completely free improvisation, there might have been some melodic structure that we were basing it on, but Evan was using a pedal that pitch shifted what he was playing, and that wasn’t coming across to us. He was hearing himself play completely different than we were hearing him play, and it led to a crazy sound that wouldn’t have been possible had we been playing together live without that filter between us of Zoom. So the Zoom/COVID era opened up a lot of doors for musicians doing free improv music. I think for musicians working in more rigid forms where everything has to stay in time, they were probably kind of screwed, but since we’re not based in a time signature or tempo, things are looser in free improv, it led to interesting results. We realized that you don’t have to hear everything that everyone’s playing at once to create something beautiful. You only hearing what one person in the ensemble is playing, and that person only hearing what a different person is playing, it creates really interesting results.
BSC: I’m interested in your approach to working with film because Gabe, I actually had the chance to view a talk you gave (viewable here) on representational aspects of music and how that affects composition. Could you explain a bit about that, and maybe that can lead us into how you worked with this film?
GS: Yeah, so my theories on composing and music are pretty abstract and mainly exist in my head, so they’re probably not too logical, but I guess the basic idea of how I see music, how I hear music, is as a narrative form. A good example is when you’re listening to classical music, like an orchestra playing, there’s usually a lot of people playing but only a few melodic lines going on at a time, because if you do more than four or five at a time no one’s gonna know what’s going on. I hear each of those voices as kind of characters in a story. If I’m listening to a piece of music and it’s guitar for a while, and then the bass comes in, it’s analogous to when you’re watching a movie and following a one person for a while, and then a new character walks in and joins the storyline. I think it’s a very valuable perspective, because when you’re working with music it’s very abstract. People can get caught up with doing too much and adding too many elements just because you can, especially in our digital age when you’re working on computers and have the option to add hundreds of tracks on top of each other. Some people do that, a good example being Jacob Collier, who’s a composer and musician that’s pretty well known. He’s big on that, putting three hundred vocals on one song, all on top of each other. That’s its own thing. That’s not my approach. My approach is that if you’re writing a story, you’re not going to have three hundred characters, or no one will know what’s going on. I prefer music with fewer elements, with each element more developed. That being said, the movie My Grandmother, we just watched it for the first time, and it’s a very hectic movie [laughs]. There’s a lot of… It’s more of that Jacob Collier side of things with a million different things happening. In this project, for us, one thing I was thinking about when we were watching the movie, is that we can’t match that with two people playing live. We’ll have to create something that can have a contrast to the movie. If we were doing a film score where we recorded everything and were able to compose meticulously, that would be one thing, but live we won’t be able to match the superfast cutting and rapid changes of events. For example, there’s a scene of a guy sliding down a railing on a staircase, it’s a recurring thing, and I’d love to go [imitating slide whistle] to mirror him, but I think we’re going to try and exist in a separate dimension, where we’re not necessarily mirroring everything that’s going on but the instead aiming for the contrast of the music to give meaning to the movie and the movie to give meaning to the music. That was a lot [laughing].
BSC: Miles, do you share Gabe’s theories of music or do you take a different approach to thinking about it?
MT: I’d say that reflected my sort of way of approaching music pretty well in terms of storytelling and character. I think the music to me that is the most interesting, and I guess this expands to all art, is where it’s not something perfect, where you can hear the artist struggling to achieve something. It’s not perfect, but it’s what they have, and they’re putting all they have into it. I think in terms of scoring things, that’s where our experience in improvised music pairs well with scoring a movie, because in improvised music you can have so many kinds of interactions between people: between the performers, a conductor, the audience, so there’s a great fit between interacting with a movie and improvised music performers.
BSC: How does that play out for you? The film is something rigid, locked in, it’ll be the same every time. Is it freeing for you to improvise against because you always have that baseline, locked in thing to return to no matter how far out you go, or do you find that restrictive, that you can’t go out as far?
MT: I think that can be freeing, and that’s something important in music, to have some kind of structure that the listener can lock onto and say, “Oh, I know what’s going on here.” So I think it’s a good baseline to build off. And there’s all kinds of baselines in music that you can build off and take form from, so I think this is just another one of those structures to add music to.
GS: If I can add, I’m taking one on one lessons with the clarinetist Ben Goldberg we mentioned earlier, who teaches improvised music at Cal, and in these one on one lessons we’re basically working on melodic improvisation over chord changes. So the music we’ve done with Ben and Myra in the past, and what we’re going to do for this movie, for the most part, is the opposite of what traditional jazz is. There, you have a sheet of chords, and for four bars it’s a C Major, and then it’s a G, and then yadda yadda yadda. In our kind of free jazz improvised music, we’re only following our ear with no predetermined chord structures, which leads to a huge realm of possibilities. But, in these lessons I’m doing the opposite, I’m working on going through these chord changes and creating a mental map that you can use to anchor what you’re playing. What I think is cool about this movie project is that the movie takes on the same role as the chord sheet in a jazz standard, and we can use that to anchor our playing. In the course of the next few weeks we’re really just going to learn this movie as if it were chord changes. It’s going to be impossible to memorize every single action in the movie, but generally we’ll know, “Oh, this is going to happen next.” If we have that really under our fingertips so we don’t have to think about it, that’s when it frees you up while you’re playing. The biggest thing is that we’re improvising and we won’t be talking, so we have to have something— usually it’s our ear— keeping us together. If we both know what’s coming next in the movie, though, that’s going to create wild possibilities. We’ll both know a crazy scene is coming up, and that will influence our playing, and so we’ll… I don’t know! I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I think it’s so unique. So my answer is that I don’t think it’s limiting. Quite the contrary.
BSC: If I could bring us back a bit to your talk, you mention there that normally the audience doesn’t have direct access to the images or feelings the composer means the music to represent. Here, we in the audience are going to be looking at the image you’re trying to represent at the same time you’re looking at it and trying to represent it. What effects do you think this will have, will it be more challenging for you, does it take away something by limiting possible interpretations?
GS: I was thinking about this. We watched it last night, actually, and we were just brainstorming. I was thinking about what I mentioned earlier, that we can’t match everything in the movie as two people playing live, it has to be a freer connection between the two, but since the audience will be seeing the movie and us simultaneously they’ll create connections we weren’t even imagining. That’s my plan.
GS: I think the audience’s brains will play a big role in creating the meaning behind the music, in an abstract sense.
BSC: So everyone will get their own experience of it. It’ll be totally open in that way.
BSC: So to prepare for this, is there any music or anything else you’ve been drawing on? Have you been listening to film scores, or jazz/improv, or looking for inspiration anywhere in particular?
MT: Yeah, I think we’re always playing what we’re listening to. I’ve been listening to a lot of Wayne Shorter recently, he’s one of my favorite saxophone players. There’s this record that’s fairly recent, in the last ten years, called Without a Net, that I think is very good at representing a story. I think that record is some of the saxophone playing that I’m always striving to match in terms of storytelling and being a character and having your own voice.
GS: Definitely we should be listening to more film scores. To speak for you [points at Miles], he’s been listening to a lot of… I’m not sure where it’s from, but this flute music.
MT: Oh yeah, it’ s a Turkish ney, it’s a kind of flute.
GS: Miles influences me a lot because he shows me a lot of world music with instruments I’ve never heard of. A lot of times in the US, and Western popular music, songs are pretty rigid and three to four minutes, so it’s nice to hear something a bit more fluid. Film scores are like that as well. A film score is probably where people living here, like students at Berkeley for example, get most of their long fluid music. It reaches them through movies. I definitely think I’m inspired by the music Miles has shown me, as well as finding a way to merge some of the other work I’m doing right now. I’m creating folk songs, or like Bob Dylan-y singer-songwriter-y songs, wondering if there’s a way to bring stuff like that, maybe some singing, to the film score table, but we’re still parsing together everything.
BSC: Do you think film scoring is something you’ll want to explore more after this?
GS: Definitely. As a musician— I just graduated Cal and now I’m trying to pursue music full time— a career in film scoring is one of the more stable careers for a musician to have, if you can make it in that area, so that’s really appealing to me. I think as an artform, I still haven’t explored it enough. That’s why I’m really excited for this project. I see this as an artform that no one’s really doing, pairing this kind of improvised music with silent films. If it goes well— I think it’ll go well— I’d like to do more of that specifically moreso than just film scoring in the traditional sense.
by Truly Edison
There is probably no movie that I defend more frequently or with more intense passion than Atom Egoyan’s dead-in-the-water 2005 murder mystery, Where The Truth Lies. If you’ve never heard of it before, you are DEFINITELY not in the minority; the only other people I know who’ve seen it are people I’ve literally watched it with. I’m the proud owner of its only English-language five star Letterboxd reviews. I’ve written poems about it, used images from it in visual art, and all around been a complete lunatic about it since high school. I rewatched it last night with a close friend of mine who had never seen it, and the time has come to finally admit something I never wanted to say: Where The Truth Lies is not very good.
Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of it that are EXTREMELY good, and this article is far from a denouncement of my love for this film. For one thing, the characters. Oh my GOD the characters. Lanny and Vince are a late-1950s comedy duo much in the style of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (lawsuit-threateningly so, in the case of the film’s source material). They have their fun little bit that they do along with all of the other tropetastic trappings of 50s celebrity, like extreme drug use, mob involvement, and what my friend accurately describes as “no homo threesomes”. Yeah, that’s where this is going. The homoeroticism between these two guys is INCREDIBLY interesting, especially when it comes to the coded language around their stage routine; it’s described as a “boy-girl act” and a “marriage”, and they’re regularly referred to as (comedy) partners. All that coding ultimately pays off in an emotionally excruciating climactic scene that I am never not thinking about. Their interactions are punchy and fun and demonstrate an obvious intimacy between the two that’s still rife with uncertainty. The other major characters—Maureen, victim of the murder that ends their career, and Karen, journalist trying to discover the truth fifteen years later—play off of each other beautifully despite never meeting, crafting this unique parallel across time. I’m a sucker for a minimal cast with a water-tight interpersonal dynamic.
I just wish they were in a better movie, you know? The more I think about my last Where The Truth Lies re-watch, the more I realize its glaring structural problems. It tackles a lot of big-money genre modes—the locked-room murder, the unreliable narrator, all that good good stuff—but doesn’t exactly know what to do with them. Its central mystery seems somehow too thin and needlessly convoluted at the same time. More often than not it relies on Karen entering a kind of 2010 Sherlock-esque ‘mind palace,’ returning from it with an extremely convenient realization that no actual person would have pieced together. Most glaring (and most complained about by others) is the film’s heavy-handed voiceover narration; it works sometimes, is necessary sometimes, but it’s just. Everywhere. Even I found myself starting to get sick of it.
And it drives me insane because the movie should work. All of the elements are there for it to work. A sexy mid-2000s murder mystery dual-set in the 50s and 70s with Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon as repressed bisexual comedian boyfriends? It should have been Brokeback Mountain two months before Brokeback Mountain. The concepts, the themes, the images, the CHARACTERS are all right there, waiting to be put into something that could easily be fantastic given the right treatment. They’re waiting to be put into the version of the movie that exists in my mind and that I had convinced myself was the real thing.
I haven’t even talked about the ending of the film yet. I’m going to do that right now, so here’s a big old SPOILER ALERT for anyone who has (somehow) been convinced to watch this thing. Go do that and come back to this tab in two hours. Okay? Okay. For all its flaws, Where The Truth Lies ends beautifully: fifteen years after the crime, Vince is forced to accept that he murdered Maureen in a drug-induced haze after she blackmailed him with the threat of making his sexuality public knowledge. Unable to cope with the guilt, he takes his own life in the same hotel room he took hers in all those years ago. Lanny is forced to accept that he helped Vince get away with it, and though it saved their lives and neither of them went to jail it ended their relationship forever. In his words, “The marriage was over.” Karen comes away from the story worse off for having gotten the thing she wanted from its very beginning—the truth. Nothing hits better than a gorgeous bummer of an ending that wraps up everybody’s business in the most heartbreaking way possible.
Except Where The Truth Lies doesn’t end after this revelation. In the last five minutes of the movie Karen finds out that nope, actually, The Butler Did It. Yes, that is the true ending of the film, played entirely straight. Yes, I wish I was kidding. Despite having set up the perfect conclusion, the movie trips over its shoelaces with possibly the dumbest reversal in film history, too soon to the end for a viewer to even know what to do with it. Why this happened I will never understand. The only possible explanation is that it must be how the novel ends, and it's a terrible ending for a novel, too. It literally boggles the mind how MULTIPLE PEOPLE could have written, read, greenlit, shot, edited, and released this without realizing how much it undermines not only the end of the movie but the movie as a whole.
And I defended this stupid ass ending! I defended this stupid ass ending for years! I have put in a lot of hours convincing people (or trying to, at least) that Where The Truth Lies is an unsung masterpiece of the decade. I’ve always blamed the way it was royally screwed by the MPAA for its lack of cultural sticking power; I still think that’s true to a large extent, but I also think that as an adult it’s time for me to face the cold, hard facts. Where The Truth Lies is not a particularly good movie.
But my question, dear reader, is this: does it have to be?
Is it not enough for a movie to inject two pretend little guys into my brain and keep them there for the considerable future? Is it not enough to watch Colin Firth try to fuck Kevin Bacon for an hour and forty-seven minutes? Is it not enough for hot women in incredibly anachronistic outfits to stare plaintively into the camera for long stretches of time and then solve decade-old cold cases? I wouldn’t have written this whole article if I didn’t love Where The Truth Lies with all of my heart and soul, despite its problems. I love it even more every time I watch it and I love it even more every time I watch it with somebody new. Quality aside, it’s a movie I love to think about and feel about, and above all talk about. My favorite movie is bad and I’m proud. And there’s no way I’m the only person on the planet who feels that way, either.
So repeat it with me: MY FAVORITE MOVIE IS BAD AND I’M PROUD!!!
Perspectives in Taxonomizing and Describing 1950’s Homosexual Culture and Semiotics in the United States
by Maxwell Sutter Zinkievich
Prior to the second World War, the prevalence and structure of homosexual society within the United States was fundamentally fragmented and unrecognized. Homosexual culture indeed existed in the United States, but there was yet to be an overarching lexicon to tie together gay individuals into a solid subculture. During the war, however, havens of gay male culture began to recognize themselves through what is suspected to be a symptom of the famous “Blue Discharge” and the resulting unshipping of gay men from the Navy at bases such as San Fransisco’s Presidio. While these people were still ostracized from mainstream society, they found community and culture within each other. The city of San Francisco quickly became a hub for queer culture and gained notoriety for these groups even faster.
The increased prevalence and activity of queer people caused a push to describe their behaviors. Alfred Kinsey, inspired by questions raised by earlier German studies conducted by Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institute of Sexology in Berlin in the 1930’s, was one of the first to begin a mission to map, describe, and taxonomize the sexual behaviors of humans. At the same time, artists like Robert Mizer and Hal Fischer were working within the homosexual community and making observations and recordings of their own. While medical researchers like Alfred Kinsey were fascinated with physical behaviors, they found it hard to collect meaningful data on the personal lives of the individuals that they surveyed. Bob Mizer’s Subjective Character Analysis, Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics, and other taxanometric descriptions of queer individuals served the gay community not only as recordings but also tools of teaching and indoctrination into a subculture comprised of individuals ostracized from mainstream society. They create a distinct visual language for those privy to the code to glean information about others like themselves. While Kinsey’s work demonstrates the mainstream interest in gay culture, analogstandings, and identities.
When Alfred Kinsey founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in 1947, the college’s mission was to document and describe the sexual behaviors of the human species. Using a combination of clinical trials as well as extensive surveying, he was able to collect a truly astounding amount of quantitative data describing human sexuality. His analytical findings were first published in Sexual Behavior of the Human Male (1948). In this work, Kinsey and fellow researchers focused solely on the “human male,” using survey data on thousands of men’s sexual experiences. While Kinsey considers a wide breadth of male sexuality, for the objectives of this paper a focus will be placed on section twenty-one entitled “Homosexual Outlet.” Within this section, Kinsey generally discusses two things: what percent of the human male population is or considers themselves homosexual, and what behaviors and attitudes make a man a ‘homosexual.’
Through his surveys of thousands of men, Kinsey was able to collect a complete view of what the sexual landscape looked like for men at the time. He was able to find that a sizable proportion of the population had had at least one encounter that could be deemed homosexual in their lives. Pardoxically, Kinsey also finds that the vast majority of the human male population would not describe themselves as homosexual, even if these individuals conducted sexual relations with other men on a somewhat regular basis.
“. . . the homosexuality of certain relationships between individuals of the same sex may be denied . . . because the situation does not fulfill other criteria that they think should be attached to the definition. Mutual masterbation between two males may be dismissed . . . as not homosexual, because oral or anal relations [did not take place]. . . Some males who are being regularly fellated by other males without, however, ever preforming fellation themselves, may insist that they are exclusively heterosexual.” (Kinsey, pp. 616, para. 2-3)
Kinsey makes these remarks in order to further clarify the fact that not only is the world of sexuality not as logical and straightforward as a clinician would hope, but also that there is not even a lot of consistency in individuals’ claims about themselves. The argument could be made that this is due to the fact that Kinsey’s surveys were voluntary but also that societal opinions of homosexuals were particularly sour at the time. This explains Kinsey’s adoption of an analytical gaze and his primary interest purely in the quantitative data on homosexual experiences. Through the study, Kinsey focuses on behaviors themselves and the implications they have on sexuality and sexual identity, while somewhat ignoring the greater societal and cultural pressures that someone identifying as a homosexual would have to bear. As per its title, Kinsey’s work highlights the physical sexual behaviors of the human male. I am distracted, however, by the lack of inclusion for the political and societal implications that would have pressured these individuals at the time of the study.
While Kinsey discusses these pressures, and understands the non-response bias, he does not seek to explore cultural forces within the homosexual community. This was a culture that Kinsey did not have access to, and did not speak the language of. Moreover, Kinsey as a researcher was not privy to the inner lives of persons living outside of conventional heterosexual society. In order to get a perspective into the everyday lives of homosexual men in the mid 1900s, one must look to publications made by, and for, self-proclaimed homosexual individuals.
Fig. 1 - 1000 Model Directory (VARIA), Bob Mizer, Jim Grant, Silver Gelatin Print, Los Angeles, California, 1949
Robert “Bob” Mizer was an American homoerotic photographer famous for his self-published magazine Physique Pictorial. In 1945, Mizer founded his Los Angeles photography studio -- the “Athletic Models Guild” or AMG. . Mizer’s publications were sold under the guise that they were bodybuilding magazines, not for homosexual desire, but heterosexual appreciation of another man’s physique. It is quite obvious, however, to both a contemporary and modern viewer that these photographs carried intentional homoerotic undertones [Fig. 1]. Issues of Physique Pictorial typically included photographs of models, a brief synopsis of their body measurements, a few sentences about their interests and life plans, and information about what to mail to Mizer in order to receive films or other media of them alongside other models (usually wrestling or some equally suggestive activity). In the October 1964 issue, Mizer began to include cryptic hand-drawn symbols that appeared alongside the text descriptions of models. These symbols appeared to be composites of several unique smaller symbols, and the combinations varied widely between different models [Fig. 2]. These symbols appeared in conjunction with model photographs without apparent explanation for the better part of a year until the publication of Volume 14, Number 4 in June 1965. The first two pages [Fig. 3] provide the reader with not only an explanation of what these symbols represent, but also how to decipher them. Mizer uses these symbols, which he dubbed his “Subjective Character Analysis” (SCA) to describe not only the personality characteristics of the men that he photographed, but also their sexual preferences and experiences. In the June 1965 issue, in order for readers to gain access to the code sheet, or “key”, for these symbols Mizer instructs readers to:
“. . . to get a copy [of the decoding sheet] you need only 1.: Send a self addressed stamped envelope (any size) [to the same address that one writes to purchase films and issues] and 2.: along with a signed statement ‘I promise that the information learned on any model is for my own use and will not be divulged to others.’ ” (Fig. 3 pp. 3 para. 1)
In conjunction with the complicated procedure which contains a pseudo-NDA, it is clearly evident that the level of secrecy surrounding the nature of this publication was based in mainstream perceptions of homosexuals.
Fig. 2 - Bob Mizer, Tom Griffon, Physique Pictorial Volume 14, Number 1, section of page 13, section showing Biography as well as SCA symbol below, Black and White Print, Los Angeles, California, July 1964.
Mizer was constantly plagued by lawsuits over the perceived deviance of his photography, and he was required to take various precautions in order to safeguard his work for both his own livelihood as well as for the sake of his customers. Requiring readers to write in through personal mail correspondence was something that was imperative due to the secretive circumstances. However, even if a customer wrote in to receive one of these decoding sheets [Fig. 4], they would only receive a partial decoding of the symbols, which purposely omits sexual descriptions and stays firmly put in personality characteristics. Mizer himself would only send out a hand-written portion including the sexual interests and histories of his models [Fig. 5] if he deemed the reader to be trustworthy enough. This usually meant that they both expressed homosexual interest as well as were long-term subscribers to the magazine. The goal of these SCA symbols was never explained in length by Mizer other than to say that:
“There is no question that a degree in psychology would in turn be helpful to fully interpret the key. Character analysis is largely a subjective matter, which may differ considerably from different points of view. We have tried to be dispassionate, but errors are certain to crop out. Also what is true of a man today may change tomorrow (though such philosophers as Schopenhaure claimed that basic character never changes). In any case as we form new views on individual models their symbols also will change.” (Fig. 3 pp. 3 para. 2)
Here Mizer is keen to tell the reader not only that these symbols are not definitive, but only serve to offer a momentary view into the life of the models. This arguably has two readings, one to the reader who would receive the non-sexual key and the one that received both. Perhaps Mizer is speaking to the sexual fluidity that he and his models would be aware of within the homosexual community which Kinsey only analytically describes. To those with the sexual key, Mizer could have been hinting to the idea that many of the models may have been more open to homosexual encounters than they actually were, in order to increase the erotic appeal of the magazines.
Fig. 3 - Physique Pictorial Volume 14, Number 4, Pages 2-3, Bob Mizer, “Films Advertisement and Key to the Symbols”, Los Angeles, California, June 1965.
(Scan Courtesy of PhD Candidate Max Böhner at the Humboldt University of Berlin)
Fig. 4 - Bob Mizer, Subjective Character Analysis Decoding “Key”, Los Angeles, California, circa 1965. Reproduced in Dian Hanson, Bob’s World (Cologne: Taschen, 2009), p.11.
Fig. 5 - Unknown, Reproduction of Bob Mizer’s Sexual Decoding of his Subjective Character Analysis Lexicon, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California, circa 1965 https://moca.tumblr.com/post/73314240458/thenumberonesolitarycyclist-bob-mizer-marked
While Mizer’s Subjective Character Analysis speaks to the physical actions of individuals just as Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male does, they both ignore the subject matter of Hal Fischer’s 1977 photographic exhibition Gay Semiotics. Within this photographic body, Fischer ignores the behavioral and the sexually mechanical. Instead he focuses primarily on the semiotics of gay culture: elements of fashion and behavior that would signify a broadcast of homosexual desire to others. Fischer was particularly interested in elements of fashion that signified homosexual position and standing. Using diagrammatic photographs paired with textual explanations, Fischer attempts to give the viewer a typical specimen of a gay man. In his photograph Signifiers for a Male Response [Fig. 6] Fischer shows the viewer several typical tropes of homosexual street fashion in San Fransisco. Throughout the rest of Gay Semiotics, Fischer continues this diagramatic approach to describing his own culture. Fischer discusses elements that would be viewed as alien to heterosexual culture, such as early elements we would now call “flagging,” intersections of the homosexual and S&M scene, as well as the prevalence of Amyl Nitrate, as an integral part of the community’s sexual activities. This is not only for the artistic purpose of exposing the inner workings of a subculture, but also to act as a historical recording and teaching tool for future generations of gay men.
Fig. 6 - Hal Fischer, Signifiers of a Male Response, San Francisco, California, circa 1977
The behavior and classification of homosexuality dominated Kinsey’s exploration on male homosexual tendancies. Kinsey was only able to get a glimpse into their world through the use of his surveys where he asked questions based on their own personal experiences with other men. However, what Kinsey failed to find important is the culture that surrounded that group of people. And while it may have been seen as outside of the scope of his work, it would have answered a lot of his questions. As Kinsey discovered, sexuality is something that is neither static nor binary. Bob Mizer’s Subjective Character Analysis concurs with Kinsey by pointing out that both the personality attributes and sexual preferences of his models were also in flux. In addition, Mizer acknowledges that his SCA was at best recorded by an amateur, with a much smaller sample group than Kinsey, but they nonetheless reached similar conclusions. The sexual behaviors of homosexual, queer, and straight men are not only constantly changing in theirfocuses, but also in their drives. Kinsey struggles to define men, Mizer seeks to describe them, and Fischer taxonomizes typical expressions of homosexuality on the streets of San Fransisco. Each of these men seek to describe homosexual culture and they each have a unique approach. However, within the gains and losses of each we do get a glimpse into the greater, and paradoxically more intimate, world of what living as a gay man in the middle of the 20th century would have looked like.
Kinsey, Alfred C., et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Indiana University Press, 2010.
Lord, Catherine, and Richard Meyer. Art and Queer Culture. Phaidon, 2013.
Mizer, Robert "Bob". “Subjective Character Analysis Key Advertisement.” Physique Pictorial, June 1965, pp. 2–3.
Stacey. “Beyond the Muscle.” East of Borneo, 2 Nov. 2016, eastofborneo.org/articles/beyond-the-muscle/.
by Khaled Alqahtani
Reinnervation (noun): restoration, either spontaneously or by surgical grafting, of nerve supply to a part of the body from which it has been lost.
The ongoing pandemic has reshaped our understanding of collectivity. As governments and institutions continue to fail people around the globe, independently-run organizations, collectives, and publications have been at the frontier of mutual-aid efforts, community organizing, and the fight against widely-spread misinformation. One such platform advocating for collectivity as the only possible way for shared healing is Reinnervate, a community art platform and publication inspired by our bodies’ ability to reinnervate and heal.
Isabella Jamieson Morris, a third-year student studying molecular and cell biology with an emphasis on neurobiology, founded Reinnervate to create an experimental and multimedia space for creatives to explore the connections underlying anatomy, bodies, plurality, and community. She believes this exploration is an attempt for us as humans with a shared anatomy to reinnervate wounds caused by our shared struggles.
What ignited the idea behind Reinnervate?
From the beginning, Reinnervate was supposed to be an avenue, or rather a multitude of ways, for anyone to get involved in doing something [anything]. It was the summer of 2020, and I think more than anything it was the ultimate product of prolonged isolation and a disturbing confrontation with complacency. After having spent the first half of the year becoming acquainted with and embedded within the UC Berkeley community (one of the most diverse communities I have ever encountered with regard to intellectual interest, talent, experience and aspiration), the sudden social isolation brought on by the pandemic was a shock. An experience that I’m sure that any single one of us could attest to.
The following social upheaval, mass-mobilization and mass-reflection brought on by the poignant response of millions to the unjust treatment of George Floyd during the Black Lives Movement that summer proved an impetus for the creation of Reinnervate. Suddenly, in sharp contrast to the numbness that had characterized the preceding months, horror, empathy, and anguish surged. Restlessness came to a head. Reconceptualizing positionality, the question of what each of us could do to remedy the situation we all found ourselves implicated in together, became a super salient issue. I couldn’t find any way to deny any longer that I needed to do something [anything]. Though I knew that I couldn’t speak for anyone else, I saw what others were doing already: organizing, sharing information, starting their own mutual aid projects, collecting donations through the sale of their artwork. And I just thought, why not make it easier for anyone to take part in this? Why not try and create a space where all of these efforts are collected and built upon? Why not make it a website?
At the same time, this idea of the collective and the individual, unified in the notion of a “body” began to align itself in my head with this idea of numbness and feeling and connection. From there the extended analogy of reinnervation, which now centers our efforts as a student organization at UC Berkeley, began to develop. Over the past year, that idea has been restructured, refined and reconstituted due to the contributions of each and every one of our members, contributors and friends that have given their own feedback and effort to make Reinnervate into what it is now.
As you started creating this platform from scratch, what helped and inspired you to create in its current form?
Just as reinnervation biologically is a restitutive process, the process of creating a truly accessible and functional artistic platform to sponsor and repair social connectivity is restitutive and ongoing. The website itself has passed through many iterations before arriving at the form it now occupies. Similarly, we reviewed many different versions of the zine before we arrived at the final version that is now in print. The creation of the website began with many nights of experimentation, where it would just be me in bed, clicking into the wee hours of the morning: tweaking small details, deleting and recreating pages, and trying to formulate in my head what I wanted this website to look like and feel like.
I was obsessed! I tried to figure out how to make the site as accessible as possible, while still structuring it in a way that would allow it to serve the unique purpose I had envisioned for it. Finally, I arrived at a form I thought was structurally sound (for the most part) usable. From the start however I began to realize that the only way this entire idea would ever fully come to fruition was through the contributions that all those that used it would bring. I anticipated many changes to come, but I was happy that at least now it seemed ready to begin that process of adaptation. After initially sending that version of the site to my closest friends, we truly started on the path to creating Reinnervate. From the start, everyone was supportive and that really made me excited! After going through the process of establishing Reinnervate as a registered student organization at Berkeley and defining our goals for the year we were able to work together as a team, even as we were separated by the conditions created by the pandemic, to make the zine and to raise over $265 for a whole range of organizations operating locally and globally! Fundamentally, the driving force behind the Reinnervate (which has guided its passage through many iterative forms) is the solid team of people who have worked extremely hard to build it from the bottom up and make it what it is now.
What does Reinnervate offer to creatives both at UC Berkeley and beyond?
Reinnervate operates as an online platform and as a tangible and supportive collective of students. These two modes of organization allow us to offer creatives both exposure to the international online community on our website (in the form of our digitally published literary magazine and our online shop) and connection with other creatives through the events that we host and the community that we try our very best to cultivate.
We welcome submissions from creatives at other universities as well as within the local community. Our events are open to the entire university community as well. We are open-minded and excited to help creatives start their own long term projects to address pervasive social issues. Our goal is to make participation as easy and accessible as possible and to create a community of people that can support each other and feel engaged in things that they care about.
As a platform that exists on the intersection of biology and art, what distinguishes
Reinnervate from other art collectives?
A unique and central component to Reinnervate is the integration of the sciences and the humanities. As a neurobiology major, I have always felt that the mode of thinking and language offered by biological study is universally applicable. Networks are central to our current understanding of biology. The precision of language required to study them and to understand the exact mechanisms by which the millions of components that make up any organism or ecosystem are connected is necessarily rigorous. Yet, the language itself is also limiting and extremely inaccessible to those that don’t have a background in biology or the sciences so the fascinating connections that can be made between the arts and the sciences, I think, are often missed! As an organization, we try to integrate scientific and artistic influences in order to offer an environment where discussion about the intersections between the two fields of study and practice can help inform our understanding of our own individual roles in our communities. In this way we offer a space where those with a variety of backgrounds and interests can learn from each other, and the arts and the sciences each inform each other to the fullest extent possible (at least, this is the goal!) We believe that anyone with an interest in taking part has their own insights to offer and welcome everyone to contribute their own knowledge and perspective.
What is the importance of independent, student-run organizations?
Independent, student-run organizations have the unique opportunity to act within a rich matrix of social connectivity and intellectual engagement which can lead to any assortment of shared pursuits. At the intersection of academic and social life, they are backed by the resources that the university provides to all students, and yet are able to retain the autonomy necessary to maintain the integrity of their mission. We can create a fun and supportive environment for our fellow students, while we steadily work towards our goal to integrate ourselves more and more within our local and international community and thus maintain the integrity of our mission: reinnervation.
Besides being a publication, what other services does Reinnervate offer?
Reinnervate offers the opportunity to sell your artwork and raise money for any nonprofit organization of your choice. It also enables anyone to become involved in planning workshops for the UC Berkeley creative community and organizing volunteering events for students. In addition to all of that we aim to inform our members to the best of our ability of current artistic and scientific events and opportunities in the Bay Area.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
Submissions are now open for this semester's zine. We are just now starting the process of the Second Issue’s publication, and that is just one of our many ongoing projects. The online shop is a continuous project where we are fundraising for a host of different organizations, but we are also looking into the possibility of holding a creative fair where these efforts can be translated to the in-person environment. We would love for it to transform into an event where organizations campus-wide are invited to participate and sell artistic goods to raise funds for their respective organizations and projects. While we are still in the incipient stages of this project we are excited for it to develop further as the semester goes on. We will also be holding workshops this semester where we will provide materials and introductions to various artistic skills for creatives on campus that want to connect with others and make things together. Our first workshop will be a crochet workshop where we will be teaching the basics of crochet and starting what will hopefully be an ongoing project of the creation of a “walk-in brain” constituted of crochet neurons made by our members. We are in the midst of planning our three other workshops that will follow over the course of the next year. Overall, we are very excited for our first in-person semester and are optimistic for the future of each and every one of the projects we are taking on together!
Visit Reinnervate’s website and follow them on Instagram for further information regarding zine-submissions, social events, workshops, and more!
by Truly Edison
Last semester I wrote a pretty scathing post about The Stand (2020) and its treatment of one of my favorite characters in comparison to its 1994 adaptation and source material, the 1978 novel of the same name. Well, over the summer I had a lot of time to reflect on myself and my thoughts and feelings about the works of art I’ve engaged with; I spent some time in nature as a camp counselor before almost immediately being fired, hung out a lot with my extended family, and all around disconnected a little from the internet and social media much to my benefit. And after this period of deep consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m still definitely a hater and every Stephen King adaptation from the last decade has pretty much sucked so far.
Think about it: Carrie (2013) should have been correctly identified as Patient Zero once they cast Chloe Grace-Moretz. Pet Sematary (2019) was a joke. The Dark Tower (2017) bombed so hard they had to retcon their entire Stephen King Cinematic Universe. I wasn’t even particularly wowed by IT (2017), and IT Chapter Two (2019) is one of the few movies in my life I actually regret paying money to see. I thought Mike Flanagan did an admirable job on Doctor Sleep (2019) and Gerald’s Game (2017), but that’s a pretty sad return on the sheer amount of recent adaptations, not to mention the amount that are still on the way. So like, what's been in the water? It’s not like Stephen King’s books are a no-man’s-land for film adaptations--The Shining (1980), anyone?—so why haven’t we been able to get our act back together?
Some of the problem may be rooted in the books themselves. It’s an open secret that King doesn’t outline when he writes, and that possibly combined with his destructive drug use in the 1980s means that a lot of his novels end in… Very Unique Ways. It’s actually something I genuinely enjoy about his work—one of my biggest disappointments with IT Chapter Two was that its stupid ending wasn’t the stupid ending from the book I love—but I’m usually in the minority on this. Even the most die-hard of King fans tend to agree that the guy can’t write an ending to save his life. And if superfans aren’t even happy with them, how the hell is a major movie studio going to make it work for the masses? It puts them in a tough position to either roll with whatever wacky bullshit King wrote or decide that they can come up with something better (and more marketable) than The Master Of Horror. Most opt for the latter, which I think is a mistake. It takes these really fascinating—if sometimes out-of-left-field—narrative choices and reduces them to tropes and formulas already guaranteed to get clicks on Netflix and butts in cinema seats (pre-pandemic, anyway).
There’s also the fact that Stephen King’s books are often full of content that would just be extremely unpleasant—or even possibly criminal—to put on film. King made a name in horror because he was doing things no one had done before, for better or for worse. It’s one of the same points I touched on in my article about The Stand and a character in it that has never made it to the screen; there’s a big difference between what people are comfortable reading and what people are comfortable seeing. And that’s not even getting into the structural barriers of mainstream filmmaking; an NC-17 Stephen King adaptation would be a mind-boggling loss of potential profit. It makes sense why a big studio might not want to even risk that sentence from the MPAA. Sheer content aside, a lot of his novels are also just genuinely upsetting. I gave Pet Sematary (2019) a hard time, but I actually don’t know if I would want to see a film accurate in tone to one of the most emotionally devastating novels I’ve ever read. As a general rule, people watch mainstream movies to be entertained, and the days of a Stephen King novel being adapted into an art film are long over (if they were ever here at all).
The radical aspects of King’s work don’t just stop at horror content, either. Two of my favorite characters he’s created, Harold Lauder from The Stand and Arnie Cunningham from Christine, show off some of his fascinating cultural boundary-pushing in ways that still land today. They’re both teenage boys with low self-esteem from chronic acne and body-image issues: Harold’s overweight and Arnie’s tall and scrawny. They also both go on downward mental spirals to become late-stage antagonists before meeting a tragic end. This is pretty standard narrative fare, but the thing that turns it on its head is that both these characters’ declines are signaled by them becoming more conventionally attractive. Harold loses the weight, Arnie gains some muscle, and both of them clear up their skin. This is a complete disruption of the usual cultural scripts we have around bodies and mental health, especially in Harold’s case; how many times have we been told a character’s depressed or in a bad place through their weight gain? It’s also a facet of both works that has never been tackled in an adaptation before—both versions of The Stand cast a thin actor for Harold from the get-go, and you won’t see a lick of acne in those or in John Carpenter’s Christine (1983).
It’s not that I necessarily think a filmed version of The Stand should have an actor change weight for a role, or that this is necessarily a contemporary problem--Christine is nearly 40 years old. It’s not even that I think every Stephen King film should be a viscerally upsetting grindhouse splatter fest (though maybe, like, a little would be nice). Moreso, I think it speaks to the cultural double-bind of Stephen King as a household name with books that are decidedly not for the household. The unique and shocking qualities of his work that put him on the map in the first place are the very same things that have to be suppressed to keep their adaptations easily accessible and exponentially profitable. Stephen King’s books aren’t for everyone, but the movies are.
And this will always lead to the neutering of horror content, the flattening of narratives into formulas, and the abandonment of character arcs that don’t “read” in the dominant cultural understanding. Which is a damn shame, because I REALLY wanted to see James McAvoy beg a giant turtle for his life.
by Cambria Meadows
Un Film Dramatique is a film by Eric Baudelaire which features the lives of twenty middle-school students from Dora Maar Middle School within Saint-Denis, France — part of BAMPFA’s Documentary Voices series. Although I originally viewed this film for a class, I found myself casually thinking about it on my own time after I had watched it, making me realize how much of an impact the film had on me. A lot of the time, I feel like documentaries attempt to tackle heavy points of contention, and rightfully so. But, what I liked about this film in particular was its ability to address both social and political issues while also maintaining a sense of innocence and light-heartedness, indicative of the 11-14 year olds’ attitudes.
The film’s collaborative aspect between the filmmaker and the young subjects is an essential element of the film, as the space created allows students to not only speak their minds, but also to wield cameras themselves. I think using both footage of the students as well as diary-like videos made by them enables the film to feel very genuine — the audience getting both an outside and inside look into their thoughts.
In some of the interview-style footage, it’s inspiring to hear these students have such complex opinions about ideas like racist intentions and the idea of origin; when I was 11 I think the most complicated thing I thought about was pre-algebra. The childrens’ expressive tones and gestures show their convictions on such topics, and they speak with such ease yet sureness. This ability to speak so freely can be attributed to their young age and their carefree mindset, ironically the characteristics which keep them excluded from such conversations with adults normally.
Another intriguing aspect of this film to me was the childrens’ role in becoming filmmakers themselves -- Baudelaire allowing them to take cameras home and use them on their own. Baudelaire encourages these kids to film anything, so we see moments like car conversations with parents, dancing and singing, and one girl showing us her pasta-making regimen. Although these clips formally vary from the interview-like conservations the children have when the filmmaker is present, the one continuous line connecting all of the footage is their vulnerability and their ability to open up about anything on their mind, showcasing whatever they want to the camera.
Not only does the film allow us to see the kids’ ideas develop in various ways, but we see them actually grow up as well; by the end of the film the students still participating look noticeably older. This film does an excellent job at depicting the complexities of childhood and allows the voice of the film to become intertwined with the student’s own voices, so you feel like you’re hearing them instead of some overarching message. Watching this documentary made me consider childhood and the idea that one day we lose it even though we don't explicitly realize it. This unnoticeable shift becomes visible through the children in the film, as towards the end they begin to censor the way they speak more, one girl redoing one take a number of times. Although the awareness we gain with becoming older is good, I also wonder how it can be detrimental. Even though we can’t time travel back to our own childhoods, this film allows a glimpse into others’. I’m keeping my fingers-crossed about time-travel coming into fruition, but if it never does, this film is a great way to get a piece of that.
by Saprina Howard
2020 saw the release of several hit films just before the COVID-19 quarantine dropped. One of the last major films many folks saw in theaters (including myself) was Birds Of Prey, an action superhero film that follows Harley Quinn’s schemes after her break up with the Joker. It’s packed with loudly choreographed fight scenes, witty banter, and memorable color schemes. Though I look back on the experience fondly, I can’t help but to remember an uneasiness that plagued me.
The film was cool or whatever-- until a comment so distasteful in one particular scene ruined my mood for the rest of the film. It hijacked my usual post-movie-deconstruction convo as I rode home with my partner that night.
What is this scene? A little Context.
The film’s villain, Black Mask brags to one of the protagonists, Black Canary, about his various treasures and foreign cultural artifacts displayed around the room. He notices she’s fixated on a mask to which he approaches her and reveals it is from the Congo. He asks her if she’s been there, she replies no, but that she’s heard it’s beautiful. He quickly refutes her claim with one horrendous line, “It’s dirty”. The scene moves on.
timestamp: 36:38 - 36:51
Why Does This Scene Ruin The Mood?
The comment may have been a device to help audiences grasp how truly disgusting this villain is. However, the audience would also have to believe the opposite of what Black Mask said, or else he would just reaffirm the audience’s negative beliefs about countries in Africa.
The latter is true. This movie isn’t reserved exclusively for audiences who understand that Africa is a continent with resources and cultural wealth, nor that a plethora of its countries are modern societies. Instead, this scene was ingested by ordinary people around the world who believe Africa is a monolithic and poverty stricken ‘country’ where barbarism and tribal warfare are the heights of their civilization.
I boldly claim such because I, an African American, sat amongst a mainly white and asian audience in San Francisco where this scene caused the entire theatre to erupt in laughter. They detected humor where I detected insult. No joke was told, but those laughing understood the code implied by stating that the Congo was “dirty”.
Humor depends on socio-cultural understandings. As an effect of post colonialism and the ways the world has been conditioned to prescribe little to no value to African culture and Blackness as a whole, it’s common for people to believe the insidious myth Africa is an uncivilized place.
The “joke” (statement rather) may have seemed harmless, but it’s really a symptom of a greater issue. It’s safe to say that finding Black Mask’s statement funny required viewers to feel affirmed in their own misconceptions of Africa enough to identify with the line. By laughing they revealed their ignorance.
While it is certainly in the writers’ best interests to make believable dialogue, it’s unfortunate that a supremist comment like this is even believable for Black Mask to say. Screenwriters choosing to write things like this is exactly how film perpetuates lies about Africa.
Remaining critical and considering the context in which a thing was created is a good way for viewers to remain vigilant to the ways Africa is silently subordinated in our subconscious. Coded language and jokes indoctrinate our thinking and understanding about places we’ve never been, which makes it easier for us to accept myths that justify the racialized world we live in
“Believable dialogue” doesn’t need to perpetuate negative stereotypes. With that said, Black Canary’s response was well written-- admitting she’d never been to the Congo but heard it was beautiful. Sure this movie was fiction, but why wasn’t Black Mask’s “believable dialogue” imagined outside of a stereotypical box too?
by Saffron Sener
When I was twelve, I asked my parents if I could get a Tumblr account. All my friends had blogs, and talked at length during lunch about posts they’d seen, in-jokes they were a part of, how they styled their themes. At first, my father rejected my request on the basis that the platform was “too inappropriate” for someone of my age. You could see anything on there, he said. For what it’s worth, he wasn’t wrong - anyone active during that 2012-2014 sweet spot knows all too well how dangerous it was to scroll through your dashboard in public. That was part of the allure to my almost teenaged brain, of course. I begged and begged, until finally, after my 13th birthday, he relented. My friends and I spent hours finding and uploading the perfect html, customizing our blogs and thinking of the perfect url - mine still looks almost exactly the same as it did when I last renovated it at fourteen.
A window into the mind of 14 year-old Saffi. Please don’t go try and find my blog, lol. It’s a secret!
It’s been nearly a decade - nine years in November - that I’ve been on Tumblr. There’s been gaps, some nearly six months long, but I always come back. I can’t help myself. The platform has some intoxicating mix of qualities - unique, provocative, nostalgic, alternative, strange - that keeps me under its spell. It wasn’t the same place as it was nine years ago, five years ago, even two years ago, but there are remnants that remind me of the wonderfully vibrant and compelling platform it has been to me. Back in 2018, Tumblr usership took a big hit when site administrators installed draconian anti-nudity regulations on posts, causing most active users to migrate to Twitter. The website had an atrocious pornography problem tending towards pedophilia and assault that led to its removal from the App store, so most users (myself included) were happy to learn that its programmers were going to address how parts of the website were so dark and dangerous; instead, though, they implemented a flawed content-recognition software that automatically deleted blogs with any posts containing identified “nudity” (including anatomical drawings, Renaissance paintings, and b&w architectural plans that it incorrectly flagged, for example). And the bot-porn blogs evolved, still active on the platform but skirting around the ban by links to external websites - the software did little but shuffle the more hardcore accounts off onto other, less policed platforms, failing to confront the root problem.
For reasons like the 2018 mass exodus of users, the content on Tumblr is in many ways outdated, a few years behind the neverending daily rounds of Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. It feels like the only social media platform I can go on and still get genuine posts about SuperWhoLock reblogged onto my dashboard. Yeah - I’m not kidding. And the terrifying ads, which became a prominent and permanent feature of one’s feed around 2017, are both inexplicable and seemingly never related to anything one might search or be interested in. Surreal, almost.
It remains, though, my favorite social media platform in terms of personal, individual usage. I certainly don’t use it as much as I did, mostly just hoping on every few weeks when I remember it exists, reblogging about a hundred posts, and then forgetting about it for a few more weeks, but it holds a very special place in my heart. The sheer range of art, thought, literature, media, and music that the platform exposed me to at such a formative time in my life truly defined me. Though it was not always positive - like I said, before regulation, you were bound to see pretty much any explicit image of any nature at some point scrolling through your dash, and there was definitely a Tumblr “ideology” in 2014 that wasn’t the most healthy - it was a way to express and explore myself that I didn’t really have in any other form as a thirteen/fourteen+ year old.
Scrolling through my dashboard for hours and searching through blog archives is what introduced me to the world of zines, which is a community I remain active in today. When I started selling my first zines (technically illicitly because yes, I was disciplined for selling zines on my high school’s campus) at fifteen, there was a Tumblr blog to commemorate the moment, and to keep people up-to-date with each issue. And it was on Tumblr that I was able to privately explore parts of myself - like my sexuality - away from the scrutinizing eyes of parents. Posts reblogged to my dashboard brought me to the Queer Zine Archive Project just after I started high school, sparking tons of feelings in my thirteen year old brain that I wasn’t super equipped to handle - I’m glad now, as a twenty-one year-old, that they were swirling around tangentially in my head at that point, though. The first person I came out to was the girl who helped me code my personalized blog, the same theme I have now. I will say: on the flip side of the platform, had Tumblr users extolled a more rational, open, and less problematic governing ideology about queerness, I might have fared a bit better in that realm and avoided repressing those feelings for an additional five years. Haha, maybe in the next life.
Now, for better or for worse, I have this strange, wonderful time-capsule of my youth. I never kept a diary or a journal, but I still have my Tumblr archive - and I cherish that shit. I was embarrassing as hell in 8th grade, but I’m so happy that I have this huge collage of images and text and videos that represent my mind, my interests, my feelings at the time. To see the changes over months and years is endlessly fascinating. Unlike Instagram or Twitter, you get to customize almost every aspect of your blog, creating a little space for yourself that feels special and representative in the way I’m sure MySpace did for generations before me. I got my Instagram right around the same time as my blog, and even back as a thirteen year old, I was incredibly conscious of the fact that I carried myself differently on the photo-sharing app; every photo had to appear perfect, I needed to look beautiful, and each post had to get enough likes. My Instagram, which still has some of my photos from 2013/2014, is more sanitized and superficial - it’s a nice photo album, but it never really felt like I was using it for me, rather for the construction of some version of me for other’s consumption. Perhaps this is an individual experience, but I never felt that way on Tumblr. Tangentially, I cared what my (closest) friends might think about what I reblogged, because they were the only ones who had access to my blog; on the whole though, the things on my blog were there because I liked them and I wanted them to be there. I rarely made posts, so there was no reason to care about how many notes a post might get. It was my own little world, and I think I needed that as a preteen, teenager, and even now.
by Beck Trebesch
Rat Ratz 5 is a 14 minute skate part released on the Quartersnacks Youtube channel in November of 2020, featuring a talented team of youngsters from Milan, Italy. Posting a 36k view count at the time of writing, Ratz 5 is a charmingly grisly, effortlessly stylish, and undoubtedly promising look into what's to come from the peripheries of the skateboarding world.
First and foremost, what the Ratz lack in skating ability, they make up for in creative problem solving genius. One might walk away from a Ratz 5 thinking: “Wow! They really fucked that spot up!!!” And you would be right. I feel in most other instances, this would be to the detriment of the part, a distraction even, but in this unique moment, it comes off as endearing and authentic. The Ratz team finagle every little gap, ledge, and angle at the Mensana in a feat of distinctly urban ingenuity, building on each other’s technical prowess and creativity. There are so few shots in this part that feel the same even if it's the same 3-stair or ledge. Even when it seems the crew is going to run out of features to hit, they manage to pull out a new maneuver to keep the video fresh or in Italian, nuovo (see the 50-50 to late shuv, Rach’s Muska flip, and the back 5-0 to tailslide nose grab combo which is downright electric). As fun and accessible as the skating is in Ratz 5, Brisquit’s unpolished but patient filming and editing is the touch that elevates this video from novel, underground edit to contender for part of the year. Follow cams, side by side, front, back, above, below, you name it. Brisquit got the shot. It may not be as flashy, colorful, or manicured as other skateparts but it's so well-suited to the skaters, the spots, and the scuzzy beauty of Milano.
The second aspect of Ratz 5 that has kept me coming back probably once a week since its release is the compositional variation and cross cultural hybridity in just about every sliver of this part. Off rip, the music. Oh yea, this soundtrack fucks. If anyone reading this has also read my Collage review (ski movie), they’ll know how much music choice and sound balance can disrupt a part, no matter the quality of the actual talent on display. In this case, Brisquit loads up his utterly nasty quiver of ‘No Slack in My Mack’ by Lil Ugly Mane, ‘One’ by Ghostface Killah, ‘Für Elise’, ‘Doomsday’ by Discharge, and ‘My Kitchen’ by Gucci Mane and hits pacing and energy dead in the heart. Pairing with the tasteful Supreme garb and variety of Nike Dunks showcased through the entire video, the music has a uniquely American flare (minus ‘Für Elise’ and ‘Doomsday) that shows a keen ear and a sharp eye for the global skateboarding diaspora. Furthermore, given how young a lot of these kids are (I’m talking 13-16), it shows an unspoken maturity, confidence, and sense of community that pulsates through the entire part. I also love the Ratz’ incorporation of graffiti into the part. The motion of the arm arcing bubble letters on abandoned freight trucks, the quip of the can spitting white paint, and the public stealth of the taggers leads to a supremely enjoyable set of moments that whisper volumes about Milan’s underground.
Upon first watch, I was left with a few burning questions. Where would I be if I was this cool at such a young age? What’s next from this crew of kick-flipping, cigarette-smoking rabble rousers? Why don’t more people know about this incredible video? And while the jury’s still out on the outcome of my possible foray into a hypebeast-clad street skating career at age 14, we can now confidently speculate on the future prospects of Ratz. It seems (given my Ratz littered Instagram feed) that famed skateboarding filmer/director/editor William Strobeck and the Supreme Crew linked up with the boys in Milan for at least a good month or two, meaning the follow up to Strobeck’s 2019 ‘Candyland’ (the most watched video in our friend group for both unironic and ironic purposes) could be right around the corner. I’ve never been more excited to watch wheels turn and ollies pop!
Ratz 5 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXToyTHS-0s
Candyland - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk1cLKpzHck