"Tivo-ifies the web" Paul Kedrosky


There is a murder scene in Lore which simultaneously inhabits the world of war where this is acceptable and the post war one where it is not. The movie itself spills out of these two worlds and so breaks the ‘second and third walls’ without insulting your intelligence.

Lore is available on Amazon instant video

Comments Off history

Paris is Burning

This is a documentary about vogueing, and the extremely refined and detailed aesthetic sensibilities it reflects, shot in New York City around Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Harlem in the mid- to late-80s. The city has changed in dramatic ways since then, to say the least.

The characters of the film are complete outsiders with, at the same time, a deep understanding of the world they are outside of. As Terrence Rafferty wrote in The New Yorker, “the material is almost too rich, too suggestive. Everything about the ball culture signifies so blatantly and so promiscuously that the movie induces a kind of semiotic daze.”

It is certainly hard to view human behavior the same way after watching this film. I hope this low-quality version will be interesting enough to inspire you to rent the real thing.

(The video player embed here should allow you to watch all 11 segments of the film.)

14 comments history, New York City, society

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)

The Crystal’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)“, caused a storm of protest when it was released in 1962, and its ambiguous sentiment underlies ‘It Felt Like a Kiss’, Adam Curtis’ new film. It is a portrait of America between 1958 and 1965, a period when radical individualism emerged with superficial freedom and underlying entrapment. The film has been conceived of as much as a multi-media art piece, as a TV documentary, the BBC having given Curtis an unusual degree of freedom, possibly because they are not quite sure what to do with him.

Curtis is like the Malcolm Gladwell of film making, there is a nagging doubt that what is being argued isn’t science but the delivery is so masterful and thorough that its utterly compelling. It Felt Like a Kiss looks stunning from the trailer (look out for the full version), but perhaps its rhetoric will elicit similar mixed feelings as inspired the subject. Regardless, Curtis, who creates movies that are like the conspiracy theory films that clog Youtube (except that they produced with intelligence), will no doubt become a web celebrity when his next film, which deals with the Internet itself is released combining the meme like qualities of his format with a self-referential subject.

The BBC, in their infinite wisdom, have regionally restricted everything including trailers of It Felt Like A Kiss, so I am linking to the Guardian. A full version of the film is on Curtis’ web site, but is also UK only (I cannot watch it, because I’m in France).

It Felt Like A Kiss (Trailer).

17 comments history, society

Cyclists Special

This film is from 1955. It depicts, or appears to (I have no idea if it’s all a fantasy), a cycling idyll, during a postwar period in England when the bicycle was a working man’s (and woman’s?) transportation, without intended symbolism or activism.

Sport clothing certainly has changed a great deal.

Avid cyclists will also notice the well-executed double paceline, at the start of the second clip. The announcer mentions that a “hard riding” sport cyclist of the time might be expected to cover 100 miles in a day. That figure hasn’t changed much, and I’m not too surprised. Aside from a major reduction in weight, the addition of more gears, and the removal of fenders the bicycles closely resemble modern ones (in fact, I suspect these bicycles might be a bit more comfortable, if heavier, than their modern equivalents). Then as now, a hard-riding cyclist might well cover 100 miles on a weekend club ride. These bicycles would have been all-steel, made relatively locally, in Birmingham rather than China. Many here are three-speeds; all have fenders.

My one hesitation in posting this film is that probably most of its irony is probably going right over my head. I’m sure David can provide some insight into the accents, the places, and other British detail that is, typically, lost on me.

7 comments accents, history, nostalgia

3rd Avenue El

A short film made in the early 1950s about the elevated rail line that traveled from the base of Manhattan, up the Bowery and 3rd Avenue, to Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.

New Yorkers, how many places do you recognize as they zoom by? What brewery was that on 3rd Avenue?

The characters are an arty type, a drunk, a little girl, a young couple, and the drama or plot, such as it is, revolves around a nickel stuck in the wooden floorboards of the train (also notice the padded seats). The main characters here are really the subway and the city.

(via The Prelinger Archives)

5 comments business, history, New York City, nostalgia, society, talks

Ape Man

Trying to find out about our ancestors. Don’t be put off by the self-hypnosis hokum at the beginning.

First in a 5 part series. Running time 45 mins.

1 comment history

America’s Civil Rights Movement

The first episode from the mammoth 14 hour documentary about America’s Civil Rights Movement. Further parts here.

I don’t like politics, patriotism or politicians, but just once in a while something happens that renders me cynicismless.

Who would have thought that less than a lifetime after American apartheid, less than a decade after someone called Osama became America’s most feared individual and 5 years after America went to war against someone called Hussein, a black man called Barack Hussein Obama would claim the White House? As a marketing challenge, it would have seemed impossible and that is why this is a triumph of truth over fiction.

But it is much more than that, not since Rome, when racism was traditionally directed against Northern Europeans, has someone of African decent been the most powerful person in the world (Rome had a Libyan Emperor).

The tragic news is that poor people in America, in places like Detroit, where the median house price is less than $10,000 are about to feel the devastating affects of a brutal recession. Just when there seemed to be hope, some people might turn to hopelessness and then to anger. The recession had nothing to do with Barack Hussein Obama. I suspect that will be an even bigger challenge for the truth.

5 comments history, politics


This film is interesting because it has all the superficial appeal of FEBL conspiracy theory junk, but is actually pretty good. The charts are genuinely illustrative and the infomation density reasonable and logical. The premise – that debt is America’s biggest problem is plausible, and logically argued.

It took me ages to figure out what the nagging problem I have with it is, and unfortunately I can’t sum it up in a sound bite. The train of objection goes something like this:

Film says: America has culture which creates debt.
Film says: America’s debt burden will reach levels where it has no control over its destiny.
Film says: America’s creditors are not natural allies.
Film says: US creditors can dictate what America does by threatening to dump dollar.
Film says: America dumped pound to dictate what UK and France did in Suez.
Film says: America needs leadership.

The last point is the fallacy. I would argue that ironically what America actually needs is weak leadership.

Here is the problem.
Like a scientific experiment which seeks a particular outcome, there will always be a train of thought that leads, seemingly rationally to an apocalyptic scenario if you look for it.
America’s creditors will not let it run up a $50 trillion debt – the margin call will happen sooner, and may already have happened.
Decline of Empire tends to be long and drawn out, and quite often the society left is tolerable and intact.
America will likely be the cultural center of the world for a while after it has ceased to be the economic one (It will all be over before while fat lady still sings, if you like).
In other words it will be bad, but not that bad, unless…

America ends up in a large conflict.
History suggests America will go to war, jingoistically and come back capitulated. This is what happened to Europe in WW1 and WW2. This would have to be a much larger war than Iraq and Afghanistan, although if it happens, it will undoubtedly take place in the Middle East.

I would argue, that strong leadership will more likely lead America into war, what America needs is weak leadership so that it can naturally decentralize and the more successful areas survive while it transitions into a different country. America’s biggest danger is not the people or the place, but the idea.

Films like this assume that all that a country has to do is find a sustainable model of existence and everything will work out fine. Empires do not need to be sustainable – they profit from other poorer parts of the world. You cannot have the kind of lifestyle that America has and it be sustainable, it is pointless to look for it. The distribution of wealth will never be flat, but a bell curve and what will happen is that someone else will sit on the right of the bell curve.

Interestingly this implies that China will never have the kind of dominant middle class culture that America has, unless it is geographically specific, because there are too many Chinese to fit into the right hand of the bell curve.

5 comments history

The Living Dead

Running time: 1 hour

Part 2 (1 hour)

Part 3 (1 hour)

I have previously posted links to almost all of Adam Curtis’ superlative documentary series apart from this, which examines how the memory of the Second World War was manipulated and changed during the Cold War, in various countries and to suit political ends.

Curtis’ documentaries are always worth watching, they fulfill the instinctive craving that humans have for conspiratorial drama while remaining intelligent, a patently difficult task considering the paucity of other examples. To be fair, Curtis’ pieces are less about secretive cabals than unabashed manipulation through political spin, in an era of manufactured consent.

Despite being a fan of Curtis’ films, I have a problem with the core intellectual premise than envelopes almost everything that he has done. Not only are there few of the secret cabals of the conspiracy theorists that Curtis outshines, which would be like trying to herd tigers (its difficult enough to organize ordinary people, let alone powerful ones with large egos), there is no need for manufactured consent on the scale of what Curtis alleges.

Curtis’ argument is by design, that people are manipulated deliberately. This is something that I would argue is an example of teleological illusion, the hardwiring of human brains to see a creator in everything. If we turn the chain of cause and effect around the other way, then consent isn’t so much fabricated by others, but self-emergent, fabricated by personal desire. Since this requires far less effort, it is more likely to happen most of the time.

The counter argument is that manipulation clearly exists in the real word, from totalitarian propaganda to the seemingly banal world of advertising. The rebuttal is therefore a bit more subtle: that the evolutionary niche that allows for the survival of such things as advertising in a society, and the subsequent manipulation of instinct and desire is actually a product of that desire and driven by it.

This has different implications. Unlike undesirable political manipulation, if the marketplace for distortion of reality is created by us, and if we overcome our irrational desires through reason, it will go away.

We create a fiction to feed our desires and this is a more powerful force than the standalone manipulation comprising manufactured consent, which in turn is more likely than active conspiracy.

In other words, the real world is controlled by Self-delusional Consent.

7 comments history, politics, series

Keynes’ Begging Trip to America

After WWII, which Britain had fought with American weapons while being supplied with American food, the UK was heavily in debt and on the brink of bankruptcy while the US economy was booming. The US demanded repayment for the wartime loans and so John Maynard Keynes went to Washington to ask for an $8billion bailout. He was refused, but given a loan of half the amount on condition that made the US dollar the new reserve currency. This loan was only paid off in 2006.

What does this have to teach us about today? In the details, not very much, but in the big picture view, it says a lot about how we might expect creditors such as China and Japan to behave towards the US, now that dollar priced hegemony may be ending. The current strength of the dollar is a panic move and prefaces an increasingly likely collapse, during which the US will be at the mercy of Asia.

If you want to get really spooked consider this:

“Victor Shih, a specialist in Chinese central banking at Northwestern University, said that when he visited the People’s Bank of China for a series of meetings this summer, he was surprised by how many officials resented the institution’s losses [on dollar assets].

He said the officials blamed the United States and believed the controversial assertions set forth in the book “Currency War,” a Chinese best seller published a year ago. The book suggests that the United States deliberately lured China into buying its securities knowing that they would later plunge in value.”

In other words the fate of the US economy may be in the hands of people who believe in conspiracy theorists. See the full piece here on Yves Smith’s great finance blog.

(despite the jingoistic commentary next to this video clip, on YouTube, its a serious piece by a well respected British historian)

4 comments business, history