Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Sudden Relevance of Children of Men

Poster by Mondo.

One day last year, I sat down and wracked my brain to come up with a ranking of my favorite films of all time. After much deliberation, I determined my top film ever is Children of Men, the dystopic masterpiece from director Alfonso Cuarón, released on Christmas Day 2005.

I can remember seeing it for the first time. I was in San Diego visiting my brother and his wife. We all went to see it together. When it was over, I felt stuck to the chair, unable to move. The emotional impact of the film felt like a spear had impaled me, pierced my chest and nailed me to the theater seat in wide-eyed shock. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Despite the premise being a distant future---the year 2027 in which humans have lost the ability to reproduce leading to anarchy and rampant terrorism all around the world---everything about the film felt relevant to the current moment. I can remember being viscerally stunned at the force of the filmmaker's message, it felt like a desperate plea, trying to re-awaken our sense of humanity through art. Now, a little more than 10 years later, this sci-fi dystopian display of theatrical imagination feels more realistic than ever, loaded with xenophobic nationalistic politics conveyed through news media, ever present armored police militants, and extreme anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies leading to frequent terrorist attacks.

Lately Children of Men, which was a box office flop when first released, has been gaining more and more attention due to its sudden allegorical relevance in our alarming contemporary situation. Abraham Reisman of Vulture recently summoned director Alfonso Cuarón to discuss the film as framed in the context of Brexit, the Trumpacolypse, etc, leading to an in-depth feature piece entitled "Future Shock" positing that Children of Men "might be the most relevant film of 2016."

In the feature, Cuarón describes the conception and execution of the film's most famous cinematic feats, its long uncut shots with the masterful cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezski. I enjoyed this bit about working with him:
He recruited his longtime friend and frequent partner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to be his cinematographer. Together, they hit on the idea of loading up the background with information — graffiti, placards, newscasts — and thus limiting the kind of expository dialogue that often plagues dystopian stories. Cuarón recalls Lubezki declaring, “We cannot allow one single frame of this film to go without a comment on the state of things."
And Cuarón expresses his view of our current wayward moment in history:
The gap between our world and that of Children of Men is closing rapidly, but he refuses to give up his faith in our wayward species. There are dark days ahead, to be sure, but perhaps they will also be days of transformation. “Look, I’m absolutely pessimistic about the present,” Cuarón says. “But I’m very optimistic about the future.”

Following the feature, Vulture also published an expanded interview with Cuarón where they go into more detailed depth on the making of the film, what he felt it was really about ("it was more about spiritual infertility"), and the filmmaker's enduring hope for the future.

On the same note, YouTube film analyst Nerdwriter created this fantastic, enlightening glimpse of the symbology within the film's loaded frames, "Do Not Ignore the Background":

To the excellent observation that the shot of pregnant Kee in the barn echoes the posture of Botticelli's Venus, I want to add that the scene is also literally overflowing with symbols. Kee, the key symbol of the film, the future of the human race in the form of a young pregnant mother from Africa, stands surrounded by cattle, symbols of fertility from time immemorial, with their mother's milk being extracted. Fertility, fecundity, pregnancy are the story's most important symbols. Note the year is 2027, and it's been 18 years since the last child birth. 27 and 18 are both divisible by 9, the number of gestation. I could go on forever about this movie.

Here's hoping we as humanity get through our current bleakness and continue to produce beautiful art like Children of Men

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Street Lamps: Hip Hop in the Dark Ages

Mural by Retna.

The Trumpacolyptic Revelations of Amerikkka

Since the Trumpocalypse began, most of the world has been mired in despair, confusion, and uncertainty. The highest office in the land, the most powerful position atop the most powerful country in the world, has been handed over to a capricious billionaire whose most ardent supporters include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. To make matters worse, he quickly loaded up his cabinet with all manner of ghoulish racists, white nationalists, and billionaire bankers. The last few months have felt like the scene in Ghostbusters where the prick from the city inspector's office pries open the containment unit opening the floodgates for an overwhelming stream of ghosts and demons. Somehow this is reality.

During this period of darkness, I've found there are very few indulgences that make sense within this context, few things that really feel right. Thomas Pynchon makes sense. So I read Vineland, the paranoid novel inspired by the fearful proto-fascism of Nixon and Reagan. Philip K. Dick makes sense. So I've checked out the new series The Man In the High Castle based on his novel, a bizarre scenario envisioning America if the Nazis and Japan had won World War II.

And, above all: Hip Hop makes sense. Hip Hop feels right during these times.

Not unlike the oddly reassuring Dave Chapelle appearance on SNL immediately after the election, where the message was basically that this latest travesty of hatred and racism is nothing new, I've found myself retreating into Hip Hop (real Hip Hop, not the fake shit) where the message has always been that the system is corrupt, racist, deceitful, and predatory. From the early days of Public Enemy, KRS-One, and Ice Cube on through Wu-Tang, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, and Mos Def, the message has remained the same. Things didn't change with Obama in office. The drug war persists, the prison industrial complex grows, police brutality worsens, poverty lingers, and black disenfranchisement continues.

Back in 2011, as demonstrations were erupting around the world leading to what became the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, I wrote a review of the debut album from the late Kevlaar 7, Who Got the Camera?, a scathing sociopolitical wake-up call. I opened by quoting Ezra Pound who said "The artist is the antenna of the race, the barometer and voltmeter" and Marshall McLuhan who saw art "at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” In Trumpocalyptic America, many are wondering who could've seen this coming, how could we have let this happen, how can America (or Amerikkka) really be this racist. Well, the answer is that true artists, in America's case, Hip Hop artists who have their antennas up, have been warning us of this for many years.