Monday, May 27, 2013

Mapping Treasure Island's Uncertain Future

Treasure Island was built up out of the San Francisco bay for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, 400 acres of "land" made up entirely out of landfill.  Now, after 75 years of mixed use, the island is one of the key targets of San Francisco's ravenous push for "development", attracting the attention of international investors and green building companies.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness' Bleak Vision of a Future San Francisco

How do we envision the future?  Are we going to imagine the urban spaces where more and more of us choose to live as tributes to history and humanity, or do we went to scrub away the past to create metal behemoths of industrialized progress?  If the recent Star Trek: Into Darkness is any indication, the fate of just one city, San Francisco, is the unquestioned victory of the latter.  A new Manhattan, transplanted on top of a city that has fought for decades to preserve its character, architecture and, now, its very population.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Original Iron Man: The Body Horror of Shinya Tsukamoto

Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989
With Iron Man 3 now in theaters, there is no better time to talk about the original Iron Man.  Of course, that's not the franchise launching Marvel vehicle from 2008, but the Japanese body horror freak show that is Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Tetsuo is about as far from a shiny, tent pole blockbuster as you can get.  Produced in Japan in 1989 and given narrow distribution in 1992, Shinya's film is a breathless, industrial collage of desecrated flesh and industrial synth.  Where Tony Stark's metamorphosis from man to machine leaves him sexier and more powerful, "Salary Man," the films nearly anonymous "protagonist", suffers through a feature length ordeal of violent insertions and bursting blood sacks as his body rebels against itself.  His limbs bloom with tumor-like growths.  He is raped by a woman with a dancing metallic cable emerging from her navel.  He has sex with his girlfriend, only for his penis to transform into an immense, bio-mechanical drill (a prop that seems to have been copied in spirit in Noboru Iguchi's splatter horror camp fest The Machine Girl and its notorious "drill bra").  There is no hint of super heroism here.  This is The Elephant Man by way of David Cronenburg, Robocop as re-imagined by Jan Svankmeyer.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

R.I.P.: Ray Harryhausen

Special effects and stop mation animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen passed away today at the age of 92. I could go on at length about his contributions to fantasy film making, about the countless hours of labor he invested bringing life to his creations frame by frame, second by second, scene by scene over the course of a career spanning form the late 1930's to the early 1980's.  But instead I'll just re-post this, my favorite special effects scene of all time.

Since the end of Harryhausen's career, the tools for bridging the gap between the imagination and the moving image have grown both more versatile and less innovative.  With increasing reliance placed on computer imagery (in a process that J. Hoberman describes as the transformation of  the history of film into the history of animation), it becomes more and more difficult to regard something with wonder.  While the majority of modern contemporary visual effects will likely look outdated and archaic within a few years, time only lends a deepening sense of awe to the kinds of techniques that Harryhausen practiced over his lifetime. Comparing the Medusa in 1981's Clash of the Titans with the same monster in the 2010 remake is to see difference between a scene created by an artist and a scene created by committee.  And as these anonymous, digitized creations sluice through our memory like easily digested cinematic gravy, Harryhausen's work endures, every frame of every creature stamped with the artistic signature of a single man.

Harryhausen was still active as a speaker late into his life.  In March of 2006, I attended a screening of Jason and the Argonauts with the animator in attendance   The animated sequences were greeted like musical numbers, garnering deep applause from the packed house of the Winifred Moore Auditorium.  When the lights came up, Harryausen rose from his chair.  He had been sitting in front of me the entire time, an unassuming man in his late eighties, still proud of his work, still telling the same stories so many years later.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Infinite Resource: Ramez Naam, neolibearalism and collective passivity.

In his recent book, The Infinite Resource, Ramez Naam examines the global resource depletion and comes away with a simple solution: innovation.  “The most valuable resource on earth is not oil, gold, water or land,” he says.  “Instead, our capacity for expanding human knowledge is our greatest resource, and the key to overcoming the very real resource scarcity and enormous environmental challenges we face”  Unfortunately, Naam's arguments distill a narrative of mass passivity, a culture of communal non interference that allows a privileged few to dictate the planets future in limited, neoliberal terms.  

Naam philosophy is one of unmitigated growth.  In a recent article for I09, he argues that economic growth is a moral requirement.  “Roughly one billion people alive today on the planet have access to automobiles, air conditioners, and central heat. The other six billion do not. Two billion lack access to a toilet,” he says.  “A path forward that doesn't allow room for billions to rise out of poverty and to at least this modicum of comfort is not a very appealing one.”  The suggestion here being, of course, that it would be unthinkable for the developed world to cut back on their inherently consumptive life styles.  Our industrialized society is a foregone conclusion.  To question it would be sacrosanct.  To impose it upon the entire world and expect positive results is seen as progress.