Posts Tagged ‘film’

songs of revolution

January 29, 2011

Following the events that have been unfolding in Tunisia and across the Arab world, I can’t help but comment on something that at least in most major media, has gone unnoticed. That is, to draw attention to a new phenomenon – a force at play in the popular uprisings in Northern Africa – Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and elsewhere as well – to say nothing of Jordan and perhaps Lebanon as well.

But there was a crucial event at the start of it all – when popular unrest began on a massive scale in Tunisia – that was smoothly if quickly glossed over by most U.S. media. I’m referring to the hip-hop video above, of course.

After what we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it’s become impossible to deny that Hip-hop is truly a global phenomenon now, with potentially significant political implications.

And some of the most exciting events are centering on the Arab world, where a diverse mix of insurrectionists are swiftly disproving the oft-repeated lies and stereotypes about Islamic politics and divisive sectarianism in the Arab world.

While Internet-based strategies of resistance and activism seem to bear frequent mention in the media, hip-hop activism receives only passing mention (as for example when the song “Mr. President Your People Are Dead” landed a 22-year old Tunisian rapper in jail and stoked the fires of popular rage against Ben-Ali’s government).

To my mind, the omission masks a fear of hip-hop and the political possibilities it offers for transforming and redefining public space.

I’ll offer my argument for this claim after posting some more hip-hop videos:

Check out, for example, this video of the Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour:  Narcicyst is originally from Basra, Iraq, is super-original, and you can buy his album on iTunes. I’d recommend it.

And here is a track from Behrang Miri called Ramallah (I have Sameh Zakout a.k.a. Saz to thank for this link). This track – and video – are awesome. (In the case of this track I suppose it’s the eponymous subject rather than the MC that’s Arabic per se. I hope I wasn’t using the word “eponymously” incorrectly – I think I wasn’t, but let me know via the comment box if you think I was): 

You should also check out Saz, a rapper and beatboxer (and producer I believe) from Ramle. There is actually a documentary film about him directed by Gil Karni. You can check out some clips here, on Gil Karni’s site.

Now for good measure here is a video from DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop group from Lyd / Lod:

WHY IS HIP-HOP POLITICALLY SIGNIFICANT?

Hip-hop is more than its core “elements” (b-boy/girl, graff, DJ, MC); it’s a way of life. And as such, hip-hop is about a lot more than the vagaries of materiality and insignificance. It’s not just “ho’s, bankrolls, and clothes,” as Nas once eloquently put it – what hip-hop really is about (to my mind) is the intersection between life and culture, between environment and individual identity. It’s about rebellion and reconstruction.

Hip-hop was created by young people growing up in the shattered ruins of an urban war that humanity lost. If hip-hop politics is a politics of urban renewal, of individual expression triumphing over bland conformity and mindless consumerism, then its absolute antithesis would be the politics of “benign neglect.” Hip-hop’s not just another dance style or musical genre. Notwithstanding its own emphasis on originality, style, method, and individuality, I’d argue that hip-hop is fundamentally more intrinsically social (and more political) than any of these, because it was about people (mostly young people) deciding they were fed up with the violence, abandonment, and neglect in their community and creating a style of communally-based expression to counter these phenomena. A distinctly urban style of expression born out of realism – the realism of universalized oppression and shattered communities.

Hip-hop can be recognized as both familiar, recognizable, and yet at the same time a culturally distinct style of expression. Whether you witness it in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Bogota, Ramallah, or Cairo, you’ll still know it as hip-hop…but I’ll bet you’ll discover hip-hop to be local in character, diverse in its forms of expression, and often idiosyncratic in the way it relates to the distinctive character of the cities or territories out of which it operates. This is because, I would argue, hip-hop poses a distinct challenge to the conventional categories of group-forming and the attendant processes of identity formation. That’s because hip-hop is a way of life.

It’s time to acknowledge the truth: “Hip-hop” doesn’t just mean rap –  and perhaps it also doesn’t just mean the “four elements” of breakin’, DJin’, MCin’, and graffiti. In other words, maybe hip-hop is not just another form of “cultural expression,” a “subculture.” In fact, I would argue that history is now demonstrating more clearly than ever that if anything, hip-hop is perhaps something akin to what we might call a “trans-cultural” mode of expression. Or, if you will, a new way of addressing the difference between “culture” and “subculture” – maybe even a process of making the “sub-culture” transcultural.

A new political opposition has taken shape: hip-hop versus benign neglect.

Will governments continue to get away with not-so-benign neglect, as Ben-Ali, Mubarak, and many other dictatorial regimes have for so long? Or will hip-hop intervene, in forcing a confrontation with the world as it is, which really means a struggle to change it: to live in the world as it really is so that we can live the lives we want to live, rather than to ignore the implications of responsibility and try to hoard or plunder as many of its spoils as possible.

It shouldn’t be hard to see which of these political approaches is winning the day in many parts of the world today, particularly in the Arab world – or why.

What hip-hop might be saying to us – at its most radical – is to destroy or subvert the shattered remnants of an obsolete order, and to recreate a new and idiosyncratic style that’s grounded in the particularities of one’s daily existence.

I think it’s hard for Americans to think about hip-hop culture in a way that decentralizes it from its contiguity with American popular culture – given the subversiveness with which hip-hop has come to define many of the values and experiences associated with pop culture in the public sphere. But I’m beginning to see some of the exciting things happening with hip-hop right now in the Arab world and elsewhere, and to realize that hip-hop will never, ever be the same.

Hip-hop is more than (musical or visual) style; Hip-hop is a way of being. It’s a kind of lifestyle choice, which involves social and thus also political being. This is why real hip-hop is really more about communities and individuals, really. It’s not really about bling but about winning.

And this is why I’m not surprised that its role in popular uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere is not being widely acknowledged. As El General’s video attests, it’s difficult to argue that hip-hop is giving rise to the voicing of discontent and affirmation of popular resistance in a more direct, unequivocal, and emphatic way.

So that’s why I wanted to write this post.

Now go check out some hip-hop you never heard before – and leave me some recommendations in the comment box, because I’ve barely just begun to stumble upon amazing Arabic hip-hop and I just know there is so much more dope shit out there.

And cheers to the Tunisian people for putting hip-hop on the map along the road to revolution, now to all my people it’s time to take action for change and start wrecking shit!

on the indeterminacy of identity and perpetual violence (a mini-review of The Sky Crawlers)

July 31, 2009

A few weeks ago I watched a fantastic film, the latest (if I am not mistaken) from famed anime director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell). Here are just a few reflections on the film… and a strong recommendation to watch it, because it’s fantastic! [THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. I HAVE REVEALED VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE PLOT, AND MADE EVERY ATTEMPT TO BE VAGUE AND AMBIGUOUS, SO FEEL FREE TO READ ON EVEN IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WATCH THE FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME.]

The premise: perpetual war. Protracted regional conflict is fought by corporate proxies who solely employ children to carry out deadly aerial combat. It becomes clear later on that these children are not typical mercenaries, in that they essentially have no choice but to fight. It’s never clear what the motivating factors behind the war actually are for the parties in conflict (in a way it’s not clear who those parties are – the regional powers at war are scarcely identified, the corporations are obscured by their distance and lack of personal involvement in the conflict, and the children fighting are – well, children, with no discernable ideological stance toward the political situation), but the societal effects are clear: the war is essentially the never-ending subject of media attention, and the squadrons of pilots are like so many sports teams, with adoring fans spread out throughout the countries they ostensibly represent in the “theater” of war.

So why was this film so good? Well firstly, like Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawler felt like a depiction of real space. Much of the time I felt like I was looking at real scenery, real locations – and having been made 12 years after Ghost in the Shell, the realistic quality of the art, while rendered in a somewhat stylized way, is extremely impressive. The art is incredible. Apparently Oshii believes strongly in going “on location” when he produces anime films (for Ghost in the Shell his crew scouted locations in Hong Kong), and in my view this admittedly somewhat unusual approach pays off. The setting of the film has a certain resonance; it’s fictional, but it’s a compelling fiction, one that invites you in, that feels weighty. The animation sequences are compelling, and whereas some reviews I’ve seen of it critiqued the film for being overly slow and at its most engaging during the aerial combat sequences (which admittedly are very well done), my assessment is quite the opposite. The entire pacing of the film is very well thought-out. It’s not an action film, and isn’t driven by combat scenes or technology-based sequences (these do play a part, although the technology in question here is primarily anachronistic-looking twin-engine aircraft). I would say, however, that it is a plot-driven film, and the story is really The Sky Crawlers’ greatest strength.

However, I was deeply impressed by the animation and sound design (and the sound design is extremely high-caliber, with absolutely incredible music), which are both very well integrated into the unfolding of an unusually complex and somewhat ambiguous storyline. This is a movie that after watching (assuming you like it), you will have to see again. It’s a complete story, but doesn’t render a feeling of “closure” at the end. I think there’s a sense of resolution fundamentally lacking throughout, despite the movie being exceptionally well crafted. I don’t think this is a drawback – in fact for me, it was part of what made the movie interesting – but I’m guessing it could be the reason some anime fans were put off by the film. Like Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers constructs a narrative through simple enough premises and developments, but there is feeling of openendedness throughout, leading to a sense of not knowing. As the viewer, I don’t understand the characters, I don’t understand who they are, I don’t understand their motivations – but not in the sense of being confused about what’s happening in the progression of the story, which in a sense is very straightforward. It’s more that ambiguity is sort of an integral part of the story, which ultimately starts to feel like a slightly subversive attempt to incite viewers to question their own social realities and the nature of identity.

And ultimately – perhaps what I found most striking about the film – as hidden, enigmatic aspects of the story are revealed, the stability of who the characters seem to be is undermined, and we are forced to rethink our entire relationship with the film’s premises, the characters and their experiences (and perhaps too with ourselves). And best of all (in my opinion), there is really no easy way to do this. The film invites us to imagine the world the characters inhabit, without really giving us any shortcuts for doing so, but at the same time reminds us that we too live in a world where war is fought not only for profit but for spectacle, where nationalism is dangerously close to rooting for the team you like and where all of us, in some sense, fight manufactured wars interminably without ever really thinking that there is any alternative whatsoever (and – Oshii seems to want to ask us – is there?).

yes, anime.

June 17, 2009
Laughing Man logo (see Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Laughing Man logo (see Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)

OK, here we go. A list (I’m going to try to be comprehensive here) of all the anime I have seen, am currently somewhere in the process of viewing, or wish to see in the future (that last one will probably be the trickiest). If you like anime but aren’t sure where to go, maybe you’ll find something listed here that sounds interesting.

Oh, and if you don’t like anime…well, all I can say is that you don’t know what you’re missing. You probably think what you’re missing is something it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. Hmm…that’s for another time.

And on a related note, if you don’t recognize the above image, well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t watching the right television shows.

ANIME I’VE SEEN AND RECOMMEND (sort of roughly ranked in the order of how much I liked them)

series

  • Serial Experiments Lain – couldn’t not put this first on the list. 13 episodes in all. You should watch this.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – two seasons. You might have thought the movie was great and that the series wouldn’t be. You were wrong. (Besides, don’t you want to know where that logo comes from?)
  • Cowboy Bebop – all my favorite bounty hunters in a single series…how is that even possible? This show promises nothing but pure enjoyment. Recommended for the anime non-viewer.
  • Noir – funny, come to think of it probably my all-time favorite assassin is a character on this show. She practically defines the word stealth. One great thing about Chloe is her wardrobe lets you know how badass she is. Not to give too much away, but in any case, you know she’s not playing because of the way she dresses. Here’s what she likes to wear:

Chloe character sketch from NOIR

Like, every day. She never doesn’t wear this outfit. In fact, her closet is filled with this. She’s a great character. By the way, lots of people seem not to know about this show. Check it out…not necessarily what you might expect. The opening episode is killer…it pulls you right into the storyline. Props to my friends Ryan and Starr for turning me on to this.

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion – anything I should add? Oh yeah, I guess I’ll just mention that this show was voted the best TV show…ever. Weird – I thought it was The Wire, or maybe Twin Peaks (Definitely one of those two).
  • Gunslinger Girl – an Italian government agency adopts abandoned or seriously ill young girls from hospitals under the guise of a beneficent charity, then brainwashes them, pairs them with handlers and trains them to be assassins! Sounds a bit preposterous but this show’s worth checking out…it’s a strong production with really high-quality drawings and animation. I’ve only seen the first season. The second is being produced by a different studio, and I’m not sure it’s even gotten a U.S. release yet (frankly it doesn’t look as good as the first season).
  • I can’t leave out BLAME! This mini-anime is freaking weird. I love the art, though. Thank you Ryan for sending this to me in the mail. I should try to find the manga…

I’m sure I’m leaving something out here, but since I can’t think what it is at the moment I’ll move on to…

films

  • Ghost in the Shell – not much I can say here. All I can say is I will never not want to watch this movie again. Sheer brilliance.
  • Akira – everytime I see this film I am struck by the level of detail and thinking that went into its production. It proves conclusively that anime has unique potential as an art form (can you imagine Akira as live-action production?), a fact that few seem to understand to the degree that Otomo has. Must see.
  • I recently watched Memories – a film divided into three parts, each by a different director, but overseen as an entire project by Otomo. This is worth checking out. Unconventional, and brilliant.
  • Spirited Away – this is actually the only Miyazaki film I’ve seen. I need to check out some of the others…
  • how could I have forgotten Appleseed? This film is awesome! Don’t sleep.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – some people bad-mouth this movie. It’s pretty different from the first film, both stylistically and in terms of narrative. I would consider Innocence to be the most abstract production in the Ghost in the Shell “canon,” as it were. I have to see it again to form my opinion more completely. If you have seen the original but not this, give it a shot. If you haven’t seen the original you know what to do…
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Movie – When I first watched this I hadn’t seen the series all the way through. I need to see this one again.
  • Paprika – Mixed feelings about this one. Stylistically and artistically, it was excellent, yet I felt it was over-the-top to a degree that took away from character development and other aspects, resulting in a less-than-completely enjoyable experience. Yet the execution of some artistic elements was so impressive that I would most likely recommend it anyway. I like the dream machine.
  • The Evangelion movies…not even sure what to say about them, other than, if you’ve seen the show, watch them. Come on, don’t you want to know what happens to SEELE?

Again, can’t think what I’m leaving out, though I’m surely leaving out something. I’ll tell you

WHAT I’VE BEEN WATCHING LATELY:

  • mainly, a series called Last Exile. I really like this one. It’s pretty unique, lacking a lot of the familiar anime tropes any critical anime viewer might be on the lookout for. The setting seems to be an anachronistic, somewhat dystopian future that seems reminiscent of medieval Europe, perhaps post-apocalyptic. The plot focuses on two young pilots of a vehicle known as a vanship. You should check it out…
  • And also, from the same studio (GONZO) I’m planning to watch the rest of Blue Submarine No. 6. A story with four half-hour episodes, it was also released as a film. I’ve seen only the first episode and don’t feel qualified to comment, other than to say that the art is awesome.

And what does the future hold?

ANIME I’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE:

films

  • I’ve actually never watched Vampire Hunter D all the way through. Someday soon…
  • Pretty much everything by Miyazaki, but I’m told Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is really great.
  • I’d also like to see Perfect Blue…never heard of it until recently, but sounds like a classic.

series

As I was writing, I started watching the preview on Netflix for a series called Paranoia Agent. From the director of Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon) and the character designer of Spirited Away, this series about a bat-wielding killer on rollerblades looks pretty great.

  • Madlax…from the director of NOIR, looks like this might be worth checking out…
  • I want to check out Ergo Proxy. Don’t really know what it’s about but I’ve heard good things about it.

Not sure what else for the moment, but I’m getting tired. Did I leave out something crucial? Or was my assessment of some anime classic completely misguided and wrong? If you have responses, questions or criticism, you know what to do.

Oh and by the way, this blog entry might give you the impression that I am a huge anime nerd. In fact, I didn’t really start watching it much until the last couple of years. Props go out to Cary for this. Anyway, notwithstanding the fact that I lifted my alias <megatech> from a certain anime cult classic, I’m not actually really too much in the know about this. So feel free to leave suggestions below. Peace..