Exit Through the Gift Shop

Caution! Could spoil a movie for you.

Lore recommended to me documentary film “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. It’s well-summarized and reviewed by Roger Ebert so I’ll skip that part.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” was pretty provocative stuff. Commenting on the controversy around the artist Mr. Brainwash, another artist muses,

“I think the joke is on… I don’t know who the joke is on, really. I don’t even know if there is a joke.”

This is almost a throwaway moment in the film even though it captures its central point, which may have been more obvious to the filmmakers than to me. What was acceptable about a street artist pasting Space Invaders around Paris or Andy Warhol’s mass-produced Marilyn Monroes but not acceptable about Mr. Brainwash’s even more derivative art? Where is this line drawn and who draws it? I wish they had pursued that discussion a little further.

For her part, Lore thinks Mr. Brainwash “is an idiot”.

Annie versus Scarface

Who would win? Annie or Scarface?

It might be hard to take Annie seriously with her frizzy red hair and cute smile. But being raised in an orphanage by a drunk woman who wants to step on your freckles is a great character-builder. When Annie’s in trouble she can also draw upon the vast resources of Daddy Warbucks Industries and the New Deal. I would not mess with this girl.

Scarface (the Paul Muni Scarface), on the other hand, is a sociopath who does his own killing. He appears to lack an impulse control, going on a months-long murder and racketeering bender until he flames out in a hailstorm of bullets. He’s his own Miss Hannigan, slapping his cheeky sister around (Miss Hannigan at least managed to preserve Annie’s life). I would stay away from this person as well.

“Annie” has a whacked-out dance scene with floor-scrubbing, pillow-fighting orphans. “Scarface” has a gangster being gunned down as he bowls a strike. “Annie” has a magic Sikh. “Scarface” has an illiterate secretary. “Annie” has an auto-copter that can land in the president’s backyard. “Scarface” shoots the pages off his wall calendar each day.

We’ll call it a draw.

Fancy feast

Boy, there’s nothing sadder than a baby bird fallen out of a nest.  A young grackle was sitting on the pavement in front of my garage, but it was too young to walk or fly off. It got agitated when I tried to pick it up so I just nudged it along with my boot.

Chinese food

Smithers: Shall I send out for some Chinese?
Burns: No, those people are all gristle.

“The Simpsons”, 1998

I occasionally lament the depressing sameness of Chinese take-out joints. I imagine a big restaurant supply warehouse somewhere in San Francisco—presided over by an octogenarian “chairman”—from which trucks depart for Staten Island, Ocean Springs, Bar Harbor, and Iowa City, all bearing the same packages of duck sauce, stale fortune cookies, chopsticks with mistranslated instructions, and photos of Chinese entrees for display over the counter.

A new Chinese restaurant opened downtown, though, that looked promising. For starters, the posters in the window are in Chinese, as if begging most of Iowa to not come in. The inside had a certain ambiance—no, it was just a layer of filth plus ants—that made me feel closer to authentic Third World flavor. It was hard to believe this was a new restaurant and easier to believe it was a place of ancient foodways and equally old sanitary practices.

I tend to estimate the quality of a Chinese restaurant by the number of misspellings in the menu: the worse the English, the better the taste. So my mouth watered when I saw “Crap Cakes” listed among some seafood dishes. But I didn’t order any crap cakes, and I skipped the fish head, boneless duck feet, and pork blood (even though I also gripe that Chinese take-out is basically just pork, chicken, or beef with some combination of carrots, mushroom, peas, and salty mystery sauce). I wimped out and ordered beef stew with ho funn noodles: good but adventureless.

They also had bubble tea, something I miss from my Mississippi days. Around the time I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, bubble tea cafes were sprouting up all over courtesy of the area’s Vietnamese entrepreneurs. The bubble tea there was extremely sweet (probably catering to Southerners’ preferences for over-sweetened iced tea), but often flavored with fresh fruit. The stuff here was not too sweet  but it was flavored with powder.

So does the ubiquitous Chinese take-out joint serve a useful purpose by providing us with a bland, safe alternative to duck foot based cuisine? Do they help preserve our notions of a cultural melting pot without forcing us to venture too deeply into the realm of beef offal soups? I shall ponder this over a bag of crab rangoon and sweet-and-sour sauce.

Doing the I-80

Last weekend I drove to Colorado for the first time in a few years. That meant a traverse of Nebraska—otherwise known as the Great Midwest-West Transition Area—where, when proceeding east to west, one sees irrigated fields give way to ranches, the boundary of the cattle brand inspection regime, and finally Mountain Time.

While in Colorado we went with my young nephews to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to see exhibits on pirates and dinosaurs (to my disappointment, not combined).

Here are some pictures from the ride out.

Falling Down

“Falling Down” immediately got my attention with the opening scene: a hot day, traffic stopped dead in its tracks, contemptible people all around. This all heaped on top of what we later find out to be a disappointing and troubled personal life. Who wouldn’t go nuts? Well, Robert Duvall’s character for one.

Anybody can find something heroic in D-FENS’s (Michael Douglas’s character) lashing out at the decaying mores of post-Cold War Los Angeles. When I first saw it in 1993 I was taken aback by his taking a baseball bat to a Korean man’s wares of overpriced snacks, but I liked the part (the theater audience applauded, as I recall) where he punched out the rude driver. There’s an opportunity here for self-reflection: while at times he may happen to be your favorite flavor of obnoxious creep, he’s just one more in a movie populated by them.

I remember this movie was controversial for its ethnic stereotyping. That was part of the movie’s point, though. It wouldn’t have made sense if Los Angeles was only inhabited sensible white people. How would living in 1950s version of Los Angeles fill an old-fashioned white guy with rage? I thought “Falling Down” was more about the end of an era. The Cold War had ended and the time when white male technocrats sat at the social apex was long gone.

I always liked Michael Douglas. It’s inevitable that I too will become a middle-aged white man, so I might as well do it with the twisted flair of some of his characters.