Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Perugino v. Picabia!

1447ish - 1523


Francis Picabia
1879 - 1953


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, October 30, 2015

At the Movies: The Five Obstructions

At the Movies with Michael5000

The Five Obstructions
Lars von Trier, 2003.

imbd: 7.5
Ebert: Three Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Fresh

The Five Obstructions is sort of contest of wills between two Danish filmmakers, the famously irascible Lars von Trier and his pal and idol Jørgen Leth. Leth directed an experimental short in 1967 called The Perfect Human which is very experimental, very 1967, and not half bad. In Obstructions, von Trier more or less commands Leth to remake his magnum opus five times, each time with a new set of rules and limitations. The idea is… well, it’s hard to say exactly what the idea is exactly, but the result is a fascinating look at the way that constraints and limitations often function more to inspire than to inhibit the creative process.

Now, this project already sounds like quite a challenge for Leth, but he doesn’t know the half of it. We watch as von Trier thinks up the first obstruction: The first remake of The Perfect Human must not contain any shots longer than 12 frames (a half second) long, must not use a constructed set, must answer questions asked by the narrator in the original version, and must be filmed in Cuba. There’s a pause in the conversation, while von Trier asks an assistant if there’s enough money in the budget to require Leth to travel to Cuba. There is. Now technically, Leth has been given a set of four obstructions, but by the rules of the game this constitutes the first obstruction. We see Leth try to figure out an approach that will squeeze a watchable film out of these conditions, then look in as he scouts locations and recruits actors in Havana, and then: voila! We get to watch The Perfect Human: Cuba. And it’s great! It’s really great!

As we progress through the five variations, Leth continues to respond with gusto to the demands that von Trier heaps on him. The obstructions are all quite different in nature, and Leth finds ways to work within limitations that subvert their intent as limitations. He will end up describing the 12-frame maximum of the first obstruction, which initially seems so perversely daunting, as “a gift.”

As the project goes on, unfortunately, the challenges grow less demanding. Interestingly, Leth’s responses get less interesting. The first of the five remakes, made with the bizarre straightjacket described above, has an electric energy. The second, with similarly rigorous conditions, projects a disturbing surrealism. The third, fourth, and fifth, made under more relaxed rules, are all solid pieces of conceptual filmmaking, but they just aren’t quite as memorable.

Every few days, most of us have an idea that fits the formula “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I/we/somebody did [x]?!?” We almost never act on those ideas, which is quietly sad. It would be a better world if we spent more time chasing our intellectual whims. I have to salute Lars von Trier for actually acting on his impulse to undertake this project.

Prognosis: This is fascinating stuff for anyone interested in filmmaking and the creative process. Our only complaint was that the passages from The Perfect Human shown in the film are not really sufficient for understanding what is going on in the five variations. I would strongly recommend watching the “original” first before watching The Five Obstructions (which is easy if you have access to the DVD, which includes Leth's original short).

Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Masaccio v. Martin!

1401 - c.1428

Lost to Simone Martini in Round 1.
Beat Marino Marini in First Round Elimination.

John Martin
1789 - 1854

Beat Italian sculptor Marino Marini in Round 1.
Tied with Simone Martini in his first attempt at Round 2.
Lost to scientific illustrator Ernst Haeckel in Round 2.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

5000films presents...

So, I was at loose ends last Friday night, and took a walk down to the local grocery store.  Browsing through the aisles, I came across a very unusual... produce item.  I had to buy one for Mrs.5000, who screamed quite fetchingly when I presented it to her.

So, one thing led to another, and before you know it I was working on my first ever stop-motion science fiction adventure.  Here it is!  Don't watch it without sound; it's no fun at all that way.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Van Doesburg v. Martini!

Theo Van Doesburg
1883 - 1931

Tied with William Dobson in his first try at the First Round, in December 2012.
Skunked by Ernst Haeckel in a second shot at Round 1.
Snuck by his contemporary John Marin in First Round Elimination by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Simone Martini
c.1284 - 1344

Defeated Masaccio in Round 1.
Tied with John Martin in his first attempt at Round 2.
Lost to Franz Marc in Round 2.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Through History with The Monday Quiz: the 1150s

The 1150s -- a period marked by what seemed like ever more progress and social change, even if we've forgotten about most of it now.

1. In 1150, the Sorbonne was founded. What, and where, is the Sorbonne?

A bit of the Sorbonne as it looks today.

2. 1153, or thereabouts, Islam became the dominant religion of this modern island nation. The international airport shown on this map was of course not built yet at that time. What is the country?

3. In 1154, the very smart guy Muhammad al-Idrisi finished a book commissioned by Roger II of Sicily, which has subsequently been known as the Tabula Rogeriana. It was almost certainly the most sophisticated book of its kind ever made up to that point in history. What kind of book was it?

4. On December 3, 1154, Nicholas Breakspear, an old boy of the St Albans School in Hertfordshire, was elected Pope and took the papal name Adrian IV. He held the office until his death on September 1, 1159. Pope Adrian IV is the only ___________ in history.

5. This famous building was completed sometime in the 1150s. What is its name, and where is it?

6. On June 18, 1155, Frederick I, the famous “Barbarossa,” was crowned. Quoth the Wiki, “He combined qualities that made him appear almost superhuman to his contemporaries: his longevity, his ambition, his extraordinary skills at organization, his battlefield acumen and his political perspicuity.” Of what political entity was Barbarossa the boss?

7. Here’s a little folk tale:
Lalli's wife Kerttu falsely told him that their guest Bishop Henry had stolen food from the oven and beer from the cellar. Lalli (who is drunk in some versions of the tale) went in pursuit of the thief, chasing Henry down on the ice of Lake Köyliönjärvi. There, on January 20, 1156, he killed the bishop with an axe. Lalli then stole the bishop's mitre and placed it on his own head. When he tried to take it off, it tore his scalp off with it. When Lalli put the bishop's ring on his finger, it likewise tore his finger off.
Or, to summarize,
Lalli on otaksuttavasti 1100-luvulla elänyt köyliöläinen talonpoika, joka kansanperinteen mukaan surmasi piispa Henrikin Köyliönjärven jäällä 20. tammikuuta noin vuonna 1156.
Of what country is the tale of Lalli a typically grim folk legend?

8. A new emperor ascended the throne on August 23, 1155, amid multifaceted power struggles in and between the clans of his country's aristocracy. In the Hōgen Rebellion of July 1156, he fended off an attempted coup. In 1158, he formally abdicated in favor of his son, but in practice he continued to hold all the power. He would in fact be the real power behind the throne for five subsequent emperors until his death in 1192.

That's pretty typical of how things were done in medieval _________.

9. In 1166, Lord of the Manor Peter de Bermingham obtained a royal charter to hold a market at his castle. He followed this with the creation of a planned market town on his manorial estate, around the site that became the “Bull Ring” (shown here in more modern times). This was the beginning of what modern city?

10. The origin of the Hanseatic League is usually considered the capture and rebuilding of Lübeck in 1159 by Henry the Lion. (Henry was not really a lion, of course. He was a Duke.) Roughly what and where was the Hanseatic League?

The New Monday Quiz: Last Week

1. That's a map of Jamaica.
2. The city is Johannesburg, the decrepit spacecraft from the movie "District [I forget the number]."
3. What's a tenth of a percent of the mass of the sun?  Jupiter.  If that doesn't impress you about the size of Jupiter, then it should impress you about the size of the sun.
4. Jesus, who is not always as kind in scripture as some theologies would have you believe, killed the fig tree out of frustration.
5. Judgement at Nuremberg is worth seeing!
6. The Jurassic was a long time ago.
7. "It is usually worth eleven, but sometimes worth ten, and children sometimes slap it" is closer to a riddle than a proper Monday Quiz question.  Forgive me.  The answer is Jack.
8. Beware the Jabberwock, my son.
9. Mmm, jicama!  Like the love child of a potato and a watermelon.
10. Irish, ever-intellectual Stephen -- the trademark character of Irish, ever-intellectual James Joyce.

 And Irish, ever-intellectual DrSchnell emerged from a strong crowd to blast this one through the goal posts like a well-kicked jicama!  Out of ten possible marks, he earned ten, symbolized thusly:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Patenier v. Pechstein!

Joachim Patenier
1485ish - 1524


Max Hermann Pechstein
1881 - 1955


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, October 23, 2015

At the Movies: National Gallery

At the Movies with Michael5000

National Gallery
Frederick Wiseman, 2014.

imbd: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% Fresh

Watched on Netflix DVD after persistent advocacy by Susan. It was to get access to this film, actually, that I finally joined Netflix.

National Gallery is the very model of a modern documentary, with no narration, no credentialed authorities speaking from afront their well-stocked bookcases, and not a wisp of an introduction that might orient us to what's supposed to be going on. So what's going on?  Frederick Wiseman and his film crews were simply, as far as I can make out, cut loose to wander the British nation’s treasure-trove of art and to film whatever struck their fancy. The three hours of resulting screen time consist of short episodes of life at the museum, both onstage and offstage: a docent’s interpretation of a painting, for instance, or an agenda item in a management meeting, or a craftsman carving a replacement section for an antique frame. Intercut with these scenes are short glimpses of paintings, short glimpses of people looking at paintings, and, in one strangely memorable moment, a distant shot of a woman walking down a long hallway. National Gallery is not for everyone. I found it enchanting.

There’s a lot going on at the museum. In addition to the familiar routine of people showing up to look at the pictures, we get to eavesdrop on a lot of people who are conducting the work behind the scenes. We encounter conservators who are all supremely knowledgeable about their craft, but who do not necessarily agree with each other on fundamental issues. We watch blank gallery space being transformed into exhibit space by designers and teams of technicians. We sit in as a Pissaro painting is analyzed for the blind, watch as painting and drawing students work from a nude model, see fresh young art historians being shown the ropes, and watch for a while as a janitor polishes the floors. Oddly, but perhaps inevitably, we eventually watch the filming of another, more conventional, documentary about art history.

Part of what makes National Gallery so compelling is that most of the people we encounter are so intelligent and articulate that it makes your head spin. Clearly, this is not a museum that has a hard time attracting talented staff. The effect is such that, when we encounter the occasional person who is only as articulate as you or I, they seem kind of lovably oafish.

The feeling you get in watching this film is as if you had been granted an all-access pass, or the power of invisibility, and were able to wander anywhere you wanted in the National Gallery without being seen. The sense that we are seeing real life take place is powerful; it is, however, also a carefully crafted illusion. It is obvious, once you think about it, that the footage must have been very carefully selected and edited to make it seem as if everyone was indifferent to the camera’s presence. But they weren’t. No one is ever indifferent to a camera’s presence.

Like most good movies, then, National Gallery creates a beautiful fiction. In this case, it is the fiction that we have a special insider’s insight as to what goes on in a great museum. We don’t, especially. But we do get to see a lot of beautiful images, and to hear them discussed by engaging, knowledgeable people.  Which is terrific!  A beautiful fiction is, after all, beautiful.

Prognosis: Do you like museums and art? If not, this film is really not for you. I like museums and art, and I loved all three hours of National Gallery.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 10.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Haeckel v. Marc!

We have an unusual match today.  It all started when two neighboring Round Two pairings fought to ties: Haeckel/Marc and Martin/Martini.  Following the traditions and protocols of the Tournament, that yielded two immediate tiebreak contests: Haeckel/Martin and Marc/Martini.  

As it seems to have turned out, Haeckel and Marc tied because we like them a lot, and Martin and Martini tied because we are kind of lukewarm about them.  Perhaps.  In any event, the guys from the first original contest both won their tiebreakers easily.  Cool!  They both progress!  That's what the tiebreak system is supposed to allow for.

Except, since the two tied matches were neighbors, Haeckel and Marc emerge from their tiebreaker round to meet... each other.  Will we have the same voter pool?  Will someone change his or her mind?  Or will they just tie again?  We'll find out soon enough!

Incidentally, because there was no winner the first time these fellows met, this is not a Grudge Match, nor is the Grudge Match Rule in effect.

Ernst Haeckel
1834 - 1919

Finished Second in Phase 1, Flight 1 of the Play-In Tournament, with a voting score of .800.
Finished Second in Phase 2, Flight 4 of the Play-In Tournament, with a voting score of .500.
Slaughtered Theo Van Doesburg in Round 1
Tied with Franz Marc in his first try at Round 2.
Crushed John Martin in the Round 2 Tiebreaker.

Franz Marc
1880 - 1916

Defeated American John Marin easily in Round 1.
Tied with Ernst Haeckel in his first try at Round 2.
Defeated Simone Martini easily in the Round 2 Tiebreaker.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Saint of the Month: St. Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena

St. Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena

AKA: María Laura Montoya Upegui, Mother Laura
Feast Day: October 21.

Really Existed? Definitely.
Timeframe: 1874-1949.
Place: Colombia.

Credentials: Canonized by Pope Francis in 2013.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: People suffering from racial discrimination, Orphans.
Symbolism: None.

To many of us, Saints seem like figures from deep history, but that's not always true. Pope John Paul II canonized some 483 saints, more than five times the number of any other Pope since the 16th century. Most of them were from the modern era, broadly speaking. John Paul II himself has since become a saint. His feast day is tomorrow, October 22! This is hardly a secret -- 800,000 people packed into Rome for the ceremony of his canonization -- but it is still deeply counterintuitive to some of us who are not tied into day-to-day religious practice.

It was Pope Francis, the man currently holding the office, who canonized St. Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena. When you look her up, a feeling that her conceptual distance from you and I is palpably different from that of the ancient saints is immediately evident. For instance, there are plenty of pictures of her.

With so many of the saints, it is unclear how much history is preserved in their legends, if there is any real history at all. With St. Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena, the essential biography is so substantiated as to feel a bit prosaic. She was born in Colombia on May 26, 1874, as María Laura Montoya Upegui. She studied to be a teacher. She wanted to be a nun. She became interested in Native American issues, and became a missionary and advocate. In 1914 she founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena. Something of her stance within Catholicism can be divined from an article released the Catholic News Agency:
Mother Laura composed for her "daughters" a directory and other writings... to help them understand better their call to serve God among the Indians, and to live a balance between apostolic and contemplative life. She taught by example the "pedagogy of love" as the only way to teach the Indians, the way which allowed access into their heart and culture to bring them Jesus Christ.
She was wheelchair bound towards the end of her life, and died on October 21, 1949.

So, here we have someone who was by all accounts very kind, who made great sacrifices to combat prejudice, and who was undeniably pious. You may or may not see some ambiguities in missionary outreach to Native peoples, but it is certain that she was doing what she felt was right, and what her religious institution asked of her. And so, she seems pretty saintly, does she not?

But that is not quite everything. To be a full-fledged saint, you must be credited with two miracles. And this is where things get potentially awkward, if you don't believe in miracles. Do you believe in miracles? I don't. And if I did, I would find them deeply, deeply troubling on a theological level. Which is beside the point, but I just mention it to indicate how uncomfortable I get when I read passages like this:
The beatification miracle involved the 1994 cure of an 86-year-old woman with uterine cancer.... The canonization miracle involves the healing of Dr. Carlos Eduardo Restrepo, who was suffering from lupus, kidney damage and muscular degeneration. After praying to Blessed Laura, the doctor was said to be completely cured.

Now, I rejoice for the recovery of Dr. Restrepo, who sounds like a nice guy. I'm sure that his religious faith helped him through his sickness, which is awesome. But for purposes of canonization, we are asked to believe that he asked the late Ms. Upegui for help, and she put in a good word for him with God, who then transgressed his own physical laws in order to keep Dr. Restrepo in this mortal vale of tears. Also, because this occurance is being used to substantiate Mother Laura's claim specifically, the bare minimum of rigor requires us to assume that he prayed to her alone, and not to any other saints or to God or Jesus directly. Otherwise, there would be no reason to assume that it was her specifically who was instrumental in the cure. But of course, he doesn't really make that claim. He would be fibbing if he did.

I am sure Dr. Restrepo accepts his miraculous recovery in good faith. But as part of this package, I wonder if he doesn't think from time to time about how disturbing it is that God would have behaved so capriciously in his particular case. Through the sustainence of his life here on Earth, after all, he has been kept from his promised union with God, possibly for a great many decades. Is it really fair that he has been singled out for this punishment, and if so is it fair to implicate Sister Laura in his misfortune?

Well, I am sure that the lay of the religious land looked far different to St. John Paul II and Pope Francis. It probaby looks rather different to you as well. My main point is only this: that from out in the grandstands, where I sit, it is easy to be comfortable with the semi-legendary saints of long ago. It is a lot harder to get my head around a saint who lived in our own times.

Having said that, I wish you a very happy feast of St. Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Cole v. Ghirlandaio!

Two firsts today, as we enter the Left Bracket Third Round: Frederic Bazille becomes the first artist to head into action for a fourth time, and we have the first match between two artists who aren't bringing the same win-loss record into the match.  There will be a lot more where that came from.

Thomas Cole
1801 - 1848

Domenico Ghirlandaio
1449 - 1494


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The New Monday Quiz

A continued break from the High Middle Ages for you and me both.

1. This is a map of what country?

2. What city is shown in this movie still?

3. It's the only thing you know of that is about a tenth of 1% the mass of the sun.

4. Of whom is this little story told?
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

5. These men will judge the judges in what 1961 drama?

6. It extended from about 200 million years ago to 145 million years ago.

7. It is usually worth eleven, but sometimes worth ten, and children sometimes slap it.


One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
What manxome monster, shown above, was thus slain?

9. Mmm, an edible tuberous root!  What's it called?

10. Who is the author of this passage?

Laughing again, he brought the mirror away from Stephen's peering eyes.
--The rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror, he said. If Wilde were only alive to see you!
Drawing back and pointing, Stephen said with bitterness:
--It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking-glass of a servant.

The New Monday Quiz: last week

1. The history of Judea in Israel is in Kings, or Kings I & II as we divide it up these days.
2. That's a Klee.
3. It looks like "neon," but it's Krypton.  Most neon signs are actually krypton signs, I've read.
4. That's a map of Kenya.
5. The still is from The King's Speech.  
6. The diagram is of a kidney.
7. Water boils at 373.16 degrees Kelvin, or more properly at 373.16 kelvins.  Bonus half mark to Morgan for pointing out the ridiculous distinction.
8. Mass in motion has kinetic energy.
9. The picture shows a koto.
10. Mountain above savanna? Kilimanjaro, baby!

With a perfect ten, gS49 crushes the Quiz!  CRUSHES IT!