Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Two months ago I was spraypainting a lot of "treasures" I collected during some previous trips until I was completely repelled by the toxic smell of the paints. Those treasures include the unknown fruits I picked over a year ago in South Carolina. I finally found out the name of the plant: liquidambar styraciflua (American Sweetgum, Redgum) and its lovely fruit's nicknamed "space bug", "monkey ball", etc. A more exciting discovery was that there are actually such trees in my neighborhood, so I can collect more this year!

Being a North America native, sweetgum has been introduced to many parts of the world. In Gus van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, sweetgum ball is seen at a farm in Rome, where a native girl holds it in her hand and speaks out its beautiful Italian name.

Pine cone, is the other major "victim" of my spraypaint. I love these small-sized cones gathering on a branch - just like dried flowers after being colored!

Now I need to find "greener" ways to color them :)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Double Life of Veronique - my favorite Zizek quotes 1

The perception of our reality as one of the possible, often even not the most probable, outcomes of an open situation, this notion that other possible outcomes are not simply canceled out but continue to haunt our reality as a specter of what might have happened, conferring on our reality the status of extreme fragility and contingency, implicitly clashes with the predominant linear narrative forms of our literature and cinema.

This unfinished character of reality grounds our freedom of choice: it depends on us which version will prevail. For Kieslowski, this choice is ultimately the choice between “calm life” and “vocation.” In The Double Life of Veronique, the Polish Weronika chooses her vocation, that of a singer, ignoring her heart failure, and meets early death as the result of it, while the French Veronique betrays her vocation and chooses a quiet, satisfied life. Veronique is thus melancholic and reflective, in contrast to Weronika’s direct enthusiasm for the Cause; to put it in Friedrich Schiller’s terms, she is sentimental, in contrast to Weronika’s naivete.

So in The Double Life of Veronique, perhaps, we are not dealing with the “mystery” of the communication between two Veroniques but with one and the same Veronique who travels back and forth in time. In these terms, the key scene in the film is the near encounter of the two Veroniques in the large square in Krakow, where a Solidarity demonstration is taking place. This episode is rendered in a vertiginous circular shot reminiscent of the famous 360-degree shot from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Afterward, when the French Veronique is introduced, we can understand Polish Weronika’s perplexity as arising from an obscure awareness that she was about to have an impossible encounter with her double. The camera’s circular movement, then, can be read as signaling the danger of the “end of the world,” like the standard scene from science-fiction films about alternative realities, in which the passage from one to another universe takes the shape of a terrifying primordial vortex threatening to swallow all consistent reality.

After her puppeteer lover stages for her the (unconscious) choice that structured her life, in the guise of the two marionettes. So what is Veronique retreating from when she abandons her lover? She perceives this staging of her ultimate, unbearable FREEDOM. In other words, what is so traumatic for her in the puppeteer’s performance is not that she sees herself reduced to a puppet whose strings are pulled by the hidden hand of Destiny but that she is confronted with the fundamental unconscious choice by means of which every one of us has to choose her or his existential project. Her escape from the puppeteer, back to the safe haven under the wings of her father, is her escape from freedom.

- Slavoj Zizek, "The Forced Choice of Freedom," essay from The Double Life of Veronique Criterion Collection DVD booklet

Friday, February 22, 2008

Today's Ice Sculptures

artworks in my backyard from today's freezing rain!!

Jamaican Hummingbirds

One of our Caribbean cruise stops was Montego Bay, the second largest city in Jamaica. Jamaica was among my dream destinations mainly because of reggae. But this short visit didn’t give me the opportunity to explore the music, except the Bob Marley songs played by our tour guide on the bus.

Compared to most Cribbean islands which are flat, the mountainous topography makes Jamaica especially beautiful. With its lushly covered mountains and waterfalls, it reminds me a lot of Hawaii. Besides the gorgeous natural beauty, my unexpected amazing experience was feeding hummingbirds at Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, established by nature-lover Lisa Salmon in 1954 and was opened to the public 8 years later.

This place is located in the secluded hills of Anchovy, overlooking Montego Bay. The courtyard is just a mini emerald city, where time slows down for a deep breath. We sat there holding honey-water bottles the caretaker gave us, waiting for the beautiful creatures to come. A few minutes later, they started gathering. The moment the first brave hummingbird stood on my finger sucking the honey-water, I held my breath.

I only sighted female ruby-throated hummingbirds occasionally in my backyard before, but nothing compared to the hummingbirds here at Rocklands. Jamaican Streamertail (Red-billed Streamertail) is the most widespread hummingbird in Jamaica, also Jamaica’s national bird. The fluorescent green colors on their bodies are just as vibrant as the surrounding tropical leaves under the sunlight. The males have the longest tails of all hummingbirds, extremely elegant. Jamaican Mango is another common species in Jamaica with purple red heads. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery five minutes after we arrived at Rocklands, so most pictures here are from low-resolution video captures.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Casting: 1 in 2 or 2 in 1?

Talking about casting, we are quite familiar with the situation of 1 in 2, that is, one actor playing two (or more) characters in a movie. However, the reverse situation 2 in 1 (two or more actors playing one character) seems rather unfamiliar to us. I think the reason lies in our approval of the unique identity of each individual. Thus any multi-representation of one individual can be confusing.

When watching Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (2007) three months ago, I thought to myself: wow, it’s so original by having six actors including a female to play Bob Dylan but all with different names. This unconventional story-telling technique is well justified by Dylan’s disconnected stages of life and constantly changing inner state. Compared with a literally realistic biography, this seemingly chaotic and f
ragmented portrait of Dylan is even more powerful and comprehensive.

Two days ago I watched Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) and realized this 2 in 1 casting was already exercised 30 years before Todd Haynes. In this Buñuel film, two actresses played the same character Conchita in alternate appearances. According to an interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere on Criterion DVD, Buñuel had this idea before shooting the movie, but gave it up when he really started. Yet the performance of one actress didn’t satisfy him, he finally went back to his original idea of using two actresses. As a result, Conchita’s capricious and obscure attitude and behavior is more effectively captured. I also get the sense that conceptually Conchita is not real, she only exists as a projection of the male character’s desire which is obscure in itself.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Big Animal

The Big Animal (Duze Zwierze) is a modest and witty Polish film directed by Jerzy Stuhr, from a script written by Krzysztof Kieslowski. The little story goes like this - One night a camel miraculously appears in a couple’s front year and then becomes their beloved pet. However, this big animal is seen differently by people in town as a dangerous beast, a fancy attraction, a means for making money…The couple start getting all kinds of pressures from their community and town government, until the camel disappears one night. Missing their friend, the couple take the train to Warsaw zoo to see camels. In the final shot, they are smiling at three beautiful creatures who return sweet kisses on a peaceful snowy winter day.

Kieslowski created a fable criticizing not only the Polish society but also society and humanity in general. The camel exists as a mirror: as we look into this “monstrous” beast, what we really see is the very monster inside man: society’s intolerance on anything alien, as well as man’s greed to exploit animals in every possible way. This perspective recalls Robert Bresson’s masterpiece Au hasard Balthazar which observes human conditions through the tragic life and death of a donkey. Lynch’s The Elephant Man is an extreme case examining society’s level of intolerance.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Mouse Year!

Chinese new year is around the corner. I realized I've spent 8 new years in a row in US, really miss the holiday atmosphere in Beijing! Since mouse appears first among the 12 zodiac animals, a whole new cycle will soon begin!

Although in real life mice/rats have been strongly repelled by human, they are usually the shining stars in cartoons and animations. Let's take a look -

Mickey Mouse as Disney icon

the genius mouse chef in Ratatouille

cutie Jerry in Tom & Jerry, the never-ending story between Cat and Mouse

Mouse becomes an adorable pet in Stuart Little

Mouse even made it to the Mars in this German cartoon

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sisyphus in Superbowl Ad

I had two surprises from last night's superbowl. The first was definitely Giants' victory over Patriots, the second wild card to win a Superbowl. The other surprise was to see Marcell Jankovics' terrific animation Sisyphus (see below) in GMC Yukon hybrid ad, the first time I saw a serious art being used for TV commercial. The ironic part is that: since the story of Sisyphus refers to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding, does it suggest the effort of making SUV a green vehicle is pointless and unrewarding?