Wednesday, April 21, 2010


A.K.A Last Subculture and Cinephilia and Spec article EVER!

For some hip students, love affair with irony extends to film

Columbians' affection for irony involves more than just T-shirt slogans.

Published April 20, 2010

Two actors perform a scene from the film “Action World,” a humorous pseudo-action movie that recently took top honors at CUNUFF.

Courtesy of CUNUFF

It’s not very hard to figure out what young people like to watch, but it’s a little more difficult to understand why. This column has tried to explore cultural phenomena like children’s film, “Where the Wild Things Are,” Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, and Landmark Theatres in order to understand what makes them appealing to the young, hip, urban generation. But one extremely important category has been left out: what films young people love to make.

The past two weeks offered numerous opportunities on campus to view films made by undergraduates, including the annual CUNUFF and CUFP festivals. CUNUFF brought in films made by undergraduates across the United States from campuses as diverse as Northwestern, Emerson, and Oberlin. The films shown at the CUFP festival, on the other hand, were made by Columbia’s own students. To anyone who attended both festivals, a trend was apparent in almost every film, especially the ones that were most well-received: the use of irony.

Irony as a concept is familiar to the young, urban population. The ‘noughties’ have seen so much irony incorporated into music, literature, and especially fashion that it almost seems cliché to discuss it: ironic facial hair, ironic trucker hats, ironic mullets, ironic t-shirts. But what about film? In the realm of Hollywood, film has perhaps remained the last bastion of sincerity, with the possible exception of 2006’s “Borat.” Dramas remain dramas, romantic comedies remain romantic comedies. Not so, however, in undergraduate productions, where the best films undoubtedly contain elements of irony. After all, how serious can a film made by 20-year-olds really be?

At CUNUFF, the winner of both “best directed” and “best picture” was the most ironic film of all: the Rambo-meets-Matrix-meets-Austin Powers action spoof “Action World,” which used self-consciously bad acting and a hilarious number of extraneous special effects in order to poke fun at the action film genre (however, the directors themselves—Aaron Fronk, Vince DeGaetano, and Cooper Johnson of Columbia College in Chicago—still claim sincere love for Sylvester Stallone movies).

Victor Suarez, CC ’11, also presented an ironic film worthy of mention, the absurd and oddly funny “Garbage Day!” whose tagline is “Dinner date gone awry!” Awry indeed—in the few minutes of the short film, Suarez toys with violence, murder, and suicide attempts and somehow manages to make drama uproariously funny. Suarez is the only director with a film in both CUNUFF and CUFP (which included his beautifully-shot music video, “Doctor, Doctor”).

“Something that I’ve learned from making shorts is to stay away from drama,” Suarez said when asked about the use of irony in his film. “At least for me, it’s very hard to write a serious short without it ending up pretentious. ... I’ve only seen maybe one or two strictly dramatic shorts that were successful. For me, at this point, the only way I can really communicate a short form story is by poking fun at it.”

Wise words for an undergraduate. Irony lets the filmmaker momentarily knock down the ivory tower, allowing young directors like Suarez the ability to experiment with film while remaining self-aware. There is a reason most dramas made by undergraduates appear unconvincing—filmmaking takes experience, and crafting a believable drama is more difficult than most people assume.

Of course, irony, especially as a comedic element, is also an enormous crowd-pleaser. “I use irony, I guess, because it’s the best method I know that gives laughs without sacrificing a story,” Suarez said. “With drama it’s hard to know if your movie connected with the audience. With comedy you know right away. If you hear them laughing, they bought the story, too... well, maybe.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Music about Monsters

What better way to procrastinate than making a top 10 list?

(inspired by the last few years' trend to make constant references to zombies, werewolves, and vampires in absolutely every form of media available)


1. Michael Jackson- Thriller
(always the best)

2. Cranberries- Zombie

3. Metric- Help I'm Alive


4. Shakira- She-Wolf
(currently playing on loop. Because it's damn addictive. Even if she's trying to be like Lady Gaga most of the time, at least in this music video)

5. TV on the Radio- Wolf Like Me

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Heads Will Roll


7. Deadmau5: Ghosts n' Stuff


8. RJD2- The Horror

9. Metric- Monster Hospital

10. Rihanna-Disturbia

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Music Humanities

I'm constantly in awe of the hilarious things I find in my Music Hum readings. Call me a nerd, but I absolutely have to share a few of these gems.

Response to Schoenberg's Five Pieces:

"The pieces have no program or poetic basis. We must be content with the composer's own assertion that he has depicted his own experiences, for which he has our heartfelt sympathy." --London Daily News, 4 Sept 1912

"The performance ended in a wild struggle in which blows were exchanged. It found its echo in the law courts, where a well-known operetta composer, called as a witness, said, "Well, I laughed myself, and why shouldn't one laugh at what is obviously funny?" And another, a practicing doctor, declared that the effect of the music was "for a certain section of the public, so nerve-wracking, and therefore so harmful for the nervous system, that many who were present already showed obvious signs of severe attacks of neurosis." --Nation, September 1912 (by Ernest Newman)

Response to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring:
"Three ladies sat in front of me and a young man occupied the place behind me. He stood up during the course of the ballet to enable himself to see more clearly. The intense excitement under which he was laboring, thanks to the potent force of the music, betrayed itself presently when he began to beat rhythmically on top of my heat with his fists. My emotion was so great that I did not feel the blows for some time. They were perfectly synchronized with the beat of the music. When I did, I turned around. His apology was sincere. We had both been carried beyond ourselves." --Carl Van Vechten
I love love love Stravinsky.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Information is beautiful

Getting a total kick out of this website:! Information really is a shocking, horrible, incredible, beautiful thing. Ok, being a little hyperbolic here, but it's pretty great!

Take, for example, this log of phrases on google that come up when you type "How do I get my girlfriend to..." Oh, gender relations. Most of them were to be expected but I couldn't help but get a tiny bit bleary-eyed over "trust me again" or "forgive me". Sociocultural gender normative roles are fun!

And HA. How... expected. For any boys out there looking to try internet dating, I highly recommend borrowing your buddy's golden retriever.

And ooooh, Beatles kaleidoscope. Makes me want to get out my Beatles records and see if I can recognize whatever the heck a diatonic scale sounds like. Help? Also I have to listen to Revolver again. That kaleidoscope/icon is particularly beautiful!

These were just the most "cutesy" ones I could find. Many are quite chilling. All beautiful!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I love literature/poetry with a hardboiled facade. Writers who drown their sorrows in whiskey like Hemingway, and then cry in their rooms when alone like Nick in "The Sun Also Rises". This is such an honest and multifaceted poem-- I adore it. In other news, getting two more poems published in the Spring 2010 Tablet! Although this is the third Tablet I'm published in, and so far they've only chosen my poems that have something to do with childhood and growing up in the Soviet Union. I think Tablet has Sovietophilia. Or maybe those are my only poems that are any good...


there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
--Charles Bukowski

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Charles Issawi

Currently: sitting in the yet-to-be-created Edward Said Reading Room in Butler Library, full of wonderful books that have been owned, consumed, devoured, dedicated to, and praised by Edward Said. In it I found this hilarious and pithy gem: a book of aphorisms and statements by Charles Issawi, who, according to the Great God Wikipedia, used to teach at Columbia. It's a wonderfully wise compilation of complete randomness, and I love it.

A few of my favorite aphorisms:

ON INTELLECTUALS: Intellectuals are the salt of the earth. But how unpleasant is the soup that is oversalted.

-If a people tie the hands of their government, it cannot serve them; if they do not, it uses its hands to pick their pockets and squeeze their throats.
-The tragedy of politics: If you live with pirates, you must behave like a pirate ("a corsaire, corsaire et demi"); but if you behave like a pirate, you end by becoming one yourself.
-One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs-- but it is amazing how many eggs one can break without making a decent omelette.

ON SOLVERS OF MIDDLE-EASTERN PROBLEMS: God sent Moses, and he couldn't fix it; he sent Jesus, and he couldn't fix it; he sent Muhammad, and he couldn't fix it. Do you think you can fix it?

ON POLITICAL ACTIVISTS: Those who have a satisfying life follow their own pursuits-- money-making, scholarship, art, love, sports, gardening, or stamp-collecting; those who do not, become political activists.

ON PREDICTION: If you predict the worst possible outcome of any situation, the probability of your being right is 0.9135.

ON REFORM: Most people do not go to the dentist until they have a toothache; most societies do not reform abuses until the victims begin to make life uncomfortable for others.

ON CYNICS: Cynics are right nine times out of ten; what undoes them is their belief that they are right ten times out of ten.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Landmark Cinemas

EDIT: According to a friend who manages a Landmark theatre, apparently Mark Cuban (Landmark C.E.O) found my article and liked it so much that he forwarded it to all Landmark staff around the country? I'm nothing if not flattered, but it's definitely a bit embarrassing. Also I suspect that I've subsequently been facebook de-friended by the kid that I mention reading Flannery O'Connor. Whoopsie daisies.


(Is it wrong to use one's own experience as the foundation of a newspaper article? I think not. They did manage to take out any reference to my having worked at the Landmark two summers. Taking creative liberties, Spec?)

Movie theater chain remains ‘Landmark’ of indie film scene

The Landmark Theatre group bridges the gap between the commercial AMC and the arthouse—it is currently the largest chain of movie theaters in the United States dedicated to exhibiting and marketing independent film.

Published April 6, 2010

All movie theaters are not created equal. New York in particular features a plethora of different movie houses, each with its own particular vibe, from Film Forum to the IFC Center. Of course, these idiosyncratic theaters tend to be New York-specific—most people spend years going to AMC after AMC, eating infinite quantities of overpriced stale popcorn. Experience has taught us that most good movies come in smaller packages, with long lines of ironic-mustachioed college students scattered somewhere along Houston Street. Finding a good movie in New York is never a problem, but try venturing on the other side of the Hudson.

There is perhaps one exception: Landmark theatres, a group of 55 theaters scattered around the United States. The Landmark Theatre group bridges the gap between the commercial AMC and the arthouse—it is currently the largest chain of movie theaters in the United States dedicated to exhibiting and marketing independent film.

The Sunshine, New York’s Landmark, is located on the Lower East Side and is so popular that the lines for its movies—almost always the top-rated films of the hour—stretch past the block. The Sunshine has proven to be one of the highest-grossing Landmark Theatres in the US.

Landmark theaters often have trouble competing with cinemas that exclusively play blockbusters—unless it’s Oscar season, Landmark theaters will rarely play films advertised on television.

Regardless of this difficulty, the company survives through the steadfast loyalty of its clientele, which largely consist of two stereotypes: middle-aged intellectuals and college-aged hipsters (the latter may complain of the lack of vegan popcorn and promptly be scoffed at).

In cities around the United States, and especially outside of New York, the local Landmark tends to be the most popular place to see independent films, often because it is the only place to do so. The Landmark is nothing if not idiosyncratic—each city’s particular cinema is decked in Art Deco décor, sells Magnolia Picture DVDs, and offers not only popcorn (with real butter) but vegan cookies. And, of course, there is the staff.

Most movie theaters are known to have a notoriously high turnover rate—these jobs tend to be easy to get, since employees quit and are hired left and right. Not so with Landmark, however.

Employees tend to be college-educated, intelligent film geeks who stay with the company for years … and years … and years. Applications to the job are usually laughed at and promptly discarded (mentioning “Avatar” in an entrance interview is not recommended). Most employees have been with the company for at least four or five years. And yes, often the employees tend to be of the skinny-panted variety.

This gives the Landmark a very peculiar vibe. The chain is as well-known for the hipster snark of its employees as for the supreme quality of its films. The kid ripping your tickets might be simultaneously reading Flannery O’Connor. The cinemaphile in the box office is most likely just as educated (and elitist) as the student moviegoer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

End of Hipsters?

Funny article from Salon about the End of Hipsters. Not really convinced that the age of hipsterdom is growing to a close... only that the movement has become less elitist and has a more pronounced range. Hippies didn't only live in San Francisco, did they? San Francisco was just the Mecca of Hippie. I guess Williamsburgh (and I'll also add the Lower East Side to this mix) is just the Mecca of Hipsterdom.

Then again, the article has a good point. There's nothing bitingly clever about calling someone a hipster anymore (not that there was anything particularly clever about it). Everyone in their lower 20's is a hipster to some extent if they're vaguely fashion-conscious.

Even better than that mediocre article is this hilarious photo spread from Paste magazine. Look how far they've gone! From skulls and eyeliner to headbands and iPhones. Of course it is all in good fun; I'm guilty of many of the things the spread mocks: wearing bandannas, keffiyehs (but NOT in the summer, thankyou), an obsession with vintage dresses, bikes, plaid shirts... but somehow I feel like I wear these things unironically. These are just the fashions of the times, I suppose.

In other news: getting a poem published in the Sand Canyon Review.
(let's hope this link doesn't get into the wrong hands...)