January 12th, 2003


Films, films and films

So, yesterday I went to see The Gangs of New York.

I desperately want to tell you how it was an absolutely fantastic experience, a masterpiece and one of the finest films of all time.

Sadly I can't.

At its best it certainly is all of those things. It's recreation of the times is fantastic (Heron, if you're looking for the 'violence is wrong and just begets more violence' film, then this is probably it), the action scenes are amazing, the dialogue is good and generally it works. Sadly, the characters don't really feel deep enough. Both Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day Lewis get scenes where you find out what their ambitions/dreams are, which define them brilliantly. but outside of those points they never really seem to develop).

Also, the editing felt a little uneven in a few instances - nothing too bad, it just felt slightly jumpy 2 or 3 times, as if they'd had to rush the film out and not finish working on it properly.

However, it's still an amazing piece of work. Leaving outside the climactic riots/battle scene, the one that stands out in particular was a fantastic single shot which starts with Irish workers coming off of the boats, being told "This piece of paper makes you a citizen, this one makes you a solider in the union army", being handed uniforms and equipment, saying goodbye to their loved ones and being marched onto another boat from which the coffins of dead soldiers are being removed.

Go see it, you won't be dissapointed.

Today I went to see The Good Girl. In which Jennifer Aniston's cosmetic counter assistant realises that her life is one long dead end, meets a Catcher in the Rye obsessed Jake "Donnie Darko" Glyllenhall, has an affair, loses control of her life and has to live with the consequences. Despite being only an hour and a half long, it felt longer, but not in a bad way. Most of the character development happens inside Jennifer's head, being apparent only through her actions rather than exposition (she really doesn't have anyone to exposite too except the audience (who get a couple of voice-overs). Recommended, providing you like independent movies that don't promise happy endings for anyone. The ending, if anything, reminded me of the ending of Monster's Ball.

Pushing Buttons

Following on from the "Amused to Death" reference a few days ago, more thoughts.

Erin told me today that I was great at "pushing her buttons". This is a fantastic metaphor. I believe that we have certain instincts/needs/primal neural clusters/whatever inside our brains. If you like computer metaphors (and I do), you can think of them as buttons that we like to have pressed. These buttons have evolved to make us want to carry out certain actions that tend to lead to genetic propagation. However, genetics being somewhat slower than culture, they lag a long, long way behind the methods we've found to subvert them.

So, for instance, you can take the 'sex' button. We like sex (anyone who doesn't is excused, except nICk, for whom there is no excuse) at a very deep primal level. If you ask someone why they like sex, there's no rational answer. It's not predicated on any other need or want, it's a need/want in itself (unlike, say, programming, which I enjoy for the sense of satisfaction I get from making something do what I want it to and the reduction of stress inherent in exerting some control over my environment). So, anyway, it's a primary level want, an actual button in your head, waiting to be pressed. Now, it's there because sex means spreading your genes. However, your genes aren't expecting masturbation. Masturbation presses your sex button, making your primal sex urge think "Hey, we got laid, release the endorphins!". It doesn't do a terrific job, because people would still rather have sex than masturbate, but as an approximation it's not bad.

Now, other buttons include fighting (for most men and some women, anyway). The reason I like picking up a machine gun and blowing holes in some other Counterstrike player is because it presses the "You have just committed violence against some other person and shown your dominance and mastery" button. Not only that, but it does it without any risk to me and with the added advantage that I can press the button many times an hour, don't get blood all over the carpet and don't feel bad for actually killing someone. Obviously it doesn't do it to the same extent that actual violence does, but the compromise is worthwhile. Some other people find the compromise of Laser-tag better, others prefer Paintball. Any way round, we're pressing that button to some extent, while making compromises to prevent actual damage to ourselves.

Another way to press that button is through films, books and tv. These are all methods for pressing our buttons (of various kinds) based around the fact that the human mind can take in stories and evoke feelings because of them. This (and here we step into blue sky theorising) is probably because feeling emotions when you're told emotional things is probably a good way of reinforcing the messages in the stories. Any way round, our imaginations allow us to press our buttons with complete safety. I can watch James Bond and enjoy the vicarious thrill of his car chases, killings and seductions.

I suspect the reason that books are a less common form of entertainment than (say) films or tv is that they are more abstract, requiring more internal processing in order to produce the internal effect. TV is easier, film is the easiest as you are captive and they have total control over the environment allowing them to surround you with sound and buffet you with vision.

Anyway, my overall point is that people obviously want to have (sombunall) their buttons pressed. They will pay handsomely for it. It is in the interest of those that want to make money to find better and better ways of pushing our buttons. Certain things have been known to bypass the external input model and go straight to direct button pushing (amphetamines and cocaine push one button, for instance, ecstacy pushes another) and when it becomes too cheap to push your buttons, so that you can opt out of society and keep yourself in a constantly pressed state then it threatens the very fabric of society and governments tend to step in.

The question is, how good or bad a thing is this? Are you happy to be a consumer, paying to have your buttons pressed? Is there any escape from this by producing rather than consuming, as (for instance) writing novels merely presses a different button? Is there any greater merit in pressing your buttons from a distance (playing a computer game to press your 'success' button rather than sticking an electrode into your brain and pressing it directly)?

I don't have answers to these questions, but they bother me occasionally. I can't see any end to the quest to make things simpler and easier for ourselves, to press our buttons more easily and cheaply. And the endpoint I see, if you stretch this as far as possible, is a person living in a state of permanent stimulation, plugging themselves into the 'fun machine' which then keeps safely, hygenically and exactly in a state of contented blissfull orgasmic happiness until their money runs out and they have to unplug themselves to go to work.
  • Current Music
    Wise Up - Aimee Mann

(no subject)

Spent a fun 20 minutes playing with LJ colour settings for Erin, who is now next door writing up her review of a Strauss concert she went to this afternoon (which I spent happily chatting to Gina about Quantum Physics and Bulimia).

No, I have no idea why she likes purple either.