Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why music videos are great, or: Gwen Stefani’s What You Waiting For?

Remember the days when the media liked to predict that Gwen Stefani would be the next Madonna? Well, they were wrong, someone else took that spot. But actually, Mrs. Stefani seemed to be embarking on an extraordinary solo-career. Now, we are all just waiting for her to finally release the next No Doubt album that we’ve been promised. But let’s not be too dismissive and take a look at what “started” her solo-career: The brilliant video for What You Waiting For?, the lead-single of her “Love.Angel.Music.Baby” (yes, barf) album. My top 5 resons for loving this video after the clip.

#1 The Song.
Obviously. Or not so much? Gwen Stefani is a peculiar case, especially considering her solo career. Peculiar, because I really want to like what she does, but with her two solo-albums only the lead-singles blew me away. What you Waiting for? is an amazing unapologetic pop-gem, but the rest of the singles and the album were kinda blah IMHO. And the same goes for her sophomore album. Wind it up was an awesome lead-single, but everything afterwards just disappointed me. Well, at least there are the lead-singles, right?
Oh, and referring to yourself as a stupid ho is always a plus in my book, even if you, dear reader, cannot hear it, cause I could only find a clean version of the vid. Sorriez.

#2 The Extended Version.
Oh, isn’t it just nice to see artists caring about their music videos? And then actually making a short movie out of it? I love the narrative spin on the video with the extended version, where she not only comments on the theme of the song herself (getting her career started….or is it really about having children? Ha!), but where she sets up the whole fantasy-journey that happens in the “actual” music video. And I just love how “let’s get straight to business” the two women working in the writer’s block clinic or whatever are. Major props also to how many of the situations feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable and how Gwen Stefani totally looks like Courtney Love when she’s in the water.
Please pay particular attention to the questionnaire!

#3 Alice in Wonderland.
Do you remember the Alice in Wonderland version by Tim Burton? Well, when I first heard about him doing the movie I was hoping for visuals like that. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I thought the visuals were horrible, too dark (as in: not visible) most of the time, and really overall just uninspired. This video on the other hand: crisp clear, stunning and still trippy enough to make you follow the rabbit. Even if he’s real tiny and pink. Couldn’t the Tim Burton thing be a little more like Gwen’s video? Time travellers: pretty please?

#4 The Costumes.
Part of why the visuals are so amazing is because the outfits in What You Waiting For? are. Gwen Stefani has been labelled style-icon so many times it makes me wanna puke, and really, most of the time she doesn’t strike me as particularly cutting edge, but in this very video her passion for fashion and the Alice in Wonderland narrative blend together extremely well. John Galliano, though. Ugh, I know.
And then some extra special points for her studio outfit with that yellow top, cause that is really beautiful, though non-Alice related.
(And yes: major props to the make-up department as well!)

#5 The Randomness.
The sheer randomness of the concept of Alice in Wonderland. How exactly does it relate to the song? Apparently not at all. Of course we could go into a whole discussion of how the Alice theme of growing up and leaving childhood fantasies behind relates to Gwen “graduating” to a solo-artist with a respectable career, but I leave it to you to write the essay on that.

And because we like it so much, here is some further insight into the making of this video:


Drooling over Mr. Shabba’s Classic Sci-Fi Film Posters

Oh, you wonder what plans I have for the weekend?
Go out and party? Hit the flea-markets? Relax and read a book?
There is only one concrete goal I know I’ll pursue these next two days: Get my hands on a print of the amazingly awesome Alien film-poster designed by Mr. Shabba. Why? Have a look for yourself:

Seriously, I need this. Put it over my couch, my bed, frame it for the bathroom, you name it. This is so ridiculously rad, I’m gonna have to kill myself. Or basically really just order it online.
If Alien is not your thing (it certainly is mine and I profess my love HERE), but you’re still nurturing a little Sci-Fi geek inside your soul, you got a few more choices. 2001: A Space Odyssey, E.T., Terminator, and Blade Runner are also available from his re-design collection.

all posters (c) Mr. Shabba, you can visit his online Shop by clicking HERE

Out of the rest I like the Blade Runner movie poster the best, but that’s probably due to the fact that I also really enjoyed the movie. Though I liked E.T. as a kid, and I think the first Terminator is pretty neat. So basically, despite the undeniable favoritism regarding Alien, I love the Alien poster most because the design is so gorgeously wicked!
What’s your favorite?


I’m a white man. You might go: Why the hell you keep repeating that shit like there’s relevance to it? I keep repeating it because there is of course major relevance to it. It means that there a numerous forms of psychological (and physical) oppression that I am not subject to. On the contrary, my presence might perpetuate them. The visibility of my socially categorised skin-color and gender perpetually places me in a position of privilege and saves me from harrassment that many other people have to endure.
I am rarely confronted negatively on the basis of the color of my skin or of the texture of my hair. That is not to say I am not confronted at all. Cause I am. Thinking about it, it really stuns me, how often people comment specifically on my hair. It is blonde, but to be honest, I dye it. Nevertheless, so many people tell me how the first thing they remember about me, is my hair-color. Or how they like my hair color. How my hair color matches the color of my beard. And I could go on. Issues of appearance are incredibly dominant in all our lives.

This following documentary (duration 20:10) by Nayani Thiyagarajah, Brian Han, Leanne McAdams, Derek Rider, and Vanessa Rodrigues is a beautiful reminder of the impact that skin-color has for people all over the world. It is an ambitious and succesfull attempt of taking a look at how people of color have to deal with the issue of “fairness” culturally and socially placed above “darkness” in not only the Global North.
This documentary short is an introduction to the issue of shadeism, the discrimination that exists between the lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members of the same community. This documentary short looks specifically at how it affects young womyn within the African, Caribbean, and South Asian diasporas. Through the eyes and words of 5 young womyn and 1 little girl – all females of colour – the film takes us into the thoughts and experiences of each. Overall, ‘Shadeism’ explores where shadeism comes from, how it directly affects us as womyn of colour, and ultimately, begins to explore how we can move forward through dialogue and discussion.”

You can get to teh shadeism vimeo profile by clicking HERE.

I am looking forward to another documentary scheduled to debut later this year at the International Black Film Festival in Nashville named “Dark Girls”. It discusses the same issue with a slightly different take and it looks like they are documenting the more brutal aspects of the issue of shadeism and its relation to racism as well. You can watch the trailer (duration 9:22) below.

My word for Word for World is Forest is not forest

I have already established elsewhere (well, HERE) that Ursula K. Le Guin is god, for a variety of reasons. Now, since she is not the Christian god or any of that shit she is not by definition infallible. Which is on the one hand a good thing, cause how could you argue against an author and one of her works if she’d be an infallible god? On the other hand it’s not such a good thing, because it means that UKLG’s works can also sometimes be less than stellarly awesome (gasp! I know…). And as of right now, I’d like to discuss one of those less than stellarly awesome works of hers: The Word for World is Forest.


So, long before that obscure Avatar rip-off Le Guin came up with the idea of a very forest-y planet herself, one that is inhabited by a humanoid species totally in tune with their environment and exploited by a humanoid species originating from our beloved planet Earth (sometimes also written Erth, at least in random Futurama episodes, but I digress (of course)). Those exploiting dudes are of course mainly the military types who do not favor communicating with the autochthonous population. respecting their wishes and livelihood. So yes, in principle, The Word for World is Forest presents the premise of the Avatar story, only that instead of some metal they need timber for Earth (cause there is none left) and the humanoids aren’t big blue cats, but little green-furred people who are absolutely non-violent. And there is no ridiculously unbelievable love-story. Ermh, well, not that kind, at least.


So, to get the shiz right out of the way, I should clarify why I think that this novella (novel, novelette, you choose it…though this story set in her Hainish universe won the HUGO Award for best novella in 1974) is sub-par compared to Le Guin’s other works. The primary reason being: it’s heavy-handed. It is well written, beautiful prose, there are interesting ideas, it is a fairly complex set-up, but it is nevertheless heavy-handed. And what makes Le Guin so awesome to read usually is her general un-heavy-handed-ness. So, there.
Every moral tale could of course be accused of heavy-handed-ness. But if your main antagonist (Davidson in this case) is so clearly a dumb-ass villain who does not listen to others and therefore wreaks havoc upon everyone’s heads and asses and ultimately upon himself, the moral tale becomes a little stale. The military dudes are asses, those who work with them might not be, but are corrupted by the structures, and the autochthonous population living in harmony with their environment (comprised mainly of forest, which is why their word for their world is the same as the word for forest) is totally super-awesome. That doesn’t read like complex characterisations and innovative storytelling precisely because it isn’t. And even though I wasn’t born in 1972 when the thing was published my guess is that even then a plot-progression of that kind felt like old news (despite then being a very current comment on the war in Vietnam). Oh, Ursula.


Well, mostly “Oh, Ursula” because Le Guin is such a terrific writer. And since she is, she can’t help but bring glimpses of awesome even in moments of mediocrity.
The biggest piece of awesome in this novel is of course the Athsheanean society. Not only because they look distinctly different from humanoids such as us since they are smaller and have green fur all over, but also because Le Guin, with a few well placed strokes, creates the impression of a fully formed society with very distinct patterns of human interaction. Not only are they non-violent in the sense of they don’t kill each other, but they have established a social system that channels anger, envy, and the like into singing contests and permits a maximum of physical interaction that is not sexually charged and thus not avoided but embraced as a means of communication. Furthermore Le Guin tries to establish interesting ideas on gender roles without hammering home a female utopia void of realistic inequalities and imbalances. She writes about a political system that is highly decentralized and offers most of the organizational power within the social structures to the women in society. However, Athshean men still have their Men’s Lodges, and since it’s them who claim to be the great philosophers (and Dreamers) of Athsheanean society, androcentric structures that favour male dominance are still discernible, even if decidedly less pronounced than in our society, but therefore still relatable to readers of our day and age who encounter androcentric structures and sexist practices on a daily basis.

(c) Eileen Gunn, via

Then there is another thing I think is awesome about The Word for World is Forest, even though this is precisely why I am conflicted about it. Captain Davidson and his portrayal are on the one hand extremely stereotypical and his single-mindedness and unwillingness to question himself are a tad too convenient for getting across The Message. On the other it is an interesting instance of an author trying to create a character and his mindset in a way that helps us (who do not think like that) to understand or at least get and idea of why he does the things he does.
And she draws the character well. The more time we spend in his head, the more we realise how little his own inconsistencies and incongruence can become apparent to himself, since he subscribed to such an extreme method of compartmentalization, that basically everything relates back to him accepting things because he thinks of them as god-given (or rather genetetically pre-set) and therefore unchangeable. That he changes his own rules set up for others all the time cannot bother him, because he cannot see it. Athsheans are horrible because they do not adhere to Terra human rules, and Terra human rules are awesome because they are so functional, but he has to break Terra human rules in order to work for the greater good, otherwise Athsheans would break Terra human rules… etc. It’s a fascinating read to follow the circular (non-) logic of Captain Davidson and a successful undertaking in my opinion, however, I’m just not sure that that’s the way it is. As with the general plot heavy-handed-ness, this characterisation works well in terms of making it easier for me as a liberal (in the socio-political sense) reader to get an idea of why he does what he does and it resonates with stuff I’ve read and heard about extremists and terrorists and dictators and other shitheads in how they structure their worldview and justify what they do by applying standards they deny others. But exactly because it reads so well and seems a reasonable enough explanation it feels a little false, because if another liberal writes a character like that and liberal me reads it and finds it plausible, the real conservative wacko-mindset is totally out of the picture and only an imagined feature that bends to “our” liberal will. It’s kinda like saying “all homophobes are just closeted homosexuals” which seems to makes sense and sounds reassuring but which ultimately isn’t true (I think) and just picks out the general idea of homophobes having issues with sexuality (either other people’s and/or their own) and exaggerates that point. It makes for a neat little explanation from an outside point of view, but it nevertheless is just that, it never really amounts to the inside point of view.


But there is the dilemma: I probably wouldn’t read and love Le Guin if she was some conservative dumbfuck (and if you are a conservative reading this, please reconsider your political stance before asking me to reconsider my statement) and actually thought like that. It might still just be the same. But because she is exactly not that I recognize that she sets out to make sense of the actions of people whose actions actually don’t make much sense. I applaud that, but at the same time it creates this disbelief-gap for me, cause I know she doesn’t think like that, and reading the thought of such a character knowing she doesn’t think like that makes me question the overall plausibility of that characterisation. And all of that is of course true for basically ever yother character in every other novel, however, since we are struggling with the issue of heavy-handed-ness of this highly moralistic tale this conservative-wacko-inside-view feels forced and cheap (and too convenient), despite its efforts and even despite is actual probability.

In conclusion I can just repeat that this is definitely not Ursula K. Le Guin’s strongest work. However, it is Le Guin, so it is still strong work compared to basically everything else. Ergo: Go read it!

One post to bind them all: Revisiting The Fellowship of the Ring

Ah, Lord of the Rings. So much has already been said about it, what could I possibly add? Hah! Never think I will not come up with an excuse. In this case: LOTR TFOTR. Cause, please, beginnings, dude_ette, everybody loves beginnings! It’s just that in the case of Lord of the Rings people are all like: uuh, Rohan, and uuh, Aragorn becomes king, and hell yeah, 2 and 3 made a shitload more money than the first movie (in case you wondered: this is going to be about the movie), yadda yadda alla that. But me sez: hell to the no, Fellowship of the Ring all the way! Gee, I distinctly remember seeing the trailer with my best pal Janine and we were all giddy with excitement, and then the feeling of deep-rooted content and happiness leaving the theater, just having seen this beautiful piece of movie art. It was heaven!


I’ve probably watched The Fellowship of the Ring about 25 to 30 times by now. I bought the expensive box set the day it hit the stores, for whatever reason. And I guess I just can’t really remember because the later instalments have thoroughly disappointed me and my LOTR enthusiasm that I’m still surprised by how much love I have for TFOTR every time I see it. So let us have a look at the YEAHs!, the BLAHs…., and the ARGHs!!!

To approach this very scientific review from a technical rather than emotional side, I first have to give major shout-outs to the structure of the Fellowship of the Ring. I, for once, absolutely love the prologue and was really sad that we never got an epilogue at the end of Return of the King (as was promised in the TFOTR audio-commentary by Peter Jackson and pals on the DVD). I’ve seen a lot of people hating on it, but I love the overall feel of it and since I was a total LOTR newbie at the time the first movie hit German theaters, I felt thoroughly introduced to the concept of The Ring and the conflict that awaits us. But of course it’s not just the epic yet concise prologue, it is also the warm beginning in the Shire, where every human being in their right mind would want to live anyways (yeah, I just wrote that) and a lot of the credit has to be given to the adventuresque tour-de-force of the whole first movie. Basically we’re moving from expositiony intro to place A, run to place B, stop shortly at place C, solve a riddle at place D, escape to place E…. you get the idea. And it serves the movie tremendously, because, as IMHO the latter movies show, the characters and their relationships alone are too cookie cutter and stereotypical to carry plot and story. But since they’re all running all the time, this problem never really shows in TFOTR. Phew! I am also very happy about the decision to put Boromir’s death in the first part (can you imagine dragging that over into the second one?) and the ending that splits up the fellowship and creates the constellations that are so important for what happens afterwards.


Following closely on the heels of overall structure is the pacing of the movie, which I think is fantastic, since I never get the sense that we linger too long at one particular point either in the story or on the map. There are a few moments of rest, and they are of course needed, but all in all this movie moves forward and gets us through the events without ever leaving me feeling: bwrah, another shot of XY and when do they finally leave this place Z?

So I give major credit to the pacing for enhancing the illusion of a vast world. Both structure and pacing create the sense of travelling through countries and landscapes, making the passage of time believable and bearable, which is a feature that the other two movies do not accomplish. They are plagued by having to move the Rohans to Helm’s Deep in ridiculous extras-stolling-the-plains-shots or by Aragorn meeting the ghost-army of neon-green ants in his little detour, both instances that feel strangely disconnected to the overall passage of time and distance in relation to other events. Once again, the structure is a major factor in that, especially when it comes to characters, because TFOTR admittedly has it easier in that it has all the main characters assembled and move together through Middle Earth, while part 2 and 3 have to jump back and forth between stuff happening at a variety of places. By picking up a few characters here and there or meeting important ones in places passed, the first one succeeds in introducing it’s sequence of locations and ground it in the narrative through the people we meet there and the things we learn.


One of those instances is the whole segment taking place in and around Moria, where we solve a little riddle, fight a lake-monster, find out about the annihilation of a whole city of dwarves, meet Gollum and learn a little tinsy tiny bit about him, meet some Orks face to face and see Gandalf battling (and apparently losing to) the Balrog. While it is one unit in the film’s structure, there is a broad variety within it, it keeps moving and it excites me, even the admittedly sort of ridiculous scene on the staircase of horrors.

But the crowning jewel of all of that is, of course, Lothlorien. Awww, Lothlorien, how I love thee! Seriously, the forest is beautiful and it helps that they are major art-deco fans there, those elves, cause I’m a big fan of art-deco designs as well. But Lothlorien would only be half the fun without Galadriel, and yeah I better admit it now: I’m a huge Galadriel fan. I love the hilarious irrelevance of Celeborn (he gets a pompous intro just to be of no importance whatsoever), but I love the test that the Ring represents for Galadriel, and I love that she passes it. Since we’re in confession mode already, I got to say that the major fascination of Lord of the Rings for me lies in the power of the Ring itself. The notion that it is a tiny object with an own will that it can force upon those who possess it and turn them into its evil servants fascinates me, for it is somewhat of a metaphor for real-life concepts of evil doings in order to get either things or power. And it is of course particularly interesting to see characters being able to withstand that power. It is fascinating when Gandalf does, when Sam does, when Frodo ultimately fails, but what makes the moment with Galadriel so impressive for me is that she is this thousand year old super-wise being who already possesses a Ring of power and yet has to admit that she is tempted deeply and has to muster up all her courage and strength in order to withstand the power of the Ring. That of course makes it all the more gratifying that she actually succeeds in resisting.
All character-strength aside, I love how she seems to be this super-scary ice-queen bitch when she talks to Frodo at night, but then again seems to be mother earth with golden smiles for everyone later on, especially in the deleted scenes on the DVD, which features some more art-deco goodness to salivate on. Oh, and did I mention: Cate Blanchett. ‘Nuff said.


Loving the power of the Ring so much, I have to mention Tom Bombadil of course. I only read the novels after seeing Fellowship of the Ring, so at the time I fell in love with it, I didn’t even know about Tom Bombadil’s existence. Having found out about it, I was sad to see him cut, cause I loved the scene in the book and of course the mystery he represents. Who is he, that he can easily resist the powers of the Ring? But I’m not super-sad, and I guess it’s rather just a BLAH than an ARGH because I’ve seen TFOTR before reading the book, so: lucky me!

And all the raving about Galadriel aside: While I really enjoyed her little power-rant the first time around, I can’t watch the scene anymore without grinning sheepishly at the tacky special effects employed there. They are really kinda ridiculous.


The Uruk-Hai. Not only do they kinda suck in their crawling-out-the-mud-and-kill-the-Orks introduction (cause it’s ridiculous…”yeah, we’re born evil!”) but my oh my, those racist underpinnings. Let’s just revisit: The wise-beings who everybody loves and wants to be are tall, blond, white elves. The super-evil killer-creatures that everyone fears and does not want to get in contact with are built, black, and have dreadlocks. Ermh, yeah, what could possibly be wrong with that depiction? It perpetuates racialized stereotypes even further and acts all so what, how could that be a problem? AAAAARRRRGHHHH!! Really, I love TFOTR, but I’d love it even more if we had black elves with dreadlocks and the Viggo Mortensens and Sean Beans of this world as evil Uruk-hai. Dear everyone involved in the making of these movies: That is one horribly racist misstep that was really unnecessary.


Not to excuse the racist undertones of the movies, but the problem lies of course first and foremost with the books themselves. Middle Earth is not only highly racialized with its distinct categories of elves, humans, hobbits, dwarves, orks and whatnots, but it is also super-racist, cause the tall, blond, white guys are all super and yay, while all those who are smaller, darker, and supposedly uglier are stupid and of course evil. Yuck at that message. And the movie obviously never has any hint of intention to question that, celebrating their Orks as highly inefficient inter-racial (or even sub-racial?) beings (cause yeah, “mixing races” seems to be a horrible thing …*headdesk*) who are not only to be considered ugly but are also of course very stupid. Oh my. Don’t you also wish to just see the whole story retold from an Ork perspective? A la: The Great Story of Suffering of the People of Orkdom, or something? I sure would.

I could write a whole paragraph about the sexist structure of both LOTR books and movies. But I won’t go there now. It is there and I see it and I just do not want to discuss it right here. Apologeeeeez!

One minor issue that bugs me thoroughly (I mentioned it in my The Last Unicorn review) is the scene where Gandalf says to Frodo in Rivendell: “It’s October.” Red Zombie Rage! Srsly, elves and shit, outrageous places and the invention of new languages and then I’m supposed to believe that they just happen to use the same calendar as ours? With the same names for months? Every time people come with the “Tolkien’s worldbuilding is the most comprehensive and most impressive” argument I just roll my eyes because of this. October! What the hell?


Altogether, The Fellowship of the Ring is a movie that is firmly seated in the top 10 of my all-time favorite movies. There is a lot of goodness, but there is also enragingly stupid wrongness, and I guess my ongoing appreciation is less due to the fact that there are some great visuals and nice moments, but because as a movie it offers itself to closer scrutiny and fruitful critical readings. I can see that there are things wrong with it, but I can also say why and I can relate it to other issues of the movie and at the same time debate it in a wider cultural context. And yes, I think that is even more gratifying than sitting there being entertained and excited while gobbling down popcorn and hoping for Arwen to dump Aragorn’s stupid ass. So yay for cinematic criticism!

Yep, you better watch it!