The Null Device

2003/11/18

I finally got around to seeing Kill Bill part 1 tonight. My thoughts:

  • It was spectacularly violent, as one would expect from Tarantino, The violence had an over-the-top quality about it, much like a Road Runner cartoon, only with blood everywhere. The blood flowed like water from a burst main, and I was expecting pretty much anybody who entered the screen to transition from person to blood-sack. The violence was quite stylishly done, often in the form of exquisitely choreographed martial-arts sequences, whose machinelike neatness would only be tempered by the spurting geysers of red, red krovvy that inevitably ensued.
  • It was also extremely stylised. The sets and costumes, the props (the Pussy Wagon, for example), the colours (the use of bright yellow, for example), the editing (there was a transition from colour to black and white in the middle which could only have been as a hip reference to a genre of martial-arts films), and of course Tarantino's trademarked banter.
  • Parts of it, of course, beggared plausibility; from Thurman's character having made a full recovery in the first place to the rather sporting one-at-a-time martial-arts sequences, where thugs would take turns to attack and be dispatched by our heroine, and would carry out elaborate little dances to themselves as they waited for their turn.
  • The incidental music was great; very atmospheric. I wonder how much of that was done by RZA and how much was borrowed from old film scores (as Tarantino admitted to doing).
  • The overall impression I got was of extreme coolness; not cool in the subjective this-is-good sense but coolness as an attitude, an objective stylistic feature: dry, wry, too-hip-to-care, and yet with layers of references and even more layers of callow, almost nihilistic ironic detachment.

All in all, I rather enjoyed it. Not the best film I'd ever seen, but a lot better than the overly long and laboured affair that was Jackie Brown.

(Talking point: Kill Bill is to hipsters what The Crow was to goths. Discuss.)

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Jimmy Cauty's follow-up to his Queen-in-a-gas-mask postage stamp: images of Big Ben exploding like the World Trade Center, labelled "5-11" after the date of Guy Fawkes' Day. The images have triggered widespread public outrage on behalf of 9/11 victims:

Gareth Glover, who helped set up the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund, told the Brighton Argus newspaper: "The images are very cheap and highly insensitive. In my opinion they should be treated with the contempt they deserve."

Cauty's defense is that the images are Tackling Uncomfortable Issues.

Mr Cauty said: "Any uncomfortable reaction to this new artwork may reflect the proximity of the subject. If Blacksmoke 5-11 depicted the government buildings in Baghdad or Kabul, would we pay attention? The war on terrorism starts here."

I wonder what the outraged citizens make of all those computer-generated animations of Big Ben blowing up that were all the rage in action films some years earlier.

(A word of advice to Mr. Cauty: if you wish to avoid public outrage, spraypaint your art pseudonymously on a wall. Nobody expects Banksy to steer away from subject matter verging on the obnoxious (i.e., his stencil of Auschwitz victims wearing lipstick). Come to think of it, could Banksy and Jimmy Cauty be one and the same? The Queen-in-a-gas-mask piece did look somewhat Banksyesque.)

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For some reason, this cartoon makes me think of New Waver lyrics.

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Did police turn a blind eye, allowing the Green River Killer to keep killing, out of a belief that he was doing a service to society by killing prostitutes?

Ridgway continued to have many close calls with police, evading and fooling officers and detectives all the while. Would Ridgway have been let go, time after time, had he been anything other than an "ordinary" looking middle-class white man who preyed on the vulnerable, the poor, and the powerless?
As a society, we still see prostitution as an infestation to be kept under control. Words like "eradication" used in tandem with street prostitution are not uncommon in law enforcement lingo, as if the women selling their bodies are no better than vermin.

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More signs of a widening rift between Britain and the wine-drinking socialist welfare states of Europe: the new Tory Shadow Home Secretary called for a reintroduction of the death penalty. Other senior Tories have dismissed the call, though if the Tories win the next election (which, with Murdoch showing signs of favouring Howard, isn't impossible), could we see Britain leave the EU and instead seek closer political union with the United States?

(Then again, if Britain was officially part of the US, they may not be imposing martial law in London for the Emperor's visit, what with Constitutional rights and all that. Who was it that said that everyone is either governed by US domestic policy or US foreign policy?)

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Two tidbits in the news: smugglers in Algeria are using donkeys fitted with tape recorders for smuggling goods to Morocco; the tape recorders instruct the unaccompanied donkeys to keep walking. Meanwhile, in a gaffe reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Pajero, British curry giant Sharwoods have discovered, much to their dismay, that the name of their new "deliciously rich" curry sauces, looks like the Punjabi word for "arse". The word is "bundh", which can be transliterated and pronounced in two ways, with comically divergent meanings.

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A NYTimes piece about the social impact of mobile phones: (via FmH)

In Malaysia, mobile phones are so widespread that Muslim leaders send out S.M.S. reminders to call the faithful to prayer, five times a day. Muslims in other countries -- like Britain -- have begun using a service that tells them the prayer times in Mecca, which means they essentially live in two time zones at once: local time for their professional lives and Saudi time for their spiritual lives. ''They're existing in two countries simultaneously,'' Bell notes.
Of course, living in two places -- even virtually -- means being spread thin. Rich Ling, a sociologist working for Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company, has interviewed thousands of mobile-phone texters, and he has noticed that they actually feel more disconnected from the world around them. Consider it the mobile-age version of Bowling Alone: text-messagers are connected more tightly than ever to their core friends and family but are less likely to engage the civic life around them. ''When you're waiting for the bus and it's late, you could talk to the person next to you. But if you're texting to someone, you won't talk to that stranger,'' he says.

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Douglas Rushkoff on why 3G phones-as-TVs are a daft idea: (via Techdirt)

These are essentially three different scales of devices. To use the American measures: inch devices, foot devices, and yard devices - and each has a particular range of appropriate functions... Inch devices, like cell phones, pagers, and PDAs, are for a single person's use, and are unique for their ability to help a person deliver important information from anywhere. Their screens are not for reading, but for eyeballing or copying a fact or figure that will most likely be used on that very device. Stock quotes, weather forecasts, or restaurant addresses are appropriate data points for a communications device on which you might make a trade, a date, or a business meeting. Yes, avid sports fans may want to check an important score (and then call their bookies) but do they want to watch a tiny, inscrutable image of a goal being kicked? No. They'll want to get home to see the event on their foot devices.

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