art, LGBT

Artist Profile: Jessica Rue

rue

Jessica Rue is one of the most driven and naturally talented contemporary artists I know, and I know quite a few. While a master’s student and graduate assistant at Northern Illinois University’s art school she has been able to achieve so much with relatively limited resources. This is one of the hallmarks of a great artist; the constant drive to create and innovate no matter what the circumstances or limits on time and space. I have visited her small studio in the horribly designed art building (a flat roof on an enormous building in Northern Illinois, the snow capital of the Chicago land area…brilliant, that) and she has filled her small space with the fascinating and utilitarian accoutrements of her field. There is a drill and a table saw and lights and pliers and clamps and, most wonderful of all, anvils! I have never seen an anvil that was used for its intended purpose and it was a remarkably nerdy moment when she let me weigh it in my hand.

Ms. Rue almost impulsively makes chainmail; small necklaces, sheets of tiny rings, silver and brass, all different sizes and shapes. It is enough to make a Medievalist stand up at attention. Of course her talents do not end there. She is a conceptual artist as well and delves deeply into modern art theory. She incorporates found objects in her compositions in a seamless and natural way. There is no Duchampian coyness or postmodern pseudo-intellectualism to be seen in her found object pieces and she always uses this trinkets and prizes as an element of her piece that ties the rest of the theme together. There is never a wasted element, literally and figuratively.

The piece entitled “I was thrilled by what lay before me” is a clear example of her simple but moving aesthetic. The piece is a pendant made from copper, sterling silver, and an oak wood base covered in varnish and paint. The craftsmanship of the piece itself is deceptively simple. There is no added bells and whistles, no attempt made to make this an object of pure costume fancy. This is a piece of jewelry for a person who wants to adorn themselves with beauty conveyed through meaning and pathos. The metal work that makes up the rest of the piece is exquisite and lovely; the chain is dark and has the look of aged Victorian era material. The chain is attached to shaped metal bars that are gently curved into an almost arabesque shape. If you pay attention to the shape of the metal on the top you will see that if they were removed from the piece and placed so as to mirror one another the shape would be that of a classical heart. Small screws hold the baseplate in place and the corners of the wooden frame are softly rounded. The centerpiece is a small found photograph of two women standing next to each other in a doorway. The photograph is from the 1920’s and both women are wearing fashion indicative of the era. They are smiling sweetly, even mischievously, and looking ahead at the camera.

Jessica told me that when she found the photo in a thrift store it had a crease down the middle that made her wonder about the history and true meaning behind the photograph. As a feminist activist in the most edifying and sincere sense of the term she is always trying to find a way to capture the experience of women through her work. She is especially sensitive to the LGBT community and is a champion of sexual and intellectual liberation. The piece here is a clear example of this aesthetic. Inspired by the crease in the photo she created a hinged locket that allowed the photo to be swung open and shut like a small cabinet door. The women are thereby separated and can be brought together with the pull of a slender string that runs the length of the piece. One is left with the sense of a secret love, a profound loss or even denial of desire. The rigid stance of the women is mimicked by the square wooden frame in which the photo is placed and the silver joints between them both serve as a barrier and as the axle upon which they can be brought together again. It is a keepsake of a love affair that may only exist in conception or imagination but is brought to life by the real life struggles and loss of millions of people throughout time and place who feel a sense of acute loss brought about by extreme longing and affection. What brings them together pushes them apart. It is a remarkable commentary on the struggle of lesbian and bisexual people, women especially, who find pain and hardship go hand in hand with love and a need to be accepted.

This piece is only one of dozens the artist has created since discovering her talent. She is a wonderful example of an innate talent shaped and molded by mentors and fellow artists. Instead of egotistically claiming genius or self-motivated inspiration she goes out of her way to reference those other artists in and out of her field whom she admires and has learned from. This is not a woman who sees art as a fully individual effort. It is a communal learning exercise and she believes that talent can only be improved through listening, research and sharing.

Jessica Rue is a talent you do not find all that often; a truly gifted and truly humble artist who feels a connection with the greater artistic and intellectual world. She is an artist to watch.

 

Check out her work, which also includes photography and more traditional, but no less beautiful, gem stone jewelry here on her blog:

http://www.jessicarue.com/

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Bond, Film, Pop Culture, Skyfall

The Top 3 Greatest Bond Film Countdown: #3 Skyfall

[SPOILER ALERT: There are details from the most recent Bond film and from many of the others in the following essay] 

To say I a fan of the James Bond film franchise would be an understatement of monumental proportions. I LOVE this series, which I think surpasses the Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings series and rivals the Godfather series for cinematic panache and style.

This weekend I saw the third best Bond film ever made. This may seem like faint praise at first but you need to remember that the series spans 50 years (JFK was President when Dr. No came out!) and 23 installments. There have been 6 actors who have portrayed Commander James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service agency MI6 and all of them have had their good points and their bad. I will spare you an assessment of all the men and their particular failings and accomplishments, but I can safely say that the three best Bonds were played by Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, in that order. Each man has a film in the franchise that defines Bond and their take on the character. This series of Blogs will be a countdown of sorts and I will reveal the Best Bond Film of all time this time next week. Tonight I’ll start with the most recent and the freshest in my mind, at #3 on my list but number 23 in the series:

Skyfall

Daniel Craig has never been the sort of Bond one could easily imagine cracking wise or playing around with Q’s inane and awesome gadgets, but as Bond Craig brings a dignity and a professionalism that makes him the most believable of all the Bonds as an actual intelligence agent. If there is sometime too much Bourne in this Bond it is because Craig is so naturally gifted physically and his dynamic power comes out most remarkable when he is in action.

Take the scene at the secret casino island in Macau. Bond arrives by boat but he is far to wired up and on edge to even take a seat on the small boat. When he hops onto the dock he is immediately all business and makes sure he has all his escape routes planned with his fellow agent Eve. With this done a self-assured smirk appears on his face, Craig’s physical trademark as the character of Bond. The night’s events lead to a drink with a beautiful and haunted prostitute, a vodka martini, and a fight with three henchmen that descends into a pit of Komodo Dragons. It is to the credit of the director, Sam Mendes and of Craig himself that the scene is never at any point over the top in a distracting way. As with the scenes later with the famous Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5, there is a endearing kitsch to the Komodo sequence that both reminds us of the Bond heritage and embraces that heritage as part of the “new look” of Bond. Back to the Future indeed.

A great Bond film often has a great Bond villein and Javier Bardem could not be better as Silva. He chews the scenery politely and with a napkin placed on his lap. The best Bind villeins steal every scene they are in and Silva is no exception to that rule. In one scene we find the former British agent turned hacker attacking Bond’s compound with a helicopter that is blaring a song I will not spoil for you here. Needless to say it is both hilarious and chilling. Bardem is constantly grinning throughout the film but not in a patronizing way: he is having a blast and wants the audience to know it every step of the way. And on an awesome side-note no one has more convincingly pulled off a homoerotic sequence with Bond then does Bardem here. All of their scenes together crackling with kinetic, erotic, and dramatic tension.

All of the supporting actors here are brilliant and well cast (I especially liked the gorgeous and compelling Naimie Harris as Eve and the always superlative Ralph Fiennes as Intelligence Director Mallory) but Judi Dench is far and away the best acted character in the entire film. M has always been an under-explored character but this time we finally get some insight into what it is like to be the only person given the power and the burden of controlling Great Britain’s greatest intelligent asset: James Bond. Dench as M is no nonsense but she is not above letting Bond do what he needs to to get the job done. She is by far the least squeamish character in the film and the most pragmatic. We find this out when it is revealed that Silva is actually the “old Bond” i.e. the agent who came before the current 007. M sold him out to the Chinese in exchange for 6 valuable intelligence assets. It was a good trade in a national security sense, and secured her promotion to the head of M16, but it lead to Silva’s festering hatred and macabre almost Oedipal obsession with her. Their last scene together is the stuff of film legend and is a fitting culmination of M’s character arc. Dame Dench deserves yet another nomination for this role.

The film making on display in Skyfall is perhaps the best reason why this film works the way it does. Casino Royale was a good outing, but it was slow in parts and featured too many scenes in the Casino and the hotel and not nearly enough of the compelling and tragic villein Le Chiffre. The real problem with the Craig films up until Skyfall has been the editing and direction. Casino Royale looked gorgeous and could be amazingly exciting at time but it had a far to static and cosmetic a look most of the time and one got the feeling that the characters were walking about on a giant Grande Tour of Europe administered by PBS’ Rick Steves. There are scenes in the film where the camera does not move except to cut from one character to the next for nearly 5 minutes at a time. That is just a failing of screenplay writing and cinematographic imagination: with so much to use and so many great actors to use it Casiono Royale is often filled with moments when you catch yourself saying “is this really worth all the trouble?”.

Quantum of Solace is another problem entirely. It is almost as though the cinematography was done by a commercial photographer for SAAB and the editing by a caffeinated 19 year old film student. The beginning car chase sequence is the worst opening of any Bond film, and that is saying something for a franchise that prides itself on opening sequences. I honestly did not know where to look on the screen and around the 6th hairpin suicide turn on the cliff I had lost interest and had taken a handful of aspirin for the visual whiplash I was suffering. Fortunately the film did get a bit better: Olga Kurylenko is fun and interesting and drop dead gorgeous as a Bond girl with a really twisted past but the film goes nowhere with her story and ends up with a cliched conclusion to her arc. Craig is almost nowhere to be seen in this film: he is wasted in action sequence upon action sequence and he never really gets to have a break. The one scene that works in the film is where 007 is being tracked by his own MI6 employers and he must escape a hotel while also carrying on a conversation with M. It is Craig and Dench’s acting chops that make this scene work and it is the only time in the film where it seems like the director and his cameramen seemed to know what they were trying to communicate.

I admit to being a skeptic about Daniel Craig when it was first announced he would be taking over from my favorite Bond, Pierce Brosnan. That skepticism has now abated but I stand by my assertion that Brosnan was the best Bond. Not the best actor or the best looking, but the best Bond. Craig is often too serious and a trifle too good-looking: he on occasion upstages the amazingly sexy women he is with! He also does not quite look the part of Bond either. Say what you will but James Bond is NOT a blonde. All that being said Daniel Craig is much better than the non-entity George Lazenby, the almost-but-not-quite Timothy Dalton and the utter embarrassment of Roger Moore (with the exception of Live and Let Die). Craig may not be the best Bond, but he is certainly talented and charming enough to bring Bond into the 21st Century. Skyfall is easily the best Bond film of the past 20 years or so and I do not think it will be topped until the next actor takes over for Bond presumably in the early 2020’s.

NEXT WEEK: The 2nd Best Bond Film of All Time and my discussion of the Greatest Bond: Pierce Brosnan.

 

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art, Democracy, Iran, Liberty

This. Is. NEO-CONSERVATISM: The Film 300 as Conservative Utopian Allegory

Each body is white and an example of impossible physical perfection. The women are strong and stoic but sexily sassy and domestically assertive. They are also constantly available for sex, consensual or otherwise. The children are taught the exact and unwavering belief in the society and its unforgiving principles. The civil government is skin crawlingly subservient to the military, to individual military figures in fact. The government is merely a means for effeminate men to feel good about themselves while serving to furnish the society with the barest of bare essentials while lionizing the military.

They practice infanticide, genocide really: weeding out all but the most perfect specimens and leaving the rest to exposure and the wolves.  It is that delightfully reactionary form of evolutionary science corrupted into xenophobic social policy known as eugenic that they seem to subscribe to. Find a way to naturally keep out the “darkies, uglies, pussies and gays”. Those boys (we never see a female child in the film) who survive to the age of seven and beyond are ripped screaming from their silently weeping mothers and sent to the agoge. This kills off even more of the less than herculean, and leaves a cadre of young men breed, weaned, reared and obsessed with the manly art of war. The glistening bodies of these men are perfect objects of desire…for the women, not their fellow men of course. There is no homosexuality in this land of the Spartans. That perversion is reserved for the despicable tyrants of the east.

The true meaning of this propaganda is also underlined by what is not featured about this perfect Reaganesque society: it is all built upon the backs of helot slaves. In this movie we never see anyone of lesser rank than washer woman, and the backbone of this stolidly pastoral local is invisible to we the viewer, and absence of this aspect of society is in itself a tenet of their morality. Individuality in this world is essential, as long as it is driven to expressive itself in working for the benefit of the patriotic collective. Leonidas is the perfect leader: a un-morally compromised royal with unswerving loyalty to the mythology of the Spartan experience. He expresses his love and devotion to his society by rejecting an essentially beneficial thought pride-bruising offer to become part of the Persian Empire. All that is asked for is water and earth to symbolize submission. Presumably the entire society would benefit by the myriad and magnificent resources offered by the Pax Persica. Aside from the messengers being arrogant and colored a shade darker than pale white they offer no real challenge or danger to Sparta. They actually offer them a way out of the incipient and insipid culture of war in the Aegean.

But they are dark skinned. And they are asking for them to get on bended knee in front of them, and in front of their own Spartan women. That is not going to happen, so the offending political and cultural invader is dispatched along with his diplomatic corp. A move John Bolton would probably call a “good start”. I am not implying that the Spartans should have rolled over for the Persians, but  a simple gesture could have at least gotten them a seat at the table of the movers and shakers who were shaping the new world order of the greater Mediterranean/Middle Eastern region. Look at some of the other societies that did chose to become part or else fell to the overwhelming military, economic, and cultural tidal wave that was Persia: Egypt, The Palestinian Jews, Iran, Iraq, Syria and most of Anatolia really benefited from the patronage of the Persian Empire. A centralized information/postage system roads, stability, more equitable taxation, influx of Persian literature, art, science and philosophy: The industrious manly Spartans could not have that now could they?

That is liberty killing nanny state not befitting the machismo underlining their entire culture and philosophical system. The Spartan “final stand” merely slowed the growth of one of the most constructive and stabilizing forces of the millennium stretching from Homer to Charlemagne, and destroyed the chance for one of the more potentially pacifying and civilizing forces of that time period take hold in the West. Culturally the Persians had done little to dissuade or retard the cultural and intellectual discoveries and contributions. In some cases they had spread the influence of beneficial and world changing ideas, including the creed of Zoroastrianism and the philosophies that accompanied and buttressed the same. But then again Sparta may have never fit into this cosmopolitan, dare I say multi-cultural system. They were far too dependent on unsustainable economic and social systems justified by a bombastic, jingoistic and ever expanding military culture.

Liberty, that ever present little philosophical meme, seems to be the central moral precept revered by this society, at least if you do not count unnecessary chauvinism. Liberty takes on an extremist Libertarian definition, with the idea of being an individual for the sake of individuality. The rub about the extreme libertarian definition is that it is extremely proscribed by the male dominated culture, and that individuality is by its very nature only valuable as an asset to free white males. If it is expanded or seen as egalitarian in any way that essentially undermines the liberty of the men of Sparta to do what they wish how they wish it. There is a secretly agreed upon catch to the system of libertarianism: to work it must be based around the assumption the only some people are worthy of or really capable of practicing true liberty. Which is why the liberty of the Spartans seems so very…limited, clichéd, and uni-directionally focused towards the military realm.

We see get small, but thematically telling glimpses into the ‘multi-culti’ cesspool that is the Persian traveling court. Xerxes is of course that now passé mixture of “butch” lesbian stereotype and mincing Sado-Masochistic intellectualism. We get scenes of orgies, and wise viziers talking, and exotic fruits and dress. We see these things not in a neutral way though; we see them through mostly through of a physically grotesque miscreant who was rejected by the Spartans as a child and once more by Leonidas for the crime of being imperfect in the presence of a real man. He is seeing the opulent and contrary fantasy escape from the Spartan (no pun intended) and callous world we was born into. He is doubly cursed: he is Spartan by mentality, but he can only survive as a freak and as a stooge to a culture he instinctually sees as alien and disgustingly (and alluringly) physically and intellectually indulgent. The Republicans had lecherous and dangerously hedonistic welfare queens and Union Slush fund cheats, while the Spartans seem to see a world degenerating into one that resembles the “boy loving” and maddeningly rational and resourceful Athenians. They hate the rest of Greece, and really the rest of the world so much because it seems to have what they do not: a purpose outside of unwaveringly declaring that they have a purpose to their strange and soul crushing, body destroying and intellectually retarded system and its means of control and expansion.

So a like the Post-Civil War South and its selective mythologizing/deification of its past institutions, mores and leaders. With its overly comfortable relationship with a suspiciously homo-eroticized military corps, its obsession with overrated and morally compromised intellectual and political leaders, and its whitewashing of the means of achieving the seemingly utopian and idyllic civilized society, the American south in period following 1870 up to and including the first decades of the 21st century. It is a story of a society where men can be men and women know what it means to be a woman, and where all authority is respected, trusted and beyond reproach if they adhere to the misogynistic, militaristic racialistic policies of the status quo political system. The problem comes when the ultimate representative of and stopgap to the governmental process, the too good to be anything but a postulate monarch in Plato’s Republic King Leonidas decides to up and lead a futile special forces vanity mission. Before his voluminous cape has disappeared out of sight everyone from the clergy, the leader of the chief representative body to the Queen herself compromises his or her morals in order to help perpetuate a system that only works if they lie to themselves about their own flawed humanity and its accompanying motivations. And as we know, any system that claims to be based on absolute moral and socio-political theories but cynically depends upon the work and resources created by the alternately hidden and derided “lower classes” has whether it knows it or not rejected the basis of and rational for its own existence.

But we are soon asked to forget all this when the Adonis like bodies of the elite 300 start tearing apart the flower of Persian warrior elite. It is a particularly beautiful example of the bread and circuses view of “rational” (i.e. Christian) military theory and a preplanned and perfectly expected example of it at that. We see that as soon as the offending African emissary is killed off earlier in the film that Leonidas and his cronies already have a plan in place for a war to protect all that is “wholesome” and “pure” about the morass of greedy xenophobia punctuated by occasional existential genius that is Western with a capital “W” Civilization. We see the blood spilt like the seed that the manly Spartan (Western) man cannot dare lose upon the toned thighs of his man at arms, we see the swords and spears penetrate the exotic and alluringly distasteful flesh of the Persian hordes. It is truly the only way the can consummate the love they feel for their fellow male citizens. They lust after them in a erroneously Platonic way and this warfare is the last acceptable expression of male on male sexuality and eroticism.

The battles and blades last as long as they need to distract us from the political machinations back home, where the Republic has been sold for what essentially amounts to a few bags of gold and a roll in the hay. It did not take long for the Great Greek (white?) Hope to go all “wishy washy” Athenian and decide that all means justify the one acceptable end of societal and moral perpetuation. Western Cultural Imperialist apologist and prophet Samuel Huntington moaned that “in terms of territorial control, in terms of economic preeminence, the western share of the gross world product is declining as Asian societies in particular develop economically”. It is a familiar bogey to we Americans and Westerners, we heirs of great civilized Euro/Anglo imperial systems and morality. The world of Sparta in 300 is the last best dream of the white Judeo-Christian Capitalist cabal that claims to represent that which is most Western about the West. It is a bloody and bawdy eulogy and justification of Neo-Conservatism, the necessity of Xenophobia and the subjective and situational basis of universal objective morality.

In the end the most honest and eloquent of Sparta’s men of war is chosen to be the one to survive the fatalistic maw of paternalistic self-justification that is the Thermopylae suicide mission. This most intellectually capable of Spartan manhood is tasked to carry the story of the appropriately  macho yet touching holy war to the people of Sparta, and to use the memory of a self-created martyrs to bludgeon a fascistic junta out of the comfortable but ineffectually petty Republican system they currently have. It is all a cathartic and perhaps unconscious act of collective spiritual and ethical cultural masturbation. And it works exactly as it is meant to. The inevitability of the East is held at bay, at least for now, and the West is allowed to live its lie for one more day. This is the Neoconservative dream. This is their meaning for existing. This is Sparta.

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