Women on fire

I’m writing this on 8 March 2022. Women’s day.
I was surprised by the response from my students, who couldn’t be more detached from this date. Some from the feminine aisle said this was to be after all a day like all. I can’t avoid being a little cynical here. When I was their age (that’s a perilous route) I was on the streets with them all.
Then listen to Because the Night and ask, why am I embedding this song here? But because it’s a matter of words. It’s what happens Under Your Command, as Patti Smith sings. Why she was under somebody’s command, I asked the adolescent myself a lot of years ago. Why? That’s the statement, it’s when I want, stupid, she replied.

Women’s day is perhaps transfixed as another Valentine, stripped of all its potency. Conferences on “Women’s role in the Fight against COVID”. No please, that’s not it. Nor is it to be “Commemorating the International Women’s Day”. Words: You don’t want to commemorate this day, as if it were dead. You want to party, sing, dance, march and ask why you still need to do it.
So, here is the GIF.
Women on Fire, a Gif from the Film

Women on Fire, a Gif from the Film

Then I close. Dream, and be powerful. Hope you’ll be always on fire.

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Chance GIF’s and some learning

Now that the semester is coming to an end I have the chance to share a little more, and not like the presentation done in August, and posted only now soon, the poor sitting for all this time in the Drafts sections of the Skate.

This is a short list of some chance encounters of the kind I really enjoy. They are by-products of some search around cinema, Tarantino and his love for Sergio Leone.

First I found this gem.

You’re all going to die. From Inglorious basterds. Isn’t it gorgeous that she appears in a film in a movie theater, only to tell her doom message to the very audience? It reminds Buñuel’s surreal shooter from the roof, who shoots at random people on the street. Only difference is she is predicating a vengeance, here. She is the wonderful Mélanie Laurent.

I rest my case. But, here’s another gem from Léon, the professional of Luc Besson, another cinephile I love (at least in his first attempts). I found this GIF while researching images of spectators watching movies in cinemas. He is Jean Reno, but let’s not forget the very young Natalie Portman nor the mythical Gary Oldman. What has this to do with QT? I don’t know, except they both appeared serendipitously, Internet-style.

Then, a nice interview of QT on Leone. It boils down to his professed love for The Good, the bad and the ugly as the best film ever produced, because (note the rigorous logic here) well, it is the best movie ever done.

I could add here the list of details QT has cared for when shooting his last film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, another homage to Leone and Sergio Corbucci, and of course, just in time, to Morricone. From Manson’s song to the movie theater that he bought in LA:

As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm.
(From Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, the New Beverly is now closed, due to the pandemic. But I loved that movie.

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Inspiring Webs

“Memex” by mariebeysson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I have been following John Naughton’s blog Memex (the title being a link in itself to the mother of all hypertext machines) for a while, for his recommendations and acute, to-the-point observations, his articles on The Observer, and so on. Compelling, but this is not all. Every day for a while he has been sharing some “Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news”. Since, you see,

Recently, I became so fed up with the morning radio news programmes […] that I decided it would be better for my sanity just to listen to music at breakfast and read the news in papers and on the Web. Hence the ‘Musical alternative’ at the top of each day’s blog.

John Naughton

That, when I read it, did rang a bell. I have had, in fact, a similar reaction to the radio news programs as well as the tv news ones. Suddenly, I got fed up with their little muzaks, noise, frills and pompousness. I got fed of the US tv news outlets, the Puerto Rico ones, the European, and so on & so forth. And I got fed of the so-called analysts.

It helped that for similar reasons, in my home we decided to also get rid of cable TV. We were paying a lot for tv we weren’t watching. And we weren’t watching tv for the above-mentioned reasons. And because, let’s face it, tv is pretty poor today. Even considering the golden age of tv series, which I love (some of them, at least), it was worth the while to save a little and focus instead of internet-driven content, with Netflix et al.

Also, practically since the Web age’s dawn, circa 1992, I began a practice of reading Newspapers on the Web. And yes, one of the very first on the Web was Italy’s visionary and left-wing Il Manifesto, a paper I recommend, even though today I don’t read it often any longer. Motivated in part by the need I felt to read news in Italian and of Italy, I began thus a daily practice to read newspapers on the Web. Not on social networks, but straight from a browser. Not any browser, mind you, but Firefox. I started with Il Manifesto, then went mainstream with La Repubblica. I added soon the major Puerto Rican papers too, typically El Nuevo Día. Then, others piled up, such as Spain’s El País, The New York Times (the only paper I actually pay 4 dollars a month), the Guardian and some others.

So, I felt at home with that expression:

I decided it would be better for my sanity just to listen to music at breakfast and read the news in papers and on the Web

I love that practice, and I love the space it affords, to relax, sit down and enjoy the readings of different newspapers, in the original way they are thought of, compiled and published. And I love some other human actually prefers like me to read the news on newspapers rather than having them on tv.

Many bloggers publish link recommendations, some with comments. John’s own are lucid and he always points to very good English-language articles. He also recommends books (I love that part too), music and sometimes, a photo. Example comment on a news piece:

Facebook Braces Itself for Trump to Cast Doubt on Election Results Zuckerberg & Co are — according to the New York Times — working out what steps to take should Trump use its platform to dispute the vote. Well, well. Could this be the moment that reality dawns on these geniuses?

I have already written about the people and Webs that inspire me, and certainly this one is one of the best. It’s very refreshing to read such great reading recommendations and analyses.

This is marvelous. Ceiliuradh = Celebration, pronounce = kell-oor-ah

And this is too, also recommended by Memex.

But, wait!! This song triggered a memory… A scene from a movie where some kid in the wild plays Dueling banjos with another guy. What film was that? Oh yes (thanks Google),

Deliverance, 1972

[Featured image: “linked data” by elcovs is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0]

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My Top 10 Learning Tools

In a recent post on his Half An Hour blog (which he declares to be “A place to write, half an hour, every day, just for me.”), Stephen Downes struck a chord with me, for what he writes and how he writes it. I’m referring to My Top Personal Learning Tools 2020, where he starts with Jane Hart’s annual call for the top e-learning tools, and he builds and publishes his own. The interesting stuff comes here: he explains why he uses such tools in a way that I felt connected with mine. In fact, his choices are (not so surprisingly, given the subject we’re talking about) practically identical to mine. Here, I just report my own and add a couple of bits of comment here and there.

  1. Firefox – The Web browser is likely my most-used tool, period. Firefox is one of the most efficient browsers and Google already knows a lot about my email, searches and docs that I don’t feel like providing them also with my browsing activity. Firefox is great, and so are its tools and add-ons. Disconnect.me I have always on, plus OneTab, a little marvel at keeping tabs on one page (which can be made public).
  2. Feedly – Probably the best RSS reader around. I use Feedly every day, from either my computer or iPhone. I love that it can show a magazine-like interface, which is quite pleasant. Have to say that Laura Gibbs has made a wonderful case for the Inoreader RSS reader and its usage to syndicate students’ publications, and I am scheduled to try it out. Check her wonderful work with a complete tutorial on blogging and syndicating without Feed WordPress. But for the time being I stick with Feedly, and its tiny monthly fee. A post apart will be on that: to pay or not to pay?
  3. Instapaper (Stephen prefers Pocket)- True, Instapaper is not associated and integrated with Firefox, like Pocket, but it’s lean and minimal and perfectly effctive ti stacking my read-it-later pages. I use it across many devices, almost daily. Problem is, I am not quite the disciplined guy to routinely check the Instapaper stack and decide what to do with the saved pages. But, at least, my algorithm is simple: IF the page is interesting/useful THEN it gets saved permanently in my Diigo bookmarks (see item #8); ELSE, it’s thrown away.
  4. Email – Also at number 4, email is a top application for everything, including courses, student communication etc.. I open email every day and most of times I am overwhelmed by the number of messages, so I start frantically to reply to the top-priority ones. When I get to the newsletters (which I love, BTW) I’m often left without energy to open them. Tomorrow, I say to myself. Anyhow, Newsletter reading and subscribing is one tool I’d love to see enhanced for the Web. Unless it already has.
  5. Reclaim Hosting – I agree with Stephen here. A virtual server is a technology I use daily: Reclaim hosts this site and my courses (inf115, inf103.com, cineitalia, etc.) and lots of stuff, including a NextCloud instance which should soon supplant (or complement) my Dropbox. I do appreciate Reclaim’s support! In this same spot, allow me to place WordPress, which I use daily, for my sites, courses and almost everything!
  6. Presentation tools: (Downes chooses PowerPoint as his first choice – “I always find myself returning to PowerPoint because it’s an exceptional authoring environment”) – I definitely use Apple Keynote, another “exceptional authoring environment”, plus Google Slides and SlideShare. However, I love Alan Levine’s 100% pure Web slides (like the SPLOTpoint Theme — check this presentation he did for PressEDConf19) and I’m exploring Markdown Web-based tools, like Hackmd.io and similia, including the flat-db CMS named Grav and its presentation add-on.
  7. I should put Search here, not only the plain ol’ Google Search, but also, Creative-Commons Search, Internet Archive, Twitter Search, and yes, I love to search for special places on maps, like the Diomedes isles between Russia and the US, in the middle of the Bering Strait (there’s a school, I learned).
  8. diigo.com – Social Bookmarking still plays an important role in my reading and storing liturgy. Diigo is a very good tool, albeit somehow inflated with not-so-important stuff (to me). Anyhow, see item 3: When I finally decide I want to store a record fort a certain website, I pull it from Instapaper and put it into the diigo archives, comfortably appending the tags that are useful to me: for instance, this is the public New Media collection, which I can share with students, under the inf115 tag.
  9. Twitter – The microblogging tool I have been using for a huge number of years now. Not so much today, I have to say. Still, I consult it use it every day (together with Feedly it adds to my daily reading material, and beautifully). I tweet mostly within my courses, to share with students, or to say the odd ill-formed thing. Now, I am also checking out the federated microcontent platforms like Mastodon and the ideas behind the Indie Web. I am @avunque on Twitter.
  10. This semester, and the last, I am compelled to include Zoom, same spot Downes places it. And more or less for the same obvious reasons. No, online education is not Zoom, but it can happily contain some happy Zooming.
  11. Eleven?? Unfair. So, where do I file Evernote and Apple Notes, together with Firefox Notes and Gmail Keep? Truth is, I use especially the first two plus Keep constantly, at the expense of a serious synch (and mental) deficit, since I prep everything with some Notes app: classes, emails, posts.

I should add Flickr, to this list, but unfortunately, even though I resumed paying for the Pro edition, I’m not using it much, for glorious that it is. There is more, of course, but given this list is self-limited to ten items, I won’t indulge.

[Featured image: “Master List of Websites” by anselm23 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

[Map image: Embedded from Google Maps, the Diomedes islands.]

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The gaze we build: Portrays and Ladies on Fire.

Change the world? As many say, shall we move back to normality—the very normality that defined a world on the brink of disaster? What? No disaster in your perception-horizon? 
Same with privilege, we don’t recognize or have perception of disaster before it happens. All seems to be well, for the privileged—that is us (many of). Irony wants that we have often all indications that disaster is imminent. Still we do nothing. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor–We approve of the best policies, but follow the worst. True, “we” are a lot, but who are we?
The privileged—I always said I am one. Even with the difficulties that came in my life (such as the loss of my father), I still remain a true privileged white man–and middle-class. I enjoy being so, of course—I mean privileged. The problem is I had no idea of this being so. Still, one marginalized group–women– has fought and advanced a lot, in a short span of time, to be recognized and take what is theirs. Think of the woman’s gaze, a gaze that was enclosed, subordinated, repressed.

The sole fact of recognizing that other gazes exist, and mine is not that important, is revolutionary. We need to expose ourselves to such gazes.

Then there is the construction of that gaze. What if the following quote was pronounced in the context of education? It’d seem perfect, wouldn’t it.

We’re trying to create a very active viewer, and to put you in a different position. We have a project for you, you know?

Céline Sciamma, film director

Think of this thought–I’ll be back at this quote and its author and work. We have a project for you, dear student. We have a project for ourselves, dear faculty. We want you to build the project together with us, and not be a mere consumer of content. It can be the beginning of a syllabus. Well, fantastic. But what does it mean to be an active viewer of a film? And what does it mean to be an active student of a subject? To build something, perhaps–whatever: content, artifacts, works for and about the subject itself. Because by building, one works out the forces of learning and earns understanding, connecting the dots, clarifying the view, matching patterns, growing doubts. When I speak or write I make my own meaning, I understand. Some doubts dissipate and others grow. And mind you, I may understand something quite different from you, my peer. Now, in science the diverse understandings need to converge toward a common corpus of knowledge, but that end product does not preclude the multi-faceted interpretation-laden territory of individual or group speculation.

I am fascinated by this metaphor that equates a movie-viewer to a learner and defies the conventional view that the instructor instructs and imparts knowledge while the student consumes. This post is proof of the vitality and activity of one film, its life beyond the viewing; the construction of knowledge (here, now, while I write and research the subject).

Sciamma–like artists and instructors–invites her crew (actors, engineers, technicians) to participate in the making of the movie. But she also invites us, the viewers, to participate into that construction, see? I love this metaphor. Also since, as I was writing earlier in this post, she and her crew issue a strong call of arms to save the world!

So, it was very refreshing to see a film director like Céline Sciamma (with her crew) who actually believe that changing–or better, saving–the world is essential. And they work for that. And this is why we need to watch movies like Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Actually, the original title is about more of a girl than a lady, indicating perhaps that changing the world seems to begin with youth.

It is “A manifesto about the female gaze”, she claims.

[…] the scene on the beach where Marianne finds Héloïse and cries and says, “Your mother’s coming back,” and they kiss. Suddenly, it’s this big, emotional thing. And the fourth take was like, wow. I called “cut” and I turned to my DP and I told her, “We are saving the world.” And she said, “We are saving the world.” And that was the first time we said it. Sometimes we said it as a joke, like, “Are we saving the world?” It was mostly a joke. But, of course, images and culture can change culture.

Vulture, The Women Behind Portrait of a Lady on Fire Believe Their Movie Can Save the World (March 2020)

It’s a movie of women.

There’s a woman painter and another (the girl-lady) whose portrait must be painted. The two meet in a remote mansion close to the sea. There are women, many women, only women. Men practically don’t appear and aren’t almost named. It’s a feast of women, for women. But it’s also a feast for all.

Listen to her (interview on Vulture, quoted above): Céline wants not only to talk to us, but most importantly to make us respond and react and participate in the film’s constructions. Likewise, the painter asks collaboration from the subject to be portrayed, and the resulting work is not only the painter’s. Likewise, I should add, Sciamma works with her crew and actresses to build the movie. This is not a script upon which a film is shot.

We’re trying to create a very active viewer, and to put you in a different position. We have a project for you, you know? It’s not that you anticipate that there’s going to be a strong response, but I am thinking about the response when crafting the film.

We have this very radical language in the film, and my dream is always that the viewer loves the language and starts to speak the language of the film. Part of the pleasure, part of the excitement, is being part of the brain of the film. Getting it, and having this joy, speaking its language. It becomes this new tongue.

I think art, can change the world. Otherwise, why [do it]? We believe that we’re creating the future.

It is a film on “looking”, and there stands its exceptional value: in implicating the viewer in this looking business where we’re used to believe there is but one look–the author’s– but we are at the very least forced to think, wait!, we’re looking through the mirror, here, we’re making the look, we build it while looking. Amazing.

And again, listen to her on how a sex scene is conceived and collaboratively thought out with her leads Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant to make of it all but a simulation.

We were all collaborating on this idea that it was sexy and fun, and also there was room for you. That thing about the male gaze logic defining women is that you’re basically held hostage. You don’t have a choice. You can close your eyes, but otherwise, the image is giving you an order. How we feel, what arouses us—sometimes we are held hostage by this, because, you know, it works! It’s education, it’s training. The fact that you could be lost in this image, and wandering, and having fun with it… I mean, that’s a journey of sex. That’s the idea of sex.

Anna Menta @annalikestweets from Decider.com (March 2020).
“I know the gestures. I imagined them all, waiting for you.”

“Take time to look at me,” says Marianne, modelling for her class of female students at the start of the film. It equally works as a provocation to us. Take time to look at these characters properly, Sciamma is saying. By the end of the film her order takes on extra resonance as the short-lived love affair inevitably ends, and memories and paintings are all that are left. After such a restrained study of love and the power of looking comes the devastating ambush of the film’s ending – but, entirely appropriately, it’s one that simultaneously revels in the rhapsody of art.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire first look: Céline Sciamma conjures an oasis of female freedom. Isabel Stevens, BFI.

By the story’s end, memories and paintings are all that are left. This resounds deeply.

The film is full of amazing (literally) stuff. Like the fire scene, where the fire is metaphorical and real at the same time. Like the already famous armpit scene, provocatively confusing. Like another scene with the portrayed girl–proud and liberated–caressing her own armpit.

Like the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, which is a meme throughout the film and which is read aloud under candlelight: Remember Orpheus looking back at Eurydice while they were climbing up from Hell? He was told not to do so, lest they both would return back forever. But he does. Now, asks Céline and the movie: What if that look was commanded by Eurydice and Orpheus could not but obey it?

Could Eurydice be the author of her own fate, the commander of his gaze?

Mark Kermode, The Guardian. Portrait of a Lady on Fire review – mesmerised by the female gaze (March 2020)

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