Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Lovers' Wind

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Tonight I watched Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon on KCET. In many ways the movie is very much similar to The Little Prince: it is made for children but goes beyond that, it is extremely poetic, and it can be understood in a very mystic way. If somebody wants to know where the first movies of Abbas Kiarostami are coming from, Lamorisse is the answer.

Lamorisse had a very rich and short life. He made several short feature films and documentaries between the late 1940s and 1970, the year he died in a helicopter crash. He died while he was making a movie, Le Vent des amoureux (Baade Sabaa in Persian, or The Lovers' Wind in English.) The documentary was commissioned by the pre-revolutionary Iranian regime, to be used as a professionally made propaganda movie about the process of modernization in Iran. Instead, as it could be expected, Lamorisse made a lyrical movie narrated by a wind, Sabaa, traveling around the country and telling the viewer about the history and culture of Iran. The movie is mostly aerial shots implying a wind's view.

In 1970 when Shah saw the movie, he didn't liked it. He asked Lamorisse to add new scenes to the movie talking about him as the great leader of the country and the modernized of face Iran, meaning the newly build dams, neon lights in the streets of Tehran, and the newly build Hilton Hotel. One can imagine how Lamorisse would have felt about this. Since the shooting of the movie was finished by that time Lamorisse couldn't use the special Helicopter and features needed for the new aerial shots, they were not available any more. So instead he used the helicopter and the pilot that was provided by the Iranian Army. That proved to be a wrong choice. The helicopter and the pilot probably were not able to do the same kind of movements he expected them to do. In june 1970 Lamorisse and the crew of the helicopter died in a Helicopter crash in the Karaj's dam lake. The movie was re-edited and released 8 years later in 1978, when a revolution made all those talks about neon lights and dams unnecessary.

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For reading The Red Baloon go here.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Two Labyrinths

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Putting what has happened to the world in the last few centuries in a "Huntington/Bin Ladanian" context reminds me of a short story by Borges: The Two Kings and the Two labyrinths.
Sometimes ambiguity of art brings more meaning to supposedly "clear" reality.

The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths

It is said by men worthy of belief (though Allah's knowledge is greater) that in the first days there was a king of the isles of Babylonia who called together his architects and his priests and bade them build him a labyrinth so confused and so subtle that the most prudent men would not venture to enter it, and those who did would lose their way. Most unseemly was the edifice that resulted, for it is the prerogative of God, not man, to strike confusion and inspire wonder. In time there came to the court a king of Arabs, and the king of Babylonia (to muck the simplicity of his guest) bade him enter the labyrinth, where the king of Arabs wandered, humiliated and confused, until the coming of the evening, when he implored God's aid and found the door. His lips offered no complaint, though he said to the king of Babylonia that in his land he had another labyrinth, and Allah willing, he would see that someday the king of Babylonia made its acquaintance. Then he returned to Arabia with his captains and his wardens and he wreaked such havoc upon kingdoms of Babylonia, and with such great blessing by fortune, that he brought low his castles, crushed his people, and took the king of Babylonia himself captive. He tied him atop a swift-footed camel and led him into the desert. Three days they rode, and then he said to him, "O king of time and substance and cipher of the century! In Babylonia didst thou attempt to make me lose my way in a labyrinth of brass with many stairways, doors, and walls; now the Powerful One has seen fit to allow me to show thee mine, which has no stairways to climb, nor walls to impede thy passage."

Then he untied the bonds of the king of Babylonia and abandoned him in the middle of the desert, where he died of hunger and thirst. Glory to him who does not die.

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- Story:
From Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley, Penguin Books, 1998, p. 263-264.
- Painting:
The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel, 1563.
Oil on oak panel, 114 x 155 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
- Photograph:
Chris Rainier, National Geographic Society.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sir Alfred, the Iranian Zelig

Zelig The Iranian Zelig

Yesterday Christian Science Monitor published an article about Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the person whose bizarre story of being trapped in an airport for 15 years was the inspiration for the character of the protagonist in the movie The Terminal.

In this article like many others, Mahran karimi Nasseri (mostly known in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport as "Sir Alfred") is presented as a victim of bureaucracy. The real story, however, is completely different. Sir Alfred has stayed there not because of a delay in processing his documents, but because those documents identify him as an "Iranian". What he insists the authorities to accept is recognizing him as a European,. He doesn't want them to know him an Iranian immigrant or political asylem-seeker. What he wants is documents to show the world that he is not from that loser third world country. He wants documents that officially announce him European with European "blood" in his veins.

The mental illness of Mehran Karimi Nasseri is not a personal issue of an individual. It is very much related to a post-colonial mental decease of "third world" nations like Iran who view themselves as degenerated creatures of a damned part of the world that they always need to escape from.

Dreaming about "khaarej" (in Persian meaning "the foreign lands", but basically a word being used just describing Europe and North America,) as dreamland of order, beauty, and happiness is something I have mentioned before in two other posts (1, 2). Dreaming about "khaarej" is our national mental decease. (Yes! if we have such a thing as "National car" why shouldn't we have a national mental disease!?) The case of Sir Alfred is not that special. It is the same decease the whole nation is suffering from, but in this case it has reached its ultimate level, a level of crisis.
When you think about Reza Shah period (the 1930s) when Iranian nation -the entire nation- was banned to wear its regular Iranian costumes, and was forced to wear Western style suit and a stupid hat imitated from the French police's uniforms, you can see were the story of Sir Alfred has began.

In the the movie, Zelig (1983), Woody Allen narrates the life-story of a character from the '20s and '30s, Leonard Zelig, who has a very strange personality: he can't be himself. He psychologically and physically reflects whatever surrounds him and whoever he is with. He transforms all the time, jumping from one personality to another. The only thing doesn't change in him is his eagerness to escape from being himself.

"I wanna be liked"... It's a statement by Leonard Zelig under a hypnosis session in the movie. I can hear the same thing from Sir Alfred Mehran talking about his dreams for his "future life" in "khaarej." I can hear the same thing from many other Iranians whose souls are trapped in an airport which is supposed to be their gate to the utopian heaven "the West" promises to be.

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For more on Mehran Karimi Nasseri see the documentary Sir Alfred of Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Peykan, the Iranian "National" Car

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The production of Peykan, the Iranian "national car" (whatever that means, specially when it is a Hillman made in England!) is finally discontunued after about 40 years. During this 40 years its design never changed. A fact that says a lot about a culture that finds pride in assembling such a piece of junk for 40 years, without even trying to improve it in any way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Act of Creation

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Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.

--Arthur Koestler (1905 - 1983), The Act of Creation, London, 1970, p. 253

Monday, June 14, 2004

Under God?

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"The US Supreme Court has dismissed an attempt by an atheist father to stop his daughter swearing allegiance to "one nation, under God" every morning."

I can't beleive we are living in 21 century and still beleiving in this boogeyman.

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The Quote in the image from Mr. Bart Simpson.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Eric Idle's Song in Response to FCC

Eric Idle

Monty Python member, Eric Idle, sings in response to the ban on "offensive" words by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

>>> Listen here (MP3 file with "offensive" content!)

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The FCC Song

Here's a little number I wrote the other day while out duck hunting with a judge.

Fuck you very much the FCC
Fuck you very much for fining me
Five thousand bucks a fuck
So I'm really out of luck
That's more than Heidi Fleiss was charging me

So fuck you very much the FCC
for proving that free speech just isn't free
Clear Channel's a dear channel
So Howard Stern must go
Attorney General Ashcroft doesn't like strong words and so
He's charging twice as much as all the drugs for Rush Limbaugh
So fuck you all so very much

So fuck you very much, Dear Mr. Bush
For heroically sitting on your tush
For Halliburton, Enron, all the companies who fail
Let's send them a clear signal and stick Martha straight in jail
She's an uppity rich bitch
and at least she isn't male
So fuck you all so very much

So fuck you dickhead Mr. Cheney too
Fuck you and fuck everything you do
Your pacemaker must be a fake
You haven't got a heart
As far as I'm concerned you're just a pasty-faced old fart
And as for Condoleeza she's an intellectual tart
So fuck you all so very much

So fuck you very much, the EPA
For giving all Alaska's oil away
It really is a bummer
When I can't fill my hummer
The ozone's a nogozone now that Arnold's here to say:
"The nuclear winter games are going to take place in LA"
So fuck you all so very much

So what the planet fails
Let's save the great white males
And fuck you all so very much

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Thanks to Iranian.com

Friday, June 11, 2004

Fanoos

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Fanoos means "lanthern" in Persian.
It is the name of a web site presenting contemporary Iranian photography.
If you haven't seen the web site yet, you should definitely see it.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Herzog in Los Angeles

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I just came back from a film screening in Goethe institute. It was a screening of excerpts from Werner Herzog's old movies plus one of his recent documentaries, a great short movie about the idea of 'time.' Seeing these movies was great by itself, but the best thing about tonight was that Herzog was there too!

I never forget seeing his The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser when I was in high school. I saw it four times, in "Asre Jadid," a movie theater you could go any time between 10 am to 10 pm and be sure there is a great movie being screened in one of its two theaters. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser was one of the first works I saw that changed my mind about understanding cinema. I can't explain how much I enjoyed the movie when I realized I can see meanings beyond the story that was narrated. Kaspar Hauser taught me how to understand metaphors in art forms other than literature. It taught me to appreciate cinema as an art form.

The second Herzog movie I saw was Fitzcarraldo. I saw it in Tehran's Fajr Film Festival.. It was in German, without any subtitle, with all the scenes showing Claudia Cardinale cut from the movie. But again seeing it was an experience. Just seeing the unforgetable eccentric face of Klaus Kinsky trying to pass a ship through the jungle (instead of river!) to build an opera house in the middle of Amazon was an amazing poetic imagery. Who else other than Herzog could think of an idea like this to make a movie?

Tonight at the end of the conversation someone asked him about his opinion on being listed by Variety (or some other magazine) among the 100 great directors of twentieth century. He asked Herzog what does he think about having his name next to directors like Spielberg. Herzog's answer was pretty witty: he said he thinks it is a great honor for Spielberg!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Richard Rorty in Tehran

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After Paul Ricoeur and Jurgen Habermas now Richard Rorty is going to Iran. He will be in Tehran for a conference on "Philosophy and Democracy".

Source here

Rich Iranian Art, No Need for Artists to Import Styles

This is the direction the Iranian conservatives prescribe for Iranian culture and art:
Rich Iranian Art, No Need for Artists to Import Styles
TEHRAN June 7 (MNA) -– Visual arts professor Jamshid Moradian said that with the thousands of years old, rich Iranian art history, artists should resist the affects of imported Western art styles, including post-modernism.... more here

Poor Iranian art students!
Maybe iran is not the only country whose people are so uncomfortable with their bodies, but it is definitely the only country that its art students know much more about art than their professors.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Gerni's Game

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Did the collapse of dictatorships in Russia and the Eastern Europe put an end to the rich tradition of their animation?
I am not sure about that. No tradition with such a strength can fade out so quickly. I think a lot of things are happening in countries like Czech, Poland, Croatia, and Hungary. Probably the reason I can't hear about them is that I live in the US. Here even video stores specialized in art movies do not have any animation from the Eastern Europe.
The only place I recognize the bitter-sweet taste of those movies is a place I never expected: Pixar. A computer animation company in San Francisco was the last place on earth I could imagine to create something similar to Eastern European style. Here is one beautiful example of Pixar's work made by a Czech immigrant, Jan Pinkava.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Spengler

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I've got this e-mail about one of my previous posts, Hitting the Walls:
You mention that Spengler's "The Decline of the West" was translated in the early 90's. Do you mean it was translated into Farsi by hardliner's? I can speculate here but can you elaborate on why this would have happened?
I am curious to know if the translation exists and what connections it could have with post-revolutionary Iranian society. I am using Spengler as a source in my master's thesis in Architecture [...]. Sometimes I get the feeling that my professors are puzzled at why an Iranian would cite Spengler.

I thought it would be better to post my response here since I have received several other e-mails regarding Hitting the Walls. So it might be interesting for others to read it as well.
Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West is not translated into Persian in its complete form. A few chapters of the book (I think chapters 8 and 9) were translated into Persian in the late '40 -or early '50- by JahaňČngir Foruhar, who was said to be affiliated with the Iranian 'neo-Nazi' party of the time, SUMKA.
The book was out of print for years till the early '90, when a hardliner publisher (or maybe the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, I am not sure here) republished the book after years. What I wanted to say in Hitting the Walls was about the importance of certain Western philosophers in the formation of Shiite fundamentalist Islam as an anti-Western ideology, and how the ideas of thinkers such as Spengler was utilized in a completely different context to justify anti-democratic actions of a regime with a nature different from Nazi Germany. Spengler's theory about cultures passing through two different phases of 'Culture' and 'Civilization,' and their rise and fall perfectly serves the ideas of people like Samuel P. Huntington, Osama Bin Laden, or Iranian hard-liners.

Spengler's ideas can be very relevant to Iranian architecture: what he says about the cycles of civilization and the way it affects the creation of cities (the emergence of organized metropolis designed based on geometric grid format) can be easily applied to Islamic culture. Looking at civilizations as organisms that die and reborn can be used as a description of the decline of the Islamic civilization. Such an interpretation of history also can be redemptive for those who hope to revive Islam in a different way: a way in contrast with those who try to rebuild it based on 'civilized' ideas of democracy and equality.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Duane Michals

Back in my early 20s in Tehran, I was a fan of Duane Michals, an American photographer who was active in the late '60s and '70s. I copied many of his photographs from the books one of my friends had brought to Iran. He was lucky enough to take a course with Duane Michals at San Francisco Art Institute in the late '70, and had a lot to say about the way he works and the way he sees things.

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I still like Duane Michals' works. He uses photography not for documenting the reality, but for visualizing the concepts and ideas that he is obsessed with. Recently I searched for him on the net and found a few link to his works. See some of them here.
"How foolish of me to believe that it would be that easy. I had confused the appearances of trees and automobiles and people with reality itself, and believed that a photograph of these appearances to be a photograph of it. It is a melancholy truth that I will never be able to photograph it and can only fail. I am a reflection photographing other reflections within a reflection. To photograph reality is to photograph nothing."
-- Duane Michals

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More links to his works:
1. One of my favourite 'sequences' by him.
2. photoinsider
3. The Essential Duane Michals

On Similarities between Buildings and Humans

After reading the comment to my previous post I think I have exaggerated about Iranians. Looking 'perfect' is an international obsession. But I think this perfectness is defined by European features. That's why so many people from other races are so much concerned about their look. All these plastic surgeries is about looking like Europeans. Koreans and Iranians can change their outfit and cars, but what can they do to their eyes and noses?
Plastic surgery is invented by modernity. As every thing else the modern thought defines the absolute perfect model for the human beauty. What we are doing to ourselves through plastic surgery is what we have done to our cities. All those modern tall, slim buildings in Chicago, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Brasilia look like each other because they all follow the same rules. They all are clean and functional. Their perfect straight lines and calculated number of people going in and out are based on a scientific diet that makes us completely sure of their health. What is absent here in the buildings' facades (and our human faces) is an identity. We all are becoming so beautiful that no one can recognize us anymore.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Plastic Surgery for the Other" in Persian

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Jean Baudrillard's Plastic Surgery for the Other is translated into Persian. For a country with the highest rate of nose job in the world that is something that should have been done years ago!
Is there any other place in the world whose people are as uncomfortable with their bodies as Iranians?

Link:
NPR's report on Nose Job in Iran