Far away from the buzzing SIGGRAPH floor is the art gallery where high tech meets fine art. Annick Teninge reports on this fascinating realm.
Ho Ho Ho
"Christmas...the season when with shining fable Heaven and Nature, in accord for once, edict and postulate us all husbands and fathers under our skins, when before an altar in the shape of a gold-plated cattle-trough man may with impunity prostrate himself in an orgy of unbridled sentimental obeisance to the fairy tale which conquered the Western world, when for seven days the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in amnesty: the whitewashing of a stipulated week leaving the page blank and pristine again for the chronicling of the fresh." -- "The Wild Palms," William Faulkner
"Is there ANYONE who knows what Christmas is all about?" -- Charlie Brown
"Kyle's mom is a stupid bitch." -- Cartman
'Tis THAT time again: the moment when we imagine we are as close to good and genuine toward those we share this bizarre world with. Me? I'm not one for xmas. Like Charlie Brown, I go through the rituals but I just don't get it. Until my son was born, Christmas was a depressant. Even now I doubt the validity of my contentedness. Is it because my son is moderately thrilled over the unveiling of new toys? If so, that's a pretty flimsy notion of bliss. The idea of pre-planning gifts for a loved one baffles me. Gifts and gestures should be spontaneous not programmed for the sake of some fat, boozy guy in a red coat (itself a guise for THE company).
Taint all bad. I am a sucker for the snow, the lights, the music and the xmas cartoons. There's something almost spiritual in that feeling of pleasure and comfort I get during a soft snow fall with a little Dean Martin "Baby It's Cold Outside" crooning in the background as the red, green, blue and yellow lights flicker on the window. Then again, maybe it's the double shot of rum in my eggnog...
There is something fundamentally (heh heh) good about Christmas. It evokes a spirit of Christian humanism I can dig. Forgiveness. Peace. Understanding. I like everyone during the xmas season. When I'm driving I make full stops. I let the pedestrians cross before turning. I slow down to let a car change lanes. I honk out of joy not anger. Come January 2nd though, I return to a system that cannot afford such 'weakness' and within days I devolve into the tired, pissed off, frustrated person I was before December.
No, this isn't one of those calls (cause of...you know...the 'war') for the need to think about this xmas more than any other. I should be forgiving and kind to people EVERY FUGGING DAY of my existence. That's the rub. Xmas is like a vacation. I take a few snapshots, indulge more than usual, see the sites, talk to strangers and then take the first flight on Air Imagination back to the 'real' world. I emerge not wiser, just sort of umm...re-formatted. Christ, even during this hibernation/chamber session I'm rarely in possession of the spirit. Most of the time I'm half drunk, roaming around shopping malls desperately trying to spend my credit limit on 'gifts' (a.k.a. temporary excretions of guilt). It's a token payback for the hours I dumped my kids in front of the TV, ignored them all together, and for those 'late' nights at the office leaving the spouse to care for the home when in reality I was drinking with the boys or tongue dancing with the girl in the office.
Christmas, hell, life, should be about tolerance, forgiveness and sharing, but I've turned it into some bizarre almost robotic week where I wipe the guilt clean for the year so I can fuggit all up again the next year.
When Plato, through Socrates, said, "Wisdom begins at home," he wasn't suggesting that we sit round the television. But like the book, radio, theatre, cinema and vaudeville show before it, people like to be elsewhere (in a brain sense) and as such television has become the fountain of what we call wisdom today. Television is a guide. It gives us dreams. It gives us breath. Television is our blue pattern for life. Television gives us stereotypes and clichés. Television gives us parts of a whole. Television simplifies. We apply sitcom principles to reality. Our mistake is not filtering the residue from those images before stepping outside.
But hey there's hope; there's always hope until there isn't. Ponder that while you're sitting on the sofa half corked on rum and eggnog with the kids watching the annual xmas specials, cause you ain't gonna find much value in these tinseled toons.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
On the surface it looks great. A miserable prick is so jealous of his happy neighbours that he decides to rob and loot them. Turns out that they don't care. They have each other. They have songs. They don't need gifts. In turn they forgive the remorseful Grinch and invite him to dinner. Now that's a good lesson: forgive thy neighbour. Hmm...kinda reminds me of...umm...well...never mind. But hey, let's face it, the film does not feel complete until the presents are returned and the food is gorged. They tease you with this spiritual stuff, but then walk away from it in the end. Christmas is not complete. Forgiveness and understanding is nothing without a big table of food and a whole lot of toys! Amen.
A Christmas Carol
Okay, better still is Ebeneezer Scrooge. Dante loathed avarice and Scrooge is the textbook example. He is the seven sins in one. His life is defined by money: how to make more and spend less. But the old sod doesn't even enjoy his money. He's just a lonely, repressed, bitter s.o.b. And yet despite ruining everyone's lives he is forgiven overnight! How exactly did he purge his sins to earn this path from hell to heaven? A visit by four ghosts. That's it. The guy had a bad night's sleep, awakens scared to the core, and is eager to change. Gee...s'like when you wake up with a raging hangover determined never to drink again. By nightfall, you're guzzling a beer and another and another... Anyway...is Scrooge really forgiven? Bob Cratchett is not exactly a man of principles. He's a boot licker. Scrooge enslaved him and he enjoyed it...so when Scrooge shows up at the door with a bag of gifts and some turkey, do you really expect Bob to say, "Umm...sorry you old coot, but piss off, you're not welcome here?" Of course not, Scrooge still pays the bills. Cratchett has no choice but to welcome Scrooge in, and hey, even if it is a momentary transformation, at least they got some good grub. Our idea of villainy is as screwed up as our idea of heroism.
Dickens was a twerp.
Olive the Other Reindeer/Robbie the Reindeer
I really wanted to like these two 'hip' pieces. Both are stylish, modern and filled with a wealth of nudge-wink references. Robbie is the work of Rex the Runt guru Richard Goleszowski. Robbie shows up at Santa's domain to replace his retired dad, Rudolph. Within he meets a villainous Blitzen (still boiling over Rudolph's stardom); the Louise Brooks tinged tramp, Vixen, and a wealth of other cookie cutter characters. Beyond that it's the usual good vs. evil, good Robbie gets good, but dull, chick (my blood boiled when I realized that a COUPLING was on the way) and xmas is saved...I guess.
Meanwhile Olive is umm...not even crap...it's fake crap. A dog (Olive) mistakenly believes that she is needed to save Christmas. Olive. All of. Get it. Heh heh. She is accompanied by a greaseball 'ethnic' penguin and chased by an evil mailman who wants to stop xmas from happening. The message? When you get through the clutter of politically correct pop culture hipness (e.g. Drew Barrymore as Olive, Michael Stipe as a reindeer! Wow...way to go!), there ain't much to this except the usual, "I can be whatever I want to be," philosophy. Ain't a bad philosophy, but when you're a dog and your desire is to be a reindeer, the words psychotic and delusional come to mind. But hey, both films LOOK great. So if you're looking for a one-night stand with a big busted, peroxide haired bimbo lacking conversational skills then by all means check out these two, babes.
South Park: Mr. Hankey
Ok...now this South Park xmas episode is funny. The idea of a kid believing that a talking piece of shit comes up the toilet bowl every year to bring gifts to fiber fueled kids is a fine ode to the ribald tradition. And the quartet of foul mouthed, self-absorbed greedy children is damn close to the true nature of children at xmas. As with most of their episodes, the creators ridicule fundamentalist and politically correct tendencies of religious and social groups by being as politically incorrect as possible (e.g. Kyle's self-hating Jew song, Cartman's glorious rendition of "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch"). S'like a kid yanking his dick out of his buddies' car window so he can take a leak. It's initially shocking, and then it makes you chuckle until his endless waving and shouting just becomes embarrassing.
The great characters of Shakespeare's plays were the fools. They were loutish and obnoxious...but also the wisest and most perceptive characters in the plays. Parker and Stone are no fools.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Charlie Brown finds that he does not understand Christmas. The rituals of decorating and gift buying do not give him any pleasure. To help him, Lucy suggests that he direct the xmas play. He agrees but then finds he cannot control his smug, ignorant classmates. After picking up a dying little green tree (instead of a big aluminum one) to improve the spirit, Charlie Brown is heckled and insulted by his classmates. In frustration he demands to know what xmas is about. As always, philosopher Linus is there to save the day. With the lights dimmed, Linus recounts the nativity scene. Gifts were brought to the Christ child who was sent here to save us. Now being a heathen I find that story a bit loosey goosey but hey, it's the fact. Christmas is a Christian celebration. A poorly interpreted fairy tale of a fairy tale. But hey, Chuck is right; how did we go from gifts of an aroma, a tree and a yellowish metal from rock deposits to Playstation, Pokemon and roller blades? Good grief.
The PJs: How The Super Stole Christmas
A man catches a kid shoplifting, bounds and gags him and locks him in a trunk while he tells the story of a superintendent who almost 'jacked' Christmas. The super (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is pressured to get his wife a computer...but failing to receive any tip$ from the apartment tenants he can't afford it. While xmas shopping at the local pawnshop he makes a desperate deal with the 'shriner' capped owner to become a repo man in exchange for the computer. The super accepts and begins sneaking around the neighbourhood repossessing items from his friends. Turns out that the reason folks couldn't make their payments was because they pooled their money to buy the super a new sofa chair.
This is, and yeah I'm speaking from suburban middle class whitey perspective, one of the most realistic, down to earth xmas pieces I've seen. The humour is biting: a tree is decorated with asbestos droppings; a man's xmas bonus is whatever he can get pawning; the pawn dealer tries to sell back the super the watch he bought his wife last xmas; silent night is sung between spurts of gun fire and police radio calls. Best of all the sugarcoated sentimentality we're usually force-fed is DOA And hey...any show that portrays Jesus as a poorly decorated baked potato and uses "beeatch" not once, but two times, is damn fine in the Pimp's books. There is something close to conventional narrative resolution: the super sells his chair to get money to buy back the items he repossessed from his friends. The confused 'shrine' capped guy asks the super why he is doing this. The super says he's doing it for one reason: "There is no 'I' in friendship."
In the final shot, the neighbours discover that the super was the repo man and beat the crap out of him. The truth ain't pretty but, like a bowel movement, it's necessary. It's life.
It seems to me that if we want to extend the spiritual element of joy to our lives, it's a simple matter of respect. Respect the values, concerns and beliefs of those we SHARE the world with. And hey, I've got a long way to go, so it's not like I'm speaking from Mount Olympus. But it seems increasingly clear to me that in order to find the tools to improve yourself and those around you, you're gonna need to live. You don't practice for ice hockey by playing a video hockey game. You don't practice for life through a television screen. You learn by doing. As a friend told me recently, "You got to take life in your hands and fuck it up."
If all that fails, there are always narcotics and liquor. Here's my recipe for a potent old-fashioned that will make every xmas joyous.
Get a nice bourbon glass (NO ICE and NO WATER): 1. 1 teaspoon of sugar 2. 3 dashes of angostura bitters 3. Mix the two until the sugar is brown 4. Add a half slice of lime, lemon and orange 5. Throw in as much Canadian Club as you need (1-3 ounces) 6. Take a drink stick and mash up the fruit. Take occasional sips and keep mashing the fruit until the taste meets your satisfaction (after 2 of these satisfaction will come quicker) 7. Add a cherry for show 8. Drink, savour and watch the xmas blues fade away as family and friends become loveable and huggable with each swur...oops...I mean...slur-inducing gulp.
Hottie Animator of the Month
Kunyi Chen (Subida). Because she is and because I said so.
Chris Robinson is a writer, festival director, programmer, junky and has been called the John Woo of diplomacy. His hobbies include horseback riding, pudpulling, canoeing and goat thumping.