Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Daily Haiku

Anonymous: Green must be your favorite color,
Me: No, why?
Anonymous: !

The Green Haiku, February 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

2008 Oscars

Before getting to my wish list for the 80th Annual Academy Awards I have two great regrets and that is I haven’t seen The Savages directed by Tamara Jenkins and Katyn by Andrzej Wajda yet. These are the two good movies I have failed to see so far. And I don’t want even to start to talk about my disappointments with Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; I believe it was by far the worst film that I’ve seen this year no wait, I forgot to count The Brave One, but the latter did not get nominated for Oscars. Here is the link to the nominees for the 80th Oscars.

But here is my wish list for Oscars 2008:

For the best actor in a leading role I wish for Daniel Day Lewis to win. I think this year the hardest choice should be made in this category. For the best actor in the supporting role I put all my hopes on Javier Bardem, He is amazing.

I hope the award for the best actress in a leading role goes to Ellen Page, I haven’t seen The Savages yet though. And in the supporting role I loved Amy Rayan’s performance.

In Animated Feature category, Persepolis is my choice. Taxi To The Dark Side is my choice for the best documentary.

For cinematography I vote for Roger Deakins - No Country for Old Men.
For the best Directing, I very much liked There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; I think the Coen brothers did a good job in directing and I like their movie as a whole better but I think I will go with There Will Be Blood for the best director.

For best picture I will vote for No Country for Old Men. For the adapted screenplay, by sure I will go with There Will Be Blood. It was definitely very difficult to turn this story to a movie but Anderson did it beautifully.

For the best original screenplay, again I failed to see Savages so I will go with Juno; Michael Clayton’s screenplay was not that special to me.

Enjoy The Oscars Night!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Plagiarism: A Romantic One,

Couple of weeks ago I heard this story on NPR and it was so interesting and funny that I wanted to post it for Valentine’s Day, but then I forgot all about it. Well the story is like this: Three years ago Paul Tolme, freelance environmental journalist, wrote an article for Defenders of Wildlife magazine about endangered black-footed ferrets in South Dakota. In 2008, parts of Tolme's article were found in a romance book written by Cassie Edwards called Shadow Bear. This so far makes it a non-romantic plagiarism: Black-footed ferrets being a subject of conversation is not so romantic.

Before this copyright scandal broke out, Cassie Edwards was famous for her historical romance novels; today if you search her name on Google, her own site which comes up first in Google says: under construction. Her name in Wikipedia comes up second with a paragraph titled Plagiarism allegations. And the third on the search is Romance Novel Reviews - Smart Bitches, *an amusingly smart website that actually discovered this plagiarism. The discovery had an interesting process; apparently a reader got curious when she came across a section in the book where the author’s tone bizarrely becomes educational and instructive. This change of writing style got more evident because it happened at the peak of the story, where the two main characters were on the edge of a lovemaking scene. It was so different that the reader decided to search for sentences from that passage in Google; She found them in Tolme’s article. After this discovery, Smart Bitches decided to check other books by Edwards, and sadly, they found out about other cases of plagiarism by Cassie Edwards. You can find the whole package at smartbitchestrashybooks.

Couple of things interests me in this plagiarism story.

1- One may not know what plagiarism exactly is but we all know about copyrights and authorship rights at least because of many movies we have seen on video or DVD. Also it is really hard to go to any collage and still be unaware of the authorship rights. And in fact it is easier to use someone else’s writings, without it being called plagiarism mostly by including the sufficient acknowledgment rather than take the original piece and hide it. Now here, we don’t have a college student, we have a best-selling author whose job is to write, whose talent, perhaps, is to be creative and who should be aware of the rules of the game. To avoid being a hypocrite, I should admit that it is not easy to flawlessly follow the rules of copyright and to avoid false attribution. But I think one should at least show that he or she has tried to follow the rules.

2- On Talk of the Nation, January 21st, where I heard the story on NPR, an issue was raised that I think deserves more attention, and that has to do with two worlds being intertwined by this plagiarism: the worlds of two groups of readers- romance novel readers and nature-science readers. I like to know more about their feedbacks. Take a look at these comments left for Paul Tolme's article on Newsweek.

3- The other thing that was smart, besides the Smart Bitches, was Paul Tolme’s reaction to the whole thing. He used the publicity and the opportunity to once more bring up the issues concerning the black-footed ferrets. As far as I know there has been no legal action taken against Cassie Edwards, yet.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, September 2007
A small population of black-footed ferrets live in this area.
I took the photo in our trip across the country. I loved the area; limitless.

*Candy and Sarah describe their website in this words: Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, all of the romance, none of the bullshit. I like their style.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Small, Tiny and Foolish !

She looked

She is fascinated by its reflection!

She likes to hide behind it

Small, tiny and foolish
A detail!
A tiny, small, foolish detail
Something that can be seen, but it doesn’t hold,
It is there and not,
A detail
An insignificant, small, detail!

She looked and hid,
She didn’t fit
It was small,

It was there and no one has asked for it
It was part of a bigger picture that was hung on the wall
It was a small part, a detail
Tiny, small and foolish

Like the curve of that blue
In her lonely hours

My mind,
My unwell mind collects them; these details,

These small, tiny foolish details
Very small to the wall that they are hung on
Small enough to slip through the eyes
They don't hold
But, I collect them
And a new picture is born
A small insignificant new picture

Small, but big enough for her to hide

She looked and hid
It covered her perfectly,
That insignificant foolish detail was perfect.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Persepolis, more than a Memoir

I have done everything else other than what I should have. I know I will do it eventually. But to get there, to do it and get it over with, is a long mental process. I will not do what I should, I believe, if I do not force myself to sit down and write. I wonder what is it that I am running from? Am I running from my memories? If yes, it is hard to admit it, since that means I am actually escaping myself. After all what am I, what are we without our memories?

All this escaping has nothing to do with Persepolis and yet I realize it has everything to do with it. Persepolis, a popular autobiography comic book, was written by Marjan Satrapi, an Iranian book illustrator. In 2007, the book was adopted to an animation picture with the same title, written and directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. It was hard for me to hold my tears back, three years ago when I first read Persepolis. It was hard to hold my tears back last week when I finally saw Persepolis in the darkness of Kendall Square Cinema in Boston. It is hard for me to hold them back now that I am re-membering the movie.

The opening sequence silently follows Marjan in her mid 20s in the airport waiting for her flight to Tehran. There she gets cold feet and backs out of the line. From here on we enter her thoughts and she narrates her life story for us. The rest of the film is not silent at all. By each sequence we enter yet another phase of Marji’s life. The story covers the period between 1979, the year of the Islamic revolution, to 1994, when Marjan leaves Iran for the second time. Marjan was ten when the Islamic revolution happened in Iran. So the issues and the logic behind them would be attractive and understood for a 10 year-old girl. It is funny when the 10 year-old Marji informs her leftist parents by repeating what her teacher has taught her at school “Shah was chosen by God”; the shocked parents correct her of course and by their explanation we get to know her leftist family who are also the descendants of the Qajar dynasty. A Communist Prince, a mélange that is not rare in the country with more than 2500 years of monarchy rule and a fast pace modernization. The title, Persepolis, refers to the capital of the Persian Empire in 560 BCE and is another reference to Iran’s history.

No matter how much one was against the Shah’s regime and in favor of the revolution, after a couple of years, being a Marxist was not in the list of things that would help you to have a better life. So Marjan’s family suffers the consequences of their beliefs; her uncle Anoosh, a political activist is executed under the false accusation of being a Soviet spy. When Marjan gets older, her parents send her to a French school in Vienna. There, Marjan is like any young girl who is experiencing an independent life, far from her family and her country. As an immigrant away from all familiar things, Marjan starts to make new friends. Then she falls in love and a broken heart follows. After a nervous breakdown Marjan goes back to Iran but it is not forever. The second part of the film starts by Marjan’s return to Iran and finishes by yet another departure.

Persepolis does not claim to be a history book; it is an autobiography and I admire it for being an accurate one. Of course, there are important historical events that are left out; there are no pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini or any other Islamic clerics in the movie. Satrapi’s presentation of the Iranian government and its guardians are some bearded men who are faceless and unspecific. The major historic events are shortly mentioned in the course of the story, the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners and the Iran-Iraq war. But the real attention is paid to people’s daily struggle to survive a war and the aftermaths of a revolution. Persepolis depicts the little changes in the society, the empty supermarkets, the packed hospitals and unreasonable regulations in schools and streets, little things that affected people’s lives and have been usually considered insignificant in other narrations. My admiration for Satrapi’s work (both in the book and the film) is not for the parts that she does not mention or for the events that she mentions briefly; it is for what she portrays as sincerely as possible. Persepolis is the life of real people.

Satrapi’s simple and childlike drawing technique repeats itself in the animated film. Its essentially plain movements are as minimal and as genuine as the figures themselves. The white lines of the drawings radiate against the dark, blackboardish background. Depending on the events of the story, the background sometimes changes into white. More than Satrapi’s childlike drawing style, it is the boldness of her forms that strangely remind me of Henri Matisse’s works. The Cinema screen adds another element to this contrast: Depth. The depth that in Matisse’s works drives from its lively, vivid and wild colors, in Persepolis (the movie) comes from the big dimensions of the cinema screen, when the blackness of the drawings moves out of the screen and into the viewer’s seat. The obvious difference between their works – Matisse and Satrapi – seems to be the colorfulness of Matisse’s canvases. His use of strong color brought him the title of the Fauve, a French idiom for Wild Beast. I think the bold contrast between black and white in Satrapi’s drawings makes her as Fauve as Matisse.

For many, Satrapi’s style – boldness in form and the impression of her story on the reader/viewer – is similar to Art Spiegelman. Satrapi herself proudly acknowledges the impact that Spiegelman had on her choice to tell the story by drawing and to choose graphic novel as her medium.*

As Marji of the movie promised her uncle Anoosh to remain as honest as possible, Persepolis remains as one of the few stories that stay close to the reality of Iran in the course of the Islamic revolution. As a proper depiction of one’s biography, a family history and a country, Persepolis has particles from lives of all who lived through that period in Iran, so that everyone can relate to it in one way or the other. A reminder for any Iranian viewer and a tale about Iran, never said like this before, for people from other parts of the world; A story of a child growing up in the midst of a sociopolitical upheaval, a heartbroken teenage girl and a young immigrant; a story that describes details of life in a changing country. If you have not experienced a “Wild Life” as Momo in the movie describes, you still enjoy it for Persepolis goes deeper and touches you in a more humane level. If you have not experienced a revolution, if you have not survived a war or have not lived with leftist open-minded intellectual parents who are losing their hope for a better future under a totalitarian religious government, Persepolis easily shares all these with you under the shade of humor.

As the narrator grows older the humor of the story becomes darker, though you still will laugh to the grotesque turn of the events. As I explained Persepolis has something for everyone, but for me there is more. To my long hidden memory, everything in Persepolis is a tickle. To me Persepolis was not someone else’s memoirs. It was not a story at all. It was my own life. A wakening of memories that I have never forgotten and will never forget, but I am not ready to share. No, I am not ready to share the memories of my uncle Anoosh, yet.

Nonetheless I am more than happy to see someone had the means and the courage to share her memories of Iran in a way that viewers from all over the world can relate to. They get acquainted to an often-misrepresented people, a nation if you please. Persepolis transforms that nation to sympathetic individuals that the observer does not mind the bother of getting close to. The animation that started with a rain of white Jasmine flowers ends with them and we got stuck to the memory of the coolest grandma in the whole universe; indeed Freedom has its price.

* (Pantheon, On Writing Persepolis)

** Persepolis (2007) is in French with English Subtitle. There will be an English language dubbed version of the film. Persepolis is nominated for best Animated Feature Film category at the 80th Annual Academy Awards 2008. In the English version of the film we will hear Sean Penn’s voice for Marjan’s father. Also Catherine Deneuve lent her voice to both French and English versions of the film. Persepolis is now available at theaters in Princeton area.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Smart Advertisement

An advertisement for Equinox Fitness Club on Boston magazine made headlines due to its so-called provocative presentation of Catholic virtues; the ad shows attractive and partially exposed nuns, curiously sketching a nude male figure standing David like. The nuns are shamelessly checking out his body rather than studying this statuesque man, and it is easy to see why this ad was offensive to some. It is written Happily Ever on the left corner of the ad.

To me the most appealing part of this smart ad is the nun that looks through the window, holding her hands to the Art Nouveau bars, watching the nude as if he is an angel sent by God. She is clearly having a spiritual moment. Of course it was by watching the local news that I got to know this ad. But now I have a personal interest in it. I ask myself what does really tickle people to take offence from such presentations of body? Besides the obvious of course… Surely most people admire Michelangelo’s David rather than taking offense in it. So what is it this time? I came to think that what really disturbs people in such occasions is that the women are being an active witnesses of the male nudity in the picture. There is a great tradition that feeds this dislike of women’s presence in male environment. The example that comes to my mind right now is that for many years women were not allowed to study anatomy and work with models in art schools. Here is a painting by Mary Bashkirtseff called The Julien Studio dated 1881*. The Julien Studio is an interesting comparison for the Equinox ad: both its apparent compositional similarities to the ad in question and also its subject matter: women students drawing a young boy posing in the corner, looking at the viewer innocently.

Happily Ever, Equinox Fitness Club Ad, 2008

Julien Studio, Mary Bashkirtseff, 1881

* An alternative way of writing Mary Bashkirtseff is Marie Bashkirtseff. She was Russian and her name is written Мария Константиновна Башкирцева in Russian. Also for Julien Studio one can use Julian. My source for the spelling of the name of the artist and her painting was Great Women Masters of Art, a book by Jordi Vigue. The painting also was referred to as Studio.