J Geils Band, Guy Debord, and the Ambivalence of Today

Watch the video > (embedding disabled, sorry)

I was driving in my car the other when the J Geils Band song, Centerfold, came on. It's a song I know, that I grew up on. But, this time, I noticed how complex and tragic a song it is.

The story of the song, as you probably know if you're over 38, is that the narrator had a crush on a girl in high school. Years later, unexpectedly, he sees her nude in a magazine.

The song has a celebratory feel to it as if he finally got what he wanted. But the lyrics tell a very different story. The chorus alone, a chorus I knew well, beautifully articulates his anxiety:

My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is the centerfold

He had this bitter sweet memory of youthful love, adoelscent lust, neither of which were consummated.

Slipped me notes under the desk
While I was thinkin' about her dress
I was shy I turned away
Before she caught my eye

I was shakin' in my shoes
Whenever she flashed those baby-blues
Something had a hold on me
When angel passed close by

Indeed, despite his lack of consummation, "the memory of my angel could never cause me pain."

But now this sweet memory has been sold, made part of the Spectacle, a commodity, no longer this private, personal longing but a public display bereft of the same affective resonance, available to all. Ergo, his blood runs cold. Despite the rah-rah mood of the song, the lyric is chilling. "The pages from my mind are stripped."

He's understanding and tries to summon the power to overcome this intrusion of the Spectacle into his individual memory:

It's okay I understand
This ain't no never-never land
I hope that when this issue's gone
I'll see you when your clothes are on

Take you car, Yes we will
We'll take your car and drive it
We'll take it to a motel room
And take 'em off in private

And yet just as the mood of the song suggests, there is a profound ambivalence:

A part of me has just been ripped
The pages from my mind are stripped
Oh no, I can't deny it
Oh yea, I guess I gotta buy it!

I find this an oddly apt expression of the contemporary moment (at least for those of us over 38) — our memories have become so much fodder for the Spectacle, Bob Dylan in a Google ad, John Lennon's Instant Karma selling Chase — Chase! Of all things! —, our girlfriends of old splayed in the pages of Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

But it's not all bad. After all, Angel is the centerfold! Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na.

Cinema of the Event: On Marc Lafia's "The Revolution of Everyday Life"

revolution of everyday life from keren weinberg on Vimeo.

Great interview with Lafia by MUBI >

Cinema is no longer monumental. Despite the best efforts of Hollywood, making a film no longer demands millions of dollars, booms, grips, lights, and cameras. We don’t need theaters. We don’t need studios. All we need is a mobile phone. Cinema has become everyday.

Marc Lafia has taken to making films that embrace the everyday cinema machine. He has an idea; puts together a cast (he has started working with the same actors); and films on the streets of New York with digital cameras. In his latest, The Revolution of Everyday Life, he gives HD Flip video cameras to the cast and has them film themselves alone.

For Lafia, this process is not an inexpensive way to make a so-called indie film with its quirky characters and narratives of redemption. This is not mumblecore. Nor is it The Blair Witch Project or Mean Streets For Lafia, the everyday tools of cinema breed an emergent cinema, a cinema of the event, in which the very act of recording creates something new.

The camera in this digital age — and in the hands of Lafia — is not a means of mediating an encounter. On the contrary, the camera forges the encounter. The camera here is not as much a recording device per se as it is what Burroughs and Gysin call the Third Mind — an active perceptive engine that functions between and amongst all participants, that thrives in the very event of seeing and being seen.

Throughout The Revolution of Everyday Life, we encounter scenes — or, better, we encounter encounters — that have only come into being because the camera was present. We see sense emerging. We see faces and people and love and the social emerge not just in front of the camera but with the camera. In the exquisite scenes of the women alone recording themselves — scenes that are private, exhuming, creative, peculiar — we come to understand that the camera is a presence, a kind of face that grasps and inspires. The recording event — which, in this digital world, is a playback event, as well — does not just record: it creates events.

The Revolution of Everyday Life reckons the very nature, the possibility, of this cinematic event. Look at the achingly gorgeous scene of Lizzie alone with her camera, filming herself in the mirror. There is a breathtaking intimacy here, an intimacy that would be impossible without the camera, that could never happen without the act of recording. The film then cuts to Tjasa standing on the street, a dildo strapped to her skirt, haranguing passers by.

The film seems, then, to move from the private to the public. But this distinction is false. After all, the so-called private scene of Lizzie is not just a recording but a broadcasting, her room and tears and body on display. In fact, rather than reifying a public-private dichotomy, The Revolution of Everyday Life works to erase it. The boundary that would keep our private and public worlds distinct has been superseded by the pervasive cinema engine.

The distinction the film draws is not between public and private but between demanding to be seen and allowing oneself to be seen. On the one hand, there’s Tjasa who imagines herself a radical fomenting change through situationist performances. Tjasa demands to be seen, screeching into the camera just as she screeches at others, to no one and everyone. Meanwhile, Lizzie, her lover, avoids the spotlight but finds a much more intimate relationship with the camera and with being seen. In a gesture of infinite generosity, she allows herself to be seen.

This is not simply a dichotomy of real events vs. recorded events, the street vs. the bedroom the public vs. the private. Both events are recorded; both events are image, are cinema. No, in these two modes we get postures of standing towards perception, postures of being seen. We get an ethics (mercifully bereft of judgment).

But The Revolution of Everyday Life is not about the cinema event. It is a cinema event. The process of making the film and the film are so thoroughly intertwined it is often difficult to distinguish one from the other. But not through reflexivity — we don’t see booms entering the frame. Rather, we encounter a film in the process of making itself, characters in the process of making themselves to a point where we’re not even sure if they are characters. They exist in a state of person-becoming, character-becoming, actor-becoming just as the film flourishes in the space of cinema-becoming. Events are at once real and not, recorded and live simultaneously.

The Revolution of Everyday Life hence breaks down the rigid lines that separate creation from playback, writing from reading, and finally subject from object. The pervasive cinema engine, the everyday cinema engine, not only rewrites cinema: it rewrites the private and the social, the very manner in which we present and are presented to the world.

In the contemporary world of pervasive cinema, we present ourselves as something to be seen, something always already seen, always already being seen. And yet we do so without evacuating our individuality. We are turned inside out, splayed, but not eviscerated. On the contrary, we are multiplied, extended, disseminated, and proliferated.

And this, alas, foments the revolution of everyday life. The title is taken from the English translation of Raoul Vaneigem’s great situationist treatise by the same title. The revolution, then, is not Tjasa’s ranting against capitalism. Nor is it her all-too-familiar spectacles of S&M. The revolution of everyday life is the proliferation of cinema within and through the everyday.

If we live in a society of the spectacle, this everyday cinema engine decenters image production, proliferates centers, shatters the hegemony of the corporation’s will to quantity and uniformity. This pervasiveness of cinema — this ability to create, distribute, and screen on demand — fundamentally shifts flows of communication, introducing radical new possibilities of constituting the social. Images no longer solely flow downhill or in a straight linear line. They are no longer solely created by vast corporations and streamed into our houses. Images now flow every which way — up, down, sideways, diagonally — disrupting the painful banality of narrative, character and cliché.

As cinema takes up the everyday, it infuses life and is in turn infused. Engaging this everyday cinema engine, Lafia gives us a living cinema, a live cinema, a cinema that is always (and already) in the process of making itself, a cinema replete with affect, with the impossible complexity of the human: a cinema that is revolutionary.


The Palpability of the New Digital

The desktop computer, the laptop computer: so clumsy, they replicated the all too familiar viewing screens of tv and film.

The new computing platform is tactile. It gleams; it buzzes and beeps, pulsates and rings. It begs to be touched, gently fingered as if requesting a massage — and we gladly oblige. It is mobile, compact, and perhaps most notably, alive.

The web was — is — the promise of the archive: all information, all media, at one's disposal. And while it enjoys a certain intelligence, and while it is always growing, it is not alive in the same sense that mobile computing is.

Oh, that ding of a new email, the strum of a new text, the accompanying buzz — it is all so deliciously erotic. The mobile is a literal physical appendage, constantly searching the waves, bringing in information just as eyes and noses do.

In The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan says that technology is an extension of the human body — the wheel, an extension of the foot; the book, an extension of the eye. The mobile is an extension, too, but not of any one sense per se. It extends human perception into the ether. Now, we are able to hear calls across impossible distances and see things half way around the planet right now.

If desktop computing is always there and later (and before), mobile computing is always here and now. With mobile, computers have become flesh.

The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...