Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Stranger Than Fiction vs. Milton Friedman: The Freedom of Surreality

March 31, 2009

The movie ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ was shown on the telly on Sunday. According to my wife, it was supposed to be ‘psychedelic,’ and she did not seem particularly interested in it. My interest, on the other hand, was aroused once I heard that. Often, I find movies more attractive when they are less realistic or when it is obvious that the movie is surreal.

A good movie has some important content; a message, a moral, or a story to tell. When one is free from the bounds of reality, it is much easier to highlight the important content and make it shine. (Many people like subtle stuff; I’m rather slow, however, and like clear, shiny things.) The content in a movie may have everything to do with reality independent of the visual similarity to reality and the logical structure. The same goes for comics, books, paintings, and any form of communication; when a comic assumes its full potential, it is not realistic in a visual sense. With the freedom that follows with surreality, it should be much easier to make a point or tell a story. And, when free from the bounds of reality, anything can happen. It makes it much more interesting.

Here’s where it gets surreal: While I was watching ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and thinking about the attractiveness of surreality, I came to think of an article on positive economics by Milton Friedman (The Methodology of Positive Economics).  Friedman wrote that a theory would be more important and successful the lesser its assumptions agreed with reality; if a theory with assumptions out of line with reality could successfully explain empirical observations, it showed that the features not agreeing with the assumptions to be unimportant for the observed phenomenon.

[…] to suppose that hypotheses have not only “implications” but also “assumptions” and that the conformity of these “assumptions” to “reality” is a test of the validity of the hypothesis different from or additional to the test by implications. This widely held view is fundamentally wrong and productive of much mischief.  Far from providing an easier means for sifting valid from invalid hypotheses, it only confuses the issue, promotes misunderstanding about the significance of empirical evidence for economic theory, produces a misdirection of much intellectual effort devoted to the development of positive economics, and impedes the attainment of consensus on tentative hypotheses in positive economics.

In so far as a theory can be said to have “assumptions” at all, and in so far as their “realism” can be judged independently of the validity of predictions, the relation between the significance of a theory and the “realism” of its “assumptions” is almost the opposite of that suggested by [positive economics].  Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions (in this sense).[reference removed]  The reason is simple.  A hypothesis is important if it “explains” much by little, that is, if it abstracts the common and crucial elements from the mass of complex and detailed circumstances surrounding the phenomena to be explained and permits valid predictions on the basis of them alone.  To be important, therefore, a hypothesis must be descriptively false in its assumptions; it takes account of, and accounts for, none of the many other attendant circumstances, since its very success shows them to be irrelevant for the phenomena to be explained.

To put this point less paradoxically, the relevant question to ask about the “assumptions” of a theory is not whether they are descriptively “realistic,” for they never are, but whether they are sufficiently good approximations for the purpose in hand.  And this question can be answered only by seeing whether the theory works, which means whether it yields sufficiently accurate predictions.  The two supposedly independent tests thus reduce to one test.

Friedman’s argument for ‘surreality’ is not the same as in the ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ example, I know, but it has a similar logical structure. (Or, my mind makes connections between random ideas, which of course may be the case.) Surreality implies freedom, and freedom is powerful both when making movies and constructing economic theory. No surprise there.

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Mogwai

February 3, 2009

Mogwai was thee band that opened my eyes (and my heart) to post-rock. Someone has described post-rock as ‘non-rock music played with rock instruments.’ That’s only half true, of course. Post-rock is played with rock instruments, but what does non-rock mean? Post-rock is certainly heavily influenced by rock, and many post-rock songs could easily be generally sorted under rock. Post-rock is a strange genre of rock music, by the way; I still haven’t heard a really bad post-rock album! One of my music-geek friends could not name a bad post-rock album either. I can think of two possible explanations. Either post-rock is such an easy genre that anyone can do it, or only the really good ones do it. Maybe it is a little bit of both. Certainly, a lot of intelligent, gifted musicians play post-rock. But what does it take to ‘fail’ in post-rock? Singing too much? I don’t know, and that may be a bad sign.

Anyway, the first Mogwai album I owned was Rock Action. I was sold immediately. I love every song on that record, and I play it way too seldom. I remember seeing Mogwai on the Øya Festival in Oslo, in 2003 I think it was. The concert was a weird experience, with technical problems throughout, a short nod to Turbonegro (the headliner the previous day), and thrashing of equipment which almost ended up in a fight between the keyboardist and one from the stage crew, but it was still great. I listened to Happy Songs for Happy People (such an ironic title) on the way home, I think I bought it at the festival, and remember being a little bit disapointed at first. The album grew on me, however. Now, I regard the opener ‘Hunted By a Freak’ one of their greatest efforts; a definition I measure other post-rock bands against.

Below is a beautifully animated movie for ‘Hunted By a Freak’ (from YouTube). It is sad and grotesque in an almost Gaimanesque (see second half of post; I would prefer Gaimanic, or even Gaimanian, but Google has spoken) way.

Once, the new musical

November 23, 2008

OnceI saw this movie with my wife this summer, and I just loved it. I was kind of skeptical when I learned it was kind of a musical. Well, this is the new musical! The music is teriffic! (And there’s no inappropriate dancing!) Not that I put too much weight on it, but the movie won an Oscar for ‘Best song.’ In most musicals, you have actors singing or pretending to. In this one you have musicians singing and acting (or pretending, I don’t know). It works very well, I guess they are helped by the fact that the movie is sort of ‘lo-fi’ and certainly ‘lo-budget’. The main male character is played by Glen Hansard from the band ‘The Frames.’ Much of the music in the movie is by him and his band. Marketa Irglova plays his opposite; she is occationally a guest singer in ‘The Frames.’

One of the best songs in the movie (watch it, the scene with this song had such an impact on me) is ‘Say it to me now’ and is in the first scene if my memory serves me right. I can certainly envision that the song became somewhat iconic for the movie; it is used as ‘promotion’ in the clip below. You may don’t want to see it if you want to keep it pristine until you see the movie, put I cannot resist posting it here. It is such a great song.

Crazy stuff, or Grace Jones is back

October 28, 2008

Grace Jones is back, it seems (linking to Dagbladet generates traffic; traffic is fun; mor fun than trafficing, for example). There is a lot of crazy stuff lying around out there on the web, and you find it when you least expect it. I googled Grace Jones and came across an imitation (or reconstruction, or tribute,  or cover picture (?) maybe) of a famous picture of her on vvork.com.

It doesn’t say who neither the model nor the photographer is; maybe it is the administrator of the webpage. I did not hang around long enough to figure out what kind of place vvork.com is, but check it out, some of the artwork presented there is actually interesting. I liked the empty bookshelf. However, the short movie ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’ (1975; Martha Rosler) is quite crazy (in a good sense). You have to watch it to the end to understand it, or, at least I had to (I’m not too smart).

Hattip: vvork.com

Recipes for Disaster

September 28, 2008

I just saw the documentary Recipes for Disaster on NRK, the Norwegian broadcasting company. It’s a film about climate change and a family who tries to do something about it. The family decides to live a year on a carbon diet. They sell their car, they try to avoid plastic wrappers (which is a though one; think about what is NOT wrapped in plastic the next time you visit the mall), they start to row their motor boat, and they do a lot of other adjustments in their lifestyle. The adjustments are not always easy to deal with. Their homemade toothpaste, for example, tastes terrible according to the children. It is the father in the family who is the idealist; his wife is more skeptical of the whole project. This leads to tensions that are hard to deal with, and we get glimpses from some of the many arguments they must have had.

Their challenges are maybe made harder by the fact that they live in a suburb in Finland, a country with a semi-arctic climate. It is, for example, not very attractive to wait for the bus outside on a cold winter day instead of cruising away in a heated car. (They actually end up buying a car that runs on bio-fuel.) Most of the time, it does not look like fun to be on a carbon diet. They do have some positive experiences, however. The least surprising, maybe, is that they have more time for the kids. This is partly because they take the bus all the time, and, I guess, because they have to put fewer activities into each day.

After a year on the carbon diet, they conclude that people can do something with their oil consumption, but first people has to overcome themselves. It’s an interesting film. See it if you can!

Zeitgeist, the movie

September 24, 2008

Actually, I just recently saw this movie. I took some notes and thought about it a little bit. The movie consists of three parts. It takes almost 15 minutes, however, before the first part starts, and the part before part one (the zeroth part) is not really about much. Beautiful, maybe, and maybe too long. Part I parallells Christianity with ancient religions, and claims that ‘the Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun.’ Even though I sympathize with the filmmakers, no sources are cited in the movie (there are some sources on the webpage, but these leads are hard to follow). I understand that artisitcal considerations have to be taken into account when such a movie is made, but the lack of references makes the claims harder to check, and harder to believe. I cannot help but to think that the filmmakers have left references out for a reason. (There is even a webpage that gives money prizes to proofs of different claims from the first part of the movie. I assume this is propaganda from Christian people, but still. Don’t remember the address, google it!)

Part II of the movie attacks the offical story behind the 9/11 events (or the ‘myth’ about 9/11, as the movie calls it). I find this part better documented, however less interesting. I don’t know why, maybe because 9/11 is ahelluva lot more recent than Christianity and has, so far, required a lot fewer casualties. If the Americans, with the Bush familiy at the wheel, wants to fuck themselves up, I’m not too interested in the details, I guess. A selfish attitude, I know. Part II concludes that 9/11 was an inside job and has some interesting claims toward this end.

Part III is crazy stuff on how central banks work. The movie basically claims that ‘international bankers’, who are behind the Fed (I’ll call them the ‘Fedders’; the Fed is supposedly at the root of all major events in modern history), were responsible for the American engagement in WWI & II, the Vietnam war and more recently the engagements in Afganhistan and Iraq.

Towards the end the movie claims that the aim of the Fedders is to form a world government and let, as I understand it, ‘intellectuals’ rule. Actually an idea I don’t find all that repulsive. Maybe future generations could benefit from a superclass rule, given that it is responsible and ethical and all that? (Isn’t for example Catholism built on this principle?) The filmmakers claim that history has shown us that power corrupts. I am not convinced. The right people at the right place may well be incorruptible because it is in their own best interest to be so. What the history has shown us is that democracy, self-governed national states and so on are not all that successfull in providing people safe and stable lives.

There is a certain Darwinistic flavour to the idea of an emergence of a superclass of world rulers. I believe in Darwin. The promises towards the end of the movie that the power of love can rescue us all from evil is really cheesy, and downgrades my impression of the movie a whole lot. On a different note, after living a year in America, there is no doubt in my mind that the American people is not in control of their own government. I am afraid, however, that the same goes for most governments.

A big problem with movies like Zeitgeist is that it is as secretive and uninformative about its sources as the institutions it tries to criticize. This takes away a lot of the impact and places it in the category of movies not to take too seriously.

By the way: What links the first part to the last two parts? Is it simply demonstration of argument and convincing presentation of ‘evidence’ so the audience is less skeptical to the latter parts?

By the way 2: How does these conspiracy theories connect with the recent financial crisis, seemingly threatening to ruin most people in the western world? Is it just a new staged event designed to let the Fedders gain even more control over global companies and systems?