Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Video Vault: Samsara & Sugar Man

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Here on The Mountain, we've got this imperative to see every film in the world which matters.  Today's Video Vault installment has ten features that range from things you really need to see to curios and oddities, from action to animation, from true stories to partly true stories, to ghost stories, from sci-fi to James Bond and one film that defies classification.

Let's start there.

2011 /Ron Fricke
PG-13 / 102 minutes

"Samsara" is unlike any film I've seen, taking the viewer on a global journey of image and sound as if you are an alien who has landed on Earth and begun to look around.  The sights are strange and beautiful, disturbing and eloquent.  And all presented without a single word of dialogue.

I will wager that some will turn away.  Audiences need - they have been trained to need - a narrative; someone telling them the story.  "Samsara" simply shows you things and lets your imagination provide the narrative.

At first, I thought, "These are beautiful images, but this is going to be a long movie."  But after about ten minutes I found myself engrossed.  I was providing my own subtext to the film, bringing my own wonder, incredulity and meaning to the stunning displays of this world's beauty.

The word, "samsara," exists in the Buddhist culture: "Coming into existence as a mortal creature."  And in the Hindu culture: " the endless series of births, deaths, and rebirths to which all beings are subject."  But you don't need those definitions in order to set your mind adrift in this tsunami of image.  The film acts like a poem that jars emotional responses from you.

I found myself in turns mumbling things like, "Where is that?" or a quizzical laugh, "huh!" or gasping in surprise or even shock.  It is a film for film lovers.  Please try to see this film.  I watched it by myself and found it rather meditative.  I began to watch the film again with my wife and she got pulled in.  Just don't expect to be handed your entertainment, expect to participate in it.

Searching for Sugar Man
2012 - Malik Bendjelloul 
PG-13 / 86 minutes

"Searching for Sugar Man" is the story of an obscure record, "Cold Fact," and how the mysterious artist behind it, known only as "Rodriguez," vanished.

It is a story of how his music, never noticed in America and long forgotten since it's monumental flop in 1970, somehow caught on elsewhere and became the soundtrack to white kids' opposition to apartheid in South Africa.

It is the story of how fans of the record decided to find out what happened to the artist rumored to have died by his own hand in concert.  It is also the story of the redemptive power of music and a bit of a meditation on what constitutes failure and success.

The story begins with record store owner Stephen "Sugar" Segerman who begins to wonder about the record that helped shape his life growing up in South Africa and why nothing was known about its maker.  With only the gritty, urban lyrics of protest to go on, he brings the viewer along on his journey of discovery.

Segerman paints for the viewer how the music traveled and was shared clandestinely, how it was eventually banned and, thus, grew in importance and then, years later, how he traced the music to its American roots.

And what a cool musical soundtrack it is.  The songs have a Dylanesque lyrical vibe matched with a kind of studio production that is dated enough that it resonates today.  Songs like "I Wonder," "Inner City Blues" and "Sugar Man," happily, are all available for you on iTunes today.  Check the movie and I bet you wind up with the record yourself.  

1965 - Masaki Kobayashi
NR / 182 minutes

Here is a curio that Mountain Junior discovered because of his fascination with 19th century horror stories.  The book, "Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things," was published in 1904 by Lafcadio Hearn and recounts 17 spooktacular stories from the Asian culture. 

The film, which won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1965, uses four of the best tales:  "Black Hair," about a poor samurai who divorces his true love in order to marry for money; "The Woman in the Snow," about a wood-cutter whose life is spared by an icy spirit; "Hoichi the Earless," about a blind musician who sings for the dead and "In a Cup of Tea," about a man haunted by a vision in a tea-cup.

The film is a bit stagey looking, but the color and set design are very good.   The stories, being drawn from another culture, offer something new for an American audience running thin on horror ideas.

Wreck-It Ralph
2012 - Rich Moore
PG / 108 minutes

The animated film that should have won the Oscar this year in a weak year for feature length animation, "Wreck-It Ralph" takes place inside certain video games within an old-school video arcade.  (God, I miss old school video arcades.) 

The set-up is pretty standard stuff.  Ralph is a ham-fisted "bad guy" who wrecks things in his game only to have the hero, "Fix-It Felix," come on to save the day.  Ralph wishes he could win just once, but that's impossible in his game.

Ralph runs away from his game to find a chance at glory in another game, leading to the complications that could threaten the entire arcade.  Neatly, the film goes from relying on a pixilated 80's type nostalgia which begins to wear thin to a better than average payoff.

2012 - Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
PG / 93 minutes

The animated film that did win the Oscar this year is okay if you like the standard Disney princess who's fed up with her lot in life.  This one takes place in Scotland, so there's a lot of quarrelsome Scots in kilts.  There's a witch and a wish and a curse that needs undone, but it's pretty standard fare. 

Now, the LOOK of the film is just eye-popping.  There was so much detail (There's an awesomely done horse in this pic but with nowhere near the humor of the horse from "Tangled.") that the animated movie almost looked too real sometimes...  Which is an achievement, but an achievement that had me stepping back from the world of the story to look at the pretty details.  It did not feel right to me.

When you get animation that is too "good" you have to stop and appreciate the old Disney films or the films of Studio Ghibli.  Still, the movie's decent for the kids.

2012 - Ben Affleck
R / 120 minutes

Based on the strange but true story of a U.S. / Canadian plan to get six American diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian uprising in 1980, this triple-Oscar-winner is an engrossing action picture.  Best Picture?  Not on my watch, but it is a fine film nonetheless.  

The film gained Oscar steam, I surmise, because it made Hollywood look so good.  The plot was that a CIA "Moses" would go into Tehran under a Canadian passport and come out - right through the airport and right under the noses of the Iranian authorities - with the Americans who would pose as his production crew for "Argo," a fictitious sci-fi movie.

In order for it to work, the CIA actually had to secretly enlist Hollywood's aid to actually launch the production of the film.  They had to have a script and a cast.  They had to begin production design and they had to create buzz about the movie in industry publications.  The production company had to have offices that could receive calls all so the cover story would hold up under a foreign government's scrutiny.

It was a hair-brained idea, for sure.  That they actually pulled it off is just ridiculous.  I would rather point you in the direction of smaller films that escaped your notice, but sometimes - and today's a good example - half my basket is full of A-Titles that really are worth your while.

2012 - Sam Mendes
PG-13 / 143 minutes

I got ready for the latest (possibly best) of the James Bond films by going back to the beginning, with 1962's "Dr. No."  While this film is a modern day bang-up job of an action picture, today's bond girls cannot compare to Ursula Andress as Honey Rider.  Neither can today's iteration match the camp of some of the early efforts.  But "Skyfall" does inject new life into the Bond cannon and I recommend it especially if you are not a fan of Bond films.

The film opens with a breathless chase where Bond is trying to stop the theft of information that would expose MI6 agents world-wide.  But the aging Bond (Daniel Craig) fails and operatives around the world are imperiled while the agency comes under attack at home. 

A mysterious villain (Silva, played by Javier Bardem) has got the agency on the run and only Bond, working in the shadows, can rectify the situation.  To me, it is the best Bond film to date.

2012 - Ridley Scott
R / 124 minutes

A team of archaeologists discover a clue to the origins of human life on Earth, leading to an expedition into deep space where the big questions are supposed to get answered.

The crew of the Promethius encounters the race of giants who may have begun life on Earth but they also encounter an "Alien" life form on that distant moon that could destroy both races.

An exciting and well done prequel to the Alien trilogy that director Ridley Scott began in 1979, it bodes well for at least one more quality sci-fi adventure to come.

Hubris: Selling the Iraq War
2013 - TV Documentary
44 minutes

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, it has been of particular interest to The Mountain that the neo-conservative progenitors of said deception have been blathering all over the teevee touting their "War of Liberation."

Rachel Maddow hosts this important TV-doc to set the record straight.  The war introduced the idea of "pre-emtive war," a horrible Bush II doctrine that has now been exposed as a thin cover for war-mongers.  Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Condi and Dubya can go on the talk shows all they want, but "Hubris" - based on the book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn - reminds that these villains lied our country into war.

From the whole weapons of mass destruction to the shocking and deceitful "mushroom cloud" comment to the sorry pimping of Colin Powell on the world stage at the U.N., "Hubris" reminds us that animals like Dick Cheney never leave power.  People like that always stay around, always scheming, always looking for profit at the levers of power.
Their kind are the worst kind of criminals in our world.  "Hubris" reminds us to beware when dealing with that kind of concentrated evil.  You can watch the whole documentary right here.


HOUSEKEEPING:  In my next post I'll be featuring a story on a brilliant young artist who lives here on the mountain named Joshua Wilson.  He's got a new website up and will be putting some pieces on display at a gallery over in DuBois, Pa. soon.  We'll have all those details coming right up.

FUNDRAISER: Over here in Philipsburg, I want to let you all know we're holding a Wisecrackers Comedy Club at the Philipsburg VFW on Front Street on Friday, April 19 and you can contact the mountain in person if you'd like to buy tickets in advance.  We aim to sell the thing out to support our local soccer community here.  The show will feature two full sets by two great comedians and a dance will follow.

Now, I've tried to get a number of my good friends, "Serious Jones" and "Brand New Wings," to play the dance which follows, but they've got conflicts.  So, in case I can't find a band, I'll be DJing the thing.  You should know that I'll probably be setting up a blue-tooth system where I'll be picking music right out of the cell-phones in your pocket (if you've got your stuff set to share) but I've also got a mammoth collection of music.  ALSO also, you should know that I have long been associated with very good original theater productions and I'll be lighting this dance floor like nobody's business with my personal lighting equipment.  I just hope the VFW has heavy enough breakers to handle the light I'll be throwing.  We shall see. 

In any case, have a look at the benefit flyer and please come out to see us on April 19.  The tickets are by advance sale only, so follow the directions on the flyer, okay?  Thanks.

Shawn Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dark Waters

 Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

The water was black.  Well, not black, but the color of tea.  The lake was full of tannins from the acid loving plant life and it made the water dark and serene and reflective even in the broad daylight of a warm off-season day.

The surface was placid, reflecting like an impenetrable eye the world around it, a perfect beautiful dark looking glass.

The Trooper had driven his patrol car there on a serene, deserted patrol, seeking quiet.  Needing to sleep.  Mind wandering and numb.

The internal investigations just kept coming one after another.  It had gotten to the place where the Trooper had posted his most recent notice on the patrol room bulletin board so that the guys could read it without clandestinely poking through his mailbox.

It didn't matter that the Trooper was blameless in any of it.  It only mattered that he was an officer who needed to be hammered down like a stubborn nail poking its head above the flush of a wooden deck.  He was an officer who needed to conform.  An officer who needed to know that filing a grievance was not what team players did.

The officer nosed the cruiser up to the water's edge and cracked the window, letting in the meditative sounds of wind and calming black waves.  The water was a reflection.  It was an abyss.  He pushed the driver's seat forward and reclined it the few inches it would go before it ran up against the cage for back-seat passengers.

His uniform didn't fit very well.  He was getting overweight, a far cry from the boot that came out of the academy in the best shape of his life, and his gun-belt was on its last notch and spent its shifts digging into his gut and his woolen gray uniform was stuffy and uncomfortable.

He turned down the radio so it could barely be heard and fell into a troubled sleep sitting upright.  The Trooper could not dream.  He had not dreamt in years.

Back at the barracks, his corporals in the patrol unit and crime unit were conspiring on ways to stick it to him.  One of them kept a file on the Trooper.  The other kept downgrading his evaluations.  Every report that came across their desks bounced like a rubber ball back into the Trooper's box.  Do it over.   Review OM 7-2 regarding statements on domestic violence.  Familiarize yourself with blocks 7-15 regarding initial crime reporting.  Submit correspondence STD-501 explaining the lateness of this report.  One time, his report bounced because his signature was wrong.  The Trooper couldn't lick a postage stamp and get it past these guys and, after a while, even a sensible Trooper began to doubt whether or not he was capable of doing anything right.  After a while, even a sensible Trooper began to make unforced errors, failing at easy tasks.

And when the Bureau of Professional Responsibility came calling because one of his supervisors kept filing paper on him for whatever they could think of, the report always came back clearing the Trooper.  The Trooper had always acted with best intents.  It was the six months of not knowing where the complaint originated or whether the misstated and bent reasoning of the complaint would be discovered in the investigation or not.  It was six months of not knowing what the department was going to do to you.

And then another investigation would begin.  And another.  There was, for a sensible Trooper, no recourse.

There comes a time for a Trooper when he can no longer function.  When he can no longer manage the Chinese Water Torture of stress.  When you are driving but you don't know where and you wind up somewhere but you realize suddenly you have no idea how you got there.

The Trooper's mind thought in still frames.  In pictures.  And the thought crept up on him in the middle of a tripple-header - three eight hour shifts out of five - like shadow not wanting to be seen and insinuated itself.  The Trooper was not safe.

He saw in his mind's eye the picture of the bloody roof of the patrol car.  But in the picture he could not see his face.  Either he had become no one or his mind would not allow him to be in the picture.  But he could not see his face there.  He had disappeared.

His hand caressed the Beretta's grip in its holster.  The Beretta with the interminably long trigger pull.  The Beretta whose grip was too big for his hand.  And his thumb unsnapped his holster as his hands caressed the grip and his black leather holster.

In the picture, he could not see his face.

He had been fond of reasoning with people in his work that one should never make a decision while angry.  But this was not anger.  This was sorrow.  This was despair.  There is no one more unpredictable than the desperate.

It wasn't a moment of hatred for his co-workers that mattered so much, although the Trooper somehow was determined to not let them win out.  Somehow, the picture in his mind changed to the picture of his son.

What kind of a man would do that to his son?  What kind of a coward could leave his family a legacy like that?  This way was the way of the hopeless.  But it was the beautiful face of his son; he could see it clearly in the picture, it was love that was stronger than all of it.

The Trooper shook his head and began to weep.  And his hands went to his shaking head to deliver comfort instead of release.

He had to get out of there.  Terror and sorrow and love swirled like madness in him and he unsteadily backed his patrol car up from the boat launch and drove the winding, twisting road toward town needing someplace safe.  

Up ahead on the right was the home of someone who would have to do.  It was a place he was always welcome to pull in and park his car around the back of the house on the spacious forest lot and he did so on this day.  Most days he'd pull in and, even in the middle of a work day, one or both of the parents or some of the boys would be around if they were in town.  He was usually offered something to eat but he mostly declined except for coffee or tea.

He parked out of sight of the road and shut off the car.  He turned off his police radio and opened his cell phone and dialed.

"State Police, can I help you."  A female police communications officer.

The Trooper introduced himself.  He didn't sound good.

"I'm going to be off air on this number for a while."

"Are you okay?"

"I need to be left alone today, alright?  Call me if you really need me."

"Alright.  Let me know when you go back in service."


He put his phone in his pocket and straightened himself up.  He took his clip-on tie off and tossed it aside, opening up his collar to breathe a bit.  He locked up the car and walked up the back steps to the kitchen.  He knocked lightly and walked in.

"Anyone home?" he called as he sat down at the big table.  The lady of the house was home.  She was a kindly type, kind of full of new age philosophy, a good person.  This was a healing place.

She came around the corner.  "Hi!  How ya doin'?"

"Good.  Just thought I'd come and spend some time."

"Great.  Can I get you some lunch?  I've got some tomato soup and some ham sandwiches."  She was used to feeding an army.

"You have no idea how good that sounds."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Socialist Solution

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

A few months ago, I was operating in my own little world when I got a call from my friend Mario.  Mario lives in Boston.  He calls me sometimes on his commute.  Mario started me on this path, writing for you.  He chose the name of this blog from some ideas I had.  Mario wants me to write.  He's a friend.

The next day, a madman got loose in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The Mountain has been quiet for a time.  I need to explain.  As you, dear reader, have seen, I embarked on a prolonged creative outburst.  The fact of my retirement from the work world has coincided with a good friend telling me to write something and I have begun to think, to explode, to cry out, talk, share and be honest as much as I can from the top of this mountain howling down into the valleys below.

I have become very busy.  I have been doing a lot of research and reporting on a local landfill issue where I live and I have held the stories I've written.  More on this below, although not quite the final stories I intend to write on the issue.  

I have warned you that I'd try to do some music for you.  For the past month or so, I've been working with a few musicians toward that end.  The songs we are producing may or may not be very good, but they are taking shape and it is a time consuming process writing music.  I'll be posting those songs here on The Voice of the Mountain for you and you can inform as to whether I should stop singing.

I write songs.  Lots and lots of them.  But I haven't the training to single handedly produce them.  I love music but am a musical illiterate.  I'm a blind person leading you down a path.  I am deaf and shouting.  Some of the best musicians in the world didn't know how to write music, I'm told.  So I'm testing that assertion.

There is courage and fear and trust in making music, a language anyone can speak and have access to.  To make music, one must be able to be defenseless.  You have to open your heart and open your mouth and dream aloud.  One needs to destroy the barriers we so carefully construct in our lives and come down from the parapets into the open.  Most people are too careful or too risk averse to let go in such a way, to be free.

So, over the last month, I've been working on music.  Someone more accomplished would have something to show for his efforts by now.  I am not accomplished.  Yet.  

So I've been busy doing other creative things besides blogging.

By way of another excuse, I will mention that March is the worst of all months for me because planning for the upcoming soccer seasons takes all my time.  I am a registrar for a local football club and I'm busy helping to arrange for the spring seasons for hundreds of young association footballers.  The one thing I know I am is a soccer coach.  My game, the game I love, I spread like a happy Johnny Appleseed, planting sprouts and watching them grow.

And March sucks because I can't just have a game with our friends down the road.  We must get permission from someone in Pittsburgh to do that.  Or someone in California.  So tied has our society become to the idea of liability that I find myself collecting photographs and birth certificates of children to prove to someone in Pittsburgh who answers to an actuary somewhere that we are working within the requirements of the insurance industry so that we can play a game with our friends from a few miles down the road.

I call this the liability problem.  Back in the 1970s, all the parks around my home town of Clearfield, Pennsylvania, closed.  Someone came up with the brilliant idea that when a child falls off a swing, then somebody is liable.

I challenge the core assertion.  A child is liable to fling himself off the swing at the apex of its glorious arc.  But the insurance industry has imposed itself in the form of the invisible profit making straw-man that is liability.  It is a giant squid on the face of society deep throating us with its tentacle of fear.  

In our local soccer association, nobody can ever remember filing a claim against our liability.   This goes back decades.  Yet it is the primary cost of our local soccer associations and it is something WE DON"T NEED or use.  And it is the primary complicator and regulator of our lives.  If your child wants to play a sport, we have to know just how old your child is and you better not lie about it, so cough up your goddam birth certificate and pay the insurance premium.


Pa. West Soccer, I'm talkin' to you.  All you are is an insurance racket.

I want to talk about this land use issue once more.  I have been examining this local political issue and what I've learned is you don't wanna stand between a rich man and a pot of gold.  That's what it comes down to.

I would rather be a Christian on the floor of the Roman Coliseum.

I went to a local meeting where everyone there was talking to the State Department of Environmental Protection board about whether they were for or against it.  Hundreds were against it.  A few guys who probably stand to gain money from it were for it.  There was an engineer who was paid to be for it.  Yeah, that counts.  Everyone else was just a neighbor who was watching the value of their homes and life savings evaporate.

The post I made after that was honest and frank.  I posited that the people who had the most to do with advancing this landfill that nobody wants consisted of some local money and a very few local politicians who are the stooges for the big money project.  You know who you are and you have to decide honestly if you are really serving the people who voted for you.  Who IS your boss anyway?

But I posted my very honest feelings of how I saw the problem.  I'm sure some facets of my budding understanding of the issue showed through.  I'm sure some of my guesswork was inaccurate.  But, on the whole, I think I was as close to being honest as I could.  But I was stunned that nobody would call a spade a spade on this issue when everyone knows the truth.  Everyone knows who Voldemort is.

Got some attention.  Made me very unhappy.  Saying true things is great for polishing your integrity but it will make you unhappy in this world.  Far better to be a coward and go along to get along and be quiet and sit in the corner and don't make waves and just eat your shit sandwich.  After I posted that little bit of opinion, people quietly approached me and said things like, "You'd better be careful."

So money can do that.  Money can make everyone cower down and be afraid.

But you know what?  It's these few people who are pursuing their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness at the expense of everyone else's.  In America, you are free to pursue whatever game you want as long as you're not hurting anyone else.  And those people who are supporting this landfill are stepping on the freedoms of others.  You are hurting others, and we've not been put on this planet for that purpose.

But if that's who you wanna be, then I think you suck and you are a lousy, lousy neighbor.

If those people who think building a landfill in the heart of the commonwealth so that people from New York and Philadelphia can take a shit and dump it on our heads is a good idea, I suggest they can tip this project in one of a couple ways.

One way is they can just stop doing harm to the environment here.  Just quit damaging things.  Stop your project. 

The second way is to make it worth everyone's while.  See, I keep hearing how this landfill is going to be this glorious bonanza of financial benefit.  Yeah.  For a few people it will be.  Whoever winds up actually developing and owning the project is going to be in for, idunno, half a billion dollars or more?  But everyone else is going to suffer.

People will get sick.  The environment will degrade.  Homes will devalue.  I don't know about anyone else, but everything I've ever made in my life is wrapped up in my little house here in Osceola Mills getting less valuable by the day.  Since we already have nothing here in Osceola Mills, I'd at least like it to be nothing minus the environmental hazards left from the ruined skeletons of mining and gas extraction and sewage sludge dumping and the burning of fossil fuels.

Yeah, Shawville is gonna close.  Well boo-hoo.  Because it was one of the filthiest polluters east of the Mississippi and the energy sector doesn't have to think about how many people have gotten sick and died of exposure to the burning of coal.

Yeah.  Let's have a war on coal.  It's about high goddam time.  Because The Mountain we all live on here is just one giant bony pile and everything is poisonous.  The kids all have cancer and asthma and neurological disorders and it ain't from the clean environment.  The fish are full of mercury from coal.


We were talking about making the landfill into a good idea.  Let's really make the landfill something that really does benefit our communities.  I propose a socialist solution.

Turn it over to the county.  Clearfield County should own and run the dump and all the profits from it should go toward making life better in Clearfield County communities.  If we're gonna have a landfill, how about everyone's taxes going down.  AND, as a good faith gesture, those folks who are living next to the dump should be offered fair market value for their land and the dump should subsidize their moving to a new location not affected by the associated truck traffic, airborn pathogens, traffic accidents, stink and environmental degradation.

That way everybody wins, right?  All you gotta do is buy off everybody.

If I had that much money, I'd do it.  I'd set it up as a county run program that truly would benefit everyone in a real way.  And all those people who currently oppose the project would think well of me for it.  And instead of being afraid of me they might build a nice statue of me in front of the beautiful new Shawn K. Inlow Elementary School.

So what's it gonna be, Voldemort?  One could arguably do some good in the community with this project.  But you could also do an immense amount of good in this community with this project.  The only thing that stands in the way is avarice.

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Now Hear THIS!!