Ghost World

A few months ago, I put Ghost World among my favorite movies of the past decade. I would go further to say that it is one of my favorite movies of all time. The following is a “film note” I wrote for the local independent Brattle Theatre, for their screening of Ghost World, with author/screenwriter Daniel Clowes in attendance. I write about Norman, the character that inspired this little short story of mine back then.

“I wonder if he’s just totally insane, or he really thinks the bus is coming?” says Enid, as she watches Norman sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the bus that never comes. This is probably the most enduring image from the 2001 cult classic Ghost World, which has a wide range of powerful iconography to choose from. From the opening sequence set to 1960’s Bollywood pop, to the angle of the shot in the final scene, every scene is full of detail for those paying attention.

But our minds keep returning to Norman. Is he insane, or does he really think the bus is coming. It is more likely that both of these are true. There is a quiet assuredness to Norman, so we are never quite sure. We feel for the old man. We don’t want him to sit there waiting forever, for a bus that was cancelled two years ago. But then, an even more frightening thought hits us. Maybe this is all he has. Where would Norman go, if he did not sit at the bus stop? He seems funny, but we don’t laugh.

And that is how it is with Ghost World. Each character could play the lead in a riotous comedy about their life, but this film is not playing their quirks just for laughs. We see ourselves in some of them– in the rebellious teenager Enid, and the lovable misanthrope Seymour. And in others, like the video store clerk who can’t tell the difference between 9 1/2 Weeks and Fellini’s 8 1/2, we see the world around us. The ghost world.

Enid is on the verge of graduating high-school and is being forced to be a very specific kind of adult very quickly. She is a jigsaw puzzle piece in the wrong box, a box that most of the people around her seem to fit quite well. She loves Seymour, a lovable nerd who hates the world, but is beginning to realize his cynicism is not sustainable. “Maybe I don’t want to meet someone who shares my interests. I hate my interests,” he tells Enid. Seymour is what Enid probably imagines she will become in another twenty years, for better or worse.

As the movie progresses, we wonder if Norman is the only one who has a grip on his life, if not on reality. He has a purpose in life and cannot be moved from it. If this is insanity, maybe it is preferable to the chaos of those around him. He is the only constant, until the point at which Enid’s life really needs a constant to lean on. At that point, he is gone.

The significance of Norman and his bus have been discussed for many years by fans of the original Daniel Clowes comic book on which the movie is based. What the bus means to you may tell you more about yourself than about what the writer intended. Some people think it is death, and have found subtle clues pointing to this explanation. A better way to think of it is that the bus is an escape. The bus shows up for the first time at the precise moment when Enid’s life is hitting its lowest point. She needs an escape. What do you think happens to those who get on the bus? Here is a hint– look at the words on the bench after Enid sits down at the end of the movie. Unfortunately, this hint is not the answer, but maybe it will help you come up with your own. Whatever your answer may be, as the final shot of the bus driving out of town fades in to the Bollywood pop credits, Ghost World will leave you with a lot to think about. It is a film that a certain kind of teenager must see before they are thrust head first into adulthood. Before they become part of the ghost world.

And to tell you the truth, Norman at the bus stop is only the second most enduring image of Ghost World. The most enduring– and terrifying– image from Ghost World is “mirror, father, mirror”. That is the stuff of which cheesy nightmares are made.

Daniel Clowes at The Brattle on 4th May, 2010
Daniel Clowes at The Brattle

Advertisements

ROFLcon Post-Mortem

Ethan and Danah Keynote Shenanigans
by extraface, on Flickr: danah boyd and Ethan Zuckerman

As I said in my last post, I spent Friday and Saturday at ROFLcon, the conference for the Internet generation. I liveblogged the event as an official volunteer, and it was a blast. In all, I blogged seven sessions and attended eight.

I reached the registration room on Friday morning to get my volunteer badge and t-shirt and then hung around until noon. A bunch of Internet celebs had set up tables to sell their wares– Chad Vader was there, as were various Cat related products.

The keynote was at 1pm, so I headed over with my fellow livebloggers. I wasn’t blogging the opening keynote, so I could just listen. The keynote was called The Future of the World Weird Web given jointly by danah boyd (now of Microsoft NERD) and Ethan Zuckerman (Harvard’s Berkman Center). That’s them in the picture up top, and yes, that is how they were dressed. It was that kind of an event. The highlight of the keynote was that I now know about the Kenyan superhero Makmende.

This was followed by the boyd and Zuckerman moderated panel called The Long View, with old-school viral video heroes such as Joel Veitch of RatherGood.com. If you don’t know who that is, behold the excellentness that is “We Like the Moon”. ‘Cause it is good to us. (my liveblog)

After that, I ran over to the Secret Masters of Digg panel with four of the top front-pagers at Digg.com. I’ve been watching Diggnation for years, so you would think I would enjoy this, but not so much. It was OK, and maybe informational if you social media success was your goal in life. But it isn’t my goal. (my liveblog)

That panel was followed by the best one of the conference– I can haz dream? Race and the Internet. Baratunde Thurston is the web editor of The Onion and is a regular web presence with his comedy and political insight. Christian Lander writes Stuff People Like. Put these two guys together and you have banter that could rival the best of late night TV comedy. My liveblog is here, if you can get a gist of their humor. The two girls who run My Mom is a FOB were good, but unfortunately found themselves on stage with a couple of star comedians.

Baratunde Thurston
by neoneuromancer, on Flickr: Christian Lander, Baratunde Thurston

Finally, I ran back to the main hall for the final panel for the day– And Then the Internet Swooped In. This one featured people who’s ordinary life had become the stuff of viral videos and shared links on the Internet, and their lives were never the same. Like David and his son David, who most famously said “Is this real life?” while on drugs after visiting the dentist. And the guy who owned Keyboard Cat. And Mahir Cagri, who’s personal web site was an Internet meme before people called them memes. And who is– allegedly– the inspiration for the many quirks of Borat. My liveblog is here, and yes, Mahir does actually randomly say the word sex in the middle of an unrelated sentence.

Internet celebs to millions
by ekai, on Flickr: Mahir, David jr, David sr, Charlie Schmidt (owner, keyboard cat)

The next morning, Saturday, I got there just before 10am. I had waffles at the WAFLcon table, and walked in for the keynote. It was by Kevan Atteberry, the guy who created Clippy— the annoying animated paperclip who insisted on helping you to use Microsoft Office.

The main takeaways from that keynote were– Clippy was designed on a Mac and Kevan was not responsible for the functionality. Only the animation. He was amusing, and everyone had a few good laughs at Microsoft’s expense. (my liveblog not on roflcon.org yet)

After that, I blogged the Running the Tubes session. This was a panel about some of the infrastructure that supports the viral Internet. I would just like to say that Pete Hottelet of Omni Consumer Products Corporation was the funniest person at ROFLcon. When my liveblog shows up on the site, I will put a link here; but I don’t think I caught all his one-liners in the blog. He was really good. Some of the other guys were trying to answer the questions seriously; not this guy. Also, the name of his company may seem serious, but it’s quite the opposite. Look it up on Wikipedia.

At lunch, Matt of the “Where’s Matt” videos (where he does the same silly dance at different locations around the world) did a dance with a group of people in front of the Stata Center at MIT. You’ll probably see it on YouTube some day.

The last session I attended was Johannes Grenzfurthner of monochrom. What is monochrom? In their own words, an unpeculiar mixture of proto-aesthetic fringe work, pop attitude, subcultural science and political activism. They do subversive, confrontational, context-hacking stunts. Quite magnificent.

This is him in Soviet garb from an earlier session:
Ambassador Nikita Chrusov
by Mirka23, on Flickr: Ambassador Nikita Chrusov

For a gist of the kind of things monochrom does, read about Georg Paul Thomann, the non-existent artist who saved a country from becoming non-existent.

That was my last session of the day, and of ROFLcon. It was great fun. I will add more pictures, maybe video and links to liveblogs as they become available.

IMG_5260
(by Mr. Babyman, on Flickr: this was written on the wall at the bottom of a very long flight of stairs in building 54 at MIT.)

Off to ROFLcon

All day Friday and Saturday, I’m volunteering at ROFLcon.

That’s “roll-on-the-floor-laughing” conference.

It’s a conference to celebrate web silliness and seriousness for a generation that pretty much grew up on it.

Examples of ROFLcon celebrities:

and so on.

I’m liveblogging the event all day for the official web-site. I’m more interested in the academic types at the conference, so I’m especially excited about the two panels with danah boyd, one with Baratunde Thurston of The Onion (no, he’s not academic; but he’s smart and the panel is about race), and ROFLing the News.

I should be on twitter, my posts should show up on roflcon.org and I might get hold of Chad Vader for my Star Wars site. We’ll see.

And Just Like That…

my video crossed 1,000 views in 4 days on YouTube. 🙂

Thanks to Karthik at Milliblog, BeatlesTube.net and In The Life of The Beatles for sharing it! And to anyone else who shared it that I don’t know about.

[P.S. If you find/know-of any other site that has linked-to/embedded my video, let me know.]

UPDATE: It seems that, at the moment, if you search for “The Beatles” on Google or YouTube, my video shows up on the first page. And, it’s now approaching 3000 views in five days.

We Can Never Go Back to Manderley Again

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. #

I went back to my college, for only the third time since leaving it more than five years ago.

It was the same. I parked where I always used to park, walked up the same steps, past the labs where I spent many nights working on code while listening to the White Album.

But it was different. People looked much younger than I recall.

There’s another college, in another town, that I left almost nine years ago.

Often I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me..”
#

Though “beautiful” and “pleasant” are probably overstatements. I’ve been back there too, about three times since leaving it nine years ago.

We can never go back to Manderley again. #

You can go back to a place, but you really miss the time.