Tripping 1902 Style: “A Trip to the Moon”

So, internet, at YouTube’s behest, I watched “A Trip to the Moon.” It’s another French one, which may explain a certain amount of the trippiness of this 12-minute film. Trippiness is apparently a long, proud tradition of the French.

This film, directed by Georges Melies, begins with a meeting a astronomers. They’re planning a trip to the moon while all dressed as the wizard from “Fantasia.” Seriously, I kinda thought they were meant to be wizards. Apparently, they all have names, but this is not ever made clear to the audience. Melies is quite well known for his use of special effects, which can be seen in the opening, as telescopes were replaced with stools for the sit-down part of their talks.

Anyway, they decide on a plan and that plan is to shoot themselves to the moon in a hollow bullet, which is fired through an inverted telescope-looking gun with the help of hot chicks in booty shorts. There are a few things of note in this scene. Firstly, it’s really interesting, since they’re kind of standing on a platform directly above these little houses. It doesn’t succeed in quite creating the proper dimensions for depth, which I believe is intentional. It gives the scene a nice, surreal edge from the get-go. Secondly, the astronomers are wearing vaguely anachronistic clothing. They have the capri pants/knee-high socks look that you associate with the 18th century. Lastly, the hot chicks in sleeveless tops and booty shorts do not shave their underarms. This shouldn’t be surprising, since modern shaving is the product of a slightly later time, but it still briefly blew my mind.

Once they land on the moon, whose face is an actual human face as they approach, the astronomers are met with a landscape of rocky mountains. They decide that what they need to do immediately upon reaching to moon is to go nigh-nigh. This scene is probably the most interesting in the film. They do some kind of time lapse effect while the men are meant to be sleeping. Apparently, the director of this is quite famous for his early use of things like this and it’s quite interesting to watch.

Our heroes then fall into some kind of jungle with giant mushrooms and meet the moon natives. These creatures apparently become clouds of smoke if you hit them real hard, so that’s what the astronomers do. They’re actually taken to and kill the king (queen? president? Who knows!) of these moon creatures. Apparently, this is meant to be a satire of imperialism. As someone who’s spend her life steeped in movies about vicious aliens, I definitely didn’t get this. This satirical theme is continued as they leave the moon (accomplished by one of the dudes jumping on a rope and pulling the bullet vessel off a cliff, which causes it to fall to Earth). One of the aliens grabs onto the vessel. Once they get to Earth, they beat him up and then have a parade. Again, watching it the first time with no prior knowledge, I didn’t pick up on this. But I can kind of see that.

While watching this film, I was simultaneously bemused and amused. I clearly didn’t properly get it, since I spent most of the time wondering how much of what was in it was considered plausible in 1902 (answer: not a lot) rather than looking for social commentary. This one was noticeably better than the horror film I reviewed a few months back. I think this shows not only the strides that film was making at the turn of the last century, but also what you can do when the director is an actual illusionist. Certain effects, like the telescopes becoming stools as I mentioned earlier, were a bit clunkier than those that were closer to traditional illusions, like people disappearing in smoke and whatnot.

I would definitely recommend this one. It has an actual plot and is just really trippy and interesting. Go watch it. It’ll be 12 minutes well-spent.

Archaeology Ruins Heroes: “Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined”

Sorry for the spacing on my last post, internet. Things were busy. Things are still a bit busy, so I will regale you with another tale of a documentary I was made to watch in class!

That documentary is Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined. As the title suggests, this documentary, based on a book by the same name, tells the tale of archaeologist Richard Fox and how he used a combination of survey and excavation to reconstruct Custer’s battle at Little Big Horn.For those not up with their random battles in the American frontier history, the national mythos surrounding Custer is one of tragic defeat. Custer and his men fought an onslaught of Indians bravely, keeping order and discipline even as they were killed off to the last man. What is generally not highlighted is the fact that Custer was part of a battalion sent to remove a large settlement of Cheyenne and Dakota and force them back onto a reservation. While that fact is something that this film shies away from, it is not the main focus. This short documentary film makes the case that, in fact, the battle was much more chaotic than the popular imagination believes it to be.

Fox and his team to this by studying the distribution patterns of government bullets and shell casings and Native bullets and casings. The bullets themselves allow them to construct the direction of the battle, while casings, which are dropped on the ground after the gun is fired, tell them where the different forces stood. And that’s not even the coolest part. The coolest part is that they can track individuals by studying minute differences in the marks the firing pins of specific, individual guns make. That may sound really boring, but being able to track a single person is archaeology is amazing.

I will admit, however, that I was momentarily appalled by Fox’s field methodology. Don’t get me wrong; he’s going the right thing. He and his team use metal detectors and, when they find something, they dig a small hold to see what it is. Again, this is how you do the study he wants to do. But I was trained to dig things deep underground.. The number one lesson you learn is to always dig in lots (or whatever your terminology calls them) that leave a roughly flat surface. Never dig a hole. But here it’s fine. They’re ultimately doing a survey of things buried slightly underground and they’re taking good measurements of them. But I still had that momentary, emotional reaction.

Fox’s reconstruction of the battle relies on certain assumptions about military order. During the late 19th century, apparently, men were taught to form a ‘skirmish line’ by standing a few yards apart from one another. However, if fear or panic set in, they will tend to bunch as a natural tendency of humans. If things are truly desperate, they will flee and not fight back or only fight opportunistically. It’s somewhat unclear if he’s getting this information from historical texts or ethnographic study, but it does seem to make a certain amount of sense.

With this, Fox makes the argument that Custer’s men were on the offensive for most of the battle, not the defensive as is commonly accepted. While it was believed that they did not go north of what is today known as Custer Hill, the distribution of their bullets and shells suggest that they were headed that direction, presumably to capture the group of women and children who had left the settlement. Once they were outnumbered and their chances of victory looked slim, they began bunching. Individuals seem to have mixed with other parts of the force, breaking what would have been the accepted protocol of battle. As bunching worsens, the ratio of government bullets and casings goes down, suggesting that Custer’s men largely ceased to fight. This is especially true in the final stage of the battle, in which the remnants of Custer’s men attempted to flee into a ravine, an event attested to by Native eyewitness accounts and corroborated by the soldiers who would eventually find the battle ground who reported a number of bodies there. Here, there is only evidence of small amounts of opportunistic fighting by government troops.

I found this documentary to be quite engaging intellectually. Emotionally, I was somewhat cool to it. It’s an emotional subject matter – the US government sent a bunch of men to force people to live on lands far smaller than they were originally promised; these men sought to capture the women and children to force the Native men to comply; over two hundred men were killed, some of them while fleeing – but I didn’t find it as mind-blowing as I think I was meant to. Don’t get me wrong, the tracking individuals by their firing pins was fantastic, but I feel like I was supposed to have an attachment to Custer that I just didn’t and don’t. I remember hearing the words ‘Custer’s last stand,’ but I feel like I never really knew what that was. Which seems really strange, since I’m from just a couple states away. (BTW, did you know that this took place in Montana? I totally thought it was in South Dakota or something. This is more embarrassing when your home state borders South Dakota.) I think I learned about the events around it – Sitting Bull was fairly prominent in my high school history class – but this event didn’t really come up. I feel like a childhood hero was supposed to be shattered in my mind, but I found myself going “well, that does seem more plausible.”

Overall, I’d recommend it. It’s a quick watch if you can track it down. Also, firing pin signatures.

Mecha Marathon – Broken Blade

Rygart Arrow is the only non-magic user in a population capable of magic. One day, he is called away from his farm because his old friend Queen Sigyn of Krishna discovered an ancient golem (mecha) that cannot be controlled with magic. Rygart activates it in time to dispel a covert scouting squad of military golems paving the way for a larger invasion force from the bordering nation of Athens. While Krishna’s King Hodr battles with himself over the correct course of action in the face of invasion, Rygart joins the Krishna military with the ancient golem. Meanwhile, his old friend Zess leads the invasion’s scouting squad.

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screenshot via opening sequence

There are maybe three good things that I can say about Broken Blade:

  1. Queen Sigyn, a woman of authority, is an engineer. Is the HEAD engineer. I like seeing ladies in science-based roles.
  2. Golems are visibly and easily damaged by the enemy, even if the golem is piloted by a main character with plot armor. This is good. This adds intrigue to the people watching for the first time.
  3. The opening sequence features a beautiful song and pretty animation.

Unfortunately, that’s all the good things I can say.

Broken Blade suffers from a mishmash of unexplored tropes called characters that have no business taking a role secondary to our main character. None of these characters are truly memorable, and their respective stories are not coherently connected to their fellows in a way that benefits the narrative. There is no foreshadowing of a character’s Dark Past, and if there is, it is only contained to the episode in which the foreshadowing is introduced. There are no endearing traits that advance the plot in any way. In fact, the characters seem fairly stagnant despite any micro-developments that might occur within a single episode.

That same disconnect is felt in the narrative. The first episode introduces some interesting ideas regarding the ancients that built the magicless golem and potentially the source of everyone’s magic, but further episodes fail to illuminate these ideas. In fact, each episode will introduce some intriguing fact about a character’s backstory or historical event but, like the technology of the ancients, will fail to explore this in future episodes. The idea introduced won’t be fully formed by the episode’s end, then cast away forgotten for the next; this contributes to the disjointed feeling I got while watching it.

A fantastic example of this is Rygart Arrow, our main character. His endearment comes from his disability (lacking magic). His disability is framed as a narrative device that would potentially be a source of frustration, self-hate, and eventually acceptance. This arc never happens. As soon as Rygart becomes the pilot of the ancient golem, any intrigue he garnered through his introduction disappears. Poof. There it went as soon as the end credits appeared on the screen. The next time you see Rygart in the next episode, he is somehow okay with everything going on in his life.

And then there’s the ending. Beautifully animated, yes. Fantastic color scheme, yes. Adequate denouement? No. Like the other five episodes, the final episode ends at a point where the political background could take any direction and the narrative doesn’t specify how that goes. It was sudden and it didn’t seem to resolve anything.

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screenshot via opening sequence

Broken Blade is, in a word, convoluted. There are too many characters with narratives that don’t organically intersect. That disconnect is felt the entire run of the show and it only adds frustration and boredom to the viewing experience. I don’t recommend Broken Blade to anybody but it somehow got good reviews on Crunchyroll.

 

Development versus Conservation: “Saving Mes Aynak”

Saving Mes Aynak is a documentary about, well, saving the archaeological site of Mes Aynak, a site 25 miles southeast of Kabul, before a Chinese company puts a copper mine right next to it. The film came out in 2014 and has since won 19 awards from various film festivals and organizations. It’s quite a beautiful documentary, with a lot of good shots of the landscape of Afghanistan. At the same time, I found it somewhat difficult to get into, for reasons I will explain.

Mes Aynak is an archaeological site most known for the plethora of Buddhist artifacts found within it. In the centuries prior to the rise of Islam, and during the earlier Islamic period, Afghanistan served as something of a conduit for Buddhism, connecting Buddhism’s land or origin, India, with China, where it would be quite popular. In fact, for many Chinese monks, Afghanistan was the destination for pilgrimages and a place to learn proper Buddhist practice. This documentary, however, does not so much focus on Mes Aynak in antiquity as on the state of the site in the early 2010’s. This is because of a lease that the China Metallurgical Group (MCC) was given to mine copper around Mes Aynak, putting the site in danger.

This sets the stage for a very fraught salvage excavation. Salvage excavations are fairly common when major construction or similar projects occur. For example, when the Atatürk Dam was constructed in southern Turkey, a group of archaeologists were working around the clock to excavate and preserve the Zeugma mosaics, a group of mosaics apparently dating to the Hellenistic period (if you’re ever in Gaziantep, I’d highly recommend checking out the Zeugma Museum. Maybe wait till the security situation is a bit better, though). Saving Mes Aynak largely follows the Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori in his work with his team to help preserve the site. Along with Qadir’s team, is a French team (or maybe two French teams, I couldn’t sort it out), and one of my undergrad advisors who seems to show up to have conversations with people at some guy’s house and then leave when American civilians were asked to leave the country. On the other side, somewhat, are the Chinese miners, though they get less screen time than the others.

The real resonance of the documentary, for me at least, is the conflict between the two archaeological teams. They have shots of the Afghan team doing flawed, but earnest archaeology. Their methods are not ideal, largely due to the historic lack of good archaeological training for scholars in Afghanistan, but they are careful to not damage the artifacts and they take note of where major architecture was found. The French team, on the other hand, brings in a giant backhoe to excavate. When confronted by Qadir, they claim that the operator was told to stop if he hit any stone. For those not familiar with excavations, you aren’t going to feel anything you’re blasting through with a big-ass machine. I mean, maybe you could if you found a fortification wall or something, but probably not if you found a small stupa or something.

Throughout the movie, the Qadir is shown talking to various people in the surrounding area about how they feel about the mine and the archaeological sites. In general, people were not huge fans of a Chinese company extracting resources from the country and possibly threatening their villages. I found this part interesting not only because it showed the opinions of actual Afghans, but also, if I’m not mistaken, some of the individuals interviewed were speaking Dari or another Persian dialect, while others were speaking a Turkic one. I’m not entirely sure on this one, though.

I believe that this documentary is very important. It is important to make the international community informed of and invested in the archaeology of Afghanistan in order to protect it. Archaeologists in any situation only have so much power to protect cultural heritage, and this is especially true in countries where antiquities laws are not very firmly established or enforced. It also provides an informative look into the landscape of Afghanistan, which I think many people don’t really understand.

However, I didn’t find it particularly compelling as a whole. Again, it was great in many ways, but it doesn’t have that much emotional resonance. This is due to the lack of a narrative. In all fairness, this very true to life. Life has no narrative and there are no heroes and no villains. At the same time, narrative draws the viewer in and allows them to make sense of what’s happening. In this documentary, a lot of things are happening, but there isn’t really a firm narrative created.

Ultimately, I found this documentary to be both visually beautiful and important. While I had difficulty finding a place to take hold emotionally, this could be important in its own way. It presents all parties with minimal commenting and without creating obvious antagonists. I still think it’s worth a watch, if only to learn a bit about Afghanistan and its archaeology. The archaeologist drama is also kind of fun.

Classic vs. Cult-Classic: Defining Cowboy Bebop’s Pop Culture Status

A space opera, a noir, and a western walk into a bar. There is no punchline for this joke, but it’s the best way I can describe Cowboy Bebop. Episodic, as whimsical as it is serious, and surprisingly diverse in the background, Cowboy Bebop premiered in North America on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block and went on to inspire a generation. I hear it mentioned in the background radiation of my life and it makes me wonder, is Cowboy Bebop a classic or a cult-classic?

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screenshot via opening sequence

Defining A Classic

There is no official governing body that attaches the “classic” moniker to archived media. Reviewers may refer to titles as a classic. Media companies will slap the label on the most popular or oldest titles in their archives. This system seems to encourage interpretation and debate, which is fine. I am up for a good debate (as long as I get to speak in essay format). But investors and consumers and retailers want solid numbers. They want to know where a title should be sorted. In the instance of Cowboy Bebop, it fits under three: Science Fiction, Anime, and Animation. But its age also puts it where other old titles are shelved: Classics.

Classic does not always mean old. There are plenty of old television shows I have never heard of before or know very little about. There are also a plethora of shows that have permeated pop culture to the point of universal recognition: Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, and Friends are a few I can name off the top of my head. Looking for shows that are more than sitcoms? Star Trek: Original, Dragnet, and Baywatch are a few others.

Cowboy Bebop has also permeated pop culture in its own way. The question is whether people unfamiliar with Toonami or anime know what Cowboy Bebop is about.

Cult-Classic vs. Classic

The definition of a cult-classic is another term that lacks an official designation. The Oxford Dictionary and Urban Dictionary say the same thing, but is the size of an audience the only criterion separating a classic from a cult-classic? The Rocky Horror Picture Show is perhaps the most famous cult-classic on the market, but wouldn’t its notoriety slide it into the “classic” category? Or is there something missing from the equation?

Marriam-Webster’s first definition of classic is “serving as a standard of excellence.” So an “official” classic should be quality work. Right? The problem is that quality in art is subjective. My favorite movie is Speed Racer but, according to a couple friends of mine, Speed Racer is an unfortunate waste of money. (Somehow, this is not a major strain on our friendship).

The defining trait of a cult-classic is how many people know of it and how much they love it. They tend to be movies that had a short time in the limelight but have since fallen into obscurity: Brave New WorldFirefly, and Pacific Rim are a handful I can name off the top of my head. Anything that attracts a niche audience and requiring a specific cerebral mindset to understand can also be criterion for identifying a cult-classic.

Anime is a medium with a niche audience in North America. I hate to admit this, but I am now one of those older fans. I came of age when Toonami was an after-school television block and LiveJournal was the place for online fandoms. The business model behind Crunchyroll became lucrative when I was in university. Which is to say, there is a generation of anime-watchers younger than myself and I have no idea if they know what Cowboy Bebop even is. Do they know Toonami’s contribution to the anime industry outside of Japan? Did they also have a five-year gap in their anime-watching habits, only to be reintroduced to the genre with the premiere of Attack on Titan?

 

I believe Cowboy Bebop had its space in the limelight and now sits nestled in nostalgia-land for a lot of its fans, which makes its audience smaller than anticipated. For me, this labels it as a cult-classic.

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screenshot via opening sequence

The Real Folk Blues

I asked fellow Potted Lid writers Basil and Dame Uta their opinion on Cowboy Bebop’s status as a classic or a cult-classic. Both labeled Bebop as a classic. Despite our differing views, they are opinions formed from anecdotal evidence. And it’s hard to draw serious conclusions from anecdotes, which is why I need some solid evidence about the reputation Cowboy Bebop has among the masses.

If you have a minute to spare, please take this survey I created to help me out. I’ll post the results once I acquire 100 responses. Please share to everyone you know because I want to know how far-reaching this little show is to the rest of the world.

Thanks!

The Fine Line Between Smart and Heinous: “Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room”

Hello, internet. Welcome to the first post of my second topic: documentaries. I’m planning on doing both movies and miniseries; I’ve been planning out posts for “Making a Murderer” and Leah Remini’s Scientology series (though, the latter might be difficult, as it is getting at least one more season). But today I wanted to start out with the first documentary I remember actively liking (despite it having 0.5 stars on Netflix). I was made to watch Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room, a movie based on a book of a similar name, in some class back in what must have been high school based on its release date. I was weirdly into it, even though I didn’t really understand much of the business dealings behind it. Having never taken an econ class past the one required in high school, I can’t say that I entirely understand them now, but I feel like I got more from it than I did ten years ago. I’ll do my best to give an overview before getting into what was good and bad about this documentary.

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The Sordid Details

As on suspects from the title, this is a movie about Enron, the energy company from the 90’s. I realize that some people reading this may be too young to remember the company. Even I only remember its existence as a thing grown ups sometimes mentioned when i was a child. From my Wikipedia research, I found out that Enron derived from a parent company InterNorth, which began in the early days of the Great Depression, in 1930. This natural gas company would acquire another, called Houston Natural gas, a slightly older company. These two would merge and their new entity HNC/InterNorth Inc. before it was renamed “Enteron.” This name would later be shortened to Enron. “The Smartest Guys in the Room” doesn’t discuss this past and begins after Enron officially becomes in entity in 1985. More accurately, this documentary begins with a slightly narmy scene of the Enron buildings interspersed with various people in suits telling what they thought Enron’s fatal flaws were, with another voice whispering things like “he’s hiding something from the rest of us” and “what is he building in there?” This scene is followed by the suicide of a man named John “Cliff” Baxter, an Enron executive, before cutting to a scene of Jeff Skilling’s trial.

The narrative, however, begins with Enron’s first scandal in 1987. This incident, called the “Valhalla Scandal,” involved two traders in the oil sector of the company essentially gambling beyond their means in the oil trade and diverting some of the money to personal accounts. They destroyed records and kept two sets of books, one real and the other that showed what they wanted it to, in order to increase Enron’s profits. I’m slightly unclear as to how precisely this worked in this situation, but much of the oil market is based on speculation about oil prices and much of the market is a gamble (for those interested Planet Money has a short series on the oil market. They begin by buying oil). When this was discovered by the company, Kennith Lay, the then-CEO of Enron, did nothing to discourage this behavior. In fact, he encouraged the division to “please keep making [Enron] millions.” Eventually, this was shut down by one of Enron’s executives, who managed to get the real books and was able to keep the company afloat.

This sets the stage of the hiring of Jeff Skilling, who climb the ranks at Enron before becoming the COO in 1997 and moving to the position of CEO in early 2001. Skilling’s plan to grow the company hinged on the use of mark-to-market accounting. This form of accounting matches the value of a commodity to its real value in the market, rather than to its price on the books, which is meant to allow investors to have a better idea of how much a product is worth in real-time. In Enron’s case, this meant being able to declare the value of their own product, as Enron was creating the very markets it was meant to be marking to.  Under Skilling, the work environment at Enron turned particularly brutal. He instituted a ranking system by which employees were ranked on a scale of 1 (best) to 5 (worst), with each category containing roughly the same number of employees. Employees in the bottom 20% of the company were let go. That fact has very little bearing on the main scandals, but it’s a fact that upsets me, so you all have to know. There are a number of other executives that the documentary discusses, but I’m going to skip over them in the interest of not making this post too incredibly long and based on the fact that they don’t directly deal with the shadiest of Enron’s practices. Suffice it to say that, during the 90’s, Enron had a number of ventures, like the selling of broadband, that did not pan out, yet the company’s stock prices still increased each year and the head of one failed department walked away with millions. Andrew Fastow, the CFO, created a number of corporations for the sole purpose of trading with Enron in order to hide the fact that the company was in debt. Many of the biggest banks invested in these, essentially helping Enron to hide their losses.

Yet the worst of Enron’s dealings, and the most likely to have caught the attention of readers old enough to be aware of current events in pre-9/11 2001, were its policies in California.

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There was a great cartoon with a screw labelled “Enron” going through California, but I couldn’t find it.

I suspect that most Americans born before about 1993 have some vague recollection of the rolling blackouts that California suffered in 2000 and 2001. At the time, I assumed that the blackouts were caused by natural disasters. (I was ten. Blackouts happen in big storms. I made the obvious connection.) However, as is illustrated in great detail in this documentary and as adults at the time were probably aware, they were caused by the shifty dealings of energy companies. California had just deregulated energy. This enabled those who sold power to do a number of unethical things that were not technically illegal. Chief among these was the practice of creating artificial power shortages in order to drive up the price and profits for themselves. This documentary illustrates this point very vividly by playing tapes of Enron traders negotiating to get certain power grids turned off because they’d like the price to go up a little bit and cheering as wildfires destroy power lines and grids.

Eventually, it would become clear that Enron’s practices were unsustainable. On ex-vice president interview in this documentary depicts Skilling as an almost tragic figure, a CEO whose company is being taken over by the traders. Skilling would resign on August 14, 2001. This was at a time that Enron stock was falling and Lay, who had been chairman before returning to the position of CEO, attempted to assure everyone that the company would pull through.

The day after Skilling stepped down, Sherron Watkins, a vice president at Enron, attempted to become something of a whistle-blower by informing Lay of the issues with the company’s accounting. The documentary is a bit unclear about the exact order of events or if Watkins’ actions had much of an impact, as Lay used Enron’s own lawyers to declare their accounting fine, but the Securities and Exchange Commission would begin an investigation into Enron by late October 2001. This would lead to the collapse of the company and the trials of both Skilling and Lay. The documentary ends with employees describing how they were told at 9:00 one morning that Enron declared bankruptcy and that they had 20 minutes to get their things and leave the building before turning back to a couple former employees they’d had commenting sporadically throughout the movie saying that they didn’t question the company and its practices enough at the time. Before the credits go up, white writing on a black screen details how much the employees of Enron lost compared to what was made by their bosses. As the credits roll, they have what is possibly the creepiest song in the background. It reminds me a bit of “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s entitled “God’s Away on Business.”

The Good and the Utterly Confusing

They say that cultural decades don’t split at the beginning of chronological decades. For example, what we see as the culture of the 1950’s is really something that happened between 1955 and 1965, with “the 60’s” being 1965-1975 and so on. I believe this movie is proof of that. Despite coming out in 2005, it’s so 90’s. Not the early 90’s big hair and grunge that belongs to the 1985-1995 cultural epoch, but the other 90’s. The getting really excited about the internet 90’s. The 90’s in which I had a box of semi-translucent floppy discs in six or seven different colors. This was definitely part of why I liked it. Even it’s opening creepy whispers narm was great. It also allowed me to start piecing together what was happening around me at that time. I remember hearing about Enron when I was in elementary school and then mentions of them just disappeared. I never really gave them a thought until whatever teacher it was that made us watch this movie said we were watching a documentary about how it collapsed. I think the figuring out what happened when I was too young to be paying attention was part of what appealed to me about this documentary.

On a less personal note, I think there are things that this documentary does right. It doesn’t drag at all and it does a decent job at mixing somewhat pulpy content with the deeply disturbing realities of how the powerful could play with the system. In this film at least, much of what appears to have brought Enron crumbling down was a group geeks-turned-dudebros doing whatever they wanted, screwing over people and, in one guy’s case, bringing strippers up into his office (yes, there are shots of a strip club in this documentary about white collar crime). The documentary itself is also broken into segments, with what looks like a title card appearing at various times. The titles of the segments often correspond to songs, which makes me think it was something for the movie, but they would make sense as chapters of the original book.

While this documentary seems quite sleek, it’s pretty hard to follow. Perhaps I was just not giving it my full attention when I watched it for this post, but I didn’t really get a sense of the timescale of these activities. Most of the dates in my summary came from Wikipedia. I think it would be really good if you already understood a lot of the background of Enron, but it isn’t the best introductory overview. You’d get a sense of a big company making a lot of dodgy choices in a short amount of time, but it doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining any background information. It also has a pretty large cast of characters. Like many documentaries, they intersperse talking-head type interviews with their footage. In these, they interview the woman who co-wrote the book (a journalist by the name of Bethany McLean), Watkins, a number of former employees, and, I believe, a number of accountants and lawyers not associated with Enron. It was difficult to keep each person straight, especially since they didn’t subtitle who they were each time they appeared.

This documentary is also a bit confusing, as it doesn’t have much of a narrative. I realize that part of that is due to real life not having an actual narrative, but I feel that documentaries have to impose some sort of order to make things clear to the viewer. A lot of people come in and out at random times. Most noticeably, there is John “Cliff” Baxter, whose suicide begins the movie, but who only features in a list of higher-ups of Enron. In this review, he was one of the boring execs who I glossed over. His story does show the high stakes of what happened, but I didn’t know who he was by the end of the movie and had to go back to figure out what was up with him. Similarly, Lou Pai, who was the head of a failed department who walked away with 100 million and who had strippers in his office, appears to be there just to show the level of corruption and disregard for anything resembling ethics or tact was at Enron, but doesn’t play much of a role in the downfall of Enron. His story is once again interesting, but I feel like it just sits as an anecdote, rather than functioning to move any sort of narrative forward.

Ultimately, I still really enjoyed this documentary. Even though some parts of it were quite confusing, it kind of has everything. It’s the story of a company infected with a hyper-masculine swagger that decides it can do what it wants and loses all sense of right and wrong, which ultimately results in it digging its own grave. It gives you the bizarre opportunity to live vicariously through corrupt executives and depraved traders and still stand in righteous indignation over their actions. This may be a sort of Harry Potter situation where the movie only really makes sense if you’ve read the book. Or at least the Wikipedia page.

Mecha Marathon – The Vision of Escaflowne

On the evening Hitomi Kanzaki confesses her love to the captain of the track team, a bright light transports her to Gaea, a world where the Earth and Moon hang in the sky. There she meets Van Fanel, newly crowned king of Fanelia and the only person capable of controlling the ancient guymelef Escaflowne. After the destruction of Fanelia by the evil Zaibach Empire, Hitomi and Van set out to overthrow the empire and prevent the end of the world. Major spoilers ahead.

escaflowne-7

screenshot from the opening sequence

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