Friday, April 25, 2014

New House! And It's A House House!

Safe home, safe home in port!
Rent cordage, shattered deck,
Torn sails, provisions short,
And only not a wreck:
But, oh! the joy, upon the shore,
To tell our voyage perils o'er.
—"Safe Home, Safe Home in Port," Traditional (performed by ListenListen in the link)

It's only been a month since my last personal update post, but things have been moving quickly since then.

As I mentioned at the end of that post, immediately after the end of Match Day ceremonies, Anna and I set out for Muncie, Indiana, which we'd just discovered was going to be our home for the next three years. We ended up spending much of the weekend driving slowly around different neighborhoods, parking in odd spots, and getting out to go look at houses with "For Rent" signs in the front yard. It was fun bonding time!*

At one point, we passed a truly gorgeous little blue house with a sign in its yard but, alas, the sign was a "For Sale" sign and we were pretty bummed about it for a moment. We decided to get out and look at it anyway, and once we did we were completely smitten, which was a terrible feeling to have about a house that is for sale when you are only looking to rent.**

So good was this house, that we changed our minds and decided to consider the possibility of buying a place. How bad could it be? Other people in our situation were doing it, and with a mortgage the cost would be about the same as renting. We started to get excited about the possibilities; it was a giddy time.

Later that evening, though, after much discussion, Anna stated flatly: "James, I don't want to buy a house." And I was like, cool, cool.

So instead we contacted the realtor for pretty little blue house and asked if the owners would rent it to us. No, he said, they would not—they'd just sold it! He pointed us toward some renters who had several properties in the area, though. We contacted one, and arranged a viewing of one of their properties the following weekend. We couldn't actually be there ourselves, so we asked my uncle and aunt who live nearby to go see it in our place. 

Anyway, long story short: we're renting a house! And it's a house house, not like an apartment house or something.† This is what it looks like:

Google Maps

I haven't lived in a house since, I wanna say 2003? It'll be interesting not having downstairs neighbors, or people that we can hear/can hear us through walls/ceilings/floors. And having a garage. And a washing machine (eventually; we gotta go buy one first). And this kitchen:

I'll finally have an office space to work in. And my home will finally have a spare bedroom for guests. These are things I've looked forward to for a while, and it's weird that they're suddenly so close! Anna's moving in in less than a week, and I'm moving my stuff not long thereafter, though I'll technically be living in Chicago until the wedding at the end of May.

*We also spent some time this weekend doing the thing where Anna took a nap in the car and I took a self-directed tour of the Ball Stat campus. I found but did not enter the orchid greenhouse, and attempted to go to but was turned away from a show at the planetarium (it was full). I spent the rest of Anna's nap browsing the library, where I discovered that my Ball State ID number will already allow me to log into the computers, even though I'm not enrolled in any classes.
**Real talk: word on the street is that, if you buy a house in Muncie, you are unlikely to be able to sell it in a timely manner.
House house is an example of contrastive focus reduplication, the most common example of which is probably "Do you like him, or do you like like him?" Here are some other examples:

  • I’ll make the tuna salad, and you make the salad salad.
  • I’m up, I’m just not up up.
  • My car isn’t mine mine; it’s my parents’.
  • Oh, we’re not living together living together.

Friday, April 18, 2014

In Defense of Boring Movies - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

Part of a series of essays In Defense of Boring Movies.

I got my life, 
And it's my only one,
I got the night, 
I'm running from the sun,
So good night! 
I made it out the door—
After tonight,
There will be no return,
After tonight,
I'm taking off on the road.
—"See You In My Nightmares," Kanye West (feat. Lil Wayne)

The story behind Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is unlike that of any movie I've ever seen, so that's where I'll start: it's the first feature-length movie ever written and performed in the Inuktitut language.* Its entire cast and most of its crew were of Inuit descent, and that level of representation of native North American peoples is an extreme rarity in the history of cinema (though not completely without precedent). The film is an interpretation of an ancient Inuit legend; to flesh out and ensure the accuracy of their story, the creators (all but one of whom were Inuit themselves) interviewed eight tribal elders over the course of several years to get different versions of the tale, and edited them together. It depicts with exacting detail a society and way of life practiced centuries ago by the ancestors of its creators. It is, in a word, extraordinary.

For all that, it is also a boring film, though as always in this series, I use that term in a positive sense. A "boring" movie, in my personal parlance, is one that challenges the audience, forcing the viewer to do expend substantial quantities of mental energy in order to get meaning or enrichment from the film.


Unlike the some earlier entries in the IDoBM series, Atanarjuat is not boring because it leaves aside plot for extended periods of meditation on nature, poetry, or philosophy, but simply because its world is so alienating and confusing for most western audiences. The film does very little in the way of hand-holding for newcomers to its cultural norms, social bonds, and personal and place names. It opens with a mysterious social (and apparently magical) ritual, the consequences of which reverberate throughout the film, but what exactly is happening is never spelled out directly for the viewer, and we are left to puzzle it out over the course of the film's three-hour run time.

As always with movies in this series, though, putting in the energy yields rich rewards. In this case, the reward is the opportunity to immerse oneself in and examine a fascinating culture. The basic elements of this scene, for example, are timeless (woman displays interest in man, woman's brother shoves man because he doesn't like him), but they are played out against a unique background, the construction of an igloo using ancient tools and methods, by people dressed in the manner of their ancestors:

The plot is both simple in its basic outlines and fiendishly complex in the network of kinship ties, motivations, and protocols that it traces. It involves family conflicts stretching over several generations, as well as ghosts, reincarnation, and evil shamans, but the center of it all is a timeless story of a clash between two men—the naive but good-hearted Atanarjuat, and the jaded and calculating Oki—over the affections of a woman, Atuat. Oki has been betrothed to Atuat from childhood, but she and Atanarjuat love each other. Naturally, a ritual fighting game ensues, complete with meddling ancestor spirits:

Unfortunately, this is not enough to resolve things between Oki and Atanarjuat for long. The plot eventually achieves a Shakespearean level of social drama, replete with nefarious plotting, illicit affairs, rape, murder, revenge, and an extended chase scene featuring a naked man fleeing over a vast field of ice (that happens in The Winter's Tale too, right?) It is, to put it mildly, probably not a movie to watch with your parents.

Viewers willing to put in the mental energy required to sort through the complex network of characters, motivations, and alien cultural elements are likely to find themselves deeply engrossed in the world of the film.

The filming style, done with handheld digital cameras, lends a sort of real, on-the-ground feel to the movie, with the result that the viewer may forget that what they're seeing is a re-imagining and a re-enactment of a events a thousand years in the past. As Roger Ebert put it in his review, "There is a way in which the intimacy of the production and the 172-minute running time lull us into accepting the film as a documentary of real life. The actors, many of them professional Inuit performers, are without affect or guile: They seem sincere, honest, revealing, as real people might, and although the story involves elements of melodrama and even soap opera, the production seems as real as a frozen fish." This makes watching the credits at the end, in which we see the modern, up-to-date reality of the people on and off camera, both jarring and fascinating in itself.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and its sequels can be downloaded for free (or a donation, which I encourage!) here. A streamable version is embedded below:

*This makes it the third movie in this series that employs the indigenous languages of the Americas, the others being The New World and Dead Man. This was not intentional, but I'm still very pleased by it. Also, all of the movies in the series so far include non-English long as you're willing to count the screeching of the Skeksis in The Dark Crystal "Directior's Cut" as language, which it's intended to be, whether or not it really is. Stalker is, of course, entirely in Russian.