I Think We’re Alone Now

And just like that: FreeDarko has come to an end after six years of tantalizing posts, essays, theories, rants, jokes, graphs, random jpegs, and two incredible books (with beautiful artwork/prints to boot).

I regret not having had the time or the energy this past week to contribute to FD’s swan song post, but I feel compelled at the very least to write some words here. I’ll be honest: the end of FD saddens me deeply, even if the current incarnation of the site itself has been a slow burn for a while now. Of course it’s just a place, a geographical location, and surely the impact of what “FreeDarko” means to everyone, that spirit, will carry on. It’s like that Brian Eno quote. If everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground record started a band, everyone who read FreeDarko started a basketball blog.

My sole contribution to the site involved poring over Hakeem Olajuwon’s game logs, Ramadan calendars, and making line graphs to debunk the popular myth that The Dream actually played better when he was fasting. This of course, isn’t true. See for yourself, here. I bring this up not to stroke my ego, but to point out that the post is representative of what FD did so well: challenge the status quo. To dig deeper. To be weird. To not just accept the traditional storyline or lazy observations, to make the game bigger, more interesting, or more relatable than W’s and L’s. Basically, they saw the NBA for what it was: People. And extraterrestrials. And far reaching biblical analogies. Sure, sometimes they were a bit esoteric and elliptical, but it couldn’t have been any other way. Or else Anthony Randolph’s heart would stop beating.

The truly remarkable thing about FreeDarko and its appeal, as others have already noted in the final post, is how comforting and revelatory it was to discover a place that confirmed and expounded upon many already unformed thoughts going on inside my own head. Stumbling onto FD initially was spellbinding and shocking, like finding an alternate universe of best friends who care incessantly about the exact same (and ridiculous) things you do. It was like the best inside joke, except it was a basketball blog, and it somehow kind of made sense to people outside of itself (I am now remembering the unbelievable excitement some friends and I had seeing a dude at one of our DJ nights wearing the Amar’e style guide t-shirt). FD didn’t invent or pioneer the synthesis between arts/culture and hoops, but it wasn’t like their favorite movie was The Shawshank Redemption (cough) either. They found and preached beauty in the individual. The maligned, rogue, outsiders; all were all welcome, if not preferred. They saw the game of basketball hardly as a game at all, but as a microcosm of life itself. They found humor everywhere. It was truly next level shit, in every regard.

At the risk (and endorsement) of hyperbole, FreeDarko was revolutionary. As both a sports obsessive and cinephile, I like to think that discovering FD was like seeing Godard’s Breathless for the first time in 1960 (just replace Jean Seberg with Lamar Odom and jump-cuts with liberated fandom, or something). Going even further, FD carried the torch and represented a cultural shift in basketball fandom and writing that not only resonated but ruptured the stale state of affairs that so much sports writing had become and continues to be. I’ve always somewhat harbored my true feelings that film auteurism and FreeDarko were essentially playing ball on the same court so to speak, and this was a major point of understanding. Shoals & Co. dissected the game and found not winners and losers or MVPs, but people and their delicate personalities and styles, just as the Cahiers critics, Andrew Sarris, et al., found the same in film projected at 24 frames a second.

If there’s to be any solace in the end of FreeDarko, it’s that the end is just an illusion. Just as they wrote about the humanity of our athletic heroes, they too are human (all too human). I’m sure the many upstanding gentlemen of FD will continue to do what they do, whether it’s writing, psychoanalyzing, or making giant billboards of Blake Griffin being shot out of a cannon. LBJ took his talents to South Beach and we all lived, right? If we can survive that, we can survive anything! But of course, it’s more than that. FreeDarko may be “dead”, but “FreeDarko” will live on. It will live on any time JR Smith does anything. It will live on in our memories of Gilbert Arenas. It will live on in any dimly lit apartment full of pot smoke that erupts in otherworldly screams after a JaVale McGee dunk. It will live on inside the ghostly bones of Anthony Randolph. It will live on when I, a Bulls fan, argue against Derrick Rose as MVP. It will live on when a poor college student buys League Pass for the first time, even though he can’t really afford it. It will live on every time Rondo defers on a wide open layup. Most importantly, FreeDarko will live on in the spirit and soul of all those who were believers. We’ll never look at basketball (or any sport) the same. And for that we’re eternally grateful.

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People Disappear Every Day

“I used to be someone else. But I traded him in. Uh, what about you?” -David Locke (Jack Nicholson) in Mike Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975).

Every time someone leaves the room, they disappear. Or at least so says Maria Schneider’s unnamed traveler in The Passenger, and I think she’s got a point. We’ve also learned from Alex Cox that it happens: sometimes people just explode. Natural causes.

I’ve yet to explode, literally, but sometimes it feels like it. Alas, I’m still alive in some capacity, which would be pretty obvious if you followed me on Twitter (@marshlands) where I’ve been as grouchy and irreverent as usual, what with the start of the baseball season, the end of the basketball season, and the subsequent and increasingly annoying online echo chamber of Bulls fans and anti-statheads that make me far more depressed than should. Oh, and those people who like bunting. Fuck them, am I right?

But this is all besides the point. The point I suppose, is that this blog is something of a luxury, a place I come when I’ve not much else going on. A room if you will; a safe haven. Think the room in Tarkovsky’s Stalker, but without all the implied religion, possible bombs planted by a mad scientist, and ungodly amounts of radiation.

At the end of the day, I could make a billion excuses as to why I haven’t spent much time in this room as of late, but that would be quite delirious of me, because that means people actually care, or that I actually have readership. I’m not delusional. So in a sense, I’m writing this to myself. Sup, dude? Not much, just get to the point. Sure, fine. I am, at present, enrolled and active in grad school (currently working on 2 short films), working the old 9 to 5er, running a university screening series, interning for the Chicago Underground Film Festival, moving at the end of the month with my wonderful girlfriend of 2+ years, co-running a vinyl-only record label with some great friends, participating in 4 fantasy baseball leagues, and trying to find time to watch some movies now and again. So that’s where were at, and I’m trying to get over my own personal inhibitions that prevent me from wanting to write anything on here that isn’t ultra long or involved or whatever.

In the meantime, here’s our record label: BLVD Records (@blvdrecords)

And here’s a fun video promo I did with Alex Foucre-Stimes for the sweet dudes in BLOODIEST.

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Trading Places: A Visual Guide To The 2011 NBA Trade Deadline

For those of you having a difficult time following the nuances of yesterday’s seismic activity known as the 2011 NBA trading deadline, Sculpting in Dimes is here for you. I don’t profess to be a prophet so I’ll hold the analysis, and instead, at the off-handed request of a friend (@joshhonn), have created a visual guide for you to follow along at home. I also don’t pretend to be an actual sportswriter, so those looking for a comprehensive breakdown and/or intricate details may do better to take a look at Tom Ziller’s deadline recap over at SB Nation.

[Ed. Note — This also means that some of the draft pick information in the visuals below is quite vulgar, as we all know trading draft picks is a complicated and something of a dependent (team performance, conference power shifts, etc.) and is quite difficult to fit into a 640×400 pixel image without clogging the whole picture up with qualifiers.]

Anyways. The images created below are quite simple. The players that have been traded are featured over the city they ended up in, and the whole thing is color coded with each team’s colors. I hope this clears up any confusion. Enjoy!

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Here They Do It Spiritually

Simultaneous Snow Day Viewing, Presented Without Comment:

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Elevator Action!

The elevator, like so many brilliant inventions, has become so commonplace today that most people just find them annoying. Or claustrophobic and terrifying, if you’ve watched too many movies. But chances are you, like me, ride in an elevator every day. Multiple times. While the elevator itself can be a vessel of annoyance, impatience, and a carrier of unpleasant odors, we must remember that being hurled vertically through time and space is quite impressive.

Even more impressive then, is that the origins of the elevator can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece, to the noted mathematician and inventor Archimedes who, according to the Roman architect Vitruvius, built his first elevator in 236 B.C. These early elevators are rumored to have been run on hemp rope and powered by slaves and animals, but thankfully, by the time Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator in 1852, this was no longer the case. The rest, as they say, is history — until January 10, 2011, when Ronnie Brewer connected with Derrick Rose for a monstrous alley-oop against the Detroit Pistons, introducing (by way of Bulls broadcasters Neil Funk and Stacey King) the “ELEVATOR DUNK” to both the NBA and world at large.

Now you might be asking yourself, what exactly makes Rose’s dunk an elevator, and what does it all mean? First, you must consider the magnificent speed of Derrick Rose, perhaps his greatest asset, which allows him to travel great distances on the court in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, due to the physical restrictions of gravity, human speed is (regrettably) land based, and inertia’s a bitch too. But the key to any elevator dunk, as seen above, is a strict adherence to vertical movement, thus imitating the movement of an elevator. Consider Rose’s speed as previously discussed, and notice how once he dishes to Brewer, he calls (for) the elevator, cuts behind T-Mac, and gathers to a complete stop before thrusting upwards with hydraulic ferocity. This transfer of energy is the key, and while being completely dictated by Brewer’s ill-timed and shoddily aimed pass, really illuminates Rose’s transformation from the smelly, tardy kid trying to make the elevator on time so he’s not late for Sociology 101 to being a high powered elevator himself. Once he gathers, or rather, gets into the elevator, he skyrockets quickly and powerfully to the top floor, which is known around basketball circles and 2Pac fans as being above the rim. Once he’s there, his transformation to elevator is almost complete, but not before he deposits his passenger, Mr. Spaulding, into the mesh penthouse available only to the NBA’s highest of fliers (and Yao Ming). Having achieved his goal as an elevator, Derrick then makes a swift decline back to the ground level. Any questions?

So now that we’ve covered the emergence and usage of the elevator in hoops, we can turn our attentions to the cinema, who has a long and involved history with elevators. From serving as the mechanical instrument for early crane shots to being major set pieces in action and horror films, the elevator has a wide variety of uses and implications, but it’s objective always remains the same: to move up or down vertically while delivering passengers or freight. It is this simplicity that has allowed countless directors and films over the years to take on the elevator in a variety of creative directions, from being a place to have sex with your ex-girlfriend (Mallrats) to being a place where a stoic police officer made of liquid metal pries open the doors in an attempt to kill your totally buff mom (Terminator 2: Judgement Day). Below, in efforts to synergize, esteemed S/10 editor Theodore Harwood and and myself examine more specific cinematic uses of the elevator in relation to Derrick Rose’s showstopping elevator dunk.

[Ed.’s note — some of these clips might contain what some people call “spoilers”, so if that offends you or your sensibility, make good judgments.]

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Danny Torrance, the boy who can Shine, at this point in the film, is having visions.  These visions involve sheets of blood sluicing out of sealed elevator doors and the ghosts of twin girls.  The only thing that this sequence really tells us about elevators is that they’re not watertight.  What this has to do with Chris Wilcox in some kind of analogous way isn’t entirely clear, but the juxtaposition of Rose’s dunk, waves of blood covering the hallway and our field of vision, Danny’s silent scream of horror, and staring twins in blue (T-Mac and Wilcox?) somehow makes perfect sense on an ecstatic level. (TH)

Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980)

The elevator, especially in certain residential circumstances, is often a place of isolation. Being alone in an elevator, where there’s nothing to do but stand and wait, can often be a introspective time of reflection. Take for instance, poor Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), who’s just discovered she’s contracted a sexually transmitted disease. On top of that, she’s left her wedding ring in the apartment of Mr. STD, which thrusts her into an internal panic she tries to conceal since there’s some creepy child staring at her. But alas, she has nowhere to go, and meets a horrific fate at the hands of a mysteriously androgynous, switch-blade wielding murderer who slashes her to bits, turning the elevator into coffin, crime scene, and vehicle of violence caused by massive sexual repression and confusion. Dickinson’s face, full of horror, is most likely what McGrady’s face looked like when he inadvertently stepped onto Rose’s elevator, just before being cut to pieces. If only De Palma had been on hand at the United Center to shoot the entire incident reflected off of a security mirror. (EM)

Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, 1975)

Elevators are confined spaces, as Sydney Pollack’s use of close-ups and framings make clear.  Note how Max von Sydow’s face eats up fully half the image, pressing Redford’s face against the edges, and vice versa.  Yet so much can happen in a confined space; one man can be pressed up against another man who may be there to kill him, a “grandpa” can have a cake, a kid can be an asshole, Derrick Rose can go upstairs.  There’s almost no motion aside from the vertical in his dunk; it could conceivably occur not only in an elevator shaft, but inside the confines of an elevator car. (TH)

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)

In Die Hard, the elevator and its shaft are featured frequently, serving as not only a means of communication (“Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho”), refuge, and transportation, but as its very own bomb testing site. Rogue police officer John McClane, under heavy pressure from faux-terrorist bank robbers, uses not the elevator per se, but the narrow and incredibly tall shaft inside Nakatomi Plaza to act out a defiant message against Euros and PCs alike. What’s important here is not the elevator itself, but that the shaft itself is an equally important component of the elevator experience, and can be used for explosions. Rose knows this, which explains the one-handed explosion he unleashes on the rim and the Pistons. While it’s not as explicit as Die Hard in its anti-Euro overtones, we really can’t be sure that Derrick didn’t intend for this to serve as a message to the Pistons lone European player, the very injured and very Swedish Jonas Jerebko. (EM)

The Departed (Martin Scorcese, 2006)

The elevator door, as shown here, can operate as a gateway to complete surprise.  Unless one is Superman, there’s no telling what’s going to be on the other side.  There’s just enough time to see what doom awaits as they slide open but not enough time to stop it from happening.  This is probably what Tracy McGrady is experiencing as he’s spinning between Brewer and Rose on the break.  And once the doors open, the violence is immediate and forceful.

And “It’s just you and me, now” might as well have been what Brewer said to Rose on their way to the basket. (TH)

Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)

Given the average NBA player’s propensity for ice, the bloody climax of Dario Argento’s horror mystery Deep Red serves as a warning about wearing jewelry in or around elevators, especially the old timey kind found in swank Italian apartment buildings. Here, the elevator becomes a relentless guillotine, beheading anyone who dare try and get away with murder while wearing such a lavish necklace. Unfortunately, NBA players aren’t allowed to wear jewelry on the court the way NFL players can sport studded earrings inside their helmets, but before calling foul on Stern’s strict policies, you’ll have to ask yourself how you like your T-Mac: with the head or without. (EM)

Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)

To this day, I still have a minor fear of elevators suddenly dropping and slicing me in half length-wise between the car and the edge of the shaft.  Modern elevators have numerous redundant safety features to prevent this from happening in all but the most dire and freakish of circumstances.  In the future, though, if Total Recall is to be believed, these features have been sacrificed in the name of some kind of fascist cost-reduction.  It’s a pity that Richter (Michael Ironside) is a part of whatever passes for the Establishment on Mars, yet he couldn’t see his way to getting some kind of budget allocation for safer construction equipment.  It’s a pity, too, that the Pistons couldn’t see their way towards not being stuck in a situation where the dangerously sleepy T-Mac is their point guard.  One hopes that Carlos Boozer, resident Bulls talker, screamed the fateful “party” line towards the vanquished Motown guards post-dunk, as the kid with the round sweat-mop thingies stooped to pick up and discard McGrady’s forearms. (TH)

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971)

To think that poor Charlie and Grandpa Joe almost never rode in an elevator is almost too painful to deal with, but they did violate section 37b of a contract that states quite clearly that it’s not alright to steal fizzy lifting drinks or fuck up poor Wonka’s ceiling, which now has to be washed and sterilized. Thanks to Charlie’s good nature however, every one’s able to take a ride in the much vaunted glass Wonkavator, which can go sideways and slantways and longways and backways and squareways and frontways and any other ways you can think of. While this may seem appealing at first, floating high above in the sky in a world of pure imagination, it isn’t long before Wonka himself takes advantage of the close quarters and divulges his secret plan to use an innocent child (i.e. Charlie) to push his oppressive chocolate agenda and keep the Oompa-Loompas enslaved forever. In a sense, the Wonkavator is Willy’s own propaganda machine, where he works over poor Charlie and Grandpa Joe into believing his fascist nonsense. Wonka’s political and personal agenda aside, Willy Wonkia & the Chocolate Factory nevertheless introduces the original concept of a limitless elevator that can move every which way, which is probably more suitable to the angular game of Monta Ellis, but can definitely apply to Rose as well, who’s not only capable of moving in a wide range of directions, but has his own custom made Skittles machine and used to routinely eat two pounds of candy in a single day. (EM)

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In Search of Lost Time, Part Two

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010) is something like a documentary, and an occasionally funny one at that, yet its intentions are more dubious than even the most preposterously pedagogical of political docs (or a covered Corey Maggette jumper). The real story of Gift Shop, it seems, is not necessarily its polarization (of which there is quite a bit), but its ability to confuse (i.e. coax) the audience into multitude of interpretations, reactions, and conspiracies. Personally, I’ve yet to be convinced Banksy’s foray into cinema is anything more than a smug practical joke with generic anti-capitalist sentiments, but such is the nature of enigma.  In other enigmatic news, Gilbert Arenas stated last week that he and fellow Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick were in fact, “the two best white shooters in the league.” Gil later explained these comments with a coy smile, but most importantly, these goofy remarks constitute something of a return to form for the player formerly known as Agent Zero, who’s swag was most definitely phenomenal until severe knee injuries and a practical joke involving pistols in the locker room threatened to destroy his entire existence. Having been shipped off to the contending Magic in exchange for an empty clip (Rashard Lewis) to make room for injury sensation John Wall, fans worried that Arenas’ sui-generis personality might not fit in down in the sunshine state. Fortunately, his recent comments, not to mention his willingness to participate in choreographed pre-game dances (and the naming of “The Bench Mobb”) indicates that there might be new life for Gilbert. But are there second acts in American lives? F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t seem to think so, but then again it doesn’t really pertain here, since Arenas isn’t of this planet, let alone America. I’m just hoping that by season’s end he’ll be comfortable enough to provide an answer to the age old question David Bowie once so enthusiastically posed: is there life on Mars?

The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010) is a tightly crafted heist film about working class bank robbers, and despite its well documented misfortune in the forced/improbable relationship department, it excels in its action and novelistic detail, updating the heist genre for the new millennium while making its getaways even more probable on the unreasonably narrow streets of Boston. Taking stylistic cues from Michael Mann’s Heat as well as Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, writer/director/star Ben Affleck handles his duties deftly, and frankly, I wouldn’t mind if he made it his business to direct a crime film set in Boston every few years or so for the rest of his life. While it might be a bit obvious now to relate this back to the Celtics, we must remember that the last time Affleck made a film (2007’s grisly mystery Gone Baby Gone), the Celtics won a world championship. And as of right now, they are sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference at an impressive 28-9. Not bad for a bunch of old men and an alien, which also happens to be the name of a new sitcom I’m writing. But seriously, the Celtics would make a great heist team: Rondo heading it up as a master engineer and logistical prodigy, Kevin Garnett as the unhinged and violent counterpart inspired by Jeremy Renner doing a Garnett impression, and Pierce and Allen as the more than reliable role players/wingmen willing to step up on any occasion.

Everyone Else (Maren Ade, 2010) is an intimate relationship drama which, like certain Eric Rohmer films or major basketball decisions, takes place on vacation. This is because on vacation, people aren’t bound up by the distractions of work or everyday responsibilities, and are free to be themselves: bored, moody, restless, confused. Ade’s film is one of intricately shifting power dynamics between a couple fresh enough to begin to have their doubts — the vacation is over, so to speak, except they are actually on vacation. And that’s when things get interesting: a run in with a well-to-do former classmate and neighbor sparks feelings of embarrassment and career failure for the introverted and idealistic Chris (Lars Eidinger) which in turn causes problems with the more outgoing and aimless Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr). Both seem to love each other, if at different times, and the shifting fear of losing the other drives the characters, as does the unspoken but looming feeling that Chris and Gitti are having a hard time adjusting to the adult world they so suddenly find themselves in.  This is not unlike everyone’s favorite NBA whipping boys, the Miami Heat. This summer/The Decision was the vacation period that consecrated the serious relationship between Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, but it wouldn’t be until the season started that they discovered the tremendous difficulties relationships can bring to the table. LeBron was the cutest girl at the club, sure, but you never know when he might up and leave you, let alone the PR behemoth he’s carrying around in his back pocket. Wade seems like such a solid catch having inherited a basketball team to treat at his disposal with the help of Dad (Pat Riley), but people were worried about his sharing. And then there’s Bosh, who gets the nod here as the player most likely to jump out of a window to get the attention of a loved one. And yet somehow they’ve made it work, and then some. The vacation’s over but so are the initial trials and tribulations — the Heat are now coasting with the best record in the East (30-9), and as far as everyone else is concerned, well, who cares what they think anyway? There’s not much to worry about when you’re this good.

My Son My Son What Have Ye Done (Werner Herzog, 2009) is a film of madness, a retroactive jigsaw puzzle of deadly proportions given strange life by an amazing cast of cult performers and an above-the-line team that features not only the delusional direction of Herzog but David Lynch as producer (what else explains the perfect casting of Grace Zabriskie?). Embracing his inner schizo, the unsettling and overbearing Michael Shannon plays Brad, a damaged theater actor gone nuts with an antique saber, all while a police detective (Willem Dafoe) tries to piece it all together with the help of Brad’s past: a passionate theater director (Udo Kier) and unsuspecting girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny). A different filmmaker might have gone out of his or her way to search for cause in this true crime thriller, which is hinted at in Brad’s repression by way of his overbearing and creep-show mother (Grace Zabriskie), but Herzog is not interested in facts, only truth (as he sees fit, of course). Truth is hard to come by when dealing with the mentally insane, yet the film treats Brad’s psychosis with a loving if abstract understanding, illuminated by a non-sequitur dream sequence in which Shannon hikes around Machu Picchu and an impoverished Chinese market with a camera and wide-angle lens strapped to his chest, looking at peace for once in this fucked up world. Which is, incidentally, how another cult figure has been looking lately: DeMarcus Cousins, the mercurial rookie who’s been as devastating as a Peruvian rainstorm as of late. Starting his career in a repressive environment like Paul Westphal’s has done its damage on Cousins (if only monetarily), but given his recent performance (good) and behavior (good) I’m having a hard time busting out the Singapore cane to whack the organization’s handling skills. Yet one gets the feeling that with improper handling, the Kings rookie might be a possible suspect in any and all flamingo related hostage situations. Then again, he’s just a kid, and all this posturing over Cousins’ attitude and behavior is probably overblown. Seeing him play more and more minutes (and uninhibited ones at that) has been exciting. The future is very, very bright for DeMarcus, even with all those forced inside shots. Let’s just hope he stays focused and doesn’t go on any white water rafting trips any time soon.

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