Sunday, April 30, 2006

Turkish Star Wars

Allegations of copyright infringement in popular culture are ever with us. The basic idea behind copyright being that you can't copyright an idea, only a reasonably detailed and concrete expression of an idea.

This is the most obvious reason the Da Vinci Code case failed: the idea that Christ may have married Mary Magdelene and fathered a line of French kings, while certainly not first Dan Brown's, was scarcely an idea subject to copyright.

Those who did undergraduate intellectual property, however, would probably remember a classic case falling the other side of the line - the Italian re-make of "Jaws". This resulted in the Australian case Universal City Studios v Zeccola, where it was held (for the purposes of an urgent injunction) there was an arguable case of copying.

The judge at first instance, in the words of the appeal court, "with some
degree of fortitude, viewed both films, one after the other
" before ruling for the makers of "Jaws".

With considerably more fortitude I settled down to watch "Turkish Star Wars", perhaps one of the best bad foreign films imaginable. Actually, it's so bad as to be beyond imagination, so just go watch it - if you can find a copy, which will be hard for reasons I'll mention later.

The titles alone say it all. Some of them are visibly painted on cardboard and "faded out" by the simple expedient of rushing them towards the camera and off to the left.

It begins with a monologue that's incomprehensible, even with the aid of subtitles, uttered over a backdrop of footage of early NASA launches and random bits of Star Wars space-fight footage mashed together. Unfortunately not enough footage, so what they have they loop three times (a money-stretching trick this production crew ain't too proud to use over and over again).

We then have fighter pilots, who appear to be standing either in front of TV screens or a back projection of more Star Wars space-battle footage, in motorcycle helmets.

Our heroes are then shot down and land, apparently, on the evil over-lord's planet. They must defeat him before he can penetrate the shield of projected brain-molecules that defends the earth. (At least I think that was what was going on.) Along they way they must save the oppressed locals from his evil army of chubby skeleton warriors, dudes in halloween masks, mummies, guys in tin man costumes, giant muppets with bad claws, and an eight foot yeti thing that seems to flail victims to death with streamers.

Moments to watch for:

- crashing your space-fighter in such a way it disintegrates, but you crawl from a sand-dune unharmed!

- kicks that land nowhere near the bad-guys but send 'em sprawling!

- "Ouch, that hurts!" moments when it becomes painfully apparent there are no stunt doubles

- when care bears attack! Men in giant pink bear suits attack children with their cardboard claws!

- a devastating mystical sword, obviously made of cardboard and shaped like lightning!

- our hero, trapped and bound to feindish devices by ... telephone cords!

- evil sorcerous villains, drinking their victim's blood through a bendy straw!

- that yellow, swirling special effect: when it turns up, it spells trouble!

Best of all, when the evil villain is sliced in half: "This is one of the more tricky visuals from the Turkish effects wizards: he is filmed while one half of his body is in shadows, then they go to a shot of him with the other half of his body in shadows. It seems impossible, but both halves of him ended up with his whole nose."

The reason you'll have trouble tracking this gem down? In a delicious result for a film made with no concern for copyright (it's soundtrack is composed of scraps from Indiana Jones and Flash Gordon, too) it is only available on bootleg DVD ...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh Canada!

Presently in Vancouver, staying with M and K. I arrived at the end of quite a long journey that started at 5 am in Philadelphia (or 2 am Vancouver time) and ended with getting into Vancouver on a bus from Seattle airport after 6 pm. Much cheaper, though much longer, to cross the border by land if you can afford the time.

Other than catching up with old friends, indigenous art has featured pretty high on the agenda. The Anthropology Museum has an astonishing collection of memorial (ie burial) boxes, door posts, potlach masks and totem poles. The symbolic depictions of real and mythical animals are enormously striking. Also, fortunately for my white middle-class guilt complex, they seem to have a very healthy relationship with the local first nations at the Museum; so these artefacts are largely voluntarily placed with the museum, not a monument to looting.

I've also rapidly come to appreciate Vancouver fashion sense. It rains a fair bit here and winter is long. Aboout 97% of people outdoors are wearing jeans and sneakers and either a North Face fleece or a waterproof jacket of some desciption. The other 3% are wearing jeans, black boots or slip-on leather shoes/clogs and a quilted jacket.

No wonder everyone can pick me a mile off as "visiting" in my jeans with (shock!) a red wool jumper and tan linen jacket.

Still, M and me were mistaken for a gay couple methinks by a couple of private gallery owners when we were wandering around town this afternoon. Quite amusing to be treated as serious potential buyers. Especially on my income.


My time in Philly was also brief, but well spent. Major highlights of my stay with Im the archaeologist were the local Art Museum and the Liberty Bell centre. Sorry, "center". The Musuem is a gobsmackingly impressive pile built along late-Roman empire lines, with a healthy dose of ziggurat thrown in for good measure.

The main foyer looks like the steps could comfortably lead off to an area reserved for human sacrifice, but is dominated by a huge sculpture of Artemis (or Diana or some other Roman goddess with a bow) who apparently used to be a weather vane. Weighing, I would guess, a good half a tonne. Always important to know from which direction your hurricane-force winds are blowing.

In a lovely counterpoint, a huge white Alexander Calder sculpture hung from the ceiling. I dragged Im through the French Impressionists, she gave me the medieval high-lights tour and showed me where bits of Thai and Chinese temples, along with European monastic courtyards and Japanese tea-houses, had been artfully reassembled. (Hurrah for looting!).

The Liberty Bell exhibit was really well thought through, and a good introduction to the history of the object. Among other things, I learned that it was only renamed the "Liberty" Bell when its symbolism was taken up by the anti-slavery movement.

It also struck me, for the first time, that the opening paragraphs of the declaration of independence are actually a brilliant exposition of the principle of self-determination at international law as we now understand it. (Well, more or less.) Hardly surprising, given that it was drafted by so many lawyers.

Right, nap time.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Taking international law on the road

Spring had finally sprung in Cambridge on the Thursday of week before last. I could cycle without gloves and beanie, the daffodils were out and so, increasingly, was the sun.

What a fool I was to think that was Spring.

I'm currently blogging from a front porch in Washington DC, where it's been positively balmy since I arrived. Sunny, 20 degrees plus, and blossom on all the trees. There has been one - ONE! - cloudy day in the week since I arrived.

I need to move back to a warmer climate.

Anyway, blogging has been interrupted by the madcap antics of the American Society of International Law annual conference and my research trip. Okay, so "madcap antics" really doesn't describe ASIL.

Like any conference there were amazing, stimulating and thought provoking panels; and those that left you asking: "How the hell did you get invited to speak?"

I also had a great two-hour meeting at the State Department today about international fisheries law. (Tomorrow I talk about drug smuggling with the Coast Guard.)

Still, the real experience has been staying with friends in Washington DC's north-west. Over here, near T and 5th, my hosts are among a gentrification influx. The neighborhood around has a fine heritage, but not perhaps the best track-record on safety and criminal behavior. (One of my hosts has been mugged, late at night, on his own doorstep).

Basically, when walking around here you're liable to be the lone white guy: certainly a different feeling for me to be part of a visible minority. Once you cross 13th street though, the racial balance visibly shifts - and by the time you hit Georgetown, there are almost no black faces.

Still, even as the hopelessly naive gangly white guy off to a conference or meetings in a tie and suit jacket, I've felt quite at ease. Everyone is terribly friendly and helpful.

Okay, a nasty storm is breaking. Time to take this indoors and off-line.

Blogging will be pretty erratic over the next two weeks. Next stop: Philadelphia!