culture, music, and identity politics musings from a 20-something Australian-Asian living in Washington D.C.

Construction worker arms and pantaloons: the Rafa-Roger fashion battle July 8, 2007

Filed under: Fashion,Gender and Masculinity,Sports,Tennis — itslateagain @ 5:14 pm

Rafael Nadal, whose game continues to develop and mature on all surfaces, is finally here to give Roger Federer some competition. To which I say: About time! As incredible as it’s been to watch the young Swissman steam roll through grand slams as if the Roddicks and Hewitts of the world were beginner stage computer drones on Virtua Tennis, great sports viewing requires great rivalries, and Nadal has established himself as the man to bring it.

Being a lefthander who was forced to write with my right by my father, I love the fact that Rafael is a natural righthander who plays tennis lefthanded. It’s reverse appreciation, made all the more wonderful by the fact that it comes during a time when there is a serious dearth of prominent lefties in world tennis. And as powerful as his clean, flashing forehands are, it naturally provides his double fisted backhand game with that much more power. During today’s Wimbledon singles final coverage, McEnroe described this phenomenon as raising the game to “a whole ‘nother level.”

The Spanish thing certainly plays a role, for as easy as it is to admire Swiss precision and craft, it’s hard to root for it with total devotion. I recently spent some time visiting a friend in Barcelona and, like many others, was absolutely enchanted by the passion for life and joy that permeates the city. And as cliched as the metaphor of the athlete and his style as representative of his country or culture might be, you can’t help but feel it with Nadal. It’s that tenacious grimace in the throes of a tight game, the refusal to give up on points, the small body with the large voice, he’s almost…a male Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario!

But on top of that, its Rafa’s dress sense that gives him that extra edge. It’s not difficult for his game–taking the ball on the up, hitting bafflingly good winners from defensive positions, blinding passing shots–to evoke memories of a young Andre Agassi. And when one thinks of young Andre, it’s hard to forget the fashion sense of young Andre.

Here was a man who embraced the early 90s, with its technicolor teal greens, it’s unfortunate hair lengths and big logo branding.

It was loud, perhaps a little too loud, and depite many years of tamed down, bald-headed Andre, people won’t be forgetting the memories of his crazy mulleted era any time soon.
Rafael, on the other hand, is a man of relative taste. The pieces are all there: the long hair, the head band, the derision of the Roland Garros establishment, but he does it smarter.

Instead of going for color, Nadal does it with form. At the top, he strips away the sleeves, providing lady-pleasing views of his oft-fist pumping guns. Down low, he adds significant length to his shorts, bringing them to near-three quarter length. These capris, or pantaloons, are a brilliant meshing of Euro-hip sport casual with American hip hop. But where hip hop goes for both length and width–providing that low-rise, baggy look which is now so firmly established amongst America’s male populace–Raffa keeps it form fitted. The overall result: a slimmed down, sleeker aesthetic that has “I am a modern, sexy tennis-playing machine”written all over its Nikes. (Nadal generally has “Vamos Rafa” written on his) Gunned

Which all, of course, provides even more juice for marketers and broadcast networks in articulating the beauty of the Federer-Nadal rivalry.

Roger, whose game is as close to mechanical perfection as we’ve perhaps ever seen, keeps his style decidedly conventional. Apart from the neat bun pony-tail he rocked a couple of years ago, the Fed-machine is all business. Unemotional, pressed whites, shorts kept tidily above the knee and polo collar gently curled, the man is to tennis as Tiger is to golf. Clean-cut, unobjectionable and ridonkulously good.

And, just as the epic Sampras-Agassi battles kept us enraptured for many marvellous years through the 90s during one epic five-setter after another, so I hope Nadal and Federer will offer the same entertainment. Long live the Rafa-Roger rivalry!


The Online Georgian Revolution and the overthrow of Arial and TNR June 30, 2007

Filed under: Art,Society,Type,Web — itslateagain @ 4:24 pm

Georgia love

I love typeface. I go through periods of hyper-sensitivity to various things: in high school, I obsessed over athletic shoes like Air Jordans and fancy runners; before that, I was extremely conscious of passing people’s bodyshapes. Now that I am in my twenties, I’ve moved past mere human beings to the fonts in which we cast our lives: our thoughts and desires, noble efforts to inform and, never far away, the desire to sell and manipulate.

Which is why I am so happy for the Georgian revolution, which is currently sweeping across online papers and publications near you.

I believe it was led by the New York Times, which over the past couple of years has transformed itself from an overly busy, smallish-print jumble into its current marvel of elegance and beauty. In large part, it was the work of Georgia. I’m not sure how long they’ve been using it, but I do remember noticing that it isn’t Times New Roman, a font whose place on a printed page I don’t mind, but whose role on the web page should be abolished, and soon. There’s nothing that says: “We live in a globalized, clever world capable of solving major problems and our civilization is not necessarily facing impending apocalypse” like opening a firefox window to the Times’ front page.

And how the others have followed! The Guardian, the Age in Melbourne, now even Wired magazine…all of my favorite news sources are jumping aboard the Georgia parade, in all its handsome, serifed majesty, overthrowing the turgid hegemony of Arial (itself a bastard child of Helvetica) and thus issuing in a new era in web aesthetics (“font 2.0”, anyone?). It doesn’t cost anything (to my knowledge) and offers all of us a more pleasant, beautiful online world in which to wander.

To who do I owe this marvellous graphic design coup d’etat? Who is the Lenin, the Mao, the FDR, the Churchill of this great movement?

Perhaps, Bill Keller, editor of the Times. To which I say, for all of us tired of the pure fugliness of Arial and TNR: thank you oh liberator.

A google search of Georgia offers the following: an IHT article which speaks of a Georgia ‘revival,’ that it was designed in 1993 by a Matthew Carter for Microsoft (wiki), and that it was designed specifically for the screen.

Now, if only I could work out how to change my own template’s body font to Georgia…

PS: How could I forget mentioning my beloved host, WordPress, and their own role as blogosphere Georgia trailblazers. Well done, WP!


Summer Grass Seeds June 23, 2007

Filed under: Boy Mark,Concerts,Environment,Tribute — itslateagain @ 1:16 pm

GrasseedWhen I remember my years as a small boy, when the days that my knees were not afflicted by some updated graze or bruise of sorts were few and far between, I also think of grass seeds.

As children, we are adept at analyzing our natural topography for its fun-ness factor. It’s part of the early hunter-gatherer instinct. You make sure that you’ve eaten enough, and then you go out and play. And just as I am sure that the first caveman who found a way to turn a dangerous, slippery riverbank into a giant mudslide was amply rewarded, so were the entrepreneurial of us children who decided to take the plunge: to ride our skateboard down that new sub-development hill, to step on to that undeveloped plot of land with its innumerable “boodgies” (hardened sand that makes for effective, if non-lethal projectiles) or the first to roly-poly down that particularly green hill. I was generally a sucker for the roly-polies.

The trade-off with grass hills of course is not so much the danger of the slope and potential oncoming vehicles (as with skateboards) or the angry wrath of future homeowners (as with undeveloped boodgie mines). It is the absolute certainty of death by itchiness. It is the knowledge that for each moment of giddy excitement, as your body tumbles over and over down that grassy embankment before you collapse at the bottom of the slope, there are hundreds (if not millions, for all we knew) of tiny little grass seeds, gleefully latching on to the hairs of your skin. It is the knowledge that scratch and wash as you might, you will be itchy for quite some time following, and that it will be miserable.

But I almost never hesitated in taking that plunge and leaping down the slope. I don’t even know if I got the entrepreneurs award for being first to roll–the riches of childhood friendship or a ruffling of the hair by some impressed Australian father figure—but it didn’t matter. I loved the roly-poly sensation. The power of the roll, the whirling of my senses into some giant tumble dryer. Like a free amusement ride without the vomit. Or simply twirling about until one falls over, except less masochistic and with the added bonus that gravity is involved.

I remember those grass seeds and the way I scratched at them. It was torturous and painful, but I would suck it up knowingly beforehand, then proceed to mutter in itching agony post roly. And now, I still cherish that grass, despite my interaction with it being so sadly limited. Mine today is a world of car seats and carpeted floors, of astroturf town community centers (surely a nod to impending virtual apocalypse, or perhaps utilitarian urban planning accidental genius), of freshly-vacuumed security. In fact, one of the few places I have built into my current routine existence that is genuinely grassy is Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue.

Last night, I saw a great American rock band called Wilco at the Pavilion. The grass, alas, was wet from an inopportune summer rainstorm. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, the grass and I, together briefly, albeit through the precautionary medium of blanket and plastic. There is nothing that feels more like Summer in Howard County, Maryland than a lawn ticket to a great band at Merriweather, rain or sunshine. It feels almost like home, like a romanticized childhood spent wisely roly-polying down grassy hills. And that’s something I’ll always cherish.

I should also make mention that Wilco played one of my favorite tunes—“California Stars”—as their opening encore last night. Naturally, we looked up and counted stars: all six of them. Thanks for that one, guys. I’m sure you knew I was hoping.


Silverdocs 2007 Review: Fathers, Sons and Tyrants June 18, 2007

Filed under: Art,Film festivals,Humanitarian,Review,Society — itslateagain @ 6:24 am


Year Five of Silverdocs, June 12-17, 2007 was another wonderful, enriching festival with huge lines filling Colesville Road as documentary-lovers from around the world descended upon otherwise unknown Silver Spring, MD. I worked the festival for the second year after volunteering last year, with the critical added bonus (guised as obligation) that I got paid to watch movies one after the other all week.

Hmm…”documentary.” The word sends shivers down the spines of some, waves of heavy sleep vibes through others, and flashes of eternally curious excitement through a peculiar few. I happen to love the documentary medium, because it feels–for me at least–like the most direct connection between the subject of the film and its audience. I could spend the rest of my life listening to the stories of other people and times: about the history of something like the Helvetica font or the Chicago riots of 1968, or of folk singers whose songs I know but whose biography I do not, or of comic church groups spreading the “Stop Shopping” gospel.

Watching a good documentary is self-reflexive and introspective: we look upon each other intimately, in ways that are becoming increasingly rare in our modern, ossified existences. It’s the equivalent of arising from months breathing out of a waste dump and inhaling huge mouthfuls of delicious, unadulterated, flavorsome oxygen. Each film is filled with so many grains of universal truth and moments of pure comedy or tragedy.

By far the best highlight of the five days was that, as staff, I got to meet and chat with a number of filmmakers and film subjects. I was impressed by the profound absence of asshole-ish ego and superficiality one would associate with other film festivals. Such are the benefits of working a documentary festival, where the competition and subject matter stakes are so different. The vast majority of filmmakers seemed simply grateful for a chance to screen and talk about their years of obscure toil, staying behind after the screenings to chat informally with everybody in the audience who wanted to talk. I came out of the festival even more convinced of the democratic power of documentary, and respectful of the enormous amount of sacrifice involved in putting together each ‘labor of love.’

My favorite film of this year’s stellar selection was a gentle, humorous film from China named “Please Vote for Me,” a political allegory and cheery “Lord of the Flies” experiment built around the trappings of the democratic process. It features three candidates in a class of third-graders in Wuhan province competing for their classmates’ vote as new class monitor. The kids, naturally, are cute and very funny, whether gathering “fault lists” to use against their opponents or attempting to out-debate one another with their parents’ carefully scripted logic. Intimidation, questionable motives, character, bribery, ruthlessness: some of these darker sides of human nature were played out on-screen by three-foot-tall prima donna Chinese children in a rowdy classroom, edited in a way that was knowingly clever and affectionate. “Please Vote for Me” has moments of total mirth besides those of genuine tenderness, as well as a keen eye for the universal effects that power–no matter the scale–has upon human behavior.


The winners of the Audience Award, screened on Father’s Day, were both–in remarkably prescient manner–built around Father-Son relationships. The short winner, “Son’s Sacrifice”, provided a contemporary day take on long-worn themes, following the relationship between a Bengali-Puerto Rican named Imran and his father, as Imran attempts to prove his capability in taking over the family’s shop-front slaughterhouse in New York. The full-length, “Souvenirs”, tracked Shahar Cohen, a young Israeli filmmaker, and his ex-WWII ‘pappy’ as they retraced his war journey through Europe. On the way, they search for “souvenirs,” potential children that Sleiman left behind during brief affairs during his tour. I can see why it won the audience award: the camera captures some gut-wrenchingly powerful moments–such as when Sleiman is reunited with a Dutch girlfriend he hasn’t seen since the War–as well as the beautiful arc of Shahar and Sleiman’s bond, in a manner that feels so intimate and natural that it makes the socio-historical dimensions of the film quite tangential. I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that these Jewish/Muslim family stories happened to synch together so perfectly, particularly given last week’s disheartening events in Gaza. Bravo to the festival’s audience for such skillful voting!

The biggest draws of the audience, though, were a couple of the more left-field films in the mix. “Helvetica,” as its title suggests, is concerned entirely with the popular typeface (it means “Swiss” in Latin), which most people are probably more familiar with through its Microsoft Word bastard child: Arial. I have always been naturally observant about the types and design which flood our visual landscape–I can’t walk past a row of subway ads without thoughts about typeface choice or character spacing appearing–and it was totally neat talking to the filmmaker Gary Hustwit about our mutual idiosyncrasy. During the introduction, he asked how many people in the audience were graphic designers…at least three-quarters of them raised their hands.

“And so how many of you others are reluctant dates?” he quipped.

The film itself is clean and artful, with interesting sub-plots about the evolution of typeface in popular culture as well as my favorite score of the festival. According to Gary, half the music is from his iTunes playlist from 18 months back, but he also asked musicians to provide him with music that “sounds like Helvetica.” Little to my surprise, metronomic electronic beats with plenty of blips and syncopated rhythms are what ensued.


The other surprise hit was “Big Rig,” a non-traditional ode to truck drivers and their lives behind and away from the wheel. I had the chance to talk a little with Jesse, one of the truckers featured in the film. In my experience, truck drivers in Australia receive a lot less disregard than their American counterparts, and it was great to see a film cross that class/cultural divide so dramatically at Silverdocs.

Otherwise, I loved “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song,” which opened the festival and leaves you nostalgic for a more unified America in the midst of our current (and repeated) mess, and from what I caught of “Chicago 10”–about the 1968 riots–and “What Would Jesus Buy”–about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping–were smart and engaging. “Garbage Warrior,” about an iconoclastic eco-architect who constructs houses out of waste materials like beer cans, plastic bottles and tires, received a rave reception. It comes off as a less preachy, equally worthwhile take on the global warming themes of “Inconvenient Truth.” Also, the film’s subject–Michael Reynolds–speaks his mind with utter disregard for convention or popular opinion, making him infinitely more fun than Al Gore.

Perhaps the most important film of the festival, in terms of sparking action, was “The Devil Came on Horseback,” an old-fashioned call-to-arms to stop the genocide that is taking place in Darfur. It is necessarily graphic and brutally honest about the atrocities taking place, but weaves such elements into a narrative that is palatable and accessible enough for a general audience to absorb. The key now, of course, is gaining widespread distribution and viewership, something that I imagine is a central topic during the Filmmaker’s Conference, held simultaneously at Silverdocs each year.


SilverDocs: Green intelligence June 12, 2007

Filed under: DC Sceneism,Documentary,Film festivals,Literary,Society — itslateagain @ 1:03 pm

BlcTonight, Silverdocs kicks off at the American Film Institute, Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. A week of cutting edge documentaries from across the globe, all sorts of clever directors and producers shuffling along Colesville Road, looking lost…it promises to be as good as last year’s, even if it doesn’t pack the Al Gores or Martin Scorceses of 2006.

It runs from June 12-17, with documentaries indoors and outdoors, from morning through to midnight. Come check out a flick and get yo’ think on!

Of the myriad marvels on offer, I think the following are going to be particularly good:

Buddha’s Lost Children:

In the Golden Triangle region of northern Thailand, a Buddhist monk travels around the mountains on horseback. The stunning forests, covered in mist, appear as peaceful as the meditative practice of the monk. But their calm belies the reality: this remote region is dominated by the drug trade, and its hill tribe people are
desperately poor.

Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositto, the Tiger Monk, has devoted himself to helping the orphaned and abandoned children of this region. He gives advice to the villagers, he prays with them, repairs temples and takes neglected and  marginalized children into his care. Parents give sons as young as four over to the Tiger Monk because they know the little boys will have plenty to eat and a good upbringing.

In his Golden Horse Monastery, the Buddhist nun Mae Ead teaches the boys to read, write, cook, wash and brush their teeth. Khru Bah himself is strict. He was a tough Thai boxing champion before he found inner peace through Buddhism. His martial arts training required discipline. Children in his care have to take responsibility for themselves and their horses. Guided by the teachings of Buddha, Khru Bah’s mental training teaches them to tell right from wrong and live their lives with purpose.

The director of BUDDHA’S LOST CHLDREN, Mark Verkerk, sums up what is fascinating about Khru Bah’s story: He has translated the Buddhist ideal of infinite compassion and unconditional love into measurable action. The children he helps have been abandoned by time. He gives them the possibility of a future.

Please Vote For Me:

What does democracy look like in the world’s largest Communist country? Start small, very small. This impossibly charming film features a third grade class in Wahun province and the intense politicking in the race to become Class Monitor.

PLEASE VOTE FOR ME captures many elements of life in China today missed by all the magazine cover stories and astounding growth statistics. This story unfolds far from the giant factories, crowded markets, or even picturesque villages. These classrooms are state-of-the-art and the children’s homes look remarkably like middle class urban homes in the West. The film provides a private view of a microcosm of contemporary Chinese culture.

It is also a classic election drama, albeit with 7-year-olds. The three candidates, two boys and a girl, are chosen by the teachers, but they conduct real campaigns and are chosen in a free election. Ironically their goal is to become the student charged with maintaining order and reporting rule violations to the teachers. Director Weijun Chen travels home with the candidates, each a product of the one-child policy, where over-eager parents coach and cajole their child. They even participate in a little preelection gift-giving in an effort to manipulate the race so their kid will win! Systems of government may differ broadly, but human nature not so much.

Director Weijun Chen’s award-winning film TO LIVE IS BETTER THAN TO DIE was seen by millions around the globe. PLEASE VOTE FOR ME will reach over 100 million viewers as part of the international documentary project “Why Democracy?” scheduled to air globally in October 2007.


DC Area Premiere

Once in a rare while, a film comes along that draws an irresistible story from the unlikeliest source. First-time director Gary Hustwit’s HELVETICA is just such a film. This playful exploration of the font that defined modern type design is both a history of the titular typeface and an engrossing meditation on graphic art that decodes the subtle influence of fonts on our emotions, attitudes, and desires.

Conceived in Switzerland’s Haas type foundry, Helvetica was created to encapsulate the burgeoning postwar modernist movement and its hallmarks of neutrality and order. The font quickly became the default choice for corporate branding, street signage, and print design.

Inevitably, this ubiquity sparked a design-world rebellion, and the film gives equal voice to cheeky postmodernist detractors who came to view Helvetica as a tool of corporate hegemony. Reacting against uniformity, younger artists developed hand-drawn fonts, fractured layouts and an elaborate arsenal of outré methods intended to disrupt Helvetica’s “dull blanket of sameness.”

But Helvetica’s uncanny balance and cool clarity survived this onslaught, and a new generation of designers reimagined it not as a global monster of conformity but as an infinitely extensible tool that functions in any context. As the film’s cast of design luminaries trade barbs and debate the merits and pitfalls of the world’s most famous font, the mysterious ability of Helvetica to accept and contain an array of interpretations and sensibilities emerges. Like the film itself, it attunes and focuses our awareness of design and its impact on the world around us.

Hip Hop Revolution:

North America Premiere

In American culture, the affirmative impulses of hip-hop are all but completely overshadowed by the negative connotations of gangsterism, sexism, and consumerism. Women are exhibited and exploited and thugs are admired as empowered and in control. But when hip-hop started during the 1970s in the South Bronx, it was a movement of self-expression and self-actualization, advocating personal dignity and validating personal experience in the face of urban poverty, violence and disenfranchisement.

In the Cape Flats, outside Cape Town, South Africa the music of the South Bronx found a receptive audience who recognized in the American ghettos problems similar to their own. Economic apartheid is not so far from political apartheid, to the person trapped within. Despite isolation by the Western boycott during the 1980s and censorship by their own government, South Africans heard and found inspiration in American hip-hop—from early East Coast right up through Public Enemy and NWA—and in the break dancing and graffiti art that accompanied turntablism and street poetry.

The result is an indigenous South African hip-hop culture, rich with African rhythms far more explicit than the indirect influence of that continent on American R&B, and deeply expressive of the obstacles facing post-Apartheid youth: HIV-AIDS, poverty, unemployment, gangsterism, poor access to education, and gender inequity. In interviews with South African musicians and artists past and present, including members of the influential Prophets of Da City (POC), Weaam Williams gives voice to South Africa’s hip-hop subculture, and reminds Western viewers of the complexity of black experience, at home and worldwide.


Q Radio: A Collector’s Edition ITSLATEAGAIN Podcast!

Filed under: DC Sceneism,Music,Podcasts,Race,Society,Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 12:48 pm

7QWelcome to Q Radio: a Special Edition from ITSLATEAGAIN: The Podcast Series!

Q Radio is not a traditional podcast, or online radio show. Rather, it is a series of vignettes from various characters living around Q Street in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington D.C. Shaw has become a highly controversial battleground in recent months for the ongoing gentrification debate that permeates new developments in the district. Gentrification, the process in which lower cost neighborhoods undergo physical renovation and increased property values, and more importantly: an influx of wealthier residents who often push out the previous, poorer residents.

Q Radio is the word off the street, where the conversations get ugly, the race and class lines are clearly drawn and hostilities are shared against the backdrop of rising gang violence. But the voices of Q also offer glimpses of hope: unlikely friendships are formed, visionary young go-getters continue to inspire.

There’s Daniel, an Ethiopian immigrant whose perspective on being black in America is being reshaped through his daughter. Tony, the doubting patron of a local church accused of “slumlording.” And that’s not to mention Mel, the guilt-tripping young professional and Gustavo, with worries regarding MS-13 and human traffickers. These, and other characters, provide insight into the diversity of walks of life in Shaw, soundtracked by a groove-centric collection of songs and beats.

Look for tracks from Amon Tobin, Royksopp, Fujiya and Miyagi, Sam Cooke, Spank Rock, Talib Kweli, Andrew Bird and Mbongeni Ngema, among others.

I recently moved out of Shaw, and so would like to dedicate this pod-story to the kids at Kennedy Rec. I played ball there a number of times, and after breaking the ice, found many of them to be fun, good-natured young adults.

Collector’s Edition: Q Radio: Voices from Shaw

FascadeNB: All characters in this pod-story are fictional.

NNB: In the rare chance that you belong to a large music company and do not appreciate hearing particular tunes in this pod-story, do let me know and I’ll be sure to take it down, sans lawyer.


Engaging the hard to engage May 7, 2007

Filed under: Branded content,Internet,NYC — itslateagain @ 9:45 pm

A friend who works in online advertising has finished his incredibly slick and fun spot for his company, 10ton production.

Their site is called getengagedquickly, and their video, which features two impossibly good looking young actors, is excellent. Check it out.

While you’re at it, this Philips shave everywhere site is particularly hilarious.