Thursday, January 19, 2017

Chronic Toxicity: Debating Gary Taubes' The Case Against Sugar

I thought I would debate the toxicity of eating or drinking sugar with my mother in an email exchange:

Dear mother,

In the midst of so many arguments about our on-going nearly religious dietary differences, I just now enjoyed Gary Taubes' new book entitled The Case Against Sugar, a highly readable argument that seeks to diagnose the massive health damage caused by our civilization's sugar intake. Taubes provides the reader with an entire history of our culture's sugar addiction, from a period when dessert and chocolate bars did not exist all the way to today's hyper-saturated world of high fructose corn syrup and all of the other mysterious terms that tend to end with -ose that food companies sneak into their products. I've written about this toxicity of sugar before in relation to the movie Fed Up, but Taubes goes much further in his claims, relating chronic long-term sugar consumption to not only diabetes and obesity, but also to metabolic syndrome, hypertension, gout, heart disease, dementia, and cancer. Furthermore, Taubes' castigation of the big sugar's evil advertising with its bogus scientists and expert lobbyists reads exactly like Allan Brandt's book The Cigarette Century (2009) in the way that it shows that an industry will cheerfully propagandize people into poisoning themselves in the name of profits (which also brings to mind ExxonMobil's willingness to help permanently damage the planet's atmosphere again for short-term gain).

After a youth of heavy-duty sugar addiction in which I would routinely eat half a box of King Vitamin cereal after school, I did largely quit eating sugar about 3 years ago, and I lost weight and felt better about myself, but more recently, I have allowed various exceptions in that diet (Haagen dasz vanilla bean ice cream, for instance) to interfere with that resolve. Quitting sugar really makes one aware of one's addiction. It sensitizes you to the taste of sugar, and, at one point, I compared a visit to a Krispy Kreme donut shop to an alcoholic falling off the wagon (after eating two donuts, I felt sick to my stomach). Basically, Taubes' book firmed up my wavering resolve to loathe sugar again. So, having quit the stuff recently, I feel better again, but Taubes raises some key questions, such as:

1) How little sugar can one eat? He compares the question to how few cigarettes should one smoke, and says that the question is impossible to answer exactly.

2) Given that an extreme aversion to sugar obliges one to quit indulging in most processed foods or drinks, couldn't one say that one's diet has already markedly improved for that reason?

But what I like most about Taubes' book is the way he argues that while others may focus on a whole range of dietary evils such as carbohydrates, fats, meat, oils, or just plain over-eating as being responsible for the ever increasing amounts of sickly obese people in the world, Taubes keeps his focus solely on sugar. He uses many examples to expose how we tend to view diet in terms of equivalencies. For instances, take the phrase calories in, calories out. If someone eats or drinks too many calories, than that will automatically be reflected in weight gain, but Taubes writes that that kind of thinking greatly oversimplifies the complex hormonal reactions that take place when we eat or drink stuff. We also tend to think that if we eat fat, then that automatically translates to weight gain, but Taubes comes up with several examples of other cultures where the natives would eat ridiculously fatty foods and yet still stay thin, that is, until their diet becomes Americanized.

But then, that's when you would say that Taubes has been funded by the meat industry.

So, what do you think? How is Taubes wrong?



(Mother said that she will reply with a much more "balanced" case later today.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Film Doctor's 7 Most Disliked Films That He Saw in 2016

[Note: I tried more than ever to not see bad films, so I ended up skipping most of the major releases of the year. Also given that I watched a lot of movies on Blu-ray, I did very much enjoy Love and Friendship, Keanu, The Big Short, Tangerine, Carol, Formation, Anomalisa, One-Eyed Jacks, and Nocturnal Animals (not to mention two excellent books about film criticism--A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism and Owen Gleiberman's Movie Freak), but, as in any year, some cruddier films still appeared before my eyes, much as I sought to avoid them.]

7) The Neon Demon

As much as I did enjoy its moody colorful bloody excesses, Nicolas Winding Refn's newest exercise in sharing his obsessions is still a deeply, deeply silly movie.

6) High-Rise 

Ben Wheatley's dystopian study of a large apartment building gone bad left me wondering things: how did he get Jeremy Irons involved? Does the world outside of the high-rise also follow the same post-apocalyptic decline? Has post-apocalyptic destruction become passe? Do the cliches of the post-apocalyptic somehow become cool if it's done with 1970s style?

5) Knight of Cups

I tend to like the idea of Terrence Malick's uncompromising vision more than I like sitting through his recent films. Once one knows that the movie stars usually had no idea what to do from scene to scene in Knight of Cups, I felt sorry for them and their attempts (as well as Malick's) at futzing around for transcendence, even if it means throwing Natalie Portman in the ocean or watching Brian Dennehy glower and emote as a completely under-written grumpy dad figure. Knight of Cups confirms one's abiding love for a screenplay. 

4) The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos' pseudo-Kafka-esque parable about the way society favors the marrieds over the singletons left me actively angry at its evil treatment of Rachel Weisz, its unwelcome capacity to make Lea Seydoux dull, and Colin Farrell's dreary portrait of a blinkered pudgy Everyman. I could tell that these many great actors believed in Lanthimos' randomly vicious script, because it means something deep, I am sure.

3) Macbeth

Justin Kurzel's adaptation of Shakespeare's play also left me with an overwhelming impression of bamboozled movie stars. Lady Macbeth does not benefit any from not being able to rub her hands as she sleepwalks in front of a doctor, as William spells out in his script. In this movie, Marion Cotillard looks wistfully and tearfully off at nothing as she recites lines in a chapel by herself in a way that makes no sense. In this fashion, a radical "reinterpretation" of a play views like pretty people emoting as they recite Shakespeare's greatest hits.

2) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Just, plain, awful.

1) Suicide Squad

Oh, the great promise of its first trailer, and the crushing resounding thud of its release. Margot Robbie is well cast as Harley Quinn, but what possible interest would her character have in such a painful Joker? What were those motor oil and black eyeball magic monsters and why should we care if the Squad can kill them?  Why does Cara Delevingne writhe around amidst all of that bloopy blue CGI lighting in the distance? I was too depressed to write about it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How does one design a video production class nowadays?--a correspondence with Morgan Honaker

I teach a 2 1/2 week long interim video production class in January, and every year, I wonder what's going on in the filmmaking world that could help with the course. To help answer this question, I ask two of my star alumni filmmakers--Morgan Honaker and O. K. Keyes for their insights, suggestions, and help with the class. Here's a copy of my recent correspondence with Morgan.

First, I learned that she would not be able to assist the class in person, so I wrote:
I appreciate your help with the video production class in recent years, even if this one doesn't work out.

This year, I'm still figuring out how to set up the proper exposure on the Canon T6 DSLR and whether or not I can find some last second lighting on Amazon that doesn't cost too much. Given all of the recent changes in technology, etc., video production class always leaves me wondering if I know what I'm doing.

At any rate, I hope your year has gone well.

Morgan responded:

Hi Dr.,

Sorry for the late reply - the holidays kept me a bit busy. I haven't worked with the Canon Ti6, but here are some articles I found about using it in different exposures . . .

For low light:
When to use manual mode:
General guide:

Also, in terms of lighting, I would highly recommend investing in a couple of light meters. They can teach students the importance of correct aperture and focal distance better than anything else, and you'll see a vast improvement in their lighting. You can find decent ones for a good price on Amazon ( There are also smartphone attachments that function as fairly reliable meters, which you can also buy on Amazon (

For lights, I would go with some white-lights that you can use gels to manipulate the color with. Fresnels are great lights to have (, but they do get very, very hot, so it would be a good idea to invest in some gaffer gloves ( You could also try out some LED lights (, but you will definitely need to get some gels to manipulate the color ( It's hard to find gels that are long enough, so you may want to check out B&H video/audio warehouse. If you're trying to get better lights, you may also want to invest in some c-stands, nets, and flags, also.

Hope this is helpful (and not too confusing)!


Thanks, Morgan. That's very helpful. I'll look further into Fresnels and LED lights.

Last year, the students in the different groups ended up stressed about completing their longer movies on time, so I plan on scaling back their length this year. I'm still not sure how much one should devote to teaching them technique in comparison to how much time to let them learn by filmmaking. We may have erred on leaning towards the former, so we created too much pressure on them to use fancier approaches after so many presentations on different subjects. Turning to the actual making of the movie proved tricky. At one point, a director balked at first because he didn't get to shoot his movie idea. Another group over-relied on "fixing it in post." At what point does the equipment become too complicated to be effective? One fellow, who proved a good cinematographer, will return and help me out in teaching the new class how to use the camera.

This year, my old assistant chose to go on a trip to Costa Rica, so a new French teacher will help out. We will see how that goes.

Cheers, and thanks again,



I also found a couple of other good lights. If you're going to use the LEDs, I would definitely recommend getting some tungsten lights and some lights with gels as well. Here are links to a couple of decent ones . . .

Tungsten lights:

Filtered Lights:

It's definitely a hard balance to find, especially with the limited time you guys have in the class. I think about 1.5 - 2 days of crash course basics in narrative, cinematography, lighting, sound, and editing (both sound and picture but with an emphasis on the latter) would be sufficient. However, I personally think that narrative is the most important part of filmmaking, so I would spend the most time on effective plot structure (3-act structure, character development, an ending that is both slightly surprising but also feels inevitable, etc.). It's very easy to make something look pretty, but it's much more difficult to convey a story effectively.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to consider making the final project no-dialogue. It's a great way to make your students hone in on their story visually and it forces them to think more creatively about what sorts of stories they can tell. And, in general, films should be shown and not told, especially considering that you guys won't have access to really good microphones and post-production sound mixers. Just something to think on.

If you are going to include dialogue, though, I think 5-7 minutes is a good length for a week and a half of planning, shooting, and post. And definitely don't let any of them say that they'll "fix it in post." Unless you're on some million-dollar Hollywood film where the crew can afford to do that, the film is going to be awful if too much is done in post-production. Trust me, I have seen it countless times.

Well, perhaps your assistant wanted to throw you into a fit of stress and angst that would trickle down to your students and make their filmmaking better. You'd be amazed what a good amount of stress can do to improve the quality of a film.

If you have anymore questions, feel free to let me know!



At this point, I asked her if she would mind sharing this correspondence on the film doctor blog. I also asked her to finish with what she's been working on lately:

I wouldn't mind at all.

Recently, I've been trying my hand at composing for film and video games. I took a class this past semester where we recreated the score and sound design from parts of Alien, Requiem for a Dream, The Grand Budapest Hotel, a few advertising logos, and for my final project, I chose to recreate a scene from the show Avatar: The Last Airbender. I have only done a little scoring before now, the majority of which was for an arena shooter video game. However, I am going to be doing sound design and score for a independent short film in the next few weeks, and I'm hoping to have a composing reel uploaded to Vimeo before the end of January.

As for film more specifically, I've been working on my skills as a mixer. I'm going to be mixing a feature-length independent horror film in the coming year that we're hoping to submit to Fantastic Fest. I've also started mixing for documentaries and am currently working on one about PTSD and the lives of current veterans in America. In addition, I'll be working as a freelance production sound recordist and post-production mixer for a Texas advertising company that is hoping to open a branch in Austin in the coming year.

I'm also going to be working on a media studies thesis in the spring semester. It will be styled as a video essay (as seen on the YouTube channel "Every Frame a Painting" and "The Directors Series" on Vimeo) in which I will be examining the ramifications of modern Hollywood from 2012 - present. In short, I'm arguing that the current trend of recycled stories - these include remakes of classic movies and video games (Ben Hur, Poltergeist, Mulan, The Lion King, Assassin's Creed, etc.), continuations of old series (Star Wars, BladeRunner, Jurassic Park/World, etc.), and the endless continuation of new series (pretty much any Marvel/DC movie) - will lead to a decrease in audiences' interest in theater-movies and could mark the beginning of the inevitable decline in the theater system as a whole. In addition, by using only those stories that have been proven to make money, Hollywood is leaving little to no room for audiences to discover and explore new ideas through movies. Furthermore, independent films that are telling new stories are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to get their films into theaters (Swiss Army Man, Captain Fantastic, Moonlight, etc.), giving those filmmakers little reason to continue practicing their art. I'll release this thesis on Vimeo by May 2017 (if all goes well).

I'll still be working quite a bit as a freelance sound designer and mixer, but I am trying to broaden my skill set to composing and back to media studies critique in the coming year.

Hope this is what you were looking for!


Saturday, December 10, 2016

dystopian links

---"Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation." --Guy Debord

---Harlan Ellison on why writers should get paid

---J.G. Ballard "predicted YouTube nearly 30 years ago, in an interview with Vogue, a medium 'in which each of us will be both star and supporting player. Every one of our actions during the day, across the entire spectrum of domestic life, will be instantly recorded on videotape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rushes, selected by a computer trained to pick out only our best profiles, our wittiest dialogue, our most affecting expressions filmed through the kindest filters, and then stitch these together into a heightened re-enactment of the day.'"

---Understanding the Cinematography of Raoul Coutard

---David Lynch on Creativity

---A Filmmaker's Journey/ Part 2: Pre-production

---"The 25 Blu-rays Every Movie Lover Must Own" by Noel Murray

---Tim Burton: A German Expressionism Influence

---trailers for Brimstone, Kong: Skull Island, Nocturnal AnimalsGuardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2A Boy and His Dog, Beauty and the Beast, PassengersGhost in the Shell, and The Circle

---Hitchcock and DePalma: Splitscreen Bloodbath

---"I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the future is all too liable to have its way with today’s most sophisticated encryption technology. I imagine that the world’s best-kept secrets — those of both private citizens and state institutions — will one day sit in plain sight on whatever it is that our descendants display data on.

Privy to that information while looking back at us, our ancestors will know us differently than we currently know ourselves, just as we now know the Victorians quite differently from how they knew themselves. The past, our own past, which our descendants will see us as having emerged from, will not be the past from which we now see ourselves emerging, but a reinterpretation of it, based on subsequently available information, greater transparency and fewer secrets." --William Gibson

---"It's Happening Here" by Anthony Kaufman

---"The next new media will perhaps be some form of virtual reality. (This was prophesied by the cartoonist Walt Kelly during the 1960 presidential campaign when Pogo tells his turtle friend that American elections seem to be pretty backward: 'What we ought to do is elect first a ghost writer an’ then find a candidate what fits the style.') Of course, Trump did practice that as well. Trump’s true innovation was the combination of TV entertainment and social media—something that any number of television shows, like the sitcom How I Met Your Mom, attempted by giving their fictional characters a social media presence. Trump began tweeting six or seven years ago, around the time that The Apprentice mutated into The Celebrity Apprentice. To use a film studies term, this form of direct address served to suture the audience into the show.

I’m not a determinist. Trump’s avant-garde use of media did not insure his election. Like all winners he was lucky—amazingly so. James Comey did him an enormous favor, as did the arrogant Clinton campaign gurus who decided Michigan was safely blue. But as Trump also benefited from fake news, chatbots, and internet trolls, it would be foolish to underestimate the way in which his facility with the media enabled him to shape the election’s terms and basic reality.

Using the principles of reality TV and the power of Twitter, Trump was able to create the spectacle and almost immediately annotate it to an audience of fans, just as Lady Gaga might address her 'monsters.' This powerful double spin offered a sense of community. No wonder people bought the illusion of straight talk and authenticity. Whether conscious strategy or megalomaniacal intuition it was enough to win this election–and astound the hard right Republicans who will be directing the show." --J. Hoberman

---Alien: H. R. Giger's Beautiful Monster

---Film Essay: Frances Ha

Sunday, November 13, 2016

new normal links

---"Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality." --Masha Gessen

---"All around were the unmistakable signs of normalization in progress. So many were falling into line without being pushed. It was happening at tremendous speed, like a contagion." --Teju Cole

---"Don’t normalize the dark spirits that have been unleashed. Don’t.

But this is what the mainstream media does." --Matt Zoller Seitz

---Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and election night

---"For many years, the U.S. — like the U.K. and other Western nations — has embarked on a course that virtually guaranteed a collapse of elite authority and internal implosion. From the invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the all-consuming framework of prisons and endless wars, societal benefits have been directed almost exclusively to the very elite institutions most responsible for failure at the expense of everyone else.

It was only a matter of time before instability, backlash, and disruption resulted." --Glenn Greenwald

---"Americanness is a sponge, not an ethnicity; normalization is a key part of how it works. It resides in the way that we speak, in the ideas that get refined and reworked and encoded in ordinary words until they seem harmless enough. It’s the ability to fit things into a narrative that flatters our ability to reason. Normalization is the process through which wisdom becomes conventional and utopian ideals slam against questions of feasibility." --Hua Hsu

---"Are You Lost in the World Like Me?"

---"Facebook has become a sewer of misinformation. Some of it is driven by ideology, but a lot is driven purely by the economic incentive structure Facebook has created: The fake stuff, when it connects with a Facebook user’s preconceived notions or sense of identity, spreads like wildfire. (And it’s a lot cheaper to make than real news.)" --Joshua Benton

---Children of Men: Comments by Slavoj Zizek Grym

---"Those of us whose ancestors were owned and bred like animals know that future all too well, because it is, in part, our past. And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe." --Junot Diaz

---"In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event." --David Remnick

---Our "political climate right now is conducive to this normalization of torture due to two facts: the current strength of our presidency and the current stance of U.S. public opinion on torture. One of the enabling factors for the abuses committed in the early years of the George W. Bush administration was the conviction among the administration’s lawyers that in a time of war, there were few—if any—constraints on the power of the executive." --Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault

---trailers for Do Not Resist and HyperNormalisation

Thursday, November 10, 2016