Friday, July 31, 2009

This foot came through the line

Above is Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes' 2007 flick I'm Not There. I've never hidden how underwhelmed I was by Haynes' David Bowie crypto-biopic Velvet Goldmine, mainly because it has no real understanding of its subject. This is a whole different kettle of fish, though. It may be that narrative through-lines aren't Haynes' bag. I'm Not There is a tangle of yarn that can go from anywhere to anywhere in an instant, and is better for this. You can imagine Godard making films like this in the late sixties if he hadn't taken that long, ideologically driven leave from narrative cinema.

Blanchett as "Jude Quinn" does give the best performance. She's the wired Dylan who floats through Swinging London and lives on the verge of physical/mental/spiritual collapse. There's no bad acting really, although Ben Whishaw's parts suffer from him not having anyone or anything to play off of. But his narration does give a sort of ghost of a structure.

To anyone else who has seen the film: Christian Bale re-emerges as the Christian Dylan of the late seventies. His sermon is supposed to sound like Dubya, right?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Abandoned shop

Went downtown today and saw it. A sign in the window saying "The Arcade is officially closed." How did they screw that up? I remember when I was a kid--hell, even in my last year of college--it was a thriving little indoor neighborhood. And that was before Providence as a whole got its vaunted development boom.

In truth, I think selling it to Johnson and Wales University was a bad move. The school never got that even though the building was now their private property, the public were a necessary part of its success. And the city didn't/doesn't seem to recognize its value at all.

Wyatt Earp syndrome endures

I'm too old to believe that my expressing myself on any particular topic is automatically a boon. Therefore I haven't hurried to say anything on Henry Louis Gates. The incident did leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I couldn't quite identify the flavor. This came from being pretty sure I didn't see the whole picture. But this double essay at Perpetual Post does strike at what I think is the heart of the matter. Howard Megdal puts it quite acutely.

First, the act itself. Those trying to find a middle ground have pointed out that Mr. Gates did not act respectfully toward the police officer harassing him in his own home. It’s awfully hard for me to hear this, and think anyone legitimately believes Sgt. Crowley had the right to continue harassing Gates, particularly once Gates produced ID, and as Crowley made clear himself, was obviously the owner of the house.

Once that fact became clear, it was incumbent upon Sgt. Crowley to leave. I have heard many make the point that Crowley needed to make it clear that he was in charge. HE DID NOT. Crowley’s job isn’t to prove some subjective standard that he is the boss of the neighborhood. His job is, and I quote, “To serve and protect.” He is there to make certain crimes aren’t committed. No crime was being committed. Job done. Go home, and leave the citizen alone. This is reprehensible behavior otherwise. To take it beyond harassment, to then arrest Gates for what Crowley then knew was utterly justifiable frustration at having to prove he lives in his own home, is particularly egrigious.

There has been quite a bit of talk about how Sergeant Crowley is stung by accusations of racism and how he gave Reggie Lewis mouth-to-mouth. That's very nice and very sad and if I were Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, I'd be inclined to wave him in. But it's not just a matter of whether a particular cop hates or disdains black people. It's a question of what quality justice gets handed out.

Urban policemen are trained to be--among other things--the cock of the walk. Beyond simply enforcing the law, the goal is to forcerully communicate the message that you are the boss, and that your authoritah is not to be questioned by those wishing to keep their heads in one piece.

Now there may be times that the hard guy approach is necessary: drug dealers, violent street gangs, etc. But people also get hit by the blackjack of the law when they're just trying to get a fair shake for themselves. As it happens, a large number of these people are black. Were a larger number of them white, I believe the reporting on the Gates-Crowley fracas would have a very different tone.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The nutcracker

Crows are quite possibly the smartest of birds. And adaptable.

Granted, this little guy definitely was glad he had wings at the end there. But there's an impressive amount of looking and learning and strategy at work here.

Hell, I could take a whole day off and sit at that intersection watching.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Get ur (carnival) freak on

Here's one of the more interesting tidbits that have trickled out from comic-con. Terry Gilliam was down in San D talking about his upcoming film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His comment on "all the things I used to be good at" seems an admission that he hasn't been at the top of his game for a while. Whether this movie will put him back there remains to be seen.

The minute shown of the late Heath Ledger is absolutely magnetic. Ledger came to Gilliam straight from his (yes, majority opinion got this one right) definitive portrayal of the Joker. He's wearing a commedia mask similar to the one Alex wore during the home invasion/rape in A Clockwork Orange, which may be a sign this character isn't meant to be trusted. I do want to like him, though.

No close-up view of Tom Waits as the Devil, though. It's a good casting choice. He's taken on the role of either the Devil or a damned soul on a few of his songs. "Lucinda" from Orphans certainly sounds like it's coming from a lake of fire.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eight arms to hold you

In the game Animal Crossing there are a couple of octopus characters. I have one of them living in my town now. Marina, sweet gal. Funny to see a cephalopod bat her eyelashes at you.

Anyway, I'm guessing the friendly octopi are a sign of the game's Japanese roots. I've seen other examples in manga and advertising cartoons. (Not getting into Dream of the Fisherman's Wife right now.) It would seem to predate The Little Mermaid by quite a bit too.

I guess if you live on an island in the middle of tropical storm country, you'd best get to know and love the things of the sea.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

And that's the way it's unlikely to be now

I haven't said anything about Walter Cronkite as of yet. I remember him, although some time has passed. He signed off the evening news for the last time when I was 10 or 11. But I do remember him being fair and open. At this point it might be for the best that there's no "most trusted man in America." Who could really be, well, trusted with all that trust? But Uncle Walter never abused his audience or dumbed down his stories.

This bit from Canadian TV writer Jaime Weinman struck me.

One more thing that’s notable about Cronkite’s CBS Evening News is how incredibly low-tech it was. This was back when TV news departments functioned as though they were semi-independent of the network’s entertainment arm, and part of that was the contempt for production values: no flashy graphics, little music, and very crude video and audio for the correspondents’ reports. Today, there’s no local news show that would have so little showbiz glitz. Of course, this production style helped the show by re-enforcing the idea that the anchor was telling it “the way it is,” that he wasn’t just an entertainer.

The lack of entertainment TV slickness was a big difference between then and now. Cronkite's successor Dan Rather was/is--I believe--a good and hardworking journalist. And Peter Jennings always struck me as a remarkably thoughtful man. But neither of them were able to stem the tide of Miami Vicification in the newsroom. They didn't have the leverage, even if they saw the problem.

Of course manipulation and obfuscation have long been part of the picture. At present, however, they've reached new heights of professionalism and aggressiveness. And most of us aren't much prepared.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Teach your children well

Here's the climax of an old Davey and Goliath, one that has more of a forward-looking social message than you may expect.

Here Davey learns that while we may have different colors, creeds, and national backgrounds, there's something more important that binds us together: tiny mouths that barely move.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

(title here)

Blogging has most definitely been light of late. After a rainy June and early July where the mercury didn't rise that much, we're definitely in the thick of summer now. It's more a time for erratic sleep patterns more than for writing.

Thought this was worth looking at/listening to, though. I've been checking out online some of the bands from the Boston Phoenix's survey of the best new bands in each of the fifty states and DC. This is Finn Riggins, who hail from Ezra Pound's hometown of Haily, Idaho. All their stuff sounds cool, and I can't think of who they remind me of. Which points to some level of originality.

Wonder what the weather is like in Hailey, Idaho.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thats Bull Run? That's Bulldog Drummond? Getting Warmer

Here are the first Q and the first A from a little Q&A with PJ O'Rourke.

The A.V. Club: How do you feel about Barack Obama becoming the de facto president of General Motors?
P.J. O’Rourke: I think it’s a really, really bad idea. It’s one of these situations where Dad burns dinner, so you say, “Oh, I know. Let’s have the dog cook!” The only people that could possibly be worse at running a car company than the current crop of car executives—who have proven themselves to be plenty bad—would be a politician. There are lots of levels of fear and complaint about the government getting involved in business. First and foremost, of course, is incompetence. We actually have experiential evidence about this. In England, all the English car companies were beginning to circle the drain in a series of well-deserved failures and bankruptcies, earned by making lousy products with very poor production at high prices. So, the government, back in the ’70s, nationalized all the British car companies. The result was British Leyland, a name that perhaps doesn’t resonate much with you. Many of your friends probably drive Humber Super Snipers, or perhaps not. [Laughs.] That’s certainly one thing that we’re headed for. The other thing is that there’s a very good reason that governments aren’t supposed to compete with private-enterprise companies. Governments have monopolies on certain things, like eminent domain and deadly force. What’s another example of an organization that gets into the same business that you’re in, except that their guys have got guns? That would be the Mob. Ford is like the last honest trash collector in the New York metropolitan area, the last one that’s not mobbed-up. How long is that gonna go on for?

To be honest, I was disappointed that the whole interview didn't keep up that pace. So here are some suggested questions for further talks with Mr. O'Rourke.

1. So, what are your thoughts on the sun being replaced with a Spongebob nightlight?
2. Why do so many people think compasses point North, when they really just point to the nearest bathroom?"
3. What should goldfish do in order to receive the credit they deserve for inventing the Cyrillic alphabet?
4. Big government doesn't want kids playing in abandoned refrigerators. So how are the tykes supposed to get to Narnia?
5. The brain is made of peanut butter and raisins. But when I make a peanut butter and raisin sandwich, it can't think or talk. What am I doing wrong?

I'm here to help.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Justice Alvy Singer?

There's a pretty funny account here from the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions got cute and quoted Judge Miriam Cedarbaum as someone with a judicial philosophy opposite to Sonia Sotomayor. He apparently didn't consider the possibility that the two colleagues might have developed a mutual respect, and may have even talked about this very issue. So he wound up hoisted by his own petard. And never have a man and his petard deserved each other more.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book notes

I've recently started reading W. Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale. Or rather I've gotten more serious about reading it since finishing Kanzi, the book by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh concerning ape language studies.

Anyway, I like Maugham's way of putting things that paradoxically make sense. Case in point, "He could use a man very shabbily without afterward bearing him the slightest ill will."

It's somewhat strange for me reading about the niceties of the British class system. I'm basically American, and asocial enough to ignore stuff like that anyway. My grandparents were English, and knew they were working class, and dealt with it in slightly different ways. So I sort of know what's being discussed here. But the social context of the story is one where a novelist's wife who used to be a barmaid might as well have been blowing sailors in front of the tattoo parlor. At points it's like reading dystopian science fiction.b

Saturday, July 11, 2009

War! What is it good for? Teaching your kid manners, that's what.

One thing that's fun about the internet is... okay, sure, porn, but you don't need me to tell you about that. Bur for people like myself who have an interest in odd or out of fashion animation, you can find samples of just about anything online.

This one is a collaboration between cartoonist/novelist/playwright Jules Feiffer and animator Gene Deitch--the latter father of underground comics genius Kim Deitch. I was surprised to find out from the Wikipedia page that it was made before American escalation in Vietnam. Still, the habit war has of picking out the young and naive is a pretty clear aspect of the film.

Mom and Dad really didn't do anything about that, did they?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Going the extra mile

I have my doubts about whether Bruno will be any kind of match for Borat, but you can't fault Sacha Baron Cohen for not trying. And it's nice to see he can be funny as himself.

Of course it would have been quite the kicker if the Al Aqsa guy had said, "So, are you really with that Isla Fisher babe?"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Baby, don't ever change

Sarah Palin continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, and if that statement is redundant it's only fitting. Her farewell speech--in which she launched a new stage of her national career by bailing on the governor's mansion after 2.5 years--was a blast to watch. A little derivative of Tina Fey, but still not bad.

And apparently now she's threatening to sue everyone who was not-nice to her in print or online. Wonder why Bill Clinton never thought of that. I mean besides wanting to still be taken seriously.

Look out, Courtney. Somebody's coming for your train wreck title.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Unusual faith-based venture

This is a road safety animated film from 1958. It seems to take the position that drunk and reckless driving will offend the Christian sensibilities of Martians who just discovered God. I can't fault the intentions of the makers, but am not sure that this was the most effective tack.

Great music by immortal jazz drummer Art Blakey, though. And the minimalist but creative animation is something you just don't see anywhere now. In itself it could have come from another planet.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Heroin, it's my life and it's a great conversation piece

Just a brief video post today. The Velvet Underground in EXTREME CLOSEUP!!!

It might not strike some people as Summer music. Around here, though, even our flood warnings have had flood warnings. You have to be flexible.