Friday, December 30, 2016


I just watched Hail, Caesar, which as far as I know didn't open in theaters around here. When you watch a newish movie on DVD there's likely to be a bunch of ads/trailers at the start, and so it was this time. Without the fast forward button I would have been stuck another 20 minutes.

The movie? Not bad, although not the Coens' best either. It meanders at points Alden Ehrenreich is one of the best things about it as a hickish but wise cowboy actor transferred to urbane roles. Jonah Hill's dry performance as a surety agent is also good, albeit very short.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


According to the Google doodle, Friday (today or tomorrow, depending where you are) is the anniversary of Charles Mantosh's birth. MacIntosh was a Scottish chemist credited with the invention of waterproof fabrics, this being why in Britain a raincoat is called a "Mackintosh." And yes, I can see why he'd be in mind around this time of year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


REED IN THE WIND - Pinhole Film from michelvanderburg on Vimeo.

While there are cameras and adapters that make it possible, you don't often see moving pinhole images. Wouldn't want to see like this all the time - which is why I wear glasses now - but it's a fun change of pace. This short film gives the impression of waking up outside after a brief nap, just starting to get your bearings.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

You sleigh me

"Sleigh Ride" is one of those "Christmas" songs that's not, really. It's just about winter, but it plays in December when winter is fresh, so it gets pulled into the Christmas gestalt. Anyway, this instrumental version from some energetic Japanese youth is absolutely charming.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What you can and can't get away with

From Robert Hughes' American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, anecdotes on the Colonial art prodigy Benjamin West.
His timing, culturally speaking, was perfect. Politically, it was not. This upsurge of the irrational and demonic in West's work did not please Queen Charlotte, who feared that it would worsen the encroaching madness of her husband. The commission for the chapel was canceled in 1801. Nor did West please George III by showing Death on the Pale Horse in Paris, where Napoleon himself wanted to buy it—thus fulfilling the second half of West's childhood prophecy about himself, since, having consorted so long with a king, he had now attracted the attention of an emperor. But emperor and king had just emerged from a draining and terrible war with each other, and when West returned to London singing the praises of Napoleon as art patron, they fell on cold ears at court. West was so blinded by the effulgence of his own self-esteem that he did not quite grasp how people, in the real world, bore grudges against each other for wars and revolutions. In 1899, having served George III for thirty years, he sent a design to Thomas Jefferson in America with the suggestion that he, only he, could create a suitable memorial to George Washington. The second Vice President of the United States did not respond Perhaps, for once in his life, Jefferson was at a loss for words.
West's formal training as an artist was thin and came late. He was largely self-taught, and a genius. Obviously, this came with some blind spots as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


A little earlier I was in Starbucks and I heard the opening to this song.

And at first I thought they were playing this song.

Needless to say I could barely credit my first impression, which of course turned out to be wrong. Still, there's a resemblance. Intentional? If so, White was definitely stealing from the best.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Change of seasons

Wednesday will be Winter Solstice. Which means that winter will start then. We apparently don't have that yet. Just autumn, watching and admiring, ready to drop temperatures below 0F.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


I finally watched Zhang Yimou's A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop tonight. It's very different from Blood Simple, which it's based on, but I can still see the Coens appreciating it, seeing a kinship.

It's interesting the way the characters have been remixed. The wife is much more aggressive in this version of the story, much more out there. Her lover, such as he is, is openly wussy, not the strong but silent cowboy type whom John Getz's character at least appeared to be. The police detective who takes the place of Visser is laconic badass rather than a seeming buffoon with a sneaky side. The husband figure is probably the constant between the two, brutal and self-pitying in both iterations.

The setting change is rather ingenious too. The gun itself in the title is much more of a McGuffin due to the story taking place centuries in the past. It's almost certainly the only non-government firearm for miles around.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It isn't fair, it isn't right

THE LOTTERY - 1969 from Gonçalo Brito on Vimeo.

This short film based on Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" is a stark affair. The fact that the film stock has obviously decomposed a little in the 47 years since it was made actually enhances the effect. There's no music until the end. The shots are carefully careless, nothing that looks composed. The cast is actually professional - they include a very young Ed Begley, Jr. - but that's not always obvious.

Jackson, whose centennial was this week, had died just a few years before. No doubt that pushed ahead the recognition of her story as classic, not just notorious, leading to this short being produced by Encyclopedia Britannica. Yet it still feels timely.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


After sitting here with my hands on my temples for several minutes I can only conclude one thing. That I am still made out of solid matter. I do not expect to win any high profile grants or awards from this. The path of science is not always glamorous.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The pair

This scene illustrates what made Laurel and Hardy as a comedy team, their knowing approach to very human misunderstandings. It also implicitly shows how what you can get away with in comedy, at least for the broader market, changes with time. The scene is set at a veterans' home, and Ollie thinks that Stan has lost a leg. The film, Block Heads, was released about a year before World War II. During or just after the war, something like this might have been a harder sell.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sightseeing in the city

The paintings of Brett Amory seem destined to settle deep in the memory, and have a quality of having been dragged from there.

Amory is said to have developed his style by painting from cell phone photos. That's something of a surprise. His work doesn't have the kind of flat ephemerality I'd associate with quickie digital photography. Even viewing it on a computer screen, where everything is made up of pixels by definition, these paintings feel real: real people in real places undergoing real weather, frequently kind of harsh. One point of comparison is Edward Hopper, but more in love with mildew.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Coming attractions

I have another art post coming up pretty soon. It should be pretty interesting, or so I hope. I just have to make sure I have the picture files. Doesn't take long to download them, of course. I just didn't know if I already had them or not. My tendency is to just grab stuff under its original file name and store it wherever, which can make things hard to find.

Anyway, should be in a couple of days. Hope you like.

Monday, December 5, 2016


It's been very quiet around here lately. I wonder where everyone is. Simplest explanation is that they're quiet people, I guess. Which is good late at night. Sometimes you wonder, though.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saying "when"

Back when movie theatres were the only way to see movies - with the exception of a few select oldies shown on broadcast TV - you weren't quite obligated to stick it out, but inertia would demand it in most cases. Walking out means committing to making a statement, even if you know it's no good demanding a refund.

Cable, VCR/DVDs, streaming... These all add more options, and thus make it easier to skip out.

So what was the last movie you bailed on before you got to the end?

For me it's an unusual answer. The Drive by Night couldn't quite hold my interest. Oh, it sounded promising. An early film noir or proto-noir about the trucking industry, directed by Raoul Walsh, who made the excellent Jimmy Cagney gangster flick White Heat. Plus it had Humphrey Bogart in the cast. What could go wrong?

Don't get it twisted. Bogie is very good. But he's not the star. George Raft is. And Raft's character is too pure and noble to make for an interesting story. The whole thing goes slack.

But yeah, if I were watching it in a revival house, I probably would have stayed until the end.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


It's better to be an active participant in life, rather than passively wait. I know this. It's very much an effort, though. And it's an effort to think of ways to push forward. Still, I'm going out there.

No nature scene here, because I can't think of one that wouldn't be horribly cliched.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An open and smut case

Ha ha, no.

Talk about being worried about the wrong thing. The man's no doubt got some nefarious plans, but against the adult film industry? Doubt it. The man's been on a permanent bachelor party binge for at least the last forty years. Not to mention being supported by Russia, which is the Wild West of the sex industry. He'll let the semen-smudged cameras keep rolling.

Now if Mike Pence becomes President...

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Loud and proud

I find it can be kind of fun to read poetry aloud. Getting a feel for how it should sound, how the sound helps it mean. You don't need, by the way, to worry about where a line ends. If something looks like a sentence, read it as one.

You can do this in a lot of coffee shops and other public hangouts, I find. Of course you don't want to disrupt anyone else's conversation, but you can get a rhythm going and not bother anyone. Not sure about public libraries, though. Technically it seems like something they wouldn't like, outside of a special area. The one nearest me has totally hoisted the white flag on cell phone use, though, so why draw the line here?

Friday, November 25, 2016

It is Berry Season again

Well hello. The blog continues apace, even if I may have forgotten it for a bit.

Among other things, 2016 has felt like a rougher year than usual for losing vital musicians. Objectively true? I don't know, but between Bowie, Cohen, Prince, Sharon Jones and a few others, the losses have hurt.

So yes, the news that Chuck Berry is not only alive and about well at 90 but is working on a new album does come as a relief. Berry has been playing rock 'n' roll since before anyone thought to call it that. He could have gone away in 1960 and never been forgotten. In terms of new music he pretty much did so in the late seventies. For him to decide that yes, he has something more to say is a stroke of luck on our part.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The big drop

Friday and much of Saturday were basically mild summer days, as annoying as that might be. Yesterday (Sunday) and today have been howling winter. In between have been maybe a few hours of fall on Saturday night. This is the damnedest week.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I have thoughts in my head. Yes, not too unusual at that. They're not settled. They're not quite ready to be discussed yet. But they may be, soon.

This has been a most useful update.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Health update

Been somewhat under the weather this week. The first week after you become unemployed is in some ways an inconvenient time to catch a cold, because looking for work takes time and energy. On the other hand there are fewer hard deadlines. Oh well, I have at least managed to get my name out to a few places.

Also, next week my first prescription glasses come in. I'm oddly excited about this. The optometrist gave me an idea of how things will look when I wear them, and it promises to be much clearer. And I certainly won't mind how they make me look, all distinguished and proflike.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Well, it's not great that my first post in a few days - due to a cold and some other stuff - is another in memoriam for a great musician who's left us. But there it is.

Mose Allison, late of Mississippi, is no more. But there's still the music, and that voice. Those make the world a brighter place, still.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I wonder if anyone has ever tried being a nighttime street musician in a residential neighborhood. You know, open your saxophone case on a sidewalk near a bunch of houses around 11:30 at night or later. Pick it up and start blowin'. Wait until someone comes out and pays you to move it along. It probably wouldn't work out well for you, but the temptation has to be there.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Meaty Montreal Musique

The roots of the recently late Leonard Cohen were weirder and darker than a lot of people even realize.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Some reminders for my fellow people of European descent:

Yes, it does look like we're declining, or shrinking as a portion of the overall population. Productive or not, it's inevitable some are going to freak about this.

But if your concerned about your family's wellbeing, there's a fix. Recognize universal human rights. Accept that everyone should be able to live how they like. "Everybody" will include you, your children, your' children's children, etc.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


This is a lovely bit of magical realism from the late great Southern Poet Randall Jarrell. In the original the second and fourth line of every stanza are indented. There's an HTML way to accomplish this but I'm too lazy to figure it out now. Hopefully the point stands.

The Black Swan
When the swans turned my sister into a swan
I would go the the lake, at night, from milking;
The sun would look out through the reeds like a swan,
A swan's red beak; and the beak would open
And inside there was darkness, the stars and the moon.

Out on the lake a girl would laugh.
"Sister, here is your porridge, sister,"
I would call, and the reeds would whisper,
"Go to sleep, go to sleep, little swan."
My legs were all hard and webbed, and the silky

Hairs of my wings sank away like stars
In the ripples that ran in and out of the reeds;
I heard through the lap and hiss of water
Someone's "Sister ... sister," far away on the shore,
And then as I opened my beak to answer

I heard my harsh laugh go out to the shore
And saw—saw at last, swimming up from the green
Low mounds of the lake, the white stone swans:
The white, named swans ... "It is all a dream,"
I whispered, and reached from the down of the pallet

To the lap and hiss of the floor.
And "Sleep, little sister," the swans all sang
From the moon and stars and frogs of the floor,
But the swan my sister called, "Sleep at last, little sister,"
And stroked all night, with a black wing, my wings.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Let's call it a joke

Q:: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A:: The chicken does what it does. The chicken feels no need to explain its actions to you or anyone else. You just have to trust the chicken, or don't.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A moving story

I recently had some business with the local DMV. Well, some of the business is still ongoing. Anyway, I'm learning that this particular institution's reputation for bureaucratic sadism isn't entirely unearned. Then again, it does help you appreciate when you deal with one of the good ones.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Your ABCs

As we round the corner on Halloween, what better time to see/hear one of Gorey's best? Not saying there's a bad time, but this time is hard to top.

I give credit to the reader here for finding the right tone, despite her pronunciation errors.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Another tomorrow

If Brian Eno was going to sing a Beatles song, perhaps it's inevitable this would be the one. Either that or "Octopus's Garden." Maybe that one will surface eventually.

Friday, October 28, 2016

From above

They're partying upstairs tonight. There's dance music playing, loud enough for me to hear it where I'm typing now. No one's tackled anyone yet, although I swear to God I've heard something like wrestling matches up there in the past. Still, it's not quiet.

Potentially all of this could be annoying, I suppose. I'd complain, but the fact is I'm tired enough that I don't think they'll be keeping me up. The fact that the nights have gotten so much colder helps as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Now, or at least pretty soon, I lay me down to sleep. Tomorrow I'll try, in whatever modest way, to be better and do better. To do right, at any rate.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Who, me?

Great Grey Owl from iNature on Vimeo.

My hat is off to whoever shot the gorgeous owl footage in this clip. And I love the detail that they don't build nests, but use the nests of other birds of prey.

"Listen, falcon, I hope I'm not putting you out but I need someplace to crash while I'm on this hunt."
"Sigh. Okay. Just make sure to restock the fridge this time."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Where is everyone?

Am I spending too much time alone? In effect, I think I am. My effective social circle has shrunk, for various reasons.

There are a few difficulties in making new friends, or just talking to people. New England has a kind of reserve to begin with, that doesn't encourage talking to strangers. Smartphones and other devices have added fuel to the fire, or whatever the opposite of fire is. On the street or in any public place, the majority of people by themselves just aren't there, and you aren't there for them. A charming extrovert might be able to get through, but that's not exactly me.

Since this is partly a technological problem, I'm applying some sort of technological solutions. Today I emailed an old friend who's been out of state for a few years, and with whom I'd fallen out of touch. Now we're back in touch, which is nice. And in terms of seeing people face to face, I'm in the process of joining more Meetup groups. I'd already been in a writing group. Knock on wood being in touch with more people will help with that too.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


A friend of mine gave me a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep recently. I'd been meaning to read it and I finally am. (Shouldn't take too long.) The previous owner marked it up a lot which I'm mostly ignoring.

One thing I can say: the idea of Rick Deckard being a tough PI type is totally a creation of Blade Runner. In the book he's a futuristic sad sack. Still in his miserable marriage too. Also there's whole new religion - Mercerism - that got left out of the movie. Probably a wise decision, as it's not something audiences would likely catch up with.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Out of your skull

With Halloween fast approaching, there's no better time to examine those knotty little etiquette problems. Like, what to do when a skeleton serves you dinner but you don't eat bones. How do you avoid being a bad guest?

Flip the Frog was, of course, created by Ub Iwerks, who was also at least half responsible for Mickey Mouse, It's interesting to see the similarities and differences with his Disney work.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Easy for you to say

Hello out there. Meant to post something here last night, only vaguely remember what. Anyway, when I was in the middle of writing an email my wireless adapter started acting up, then conked out completely. Which I didn't know at first so it was more than a little frustrating to talk to my ISP's tech department and have them tell me nothing was wrong with the connection. Anyway, I'm currently looking for a fix - not the William Burroughs/Iggy Pop/et al kind - and using an ethernet cable I shouldn't need but which is probably a good idea to have anyway.

Hope you're doing okay.

Edit: Okay, I posted something in an HP tech forum today. Just before I went out earlier tonight, an update showed when I turned the computer off. Now Wi-Fi is working again. So that's good. Still keeping the ethernet cable handy.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Been too busy at work lately to check out the news much during the day, so the big news about Dylan came as a surprise. I don't really care about the Nobel Prize in Literature much more than, say, the Grammys, but it is an interesting twist.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Over the dome

I've recently started cutting my own hair. Is "cutting" the right word? I have a set of clippers and give my self a DIY buzz cut on the weekend. I have a friend who goes further and basically shears off everything although he doesn't use a razor. Me, I'm fine with just looking a bit more butch. In both our cases the natural receding of our hairlines had something to do with the decision.

It might make me a little more decisive as well.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Huffn' & puffin'

No, not that kind.

I'm trying to get back into deep abdominal breathing. That's of course when you take a deep breath and hold it with the muscle in your gut, then slowly let it out. And then do it all over again. It's something I first learned in an acting class I took in college, which didn't wind up turning me into an actor. It's a rather energizing way to breathe, and when you start on it you might actually feel a bit of a high. I fell out of the habit before. Now I'm trying to do it so regularly that it becomes unconscious.

This time of year sniffles and other respiratory mischief become more common, so it's harder to do any kind of breathing without thinking about it. But I'm not giving up.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Disappearing Dagger"

And so with "The Adventure of the Disappearing Dagger" we find ourselves at the end of the road. The series Ellery Queen ends its perhaps quixotic run, having always seemed a show out of its time, or perhaps its timeline. Almost certainly the producers knew this as well. When you get to the 22nd episode not counting the pilot movie, the writing must be on the wall.

There's a case to be made that "The Adventure of Caesar's Last Sleep" should have been the season finale, and thus in this case the series finale. After all, the stakes are raised for that episode, with suspicion falling everywhere and Inspector Queen's career on the line. And yet there's a beauty to "The Disappearing Dagger" closing the curtain as well. It tries a few new things, and allows Ellery to solve the death of a man who was a formative influence on his father, and through him Ellery himself.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Autumn blue

"Autumn Leaves", originally by Frenchmen Joseph Kosma and Jacques Jacques Prévert, probably best known with its English language lyrics by Johnny Mercer, is a masterpiece of dignified melancholy. That goes for this wordless jazz version as well. Miles Davis is the special guest star, but Hank Jones's piano solo strikes me as the most expressive part.

Incidentally, it's October and the nights (and mornings) are getting cooler, but most of the leaves are still green. Go figure.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Coming to your centses

Using actual pennies from his pocket, a friend of mine challenged me to do this trick a couple of nights ago. He had learned it from a book about the capacity to learn, aptly enough. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it stumped me. The next night he showed it to another friend of mine, who was also stumped. By this time I was able to figure it out in my head. As Holmes said to Watson, every problem is absurdly simple once it has been explained to you. (Provided the explanation sinks in, of course.)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Hardhearted Huckster"

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, Ellery Queen is a TV show, even if it doesn't always look like one. And yet TV hasn't been much of a factor in the context of the stories. Characters listen to the radio, go out to the movies, go out in general. They don't sit on the sofa and stare at the tube. There's a certain amount of realism to this, as the stories take place mostly in 1947, several years before the Lucy-driven explosion in TV set ownership.

Once previously television played a major part in the story. That was in the pilot movie, where what was broadcasting at a particular time turned out to be the key to a dying clue. In the pilot TV was treated as a gimmick, a fad that would pass in a few months without leaving a mark. There are words to that effect in this episode as well, notably from the victim. But by this time the dismissal has lost any force it may have had. TV may not have hit its stride yet in terms of viewership, and there are clearly some technical refinements that will have to be made. Yet the infrastructure is unmistakably there. It's not going away.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Falling calm

It's been raining most of the night, part of the day. The streets are slick with water now, so you see reflections of the moon if it's out, street lights, house lights. There's the hiss and trickle of rain, the occasional purr of a car going by. All very serene, even though it sounds like the start of a brutal private eye novel.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Saying goodnight

I heard a Burns and Allen routine recently, which of course tickled me. So I looked back for more. I found something where George and Gracie have been one-upping each other into who can more convincingly act like they're going to commit suicide. Which if you describe it to anyone will sound like you made it up, but no, here's proof.

The curious thing is that it still plays out like Burns and Allen.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Weather in Rhode Island is not out in either direction. A few days ago the heat was still oppressive. Now you can really feel the snap of the autumn wind. Makes it somewhat easier to sleep, as well.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of Caesar's Last Sleep"

For the third-to-last episode of Ellery Queen the crew tries something different in a couple of ways. First of all this is in large part a mob story. It's not just that the victim of the week and some of the suspects are gangsters. The episode has the fast pace and high testosterone level that gangster movies have boasted since they broke through in the early talkie era. The characteristic violent action is there too. We get to see a bombing and a police shootout, both of them involving hit man Jay Bonner, played by legendary character actor Timothy Carey (pictured above.) So even though the actual murder is a classic locked room mystery, it's really more of a pulpy thing, not the kind of drawing room affair you might associate with Ellery Queen.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A very bad host

Would You Rather, a 2012 combo of horror and black comedy, is, without a doubt, sadistic and somewhat depressing. It's also very stylish and true to itself.

If you're brother is chronically and perhaps terminally ill and your parents didn't leave you enough money to care for him or really yourself, you're likely to be desperate for a way out from under, as Iris (Brittany Snow) is. So an invitation from a wealthy benefactor (Jeffrey Combs) won't be unwelcome. Perhaps it should be, because when the two of them meet in a doctor's office, he's already twenty kinds of creepy. Seriously if anyone invites you to dinner and says you'll be "playing a game of sorts" tell them you have to wash your hair.

The dinner party and the game produce a lot of mayhem. Not as much gore as you might think. Like I say, it's stylish. It feels kind of like a giallo version of And Then There Were None.

Robin Lord Taylor plays a character much nastier than the young Penguin here. And if you think you've seen everything from Jeffrey Combs, wait until you see him with a Burt Reynolds mustache.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Tao of Le Guin

Some choice vintage science fiction. Nixon era vintage at least. I just started reading Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. I'd seen the 1980 PBS TV movie version before. Not when it first aired, but the first time they dug it out of the archives, in 2000 or thereabouts. But that was quite some time ago as well, and my feeling is that the book is quite different. 

The book starts off in a world that is, if not dystopian, at least rather run down. The hero, George Orr, is afraid to dream, and drugs himself to keep from dreaming. This is because his dreams literally come true. The changes are retroactive, as well, meaning that for a big change no one will remember things being any different. His quasi-mandatory psychiatrist, Dr. Haber, wants to put these dreams to constructive use. 

I've read somewhere that this book was Le Guin's homage to Philip K. Dick as well. While they were very different writers they did admire each other's work, and you could probably find examples of her influence in his work as well. The opening chapter does have a kind of Dickian feel. Haber's an interesting character, well-meaning but somewhat lacking in medical ethics. An early scene where he calls George "John" feels indicative, as well as being a likely Beatles reference.

Monday, September 19, 2016


Images like this make me wonder what young Mr. Calvin is doing now. Maybe he's finally found his right place in life.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Tyrant of Tin Pan Alley"

The Ellery Queen series of novels began in 1929 and ended in 1971, with all the books being set in or at least near their year of publication. Even assuming a desire to stay somewhere in the timeline of the books, that gives would-be adapters a pretty wide range of choices. Levinson and Link opted for the late 1940s. It's an interesting era for them to choose, because this was a transitional period in so many way. World War II had just ended, giving the United States unprecedented power on the international stage. The Cold War, which the show only alludes to in a couple of episodes, was just getting off the ground. In matters social, political, and technological this period can give you a view on the end of some old ways and the beginning of the new.

One prime example is the medium of radio. Before the war radio had of course beamed comedy and drama and witty panel discussions into countless American homes, a function that would soon largely be ceded to television.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Texas turmoil

I hadn't seen Blood Simple in years, but looking through some stuff I found that I actually own a copy. Think I bought it at Borders, a store that hasn't been open for several years.

On the surface it might have seemed like a pretty basic mid-80s neo-noir. It's got the neon signage and the ironically-used oldies (some of which work quite well.) As it turne out the Coens were doing their own thing.

It's not like the story is unique on paper. A woman plans to run away from her bar-owner husband. She starts sleeping with one of his bartenders, because that will obviously end well. The husband was suspicious enough to have her tailed by a private detective. When his suspicions are confirmed, he hires the detective as a hitman.

How well do these people match up to their parts? The husband isn't scary, or even particularly nasty most of the time we see him. He mostly just seems mopey. The wife, played by future Coen-in-law Frances McDormand, isn't as calculating as the husband says. In fact she seems flighty and convinced she's in a different movie. Her lover is a laconic cowboy type, a Marlboro Man without a smoking habit. At first. Contact with violence and danger turns him downright chatty.

The PI is the smartest one in the movie, albet not in a socially acceptable way and not in an obvious way. He's basically trolling the other three, For example he doesn't carry out the hit the way he was supposed to, btut he's not sparing the lovers. He's just got a different agenda.

Anyway, after that re-watch I'll have to catch the Chinese remake one of these days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A handy instrument

Summertime - Charlie Draper with The Radio Science Orchestra from Gramophone Records on Vimeo.

I don't know this musician, or have any idea where he gets his tuxes. I just found this.

The theremin is the damnedest instrument. Your hands basically seem to be plucking strings and depressing keys that aren't there. It's almost a century old and still feels alien.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Alabama jubilee

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that everyone reads in high school or junior high. And I did, I guess, technically. But mainly it seems like I went through it to pick up names for the test I knew we have. It wasn't the book, it was me. Anyway, not being proud of that state of affairs, I decided to go back and read it again.

It's quite a charming novel. One thing I hadn't realized was that quite a bit of the book goes by before there's any hint of Tom Robinson's trial. In fact Atticus is used sparely in the opening chapters. What I get from that is that while the case is an important part of the story, it is still a part. It's really the story of a child, and how the way she'll see the world as an adult is formed.

Incidentally, Dill was reportedly based on the young Truman Capote. That seems right.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Drivin' that train, high on cocaine...

That saying about how such and such is "the kind of movie they just don't make anymore": does anyone watching a new movie ever predict that a new movie they're watching will one day occasion that kind of observation? And if so, what movies do forward-thinking viewers say that about.

WARNING: From here on out I'm tossing out spoilers left and right, just because I can't think of any other way to speak intelligently about what I want to say.

When people saw The Taking of Pelham, One, Two, Three in 1974 they likely thought it was just another cops-and-robbers movie, if perhaps a very good one. In context they weren't wrong. But it's very much the kind of movie they don't make anymore, in ways that are kind of a pity.

The basics: A quartet of men wearing obvious, uniform disguises and bearing aliases named after colors, take over a New York subway train. Their icy British leader, Mr. Blue, demands one million dollars within an hour or he'll kill one passenger per minute. A transit cop negotiates with him while trying to figure out and thwart his plan. 

The villains, especially blue and the uncontrollable psycho Gray, could be action villains from any period. But in other respects this film probably wouldn't have been made ten years earlier. Definitely not ten years later, much less forty. Consider.

1) Shot on location, it's proudly about New York, the glorious and scary and silly aspects. A little later it's hard not to imagine a lot of the local color being focus grouped out for being too limiting.

2) The hero is played by Walter Matthau. Walter Matthau was a great actor, and a veteran tough guy. But he was also a pudgy middle-aged man with black shoe polish in his hair. In fact if I had to guess I'd say the Hanna-Barbera people had him in mind when they designed Fred Flintstone. Sure, Clint Eastwood still plays lead roles in action movies far into his seventies, but that's dependent on him looking like he could still kick the asses of fit twenty year olds.

2B) His partner is played by Jerry Stiller, who was younger but even less cop-like.

3) Matthau spends most of the movie talking on a phone behind a desk. He seems to belong there. When he goes out in the field it's because time is running out, not because he feels pent up.

4) When Blue's plan is foiled in its latter stages, he asks if New York still has the death penalty. When Matthau's character responds in the negative - the state would bring it back in the nineties but hasn't used it since - he electrocutes himself. Think of that. There's no climactic battle between good and evil, because evil says, "Nah. I'm out." Speed or Die Hard, the latter of which also had a cold Brit as the bad guy, would never go that route.

5) There's another half hour or so in the picture, but it revolves around the pursuit of Mr. Green, who's  by far the most sympathetic and least intimidating of the criminals. Although he'd be happy enough to keep the money.

6) The very end of the movie? A sneeze and a knowing look.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A version

The other recurring feature on this blog hasn't been seen in a while either. Final Songs, that is. I still have ideas, but haven't developed them in a bit. One of these days.

"Version City" wouldn't be eligible, because it's not  the last track on the album it originates on. On Sandinista! it is the last coherent song before the dub instrumentals and "children sing the Clash" covers. It seems self-aware, too, that the start of side six is the end of the road in some ways. Hence Joe Strummer's - if it's him - bout of Stanshall-esque surreal comedy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

All washed up?

What a day.

After work I headed home and packed a bunch of things to go to the laundry. When I got there I saw they were closed. ???! This laundromat until very recently was open every night until nine, although I've generally been able to get there during the day, which didn't work out this week for various reasons. On their door they announce "New Hours" the upshot of which is that they're closing every day at five now, with last wash at 3:30. To me that's not new hours, just cessation of the old ones.

My first reaction was uncomprehending rage. I knew I'd have to find a new laundry for weeks when I had to do wash at night, and didn't like the rug being pulled out from me. Then I started to wonder how much longer they'd be in business at all. No matter how you slice it, a business lopping 28 hours of of it's week isn't a healthy sign. Then I thought of the employees. This reduction means that somebody got fired, or found their full-time job changed to a part time one. That truly does suck.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Made the sixties what they are today

Thought of this scene today and had to go back and look. It's surprisingly visceral. Like, even in New York in the seventies, I imagine that passersby who saw a guy in a trench coat choking a woman would be concerned.

Making Stockholm syndrome funny is hard work.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Two-Faced Woman"

Many things, positive and negative, have been said about Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theories as science, and about their impact on society. I'm not opening that can of worms now - suffice it to say I'm not a zealous advocate but not a Scientologist either - but gut Doktor did make a great contribution elsewhere. Namely in art. This is not just because his British grandson Lucian Freud was an esteemed figure painter. Psychoanalysis influenced the Stanislavsky technique, changing the face of acting for the second half of the twentieth century. Novelists took new psychological approaches to their characters, even those who hated the new study, like the alternately fascinating and tiresome Nabokov. Surrealist art also has its roots here.

The mystery and thriller field changed under the new regime as well. Notably, Helen McCloy created the character of Dr. Basil Willing, who consulted with the NYPD and functioned as both a therapist and what would now be called a criminal profiler. In the realm you can't ignore Hitch. Hitchcock's Spellbound is in good part set in a sanatorium, features Ingrid Bergman as a shrink, and centers on repressed memory. Vertigo stars Jimmy Stewart as a difficult-to-like phobic whose romantic inclinations are just a step up from necrophilia.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Wordsworth's words

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

This is a poem by William Wordsworth, of course. The title is generally taken to be "The World Is Too Much With Us."

It could be argued that "the world" as he implies it to be here - artificial, external - is even more with us now than when William W. wrote this. But how many now even are conscious that a "too much" is even possible?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Faster, hepcat, thrill, thrill

I thought I'd try the fast-writing advice at this link. It's not NaNoWriMo (that's November) and I'm not exactly working against deadline. It's just that I'd like to get a lot of ideas out there without too much fuss. Managed to get 1,600 words down, or thereabouts. Maybe more progress as things go on.

I didn't have to turn down the contrast on my monitor or remove any keys, luckily. It does sometimes help to wear sunglasses.

'Course the project is limited by my need for sleep. Oh well.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Scottish post

My friend was right. He said he knew Edinburgh was the capital of Scotland. I said I wasn't sure but I thought it might be Glasgow. But no, it's Edinburgh. Glasgow has a much bigger population, though.

Britain still does have successful radio dramas. Good on the Beeb for that one.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Captain, ye don't have the power

We had what seems to have been a pretty extensive blackout last night. This is an impressive thing. I got off the bus at my street, and noticed that pretty much all the lights were off. A couple of businesses had emergency lights, and some houses had working footlights on the lawn (?) but that was it. So unless everyone had decided to get a very early bedtime, something was off. And even if they had, why were there no streetlights?

Like I say, this is an impressive sight. Blackness all around, light only from the headlights of cars. A pizzeria where some friendly young adults were hanging out had a couple of candles lighting it.

I'm just as glad it didn't last that long, though. Especially since I had to reset my alarm clock when the power came back on.

Still found time to watch an episode of the second season of Fargo. I'm about halfway through it. In general I don't have the time or inclination to be a genuine binge watcher.

The general consensus I've heard is that the second season is magnitudes better than the first. I wouldn't really agree. Actually I'd say that they're about equally well constructed, it's just that the first season has some x factors that grab me more. Season 2 is good, though. The central story of a small town couple in trouble after the wife hit-and-runs a member of a crime family picks up a lot of tension.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Deep thoughts

I read about this project a few weeks ago in a book about artists who work on a very large or very small scale. Erlich is one of the former, as you might guess. This is just such an unusual idea to have, much less realize, but on a certain level makes perfect sense.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Thought just now: We haven't had much in the way of mosquitoes, this year. Not if my own experience is anything to go by. I can't remember the last time I got bit.

Seems likely the dry weather has something to do with it. Massachusetts has a drought going on, although I haven't heard the d word used here.

Also noted. Mosquitoes are a more fearful subject than usual this year. They're also part of the ecosystem in a lot of places.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Found movie

Lost River, the first film directed by Canadian heartthrob actor Ryan Gosling, quickly developed a bad rep. Critics savaged it as soon as it screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and in the US it only opened for a short time in LA and New York, although it seems to have had a bigger opening in Britain. Generally it's considered a rehash of David Lynch's greatest hits, as well as a few of Gosling's other favorites.

Is Lost River a good movie? To be honest I'd have to watch it again to make a decision. But I can aver that it's not a pointless one.

It's indebted to Lynch, but goes a little further in some ways. In Blue Velvet, Lynch presented Frank Booth as the unacknowledged id of straight, suburban society. He wasn't too subtle about being a violent criminal, but he operated in the shadows and it seemed most people agreed not to see him.

Lost River, centering on a single mother and her teenage son struggling to keep their family home, takes place in a heartland that's already in ruins, where the monsters have entirely taken over. In fact there are effectively two Frank Booths here. Bully, played by former Doctor Who with a mooky Yank accent and a ridiculous sequined jacket, claims profits on all copper piping stripped from razed houses, basically a violent form of rent seeking. Dave, played by Australian Ben Mendelsohn in a performance that's two parts John Malkovich to one part Alec Baldwin, is a little slier. A bank manager who announces his intent to foreclose on mother Billy's (Christina Hendricks) subprime loan, he gives her an out by offering her a job at his night club. It turns out to be a weird, creepy place, and he's got nasty designs on her.

Possibly excessive but definitely worth investigating.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

In the pink

Big curved beaks. Beady little green eyes. Absurdly long legs. Oh, these are beautiful birds and good parents, but I wouldn't want to get on a flamingo's bad side.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Getting to know you

I'm noticing a lot of what seem to be effectively blind dates these days. It might be because so much of coupling is done through phone apps nowadays. But you'll be out and at a table there will be a couple who, you can tell by their conversation, don't know each other at all.

There's frequently a quality of sales pitch in these encounters, and it's obvious who's doing the selling. The man talks more, talks louder, is more grandiose. My sense of order in the universe insists this must backfire a lot of the time.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Deep into the dog days

We've had two thunderstorms in the past couple of days. In fact Friday night I heard a lightning strike just outside of the cafe I was in. It was a somewhat nerve jangling experience.

But neither of those storms did anything to cut down on the heat, which is immense. Just makes you appreciate cool breezes more when you find them, or they find you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Art for heart's sake.

A friend of mine told me about Portrait of Jennie last year, I think. Maybe the year before. In any case I just got around to watching it. It's a strange film, when you get down to it. Enchanting while not being entirely trustworthy.

An artist with great skill, but one whose work (we're told) shows little passion, meets a girl. A girl from the past. He falls in love with her, and she with him, and she becomes his great work.

The fact that he meets her when she's a little girl and they already have chemistry is more than a little creepy when you think about it. But that part seems less severe given the movie's air of fever dream, fueled by the Debussy-via-Tiomkin score. But it's questionable whether this obsessive, consuming romance is actually healthy, regardless of whether Jennie is real or not. Fever dream, drug haze, all of that.

Joseph Cotten had a very fertile period in the late 1940s. Between this, Gaslight, The Third Man, and Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt he showed a lot of versatility. (Citizen Kane was his first, I think, but for obvious reasons he wasn't the lead in that.)

Also, I swear I wasn't looking for movies with Ellery Queen connections, but this turned out to be one. An amazingly young David Wayne plays Cotten's Irish friend, exhibiting much charm even if the screenwriters did go for ALL the stereotypes.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Going underground

A Chance Meeting from Frances Love on Vimeo.

Charcoal is a messy medium, as you can tell if you've ever drawn with it and then looked at your hands. For that reason it's an interesting choice for animation, especially in the pixel era.

Glad these people got through their subway ride all right. Have to admit, I was a little worried someone might throw themselves on the tracks.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Strauss walts, OR Look at the birdie

Vivienne Strauss has a whole bunch of collages and drawings on her site. Not all of them show birds interacting with mid-century modern furnishings and cars, but this vein does seem to produce rich results for her. Okay, yes, the birds are adorable. But the juxtaposition also draws parallels between birds and ourselves, raising the question of what is natural vs. conditioned behavior for them and us. There's a kind of surrealism here and also a kind of allegory.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario"

We begin with a closeup of a classic rotary dial telephone in a familiar study. Very familiar, at least, if you've been watching this series. A hand lifts the receiver, and the man attached to that hand speaks into it. This is the first sign that something is off. Although the tweed coat and Bear Bryant hat match those of our hero, the hair under the hat is blond. Furthermore the man voice and manner are all wrong. His tongue is too thick for the words he speaks. The a woman shoots him in the back and he falls. Another not-quite-familiar figure cuffs her and he rises again. A director yells "Cut!"


Sending characters in a TV show to Hollywood when they usually function somewhere else is a classing jump-the-shark sign, right up there with sending them to Hawaii.Probably worse, though, because a Tinseltown show is more likely to result in a self-congratulating "as himself" cameo from a guest star who owed someone a favor.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Shifty ground

For whatever reason I never saw Eve's Bayou when it came out in '97. Nor have I in the almost twenty years since. Until now.

As you might guess from the title, it's set in Louisiana, apparently sometime in the fifties. The middle child Eve narrates as an adult. She remembers her father vividly, perhaps a little too charming to be good. Samuel L. Jackson gives one of his very best performances. The cast in general is first rate.

Eve's Bayou looks like a movie. In point of fact it looks like a movie from the time when it's sent. Of course there's some content that wouldn't have made it at that time, and Hollywood wasn't making movies about Creole populations in the postwar years. (Nor are they now.) But in terms of framing, saturated colors, and the musical score, it feels like a work of classic Hollywood. That's part of the subject, I think. Memories of the past are a show, and an unreliable one at that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Choir practice

The poem "Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor" is an excerpt from poet John Dryden's 1681 verse play The Spanish Fryar. I honestly am not quite clear on the plot but the bits of dialogue I've read are all full of this bitter humor.

The poem was set to music by P. D. Q. Bach, playing it relatively straight. There's something perfect about this covey of well mannered North Dakotans bringing it to life.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Night note

I feel a deep sleep coming on. It might be because the weather's cooled down a little. Anyway, I'll let you know if I remember anything coherent from my night visions. If they're not coherent that won't be much of a surprise.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Judas Tree"

(Be forewarned. Parentheses lie ahead.)

Cercis siliquastrum, the Judas tree, is thought in folklore to be the kind of tree that Judas hanged himself after betraying Christ. While a number of linguists see this is a folk etymology based on a French phrase meaning "tree of Judea" the legend persists, not that the two ideas are mutually exclusive. Whether or not Judas Iscariot hanged himself from this tree, or any tree, or in fact was really the betrayer of Jesus, the name has a certain Biblical resonance, and there's a slight aura of Christian allegory to this episode. In that it feels like an Ellery Queen novel, some of which took on an allegorical role after Manfred B. Lee's conversion from Judaism to Episcopal Christianity.

(Jonathan Creek has also taken a title from the Judas tree.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lonely hearts

It's weird how, once you start noticing it, there are banner ads all over the web for what are basically mail order bride businesses. Or, you know, something like that. Never know what site will show you an ad saying "Single girls from _____ are waiting to hear from you." Russia and Japan seem pretty popular, but I'm sure I've seen others.

Half of me is concerned there might be human trafficking involved. The other half is convinced it's just a way to get your credit information. But anyway, that's two reasons not to call.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

European vacation

It's not often that I'll do a book post on this blog with a judgment of "don't read it." And I'm not exactly doing that here. But...

The late German novelist W. G. Sebald has a high reputation as a humanist and a somewhat avant-garde author. His way of writing is his own, certainly. His books, often based on fact, tend to read like journal entries or New Journalism, with generous insertion of photos. I've read at least one, The Rings of Saturn before, and if it wasn't entirely my cup of tea it left me open to reading more of the author.

Austerlitz is his last novel and widely considered his masterpiece. It concerns an old German recounting his youth, when he was sent to live as a boy in Wales and given a new name. After his school days and discovery that he is really Jacques Austerlitz... To be honest I kind of lost track. There seems to be some tie to the Holocaust. Now if the Shoah rears its head in a book you read, or a movie you watch, you probably brace yourself for something good and depressing. But Austerlitz is too impenetrable and frankly too boring to depress.

Part of the problem for me is the formatting. There are no chapters or text breaks, which Sebald shares in common with later works by William Gaddis. But there are very few paragraphs either, and at least one sentence that goes on for more than five pages. If Sebald knew how people read, he bravely and perhaps foolishly set his work against it. Further frustrating me is the narrator, who isn't Austerlitz but meets him several times across European locations. He disappears effectively through most of the book, serving no purpose but to pepper the narrative with "Austerlitz said" and similar passages. Which don't help.

The upshot here isn't that Sebald was a bad writer. But while I like to consider myself a curious reader who can put up with and even delight in a lot of off-center approaches, it turns out I do have my limits.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

'S the humidity AND the heat

In a couple of months it will be September. I'll be, in all likelihood, sleeping under the covers again. That will be an interesting change.

Friday, July 22, 2016

There's no business like business

I watched Executive Suite tonight. It's got a reputation, and was somewhat honored when it came out back in 1954. This is merited in some ways. In other ways it dates badly.

The plot is somewhat internecine but at heart comes down to this: An industrialist named Avery Bullard dies suddenly on the street. His death sets off jockeying and wheedling for who will take his place at the furniture company he runs. One candidate is a bean counter who only sees the company as a way to return maximum profits to the shareholders. There's another, more idealistic side, finally settling on the young VP of manufacturing.

The movie is directed by Robert Wise, who'd go on to film the iconic-yet-strange musical West Side Story and honor Shirley Jackson's novel in The Haunting. To his credit, he makes some bold choices. The film gets along without a musical score, the opening and closing credits accompanied only by a tolling bell. Bullard's death is an eyecatcher too, with a bit player whose face is never seen expiring as he hails a taxi.

It's well cast, too, with William Holden doing what he can with the idealist, Frederic March sinking his teeth into the cold controller, and Walter Pidgeon (whom will eventually show up in another post of mine) giving fine support as an affable treasurer. Shelley Winters is good too as the unhappy mistress of an executive who's being used. (Shelley was still in her sex symbol phase when this was made.)

Women in general don't get to do much in this film, though. It's basically a soap opera, so you expect the actresses to have meaty roles. But it's about business, so women only get to be wives and lovers and in a few cases secretaries.

Then there's the business milieu itself. The company deals in manufacturing, and Holden's character wants to invest in better methods. At one point a foreman rails against the shoddiness of the product they put out now, saying that Bullard would have broken the chairs and desks, declaring them not good enough. Holden gives a similarly kinetic performance in the boardroom when the final vote is about to be taken. So he wins, and March the professional miser loses.

Doesn't matter. In a few decades the company will still be outsourcing production to China.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Funny because it's true

We got onto the subject of Neil Innes a while ago, and that set me thinking again tonight, which led to this. Not sure what was up with the stilts - maybe just one of those random post-Python things - but this is vintage.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Creature comforts

gli animali perduti di Albertus Seba - the lost animals of Albertus Seba from A.G.E Trio on Vimeo.

Albertus Seba was a pioneering Dutch zoologist and engraver, which might give you some context. The audio helps draw me in too.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Wary Witness"

Ellery Queen was created during the Interbellum wave of classical detective fiction. He was a gifted amateur, much in the vein of Dorothy Sayers's Peter Wimsey and Margery Allingham's Albert Campion, the latter bowing in 1929 like he did. (Christie's Hercule Poirot, by comparison, was an ex-cop.) He could be called the American equivalent of a British gentleman detective, although his father might come from a working class background. In any case he has his roots in the Golden Age. Murder mysteries of that era were artificial in construction and ultimately optimistic. More often than not the victim was horrible enough so that their death wouldn't strike the reader as a great loss. More often than not the culprit could be painted as someone deserving of their ultimate fate: death, lifetime imprisonment, or in special cases institutionalization. Most importantly, the hero could solve the crime by observing and thinking, and thus assure no one else would get hurt.

After the war, darker and tougher crime fiction became more prevalent, in authors as diverse as William P. McGivern and Graham Greene. The motion picture industry quickly got on board, leading to the rise of what French critics soon labeled film noir. While noir movies sometimes had happy endings, they had a tendency to imply a malign universe.

Friday, July 15, 2016


A couple of minutes ago I was sitting here looking at something on the computer and some kind of beetle made contact with the surface in front of me. I took its sudden existence as an aggressive act and it turned out not to be long for this world. I consider myself a fairly peaceful person, but might have some problems being a Jainist.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Speaking role

The title character of Dickens's Barnaby Rudge has a pet raven that repeats what he just said. Given that he's an easily led doofus, this isn't always a good thing. But it's a cool idea. And one based on real life.

I like the idea of a bird that's so well suited to messing with our heads. ("Where did that come from? Who's throwing their voice?")

Monday, July 11, 2016

As I wazzzzz saying...

The other night I said something to wake myself up. To my knowledge sleep-talking a.k.a. somniloquy isn't something I do very often. Not necessarily something I would want to have happen every night, but it wasn't an unpleasant experience. It's the sort of thing that happens in relatively shallow NREM sleep.

The statement I woke myself up with is, "Heh, true." Which sounds kind of Homer Simpson-ish to my own ears.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer"

The 1960s were when spies went from being dangerous and glamorous in a kind of grubby way to being fantastic and kicky. The subgenre is sometimes called spy-fi, as it featured gadgets and schemes borrowed from science fiction. Agents wore the latest threads, drove the fastest cars, enjoyed too many partners to keep all their names straight. If the straight business world offered money and toys and the counterculture - at least in the crude news magazine view - offered the chance to break free of convention - spying in pop culture was the best of both worlds.

Movies were a leading source of the fantasy: James Bond, Matt Helm, Derek Flint, and Michael Caine's more relatable Harry Palmer. In the comic strips - and I do mean strips - you had Peter O'Donnell's ironically named Modesty Blaise. Jim Steranko wrote and drew the kinetic Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel Comics. And of course there was TV. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a hit on American TV, although it was best in its relatively austere black and white episodes. The Avengers was more comfortable with the style, adding several layers of British eccentricity. And The Prisoner, a short-lived but indelible maybe-sequel to Patrick McGoohan's earlier series Danger Man added dystopian social commentary.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Learned helplessness is behavior typical of an organism (human or animal) that has endured repeated painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it was unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn escape or avoidance in new situations where such behavior would be effective. In other words, the organism seems to have learned that it is helpless in aversive situations, that it has lost control, and so it gives up trying. Such an organism is said to have acquired learned helplessness. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from such real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.
Recent cases like Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile - fatal police shootings in which the victim was non-violent or out and out law-abiding - are horrific in themselves. There's probably ripple effects beyond that. Psychological effects. The actual odds of being in a violent confrontation with police may be low, statistically. But there's no way for some Americans to assure they won't be singled out. And then it's out of their hands. It's not a healthy situation, not for anyone.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


How hot is it tonight? Enough to make the air kind of swampy. The heat, though, has the beneficial side effect of making you notice and appreciate the little breezes that relieve it. Sharpens perception of certain things.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Buggin' out

The last couple of days have seen some alarming moth action. I've read about gypsy moth caterpillars denuding the forests in the region, mostly Massachusetts. This may be the payoff. I did notice it was a little better today than yesterday.

I've always liked birds, but this is one way to get to live them. Because not all birds are insectivores, but enough of them are so that it's a relief to see them flying low.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The tail of the snake

Rutland Weekend Television is an odd duck. Eric Idle was given two seasons to produce it after Monty Python's Flying Circus ended. While that show was on its way to becoming an international hit - already having a following in Britain - this was an even smaller scale operation. Each season had only six or seven episodes, while Python had always gotten thirteen, except for the Cleeseless final season. And even the smaller order was underbudgeted, meaning limited shooting locations, no eye-catching animated bumpers, etc.

Idle made a distinctive go of it anyway, turning the liabilities into assets. This is a show about an impoverished light entertainment program, and is also that very thing in real life. It's a different kind of cast, too, dominated by older character actors, but with Gwen Taylor given a fairly large, non-eye candy part. The "world's wittiest man" above is The Bonzos' Neil Innes, who's something.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A "joke" +

Q: What do you call a banana lying at the beach?
A: A sandy banana!

Hmm. Not much of a joke, really. Maybe more of a sound poem.

Blogging at half power now. Should be back to relative normal in a few days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Now they call me Three Finger Joe

Get a load of this when you have the time. It's a little over twenty minutes.

I saw it earlier in the eventing at a live broadcast of Rifftrax, one where they brought back a lot of old MST3K people, including Joel a couple of times.

Anyway, this safety film is a rich target being the three G's: goofy, gory, and grim. But it's kind of artful as well. The shots are well centered. The guy playing the foreman, at least, is a natural. As it turns out the film was made by Herk Harvey, the director of the cult classic Carnival of Souls. Which makes you wonder about the metaphysics of this construction site.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

toothy 2: literary edition

I'm entering the homestretch now on Zadie Smith's White Teeth. No sense in me running down the plot, because it's not really that kind of book, although assuredly things do happen. Best way to sum it up is that it's a multi-decade, intergenerational story based around two families in London. One is Bangladeshi and Muslim. The other is the product of an old-fashioned Englishman and his much younger Jamaican wife.

While the book is set in the late twentieth century, it feels a lot like a nineteenth century novel in many ways. Smith's narrator has the tones of a wise pub storyteller, like those of Dickens and Thackeray, rather than the detached third person of modernist fiction.

One thing I like about it is that everyone is wrong, in their own way. The character you sympathize with the most will simply be the one whose wrongness you're best able to tolerate. For me it's probably the Bengal matriarch Alsana, but if you read it you could pick someone else.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Nun but the lonely heart

Well, I thought spoiler-filled movie trailers were a recent scourge, but apparently they've been around a few decades.

Kerr is sent to the Himalayas - possibly India,, as Calcutta seems to be the nearest postal site - to oversee a convent. There's inappropriate sexual tension between several of the nuns, including Kerr, and the local British handyman/translator. Somebody goes psycho, as you might guess from the above.

There are plenty of places you could take offense at this film. In fact it seems never to have met a cultural or gender stereotype it didn't like. But you'd be missing the point. This movie is batshit insane! Just giving into the sensual experience is the best way to appreciate it. It's a massive head trip.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The great divorce

I don't have a vote in it, for obvious reasons, but I'd say that Eno and Harry Potter's mum are right and Basil Fawlty is wrong. In this case.

There are things to dislike about the EU, such as its one size fits all monetary policy. But the UK has been pretty lucky overall. It hasn't been through a harrowing audit like Greece. The Brits have even been able to keep their pre-EU currency. On the whole they'd probably take a serious economic hit if they left, a possibility most Brexit supporters don't really seem prepared for.

Beyond that, the pro-Leave coalition just makes me queasy. The man who killed Jo Cox wasn't representative, but that doesn't mean he isn't symptomatic. It seems to have been a fairly racist campaign. The most powerful advocates of this side are against immigration. They're also probably against a lot of other things that make British life better.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Flossing your teeth at the end of the day gives you time to relax and think. Granted, most of what you think will be, "Hey, look what gross thing I just found," but it's better than nothing.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Sunday Punch"

The world recently lost Muhammad Ali, a man much of the country feared when he was at the height of his powers and on his way to prison for refusal of the draft. This may have been the knockdown of his lifetime, but he rose again, and it's often forgotten that he wasn't universally beloved back then. He was, however, undeniably significant. A picture I've only seen once or twice, but which has stayed with me, shows my grandmother's younger brother, who did some sports reporting in England, speaking agog to the champ.

While survivors from this episode's time period - 1947 - undoubtedly think we've gotten softer since then, and are in many senses right, boxing and related bloodsports have remained big. And it's been a favorite background in crime fiction and film as well, often in the context of fixing. Marvel's noir superhero Daredevil - he of the unloved Ben Affleck movie and subsequent Netflix series - was created a half century ago with part of the premise being that Matt Murdock's father had been murdered for refusing to throw a fight.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Rain Keeps Falling from Chris Smith on Vimeo.

Why did this catch my sustained attention? Maybe because, while the days aren't getting that hot, the nights aren't really cooling down anymore. So rain feels like it should happen too. And this clip feels nice and meditative.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two joys

A couple of things brightened my day today, I mean besides taking it off.

I saw the above picture in the newspaper, along with this analysis. The author isn't wrong about the man. The kindest thing to think about him is that he may have just been overindulging and thus looks dopier than usual. The woman certainly looks intoxicating in herself. She's perfectly ordinary, you say? To my eyes more ordinarily perfect. In any case, if there is something congenitally wrong with her husband, at least he seems to be in good hands.

Also I listened to an old episode of Piano Jazz, a radio show that Marian McPartland hosted, tonight. Her guest was the late Sarah Vaughan - both women are "late" - one of my all time ideals. It was interesting listening to Sassy talk between tunes. She sounded kind of drunk, but I don't think that was it. In her singing she almost always placed tone above articulation, and that seems to have carried to the way she spoke as well.

Monday, June 13, 2016


From a good piece by Paul Waldman:
Our relative safety from terrorism comes from our geographic isolation, but mostly from the fact that there simply aren't that many Americans who want to commit these kinds of acts. Unlike what we see in many places, American Muslims are overwhelmingly assimilated and patriotic—and maintaining those feelings in the last 15 years, in the face of government harassment and widespread bigotry, is pretty heroic. The reason ISIS hasn't been able to inspire or direct more attacks like the one in Orlando is that in America, there just aren't many takers for their hateful ideology.
This is one our better strokes of fortune. Especially since we've got military grade hardware like the AR-15 floating around. If Omar Mateen had walked into the Pulse with a handgun the outcome could still have been tragic, but not on the same scale. His potential to harm would have been less, and there would be a chance that someone might be able to tackle him. (Don't take that as an endorsement of any "If I was there I woulda..." type assholes, even in more human-level crime scenes.) The kind of firepower he had meant that no one could get near, nor could they get far enough away.

Also, scapegoating sucks all around.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Black Falcon"

So. 1947. As you MAY know, America was just a couple of years past a big war, a war in which one of the main adversaries was Germany. This was the second war with Germany. The first had occurred from 1914-18, with the US only really getting involved in the last year. It was an intense war, though, and Germans in America/German-Americans being stigmatized stateside. This didn't really happen in the second war, though, due to a number of factors: German-Americans had assimilated more, our military leaders had names like "Eisenhower" and "Nimitz", the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor and their descendants not being white made them more of a target, etc.

All of this might sound like a digression, but Germany, the German people, and the war(s) lie at the heart of this episode.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Here in my car where the image breaks down

During lunch today I saw a little car on the road that - I'm not positive, but I have a feeling - looked to be electric. After work I saw another one. Well after that, I saw a car whose fuel system I couldn't tell you, but was shaped like a Formula 1 car. So is there some kind of convention in town? One wonders.

I don't walk around with a camera all day. That means I don't have pictures of anything described above. Which, I guess, means it didn't happen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

It figures

Queen Watch? Absent this past weekend, should be back Saturday. I'm about at the halfway point, I guess, give or take. So far it's been lots of fun.

In the meantime, there's this. I've long been a fan of Chirico's paintings from his surrealist/metaphysical phase, so I'm delighted an animator has worked his imagery into this (slightly florid?) scenario.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Dinner and a show

* Most of us aren't going to go swimming anywhere near where sharks do the same. Part of that is our fear of being killed and eaten, which is understandable but not really reasonable: they're not really going to attack a human in ordinary circumstances. A better reason is that we simply don't go out to those depths, that far from land. If you see a shark, the chief danger to you is drowning. So it's ncie to be able to feast your eyes via photography and the intertubes, in case you never get to in person. They're some stunning creatures.

* I did watch Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye last night, as I've been meaning to lately. And one thing I hadn't known before was that Leigh Brackett had written the script. Making this her second Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe adaptation, since she'd scripted the Bogey Bacall Big Sleep back in '45. Not a bad record.

Just coming into his own as a director, Altman takes on a different kind of material with pretty rewarding results. Elliott Gould must have seemed like an unlikely gumshoe, best known as he was - and remains - as a kvetching comic actor. But Marlowe is a human scale character, and Gould nails him. Also cast against type is Laugh-In's Henry Gibson as a creepy rehab doctor.

Maybe the most interesting aspect is the way noir claustrophobia is turned inside out, imbuing a sense of agoraphobia. Marlowe isn't confined to dark alleys, he's out in the open air of sunny Southern California. For that very reason he seems vulnerable to attack from any direction. The restless camera sometimes seems about to flee in terror.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Some fun

Just earlier tonight i heard this song for the first time in a long time. I'd always liked it, though.

The person responsible is  Amanda Nazario, who singles it out for the rougher sound of John Sebastian's voice. Nazario is up there with Charlie Lewis as my favorite FMU personalities. She does recaps of years-old Simpsons episodes that I just have to kind of stand up and figure out the applause.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


I just recently finished The Illogic of Kassel, the most recent book by Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas, or at least the most recent to be translated into English. The narrator of the book is an author who was invited to Documenta 13 to perform as an installation in a Chinese restaurant. Speaking neither Chinese nor German he makes up interpretations of the discussions he hears.

Vila-Matas is actually an author, obviously, and he did attend Documenta 13, so it may be tempting to treat this as a memoir. But I'm pretty sure it truly is a novel, even if it doesn't always look like one. Whether Vila-Matas suffers nighttime panic attacks like his hero does - he wouldn't be the first writer or artist to do so - the special medicine he takes sounds made up. The relationship he has with the curators seems fictional as well. I kind of doubt they'd invite a fairly famous writer into their art project and subject him to the sometimes sadistic head games that transpire here, although I could be wrong.

Whatever the balance of real and fictional, it's an interesting read. I think Bartleby & Co. is still my favorite of his, though.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Starr quality

This morning I had breakfast at this place downtown called NicoBella's. It's a nice joint with jazz on the stereo and fauvist-looking paintings on the wall. Another thing I noticed on the wall was a signed poster of Ringo from one of the All-Starr band tours.

As the owner refilled my coffee I told him I liked the poster. There turned out to be a story behind it. He was in the middle of getting the restaurant ready to open, a massive amount of work including construction, licenses, etc. His friend called him up and said he was with Ringo. He goes, "Ringo who?" His buddy says, "Ringo, one of the few surviving Beatles." He figures this for ballbusting and says, "Eddie I don't have time for this." His friend's got Ringo talking in the background but it still doesn't sink in. The friend goes, "Well, do you want anything?" "If it's Ringo, get an autograph for me."

He got it, obviously. Later his friend told him that Ringo said he was one of the few people who ever hung up on him. I said, "You and John Lennon." On reflection, he had some friction with Paul, too, around the time of the breakup.

Really, for someone who comes from humble beginnings, it must be oddly gratifying to become such a big deal people won't believe you are who you are.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Blunt Instrument"

Writers, as distinguished from actors or musicians, are in a solitary field. Many are introverts by nature, but even those who aren't basically work on their own, wrestling with their own hangups in order to get something on the page. So there are fewer blowups and confrontations just because so often there's no one to confront.

Still, there are such things as literary feuds. If an author has any success, that can bump up against someone else's success, and then you get into personal clashes. See Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman, or Gore Vidal vs. anyone.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dodgy upper lip

A few decades ago, it seems like actors weren't traveling across the Atlantic as much. There were, yes, a number of Britons who had relocated to Hollywood, where they'd heard the money was. The inverse, American actors staying long-term in Britain, was rarer by far. And the cost of getting someone to make a special trip was expensive, Like, major motion picture expensive.

The upshot is that if you saw an American character on a British show, the accents were very faux. I've noticed this in, among other things, reruns of Danger Man. This show, Patrick McGoohan's pre-Prisoner outlet, was eventually marketed as Secret Agent in the US, with Johnny Rivers's "Secret Agent Man" tacked onto the credits in place of the original spritely instrumental. It was a mostly high quality program, making good use of McGoohan's moody anti-charisma, but it wasn't a big budget affair by any means.

The tell isn't the accent itself. In terms of phrasing, these players could often pass for people from the larger Midwestern cities, say. But sometimes the scenarist doesn't know the right word to use, so someone says "rubbish" when they'd really say "garbage." Or the stress is on the wrong syllable. Hearing a Yank soldier say la-BORE-a-tree instead of LAB-ra-tore-e is enough to break the illusion.

It need hardly be said that this era saw a lot of painful British accents on American TV as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

So *blargh* that happened

Last night I was not in much condition to blog. Or do much of anything else. After dinner a sluggish feeling descended on me. Then nausea and stomach trouble. And I got a headache that was still there when I woke up this morning, which it was certainly a relief to get rid of later in the day.

From now on I'll hesitate to buy pork unless I can trust it and can trust myself to cook it properly. I cooked this cut for dinner the day after I bought it and it looked and tasted like it was done, but good meat doesn't give you flu-like symptons.

On another note, this is a nice look at the great Minnesota poet and guitarist who is still with us. "Visions of Johanna" truly is an immortal song.