Monday, February 29, 2016

Pine-ing for the fjords

Someone on my street threw out a Christmas tree. Not this week. Long enough ago so that a few garbage days have passed. And yet there it continues to sit, outside the house. This is somewhat mysterious. The contractor does apparently take Christmas trees, at least when they don't still have the stand and/or ornaments, which this one doesn't.

Whatever the answer, I'm curious to see what happens. Will some kind of woodland creature come town to eat it? Will somebody with a fireplace thoughtfully take the wood?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Coming soon: Queen Watch

A new project is coming this way. Queen Watch, an episode by episode look at the Ellery Queen TV series that ran on NBC in 1975 and '76.

Why this? Why now? Well, I've long had an interest in/love of both the book series and the show. I got a DVD set of the first/only season as a very thoughtful gift a couple of Christmases ago. At one time Nathanael Booth did an episode-by-episode analysis of the show, but his blog ended and there's not even an archive now. Anyway, my focus (more on which later) will probably be a little different.

Ellery Queen is a funny case as a TV series. Those members of the public who know the character at all are as likely as not to visualize Jim Hutton's portrayal when they hear the name. Natural enough, as Hutton excelled in the role, and no one else has played the character in movies or TV for the last forty years. But strange, too, since the series was not considered a success when it aired, as evidenced by the fact that there was no season two.

In addition, it was an idiosyncratic read on the title character. Hutton played Queen as an all-American absent-minded professor, Sherlock Holmes as a Frank Capra hero. This was in line with his talents. He'd always been a Jimmy Stewart type who never had a Capra to partner with, and thus had to settle for being the tender right hand to tough guys like John Wayne and Charlton Heston.

For me it's a winning approach, but it does make a noticeable change from the novels. As has been noticed. Joseph Goodrich is a fan of the character and likes the show, and he's actually put Ellery Queen onstage. But he has reservations about some aspects of the series.
My only real objection stems from certain aspects of the way Ellery's character is handled. Jim Hutton's otherwise-admirable portrayal errs a little too often for my taste on the side of comic absentmindedness. This character trait was obviously chosen to 'humanize' Ellery, to make him more 'appealing' to the audience. Amusing as it can sometimes be, it has little to do with the EQ of the books.
Which, fair enough, but there's more to the story. Fredric Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, the creators of Ellery Queen, were a lot of things, but initially they weren't great writers of character. In Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout created a hero who could be mistaken for no one else's, and whom he really didn't need to change over the course of four decades. By contrast the earliest Queen novels show a standard Interbellum dandy with some convenient skills. Agatha Christie would have made him a suspect, then tossed him aside when the murder turned out to be committed by someone much cleverer.

To their credit they got bored writing for the character in this way and found other levels to him. The Wrightsville novels published during and right after WW2 were pivotal, making him more fallible and less bombastic. As a result the character reads as a study in reinvention on a Time Lord level. If there are many Ellery Queens, Hutton very much could be one of him, being smart enough, and he does share a post-Wrightsville hesitance.

Where the Queen stories had gotten it right from the start lay in both the ingenuity of the crimes and solutions and the savvy of telling stories about storytelling. The latter begins with the fact that Dannay and Lee wrote under the byline "Ellery Queen" while writing mysteries about a mystery writer named Ellery Queen, but it doesn't end there. The narration dances under your eyes, creating an alternate reality that holds together on its own terms, but feels like it could fly apart any second. Add in the fact that the first Jorge Luis Borges story translated into English ("The Garden of Forking Paths") appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the boys did their part to popularize metafiction.

This play with narrative lasted throughout the book series, in some novels more than others. It also found its way into the TV show, in different forms. That's one of the things I'm going to be looking at.

Anyway, this all starts in March and goes on until whenever.

Friday, February 26, 2016

More than the sum

Eye Escape from Tarathorn Lamtharn on Vimeo.

Well, this is quite weird and a rather accomplished bit of stop-motion film-making. The eye is, of course, a painted golf ball. Resourcefully used, I might add.

Music on this is from Quincy Jones's Ironside score. This may be one of the few cases where use of Residents music would have been too obvious.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Odd beast out

The above is footage of the last thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger. Imperfect comparisons, perhaps, but the Australian animal did have a very canine profile and somewhat tigerish markings. It was a marsupial, of course, which means that the resemblances were an example of convergent evolution in action.

Thylacines went extinct in the 1930s. Could they have been saved? Maybe/probably. What would it have taken and when would preservation efforts have to start. That's up for debate.

By 1933, synchronous sound was common in movies. Because of the size and expense of the cameras, they weren't practical for use in zoological field research like this. Otherwise we could have heard it too. As it is, it's eerie to see the last of something pacing around in broad daylight.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

For better or for verse

I recently took out from the library a dictionary of poetic forms, one put together by Lewis Turco. I had an idea of running through the book, writing at least one example of each.

Well, that idea didn't last. There are a lot of verse forms. Some of them just don't interest me. Others I could read but didn't feel confident writing.

Still, others hold a great deal of interest for me. One cool one is the cinquain, developed by Adelaide Crapsey and made up of very short lines. It's sort of the American answer to haiku. Well, that and pro wrestling.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday departure

A woman had her last day at my work today. I'll definitely miss her. Some people you work with are true friends and she was one. So, it was a nice going away party at least, and I got to talk to her a bit afterwards.

In lighter news, someone recorded an all kazoo version of "Whole Lotta Love."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Still looking

From the personal statement of art photographer Mary Lang:
For more than forty years, my discipline has been straight photography. My work is about looking and seeing, using the frame to capture a moment of perception. As a photographer, I am rooted in the phenomenal world, yet my subject matter is not so much the physical places in front of my lens, but rather the intangible and elemental quality of the space itself. Sometimes gazing into space can feel like falling off a cliff, losing your sense of self, losing solid ground. My intention is that the groundlessness in my images evokes a similar space in the mind of the viewer.

My photographs contain both the vast geographic space of mountaintops or shorelines and the minute details of a telephone wire or a string of lights on a pole. My work has long been informed by my Buddhist meditation practice.  More and more, I try to make photographs that embody the possibility that we can trust our experience as it unfolds, moment by moment; that we can pay attention without fear to the details of everyday life, held within an awareness without boundary. That awareness can be the intimate, yet vast space gazing out a car window or the almost tangible atmospheric space of early morning fog. It is the contemplative inner space of a quiet ordinary moment, the space between the in breath and the out breath, a gap full of loneliness and possibility.
Her work confirms her words. There doesn't seem to be any grand statement attached to her pictures. They aren't fraught with meaning. On the other hand they couldn't be mistaken for just snapshots either.They're composed evocations of a place at a certain time.

The last of the above photos depicts Mount Hood in Western Oregon. A beautiful area with a great damp sky.

Monday, February 15, 2016

After the vortex

After the polar vortex that brought us some profoundly cold weather over the weekend, we're left with some lumpy ice on the sidewalks. With lumpy ice you see it up ahead of you and think you can handle it, but you're probably wrong. I had a near-fall earlier this evening.

Also interesting is the post-frostbite sensation of circulation returning to your extremities. It's almost like their growing back.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Final Songs: After Hours

Album: The Velvet Underground by the Velvet Underground
One, two, three
If you close the door
The night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
And say hello to never

All the people are dancing
And they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me

But if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again

If you close the door
The night could last forever
Leave the wine-glass out
And drink a toast to never

Oh, someday I know
Someone will look into my eyes
And say hello
You're my very special one

But if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again

Dark party bars, shiny Cadillac cars
And the people on subways and trains
Looking gray in the rain,
As they stand disarrayed
Oh, but people look well in the dark

And if you close the door
The night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
And say hello to never

All the people are dancing
And they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me

Cause if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again
I'd never have to see the day again,
Once more
I'd never have to see the day again
It was no small loss to the Velvet Underground when Lou Reed fired cerebral Welshman John Cale. Musically Cale had been both a virtuoso and a chaos factor within the band. It was reportedly because of the latter that he was dismissed, his eccentric ideas clashing with Reed's desire to swim at least a little closer to the mainstream.

It was a loss, but with Long Islander Doug Yule taking the bass chair, they were still around. The band's self-titled third album drew more from folk and a little from country. The black and white cover, showing a ridiculously wholesome-looking Reed leaning forward on a couch while the other three look ready to nod off. If that's a little weird in itself, the album does have at least one track - the nine-minute "The Murder Mystery" - easily strange enough to appear on their previous albums.

Following that one was the closer, "After Hours," which was another story again. A song of elementary simplicity, just guitar and voice, it sounds like a demo. Maybe a thirty-year-old demo they'd found in a steamer trunk.

According to Wikipedia, Reed, the author of the song, gave it to drummer Maureen Tucker to sing because he himself couldn't sing a song "so innocent and pure." In his weary gravel "people look well in the dark" would have more of a lewd ambiance, and "I'd never have to see the day again" could be read as a declaration of imminent suicide.

Tucker, the VU's boyish, street urchin girl drummer, was just what the song needed. Hers didn't sound like a trained voice. What it sounded like was a sincere voice. She sounds like someone in a new place, thrilled to be invited finally.

On The Velvet Underground & Nico there'd been a song called "All Tomorrow's Parties," in which Nico looked upon a "poor girl" dragging her thrift shop dresses to Factory-type bashes with a not entirely nice kind of pity. That song is beautiful and mesmerizing, but also somewhat cruel. In "After Hours" the same girl seems to be speaking for herself, and turns out to be pretty charming.

This new edition of the Velvet Underground might have been a little less adventurous than they had been, but they were still learning.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wolfe brief

In the Best Families is an odd duck among Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books, and feels like a deliberate break from formula. Soon after Nero and Archie take the case of a woman who wants to know where her playboy husband's money is coming from, they also get a box of tear gas and a threatening phone call from recurring archenemy Arnold Zeck. Not long after that the client is murdered and the whole case falls apart.

The same night as the latter occurrence, but connected to both of them, Wolfe disappears, leaving instructions as to his house, staff, and orchids. This puts additional stress on Archie, including jail and a fight with Inspector Cramer. Wolfe seems like he might be out of the picture for good.

Of course he's not, but he is absent for a good portion of the short novel. This is a double-edged sword. Nero Wolfe himself is one of the main attractions of the series, and it's a big risk sidelining him. On the other hand, the uncertainty as to his whereabouts and what he intends to do creates a different kind of narrative tension. Overall it shows off the benefits of Stout's narrative freedom, freedom resulting among other sources from his choosing to have Archie Goodwin as the narrator rather than Wolfe himself.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lady picture show

This innovative volume goes beyond the examination of specific women artists to explore the ways in which gender is constructed in visual images. The discriminatory conditions which impacted women's abilities to become professional artists are described in each historical epoch. The role of women as patrons, or commissioners of works of art, and the ways in which art directly impacted the lives of women living in a given cultural context are also explored.
That's the jacket copy from a feminist art history book I took out from the library the other day. The book lives up to its promise, unfortunately.

Allow me to mansplain. There's value in gender studies, learning about sexual inequality across eras, including this one. But it can blunt the effect of the art itself. Art is in large part a Dionysian exercise, concerned with expanding possibilities in defiance of reason, if needs be. Sociology is more Apollonian, concerned with self discipline and order. There's a place for the Apollonian in art - there's a reason why paintings are generally exhibited in frames and not crumpled on the floor. But excessive adherence to an ideology, even a just one, can inhibit the creation and enjoyment of art. That bothers me in this case because many of the artists on display created arresting and transporting work. (Which could be better appreciated if the publisher had sprung for color plates, but I threaten to digress.) Nothing wrong with acknowledging the difficulties these artists overcame, and that might have defeated women we've never heard of. But the book threatens to become about nothing else.

tl;dr, male artists at all levels of accomplishment are granted the privilege of being known primarily through the images they've created. Female artists deserve no less.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Whiteout Part Deux

Another big storm today. Last night I got a call from work saying that the office would be closed today. I was all "okay, bro"* but was sort of dubious.Sunday had mostly been quite warm, so what could we be getting?

Enough. I was out in the morning and early afternoon, and the snowfall definitely meant you couldn't see as far as you ordinarily would.

Now I'm just hoping the laundromat will be open tomorrow when I go to do my wash. It should be. The snow let up a while ago and the roads look to be clear. Except for the occasional blower it's been a quiet night.

*Don't worry, even if the boss who called me hadn't been female, I still wouldn't have called her "bro."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

More sweet sounds

It was never my intention to make this blog a revolving memorial and it still isn't. Still, I liked Dan Hicks. His records from the seventies made fine contemporary singer-songwriter tunes from early jazz/swing influences.

Stay tuned for another Final Songs. Looking at two albums from the late sixties, and not 100% sure which comes next.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Taking it easy

Oh well, did at least get the inspiration to dig through the archives for this one. Well worth it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Going places

The above picture is by Adam Simpson  He's a British illustrator from what I understand. I just got a book from the library, Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, that I'm going to start reading tomorrow. The cover is painted by Simpson. Just an array of ray guns, but as you see, he's got a certain style.