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.