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February 20, 2003

Bulletins from the Sickbed

Friedrich --

I'm home with the flu, and am feeling even more scatterbrained and stupid than usual. Hey, why fight it? So, a bit of this 'n' that.

* I caught up with Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone on DVD, and can recommend it. Horror fantasy from a Mexican film poet/intellectual whose movies ("Cronos," "Mimic," "Blade 2") I generally like. This one's set in a boy's boarding school way out in the middle of nowhere during the Spanish Civil War, and it's a little "Zero for Conduct," a little Fritz Lang, and a little post-'60s trash fantasia. The storytelling isn't of much interest, but the movie is a gorgeous and spooky film-buff tone poem.

Where did all these gifted Spanish/Latino filmmakers come from, by the way? There's Almodovar, Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama, A Little Princess), Alex de la Iglesia (Perdita Durango, 800 Bullets), Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids), the guy who made "The Others," which I loved ... Spanish and South American directors used to be awful, with very rare exceptions. These days there's a ton of them, apparently all bursting with talent. Odd the way these waves happen. The British cinema used to have little to brag about apart from Hitchcock, Ealing and Carol Reed. Then in the '80s, it was like a whole bunch of them popped out of the womb knowing how to make movies. Why? How?

*Saw a fascinating small piece in a U.K. magazine called Digital Photography Made Easy (a first-rate how-to mag, perfect for morons like me) talking about holographic computer memory. Can't find a link to it online, so I'll type out a passage from Cliff Smith's article:

The commercial release of such devices is closer than you think. Researchers at IBM claim they will have small holographic units available by 2003, with the first devices storing 125 Gb at transfer rates of 40Mb per second. They believe that, before long, 1,000 Gb units will be avilable that can transfer 1Gb of data per second -- that's fast enough to record a DVD movie in about 30 seconds.

And these holographic storage devices are apparently the size of sugar cubes. Heavens!

OK, let's say the IBM people are being 'way too optimistic, and we finally get only half of what they promise, and a couple of years later than expected. Still! That means you'll be able to take a few lifetimes' worth of photos with your digicam before having to download them onto your computer. It means you'll be able to record hours and hours of high-quality video onto teeny-tiny devices. Oh, why aren't I younger?

Ten or so years ago I visited the editing suite of a Major Motion Picture that was one of the first to be edited on computer. They'd put all their footage onto video and thence onto hard drives -- I seem to remember they had something like 100 hours on 90 Gb. Though image quality wasn't great -- about standard VCR level -- they were just so pleased to have it all right there, instantly available. But, heavens, what it took in the way of physical equipment: the hard-drive array alone filled up a double-sized closet, and the editing suite needed an extra-special super air-conditioning unit to keep the temperature bearable.

All that, soon to be replaced by something the size of a sugarcube...

* Ivan Noble, a science writer for BBC Online, was diagnosed with brain cancer last August. He's in there fighting, thank heavens. Things could look worse, and he's even managing to publish a weekly column about what he's going through. It's honest, moving, and well worth checking in on. Typical passage: "All the statistics in the world will not tell them what is going to happen to me, and I am grateful for the uncertainty and hope that provides." Here is the first column, as well as links to the rest. Interesting the way the writing seems to be coming out of him in disconnected chunks. That's the way Anatole Broyard wrote in "Intoxicated by My Illness," his amazing book about dying of prostate cancer (buyable here.) It's the way I was writing too after learning that I had cancer. I wonder what the lit-crit set makes of this. Oh, I forgot: they're all off Doing Theory.

*Best new-book title I've run across recently: Women Who Think Too Much, by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (buyable here). Subtitled: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. This is not a parody. I'm refraining from cracking any jokes and am hastening, before I flee the stage, to point out that the author's a woman, and that these days book publishing is a largely woman-run business. And you know what? The book may be pretty good. Another blog posting I'd like to write but may never get around to: self-help as a legitimate American literary genre...

* If you're in a mood to feel like a Person of No Real Accomplishment Whatsoever, read Andrew Brown in the Guardian (here) profiling the historian Robert Conquest. (Link via Arts & Letters Daily, here.) A true giant, Conquest has worked as a diplomat and an editor; has written 17 books about Russia and Russian history; with "The Great Terror" was responsible for making the scales fall from many eyes about the nature of Communism; is a widely-respected and anthologized poet (and a much-loved writer of light verse too); and, at the age of 84, is apparently as busy as ever. He also turns out to be the originator of a saying that I'm very fond of but had never known the source of: "Everyone is a reactionary about subjects he understands."

* Brian Micklethwait (here) points to a Tom Wolfe speech well worth reading, here. Wolfe has been thinking about brain imaging, has been meeting with neuroscientists, and has some observations to make, among them:

If I were a college student today, I don't think I could resist going into neuroscience. Here we have the two most fascinating riddles of the twenty-first century: the riddle of the human mind and the riddle of what happens to the human mind when it comes to know itself absolutely. In any case, we live in an age in which it is impossible and pointless to avert your eyes from the truth.

* Here's a lovely photo (my lousy scan doesn't do it justice) by Elizabeth Heyert that ran in Nest magazine. (Nest's website is here.) It shows a room in a five-story Georgian-style townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side that belonged to a very famous collector. This is a pop-up, so be sure to click on the image.

Who's the square who wanted to live this way?

Note the subdued, deluxe tastefulness of it all: the classical pieces, the swag, the gold frame around the mirror, the stenciling at the top of the wall, the adorable small figurative sculptures ...

Now guess the name of the collector. And click on this little horizontal blur to find out the answer:

Yep. This is how he wanted to live, and these are the things he wanted to live among. I don't know why this gives me such pleasure.



posted by Michael at February 20, 2003


Hope you're feeling better soon! I'm not all that surprised that the interior photo is from Warhol's home. I remember that VANITY FAIR once did an article about several Catholic-themed paintings he had been secretly working on, and were hidden away somewhere, and not discovered until after his death. I haven't heard a thing about them since.

Posted by: Michael Serafin on February 21, 2003 01:52 PM

Thanks, Michael, and here's hoping you're having better flu luck this season than I am. This is my second bout, despite a flu shot. But neither bout has been terrible, so I suppose I should be glad I got the shot.

Warhol's tastes are amazing, aren't they? I'm not sure what to make of artists (or architects) whose own work is nothing at all like what they seem to prefer around them, and to live among. I can't deny that part of me wants to hoot, and say, you fraud! You're passing this other brash crap off on the rest of us, while you live in a subdued, posh way? There are architects, for instance, who are famous for designing and selling angular pain-in-the-neck buildings, but who live in comfy old traditional houses themselves. And Warhol, pushing those glaring pop things, but preferring to live in subdued surroundings himself.

How do you feel about this? Are we fools to fall for these guys? Paul Johnson in his book "Intellectuals" criticizes intellectuals (conveniently, all the ones he chooses are leftists) who preach one thing but whose lives are dramatically different, and he argues that while in many cases a certain amount of public-private hypocrisy is fine and even necessary, in the case of these intellectuals, he feels he can nail 'em anyway. I kinda/sorta go with him. And I kinda/sorta think it's fine to feel a little scandalized and outraged at someone like Warhol. He didn't want to live among his kind of artwork, so why should anyone else?

I don't know that I'm entirely satisfied with this, though. Your thoughts?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 22, 2003 12:28 AM

As one who firmly believes Leftists are the epitome of hypocrisy in EVERYTHING, I agree with the delightfully cranky Mr.Johnson. My devoutly Liberal brother-in-law will privately bemoan (to me, at least) the "dumbing-down of America" and the "coarsening of American culture", but I haven't heard him say that in front of his rabidly Liberal wife, my sister. At the same time, my rabidly Liberal sister bemoans to me and my traditional Liberal mother about parents not diciplining and teaching proper respect and civility to their children; that parents today want to be "friends" to their children instead of parents. These have become regular public complaints among conservatives. Liberals apparently only voice them in private, first looking over their shoulders to make sure no one can hear them. Of course, you blatantly tell them that they sound like conservatives , and they recoil in horror. I wonder if the "decapitated female torso-of-the-month" artists in avant-garde land secretly harbor these thoughts........

Posted by: Michael Serafin on February 22, 2003 01:02 PM

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