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« Elsewhere | Main | Rybczynski on What's Architecture »

September 26, 2003

Morning Musings

Friedrich --

My head this morning is a-swim with half-formed ideas and observations, none of which seem to want to cohere into self-standing blog postings. So why fight the muddleheadedness, eh?

* My audiobook-listening life for the last few months has been devoted to making my way through three long lecture series about science from The Teaching Company: a general survey of science (buyable here), a look at quantum mechanics and relativity (here), and a survey of prehistory and the first civilizations (here). I'm learning (if not retaining) a lot, and the profs have all done heroic jobs of organizing their knowledge and information. But ...first-class and admirable though all three of these series are, the profs giving the lectures aren't great presenters. They're OK, but they're a little dull. And -- superficial, arty soul that I am -- my mind wanders. A lot. I'm reminded that one of the reasons I didn't go into science, despite a slight Sputnik-era-kid bent that direction, was that I simply had a hard time staying awake during science classes. I got the subjects, I did well enough in them -- but, lordy, my kingdom for some personality! The lecturers on these tape series try hard to bring the material alive, but not one of them has a knack for metaphor, or for any kind of verbal or performance eloquence. And not one has a sparkling or infectious personality. Ahem: to say the least. They're brilliant guys, no doubt, but they're geeks. One's the curt geek, one's the enthusiastic geek, and one's the eccentric-prof geek. So each series is a little like having a geek read a well-organized series of encyclopedia entries to you. All hail brilliant geeks, of course

* Did I ever lay on you my theory of why people wind up in the fields they do? Here it is: the field you wind up in is determined most of the time not by drive or desire, but by which high school and college classes you managed to stay awake during. But maybe I'm over-generalizing here from personal experience.

* Speaking of audiobooks, I find audiobooks on cassette a near-perfect medium. They're easy and convenient; no matter where you last left off, all you have to do is press "Play." Alas, cassettes are being phased out -- someday soon, all new audiobooks will be on CD, or perhaps even distributed as digital downloads. This is progress in the wrong direction; I find listening to books on CD to be a pain. The CDs are bigger and more fragile than cassettes, and it's harder to find where you left off on a CD than it is on a cassette. So I was pleased to see (looking through an issue of a magazine devoted to audiobooks) that I'm not alone. There's a lot of buzz in the audiobook-listening community about the topic -- people are really pissed off. They like cassette-based audiobooks, and see no reason why the technology should change.

* On the topic of progress-in-the-wrong-direction, allow me an Andy Rooney moment. Have you noticed how common it is these days for the bathroom fixtures in public facilities to be what you might call "automatic" or "remote control"? There are no handles. You don't turn them on and off (or flush them) by yourself -- I think they work by infrared sensor or something. Boy, does this annoy me. Partly that's because it doesn't save me any trouble. There I stand like an idiot, waiting for the faucet water to start running; there I stand like an idiot, eager to make sure the toilet flushes. And the feeling of having been cut off from the operation of the machines is a little disconcerting in itself. But what annoys me most is the signal that's being sent by whoever installed the equipment: "We don't trust you enough to behave well in the bathroom."

* Hmm, have I ever -- using a razor and soap, and no matter how high-tech the razor -- have I ever given myself a shave without drawing at least a little blood? ... Nope, don't think so. Have you?

* Does anyone have any decent hunches or trustworthy info about when Mac OS 10.3 will become available?

* Coached into it by a young acquaintance, I just bought a GameCube, so expect old-fart ruminations and postings about video games to start up in the near future. A fun and easy purchase: the 20ish year olds (both employees and customers) at the local videogame store seemed amazed but pleased that a geezer should be showing interest. A small clutch of them spent a good half hour giving me pointers and advice. ("I don't want a good game," I kept having to say. "I want an easy game.") The store itself was the usual bleeping-blooping computer-gizmo nightmare, and the kids all had the vocal tics and body language so many young-uns have these days: they vented and spewed, they made video-jockey faces, they talked too breathlessly and loud, right on top of each other, and they waved their arms around like rap stars. It finally occured to me where these behavior patterns come from: from videogames themselves, and from hanging out in a videogame-ish universe. When the world your mind spends its time in is full of electronically-pumped, clangorous effects, it makes sense that you'd take on this kind of behavior. You're being goosed, prodded and distracted: how else to get yourself noticed? I have to admit that despite their manners, the kids were very sweet.

* Chris Bertram, the political phillospher and Crooked Timber blogteam-member, is interviewed here.

* I notice that Paul Johnson's history of art has gone on sale here. I'm psyched, and have put in my order already. Johnson's a great historian, a great writer, a great curmudgeon, and genuinely interested in art, if from a reactionary p-o-v. But why not? Reactionaries have their contributions to make too. Besides, even if Johnson's take on art falters, he'll tell the stories wonderfully.

* I found myself the other day wondering for the first time: when did the job of "the director" get created? I'm surprised the question never occurred to me before. I spent a little time websurfing and thumbing through history and reference books, and came up with what appear to be the basics. The date? Not until the mid-1800s. The Greeks, Shakespeare, Mozart's operas, etc -- all were performed without a director. Theater and opera were performer-, playwright-, and impresario-driven things for centuries. (A stage manager often helped pull the the shows together, but from a subservient position.) Then, in the mid-1800s, for reasons I don't fully understand yet, it began to be felt that things were getting out of hand. Actors were out there too much on their own -- some coordination was needed. Within a few decades, the job of "director" as we know it today came into being. In opera, Wagner orchestrated his productions (theatrically as well as musically) in ways that had never been done before. In England, a playwright named T.W. Robertson started doing something that we might today think of as directing his own plays. One source credits him as the first director, and nails the date this way: "In 1864, at the Prince of Wales Theater." Another source argues that the director evolved in response to the entertainment demands of the new urban middle class, who didn't like aristocratic theater and yet didn't want to rub shoulders with the burlesque-lovin' proletariat either. In Germany, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen devoted himself to the idea of ensemble work, and sponsored a troupe that toured Europe during the 1870s and 1880s. The Russians were especially impressed --hence Stanislavsky, and, via turn-of-the-century immigration, hence the American Method too. The challenge was initially thought to be to get the showoffs and prima donnas, er, the actors and performers to work together instead of competing; soon, directors began to coordinate the other production elements too (costumes, design, lighting, etc). I find it interesting that this was happening not too long after the role of the orchestra conductor took shape (orchestral music of the 1600s and 1700s was presented conductor-free), and that it overlaps the period during which Impressionism was finding its feet. I feel myself building towards some kind of posting about early Modernism, but I'd probably do well to restrain myself until I actually know what I'm talking about. Comments, additions and corrections from those with more knowledge of the topic are encouraged.

* I notice that a special edition DVD of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" has gone on sale (buyable here). I'm not a collector myself and will pass it up, but noticing the event has got me thinking about film-buffery. How bizarre, I find it, that there are people who think of themselves as film buffs yet who haven't seen "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." I mean, what's happened to standards? Hey kids, having seen "Pulp Fiction" and the original "Star Wars" does not make you a gen-u-wine Movie Buff. There are hurdles to be leaped, and qualifications to earn. So I've decided to play Enforcer of Standards, and I've set myself the task of putting together a course of study: Film Buffery 101 -- the essential movies, the essential reading. I'm trying to keep my lists to a terse minimum of titles so as not to scare off the shyer young film-buff wannabes. What do you think -- 100 movies and 20 books? Sound about right? All suggestions appreciated, though I reserve the right to edit the lists into whatever shape pleases me.

* I just had one of those interesting-guy/boring-book experiences. Have you ever heard of the German economist Wilhelm Ropke? He's known as the brains behind Germany's post-WWII economic recovery, he's a bit of a hero to the Mises crowd, and the book he's best-known for is called "A Humane Economy" (buyable here). I read the book and liked what Ropke had to say, which seemed to boil down to one main thing: that an economy is always part of a larger social matrix (education, culture, etc). Suits me: hey, an economist who doesn't think that economics is the key to absolutely everything. Ropke's own preference is for a freer (and decentered) rather than a tighter (and centralized) economy, all of it working within a sensibly conservative larger culture. That suits me too. What didn't suit me was Ropke's writing, which though clear couldn't have been more tiresome. It was like enduring a chat by a longwinded old Swiss professor. I got as much out of this Shawn Ritenour introduction to Ropke (here) as I did outof the book itself. I'd be curious to hear how you react to the essay, and to Ropke's p-o-v.

* It's pretty dramatic how the blogosphere has affected my reading habits, especially my newspaper and magazine reading habits. Do you find this to be the case? An old-ish copy of The New Yorker caught my eye the other night and made me realize that I haven't spent more than a half an hour on the magazine in the last year. Curious, I picked the copy up and began looking at an Oliver Sacks piece -- it's pretty terrific, and I'm enjoying it. Still, I doubt I'll ever be the magazine or newspaper reader I once was. Most of the time, I find that I simply prefer spending an hour surfing blogs to an hour reading the "real" press. I'm happier in that part of the world -- it's looser, freer, more approachable and more friendly.

* There's a side of writing a blog that I wrestle with all the time, which is the temptation to overdo things. I often build a posting up 'way too big in my mind before getting it down on the screen. Then I'm stuck either wrestling it into manageable shape (lots of work) or figuring out some lazyman's way of nailing the essence of the thing while letting a lot of what I'd like to say go. Do you wrestle with this predicament too? I wonder if this wanting-to-say-it-all tendency is a holdover from the word-and-paper-centric universe, where writing is a bigger deal than it is in the electronic world. When you chose to write back then, you tried to pull yourself together and make a real statement. These days, and maybe especially with blogging, it seems wiser to be more modest -- it's the era of the partial view, not the comprehensive one. Well, the faster I adapt, the better.

* Tyler Cowen has a fascinating posting on the topic of small change (ie., pennies, nickles, etc) here.

* A lot of people kinda-sorta know what kitsch is but probably wouldn't mind reading a brief, thorough discussion of the topic. Hard to do better than this superduper Denis Dutton essay here.

* I don't know if you've followed it, but there's been a little controversy in NYC about a couple of new apartment buildings that the celebritect Richard Meier has designed for a block in Greenwich Village. Meier is known for his pristine modernism (Platonic/geometric forms, white on steel on glass materials), where Greenwich Village is known and loved for its irregularity and personality -- a quirky, neighborhoody, Euro-like charm involving low buildings, lots of brick, oddly angled streets, cobblestones, cafes, flowers ... Well, the Meier buildings are now complete; here's a link to a page showing a photo of them. How do you react, knowing that they've been inserted into the Village? (Sexual overtones intended -- the Village's charm is rather feminine, while Meier's brand of modernism couldn't be more ego-phallic.) I'm happy (and grateful) to go along with David Sucher (here), who argues that the most important thing is always whether a building behaves properly in a basic, Three Rules way. That's the key, absolutely, and for all I know Meier's buildings do exactly that. Still, aesthetics can play a role too, at least they do for me. And, longtime Village inhabitant that I am -- I moved here for the art, the low buildings, the cute streets, etc -- I can't help myself. I look at the striking, bold, chilly brilliance of Meier's buildings, and I think about their architect, and my main thought is, "What an asshole."

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at September 26, 2003




Comments

So what happens if you manage to stay awake in all your classes?

Posted by: zod on September 26, 2003 02:19 PM



A terrifying prospect. But whatever it is you're on, I want some of it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 26, 2003 02:33 PM



Two words: Max Payne.

Posted by: j.c. on September 26, 2003 02:48 PM



I managed to stay awake in all my classes, and now I'm unemployed.

BTW I like your Film Buff 101 idea. It would make a good book.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 26, 2003 03:59 PM



Regarding the "What an asshole" comment directed toward Richard Meier: Isn't the comment a little misguided? Shouldn't it be the developer you slam? After all, he (or she) is the one who hired Meier and asked for high rises. What was Meier to do, say "Sorry, I know you hired me to do some high rises in my typical style, but I'm gonna give you some low rise pseudo-century-old jobbies instead"? What actually strikes me when I look at the photos of the apartments is that they're not all that typical of Meier's work.

Posted by: Mike Kelly on September 26, 2003 04:52 PM



BTW here's how I define "kitsch": If an object makes me laugh maliciously, and it's not meant to make me laugh at all, it's kitsch. LHOOQ, indeed.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 26, 2003 05:14 PM



Edge gel + Mach 3 Turbo = no cuts in years.

I'll leave the intellectual stuff to the smart kids.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on September 26, 2003 05:26 PM



JC -- Max Payne? Who he? Sounds like Maxwell Smart but probably isn't.

Tim -- 2Blowhards: the place where every posting might as well be a cheap-and-grabby book concept. I like your definition of kitsch better than Kundera's.

Mike -- You're right, I should have called Meier and the developer both assholes.

Scott -- Thanks for the recommendation. We Real Guys gotta swap Real Guy-type knowledge and experience sometime.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 26, 2003 05:36 PM



Edge gel + Mach 3 Turbo = no cuts in years.

That, and shaving on the touch under the running shower. For some reason looking at myself in the bathroom mirror makes my skin too thin.

Posted by: ijsbrand on September 26, 2003 06:15 PM



re small change

Does an 18 cent coin militate against the normal way we do math in our head? Or would the introduction of the coin take care of itself? i.e. is it simply a matter of memorizing multiples of 18 and simple combinations with other coins? Just wondering what the costs are. Not that it will ever happen.

Posted by: Shai on September 26, 2003 07:42 PM



Try being female and cutting your armpit, or worse, taking most of the skin off your, um, shin and you'll learn to shave without cutting real fast.

And I think an interesting study would be to see how long people actually will wait for the automatic toilet to flush before either 1) leaving the stall as it or 2) trying to figure out if they missed the flush mechanism.

Posted by: Deb on September 26, 2003 09:03 PM



man you're fecund. How do ya post all these postings?

One quick thought: sharp razors. I.e. new razors. Ever noticed that you get fewer (and sometimes no) cuts with the first triple edge out of the pack?

How can nobody not post a few films for the list? Okay, just a few essentials:

Raging Bull
Chinatown
The Maltese Falcon
Chinatown
A Hard Day's Night
Sunrise
The Tin Drum
Throne of Blood
Rashomon
Vertigo
MASH
Nashville
Citizen Kane
Touch of Evil
La Belle et la Bete (Cocteau)
Some Like It Hot
The Sweet Smell of Success
Double Indemnity
Sunset Boulevard
All About Eve
The Godfather 1&2
Miracle of Morgan's Creek
It Happened One Night
It's A Wonderful Life
Taxi Driver
The Searchers
Night of the Hunter
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
On the Waterfront
Streetcar Named Desire
To Kill A Mockingbird
(Please nothing by Speilberg)

Okay, that's my first cut...

Posted by: Tom on September 27, 2003 01:11 AM



A Few More:

Casablanca
Psycho
Dr. Strangelove
Lawrence of Arabia
Duck Soup
North By Northwest
Breathless (Jean-Paul Belmondo, not John Travolta)
The Gold Rush
The Philadelphia Story
Singin' in the Rain
The Age of Innocence

Posted by: annette on September 27, 2003 08:26 AM



Couple books, too: "Scorsese on Scorsese", and Pauline Kael's "1001 Nights at the Movies." If they want to know just how ugly Hollywood can be, try "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" by Julia Phillips.

Posted by: annette on September 27, 2003 09:46 AM



Great flix pix, Annette. And for books I would add a handful: Indecent Exposure by David McClintick, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, by Peter Biskind, Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman, City of Nets by Otto Friederick (great gossip on the town in the 40s). Crit books: Hitchcock/Truffaut's awfully good, and so is the Cameron Crowe interviews with Billy Wilder. And while James Agee waxes trop poetic at times, his essays can be marvellous.

And a few more films:

A Night at the Opera
Wild Strawberries
Smiles of A Summer Night
Fanny and Alexander
The Virgin Spring
Stagecoach
The African Queen
The 400 Blows
Murmur of The Heart
Atlantic City
West Side Story

Posted by: Tom on September 27, 2003 10:36 AM



Movie Buffs with real credentials! That's great, thanks. I've got my own list of books about the movies I think any self-respecting filmbuff should have read, natch, but am real interested in hearing any additional books y'all think need a film buff wannabe needs to wrestle with. Kael, Phillips -- excellent.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 27, 2003 10:57 AM



About those Meier buildings---yee-uck. They don't even look new. They look like some awful space-age inspired stuff from 1968. And, if you are going to bother with a highrise---why not make it tall enough to have a really good view? They don't even look tall enough for that. Just tall enough to be "in the way." Is real estate that expensive in the Village that you have to have that many units in order to build something? Even so...they could've built taller buildings that were sightly.

Posted by: annette on September 27, 2003 12:05 PM



Michael,

**Thanks for the Paul Johnson tip. The problem you've had with science lecturers-- I've had exactly the some problem with art historians. The only professor who I've read that had a demonstrable passion for the subject as well as the gift of metaphor is Camile Paglia. She also does something quite unique, an age old trick in the sciences, she uses metaphors and examples of CURRENT contemporary phenomenon as bridges to help us clueless grasp those things for which we have no context to understand.

I say it's an old science trick, refering to the "Mr Wizard" school of science where you start kids with Gee Whiz! kind of Neat-O! examples. Thing that explode, anything that necessitates liquid nitrogen, etc. THEN, you simply try to hold onto the reigns while the kids drag you into the theory. Paglia does the same thing (conceptually) in regard to Art by use of hyperbole, outrageous analogy, and while keeping one foot in the the trash bin of pop culture.

**I read with alarm recently that the second volume to Sexual Personna (the one where Paglia tackles the contemporary art/pop/media world) was actually finished 10+ years ago! Anyone know why she's sitting on it?

P.S. Ok, I'm a cheapskate, but does anyone put current "hot" books like this Johnson Art book on their Wish List, and then check back when they hit the secondary market? I almost never pay more than $6 (including shipping) for amazon used books. They're usually HB and in great condition.

P.P.S. I concur -- use the Mach 3, and do it in the shower, with just soap. I cut myself maybe 3 times a year using this method. I think I read having the hot water warm your skin is the one essential condition to a great shave. I've had no problem even using those crappy disposables using this method.

Your fellow manly man,

Robert Holzbach

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on September 27, 2003 04:28 PM



On the film-buff list: Not enough silent films, not enough foreign films yet. My personal list of ten greatest films includes three American silents (Birth of a Nation, Sherlock Jr., Sunrise, two foreign silents (Passion of Joan of Arc, Man with a Movie Camera), and three foreign films with sound (Rashomon, A Bout de Souffle, Playtime).

As for books, you must read Vachel Lindsay's 1915 book The Art of the Moving Picture, which started the whole film-criticism business. I'd also add Bogdanovich's (sp.?) interviews with Orson Welles, Perkins's Film as Film, and Ray's A Certain Tendency.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 27, 2003 05:56 PM



Hey, whatever happened to Fritz Lang? Or Carl Dreyer? Let me toss out:

M
Day of Wrath

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 27, 2003 07:22 PM



A few more more than worthy foreign films to add (thanks for including the Tati!):

Juliet of the Spirits
La Strada
8.5
The 400 Blows
Jules et Jim
Pather Pachali
Sympathy for the Devil

And we really should add a few documentaries in there, not just cause they merit inclusion, but also for their influence:
Night and Fog (foreign too!)
Grey Gardens
Primary
Gimme Shelter

Posted by: Tom on September 27, 2003 09:43 PM



Keep 'em coming.

Oh, a book just occurred to me: "Cukor on Cukor," not so much for Cukor but for what you learn about movies and moviemaking ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 27, 2003 10:51 PM



I like the automatic bathroom sensors. The less I have to touch, the better.

Posted by: Aaron Armitage on September 27, 2003 11:10 PM



OK, let's get a little more obscure, but just as great:

Knife in the Water (Polanski)
Il Posto (Olmi)
I Fidanzati (ditto)
The UHB Trilogy (Whit Stillman)
The White Sheik (Fellini)
Sawdust and Tinsel (Bergman)
The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey--NOT Michael Moore)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen's best, I'd say)
Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch)
Goodfellas (Scorsese's best, in my opinion)

All right, a few of those aren't so obscure. But with the possible exceptions of Trouble in Paradise and Il Posto they're rarely on best movies lists, or even lists of the best work of the given director (well, the UHB Trilogy is ALL of Stillman's work, so some part of it would have to be on a list of his best work). But each of these movies, I think, match or surpass the quality of just about any other movie already listed here. And, by the way, how can one truly qualify as a film buff by just knowing the standard greats?

Posted by: Mike Kelly on September 27, 2003 11:36 PM



On the OS X 10.3 availability question: Real Soon Now, next month I hear. Preview editions are out, and are faster than 10.2

Posted by: David Mercer on September 28, 2003 12:43 AM



Documentaries are a good idea. Shouldn't "The Last Waltz" be on there, and that movie FvB mentioned---"Spellbound"?

Posted by: annette on September 28, 2003 09:47 AM



Standard greats? Someone pooh-poohed standard greats....to which I can only think, aren't don't films become standard greats because...they are great to begin with? I don't want to go down the road of defining criteria--but will mention one fact I've always loved. About four or five years ago someone took a poll among major league baseball players of the greatest movie ever made. And the response: Caddyshack. That says a lot--all of which I won't.

My list highlights the movies I consider the best--and I know this: if any one of them were to be airing while I channel surfed, I would be immediately anchored to that channel, whether viewing number 6 or 36. That's what the standard greats do.

IF I were to add a few more flicks that are personal standard greats they would be:

Rushmore
The Fly (Cronenberg)
Sid and Nancy
This is Spinal Tap
All About My Mother

These are quirky movies that I love, but don't know if they have had the enduring impact, or merit study for instructive puposes....

Another great Hollywood book: Final Cut by Stephen Bach. An amazing book about the impact of Michael Cimino's post-Deer Hunter hubris, and how his movie Heaven's Gate pretty much destroyed the power of directors for quite a while....(I tend to enjoy books about the intersection of Hollywood's business with its creative output to most criticism....this has something to do with the way that great movies speak for themselves, but there's always great stuff to learn from conversations with the filmmakers, or great narratives about the making of the movies, or terrific first person accounts....)

Posted by: Tom on September 28, 2003 12:35 PM



I read Stephen Bach's book, too. I recommend it for the list. Especially in conjunction with Julia Phillips' book. Because, when you read both, you can see that the only difference between "Close Encounters" and "Heaven's Gate" is...that "Close Encounters" made money. Otherwise the books would've been written about Spielberg instead. He was just as out of control on budget, but he did not commit the error of LOSING the money.

And...we've missed one crucial movie name: "Animal House."

Posted by: annette on September 28, 2003 12:47 PM



It helps that Close Encounters is also a pretty good movie. Have you seen the 3 1/2 hour cut of Heaven's Gate? The film is pretty enough, and better than The Deer Hunter to my mind, but Cimino's storytelling is fatally muddled.

Lillian Ross's Picture is the classic inside-Hollywood book on why-the-movies-you-see-really-suck. Solomon's The Devil's Candy is also very good.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 28, 2003 12:55 PM



What fun.

And what you've all got me thinking is that what might work well is a threepart list of movies, and then a book list. And largely do my best (for once) to avoid personal prefs. This is going to be the Objective Basics and not the World According to Me, much as I generally prefer dwelling on that. It's about getting someone through the front door, not turning them into an expert. Hey, is anyone else as amazed at I am to encounter people who've seen tons and tons of movies, yet have no real sense of movie history, and haven't seen many of the standards? Maybe I'm just being snob (but why not?), but they strike me as being like people who really like food and eating yet do nothing but stuff themselves silly on crap food.

Anyway ...

I'm seeing the three part movie list this way:
1. The Greats (ie., the Genius view of movie history). Kane, Grand Illusion, etc.
2. The Landmarks and Chestnuts. Films, good or bad, that you just gotta have seen -- "Gone With the Wind," for instance. If you haven't seen it, you'll be laughed at by true film buffs, in other words.
3. The Genres and Types -- films that, great or not, are tiptop examples of the main movie types, from romantic comedy to neorealist drama. I realize I'm mixing up a few categories (a genre isn't the same thing as a style, for example) here, but I think that's OK in this case, because it's important for a budding Film Buff to have at least some sense of the variety of flavors films can come in. Gotta know what a film noir is, gotta have a sense of French Poetic Humanism, gotta have some small awareness of the New Wave, or of expressionism, and what a women's picture is, etc etc.

And then a reading list. The Bach is great, thanks. Also that Julie Salaman book about "Bonfire of the Vanities,." too, don't you think? For a sense of how a big Hollywood picture of a certain era gets made (and goes wrong)? Hmm, that Peter Biskind book about '70s Hollywood was kind of awful (bad attitude, not totally trustworthy), but at the same time does a good job of suggesting the atmosphere and the egos ...

I'm leaning towards the Simon Callow book on Charles Laughton, too -- it's a good history and bio, but mainly because I've read few things that approach it as an introduction to acting. You come away from it thinking, Aha, so that's what an actor is, and an actor does, and how an actor lives and sees things ....

Maybe some basic film theory (and definitely no post-'70s Film Theory) -- Bazin, Eisenstein, Kuleshov. Vachel Lindsay's a must, as Tim points out.

Agee? Farber? Greene? Ferguson? They're great, but I wonder -- might be more interesting as examples of film criticism than essential reading for a baby film buff. Of course film criticism has its own history and is itself part of film history...

I'm trying to remember if I ever read one essential book about Asian movies or whether I pieced it all together from a number of books ... The one I got the most out of was an Ian Buruma book about Japanese pop cult. Hmm.

Aha -- reference books! The Katz Encyclopedia of Film. The David Thomson Encyclopedia, and the Kael collection of short reviews -- both very personal but full of info, brains and things to wrestle with.

What was that book of q&a's with cinematographers? "Visions of Light," something like that. That's a good one. Maybe a volume of that series that UCalifornia does -- interviews with American screenwriters ...

What fun listmaking can be.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2003 01:12 PM



Tim and I just hit "Post" at the same moment, apparently. Thanks for reminding me of the Lillian Ross. "Heaven's Gate"? Hey, dude, I was at the famous first public screening of it, the one that was such a disaster, that led to Canby's pan, that led to the picture getting cut. I remember a brief moment some years later when a few Euro-critics were trying to make the case that the full-length "Heaven's Gate" was a misunderstood Marxist masterpiece that had been unjustly butchered by evil capitalists -- one of the funnier episodes in loony-lefty film history. In fact, the film was understood perfectly well by its initial audience as a Marxist botch -- people were milling about during intermission going, "Omigod, can you believe it? What are they going to do with it?"

Only other such screening (of world-historical importance) I attended was one Friedrich and I attended years and years ago, of Altman's "Buffalo Bill and the Indians." Altman was there, Dino de Laurentius was there -- Altman was famous and still high on "Nashville," he and DeLaurentius had "Ragtime" near ready to go .... "Buffalo Bill" came up on screen, looking ravishing and daring ... And just died. Awful. People hated it. Hey FvB -- didn't we hear De Laurentius (who apparently hadn't seen the movie with an audience before) screaming afterwards, or am I intenting a more interesting history for myself than I actually had? In any case, that was they end of Altman working on "Ragtime." And that was also pretty much the end (along with other telltale signs: "New York, New York," "Star Wars") of rampaging, arty, revolutionary '70s Hollywood. Now that I think of it, that screening was a real turning point.

Sometimes audiences are wrong, god knows. But sometimes they just gotta be listened to.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2003 01:22 PM



David -- Thanks for the tip and info about OS 10.3. Time for me to resign myself to moving to OSX -- don't want to make the mistake of moving to 10.2 the day before 10.3 comes out. Which is the kind of thing I'm often doing. My GameCube, for instance -- bought it a week ago for $150, noticed yesterday that they're now selling it for $99. Sigh: I could have used those 50 bucks....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2003 01:45 PM



I didn't mean to pooh-pooh the standard greats (I assume I'm the one Tom was referring to, since I think I'm the only one who'd used the term "standard greats"). What I meant to be saying was that I thought that one should have seen more than the standard greats to qualify as a film buff. The standard greats, I thought, are the ones that everyone has seen.

But I guess Michael's original point was that it's just not true these days that everyone has seen the standard greats, and indeed that even so-called film buffs these days have not seen many of the standard greats.

Also, maybe I was confusing film snobbery with film buffery. What I was doing, I guess, was making suggestions for required viewing for film snobs, which would probably be a very different list from a film buff's required viewing.

Posted by: Mike Kelly on September 28, 2003 03:52 PM



Greats, classics; snobs, buffs; such are the potato/potato dichotomies that sadly exist in our increasingly low-brow marketplace. One of the reasons I love my wife so much is that she actually cares about how wins the Oscars; that she somehow takes these awards, in which boffo b.o. seems to be table stakes for judging, as real standards of excellence. I think that the cyclic nature of the "art" of popular cinema reveals that during rising cycles, one can actually find high art sneaking into popular products. So some the films I love as greats, standard greats or sui generis greats, or heating grates, were serendipitously released at times (those fabbo mid/late 70s for example) that the market could embrace both Jaws and Apocalypse Now....

Okay, ok. Two more books: I loved Simon Callows bio of Orson Welles, maybe as much as the Laughton book. And of course, for Hollywood novels, beside What Makes Sammy Run by Schulberg, is the tremendous Day of the Locust (much better as a novellette than a film...)

Posted by: Tom on September 28, 2003 04:17 PM



I've seen Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson. The Western is not a particularly good vehicle for American self-loathing, but Altman's film handles it about as well as anyone could. The film would play better now than it did then, I suspect, though it still leaves me wondering whether there's an audience for this sort of thing.

Indeed, Heaven's Gate is a Marxist Western, though Cimino fares better with the West than the Marxism. The ending, with attackers riding around and around like a big circus act, makes no sense, dramatically or historically. But I really enjoyed the ravishing cinematography -- it convincingly evokes the beauty of central Wyoming, even though it doesn't look much like the real Johnson County.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 28, 2003 06:48 PM



I dunno much about [xyz]; [history;geography]

but I know what I like.

Posted by: gnarl on September 28, 2003 09:53 PM



To study movies, like to study anything, takes a lifetime, not an (or any) insider canon. Fuck any list but those we build up ourselves. ("Caddyshack" and "Dog Star Man" are both on mine.) But I will suggest that if you don't love movies and writing enough to love Manny Farber, you might as well defect to the MBA or MFA programs, depending which brand of profitable idiocy you lean toward.

However, why I'm appending to this long trail of comments is the question of Why People End Up In the Fields They Do, because you left out one mighty important factor: typecasting. As a poor unfed unwashed pale skinny guy, I got my first programming job over my carefully coiffed and three-piece-suited competitors because (I was told several years later) I "looked the part."

Which is one reason I'm for affirmative action.

(Another being I worked in affirmative action offices, and I worked in typecast offices, and I know which got more done.)

(Email me if you need the answer.)

Posted by: Ray on September 28, 2003 09:59 PM



Mike, Ray -- Couldn't agree more, really. But of course what I'm taking note of here is people who carry on like film buffs yet don't know even the ultra-basics. So I'm having some fun trying to pull together a list of the ultra-basics -- the door through which everyone has to walk, so to speak, in order to even get into the room. Sad that such a thing even has to be thought about, eh? Yet I've known people who have covered movies professionally for the media who barely knew who Orson Welles was.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2003 11:29 PM



Whew! Quite a lot here, both in the post and the comments. about all I have to add is that the cinematographers's book is called "Masters of Light", edited by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato. ( "Visons of Light" is an excellent documentary about the history of cinematography, which is out on DVD.) Also interesting is a similar book of conversations with an even more underappreciated group, film editors, called "First Cut".

Posted by: jimbo on September 28, 2003 11:46 PM



"Masters of Light," that's the title, thanks. And thanks as well for recalling "First Cut" -- I was trying to come up with something about editing, and the best I was doing was the old Karel Reisz semi-textbook.

Hmm, you've got me thinking ... Maybe a couple of docus about moviemaking. "Hearts of Darkness." That Les Blank thing about "Fitzcarraldo." Maybe the big recent-ish one about Leni Reifenstahl. Never saw the one about the Von Sternberg -- is it any good? Maybe a Kevin Brownlow or two. Hey, maybe his book "The Parade's Gone By" -- hadn't remembered that till just now.

Other documentaries about moviemaking that people found essential?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2003 12:42 AM



Bugger. I made one of these lists last year when I finished film school in culturally starved NZ. (Yes, all you've heard is true). Having been taken to England at the age of ten, where I had the privilege of being able to come home late at night and accidentally discover films like "Lolita" and "Diary of a Country Priest" on TV, I felt sorry for my fellow students who never had had this experience. I don't think you can force it in people, especially youngsters, I think it needs to be discovered. That way you fall in love, the way I did with the films that affected me most when I first saw them:

Anatomy of A Murder
Chinatown
Bonnie And Clyde
Smiles Of A Summer Night
LAst Tango IN Paris
Blow Out
Evil Dead 2
Rififi
The Long Goodbye
Nashville
The Big Sleep
The Dreamlife of Angels
Husbands And Wives
Les Valseuses
Show Me LOve
Diary of A Country Priest
Lolita
Vivre Sa Vie
The Sweet Hereafter
Festen
The Dead
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
A World Apart
The Black Stallion
Performance
Don't Look Now
Bad Timing
Mean Streets
Vanya on 42nd Street
Diner
M
Shampoo
Withnail & I
Rashomon
Cabaret
The Man Between
The Sorrow and the Pity

and some Michael Keaton movie where he plays an ice-hockey player set in Chicago, I think it's called "Touch and Go". Not to be missed.

So that's my list, movies that have expanded my consciousness sufficiently for me to go out into the world and bravely watch many more movies and end up writing lists like this, much to the shame of my girlfriend who is looking over my shoulder in horror.

Oh, and anything starring the one-woman genre that is Monica Belluci

Posted by: adrian hyland on September 29, 2003 06:40 AM



Oh, and books about moviemaking I loved:

Pauline Kael. Faber: Allen on Allen, ALmodovar on Almodovar, Mamet's 'ON Directing Film', Bergman on Bergman, Bruce Robinson's 'Smoking in Bed'.

Looking forward to getting hold of 'Picture'.

Posted by: adrian hyland on September 29, 2003 06:58 AM



Adrian -- Good see somebody's still falling in love with real movies in this day and age, and always good to chat with a fellow worshipper of La Bellucci.

Funny thing I notice is young people who love movies (I guess at one point they fell in love with movies), but in a Premiere magazine sense than in a Kael/Farber sense. They love the grosses, the ego battles, the car crashes, the behind-the-scenes stuff, the computers. Bizarre, at least to me. But I guess it has to be said that they have their own love affair with movies.

I remember reading an interview with some older director who said, Gosh, my friends and I got into movies because we fell in love with Fellini and Welles. The younger people now beginning to make movies got into the field because they loved Simpson/Bruckheimer movies.

But what you're probably saying is that the kids have to be allowed to fall in love with the art of movies, such as it's usually been understood to be. It's a nice predicament: love can't be forced. But it's also never going to have a chance if exposure to the potential love object simply never occurs. As you know, my list-idea is jokily intended (and going nowhere other than this blog), but I do find it striking, the aversion many movie-lovin' young people have to learning anything about movie history. Years ago (Old Fart Moment here, I know), it was a cool and nifty thing for kids to investigate movie history. These days, I rarely run into a kid (including some I've met who cover movies professionally) who could care less.

Which would seem to help confirm a point I find myself (no doubt tediously ) coming around to over and over, which is how for young people electronic media values have replaced traditional art values. People addicted to the swoosh, the fwoof, and the shazam don't seem to see anything happening when they go to a traditional-movie-language movie, even a new one. They just think it's failing to achieve the kind of sparkly excitement that they think is the whole point of being in the theater in the first place. (The flip side -- what they watch when they're in a mood for something Truthful -- seems to be flattened-out, going-nowhere, affectless indie pix, which as far as I'm concerend mostly have as little to do witih the art of film as the big media extravaganzas do.)

In a way I think we're all having fun putting the list together as a way of saying, "Don't talk to me about movies, punk, until you've ticked off everything on this list. Because until you have, you haven't earned the right to open your mouth." Very Dirty Harry of us. But hey, sometimes a movie lover's got to draw a line in the sand and then stand firm.

But you're young yourself. How'd you tumble for movie art? And what do you notice about people your age that'd help explain their apparently utter lack of interest in it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2003 09:06 AM



"what I'm taking note of here is people who carry on like film buffs yet don't know even the ultra-basics."
And what a noble effort this is, M. Blowhard. If you want ultra-basics, you should require a general knowledge of what was going on on stages when films arrived. You touched on this in a recent post about directors. (I'd actually put the arrival of the film director as we know that beast today a bit later. There were full-control directors from the get go, but the idea that you needed more than a project manager in that role - the current view that this one vision is the make or break on any film - is largely product of self-promoters well after WWII. Who needs one man's vision when you know MGM makes musicals and Universal does horror?)

On a slight tangent, there are many stage conventions that we don't need in film and it's nice to be able to use cameras and special effects, but we could take it easy with the tight close-ups and should use lunge whips or side reins or something to make freaking' contemporary actors MOVE properly. Note to actors: If you're intend to go on and on about using your darned "instrument," the least you can do is learn to stand up straight.
Would be film buffs might also consider that although we know a great deal of what actors and writers and directors have said, that doesn't mean we know so much about what they think - and especially what they were thinking at the time.

These kids today may be in love with ... whatever... yet the ones I know certainly want to dress up their loved ones in art film and "commentary" and meta clothes. Tarantino is the poster boy for this.

Posted by: j.c. on September 29, 2003 10:05 AM



If you want lists, no one - NO ONE - does better lists than the dog:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0787673129/qid=1064844332/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_1/002-8201928-3785669?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

Posted by: j.c. on September 29, 2003 10:07 AM



The list is getting mighty long, so I hope I'm not repeating here.

The Seventh Seal: It's far from Bergman's best, I think, but at one time there was simply no way you could qualify to be a film buff without being able to recognize its iconic imagery. And how could you get Woody Allen's Love and Death without having seen Seventh Seal?

The Bicycle Thief: This one--a very touching movie, I think--once topped Sight and Sound's list of best movies (I think in '52), and now it almost never shows up on anyone's list. (But if you haven't seen it, you can't fully appreciate certain other movies, for instance the recent art house hit Beijing Bicycle).

Bringing Up Baby: How can anyone be a film buff and not have seen this? (An instant disqualifier of one as a film buff: Having seen What's Up Doc? and not recognizing that it was inspired by and to a large extent based on the Hawks classic).

Posted by: Mike Kelly on September 29, 2003 12:29 PM



Bringing Up Baby, Seventh Seal, and the Bicycle Thief...YES!

Deep down, buffery/snobbery aside, what else qualifies a film for the list? Utter pleasure at watching/experiencing them.

There's all kinds of other lists to make. For another day: great guilty pleasures (for me such films as Caddyshack Spinal Tap et al.) Movies that are so bad they are good (Three Amigos, Ishtar.) Movies that never lived up to their hype. I'll think of more....

Posted by: Tom on September 29, 2003 04:00 PM



Uh-oh. Tom's posting seems to take us back to M Blowhard's Shameful Pleasures thing from earlier this year. I think we were all plenty ashamed that time around. Will I never live down "...About Last Night"? I mean...I've read Pauline Kael and everything...

Posted by: annette on September 29, 2003 04:22 PM



Here are the results of the Shameful Movie Pleasures discussion. I think there was another, less edited posting and comment-thread about it too, but I'm still searching for that one.

We're all still living that one down...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2003 06:28 PM



I'm pretty much with you on this one, Michael. IN NZ there are no old movies on TV, and therefore no exposure to those unexpected pleasures, and so my plan was to cook up a list of classic, indispensable movies and show two representatives of each genre in an attempt to link what my starved fellow students HAD seen with what they NEVER would have seen unless they were customers at a very posh video store.

For example:

The gangster/criminal genre. Most kids have seen Michael Mann's 'Heat', and to me there is strong connection between it and 'Rififi' fifty years before. Showing the two together would be fun for everyone, surely? And for the more sensitive viewers, who perhaps would pick up on the themes and philosophies, and attitudes that link the two movies, it may provide that first lightbulb that turns someone onto the idea of movie history. And perhaps persuades them to pick up a book.

I don't think kids today are that into the idea of history, (not just Film History) I think they see it as basically unnecessary, even pretentious. Certainly over here they do. Some of my questions to visiting tutors at my Film School almost got me laughed out of the place.

I think a fundamental problem with the kids on my course was that they didn't read, which meant that those of them who did have an idea of, or interest in, film art, thought that it was all about visuals. There were a couple of very visually talented directors, but no-one who could write, and no-one who could really act. And because there is no real literary tradition for anyone to tap into here there are no reference points, so they didn't know the difference between good and bad acting and writing. You will see this cringe factor in most of the films that come out of NZ.

The problem with these lists, and it's probably something that turns people off the idea of Film History, is that they are so often the same, and so often very academic. You feel like many of these people are looking over their shoulder. You feel as if they're not really being true to the 'the only method is the self' approach.

It's like the Hendrix argument. No-one can deny his greatness as a guitarist, but academically speaking wouldn't we have been better off without the countless shit copyists he was unintentionally responsible for? But he is always, always voted 'greatest guitarist etc'.
Why not Peter Green or Steve Cropper or BB King? "Because they weren't so influential..." Well, is Hendrix's recorded legacy really great enough to counterbalance his part in the musical toxins of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Living Colour, the second Stone Roses album etc? The same argument could be applied to the whole Tarantino thing.


I suppose you saw the Sight & Sound 'Greatest Lists' issue, if not it's really interesting, and can be accessed online. The critics' lists are pretty uniform, but the directors' ones are really interesting, and threw up some stuff I'd never heard of.

For example the list of James Mangold. I read recently David Thomson talking about the new Tarantino movie, and saying that he felt that director and Paul Thomas Anderson were the most likely to produce a 'defining vision of America' out of the current US directors. Sorry, but no. Is it just me, or didn't James Mangold come closer than anyone recently with 'Copland'? And can I add that to my list?

Additionally, bookswise, I can't believe I forgot about 'Wired' by Bob Woodward, when I read it aged 14 my initiation into non-fiction literature and that whole Hollywood thing.

I'm assuming you were talking about 'The Good Girl' when you refer to these lame US 'indie'sundance style movies that seem to be popping up quite frequently. There certainly seems to an absence of filmmaking verve in this stuff.

Hopefully the next Todd Field movie will wake us up. And what's that playwright Lonergan who made 'You Can Count On Me' up to, apart from getting involved in epic stinkers directed by Martin Scorcese?

Posted by: adrianhyland on September 29, 2003 09:58 PM



Annette,
I dont even want to think about fessing up to singing along to Sound of Music with the dishtowel thing.

Posted by: Deb on September 29, 2003 10:09 PM



Late addition: Herzog, of course! I happen to prefer the Legend of Casper Hauser and Stroszek to Aguirre, but hey put them all on the list.

And bear wit me: I wasn't onto this board when the guilty pleasures list was formed. So let me quickly, and as a mere paragraph, add a few of the films that I love, not proudly, but passionately nonetheless.

Hosanas to Major League and Turner & Hooch, already mentioned. And let's not forget Revenge of the Nerds, George of the Jungle, Animal House, The Wedding Singer, Planes/Trains/Autombobiles, Pee Wees Big Adventure, and, if it qualifies, The Terminator (a near perfect film, actually, from a formal point of view as much as anything else: the movie is one long chase scene, set up precisely at the beginning.)

Posted by: tom on September 30, 2003 12:08 AM



Tom---see, you don't get to just slip a little paragraph in here on this. It's more than just a list of goofy movies---one has to have actually been actively ridiculed for liking the 'Shameful Pleasure' suggestions. In that spirit...I am giggling and pointing about someone over the age of 12 happily admitting to "George of the Jungle."

Posted by: annette on September 30, 2003 12:01 PM



Oh please please don't get me started on all that I love about George of the Jungle!

(Did you ever see the episode of South Park in which one of the boys sings the first few lines of Come Sail Away by Styx (is it?), and I believe it's Cartman, who just can't help but sing the whole damn cheesy song....I feel the same way. Don't, please let's not go there..."I am sailing away....")

Posted by: Tom on September 30, 2003 01:30 PM



Whilst discussing shameful movie pleasures, let's not overlook the work of a man who has contributed so much to the genre: Charlie Sheen

The Arrival
Terminal Velocity
The Chase
Wall Street (especially the scene where he gazes from his balcony into the Manhattan night and wonders "Who am I?")

Posted by: adrian hyland on September 30, 2003 05:36 PM



Well, appropos of Charlie Sheen, go to one of the top guilty pleasure flix of the past decade, Major League, and he's there, all there. So there ya go.

Posted by: Tom on September 30, 2003 07:22 PM



"Wall Street (especially the scene where he gazes from his balcony into the Manhattan night and wonders "Who am I?")"

Well, that IS hilarious, but I don't think a film qualifies as a Shameful Pleasure just by being bad. The viewer had to actually LIKE it (not laugh at it) and then be embarassed by their own taste, see.

Posted by: annette on September 30, 2003 07:30 PM






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