In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Saturday, August 17, 2002

Voice of sanity
Michael From a review of "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" at the Jewish Museum: In the end, this show isn't so much about the Holocaust itself as about the art world recycling ancient cliches and obsessions and grafting them onto the Holocaust...Mr. Schechner's Diet Coke self-portrait [a photo of himself holding a can of Coke inserted into a photo of camp inmates] is yet another rant about the corrupting tyrannies of consumerism familiar since the days of Pop Art--50 years ago...For three decades or more, contemporary artists have turned their backs on art for art's sake in favor of a more activist agenda...artists saw their mission as addressing the world's social inequities: racism, sexism and almost every other "ism" you could think of. Yet a show like "Mirroring Evil" with its insider references to art and philosophy, is so ingrown, so inside baseball, that it demonstrates just the opposite: how out of touch contemporary art has become and thus how incapable it is of engaging the real world in any significant way. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 17, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Theory of Amazon 1
Friedrich -- Do you use much? I do as a shopper, and also as surfer -- I can get lost there, and happily so, for hours. As an arts fan, I find its existence and (I hope) success heartening. I'd also make the case that it's an artistically revolutionary force, if I didn't dislike the word "revolutionary." If I were a betting man, I'd bet that in a hundred years art/lit historians will look back and decide that the advent of Amazon was much more important an art event than, say, any Jonathan Franzen or Toni Morrison novel. Why don't editors/writers/critics/artists/profs discuss this? Could it be that they're -- gasp! -- not listening to me? I'll bore you with my fullblown Theory of Amazon later -- or, more likely, I'll do it in dribs and drabs, as time and mental energy become available. For today's installment, I focus on one fact: that Amazon has given a number of good writers and critics a venue. For example, here's an Aussie who's terrific on Popper-ish subjects. Here's a dazzling Irish film critic, of the annoyingly-radical-grad-student ilk. Here's an English conservative who's smart and provocative about the Mideast. Here's another Englishman, this one an elegant and helpful guide to early movies on DVD. All of them strike me as considerably more interesting and entertaining than 9/10s of the writers commercial (and otherwise conventional) magazines are publishing these days. All hail the Web. And power to the people --at least those I approve of. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times passes, art changes
Friedrich -- I just killed a little time reading a magazine cover story (by Joe Morgenstern) from 1970 about Barbra Streisand. (Not someone I'm prone to think much about.) It was lovely -- evocative, intelligent, knowledgeable about acting, movies and music while being modest about how much can really be said about how and why something works and something else doesn't. Brainy, unpretentious, and full of feeling. A civilized pleasure. Darn it, what happened to all that? I get depressed from time to time by the fact that the art, media and entertainment worlds have changed so much from what they were when I got interested in them. These days I'm often not just uninterested in them, I recoil from them. They seem like (almost) completely different creatures from what they once were, all about product, packaging, business, effects, personalities -- pure aggression, in other words, with the only alternatives seeming to be, yawn, politics or a kind of dreary, attitude-copping self-expression. Who cares? Generally speaking, not me. "I might as well have gotten an MBA," is what tends to run through my brain at such (unfortunately not-rare) moments. Is this unique to the last 30 years? Was there that dramatic a sea change in the nature of art-and-entertainment during the previous couple of decades? Am I just getting old and running out of gas? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, August 16, 2002

Movies, Painting
Michael Why are movies so darn variable in quality/vibe? I mean, Raphael paintings are better and worse, but they're all sort of a piece. Rubens and El Greco paintings even more so. Whereas movies seem much more dependent on luck, or something. The quality of somebody's last movie is a very poor predictor for how much you'll like their next movie. Maybe if movies were made by stable teams of writers, directors, designers, actors they would be more, well, "artistic." I grant you, the importance of such an issue has faded a good deal for me since college, but discussing it beats working. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Coulter
Friedrich -- A long q&a with Ann Coulter here. And another one here. Her own site is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Paglia
Friedrich -- Andrew Sullivan interviews Camille Paglia here. Yet more Camille here. And more. Are you a fan? I am. I agree with about 90% of what she says, don't mind disagreeing with her on the other 10%, sometimes wish she'd lower the Amazon-warrior volume level a little, then kick myself for even thinking such a pussy thought. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Kubrick Rererereredux
Michael Thanks for sending along the Kubrick documentary, which I've watched about half of at this point. Most of the biographical information on his early life I knew from a book I had read on Kubrick back in college. What was a big surprise was listening to Kubrick talk--his accent was, of course, American. The other, related, surprise was realizing just how clued in his subject matter was to the times. He developed a nuclear war movie (Dr. Strangelove) around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, he made a teen-sex movie (Lolita) in the early days of the pill/sexual revolution, he made a space movie (2001) during the space race, he made a juvenile crime/urban disorder movie (Clockwork Orange) during the law and order presidency of Nixon. I'll bet if you read the screenplay for his cancelled project on Napoleon in the late 60's you'd see it derived from LBJ and the Vietnam war. I can see how someone with Kubrick's armor-plated chutzpah would ultimately end up with Hollywood eating out of his hand. Unfortunately, being in that position meant he stopped using his greatest talent--figuring out the hot issues of the day and building movies around them. In the end, the chess hustler seems to have hustled himself; Kubrick's art (I use the term seriously) came out of his street smarts, his instinct for the main chance, and when he stopped picking subjects on that basis (because of the hostile reaction to Clockwork Orange in Britain?) his movies lost their zip. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- "Liberal", phooey
Friedrich -- I've been waging a (pathetically trivial, admittedly) campaign for a couple of years, refusing to call Democrats and those to the left of them "liberals." They ain't liberals, they're controlling thought-police, being my experience and hence conviction. So I make a point of calling them "leftists" instead. (And the world quakes.) It turns out I'm not entirely alone. Here's something from Mark Steyn, a brilliant columnist (who once wrote for the Modern Review, I believe) who's hard to find evidence of in U.S. publications: You'll notice, incidentally, that I haven't used the word "liberal" to describe the left. "Conservative" has been carelessly appropriated by the media to mean no more than the side you're not meant to like. John Ashcroft is a hardline conservative, but so, according to the press, is the Taliban and half the Chinese politburo and the crankier Ayatollahs. So I think we conservatives ought to make an attempt to reclaim the word "liberal." We believe in liberty, and in liberating human potential. I don't know what you'd call a political culture that reduces voters to dependents, that tells religious institutions whom they can hire, that instructs printers on what printing jobs they're obliged to accept, that bans squeegee kids unless they're undercover policemen checking on whether you're wearing your seatbelt, etc., etc. But "liberal" no longer seems to cover it. And something from Jay Nordlinger at National Review, whose work I don't generally know: One of the reasons I turned from the Left when I was young was that these �liberals� seemed so colossally illiberal - closed-minded and intolerant, for one thing. And yet, I�ve never quite accepted the word �conservative,� perhaps because of the bias I was brought up with against that concept, and that word. In a speech I gave to students last spring I said, In time, I became what we call a �conservative� - though I still sort of choke on the term. . . . I like to consider myself a genuine liberal, believing in limited government, equality of opportunity, equality under the law, pluralism, toleration, constitutionalism, colorblindness, a robust, internationalist foreign policy, sound and equal education, a common culture, etc. Nowadays, that makes you a flaming right-winger. But it shouldn�t be so. Comfort in numbers! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Blogging, Movie Update
Michael The job is coming along. Astonishingly, several of my initiatives from earlier in the year seem to be paying off. I'm always kind of wide-eyed with wonder when my ideas actually come to some kind of fruition--financially, I mean. By the way, do you have the same reaction that I do to seeing some of your opinions on the Web--to wit, uncertainty as to whether the opinions are too extreme/sweeping/unfair? For example, while I appear to smack Kubrick, Altman and Woody Allen some postings ago, the larger truth is that I love and frankly treasure several individual movies by each of them. I mean, I'm not about to disresptect "Thieves Like Us," "California Split," "Dr. Strangelove," "Bananas," "Take the Money and Run," etc. (Not only do I like them, I understand "Dr. Strangelove" was Elvis' favorite movie of all time!) Ann Prentiss and Gwen Welles in "California Split" On the other hand, I believe the "Economist" style guide maintains that vivid writing results from a two part process--simplify and exaggerate, so maybe strong opinions are their own reward. As far as my own movie-going activities, I saw "Signs" which I thought was pretty ramshackle if ultimately redeemed by having Joachim Phoenix take on an evil alien with a baseball bat. M. Night is a weird mixture of an eight-year-old comic book fanatic and an adult in therapy, and this time the adult-in-therapy part never quite got out of his head, so thank God the eight-year-old was along to take up the slack. I also saw "Spy Kids II" which was like eating cake for breakfast: not exactly stick-to-your-ribs fare, but goofy, fast-moving, and good for a sugar rush. Antonio Banderas was brilliant as the blundering, vain but good-hearted dad. I could have used more of Mom (hubba hubba)--are there other movies she's been in? By the way, what do you think of Steve Buscemi? He appears to be having the ultimate stealth career success of the modern acting world. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Art and Religion
Michael It does seem that the rise of "intellectually respectable" American Art eerily parallels the dominance of psychoanalysis (and, of course, the decline of organized religion) in American public life. As I have pompously opined in the past, I think Art only finds a meaningful social context in religion (or a reasonable facsimile, like J.L. David's worship of the Jacobin Revolution.) It's a bummer that psycholanalysis was the best religion Depression- and Postwar-Artists and Arts Intellectuals could latch onto. I mean, would you rather have illustrated stories of nymphs and satyrs (or even Madonnas and babies), or be forced to inflate your early family history into "mythic" terms via slashing brushstrokes? No wonder you would gradually wander off into color field painting--twice the fun, and with your pretensions of mythic "selfhood" more or less intact. If you noticed, however, Macho Mythic Self Art kind of conked out during the Vietnam War, and its religious function feebly yielded to Feminism. Honestly, walking around Soho and looking at galleries, or leafing through Art in America, does contemporary art look bursting with health to you? It feels more to me like an exhausted masturbatory fantasy. I grant you, I'm just an old fart (and was one even when I was in art school) and there are all these ambitious careerist young artists and art intellectuals on the make. But doesn't it seem like they're too late to the party? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friedrich -- So true. My additional gripe about Ivy educations is that, these days at least, they seem to be anti-educations. The underlying assumption the elite educationists seem to share is that knowledge and skill somehow hold back the soul, or maybe even turn you into a racist/exploiter/etc. Thus, the goal of education is to free us from all that and lead us all into paradise. The result here at work is that I'm surrounded by babbling, entitled young Ivy (or Ivy-ish) idiots who regard knowledge and skill not as prerequisites to saying or doing anything that might merit attention but as evils to be attacked with all the bullshit multiculti p.c. crapola they can summon. (Which, given that they're basically very bright, is considerable.) What the kids coming from these schools seem to have is quickness and cleverness, and a kind of hyper-responsiveness that can be amazing -- ie., they're still basically kids. (Knowledge and skill being viewed apparently as adult evils.) They're cute, fast, and mischievous. I'll be curious to see what happens to them as they move out of their 20s and start encountering some of life's trainwrecks -- disappointment, illness, death, failure. As tedious and stuffy as a traditional upbringing can be, it does develop in you a few resources, which you can draw on when necessary. I don't find that these new kids have any such resources. So: Will they crack up? Go into a fury of blaming others? (All that said, I do envy the kids their quickness and their easy access to great technology. And their youth, of course.) But then, over and over I've been amazed by the baloney teachers lay on people. The arts, alas, seem especially susceptible to nonsense about "creativity," maybe because they're so damn soft. Over and over again I've taken arts classes, and have had the same set of reactions: show me the skills, steep me in the culture, and I'll make the decisions about what to do with it all, thank you very much. Forgive me, I'm getting a little overexcited... OK, I've calmed down. What arts teachers seem to want to do (not consciously, but in effect) is to brainwash you, take away your pride, and set you on a predetermined path: This is what art is, this is how it's studied, this is how it's made. It's like a cult, and the exact opposite of what I was hoping to propel myself into when I made the choice to lead an artsy life -- ie., a more free-thinking, more-open-minded, more-experimental way of life than the usual one. And lord knows you're right, all most profs seem finally to know how to do is instruct you in how to become a prof. We pay them to do this? I'm a big school-vouchers fan as a consequence -- anything for a little choice and competition. What's your take on vouchers? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Leon Krier Redux
Michael Great stuff. Why do you think we never heard about guys like this while we were at our Lousy Ivy College? Have you ever noticed that universities (with the possible exception of the sciences) seem to be about the last place one would go for truly original thinking on any subject? One suspects that's because academic "teaching" amounts to a sustained test of a student's abilities to absorb and parrot back the concepts that their teachers present to them; the people that are happy with this paradigm as students seem to be the ones that go in for careers in academia. The Ivies: Avoid 'em I remember being astonished once at hearing that Einstein got to pondering General Relativity because he was thinking about all objects, light and heavy, falling towards the earth at the same acceleration (a measurable fact). He couldn't believe that it was because (as Newton's gravitational theory explained it) that objects of larger mass had their increased gravitational pull exactly offset by an increase in massy inertia. Einstein apparently thought, "It's perfectly offset, 100% of the time, always and everywhere? Bullshit!" So Einstein decided to look for another mechanism which would explain the observable phenomenon. The reason I was astonished by this is that it totally flies in the face of traditional academic expectations in which the godlike teacher knows all the answers and you get higher grades the faster you get with the program. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Michael at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Leon Krier
Friedrich -- Have you run across Leon Krier? An architect and town planner, and (roughly speaking) the intellectual godfather behind the New Urbanism movement. (The photo above is of Poundbury, an English town extension he's masterminded.) Fascinating, witty, provocative and, yes, I suppose you'd have to say reactionary, although I'd argue that he's a progressive, cheerful, forward-looking reactionary, not that he needs me making such a ludicrous case. To tell the truth, I think he's a genius. His thinking and observations get my head spinning on numerous subjects. You can sample his mind here. Here's an appreciation of his great book, Architecture: Choice or Fate? Your reaction? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, August 15, 2002

DVD Journal: "Sex and Lucia": "Lost and Delirious"; "The Good Girl"; "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I confess that I'm not a tax or Social Security wonk, but would be curious to know what your favorite plan for fixing them is. I have only a few dim feelings on the subject, all of them along the lines of "simpler is better," and "what a Ponzi scheme!" These hunches lead me in the direction of thinking a flat tax makes a lot of sense, and that (assuming government needs to get involved in retirement planning at all) Social Security ought to be put on a you-pay-for-yourself basis ASAP. Deep, huh? Enlighten me. Despite all discouragements, I still watch the occasional movie. Do you? What a nice art/entertainment form, at least in principle -- the work complete unto itself, lots of talented people contributing, and over in an hour and a half. What a pleasant, compact way of having a "fiction experience" when you're in the mood for one. So, an update: 1. "Sex and Lucia" -- fairly enjoyable high-class art-porn. Ingrown, and full of the kinds of mystical-seeming coincidences modernist art-porn seems prone to, which is fine by me -- the modernist art-porn novella is one of my favorite forms, and I accept its conventions happily. Ie., half "Emanuelle," half Atom Egoyan. Too much death and grief for my tastes (modernist art-porn novellas require some death and grief, but this was a bit much). But three fabulous, and fabulous-looking, actresses, each one very uninhibited. (The guy who directed "Y Yu Mama" said in an interview I ran across somewhere that he chose a Spanish, rather than a Mexican, actress for his movie because Spanish women are so free and daring these days.) A couple of remarkable scenes: One where the newly-in-love guy and girl are sexually frolicking -- I haven't seen many movie scenes that suggest so sweetly how silly and playful sex can be. And another where a woman seduces a guy verbally. They're on a park bench, watching children at play, and she tells him about how she masturbated the night before while watching a videotape of her mother (who happens to be a porn star) getting fucked. The girl is grinning and mischievous and the poor guy hardly knows what to do -- he just gets more and more confused and worked-up. Now that's my kind of modernism, ingrown and kinky. The women in the audience seemed to enjoy the movie, which raises the evergreen question: why do women go so enthusiastically for some erotic movies and object so vehemently to others? 2) "Lost and Delirious" -- Lesbianism as a disruptive force at a Canadian girls' boarding school: "A Separate Peace," basically, but with girls instead of boys, and with the implicit homosex made explict. Beautifully made, in a subdued, art-house way (great light, great attention to the girls' facial flesh -- the tiny scars, the translucency, etc), and gutsily acted. But a long, solemn trip into a very dreary lesbian mindset -- a movie for the Lillith... posted by Michael at August 15, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- Tax Takedown
Michael -- In which I take on a letter writer to the Wall Street Journal. [Letter to Wall Street Journal 2 5 02] "Taxes Follow the Money Your Jan. 22 editorial 'A Rich Tax Debate' brings to mind Willie Sutton's response when asked why he robbed banks: 'That's where the money is.' We tax the rich because they have the money. Using the data you presented, if we had a population of 100 people and an AGI of $100, the top guy would get $19.50, while the bottom 50 people would divide $13.20. (Split evenly, that comes to $.264.) I bet it's a rare person who turns down a raise [1] because it puts him in a higher tax bracket [2]. The guy barely making a living wage, who spends every dime just getting by, is far less able to pay income tax [3] than the guy making big bucks, to whom paying taxes is an annoyance [4]-it just means he has less money to indulge his whims.[5] --Robert Weston." Assumptions made in letter: 1 Assumption: greater wealth comes in the form of a raise-that is, once granted by some outside force, essentially permanent, and it is not a result of greater risk taking or other activities outside the range of normal employee behavior. 2 Assumption: the desire for greater wealth is so powerful as to be indifferent to tax policy. 3 Assumption: income levels are not the result of human choices, but of higher and lower abilities. 4 Assumption: higher taxes merely annoy, but do not harm, high-earners. 5 Assumption: the desire by high-earners not to be taxed at progressive rates is the result of their childish insistence on being able to indulge their whims. My observations about assumptions: *Assumption #1 is very questionable. The very wealthy are not generally employees, and their wealth is generally the result of pursuing educational or risk-taking activities that fall outside of normal employee behavior. One suspects the author is not an entrepreneur or a doctor, and is unable to empathize with such people. *Is assumption #2 true if incremental tax rates are set at 100%? (that is, if the greater income results in no greater wealth to the individual?). If not, at what incremental tax rate does this counter-incentive kick in? *Concerning assumption #3, is it inconceivable that a person could work at less than his abilities? (Research implies that an increase in income, for example, almost always implies an increase in the time that is spent working; is everyone willing to maximize the amount of time spent on work?) If so, doesn't that suggest that "under-performing" persons-who choose a more leisurely lifestyle over wealth-are getting a "free ride" on their taxes, which are set at the level of their actual, not potential, income? *Assumptions #2 and #4 are incompatible; assumption #2 assumes that the drive for wealth is so powerful that it is unaffected by tax policy, while assumption #4 assumes that those same individuals would not feel themselves anything more... posted by Friedrich at August 15, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- Social Security forever
Michael -- In which I tear apart... "Social Security (as We Know It) Is Here to Stay" By Martin Mayer in the New York Times, 8/28/01 Buried under layers of argument, analysis and sophistry, the real issue in the Social Security fight has become invisible. That issue is the nature of the obligation. Is Social Security a firm contract with its beneficiaries, as a government bond is a contract with its holders? Or is it simply another government program that can be modified or even abandoned at any time by Congress and the President? [The Social Security program has been repeatedly modified through the years-in the direction of larger benefits-so apparently it is simply another government program that can be modified by politicians to obtain votes.] Through the years of the big deficits-the early Bill Clinton years as well as the years of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush-presidents insisted that all the revenues from Social Security taxes were available to be spent for other purposes, just as the revenues from other taxes were. Borrowing from the so-called Social Security trust fund was a routine way to pay the government's bills. Mr. Clinton's first budget justified "consolidating" the surplus generated by Social Security taxes into the general budget on these grounds: "The federal budget meaning of the term 'trust' differs significantly from its private sector meaning. In the private sector, the beneficiary owns the trust's assets...In contrast, the federal government owns the assets of most federal trust funds, and it can raise or lower future trust fund collections and payments by enacting changes to existing law." But history shows clearly that absent serious abuse (and sometimes despite it), pension obligations, once assumed by a nation, are for all practical purposes irrevocable. People who have come to expect government support in old age as a right-especially if they have long paid taxes dedicated to a pension program-will so resist revocation or even significant alteration of this support that change is virtually impossible. [Ah, so this is not a matter of ethics per se, which might find fault with the idea that retirees should be so passionate about claiming benefits which are far larger than those which they, as workers, ever paid to support, but rather about what large groups of voters (in this case, the elderly) think they have the voting muscle to get away with.] This practical truth is so well accepted internationally that the World Bank does studies of "implicit pension deficit" in every country, adding these obligations to the published national debt figures to calculate each government's real balance sheet [if this is so well known, name me a man on the street who can accurately give me the World Bank's estimate of the U.S. government's implicit pension deficit. Of course, Mr. Mayer doesn't actually mention the size of this pension deficit-the number is in the trillions of dollars-as it might reduce the political support for the current pay-as-you-go Social Security program]. The contract between the United... posted by Friedrich at August 15, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 2
Friedrich -- The NYTimes Arts section today goes four-for-four -- all, repeat all, of the headlines on the front page of the section are self-serious protest classics: 1. "It's Gloves-Off Time for an Angry Arthur Miller" 2. "Not Just Singing, but Soul-Baring Too" 3. "Party for Zora Neale Hurston, Obscure No More" 4. "Actors in Ellis Island Show Vote, 7 to 1, to Join Union" ...I was thinking of making some comments here about the Times' vision of of what art is (apparently a civil-rights fist shaken, in the name of justice and self-expression, in the face of oppression), and about how, if that's what art really were, I'd have no big interest in it. But I'll spare you. Best Michael... posted by Michael at August 15, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Waking Dream of Monsters Redux
Michael -- The 1930s "Wolf Man"? No, I haven't seen it. I haven't seen the Bela Lugosi "Dracula" either, or "The Bride of Frankenstein." I'm sort of hopeless in the horror department. I understand that the director of "Freaks" was a talented guy. (Apparently my 50s are going to be marked by a complete failure of my memory for names. Well, at least that way I'll be constantly meeting new people.) Do you agree? I believe he was, along with Erich von Stroheim, an assistant director on "Intolerance." Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

DVD Journal: "The Wolf Man"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I caught up with "The Wolf Man" last night, which I'd never seen. Do you know it? It isn't all that good, and as I watched it I drifted in and out of drowsiness. Though it has some terrific scares, a wonderful dry-ice expressionist forest, and fab Wolf Man makeup. Watching the film in a state of semi-bored drowsiness was perfect. I wasn't sure from moment to moment when I was watching the movie and when I'd moved into that pre-sleep state where your awareness has just let go its grip on the external world. An ideal experience of the movies as a, as some have described them, "waking dream." Are you as amazed as I am how poetic and operatic some of the early pulp movies are? I can't understand why composers and directors don't want to make operas of them. Moving, archetypal, mythopoetic stuff. Plus great monsters. But maybe the movies themselves are the operas -- ie., maybe they don't need expansion. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines I
Friedrich -- One of the few reasons I still look at the NYTimes is because I'm so fond of the way the newspaper tries to turn the arts into a day-to-day matter of intense social concern. The effort it must take to continue strong-arming readers in this way! Here's the frownline, er, headline of one of today's leading arts articles: "Young Musicians Granted a Respite From War's Curses." Gotta love it! But maybe the editors are cynical and are just playing to their audience. Maybe the editors have a macro key on their keyboards that spits this stuff out, endlessly recombining such words as "oppression," "youth," "spirit," "war," and "protest." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Jack and Diane redux
Michael Very glad to hear about the cancer-test results. My vacation was probably the best I've taken in years. I got to see aunts, uncles and first cousins. Talking with my cousins was particularly interesting; despite the fact we're all pushing 50, none of us seem fundamentally different from when we were 10 years old. Obviously, our life experiences have taken us in all sorts of different directions, but our basic "toolkit" seems indistinguishable from what we had to work with 40 years ago. The older I get the less I believe in the notion of the "autonomous individual"--it's almost like each of us is a like one hand of cards in a game of poker, but the deck we're dealt from is the more "fundamental" unit. Any biography that doesn't spend as much time on the subject's parents, siblings and children as on the subject is missing the boat, I suspect. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Jack and Diane
Friedrich -- By the way, how was your vacation? Mine was great: Good cancer-test results out in St. Louis (PSA's "undetectable," praisethelordandknockonwood), then a very sweet 30th public-high-school in western New York. I wonder what your reflections are on growing up in the midwest -- for all intents and purposes, western New York is part of the midwest. Are you as amazed as I often am by how contemptuous big-city types are of flyover country? (You'd think at least a few of them would look at midAmerica and think: Peaceful, prosperous, pleasant -- hmm, maybe they're onto something.) But maybe that just demonstrates what an earnest and easily-shockable mid-American I remain, even after all these years in the big bad city. Early in my stay in New York, I was comparing notes with a young woman, who asked where I was from. I told her, and mentioned that I was fond of it. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "No you aren't." New Yorkers for you. At least midtownish, careerish New Yorkers. They either grew up here and think it's the center of the universe and every other place is a joke, or they came here from some other place they spend the rest of their lives hating. I'm such a small-town midwesterner at heart. Are you? I remember once telling the wife, a big-city girl, how pleasant life in a small town in western New York was for a kid. She was skeptical, so I made her sit through the movie "Breaking Away," which, aside from the whole bicycle-racing thing, might be a documentary about how I grew up. She enjoyed the film but couldn't stop rolling her eyes. She watched it like she was watching something from Timbuktu, it seemed that bizarre to her. Seedbed of oppression, racism and homophobia? The weekend of the reunion, full of "Breaking Away"-style kids (although "kids" may not be the best word for people in their late 40s), I had the usual, intense "Why did I ever leave?" stirrings. Short answer: ambitious mother. Longer answer: some interests I wanted to pursue. But neither answer seemed adequate as I made conversation with old friends who've never left town, and who seem at least as happy as I am. So: why did I ever leave? Gulp. Art question: which movies/books/paintings/etc have done a good job of presenting smalltown mid-American life? Some offhand answers: "Babbit." "Winesburg, Ohio." "Breaking Away." A few of the early Jonathan Demme movies. "Spoon River Anthology." "Picnic." And my personal favorite, "The Music Man," a towering masterpiece (I would argue this seriously) which also nails the "American salesman" type far better than the awful "Death of a Salesman" did, at least for this son of a salesman. Poet of the heartland: Sherwood Anderson I should be coming up with paintings too. Any ideas here? But I think artists have generally done a lousy job of dealing with mid-America, which they see all too often as a nothing but... posted by Michael at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Fleshy Old Lucian re-re-redux
Michael -- Haven't seen much Auerbach, but the little I have seen makes me curious to see more. I didn't think you'd be too intrigued by L. Freud. I'm sort of pleased I could make that prediction accurately. I guess I've been paying attention to what you were saying for the past 30 years. For a non-Expressionist comparison, though, what do you think of Rubens' more exaggerated skin painting, in which he juxtaposes cool grays (transition tones, veins) with warm lights, cooler highlights, and super-warm reflected light to create a flesh-physicality as intense as Freud? For an English painting comparison, have you ever seen Stanley Spencer's "Leg of Mutton Nude"? Best, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Fleshy Old Lucian re-redux
Friedrich Very impressed by Lucian, though more so now that you've pointed out what fascinates you about him. But never fond of his work. I don't think I'm deep or substantial enough for it. You may be fonder of tortured/pondered/heavily-worked things than I am: make sure every square inch matters! My essential laziness is overawed by such concerns. And as a would-be painter, I'm looking for tricks. "How to fill up all that extra space easily and entertainingly," basically. I once took a class in how to paint faux finishes -- it was as useful as, and much less pretentious than, any other art class I've taken, even if I retain little. (Sponges? Rags? Something like that.) There's a place here in town (the Studio School) that runs a program called the Drawing and Painting Marathon. A week or two of working eight hours a day on the same drawing or painting. I've been tempted to give it a try, but lordy, I just don't know. Maybe more up your alley? Are you an Auerbach fan too? Freud I feel I get, even if only in some dim way. Auerbach I can't make sense of. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Fleshy old Lucian redux
Michael Interesting article. What do you think of old Lucian? I had an art teacher who didn't like him, claiming that Lucian always painted the same painting. I like him because he evolved a style of modeling that, by exaggerating color and tonal shifts, manages to intensify the fleshiness of flesh (as well as creating a densely linear network throughout the picture, which unifies his painting and his drawing.) Yes, yes, it's a bit morbid. But Freud strikes me as a (less facile) Egon Schiele-type, but one who lived long enough to get interested in other people. While I don't see myself copying him, I wouldn't mind pursuing a nude or a portrait over many, many sessions, trying to wring everything I could out of every square inch. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Michael at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Fleshy old Lucian
Friedrich -- Hey, a not-bad Observer article about Lucian Freud, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, August 12, 2002

The Uses of Reality
Friedrich -- Journalism vs. fantasy? I suppose that I view "the journalistic" as one element a given work of art or entertainment might be selling, nothing more or less. I don't live for it, per se, but I'm sometimes glad when it's present. I thought the fiction (is that what you mean by "fantasy"?) side of "Bonfire of the Vanities," for instance, was weak, though I enjoyed the book's journalistic side. I recently watched a movie on DVD called "Perfume," and one of the things it too was selling was "journalism" -- in this case, the look and feel of the fashion-and-media industry. The movie (worth seeing for a variety of reasons) was dead-on, and very enjoyable, in that department. Starved as this spectator usually is for something, anything, I'm not about to turn down some decent journalism if and when it comes along. The "Yeah! That's what it's like!" response is perfectly enjoyable for me. From "Perfume" But that's just a mature and impersonal response. Yawnsville. Personally, the fulcrum I'm more drawn to contemplating is realism vs. symbolism. (The strictly fantastic -- sci-fi, fantasy, etc -- doesn't attract me as much as it does you. I tend to be happiest when I can feel the imagination stirring beneath a cloak of something recognizable.) I seem to have a bigger-than-usual appetite for the symbolic -- Colette, for instance, or turn- of-the-century erotic painting. People can talk all they want about Klimt's superficiality, about how he's more a poster designer than a real artist, but they'll never persuade me to stop enjoying his paintings. I suspect that my taste for the symbolic helps explain my attraction to crime fiction, too. Its basic structure (a crime is committed, an investigation follows) resonates for me. I walk around thinking thoughts about how wrong literature goes when it tries to model the (supposed) quantum uncertainty and existential formlessness of existence. What's the point of doing that, or even attempting to do it? (People can do as they please, especially in the arts. I'm just chugging along my own tracks right now...) People are storytelling creatures. We impose explanations and stories (ie., cause and effect) wherever possible, and whether or not our cause-and-effect stories can hold up in some ultimate sense. (His acceptance of the human inevitability of cause-and-effect thinking, even as he debunks its validity, is the main reason I love Hume so much.) Why not run with, rather than fight, that tendency? Particularly given that art isn't science. Which is a rant I'm rarin' to go on any time now -- about how wrong I think artists go when they picture what they're doing as something akin to science or philosophy. (Oakeshott is terrific on the way people get themselves in trouble when they impose on one field the thinking that's appropriate to another.) Ie., why not assert form in the face of it all? The effort can, at the least, give the artist a chance to bring a few aspects of experience... posted by Michael at August 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments