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Saturday, August 24, 2002

Carbuncle Awards
Friedrich -- The Carbuncle Awards are given in Scotland to the country's ugliest buildings and towns, with the winner receiving the wonderfully-named "Plook on the Plinth." You can read about the contest here. Is there a similar contest in the States? There should be -- shame is a much-underemployed behavior-modification strategy these days. Let's use it to make architects and builders do better. Although, gosh, the competition for "lousiest" will be fierce. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Why Do I Care?
Michael I ask myself, why do I care about the state of high-falutin' oil painting ("HFOP") anyway? I think because good HFOP always implies the existence of a community--the kind of community which I could legitimately aspire to joining. Rubens or Michelangelo, as talented as they are, didn't go it alone during their lifetimes. Even posthumously their art needs people to understand it, appreciate it and even display it. I guess that's why I've spent so much time trying to figure out where I could find a local chapter of this (imaginary?) organization and join up. So far, needless to say, I've mostly had disappointments in this quest; this type of society is not only secret but virtually hidden. Nonetheless, I seem incapable of giving up the search altogether. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Auster, Video Clerk
Friedrich -- Lawrence Auster speculates, with much rigor, about why it might be that you don't hear Western liberals complaining much about the misogyny of Muslims, here. A video clerk's online journal of observations and reflections, many of them about porn and those who rent it, here. Best. Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Leni Riefenstahl
Friedrich -- A giant who's still with us Leni Riefenstahl turned 100 on August 22nd. Amazing to think that she's still around. According to some accounts she's quite vital -- she was scuba-diving (and working on a collection of undersea photographs, as well as a movie) into her 90s. Talk about a link to the past. In my view, she's a great figure not just for her awe-inspiring talent and accomplishments but because the Leni phenonenon poses such unresolvable quandaries. Did you attend Sontag's talk about Riefenstahl back at our Lousy Ivy College in the mid-'70s? Sontag showed "Triumph of the Will" and then argued (with all her audience-pleasing intensity and theatricality) that Leni was in fact a fascist -- I seem to recall that Sontag got a good year's worth of essays and talks out of that particular argument. (Hey, an intellectual has to have something to sell too.) I also recall sitting in the audience and thinking, duh, tell me something I didn't know. There's no avoiding these facts: Leni was friendly with Hitler, Leni made propaganda for the Nazis. Leni was also an actress, a dancer, and a visual artist, and was as self-obsessed, and as intellectually, politically, and morally clueless as such people usually are. Leni is also an immense talent, and her films and photographs are works of enormous beauty. All that is true, and is pleasingly hard to sum up in one tightly-wound intellectual or political ball. I've seen most of the movies, and have read some of the books and the scholarship, including her own (huge) autobiography. For what it's worth, my take is: she was young, ambitious and opportunistic. As many such artists do, she cozied up to whoever could help her achieve her art and career goals. (If she were young and American today, she'd probably be cozying up to the academia/P.C./NEA world.) Imagine television sports coverage without her influence Her work was all about a very sexual ideal beauty -- that's what moved her and motivated her. (Heroic beauty gave her exalted feelings; it turned her on.) Her love of heroic beauty also made her attractive to, and susceptible to, Naziism. Things clicked, she made connections, she was happy that people liked her work and was therefore prone to think well of them. And she took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves. Was she as naive as she makes herself out to have been? Almost certainly not. Was she as consciously aware and conniving -- ie., as political -- as some make her out to have been? I think that's unlikely too. Does she deserve a reputation as bad as that of the truly evil Nazi monsters who were really behind the Reich? I can't see why. It seems to me that it's a mistake to picture her as a thinking, reasoning, let alone morally astute being, and that it's more accurate to picture her as someone in the graphics department of your business, who might be an verbal... posted by Michael at August 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Weekend's Worth of Oakeshott
Friedrich -- Philosopher/poet of politics Some passages from my favorite political philosopher (and namesake), Michael Oakeshott: I regard as an enemy that modified form of Utopianism which picks at one problem of society at a given moment and is prepared to upset the whole of the society in order to get that one problem solved... I should say that no problem in politics is ever solved permanently, and that no problem in politics should be allowed to get out of proportion and to exclude the real business of politics, which is to keep the society as a whole, in all its arrangements, coherent and stable as well as progressive.... The moral life of a man does not consist entirely in performing a number of reasonable actions, it consists in living according to certain habits of behaviour, which may be analysed into separate actions but which do not appear as separate actions except on a few occasions. Anyone curious can find out a lot more about this genius here. The book of his to start with is "Rationalism in Politics," which you can buy here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, August 23, 2002

Free Reads -- Nora Vincent
Friedrich -- Have you ever run across Norah Vincent's columns? She's feisty and brainy -- a tough-minded, rightish-leaning lesbian contrarian, and one of a kind. And now she's started a blog, here. What a pleasure to read someone so sharp on politics who's just as brainy (let alone shrewd and openminded) about cultural matters. All too rare. Here, for instance, she is on R. Crumb: As for Crumb’s alleged misogyny, I think this has always been a wrongheaded charge. Crumb’s women are striding, zaftig Amazons who embody Crumb’s clear, and if you saw the 1994 documentary “Crumb,” confessed reverence for women. The man may be a perpetually arrested adolescent, emotionally stunted and relationally inept in almost every way, but, much to his credit, he is both well aware and makes no secret of his condition. In Crumb’s work, women have all the power. His drawings are the landscape and expression of the harmless, and often hilarious heterosexual male id, in much the same way that the Tom of Finland cartoons are, in all their throbbing exactitude, the expression of the homosexual male id. In Crumb’s mind, men, enslaved by their irrepressible desires, are the ones constantly humiliating themselves in the skirt chase. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Ashley Redux
Michael I'm happy you also dig Ashley Judd. I'm quite a fan myself. Although I've liked her in several films, I fell for her when she played a small role in "Simon Burch." She had an impossible role--a dead mother I think in a flashback whose memory was carried reverently by her son. Perfectly ripe And, by God, by sheer force of personality and incredible good looks, she pulled it off--vivacious, charming, with a sort of sexual splendor like a perfectly ripe apple in the late afternoon sun. I've certainly carried the memory of that little scene reverently for 3 or 4 years now. How did you meet her, anyway? I'm the one who lives in L.A., I should be the one meeting starlets! (Does spending an uncomfortable 20 minutes late at night in the baggage claim area at LAX with Heather Locklear count?) Cheers, if envious cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

"Good Girl" Rerereredux
Michael I actually had mixed feelings about "The Good Girl." It was quite funny in parts, but I basically disliked the central character, and it pissed me off to see her screw everybody over without any style or flamboyance or other redeeming social value. I would have liked it better in one of two variants: (1) either you had to know more about her, and see why (from her point of view) she was entitled to do anything she wanted (for her version of the greater good), or (2) the movie needed to be more distanced and stylized, like a Roadrunner cartoon, so you didn't take the suffering she caused seriously. I think the latter would have had to kind of zoom in on the masochistic thrill that she provided the men in her life, a la Wiley Coyote. In other words, I would have been happier if she was either more full of life or more of a bitch. Or maybe I just wanted to be watching a Roadrunner cartoon. Beep, beep! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tivo Redux
Michael We like our Tivo. My wife is the TV watcher in the family, and she loves it. It has gotten me completely out of the habit of watching commercials--when I watch ordinary commercial TV I am always subconsciously looking for the Tivo remote to speed by them. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Andrea del Sarto Redux
Friedrich -- Thanks for the thoughts about del Sarto. I've got a book about him on my shelf that I've never given a close enough look. Now I will. Cool speculations earlier as well about why 19th century academic art has been so despised. I wonder too if the fact of its being "hypocritical" has been a strike against it. For we moderns, direct confrontation is (supposedly) good, circumlocution is bad. I'm a big partisan of hypocrisy myself. Like stereotyping, it's a sometimes-useful tactic. I'd go so far as to argue that without it (or some other way of applying sugarcoating) social life isn't possible. (I'd go so far as to argue that hypocrisy and stereotyping are inevitable -- so why argue about whether they should or shouldn't be?) Given that art is, if not primarily at least partially, a social activity: what's wrong with some hypocrisy in our art? This thought first came to me 5ish years ago as I stood in the Art Institute of Chicago, looking in rapture at 19th century white marble American nudes with mythological and allegorical names ("Justice", "Fidelity"). It also occured to me: what's great about the hypocrisy is that it enables you to look at and enjoy these nudes in public. Enjoying it in public Somehow because of this, the flesh of the nudes came into focus and seemed more, not less, tender. The eroticism became more, not less, powerful, and I realized I was experiencing it privately, even though the art itself was very public. Suddenly the magic of that kind of art started to work for me. Why had my modern/post-modern art education and experience deprived me of this pleasure previously? Do these (to me) dumb modernist attitudes about authenticity and confrontation and their supposedly essential connection to art all go back to Romanticism? Which more and more I think of as a kind of cancer that I don't want entering the system. (Or, maybe better: that needs constant beating-back.) But that's probably terribly classical of me. [Note to anyone who objects to my use of cancer as a metaphor in the previous paragraph and who's about to reach for a copy of Sontag in support: Fuck Sontag. I've had cancer too, and I can't imagine being offended by someone using "cancer" as a metaphor. ] Incidentally, do you enjoy your Tivo? I've been reading articles recently about how much users love 'em (once they've caught on to how to use them), and about how Tivo-like boxes will be everywhere in a few years. Does it change the way you use tv? Best Michael... posted by Michael at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

"Good Girl" Re-redux
Friedrich -- Very curious about your observations about "The Good Girl." Mostly on the (perhaps dumb) level of: do they represent "Friedrich enjoyed the movie"? Or "Friedrich's too polite to tell Michael that he didn't enjoy the movie"? Like you, I'm always a little suspicious of studiously blank directorial stances. It seems they almost always indicate a withholding-of-judgment that's really a judgment, usually one that boils down to a hipsterish "Ain't America weird." And maybe there's some of that in "The Good Girl," although I also sensed some fondness for the scene depicted. Did you? I may have taken the film's psychology (and dramatic arc) a little differently than you did. I took it as a sly way of dramatizing exactly what you point out: that what all the Good Girl's actions finally demonstrate is that she wants a baby -- even though she's never known that that's what it's all been about. I also took the film to be saying, quietly, that she is a maneater, though appearances may be to the contrary. One of her men ends up dead, the other ends up humiliated, all so she can have herself a baby. I took her less as an empty person and more as a clueless one. So, perhaps unlike you, I thought the movie was pretty shrewd, in a deadpan kind of way. But that's all a matter of interpretation. More basically, if idioticially, I found the movie's combo of observation, flakiness and satire-crossed-with-fondness pleasing. Most of the time, anyway. And hats off to the performers. I didn't know Anniston could do anything but wear a haircut. And usually I don't care for John C. Reilly; here I found him very touching. Another poker-faced "nonjudgmental" working-class midAmerica movie that's worth seeing: "Normal Life," with Luke Perry (really good!) and the heavenly Ashley Judd. He's a cop, she's a sexy, trampy blue-collar girl he falls for and who turns out to be much more screwy than he anticipated. In this case, the camera's blank face is judgmental -- working-class America is really being seen as a trash-strewn moonscape. Oddly, I didn't mind. The observations, the script, the (otherwise-good) directing (John McNaughton) and the acting got me over that hurdle. I wonder, not for the first time, if I'm becoming old and jaded. I seem to have gotten to the point where I'll look at a film like "Normal Life" (or, say, a Jim Jarmusch film -- although I can't stand Hal Hartley), and just think, Oh, it's one of those. And I'll try to take it (and see what's there to be gotten from it) as an example of its hipster genre. Maybe I've grown wiser. Maybe I'm just tired. Ashley in glam mode Did I ever mention that the wife and I once met Ashley Judd? For about five minutes. Ashley was glamorous and charming; she gave off warm down-home vibes as well as pure actress-confetti. The wife liked her, I think. And I was charmed -- not... posted by Michael at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

View from the Right
Friedrich -- I just had lunch with the first person I've met thanks to being fellow bloggers -- Jim Kalb, who runs a site called View From the Right. You can explore it here -- a blog, plus many other pages and essays. Lunch was a treat. Jim's a superbrainy guy who's one of the few true traditional conservative intellectuals I've met -- ie., not just temperamentally conservative (everyone has a bit of that, if not more), but a reasoning, educated, thinking, and (in his case) sharper-than-Gillette one. An excellent mind to run up against, as well as sweetly tolerant of, and maybe even a little amused by, my arty babble. Also quite brilliant and funny on the (to me) endlessly fascinating topic of "Why are lefties so intolerant"? And it's all thanks to being a blogger. [Note to skeptical lefties: You pride yourself on your tolerance and ability to appreciate other points of view. Why, then, do you demonize rightwing thought, usually without really knowing the slightest thing about it? (Old joke: Lefties are tolerant of everyone except those who disagree with them.) Try opening yourself up to the right. It's a little scary, but it won't kill you, and you're likely to get something out of the effort. Jim's site is a first-rate place to begin the process of moving beyond what is -- let's face it -- the left's own kind of bigotry.] Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Andrea del Sarto
Michael I was first attracted many years ago to Andrea by his red-chalk drawings, which are very rich and sensuous, with lots of crosshatching and vigorously reworked contours. He makes a virtue, at least in his better drawings, of searching for the form. (Okay, so his lesser drawings can be a bit clunky). Compared to the dominant drawing style of 16th century Florence--i.e., extremely precious ink-and-wash presentation drawings--Andrea's studies look refreshingly like some sort of "action painting." Then, on a whim about six months ago I got a good color artbook on Andrea's paintings and have been looking at it off and on since. I like his work more the longer I look at them. In looking at his few paintings reproduced in standard art-history texts, Andrea had come off like a kind of timid wallflower in comparison to the wild-and-crazy types around him--Michelangelo, Raphael, Rosso Fiorentino, Parmagianino, Pontormo--as though he started out somewhere quite near Fra Bartolomio's rather conservative classicism and never quite made the leap into the gloriously quivering whirlpool of neurotic Mannerism. And while I have quite a soft spot for Mannerists in my heart, my respect for Andrea's deliberately low-key, classical masterworks continues to grow. Which is not to say he wasn't a man of his time--more leisurely study of his paintings has made it clear how significant a figure he was in Florentine art. For example, he seems to have been the first Florentine, and possibly the first Italian, to really appreciate Durer's work, and to begin the long tradition of stealing Durer compositions (something Van Dyke and Velasquez were still busy at over a hundred years later.) He also appears (at least as far as I can tell) to have been the first Florentine to substitute straight lines for more naturalistic curves in rendering (check out his draperies, in which every apparently curving contour is a actually series of straight lines.) Pontormo and many subsequent artists are clearly indebted to Andrea for this element of their drawing styles. More significantly, Andrea was not only a gorgeous colorist, but he managed a to utilize what look like overlapping glazes of color--often alternating warm and cool--to recreate the effect of the multiply-reworked contours of his chalk drawings. One of the issues in art that seems to always attract my attention is how painters reconcile their drawing and painting. Of course, Andrea must have looked quite closely at Leonardo's sfumato techniques, but the final effect is quite different from Leonardo's (whose own tensions between drawing and painting were, in some respects, only resolved by after his death in Raphael's "Transfiguration" ). But most of all, I appreciate Andrea for what seems to be the simultaneous warmth and humility of his nature. He seemed to genuinely love beauty, and to trust that his love of beauty, however gentle, would make his art live. Perhaps this is a lesson all artists might benefit from. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Altman -- Great Zen Baloney
Friedrich -- I suppose I should have outgrown my idolatry of Robert Altman by now, but I haven't. I re-watched "Cookie's Fortune" recently, found it very beautiful (in a small-scale, leisurely, rockin'-on-the-back-porch way), laughed a lot and even snuffled a bit -- mostly because it's a lovely movie, but partly because it reminded me so much of how and why I fell in love with art in the first place. Robert Altman Here's a long, good interview with him (by John Tibbetts), done in his hometown of Kansas City and dating from the time of "Vincent and Theo." Free-associative yet down-to-earth, full of shit yet Zen-ishly brilliant. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Academic Art Redux
Michael An interesting rant. While over the top (I simply cannot get as excited about Bougereau and Gerome as he does, except for some of their landscape painting, which is actually pretty good), he does get at how difficult it is to really look at 19th century Academic art with an unprejuidiced eye, and how deeply the period is still propagandized against in art history texts. Academic "Springtime" It almost makes me think that the social/economic/sexual/religious tensions of the 19th century were so extreme that art manufactured at the time raises such unpleasant feelings that it must be sent off to sit in the corner. I can still remember one of the first books I read about art history, "Impressionism," in which the author begins the book with a critique of the "official" art of the 1870's. Nonacademic Renoir He considered it to be deeply hypocritical, respectable on the surface but prurient underneath, with exhibit A being all those "pinup" Salon nudes, carefully dressed up with mythological trappings. (He also slammed it for using a "smooth" painting technique -- which must be bad because decades later it was appropriated by advertisers of consumer products.) Of course, this author wouldn't dare utilize such language against Titian's, Corregio's or Ruben's "pinup" nudes, or even Corot's, Delacroix's or Courbet's nudes. And I suppose the openly pornographic style of Indian sculpture (which I really dig) is beyond criticism because it is the work of oppressed people. Indian Religioeroticism This all raises the question of whether Impressionism is considered "good" by 20th century art historians because it was relatively unerotic during an era when the dominant style of eroticism makes us feel threatened (i.e., "icky."). In other words, is Victorian eroticism--based on rules designed to navigate Victorian sexual tensions--so disturbing to us that art constructed in accordance to its schemas must continue to be stomped on by writers 120 years later? This may be an interesting example of the "liberated" sexual mores of today's cultural elite being not nearly as tolerant as we like to imagine them. It makes me think the cultural elite are a group of very sophisticated people who don't want to know anything about their parent's sex lives. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Michael at August 22, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Academic Art
Friedrich -- You might get a kick out of this piece, here. Blasts modern art, praises 19th-century academic art. And why not? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Fantasy vacation
Friedrich -- Take an architectural drawing tour of Italy, info about it here. Ah, for a little money and time. OK, for a lot of money and time. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 3
Friedrich -- The arts, ever under siege -- at least according to the New York Times's "Arts" section. Two of the section's front-page headlines today: * "Water and Woe For the Czechs' Cultural Gems" * "Radio City and the Rockettes Reach a Labor Agreement" How would the arts survive at all in this vicious world if it weren't for the Times? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Gris Design
Michael I may go out and buy a book on Juan Gris that I've been eyeing--not that we have to talk about his paintings, but just because I've always thought he would have made the best magazine art director of all time. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Cineweblistmania
Friedrich -- Sight and Sound has done their once-a-decade, "Which are the greatest movies of all time?" poll of critics and filmmakers. Results are here. A nice Web feature: as you click further into the site, you can see who voted for what, as well as comments on the movies. Fun to go through, even though it's not as if you and I haven't seen just about all of the films named -- a few Iranian (yawn) and Chinese (snooze) things aside... Some questions that occur to me as I leaf through the site: *Why do I find the directors' choices more interesting than the critics' choices? *Is "Citizen Kane" anybody's favorite movie? Really? *Why does anyone think "The Apartment" is a great movie? *Can anyone compare for sheer self-serious Frenchness to Catherine Breillat? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Howard Hodgkin
Friedrich -- Are you a Hodgkin fan? I am, although I know that in edgier eyes that makes me a fuddyduddy. I take him, though, not as what he's often made out to be (Brit version of Matisse-esque AbExer), but as a more sizzling version of a Bloomsbury painter -- ie., all color, pattern, and suggestion. Not that, come to think of it, there's much difference between the two descriptions. The colors are all hot and bothered -- flushed -- but the paintings are at the same time poised and contained, and I enjoy the combo. Let's hear it for sensuality-in-reserve. Which, as I type these words, reminds me what a fan I am of Grace Kelly too, another exemplar of the well-behaved-yet-hot-to-trot. (I read in a bio of Grace Kelly that, when she was a young actress studying in NYC, one of her ideas of a good time was to put on a grass skirt and dance the hula for her boyfriend...) Naughty Princess A cute quote from Hodgkin (taken from Saturday's Financial Times): I think the reason that so few British artists have used colour since the pre-Raphaelites is that the British regard it as slightly pornographic. Look at Turner's sunsets -- they're the colour of tumescence, really. Best, Michael... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Steyn, Sailer
Friedrich -- A few more good columns today. Mark Steyn on some of the more shocking ways Muslim immigrants are causing trouble in a variety of Western countries, here. And Steve Sailer on the ways in which Britain has a better record as a multicultural society than the U.S. does, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

"Good Girl" redux
Michael I checked out "The Good Girl" on Saturday night, which reminded me of a relationship I once had. (I can't say that I was particularly flattered at my portrayal as Holden.) I found the movie's blank, understated style a bit problematic, in a circular logic kind of way. The stylistic blankness seemed designed to make the rather unbelievable emptiness of the good girl believable. In my own life experience, while people are not always clued in to what they want out of life, they are actually pretty energetic about grabbing some part of it--and usually more energetic the less clued-in they are. If the good girl wanted children above all (as she seems to) then I suspect she'd have been a little more of a man eater. Or am I missing the point somehow? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Elvis meets Rubens
Michael I've been listening to a good deal of Elvis recently, and have become obsessed with a strange issue that derives from it. Sam Phillips, the Sun Records man, described "Don't Be Cruel" as a "sad song with a happy beat." I've been listening a lot to another Elvis song, "Mess of Blues" which is also, ostensibly, a sad song: I got your letter, baby Too bad you can't come home I swear I'm going crazy Sitting here by the phone Since you've gone I've got a mess of blues I got your letter Sunday Didn't eat a thing all day The days are all Blue Mondays Since you went away Since you've gone I've got a mess of blues (etc.) Elvis is doing his operatic, booming, echo-chamber version of human suffering. However, the music is very swinging, strongly rythmic (if mid-tempo), with the beat emphasized by hand claps and background singers going "wooo-woo." In short, another "sad song with a happy beat." The closest artistic analogy that comes to my untidy mind is Rubens' "Raising of the Cross" in which a suffering (but very athletic) Christ looks plaintively to Heaven as he is being hoisted by the combined efforts of huge, ultra-muscular ( and rather evil looking) manual laborers, with a few vigorous Roman soldiers and a beautiful leaping spaniel (one of the great dogs in painting) tossed in. Again, we have a "sad story" told with, well, a "happy beat." In both the song and the painting, the protagonist's suffering is obvious, but the whole treatment (strongly rythmic in both cases combined with an extravagant, virtuosic execution) suggests an underlying energy or power that will, we know, shortly "resurrect" the protagonist from the dead. This suggests that the attraction of Elvis is that he is a modern version of Osiris, suffering the dismembering wounds of adolescence, but with the superhuman vitality that makes his sufferings ultimately life affirming. (I don't think it was an accident that in the Osiris myth he is resurrected with an 'improved' penis in place of his sacrificed natural one.) When I say that art is at root religious, I may be saying that human nature seems to demand certain stories/rituals/ideas from both art and religion. Osiris Rocks I've been trying to think of a movie-analog to all this, and so far flopping. What is the cinematic analogy to the swinging rythmn of both the song and the painting, anyway? I actually first noticed the tension between style and substance in 50's rock--where I think it is quite widespread--in "The Great Pretender." There the tension is between the operatic "doo-wop" form and the earnestness of the singer--he may be singing opera, but by God he's sincere. Does all of this derive from the fact that 50's rock was extremely self-conscious about being the art form of "teenagers"--who of course couldn't be taken seriously? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Dreyfus Lauds Heston
Friedrich -- Amazingly insightful, sympathetic appreciation of Charlton Heston (immortal as Moses, above) by, of all people, Richard Dreyfus, here. Performers who can enact heroic figures -- we need more of 'em. Aside from the pure pleasure of the spectacle, there's a practical reason: without 'em (heroic figures, performers in the heroic style) all we seem to wind up with is a mob of opportunistic wise-asses frantically trying to score off each other. Best, Michael... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Walter Williams
Friedrich -- Walter Williams has a punchy, "get outta my face, government" column today. I don't know that I've ever seen the main libertarian case put as succinctly as he puts it: Whose business is it if I don't adequately plan for retirement or save money for my child's education? If I don't wear a seatbelt while driving or a helmet while biking, whose business is it? What if I don't get enough sleep or don't exercise enough for good health -- should government force me to, under the pain of punishment? In other words, should Congress have the power to force people to do what's in their own health, safety and welfare interests? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Eat this
Michael From a review by Joan Acocella of Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food: But Fernandez-Armesto agrees with other historians that most cannibalism has been motivated not by physical hunger but by spiritual need. The Papuan Orokaiva, like many other cannibals on record, eat their enemies in order to capture their souls; the Gimi women of the Papuan highlands, until quite recently, ate their deceased menfolk in order to give them a congenial resting place. (" 'We could not have left a man to rot!' protest the women.") Fernandez-Armesto regards these practices as merely an extreme example of the attachment of symbolic meaning to food, and he compares them to contemporary 'health' diets aimed at enhancing one's beauty or tranquillity or moral worth. 'Strangely,' he writes, 'cannibals turn out to have a lot in common with vegans.' --the New Yorker, August 19 & 26, 2002, p. 164 Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Jack and Diane Rereredux
Michael I'm glad you got a kick out of "Hoosiers." I think Hackman's performance in that is as good as anything I've ever seen on the screen. I'm not sure if I've seen the more recent works by Gene Hackman you refer to or not, but at this point, I assume he acts purely for the money. After cranking out as many good performances over the years as anyone I can think of, I can't condemn such a mercenary attitude. Did you know he took several years off about a decade ago and painted?--he's quite an accomplished realist? I wouldn't sweat having "simple-minded emotions"--really, what other kind are there? And while no sincere emotion goes unpunished in the hipsterverse, that's a badge of honor. What is the motivation for trying to be a card carrying member of the hipsterverse, anyway? Will to power? Overcompensation for an inferiority complex? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Jack and Diane Reredux
Friedrich -- Coach Hackman I caught up with "Hoosiers'" on your recommendation and enjoyed it a lot, many thanks. It certainly deserves a place on my ongoing list of "art and entertainment works that have done justice to midAmerica." Those big, earnest, wholesome emotions got to me, and Gene Hackman's wit and spark gave it all some focus and contrast. By the way, have his recent performances struck you as being as bad as they've struck me? I used to think he was almost always great. These days I think he's almost always lousy -- twisted and domineering, usually. I also enjoyed the "Hoosiers" recreation of clunky, earthbound, oldtime whiteboy basketball. That's the way it was played in my public high school. I remember all those scrawny whiteboy armpits too. General question: I find that the big city makes almost no room (and certainly shows no respect) for the kinds of wholesome, earnest emotions that a midAmerican tends to experience. City life seems to be all about being cynical, self-interested and smart, and (if at all possible) hoodwinking people and juggling abstractions. I spend much of my life in the city feeling emotionally parched, and aware that most city people would be quick to label what moves me "sentimental" or worse. That is, if I were ever fool enough to let them know what really moves me -- the smell of maples, the look of cornfields and small towns, the modesty, sweetness and generosity of the kinds of people I grew up with. All of which I tend to think of as "normal life," by the way -- but I can hear, right now as I type those words, some urban lefty "friend" railing away: "Normal! What gives you the right to say what's normal? Isn't it fascistic to impose your vison of normality..." etc etc. Do you, fellow mid-American-gone-urban, find this to be as much the case on the West Coast as I find it to be the case in NYC? To be honest, attending my 30th high school reunion got my simple-minded emotions all stirred up. And then watching "Hoosiers" -- lordy, the emotions and nostalgia (all of them, I suspect, about "home") got downright overwhelming. But my emotions have been close to the surface generally since the cancer operation. Some days I think they've settled down a bit. Then I learn better. Oh, another candidate for our "justice to midAmerica" list: "Home Fries," a touching, small Drew Barrymore vehicle, and amazingly '70s in feel, like "Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins." Drew in "Fries" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 20, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Horror and Catholics Redux
Michael As for me and horror, I'm not quite sure what to say. If it gets to me, it affects me very unpleasantly, and if it doesn't I'm usually rather bored. I rented "Scream" and flipped off my VCR very quickly--it wasn't doing anything for me or my wife. As Freud observed, morbid dread is the result of repressed sexuality, and I've apparently got too much repressed sexuality to have it tweaked casually, or something. (I didn't sleep for a week after reading "Dracula" in the 7th grade.) I did check out "I Know What You Did Last Summer II" (or whatever the title was) but that was on the hope I'd see Jennifer Love Hewitt in a tight tank top (a form of repressed sexuality that I was quite happy to have tweaked). You'll see a bigger version of the following picture of Hewitt if you click on it. JLH Religion-wise, you are at least partially misinformed: I was baptized a Catholic, but was switched over by my apostate mother early in life to Presbyterian Protestantism. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Michael at August 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Horror and Catholics
Friedrich -- I'm surprised to learn that you and horror don't mix well. I was under the impression that all Catholics (weren't you raised a Catholic?) were into horror. And I do remember being told by some Hollywood person years ago that that horror movies are made for three groups: teens, blacks, and Catholics. I'm generally not interested in horror myself, unless it's funny-scary or sexy-scary. (Have you caught "Cemetary Man"? Funny-sexy-scary -- ie., bliss.) But I was raised a Protestant, and spooky rituals don't mean much to me. The wife, raised a Catholic, craves horror, and craves it straight. Blood, forebodings, dark corridors, signs from the other world -- she eats every bit of it up. You come equipped with no such cravings? Image below not of the wife but of Anna Falchi from "Cemetary Man." The wife is much more glamorous. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Carla Gugino
Friedrich -- Glad to hear "Spy Kids 2" is enjoyable. I thought the first "Spy Kids" movie was pretty much of a blast, and think that the guy who makes them, Robert Rodriguez, is just about a perfect pop moviemaker. He seems impish, energetic, good-humored, unafraid of silliness and flamboyance, and full of fizz and humor. His scripts could be better, but just about all of his movies have a pop lift to them. Did you see his high school horror movie, "The Faculty"? Pretty good! Carla Gugino, by the way, is the actress who plays spy mom -- by my lights, one of the sexier movie moms ever, right up there with the mom in "Murmur of the Heart." She was in that De Palma movie "Snake Eyes" (I didn't like the movie and didn't take much note of her). But I liked her in a small role in "The Center of the World" (lousy DV would-be "Last Tango" -- although I cheer the effort! -- for the digital age, but with Gugino and an elegant Canadian actress I love watching, Molly Parker). And I liked her a whole lot in a lousy movie called "Jaded," where she had the lead. An oddball, not-good issue movie, but at least the issue is, believe it or not, lesbian rape -- Carla gets raped (whiskey bottle, if I remember right, and I'm enjoying the effort) by a couple of lesbians. But she really does act the pain, betrayal and fury well, and is hot, fiery, lush and emotional to boot. Carla Gugino I found her particular package -- the cutie-pie, Sally Fieldesque round face emitting the "dramatic" voice, the blazing but solemn eyes, the toned-but-ripe Italian body -- a little confusing at first, I confess. Now I'm a big fan. Confusing can be good, I have to remind myself sometimes. I wonder whether she'll become a star or turn out to be one of those glamorous, good actresses who never quite becomes a star. And whose time finally passses. It's not like I feel sorry for, say, Madeleine Stowe or Annette O'Toole (both them stars in my book). They work, they make tons of dough. But I do puzzle over why some actresses win stardom and some more-plausible (to me, anyway) ones don't. Why is, for example, Andie Macdowell a star -- or why was she for five minutes? Once the equipment is in place (glamor, accessibility, skill, etc.), is it really just a matter of a lucky hit or two? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 20, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments