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  1. 1000 Words: Addison Mizner
  2. Earthquakes and Traditional Building Styles
  3. Free Reads -- Therapy for Immigrants
  4. Guest Posting -- Michael L. on the Mystique of the Artist
  5. Free Reads -- Apple on Maybeck
  6. Free Views -- Virginia Valdes
  7. Free Reads -- Felix on Film
  8. Free Reads -- David Thomson
  9. Tacit Knowledge -- Authors and money
  10. Free Reads -- Kathleen Parker

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Saturday, January 18, 2003

1000 Words: Addison Mizner
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I see I've been sneaking in references to what I think of as "the other modern architecture" in recent postings. But why sneak? Why not just tell the tale? I'll start with Addison Mizner. When we think of Florida architecture, one of the styles that comes quickest to mind is Mediterranean Revival. Arches, stucco, porches, red tiles, courtyards ... It seems so much part of the climate that it's hard to imagine it didn't just spring up alongside the palm trees, a natural outgrowth of the heat and the water. In fact, most buildings in Florida prior to the end of World War I were in styles we associate with the Northeast. Amazingly enough, the Mediterranean (Spanish and Italian, mainly) Revival was brought to Florida and established as a style there by one man: Addison Mizner (1872-1933). Mizner grew up in California and adventured his way around much of the world before settling in NYC in his 30s, ambitious to become a society architect like his idol Stanford White. He was an eccentric yet debonair man who eventually weighed more than 300 pounds, and he dazzled and charmed high society with his wit and foibles. He filled scrapbooks with images he liked, from castles to Moorish ceilings to tables to fountains. He did some building and interior-decorating around NYC, then went to Florida in 1918 at the urging of a friend (an heir to the Singer fortune), set up shop there as a kind of developer/architect/bon-vivant, and became the preferred architect of the rich, who were for the first time traveling south during the cold months in great and regular numbers. His houses, hotels and clubs set the style for Palm Beach and Boca Raton -- which means that when we think "vacation in Florida" or "retiring to somewhere warm," some of the "Venice on the Atlantic" mental pictures that come to mind are pictures we owe to Mizner. He established businesses to produce the materials he demanded for his buildings -- fixtures, stucco and tiling, for instance -- and was happily making even bigger plans when the Depression wiped him out. By the time he died he was bankrupt. Many of the buildings he built are still standing, and the houses he made still command a premium. Mizner did nothing to "advance" architecture -- he had no formal training, and no interest whatsoever in innovation. He wanted swank and panache, lots of it, and his buildings bring together dignity and fantasy in ways that have proved hard to surpass. They struck a nerve, helped set a style that endures to this day, and they're still loved. Some of the best-known are the Cloister Inn and the Boca Raton Club; the Via Mizner is sometimes spoken of as America's first open-air shopping mall. (In pictures it looks classier and more pleasing than any recent mall I know of.) If some of the movies we love best are Dream Factory product, well, why shouldn't we... posted by Michael at January 18, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Earthquakes and Traditional Building Styles
Friedrich -- I've been happily following discussion of your review of the Moneo-designed new L.A. Cathedral, and was struck by a comment from one of your readers, Alicia Huntley (her website is here). She writes that earthquakes are an explanation for the non-traditional style in which the Cathedral was built. For one thing, the building itself has to be able to survive such big shocks; for another, traditional ornament is best avoided, for fear of it shaking loose. I know nothing about such technical matters myself, although I spent part of a recent dinner talking to a San Francisco architect most of whose business consists of earthquake-proofing older buildings. (I now know that many of them need help. I also know that they've done pretty well to last this long.) Still, I wonder ... At least a few of the buildings L.A. is proudest of are old (by L.A. standards), tall and in traditional styles. (And the Moneo Cathedral isn't even especially tall.) A couple of for-instances: Pasadena City Hall, 1927 The Pasadena City Hall , designed by John Bakewell and Arthur Brown and finished in 1927. It's a beautiful landmark, exuberant but classy, a good-spirited old dowager decked out in her best jewelry, and dripping with traditional detail, from arches to domes to lanterns to urns. Los Angeles City Hall, 1928 And the Los Angeles City Hall itself, designed by John Parkinson and completed in 1928. It's a glamorous, streamlined exercise in Art Deco, and was the tallest building in L.A. until the 1960s. Google tells me that the LA City Hall got a "seismic retrofit" (there's some jargon that's just too good to be avoided) a few years ago -- but, heck, these two buildings are over 70 years old and are still standing. So I'm impressed. I'm also thinking: there doesn't seem to be all that much conflict between "building in traditional styles" and "surviving earthquakes." And I'm wondering if the Moneo is likely to be here in 70 years. But, as I say, I have no idea whether these buildings have been near-disaster areas during the big earthquakes or not, and I imagine that Alicia Huntley knows much more about the subject than I do. Do you have any knowledge about this? Do any of our readers? Alicia? I smilingly note that both of these much-loved 20th century (and hence "modern," though not "modernist") buildings make not only free but enthusiastic and un-ironic use of historical precedents. The Pasadena City Hall re-works quite faithfully some ideas of Palladio, while the top of the LA City Hall is meant to evoke what's known of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. (Thank you, Google.) Bizarre, isn't it, how we've allowed ourselves to be talked into the idea that you can't build in this way anymore? You simply can't, argue the apologists for modernism: Modern life, modern consciousness, etc., etc. Hmm. Yet these buildings were completed in 1927 and 1928. When do we suppose this all-changing "modernity" rupture-thingee occurred? Perhaps in... posted by Michael at January 18, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Therapy for Immigrants
Friedrich -- A thought-provoking piece by Sarah Kershaw in the NYTimes about how immigrants bring (and act out) their own forms of distress, depression, and anxiety, readable here. Some fascinating stuff. Asians, for instance, seem to tolerate only about half as much medication as other ethnic groups. And there's apparently no word in Korean for "depression"; Koreans talk instead about being "a little bit irritable," or perhaps having a "down heart." Sample passage: Culture-bound syndromes, which are listed in the standard reference of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, are not limited to Asians. A common disorder among Hispanics, for example, is a condition called "ataque de nervios," in which so much pent-up anxiety and anger come out that a sufferer will fall on the floor and may experience uncontrollable shouting, attacks of crying and heat in the chest, said Dr. Julia Ramos-Grenier, a psychologist and professor at the University of Hartford. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 18, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, January 17, 2003

Guest Posting -- Michael L. on the Mystique of the Artist
Friedrich -- It's always fun to try to puzzle out what the figure of "the artist" means to people, and to marvel at how attached people are to their fantasies about art and artists. Michael L., a reader from Boston, took note of an offhand sentence in one of my postings on the topic and sent in a fine anecdote and reflection: You say "Perhaps the general public likes having an "artist" figure out there -- perhaps it means something to the general public." I think you're right, and I'll give you an example. My wife is an artist, and recently I acquired work space in the building where her studio is located. I'm playing around with wood and polymer clay sculpture. The artists in the building had an open studio event. During that weekend I was in and out of my workshop, but not a part of the open studios. The public dropped in to my space anyway since it was warm and I had the door ajar. Other than workbenches I had built, there were just some figures in progress on my worktable. I talked to whoever came in, telling them I was not an artist nor a part of the open studios but merely a hobbyist and a beginning one at that. To a person, they insisted that I was an artist because I was doing something creative -- and not because I had produced any art. Even the most generous of critics could not have said that with any seriousness. They were in love with the idea of "artist" and had a need to democratize that idea as much as possible. (Which may explain why some horrible "art" gets sold.) However, I think the romantic idea of artist as individual creator in his/her garret is a pervasive part of our modern culture. Isn't that great? They couldn't be talked out of believing that he's an artist. They'd come to meet and see artists -- so, by god, they were going to have themselves an artist. Many thanks to Michael L. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2003 | perma-link | (26) comments

Free Reads -- Apple on Maybeck
Friedrich -- The Times' R.W. Apple writes a good introduction to the work of the great, playful, mystical and zany west coast architect Bernard Maybeck. Maybeck was a wonderfully eccentric figure who lived into the 1950s, and built many beautiful San Francisco-area buildings, mixing styles from Arts and Crafts to NeoClassical to Meditearranean. Apple's piece is readable here. Sample passage: Maybeck's roots were in the Arts and Crafts movement. Along with a poet, publisher and aesthetic theorist named Charles Keeler, and others, he worked to turn the "seismically unstable and intellectually volatile Berkeley hills," as the architecture writer Allen Freeman described them, into an Arcadian garden landscape, dotted with rustic wooden houses. They were guided by Keeler's injunction to "let the work be simple and genuine, let it be a genuine expression of the life which it is to environ" — a sentiment worthy of an American William Morris. In the strait-laced Victorian era, their counter-cultural way of life must have seemed almost as far out as the present-day pageant of nonconformity on Telegraph Avenue, between Bancroft Way and Dwight Way, where hippies, punks, Rastafarians, Trotskyites and anarchists mingle with students. And where does the Times run this piece? In the Architecture pages? Nope: in its Travel section. Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1915 Maybeck, by the way, is on the list of the architects I'm hoping to profile as examples of "the other modern architecture" -- great artists, builders and buildings from the 20th century that share very little with the official (ie., Modernism to Post-Modernism and beyond) story of recent architecture. Maybeck, like many others, is modern -- but not Modernist. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Views -- Virginia Valdes
Friedrich -- Another gifted video artist has put some of her work on the web -- Virginia Valdes, whose short "movies" you can watch here. They're rhapsodic, a little spooky, and very beautiful -- they really cast a spell. Valdes has a web art-thingee to have fun with, here, and she designs websites too, here. They're funky, vivid and sexy, like digital-age versions of great old spaghetti-western posters. Since I'm in a confirming-my-own-theories mood today, I won't resist my urge to argue that the kind of "movies" digital-video is likely to have the greatest impact on for the good is stuff like Valdes': short, do-able at home, probably nonnarrative (since acted-out narratives demand the collaboration of lots of people), and distribute-able on the web. DV cameras and computers? What may be greatest about them, at least for the moment, is that they allow you to work in complete freedom. But that probably implies people working in short (ie., manageable) forms, and at home and in their spare time. I'm eager to see more of this work: May a zillion arty mini-movies flourish. Warning: Readers with slow internet connections are likely to have a hard, or at least endless, time downloading these films. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Felix on Film
Friedrich -- Felix Salmon gets off some good ones at the expense of the Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze movie "Adaptation," and then segues into some good ones about the downside of watching films shot on digital video, here. Sample passage: Every columnist, it is said, is allowed precisely one column about how hard it is to write the column, how he has nothing to say in his column, how he needs to turn in something but can't think of anything to write, that sort of thing. Even when it's done well, it reeks of desperation. Adaptation is the filmic equivalent of that one column. Charlie Kaufman has got away with it, mainly because he's Charlie Kaufman, and in the wake of the success of Being John Malkovich, he and Spike Jonze could do pretty much anything they wanted. But insofar as Adaptation represents a whole new genre in filmmaking, it only does so because it's a genre which shouldn't exist, and which should never be repeated. I haven't seen "Adaptation" yet. Have you? I haven't, partly because I was apparently the only person in the world un-wowed by the Kaufman/Jonze "Being John Malkovich." I mean, all due credit for a grabby premise. But I thought Kaufman and Jonze had no idea what to do with it, or where to go with it. And the film seemed to me to start falling apart within about 30 minutes. But most people seemed to love it -- thereby confirming my theory that many people are content these days to love something simply because it's offbeat or unusual. How'd you react to it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- David Thomson
Friedrich -- Robert Birnbaum's site Identity Theory is one of the best Web resources I know of for q&a's with interesting writers. Birnbaum's latest interview is with the film critic David Thomson, and it's a special treat. Have you kept up with Thomson over the years? He's a Brit who came over here and re-made himself into a bit of a populist-gonzo intellectual. He's still half-and-half, but in a good way: he's got all the brains and articulateness of an educated Englishman, but he's open and searching in an American way. In any case, a terrific interview, readable here. Sample passage: The truth of the matter is that it would be very depressing today to be a regular film critic, a regular film reviewer because it would mean that you would have to see all the junk. We live in a very strange culture where the New York Times and most of our papers take it as their duty, their obligation, to review every film that opens. Do they review every book that is published? Of course not. Do they review every concert? No. Do they review every art show? No. Does anyone think they should? No, of course not. There's a great fallacy there. A paper that showed the courage to say, "A lot of the movies that are opening do not merit our review space." That would be a refreshing attitude. But you have to bear in mind that the newspapers are horribly dependent on the advertising from the movies and that's where the commercialization of it has become terribly overpowering. Which is pretty much what my film-critic friends tell me off the record and over drinks... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Tacit Knowledge -- Authors and money
Friedrich -- A woman I was lunching with who works at a large literary agency told me an amazing fact. Her agency represents over 3000 authors. Guess how much of the agency's income is brought in by their top 10 authors. Ready? The answer is 25%. Wow: 1/4 of the money this company makes is brought in by 1/300th of its authors. (And one of their top 10 authors has been dead for some years now.) I wonder what percentage of their revenue is brought in by the bottom 1500 of their authors? And people talk about book-writing as though it's a career. It isn't a career; it's a crapshoot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 16, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Kathleen Parker
Friedrich -- Two teenagers are screwing. They're doing the coitus thing. Penetration has occurred. The end zone's in sight. And the girl decides she's had enough. It's time to go home now. She announces this. It, er, takes the boy a minute and a half to give up. He's convicted of rape. And now the California Supreme Court has upheld the conviction. Columnist Kathleen Parker tells the story here. Sample passage: I am prepared to defend males against the sort of insanity that makes them criminals for not being able to read a girl's mind. Who exactly will bear witness to these "he said-she said" debacles? What words will suffice to mean "Stop," if "I need to get home" is enough to convict a boy of rape? What if she'd said, "Oh, gosh, I've got to buy cat food." Would that do? "Clearly my heart wasn't in it, Your Honor. He should have known I meant stop!" And how quick is quick enough for the man to cease his foul play? A minute? Thirty seconds? The court didn't say. So now teenaged boys are expected to have the self-control of, ahem, 50 year old men? Hmm, "self-control"... Or would it be more accurate to say "fading sex drive"? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 16, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

L. A. Cathedral
Michael— At long, long last I have made a pilgrimage to the new Los Angeles Cathedral (formally, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels). I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not an expert on religious architecture--although I'm not sure who would qualify as such an expert--but with those provisos I will simply report my impressions of the site and the building. The exterior of the Cathedral makes a fairly powerful statement from the preferred angle of approach, which is out of the parking garage. J. Moneo, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 2002 However, from the exterior the building strikes me as being in a bit of a defensive crouch, showing massive, largely featureless walls to the street and making sure its vulnerable “cross” window is carefully placed where its hard for people to chuck rocks at it. This “defensive” impression is reinforced by the fact that the church is walled off to the street most of the time; a combination of permanent wall and retractable metal gates—which are no doubt opened prior to services—restricts access at other times to entry points which are manned by security guards. (The security guards themselves seem very pleasant and are eager to discuss the building, by the way—I hope the Cathedral keeps the current crop of guys around permanently.) Interior Looking Away From Altar Inside, the Cathedral is a rather hushed, contemplative space. The walls are clad in warm concrete panels. Despite the large size of the interior and its very high ceiling, the effect is not at all overwhelming. In fact, the feeling of the space is oddly horizontal, even a bit compressed. Windows, South Wall The windows give the interior of the Cathedral a feeling of being underground, a sensation reinforced by a ceiling that doesn’t vault upwards, but actually sags downwards. A friend I visited with commented that the effect was a bit like being in somebody’s basement. I assume the cave or cell-like quality is intentional and, as I mentioned, promotes a quietist atmosphere. I’m not sure how well it would accommodate something a bit more activist, like an actual service. (Of course, I visited during the week, so I can’t really comment definitively on that.) Interior Facing Altar One actively annoying feature is the way the overhead space is filled with chandeliers. They’re not very attractive (although I'm sure their design has symbolic significance) and they just seem to clutter up what needs to be a more visually free and open space. Another questionable decision is the obviously carefully calculated asymmetry of the front (altar) end of the Cathedral. Presumably hoping to avoid forcing the eye towards the altar and the priests conducting the service, this non-hierarchical design unfortunately just ends up drawing attention to how clever it is, which seems rather beside the point in such a setting. (After our visit was over, it provoked a discussion between my friend and I over the use of symmetry in religious architecture. He approves of such symmetry... posted by Friedrich at January 16, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Art as Economic Inefficiency?
Friedrich -- I'm going to indulge myself with a musing or two. Half-baked though I'm sure they'll be, I have this awful feeling that my arrival at them will be laborious. So I'm hoping you're in a patient mood. I'm reading Paul Johnson's "History of the English People." It's great -- vigorous and fascinating. He wears his biases out front, so they're hard to resent (and easy to be amused and provoked by), and he never, never, never, never does that thing so many historians do of simply swamping you with facts and stories. I remember the gloom that would come over me in the history classes I took back at our Lousy Ivy College when the facts-'n'-stories would start to rain down. (It was a different gloom that came over me when the stupid-professorial-theories-about-the-nature-of-history-itself started to emerge.) Sheesh, who cares? Johnson never makes me feel gloomy in that way. He's always pursuing some point or other; he's always explaining or exemplifying something. So the facts come along as he's getting you somewhere. Yet it never feels as though they're made subordinate to his points. It's as though confronting the facts originally made him think certain thoughts, and now that he's presenting it all back to us, he's using the facts to show us his points. Bliss. Anyway, writing about kings and war and the middle ages, Johnson talks at some length about the British lust for making war on France. As he presents it, there was little rhyme or reason to these wars. The British evidently enjoyed imagining that they might thereby get rich -- but in 300 years of war, they only lost money. Johnson's conclusion is that the British are a xenophobic and aggressive people (or were then), and that it simply suited them to pursue these wars -- which they evidently were generally in favor of, even though they often impoverished and humiliated the country when things went badly. It suited them ... That's what's got me thinking, or re-thinking, about something I've always wanted to ask of people more familiar with economic thinking than I am. (I'll claim a pretty solid Econ 102 level for myself, and feel mighty proud of that. But I'm not loony enough to claim anything more exalted for myself.) Roughly speaking, it's this: the value of what's economically inefficient. Inefficent. I don't think economists show enough interest in inefficiency. Economists have a bias towards economic growth, and towards economic efficiency. They often seem to think everyone does, and they can be mighty bullying when they encounter what they consider irrationality. Even Thomas Sowell, whose work and columns I generally enjoy, in his book "Basic Economics" sometimes takes on a bullying tone. Economic efficiency (and thereby growth) trump all other values -- they must, because after all don't you want everyone to be better off? And if you don't, what kind of inhumane/snobbish/elitist/totalitarian are you? Etc, etc. Yet clearly, over and over and over again, individuals, groups and nations have opted... posted by Michael at January 16, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Philip K. Dick and Sci Fi Gnosis
Michael— As you may remember at our Lousy Ivy University, when I should have been writing term papers or thinking seriously about my future I hung out in the library reading whatever amused me. In a comfortable little lounge that I didn’t discover until I was a senior I came across a history of Gnosticism. This has always seemed like a stroke of luck to me, intellectually, because Gnosticism is one of those energizer bunny ideas that keeps on showing up in one unexpected context after another. Plato, the Christian Gnostics, Manichaeism, the Kaballah, Theosophy, New Age mysticism, The Matrix, all contain echoes of the thought that the world that we wander through is a dark, delusional, screwed up place and that our spiritual home, our true reality, to which we must struggle to ascend, lies on another plane accessible only through mystic insight or gnosis, achieved either by contemplation or via divine revelation. On an emotional level, if our deepest desires and urges seem constantly frustrated in this world, if we feel at root that “things shouldn’t be like this,” that’s because this world isn’t really real, but rather a kind of nightmare we’re trying to awaken from. When I picked up Philip K. Dick as an adult I discovered that I had read many of his books as a teenager indiscriminately gobbling up my local library’s collection of sci-fi. Of course, since it had been nearly two decades since I had read them I had almost forgotten them--resulting in a very Dickian ghost memory as I read them again 20 years later. Of course, to call Dick a “science fiction” writer is a bit of a misnomer: the futuristic settings of his novels just give him permission to cut loose from the constraints of psychological realism and get on with setting up his Gnostic allegories. The situations of his books are often hilariously complicated, as I have found trying to summarize them for friends: “Well, um, in Ubik, the hero—Joe Chip—is an employee of a psychic protection agency in a future world where reincarnation has both been scientifically proven and can be delayed, so it’s possible to communicate with the dear departed for a while. The plot gets going when the agency is hired for a big job on the Moon and then their team of psychic operators is double-crossed and the charismatic protection agency boss gets killed. When Joe and his fellow psychics try to accompany the bosses’ body for burial, Joe starts getting weird spirit messages from his boss (words written on mirrors, television commercials featuring his boss with messages directed at Joe, etc.) and of course the world they travel through keeps slipping further and further back into the past…” I remember giggling and thinking that I had never run into anything that was quite so transparently allegorical, at least not since "Pilgrim's Progress." (And, of course, Dick is a great deal funnier than Bunyan, at least as I remember the old boy.) But I... posted by Friedrich at January 15, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Reads -- Murphy on Muschamp
Friedrich -- Philip Murphy at his blog The Invisible Hand (dedicated to "Vital Information About Islamofascism, Euro-snobbery and Lousy Modern Architecture"), in an eloquent rant about most of the new WTC design proposals, takes some well-aimed shots at the New York Times' ludicrous "architecture critic," Herbert Muschamp. The posting is readable here. Sample passage: I’d love for Muschamp to occupy an office on the 120th floor of Norman Foster’s absurdly inhumane “kissing towers.” Yeah Herb, just take this express elevator to the sky lobby, then wait for the local, walk down a couple of dark over-air conditioned corridors, and your desk is right up against that inward-slanting plate glass window with southern exposure. A bit hot in there? Oh well, that’s the price you pay for culture. Do you enjoy hating Muschamp's work as much as I, and apparently Philip Murphy, do? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 15, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Energy Efficient Mysteries
Michael— As part of our continuing coverage of architectural issues, I want to ask why one design element of any major building—energy efficiency—doesn’t seem to be making more headway. A story in the New York Times of January 15, which you can read here, discusses the limited headway so called “building green” had made: [The lack of energy-efficient commercial architecture] is a phenomenon with parallels to the popularity of sport utility vehicles, except that buildings are responsible for more than 36 percent of the country's energy consumption, and transportation only 27 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy. While the headline for the Times article stresses that developers’ lack of interest is “a Matter of Economics” this doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Energy efficiency is, of course, a self-financing improvement…over time. While the original cost of such buildings seems to be modestly higher than “standard” commercial construction—the article cites costs that are anywhere from $0.45 to $2.00 a foot higher (although it doesn’t specify how much energy efficiency this buys)—such expense would seem easily recoverable from lower operating costs. I know studies have revealed that manufacturing businesses often demand insanely high internal rates of return on energy efficiency expenditures—50% or more per annum has been quoted—but one would assume that real estate investors with an even medium-term outlook would be willing to accept more modest returns. (Interestingly, several of the companies that seem most active in this area tend to be well established organizations that presumably do take a longer-term view of these questions.) If 4 Times Square Can Do Solar, Why Not the Sun Belt? I remember while walking around Las Vegas last summer wondering why the casinos, which must have enormous energy costs, weren’t trying to offset them with photovoltaic panels. The issue seemed even more odd because I had read only a few days previously that such panels are now less expensive than an equivalent square footage of polished stone, the kind that fronts many of the newer casinos. While photovoltaics may not be as terribly practical outside the sun belt, I have seen few applications of them even there. Odd, isn’t it, that even in a capitalist society many economically justifiable improvements seem to languish because of, what—inertia? fashion? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 15, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Views -- Apartment House Wresting
Friedrich -- "WARNING - This site contains images of women in bikinis, underwear, or semi-nude and engaged in boxing, wrestling, and general mayhem towards each other." How to resist such a come-on? I didn't, and had a very good time browsing the galleries of a very sweet website devoted to what's known as Apartment-House Wrestling, viewable here. Thea vs. Leonora, 1972 Though I confess that I'm still uncertain exactly what Apartment-House Wrestling was. A '70s-'80s tacky entertainment form that I apparently completely missed out on at the time: Gals in bikinis, etc, wrestling each other in apartments. (Fan of bikinis and gals though I am, I think I enjoyed the glimpses of the era's apartments just as much.) But are the stills that are on display taken from movies? Or were the wrestling matches staged just to generate the stills? And how was the material circulated? Under the counter, as a kind of soft-core, Betty Page-ish porn? Perhaps "Dr. Chin," who is apparently still fine-tuning the site, would consider including a page of information answering such basic questions? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 15, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Femme (Lit) Erotica
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- As you know, in the last twenty or thirty years a lot of women artists and writers have made attempts to move into erotica, into porn, and into the edgier precincts of art. Do you enjoy keeping tabs on what they're up to? I do. Why? Partly for erotico-religio-aesthetic reasons that I'll save for a slower day. But partly also because it's simply fun (and occasionally beautiful and moving) to watch women stretch their wings. There's also the interesting-art-and-sex-puzzle side to it. Which, as I see it, is this: Given that women haven't traditionally played the straightforward, aggressive-pursuer role, given that many women don't seem as narrowly sex-centric as men so often are, and given that sex per se is the basic motor of this kind of art -- well, how can the woman artist move to the center of it and take command? I'm interested; I want to know the results, or at least watch the effort get made. So I'm a student and fan of all this, and it's a corner of the art-and-lit worlds I'm forever returning to. Over the holidays I treated myself to three fairly-recent erotic books by women. I caught up with The Sexual Life of Catherine M., a memoir by a French art-magazine editor named Catherine Millet that created a scandal some months back. Susanna Moore's In the Cut caused a fuss a few years farther back; it's basically a writing-school attempt at doing something hard-boiled, thriller-like, and sexual, but from the female point of view. Both of these books have some serious lit pretentions. I also read through one example of flat-out erotica, a collection of stories, Dark Desires, by an author who calls herself Maria del Rey. What's the verdict? Well, I had a good time. I often like it when art pretentions are mixed up with erotica -- the boundary between art and porn is one I'm fond of exploring. So that wasn't the reason I found myself skimming through much of the French memoir. Did you read about it at all? Millet writes about her sex life, which seems largely to have consisted of saying No to almost nobody; she's a woman who has made her orifices available to hundreds of men, whether in the forests of the Bois du Boulogne, or in sex clubs, or in artists' studios, or in the back seats of cars. As a book, it's a strange and arresting piece of performance art. Millet's take on her own story is about as French as can be: ie., clinical, distanced, chic, philosophical, existential. She isn't going to make sense of it. She isn't going to go searching for explanations. She isn't going to justify it. C'est comme ca, and that's all there is to it. I'm actually rather fond of the genre: the intense, existential Frenchwoman's book about sex,alienation, masochism, negation, and spirituality. I tend to take it (and enjoy it) as a kind of chic, sexy grandstanding. This... posted by Michael at January 14, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, January 13, 2003

TV Alert
Friedrich -- The bad news is that it’s a slow week on TV. The good news is that the women’s tennis season is starting. Which brings us to ... The 2Blowhards Pick of the TV Week The Australian Open: ESPN at many times, every day from now through Saturday, Jan. 25. Tennis is one of the least telegenic of sports, which as far as I’m concerned is a good reason to love it. Producers have tried for years to find ways to soup the game up visually, and besides chopping it up with some annoying editing, there hasn’t been much they can do. Players just keep on hitting the damn ball back and forth, and back and forth. All of which means that tennis is, despite everything, still one of the few major sports where media values haven’t completely prevailed. A tournament-viewing tip from a longtime tennis fan: don’t fixate on the final rounds. Check in on the early rounds, too: players are often looser and funnier, and matches are often more unpredictable. The special joy of women’s tennis consists in two things: the emotionality of the players, and their (relative) lack of overwhelming firepower. Because of the emotionality, the women’s game almost always features more drama (if rather less athleticism) than the men’s. Is Martina feuding with her Mom? How’s Kim’s romance going? All these elements play a role -- which makes for far more interesting viewing than the guys, who (yawn) tend to have either “on” or “off” days. The other plus may be something for connoisseurs. Because most of the women don’t command the kind of brute strength that nearly all the men do these days, there tends to be more tennis on display. They don’t just bash each other around and perform heroic stunts. Strategy, character, thought and smarts play a much larger role. Those who watch tennis because they love the game for itself tend to find much more of it on display in women’s than in men’s tennis. Movies January on TCM is Doris Day month, which means I don’t have much to recommend, not being familiar with all that much of her (ahem) oeuvre. Of the rest of their movies, here are a few I can recommend: * On Saturday, 1-18, TCM is running five Hitchcock movies in a row. I’ve found that people who didn’t grow up on Hitchcock and who come to him late are sometimes puzzled by his reputation. The films aren’t all that terrifying, and sometimes aren’t even all that suspenseful. What’s the point? Well, many. The one that I favor is the one argued by Brian De Palma: that Hitchcock was simply the greatest master of visual storytelling ever. Watching his films (and doing everything that goes along with that: talking about them, reading about them, watching them again, etc etc) is a basic education in what the visual grammar of the narrative-film medium is. Of the five films TCM is showing, the one not to miss is... posted by Michael at January 13, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Pic of the Day--Ambiguities of Reproduction
Michael— I’ve always enjoyed the paintings of Edward Hopper, both of the “direct (or apparently direct) from nature” and the “anecdotal” varieties. Of course the story lines of his “anecdotal” paintings are never very clear, which allows viewers to project meanings into what they see as well as forcing them to contemplate the ambiguities of what’s going on. I liken the more successful of the “anecdotal” paintings to glimpses into other people’s lives seen from a passing car—a nanosecond view of something too complex to be fully understood, but which is embedded in a suggestive context. Today’s pic of the day is one of these little not-entirely-to-be-understood dramas. Painted a few years after World War II, it seems to show a middle-aged working man raking the lawn of his not-very-new, not-very-expensive house. In my imaginative construction, it seemed to be a view of a modest life lived in discipline and dignity. While it doesn’t appear at all condescending, the accent in the painting seems on the “modesty” of the life in question. However, an odd effect made me reconsider my view of this painting. When I was scanning an illustration of a book on Hopper, I first chose a software setting that created a fairly “objective” scan (i.e., one that looks pretty much like the illustration): E. Hopper, Pennsylvania Coal Town, 1947 ("Objective" scan) Then I chose another software setting (the “automatic” brightness level) just to see what it looked like: E. Hopper, Pennsylvania Coal Town, 1947 ("Bright" scan) This brighter picture suddenly suggested an altogether different reading of the picture (which, of course, you may find just as goofy as the first.) In this version, the man raking his lawn is staring directly at the source of the light on his house—which we cannot see. Rather than bent over his mechanical task, the man seems to be transfixed by the sight of the radiance. In short, rather than being a picture of a man living in modest, somewhat claustrophobic circumstances (a person who we see but who does not see us), it suddenly became a picture of a man who is experiencing some revelation denied to us. I have doubts if this is the meaning that Hopper intended for this painting. (Given his lifelong fascination with painting light, though, it’s not easy to be sure that this interpretation is completely off base, either.) But equally, given the extremely open-ended structures Hopper creates, it’s not clear to me that any interpretation of one of his pictures (assuming it doesn’t ignore what’s actually in the picture) is entirely wrong. Odd, isn’t it, how subtleties of reproduction can shift perceived meanings so dramatically. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 13, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Moviegoing: "About Schmidt"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Until this evening, I hadn't been to a theater to see a movie in about two months, probably a record for me, at least since my teen years. At the end of the day, a DVD, videotape or book seems much more appealing than a trek to the movie theater. When the Wife and I think of going out these days, we tend to picture really going out -- for dinner, to the theater, for some music. But lunch today with one of our film critic buddies reminded us that there are movies out there to be seen. On big screens! In the company of fellow human beings! So we hauled ourselves to the theater. "Chicago" and "The Two Towers" were sold out, and we wound up watching "About Schmidt," the new Alexander Payne movie starring Jack Nicholson. Have you seen it? I seem to recall that you're a fan of Payne's "Election," which I liked too, though I preferred his earlier "Citizen Ruth." I think he's very talented, and Im thrilled that he's out there getting a few Americans to enjoy satire, something they're notoriously averse to doing. But I was mezzo-mezzo on "About Schmidt." I sat all the way through, but squirmed and checked my watch more than a few times. In this film, Payne is mixing his satire with pathos. Lots of pathos. Actually, the pathos seems central; what the film feels like is pathos viewed about 75% satirically. The Wife compared it to an Ozu film: oodles of family despair and sadness viewed very formally. Too bad that Payne doesn't have anything like Ozu's control over the shape of a film. He seems to be able to see moments, scenes, and sequences as wholes, but not the film in its entirety. So it winds up straggling on and on. You know how most films feel like they start and stop 3 or 4 times? This one felt like 7 or 8. I kept thinking, Oh, God, is he starting something new up again? (The movie was taken from a Louis Begley novel, and there were times when I was rolling my eyes and thinking, "Damn literary novels!") But a lot of the moments and scenes are terrific. I don't know another filmmaker who gets the surfaces of mid-America (the film starts off in Omaha and winds up in Denver) as well as Payne does. Which is a kick for me, as I assume it'd be for you, given our mid-American backgrounds. Even the cityscapes of Omaha (empty and gray -- it's obvious that no one lives downtown) could be of the city near where I grew up. The people onscreen are like the neighbors in my childhood cul de sac. The physical details (the "central air" box outside the house, the Hummel dolls, the Englishman's driving cap that Nicholson wears), the behaviors (the perkiness, earnestness and awkwardness), the friendliness crossed with the sense of estrangement -- well, "it's like a... posted by Michael at January 13, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments