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  1. Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi
  2. Free Reads -- Amy Sohn on Hasbians
  3. Free Reads -- Felix on Muschamp
  4. Doing It For a Living
  5. Free Reads -- Mark Goldblatt on the MLA
  6. Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part III
  7. Free Reads -- Amy Harmon on computer chess
  8. Art Class
  9. Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism Part II
  10. Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part I

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Friday, February 7, 2003

Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi
Friedrich -- Andrew Takeuchi, who wrote an article I cited some time ago about cinematography, digital technology, and movies, spotted the posting and left a terrific comment on it. I found it so interesting that I asked Andrew if I could use the comment as a new posting here, and he agreed. Here it is: I stumbled across this discussion tonight during a break from writing - In a moment of boredom I googled myself and was surprised find that someone had actually read a recent article I had written on the emerging field of electronic cinematography. My training and passion has been in the field of analog film so it was fascinating to talk with a few seasoned veterans about HD video and its use in motion picture and television production. Recently I had the opportunity to shoot a project with the Sony HDW-F900 camera (the same system used by Lucas on the latest Star Wars movie) and was generally pleased with the results. Yes, it is in some ways cheaper to shoot in HD as the tape stock is considerably cheaper than 35mm raw stock. But when it comes to post-production, costs are not necessarily that much lower. Also, the cameras are considerably more expensive to rent, body without lens runs in the $1000/day range versus around $500/day for a state of the art 35mm camera. And let's not forget about the importance of having a skilled crew to dress the sets and light them - those costs remain the same. Beyond issues of resolution and more importantly, dynamic range (tonal range from light to dark) HD has other limitations including its lack of depth of field fall-off due to the smaller size of the imaging chip and the cumbersome nature of the equipment. But enough with the technical details. I agree that advances in digital video have opened the door to a wider range of filmmakers, but I think that what is often forgotten in these discussions is that filmmaking, like any other art form is a craft with fundamental skills that must be mastered. I regularly make short digital movies with a local film club - shot primarily on Mini DV and edited on Macs. Occasionally movies made by novices will capture attention with a breath of originality, but more often than not pieces made by novices are hard to watch, lacking the sense of composition, pacing and dramatic direction that is only learned with experience. Of course the ability to make short pieces with friends certainly allows one to polish skills without too much financial commitment and this is one reason I participate. There are an increasing number of outlets for the works produced by the new breed of digital filmmakers including the proliferation of digital "film" festivals and the occasional DVD magazine featuring short work. But in many ways I think the situation is akin to the independent music scene, made possible in part due to the arrival of affordable home recording equipment -... posted by Michael at February 7, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Free Reads -- Amy Sohn on Hasbians
Friedrich -- I knew lesbians were chic five minutes ago, and I'd heard of LUGs (lesbians until graduation), and I've certainly registered that for a certain class of kids sexual identity seems to have become a mix-and-match thing. But I hadn't yet heard of "hasbians" -- gals who were once with gals who are now with men. Been there, done that, now doing something else. Amy Sohn tells us more in New York magazine, here. Sample passage: If there are more hasbians today than ten years ago, Sharpe thinks, it may have to do with the excitement of the gay-positive early nineties. “The aesthetic of gay politics was really cool. There was that whole act up thing, and it was easy to be gay. You had k.d. lang on the cover of Vanity Fair with Cindy Crawford, and there were all these lesbian movies like Go Fish. The gay community felt more exciting back then, and there was something alluring about entering into that scene.” “It’s like a junior year abroad to Gay World,” says Sullivan. “Lots of girls at Brown, Berkeley, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Yale go there but don’t stay there. For lesbians over 45, sexuality wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t popular to come out. It was pre-Madonna and pre–Sandra Bernhard.” Hey, weren't the early and mid-'70s, when we were in college, also very gay-friendly? And weren't a fair number of girls messing around with other girls back then? Not that anyone these days wants to hear about it. Once again, we're the Generation No One Took Note Of. Crushed by the passage of time, Michael UPDATE: Jim Miller has a posting on the "hasbians" phenom here.... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

Free Reads -- Felix on Muschamp
Friedrich -- The alert Felix Salmon has caught the NYTimes' ludicrous (scandalous? soi-disant? evil?) architecture critic Herbert Muschamp stepping on his own toes. It's readable here. Hey, maybe Felix is ready to join Philip Murphy, Paul Mansour and me in our Anti-Herbert-Muschamp Webring. Or maybe not. Felix has put up his own posting about the WTC finalists here. He likes the THINK proposal a lot. Wrong wrong wrong! But nicely done. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Doing It For a Living
Friedrich -- Your recent postings about Impressionism have reminded me of a question I've always wanted to raise about art. It's the question of doing it for a living. There tends to be an assumption that if you're good at something, you should (or could) turn it into a job, you should do it professionally. Having a job that you love doing (and are well-paid for) is a widespread fantasy, and one that's taken very seriously; if you have a talent or an activity you enjoy doing for its own sake, you're likely to receive a lot of encouragement to turn it into a job. Yet is this always good advice? I wonder. It strikes me as more than likely that the process of turning an activity you love into your means of making a living might very well kill your enjoyment in the activity. Why should it be otherwise? Something you do freely, and purely for the pleasure of it -- isn't this chemical formula necessarily going to be modified if you add "now go make money with it" to the mix? It might change for the better, but it might very well change for the worse. How so? Imagine loving making furniture. You love the wood, the concentration, the process of design, the tactility, the sawdust, the tools and machines, the planning, the smiles on people's faces when you give them a gift ... Now imagine making furniture for a living. Bosses, possibly -- always a joy. Accountants and bookkeeping in any case. Clients making demands instead of friends delighted to receive gifts. Competition and compromises. (After all, the more straightforwardly market-economy a field is, the more you're stuck servicing your customers -- a good thing generally, but is there any reason to assume that it'll enhance the pleasure you take in your craft?) Even if you're financially successfully, you might very well wake up one day wishing you'd never followed your bliss. You've spoiled your pleasure in something you used to love. Yet the fantasy persists. I think it's partly because we're Americans, and we have dreams about finding joy and satisfaction (redemption, really) in our jobs. I think it's also partly human and completely understandable. It isn't easy -- in a life that includes job, family, friends, and routine maintenance -- to squeeze in much of anything else at all. So it may be natural to fantasize about getting pleasure and "fulfillment" (whatever that means) in addition to a salary from the workplace. That way, at least you'll have a little leisure time at the end of the day. Without a fulfilling job, you're stuck: use the spare time for leisure, or for what you love? Splitting those precious hours half and half doesn't leave a lot for either. Another example is blogging. I contribute to this blog for fun and pleasure. If someone loves my work and wants to throw money at me, I'm certainly not going to refuse to cash the checks. But such... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Free Reads -- Mark Goldblatt on the MLA
Friedrich -- The annual meeting of the Modern Language Association is always good for an easy laugh or two, what with so many lit profs being the political nitwits that they are. In his column today, Mark Goldblatt manages the easy laughs well, and then takes the discussion a useful notch or two further along. Sample passage: On the one hand, Leftist intellectuals — drenched by now in postmodern hogwash — dismiss the suggestion that the world exists independently of our perceptions ... Knowledge, to them, is a function of power, always tainted by political and cultural bias ... Telling people who disagree with you that they're wrong, under such circumstances, is an act of political oppression. On the other hand, Leftist intellectuals have no problem whatsoever telling people who disagree with them that they're wrong. That's not oppression . . . that's (open finger-quotes) education (close finger-quotes). Leftist intellectuals believe they see beneath the surface of things, that they discern the reality beneath the blur of language — conveniently forgetting that they're committed to a worldview in which the blur of language creates reality, a worldview in which one blur of language is no more valid than another since there's no underlying reality to measure language against. In other words, they claim that they see beneath the surface while simultaneously claiming that the surface is all there is. Not bad! The piece is readable here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Chris Bertram has posted a response, as well as some excerpts from Bernard Williams here.... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part III
Michael: As you've probably caught on by now, this is the next installment in my attempt to reconstruct what Impressionism meant to its creators and its contemporaries. As I explained in parts #1 and #2, I’m trying to re-evaluate each element in what I’ve called the Standard Account of Impressionism (which, for purposes of convenience, will here be represented by quotes from a popular art history book: “A Treasury of Impressionism” by Nathaniel Harris). As I mentioned in Part #2, Mr. Harris begins his book by denying the existence of any controversial content in Impressionist pictures. He is then left with the problem of explaining why the French art market didn’t embrace this happy, cheerful painting in the late 1860s or 1870s. To make sense of this the mysterious market failure, he provides the following social analysis: …France [during the Second Empire]was going through an economic and social transformation: her version of the Industrial Revolution, with its accompanying factories and workshops, booms and slumps, railways and steamships. The middle class, or bourgeoisie, grew rich and powerful from the proceeds of expanding industry and trade. A new industrial working class began to resent the appalling conditions in which it lived and laboured. The specters of socialism and communism began to haunt France; and indeed the radical workers of Paris took the opportunity provided by the defeat of 1870 to organize a revolutionary government, the Commune, that was bloodily suppressed by the regular army. Bourgeois distaste for exposes of economic realities, and a deep fear of revolution in any form, were two shaping factors in contemporary attitudes to art. Well, we dealt with the somewhat questionable accuracy of Mr. Harris’ “economic and social transformation” in Part #1. Next we have the question: did the middle class, or bourgeoisie, grow rich and powerful from the proceeds of expanding industry and trade, as Mr. Harris maintains? The early years, at least, of the 2nd Empire were undeniably prosperous. Apart from the effects of the government’s economic program, France benefited from the discovery of gold in California (1848) and later in Australia. As a consequence prices, which had generally been falling since 1815, rose sharply until 1856, and remained thereafter at those levels, which, until the price increases percolated through the economy, provoked a sharp increase in entrepreneurial profits and thus triggered a rapid expansion. However, neither this favorable effect nor the impact of the government’s economic program lasted past the 1850s. As Alain Plessis notes in his book, “The Rise & Fall of the Second Empire 1852-1871”: …[O]ne can distinguish two successive and very different rhythms in this expansion…[T]he production indexes seem to show that growth was more rapid at the beginning of the Empire, until 1858-60, than after. The early years were also marked by steadily rising prices. Hence an undeniable euphoria among businessmen that consolidated the new political regime. Napoleon III Thereafter, however, things clearly slowed down, causing a clear loss of support for the Imperial regime among the urban business classes:... posted by Friedrich at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Amy Harmon on computer chess
Friedrich -- It's become one of our themes, I guess: the wonderfulness of digital technology, but the new quandaries and conundra that seem to come along with it. How to resist the convenience and fun of digital photography? Yet the images are so ... so ... Well, they're kind of twinkly, metallic and overdetailed in some inhuman way. How great that DV videocams and computers can put a mini movie studio on just about anybody's desktop. Yet the imagery tends to lack poetry, and what gets made often bears little resemblance to traditional movies. Now: chess. Amy Harmon reports in the New York Times that similar discussions are taking place in the chess world (about which I know less than zilch). Chess players are using computers for study, for competition, and in online matches as silent partners and crutches. "We don't work at it anymore... We have lost depth," she quotes one top player as saying. Computers make it possible to study lots of games and moves, but some players have noticed that studying with computers "detracts from an ability to concentrate intensely on devleoping a personal style or strategy." More people are getting better at the game, it's being noticed -- but they're burning out faster too. Aha: sounds familiar. Computers make so much available -- yet they can also tend to pancake matters, including (sometimes) style, personality, and imagination. Maybe we're all onto something. Or maybe style, personality and imagination are simply going to be taking new forms and working their way through different channels. Or maybe all of the above, and more. In any case, the piece is readable here. Sample passage: "Because of computers, humans are playing more broadly, and there are astonishing numbers of new ideas," said John Watson, the author of several books on modern chess strategy. "Computers are opening the game up much more than they are closing it." But others say chess is becoming more like checkers, with so much known or memorized that games now more often end in draws. They complain that players have become slaves to their software, so fascinated with the myriad possibilities it presents that they do not bother to work out their own new strategies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Art Class
Friedrich -- Have you taken any art-making classes recently? I was away from them for a couple years and missed them, so I'm treating myself to one this term, an intro to oil painting. I've never done any oil painting. If not in a classroom, where would I do it? The Wife and I share about 3 square feet of apartment space, and I'm not eager to inflict the fumes on her. I went to the first class last night, and was reminded of what a ripoff most art classes are. The woman teaching it seems nice and for all I know is a good artist, so I have nothing against this class specifically -- it seems like an OK version of the standard thing. It's the standard thing that's a ripoff (and that, in a sane art world, would be a scandal). Last night's class, like about 3/4 of the art classes I've taken, followed this model: the teacher has set up a subject, whether a model or a still life. You bring a bunch of art materials with you. You draw and paint. The teacher wanders around, giving each person a little time and a few hints. You pack up and go home. Like I say: what a ripoff. It's amazing the schools charge for this, and just as amazing that eager students put up with it. Would it be too much ask an art teacher to do a little actual art instruction? To have a little something prepared? To structure a series of classes so that the bit you learn this week joins together with the bit you learned last week, and you leave the term having acquired some genuinely new skills, and able to do things you hadn't previously been able to do? You wouldn't think it would be such a challenge to put together such a course. OK, class, this week we're going to study negative space. I've prepared six exercises. Next week we're going to focus on the way warm colors pull and cold colors push. And I've prepared six exercises to ram that home. What could be so hard about preparing and delivering such a course? I tolerate this nonsense because there seem to be so few alternatives and I like drawing and painting, lousy as I am at both. I have been lucky enough to stumble into a few classes where the teachers, bless 'em, did approach art instruction as a matter of conveying finite, definable skills, and I've learned probably 95% of the little I've managed to learn about art-making from them. Has this kind of thing plagued your art-class-taking life too? I guess I assume that what it represents is a coming-together of four things: asinine progressive-education ideas (let the student discover art for himself!), laziness and convenience, the continuing-ed business, and annoying modernist (ie., anti-technique, anti-skill, pro-self-expression) ideas about art. Do you think I'm off here? Or that I'm missing some other element? I'll probably stick the class out... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism Part II
Michael: As I promised in my previous posting, this is the second part of my series attempting to reconstruct what Impressionism meant to its creators and its contemporaries. I’m trying to re-evaluate each element in what I’ve called the Standard Account of Impressionism (which, for purposes of convenience, will here be represented by quotes from a popular art history book: “A Treasury of Impressionism” by Nathaniel Harris). Mr. Harris begins his book by denying the existence of any controversial content in Impressionist pictures. He is then left with the problem of explaining why the French art market didn’t embrace this happy, cheerful painting in the late 1860s or 1870s. To make sense of this the mysterious market failure, he provides the following social analysis: …France [during the Second Empire]was going through an economic and social transformation: her version of the Industrial Revolution, with its accompanying factories and workshops, booms and slumps, railways and steamships. The middle class, or bourgeoisie, grew rich and powerful from the proceeds of expanding industry and trade. A new industrial working class began to resent the appalling conditions in which it lived and laboured. The specters of socialism and communism began to haunt France; and indeed the radical workers of Paris took the opportunity provided by the defeat of 1870 to organize a revolutionary government, the Commune, that was bloodily suppressed by the regular army. Bourgeois distaste for exposes of economic realities, and a deep fear of revolution in any form, were two shaping factors in contemporary attitudes to art. Let’s take a closer look at this one point at a time. Did France undergo during the 2nd Empire an economic and social transformation sufficiently drastic to merit the title of an industrial revolution? The Second Empire came into existence as a sort of delayed result of the revolutionary uprisings of working class Parisians in 1848. The urban proletariat, enraged by its declining economic prospects (wages had been falling for decades), and inspired by similar uprisings throughout Europe, forced the then-constitutional monarch Louis-Philippe to abdicate. H. Vernet, Barricade in the Rue Sufflot, Paris, 25 June 1848, 1848-50 (Detail) The Second Republic that followed immediately thereafter was ill-starred; Louis-Napoleon, nephew of the famous Corsican military adventurer, was elected president. When the public became disenchanted with the Republic’s ineffectual political squabbling, Louis Napoleon proceeded to organize a coup in 1851 to seize supreme power. (Gee, who could have seen that one coming?) Napoleon III, as he became known, set up a proto-Fascist government: authoritarian with an emphasis on public order to placate the property owners, and with close ties to big business in order to (hopefully) force the pace of economic growth and keep the masses happy. The masses that Napoleon III was particularly interested in were not, however, urban but rural, since his imperial status had been validated by a plebiscite with a universal male franchise, and France remained a predominantly rural country. H. Flandrin, Portrait of Napoleon III, 1862 (Detail) In practice, Napoleon III’s economic program... posted by Friedrich at February 5, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part I
Michael: In a previous posting I suggested that visual art is a way of talking about sources of power (or perceived power) that people are either unwilling or unable to discuss openly. After I wrote that post I ran down a mental list of art-historical movements which this idea seemed to account for properly enough, but I quickly ran up against one famous example that I couldn’t fit into my shiny new theory: Impressionism. What kind of “not-openly-discussable” subject matter, if any, was hiding in this sunny painting of people enjoying themselves in and around Paris? Unfortunately, in trying to puzzle this out, I realized that my only knowledge of France in this period had come from art books, which gave what I would call the Standard Account of Impressionism. But the more I pondered this Account the less it seemed to make sense to me. H. Daumier, Just Look At Where They've Stuck My Picture, 1859 I mean, say you were a young man who wanted to be a professional painter in mid-19th century France. You lived in a country with the best-developed art market and institutions in the world. Artistic taste and standards were clearly articulated in your society, which was wealthy enough to reward its favorites richly. There was even the possibility of a certain level of government patronage if you played ball with the system. At the same time, however, the system tended to withhold rewards from those who deviated from these standards. Why on earth would you have gone out of your way to introduce an unfamiliar style of painting and use it to describe non-traditional subject matter? Just to make your already difficult task —making a living at painting—a nearly impossible one? Surely few people would take self-expression that far, and especially few people who were as ambitious as the Impressionist painters. And yet the Standard Account never seems to treat this as a question that even needs an answer: apparently, according to this account, the Impressionists were simply born to paint modern life with broken color and a lack of "finish." The closest the Account edges to an explanation (which it never quite says explicitly, but heavily implies) is that the Impressionists were just too darn manly to settle for the watered down formulae of a decrepit Academicism. And they rejected these timeworn formulae even though doing so meant they couldn’t count of the support of their era’s blinkered and timid art consumers. Alternatively, the Marxist Variant of the Standard Account suggests that the Impressionists, like all Modernists, were just too darn manly to put up with the degrading aspects of industrial capitalism and created new aesthetic formulae to take critical potshots at it. Of course, the fact that the Impressionist paintings (with or without “critical” content, depending on your point of view) were then sold to the very bourgeoisie that was supporting the Academy as well as cracking the whip of industrial capitalism is a bit of conundrum neither seem to address.... posted by Friedrich at February 4, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Blog Reading
Friedrich -- Has spending time in the blogosphere affected your reading habits? It has mine, even where something as basic as the news is concerned. These days, I find that I rely on the major media only for headlines and basic information. When I want commentary, brains, insight, debate and personality, I turn to blogs. It's a livelier, freer, more open universe than the traditional media one. But I'm finding more and more that I turn to blog-reading to satisfy fancier appetites too -- appetites for entertainment, and even for pleasures literary. Seeing what's happening on my favorite blogs gives me some of the satisfaction of watching a good TV series. There are recurring characters, long story arcs, the fun of familiarity crossed with the fun of surprise. The bloggers themselves become characters in my brain much like fictional (or public) figures do. As for literary pleasure ... Well, from a voice and personality point of view -- ie., for some of the things I've tended over the years to turn to fiction for -- there are bloggers who outdo most of what's done in the official literary world. They're as or more distinctive, plus they're looser and more informal. So, let's see: there's story, there's character, there's voice ... Hmm, I'd say literature may have some real competition on its hands. Which is by way of providing a link to a terrific character I hadn't run across until last night: Rob somebody-or-other, who goes by the handle Acidman and runs the blog, Gut Rumbles, which is readable here. I can't do justice to his voice, though I can tell you that reading it reminds me of reading Barry Hannah, Charles Bukowski, Joe Lansdale, and Charles Willeford -- shitkicking and wild-ass, depressive and bitter, rowdy and absurd. But there I go, getting pretentious. (The curse of the arty.) Here's my reaction minus the pretentions: Smokin' stuff! Gut Rumbles is instantly one of my favorite blogs, in any case, and not just for Acidman's voice. There's a super-lively set of regular comment-leavers, each one a full-fledged character, and a whole new set of links to explore, many to other southerners with original voices of their own. Lordy, doesn't it sometimes seem like it must be a lot of fun to be a Southerner? Pulitzer Prizes? New York Review of Books? Your number may be up. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Middle Age Memory
Friedrich -- I was leafing around an intro-to-economics book last night, and was wondering idly why I so much enjoy intro-to books these days. I always have, but in recent years my appetite for them has gotten ridiculous. When I get interested in a new subject -- say, econ -- I'll read not one but five or ten intro-to books on it. And I'll do so with great pleasure. Bizarre, no? Is it that I'm trying to pound the basics into a reluctant brain? I recall that in my teens and twenties my brain seemed to soak up information almost against my will. These days, all I seem to want to do -- and maybe all I'm capable of doing -- is paddling around and around the shallow end. I simply can't learn or remember specifics like I once did, and I can't juggle the same number of facts simultaneously either. For example, despite being an architecture buff, I can't for the life of me keep straight the field's technical terms (although my brain seems to be fond, for some reason, of the word "spandrel"), and I'm always having to go back to my architecture-reference books to brush up once more. God only knows what kind of mess I'd make of it if I tried to teach myself technical poetry terms. Trochees, dactyls ... It'd all be in one ear and out the other. Or else I'd read intro-to-poetry-technique books one after the other. Which I'd probably enjoy. But it's as though my hard drive, or RAM, or whatever, has simply maxed out. No more room on this boat. Alas. It was fun having a quick and absorbent brain. These days, learning has become something else for me, and it's no longer a matter of seizing and retaining new facts. I find that what I'm capable of instead is moving the furniture around some, cleaning out the closets, and familiarizing myself in general ways with new neighborhoods. I find that when I return to a subject I've looked into as an adult, it isn't completely foreign to me. I feel like I've been there before. I can't necessarily find my way around, and the details escape me. But I have a sense of having once visited, and bits and pieces of it do coalesce. And then it's back to the intro-to books... How's your memory these days? The same as it once was? At this point, I'm just glad I'm still capable of remembering how mine once was. Hey, maybe the time has come to start pretending that I've developed "wisdom." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, February 3, 2003

TV Alert
Friedrich -- I made the mistake of turning on another PBS documentary -- will I never learn? -- and, predictably, wound up snoozing through most of it. It was about the painter Thomas Eakins. Have you caught it? Hard to imagine making his life -- full of scandal, and much, much nudity -- dull and ponderous. But mournful, solitary strings, and mournful, solemn pacing did the job. Luckily, we’re no longer held in documenary thrall by PBS now that lots of other channels supply shows on good topics. Nearly all of them attend to pace and storytelling a lot more cannily than PBS does. *In honor of juicy information crisply delivered, The 2Blowhards Pick of this Week is Mysteries and Scandals, an E! Channel series hosted by A.J. Benza, who has his John Gotti/elegant-thug act down pretty well. (I believe that no new episodes are being made, but E! recycles the ones they have fairly regularly.) The topic is showbiz, the (overdone but bearable) style is nostalgia-for-gangsters-and-tabloids. And -- bliss -- the length is an innovative 30 minutes per episode. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of topics I have 30 minutes’ worth of interest in, and many of them are showbiz-centric. Here are this week’s episodes: TUESDAY 10 a.m.: Tallulah Bankhead 10:30 a.m.: Susan Cabot WEDNESDAY 2/5   9 a.m.: Ava Gardner 9:30 a.m.: Linda Darnell THURSDAY 2/6   9 a.m.: The War of the Worlds 9:30 a.m.: Sam Peckinpah FRIDAY 2/7   9 a.m.: Aimee Semple McPherson 9:30 a.m.: The Hillside Strangler And here are just a few of the week’s choice movies: * Grand Hotel (TCM, Tuesday at 9:30 pm), followed directly by Dinner at Eight at midnight. A shrewd pairing: two big-star ensemble vehicles, comedy/dramas from the early sound days, classic precursors of the innumerable big-star ensemble comedy-dramas we’ve had since. Garbo, Barrymore, Harlow, Dressler -- legendary names. Now the film-buff crap: Part of the fascination of watching films from that time (the late ‘20s and early ‘30s) is that the studio style hadn’t yet settled. No one was yet sure of how to deliver lines, or even of how to film actors delivering them. So the films, however conventional, often have an enjoyably unsettled quality. These two, both of them full of stars imported from the theater, are an especially good way to sample the theater styles and personalities of the era. * Mystery Train (IFC, Thursday at 2:00 pm). Jim Jarmusch may be the ultimate Mr.-Cool-Downtown filmmaker, making one conceptual-minimalist feature after another. This isn’t, by any means, an unqualified compliment: He never delivers much. But he’s resourceful, and has evolved a deadpan style that can sometimes deliver his not-muchness in a nicely-shot, fairly droll way. The most watchable of his features that I’ve seen is this one, a collection of three oddball stories linked in a pointedly (and characteristically) non-linked way: they’re all set in Memphis, all reflect the presence or absence of Elvis, and at some point in... posted by Michael at February 3, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Chicago--Not My Kind of Movie
Michael: My wife and daughter dragged me to see “Chicago” over the weekend. Having seen the play in London several years ago, and thus not being in a whole lot of suspense about the plot, I found myself thinking about the movie’s premise—never a good sign in a Hollywood production. If I had been able to write it down on a piece of paper I would have gotten up and gone into another theatre. According to the film, Chicago in the Roaring Twenties was so pruriently interested in sex and violence that “crimes of the heart”—at least those committed by attractive young women—instantly converted the justice system into an annex of show business. Of course, as soon as you start to sit in judgment on these hypocritical Midwestern rubes of the jazz era you get stung, because after all you plunked down your hard-earned bucks to watch good looking young women sing and dance in states of undress—you’re part of the freak show, too. Unfortunately, the London stage production and the Hollywood movie both spend the better part of two hours showing you such fit, athletic young women in such artful states of undress that I ended up feeling like I’d had my complicit moral state not only just “bumped” into my face but also “ground” around a good bit. "Chicago" offers such a reductive version of both the musical theater and the justice system that the whole gag eventually implodes like a black hole, leaving…very little other than Kander and Ebb’s music, which is pretty darn catchy. Too Much Flesh, Not Enough Fun When I saw the play I thought that it was a pity that the director’s attempt to do the play in a Brechtian hard-edged style had only managed to take all the fun out of it—I ended up staring at terrific looking, nearly nude young women dancing their hearts out for two hours and didn’t even get a charge out of it. (And given London theater ticket prices, even if I had, the experience could hardly have been described as a cheap thrill.) Of course, when Hollywood got its hands on it, a tremendous amount of razzle-dazzle (shifts between “reality” and “inner states,” deliberately accentuated theatrical lighting in “everyday” settings, and truly frenetic cross cutting) was added in to distract you from the heavy-handedness of the film’s concept. I wish I had seen a version of Chicago that Bob Fosse had been involved with. At least for him the emotional core of the musical—that of an intrigued/repulsed little boy who notices that adults are a bunch of hypocrites on the subject of sex, violence and especially sexual violence—seemed to carry a kick from the deeper recesses of his personality, which he managed to convey to the audience. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at February 3, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Free Views -- Overheads
Friedrich -- Sometimes when I "discover" something on the Web, I feel like I must in fact be the last person in the world to run across it. So perhaps you've seen this site here already. If not, you might enjoy a visit. Type in an address, and in a few seconds you'll be given an overhead photograph of that neighborhood. Zoom in, and you'll be able see the actual building you're looking for. I tried the apartment monstrosity I live in now, the suburban house I grew up in, and the in-law's beach bungalow, and they all showed up promptly. Cool! A bit freaky, too. If computers and lenses get much more powerful, we're going to be able to sit at the computer and dial up images of ourselves sitting at the computer dialing up images of ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 3, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, February 2, 2003

DVD Journal: "Human Nature"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Just caught up with another Charlie Kaufman-written film -- not "Adaptation" but Human Nature, which recently came out on DVD. It's unusual, it's quirky, and I thought it was a stinker. To its credit, it's pretty extreme. Patricia Arquette is a woman with lots of body hair, Tim Robbins is a compulsively orderly psychologist, Rhys Ifans plays a man who grew up wild in the woods thinking he was an ape ... Intellectual control (and culture!) vs. animal nature. Thought-provoking, providing only that you've never had a thought before. I read somewhere that this was Charlie Kaufman's first movie script, and it doesn't have the pesky brilliance of the first 30 minutes of "Being John Malkovich." It droops along, then goes gonzo for a few minutes as though reminding itself to be outstanding, then loses its way again. The chemistry isn't there in the directing or most of the acting either. Michel Gondry, who apparently has a reputation as a rock-video director, doesn't show much flair; Arquette (who I often find fascinating in a vague, hippie-cow kind of way) doesn't have anything like the energy the role demands; Robbins (who was once capable of being amusing) is like a college actor who has decided he's really going to be funny this time out, and Ifans ... Well, I guess he lends himself to things OK. I dunno. I didn't enjoy him, but I didn't feel like blaming him for anything either. A dud, in other words, even if Arquette does get naked a few times. The only performance I enjoyed was from the one lead actor who isn't, for some reason, pictured on the DVD box -- Miranda Otto, who's witty, silky, and mischievous as Gabrielle, the sexy lab assistant who sets her sights on Robbins. But I'm a Miranda Otto fan, and think she's always a treat. Have you ever noticed her? Australian, slim, red-haired (usually), and luscious, with a nice line in the angel/devil, vulnerable/conniving, remonstrating/seducing thing. This is probably the biggest role she's had in an American movie, and she gives a sweet yet high-style performance. The many-sided Miranda Otto If you're interested in seeing her act, the best movie I know of to recommend is a small Australian picture called Love Serenade, where she plays a slow-witted provincial girl who has more resources to call on than most people think. She doesn't know how to go about getting love, but that isn't going to stop her. I enjoyed "Love Serenade" a lot, by the way. It's small, genuinely eccentric (in an unforced way, unlike a Charlie Kaufman script) and a little magical. It's also droll and peculiar, like a Bill Forsyth movie only from a woman's perspective. The Wife liked it too. What have you seen recently? Best, Michael UPDATE: Oops, I was ungallant and forgot to link to Admired Miranda, the best Miranda Otto fan page on the web, and from where I lifted the above images. Admired Miranda... posted by Michael at February 2, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Free Reads -- Pictures of Sex
Friedrich -- I'm not sure I'd have guessed the figure was quite this high... Ryann Connell reports in the Mainichi Daily News that three-quarters of Japanese people between the ages of 20 and 35 admit to having been photographed or videotaped having sex. The story is readable here. Sample passage: "There's no doubt resistance to appearing in sex scenes on film has weakened among a growing number of girls over the past two or three years. In fact, many probably regard being filmed having sex as normal. Ten years ago, barely anybody would have even thought about it," cameraman Shozo Furusawa tells Spa! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments