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

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Guest Posting -- "J" on Modeling for Artists
  2. Do We Call Them "Movies" or "Videoclips"??
  3. Elsewhere
  4. Downbeat Update: "21 Grams" and "The Barbarian Invasions"
  5. Westlake Makes Me Happy
  6. Sunday Afternoon at The Movies

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Guest Posting -- "J" on Modeling for Artists
John Leavitt, our "True Art School Tales" correspondent, is on vacation. During this hiatus, we're pleased to run a guest posting by a conpirator and friend of John's, "J," a student and artist in her own right. J's site, where you can enjoy some of her art, is here. The cartoons accompanying J's piece are by John, whose site is here. *** Confessions of a Naked Model, by "J" The woman is a beauty -- red haired, voluptuous, and naked. Pity she's a hundred years old. One hundred and seventeen to be precise. Edgar Degas painted "Bather Stretched out on the Floor" in 1886, and for all the years since her creation, she's lost none of her charm. When I visit her in the Met's Impressionist room, I like to listen to the comments my companions make. Fellow art students go mad over the crayon strokes, while my father's academic friends use words like "objectification" and "male gaze." I think about the crick in her back. I am a naked model, one of those generous women who fold, twist and contort their bodies to serve as the raw material for Art. And if I never had to take a pose as torturous as Degas's bather, credit not my employers' kindness but their lack of imagination. Like most decisions made in art school, my choice to become a nude model was fuelled by caffeine, poverty and bullshit. Though college is the high point in an artist's economic life (when your parents still support you), a Chinese food spree had sapped my bank account into the single digits. My friend L. had just bought me a coffee he promised would be my last, and we were bemoaning the lack of jobs for illustrators. "You have another option" he told me, flipping the brim of his fedora. "Whoring and petty crime?" "Sort of." In art school, stripping naked for cash doesn't raise the eyebrows it might in the Brigham Young College of Theology. In life drawing, students are in constant proximity to bare bodies of both sexes -- though these are often lumpy, ill-proportioned, and with curves in all the wrong places. Most are pathetic. Eighty-year-old Polly comes to mind. With breasts down to her belly and a habit of falling asleep -- Polly convinced me that I could be a model. Wasn't I better than her? A few days perusal of Craigslist yielded a lead: "Human statues, we need you! Come to Maison DuPont's Danse of Decadence. $20, tips and all the absinthe you can drink." I rang the loft buzzer in high hopes. Madame DuPont opened the door -- but instead of the darkly beautiful dominatrix of my imaginings, she was an aloof, middle-aged women whose ass-less corset fit her like a winch. My stomach rumbled in dread. Despite thinking myself a Sexually Liberated Woman, I was convinced that the world would crumble when my skirt hit the floor. "Your spot's on the couch!" The world remained intact as I stripped... posted by Michael at November 29, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Do We Call Them "Movies" or "Videoclips"??
Dear Friedrich -- How do you feel about calling videoclips "movies"? Part of me thinks, Why the hell not? But part of me resents it. A movie's a movie, dammit: storyline, celluloid, actors, 90 minutes-ish long ... Some postage-stamp-sized, 30 second or two-minute-long thing? C'mon, that's no movie. But whatever we call 'em, we're seeing ever more of them. And pretty soon, I suspect, the feature film will be just one way we might choose to spend time enjoying audiovisual time-based entertainments. Heck, what with TV, rock videos, and yoga-instruction DVD's, they already are. In any case, I'm expecting to see many more websites like this one here: pages of short mini-movies, or videoclips, or whatever we finally decide to call them. Click on one, or maybe the other. Watch 'em as you see fit; put your viewing experience together to suit yourself. Larger theory: thanks to digi-tech, movies are becoming disaggregated. Just as books are coming unpacked into chunks of reading, writing and looking, "movies" are dissolving into a hodgepodge sea of sound-and-image media. By the way, the clips on the page I've linked to are definitely not safe for work, though in a sweetly Zalman King-ish kind of way. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, November 28, 2003

Dear Friedrich -- * Brian Micklethwait declares himself medium-agnostic where the visual arts are concerned, here. * Julie Iovine at the NYTimes (here) asks how much of a future the current generation of architecture-based memorials will have. They require lots of money and maintenance, it turns out; the Irish Hunger Memorial in lower Manhattan, for instance, is undergoing reconstruction a mere year after opening. * Criterion has brought out a DVD of Yasujiro Ozu's much-beloved "Tokyo Story," a film that's on just about every serious film nerd's best-of list. George Hunka (here) recommends the disc and has come up with some fresh things to say about the movie -- not an easy thing to do, given how much Ozu criticism there has been. * Aaron Haspel is once again up to some entertaining no-good, here. Would someone please give this man a satirical magazine to edit? * I have a theory that arty Americans live in mortal fear of a demon figure that they call "conservatism," and about which they know almost nothing. Ask them what they think they know about it and they'll get wild-eyed and mutter something bitter about Rush, homophobia and racism; it's dead certain they've never read any of the substantial and impressive conservative thinkers. Owen Harries, here, supplies a good, quick intro to what conservatism really means. My feeling is that we're all conservative to some degree, and necessarily so; and my conclusion is that we might as well get over being hung up about the fact. As some great writer or other once said, Everybody is right-wing about the things he knows about. * David Sucher wonders what Ah-nold's approach to urban issues (growth, sprawl) will be here. David also does me the honor of promoting a comment I left on his blog about genre fiction to a guest posting, here. I'm blushing, yes -- but I'm also not about to let this great moment go unnoticed. * Barry Humphries, touring his "Dame Edna" act through America, gets off some well-aimed wisecracks about our food and our art museums, here. * I was in the mood last week for reading interviews with and profiles of some of my favorite actresses. Diane Lane is earthy and funny here and here. That charming ragamuffin Miou-Miou is profiled by Alan Riding here. Kelly Lynch and Maggie Gyllenhaal horse around sweetly here. * Alice Bachini declares unbounded love for the mass media, here. * Joel Kotkin thinks "diversity training" should be done away with and that we should all study history instead, here. * Here's a visit with the burly and entertaining historian Paul Johnson on the occasion of his new book about art history. * I'm not sure Tyler Cowen's piece for TCS about media bias here will prove to be the absolute and final last word on the subject. But he certainly makes an important and all too often overlooked point. * This week's medal for Atrocious Architecture goes to the Briton Will Alsop for a... posted by Michael at November 28, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Downbeat Update: "21 Grams" and "The Barbarian Invasions"
Dear Friedrich -- The Wife and I set out to the movie theaters this afternoon hoping to have a nice time indulging our taste for downbeat movies. *** Have you caught 21 Grams? Rave reviews for it from every which direction and nothing if not downbeat. But it's also overbleak and overwrought at the same time -- blue, grainy, handheld -- and we couldn't sit through it. It's one seriously annoying movie, although I suppose if you think the only alternative to it is shiney, committee-driven special-effects films it might look strong, realistic and uncompromising. To my mind, it was like the most dismal of the stories in Soderburgh's "Traffic" turned into an epic of loser-ness. As well as thrown into a blender: it's all scrambled up, with lots of cross-cutting and so many flashforwards and flashbacks presented in such odd ways that ... Well, something conceptual must be going on. The film is ... nonlinear. For those who like their reality raw Question for the day: Why does nonlinearity strike so many people as a necessarily brilliant thing? It's as though today's filmgoers don't realize that good writers and directors long ago figured out how to make motifs and themes interrelate in nonlinear ways, as well as how to do so in parallel to a linear story surface. Now all the back-and-forthing and all the zigzagging is right out there on the surface -- but now we also have to make do without the pleasures of a straightforward story binding it together. And this is supposed to be an advance? I hate conceptual feature films. How do you react to them? I wasn't a fan 'way back of Woody Allen's "Zelig": I zzzzz'd through most of "The Blair Witch Project"; I thought "Being John Malkovich" ran out of gas entirely once the concept had become clear; and I had about five minutes' worth of interest in "Memento." "Whoa, it's, like, replicating onscreen what's going on in his mind!" -- snoozola, man. Any idea why conceptual ideas of this sort seem to strike many otherwise perfectly intelligent people as brilliant? Is it because the world is awash in people who think there's something wrong with conventional ways of telling stories, and who think that what movies need is to throw out the storytelling rulebook? That's depressing; I love the conventions and traditions of storytelling. My own theory about this is a two-parter. 1) These people aren't aware that narrative experiments of this kind aren't new, they're old; they were done regularly 'way back at the beginning of film history. They don't represent an advance; they represent a regression. And 2) People whose usual diet consists of videogames, rock videos, and TV ads may have lost the taste for narrative. What they're used to instead is audiovisual entertainment that consists of a concept fleshed out. They're thrilled when they see that approach put on the big screen and stretched out to 90 minutes; it's a great big version of what they're... posted by Michael at November 25, 2003 | perma-link | (19) comments

Westlake Makes Me Happy
Dear Friedrich -- During my recent week off I treated myself to one of Donald Westlake's "Parker" novels (which he writes under the pseudonym Richard Stark), and as always with Westlake I had a very good time. But more than that too. What I had wasn't just a very good time; it was a shaking-my-head-in-disbelief, I-can't-believe-how-good-this-guy-is, guffawing-with-pleasure, happy time. I made a note to write a heartfelt tribute to the Parker series on returning to blogging life -- but then, when I started blogsurfing again, I found that both JW Hastings (here) and Terry Teachout (here) had recently written eloquent tributes to the Parker books. Whew! To what both of them have said, I'll add only that I find the Parker series, which represents Westlake's hardest-boiled side, funnier than Terry and JW do. Freed from the chore of writing an appreciation, what I've found myself thinking about instead -- marveling at, really -- is the way a book of fiction can brighten the mood, raise the spirits and make life a more congenial thing than it often is. I mean, how miraculous and wonderful is that? I also find myself wondering: which living writers of fiction put an almost instant smile on my face? Here's who I've come up with. * The cop novelist Joseph Wambaugh certainly gives my mood a reliable boost. I've read a half a dozen of his books and even the most minor was a rollicking, companionable, lowdown thing. The best of the ones I've read ("The Choirboys") was all that and a lot more. Just between you and me: if I were into making rankings and lists and discussing the topic of "greatness" -- and of course I'm not even remotely into any such puffed-up, gatekeeper-y thing -- I'd argue that "The Choirboys" (buyable here) deserves to be considered a major novel. Why has it been so underappreciated? I don't feel remotely sorry for Wambaugh, who's made a skillion dollars from his bestselling books, and from TV and movies. But I do marvel at the judgment of the lit set. Why should "V," for example, have the reputation it does, while "The Choirboys" -- infinitely more substantial on a human level, IMHO -- is seen as a mere cop novel? Which of course it is. But it's also rowdy, irreverent, large-scale, rough and ready, humane, and finally very moving. * I start giggling almost instantly whenever I open one of P.G. Wodehouse's books. Those sentences, his irrepressible silliness -- oops, forgot my own rule about how the writer has to be alive. * Robert Armstrong's "Mickey Rat" and David Boswell's "Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman" make me superhappy, but they're comics, or rather comix. And something -- I don't know what -- isn't right about mixing comix and all-text fiction in the same thought. So, fair or not, I'm choosing to exclude visual books from consideration here. But I make no apologies for loving "Mickey" and "Reid"; in my personal canon, they occupy a spot... posted by Michael at November 25, 2003 | perma-link | (44) comments

Monday, November 24, 2003

Sunday Afternoon at The Movies
Michael: Yesterday I took my 12-year-old daughter to see “Looney Tunes, Back in Action.” Since I had fortunately been inoculated against thinking I was going to see something wonderful by some bad reviews, I actually managed to enjoy myself. (It’s amazing what the power of low expectations can accomplish in watching movies, isn’t it?) Sure Reminds Me of the Louvre The film actually does have some clever tossed off jokes and asides--and one sequence of genius. At one point, Elmer Fudd chases Bugs and Daffy through the Louvre (which, since the filmmakers obviously couldn’t get permission to shoot in the real museum, was relocated to what looks like the lobby of a 1970s Burbank office building). What seems like a predictable chase sequence takes a brilliant turn when the cartoon characters run through a series of paintings and the animation takes on the corresponding visual style. In Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” where clocks droop like melted cheese slices, Elmer Fudd can’t keep his gun-barrel straight enough to blast our heroes. In Suerat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte” the characters chase each other directly into the tree-dotted view (ignoring Suerat’s modernist denial of depth) with the pointillist effect getting more pronounced the further into the painting they go (and the smaller our heros get from the spectator’s point of view.) In Munch’s “The Scream” Elmer, Bugs and Daffy are rendered in the painting’s swirling miasma of form. It’s priceless to see Elmer’s crazed and delighted expression rendered a la Munch when he thinks he finally has Bugs trapped. The contrast of facial expressions between the infantile triumphalism of Elmer and the anxt-ridden "screamer" of the painting (who of course gets in the way) is insanely witty. Regrettably, one probably cannot get such an expensive enterprise financed purely on ticket sales to the art-buff market, so the plot rapidly descends from this lofty plane to a completely trivial exercise in preventing the evil head of the Acme corporation from taking over the world. Only after the film was over, and, while waiting for my daughter to get out of the john, did some semi-serious thoughts cross my mind. First, it dawned on me how much the characters, plots, and, well, just general feeling of the classic Warner Brother’s shorts depended on their restriction in time. Thinking about putting those characters into any kind of feature film plot made me realize whenever you see Bugs Bunny in a movie longer than six minutes you have already, in some way, violated his essence. The extreme concision and emotional concentration such a format demands are immediately lost in the cavernous emptiness of a feature film. Second, it dawned on me how strange it was that “Looney Tunes, Back in Action” had worked so hard to reduce the seriousness of the original characters. In “Back in Action,” Bugs Bunny's and Daffy Duck’s rivalry is treated as a matter of star billing, limousines, and their standing with the executives at Warner Brothers.... posted by Friedrich at November 24, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments