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Friday, January 30, 2004

Classic Prose
Dear Friedrich -- Denis Dutton has posted a lot of fresh material on his site, here, only a little of which I've had time to catch up with so far. But I was thrilled to see that, like me, he's enthusiastic about Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose, by Francis-NoŽl Thomas and Mark Turner. The book is basically a guide to writing good prose -- but it's also one of the most exciting meditations on learning, thought processes, language and classical art that I've ever run across. Turner's a fascinating guy who combines an interest in art with an interest in neuro- and cognitive science. Why isn't he better known? A passage from Dutton's review: The classic stylistís confidence derives in part from the manner in which the writing is addressed intimately to a single reader, rather than a large and possibly disparate group. Groups have to be persuaded, but friends donít have to explain everything in conversations. The book is buyable here. Dutton's tiptop essay -- a firstclass introduction to the book -- is here. Here's Mark Turner's own website. Here's a long, high-level q&a with Turner by James Underhill. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2004 | perma-link | (5) comments

See-Thru Panties
Dear Friedrich -- "Lost in Translation" fans will notice that this John Kacere painting is remarkably similar to the film's opening shot. In fact, Sofia Coppola freely admits that she got the idea for the shot from looking at Kacere's work. Coppola has also said that, in order to persuade a reluctant Scarlett Johansson to do the shot, she pulled on the see-throughs herself to show Scarlett what they'd look like. Let's hear it for female directors. Kacere was born in Iowa and started out as an abstract artist. In 1963, he began making paintings of women, often of their midsections and usually of their crotches or butts, and kept at it until his death in 1999. Was he a cheesecake artist or a respectable photorealist? He explained his work this way: "Woman is the source of all life, the source of regeneration. My work praises that aspect of womanhood." Sigh: once again I'm struck by the thought that I went into the wrong field. Kacere's work isn't exactly in short supply on the web. Try here, here, here, here and here, just for starters. I notice that Kacere prints can often be found for sale on Ebay. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

NEA Gripes
Dear Friedrich -- Alan Sullivan's posting (here) about Bush's plan to increase the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts strikes me as very sensible. Like Alan, I'm a pro-arts guy who'd like to see the NEA killed -- for the good of the arts. IMHO, of course, and despite whatever good the NEA has been responsible for, it's also been responsible for much that's bad in recent art: for the development of a topheavy arts-adminstrator class; for turning the arts into a welfare client, with all the psychological damage that usually entails; and for guaranteeing that the arts will be more politicized than they'd otherwise be. Hey, here's a good interview with an NEA critic. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Dear Friedrich -- * DVD update: as many bloggers have already noted (here's George Hunka's posting; Terry Teachout has mentioned the event several times, but I couldn't turn up his postings), Criterion has just brought out a DVD of Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game. (It's buyable here.) It's often held by filmlovers to be the greatest movie ever made -- and if one film has to be proclaimed the Greatest Ever, I'm happy that it's "Rules." I haven't seen this Criterion disc, but news reports indicate that the print is the most pristine version extant. A friend tells me it's good indeed, though nothing like the revelation the recent restoration of "Grand Illusion" was. (The "Grand Illusion" disc, looking like it was shot yesterday, is buyable here.) The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern pointed out this morning that DVDs of two of my favorite Jacques Demy movies are available, Lola (here) and Bay of Angels (here), the latter's production supervised by Demy's widow, Agnes Varda, herself a first-class filmmaker. Did you ever do Demy? He's best known for the Deneuve musical "Umbrellas of Cherbourg," but I'm a bigger fan of these two earlier movies. They're low-budget, black and white, early New Wave pieces, and they're full of lyricism, absurdity, fate, luck and charm. Morgenstern also mentions that a movie that's one my personal faves, Robert Altman's California Split, hasn't yet been brought out on DVD. Grrrr. It's a wonderful film that I hope will soon get the DVD treatment it deserves. I watched it once on a panned-and-scanned VHS version that seemed to have been produced by a drunk in a garage; it was a powerful lesson in just how much a movie can lose in interest when given a lousy presentation. * Maureen pointed out this touching blogtribute by John Perry Barlow to his friend Spalding Gray, here, the well-known actor and performance artist. Gray, who has evidently always been prone to depression, disappeared a few weeks ago, has yet to be found, and is assumed by most to have killed himself. * Can too much choice become overwhelming? The question is still rattling around the blogosphere. Will Wilkinson comments here; and Tyler Cowen comments here. * I notice rather late in the game that the very snazzy Colby Cosh (here), in a best-of-the-blogs posting, has awarded 2Blowhards a Special Interdisciplinary Statuette for successfully inhabiting "the murky crossroads between biology, politics, and art." Thanks, Colby -- you rule, dude. * After a few years following the publishing industry, I began telling young people to go get degrees in copyright law -- it seemed clear as a bell to me that, thanks to the digital tidal wave, copyright law would be a lively field for decades. Arts and Letters Daily (here) points out this good Robert Boynton overview of differing approaches to copyright, here. An infinitely more interesting and important topic -- even from an arty point of view -- than any critic's evaluation of the latest hot... posted by Michael at January 30, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Auto Nostalgia
Dear Friedrich -- You'll probably enjoy this Forbes article-plus-slideshow; its subject is the worst cars of all time, here. As you'd expect, the slideshow is a trip down nostalgia lane for those of us old enough to have had driver's licenses back in the '70s. There's the Vega (aka "the rustmobile"), the immortal (kaboom) Pinto, and the AMC "Mooncar" Pacer. Ah, the memories. Not every car on the list is from the '70s and early '80s, but still: what in god's name happened to the American auto industry during that stretch? When youngsters these days yak enviously about how great life must have been back in the '70s -- an era when all anyone did was wear funny disco clothes and have endless amounts of unprotected sex -- I'm sometimes moved to point out that not only did we not have computers (imagine that!), we also had cars that were uncomfortable, dangerous, and prone to falling apart. The kids, naturally, doubt me. TV has told them that the '70s were a campy blast, so as far as they're concerned, that's what the '70s were. Highlight of a great era in engineering I was surprised that the AMC Gremlin I drove for a couple of years didn't make the list. It was really something special. It weighed several tons, and had a tiny engine and no power steering. Its front seats were the worst I have ever spent time in; 30 minutes guaranteed a backache. But my Gremlin's most infuriating trait was that it stalled in the rain. I'd be driving around, rain would begin to fall, and infallibly the car's engine would die. As far as I could tell, the damp KO'd the distributor. So there I'd be, by the side of the road with the car's hood up, trying to dry out the distributor cap in the midst of the pouring rain ... Bizarrely enough, there's a page devoted to the AMC Gremlin here. Hey, here's another one. Can it be that the Gremlin has made the leap from piece-of-shit to ultracool? Damn, why'd I get rid of mine? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 29, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

DVD Journal: Jess Franco
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- You know how low-budget exploitation-movie fans sometimes claim that their faves deliver moments that are the equal of, say, the best of Bunuel or Cocteau? The idea being that, working on bum projects in a big hurry and with no money, some filmmakers rock and roll their way into images and passages as great as those achieved by conscious and deliberate craft -- the underlying idea being (more or less) that film is such a trash-based medium that you're as likely to encounter pearls if you dive into the muck as you are if you keep your nose in the higher altitudes. It's a view of trash movies as a kind of Outsider Art. I was always happy to accept this claim on principle; I like it and I find it attractive, if a little adolescent. But in practice, and fond though I am of a lot of exploitation movies, no low-rent trash films ever hit me in that way. My failing: where trash ecstasies go, I'm more prone to be made wildly happy by sophisticated fare -- the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur "I Walked With a Zombie," for instance -- or by genre parodies that turn into something fresh and intense: "Dressed to Kill," say, or "Cemetary Man" or "Re-Animator." This probably makes me a terrible square in Film Threat terms, but if such is my fate, so be it. (Here's Film Threat's website.) On the screen or in my head? But I just had my first such trash-poetry experience. The Wife has been going through a cheapo horror-pix phase, dragging home movies directed by the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. They're both talented, and I've been happy to fill in some of the gaps in my filmbuff resume, but neither of them do a heck of a lot for me. The other night, though, The Wife brought home Jess Franco's 1969 movie, Eugenie, The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion (which is buyable here). And bingo. I guess you could call its genre bourgeois-horror-decadence. It's set on a Mediterranean island; it's adapted from a Marquis de Sade story; it involves the degradation of an innocent/not-so-innocent young girl; and it plays like a cross between a Chabrol thriller, an "Emmanuelle" softcore porno, and a Fellini extravaganza, if you can imagine such a thing being shot in a week on a budget of $2.99. In conventional terms, it's very primitive. But about 20 minutes in, I realized I was fascinated. The picture had cast a spell on me -- The Wife looked over and said, "This movie's actually doing something for you, isn't it?" Maybe in Jess (born "Jesus") Franco, I've found my own trash poet. His movie threw me into a dazed and altered state. The harsh colors, the corny music, the awkward acting, the '60s lighting and hairstyles, the decor and settings and situations, the genuinely beautiful actresses ... I dunno: I just felt like I was watching something great. I... posted by Michael at January 28, 2004 | perma-link | (15) comments

Atkins Conquers All
Michael: Just a little update on the whole diet scene. Iíve lost 28 pounds so far. Granted, this is less than I had hoped to lose when I started in December, but I had a really bad three weeks around the holidays. (Not from holiday meals, but from the fact that weíre having some work done on our house and we had to move into hotels three times and had a concrete-dust crisis. Can you say ĎHEPA filterí?) In fact, feeling stalled out on the Optifast, I switched to the standard Atkins diet and saw my weight loss rise even as the number of calories I ate increased dramatically. Now my goal is to get out and do more walking during the day. The one good thing about being as heavy as I am is that it makes you burn a lot of energy (180-200 calories) to walk a mile; hence an hour walking a day will knock off an extra pound a week. Also, is it just me or has the whole Atkins thing just exploded? The waiters at the restaurant where I now eat my breakfast eggs (take that Optifast) are all on Atkins. The back cover of the January/February Atlantic (you know, the magazine formerly known as the Atlantic Monthly) carries an ad for Atkins-brand low-carb cereal and breakfast bars. (Actually, the mind boggles--isn't cereal essentially a carb-delivery system?) I remember a story a few weeks ago on some large packaged food company that was placing a major business bet on ĎAtkinizedí versions of its products. Even the Optifast people have ĎAtkins-styleí (more protein, fewer carbs) versions of their shakes. And to think that only a few years ago medical opinion was unanimous about the evils of Dr. Atkinsí fad diet and the wonders of the low-fat lifestyle! How the mighty have fallen. Of course, the real problem with Atkins, as Iíve said before, isnít when youíre trying to lose weight, itís in the keeping it off. But I guess that could be said about most any diet. Well, as we used to say, "Keep on truckin'." (If that doesn't make anyone under 45 throw up, nothing will.) Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 28, 2004 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Charm List
Dear Friedrich -- You know how girls and women can make your heart melt? So flowerlike and hopeful, so silly and fervent, so pretty and funny and forlorn ... Well, I was marveling about this even more than usual a few days ago, and then my brain started volunteering movie titles, and today I realized I had the beginnings of a movie list: movies featuring girls and women who are enchantingly sweet, cute, and charming. I mean all this in an I'm-deeply-touched-and-a-big-fan kind of way -- and all deference paid, of course, to "how dynamic, how impressive, how strong and how butt-kicking" women can be too. (Let alone "how scary.") But those are qualities for other postings. If anyone should be tempted to pounce on me for this list, or to accuse me of condescension, let him/her reflect for a sec that most of the movies I've come up with are movies that are more popular with women than with men. So there. Anyway, the list -- which is, as ever, a work in progress: * Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion * Clueless * Fast Times at Ridgemont High * Mermaids * Shag * Many movies starring Audrey Hepburn (especially Charade) * Some of Grace Kelly's movies (especially Mogambo, Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief) * Many movies starring Leslie Caron * Flirting * Home Fries (a quirky Drew Barrymore movie) * A number of Margaret Sullavan movies (especially Three Comrades and The Mortal Storm) * Valley Girl (which, BTW, has just become available on DVD, although it looks like some of the necessary music rights may have eluded the disc's producers ...) And then I started to hesitate. I'm thinking about including "Fly Away Home" and ''Shoot the Piano Player," but am wavering still. Would "The Story of Adele H" make any sense? I love Adjani's ardent stylization, but the movie probably follows the character too far into psychosis -- from charm into scariness -- to qualify. And what to do about all the movies that provide glimpses of charm? I loved a little-known actress named Dey Young, for instance, in "Rock and Roll High School" and "Strange Invaders" -- but if I start to include such movies, the list risks getting unmanageably (and un-usefully) long. I marvel that there are so few French movies on the list given what a French moviebuff I've been, and given that the French so often seem to be in the business of manufacturing charm. I marvel too at the shortage of older movies. Was "charm" not something the movies peddled much of until the '50s, or is my memory really failing me these days? Those gals from the '30s and '40s (Lombard, Colbert, Stanwyck, etc) are great and I love 'em, but they don't make me emit happy sniffles in the requisite way. From that era, only Margaret Sullavan does. I suppose some of the Lillian Gish movies probably deserve mention even if her lyrical hysteria doesn't quite... posted by Michael at January 27, 2004 | perma-link | (36) comments

Monday, January 26, 2004

Midnight Musings
Michael: The other night I couldnít sleep and so I ended up looking at a exhibition catalogue from ďAnsel Adams at 100Ē (I blogged about this show in February 2003 when I first saw it; you can read my posting here.) Leafing through the catalogue, I glanced through an essay written by John Szarkowski and spotted the following passage: ...[A] ... spontaneous record of Adamsí frame of mind during the period of his early serious efforts as a photographer is found in an undated fragment of writing that recalls an early extended trip into the high mountains, perhaps in 1923: ďIt was one of those mornings when the sunlight is burnished with a keen wind and long feathers of cloud move in a lofty sky. The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor: there was nothing, however small, that did not clash in the bright wind, that did not send arrows of light through the glassy air. I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light. The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me. I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of grasses, the clusters of sand shifting in the wind, the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks. There are no words to convey the moods of those moments.Ē How much he sounds like one of William Jamesí ecstatic mystics! Pardon me as I try to lay out what went through my head within 30 seconds of reading that quote. Adams was born in 1902. His interest in photography developed during his twenties, competing with a serious interest in music (he was a gifted pianist and at one time intended to become a professional musician). Both of these artistic interests also competed with his lifelong interest in the High Sierra and the landscape of Yosemite National Park (he did his early photography while working as a tour guide.) For a nature enthusiast, however, his earliest photography is quite formal and rather chastely emphasizes tonal patterns. It resembles collage so closely that I suspect his ideas derived from the School of Paris and early abstract painting. (Please note, all pictures are thumbnails and worth seeing expanded in size.) A. Adams, (L) The Back of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park California, c. 1920; (R) Simmons Peak in the Maclure Fork Canyon, Yosemite National Park, California, c. 1924 However, in order to emphasize the tonal patterns in his photographs, Adams had to virtually suppress texture, which makes his early photographs rather disembodied as records of the natural environment. Moreover, to maintain his compositions, Adams had to crop the images so ruthlessly that any sense of the all-encompassing size of nature is destroyed. As the quote above makes clear, Adams not only loved nature but also regarded the experience of being... posted by Friedrich at January 26, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments