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Thursday, November 11, 2004

1000 Words -- Stephen Toulmin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you guys bother much with philosophy? In my hyper-amateurish way, I have the occasional go at it, though I sometimes wonder why. Body vs. mind, science vs. faith, left vs. right, objective vs. subjective -- good lord, what a bunch of over-rehearsed debates. The fingers pulling the triggers may change, but the spectacle always consists of the the same old guns firing the same old bullets. What is deconstruction if not the Western philosophy-conversation dismantling itself in protest over its own sheer tiresomeness? Meanwhile pretending to accomplish something of significance, of course. Does every Western-civ discussion have to steer us into the same dead ends? My hunch -- for what very little it's worth -- is that the answer is no. Happy to admit that I'm not remotely qualified to make these sorts of judgments. On my best day, I'm a struggling Philosophy-102 student. Well, not even a student; I just like reading intros-to-philosophy, the same way I like reading intros-to-economics. I'm almost always happier reading a good popularization of philosophy history than I am reading the actual work of philosophers, a fact I'm tempted to blame on the philosophers. How many of them qualify as enjoyable prose stylists, after all? But the truth is more likely that I'm just lazy, and enjoy being spoon-fed difficult subjects. Still, still. If I'm no scholar and am plenty fuzzy-headed, I've read a lot of basic philosophy, and I've even got a couple of philosophy-prof friends who offer trustworthy guidance and ridicule. So I've indulged myself, and have developed a few preferences and impressions. (Hume rules!) A hyper-general question, for instance: can anyone argue that modern (ie., Descartes and forward) Western philosophy has done anyone much good? Granted that it's fun ... Granted that it's an enormous, intricate edifice ... And granted that it's been assembled by brilliant minds and hands ... But to what end? It's my impression that the standard modern-Western philosophy-thing isn't peddling anything in the way of conclusions or "truth," let alone trustworthy life advice. (God forbid.) Instead, all modern-Western-philosophy has really been able to do is identify about a dozen Perpetual Major Questions (God, causality, right-and-wrong, knowledge, etc), and line up the major arguments that get made on various sides of these questions. Which, admittedly, is some kind of accomplishment. Nigel Warburton's "Philosophy: The Basics" takes just this approach; it's one of the quick intros I've enjoyed most. A naif's question: are the people who are currently "doing philosophy" able to add much to what the tradition has already laid down? The impression I've taken away from some timid looks into up-to-date philosophy is that it's a matter of filling in the few, tiny remaining squares -- an activity for specialists and tenured-prof-wannabes only. Between you and me, and off-the-record only, my philosophy-prof friends giggle at the idea that anything major remains to be done in modern Western philosophy. But, y'know, there are also all those non-standard philosophers whose work I've... posted by Michael at November 11, 2004 | perma-link | (23) comments

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Micro-Movie Distribution
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a commentsfest a while back, J.C. raised a good point: even though digicams and tabletop movie-editing are making certain kinds of moviemaking financially do-able for amateurs, what difference does this make if the resulting films can't be seen? Distribution, as ever, is key. It seems that the distribution and enjoyment of at least small, short films over the Internet is becoming more and more viable. (And, perhaps, less and less exclusively the domain of rabid IFC-style filmfans and pornfans.) For evidence, take a look at what Amazon is offering this Xmas season: a series of five short movies which can be watched on the store's homepage or from this page here. Only one of the films is up at this point. Although it stars Minnie Driver, and I'm a fan, I found it uninteresting except as an example of what the Internet can currently deliver. The sound quality? It's fine. The image quality? It blows. The only real surprise the film delivers comes in the final credits. Click on some of the credits and you'll be taken to other Amazon pages. A new -- and upside-down/inside-out -- way of doing product placement? Freaky. Amazon: the new Paramount? Best, Michael UPDATE: I just noticed that Ifilm has made the murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh's film "Submission" available for viewing here. Here's a prose account of Van Gogh's funeral. Newsday reports that Van Gogh's murder has set off a wave of violence in Holland.... posted by Michael at November 10, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

More Francis
A pause in the usual flow of things to deliver a public-service announcement: Francis Morrone will be co-giving a lecture-and-walking-tour course at New York's Institute for Classical Architecture. The very tempting title: "What You've Always Wanted to Know About Architecture But Were Afraid to Ask." I'll be attending myself. Lectures will be on two Mondays, November 15 and 22, from 7:00pm – 9:00pm. The walking tour will take place on Saturday, December 11, between 1:00pm – 3:00pm. The phone number for reservations is (212) 730-9646; the Institute's webpage is here.... posted by Michael at November 10, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, November 7, 2004

TV Alert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's time once again to set your Tivos. Broadcast dates given here are EST. Hugh Grant on "Inside the Actors Studio." I've been reasonably amused by a handful of Hugh Grant's movie appearances. But, IMHO, his best performance by far has been this hilarious interview on "Inside the Actors Studio." As ever, the show's host James Lipton tries to be admiring and solemn; Hugh Grant will have none of it. He admits that he's a lousy actor who loves applause; he teases Lipton and flirts with the audience. The whole Grant package glows: the floppy-haired sheepishness semi-disguising the boastful rogue beneath; the bashful stuttering that contrasts with the whopping vanity. Grant manages to dodge Lipton's obsequiousness for a half hour; then Lipton's tongue finally does manage to snake its way up Grant's ass. But what a funny first half-hour it was. Bravo; Sunday, November 14 at 6 a.m. and noon. Secret Honor. After doing a scorched-earth number on Hollywood in the 1970s, Robert Altman seemed to lose both his luck and his magic touch. No longer able to get a job in Hollywood, he moved to New York and directed theater and opera; he moved to Paris and made tiny films, many of them adaptations of stage plays. A few of these are worth searching out. The 1984 "Secret Honor" is one of them -- a virtuosic movie adaptation of a one-man off-off-Broadway monologue about Richard Nixon. It's near the end of his Presidency; Nixon is pouring himself drinks as he prowls his office, wondering whether he should resign. [CORRECTION: Tim points out that the film's action "takes place after Ford pardoned Nixon, not during the Nixon presidency." I've seen the movie three times, and misremembered it anyway. Welcome to middle-age.] Altman retains the one-character, one-set framework, and adds subtle audiovisual fireworks of his own; if you respond to Altman's good movies, you'll know what I mean when I say that this is one of those Altman films that transports you off into Altmanville, a submarine-seeming and elastic four-dimensional space-time that's uniquely his. (If you don't respond to Altman's movies, you won't have a clue what I'm talking about and should probably skip this movie.) The firstclass horror-comedy monologue was written by Donald Freed and Arnold Stone; as Nixon, Philip Baker Hall gives a performance that's a brilliantly effective impersonation and then some. What a portrait of a certain kind of paranoid derangement. "Secret Honor" is one of those amazing small movies, like "My Dinner With Andre," that shows what a substantial piece of movie art can be made with the tiniest of resources. Here's a long Salon appreciation of Altman's movies. Sundance: Friday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 PM; Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 AM, and 3 PM; Sunday, Nov. 21 at 12:05 AM. The Stepfather. In pop-movie-history terms, the '80s are remembered as the decade when Hollywood turned away from the experiments of the '60s and '70s and got back to genre basics, giving them an MTV-inspired... posted by Michael at November 7, 2004 | perma-link | (5) comments