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. Elsewhere
  2. Thinking and Language
  3. BBC America
  4. Facts from Near and Far
  5. DVD Journal: "Secret Things"
  6. The Shawshank Celebration
  7. One cheer, or thereabouts, for multiculturalism
  8. Confessions of a Naked Model
  9. Tinkertoys
  10. Repeat Viewings

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, February 19, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Calling all traffic engineers ... * That $400 billion drugs-for-seniors bill? New estimates predict that it'll really cost us $700 billion. That's a thousand dollars more per American citizen than we were told. Can we return this package to the jerks who sold it to us? * Catholic girls, eh? All that timidity, all those agonies, all that fear of evil and damnation. And then ... they go wild. Did anyone else grow up with buddies trying to show some worldliness by muttering things like "Jewish girls are the easiest, Catholic girls are the best"? Wait a minute: I think I first heard that bit of folk wisdom from my (Protestant) parents, weirdly enough. I took it (and I think it was meant) as a tribute to both groups, by the way. * I'm not sure what to make of the fact that my blog posting on the Scottish Enlightenment is linked to from Wikipedia's entry on the Scottish Enlightenment. Scary -- I am soooo not a trustworthy authority. On the other hand: cool. * Thanks to the amazing Dave Lull, who turned up this Christie Davis blog posting about Robert Mapplethorpe, keyed to a David Hockney-curated show of Mapplethorpe's photographs. Davis manages to be sensible and down-to-earth about Mapplethorpe's work. Given how politicized a cause celebre Mapplethorpe was at the end of his life, that's not a minor achievement. * One of my own favorite gay artists is the very un-PC Toronto-based Bruce LaBruce. LaBruce makes amusingly scroungy films, but he's at his best (IMHO) in interviews, and when he writes about movies, and about his own taste for punk rockers and skateboarding boys. I blogged about him here. Here's his own site. I just ran across this fun q&a with him. You won't find Bruce LaBruce making homey, earnest arguments in favor of gay marriage, that's for sure. A wonderful quote: The main thrust of the gay movement currently is toward assimilation, respectability, and the quest to be considered normal and mundane. I think the true gay movement is now dying the same death that feminism died in the early to mid 90's. Feminists also got to the point where they were trying to police the representation of women so strictly, like Stalinists, that they lost all credibility. Anti-porn feminists really killed feminism, just as today's gay prudes, who want a very asexual, cleaned-up, even monogamous and family-oriented version of homosexuality - decorative and benign - are killing true gay activism. But I'm fine with it. I think it will all just pave the way for the homosexual intifada. * Do you spend Sunday evening dreading going back to work? It turns out that you aren't alone. Even people who like their jobs spend Sunday evening in a morose state. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 19, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thinking and Language
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Doesn't it sometimes seem as though scientists spend much of their time "discovering" what everyone already knows? Case in point: I don't know about you, but I've always been amazed by the way so many science and philosophy types are convinced that thought is language-dependent; it's only with the development of language that thinking became possible, etc., etc. Sez who? Am I really supposed to believe that my visual and music friends -- few of whom can put together a coherent sentence -- aren't doing any thinking? Am I being asked to agree that visuals and music can't be tools for thought? There goes art history; there goes Bach; there goes Louis Armstrong. What's so special about the wordy thing we speak anyway -- aren't there many kinds of languages? Classical architecture, for example. And aren't manners well-understood as a language of social behavior? To be even more basic: what am I meant to make of all those dogs, cats, and squirrels I've seen who are clearly puzzling problems out? ("Where's that doggy treat? Over here? If not, then maybe it's over here! No? OK, so maybe it's under the rug instead!") Why are we meant to agree that what these language-less creatures are doing doesn't qualify as thinking? It seems to me, for one thing, that what dogs-cats-squirrels are doing at such moments is the equal in "thinking" of what I spend much of my day doing. I'm more word-based than most, but even so, I seem to get through most days without doing much focused word-based thinking. I may have a nonsensical noodle-soup of words, images, and phrase fragments sloshing around my skull. But I kick into active word-based-thinking-mode only occasionally, and only when the situation really demands it. Granted that I may be on simple zombie-autopilot for some of these hours. During others, though, I can manage to be pretty sharp. Can we really say that during these on-the-ball hours I'm not-thinking? Again: sez who? Please explain, then, how I'm managing to get by. My own experience suggests that I'm not not-thinking at such times; it suggests instead that I'm doing thinking of a nonverbal kind. So I was pleased to run across this BBC report. New research suggests that thinking may not be entirely language-dependent after all. Sample passage: According to many academics, people are much cleverer than other animals because language gives them a higher order of thought. But these [new] findings suggest cleverness and language might not be as closely connected as once assumed ... 'Despite profound language deficits these guys showed advanced cognitive abilities,' [said a scientist about his subjects], 'which indicates considerable autonomy between language and thinking.' Not for the first time, science has -- after much ponderous deliberation -- reached the conclusion that snow is cold and fire is hot. Why do you suppose scientists often seem stunned to discover that reality is ... what reality is? And why do scientists focus so tightly on... posted by Michael at February 19, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

BBC America
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- BBC America has been one of the bigger disappointments of my cable-surfing life. I signed up hoping to watch a lot of older dramas and documentaries. (I think what I was really hoping to find was the David Attenborough Channel.) Instead, BBC America's programming execs think that what Americans want is larky new sitcoms, smashing new talk shows, and brilliant new mystery dramas. As though keeping up with my own culture's brash and flashy popular culture isn't already too much ... A small exception to my general displeasure has been the sitcom "Coupling." The Wife hates -- hates -- the show. But the couple of episodes of "Coupling" that I tried made me laugh more than "Friends" ever did. Granted that I only watched "Friends" twice, and that I didn't make it all the way through either show. Watching one episode of "Coupling," I had a wonderful time getting intrigued by a talented and beautiful actress named Emilia Fox, who did an amusingly Gen-Y version of that poised-yet-daring, proper-yet-sensual thing English actresses often specialize in. Emilia Fox is a slim strawberry blonde. She's one of -- or was she playing one of? -- those smoothed-down women who looks like she never has to battle her weight or her mood, and who emerges from every restless night's sleep perfectly groomed. Yet she has a devil in her too. It comes out in her calmly assertive body language, and in the wry mischief in her aristocratic eyes and slender mouth. How amazing is the Web? I managed to find images from the very episode of "Coupling" that I watched. Emilia Fox seemed to me to radiate "princess who can romp with the people"; she seemed like everything that spoiled, clueless Gwynnie ought to be. Alfred Hitchcock would have known how to make shrewd use of Emilia. Hitchcock of course was famous for his love of cool-looking blondes, at least the ones who seem to have banked-up fires behind their reserve. He once said that voluptuous Latin actresses didn't interest him because their sensuality is already out on the surface; he couldn't figure out where else he might help them take it. A hot-ice blonde, on the other hand, holds out promise. She might spend dinner buttoned-up and serene -- and then unzip your pants in the back of the cab on the way home. Or so Hitchcock enjoyed imagining. By the way, and as far as I've been able to tell, Grace Kelly (who Hitchcock used a number of times) really was such a creature -- a charming Main Line pet who enjoyed nothing more than being smooched-up by a hunky guy. She loved being loved, to put it mildly; Grace was legendary in the movie business for the number of affairs she had with co-actors. But the gossip-tidbit about her that I've found most endearing was told by a guy who was her lover before she became a star. (This Mr. Lucky was -- wouldn't... posted by Michael at February 19, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, February 18, 2005

Facts from Near and Far
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some facts that have caught my eye recently. Census figures reveal that the number of American households with five or more people has dropped by half since 1970, while one and two-person households are up by 50%. (Source: The American Conservative.) Every year, Americans spend about $50 billion on caffeinated sodas. The coffee company Starbucks was founded in 1971 as a single espresso bar in Seattle. Today, of course, it's nearly everywhere, with more than 7000 branches. And Starbucks is still growing at an amazing rate. Every working day, the company opens four new outlets and hires 200 new employees. Many scientists and historians believe that the Industrial Revolution wouldn't have been possible without the widespread use of caffeineated drinks. Finns ingest more caffeine -- 145 grams a year per person -- than the people of any other nation. Red Bull, a caffeinated drink in a can, is available in 100 countries, and sells close to two billion cans a year. (I found these caffeine facts in National Geographic.) As traditional trade-book publishers consolidate, conglomerate, and become more risk-averse, "book packagers" (small outfits that bring together concepts, writers, and visual people, and that market their packages to traditional publishers) are becoming more important. In some cases, packagers are now functioning as book publishers themselves. Incentive: as mere packagers, they make 10% of their books' profits, while as publishers, they can pocket 50%. Some packaging companies are already bigger than many publishers. Melcher Media, for example, has 11 fulltime employees and produces 10-15 books per year, with an average of 100,000 sales per title. In Turkey, a book that sells 3000 copies is generally considered a bestseller. (Source for these two entries: Market Partners International's Publishing Trends.) While sales of traditional books have stagnated for several years, sales of audiobooks continue to climb -- up 5.1% from 2002 to 2003. The market for audiobooks is now estimated at $800 million. Tom Wolfe confesses that he's an audiobook fan. He and his family listen to audiobooks on their weekend drives to and from the country. "I shouldn't admit this," he says, "but I highly enjoyed a two-hour rendition of 'Moby-Dick' ... We've heard things I probably never would have read, like 'Dracula,' which was much more interesting than I thought it would be." The audiobook version of Bob Dylan's "Chronicles" is read by Sean Penn. An audiobook version of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" is read by Matt Dillon. Sales of CD (rather than traditional audiotape) versions of audiobooks now account for more than 45% of audiobook sales. Sales of Audible (ie., digital-download) audiobooks were up 69% from 2002 to 2003. (I found these audiobook facts in AudioFile magazine.) Philippe Rousselot, the cinematographer for the current Keanu Reeves cyber-blockbuster "Constantine," didn't always work on big-budget, squaresville movies. He started off as an assistant to the great New Wave cinematographer Nestor Almendros; worked as an assistant on such films as "My Night at Maud's," "Claire's Knee," and... posted by Michael at February 18, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, February 17, 2005

DVD Journal: "Secret Things"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Choses Secretes" ("Secret Things") delivered everything that I want from a French movie. Everything and then some, in fact: sex; philosophy; erotic desperation; spare visual beauty; classic hotel particulier rooms with well-dressed walls and bare floors; bored and perverse decadence; elegant people fascinated by the game of l'amour ... It also delivered a French-art attitude that I adore: the conviction that "la femme" is life's great adventure, and that a culture's women are its greatest works of religious art. I spent much of the movie in a state of French-film overload, not that you'll catch me complaining. Despite being Franco-erotic-philosophical in an almost generic sense, "Secret Things" is a very odd, one-of-a-kind viewing experience. On the one hand, it's full of wit and observation; much of it is made with precision and sophistication. Interesting to learn that Eric Rohmer -- Mr. Less-Is-More himself -- has been a major sponsor of Jean-Claude Brisseau, the writer-director of "Secret Things." (Oh, the hell with it. I'm going to refer to the film as "Choses Secretes." There are moments when it's more fun to give in to pretentiousness than to resist it.) On the other hand, "Choses Secretes" also has a driven and compulsive quality that's unusual in French films. It's there in the films of Maurice Pialat and Andrzej Zulawski. But I can't offhand think of another French filmmaker who brings anything entirely similar to his or her work. And I know of no one -- French or non-French -- who makes sex-and-death films that resemble this one. Catherine Breillat's sex/art films, many of which I love, express her erotic monomania. But Breillat keeps her films spare and chic; good or bad, they never sprawl. "Choses Secretes," well ... When it isn't being well-pulled-together, the film lurches about with the kind of huffing-and-puffing obviousness that suggests "overheated autodidact." Despite the modesty of the production and the low-key naturalism of much of his style -- despite the Rohmer-esque, Whit Stillman-esque surface of the film -- Jean-Claude Brisseau makes films like a man possessed, swept away by his ideas and his fantasies. Although he's made a number of movies, Brisseau has none of the professional artist's agility with the rules of art. (He worked as a schoolteacher for many years before getting his first chance to make a movie.) An example: Brisseau has no instinct for the timely delivery of information. Characters are picked up and dropped almost at random. Explanations don't come when you need them; often they don't come at all. The usual dramatic contract between filmmaker and audience is something like, "I promise to address nearly all the questions I raise, and to do so at more or less the moment when you need me to do so. And I promise to take on these questions in ways that will provide, at a minimum, some surprise and delight." Brisseau's many, many violations of this contract don't seem to be part of a conscious artistic strategy. He... posted by Michael at February 17, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Shawshank Celebration
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Continuing the film thread from below. Under Michael's post "Repeat Viewings", Nick writes: Azad mentioned The Shawshank Redemption and Office Space as movies that everyone of a certain generation (the tail end of Gen-X, I guess) has seen many times. Which got me thinking. I only recently became aware that Shawshank is a legitimate phenomenon--not a cult movie adored by a self-selected slice of the population, but an honest-to-god big deal for an entire cohort. And further, that there is a generational aspect to the thing. To me, an almost embarrasingly stereotypical boomer, it seemed like a pretty good movie. Better than most, but nothing to write home about. And certainly nothing that I would have considered bound for glory. It's not that I am unaware of the appeal of certain films to generations. Me, I date the End of the Sixties to my first viewing of Chinatown. No countercultural themes there, pro or con. But, as I wrote here previously, until around 1974 I was still unconsciously hanging on to certain Aquarian delusions, and Chinatown shook me violently awake, reminding me that the world is composed of prosaic things like water systems and municipal finance, and that no amount of wishing and hoping will change the basic way the world goes round. So in that sense, Chinatown spoke to me generationally at a precise generational moment. Might I ask those assembled how they reacted to Shawshank? Why did it speak in a special way? Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at February 17, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

One cheer, or thereabouts, for multiculturalism
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Words mean different things in different cultural contexts. Christianity means something different to an elderly Anglican than it does to a recently converted tribesman. The same is true, I think, of another vaguely religious doctrine: multiculturalism. Because a lot of the controversies surrounding multicult are similar, I suppose I reflexively concluded that the term must mean the same thing at Duke as it does in Denmark, that the world was small enough for a common and uniform meaning. But I donít think thatís true. There is a difference. But first things first: multiculturalism is on its face a slippery term, and therefore quite easy to interpret in different ways. Is it a way of bringing people together, or a way of rationalizing keeping them apart? Even in this country, both impulses are evident in multicult doctrine. But there seems little doubt that, owing to the USAís assimilationist history, the bringing together side of the doctrine has played the dominant role, once some of the celebration-of-difference trappings are cut away. Not so in Europe. Press accounts concerning multiculturalism in Europe written by Europeans can be quite revealing (many examples; try here and here). The authors cannot help but demonstrate how the multicult game was constituted, and how it has been played, on the continent. There, the dominant theme is: how shall we rationalize the Pakistanis keeping to themselves in Bradford, or the Turks in Hamburg, or the Moroccans in Rotterdam? The answers: letís let them celebrate their own ways. Letís not obligate ourselves to be influenced overly by their ways. And letís not expect them to adopt our ways. Now we can all feel good about each other, happy that we can all live together, free of any pesky flies in ointment. If only. Ideas are many things, but from an evolutionary point of view they are improvisations looking (blindly) for some sort of traction. They need not be internally consistent or completely clear. Rather the question is: what happens when people think this, or this, or this? However, people experience ideas from the inside out, as it were, and cannot help but invest them with more than their adaptive meaning. And so multiculturalism becomes the frame for big debate over right and wrong, a debate that ends up in odd cul-de-sacs owing to the double-sided cultural meaning of the term. Santayana once remarked that life is not a spectacle or a feast; it is a predicament. Humans get put in conundrum-like predicaments all the time, and so it is not surprising, perhaps, that they resort to double-sided terms as a way of managing. Meanings shift; people duck, weave and improvise. Better, therefore, to consider multiculturalism as a response to a predicament than as a fixed set of right ideas. So letís face the current predicament: there is no way any nation in the modern era can avoid the demands of diversity. The movement of populations, and the cultural frisson that results, are inevitable. The question... posted by Fenster at February 16, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Confessions of a Naked Model
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This posting is interdit aux moins de 18 ans. That's foreign-film talk for: this installment of "Confessions of a Naked Model" is hot stuff, contains naughty words, and is meant for adult eyes only. Consider yourself warned. I.D.'s, please. Now, relax and enjoy. We're pleased to run another guest posting by "J," an artist and art student who helps pay the bills by working as an artists' model. J's site, where you can enjoy her art and explore some fun links, is here. J's previous postings for us are here, here, and here. J's modeling site, where you can enjoy some visuals as well as get in touch with J for modeling dates, is here. You can read an interview with J here. I'm pleased to pass along some happy news about J's art career too. She's having a show of her delightful art. Here's the official p-r release: (New York, NY. February 24, 2005) Like corsets and burlesque, pen and ink is a Victorian vestige that's back in fashion. But low prices are forcing some artists away from black and white. In "Ink! Babes! Irony!", Screw cover artist and pinup model Molly Crabapple says goodbye to her favorite medium. "Colour just pays more" says Molly, who's been exhibiting her hyper-detailed Victorian damsels since 2002. "Love pen and ink as I do, I prefer rent money." The exhibit will be Molly's last pen and ink show. Her art, which fuses 19th century grotesques, bawdy wenches and sharp socio-sexual commentary, has hung in CBGB's Gallery 313, and been printed in the NY Press. The opening party promises to be as exciting as the art, with gogo, booze and costumed artists handing out the "Black and White Manifesto". The show runs at Jigsaw Gallery (526 E 10th St, NY, NY 10003) from February 24 to March 10. The opening's on February 26, 6pm. Come wearing black and white. Now, on to J's latest bulletin from the naked-modeling front. Spreading It An Intimate Look at the Beaver Shot As a nude model, people often ask me what the difference is between my business and pornography. I give them an answer deep with metaphysical significance. "Porn means spreading your legs" Internet modeling is the Wild West of the modeling world -- complete with tumbleweeds, harlots, and gun-toting outlaws ready to rape us and dump us in the woods. We lack the legitimacy that goes along with an agency contract. No managers make sure we're on time for shoots, or tell us to stay away from the strudel. Perhaps because of this, we cling to our rules with surprising tenacity. Spreading your legs ("spread shots," in industry parlance) makes you a whore. Or maybe not a whore. But at least a target for concerned glances. "Poor girl," we pious models cluck. "Whatever could have made her do a thing like that?" The stigma against spread shots is virulent. While not traumatic in themselves (like an all-anal gangbang for,... posted by Michael at February 16, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Whores, ugly buildings and politicians are supposed to get respectable with age. Here's a politician and an ugly building from a 1949 Life magazine: Nelson Rockefeller promoting manufactured housing as the next big thing. Nelson passed away in the arms of a young woman who was not his wife, though she was not as I know paid for her services and therefore we have no prostitute respectability issue to ponder. The circumstances surrounding his demise did, however, put a bit of a dent in Nelson's respectability. But it's been a couple of decades since his passing, and I think he is once again quite respectable. Which leaves that house. Sorry, but in my view that is just one plug-ugly building that is just going to stay that way. It looks as though the exterior of the building is not yet finished, but, in light of Rockefeller's architectural tastes, I am not so sure. Compare the 1949 house to the mid-60s campus of SUNY-Albany, designed by Edward Durrell Stone. The university building looks like the 1949 house on steroids. Just the thing for Nelson! But once again I digress (as Archie once said of Jughead: his mind wanders but it never gets very far). I wanted to write about manufactured housing. Its time is always just about to come, but it never quite seems to arrive. Why is that? Residual snob appeal problems of the art crown with trailer trash? Or that good design simply cannot enter into an amicable three-way marriage with manufacturing processes and housing product? Or that technical issues have not yet developed to the point where the marriage can be arranged? The future seldom arrives on time, since the schedule of its arrival is typically posted by zealous and breathless enthusiasts who forget that technology is embedded in a complex social network, and that systems have a conservative bias. Consequently, many then conclude that the predicted change will never happen. But often the problem is not permanent, but only that the rate of change has been temporarily oversold. In time, the future arrives. So: is there a point at which conditions will shift to favor manufactured housing, in terms of design, affordability and appeal to living human beings? Hard to say. I think it is getting interesting, though. Some recent examples of interesting manufactured housing can be found here, here and here. I was particulary intrigued by the first website, put up by a small outfit called architecture + hygiene. That firm employs surplus shipping containers, putting them together in various tinkertoy arrangements. Its basic model is called the quik house. what is the quik house? The QUIK HOUSE is a prefabricated kit house designed by Adam Kalkin from recycled shipping containers. It has three bedrooms and two and one-half baths in its 2,000 square foot plan. The basic kit costs $76,000 plus shipping. The shell assembles by the end of the week, you will have a fully enclosed building. From start... posted by Fenster at February 16, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Repeat Viewings
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the comments thread on Fenster's recent posting about movies and plots, Rodney Welch admits to having watched Elaine May's "Mikey and Nicky" "at least 50 times," and Bryan 'fesses up to having seen "A Clockwork Orange" 13 or 14 times. It's an interesting cluster of questions: which films have we watched the greatest number of times? Why do we re-watch certain films numerous times while watching other films -- even films we love just as much -- only once? What is it about the films we've watched multiple times that drew us back to them? And what was it about us that played a role in this? After all, no one (or almost no one) watches a movie 50 times just because it's the greatest movie ever made. There's something in the viewer as well as something in the film that creates this kind of extreme chemistry. In my own case, my most-rewatched movies are "Rules of the Game" and "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," both of which I've seen around 17 times. "Rules" struck me at the time I was studying it as combining depth, humanity, and technique in way that pretty much summed up all of what movies at their best can be. Understand "Rules of the Game," and you'll understand much about life and everything about the movies, or so I felt at the time. And I was eager to use movies to get a bit of a grip on life. My infatuation with "McCabe" was more self-indulgent. "McCabe" was the film that hooked me on movies -- an event that struck me at the time as being of world-shattering importance. And why not go back to worship at the Source of All Good Things yet again? To be a little less harsh on myself, I also loved the film's mood -- its melancholy and its absurdism, its bleak romanticism. Watching "McCabe" over and over was like putting my favorite Van Morrison album on the turntable for another spin. Cosmic-woe-crossed-with-a-dreamily- funky-beat suited my adolescent soul's appetites, to put it mildly. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that, since college, I almost never re-watch movies. (Though I've treated myself to Catherine Breillat's "Romance" four times -- a rare exception.) Is it a matter-of-fact function of being pressed for time? Or is it that these days I "get" the movies I enjoy quickly and thoroughly, and so have no need to rewatch them? Curious to hear from Blowhards and visitors about what their own most-viewed movies are. Curious as well to hear musings about what it might have been about these much-loved movies that hooked, held, and re-fascinated. Hey, ain't it going to be a weird world when the children of the DVD era grow up? They'll be responding to questions like the one I've just asked with answers like, "I saw 'Little Mermaid' 234 times." "Well, I've got you beat. I saw 'Toy Story' 522 times." Good lord: what... posted by Michael at February 16, 2005 | perma-link | (26) comments

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Who needs plot in film, anyway?
Fenster Moop writes: Dean Blowhards, OK, OK I know you need plot. But I am personally feeling a little tired of it. Maybe it's just getting older, and sensing that there are only so many stories to go round. Maybe there's just a natural process whereby genres deplete themselves, and it takes a while for culture to catch its breath and to invent new and original ways to tell the same old stories. Maybe it's just that the dominant story-teller, Hollywood, sucks. It's probably some of each, including the getting old part. But Hollywood sucks is definitely part of it. When I was a kid I was pretty good at predicting for my family from the first five minutes of a television show what would happen by the end, but film was usually capable of throwing me a curve. No longer. Just once--just once, dammit!--I'd like to see a bomb get disarmed when the timing device is still at three minutes and fifty seconds, rather than right at zero. Just once, I'd like the plot contours to be less than completely predictable. It must be the effect of those damnable screenwriting courses, with film now requiring a conventional three act structure, every bit as rigid as the "well-written play" of old. My views on the matter are gentle, however, in comparison with the writer and film professor Ray Carney, who is interviewed by Movie Maker Magazine here and here. An excerpt: MM: Sometimes it seems like so many films are becoming more like roller coaster rides of stimulation rather than windows into human experience. Even so-called "art films" many times gloss over the interior life of their characters and become cynical reflections of the moviemaker's unwillingness to grapple with deep questions. Why do you think this is? RC: How beautifully you put that. I couldn't agree more. Of course, cynicism never goes by its own name. It is always called something else: smartness, stylishness, coolness, playfulness, wit. Look at L.A. Confidential, which David Denby thought was one of the best films of the decade. Or Pulp Fiction, which every critic in American had multiple orgasms over. Or the complete works of John Dahl and most of what the Coen brothers have done. All those hard, tough, mechanical film noirs. Look at Mulholland Drive. All those smart-ass tricks and games. Big friggin' deal. That's the best we can do with a couple million dollars? I don't care how the New York critics revel in it; it's cynicism. And, in comparing Pulp Fiction (unfavorably) with Mikey and Nicky: If you want a crash course on the difference between gimmicks and revelations, watch Pulp Fiction and Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky on successive nights. May creates characters who have a superficial similarity to Tarantino's in their guttersnipe jitteriness, and scenes that similarly defeat our expectations, but she does it not to astonish us, but in the service of showing us astonishing things about ourselves. She's not playing with genre conventions. She doesn't use... posted by Fenster at February 15, 2005 | perma-link | (19) comments

More Power Pop
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, This one goes out for all the power pop fans who came out of the woodwork, surprising the author, when a power pop posting was published a short while ago. Internet radio is capable of satisfying your power pop needs. Here's a 24/7 streaming audio station that I particularly like--all power pop, all the time. It's part of the live365 internet audio complex. That site not only has different flavors of power pop (60s. 70s-80's, Brit, etc.), but a seemingly endless array of 24/7 stations. Grab an Airport Express, which for short dollars creates a wireless link between your computer and sound system, and you're in business. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at February 15, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments