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Saturday, April 9, 2005

Architecture Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John Massengale spells out what's wrong with Christian de Portzamparc's proposed new co-op building on lower Park Ave. (Follow the links for more images and comments.) John gives Starbuck's a little what-for too. * The building I'm currently seething about is this flashy Gwathmey-Siegel atrocity, now nearing completion a few blocks from where I live. Where I live is Greenwich Village. Let me repeat that: Greenwich Village. Think low-lying brick buildings; mucho sidewalk life; a counterculture atmosphere; zig-zagging and leafy streets. (Check out the building behind the Gwathmey-Siegel, for instance.) The Village is one of the few homey -- cozy, quirky, human-scale -- neighborhoods in Manhattan. What kind of a developer (and what kind of an architect) would look at such a neighborhood and think: "Hey, you know what I think I'll put there? A tall, angular, gleaming, perfume bottle!" I have a word for people who think this way, and the word is "asshole." I can't help admiring the project's motto/tagline/whatever: "Sculpture for Living." To whom could such a tagline appeal? One possibility: the dumbest kind of fashion victim. * Thanks to visitor Kevin Hurley for pointing out this good Anchorage Daily News article. It concerns Thom Mayne's winning design for a new Alaska state capitol building. Surprise, surprise: some Alaskans don't like it. (It looks like a Photoshop 101 exercise to me.) Brief passage: "Many called the designs sci-fi, or simply ugly, and described Mayne's dome as a big egg or even a nuclear reactor." Mayne, who recently won the prestigious Pritzker Prize -- and about whom I blogged here -- seems to be doing his best to play beleaguered, forward-looking, eager to help, and not-backing-down. But he's unlikely -- to say the least -- to oblige with the kind of traditional-looking and traditional-feeling capitol building many people might prefer. What Mayne does is zigzags. Laurence Aurbach posts some observations and opinions here. * I recently walked down 54th St. in Manhattan for the first time in months and got a shock. The newly redone Museum of Modern Art faces 53rd St. but backs up on 54th St. And -- despite the care that has been lavished on the building's chic-minimalist design -- its relationship to 54th St. is appalling: one kindergarten-level urbanism mistake after another. A little searching turned up David Sucher providing a photo and many sensible criticisms, and a down-to-earth and eloquent Witold Rybczynski review in Slate. Nice Rybczynski quote about what it's like these days to walk down 54th St.: The effect of 196 unrelieved feet of corrugated aluminum is extremely unpleasant. It looks like the sort of temporary hoarding that is used to keep people from falling into an excavation at a building site, but without the posters and fliers. * Can buildings and developments in traditional styles stink too? DesignObserver's Lorraine Wild thinks that Southern Californian developers aren't just overdoing the "Tuscan" style, they're doing it badly. * James Kunstler's April Eyesore of the Month... posted by Michael at April 9, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

Friday, April 8, 2005

Peckinpah Moment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bloody Sam I just noticed that we're in the middle of a Sam Peckinpah moment. A new DVD of his much-maligned "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" has just been issued; it features commentary from the very classy Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons. When it came out in 1974, "Alfredo" struck me as an unredeemable disaster. It felt flatfooted, dead, and obvious. All Peckinpah's moviemaking magic -- his touch, his instinct -- seemed to have deserted him. But, while the film never did find an audience, it has also had its defenders, who make it out to be a modern film maudit -- filmbuffspeak for, more or less, "a movie the general audience hated when it was released, but we who know better think it's hot stuff and won't let go of it." I'm curious to check "Alfredo" out again. Is the film as much of a stinker as I remember it to be? I've certainly goofed on first viewings before, most notably with Jonathan Demme's almost-perfect "Melvin and Howard." The first time I saw "Melvin and Howard," it seemed like nothing at all; it just went right past me. Friends shamed me into seeing it again, and when I did I woke up to its wonders. Ever since, "Melvin and Howard" been one my very favorite movies. (I've also felt more modest about the infallibility of my first judgments.) Maybe I was wrong about "Alfredo" too. Perhaps it's something bitter, twisted, and brilliant, like a movie equivalent of one of Jim Thompson's novels. Meanwhile, New York City's Film Forum is currently showing a semi-restored version of Peckinpah's legendary "Major Dundee." The film -- a corrosive and epic cavalry Western starring Charlton Heston -- is famous for its many brilliant scenes and sequences, and for having been taken away from Peckinpah during editing. The version showing at Film Forum is said to restore all but a few minutes of what had been hacked from the film back in 1965. Back for seconds Even butchered, "Major Dundee" was one of my favorite Peckinpahs. Ferociously lyrical yet also absurdist, full of hilarious yet moving juxtapositions and dissonances, it put me in mind of one of Charles Ives' symphonies. It's interesting to read that Heston -- who has a reputation as a terrible square -- was, so far as the production of "Major Dundee" went, a good guy. He stood up for Peckinpah; he volunteered to forfeit his salary when the film went over budget; and -- when the studio took the film away from Peckinpah -- he tried to buy it back with his own money. Heston once said something about how he had no idea what Peckinpah was up to, but it felt exciting and worthwhile -- talk about being willing to go with your instincts and your feelings! And Heston is in fact amazing in the movie: grand, commanding, more than a little mad. Non-Manhattanites needn't despair: Sony will release a DVD of... posted by Michael at April 8, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Beautiful Agony
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The promo videos watchable on this Beautiful Agony page give new meaning to the word "teasers." NSFW. * The high point of a recent Jenna Bush night on the town was described as "Jenna on all fours doing 'the butt dance' and doing it very well as guys were ogling her thong." Jenna was dancing to "Da Butt." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 8, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks once again to the brilliant Dave Lull, who forwards along a link to this entertaining Bookslut interview with Camille Paglia. Camille's new book about poetry can be bought here. UPDATE: Dave turns up another interview with Camille, this one in Salon, day pass required. Great quote: I'm a professor of media studies as well as humanities, and I'm an evangelist of popular culture. But when there's only media, then there's going to be a slow debasement of language, and that's what I think we're fighting. The blogs, for example, are becoming so self-referential. If people want to be better writers, they can't just read the blogs! You've got to look at something that's outside this rushing world of evanescent words. And another terrific passage: I'm saying to the left: Stop bad-mouthing your own civilization; get over it, you little twerps. I'm saying to the religious far right: If we are defending Western civilization, as you claimed in the incursion into Iraq, then you'd better realize it's much more than Judeo-Christianity and the Bible. You'd better get real and accept that we have a Greco-Roman tradition of literature and art that started in 700 BC. And yes, some of it deals, quite frankly, with sex and the body; you must deal with it and allow students to deal with it, because that is part of the brilliant strength of our arts. I'm demanding that conservatives support the arts and that liberals stop being so snobby about art and quit celebrating art that is simply cheap sacrilege of other people's beliefs. Artists have got to get back to studying art history and doing emotionally engaged art. Get over that tired postmodern cynical irony and hip posing, which is such an affliction in the downtown urban elite. We need an artistic and cultural revival. Back to basics! * Dave also mentioned that his favorite book about writing is Robert Pinckert's "The Truth about English." (It's out of print, but used copies can be bought here.) In light of our recent yakfest about the Whole Earth Catalog, it's fun to learn that Dave once pointed the book out to Stewart Brand, founder of the WEC. Brand liked the book too, and in 1983 recommended it to his readers in these terms: You can hear good writing. That's the surest test of it. It sounds like somebody telling the truth. Bad writing looks like somebody showing off. Pinckert's best and most radical service is teaching you how to punctuate by sound rather than by rule. You listen to your writing, and so does the reader. The rest of the book is a cheerful tour of all the ways to show off in writing. You learn how to identify each kind of lie and cut it away. What's left may be the truth. * George Wallace puts "Ozymandias" in list format. It makes for something that isn't a poem any longer, but is certainly still a remarkable reading... posted by Michael at April 6, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Derek Lowe writes a very moving posting about the death of his brother. It's also an informative and helpful meditation on the perils of alcohol, and the mysteries of alcoholism. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 6, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Fonda vs. Vadim
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A Pope's death ... Battles over Social Security... War in the Mideast ... Heavy days. But what this particular Blogger of Substance has been most deeply concerned about is Jane Fonda's tales about life with Roger Vadim. More specifically: did Vadim really force Fonda to organize and take part in group sex sessions or didn't he? And, in either case, why wasn't I invited? A short pause for the benefit of those whose grasp on '60s movie history is uncertain. Roger Vadim was a French filmmaker notorious for his sexy movies, which included the South-of-France romp "And God Created Woman", and a ski-chalet-set, modern-dress version of "Dangerous Liaisons." But Vadim was equally famous for his magic way with starlets and other beautiful women. In the 1950s, Vadim discovered Brigitte Bardot -- which means that he was responsible for creating and establishing a type that has been with us ever since, namely the tousled-hair, trampy blonde sex kitten. In the '60s, Vadim had an affair with and gave a boost to the career of another legendary beauty, Catherine Deneuve. Vadim was, in other words, a world-famous seducer and pop-era Svengali. First there was Brigitte ... In the middle-'60s Jane Fonda was in a rebelling-against-Hollywood mood and relocated to Paris. There she met Vadim. They soon moved in together, and Vadim cast Fonda in four movies, the most famous being the 1969 sci-fi spoof "Barbarella." In the early '70s, Fonda left Vadim as well as that period of her own life behind and became an Oscar-winning Very Serious Person -- actress, protestor, and feminist role-model. Vadim for his part continued seducing women and making arty softcore movies, but the larger world soon passed him by. As the sexual revolution percolated through to middle America, Vadim and his movies began to look as quaint as an early issue of Playboy magazine. When he made his final theatrical film, a 1988 semi-remake of "And God Created Woman" starring Rebecca de Mornay, it was laughed-at in the press and did virtually no business. I liked the film myself. Silly and out-of-date though it was, it still had some rare virtues. Vadim had a wonderfully suave way of appreciating women's many qualities -- he was like an experienced and loving horseman with an ability see a horse for what it really is. And De Mornay really puts it out there: with Vadim's encouragement and direction, she's sexy, she's dynamic, she's touching, she's scary. She's one all-American creature, that's for sure. "C'est come ca," you can imagine Vadim saying with a shrug and a smile. Sadly, the film's commercial failure seemed to kill De Mornay's brief bid to be a mainstream star. The current Fonda/Vadim tale is a little more complicated than most tacky newsbytes are. What's certain is that Fonda has an autobiography going on sale any minute now; that the British press has run items about forced group sex that are said to be based on an advance copy... posted by Michael at April 5, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Monday, April 4, 2005

Razib on Wine-and-Cheesers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have more reservations about the legacy of the Englightenment (well, OK, the French Enlightenment) than he does. But Razib's recent burst of eloquence -- inspired as much by annoyance with wine-and-cheese liberals as by admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- may still be a posting for the blog-ages. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 4, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Headline of the Week
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although it's only Monday, we may already have a shoo-in for most-eyebrow-raising headline of the week. It's from Reuters: Turkey Shrugs Off Success of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" The article's lede is a humdinger too: "Turkey's government Monday played down soaring sales of Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic book "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle") and said there were no racists in the large Muslim country." I'm eager to find out what the good and enlightened Euro-minds who are all for admitting Turkey into the European Union make of this article. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 4, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments