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Thursday, June 30, 2005

More Movie Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some smart observations from professional movie people. George Lucas: "Box office numbers have been going down since World War II. They're on a slide and will continue to be. The profitable areas are now television and DVD, and the entire paradigm is shifting dramatically," Lucas said. "People will always go to theaters, because they will always like a social experience, but I don't think it's going to be as big as it is now." Lucas said he will not be alone in Hollywood. The growth of home theaters, new delivery mechanisms and alternative viewing devices like mobile phones will inevitably alter moviemaking. "The big tent-pole movies will be the first victim of the rapid technological changes we're seeing now," he predicted. "We're just not going to see those being made anymore." The shift from big-screen epics toward television and mobile devices is also inspiring an aesthetic shift, Lucas said. "There is a difference between how you make things for big screen and small screen. When you're designing for DVD, you tend to end up with more close-ups, and your wide shots aren't so wide. I don't subscribe to that stylistic shift, but a lot of kids making movies now grew up on TV and DVDs -- not films in theaters -- so that's how they make movies. I prefer to make them for the big screen, and they tend to work out alright." James Toback: I think that the independent movement today is a glorified audition to be co-opted by corporate benediction. It really started with Paramount and my dear, late friend Don Simpson ó this idea that the poster is the movie, the concept is the movie. That thinking has had ó and I say this with due respect to Don, whom I loved ó a devastating effect. It created a world in which every movie must be viewed in terms of how it will be marketed and what the distribution concept will be. Because the money is so huge and because itís so difficult to exist below the radar screen cinematically, you can get a movie made. But to get it distributed and to get any attention is extremely hard ó the seduction, the idea of directing a $100 million movie, is too strong for most young filmmakers to resist. I donít think the power of conglomerate corporate distribution stops movies of originality from being made altogether, but what it does is stop careers of real originality from being noticed and developed. The climate isnít there for the kind of flourishing there was in the í70s. Weíre now in a corporate culture where the idea of money and a materialistic notion of life are so widely taken for granted that youíre considered naive if you donít genuflect beneath it. Whereas, in the í70s it was the reverse. It was the idea of subverting those values that, if you had any self-respect, you took for granted. That was your price of admission. From... posted by Michael at June 30, 2005 | perma-link | (25) comments

Secrets of Good Loving
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The BBC reports that scientists have succeeded in scanning the brains of people having (and not having) orgasms. Some key findings: Women are indeed good at faking it -- but the brain-scanning machine knows. What seems to help men achieve orgasm is knowing that they'll get the physical stimulation they crave. What seems to help women achieve orgasm is feeling secure and protected, or at least free from fear. Keeping the socks on may violate good taste and classy stylishness. But both men and women achieve orgasm more easily when their footsies are warm. Me, I've always wanted to know what goes on in the heads of the scientists who study sex. Perhaps we could subject them to the brain-scanner? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Movie Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Yahmdallah and Jon Hastings both enjoyed the new "Batman" movie. Here's an interview with the film's director, Christopher Nolan. * Halliwell's Film Guide has named Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story" as the greatest film of all time. I'm only a semi-fan myself. I recognize how remarkable many of Ozu's pictures are, but few of them move me deeply. (The Wife adores Ozu's work, especially the earlier films.) Still: essential viewing for all would-be filmbuffs. A group of famous directors -- including Quentin Tarantino, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Catherine Breillat -- come up with their own lists of favorite movies. * A trailer for the upcoming, Peter Jackson-directed version of "King Kong" can be watched here. Short version: a buncha actors on the run from CGI and Dolby effects. Naomi Watts looks mighty cute in her period costumes, though. She does "sexy distress" awfully well. It's funny how Peter Jackson has become a director of overblown, drippy epics, isn't it? Not so long ago, he showed a wicked sense of humor. Try his 1992 splatterfest "Dead Alive," for example. It's a hilariously over-the-top, low-budget satirical zombie thriller. * Tyler Cowen notices that movie box-office receipts are down all around the world, and wonders why. One possible reason: A given movie's DVD is now available on average only 2-4 months after the film is first released. In any case, the theatrical business for American movies is off 25% worldwide. I loved this quote from one Hollywood executive: "The product has not resonated as much internationally." It hasn't been resonating much chez moi either. The Wall Street Journal reports that AMC Entertainment's movie theaters will offer money-back-guaranteed tickets to "Cinderella Man" this weekend. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hard to believe, but Mick wasn't always a wrinkly bag of arthritic mannerisms, and Keith didn't always look like a cobwebbed corpse dragged from King Tut's tomb. * Even "ejaculatory speech" has to be practiced. * When the fog rolled in, Nate Davis was mighty glad he'd brought along the GPS device and the cellphone. * OK, so maybe Turkey really does have what it takes to join the EU. (NSFW) * Steve Bodio 'fesses up to a serious case of bookaholism. * Opening the plastic blister-packaging on my wonderful new electric razor recently, I cut one of my fingers. Yowch! Not for the first time, I found myself feeling what I think of as "packaging rage." Why do we put up with so much crappy, dangerous packaging? The WashPost's Joyce Gemperlein writes that packaging rage is anything but uncommon. (Link thanks to Arts & Letters Daily) * Ukelele virtuosity! * Jinnderella suspects that what Islam needs is a shot of estrogen. * Why do I suspect that this particular cameraphone experiment is being conducted in hundreds of households even as we speak? (NSFW) * Stephen goes gaga for a gorgeous '57 Chevy, as well as a couple of sleek period pickup trucks. He's also wondering what the best biker movies are. * Surely the lighter-colored and the darker-colored get along with each other south of the border better than they do in this country? Think again. Steve Sailer clears up a few misconceptions. Brenda Walker thinks that relations between the sexes south of the border also leave something to be desired. * Where foreign policy is concerned, do you qualify as a "neoconservative"? A "liberal"? Find out by taking this Christian Science Monitor quiz. I'm an "isolationist" myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1950, New York City had over 1.1 million manufacturing jobs. Today, the number of manufacturing jobs in the city totals 112,000. (Source: The Manhattan Institute.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Annette on Martha
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Annette left a comment on a posting I wrote earlier about Eatin' and Cookin' that I can't resist copying and pasting into its own posting. It's mainly a lovely appreciation of Martha Stewart. But Annette raises a number of other, more general questions I find hyper-interesting too. Here's Annette: I know, I know...Martha Stewart is a "joke" in some circles, and may in truth be a difficult woman in private. BUT...Stewart belies some of this---everybody can access cooking as an art but not others. If one ignores the publicity and personality, and JUST looks at the actual suggestions her TV show made---she really did teach how to plant flowers in big planters for your patio, and how to set a table, and how to arrange pear trees, in a very comprehensible fashion with an outcome it was hard to argue with. Her homes are beautiful, her tables are beautifully and warmly set. One man who knew her back in the late seventies when she was actually running her own catering business and doing her own cooking, and using her own recipes, said "Martha really did have the best recipe for apple pie. She really did make the best chicken salad sandwich you have ever tasted." See--there is substance there, not just hype. And I would argue she could make a TV show about painting or architecture that is more accessible. Not perfectly accessible---nobody ever argued that to live like Martha you don't have to be well-financed. But everybody can take some suggestions from her, and you don't have to a sultan. Her K-Mart housewares line has some of the very best (and prettiest) copper cookware I've ever seen, and at reasonable prices. And part of that is she actually knows---how long does the handle on a frying pan really need to be, how heavy can it be before it doesn't work for you? What is the best size and heat conducting material for a saucepan? For all the ego---Martha really is an artist, too. (Nobody ever said Picasso was a modest guy). Maybe I'm not addressing your point, but I wanted to clarify---the thing Martha forgot, is that sometimes laughter makes food taste better, sometimes graciousness includes politeness and non-judgementalness, too. Sometimes, it's great to slather some mustard on a hotdog and just have it be good enough. What's the relationship between art and quality-of-life issues? Art is often presented and discussed as though it has only to do with heightened moments of intense transcendence -- with being swept away into some other dimension entirely, one that's conceived of as superior to day-to-day life. We've probably all had a few such experiences and -- goll-ee -- aren't they something? Still: that's asking a lot, no? What do we make of the 99% of life when intense-transcendence isn't occurring, let alone the 99% of art that doesn't visit such experiences on us? Also: Well, sheesh, these experiences are kinda subjective, aren't they? You may "transcend"... posted by Michael at June 30, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

War to KO competish but still may face non-boffo business
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, It will be interesting to see how War of the Worlds does at the box office. This article points out that it has opened to generally disappointing reviews and that it is not selling out in major cities. How does 9/11 figure into this, if at all? I wonder if it has anything to do with Spielberg's apparent sympathy for the idea that America might actually have an enemy, and that if might need to be killed. The reviewer for the Newark daily--where much of the movie was filmed, in the shadow of the twin towers--was appalled and offended by the 9/11 theme. Is that a fair take, or is there a political tinge to this objection? Whether liberals are put off or not, it does seem that the reverse might be the case. The National Review loved it, as did Nathan Lee in the New York Sun. I guess we'll have to see how vox populi unfolds. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at June 29, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of fascinating and to-the-point postings about those endlessly fascinating people, the Jews: * Never having given it a moment's thought, I was completely unaware of how remarkable it is that millions of present-day Jews speak Hebrew, which until recently was a dead language. GNXP's David Boxenhorn tells the story. * What with intermarriage, freedom, and prosperity, American Jewishness may be growing a little ... watered-down. And rare. Neil Kramer wonders -- humorously -- if maybe the time has come for Jews to start making like Christians and try to convert others to their faith. I'm just now catching up with Neil's brain and words, and I'm having a very good time doing so. Neil runs one seriously funny blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 29, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Eatin' and Cookin'
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I often look at the American food-and-eating world with immense envy. What a happenin' scene. There's amazing food -- both high and low -- to be found, and in surprising places. Trader Joe's, Wegman's, and Whole Foods are flourishing. What's not to like? There's also a lot of enjoyable fizz and buzz around the cooking-and-eating topic. The books and magazines are as scrumptious as the food itself. (IMHO, cookbooks are one of the few kinds of book that the often-clueless book publishing business does really well.) And the journalistic/critical coverage is often first-rate. While I fight annoyance when I look at the NYTimes's arts coverage, what I do when I flip through their food section is tear out suggestions. When I look at the food world, what I see is what I'd like to see when I look at the other artsworlds: enthusiasm, knowledge, and curiosity -- a congenial and mutually invigorating mixture of the high-toned and the down-to-earth that almost never loses touch with the senses and the imagination. Can foodmatters get out-of-hand pretentious and absurd? Sure. But when the rewards are yummy and the scene itself is poppin', who has any trouble forgiving small sins? Most people who take part in the foodfest do so not because they feel they should but because they're lovin' it. People want to join in, and then they want to go back for more. Television's Food Network reflects this spirit of informal eagerness and friendly avidity. It's an amazingly confident, likable, and helpful phenomenon. When I watch The Food Network, I find myself wistfully thinking: Sheesh, wouldn't it be great if the same outfit produced a Painting Network, a Poetry Network, and an Urbanism Network? My musings are heading in these directions because I stumbled across a few good online food resources in recent days. Incidentally, where food's concerned, I make few claims for myself. I'm nothing but an ill-informed (but admiring and enthusiastic) hanger-on. The Wife, on the other hand, is a longtime, tuned-in foodie with an acute palate; she's what I believe is known as a Supertaster. She's also an excellent and generous cook -- lucky me. So I've got firstclass food guidance built into the homelife. Along with Calvin Trillin, Jane and Michael Stern helped many Americans recognize the glories of everyday American cookin': potato salad, lobster shacks, hot dogs, barbecue joints. Their book "Roadfood" is a classic guide to some of the best popular cooking in the country. I sometimes find the Sterns' prose faintly annoying; I'm not sure why. But whenever The Wife and I have tracked down and sampled the Sterns' recommendations, we've thought they were firstclass. I noticed that Epicurious online runs a "Best Eats" section written by the Sterns. Check out their pancake, pie, and ice cream tips. Here's another list of Stern highlights. Here's the Sterns' own website. The Wife brought home a magazine-format collection of recipes called Cooking Fresh. We've tried and loved three dishes from... posted by Michael at June 29, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Typewriters and Confusing Designs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of recent postings at the standout graphicsyak site DesignObserver stand out even more than usual. Rick Poynor writes an ode to his typewriter (a lovely old Olympia). "What a mixture of emotions a machine can stir," Rick writes -- typewriter nostalgia! Will digital tools make similar claims on people's emotions? Rick and many commenters note that analog media tools have a weight, heft, and tactility you don't often run across these computerized days. Sample passage: You canít just brush the keys of a manual typewriter. You really have to hit them. That character has to arc through the air on its metal stalk and thwack the ink on to the paper. Correcting errors is messy and boring. Redrafting is worse. Typing can be an unglamorous slog. Rick's observations remind me of a book I've often wished someone would pull together: a study of the effects of writing tools on the kind of writing that writers produce. One for-instance: Writing, re-writing, and publishing in the pre-digital years was such a laborious chore that writers gave more forethought to what they committed to paper than writers do today. A consequence of these arrangements was a tendency for writers to strike a pose that can impress us now as formal, solemn, and self-important. After all, when a given task is going to take a lot out of you, you're likely to make a big deal out of addressing it. By contrast, digitech makes expressing yourself trivially easy. One consequence may be something I often notice: the tendency of many people -- writers included -- to vent and drivel. Good god, but a lot of people feel compelled to express their every passing feeling these days, don't they? (Think cellphones.) Once self-expression is easy, why not indulge? Many people seem to feel the need to do the self-expression-thang even when they've got zero to express. In the digital era, people's behavior seems to have become more ejaculatory and less reflective than it once was. Before we crack up about the word "ejaculatory," let me note that the distinction between "reflective speech" and "ejaculatory speech" is of long-standing. It can also be a useful one. Short version: Reflective speech equals "You've gone off to think about it, and you have returned with well-considered images, stories, and thoughts." Ejaculatory speech is its opposite. Ejaculatory speech is anything but thought-over; instead, it's direct expression. The meaning of the specific words that are said or written in ejaculatory speech counts for far less than the enactment of the behavior that the words are a small part of. "Life is both tragic and comic" is an example of reflective speech. "Whoa, dude! Un-fuckin'-real!!!!" -- accompanied by the usual facial expressions and hand gestures -- is an example of ejaculatory speech. Side note: Much of the language in advertisements is ejaculatory speech. And -- whewboy -- do I ever see a lot of tantalizing connections to be made here. The advent of... posted by Michael at June 29, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Dissing the Scotch-Irish
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I enjoyed reading Charles Oliver's Reason magazine review of a new book by James Webb. (I can't find the review online. Reason's site is here.) The book is "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America." According to Oliver, Webb has written an interesting but mostly-cheerleading book, and Oliver uses his own review to step back and assess the impact of the Scotch-Irish (as I'm used to calling them) on America. Oliver, citing Webb, points out the positive: energy, feistiness, orneriness. The best unit in the army fighting for American independence was Scotch-Irish; later, Andrew Carnegie was one of the tribe. These days, NASCAR events are, as Steve Sailer has argued, where the Scotch-Irish go to celebrate their values. What a legacy: Moonshine ... Country music ... Gotta love those Scotch-Irish! But there are also dark sides to the Scotch-Irish -- primarily, in Oliver's view, a kneejerk, unthinking populism. I'm a quarter Scotch-Irish myself. Years ago, I read this good discussion of the Scotch-Irish and found it helpful. So that's why my cousins behave the way they do. So them's the reasons that I have days when I want to drink too much, cry to a country song, and -- shotgun in hand -- tell a revenooer to Git. Still, there's another reason I found Oliver's review interesting. It raised a series of questions I often find fascinating: questions about sensitivities, faux pas, and the informal arrangements we make to get through the day. Oliver doesn't deliberately raise these more general questions, by the way. I'm doing my own independent musing here. In his Reason piece, Oliver is direct and straightforward about what he sees as the shortcomings of the Scotch-Irish. My musings/questions: Which other ethnic-national groups in American society today can we discuss so frankly? Which groups do we have to tread more gently around? And: Is this just? Is it fair? Is it amusing? If the Scotch-Irish can be discussed as 1) a group with certain characteristics, and 2) as a group with both positive and negative characteristics, then clearly Americans of English descent and of German descent can too. The Scotch-Irish, the English, and the German account for more than 90% of my own genes, and most of the time it wouldn't occur to me to bitch if and when people were to complain about us. I confess that I do sometimes think that My Various People go a little underappreciated these "multicultural" (ha!) days. But my general feeling is that we're always fair game, and that that's fine. Such is life: No one's ever gonna love everything about you. But why shouldn't other groups be just as fair game? The line grows fuzzy pretty quickly, doesn't it? For instance: If we were to conduct a public discussion about Americans of Irish descent that acknowledged not just the positive but also the negative, how would our discussion be received? Or those of Italian descent? Of Hungarian or Polish descent? And what if... posted by Michael at June 28, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments