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  1. Donald on Distortion in Car Ads
  2. Salingaros on the Borromeo
  3. Ewan on Acting in Front of a Blue Screen
  4. Basic Fairness Questions
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  8. "Point Blank"
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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Donald on Distortion in Car Ads
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm pleased to present some more information, observations, and musings from Donald Pittenger, who has been thinking recently about visual distortions in automobile advertisements. Here's Donald Pittenger. *** (Literally) Distorted Advertising: Car Ads 1920-1970 by Donald Pittenger The 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance classic car show included a tent where automobile artists showed their wares. One of the artists was Arthur Fitzpatrick, who was part of the "VK AF" team that illustrated a famous Pontiac advertising series from 1959 to 1972. Fitzpatrick did the cars and (the late) Van Kaufman provided the backgrounds. I loved those Pontiac ads. Kaufman's backgrounds were interesting to look at and skillfully done. Fitzpatrick's cars had wonderful reflections and highlights on their surfaces, the reflections being of Kaufman's artwork. They were a great team, and their success is indicated by the extremely long life of the advertising campaign; Pontiac wouldn't have kept shoveling the money if the ads didn't seem to pull in buyers. So I chatted briefly with Fitzpatrick, happily playing the role of shy fan who had admired his work way back in the days when I was a commercial art major in college. Then I looked over the various reproductions he was selling. Okay, this was two years ago, so I've forgotten the details -- but my impression is that I didn't see many (or any) Pontiac illustrations. What there was plenty of were pictures of Buicks he did before his Pontiac gig. I just checked his web site and see that he now has a lot of reproductions from the "VK AF" oeuvre for sale. Clearly, the Pontiac ads are his claim to fame, so it makes utter commercial sense to offer reproductions. But why did they seem to be so late in coming? Most likely it had to do with negotiating copyright or ownership issues with General Motors or its Pontiac ad agency of the time. But two years ago I was puzzled, so I looked up some "VK AF" examples and noticed something that hadn't fully hit home back when the ads were new: Fitzpatrick often seemed to be distorting the shapes of those Pontiacs, making them lower and wider than the actual cars. But not the Buicks, which seemed normal to me. 1965 Pontiac 1955 Buick Might he have held back selling reproductions due to a small tinge of professional embarrassment? I don't know, and it really doesn't much matter because Fitzpatrick by no means was the only one to distort, and the matter of distorting the appearance of cars is what I want to discuss here. But first let me set the automobile advertising illustration scene. A Brief History of Automobile Advertising Illustration I'll skip the early years and begin with the 1920s. By that decade, cars were getting pretty reliable (a theme of some ads in the early days), so "lifestyle" crept into advertising. This was in the form of either having a scene of some genteel activity such as... posted by Michael at July 16, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Salingaros on the Borromeo
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm pleased to run a review of a new recording of a couple of Beethoven string quartets by the brilliant architectural critic, math professor, all-around-civilized-guy, and 2Blowhards fave Nikos Salingaros. Here's Nikos: *** Review of Borromeo String Quartet: Beethoven String Quartets Op. 59, No. 3, "Razoumofsky", and Op. 95, "Serioso" (Image Recordings, 2002) We have here an outstanding first release in what many connoisseurs hope will be a full set of the Beethoven String Quartets. The Boston-based Borromeo Quartet is composed of all young players -- two men and two women. The way they play matches any of the middle-aged central-European gentlemen we have traditionally come to identify with the finest in quartet performances. This recording is so good that I believe it merits a detailed review. ARTISTIC QUALITY. These interpretations rank alongside the "classic" ones of the past, including the Amadeus, Italiano, Vegh, etc. Please take the trouble to verify this for yourselves! That said, I'm going to compare them to three excellent recent complete sets -- those by the Auryn (Tacet), the second Lindsays (ASV); and the Takacs (Decca/Universal). In sheer intensity of playing, the Borromeo equals its competitors. The same goes for control and introspection. Some listeners criticize the Lindsays for rough playing -- the Borromeo achieves the same power and excitement while staying more musical. The Borromeo is as musically perceptive and interpretatively solid as the Auryn, and that's saying a great deal. For example, in the Second Movement of the Third "Razoumofsky", the Borromeo has perfect timing, along with the Auryn and Takacs, whereas the Lindsays are too fast. The Takacs, on the other hand, take the Finale of the Third "Razoumofsky" too fast for my taste, while the Lindsays are too slow. Even though the timing of the Borromeo's performance is actually four seconds faster than the Takacs', the Borromeo feels more natural. In the First Movement of the "Serioso", the Borromeo's pacing is absolutely perfect, while the Takacs (only 13 seconds faster) sound unnecessarily forced. SOUND QUALITY. This recording is simply superb -- I would say truly "state of the art". It surpasses the Takacs, who are compromised by their sound engineers blending out their cello and fiddling with the overall volume for an exaggerated dynamic effect (at times, they have an unpleasant boom). The Lindsays' sound is very good but a trifle boxy. The Borromeo's sound quality equals that of the Auryn, whose superb, transparent recorded sound is the best of all complete sets. Take, for example, the marvelous pizzicatos in the Second Movement of the Third "Razoumofsky". The Auryn's cello is cleanly recorded; the Lindsays' is slightly too prominent; the Takacs' cello appears to tiptoe in and out of the room; whereas in the Borromeo's recording, you can actually hear the cello resonate. Far from being an indistinct boom, it transmits accurate musical information. The same transparent and vivid acoustic is present in the "Serioso" -- the Borromeo's cello is present in the room at... posted by Michael at July 16, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, July 15, 2005

Ewan on Acting in Front of a Blue Screen
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In movies that make heavy use of computer-generated imagery, the actors spend much of their time acting in unreal environments, or even opposite vacant space that will be filled in by computer only later. How can such conditions not contribute to the hollowness so many people complain about when they watch today's movies? After all, it's the people onscreen -- the actors and their acting -- who have traditionally given audiences their most direct way into films. If we're charmed by the performers and if the performers manage to generate some sparks -- and, of course, if the camera happens to register these sparks -- then we're turned on and borne along by the fiction. But if the spark isn't there? Then you've got echo-chamber emptiness -- movies like so many of the ones we endure these days. Since performing in front of a blue screen (or opposite thin air) gives an actor nothing specific to respond to, he/she tends to wind up doing schtick or being very general. The performers become Photoshop versions of themselves. The human content evaporates, and abstraction takes over. But don't trust me on this. Here's Ewan McGregor on the same subject. Playboy asks him what he has found it like to act in a few "Star Wars" movies. McGregor responds: They were horrendously difficult because you do so much of your work in front of a blue screen. Backgrounds and effects are added later. It's tedious, and there's no soul to them. By the nature of those movies, all the creative work is done afterward. They don't spend nearly as long on the acting as they on everything else. How long do you think it will take the mainstream arts press to understand this point? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Basic Fairness Questions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * If Jewish schools can require that none of their students bring non-Jews to the prom, then can schools run by other religions do likewise? Can Catholic schools forbid non-Catholics from attending prom? How about Protestant schools? Should they be allowed to shoo non-Protestants away from their events? And what if this meant that some Jews were forbidden entry? * If it's OK to run a get-together for female bloggers, does that mean it's OK to run one for male bloggers too? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2005 | perma-link | (38) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Wild Swans" author Jung Chang has published a new biography of Mao, co-written with her husband Jon Halliday. Some memorable details show up in this interview with Chang and Halliday in the Guardian: At one stretch, Mao didn't bathe for 25 years; he had a taste for deflowering peasant virgins; he ordered his own baby to be allowed to die during the Long March. And -- oh yeah -- there's that thing about being responsible for 70 million other deaths too. Chang and Halliday want everyone to to understand that Mao was every bit as evil as Hitler and Stalin. Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4 listeners have voted Karl Marx the greatest philospher of all time. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2005 | perma-link | (22) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Are graphic designers a bunch of drama queens? If not, then why don't they focus more on creating timeless designs? * I haven't yet been hooked by Patrick O'Brian's novels, but I sure enjoyed reading Larry Ayer's account of how he became an O'Brian addict. * Thanks to Vdare's Brenda Walker for linking to this startling Christian Science Monitor piece about radical Islam in Britain. "This young man initially tried to upset his parents by becoming a rapper," says [one source.] "But when his parents stopped objecting, he became a jihadi instead." * Randall Parker is alarmed by the news that Islamic extremists are seeking recruits on British campuses. * Tech Central Station's Sandy Swarc says that dieting may be the worst thing an overweight person can do for his/her health. * Cameraphones and thongs are evidently one of those marriages that were always meant to be. (NSFW, as if you couldn't guess.) * I'm a big fan of the idea of graphic novels. Why shouldn't on-the-page-fiction have visuals too? But in actual fact, I've enjoyed relatively few of the graphic novels I've read. (I do like a lot of Euro-erotica graphic novels.) So I don't know the field well and my judgment isn't to be trusted. Jon Hastings, though, is a true graphic-novel fanatic. How fortunate that he has good taste too. Here's the latest episode in his ongoing series about the graphic novels he has loved. * Jeff at JVC Comments thinks Woody Allen ought to have some sense slapped into him. * L.A. artist Megan McMillan came away from a recent art opening thinking that the graffiti she drove past on the way there had been the visual highlight of her day. * Steve Sailer has been having some easy and amusing sport with that crude and inept neocon John Podhoretz. * It wasn't the Manhattan artscene that went gaga for Impressionism and brought the Impressionist style and approach to the States. Instead, it was the Boston artscene. Huh? Claire Messud explains how that came about. * One of my favorite blog-reading ploys is to toggle between Rachel's blog Tinkertytonk and Neil Kramer's blog Citizen of the Month. Rachel and Neil are both smart, sassy, and funny writers who are equipped with big, quirky personalities. I find reading them in tandem to be as amusingly addictive as watching the best of "Seinfeld." Very sorry to learn that Rachel's been having nightmares, though. * Friedrich von Blowhard must be aching to get there: England's National Gallery has opened a show of the work of George Stubbs. Stubbs seems to me to be one of the least-known major painters, perhaps because he focused his talents so much on painting horses. But what horses! Here's a good online gallery of Stubbs' paintings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Prize-Winning Pattie
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Cowtown Pattie -- I'm tickled to say that she drops by these parts on occasion -- isn't just the six-gun-toting, raucous drinking buddy her moniker suggests. (Although let's hear it for raucous drinking buddies.) That cowgirl has got a lot of sides to her. She's thoughtful, curious, free-thinking, and much else too. Pattie also writes some of the loveliest mini-memoirs that I've run across in the blogosphere. Here's one recent example. I often find reading Pattie's blog to be as sweet and touching an experience as listening to the songs of Iris Dement -- which is saying a lot. I'm pleased to see that Kevin Holtsberry and the crew at Collected Miscellany dig Pattie's words too. They've just awarded their prize for short-short-story writing to Cowtown Pattie. Congrats to all. (Thanks to Dave Lull for pointing this good news out to me.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Point Blank"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Finally available on DVD: John Boorman's legendary (and trippily amazing) "Point Blank." It's a near-abstract crime thriller starring Lee Marvin in an iconic tough-guy role; with John Vernon and Angie Dickinson first-class in hardboiled supporting roles; and featuring some of the flashiest camerawork and editing of the 1960s. Very little that goes on onscreen makes much sense, but the film is satisfyingly sleazy, pungent, and intense anyway. Fans of "Kill Bill" may enjoy "Point Blank"'s somewhat similar style: hallucinatory, over-the-top, getting-high-on-itself. The film was based on "The Hunter," the same Donald Westlake novel that served as the basis for Mel Gibson's 1999 "Payback," which I didn't think was all that bad, really. Boorman is one of the most verbally articulate of all film directors; he published an excellent diary about making his film "The Emerald Forest," and he has edited one of the best movie magazines ever. So I'm looking forward to sampling his director's commentary. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Computer Help Wanted
Can someone with some geek competence help me out? A few minutes ago, something strange started happening with the blog. Every new occurrence of the word "book" started being captured by some gremlin or other, which turned the word into a link. (Oddly, it doesn't seem to happen when the word is encased in quote marks.) Watch this: book, book, book. I didn't make any of those "book"s into a link. Some bit of evil software did. I don't think the gremlin inhabits my own computer. The out-of-nowhere links first appeared on a comment that MissGrundy left on my posting about Westerns -- how can that have happened via my computer? So: Is the infected party perhaps my webhost? Any hunches and/or tips would be much appreciated.... posted by Michael at July 13, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Great Titles
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Among the many great things about "3:10 to Yuma" is its title. Yet what makes it such a good one? And more generally: Why do some titles strike us as wonderful while others are immediately obvious as duds? Can anything even semi-objective to be said in answer to this question? I took a browse through my shelves and made a list of some of the titles that struck me as hot stuff. So far it includes: "Last Tango in Paris." "Hollywood Wives." "Bad Lieutenant." "Psycho." "My Night at Maud's." "Red Harvest." "The Long Goodbye." "Mayflower Madame." "New Hope for the Dead." "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands." "Bonanza." "Son of the Sheik." "Unforgiven." "Mildred Pierce." "Unfaithful." "Desperate Housewives." "Fight Club." "The Color of Pomegranates." "Vampyros Lesbos." "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." "The Dream Police." "Catch-22." "Knife in the Water." "Women in Love." "The Picture of Dorian Gray." "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman." "After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie." "The Seven Samurai." "Aguirre, the Wrath of God." "I, Claudius." "Barfly." "Goldfinger." "Malice Aforethought." "The Bride Wore Black." "The Postman Always Rings Twice." "No Orchids for Miss Blandish." "Little Caesar." I notice that my list is heavy on crime and exploitation titles. Hmm. I wonder if it's generally true that the best titles are often to be found among the less respectable works. Shakespeare's titles don't make me want to rush to the theater: "Romeo and Juliet." "King Lear." Dickens' titles don't make me eager to shell out either: "Bleak House." "Hard Times." And would I have bothered with Russian lit at all if I were judging by the titles? "Crime and Punishment." "Sketches from a Sportman's Notebook." "War and Peace" -- these simply aren't titles that reach out and grab ya. My own very-favorite writer, the French writer Stendhal, had one of the tinnest of all ears where titles were concerned: "The Red and the Black" has been puzzling people for years, and "The Charterhouse of Parma" -- well, what's that about? Great novels both, but loved by no one for their titles. A good title intrigues and tantalizes. It makes you promise yourself to read that novel or see that movie, and the sooner the better. But I can't come up with any useful generalizations at all about what makes a title a good one or a bad one. Can you? My hunch, or rather cop-out, is this: Titles are mysterious. They're little works of art in their own right. What are some of your favorite novel and movie titles? Do you have any hunches about what makes some of them so good? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2005 | perma-link | (41) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The other night, The Wife and I watched "3:10 to Yuma," a 1957 western directed by Delmar Daves, adapted by screenwriter Halsted Welles from an early Elmore Leonard novel, and starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Have you ever caught the film? Both of us found it engrossing, exciting, even galvanizing. Did you know that Elmore Leonard started out writing westerns? I recently got around to reading a volume of his early western fiction: this collection of stories. It's terrific. I love Elmore's current affable shaggy-dog mode. His recent novels strike me as the pulp-fiction equivalent of such sunny, late-in-life wonders as Bunuel's "The Phantom of Liberty" and Altman's "Cookie's Fortune." But early Elmore is something else: tense, dynamic, juicy, full of suspense, jaw-droppingly well-devised, and shrewdly constructed. How could a movie made from this kind of material not be a humdinger? An old videotape copy of "3:10 to Yuma" was gathering dust, so I pulled it off the shelf and slipped it into the VCR. Bingo: loved it. It's probably too scrappy, amoral, and B-movie-ish ever to be thought of as a classic. That's OK by me; many of the official western "classics" strike me as snoozes. "3:10" has carefully-honed, one-step-ahead-of-you dialog; tersely moody and sumptuous black and white visuals; subtle but burly pacing that ranges from the snappy to the quietly explosive; and tremendous non-Method performances from the main actors right on down through the cast-list. It also has storytelling and plotting that strike me as pure genius. First you stare in fascination -- at least I did -- as the full-of-dramatic-potential pieces are moved into place. Then your heart starts to thump as Fate sets about tightening the screws. [SEMI-SPOILERS GALORE START HERE ...] The film stars Van Heflin as a struggling family man, and Glenn Ford as the suave leader of a pack of outlaws. Glenn dallies a few minutes too long with a saloon cutie and gets himself arrested. But he isn't much worried. His band of thieves swings more weight than any law agency in the territory does, and they're sure to spring him soon, if not now then certainly tomorrow. The good guys are terrified: What to do with their dangerous captive? They decide to ship him out of the territory, and pronto. Van -- who needs money to buy water to feed his cattle -- signs on to escort Glenn along his way. Van and some deputies will get Glenn on the 3:10 train to Yuma. Ford -- who was best-known for trusty square roles -- is staggeringly good as a seductively calm bad guy. He's slow-moving, confident, and courtly in a likably insolent way -- a charming snake. Life in a lawless land suits him. When he wants sex, he knows how to warm a girl's heart. When he needs money, he knows where to steal it. As Heflin prods him towards the train stop, Ford keeps up the digs, the teasing, and the taunting.... posted by Michael at July 13, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments