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.

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  1. Marilyn and Arthur and More
  2. Blaxploitation
  3. Facts for the Day
  4. PC Enough for You?
  5. Writing a Book
  6. Moviegoing: "The Island"

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Marilyn and Arthur and More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The recently-deceased playwright Arthur Miller was married for a brief while to the movie star Marilyn Monroe. It was a classic matchup in many ways: Miller was Jewish, intellectual and controlling, and New York; Monroe was blonde, instinctive and messed-up, and very L.A. Miller based several plays on the relationship. What would he think and/or feel if he were to discover that the intense feelings ran in only one direction? Robert Welkos reports for the L.A. Times that, according to a source, Monroe may have told her shrink: "Marrying [Miller] was my mistake, not his. He couldn't give me the attention, warmth and affection I need. It's not in his nature. Arthur never credited me with much intelligence. He couldn't share his intellectual life with me. As bed partners, we were so-so." Come to think of it, what will drama critics make of this statement, if it turns out to be a genuine one? Miller wasn't shy about using his marriage to Marilyn as a metaphor, and as a pretext for large statements about the American Dream. Did he make a bit more of what was there than was warranted? Was there -- perhaps, just perhaps -- a little bit of projection going on? Welkos's article is full of other irresistable tidbits too. My fave: Monroe had a one-nighter with Joan Crawford. When Crawford suggested a repeat performance and Monroe turned her down, Crawford "became spiteful." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 6, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, August 5, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How important is it to you that you and your thing -- whatever that is -- be reflected in popular culture? Perhaps better put: How important is it to you that you and your thing be among popular culture's explicit focuses? I find myself wondering about these questions because I've been -- in my usual shambling and formless way -- poking around the blaxploitation cinema. A brief pause for those not in the know: The "blaxploitation" moment in film history happened in the late '60s and early '70s. It was an interesting time in many ways. Politically, the era was still "the '60s," with all that implies of race consciousness, civil rights, youth protest, sexual acting-out, etc. In terms of popular culture, think soul music, black pride, drugs, pimp chic, and theatrical attire. As far as the movie business went, it was a time when the movie studios had fallen out of touch. The generations that had created and established the business were coming to the end of their careers. TV had taken over many of the functions movies had previously served. A generation that had grown up on TV (and, in some cases, on foreign films) was yawning in the face of the movies Hollywood was producing. These were the conditions that gave rise to the well-known and legendary art explosion of '70s American movies: Altman, Mazursky, Coppola, Peckinpah, etc. They were also the conditions that permitted another and very different movie explosion, this one of low-budget B pictures aimed at black audiences and featuring black performers. Up to this time, black people showed up in American movies in basically three ways: as supporting players in movies about white people; as civil rights cases in seriously-intended movies ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"); and as the cast and crew in a very low-budget, black-made and black-distributed cinema world that I know far too little about. (Oscar Micheaux was the giant figure in this world.) It seems bizarre in a post-Richard Pryor, post-Eddie Murphy, Denzel/Halle world, but until the late '60s, black American movie audiences had only seldom had the chance to enjoy the spectacle of black people starring in good-natured, nonserious, nonpolitical mainstream movies that were aimed specifically at them, the black audience. In the late '60s and early '70s, Old Hollywood crumbled. When that happened all kinds of things emerged and found eager new audiences. Among them were "Bonnie and Clyde," "Easy Rider," "M*A*S*H," "The Godfather," Jack Nicholson, Elliott Gould, and blaxploitation. In many cases, the blaxploitation films were every bit as commercially successful as the legendary "white" pictures. The blaxploitation pictures were movies like "Shaft," "Cotton Comes to Harlem," and "Sheba, Baby": cheap, quickly-shot crime pictures about pushers, pimps, drugs, and hookers that meant to sell in movie terms what the music business had been selling successfully for some time: soul, style, and funk. Several hundred blaxploitation films were released before the bottom dropped out of the market in the late 1970s.... posted by Michael at August 5, 2005 | perma-link | (50) comments

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nicely gathered-together for us by the Boston Globe: There are more than 23 million Muslims in the European Union, about 5 percent of the total population. The fertility rate of Europe's Muslims is three times that of the non-Muslim population. Because of their increasing proportion of older, retired people, European countries need to take in more than 13 million migrants annually to maintain their population-support ratios (the ratio of working-age people to those 65 and over). As a result of immigration and uneven fertility rates, the Muslim population is expected to double by 2015 while the non-Muslim population declines by 3.5 percent. Some projections, based on a continuation of current trends, foresee a Muslim majority in France by 2050, and perhaps in all of Europe. Cairo on the Seine, anyone? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

PC Enough for You?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The main reason I avoid hanging around most lefties is the love so many of them have for policing each others' thoughts. What a strange way to spend time. Unpleasant in itself, of course: Sheesh, but aren't some lefties the least liberal people you've ever met? And jaw-droppingly naive (IMHO) in its basic assumption, which I take to be: If only only we could eradicate the thinking of evil thoughts, then life would transform into something peachy-keen and super-dupe. Call me Dirty Harry, but my own priorities run 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Behavior prevails: Act decently, for god's sake. Your mental life is yours to enjoy as you see fit. I mean, really: Why should it be any business of mine? Right Reason's Steve Burton wonders if, in the left-o-sphere, it's ever possible to be PC enough. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments

Writing a Book
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to The Communicatrix, who pointed out this good and helpful Seth Godin posting about some things you might want to keep in mind if you're thinking of writing a nonfiction book. I wrote a similar (if much longer) posting a few years back. It can be read here. Don't skip the comments, which are full of true-life stories about what it's like to write and publish books. The first-class nature writer Stephen Bodio (whose own blog is here) did a must-read Guest Posting for us on the theme. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, August 1, 2005

Moviegoing: "The Island"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In terms of silly-fervent, earnest pretentiousness, there's the movie of "The Fountainhead" and then there's everything else. Some pinnacles can simply never be scaled again. That said, Michael Bay's new meatball epic "The Island" plants a flag a respectable way up that same mountainside. It's a very long summer blockbuster -- 148 minutes -- and god knows it has its longueurs and its uninspired touches. Still, there wasn't a minute of it I didn't find richly entertaining. Until now, Michael Bay has been known as the over-the-top egomaniac who has directed numerous Jerry Bruckheimer action-adventure spectacles: "The Rock," "Armageddon," "Bad Boys II." Bruckheimer and Bay are loved and loathed for MTV-i-fying the action-adventure movie. Cut-cut-cut. Strobe-strobe-strobe. Dolby-dolby-dolby. Bay has been seen as either delivering exactly what teen boys everywhere have always wanted or as dragging the art of the movies into the toilet. With "The Island," Bay has gone out on his own, and in true egomaniac fashion has made an over-the-top sci-fi chase fantasy that is also a personal statement. In a computerized, biotech future, Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson and lots of other workerbees in white pyjamas are tending to cyberdrudgery while spending their spare time keeping fit, eating fake food, and playing overblown videogames. So what are these funny glitches in the system ... ? It's all getting out of hand, Michael Bay is saying: the glitzy gadgets, the modernist architecture, the biotechnology, the virtual this and the cyber-that � It's driven by greed and vanity. And the mess we're driving ourselves into? We're doing it to ourselves. Most important: In the midst of it all, what's becoming of our humanity? Are we really living, or are we just holding on until we finally attain a reward that -- shhhhh! -- doesn't really exist? (I pause briefly to blush and admit that I agree with much of what Bay is saying.) Part of what makes "The Island" delicious is that these observations are made and these questions are asked in the form of a Michael Bay movie. If "The Fountainhead" was a melodrama of ideas, then "The Island" is an MTV-style action-adventure sci-fi chase movie of ideas. Aside from giving evidence of having something on his mind, Michael Bay does nothing in this movie that he hasn't done in all his previous movies. Cut-cut-cut. Strobe-strobe-strobe. Dolby-dolby-dolby. His action scenes still consist of a lot of flashing lights, crunching sounds, whip-panning, and frantic Kodo-style drumming. His change-of-pace passages still look like perfume ads or hunky spreads in Maxim. For no good reason, standoffs still take place in glamorously decrepit, large vaulted spaces. Hordes of sinister black helicopters still swerve and duck. Tough guys still throw guns and hardware to each other and then yell "Go! Go! Go!" The backlighting budget on "The Island" was as generous as it was on all of Michael Bay's other movies. Watching "The Island" is like discovering that a guy you vaguely know who has always done nothing... posted by Michael at August 1, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments