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  1. George, Terry, Music on Video
  2. Rewind: The History of The Director
  3. Glassy NYC
  4. Elsewhere
  5. More Male Fashions
  6. Both?
  7. Thought Police Strike Again
  8. Moviegoing: "The Black Dahlia"
  9. Rough Encounter
  10. Hard to Watch, Great to Hear

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

George, Terry, Music on Video
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good to see that the New York Times has begun to make use of the gifted playwright and blogger George Hunka. I liked George's recent theater evening "In Public/In Private" very much, and I interviewed George about the theater life here and here. BTW, I noticed over at Terry Teachout's blog (where I learned about George's Times gig) that Terry has created a dynamite list of YouTube music-on-video links. Scroll about halfway down the site's right-hand column and be amazed. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 23, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Rewind: The History of The Director
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thumbing through our archives, I ran across an old posting of mine that I'd since forgotten. Since the information in it still strikes me as pretty interesting, I thought I'd give it a re-run. EZ blogging! Here goes: I found myself the other day wondering for the first time: when did the job of "the director" get created? I'm surprised the question never occurred to me before. After all, these days we take it for granted that behind any theatrical/film production there must be a director figure. But has this in fact always been the case? Was the initial presentation of Mozart's "Idomeneo" pulled together by a director, for instance? Were Shakespeare's plays put on the boards and given a style by a director? And if so, who were these people? I spent a little time websurfing and thumbing through history and reference books, and came up with what appear to be the basics. The date "the director" first appeared? Not until the mid-1800s. The Greek tragedies, Shakespeare's romances, Mozart's operas, etc -- all were put on without a director. Theater and opera were performer-, playwright-, and impresario-driven things for centuries. (A stage manager often helped pull the shows together, but always from a subservient position.) Then, in the mid-1800s, for reasons I don't fully understand yet, it began to be felt that things were getting out of hand. Actors were out there too much on their own -- some coordination was needed. Within a few decades, the job of "director" as we know it today came into being. In opera, Wagner orchestrated his productions (theatrically as well as musically) in ways that had never been done before. In England, a playwright named T.W. Robertson started doing something that we might today think of as directing his own plays. One source credits him as the first director, and nails the date this way: "In 1864, at the Prince of Wales Theater." Another source argues that the director evolved in response to the entertainment demands of the new urban middle class, who didn't like aristocratic theater and yet who didn't want to rub shoulders with the burlesque-lovin' proletariat either. In Germany, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen devoted himself to the idea of ensemble work, and sponsored a troupe that toured Europe during the 1870s and 1880s. The Russians were especially impressed -- hence Stanislavsky, and, via turn-of-the-century immigration, hence the American Method too. The challenge was initially thought to be to get the showoffs and prima donnas, er, the actors and performers to work together instead of competing. Soon, though, directors began to coordinate the other production elements too (costumes, design, lighting, etc). Was this a Good Thing? A power-grab? I find it interesting that these developments were taking place not too long after the role of the orchestra conductor took shape -- orchestral music of the 1600s and 1700s was generally presented conductor-free -- and that it overlaps the period during which Impressionism was finding... posted by Michael at September 23, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Glassy NYC
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Prairie Mary and Dave Lull for turning up this good A.A. Gill piece for Vanity Fair. New York is in the midst of a chic-building boom: ripply glass, acute angles, perfume-bottle shapes, etc. Is this an exciting and innovative development (the usual design press)? Or are we being subjected to a tragic repeat of our disastrous '50s adventure with glass boxes, as we Real Folk may tend to think? Bless his heart, Gill comes down on the side of the Real Folk, and does so with some much-needed verbal flair. Here's a good passage: What they all seem to have in common are their vast expanses of glass. Over in Europe, we're all a bit fed up with the answer to every urban architectural problem being a sheet of textured glass wrapped around steel. We've grown cynical about the metaphor of transparency, openness, harmony, and light. It's not like floating in the sky. It's like living in Pyrex. Like being the ingredients in some glutinous civic fruitcake. It's not that these new Manhattan buildings don't look very good. It's that they look lazily derivative, and they'll make New York look like every other grubbily transparent financial hub in the world. It's a fiasco for the city, in other words. Yup: International Modernism is back, only this time around all that glassy graph paper has got the wiggles -- big improvement! Problems now solved! Baloney to that. It's heartening, though, to see Gill's refusal-to-be-impressed appear in a mainstream magazine. Let's hope that the official discussion about architecture-and-urbanism is finally beginning to open up to some dissenting voices. Related: I wrote about some recent developments in architecture here and here. At the bottom of this posting, I went out on a limb and called the steel-and-glass specialist Richard Meier "an asshole." I can't see any reason to take that judgment back. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 23, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * They know how to do these things right down south. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Bedbugs are back. * Why don't more short-film makers have fun with stop motion? * We all have our talents, I guess. * "xgobobeanx" wonders if she should make her own Beautiful Agony video. Then she expresses her indignation that one of her videos was flagged. * Finally, a documentary film about typography and design. * Have living standards been going up faster than official figures suggest? Dean Baker gives the question a wrestle or two. * While 2Blowhards fields responses from visitors who don't enjoy Brian De Palma, Neil Kramer is receiving photos of his lady visitors' beds. What are we doing wrong? * Alicatte attends a gallery exhibit of Gap photography. She's almost buyin' it. * Are fruits and veggies fresher and tastier in Japan? * Yahmdallah isn't sure about the work of the quirky short story specialist Amy Hempel, but he's certain that the recently upgraded "Star Wars" is no improvement. * Swatstuff's short AfterEffects extravaganza may be a little one-note, but it casts a spooky spell. * Courageman confesses to a severe case of Internet porn addiction. * Steeler guy Squub goes shopping for a TV worthy of his beloved team. Steeler guy Razib gives some evo-bio thought to team loyalties. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 23, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

More Male Fashions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since we were recently on the topic of male fashions ... How about a moment of silence in acknowledgment of the summer just past? Everywhere I looked ... That's right: everywhere I looked there were men wearing longer-than-knee-length shorts. What a strange fashion season. Why would anyone think that this style is attractive? I'm happy to admit that long-long cargo shorts look good on a few guys -- but most of them, it seems to me, are younger than the age of 7. In the stores it was near-impossible to find summer shorts of a more traditional length. And, in any case, the over-the-knee style became so omnipresent that the visible male knee -- anything but a shock in summers past -- started to look ... kinda embarrassing, and kinda obscene. Where did the long-long style come from anyway? I have a dim sense that it arrived via today's usual route: basketball via gangsta-hiphop. But I'm not really sure. How about a little gallery? To establish context and understand just how far things have gone, get a load of what men's shorts once were at the opposite extreme: It seemed to me that a nadir was reached very late in August when some men -- including some mature men -- started turning up in public wearing mid-calf-length ... er, slacks, pants, shorts, whatever. A billion years ago, this -- -- was called the clamdigger, or the pedal pusher, or (on gals) the Capri pant. So far as modern guys go, though: There oughta be a law. I don't want to see any male who isn't a bona fide Tyrolean backpacker wearing mid-calf length pants, do you? How do the gals react to the long-shorts-on-men look? I notice that -- in a recent posting I did about magazine design -- the heavenly Gretchen Mol was asked (in the article illustrating the posting) to name something that she doesn't like. Her response: "I'll tell you what I don't want to see, and that's grown men in shorts or cargo pants. If you're older than 12, do you really need all those giant pockets?" Whoops! At the beginning of the summer, I was looking forward to those pockets myself. I was hoping to be able to go out with room in my pants and/or shorts for securely-stashed wallet, keys, camera, sunglasses, and change. But on precisely none of the pairs of cargo-pocket-equipped pants and shorts that I bought this year did the pockets actually work well. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 23, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, September 22, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So Kate and Spencer were both bi ... ? (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 22, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thought Police Strike Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is Ilkka, of the now-defunct blog 16 Volts, in need of some serious re-education? His academic employers seem to think so. Steve Sailer tells the story. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 22, 2006 | perma-link | (35) comments

Moviegoing: "The Black Dahlia"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do we all have a geeky side? Ie., some topic or subject in which we so love to lose ourselves that we just don't care whether it speaks to -- or is of any conceivable use to -- outsiders? My own geekiness has to do with movies. Oh, I can be (and I enjoy being) an adult about movies. I'm interested in the art, the craft, the audiences, the technology, the history, the experience, etc. And my responsible artsguy side is ever-wary of over-specialization and ingrown-ness. I'm convinced that artforms thrive only when sparky exchanges are taking place between artists, audiences, businesspeople, critics, etc. Still, still ... I do have my reckless-film-geek side too. It doesn't matter to me in the least, for instance, that Robert Altman hasn't connected with a big audience since "M*A*S*H", or that almost everyone despises the films of Catherine Breillat. I love some Altman and Breillat movies with an unreasonable passion, and that's all that really matters to me. In fact, I'd hardly have any interest in movies at all if it weren't for the highs of such experiences. (I wrote here about the joys of indulging my edgy-movieguy side; here about "Brief Crossing," a Breillat picture that I adored; and here about Altman's recent, and lovely, "A Prairie Home Companion.") Josh and Scarlett Which leads me to "The Black Dahlia," Brian De Palma's film of James Ellroy's novel. Amazon viewer-reviews are barely nudging into the three-star region; mainstream critic-reviews have been lukewarm at best. I have no trouble understanding why most moviegoers would leave the film feeling dissatisfied. On a conventional story-and-character level, the film is clearly both hard to engage with and tough to follow. 90% of the time, I'm someone who's eager to argue that the story-and-character level is the most fundamental level that a work of narrative fiction exists on. But, y'know, I have (and had) no interest in judging "The Black Dahlia." What am I, a critic? I should think not! And I can report that I watched "The Black Dahlia" in a state of near-complete bliss. Narrative, character, and clarity -- pffft to all that! With the film's opening shots, my Inner Film Geek kicked in. I spent the next couple of hours completely absorbed in abstract film-geek concerns: staging, lighting, editing, composition, style, film-history mischief, movement. What could be more fun? Among directors of big-budget, narrative-driven films Brian De Palma is a unique case. Though he has an avant-garde mind and talent -- he's a film geek himself, and nothing if not provocative and style-obsessed -- he's also drawn to large-scale popular entertainments. For a few years, he had the public's pulse. The hits he made during that stretch ("Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," "Scarface") made him a major director of commercial films -- a status he still enjoys even though he has since lost his feeling for the taste of the general public. These days, he makes big narrative movies that are... posted by Michael at September 22, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Rough Encounter
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tatyana has had quite an encounter. (Here, here, here.) Why isn't the ACLU on the case? Jonathan comments. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 22, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hard to Watch, Great to Hear
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The one time I saw him perform live, Van Morrison struck me as one of the most awkward on-stage presences imaginable. It was a dismal evening, and it put me off his music for years. Still ... Hard though I may find it to watch Van, there's still something about "Tupelo Honey" that makes me want to hit the Endless Repeat button. Mournful yet romantic, folklorishly-droning yet sweetly-melodic -- what a strange and wonderful gift that man has. Related: Van duets with Bob Dylan on "Crazy Love." The classic Van Morrison albums, as far as I'm concerned, are this one, this one, and this one. Here's the website of John Platania, whose haunting guitar work added so much to the sad/joyful tone of "Moondance" and "His Band and the Street Choir." Here's an interview with Janet Planet, the onetime flower-child and muse who was the inspiration for much of Van's early music, including "Tupelo Honey" and "Brown-Eyed Girl." She left him in 1973. "I was confusing the music with the man," she says -- not the first music-lovin' girl to make that particular mistake! "The music was everything you could hope for as a romantic. The man was a prickly pear." Best, Michael UPDATE: Interesting to learn -- from an Adam Sweeting review of a Johnny Rogan biography of Van -- that "virtually nobody is willing to offer a ringing endorsement of [Van's] personal qualities, and he is depicted as having been self-centred and unsociable virtually from birth ... One of Rogan's themes is the contrast between the sublimity of Morrison's finest music and the ugliness of his behaviour offstage. It's peppered with incidents in which Morrison abuses or physically attacks some of his closest friends (remarkably, he has some), as well as a couple of episodes apparently so grotesque that lawyers suppressed them."... posted by Michael at September 20, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Slow Fitness?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dave Lull turns up what sounds like an exercise-and-activity program for the civilized. I blogged about the Slow movement here and here. Here's an article about Frank Forencich, the evo-bio exercise guru behind Slow Fitness. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Are Minor Facial Expressions Readable Across Cultures?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an expression that -- in my experience anyway -- isn't a rare one to run across: (Image of actress Amy Locane lifted from some godawful trash movie The Wife and I watched the other evening. What can I say? Sometimes we're more in the mood for trash than we are for Great Art.) A familiar one, no? How do you read it? Here's my shot at an interpretation: "I know things are very hard right now, but I also want you to know that I sympathize with your predicament." As far as I can tell, the expression (which I have seldom if ever seen on a man's face, btw) conveys something like "pained empathy." Here's my real question: Is this a facial expression that exists in all cultures? Evo-bio eggheads tell us that certain basic facial expressions are in fact human univerals: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger. But are any of the more specialized facial expressions instantly comprehensible to everyone too? Even across cultures and time? But perhaps this one is unique to a narrow slice of Americans. It's certainly an expression that's a familiar one to me. But what do I know? My life has its limits and boundaries. Sometimes I even wonder if this expression is unique to vanilla blondes. My midwestern sister makes this face on a regular basis, for instance -- yet urban gal friends who are of Mediterranean descent seldom if ever look at anyone like this. And if the pained-empathy corrugated forehead really is distinctive to vanilla blondes, well, why should this be? A question for non-American visitors: Do you find Amy Locane's expression easy to interpret? And do you run across this particular expression often among gals in your own world? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Ginny recalls those bewildering, topsy-turvy 1960s. * Reid Farmer tours the Southwest and stops by the zany town of Sedona, Arizona. * Shouting Thomas tells what it's like to job-hunt when you're in your 50s. * Rick Darby marvels at the new Burqa-style gowns that are being issued by some English hospitals. * Best use ever for a laser pointer. * Who needs Hollywood's version of action-adventure when you can create your own fireballs? * Prairie Mary tells why blogging suits her. * Prof. Bainbridge lays out a conservative case against Wal-Mart. And, bless him, he doesn't neglect the aesthetic end of the question. (Link thanks to Rod Dreher.) * Roger wonders how and why the telephone turned into an enemy. * Razib asks why so many Japanese Buddha sculptures have curly hair. * Jen tries to remember what she did with her favorite bra. * Life as a caveman wasn't easy, that's for sure. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin, who has got the YouTube bug bad.) * Without an expanding health care sector, would we have any economic growth at all? (Link thanks to Don McArthur.) * OK, so it isn't all guys who spend their lives perfecting absurd physical stunts ... * Tasha doesn't care that Lonelygirl15 was a fake. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

"A Little Princess" On Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This week's 2Blowhards-endorsed onsale DVD is Alfonso Cuaron's magical 1995 version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess," now available at Amazon for $6.97. A sweeping, imaginative, and touching (grown men have been known to sniffle) children's film set in England in the early 20th century, it somehow merges Dickens and the Ramayana. Sticklers for faithfulness to Burnett's original novel will be displeased, but others might find this sensual, audacious, and intoxicating film a candidate for a place in the best-ever kids'-film pantheon, alongside "National Velvet," "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Black Stallion." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Striped, Open, Out
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where did this particular look come from? Enlightenment appreciated. I'm pretty sure that the first time I registered the look -- striped shirt, worn untucked over jeans, and usually with two buttons undone at the neck -- was when I saw a standup comic wearing it. This was a few years back, but already it looked like a well-established getup. Are there women who think this outfit is a good idea? Even when, as it so often is, the striped shirt is worn over a, blech, white t-shirt? More questions: Why are psychedelic stripes so pervasive these days? My own small-t theory is my usual one: that it's related to the way computers have led to everything being so determinedly visual and aggressive. Ya gotta fight fire with fire, after all. What is the overall look intended to convey? My guess: "I'm a straight guy, full of rogueish, 'Wedding Crasher' charm, who's in a breathless hurry." I find it quite amazing how many guys are currently imitating the look in its entirety. The Wife and I attended "The Black Dahlia" this evening, and every third guy in the audience seemed to be wearing an untucked striped shirt over jeans. We later talked the phenomenon over at a bar; the tender serving us our mojitos wore the look too. Perhaps they're all members of a sci-fi cult, suited-up in expectation of the arrival of the Mother Ship. But, really ... Isn't it the look in the photo above a mighty unattractive one? The puffy/flabby, "I used to pump iron" chests it often adorns aren't real attractive either ... Best, Michael UPDATE: Jonathan captures the look live and on the hoof.... posted by Michael at September 19, 2006 | perma-link | (31) comments

Monday, September 18, 2006

Every Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you had to choose one, would you cast your vote ... for deadpan Ahree Lee, who photographed herself every day for three years? for moody Josh, who snapped a pic of himself every day for six years? Or for impish Finn Margrie, who spoofed both the above? Any volunteers out there willing to write the definitive (and needed) essay about digital technology, adolescent values, and narcissism? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- They may despise yoga, obsess about alpha males, run screaming from cooking classes, and wish women came with Help files installed, but by god nothing can prevent them from creating their own brand of music. Thanks to Coffee Mug at GNXP, who pointed out this hilarious site devoted to Nerdcore, badass tracks laid down by rhymin' and bustin' geeks. (Am I using the lingo even remotely correctly?) And if GNXP doesn't know geek, then who does? I was especially taken by a sweet and funny bit of romantic harmonizing by the Australian comedy group Tripod. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments