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  1. It's a Wrap
  2. When Names / Spellings Change
  3. TV-Watching and Your Health
  4. Boredom Studies
  5. An Entertaining Walk-Around
  6. Moviegoing and DVD Journal: "Inland Empire" and "7 Men From Now"
  7. Urban "Design" Cures All
  8. Charlton's Choices
  9. Another Point on the Curve

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, March 9, 2007

It's a Wrap
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I -- OK, really our dynamic and gifted young director-buddy -- have finished shooting the film the three of us co-wrote. It's in the can, or whatever it is that experienced filmpeople say when they've come to the end of the "shooting it" part of making a film. I blogged here and here about some of my reflections and observations about microbudget filmmaking. Now that our shoot is over, I've collected a few more notions to pass along. For today: * Boys and Girls. A question that comes up regularly in journalistic discussions about filmmaking is: Why are there so few female film directors? According to this Salon article, around 95% of American films are directed by men. Can the usual catch-all explanation -- ie., sexism -- explain that big a difference? Going into our film shoot, my feeling was that sexism can't possibly explain why so many film directors are male. But my explanation went in this direction: "After all, women aren't in short supply in high-level positions in the movie business. They've run studios, production houses, and agencies. Female stars have acquired tremendous power. Unless you want to accuse Sherry Lansing, Amy Pascal, and Drew Barrymore of being anti-woman sexists, other elements must certainly come into play. There must be good, or at least understandable, reasons why even women usually choose men to direct movies." Now that our own little film has finished shooting, my preferred explanation has shifted somewhat. I still look at the "sexism" explanation skeptically. (Not that I doubt that sexism plays some role. But how big a one?) But now my own preferred explanation has become a little more down-to-earth. It goes this way: "So very many film directors are men because making an ambitious narrative movie requires a great deal of" -- tender sensibilities please leave now -- "dick energy." Being a director of ambitious narrative movies is rather like being a general. It requires a kind of maniacally focused drive. You have to be pushy, somewhat myopic and blinkered, maybe a little autistic, and incredibly determined. Making an ambitious narrative movie -- and our film, however micro, is nothing if not ambitious -- takes glee, directedness, and drive. Ego, foolishness, and maybe some recklessness don't hurt either. You have to be willing to let go of a lot of the rest of life in order to get your film in the can. These are, generally speaking, penis virtues, not vagina virtues. Directing a film is for single-track minds, and for action-oriented, dynamic bodies -- our own young director-buddy collaborator, for instance. During our shoot, he was quite a phenomenon to witness: focused, tense, happy, and sweaty. High on the excitement of it all, he grew leaner and leaner as the two weeks passed. He was so single-minded about achieving his goals that he needed to be reminded to eat. This isn't to say that filmmaking itself is, let alone should be, closed to... posted by Michael at March 9, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, March 8, 2007

When Names / Spellings Change
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So what do you do when names of places or spellings change? Do you go along with the change? Or do you dig in your heels and retain the old ways? Here are some examples of name changes: Ceylon is now Sri Lanka. Burma is now Myanmar. Bombay in now Mumbai. Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City. As for spelling, romanized Chinese used to be the Wade-Giles system (still used by the Republic of China), but over the last quarter-century it has been supplanted by the People's Republic of China backed Pinyin system. Examples: The Great Helmsman, Mao Tse-Tung is now Mao Zedong. The cities Peking and Chungking are now Beijing and Chongqing. Culturally-insensitive me, I tend to stick to the old ways -- what I learned when young. However I sometimes adopt the new on the basis of sheer whimsy. And you? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 8, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

TV-Watching and Your Health
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems clear that excessive TV viewing can encourage obesity and stupidity. But can it also contribute to anything that's, like, really serious? One psychologist now argues that TV abuse can in fact be linked to cancer, autism, early-onset puberty, Alzheimer's, and much, much else. I wonder if your health depends in any way on whether you're watching MTV or The History Channel ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 8, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Boredom Studies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- We've taken note of the happiness debates -- both approvingly (here, here) and skeptically (here) -- before. How happy are we? Why don't we seem to be any happier than we were when life was less prosperous? And what can really be said about happiness anyway? Now comes the news that boredom is being studied too. It has apparently been clearly established that men are more easily bored than women, for instance. Yet what is boredom anyway? Science struggles with the question. A nice passage: Our culture's obsession with external sources of entertainment -- TV, movies, the Internet, video games -- may also play a role in increasing boredom. "I think there is something about our modern experience of sensory overload where there is not the chance and ability to figure out what your interests, what your passions are," says John Eastwood, a clinical psychologist at York University in Toronto. It is possible that the roots of boredom lie in a fundamental breakdown in our understanding of what it is we want to do. Hmmm. I wonder how blog-writing and blog-surfing relate to boredom -- as well as to happiness. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 8, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

An Entertaining Walk-Around
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Walking around a car should be visually entertaining. That thought was supposedly expressed by Harley Earl, General Motors' legendary styling chief from the late 20s to the late 50s. I'm sorry to say that I can't remember where I read the remark. Besides, it might be one of those apocryphal sayings. It doesn't really matter because General Motors' cars during the golden years of Earl's reign really were entertaining to look at. I can vouch for it. Well, let's say that my five-year-old self would vouch for it. The first family car I can remember was our 1941 Pontiac, a green two-door sedan powered by a six-cylinder motor (top-of-the-line Pontiacs had "straight-eight" engines). It was our only car until we added a '51 Pontiac to the fleet. I remember spending a fair amount of time studying it. This was easy to do because most of the interesting features were pretty close to eye-level when I was young. Let's go for a walk and pretend you're five years old, if you can. 1941 Pontiac Gallery Front view This is an establishment shot to offer a sense of the car. The one shown here has accessories not found on ours -- the yellow fog-light over the bumper and the sun-shade above the windshield. Closer Front View This is from sales literature and shows detail better. In the late 30s and early 40s parallel "speed lines" suggestive of streamlining were fashionable. The "Silver Streaks" on the hood might be considered a form of that. Note that the streaks are repeated below each headlight. The Indian "mascot" sits atop the hood. At the top-center of the grille are other decorative touches. Side View This too is from factory literature -- it reminds me of a picture in the owner's manual. Here we see indented "speed lines" behind the wheel wells. Also note the sharp transition from the rounded top of the front fender to the vertical sides, an interesting sculptural feature that helps to visually lengthen the car thanks to its horizontal direction. It is repeated, less-dramatically, on the rear fender. Rear View The Silver Streaks on the trunk are the main entertainment element here. They can't be seen in this photos, but I believe that there are small horizontal "whisker" lines on each side of each taillight frame. And there is an Indian-head symbol on the bumper. Admittedly the 1941 Pontiac is not a top-notch example of car styling, though my emotional attachment sometimes makes it hard for me to confess this. It has a lot of "busy" stuff that is more tacked-on than organic. Probably the main reason for this is that Pontiac shared basic bodies with Chevrolet, and stylists worked mightily to distinguish the two brands. In those days, Pontiac's most characteristic feature was the Silver Streaks -- chrome strips atop the hood and trunk. For 1941, these were echoed by the horizontal indentations or channels on each fender to the rear of the wheel... posted by Donald at March 6, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Moviegoing and DVD Journal: "Inland Empire" and "7 Men From Now"
Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- * Funny, isn't it, how the unfolding of David Lynch's unconscious once seemed fascinating, and even seemed to have some cultural significance? What did people think they saw in his work? These days it can be hard to remember. As for myself, I loved his work up through "Blue Velvet" and some of the early episodes of "Twin Peaks." The naivete, the straightforwardness, the visions ... His movies were like primitive paintings, only dignified and calm: finger-paintings with genuine gravitas, powered by a child's fascination with gruesomeness yet also an artist's responsiveness to beauty. Since then, for me anyway, it's been a different ballgame. Although often technically beautiful, his films long ago turned into caricatures of themselves. Identity-swapping ... Grinding slow-motion heavy-metal music ... And all that stupid cool-kid stuff: the "nice" girls who turn tricks, the orgies by the lake ... Lynch came to seem to me like someone who couldn't let go of his years as a junior high school nerd obsessed by fantasies about what the bad boys and the bad girls were doing with each other while he was home watching TV. Incidentally: This is fine, and it certainly has potential. I kept attending his movies because they were beautiful and because people talked about them, but largely because so many of them had an erotic scene or two that struck me as genius. Patricia Arquette with a gun at her head in "Lost Highway" -- whew! Naomi Watts and Laura Haring crossing boundaries in "Mulholland Drive" -- goodness gracious! But my main complaints about Lynch's post-"Blue Velvet" movies are that they're so repetitious and so very slow. What became of the Victorian gentleman-weirdo who made "The Elephant Man"? In his new movie, "Inland Empire," Lynch is re-shuffling the same deck of cards he's been playing with since "Blue Velvet," only he's doing it less beautifully, less erotically, and even more slowly. In the film, Laura Dern appears to be an LA actress who wakes up in an Eastern European movie. And there it all is, all that familiar Lynchian stuff, all over again: the sinister laugh tracks, the red curtains, the is-it-camp-or-not? moments, the deafening electronic music, the is-this-a-movie-or-not? loop-the-loop tricks, the identity games. And all of it so slow, so very slow ... What distinguishes the film is its hyper-experimental quality. Lynch shot it on a tiny budget, on a home-video-quality DV camera, and over the course of several years. Lynch had been playing with no-budget handheld filmmaking at his website when it occurred to him that he might shoot a feature-length movie on DV. I'd been looking forward to experiencing the aesthetic qualities Lynch would find in the DV medium. Sadly, "Inland Empire" mostly looks plain awful. Either I'm blind or all Lynch has done is wander around his sets and performers with a handheld camera using lots of wide-angle lenses. What this means for the viewer is lots and lots of wobbly, looking-at-yourself-in-a-doorknob imagery. It's all... posted by Michael at March 6, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, March 5, 2007

Urban "Design" Cures All
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards --- James Lileks is one of the very best writers on the Web and from time to time he dishes out what his blog calls "Bleats" about architecture and the urban environment. Just in case you missed it, today's post is an in-depth fisking of interview remarks by Thomas Fisher, dean of the new School of Design at the University of Minnesota. Go to the link and scroll past the first four paragraphs (dealing with another subject) and begin reading at the boldface line starting "I read the editorial pages...". Here's a sample: [Fisher:] " - I asked if the problem was housing or train or transportation. They said it was all of those. They [homeless teenage mothers] can't get from affordable hosing to day care to a job and back again because we've designed a bus system for the benefit of the operators (??), housing at the behest of zooming code and jobs that require a car, which people can't afford. This is a classic design problem." [Lileks:] Well. As the adage has it, if all you have is a degree in Design, everything looks like a design problem. You, bus driver operator! Move that route closer to the teenaged unwed mother's house! You there, subsidized day-care - shimmy over a mile to the left and a few versts the south, so the teenaged unwed mother can take the bus to your place without having to transfer. You there, "supplier" of jobs, even though you merely leech off the labor of others and turn the profit into a smooth cream you rub on your spats-chafed ankles - move the jobs into the city near the teenage unwed mother's house and daycare. Enjoy. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 5, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Charlton's Choices
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For a while now, I've been collecting links from Charlton Griffin, a resourceful, witty, and generous websurfer. The time has come to share 'em with the wider world. * Canadian sand sculptures: clearly one of the major art forms of our day. * Here's a hilariouis recent case of forgery. I want one of those bills. * Make your own "For Dummies" book jacket here. * Oh dear ... * Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie make sense of language. * Santa? Let's try that one more time, OK? * Friends don't let friends swap heads. * Watch what a professional Photoshopper is capable of. * Andy McKee has his own way of making a guitar sing. * As long as we're on the subject of the art of interviewing ... * The long-awaited merger between technology and biology has arrived. * Some actors do a kind of karaoke / re-enactment to a famous bootleg audiotape of Orson Welles being difficult at a radio-commercial-recording session. And here's a plastered Orson making a hash of a Paul Masson ad shoot. Lordy: Imagine what it must have been like to direct Orson on one of his off days. * Bugs' bones. * There was always something a little spooky about Mary Poppins, wasn't there? * Let's see: Shall I drop acid? Or shall I watch a Bollywood song-and-dance routine instead? Some terrific news from Charlton is that XM radio will be broadcasting some of his audiobooks, starting about now. Yet more reason to subscribe to satellite radio. Here's a complete list of the audiobooks Charlton has produced and recorded. You can buy and download them from Audible and from the iTunes store. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Another Point on the Curve
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Was there something in the arts air in the mid-20th century? Something that brought "progress" -- in the form of a historical narrative thrust -- to a seeming halt? Many observers of the painting scene contend that, once pure abstraction became the latest New Thing, there was no agreed-upon direction to go from there. The result was a confusion of mini-movements that is still with us. Architecture has been stumbling around as well, with no agreement about what to do in the post-International Style age that began to emerge in the mid-1960s. I over-state my case: the Architectural Establishment actually agrees on one thing -- that pre-Modern styles on new buildings are beyond the pale (unless the intent is irony or satire). I suggested that automobile styling has been doing a fair amount of wheel-spining in several posts including this one. 1950 is when I date the end of historical thrust. Michael and commenters have been discussing the notion that fiction (aside from the usual genre categories) has split into two classes: popular fiction and "literary fiction" -- something that has been slowly occurring for several decades, and in contrast to the situation before, perhaps, 1970. (Someone please help me out with a date on this.) And then there is jazz. Terry Teachout reviews Alyn Shipton's book A New History of Jazz in the latest (March, 2007) Commentary. The article can be found here. Teachout used to perform music to earn a living and he's Commentary's music critic. He knows a lot more about music and jazz than I do (I lost interest in jazz around 1960), so I'll take his word until someone comes up with a more persuasive take on these things. About two-thirds through the article he makes the following observations. To be sure, it may be that contemporary jazz simply does not lend itself to the narrative style employed so effectively in the earlier sections of A New History. Prior to 1970, jazz's fast-growing stylistic diversity had not yet compromised the underlying integrity of its common musical language. Even the truly radical innovations of avant-gardists of the 60's like the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman were rooted in a body of performance practices known to all musicians and listeners.... After 1970, though, this commonality of practice began to grow increasingly tenuous, ultimately to the edge of nullity. In "Postmodern Jazz," the final chapter of A New History, Shipton admits that while his pre-1970 history appears to be "a straightforward narrative" marked by "a clear sense of development," contemporary jazz can no longer be described in such terms. Hmm. Loss of historical continuity. Sometime in the third quarter of the 20th century. Sounds tantalizingly familiar. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 4, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments