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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. DVD Journal: "Auto Focus"
  2. A Less-Known Herter
  3. Rocky Architecture
  4. Elsewhere
  5. Reunions 1: Long Ago or Ever-Present?
  6. Clean Sweep at Powell's

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, August 3, 2007

DVD Journal: "Auto Focus"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems to me that a key issue that movie critics drastically underdiscuss is what I think of as "the audience sense." Discussions about film tend to launch quickly into matters of themes, judgments, and techniques, and to bypass entirely the question of whether or not the people onscreen and behind the scenes have an audience sense. There's a tendency to think that the people who put on shows are just showing off. And there's certainly something of the exhibitionist to most show people. (A director friend likes to say that actors are attention-craving showoffs -- but ones who, unlike so many in civilian life, "are willing to sing for their supper.") But most of the time the grandstanding is accompanied by something else too. What is it? An audience sense isn't quite the same thing as moviemaking (or acting, or technical) talent. Instead, it's an ability to sense how people are reacting to you and to what you're doing. Instinct and imagination seem to be involved. So does empathy: How else can someone so involved in attracting and commanding attention spare a few watts for how the show is being experienced by others? Are the people with the most acute audience sense -- with the greatest ability to inhabit the moment from the inside while also observing it objectively and opportunistically from the outside -- standup comedians? When a standup act is really rockin', after all, the comedian can seem to be igniting firecrackers that are lying in wait in pockets of your brain and spirit. As gifts go, an audience sense can seem like a cheap, low thing. After all, the artist who is calling on his audience sense isn't at that moment acting in strict accordance with expressive need, intellectual brilliance, or aesthetic theory. He's treating the people he's entertaining as his material, or as his equals, perhaps even as co-participants. Where's the art-purity? It seems plainly clear that Hollywood entertainment greats such as Michael Curtiz, William Wyler, and Anthony Mann had an audience sense. How else could they have provided such a lot of pleasure to such large crowds? At their best, they seemed aware of how your body temperature was changing, and of how fast your heart was beating. Among the crowd more commonly thought of as film artists, the flamboyant ringmaster-magicians like Welles, Fellini, and Altman obviously had their own kind of audience sense. For each of these directors, "putting on a show" itself eventually became a major theme. But what about the more austere and difficult film artists? Just to pick from among the recently deceased: How about the likes of Antonioni and Bergman? Magnificent and often difficult artists, of course. No matter what your reaction or my reaction to their work was, were there many 20th century artists who were more significant, or more widely-influential? One small for-instance: Alexander Payne is a big fan of Antonioni's, and certainly the Antonioni influence can be felt in Payne's... posted by Michael at August 3, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Less-Known Herter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the last of three reports on some American painters who were active during what the Smithsonian's American Art Museum calls "The Gilded Age" -- the name of an exhibition created by the museum in 2000. This is the book associated with the exhibition. I wrote about Thomas Wilmer Dewing here and Abbott Handerson Thayer here. This post concerns Albert Herter (1871-1950). The museum didn't have much in the way of Herter's work. But tucked into the room featuring Dewing, I spotted this: Woman with Red Hair - 1894 No political theme here, no psychological tension either. Just an aesthetically satisfying portrait -- nuthin' wrong with that, sez I. (I saw a slightly similar painting at the Seattle Art Museum not long ago. It might have been this one from Altanta's High Museum.) Herter's father was a principal in the Herter Brothers furniture-making / interior decoration concern that served the rich in the late 19th century. So young Albert got launched in a social climate that allowed easy entry in to portaiture for a talented artist. Biographical information on the Web is thin, so I'll pass along what little I know and hope it will be helpful. Herter had training at the Art Students League and, later, in Paris -- but I don't know under whom. He taught for a while at the Chicago Art Institute but most of his adult life was spent in New York and California. He had a Long Island estate and a home in the Santa Barbara area. Besides portraits, he did mural work on both coasts. My take is that Herter was a good technician. I haven't seen many examples of his work, but my provisional opinion is that his work isn't as distinctive or interesting as the paintings by Dewing and Thayer. Here are more examples: Portrait of Nabeia Gilbert Landing of Cabrillo at Catalina - Los Angeles Public Library mural Another mural is in the board room of the National Academy of Sciences; click here and scroll down to see the GIF image. One more thing. Does the name Herter ring a bell? Probably not, if you're under 60. But it seems that Albert's son Christian went into politics. He was a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts and, under Dwight Eisenhower, served as Secretary of State. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 2, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rocky Architecture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For much of my life a certain architectural detail has disturbed me. But I couldn't figure out why it did so. A month or two ago I finally found the answer. Let's take a look at some examples of what I'm talking about. The following photos were taken last week while visiting the Oregon Coast. It's those stones on the column pedestal in the first photo and, especially, the round ones on the chimney and planter areas of the building in the lower picture. Why was I disturbed? Because round stones cannot be piled narrowly as in pedestals and chimneys: it is unnatural. Such stones are found on flat areas such as stream beds. Other kinds of stone such as slate or shale are flat and can be stacked. You can see stone walls or fences in parts of New England and Upstate New York. Houses in the Northeast and elsewhere that incorporate flat stonework don't trouble me: I usually like what I see. That's because such stones are used in a natural -- not artificial -- way. Obviously quite a few people like rounds stones on their houses, otherwise I wouldn't be seeing such detailing. But still ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 1, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Here's some irresistable porn for sportscar freaks. Bugatti, Porsche, Lamborghini -- now aren't those some sexy names? * I had a good time surfing through this gallery show of art inspired by William Shatner. * Agnostic remembers what he enjoyed so much about "Clueless." * Alias Clio considers women's power over men. * Glenn Abel wants you to start using active verbs. * Were Virginia Woolf's mandarin-socialist and feminist views dependent upon a staff of female servants? (Link thanks to ALD.) * Are you eager to build an outdoor eating space in your back yard? Architect Katie Hutchison volunteers a number of helpful tips. * Say hello to "El Pasco". * Literary critic Sven Birkerts persists in believing that the opinions of literary critics are crucial. How can such an intelligent and talented man be such a high-minded dimwit? * David Chute suspects that Chinese martial arts movies are the world's oldest action genre. * What to do with all the old sex toys? (Link thanks to Raymond Pert.) * Why are the English so much more frank than we are about the importance of migration as a political topic? * At Comic-Con, Anne Thompson interviews porn star and action-movie-hero-wannabe Jenna Jameson. "I'm a nerd at heart," Jenna tells Anne. (CORRECTION: The interview was actually conducted by Anne's colleague Erin Maxwell.) * Kevin Michael Grace found Microsoft's Vista 'way too moody a mistress. * DVD Spin Doctor suggests some DVDs to watch in celebration of the life of Ingmar Bergman. Lester Hunt offers a sensible response to Bergman's work. * MBlowhard Rewind: In honor of the recent death of film director Michelangelo Antonioni, here's my posting about his brilliant 1975 film "The Passenger." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 1, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reunions 1: Long Ago or Ever-Present?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The reason for my uncharacteristic silence over the last few days: I was in Western New York State, attending the 35th reunion of the public high school class I'd have graduated with had I not been sent off to attend a boarding school. So, the first of a few brief postings prompted by my 35th. Inevitable and overwhelming initial reponse: Good lord, where did all the years go? The funny thing, though, is that -- although childhood and school happened so long ago -- it all feels closer than yesterday. I didn't expect this to be the case, to be honest. As a kid, I imagined that older people experience past events as very distant things. And to some extent that is in fact what revisiting the past is like. Seeing the old neighborhoods and friends once again, I sometimes feel as though it all happened in a different lifetime. At other times, I even feel as though the events of my long-ago past happened to someone else entirely; they feel less like something I possess and more like stories a friend once told me. But there are many more moments when these events feel more real than today. Revisiting my past, time seems first to compress, then to dissolve entirely. It's as though at some point I got off a train that was chugging forward, and ever since have inhabited a loop-the-loopy, 4-dimensional continuum in which I'm forever stumbling across unexpected yet familiar versions of my life. When did this shift occur? In my late 40s, maybe? In any case, when I revisit the old haunts and rekindle the old friendships, 1964 and 1972 don't feel like ships that I passed long ago and that are now tiny dots disappearing over a distant horizon. Instead they feel like fullscale fellow creatures who share space with the current me in an eternal here and now. This is part of what I found great about a few movies made by old men, by the way: Luis Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire," John Huston's "The Dead," and Robert Altman's final movie "A Prairie Home Companion." Different as these films are, they all convey something of what the experience of living as an older person is like. In the Altman particularly, everything exists on the same plane. Linear time and conventional categories have lost their dictatorial powers. Fantasies, art, memories, the present, and history all mingle in the same consciousness-space. (I blogged about "A Prairie Home Companion" here.) Is this development a consequence of the organic brain deteriorating with age? Of what happens to perception when your mental RAM has maxed out? Or is this everything-shares-the-same-stage thing simply how life starts to look when some perspective on the whole mess has been attained? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, July 30, 2007

Clean Sweep at Powell's
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: I finally did it. On our way to the Oregon Coast last week we stopped in Portland at Powell's book store with a box of books to sell. They bought every book! Which is unheard of, for me at least. I figure I'm doing well if I can sell them two-thirds of what I bring. (I described here last summer's book-packing project when I moved from Olympia. I tossed a lot of books in the dumpster and sold a lot of others to Powell's.) For readers not living on the wet side of the Cascade Mountains, I need to note that Portland-based Powell's is a Big Deal for bookish people. The main store takes up a city block in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood on the edge of downtown. It's a jumble of structures where walls have been knocked out so that customers can, at great risk of becoming disoriented, proceed through floor after floor, section after section of books, books, books. I haven't checked with management or even done my own sample, but a good share of what's on the shelves is used books. That used to put me off. You see, I have this, uh, thing about used stuff. Unless an item is a family heirloom, I have a distaste for having to use somebody else's former things: books, clothing, furniture, cars, what have you. I don't like antique shops, for instance. And seeing all those used books at Powell's mixed with new books put me off. At first, anyway. I was used to books being either in stores selling all new books or all used books, and finding them jumbled took some adjusting. Now I'm okay with it. I normally look for the new stuff and screen out used books. Unless I spy a book that I want and know is hopelessly out of print. Yes, I actually can be practical when circumstances demand it. I've worn cast-off uniforms in the army, dealt with antique items in places I've lived -- even lived in furnished apartments -- and bought used cars. Nevertheless, I prefer new stuff. I guess I'm weird: but you knew that. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 30, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments