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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Visual Linkage
  2. DVD Journal: "Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story"
  3. My Biggest Thanksgiving Peeve
  4. Mystery Solved
  5. Italy's Dabbers
  6. Thanksgiving Pie
  7. Links by Charlton

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, November 23, 2007

Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I've just enjoyed going through the website of Gabriella Morrison, a Canadian artist who left a perceptive comment on Donald's recent Italian-painters posting. A little Wayne Thiebaud, a little Emily Carr, a little Philip Pearlstein ... I'm just describing, by the way. I have no idea if Gabriella considers these painters to be influences. She makes quiet, warm, relaxed work that's also witty and incisive, and genuinely bohemian. It's the kind of art that makes me want to go take an art class -- which I mean as a high compliment. * I'm also lovin' the funky wooden bas-reliefs of Dutch artist Ron van der Ende: satellites, photocopy machines, and old cars presented with a captivating combo of model-making, little-boy mischievousness and grown-up gravity. * Figure-drawing buffs won't want to miss this marvelous animation. * Thanks to Jonathan Schnapp for pointing out Sexy Losers, an online comic strip about arty kids. Much of "Sexy Losers" is really filthy in an old-fashioned underground-comix way, so be warned. Or be delighted. * Michael Bierut wonders what it takes to do "ugly" design properly. * Michael also points out a terrifying set of pages from a 1975 J.C. Penny's catalogue. The '70s, eh? It's the decade that keeps on giving. * Browsing bliss for fans of pulp art. * Tim Souers takes a look -- actually, a number of looks -- at Barry Bonds. * Brown eyes, blue eyes ... What kind of difference might it make? * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the one-of-a-kind San Francisco artist known as Jess here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, November 22, 2007

DVD Journal: "Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael Winterbottom's take on the legendary 18th century Laurence Sterne novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy" is nothing if not playful and spirited, and complicated in a fun way. Sadly, it's also not very compelling; it comes up short on the buccaneering exuberance and audacity you might expect from such a project. Some friends I was watching the DVD with had a perfectly fine time, then turned it off midway through and never gave the film a second thought. If I went back the following night and finished watching it without them, it's probably because the film is like catnip for filmbuffs. Thoroughgoingly silly and prankish, the film is both a film of "Tristram Shandy" and a film about a cast and crew making a film of "Tristram Shandy" -- it's "Day for Night" as remade by a cheery and loose version of Jean-Luc Godard, in other words. Where the novel starts with Tristram's birth and then nearly fails to work its way back up to that moment, the Winterbottom film starts with Tristram's birth and works its way backwards, right into the story of the people making the film in front of you. "Birth" and "creation" are major themes (and major jokes) in the film. Two examples of the film's humor, both of which you should imagine being tossed-off in the most casual of ways. In one, Steve Coogan (playing a character named "Steve Coogan," but also in costume as Tristram Shandy) is interviewed by a journalist, who is played by the real-life model for the character the real Steve Coogan played in Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People." In the other example, Coogan's "Coogan" character is hugged and kissed by a pretentious young female film buff who is overcome by lust because Coogan recognized the name of the German filmmaker Fassbinder. Coogan declines her advance with a line beginning like this, "You're incredibly attractive, and your knowledge of the German cinema is second to none, but ..." If moments like that give you a giggle, well, don't expect the film to deliver much that's better, but you might find the DVD worth a rent. The hyper-talented Michael Winterbottom is by far my favorite of the neo-'70s filmmakers who are around these days. I like his work sooooo much better than P.T. Anderson's, for instance. And he certainly keeps this film on the move, cheerily semi-parodic, beautiful to look at, and breezily postmodern. Postmodernism becomes a meta-joke in its own right, in fact: "Tristram Shandy" the novel is often celebrated as the first postmodern novel, though historically it was of course premodernist. Which means that this film is a postmodern game that's being played with a postmodern/premodern novel. "Tristram Shandy"the film throws off more involuted, spiraling jokes-about-jokes in a minute than Spike Jonze and Charlie Kauffman come up with in 90. But the film also falls into the trap of much postmodernism. Cut free from tradition on the one hand and from... posted by Michael at November 22, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

My Biggest Thanksgiving Peeve
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Non-American readers have my permission to skip this post because it's about today's Thanksgiving holiday, a secular celebration that has its roots in the earliest days of colonial settlement.] This is no hit-piece on American history that some Howard Zinn-inspired writer might churn out. Nope, no complaints about injustices to "Native Americans." No rants about this annual exercise of over-eating -- wastefully pillaging the planet via depletion of everything within reach of obese, materialistic, mouth-breathing simpletons oblivious to the rest of the world's misfortunes. Nope. No ritualistic dissing of the usual targets from me. My complaint is truly serious. It has to do with New York's traditional Macy's parade. And how television ruined it -- for TV viewers, anyhow. Once upon a time, perhaps in the mid-1950s (I forget exactly when), television coverage was simply of the parade itself: the bands, the floats, the huge balloons. Then Show Biz crept in. Instead of showing only what spectators farther north on Broadway were seeing, the coverage tended to focus on Herald Square where singers, dancers and other entertainers from Broadway shows would sweep onto the street and do numbers from various productions. By the 1970s it got to the point that I thought that they might as well have skipped the actual parade and done the whole thing in a TV studio. Since then the network showing the parade -- besides publicizing Broadway musical shows -- took to publicizing its own lineup of programs. Actors on one show or another are somewhat awkwardly introduced in order to generate hype. The parade is on TV as I'm writing this. Since a Broadway stagehand strike is in progress this year, the stage content is down. So the audio I'm overhearing seems to be focusing on promoting the network's forthcoming offerings. And they had Mayor Bloomberg on and asked about his political plans. I suppose they'll cut to the occasional balloon if they run out of other, more important things to flak. Happy Thanksgiving. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 22, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mystery Solved
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Great song, of course. But, as people have been wondering for generations now: What the hell are those lyrics about? Now we know. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Italy's Dabbers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once I started this gig as a full-time Blowhard I realized that the art history class I took eons ago was a flimsy basis for writing even halfway solid articles about art. So for the last two years the majority of books I've read have been general art histories and volumes dealing with individual artists and artistic schools or movements. For example, I'd never paid much attention to the Impressionists. That's because I thought that Monet, Pissarro and others using broken color and short, distinct brushstrokes produced paintings that seemed too "unfinished." To me that was Impressionism, a painting style I didn't (and still don't) particularly care for. Now I've learned what I should have known better years ago: The Impressionists were a loose association of painters who at times exhibited with one another, yet didn't share a common style. Yes, I knew Manet was an Impressionist and didn't paint like Monet -- but the meaning of this fact didn't sink in as deeply as it should have. Nor did I really understand that Degas considered himself a traditional painter who did his work in a studio and not plein-air, as did most other Impressionists. I have come to agree with the implication by some art historians that Impressionism (and Post-Impressionism, for that matter) is a term that is something of a roadblock to understanding the history of painting in the last third of the 19th century. It would be better to try not to use the word and instead focus on painting styles. For example, Manet, Degas and the early Caillebotte (along with a number of non-Impressionists) might form one group while Monet, Pissarro and the later Caillebotte (and others) could form another. Which brings us to a near-contemporaneous group of Italian painters called I Macchiaioli. There are explanations of the term to be found various places on the web. Wikipedia, for example, says that the term Macchiaioli originated in a hostile review in the 3 November Gazzetta del Popolo, though the artists themselves used the word macchie to describe what they were dealing with -- the effect of light and shade, according to the entry. Macchie and derivations can mean "spotted" or "speckled" as well as an alternative meaning of "outlaw." So the article cited above might have had a dual negative sense of "outlaw daubers." Some sources translate Macchiaioli as "spotters," but that doesn't convey much to me. Therefore I use the term "Dabbers" as I did in the title of this post. It strikes me as having a better artistic relationship than does "spotters" because it suggests a technique that some probably used. Both English words lack the light/shade meaning, which perhaps might be invoked by "dappled" -- which has little or no meaning in art. Apparently Macchiaioli is one of those untranslatable words we are more or less stuck with. The core Macchiaioli were a group of art students and young artists in Florence in the mid-1850s dissatisfied with... posted by Donald at November 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Pie
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Daughter makes a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving here in Las Vegas. And then ... well, watch the whole thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 18, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Virtuoso websurfer Charlton Griffin volunteers some recent finds: * Compare the vital stats of different Zip codes. I've already spent a couple of hours on this one ... * Do Japanese ads seem brilliant to many of us just because they're so strange -- or are they really brilliant? * Forget the big threats. How about the little ones? * Kitty says, "Hallelujah!" * Al Bundy finally goes to the dentist. * Finally, an easy-to-understand explanation of the subprime mortgage crisis. * OK, I'm impressed. But I'll be even more impressed if you can put them back in. * Become an expert on the architecture of New York City. * The real test of cowboy macho. * It's Mozart vs. James Bond. * Shall we join the Church of Tom Jones? * The winner of the "Salesman of the Day" Award. * If all our laws were thoroughly enforced, we'd all be in jail. * I wanna be a pop star. * Talk about an essential life skill ... * Yaaaay! Potting training!!! Here's a brilliant little put-on that Charlton either devised or has passed along that we'll do well to keep in mind as election season progresses: Recent hurricanes and gasoline issues are proof of the existence of a new chemical element. Research has led to the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years; It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass. When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. Thanks to Charlton Griffin. If you haven't been visiting this blog for long, you may be unaware that Charlton is one of the best producers (and readers) of audiobooks around -- I'm a major fan of his work. Explore the titles Charlton offers here; type his name into Audible's Search box and download a few. The iTunes Store works... posted by Michael at November 18, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments