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  1. Political Art Is ... Forever?
  2. Brutal-Looking Airplanes
  3. DVD Journal: "Oldboy"
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  7. DVD Journal: "The Devil Wears Prada"

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Political Art Is ... Forever?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't see all that much of it in person. But I do notice a fair amount of coverage regarding political art in some art magazines and books. Political art is nothing new. An example I wrote about a while back was Picasso's "Guernica." And in the 19th century we find Manet's painting of the execution of Emperor Maximilian by the Mexicans and Goya's depictions of war. If politics is defined more broadly, art extolling existing regimes might be said to go back as far as the time of the early pharaohs: but that net is too wide for my purposes here. Although some political art -- such as the Manet and Goyas just mentioned -- has staying power, most is probably doomed to oblivion. If I were an artist and painted something political, I'd do so knowing what I did was essentially disposable art. And for all I know, this is just what real political artists think. The reason why politically-themed art has a short shelf-life is obvious. Time does march on and issues that were once blazing hot become paragraphs and footnotes in dry history books as decades pass and generations die off. If an artist really does want immortality by painting political themes, I advise him to include as many universal themes as he can along with the issue-driven stuff. To illustrate this, below is a painting that has been in the Museum of Modern Art's collection for decades. If my fuzzy memory is correct, I saw it displayed in the early 1960s; I don't know if it's currently on a wall or in storage. The Eternal City - by Peter Blume, 1934-37 According to the brief biography on MoMA's web site, this was Blume's only political painting. As it happens, I know what the painting is about. Furthermore, I suppose that quite a few (most, even?) of this blog's readers also know. But what about your friends, co-workers and family? Especially high school and college age youths who only have a hazy idea when the Civil War was fought. My gut feeling is that less than 10 percent of the American population can explain the political context of Blume's painting whereas well more than half might have when it was new. And in another 70 years? ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 9, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments

Brutal-Looking Airplanes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Combat -- and most other types -- of aircraft move through air at speeds where the resistance of air needs to be countered by streamlining the airflow around them; one result is that most airplanes tend to look graceful. I wrote about planes that were downright sensuous here. And here I dealt with French aircraft in the era of the transition from boxy flying machines to streamlining that looked pretty awkward. By the late 1930s, most airplanes looked sleek. But not all of them. Some warplanes, rather than being sleek as sabers were as brutal-looking as clubs or maces. Here are some examples. Gallery Consolidated B-24 Liberator The Liberator was basically a boxcar full of bombs. It sported a graceful Davis airfoil wing, but the rest of the aircraft was functional in an ugly sort of way. More B-24s were built than the earlier, sleeker B-17 Flying Fortress (which carried a smaller bomb-load). But the "Fort" was more famous and beloved. Several B-17s are still flying, but almost no B-24s remain, even in non-flying condition. I saw a flying example at Seattle's Boeing Field last summer and parts of another at the restoration shops of the Imperial War Museum facility at RAF Duxford a few years ago. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt One might expect fighters to look graceful, but American World War 2 fighters powered by 2,000-HP radial engines might charitably be termed "purposeful." The P-47 eventually served more as a fighter-bomber than a fighter. Grumman F6F Hellcat The Hellcat was the Navy's most successful fighter during the war. Note the high position of the cockpit; this was to provide better pilot visibility when making aircraft carrier landings. Martin AM-1 Mauler Too late for World War 2 and not quite as good as the rival Douglas Skyraider, not many Maulers were built. Some saw service in the Korean War. An attack plane, it looks more brutal than the fighters shown above. Focke-Wulf FW-190 Big, flat-faced radial engines tend to make fighters look pugnacious. But not always. The FW-190 was not only fairly sleek, but gave the Royal Air Force a lot of trouble until a new series of Spitfires with more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin motors re-tipped the performance scales. Hawker Typhoon Although it takes some doing, it's possible for fighters with in-line, water-cooled engines to look brutal. Though I should add that the Typhoon, like the Thunderbolt, was mostly used in the fighter-bomber role. Fairchild-Republic A-10 Warthog (Thunderbolt II) Maybe it has to do with that ground-support fighter-bomber role. The A-10 Warthog (officially, Thunderbolt II) is jet-propelled and brutal both visually and in capability. It served in the Kosovo and Gulf campaigns. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 9, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

DVD Journal: "Oldboy"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I watched the primitive 1970s horror picture "The Last House on the Left" and ventured some hunches about why it is that some of today's young and edgy filmmaker-types love the movie. Today, another film that's a favorite of the hot-to-make-movies crowd, a 2003 Korean picture by Park Chan-wook called "Oldboy." Intense, extreme, and claustrophobic, the film didn’t speak to me, mainly because I found the storytelling uninspired and the tone finesse-free. But I also knew that in reacting that way I was missing the point entirely. I was reacting to the film as though it were a traditional movie, and it's anything but that. Its appeal has nothing to do with traditional movie allure -- with glamor, romance, personality, point of view, warmth, depth, provocation, humor, identification, Hitchcockian suspense, any of that. This simply isn't a traditional movie. Instead, it's an example of what I like to call an audiovisual-through-time media experience. As such, "Oldboy" is really something. Even I could see that. And I could certainly guess why many kids find it a major turn-on. Here's my hunch: What appeals to the kids is partly the film's skill and dynamism -- but mainly the way it pulls together elements of their media experience into something shaped, paced, exciting, and long-form. Traditional movies inhabit, express, and come out of a world consisting of other movies, of novels, of plays, of songs, and of pictures. "Oldboy" and the kids who love it come out of a different stew altogether. It's all "media" now, baby: videogames, TV ads, websurfing, mashups, cellphones, IMs, flipping through magazines, texting, "tracks" instead of songs ... Zip-zip-zip. Whap-smack-kapow. Nearly everything in the movie is souped-up, conceptualized, and constructed for maximum impact. Impact, in fact, is what the movie is entirely concerned with. The film doesn't have a story in any normal sense: instead it has something like a videogame's concept. (Roughly: "I, everyman, was plucked out of life, imprisoned, and driven mad for years. Now that I've been released, I'm still being toyed with. What's going on? I have three days to find out, or a pretty girl dies. Now, go!") The film is as free of psychology and emotions as a first-person shooter. What it wants to deliver instead is a back-and-forth between excitement and exhaustion in a physical and nervous sense. Hey, it's time for a Larger MBlowhard Point: We analogue-era types often bemoan the way popular culture today seems rude, cold, shallow, and crude. I think that part of what we're responding to is the way that emotions and emotionality play zero role in these new-media works. Videogames slap you around; they don't move you. TV ads are groovy and catchy; they aren't involving. In the new-media world, "levels" have nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with unearthing gold rings and zooming off into hyperspace. The emotional-poetic dimension of life seems to have been pancaked out of existence in today's popular culture,... posted by Michael at April 9, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dave Lull spots the first review of Bill Kauffman's new book, and it's a positive one. * Joan Collins learned how to play a bitch by observing Bette Davis. * Perhaps Stonehenge was built by only one guy. * As I've said before and hope to say many times again: There can be no such thing as too many photos of Monica Bellucci. * A link meant specially for Peter. (NSFW, I guess.) * Roissy and crew fantasize about the perfect woman. * Fjordman proposes the creation of a European Indigenous People's Movement. Hibernia Girl signs up. * An Irishman is told by an academic that Irishness is nothing but a social construct. * Thanks to Barry Woods for pointing out this amazing collection of British public information films. That's one fascinating archive of material. * Coming off of a round of chemo, Alan Sullivan watches some costume dramas. * Steve discusses tribalism. * Agnostic visits a dance club and analyzes the sociology of "the grind." * Always on the alert for the role pathogens play in evolution, Agnostic should be pleased by a recent report claiming that the tendency some cultures have to promote individualism and the tendency others have to promote group-centric behavior might well be responses to local pathogen loads. * Dark Party Review lists seven excellent movie fight scenes. * Healthy people tend to be at their least-happy at the age of 44. * Stuff Asian People Like includes Dance Dance Revolution. * So maybe the globalization of culture does deliver some benefits: Link thanks to the Communicatrix. * MBlowhard Rewind: I offered a guide to understanding the French. Key lesson: Don't take their philosophizing seriously. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 8, 2008 | perma-link | (28) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1980, federal and state facilities held fewer than 9,000 criminal aliens. By the end of 2004, about 267,000 noncitizens were incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 8, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Wolfe That Doesn't Prowl
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I never was much of a fiction reader and hardly touch the stuff any more. But I do have relapses. The latest was on my recent trip to Puerto Vallarta. I didn't bring a computer and knew that Nancy would be putting lots of time in with her granddaughters. So there was no real alternative than to bring along some books to read. For the hell of it, I bought four Nero Wolfe detective novels and tossed them in my suitcase. I went through a Wolfe splurge 45 years ago and had happily forgotten all the plots, thus the deck was clear for another shot. My selection criterion was to load up on the books with the earliest copyright dates. This was because I associate Wolfe with the 1930s and 40s; author Rex Stout kept cranking them out into the 70s. Perhaps I should have tried one of the later ones to satisfy a point of curiosity. You see, in the books written in the 30s, Nero Wolfe's cheeky leg-man Archie Goodwin zips around Manhattan in a roadster, parking wherever he needs to; he never has trouble finding a spot in front of Wolfe's West 35th Street townhouse. I wasn't around until the last two months of the 1930s, so I'll have to assume that Stout wrote the truth. But I know perfectly well that Manhattan curbside parking was hard to come by in the 1960s -- except maybe Sunday mornings. Another thing I'm not sure about is how well Nero Wolfe novels rate according to mystery buffs. The stories were popular with the public from the start, but that factor doesn't always count amongst the cognoscenti. Moreover, I haven't read enough detective books to have any sort of handle regarding what's good, mediocre or bad. I like the Wolfe novels because of the quirky cast of characters that, for the most part, was fully formed in the first of the series, Fer-de-Lance (1934). Perhaps most other detectives spring with the same level of completeness from the heads of their various Zeuses, but I wouldn't know that. The thing with Nero Wolfe is that the books involve a lot more people than the detective himself. Here are some quick sketches of the more important ones. Nero Wolfe. Born 56 or so years earlier in Montenegro, but now an American citizen with perfect command of English. Agent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Balkans and involved in the Great War in various ways. Currently lives in a double-townhouse on West 35th Street in New York, "near the river." Weighs "one-seventh of a ton" and never leaves home unless he absolutely has to. The top floor of the building is devoted to orchids, of which there are 10 or 20 thousand, many rare hybrids. He tends those orchids two hours each morning and two every afternoon at unvarying times; orchids come before crime-solving. His live-in gardener is Theodore Horstmann who seems to have little or no... posted by Donald at April 7, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

DVD Journal: "The Devil Wears Prada"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A month into ownership of a ritzy new HDTV, I'm still in the grips of HDTV-mania. So far it has been the technology that devoured my brain. If it's on HDTV, I'll watch it. Let me cite as evidence ... The Devil Wears Prada. I don’t usually bother with what I think of as mall movies, let alone chicklit movies. So I watched this adapatation of Lauren Weisberger’s novel about an earnest girl who tumbles into a job working for the editrix of a Vogue-like magazine in a state of complete stupefaction. Are there really movies that exist -- and that are meant to be experienced -- on only one level? Is it possible for a movie to spell out everything it's about in bold tones? And is this really the kind of thing that mainstream America considers to be entertainment? Help me emigrate now. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling some admiration. The professionalism level is high, and the film does indeed hit all its marks, if 'way too hard. But what kept me watching -- aside from the brain-paralyzing hyper-clarity of the HDTV image -- was the way the actors pitch in with such good-natured enthusiasm. As the bright young woman in a bind, Anne Hathaway is adorable; she’s half sophisticated Euro-tragedienne, half Jersey girl. Meryl Streep scores confidently with her weirdly quiet portrayal of an editor willing to sacrifice everything for her career. Stanley Tucci (wearing Philip Johnson eyeglasses) is likable and amusing as the magazine’s style chief. And, as Hathaway’s rival assistant, Emily Blunt shows a lot of high-style comic flair. Best of all, everybody involved seems to have done their homework. If in a sitcommy way, the film does a genuinely good job of conveying what the loftier rungs of the women’s-mag world look and feel like. I have friends working in the glossy style field, and the film's portrayal of how tense, glam, and high-strung those lives are is right on the money. Still, this is me ... Me ... Michael Blowhard ... A longtime film maniac whose current cinema passion is Japanese "Pinky Violence" movies ... And I just sat through "The Devil Wear Prada" ... [Sob] Damn you, HDTV. Somebody stop me before I turn that machine on again. Semi-related: I raved about Anne Hathaway in "Havoc," and about Emily Blunt in "My Summer of Love." Anne Hathaway confides that finding the right shoes helps her get in character. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 7, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments