Saturday, December 30, 2006

War as Theater

Saddam Hussein has met his just reward. Richly deserved at any rate. Whether this actually makes any difference in the world - no, not likely. Josh Marshall calls it what it is - "tawdry, cheap acts ... [dressed up as].... papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters". It's shabby political theater, which is about all the Bush white house has been able to muster all along. Attacking Iraq was a sideshow from the beginning - a war chosen, I say, because it could be turned into theater - there was no danger that Iraq could actually prevent us from taking them over; the odds are good that no one really thought Hussein had any means (WMD, I mean) to make the victory genuinely painful to us. We could win easily, we could prop up a puppet government, put a few villains on trial, and use it for photo ops. When you think in terms of the visuals, the photo ops, the capacity for history to be used as propaganda, you are not likely to think of what will actually happen: it is not surprising that the planners of this fiasco did not foresee the obvious (years and years of low level mayhem, and the US trapped, unable to stop the violence, and unable to leave without turning loose a full throated bloodbath.) Disgraceful.

Killing Saddam Hussein does us no good. Probably can't do any more harm than we've already done, but that's the best I can say about it.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Year End Music Post

It's Friday, and time for a Random Ten - but wait! It's the last Friday of the year - and that means, time for a List. Music! What did I like this year? How much? I backed down on my buying this year, but still got a pretty good lot to choose from - and found plenty to like. So here goes.

1. TV On the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain: a breakout record, as far as I am concerned, bringing everything I like - avant-garage, soul, jazz, experimentation, epic sprawl (a la Mercury Rev) - great songs.... it's a contender for the best records of the decade.
2. Six Organs of Admittance - Sun Awakens: a band that's been growing on me since I discovered them a couple years ago. They're evolving from weird folk to weird folk avant garde prog something - remaining hypnotic and addictive. I'm a sucker for an obnoxious bleat of electric guitar and they provide it, along with clattery percussion (I'm a sucker for that, too), acoustic drones....
3. Scott Walker - Drift: this is one of those records that would normally suffer from the iPod - except it's the CD I've had in the stereo for the last couple months. So it's one of the few records on this list I have actually listened to from beginning to end more than once. Anyway - a stately, menacing work of great power, and to be honest, that goes as much for the individual songs as for the record as a whole.
4. Decembrists - The Crane Wife: this, on the other hand, benefits greatly from the iPod - fine as it is taken as a whole, it is full of songs that really do leap out at you when they come up on shuffle. Crane Wife #3, When the War Came, Sons & Daughters, Summersong, have all gotten into my head for days at a time - really beautiful music.
5. Pere Ubu - Why I Hate Women: when I got it, I wasn't completely sold - even now, I don't think this quite matches their best work. But it grows on you - grows on me anyway. Worms into your brain. They are, David Thomas is, the most reliable band of the last 30 years. Everything they do is worth hearing, and most of it gets better every time you listen to it.
6. Yo La Tengo - I am not Afraid of you and I will Beat Your Ass: did I mention I was a sucker for anobnoxious bleat of electric guitar? I don't think there was anything on record this year better than "Pass The Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind" - 10 minutes of Guru Guru style wanking - what more could anyone ask? The rest of the record is also quite good, though nothing else quite lives up to that promise. But they are another band that you can count on - they can't do anything less than enjoyable.
7. Liars - Drum's Not Dead: another one that takes some time to work its way into your head, but it does. Stripped down version of the percussive post-punk of their last record, haunting where that was abrasive.
8. Mission of Burma - the Obliterati: so the Liars managed to sneak in here. An actual contemporary band rooted in 80s post-punk/indie rock - alone, among a host of actual honest to god post-punk/indie bands from the 80s (or Beyond!) bands. Mission of Burma went away after one record, long before their time, but have come back in the 00s and now made 2 very good new records. Who needs the Strokes when you can have Mission of Burma?
9. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped: what did I just say? another band that can be simply counted on to provide value.
10. Outkast - Idlewild: I suppose this is coming a bit out of left field, among all the old indie rockers, but really - they are good. And branching out all over the place here - still rap and hip hop, the soul styles they were trying on the last record, now jazz, jump jazz, Funkadelic style guitar jamming (A Bad Note, say) - they're great. What can I say? Why didn't I see this movie though?

And some honorable mentions - quite a few more I could add - the only really lame record I got this year was the new Who record. But I'll stick to the ones that I could see myself putting on the list some other day...

Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood [as good a voice as there is in rock music]
A Hawk and a Handsaw - The Way the Wind Blows [god bless the Ottoman Empire!]
Mars Volta - Amputechture [more prog guitar heroics]
Scissor Sisters - Ta-dah! [you can look them up under "infectious"]
Danielson - Ships [a bit hit or miss, but some great stuff]
Raconteurs - Broken Toy Soldiers [not as good as the best White Stripes records, but full of fine songs, played with gusto]
Miho Hatori - Ecdysis [mellower than her Cibo Matto days, but very nice]

And finally - an inline video. Has to be the best band of the year. Live clip of Dirtywhirl - not great video, but pretty good sound....

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas! (and a sad, fond farewell)

Just checking in, amidst the holiday cheer and confusion, the piles of chocolate, the turkey, taters, eggnog and cookies, the happy little tots with their iPods and game boys and j-pop CDs (I have an odd niece)... And one bit of very sad news: James Brown? We shall have to put up a video. which shall have the contradictory effect (I would hope) of making all who see it Happy - how can you listen to James Brown and not be Happy?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Random Music Again

It's Friday again, time for some random iPod fun... This week, maybe the next couple weeks, we'll draw from records that came out this year - call it our end of the year special! Here goes....

1. Mars Volta - Day of the Baphomets [12 minutes of it...]
2. Liars - It's All Blooming Now Mount Heart Attack
3. Six Organ of Admittance - Bless Your Blood [strong song from a really outstanding record - one of the 2-3 best of the year.]
4. Thom Yorke - And it Rained all Night
5. Danielson - Bloodbook on the Halfshell
6. Scott Walker - Buzzers ["polish the fork and stick the fork in him, he's done boys"... Another of the year's prime records]
7. Scissor Sisters - Lights [I think I like these guys - more every time I hear them. Like the beegees if they knew they were supposed to be funny.]
8. Jeremy Enigk - Wayward Love
9. Sonic Youth - Do You Believe in Rapture?
10. TV on the Radio - Snakes and Martyrs & Wash the Day [back to back? who can complain though - the best record of the year, easily.]

And for video? First - a plug: I've been meaning to put a link up (not just 'cause he name checked me when he started it...) - Moviezzz runs a nice little feature, Forgotten Video Friday... he's got Sean Penn up today... A neat idea...

And here? Let's try one that didn't come up, though the record did: Scott Walker, from Drift. This is "Jesse".

Monday, December 11, 2006

Inland Empire

It's a bit difficult to write about Inland Empire. Not because the film itself is strange or hard to figure out - shoot - that's what makes it so easy to write about... But because it's only playing a couple places (NY and LA, for the Oscar season, and Cambridge Massachusetts - that I know of.) It will open in January in the wide world, I guess - this creates a dilemma. It's a film you have to take in full, in a way - to say much of anything coherent, you should probably get into the guts. But it's also a film well worth seeing in as raw a state as you can - navigating through it blind, at least once, is a pretty important step.... So - I'm not sure spoilers are quite the term for this film, but... there might be some. I imagine most of the plot of the film [snicker] will be well known by the time it comes out - still - I suppose I should make some kind of disclaimer before starting....

So what do we have? A Woman in Trouble. Laura Dern, in the role of Nikki Grace, an actress, playing a woman named Sue, in a melodrama about adultery, costarring with Justin Theroux as a rake, playing Billy, who's rich, and a rake, and... we get a bunch of movie set stuff, scenes from the movie in a movie, scenes of the actors hanging around, Harry Dean Stanton being very funny. There were some hints - rabbits on TV; an old Polish woman telling stories; flashbacks or scenes from a movie or a radio show set in Poland - and then things start to loop, and once they start, they never quite come back to anything resembling a stable storyline. There are dark secrets; there are morality tales; there are whores and corridors and dark streets in Baltic regions; there are dance routines. Also lamps, furniture and a crying girl. Mostly though, there is Laura Dern.

I imagine people will soon be trying to figure it out. Trying to parse what's "real" and what's not, trying to map the ontological levels of the thing. That seems a waste of time. Even more than Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire seems rigorously devoted to the logic of a dream - to the mechanics of dreams. Not just the swirl of imagery, the unconscious, bad conscience and the like - but the mechanics. The way dreams stitch images and places together. The way any image or place or thing in a dream can lead to any other place or image or thing. Films can do that too, though they don't all that often. It’s too easy to claim this film is incoherent or has no plot*: it may well be true that there is no plot as such, no ontological grounding, but it remains internally logical. It operates by the fairly simple principal that syntax precedes semantics. - that the logic of how things happen is more important than what, in fact, happens. Lynch maintains the syntax of films - shots/reaction shots, editing on actions, keeping the direction of motion the same, etc. Actions flow - if you go through a door you are in a different room; you go around a corner and you see something; you go around a corner, there is a cut to someone coming around a corner; you look through a window, there is something out there. But what you see isn't determined by what you just saw. The other side of the door isn't determined by this side of the door. Lynch keeps a coherent syntax - but constantly changes the semantics. Every cut can reinvent the world. There is no reason why a shot-countershot sequence has to cut between the same things. So Laura Dern and a lamp can become Laura Dern and a roomful of hookers. Or you can step into “Smithy’s house” and step out in Poland or the rabbit sitcom.

Dreams work like that. You walk through the house you grew up in, go through a door and are in your grandmother’s house. Or turn right and you’re at your job, turn left and you’re on a boat. Dreams do yeoman work of constructing something like narrative out of this flow of images - Lynch gives you a similar flow here. Dreams tend to keep throwing up the same images - a lot of the links in dreams come from some object or place or person who keeps recurring in the dream. That is certainly how Lynch works. He keeps a fairly stable group of places, faces, phrases, objects, actions - he keeps cycling through them, changing their position in the story - changing names, the way someone (actor, character, name) acts, what a door can lead to. All of it is anchored by Dern, passing through - though she is hardly playing a stable character: she might be the actress, might be the role, might be the actress playing the role, might be a hooker on the street, in LA, or Poland, or.... She is, though, always Laura Dern, though even that - she is a remarkably pliable performer, changing her face, her voice, her posture, her demeanor from scene to scene.... lazy reviewers will whine that of course she did, they made it up on the spot and stitched the film together afterwards. I will note instead that that is probably why they made it up on the spot - to get that kind of protean performance.

Still.... that's the story, so to speak. Then there is the film as an object. It is absolutely stunning looking. Not in a classically beautiful film way (which Lynch is a master of), but Lynch goes very deep into the textures and effects of digital photography. He revels in its look - the blurring, the crappy colors, the graininess of it, the way light and shadows react to the video, the way it gives light and darkness a kind of thickness. He revels in the different qualities of light - cutting between these milky, blurry shadowy shots and clear, sharply lit shots, or the brilliance of natural light. He takes advantage of the lowlight capabilities of video. Light itself, frankly, is close to the main subject of the film. If not light itself, then lamps - the quality of their light, the shape of the light and shadows they throw on walls and rooms. He seems to love everything about the video camera. He exploits the size and focal qualities of the video camera - shooting faces in extreme close-ups with wide angle lenses to get them all in - but leaving half the screen empty, but in focus - so your eye is drawn back and forth between the distorted faces the open spaces behind them. He loves the mobility of the camera, its size - he pushes it into some strange places. All that, applied to shadowy corridors, icky looking rooms, decrepit stairways, mysterious doors, and christ knows what else - beautiful!

All told - it's a masterpiece. David Lynch is the man.

* Two comments on the plot - more likely to cause a breach of the spoiler police than the rest...

1) the plot of the movie in a movie is in fact fairly clear. A rich man, Billy, with a wife and kids, has an affair with a poorer woman, possibly a cleaning lady (Sue) - the spouses find out, and actions have consequences, and they will be dark and inescapable. Roughly the same plot occurs in the Polish sequences. These stories are, however, fragmented, incomplete and discontinuous, and of course confused by the way people seem to keep moving around among the stories...

2) Under all the dreamscapes and Freud and moralism (and there is a lot of moralism, when you get down to it), it might be possible to take the film, Inland Empire, that we see, as an almost direct attempt to show the process of making films. The discontinuity, the lack of sequence, the repetition here all echo the process of actually shooting a film. It’s a denaturalization of the acting and filmmaking process - stripping out all the transitions, not providing the overall story, just presenting the on-the-ground, in the moment experience of making a film, out of sequence, playing a character and living as yourself.... This isn't that farfetched a reading, I don't think - the film repeats its emphasis on Dern’s performance, on all her roles - TV and theater and movies and radio are all major metaphors - and well - it ends with what looks like a wrap party, doesn’t it?

Quick Reviews

This is something of a throwaway post. A couple films. If this was tomorrow, I would have more for you. Something longer, something more substantial. But today, just a couple reviews, part of what I saw this weekend. The rest, we may see tomorrow.

History Boys - I needed to kill a couple hours Saturday, and this was playing at a convenient time. No other reason to see it. I shouldn't be too snide. It's not bad, I guess, but really. Here, it's a bunch of lads, the clever lads, at a Yorkshire school studying to get into Oxford and Cambridge. They are guided in this task by an ignorant headmaster, an old biddy on loan from one of the Harry Potter films, a young ambitious teacher recently out of Oxford or Cambridge or something like that who Teaches To The Tests, and Richard Griffeths offering a less threatening (and less poignant) rendition of Uncle Monty. They are the only inhabitants of Yorkshire, possibly England, except for a cute secretary and a nosy crossing guard. Despite (or possibly because of) this depopulation, much of the film is consumed in discussion of sex, or at least lust, the rest in vague debates about whether to teach to the test or not. All right, all right - it's not that bad. It's a nice brainless way to pass a couple hours, and does serve to clear the mind for more challenging fare. (Note the foreshadowing! what challenging fare could that be? will there be rabbits? lamps? Nina Simone? Tune in tomorrow...)

F*ck - half the planet is interviewed about the title word, which I, surely, would never print in so many letters here on this humble blog! In fact, this is a pretty good film, a nice amusing documentary about the f bomb. Clips and songs and cartoons, linguistic discussion of the word, its innumerable uses, its history (from 1475 at least; gaining popularity in the 20th century, especially during the world wars, when it spread to become the main form of cursing in english.) Discussion of the bird. The legalities, the politics, the FCC, on TV, in movies, HBO, and so on. It's interesting enough.... The talking heads are generally fairly bland. Maybe it's a function of the film's own biases, but the right wingers come off a bit better than the lefties. The film itself, basically, takes the pro-fuck side - the pro-vulgarity interviewees don't have to do any heavy lifting. The prudes, however, have to make the case against the word, and a few of them try. Pat Boone is witty and self-depreciating; Miss Manners plays her part; even Michael Medved comes off almost half-sane, nowhere near as obnoxious as his usual persona. The filmmakers, though clearly on the other side, generally let them say their piece - they get to make the case, and a couple of them make it as well as you can make such an inherently weak argument. And oddly enough, the best case, the most consistent, complete ann coherent case against the f-word comes from Alan Keyes - Alan Keyes! What the hell? Thankfully, there are a couple lobbyists for the censorship business, who act as smug and stupid as one would expect - and Dennis Prager, radio host, bigoted fool, comes off as every bit the santimonious cunt* you would expect. Blathering about Civilization and the Barbarians, as if he were the civilized one. No no, no one is fooled there!

And Bill Plympton cartoons! whoo hoo!

(And yes, the word does occur a few times in the other film, due for review tomorrow. A couple times. Here and there.)

*Which Drew Carey says is the real offensive word. You'll have to do a documentary on that next! he says.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sport! Music! Friday!

Here I sit, watching the Celtics Suns game. Suns coming off a double overtime, 161-157 win over New Jersey. 133-133 in regulation? Well. C's should do that - they can score when they try, and few teams are better at letting the other team score. Looking at the Sun's roster though - they may have 4 players I would take over anyone but Paul Pierce, and Diaw's not far off (given his age and his complete game - 14 assists last night, more than Nash) - Nash might be a little old, and needs the scorers to be completely effective, but still... (Marion and Stoudamire are no brainers. Legitimate big guys? No question.) And Bell has game, and the bench - Barbosa, even Kurt Thomas - are not slouches.) This ought to be fun anyway....

Friday Random 10, then - with stars, when I've rated them:

1. Gene Vincent - Race with the Devil
2. Don Byron - C'Est si Bon [From his wonderful Klezmer record]
3. Pere Ubu - Wheelhouse (***)
4. Bad Company - Movin' On
5. Butthole Surfers - Gary Floyd (****) [yeah...]
6. Decembrists - Leslie Ann Levine
7. Killers - Somebody Told Me [not bad, but more derivative sounding than some of the other 80s revival acts of the 00s...]
8. Al Stewart - Merlin's Time
9. Stooges - 1970 ***** [out of my mind on a Saturday night...]
10. Rage Against the Machine - Snake Charmer

Video: as nice as the Buttholes are - let's go to the source - here's Gary Floyd with Black Kali Ma:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quick Reviews

A couple new movies, and a very rare old one....

Ten Items of Less - bit of a slow week for regular new releases - this is the only one that seemed al that appealing. And it lived up to it. A neat little two hander between Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega (of Sex and Lucia fame - one of those unjustly neglected gems: Julio Medem is an unjustly neglected gem). Freeman plays an actor who is damned near himself - he is in a slump, or something and researching a role for his sort of comeback in an indie film. He gets dropped off by a stupid PA at a barren supermarket, and starts wandering around, and soon takes notice of the smart angry girl in the 10 items or less lane. His ride doesn't come back, so when she goes off duty he goes with her, but she has a job interview in the afternoon, but not before fighting with Bobby Cannavale, cornering the market on asshole roles. They take her gremlin and go shopping at Target, get Arby's and go to a car wash. All that is in the trailer, and it's the plot, but there you go? It's modest, but it nails it - the filmmaking is clear and simple, unshowy without being invisible... And the leads are superb. Freeman is able to be as charming and funny and wonderful as he is capable of - and he is capable of a lot of it. HIs character is a bit out of it, counting on his ability to charm his way through anything, but also endlessly curious and generous... Vega's character is young and pretty and smart and wants to get along in life on her own power. They play well together. It's shocking to see something like this from Brad Silberling, maker of the atrocious City of Angels. This is another Capra riff, by the way - but a good one, more in tune to the early, lighter ones, complete with jokey out of tune songs... (Speaking of which - I notice I didn't mention seeing Platinum Blonde and Bombshell last week. This isn't Platinum Blonde by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not far from a stripped down Broadway Bill.)

Piano Tuner of Earthquakes - new from the Quay brothers. A gothic nighmare of a film about a singer kidnapped by a mad doctor Droz who brings in a piano tuner to tune his automata. There is also a housekeeper and the girl's jilted lover, also played by the actor who plays the piano tuner. Things go roughly as expected. Handsome and strange, with some moments of great animations, but generally rather tedious. Plays like a sedated and slightly out of sorts Guy Maddin film.

Enthusiasm - 1931 Dziga Vertov film, made in industrial Ukraine (the Donbasse region) to celebrate/advertise the first five year plan. In fact, a sensory battering - images, sounds coming at you with great force... (The woman introducing it told a story - at the London premiere , Vertov himself took over the sound controls, and turned up the volume to "ear=splitting" levels, despite the shouts and pleas of the audience.) Vertov hauled a monstrous sound camera to the Ukraine to make the film - he was after Truth, and considered himself part of the five year plans - he considered making films as valuable a kind of work as any other... No lack of actual physical labor involved... The film is about work: most of it set in coal mines and factories, showing the workers doing their jobs - it's about technology, machines - including the camera. The mill images get this the best - startinmg with abstract images of mills, lots of camera tricks, editing tricks and so on, then moving to the workers - he shows their actions actions fragmented, taken out of context - no sign of where things were coming from or going, what men were doing - a series of images of men working, at strange, repetitive tasks - prodding fires - throwing coal into a furnace (that made sense at least), a man grabbing a long thin piece of molten metal and twisting it around him. All this shown from various angles, including some radical overhead shots - accompanied mostly by natural sounds. Culminates in an almost ecstatic shot of molten metal lines twisting around on the screen, forming genuinely abstract patterns - very beautiful, very strange. It has an odd effect - he cuts up the actions, shows it from all angles, though never quite as a whole. It's interesting that a lot of the shots are perfectly natural - showing us what the workers see - they are absorbed into their specific tasks, and that is what we see. No one sees the steel coming together, no one sees the process whole... He does that - breaking up the overall process into its pieces, only tentatively bringing them all together at the end. It really is a spectacular, exhilerating film. Makes you want to go exceed a quota!

Monday, December 04, 2006

5 More Books....

This post is an addendum to yesterday's criticism post, specifically to the 5 books listed at the end. I'll stand by those, as my favorites, or the best criticism I've read - but today, I was thinking about an ever so slightly different set of criteria... Those five books all take a pretty narrow subject: three are devoted to single filmmakers, a fourth is by a single filmmaker - the fifth about a very small group of films. They are focused - detailed considerations of a limited group of films. Their value is depth. Today, at least briefly, I want to celebrate breadth. And some other things - but mainly, I want to note some of the books that have served me as guides to watching films....

1. Andrew Sarris - The American Cinema: this is the bible, no? at least for pre-1965 or so. (The old testament, maybe.) What is there to say? this is the place to start if you want to figure out what happened in American film through the 60s. Quick, thoughtful outlines of all those directors' careers, lists of their films, loosely ranked. A guide, without being so demanding in its judgments that you can't choose to disagree - it almost seems to invite you to argue. Great stuff.
2. Audie Bock - Japanese Films Directors: it lacks the scope of Sarris' guide to American filmmakers, but does a similar job of taking the important filmmakers and summarizing their careers, their work, their importance. As good a place as any to start on classic Japanese cinema.
3. Stephen Teo - Hong Kong Cinema: a survey of its subject, covering the history of Cantonese (mostly) film, its aesthetics, its genres... Another excellent introduction to one of the world's major film industries.
4. Hitchcock by Truffaut - this is going in a different direction, but wouldn't it be nice if every great director got something like this? the chance to sit down with a sympathetic critic, maybe one that had made a couple films himself, and go over his career, start to finish? Shouldn't Robert Altman and PT Anderson have found some time to have a good long conversation while they were making Prairie Home Companion? of course, they don't all talk like old Hitch could...
5. And finally, going off on a tangent - I want to put in a word for James Sanders' Celluloid Skylines - a book about New York City in the movies, and about place and architecture and cities.... And that's a pretty fine web site it has, too...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

On Criticism - What and Who are Near and Dear

I have to get this posted - this is a blogathon near and dear to my inner graduate student's heart - it would kill me not to say anything. It's not easy though - I didn't pay attention tot he dates - and look what's happened. When Andy announced it I thought, hey! I can work something up about Paul Schrader and the Canon! or the essay on Heretical Empiricism I've wanted to write since 1999! but then I forgot about it until last week, in the throes of turkey overdose, and then procrastinated all this week, foolishly thinking I could find halfway presetable versions of one or another of those essays - I find (rather seriously) that I have never taken good notes on the film books I've read. I didn't take notes while reading the books - and most of the comments after the fact were either applied to films (so touching obliquely at best on the critics) or were in the form of a kind of argument with the critic.... it's frustrating, because some of them - Pasolini, Stanley Cavell, Ray Carney, David Bordwell and Noel Burch - have had a profound effect on me.... But in terms of what I have put to paper (let alone to silicon, which is where it really needs to be if I'm ever to see it again), almost the only references I have to them are when I've used one of them to write about a film.

Which leaves me, at this late hour, without much but a kind of sketch of the critical issues that interest me. These interests crop up in the things I write - you'll find comments on genre, film poetics, history and literature (not as much as I would expect) in my reviews and essays - most of them have fairly clear sources. I will take this opportunity, I guess, to name some of the critics I admire and keep returning to, arranged around the elements of film I find most fascinating.

1) The poetics of film - by which I mean, the devices available to films, the formal elements of films. Shots - space - the things that are photographed - photography itself - light - time - the syntax of film, the sequence of shots - or just of things shown on the screen. Duration. The position of the camera, all the formal stuff. I love this. I want to read books that talk about this, in just about any way - and those that do tend to be my favorites. Bordwell, Burch, early Christian Metz. There are filmmakers who get into this a lot - Eisenstein of course (probably the first film theorist/critic I read a lot of), Godard, and Pasolini (a particular favorite, especially as an essayist - as a filmmaker he can be a bit trying [though he certainly made a few masterpieces] - as an essayist about films, he is very inspiring. I really do want to work up a longer piece about his film writing - I've written about his films, for classes and on the net, but I'd like to write something about his essays.) I am also happy when writers who might be more thematically oriented are willing to get down to cases - it's one of Ray Carney's strong suits - he gives you concrete details from the films, bases his comments in what gets on the screen.

And here I have to add, Scott McCloud - he writes about comics the way I wish more people would write about films. Burch and Metz have done some of this - creating anatomies of film devices: types of cuts; types of offscreen space. McCloud is superb at that - and at analyzing the ways comics (in his case) create their effects through those devices. He’s so good at it he offers a model for writing about films.

2) Genre - probably more as a concept, the processes by which we create or define genres, more than actual genres, but all of it interests me. This comes from outside film criticism - Northrup Frye and Tzetvan Todorov mainly (Frye for the archtypes - Todorov more for the ways genres work in an art form). Among film critics, I am particularly impressed by Rick Altman's work.

3) I read litcrit before I read film crit, and I am still interested in the broader issues of literature - of fiction, in any form. Plot, character, theme - narrative, ways of telling stories, ways of relating stories to other things, to philosophy, politics, psychology, etc. Here I fall back on Bakhtin more or less constantly - he is probably the single most important critic there is, when it comes to analyzing fiction, in whatever medium it appears. Todorov figures heavily here, especially in terms of the poetics of narrative. There are certain film critics (or critics writing about film) that seem to use film as a specific instance of a more general concern - Stanley Cavell comes to mind, as well as Ray Carney. They were certainly instrumental in bridging my interests in literary criticism and films, and are both exemplary in ways of integrating an interest in film with interests in broader issues of philosophy and art.

4) That leads to another thing that fascinates me - the ways media relate to one another. I have always been interested in the idea of fiction, as something that can be done in different media. Took a class to the effect once, a nice enough class, though not formalist enough for me, in the long run.... It's fascinating to look for the common threads of fiction or narrative in film and novels, in art, in comics, TV, music... I think looking at what is common to narrative across media helps illuminate the specific devices of each medium. I am intrigued by the problems of adaptations of novels to films - or the relationships between history, novels, films. One of the most interesting papers I ever wrote in a class was about The Good Earth - the film, the novel, and the actual, historical conditions of China ca. 1900-1920 - the way those things interacted, and interacted with other forces, from the politics of the 30s to Hollywood’s orientalism, etc. I was a historian before I was anything else - and this stuff gets me.

The best book I can name that gets at something like this is Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto’s book on Kurosawa: he moves back and forth among a multiplicity of approaches - history, intellectual history, formal analysis, genre analysis, auteurist analysis, thematic analysis. That is a great book - one of the most satisfying and comprehensive books of its sort I know of.

So there it is. I suppose all that's left is to make a list - my 5 favorite books of film criticism.

1. David Borwell's Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema - available as a PDF from a link on that page... the most comprehensive, detailed book about a filmmaker....
2. Yoshimoto's Kurosawa book. The second most comprehensive...? In fact, it's quite a bit different from Bordwell - a broader range of concerns, as suggested in 4, above...
3. Stanley Cavell - Pursuits of Happiness - the hollywood comedy of remarriage, examined.
4. Ray Carney - American Visions - his Frank Capra book. He does a good job in all his books of integrating his broad interests (philosophical, artistic) with the formal properties of the films themselves - he is interested in the themes, but he is attentive to the poetics.
5. Pier Paolo Pasolini - Heretical Empiricism. Yes, it seems to be back in print! I spent years looking for the thing... it's a very interesting book - he brings all his many talents - a poet, a novelist, a critic, a theorist, a filmmaker, a political radical - to bear on his subjects: so when he writes about films, he is comfortable talking about types of shots, lenses, theories of montage, as well as free indirect discourse, linguistic theory, the metalanguage of the script, and so on. And from the perspective of one who has used these ideas in actual works of art - it's a unique and extremely valuable perspective, and this is a first rate book.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Film Criticism Blogathon

... at Andy Horbal's place. Going on all weekend! which may give me a chance to get something posted - December has come early this year (the middle of September, judging by the temperatures the last couple days.) Anyway - go, read, argue! There's good stuff to be found.

Friday, December 01, 2006

You're Much Too Fat and A Little too Long

Friday again, and so, after a week off, it's time for another random ten! I think the iPod missed me - some very nice stuff coming up.... not all of it rated, though things like Sinatra and Billie Holiday are basically default 4-star songs, whether they're rated or not. (The ratings are, to be honest, as much a device for sorting what comes up on playlists as an actual measure of how good the song is - and 5 star songs are also songs I will Always Listen to All The Way Through, irregardless of mood...) Here's to it:

1. Blood Brothers - The Salesman Denver Max
2. Pere Ubu - Where's the truth
3. Waterboys - Red Army Blues
4. Billie Holiday - He's Funny that Way [with Lester Young]
5. Erase Errata - Untitled [neat little blast of racket....]
6. Mercury Rev - Hercules ***** [and one of the things lost when CDs replaced LPs as the default way to listen to music was the side - all the things sides could do - the grouping and pacing of songs, opening and closing tracks, etc... And one of the things lost when CDs give way to MP3 players is the idea of the openign and closing track itself. I mention this because no one, in recent years, can match Mercury Rev for putting a CD together - their opening tracks (Chasing a Bee, Meth of a Rockette's Kick, Empire State, Holes, Dark is Rising, Secret for a Song) are off the charts. The closing tracks have some, um - odd moments (Girlfren?), but at their best - Very Sleepy Rivers, and especially Hercules and Delta Bottleneck Stomp - are as good as it gets.
7. The Who - Mike Post Theme [this was a sympathy buy - the who have been away so long! so I bought the record. They should have retired a long time ago.]
8. The Rolling Stones - Loving Cup [this should be rated - I don't know how much. I am not as much of an Exile on Main Street fan as many are - a good record, but not up to Beggar's Banquet or Let It Bleed, maybe not up to some of the earlier ones.... oddly, though, I find that the songs from Exile, when they come up alone, always hold up very well. Better than the record as a whole. That is odd.]
9. Frank Sinatra - I've Got You Under My Skin **** [Live version, Sinatra in Paris. There are better versions of the song by the man out there, but it's still - amazing how many tones he can get in there - the shifts from the beautiful crooning to the tough guy, the Jersey accent, the sharp, hard rhythms, the swagger, that can turn on a dime back to tenderness. Christ, what he could do with his voice.]
10. Spirit - Animal Zoo ***** [on any list of All Time Underrated Records, 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus has got to be there...]

And a Bonus Track! whether to make up for the short Erase Errata or that lame Who song...
11. Franz Ferdinand - Dark of the Matinee ***** [this really is an antidote to that Who song. Townshend's lyrics these days - mewling about getting old, dull platitudes (young lovers kiss, they fight and die) just pissed me off when it came on... then, 2-3 songs later this comes up. I'm not a really big FF fan - they're good, a bit too much like the rest of early oughts indie music, songs like this, it takes a good deal of real effort to guess whether it's them or the Strokes or some imitator... But maybe that's because I didn't listen to the words all that close. Cause this - it certainly purges ol' Pete's feeble abstraction quite away. The precision! the detail! this would make a great novel, a great film - it's got a clear narrative, vivid scenes, and sharp wordplay - "not to look you in the shoe, but the eyes find the eyes..." - "so I'm on BBC2 now, telling Terry Wogan how I made it and, what I made is unclear now, his deferences and his laughter is, my words and smile are so easy now.. yes it's easy now..." - delivered in an amazingly expressive drawl over tight, jittery post-punk.... Songs with recognizable stories, people, events, this clear, this concrete, are a fucking godsend. Damn. I am going to have to relisten to those records a hell of a lot closer. This is just a Great song.]

So to recap: the 2 greatest pop singers of the 20th century. My favorite band of the last 15 years (Mercury Rev). My favorite band of the last 30 years (Mr. Thomas et al.) One of the top 5 or 10 pop songs of all time. The rolling stones. A washed up genius. A neglected gem. The godfather of all those big band folkies (what don't the Decembrists or Arcade Fire or whoever owe to Mike Scott?). Not one but TWO bands you could call American's answer to Melt Banana! And a revelation by a band I should pay more attention to after all - well, what can I say? Right now, iTunes is on shuffle, and just kicked up the Sugar Cubes and The Feelies. Keeps right on going. Husker Du!

Anyway, today's video is a live clip from Glastonbury a few years ago - Franz Ferdinand getting thousands of people to sing along about the joys of whatever it is they have in mind to do in the dark of the matinee...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Robert Altman Remembered

Now that I'm back home, with my regular computer and all my notes, I have to write something more sustantial about Robert Altman. I'm not sure what I should say. His death does not have the emotional punch that the death of Johnny Cash or Charles Schulz had (2 artists who were, like Altman, icons, who I bloody well worshipped - all my life, really, especially Schulz), but culturally, it is similar. He was not my favorite director, or the one who most defined what I thought films should be (those would be Capra and Ozu, with Godard near at hand) - but he was possibly the most important filmmaker in my life. I said a great deal in my "Altman and Me" post during last year's blogathon - it is hard to overstate how important Robert Altman's films were in forming my interest in film. It's hard to talk or think about Altman without talking and thinking about myself - he was an absolutely crucial part of my intellectual autobiography. Like reading Nietzsche, or The Confidence Man, or listening to the Velvet Underground, or Louis Armstrong - his films were a catalyst, they changed how I thought about films.

His impact on me was certainly more intellectual than emotional. That is partly a function of Altman's films, I think - they can be profoundly moving, but they are also, usually, distancing - you don’t quite emotionally enter them, the way you can with Capra or Ozu, for instance. This makes him like Godard - he makes sure you keep a distance. I think he did that quite deliberately - the way his style keeps you outside the story, keeps you from sharing the experience of the main characters. All those overlapping voices and sounds, the way the films look, the long lenses and incessant zooms - you start outside the space and don't exactly enter it as you are brought closer to it. The spaces in his films - the mirrors and windows and doors and stairways, always keeping you away from the story, the characters, etc. It is always a cold place. You watch emotions, you don’t identify with them.

It always drove me crazy when people talked about him as if all he did was let a bunch of good actors act, and let the shooting take care of itself. That is so wrong! His style, especially in those great 70s films, is as recognizable and controlled as anything in Scorsese and Kubrick - the telephoto lenses, the zooms, the mirrors and doors and windows, the overlapping dialogue and sound design, the cluttered sets, the staging, deemphasizing individuals (except when it counted). Not to mention symbolism (take the circles and spires of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or the role of water and fire, wind, earth, or the blue and red light, their various associations with men and women - which recur: what about the pools, fishtanks, desert in Three Women?); or structural tricks, symmetries (scenes, or whole films, like Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean, with its sets of 5s and 10s, its mirrored mirrors, etc.), self-quotations.... Sometimes the style verges on self-parody: you notice it in his bad films, Quintet or Pret A Porter or what have you - when the story fails, the style can be overwhelming.

Though even at his worst, what gets put on the screen is gorgeous: even Quintet, as bad a film as anyone is likely to find, is stunning looking.

And so... Let us say goodbye. And note the possibility - not out of the question - that Prairie Home Companion might win an Oscar. I suppose it would be a nasty irony - but it would still be a nice touch. And frankly, there are not likely to be any other films in contention that deserve it more. It may not be his best, or even in the top 15 or so, but it's a pretty damned good film, and god knows Oscars aren't about picking the best films. So why not? He's the best American filmmaker this side of Frank Capra and Howard Hawks, so he ought to have an award or two, even if only posthumously.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman

Robert Altman has died. I saw the news on TV - an odd experience, for a geek like me, seeing news like that on TV, hearing some newsreader running through his career, his films. Strange. I am, as might be apparent, a fan. And though there might be a director or two, still alive, whose work I like more (given that one - Shohei Imamura - died earlier this year, Jean Luc Godard better be careful), I don't think any of them were as important to me. (Check that "fan" link.) It is a sad day. I have a post in the pipeline that touches on Altman - it will be hard, around the holidays, to get to the net to write more, but I will try. He was one of my heroes - like Johnny Cash and Charles Schulz, his death is oging to hit me hard...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

New Movies, Quickly

Movie reviews. A habit I have to get back into. You know, every week. New, at least. And so -

Fast Food Nation: kind of a miracle I saw it, actually. The newspaper (or the paper's web site) listed the time as 12 noon - the sign outside the theater, however, said 11:40 - and the ticket said 11:45. As it turned out, the lights went down at 11:45, 15 minutes of previews followed (all of them but Reno 911 mercifully blanked from my mind), then the movie. Good thing I turned up early, I was thinking at the time, though the truth is, there were only a dozen people, if that, int he theater, so heck....

Where was I? Richard Linklater's second film of the year - a fictionalization of a muckraking book about the evils of fast food. Structured like Traffic or Babel - following three or four narrative threads (a group of illegal immigrants, a smart girl working at Mickey's (a fast food joint modelled on you know who, though not you know who), and an executive at Mickey's investigating their bad meat. These are more logically related than the stories in Babel, since they are all set around a meat packing plant in Colorado (thus more like Traffic); and Linklater has a looser, less insistent style than Inarittu or Soderburgh, sliding between stories without the attempts to link them with sounds and images and angles the way Inarittu does. Unfortunately, like Babel (and Traffic, I guess), the stories are just sketches - there are nice moments in each of them, but they all come off thin. It's too bad I guess - the performances are worthwhile - Kinnear is his usual likable everyman/audience surrogate, but doesn't really get to follow through, there are some neat cameos, and the kids playing the Mexicans and American fast food workers are pretty good... But the stories are predictable and not that interesting anyway, so... what can you do. This brings us to another thing it has in common with Babel - whatever faults I can find with it, it feels like an absolutely necessary film to see, because of the director. I find, at this point, that Richard Linklater is someone I want to pay attention to - somewhere along the line, I might take some time to think about some of the things he does as a filmmaker: it's interesting because his style is not really obvious, the main link between his films seems to be his sensibility and storytelling... but there are some things... I found myself noticing spaces in this film - the way he shot things to always kind of let your eye leave the scene. There are "openings" in what he shoots - doors and windows and blank spaces and holes that open the space. It looks casual, almost accidental, but I don't know if it is. It's not something I notice in every film I see. So - that might be worth thinking about somewhere down the line.

For Your Consideration: Christopher Guest and company take on Hollywood. Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer and Parker Posey are the leads, perhaps - they are at least the characters imagining themselves up for Oscar consideration. The usual gang supports them - Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley Jr., Guest and Michael McLean, Larry Miller, Bob Balaban, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake - and more! with Ricky Gervais turning up in a few scenes, and plenty more... It's a straight movie this time - there's no pretense at making a documentary - though things like the EPK and a bunch of TV shows give plenty of opportunity for the kind of interview format Guest loves... Okay. It's funny, it's nice - but it's probably the least of Guest's films - it's amusing, but not as funny as the first two, and less poignant than A Mighty Wind (the Mitch and Mickey parts, anyway). Still good, just not up to his rather high standards.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Music Stuff

Another simple one, 10 random....

1. Blondie - Heart of Glass (***)
2. Pearl Jam - Oceans (almost forgot I had this record on here...)
3. Elvis Costello - Chemistry Class
4. Cibe Matto - La Pain Perdu
5. X-Ray Specs - I Can't Do Anything
6. Elvis Costello - Little Triggers
7. The Decembrists - Summersong
8. Built to Spill - Stop the Show (***)
9. Eels - Novocaine for the Soul (****)
10. Rolling Stones - Let's Spend the Night together

A nice collection, if nothing quite essential....

And video? Best song of the week?The Eels, live - tres cool!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Two Films

There's hope, suddenly - assuming I get this post up here in a reasonable amount of time. (I don't know if watching the Celtics is helping or hurting. What a depressing spectacle. Again, they're teasing - showing signs - like a nice little run, a couple shots by Wally, a couple nice defensive stands - but wait a few minutes....) Movies! back to movies!

Stranger than Fiction: Will Farrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman in a likable metafiction that fails for various reasons - Gyllenhaal's character is a blank and hardly worth caring about; Thompson, on the other hand, is spectacular, but given nothing important to do; Queen Latifah is in the cast but does she play a character? I don't know.... the story itself is awkward and half done - it plays like a short story idea, stretched out with a bunch of fake Charlie Kaufman stuff to look like it matters. It's too bad - Thompson is so good, and Farrell is very good at this sort of thing - everything he does is so understated and guileless, and he plays everything so close to straight, even in his wilder roles. His "straight" performances never feel strained like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams do when they essay drama. A lot of opportunity is wasted, but it is wasted.

Scream of the Ants: so new (or obscure) it doesn't even have an IMDB entry! New film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and a very strange one. Two Iranians (man and woman) travelling in India, looking for a guru, the Complete Man, or, The Perfect Man. Along the way they find a chatty journalist; a cripple who is forced to act as a holy man, stopping trains; they talk about sex, and the man goes to a prostitute leaving the woman alone; they have an encounter in a taxi cab, then finally find the perfect man - who proves to be a Buddhist, basically - they are god, god exists when you believe in him - and you can travel the world and find god in a drop of dew; he's not enough so they then go on, and meet an old woman who wants to die in Banares and a German who has become an ascetic. They go to the Ganges - there is more footage - then the woman bathes (with a host of naked men), and the man attends a class - don't listen, smell.... then it ends.

Strange as it is, it's pretty consistent with Makhmalbaf's work. He's always had a surrealist streak, combined with his neo-realist streak, a combination fairly common in Iranian cinema (going back, say, to The Cow.) Here, it's as if Makhmalbaf has split himself in half, and stages a dialogue between his political, skeptical, secular side (the man), and his mystical, religious, humanist side (the woman). For all that, all the philosophical and political seriousness, it's surprisingly funny, contains moments of breathtaking grace (like the opening sequence - a couple kids tracing a shadow with rocks), as well as a good deal of political edge, and a certain amount of mystical nonsense - which is, in keeping with the dialectic structure of the film, treated like both mystical nonsense and a beautiful lie... And - full frontal male nudity, and almost full frontal female nudity - from the first shot, a woman's hair, it violates Iranian standards - and keeps escalating, eventually showing both a prostitute and the lead actress nude, and later, several Indian women. Given Iranian laws - very transgressive. That and its ecumenical approach to religion - which is both respectful and mocking - make it very radical for an Iranian film.

(Celtics, by the way, made it close, but gave it away in the last couple minutes. I could have written that an hour ago with complete confidence.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Music on a Friday

Had a bit of a scare this morning - opened up iTunes, got an error message - and discovered that all my music files, between Deerhoof and George Harrison, had disappeared. Terrifying! But sa short lived terror - for I remembered the first rule of computer support: When in doubt, Restart!

Back to normal! so here we go (if rated, I'm including that)...

1. Cream - Deserted Cities of the Heart
2. Stereolab - Metronomic Underground (***)
3. James Blood Ulmer - Nothing to Say
4. Jimi Hendrix - Third Stone from the Sun (***)
5. Rocket from the Tombs - Life Stinks (***)
6. Rolling Stones - Connection
7. Outkast - N2U
8. Culture Club - I'll Tumble 4 Ya [good lord - should I admit it? but it is a pretty great song, really]
9. Rage Against the Machine - Settle for Nothing
10. Don Byron - Frailach Jamboree [from his Mickey Katz record]

And today's video treat is a bonus, song 11 - the iPod version was from the long version of Live at Leeds, but this is pretty close:

And a bonus bonus, the original music, synched to the film:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Speaking of the Future...

Meanwhile, totally unrelated to that last post, and yesterday's rather wonderful election results - looks like some kind of blogger upgrade in the works. I do not pay much attention to the technical features of this blog - I take what blogger gives me, dress it up with an occasional cat


or cowboy


and go from there. Still - google has upgraded things, so we shall see what thet brings us. A brave new world of something!

A Brighter Future

Two years ago, I was down. Today, however, things are better off. We have had two years of continued Republican incompetence and villainy - I could not guess, back then, whether villainy or incompetence would rule the day - in the event, it looks like both struggled for supremacy for 2 years. Now, with congress back in the hands of the democrats, we see the administration starting to toss the sluggards overboard: Rumsfeld is on the pavement. More are likely to follow, as some take the opportunity to get while the gitting's good, and Bush/Rove/Cheney scramble to keep up a steady stream of sacrifices to keep themselves out of the dock. It will be something to watch them turn on one another.

Monday, November 06, 2006

This Week's Art Films


I need to get something up here - weeks have passed, months, and nothing! no movie comments - nothing! alas! This despite a pretty nice run of films lately, especially in the rep houses - Kieslowski, John Huston, Cocteau, Dreyer, Mizoguchi all turning up... One of these days I have to say something about those films - but for now, let's turn to the weekend just passed, which featured 2 very much anticipated releases. I bring you - Borat and Babel!

Borat: Cultural Learnings to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Khazakhstan - the title is, in fact, almost longer than the film. This has been much hyped, especially on the web, and there was, I suppose, a good deal of potential for disappointment. High concept acts like Borat don't always translate well to longer forms - it's hard to sustain the act, it's harder to put it together into anything coherent. And I suppose this is somewhat true of the film - the plotline is old hat (Borat comes to America to make a documentary, sees Pamela Anderson on TV and heads off to California to make her his wife), and just an excuse to string together a bunch of typical Borat sequences.... still, it works. This is partly because the scenes with the plot are almost as funny as the other bits (the plot gives us Borat and his producer Azamat driving across the country in an ice cream truck with a watch bear, wrestling nude in a hotel room, then chasing each other through the hallways and elevators and into a conference, and a wonderful sick sight gag at the end) - the whole thing keeps moving and stays funny, damned funny.

Borat's act is certainly a provocative one - he's a caricature of old world/third world grotesquery, with his misogyny and racism and virulent (and ridiculous) anti-semitism - he takes this persona into situations and sees what he can provoke. A lot of it is set up as a TV crew shooting a documentary - sitting down to interview someone, taking a camera crew into a bar or store or TV station, maybe a dinner party or a revival meeting. Borat starts by acting ingratiating, then starts making offensive comments, pulling bizarre stunts - drawing reactions from people. Sometimes getting them to go along with his offensiveness, as in the famous "Throw the Jew Down the Well" song - sometimes pissing them off, like the equally famous rodeo stunt. A lot of what he gets out of people comes from their desire not to offend him: watch this segment (reworked for the film - reshot, I think), of Borat with an etiquette coach, and at a dinner - everyone tries to remain nice, as he behaves like a spoiled child... It's tempting to freight it with significance, to think he's revealing something about the fundamental depravity of the people in these segments, but I don't think that is quite right. Especially since the bits are put together after the fact - the editing can hide the extent to which the audience is on the joke, exaggerate the reactions he wants to emphasize and so on. It's tempting, too, to wonder what's "real" and what's fiction - but the point is that what we see is all fiction. Baron Cohen is staging everything - the character, the cameras, the situations he creates are all fictional before they start. His act is more about the role of the media, of media as a function in everyday life - the presence of cameras, our learned expectations about how to act on TV, about media as a cultural force - than about the underlying prejudices of people. And his act doesn't so much use reality to make fiction as point out how reality itself is fiction - normal, everyday life is a kind of collaborative improvisation, shot through with political and cultural ideas and images, a culture than speaks us. Stephanie Zacharek's excellent review in Salon notes, for example, the way Borat's character, his morality, comes straight out of folklore, with its shape-changing Jews and Gypsy tears. Borat's point, I think, is that all behavior, all morality, is rooted in things beyond us - in culture, in stories, images, ways of thinking. He turns TV into a kind of folklore... (I also think that Zacharek's comment helps explain why Borat is so appealing, despite his bad behavior (and Baron Cohen's bad behavior as well - jerking people around like that, sometimes with real consqeuences, isn't exactly admirable) - he's a figure out of a folk tale, a trickster, and tricksters are always the good guys, no matter how bad they act.)

Babel - if I were feeling perverse, I would note how much Borat has in common with films by, say, Abbas Kiarostami, or Mohsen Makhmalbaf - the mix of reality and fiction, documentary, improv, and scripted bits... I say that to segue into a more conventional art film, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu and Guillerma Arriega's latest, Babel. Which comes from a different strand of art film - actually comes pretty much uncut from Kieslowski. Babel, like their previous films, comes off a bit like 3 or 4 of the Dekalog films crammed into one film - 4 interconnected stories, told in something less than exact sequence, edited to echo one another... parents and children, lovers and strangers, those who rise to the moral challenges put to them and those who don't. It all works because Inarittu is one of the most inventive and skillful of directors - but it still feels contrived and hysterical and a bit pointless. There is no discernable reason why the stories are told out of order, except as an exercise. The situations are distressingly close to cliches. The politics is obvious and lazy - white Americans act like bastards, unless they are movie stars, and then only when one of them gets shot. Everybody else is just trying the best they can.... And there's way too much Brad Pitt and nowhere near enough Koji Yakusho.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Music Again

Another simple list here. Stars and comments, when the spirit moves. Random Friday post:

1. Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues [One of the All Time Greats. On whatever short list I would be inclined to make, my friends.] *****
2. Bikini Kill - Tell me So [they can be sometimes a mixed bag, but this one really kicks]
3. Artist - Track 01... or, put another way: Cline/Shoup/Corsano - Lake of Fire Memoires [don't know where I downloaded this, but hey - not bad. Nice early morning eye opener, and today I needed one. Lots of squawking...]
4. Johnette Napolitano and Marc Moreland - Hurting Each Other [Carpenters tribute record, a nice cover in the usual style - feedback drone and someone singing it fairly straight]
5. The Kinks - Apeman ****
6. Carter Family - Where We'll Never Grow Old
7. The Clash - Spanish Bombs
8. Acid Mother's Temple - Hello Good Child
9. Isley Brothers - Footsteps in the Dark
10. Pere Ubu - Montana

I guess there's no real question what video to put up: Cash, from 59...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

...the red haze of blood blood blood...

Happy Hallooween! I suppose I've got the wrong holiday - I think the record is really about Walpurgisnacht - but hey: who can resist witches on Halloween? Liars, baby - broken witch live:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Horror Films, Best of

Joseph B. has a horror film meme started: probably not the only one. List of the best 15.

This is harder than it seems. Listing the best films in a genre raises the difficulty - do I rank them as films (that happen to all be horror films), or do I rank them for how good they are at being horror films? If I do the latter - don't I have to define the genre? What makes a horror film? Any kind of break down - "scariest", "most disturbing", "the films that scarred me for life" (using Joseph's criteria) - is basically a variation on the same problem. How shall I answer this difficulty? damned if I know. Probably in the most roundabout and inconsistent way I can.

1. Nosferatu - well this, at least, is easy, for this is the best of the bunch by any criteria. It's a great film, period - beautiful and perfectly put together; it'll give you shivers; and it's definitively a "horror film". It seems to me - the horror genre depends on the notion of the monster. (There's more to it - the sense of fear, say - but I'll try to work that in...) It depends on monster that play fairly specific roles. The monster in a horror film is either our Other - a thing we fear from outside ourselves; or our Double - something we fear about ourselves. Or - more commonly - they are both. The monster is a projection of our fears - it is a foreign thing that invades us, but is, in fact, a projection of ourselves. It is, very often, a projection of our fears and desires blended into one being. And the emotional effect of horror is, partly, the recognition of this - horror films evoke the Other, then show that it is in fact our Double - that the fear we seek to control is part of us.... In the movies, Dracula and Frankenstein are the definitive monsters. Dracula the seducer, our sexuality made into murder; Frankenstein's monster, perhaps, our fear of death, of helplessness, abandonment, of all the desires we can't rationalize. As the genre develops, they also evolve into a distinct approaches to language - Dracula is the articulate seducer, the talker, the whispering voice, beautiful (at least for the moment), self-aware, knowing what he wants and how to get it. Frankenstein is the silent, inarticulate threat, deformed and horrible, exuding raw anger and fear, cut off from love, from community, from humanity. Nosferatu dates from before this split became commonplace - Murnau's vampire is horrible, though still seductive - he is a force of power and desire, but he is unable to speak, to express his desire in anything but murder. This makes him more like the later Frankenstein model - and more like Mary Shelley's version of the monster, a character who covers the full range of possibilities, from silent, inarticulate, helpless, to an educated, sophisticated talker.

2. Ugetsu - this is more like a romance than a horror film. The woman is less monster than a temptress, in either case, not implicated in Genjuro's psyche quite the same. So despite being a ghost story, I'm not sure I'd call it a horror film. So it can't be number 2.

2. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein - I will treat them as one, because magnificent as either one is, they are even better together. The better question is, why should they be second to anything? They aren't, as horror films - as films? They're still magnificent, but Nosferatu is - more than that, even.... They are the perfect horror films, especially taken together, and from a structural point of view. The monster in these films is set up to function both as a horrible thing for the audience to fear and loathe - and quite explicitly as an object of pity, to be identified with. The play between the monster as Other and monster as our Double is very clear in these films. Add to that the way they work together as a bildungsroman - the story of a boy becoming a man - matching the anxieties expressed through the monster with the experience of growing up. It's truly great stuff.

3. Dracula - and here's the other side. It's an odd film - lots of it is very stagy and awkwardly put toegther - but it looks absolutely gorgeous, cheap sets and all (thanks to Karl Freund, mostly), and Lugosi is spectacular.

4. Dead of Night - As a film, the structure, the slow steady buildup of fear, to the magnificent dummy sequence, and the general creepiness of the frame story, makes it a joy to watch. And I don't think I have to explain how ventriloquist and dummy stories fit my thoery of doubles and others.

5. Eraserhead - again, definitively - the monster baby, that is other and double, our child.... Children - the fear of parenting or the memory of the fears we felt as children - are also central to horror as a genre. (I won't be the first to suggest that the Frankenstein model revolves around children - fathers and sons, the monster, especially the inarticulate monster, as a child, etc.)

6. The Mummy - this is Karloff's chance to play the articulate monster. And he is more than equal to the task. He might even be better - he gets a lot more of the sadness of the character than Lugosi did (Shrek did to some extent, and Kinski nails it in Herzog's remake of Nosferatu.) The film overall, though, is marred by a really silly story and some flat direction and editing - though it looks beautiful, frame after frame - those Germans knew how to photograph things.

7. Don't Look Now - we revisit the role of children in horror - here, the loss of a child. The links between sex and death. The externalization of our fears.

8. Vampyr - another vampire film, this one animated by a very powerful dream logic, characters and objects and plots moving with a kind of symbolic association. Includes the quintessential expression of the fear of death - a character dreaming his own death, and POV shots from inside the coffin.

9. Nosferatu, Phantom of the Night - Herzog's remake of the Murnau film with Klaus Kinski as Orlock and Bruno Ganz as Jonathon Harker. Haunting and wonderful - those shots of the city, Isabelle Adjani moving through the empty streets.

10.Kingdom/Kingdom II - Lars van Trier taking on american television, ghost stories, soap opera, surrealism... with monstrous babies (who better to play a monster baby than Udo Kier?) and all the rest...

11. Bride of the Monster - wait: this isn't really a horror film. It's perhaps inexcusable to put an Ed Wood film in such an exalted position - I understand that, though the fact is, this film is this enjoyable. I suppose this is where the pure pleasure of watching a film overcomes a strictly dispassionate assessment of it - and yes, some of the pleasure is in the badness of it. On the other hand, you have Lugosi's performance - hunkering down for one last bit of acting. Martin Landau might have won the oscar, but he did it in part by imitating Lugosi, who is wonderful and damned near oscar worthy himselve - "home? I have no home".... But all that said - this really isn't a horror film. It's science fiction. So I have to pretend I didn't actually list it.

11. Evil Dead II - I suppose I could combine it with Evil Dead I like I did the others, but whatever. Modern horror films like this do tend to take away the sense of the monsters coming from inside us - well - this one does. Who cares? This is funny and thrilling and gory and perfect. Though all this talk about monsters - I don't know. There is nothing really horrifying about it. I am very tempted to rule it something else - a disguised adventure story (like Army of Darkness) - a Romance, in the old fashioned sense. I should, because that would let me put Reanimator on in its place. Reanimator has the same tone - the jokiness, the gore - but fits a lot better into the horror film scheme I have outlined. Sex and death - desires and fears - blended together, made explicit. It's a great film. And it's almost as funny as the Evil Dead ("who's laughing now?" vs. "more passion!") Parse this as you choose.

12. Night of the Living Dead - I'm not going to write a book on all these films. I've kind of made my point. This is less psychological than social though, which is an interesting twist that I plan mostly to ignore.

13. Suspiria - gorgeous film, creepy and cool...

14. Black Sabbath - beautiful movie, Bava's experience as a DP showing. Nicely covers the possibilities of Italian horror - an old fashioned ghost story, a giallo, and that magnificent Karloff vampire story.

15. Funny Games - Stunning post-modern horror film, the monsters infiltrating everyday life (the classic family—father, mother, son) and wreaking havoc. These monsters come from the TV. They also destroy everything. A very complicated film, really, though on the surface it is simply one of the most unsettling horror films I have seen in ages. This is one (and there aren't many) that gave me bad dreams - I dreamed it, a night or two after I saw it. Not to be recommended. In terms of sheer disturbing power, this might be the winner of the whole freaking poll.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Le Temps Perdu?

Via Crooked Timber comes a time waster pur les ages - French mini games (Jeux Chiants.) As noted in the post, this - "Double Jeu" - is particularly cruel and addictive. Kind of like pong on a see saw. With insults.

Random Friday Music Post

Hooray hooray! Today's hits are:

1. PJ Harvey - Rid of Me [for all those cool new bands who seem to basically keep reworking this song over and over - The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs - why not stick to Polly Jean?] (****)
2. Come - Orbit [though I wonder how much connection there was between 90s women post-sorta-punkers and Thalia Zadek?]
3. Johnny Cash - the Man Who Couldn't Cry [Loudon Wainwright song given the definitive Cash treatment.] (wasn't rated, but that was an oversight: ****)
4. Madonna - Rescue Me [surprisingly catchy Madonna tune, that outstays its welcome]
5. Sleater Kinney - Hubcap [there's that moment in this one that kicks in the whole band, singling, playing, hard - build and release at its finest!] (***)
6. Feelies - Slipping into Something [there aren't enough stars. That bit after the second verse, when the drums do a double take and the song accelerates - gives me shivers. Live, with the first part already going double time, it was heaven. I was addicted to the Feelies in the 80s, saw them every time they came to town, basically... And then there's the way Jonathon Demme uses it, uses that same moment in the song, to signal the tone shift in the middle of Something Wild - a movie that, these days, I don't hear much about - but should, for it is a masterpiece, and not just for the Feelies footage.] (*****)
7. Fairport Convention - Come All Ye (***)
8. Lone Justice - Working Late
9. Strokes - Electricityscape
10. Spiritualized - Electricity (***)

And, video? I can't find Slipping (into Something), and I posted that late 70s Crazy Rhythms video ages ago - but it's clearly a Feelies week: let's see - how about:

(Jonathon Demme directed I believe). And here's a live clip of Deep Fascination, with Bill Million churning away and Mercer doing some Lou Reed-ish wanking at the end...

But that said - I have to finish where we started: Polly Jean?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Poll Results

Good lord! It's been a week since Andy Horbal's poll (best American fiction films of the last 25 years) ended - he's had the results posted for a week. I have been hopelessly remiss.

I shall rather arbitrarily quote the top vote getters: it's roughly a top 10....

8 Votes:

Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

7 Votes:

Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

6 Votes:

Miller's Crossing (1990, Coen bros.)
Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)

5 Votes:

Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch)
Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)
Fargo (1996, Coen bros.)
Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis)
Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)

4 Votes:

Schindler's List (1993, Steven Spielberg)
Do The Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)

My top ten (listed here, the first time) was:

1. Blue Velvet
2. Rushmore
3. Do the Right Thing
4. Brazil (is that considered American? maybe not.)
5. Full Metal Jacket
6. To Sleep With Anger
7. Mulholland Drive
8. This is Spinal Tap
9. Dead Man
10. Donnie Darko

Meanwhile, speaking of polls, and in keeping with the season, Joseph B. at it's a madmadblog is looking for horror movie lists: top 15, to be posted and discussed on or around all saint's eve.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Music on Friday

Let's try something different - the usual method, iPod, randomly shuffling, 10 songs - but this time, from the "New Adds" playlist. So - new stuff, plus whatever I finally got around to putting on the computer in the last month. What does that yield?

1. Bad Brains - The Big Takeover
2. Velvet Underground - Rock and Roll [from the Quine tapes, which I finally copied to iTunes]
3. Jeremy Enigk - Dare a Smile [from the new record]
4. Heroin - Head Cold [like the Bad Brains, it's been sitting around the shelves for a couple years, but seeing American Hardcore made me pull it down and put it on the computer]
5. Velvets - Sister Ray/Foggy Notion - 28:42 of it.
6. Outkast - Hollywood Divorce [Idlewild soundtrack, a nice piece of work]
7. George Harrison - What is Life [I've had this for years too, All Things Must Pass, but never bothered to put it on the computer. Or rather - I put a couple songs on the computer, and never even listened to the rest of it. That's a hell of a record.]
8. My Bloody Valentine - I can see It (but I can't feel it) [that first record, which has been around for some time....]
9. High Rise - Cotton Top [had the live record on the computer; decided to put High Rise II on as well; serve your guitar wanking needs]
10. A Hawk and a Hacksaw - There is a River in Galisteo [another new record]

And video? Can't beat the Bad Brains.

World Series

I hesitate to post this. I remain perfect in the post-season, getting every single series wrong - though I said coming in it was the most unpredictable post-season in ages. The only series I actually thought I could call was the Yankees over Tigers, and even that was based on the assumption that the reason the tigers had been losing for the last month was that their pitchers were all worn out. Wrong!

The World Series, though, is not like that. The world series looks extremely easy to call. This poses a dilemma - when you're 0-6, you worry - is that a trend? I mean, even flipping a coin, wouldn't you come up with 2-3 wins? So if I call this one - is my luck going to hold? This is a dilemma because this si the first series since the Tigers-Yankees where I felt a strong rooting interest in one fo the teams - and the first anywhere that seems like a no-brainer. I'm tempted to call the upset, just to preserve the 0-7, but I don't think that would fool anyone.

So - the point of all this is that if these teams play to their abilities, this will be the third 4-0 AL sweep in 3 years. Yeah, maybe Carpenter can win a game or two - not much else is likely to get past the Tigers. Unless they're bored again. They have too much going for them - a deep starting rotation, deep bullpen, plenty of rest, fine offense that is playing well up and down the lineup, and both Tony LaRussa and Jim Leyland. The Cards have Carpenter and Pujols and seem to have forgotten most of the season - it's almost like they went into hibernation in May (like the Tigers did in September). But I don't think that can last. They almost lost to the Mets, who started Oliver Perez TWICE. So - I have to take the cats. They look as fat and hungry as this beast:

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Music Post

I have to figure out a more interesting music meme to follow than this one, but I am headed out the door to a Kieslowski double feature, so I will stick to the tried and true. Maybe add a link - Andy Horbal takes on a Slate piece about 21st century fiction, wherein someone says movies have had no luck showing contemporary technological life, living on the net as it were. Andy doesn't agree. Discussion follows. And I suppose this ties back to music, because technology has always had a huge impact on how people experience music. How I experience it. I have noted, possibly on this blog, though I would have to dig and I am not going to dig for it, that the iPod has made me think of music in terms of songs - which, for me, is like going back to the 70s, before I got my own record player, and got all my music off the radio. All in terms of songs.

Speaking of which, here are 10 songs currently on my hard drive! When rated - I will include that - there's a variation for you.

1. Public Image - Flowers of Romance
2. Wire - Sand in my Joints [featuring one of the great guitar solos of all time - my tastes in guitar solos is very broad.] (****)
3. Television - See No Evil (live) [off one of those Mojo CDs; that reminds me - I saw 3 copies of Mojo in a news stand today, all of them with the CD gone. For $9, I want my CD!] [Anyway, this has a nice little guitar solo in it - but a great great song, I should say, before moving on. (*****!)]
4. Boredoms - Super Good [this is what I mean by becoming song oriented - Boredoms mutated, about the tijme of this record (Super Ae) from a song oriented noise band into an album oriented band - I love their records (this, Vision Creation Newsun and Sea Drum/House of Sun), but it is almost impossible to rate their songs - and somewhat unsatisfying to listen to their songs, the way iTunes brings them up. You need to listen to the whole record. A problem!]
5. Ramones - We're a Happy Family (***) [I am going to have to explain the ratings eventually, I think. Right now, Camera Buff is waiting so I better stop writing letters for every song.]
6. Yes - Perpetual Change [the guilt! the horror! there must be a mistake somewhere - this can't be mine can it?]
7. Hall and Oates - She's Gone (***) [That rating looks a little low, for primo Hall and Oates.] [I should rate the guilt factor associated with some of these songs, while we're at it.]
8. Ohio Players - Love Rollercoaster [That's better] (****)
9. Shonen Knife - Burning Farm (***)
10. Elvis Costello - What's So Funny About Peace Lve and Understanding? (***)

And video - the top rated song of the week!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

More Baseball

While the NL series are still going, the odds are getting to be very good that I am going to go 0-4 in predicting the division series'. I can't say I'm disappointed. I did go on record saying I had no idea who was going to win - but better - seeing the Tigers win makes it all worthwhile. I am not surprised by the Yankees losing - they did look like last year's red sox, and met the Red Sox' end - though I thought it would come in the next series. But the Yankees are old and flat and aren't going to win again with this crew of players - once they started buying free agents instead of developing players, the end was at hand, and their regular season success has been a mirage for 4-5 years now.

The Tigers, on the other hand, aren't the first team to abuse the league all summer, fade at the end, then pick it up in the post-season. That's exactly what the White Sox did last year. The A's, meanwhile, might have knocked out the team I picked to win it all, but I can still half claim them - they seemed to me a coin flip, and they came up heads. The next series should be a pretty good one.

The NL is still going, though the Padres and Dodgers are on the brink. Pads showed some life I see. Dodgers, who knows. As for rooting interests here out - since the only one I really cared about was seeing the Yankees lose - I have to just go with the American League. Better teams. And I suppose I can stick with tradition and root against the Mets. I haven't got the heart for it really - too many guys on the team I like (Pedro, Glavine, Billy Wagner, Beltran and Reyes and even Cliffy Floyd), and nothing really to resent them for. Overpaying Pedro maybe, but on the other hand, now he's NY's problem, not Boston's. I wish he was around for this - if he were playing I would probably cheer for the Mets. That would have been unthinkable until 2 years ago. But now, I have forgiven them. In fact, I might be able to go back to one of my longest running traditions, cheering against the Dodgers - except they have Nomar and Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux.... I don't hate anyone in the post-season anymore!

Update: I see the A-Rod haters are having a field day. It is gratifying to see Yankees suffer, and particularly gratifying to see slappy suffer - but if old George decides to clean house - they can still get Manny for him! Hell yeah.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday Random Ten

Once again:

1. Meat Puppets - Quit It
2. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Take it From the Man
3. Jay Farrar - Feel Free
4. Meat Puppets - Liquified (9000 songs,a nd 2 from the same record; as long as it's the Meat Puppets, can't complain)
5. Warlocks - We Need Starpower
6. The Who -Time is Passing (from the extended CD of Who's Next)
7. Bay City Rollers - Yesterday's Hero (nice to see perhaps the greatest family in rock represented on the list; might, given the choice, have taken the younger Youngs over George though)
8. John Lennon - Love (from the Acoustic record)
9. Big Star - In the Street
10. Guru Guru - Girl Call (a little krautrock always rounds out the day nicely)

And video? Can't find the two above, but here's a later Meat Puppets performance on Jon Stewart's show, in fine form:

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Playoff Predictions

...a real exercise in futility this year. It's been an odd year - no one looks dominant. The NL has been particularly ugly, with only one team winning 90, the Cards getting in with 83 wins - but the AL hasn't set the world on fire. The teams that would look like the clear favorites - the Mets and Twins - are missing key pitchers, Pedro and Liriano, and the Mets, especially, look like they are in trouble. Over it all, sort of, stands the Yankees - a team that looks remarkably like last year's Red Sox - they'll pound the bejesus out of all normal pitchers, but their own rotation is very shaky, and they'll probably disappear without a trace if they run into a hot pitching team. The problem is, they might not see any hot pitching teams.

But what the hell: might as well make some guesses. Though I'm already too late on a couple of them.

1) Yankees - Tigers: the yanks can hit. They have innings eating starters and Rivera. But they can be beaten. Maybe not by the tigers - though if the stripes pitching comes around, it could happen. They have some nice young arms - of course they also have Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones. They do have enough bullpen and hitting to get to the Yanks if they can get past the starters before Rivera is available. But that sort of thing could create a lot of 12-9 games, and odds are the bombers are going to win those. Still - you gotta hope.

2) Twins - A's: The Twins seem to me the most predictable team in the playoffs. (Them and the Cards, who are predictably awful.) They won't give up a lot - they have some pop, that should show up eventually. They are balanced, they have a great bullpen, they have Santana, and they have Gardenhire and a nice mix of veterans and youth. They were shut down by Zito I see - but that's not too surprising. The thing is, the A's are not predictable at all - they could be mediocre - they could be very good. If Harden has a good start? if some of the hitters like Chavez step up? (and by "step up" I mean "return to form.") They have a chance. I think they are pretty even with the Twins - the Yanks? it depends - if the pitching is on top of its game? they should win. If not? well - any team that doesn't pitch against the Yanks will lose. Twins still look like the (overall) favorites to me, but it's a lot closer now.

3) Padres - Cards: The Cards look like the Red Sox without Jonathon Papelbon. We all know where the sox are. I see Carpenter shut SD down today - I don't know if the rest of the rotation can do much, though. The Pads should stay in a lot of games, but they won't beat up on anyone - but if they give it to the Cards, the Cards will take it. And let's face it - if there's one player in this post-season who can win a series alone, it's Albert Pujols. I still think the Pads will sneak it out.

4) Dodgers - Mets. I see El Duque is hurt. Pedro is out. With Pedro, the Mets are the favorites - without him - not so much. Like their cross-town rivals, they can probably hit their way through most problems, but they seem even more vulnerable to any kind of opposing offense. And less likely to chew up decent pitching staffs the way the Yankees can. (You have to be outstanding to beat the Yanks. Decent - which most of the teams in this post-season are - is not going to do it. You need to get Zito, Harden and Haren, or Peavy and Wells, or Lowe, Penny, Maddux all at the top of their game to win. Santana, Bonser and Radke. I think we will see one of those things happen. That's usually how world series' are won. No one looks like last year's Sox, who had a dominant pitching staff - a couple teams are similar to the 04 Sox, with a dominant pitcher or two, and a couple guys with the track record to indicate they could be unhittable for a couple weeks. And a team or two - the Tigers, say - are a bit like the 03 Marlins - young and talented, who could click at the right time... But if no one steps up against them, the Yankees will swallow all comers.) But the Dodgers have a very intriguing team. Nice set of pitchers with very good post-season pedigrees (Maddux and Lowe), decent bullpen, nice collection of hitters, who also have some post-season experience (though not a lot of winning.) I think they can take the Mets and if they are playing well, might be the best team in the NL right now. Of course they might not play well. So...

Before today's games, I would have picked the Twins in the AL, but now, I'm thinking while they can still win - it's a toss up between them and the A's. I do think whoever wins that series will beat the Yankees. Though I dearly hope the Tigers take out the Yankees - I just don't believe it.

NL? I was leaning toward the Padres actually, but I think I will amend that. I think they will still find a way past the Cards, but I think the Dodgers might be the team to beat.

Over all? The Twins will win the World Series if they make it. The baggydome will tell. If not - if the Dodgers do win the NL, they should win the world series. Otherwise - I might venture a pick once the teams are settled: I have to see what happens in the other series' first. Right now, no.

As for rooting interests: there are plenty of interesting matchups, but only one really Vital Result to be hoped for. I hope it is not too hard to guess what it is. They aren't called the evil empire for nothing.