Thursday, April 27, 2006
The first thing to notice is what hasn't changed: the basic template for showing baseball is about the same. Shots of the batter - shots of the pitcher - center-field shot of the pitch - behind the catcher shot of the play - the replays and details have evolved, but the basics are the same. The major changes, in how the game is shot, are:
1) The use of one of the most annoying shots in television: the shot from behind the catcher between pitches, almost always with a little left to right pan. God, that shot drives me crazy! There's no information in it - the pan means nothing whatsoever - maybe it sets the overall scene, but why the camera move? It's ugly, completely automatic, and almost gives me vertigo. NESN (the Red Sox network) doesn't do it as much as ESPN - ESPN does it on every at-bat almost. Horrible.
2) These days, the shots of the pitchers and catchers are a lot tighter - almost all close-shots, sometimes even closeups. In the '86 game, most of the shots of the pitcher were Medium shots. Similar treatment of hitters. This is combined with a lot more camera movement - little zooms in, little movements, reframing the player. The tighter framing requires more camera movement to keep the players in the hsot - though there are also movements (or more often zooms) for dramatic effect. Very little of any of that in the Clemens game - pretty much stable waist up shots of the pitcher and hitters...
3) As far as what is shown - one noticeable difference is how much more we see of the dugouts. Admittedly - the Clemens game was edited, so a lot of filler might have been taken out - but most of the cutting seemed to come between innings, not in the inning. Now - both the ESPN game that was opposite the '86 game and all the Sox games I've seen this year are constantly showing the dugouts. I do not think I saw a single shot of John McNamara in that 86 broadcast; I don't even know who managed the Mariners. But I would recognize Eric Wedge or Joe Madden or even Sam Perlozzo if I saw them on the street, because by god there are three shots of them an inning these days... Crowd shots also seem a lot more common now than 20 years ago - but there were crowd shots in 1986: there were very few dugout shots of any sort, and now they are standard.
4) There are also a lot more interruptions these days - though this could be distorted more by the editing. These days - you get crowd reporters; you get cuts to the studio for game updates; you get clips, at least on ESPN. This makes sense, of course, when you have clips - instead of Bob Montgomery listing off scores around the league, you can cut to a feed from the Yankees or Braves game. But the "sideline reporter" thing (or whatever the baseball equivalent is) - no; that's a dire innovation.
5) Then there are the gimmicks - dirt cams, the "K-zone" (an electronic box purporting to show the strike zone), helmet cams, miked bases, etc. Thankfully, the game on ESPN opposite Clemens-86 was just a run of the mill mid-week game - the gimmicks were at a minimum. K-zone, yes - but no dirt cams, no helmet cams.... NESN doesn't do that stuff now, thank god. I don't think the national games did in 1986 - but to be fair, I'd have to watch a nationally broadcast game, a world series game or something.
Meanwhile, down on the field....
1) Uniforms - a red sox/mariners game in 1986 provided an interesting case study. The Mariners, of course, had ghastly 80s style uniforms - but the Sox didn't look too bad. The Sox and Yankees, and a couple other teams, but especially those two, did not follow unfortunate trends in uniforms - they kept the button up shirts, the basic patterns, letterings, colors - they never got ugly. (The Yankees especially - the Yankees have looked good from day one to the present. They may be the personification of evil on earth, but they sure look good doing it.)
2) Style of play: baseball is baseball, but you can see a few things. Like Mike Moore tossing over the first base over and over with people like Dwight Evans on base - what's with that? These days, even Tim Wakefield only goes to first 2-3 times if there's a good base-runner on there - and Wakefield has to hold runners on! The red sox didn't run - Dwight Evans didn't run - what on earth possessed managers to harass the guy on first like that? This certainly is part of the change in the game - no one runs like they did in the 80s; it's interesting that a lot of teams have deliberately stopped trying to hold runners like that, thinking the batter is more important than the runners - Joe Kerrigan's Red Sox were notorious for ignoring baserunners. The endless throws to first seem a lot rarer these days, even when pitchers are trying to thwort the running game.
3) While I'm talking about style of play - long gone are the days of the Walt Hriniak/Charlie Lau disciples - nobody goes up looking to loop one to the opposite field these days. And so no one is balancing on one leg and pointing their toe out toward the pitcher a la Rich Gedman. Everyone's leaning over the plate and hoping to hit home runs.
4) Meanwhile, off the field: the most shocking thing about the 1986 game was this - empty seats. There may be empty seats in Jacobs field (quite a few actually) - but none in Fenway. Haven't been any for years. But in 86, half the park was empty when Clemens threw those 20 K's. That game - and his 24 wins - and the world series loss - probably changed that. Maybe not all at once - but it started things on the road. It started the marketing of the Red Sox, though that didn't really kick in until the late 90s. But it was going - the curse of the bambino stuff started around the 86 world series...
5) Marketing - this stuff started before the strike, but after the strike, it became pervasive. In 1986, when an outfielder caught the ball to end an inning - he tossed it in to the umpire. In 2006 - when an outfielder catches a ball to end an inning - he turns and throws it into the stands. (Once in a while, when an outfielder didn't get enough sleep the night before, he does this with less than 3 outs. Oddly, I think Trot Nixon has done this more often than Manny Ramirez.) That kind of constant fan friendliness is new. Mascots in Fenway? ball girls on the lines, making plays, chatting with the fans; ballplayers tossing balls into the stands after innings, between innings - it's all new. Meanwhile, so are the ads - on the walls, all around the park - and throughout the broadcast - every stat, every little piece of information, is sponsored by someone. Logos and ads and the linke clutter the screen. Even the announcers are in the game, at least Jerry Remy - did Bob Montgomery have his own hot dog brand? His own line of clothing? I don't think so.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Is Clemens the best? Given his era? It's an interesting fact - there might be, active, now, 3, 4 position players among the best ever to play the game: Bonds; A Rod; and though it's easy to forget lately - Griffey. Pujols is off to that kind of start (better than any of those guys - better, in fact, that just about anyone ever.) (From a positional point of view, a case can be made for Piazza and Pudge Rodriquez, as well.) But on the hill, the pitchers are even better - Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Pedro - that's 4 of the best right there, with numbers not far off the all time greats - pitching in a notorious hitters era. And, except for the Rog, going strong - and the odds are good Clemens will land somewhere before the season's up. He's due for another 20 K game, after all...
Is he the best? Yeah. He's been better longer than any of those other 3 - outpitched all of them except Martinez (who's 9 years younger) last year... They've all had better seasons - Pedro has the single best pitching season ever (2000) (part of a string, from 97-02 (though hurt in 01) as good as anybody's ever), Johnson in 04, Maddux in the strike years - all better than anything Clemens offered, even '86 - but Clemens has been at it forever, never really hurt, and able to reestablish himself whenever he starts to look a bit long in the tooth. And - he has those 2 games - 20K; 0 walks - twice! Kerry Wood's 20K night might have been even better (1 hit; against a better class of team, the Astros with Biggio and Bagwell and Alou), but Roger did it twice - 10 years apart - as part of a career that lives up to it. That 1986 game - is, basically, when people realized, for sure, what they had. Not just a promising young stud - a guy moving from promising to legit. With that game, he became the best pitcher in the game, and though other people have been better over certain 3-4 year stretches, he's always been around to resume the role. What can you say?
Sunday, April 23, 2006
And where are Frankenstein and Dracula? The movies might take great liberties with those two texts - but there should be no denying the excellence of both sets of movies and books. Sometimes the excellence of several movies - how many great Dracula adaptations have there been? Not less than three, anyway.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
1. Buzzcocks - ESP
2. Madonna - Justify My Love (good lord! what's that doing on here?) [Um - do you think anyone is fooled there? why wouldn't you have Madonna on the old iPod?]
3. Cranberries - Put Me Down
4. Stereolab - Working Title (pram song) - from the radio 1 session records...
5. Modern Lovers - Hospital
6. Fugazi - Break in
7. Meters - Look-ka py py
8. Bill Frisell - People
9. Melt Banana - Mind Thief - live in studio, from MxBx 1998
10. Butthole Surfers - Perry
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Anthony Kaufman offers a note on Cannes, and on the film Red Road - made according to the latest of Lars Von Trier's projects - this one a scheme to have three different young directors make a film each using the same cast of actors and characters.
Oscar fans can cast their vote for the best best picture ever at Edward Copeland's site. I should have linked to him when he was running a similar poll for worst best picture winners - the results stand here. (Matt Zoller Seitz had the links in his latest roundup. I'm stealing not only the links but the roundup format. Sad, really.)
Meanwhile, for your recaptioned old-timey schoolgirl illustration needs, go see Monkey Fluids.
And that is probably all I've got.
Monday, April 17, 2006
L'Enfant - ***1/2 - last year's top winner at Cannes, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. They continue to work familiar ground - the streets of Liege, Belgium, the story of the poor and beaten down - in this case, Bruno, a petty thief and his girlfriend Sonia, who has just had a baby. Bruno, unfortunately, will sell anything - and when he gets an offer for the baby, he takes it. Sonia reacts about as one would expect, and Bruno changes his mind - which sets in motion a chain of events that, perhaps contrary to expectation, prove redemptive. The influence of Bresson and Dostoevsky can be seen. It is a superb film, though the Dardenne brothers have become almost a genre to themselves by now - this seems a bit safe, within that genre. That is not quite a criticism.
Stoned - **1/2 - the last months of Brian Jones, founder of the rolling stones, possessor of one of the finests heads of hair on the 60s, and miserable victim of his success, drowning in his swimming pool. Was he drunk? Was he murdered? See the film and find out! Anyway - the film is mostly set in the last 3 months of Jones' life, when he was being fired from the Rolling Stones, and lounging about his farm, taking the piss out of the builders working for him, banging a Swedish girl, drinking himself to death... from that miserable period, it flashes back on better times with the Stones, with Anita Pallenberg, with Brion Gyson, with better drugs and sex... all of this in a 60s-style montage and covers of Stones covers... The real center fo the film is not Brian Jones (or Leo Gregory, who plays him) - it's Paddy Considine as his builder, Frank Thorogood - alternately tormented, befriended, condescended to by Jones, and loathed by the Stones' management and all the hippies around them... Considine comes off as the new Stephen Rea - something of a sad sack, with a hard streak just under the surface - his role in My Summer of Love felt similar - a guy trying to hold back his demons, one way or the other... not quite managing it. (There are other parallels to that film - the rich, spoiled brat seductively jerking the working class around - with similar results, though Jones fares less well when he goes under than the rich kid in the other film....)
Kelly's Heroes - *** - how many times have I seen this? Actually, a real question. some of it I have seen many times - it's been a fixture on TV through the years. All of it? I don't know if I ever have. But that's changed! found a cheap copy of the DVD, and who can resist? Clint Eastwood! Telly Savalas! Donald Sutherland as a hippy! Anyway - fun as it is - well, Lance Mannion wrote it up a couple months ago - his post says it better than me.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Baby Face - This is the proximate cause of this series. A rediscovered version of the film that was rejected by the censors, leading to some changes - a couple new scenes, a couple shots redubbed, the references to Nietzsche taken out... Stanwyck plays Lily Powers, daughter of the saloon, in Erie. Dad pimps her out to the proletariat, but she's sick of it - then dad's still blows up and Lily and her black maid head off to NYC with 4 dollars in their pocket, but no other disadvantages. In the big city, Lily wastes no time talking her way into a job, then sleeping her way through better jobs. There's no sentiment or moralising - Lily uses what she has. The men are more than happy to take advantage of her - most of them think they are taking advantage of her, but she lets them, and plays them for whatever she can get. Toward the end there is some slight slipping toward melodrama, though it's hardly a problem - Lily deserves to be able to take her some rest.
Night Nurse - good, and interesting, as Baby Face is, it is still just a film. It's nice - fast moving, decent looking, and Stanwyck is spectacularly good... But it's still... But Night Nurse - it's directed by William Wellman, and it shows - Baby Face can be clumsy, and obvious - Night Nurse is smooth and sharp. The cast is better too - Joan Blondell is on hand, taking off most of her clothes (along with Stanwyck - basically, they strip to their skivvies in every reel) and being hard-boiled, sexy and funny; the supporting cast - up to Clark Gable, as an evil chauffeur - is also lively and memorable. The film is split in half - the first half has Stanwyck and Blondell going through nursing school: this is hard bitten fast moving comedy, plus skivvies... The second half is a fast moving, hard bitten melodrama - they've become the day and night nurses for a pair of sickly children, surrounded by Badness: a drunken mother ("You mothuh!" says Babs in their face-off); swarms of nasty houseguests; a twitchy quack doctor; a sinister looking, but rather well meaning housekeeper; and Gable, swaggering through with a smirk and a black uniform, beating up the women, starving the kids, and loving it... Babs discovers the plot - she tries to get help, but no one quite believes her - except her pal the bootlegger! Who proves useful. More pre-code goodness - the bootlegger saves the day, then has Gable taken for a ride.... This is one of the sharpest, best, of those wonderful Warner Brothers working class women's pictures of the thirties - fast, hard edged, funny - even their melodramas and suspense films played like comedies.
And Barbara Stanwyck. If there has ever been a better, sexier, cooler actress, I don't know her. She is magnificent - her beauty, her voice, her presence on screen - that edge she has, the way she moves, the way she looks at things - she is spectacular. She was sexy and fearless - in this period, and even later, she never gave a hint of weakness or vulnerability, that wasn't chosen, deliberate, a choice to accept something outside herself. Baby Face throws Nietzsche quotes around (real or feigned, hard to say) - but Stanwyck herself is a Nietzschean presence in films, in the best sense. She's self-made, self-determined - to a fault, in Baby Face, where at some point, her self-realization takes a back seat to a kind of drive to win over other people. Seen that way, the ending, where she starts to soften, isn't necessarily a betrayal of the character - she simply stops living for an idea of herself, and lives for herself, which may require other people. When the "will to power" becomes too politicized, defined too much in terms of ones image, one's power over other people - it becomes alienating. You start to turn priest... The way out of that is a problem - films solve various ways: Stanley Cavell's comedies of remarriage is one - a union of equals. Like Fred and Ginger... Stanwyck, though, is the perfect vehicle for that kind of film, though Baby Face is too clumsy to pull it off. Some of the Capra films she was in (Miracle Woman, prominantly) come closer, and Stella Dallas (especially Cavell's reading.). And Night Nurse, without the pretense of Capra (or even Baby Face) - where her strength is tied more closely to her sweetness - not softness, never that - but a kind of openness and generosity that runs through her unbending personality...
And finally - with Mulvey in town, one's mind turns to theory - to the male gaze, and the limits of said theory. I don't think these films fit very well within theory, at least not the simplified version.... That is: while Stanwyck is positioned as the object of our gaze - she is also, consistently, the subject of the gaze. She looks as much as she is looked at. She is the protagonist of the story - she acts - chooses - her desire drives the story. She's shown acting - she's shown as a unified person (though there are some fetishizing shots) - she is a character. Some of this might be due to the timing - I don't know for sure if the full effect of the objectification of women in Hollywood came later (I mean, in the full Hitchcock sense) - a lot of it, I think, is a trait at Warner Brothers. It's true even of more conventional early works - 42nd Street say - where Bebe Daniels, though perhaps not the star, is the real center of the plot, and is given the one uninterrupted, un-Berkeleyized musical number...
These two Stanwyck films, meanwhile, are interesting for a number of reasons. The fact that there aren't really male audience surrogates in the films, for instance. We see them looking at her - but we still feel that from her point of view - and it is usually linked to her own presentation of herself as an object to be looked at - through which she manipulates them. In Baby Face, none of the men stay with her long enough to become characters - they are conquests, loved and discarded. The exception is at the end - it is instructive. When George Brent appears, the film changes a bit. In this section, we start to see Stanwyck as he sees her - we start to see him emerging as a character, with interests and thoughts other than getting into her dress. We also start to see more fo the conventional glamour shots of old Hollywood - closeups of Stanwyck, alone, being looked at - by us, at least. It is interesting that in the rest of the film, we consistently see Stanwyck looking at things and people - see her composing herself - see her eprforming. In the final section, though, these shots disappear - she is far less self-conscious, far less in control of her image, and so on. It is an interesting change....
There is nothing like that in Night Nurse. She is the protagonist - again - she looks, she acts, she is seen in the round, as it were (shot as an active character, shown in the middle of a three dimensional space). Closeups and similar shots are there to serve the story and the character - to show heightened emotions, decision points and so on - not to present her as something glamourous to be looked at. She is a subject, even when she and Blondell are stripping. It's remarkably modern, more modern than most contemporary films. She was very lucky to be a star at that point in Hollywood's history.
Breaking News *** - Johnny To film, opening with what looks deceptively simple - a longish crane shot that just keeps going, as the story takes off and never really stops... It starts in the middle of the story and just keeps going - it's about cops orchestrating a hostage standoff for the media, but it's the structure that is really post-modern - there's no context - no backstory, no sense of the cops or crooks as characters, the bare minumum of connection between one set piece and the next.... Add some extreme stylization of the characters and acting, and the mounting weirdness, especially at the end, which starts to sneak into Takashi Miike territory.... It's a pretty neat film....
Friends With Money **1/2 - 4 friends - Jennifer Aniston, Frances MacDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener - one has no money (Aniston), one has too much (Cusack), the other two are in the middle. They all have their troubles. Aniston's character sort of organizes it - her story arc brings us in and takes us out - though everyone gets reasonably well resolved on screen. It's funny, smart, maybe a bit too obvious, but solid anyway - a kind of low-key American Naruse film. There are worse things.
Lucky Number Slevin ** - exceedingly clever crime caper picture with Josh Hartnett as a schmoe (if not a shmoo) caught between 2 crime bosses, at the mercy, somehow of Bruce Willis, though he bangs Lucy Liu... much confusion and misdirection, but the promise that it will All Add Up, which it does, effectively enough.
Pitfall *** - Hiroshi Teshigahara film about a sad-sack miner who gets whacked by a gentleman in white gloves - who turns out to be hatching a scheme. As cleverly plotted as Lucky Number Slevin, but without having to Explain It All at the end. It's interesting - it's Techigahara's first film, and while he's already got most of the elements of his extreme stylization here, it's applied to overtly political (and intricately plotted) material - an odd effect. Disruptive, beautiful and strange throughout - with Teshigahara's usual 60s collaborators, written by Kobo Abe and scored by the magnificent Toru Takemitsu.
3 by Laura Mulvey: Amy!; Frida Kahlo & Tina Modetti; Disgraced Monuments - three rare short films by Laura Mulvey, the film theorist.... Amy! is about Amy Johnson, an aviator in the 30s who flew from England to Australia, to great acclaim. Very stylized, pointedly significant, but interesting enough.... The Kahlo and Modetti film was made in conjunction with an exhibition of the two artists' work, and is structured as such: slide shows and voiceover, in a conventional enough analysis of their work. Plus some clips of Modetti's Hollywood film work (she was an actress) - and (color) home movies of Kahlo flirting with Diego Rivera (though in fact - said Mulvey - she was in the process of divorcing him, and having an affair with the man shooting the footage. So things might not be what they seem.) Finally, Disgraced Monuments is a TV documentary about the ruins of Russian monuments after the fall of communism. Interesting stuff, lots of discussion about the political and economic facts of artistic life under communism - the vagaries of Soviet iconology (how Stalin changed Lenin's program of creating monuments to the heroes of ocmmunism and progress into a cult of personality, first for Lenin, then Stalin himself - then, after Stalin died, how all the Stalin statues were taken down and replaced with Lenin's, Lenin Lenin everywhere, as far as the eye can see. Some haunting images - crumbling factories and studios full of Lenin heads; a park with several great communists standing, sitting, plopped on the ground, in a kind of temporary exhibit - haunting - they stand like exhibits in a zoo, out of context, brought down to earth, crammed in together as if they were in a holding cell. Fascinating.... Mulvey herself was present, answered questions, talked about these films mostly... It's kind of a shame she couldn't have gone over to the Brattle and given a talk on Baby Face - Stanley Cavell was in the audience - they could have both gone ot the Brattle, seen Baby Face, said a few words. That would have been a treat. Instead, you're stuck with my thoughs on Babs - in the next post...
Friday, April 07, 2006
Thursday, April 06, 2006
First - The Gospel of Judas - a gnostic text in which Jesus asks Judas to betray him, since Jesus had to die to save the world, and to die, someone had to betray him to the Romans. This text had been discussed but never found - Irenaeus ("a hunter of heretics, and no friend of the Gnostics") condemned it, the ideas were around... It is the source, for example, of the Borges story "Three Versions of Judas", which describes the works of a theologian, Nils Runeberg, who argued that indeed when God came to earth to save humanity, he did not come as Jesus, he came as Judas - what, after all, could be a greater sacrifice than that? Like so many of Borges' stories, sorting out which parts were real and which were not is harder than it seems. Of course, Borges would have predicted that if you knew to look for something, you would find it eventually. You and I, gentle reader, need not practice the heresies of Tlon to learn more about this extraordinary book - we can look it up on National Geographic's site.
Meanwhile, speaking of what you can find if you seek - the discovery of a real "Missing Link" between sea and land creatures, a fish called Tiktaalik roseae. Scientists had predicted they would find it in the the Canadian arctic, and indeed they did. The beast is a fish, but with rudimentary limbs:
In the fishes' forward fins, the scientists found evidence of limbs in the making. There are the beginnings of digits, proto-wrists, elbows and shoulders. The fish also had a flat skull resembling a crocodile's, a neck, ribs and other parts that were similar to four-legged land animals known as tetrapods.
The technical term for this is "very cool." It is, of course, the source of some angst for creationists - the Times rather wryly quotes one demonstrating the missing link between man and weasel by saying
Duane T. Gish, a retired official of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, said, "This alleged transitional fish will have to be evaluated carefully." But he added that he still found evolution "questionable because paleontologists have yet to discover any transitional fossils between complex invertebrates and fish, and this destroys the whole evolutionary story."
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
There are many Philistines in the world, but only one Goliath: that’s me. I think abstract art is a con game. I think free verse stinks. I think atonal music should be outlawed and experimental novels burned. Whenever an artist declares he’s going to break through the restrictions of his form, I feel he should be treated the same as a chess player who declares he’s going to ignore the rules of his game—like an idiot, a harmless eccentric at best. The rules are the game, the restrictions are the form. Indeed, much of the excitement of art comes from watching the spatial confines of the sonnet, say, or the canvas or the movie screen, give way into emotional infinity.
At that point in the post (which is in fact a review of Inside Man), Appuzzo treats us to a quiz: posts pictures of a DaVinci and a Pollack and asks: "Is this art?" He answers himself: "If you answered 1. Yes and 2. No, you may continue."
Pointer to that entertainment thanx to Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Lance Mannion on right wing blowhards - Hugh Hewitt's tour of duty in New York.
Wiley Wiggins, meanwhile, has some neat stuff up: a cool looking movie; links to Caveh Zahedi's blog for the movie, I am a Sex Addict.
Here's Girish Shambu on the Dardennes Brothers' documentary work.
And from Long Pauses, comes a link to Jason Freeman's iTunes Signature Maker, a program that takes your iTunes collection and makes a sound collage out of it. Nice stuff.
Hey - time to watch basketball. Got a good chance of being a pretty good game - I've seen a couple of the Florida games - they have all the makings of one of those teams that peaks in the tournament and makes their seeding look ridiculous. But UCLA looks pretty good too - so we should have something worth seeing.