Sunday, October 30, 2011


I have never posted anything here about the James Whale Frankenstein films - that’s odd. They are great films - they are also films I have spent a lot of time pondering. As it happens, I did not see them when I was a kid - unlike all my friends, who would talk about them every Halloween, arguing about whether the mob really killed the monster, or how he could keep turning up in more films... Not me, though, so I didn't really have any kind of primary shock of seeing them. I've mentioned this before - last year in fact, writing about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - 30s horror films seem to have been made for 2 audiences - for people who would see them once (for kids?) - and for people who would see them over and over. The first emphasizes the shocks, the spectacle - the second, the artistry, the characters and plots and themes - and many times, the half-submerged themes. Frankenstein is a prime example of that - the horror film (terrifying monster, battle against evil, etc.) is very effective - but under it - and not very far under it - is something else. A monster who comes off as much as a child, or maybe a shell shocked veteran, as monster... someone thrust into the world and abandoned, surrounded by people who are far more evil than he is. Though - even that breaks up in this film: the worst people are also by far the most interesting.

IN any case - the first one is the horror film - a tight, clean story, maybe the best story of the early Universal horror films - an economically told nightmare. The horror comes fairly straight, the shocks and spectacle played as shocks and spectacle, with far less of the operatic parody of the second one. Everything is to the point - though even here, a good part of the point is an ironic one. The monster - his first act is to reach of the light - he’s thwarted at every turn, hurt and abused, and blamed when he fights back or protects himself. Abandoned by his makers, set loose in the world, which he tragically misunderstands - that’s all there. Those elements get replayed in the second one, with a few more twists, and a lot more comedy - though the archness, the sense of the absurd, that animates the second one is present in the first as well. Technically, of course, is a triumph. The cast is superb - Karloff is miraculous, glorious looking and giving a stunning performance without saying a word.

The second one is even better. This film is different than the first of course - funnier - essentially a dark comedy all the way through. There is conventional comic relief in the first one - in the second one, the conventional comic relief (the very grating Una O’Conner) plays like comic relief from the much darker, and funnier, comedy of Pretorius. (Or is it the other way? Is Pretorius meant as a sophisticated, ironic, relief from the overplayed antics of the conventional clowns? Might be - O’Conner, particularly, is playing to the back of the hall - she’s very close to being a self-parody.) Though it is also a deeper, more serious work than the first one - the scene with the Hermit is meant to be taken straight (though it is seeded with jokes and ironies and what look like elaborate parodies of something); the ending - is almost heartbreaking. “We belong dead!” - the Bride’s hiss - the last shot of the monster’s tear - indeed....

Both films are masterfully made. They look great - deep spaces, fluid camera movement, imaginative editing. Whale wasn’t as extravagant as Rouben Mamoulian, but he was no slouch - both films contain numerous bits of bravura filmmaking. Showy angles; Whale’s favorite move of tracking through walls; neat compositional tricks, echoes and rhymes across the films:

- and a handful of magnificent editing sequences. The monster’s introduction is the most famous of these - jump cutting straight in - but there are several remarkable instances. The introduction of the secondary characters, Elizabeth and Victor, for example - a series of fast cuts from closeups of a picture of Henry to a maid announcing Victor's arrival to Victor (coming into the room) to Elizabeth standing from her couch. He seems to like that kind of trick, especially when he can play it against longer, often moving shots. And it's all in service of the film, sometimes to the point of symbolism - the monster's crucifixion, for example:

But there are equally significant bits of editing - this one at the end, Frankenstein and his monster looking through a mill wheel at one another, cut so they blend into one another:

It's one of the more obvious moments of doubling in the film - Henry becoming the monster - but hardly the only one. It's a theme picked up from the book - the ways the monster becomes Henry's (Victor's, in the book) double, the ways he supplements or replaces him. Replaces him in his bedroom on his wedding day - in film and book - in one of the more obvious cases:

These two films are very interesting as adaptations - there's no doubt that they abandon pretty much everything in the book except the title, some of the names (though even those are changed), and the Creature that Frankenstein made out of dead bodies. But at the same time, it gets back around to many of the book's themes - the doubling of monster and Frankenstein; the fraught relationships of fathers and sons; and a certain attention to the development of the monster - it is a book about education, and that is a major theme of the films, as well. In fact, the dominant theme of the second one - education and sexuality. The monster is a pretty clear figure of the Id - and frequently seems to spark sexual moments - taking Henry's place in his wedding bed in the first one - the whole plot, basically, of the second one. Though there, the emphasis has shifted from the idea of the monster as a kind of unleashed Id to the idea of the monster as a character in his own right - and specifically, as a young man coming of age. Karloff, I believe, later criticized the decision to make the monster speak in the second film - but I think that is central to the point of the film. It is about his education and development - and the failures of the people around him.

They are, these two films, both masterpieces - together especially. It is a sequel that picks up from the first and develops its most interesting elements - that takes the pathos hinted at in the first and works it out at length. And - as I said in those Jekyll and Hide posts - because they are horror films, because Frankenstein's monster is a monster - the filmmakers are free to take a much more challenging approach. Their heroes don't have to be heroic; it is possible for there to be unhappy endings. It's liberating. And the results, here, are among the best films ever made.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Quiz Time

I have been waiting for this, it's been a long time - Dennis Cozzalio is back, with a new quiz for Halloween!


Let us away!

1) Favorite Vincent Price/American International Pictures release.

A. I am not sure how many I have seen - bits an pieces, yes, but start to finish? Saw a 16mm print of The Raven when I was in college, a double feature with House of Wax - rather neat, a way of seeing films that seems to have disappeared...

2) What horror classic (or non-classic) that has not yet been remade would you like to see upgraded for modern audiences?

A. While Vampire Lovers (and Vampiros Lesbos, for that matter) have their - let's call it charms - I think the world could use a more straightforward adaptation of Carmilla.

3) Jonathan Frid or Thayer David?

A. I watched a bit of the show, but I can't say it made much of an impression on me.... probably have to vote for Frid, though.

4) Name the one horror movie you need to see that has so far eluded you.

A. The answer is probably The Exorcist - that's about the most prominent horror film I have avoided...

5) Favorite film director most closely associated with the horror genre.

A. This is James Whale, easily.

6) Ingrid Pitt or Barbara Steele?

A. Barbara Steele

7) Favorite 50’s sci-fi/horror creature.

A. Gojira - probably not really close, unless I can count Tor Johnson.

8) Favorite/best sequel to an established horror classic.

A. There are a couple possible answers, I suppose. Bride of Frankenstein is obvious, almost too simple - and I am inclined sometimes to look at it as more a continuation than a sequel (though I know better.) Dracula's Daughter is a very interesting variation on the theme...

9) Name a sequel in a horror series which clearly signaled that the once-vital franchise had run out of gas.

A. For whatever reasons, I find that series' I like I never got to the bad ones - and ridiculous sequels I've seen have tended to be of series' I don't care much about - Hellraiser III? why would I have seen that? Another kind of answer might be Bride of Reanimator - pointless and not very interesting sequel to a great film...

10) John Carradine or Lon Chaney Jr.?

A. John Carradine, though I suppose this goes well beyond horror movies.

11) What was the last horror movie you saw in a theater? On DVD or Blu-ray?

A. Restless is a ghost story and it was pretty horrible - does that count? Take Shelter might be a slightly better answer... DVD - Thirst, watched it for this post - though the Frankensteins will end up in this position.

12) Best foreign-language fiend/monster.

A. I suppose the obvious answer is Count Orlock - I don't know if silent films count, but if not, Kinski works as well as Shrek. Though I'm thinking a good contender might be either the two kids or the television in Funny Games.

13) Favorite Mario Bava movie.

A. Tough, but I'd say Black Sabbath (Three Faces of Fear) - the Verdulak section especially is one of the greatest horror films of all time.

14) Favorite horror actor and actress.

A. Karloff, easily.... And - Brigitte Lin? a case can be made, a good one...

15) Name a great horror director’s least effective movie.

A. I'm not really an obsessive horror fan, so haven't gone looking for a lot of lame films by great directors here - though - Dario Argento's Mother of Tears might count - silly, boring story, though even here, boy, it looks good...

16) Grayson Hall or Joan Bennett?

A. Joan Bennett - I mean, she was Fritz Lang's go to actress for a while! I think more or less any of his films are, in fact, scarier and more disturbing than just about anything labelled horror...

17) When did you realize that you were a fan of the horror genre? And if you’re not, when did you realize you weren’t?

A. I'm not, in any special sense. I enjoy horror films, find the genre interesting enough - but no more so than any other genre, and I don't tend to enjoy horror films because they're horror films as much as, oh - I will watch even a bad western or martial arts film just because it is a western or martial arts film. On the other hand, I suppose I do find the horror genre more interesting to talk about, as a genre, than westerns, noir, martial arts films... it does seem to have a metaphorical interest that I find fascinating...

18) Favorite Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) movie.

A. I wish I could answer this, but I don't think I can. If I've seen any of his films, I don't remember them, and I think if I had seen them, I would remember them.

19) Name an obscure horror favorite that you wish more people knew about.

A. Let's go with Dream Lovers - Brigitte Lin and Chow Yun-fat as contemporary characters who start dreaming about one another, and about ancient terracotta figures - they meet, they fall in love of course, there are other people involved who suffer, 8 years or 2000 years, it's still love... shares a lot with the Mummy - plot elements, and a tone of infinite romantic sorrow. Great little film that's not much talked about.

20) The Human Centipede-- yes or no?

A. I suppose I have no inherent objection to it, but I have no interest in seeing it.

21) And while we’re in the neighborhood, is there a horror film you can think of that you felt “went too far”?

A. I am not inclined to think of any film in those terms - art shows what it shows... that is somewhat different from saying that a film fails - or becomes less effective or interesting because it tries to gross people out or shock them - going for cheap effects or whatever the problem is. Something like Organ comes to mind - because it's kind of a dull, underwhelming film (or so I remember it), that tries to make up for its flaws by being grosser than its competition. I suppose by that criteria, Passion of the Christ would qualify... quite well, actually.

22) Name a film that is technically outside the horror genre that you might still feel comfortable describing as a horror film.

A. Being probably more fond of the theory of horror films than actual horror films - I suppose I do this rather a lot. I've done it a couple times already in this quiz - Passion of the Christ - the great mass of Fritz Lang films. My pet theory is that the major theme of horror is the instability of the self - how the self is threatened by forces outside it, that turn out to be somehow inside it - the themes of the Other who is a Double; themes of invasion, especially - loss of bodily integrity, loss of self.... Given that - lots of films, not horror, become very close to horror - from stuff that is, really horror, like Lost Highway - to things like, oh - L'Humanite... Bigger than Life.... Showboat....

23) Lara Parker or Kathryn Leigh Scott?

A. No, I'm well out of my depths now.

24) If you’re a horror fan, at some point in your past your dad, grandmother, teacher or some other disgusted figure of authority probably wagged her/his finger at you and said, “Why do you insist on reading/watching all this morbid monster/horror junk?” How did you reply? And if that reply fell short somehow, how would you have liked to have replied?

A. Well - no, it's never happened. For this sort of thing, you would have to ask me about either the music I listen to, or about people wondering why I watch so many cheap Hong Kong police thrillers - I have had that question...

25) Name the critic or Web site you most enjoy reading on the subject of the horror genre.

A. Siegfried Kracauer? getting there first is a big thing sometimes...

26) Most frightening image you’ve ever taken away from a horror movie.

A. This is a great question - this is the one that justifies the quiz. I don't know the answer though - unless it's that reel-long shot in Funny Games after the first set of abuse... I think, rather seriously, that Funny Games was the most disturbing horror film I have ever seen, and that the most excruciating moment in it.

27) Your favorite memory associated with watching a horror movie.

A. Another interesting one - seeing the whole 9 hours of The Kingdom over 2 nights was certainly up there

28) What would you say is the most important/significant horror movie of the past 20 years (1992-2012)? Why?

A. Significant or best? The best, when push comes to shove, probably comes down to either The Kingdom or Thirst - The Kingdom wins if you count the whole series, I think, parts 1 & 2. Thirst probably wins otherwise... Significant? MIght be something like the Ring films, popularizing Asian horror, touching off a host of American imitators... or Buffy the Vampire Slayer - which seem to be one of the places vampires made a jump into a new realm of pop culture. Though a big part of that jump is out of the horror genre...

29) Favorite Dr. Phibes curse (from either film).

A. Alas, etc.

30) You are programming an all-night Halloween horror-thon for your favorite old movie palace. What five movies make up your schedule?

A. Another great question - all right - going on the themes, Invasions - dissolution of self/other - tragic monsters - doubles - how about this:

Student of Prague
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian)
Lost Highway

Scary Music Friday

On this Halloween Weekend, here are some songs about monsters!

1. Half Japanese - Frankenstein Must Die
2. Slint - Nosferatu Man
3. Sunn0))) - Bathory Erzsebet
4. Outkast - Dracula's Wedding
5. Beck - Devil's Haircut
6. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
7. Blue Oyster Cult - Joan Crawford
8. Donovan - Season of the Witch
9. Mogwai - Mogwai Fear Satan
10. Fleetwood Mac - Green Manilishi

For Video - let's be like the stores! it might not be Halloween yet, but let's get started on the Christmas carols! here's Spinal Tap:

And - though it's just audio, it's still irresistable - James Chance:

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I guess I will continue this month's vampire theme with what is, I think, the best horror film of the century so far - Park Chan-wook's Thirst.

Combining, as it does, two 19th century texts - Stoker and Zola - from two great traditions, that don't necessarily seem to go together - but it works, mixing the mundane....

... and mordantly comic....

... with the gorgeous style of classic vampire films - in the same shot, sometimes (has anyone ever looked better going out a tiny bathroom window than Song Kang-ho?) - but always, hitting it's high points in style - the cool blue lighting alternating with murky darkness, the perfectly posed and shot scenes and decor...

- and - at least one character who knows how to act like a vampire...

Friday, October 21, 2011

No Rapture? Well - Music then!

Another slothful week, and another randomly generated list. I suppose I could have rooted around looking for topical connections - we have another dead dictator; the world has apparently not come to an end; the Rangers have tied the world series - well? Let's see what iTunes says.

1. Charlie Parker - Cheers
2. Charlie Parker - this is Always - with vocals by Earl Coleman [and again I ask - 13,000+ songs and 2 from the same record come up in a row? strange, though welcome.]
3. Glenn Gould - Piano Contrapunctus IV [iTunes is going high brow so far...]
4. Pere Ubu - Misery Goats [live, acoustic version, from Apocalypse Now - not that is timely!]
5. Waterboys - Upon the Wind and the Waves
6. Jim Reid - I'm Stranded
7. Young Marble Giants - Sporting Life [go Rangers!]
8. Pink Floyd - One of My Turns [if I did manage a theme, it would probably be to do with Pink Floyd, as I recently snagged a pile of their remastered music...]
9. Love - Orange Skies
10. Danielson Famille - Fathom the Nine Fruits Pie [from Fetch the Compass Kids, one of the many records better than This is It in 2001.]

Video? a Sax chorus playing Cheers.

And Glenn Gould himself:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Let the Right One In

This week's screen shots come from Let the Right One In - one of the handful of outstanding vampire films in the 21st century (a decade of which has brought up more vampire films than you can shake a sharpened stake at.) It is a fine film, though one of it's unusual characteristics, among vampire books and films, is that the book is, in fact, even better than the movie. Stoker's Dracula is top shelf, and there are so many derived films, that a good number of them don't measure up - but Nosferatu is better (that actually true for either Murnau's or Herzog's version) - with lesser vampire books (which are legion), this is almost universal. I mean - even the Twilight movie - the first one anyway, the only one I have had to watch (and read) - is almost a decent film, at least to a point.... This goes pretty far - last year, in the vampire class I mentioned a couple times, the subject was broached from time to time - why (after Dracula, and with a few exceptions here and there along the way), are these books so bad? why are there no (or very few) vampire books that are really good? Unspoken in this question, though it certain occurred to me, is the corollary - why are there so few serious and ambitious vampire books - and so many serious ambitious vampire films? Murnau, Dreyer, Herzog, Denis, Park, Maddin, etc.? And why are the schlocky vampire books so bad, and even run of the mill vampire films seem to have a spark? I don't know if I have an answer - except that vampires look so good on screen - or that vampires are, like films, shadows on the wall - or maybe that filmmakers have to create striking imagery to be frightening, and books - I don't know...

But that aside - this time, the book Let the Right One In is better than the film - the book is simply outstanding. But the film is no slouch -handsome and understated, with a subtle touch for glorious horror imagery, tucking things into the backs and corners of the frame, like Eli climbing the wall in the back of this shot....

But one of it's best features is the use of spaces - the empty, stark, cold spaces of Blackeberg, a vision of Swedish hell, swallowing its inhabitants whole. The book (more than the movie, though some of this survives) seems to be explicitly about the return of a violent, pagan, past to the sterile, domesticated present - nature red in tooth and claw coming back to get its own. Though if Eli is a kind of hell visited on the modern world, the modern world is a kind of hell for her - and Tomas Alfredson shoots the suburb to make it look as horrifying as anything Eli might do.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Musical Friday

Well, I was thinking about possible themes for this Friday, but as usual, haven't done any prep work, so it's gonna be another randomizer day....

1. DNA - Surrender
2. Minor Threat - No Reason
3. Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze (live at Winterland)
4. Naked CIty - Igneous Ejaculation
5. Mission of Burma - Academy Fight Song
6. Warlocks - Come Save Us
7. Times New Viking - No Time, No Hope
8. Rolling Stones - I am Waiting
9. Queen - Under Pressure
10. Otomo Yoshihide, Bill Laswell, Yoshida Tatsuya

There has been some chatter in the blogosphere about someone (Taylor Clark by name) at Slate declaring the Strokes' This is It the best record of the 00's - most of the chatter negative.... Amanda Marcotte noted something that may or may not have anything to do with the Slate writer, but is interesting anyway - that the Strokes are a bunch of straight white guys, and so they look like a rock band, in a way that - oh - the White Stripes or TV on the Radio don't. I've taken a stab at listing the best music of the 2000s (by which I mean, my favorite music of the decade, but that has to be obvious) - and she's right - the list (my list) is pretty thin on all straight white guy bands - Mercury Rev (though with their first album made without a regular female member), Liars, Grinderman, Radiohead, Gomez get in the top 25 - plus a couple solo artists - the rest are mixed... even with the near misses listed - only two or three more all straight white guys bands appear (Modest Mouse, Mission of Burma, Fire Theft...) Now - obviously I have somewhat idiosyncratic tastes, that tends not to encompass a lot of mainstream rock bands - but I think you can see something changing there. I'm still mostly listening to rock (with something of a jazz/avant garde flavor to it) - I'm not looking for groups with women or Black men in them (I am a big fan of Japanese rock, though - but most of those groups are mixed - my favorites - Boris, Acid Mothers Temple, Ghost, Boredoms, all feature women.) And yet... And Marcotte's list, quite different from mine - shows the same thing....

I couldn't do that in the 70s - a 10 best, 20 best of the 70s would be very heavy on straight white guys. 60s too, if I stuck to rock. (Though you'd get Mo Tucker up there at the top...) 80s - it starts to change - though mainly because of Husker Du and REM. In the 90s -a quick top 10 albums? would feature PJ Harvey, Pere Ubu, Yo La Tengo, REM, Sleater Kinney, Mercury Rev - all mixed - plus Pavement, Janes Addiction, Built to Spill, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - say... I think it is different. For whatever reasons, even within rock, "the image many people have in their heads about what a great band should look like" (as Marcotte puts it) isn't what it used to be. Neat.

Video? what a great band looks like - Times New Viking?

What great rock bands sometimes looked like in 1980 or so:

And sometimes in the 60s:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recently Viewed New Films

We're moving into fall - the film choices ought to be getting better, it certainly feels like there are more and better films to choose from - though the results, the last couple weeks, aren't quite there. This is an odd run - some major filmmakers, doing good work, but with material that doesn't quite stack up...

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame: 9/15 - Tsui Hark returns with a mostly ridiculous story set in Tang China. As work is completing on a massive Buddha, built in honor of the first Empress of China, about the take the throne - people start bursting into flame. Is it magic? is it murder? it's a mystery - so the empress brings back Detective Dee, languishing in prison all these years.... he sets out to find the killer, with the help of the Empress's pretty girl sidekick and an albino detective. Much plot ensues with plenty of action, lavish sets (real and CGI), and name actors (Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka-fei) carrying on. Being a Tsui Hark film, you know at least one of the main characters is going to switch genders somewhere in the middle - hell! maybe he/she will even switch species! All told, it's very silly, but very exciting - a weird blend of almost naturalistic detective story and supernatural woo - but who cares? Tsui Hark does what he does, and keeps it all moving, and keeps going for more spectacular imagery - as usual... fun stuff.

Restless - 9/15 - another major auteur returns, Gus Van Sant, with a strange little film. A boy (played by Henry Hopper) who attends the funerals of strangers in strange, hipster formal garb, meets a girl (Mia Wasikowska, looking altogether too cute to die) at one of these - she's impressed and turns up at a funeral herself, in time to rescue him from being run off by the funeral director... This leads to true love. Unfortunately, however, she was at that funeral because she was a patient in the cancer ward - and soon it's back, a brain tumor that will kill her in three months - giving their love affair a bit of urgency, and causing angst in poor Enoch (for that is his name), whose Problem is that he lost his parents in a car crash, and even, himself, seems to have Gone Over to the Other Side for a bit.... Add to this a ghost, a Kamikazi pilot who always wins at Battleship.... Anyway - the story succumbs to the expected amounts of sentimentality - indeed it is cloyingly twee - with its cutesy kids and their little characteristics - she loves Darwin, and birds! he throws rocks at trains and plays battleship with the ghost! oy... She dies, of course, very photogenically (pale and wistful and pure like a 19th century poet), and there are flashbacks at her funeral, where Enoch seems all too much at home... Jesus - it sounds horrible, describing it - and the script, I suppose, is every bit as bad as it sounds. But: Van Sant does not step wrong in all this - he and Harris Savides make it look as good as any of the other films they've done together, which is to say - ravishing to look at.... The stars are quite good - Wasikowska is lovely and smart and almost makes the character seem human - half ghost already, you might say, which doesn't hurt.... Young Hopper is more uneven, but has moments, and is equally lovely to look at, when you get down to it - and, Christ, but there are moments, he'll do something, turn, they'll catch him a certain way, and his father comes out, as if he's a ghost (young Dennis) haunting the boy.... It is a strange film - absurd story, but damned gorgeous looking, nicely acted, and put together with a very sure hand. And it is every inch a Gus Van Sant film - beautiful kids, Portland - and like almost all his films, an examination of death. It's not Elephant, but it's a good deal better than the story deserves.

Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 - 10/15 - fascinating documentary about black power leaders, through Swedish TV footage and interviews, plus contemporary commentary. Very interesting material, but very scattershot - a mix tape. A nice introduction to people like Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, the Black Panthers, and so on - as well as some nice interviews with less famous men and women, talking about conditions in the late 60s and 70s. It is probably less effective as a documentary than it is at whetting your appetite to find out more about the people and movements it shows - but not bad...

Ides of March - 8/15 - I feel a bit guilty about that rating - that's lower than Restless or Detective Dee - but it has a bit in common with those films.... It is a very handsome, well put together backstage political melodrama, featuring an all star cast who are all on their game, and a neat attention to the details of the campaign - that is betrayed by a very hackneyed plot, that as good as comes out from behind the filmmaking to wag fingers at you and explain the Moral of the Story. And - well, politically, it occurs in cloud cuckoo land - a politician who wants to ban the internal combustion engine!? bring back the draft!!?? who says he is not a Christian? on National TV?? the heck?... anyway - we're backstage on the eve of the Ohio primaries with George Clooney's candidate one big primary win from clinching the nomination - and if he can win the endorsement of Jeffrey Wright's senator (a failed candidate for president), he won't even need to win Ohio. But - over there, seething and glowering as only he can do - it's Paul Giamatti as the Other Candidate's Campaign Manager! will the tricks be dirty? will the crossing be double? Is there a pretty young intern with loose morals (played by Evan Rachel Wood)? Is Ryan Gosling playing the same character he played in Drive? Kinda wish he was - this could use some head stomping. Instead... I was distracted more than once by the casting, I have to say - there's Gosling, emoting like the Driver; there's Giamatti calling some situation a win win... there's Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei flirting - but no heads get stomped; no one gets naked, thought there's some sorta sex... I dunno. I was wishing the film could switch like that - they are the characters from Before the Devil Knows Your Dead! or Albert Brooks shows up with a fork - something. This became stronger once the Plot kicks in - I was not impressed by the Plot, nor the lessons it purports to teach.... I was also somewhat distracted by the thought that this would make a pretty good Columbo episode - the intern's fate begs for some dumpy policeman uncovering levels of not very carefully hidden plot devices. Hell, even something as simple as the cops subpoenaing her cel phone records - did you say cel phone? what cel phone? Anyway - that kind of thing (I mean, the lazy plotting, the very predictable melodrama) is very disappointing, and undermines the many virtues of the film. Clooney is becoming this generation's Clint Eastwood - actor turned director who has a fine touch as a maker of conventional, old fashioned Hollywood style films... it needs a better script, something a little less obvious - a lot less obvious... Or some honest to god sex and violence - if you're gonna do lurid melodrama, make it lurid!

Love Crime - 10/15 - speaking of films that should have been Columbo episodes! This is a handsome French office thriller directed by Alain Corneau, starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a truly horrifying boss, and Ludavine Sagnier as an underling who either loves or hates her.... well - Thomas steals credit for Sagnier's good work - so Sagnier pulls a fast one on her boss - so the boss uses their mutual lover (a seedy lawyer) and the office security system to humiliate poor Sagnier at a party - so Sagnier starts taking pills and twitching and buying knives and such, and then - well, it would be fun to see some French Peter Falk take this one apart! I don't think he'd have too much trouble - there's an elaborate plot hatched and executed but it seems a bit too easy.... But I don't really care. It's all great looking - the two actresses are magnificent, and that's more or less enough, especially since here, the Plot does not attempt to teach us something Important about - I dunno - Capitalism, maybe...

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Horror of Dracula

Though I do get a bit annoyed at the way October turns into horror month on so many blogs I read - I can't resist playing along, at least on Sundays.... After all, so many horror films look so good - they are an endless source of great looking screen captures. So here's Christopher Lee and company, looking very good.

Friday, October 07, 2011

What iTunes has Wrought

Can I find a musical tribute to Steve Jobs? Maybe - but when you get down to it, isn't every random ten a tribute to Steve Jobs? Sure sure, randomization existed before iTunes and in a lot of places besides iTunes, but it spread, and spread over everything, thanks to those little white boxes....

1. Keiji Haino - See that My Grave is Kept Clean [I see that iTunes knows what is expected of it...]
2. Spirit - Elijah
3. Dr. Nerve - Three Curiously Insubstantial Duets: II
4. Pylon - Italian Movie Theme
5. Charlie Parker - The Gypsy [one of the tunes from the breakdown session always a bit harrowing...]
6. Ella Fitzgerald - The Lady is a Tramp
7. Mono - Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)
8. Shonen Knife - Cycling is Fun
9. Liars - Leather Prowler
10. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Fall Away [evidence that I do still buy some records these days...]

Video? I think Kraftwerk is in order, don't you?

Of course - and even more appropriately - Heimcomputer!

But I do want to post that Keiji Haino song - two parts:


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs (And Me)

I know everyone else has written about Steve Jobs, but I have to too. I try not to be too in your face about it (with strangers anyway), but I am a complete Mac head, a fanatic, a 72 virgin iPods in heaven type, if such a thing made sense - they are the only computers I have ever used on my own dime, and I expect that won't change as long as there are Macs to be used. I am in the cult, and have been from the first time I used one - they have shaped my life, for better or worse.

20 odd years ago I was working part time in a law library (and full time at a book store), expecting to stay there until I'd paid enough of my debts to live on a bookseller's wage - when someone said they might have some work for me in the systems group if I wanted it, and gave me as SE/30. Here, they said, learn this. I sat down at the machine and started typing and was addicted. That is the best way I can describe it - like being given crack, and being addicted on the spot. I had used computers before - a vax in high school, my mother had a commodore, my brother (a few years younger) had an apple, I think (maybe a Franklin, something like that) - I'd poked around on DOS machines, or whatever they were at the time. I could see the use of these things - my brother wrote all his school papers on his computer, and you could see how much better it was than my method of going from longhand to hunt and peck to correction tape and white out - better, but the amount of work it would take to get there - and the amount of irritation and ugliness I would have to put up with, looking at those other screens.... But I sat in front of that little SE/30 - looked at the screen, the desktop, the little pictures you clicked on and they'd open up, the "folders" inside "folders", the way you never had to type a path, type the name of anything, you could se the names there - that made sense. And then I opened Word Perfect [yes - this was a very strange set up - that extreme rarity, a big corporation that used Macs - and a Mac shop that used WordPerfect; I don't know why, but they did...], started typing, and that was that. It was obvious that this is how computers should work. This is how writing should work - this was better than a typewriter could dream of being - this was better than pen and paper! It was easier to compose than on pen and paper - and you could fix your mistakes, change your mind, you could move stuff around, you could make words bigger, smaller, make the letters look any way you wanted - without hacking around with codes, without blocking text first - you just pointed the mouse, you clicked, you dragged, you did something on a menu, you clicked a button - it was right.

That was the end. I was doomed. I started working for systems instead of the library - eventually I did it full time - I am there to this day. It was thrilling for a year or two - the company put computers on everyone’s desk in the course of the next 2-3 years - and I found that that, setting up computers, getting to them to work, to connect to things, to print, showing people what they could do with WordPerfect (and eventually Word) - that was good, a challenge, kind of fun. That first couple years, I went to computer shows, I read MacWorld and MacUser and MacWeek faithfully, kept track of new developments (scanning and OCR! that was a big one, for a while), I got my own computer at home and obsessed over fonts and various word processors and page layout programs and graphics programs - I loved it. I didn't even mind the job.

All of that I can blame on Steve Jobs. If my company had been using PCs, this would not have happened. Some of it would - they probably would have invited me to work for systems, given me a PC to learn, and I probably would have taken it - better than doing pocket parts, after all - but move to full time? It was nice money (compared to selling books), but I liked my bookstore job - liked working in bookstores, liked the people, liked the location (Harvard Square), liked the customers, liked everything - nice as the money was working on computers for a big corporation, if I hadn't loved the computers, I don't think the money would have held me. For that matter, I don't think I would have bothered learning enough about a PC to have the option - I took to the Mac quickly, figured it out, its programs, started building stuff in Hypercard immediately - I made myself useful, because the machines were worth learning. I wouldn't have done that otherwise - I didn't care, really, about computers, in the abstract - I never bothered to learn any programming languages (other than hypercard, some macro languages, some VBA later, some html) - I certainly wouldn't have cared as much as I did on DOS machines.

And that, finally, is why I've written all this, and why it's relevant to Steve Jobs. I was never that interested in the technology - never saw the need to learn to program or put together computers out of old wires and shoeboxes. I was a user, when all was said and done, and almost defiantly so. I am probably pretty close to the consumer Steve Jobs imagined in his heart of hearts all these years - someone who wants to be able to get a machine that will let him do all the things he wants to do, and do them with style, without worrying too much about what's going on under the hood. I loved that SE/30 because I could use it to write, and it looked good on the screen while I was writing, and it created handsome pieces of paper... I could draw things with it - I could do math with it (I didn't have Excel at first, so I built spreadsheets in hypercard - I might have had a book for help, I don't remember) - I could make databases, do all kinds of things, without worrying about the code. That's what I wanted, and what I want - to write, to draw, the make databases and keep databases, to make pictures, look at pictures, look at cat videos, make cat videos - connect all this stuff to other people, argue with people, look at their pictures, find people who share my obsessions and hobby horses and curiosities. I don't care, really, about the machines, I care about what the machines get me to - but I want the machines to get me there without pissing me off. And - 20 years of Macs have managed that, even the Microsoft programs running on them. The Windows devices I'm stuck with at work - a different matter - even now. I like the first comment on Making Light's Jobs post - I too wanted to be a power user, not a programmer. And Macs made that possible - directly, and immediately, in ways (at least in 1990 or so) that were not conceivable on any other machines. It was possible to master the machines, most of the software, just by knowing what you wanted it to achieve and plugging away at it, and paying attention. I could teach myself what I needed - I was quite happy to be able to make a living guiding other people through their problems getting their computers to do what they want to do - so here I am....

The Macs are long gone at work - that experiment was killed off by the Apple's mid-90s woes - but by that time, Windows 95=Mac 89 - so most of the old principals apply. A lot of my experiences are very closely tied to their time and place - the fact that I hadn't been brought up on computers (as kids 5 or 6 years younger than me were) - the fact that the gap between Macs and PCs was still as dramatic as it was in 1990. 10 years later, it is hard to imagine getting a couple years out of college without significant time on a computer - and if it were possible, I'd probably have been as comfortable on a Win 95 or 98 machine as a Mac. But we're here to talk about Steve Jobs, his effects on the world - and those post Windows 95 machines are his babies (though rather ugly and misshapen brats) as much as the Macs are. Job's vision of how computers work spread out, from Apple to Microsoft, through the world - and not just in general terms - WIndows 95=Mac 89 is really not far from the truth.

One of the many things I read this morning about Jobs noted that he had been instrumental in 6 world changing things - Apple II, Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads and Pixar - that's true, but I don't know if it does justice to his impact. You could put Mac on their twice - the original Macs, and the iMacs - that were almost as revolutionary. They saved the company, created the platform for the iPods and iPhones to follow - but they also changed the way the world looked; they changed the language. And it's hard to overestimate, really, just how important the Macintosh and it's OS really were. GUI's - and the nature of GUIs - icons, in space, clicks and folders and apps and documents, the whole arrangement of data - is the standard now. And then there is The Mouse. Reader - you can click on that blue underlined bit, and your computer will display a page explaining the history and nature of this device - and that - the fact that you go to that page by clicking on it, instead of typing it into a box - underlies another of the world's utterly transformative technological innovations - the World Wide Web, html. This is our world, and it looks the way it does, because Steve Jobs pushed for a particular kind of interface - one he did not invent, including many things like the mouse that other people made and used first - but he made them integral to his computers....

For me - and more or less by definition, anyone reading this - Steve Jobs has shaped the world we look at as much as anyone alive in the last century.

And I haven't even mentioned his effect on film...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Flann O'Brien Centennial

When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -

Flann O'Brien - Brian O'Nolan (or perhaps more properly, Brian Ó Nualláin), to his mum - born 100 years ago today. I read At Swim-Two-Birds 20 odd years ago, probably at the prompting of Anthony Burgess, and have read it at regular intervals since; read, 20 years ago, everything else I could find by O'Brien (and Myles na Gopaleen), loving it all, though not returning so often. Not sure why, as The Third Policeman and The Dalkey Archive are nearly as entertaining as the first novel. I dip into the Best of Myles more often, though usually not at length - an essay here, a catechism there....

What, as to the quality of solidity, imperviousness, and firmness, are facts?
And as to temperature?
What with what do they share this quality of frigidity?
To what do hard facts belong?
The situation.
And to what does a cold fact belong?
The matter.
What must we do to the hard facts of the situation?
Face up to the hard facts of the situation.
WHat does a cold fact frequently still do?
And what is notoriously useless as a means of altering the hard facts of the situation?
All the talk in the world.
Is this killing you?
It certainly is.

He was, his books are, truly delightful. All of them as funny as anything ever written, and just as clever - many a joke on novel making to be found. And could he turn a phrase - I could quote all his books whole, almost - though this bit, on drink, got me laughing hopelessly the first time I read it, and, well -
Innumerable persons with whom I had conversed had represented to me that spiritous liquors and intoxicants generally had an adverse effect on the senses and the body and that those who became addicted to stimulants in youth were unhappy throughout life and met with death at the end by a drunkard's fall, expiring ingloriously at the stair-bottom in a welter of blood and puke.
Ah, the musical flow of the language, the hint of parody (the language of temperance pamphlets and sermons), and that glorious swerve at the end. Beautiful, man. It'll live, Mr. Lamont, it'll live.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Rio Lobo

Another lazy Sunday - and since I was watching this one... if I were called on to make some simple remarks, I might say how much it feels like a silent movie, with some interpolated sound scenes. The dialogue is very on the nose - all exposition and attempts at banter (whether the banter is lacking or the actors bantering aren't up to it, I'm not sure - some of both I guess) - but the imagery remains - delightful. Slyly delightful, I guess - efficient, effective action scenes - lots of nicely framed shots of people hanging around... a pleasure all around.

Loading the MacGuffin:

I will seldom miss the chance to post a picture of a train:

Here comes trouble, in the form of a woman:

Though it being Hawks, she will be soon be one of the boys:

Hanging around:

There is a plot, though, advancing in casually - but look how carefully! - composed and staged shots like this....