Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Five, Post Holiday Edition

I am back. This has been an adventurous week. Visited the kin on Memorial Day - while I was up there, my brother's car died. He was ferrying me back and forth - so he had it fixed, up there, then we came back - but I guess the fix was not so good. Broke down on the offramp from the highway, happily only a mile or so from home. A tow later it was in the garage and he was stuck here waiting to get it back.... Not the end of the world, I guess, though a definite nuisance. Reminds me again why I am glad I don't have one of the infernal things.

Though I have computers - and had a monitor. But now, though it seems to be on and running, it will not stay on - not recognize a signal. It was working Wednesday; we had a nasty set of thunderstorms Wednesday night; it is not working now. I suppose there are other elements in the chain that could be broken (the cable, say), but that's a mighty coincidence there. What fun.

But we shan't let it discourage us from our Friday music posts shall we! though it seems to have put paid to my scheme for an end of the month countdown... (It's also putting my Director of the Month plan on a bit of a hold too - I suppose I still have a day, but those things are a good deal harder to do on a laptop - I like having a host of windows open for that sort of thing, which is why I'd put it off until I got back. Oy.) Anyway - here goes: Random 10!

1. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Suzie Q
2. Six Organs of Admittance - Goodnight
3. PIL - Flowers of Romance
4. Velvet Underground - Lisa Says
5. George Thorogood - Move it on Over
6. Pavement - So Stark (You're A Skyscraper)
7. Alex Harvey and his Soul Band - Elevator Rock
8. The Flying Burrito Brothers - Christine's Tune (Devil in Disguise)
9. Dungen - Glomd Konst Kommer Stundom
10. Spoon - My Little Japanese Cigarette Case

Here's some Creedence for you, to get summer going...

That being latter day CCR (though in fine form) - I am inclined to throw in some vintage stuff - because, yeah, there is something very summery about CCR - though what it is might just be memories of passing out at a fourth of July party listening to the live version of Keep on Chooglin'... well - we'll leave that... Here's born on the bayou, as a bonus.

And finally - from today's list - another old fart not letting it go, every bit as satisfyingly as Mr. Fogerty and co... Mr. Lydon?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Holiday Weekend Friday Music

Well - keep this simple, heading into this weekend -

1. Heavens to Betsy - Intermission 247
2. Stooges - Dirt
3. Heroin - Head Cold
4. Tin Huey - Squirm you Worm
5. PIL - Terra-Gate
6. Tim Buckley - Down by the Borderline
7. Love - Alone Again Or
8. Galaxie 500 - Tell Me
9. Wilco - I'm the Man Who Loves You
10. Gomez - Natural Reaction

First - goodbye to Ray Manzarek - here holding down the fort for Jimbo:

Here singing, after Morrison's departure from this world:

and - here with X, whose first 2 records he produced, which might be even more of a contribution to the world of music than his first:

And - from today's list - Love, from Arthur Lee's comeback period....

Monday, May 20, 2013

1980s WITD Poll Votes

At Wonders in the Dark, voting for the film of the year continues to march through the years, up into the 90s, and so here, I'll repost my votes for the previous decade (with some slight amendment, I have to admit), along with my best of the decade votes. This is the 1980s - an odd stretch, that people seem to remember badly and not too fondly, and that I find - a mixed bag. Though looking through all these films - I find that somewhere in the middle of the decade the number of films I have records of seeing spiked - and stayed spiked ever since. Though this happened before the number of films I went to see in theaters spiked - very odd. Anyway - here it is - my favorites of the 1980s.

The Decade:

PICTURE: City of Sadness
DIRECTOR (single film): Hou Hsiao-Hsien, City of Sadness
DIRECTOR (decade): Hou Hsiao-hsien
LEAD ACTOR (single film): John Hurt, Elephant Man
ACTOR (decade): Chow Yun-fat
LEAD ACTRESS (one film): Brigitte Lin, Peking Opera Blues
ACTRESS (decade): Brigitte Lin?
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Isabella Rosselini, Blue Velvet
SHORT: Broken Down Film, Osamu Texuka
SCORE: Angelo Badalamenti, Blue Velvet
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Frederick Elmes, Blue Velvet

Plus bonus picks:
Script: City of Sadness (Chu Tien-wen & Wu Nien-jen)
Music: Stop Making Sense has the best music, I have to say. Something Wild, though, has the best use of a song - though over all, Blue Velvet's use of music is on a very rarified level. That sounds like three different votes, and probably is, since they use three different criteria.
Sound: this, though, I think is Ran
Martial Arts: I think the best martial arts film, as a martial arts film - is Project A part II. {eking Opera Blues is a better film as a film, I think - though not in a landslide - but Jackie Chan's virtues are more tightly bound to the actual stunts and acrobatics than Tsui Hark's...
Documentary: The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

1. City of Sadness
2. Blue Velvet
3. Elephant Man
4. Fitzcarraldo
5. Sans Soleil
6. Dekalog
7. Peking Opera Blues
8. Do the Right Thing
9. Brazil
10. Blind Chance
11. Dust in the Wind
12. This is Spinal Tap
13. Raiders of the Lost Ark
14. The Emperor's Naked Army Matches On
15. Blade Runner
16. Ran
17. Kegemusha
18. Merry Christmas Mr. Laerence
19. The Big Red One
20. Black Rain

(I just noticed how many of the 80s best films are World War II films: City of Sadness (sort of; begins with the emperor's speech announcing the end of the war), Emperor's Naked Army, Nerry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, the Big Red One, Black Rain - and Come and See, which is as good as anything here; shoot, you can make a case for Raiders of the Lost Ark, too. More than one part of the Dekalog too.)

And By Year:


A fairly extraordinary year, to end the decade...

PICTURE: City of Sadness
DIRECTOR: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
LEAD ACTOR: Chow Yun-fat (sometimes, you just want a Movie Star)
LEAD ACTRESS: Kati Outinen (if Match Factory Girl is 89...)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jack Nicholson, Batman
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Rosy Perez, Do the Right Thing
SHORT: Creature Comforts
SCORE: Danny Elfman, Batman
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Takashi Kawamata, Black Rain

Plus bonus picks:
Script: This is also City of Sadness, the best film of the 80s, one of the all time greats.
Music/Sound: Leningrad Cowboys Go America? No, not really - Do the Right Thing, in a walk.
Martial Arts: Some nice films to choose from, but Jacky Chan's Capra remake, Miracles, takes the prize.

1. City of Sadness
2. Do the Right Thing
3. Black Rain
4. Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia
5. Mystery Train
6. Miracles - Mr. Canton and Lady Rose
7. The Killer
8. Why Has the Bodhi Darma Left for the East
9. Kiki's Delivery Service
10. Batman


PICTURE: Dekalog
DIRECTOR: Kieslowski
LEAD ACTOR: Forest Whitaker, Bird
LEAD ACTRESS: Carmen Maura, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Michelle Pfeiffer, Dangerous Liaisons
SCORE: Toru Takemitsu, Wuthering Heights
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Junichiro Hayashi, Wuthering Heights

Plus bonus picks:
Script: The Dekalog, collectively, and individually, they'd come close to being the top 10
Music/Sound: Married to the Mob has the Feelies again... Demme's soundtracks are usually as interesting as his films
Martial Arts: I forgot this last week. This is a good year for it though - Dragons Forever is absolutely thrilling

1. Dekalog
2. Dragons Forever
3. Wuthering Heights
4. Rouge
5. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
6. Damnation
7. Family Viewing
8. Chocolat
9. Beetle Juice
10. A Fish Called Wanda


This is a very strong year. Very strong.

PICTURE: Dust in the Wind
DIRECTOR: Kazuo Hara, Emperor's Naked Army Marches On
LEAD ACTOR: I am tempted to say Kenzo Okuzaki, documentary or not, not least because he is so aware of the camera, and his performance for the camera.
SUPPORTING ACTOR: the choices are overwhelming; Vincent D'Onofrio, though, I suppose has to take it. But Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Charles Grodin, R. Lee Ermey, etc. - what is there to choose among them?
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Maggie Cheung, Project A II?
SHORT: The Unnameable Little Broom? if that's the right year...
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dust in the Wind (Ping-bin Lee)

Plus bonus picks:
Script: The Princess Bride
Music/Sound: Ishtar - if you admit that you play the accordion they won't let you play in a rock and roll band.
Documentary: The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On is among the best ever
Martial Arts: (I forgot to add this during the voting, though I'd already started putting them on the ballots - odd, since this is the year the film I think is the best straight martial arts film came out.) Project A Part II

1. Dust in the Wind
2. The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On
3. Full Metal Jacket
4. Project A II
5. Where is the Friend's House?
6. Evil Dead II
7. Raising Arizona
8. The Princess Bride
9. Ishtar
10. Daughter of the Nile


THere's a lot of good stuff in 86, and of course, one of the films of the decade at the top... It is also pretty much the beginning of the stretch where the Chinese completely took over my film viewing... And world cinema, for that matter.

PICTURE: Blue Velvet
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
LEAD ACTOR: Richard E.Grant, Withnail and I
LEAD ACTRESS: Bridgitte Lin, Peking Opera Blues
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Isabella Rosselini
SHORT: Rocky VI (though isn't Street of Crocodiles a short? or have I only seen part of it?)
SCORE: Angelo Badalamenti, Blue Velvet
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Frederick Elmes, Blue Velvet

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Blue Velvet
Music/Sound: I thought this one would probably be Assayas' Disorder (New Order and Pere Ubu? not likely to beat that...) - but that was because I had the idea that Something Wild came out in 87. That's got the Feelies - now, while they get in range of Pere Ubu, over all, in any sort of general contest, they do fall short... but in these films: it's Slipping (Into Something) vs. Non-Alignment Pact - great as Non-Alignment Pact is, it's not gonna win that comparison. And add in the Feelies doing Fame, and the Demme film wins, even without looking at the way the music is used in the films. But there - the way Demme scores the big turn in Something Wild to the musical turns in Slipping (into Something) - it's no contest. That's one of the great music/film moments ever.
Martial Arts: Peking Opera Blues

1. Blue Velvet
2. Peking Opera Blues
3. Terroriser
4. Something Wild
5. Down by Law
6. Ferris Bueller's Day off
7. Dream Lovers
8. From Beyond
9. Shadows in Paradise
10. Withnail & I


This is another very strong year, with obvious greatness and a disproportionate number of films that are rather better than they should be. Being particularly definitive of what might be a minor type of film. Teen comedies and jokey horror and the like, that are hard to compare with the Great Films of All Time, but are still infinitely enjoyable.

DIRECTOR: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, A Time to Live, A Time to Die
LEAD ACTOR: Jonathan Pryce
LEAD ACTRESS: Sandrine Bonnaire, Vagabonde
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jeffrey Combs, Re-Animator
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Kim Darby, Better off Dead (? - though this is not far off - she is so strange and wonderful...)
SHORT: Broken Down Film, Tezuka, which is one of the best short films ever.
SCORE: Toru Takemitsu, Ran
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda, Asaichi Nakai, Ran

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Taipei Story
Music/Sound: Desperately Seeking Susan takes this prize.
Martial Arts: (Added after the fact - I wasn't voting for them regularly then) Police Story

1. Brazil
2. Ran
3. Come and See
4. A Time to Live, a Time to Die
5. Taipei Story
6. Tampopo
7. Reanimator
8. When Father Was Away on Business
9. Vagabond
10. The Sure Thing


Oddly underwhelming year, despite the very fine films at the top.

PICTURE: This is Spinal Tap
DIRECTOR: Hou Hsiao Hsien, Summer at Grandpa's
LEAD ACTOR: Philip Baker Hall, Secret Honor
LEAD ACTRESS: Gena Rowlands, Love Streams
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sigourney Weaver, Ghostbusters (why not? she's funny, she's cool amidst the nonsense, she's game - why not?)
SHORT: Jumping, Osamu Tezuka
SCORE: This is obviously Spinal Tap - not sure why it's not nominated, the songs were written for the movie... or - wait - wasn't the music for Purple Rain original to the movie too? holy crap.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Zhang Yimou, Yellow Earth

Plus bonus picks:
Script: This is Spinal Tap
Music/Sound: no matter what was original and what wasn't - Prince vs. The Talking Heads offers as great a competition as you could ask.
Martial Arts: (Added after the fact) - Wheels on Meals

1. This is Spinal Tap
2. Twenty-Eight Up
3. Summer at Grandpa's
4. Secret Honor
5. Repo Man
6. Stranger than Paradise
7. Love Streams
8. Ghostbusters
9. The Funeral
10. Stop Making Sense


PICTURE: San Soleil
DIRECTOR: Chris Marker
LEAD ACTOR: Tom Conti, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
LEAD ACTRESS: Sylvia Chang, That Day on the Beach
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Takeshi Kitano, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sandra Bernhard, The King of Comedy
SHORT: not yet... (Unless I were to arbitrarily abstract Hou Hsiao Hsien's "Sandwich Man" from the anthology of the same name...)
SCORE: MArk Knopfler, Local Hero
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Kiyoshi Hasegawa, The Makioka Sisters

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Marker again, Sans Soleil
Music/Sound: David Bowie singing Rock of Ages has to get a mention somewhere.
Martial Arts: (Added after the fact) - Project A

1. Sans Soleil
2. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
3. The Makioka Sisters
4. L'Argent
5. The Boys of Fengkui
6. That Day on the Beach
7. Zelig
8. Local Hero
9. The Green, Green Grass of Home
10. Project A


This is the thinnest year for me in a long time - I don't know if the year is that bad (probably not, since what I have seen is quite strong, with a handful of stone classics), but I have seen astonishingly few films from this year.

PICTURE: Fitzcarraldo
LEAD ACTOR: Klaus Kinski
LEAD ACTRESS: Susan Berman, Smithereens
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Karen Black, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
SHORT: (I might get around to voting this week... gotta hope, lot of good looking stuff on offer...)
SCORE: Vangelis, Blade Runner
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Thomas Mauch, Fitzcarraldo

Plus bonus picks::
Script: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Music/Sound: Smithereens, with its Feelies songs - can't beat that....
Martial Arts: (Added after the fact) - this is probably Fantasy Mission Force - another reason for the Best Actress of the decade vote - though an odd one.

1. Fitzcarraldo
2. Blade Runner
3. Fanny & Alexander
4. Burden of Dreams
5. Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
6. Chan is Missing
7. Forty Deuce
8. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
9. The Draughtsman's Contract
10. In Our Time


PICTURE: Blind Chance
DIRECTOR: Oliveira, Francisca
LEAD ACTOR: Andre Gregory?
LEAD ACTRESS: Barbara Sukowa, Lola
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Lola
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: why is this one so hard?
SHORT: alas...
SCORE: Williams, Raiders
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Shinsaku Himeda, Eijanaika

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Blind Chance
Music/Sound: This is a Sound one - Das Boot, which gets as much from the sound as the visuals, really thrilling.
Martial Arts: (Added after the fact) - Prodigal Son

1. Blind Chance
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
3. Eijenaika
4. Lola
5. Francisca
6. Chan is Missing
7. Prodigal Son
8. Possession
9. Gallipoli
10. Das Boot or My Dinner with Andre


PICTURE: Elephant Man
DIRECTOR: Kurosawa
LEAD ACTRESS: Susan Sarandon, Atlantic City
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Peter Boyle, Where the Buffalo Roam
SHORT: not yet...
SCORE: I think this is the Elephant Man, too...
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Freddie Francis, the Elephant Man

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Let's give this to Airplane!
Music/Sound: I'm inclined to be perverse and name Harry Nilsson for Popeye...

1. The Elephant Man
2. Kegemusha
3. The Big Red One
4. Atlantic City
5. Raging Bull
6. Melvin and Howard
7. Return to the 36th Chamber
8. The Last Metro
9. Airplaine!
10. Heaven's Gate

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Today, May 18, marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the seige of Vicksburg. This was the culmination of a long and complicated campaign, that stretched back, really into the middle of 1862.

I sometimes regret that most of my Civil War posts have been about battles and generals - the Civil War is the defining event in United States history, and it encompasses every aspect of American life. I know that, at the very least, I should be writing about politics and about slavery - the war emerged from political conflicts, and specifically, political conflicts over slavery - the war came to be fought over slavery, and its place is utterly central. And I should find ways to talk about all the things that went with the war - the economic developments, the technological changes, the relationship between the war and the west, the war and immigration, the war and - Christ - everything... But - so far, it's been all battles and generals, with the occasional consideration of underwear. Well - there it goes. There will be time - and the anniversaries are on us now...

So Vicksburg. It is generally regarded as U.S. Grant's finest hour - this part, May 1863, especially. But even taking it as a whole, it illustrates one of the things that made him successful. He kept at the thing. He tried a host of schemes over the previous winter - direct assault, marching overland, building canals, trying to use the rivers and bayous to get around behind the city - everything failing, sometimes disastrously. But he kept at it, and the activity didn't stop him from thinking about the problem until he came up with the plan that worked - run ships past the city, gunships and transports, march the army down the western shore of the Mississippi, cross the river, and attack from the south and east. Lee gets credit for dividing his forces and making daring attacks, counting on the passivity of the enemy, maybe - Grant deserves the same credit. And this, with much larger distances and a bloody great river splitting his army in half, is even more audacious. Though it is true - Grant had significant advantages in manpower and equipment - he had all those ships - he could get away with it.

He also had some particularly passive enemies. The North has a bad reputation for generalship, but other than Lee, and Virginia generally, the South was a pretty consistent mess. Not the field commanders - people like Forest and Cleburne and Wheeler were quite superb - but the higher command was a mess. They weren't helped by the central government - Jefferson Davis fancied himself a Military Genius, and meddled quite a bit in western affairs. (Grant is rather fond of mocking him in his memoirs.) Davis' part in the Vicksburg campaign wasn't too helpful - he was very determined to hold Mississippi at all costs - and his pressure kept the confederates in Vicksburg itself beyond what might have been wise. It was a difficult situation, of course - in they lost control of the Mississippi, they were done and they knew it - but they also lacked the resources to hold it. Militarily, they would have been better consolidating their forced, and finding the Union armies and beating them, preferably one at a time.... Bus was that practical? And if they let the Mississippi go, could they have sustained armies in the field? You see the problem...

In any case - the south couldn't decide what to do, so they did everything badly. Davis and Pemberton, commander at Vicksburg, wanted to hold the city, but Joe Johnston, sent to support the city, saw no point in it. He did very little to help, made no effort to reinforce the city, relieve the city, or force the men in the city to join him and fight elsewhere. And when he was attacked, at Jackson, May 14 - he declared defeat and took off. Meanwhile Pemberton waffled - he went out to meet Grant, but late, and so met him after Grant's army had all crossed the Mississippi. He started one way, lost a battle or two and went back to Vicksburg. An altogether uninspired campaign. The results are that Grant did exactly what he wanted - marched up east of Vicksburg. Chased Pemberton back, sent part of his army to drive off Johnston from Jackson, to the east, then gathered the full army and met Pendleton at Champion's Hill. Gave them a beating there, then at the Battle of the Big Black, and so pinned them up in Vicksburg proper. It was very neatly done.

Though it left Grant facing Pendleton's army in Vicksburg, dug in to their eyeballs, able to last god knows how long. So Grant tried to take them by storm, first on the 19th, which was repulsed with heavy casualties, then again on the 22nd, attacking with the whole army, and again, repulsed with heavy casualties. (Lessons there about attacking fortifications in the age of the rifle that he unfortunately did not take to heart before the Virginia campaign of 1864.) And so Grant settled in for a siege, and no one in the South could do anything about it - and on July 4, the garrison surrendered. The father or waters would flow unfettered to the sea. Grant would be lionized. The South was finished, though they still had armies in the field, and wee able to kill a lot of people for not much purpose in the coming 2 years.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Morning

And time for music. Actually listened to music this week - I've been going through one of those stretches where I don't very much... I was listening to new records - Richard Thompson, Nick Cave, Pere Ubu, Atoms for Peace - sort of an all star listing, I guess, which is what happens when I drift away from music for a while; just get the things I know I like... But - in fact, they are all very nice records - I'm sorry I haven't been listening to them as much as I should. What can you do? The habit will come back....

Anyway, today is just another Friday - so here are 10 songs selected by our friendly neighborhood iTunes!

1. Theoretical Girls - Lovin in the Red
2. REO Speedwagon - Back on the Road Again [I wonder how often those two songs come up back to back on anyone's playlist?]
3. Asian Dub Foundation - Change
4. REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight the Feeling [I am being punished for that wise crack at 2]
5. Linda Ronstadt - It Doesn't Matter Anymore
6. Minutemen - June 16th
7. Ryan Adams - Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues
8. Madvillain Featuring MED - Raid
9. Mission of Burma - Einstein's Day
10. Pink Floyd - Eclipse

Well? What about video? No way around it, really - iTunes has spoken... it's REO you're getting:

And - in a vague hope of countering that - here's Mission of Burma:

And unrelated to the random ten, but - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, because - well - you know...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Recent Films - May 2013

In the interests of getting back on track, putting up at least capsule reviews at regular intervals....

The Angel's Share - 10/15 - A comic heist picture from Ken Loach, which not be the first thing I would expect either, but here it is. Not bad, actually - starts with a bunch of kids sentenced to community service for various stupidities, like trespassing onto a train tracks, or climbing a statue, or beating up someone who attacked him... The last one turns out to be the main character, Robbie, a hard case who is trying to change, has a girl, who's having a baby, but the world is against him. The girl's family hates him, he has enemies on the streets, the law has just about given up on him - he has no hope - but he is somewhat taken in my Harry, the man in charge of the community service. Harry toasts him with whiskey, a fine single malt, when Robbie's son is born - and starts Robbie thinking about whiskey. He takes the kids on a tour of a distillery, and Robbie starts to develop a nose for it - he studies it - he goes to tastings - he impresses professionals and meets a collector... And then conceives a plan for stealing a few bottles of a very rare cask of the stuff, likely to sell for a million dollars or so. Well, after that - just say the film's sympathies are with the people likeliest to enjoy the whiskey and least likely to pay $100,000 for a bottle of it. It's all charming, with the steel of the streets in it, though very slight, in the end.

Mud - 11/15 - Jeff Nichols' follow up to Take Shelter. Matthew McConaughey is Mud, hiding on a island, where he's found by two kids who are looking at a boat in a tree. They start helping him, and his story slowly comes out - he loves a girl, they've had trouble all their lives, she probably doesn't love him as much as he loves her - he's ended up shooting a man in Texas. The law is after him, and so is the man's family, who are a hard lot. Well - there's plenty running along wise this - one of the kids, the main one, Ellis, is having trouble at home - his parents are breaking up, they will lose their houseboat - he meets a girl, flirts with her, but she dumps him - he suffers. But he keeps helping Mud, and Mud helps him too, in the end, until things sort of explode.... It is, in any case, a superb film - not as powerful as Take Shelter, but very fine - handsome looking, with an ace cast - Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as the kids, McConaughey augmented by Sam Shepherd, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker - all of them among the elite American character actors, and Shannon one of the best actors in the business. Even Reese Witherspoon fits in perfectly, as though she were one of AMerica's elite character actors... And McConaughey these days is becoming almost as sure a guarantee of quality as Shannon.

Renoir - 7/15 - film by Gilles Bourdos about the Renoir family - set in 1915 or so, the old man getting along in years - Jean off to war, Claude wandering around moping.... starts with the old man hiring a model; Jean comes home with a war wound and hangs around. He screws the model, then goes back to war, over the protests of dad and lover - he promises to come back and all - and since we already know he does come back, well, all right. He did come back, he married the girl, they made movies together and (a little poking around tells us), they broke up when he started casting other women in his films, so she disappeared and he stayed Jean Renoir. I guess it's a happy ending anyway. There are a couple flickers of things that might figure in Jean's films (some business with maids and hunters and such), but mostly, it's more interested in the father than the son. Certainly, as a film, it's more attuned to father than son - it is gorgeous, lush and rich and brilliantly lit, a moving painting, shot, as it is, by Mark Ping-bin Lee. Unfortunately, there's not much in the filmmaking to recommend. Not put together with much life, certainly with none of the sense of space and movement Jean Renoir's films had. Nor is there much of a story - it tries to play the part of a straightforward dramatic biopic, but there's not a lot of drama, and they don't tell us all that much about the characters on display - flat and drab. But lovely to look at!

In the House - 10/15 - another French film, from Francois Ozon - tres French indeed. He's back to making subtle metafictional psychodramas, like Swimming Pool - this time, there's a bored high school teacher married to Kristin Scott Thomas who runs a gallery for a pair of twins. The teacher has a student, who starts turning in assignments describing his efforts to infiltrate the house of his friend. The teacher is intrigued and inspired - he starts offering private lessons in plotting and characterization, and the boy keeps going with the story. He has a crush on the woman, the man is in trouble at work, the boy is dull, but with the teacher's encouragement, things get a little more lively. The boy turns out to have a crush on the writer; the kid beds the wife and so on... It does tend to rather swallow itself in the end - though Ozon isn't exactly apologetic about it: the teacher and writer end up sitting on a bench looking into people's windows making up stories about them... It is all very clever, but is, really, Swimming Pool lite.

Something in the Air - 13/15 - Olivier Assayas' latest, on the other hand, is the real deal. Set in 1971, based roughly on his own teenaged years, starting in high school, where the main character, Gilles, is part of a group of high school radicals. The film proceeds in episodes - first, their adventures at the school - they make plans, protest and so on - then cover the school in graffiti, but are chased by guards, and one of them is identified. They then firebomb the guards in retaliation, not really trying to hurt them, though - but one of them is hurt. The first kid is accused, though he was not there - the rest of them get out of town to let things cool down. Some of them go to Italy, then start splitting up - Gilles comes back to Paris to take exams; his girlfriend Christine joins a collective of radical filmmakers; another friend Alain heads off with some American hippies; Jean-Pierre, the kid accused of the attack, radicalizes. And Gilles' other girlfriend, Laure, goes to London with her parents, hanging around rock stars, and taking up older men and drugs. It tends, as it goes, to unravel - from the tight opening, focused on the protests and politics, it starts to diffuse, as characters move away, as the political groups splinter and recombine, as everyone, really, starts to define themselves. All of them do, in some ways - Jean-Pierre in politics, Gilles in film (he works for his father, a TV producer; he goes to London to work at Pinewood), Alain as a painter, even Christine, whose foray into political filmmaking ends up with her serving as housewife to a bunch of ineffectual filmmakers, but who ends it by riding away on her own... All this is made in what is perhaps Assayas' most identifiable style - fast, mobile, everyone always on the run, the camera moving along with them, music everywhere - propulsive, restless filmmaking that is a thrill to watch. This probably, in the end, is not quite as good as Carlos or Cold Water - or for that matter, Philippe Garrel's similarly retrospective Regular Lovers - but it is in their league. Superb film, rivaling Beyond the Hills for best film in theaters this year.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Music Post

With no anniversaries to celebrate (though 150 years ago, Grant's Vicksburg campaign was in full swing, and we will be visiting that when the chance comes), it's back to our regular musical posting this week. I am thinking I may start a similar series to the Director of the Month one, maybe a Group of the Month - counting down favorite songs by favorite bands. That would probably come on a first or last Friday of every month. Or maybe I should randomize it....

Meanwhile, should note - in the wider world - Wonders if the Dark is conducting a Westerns poll - that should be fun. Something to keep me busy I imagine...

And so - Friday it is - iTunes Randomizer! Activate!

1. Mono - Black Rain
2. Spirit - Verushka
3. Yoko Ono - Ask the Dragon
4. Bruce Springsteen - Promised Land
5. Danielson - He Who Flattened Your Flame is Getting Torched
6. Elastica - See that Animal
7. Tin Huey - Pink Berets
8. Rolling Stones - Live With Me (live)
9. Melt Banana - Plasma Gate Quest
10. Six Organs of Admittance - They Fixed the Broken Mirror Today

And for video, this Friday morning? Let's try - Well, Spirit is always a good choice, one of the most underrated bands of all time... Here in a rather nightmarish combination of 70s "psychedelic" video manipulation and bad quality shot-off-the-TV footage - but still:

And a little live Bruce is always good for the soul:

Friday, May 03, 2013


Today, Friday music is pre-empted to resume my occasional series on the Civil War by remembering the battle of Chancellorsville, fought this week, 150 years ago. It is an odd battle - it doesn't seem to me to be remembered all that well, even by Civil War nuts like me. It's not so much that people overlook it, though sometimes they do - but that only certain parts of it are remembered.

Everyone remembers Stonewall Jackson's part - caving in the Union right flank, sweeping the south to victory, then being shot by his own men in the confusion of nightfall in a forest. What they don't remember is that as spectacular a victory as that attack was, it didn't really win the battle. The Union still had an overwhelming superiority of numbers, and very little reason to go anywhere. One of the main things people don't remember (or know) about Chancellorsville is that the next day, May 3, the day after Jackson's flank attack, was the second bloodiest day of the war. (Which is to say, the second bloodiest day in American history.) Jackson's attack left the Union in a strange and difficult position, with units exposed to attack from both sides. The next day, the rebels attacked all across the front to break the exposed parts - the Yankees held as long as possible - and both sides shot each other to hell. After the brilliant feat of daring and execution (moving all those men around the Union army in the middle of the day to launch a surprise attack) that led to Jackson's attack, the next day, the fight turned into a brutal stand up and blast the other guy to hell fight. Something that happened a lot in the war - well, the brutality happened a lot; the brilliance wasn't so common. But when you do find it, you almost always find an unimaginative slog on its heels. In any case - by the end of the day on the 3rd of May, the Yankees were sill there, driven back a bit, but dug in, with overwhelming numerical superiority, with much of the army completely fresh, having seen no action.... But the battle was over and they had lost. The army not so much - but the generals were beat.

This is generally taken to be Lee's finest hour - it is. He was badly outnumbered, caught between two large forces of Yankees, one at Fredericksburg under Sedgwick and the main force at Chancellorsville under Hooker. But he went straight to the attack - leaving a skeleton force to hold off Sedgwick while he fought Hooker, then splitting that force again to have Jackson march around the Union army to attack the flank. And - worth noting that when that part of the battle petered out, and Sedgwick finally got moving, he divided the army again, leaving a small force to look after Hooker, while the main force tried to pin down Sedgwick - and did, trapping his force by the river, making its fate a close thing. Lee probably had to do something like that - he couldn't match all the Union forces directly - he had to try to beat them in detail, and he did os masterfully. (Thanks to Jackson.) But boy - when you talk about Lee's luck... It's hard to imagine a more poorly handled battle this side of John Pope - by people who were, actually, fairly competent generals. It's a litany of bad decisions - from Hooker pulling back his advance guard on the first day of the fight, to Howard leaving his right flank completely in the air, to Dan Sickles (who wasn't competent) chasing after phantoms, to the army's abandonment of the high ground that the confederates used as an artillery platform, to Sedgwick's failure to act while the lines around Fredericksburg were thinnest, then getting himself pinned down when he did move - and Hooker, of course, not doing anything to help him, let alone take advantage of Lee moving troops around. And it all, in the end, comes down to Hooker - who lost his nerve - maybe before the battle; most definitely, though, on the 3rd, when he was knocked out by an artillery near miss. From the sounds of it, he had a concussion, and was virtually incapacitated for much of the day - no one else took charge in that time, and when he resumed command,t he fight was completely gone from him. So he never noticed Lee's weaknesses; he left a third of his army out of the battle; and in the end he rather meekly packed up and left. It's the story of the Army of the Potomac, at least before Grant got his hands on it - they constantly stopped fighting before they'd won or lost. They weren't anywhere nearly beaten here, for all the beating they took - but they walked away as if they were.

Finally - it is Friday... poking around YouTube reveals a plethora of Confederate songs - this would be fascinating, if they weren't all fitted to videos made by CSA apologists. The treason in defense of slavery crowd is still going all too strong in this country.... But still: this is a song written, apparently, in 1862 in honor of Stonewall Jackson - and the historical interest is too much for me. Jackson himself, of course, was a damned good general, traitor or not - and, well - he's the central figure of Chancellorsville, both for his success and for his death there. So - here's Bobby Horton, and Stonewall Jackson's Way.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May Day

Pete Seeger singing The Internationale in French.

And an English language version....

Finally - in the interests of ecumenical celebration, here's a Japanese performance of Staines Morris.