Sunday, March 31, 2013

March Director of the Month - Akira Kurosawa

Here today is the third installment in my Director of the Month series. Or would be if I had posted something about an actual director last month. But last month's Donald Ritchie post does help a bit - I wasn't sure what criteria to use for this feature - who to include when? in what order? all that. Well - let's accept the signs - Oshima, Japanese films - and Kurosawa, who's 103rd birthday got a lot of attention this month - I shall take it as a sign, and count down the best Japanese directors. 6 to 1 (unless I decided to go up as well as down).... There you go.

I have written about Kurosawa before - and about the place he has in film history, and in my history with film. This post in particular from a blogathon 5 1/2 years ago lays out a lot of my doubts, but then again, it has always seemed as if I have to explain my reservations about him. He is, you see, a towering figure - a crucial figure in film history. I mentioned it in the Ritchie post last month - the ways Japanese film changed the criticism of films; and in a very real sense, it is Kurosawa that did it. Now - given that importance, given the quality of his films, ranking him 5th among Japanese directors might need some explanation.... Well - maybe the best explanation is that I'd put at least 6 Japanese directors in the top 20 - 3 definitely in the top 10 and 2 more who move in and out depending on my mood.... I am, that is, a fan.

And so? I will turn to the films:

1. Seven Samurai - This is one of the Great Ones. A big sprawling spic that never flags, with a host of clear and distinct characters, with spectacular action scenes that are, themselves, always completely coherent and clear. Technically, dramatically, politically, a magnificent achievement. After all.

2. High and Low - A medical students kidnaps the son of shoe magnate, but gets a chauffeur's son instead. What will the executive do? This becomes many things - a first rate police procedural; a first rate character study, of 2 superbly wrought characters - the student is pathetic and cruel and desperate... But Gondo, Mifune's character, is something truly other than else. He goes from the ruthless businessman of the early scenes to a kind of reluctant hero, until in the end he becomes godlike. Kurosawa's contemporary films were always tightly bound to their places - he used city streets and locations to great effect throughout his career, and this one has some of the best examples of it. But he could also use a set - the scenes in Gondo's house start stagy, but become increasingly deft - the whole film is structured that way - from the claustrophobia of Gondo's house, the the different claustrophobia of the train, to the scenes in the city, on the train, to the streets of Yokohama, the bars and hangouts. One of the most Langian of films - Kurosawa someone who could do credit to Lang...

3. Rashomon - A film that has become the symbol for unreliable point of view and multiple perspectives. (As well as being the strange example of a crime story where all three protagonists confess to the actual crime, in order to exonerate themselves.) Though also a thrilling piece of filmmaking. It is great looking, dynamic and exciting, and Kurosawa here, as in most of his films, uses pacing - the delay/gratification cycle - to great effect. It was the first Japanese film to make a sensation abroad - obviously successful, and a useful introduction, as it brings together a few tendencies in Japanese films. Chambara, women's melodrama, heroic samurai melodrama (for lack of a better term) - and a kind of realistic undercutting of those genres, all in one film.

4. Stray Dog - A cop loses his pistol on the bus - he tries to track it but it is used by a thief, who is a kind of double to the cop, to hurt other people. An extraordinary film, making great use of its setting - the location shooting, the heat, the themes of doubles and pursuit and the poisonous horror of the Gun. Even this early in his career, Kurosawa was a very self-conscious filmmaker - it feels like a precursor to new wave practices, with its documentary sections, its text and divided images, and so on. It prefigures High and Low, with its police procedural story, its urban settings, its dopplegangers - but it;s fully formed more than a decade before.

5. Ikiru - An old bureaucrat learns he is going to die. He does not know how to die, his son is a jerk, hetries partying but isn't very good at it, he takes a shine to a girl, but that is unwise - but she guides him to the idea of making a park, and he grows obsessed and dies happy. It moves slowly, but Kurosawa's style - his use of delay and indirect release - requires space to work correctly, and it does. This is Kurosawa's most Capraesque film, and seems very clearly modelled on some of Capra's works. The theme of the individual vs the system; the structure of the film - (voiceover, flashbacks, the bifurcated structure even), even things like the epiphany in the snow - that conjure up ideas and moments from Capra's films. Though maybe you're getting to Kurosawa's limits, here - he is not quite up to Capra. There is an element of caricature in Kurosawa that isn't quite there in Capra, and things in this film are almost always what they are - good, bad, weak, small. Watanabe's family, say, is not the ambiguous force it is in Capra's films - there is none of the way families or societies sustain and destroy, the doubleness of everything in Capra. (That's the rhealm of Ozu more than any Japanese director of that age). But none of that takes it from being a great film...

6. Yojimbo - Kurosawa may not have admitted it, but it's a transparent Red Harvest adaptation, and a damned fine one. Even more than Seven Samurai, it's a Japanese western (that of course immediately turned into an Italian western...) And as formalized and aestheticized as the Leone's to come - widescreen, dusty streets (or pouring rain) fire and death; people moving in strange dancelike ways - more noticeable than usual, even, for Kurosawa (who likes dancelike movement). With that hard-boiled twist on the western mythos, the stranger coming to clean up the town....

7. Ran - Kurosawa does Lear. Story - a great lord retires, leaving son #1 in charge - son #3 makes a fuss and is banished. However it does not take long for #1 to start bullying dad (egged on by his wife), and not not long after that before the sons are at one another's throats and everything goes to hell. All stunning to look at and maybe even better to listen to. Everyone dies, except a blind boy, perched atop the walls of his family's ruined castle.

8. Kagemusha - A thief is made the double of Lord Shingen during the wars between Shingen (Takeda), Ieyasu (Tokagawa) and Nobanaga (Oda). Shingen is killed not long after and the thief becomes his double. He fools the old man's grandson and concubines, as well as spies and his own men, but he is discovered from trying to ride a horse. He is injured and banished and mocked, while Lord Shingen's son goes to war and is defeated easily. (Guns again.) This is interesting historically, being much closer to actual events than most of Kurosawa's period films - set in the 1570s, the rise of Oda and Tokugawa - ending with the battle of Nagoshino, when 3000 riflemen destroyed the Takeda army, in something like a precursor to Cold Harbor or the Somme.

9. Throne of Blood - MacBeth on Mt Fuji - which Satyajit Ray singled out as one of the things that made Japanese cinema great - those real places... It is a handsome and haunting film, a horror film, as much as anything, with its ghosts and murders and madness and its strange smoky spaces....

10. Sanjuro - sequel to Yojimbo, not quite as tight and clean, but still very entertaining. Here, Mifune is a ronin who joins up with 9 idealists who are trying to undo a villainous superintendent. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the superintendent's right hand man. Very harsh parody of Japanese manners, samurai ethos and the rest, as Mifune constantly outsmarts and outfights everyone as if he's already read the script. And an old woman - who seems silly and weak and caught up in the web of politeness, but who proves consistently to be the only one as smart as he is...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Oh Good! Friday!

Well - happy Easter weekend and all... I am not sure I can come up with anything thematic for the weekend, but I guess that's just as well. Still - it is the season of resurrection and new hope, and even hard-bitten old me has to acknowledge the power of this weekend, one in which I truly do stop to take a moment and think of this powerful reminder that everything that dies comes back. Even I think of higher things this weekend - I do love Opening Day!

Anyway - more on that later this weekend... for now - random music!

1. Pink Floyd - Shine on You Crazy Diamond
2. Johnny Cash - Let the Train Whistle Blow
3. PJ Harvey - Ecstasy
4. Outkast - Xplosion
5. Pavement - Zurich is Stained
6. The Slits - Earthbeat
7. Big Star - Kizza Me
8. Michael Jackson - Wanna be Startin' Something
9. Theoretical Girls - Theoretical Girls
10. Dinosaur Jr. - Almost Ready

Video? let's be startin' something with some live Jacko - how's that?

And some Floyd - that also seems like a good choice.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

1970s WITD Poll Votes

The voting at Wonders in the Dark for films of the year is by now half way through the 80s - taken me a terrible amount of time to get around to polishing up my 1970s votes. Well - here they are!

DIRECTOR (Individual): Altman, McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Director (Decade): Altman (closely followed by Herzog and Fassbinder, and Cassavetes - and Rivette, if I were able to see more of his 70s films, I think))
LEAD ACTOR (Film): Warren Beatty, McCabe and Mrs Miller
Actor (Decade): Robert DeNiro
LEAD ACTRESS (Film): Gena Rowlands, A Woman Under the Influence
Actress (Decade): Rowlands (who had a better director to work for.... the answer might, again, be someone like Bulle Ogier, though, if I could see more of the Rivettes)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sterling Hayden, the Long Goodbye
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ronee Blakely in Nashville
SHORT: Hapax Legomena I: Nostalgia, Hollis Frampton
SCORE: Leonard Cohen, McCabe and Mrs Miller
CINEMATOGRAPHY: McCabe and Mrs Miller again
CINEMATOGRAPHY: while this is a strong decade for photography - Vilmos Szigmond wins out over all - those Altman films are magnificent looking
Script: I think Life of Brian might take the cake here... listing the top 5, though, not to make the top 20 films:
1. The Marriage of Maria Braun
2. Charlie Verrick
3. A New Leaf
4. Doomed Love
5. Chinatown

Music/Sound: Gimme Shelter
Documentary: really strong decade for this - enough so that I have to make another top 5 - 1 is not enough:
1. Grin Without a Cat
2. Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974
3. Hitler: A Film From Germany
4. Gimme Shelter
5. Sayonara CP

Best films:

1. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
2. Celine and Julie Go Boating
3. Aguirre Wrath of God
4. Nashville
5. The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser
6. A Woman Under the Influence
7. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
8. Killer of Sheep
9. The Long Goodbye
10. Camera Buff
11. Saint Jack
12. Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail
13. Life of Brian
14. Erasorhead
15. Vengeance is Mine
16. Mean Streets
17. The Conversation
18. World on a Wire
19. The Godfather
20. Trash

And now by years:


Much stronger year, to end the decade.

PICTURE: Camara Buff, Kieslowski
DIRECTOR: Herzog, Nosferatu Phantom of the Night
LEAD ACTOR: Ken Ogata, Vengeance is Mine
LEAD ACTRESS: Hanna Schygulla, The Marriage of Maria Braun
SUPPORTING ACTOR: why not Kinski, in Nosferatu (that might be a lead, though, hard to say)
SHORT: at least for now, video again - Ancient of Days, by Bill Viola
SCORE: Nosferatu, Popol Vuh (assuming it's original)
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jorg Schmidt-Ritwein, Nosferatu

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Life of Brian
Music/Sound: this one isn't easy - you have a Sex Pistols movie and a Who movie coming released this year - but great as those bands are, neither are up to the level of the Ramones, so Rock and Roll High School wins the prize.

1. Camera Buff
2. St. Jack
3. Life of Brian
4. Vengeance is Mine
5. Marriage of Maria Braun
6. Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night
7. The Tin Drum
8. Apocalypse Now
9. The Third Generation
10. Alien


PICTURE: Amor de Perdicao (though IMDB has it for 1979 - but you and Harvard have it for 1978, so that's 2 to 1, and that'll do for me... I have mixed feelings about that, since I wanted to vote for Chahine and Alexandria Why? but - on the other hand, 79 is a much stronger year, and de Oliveira wasn't going to win that, so I guess this works out...)
DIRECTOR: Manoel de Oliveira
LEAD ACTOR: Richard Pryor, Blue Collar
LEAD ACTRESS: Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween (well - it's what sticks in my head after all theze years.)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Yaphet Kotto, Blue Collar
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Linda Manz, Days of Heaven (though since she narrates the damned thing, shouldn't she be the lead?)
SHORT: another post-ponement, though I'm starting early enough, I might be able to get it done this week.
SCORE: Morricone, Days of Heaven
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Nestor Almendros & Haskell Wexler, Days of Heaven

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Another vote for Doomed Love, in all its tangled romantic glory
Music/Sound: I suppose the obvious answer is the Last Waltz (which is also the documentary winner) - but - for one given song, I can't miss the chance to note Earth Wind and Fire's version of Got to Get You Into My Life from that, um, well, you know, Sgt. Pepper film.

1. Doomed Love
2. Alexandria Why?
3. The Cycle
4. Blue Collar
5. The Deer Hunter
6. Drunken Master
7. 36th Chamber of Shaolin
8. The Brinks Job
9. Days of Heaven
10. Snake in the Eagle's Shadow


PICTURE: Killer of Sheep
DIRECTOR: Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, Hitler...
LEAD ACTOR: Bruno S., Stroscek
LEAD ACTRESS: Shelly Duvall, 3 Women
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Clemens Scheitz, Stroscek
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Eva Mattes, Stroscek
SCORE: Goblin, Suspiria
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Luciano Tovoli, Suspiria

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Stroscek
Music/Sound: Suspiria - it is a grand achievement for the senses...
Documentary: a couple big contenders, though both in the essay form more than the documentary form - Grin Without a Cat probably would win, though Hitler is an astonishing film.

1. Killer of Sheep
2. Eraserhead
3. Grin Without a Cat
4. 3 Women
5. Hitler: A Film from Germany
6. Stroscek
7. Suspiria
8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
9. Ceddo
10. Annie Hall


There are Rivettes I've missed, so I don't know how well this vote would hold up, but...

PICTURE: Killing of a Chinese Bookie
DIRECTOR: John Cassavetes
LEAD ACTOR: Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver
LEAD ACTRESS: Eiko Matsuda, Ai No Corrida
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Timothy Carey, Killing of a Chinese Bookie
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver
SHORT: I shall try to come back to this, though I'm tempted just to vote the for the Devo, for its place in history, and, you know, being brilliant.
SCORE: Herrmann, Taxi Driver
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Ballhaus, Taxi Driver

Plus bonus picks::
Script: Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Music/Sound: this would probably be those Devo films, in any case...
Documentary: Harlan County USA, which has to land high on any list...

1. Killing of a Chinese Bookie
2. Taxi Driver
3. Ai No Corrida
4. Bad News Bears
5. Anatomy of a Relationship
6. Harlan County USA
7. Rocky
8. All the President's Men
9. People of the Wind
10. The Man Who Fell to Earth


PICTURE: Nashville
DIRECTOR: Robert Altman
LEAD ACTOR: Jack Nicholson, in the Passenger (not just to be perverse - I tend to find Cuckoo's Nest a bit overwrought... here, he is restrained, and the restraint plays well with his essential Jack-ness)
LEAD ACTRESS: Delphine Seyrig
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Henry Gibson, Nashville
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: this is very difficult - it didn't really occur to me before, but all the really good parts in Nashville are for women - the performances are all good, but the men tend not to be so important to the film - with Gibson and Carradine and Keenan Wynn as exceptions - but the women, all of them, are superb, and the film really turns around them. If I have to pick? maybe not for her pure acting, but for her overall performance, and her place in the film - it's Ronee Blakely, all the way.
SHORT: Two Solutions to One Problem
SCORE: Jaws, I'm afraid...
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Luciano Tovoli, The Passenger

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail, obviously
Music/Sound: Nashville

1. Nashville
2. Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail
3. Jeanne Dielman 23 Quai du Commerce 108 Bruxelles
4. The Man Who WOuld be King
5. The Passenger
6. Galileo
7. Smile
8. Salo or 120 Days of Sodom
9. Dersu Urzala
10. I Am a Cat


PICTURE: Celine and Julie Go Boating
LEAD ACTOR: Bruno S., Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
LEAD ACTRESS: Gena Rowlands, Woman Under the Influence
SUPPORTING ACTOR: John Huston, Chinatown
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Madeline Kahn, Blazing Saddles
SHORT: we'll have to be back, when the chance arrives...
SCORE: Jerry Goldsmith, Chinatown
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jorg Schmidt-Ritwein, Kaspar Hauser

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence
Music/Sound: I'd say Kaspar Hauser - mix of classical, Bruno on the piano, and so on... very nice.
Documentary: another great Kazuo Hara film - Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974

1. Celine and Julie Go Boating
2. Mystery of Kaspar Hauser
3. A Woman Under the Influence
4. The Conversation
5. Out 1: Spectre
6. Chinatown
7. Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974
8. Godfather II
9. Fear Eats the Soul
10. The Circumstance


PICTURE: The Long Goodbye
DIRECTOR: Fassbinder, World on a Wire
LEAD ACTOR: Robert Mitchum, Friends of Eddie Coyle
LEAD ACTRESS: Sissy Spacek, Dablands
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sterling Hayden, The Long Goodbye, though it's hard to pass by De Niro
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ana Torrent, Spirit of the Beehive
SHORT: not really being qualified to vote on these, I'll vote for another great piece of video art - Nam June Paik's Global Groove
SCORE: John Williams, The Long Goodbye
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Vilmos Szigmond, The Long Goodbye

Plus bonus picks:
Script: I need a vote for Charley Varrick in here somewhere, and this makes a good spot for it
Music/Sound: Mean Streets
Best Quotation in another film or other medium: Tarantino's recycling the "pair of pliers and a blowtorch" line from Charley Varrick is a strong contender, but I have to vote for "if the devil comes, we'll shoot him with a gun" from Pere Ubu's Laughing (by way of Badlands).

1. Long Goodbye
2. Mean Streets
3. World on a Wire
4. Badlands
5. Charley Varrick
6. Spirit of the Beehive
7. The Mother and the Whore
8. Don't Look Now
9. Sleepers
10. The Wanderers


PICTURE: Aguirre Wrath of God
DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog
LEAD ACTOR: Klaus Kinski
LEAD ACTRESS: Liza Minelli, Cabaret
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Joel Gray, Cabaret
SHORT: Vertical Roll (video art by Joan Jonas)
SCORE: Popul Vuh, Aguirre
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Thomas Mauch, Aguirre

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Love in the Afternoon. Rohmer
Music/Sound: probably Cabaret.
Documentary: Sayonara CP, by the inimitable Kazuo Hara

1. Aguirre Wrath of God
2. The Godfather
3. Sayonara CP
4. Solaris
5. Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
6. Fat City
7. Pink Flamingos
8. Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
9. The Heartbreak Kid
10. Fourteen Amazons


A good year, but totally dominated by its best film. (Though that's partly because I've only seen the later, shorter, version of Out 1.)

PICTURE: McCabe and Mrs. Miller
DIRECTOR: Robert Altman
LEAD ACTOR: Warren Beatty
LEAD ACTRESS: Julie Christie
SHORT: Hapax Legomena I: Nostalgia, Hollis Frampton
SCORE: Leonard Cohen, McCabe
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Vilmos Szigmond, McCabe

Plus bonus picks:
Script: A New Leaf, Elaine May
Documentary: Land of Silence and Darkness, Herzog

1. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
2. The Ceremony
3. Two Lane Blacktop
4. Land of Silence and Darkness
5. Walkabout
6. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
7. Get Carter
8. A New Leaf
9. Harold and Maude
10. Minnie and Moskowitz


DIRECTOR: Oshima, for The Man Who Put His Will on Film
LEAD ACTOR: Joe D'Alessandro, Trash
LEAD ACTRESS: Julie Christie, Go-Betweens
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Holly Woodlawn, Trash
SHORT: I don't know if it's a vote, but I'll say Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty...
SCORE: Toro Takemitsu, Dodes'ka-den
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Vittorio Storaro, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Plus bonus picks:
Script: Pinter, for the Go-Betweens
Music/Sound: Gimme Shelter, which is also the best documentary of the year.

1. Trash
2. The Wild Child
3. The Man Who Left His Will on Film
4. The Conformist
5. Gimme Shelter
6. The Go Between
7. Dodeskaden
8. Zabriskie Point
9. Bed and Board
10. Claire's Knees

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hindsight as Foresight

Another Iraq war post - sorry about that. This one is something I posted in real time, on AOL, March 19, 2003. I wish I had found this the other day... this was a response to some dipshit comparing the invasion of Iraq to Normandy - I have never been one to suffer the abuse of history gladly....
Attacking Iraq is a pointless, cowardly act of bullying, a more or less willful distraction from any of the things that might in fact give our nation pause (from Al Qaeda to the economy to North Korea to Israeli-Palestine relations to the rest of the list), which comes at the end of a disgraceful season of diplomatic incompetence, that not even dirty tricks (bugging the UN?), bribery (what, 26 million for Turkey?), backstabbing (ask the Kurds), threats and insults and raw plain stupidity (all those idiots, right up to the house of representatives, renaming French Fries and french toast) could save from complete failure, leaving us alone, with one lame duck ally willing to do anything besides line up for the photo ops and payoffs...
It has been an odd week - I have been going back and forth with someone on Facebook about the war. This person is trying to justify the support for the war - how everyone thought Saddam had WMDs, both parties, how he didn't remember any arguments against the war, how all this talk about how bad it was comes from hindsight - I don't know. It wasn't hindsight - Stephen Walt points to this ad - signed by 33 international security academics - that lays out the case against the war, succinctly and absolutely accurately. Alex Pareene notes how The Washington Post and NY Times, even while pushing the war on the front pages and editorial pages, were publishing other stories - reported, in ways that didn't fall apart the way Judy Miller's did. Bill Moyers offers a collection of Iraq stories. There was enough info, in 2003, to doubt the government's case for the war. An awful lot of the information was speculation, probably on both sides - but when you found things that were based in solid reporting, they tended to point against the war. Things like the stories about Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda - those were debunked long before the war started, but were being repeated right up to the end. It made you wonder.

I mentioned how weak the arguments for the war seemed at the time - how they were built on metaphors and analogies, hand-waving, moving the goalposts around, and so on. They were narratives - stories - and that air of inevitability, the image of unanimity, was part of the narrative. As were the Serious people on TV, the Serious Liberals, too, forced to support the war - while the anti-war side wasn't suppressed exactly, but all too often was represented by hippies in the street - by movie stars and Noam Chomsky or something like that, at least as straw men. It was all so well orchestrated....

Enough. Though the fact is that it remains a haunting question - the means by which the country was taken to war, and especially the ways fairly widespread doubts about the war were submerged - not suppressed exactly - but somehow forgotten... It's a lesson of some kind. But one that even now seems to be submerged - brooding about the war seems even now to be something for lefty bloggers and repentant liberal hawks - the public and the politicians still seem quite unwilling to admit any of it happened. We shall see.

Reelin' in the Years Indeed

After a week of melancholy and angst, I am back for another go at the happy Friday Ritual of the Random Ten. Though before we get to the random ten, look what I found! (It was Nancy Nall who posted it.) Donnie and Marie, on ice, doing comedy, with a Steely Dan!

What might be most amazing is that despite the efforts of all involved, they can't ruin the song....

And so - iTunes, what have you for us today?

1. Boris - Czechoslovakia
2. Johnnie Taylor - Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone
3. Rites of Spring - Other Way Round
4. Jane's Addiction - End to your Lies [oh yeah - they still exist, don't they?]
5. Mogwai - Emergency Trap
6. Big Star - St 100/6
7. Bee Gees - More than a Woman
8. Jay Farrar - Angel's Blues
9. Motorhead - Bite the Bullet
10. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Shout

So - video? It is hard to imagine anything more 70s than the Osmonds - but this live Johnnie Taylor clip might make it. Certainly goes a long way toward redeeming the decade from the horrors of ice skating mormons.

though - speaking of the 70s - I think the Dan needs to state their own case.... maybe with the guitarists purple velvet pants.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Iraq Plus 10

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, one of the worst foreign policy disasters in American history. Not the worst - Vietnam killed 55,000 Americans and god knows how many Vietnamese, tore the USA apart, gave us Nixon in place of LBJ, corrupted almost every piece of American society, made us hated in the world - Iraq did plenty of harm, but Vietnam beat it across the board. But I will leave Iraq ahead of the Mexican-American war and the War of 1812. The former may have actually done the country more harm (being a fairly direct antecedent to the Civil War), and it was a vile act - an unprovoked act of conquest ("one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation" said Grant), all the worse for being waged in order to extend slavery - but, unlike Iraq or Vietnam or the War of 1812 (for the most part), it was a fairly spectacular victory, and wicked or not, success has to count for something. And the War of 1812, though a stupid war and a complete disaster for the USA, didn't do too much harm - the British had bigger fish to fry and dropped it, and we managed to win a battle after it was done, so I guess it isn't in the running... No - Iraq gets that second place.

But that's the best you can say about it - not quite as bad as Vietnam. A war started on false pretenses, that never really promised any benefits for the US or the world - Saddam Hussein was irrelevant in 2003, there was nothing to be gained by fighting that war. A war that weakened the much more useful endeavors in Afghanistan. That cost us support around the world for everything we did. Costs thousands of lives, trillions of dollars - of our money, never mind the harm we did to Iraq to no end. And did it all for nothing - there were no benefits to starting it, and no unexpected benefits emerged along the way. We conquered the place easily enough, but screwed things up as soon as we marched in. We were diminished by the war in every way - our actions, particularly things like Abu Ghraib (though that started before we went to Iraq); our political discourse - the cowardly reaction of the political classes, accepting the war, congress abdicating its responsibility, the press taking no responsibility, the public accepting the thing... We have not recovered from Vietnam (I'm not sure, sometimes, if we've recovered from the Mexican-American war) - we will be a long time recovering from this disgrace.

I remember the beginning of the war - walking through the Public Garden, with helicopters flying overhead, circling downtown, as if they were afraid that millions of hippies would come out of cold storage and take over the city. It was unsettling. I joke about hippies, but what were those helicopters there for? There might have been protests, though I didn't see them that day - but what difference did a bunch of helicopters make? I felt instead that this was something officials felt they had to do - we were at war - there should be helicopters circling the city, cops in riot gear, sirens. You had to act like there was a war going on....

I don't mean to turn this into a kind of media critique, though I suppose it's inevitable. It was a war for the media, and by the media. The blogs were all shivery about it, after months and months of anticipation and debate. Perfectly sensible liberals defending the build up to war, though a lot of them seemed to drop out in the last month or so before the event. Exciting footage on TV (I guess it was exciting - the news channels seemed to think so) - sensible people on TV, sensible liberals! Bill Clinton! talking about how important this was, gosh, what if Saddam has something? All of that surrounded by a steady pulse of uneasiness - elevated terror alerts at opportune moments, that kind of thing.

It was very strange. I remember arguing about it, mostly on AOL - the arguments for the war seemed so completely nonsensical. The claims about Saddam's threats were so obviously exaggerated - there was plenty of information around, from far more credible sources (like the actual UN inspectors), that he didn't have any weapons of mass destruction - and there was nothing, anywhere, to indicate that he had any connection to Al Qaeda, that he planned to cause any trouble to anyone (other than his own people) - it was maddening. And so many of the arguments, even in the public discourse, consisted of magic thinking, metaphors - anticipating Tom Friedman's Suck. On. This. moment - showing the world we meant business. So much of it was like that - all about messaging - sending a message to the terrorists that we were big and bad and were gonna kill a bunch of the bastards! Which depended so much on analogies and metaphors - the smoking gun is a mushroom cloud stuff - the people I was arguing with on AOL were particularly awful, constantly comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler, to a naughty child, to a gangrenous limb, on and on. It was hard, in real time, in 2003, not to see the war as a piece of theater - as what Friedman said it was - going somewhere and picking someone out and beating the living shit out of them, just to show we'd do it.

In other words, terrorism. And, as is almost inevitable, terrorism never works - the people you use it on take note and get you back when the chance comes. Or, sometimes, get back at someone else... but it doesn't work. Victims of terrorism harden their hearts, at least against the users of terror.

And - I know it is bad form to say I told you so, but - Tom Friedman's still employed! So - sorry - I did tell you so, as did quite a few other people, many of them in positions where they should have been listened to. And a not insubstantial number of protestors. Who were right. So I will end with something I wrote on AOL, April 12, 2003:
We might want to hold off a bit on claiming Iraq has been "liberated" - currently they are simply conquered (though not quite pacified) - maybe we should find out who ends up in charge before getting too celebratory. Let's face it - the odds that Iraq will come out of this better off than they were under Saddam are probably about even - they are that high primarily because they may not have us for an enemy any more. Their new rulers are not likely to edify the gentle of heart.
I mean - we could see the rest of it coming. I could, and who am I? It's kind of the point I was getting at with the comments on the media, on the symbolism of the war - the pro-war side treated it as though it were a gesture. The anti-war side didn't have all that much special virtue, maybe - they just treated it as real actions in the real world involving real people. Which is a lesson we fucking well ought to learn.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Personal Aside

I am not the most prolific poster ever, but this week is worse than usual, and the reason, I'm afraid, is worse yet. One of my closest friends died last week - suddenly, an aneurism, and young. Today would have been his 51st birthday. We met in college, he lived next door to me in the dorm, and we hit it off quickly, as we were both history nerds, politics junkies, baseball fans and gamers. After college, he stayed in the area, and we shared apartments or lived up the street, and continued to get together to go book shopping, watch baseball or play games. When he moved back home to Pennsylvania, we stayed in touch, playing games online, getting together every year or so with as much of the old gang as we could find. It is unimaginable to think I won't see him again.

A couple of my friends drove down to PA for the service - a long, tiring drive, but a chance to remember him, see his family, remember how generous all of them were, remind myself too that all of our families liked him as much as we did. We will miss him.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jean Brodie Quiz

Time for another quiz from Dennis Cozzalio - this one Miss Jean Brodie’s Modestly Magnificent, Matriarchally Manipulative Springtime-For-Mussolini Movie Quiz. I have managed to finish it in record time, I think! only 2 days since it was posted! I feel so proud.

1) The classic movie moment everyone loves except me is:

A: This is one of those questions that I will be able to answer 3 months from now when someone will say how much they love that scene in X, and I will think, Christ, that is a stupid scene, and then I will remember this quiz and say, I wish I had remembered that back in March. but I don't remember it now, so I have to let this one go.

2) Favorite line of dialogue from a film noir

A: There are lots of famous lines - though the one that seems to me to get the essence of noir is the last line in the Killing - “what’s the difference?” Hayden's delivery is part of it, obviously.

3) Second favorite Hal Ashby film

A: Shampoo (Harold and Maude is number 1)

4) Describe the moment when you first realized movies were directed as opposed to simply pieced together anonymously. *

A: There might be two answers here. One might not be what you are asking - I because an auteurist because of Howard Hawks. I noticed that he had directed a number of completely different films I loved - Bringing up Baby, Scarface, The Big Sleep, Red River - and thought - you know, these films have nothing obvious in common, but they all play alike - how does that work?.... The other is a bit strange: I believe it is true that I made a film before I had ever actually seen one. It’s not quite literally true, even in the narrow sense of seeing a film as film, projected - I saw home movies and 8 and 16 mm films in school and church and what not. But commercially, I did not go to the movies - but I made one, in early high school, along with my Sunday school class - a Christmas film. I played Joseph. 8 mm with post synch sound (which didn’t work too well because the tape player had a dying battery.) So - my point being - I knew more about how films were made (at a pretty basic, crude level) before I had seen enough films to have any other ideas about them.

5) Favorite film book

A: David Bordwell’s Ozu book

6) Diana Sands or Vonetta McGee

A: Vonetta McKee

7) Most egregious gap in your viewing of films made in the past 10 years

A: Given my loyalty to Hong Kong films in the 90s, I find it very troubling that I have seen so few in the 00s and 10s. 2-3 Johnny To films is about it - which itself is very disappointing to me..

8) Favorite line of dialogue from a comedy

A: This is a very tough one, but I might as well go to the top: “Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot.”

9) Second favorite Lloyd Bacon film

A: Footlight Parade (after 42nd Street, of course)

10) Richard Burton or Roger Livesey

A: Burton

11) Is there a movie you staunchly refuse to consider seeing? If so, why?

A: There are no lack of them - it would take an act of god to get me to watch any of the 50 million superhero films that come out every month, just to name one current trend I want no part of.

12) Favorite filmmaker collaboration

A: I'm going with Tabu, Flaherty and Murnau.

13) Most recently viewed movie on DVD/Blu-ray/theatrical?

A: DVD is Creation, the Paul Betany Darwin movie. Now that I think about it. Theatrically, it’s been a Chilean weekend, as I saw Night Across the Street yesterday and No today.

14) Favorite line of dialogue from a horror movie

A: As a line - “are we not men?” - takes the prize - the whole sequence maybe. “What is the law?” I’m afraid a lot of the things that come to mind for horror films are really comedy lines - Herbert West’s “You’re not even a second rate scientist!” or Dwight Frye’s delivery of “It’s a very fresh one!” Though I suppose Karloff’s “We belong dead!” would be another strong contender.

15) Second favorite Oliver Stone film

A: Probably Salvador. (After Platoon.) I don’t really like Oliver Stone.

16) Eva Mendes or Raquel Welch

A: Raquel Welch.

17) Favorite religious satire

A: Life of Brian is the runaway winner.

18) Best Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)

A: The good ones tend to be over films or filmmakers - working out differences between the good and the great, usually. Someone upthread mentioned arguing about the Thin Red Line - I was in some of those; and Magnolia; and since then, you get the same thing, directly or indirectly, over various films and directors - Malick, Lynch, Anderson and Anderson, Tarantino seem to be frequent subjects for debate. Usually fairly informative and engaging. More general topics tend not to be quite so edifying.

19) Most pointless Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)

A: every couple years I seem to run into another argument about auteurism. No thanks! (Not that I have ever been able to not have an opinion.)

20) Charles McGraw or Robert Ryan

A: Robert Ryan

21) Favorite line of dialogue from a western

A: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.”

22) Second favorite Roy Del Ruth film

A: Employee’s Entrance (after Blessed Event) - hey, maybe “go ahead, shoot! What are you, yellow?” ought to be my favorite line. Warren William is a good one. (But yes, Lee Tracy is better.)

23) Relatively unknown Film or filmmaker you’d most eagerly proselytize for

A: Well, let’s just say Blessed Event and leave it at that.

24) Ewan McGregor or Gerard Butler

A: Ewan McGregor

25) Is there such a thing as a perfect movie?

A: Rushmore?

26) Favorite movie location you’ve most recently had the occasion to actually visit *

A: I saw Rubberneck last week - saw it at the Brattle - I can. There is also a scene at Kendall station. Though this whole thing might be a bit odd, since a couple scenes in Mystic River were shot in the building where I work, so - you know, every day.

27) Second favorite Delmer Daves film

A: Dark Passage. (After 3:10 to Yuma)

28) Name the one DVD commentary you wish you could hear that, for whatever reason, doesn't actually exist

A: the Marx Brothers’ commentary on Duck Soup?

29) Gloria Grahame or Marie Windsor

A: Grahame, isn’t it? She is something.

30) Name a filmmaker who never really lived up to the potential suggested by their early acclaim or success

A: David Gordon Green is an obvious example; there might be better, but he is the obvious one.

31) Is there a movie-based disagreement serious enough that it might cause you to reevaluate the basis of a romantic relationship or a friendship? *

A: I am not sure I can think of anything. I’m pretty forgiving.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday Random Ten

Hello again. Been another one of THOSE weeks, hasn't it... oh well. Lousy weather, cold and either rainy or snowy or both, windy and miserable anyway - I am tired and out of sorts and so I shall not bore you with much. Skip to the music! Here we go, without much fanfare...

1. Morningwood - Nth Degree [oy]
2. Iggy Pop - Baby
3. Xiu Xiu - 20,000 Deaths for Eldelyn Gonzales, 20,000 Deaths for Jamie Peterson
4. Starflyer 59 - All My Friends Who Play Guitar [christian shoe gazer rock? could be worse...]
5. Patti Smith - Dancing Barefoot
6. John Hartford - Indian War Whoop
7. Neil Young - Like a Hurrican (unplugged) [pump it Neil!]
8. Beck, Bogart, Appice - Oh to Love You
9. The Doors - Back Door Man [they never seem to come up here...]
10. Yardbirds - Someone to Love

Well then - video? it's feeling very Canadian out there, so here's Old Neil, the very performance, I believe... playing that beautiful pump organ.

Slightly off the list - here are the feelies covering the other great song on today's list, back in 1987....

Friday, March 01, 2013

Friday Random Music

This is a very welcome Friday let me tell you. It has been a long, tiring week - for good reasons, as well as bad - the good, some cousins in town, and a very fine time had by all; the bad - oy - rain, sleet, wind, and a variety of system outages at work, culminating yesterday in E-mail outages - which comes damned close to shutting down the company... I hope for a restful weekend - one with some good films to see... Stoker opens - that's to the good.

Oh - and happy birthday to Jacques Rivette!

On to the music - there might be some movement on this score in the coming weeks - if I ever listen to the new Nick Cave or Atoms for Peace or Richard Thompson or Pere Ubu records I have recently acquired. One would hope - that is a stellar lineup, with a couple of my All Time Absolute Favorites in there, and Cave not far from that himself... but time will tell. Today - we've got the shuffle to keep us entertained.

1. Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A Changin'
2. Spirit - Morning Will Come
3. John Parish & Polly Jean Harvey - That Was My Veil
4. Mission of Burma - Train
5. Peter Laughner - Rock it Down
6. Nine Inch Nails - A Warm Place
7. Decembrists - Sons & Daughters
8. The Carter Family - Sea of Galilee
9. Snuff - I Can't Explain
10. Zulus - Gotta Have Faith

That brings back memories - the Zulus were ubiquitous in Boston in the late 80s, and I saw them half a dozen times, easily. Alas, they were not documented so well as they could have been - I cannot find video of that song, which was usually the show ender - so... this works, Directly From Our Heart to Yours...

And - another singalong, like You Gotta Have Faith.... the Decembrists: