Monday, August 29, 2005

A Musical Meme

This is kind of fun. From Rox Populi it's a meme - take the top 100 songs from the year (you can find them at Music Outfitters) you graduated high school, and tell the crowd: good? bad? love it? hate it?

Like Roxanne, I'm an 81 graduate, so I'm saddled with the same bunch of crap she is. I'm going to mark it up with text though, rather than try to format... I will employ stars for quick reference * isgood, ** is great. *** is the best of the litter.

1. Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes - blah
2. Endless Love, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie - I have forgotten this, though te knowledge that it exists makes me tremble.
3. Lady, Kenny Rogers - oh god
*4. (Just Like) Starting Over, John Lennon - kind of lame John Lennon, but passable
5. Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield - bland but harmless
*6. Celebration, Kool and The Gang - This isn't half bad - it can get irritating, but it's still pretty decent.
7. Kiss On My List, Daryl Hall and John Oates - ghastly
*8. I Love A Rainy Night, Eddie Rabbitt - perfectly acceptable pop
*9. 9 To 5, Dolly Parton - I like Dolly Parton
*10. Keep On Loving You, REO Speedwagon - I should hate this, but don't; I don't like it very much though.
11. Theme From "Greatest American Hero", Joey Scarbury - this keeps getting used in movies, but it sucks.
12. Morning Train (Nine To Five), Sheena Easton - blah
**13. Being With You, Smokey Robinson - Smokey can do no wrong
14. Queen Of Hearts, Juice Newton - lightly likable
**15. Rapture, Blondie - plenty cool...
16. A Woman Needs Love, Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio - this I have forgotten ocmpletely
*17. The Tide Is High, Blondie - this is okay, not great
18. Just The Two Of Us, Grover Washington Jr. - I kind of like this - Bill Withers singing, right?
19. Slow Hand, Pointer Sisters - okay
20. I Love You, Climax Blues Band - I have forgotten this
*21. Woman, John Lennon - more sappy John Lennon, but sappy John Lennon is so far above almost everything else on this list...
22. Sukiyaki, A Taste Of Honey - cute song, though pointless
23. The Winner Takes It All, Abba - I don't remember this one either
24. Medley, Stars On 45 - I should remember this, but I think I'm glad I don't
25. Angel Of The Morning, Juice Newton - 2 Juice Newton songs? sweet Jesus!
26. Love On The Rocks, Neil Diamond - I think I a glad to have forgotten tis
27. Every Woman In The World, Air Supply - before Creed, there was Air Supply - evil incarnate
28. The One That You Love, Air Supply - ditto
29. Guilty, Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb - gone from the attic of my mind.
30. The Best Of Times, Styx - gone! old age has its benefits.
31. Elvira, Oak Ridge Boys - ugh.
32. Take It On The Run, REO Speedwagon - not great, but I can't hate it
33. No Gettin' Over Me, Ronnie Milsap - oy
34. Living Outside Myself, Gino Vannelli - I know this exists, but can't remember any of it, to my relief
35. Woman In Love, Barbra Streisand - if I remembered this I might have to kill myself
36. Boy From New York City, Manhattan Transfer - cute, pointless
37. Urgent, Foreigner - what a shitty band this was
38. Passion, Rod Stewart - dumb new wave/disco crap. Rod Rod Rod
39. Lady (You Bring Me Up), Commodores - I can't remember it; I probably would not hate it though.
40. Crying, Don Mclean - why bother? the original is fine.
41. Hearts, Marty Balin - bland, but it's not "we built this city"
42. It's My Turn, Diana Ross - no
43. You Make My Dreams, Daryl Hall and John Oates - they could be lame when they wanted to
44. I Don't Need You, Kenny Rogers - and we don't need you, Kenny
45. How 'Bout Us, Champaign - I think I like this, if I remember it right. Probably shouldn't admit that, if I want to keep any credibility - though I could be misremembering it.
46. Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Pat Benatar - make it go away
**47. The Breakup Song, Greg Kihn Band - I love this song; there may be better songs on this list, but this is the one I still listen to and sing along with...
48. Time, Alan Parsons Project - not bad
*49. Hungry Heart, Bruce Springsteen - another fine song, if not the Boss's best
50. Sweetheart, Franke and The Knockouts - long forgotten
51. Someone's Knockin', Terri Gibbs - ditto
52. More Than I Can Say, Leo Sayer - ditto
53. Together, Tierra - good lord - someone's messing with me, I don’t remember this either.
54. Too Much Time On My Hands, Styx - oh, I remember this; Styx really sucked by the time the 80s came - I can't even muster any ironic appreciation of their crap
55. What Are We Doin' In Love, Dottie West - forgotten!
56. Who's Crying Now, Journey - lame, but not horrible
*57. De Do Do Do, De Da Da, Police - palatable
58. This Little Girl, Gary U.S. Bonds - I don't remember it, but I bet I liked it - I had a frien who had this record and loved it.
59. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, Stevie Nicks With Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers - palatable, though not much more - now Weird Al'sversion...
60. Giving It Up For Your Love, Delbert McClinton - okay
61. A Little In Love, Cliff Richard - what?
62. America, Neil Diamond - I can stand this
63. Ain't Even Done With The Night, John Cougar - lousy as hell
64. Arthur's Theme, Christopher Cross - drive anyone to drink
*65. Another One Bites The Dust, Queen - hey - Queen is more than acceptable
**66. Games People Play, Alan Parsons Project - this is pretty good, actually - I have a soft spot for some of that clever AOR...
67. I Can't Stand It, Eric Clapton - Eric Clapton's solo career is Phil Collins without the songs. He was fine backing Jack Bruce or Steve Winwood, but after that...
**68. While You See A Chance, Steve Winwood - speak of the devil! not a bad song.
69. Master Blaster, Stevie Wonder - I wish I remembered this; I would if I heard it
70. Hello Again, Neil Diamond - yuck.
**71. Don't Stand So Close To Me, Police - better Police...
***72. Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan - another pretty great song; ah, decadence!
73. I Ain't Gonna Stand For It, Stevie Wonder - I wish I remembered this, too
74. All Those Years Ago, George Harrison - bland
75. Step By Step, Eddie Rabbitt - no no no
76. The Stroke, Billy Squier - stoopid, but harmless
77. Feels So Right, Alabama - nope
78. Sweet Baby, Stanley Clarke and George Duke - don't remember it at all
79. Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg - nor this
80. Cool Love, Pablo Cruise - nor this, even
81. Hold On Tight, ELO - nor this
82. It's Now Or Never, John Schneider - wait - is this the Duke's of Hazard guy?
83. Treat Me Right, Pat Benatar - go away!
*84. Winning, Santana - Now this I loved back in the day - still holds up okay, I think
85. What Kind Of Fool, Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb - another one gone from my poor small mind
**86. Watching The Wheels, John Lennon - the best of the John Lennon’s here - in fact, a pretty god song.
87. Tell It Like It Is, Heart - a great song, but the Wilson sisters aren't the Neville Brothers
88. Smoky Mountain Rain, Ronnie Milsap - don’t remember it
89. I Made It Through The Rain, Barry Manilow - would not admit to remembering it if I did
90. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', Daryl Hall and John Oates - pointless cover
91. Suddenly, Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard - whatever
92. For Your Eyes Only, Sheena Easton - lousy, really
93. The Beach Boys Medley, Beach Boys - probably schlock
**94. Whip It, Devo - where did this come from? When a problem comes along, you must whip it!
95. Modern Girl, Sheena Easton - no
96. Really Wanna Know You, Gary Wright - don't remember this either
97. Seven Year Ache, Rosanne Cash - oddly - nor this - a lot of the country of the day is lost forever
98. I'm Coming Out, Diana Ross - this is kind of stupid, actually
99. Miss Sun, Boz Scaggs - don’t remember it
100. Time Is Time, Andy Gibb - what?

Someone in the comments at Rox Populi said that if you do this for the year you were 13, it comes out a lot better. That's obviously the case for those of us who grew up in the 70s. 81 or 82 is about when pop music went to hell, and it's not my age - it's punk's fault. It split off all the good stuff into the margins, and the crap took over the mainstream. That's my theory. Same as movies.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Weekly Movie Update

Okay - here we are. Another week, another - only 3 films? Well - good ones, at least. Still working on a full 2046 review - it's coming. In the meanwhile - this isn't a bad selection.

Batman Begins - ** - better late than never, I guess... a competent, entertaining, well made film, another Batman origin story. Nothing special though, the Tim Burton Batmans and the TV series movie are still the gold standards.

The World - **** - Jia Zhang Ke is one of the best directors in the world. He has been charting China's evolution into the 21st century (and - in Platform - through the 80s as well), from below - petty crooks, disaffected youth, marginal workers - paying special attention to marginal entertainers. That’s what we have here - The World is set in an amusement park in Beijing, where we follow a handful of its workers - a dancer, a security guard, their friends - as they live. People come and go, work, party, steal, suffer, die. Spending their time in a place full of tiny replicas of the rest of the world - the Eiffel Tower, the World Trade Center (China's version are still standing, someone notes), the Taj Mahal - they are reminded daily who they are, what they have done. They have not traveled, most of them have no hope whatsoever of leaving the country - many of them haven't traveled around China - probably taking a train or bus straight from their home town in the sticks to Beijing, sleeping in basements and dangerous apartments while they work at dangerous jobs. Some turn to theft - some marry - some slip into prostitution - some leave the country (the ones with some money) - some die. Jia shows it all with his mostly impassive camera - long takes, complex articulated spaces, and the ubiquity of the park, with its miniature version of the world - interrupting this impassivity from tie to time with titles, and animations, usually inspired by cel phone text messages. It's another impressive entry in on of the strongest bodies of work of the past decade.

The 40 Year Old Virgin - *** - this is, actually, a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is extremely funny, very likable and generous to its characters, and full of nice little details that give it bite and depth; on the other hand, it stretches plausibility even by the standards of romantic comedies - and most seriously - it's the latest in the line of romantic comedies that are completely one sided - the man's side. It almost gets away with this by making Catherine Keener the female lead - but her presence just emphasizes the fact that she has very little to do. She's an object - she's never a subject. Now - in a movie like Broken Flowers or 2046, that might be understandable, if they did that. If they were about the man - and the women were seen only through his perspective. Those are films about the perceptions of the man. They are films, in a lot of ways, about our distance from other people - a distance the films rightfully illustrate in their style and POV. (Or - they could; in fact, 2046, especially, does a good deal more. But that's its own post, which is coming sooner or later.) But The 40 Year Old Virgin is a romantic comedy - and no, I'm not giving it a pass because it's "not trying to be a romantic comedy" - no: it is a romantic comedy. And it is a romantic comedy where only one side of the couple is given anything special to do.

There are no excuses. Films like this have an obligation to make the women in them have something at stake, as well as the men. That is the point of a romantic comedy - to present the lovers, apart at first, but overcoming obstacles to form a couple. And it is crucial, for a romantic comedy to work, that both lovers be made subjects - that both sides be given an inner life, reasons for the liaison, etc. Keener's character here, wonderful as Keener is, and interesting as her character seems to be, is not, ever, a subject. She is an object... I must also protest that she is never given the chance to be ridiculous. Everyone else is ridiculous: Jane Lynch gets to be ridiculous. Why not Keener? Damned shame....

This film is the latest in a moderately scary trend - The Wedding Crashers, Sideways - romantic comedies told almost completely from the male point of view, with flawed, if amusing, men, and women who - are presented as a kind of abstract grounding agent. It's probably not a new trend: it's probably dominant since the 40s. But these films make it noticeable, through their first rate revival of the form. But a revival that maintains, from 80s teen comedies and the like, the purely male-centered attitude. Of the three (Virgin, Crashers and Sideways), it is interesting that the one doing the best job of escaping this is Wedding Crashers - the one generally considered the least evolved. But the fact is - both the female leads in the film are given personalities - desires, wills of their own. They may be secondary, but they are independent. (Another recent comedy that does this well is Anchorman - Christina Applegate is both the sensible, grounding character - and a willful, obsessive, comic character herself - with a life, desires, will, etc.) Sideways flirts with this, but isn't as convincing as it thinks - and Virgin makes no effort. To its shame, and thus costing what otherwise might have been the best Hollywood film of the year.

Wars and Who Fights Them

I am not a big fan of the "chickenhawk" insult. It's over-simplistic - it implies that all wars are created equal; that everyone who fights or doesn't fight does it for the same reasons; it opens you up, a bit, to claims that you are saying that only soldiers should make foreign policy decisions (expressed in this Rich Lowry article on National Review Online). If the "chickenhawks" themselves weren't already committed to the far more offensive idea that opposition to the war = treason, they could turn it back around: "if you want to oppose the war, shouldn't you be out there making love not war?" Both are good sentiments, I admit - if you support the war you should do something meaningful about it - if you are against the war, you should do something meaningful about it - but what is meaningful depends a bit on who you are.

But even though I am uncomfortable with it in general, there are quite a few cases where it seems perfectly legitimate. James Wolcott expresses this position very well here:

For me, the working definition of a chickenhawk is--a chickenhawk is a cheerleader. A cheerleader for war. And not necessarily just the war in Iraq, or regional war in the Mideast, but war in general. A chickenhawk glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head, mocking those less enthusiastic military aggression as pacifists, appeasers (Michael Ledeen's pet word), even traitors. Who patronize anyone with qualms, from the Quakers to the Chuck Hagel, with edgy impatience and disdain. Who treat the destruction of human life as a stupendous flourish as long as it's the US doing the destroying--who, that is, propose "creative destruction" on a geopolitical scale as an instrument of transformation. Not to mention an opportunity to teach those desert folks in sandals a lesson upside the head.

That is close to how I feel. People who mock opponents to the war - people who dismiss the ideas of actual soldiers - people who attack Cindy Sheehan and her supporters - who glorify a war they have no intention of taking part in (despite being of the proper age) - those are chickenhawks. The college kids who rave about how this war is the Great Issue of the Age, then whine that they have every right to hold political opinions without consequences (to themselves) - those are chickenhawks. And - the Vietnam generation - the Dick Cheneys and Tom DeLays and so on, who skipped the war, but feel free to attack veterans, to agitate for new wars that their kids won't have to fight in - they are chickenhawks, and deserve no sympathy.

There is another point here that should be made: in real wars, people serve. People signed up to fight in WWI, in WWII, even if they weren't required. The country, as a whole, supported the draft in those wars - and a draft that was not as patently unfair as it was during Vietnam. You do not hear the supporters of the Iraq war calling for a draft (unless they can find a way to blame it on a democrat). You do not see many of them volunteering, because they think it is the right thing to do - and, despite what Ben Shapiro thinks - it's the right thing to do, if you believe this war is necessary, and you are of a certain age. In fact - another sign of the chickenhawk is their attitude toward people like John Kerry who did just that - signed up for a war they could have ducked. They don't consider military service worthy of praise or respect. They may glorify the military in the abstract, but the left treats actual veterans and the families of veterans with more respect than the right does.

Meanwhile - at Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte writes about John Fogerty and class issues - which again, points up the difference between this war and others. The fortunate sons fought in WWI and WWII - they did not fight so much in Vietnam - and now, they seem to take it for granted that they are not supposed to fight. That's what we have poor people for. The exceptions (poor Pat Tillman) prove the rule, a bit. You just don't hear much about pro-war types joining the army to put their money where their mouths are. Does every single warblogger have to join the marines? No, probably not - but you'd think you'd hear of a few more trying it...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Another Friday Commute

Got a bunch of them in today. I think I like this format better than the traditional Friday Random Ten. Maybe because it reflects the actual daily use of the machine. Anyway - into the void! (what did I do to get 2 Sabbath songs in there? acoustic folk, from the same record even! freaky!)

1. U2 - Trying to throw Your Arms Around the World -
2. Bob Dylan - Love Minus Zero/No Limit
3. Devendra Banhardt - Horseheadedfleshwizard
4. Black Sabbath - Orchid
5. REM - Second Guessing
6. Velvet Underground and Nico - Venus in Furs
7. Charlie Parker - Flat Foot Floogie
8. Shonen Knife - Banana Leaf
9. Bill Frisell - Billy the Kid: Mexican Dance and Finale
10. Black Sabbath - Into the Void
11. Red Crayola - Coconut Hotel
12. Sant 6 - Are you Human?
13. Meat Puppets - Crazy
14. Sleater-Kinney - End of You
15. Sunburned Hand of the Man - Easy Wind
16. The Carter Family - My Native Home
17. Can - Spray

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Glad to be a Liberal

It's been a while since I've put up a political post, so let's try one. Lots of lovely right wing scumbags to comment on.

First, there's one of our scummier mullahs, Pat Robertso, calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez.

... then denying he did it.

... then weaseling about it. "Oh, I was 'adlibbing' - oh, I didn't mean it!"

Meanwhile, the American Legion disgraced itself: calling "an end to all “public protests” and “media events” against the war" -
"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."
Not a pretty picture.

Then there's Eugene Volokh, who's supposed to be a lawyer and a wise man (for a conservative) - writing at length about
Gays and Lesbians Trying to Convert Others to Homosexual Behavior. The gist of which seems to be, gay people don't mind if bisexuals or straights are willing to sleep with them. But with charts, so it's gotta be serious. Right?

Actually, it's worse than that: apparently, he's put up a whole series of posts about homosexuality. I think Arthur Silber answered best.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Loss

This is very sad - George Fasel, who ran a movie blog called A Girl and a Gun, has died. Despite being a hopeless movie geek, I've only really started looking for movie blogs in the last 2-3 months - this was one Lance Mannion recommended - it quickly jumped to the top of my list of blogs to read. For some reason, when people I don't know, but have started to know, die, I take it hard - I miss not getting to know people like Mr. Fasel better.

In his honor, I will list some of the better movie blogs I've come across - they are going on the "blogroll" too. (This blog is slowly starting to round into something coherent, too - after 2 years of playing...)

These are all good:

  • Filmbrain
  • Girl and a Gun
  • Culturespace
  • Girish Shambu
  • Long Pauses
  • Cinephiliac
  • Film Journey
  • Pullquote
  • Motion Picture it's Called
  • Self styled Siren
  • Monday, August 22, 2005

    Randomized Entertainment

    Sure, not all of these are strictly random - but... Like most people, I can lose hours on sites like these:

    Overheard in New York
    Overheard in Philly
    Overheard in the Office
    ...And so on. I imagine everyone has one of those...
    Live Journal Pictures - that really is wonderful. The cut up world.

    And intentional collaborative/collective efforts: like Learning to Love You More.

    Not to mention flipping through blogs...

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    Weekly Movie Post

    This time, there are only three entries, and 2 of them repeats - I ended up watching Love Me Tonight a couple more times, and saw 2046 again. That only leaves one new film, which may be the only film covered in this post. The other two I think will require some more detail, especially 2046 (since it is new, and, now that I've seen it in a proper setting, I think it might be one of the best films of the decade.)

    Junebug *** - a fine movie about the South, about a Chicago based English gallery owner who marries a man from North Carolina, and visits his family in the process of recruiting an "outsider artist"... It then turns into a kind of city folk in the sticks culture clash film, but without the usual cliches. It's a good film - fascinating, accurate, sympathetic, to everyone - it is interesting about art, especially outsider art (which it links, subtly, to broader habits, of making things, of taking pride in making things - woodworking, cooking, sewing, etc.) - on outsider art, it gets both the ugliness and passion of people like the artist here, with his psychotic civil war. Structurally, it does some notable things as well - the way Alessandro Nivola almost completely disappears when he goes home, turning into his father and brother, silent, mysterious, only emerging in a couple scenes - singing in church, the aftermath of the main plot event in the film... It's right - the way he changes when he's home - keeping his counsel, not wanting to reject them, but not part of them anymore either...

    Stylistically, it's a well made indie type film with more than the usual ration of explicit Ozu references. I do mean explicit - credits on burlap, use of transition shots (within scenes even), the little tour Morrison gives of the house - as well as the broader influence of the story, the family dynamics, etc. It's not slavish imitation, and avoids the more obvious (and jolting) elements of Ozu's style - the frontal compositions, 180 degree cuts, the graphic matches and so on (which directors like Wes Anderson have adopted wholesale) - and some of the semantic elements (kids, marriages - though this is about marriage and leaving home, just seen from after the fact instead of before). But it's a clear homage, which Morrison has acknowledged.

    EVIL Rears its UGLY Head, 2!

    It's the 2005 edition of the Top Ten Most Ridiculous Black Metal Pics! Ooh, it's scary, especially the nudity...

    Friday, August 19, 2005

    Where I'll be Sometime Next Year

    There is no ambiguity here, is there? All you need to know - it's a movie called Snakes on a Plane, and it stars Samuel L. Jackson.

    Now - if they end up calling it Pacific Air Flight 121 - fuck that shit!

    Snakes on a Plane.

    (Via Majikthise.)

    iRidin' the iRails Again

    Or, this week's Friday Random Ten (13)....

    1) At the Drive In - One Armed Scissors
    2) Sunny Day Real Estate - In circles (live)
    3) Fugazi - Blueprint
    4) John Lennon - TheLuck of the Irish (live)
    5) Feelies - Moscow Nights
    6) Johnny Cash - The Old Account was Settled (live at San Quentin)
    7) Modest Mouse - Truckers Atlas
    8) Linda Ronstadt - Love is a Rose
    9) fIREHOSE - Lost Colors
    10) Rocket From the Tombs - Final Solution
    11) Charlie Freak - Monotony (this is what shuffle is good for; a friend of mine knows a couple of the guys in this band; they're decent, kind of nu-metalish, though not unbearably so... not something I'm likely to pick on purpose, but nice to hear...)
    12) Tom Waits - The Black Rider
    13) Husker Du - Hanging On (live) - does this come up as often as it seems? Or have I just put this into every playlist I have? It's very cool, though; this is a great version; one of those great little 20 second Bob Mould guitar solos that packs a minute and a half of information in...

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Useless Blogtrivia

    I should know better, but I was bored, so I got to clicking on the "next blog" button up in the corner - and find that blogger has been almost completely taken over by blog-spammers. Something like 7 of the first 10 sites to come up were ad sites... I guess they aren't really spammers, unless they're comment spamming, but that's where I first noticed it, not here - I don't even get comment spam.... Anyway. Pretty bad. Takes away most of the temptation to blogsurf, not that that temptation comes up too often.

    Stranger Than Fiction

    Here's a story, about "strangelets" - I quote:

    Formed in the Big Bang and inside extremely dense stars, strangelets are thought to be made from quarks - the subatomic particles found inside protons and neutrons. Unlike ordinary matter, however, they also contain "strange quarks", particles normally only seen in high-energy accelerators.

    Strangelets - sometimes also called strange-quark nuggets - are predicted to have many unusual properties, including a density about ten million million times greater than lead. Just a single pollen-size fragment is believed to weigh several tons.

    Very interesting stuff. (Link via Ezra Klein.)

    Monday, August 15, 2005

    Movies Recapped

    I think this feature is starting to evolve: more than a list, though still not quite real reviews - something between. The weather has had a definite effect on this post - the rotten heat all last week kept me from doing much of anything, not even making the terrible effort to switch from cable to the DVD player.... And then yesterday, thunder and lightning knocked out internet access for most of the evening. But that takes away any excuse for not writing up blurbs - so...

    One more thing: I am putting stars on these things for convenience, for shorthand, for comparison - but I hate the 0-4 rankings people like Ebert use. That's too narrow a range. I'd rather ignore all the bottom end and stretch the top end. You know - like GPA! 2.0 is passing! (So's 1.0, in some contexts - outside your major, in most places, I think.) So - ** is a passing grade: that's a film worth seeing, without a lot of reservations - though not great. *** is very good, if not great; **** is reserved for the best.... (we've also got ***** for all time greats, one of which turns up in this post!)

    So then: last week's movies:

    Grizzly Man *** - the story of Timothy Treadwell, a failed actor turned grizzly bear enthusiast who got himself and his girlfriend eaten in 2003 - he had shot video footage in the Alaskan wilderness for five years, and it fell to Werner Herzog to make a film out of this footage. That is a wise choice. Herzog, in his documentaries, often seems to play the voice of reason, a role he may not play as director of fiction - he is able to examine Treadwell, what he did wrong, what he did right what he was like - to show Treadwell's personality, his beliefs, as well as Herzog's own ideas. Both men tend to project their desires onto nature - Treadwell idealizing bears and animals and the wilderness, to the point of incomprehension when he finds evidence of nature's cruelty; but Herzog's response, that nature is all cruelty, murder, chaos, is equally distorting. Just the fact that Treadwell spent 13 summers living very close to grizzly bears (and was eaten when he changed his routine) tells you something - as does his footage, showing himself living very well with bears, foxes - and foxes with bears as well - shows that nature contains both, harmony and mayhem....

    It's that kind of film - it tempts you to philosophize about what it means - the film, Treadwell's life, his death, Herzog's career... I will leave instead with the note about plot: this film exists, in any form, because of Treadwell's death. It's the "grandma on the swing" rule from funniest home videos - granny on the swing is just cute video - but granny falls off the swing, it becomes a story. Which, itself, is a pure example of the Formalist rule about "making strange" - the strange, resisting element - the death of Treadwell (or a junkie rock star, coming up in Last Days) - catches our attention - and draws our attention to the rest of the material, to the everyday. Gus Van Sant has made three films in a row that exploit this device - the presence of death makes them into stories, but in doing so, gives the mundane, everydayness of the rest of the films weight. The strange element makes everything strange - makes you notice. Now, Treadwell's footage is gripping enough (I mean, he was petting wild grizzly bears, the idiot!), but his death allowed this film to be made - turned nature video into a meditation on the human soul. Really.

    The Aristocrats - **1/2 - Documentary about a joke. The joke goes - a man walks into a talent agency and says, I got a great act for you; the talent agent says, what's the act? The man describes it - a string of obscenity and filth - the agent is shocked - my god, he says, what do you call that act? The aristocrats! The kick is the middle part - describing the act. How bad can you get? The film shows a swarm of comics telling the joke, talking about the joke, or other jokes, or just jokes... it's hilarious at times - it also tends to drag at times. Comedy depends on surprise, and to get a surprise out of this old a joke takes a sure touch. The best versions do that - surprise you, or succeed in the details of the scatology (George Carlin's bits about corn, and peanuts, say, make his version of the joke). The worst just list off atrocities and say fuck and suck a lot.

    Last Days - **** - Gus Van Sant follows a junkie rock star around his big crumbling manse. Not much happens - there's a quartet of twits hanging around, misbehaving and annoying the star... Mormons come by, a yellow pages representative, Kim Gordon, Ricky Jay in a great turn as a talkative PI.... That's about all. As with Elephant, the knowledge of how it will end focuses your attention on what is happening - which is mostly banal, but given great gravity, because it is Life, and we know that what is coming is Death - and everything suddenly becomes precious. Macaroni and cheese, sour milk, feedback all play their roles. Another marvelous film.

    Love Me Tonight - ***** - Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, music by Rogers and Hart. This is very close to the perfect musical - the perfect fairy-tale musical anyway (though it's also anticipating many of the devices of the "folk tale" musical [blame Rick Altman] - making music out of everyday sounds, singing out of talking, dancing out of walking, passalong songs, and so on). MC is a tailor who tries to collect from a deadbeat Vicomte, who passes him off as a baron, to buy time... while MC woos MacDonald, a widowed princess... Class contends with charm, and everything works out in the end - she gets her Prince Charming, who wasn't a prince, but he was charming... A beautiful and completely delightful movie.

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    Commuting with iTunes

    Another Friday Random 10, though this time, it's 14, because this is, instead of the first 10 songs to pop up on the iPod, all the songs that came up on the iPod while I was en route to and from work. Thus:

    1) James Carter and the Prisoers - Po Lazarus
    2) Dr.Nerve - It's a Tincture (all 11 seconds of it)
    3) DNA - Lying on the Sofa of Life
    4) The Beatles - Honey Pie
    5) Robert Johnson - Stones in my Passway
    6) Wipers - Soul's Tongue
    7) Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Motherfucker=Redeemer
    8) The Clash - Train in Vain (Stand By Me)
    9) Minutemen- Political Sog for Michael Jackson to Sig
    10) Black Sabbath - Children of the Grave
    11) Louvin Brothers - Just Rehearsing
    12) The Kinks - (Don't) Forget to Dance
    13) Come - Bell
    14) Sleater-Kinney - Angry Inch

    A nice run. I like the mix of traditional and avant-garde there at the beginning, moving through rather odd Beatles to the epic stylings of Godspeed... with a punk heavy second half, nicely flavored with the Louvin Brothers and some quietish Kinks. A nice mix.

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    Filmic Round-Up

    Only four this week - odd. Watched The Son twice, though - that makes a difference...

    Elevator to the Gallows - *** - Jeanne Moreau wandering Paris at night looking for her lover - who's trapped in an elevator... They'd schemed to kill her husband - it worked like a charm - except he left something behind - and when he went back... everything went wrong. Sleek and tense and ironic, with its doubled pair of protagonists (2 kids steal his car and pretend to be the lover ad his wife) getting each other in trouble... And Moreau is just very cool, looking like Bridget Lin in Chungking Express (I don't know if the resemblance is intentional, but it could be.)

    Broken Flowers - ***1/2 - Jim Jarmusch directs Bill Murray as an "aging don Juan" (named Don Johnston) who gets a letter from an anonymous old flame warning him that he has a son. His neighbor urges him to find the woman - so he sets off across the country looking for which of the 4 possible lovers sent the letter. Murray plays it in complete deadpan mode, but he makes everything, every twitch, every movement of the eye, every angle count. It's quiet and sad, but very well done...

    The Son - **** - The Dardennes brothers have won 2 top prizes at Cannes in 6 years, for Rosetta and L'Enfant - they probably could have won for this as well. Tells the story of a carpentry instructor who takes on a new apprentice - who clearly causes him great stress. Slowly, we learn why... it is about revenge and forgiveness and transference, and probably most of all, about work as redemption, about practicing a trade as a religious act. It is also, in a strange way, a kind of musical - the sounds of carpentry, the band of hammers and whine of saws - the synchronized movement of people working, apart and together, becomes music, and becomes a dance. Certainly the camera dances with the actors - the star, Olivier Gourmet, describes the process as a kind of ballet, during an interview included on the DVD. It is a great film indeed.

    East of Borneo - **1/2 - more bad films - but this is a different order of bad film. The source material for Joseph Cornell's surrealist found footage Rose Hobart - the original is no slouch on the weirdness front. Rose plays a woman looking for her husband in the wilds of Borneo - she finds him living with a decadent Prince far up in the jungles - melodrama rears its ugly head for a scene or two, the the crocodiles swarm and volcanos erupt.... Not quite as brilliant as Guy Maddin's review would lead you to believe, but a keeper anyway, with it's off synch editing, stock footage of beasts, bad acting, decadence, symbolism, and the like.

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    Another Friday Random Ten

    Hee we are, then - first 10 songs to come up on the iPod.... annotated, even. I don't know if this will be a lasting innovation....

    I've got my replacement for my (broken) big iPod - I can't say it shows, exactly, since nothing really obscure came up - actually, I had most of the obscure stuff (White Heaven, say) on the emergency iPod - if Sweet or Glenn Gould or Heart had come up, that's probably more due to getting all my music back... Anyway, here goes!

    1) Pixies - Gouge Away
    2) Pretenders - Tattooed Love Boys - if I were doing coolness audits, this gets a 10 - one of the first punk songs to make me sit up and notice - and one of the great guitar solos....
    3) Sly & The Family Stone - Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) - Sly and company always rank high on the coolness scale. On any scale.
    4) The Blank Theory - Sour Times - I don't know anything about this - comes from some compilation. Sounds okay, but I can't say anything else about it.
    5) X-Ray Spex - Art-I-Ficial - first rate, this.
    6) White Heaven - My Cold Dimention - Michio Kurihara and the boys swipe the riff to War Pigs, Kuri does some wanking... decent stuff, but there's better. The more Kurihara in a song, the better it is, and this is kind of short and conventional.
    7) The Band - the Night they Drove OldDixie Down - a classic.
    8) Red Crayola - Former Reflections Enduring Doubt - I'll take it, though I tnd to like Red Crayola's albums better than their songs in isolation - the flow of songs, sounds, etc., tends to work better than the songs by themselves. But this is pretty cool.
    9) Cream - Swlabr - Cream is palatable. As long as Clapton knows his job is to play guitar he's fairly safe.
    10) Wire - Men 2nd - Wire is always welcome.