Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Minnesota Celtics and Boston T-Wolves

At last, I get to write about something other than another obituary... I hope.... the very opposite, possibly... though time is the great equalizer, and....

I refer of course to the Celtics, trading their entire roster for Kevin Garnett. It's an interesting deal - I'm not sure what to make of it. On one hand, there is no question that Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen make a dominating front three. And given what the C's had, it's a good use of their assets - they've accumulated decent young players with potential for some years - Ainge did a good job turning that into a proven commodity. But at the same time - that's an old front line; without much behind them (Perkins is a serviceable banger; Rondo looks like a useful player, though young; and Tony Allen, with knees, is a fine player - but the rest...); without much sign that they can stop anyone else; with a coach who's never seemed to make any team better... A couple injuries like Pierce's last year, and they are done. With three aging prima donnas and no draft picks... things could get ugly.

But things could have gotten ugly anyway... so, given Ainge's decision to go for it now - well - this is going for it. It will be interesting to watch them - three superstars whose teams have been falling apart around them, put together and given their chance to do it - they stay on the floor, they will be in the hunt. In the east, I mean: barring something unforeseen (Tony Allen comes back as if he never left; Big Baby plays like Charles Barkley; Allen Ray thinks he's Ray Allen), there are still 5-6 teams in the west that would make short work of them. And frankly, a few in the east - for all Garnett's greatness, wouldn't you rather have Chris Bosh right now? I'm not sure the east is a given, even if they play well... the east might have started the road back, with Garnett in Boston, Randolph in NY, Lewis in Orlando, and Detroit, Cleveland, NJ, Chicago and so on maintaining their levels. Things might even up...

As for the wolves - they now basically have the 05-06 C's, with Randy Foye instead of Paul Pierce. We'll see how that goes. It's true enough that Jefferson is fast becoming the player people hoped - but right now, at best, they got a bunch of role players for Garnett. Granted - I wish the C's could have kept Ryan Gomes - they'll need someone reliable off the bench - they're OLD.... (And Delonte West: they are going to need him...) but he won't do Minnesota any good.


Without time to properly mourn Ingmar Bergman's passing, we find today that Michelangelo Antonioni has also died. I could write almost the same post I wrote for Bergman for Antonioni - another filmmaker I respected almost without limits, without feeling the kind of personal bond I felt for the Imamuras and Altmans of the world. In some ways, he's less a "problem" for me than Bergman was - I felt that I could assess his work better, I felt more confidence that the limits I saw were really there - with Bergman, I couldn't convince myself that the problems were with the films, and not with me. I don't want to make too much of these "problems" - both directors did outstanding work, and I could watch their films over and over with great pleasure. As with Bergman, Antonioni's greatness, his importance, influence, and the quality of his films, are indisputable.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman

Another bad day for the film world: Ingmar Bergman has died. Greencine rounds up reactions. I find myself startled that I didn't put any of his films in my top 100 - and dismayed that I didn't put any in my top 10 by decades list. (Though not as dismayed as when I was informed I didn't have any Bresson on there: both Bergman and Bresson suffer, perhaps, for doing their best work in the 50s and 60s - impossibly rich periods for films.) Still - it's a fair assessment: I have always respected Bergman (he was one of the first directors I noticed as a director - along with Eisenstein, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Lynch), but never really loved him. He's always been a problem to me. He didn't make any bad films that I know of; everything I've seen of his has been near-great to great. But even at his best (my vote goes to Persona) he leaves me cool, with doubts and reservations. (And the tendency to think how Godard or Imamura or Altman did it better - literally, like the difference between Bergman's flash to white in Persona vs. Imamura's in The Pornographers - Imamura did it by having someone push a bank of lights across the stage - I don't know if he was trying to signify on Bergman, but it's such a cool moment.....)

But taken together - that coolness, contrasted (and combined) with his consistent excellence, and undoubted influence, made him, for me, the illustration of the difference between a favorite filmmaker and a great filmmaker. He was, I'd have to say, second only to Godard as the world's greatest living filmmaker - and the third of the top four (for my money) to die in the last year or so (after Altman and Imamura). It's a great loss.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Means Music

Pretty much all there is lately. Hopefully things will start occurring to me to write. You know how it is. Right now, though, it's too damn hot to care: so random, ten, Friday, away we go.

1. Sonic Youth - Turquoise Boy (a good song: I haven't really gotten around to rating Sonic Youth songs... one of these days)
2. Theoretical Girls - Chicita Bonita
3. Cherry Ghost - Dead Man's Suit (good lord: coldplay imitators! a sign of the apocalypse, that... this is from a mojo collection, nothing I put here on purpose)
4. Rocket From the Tombs - Raw Power - that's better. Crocus, Pete, Cheetah, Craig and whoever was playing drums just then getting their stooge on...
5. Son Volt - Question (as always - I like Son Volt)
6. Husker Du - Now that You know me (live) (I think I turned down a chance to see this show, or one of the shows where this record (The Living End) were recorded; can't remember why any more, though it had something to do with fearing a repeat of their shows in early 87 when they were playing the Warehouse SOngs and Stories record beginning to end. That might fly with Zen Arcade, but Warehouse is a far cry from Zen Arcade. Anyway, I fucked up, cause by all accounts, and the evidence of the Living End, they kicked ass.)
7. The Shadows - Man of Mystery
8. Miles Davis - Sur L'Autoroute from Elevator to the Gallows... *** - great stuff; great film too...
9. Merle Haggard - Mama Tried **** - Mr. Haggard is always welcome on my iPod
10. Peter Laughner - Don't Take YOur Love Away - hey! old Pete gets in again! way to go!

And video? lots of video on the page already, but... here's Husker Du, near the height of their instrumental powers, doing 8 Miles High in the rain.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

July Blues

I don't know if it's blues or not but something. Vacations, the weather - for some reason, July is always my worst blogging month. This will be post number 7 for July 07 - matching last year's total, low month for the year (though June came close - but last year, I had an excuse: The World Cup! which I faithfully watched...); and 2005's total, 7 again - good lord; I'm starting to detect a pattern! 2004, I managed only 6, but I'd barely started here at the time - that was low for the year. There's still a week to work with this year, so we might make double figures - though it's not a sure thing. (But I do have a couple posts I want to work up...)

So what to do with this note? Let's try links - like - check out it'samadmadblog - argue about the Guardian's 50 best comedies list.

If you're anxious for the smell of chalk and ink and three ring binders, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is running a summer school quiz - it's not too late! I take comfort in that, having procrastinated myself. I think I have a plan for the next hour or so!

And in fact - there is a cure for the summer time blues - Blue Cheer! high 60s cinematography, all those awful little zooms... beautiful stuff.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Return of Friday Music Post!

I'm in the middle of my summer doldrums - or distractions - or whatever it is that pulls me away from the internets, or blogging, or whatever it is... So posting has been sporadic and odd (not that that's any different from the rest of the year), and will probably stay that way. I guess. But at least, after a couple weeks of neglect, our weekend ritual mutual post is back! Hooray!

Now if I had any sense, I'd try to work some content into this - reviews of recent records bought (Sky Blue Sky! - okay, but more eagles than television; Icky Thump! - now that's the real thing, already a couple of them are stuck in my head; Boris - I've bought a bunch of their stuff recently, most recently Rainbow, the record they made with Kurihara - I am most impressed. Etc. - actually, not that much etc. I run in cycles, buying music, and this is kind of a down cycle - not way down, but almost all new stuff - a lot of which is sitting on the iPod, unplayed - Spoon? Gogol Bordello? Richard Thompson? one of his came up today - but the random plays are all I've done in a while... so reviews are out...) On to the list!

1. Fugazi - Walken's Syndrome
2. Spiritualized - Broken Heart
3. Robyn Hitchcock - Like a Rolling Stone
4. Pere Ubu - Humor Me *** - good lord. I think I explained that rating a month or so ago - I did: this AND a velvet underground song. This is the original version: the 5 star version is, I think, the live one, released in the box set.
5. Dinosaur Jr. - Water
6. Beastie Boys - in 3's - a bit of funky jamming... which reminds me of a musical post I might try someday: in praise of Urban Dance Squad. Persona Non Grata might still be the best mix of rap and rock there is. They do not get their proper due. They even managed to come up yesterday on the iPod instead of today, thus losing their chance for Friday Random Music Immortality! We must take steps.
7. The White Stripes - The Nurse
8. Rolling Stones - Doncha Bother Me
9. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Servo ****
10. Richard Thompson - Sunset Song - fromt he new record

Video? well, why not - the pride of the Netherlands, UDS, with their big USA hit...

And the single from Persona Non Grata, Demagogue....

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Musical Makeup Post

Since I haven't had any music up in a couple weeks - in honor of the last post, specifically Herzog and Bruno S. - here's Damon and Naomi with Ghost, and "I Dreamed of the Caucusus":

And - since I also missed Bastille Day - what can be more French than Anna Karina singing Serge Gainsbourg's "Roller Girl"?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Best Films Ever (and this week)

Well, I'm back. Vacations usually throw me off, undoing all my routines, and this one did more than most, thanks to some odd hours and rather unusual burst of enthusiasm for old book hunting. Today went a long ways toward getting me back to my movie geek ways: A Werner Herzog triple feature - all about strangers in strange lands - which might describe every single film he's ever made. Most of them, these strangers take a voyage through a hostile land, hated and pursued by the natives of the land, and the land itself - when the voyage is less literal (as in Kasper Hauser), the voyage is supplied through dreams and stories. Rescue Dawn, then, fits his career as well as any of them. It may not be up to his masterpieces (17 and 32 below; also 66), but it works, nonetheless.

Meanwhile: I see more Best Films Ever lists are going around - inspired, I see, by Cinema Fusion. It takes a lot less than that to get me to post a list. I admit this may not exactly correlate with my American list, but that's okay. This is all fairly approximate, though I'm prone to fretting the top 20-30.... It is, though, a fair attempt at listing 100 films in order, as of this week. I didn't make a lot of rules for myself - feature length, and I dropped the 2000's films: Two were definitely making the cut - Inland Empire (probably in the 50s) and Yi Yi (low 70s) - the next 3 or 4 hover around the end of the list. I figured I'm better off giving them time. That's it. The top ten hasn't really changed for 7-8 years, and most of it goes back 10 or so - the Godard film has changed a couple times; Ozu slipped in in the late 90s... I sometimes wonder if it's just habit, listing the same films like that: if so, I'd probably reorder the top 5 as: McCabe - M - Early Summer - Mr. Smith - Rules...

1) It's a Wonderful Life - 1946 - Capra, Frank - USA
2) M - 1931 - Lang, Fritz - Germany
3) Rules of the Game - 1939 - Renoir, Jean - France
4) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - 1939 - Capra, Frank - USA
5) McCabe and Mrs Miller - 1971 - Altman, Robert - USA
6) Early Summer - 1951 - Ozu Yasujiro - Japan
7) My Life to Live - 1963 - Godard, Jean-Luc - France
8) General, the - 1925 - Keaton & Bruckman - USA
9) Vertigo - 1958 - Hitchcock, Alfred - USA
10) Maltese Falcon - 1940 - Huston, John - USA
11) Duck Soup - 1933 - McCarey, Leo - USA
12) Seven Samurai - 1955 - Kurosawa, Akira - Japan
13) Pornographers - 1966 - Imamura, Shohei - Japan
14) City of Sadness - 1989 - Hou Hsiao Hsien - China Taiwan
15) Late Spring - 1949 - Ozu Yasujiro - Japan
16) His Girl Friday - 1940 - Hawks, Howard - USA
17) Aguirre Wrath of God - 1973 - Herzog, Werner - Germany
18) Gospel According to Matthew - 1964 - Pasolini, Pier Paolo - Italy
19) Blue Velvet - 1986 - Lynch, David - USA
20) High and Low - 1963 - Kurosawa, Akira - Japan
21) Playtime - 1967 - Tati, Jacques - France
22) Ugetsu - 1953 - Mizoguchi Kenji - Japan
23) Woman Under the Influence - 1974 - Cassavetes, John - USA
24) Touch of Evil - 1958 - Welles, Orson - USA
25) Nosferatu - 1922 - Murnau, FW - Germany
26) Nashville - 1975 - Altman, Robert - USA
27) Searchers - 1956 - Ford, John - USA
28) Tokyo Story - 1953 - Ozu Yasujiro - Japan
29) Rear Window - 1954 - Hitchcock, Alfred - USA
30) Sun's Burial - 1960 - Oshima Nagasi - Japan
31) Pierrot Le Fou - 1965 - Godard, Jean-Luc - France
32) Every Man for Himself and God Against All - 1975 - Herzog, Warner - Germany
33) Pather Panchali - 1955 - Ray, Satyajit - India
34) Insect Woman - 1963 - Imamura Shohei - Japan
35) Big Sleep (Released Version) - 1946 - Hawks, Howard - USA
36) Alphaville - 1965 - Godard, Jean-Luc - France
37) Breathless - 1959 - Godard, Jean-Luc - France
38) Killer of Sheep - 1977 - Burnett, Charles - USA
39) Night of the Hunter - 1955 - Laughton, Charles - USA
40) Rushmore - 1998 - Anderson, Wes - USA
41) Bride of Frankenstein - 1935 - Whale, James - USA
42) Fort Apache - 1948 - Ford, John - USA
43) I Was Born But... - 1932 - Ozu Yasujiro - Japan
44) Late Chrysanthemums - 1954 - Naruse Mikio - Japan
45) Breaking the Waves - 1996 - von Trier, Lars - Denmark
46) Citizen Kane - 1940 - Welles, Orson - USA
47) Sweet Smell of Success - 1959 - McKendrick, Alexander - USA
48) Elephant Man - 1980 - Lynch, David - USA
49) Gold Rush - 1925 - Chaplin, Charlie - USA
50) Rebel without a Cause - 1955 - Ray, Nicholas - USA
51) Celine and Julie Go Boating - 1973 - Rivette, Jacques - France
52) Ivan the Terrible I - 1941 - Eisenstein, Sergei - USSR
53) Frankenstein - 1931 - Whale, James - USA
54) Imitation of Life - 1959 - Sirk, Douglas - USA
55) Killing of a Chinese Bookie - 1976 - Cassavetes, John - USA
56) Long Goodbye - 1973 - Altman, Robert - USA
57) Love Me Tonight - 1932 - Mamoulian, Rouben - USA
58) Night at the Opera - 1935 - Wood, Sam - USA
59) Osaka Elegy - 1936 - Mizoguchi, Kenji - Japan
60) Pigs and Battleships - 1961 - Imamura, Shohei - Japan
61) 400 Blows - 1959 - Truffaut, Francois - France
62) Blue Angel - 1930 - Sternberg, Joseph von - Germany
63) Bringing Up Baby - 1938 - Hawks, Howard - USA
64) The Conversation - 1974 - Coppola, Francis Ford - USA
65) Crimes of M Lange - 1935 - Renoir, Jean - France
66) Doctor Strangelove - 1963 - Kubrick, Stanley - USA
67) Fitzcarraldo - 1982 - Herzog, werner - Germany
68) Mouchette - 1967 - Bresson, Robert - France
69) Germany Year Zero - 1948 - Rossellini, Roberto - Italy
70) Goodbye South, Goodbye - 1996 - Hou Hsiao Hsien - China Taiwan
71) Hard Days Night - 1965 - Lester, Richard - UK
72) Life of Oharu - 1952 - Mizoguchi Kenji - Japan
73) Man Escaped, A - 1956 - Bresson, Robert - France
74) Trouble in Paradise - 1932 - Lubitsch, Ernst - USA
75) When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - 1960 - Naruse Mikio - Japan
76) Wife! Be like a rose! - 1935 - Naruse Mikio - Japan
77) Written on the Wind - 1956 - Sirk, Douglas - USA
78) Man with the Movie Camera - 1928 - Vertov, Dziga - USSR
79) Saint Jack - 1979 - Bogdanovich, Peter - USA
80) Satantango - 1994 - Tarr, Bela - Hungary
81) Some Like it Hot - 1959 - Wilder, Billy - USA
82) Touch of Zen - 1969 - King Hu - China Hong Kong
83) Camera Buff - 1979 - Kieslowski, Krystof - Poland
84) Cleo from 5 to 7 - 1961 - Varda, Agnes - France
85) Fallen Angels - 1995 - Wong Kar wei - China Hong Kong
86) Fires on the Plain - 1959 - Ichikawa Kon - Japan
87) Birth of a Nation - 1915 - Griffith, DW - USA
88) Do the Right thing - 1989 - Lee, Spike - USA
89) Broken Blossoms - 1919 - Griffith, DW - USA
90) Eraserhead - 1977 - Lynch, David - USA
91) Flowers of Shanghai - 1998 - Hou Hsiao Hsien - China Taiwan
92) Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail - 1975 - Jones, Terry & Gilliam, Terry - UK
93) Our Hospitality - 1923 - Keaton, Buster - USA
94) Pickpocket - 1959 - Bresson, Robert - France
95) Ordet - 1957 - Dreyer, Carl Theodor - Denmark
96) Platinum Blonde - 1931 - Capra, Frank - USA
97) Stray Dog - 1949 - Kurosawa Akira - Japan
98) A Man Vanishes - 1967 - Imamura Shohei - Japan
99) White - 1994 - Kieslowski, Krystof - France
100) Chelsea Girls - 1966 - Warhol, Andy - USA

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sick Sick Sick

All right. This is not really about Sicko. This is about Michael Moore. I am tired of the attacks on Moore that follow all of his movies - it's the same shit: "fact-checking Michael Moore!" - which usually turns out to be a triumphant litany of nit-picks and irrelevance, and the kind of pig-ignorance that lets people think the fact that Cuba is two slots behind the United States is health care is some kind of endorsement of the American system. Shit! That's a stupid idea. We're two places ahead of CUBA! Paying an extra $6700 per person a year. Way to fucking go!

Anyway. No. I am interested in something a bit different - not so much Sicko as such, but Moore's films, what they are. Are they documentaries, say? Well - leaving aside the definitions: what are they? I think they do two things: first - they state positions. They say, this is bad - this is good. We need to fix this, change that. We should act in this way. They are, in that sense, essays, arguments - though not precisely arguments, and that's the second thing. Second - they are dramatizations of arguments and essays. This is where the trouble starts. Moore's critics act as though his films are reporting on an issue - laying out facts, laying out the case. They aren't. They dramatize the issues. They function like fiction films, with non-fiction material. Or - he organizes his true, real, non-fictional material fictionally - to illustrate his arguments, to act them out.

His act as a performer falls into this category: he isn't a reporter, he's a provocateur - he's every bit as much a comic improvisor as Sascha Baron Cohen. He creates little scenes that may or may not be "real" - but they demonstrate something about the world, make a point about the world. They are signs of the world, the way scenes in fiction signify the world. Doing this, I think, puts him a lot closer to Werner Herzog than he's usually portrayed - they both make films out of material that exists in the real world, but organized and augmented to give it meaning, to comment on it. They both treat their documentary work as a form of fiction - story-telling, a way of giving shape and meaning to the world, to guide us in understanding the world, and teach us how we might act in the world. Their documentaries are explicitly interpretative.

Sicko is a clear example of this. Moore takes an issue - health care in the USA - and examines it. He has a position on it - he is building a case for a type of action. (No reason to mince words: free, universal, [mostly] government funded health care - which, with some variations, is used in much of the world, and works like a charm. Look at wretched little Cuba, managing to build a health care record almost as good as ours! Never mind France.) He explores the issue - not so much as a documentary or argument, but as a series of illustrative stories. In fact, that is all Sicko is: it's almost all illustration, almost all story telling - almost all dramatization of the problems. It isn't quite reporting - and it isn't really an essay on health care, in the end. He avoids the facts and figures and analysis you could get from Ezra Klein (to name a frequent health care blogger), sticking instead to stories about how our system fucks us over. (He probably weakens his case a bit. Granted, you can yeahyeahyeah through a lot of numbers and arguments and studies on comparative wait times - but how do you argue with the fact that the US government spends more, per capita, on health care than, say, England - where health care is totally fucking nationalized! Sorry...)

All right. In the end, I think most of the problems people have with Moore are category errors.

No: let me change that. Most of the people bitching about Moore are plain and simply against what he is for - you know, peace, affordable health care, jobs for those simple suckers too stupid to leave Detroit, that kind of commie shit. But not all his critics are just paid hacks, taking the easy route of blowing smoke and calling him fat and rerunning their "Michael Moore lies!" clips from his last 6 films. He has real critics - the people wringing their hands and pretending he's just like Ann Coulter or the Swift Boat Veterans. He gives liberals a bad name! But I say, those critics are making category errors - mistaking his dramatization of issues for reporting on issues. The question - the point where this criticism gets its bite, I guess - is this: how much is Moore responsible for people making category errors? How much does he cheat? Specifically - by weaseling about what he is doing: presenting it as reporting and argument when he can, but taking cover behind "dramatization" or "deeper truth" or "impressionistic truth" when challenged?

Personally? I don't think he cheats as much as it might seem. He doesn't go out of his way to say what he is doing, or to theorize it (unlike Herzog, for instance, who talks about his manipulations at length) - but I don't think we viewers are actually obligated to turn stupid when we walk into a movie theory. We are allowed to think about what we see, and try to make sense of it. We are allowed to remember the last Michael Moore film we saw, or the last article we read about health care, or what our uncles and aunts in Canada say about their hospital stays (they bitch, like everyone does: but they don't have to fret about whether they can afford another prescription or whether some nephew with bad health history can get insurance when he grows up). We are allowed to think about how movies are put together, and compare Moore's films to fiction films, or op-eds or essays - we are allowed to ask what kinds of arguments he is making. And answer: he is making a moral argument - who are we? - to let these things happen, here, in our country. When it comes to healthm you might just as well live in Cuba - think about that!

The Clue in the Dollar Bins, or A Well Spent Lunch Hour

Sometimes, dreams do come true. In this case - 7 Tom Swifts, 1920s printings, scattered among the under $5 shelves at a local used bookstore. What bliss!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Edward Yang

This is very bad news: Edward Yang has died.

I only saw 2 of his films - despite being one of the most respected directors in the world, he's been criminally under-released in this country. Links and comment are available at Greencine Daily.