Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two Cents Worth

Still don't have much important to say. Congratulations Philadelphia... took em three days to win the last one, but they did it. Wish it had gone 6 or 7 but, hey...

Anything else? I suppose there are some momentous events on the horizon - things look good for the republic, with Obama well in the lead - but until the votes are counted and the results are in, you can never rest easy. But probably not much point in panicking. It has been a strange capaign, geting stranger - look at this rant, quoted by Belle Waring - what on earth is that guy talking about?

I mention this because I firmly believe Barack Obama absolutely loathes my kind. This man will not be content to win the presidency. He will spend his waking hours thereafter not pursuing the legitimate goals of state, but punishing those who would dare to oppose him. The man is devoid of humility, or any sense of humor. He cannot humbly accept his incredibly lucky break in the crapshoot of American politics. The absolute lack of any pushback or intercessions on the part of the journalist class has rendered him peckish and intolerant of any dissention, if indeed he was not born that way.

What is that? that makes no sense - which Barack Obama is that? not the one running for president - unless he's running some very different ads out in the "red" states. How did the campaign against him become such a complete fantasy world? Socialism and terrorism and anti-semitism and - witchcraft? sweet jesus... It's a strange thing. Maybe I see too much of it, reading blogs - there's not so much nuttiness in the papers; I don't watch TV, though there seem to be a fair number of imbeciles playing dumb on TV. I don't know. The voters, over all, seem to be a bit more sensible.

Okay: this is a Summing Up post, This Week on the Blogs, not just politics. So, whadda we got?

David Bordwell writing about - oh noes! - politics - political "Narratives". A very rich vein....

Meanwhile, one of our other great critics atones for his sins - Roger Ebert follows up that already infamous 8 minute review with a group of ethical ground rules. They do not, even after the kerfuffle, include "watch the whole movie" - they do, however, provide the Rog with opportunity for vengeance - taking shots at Ben Lyons, his television "replacement" - though without naming names. Ah yes....

I have to say: Ebert's original crime - watching 8 odd minutes of something called Tru Loved then giving up and publishing (more or less) his notes from those 8 minutes - isn't terribly shocking. It's probably more honest and accurate a review than the full review linked to above: it's almost certainly more than the film deserved. It even gives the movie whatever traces of notoriety it will get. Ebert says he let his cleverness get in the way of his duty as a critic - well- I'd say his first duty as a critic is to be interesting, and he was. The first review is a gem. Though so are the rules. In fact most of his posts are gems. It is interesting - I find Ebert a much better blogger than reviewer. I suppose that's an extension of the fact that I used to find him a better essayist than reviewer - his occasional pieces were almost always better than his reviews. He's an odd writer - I dismissed him when he was on TV; discovered him on the internet (when I could read a fair sampling of his work) - and became something of a fan; but liked the longer pieces - the later pieces, the "Movies of Distinction" reviews,better than the regular reviews. And now find his blog a perfect delight to read. So - I forgive him for falling in love with his own prose. It's what he's best at.

That's enough. Tomorrow, I shall celebrate halloween with 2 more Minnellis - I hope I get around to posting a roundup. After that? Claire Denis... (though I expect to fit the Flaming Lips movie in there somewhere...) though it's all building to December, when the HFA is taken over with a full retrospective of Nagisa Oshima. That will be a big deal...

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Week Later

I see the Phillies are well on the way to winning the world series. Behind one of the mainstays of my fantasy team, Mr. Cole Hamels. I could have told you he was the real deal. Though now I see it's tied and raining - happily, with the red sox home, I don't have to care!

I have not been in mourning this last week. I have been occupied, mostly here - Harvard is running a series of Minnelli's melodramas. It is confession time: before this series started, I had never seen a single film by Vincente Minnelli. I don't know how I managed it - even granting that I am not a huge fan of MGM musicals, it is hard to believe I have seen none of his. But those days are over, 6 films later, with more to come. It's interesting - it took seeing a couple to get in their rhythm - it's always interesting how films, and filmmakers, will teach you how to watch their films. It may also be that the films have gotten better as the series went on - certainly, a couple of them - Some Came Running and Home from the Hill, especially - are a cut above the rest, indisputable masterpieces. I'll have to come back, put up some thoughts when they're better formed. Though I doubt my filmgoing schedule will get much lighter next week - Harvard has Claire Denis' films - and Denis herself - starting this weekend...

Monday, October 20, 2008

World Series

Well, I guess it's time for that congratulatory post to the Devil Rays* the Sox put on hold Thursday night. If you're going to lose, this is the way to do it - a hell of a game, really -Lester sharp, but Garza brilliant, the Rays making a couple big hits, the Sox not able to get it done: usually because the Rays pitchers made the pitches - though you do wish JD Drew would take a swing now and then, and Tek.... Tek, Tek, Tek.. I suspect this is not the last time these teams fight for the crown: Tampa is very young, and very good,especially the starters, with Price joining them... the core of the offense will be doing this for a while too. Though the Red Sox are not that different - their starters were a bit shaky in this series, but the top 3 are still good for 45-50 wins a season (even this year, with Beckett off all year), and all still in their 20s - with more on the way. The lineup is mostly in their prime as well - they have a few good years to come from this bunch. The Sox will spend to keep a competitive team out there - the crunch will come when the Rays have to ante up for a couple of their players. Even if they don't break the bank, if they're willing to pay to keep the team together, they should be in contention for a long time. A fine thing.

As for the Series? I'm the type of homer that if my team can't win, I'll change my loyalty to their closest rivals - so go Tampa! Though it's not a hard thing to do - they're a great story and the kind of team I like to watch - pitching, defense, around a core of stars - they're the Twins model, only able to actually win in the post-season....I think they have the same advantages against Philly they had against Boston: deeper pitching (without giving up much at the top); enough offense; sharp defense (though that went a bit off in the last series - which does look a bit like nerves); their weird and wacky park. They have the same disadvantages as well - the Phillies have some pretty good pitching as well (Hamels and Lidge particularly), do all the right things (catch the ball, etc.), have a deep and varied offense - and might have more game-breakers, who can do it themselves, the famed One Swing of a Bat - mobs of line drive hitters are a fine thing, but sometimes you want the bomber in the middle of the lineup, and Ryan Howard is the class of the game as a power hitter.... And not the only one in the lineup..... So - there's a good chance we'll see a competitive world series this year - first one since 2003 (sort of) or 2002. That alone is a good thing.

* And finally, a pet peeve. I hate it when teams get rewarded for doing silly things. Like the Patriots dropping Pat the Patriot for the flying elvis (to cite one of Gregg Easterbrook's genuine clever lines) and promptly winning the superbowl. The Rays drop the Devil and immediately turn into world beaters - what the heck? Devil Rays was much cooler. Hrumph!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell

Here, via Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic, is Colin Powell, redeeming himself. He comes down hard on the crap the GOP has been slinging lately - Bill Ayers and the secret Moslem stuff an the real America and so on - and it's about time. Powell sacrificed a lot of his reputation by sticking with the Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq (he should have resigned rather than go the UN over that - there is no excuse), but he still was and is about the only person in the Bush administration with any trace of dignity...

And - this time he's right, and he said it directly and unambiguously: the Republicans are running a sordid, embarrassing campaign, and if they don't change, then you (if you are, like Powell, a moderate conservative, and a decent person) have to change. And let's face it - the story at the end may be predictable and manipulative, but by god it's also the truth: American Moslems serve and love their country as much as everyone else. The idea that merely accusing someone of being Islamic is an insult is disgusting, and if anything is unamerican, that's it, right there.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Well, now. I went to bed last night thinking I'd be writing this morning about the Rays surprising demolition of the Red Sox. Getting ready to say, I'm not surprised they won - just surprised they did it so easily. Surprised mostly they did it to Jon Lester. The rest of the pitching is a little too wobbly this year - if Beckett were healthy, if I thought I could guess what Matsuzaka would do in any given game, it would be different, but....

I see that once again I was premature. This is a reason I don't watch every minute of every post-season game - I can't go a month without sleep. And I wouldn't have been sleeping if I'd watched that.... So what now? 2 more games to go... sooner or later someone is going to be able to beat the Red Sox in a season ending game - Tampa's got as good chance as anyone. But really... this is just ridiculous.

Anyway: I am glad to see the series extended. Even if Tampa wins, it means they will be better prepared for the Phillies. Young teams can't afford time off before the world series - that is my theory. And though I won't mind a Philly win, I hope the AL winner takes it, even if it isn't the Red Sox. And it's good, in general, to see some competition - the last couple years have been terribly one-sided. One of these years, someone should try a 7 game world series again...

Though the truth is - I can't say I'm exactly surprised the Sox staged an 8 run comeback last night. Until someone eliminates them, I guess they have to stay the favorites. They certainly keep playing until the champagne corks pop.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Good Morning

This is a not quite so random meditation on things Ozu: the Brattle Theater screened Ozu's Ohayo this weekend - any chance to see Ozu on a big screen is a treat not to be missed. This was a particularly nice event, as it was introduced by Ty Burr, of the Boston Globe (as well as the Brattle's Ned Hinckle) - there were other critics in the audience (notable, the Phoenix's Brett Michel), leading to a nice little discussion of the film.

Good Morning is a bit of an oddity in Ozu's career. Burr called it his only full comedy, which might be a bit of a stretch (especially counting the pre-war films), but it probably is the most sustained comedy. It tends to avoid the melancholic twists most of his films have - it doesn't linger on the loss or failure or disappointment that crops up in his work. But one way it does this is by making the comedy itself darker. Good Morning contains some pretty harsh material - unemployment and thieves, nasty gossips and spying neighbors, a woman telling her mother she should go to Narayama to die, and mom giving it back... Compensates for its more consistent comic tone by making the comedy darker - the jokes are crueler, more at people's expense.

But that's not the only thing that's different. Start with the music - the score is by Toshiro Mayuzumi - who scored Imamura's early films, as well as a few others for big directors - Ichikawa, a Naruse or so... That's a departure - both in his style, which is a kind of breezy jazz, with streaks of experimentation (especially in the Imamura's) and the occasional comic sound effect - and in the fact that the music actually seems integrated into the film. Ozu's soundtracks usually play fairly neutral - other than an occasional music theme, there's not much sense of the music working together with the image and story. Mayazumi, though, works the music in more conventionally - partly, I think, by slipping it closer to diegetic music - radios and TVs and the singing cabaret couple next door. Partly because things like Ozu's fart sound effects are so readily integrated into Mayazumi's style. It works very nicely here.

Mayuzumi's score also helps give the film a definite Tati feel - noted by Ty Bur and members of the audience. It's a good comparison - and another departure for Ozu. Good Morning is full of long, layered, Tati-esque shots - people moving around in the far distance of the shots, action staged in multiple planes, - creating lots of little silent comedy off in the corner or the back of the screen. And this film makes a lot of its space, as space - the houses and neighborhood as social spaces - much like Tati. Ozu usually develops his key spaces - exploring them - but usually analytically, fragmented. This film has a lot more depth shots than usual. And it's all given social significance - these crappy little prefab houses, all alike, all crammed next to each other. Ozu plays it for all its worth - the interchangeable houses, the way they're piled on top on one another. His customary low angle, combined with some fairly long lenses, flatten out the space completely - so people talking across the street, each in their own house, seem to be standing next to one another. He is known for flattening out space- stripping away the depth markers - but here, it's given a fairly direct social meaning. It exaggerates their proximity. So does the fact that - if I am not mistaken - often the people you can see moving around in the back of the shot are, in fact, across the street.

He emphasizes this: he shoots the various houses alike, from the same angles, with the same compositions - reinforcing the impression of all these people living in these identical, prefab houses, and never able to get away from anyone around them. (Though it could be worse - they could live in the godawful concrete slab the english teacher lives in.) In the beginning, especially, he cuts between different houses, in disorienting ways - it takes a while to figure out where you are. And of course - he uses this to build to one of his great gags: a drunken man comes home, starts taking off his shoes - in the wrong house. When the housewife comes to greet him, he even asks her why she's in his house... when he does get to his house, he's still not sure until his wife comes out to nag him... At the same time, though, Ozu does teach you which place is which - you just have to look for which pots and bowls are where...

Ah, pots and bowls - and hula hoops - and circles - and Red: it's not entirely uncharacteristic Ozu. In fact you can watch the whole film just following the movement around the screen of the red things -bowls and cups and stripes of cloth and socks and coats and rugs and lettering on boxes and the trim on the mailboxes and the hula hoops.... there's always that....

Though what there isn't: nature? This came up in the conversation after the film - the lack of nature in this film. Somewhat downplayed by Burr and others - but it's notable. Ozu doesn't spend much time in nature proper - but most of his films include quite a bit of nature in them. He's particularly fond of the sea, which figures in many films, with quite a few scenes set by the sea - but even when the characters don't interact with nature, he usually includes quite a few "pillow shots" of nature - the sky, sea, trees, hills, birds (at least), and so on. There's not much of that here. The "pillow shots" are of lamps and lampposts, electrical towers, hula hoops.... Not much natural.

Though there is an even more shocking omission in this film: where are the trains? No trains? Thankfully, they are evoked - the scene at the end at the station... and train whistles, once or twice during the film... But - no trains! how did he stand it?

Anyway - that's enough. It's a fascinating film - it's also a pretty unambiguous masterpiece, for all its oddness in Ozu's career, and all its seeming lightness. As always he is a perfect master of story telling - elliptical and subtle as always. The way he shows us that the 2 salesmen are in cahoots; the way he wraps it up - the old man coming home drunk, to the wrong house, then his house,saying he's happy - why is he happy later - we see him at his new job as a salesman - he visits the family, they talk about his wares, though we never see a sale being made. Instead - Ozu switches to the boys' story - taking food, running away - and the parents' and friends' concern... and only at the end, when they come back and see, almost as an afterthought, what they see.... does he let you wrap it up. And - the gags (including the original "that's not a knife - this is a knife!" gag), the politics - the ubiquity of money, and fears about money, the consumerism, selling, etc. - the social changes registered - the concentration of language, different registers of language... a grand and glorious film. And funny as heck to boot!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

John Lennon

It's John Lennon's birthday, isn't it? There's a post at Lawyers, Guns and Money n his honor with people listing their favorite Lennon songs in comments.. I'll play along:

1. Norwegian Wood
2. Working Class Hero
3. Tomorrow Never Knows
4. In My Life
5. She Said She Said

And A Day in the Life, though that's only half John.... Anyway - I was always a Lennon fan: and even now, if I put together a Beatles top 10, top 20, it's be mostly John's songs. Maybe a bit skewed by what I actually have on the iPod - I don't think I have a copy of Hey Jude - or Strawberry Fields Forever - or If I Needed Someone - or Yesterday, for that matter. So who knows.

I don't have much of John's post-Beatles work either - or the others' either. Ram, All Things Must Pass and the Plastic Ono Band - which I think fairly accurately reflects my opinion if their collective post-Beatles' career - the essential records, and a bunch of other stuff... John probably managed the best body of work, a couple fairly classic records (I suppose I do need to get Imagine, don't I?), reasonable work elsewhere. McCartney made some good singles over the years, but very little I can't live without... Harrison - I'm not sure I quite agree with the idea that All Things Must Pass is the best post-Beatles record, but it's in the top 3. (I'm cheating a bit - counting a wild card: Yoko's Plastic Ono Band album - which is half Beatles - and some of the best rocking any of them did...) Anyway: YouTube requites we post video here - what can I find?

Well - here's a couple more songs that could make my top 5 - Come Together, Live:

And a Revolution promo:

And one of y favorite Lennons: Cold Turkey, live footage, studio sound...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Baseball League Championships

There may be some politics going on somewhere tonight, but never mind that. Vote Obama! what more is there to say about it?

Baseball though - there's always something to say about that! The first round of playoffs are done - I got 3 of 4 right! I don't know what possessed me to pick the Cubs over the Dodgers - at least I waffled on it.

Now? I'll stick with Boston in the AL - not just for the rooting interest. They've been here, they've done it, they'll keep their heads. The series with the Angels was the only competitive series in the first round - 3 of the 4 games decided in the last inning - the Red Sox are the toughest team going. But - Tampa has the deepest pitching staff, they can run and catch the all, and they have enough offense to make things tough - and they play in a weird and dangerous ballpark that they seem to get. That got the Twins to two championships. Either way, I would expect this series to be a fight to the finish.

Phillies and Dodgers, I have no idea. Dodgers are hot - they're obviously a different team now than they were all year - I'd say on paper, odd as it sounds, they're the favorites. But the Phillies are no rollovers. They have a that offense - they have 3 solid starters - Hamels is as good as anyone. Back in June when the Sox played Philly, it looked like that was the world series match up to bet on - the Phils went soft after that - but have come back lately. I can see it. That's certainly what I will be rooting for - Boston/Philly. I suspect it will come, too.

One final note - though I hate the Dodgers in general, this Dodger teams is loaded with players I like - all those ex-sox, Lowe and Nomah especially (even Manny), Greg Maddux (greatest pitcher ever?), etc... the other three - Tampa is just too great a story to feel too bad if they win; I mostly like this Phillies club (helps to have Cole Hamels on your fantasy team....) - and the Sox are the Sox. So I can enjoy things without much angst whoever wins - unless the Dodgers beat the Red Sox: I don't think I could stand that.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Almost Random Film Observation - Ozu

Prompted by something, I can't put a finger on what, I've been thinking about Ozu's camera work, specifically, how he moves the camera. It's probably due to a class I'm taking, on poetry - I was probably thinking about how form signifies in art - how a formal device can convey emotion or meaning. (Like the repeating pairs of sounds etc. in, say, Shakespeare's Sonnet #12 invoke the ticking of a clock, the back an forth of time.) That, I suppose, made me think of the crane shot that comes at the end of Early Summer - the only crane shot Ozu ever used, as far as I know. And maybe even more rare - an instance of a moving camera (or any formal device) in an Ozu film that carries fairly explicit emotional and signifying weight. The camera goes up as two women walk to the sea, and it's hard not to see it as a metaphor - a moment of soaring, something - whatever sorts of troubles are coming for all involved, here is a moment where someone in an Ozu film is about to do Exactly what She Wants To Do. And before the scene is over - her sister in law will second her decision: the two women will share the understanding that while nothing is perfect, this will be a Good Thing for Noriko.

But what struck me about it, thinking about it, and thinking about the patterns of moving cameras in Ozu's films, is this: that though this is the only time he used a crane, he uses it in a way that maintains the general rules he sets for moving his camera. That is - it might be his one crane shot - but it is still very much an Ozu shot.

I suppose I should say something about that. I don't mean to do a complete anatomy of Ozu's camera movements - just sketch the patterns, and note their characteristics. (Though once you start playing that game with Ozu, it's hard to stop.) He's fond of lateral tracks - especially in the prewar films, though there are still some in the later films, like Early Summer. In the earlier films they are often comic - and can be very elaborate, sometimes reversing direction, cutting in the middle, making jokes and so on - the later moves tend to be very spare and much less motivated. He's also fond - always was - of shots of people walking, that keep the people in the same place in the frame. These can be lateral tracks (especially in the early films), or frontal shots where the camera retreats, or following shots. And sometimes, he will track forward - usually through an empty space - a hall or room - though once in a while it will move in on an object. Early Summer has a track in on a broken oaf of bread, for instance. Okay - given these types of camera movements: he also usually organizes them characteristically. He will repeat a camera movement - Early Summer repeats a track through a theater - the first time toward the old man cupping his ear; the second time the theater is empty. He also frequently cuts from movement to movement - Early Summer has, I think, 13 moving shots: 3 different times, he cuts from a moving shot to another moving shot - and one of the three is in fact 3 consecutive moving shots. And - all of them, I think, follow the same patterns of 45-90-135-180 degree angles that David Bordwell has discussed in his editing. Shots move perpendicular to the dominant plane of the shot - or they move straight forward or back. Very rarely (though more commonly in the early films, again) they will move at a 45 degree angle...

Which brings me to the crane shot. Even here - 1) it is related to all those shots of people walking and talking: the camera rises as the women rise, climbing a dune - it rises to keep them roughly in a fixed place in the screen. 2) Note that the camera goes straight up - maintaining the 90 degree rule; 3) and emphasizing it, with the strong horizontal horizon lines of the beach. Even when he does something uncharacteristic - he makes it completely characteristic. even something that has as much emotional freight as this might be made to carry - it functions more or less perfectly within the abstract patterns of his style. The ability to do both, always - is what makes Ozu Ozu.