Sunday, November 30, 2008

Riding the Rails Music Post

Home again - back from the usual extravaganza of turkey, pie and other kinds of pie. I do think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, these days - there's food, and family, and games to play, all with a fairly minimal amount of preparation - just the food shopping, really. It's only marred by the "Black Friday" nonsense the day after, but that's more of a Christmas thing than Thanksgiving, so it doesn't do any harm. There aren't many holidays left that allow you to just enjoy them at face value - no matter what you think of Christmas, it requires a month of shopping, or hearing about shopping - and these days, it's burdened with the Weight of the Continued Economic Survival of the Republic... not to mention Bill O'Reilly. Halloween has always been a rather dull holiday, more or less redeemed by watching Frankenstein or the Evil Dead films - but those days are gone, at least online. With every film blog on earth given over to a month of horror film posts, Halloween jumped the shark, married the costar, had a kid, brought in Ted McGinley and offered a Very Special Episode all at once. I may never watch another horror film as long as I live. It's bad enough devoting December and half of November to Christmas crap - at least Christmas has good music.

Leaving us with Thanksgiving, thank you very much. I don't have much more to offer, so I will leave you with 2 other things I am thankful for: trains, and my iPod - and the playlist of my trainride home, a kind of Random Ten on Steroids. Or bloated with apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, banana cream pie...

Jonathan Richman & Modern Lovers - She Cracked
Stooges - Ann
MIA - Hombre
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Elmo Delmo
Deerhoof - Sound the Alarm
MIA - Paper Planes [yes, the iPod was on shuffle... a reminder - Slumdog Millionaire makes the song its own...]
Butthole Surfers - Rocky["All of my friends, baby, they're going insane..."]
Big Star - Big Black Car
Radiohead - Hunting Bears
Melt Banana - One Drop, One Life
Nick Cave - Deanna (live)
George Harrison - Plug Me In [rockin' out!]
Isley Brothers - Fight the Power [time is truly wasting...]
Derek Bailey - This time [Bailey with Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston, rhythms section for Ornette Coleman, James Carter, James Blood Ullmer, etc. This record works amazingly well - I love this stuff. The rhythm section plays straight, straight free-funk - Bailey gets in the spirit of things - working the sounds, tones, pitch possibilities, the machinery of his electric guitar - placing it in context of the rest - they give him a tight groove and he lays sounds over it, without clashing - he accepts it as a fact and works around it, off it; he doesn’t ever settle into their groove, either time or their chords, but he keeps it in view - it all works beautifully.]
Big Star - Give me Another Chance [another repeated act.. this is a lovely song in full fake Beatles mode]
Charlie Parker - Don’t Blame Me
Velvet Underground - Black Angels Death Song [from the Quine tapes]
Van Halen - Jamie’s Crying [that first record doesn’t actually suck, oddly enough. Though already their sound is impossibly processed. They invented that sound, and no one else did it well, not really.]
REM - Supernatural superserious [the new record; not terrible but completely anonymous. Dull guitar lines, recycled harmonies from their old records etc.]
Rolling Stones - Coming Down Again [prefiguring Nick Cave’s latter day career - piano ballad with twists; Keef singing? Thoroughly gorgeous though.]
Black Mountain - No satisfaction
Echo and the Bunnymen - The Cutter
The Undertones - She’s a runaround [they really were a neat band]

That will do: something appropriate to finish it off - not quite M.I.A. but bearing some resemblance...:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Things to Love in Old Movies

Jacqueline Lynch and the Self-Styled Siren have started something that should be a meme: Ten Things They Love About Old Movies. It is a rich vein: rather too rich - I did not set out to post 38 pictures, but how can you choose just one of the hats in 42nd Street? how can you have too many pictures of Warren William, anywhere? Once you get started, you know... Here, then, are 10 things I love about old movies - illustrated to a fault...

1. Hats

2. Credit sequences using footage of the actors.

3. Warren William!

4. Rear projection, painted backdrops, and models.

5. Tinting.

6. Trains - and movies named after trains.

7. Telephones.

8. Hard bitten reporters

9. Hotels, hotel rooms, hotel dicks, room service...

10. Ocean Liners and freighters...


If Franklin got his Way, Would we have to Eat Eagles?

Popping in for some trivia... A new meme of sorts: the "They've Gone Too Far" post about Sarah Palin. For a lot of people, it was the "Africa is a country" story - even before it was debunked. Now comes another one - the Turkey Shoot. This one - okay no one wants to see all that blood and gore on the 6 o'clock news, but geez! Who among us isn't planning to eat the bird in a week? We ought to know where that comes from.... And for people who live around farms and wildlife, it's just normal behavior...

Though still - I have been inclined to call Poe's Law on everything about the McCain campaign, and especially Sarah Palin's part, and things like this certainly make it a tougher call. That shot, with the guy carefully positioned in the back of the frame, killing the bird and looking back at the camera - looks as carefully staged as a sitcom. It's not even a blooper - it's like a sitcom staging a blooper.... I don't see what it has to do with Sarah Palin (except to prove she doesn't consider food preparation unusual), but there might have been some intent on the part of the cameraman: that's a pretty well composed shot, and composed for maximum comic value.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Aside on Film and Poetry

I'm in another posting slump. There might be reasons. I have been taking a class - a poetry class, for pure edification. It keeps me busy, it's been draining off whatever energy I might be putting into blogging.

I suppose I could get around that by blogging about the class - or about ideas the class inspires. I could write about poems that work "cinematically" - often hundreds of years before the invention of cinema. I suppose that's an old game - spotting things in novels or poems or Shakespeare or such that anticipate techniques we think of as cinematic. It's probably a silly game - the point is probably that things happen in the world, and have always happened in much the same way - in space and time, and we experience them and remember them, and try to put them into other forms - words or pictures or stories - and the forms we put them in will resemble one another. (I think I am quoting someone here: is it Manny Farber? or Jean Mitry? someone I have read in the last few months, who wrote about "cinematic" techniques that predate cinema.... Mitry I think...) Anyway - it's not too useful, probably - but it's fun - and might be useful. "Cinematic" techniques are techniques that use space and time as their basic building blocks. Poets and novelists and obviously painters always used space and time as building blocks - so analogies are inevitable.

Take Shelley's Ozymandias: there's a poem that's almost a camera ready script. Scenes and shots are all laid out: the poet meets a traveler from an ancient land, who starts to tell of what he's seen. As he does, the poem almost cross fades (across an ellipse) to shots of the ruined statue of Ozymandias in the desert. We are give a series of shots - as analytically edited as a Russian: "legs of stone... shattered visage... lip and sneer..." - described like a series of shots, edited together - though you could do it as a track past the pieces, though still fairly close... with maybe superimposed ghosts of the old days, the artist's hands carving the scowling face.... then in - cut or track in, to the inscription:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

And then - what I would call a shock cut, to a long, long shot of the site: "Nothing beside remains." says the poem - and describes the scene in its full context - the desert sands, "boundless and bare" - with what amounts to a zoom out or pan away from the statue to the empty sands - "The lone and level sands stretch far away."

It's a thing of beauty. I suppose treating it like a film doesn't really add much - that might be the point, though. Poets, novelists, playwrights, painters manipulate space, time, combine images, vary their position relative to their imagery, to create their effects - you have to pay attention to how they treat space, when they do manipulate it. It's more or less a given with film - the way manipulation of words is a given in poetry, manipulation of stories and characters are in novels or plays - but novels and films manipulate words, poems manipulate characters - cross media techniques are a valuable device for any and all....

Anyway - it's all very interesting. One thing this class has done is emphasize the value of close reading - I notice that the techniques of close reading are pretty consistent across all art forms. The specifics vary, as one looks at different elements that go into making a poem or a panting or a film - but the general principals remains. Repetition - patterns of repetition and variation, parallels, series, related pieces: all the sound effects of poetry (rhyme, alliteration and assonance, meter), semantic patterns, patterns of imagery... in films: manipulation of space is primary; repetition of patterns of things on the screen, editing, how images connect... I might get ambitious and pursue some of this - it occurs to me that all films are in fact more poetry than prose: there is a reliance of the detail of the shots and sequences of shots in film that seems more like the pressure poems put on words and lines and sentences, than like the way prose uses those things. But if I start down that road I may never get to stop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

Let us again celebrate the (temporary) (incomplete) end of The Great War. 4 years of pointless murder that continued to poison the world for the rest of the century. (Our current war in Iraq is a descendant of the pure line.) By most standards, it is hard to surpass WWI for sheer empty horror. It remade the world (not necessarily for the better), and remade the human mind, again - not necessarily for the better... Though as a naked lunch moment, it probably did its share of good, revealing the pervasive corruption in the world before the war. It's hard to claim innocence in anything after 1914, or to trust anyone who pretends to innocence. It's a war steeped in sadness, with no sense of accomplishment or even relief about it.

Eric Bogle's song does justice to the horrors and pointlessness of it all. Here are the Pogues, since that's the version I have lived with for 20+ years, and because someone has put together a nice video for the song.

Friday, November 07, 2008

...tell me what you think of me

Since everyone else is doing it, and to provide a break from the politics, and a placeholder while I try to get myself to write about something else, let me post my alphabet meme - the brainchild of Blog Cabins...

Aguirre Wrath of God
Blue Velvet
City of Sadness
Duck Soup
Elephant Man
Fort Apache
The General
His Girl Friday
It’s a Wonderful Life
Jour de Fete - this might have turned out the be the hardest letter to fill...
Killer of Sheep - or Killing of a Chinese Bookie? oh, the dilemmas we face!
Late Spring - uh oh - foreign language cheat!
M - what? you couldn't think of a title starting with am M?
Osaka Elegy - this should be N, of course
Pierrot le Fou
Que Viva Mexico
Rules of the Game - foreign language, non-cheat!
Seven Samurai - and another!
Touch of Evil
Woman Under the Influence
Xiao Wu - Jia Jiang-ke comes through in the pinch!
Yi Yi
Zero for Conduct

I should do numbers as well. Cheating a bit here...

1 Armed Swordsman
36th Chamber of Shaolin
47 Ronin (Mizoguchi)
5000 Fingers of Dr. T
6 Fingered Lord of the Lute - ah, now this - a wu xia I saw with no subtitles or synopsis, though the notes for the show said they would do no good - very true. Delirious nonsense of the very best sort!
7 Chances
8 1/2
9 Songs
0 Kelvin - to avoid repeating from the first list. And because this is the first time I have thought about this film since the day I saw it, whenever that was. (It's Norwegian - Stellan Skarsgaard as the nemesis of a writer who decides to spend a year in Greenland, hunting... three men locked in a cabin... vague hints of it come to mind, like a half remembered dream.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

Still feeling pretty giddy about last night... I'm sure there will be plenty of political talk in the coming months - there's hope in politics again - something good might happen - we might have some political goals based on something other than pretending to be tough for a change... It's fun.

Meanwhile - to transition back to movies - check out the Jason Bellamy's Poltics and Movies blogathon, already in progress.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Obama projected to win. This goes a long way toward undoing the angst I felt 4 years ago. We are a little closer to the country we should be now. We have elected someone who deserves to be president - Obama has been a superb candidate, and I see no reason not to expect him to be a very strong president. But the historical stuff - there's no denying the fact that America's treatment of Black people has been a disgrace. Slavery was a poison on our revolution, a poison in the country for the next 4 score and 7 years, cause of the horror of the civil war, which we are still suffering from. And we've only really started fixing that stuff in the last 45-50 years. Race is at the center of what has always been wrong about America - a point where America diverged from what it said it was. Our record on race has made mockery of our ideals. But we have gotten better - and this is a big big step in getting better yet.

It's thrilling. This is what America should be. This country is a mongrel country - we are many races many backgrounds many languages, many everything. It is thrilling beyond words to see how this has come about - the across the board support for Obama - taking back states won by the GOP recently, winning support from all kinds of demographic groups - it's wonderful.

And so? I am going to watch a bit more of this celebration, wait for Obama to speak... we're past McCain, conceding at the earliest possible moment - and doing so in an utterly gracious way. Now it's John Lewis expressing his astonishment at the changes he's seen in his life. It's something.

Yes I did

Civic duty done. Forty odd minute wait around ten thirty. Chatter in
the line that these were the longest waits of the day though turnout
had been brisk since the polls open. As always an inspiring moment,
voting. At that hour a lot of parents with kids in line, a cop handing
out paper and crayons to the rugrats. All of them behaving (except
maybe the one who made a dash for an open elevator door). All good.
Now we just wait. I took the day off for reasons unrelated to the
election, and am going to spend the afternoon with the devine Max:
Lola Montes is in theaters and I shall go to see.

So I hope I send this to the right blog. Typing on the iphone from a
bench in Coolidge corner next to a playground. Some kid behind me got
stuck on the jungle gym, yelling for help. Looks like one of the
teachers or maybe his mom got him down. A happy ending! Let's hope
the country gets a happy ending too!

Monday, November 03, 2008

One More Day

We're down to the end. Tomorrow we go to the polls and vote. I doubt there's anyone reading this blog who can't guess how I'll vote - Barack Obama all the way! I doubt there's anyone reading this blog who hasn't already made up their minds - hopefully, also for Obama. I'm doubt I'd be particularly good at talking anyone into it - I've run out of all patience with republicans a long time ago. I have a fair number of friends who will probably vote for McCain - many of them are Bush loyalists to the core. They repeat his propaganda. They think 24 was a documentary. They are terrified of illegal immigrants, the local mosque, Iran, probably shampoo. I have stopped arguing with them - I could not hold back my contempt, and would prefer not to express it. The best way to counter them is to elect someone competent and decent to the presidency, get the congress well out of their reach, and start fixing things. Let em complain about taxes, while their insurance premiums start going down. (I know, I know: that's a long shot. Not even Obama seems willing to cut off continued government subsidy of the medical and insurance industries.)

No: one more day. Undoubtedly an anxious one, though things are looking good right now. Keep an eye on the polls, and vote!