Monday, April 20, 2009

Film Clubs

Another week without a post here - at least I managed to get up another installment of my Dr. Mabusethon at the Film of the Month Club. Hopefully a couple more of those to come before the month is over. I am endlessly intrigued by those films. And by Fritz Lang, who I've never paid enough attention to, but am becoming utterly fascinated by...

Meanwhile, today is the day for the TOERIFC's discussion of the Serpent's Egg - which, as it happens, appears to be Ingmar Bergman's stab at a Fritz Lang film... And I clicked on The Kind of Face You Hate today, rather than just read through RSS - and was reminded just who's sinister mug graces the banner there. Is there nowhere to turn? Can there be any escape? from -

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

Oh, no - Mark Fidrych has died. Only 54. His baseball career was sad enough - in a way - coming up, brilliant, just brilliant, for a year, then hurt, and done, after scratching around a few more years... Though more than brilliant, how many players have been more fun to watch? I can just about remember watching him - certainly remember all the highlights every weekend on TWIB. (Or would if TWIB had been on the air in 1976 - it started in 1977? holy crap! So where did I see him? Game of the week? 18 games against Boston? Weird.) (What a different game it was then: compare those strikeout numbers, 1976 to 2008 - 2 teams struck out 900 in 1976 - everyone struck out 900 last year. 4 Red Sox starters matched or exceeded anyone on the '76 Tigers in K's - the Tigers, of course, were led by their closer - who threw 121 innings... All this to provide context to the remark at Lawyers, Guns and Money, that Fidrych only had 97 strikeouts in 250 innings that year.) I wanted to watch him for years - what a shame that he couldn't do it... And now - what a shame that he's not going to get to live out a long good life...

And a hell of a week for baseball - Nick Adenhart, Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, now the Bird...

And finally - very weird that there's nothing on YouTube, though it's hard to say who has tapes of those old games... Here's an interview from 1985, which has a few clips of him pitching, and gives a good idea of his personality... and that cool western Mass accent...

Saturday, April 11, 2009


This is my second contribution to Joseph B's New Wave blogathon - or, since the two started out together, but both got a bit out of hand - part 2 of the first... Anyway - turn our attention to one film... The 400 Blows may be the founding film of the new wave, but for me, the definitive film remains, Breathless. It's the one, the early example, that sets the parameters for the new wave as it developed. It's all there - the jump cuts, the loose style, the movie madness, the appropriation of genres, the natural locations (shooting in the street, often enough), the seedy glamor - all there. And it establishes one of the key elements of these films - their mixed modes of discourse (to get nerdy about it.) In a number of ways - in the sense of appropriating genres and styles (the crime film); in the ways it incorporates other texts and images (newspapers, comics, films, ads, street signs, you name it); in the way it shifts registers - direct addresses to the camera, people stepping out of character, the in jokes, quotes of all sorts... This is a pretty significant change from most previous films: these films, especially Godard, but you get it from quite a bit of the new wave, do not present a unified "discourse" - what you see and hear does not all come from inside the fiction, or have the same relationship to the fiction. These films tell their stories - don't just show them. They keep the forms, the act of telling, of shaping the film, in view. And they don't pretend they are just telling a story that existed somewhere, sometime - their stories come from other texts, they are - the fictions, I mean - performances themselves - they are not to be taken as the real world...

All of which is there from the beginning:

This remains as audacious a film as I have ever seen - it's still more challenging and strange than most of its descendants. That blend of experimentation, art film, genre film, its loose humor, the whole breeziness of the story and style - and its pretty convincing melancholy - still holds up. Because it is beautiful - look at the light and space and smoke in this shot:

And - well - underrated as a straight fiction. Godard can tell a story - can get characters on screen - quick, without conventional detailing, but a shot like this, the first meeting between Michel and Patricia, packs so much of the film's style into it, a style that does sketch these people... Here they are - on the street - back tot he camera (they are indifferent to it, though they never seem to forget it) - moving, as always, the camera moving - glamorous, cool, and a bit shabby...

Finally - since I am eye-deep in Fritz Lang at the moment, it's hard to miss the parallels - not just the imagery, but the themes. Advertisements - newspapers - messages - cityscapes - Breathless is most assuredly a picture of its time, as well. And Godard seems to be aiming for the same deliberate blend of art film and popular film that Lang went for. He never quite masters making popular films in a popular style - but he never leaves the genres and forms behind either. And, like Lang never forgets the importance of information...

Throw in all the references - to Lang himself with his eyepatch and monocle:

Characters framed in shop windows:



Working class detectives:

And always, the city as media:

50 Years of Nouvelle Vague

Joseph B. at itsamadmadblog has fired up the blogathonatron (ho lord), in honor of the 50th anniversary of the French New Wave. He's following the lead of the BFI, which is running 2 months of Nouvelle Vague films in honor of the same anniversary - specifically, I'd say, the anniversary of the release of The 400 Blows. That makes a pretty good place to start, even if it is a bit arbitrary - Resnais and Chabrol had released important films before then, but The 400 Blows probably marks the break: it played at Cannes, it was the touchpoint for the movement -and probably the first absolute masterpiece of the movement. And that's a good reason to celebrate now....

And we should be celebrating. It might be tempting to underrate the importance of famous moments and movements in film history - to look back at the new wave and shrug it off, note that it's nothing new, or a logical development of what was already there, or, I don't know, all the ways people dismiss revolutionary things. God knows I do it all the time. And there is no doubt that the idea of the "new wave" was quickly abused, using it to be anything - a marketing slogan; a way to dismiss anything innovative, or claim innovation for the same old thing (throw some jump cuts into your genre film and voila! new wave!); a way to reduce other kinds of movements and trends to something already understood (the way the Japanese new wave - which is every bit as innovative and jarring and crucial as the French one is sometimes treated as a kind of replay of the nouvelle vague); an excuse for exploitation films; a way to skate past the individuality of the films and filmmakers working in a "new wave" style - etc. etc. etc. All that is real. And - yes - there probably isn't a good, consistent, way to define new wave - French or otherwise - you can look at it stylistically, historically, as a specific movement (the Cahiers du Cinema, writers, say), as a specific group of filmmakers - you can try to generalize whatever definition you apply to similar revolutions in other film cultures (Japanese new wave, American versions, Young German cinema and New German Cinema, Czech new wave, Cinema Novo, what else? - all of which is still going strong: Hong Kong and Taiwan had new waves in the 80s; Iran in the 80s and 90s; Romanian films of the 2000s are called new wave, etc.) - all right. All that confusion can make the term, the idea, seem dubious - yes it can, but it is just confusion - none of it changes the impact of the Nouvelle Vague. All of that (good bad and indifferent) stands just as well as a testament to the power of the New Wave - because its ghost is in most of those disparate movements and traditions.

Things changed in the 60s for films. A lot of it had nothing to do with the likes of Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard - social, cultural, poitical, economic changes, industrial changes in filmmaking, technological changes - all did what they did. But the new wave directors were usually close to those changes - they may have jumped on the political and social changes after the fact, but they certainly jumped; and they were early to the technological changes (smaller cameras, better sound gear, support for and from television, etc.), the economic and industrial changes (they were independent filmmakers, and worked with the emerging independent and international producers), and so on. But mostly, the nouvelle vague was an artistic revolution. They brought new intellectual life to film - they were critics, cinephiles, many of them intellectuals, and they brought their cultural knowledge, their critical interests, their cinephilia into filmmaking.

And I know - none of that was completely new. The art film was going strong in the 50s, with Bergman, neo-realism and its offshoots in Italy, the beginning of awareness of Japanese films, the appearance of Indian filmmakers like Ray and Ghatak. Many of the big studio systems, Hollywood and Japan, notably, were turning out popular films with very high ambitions and accomplishments. Even the specific twists the new wave brought, their way of blending neo-realism, art cinema, Hollywood films, B-movies, had precedents, especially in Japan: check out some of the mid-50s Ichikawa or Masumura films, or even Kurosawa in that period - Japanese new wave came out of that as much as from French influence. And yet, and yet....

The nouvelle vague clarified things: the appearance of Godard and Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, eventually Rohmer, Moullet - and their fellow travelers, Resnais and Marker and Demy and Varda and the rest - gave the changes a sense of unity, gave other filmmakers a point of reference. It created a focal point for a different kind of art film - one with a bit more freedom than the tradition of Bergman and Antonioni and Fellini. It's an art cinema that could absorb other traditions with fewer limits than its predecessors - popular and genre films, experimental films, documentaries, newsreels - and start inventing its own - the essay film, notably... It sharpened the edges on film style - jump cuts and extravagant angles and rough acting styles and elliptical story telling and new approaches to narrative in many ways - all were boosted by the new wave (if not invented...) And it inspired people around the world - Japanese films may have been doing similar things in the 50s, but several directors quickly incorporated nouvelle vague influences into their work - Oshima, Yoshida, Shinoda, and so on... You see French influences in Italian directors of the 60s, especially Pasolini; Americans picked up on it (as well as our own parallels, like Cassavetes and Shirley Clarke). And so on (Brazil? Germany? eastern Europe?) The nouvelle vague became the model for any film movement with that sense of renewal, and increased adventurousness - even if it's lazy shorthand to call every interesting national movement a Blank New Wave - there are usually real ties. Even if it's just more jump cuts.

Coming soon - an appreciation for what I think is the new wave film, by the new wave director:

Monday, April 06, 2009

Nina Paley on Free Content

This may be relevant to my recent newspaper post - maybe. Here is Nina Paley (director the very fine animated film, Sita Sings the Blues), laying out her ideas on copyright: Understanding Free Content. What she says seems just about right to me - content is like water; books, DVDs, etc. are containers - water is (should be) free - containers are not, and should not be. There's much more... I think something like that will have to come about, especially now that information (content) can flow, as easily as it does... The internet gets around any particular barriers - but specific containers (books, DVDs, films as films, CDs, etc.) still have value. They do to me - I still buy books, CDs, go to movies, and prefer all of those things to downloading books or music or movies from the web... A lot of these things have to be worked out - especially with more ephemeral content like newspapers - it has value that changes with time. Is valuable the day it comes out - loses value fairly quickly - then regains it over time, as a record of a time and place. How that fits with containers - I don't know...

Anyway - I just wanted to pass that article on - it is very interesting...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Baseball Predictions 2009

This will make a veritable flurry of posts - when I hit Publish Post, this will be the third post of the month, one shy of my achievement in both February and March, in just 5 days! A dazzling achievement... Anyway - it is time for a baseball post - might as well go on record guessing what is going to happen.


Boston - it is axiomatic that this is the toughest division in baseball. And if the principals stay healthy, there's not much doubt it will be. The Sox have to be the favorites though. They did not stay healthy last year, losing significant time from Ortiz, Lowell, Drew and Beckett - who were also off their A game when they were in the lineup. And yet they were in the playoffs, and probably would have won it all if Beckett or Lowell had been adequate in the playoffs. If they get reasonable performance from those 4 - especially Ortiz and Beckett - they should be in fine shape again this year. They are deep - very very deep, breaking camp with what looks like 6 major league ready starters and at least 2 more in reserve, 7 significant relievers, and a batting lineup that did a mess of damage last year. They weathered most of their troubles last year - they can weather injuries this year, probably. They will be hard to keep out of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay - they had some injuries last year as well, but they kept their rotation on the field, and that got them where they got. If that happens again, and especially if the guys who underperformed a bit last year (Upton, Crawford - Langoria, if you figure he can only improve) return to form, they should be just as formidable. They might even be able to afford losing a starter or two, if Price is ready (and he seems to be) - they may need to get lucky with the pen again as well, but they have lots of arms out there... They can't absorb as much adversity as Boston - but they have as good a core lineup and rotation.

New York - they spent a ton of money, basically to get themselves to the same level as Boston and Tampa. Sort of. There's a lot of mileage on this team - A Rod is hurt (more and more of that as he grows old without the help Modern Science provided the Bonds' and Clemens' of the world), and Jeter, Damon, Posada, Matsui, Rivera, Pettitte are all in the same age range... they have some kids who could step forward - and if they stay healthy, they do have a nice looking squad - but they are no better than the other two, and seem much more vulnerable...

Toronto - they missed their chance to step forward... they have some nice talent, but they have also had terrible luck - in a just world Shaun Marcum would be taking Burnett's place as a fine #2 - but instead he's taken his place on the DL... Their offense is dubious, they have some rickity pitchers... things could break right for them, but it would take a great year from them and none fo the other three having big years and that's not likely.

Baltimore - I don't think they have any pitchers. Actually it's worse than that - they have Adam Eaton. They seem to have a decent offense, and some emerging young players - but they won't be contending any time soon.

AL Central:

Cleveland - this is a very mysterious division. The Tribe has good pitching, fine position players, they've bolstered their bullpen, they have some guys who should come back - Martinez, Hafner maybe - why not? everyone in the division seems to have on/off years - they could be the on team this year.

Kansas City - You know what? you have to take at least one chance. If they win the division, I am going to come back and edit this post to make it look like I called it, too. (I seem to call it every year - I rated them higher than Tampa last year...) Because - given all the questions in the division - why not? They have some of the things Tampa had last year, the things most surprise teams have. 1) some nice young pitchers - Greinke, Meche, and some hope from other starters; 2) a good bullpen - Soria is fantastic, and though they traded 2 of their relievers for offense, they still have some talent in the pen; 3) a bunch of young hitters who are supposed to be ballplayers - Gordon, Butler etc. - they have not delivered yet, but none of them has washed out - they are young, they have had their growing pains, but if a couple of them break through - why not? 4) while Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs are not superstars, they are solid contributors who do certain things very well - Crisp anchors the outfield; Jacobs puts a power bat in the lineup, a bit like Pena does in Tampa - if Coco has a good year with the bat, along with a ocuple kids stepping forward, this could be a pretty good team.

Minnesota - I would put them first, except Mauer and Baker are already on the DL - they don't have the depth to take that sort of thing. But they usually hang around, and they have some real talent - they are certainly capable of winning the division.

Chicago - same as last year - things break right they'll be fine - things don't, they'll be in the cellar. I'll go for the On/Off principal and guess they fade, but they could just as easily thrive...

Detroit - their pitching, which looked dominant a couple years ago, is a total mess - they have done very little to fix it. The offense is still an odd mix of magnificence and mess. I don't know what to expect. A couple breaks though - they could be back in it. Stranger things have happened - isn't Dontrelle Willis Cliff Lee with a better track record? brilliant young pitcher gone disastrously wrong? Those things can work themselves out. Ditto Bonderman, Robertson, though less dramatically... I doubt they'll do much, but it would be easy to be wrong.

AL West:

Anaheim - they missed all the stud free agents, but they still have a very strong team. They should run the table out west, though the playoffs will probably yield the traditional result.

Texas - not that they have any pitchers, but they have yet another crop of great hitters to trade in a year or two. If they ever did get some pitchers they would be a team to reckon with.

Oakland - actually this is probably a mistake. I don't trust their starters either - but they have some pretty decent offensive options this year. I could be very wrong - they could contend. I sort of doubt it though.

Seattle - ouch. Except, again - a couple breaks and they could be back around .500 - Bedard could be healthy, it's possible... King Felix is a fine pitcher - some of their young guys (Morrow etc.) are promising - so, I don't know. They can't get any worse.

National League:
AL East:

Philly - they need Hamels out there all the time, but otherwise, I see no reason not to expect more of the same. If they're healthy in October, they should be one of the prime contenders for the title again.

NY Mets - I see they just added Gary Sheffield - how that's relevant I don't know... They have spectacular talent at the top in Wright, Reyes and Beltran, though the rest is shakier - but could be quite good. Pitching - Santana has to be there all year, and they need some consistency from the rest of the staff, but it seems reasonable. They bolstered the pen - K-Rod and Putz are a good start... So - all things being equal, the Phillies probably win - but the Mets should be in it all the way again, and stand in good stead for at least a wild card spot.

Atlanta - has some nice, boring pitchers - not the most exciting offense ever, but not terrible. Be surprising if they contend, but not out of the question.

Florida - jeez - actually, they might be right in the thick of things again - they can hit, they have some decent looking starters - if they do contend, though, it's an open question whether they break the team up in August - though last year they were at least willing to talk about trading for Manny (not that he would have helped all that much - they were already hammering the living crap out of the ball) - don't they have a new park on the way? Will they try to spend to open it in style? not likely, but if they decide to try, they should have plenty of cap room available (or whatever you call it in baseball.)

Washington - they have some nice young hitters (Duke, Milledge, etc.), plus Adam Dunn to hit home runs. The pitching is another matter. Pitching is what gets young teams to respectability so I'm not holding my breath.

NL Central:
Cubbies - I hate the frigging cubs. I hate Lou Pinella. This has nothing to do with drafting Carlos Marmol as my closer, nothing. I think this division is soft everywhere else, and the Cubs have a free ride, unless Milwaukee or St. Louis bring in a Jake Peavy type. Deep rotation, deep bullpen, plenty of offense...

St. Louis - put them here until Milwaukee gets that starting pitcher.

Brewers - perfectly fine team on the field, Jeff Suppan as your ace? I suppose that's a technicality - Gallardo is the real ace, if he's healthy. Still... if they do get someone like they got Sabathia last year, they could get into the running...

Cincinnati - good gracious - they actually have some decent pitchers, don't they! Of course they need all of them to be effective - Aaron Harang got bad just as Volquez got good last year... Can they hit? Maybe. They could be a sleeper, no question.

Houston - I guess they still exist don't they? is Mike Hampton really being listed as their fourth starter?

Pittsburgh - probably some chance of a surprising improvement - a couple of their kids could turn out to be legit, they have a bunch of promising underachieving pitchers - possible. Not likely.

NL West:

Arizona - screw you Manny! Granted, they need their kids to all move forward - good years out of Drew, Upton, Young, possibly Snyder are a must - but why not?

LA - they are pretty loaded, I have to admit. I don't know if they can catch anything - I don't know... but they have offense, pitching, etc., so they will, I'm afraid, be hanging around the playoff picture. It will be fun to see what happens when Manny decides to be Manny again...

SF Giants - lots of pitching here, some of it maybe a bit risky, but still... they need some hitting, though they might get some modest improvements here and there.

Colorado - back to bland.

San Diego - so from a mediocre team able to pretend to contend because of the top of the rotation, they became Godawful indeed. Where they go from here probably depends on whether Chase Headley is any good and what they can get for Peavy.

So then! The results?

AL: Boston - Cleveland - Anaheim + Tampa: Boston should be the favorite to win that, though of course Tampa (or NY) should be perfectly capable. Best dark horse? Kansas City...
NL: Philly - Chicago - Arizona + NY Mets: I'd bet on Philly, but NY or Arizona could win the league championship. LA shouldn't be completely counted out. Dark Horse? Florida - Cincy isn't out of the question...
WS: Boston beats anyone they play, I'd say. Philly, possibly the Mets could beat Tampa or the Yankees if they got there.

AL MVP - Evan Langoria repeats Dustin Pedroia's repeat of Cal Ripken's feat - following up rookie of the year with the MVP
NL MVP - might as well keep picking David Wright until he wins one. Pujols being the default option, of course.
AL Cy Young - Roy Halladay is probably the most consistent pitchers going... I hope it's Beckett, of course.
NL Cy Young - lots to choose from - probably should have been Santana last year - if Hamels had won as many games as his stats seem to indicate, he would have won. It's odd to see w pitchers of their quality not getting enough wins to beat someone from San Francisco... I imagine whichever of the Santana, Hamels, Peavy, Lincecum group gets 18-20 wins gets the Cy Young as well. I think Santana will do it.
AL Rookie - they look like they are going to stash him in AAA for a while, but Price should be there...
NL - is Cameron Maybin ready? or Tommy Hanson?

Anyway - it's about time we started... Go Sox!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Newspaper Angst

I get up this morning to find this story headlining the Globe - Times Co. may shut Globe;
seeks union concessions
. Ouch. There's nothing new, I guess, about stories of newspapers in trouble - but this is bringing it home in a particularly unpleasant way.

I know I am probably part of the problem: I've been reading the daily paper online for almost a decade (summer 2000, I think, is when I dropped it for good) - though I keep buying the Sunday edition most of the time... I don't know how that factors into this, though - it's ad revenues that pay for papers, and ads are there online as much as in paper. Just that I'm not sure anyone to this day has figured out how to measure the value of online ads. Circulation, I suppose, measures the value of print ads pretty well - but online? Subscriptions don't quite do it - they're too easy to circumvent...

But this is not just a question of format. I don't buy the paper, but I read it: I check the Boston Globe, every day. I read it the way I always have, more or less - check the big news stories, read the sports pages, look through the A&E section, and anything else that catches my eye. I do it online rather than the paper, but - I don't want to do without that. I want a local paper - I want the Globe, not the Herald, too - online, offline, whatever... This is terribly distressing. I am not sure how much the real problem is that the Boston Globe is owned by the New York Times - if the Globe were independent, would it have a different set of incentives to stay open? The Herald is independent - I don't know if that changes the dynamic in important ways - I suspect it does. It's all a mess.

And so - to take a bit of comfort - here's Roger Ebert celebrating the good old days in the newspaper world. As well he should! Though at some point, that is somewhat misleading - the romance of the old newspapers is fine, but some of it is dependent on the technology - the technology has changed: information increasingly circulates electronically now. That creates different ways of working, reading, all the rest. And that - while urging nostalgic regret - is not the same problem as the disappearance of independent local newspapers. Related, no doubt - indeed, probably driven by the close association of local reporting and writing with the facts of printing presses and papers and circulation figures and ad revenues and all the rest - but the two are still separable. The fact is - there will be good writing available somewhere. If not in papers, then online. But the other side of things - the local paper, the local reporters - the people who know everything in their corner of the world (that Ebert describes in that essay) - when that goes, it is harder to say that it will come back. Someone has to pay the people who know all the mobsters' nicknames - it's not obvious where that money will come from when newspapers are all online, all either completely centralized (all the big chain papers), or completely atomized into blogs and vanity sites....

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April Things to Do

Checking in again: less than a week since my last post! Not much to say here - a few links, mostly.

First - it is April, and I am hosting the Film of the Month Club's April entry - Fritz Lang's Mabuse the Gambler. Given my wretched track record posting this year, this is a bit scary - fortunately, it ties in with the German film class I'm taking, so should work out pretty well. I'm taking it as a chance to both expand on what the class covers, and and to work through some of Lang's work a bit more systematically than I might. That and it's a hell of a film...

On a similar note - I've been lax in tracking blogathons lately: I totally missed the Underrated blogathon at Chicago Ex-Patriate... My old crony Joseph B. is hosting a blogathon in honor of the 50th year of the French New Wave, inspired by the BFI's celebration of the same. 50 years - given that even at this late date, one runs into people who seem utterly flummoxed by Nouvelle Vague, it is amazing to think that it is has been 50 years since 400 Blows, Breathless, etc. came out...

And speaking of New Waves - another reason I'm completely strapped for time is another fantastic series at the HFA - this one in honor of Kiju Yoshida and his wife and collaborator, Mariko Okada. They will be present this weekend with their films, and again next weekend, when they will be presenting and discussing Ozu's Autumn Afternoon. This is heaven....

And one more film link - Matt Zoller Seitz is working through a series of posts on Wes Anderson - starting with an essay on his influence. Inexplicably, he leaves out Ozu. But I won't deny that I think Anderson is the best American filmmaker since David Lynch, so any big project like this is manna...

And so? There's also baseball, days from beginning.... Spring is in the air - things are looking up. But I have plenty to do this month.... I'll need a tiger in the tank...