...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Distractions and Abstractions

My apologies for the delay. I admit that I have fallen down the snake hole that is the press coverage of this election. I broke my own rule from the previous post and let them snag me. The only thing I regret is how much energy it saps. What I don't regret is living during this insanity. It's actually kind of fun to watch journalists and media companies lose their minds. In the upcoming days, they will be feeding their hypnotised audience up to 20 state polls and 7 national polls per day! And you know what, they're all meaningless. Each poll is so flawed and the margin of error is so great that none of the pontificating is based on anything real. And I'd say this no matter who's "winning" in the polls. Actually no one's winning in the polls right now except the polling companies. But I promised I'd lay off of politics in this blog, thus ends this paragraph.

It's interesting to have witnessed the Yankees go from perennial world champ to perennial playoff team to second-rate team in four years. This is a good thing because the system is breaking down, to paraphrase G Carlin. Some things need to shatter and burn, melt away and vaporize, before something new can be born. I'd say 2011 will be the next year they can compete.

On Monday I forced myself to watch Tarkovsky's Mirror. One of my goals in this first year of my 30s was to go back to my difficult films. I wanted to re-view those movies that bother me or effect me oddly on a level that I do not understand. Mirror was the first one that came to mind.

I really like everything that I've seen of Andrei Tarkovsky's. I never recommend his films because that would be mean, or maybe I want people to take any of my future recommendations seriously. One could call his style deliberate......or one could point out that he makes 3-hour glacial meditations complete with long takes of muddy water and overgrown weeds. Mirror (only 108 minutes) is his one film that I've never made it through. In fact, I have fallen into a troubled dark sleep every time I've given it a spin. Four tries. Never made it past the 5 minute mark. So it was time to do it. And after 3 breaks for food and chores, I was successful.

It's strange how one minute the film looks very familiar then the next minute it's as if I'm watching for the first time. In my past tries, I must have watched some sequences in a half-sleep. One thing that was pleasantly welcomed was the intense erotic charge that Margarita Terekhova brings every time she's on screen. After all of the failed attempts to watch this movie and the heavy but jagged sleep that followed, my brain registers Terekhova as a goddess of the unconscious (Somnia, perhaps?). With her appearance comes a change in perception and the negation of lucidity. And that is really hot.

So what's the movie about? It's a series of dreams, memories, and meditations all woven together quietly to illustrate the mind of a man contemplating his life, his family, and women. But this is not the territory of the conscious, so the camera movements and the mise-en-scene is all dream-like. And I don't mean the usual cinematic depiction of dreams. Rather it's as if Tarkovsky got his 35mm camera into his brain and filmed through Hypnos's eye. There are repeated images of fire, water, and wind -- yes, wind. He made me believe I could see the wind. There are drapes and cloth hanging ghostlike, here and there, in both the memories and dreams. It's shot in B&W as well as color, along with old newsreel clips. Danger lurks in the background, but not fear. And all the while Terekhova holds the gaze, playing both the mother and the ex-wife.
While all of these images swirl and drift, the unseen man reads poetry written by another Tarkovsky (maybe Andrei's father?) and the end cinematic result is stream-of-the-unconscious. Here's my favorite piece:

Sometimes something happens,
and I stop dreaming
of the house and the pines
by the house of my childhood.

Then I grieve
and wait for the dream...

that will make me
a child again...

and I'll be happy again, knowing...

that all still lies ahead...

and nothing is impossible.

Good night.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blowing smoke

"A house is not news. A house on fire, now that's news." -- an old journalism wisdom shared by one of my writing mentors in college.

Unfortunately that gem has recently been rendered ridiculous. Trying to follow the Dem's Convention has become an act of futility as nothingness get spun and spun and spun until it seems like conflict!, gossip!, something! Though I hope all of the media provides equal crazy time coverage of the Rep's convention, I have switched off this product.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we no longer receive news. Turn on all of the media information networks (CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.), there's no news. There's speculation, commentary, commentary on the speculation, and occasionally some speculation on commentary. These businesses need to distract you long enough so that you forget that you're watching 24 hours of advertising. It's tough to put something on screen all day, it takes a lot of work from a lot of individuals, and it becomes more difficult when other journalism portals are racing to say something first or louder.

The house is not on fire. But it's up to these companies to make us keep checking to see if things are ablaze. If we stop watching, ad revenue goes down, stock prices go down, and these shops start folding up.

Some of you know that I haven't had any television channels in my home for the last 7 years. This abandonment of the box wasn't due to reality programming, bread-and-circus distractions, or terrible writing.

Seven years ago, a day came when the sky fell. The house really was on fire. I, like most of the nation, couldn't stop watching the reporting. For weeks. Once I came out of the somnambulism induced by falling buildings and death counts, I realized that every station kept saying, The House Is on Fire. Experts were coming in re-explaining the events and speculating on every moment of the fire. Though a little exploration of why the house was burning would have gone a long way, the actual commentary was repetitive. The voices and images kept saying the same thing. Why? Because there was nothing left to report. The house was no longer on fire. Fear had turned us into the perfect captive audience. And that realization spelled the end of television in my home.

One of the media networks, who had up to that point been poorly constructed and been limited to awkward lurching amateurish programming, caught full hold of that fear and hasn't let go since. And it has been the best thing to ever happen to them. Besides holding a consistent political bent to their product, they still wage in that same fear which has now spread to every part of society. They keep saying every day, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. And their consistent viewers have to believe it if they receive all of their information from this source.

That network's blossoming has since caused the rest of the companies to rush to keep up. Instead they don't always say the house is ablaze when it's not. Chris Matthews talks to experts about potential sources of conflagration. Wolf Blitzer showcases people who have lived in burning houses. There are graphics of what would happen if the fire starts. And all of this proves very addictive viewing. But it doesn't mean that anything is actually happening. It is the definition of pornography -- an artificial manipulation of real feelings in order to create a temporary false emotion.

Now, I'm the first one to say that everything is not right in this country. The wiring is all messed up, the appliances were never strong to begin with, there are cracks in our foundation, and we apparently have no basement. But, well, let me tell you a quick personal story:

In 1995, during my family's first full year in Santa Barbara, we were enjoying another in a series of 200+ consecutive beautiful late mornings. I was on the can, thumbing through a Baseball Digest and Sporting News, when I heard my dad's running thumping footsteps passing by the door. He was shouting, "THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. Get out of the house!" He'd seen dark smoke coming from the vent in his room. My idyll was interrupted and as we all scurried out through the garage, my heart raced with adrenaline. I believe the SBFD was called in (need to fact check through Jason), but one thing was for certain. The house was not on fire. A towel in my parents' bathroom had gotten a little close to a light bulb and started smoking. I'm not saying that wasn't important. The smoking towel needed to be addressed. But the house was not on fire.

As for the republic of Georgia, their house is on fire. The U.S. has the potential, and that potential must be explored, but to scream and frighten in the disguise of News is a lie. We need to focus on and fix the faulty things, the open flames, the smoldering towels, the blocked fire exits. But current reporting (journalism?) is an illusion, a trumped up distraction to keep you watching and the ad sales coffers filling. What will happen when this current programming process is no longer of interest? Will some of these media companies begin starting fires in order provide a product? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm sure they will do their best to slow the fire department from putting it out.

I am not interested in debating the difference between Truth and Fact here, but I am calling a lie a lie, a cheat a cheat, and emotional abuse a reality. Networks! Save the Fear for the unpopular politicians. Bring news back. And let us know how people are planning on fixing the plumbing, opening up their windows to the outdoors again, and what's being done to lower the electric bill.

In the meantime, please expand your coverage of Megan Fox's latest nipple-slip. Thank you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy birthday to Diving for Pearls!

I must drop a quick post to announce that as of last week, this blog is now 1 year old! Just a baby. He's a little hairy, has small feet, and is beginning to grow some teeth. Thanks to everyone's support!

I did break one of my rules in the previous let's-blame-Bush-for-my-faulty-dishwasher post. I do not want to bring politickin' into this blog and will do my best to resist it in the future. Some things that you can look forward to in the near future: more whine, more wine, finishing the Lubitsch reviews that I'd started 4 months ago, a review of the so-called Star Wars prequel trilogy, a meditation on Fassbinder's BRD trilogy, some thoughts on food, and $10 for every person you refer. There was a lie in there somewhere.

Thanks again for every one of the 1130 hits! We're 25.6% of the way to Pete Rose's career record.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dear Mr. President,

As you finish your final months in office, you must have many important duties to fulfill. There are people you have to pardon, post-term speaking engagements to settle, long-term contracting deals to sign, and maybe some final political scores to settle.

Within the last year your administration has begun to publicly acknowledge the economic downturn that the nation currently experiences. There are other negatives that have been reluctantly mentioned as well, such as failures in overseas diplomacy, military action, and the worldview of the United States. Maybe you haven't addressed these directly -- it may just be my optimistic imagination -- but even if you have, I am not entirely certain that you, your advisers, or cabinet members can see our nation's day-to-day collapse due to the blindfold of Wealth.

My girlfriend and I (yes, we live together and are not betrothed) recently moved to another apartment. No, we are not homeowners. Despite the fact that we both have jobs that pay well, we still cannot afford to purchase a home even amidst the current housing market disaster. Our new apartment, mere feet from luxurious Beverly Hills, surrounded by seven- and eight-figure houses, is not of the inexpensive sort, but not unreasonably priced either. The apartment and the building themselves are of quality and the nights are exceptionally quiet by Los Angeles standards. The problem with our place resides with the things within, objects and labor. American products and American work. To summarize:
  • Uneven kitchen tiling of different heights that can cut bare feet. Tiling which was installed two weeks later than needed, thus keeping us out of our apartment for two days after we had already moved in.
  • A dishwasher that sometimes washes dishes when not activated and does not dry them once it is activated. It is brand new.
  • A freezer door that does not seal the same as the refrigerator below it, thus potentially causing high utility bills. It is brand new.
  • An oven installed on a slight slant so that burning hot trays can slide out and hit passersby. An oven that may not reach the actual temperatures that it indicates. It is brand new.
  • A stove top that is slippery, thus causing burning hot pans to slide off and hit passersby. It is brand new.
  • A toilet that was installed under a shelf so that the toilet cannot fully open. Without going into graphic detail, I will just say that it presents a problem for both men and women. This was installed 20 to 30 years ago in every apartment in the building.
  • A shoe rack, new in the box, with three broken pieces so that it cannot be assembled.
  • A shoe rack, new in the box, with at least two missing pieces so that it cannot be assembled.
  • A shower rack, or caddy, with metal so flimsy that it cannot serve its own purpose, bending out even without holding a single bar of soap. It has shelves that cannot stay straight due to flimsy rubber wedges, causing anything placed on the shelf to come sliding off, hitting naked surprised bathers. It is brand new.
  • Screen doors that do not open. Screen doors that do not open are no longer doors, but walls for exhibitionists.
  • Cabinet doors that either do not open or do not close.
  • Closet bars that will collapse under the weight of the clothing hung upon them.
  • Front door locks that do not lock.
  • Kitchen shelves installed on a downslope causing dishware to, yes, slide off and hit passersby.
I will stop here, Mr. President, because to go further would likely seem to be nitpicking. What I hope is apparent is the shoddy nature of these American-made products, this work, this labor provided in America, this sliding away of the last shards of American quality. My girlfriend and I do not live in a $600 studio in South LA, these things are happening within the middle-class.

When I do my job, I do my best, focusing on the clients, vendors, and people who are affected by the results. If we Americans know that we cannot afford a house, cannot afford to get sick, cannot take any pride in our international standing, cannot assume that our jobs are stable, cannot afford to travel, cannot expect to get our Social Security back when we are old, cannot expect privacy laws to be upheld, and cannot assume that it is okay not to be afraid anymore, what are we supposed to do when we come home from work to an apartment full of broken things. Shoddy labor going into shoddy products. The complete lack of effort and pride.

You, sir, set the example.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Go on singing

In the process of taking care of apartment matters while KP suns in Sweden, I've remained frighteningly sober. Even a run-in with Coppola's Rosso ended earlier than it normally would.

On Saturday, my dad and I went out to Anaheim to watch the Yanks. In typical fashion the Angels beat the crap out of them. We had decent seats but the O.C. sun was burning up the deck. So we went progressively higher and higher up the ballpark to stay in the shade. By the 9th, the view was such:
I did get to see ARod and J. Stach-less Giambi go yard, back-to-back. But we left once the over-praised Yankee relief staff allowed 8 straight runners (7 hits) without being able to get an out in the 8th inning. They've taken their two best relievers (Chamberlain and Giese) and made them starters. That leaves a problem. I witnessed it. It was great to see a game with my dad though. But the blondes with silicone stacks kept getting in the way of my view of the field, even when they were standing in the beer line.

In between unpacking boxes this weekend, I had a chance to get through some DVDs. Finally finished the first Popeye set. Awesome. Highly recommended. Remember these aren't the crappy cheap color cartoons. These were the original ones from the 1930s. Once Jack Mercer signs on as the voice of Popeye, these short violent films become very funny. Mercer ad-libs, mutters grandly terrible puns under his breath, and (if my hearing's right) occasionally comments on the cartoon itself. As far as the un-PC element goes, Olive Oyl gets socked around as much as the boys do. Off-putting at first, it eventually blends in and makes sense, since everyone else gets punched and she takes a hit better than the boys do, sometimes. The racial incorrectness, though, is very dated and seems like laziness on the part of the writers and animators. Otherwise these B&W cartoons are still enjoyable 70 years later. Note: Popeye apparently liked to dance a lot at this point in his life. One out of every six cartoons has him cutting a rug.

Kristen brought me Babe (the one about the pig, not the Ruth picture) as a present a week or so ago. It was in the DVD player as soon as I'd set it up. 13 years ago (wow) I watched Babe -- with Stacy Lydon, I just realized -- in a theater full of children. I hate kids in theatres and I normally despise kid's movies, so I was anticipating disaster. But it was beautiful. Once the movie started, there wasn't a peep from the little people. And as the film came to a close in a striking, zen-like, peacefully composed sequence of shots, I began reading into a film for the first time. I think this was the first time...at least it makes for a decent story.
What's surprising all of these years later is how dark this G-rated squeaker-pic can be. Much of it centers around the accepting of one's destiny to be eaten. When Babe sings Jingle Bells right after being measured for a Christmas ham, I thought that if one were to replace the animals with humans, the irony of his joy would be too gruesome to film. But, alas, Babe has a different destiny. And I was surprised how emotionally connected I still am to the film's final act. I think it's largely due to James Cromwell's commanding, almost wordless, performance as the farmer. If any of y'all watch this one again, keep an eye on Cromwell, he's amazing.

Finally, I watched F for Fake. I've had it sitting around for a month, courtesy of Netflix. It was my loss to have waited so long. It can easily stand with Kane and Touch of Evil as Orson Welles's best cinema. I can't add much more than what has already been written, but I'll try. It's at least 20 years ahead of its time. The editing is fast and brilliant as it tips the film towards the avant-garde, which in turn probably kept any distributor from picking it up back in '76.
It's Orson's last completed film, but he shows no signs of slowing down. The tone is mischievous, youthful but wise. It's about two famous con artists, one who was one of the great art forgers, the other an author of a true biography on a faker and a fake biography on a real person. Besides being full of twists and turns and commentary on the art market, it really is about beauty and truth. If someone can recreate a Picasso or Modigliani (in minutes!) with perfect precision, who's to say that this person is not an artist as well? And what then is art? And why does the artist matter? It is the art that is profound. Once the art is created it belongs to the universe, not one person.

I've never seen anything like this film. It's a documentary, but not. It's a mediation with tons of titillation. My favorite part comes an hour and 2 minutes into the running time. Welles abruptly cuts to a monologue about Chartres which turns out to be the thesis of the whole film.
The monologue follows, below. Imagine the great Welles voice -- like a large sleepy bear sipping Cabernet -- weaving his thoughts in almost a whisper. And as you listen, it's as if the world stands still for a minute:

"Now, this has been standing here for centuries, the premiere work of man, perhaps, in the whole Western world. And it's without a signature. Chartres. A celebration to God's glory and to the dignity of man.

"All that's left, most artists seem to feel these days, is man. Naked. Poor, forked radish. There aren't any celebrations.

"Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know, it might be just this one anonymous glory, of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose, when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we've been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades or a millennium or two. But everything must finally fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash. The triumphs and the frauds. The treasures and the fakes.

"Fact of life, we're going to die. Be of good heart, cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

We are here

If West Hollywood goes by WeHo and North Hollywood is called NoHo, then we're just plain Ho. Actually we're on the Beverly Hills / Hollywood border so we're at BH Ho. Say it out loud. (For those who need to be handheld through this juvenile joke, add an "ass" after BH, so you'll have a BH ass Ho. You're welcome.)

The apartment started to feel like home for a moment this morning, even though we'll still be box-squatting for a couple more weeks. We have no internets there; until I do, these posts will be brief as I pretend I'm cost reporting at work. But we ate an actual dinner and breakfast in our dining room during actual dinner and breakfast times. Our bedroom smells less and less toxic each night. And the most exciting part is that I showered in our shower for the first time. Four mornings. Four different showers. Four different women.

I'm kidding.

Five different women.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

OK. I cannot go out on that note today. Here are two pictures:

This is great. Did I already post this? If so, T.S.

And some bananas.

Not very moving

Just a quick update. Our move has been very messy. We have no working apartment to live in. Instead we spent the night at a hotel. Walking into one's new apartment and seeing the toilet in the living room and fridge in the dining room was an experience I'd rather not repeat. KP and I are okay and will not let our lives be interrupted by odd fortune.

In other uplifting news, Joba Chamberlain is hurt. I declare on August 5th that the Yankees' season is over, even if he only misses a few starts. There's a guy from the NY Post who agrees as well. He proves his point via facts. I felt it in my stomach after reading the story this morning. That grand slam given up in the bottom of the ninth (to the RANGERS) by their supposedly stellar relief staff contributed to it. I still predict that despite scoring well at the trading deadline, the Yanks will win 87 wins. That's not enough for the AL East nor the wild card. Keep in mind they're missing Hughes, Kennedy, Pavano (haHA!), Wang, Matsui, and Posada for the rest of the year. Chamberlain and Rivera are hurt. Plus missing Damon and A-Rod for 20-game periods put them at least 4 wins behind. I didn't see them making it too far anyway even with all of those people healthy year-round. I'll jump on the Cubs or Mets bandwagon depending on who gets to the playoffs.

I'll end on a good note. We found a great BBQ place called Zeke's near the Formosa Cafe on SM Blvd. And my commute this morning was a smooth as Giambi's newly-shaven upper lip.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

If you are flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit.

Thank you Mitch Hedberg for today's title.

Yes we are moving, very soon. Signing the lease tomorrow. The apartment is full of boxes. More every day. Won't miss the neighbors. Or the noisy park. I really need to stop writing in short sentences now because that is really not my style and only works best to punctuate action.

An earthquake hit the LA area yesterday. I thought I'd just let you know that in case you missed the media over-covering the event. On the fifth floor of a 12-story building in Burbank, I was discussing data entry procedure with my office-mate when we heard what sounded like something really big slamming down onto the floor. Twice. Someone said, "What the hell was that?" Then things starting shaking in crazy jazz rhythmic patterns. I stood in the doorway. Everyone else who wasn't frozen in her seat filled the other doorways. Once I realized that I was going to live through this, a crazy adrenaline joy ran through me and I may have laughed. Then the shaking stopped. And the building started swaying. I didn't care for that. Standing in the middle of a swaying 200-ft. building felt like being on a boat in the ocean. For a full minute. And not one of those supposed "minutes" everyone references when something seems to happen for a long time. I checked my watch after a while. In a building made of bricks, steel, and glass, the hearts beating inside filled with hormonal panic. Breakfasts churned and may have threatened to escape. I saw no puke but heard much discussion of it. But all was over quickly, and Los Angeles went on its way again within minutes, though the TV reporting tried to stretch it out all day. "There have been no reports of damage or serious injury, BUT THIS MAY CHANGE!" Thanks Shepard Smith. You're an ace.

KP and I watched The Lady Eve this weekend. Barb Stanwyck gleamed in the black and white while Hank Fonda played a total fool. For the sake of men everywhere I was embarrassed by his character, but simultaneously saw the truth in it. The script was structured so strangely that only Preston Sturges's brilliance made it work.

I'm also still absorbing Velvet Underground's Loaded. It's taken about eight listens, but I think I'm finally getting it. In any case, "Sweet Jane" is a fantastic song. And I dreamt (really) to "Oh! Sweet Nothing". I like Lou Reed's pop-structured music but it's still so shocking to listen to after having enjoyed Velvet's first album for 7 years.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rethinking our favorites

I've just seen a film so beautiful that it has caused me to rethink the way we rank our favorite pieces of art, music, and film.

When we're young and impressionable, or being introduced to or happening upon a new art form, I think we set the standard to which all future forms of that medium are judged. And I'm not sure how often we break that standard. Think of your favorite rock albums EVER. Think of your favorite movies EVER. If you're like me, you probably have dozens of "Greatest" lists. I know my top 10 lists are often established at the start.

For instance, best rock albums? I'm pretty sure that 80% of my top ten were all discovered within the first 4 years of rock 'n roll worship. Best rock band? The Who, of course. They taught me the many definitions and basic themes. Favorite bluesman? John Lee Hooker. Same story with him. My three favorite electronica albums were all discovered within my first year of listening.

And I don't think it's just me. Only recently has Rolling Stone let any recent albums into their top 500. Their top 25 has only two that were released within the last 25 years. Their top 30 songs only have two from the last 30 years.

When compiling their top 10 films lists every 10 years from 250 filmmakers and critics, Sight and Sound seems to have a similar issue.

In 1992, none of the critics' top 9 were from within the previous 34 years. The directors' list has only 3 of the top 12 were from the same time period.

In 2002? Here are the years for the critics' top 10 list:

1941, 1958, 1939, 1972-4, 1953, 1968, 1925, 1927, 1963, 1952

Directors' list:

1941, 1972-1974, 1963, 1962, 1963, 1946, 1980, 1958, 1950, 1939, 1954

And to be honest the critics' list never changes over the years. And you will always know who's going to be no. 1.

Are we getting worse at our art? One would think that we'd be getting better with practice. Were the early works better because they came first? We were younger then, more impressionable. Awe came easier. Are we being unknowingly unfair to new creations?

I feel like this is related to our own individual lists of favorites. (Exceptions to this rule being those who think each new Michael Bay film is the best movie ever.) Those early ones, the first ones which introduced us to new emotional experiences, seem to get priority over all others.

Watching Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors was electrifying. For the first half hour, I felt as if I was witnessing something more important than cinema. By the time the film finished, I'd realized that, no, this was actual cinema. I'd forgotten that feeling, which had last materialized about 8 years ago during Kusturica's Underground.

If you have been reading my blog posts for a bit you may think that every movie I watch is at the top of my list. This is untrue, I just love film that much. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors could break The Top Baker's Dozen (I don't have a top ten) but I wouldn't know who to kick out or why. I won't name names because I won't spill the whole list, but I'll reference when a flick has made the list (like Underground).

To sum up Shadows -- it's a magical realist lovers tale set in the Carpathian mountains. Though the film was shot in 1964, it could take place at any time since language was born. The editing is lightning fast and brilliant; apparently the Russians paid more attention to Eisenstein than the Americans did. Surprise. The acting is delightful because all but the leads were non-professional locals. And then there's the whirling, spinning, flying cinematography. Apparently Sergei Parajanov found an impatient winged forest spirit to operate the camera. The result can be exhilarating or nauseating, like the lives of the dancing, singing, loving, drinking characters. Those who are happy avoid sorrow by never stopping to mourn. Those who mourn are those who suffer. I think I'll move beyond the past too and find a place in the list for this one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gettin' it done

Just saw The Hustler (1961) last night and it was such a pleasant surprise that I had to tell someone. So I'm telling you. It was sitting on my overflowing media shelf as part of a Paul Newman set that I bought only to obtain Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. If I knew that The Hustler was going to be so strong, it would not have remained lonely and unopened for so long. But that solitude was appropriate. The film is so much harsher than Scorsese's 1986 sequel. It's a 135 minute descent into separate private hells for all of its characters. Not a single cuss word, no nudity, and the only acts of physical violence are hidden, but the end result is brutal. Newman carves out a brooding layered performance. Piper Laurie is a constantly unsettling disorienting presence. George C. Scott could possibly be playing the devil as his character is completely bereft of a soul. And Jackie Gleason is so graceful that I want to dig up more of his movies. Anyway, it's a film about a pool hustler, possibly the best there is. And at the end it may leave you pondering the definition of "winner" and "loser".

Since I referenced Scorsese, I've realised that I forgot to mention that KP and I have watched The Last Waltz (or at least parts of it) 3 times in two weeks. Definitely a nominee for top concert film ever. And I'm really excited that Kristen liked the music. The Band is awesome. Might need to add their first 3 albums to my list of art to get.

Speaking of great rock, I downloaded Shadows of Knight's other album, Back Door Men (1967). Not a disappointment at all. Right now it's playing for the fourth time today. I don't listen to anything four times a day except maybe my work computer restarting. Anyway, besides using one of the best blues double entendres ever as a title, they pummel out the music. The tunes are threatening and propulsive. They burn through Hey Joe as if on amphetamines. They even drop a couple of jazzy instrumentals.

On the exact opposite side of the music universe, I had KIIS-FM playing a bit today too. Finally heard "Lollipop" which seems to have taken over the charts for some time. It's a solid club song. Has a good beat, but the lyrics are largely unintelligible because every 5th word is blanked out. I wish they still beeped swear words instead instead of cutting them out. It may have provided this song an additional track. Someone should try that. Also heard "American Boy" which sounds like a quality dance tune. Made me wish I was back in London. And I heard the gory "Bleeding Love" which apparently is either a romance for murders/taxidermists/surgeons or it's just terrible symbolism. "You cut me open"? Could it be the worst pop music metaphor ever?

Hardly. Pop music records are made to be broken.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Post without a Theme, Vol. 2

I'm back with another post without any specific thematic goal. Let's see if I can keep it tight.


I've given the The Zombies' Decca Stereo Anthology 2-CD set a week of traffic listening. Technically they only released one sorta-album "Begin Here" that was cobbled together by the label when they had their first successful single, "She's Not There". "Odessey and Oracle" remains their only intentional album. The Decca Anthology scoops together most of their efforts in the studio between 1964 and 1966 and remixes them from mono to stereo. The result is interesting but not as impressive as I'd hoped. "Odessey and Oracle" is amazing, everything before is generally OK. In their early stuff I find little sign of what was to come.

CD 1, chronologically earlier tunes, sounds like a bit like early-Beatles-lite, albeit a little more jazzy. A lot of harmonizing about kissy-poo things. "She's Not There" stands out because it's trippier and crazier. Their other hit "Tell Her No" can be taken as really demeaning to women since the girlfriend in the song is treated like a mentally-disabled child. The theme is, paraphrased, "If she tries to f--- you, tell her no because she's supposed to be f---ing me."

CD 2 is much better. Though the songs are generally about smoochy subjects, The Zombies seem to be ironing out their own sound. My favorite tracks on the album are actually the final four, which are just the instrumental backing tracks for some of their songs. The tunes are very cinematic.

Alas, "Odessey" stands alone. But that's okay, at least it exists.


"Une Femme Est Une Femme" - Saw it, love it. Godard wins this round as well. I really enjoy his early cinema -- a lot of playing with expectations, music, archetypes, and cliches. This one is almost pure bliss, though both intelligence and a lack of directorial modesty hide well behind all of the antics. The film belongs not to Godard, but rather Anna Karina (whom he scooped up for himself around this time). If one were to edit out all of her mugging for the camera, all that would remain would be 5 minutes of Jean-Paul Belmondo smoking.

"Antonio Gaudi" -- Hiroshi Teshigahara's documentary on this Spanish artist is mostly a head-scratcher. The art and architecture are shot and edited beautifully. I gained an appreciation for Gaudi's creations. That's about all of the positivity that I can dig up. Teshigahara chooses to have no narration whatsoever, which in theory is a great thing. Documentary talking heads can be the equivalent of radio's dead air. But the lack of non-visual information forces the viewer to focus on the rest of the sound, which is uneven at best. Moody eerie music alternates with symphonic pieces, neither of which really influences the visuals. Rather than highlighting the potential multiple reads that one can get from Gaudi's art, they instead clash in a more irritatingly drawing too much attention. Also, there's about 60 seconds of spoken information and on top of being largely irrelevant, one doesn't know who the talking head is or why that information is chosen. I'm left wanting to know more about Gaudi, but not in a good way. I'd rather start fresh, ignoring that I ever actually watched this movie.

"Iron Man" -- Enjoyed it. Was exactly what I'd expected, which is a good thing since I expected a lot. It's not Jean Vigo, but it's the perfect summer movie. Casting against type worked very well. Good call Favs. Robert Downey Jr.'s screen presence did not wane for a moment and Jeffrey Lebowski was really creepy as Obidia whatshisname. And Gwenyth Paltrow was smart and gorgeous. Here are some pictures of Gwenyth Paltrow:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Post without a Theme Vol. 1

I really have no theme in mind today, but I must catch up. This will help me get some perspective too.

Kristen and I have settled on a new apartment and will be moving there during the first week of August. We'll be living on the Hollywood side of the Beverly Hills border (also known as South San Vicente Boulevard). To be honest, we can't stand the current neighborhood and hate the neighboring family. I know 'hate' is a strong word, but if a person's very existance makes my life worse --> then you take three of those persons and shove them into a 1 bedroom apartment next to mine --> 'hate' begins to seem too soft a word. And the cute little park across the street is the source of more noise than a freeway. I'm too embarrassed to read my original post about this place.

So it's movin' time again. KP and I are much too used to this. My place of work will be moving to the correct side of the hill in September, about 1.5 miles away from the new apartment. If I'm still working there, my commute will be on foot.

Baseball has been relatively benign. The All-Star festivities illustrated for the rest of the country what a sicko pathetic idea it was to level Yankee Stadium for the new complex. Josh Hamilton's first round of the Home Run Derby was beautiful to witness, though the SEVEN superlative slinging ESPN mouths almost ruined it. The sports media is doing their darnedest to try to keep Alex Rodriguez from reaching his destiny. It's none of my business and it's none of your business why, how, or if his wife is leaving him. He just needs to make his run at the home run and OPS leaderboard this year and then for another 7.

On a particularly down weekend I dipped into a little retail therapy and bought 4 CDs and 11 DVDs. Okay technically 5 DVD things, most with multiple discs. I feel no guilt about it yet, especially since it feels like my life has gained visual art from the purchases.

2001 was among these discs. I love that movie. It's best in a big theater of course. But it's a must-own because it's one of the few popular American classics that directly (or indirectly, depending on your read) addresses existence, higher powers, and the soul. And I just noticed that there's something going on thematically with the color red. Let me know if you have any ideas, and I'll think on it too. Anyway, Kristen viewed 2001 with me for the first and only time. Ever. She does not share my enthusiasm for that film.

We did agree, though, on Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog's latest documentary. I'm game for anything he does. He could release a single two-hour un-edited take of the CVS pharmacy line and I'd pay to see it, though Encounters is much better than that. Once again, Herzog has found a group of eccentrics in the middle of the wild, this time it's Antarctica instead of the Amazon. Unsurprisingly, he was loathe to film anything penguin related, but he ultimately did and the result can be profound in its implications if you think on it long enough. I, of course, have. While driving. Anyway, KP and I both recommend the film.

The Velvet Underground continues to blow my mind in completion. Velvet Underground and Nico has always been one of my favorite albums. But last week I lived on the White Light, White Heat and The Velvet Underground diet. The former is 42 minutes of avant-garde dissonance about amphetamines. The latter is a whisper about love, regret, and solitude. The transition from 'Sister Ray' to 'Candy Says' has caused some sort of damage in my brain. I cannot reconcile that the human mind created such polar-opposite soundscapes, let alone the same group! Let alone ending one album and beginning the next in the same year! I'm left wondering, did Lou Reed ever find his mainline? Have you?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Big Music Post

Firing up the post machine one more time. Don't know how much I'll be able to post until next weekend...

I've rediscovered my love of music now that I'm back out here in LA. Is it because of the traffic? Probably not. Is it because this town is groovier than The District? More likely. Or maybe I've just been yearning for some new sound. Either way, I feel better inside when my life's soundtrack is awesome. Here's a quick recap of my recent album purchases in the past two months:

Moby - Last Night - I was one of those who hopped on the Moby Train when Play came out. And then like most folks, I got Play-ed out. There was too much Moby everywhere. I also started noticing too many recurring sounds and repeated structures in his songs. Moby has said that Last Night is a journey of a full night of partying scaled down to 60+ minutes. And it's at its best when the sound doesn't sound like Moby. There are some interesting tracks like "Alice" that have international vocalists/rappers joining the party and these are always the highlights. Plus I always support concept albums. There's actually a 10-minute free mashup that he did of the entire album that, due to brevity, is better than the album itself. It's available here.

Portishead - Third - Awesome, terrifying, brilliant, and occasionally creepy. I haven't listened this one as much as the others on this list because it's such an intense experience. It doesn't help me get through the workday.

Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely - Just as freaking sweet as was stated in my less sober entry from a previous month. First track and last track are just as good on the 20th pass as on the 1st. Better perhaps. A good go-to when I have to rock.

Foxboro Hottubs - Stop Drop and Roll!!! - So yeah, these chaps may sound familiar as soon as the first song starts. A terribly kept Internet secret: it's Green Day's new album. The question arose, how does a band followup a bold rock-opera-esque statement album that was not only smart but really catchy? Plus American Idiot called the out the current administration as fools and fascists before it was fashionable to do so. How do you follow up a cultural phenomenon? With 12 tracks of nothing but '60s Pop, of course. One can dissect the lyrics of course, but the sound is so contagious that I haven't even attempted it.
Shadows of Knight - Gloria - I may have discovered a potential top 5 band. This 1965 release is as good as all of the snobby critics say. Yes, I realize that I'd said in a previous post that I hate white guys covering blues standards. But these kids are really good. Of course their original lineup only released one other album which I'll be snatching up later this month.

James - Laid - With Lanois and Eno on board, James sounds like they were trying to make their Joshua Tree. And the result is really good. "Laid" of course was the one single that folks remember but it sounds nothing like the remaining tracks. Most of the music centers around quiet meditations on spirituality, fractured relationships, and fear. U2 fans would probably like this -- songs like "Sometimes" "Say Something" and "Five-O" are broad, epic, and catchy enough to remind said fans of U2's earlier work.

The Kinks - Face to Face - My intention was to fall into bliss over The Kinks. I always assumed I would someday. But I haven't. Face to Face is a good album, but is so specifically about British society in the early 60s (every song is about money or class) that it's difficult for a Yank like me to relate. It's impressive as a social or cultural artifact. I'm really enjoying two of the songs. "Holiday in Waikiki" makes fun of Hawaii as a commercialised vacation place where everything (including the hula skirts) is made of plastic and no one actually is Hawaiian. "Rainy Day in June" creates an intense state of dread from start to finish.

The Kinks - Something Else by the Kinks - But I do like this album much better. "Waterloo Sunset" is a lovely as everyone says and has the best replay value of all of their songs. "Hairy Rag" and "Death of a Clown" are fantastic too. This one's recommended over Face to Face unless you're British and find more meaning in the earlier album that I have.

I've saved the best for last. The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle. I listen to it in my sleep. I listen to it at work. I'm listening to it right now. It's the 1968 psychedelic rock album by a bunch of guys who didn't drop acid. Every single song is good. It has zipped right up to my Top 10 Ever in two weeks. Of course, like Shadows of Knight, The Zombies only had two albums. Pisser. Anyway, some of the songs remind me of images from my childhood, others of my dreams, others of my lover. Plus it has an intense anti-war piece and the sexed-up "Time of the Season", their only successful single (wherein Colin Blunstone purrs "What's your name? Who's your daddy?"), all in about 36 minutes. I don't know how I happened upon this album, so I think it happened upon me.

On tap for the rest of the summer: The rest of the The Zombies' catalogue, ditto for Shadows of Knight, and two more Velvet Underground albums.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Three movies in one day!

I can't remember the last time I got in three flickers in one day. Whether back-to-back or spacing it out, it's easier when you're in high school or college. But, as time goes on, it gets more and more difficult to put away three movies in 14 hours. No matter what vitamins one may take.

I'll list these three in reverse viewing order.

Just finished The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. Kristen and I saw this in the theatre as soon as it hit LA in late 2007. In a year full of surprisingly good films, Diving Bell was a full head above the rest. It was my favorite artistically, literally, visually, spiritually, emotionally, and the soundtrack is just fantastic. There are moments in it where I feel like I'm watching the rebirth of cinema. And it reminds me why I feel like cinema is the great art with so many artists and artisans struggling together to make each heartbeat work. There is no exaggeration of recommendation that would be inappropriate for this. No only is it great art, but it is simultaneously deeply sad and joyous, insanely erotic, and humbling. Schnabel is a genius.

In the afternoon I watched John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes. It was unfortunate that he had such trouble getting this picked up for distribution, though I do understand why. I mean, what American company wants to release a musical about a miserable blue-collar family? James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, and Kate Winslet are the leads while Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Mandy Moore, Amy Sedaris, Eddie Izzard, and Mary Louise-Parker are supporting. Yeah, awesome cast. And the fact that this movie is so bluntly sexual is why I can't help but recommend it. I mean every scene is about rutting and every other line of dialogue fashions graphic descriptions of the act. If you're a Kate Winslet fan, yeah, you're going to want to watch this. Unless of course you'd rather not listen to her spout lasciviously about what she wants to do with specific parts of her/your body, in a British accent. And I still have something for Susan Sarandon (62 years hot, yeah believe it). Enough about the cast, how's the actual filmmaking? The musical idea is bold and works most of the time. The actual emotional journeys of the characters aren't holding up so well under deep reflection, but the general insanity that ensues in the process is refreshing and unique enough to hold its own.

I started my morning with A Clockwork Orange. That idea I don't recommend. I also would not suggest watching this movie with a loved one. The film is cold, cruel, bitter, and disturbing. It's one of the few movies that I'd rather wasn't made, but will defend to the death Kubrick's right to make it. The focus on rape and the destruction of the feminine can be a little overwhelming. This was my second pass at the Burgess-adapted experience. The first round, while in film school, elicited a blindingly negative response from some angry serotonin alcove of mine. I wanted to give it another pass when I could watch it on my own with pauses for hydration and walks in the sun.

When it was released, Ebert hated it while Vincent Camby loved it. I'm somewhere in the middle. Kubrick is brilliant and I'm fascinated in this divide that I've found in his career. I will defend his work pre-Clockwork every time, but post-Clockwork...well...it takes more effort to find the positives, let alone brilliance. Some sort of split happened in his filmmaking and the work seems more uneven -- Barry Lyndon, Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut -- and entirely lacking brevity. Clockwork's satire reaches for so many targets, striking some better than others, that it seems like a different filmmaker was left it its wake. Maybe it had to do with the public and legal response. Needless to say, it still strikes a raw nerve. I can't imagine a film with that much sexual violence and nihilism getting distributed in America today.