Sunday, June 30, 2002
Somebody's library check-out slip found in a library copy of Life: A User's Manual, all titles due 12/13/2001:
Steven Feld - Senses of Place
Monika Langer - Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology
Georges Perec - Things
Perec - W
Perec - Life: A User's Manual
eBay has perpetrated a major design botch with their update of the My eBay page. Formerly you could track auctions fairly easily but now there are multiple problems: (1) ended items are automatically moved to separate Won or Lost columns, so that following auctions is now a jumping game; (2) the numerous tiny image files make downloading take about twice as long; (3) the larger font and double-spacing makes the page take up a ridiculous amount of space.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Interesting site of Fictional Footnotes and Indices at http://www.miskatonic.org/footnotes.html
Monday, June 17, 2002
You can see in the first eight issues of DV8 where the idea of a superhero team that's actually more supervillain (they kill, do drugs, proclaim their superiority, etc) could have potential. But almost immediately DV8 goes up against their genuinely evil equivalent and start to bond together, thereby normalizing the team so they're marginal anti-heroes now (which could possibly have been an editorial decision but Ellis still doesn't do much with this). You can see how much Ellis' issues plod when the new writer Mike Heisler takes over with issue 9 (I only read up to 14) when the dialogue improves and the stories gain focus. Doesn't help that all issues have those instantly forgettable covers that are an Image trademark; can't imagine how people ever kept from buying the same thing again. (You might compare this to Thunderbolts which plays out with real--though simplified--moral issues rather than tabloid sex-n-violence.)
Three Stormwatch TPBs show Ellis at his worst and by comparison best. I don't know where Force of Nature (collecting Vol 1, #37-42) fits into Ellis' career but it has all the signs of first work. If you're going to reference Nietzsche then do just that: explanations and glosses only drag down the story for no reason other than making the writer appear to be throwing out half-learning (from what's here there's no indication that Ellis even read Nietzsche let alone understood him). Lightning Strikes (#43-47) consists of routine superhero stories that mostly focus on Stormwatch members individually. You can see Ellis straining for shock effect (JFK & Marilyn Monroe's illegitimate son as a serial killer) even when it's off-key (an attempted militia bombing in Alabama that couldn't have been written by anybody who knows anything about Alabama or possibly even militias). Complete junk. By contrast A Finer World (Vol 2, #4-9) actually collects two decent arcs that are better than Ellis' work on The Authority (which follows from this). Both arcs are well constructed--I particularly liked the way the second makes you wonder what you've missed, possibly an idea borrowed from The World According to Garp--and unpredictable. Bryan Hitch's art is as clumsy as what he later contributed to The Authority but it works passably enough.
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Clockwatchers (Jill Sprecher 1997) - Not many films show no intelligent life behind the camera from the first few seconds and then never proves that impression wrong. Totally worthless.
Heist (David Mamet 2001) - The best Mamet film I've seen. I particularly like the ambiguity of some characters' motives, such as Hackman's real intentions toward his wife.
Friday (F. Gary Gray 1995) - We need more naturalist, low-key comedies though certainly not more with Chris Tucker and not more with out-of-place endings.
Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards! (1989) - Pratchett's technique of narrative construction is interesting: He typically uses parallel narratives that appear to be ending about halfway through but only get faster and faster.
Shepard Krech III The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (1999) - Definitely worth reading.
Saw a peculiar alternate world episode of Friends where Joey is a big soap star, Chandler a struggling writer, Monica still chubby, etc. I missed the very opening scene and so don't know if this was explained in any way but couldn't help thinking how timid and unimaginative the whole thing was. Comics use alternative histories to explore character, expand background or simply go bonkers. It's hardly a surprise that the Friends writers couldn't see beyond the obvious. (Turns out there was a second episode of the same thing, both apparently from the end of the sixth season.)
Alias issues 1-9 - Amazing stuff; the second arc is some kind of masterpiece.
Saturday, June 8, 2002
If the Atlanta Film Festival has never been a disgrace it's also never been of any serious interest. Badly selected and ineptly promoted, it's the kind of festival that's geared more towards promoting second-rate student films (OK, they're actually independent films and the filmmakers struggled and sacrified to make them: doesn't mean they deserve any support) than anything dedicated to film as an art form. Proof was their screening of Shock Corridor which was not a film print but only projected video, something barely mentioned on the schedule. I would have considered it unthinkable that any festival would even consider showing a film on video except in extreme cases such as a retrospective where a missing work would otherwise be unavailable, something that clearly didn't apply here.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell 1994) - For the first hour there's enough decent dialogue and pleasantly charming acting that you can dismiss the hints of cynical middlebrow-ism (such as showing exactly how we should feel about the singing duo) as mere bumps. But halfway through, the film collapses so utterly into cynically obvious genre moves that any brightness in the first hour comes to seem like the bumps.
Thursday, June 6, 2002
Wednesday, June 5, 2002
Tuesday, June 4, 2002
Mrs. Walt Kelly & Bill Crouch Jr. (editors) Pogo Even Better (1984) - Walt Kelly himself doesn't get credited on the title page but he was dead by then. The highlight of this book are the 1949 and 1950 dailies (almost complete: parts of the 50 dailies are in another book and not repeated here). You can see hints of the cuteness that would years later become more pronounced in the strip (and threatens to engulf all comic strips today) but it's still pure Pogo. One of the 1950 strips even has a swipe at horror comic books of the era (a worldly mouse points out to a puppy "This is good clean fun--See, the hatchet murderer does all his work in the bathtub--what could be cleaner?"). There are also various odds and ends from throughout Kelly's career but most of it is of very little interest, especially since the editors don't bother to point out any errors (the 60s era historical portrait of a 1943 Pogo is a Kelly joke: the actual 43 character looked quite different).
Quotes from Porky Pine:
"Don't take life so serious, son--it ain't no how permanent."
"It's interesting to know that the confidence of ignorance has not died out!"
And when Pogo is recuperating from an attempt by a fox and cat to boil and then eat him, Porky Pine visits, sits in silence and then says, "We never know who's next."
Monday, June 3, 2002
There's a good piece on the Spider-Man movie and comics by Geoffrey O'Brien in the New York Review of Books at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/15461
Sunday, June 2, 2002
Michael Barrier and Martin Williams A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (1981) - Though the commentary is barely routine (and their insistence of a cut-off date of 1954 has historical plausibility their insistence instead on the date as the end of vitality in comics almost disqualifies them as editors for such a project) the choices are generally solid. I wish they'd chosen some less heavily reprinted Batman and Superman material, three George Carlson stories is two too many (though I'm glad these are available somewhere), and the choice of Pogo comic book stories seems dictated solely by the desire to include Kelly's work since these are much inferior to the strips. I particularly was surprised at the Little Lulu stories: I hadn't read any of these since in decades and didn't remember that they're actually funny (not witty but laugh-out-loud funny) and tightly plotted. The illustration seems unduely simplified but look closer and you can see how carefully organized it actually it; the finale of "Five Little Babies" is nearly flawless. The pages to all stories appear to be straight photographs of original printed pages rather than republications. This allows for textures than many reprints don't have but also several printing flaws, the worst being a page of a Spirit story with severely misregistered color; surely this is sloppy editing.
Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 - This isn't really where it all began for Marvel--the company had been around in one form or another for years--but certainly where it began for the Marvel Universe. Stan Lee was mainly a marketing genius (past tense because he's done little creative in decades) and not much of a writer. Though I'd read a couple of these stories years ago the surprise now is how bad they mostly are. Admittedly there's a kind of goofy charm to stories where the group shrinks or Dr. Doom rockets the Baxter Building into orbit but you have to forgive a lot for these to work. Lee's penchant for third-rate faux pseudo-science--something that's infected Marvel writers ever since to some degree--is in full force. Lee and Kirby did fortunately have a knack for swift storytelling. Many of these one-issue stories would today sprawl over numerous issues to no real advantage (see Straczynski's recent Spider-Man: Coming Home which really is nothing more than a single issue Lee/Ditko story puffed out until it almost collapses). One reason is that today's artists tend to show more stages of a continuous action (almost like they're trying to be "cinematic") but Kirby and others of this era tended to focus on the high spots.
Alongside Reed's comment "If there's panic in the streets, then something serious must be wrong!" here's another choice exchange:
General: "Miss Storm, a pretty young lady can always be of help--just by keeping the men's morale up!"
Reed: "That's just the way we feel about Sue, General!"