Saturday, January 10, 2004

I had seen every episode of the first three season of The Sopranos except one: "The Pine Barrens," the one that's much acclaimed, well beloved, praised to the skies, worshiped from afar, choose your own promotional blurb. So I rented just the DVD for that--I'd probably buy all the sets if they weren't so darned expensive; the first season is four discs for $92 while the first season of, say, Alias is six discs for $70 or the fifth season of Buffy (perhaps the single greatest season of any TV show) which is six discs for $60--but ended up not completely blown away by "The Pine Barrens." Eh, you know, who cares?

But I decided that there were two audio commentaries so why not give them a try? Steve Buscemi's for "The Pine Barrens" was pretty tedious. He apparently loves working with every single actor in the series, very nearly claims to have no creative input and frequently sounds like a grade-schooler presenting a report (in fact he actually sounds at times like he's reading the commentary). I gave up halfway through, especially after he said he didn't know what happened to the Russian in the episode. The other commentary was David Chase on "Amour Fou" (why not the correctly spelled "L'Amour Fou"?) and it's the sort of thing you'd hope all commentaries are. Chase is conversational but focused as he gives background info on things like the show's writing staff, technical details or criticisms of various aspects. Much more interesting are his views on the characters and how they're developed through story and dialogue. In a way, his commentary is almost like a mini-workshop that deepens the episode instead of closing off interpretations.

Friday, January 9, 2004

Every critic has written some clunkers but I sure hope I've never done anything that clunked like this astonishingly inappropriate application of horse-race sensibility:

"It also makes The Nazi Officer's Wife one of the most compelling films the Holocaust has yet produced." (from Janice Page's review)

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

I love Top Ten lists, Best of Year, Best of All Time, Most Overlooked, anything of that nature. Obviously not every one--the American Film Institute's ignorant lists certainly have damaged film culture--but the general idea. Doing my ballot for the Pazz & Jop poll is always a peculiar experience. For one thing, I realize that in some deep and even a superficial way it doesn't much matter. But still I want it to be right and that really won't happen. For one thing, the earliest to make any reasonable determination about the best records of 2003 will be at least December 2004; until then there's just too much unheard and too many mayfly passions for most of it to stick. But a main assumption for this timing is that anybody submitting is a professional critic, meaning a lot of free records. I get some, used to get a bunch, but not enough to really stay on top of things. Being current is not particularly important for a critic but is for a reviewer (I won't replay the most common distinction between the two but another is that critics don't make lists except for bibliographies and such). I'll sound like a dweeb but the best music I heard in 2003 included a Prokofiev piano concerto, some of Rosemary Clooney's RCA recordings, a Fred McDowell collection, a few of the WFMU pledge premium CDs, the first Gould version of The Goldberg Variations, in other words I wasn't trying to keep pace with 2003. I think my list is respectable but I wasn't spending the time digging up cool indie rock bands--though I know they're there--because I was just digging other things.
The Count of Monte Cristo gets stranger, at least for this modern reader. After some mentions that his "Nubian" servant and Greek lady friend are his slaves it finally occured to me that for an 1845 novel this might be the truth and not a plot twist or part of the Count's overall deception. Added to the Count's authoritarian personality this makes me a bit uneasy. Also annoying but at least more familiar is the wallowing in the Count's wealth with the freedom, goodies and travel that brings. This won't be alien to anybody today, constantly bombarded as we are with celeb-worship.

On a narrative level, it's still unclear exactly how he's planning his revenge. Obviously simple death isn't the goal and perhaps not even an attempt at ruining the lives of the venal men who sent him to prison. Maybe he's attempting a more complete ruin of the man and his family but done in an untraceable manner. One storytelling oddity is that one of the Count's servants tells him a lengthy story about his vendetta which he had previously told to Dantes in his guise of a priest. The priest sent the man with a note for possible employment to the Count (Dantes again of course) who is now hearing the story again though it's the first time for the reader. Clearly the first telling wouldn't fit into the plot as it's structured (the Dantes to Count transformation is almost completely omitted though the remaining 500 pages may have a flashback or two) but there's still something almost unintentionally humorous about this.
I've been quoted in a blog by somebody I don't personally know. Does that mean I've now "arrived"? Autographs only $1! (Greg Sandow's blog and worth reading in case you hadn't already guessed).

Monday, January 5, 2004

I just cast my Pazz & Jop ballot as follows:

Your Pazz & Jop albums ballot was submitted as follows:

1. Kaito UK - Band Red - SpinArt (15 points)

2. Wire - Send - Pink Flag (15 points)

3. Spring Heel Jack - Live - Thirsty Ear (15 points)

4. Television - Live at the Old Waldorf - Elektra/Rhino (15 points)

5. Asha Bhosle - The Rough Guide to Bollywood Legends: Asha Bhosle - World Music Network (10 points)

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell - Interscope (10 points)

7. Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Arista (5 points)

8. Jason Moran - The Bandwagon - Blue Note (5 points)

9. - Kill Bill: Vol. 1 - Maverick (5 points)

10. The Strokes - Room on Fire - RCA (5 points)

Your Pazz & Jop singles ballot has been recorded as follows:

1. Beyonce feat. Jay-Z - "Crazy in Love" - Columbia

2. Liam Lynch - "United States of Whatever" - S-Curve

3. Bubba Sparxxx - "Take a Load Off" - Beat-Club

4. Buck 65 - "Wicked and Weird" - Warner Canada

5. The White Stripes - "The Hardest Button to Button" - V2

6. Panjabi MC - "Jogi" - Sequence

7. Fountains of Wayne - "Stacy's Mom" - S-Curve

8. Freelance Hairdresser - "Marshall's Been Snookered" - no label

9. Smash@mash - "Wild Rock Music!" - no label

10. Alan Friedman - "Breakbeatles" - no label

Sunday, January 4, 2004

mastodon harmony ineffable

That's the subject line of a spam email I received; at least now I know what to name my first-born. The odd thing is that there have been other spam with a sort of found dadaist poetry feel to it (example below). I haven't read anything about this but would guess that it's an attempt to trick spam filtering software or at least make the recipient curious enough to open the email. The words appear to be drawn from a small standard dictionary (because there are very few archaic or obscure words) and from a medical dictionary. Or maybe it's just the spellchecker from a hospital computer.

And you can start the criticism: Note the consonance of "abort pit sit." Is "madeleine" a Proust mention? Is "seraglio tahiti" a disapproving Gaugin reference? And why "bartok"? There's a self-reflexive note in "morpheme" and possibly "rosette." Maybe the whole thing was created by a "tardy binocular enthusiast."

tardy binocular enthusiast written screechy stoneware captaincy hypothalamus cellar billiard cause brutal ceremonial capstone accessory congress lousy buxton coiffure perceptive cloth adjourn countywide beware rhode citrus instead

city save shrugging votive bourgeois pea tangle seraglio tahiti horology rebel viscoelastic vagabond

leigh sough picnicking parsimony halve oldy deadline wilkinson poplin glint tableaux cavalry diversionary madeleine cosgrove epithet anisotropy idiot saxony buxton dusenbury newscast tomograph disputant makeshift

inhalation mack taxi ghent backstitch holeable seem orthicon danielson cook cepheus allotted brazil allegoric deject hydrochloride roughneck warty brush superstitious ashland compensate armadillo diathesis natal

plumage shunt wallow tentative vaporous lament louvre sabina

inversion obsessive deborah condone cottage grandniece mesenteric ventilate provoke inaccessible deportation extant boric cocaine fellow

aorta craig dressy quasiparticle physik promote forfeit tiny nimble elide needle candlelight literature charity command scapula pecan swaziland delegate blair stahl plentiful deodorant bartok belfry

trundle flung gyroscope collect cabaret coddle weldon bandstop crowberry ague grown walkway palladian antigen greenland sepal squeal vanilla sherwood conquer morpheme

cliche rosebush diorama log sonority astronaut tyburn shimmy patrolmen lime rosette broadside daybreak banana clung ulysses drainage abort pit sit

Friday, January 2, 2004

Why do you choose a particular book to read? That's something that critics or essayists almost never discuss maybe because it's dull/trivial or maybe because it's potentially embarassing (which novel is it where a group of professors play a party game of admitting to the most famous book they've never read?). Could I just be weird to think this is fascinating? Or is this a result of having worked in bookstores for almost two decades and that professional interest just stuck?

In any case, why did I start reading The Count of Monte Cristo? The story sounds fairly blah, so much that I've never seen any of the film versions. But there was a cheap remainder of a recent translation by Robin Buss (published by Penguin whose recent decision to change the design of their classics line threw many titles into sale bins) that promised to be complete with material deemed inappropriate for earlier translations. So (1) there's the aura of "something I really should read" and (2) the possibility of discovering something beyond its reputation: narrative innovation, historical depth, psychological insight, what have you.

Now I've read over 400 pages without having reached the halfway point so the first thing that jumps out is that Dumas really needed an editor. It's easy to believe that he was paid by the line given that some incidents are retold just a few chapters later, that everybody is pretty verbose and that the pacing is quite leisurely. The biggest surprise so far is that the familiar part of the story--as Buss points out in his introduction most of us know the basic story even if we've never encountered the work or any of its avatars--barely takes up the first fifth or so of the book. There really aren't any discoveries. Sure there's a tale-within-a-tale, a bit of drug use, a fairly disturbing abduction, some political intrigue and similar elements but really nothing to base a claim that this is a misappreciated masterpiece. Despite the length it actually is pretty entertaining though I'm starting to wonder about whether this will be true of the remainder. The Count has appeared now in his guise of a mysterious traveller and the way he comes across as a super-connoisseur stretches belief in a way that hidden treasure and daring prison escapes don't quite. Maybe that's because while I know that treasures have been hidden and prisons escaped I don't have any experience with that but I do know how much time, effort and money it takes to develop cultural knowledge and that's not particularly plausible here. (Buss points out something similar in his introduction when he says that Dantes and the Count are basically separate characters.) And Dumas isn't a graceful writer--as far as that can be judged through a translation--which only makes me wish there was more than just the storytelling. Still, the novel has held up enough so far that I'm thinking of checking out more of his books.