Wednesday, April 21, 2004

OK, new book about punctuation called Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The author according to Publishers Weekly: "A self-professed 'stickler,' Truss recommends that anyone putting an apostrophe in a possessive 'its'-as in 'the dog chewed it's bone'-should be struck by lightning and chopped to bits."

I skimmed bits of this book (and it is one to skim not read) and the first thought is that the only thing worse than a self-righteous crusader is one with no sense of humor. Second thought: There is something worse than a crusader with no sense of humor and that's one who thinks that she actually has one. Then again that's pretty much true of anybody.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

While on Shakespeare, I received an email a couple of days ago with the subject line "coriolanus". I knew it had to be one of those random-word spams because it wasn't capitalized but couldn't resist opening it anyway just to discover that I can in fact get out of debt (or actually deb.t which may not be the same thing). Still, odd. Do other people get email marked "andronicus" or "cardenio"?
And why not?

"As critics and playwrights [in the 17th century] observed, while Shakespeare's characters were natural, the words they spoke seemingly were not. In reality, people in the midst of passion, whether love, anger or joy, did not speak in strings of meaphors or explain their feelings by means of elaborate puns."

Jean Marsden in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage, p22
In his blog, Kyle Gann wrote "My long-term historical doubt about electronic improvisation is the same as with regular free improv: I don’t get a convincing impression that sustained self-criticism is going on, that improvisers listen to each other perform, hear and identify things that don’t work well, and keep refining their techniques to make the music more powerful."

Now I'm undoubtedly more attracted to free improv than Gann both as an artistic matter (that rock 'n' roll clatter rewritten) and as pure temperament, but think he's nailed a major problem with the practice (though perhaps not the underlying aesthetic). So much free improv has attempted a kind of purity where no obvious styles intrude that the whole thing feels static; it's no accident that so many critics have noted free improv tends to fall into either insect twitter or waterfall roar. Frequently there is no feeling that the players listen to each other despite what many reviewers claim ("listening to each other" seems to be a common motif in Cadence reviews). Plugging up their ears or maybe just layering separate recordings could produce nearly the same results. Just look at free improvers' willingness to play with anybody in any context; I doubt you could convince me this is a bad thing but it does indicate a certain conceptual vagueness. Worse is that the results tend to sound so similar no matter what nationalities, background or even date are involved. A French and American ensemble from 1982 doesn't sound much different from a German and British one from 1997.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Well, 1602 finally whimpered to a close and I feel suckered. Time's Andrew Arnold chose it as the worst of 2003 which at the time I thought just plain silly because it was nowhere near being finished but turns out he was right. I'm sure there were actually worse comics last year but this is a truly spectacular failure from a major talent, the kind of failure that makes you wonder whether the talent is in fact so major. Still, it's not as if we didn't know Gaiman could stumble since American Gods was the kind of fuzzy, obese monstrosity that needed an editor of Max Perkins agressiveness to hack into shape and of course didn't get. (Do such editors even exist anymore?) But I stuck with 1602 because of the promises that there was something really innovative and surprising behind it though in the end it was just a poorly imagined alternate history tale much like a Where's Super-Waldo?. Gaiman was clearly trying to make a Statement About America but apart from, y'know, freedom and stuff it's hard to make heads or tails of that. I should say this is a lesson learned and next time to cut my losses but in fact I'm still sticking with Alan Moore's ABC line though that's really plummeted in quality over the past few months (and it was rarely anything remarkable to begin with).

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Retired sig files:

"War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." - Ambrose Bierce


"Listen to the finale: it's splendid and Coselli sings it exceptionally well."

"Yes, but look how he carries himself!"

"No one could act better than La Spech."

"You know, when you've seen La Sontag and La Malibran..."

"Don't you find Moriani's technique excellent?"

"I don't like brunettes who sing blonde."

"My dear chap," said Franz, turning around while Albert continued to peer through his opera-glasses, "you really are too fussy."

The Count of Monte Cristo, chapter 34

Monday, April 5, 2004

While the rest of the world (or at least my tiny subset thereof) appears to be blown away by the Seinfeld-Superman thing I was merely amused. (Since it’s actually a commercial I won’t link to it.) One problem is that my geekiness was aroused because this really isn’t Superman but more like The Tick. You could look at it from a Barthesian view that characters are bundles of traits and then by extension to be the same character, to have that continuity, there has to be a substantial number of shared traits in two different bundles. The piece would have worked just as well if it was Mr. Majestic (just as he filled in for Superman in recent comics) or Thor or whoever. Image this “Superman” in one of the comics and it’s immediately apparent that everybody else in the story would see through the clumsy disguise.
Speaking of comic book adaptations, Hellboy manages to not disgrace its source but neither does it quite capture what makes the books so special. My guess is that a $60 million budget is partly to blame though Del Toro was also not the ideal choice for director as his haphazard (to be kind) work on Mimic and Blade II shows. The movie equivalent to the books would be closer to a B-movie story with stylish visuals; think Ulmer’s The Black Cat but with Nazis and Lovecraft. The other casualty from the budget is that so much emphasis on blockbusterdom means that the books’ hauntingly evocative recreations of old legends had to go. Audiences want chills, thrills and a bit of romance, not cryptic and unsettling glimpses of their own mortality. As it stands, the finished film is fun but not much more. I couldn’t help but think what it might have been if a stronger screenwriter had been brought in as collaborator (though I have no idea who worked on it uncredited) or similarly a director on the level of say Terry Gilliam (who shares Del Toro’s taste of outdated machinery) or Tsui Hark or just imagine Jean Rollin.

(One trick that’s used frequently in comics but inexplicably rarely in movies is references to the past and a deeper world. For instance, in the Hellboy comics somebody might mention how this reminds them of that incident in Bulgaria in 1982 or they might laugh about something Hellboy goofed up while in the Andes. That’s not only true-to-life but solidifies character and setting to put it in Screenwriting 101 terms. It’s also not uncommon for there to be details in the background for the same purpose. Maybe movie studios are afraid to alienate viewers who might think they’ve missed an earlier film or maybe they just think viewers are so dumb this will just confuse them. And for all I know that could be true; they have the marketing research so it must be right. But just think of the mileage that Men in Black got out of its busy backgrounds, or the moment in Predator 2 where geekdom collectively brainmelted when seeing the Alien skull on the wall.)

Sunday, April 4, 2004

There’s a bit of axe-grinding disguised as sloppy journalism in issue 31 of Signal to Noise. It’s a review of the recent Radiohead album by a guy named Mike Zimbouski where he slams Robert Christgau’s statement about Radiohead being now The Only Band That Matters and the future of rock. The best you can say about this is he didn’t catch Christgau’s irony or apparently read the piece closely enough. But when he goes on to say that Christgau writes “as if no band matters if they’re not a) based in New York, or b) signed to a major label” then you can just see he’s just never paid attention or done the proper research. Check Christgau’s Pazz & Jop list for 2002. Out of the top 10 albums, five are on major labels (counting Nonesuch) and only two artists are NYC-connected. If you look at the entire list of 91 albums, there are only 27 on majors by my count and not more than a couple dozen from NYC (I’m not about to look up each one but that’s a fairly decent rough count). For 2001 top 10s there six majors and three NYC if you count Cachaito and glances at the other lists are roughly the same (except for 2000).
I finally got around to seeing the film version of American Splendor. Against all odds, it’s solidly made with well-rounded and well-motivated characters, a balanced mix of comedy and drama, and a coherent vision. In short, it’s untrue to the book. Toned down to near insignificance are Pekar’s intellectual side (his remark on a Dreiser novel is merely that it’s real “good”), his musical interests and his outbursts of true acidity. The scattered, swirling life of the comics are now mere Indie Film. Y’know: a cohesive but fairly unpredictable narrative, quirky and lovable secondary characters, a bit of romance but nothing too soapy, a bit of shadow but nothing truly dark, a tad of social commentary but nothing truly political. For this we can clearly blame writers-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini who are clearly working on some high school conception of art. Joyce, for instance, reveals her desire to have children immediately after seeing a woman with a baby which is either laughably heavy-handed or just plain dumb. The best passages are those drawn almost directly from the comics--Pekar’s grocery-store-line rant or musing about other people with the same name--which suggests that a straight set of blackouts or set pieces might have been stronger, though almost certainly less marketable. Even more suggestive are the documentary interview segments which could also have been turned into a film (despite almost uniformly superb acting). As it stands the documentary parts work more as self-congratulatory cleverness rather than creating any real friction against the fictional segments. You don’t have to imagine what Godard or Kiarostami or Herzog might have done, just think of Errol Morris or Terry Zwigoff and there are certainly dozens of others who could have done better with the material than this. I just hope that some of them get a chance.

Friday, April 2, 2004

"At one time it must ahve been possible to love General Aubrey, since he had married a thoroughly amiable woman, Jack's mother; but for the last twenty years and more even his dogs had felt no affection for him."

-- Patrick O'Brian The Reverse of the Medal, p134

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Great site about forthcoming jazz albums at Most interesting to me are a Mosaic set of late 40s Woody Herman, a six-CD Ayler box, live Art Ensemble, more Fred Anderson, a Sun Ra DVD directed by Phil Niblock (!), new Jason Moran and Charles Gayle (not together), and another Peggy Lee reissue (I'll have almost a shelf of them).
So am I the only person annoyed by blogs and email that have cryptic notations on links? Things like "You knew this was coming" or "World's least effective" or "Not since the 80s." Most of the time this are easily ignored but occasionally that little twitch gets a-poppin' that just maybe I'm missing something really fascinating. And of course almost never are.