Monday, August 16, 2004

TV shows on DVD

Here's a list of TV shows released on DVD that have been cut or altered.

Monday, August 9, 2004

B.S. Johnson

Frank Kermode did a nice piece on Johnson in the London Review of Books. Johnson is one of those writers I've heard about off and on for years and seemed like somebody I should be interested in but never read. My local library only has copies of his last novel See the Old Lady Decently and The Evacuees, an anthology apparently of material by evacuated children. There's also a decent entry in the Literary Encyclopedia but none of them make such a case that I'll search out Johnson's books, not with stuff I still haven't read from Perec and most of the Fiction Collective.

Edgar G. roolz!,11710,1276412,00.html

Edgar G. Ulmer, that is.


1. Dream sequences in movies and novels are always a bad idea. Either it's some obvious and pointless commentary on the "real" events or it's completely unrelated, though you're left trying to decide if it is in fact unrelated. It's tempting to say that a dream sequence is an inappropriate en abyme for the dream that is a movie/novel but I'm not sure how well that would hold up. For one thing I'm almost as suspicious of movie/novel as dream as movie/novel as myth; these rarely if ever add anything, create any resonance. (Most critics in fact seem to think that the mere connection--"Eraserhead is dream-like"--is somehow profound when it fact it's little more than a highly compressed abstract for the essay the critic should be writing.)

2. The only reason I wish I could draw is to document images from my dreams. They're not any kind of weird, faux surrealist thing but I have very concrete dreams about places: last night an oddly-designed apartment but other than that they're usually places that could actually exist.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Does everybody know about this except me?

"This is a car advert from somewhere. When they finished filming the ad the people who made it noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. The ad was never put on TV because the unexplained ghostly phenomenon frightened the production team out of their wits. Watch it and about halfway look and you will see the white mist crossing in front of the car then following it along the road... Spooky!"

MP3 blogs

From Phil: Believe it or not, I've been drafted into the world of mp3 blogging ( Is this something you've played with much?

Oddly enough I spent part of Saturday morning checking out MP3s on Douglas Wolk's blog and one called Fluxblog. A few nice discoveries, some junk. But I love the idea and would like to find more. Just wish it wasn't so labor-intensive. There are programs that could suck all the MP3s off a website and into a folder but I find dealing with those just as much work. Guess I still gravitate to Internet radio more (somebody else was playing me one that had a bunch of Scandanavian pop bands; need to find out what it was).

I'd really like to see rarities like Feelies B-sides (wonder if that full concert from Married to the Mob was ever bootlegged?) or non-CDed Sun Ra.

I loved part of that Corbett book [Extended Play: Sounding Off From John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein] but other parts seemed like that quasi-philosophy you get from writers without the background to properly understand post-structuralists.

Strange to see somebody mention that Gimme Indie Rock compilation since I was just listening to it Friday night after seeing it in a box I was cleaning out. Did you see that Rhino is putting out a box set of 80s "underground" which is a lot of the same kinda stuff (though I don't think some of it was underground at all).

Collateral & Derrida

I guess there’s really not much connection between Collateral (Michael Mann 2004) and Derrida (Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering Kofman 2002) except that I saw them both today. They’re not even both films exactly since the latter appears to have been shot mostly if not completely on video.

But as a point I wouldn’t have even considered if they had been seen a few days apart is the revelation or not of personal lives. In Collateral people dig at others’ backgrounds and which then gets trotted out; in Derrida, Mr. Jackie (as his family seems to refer to him) point-blank refuses to discuss some details about meeting his wife. Since he does actually tell what happened (or at least allows his wife to do so) it’s unclear exactly what he’s withholding. Emotional details? Some meet-cute at odds with his philosopher image? It would be easy to make this an American vs. European distinction but of course the sample rate is far far too low for that. (And obviously in Collateral much of this is simple narrative expediency but still I’ve known dozens of people--ranging from some of my grandparents to my store’s former shipping manager--who would have done exactly this. It’s still unclear how much of what Cruise’s character says is true.)

Another pointless connection: Race is an issue in Derrida but is pretty much just decoration in Collateral.


Collateral yes: the sense of a real city that you usually don’t get in Hollywood films (I was reminded more of bits of Ghost Dog and super-low-budget films that had to be filmed on the streets or not at all), the nearly abstract cars and lights (back from Thief?), a noir that’s not locked in by being a “noir”, the dialogue and plot structure (glad to see that writer Stuart Beattie is working on the adaptation of 30 Days of Night), the nightclub shootout, top-notch music selections, the acting.

Still, too bad the ending didn’t have the punch of the rest (& I’m so glad they didn’t tack on a “surprise” extra ending like, say, Die Hard).

I’m not sure why I originally even bothered with Derrida. It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve read any of his work (other than bits and pieces on books, most notably in Acts of Literature) and a movie seems hardly appropriate to explore his writing. As it turns out, Derrida is not really an introduction to him but a smart and sharp look both at the nature of documentary and at the process of thinking. Yeah, that sounds way too abstract but the film gets into the concrete details and generally avoids the pretentious (deliberately, as evidenced by the weaker, more manipulative deleted scenes on the DVD). The result is a documentary that doesn’t feel exhausted by one viewing.

why I'm not hip, part 307

The Big Lebowski is a cult movie? I thought it was bland, humorless and tedious but then the Coens can do a lot of wrong in my eyes. (Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, yay; everything else nay and worse for O Brother which deserves utter, unrelenting contempt.) Jonathan Rosenbaum and Alan Moore are both supporters of Lebowski but that hardly explains anything.

By the way, if you need to register for the NYT just make up stuff; it works. I'm not sure why they even bother.

more Amazon reviewer oddness

From a review of Harry Harrison's The Captive: "It's hard for me to review the language of this book, since I actually read it in Esperanto rather than the original English (La Kaptita Universo)."

Saturday, August 7, 2004

Having a bit of a bad day, are we?

Jeremy found an amazingly over-the-top negative review of a book on Amazon called How to Study Television. I suspect it's a prank but you never know. Perhaps this is a good time to start linking to other strange 'n' silly reviews on Amazon (and sometimes the IMDB).

Does this make sense, really?

"Usually I get the impression of a writer building up a character, layer by layer, but here I felt the layers being stripped down, pared away to get at the man inside." Monica Ali at The Guardian.

Are computer games art?

I've had bits of a post about this tossing around for a couple of months and may finish now that Slate has chimed in with a piece about John Carmack. Not the same thing exactly: Slate is mainly concerned with whether there's a recognizable personality behind (among? betwixt?) the game. In other words, find the artist first. I'm more interested in whether games produce something that could be called an aesthetic effect, either in conventional terms or in creating new ones. The basic question gets asked of most if not all new forms; the resistance to jazz, the novel, free verse, movies, comics, etc are well documented. A key difference is that computer games don't come from an obviously "art" lineage (jazz was clearly music whether it signalled the end of Western civilization or not) and in some aspects not really from anything else. I've read attempts to explain chess as an art form and know there is such for sports like baseball though in the latter case I have no idea whether the writers are serious or simply trying to justify an inherently pointless activity. Gamers have developed, if not quite a vocabulary to talk about this (though "immersive" is a useful term) then at least the rudiments of an approach to sort the experiences and communicate to other gamers. One thing that might work against games as art, at least in a conventional sense, is that to a large degree responses of players to a game aren't quite as individual as for, say, a book or song. Basically if you like the genre you tend to like the most highly regarded examples. This may be because genres are still strongly formal in games but on the other hand American comics are dominated by the limited genre of supeheroes but if you walk into a comic store right now you can find political drama (Ex Machina), police procedural (Gotham Central), psychological morality play (Daredevil), a bildungskomik (Ultimate Spider-Man), celebrity culture satire (X-Statix, Noble Causes, She-Hulk, Powers, dunno this must be the mood of the moment), fatherhood for dummies (Green Arrow), chase techno-thriller (The Hulk) and all sorts of other things that may pop up for a storyline. Maybe games are too functional to ever develop this kind of diversity in a teacup: Can Doom 3 really be about anything other than being scared and shooting things?

Thursday, August 5, 2004

My Crosby-Hope piece,,80564,00.html

My review of the Crosby-Hope Road box is now up on the TCM site.

CIA Asks Bush to Discontinue Blog

Re: Spiderman 2

From Greg: My rant is about the coincidences. I hope the director is using them

tongue in cheek, but I fear it's just lazy writing. Octavious just happens

to be funded by the Green Goblin's son? Peter Parker just happens to want

to do an article on Octavious? Peter just happens to be in the bank

Octavious robs? The newspaper editor's son is marrying Peter's girlfriend?

Why such a contrived effort to get Peter Parker at the pre-wedding party

(to take pictures?) just to set up--what?? If this were taken to a higher

asburd level it might be acceptable but ends up just being silly, and

wearying, and leaving me like I've seen it all before. Couldn't there be at

least one surprise?

Well, it's a movie about a guy who sticks to walls and shoots webs out of his wrists. Reality? The stuff about Oscorp funding Octavious and Parker wanting to write about him can be just narrative economy: How long would it take to make the connections if this was "realistic" and why waste the time? In any case both of these elements are setup in the first film. (The comic book version of this is that superheroes go "on patrol" and constantly interrupt robberies, muggings, fires, etc though in the real world where there may be a few hundred police officers active in a city they are rarely able to appear when the crime is occuring. Again who wants to see several pages of Batman trying to get to a hold-up?)

Yeah, Parker being in the bank is a stretch and by the way how did Ock know which cafe Parker and MJ were having their little chat in? Also stretching is the connection to Jameson's son (who was also mentioned in passing in the first film and in the comics becomes the villain Man-Wolf); where on earth did he run into MJ? But in the end I don't think this is important to what the film is about. A well-constructed plot would matter more in a mystery (where in fact it's pretty much the entire point) but here not so much. There's a lot of coincidences in Dickens too--Oliver Twist is practically structured around them--and not as mistakes but key elements.

I did like the film; it's pretty much a B+ type of work and while I would rather a lot of this stuff not be in it I think the ending is a bigger mistake because it undermines the themes of sacrifice and "great responsibility." (Which come to think of it are pretty much the themes of Babylon 5 though there pretty much nobody gets a happy ending, at least in a conventional sense.) I guess what I'm getting at is that usually our responses are more important than reasoned critique. There are lots of well-made, intelligent films that I think are worthless (most of Bergman's for instance) and plenty that are sloppy but also important.

(And unfortunately the nature of blogs means that I have the last word, at least temporarily, when this is merely my response and not a rebuttal. Clearly Greg is right about much of this; the difference is that it didn't really affect my reaction to the film but did his.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Secret Defense (Rivette 1998)

Goodness. At 166 minutes this doesn't feel like almost 3 hours but closer to 30. I'm curious what Rivette thought he was doing because at times it seems interminable and worse interminable to no real purpose. It's not hard to come up with reasoning and interpretations: The 20-something-minute train ride is a quasi-real-time exploration of the determination of Bonnaire's character, showing how she kept a fixed idea over a period that's usually elided. And again with the static, unedited shots of lab work, food preparation, etc. This seems to be more important than the story, or at least with a story this trite and founded on a "twist" that everybody will get halfway through the film the daily life segments have nearly the only interest. Jonathan Rosenbaum claims this is "fascinating throughout" but he's a die-hard Rivette-ean and may be more inclined to find value in even lesser Rivette. I didn't even find it fascinating for the first 10 minutes, which at least have that new-film promise, and the only nice thing I can think to say is that at least it's not 167 minutes.

Chabon at the Eisners

Michael Chabon's keynote speech at this year's Eisner Awards captures, I think, one of the key elements that drew many, if not most, of us to comics. Really not "one" element but intertwined sense of wonder, richness of world, clear but not quite clean morality, and above all an encompassing sense of storytelling that has room for life's quieter moments just as much as super-intelligent, talking gorillas.

His reasons for a decline in childrens comics are reasonable and likely true but he avoids the all-too-obvious economic factors. As comics, at least American ones, retreated from newstands to comic stores there was less and less incentive for creating childrens comics and in fact as Chabon points out a feeling that comics should be distanced from that. But how were kids to be drawn to comics stores--that are often designed, consciously or not, to repel outsiders--even if the goods were there? The recent explosion of manga in the U.S. shows that there was an untapped market though it's still way too early to see how much of this is a trend and how much will actually stick (& more likely the former if Tokyopop keeps flooding stores with barely distinguishable books).

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

World's Finest

Fan-made trailer (hey who else would know who Oracle is?) that probably

cost a few hundred dollars and still looks more interesting than most real

movies. (That line about the White House, by the way, is straight out of a

recent issue of Superman/Batman.)

You can see a teaser for the actual film Batman Begins at that looks sorta promising.