Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Assorted movies

The original idea here was a kind of journal documenting--for whatever reason--my cultural activity. That hasn’t fallen by the wayside but lots of things haven’t been mentioned, including most music. So this is the first in a series of “catch up” overviews:

Passing Fancy (Ozu 1933) - When David Shepard introduced this screening he said he thinks this is an unacknowledged remake of Vidor’s The Champ and that’s plausible enough. Nice enough film but not top Ozu.

Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa 1926) - I’ve had a tape of this taken from a NYC broadcast for years but had watched only a minute to see what the quality was. Too bad because this is a real jawdropper of gonzo anything-goes experimentalism along the lines of Man With a Movie Camera though quasi-theatrical and with a more or less narrative. I do wonder though if the introductory archival scroll didn’t give the basic plot setup whether you’d be able to figure it out from the film.

Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder 2004) - This remake appeared to be an unusually dumb idea but it turned out with substance and a few surprises of its own. There are only a few stabs at the original’s satire or b-movie existentialism (despite the new ending) but with a controlled economy of pace who cares?

Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note (Susan Lacy 1999) - Mildly interesting but too much of a hagiography and too conventional to be anything more.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry 2004) - If I could ever make films this is exactly what I would attempt but know I don’t have the right kind of visual imagination. (Though a metafictional zombie film might be a good idea.) Jim Carrey is much more appropriate here than his other “serious” films or for that matter his comedies. Gondry comes off better than I’d have expected from the DVD of his music videos (which I admittedly haven’t watched all the way through yet).

Versus (Ryuhei Kitamura 2000) - Speaking of unusually dumb zombie films this also can boast being unusually slack, unusually unimaginative and unusually badly written. And it lasts about six or seven or eight hours. Watch Junk instead.

Ride ‘Em Cowboy (Arthur Lubin 1942) - In some ways a typical Abbott & Costello film based on a blah plot spiked with their unrelated routines though a bit too dull to be entirely typical. Odd to see a girlish (though age 25) Ella Fitzgerald standing out from the other instantly forgettable performers.

The Stendhal Syndrome (Dario Argento 1996) - Though the first half-hour promises a peculiar look into the nature of art Argento soon lapses into giallo conventions. Plus you have to wonder about somebody who directs his own daughter in a rape scene.

Baba Yaga (Corrado Farina 1973) - A reasonably stylish entry in European dream-horror which I’m officially dubbing EDH and requesting royalties for each use. I realize it’s part of the point to not quite make sense but still can’t help but think a slightly tighter story would have helped, not the least with some of the taffy-drag-out sections.

Suicide Club (Shion Sono 2002) - Now here’s somebody who should have done Versus. I can find almost no background info on Sono other than he’s an experimental poet and director of gay porn which provides no insight into Suicide Club. Marketed as a horror film (at least in the U.S.) this pretty much defies any such classification: it’s also police procedural, raving media satire, a musical (of sorts), performance document, psychological portrait and other as-yet unnamed things. None of this in a sloppy Makavejev collage but more with something of an actual story even if it fights 100-words-or-less summaries, at least partly because it's almost several stories. While it may not be as radical as narrative structure as, say, Bright Future it's still pretty unpredictable. Oh, what's Suicide Club about? Um, maybe grief, epistemology, swimming in pop culture, political power, images, organization, blood, clothing, families, observation.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Postclassic Radio: Check it out now!

Kyle Gann has started his own radio station (shouldn't this be "radio" "station"?) and it's just incredible. It's always hard to hear the things he writes about and to be honest I sometimes wondered if maybe most of it wouldn't be of much interest to a rock 'n' jazz person like me. As it turns out, after about three hours of listening I haven't heard anything I didn't like and a few pieces that just floored me (such as the opening movement to Gloria Coates' first symphony, William Duckworth's "Blue Rhythm" and Ben Johnston's "Suite for Microtonal Piano 1"). One drawback to Live365 is that it apparently only lets you check out a few stations before trying to force you to register.

(And should those composition titles be italicized or quotes? On his playlist Gann goes for italics and my guess would be that's because these are, or should be considered, entire artistic works. I tend to think--well maybe just react instead of think--that if it's not album-length then it goes into quotes.)

Don Knotts,,82709,00.html

My review of the recent Don Knotts DVD set. There's no case to be made that he was any kind of lost comic genius but The Ghost & Mr. Chicken still holds up and The Love God? is an intriguing failure. Something I eventually cut from the piece because it didn't quite fit is that there's a brief moment in the latter film that made me wonder what Knotts would have been like in a straight dramatic role. It's not long--maybe 15-20 seconds--and there's no way to judge whether he could have carried this off but it's still a glimpse of something different. Maybe only a certain type of comedian tries to make this shift; they're usually considered "ambitious" but I think it's more generally a lack of imagination. Woody Allen did this with some success but people like Jim Carrey are hampered by poor taste (and often not being very comically imaginative to begin with).

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


There isn't a name but there should be for crossing that line where you don't automatically know how old you are but instead have to do a bit of arithmetic to figure it out. The cool part of birthdays is splurging on stuff. Here's what I grabbed this year:

DVDs: The Cole Porter Collection, Elvis '68 Comeback Special Deluxe Edition and I found incredible deals on The Larry Cohen Collection and Miike's Dead or Alive Trilogy.

Comix: Justin Green's Musical Legends, Gaiman et al's The Sandman: Endless Nights, Morrison's Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage and the second volume of Tezuka's Buddha biography.

Books: MacCabe's Godard, Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld and Stefan Fatsis' Word Freak.

Plus last weekend I made a trip to a local store that carries nothing but remainders and found some cool stuff including Hugh Thomson's The White Rock (about archaeologists discovering Incan ruins), Basbanes' Patience & Fortitude, Jon Latimer's Deception in War, Peter Conrad's Orson Welles and Stephen Tanner's Afghanistan: A Military History. Those and a couple of cookbooks were something like $20 which is why I love that place but only go by every few months.

Russ Meyer RIP

Too bad but then again except for the delirious Beyond the Valley of the Dolls I didn't much like any of his films that I've seen. Faster Pussycat and Mud Honey were OK, most of the rest fairly dull.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Re: On Empiricism and Critical Studies

From a procedural overview sent by a friend concerning empircal television research: "Experiments should be repeatable, as in the natural sciences; i.e., you should be able to get the same results if you follow the same procedure."

From my email: Is that really the underlying idea behind such research? I know almost nothing about this but had always figured that for the "soft" sciences there was more fuzziness involved. Experiments in the hard sciences are intended to support or falsify a hypothesis, an approach that seems rarely possible in say psychology. For instance, does watching violent TV make a person more violent: it's clear that for *individuals* there's pretty much no way to predict this so the question becomes is there an overall trend and then you have to start allowing for various factors that themselves may or may not have any effect. For instance the amount of extremely violent entertainment in Japanese culture though violent crime there is significantly lower than in the US.

There's also a sampling issue that I've always wondered about. For instance I was just looking at a CBS poll about the election and it's based on the responses of 400 people. Now this is obviously just a tiny tiny percentage of even registered voters so how reliable is it? Basically they ran four polls of 100 people and averaged the results which I guess makes it a bit more comfortable but couldn't this be completely skewed? Do pollsters try to poll in percentages that match the general population: roughly the same proportion of women/men or blacks/Hispanic/Asian or age or education? So if blacks are a bit over 10% of the US population (12.9% according to the CIA World Book) then does that mean 40 people are representing all blacks? To take an extreme example what if through luck of the draw 15 of those are gangsta rappers and 20 are lawyers/doctors then aren't the results way off? If the pollsters are actually choosing the respondents then aren't they manipulating the poll however innocent and unintentional it may be? And if not then don't they make it almost certain that the numbers are not representative? Obviously there are problems anyway with blanket categories like "the black vote" but that is one thing that polls sometimes attempt to put into numbers.

I feel sure there's some kind of theoretical underpinning and that pollsters have very strong (or at least strongly felt) arguments about it but still this bothers me. One of the longest lasting results of my debate experience was a deep suspicion of polls and studies which I don't think is cynicism so much as seeing how much the structure and process of polls create, rather than discover, the results. I guess what I'm getting at is that it seems to me that pretty much by definition you won't get the same results every time you run a poll/study, which is probably a main reason that so many of these questions have never been answered in any reliable way. Physicists argued for years about whether or not neutrinos existed but they knew what constituted evidence and what didn't; people have been arguing about the effects of art/media in some form or another since at least Aristotle.

(& yes I decided to let this run long and put it in my blog; I think that blogs may become a curse of some kind for people I send email, at least if I continue to make long-winded comments that go to both places.)

Sunday, September 19, 2004

I want to see this now!

Korean dragons vs helicopters movie! (And yes I loved Reign of Fire. Puts my positive comments about Ozu and Fassbinder in a new perspective doesn't it?)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Abandoning books

When do you give up on reading a book? That’s happened to me twice recently.

The easier of the two was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, edited by James B. South. I thought this might be, y’know, “interesting” but the stuff I read in the first third or so of the book are really just term papers: dry and laborious explications of a thesis that should only take a paragraph or so. The Buffy stuff is mostly irrelevant to the papers (most definitely not essays) and it’s amusing to see one writer faulting Whedon for not following through on the philosophical theme properly. Better watch that Joss. Anyway there’s a slim chance I may skim the remainder of the book someday but we know that won't actually happen.

A tougher call is Halldor Laxness’ Iceland’s Bell. Kevin got me interested in the recent Vintage reissues of Laxness and when this showed up at my library I snagged it. This novel wasn’t what I was expecting. Guess I thought it would be some wild, quasi-folk tale sort of book but instead it’s a fairly stark tale of peasantry with a dark and grim (but not unwelcome) sense of humor that might almost passed unnoticed. After about a hundred pages it just hasn’t grabbed me which may not be the book but in any case it’s about to go back to the library.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

this will make you sleep easier tonight

"The United States lost 11 nuclear bombs in accidents during the Cold War

that were never recovered, according to the Brookings Institution, a

Washington think tank.

An estimated 50 nuclear warheads, most of them from the former Soviet

Union, still lie on the bottom of the world's oceans, according to the

environmental group Greenpeace."

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Write a Best-Selling Fantasy Novel

Dead on and it fits Lord of the Rings so well. What did Gandalf do,

really? A strong flashlight would have been about as useful; maybe a

bazooka for the Balrog. The writer also points out the racial elements

that had long been a minor controversy with the LOTR novel but in the films

became pretty much flat-out racism (couple that with a plot line about

putting a noble Aryan on his throne and Return of the King becomes a

perfect film for Bush's America). There's an issue of Grant Morrison's The

Invisibles that completely stops the story (about "good" rebels vs an

"evil" conspiracy, though that's sorta like saying Gravity's Rainbow is

about rocket research) and tells the troubled but also sometimes happy life

history of a security guard. It has no obvious relation to the main

story. But about three or four issues later one of the "good guys" is

infiltrating an enemy stronghold and shoots some of the cannon fodder when

you realize from the image and the distinctive uniform that this security

guard was one of those shot. Try to imagine Star Wars stopping for 10

minutes to show the family life of one of the stormtroopers Luke and Han

continually slaughter.

On a smaller note, it's worth pointing out that many real-life castles and

fortifications did in fact have small side doors, not really for garbage

but were often used during war for raids. It was through such a door that

Mehmet II was able to take Constantinople with all the reverberations

that's had down to the present day.

As for heroic fantasy that doesn't fit this mold, I'd recommend Michael

Moorcock's lush and dark Elric novels, Fritz Leiber's constantly

imaginative Fahfrd and Grey Mouser stories and (if it's actually fantasy)

Mervyn Peake's vast, decadent Gormenghast trilogy. In a category all its

own is T.H. White's The Once and Future King, a heartbreaking re-imagining

of the King Arthur legend that in some ways is one of the most politically

astute novels ever written.


"Both Christians and Muslims in mainland Greece had a morbid fear of

rabbits, for example. On one occasion, according to the account of Edward

Blaqueiere, an English observer during the Greek War of Liberation, some

Greeks and Ottomans who were engaged in a firefight paused when a rabbit

happened to pass between them--and all turned their fire on the unfortunate


Andre Gerolymatos - The Balkan Wars (2002), p. 111