Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You should feel bad. Really.

From this week's Economist, behind a firewall. One of many reviews out there of a new anti-internet screed by a guy named Nicholas Carr. You can worry about global warming all you want.... This is happening now and I'm pretty sure it's happening to me and my friends:

Neurological research has demolished the myth of the static brain. Neural networks can be rapidly reorganised in response to new experiences such as going on the web. Mr Carr surveys current knowledge about the effects on thinking of “hypermedia”—in particular clicking, skipping, skimming—and especially on working and deep memory. He draws some chilling inferences. There is evidence, he says, that digital technology is already damaging the long-term memory consolidation that is the basis for true intelligence.

Only by combining data stored deep within our brains can we forge new ideas. No amount of magpie assemblage can compensate for this slow, synthetic creativity. Hyperlinks and overstimulation mean the brain must give most of its attention to short-term decisions. Little makes it through the fragile transfer into deeper processing. Clearly, argues Mr Carr, this is a radical upending of the “literate mind” that has been the hallmark of civilisation for more than 1,000 years. From a society that valued the creation of a unique storehouse of ideas in each individual, man is moving to a socially constructed mind that values speed and group approval over originality and creativity.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

aka. Harmonica Slim

Music Old Guys imagine they'd have been cool enough to like if they'd come across it in 1963. (Not likely. My entire record collection at that point consisted of three James Bond soundtrack albums.)

"Swamp Blues" is the sub-genre, apparently.

Even the riffs sound like double entendres.


"Vincent and the Doctor"

I'm with what appears to be the consensus amongst discerning "Doctor Who" fans that this Richard Curtis-written episode let down the side for most of its length, by bringing Vincent Van Throat-Clearning-Noise into the picture and then finding nothing better for him to do than fight yet another last-of-his-race and/or abandoned-far-from-home misunderstood alien -- but that the finale in the museum unexpectedly brings us to our knees and makes it all worthwhile. "Bill Nighy may only have been in the episode briefly," says one fan "but his role leads to the most emotionally charged piece of drama this season of 'Doctor Who' has produced." Curtis doesn't seem as comfortable with SF as Davies and Moffat, but he was willing to tread water in it for a while, working on what is really a fairly low space-opera level, while dropping in glimpses of the painter's suffering (well-portrayed by Tony Curran), and then delivering the coup de grace, using time-travel as a device to slide us sideways into a wonderful piece of wish-fulfillment. 

There are also a couple of "Ginge" and bow-tie jokes for those who are truly allergic.


Friday, June 25, 2010

And the walls come a'tumblin' down....

A crime novel -- not a literary novel in the form of a crime novel but a real genre novel -- has won the Australian equivalent of the Booker. The Guardian, which roots for genre fiction as openly as it roots for leftist politics, rejoices in the victory of "Truth" by Peter Temple, quoting one of the prize judges:

For Morag Fraser, a Miles Franklin judge for the past six years, it is simply a question of quality. "Most crime novels that I have read (and I read one a week, often more) will never win the Miles Franklin or any other 'literary' prize because they do not work language hard enough, and they do not think originally and with sufficient depth and imagination," she said. "They may gratify but they do not surprise the way great literature does."

"In the case of Peter Temple's Truth, the divide was so comprehensively crossed that we did not think much about the conventions of crime fiction except to note that Temple was able to observe them rather as a poet observes the 14-line convention of the sonnet or a musician the sonata form: as a useful disciplinary structure from which to expand, bend or depart."


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Crime fiction for "grown ups"

...studying [the newstands's] selection of reading matter, {Harry] was struck by how few interests he shared with the average Norwegian man. Was this because he no longer had any? Music, yes, but no one had done anything good in the last ten years, not even his old heroes. Films? If he came out of a cinema nowadays without feeling lobotomized he counted himself fortunate. Nothing else. In other words, the only thing he was still interested in was finding people and locking them up. And not even that made his heart beat like before. The spooky thing was ... this state didn't bother him in the slightest. The fact that he had capitulated. It simply felt liberating to be older.  
--Jo Nesbø, Nemesis (2002)


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Know-Nothing Manifesto

Some bozo at Huffington Post -- that home for bozos -- says that Dave Berry is a better writer than David Foster Wallace (so are Stephen King and (yawn) Elmore Leonard). False dichotomy is a sign of a columnist desperate for something to say, but here goes:

The kind of writing David Foster Wallace did; sprawling, enigmatic, serious, in a word, "literary"; lets the writer get away with murder. The kind of (presumably "writing", but omitted in the author's haste to prove what a no-talent DFW was) Dave Barry does, which must both sweep the reader effortlessly along and deliver a minimum of three jokes per paragraph, is much harder to pull off.
As I've said before, this sort of thing reminds me of the Thurber story about a marriage that breaks up as the result of an argument over whether Greta Garbo or Donald Duck is the greater actor.

Far more nuanced is this essay from the Guardian about a new story collection from Neil Gaiman simply called "Story", a manifesto of sorts as well. Gaiman joins Michael Chabon in the camp of non-bozos passionately devoted to story-telling. From Gaiman's introduction:
What we missed, what we wanted to read, were stories that made us care, stories that forced us to turn the page. Yes, we wanted good writing (why be satisfied with less?). But we wanted more than that.
I liked the Guardian blogger's position:
Some of us, as readers, have a foot in both camps. I hate nothing more than a novel where the author's meticulous plotting bursts through the narrative - no matter how clever and tight that plotting is, I don't want to see the story plodding along its path, its strings pulled by a still-visible puppeteer. Likewise, I often feel after finishing a literary novel or short story the same way I feel after an expensive and beautifully presented but rather sparse meal: still hungry.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Grown ups

"Whadda you gonna be when you grow up?"
"Older," I said, but she was already asleep again.

--James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss (1978), p. 201.

Didn't realize he was dead.

Pelecanos puts Crumley (and a couple of other familiar names) on his Five Best list.

Those of us who enjoy indulging these fantasies would love to see Walter Hill dust off the famously great script he wrote for TLGK. His casting was Nick Nolte and...I forget who. Mine, now, would be Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges. Dream on.


Saturday, June 19, 2010


"Here’s a man that some call the William Faulkner of jazz. Now I’ve got to tell you, I’ve heard this guy play since the 60s, and I’ve never heard anybody call him the William Faulkner of jazz. But there it is in a book. I mean, somebody just wrote that; I can’t imagine anyone calling him the William Faulkner of jazz! I mean that would be like calling Garnet Mimms the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of soul music. It’s just not done. I’m getting excited over nothin’, let me just play the record. By the way, I consider William Faulkner to be the Mose Allison of literature."
-- Bob Dylan, introducing Allison's "Lost Mind" during Season Three, Episode 18, of the Theme Time Radio Hour.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cyrus: Film critics go all William Wellman on its ass?

Interesting note by Richard Brody at his unmissable film blog at the New Yorker website:

.....cinephiles who are devoted to the great works of classic Hollywood, and who have an ongoing auteurist fascination with the films of today’s Hollywood, have developed a fealty to Hollywood’s styles—its gloss, precision, and dramatic concentration—that is hardly weaker than that of mass audiences. (The celebration of foreign films, even those that differ radically from American commercial productions, is a different story altogether, precisely because of their cultural otherness—and that seat-of-the-pants exoticism also explains the acclaim of many bad foreign films.) As a result, some of the most original and personal independent filmmakers find themselves pilloried by critics—even their contemporaries, who, in a kind of neo-classical rage, complain the way that some art critics used to complain about Jackson Pollock. The simplicity, vulnerability, directness, and immediacy of such films as “Cyrus”—an imperfect work, as I wrote yesterday, but one with unusual and exhilarating virtues as well—comes off to them like an absence of craft.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Not very forthcoming..

... but it exists:


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Coffee with a little bourbon...

Nice piece in the Sunday Times about Justified, the first-rate Elmore Leonard adaptation that cablecast its pitch perfect season finale a few days ago on FX -- without ever feeling the need to iron out all the ambiguities.
"The first job was adapting the story," [showrunner Graham] Yost says. "Elmore writes in a very film-friendly way, both structurally and in terms of dialogue, so we just took 60% to 70% of that [first] script directly from the short story." But once FX President John Landgraf, who was among the executive producers on "Karen Sisco," gave "Justified" the green light to go to series, a tougher problem opened up: how to tell more of [Marshall Raylan] Givens' story than was already written by his creator.

Yost charged his writing staff with familiarizing themselves with Leonard's books and even retyped whole passages of dialogue from the stories to better understand the author's rhythm and his dialogue — key elements in translating his work to the screen. Projects have lived or died according to how authentically they reproduced Leonard's style, with Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" (1997) and Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" (1998) frequently cited as the best cinematic takes. Leonard himself agrees with that assessment, adding, "In 'Hombre' [1967], Richard Boone delivered my lines the way I heard them," he said via telephone from his home in New Orleans. "And he was in 'The Tall T' [1958] as well. I was amazed [by his performance]. It's not trying to be a tough guy. It's low key, for the most part."


It also helps to be on a network like FX that supports adventurous material. "John Landgraf asked me, 'Why will this one work where [ ABC's] "Karen Sisco" didn't?' And I said, 'You'll let us spend eight minutes on the bad guy and let scenes find their own course. You'll let us be violent and swear to the FX limit.' So, it's also about hoping that you have a good home."

Critical reaction to "Justified" has been largely positive, but one opinion matters above all others, and that's from Leonard himself. The author, who regards his executive producer credit as largely ceremonial, is effusive in his praise for Yost's efforts. "This one works," Leonard said. "I like the fact that they're trying to maintain my sound. That's very complimentary. I'm very pleased with this one."


Saturday, June 12, 2010

American Rembetika

Well, no. Not really. Rural as opposed to urban. Same period, though, almost exactly. Same tin-can-on-a-string recording quality. Same flat, metallic tone. And many of the same sentiments.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Not at all old fashioned or stuffy...

.....but, alas, a public radio favorite. On the other hand, this is live and unaccompanied, and is a sign of welcome incursions of Robert Fripp-ery into popular music.


By Popular Demand 2

Only in the UK, so far. Here's Variety, from behind their f***ing firewall:

"With live shows based on TV properties, it's important not to be too early in the lifecycle of the brand," says Craig Stanley, head of live entertainment at BBC Worldwide, the show's producer. ... "For 'Doctor Who,' it is still early in the US."
Obviously Cardiff, right? No venue could be cooler.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why they hated Dylan when he sold out

This is what he threatened with all that noise, irony, and chaos: Judy Collins singing a Dylan song from his second album.....


Monday, June 7, 2010

By Popular Demand

"Torchwood" is back, co-produced by upstart Starz.

Cool quote:

John Barrowman and Eve Myles are to return for a fourth series of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, after the BBC securing funding from the US cable network Starz Entertainment.

Barrowman, as Captain Jack Harkness, and Myles, as Gwen Cooper, will be working along with new cast members on the new 10-part series with a team of writers led by Torchwood's creator, Russell T Davies.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

"The Holy Greil" is not the title of this post

The first few pages of Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic made me acutely uncomfortable. When I was home-schoolinmg myself to become a critic, Marcus' Mystery Train was a revered text. But here he seemed to be endorsing a view of art as a product of impersonal or collective social forces that I find repellant. (There are entire "cultural studies" essays about movies in which the names of their writers and directors are never mentioned.) An artist like Bob Dylan is great because is more sensitive to these forces than most and allows them to speak through him, a notion that seems to tip-toe toward the foolish "artist as shaman."

In fact, happily, the opposite is true: Marcus is setting this viewpoint up for a fall. He sees it at the heart of a false idea of authenticity (of works of folk art as expressions of a communities and cultures rather than individuals) that animated the highly politicised folk revival movement Dylan over-turned -- provoking responses so rabid from peace-loving folkies that he feared for his life.

When art is confused with life, it's not merely art that is lost. When art equals life there is no art, but when life equals art there are no people. "The tobacco sheds of North Carolina are in it and all of the blistered and hurt and hardened hands cheated and left empty, hurt and left crying," Woody Guthrie himself wrote of Sunny Terry's harmonica playing. He didn't say if Sonny Terry was in it. (p. 29)
C.I.: Tulk



With a half-smile of anticipation and a single line ("This is going to be a tricky one"), delivered right at the top of the current season's best episode to date, "Amy's Choice," Matt Smith finally won me over. He seems to have realized at last that not everything has to be done at top speed and top volume, with limbs flopping every which way.

The time-tricky "Amy's Choice" is one kind of DW episode I especially, vaguely in the genre of "Left Turn" and "Blink," though admittedly not in the same league. Quite a few TV creators would have dragged out the choice-making schtick over an entire season, milking it for suspense and heartache. (RTD basically did that twice, two seasons running. Which in retrospect may have been one too many.) But making the choice early, getting it over with, seems to be a deliberate act of self-definition for Stephen Moffett, setting that sort of thing aside as a distraction.

It certainly clears the decks for action in terms of the relationship between this "handsome young hero" and his two companions, who are now definitively a couple. Will they share a cabin on the Tardis, I can't help wondering, salaciously, or is Smith's Doctor-as-favorite-eccentric-uncle a bit of a prude? (Moffett, the creator of "Coupling," presumably isn't.)

What is the "soap opera" being set aside to make room for, though? This is still a source of some anxiety for me. The WW2 adventure was a mish-mosh, the vampires in Venice episode a predictable wheel-spinner. The one upcoming looks like a Quatermass flashback, with monsters digging their way up from the depths to menace a plucky schoolboy. If Moffett succumbs altogether to the Boy's Own spirit, that kid could end up on the Tardis with K-9. Be careful what you wish for.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

What oft was thought, part 2

From pop philosopher Alain de Botton:

The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.
So why am I doing this? Just a glutton, I guess.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I love putting things in miocrowaves.....


Coffee and the Scandinavian soul

For all my wittering about the English, three of my four grandparents were Scandinavian. So I've got bragging rights to an instinctive feel for the Nordic mystery. Especially this from last Sunday's review of the last Larsson book from the NYT:

Larsson’s is a dark, nearly humorless world, where everyone works fervidly into the night and swills tons of coffee; hardly a page goes by without someone “switching on the coffee machine,” ordering “coffee and a sandwich” or responding affirmatively to the offer “Coffee?”

Pathological coffee drinking (is) a tic that recurs so relentlessly that I don’t think Larsson realized it was a tic. A thought on this subject: Many of the Larsson faithful subscribe to a belief that the author’s premature death was not of natural causes. He had been threatened in real life by skinheads and neo-Nazis; ergo, the theories go, he was made dead by the very sorts of heavies who crop up in his novels. But such talk has been emphatically dismissed by Larsson’s intimates. So let me advance my own theory: Coffee killed him. If we accept that Blom­k­vist is, in many respects, a romanticized version of Larsson, and that Blomkvist’s habits reflected the author’s own, Larsson overcaffeinated himself to death.....
Blogger Matt Yglesias follows up:
The Swedes are actually a bit less coffee-mad than the Finns, Norwegians, Danes, or Icelanders but as you can see here all the Nordic peoples drink a ton of coffee, in the Swedish case a bit less than twice as much per capita as Americans do. The Södermalm area of Stockholm where Mikael Blonkvist and Lisbeth Salander live and Millenium and Milton Security are headquartered is just littered with coffee houses like nothing I’ve ever seen in America (incidentally, this is where I stayed when I was in Stockholm on the recommendation of a blog reader—it’s a hugely fun neighborhood, definitely stay there if you visit). Personally, I drink way more coffee than the average American and find this aspect of Swedish life congenial. Even I, however, had to balk at the extreme quantity of coffee I was served in Finland where consumption is absolutely off the charts.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blogger solidarity

Is this the face of acceptable (to right-wingers like me) moderate Democrats? Blogger and amusing fellow Mickey Kaus is running a hopeless campaign against Barbara Boxer for the Democratic nomination for Senate in California.

His ad is great. I can't vote for him -- wrong party -- but somebody here could. Send a message. Boxer's going to win the nomination anyway....



"Every time someone asks if a new movie is going to be a hit, it’s a blow against civilization." -- Armond White