Thursday, September 30, 2010

The most baffling propaganda campaign in history

Written by Richard Curtis. Just watch it. No pressure. (The final scene is especially fine.... the one at the very end, after the tag)


Strange behavior:

The creators have made the video private -- which is a shame, since although I find it probably the worst effort ever to gain public support for something, (and although I'm on the other side of the argument) I admire their spirit and their willingness (in fact, desire) to offend.

Mr. Curtis: Bring down that wall!


Sez the Guardian:

"Doing nothing about climate change is still a fairly common affliction, even in this day and age. What to do with those people, who are together threatening everybody's existence on this planet? Clearly we don't really think they should be blown up, that's just a joke for the mini-movie, but maybe a little amputating would be a good place to start?" jokes 10:10 founder and Age of Stupid film maker Franny Armstrong.

But why take such a risk of upsetting or alienating people, I ask her: "Because we have got about four years to stabilise global emissions and we are not anywhere near doing that. All our lives are at threat and if that's not worth jumping up and down about, I don't know what is."

"We 'killed' five people to make No Pressure – a mere blip compared to the 300,000 real people who now die each year from climate change," she adds.

Jamie Glover, the child-actor who plays the part of Philip and gets blown up, has similarly few qualms: "I was very happy to get blown up to save the world."


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Digital Distribution makes things worse, Part 2

From an LA Times article headed "Independent Filmmakers Feel the Squeeze of Piracy", the producer and director of a movie called "A Gangland Love Story" isn't amused by current audience trends:

Since its DVD release in July, audiences have embraced it: More than 60,000 viewers have watched the movie on the Internet, giving the independent filmmaker a coveted public following.

Unfortunately, winning an audience has come at a steep price. The viewers of Carter's film watched if from pirate movie sites and never paid for it. Carter figures the unauthorized viewing has cost him as much as $100,000 in lost revenue, dashing hope that he'll ever see a profit.

"It feels like someone is walking into your house and stealing your furniture," said Carter, 38. "The big studios can absorb it, but guys like me, we're not millionaires. We're fighting like crazy for every dollar, every nickel, every penny just to survive in this marketplace."

And it's not just aspiring fringe types:

The most high-profile case involves "The Hurt Locker," which won six Oscars but earned only $16.4million at the box office in the U.S. and Canada, an unusually low gross for a best-picture winner. Some blamed the effects of online piracy — the movie was available on the Web months before its arrival in theaters. Voltage Pictures, the film's producer, obtained IP addresses for 5,000 people it claims shared the film illegally. Voltage is now suing them, following a similarly controversial tactic used by the Recording Industry Assn. of America several years ago in an effort to fight the piracy of music.

"More people downloaded the movie for free than actually paid for it," said Thomas Dunlap, who has filed copyright infringement lawsuits on behalf of more than a dozen indie filmmakers and distributors, including Voltage and Maverick Entertainment Group, the company that distributed Carter's movie.

Did you like that screener?


Digital distribution makes things worse, part 1

Page one, WSJ, unintended consequences of the e-book:

It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers.

Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

"Advances are down, and there aren't as many debuts as before," says Ira Silverberg, a well-known literary agent. "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption."

Much as cheap digital-music downloads have meant that fewer bands can earn a living from record-company deals, fewer literary authors will be able to support themselves as e-books win acceptance, publishers and agents say.

Cool facts:

A new $28 hardcover book returns half, or $14, to the publisher, and 15%, or $4.20, to the author. Under many e-book deals currently, a digital book sells for $12.99, returning 70%, or $9.09, to the publisher and typically 25% of that, or $2.27, to the author.

The upshot: From an e-book sale, an author makes a little more than half what he or she makes from a hardcover sale.

The lower revenue from e-books comes amidst a decline in book sales that was already under way. The seemingly endless entertainment choices created by the Web have eaten into the time people spend reading books. The weak economy also is contributing to the slide.

"We aren't seeing a generation of readers coming along that supports writers today the way that young people supported J. D. Salinger and Philip Roth when they were starting out."

Go ahead, buy that Kindle: You'll help insure that 'popular' culture is all that's left...


Monday, September 27, 2010

"Professor Nabokov, may I be excused?"

I've spent almost 55 years writing about various forms of popular culture, and thinking and at times arguing vehemntly about how that useful work should be done. This is spite of an almost complete inability to come up with any strikingly new ideas on the subject. Instead, I circle back again and again to the same short list of truisms.

One obvious chestnut is that all forms of culture that aspire to be widely popular (rather than good in some more imponderable and elite way) are always, to that extent, wish-fullfillment fantasies. They describe the world and human life not as they are but as many of us wish they were.

This seems to me to be a fact so obviously, universally true as to be almost useless as a tool of criticism, much of which is about drawing distinctions. It does nothing more than name the realm we're pottering around in. And yes, of course, there are differences of degree -- such as placing the classic male loner P.I. knight in realistically depicted situations.

Is it possible to do this knowingly, or are all the really great popular writers to some extent delusional? Should Ian Fleming have taken the giggles of his wife and her friends to heart and modified the personality of James Bond to make him less preposterous? Should Stieg Larsson have combed through the Dragoon Tattoo books expunging any element likely to make squemish readers "uncomfortable"?

The questions answer themselves. Most of us love being given permission to believe for a few hours in something preposterous. I've also heard it said (can't recall by whom) that things only really start to get interesting in a work of fiction when discomfort sets in. The element that causes discomfort is the real subject of the story beginning to emerge.

UPDATE: One random example from a writer named Christopher Ransom: "If I was to give one piece of advice it would be don’t play it safe because that thing you are terrified of writing about, the one thing you cannot imagine your parents or spouse ever reading? You should write that."


Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Jamey; A note on Laura Marling

Those of you who think skimming the net is just like reading a newspaper may have missed this morning's front page arts section New York Times article on Jamey Johnson:

It’s good to hear Mr. Johnson laugh. A relief, actually. He laughs more than you might think, more than his heavy eyes might indicate. Certainly more than in his songs, which are among the blackest in country music. Since re-emerging two years ago after some time out of the spotlight, he’s become the great brooder of the modern country era — maybe the only brooder.

... on this skillful record ("The Guitar Song"), he positions himself as a first-rate preservationist of classic country songwriting, someone who may be out of step with the times but isn’t showy about it. His stand for the country values of yesteryear is quiet, and often thrilling.

On another note, a recent article in Vogue about Carey Mulligan notes that she's a big fan of Laura Marling. That much waifery in one place could make you a bit sick.....


Friday, September 24, 2010

HG Live Music Recommendation

Jamey Johnson at the House of Blues, Tuesday, September 28.

Carries the Tulkinghorn Seal of Approval™.


There can be no disputing about Rajnikanth.


Benign Inconsistency

An enjoyable discussion with the offspring about subjective POVs in Faulkner and the possibility of Truth harked back to those late-night dorm room b.s. sessions. So bear with me.

An argument recently about whether consistency is a virtue. In one's thinking and in arguments, I'm probably still more of a stickler than some. In behavior toward others, less so.

Consistency on behavior is tough because there are competing values, and the balance doesn't always tilt the same way. A staunch vegetarian, my mother has on rare occasions eaten meat or fish when dining out to avoid offending her host. I think she would say that there is a point beyond which sticking to one's principles becomes a form of selfishness.

It's only in intellectual matters that complete consistency is ever possible. If we shrug that off, how can we be clear-headed when allowing exceptions in behavior?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gandalf: The Early Years

We all get older, you know. Sir Ian a while back...


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If we waited to post anything until we fully understood it...

...HG would be seriously underpopulated. Chairman Bob calls her "the Billie Holiday of folk." Discography.

C.I.: Tulkinghorn


Could it be?

"Iain Sproat–the former Tory MP who helped clear Wodehouse’s name of the taint of collaborationism–has long maintained that an early Wodehouse short story was on Tolstoy’s bedside table the night he died."
This is a rumor referred to obliquely in an article in the Spectator about a new biography of Roald Dahl, one of whose books was the last edited by Maxwell Perkins.

According to Alex Ross, there's evidence that both Adolf Hitler and Arnold Schoenberg were present at the premiere of Strauss's Salome. Conducted by Gustav Mahler.

I wonder if Ravel saw Louis Armstrong perform.....


Friday, September 17, 2010

Tulkinghorn's picks for the weekend

You didn't ask, but hey:

Un Prophete: Hardly unheralded -- it got the Grand Prix at Cannes -- but surprisingly true to genre rules. Godfather II (as everybody says) meets Le Trou. Jacques Becker and Jose Giovanni would be proud of mise en scene and script. Also Brando/Pacino worthy performances by Neils Arestrup and Tahar Rahim, respectively. (Arestrup is also terrific in Audiard's earlier "The Beat My Heart Skipped", which is worth seeing, but which suffers from a silly premise -- it's a remake of Fingers(!))

Skippy Dies: As good as I had hoped -- in fact, better. What I hadn't expected was how chilling and bleak it becomes -- after hundreds of pages of Apatow-worthy schoolboy humor, it suddenly clouds up...


Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I Like: Narrative Version

Late to this party as always -- since I'm not exactly in the demo -- but Jamey Johnson is being praised as the second coming of Waylon Jennings.

(In fact, he's written a song "Between Jennings and Jones" ostensibly about where he's filed in record stores, but you know what he really means.)

He's got a new double album out called "The Guitar Song."

He's clean and clear, passionate, and tuneful. And he tells great stories.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Great Tradition

Somewhere out there adrift in inter-space is a photo of Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics, snapped by Tulk, that ran with a piece of mine in the long defunct "Los Angeles Herald Examiner" circa 1983. So T. can testfy that I have a fairly long history of being fascinated by this sort of thing -- shock bands formed by art school "performance artists" pretending to be low lifes. Never serious enough to be a pleasure I truly felt guilty about, but still. In the photo below, Die Antwoord's Yo-Landi Vi$$er looks so much like Wendy it's a bit eerie. Like a still from a reincarnation horror movie set in the music world. Or a parody thereof, a la Brian De Palma's long-forgotten Phantom of the Paradise.)

UPDATE: Surfing around looking for video footage of The Plasmatics, I was reminded just how anyone-can-do-this God awful they truly were. So the comparison above turns out to be grossly unfair to Ms. Vi$$er, who is a much more focused and charismatic presence. Less room for discomfort here, certainly, wondering if this performer is on the joke.


Sunday, September 12, 2010


Forgive me for doubting that certain folks have in fact "always thought" that narrative virtues were overrated. (For starters, as opposed to what?) This one is an extremely conservative (!) and familiar choice as an illustration of the narrative tradition in country music. One of the most popular songs of one of the form's most revered singers. If I suggested that the fondness for story songs in country is descended from a long line of ballads in folk music, I would be saying more than I know, but it sounds plausible.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I like, part 3

I have always thought that narrative virtues are overrated, especially when the performer appears to be ready to fall asleep.....

I like this because of its passion, its relative complexity, and because it was taped in a bookstore. Mumford and Sons is the name of the group.


New Tsui


It Takes a Real Man Part 2

Continuing to update and revise my "arguing about taste" notes, I offer the following as an example of the "direct expression of emotion" school of popular (loosely defined) music. Cases in which the music is a vehicle for what's being expressed rather than a stand-alone aural object -- the latter a school from which I am all-but completely excluded by my lack of actual musical knowledge.

The distinction is complicated in this case because Lucinda William's "West" is also an example of a country song that has a strong narrative element. The situation in the lives of the characters (the singer and the person she's singing to; obviously one particular person) -- better perhaps a series of negotiations that has broken off, giving rise to the resigned conclusion the singer has come to -- none of this is ever spelled out, but it is nevertheless, at least in outline, perfectly clear.

You could base a movie script on this song -- which would be a pointless exercise, however, because a much more powerful effect is produced by only alluding to the events, allowing the narrative to take shape in the listeners mind. So the song is allusive and yet direct. How cool is that?


Friday, September 10, 2010

What I like, part 2

Best Coast.... Less introspective, to put it mildly, this is a throwback to what we called 'New Wave' in the eighties: melodic, big, and without a thought in its head. If you can find any recordings of a group called "Lets Active" you'll see the resemblance. Or Marshall Crenshaw.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

What I like, part 1

Short-listed for the Mercury Prize (twice, the first time at 16), 20-year old Laura Marling is the real thing, if you're looking for a post-Dylan, post-Mitchell singer/songwriter.

The Guardian interviewed her last week and made a video that is actually somewhat more effective than the one I've embedded here.

Great quote:

She admits she "didn't get" popular culture as a teenager; it's only her incipient feminism that's dissuaded her from wanting to live in a Jane Austen novel ("I don't think I'd want to be a woman held back by her generation, that's not ideal.") And her ideal day off is "a nice café and a crossword". "I think I'm quite... not prudish in an extreme way but... I think I quite like things to be polite and elegant."


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Apatow goes Mumblecore

This note is a bank shot among a number of different film sites. Initial inspiration is the deal that HBO just made with Judd Apatow to produce a half-hour comedy pilot to be written by, directed by, and starring 24 year old NYC indie phenom Lena Dunham, as reported on Deadline Hollywood.

Dunham is the writer/producer/star of the recent SXSW entry "Tiny Furniture", reviewed very amusingly here by Glenn Kenny. TF raises a number of questions that haunt me these days: It sounds almost staggeringly obnoxious. Dunham, her sister, and her mother (an art world star) play Dunham, her sister , and her mother (an art world star), who live together in a beautiful expensive loft in lower Manhattan...

Kenny anticipates my reaction:

In being a certain age (in my own case, just a hair over fifty) and dealing with material by and ostensibly for people in their uncertain twenties, one must be ever-wary of falling into the "they are scum" trap that ensnared Somerset Maugham when he assessed a seminal work by and about a then-younger generation, Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim.

One also finds one rolling one's eyes at (Dunham's) taste in men, if you can call them that (if nothing else, the film provided me with an insight as to why Dunham, in real-life interviews, tends to refer to the individuals she dates as "boys"); she's rather inexplicably drawn to a smarmy creep named Jed (Alex Karpovsky, who I hear through the grapevine is a bit of a micro-indie heartthrob, yeesh) who makes videos of himself philosophizing on a rocking horse under the rubric "The Nietschean Cowboy," and also to a sleazy self-described "chef" (David Call) who will "date" Aura if Aura can score some pills from the eclectic medicine cabinet of her glam unsupervised artist's-daughter friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirk). One is rather used to men being awful in Manhattan-set films concerning the romantic travails of young women, but man, if these two guys are really representative of the dating pool these days, ladies, you have my utmost sympathy.

....even at its most queasy-making, Tiny Furniture never registers as genuinely hateful in the way that gets cranks such as myself so worked up about when we're faced with what we take as blinkered hipster solipsism; rather, I sensed that Dunham herself is too young and too confused to be able to distinguish between showing compassion for her characters and slathering her own self with masochistic love.
On the other hand, the great Richard Brody loves this movie so much he's reviewed it three times, and it hasn't even opened yet. Brody takes direct issue with Kenney on the issue of the obnoxiousness of the characters and is admirably, if somewhat impossibly for me, firm was, in part, the excessive attention to the characters in films that she wrote about that got in the way of my taking much interest in Pauline Kael’s reviews, despite the ancillary reading pleasures they offered.
A movie, if it’s any good, conjures a world, or, rather, a world view; and complaining, as Glenn does, that one character is “a weirdly lumpy sad-sack” and another is “a smarmy creep” and that the film’s men are “quasi-monsters” does little to advance our understanding of the world Dunham does, indeed, artistically conjure, and, for that matter, of the world as such, through her vision. Imaginative sympathy isn’t a quality that the director earns through making sympathetic characters but through the force of her or his own character. And, of this, Dunham has plenty.


Takes a Real Man to Admit he Loves Opera

Notes on arguing about accounting for taste:

Our taste can be argued about because it does mean something -- though not nessecarily what it pleases us to think it means. And of course it can be "accounted for," though some people would rather not.

Apart from the ones that take place in the depths of Schoenberg Hall, very few arguments about music are really, primarily about music. Back in the day, for example, we all knew that the pop quiz opposition "Beatles or Stones?" was about what sort of person you were. Or rather (since how could you possibly have known at that age?) what sort of anxious pose you'd decided to strike.

I've already done way more, in terms of accounting, for my taste, than people here who are way more categorical in their pronouncements. One theme that has emerged is: where does one come down in terms of expressions that are direct and naked and those that are indirect, oblique, ironic, elusive. One either admires the former and wants to have more of it in one's own life, or not.

But it's not always a simple distinction to draw.

It could be argued that "Dalla Sua Pace" is a direct musical expression of emotion -- though not icky because the emotion expressed is complex and "grown up." Complicated by the fact that DSP is dramatic music, so that, whatever is being expressed by the lyricist or composer, it's been filtered through a character. Also it's in an antique musical idiom that many people find alien, so appreciating it has a degree of difficulty that's good for the ego while also removing some of the stigma of emotional accessibility.

Because it is "fiction music," DSP was written "arm's length," as Laura Marling says above. In what sense does Mozart "mean" the music of DSP? First thought is that he means it to the extent that it's true; it's true about DO if not about himself. a pose, on the other hand, is fraudulent by definition.

Don Ottavio, BTW, is pretty close to the definition of "lame" -- "weak and ineffectual." The music therefore expresses lameness but is not itself lame.

Being effectual (as opposed to in) is related to the notion of having legs that reach all the way to the ground.

(more to come)


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anonymous and disinterested

Since no one knows my real name and who my employer is, I can offer this following quote from's television critic without being accused of naked self-promotion:

....Nikita is remarkably good.

The creators of "Nikita" went with Maggie Q, an actress with somber eyes that evoke exactly the kind of self-possessed, mature energy you don't expect to find on this channel. Like Anne Parillaud, who played Nikita in Besson's original film, Maggie Q's expression always carries an almost palpable weight of regret, whether she's threatening to kill her abusive foster father or calmly informing her former higher-ups at Division, the shadowy government agency that trained her to be an assassin,"It ends now."


Cool Noomi Rapace interview...

...from Venice.


Monday, September 6, 2010

From Bob Dylan's TTRH show on body parts 2

Worth noting that in a TTRH episode from the second season, Dylan says flat out that all the records played on the show are from his own collection; stored in "various places," because it is so extensive. Which lends some additional weight to the fact that Rilo Kiley and lead singer Jenny Lewis, as a solo act, have been featured on the program several times. Lewis has also contributed spoken interludes.

UPDATE: Bumping this up to make the point that I've listened to it again several times, with the criticisms of commenters both forthright and furtive firmly in mind, and still like it. Know too little about music to be able to explain why, though as with many of my musical preferences the response may have a strong extra-musical (narrative and/or emotional) dimension. I will say that as a writer the charge of bad lyrics reminds me of the legendary suggestion that Abraham Lincoln's legs were too long. Famous response: "They're exactly the right length. They reach all the way to the ground."

The point I would make about this stuff is that you start with the response, then go back afterwards if you care to and try to figure it out. Especially if you're writing about it -- the first thing you owe anybody who might be reading you is an honest account of your experience. If you ever get to the point of being embarrassed to admit you like something, it's over.

RK lead singer's new one sounds much closer to that worst of all possible genres, "glossy pop." Pretty much irresistible at first listen; unclear how much staying power it will have.


And the Hugo goes to....

....the poseur with the earrings. (See how I'm making an effort not to disagree with my host?)

It's more interesting than that, actually.

The best novel award was a tie. Shared between "The City & The City" and "The Wind-up Girl". First tie ever, and an interesting swerve away from the less self-consciously literary winners of the past.

All winners, including Charles Stross and Russell T. Davies (for "Waters of Mars") listed here


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rules of Chess


Endorsed by "The New Yorker"

If arguments from authority mean anything, anymore.

In an interview with Philip Roth, Milan Kundera said, “When I hear learned arguments that the novel has exhausted its possibilities, I have precisely the opposite feeling: in the course of its history the novel missed many of its possibilities.” If so many musicians are comfortable with returning to the past to pick up lost possibilities, we might do well to let go of our allegiance to our heroes, so that more of their work can reveal itself.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tulkinghorn Meets Rilo Kiley


The beauty of industrial waste

Not Rilo Kiley.

Ghosts in the Hollow from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.