Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A few words...

...about the creative process:

"Things come into the mind and wait to hook up with other things."

-- Russell Hoban, "Afterword," "Riddley Walker: Expanded Edition" (Indiana 1998).

See also: "Whatever talent I have for writing lies in being friends with my head."

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Now you tell me...

"It's tempting to give up on our liberal studies before even making the attempt, the better to continue on our merry way, fighting, drinking, and all the rest. At least, then we we have the satisfaction of a little short-term pleasure instead of a lifetime of feeling inadequate."

-- Zadie Smith, "Some Notes on Attunement," "The New Yorker," December 17, 2012, 30-35.

More excellent Smith here. I've been shying away from this writer for years, fearing either the Second Coming of Rushdie (Multi-Culti Magic Realism) or a new addition to the Hitchens/Amis Patronizing Smarty Pants School. But I've loved a couple of her recent essays.
My other source of daily pleasure is—but I wish I had a better way of putting it—”other people’s faces.” A red-headed girl, with a marvelous large nose she probably hates, and green eyes and that sun-shy complexion composed more of freckles than skin. Or a heavyset grown man, smoking a cigarette in the rain, with a soggy mustache, above which, a surprise—the keen eyes, snub nose, and cherub mouth of his own eight-year-old self.
As a paragraph written by a novelist this is promising. Last week I dug out the copy of "White Teeth" I've owned for something like fifteen years. Any day now...

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Giant Monsters and Giant Robots...

...and Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi, directed by Guillermo Del Toro. In 3-D.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Covers

These cool clips are being posted around to celebrate the publication of a book that looks like an HBO series waiting to happen.


Est-ce Que Tu Le Sais - Scopitone Sylvie Vartan by samandari

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Baxter on Black and Banville

The author of "A Feast of Love" on the novelist who is both the literary eminence John Banville and the would-be thriller purveyor Benjamin Black, who each have new books out.

A reading of the two books, the Banville novel and the Black novel, might inspire in some readers a consideration of the way that plot on the one hand and eloquence on the other have taken their leave of each other and have set up separate realms, if that is indeed what has happened. But the real mystery at the center of these books has more to do with the question of how to freeze time so that it partakes of the eternal, which is Banville’s true subject, and with the problem of consequences of actions in the here and now, which is Black’s. Eloquence is not the point of [Black's] "Vengeance," though it contains passages of verbal legerdemain, and plot is almost irrelevant in [Banville's] "Ancient Light," although it contains a surprise ending.
A larger distinction can be inferred between literary novels that seek to "freeze time so that it partakes of the eternal" and entertainments, which exploit a sense of time rushing onward to generate excitement. While there could be cases in which the merely stiff or frozen is mistaken for the timeless, the association of the temporal and the contingent is pretty well locked in; a key issue for us OG liberal artists.

UPDATE: I think the distinction between stop-time novels that seek stasis and/or the eternal and "temporal" plotty ones is too suggestive to be reduced to an art vs. entertainment squabble. Slowing time down to an extreme close-up crawl or speeding it up to gets hearts racing aren't the only alternatives. Some of our favorite books, from "War and Peace" to "A Suitable Boy," somehow manage to evoke the exact, flowing, forward pace of life, without hype in either direction.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Uplift...

He almost gave up [bicycle riding] after a week. But then Doc Barkhuizen gave him the "five-minute" tip. "This is what I do, Benny. If I'm not in the mood I tell myself, 'just five minutes,' and if I don't feel like going on, I'll turn around and go back home." He tried it -- and never once did he turn around. Once you were going, you went on.

-- Deon Meyer, "Thirteen Hours" (Grove Press 2011)

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

They need her more than she needs them...

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More New Yorker validation...

Anthony Lane on the new film "Killing Them Softly:"

Why haven’t more movies stolen from George V. Higgins? He died in 1999, but his work remains a trove, begging to be raided for linguistic loot. If you want to grade postwar novelists on the strength of their ears alone—how fast they prick up at the crackle and blare of American speech—then Higgins and Elmore Leonard, you could argue, lead the pack, ahead of more distinguished names.

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Writing about the same film, around the same time, for the same magazine's online edition (cold looks when they pass in the hall?) Richard Brody proves himself to be a true hipster by asserting that "storytelling is the most overrated value and misattributed term in the world of moviemaking." Luckily, by the time he gets to his big finish, Brody is saying something a bit different, making a point that reflects a degree of cluelessness about how the process of film production actually works:
…this mode of bare-bones storytelling—in which a pared-down framework of facts is presented, tightly and narrowly, as if foregrounding the plot and locating all traces of character in the actors’ performance—is one of the dominant trends of contemporary filmmaking. It doesn’t just serve the goal of brisk entertainment: it reflects the desire to pass the fiction off as objective truth—in order to convey as all the more self-evident the filmmaker’s political point.
Read more.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

"Contraband"

Catching up with this densely textured and satisfyingly Higgins-y smuggling thriller, virtues not surprising when you consider the source.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

As validated by The New Yorker...

Successor band not mentioned in TNY piece:

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lincang, Yunnan, PRC

Click to enlrge.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Clive sez:

Edifyingly, the new season of "Homeland" (Channel 4) had chosen just this time to appear, as if to prove that an international action series can have a plot full of holes and still be 10 times better than "Hunted."

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Fun evil or evil evil?

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

See also:

Saw this on the plane on the way home from China. Not half bad.

Not enough footage in this trailer of the great Kara Hui Ying-hung...

...who dances with Donnie in the film's best fight:

Click to Enlarge

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Copy that.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Miyazaki flashback

Organic Machine: The world of Hayao Miyazaki

Chute, David. Film Comment 34. 6 (Nov/Dec 1998): 62-65.

The Japanese eco-fantasist Hayao Miyazaki is an animation magiclan, a crowd-pleasing storyteller who is also a builder of worlds. He designs meticulously engineered imaginary aircraft, sets their perfect gears spinning, and propels them over mossgreen rolling landscapes, zipping between the sprung columns of ruined castles. He uses animation in a refreshingly direct and intuitive way, reveling in its capacity to lift things off the ground.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

If you can't make it to "Resident Evil"...

Armand sez:

(Olivier) Megaton’s dazzling style (at its best in "Transporter 3" and "Colombiana") goes back to D.W. Griffith’s use of cross-cutting–basic stuff but Mills’ fight with hooligans while his wife is tortured and his daughter is chased along the rooftops of Istanbul really works. His technique provides a visceral and ethical exercise. When Mills confronts his nemesis (Rade Serbedzija), the call for “Justice!” gets corrected: “You mean revenge!” This essence is like what Costa Gavras’ most complex film explored (1970’s "The Confession" about Communist show trials). Beyond the political and religious surface of seeing Americans under siege, "Taken 2" exposes the politics of vengeance, the rationalizing of immorality. This was also the good theme of Neveldine-Taylor’s brilliant "Ghost Rider 2: The Spirit of Vengeance" (also underrated).

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

OK, how about this?

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Like printing money...

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Drinking game...

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Maybe that makes it OK...

David Mitchell writes about the movie of his novel "Cloud Atlas," about which some crabby people have had reservations:

I met the three directors in 2008, and their plan to foreground the novel’s “transmigrating souls” motif by having actors perform multiple roles (each role being a sort of way station on that soul’s karmic journey) struck me as ingenious.  

...

Perhaps where text slides toward ambiguity, film inclines to specificity. A novel contains as many versions of itself as it has readers, whereas a film’s final cut vaporizes every other way it might have been made. Funny thing is, not even the author is immune to this colonization by the moving image. When I try to recall how I imagined my vanity-publisher character, Timothy Cavendish, before the movie, all I see now is Jim Broadbent’s face smiling back, devilishly. Which, as it happens, is fine by me.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Dennis Lehane: In praise of Boston talkers, Richard Price

Dennis Lehane again teaches us the lesson:

In the Boston neighborhood where I grew up, people talked vividly. Lots of f-bombs, lots of italicizing, lots of words purposefully dropped from a sentence because they got in the way of the meaning or the punch line. To grow up around such wonderful, profane, exuberant dialogue is to have a found poem dropped in your lap every day before you've even finished the walk to school. So, when I began my apprenticeship as a writer, the only gift I brought to the table was an ear for dialogue bequeathed to me by constant exposure to Olympian-level talkers. That's given me a lifelong love of colorful gab, both as a reader and writer.

...

In Richard Price's urban masterpiece, "Clockers," two New Jersey cops sit in the bowels of a housing development and tell stories to each other. The scene goes on for pages and, in truth, adds little to the overall plot. But the dialogue is so pitch-perfect an urban symphony, and so hilarious, that it effortlessly crosses the transom of the utilitarian standard and transcends any rules that would box it out of a novel. If everyone could write dialogue as gutter-gorgeous as Mr. Price, they could write a hundred pages before any reader started asking if a story was going to appear anytime soon.

Dialog trumps story -- Always thought that myself (see I. Compton-Burnett), and am glad to see Lehane admitting that the rule of simplicity is just begging to be broken.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Clive on the BBC's "Parades End"

Clive sez:

(Ford) made it hard for himself by ensuring that his magnum opus would be as hard to read as possible. The Americans have always liked "Parade’s End" better than the British, but that could be because the style has the word “modern” written all over it. Tom Stoppard’s adaptation reconstitutes the passionate story that Ford almost bleached out in the light of flashbacks and flashes forward.

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Coming to No End Demanded by Symmetry or Proportion

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal has very good things to say about Carl Barks and Scrooge McDuck in a review on Saturday of the latest installment in the Fantagraphics Barks set. Also, as a throwaway reference to a "midcentury student of America's vernacular arts" (whom I really should look up), the critic -- Tim Marchman -- provides a precise statement about the elements of a great deal of what we all love.....

The stories in this collection range from perfect one-page gag strips to 30-page features so packed with incident that they would have to be trimmed to be adapted as films. They're about love, greed, the settlement of the West, what happens when modern ducks meet pre-modern cultures, and more. They're also about the American way of storytelling, in which rigid discipline can make abrupt transitions seem natural and inevitable: from money hidden in¬spinach cans to Beagle Boys in robot suits to an entire society of invisible native spirits hidden along the beaches of Hawaii.

John A. Kouwenhoven, the great midcentury student of America's vernacular arts, had a theory about what makes the country's native art forms unique: The key to such achievements as jazz and the skyscraper, he suggested, was a tension between order—as seen in the gridiron pattern superimposed on a continental scale from cities to farms—and a spontaneous, discontinuous rhythm felt in everything from the way Mark Twain spins a yarn to Walt Whitman's prosody. He identified comics, "which come to no end demanded by symmetry or proportion," as a special example. Carl Barks's creations show you exactly what he meant.

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Best Dumplings, Knife-Cut Noodles in Lincang

Knife-cut with Braised Beef:

Erqui with Pork Ribs:

Click images to enlarge.

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More Jane

Good Faith (Jane Smiley)

- Highlight Loc. 3695-99 | Added on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, 03:56 PM

“It’s simple,” said Dale, “but it’s not easy. Here’s what they did. They made all these panels and moldings by hand, with hand planes. That way, if anyone made a mistake, it would only be a thirty-second of an inch mistake, and he could rub it out, no problem. This is beautiful, painstaking work. It’s always harder to make something simple look right than to make something elaborate look right.”

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Speaks (and Screams) for Itself

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Across the Bridge

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Death of a Red Heroine (Soho Crime) (Qiu Xiaolong) - Highlight on Page 212 | Loc. 4177-88 | Added on Tuesday, August 28, 2012, 08:33 AM

“Across-the-bridge-noodles—I think I’ve heard of that unusual dish.” Chen showed a gourmet’s curiosity. “Or I have read about it somewhere. Very special, but I have never tasted it.”

“Well, here’s the story about it.” Yu found himself explaining. “In the Qing Dynasty, a bookish husband studied in an isolated island cottage, preparing for the civil service examination. His wife made one of his favorite dishes, chicken soup with noodles. To bring the noodles there, his wife had to cross a long wooden bridge. When she got there, the noodles were cold, and had lost their fresh, crisp taste. So the next time she carried two separate bowls, one bowl of hot soup with surface layer of oil to keep the heat in, and one bowl of rinsed noodles. She did not mix the noodles with the soup until she was in the cottage. Sure enough, it tasted wonderful, and the husband, feeling energetic after finishing the noodles, did a good job of preparation, and succeeded in the examination.”

“What a lucky husband,” Chen said.

“And Peiqin’s an even better chef,” Yu chuckled.

Yu, too, had enjoyed the noodles, the soup rippling with the memories of their days in Yunnan.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wonderful term, new to me:

"Neophobia."

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Six Two Six

After twenty-five years of hanging out, I feel vindicated by this:


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Noodle St., Kunming, August 22, 2012

Click to embiggen.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Haunting.

Information from our favorite source.

"Long Beach, California - Little Phnom Penh - is the world's largest Cambodian enclave outside the homeland, founded by refugees."

Dengue Fever perform's Ros Sereysothea's "A Go Go:"

C.I.: Tulkinghorn

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Monday, August 6, 2012

The latest lip-synch scandal...

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Friday, August 3, 2012

An alternative critical standard...

...with which I am surprised to find I sympathize.

Despite calling "The Artist" "great," [Chris] Rock noted that the film wasn't what audiences want. "['Grown Ups' is] better than The Artist' 'cause the audience says so," he said. "No film critic's going to say it, but 'Madagascar 3' is better than 'The Artist,' and it's better because it makes people feel better. That’s ultimately what it boils down to. --Noted film critic Chris Rock.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New "Sight & Sound" lists

Critics’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time

  • 1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  • 2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • 3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  • 4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
  • 5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
  • 6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
  • 7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
  • 8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
  • 9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
  • 10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
Directors’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
  • 1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  • 2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
  • 3. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • 4. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
  • 5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1980)
  • 6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
  • 7. The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
  • 8. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  • 9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
  • 10 Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)

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Monday, July 30, 2012

If I was a Morman I would propose to all of them...

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What Happened Next?

My new favorite critic, The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum, on serial storytelling, melodrama, cliffhangers and soap opera. A nice note: The upcoming book she refers to, "Complex TV," is being published serially on its author's blog.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jane

In her brief essay on "Lolita," in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel," Jane Smiley tweaks Vladimir Nabokov for "working as hard as James or Tolstoy to promote a theory of art and of the novel that led straight to him and his sort of greatness." But of course this is what Smiley herself is doing in "Thirteen Ways." Probably any novelist writing about novels would be so inclined. Any painter writing about painting, any critic writing about criticism. The number of professional commentators who could resist the temptation to equate excellence with their own practice could be counted (as I believe Pogo Possum once said) on the fingers of one finger.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Spend an hour with the guys

Henry Jenkins and Dave Kehr at the Lost Cinema festival in Italy.  Looking at Jenkins makes me wonder if there's a factory someplace.. (h/t Howard Rodman)


INCONTRO CON LA CRITICA AMERICANA from cineteca on Vimeo.
....

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I wrote "So true!" in the margin

New "Spider-Man" director Marc Webb:

It's all about regeneration. "I kept on going back to the single moment where Peter Parker was left by his parents," Webb suggests. "Realistically, anybody's whose parents disappeared in a very urgent or chaotic manner when he was six or seven-years-old, that's going to have a huge emotional impact. And that moment is more definitive than even the spider bite. It defined the character and the movie in a very specific way for me."

As far as the orphan story, Webb refers back to Dickens. He finds the whole notion of these kids having a generosity of spirit yet distrust for the world around them very provocative. "It brings up questions of identity and in the last part of the film I inserted a lecture that my high school teacher had given me about there being [only one story] in fiction: 'Who am I?' I find myself when I watch movies or read books thinking that it's the soul of so many stories that I really enjoy. This idea of a kid who puts on a mask and becomes somebody else and has to lose part of his identity and sacrifice other parts of his life: it's the right question to ask."

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wired

Harry Edgerton was the model for the character Frank Pembleton, played by Andre Braugher on “Homicide.” Ed Burns was David Simon’s co-creator on “The Wire.”

==========

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (David Simon)

- Highlight Loc. 1540-51 | Added on Monday, July 02, 2012, 10:33 PM

(Harry) Edgerton’s detachment from the rest of the unit was furthered by his partnership with Ed Burns, with whom he had been detailed to the Drug Enforcement Administration for an investigation that consumed two years. That probe began because Burns had learned the name of a major narcotics trafficker who had ordered the slaying of his girlfriend. Unable to prove the murder, Burns and Edgerton instead spent months on electronic and telephone surveillance, then took the dealer down for drug distribution to the tune of thirty years, no parole.

To Edgerton, a case like that was a statement of a kind, an answer to an organized drug trade that could otherwise engage in contract murder with impunity. It was a persuasive argument. Close to half of Baltimore’s murders were believed to be related to the use or sale of narcotics, though the solve rate for drug murders was consistently lower than that for nearly any other motive. Yet homicide’s methodology hadn’t changed with the trend: Detectives worked the drug-related murders independently, as they would any other homicide. Both Burns and Edgerton had argued that much of the violence was related and could only be reduced—or, better still, prevented—by attacking the city’s larger narcotics organizations.

By that argument, the repetitive violence of the city’s drug markets betrayed the weakness in the homicide unit, namely, that the investigations were individual, haphazard and reactive. Two years after that initial DEA case, Edgerton and Burns again proved the point with a year-long probe of a drug ring linked to a dozen murders and attempted murders in the Murphy Homes housing project. Every one of those shootings had remained open after detectives followed the traditional approach, yet as a result of the prolonged investigation, four murders were cleared and the key defendants received double life sentences.

It was precision law enforcement, but other detectives were quick to point out that those two probes consumed three years, leaving two of the unit’s squads short a man for much of that time. The phone still had to be answered and with Edgerton reporting to work at the DEA field office, the other members of his squad—Kincaid and Garvey, McAllister and Bowman—would each be handling more shootings, more questionable deaths, more suicides, more murders. The fallout from Edgerton’s prolonged absences had served to push him further from the other detectives.

True to form, Ed Burns is at this very moment detailed to a sprawling FBI probe of a drug organization in the Lexington Terrace projects—an investigation that will eventually consume two years. Edgerton originally went with him, but two months ago he was shipped back to the homicide unit after a nasty budget dispute between federal and local supervisors. And the fact that Harry Edgerton is now back in the standard rotation, pecking away at a 24-hour report on something as menial and undramatic as a suicide, is a source of glee to the rest of the shift.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Homicide" - final image

The show's only crane shot. Note pre-widescreen aspect ratio.

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

"They put the F-U in kung fu"

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Best Coast covers Fleetwood Mac

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Facebook is crucial

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sure Fire

Olivier Megaton: Best name for an action guy since Brad Thor.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Back to School

Yale at last!  An online lecture course on the postwar American novel including HG favorites Lolita, Wise Blood, Housekeeping, Blood Meridian, and Lost in The Funhouse....  Of course, it used to be that one read these extra-curriculum.  We live in degenerate times.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Armand White uses The H Word...

...several times, in his piece on the Film Forum Spaghetti Western series.

The Western’s basic civilization vs. wilderness theme gets travestied by Spaghetti westerns into nihilistic prognostications about mankind‘s depravity. [Alex] Cox confesses the young person’s conventional fascination with cynicism as a rejection of sentimentality which hipsters consider weak and untrustworthy (especially in counterculture terms that dismiss established moral tenets). The cynicism of Spaghetti westerns now seems an inevitable development of the skepticism following mid-20th century American imperialism and triumphalism. It was a way for Italian Communist anxiety (a luxe privilege) to express itself within a critique of the American ideals it cannot sustain.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

These will be on the test...

Alexander Payne, Filmmaker of the Year, offers five pieces of advice to students at the UCLA/TFT Film Festival "Directors Showcase" event, June 14, 2012.

1. Be prepared for it to take a while.

2. If you're writing a script that you want to direct, don't take any money for it.

3. Watch Ozu.

4. Always get your entrances and exits.

5. Quoting Italian director Nani Moretti, who in turn is quoting writer Eduardo De Filippo: "He who searches for style, finds death. He who searches for life, finds style."

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Alastair Reynolds makes the big time

(sort of) 

There's a non-fannish, genre-informed rave review by Javier Martinez of his new book, "Blue Remembered Earth", on The LA Review of Books website.  An interesting political perspective, by the way.... I've never paid much attention to the politics of SF, but Martinez's analysis makes sense to me.

Reynold's frame is a society which is a technological totalitarian state -- and that's OK by Reynolds, apparently. Says Martinez:

This concept half a century ago would likely have been depicted as a sinister hive-mind, a metaphor for global communism, that our protagonist would rally against and overthrow armed only with his smarts and can-do attitude. BRE moves away from this libertarian old-guard position, upheld by such pulp-era titans as John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein, and Poul Anderson - not to mention their ideological heirs, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and the stable of writers at Baen Books.
The ideological shift from individualism toward techno-collectivism is, if no less problematic, evidence of a left-leaning vision in Reynolds's work. A conventional history of the genre can trace the leftist turn in SF back several decades to at least the 1950s, with the pioneering social satire featured in Galaxy magazine. But Reynolds's lineage is more complex: he clearly owes a huge debt to those authors central to the early decades of the genre (certainly the future-history detailed in his "Inhibitor" series is a nod to Heinlein's work, if not his ideology), but he melds this traditionalism with elements culled from the writers of the1960s and '70s - such as John Brunner, Barry N. Malzberg, and Barrington J. Bayley - who turned routine space adventures into more meditative excursions. At the same time, Reynolds expresses an exuberance that aligns him with the outer-space quasi-mysticism of Arthur C. Clarke and Fred Hoyle. Reynolds's romanticism, however, is not transcendental but purely material, a celebration of the endless possibilities of secular culture and the richness of experience technology promises.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Malkovich channeling his inner Tulkinghorn

Or is it the other way around?


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Monday, June 4, 2012

Forbes on GoT...

Many annoying changes, but volume three gets two seasons.

On the other hand:

Having read the second novel, I’m not surprised by the plot. But this is really a model of adaptation. The character work is even deeper in the series than it is in the books, the plot has been trimmed to its essentials, and ending the season with the supernatural creatures assault is more dramatically satisfying than the revelation of Bran’s (in the book less unambiguous) survival.

The series has been quite faithful to the novels so far; it will be interesting to see if they are as willing to sacrifice characters next season as George R.R. Martin has been.

"Game of Thrones" is every bit as much about the exercise of power as Caro’s monumental LBJ biography is. Not quite on that level, of course, but deeply considered and challenging.

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Spaghetti

To introduce a summer festival of Italian westerns in New York, Alex Cox (whose love of big, incoherent, violent movies was not, in the end, good for his career) reminisces about summers spent in the second-run movie theatres of Paris:

My enthusiasm for “Django” and its contemporaries rivaled that of a young Elizabethan treated to the London theater of the Rose or the Globe. Who cared why the Dane waited so long to murder his uncle? There was mayhem! There was murder! There was madness! There was music! And a ghost! The enthusiasm for these things shown by the best Renaissance playwrights — Marlowe, Webster, Kyd, Middleton — rivaled the spaghetti western auteurs’ equal passion for arbitrary killing, crucifixions, loud music and scenes with white-clad villains abused by talking parrots. 
His list of favorites:
• Carlo Lizzani’s “Requiescant,” a fierce revenge tale in which the director Pier Paolo Pasolini and several of his actors appear in strange character roles.
• Corbucci’s “Navajo Joe” and “Great Silence,” also pessimistic revenge tales, in this case ones that do not end happily for the hero. (“Navajo Joe” is the best of all possible Burt Reynolds vehicles; “The Great Silence” is one of the finest westerns ever).
• “Quien Sabe?” (“A Bullet for the General”) and “Tepepa,” parables about third-world revolution and the Vietnam War disguised as westerns.
• Giulio Questi’s “Django Kill,” which had nothing to do with “Django” but displayed a surreal aesthetic worthy of Buñuel, featuring gay outlaws, murderous townsfolk and that talking parrot.
• Tonino Valerii’s “Price of Power,” which restaged the Kennedy assassination, in Dallas, circa 1880.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

David Goodis in NYRB

There is gloomy, melancholy and bleak, and then, several leagues below despondent, there is Goodis.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pretend it's a plan...

Pleasingly right-on "Doctor Who" write up from Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker's science fiction issue. Working hard to establish her non-fan cred, she seems not to realize that some of the sterling qualities she is ascribing to the Stephen Moffat version of the show were actually innovated by Russell Davies, whose seasons she has not seen. She ends up praising Moffat for qualities he's actually soft-peddling, in comparison with his predecessor.

Before I caught up on the last two seasons, my expectations were low. I anticipated something like the seventies-era series that I faintly remembered: a goofy, juvenile thrill ride. (I haven’t watched Davies’s version, but a fellow TV critic told me that she was so attached to his “Who” that she wasn’t watching Moffat’s.) The original “Who” dwelt on pure sci-fi obsessions, abstract questions of how society is organized and the line between humans and machines. But, as deeply as fans loved the show, its themes were rarely emotional. Instead, it jumped from Aztec civilization to Mars, as much an educational show for children as an adult narrative, with a British-colonialist view of the universe. (So many savages, so little time.) The series’ most striking feature was the Doctor himself: in contrast to “Star Trek” ’s Kirk—the Kennedyesque leader of a diverse society—the early Doctor Who was an alien iconoclast with two hearts and a universe-wide Eurail Pass. For a certain breed of viewer, this was an intoxicating ideal: the know-it-all whose streak of melancholy—or prickly rage, depending on who was Who—had to be honored, because he actually did know everything.

Though that show had its charms, I was surprised, and delighted, to find that the modern “Doctor Who” has a very different emphasis: it’s a show about relationships, in an epic and mythological vein. Certainly, the show has plenty of the classic “Doctor Who” pleasures, albeit with more sophisticated effects: there are seafaring pirates; a metallic England floating on a giant “Star Whale”; and a factory full of avatar-laborers whose faces melt off like goo. The Doctor himself is a pale, puppyish genius who shares several qualities with Moffat’s modernized Sherlock Holmes, including fashion affectations (he insists that bow ties are cool, then fezzes, then cowboy hats) and a Professor-from-“Gilligan’s Island” allure. The show’s strength, however, is not its one-off stories but its longer arcs, a structural breakthrough of “The X-Files,” which modelled the notion that episodic TV could be woven together with powerful, season-long themes, inspiring the more complex breed of modern shows, both sci-fi and regular-fi.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More pulp:

While I was relishing the Moorcock/Dent formulae for writing pulp fiction, posted below, I was notified by Twitter of the latest "Weird Things" column by Damien Walter about "The New Pulp"...  He tries to make the case that this is a golden age for pulp because the barriers for publication have become so low...  Not convinced myself, but he has a couple of compelling recommendations, including one for a book called Empire State, by a guy called Adam Christopher, published by the admirable Angry Robot.

Sez Walter:

If the history of the 21st-century pulp fiction revival is ever written, Empire State might well be seen as its starting point... Empire State is a homage to all things pulp, a multi-genre mash-up of a novel that collides fictional tropes such as a literary particle accelerator, while hoping like hell the thing holds together – which on the whole it does quite admirably...

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Why don't TV shows include song credits?

Backstory:

Arguably the most famous song from "Ice and Fire"is "The Rains of Castamere,"and The National has performed the Lannister ballad for the upcoming "Game of Thrones" second season soundtrack. "The Rains of Castamere" is about Tywin Lannister's overwhelming victory over House Reyne during the Reyne-Tarbeck Rebellion and is featured at several pivotal parts throughout Martin's novels. Particularly during... no spoilers. Let's just say it's an important number and the indie rock band's sombre sound, not to mention Matt Berninger's low register do it justice. It's not upbeat by any means but it's definitely worth a listen. UPDATE: If it seems familiar, it's what Tyrion has been whistling.

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The Basics

How to Write a Novel in Three Days the Michael Moorcock Way.

Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

"I must be getting old."

I have found out, during almost thirty years of writing, that the best characters are the ones who simply walk, unplanned, into a story, and take it over. I suppose the real explanation is that they represent the spontaneous creativity of the subconscious mind, which is less labored than the conscious mind ... I must be getting old. I am tired of logical explanations. ... I prefer to think that Damon exists somewhere and demanded to be written about.
. -- Marion Zimmer Bradley, "Darkover Retrospective" (1980).

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

As discussed...

...ad infinitum.

One reservation: a residue of elitism in the notion that a key to the fun of reading genre stories is the knowledge that we could be reading something better. Betcha some genre fiction defenders would find that patronizing.

"And part of the pleasure we derive from them is the knowledge that we could be reading something better, something that, in the words of [Matthew] Arnold, reflects "the best that has been thought and said in this world. ... readers who seek out mystery novels are seeking to escape not from life but from literature, from the 'pluperfect tenses of the psychical novel.'"
Looking at the quotes again I realize he's being sarcastic; patronizing the snobs, if anything.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Good grief...

The only TV show to date to be covered episode-by-episode in a New Yorker blog (by sainted Godard-worshipper Richard Brody) is now the subject of the sort of lead-review rave that the NYRB usually reserves for seasons of "Downton Abbey." I love the show, but this level of tastemaker over-reaction suggests that the fix is somehow in. Is "Girls" really that much better than everything else on the air?

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just a taste...

"Trailers From Hell"

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Just maybe not so bad.....

Joe Morgenstern on Polisse:

  ...What makes this astonishing French feature a singular experience is the convergence of fine acting, moral urgency and a willingness to linger on moments of great intensity. ..... Fred embodies the movie's moral and dramatic center. A passionately dedicated public servant, though also a volatile and violent one, he's played by the French rapper Joeystarr, a burly figure whose tenderness put me in mind of Wallace Beery.......  (The director and co-writer) Maïwenn—who was born Maïwenn Le Besco—plays Melissa, a photographer assigned to document the unit's activities. Like everyone else in the cast, she's an excellent actor with a great director.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

At long last...

..."Castle" takes the plunge.

The show at its best is near-perfect escapism, bending but not breaking the conventions of Old School, pre-cable primetime detective foolishness. But the increasingly strained contrivances needed to keep the leads apart were becoming irritating. Now "Castle" has a chance to become, if not "The Thin Man" at least "Hart to Hart," than which many things are worse.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The worst ten best? Or, how to get laughed at in the teens.

John Podhoretz, whom I generally admire, has been making great fun of Richard Brody's list of the ten greatest films of all time, posted and explained here.  He calls it the worst ten best list ever published and then goes further by posting Brody's picture and making fun of THAT. (To quote a line from Rocky "I don't see any crowd around you...") Adolescent hi-jinks aside -- and that 's what Twitter is for, right? -- there is a point to be made about the dangers of going too far in refining your taste for something that is, after all, a vital and popular art.  Here's the list.  (Turns out that I've seen all of these except "Voyage to Italy", and there are only two movies on the list -- "Playtime" and "Rules of the Game" of course -- that I seriously treasure.  It is truly a strange list, I must say.)

King Lear” (1987, Jean-Luc Godard)
The Great Dictator” (1940, Charlie Chaplin)
The Last Laugh” (1924, F. W. Murnau)
Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock)
Shoah” (1985, Claude Lanzmann)
The Rules of the Game” (1939, Jean Renoir)
Gertrud” (1964, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
Playtime” (1967, Jacques Tati)
Husbands” (1970, John Cassavetes)
Voyage to Italy” (1953, Roberto Rossellini)

UPDATE: Fanning the flames, Podhoretz in back to back tweets today quotes both James Wood on Hilary Mantel's gift of being interesting and Salman Rushdie saying: "Art is not entertainment. At it's very best, it's a revolution." To which Podhoretz adds: "Which is why he's a bad artist."

You could write a book on turning common-or-garden variety anti-intellectualism into its own aesthetic. Lots of people have, I'll bet.  I often lean that way myself, especially when confronted with the company I'd have to keep otherwise.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Broken-spined paperbacks

An interesting summary review of the six contenders for this year's Nebula by Chris Barsanti in The Millions.  Nothing here really attracts me this year (except Embassytown, of course, but I'm not sure if I'm up to it), but I loved his description of  "Among Others" by Jo Walton. (Especially since I just talked to an old friend who was reading a much-loved Ace Double until it fell apart in his hands.)

Walton’s real story is Morwenna’s love of science fiction. The novel is told in diary form, and nearly every entry includes some finely argued notation on the joys and merits of what she’s reading. Her list is heavy with dark transgressors like Samuel R. Delany and John Brunner, as befitting Walton’s late-1970s setting. There’s a gripping, deeply-learned love here that goes beyond mere fandom, delivering one of the most intelligently impassioned odes to science fiction, and reading in general, ever put to paper. As Morwenna says on entering her father’s study: “I actually relaxed in his presence, because if there are books perhaps it won’t be all that bad.” Anybody who has felt the glow and tug of mind-warping joy that comes with devouring a stack of broken-spined sci-fi paperbacks will know exactly what she means.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Black Wings" and Black Lizard

The incessant buzz around upcoming films can indeed be irritating, and to some of us more than others. But this report led me to information about a possibly great vintage (not Vintage, or at least not yet) noir novel that was completely unknown to me. And yet, no less an authority than Black Lizard founding guru Ed Gorman is willing to entertain the possibility that the "flawless" "Black Wings Has My Angel," by Elliot Chaze, is "the single best novel Gold Medal published during its heyday." Elsewhere, Bill Pronzini offers a picture of Chaze and says he wrote three other books that are almost as good. Marching orders, if I ever heard any.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

For my friends who want to discuss serious music

Offered here as an educational service of the Hungry Ghost blog:

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This is what matters, right?

James Wood, recommending Hilary Mantel's novels about Thomas Cromwell:

When a historical fact is central to a novelistic detail, Mantel uses it in a way so novelistically intelligent that the historical fact seems to have been secretly transposed into a fictional one:

This season young men carry their effects in soft pale leather bags, in imitation of the agents for the Fugger bank, who travel all over Europe and set the fashion. The bags are heart-shaped and so to him it always looks as if they are going wooing, but they swear they are not. Nephew Richard Cromwell sits down and gives the bags a sardonic glance.

Do you know if Mantel has manufactured or borrowed from the record this information about the fashionable Fugger bag? In some sense, it doesn’t matter, because the writer has made a third category of the reality, the plausibly hypothetical. It’s what Aristotle claimed was the difference between the historian and the poet: the former describes what happened, and the latter what might happen.

If you want to know what novelistic intelligence is, you might compare a page or two of Hilary Mantel’s work with worthy historical fiction by contemporary writers such as Peter Ackroyd or Susan Sontag. They are intelligent, but they are not novelistically intelligent. They copy the motions but rarely inhabit the movement of vitality. Mantel knows what to select, how to make her scenes vivid, how to kindle her characters. She seems almost incapable of abstraction or fraudulence; she instinctively grabs for the reachably real. Her two most recent novels concern famous historical events—Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, his marriage to Anne Boleyn, her execution at the King’s orders, the English split from the Roman Church and the authority of the Pope—but they make the stories fragile again, with everything at suspenseful risk.

In short, this novelist has the maddeningly unteachable gift of being interesting.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Jane Smiley on ownership...

From Horse Heaven:

...there was no reason for the man not to sell the horse. Herman Newman was not a horseman, and seemed uncomfortable in his new role as owner. All over the world, on the other hand, there were deserving men who had spent dozens of years and millions of dollars without ever coming to a horse like Epic Steam. Why should Herman Newman, a man who couldn't remember what a blinker was from one day to the next, run a horse like this one, when men who knew horses, who had horses in their blood, who in some cases believed that they had been horses in previous lifetimes, had no chance at him? Ah. Well. Of all the things that were unfair, ownership, the simplest of them, often seemed the unfairest of all.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oh. Now I get it.

 From a review by David Shields of a book called "The Grey Album", by Kevin Young:

“Pleasure is a revolutionary act in the face of pain,” Young argues. “Hip-hop at its zenith insists on thinking and dancing simultaneously. In fact, it sees them as synonymous.”

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Without comment


HT to Michael Lavorgna

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 40 Year Rule

As explicated by Adam Gopnik in the current New Yorker, while discussing "Mad Men": "The prime site of nostalgia is always whatever happened, or is thought to have happened, in the decade between forty and fifty years past." Explains why pizza parlors when I was a kid always looked like barber shop quartets lived there.....

He has this lovely thought:

And so, if we can hang on, it will be in the twenty-fifties that the manners and meanings of the Obama era will be truly revealed: only then will we know our own essence. A small, attentive child, in a stroller on some Brooklyn playground or Minneapolis street, is already recording the stray images and sounds of this era: Michelle’s upper arms, the baritone crooning sound of NPR, people sipping lattes (which a later decade will know as poison) at 10 A.M.—manners as strange and beautiful as smoking in restaurants and drinking Scotch at 3 P.M. seem to us. A series or a movie must already be simmering in her head, with its characters showing off their iPads and staring at their flat screens: absurdly antiquated and dated, they will seem, but so touching in their aspiration to the absolutely modern. Forty years from now, we’ll know, at last, how we looked and sounded and made love, and who we really were. It will be those stroller children’s return on our investment, and, also, of course, a revenge taken on their time.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

The things you learn from The New Aesthetic, pt. 2

Just how many people surf porn sites?

Engineers know: they know everything these days...

At peak time, YouPorn serves 4000 pages per second, equating to burst traffic in the region of 100 gigabytes per second, or 800Gbps.

To put that 800Gbps figure into perspective, the internet only handles around half an exabyte of traffic every day, which equates to around 50Tbps — in other words, a single porn site accounts for almost 2% of the internet’s total traffic. There are dozens of porn sites on the scale of YouPorn, and hundreds that are the size of ExtremeTech or your favorite news site. It’s probably not unrealistic to say that porn makes up 30% of the total data transferred across the internet.

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The things you learn from The New Aesthetic(tm)

Others here may scoff, but Sterling keeps circling around the issue really, really ,really, trying to figure out whether The New Aesthetic project is the first strike in an attempt to come to grips with the digitization of everything. Says Sterling in an essay entitled "Still Freaking Out!!!!!"

How would you know if some new aesthetic was really and truly a “new way of seeing?” How would you prove that this had happened in real life? What would be convincing evidence that such an event had taken place in our world? What proofs could one demand, or offer, that such a thing was an authentic cultural change?

So far, the best evidence that something has really changed is of this kind. Imagine you were walking around your own familiar neighborhood with some young, clever guy. Then he suddenly stops in the street, takes a picture of something you never noticed before, and starts chuckling wryly. And he does that for a year, and maybe five hundred different times.

That’s the New Aesthetic Tumblr. This wunderkammer proves nothing by itself. It’s a compendium of evidence, a heap of artifacts, and that evidence matters. It’s a compilation of remarkable material by creative digital-native types who are deeply familiar with the practical effects of these tools and devices.

They’re looking for instances when this use-activity pops out of the background of some older, contrasting worldview. Without this eye-catching glitch aspect, without this sharply perceptible and thought-provoking contrast, it wouldn’t look or feel “new.”

Consider, for instance, the Indian legislators porn-surfing on iPads while their legislature is in session. These dignitaries are not performing-freaks who are there to amuse us. They are fellow human beings just trying to get through their day. Real legislators are always bored silly by legislation. That’s rather the point of grinding down the opposition in long procedural debates. But it doesn’t occur to these Indian nabobs that their brand-new Apple anti-boredom toys are big screens flashing sleazy softcore pr0n to indignant shoulder-surfers.

That’s why this interesting incident shows up on the New Aesthetic tumblr radar. The prurient Indian press thinks that this story is all about porn and the class privilege of the Indian ruling caste. The New Aesthetic crowd thinks it’s about the social impact of handheld-device deployment. They’re both right, but porn and class privilege are both eternal, while iPad deployment is a phenomenon we’re all still getting our heads around.



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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Clive on Danes and the Danes

With a snarky aside about "24".

The Swedes and Danes make even the Americans look formula-ridden. I never miss an episode of Homeland (Channel 4) but nor am I ever able to forget that the same production outfit made 24. Sooner or later either Claire Danes or Damian Lewis will be asked to do something stupid.

But at least the Americans, on occasion, know that the fizz of fine brains working on a problem can be good television. Here in Britain it is often as if the people who made the show – let’s say it’s about the political loyalties of a bunch of people who shared a house in their student days – got all the way through university without meeting even one person smarter than they were. You just don’t get the sense that television drama here is being made by the top grade of minds. In the Scandinavian countries, evolution seems to have gone further.

This observation is probably too generalised to be useful and there are, of course, exceptions: if you remember State of Play, you remember something truly intricate, with Bill Nighy given ample room to groan and purr. But on the whole our television drama conveys no sense that there might be an elite within the elite: a dedicated bunch who think that television drama is the top dog among the creative media and who have the mental wherewithal to prove it. I am just one of the millions of people in my generation who have never been very confident about finding Denmark on the map, but look at the Danes now: they’ve got the whole world talking about them, and every bright young man in the English-speaking countries wants to emigrate to Denmark and marry a Danish girl on the off-chance that she might turn out to be a television producer.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rereading...

When the Guardian calls, everybody answers. Today the question is about the books you read over and over again.. Philip Hensher claims to have read "Code of the Woosters" and "Rum Punch" and "Buddenbrooks" numerous times. Also "In Search of Lost Time" four times. Well. Ian Rankin loves Anthony Powell; John Banville reads The Great Gatsby because it isn't quite good enough to risk disenchantment. John Gray, who's the most gnarly of the bunch, reads Borges a lot. Makes sense to me. My hero Geoff Dyer has read "The Names" by Don DeLillo six times.....

I pick up "Lucky Jim" every three or four years because it makes me laugh and feeds my sense of social resentment at the same time. Also "Code of the Woosters". I try to read Proust often, but that's not quite the same thing.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

More "New Aesthetic" quotes

One of the SXSW panelists was a guy confusingly named Russell Davies.... Some cool quotes from his blog follow. I love this because it is so resolutely not-Tulkinghorn. Like a vacation from my usual obsessions

I'm also depressed about the lack of future in fashion. Every hep shop seems to be full of tweeds and leather and carefully authentic bits of restrained artisinal fashion. I think most of Shoreditch would be wondering around in a leather apron if it could. With pipe and beard and rickets. Every new coffee shop and organic foodery seems to be the same. Wood, brushed metal, bits of knackered toys on shelves. And blackboards. Everywhere there's blackboards.

Cafes used to be models of the future. Shiny and modern and pushy. Fashion used to be the same - space age fabrics, bizarre concoctions. Trainers used to look like they'd been transported in from another dimension, now they look like they were found in an estate sale.

......

Mr Gibson mentioned Bruce Sterling saying that maybe bohemias were the dreamtime of industrial societies and wondered what that implied for a post-industrial society (and made me wonder about whether you'd need to create new bohemias if you wanted to re-industrialise, which would seem like a good idea.)....

His explanation for why his novels have snapped to the now is that there's not enough solid present around on which to erect a plausible future. There are too many wild cards around. Writing something set in 2060 demands you address so many issues that we know about now, but can't imagine how they'll pan out, that convincing prediction becomes impossible. That made sense to me.

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I love a good manifesto....

While the less gifted in Austin last month were looking for the new Lena Dunham or Mumford and Sons, Bruce Sterling was attending the panel on The New Asethetic, which is a British art and design movement devoted to digital technology. Kind of like the Futurists, only eighty years on, and not, you know, fascists. He's blogged about it... A good idea first to check out the related Tumblr.... and the blog of movement godfather, James Bridle. These guys all link to one another and tweet like berserkers. A good Saturday morning project, and less time consuming than watching the NCAA tournament.

What is kind of cool about this is that Sterling is not consumed with love of the results, only of the process. He's rather wistful about it all, and, unless I'm projecting, is both passing on the torch and telling these guys that "new" isn't enough. Poor Bruce, in short, sounds like somebody has just walked over his grave....

Sterling says:

This is one of those moments when the art world sidles over toward a visual technology and tries to get all metaphysical. This is the attempted imposition on the public of a new way of perceiving reality. These things occur. They often take a while to blossom. Sometimes they’re as big and loud as Cubism, sometimes they perish like desert roses mostly unseen. But they always happen for good and sufficient reasons. Our own day has those good and sufficient reasons......

It requires close attention. If you want to engage with the New Aesthetic, then you must become involved with some contemporary, fast-moving technical phenomena. The New Aesthetic is inherently modish because it is ferociously attached to modish, passing objects and services that have short shelf-lives. There is no steampunk New Aesthetic and no remote-future New Aesthetic. The New Aesthetic has no hyphen-post, hyphen-neo or hyphen-retro. They don’t go there, because that’s not what they want.

It is generational. Most of the people in its network are too young to have been involved in postmodernity. The twentieth century’s Modernist Project is like their Greco-Roman antiquity. They want something of their own to happen, to be built, and to be seen on their networks. If that has little or nothing to do with their dusty analog heritage, so much the better for them.

So. These seem to me to be fine things. They’re not my own things, but I can see why they make good sense. They show promise. They have depth and breadth. They matter. They will have lasting consequence........

That’s the big problem, as I see it: the New Aesthetic is trying to hack a modern aesthetic, instead of thinking hard enough and working hard enough to build one. That’s the case so far, anyhow. No reason that the New Aesthetic has to stop where it stands at this moment, after such a promising start. I rather imagine it’s bound to do otherwise. Somebody somewhere will, anyhow.

That is my thesis; that’s why I think this matters. When I left the room at the SXSW “New Aesthetic” panel, this is what concerned me most. I left with the conviction that something profound had been touched. Touched, although not yet grasped.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

She likes us. She really likes us.

Mary McNamara, television critic of the LA Times, is approving in her review of "Game of Thrones". They should have let her review "John Carter (of Mars)":

This season proves, once and for all, that there is nothing remotely slackerish about fantasy culture. To be a fantasy geek requires the obsessive focus of a miniaturist and the artistic intellect of a medieval scholar....

"Game of Thrones" is breathtakingly ambitious, an ever-unfurling tapestry that threatens, at times, to overwhelm its frame. That it does not is a testament to the power of piecework — art is not defined by the space it occupies but by its details, the truth it captures. Many heads bend over this adaptation, each belonging to a master of his or her craft, and what emerges is a truly new, and miraculously accurate, definition of epic television.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

White on Kael and, implicitly, White

Long fierce piece in defense of Kael and in contempt of today's critics: all of them. Bracing stuff.

In today’s culture, journalism’s collusion with the entertainment industry has come to be expected. Post-Kael publications like Premiere Magazine, Movieline, and Entertainment Weekly have created a gushy, starstruck culture where hype and reviewing are inseparable. Today, mainstream entertainment journalism is so hand-in-glove with Hollywood in terms of what is and is not worth praise and attention—so tied up with promotional campaigns and fan-boy fervor—that journalists are bewildered and suspicious when they encounter someone who consistently deviates from that consensus. Audiences these days seem to want to be validated in their own opinions, and take personal offense to critics who do not oblige.

Considering that hype, from advertising pages to review pages, is perceived as the only way to respond to popular art, perhaps Kael’s most radical maxim comes from her 1970 piece “Notes on Heart and Mind,” when she averred: “Without a few independent critics, there’s nothing between the public and the advertisers.” That notion seems perverse today, when criticism occupies a different, more indulgent position in the culture.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Noir in the Library of America


Another sign that the US is getting more like France every day. David Goodis joins Philip K. Dick in the Library of America.

Good roundup and some cautionary words about Paul Cain in the WSJ. Also a reading list, which I can never resist.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The only desktop wallpaper you will ever need

Click to enlarge!

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Not sure exactly what this means

Alternate hard R and PG cuts on the DVD?

People who hate onscreen sex can rejoice in the release of "Games of Thrones"' first season on DVD. They no longer have to endure all that nudity to learn about the Lannister family tree, the Targaryen history with dragons or why Joffrey is an illegitimate heir to the throne. Released earlier this month, it methodically explains aspects of Westeros that the show breezes through en route to its next decapitation.

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No "bwam"

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Clive still likes movies

"During the week, I joined my little granddaughter for one of her regular viewings of the first Toy Story movie and I was reminded all over again that some of the programmes which television people would like to think wonderful are not so wonderful compared with the movies."
More here.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

High praise from a geek:

Wil Wheaton, judging between two novels in the first bracket of the annual on-line "Tournament of Books", on "The Sisters Brothers":

The Sisters Brothers made me feel like I was sitting in a movie house in Red Dead Redemption, watching an episode of Deadwood that was written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by the Coen Brothers.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Teacher Nora recommends...

More here.

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Crossover

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Maximalism in Pop Music

I love this. Leonard Cohen was mentioned reverently here a while back, and this is billed as his own favorite version of one of his signature tunes. It's also everything that makes crawl the skin of people who revere restraint and elegance above all other musical (if not literary) values. Lang seems never to have met a melodramatic impulse she didn't like. (Her version of Neil Young's "Helpless" is Wagnerian.) Plus, at this stage of her life and career she clearly doesn't give a shit; comes out on stage barefoot, in a bathrobe, looking like Zatoichi. A liberating spectacle.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pick your bracket

From the lit/sport website Grantland:

Asked to name the greatest Wire character of all time (let it never be said that Grantland does not ask the tough questions!), the Commander in Chief didn't hesitate: "It's gotta be Omar, right? I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?"
.......

This gave us an idea. What if we actually did subject the key players of the Wire-verse to rigorous bracketological inquiry? If we played corner boys against dock workers, murder-polices against hoppers, and craven politicos against enigmatic not-actually-Greek human traffickers, in matchups as arbitrary and occasionally unjust as life and death on the mean streets of West Baltimore, would the king stay the king? This week, we're going to find out. And we're probably also going to make David Simon mad, again. Behold: Grantland's first-ever TV bracket. Thirty-two characters. Six days.


Too big to reproduce here.....

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

TED Talk 2023

A slick piece of viral marketing from Ridley Scott:

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John Munch and I agreed...

Words of wisdom from the early '90s cop show "Homicide," which I've been re-watching recently. A crucial evolutionary step from some of the guys who went on to create "The Wire."

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Friday, March 2, 2012

The death of the episode

A long, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, analysis of current trends in television narrative centering on the move away from series episodes toward installments of longer works.

This change, which has been sneaking up on us for a long time now, suddenly seems more important than anything else that's been going on in movies and television this decade. Maybe we should start being more analytical about it....

Some quotes I liked:

It’s easy to blur the line between “episode” and “installment” if you’re blowing through an entire season of Breaking Bad over a single weekend. When doing this, thinking about how a certain episode works on its own becomes less relevant. Simply getting through the virtual stack of content becomes paramount, with the next episode literally moments away from appearing on your screen. Plowing through a single season in two or three sittings may feel thrilling, but it’s also shifted the importance of a single episode in terms of the overall experience.....

A television show is a living, breathing entity that represents a synergy of creative, cultural, and social forces that simply can’t be predicted five weeks out, never mind five years out. It’s not a book that can be rewritten before anyone can read it, or a film that can be reshot/re-edited before it screens in theaters. The cat’s out of the bag, for better or worse. Laying in groundwork for a massive payoff down the line is a terrible risk, one that comes with so little control as to be almost laughable.

What can be controlled is a reaffirmation of the structural and narrative importance of a single episode. You don’t even have to construct a theoretical example of how to balance the needs of an episode with the needs of a season or series. FX’s Justified offers a master class in how to achieve both. Graham Yost and his writing staff have found the sweet spot where an episode has a shape unto itself while informing the larger 13-episode season and the ever-growing series, while at the same time focusing on world-building, something television is fantastic at doing. With a theoretically unlimited amount of episodes to fill, it’s smart to look at the environments in which shows operate and look under rocks and behind corners to see what might exist. Harlan feels three-dimensional, and though it’s self-contained, it also feels limitless in terms of story potential.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

You read it here first...

The Jackson Brodie playlists.

Seems I missed a few.

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Teacher Nora's favorite T-Pop star

Who's yours?

More here and here.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

School of Elmore

"Babe Ruth: Tremendous ballplayer. But he doesn't step to the plate. Because he's dead. You and I, on the other hand. We step to the plate."

-- Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina) in Luck Episode 1.5, written by David Milch and Scott Willson. 02/26/12, HBO.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tarkovsky, Dyer, Stalker....

The most exciting and instructive project of the last six months.... And you can do it, too.

Watch "Stalker" by Andrei Tarkovsky. Pay attention. Read Geoff Dyer's discursive, funny, charming, profound, scene by scene description of "Stalker", called "Zona: A Book About a Film about a Journey to a Room". Go back to watching movies completely refreshed and reinvigorated. (By the way, even if you don't read Dyer, "Stalker" is so deeply in the realm of the "weird", that it should have been included in Jeff VanderMeer's anthology. This is Tarkovsky's "At the Mountains of Madness".)

I could end up quoting the whole book here, since it touches so many of my own reactions to art and the world..... Too much typing, though. Try this:

Soon people will not be able to watch films like Theo Angelopoulos's "Ulysses' Gaze" or to read Henry James because they will not have the concentration to get from one interminable scene or sentence to the next. The time when I might have been able to read late-period Henry James has passed and because I have not read late-period Henry James I am in no position to say what harm has been done to my sensibility by not having done so. But I do know if I had not seen "Stalker" in my early twenties my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished.

"Ulysses' Gaze" was another nail in the coffin of the European art cinema (a coffin, cynics would say, made up entirely of nails) opening the floodgates to everything that was not art because anything seemed preferable to having to sit through a film like that..

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Martin Scorsese's great books list

List here. Limitations of the list discussed here.

I'm 41 for 85. Not good at all. Red-faced omission: "Stagecoach."

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Friday, February 24, 2012

"King of New York" Part Two

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One tie-in too far

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Friday, February 17, 2012

"Saul Bellow and I agreed..."

When the Women Come Out to Dance (Elmore Leonard)

- Highlight Loc. 3445-50 | Added on Friday, February 17, 2012, 06:51 PM

[Martin Amis:] I was recently in Boston visiting Saul Bellow, and on the shelves of the Nobel laureate, I spied several Elmore Leonards. Saul Bellow has a high, even exalted view of what literature is and does. For him, it creates the “quiet zone” where certain essences can nourish what he calls “our fair souls.” This kind of literature of the Prousto-Nabokovian variety has recently been assigned the label “minority interest.” There is patently nothing “minority interest” about Elmore Leonard. He is a popular writer in several senses. But Saul Bellow and I agreed that for an absolutely reliable and unstinting infusion of narrative pleasure in a prose miraculously purged of all false qualities, there was no one quite like Elmore Leonard.

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Advice


Richard Gehr twitted a link to a list of rules created by Thelonious Monk, who died thirty years ago today. (Monk didn't write them down, but Steve Lacy took notes more than fifty years ago.)

The second of these made it into "Against the Light", if I'm not mistaken. Monk -- who hated the extraneous -- and Elmore Leonard would have had much to discuss.

Samples:

STOP PLAYING ALL THOSE WEIRD NOTES (THAT BULLSHIT), PLAY THE MELODY!

IT MUST BE ALWAYS NIGHT, OTHERWISE THEY WOULDN’T NEED THE LIGHTS.

DON’T PLAY EVERYTHING (OR EVERY TIME); LET SOME THINGS GO BY. SOME MUSIC JUST IMAGINED. WHAT YOU DON’T PLAY CAN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAT WHAT YOU DO.

YOU’VE GOT TO DIG IT TO DIG IT, YOU DIG?

A GENIUS IS THE ONE MOST LIKE HIMSELF.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Whit Stillman

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Friday, February 10, 2012

In the run-up to season two...

George R.R. Martin:

When Game of Thrones aired on HBO this past spring, there was a lot of conversation and debate about the depiction of sex, rape, and female agency on the show and in the books. How do you feel about the way the show handled those things in comparison with what you tried to do in your novels?

My novels have quite a bit of sex in them. ... I have read some people saying that they added sex scenes, and they did. They also didn't put in some sex scenes that are in the book, so on balance, I think they're the same. A few things were handled differently. Obviously the way I wrote it in the book is the way I would have handled it.

How do you make decisions about the depictions of sexual violence that you include in your writing?

Well, I'm not writing about contemporary sex—it's medieval.

There's a more general question here that doesn't just affect sex or rape, and that's this whole issue of what is gratuitous? What should be depicted? I have gotten letters over the years from readers who don't like the sex, they say it's "gratuitous." I think that word gets thrown around and what it seems to mean is "I didn't like it." This person didn't want to read it, so it's gratuitous to that person. And if I'm guilty of having gratuitous sex, then I'm also guilty of having gratuitous violence, and gratuitous feasting, and gratuitous description of clothes, and gratuitous heraldry, because very little of this is necessary to advance the plot. But my philosophy is that plot advancement is not what the experience of reading fiction is about. If all we care about is advancing the plot, why read novels? We can just read Cliffs Notes.

A novel for me is an immersive experience where I feel as if I have lived it and that I've tasted the food and experienced the sex and experienced the terror of battle. So I want all of the detail, all of the sensory things—whether it's a good experience, or a bad experience, I want to put the reader through it. To that mind, detail is necessary, showing not telling is necessary, and nothing is gratuitous.

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