Thursday, December 31, 2009

Robin Wood

Learned today from David Bordwell's blog that film critic Robin Wood has died. My only tenuous link to Wood was to snipe at him impotently when I wrote about David Cronenberg for Film Comment. Bordwell honors him as a friend and a major influence on his own work, and includes a resonant quotation from an essay on Rio Bravo:

"Hawks, like Shakespeare, is an artist earning his living in a popular, commercialized medium, producing work for the most diverse audiences in a wide variety of genres. Those who complain that he 'compromises' by including 'comic relief' and songs in Rio Bravo call to mind the eighteenth century critics who saw Shakespeare’s clowns as mere vulgar irrelevancies stuck in to please the 'ignorant' masses. Had they been contemporaries of the first Elizabeth, they would doubtless have preferred Sir Philip Sydney (analogous evaluations are made quarterly in Sight and Sound). Hawks, like Shakespeare, uses his clowns and his songs for fundamentally serious purposes, integrating them in the thematic structure. His acceptance of the underlying conventions gives Rio Bravo, like Shakespeare’s plays, the timeless, universal quality of myth or fable."


Best Film of the Decade

Forget all the hacks and light-weights we've been haggling about. Here's the word from on high. (Sort of.)

Una escena de la película Mulholland Drive, en la que Rebekah del Rio canta "Llorando."

Let's recapture the fun of trying to figure out what the *bleep* was going on!

David Lynch's 10 Clues:

Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.

Notice appearances of the red lampshade.

Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?

An accident is a terrible event... notice the location of the accident.

Who gives a key, and why?

Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.

What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?

Did talent alone help Camilla?

Notice the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.

Where is Aunt Ruth?


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Bob & Rose"

The Russell T. Davies series “Bob & Rose” (2001) is at least half perfect; so much so that you could slice it down the middle. If you're like me, you will reach the end of the end of the third of the program's six episodes convinced that "B&R" is so close to flawless that the shortfall is not significant. Problems begin to surface only in episode four.

The fact-based story is the most extreme case imaginable of a person falling inexplicably in love with someone who is not their type: in this case a gay man (Alan Davies) poleaxed by a straight woman (Lesley Sharp). (You know Bob's a goner when, six hours later, he's still chuckling over one of Rose's jokes.) Bob maintains stuanchly that he is still gay and not bi-sexual: "I haven't changed. I've just added a little bit on top." (Another of Bob's signature lines was adapted for use by Ianto Jones on Davies' Torchwood: Children of Earth: "I don't like men. I like him.") The key to the productions success is how good both performers turn out to be at suggesting the giddiness of a couple of shelf-worn grown ups surprised by joy -- and the wisdom shown by writer-producer Davies and his two directors, Joe Wright and Julian Farino, in standing back and keeping things simple.

The only other exploration of the mismatched romance theme worth mentioning in the presence of the near-perfect "Bbb & Rose" is Bertrand Blier's Too Beautiful For You, in which Gerard Depardieu, married to godessy Carole Bouquet, outrages friends and family members by leaving her for his dumpy secretary. I think it's a bolder move to suggest that crossing the beauty barrier could arouse passions comparable to ignoring conventional lines of race or class. More dismissive of the conventional/sentimental. It may actually be easier for an audience as long as both characters are attractive, even when one of them is (playing) gay.

Davies has a good satiric point in the resentment Bob inspires in the gay community by daring to color outside the PC lines--and possibly an even better one in the beffudlement of his loving mother (Penelope Wilton), who has devoted every waking moment to a mothers-of-gay-children activist group and now feels horn-swaggled. In practical, narrative terms, all these various forms of opposition serve the same function: generating suspense in a situation that would otherwise have almost none, because the love at the center of the story is strong and true by definition. The title characters are portrayed as so gloriously sane and clear-headed that they could scarcely fail to recognize, as we do instantly, that they are perfect for each other. Disinformation campaigns like the one waged by Bob's jittery school-teaching colleague Holly (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) are required to create even modest speed bumps.

Everything that in the series' final half begins to seem problematic can be traced back, I think, to one miscalculation: trying to stretch five hours of story to fill a mandated six hours of running time. Imperfections that become increasingly glaring include Davies’ over-reliance on mirror-image narrative constructions (inter-cutting between two party scenes or phone conversations or break-ups or family visits that comment ironically on each other); the over-statement of the obsessiveness of the meddling Holly, which makes a sad and lonely character begin to seem pathological; and the attenuated and borderline extraneous subplot about Rose's mum and her drastically unsuitable new con-man fiancee.

The other triumphant aspect of the production for me is that Davies' explores, as very few straight writers would dare, the vast potential of "coming out" as a metaphor. In the interview linked above he says: "To my surprise, 'Bob & Rose' started to become the gayest thing I've ever written. Because over six weeks, everyone comes out of the closet - unloved wives, secret James Bond fans, and those who are simply lonely, all harbouring some sort of love that dares not speak its name. And all realising, through the actions of Bob and Rose, that they can shout it out loud."

Hat tip: Muffy St. Bernard.


"Red Riding" is better than "The Godfather"...

...sez David Thomson in the NYRB,

"...but it makes you feel so much worse, and the business plan of watching a film is never realized if it doesn't make you feel it's leaving you assured, ready to sleep...fulfilled. That's what we expect from entertainment, isn't it? Something that'll give you a warm inner glow at the end of a day when you've been ruined, humiliated, out of work, and lied to over your obituary. No need to rub that in, is there? Turn on the telly. You're less alone with the telly on, and less given to the thought that there are types of loss and anger and betrayal that might have you shouting in the streets. So "Red Riding" is a deeper pool than "The Godfather," but it doesn't encourage swimming.
Well worth $3.00.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Artistic breakthrough or derivative junk?

Green Mansions, from the 1908 novel, tells the story of Rima the jungle girl, who was too beautiful and strange to survive contact with civilization.

Roger Dean's album covers for Yes inspired a million drug-addled profundities.

Margaret Keane was scorned by an entire generation for her sentimentalized and frankly ugly paintings of big-eyed children, puppies, and kittens. Forgotten now, but obviously not by everyone.


Monday, December 28, 2009

It was easy.

A gleaning from my new obsession with ephemera, from a French site called "The Muller-Fokker Pulpbot Effect" (after a forgotten novel by John Sladek) devoted to post-war noir, fumetti, and silly smutty photographs: every boy's favorite Mickey Spillane novel.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Title cards...

If the pages of dialogue in the screenplay of the almost three-hour Avatar add up to more than five or six, I would be surprised. The sparse, functional lines function the way the title cards did in silent films, as captions or transitions. The throbbing romanticism harks back even further, to the nature worship of Green Mansions and Tarzan--though James Cameron makes the "inter-connectedness of all things" literal, envisioning a organic, global, neural network, a cool idea cleverly worked out. That the Golden Age SF landscapes and dragon-riding battle sequences are thrilling is one thing; that the love story is neither creepy nor silly is astonishing. We're looking not at animated characters but at performances that have been translitterated into a new medium with so much detail that they register directly, with no sense of a technological buffer. The real triumph of Avatar is making the fancy new tools transparent.

The ex thinks Avatar

"could challenge Titanic‘s $1.8 billion record after all.


Repeat business. There’s so much to watch and revel in. The film is such a must-see (even the president went to a local Hawai'i 3-D theater over the holidays) that people are going back again and again. One producer pal has watched it in all three formats, just to see how it plays. “I like 2-D for story,” he says. “3-D is fine but I liked IMAX 3-D best.”


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Just one day late for Elder's masterpiece

But I can't resist sharing it.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang Part 2

Our Canadian correspondent, culture critic Muffy St. Bernard, posted this mind-boggling ACTUAL VIDEO to my Facebook page today, and agrees with me that it's "too good not to share."

This is why all Hollywood anti-war black comedies fall flat: they can't match the surreal real thing.

I knew that Bollywood was popular in Israel, but I never imagined it could inspire a Bollywood-style commercial for an arms firm.

What's surprising to me is how inept it is, really. Producing a professional Bollywood song segment must take a huge amount of money and coordination...they couldn't pull it off with this small cast and (apparently) $15,000.

But the song is catchy. Dinga dinga dee! Israeli Rafael's Indian promo
The Israeli arms firm Rafael displayed this Bollywood dance number-based marketing video at the recently held Aero India 2009 in Bangalore. This video has been uploaded for the purpose of embedding on the Defense and Strategic Affairs Online News Magazine, StratPost with the permission of Rafael. .....


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tulkinghorn's Christmas Commonplace Book

"To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labor tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution." -- Samuel Johnson (hat tip to Terry Teachout)

"To enjoy good houses and good books in self-respect and decent comfort, seems to me to be the pleasurable end toward which all societies of human beings ought now to struggle" -- William Morris


Monday, December 21, 2009

Canadian Pulp Fiction

Borders has these.

Favorite title: Kiss Your Elbow.

UPDATE: The mystery guest who comments below is of course correct. Here's the key passage from the company blog linked above:

...our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior—such as hitting a woman—that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership.
Cool move: demolish any credibility the reprints will have as cultural artifacts, in order to pander to a readership that won't be interested in them anyway. How much do they pay these people?

UPDATE: Harlequin is now taking some fairly serious flack in its comments section for bowdlerizing these reprints. Like to think HG played a small role.


# 1 Hindi movie feel-good song of 2009

De Dana Dan: "Bamulaiza." Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sunil Shetty, Sameera Reddy. Director: Priyadarshan. Music: Pritam. (Click through to watch fullscreen.)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blaft (sic)

"Surender Mohan Pathak has a groove on the second finger in his right hand, having written over 268 novels in long hand with a fountain pen."

Went Christmas shopping today in Little Tokyo and came away with one for myself, a "where have you been all my life" find called The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction.

That is "blaft," by the way, and not "blast," which was the way I first read it. Blaft Publications of Chennai.

The book includes several excerpts from the work of Rajesh Kumar, reputed to be the most prolific author ever, in any language, with "more than 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories" published since 1968.


On putting movies behind us

Surprisingly powerful love letter video created by a fan, posted on the TOH blog.

With the music and the cutting this expresses, I suspect, the way a lot of people who attend movies frequently experience the medium these days: less as a series of discreet beginning/middle/end stories than as one big continuous wash of images and emotions.

People who are repelled by movies can find ammunition here. But so can fans who get impatient with critics. Because the nits that could be picked from any small portion of this are so much less important than the exhilaration of riding the wave.


Friday, December 18, 2009

TCM Tonight: Darktown Strutters

Now this looks like a movie (Friday night at 11 PT):

Darktown Strutters, blaxploitation from the seventies, written by George Armitage, whose name is unfamiliar to me, but whose work is not:

Another AIP alumnus, screenwriter George Armitage, got his start writing and producing Corman’s last film with that company, Gas-s-s-s (1970), whose mishandling prompted the filmmaker and company to part ways. Corman took Armitage along to New World where they turned out Private Duty Nurses (1971) and Night Call Nurses (1972). Armitage went solo to MGM in 1972 where he wrote and directed the successful Hit Man, a black action remake of Get Carter starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier. By this point the Armitage stamp was becoming clear: unique, highly stylized dialogue and eccentric supporting characters thrown into unexpected action sequences with wild tonal shifts. Darktown Strutters is the only ‘70s film Armitage wrote but did not direct, though it still reflects an extreme representation of his style. The rest of his career was filled with long gaps of inactivity, highlighted by 1976’s drive-in staple Vigilante Force, the outstanding oddball cult favorite Miami Blues (1990), and his most popular film to date, 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank with John Cusack.

The plot:

When prominent abortion clinic owner Cinderella (Frances Nealy) goes missing along with a string of other black community leaders, her singing daughter Syreena (Trina Parks) and her fellow female biker gang members tangle with the bumbling, racist police and equally inept Ku Klux Klan members before uncovering a nefarious plot by barbeque ribs magnate Commander Cross (Norman Bartold) to undermine the entire political organization of the black community.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From the streets of Mumbai

That's the translation of the name of a new restaurant in Artesia that the LA Times likes a lot -- Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se.

Dig it:

Pomegranate seeds spill from the sandwich after each bite, brilliant and glistening like freshly polished rubies. Peanuts tumble out too, speckled with flecks of cumin, cinnamon and ground chiles. They land with a percussive patter that completes the sensory experience that is the Indian snack dabeli, a White Castle-sized, potato-based slider that's a staple on the streets of Mumbai.

Each order consists of two of the miniature sandwiches, their tiny toasted buns wrapped around loose potato patties flavored with dabeli masala (a spicy mix of chiles, cumin, cinnamon and other aromatics), onions, green grapes, peanuts and pomegranate seeds. It's texturally complex and well balanced, enlivened by bursts of sweetness that shock the senses and dull the burn. The dabeli is as enjoyably messy and thoroughly rewarding as any great burger.

This deliciously described establishment is likely to be the site of a post-Christmas, post-"3 Idiots" Hungry Ghost Society gathering on the evening of the 25th.

Drop something in the comments box if you'd like to join us.


Tulkinghorn in love

Manhola Dargis has won my heart with single phrase in this astoundingly frank interview:

Let's acknowledge that the Oscars are bullshit and we hate them. But they are important commercially... I've learned to never underestimate the academy's bad taste. Crash as best picture? What the fuck.


On why so many romantic comedies are so terrible: One, the people making them have no fucking taste, two, they're morons, three they're insulting panderers who think they're making movies for the great unwashed and that's what they want. I love romantic movies. I absolutely do. But I literally don't know what's happening. I think it's depressing that Judd Apatow makes the best romantic comedies and they're about men. All power to Apatow, but he's taken and repurposed one of the few genres historically made for women. ….We had so few [genres] that were made specifically for the female audience and now the best of them are being made by Judd Apatow.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seriously starting to wonder...

...if Netflix practices red-lining. My friends who live in ritzier neighborhoods don't seem to have these problems.

UPDATE: After sending the url for this post to the press contact listed on the web site, with a note inquiring if there might be a story in it for this for an enterprising freelance writer, I was startled to get a call on my cell phone in the middle of the afternoon from a man in "corporate communications" for Netflix.

The oddest aspect of his explanation of oddities of availability like the one shown above was that I bought it. It made perfect sense to me. The gust is that when supplies fall short, priority is given to people who have not received very many high-demand films from the company over the past few months. In the spirit of "it's only fair." Of spreading the wealth around.

I suppose a cynical spin could be put on this, to wit, that Netflix policy favors people who routinely demand less for their subscription money than the rest of us. Makes sense that these would be the folks they're most concerned to keep happy. No red-lining is possible, according to this very pleasant gentleman, because customers are identified only by e-mail address; labels are printed only after the discs have been allocated.

I suppose the only way to test this explanation would be to adhere closely to the patterns Netflix says it favors: Order fewer high-demand films and leave them lying around longer on the coffee table. And then see what happens. But that would, as they say, mean that they've won, and by the diabolically clever stratagem of convincing us that we've won.

A "win win," IOW, though not in the usually accepted sense.


Monday, December 14, 2009

"I'm the Doctor..."


Sunday, December 13, 2009

"3 Idiots"

Stars Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani; produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra; directed by Rajkumar Hirani ("Munna Bhai MBBS"); music by Shantanu Moitra ("Parineeta"). Releases December 25.

Promo sez: "'Zoobi Doobi' is a retro Bollywood track that draws references from the Shammi Kapoor rock ‘n’ roll era."


Friday, December 11, 2009


The show winks at itself so often that parody seems superfluous. But still.

UPDATE: An old school TV writer-producer of some fame, with hit sitcoms dating back to the early '80s, came last year to the Great Metropolitan University that pays my rent, to speak to a screenwriting class. He offered cool practical wisdom about writers' rooms and the manipulation of idiot executives. Turned out 30 Rock was a pet peeve of his. He said he was deeply offended that a show could become so acclaimed while violating every rule of continuity and common sense, the standards he'd felt honor-bound to adhere to throughout his career. Bottom line for him: "None of the things that happen on that show have any consequences."

He was right, of course. A typical episode of 30 Rock is an anything-goes collection of sketch comedy gags, lightly stitched together by a plot that is presented almost sarcastically. Because Tina Fey and associates are much too cool to take those old fashioned conventions seriously. 30 Rock flagrantly takes advantage of the "flexible continuity" we've grown accustomed to on The Simpsons. Homer is an astronaut this week and Mo is a cross-dresser, but by next week we'll have forgotten these things ever happened. By failing to understand this, our distinguished show-runner revealed himself to be an old fuddy-duddy, a stickler, a sitcom traditionalist, a pre-post-modernist. In short, a square.

I don't think the creators and producers of Torchwood have knowingly adopted "flexible continuity" as their code, but they might as well have. At times the tone of the show suggests an undergraduate theatrical spoof of a sci-fi TV show being presented with a straight face. Imagine the cast and crew huddling backstage, convulsed with giggles, waiting for the audience (or the BBC) to catch on.

All the standard, literal-mind complaints about Torchwood are well-founded. There are plot holes you could drive a Tardis through, personalities and motivations that seem to shift opportunistically from week to week, pseudo-scientific shop talk that is transparent gobbledygook. But in the end, none of this matters. In fact, what I enjoy most about the show is its casualness, its relaxed attitude toward continuity, its willingness to embrace the odd, often lewd non sequitur. Torchwood is great fun to hang out with.

The most intrusive of the smutty jokes harp on the characterization of head gatekeeper Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) as a emissary from mankind's supposedly omni-sexual distant future. During one of Jack's pre-spin-off appearances on Doctor Who, he was shown coming on first to a woman, then to a man and then to a blue-skinned and tentacled alien. (The Doctor seemed only mildly annoyed.) My favorite of these gags so far, though, was not on Jack, but his on "time agent" nemesis, John Hart, played by Buffy and Angel icon James "Spike" Marsters.

HART: "Ooh, she's nice."

GWEN: "That's a poodle!"
"That's a poodle" is a line that should be on tee-shirts.

The show has such a wide open premise (puzzling creatures and artifacts constantly spilling into present day Cardiff through a space-time rift) that there aren't all that many hard and fast details to keep track of. Half the stuff that pops through remains mysterious even to our heroes, the gatekeepers of the rift. ("How does this thing work?" "I have no idea. It just does.") Either they are implying, or I am inferring, that while they could easily have concocted a long-winded explanation for the workings of, for example, the steam-punky piece of mechanics called the "rift manipulator," they realized at the end of the day that as we've all grown weary of this sort of balderdash, they'd be better off taking it as read. We can think of much more enjoyable ways to spend the time. Wink, wink.

I can understand as a critic being offended by the cavalier attitude of a show like Torchwood. We may not expend as much energy as showrunners do on mastering the immemorial rules, but still, it can make the whole enterprise seem pointless when a show that brushes the rules aside with a sneer doesn't just get away with it, but wins awards and becomes a cult.

So. Faced with the grim truth that art and entertainment are, like life, often unfair, what are serious people to do? Best available advice is relax and enjoy.

Muffy St Bernard, excellent on Torchwood Season 2.

And for all John Barrowman completists...

Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), reflected in the eye-ball of an alien.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Books I never really got started reading

"In his mind, he kept playing Sara's phone call over and over in his head...." -- Karin Slaughter, Blindsighted, p. 16.

Recommended by Sarah Weinman, no less. Here's her best of the decade list. I feel quite smug that I've already read and liked about half of these.


If you dislike abstract painting

Commissioned by Michael Jackson from British artist David Nordahl.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

25 Years Ago

And, not being a Time Lord, I had to live through every one of them. (Click on the image to see full size.)

Believe it or not, the book is still available.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Feeling lucky?

Well, are you?


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Temptation

Astonishing how much power the revered classics of pop culture can still dredge up when they happen to fall into the right hands.

British TV sifu Russell T Davies ("Queer as Folk") took charge of the revival of "Doctor Who" after a 16-year hiatus, and despite being a deep-dyed fan who honors the program's traditions and revels in the fine points of its mythology, he has improved and updated the series in ways that continue to surprise me as I watch my way through the episodes of the third new season, the second in which The Doctor is portrayed by the great David Tennant, a true heir to the antic spirit of Tom Baker.

Among the "production values" that Davies has ramped up are the dramatic ones. Tennant helps, of course, committing to the role whole-heartedly, but so do the radiant actresses who play his companions, Billie Piper and Freeman Agyaman. What they give us is not quite psychological realism, although the characters they play do have a full complement of grown up emotions. Put it this way: Tennant is young and attractive enough that the sexless, school-msterish relationship between the Doc and his companions is no longer the only option.

I thought it would be hard to match the impact of the season two finale, in which The Doctor and Piper's Rose Tyler are wrenched apart. But it was trumped by the two-parter in season three, "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood," in which the two-hearted alien Doctor conceals himself from some implacable enemies by transforming himself into a human -- a fubsy private school instructor in England circa 1913 who has no knowledge or memory of his extra-human nature.

The obvious echos are, I think, completely intentional. Not pretencious. Not offensive. Just obliteratingly great.



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If you were there now....

A newsstand in 1935. Full image here, large enough to browse. Lots of movie magazines, and generic detective and western magazines, but there's a Doc Savage; and Flying Aces looks good, and what about Horror? and The Spider? Just my luck, they seem to be sold out of Weird Tales... No, but wait! There it is.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Malarkey? or Effective Way?

Courtesy of the comments to Caustic Cover Critic, I have discovered the wonderful "How to Good-bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?" by Hiroyuki Nishigaki (author of "Rejuvenation and Unveiled Hidden Phenix: Carlos Castaneda Shamanism Plus a after His Death". The two books are frequently bought together, which suggests a new meaning to the word "frequently").

Pretty eneffable stuff, perhaps best exemplified by the following Statistically Improbable Phrases (Has there ever been a more precise description?)

happy lucky feeling, dirty stickiness, old black excrement, central energy pipe, denting navel, dirty energy bodies, constricting anus, white lukewarm water, dent navel, sticky inner space, bitter love trouble, subtle unpleasant lamp, times everyday following, bad stickiness, dirty energy body, peculiar inner silence, useful third attention, heavy oil sea, proper exercise everyday, constrict anus, sticky bloody pus, black solid excrement, bad bowel movement

People on my Christmas list may find a treat (or two!) under the tree.


Friday, November 27, 2009

The Man Who Loved Women

Guess who.


Salander... is a witch, and that is I think the secret of the novels’ extraordinary popularity. Her magic is known as “hacking” in the books, but it has nothing much to do with real technology. Her gadgets give her magical powers. She can read anyone’s thoughts off their hard disks, and listen to anyone’s conversations from their email or phones. The untraceable theft of a few hundred million dollars is the work of a couple of weeks. Even lying paralysed in bed with a bullet hole in her brain, she is able to communicate with her familiars all around the world and to discover and foil the villains.

All blockbuster novels of this sort are fantasies in which the heroes acquire superpowers; Larsson’s originality was to discover a new fantasy."


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Still more Stieg Larsson

I have to bump this one up....

David quoted Vargas Llosa below regarding the 'happiness and feverish excitement' with which he read the Millenium trilogy.

I have to say that I have been reading volume three (available from Amazon UK) with great h. and f.e. and I insist that everyone else do the same. Laughably readable.

A not-very-secret clue to the success of these books can be found here. If I were the father of young girls, I'd read the linked book (not Larsson) to them until they could read it themselves. Couldn't help but be good for them.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let's anchor the noise a bit

Charles Mingus Sextet in the early sixties. The amazing solo by Eric Dolphy on baritone sax begins at about 4:31. His playing makes sense because you know the tune when he starts and because he's actually playing the tune in a looped and fragmented way. Imagine watching this without the statement of the melody by the other players. You may think it was noise, even though it's completely structured and completely tonal.

UPDATE: The customer is always right -- even when the customer is a lazy dimwit... No more jazz -- just postings about the wonderful world of ham radio...

FURTHER UPDATE: I have been contacted with the suggestion that the phrase 'lazy dimwit' is offensive. Perhaps. In the spirit of the holiday, I will withdraw it in favor of the less provocative phrase 'The customer is always right -- even when the customer isn't --'


This explains it all.

The Tulkinghorn disease of obnoxious bluntness and snobbery has an etiology, discovered in an essay by Tory provocateur and climate change skeptic James Delingpole in this week's Spectator:

Diplomacy has never been my forte. Partly it’s because, despite my nostalgic affection for the old order, I’m an instinctive rebel; partly, it’s because since early childhood I’ve had this weird mental affliction where I’ve assumed everyone can read my thoughts just by looking into my eyes, so I’ve never thought it worth my while to practise lying.


Ellroy denounces Ellroy

Perhaps that armor of aggressive buffoonery is more easily penetrated than one thought:

American Tabloid was the novel we were here to discuss, but soon its sequel, The Cold Six Thousand, was mentioned – a novel that despite several attempts, I've never managed to penetrate beyond the first 50 pages. It's the gunfire short sentences that get me every time. I can sort of see the reason for such rat-a-tat-tat prose as "He ran a kitchen-help union. He rigged low pay. He had coin. He had pull." But it's just so relentless. And I suspected that Ellroy would have short shrift for those who found it too much to bear. Instead, he simply admitted that he had made a mistake, taken his style too far. It was both a surprising and fascinating admission.

The article goes on to discuss what you should do when a writer calls the middle book of a trilogy mistaken... (I read it with pleasure myself and look forward to "Blood's A Rover", which is volume three. You all owe it to yourselves to read at least "American Tabloid")


The offspring in China...

Part umpteen of a continuing series...


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Martin Beck, Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo

Who would have thought that by 2010 the American hard boiled detective novel would have entered its rococo phase -- elaborately self-referential, nostalgic, decadent, rule-bound, (dare I say it?) dead?

What lives is the European model: Zolaesque examinations of society and its structures, political, leftish, unromantic (if not realist) -- what we used to call the 'gloomy police procedural.' Larsson, Mankell, Rankin, and Indriason win prizes and make millions.

The Chandler/Hammett of this new model were Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, whose novels about Swedish police detective Martin Beck are still compelling thirty years after publication. Wahloo died in 1975 and I've never read anything about them or their collaboration until this, which has a great photograph of the now 74-year-old Sjowall. Too many cool quotes to excerpt, but success-mongers should take note of this:

Today, Maj Sjöwall walks barefoot through her studio in a suburb in the south of Stockholm. Her hair is long and grey, and she's wearing a loose-fitting linen smock. The room is light-filled and simply furnished: carefully chosen pictures, notebooks, pens, everything placed just so. One might describe it as monkish, but Sjöwall's life has not been monkish, as I will find out. This is where she still works, aged 74, as a writer and a translator. There's a single bed, a fridge, a hob, for when the small apartment that she rents nearby is too stuffy during the long Swedish summer. She lives modestly. She can not afford a car. Unlike Rankin or Mankell the books she wrote with Wahlöö have not made her very rich. There has been a modest income recently from foreign sales, but the royalties she receives from her Swedish publisher are based on old contracts. She does not sound bitter about this. "Rather free than rich," she says.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

More Moorcock and The Doctor

Nice essay by Michael Moorcock in the Guardian. He's appropriately humble and provides the perfect answer to my snit about sequels and derivative movies:

......the vast potential of what I can write is beginning to dawn on me. Far from thinking in terms of fun I've become a little scared. All time and space is open to me. I have to mix comedy and melodrama while telling an epic adventure story featuring a complex protagonist capable of ranging across the entire multiverse. I'm increasingly overawed as I consider what I must live up to. Hardcore fans are already questioning my qualifications. I can only hope I'm equal to the job.

He's also working on an autobiographical trilogy, picking up some themes oft discussed here:

I have begun a series of autobiographical novellas and novels in which I examine my taste for romance and fantasy: my characters are thinly disguised versions of writers and others associated with New Worlds magazine in the days when we tried to find new approaches to literary novels by using the methods and ideas of science fiction. This trilogy of books, featuring a version of myself in a somewhat re-invented London, is intended to examine the appeal of fantastic adventure stories of the kind inhabited by my most popular character, the albino sorcerer-prince Elric of Melniboné. Elric is my Sherlock Holmes – a protagonist better remembered than most of my others, but in my case not the burden Conan Doyle felt Holmes to be. I'm very grateful that Elric continues to keep me in my old age


Friday, November 20, 2009


About five years before this clip was shot, Sun Ra and his Arkestra took up residence in a store- front theater on West 23rd Street in New York, and performed most Saturday nights from about 9 to 3. Since it was about a five minute walk from my apartment, I used to go in all the time. Changed my life.

A couple of things: The girl dancing in the aisle at about 3:00 understands everything. The guy playing the baritone sax at about 5:00 is the father of the current governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick.

This is what Walt Whitman meant when he said:

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.



"Writing in El País last week, Mario Vargas Llosa explained the Millennium trilogy's success by saying that Larsson had produced one of the great stories of "just avengers" in popular literature. He had read the 2,100 pages of the trilogy with "the same happiness and feverish excitement" with which he had read Dumas, Dickens and Hugo as a boy, "wondering as I turned each page, 'And now what's going to happen next?'"
More here

Cf. C.S. Lewis' claim that all the best supernatural fiction is written by Christians...


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Monkey glands...

See here.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coolest movie ever made?

You can decide here. Trailer on the right of the page will play without being told to.

It's called "Assault Girls", and I do not believe that it is based on "Red Harvest."

A picture of the eponymous "Girls" ....


Shocking? Not really

Take a quick guess. How many of the twenty highest grossing films of the decade were original properties, neither sequels, remakes, nor based on material from another medium (as they say)?

Check the answer here.

Now a lot of this is unfair, of course. Pirates of the Caribbean is derivative in name only. And there's not necessarily anything wrong with derivative movies. LOTR was pretty good. But really.

Cool quote:

Out of the top 50 grossing films of this decade, there are only 9 movies based on original properties. And five of those nine films were created by Pixar Animation Studios.

If you're curious, the two non-Pixar, non-Dreamworks-animation original films in the top fifty are:

The Day after Tomorrow

Have a nice decade.


Lovecraft for kids

R'lyeh is sinking again and it's time to go to bed....


Monday, November 16, 2009

News from the Guardian

Michael Moorcock will write a Dr Who novel and Richard Curtis is writing a script for next season, according to the Guardian. Interesting reactions:

(Moorcock) said he sensed "a suspicion of the 'outsider'" at the news from some Doctor Who fans, which he compared to the response "you used to get when someone with a reputation as a non-SF writer would decide to write an SF novel".

"All I can answer to this is 'wait and see'. I'm certainly not a non-watcher," he said. "Neither am I someone who ascribes a kind of religiosity to an enthusiasm. This phenomenon crops up a lot, these days associated with SF/fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight and so on. I hate these presumptions of exclusivity either in my own corner of the literary world or elsewhere. Mike Kustow, once director of the Royal Shakespeare Co, described this as 'the anxious ownership syndrome', when faced with his first confrontation with SF fandom in Brighton 1968. He'd found the same sort of expression with Shakespeare fans when someone from 'outside' showed an interest."

Also on this weekend's Guardian/Observer book page: A favorable review of the new Stephen King novel by M. John Harrison, an appreciation of J.G. Ballard by Will Self, one of their bloggers finds George R.R. Martin's Ice and Fire unputdownable (he's right about that), and Kim Stanley Robinson discusses his new time-travelling Galileo novel.

Too many links... Just go here and look around. Wouldn't it be nice if SF were as mainstreamed here as in the UK?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Woo Butchered

I believe that US theatrical releases of foreign movies is pretty much a waste of time and money -- small audiences, expensive ads, publicity wasted (because forgotten by the time of the real release of the movie, which is on home video) -- but accept that ego and, to some extent, aesthetics, require that a gesture be made.

This WSJ article about the excision of two and a half hours from John Woo's new film "Red Cliff" is maddening for any number of the usual reasons: philistinism, lost opportunity, commercial and aesthetic suicide.

But in a market dominated by home video, it's not necessary to pander to the short attention spans and historical ignorance of the LA/NY West Siders who constitute the only theatrical audience for subtitled movies. Most of us will watch at home anyway.

Of course, a domestic release of the real movie on DVD is not guaranteed, because the fools who cut the movie in the first place don't understand this.


Luckily you can get an all format player and go here. Thirty bucks.


Lacking only Seth Rogan...

...who is currently shooting "Green Hornet" on my block in Koreatown.


Trailer Park | MySpace Video


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A stopped clock

Even the most profoundly unhip occasionally (as the winds of fashion change) hit the right note:

Critic Simon Reynolds writes in the Guardian:

Standing on a subway platform waiting for the L train, I saw a group of young men with that slightly scruffy, indeterminately hip look that screams "Williamsburg". I was struck by the fact that every one of them had a beard. Later that same week, walking down a single block in the East Village, I passed something like a dozen men, all in the 18 to 35 age range and all bearded. A few days after that, watching New York Noise, an alternative rock cable TV show, I saw several videos in a row in which most members of the group sported one form or other of facial foliage, climaxing with Fleet Foxes' hairier-than-thou He Doesn't Know Why.

It was then that it struck me: the beard has become one of the crucial, era-defining signifiers for non-mainstream rock in the noughties.


Return of the Repressed

My old Boston Phoenix collegaue David Edelstein on Lars Von Trier's latest:

Should you see Antichrist? It’s good for a few bad laughs, but you have to be up for a castration, a clitoridectomy, and a lot of symbolism. You have to be up for watching Dafoe and Gainsbourg—the latest in a line of masochistic stars to submit to this high priest of cinema and film-festival darling—humiliate themselves. Von Trier has said he wanted to make a genre horror picture, but he couldn’t even come up with a decent metaphor: The climax is out of a Grade C hack-’em-up with people chasing each other through the woods with axes and knives. David Cronenberg explored a similar theme in The Brood, in which a male psychiatrist’s est-like exhortation to a woman to “go all the way through” her trauma produces not inner peace but deformed psychotic babies that hammer people she doesn’t like to death. Now, that’s entertainment!


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If on a Winter's Night.....

A one line review of the new holiday album by the former lead singer of the Police:

"Oh, Sting, where is thy death?"


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Glenn and Oprah

What do they have in common? According to the New York Times Glenn Beck is the Oprah of the political thriller....

Vince Flynn and Brad Thor are very happy he is.

Cool quote:

Mr. Beck is quite canny about using novels as a vehicle for talking about issues he cares about. When Mr. Flynn was on Mr. Beck’s Fox News program last month to talk about “Pursuit of Honor,” Mr. Flynn’s latest novel, a thriller about a C.I.A. operative chasing Muslim terrorists who kill 185 people in Washington, Mr. Beck zeroed in on a chapter in which the main character, Mitch Rapp, goes before Congress to defend the C.I.A.’s record of using harsh interrogation tactics with suspects.

“Let me just say, it’s almost conservative porn,” Mr. Beck said.

I hope they use that as a blurb for the paperback.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Boris!

Boris the crime fighter... Is there nothing he can't do? According to the woman he rescued:

"I was texting on my phone so didn't notice the girls until they pushed me against the car, quite hard," Armstrong said. "At first it was quite funny, because they were only about 12. Then I saw that one of them had an iron bar in her hand. It was more than a metre long. It was as big as her.

"Then along came a cyclist. And I thought, 'Good, he's a big bloke,' and shouted, 'Can you help me please?'

"He stopped and turned around and I thought, 'Oh, my God, it's Boris Johnson.'

"He asked the girls what was going on, and at first they didn't move, so I said, 'That's the mayor of London!' and they ran off. They must have thought they were going to get in trouble. One dropped the bar, so Boris picked it up and cycled after them. He returned a few minutes later and walked me home....


Monday, October 26, 2009

Too many Tulkinghorn touchstones

Heywood Hill (main room to the left) , which I have long praised here, is sponsoring a Wodehouse exhibit and, in support, is creaking into the 21st century with this viral promotional video: ten friends of the shop reciting favorite Wodehouse lines. There are Mitfords, Guinnesses, Boris!'s father, assorted pretty girls, and Stephen Fry.


Monday, October 19, 2009

No comment...

From the gnomes at Amazon:

Dear Associate,

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you have not earned any referral fees in the past three years in connection with your Amazon Associates Program account and have an account balance that has not been paid. This balance has not been paid because your balance is less than $10. According to the Associates Program Operating Agreement, any account that has not earned referral fees in a three year period is subject to a $10 maintenance fee...


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oysters. Hemingway. Back From Boston.

From "A Moveable Feast":

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stark evidence

Review of the new Ellroy in NYRB suggests the extent to which Westlake/Stark has become a touchstone for the Johnny come lately cognoscenti:

I read the trilogy with a distinct, strong, and rather obscure pleasure, asking myself why, as I went along. I thought at first it must be related to why I like the Parker crime novels by Donald Westlake, which also feature an utterly conscienceless but superbly competent professional thief and killer and are also written in a minimalist style—though nothing like as extreme in its minimalism as Ellroy's novels. I wondered if it must be tonic in some way to slip yourself into the personae of fearless sociopaths and then come out of it. But the Parker novels are short, like spasms, requiring nothing like the commitment that Ellroy demands. And the Parker stories are not concerned with large political questions. Reading Ellroy is not like reading Westlake or anyone else.


Friday, October 2, 2009

This makes me very happy

A story that interests the usually disparate Telegraph, Instapundit, and Boing Boing:

A quick-thinking farmer's daughter disarmed a man who broke into her home in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In a phenomenally bad-ass series of moves worthy of a Tarantino screenplay, 21-year-old Rukhsana Kausar attacked him with an axe, then shot him dead with his own gun.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oh ye of little faith....

"In Our Time" , the Radio 4 series that I have touted before, just did an hour on Aquinas that is a masterpiece of the popular discussion of philosophy and theology. You can listen at the link (or even better, subscribe to the podcast... I'm looking forward to the next program, which is about the Newton/Leibnitz calculus fight -- the second time in two weeks I've thought about the Baroque Trilogy)

Very bracing stuff. Not much of a believer myself, but I know a beautiful idea when I see one.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reflections on Independence

Over the years I've developed a list of top-10 smartest people I've ever worked with. Fluctuates, naturally. At times, it feels difficult to come up with ten.

Bill Mechanic, whom I worked for at Disney and who was a mentor to a number of the other people on my top-10, usually heads the list. He gave a speech this morning about the future of the movies which is reprinted in full at the Thompson blog and it is untypically straightforward -- the usual Mechanic mode being the gnomic and Delphic.

Some cool quotes:

Why he got fired from Fox:

Murdoch didn’t want to wait for ICE AGE to finish production. I didn’t have a foot out of the door before Fox tried to sell off the film. Luckily for them, they couldn’t get a deal done.

At the same time, Peter Chernin thought I was taking too much of a chance with X MEN. He called it my $70mm art film, since everyone knew that not only were comic book movies dead but you certainly couldn’t start one in a concentration camp. That wasn’t comic book fun. Maybe not, but most comic books are dark, so it was a question of being relevant, of being grounded.

Ironically, both films have lasted longer at Fox than I did and are now the most valuable franchises in the history of that studio, throwing off billions of dollars of profit.

But they also were, along with FIGHT CLUB, the leading reasons I was shown the door. My bosses couldn’t deal with the unconventional choices like those and others such as BRAVEHEART and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY because the films weren’t pre-sold and thus seemed less predictable.

How the studios miss the point:
Admissions are down over the past few years and, perhaps most troubling, the audience that Hollywood spends the majority of time focusing on, the under 25’s, are the ones finding other things to do.

Take a look at this shift over the past decade. While use of the internet and video games have dominated leisure time activities, movie consumption is down or flat over the same period. And, more to the point, you can see that there is a 21% drop in film going amongst the core target audience and a 24% drop in the next key category, 25-39 year olds.

And yes, these charts beg another question: if the audiences are shifting, why isn’t the product shifting as well. Name 5 mainstream films this year that successfully targeted an over-30 year audience.

In that way, Hollywood in the broadest sense of the word is much like Detroit. It’s a manufacturer’s mentality that reigns, seemingly indifferent to the consumers it serves. Ignore whether the consumer likes our product as long as they buy it.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


Test footage (I assume) from an unflinished film project by Henri-Georges Clouzot:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dan Brown and his Precursors

I love "The Lost Symbol" despite its manifest flaws.

In a pleasing way, I am reminded of both Crowley's Aegypt and Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy/Cryptonomicon cycle, creating a link between those two that had not occurred to me.

(Take a look a Borges's short essay "Kafka and his Precursors", in this regard.)

More important is Brown's infectious enthusiasm for his own work. He's the furthest thing imaginable from an ironist or a pseud. When a writer interrupts the description of an attack by an insane, tattooed, syringe-wielding giant to tell you that "sincere" means "without wax", you know you're in the hands of someone who just can't help himself...

As often happens, I liked Sarah Weinman on this aspect of Brown and Steig Larsson:

What really links these two authors together, however, is the sheer, unadulterated joy that comes through in their thrillers.... Such fervor can't be faked; readers not only smell the false article a mile away, they put up with a lot -- including frequent turns of cliché -- to get to a taste of the real thing.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Stan Robinson denounces the Booker prize

A major screed from a writer (whom I've always found somewhat boring) denouncing the Booker process for ignoring the current amazing quality of British SF. He claims that a novel by Adam Roberts (that I read last month and found disappointing) should have been nominated and should then have won... The Guardian covers the controversy here.

Robinson finds a letter from Virginia Woolf to Olaf Stapeldon, regarding Star Maker:

sometimes it seems to me that you are grasping ideas that I have tried to express, much more fumblingly, in fiction. But you have gone much further and I can't help envying you - as one does those who reach what one has aimed at.

He also gives a pretty good list of the current members of the club:

The eight wonderful writers featured here (Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman, Nicola Griffith, Stephen Baxter, Paul MacAuley, Ian Watson, Justina Robson) are only a representative sampling of a community of artists so strong that it is hard to explain. Add to these Brian Aldiss, Neal Asher, Iain Banks, Christopher Evans, Alasdair Gray, Colin Greenland, John Courtenay Grimwood, Peter Hamilton, Nick Harkaway, M. John Harrison, Robert Holdstock, Gwyneth Jones, Garry Kilworth, Doris Lessing, Ian R. MacLeod, China Miéville, Richard Morgan, Christopher Priest, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Jennifer Rohn, Brian Stableford, Charles Stross, Lisa Tuttle - and no doubt others I have forgotten, or am unaware of (sorry) - and one has to ask, how is it that a group of such intellectual power could be working at one time, and our time at that?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dan Brown opinion of the day

From the Guardian:

No one, I am certain, takes a creative writing course with the aim of writing over-wrought, long-winded, critically-reviled thrillers. You take a creative writing course because you want to be a good writer; because you go back to your dorm room and read the great books on your English Lit course syllabus .... and regard the Pulitzer prize shortlist and think, "One day, that could be me." And then you sit down to write with all the best of intentions, and all that comes out is "The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms."

Who hasn't been there? I know I have: when writing my first volume of unabashed commercial non-fiction, every so often I found my mind drifting to the entertaining notion that some insightful critic would read it and say, "Ah, this volume of unabashed commercial non-fiction actually has surprising literary merit!" But I know that I will be waiting for ever.

I would thus be willing to wager all of the income I have ever made from writing fiction (nothing, but the sentiment is there) that sometimes, even as he wallows in his piles of money, Dan Brown wonders why he'll never be able to write exactly as well as he wishes he could; why while being one of the world's most financially successful writers, literary acclaim eludes him; why no one ever says, "actually, there's a sentence on page 344 when Langdon says something rather profound and eloquent". Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we just cannot help the way that we write, and sometimes, it is just a bit crap.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unfair to Humans

Sarah Weinman at work:

For those who care to keep score, I picked up my copy of THE LOST SYMBOL just shy of 4 PM on Monday, had the first 200 pages read by the time I showed up to Gotham Hall for the launch party, finished the book at 9:30 PM, turned in the review at 11 PM and it was done and dusted by 9 AM this morning.




Monday, September 14, 2009

Epitafios II

The initiates need no convincing: The second series of the Argentinian police procedural "Epitafios" arrives this Friday on HBO Latino and a few days later on HBO2.... English subtitles, lots of local color, and a great performance (at least in the first series) by Julio Chavez in the lead, ably supported by Almodovar star Cecilia Roth.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

P. D. James on Rankin

A graceful appreciation from one master to another.... P.D. James reviews the new Ian Rankin novel, which appears to be the first of a new series of Edinburgh-based procedurals. Her review could be a manifesto: why does a certain kind of crime novel appeal?

Sez Lady James:

Rankin is predominantly a crime novelist of realism. He eschews even the convenient convention that a detective does not age and may talk of retiring but seldom does. Each book is set unambiguously in place and time. In The Complaints we are given precise dates at which the narrative moves forward. The story is told chiefly in dialogue which is terse and realistic. We meet Malcolm Fox on Friday 6 February 2009, and part company on Tuesday 24 February. We travel with him through the sinister underground of the city and the haunts of the rich and powerful, knowing the pubs, the offices, the hotels he enters, what he eats when he is alone, where he does his shopping and the food he buys. And always human lives are seen against the thread of history.

Rankin is a master at what, for me, is one of the important aspects of a crime novel: the integration of setting, plot, characters and a theme which, for Rankin, is the moral dimension never far from his writing.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Just so you'll know what you're missing...

Opens September 18. Title translation: "My Heart Says Hooray!"


Thursday, September 10, 2009

More good news

This is the sort of "never too late" story I love more and more as I get older -- and it features in a leading role one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a movie screen.

Admittedly not quite the kind of "pair up" you might be imagining, but nevertheless a valid excuse for posting this:


Caveat Lector

Genre cross-dresser Iain Banks gives an interview to the Guardian about his new mainstream novel "Transition". The paper notes:

Readers of both Banks's mainstream work and his hardcore science fiction (published under the name Iain M Banks) agree that the quality of his science fiction has held up much better over the years; the "M" novels Look to Windward (2000) and Matter (2008) were among his most ambitious and accomplished works in the genre. And, although Banks's publisher wouldn't supply me with sales figures, it's perhaps telling that Transition is being marketed in the US as an Iain M Banks novel. "I sell better as a science-fiction writer over there," he admits.

The article begins amusingly:

Dear me, have you noticed how many middle-aged, bearded blokes are around these days? It makes Iain Banks terribly difficult to spot in a crowd. Maybe that 70s polytechnic lecturer look he has assiduously adopted for so many years is finally in fashion.

Let's hope so.....


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Random Matters of Some Interest

In a brief free moment:

Blog-friend Christian Lindke discusses Planetary Romance over at Cinerati, w/r/t the long-gestating John Carter movie, mentioning in passing a new web-serial by Scott Lynch called Queen of the Iron Sands. Christian mentions the words virtue and heroism, attributing them to "Victorian" attitudes, but I prefer the more ironic "Edwardian" (exemplifying the virtues at a time when Lytton Strachey and his ilk were laughing them into temporary exile).

Over at Radio 4, Boris! Johnson discusses the Great Cham, with his typical elan and boisterousness. Sam, says Boris, personifies the spirit of conservatism. (This is Samuel Johnson week at Radio 4 -- three hundredth birthday and all -- including a two part dramatization of Boswell's Life.) Boris, in addition to rattling off a line from the Iliad in Greek, quotes this:

"How small, of all that human hearts endure,/ That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!"

which seems particularly relevant today.

The Reynolds portrait, at the Huntington, called "Blinking Sam" by the staff, is to the left. I particularly admire the way he devours that book.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Death of the Auteur Theory

The Melrose Place pilot, to be broadcast tonight on The CW, was directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim, who also did "An Inconvenient Truth."


Sunday, September 6, 2009

They're not even that much older

"Of course, I had heard about the Sixties and Vietnam from my parents..." -- A.O. Scott, beacon of serious movie reviewing.


A novelist would enjoy the way these things converged

From the Ex's column on a new bio-pic about Tolstoy that is screening at Telluride:

At the screening, I sat next to a line of Tolstoy descendents, including great great grandson Vladimir Tolstoy, who runs Yasnaya Poliana, the family estate south of Moscow, and his 24-year-old daughter Anastasia, a lovely literature grad student specializing in Nabokov at Oxford. Vladimir flew to Colorado through New York and Denver, and was returning the next day. Even though the movie was directed by an American, shot in Germany and stars a cast of English-speaking Brits, Vladimir said that he was glad that the film would spread the love of Tolstoy to the world. Several Telluride residents who are Tolstoy descendants read about the film in the program, contacted Vladimir and came to dinner with their Russian relatives Friday night.


Close to perfect

The following BBC Prom available until Friday:

A pickup group called the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester performing the following:

Ligeti: Atmospheres (yes, the one that Kubrick used)
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder, with Matthias Goerne
Schoenberg: Five pieces for Orchestra

Interval: Roger Scruton and A.C. Greyling discuss Vienna, Strauss, Mahler, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein

Second half is a piece by Strauss also used by Kubrick......

(Oh, and if you live in the UK, you can actually watch a streamed HD videotape of the whole thing.)

Why is our public radio so lame?


Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Train? What Station?

Thought for the day courtesy of Glenn Reynolds:

MICHAEL SILENCE: Burning Out On The Constant Online Noise.

I remember in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, the really rich and important people get their news via printed newspapers, and correspond via letter. Electronic media are for the lower classes.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Don't ask why

Just the best rock video ever:


More Bolaño

Harper's contributing editor Wyatt Mason in The New York Times Book Review, last Sunday, writes about a newly translated novel by Roberto Bolaño, called "The Skating Rink", which is a murder mystery structured as a series of interviews with the three main suspects. Of course, he calls it "another unlikely masterpiece," which "manages to honor genre conventions while simultaneously exploding them, creating a work of intense and unrealized longing..."

As we've discussed many times in this space, the honoring of genre conventions by non-genre writers is an iffy business, but I trust that Bolaño can pull it off.

Two things are interesting here. The first is this:

..... the large number of books by Bolaño already available is soon to double. In addition to the eight that have swiftly and ably arrived in translation in the six years since his death in 2003 at age 50, four new books by Bolaño are scheduled to appear in 2010 (two novels, two story collections) with three others promised for 2011. What’s more, according to recent reports out of Spain, another two finished novels have been found among Bolaño’s papers, as well as a sixth, unknown part of his already abundant 900-page novel “2666.”

The second is that the last Donald Westlake novel is reviewed in the same issue of the Review, favorably and with an astonishing lack of respect. I can't believe that any editor would allow a reviewer to describe a book as "a rollicking crime caper." But there it is. Even somebody as skeptical as I about the claims made for Westlake and Leonard finds this sort of condescension hard to take.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back from Point Reyes

Spent a delightful week eating oysters, drinking Russian River sour beer, and taking long walks in the country with Mrs. Tulkinghorn and Tulk Jr. Also read most of the new A.S. Byatt novel "The Children's Book" (coming soon to a bookstore near you), which is about life among hip Edwardians, complete with exegesis on cabaret, pottery, Fabianism, and puppetry. Something like twenty main characters in three families over about thirty years. Galsworthian and goes down easy.

I enjoy not working.

I also enjoyed the following snippet of wisdom in Adam Roberts' reaction to the latest Harry Potter movie. (I read a Roberts novel about Soviet science fiction writers and the multiverse. Literate, funny, and dull. Oh, well.) If only I had understood this when young and single.....

I found two particular pleasures in the film.

One is Ron Weasley, as played by Rupert Grint, now a gulp-inducing twenty-one years of age. The plot calls for various girls to fall desperately in love with Ron, Hermione (of course) chief amongst them; and there is exquisite irony-flavoured viewing pleasure in this, given that Ron has grown from a sweet carrot-top kid into an adult of gasp-and-point ugliness. If the Tollund Man had been dug up, electrically reanimated and given an orange wig he would barely look less physically prepossessing than Grint in this role. Of course the girls all love him. How could they not?


The Chinese Student


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Surprisingly great...

Vincent Price as Prince Prospero in Roger Corman's "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964)


Nora video chatting from Hong Kong


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Some thoughts while steeling myself for Avatar

Thompson on Hollywood links to the Avatar trailer, which certainly looks impressive, while exhibiting a certain amount of "Monster Chiller Horror Theatre" 3D cheesiness. (Who could forget "Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Stewardesses"?)

I'm going to have to come up with way of thinking about "Avatar" that will keep me from dying of crankiness over the next three or four months as the beast lumbers toward us. Cameron strikes me as a bit of a dope, and his ten years of world building promises what could be the worst sort of hermetic trainspotting. Adam Roberts, Brit SF writer and critic, offers these thoughts about "Blade Runner" that may help:

(After remarking that the movie doesn't entirely make sense) But I love what the film's mechanical eye lets me see.

In fact, this is what links all the films I love most: they manifest what I take to be a new cultural logic in SF. The genre has shifted from being a literature of ideas (books are good at ideas) to a literature of enduring, powerful, and haunting visual images (films are poor at ideas, but very good at the poetry of beautiful images). This is what La Jetee, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stalker, Alien, and The Matrix have in common -- their gobsmacking visual aesthetic. Blade Runner beats all of these.....

If I can just hang on to that, even a movie about blue fauns romping might be enjoyable.


Friday, August 14, 2009

From off the streets of Koreatown

I wonder if our genial host has ever tried this place, reviewed this week by Jonathan Gold, in a column entitled "Of Cumin Bondage" Har.

For a couple of bucks, you can even experience what must be the winciest dish in town: a sharp, glistening steel skewer stabbed through thin coins of meat sliced from a bull penis, which bubble and hiss when they encounter the heat of the fire, sizzling from proud quarters to wizened, chewy dimes. It doesn’t taste like much, this bull penis, pretty much just cartilage and char, but the spectacle is as emasculating as a Jonas Brothers CD.

This place also has fake dog (the canine equivalent of krab, I guess)

it’s basically braised pork seasoned with vinegar, chile and cumin in what one is led to believe mimics the treatment given to the flesh of the unspeakable; you’ll find a warm, dryish version just ambiguous enough to put you off the dish for life. This may be the point.