Thursday, December 29, 2005

dissertation joke #3

I'll tell you the other ones some other time.

What is black and white and red all over?

Bette Davis in Jezebel, as Julie at the Olympus Ball.

Or, how do we know the dress is red if the film is black and white?

dec 26 & jan 2 issue: roz chast reads minds

I know it is wrong to steal. But this way, we can all have a good laugh. This is my state of mind right now - I'm furiously finishing my chapter, in between furious bouts of writer's block.

And I am still reading Talk of Town. Go Swarthmore! We have no mascot, unless you count the presumptuous, privileged, precocious and entitled undergrad with good intentions and a critical mind. So I say again, Go Swarthmore! I'm so proud of the undergrads who do Swarthmore War News Radio.

And my little brother got me the Complete New Yorker. And I don't think he even knows I write this thing. Do you, little brother?

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Where is Naked Man, Back View?

All you have to do is ask.

In response to general interest I have created a flickr account for my blog images, as a sort of archive. I'll try to put identifying type info for films and other things. I like the flickr "badge" format, now a part of my sidebar, because it sort of makes all the past images present. You can click there to get to the flickr account . . .

our "i hate the new yorker" image archive at flickr

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

dec 19 issue: flanagan writes about herself, again

When not on vacation at expensive resorts in Hawaii, Caitlin Flanagan enjoys repeating herself and her oedipal dramas.

"Life and Letters, Becoming Mary Poppins, The woman behind the Nanny." This is for you, Fluffy Dollars.

1. Flanagan makes her obligatory, self-promoting, reference to contemporary US nannies as "cheap female immigrant labor" - one of the biggest problems with this critique is that it obscures the way people of all genders here in the US rely on exploited labor for food, clothing, shelter, engery, you name it. Her crit draws attention to a particularly visible (and intimate) use of labor and makes it look as if upper class women were the only people in the world outsourcing labor. And she works from the assumption that this labor is in some way their natural responsibility . . . Sort of like when that female senator, a few years back, was exposed for having an illegal nanny. Well, lots of male senators have them too, and, more importantly, major parts of the US economy depend on illegal labor . . . You just don't see it when you go home. Unless you do. Flanagan started her nonsense with "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement" in The Atlantic, March 2004 and fuck The New Yorker for selling me more of this kind of bullshit. If we're going to point fingers over this particular exploitation of labor, I blame capitalism, not contemporary feminism.

But what about Poppins?


2. Flanagan uses subjective, catty and offensive language to describe Poppins' author P.L. Travers, when Travers is upset about Disney's interpretation of her work and what amounts to his breach of contract over her artistic control, "while Travers, whose youthful self-confidence had gathered over the years into an oppressive self-righteousness, interrupted, corrected, bullied and shamed them." [Them is the lackeys Disney sends in his place when he avoids a final meeting with Travers.]

While she lets Disney off the hook with, "Disney's artistic impulses may be open to interpretation, but he was shrewd."

Wait, what about Poppins?


3. Flanagan doesn't admit that she's taking the story of Poppins personally. She closes with reference to "the powerful emotions - in particular, children's deep fear of abandonment - that have always been at the story's core." This fear, though, isn't necessarily at the story's core, it's at the author's core. She wrote all about it in "To Hell With All That" in the July 2004 New Yorker, if I remember correctly. That essay was ostensibly about women (when? where? who? whatever . . . ) going back to work, but it was actually about Flanagan's own feelings when her own mother went back to work.

Same thing when she says, "it's a film with a surprising moral: fire the nanny." Maybe for her. But anybody can watch the film and take what they will from it and film is notorious for (shamefully anachronistic language) saying one thing with its lips, while its eyes say another.

She doesn't really analyze what might be appealing about the book and movie. Or give any evidence (except for one man's cry in a theater) for her "abandonment" argument. And this fellow anyway was crying for Poppins, the nonbiological mother, not his own mama.

I thought the biographical stuff on Travers was interesting, but my friend the children's librarian thought that Flanagan was just doing a sort of senstional expose of the author's life at the expense of talking about the book. Which is true, since she didn't really do much with a lot of the biographical material. Just that early part . . . and if you read the piece, it feels like an ill fit with her "abandonment" argument.


4. If I were writing about the book, or film, or Travers, or Poppins, I would look comparatively at what I find is a recurring fantasy about the family without biological parents, and children without reproduction, and the no-nonsense nonbiological mother. This includes such figures as Marilla, in Anne of Green Gables (which is so touching when read as Marilla's story) and Aunt Elizabeth, in Emily of New Moon, and, for grown-ups, Miss MacIntosh, in Miss MacIntosh, My Darling . . . and my friend the children's librarian added Ole Golly in Harriet the Spy . . . And of course I'd own to this fantasy being my personal interpretation of the book, except I wouldn't have too because, see, I've gathered evidence for a broader argument.

As they say, it's not always about daddy-mommy-me.

My friend the children's librarian (let's call her Madame Librarian) had this to say about Harriet. She says the book is pivotal for being the first cynical treatment of family in children's lit. (She also says The Outsiders is the first psychological realism for young adults . . . ) She says that Harriet has been read as a cross-dresser, because she's a girl wearing jeans and converse and a sweatshirt in the early 1960s. On the other hand, Nancy Drew's George (Nancy's Hannah Gruen actually fits the bill above, too) is totally butch and so is that girl in West Side Story. And if Harriet weren't so white and rich, would this really be read as cross-dressing?


5. And what about the Hottentots chapter, excised by Disney and also from my later publication (1960s) of Mary Poppins?

Emdashes on Flanagan on Hawaii, "Tourism, yes!"
Ms. Magazine on Flanagan on Labor "Feminism, no!"

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Dissmell makes its first appearance. Because Flanagan's writing stinks. A new low for the New Yorker.

dec 19 issue: flanagan speaks for herself

But not for me, when it comes to Mary Poppins.

I have much to say about this, but I'm going out with my friend who is a children's librarian, so I'll post after she and I chat. Maybe give me a chance to simmer down some.

Monday, December 19, 2005

dec 19 issue: the mail from philadelphia

Two Philadelphians emphasize to me, and Peter Boyer, exactly what the terms of a Democratic compromise with social conservatives on abortion might be. Not good. If he and I want to compromise, we ought to have our facts straight.

Seth Levi reminds us of the "uneasy" and dangerous coalition of liberals and conservatives in New Deal politics. I think there was a really good New York Review of Books on this this issue this fall. About how the Southern conservatives made sure that the social benefits of the New Deal were not extended to African Americans.

And Carol Petraitis informs us that PA law forbids abortion 24 weeks after conception, but the language of "partial birth abortion" obscures this and should the laws change to include this language, PA would have stricter restrictions on a woman's right to choose. And she explains that PA requires a minor to have the permission of a guardian, not just inform them. Boyer had made it clear how dangerous requiring permission is; it can put the woman at a lot of risk from her family.

Thank heaven for Philadelphia. And its well informed, thoughtful citizenry. Who take the responsibility to write to the New Yorker.

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dec 19 issue: but i'm pleasantly surprised by Kunkel

I started reading this review of a new DH Lawrence biography because, well, a hedonist like me loves DH Lawrence. And no, not only am I not a man, I never posed nude for Lucien Freud. Mores the pity. That blogger image was non-representational.

Anyway, I'm reading the review and I get to the part about "pleasure taken in viturperation" (90) and I perk up. I like that. And then I read further and I'm fairly swooning . . .

Who is this Kunkel? Well, duh, he's some young hot writer who wrote a book about,

"Dwight B. Wilmerding is only twenty-eight, but he’s having a midlife crisis. He lives a dissolute existence in a tiny apartment with three (sometimes four) slacker roommates, holds a mind-numbing job at the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and has a chronic inability to make up his mind. Encouraged by one of his roommates to try an experimental drug meant to banish indecision, Dwight jumps at the chance (not without some vacillation about the hazards of jumping) and swallows the first fateful pill. And when all at once he is “pfired” by Pfizer and invited to a rendezvous in exotic Ecuador with the girl of his long-ago prep-school dreams, he finds himself on the brink of a new life. The trouble–well, one of the troubles–is that Dwight can’t decide if the pills are working. Deep in the jungles of the Amazon, in the foreign country of a changed outlook, his would-be romantic escape becomes a hilarious journey into unbidden responsibility and unwelcome knowledge–and an unexpected raison d’être."

Indecision - I heard about this when it came out and I frankly thought it sounded GOD AWFUL. And I heard some parts of the text read aloud, and I thought they were awful too.

But I don't love contemporary fiction. Written by boys.

In the Raleigh Durham airport in North Carolina, there is a used bookstore. Which is cool. And they give you a bookmark when you buy a book and although I have bought many many books there, I have lost all the bookmarks they ever gave me. But they have a quote from someone - maybe Edmund Wilson (unless its Winston Churchill) that says something like, "Whenever a new book comes out, I take the opportunity to read an old one." Me too. And the same goes for movies. So I'll go back to my DH Lawrence now, thank you very much.

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dec 19 issue: radosh and collins bore me

First off, I broke one of my New Year's Resolutions already. The one about not wasting time reading Talk of the Town.

Secondly, I called Daniel Radosh David Radosh when I linked to his caption contest. I would think emdashes might have caught this, but then, I get the sense she's not reading my blog as closely as I thought she was or she might also have noticed that I'm a woman. I've recently learned that this baffles my readers, but it's true. I think my language must be strongly gendered masculine (and perhaps masculine queer?) and if you guys have reached a consensus, let me know.

But David or Daniel notwithstanding, I like his blog and find it angry and readable. Less fun was his Talk of the Town "Mean Streets Dept. Cyber City." He had two NY tour guides play a game that simulated NY streets.

Whilst and at the same time (Gonzo says this on The Muppet Show and at This Critical Juncture we love Muppet jokes), in this month's Talk of the Town, Lauren Collins looks for John Q. Gotham, the average New Yorker with Kevin O'Keefe, some guy who wrote some sort of statistical book on the average American.

I don't like these the heavily constructed project, field trip, controlled experiment type of Talk of the Town. It seems to stand in for a good eye, a good ear, or good research into something people have actually noticed and cared about. But whatever, I think the problem is that Talk of the Town is, right now, for whatever reason, a weak genre. They could expand the arts coverage and make coverage of events, screenings, exhibits more thorough by actually writing about people and places and how these figures fit into larger industries or movements. But that would be super-dull unless the writers were willing to be critical and, if we go by what Acocella has contributed to Talk of the Town in this direction, they aren't willing to be critical at all.

Plus, Radosh and Collins were repetitive together because they were both doing an explicit, yet annoyingly vague and broad, what defines New York thing . . .

Well, it IS bedside reading. Yawn.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

dec 5 issue: alice munro, wenlock edge

I liked it because it was so suspenseful, yet familiar. But I found this odd:

"The trouble was, as I saw it, that she had no pegs to hang anything on. She did not know what Victorian meant, or Romantic, or Pre-Columbian." (84)

"Mrs. Winner waved me ahead of her through one fo the doors that opened off this hallway, into a windowless room with a bench and hooks around the walls. It was just like a school cloakroom [...]" (85)

"When I went into the bathroom and caught the flutter of Nina's kimono on its hook on the door, I finally felt what I had been suppressing - a true fear for Nina." (88)

Maybe this is par for the course in a 10 page story with a lot of taking off and on of clothing, what with the plot and the Canadian winter weather . . . There's also attention to clothes on the floor, a jacket on the bannister and a scarf left behind. I liked the image, but the recurring use seemed . . .

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dec 5 issue: margaret talbot on Darwin in the Dock

My favorite things about this article, short version: Judge Jones' jokes and Talbot's appreciation of them, lots of mention of the film Inherit the Wind, the strong narrative structure of the article itself - complete with the surprise upset of the school board villians - and the openended but generally upbeat ending. And I like the way, for better or worse, Talbot's looking for clues as to how this will turn out. Makes for supsense-filled courtroom drama.

My favorite things about this article, long version:

"The trial also allowed the lawyers to act as proxies for the rest of us, and ask of scientists questions that we'd probably be too embarassed to ask ourselves." (67)

This actually follows something that is important for me, "[The judge] seemed particularly engaged when Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at Berkeley, started showing slides of pre-historic animals in order to illustrate that we have a lot of transitional fossils demonstrating the evolution of fish to amphibians and of dinosaurs to birds." (66)

The first quote I appreciate, because, like most people I know, I accept the theory of evolution on faith. Faith in my biology teachers and the scientific method and the existence of evidence somewhere out there that someone else has studied and that they have interpreted correctly. I admit it; I don't know the theory of evolution to be the best explanation for the development of species based on my own first hand knowledge or study. And neither do most of the scientists I know.

The second quote here does the same thing for me, but puts that faith in concrete terms. I have faith in this Padian fellow, and his fellows, and their fossils.

"Considering how often it is said that evolution is 'just' a theory, for instance, it is clear that many people either do not know or do not accept the scientific definition of a theory. The lawyers for the pro-evolution side went to great lengths to make the point that, although all science is provisional, a scientific theory is a powerful explanation that unites a large body of facts and relies on testable hypothesis. As Padian testified, it is not 'something that we think of in the middle of the night after too much coffee and not enough sleep." (69)

Owch. That smarts. But it's always a good idea to ask, "What is theory?" during business hours.

"The 'teach the conflicts' rationale for working intelligent design into public science classes has a certain appeal. It sounds to some people like a healthy aversion to orthodoxy. Of course, most scientists don't like it, because in science - as opposed to, say, literary criticism - interpretations can be wrong. Kevin Padian, the paleontologist told me, with characteristic bluntness, that the problem with this approach is that 'it makes people stupid. It pretends there is conflict when there is not and it wastes children's time." (77)

Again, a bit of zinger. But what I like that in the end evolution is science because it rests on a certain kind of disciplinary evidence. (Talbot makes clear that it also rests on the results of repeated experiments, but that doesn't do as much for me. Oh well.) And I love disciplinary evidence as much as the next literary critic. Maybe more. And that is why I think it is fun to teach writing. Because you get to tell undergrads about the joys of evidence.

I'm still interested in hearing more - what about popular notions of heredity that predate contemporary genetics type evidence, or our knowledge of the fossil record? Did Mendel theorize from peas and to people or did that come later? What about comparisons of horse breeding and people breeding? How did they think people inherited things before they used genes as an explanation? I generally tend to be suspicous of arguments about long lost twins with identical husbands and all that that implies . . . but I'm still fascinated by the historical evolution of the theory of biological evolution, so to speak.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

dec 12 issue: a few questions for lane

One Edward Champion had this to say about New Yorker film reviews. And I think Juniper Pearl had a similiar gripe with Denby on Broken Flowers, but I cannot find it. Both dislike the arbitrary judgements without evidence or reference.

The "slight" quality of the reviews doesn't bother me, exactly. You could say a lot with few words (I can't, but maybe you could) and Pauline Kael certainly could. This struck me when I was recently reading her capsules in 5001 Nights . . . but compared to Denby, and Lane too, she's got the world at her fingertips, her range of reference is so wide and deep and funny and startling too. A sharp comparison and a smidge of description goes a long way. (And, for better or worse, she calls a conventionally cinematic lesbian - the recurring figure of the interior decorator in a funny hat - a lesbian. Repeatedly. More on that later.)

Funny thing about 5001, the preface includes the following: "I sometimes tried to blend my view of the movie with some of the language from the magazine's initial review of it. So I've had to check those reviews to give the proper credits. Phrases from other reviewers still appear in eighty-odd cases [she lists and credits] Most of the time, these borrowings are no more than a few words, but in some I lifted descriptive passages that I liked. To these predecessors and colleagues I offer my thanks." (viii) This "borrowing" seems preferable to having no frame of reference - genre, period, industry - in a film review and sometimes I feel it has been like that in the New Yorker recently.

Anthony Lane is funny and I like him. I thought the Narnia review was hysterical but I didn't care for the books and I don't like sci-fi or Christian allegory or, frankly, any kind of allegory, I like fucking realism, OK, and Tim Burke did a nice job of addressing the film, if you are interested, but I'm not. It's fine for Lane to be glib when he's trying to be funny and dismissive. You don't want to get bogged down with a comparative study when you're trying to make people laugh.

But Lane on Brokeback Mountain was more frustrating. Because I like Westerns and adaptations and queer stories and Ang Lee and Michelle Williams. And so, it seems, did he. So I'd like him to be a little more explicit about the following:

1. "Does any director still have the patience to let our gaze rest without skittering upon the Western landscape?" (117) Good question. What other directors have been skittering lately? And what directors of yore do you recall as having had a slower pace? And what is wrong with skittering? What effect does it have and how would a slower pace have been more effective and to what ends, if that is what you feel?

2. "[...] Lee's helplessly good taste, which has proved both a gift and a curb, was always going to lure him away from sweating limbs towards the coupling of souls." (117-8) Where and when has Lee's good taste proved both gift and curb? And why is it helplessly good? What the hell does that mean? It sounds critical, but what are you trying to critique with that phrase? And why not hopelessly good? Is diction meaningful or not?

3. "Indeed what will vex some viewers is not the act of sodomy but the suggestion that Ennis and Jack are possessed of an innocence, a virginity of spirit, that the rest of society will strive to subdue." (118) Whom will that vex? I can see it vexing various spectators and for various reasons . . . And how does the film argue for their "virginity of spirit" and is this like or unlike the ways in which other Westerns and Hollywood queer stories have addressed similar themes? Related to that, I think, but Lane isn't too clear is . . .

4. "American Rousseauism, with its worship of open plains and its dread of civic constraint" (118) - I'll buy that there is such a thing, but what other names does it go by? How does it appear in other films in other times?

5. "There is little in Lee's film that would have rattled the spurs of Montgomery Clift in 'Red River.'" (118) Again, no doubt, but what are you trying to say about this film, Clift, Red River?

Better is Lane's description of "the most crushing moment" with reference to Lee's other work. But the end bombs.

6. "This slow and stoic movie, hailed as a gay Western, feels neither gay nor especially Western; it is a study of love under seige." This sentence only makes sense if we assume there are stable definitions for what "feels" gay (not very likely and Lane hasn't offered any anway) and "feels" Western (more likely, but Lane hasn't offered any of these either) and love. Baloney. There are good, political, reasons for insisting that the relationship in this film is part and parcel of some universal love but . . .

. . . the uncertain language of the review (and everything it does not say about Hollywood, Westerns, queer stories, Ang Lee and Michelle Williams) makes it seem as though Lane and the film share the attitude that gay love is still "the love which dare not speak its name." Which makes this stoic movie a particularly relevant movie for the politics of this particular time and place, not just a touching, abstract, universalized "study of love under seige."

So, if instead of a bunch of suggestive phrases, Lane had been a little more explicit, he'd have written film criticism with a political edge. And what is the relationship between a stoic film, like this one, and the "tell-all" pleasures of Celluloid Closet, which everyone on my blogroll (well, emdashes and Amardeep Singh) has been enjoying?

The dictionary definition of stoic is (like I need to tell you):

stoic - A. n. 1. (With capital initial.) One of a school of Greek philosophers (founded by Zeno, fl. c 300 B.C.), characterized by the austerity of its ethical doctrines for some of which the name has become proverbial (see 2). 2. One who practises repression of emotion, indifference to pleasure or pain, and patient endurance.

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car-free in pittsburgh, seeking advice

Thanks for stopping by. At this critical juncture, we're starting our New Year's resolutions early. No more car. No more gas. No more insurance payments. No more repairs. Our '93 Honda has engine trouble and we're not going to repair it anymore, since it's been absorbing much money at a steady but unpredictable rate since we got it 4 years ago. We're actually really excited about this . . . we lived without a car in Philly, but the challenges there were very different. And it was flat.

That said, we're a little inexperienced with the busses here. We live at the very south end of Squirrel Hill, south of Forward Ave, just off Beechwood and we both take the 61C or D to Oakland regularly, or we walk to Forbes and take a 61A or B, which is just as fast, if we haven't checked the 61D schedule and don't want to wait.

But futher than that we have not explored. I know we can always check the PAT website to plan a route, but I was looking for advice from experience, particularly quick and easy routes you've found around town. Or new bike riding routes for the summer, since we won't be able to get to the Yough trail (unless we take the bikes on a bus to McKeesport, anyone tried this?). Or good resources on Murray, Forbes and in Oakland that would make travelling further afield unneccesary.

For example, is there anywhere to get long, tube fluorescent lights, like for a kitchen? 'Cause we're cooking in the dark, which is kind of fun, but not for long.

Does Giant Eagle sell parmigiano reggiano? And at what price?

And thanks again. If you see me, hauling 5 ft fluorescent lights through the snow, give a friendly wave.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

i love my cell phone, but not, you know, in that way

UPDATE: Here are the ads I could find. Note the ambigous sex, or "ambisexterity" - my term, I should copyright it like Hilton - of the photos. Not the ad on the back of the New Yorker, though. They are not that kind of audiance, I guess. What is funny is that if you search, everyday, obsessively, as I have, for images from this ad campaign you only find more and more explicit photos of the actual motopebl, of this button or that button or the hinge mechanism and you find yourself drawn into a world of tech fetishists and cell phone collectors . . .

A group totally uninterested in and unphased by the ad campaign.

And you find one little image, the redheaded lovely, on the blog of a person tracking "gay vague" - their term, or maybe someone else's - images in corporate ad campaigns. Click on that image and you'll probably be able to find your way to their website.

About Hilton, femme feral, you know, she already has a brand as a last name, so maybe her interest in copyright is determined by heredity. Like, once your name becomes a brand name, you become biologically programmed with a desire to own language. Love your recent text madness. Maybe you should read that NYer article about the typeface fellow. I went to the Bodoni Museum once, a museum dedicated to the man who invented the Bodoni font.

And a final thought: at this critical juncture, my partner in crime has begun to call my cell phone the pickle phone because it is shaped like one. Making my phone more phallic than clammy . . .

Monday, December 12, 2005

captioning cartoons is very IN this winter

And so is obliquely referring to The Slippery Slope, by Lemony Snicket, I guess.

I just removed my sidebar links to McSweeney's mocking of the New Yorker cartoon captions. I decided that McSweeney's wasn't that funny after all. The little essay "Baby, Mix me a Drink" totally rips off The Slippery Slope, in which the baby is made responsible for all kinds of food preparation. But, here are the links, one last time. One and then, the other.

And I got this in the mail. Some folks have made a party game of captioning New Yorker cartoons.

And then there is David Radosh and his ongoing virtual New Yorker cartoon caption contest, which anyone can play.

In advance of the holiday season, when one is often confined with family, I also have these games to recommend:

Royalty - Like Scrabble, but more free form since it's a card game. Or like Canasta, but with words.

Apples to Apples - This is also a game you can buy. So you can probably find a better explanation of it out there. But we play a homemade version with some friends, where we make all the cards, slowly, over time. Step by step instructions:

(a) You have a big stack of cards with adjectival phrases on them. Like: "spooky" or "the life of the party" or "better when sung" or "retro, but not retro cool" or "magical."

(b) Each player holds 7 cards with nouns on them - political figures, celebrities, household items, family members, foods, whatever. Like: "Cherry lip gloss," "the Bush Administration," "radical Marxism," "fresh baked bread."

(c) Player 1 draws an adjective card from the stack and shows it to everyone else. Let's say, "spooky."

(d) Everyone else chooses, from their 7 nouns, which noun they think Player 1 will find most "spooky." They submit their noun cards to Player 1 face down, anonymously.

(e) Player 1 chooses her favorite match.

(f) The player who submitted that noun reveals herself and keeps the adjective card "spooky."

(g) Player 2 draws an adjective card . . . and you go around until all the adjectives are gone.

At the end, the player who has collected the most adjective cards wins. But it is not really a win-lose game. And I think it's a lot more fun than the other cultural knowledge games that you can buy. I always blow my anonimity and advocate strongly for my card, if I think there is a persuasive argument to be made. But you knew that.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

dec 5 issue: ads get me all bothered and hot

"Talk of the Town, Waling"

OK, everyone knows better than to read these Talk of the Town In Which Everyone has Too Much Money and Time on their Hands pieces. Which are often interspersed with Charming Episodes from a Life of Manual Labor. But not me. I read all about the corduroy club.

And I became a little suspcious when I read the following, "Chris Lindland, the creator of Cordarounds - trousers made of horizontal corduroy - and the evening's keynote speaker, had flown in from San Francisco."

Horizontal corduroys? Why does that sound familiar? BECAUSE THEY ARE ADVERTISED IN THE BACK OF THE NEW YORKER. Not the Dec 5 issue, which is even more annoying. But the Dec 12th issue (199), and issues from earlier in the fall.

What is next? An interview with a woman who has every species of animal known to man represented in handcrafted jewelry? An investigation into how a $125 cashmere watchcap produces "a peaceful disposition" and for whom? An expose of what, exactly, a blo-poke does and whether it comes discreetly wrapped in brown paper?

Taking their editorial content from their own advertisements. How dinky local magazine is that?

21st Century Venus, Back Cover Ad.

Image: A young woman, clad in scanty white sheets, stands with the sea and sky behind her. She looks like Botticelli's Birth of Venus - there is the static quality of the background, the sea and the cloudy sky, her blowing hair, the strategically placed knot. But this Venus is very "natural" looking - she's got freckles, her brows are dark and her features are asymmetrical. But where is the clam? Don't even ask.

Text: "Motopebl. Looks like a pebble. Feels like a pebble. But twitch your hand just slightly and this natural clam opens smoothly to reveal 21st century technology."

I kid you not. Pebble, twitch, open, clam, 21st century technology. A veritable hotbed of metaphor, metonomy and innuendo.

Here's a sense of what the ads look like. This one is a little different, and still disorientingly offensive. The commentator is struck by the use of the phrase "natural clam." You can't not be.

FYI, for those disoriented by my gender, I am, for all intents and purposes, a happily married woman.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

is it hot in here, or is it just me?

I am a toaster!

what kitchen utensil are YOU?

You are a toaster! You enjoy holding heated conversations but have a hard time not letting your anger get the best of you. Be careful with your short temper. You also enjoy making toast. Just remember to stay away from metal objects.

And I didn't even answer "hot" to the question, "What phrase best describes you?"

Short quiz, but right on. I found this via the chocolate lady whose blog will be of especial interest to those who read Hebrew. But also to those who eat.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

all the girls are reading Anna Karenina

When I was in NY this summer, all the girls were asking me if I had read Anna Karenina. Well, two to to be exact, two very different girls. It struck me as odd at the time, since why was now the time to read Anna Karenina? As far as I am concerned it is always time to read Anna Karenina. Certain scenes are so evocative (Karenin in the restaurant, Anna longing for her kids, the races) that you can read them and be absolutely certain that a very particular mood will be produced and so when I want that mood, I start reading.

Come to find out, via David Remnick's Translation Wars in the November 7 issue of the New Yorker, Anna Karenina, in a new translation, was an Oprah book. God love Oprah. An inspiration to girls in New York looking for something meaningful to do with their time. And I get another reason to read it, because this new P/V translation seems like a dandy.

I liked Remnick's essay, which sepoy recommended, except for the Nabokov-Wilson interlude. Our brief comments are here. If one more person informs me that Nabokov was a l--------ist I will scream. I hate tired shit. What was really odd was how all these paragraphs sounded like maybe they were just left over material from the Louis Menand essay on Edmund Wilson. Given the way material seems to become a little generic at The New Yorker (see my "overheards" here and here) the familiarity of this Wilson stuff suggests that maybe there are just anonymous paragraphs about American Modernism floating around the office there for anyone to cut and paste. Which seems a little more pomo dada (post)industrialized production than I usually think of The New Yorker as being.

My partner in crime suspects that Seymour Hersh is not an individual, but rather a group project. Which I'm sure is true on some level. More smart remarks from my partner in crime - "What is with this New Yorker transportation series trying to tell us - the longest train, the biggest big rig . . . What is next? An essay on rockets?" Heh heh.

And back to the Russians, I use War and Peace and Anna Karenina when I teach film, too, to explain narrative theory and theory of the novel and concepts from Russian formalism and how this kind of analysis might work in different media.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

hey square circuit, i couldn't leave a comment

I can't enter the coded letters properly to leave my comment. smenita. smenita. smenita. What else can I say?

To recap, here's the call for help, which is to my few, but knowledgable readers:

"Help! Suggestions solicited: I'm teaching a class on American culture of the 1920s and, obviously, I need to address film. But I know next to nothing about film of that time. Can anyone--thinking of you, zp, and your film friends--recommend easily available and representative films of the time that would work well for undergrads? Obviously I'm going to show parts of THE JAZZ SINGER and that Harold Lloyd film SAFETY LAST where he hangs from the clock. What else? Marx Brothers? Pre-code and Hays Office films? Did D.W. Griffith make popular films in the 1920s? Chaplin?"

And here's my response:

You brought out the librarian in me. Combine that with film and . . . I was totally stumped!

My strongest recommendation is The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) - a silent melodrama (with lots of light comedy mixed in) that satires the American dream, the happy family and the 9-5 job. Great NYC scenes, Coney Island, Niagra Falls, sexual innuendo. Is that a ukelele you're holding? I saw this as an undergrad and I loved it then and love it now.

Chaplin's The Kid (1921) is good period slapstick and sentiment and social critique, and Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates (1920) is an interesting "response" from an African-American director to Griffith's Birth of a Nation. It's a lynching story and very moving and suspenseful and based on a novel.

I’ve been taught Keaton’s Our Hospitality more than once, but I find it dull on every level. I like The General better, for formal reasons, good crosscutting and use of train.

Hillman has all of the above.

I think film studies proper sort of ignores US films of the period . . . since most of the films really pale by comparison to other times (a little earlier, a little later) and places (Europe) . . . The following aren't recommendations, more a list of names that might be helpful if you played with IMDb for awhile:

Dorothy Arzner (female director) directed Clara Bow (prolific period hottie) in The Wild Party, a girls' school romance (1929).

Fairbanks and Anna May Wong appeared in Thief of Baghdad (1924) and Garbo in Wild Orchids (1929) if you want to explore an "orientalism" trend. Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille's 10 Commandments (ug), Valentino . . . Anita Loos wrote screenplays, which might work nicely, depending on what kind of writing you are teaching, but I've never seen any of her films . . .

But abroad you have:

Metropolis (Fritz Lang 1927 German)
Pandora's Box with flapper icon Louise Brooks (GW Pabst 1929 German) Both of these directors eventually leave Germany to work in the US . . . and Murnau.

In France (1929), dark, artsy Dane Carl Dreyer made the Passion of Joan of Arc and Dali and Bunuel made Un Chien Andalou.

Eisenstein in the Soviet Union.

Picadilly (1929 Brit) is great, also with Anna May Wong, who works with Dietrich and Sternberg later in Shanghai Express (1932 US).

A little later too, there are the great Sternberg and Dietrich films: Blue Angel (1930 German) and Blonde Venus (1931 US).

And earlier, there are the great Griffith shorts (Corner in Wheat, New York Hat), the awful Birth of a Nation. Way Down East is (1920) OK, I guess. Also earlier are Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle and the exotic siren from Cincinnati, Theda Bara.

So depending on how strictly you are thinking “American” and “1920s” any of these might be useful.

There are people who know a lot more about this period of US film, and they think its a gold mine (for proto-romantic comedies, I think), so happy hunting!

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Friday, December 02, 2005

nov 21 issue, wal-m(art) film

In the November 21 issue of the New Yorker, Denby reviewed the film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" and had this to say,

(1) "... let me say that Greenwald's film could not possibly be confused with a work of documentary art. Greenwald [...] has made the cinematic equivalent of a smudged pamphlet distributed on the street. The director throws factual material onto the screen in a hyped-up, bullying rush. The sequence of events is often confusing. [...] The effect, in general, is to surround the viewer with tightly edited outrages that often slur the distinction between fact and assertion. Nor does Greenwald take any interesting risks as a filmmaker. He offers nothing equivalent to, say, Michael Moore's habit of placing his bulk, in attitudes of mock courtesy, int he path of public or corporate officials."

If you're a regular Denby reader, you probably remember Denby's damning with faint praise Farenheit 9/11. It went like this. The last line of the review was the clincher, "Michael Moore has become a sensational entertainer of the already converted, but his enduring problem as a political artist is that he has never known how to change anyone’s politics."

Now, all of a sudden, the sensational entertainer is the standard by which others are judged for "interesting risks" in documentary filmmaking?

In any case, Denby's review of Moore earned him a letter from a well-informed reader that appeared on the New Yorker's letters to the editor page in the July 12 2004 issue. The letter, in its unabridged form, can be found on this blog, way down under the July 11th entry. If I remember correctly, the NYer printed only the first and last paragraphs of the letter, obscuring Mr. Glatzer's excellent review of the political slippery-ness of documentary film.

When I read Mr. Glatzer's letter back in July 2004 I felt a sense of releif, because I totally agreed with Denby, but it was clear when I saw the film Farenheit 9/11 that no one else in theater felt as Denby and I did. Rather, folks were impressed and persuaded and felt proud to be represented by the abrasive Moore. And I had thought it was my responsibility to write and tell Denby that he (and I) did not have our finger on the pulse of meaningful political filmmaking.

But the plot thickens. In his review of "Wal-Mart" Denby closes with these thoughts,

(2) "The last section of the movie, which reminds me of pulse-raising, bluntly obvious films that I saw at student rallies in the sixties, is devoted to the fervant anti-Wal-Mart movement - groups that have organized to file suit or to keep the company out. Greenwald presents these folks - employees, ministers, lawyers, lefties, and wealthy homeowners, too - as an unstoppable wave of resistance. "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" is an organizing tool, a film for use. Greenwald plans to show it to church groups and at community meetings and to sell it as an inexpensive video."

Denby, though uncomfortable with the smudged lack of artsy-ness in the Wal-Mart documentary, has put aside his finer feelings and has taken Glatzer's advice and judged the film on its own merits as an organizing tool.

If the anti-Wal-Mart film is effective, it'd make me, and nearly 100 years of film theorists so happy. Film theory always imagines that film can break out of its role as commodity to be consumed and to become something more interactive, affective, productive, destructive, instructive. From the vaudeville theater to Eisenstein to Third Cinema to New Media to the pro-censorship feminists (strange bedfellows) . . . so I hope it happens and Denby and I can be there to see it.

The Wal-Mart team Emerges from the War Room and Accidentally shoots Dozens of Holiday Shoppers!

Just kidding. That's the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin.

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