Monday, July 31, 2006

casual text

"Know it All" in the July 31 issue has kind of overall structure that investigates the following: Wikipedia as "a system that does not favor the Ph.D. over the well-read fifteen-year-old." So there are lots of references to graduate education (as if it were the same in fields from philosophy to biology?) in the article. The absolutely funniest grad school jibe, though, is, "When I visited the [St. Petersburgh, FL Wikipedia] offices in March, the walls were bare, the furniture battered. With the addition of a dead plant, the suite could pass for a graduate-student-lounge." (38) But why the dashes-to-make-it-one-word? Is that supposed to make it funnier? Unneccesary, I think.

The list of usual suspects that mzn gave in the comments to my last post (not, after all, a list that the article's author Stacy Schiff created, but one that she quotes and one that appears on Wikipedia on Wikipedia) is funny too, and part of the same running gag.

I like that the article is both an argument about Wikipedia and a history of encylopedias . . . Schiff achieves a nice balance.

But I didn't care for the following, "the site embodies our newly casual relationship to the truth." (38) Since when? In the good old days (was that before or after witchburnings?) we had a more formal relationship to truth? Who did? Given the fact that she sort of answers these questions, maybe I'm just objecting to a very annoying use of "our" . . .

And is it at all true that Wikipedia "content must be both verifiable and previously published?" (39) I guess I mean, is it true that Wikipedia content is previously published? Schiff should have followed up on this, at least a via some offhand lists, because it actually seems to be at the heart of the "alma-matricidal" (39) theme. If Wikipedia is a "vanity press" (40) and attracts so many academics as writers, etc (which seems to the evidence of the profiles she includes) then it might actually be constructed out of a lot of info that's NOT published anywhere else; like in climate change example.

This might be the right opportunity to mention that I did not put the link to this blog on The New Yorker's Wikipedia entry. I don't even know who did. But thanks.

I also read "Holy Toledo" and parts (yes, anonymous Matt, just odd bits, as my attention came and went and the magazine sat on the coffee table) of "Castro's Last Battle" and "The Lobsterman" . . .

As for "the media poetry of the cocaine era" I just don't know what to say. Only this, Denby uses the word "landlubber" - does this make Tubbs and Crockett pirates?

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

speaking of paid labor

I just posted this rambling thing about American Apparel over at Dr. Mabuse.

If it generates any interest there, I ought to be sure to mention that it was inspired by a post at Chapati Mystery, where sepoy links to a handy news article on the company. And by the new American Apparel store I saw in Oakland the other day. And the title of the post? Inspired by Mr. Theodore Dreiser, one very strange fellow.

See An American Tragedy (von Sternberg, 1931)

And A Place in the Sun (Stevens, 1951)

You know who else wrote an essay on the company? Mr. Gladwell. I'm not feeling quite up to reading it right now, but you might be. Lemme know.

And, what do you know, it IS about film. The Oakland American Apparel store, in Pittsburgh, in the old Kings Court movie theater and police station. At least they found a use for that now strangely joyless ex-pleasure palace.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

my new favorite thing in pittsburgh

god loves clean underwear
Originally uploaded by zpa.
I love a lot of things in this photo; the big window with the little panes, the outdoor window shade I found in the basement that now screens out my neighbor in his undies, the ficus tree Benj gave me in college (left), the porch in general, Pittsburgh's fabulous summer weather (not nearly as muggy as the East Coast).

But most of all I love a laundry service that picks up and delivers and does undies - The Laundry Factory. And it's not even my laundry. I love the fact that Benj has been freed of the loads and loads of laundry he used to do day, night and weekends. The rates are reasonable as far as that goes, but pick and deliver is only $5 more.

I send my things too, but it just so happens I have way way fewer clothes than my partner in crime. Clothes horse!

And it's not like we ever folded our own laundry. That's priceless, as they on the commercials. So I can file this under thrift.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

the food is awful, and such small portions.

Well, I finally got another issue of the New Yorker, July 24, 2006. And it is short and contains a lot of nonsense.

Preclampsia - Not going to read it. The New Yorker on children and pregnancy has, for my money, a very bad record. Totally Victorian. Benj's mom has already read this essay and called us about it. I kid you not. Shame on the New Yorker, throwing the older generation into a fate-of-childbearing tizzy.

Rudnick's Shouts and Murmurs "'American Idol' World Court" - Wrote it in his sleep.

Ken Auletta "Hollywood Ending" - Maybe.

Alec Wilkinson "The Tenth Planet" - This has real promise. I wasn't go to read it but then it was sitting open and I saw the following:

"'The concept of a planet is also part of the mental geography of the world around us. Pluto doesn't fit as a piece of science, but it does culturally. Initially, I thoguht, We can't have it this way, we can't have culture determine such questions. Then I thought, There are places where science reigns, and others where culture does. Science doesn't have to win this one.'" (58)

And it gets better from there. That's not the author speaking, it's an interview subject, which is cool too. So I haven't read the whole thing, but I think I will.

None of the reviews appeal to me, not even Ross on Mozart.

Out of sense of exhausted duty, I read Anthony Lane on The Pirates of the Caribbean. You've heard it all before, except maybe this:

"'Life is cruel,' Davy Jones points out, adding, 'Why should the afterlife be any different?' The blasphemous splendor of that questions resounds through the movie, spawning a mass of morbid detail and thus bolstering one's conviction that computer-generated images, while constitutionally unfit for certain textures - all seas look fake, as do all healthy humans - grow ever more attuned to the monsterous, the decaying, the deceased.[...] Domestic drma has nothing to gain from the new technology; horror has nothing to lose."

That kind of makes me think of Siegfried Kracauer. Whom I love. Both in its morbidity and its attention to/invention of the precise limits and possibilities of film technology.

Also, I thought the morbidity was an interesting element of the film that no one really "saw" because they were so busy looking at everything else.

Patricia Marx's "You Shouldn't Have." I don't care for this kind of thing and the New Yorker does a really bad job of it. And even though she herself doesn't like scented candles, she still encourages people to buy candles as gifts, which implies that other people might like them, and I think this is wrong. Like the time Benj's mother sent me a candle that realistically resembled and smelled like a rather generic looking apple pie and I heated it in the oven and tried to eat it. Shame on the New Yorker, encouraging the older generation to buy scented candles!!

But I laughed in a sustained way at William Haefeli's cartoon:

You know what was good this week? The New York Review of Books. I'll post on that later.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

catholic fictions

I thought about posting on this, then got bored with it. Right after that, I immediately encountered references to Catholic candy and the Golden Girls and I decided it was fate.

So, my three favorite TV shows ever are all, weirdly, Catholic:

1. The Golden Girls, 2. M*A*S*H, 3. The X-Files. It's not that the shows represent Catholics (though they do - the Petrillos, Father Mulcahey and Sculathon) or that they are made by Catholics. It's that the fictional world, and, possibly, the viewers participation in the fictional world depends in each case, on a particular kind of belief or faith. A belief in 1. a "cultural" Catholicism, but not god on the Golden Girls 2. an "ethical" Catholicism, but not god, on MASH 3. god, the trinity, the devil and pretty much everything and anything, for the X-Files. Eh. I'm not sure about the Catholicisms, but I think belief, faith and popular serial fiction might lead somewhere . . .

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

farm box broccoli, revealed

farm box broccoli
Originally uploaded by zpa.
in all it's not rubbery and tasteless glory.

kretschmann farms organic farm box

farm box anatomy
Originally uploaded by zpa.
they read my mind. no more fresh herbs. except flat parsley and who doesn't have a zillion uses for that? sorry i obscured the broccoli. if you like this post and haven't seen 'curse of the wererabbit' you should. i was afraid it would be too much like 'bunicula' and it is, but then, it isn't.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the butterscotch stallion pulls my bandwagon

Don't say I never gave you anything. Courtesy of my updated Complete New Yorker, I bring you the letter Owen Wilson wrote to David Denby. From the February 14 2005 issue of the New Yorker.

"I read David Denby's piece on Ben Stiller with great interest (The Current Cinema, Jan 24th &31st). Not because it was good or fair toward my friend but exactly because it wasn't. I've acted in two hundred and thirty-seven buddy movies and, with that experience, I've developed an almost preternatural feel for the beats that any good budy movie must have. And maybe the most crucial audience-rewarding beats is where one buddy comes to the aid of the other guy to help defeat a villain. Or bully. Or jerk. Someone the audience can really root against. And in Denby I realized excitedly that I had hit on the trifecta. How could an audience not be dying for a real "Billy Jack" moment of reckoning for Denby after he dismisses or diminishes or just plain insults practically everything Stiller has ever worked on? And not letting it rest there, in true bully fashion Denby moves on to take some shots at the way Ben looks and even his Jewishness, describing him as the 'latest, and crudest, version of the urban Jewish male on the make.' The audience is practically howling for blood! I really wish I could deliver for them - but that's Jackie Chan's role.

Owen Wilson
Dallas, Texas"

I first posted on this letter in July, 2005, in my second post ever (now updated) so we can celebrate the one year anniversary of my blog with this lovely, Denby-directed rant.

I've gotten a ton of keyword searches and hits for the 2005 post in the last 48 hours. Will someone please tell me why?

And I do want to be clear on this, this post is in no way an endorsement of You, Me and Dupree. Although if you have to see it, I suspect this this might come in handy.

Just two buddies, out for hack movie critic blood.

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absinthe makes the heart grow fonder, pt 2

Or, thinking of you.

"Three days before Christmas I got a cashier's check on a Las Vegas bank for $100. A note written on hotel paper came with it. He thanked me, wished me a Merry Christmas and all kinds of luck and said that he hoped to see me again soon. The kick was in the postscript. 'Sylvia and I are starting our second honeymoon. She says please don't be sore at her for wanting to try again.'

I caught the rest of it in one of those snob columns in the society section of the paper. I don't read them often, only when I run out of things to dislike."

From Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.

As for things I like, you might take a look at Eat where a family writes about cooking, food-related shopping (is there a better term for this?) and eating out in Pittsburgh and New York City.

Finally, in local news, my Kretschmann farmbox runneth over. I've gotten so many more fresh herbs than I can eat (even if I cut sage into a green salad every blessed day) that I tried something very homemaker. I zapped the extra rosemary (btw 2 paper towels) in our brand new super powerful microwave - it came out perfectly dry and green and fragrant. I think I read this in some Martha related periodical once and I feel like that woman (and by "that woman" I mean her and her empire and the brilliant writers and researchers who work for her) earns every penny. Every now and then she imparts a stroke of genius (is that possible? I mean nothing is original, it's just she finds things and tells me about them), like putting rolled up paper towels into bottles to dry them. Works every time. Here you have my illustration of Martha's methods, rosemary right, towels left. And a small tribute to MFK Fisher, that's my mirror in the kitchen. Good thing I saved some of those canning jars.

I don't even think her name is really Martha - Martha in the Bible is a perfect hostess, Martha Washington is America's very first first lady and now Martha Stewart American super-hostess. Not a coincidence. And, yeah, I know her last name's not Stewart.

I miss the New Yorker.

Monday, July 17, 2006

just so you know

I have not received a magazine since July 3.

It may be that my subscription has lapsed. It may be that they've cut me off because I've got a bad attitude. I'll let you know when I know.

In other news I bought the following at the Squirrel Hill Library booksale: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Long Goodbye, Gone with the Wind and Laura. Also Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape and a video copy of the earlier Imitation of Life. No kidding.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

celebrity, documentary, performance

As some of you may have noticed, I've been posting, commenting and generally acting out over at a nice, friendly, collective film studies blog called Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

My Mabuse posts are here. I'll put this link in my sidebar soon.

Unless I just keep doing this when I need desparate help with questions of celebrity, documentary and performance. Click on that link to find my lastest call for help.

Or save yourself the trouble: I was wondering, does anyone know of a nice solid documentary studies article on the early origins and/or trajectory of the celebrity bio-pic? I'm thinking of something that maybe ties together, say, the appearance of Annie Oakley or Sandow or Queen Victoria as their famous selves with the current strain of celebrity documentaries and then throws in, for good measure, the emphasis on performative identity in the direct cinema period . . . Or really an article that links ANY of the above, if not all.

Answer it here, there or via email and I will give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

don't look

One of my undergrads once told me that "The Curse of the Black Pearl turned the pirate movie genre on it's head." Me, "The pirate-movie genre?" Undergrad, "Uh, maybe it's not exactly a genre." Me, "How many pirate movies have you seen?"

Well, it seems, one is enough. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is really not that good. Where the first took the anti-national quality essential to piracy and extended that sort of lovely, liberating lawlessness to race, ethnicity, gender and history the second really closed down the possibilties for pirating quite a bit, with some tired old (or tired new) stereotypes and cliches. A.O. Scott was right, the only real lawlessness was a physical lawlessness that appeared to be, (one might flatter the creators) inspired by Pynchon's Mason and Dixon.

Friday, July 07, 2006

a.o. scott tries to be all grumpy and superior

but cannot sustain the spleen. even writing about this movie is pleasurable, it seems. if a.o. scott wants to avoid fun he can try watching old episodes of 21 Jump Street. THAT is no fun, i know, i tried it.

my favorite lines below include, "the kinship between today's computer-assisted filmmaking and the hand-drawn animation of old, which lies in the freedom to revise the laws of physics at will" and "Mr. Bloom, as is his custom, leaps about, trying to overcome his incurable blandness, and is upstaged by special effects, musical cues, octopus tentacles and pieces of wood." now, tell me that isn't actual fun.

To A.O. Scott, "We're not listening!"

'Pirates of the Caribbean': Eat My Jetsam, Davy Jones

Published: July 7, 2006
AT first glance, it seems like a pretty good deal. You put down your money — still less than $10 in most cities — and in return you get two and a half hours of spirited swashbuckling, with an all-star three-way battle of the cheekbones (Orlando Bloom vs. Keira Knightley vs. Johnny Depp) and some extra-slimy computer-generated imagery thrown in at no additional cost.

But there's a catch, as there usually is. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" is not just a movie. It's a glistening, sushi-grade chunk of franchise entertainment, which means that maximal enjoyment of it comes with certain obligations. It is the second episode in what will be at least a trilogy — the third installment is scheduled for release next summer — and full appreciation of its whirligig plot will depend on thorough acquaintance with the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" picture, conveniently available for purchase on DVD. And since "Dead Man's Chest" brazenly dispenses with the convention of an ending — it's pretty much all middle — you will, by virtue of buying that ticket, have committed yourself to buying another one a year from now if you're the least bit curious about how the whole thing turns out. By then, chances are good that you will have forgotten most of what happened in "Dead Man's Chest," so you'll have another disc to add to the shopping cart.

The question is: Is it worth it? The same thought probably crosses the minds of Disney theme-park vacationers as they endure endless lines for the ride on which the movies are based, but the notion is quickly banished because nobody likes to feel like a sucker. By a rational calculation of time and money — yours and the untold millions invested by Disney, the producer Jerry Bruckheimer and others — the answer is probably no. But hey, this isn't about that, right? It's about fun. You're there to have fun. Fun for the family. Fun for the kids. Fun for everyone. So shut up and have fun.

And you probably will, even if it's hard to shake the feeling that you've been bullied into it. Gore Verbinski, the director, has an appropriate sense of mischief, as a well as a gift, nearly equaling those of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, for integrating CGI seamlessly into his cinematic compositions. What is curious about the recent crop of high-tech blockbusters is how seriously they take themselves, and unlike, say, "Superman Returns," "Dead Man's Chest" cannot be called pretentious. It makes no claims to being about good and evil, the difficulty of saving the world in the modern era, or the inner lives of any of its characters.

Instead, it sends Elizabeth Swann (Ms. Knightley) and Will Turner (Mr. Bloom), their wedding day ruined in an opening sequence that seems to pay tribute to the old Guns N' Roses "November Rain" video, on a search for the pirate captain Jack Sparrow (Mr. Depp). Jack, as usual, finds himself in all kinds of trouble, pursued not only by agents of the British crown, but also by an undead, squid-faced mariner, the famous Davy Jones, who commands a ghoulish crew of half-human, half-aquatic creatures. These sailors are like the cast of "SpongeBob SquarePants" — or the menu at a seafood restaurant —come to life: Night of the Living Bouillabaisse.

One of them, played by Stellan Skarsgard with a starfish embedded in his face, is Will's long-lost father, a development that adds a gelatinous morsel of father-son pathos to the stew of plots and subplots cooked up by the screenwriters, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Davy Jones himself, meanwhile, speaks in the sinister whisper of Bill Nighy, though it is his swaying mass of facial tentacles that most viewers will remember.

And there are other memorable bits and pieces, visual highlights of a movie with no particular interest in coherence, economy or feeling. Ms. Knightley is, once again, a vision of imperial British pluckiness, with an intriguing dash of romantic recklessness that surfaces toward the end. Mr. Bloom, as is his custom, leaps about, trying to overcome his incurable blandness, and is upstaged by special effects, musical cues, octopus tentacles and pieces of wood. Naomie Harris turns up for a few scenes of hammy voodoo, and Mackenzie Crook and David Bailie contribute some proletarian slapstick. Most of the other members of the first movie's cast show up again, sometimes in surprising circumstances.

The franchise, of course, belongs to Jack Sparrow, and to Mr. Depp. Because this is a sequel, the role is no longer the splendid surprise it was in 2003, when "The Curse of the Black Pearl" charmed audiences and disarmed critics on its way to the third-best domestic box-office gross of the year. But the best parts of "Dead Man's Chest" confirm Jack Sparrow as the most viable Disney cartoon character in quite some time, though his anarchic insouciance has more in common with the work of Chuck Jones or Tex Avery. Mr. Verbinski, for his part, grasps the kinship between today's computer-assisted filmmaking and the hand-drawn animation of old, which lies in the freedom to revise the laws of physics at will. Two sequences in particular stand out, and would stand alone nicely as shorts: I will always think of them as "Fruit Kebab" and "Runaway Hamster Wheel."

But the easy delight that such flights of visual fancy inspires is crowded and blocked by all the other stuff going on in this long, ungainly movie, which for all its busy, buzzing parts, is incapable of standing on its own. It batters you with novelty and works so hard to top itself that exhaustion sets in long before the second hour is over. By next summer, I suppose, we'll all be rested and ready for more.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

the function of optical illusion and spare bedrooms in gothic coming of age stories

Or, more on plagarism in young adult fiction. Those of you who've read this stuff know that both girls are locked, as punishment, by unfeeling aunts, in strange and formal spare bedrooms, where they fantasize about their dead relatives, until . . .

"A singular notion dawned upon me. I doubted not - never doubted - that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly; and now, as I sat looking at the white bed and overshadowed walls — occasionally also turning a fascinated eye towards the dimly gleaning mirror — I began to recall what I had heard of dead men, troubled in their graves by the violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the perjured and avenge the oppressed; and I thought Mr. Reed’s spirit, harassed by the wrongs of his sister’s child, might quit its abode —whether in the church vault or in the unknown world of the departed — and rise before me in this chamber. I wiped my tears and hushed my sobs, fearful lest any sign of violent grief might waken a preternatural voice to comfort me, or elicit from the gloom some haloed face, bending over me with strange pity. This idea, consolatory in theory, I felt would be terrible if realised: with all my might I endeavoured to stifle it — I endeavoured to be firm. Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room; at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort. Steps came running along the outer passage; the key turned, Bessie and Abbot entered." Jane Eyre, Chapter 2.

"DIDN'T the bed curtains stir and waver! She felt beads of cold perspiration on her forehead.

Then something did happen. A beam of sunlight struck through a small break in one of the slats of the blind and fell directly athwart the picture of Grandfather Murray hanging over the mantelpiece. It was a crayon "enlargement" copied from an old daguerreotype in the parlour below. In that gleam of light his face seemed veritably to leap out of the gloom at Emily with its grim frown strangely exaggerated. Emily's nerve gave way completely. In an ungovernable spasm of panic she rushed madly across the room to the window, dashed the curtains aside, and caught up the slat blind. A blessed flood of sunshine burst in. Outside was a wholesome, friendly, human world. And, of all wonders, there, leaning right against the window-sill was a ladder! For a moment Emily almost believed that a miracle had been worked for her escape." Emily of New Moon, Chapter 11.

Sorry, it's a lot of text, but I still had to cut some of the similiarties - the way the furnishings are described, the physicality of being locked in, and there's an owl in Emily's spare room too - maybe it created the "rushing of wings" Jane experienced. There are other similarities between these two desparate heroines (those pivotal tricks of the ear), and then, if you think about the horror of being locked in a spare bedroom in Jane Eyre, it, um, recurrs.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

how do you use you tube?

Not only how does one use it at all, but also how do you personally use it? What do you find it useful for? What is not there? What are the best ways to search it? How do you limit your searches to find what you want? Can I find movie clips? Of things not otherwise available? Or are there other sites that work better for this sort of searching?

Sepoy used it to find . . . Can I use it to find