East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Something New: Sense and sensibility [movie note]

Starring Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker
Written by Kriss Turner
Directed by Sanaa Hamri

Manohla Dargis posits the blind date scene alone "says more about racial anxiety that the entirety of Crash"; which I think is overstating things, but I certainly agree that Something New is the better movie of the two. Sadly, despite being loved by just about all the critics (except Dave Kehr, who perhaps stumbled into God's Step Children by mistake) it seems no one's going to see it, more because of shitty marketing than audience racism -- well it's a combination of course; the ads positioned it as a black movie, and well, it is, but much of the nonblack audience who wouldn't see a black movie would see an interracial one, maybe. No part of the movie is exceptional, and it's a little bourgie: Sanaa Lathan, as Kenya ("named after the African country" -- most superfluous phrase I've ever read in a review, but it's my own fault for reading reviews from Box Office Mojo) ends up with more of what she wants than anyone really gets. But it kept me smiling throughout; its moments of wisdom are a bonus.

Hamri, apparently the first director named Sanaa ever, has some good ideas for shots, which she executes, pace Mr Kehr, not ineptly but imperfectly. The whirling camera around the girltalking table is this close to being a terrific sequence: just a few fewer cuts and it'd be spot on. The morning after sequence in the bedroom is lit like soft focus pseudoporn, but fuck it, it's brilliant, shifting its attention from Simon Baker's face in the background to his finger on Lathan's face in the foreground before bringing them in focus together. Then he paints her toenails.

Lathan knows she might get another decent role for six more years, and she works hard here, though she never dominates the movie: purposefully stiff at first, I suppose she could relax her body more later on, but she does enough with her face to hold the story together. Baker takes the thankless role of the Ideal Mate (aside: the black people are prejudiced and the whiteboy is saintly; screenwriter Kriss Turner, who like Hamri is an African-American woman, risks very thin ice here) and nuances it: at ease with Lathan, he's excellent at projecting discomfort when black men are around; in a way this makes the movie. Still, the two of them leave scenes ripe for stealing, with small robberies carried out by Donald Faison and his parade of ain't-gold-digger girlfriends, and Kenya's posse, including Taraji P. Henson, who needs a lead in a non-John Singleton movie now. In a minor role as the Good Father, Earl Billings gets a big scene to steal, and almost takes the movie. Still, I think Baker takes top honours -- but, as the movie asks, is it prejudiced to express a preference? Yes it is -- but some prejudices are worse than others.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Recommended rock; plus, some things random

Our New Orleans: Circumstances make the locals play just a little bit harder. Standouts are Dr. John, who has some real blues for the first time in the career, and Irma Thomas, who has them for the first time since she got famous. Many of their less nationally reknowned colleagues, though equally haunted, are more cheerful: the flood is just one more pain to play through. No matter who washes them away, they'll be back.
Shakira, Oral Fixation, Vol. 2: She wants to be your slave and your queen, but mostly your muse. She's sick of her makeup, so help her take it off, and stop calling her a whore. She loves you, you love someone else, but don't worry about her: she's not gonna cry, at least not in public. She knows it's a cannibal world, so take her advice, OK?
Lady Sovereign, Vertically Challenged: The "biggest midget in the game" has no authority in her voice, which leaves her free to subvert the best-laid plans of unoriginal gangstas, the patriarchy and her landlady. You can do it too: just do something random. Her lyrics don't kill, but they're funny enough to distract you while she gets out the crowbar. Which is probably more progressive than flashing one's ass.
Also noted -- Madonna, Confessions on a Dance Floor: Honourable, only "Hung Up" is exceptional.


Recommended reading: Christgau's Eminem essay is definitive. Fametracker explores the Vanity Fair cover which featured Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson naked and yet was not aesthetically pleasing. More time consuming is this week's end-of-an-era: Sybille Bedford's A Legacy was the last great chronicle of the petit aristocracy in fiction.


Useless statement: Film is a visual medium. Useful substitutes for "visual" in that sentence: "temporal", "popular".


Easier to believe than the truth.


Too befuddled to make a useful statement about Ken Livingstone.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why We Fight: A farewell to arms [movie note]

Written and directed by Eugene Jarecki

Maybe those with longer experience of American history than I won't this as revelatory, but to me Why We Fight seems the broadest and finest of the antiwar movies of recent years. It's been labelled as propaganda, which it is even if as far as I can tell the name-callers only mean that it uses that most wickedly socialist of film techniques, montage. The lukewarm reviews for this suggest that the very idea of a movie stating its case, rather than dilly-dallying with pros and cons, is anathema to some. Did Dylan have to put with this? ("Love your record, Bob, but do you mind if we give Strom Thurmond a song?") From its title onwards, the movie is a rallying cry, all the more effective for its focus on selling its message, not itself to its audience -- and also for refusing to sell its audience to themselves.

It also helps that Jarecki realises the problem runs deeper than the current adminstration -- Eisenhower knew enough about the military to know when his boys were overstepping, but every president since then (barring perhaps Carter) has been all too willing to buy in to the war machine. Both parties in Congress have been inexorably and legally bought out, so that questioning any proposed military appropriation is like going hunting with Dick Cheney without a flakjacket. The section on media complicity is far from unique. What's distinctive is the subtlety of argument: it never says the U.S. invaded Iraq because the dreaded Military-Industrial Complex demanded it -- there are more general issues of hegemony at play. The thesis is that the war, and others like it, wouldn't have happened without it, and since you don't like the war, eliminating said Complex must be your demand.

The worst you can accuse Jacecki of is glibness: some of his music cues and juxtapositions are cheap ironies. But, some jabs at Bush's familiar gallery of rogues aside, they're never for laughs: this is that rare movie that's justified in its near humourlessness*. I don't see any of the contempt for everyday warmongers that's been alleged: he shows the new recruit not to reveal desperation or dysfunction, but to remind us what a soldier is -- a human being. And he shows us how entrenched the system is, how hundreds of thousands of people's livelihoods depend on serving it, and how this makes it so hard to break it up. Jarecki is enraged, but he knows you have to control this rage, harness it, to change anything. And he knows this change must come, and he wants you to fight for it.

*The one novel joke is at the expense of John McCain. Is McCain an Eisenhower? You'll forgive me if I'd like to see some more evidence before endorsing him.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Pillars of Paulettism I & II; or, Who needs theory? I do

Jeremiah Kipp's interview with blog-hater Charles Taylor on Matt Zoller Seitz's blog has sparked yet more hee-hawing about Mission to Mars, as well as giving me somewhat more interesting things to think about. For now let me sketch two of the Pillars of Paulettism: "pop" and "culture".

"Pop" is taken as much much better than "not pop", because it's democratic and because it's fun. It can be kiss-kiss or bang-bang, as long as it isn't at odds with secular humanism (the ground beneath the Pillars, a given.)

"Culture" means artists and critics have a responsibility to relate the artwork to the wider world. It's not just a horror film, it's a horror film about what it means to be alive at a particular point in time and space! Kael, though, would never have put it so pretentiously.

In summary, there's more to life than movies! I just wish the rest of it was as exciting as Band of Outsiders!


I don't get the whole "death of film culture" vibe at all. Maybe it's youth. But I have no problem finding a hundred new releases to see every year, and I like half of them. And there's no shortage of good writing on these movies if you know where to look (hint: the sidebar). The complaints seem to be a chorus of "Oh, why can't I find a soulmate who appreciates the genius of Apichatpong Weerasethakul as much as I do?" (Don't look at me, I think he's merely extremely gifted.)


Other news: Wellspring is ending its distribution business. Fuck. And the Voice is falling apart. (I'm less worried about the NY Press falling apart because they've been doing so forever.)

Hype: Roy Fisher

The most useful Collected Poems in many a moon is Roy Fisher's The Long and the Short of It, partly because of its organisation -- it front-loads all his major works into a varied, thrilling first section, leaving you to cherry-pick the rest of his oeuvre at your leisure. (Hint: sections VII and VI are hot.) Fisher is to postwar Birmingham what Joyce was to pre-independence Dublin: he untames Modernism to evoke the people and places of his youth, even though his concerns are wider than a single time or place. So he gives us the polyvocal collage of "City"; the prefigured New Sentences of "The Cut Pages"; the haunted narrative of "The Ship's Orchestra"; the summation of "A Furnace". He's not just Birmingham's greatest living poet -- I think he can stand with anyone this side of Ashbery.

EXTRA: Excerpt now available at the (shhh) Illegal Archive of Poetry.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Worst casting ever; and less humorous items

  • Ang Lee's making a movie about Dusty Springfield! Huzzah! Starring Charlize Theron... what the fuck? Hopefully this is Ang Lee's little joke about how all white women look alike.
  • Who scheduled both Art Brut and Belle and Sebastian/The New Pornographers for March 21st? Bah. Also: Vijay Iyer, Berkeley Ph.D. (in music and cognitive science) and last year's breakthrough jazzbo (6th equal in the Jazz Times critics poll, four decades younger than everyone who finished above him), and Jason Moran are coming to Zellerbach on November 4th. Mark yr calendars.
  • Fortunately the South Dakotans have way, way overreached: even with the new ideologues on the Supreme Court, there's no way a law banning abortions for rape victims, or when there's a threat to the mother's health, will stand. I think.
  • Iraq just got that much worse today. The thought that there's no course of action that can prevent an escalation in violence grows more ominous.

The Skeleton Key: Southern hospitality [DVD note]

Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Iain Softley

Back to our horror semitheme: in The Skeleton Key, there is a house near New Orleans, and it's been the ruin of, well, a lot of people, and Kate Hudson may be one. Softley (Backbeat! And, uh, K-PAX) first uses the vast emptiness of the house to creep us out (aside to instant gratification kids: it's supposed to be slow, it's called intrigue!) before beginning to unveil its secrets, filling the screen with exotica and old bones. We proceed to the unravelling, which is satisfying until the somewhat pat conclusion. But said ending allows two demonic moral jests. One reminds us that faith, so often a source of movie mush, can cut both ways -- if you believe you can fly, you might fall. The other says anything goes in the name of self-preservation, so if you're a mistreated black servant, it's sensible to pick up a working knowledge of hoodoo.

In Almost Famous, Kate Hudson looked like the second coming of her moms; since then she's pissed her career away. So her self-determination here has been largely ignored -- she cuts a coasting Peter Sarsgaard and a plot-limited John Hurt, and gives Great Actress Gena Rowlands a run for her money. But Rowlands still walks off with the movie. Her Southern etiquette barely shades her demanding rigidity, so that the main pleasure of the movie is trying to work out whether she's Satanic or merely old-fashioned. At times it seems like Rowlands is parodying the Confederate belle, and in the end we learn this is perfectly apt.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hey, a real freedom of speech issue

Not that David Irving isn't a pigfucker, but three years jail for 17-year-old comments he's recanted? Every case like this gives justification to corrupt administrations placing further restrictions on civil liberties.

ADDENDUM: Yes, I'm well aware there's a more serious Austrian assault on civil liberties much nearer where I am.

(To recap: Morales pleaded guilty; the only reason he was sentenced to death was because one witness said that Morales told him in Spanish that he didn't really repent, but Morales doesn't speak Spanish; and the presiding judge over his sentencing has said the death sentence was wrongly applied. If ever there was a case for clemency, it was this one, and yet Morales is still alive only because the meds weren't sure they could put him down without unbearable pain.)

The year in music, in rhyming couplets

Acclaimed Music has updated its rankings to include 2005 lists. While I'm glad that "1 Thing" and "Since U Been Gone" are nestled among the top 300 songs of all time, I'm less convinced by the album rankings (is Illinois really the 82nd most acclaimed album of all time?) To correct any erroneous impressions you might have about album quality, here are my reviews of the 20 most acclaimed discs of the year, written as rhyming couplets, of course.

Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
Pretentiousness over Chicago looms.
At least this Christian has all killer tunes.

M.I.A., Arular
Not really a terrorist -- it's her beats
That explode while her voice radically tweets.

Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now
You know you're trying too hard to depress us
When Rufus Fucking Wainwright sounds less precious.

Kanye West, Late Registration
Dude has a conscience and a pulse; he's trying
To teach while sounding dope -- thank you, Jon Brion.

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
All those who say that song's about Iraq's missed
That "Price of Gas"'s more generally Marxist.

LCD Soundsystem
Though drums drive up the wall and bleeps are sunny,
It only takes off when the gags are funny.

Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
He overrates Prozac and Emmylou;
You might hate him, but at least he loves you.

Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better
Of course it sounds sharper than the debut:
e.g. the guitar on "Do You Want To".

My Morning Jacket, Z
The band is tight, "Beats for You"'s a rip-snorter,
Who woulda thunk? Thank God the songs are shorter.

The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
They bake delicious trifle after trifle
With love. It'd make Dick Cheney draw his rifle.

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
The band that's more magic than Harry Potter
Rock harder -- but they could be rocking hotter.

Gorillaz, Demon Days
The future of music marketing, many say,
Is this a good thing? Better than Blur, anyway.

The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
Full of cheaper hooks than "Slippery When
Wet". Just another White Stripes album then.

Animal Collective, Feels
Alright kiddies, I'll put up with your wackiness,
When you rock out you don't sound like a slacky mess.

Spoon, Gimme Fiction
Decent songs by a decent band, no doubt.
If that does it for you, knock yourself out.

Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary
The opener has a tune that's not banal. Some
Might regret there's not one more on the album.

Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll
Considering a move to L.A.? Yous
may find your jokes make locals there confused.

Common, Be
The verse he spits that shows he sucks again is:
Black men with white girls aren't real; UPN is.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Strong groove, bright colours gainsaid only by fools.
"Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood" rules.

Maximo Park, A Certain Trigger
These wordy Brits' guitars and hooks are bold, save
"Acrobat". The New Wave, same as the Old Wave.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Canonball #996: Kwaidan

Starring Mikuni Rentaro, Nadakai Tatsuya, Nakamura Katsuo, Nakamura Kanemon
Screenplay by Mizuki Yôko, from stories by Lafcadio Hearn

Directed by Kobayashi Masaki

A yokai or two turn up in Kwaidan, but it's mostly about the ghosts. It's an anthology of four traditional stories retold in the book Kaidan by Yakumo Koizumi, alias Lafcadio Hearn, a Irishman who was born in Greece and died in Japan, while living in America long enough to get hounded out of Cincinnati for marrying a mixed race woman. (Forgotten today, he's an important figure, shaping common perceptions of both New Orleans and Japan.) In the movie, a samurai remarried into status regrets leaving his first wife. A woodcutter, whose life has been spared by a demon, finds love. The biwa player Blind Hoichi McTell plays for a long-extinct Imperial court. And a writer never finishes his tale of the man in a bowl of tea. The plots are simple and functional; it's the narration that adds suspense, as in Poe.

This is horror in the way that many fables are horror, drawing on your fear of your reasonably satisfying life being disturbed, even if we rationalists don't think resurrected martyred samurai are the problem. The women don't have much to do except be good, or evil, or dead, but the everymen get more room to show that the psychologically simple can be emotionally rich, while also fulfilling the equally important task of looking petrified at appropriate moments. Nadakai Tatsuya is particularly sensitive as the man who can't believe his luck in finding the perfect wife: she's beautiful, loving and don't forget obedient. Of course, since he doesn't credit his wife with any deeper motivations, he doesn't realise it's his obedience that's the key to his happiness.

Kobayashi wrecks any preconceptions you might have about a Japanese style: this isn't Ugetsu, spooky tracking shots notwithstanding. It's as saturated with symbolic colour, blue-robed nobles plunging into blood seas, as anything I've seen by his contemporary Suzuki Seijun, but there's a stillness at the heart of the film that seems very antiquarian. This is most notable in the sound mix: traditional instruments are used for effects, with synchronisation less important than mood: percussion acts as punctuation. The past is appealing because everything unravels so formally -- even amputation. Nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why I prefer minimalism to aleatory; or, the lure of determinism

What's better than random Garfield? Silent Garfield!

Absence:art :: MSG:Chinese food.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Café Lumière whoooOOO!

Asian American Film Fest programme is up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More Indiefest

You read the programme guide, and a lot of entries make go sit up and say, "That's an intriguing premise", or "That sounds like fun". So you go to a screening, get there early, and watch the trailers. And the movies you thought about seeing, by all appearances, look horrible, saved from being generic by being inept. Even the comedies seem like they'd struggle to make it to the second joke.

I bet Miike Takashi's The Great Yokai War has an awesome trailer. If Miike isn't suited for family filmmaking -- which, I'm sorry, requires discipline -- his imagination here is worth being startled by, if you're prepared to accept the laziness of some of the plotting, particularly the ending. The designs of the yokai (spirits), based on the manga of Mizuki Shigeru (who has a bit part), are dynamic, from sentient fireballs to cute sock puppets, and Miike sometimes CG's hundreds of distinct monsters into the frame, or has them fight with spare-part robots. The nominal story sees city boy Kamiki Ryuunosuke lonely in a small town, until he's anointed the Kirin Rider, which apparently means that it's his responsibility to save the world. And so he has enter the goblin's cave, find the magic sword and defeat Der Bad Guy and his panty-flashing henchwoman, that sort of thing. That the story is mostly engaging despite Miike's indifference is a credit to the actors, especially Kamiki, who's defter with the blue screen than anyone north of Naomi Watts, and Abe Sadao, as the comic relief Kappa. (B PLUS)

Shorts of note: "Spin" (Jamin Winans) takes a clever premise -- DJ controls the world via turntables -- and runs with it, giving a better demonstration of the unpredictable consequences of attempts to control life (or people) than certain supposed masters have managed lately. "Space Chase" (Duncan & Pearson) shows the filmmakers could be brilliant at making ads, but since they're British, they'll probably end up making shitty gangster movies. "Whacked" (Jake West) is a shitty British gangster movie, but it's 12 minutes long and therefore doesn't stretch credibility too far. "Valley of Gwombi" (Michael Granberry) has claymated violence against children, which is barely enough.

Avoiding blog-a-thons

Perhaps one day I'll take part in one of these, if they ever choose a movie by a director I have some sort of respect for.

Coming on March 27: Ferrera-thon! Like I said.

There's so much fuss about Santa Claus, but see Cupid will not be defeated

Valentine's Day shout-out to all our female readers*:

Tze Ming!
er I think that's everyone.

*excluding blood relatives.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Recommended jazz

John Coltrane, One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note
The best live Coltrane albums are the rediscovered Monk concert at Carnegie('57); at the Village Vanguard ('61, the box is worthwhile); and at Birdland ('63). This is a half-step down, which is still worthwhile. The 27-minute solo on the title track is one of the finest extant examples of Trane on the way out to wherever he ended up, but still near enough to us earthlings to perceive him with senses unaided. In the asteroid belt, maybe.

George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra, The 80th Birthday Concert
Russell was the avant-garde's leading theorist back in the Fifties; as far as I can tell, the influential part of his Lydian Chromatic Concept wasn't any of his particular scales but his conceptualising of "gravity" -- that distances were more important than particular harmonic structures -- which made Davis and Coltrane (the latter of whom saves Russell's classic arrangement of "Manhattan" from Jon Hendricks) that eschewing chord changes would open up endless possibilities for the soloist. Russell ditched the States in '63; in between revolutionising jazz in several Scandanavian nations, he composeded sporadically but probably spent more time refining the Concept. His big band here runs through his major European works, including an excellent "Electronic Sonata" and a definitive "African Game", demonstrating his ideas work dandily on large canvases. Trumpeter Stanton Davis, in particular, keeps things on edge.

Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins, Which Way Is East
Lithe sax/traps duets -- "Supreme Love Dance", "Civilization" (both alto), "Windy Mountain" (Lloyd's better-known tenor) -- share disc space with muckabouts in ethnic instrumentation. Higgins, not long before his death, sings strongly on "Blues Tinge" but is also affecting when chanting on "My Lord, my Lord".

Also noted: Dianne Reeves's "One for My Baby" at the end of Good Night, and Good Luck is a little awesome.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Canonball #998: Koyaanisqatsi

Directed by Godfrey Reggio
"Inspiration & ideas" from Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, David Monongye, Guy Debord and Leopold Kohr.

"The world is moving fast and I'm losing my balance" -- Andre 3000

For an avant-garde film, remarkably square. Godfrey Reggio's (and DP Ron Fricke's) visuals are pretty vacant, relying too much on time-lapse that stopped being innovative half a century before this was made. Philip Glass's (and his conductor Michael Riesman's) soundtrack just trudges along, relying too much on his sub-Human League electronic 'scaping. So from barren mesa to failed space junk, it's even worse than most New Age indulgences because it's convinced of its significance.

And yet its desire to keep moving keeps it watchable, and for a glorious twenty minutes (that's Chapter 10: "The Grid" for you DVD skippers), sight and sound meld into something exhilarating. A time-lapsed pan out over a city at night wakes up the nocturnal Glass, as he lurches into synthbass at double-speed, then throws some choral change-ups, then does both at once, repeatedly switching densities. Meanwhile, as day breaks, we see public thoroughfares like intersections, station stairways and revolving doors, still at super speed. We see cities at work (a smallgoods factory is a recurring setting) and at play (Ms. Pac-Man!) in one of the fairest yet most generous urban cross-sections in a city symphony. And then there is only movement, alleys and motorways we breakneck along until the music suddenly stops, while our momentum keeps us hurtling, leaving us floating high above the city. We have just experienced the joy of scale; the point Reggio is trying to make is the exact opposite of this.

Friday, February 10, 2006

"I am a thinker. I have strong beliefs, and I try to be an example of what I believe in."

Here are many things I did not know about Coretta Scott King.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Crash: Calm the fuck down! [DVD note]

(I sent Foundas the letter but don't have an address for Dargis.)

Open letter to Manohla Dargis:

I value the thoughtfulness of your work, so please trust that I write out of respect, but I thought one of your descriptions of Crash was reprehensibly stupid: "a movie that says sometimes black men really are muggers (so don't worry about racial profiling)". I'm not crazy about the film, but I find this tremendously unfair to Paul Haggis and co.

After Sandra Bullock's pro-profiling speech, Haggis repeatedly hits his audience over the head to drum in that such thinking is wrong. Bullock accuses Michael Pena of gang membership, though he turns out to be a snuggly teddy bear of a family man. Ryan Phillippe subconsciously profiles Larenz Tate and is rewarded by becoming a murderer. You're right to label Crash a vehicle for Angeleno self-acclamation (your point on the city's segregation is well-taken). But to disparage it as merely a means for the upwardly mobile to assuage their guilt over the people they've stepped on or just blotted out of their lives is blind: this viewpoint requires you to ignore how hard Haggis is trying to teach us a lesson.

Open letter to Scott Foundas:

I have no doubt that Crash is a failure, but I take issue with your assertion that its flaws are not just artistic but moral. It's bad enough that you have it both ways by calling it a "liberal jerk-off" and then tainting it by association with the Bush adminstration. But I take particular issue with where you reduce the characters to "whatever stereotype they're on hand to embody and/or debunk". The opposition you set up is misleading: can even one of the major characters simply be dismissed as a stereotype? Are our screens really so full of erudite carjackers? Of sympathetic racists? Of any kind of Iranian-Americans? You would be right in suggesting that each character exists primarily to debunk stereotypes. Isn't this a laudable goal?

You can certainly argue with Haggis's methods (letting the racist care deeply for his father is interesting, having him save the life of the woman he molested is insulting), but it won't do to present your reader's idiotically glib assertion "that people are afraid to admit they don't like Crash for fear of being considered racists themelves" when the whole theme of the picture is that everyone can be racist -- for any reasonably honest person to like the movie, they've got to own up to their personal prejuduces. (It would be unfair, but marginally less glib, to say that people who don't like Crash are refusing to admit to their own racism.) And while I don't think the African-American Film Critics Association is representative of anyone besides themselves, surely it's a cheap shot to imply they're psychologically enslaved because they like this movie. Couldn't it just be that they're thankful to see Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle in roles more morally complex than good guy/bad guy?

I do enjoy reading you and look forward to continuing to do so in the decades to come.

Open letter to everyone else:

What I haven't mentioned above is that Ludacris is hilarious in his role. The joke is that he of all people is shooting off on use of the N-word; it's the screwiest twist to hip hop morality since Dr. Dre pretended to be Eminem's conscience.

Honestly, I thought it was lower than that

We here at East Bay View can't claim to do much better: only four and a half and a bit of our top fifty movies of last year were directed by women (Miranda July, Lucrecia Martel, Mak Yan Yan, Agnès Varda and half for Zana Briski; the bit is for Amanda Forbis's and Wendy Tilly's segment of The Animation Show 2005, which was the best thing in that omnibus). The Voice poll has five of 50; Film Comment's four. You'd be right to point out than male directors vastly outnumber female directors, but consider that the ratio of graduates from film schools hasn't ever been this distorted. We don't have to wait a generation to conclude that yes, Martha, there is a glass ceiling -- so in the meantime, would fanboys please consider more inclusive alternatives to auteurism?

EDIT: Interesting to note that thoug women are only responsible for just over a quarter of my 99 Songs, they form a majority in the top ten. I will think for a while about what this might mean.

Damn you all

Why didn't any of you make me listen to Natasha Bedingfield's "These Words" before now? Spending the last year and a half without this song seems like a waste of my life. Well, I guess it's my fault for giving up on radio.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

In case anyone out there still cares about history

From Charles C. Mann 's excellent new book 1491:

"[Her name] was actually Mataoka -- Pocahontas, a teasing nickname, meant something like "little hellion." Mataoka was a priestess-in-training... in the central town of the Powhatan alliance, a powerful confedercy in tidewater Virginia. Aged about twelve, she may have protected Smith, but not, as he wrote, by interceding when he was a captive and about to be executed in 1607. In fact, the "execution" was probably a ritual staged by Wahunsenacawh, head of the Powhatan alliance, to establish his authority over Smith by making him a member of the group; if Mataoka interceded, she was simply playing her assigned role in the ritual. The incident in which she may have saved Smith's life occurred a year later, when she warned the English that Wahunsenacawh, who had tired of them, was about to attack... [Smith] did leave Virginia in 1609 for medical treatment, but only because he somehow blew up a bag of gunpowder while wearing it around his neck."

Wiki plug

I've moved the lists to the wiki. The RHGTRH has been going swimmingly in the new format, and there I can post some of my more narrowly interesting material, like my Gertrude Jekyll gardening quotes page or my love letter to Arlene Smith, without cluttering the blog.

If you want to write your own encyclopaedia, you're free to go to PBwiki and set one up. It won't be as good as mine though.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Indiefest diary 1: Too much fun

Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher (David Di Sabatino)

This is the kind of well-reasoned movie about an intriguing public figure that would get a primetime TV slot if the channels claiming quality weren't afraid of meaning. Lonnie Frisbee achieved notoriety in the early Seventies as a major player in the Jesus Movement, in which counterculture kids were attracted to a less rigorous Christianity, emphasising love while minimising constriction. Frisbee was affiliated with the fledgling Calvary and Vineyard churches, both now multinational, but fell out with both, growing embittered before dying of AIDS. Director David Di Sabatino comes from an evangelical family, but possesses a modicum of scepticism to leaven the occasional sanctimony of his talking heads. (Sadly his open-mindedness doesn't transfer to the visual, as he overplays certain tics like zooming into stills off-center. Sometimes it's okay to just show the picture.)

When the movie shifts to deal with Frisbee being squeezed out of the Vineyard after it was revealed he had been in a gay relationship, although it does smack of trying to force a thesis, that thesis stands: this major figure in the development of these churches has been whitewashed out of their history books. One could argue, however, that the movie does its own whitewashing by downplaying Frisbee's other sins, like his drug use. In any case, some Christians would consider the idea that a sinner could convert so many people to be perfectly apt (they're the target audience for this movie); other Christians would prefer not to contemplate such things. Hinted at is the question of whether it's possible for Christianity to thrive as an anti-authoritarian movement, like it originally was. Christianity's ubiquity would be impossible without its hierarchies; while open and reformist thought is possible at the fringes, can it affect the religion as a whole?

Frisbee, for his part, seems from the archival footage to be a likable, charismatic innocent, joyful at being saved and wanting to pass this feeling on. When those who were ministered by him discuss him, he comes across as something more: an apostle, a prophet, just not a saint. Some of them to this day credit him with miracles. You may not believe them, but to possess the holy stature and earthly magnetism to have others even ascribe this gift to you is rare. The enraptured testimonies help explain the explosion of the evangelical movement, like it or not.

One other thing that must be mentioned is the music, which consists mostly of prehistoric Christian rock. Like most of the genre then or since, the tracks are watered-down reassignments of what was fashionable five years earlier, except Di Sabbatino's choices are only slightly watered-down, so that, in the context of the movie, they sound actively pleasant. As Larry Norman asked, why should the devil have all the good music?

The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose (Sam Wainwright Douglas and Paul Lovelace)

This starts out as the funniest rockumentary Christopher Guest never made, thanks to Steve Weber, to whom the word "mercurial" doesn't do justice. Weber's onscreen antics pale compared to stories of his even chemicalier past: a Fug claims that Weber once treated a toothache by dropping acid. One running joke is that no one can believe Weber is still alive, least of all his long-suffering 40-year bandmate, Peter Stampfel. (The other running gag is that almost everyone thinks the band sucks.) Even before he went straight in the mid-Seventies, Stampfel, who everyone besides Weber considers the better musician (though Weber's no Ringo), had to deal with Weber's epicurean and Bacchanalian tendencies, which naturally precluded practising.

The movie (which evolved out of, of all things, a documentary about Stampfel's champion and lookalike, critic Robert Christgau) isn't a history, so swathes of Stampfel's and Weber's lives are left unexplored, and inevitably some of these absences are cause for regret: Hurley/Stampfel/Frederick's Have Moicy!, strong evidence for the existence of collective genius, isn't considered, and the Rounders' mutual ex Antonia is only mentioned in passing. What is there is a depiction of a very odd couple. Early on, they're shown light-heartedly needling each other on stage; later, though, their arguments are weirdly passive-aggressive, like in Some Kind of Monster. Stampfel obviously has a lot of affection for his pal, but experience has taught that relying on him is inadvisable. Weber's mind is unreadable: what's going on there beside working out where the next drink will come from? Whatever it is, he doesn't let anyone know. Near the end, it's heartbreaking when Stampfel comes to the conclusion that although he'd like to play with Weber again, it's alright if he never does.

You get the Rounders' music or you don't, only be warned that in either case you'll be totally disorientated after a first listen; the best way into the catalogue of the Rounders and friends is still Have Moicy! The soundtrack here includes comparatively well-known classics like "Euphoria", "Boobs a Lot" and "Griselda", as well as rarities like the Holy Grail of Rounderdom, "Fucking Sailors in Chinatown" (if the filmmakers are reading this, "Chinatown" on the DVD; this is not negotiable). Stampfel's wedgied funnyvoice (which turns out to be more or less his normal speaking voice) balances Weber's lackadaisical ease. The music evokes Weber's idea that enjoying the present moment is everything, especially if it's lunchtime. But it requires Stampfel's professionalism to sustain the illusion. So in the end, guys, does it really matter that much who wrote those songs?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The following is just an excuse to post a nudie pic

"An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an original is motivated by necessity... It is marvelous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine; to reproduce is human."
-- Man Ray

Note the form of this quote most commonly reproduced on the web by this quote is hopelessly mangled, but that's humanity for you.

(Image from Le Retour à la raison, which proves its awesomeness by being two minutes long.)

The following post is just an excuse to put up a picture of Nadia Sibirskaïa

Pauline Kael said Ménilmontant was her favourite movie. She was fibbing -- everyone knows it was Last Tango -- but it's pretty great anyway, for the following reasons:
  • It's avant-garde, yet narrative!
  • It has montage!
  • It doesn't have any of those annoying intertitles!
  • It's only 37 minutes long!
  • Nadia Sibirskaïa out-Gishes the Gishes!
  • The park bench scene is (Kael) "as great as anything in Chaplin". This presumably includes the Dance of the Rolls!
You can download all 350 Megs of the thing over at UbuWeb (RIGHT click on the link; don't even think about streamiong it). But you'd be better off getting the double-disc set Avant-garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and 30s, which has emergent films from Duchamp and Léger and some people who actually know how to make movies, like Man Ray and that Welles guy. Thank you Kino!

More wrestling!

Let's get all that unpleasantness out of our heads with some more creative violence.

Tsuruta-Misawa June '90: A legend begets a legend. The great Tsuruta climbs into the ring with an up-and-comer, and All Japan is never the same.

Kawada-Kobashi '98
: These two were Misawa's only peers in the ring, but Misawa got all the opportunities for big matches. This was their time to the shine, for the Triple Crown, no less. Watch how Kawada refuses to fall for Kobashi's hulky shit.

Michaels-Ramon Summerslam '95: Ladder Match II saw the great bump-taker of his time get thrown all over the place. It's also shocking to remember how good Scott Hall was when he was motivated. (The whole thing does make more sense if you've seen Ladder Match I.)

Benoit/Angle-Edge/Mysterio No Mercy '02: The great technicians Benoit and Angle connect Mysterio's spots and make Edge look like the Next Big Thing, in the best U.S. tag match ever.

HHH-Michaels-Benoit Mania '04
: A sentimental favourite for a lot of people (see URL). At the time it was the only great 3-way ever, possibly because it was the first time the crowd took submissions seriously in that kind of match.

Canonball #1000: Seven

New feature! Canonball is our ten year countdown of the 1000 most acclaimed movies of all time. The list is currently ripped off They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? but I'll adjust it over time. I'd like to see all the movies (even the von Trier ones, maybe) but I'm not prepared to, like, buy them. We begin with one of the most influential movies of recent years, Seven.

Starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed by David Fincher

The strength of Fincher's vision of metropolitan decay lets Seven overcome the indulgences in its screenplay for over an hour before it gets fatally sophomoricised. The sets are consistently underlit: there's endless drizzle and a lot of poking around with flashlights. Perverse in the modern way, He refuses to grant the expected money shots of extended killing scenes, and his the talent to show revulsion and fascination simultaneously. But sometimes only relvulsion is justified. Fincher's problem, as it always is, is that he wouldn't know a good script if it called him Rosebud and smashed a snowglobe in his face.

The screenplay only dips into stupidity in the pre-climactic conversation during to drive to the desert: how can Mills not think to point out that laughing at a fat guy isn't the same as making his guts explode? But it's not stupidity that's the problem, it's vileness. Grotesquerie accompanies all the murders, and at first this can be defended as functional. But by the end the sscript is as manipulative as any of the women-in-refrigerator exploitations that inspired and were inspired by it.

So, Andrew Kevin Walker: why would you think I want to see this shit? You think it's deep? You think if you say Chaucer's name enough times you make your crap art? Dante was more than a writer because of his endless compassion, because he understood beauty. You have no idea what to do with beauty except kill it. It's one thing to remind us there's ugliness in the world, it's another to create it.

OK, I'm regretting this project already. Ah, #999 is better.