Sunday, March 26, 2006

Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Junk?

It's free all-you-can-dispose-of trash day tomorrow. So, last night, a friend of mine and I (actually, he is the occupant of the spare room in the basement) had fun smashing up the bar that had been left down there by the previous residents. (Think 1974-era Esquire advertisement prop.) That, plus the Christmas Tree that we left in the backyard, plus a bag of yard waste, and some other stuff went out on the curb. (Last week I took the blade to my chainsaw in to have it sharpened, but it's not ready yet. So, I chopped down some of the last remaining nuisance trees with a handsaw fueled by nothing but my own brute strength.) All the neighbors have all their shit piled up outside too... kind of looks like a neighborhood full of Sanfords & Sons.

We watched Burden of Dreams today, along with the excellent short Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Herzog is far out. So is Errol Morris, without whom there would have been no WHEHS. I think I'm going to get The ♥G♥ a bunch of his movies to watch in the next couple of weeks; she helped her friend take her (the friend's) sick puppy to the vet this morning, so if we start with Gates of Heaven, we just won't tell her friend what it's about. (GoH = One of Roger Ebert's 10 favorite movies ever: When I [Ebert] put it on my list of the 10 greatest films ever made, I was not joking; this 85-minute film about pet cemeteries has given me more to think about over the past 20 years than most of the other films I've seen.)

I know I got a lot of stuff done around the homestead this weekend, but looking around, I see that the stacks of stuff that I had planned on going through are still sitting there in their pristine stackedness. Meh. I'm going through a bunch of newspapers and magazines I've been meaning to read for a while. And when I say a bunch, I mean... well... Lots of nice storage space open in the basement now that we got rid of that bar.

The lovely Diablo Cody shares her experiences as a guest on David Letterman the other night. Excerpt: When we arrived at the back entrance, the paparazzi were lined up for Denzel. I am not Denzel, but I thought maybe Fiery Sarah could be Denzel, so I tossed my coat over her head and marched her in as if she were a reclusive A-lister. A handful of flashbulbs exploded. This seemed hilarious at the time.

LBNL, here's the Am I Geeky Enough to Be a Librarian? quiz. I scored 16/20.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fitzcarraldo Reminds Me a Lot of Apocalypse Now

I did something this weekend I've been meaning to do for years: I viewed the 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, the Werner Herzog epic starring Klaus Kinski and Claudia Cardinale, which is about a Caruso-obsessed entrepreneur who sails into a jungle of hostile natives as part of a scheme to push a 300-ton steamboat over a mountain in order to bring the opera to a remote South American outpost.

Among its parallels to Apocalypse Now is the fact that there were serious follow-up documentaries to both films, which followed their multiple-year struggles through actual wars, jungles, sicknesses, deaths, and replacements of principal stars (Jason Robards, Harvey Keitel) who couldn't finish, even after tons of footage was shot with them. We heard Mick Jagger on the radio of the boat in the middle of the jungle in Vietnam, and we actually saw Mr. Jagger (blink and you'll miss the 10-pixel-tall blur) on the boat in the middle of the Amazon jungle, because he was originally cast as one of the primary actors, but was not able to finish filming. Hearts of Darkness documented Mr. Coppola's ordeal, and Burden of Dreams, which I am Netflixxing now, documented Mr. Herzog's. Elements of Conrad emerged (flourished?) in Fitz, though without all the overt connections included in Apocalypse.

Claudia Cardinale -- YEAH BABY!

Note: This image of Ms. Cardinale appears nowhere in any of the above-mentioned films.

Another out-of-the-way film I saw was Black and White in Color, a very clever French satire about an outpost in French Colonial Africa, so distant from civilization that they don't get news about WWI until six months after it starts. This sends the outraged citizenry to attack the German colony next door, until they realize that the Germans actually have a machine gun that works! Here's what I like about movies like this: They're different. If you can get me a movie that's just different, then as far as I'm concerned, you've won half the battle already, in regards to my ultimate opinion of it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nitpicking About Welles on DVD

OK, so here's a good article (via A&LD) in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a film studies professor named David Sterritt, who has actually done some DVD commentaries himself. I love obscure stuff about the history of the cinema, so I appreciate the gist of his article. However, I must take issue with one point of his. Excerpt:

Quick, name Orson Welles's first movie. Citizen Kane, right? Guess again. It's The Hearts of Age, which the 19-year-old prodigy co-directed with a friend in 1934.

This eight-minute trifle isn't much of a movie. Still, its story-free parody of modernist mannerisms gives a tantalizing glimpse of the visual preoccupations — startling images, fluid cinematography, eye-jolting montage — that would become Welles's trademarks.

Want to check it out? Until recently, that meant tracking down one of the movie's few existing prints — or getting hold of the ultra-low-quality videocassette that presented Welles's film (with other works of "experimental" cinema) in a murky, muddy transfer that made it difficult to see, much less analyze and appreciate.

But that was then. Now the elusive avant-garde item is viewable and re-viewable with a flick of your DVD remote. So are an imposing number of similarly adventurous films produced outside the money-driven frameworks of major movie studios.

Prof. Sterritt is referring to the DVD Unseen Cinema - Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 (released October, 2005) which contains the early Welles short, among many others. I just added that and the other DVD collections he cites to my Netflix queue (except for the Su Friedrich title).

However, I must point out that this is not the first time that Hearts of Age has appeared on DVD. It appeared in the collection Citizen Welles, which primarily featured The Stranger and The Trial, and was released in December, 2001. I'm just sayin'...

Look Who Got a Doggie!

This and other celebrity pugshots can be found here. Excerpt: I made these Photoshop images of my pug, Jesús, over the past couple of years in an effort to make my procrastination seem more productive. Occasionally I'd email them to friends and family. "You ought to publish them!" they'd say, oblivious to the intricacies copyright law. So, here they are, free for the taking. Take 'em down, pass 'em around.

Thanks to Radosh for the link.

Newsflash! South Park Is Mean; Red Swinglines; TOTN; LJ Movers & Shakers

Items of note:
  • Ann Althouse points to more weasly (sp?) bullshit from Comedy Central about pulling selected "offensive" episodes from the repeat schedule. Hey, I know! Why not just make a new show and call it "Nice Park" and then we wouldn't have to worry about anyone being offended! Washington Post story here; stand by for possible Mission: Impossible III boycott.
  • We Netflixxed Office Space the other day; I learned that the producers had to specially create a red Swingline stapler for the film. In the extras, Mike Judge said that Swingline started getting so many requests for this non-existent product that they began to produce them. According to Mr. Judge, the red version is now Swingline's best-selling stapler. Excerpt from 2003 Time article: Edward T. McAvoy, production designer of the 1999 film Office Space, was pondering ways to accessorize that film's geeky character Milton and latched onto a stapler. He wondered, What could I do as a designer to make this stapler special so as to justify Milton's need to possess it and the bosses' need to covet it? He decided to make it fire-engine red. "I called Swingline and said, 'Do you make a red stapler?' and they said no," McAvoy recalls. "And I said, 'Well, do you mind if I use your logo on the side of a stapler I'm going to paint red?' They didn't mind at all." McAvoy took four Swingline staplers to a local auto-body shop and told the workers he wanted them "perfectly painted, just like you'd paint a car." He later added a computer-rendered logo. Once the film was released, buyers began asking for the red stapler. But Swingline didn't make it. "We concluded we really needed to put a red stapler on the market," says Bruce Neapole, Swingline's president. He says Swingline continues to sell thousands each month of what it calls the Rio Red Stapler. Lots of good links at the Official Red Swingline Stapler site.
  • I started watching the documentary series Triumph of the Nerds this morning, which is about the history of the personal computer. Quite interesting, even though it was made in 1996, at which time the PC industry had still not taken off to anywhere near the extent that it has in the past 10 years... the World Wide Web was still just a kid.
  • Library Journal has named their top Movers & Shakers for 2006. Props to all, including fellow Blogspotters Jill Stover of Library Marketing: Thinking Outside the Book and Sarah Johnson of Library Careers/Beyond the Job.

Tom Fox - Is It the Same Guy?

So the question I was trying to figure out last night has to do with Tom Fox, the American peace activist who was recently abducted and killed in Iraq. (Here's his blog.)

The other day, I happened to watch the 1974 documentary about Vietnam, Hearts and Minds (which won the Best Documentary Oscar, btw.) I watched it with the commentary track last night and this morning. In the credits, I noticed that there was a Tom Fox who was the film crew's guide through South Vietnam in the early 1970s. Could they be the same guy?

Here's an excerpt from an interview with H&M director Peter Davis: I also worked with another American there who became part of our unit when we were shooting, a guy named Tom Fox who now edits a national Catholic magazine. Tom is married to a Vietnamese woman and he speaks much better Vietnamese than Brennon Jones. So Tom took us around and did a wonderful job of interviewing people.

Sounds like it could plausibly have been the same guy as was a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. But, the middle initial gave it away. Looking at the credits again, I see that the H&M Tom Fox was Tom C. Fox; The recent victim of Iraqi insurgents was Tom W. Fox. Unless he was one of those guys with multiple middle initials. Anyone know of any connection?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cool Stuff From Around the Web

Miscellaneous items of interest:


T.R. Dead Eight Years Before Cooper Expedition

Memo to Mark Cotta Vaz, author of Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong --

I am enjoying your book on Merian Cooper trememdously. It is a fascinating biography about a fascinating man.

However, I must point out a passage that needs correction or clarification. At the bottom of page 126, you write the following about an expedition Cooper and others were mounting to East Africa to shoot footage for the 1929 film The Four Feathers:

By March 1927, [Isaiah] Bowman was working with Cooper to develop a fundraising and advisory committee, and John Hambleton was helping raise money -- he even told Theodore Roosevelt about the trip.

Point of difficulty: The former president had died eight years earlier, on January 6, 1919. Could this passage be referring to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.?

The book, as I say, is excellent. One of my favorites of the past few years. But, for future editions, please consider this passage for revision. Thanks!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fred, Betty, Glittering

A few more things:

  • Looks like Fred over at the Fredösphere has discovered the joys of Battlestar Galactica. Excerpt: How do I love thee, Battlestar Galactica? Let me count the ways: 1. Commander Adama's face looks like something run over by a dozen Cylons driving earth moving equipment. This guy's face is weathered. He's far from the usual TV pretty-boy ideal, and the realness is a relief. The contrast with the 1970s Battle Star Galactica, where even the men had Farrah Fawcett hairdos, could not be greater.
  • Meanwhile, Betty over at Maximum Verbosity has just finished reading a collection of essays on Firefly. I am just finishing the last of the episodes in the DVD set, and I can see what all the buzz is about. I'll probably watch Serenity tonight or tomorrow. What's the deal with Shepherd Book? That's what I want to know.
  • Nothing from Wilma or Barney.
  • The Glittering Eye offers analysis of Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds's blogroll. I know there are a few links that need updating in mine, so I certainly don't want to point fingers.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gordon Parks, 1912-2006

The great Gordon Parks has passed on. Here's the Amsterdam (not the one in Holland) News, Media Life Magazine, and the London Times. A few months ago I wrote this essay about Mr. Parks. The world is richer for his having been here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Few Things

  • My friend SSMW shares her unpublished bitterness with the world. Until the Blogosphere came along, she could only share it with people she actually knew! (And retail salespeople.) I can only imagine her bitterness regarding the published-author status of those writers whose works are displayed at Book Happy's World of Weird Books.
  • Right now I'm watching a fantastic documentary about a maverick L.A. cable station from the early days of pay-TV, Z Station: A Magnificent Obsession. It's about a guy named Frank Harvey (who turns out to be crazy and homicidal/suicidal, but hey...), but in a larger sense it's about how great all sorts of aspects of the movies can be -- European films, Asian films, documentaries, Westerns, softcore exploitation, costume dramas, Depression-era screwball comedies, all of it. Listen very closely: If you are at all interested in the cinema, watch this documentary immediately! (Z Channel's ultimate demise came from what? Sports, of course.)
  • The ♥G♥ and I watched Spielberg's War of the Worlds last night. It was pretty good; I'm glad I watched it, even though the whole Cruise-as-divorced-dad thing grated on the nerves (i.e. singing "Little Deuce Coup" or whatever the hell that was all about). I liked the dialogue adapted from H.G. Wells for the cellar scenes with Tim Robbins. As with Jackson's Kong, the whole thing had a very post-9/11ish feel.
  • Check out the new PopCult Magazine link in the sidebar.
  • Lots of good surfing to be had at Deb's Historical Research Page.
  • LBNL, in the midst of link-cleaning, I found this real good page I had bookmarked years ago with everything you'd ever need to know about Flappers.

Kudlow on Ports; NJ on Blogging; Other Stuff

A couple of days off of work; trying to get some chores done around the house. Also, doing some cleaning of my Favorites folders, and reading some things (both paper and electronic) that I've been meaning to get to. If I may share some of them with you...

  • Here's Larry Kudlow on the UAE port deal. I'm tending to lean to his way of thinking on this. Excerpt: When you scratch this debate among conservatives deep enough, what you are left with is a pretty clear demarcation between free-traders and protectionists. That’s really the cutting edge litmus test that divides the conservatives on this debate. In my opinion, those conservatives who oppose the Dubai ports deal are lining up with the xenophobic protectionism of Pat Buchanan. The pessimistic Buchananites want to put a huge wall around America. They are isolationists. They have no global model of economic growth. On the other hand, conservatives in favor of the ports deal align themselves with the pro-growth, free-trade liberalizing tradition embodied by Jack Kemp. The Kemp adherents believe in breaking down global barriers in order to enhance prospects for prosperity and democratization everywhere. That’s what this thing is all about. By the way, I took this test designed to measure one's opinions on foreign policy, and of the four categories tested, my score skewed most strongly towards expanding global markets.
  • Is blogging a ship passing in the night? (Is that even a metaphor?) Check out this National Journal Piece. I'm not worried; as long as there are people who compulsively document fake rock bands and post their findings, there will always be a place on the Web for bloggers.
  • Here's PatriotWatch, helping keep an eye on those who are keeping an eye on the rest of us.
  • Glumbert has some amusing video clips and pics. (Now I just need to get my high-speed connection to enjoy them.)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Pretty Good Tribune List; Firefly; Apparently No Bananas in Persia, Circa 1920

  • Chicago Tribune Internet Critic Steve Johnson shares his and his colleagues' top 50 Internet sites. Opportunity for readers to submit their faves at this link. I'm gonna go recommend a few shortly.
  • I've started watching the first few episodes of Firefly this week. (I know, I'm late to the party.) So far, they're pretty good! (But it's not like they're Battlestar Galactica or anything.) I finally placed where I've seen the one mean guy before -- He played Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket. Here's the non-Josh Whedon-affiliated Whedonesque.
  • I've been enjoying reading Living Dangerously: The Adventrues of Merian C. Cooper quite a bit. At one point in the early 1920s, Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, and Marguerite Harrison were out in the middle of nowhere in what is now Iran (or Iraq?), travelling with a bunch of nomadic tribespeople on their annual migration to greener pastures (literally) to get the film that would turn into the 1925 documentary Grass. An amusing anecdote rom page 125: By the end of April, Haidar's five thousand had been marching for weeks and the Americans had settled into a comfort zone of familiarity and shared burdens. The women goaded their sheep along with sticks and the call of "Yo, Ali, Ali!" and in good humor, Schoedsack would call back with the same inflection of voice, "Knock 'em for a goal!" The tribeswomen laughed and repeated the foreign slang, to the surprise of the filmmakers. And that's what started the collective singing of the American song and catchphrase "Yes, We Have No Bananas." After a few days, the infectuous ditty echoed along the trail. Cooper would recall, with delight, the bizarre touch of Persian mountain passes echoing with the lyrics, sung by one of the wildest nomadic tribes in Persia. This kind of reminds me of "Frank Burns eats worms." Anyhow, this is a great book and you ought to check it out. (And I haven't even gotten anywhere near the Kong stuff yet!)