Friday, December 01, 2006

"Dans le doute, mon cher, abstiens-toi." [1]

There are some days when events work themselves out with almost mathematical precision. It is 1 December and winter is blowing in as I write. And all the loose strands of November tie up nicely, with a head cold as denouement. My words wouldn't begin to describe the mood, this moment requires poetry:

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the
and wander the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.[2]

In the huge gap
between the flash

and the thunderstroke
spring has come in
or a deep snow fallen.

Call it old age[3]

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.[4]

Betwixt the stirrup and the ground
Mercy I asked, mercy I found.[5]

[1] "When in doubt, my dear friend, do nothing." General Kutuzov from Tolstoy's War and Peace
[2] Rainer Maria Rilke
[3] William Carlos Williams (forgive me but I can't get the spacing correctly in blogger)
[4] Eliot, of course.
[5] William Camden

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bye, bye

I've been blogging for coming up on 1 year, and I've decided that 1
year is quite enough for now.

Now that I've basically moved in to a new city and I'll have a little more time on
my hands, I'm going to start putting together something a little more
structured (that is the site i've been promising ever since I've been

I'll temporarily be posting my 100 films reviews here, so (to you 8
people who read this) you may want to check in from time to time.
Yojimbo is coming up.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gov't v. Google

Another reason to prefer Google:

The internet search engine Google is resisting efforts by the US Department of Justice to force it to hand over data about what people are looking for.

Orpheus does about-face -or- How I learned to stop worrying and got a license plate

Before he was a blockbuster children's story writer, for a while C. S. Lewis was a nobody Oxford don. He was made famous by his newspaper stories of a fictional correspondence between two demons in a rather banal and bureaucratic hell. But that's not what I want to talk about. My reason for bringing up Lewis' Screwtape Letters is to point out that bureaucratic descriptions of hell (in addition to geometric descriptions) are not unheard of. Therefore, perhaps I wasn't too far off when, in the spring of 2000, I alluded to Hades apropos of Pennsylvania in a song [1]:
I lost my memory
On the shores of the Allegheny
I dig the symmetry
I'm going home

Alas, home is now Pennsylvania, and it is no wonder that Pennsylvania styles itself as a Commonwealth and not a State: surely it has a leaning toward totalitarian communism ("The Commie-wealth of Pennsylvania" is how someone put it). It is true, PA has its conservatisms, but they often seem to be of the most embarrassing sort. By some ridiculous logic car registration is considered ripe
for privatization, but alcohol distribution must be seriously regulated and controlled.

If the United States indeed has secret torture prisons (and that looks likely) I wouldn't be terribly surprised if at least one of them is located in the basement of the PA State Office Building, where I spent a pleasant morning a few weeks ago trying to get a drivers license. Their solution to the problem of not accepting cash or credit was to plaster the room with signs to that affect. The amount of money they spent of fancy signs [2] could have put as a down payment for a nice credit card machine or a cache register.

Getting my car registered (the work of the rest of that day off frittered away by bureaucracy) is still too close and painful to talk about. I will share the following anecdote: a gentleman sitting next to me at the AAA trying to get his truck registered was reduced to stammering incredulously, "This is... This is..." "Ludicrous?" replied the clerk helpfully, "This is Pennsylvania so, yes, it is ludicrous."


[1] The song is aptly entitled "Pennsylvania"

[2] Putting up 10 signs didn't do the trick, though: nearly everyone who was in the waiting room asked the clerk if they could pay with cash.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Musee des Beaux Arts

I made my film debut today: see here for more information. It contains bad French. So, if you're in Pittsburgh, you might want to go see the film along with Joanna's play. It's about suffering. Who doesn't like that?

Alternatively, you could see what Auden has to say about suffering...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Summa Aught Five Part I: Music

(Unable to make the hard hitting decisions necessary for ordered top
lists, I humbly offer these lists alphabetically).

Top 10

Architecture in Helsinki. In Case We Die
Andrew Bird. And The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Bright Eyes. I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
Calexico\Iron. and Wine In The Reins
Camera Obscura. Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi
The Decemberists. Picaresque
My Morning Jacket. Z
M. Ward. Transistor Radio
Spoon. Gimme Fiction
Sufjan Stevens. Come On Feel The Illinoise!

Honorable Mentions

Kathleen Edwards. Back to Me
The Futility Parade. The Land Before Time VII: Prehistoric Pandemonium
Rouge Wave. Descended Like Vultures
Regina Spektor. Soviet Kitsch
Belle & Sebastian. Push Barman To Open Old Wounds

Would Probably Be A List If I Owned It

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. [1] Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Wilco. Kicking Television: Live in Chicago

Would Be On A List If The Release Dates Weren't 2004

Arcade Fire. Funeral
Kings of Convenience. Riot On An Empty Street
Joanna Newsom. The Milk-Eyed Mender


[1] Yeah, they annoy me too, but they remind me of The 39 Steps and
anyway some of the songs are fairly addictive.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

100 films: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers

There was a time where Pod People did not mean "owners of iPods." Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1] is about that time. One one level, it is a movie that helped make the sci-fi/horror picture the noble film genre that it is today. I don't watch sci-fi /horror pictures generally, but I am assuming Invansion is a better movie than most in that line which are released today. It also had the advantage of being short. On another level (like many sci-fi movies, especially old ones), seeks to give deep and important lessons about life: individuality is important; conformity is bad; some time the craziest person in the room is also the sanest; don't go to sleep or the aliens will get you; and so on. The movie more or less succeeds. Should you see it? I guess, if you're into that sort of thing, or, if you feel like watching 100 films, but there are dozens of better movies you should watch first. At any rate, remember: don't go to sleep or the aliens will get you.


[1] More from IMDB and Lucas...

Hello Resolvers. Hello to you all.

If the revolution comes, I won't be too suprised or all that disappointed. Indeed, I tried to write a patriotic poem on 4 July 2004 that started:
And if America should fall,
Make haste! Make haste!
Let it fall swiftly

But as for resolutions, I'm often caught off guard. The gym, which last week was nearly empty with certain implements of exercise covered in dust and cobwebs, was today teaming with life [1]. If I were just a little more misanthropic, I would avoid gyms, pools, health food stores, and the more literary sections of books stores until March. I'm not, though, so I don'. Though there is a danger in appearing to be one of "those people", those fairweather resolvers. No, no--one wants to say--I eat organic grains all the time, and I read real books by authors like Turgenev and Fitzgerald, Really! It is good to be young and vain. So: hello fellow resolvers. Let's fail together!

"Wake up the King. Wake up the Queen.
Everybody laugh. Everybody sing.
It's over." [2]


[1] Truthfully, I only joined the gym last month and only went a couple times. Still, I feel I have a right to feel superior to all those new yearies, even though I am just as out of shape as they are.

[2] Beulah. Hello Resolven.

Monday, January 02, 2006

100 Films: Baby Face

I can't help feeling a certain kinship with Baby Face's [1] Courtland Trenholm, a polo-playing old money playboy turned bank president, who (albeit after a scandalous marriage, an indictment for some shady bank business, and a botched suicide attempt) moves to Pittsburgh with his formerly Nietzschean Überwench bride to "work out their love together" and work in a steel mill [2]. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, it is a surprisingly entertaining movie for one organized around a cliché: the main character Lily literally sleeps her way to the top of a multinational bank, with the sort of cinematic economy only found in old movies, floor by floor. The coldness and straightforwardness of her rise is more shocking than her means, and I doubt a mainstream movie like this would be made today (even in 1933, the censors apparently objected to Lily's power more than the sex).

With such a simple plot the film is kept to a short 75 minutes and that is enough: Stanwyck's clever delivery and disinterested acceptance of the ruin she causes to others provide most of the entertainment, while most of the other characters are stereotypes with at most one dimension. The "lesson" we are given at the end, we accept only because it seems to be the only satisfactory ending ready to hand, although it is not particularly believable.

It is useful to compare Baby Face to The Lady Eve, a far superior film also staring Stanwyck in a very similar role [3]. In The Lady Eve, the plot has more depth and richness, the message is more complex, and the characters are more nuanced. Baby Face might be seen as a sketch and precursor to Eve which would be made 8 years later. It is also helpful to notice that Eve did not need to censored, yet it dealt with similar subject matter in a more mature [4] way.

So it goes. Watch it, if you watch it, for Barbara Stanwyck.


[1] More from Lucas and IMDB... The name of the movie is the name of her nickname which was given to her, Lucas tells me, by John Wayne.

[2] Although some of these details we only learn in the ridiculous censored version of the film.

[3] The movie, incidentally, is also on our 100 Films list.

[4] And I mean a more traditional use of the word "mature" than the one given by contemporary ratings boards.