my_daroga: Orson Welles (orson)
Film/Music: Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see this concert documentary at the Northwest Film Forum at an 11 pm show. Sitting in the dark theater, the 16mm footage close up on a rumpled Leonard Cohen, I realized two things: Leonard Cohen was hot, and more importantly, sitting there was the closest I'd ever get to seeing him in concert. Looking at the sea of 600,000 cold, wet, hungry people at 4 in the morning, it was probably a preferable experience. Plus I wasn't born yet.

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DJ Paco
Image unrelated. I have a conquistador lamp, and you don't.


Books/Film: The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune by Stuart Galbraith IV.

As you probably know, I've been watching a lot of Kurosawa and Mifune lately. Kurosawa is still probably the most recognized Japanese director in the Western world, and Mifune his most recognized muse. Mifune's samurai characters are iconic, and despite the fact that they parted ways artistically in the 60s, they were closely associated in the popular mind until their deaths and, in fact, beyond. It makes sense, then, that the only English-language biography I could find about either of them was an enormous joint biography that I finally finished the other day.

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Classic Trek has something to tell you.

  • Jul. 10th, 2009 at 7:33 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (iconic)
Lately, I've seen The Price of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath recommended about. Recommended in the sense that it's UTTER CRACK in published form, which, to be fair, a lot of TOS is already.

What I hadn't seen was this cover. Which would have demanded my purchase even if I hadn't heard of it.

Preview:
Photobucket

large image )

Public Service Announcement!

  • Jun. 2nd, 2009 at 7:37 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (iconic)
Several of you will already know this, and have talked them up better. But for those who don't, there are two new young adult fantasy novels out that you should know about. Both are by authors you may know from LJ, and both have strong fantasy settings anchored by relationships. I don't feel entirely comfortable writing full reviews so I'm just going to let you know a little about them and hope you check them out.

Sarah Rees Brennan's ([livejournal.com profile] sarahtales) book The Demon's Lexicon comes out today. It's about the secret world we don't see where demons are real and the magicians who control them a very real danger. But really it's about family, and specifically, brothers. Nick and Alan couldn't be more unalike, but the relationship between them is spun out and tested as the book goes on and that, I think, is the real pleasure of it. In that, and in the setting of fantastic elements within the real world, Brennan reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones. Dark, people-centered YA fantasy, of which I think we always need more. There are also compelling mysteries to be untangled, which definitely kept me reading even when I suspected the truth.

And R.J. Anderson's ([livejournal.com profile] rj_anderson) Knife (Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter in the U.S.) came out earlier this year, only I just now read it (with a much nicer cover than the one on Amazon). It's for slightly younger readers than The Demon's Lexicon, but that shouldn't deter older ones who will find enjoyment in its unusual treatment of faeries. Yes, with the wings and the magic and all that. Only I've never read a book quite like this; it started out with a lot of the things I considered stereotypical about "faery stories" and went in a totally different direction. I like fantasy that intersects with the real world, and this book does that. And there's mystery and interesting relationships and a strong heroine.

I highly recommend both books, and not just because I was at least tangentially aware of both authors before I knew they were published authors. Or because [livejournal.com profile] tkp is Brennan's biggest fan ever.

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a Yahoo life

  • May. 5th, 2009 at 9:57 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (iconic)
I'm reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom now, as you may know, due to a flare up of T.E. Lawrence affection prompted by the Cinerama's annual showing. One of the things that fascinates me about Lawrence is that no matter how complex the film's character was--which was got me initially--once I started looking beyond the film I found someone who wasn't exactly the guy Peter O'Toole became on screen but was, if anything, even more fascinating. (For the record, despite the inaccuracies, I love both men, and I understand Bolt's use of certain aspects of Lawrence's personality to tell a complex and yet tight story. Much the way I feel about the use of historical figures in Amadeus.) He seems a mass of contradictions. And, like my concurrent obsession, Orson Welles, he was talented in many different arenas and very eloquent about it at the same time. Maybe that's what attracts me to both: the way they are both doers and storytellers, combining so many qualities--many of them lying uneasily together--into one oft-troubled person.

So for those of you who have never picked up Seven Pillars, which is Lawrence's (very long) account of the desert war of WWI, I excerpt a few passages from the first chapter, because they're both beautiful and troubling and it touches me that someone went through what he did, and what he would continue to in his own mind, and wrote like this.
...a sensual co-efficient of the mental passion... )

Bonus total randomness: This is the best Wolverine review I've heard. It might be one of my favorite reviews ever. I don't even need to see it now!

My Brain as Viewed from Outside

  • May. 2nd, 2009 at 10:42 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (iconic)
My birthday gift roundup presents what I think is a fairly interesting picture of Where I Am Now. (All presented by Mr. Daroga and [personal profile] lettered.)

Music
The Left Banke ("Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina")
The Association ("And Then... Along Comes The Association")
Franz Ferdinand ("You Could Have it So Much Better")
Muse ("Origin of Symmetry", "Black Holes and Revelations")

Books
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph by T.E. Lawrence. Following this essay, I put down my copy of the "abridged" 1926 edition and decided I should read the original 1922 text. And now I have it! Unfortunately, this paperback edition is very print-on-demand, and is not only horribly formatted but printed on letter-sized paper, making it impossible to read in bed. Still, I will brave it.
Exposed: The Victorian Nude by Alison Smith. Obviously, the apparent cultural contradiction interested me. Ahem.
Robin Hood: A Cinematic History of the English Outlaw and His Scottish Counterparts by Scott Allen Nollen. Funny story: this was on my Amazon.com wish list, which is where [personal profile] lettered saw it. When she found it at our local Half Price Books, she thought it fortuitous that there was a copy there--not knowing it was this exact copy which I had been watching for months and which had prompted my placing it on the list in the first place.

Other Media
The Adam West Batman, Season 1
Tickets to a new stage adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this afternoon

Last night, we went to the Melting Pot and had cheese and chocolate (and this amazing "strawberry drop" drink that would turn me into an alcoholic if I could get it whenever I wanted--and I hardly ever drink). Then we went home and watched the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. All in all, there are worse ways to turn 30.
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (evil)
I read a lot of books about film, and for some reason, rarely unequivocally enjoy them. I'm not sure why that is, though it plagues me more than it otherwise might because I want to write about film and want to do it in a manner that wouldn't annoy me should I happen to be someone else reading it. Rebello's chronicle of the making of Psycho (a film I adore while freely acknowledging the multitude of problems with it) is full of useful information, relatively well-researched, and interesting. He apparently had access to most of the major (living) players, who appeared to speak to him freely (even if they sometimes contradict each other, such as with Saul Bass's claim, unsupported by any other witnesses, that he directed the shower scene), and the result seems pretty definitive. It places Psycho in the context of Hitchcock's ouvre and the popular culture of the time, and provides a lot of insight into the creative process that spawned what was essentially a cheap experiment.

But one of the things I notice books like this doing is speaking in what I feel is an overly familiar tone, in the sense that the author seems to pretend he's in the room and describes the physical and emotional characteristics of the people involved in a way that puts me off. I know it's a method of avoiding saying “Hitchcock said” over and over, but “the portly director” (or similar) strikes me as an attempt at a personality I don't like. While I often want my nonfiction to display an author's intelligence behind it, it's incredibly touchy, because it's always possible the reader won't like that person. I'm not saying I don't like Stephen Rebello, but I had trouble with the author of this particular book that I can't quite put my finger on.

Though part of it is definitely what is apparently a constant of pop culture writing, and that is glaring mistakes. It is incredibly easy for an erroneous source, one that appears reputable, to propagate false information through generations of books, articles and DVD extras. Once something's written in a published source, who's to say it's not true? There wasn't a lot of that here, but two mistakes/omissions probably grabbed me because they're pets of mine: he claims that Peeping Tom bears Psycho's obvious influence, giving it a date 4 years after its actual release; and while this is not a mistake he fails to draw out the obvious parallels between Psycho and the motel scenes of Touch of Evil, despite pointing out that they share a designer. Wouldn't the fact that Janet Leigh had just two years before been harassed in a lonely southwestern motel run by a neurotic with sexual issues seem relevant to the topic at hand? These aren't huge issues, but they do make me wonder if I should be suspicious of other information I'm receiving.

I'd still recommend this book to anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes of the movie industry, obviously especially Psycho/Hitchcock fans. It's not bad—it's just not inspiring. And I just wish I knew more good writing about a subject I love so much.

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Book: Alice in Sunderland by Brian Talbot

  • Mar. 28th, 2009 at 9:42 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (comic)
I tend to love the making of connections; I love watching a documentary about one thing that turns into a documentary about something else, or about making documentaries in general. That's why the collage-based Alice in Sunderland by British comics artist Brian Talbot intrigued me. It's an exploration not only of the origins of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland but of some of the places and people who inspired it and, as a comic, the comics medium itself. In that sense, it's a sort of combination of James Burke's tv show "Connections," Orson Welles' F for Fake, and Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (he even has a cameo). Talbot explains the connections the northeast of England has to the famous work, as well as all tangential curiosities of the history, art, and culture of that region.

It's all supported by archival material, arranged in a 319 page, full-color comic book with Talbot's drawings as a guide. He touches on Carroll, medieval monks, music hall stars, current public art installations, invasion, storytelling, industry, and comics history. There's a happy mix of styles, depending on the subject; a section about "Jack Crawford, the hero of Camperdown" is illustrated like a boys' adventure comic. Some of these sections succeed better than others--I could have lived without a literal illustration of the "Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" speech from Henry V. I mean literal as in "or close the wall up with our English dead" is accompanied by a picture of a man doing just that.

What I also could have lived without, and what makes me loathe to recommend the book to anyone but the most ardent fan of non-narrative fact-collages about Alice in Wonderland, is that most of the images and backgrounds are bad Photoshop-filtered photographs. It's obvious and ugly, and it makes no sense to me. The photos (of Alice, of locations, of whatever) would be far more interesting on their own. Do I need to see a bubbly, blurry version of the vintage material he found? I finished the book, because I was interested in the material, but in the end I'm disappointed by the aesthetic choices made. And in a book about the comics medium, not to mention the story of Alice, you really want to love how it looks.

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Books: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

  • Apr. 2nd, 2008 at 11:54 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (spike)
[Note: I am well aware that this book hides a volatile fandom which would probably lynch me for what I am about to say. I can only assume they will not find me.]

At the behest of much buzz and with the excuse of a class in young adult lit, I finally read Meyer's vampire romance Twilight. And my feelings are both definite and mixed, if that's possible. I do not think it is a "good" book. In fact, I think there are a lot of harmful ideas being perpetrated here under a "romantic" guise. And yet... and yet... I found myself drawn into the romance of it despite strongly disliking the viewpoint character/first-person narrator.
vague spoilers under cut )

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Books: My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr

  • Mar. 12th, 2008 at 3:19 PM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (lesbians)
Last night I finished Garret Freymann-Weyr's My Heartbeat for my young adult lit class. And I think I may have found the closest thing I ever have to a YA novel that deals with sexuality in the way I want to see it.

The short novel is told from the point of view of Ellen, a 14 year old girl who has been madly in love with her older brother Link's friend James for years. Ellen and Link's parents, well-to-do New Yorkers, are intellectual and involved but don't ever talk about things, unless they involve good books or thinky thoughts. And when Ellen hits high school and joins the prep school James and Link are seniors at, she's suddenly hit with the perception among her classmates that Link and James are a couple.

Ellen's not sure what to do with this. She's always tagged along with her brother and James. Not in an an annoying little sister sort of way, but in a way that indicates they really enjoy her company. But on top of the confusion about what Link and James mean to each other, there's the idea that Ellen's presence has allowed them to remain "safe" in their relationship.

What I love about this book is that while James is the one who's initially coded as "gay," when Link can't deal with the questions Ellen raises, it's Ellen who starts dating James. And as smarmy as that sounds, it works because Ellen's always thinking, "What would I do if they wanted to be together? Would I want to stand in their way? They love each other." And because you get that James genuinely cares about both of them.

Ellen tries to learn about her brother and James by reading about the history of homosexuality. Needless to say, it doesn't really tell her what she wants to know. And the book, likewise, shows us characters who are not gay or straight but just are. So many coming of age gay novels are about a trajectory from one to the other, with no consideration for those who don't find a firm identification with either. I hardly ever see that, and it's refreshing. Something like this, frankly, would have been helpful to me many years ago.

Like the sexuality, the ending's ambiguous. The writing is tight, but there's this bizarre lack of contractions. I don't care what school you go to, no one consistently says "I do not." I'm not sure if this is a fetish of the author or how she talks or if it's supposed to mean something, but it was almost a deal-breaker for me and it was only the otherwise really original, insightful writing that kept me going.

So. Have any of you read gay/lesbian coming-of-age fiction which isn't the standard questioning-denial-acceptance-GAY NOW model? Was it good? Let me know!

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Darkness Brings the Dawn: Erik's Story

  • Oct. 23rd, 2007 at 9:49 PM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (angry)
Most of what has to be said about Darkness Brings the Dawn: Erik’s Story has already been put forth eloquently in this Amazon.com review. I don’t actually have an explanation as to why I took it upon myself to page through the entire thing--but for you, my dear readers.
Once again, I take on this burden to spare you. )

puppy hate

  • Oct. 16th, 2007 at 6:40 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (mr. darcy)
In Stanley Coren's Why We Love the Dogs We Do: How to Find the Dog that Matches Your Personality, the psychologist and author of The Intelligence of Dogs seeks to provide a fool-proof method of choosing the right sort of companion for your personality by combining research into historic figures and a new breed classification system based on temperament, not AKC groups.

Unfortunately, while it is somewhat interesting to read about why Eugene O'Neill loved his Dalmatian, this reader has been woefully misled and misunderstood.

In Coren's new system, there are seven breed groups: Steady, Self-Assured, Consistent, Friendly, Protective, Independent, and Clever. You take a personality test, which measures Extroversion, Dominance, Trust and Warmth on a scale from Low to High, and match up the best groups for each of those aspects. This gives you eight breed groups (two for each score) and from that, you can supposedly rest assured that any dog from a group that appears more than once will be a good match. Under no circumstances, actually, should you own a dog in one of the groups that appears only once or not at all.

What's particularly exciting about my case is that while I feel the personality test gave me accurate results, it returned every group at least once and Consistent dogs was the only one to appear twice. So what kind of dog should I have?

Bedlington Terrier
Boston Terrier
Chihuahua
Dachshund
Dandie Dinmont Terrier
French Bulldog
Italian Greyhound
Japanese Chin
King Charles (English Toy) Spaniel
Lhasa Apso
Maltese
Pekingese
Pomeranian
Pug
Sealyham Terrier
Skye Terrier
Tibetan Terrier
Whippet

Do you see anything wrong with this list?

I like to think I like all dogs. I'm certainly capable of enjoying individual dogs of all varieties. And my score does reflect that my preferences aren't strong. But this is probably the very last group I'd want a dog from. And it's not just my prejudice against their size and squished faces. "Consistent" is about the last thing I care about in a dog. According to these scores, I shouldn't have gotten along with any dog I've ever loved.

Obviously it's just a guide, and I wouldn't have posted about it if I'd just found that site which has stolen Coren's test. But this is a book specifically designed to guide you, and in which Coren is vehement about never choosing a dog from a breed group you don't match. Of course he has to, it being his book. But I believe that unless I'm some kind of freak of nature, this rubric is useless.

Oh, by the way? I scored low on Extroversion, medium on Dominance, High on Trust, and Medium on Warmth. Which I'm not much surprised about.


Take the test yourself!

That LibraryThing book meme thing

  • Oct. 2nd, 2007 at 2:55 PM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (books)
What's interesting to me is how the list is such a mish-mash of awesome and utter crap.

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users (as of today). As usual, bold what you have read, italicise what you started but didn't finish, and strike through what you couldn't stand. And post in your journal.

i only did the bold thing )

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Harry Potterdom--a rant

  • Jul. 16th, 2007 at 1:30 PM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (watership)
This isn't my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I haven't written it yet, and I feel I have to get this out of the way first.

I'm not sure how much I *like* the world of Harry Potter.

Oh, by the way, I know it's only a series of books/movies, and this is a rant.

Through six, almost seven books now, we've watched Harry struggle against Voldemort and the narrow-mindedness of his society in recognizing the threat. Harry is supported by Dumbledore, headmaster and mondo wizard. Slytherins are always wrong. So, most of the time, is the Ministry of Magic. Evil is evil, except maybe Snape. Harry gets a free pass no matter what, and we allow it because the books are named after him and he's always right. But how do we know that? Because we're in the privileged position of knowing everything; those small-minded people against Harry and Dumbledore don't have access to any of it. Dumbledore runs a benign dictatorship, with clear favorites; how often does he manipulate House rules to give Gryffindor a win? There's something unsettling about this--I'm not saying that we should doubt their word, or that Draco's really a misunderstood softie, or that we're never shown a darker side to our heroes--but it feels so undemocratic. The Dursleys are caricatures and everyone takes after their names, for good or ill. I don't like the predetermined feeling I get about life in the wizard world.

And speaking of democratic, there's that thread of fear or disinterest for the different. Hermione's campaign against the ill-treatment of House Elves is uniformly mocked. Magical creatures, even fully intelligent ones like centaurs, are treated like beasts. All in all, I feel the magical world is so stubbornly backward that I can't imagine how any muggle-born kids can handle joining it. Witches and wizards have an absurdly difficult time blending in with muggles, and seem to decry any technological advance as barbarity. It's so short-sighted and reactionary.

I also resent, because I'm bitter, the way HP has become synonymous "reading." How many imaginary worlds were fully realized in my mind, created by different authors, enjoyable through different periods of life? This is a shared world on a global scale, and as appealing that is I resent that it's treated like a "new" phenomenon. Maybe I resent not being part of it as a child; I don't know. But part of the glory of these little worlds was that there wasn't much of a popular consciousness; everyone's hippie parents had read Tolkien, but it still felt mysterious when we pulled it down from their shelves. Now I don't know how much of Middle Earth is figured by the Jackson films and how much belongs to the books.

In short: Why Harry Potter? Why 12 million first printings, when there are so many great books out of print? Does anyone want to live in the wizarding world? And why doesn't it work on me?

For those of you interested in Paris...

  • Feb. 5th, 2007 at 7:36 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (books)
PARIS: the Secret History by Andrew Hussey sounds very interesting. According to this NYT review, Mr. Hussey does not have all his facts straight--yet it probably contains lots of interesting (and juicy) info. I mention it primarily for the writers on my flist, but it sounds readable regardless.

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my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (Jessica Harper)
When reading nonfiction, of course, the primary consideration is the subject, along with the author's knowledge and presentation of that subject. It is for this reason that one sometimes finds oneself reading something which offends their literary sensibilties yet which cannot be discarded because the subject matter is of interest. Such is the case with Fiasco, a poorly-written, overdone examination of Hollywood's mistakes. The movies covered (including Cleopatra, Popeye, Last Action Hero, Showgirls, and Ishtar) are interesting stories of ego and greed gone completely insane and will make you hate everyone ever involved in movie-making. Stars, execs and directors alike emerge as children without even the sense to surround themselves with people with sense. It is instructive, for example, to learn that eight people wrote Last Action Hero at various times, and that this sort of patching-together of scripts is commonplace in an industry that hires a new writer to “add more comedy” or “tone down the violence” rather than send it back to the original scripter. Although I always kind of liked Last Action Hero. Hmm.

But the depth never gets above simple expose, and Parish's writing is the worst kind of workmanlike prose. Take this section from page 18, where I nearly stopped reading:
In 1958 the erudite Walter Wanger was 64 years old and suffered from a heart problem. The longtime film executive had served as chief of production at Paramount in the late 1920s and early 1930s... Back in 1940 the well-bred Walter had married his second wife, screen beauty Joan bennett. The couple had two daughters. In 1952 the dapper Wanger was sent to prison briefly for having shot and wounded talent agent Jennings Land the previous year.
Nothing's actually happening here, so Parish feels the need to spice it up with his adjectives, not to mention alternating first and last names to refer to the same person. He avoids repetition of names or pronouns at all costs, and therefore comes up with increasingly ridiculous ways to introduce his characters. Everyone's “exotic” or “musclebound” or “Buddhist.” Or whatever. Was he being paid by the word?

Maybe this bothers you less than it does me. If so, and you're interested in learning why Showgirls sucks (other than what you learn from watching it), this book's for you. Otherwise, there are a lot better books about contemporary film, successful and otherwise.

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my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (aces)
The problem with a book as funny as Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is that it's funny in precisely the way I want things to be funny. That is to say, it examines terminally unimportant aspects of culture (The Real World, breakfast cereal, Coldplay) in such a maddeningly entertaining way that one is convinced that it can't possibly be useful. Have you ever encountered a pundit who seems amazingly brilliant until you realize you think that because he's saying exactly what you, yourself, think? Of course it seems right. I get the feeling reading Klosterman that he's tapped into some Nintendo-playing, Full House-raised, anti-depressant zeitgeist that I, as a late Gen-Xer, am socially programmed to respond to. I can't help but be suspicious of the fact that he blames John Cusack for the way no one approaches romance with any sense of realism. I would really like to believe that there's some connection between Reality Bites and The Empire Strikes Back. Really. But the fact that that feels so right must mean that it's wrong. That is to say, it can't be that easy.

This crap can't be that important.

How does the guy who wrote it get over it?
The goal of being alive it to figure out what it means to be alive, and there is a myriad of ways to deduce that answer; I just happen to prefer examining the question through the context to Pamela Anderson and The Real World and Frosted Flakes... And while half my brain worries that writing about Saved by the Bell and Memento will immediately seem as outdated as a 1983 book about Fantasy Island and Gerry Cooney, my mind's better half knows that temporality is part of the truth. The subjects in this book are not the only ones that prove my point; they're just the ones I happened to pick before I fell asleep.

In and of itself, nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever “in and of itself.”
So there's his justification. Does this really absolve me of any guilt at enjoying an exploration of the Real World personality types, or the implications in having met a serial killer, or theory that amateur porn fuels the innovation of internet technology?

In the end, like Klosterman says, it really doesn't matter. Because it's not important whether you believe that Cusack erased Chuck's chances at romance, or whether the Trix rabbit is a meaningful icon for your generation. What matters, to me, is that these things matter somehow. That commercials and MTV and bad modern country music and cover bands say something about our world, just by existing. And the connections Klosterman, or you, or I can make between these things are meaningful enough just because they can be made.

But, please, only if you're as funny as he is.

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my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (Jessica Harper)
Hobermen, film critic for the Village Voice, writes about film. A lot. In fact, he wrote such a great book about midnight movies (called Midnight Movies, written in collaboration with Jonathan Rosenbaum) that I now pick up everything with his name on it. I was not disappointed in this case, but this is a different sort of film book.

The Dream Life works less as a piece of film criticism than an attempt to line up film history with “real” history; that is, align the political and social events of the sixties with the films that people were producing and watching at the time. It's a map overlaying politics and movies. Which sounds like a very dangerous prospect

Dangerous in the sense that it could quickly become the sort of pointless exercise that posits an actual relationship between entertainment and real life; one could suspect Hoberman of placing too much emphasis on mere movies if he thinks there's a grand political significance to, say, The Alamo. But he avoids these traps at every turn. Instead of promoting a concrete link between events, he illustrates the social scene at the time significant pictures were made and viewed. He traces the involvement of figures like John Wayne and Elvis in the political arena. He points out the media resources of presidents and would-be presidents. He pinpoints how many times Nixon may have watched Patton; and where it showed up in his speeches and policy. Instead of sweeping generalizations about what The Chase might have been explicitly saying about the political scene, Hoberman contents himself with comparing its implicit views with other, similar films. In short, this book ties together the bizarre words of politics and the media. They mirror each other, though what the reflection says about us is up for interpretation.

I read this book because I was not around for the sixties, and what films I've seen from the period have been, by necessity, out of context. I unexpectedly found this book to be even more helpful than I thought in this area. As a master list of Must-See Films from the Sixties, it falls short. Likewise, it is not a comprehensive history of the decade. But as a guide to understanding what was behind some of the big films of the era, or a primer of where Vietnam or the counterculture showed up in Hollywood, it's invaluable. No aspect of history should be studied in a vacuum; everything it touched by everything else. As an example of how to view culture as continuity, too, this book is invaluable.

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my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (books)
It’s always a little suspicious when someone asks you to believe something really attractive. I mean sure, Mr. Johnson, I’d love to believe that “popular culture has, on average, grown more complex and intellectually challenging over the past thirty years.” What partaker of that culture wouldn’t? But Johnson gets down to what he’s talking about on page 9, and I’m going to quote it because it’s pretty darn interesting:

Most of the time, criticism that takes pop culture seriously involves performing some kind of symbolic analysis, decoding the work to demonstrate the way it represents some other aspect of society. You can see this symbolic approach at work in academic cultural studies programs analyzing the ways in which pop forms expressed the struggle of various disenfranchised groups: gays and lesbians, people of color, women, the third world. You can see it at work in the “zeitgeist” criticism featured in the media sections of newspapers and newsweeklies, where the critic establishes a symbolic relationships between the work and some spirit of the age: yuppie self-indulgence, say, or post-9/11 anxiety.

The approach followed in this book is more systematic than symbolic, more about causal relationships than metaphors. It is closer, in a sense, to physics than to poetry. My argument for the existence of the Sleeper Curve [named for the Woody Allen film about a future in which scientists are appalled that we weren’t aware of the health benefits of cake, or whatever] comes out of an assumptions that the landscape of popular culture involves the clash of competing forces: the neurological appetites of the brain, the economics of the culture industry, changing technological platforms. The specific ways in which those forces collide play a determining role in the type of popular culture we ultimately consume. The work of the critic, in this instance, is to diagram those forces, not decode them.


Okay. Sorry about all that, but I just couldn’t cut it down. Note that he doesn’t dismiss outright the “symbolic analysis” school of cultural studies; just that his argument for these “bad” things being “good” is not based on any moral standards but on cognitive ones. He starts out, predictably enough, in the realm of video games, and describes a “fictional world where rewards are larger, and more vivid, more clearly defined, than life.” He stresses that “only” in games are you forced to discover the rules—it’s not a static universe like a book or a film. What’s important to him are the cognitive steps you take to learn the universe, not the actual narrative. What is more, the rewards one gets from playing games are not the “instant gratification” decried by the naysayers—most games today require hours of play to accomplish anything.

Now, I know Johnson talks about television later in the book, but I can’t help but stop right here and notice a few things about fandom (most particularly online fandom). Because when I read about a property that forces you to interact with it in ways you may not have a map for (this is why guidebooks to games are bestsellers), that doles out defined rewards with an addictive quality, I’m seeing fandom. Specifically in the sense that fandom is the creation of a game out of a static property. This game consists not only of “creating” the fic, art and “meta” that make up the currency of the fan community (and provides reward in the form of reviews and notoriety), but of “discovering” the rules of fannish interaction—both with the text and with other fans. Whatever the content of the “fanned” property of at least relatively fixed canon, there is a complex series of interactions which expand our involvement with it, and create the sort of fictional world Johnson’s talking about with video games. In this construction, the fictional world isn’t really the universe of the tv show or film or novel—it’s the one we make right here, together. We have our own reward system, our own currency, our own geography and social system.

In other words, SimFandom.

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my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (doctor who)
I wish Peter Haining would stop writing books about all the stuff I like. I've got Phantom of the Opera and Sherlock Holmes stuff by him, and then there's this. He always sounds like he's fawning. Over everyone. Granted, this book is clearly "official" in nature, so he's not going to start complaining about anyone, but apart from having a nice list of Companions (up to Turlough, anyway) he never says anything. At all. It's a "nice" retrospective of the Doctor after 20 years, so it's not only rigidly uncritical but out of date. Male companions are referred to as "redoubtable" or (in Turlough's case) "unpredictable" while captions under female companions' photos use words like "delightful," "elfin-featured," and "delectable but scatterbrained"; though Sarah Jane gets to be "resourceful."

Honestly, Haining sounds like he wants to do every single one.

But here's my favorite bit, a quote from Anneke Wills (POlly) which is the stupidist thing I've ever heard about women in the media: "I wanted to play her like myself... scatter-brained, or 'kooky' as the newspaper persisted in calling me. I thought it would be a very good idea to play a total coward. Television was full of brave ladies in those days. I wanted to be a sort of feminine anti-hero, a weedy, frightened lady who screamed and kicked and shouted 'Doctor!' at the least sign of danger." Wow, Wills. You sure pushed the envelope there!

Anyone interested has probably picked this up already. But if you haven't done expect any commentary or even a decent amount of color photos; it's a "celebration" in the cheapest sense of the word.

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