Sunday, October 29, 2006


Kind of a bummer, this one, because I was so ready for it to be good. Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation are so good, such great mood pieces, that I had high hopes. In part, I blame A.O. Scott, who wrote a positive review in the NYT. I should have waited to see in Anthony Lane had any opinions on it.

Sofia Coppola's known of course for how well she uses happenin' sound tracks in her movies, and she goes out of her way to live up to that promise here; for the first time, it's even sold as a double album, in fact.

Normally, I think of a movie's sound track as almost irrelevant because too much reliance on non-diegetic sound is a cheat, if you ask me. It's manipulative, or something. There are exceptions. The Leonard Cohen in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate. But consider Desperate Housewives as an example. It's just a smutty soap opera, as thinly written as anything shown during the day time. But people who wouldn't allow themselves to watch a daytime soap flock to this one in part because, I think, of it's kind of dippy background music. Listen to it: it's light, almost circus music, and is used as something of an ironic comment on the loopy shenanigans going on on screen. "What a silly show this is" is the message: "we can't possibly take this show seriously; we're making fun of it, in fact." It's this ironic distancing that allows people to think that they're still superior to the soap opera they've become hooked on; it's how they rationalize watching something that is as worthless as it is (not that I never watch worthless tv of course; I'm not saying, that is, that I'm "better" than people who do watch the show).

Coppola's first two feature films are different in how they use music, though. In those movies, the incredible sound tracks really feel like a marriage with the tone and emotions behind the acting and the movies as a whole. But in Marie Antoinette, the music instead feels like a substitute for those things. Take away the sound track and there's nothing there. It's basically an expensive, rote, march through her tragic (?) life--a period piece Behind the Music. The fact that the sound track is a double album just underscores how much the movie is dependent upon hipster music for it to have any worth at all.

When I re-read this, I realize that I'm coming across harsher than I probably mean to. "Nothing there" is overstating it, probably. But still.

And another thing: I am getting grumpy as a movie-goer these days. A couple is talking through the first five minutes so I have to let them know how irritating they are and then move over a couple of seats. Then, there's this lady in front of me who's checking her phone through the entire film. It's not making any noise, but the screen on those things is so bright that it shines right in my eye--it's totally distracting. If there weren't a woman in between us, I would have leaned forward and chewed her out. There's actually a part of me that enjoys yelling at people for being rude at movies, I think. It's like a road rage where you can actually do something about it, maybe. Or maybe I just have issues.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Acres Quarterly column

I have a new guest column published in this fall's Acres newsletter. It's kind of silly homage to an artist named Andy Goldsworthy, who's this amazing guy who goes out an manipulates nature into these beautiful oddball sculptures and then watches them get destroyed. That's a terrible description of his work, I know, but you have to see the stuff to appreciate it. If you're at all curious, have a look. It's here; just go to the Back Page column.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Forum addiction

I am more of a lurker when it comes to the bulletin boards I follow, but I threw my hat into the ring by starting a thread (called "The Father's Signals"--spoilers) at the forum run by the Cormac McCarthy Society a few days ago, and it has been a real trip, an emotional rollercoaster, even.

It starts with an idea that you have that you think is novel. You scan prior posts to make sure no one else has come up with it. Convinced your idea has some novelty and insight, you craft your post as economically as possible to make sure that people will (a) read it, and (b) understand it. Then, you post it and sit back and hope people post.

That was a fun stretch of time there, the waiting. I soon realized that what I really wanted to have happen was for people to say "great point; I agree completely." At first, in other words, I wasn't interested in having a dialogue at all. It's funny how angry I found myself getting when people would start taking "my" thread in directions I didn't intend. You know, when they start saying things like "that reminds me of something else I was thinking about . . .." I hate that.

They started to come in, the replies, and there were actually a few "I agrees" in there, but what really got me were the "no ways." That irked me. That got me writing follow ups and started the arguments in my head as I tried to craft the perfect responses that both met them head on but did so in as short a post as possible.

The thread's up to 43 replies now. I need it to die so I can start thinking about other things.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Road

That new Cormac McCarthy just about killed me. Man. I don't even know what to say. Talk about your tragic heroes.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tough Grader

The Arts section in today's Times has an article about this guy, Piero Scaruffi, one of those smart kind of people who has made his money in software somehow, lives in California, and now spends his time doing whatever he wants. And what he wants to do, it seems, is write harsh reviews of my favorite music.

When getting feel for new music, I usually triangulate the reviews I read on AMG, Pitchfork, and some third place. I might have to start adding his site now,, which is loaded with the kinds of short, mean, and smart music assessments that I hate to love/ love to hate.

He's like a less obtuse Greil Marcus in his ability to explain a group or an album by pulling out references that seem from left field but make perfect sense in context. I don't agree with all of his rankings, but for some reason, the people who rank things low, who are stingy with high scores, come across as more credible. At first I was upset that Cat Power's The Greatest only earned a 5/10 from him, but then I couldn't disagree much with his actual review, and I also noticed that none of his reviews from 2006 have received more than a 7 (if memory serves).

Some of the things he likes are a little odd, like the Beirut album, which is fun, but not better than lots of other stuff he has ranked lower.

I think what got me the most was his harsh review of the newest Belle & Sebastian, which I love, but, again, I could not disagree with his written assessment. Fun site.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Late night read

This one is going to keep me up late, I can tell. I'm only about a third of the way into McCarthy's new one, but it's just the gosh, dang bleakest read of his yet. Words with two syllables stand out in start contrast from the forests of single syllable fragments of sentences that you find on most pages. It's totally creeping me out, really. In Blood Meridian and Outer Dark at least there is some kind of energizing quality to the nihilism, but here it's just draining. In a good way, of course.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

First Snow

I think one way that I know that I live at the ideal latitude for my temperment is that I always seem to be ready--emotionally and philosophically--when it is time for the next season to arrive. In May, I'm tired of the mud and those too-happy spring flowers and ready for summer perennials to start growin. Then, by September I'm worn out by heat and relentless lawn mowing and I welcome coats and knit hats. By November, I'm dreaming about snow. I don't even do much in the snow except cross country ski when I can--I just like it.

So, we got our first snow today. I think that's what it was, anyway. I the spring they'd have called it sleet, but I'm ready enough for winter that I'm calling it snow, and it made me happy.

Somehow that makes me remember how, on our honeymoon up in Jasper, Alberta, this old guy was driving C and me to the drop off point where we were going to start hiking and I asked him how he handled the long Canadian Rockies winters and he, this guy who must have been about 70, said "Every year, I love it more." That guy was cool.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

End of the Festival Season, I Think

Went to the Renaissance Fair and Metea Park for the first time yesterday and boy is that a different kind of crowd. I get the feeling that for a fair number of the people there it's the only sunlight they get all year because they spend the rest of their time playing Dungeons & Dragons or WoW. It's fun to visit that freaky little world, though. I mean, hey, I bought D&D when it first came out back when it was a slim, light blue 40 page rule book. It was just a phase for me, though. You could tell they were all going to great trouble to try to "act the part" but couldn't go much further than sprinkling old old timey phrases like "Good day to you" and "Huzzah!" into their conversations. They were still charming, though.

I'm not convinced the people who were part of this event were into the Renaissance period so much as the medieval one, the one with the most violent looking weapons. That was probably my favorite part to see: this group of enthusiasts with ad-hoc chain mail and swords padded with duct tape and socks going after each other in short, intense bouts of hand to hand combat. Before each one, the emcee would remind us all that "back in the 14th century, this is exactly what you would see on the battlefield," and then the guys would start flailing until one scored a hit in some vital area. The loser would make a grimace and then enact a romanticized slow-motion fall to the ground.

Even more dramatic were the two jousters who drove their horses here from Texas. Check out the guy's flowing locks--there was some real ego dueling going on between him and his adversary. They were great horsemen (I think so, at least--I really don't know anything about it) and performed a few really neat feats of skill before engaging in an actual joust: no padded, balsa-wood lances, no helmets; just their hair to protect them. After that, they dismounted and starting swinging real swords at each other (The local padded-sword team had to be eating their hearts out at this) and that was cool too. Then B had a good enough sun burn that we decided to go home.

Of everything, my favorite event was the Punch and Judy Show. The origin of slapstick, it was, Punch and Judy. The puppeteer was funny, too, making repeated self-deprecating jokes pointing out what a bad puppeteer he was (though I thought he was pretty funny). He would break out of character to say things like "Hey folks, I know it's a terrible accent, but I'm doing the best I can" or to admonish the kids "no, when you see the alligator behind Punch, yell 'There he is!'" Still, I laughed pretty hard--at the play, not him--and was glad I got to see it. The picture of J shows that she did too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Doctor Wins

For about a week, I've been hoping that I could make it through tonight without watching Lost. For a few weeks, of course, when I saw an ad or some teaser about the new season, a part of me, just like in everyone, probably, would say "Oh, Lost? I wonder what's going to happen," and I would get excited.

But I don't want to get into it. It's just an addiction with no real payoff, isn't it? I mean, they raise your curiosity with a small twist and it kills you not to know, for example, what is in the damn hatch. Then, when you find out what is in the hatch, you don't really care anymore because (a) it's just a tv show, and (b) they have thrown some new plot twist at you that has you again anticipating next week's show.

That's the problem for mel with serial dramas; you're rarely enjoying the moment, but instead anticipating the next one.
Still, I knew there was good chance that if I saw tonight's episode, I would fall into that narrative trap and have effectively forked over my Wednesday nights for the winter.

But something else happened. Instead, I had a dvd of the new Doctor Who series, a nerdy series, but one that takes me back to the old Tom Baker days that I used to watch with my old grandma. She was my BBC friend. We'd stay up late on Friday nights and watch all the BBC
lineup they had, and she had no idea what was going on, but she thought it was all funny, and it was great to be there with her. So I put this new Doctor Who dvd in, a show I hadn't watched since I was old enough to get my driver's license and have "better" things to do with my Friday nights. I watched the show, and it was okay, but more importantly, I started it, unthinkingly, before Lost came on, and didn't even realize it until The Doctor was done saving people in space an hour later.

So I made it through Lost premiere night without getting hooked is what I'm saying, and that's a small victory. Richard Brautigan says that you have to keep track of the small victories, so I do.