Monday, November 24, 2008

The X.C.?

This article is hokey and melodramatic in all the best (?) fanboy ways, but I love the news that O.C./Gossip Girl/Chuck auteur Josh Schwartz will be adapting X-Men First Class for the big screen. Written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Roger Cruz and Colleen Coover, among others, this was easily the best X-book on the market until its untimely cancellation this year. Set in the present but focusing on the original X-team of Beast, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman and Angel when they are just starting at Xavier's school for gifted mutants, the book used this time warp concept to return to an earlier, funnier, more self-reflexive period in Marvel's history, when they weren't afraid of standalone stories, self-parodic asides and goofy back-up features. Cruz and Coover's beautifully cartoonish art enhanced this feel of old-school fun, and the whole project was a marvelous riposte to the overwrought melodrama that usually infects the X-books (their well-intentioned but heavy-handed tales of prejudice always reminded me of Oz's line on Buffy: "That's great, Larry-- you've really mastered the single entendre").

This kind of self-aware fun makes Schwartz the perfect screenwriter for the project. Let's just hope there's a place for Adam Brody as the young Beast...

(h/t to Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin for the link).

Monday Music Flashback: Bend Me Break Me

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Napoleon Complex

Happy birthday to Robert Vaughn, best known for his four seasons playing super-spy Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the 1960s. David McCullum's dry wit and moody pout made him the fan favorite on the show, but it's hard to imagine the whole tongue-in-cheek enterprise holding together without Vaughn's charm, and playful mix of hammy self-regard and knowing self-deprecation. Born in New York in 1932, he grew up in Minnesota, while spending the summers with his mother and step-father in Manhattan (where they were both theater actors). According to his just-published autobiography, A Fortunate Life, Vaughn was bit by the acting bug early, performing at the age of six for the great John Barrymore in a Chicago bar, and forcing classmates to listen to him perform Shakespearean monologues in grade school. This early training would eventually pay off when he went to Los Angeles City College in the late 50s and did an acclaimed performance as Hamlet that helped accelerate his career (he also met lifelong friend James Coburn at the school). He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (opposite Paul Newman) in The Young Philadelphians, and gained further notice in The Magnificent Seven as the nervous gunfighter Lee. Following the cancellation of U.N.C.L.E. in 1968, he would give his most interesting big-screen performance as the oily politician Chalmers in Bullitt, and win an Emmy for Washington: Behind Closed Doors in 1977, a series he says was one of his favorite projects. Most recently, he's played the rakish con man Albert on the BBC hit Hustle, which is currently filming its fifth season.

But it's not only as an actor that Vaughn made his mark. He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, chairing the organization Dissenting Democrats and debating William F. Buckley, Jr. on Firing Line in 1967. His speeches and other political work threw him into conflict with Lyndon Johnson (in his autobiography, Vaughn has a priceless anecdote about meeting LBJ, who stood "in a ten-gallon hat, looking closer to seven-feet tall," and spun the actor close to him, saying, "Oh, yesss. You're the speech maker!" When Vaughn nodded affirmatively, Johnson said, "Well, good luck, son!" and "then he flung me away into the crowd like a dishrag"). They also initiated a close friendship with Robert Kennedy, whose Hickory Hill house Vaughn would visit several times before the politician's death.

Most intriguingly, Vaughn has a Ph.D. in communications, which he worked on all through the run of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (talk about multi-tasking!). It was about the Hollywood blacklist, and was published in the early 70s as Only Victims. I have not read it, but Vaughn's rich and relaxed writing in A Fortunate Life makes me curious to.

Finally, I would be remiss, amidst all this praise, if I didn't mention the oddest recent spotting of Robert Vaughn-- on the back of a Laffayette, Lousiana phonebook. When I was down there with The Babe and her family this past summer, there was the stern, thumb-pointing image of Napoleon Solo staring back up at me, and shilling for a local lawyer named William Gee. Apparently, Vaughn has done a number of these kinds of ads for lawyers across the United States.

So, on this cold November night, open Channel D and kick back with an episode of U.N.C.L.E. in celebration. The entire four-season run was just released in a gargantuan-yet-stylish box set that's full of extras (five whole discs worth!) and fantastically remastered eps. It may not have the surreal panache of The Avengers or the existential cool of I Spy, but U.N.C.L.E. more than makes up for it with high production values, jack-in-the-box twists and the arch banter of its two leads. Many aspects of the show have dated (which is not a bad thing), but the cool of McCullum and Vaughn remains intact-- in their contrasting styles, they turn espionage into a metacommentary on acting, and they transform both into a dandyish lark.

Saturday Morning Bad Movie Club: Batman & Robin

Sorry to have abandoned you for so long, bad movie fans! The election, travel and work caused me to neglect this particular feature for a few weeks, but fear not! I return, and I think the clip below more than makes up for the three-week delay: it's like three bad movies rolled into one!

I've often said that the scariest five minutes in American cinema come during the credits to St. Elmo's Fire: as the cast names (Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore...) roll up the screen, a shiver always goes up my spine, and I want to run screaming from the room when the words "Directed by Joel Schumacher" appear. His name almost never a marker of quality (the delightful The Lost Boys excepted), this 1997 superhero movie is truly the Schu's masterpiece. Batman & Robin: as MST3K stalwart Mike Nelson once wrote, “Batman & Robin is not the worst movie ever. No, indeed. It's the worst thing ever. Yes, it’s the single worst thing that we as human beings have ever produced in recorded history.”

Saturday Music Flashback: No One Likes To Be Alone

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rattle and Hmmm

Twice in the last five days-- once in a comics shop and once in a cafe--I've heard the soundtrack to U2's Rattle and Hum playing over the speakers. This, as Buffy might say, is not to the bad: much maligned upon initial release 20 years ago, the album has aged very well, both tying up some loose, roots-rock ends ("Van Diemen's Land," "When Love Comes To Town," the various live versions of past hits) and pointing to the sonically and emotionally darker territory ("All I Want Is You," "Desire," "God Part II") that the band would mine to even greater effect on their 1991 masterpiece Achtung Baby. Above all, there is the Billie Holiday tribute, "Angel of Harlem": it sounds nothing like Billie Holiday, and manages to get some dates wrong in the lyrics (while "Birdland of '53" might indeed have sounded "like a symphony," there certainly wouldn't have been "John Coltrane and Love Supreme" lying around, as that record wasn't released until '64), but its Stax horns and open-throated vocal make it the most joyous and groove-heavy of all U2's hits.

So, Rattle and Hum, definitely good. But twice in five days? If I hear it once more this weekend, I'll start to suspect a Bono-driven conspiracy...

Friday Music Flashback: What If I Was Heathcliff?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Alphabet Soup

Temptation of the alphabet: to adopt the succession of letters in order to link fragments is to fall back on what constitutes the glory of language (and what constitutes Saussure's despair): an unmotivated order...which is not arbitrary (since everyone knows it, recognizes it, and agrees on it). The alphabet is euphoric: no more anguish of "schema," no more rhetoric of "development," no more twisted logic, no more dissertations!
--Roland Barthes

Last week, blog pal Bill tagged me with a meme that's been making its way through the cinesphere, called "the Alphabet Meme." It started at Blog Cabins, where Fletch came up with the following:

The Rules

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under "R," not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with "S." Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under "R," not "I" as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

I was out of town when Bill tagged me, and didn't find out about it until Saturday or Sunday, by which point the meme had made its way to most of the people I would have tagged. So I don't know how well I'll pull off step six, but I'm happy to comply with the other five.

I tend to enjoy memes, and this one is especially interesting to me. My MA thesis on Since You Went Away was done in an "alphabetic" style, a series of fragments placed in alphabetic order and titled according to elements in the film's mise-en-scene (so "hats," for instance, or "bowling"). Based on Robert B. Ray's The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy, and Roland Barthes' alphabetic musings in Barthes par Barthes, the idea was that an intense concentration on those kinds of visual elements might allow them to act as hyperlinks that could connect elements across the films, across other films, into cultural histories, etc. Freed from the tyranny of the central thesis, each fragment functioned as a sort of theoretical fetish, free to rewire conventional wisdoms about the movie and Hollywood more generally (Ray develops this alphabetic method in even greater detail in his new book, The ABCs of Classic Hollywood).

This alphabet meme doesn't function exactly like that (at least for me), but I liked the idea of it, as a forced focus on letters means the blogger can't just rely on canons of critical thought, socially acceptable theses or hipster attitude. One film, one letter is more like the parlor game David Thomson designed in his Biographical Dictionary of Film, where in his entry on Howard Hawks, he contemplates the "platonic circle" attitude that develops when critics gather to discuss the "ten greatest films of all time": rejecting the approved notion that there must be "important" films on the list, Thomson instead chooses ten Hawks films. I didn't go that far (although I sympathize with his Hawks fetish), but I like the spirit he suggests-- what happens when we get past obligation to the messier and more interesting questions of personal desire?

Questions arise. How do you balance out directors? How do you balance out stars? Genres? Periods? National cinemas? Is this a "best of" list, a list of favorites, a hopscotch overview of taste? Do I bend the rules about translation to squeeze in more films I love? Do I dare slip a few television shows in, since that form increasingly seems as "cinematic" as stuff playing in theaters?

The form constrains, but also generates interesting observations: I suddenly noticed that most of my favorite Otto Preminger films have their titles grouped at the beginning of the alphabet (Advise and Consent, Anatomy of a Murder, Bunny Lake Is Missing, Bonjour Tristesse), which is distressing, as Breathless and Bringing Up Baby were already battling for one of those slots. I settled on Fallen Angel, which ended up being better: it's not my favorite Preminger, but it was the one that, through the figure of the lovely Linda Darnell, first made me notice his brilliance, and caused me to seek out his other work.

In fact, I found that a lot of my favorite films gather around letters like "B" (the aforementioned films, plus Boudu saved From Drowning and Bed and Board), "R" (Rules of the Game just missed the cut, because I knew I needed Michael Powell on there somewhere), and "S" (not only Sturges, but also Slacker, Small Back Room, The and Star Wars (sorry, Campaspe). And a lot of films I could think of for "V" I disliked; perhaps its shape (an arrow pointing downward) is my personal thumbs-down.

Why do so many Hitchcock films begin with "F" (Foreign Correspondent, Frenzy, Family Plot) or "S" (Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Stage Fright), to say nothing of Vertigo, Notorious, To Catch A Thief and Thirty-Nine Steps, The? Is there something about those consonants that elicits a greater degree of fear? Or is that, between Alfred and Otto, the two darlings of Cahiers du Cinema simply control suspense at both ends of the alphabet?

Finally-- everyone talks about how "Q" is the hard letter, and it's true that it was daunting, but you know what one really stumped me? "H." I don't know why, but it took me the longest time to think of a film I liked with that title (Hellraiser-- a film I hate-- kept blocking my memory banks with his pointy face). But I was pretty happy with the one that eventually popped into my head.

"Popped into my head" is an important guide to what follows. It's not a "26 favorites" list, or "the best films EVAH starting with these letters," but-- per Glenn Kenny-- more a "these are the 26 films I like and I thought of when I sat down to do this" kind of list. Which might be the best way to approach it-- the Surrealist-like immediacy of those choices does act as a kind of palimpsest of a personal cinema, a report for further research.

Without further ado...

Adventures of Robin Hood, The
Breathless (A Bout de Souffle)
Dazed and Confused
Empire of the Sun
Fallen Angel
Hope and Glory
Iron Giant, The
Jules and Jim
Killer, The
La Dolce Vita
North By Northwest
Only Angels Have Wings
Pandora's Box
Red Shoes, The
Sullivan's Travels
Touchez Pas Au Grisbi
Umberto D.
Wild Child, The
Young At Heart

While many folks have already been tagged, I'll tag Brendan, Bob, and anyone else out there who wants to play tag. You're it!

"The White Oprah"

The House just dumped John Dingell from chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee. Do you think ABC could do something similar with Cokie Roberts?

Still, I imagine Roberts see Sarah Palin as a soulmate. After all, she probably summers in Myrtle Beach, right?

Trailer Time: They Used To Call Him "Tricky" Kid

Anyone catch "Frost/Nixon" when it played on Broadway in 2007? I did not, but heard good things, so I'm grateful that Ron Howard has adapted Peter Morgan's play for the big screen. And I'm very glad he's kept intact the show's casting of Michael Sheen (so good as the oily, passionate Tony Blair in The Queen, also written by Morgan) as David Frost, and the sad, magisterial, rather eerie Frank Langella as the second-worst President in American history (as in so much of his life, Nixon finds himself a runner-up, a position he both resented and used as a terrible motivation).

My mother swears that, when she was pregnant with me and watching the Watergate hearings, she could feel me kicking in frustration every time Tricky Dick's name was mentioned. Historically, I know this can't be true-- I was born in April of 1973, and the hearings began in May-- but I like to think there's some kind of more mystical truth about it, because it just feels so right. I hate Nixon with the passion of a thousand suns, and yet find myself utterly fascinated by him at the same time. The longing, the rage, the doubt, the paradoxical mixture of brilliance and insecurity, ego and self-loathing, deep bigotries and diplomatic skill-- he seems both unknowable and an open book (albeit one written by Lovecraft). And he was a central figure in that 30-year period (roughly 1946-1974) that is one of the most politically interesting in our nation's history.

I'm interested in anything new about Nixon, so when I read that the trailer for the new film was out, I immediately went to YouTube to watch it. There's something ironically appropriate about the layers involved here: I'm watching a YouTube upload, of a trailer that played in theaters, for a film adaptation of a West End/Broadway stage play, that's based on a series of television interviews, in which Nixon himself constantly threw up smokescreens of disingenuousness and legalese to mask his own fears, lies, and passions (especially about the recording technologies of the White House). Which, in an odd way, means that the most "accurate" way to see the trailer is in the television-shaped box that YouTube provides. This sense of screens within screens within screens (and how they both obscure and reveal detail) is captured in the trailer by the multiple miniature television screens that act as segues in the montage-- those segues look less like TV technology circa 1977 than something out of ZooTV, but definitely capture the media overload of which Nixon's career was both victim and beneficiary. Sheen's Frost has a kind of Hugh Grant puppy dog quality that works very well in those clips, particularly when his manner suddenly turns cold in the final seconds of the trailer (Langella's response is priceless). He looks well-supported by Oliver Platt, and I like the Sorkinesque rhythms that Morgan and Howard seem to be generating.

But, of course, it's Langella who is truly the compelling figure here. He gets the vocal ticks, the slumped shoulders, the creepy smile that always signified hate more than joy-- and he looks like he's using those as tools to mine the depths of Nixon's soul. No one's ever going to completely penetrate the oddness and opacity of Richard Nixon, or completely untangle his countless contradictions. But by putting them on display with such charismatic strangeness, the trailer for Frost/Nixon suggests that Langella understands the central role of rage and resentment in Nixon's career: that they weren't responses that elicited empathy or generated catharsis, but weapons and masks that only plunged Nixon into greater darkness, as if he were the ideal figure for a John Cassevettes character study.

Thursday Music Flashback: Gonna Get Some Records By The Status Quio

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Treasure Troves

Just a heads-up...

The other day, blog pal Jonathan had a nice post about the joys and pitfalls of building a DVD collection. Writing of the early days of the DVD player, he noted the problem created by the gap between technological development and a marketplaces still set on "VHS":

When DVD players first came on the market in the nineties no one was renting the DVDs themselves. As a result, if you wanted a DVD player (I did) and wanted to actually watch DVDs on it (this seemed a logical extension of owning the player) it was necessary to buy DVDs, not rent them. And so I bought anything I wanted to see. Anything. So any new movie, good or bad, I purchased and watched. As new responsibilities came into my life I did not feel the need to buy them anymore as they were now available for rent and money was growing harder and harder to come by anyway. The end result is a DVD collection stuck in the nineties, with a smattering of classic titles for good measure.

And I hate it.

My wife and I have resolved to purchase two classic DVDs a month, one we have seen, to add to the collection, and one we have not, to watch. We don't buy anything for ourselves ever as it is, so this should be something we can afford. It is hoped that gradually, over the course of several years, we will have a DVD collection of which we can be proud. Of course, by that time they probably won't even exist anymore, so the whole process will start over. But when and if that happens, I'm sticking with renting for new movies and purchasing for older ones.

I don't know if Jonathan knows, but as a good cinephile, I feel it my duty to mention that Criterion's website, between now and November 25, is marking every single DVD they have off 40%. Yes, every in-stock item (which also includes T-shirts and posters) is marked down 40%. Here's a chance to get classics by Ozu, Bergman, Renoir, Ophuls, Melville; more contemporary work from Allison Anders, Richard Linklater, and Nicholas Roeg; offbeat cult classics like If... and Carnival of Souls...Good lord, just going through their site, I feel like Darby O'Gill discovering the secret treasure of the Little People. And of course, like Darby, one quickly learns the downside of this sale: greed, avarice, material desires that make Dick Cheney look like a Calcutta nun. The curse of the cinephile who fetishizes the DVD: is it worse to buy or not to buy (and regret it later)? Or are such metaphysical, existential questions irrelevant when the sensual pleasures of browsing beckon? I mean, to paraphrase Mr. Smithers, "Yeah...but...look at all that stuff!"

Wednesday Music Flashback: The Shark Has Pearly Teeth

Monday, November 17, 2008

Final Frontiers

Yes, the special effects look impressive; yes, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto look impressively Kirk and Spock-like, respectively; yes, the writing has an interesting Batman Begins/Superman Returns feel about it. But let's be honest-- the really cool part of the trailer for the new Star Trek movie is hearing Simon Pegg as Scotty, saying, "I like this ship, it's exciting!" Oh, Nicholas Angel, you rock.

Mose Schrute Has Left The Building

Wow, David Eckstein must have more pull than I thought.

I was traveling last week, so I didn't know until today that the world's best sports blog, Fire Joe Morgan, had closed shop last Thursday. The blog--run by a trio of comedy writers that included Office writer/producer (and portrayer of Mose) Michael Schur-- was nominally about baseball, and the idiotic media coverage that propagates its most reactionary myths, but you didn't have to be a baseball fan (or a fan of any sport) to appreciate it. Its larger theme-- that the bigotry, laziness and arrogance of conventional wisdom end up distorting discourse around any topic-- is certainly one that applies equally to politics, cinema, and any number of other subjects. FJM's take on baseball was similar to that of Michael Lewis' Moneyball (a book these sabermetric fans frequently cited)--that without even realizing it, reporters were replicating accepted falsehoods instead of seeing what was right in front of them on the field; Eckstein was FJM's mascot, not because he was a bad player, but because his mediocrity was misread as momentary greatness by a sports press more committed to ideology than actuality.

Plus, they were really, you know, funny. I couldn't help but hear The Office's Jim when reading one of Schur's posts. An "exit interview" with Schur and his partners in crime can be found here.

Take The Weather With You

At the Decafe in Wilder Hall, there hang several vintage posters for various events (Drag Ball, Debutante Ball, a "Reading of THE SHARK AND THE SARDINES"), but one always catches my eye: a collage poster for a "FREE DANCE" on May 13 in Warner Hall. The writing on the collage's red sheet is trite in its "revolutionary" phrasing, full of the usual cliched catch-phrases of the 60s:

"PROTEST...ANGER...SHITHEADS..STATUS...ANNOY...ESTABLISHMENT...MARXISTS...STATUS QUO" (although I do like the way "CONFUSION" breaks on a line ending, becoming "CONFUS" and "ION", and throwing the metaphysics of the whole project into question).

It's actually the New York Times backing behind the red sheet that catches my eye: presumably meant as a staid bourgeois background for this most "REVOLUTIONARY" of dances-- something, in other words, to be mocked-- its early 70s typeface, and the fashions in the pictures, dominates the words that mar its front. My eye struggles to go past the hippie pretensions of the red sheet to read the headlines and ad copy, to see how much a trip to Sweden cost 35 years ago, to ponder the neo-wonders of the "San Jeronimo Hotel." It reminds me of Barthes:

Why do some people, including myself, enjoy in certain novels, biographies, and historical works the representation of the “daily life” of an epoch, of a character? Why this curiosity about petty details: schedules, habits, meals, lodging, clothing, etc.? Is it the hallucinatory relish of “reality” (the very materiality of “that once existed”)? And is it not the fantasy itself which invokes the “detail,” the tiny private scene, in which I can easily take my place? …

Thus, impossible to imagine a more tenuous, a more insignificant notation than that of “today’s weather” (or yesterday’s); and yet, the other day, reading, trying to read Amiel, irritation that the well-meaning editor (another person foreclosing pleasure) had seen fit to omit from this Journal the everyday details, what the weather was like on the shores of Lake Geneva, and retain only insipid musing: yet it is this weather that had not aged, not Amiel’s philosophy.

But more than anything, what catches my eye is the date on the newspaper: April 22, 1973. I like the serendipity of having lunch next to a newspaper published only three days before I was born.

Monday Music Flashback: Eyes Of The Bluest Skies

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Questions, Questions...

So, by now, you've probably heard the rumors about Hillary Clinton being on (ooh, I never get tired of saying and typing this) President-elect Obama's short list list for Secretary of State. Which, for me, begs just one question: Why?

I know, I know, nothing's confirmed, and my personal favorite for the post, Bill Richardson, is still in the running (and to me, really, he's a no-brainer), but since Clinton hasn't denied the rumor, I'll take that as an opportunity to speculate. I have no doubt that Clinton, a gifted policy wonk, would make an excellent Cabinet secretary for Obama (or, as some have speculated, an even-better Supreme Court nominee). ABC News said last night that Obama is influenced by the "Team of Rivals" theory Doris Kearns Goodwin put forth in her recent book on Lincoln's Cabinet (I haven't read it, but it's on my history book list as soon as I finish the new FDR biography, Traitor To His Class, which I commend to your attention). This speaks well of both Obama's political smarts and his desire to reach out to rivals and political enemies. Sure, definitely put Senator Clinton in the Cabinet. But...Secretary of State? Really? Why?

Can anyone think of an example of Hillary Clinton's vast foreign policy experience? Does her "yea" vote on the Iraq war speak to her visionary viewpoint on America's role in the world? Obama has an extraordinary amount of goodwill coming his way-- has had it since he clinched the nomination this summer, so the idea that she somehow shores up his international image with her reputation (the theory I just heard floated on CNN) doesn't make sense to me. Nearly everything I can think of that Clinton is good at, knowledgeable at-- health care, child welfare policy, economic populism-- are domestic policy issues. Department of Labor, Attorney General, Health and Human Services-- I could imagine Clinton in any of these roles. But even if you want to make the argument that the boundaries between domestic and foreign policy are more and more dissolved in an interconnected world, I still don't understand the upside to naming her to this position when there are many other Dems who could fill that important post with far more panache and experience.

Obama's cool and patience have constantly surprised me and proved me wrong over the last year, so I'll keep the faith that he knows what he's doing. But still-- why?

Mighty Marvel Madison Men

Give Marvel Comics some credit-- the Secret Invasion mini-series has been a disappointing dud, but the ads promoting it have been fabulous. Stan Lee would be proud.

Songs About Airports III: Where The Hell Is My Fabulous Freedom Institute?

Flew through Dallas on Tuesday, and currently sit in its "Samsung Mobile Center" on my way back to Oberlin. This city, home to J.R. Ewing, Jerry Jones and the Kennedy assasination (and the setting for my favorite documentary, The Thin Blue Line), also offers us the eyesore of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport; like its city's ego, the airport is absurdly over-large, sprawled across several miles of narrow hallways whose dim fluorescence Tuesday night made me feel like I'd stepped back in time, and landed in one of those 70s disaster movies like Airport. The shadowy light, chintzy carpet and plastic seating definitely had a retro charm, but it was also very eerie, as if Dean Martin was about to walk by in a pilot's uniform, or O.J. Simpson might zoom by in a doomed effort to catch a plane.

Making my way through the confusingly marked terminals (pathways to the "ACDE" gates disappear and re-appear like clockwork, an architectural design that only M.C. Escher could love), I finally stumble upon a skyway tram that jolts your body forward as it lurches to its destination (staring out the window, I could hear the Replacements in my head: "She takes the skyway/High above the busy little one-way..."). A clear white light shines through the gigantic picture window next to the impressively epic escalator (Texans do nothing half-sized) that takes me from the tram to terminal A, and I try to absorb as many rays as I can before returning to what I am told is a cold and wet Ohio. When I sit down to type this, I receive an email note telling me that my brother-in-law is safely back from his tour of duty overseas (he'd been stranded in an airport two nights ago, got to Bangor, then finally returned home yesterday). I'd seen other soldiers in camouflage as I walked through the Dallas airport, and wondered where they were going, whether they were leaving or coming home, how long they would be gone. They always remind me of my brother-in-law, and knowing he is finally home is a relief-filled reminder that even the most annoying airports are also spaces of reunion and joy.

Saturday Music Flashback: Lovely And Delicious

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Genius And Its Opposite

This is hilarious:

This is, too, but probably not in the way John Hinderacker intended. I do love the idea of George W. Bush as a kind of Henry Higgins to future Presidents, though.

Tuesday Music Flashback: Skylark

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Space and Time

Remind you of anything?

Most cinephiles know Douglas Trumbull as the special effects guru behind such classic films as 2001, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters. What I did not know, until I stumbled upon the above clip on YouTube, was that he also did title designs for commercial television.

Looking at the clip above, I immediately thought of 2001's climax, and congratulated ABC on being trendy enough to incorporate the look into their programs as early as 1969 (when the "Movie of the Week" debuted). But in fact, as this page details, Trumbull himself had knocked on ABC's door, looking for work in America after several years abroad. Lending his style to the relatively new form of the "made-for-TV" movie (as opposed to airing theatrical films, or doing the stage/screen/TV hybrids of the Golden Age of TV such as Playhouse 90), Trumbull's graphics framed often the often-pedestrian narratives (note the comedown from his space-age color to the clips of the Brian Keith movie it announces) and made the whole thing feel shiny and modern.

The ABC "Movie of the Week" would really take off with "Duel," a 1971 film whose eerie anthropomorphisms, Hitchcockian pacing and stylish camerawork would immediately get studios asking about its young director, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was not the only one headed for the big screen; the inventor of the "Movie of the Week," ABC head honcho Barry Diller, would soon become head of production at Paramount Pictures. While Trumbull brought a larger-than-life, big-screen style to television with his graphics, Diller would bring the budget-conscious, episodic mindset of mid-70s TV to Hollywood feature production-- along with his lieutenant, Michael Eisner, Diller would emphasize the "high concept" notion of narrative (or what Spielberg-- a far richer and more ambitious talent, but also one raised in the fields of TV--would call "an idea you can hold in your hand"). Under Robert Evans, Paramount had made the Godfather films, Chinatown, Paper Moon; under Diller, they would make Saturday Night Fever and Grease (both with ABC star John Travolta) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (another TV adaptation that reunited Diller with Trumbull). Harlan Ellison, in his withering review of the last film, would call it "Star Trek: The Motionless Picture," rightly suggesting how a slavish devotion to both the original TV concept and its rabid fan base collided with the temptation to go overboard on ponderous special effects, resulting in a monstrously uncinematic inertia.

That was a decade in the future, though-- the YouTube clip above retains its initial excitement, and suggests a world of visual possibility opened by Trumbull's blending of spaced-out light and late-60s commercial typography. To make a Brian Keith TV western seem like the hippest thing on the tube? That's truly going where no one has gone before.

Cruise Control

In the future, everyone will appear on The Love Boat for fifteen minutes.

Saturday Music Flashback: High As A Kite, I Just Might

Friday, November 7, 2008

Private Thoughts On A Public Address System

What's My Line?

The Browns game was on NFL Network last night, so I was unable to watch Brady Quinn's debut. Instead, I followed it on's "Live Viewcast" page, which gives play by play updates on the game and changing scores; the effect was what I imagine it was like to hear baseball scores read to you via telegraph wire in the 1920s (somehow, this archaic form of communication seems appropriate for following the Brownies). After the game ended, it occurred to me that I probably could've tuned it in on the local radio, but this is what having a persistent head cold does to your memory...

Anyway, they lost to the Broncos 34-30, but Quinn's line (23/35, two touchdowns, no interceptions) isn't bad, and it's certainly a better stat sheet than Derek Anderson's been putting up lately. I'll take it for a debut, even though I wish we could've beaten the hated Broncos. There's more on the game here.

Friday Music Flashback: Fine and Mellow

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I went to UF, so it's always been hard for me to cheer for Florida State, but this is a pretty cool story.

Fear Factor

He's not running for anything, his approval ratings rest in the low 20s, and the Republican nominee just got his ass kicked (a brutal referendum on the last eight years)-- but still, George W. Bush just can't let go of the fear-mongering.

You know, Mr. Soon-To-Not-Be-President, while there's historical precedent for your concern, rather than trying to gin up our concerns in one last passive-aggressive swipe at a progressive future, why not spend your time, you know-- protecting us?

Kudos, too, to the Times for reviving the since-debunked story about the "W" keys being removed from White House computers by outgoing Clinton staffers. Even after Iraq and Katrina and the failed economy, it's deeply hard for the paper to get off the Republican tire swing.

In happier news, Orange County, California was close to going for Obama Tuesday-- his 47.4% of the vote is the highest for a Democrat since 1976. Somewhere, Sandy Cohen is smiling.

Thursday Music Flashback: Epistrophy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Image of the day:

(h/t to Oliver Willis's site).

Mid-Morning Thought

As if by serendipity as I type this, Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," with its monster groove and chorus ("Baby, everything is alright/Uptight, outta sight!") comes up on my i-pod. Have to run to teach, and won't have much time to post today, so can I just say how cool it is to see the words "President-Elect Obama" all over the news today? Holy crap, that feels great!

UPDATE (12:20 P.M.): Just saw that Indiana went for Obama. Indiana, which hasn't voted for a Dem for President since 1960. Indiana, where I voted in my first presidential election in 1992 (well, actually I voted absentee, but was in Indiana), where I remember the wild celebration when Clinton won that year, which included a bunch of us jumping into the fountain in the center of the IU campus. Indiana, always the splotch of red in a sea of electoral blue. Indiana, whose racial history in the 20th Century has often been an embarrassment to so many of the extraordinarily good people who live there. Indy-frackin'-ana. I am speechless, actually, but very, very glad. And with North Carolina still (as far as I can see) uncalled, this could be an even bigger election than we thought last night.

Wednesday Music Flashback: I Live My Life For The Stars That Shine

We Can

Yes, we can.

When MSNBC called it, and showed the graphic of President-elect Obama, I'll admit-- I almost lost it. After 11 crazy months of watching, worrying, blogging, arguing, hyperventilating, blogging some more, and then was over. And he won! For the first time in eight years, my guy won! The state I voted in went for Obama, and so did Florida, my old home and the site of so much prior electoral heartache. I spent the day in a state of high anxiety, trying to relax by reading, watching movies, scanning the web, browsing in bookstores. I didn't teach today, thank god, and I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate on any work. I've been under the weather for a week, anyway, which contributed to the tension, but I think I just felt overwhelmed all day, thinking of everything that could go wrong. He couldn't really lose, could he? After all this? America isn't that stupid, is it? About an hour ago, I still felt overwhelmed, but it was a far different feeling, and one I don't want to let go of.

I won't lie-- part of the overwhelming feeling is because Obama is black, and the huge emotional, poltical, symbolic resonance that has. Speaking to the Babe this evening on the phone (we immediately called each other when the results were announced, and crossed our cell wires just as I was leaving her a message), we both said that we didn't know if such a thing would happen in our lives (and if it did, I thought I would be much, much older). But it's not just his race-- it's who he is. Whatever happens over the next eight years, I don't know that I will ever be more excited by a Presidential candidate-- his intelligence, his cool, his calm, his poetic gifts and that brilliant audacity of hope. Nihilism is easy; cynicism is easy; hope is hard, but essential. Obama's great gift was to convince millions of voters to give up their hipster pose, to risk failure and heartache and believe again. Watching the crowds in Grant Park (hell, more locally, hearing the fireworks going off down the street in celebration), what I see is not just excitement at a win, but delirium at the possibility of a real future, a real community, a real America.

Across the country in Arizona, in front of a different crowd (one so full of red flags that it almost looked like a Soviet rally), John McCain gave a gracious concession speech. It was more notable for its delivery than its words, his obvious disappointment and sadness giving us glimpses of his humanity that we didn't really see during the campaign. Framed by the odious Sarah Palin (whose eyes already danced with visions of 2012 as she scanned the crowds), he spoke of unity, honor, friendship and bipartisanship. Those are important values, but what was surreal was how disconnected the high-flown rhetoric felt when juxtaposed with the campaign McCain just ran, one of the sleaziest in recent history; it was like a speech from Bizarro World, where McCain is still an honorable maverick, and he and Obama just held the equivalent of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Very strange, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and hope he really will work with Obama to make the country better (trust but verify, you know?).

But those are problems for another day, remnants of an American past. Obama's walking out on stage as I type this, about to carry us into our future. Or are we carrying him? In the end, the race was not just about Obama or McCain, but about what we can achieve together, if we are willing to make the leap. No recent campaign has used media so well, and none of Obama's ads summarized his appeal, and this historic campaign, as well as this one:

As Andrew Sullivan keeps saying, know hope. The future is yours, if you want it.

(All photos from the site of the essential Black Snob).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blue Tuesday

Holy crap, the networks have called Ohio for Obama. Ohio. Given the craziness of Ohio in 2004, Obama's primary defeat to Hillary Clinton here this year, and some weirdly passive-aggressive behavior from the Cleveland Plain Dealer this fall, I really didn't know which way the state would go (although, given the remarkably bad state of Ohio's economy, especially in northeast Ohio, this should've been a cakewalk for the Dems). If this holds, I am very, very proud that my state went for Obama.

In fact, if the election projections thus far hold, nearly every state I've ever lived in will go Obama (Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, my birth state of New Jersey and Ohio are already called, and Florida is leaning Obama at the moment). I like to think it has something to do with my aura being spread all over the states...

Even more remarkably, Arizona and North Carolina are, as of 9:49, anyway, too close to call. This is going to be a huge, huge night.

UPDATE (10:13 P.M.): Whoops! Forgot Indiana, where I spent four happy years at Indiana University. I guess I'm so used to that state going red that it completely slipped my mind. Right now, McCain is ahead, but the fact that it's in play, to the tune of a few thousand votes, is a remarkable achievement for Obama-- the state hasn't gone Dem since 1960.

Election Day Mental Health Break: Slay The Bureaucracy

What are you doing on the Internet, ya slacker?? Go, VOTE!!

But-- if you have voted, then mosey on over to this site, which imagines an administration we could all get behind.

(h/t to Whedonesque for the link).

The Big Day

The future is yours, if you want it.

Tuesday Music Flashback: By Dawn's Early Light

Change We Can Believe In

No, not that, but this and this.

One of the advantages of traveling Sunday was that I missed the Browns-Ravens game. But talking with my father, a committed Browns fan, and reading this piece makes me believe it was good I didn't see it. I can't disagree with anything Don Banks writes here: the Browns have given Derek Anderson countless opportunities this season, and it's long since time to see what Brady Quinn can offer. Some combination of loyalty, stubbornness, resentment (Quinn held out during last year's pre-season) and ego (Savage discovered Anderson when he worked for the Ravens) kept Browns management from pulling Anderson this season (or better yet, trading him after last year, when his value was at a peak it will never again reach). But now the team can finally look ahead to the future. At worst, you get Quinn off the bench, see what you have, and perhaps create some trade interest among other teams; at best, you have an inexpensive quarterback of the future. I don't think Quinn can lead the team to the playoffs, and he might not even get them to a winning record this year, but he'll give them energy, imagination and leadership on the field: three things Anderson has sorely lacked.

I'm not sure what to say about Iverson-- I'm still kind of in shock they have him. He's the first legitimate superstar the Pistons have had in fifteen years, and even if he's at the tail end of his talent, I've always loved his on-the-court game (his off-the-court behavior is a mixed bag). I suspect Detroit fans will respond positively to his scrappiness, skill and colorful imagination (furthermore, as Ian Thomson points out, there's the chance that the Pistons could get McDyess back, giving them even more depth). If he can give an already talented team even half of what he had in Philadelphia and Denver, it could be a good spring in Detroit.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Good on Steve Young and his family for opposing Prop 8 out in California-- it's nice to see a high-profile athlete (even a retired one) take a stand against homophobia. That Young is Mormon (the very church that is pouring millions into getting Prop 8 passed) and that, if I recall, his politics tend to skew conservative is a nice reminder that opposition to discrimination cuts across many standardized binaries of community and belief.

(h/t to Andrew Sullivan's site for the link).

Songs About Airports II

Notes on a weekend journey to see my cousin get married...

--Slipping into the stylish bath of humanity and stress known as the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, I ride the moving walkway past the tasty-looking A&W root beer stand, to the men's room on the right. Clearly, cleanliness is really not next to godliness: there are mud and dirt stains all over the floors, and when I make a right to use the stalls, I notice pools of water covering the ground. Not wanting to know their provenance, I vamoose to another rest room. This one's cleaner, but the water explodes out of the tap, spraying on my jacket sleeves in such a way that I suspect Allen Funt is behind the mirror.

--"Hold on a sec," the cashier at the DTW gift shop says, midway through ringing up my purchase of much-needed DayQuill. As I stand with a bill in my hand, she leaves the counter, and holds a mysterious conference with faceless folks in the stock room.

--I'm perfectly happy turning off my I-pod for portions of the flight, but can we have a corollary that when it's off, the jack-asses sitting around us can't share their life stories at top volume? The Chatty Kathy behind me is a dead ringer for Kris Kristofferson, which only makes his whopper-filled anecdotes about life on the road in the 1970s all the more poignant (midway through his tale of trying to avoid paying a bribe to a customs official in Marrakesh, I halfway expect to hear him accompanied by the gentle strains of "Me and Bobby McGee"). Despite the deeply felt '75 groove he's rocking to maximum effect, his trapped seat-mate is not impressed by his Disco Stu come-ons, and eagerly deplanes the minute we touch ground.

--I can't help but admire the chutzpah: just as the flight attendant is reading the guidelines about fastening seat-belts and making sure tray tables are in an upright position, my seat-mate puts her tray table down and rests her head on it. She seems shocked when, upon departure, her table is rudely rocked by our movement upward: her head jolts, and she regards the traitorous piece of gray plastic with a suspicious air.

--My cab driver back to Oberlin is a former therapist who's fond of raising points about Marxist dialectics. We discuss Obama, and what the weather might be like on Tuesday (he says sunny skies are predicted, and I hear it metaphorically).

Sunday Music Flashback: That's A Pretty Nice Haircut

Saturday, November 1, 2008


A recent dream: I'm part of the John McCain entourage, a reporter nervously fumbling questions while Maureen Dowd rattles off health care statistics and Congressional bill numbers with ease (I know this is a dream because Maureen Dowd can rattle off health care statistics and Congressional bill numbers with ease). When I finally get a face-to-face with McCain in the back of his plane (which somehow transforms in the middle of the interview into a campaign office), he stares at me sternly, occasional suggestions of puzzlement clouding his eyes, as if I'm a rare specimen or some kind of alien being he's never seen before.

While I don't think this dream puts me in Maeve Reston territory, it just reconfirms that November 4th really can't get here fast enough.

Saturday Music Flashback: Are They Only In My Dreams?