Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kirb Your Enthusiasm

The little stuffed bull with the magic blog is at it again: Bully has just wrapped up a week-long birthday tribute to Jack Kirby, arguably the most important artist in the history of American comic books. I feel bad I didn't plug this earlier-- it was such a busy week-- but now that it's done, you can revel in the whole thing without having to wait for the next segment! Page scans, stylistic analyses, heartfelt personal tributes, and funny jokes abound: it's a Kirbyesque cornucopia of action, humor, color and crackle! The more I read and scroll through it, the more I'm overcome with a sense of awe for Kirby's achievements (and Bully's brilliant sense of showmanship in presenting Kirby's genius to us). And the whole week climaxes with a look at one of the sweetest meta-tributes to the King that one could imagine. Check it out now, true believer!

Saturday Evening Bad Movie Club: The Patriot

Oh, Mitchum Huntzberger-- so this is how you spent your misbegotten youth.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Music Flashback: A Man With A Mission

Elvis Costello, lip-syncing like a pro to one of his best songs, on Solid Gold, Oct. 21, 1983.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grabbed: Homecomings

Paulette Goddard, Fred MacMurray and a carton of milk, Suddenly It's Spring (dir. Mitchell Leisen), 1947

I'm Not Gonna Write You A Love Song

I went to the movies three times this past weekend, and managed to see the trailer for the upcoming Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper rom-com All About Steve in front of all three films.

Hoo-boy, does it look bad. Or as CJ Cregg might say, baaaad. For better or worse, embedding has been disabled on the trailer, but you can see it here. Watching it three times in a row not only gave me a greater appreciation for the better Sandra Bullock movies (and really, she can be quite charming in everything from comedy to drama to action films), but made me realize what a missed opportunity the film's taglines and narration really were. I mean, seriously, "Sometimes, it takes a second chance to realize, the ones who never fit in are the ones who really stand out"? That's the best they could do? There's just so much more awfulness here that a gifted copywriter could've worked with. Imagine Mr. Movie Voice saying instead lines like,

"Sometimes, a second chance is all you need to realize that the first chance you had was no chance at all."

"Sometimes, it takes a boot in the ass to realize the lust in our hearts."

"Sometimes, when love comes knocking, this weather van will be a-rocking."

"Sometimes, the holes we fall into, are the ones we never want to leave."

"Sometimes, it takes a hurricane to make you realize the full-gale force of love."

"Sometimes, it takes the guy from Wings to make the dude from Alias realize that true love comes in the form of the chick from Demolition Man (in an ugly wig)."

Anyone want to add to the list?

Notes On Blogging Aesthetics XX

"Marty has a love of the little incidental details that add up to something of enormous consequences," he says. "The way a glass is held. The way a steering wheel is turned. The way a man lights his pipe. It's as if he has a layer peeled off his eyeballs-- he doesn't miss anything."
-- Ben Kingsley, talking of working with Martin Scorsese on
Shutter Island, quoted in this week's Entertainment Weekly.


Nope, haven't had the chance to see Inglourious Basterds yet, although I'm very much looking forward to it. But I have started reading the super-summit between Dennis Cozzalio and Bill R. on the film, which you can follow at both of their superb blogs, "Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule" and "The Kind of Face You Hate," respectively. Spoilers might be hidden therein-- I find my eye darting around the screen, enjoying the wonderful insights of each man while trying to avoid big plot details-- but if you've seen the film already, Bill and Dennis's illuminating dialogue is a must-read. On this far-too-hot summer day, who wouldn't want to escape into a discussion about movies, history and critical fantasias, conducted by two of the web's best film bloggers?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Low Tide

As if there weren't enough reasons to hate U. of Alabama football.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Music Flashback: Crossing You In Style

I've been listening to the Lena In Hollywood album lately, and this is one of my favorite tracks.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water...

Seriously, Brett Favre is getting to be like one of those unkillable horror movie slashers. Maybe he should play in a hockey mask next year.

(h/t Deadspin).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cracker Barrel

Sunday Music Flashback: Love's Strange, So Real In The Dark


Two interesting pieces in today's Times that speak to the ways the current political and cultural landscapes simultaneously offer risk and opportunity for a more equitable world: Lizette Alvarez and Steven Lee Myers' fascinating article on women's shifting military roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Frank Rich's op-ed on the new season of Mad Men and its relationship to the town hall fracas.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I think Bubblegum Aesthetics will be the basis for a brilliant, poppy summer hit. Of course, Jude Law should play me, but I'll settle for Eric Stoltz.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Music Flashback: I Don't Know How To Write A Big Hit Song

Links Of Note

Yeah, yeah-- posting has been light this summer, as one of you was kind enough to note in a comments section awhile back (I kid, Greg, I kid). I haven't been blogging, but I have been reading a lot, and want to take a moment to call your attention to some very fine links...

-- Speaking of the Artist Formerly Known As Lapper, there's a nice piece by Greg Ferrara over at Cinema Styles about character actor Geoffrey Lewis. You probably don't know the name, but you might know the face, and Greg's piece uses Lewis as a starting point for a thoughtful exploration about movies, acting, memory and stardom. If that doesn't grab you, stick around Greg's site for awhile to scope out the groovy photos of Blanche Sweet, Julie Adams and Tony Curtis.

--I was ambivalent about Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, but Glenn Kenny's wild rave makes me think it might be the movie to see this fall. I especially like his allusions to Godard, which might be enough to overcome my Brad Pitt allergy and get me into the theater.

-- Self-Styled Siren wrote a lovely eulogy for Budd Schulberg, who died last week. Best known as the writer of On The Waterfront and the even-better A Face In The Crowd, Schulberg was a writer of tremendous gifts and ambivalent politics, both of which Siren gives acknowledgment to in her post. Like all of Siren's posts, it's also about writing, and it's a gorgeous example of the art. Go, read.

--John West is back, in case you (like me) were wondering where his fabulous blog Ich Bin Ein Oberliner disappeared to this summer. Enough of this studiousness, young man-- blog, dammit!

(I kid, of course. And I do like John's move towards an anecdotal look at summer. I look forward to its next installment, as long as we don't have to wait quite as long).

--Bill R. is promising a return engagement of last year's "Halloween Horror Literature-thon" (No, that's not the title. Bill didn't give it a title. Which makes it harder for the rest of us to plug. Get on the ball, Bill). Even without a smashing title as a hook, Bill's blog-a-thons are always enjoyable, and last year's lit fest was a chilly delight. Be sure to drop by in October for this year's edition, and in the meantime browse Bill's blog for great pieces on "background films", John Hughes, and just why the hell David Mamet is doing an Anne Frank remake.

--You knew Lydia had returned to The Rack, right? I don't have to tell you what The Rack is, do I? Of course not.

(But just in case, here's a primer on the best webcomic you might not be reading).

--Bryan Singer on a Battlestar Galactica movie-- hooray! Bryan Singer on a Battlestar movie that's completely unconnected to the recent TV version, and that also involves Glenn Larson...hmmm. I think Singer's two X-Men films are great, his Superman Returns highly underrated, and his shepherding of House something to be deeply grateful for (it was his call to cast Hugh Laurie). I'd love to see him work with Ron D. Moore on a big-screen version of the most recent show. But I'm not sure what this "new new thing" (to steal a phrase from Michael Lewis) will look like. What say you all?

--Jeff keeps posting cool stuff over at Yellow Dog, including a piece that made me feel better about Facebooking more than blogging this summer. Thanks, Jeff.

--Finally, I am way late on this, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out this post about one of my favorite films, Breaking Away, by one of my favorite film bloggers, Edward Copeland. I went to school in Bloomington, and any reminder of what a gorgeous gem Peter Yates made is always welcome, as is a post from Copeland.

Go, read.

It's Such A Fine Line Between Clever And Stupid

Blogger Andrew Sullivan has a pair of recurring features called the "Malkin Awards" and "Moore Awards," tossed towards those media comments that best embody the crackpot posturing of the extreme right or left, respectively. I wouldn't say that the normally reliable Steve M., of "No More Mr. Nice Blog" fame, has quite entered Michael Moore territory yet, but this post certainly gets my vote for "Most Childish Headline of the Day."

Look, I'm all for bad puns and analogies stretched to the breaking point like Reed Richards, as the last two years of my own blog indicates. But the bitter leap from an Inaugural Day celebration to the war in Iraq is a little bit much for even me to swallow, even as a rhetorical flourish. Just ask my brother-in-law, who spent a little over a year stationed in Iraq, then excitedly took his daughter to the White House just before Obama moved in, if the two situations are at all comparable. At a certain point, rhetorical flourishes count, especially if you're trying to make a pointed political argument with them.

But beyond the violence of the gesture, it simply doesn't make any sense. A pre-emptive war, lied about with doctored evidence to convince the country of its righteousness, designed by its makers to in part fulfill certain religious beliefs, and then celebrated with a too-early dance on an aircraft carrier, seems very different than a quadrennial celebration that every President has. And given the historic nature of this particular President, pissing on that day as an end-point is both churlish and inaccurate.

He and his people seemed to think that there simply wouldn't be that kind of factional strife after the old regime fell; they believed that, despite years of tension between the factions, it would end in an instant and the citizens of the country would immediately see themselves as united.

I mean, really, at what point did Obama himself ever say that the fight was over? I'm certain some of his supporters thought that was true, but attributing that naivete to Obama himself is as silly as suggesting that Steve M. is responsible for any stupid comments that appear underneath one of his blog posts. Isn't this confusing the hopes of his rhetoric with the political realities they always addressed? From the start of his primary campaign, through his general campaign, and right into the first days of his Administration, he's always talked about how hard and long the various fights-- over the economy, health care, foreign policy, race relations-- would be. As many have noted, Obama's always been about the long game, and everyone from HIllary Clinton to John McCain (to say nothing of many political bloggers) has watched as their own obsession with the 24-hour news cycle short game has blown up in their faces over the last 18 months.

Will that be the case on health care? I'm assuming M.'s internet slap was about health care, but his unwillingness to specify, relying instead on the kinds of overstatements and generalizations that would get laughed out of a Comp 101 class, makes it that much easier to point out how silly the statement "His troops knew how to wage a traditional campaign, but hadn't given serious thought to the problem of dealing with a chaotic aftermath. When it came to the "postwar" period, Obama never really had a plan" really is.

The stimulus plan; Sonya Sotomayor; ending the torture policies of the previous administration; overturning the gag rule on abortions; signing the fair pay act; expanding government health insurance for needy children; lifting restrictions on stem-cell research; mending the U.S.'s relationship with the UN; taking down the Somali pirates; reversing Bush-era policies on the environment; and improving the image of the U.S. abroad after eight years of deterioration.

Those are just the achievements of the first seven months (seven months!) that I can think of off the top of my head. Reading M.'s post, I thought of this brilliant Daily Show sketch, whose every-news-cycle-is-the-most-important-news-cycle fatalism is only a slight tweaking of the tone of the coverage one might find on CNN or in certain sections of the 'progressive' blogosphere. Yeah, I'd like a lot more to be done, too, starting with getting us out of Iraq. But M. and John Amato and all the other bloggy Chicken Littles do remember the last eight years, right, and the massive pantload of problems the previous White House tenant left his successor to clean up?

It's like Michael Douglas says in The American President: America is advanced citizenship. It takes time and a lot of hard work, even under the best of circumstances. And for the first time since I've been alive, we have a person in the White House who is not driven by religious fervor, family psychodrama, or end-of-days solipsism; that's actually pretty comforting. (Seven months, people! Seven months!).

And now he's trying to tackle a problem that Presidents with far greater majorities-- from FDR to Truman to Clinton-- also failed at fixing. Screw Social Security-- health care is the third rail of American politics, and only LBJ managed massive changes. His Medicaid and Medicare programs had unrepeatable situational advantages-- a President still operating under the goodwill granted him by his predecessor's assassination; one of the largest electoral victories in American history; and a far stronger economic environment, in a time when the country trended much more liberal (and when the deprivations of the Depression were still fresh in many minds). Also, frankly, LBJ was a white southerner who spoke Blue Dog Democrat and congressional arm-twisting better than any other Democratic president of the last 100 years. Under those circumstances, Medicare was much easier to pass (even if the more unhinged of the right wing now want government to "keep its hands off" said program).

Steve Benen linked to Matt Yglesias' arguments about the inherent structural disadvantages the executive branch faces in this kind of fight. I would add Fox (and its various acknowledged and unacknowledged allies in the press, like The Washington Post), the massive resources of the insurance companies in this fight, the political diversity of his own party, and ongoing attempts of the Tea Baggers to conflate health care with "socialism" and the bizarre obsessions with Obama's birthplace.

I still think health care will pass in some form, and one of the useful (if nauseating) aspects of the town hall riots is that they remind us that the worst excesses of America's Jim Crow/John Bircher past still linger with us: if nothing else, Obama's long game opens up the opportunity for precisely the kind of "teaching moment" on race and language that he spoke of last month. And language might be at the heart of my concerns: I started this post disgusted at the extremism of Steve M.'s headline, and the unhelpfulness of the false analogies it created; as I come to the end of it, I think what I was really writing about was the
tone of the language of folks who purport to be progressive supporters, especially online. We might call it the They Might Giants Position: "If it wasn't for disappointment, I wouldn't have any appointments."

From his past posts, I have to believe that Steve M.'s privileging of a realpolitik mindset comes from a well-intentioned place, but the dismissal of optimism that runs through his post (and the concurrent embrace of a wartime analogy) feels like a dead-end to me. I said last year that Obama's greatest challenge was on language-- that, per Derrida, the state can accept any kind of radical proposal as long as it comes draped in the language of convention. Throughout the campaign, and right up to the moment of his defense of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Obama has offered challenges to both the right and the left about their rhetorical conventions and the "juridico-political contracts" they guarantee, and it's an anxiety about that challenge that seems to permeate passages like M.'s: "He and his people seemed to think that there simply wouldn't be that kind of factional strife after the old regime fell; they believed that, despite years of tension between the factions, it would end in an instant and the citizens of the country would immediately see themselves as united."

Well, no. But this a long game, remember. And what I wrote last year after Obama's "Rev. Wright" speech still holds:

In his book The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy, Robert Ray quotes the anthropologist Michael Taussig, who, when he asked why certain colonial movements had succeeded, was told "Because their stories were better than ours." For so long, American politics has been dominated by well-worn narratives about itself, and about its various threads of race, class, gender and identity; much of the primary season thus far has been dominated those older narratives (of both the left and the right) and their shibboleths. What's exciting about Obama's speech was its desire for new narratives, for better stories about who we are and who we might be, stories that acknowledge pain while still expressing a hope for the future. In blog terms, it's a re-routing of conventional narratives, finding new links and paths through the familiar, whose turns offer different perspectives from the linear fatalism that often dominates such debates. It's a reminder that "the audacity of hope" is not just a good campaign phrase (although it is certainly that), but also a way of thinking about the links between rhetoric, imagination, and possibility (there are many parallels between politics and academia, but a key one might be an overreliance on a patented hipster skepticism, a desire to not be caught out, and to therefore close out the notion of a different future).

If health care is the third rail of American politics, is hope the third rail of its rhetoric, the thing too many bloggers are afraid to touch, in case their comments sections die?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Radio On The TV

To paraphrase Phoebe Buffay, it's like the mothership calling him home.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Notes On Blogging Aesthetics XIX

The original sense of the word "entertainment" is a lovely one of mutual support through intertwining, like a pair of trees grown together, interwoven, each sustaining and bearing up the other. It suggests a kind of midair transfer of strength, contact across a void, like the tangling of cable and steel between two lonely bridgeheads. I can't think of a better approximation of the relation between reader and writer. Derived senses of fruitful exchange, of reciprocal sustenance, of welcome offered, of grasp and interrelationship, of a slender span of bilateral attention along which things are given and received, still animate the word in its verb form: we entertain visitors, guests, ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges.

--Michael Chabon,
Maps and Legends

Sunday Music Flashback: Like The Beats That Keep Time In My Heart

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Music Flashback: Take Me Away To Nowhere Plains

Touchdown? Jesus!

And here I thought politics in Florida couldn't get any weirder...

I was aware of Lou's infamous citing of Hitler on ESPN, but Deadspin let me know that he also had ties to Jesse Helms, which ended up costing him a job many years ago. I just hope someone asks him about his perfect record of leaving sanctions behind at every collegiate institution where he's worked-- that's the kind of change the modern GOP can believe in!

Strip Tease

Over at the essential "Comics Should Be Good!" site, Brian Cronin is cataloging what he calls "The Top 70 Most Iconic Marvel Panels", in honor of that company's 70th anniversary (I take issue with the company's decision to declare themselves 70 years old-- founded as "Timely Comics" in 1939, the company wasn't officially called "Marvel" until 1961--but that's a debate for another day, and doesn't undercut the coolness of Cronin's tribute). Scrolling through the master list linked above is the comic book equivalent of one of those Chuck Workman Oscar reels, with panels unfurling gripping image after gripping image. For me, they have a powerful, almost pungently nostalgic flavor-- even moreso than cinema, the still image of a comics page can immediately thrust me back to my adolescence, when I first read the issues where these panels appeared (or saw them reprinted in comic histories).

Beyond nostalgia, though, seeing the panels out of sequence here raises the question Gilbert Adair asked in his crucial book, Flickers : can a single still pulled from a film tell us whether or not the movie is good? Adair is ambivalent on the subject; he admits, though, that some stills, taken out of time and in placed in books like his own, are so evocative when disassociated from a movie that he almost thinks it better to never see the movie they've come from-- why undercut their allure through the explanatory mechanisms of narrative?

I can't say if Cronin's comics images function in the same way: I'm too familiar with almost all of the stories he's quoted so far to come to them in that virginal state. But by wrenching them from their originary spaces (and, intriguingly, not captioning them), their dynamic layouts, garish primary colors and wittily melodramatic dialogue do remind me of the power they had for me all those years ago; seeing them together on a single web page, it almost feels like one large Surrealist comic, where character, logic and continuity give way to the hand of the artist, and the bliss of the image.

Monday, August 3, 2009