Wednesday, March 31, 2010


---Delany's loopy apocalyptic Dhalgren

---Diesel sells Godard's Bande a part

---analyses of Kubrick's films

---amazing Grace Kelly:

"In tiny Monaco, half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, it was as if Grace were locked back into that cupboard, but without her dolls to play with. Her life was laid out along narrow corridors, much like the corniche on which she took her last drive—rock on one side, open air on the other. It was a slim road full of hairpin turns that connected the family getaway, Roc Agel, to the pink palace where protocol reigned. “Strung like a slender thread across the clouds” is how Quine described one of these upper corniches. On that fateful day of September 13, 1982, Grace didn’t let the chauffeur drive, because the car was too full. She and Stephanie were up in the front, and across the backseat she’d placed dresses that needed altering for the coming season; she didn’t want them wrinkled. She was excited about new projects that were blossoming, and by all accounts she and Rainier were enjoying a renewed closeness. The best medical guess is that Grace suffered a small “warning” stroke while driving that treacherous road, which caused her to lose control of the car. A few seconds of blurred consciousness, like the kiss in Rear Window, and the clouds reclaimed their own."

---defining glamour

---Sylvain Chomet channels Jacques Tati in The Illusionist

---the Nintendo Side of the Moon

---the 10 letters Obama reads each day:

"The black binder arrived at the White House residence just before 8 p.m., and President Obama took it upstairs to begin his nightly reading. The briefing book was dated Jan. 8, 2010, but it looked like the same package delivered every night, with printouts of speeches, policy recommendations and scheduling notes. Near the back was a purple folder, which Obama often flips to first.

"MEMORANDUM TO THE PRESIDENT," read a sheet clipped to the folder. "Per your request, we have attached 10 pieces of unvetted correspondence addressed to you."

Inside, Obama found crinkled notebook pages, smudged ink, cursive handwriting and misspelled words -- a collection of 10 original letters that he considers among his most important daily reading material, aides said. Ever since he requested a sampling of mail on his second day in office, the letters have become a staple of his presidency. Some he immediately reads out loud to his wife; others he distributes to senior staff members aboard Air Force One. Some are from students requesting help with homework; others are from constituents demanding jobs or health care. About half of the letters, Obama said during a recent speech, "call me an idiot."

---the surreal YouTube genius of Cyriak (with thanks to Catherine Grant)

---gauging the truth of Iraq war films

---Robert Hughes considers the business of art

---Kick-Ass reinvents the comic book movie (and screenwriter Jane Goldman obliges with cartoon red hair)

---Henry Jenkins celebrates the transmedia generation:

"Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others. Each one of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday life.
As Pep himself explains in the interview, he had to work out how to hack the You Tube video (which currently doesn't have a download option), how to load it into a video editing program (he uses Windows Movie Maker), how to synchronize the subtitles, how to export the video, how to create his own You Tube account, and how to upload his video. Given this whole process, there is an inevitable question: what drives Pep to do it? The Internet has boosted social intelligence, with its main premise being to generate specific-interest communities. Pep had seen dozens of different remixes of the "Angry German Kid" video before he began to consider adding one of his own. Before he felt the urge to become part of what he was seeing."

---as a huge Banksy fan, I'm looking forward to Exit Through the Gift Shop

---the genesis of Lady Gaga

---Kurosawa on the importance of screenwriting:

To complete his transformation into a reputable moviemaker, Akira Kurosawa devoted himself to the art of screenwriting. “The best thing is to write screenplays,” stated Kurosawa. “This is basic to filmmaking, because an excellent screenplay can become an excellent film even in the hands of a third-rate director; a bad screenplay, however, could never become an excellent film even if made by a first-rate director.” As for his writing advice, the Japanese cinema icon remarked, “In order to write scripts, you must first study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great. Where does the emotion come from that you feel as you read them? What degree of passion did the author have to have, and what level of meticulousness did he have to command, in order to portray the characters and events as he did? You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things.”

---the difficulties of fending off digital decay

---lastly, Dave Grohl's drug of choice

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Layers of narrative and the art of indictment: notes and questions about Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer

"The key passage in the book is, 'Name me one thing that's been done in our foreign policy in the last 10 years that hasn't been done in the interests of the United States of America.'"
---Robert Harris, author of The Ghost

1) I heard that The Ghost Writer was good, but I didn't expect to walk out of the theater stunned and intrigued by the best film I've seen this year. Aside from enjoying the way Polanski continues to form visual poetry out of menace, I liked how the movie piled on layers of narrative that question each other. On top of the movie's Hitchcockian thriller/detective story of a ghost writer having his life threatened in the midst of trying to revise a memoir by a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang, (a thinly veiled version of Tony Blair), one can also find pointed references to the Iraq war, Halliburton, and torture. The film is about the difficulty of imposing a coherent narrative out of these elements, and the ways we (especially Americans) delude ourselves about our participation in recent history. In comparison to the complacency of other film directors, Polanski appears to want to justify himself as an artist even as he got arrested on September 26, 2009 for a much-publicized and debated decades-old crime he committed against Samantha Gailey. Even as he has acknowledged his guilt (but also evaded justice by leaving the US in 1978), he asks in The Ghost Writer have we in America comes to terms with rendition, with government-sanctioned torture, and with war crimes? That national unease feeds the paranoia of the film.

2) The Ghost Writer raises some very valid questions: of all of the leaders in the world, why did Prime Minister Tony Blair so enthusiastically endorse Bush's invasion of Iraq? As one old codger asks in the movie, "Why did he get mixed up with that damned fool in the White House?" The film ultimately posits an answer explored in co-screenwriter Robert Harris' book The Ghost, but even if that answer is political-thriller claptrap (it struck me as possible), one still wonders.

3) The Ghost Writer also dramatizes the corrupting effects of high level secrecy and security. As the never-named "ghost," Ewan McGregor enters a paranoid world of secret kidnappings, confidentiality agreements, password protection, and security risks, all neatly symbolized by the safe that holds the manuscript of Adam Lang's memoirs, the bunker-like compound on the Martha's Vineyard-esque island where the ghost is ferried (as if over the river Styx into the underworld), the oppressive dark interiors of the SUVs, the private jet, the hotel rooms, and the many other enclosures in the film. This Secret Service security paraphernalia may be designed to protect politicians, but it also cuts them off from their constituents. They live in a media bubble of Wag the Dog photo-op manipulation. In one chilling moment, Lang's wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) watches her husband on TV, and then says "Don't smile," and yet he does. Immediately after, her cell phone rings. She knows it is Adam calling from Washington to ask her what she thought of his public appearance. They are more concerned about manipulating public perceptions than in actual communication. As Robert Harris said in a 2007 interview in The Guardian:

"That's something I'm against, morally, the way that our leaders are swaddled in security, with bomb-proof cars and pampered and ferried around like dictators until the day they die, while the rest of us, on the tube or whatever, are liable to be blown up in their wretched war on terror. It seems to me to be morally wrong. There was a time when princes leading their people into battle were on the front line, not cosseted like this. They're the only people who are safe! There's something profoundly wrong about it, and leads to their isolation. Maybe Brown will be different, be more rooted in his constituency and his friends, but I felt during the last years of Blair that it was like being led by someone from outer space."

4) In The Ghost Writer, Lang flies in a Hatherton jet, an overt allusion to Halliburton Corporation, a major oil-services company, and its profiteering from the Iraq war. That left me wondering: what is the precise relationship between Dick Cheney's former position as CEO of Halliburton and the government contracts the company received during the Iraq war?

5) With its continual emphasis on the McGuffin manuscript, what does the film suggest about writing today? Random House deliberately hires the "ghost" to deliver "heart," i.e. sentimentalizing hackwork to the gossip-loving public. It's also ironic that the usual platitude-filled political memoir carries the (spoiler alert) key to the mystery of the movie. The Ghost Writer is painstakingly well-written even as it acknowledges the venal duplicity of the political media and crappy profit-oriented state of publishing today.

6) In the last brilliant shot of The Ghost Writer, was Polanski alluding to the endings of both Chinatown and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing?

7) I could write more about the pitch-perfect casting, with Pierce Brosnan finding new levels of nastiness behind his charm, Olivia Williams playing the quintessential bitter hyper-intelligent politician's wife, Tom Wilkinson conveying delightful smarminess as Professor Paul Emmett, Kim Cattrall ironically evoking all of her Sex and the City sinfulness in a highly buttoned-up role as the secretary, and Ewan McGregor redeeming himself for many recent forgettable movie roles, but I was most intrigued by the way Roman Polanski reminds us of all of war crimes with which we still have yet to fully confront, let alone atone for. Arrested, and editing this film in jail, Polanski practices his art with masterly indictment.

Related link:
"The Familiar Comforts of Conspiracies"

Saturday, March 27, 2010


---when Lynch met Lucas

---Tom Bissell's addiction to video games:

"Writing and reading allow one consciousness to find and take shelter in another. When the minds of the reader and writer perfectly and inimitably connect, objects, events and emotions become doubly vivid – more real, somehow, than real things. I have spent most of my life seeking out these connections and attempting to create my own. Today, however, the pleasures of literary connection seem leftover and familiar. Today the most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games. Unfortunately, the least useful and financially solvent pursuit in my life is also playing video games. For instance, I woke up this morning at 8am fully intending to write this article. Instead, I played Left 4 Dead until 5pm. The rest of the day went up in a blaze of intermittent catnaps. It is now 10pm and I have only just started to work. I know how I will spend the late, frayed moments before I go to sleep tonight, because they are how I spent last night and the night before that: walking the perimeter of my empty bed and carpet-bombing the equally empty bedroom with promises that tomorrow will not be squandered. I will fall asleep in a futureless, strangely peaceful panic, not really knowing what I will do the next morning and having no firm memory of who, or what, I once was.

The first video game I can recall having to force myself to stop playing was Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which was released in 2002. I managed to miss Vice City's storied predecessor, Grand Theft Auto III, so I had only oblique notions of what I was getting into. A friend had lobbied me to buy Vice City, so I knew its basic premise: you are a cold-blooded jailbird looking to ascend the bloody social ladder of the fictional Vice City's criminal under- and overworld. (I also knew that Vice City's violent subject matter was said to have inspired crime sprees by a few of the game's least stable fans. Other such sprees would horribly follow. Eight years later, Rockstar has spent more time in court than a playground-abutting pesticide manufactory.) I might have taken better note of the fact that my friend, when speaking of Vice City, admitted he had not slept more than four hours a night since purchasing it and had the ocular spasms and fuse-blown motor reflexes to prove it. Just what, I wanted to know, was so specifically compelling about Vice City? "Just get it and play it," he answered. "You can do anything you want in the game. Anything."

---screenwriting as literature:

"Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture,’ observes Sunset Blvd. protagonist, struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis – ‘they think the actors make it up as they go along.’ Sixty or so years later, it’s probably even easier to find oneself entranced by the latest impeccably produced offering and forget that a writer had to sit down at a desk hour after repetitive hour and write the damn thing one word at a time.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the screenwriter’s art is an unseen one. ‘The challenge of screenwriting,’ Raymond Chandler proposed, ‘is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement.’ The next time you’re sitting in that cinema seat, letting the enchanting ‘effect of leisure and natural movement’ wash over you twenty-four times per second, you might want to remember Joe Gillis and his unread poetry."

---Mamet's brief guidelines for screenwriting

---the greatest film scenes ever shot

---manufactured demand and the story of bottled water

---Anna Quindlen and others share how they consume their media diet

"Late morning I move four flights up to my home office, which is where I do my online newsgathering. I have bookmarks for The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Politico, and the Times and Washington Post Web sites. I also read Romenesko, the inside-baseball column of the news biz, and the FT, which now provides some of the best coverage of American politics.

My world is divided into those people who won't admit they read Gawker, and those who will; I'm in the second group. I also read an extremely clever and well-written fashion website called Go Fug Yourself. I even write the two women who run it mash notes when they're especially good. I hate the way people in the news business act as though all their site surfing is high-minded.

End of the work day and I'm back downstairs in the dining room, back in print. The magazines have come in the mail: Newsweek, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and, yes, People. I read them all, as well as Fortune and Runner's World. I watch one of the evening newscasts, usually NBC because I think they have the deepest bench. After dinner my husband and I turn on MSNBC: Olbermann, Rachel Maddow. It's preaching to the choir, but as members of that choir we like being preached to. During the presidential election I watched Fox a lot because I thought I should know what their people were saying.

Books in bed--that's how I always finish the day. I read very little nonfiction now that I'm not writing a regular column, although I just finished Game Change, which I thought was much more serious than the news reports suggested. When I'm revising a novel I always read mystery fiction: Henning Mankell, Denise Mina, P. D. James. The rest of the time I read whatever galleys I've been sent, and I reread the classics. Right now I am rereading Moby Dick alongside a new nonfiction book called The Whale. I don't have a Kindle, although I may reconsider because of a nightmarish trip during which my only airport newsstand option was a paperback by a writer who seems to have italics and exclamation points permanently programmed into his computer."

---Virtual Anna Wintours and Cinetrix's take on Anna Wintour

---Salier's Massive Attack music video "Splitting the Atom"

---Cozzalio celebrates Trailers from Hell

---John Cusack considers the 80s

---abandoned coal town footage

---a student dares to question secret ingredients in school food

---an interview with rising mumblecore star Greta Gerwig:

"AVC: To the extent that mumblecore was or is a movement, do you feel that initial energy has dissipated as people move off in different directions?

I do think it has dissipated, but I think it dissipated a while ago in a lot of ways. I think, the truth is, the movies I’ve done that people consider mumblecore-y, namely Hannah, Nights And Weekends, and Baghead—I guess Yeast is in there, but less so —they were done over a six-month period. Which is before anyone saw them. They were all completed before anyone saw them. I completed the first half of Nights And Weekends before anyone had even seen Hannah. I think the energy had dissipated before that, but I think in general with micro-budget films right now, it’s rough. The economy is rough. I think that affects everyone from big filmmakers to tiny filmmakers.

A lot of my friends are struggling. This was the first fall that a lot of my friends didn’t make movies, which was really hard and sad. I’m good friends with this film collective, Red Bucket, which made Daddy Longlegs and The Pleasure Of Being Robbed. They’re climbing the walls. They’re all making cartoon booklets now, because they can’t raise the funds to make another movie. But I think that when it returns, which it hopefully will, there will be another surge of energy. And I think I’m pretty committed to staying. I’m not committed to not doing big movies, but I am committed to continuing to make smaller movies, not for the sake of making smaller movies, but because I think it’s really invigorating to just go work with people and know that it might be awful. And that’s okay, because it didn’t cost that much to make."

---LSD and the CIA

---lastly, Jason Bellamy's video essay "Steve McQueen: King of the Close-Up"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The opposite of Up in the Air: field notes on a 68 hour trip to Dublin

"All the things you probably hate about travelling -the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi- are warm reminders that I'm home."
--Ryan Bingham of Up in the Air

While I admired much of Up in the Air, I knew that Ryan's serene enjoyment of air travel was a crock, at least according to my experiences of flying economy class. I did not know how much the movie was an elaborate fantasy until I signed on to visit Dublin using US Airways with a connecting flight with Aer Lingus last week. What follows are my raw notes, written in a Dublin-themed mini-Moleskine notebook, of an excruciating, deranging experience. What did I learn? If you must sleep on the floor of an airport, the carpeting of Charlotte International is far preferable to that of the hard surface of JFK:


I'm sitting by a window in the Columbia Airport. Outside it is overcast. I can see a large wet stain on the tarmac and there's a man nearby endlessly talking on his cell phone. He keeps chuckling at the end of each stream of words as if he's determined to keep the conversation upbeat: "She'll give you a good warm and fuzzy about some of that stuff. Ha, ha, ha!"

I'm here as the Joycean on one of those exchange program ambassadorial missions designed to promote a South Carolina university with some sister school near Dublin. 4 students and 3 faculty members got to go, and I'm tagging along, but thus far a Nor'eastern storm over Philadelphia has held up our initial flight for an hour, and we may not make it there in time for a connecting flight to Manchester, England. So we sit around at the off chance that one flight might arrive early or another may be delayed or we get stuck in Columbia for the night. I drove the Enterprise Rental van for an hour and a half so we can get stuck in the not quite fresh air of the concourse with blue fleur-de-lis carpeting and this irritating guy endlessly chuckling and talking: "Yes, he's so polite, he so polite, ha ha ha! He's so quick to say what you've should've done when he wasn't there."

Holy bloody hell. The evening would've been nightmarish enough even if the three flights lined up as they should. As it is, we're stuck in an airport purgatory, the overcast day gradually darkening outside. It is 4:50. Unbelievably, the same man just moved closer to stand behind me, still chuckling between each sentence: "If you talk to him, tell him I said hey. Have a good trip. Goodbye." This impersonal public space leeches away at my identity. I'm turning into airport slush.


3:16 in the morning

Hours after my last entry, the Manchester 8 (as the airport officials called us) or the "distressed passengers" have gotten absolutely nowhere. I'm writing this in a Clarion Hotel in Columbia, SC because an electrical storm delayed our flights to Philadelphia in increments. We all hung out in the concourse for 6 hours as the leader of our expedition stood in front of various airline desks and tried to negotiate a way out of there.

As the storm rained down on our luggage out on the tarmac, we learned that one sensitive member of our party, a student named Lenny, had never flown before, so I comforted him as best I could by saying that only 50% of flights end in a fiery crash. I told him of the strange sensation of watching a jet load of passengers viewing movies on small screens, everyone neatly media distracted as we plunge thousands of feet before shattering into tiny fragments over the ocean. Look on the bright side! Yes, we may expire, but for a few moments amidst the screams and the oxygen masks dangling, you are never more alive as you plummet.

When it became apparent that we were not going anywhere, we talked of the greater statistical probability of dying in a shuttle crash on the ground.

Now at 3:28 am I sit in a hotel room with a headache that feels like a small pane of glass wedged in my left frontal lobe. We got a few hours of sleep before reattempting to fly to Dublin today through

5:40 am

Canadair Ch-65

We are flying to Charlotte thus far without incident. Lay some black velvet on the floor 30 feet below the plane. Stitch in assorted grouped patterns of red and green lights, and that's how the earth looks from flight. Turbulence as we descend.

7:11 am

Hanging around the Charlotte airport. White rocking chairs. "Attention all travelers. Do not leave items unattended. Report all suspicious persons or unlawful activity to your nearest law officer. Thank you and have a nice flight." Finned back halves of jets of US Airways receding into the distance. I'm sleepy.


Here I am in the Charlotte airport. After waiting 6 hours, we learned this afternoon that our flight to New York's JFK airport was cancelled due to high winds and rain. What was kind of funny yesterday is now not. Our luggage has cheerfully continued to Dublin without us. An Indian woman talks in Hindi on her cell phone nearby, but fortunately she just walked away. I've been sitting here as our leader tries to finagle another flight to Newark. Meanwhile, the 4 students ended up suddenly taking an earlier flight to JFK, so they will either be stranded there, waiting for us or they will go on to Dublin unchaperoned. This comedy of errors has gone beyond farce into abject pain. A bunch of wanna-be US Airways flyers stand in a line with their luggage in front of me. "Ladies and gentlemen, it important that you keep close track of carrying items. Report any suspicious activity to your nearest law enforcement officer. Thank you, and have a nice flight."

Now I just learned that no flights will leave the Charlotte International airport for the next 5 hours, although it looks mildly cloudy outside.

We will now stay in Charlotte at some hotel for the night. I have grown very resigned. Blue cubist carpeting turns mauve and then

"One o'clock flight tomorrow."
"One o'clock what?"
"One o'clock flight to where?" Two women make calls on their cell phones. A transport car beeps in the distance.
"Ramada. Is that our only option?"
"You haven't left Charlotte yet?"
"We just got the word."

Homeland Security officials keep walking by. "Attention all travelers. It is important." The line of cancelled-flight-to-JFK people moves very slowly. One mother amuses her daughter by playing rock, paper, scissors.

Day 3

Still stuck in Charlotte.

At one point yesterday we joined up with another exchange program gang from the same SC university, this one bound to Paris, before they left on an afternoon flight to Newark. After our flight was cancelled, we heard of them lingering on the tarmac, and for a moment it seemed as if we could possibly join them. So we tried to rush to their gate, but first we had to get through security. Several of us got through because we still had the boarding pass for a now defunct flight, but our fearless leader could not find her boarding pass because she left it back at the US Airways D/E checkpoint desk. While we stood around the security area, the Homeland Security officers went into Code Red. A light started to flash, a buzzer sounded, and an officer told us to not move as they barricaded the tables, and closed a large segmented shower-curtain-like thing to further block the route to the secured area. After a moment, they pulled back the curtain and said it was all a drill. Once again, I went through the metal detector, had my bag and coat and shoes screened, and then we made our way down to Gate C13 where it became clear that we weren't getting on any plane, so we gave up and went to drink a Guinness Stout at the airport bar.

Later we learned that the Paris gang endured the "worst flight they had ever been on" due to the Nor'eastern trade winds. The turbulence was so bad, multiple people in the cabin vomited into their white bags. Other prayed and shook with fear until they landed in Newark.

Meanwhile, we walked outside. I laid down on some concrete, laid my head on my bookbag, and stared up at the concrete indentations overhead, noting the blend of fresh air and exhaust. A grungy Ramada Inn shuttle picked us up, and we arrived 15 minutes later at a rundown convention center hotel where all of the maroon furniture in the lobby looked stained and worn, and a frowsy woman behind the counter got us a room down an endless corridor. We got a "distressed passenger" discount.

Meanwhile, the 4 students managed to get on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin at JFK, but the 70+ mile-an-hour winds grew too strong, so after lingering on the tarmac for 5 hours (Lenny sounded like he was going to cry on the cell phone), they finally disembarked and I assume found a hotel in the area. [Note: no hotels were available, so they slept on the floor of the airport with their luggage for the night. Keeping guard over their stuff, Lenny never slept at all.]

This morning on the 3rd day of nonarrival, after 2 days of waiting around in airports, we head out to an IHOP for breakfast before foolishly trying to go somewhere.

Another detail about this hotel. It has a cavernous dark inner space that was once a giant restaurant with windows from rooms looking on. The restaurant appears defunct now, but I could see a small party eating a buffet off in the distance in the huge room.


1:13 pm

Sunday. The long vigil begins again. Here I sit on the blue and mauve-patterned concourse floor, near gate B11. Our flight has already been delayed an hour, and when I asked the US Airways rep what she thought about the status of our flight, she said she didn't know. When I asked her about the now 2 pm time for our departure, she said she didn't know. Our flight has been held up due to flight traffic delays over JFK, but it has not been cancelled yet. The three ladies and I have not been getting anywhere except to Charlotte for the past 3 days, and yet we woke up with good spirits. The sun shown. We ate a good breakfast at the IHOP near the decrepit Ramada Inn, but thus far, we have gotten used to 8+ hour days in airports, and we seem to have embarked on our third.

I noticed a pilot sheepishly leaving the plane and walking off. There is a plane at our gate this time, something of an improvement on yesterday, and since we have no idea where our luggage is, we won't have to worry about picking it up if the flight is cancelled. "Ladies and gentlemen, please continue to use caution when entering and exiting . . . "


4:15 pm

Delay, delay, delay. After our flight time delayed from 1:05 to 4:30, our take off time just delayed until 4:45 although we have made it on the jet and the pilot announced that we should be able to arrive at JFK airport without any holding pattern over there. Instead, we sit on the tarmac, waiting for the go ahead to take off. Someone snores loudly behind me. The 3 professors chat nearby. One of them has cold ears. We may have to sprint to the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin in NY, but we don't have boarding passes with them yet.

The problem with the Charlotte airport. The recorded announcements about foreign packages feed our paranoia, fear, and suspicion of others. I have learned, however, of the convenience of lying on the floor of the concourse. The music of Air on an iPod works well to help one zone out when lying against a blue rubber matt on the wall. One gets metaphysically attuned to waiting in these situations. I am here, and whether or not I arrive there ultimately becomes immaterial. One looks at the strangers in the rows of chairs as sacks of flesh negotiating a space to have some semblance of dignity in. The luckiest of all can sleep through the whole experience.

We now have the release time at 30 after the hour, as the pilot fires up the engines.

8:58 pm

We landed at 6:19 in JFK, but then we got stuck on the runway. The captain explained to us that traffic in front of us on the ramp blocked us from getting to the gate. The jet at the gate didn't move for some reason, I think, because other jets blocked the way.

"At least we landed alive. That's one thing."

Just now the captain assured us that the jet was backing away from the gate, so now we can finally arrive. Someone said all of the bad weather blocked all of the air traffic for awhile and now all of the jets have landed at once, clogging up the tarmac.

"It has not been a fun flight."

The guy next to me keeps cheerfully writing JAVA code on his Powerbook while another fellow gives his play by play on his cell phone. "I'm assuming that there's a line behind us." Outside, it has darkened and started to rain. The plane tends to rock slightly, but we have not moved. The next flight to Ireland is at 8 something and we don't know if we will obtain boarding passes on that or not. The irony of all this is that no matter what, we are likely to have a good dinner and a hotel room at the end of this strange tunnel of a day.

We're moving.

[The journal cuts off there, but later that night, at about 10, we arrived at JFK airport. We asked one of the US Airways officials if we needed anything to catch a flight on Aer Lingus, and she said we should have no problem. After making our way all across the huge sprawling airport littered with luggage, we learned from the Aer Lingus people that we needed to go all the way back (by shuttle) to the portion of that airport to find the US Airways people and get the numbers for our flight from them so they (the Aer Lingus people (in cheerful green suits)) could hand us our boarding passes. We dashed back to that wing to find that the US Airways counter had closed, whereupon we started asking anyone wearing a uniform for help. Eventually, a baggage claim man helped us locate a long distance number to US Airways headquarters and a sweet woman from United Airlines earned our endless gratitude by hacking into US Airways database somehow and finding the numbers for us. We then ran back to the Aer Lingus area, got the boarding passes, and ended up waiting for several more hours in a concourse over there. I noticed, groggily, as I lay on the hard surface of the floor of that gate that an Aer Lingus worker was wearing a faux mohawk. As we boarded the plane at 1:30 am, all of the drinkers at a nearby Samuel Adams bar cheered us on. The next day, 68 hours after we left our homes in SC, we finally arrived in Dublin. We will never fly with US Airways again.]

Thursday, March 11, 2010


---the pros and cons of David Shield's Reality Hunger

---the best title sequences of 2009

---George Clooney as Major Tom

---time-lapse of a book cover design

---Matt Damon's inferiority complex and a scene in the anti-American(?) Green Zone

---Father Robert Barron interprets A Serious Man

---interview with Joe Eszterhas

---how to get out of being searched

---human-flesh search engines:

"The short video made its way around China’s Web in early 2006, passed on through file sharing and recommended in chat rooms. It opens with a middle-aged Asian woman dressed in a leopard-print blouse, knee-length black skirt, stockings and silver stilettos standing next to a riverbank. She smiles, holding a small brown and white kitten in her hands. She gently places the cat on the tiled pavement and proceeds to stomp it to death with the sharp point of her high heel.

“This is not a human,” wrote BrokenGlasses, a user on Mop, a Chinese online forum. “I have no interest in spreading this video nor can I remain silent. I just hope justice can be done.” That first post elicited thousands of responses. “Find her and kick her to death like she did to the kitten,” one user wrote. Then the inquiries started to become more practical: “Is there a front-facing photo so we can see her more clearly?” The human-flesh search had begun."

---remembering Auschwitz

---attempting to understand the RAF:

"Meinhof, by far the most interesting and culturally sophisticated character of the group, was herself struggling, ex post facto, with how to make rational sense of the RAF. She was arrested in 1972 for various terrorist-related crimes, and while in jail in late 1973 she started to write a history of the group. This was perhaps a sign of exaggerated self-importance, given that the group had been in existence for a mere two years before its core members were arrested. But it also demonstrates the need to reflect on and explain what they had done. Meinhof's foster mother, in her letter, had acutely pointed out that a "spirit of sacrifice and the readiness to face death become ends in themselves if one cannot make them understood." In her notes for the history, Meinhof, speaking in the third person plural, wrote:

Not because they were so blind as to believe they could keep that initiative going until the revolution triumphed in Germany, not because they imagined they could not be shot or arrested.
 Not because they so misjudged the situation as to think the masses would simply rise at such a signal.
 It was a matter of salvaging, historically, the whole state of understanding attained by the movement of 1967/1968; it was a case of not letting the struggle fall apart again.

She must have felt the need to deny the suspicion that the RAF's members were blind and wrongheaded, incapable of thinking rationally about what they were doing. Instead she claims they were aiming at something else that cannot be measured in ordinary terms. The exact nature of this something else, however, is unclear. There is a marked contrast between the searching questions implicit in her denials and the vagueness of her answer--"salvaging...the whole state of understanding." She seems desperate to rescue the RAF's project from going down in history as an episode driven by strategic lunacy."

---Cozzalio's notes on For the Love of Movies

---Scorsese's 10 essential movie posters

---lastly, the greatest movie scene ever

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How to foul up a classic: 11 notes on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

How many ways can a 3-D movie foul up a classic children's book? Let me count the ways.

1) The back story. In Lewis Carroll's original 1865 version, 7 year old Alice falls down the rabbit hole within the first 2 pages. In Burton's version, the 19 year old Alice loses her father, gains a suitor asking for her hand in marriage, discovers that her sister's fiance is fooling around her, and suffers about 15 other subplots just so she can appear authoritative and empowered when (spoiler alert) she returns to her 19th century "reality" by the end of the film.

2) The fall itself. In the book, Alice "fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next." She falls so slowly, she grabs a jar of marmalade from a shelf, looks at it, and places it back on another shelf inside the tunnel. In the movie, Burton prefers speed and distraction, so Alice plunges as if she is on a World Disney ride.

3) The merging of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with Through the Looking Glass. Just as in the 1951 Disney animated Alice in Wonderland, there's no attempt in Burton's version to distinguish between the two works, even though Looking Glass was published 6 years after Wonderland, and it has considerable differences of tone and theme. Carroll designed Through the Looking Glass around a chess game, while Wonderland chiefly used a deck of cards to create the royal hierarchy around the Queen of Hearts. The glib combination of these worlds in Burton's version leads to a final battle sequence involving murky card/chess piece soldiers fighting on a chess (?) board with what looks about 1000 squares or so. The coherent organization of each game, so important to structure of the books, is lost in the process, so you just get a fun bunch of nonsensical characters romping around in a world without any rules or laws. Burton's Alice is only vaguely faithful to the book when she first arrives in "Underland" and hunts for a door to escape. After that, all of the characters from both books are thrown together indiscriminately.

4) It turns out that Burton's Alice is actually the sequel to the original as Alice struggles to remember her former visit. This explains the air of weary sequelitis hanging over the movie.

5) In Carroll's version, Alice has an edge to her, proclaiming the tea-party "the stupidest" one "I ever was in all my life." When a footman who looks like a Fish says "I shall sit here, on and off, for days and days," Alice decides "there's no use talking to him. He's perfectly idiotic." Faced with a bottle that says "DRINK ME," she finds that "if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later." Given Carroll's interest in the Darwinian struggle for survival, Alice frequently faces the possibility of animals devouring each other, the possibility of disappearing altogether when she shrinks, and a multitude of rude creatures threatening her in various ways, but she's equal to every occasion.

6) In Burton's version, the 19 year old Alice gradually moves from passive acquiescence to Vorpel-sword-wielding warrior, but her transformation struck me as rigged and comparatively facile. Her victory is prophesied from the beginning, and I never noticed the bite of the original Alice in her dialogue written by Linda Woolverton. Burton's Alice does take upon herself to go save the Mad Hatter from imprisonment in the Queen of Heart's castle, so that's something. Mia Wasikowska's bemused Alice also hesitates for awhile when faced with the final battle with the Jabberwocky, but it never seemed that much of a challenge with a magic sword helping out. In comparison to the original Alice's spunk, this new one gets empowered by helpers (the Bandersnatch, the White Queen, etc.) and plot devices.

7) Was Anne Hathaway's arm-waving, ditsy, anti-violent Glenda Good Witch of the North White Queen meant to be an ironic variation on her goody goody public image?

8) And what of the Cheshire Cat? He becomes, along with the Dormouse and the White Rabbit, another cute Disney sidekick.

9) In Carroll's version, the Hatter appears briefly and memorably at the end of the tea party table in a scene that meditates on the nonsensical nature of time and repetitive social rituals. He is mad, but he has his moments, exposing Alice's hypocrisy by saying "Who's making personal remarks now?" When Alice says "I don't think," the Hatter cuts her off with "Then you shouldn't talk." Alice stomps off in a sulk, and we only see the Hatter in brief vignettes later such as the trial scene when he takes a bite from his tea cup in his nervousness.

10) In Burton's version, as played by Johnny Depp, the Hatter dominates the movie to the point where he becomes a sentimental bore, looking at Alice with sad freak eyes, and wishing that she wouldn't leave Underland in a way that reminded me the Scarecrow's mooning around Dorothy toward the end of The Wizard of Oz. By the end of Burton's Alice, all that remains of the Hatter's madness is his crazy red and pink makeup clashing with his light green contact lenses.

11) With the big release Alice in Wonderland, all of the wit, madness, and menace of Carroll's two classics get ground into the usual bland, safe, predigested Disney pap. No amount of digital green-screened 3-D technology and inventive art direction can make up for that.


Helena Bonham Carter at home with Tim
Cinematic versions of Alice
More cinematic versions of Alice
Tim Burton's secret formula
The early years of Tim Burton

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Doctor's 11 Academy Awards-related links

1) notes on my choice for best picture--Inglourious Basterds

2) questions about The Hurt Locker

3) questions about District 9

4) metaphysical inquiries of A Serious Man

5) the pleasures of Up in the Air

6) problems with Up

7) I much preferred Fantastic Mr. Fox

8) the menace of Coraline

9) The Princess and the Frog and Disney's abysmal history

10) the pleasures of Bright Star (nominated for best costume design)

11) Lastly, my Academy Awards burnout last year (this year hasn't been as bad).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


---veteran Michael Jernigan responds to The Hurt Locker:

"When I got to Iraq I soon learned that it was not the movies. In my first few weeks we drove over an I.E.D. We caught the guys as they were driving away by riddling their car with bullets from machine guns and few M-16’s. The driver was struck twice and the passenger was not shot but I think he was having a heart attack when we got over to them. A few days later while on a foot patrol I spotted a blue blinking light in the road and walked up to it. It was a phone taped to a canister. While running for my life the thing exploded. I was not injured but was very shaken up.

We went to Falluja in April of 2004. Our company saw two to three firefights a day. It was the first time I saw one of my friends get shot. In one month we took light casualties (thankfully, no dead Marines). We then went to Zaidon and a handful of Marines received serious wounds. Our radio man lost his foot; one of our rifleman lost his arm. A friend of mine took shrapnel to the throat and there were other serious wounds. Thankfully, no dead Marines. After that it was back to Mahmudiya: on the second day there we drove over an I.E.D. The only casualty was our Marine “Big Country” getting a concussion from the overpressure.

Later in the deployment my Humvee was hit by a large I.E.D. I had my forehead crushed in, lost both eyes, had to have my right hand fully reconstructed and took severe damage to my left knee. One buddy lost a foot; one of the others took shrapnel to the forehead but lived; one took superficial shrapnel wounds to the arm and one of my best friends died. . . .

The Hurt Locker and all the other movies I mentioned, whether they are good or bad as entertainment, are still war movies and war movies glorify the acts of violence that I described above. How do you feel about that? Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person?"

---Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child trailer

---the anatomy of a taco

---Apricot by Ben Briand

---Denby considers Clint Eastwood's career:

"Being underestimated is, for some people, a misfortune. For Eastwood, it became a weapon. Certainly, no one meeting him in his twenties, before his movie career began, would have seen much more than a good-looking Californian who loved beer, women, cars, and noodling at the piano—a fun guy to hang out with. Since those unprepossessing days, he has done the following: starred in a hit TV show, “Rawhide”; appeared in more than fifty movies and directed thirty-one, often acting, directing, and producing at the same time; added several menacingly ironic locutions to the language, such as “Make my day,” which Ronald Reagan quoted in the face of a congressional movement to raise taxes; become a kind of mythic-heroic-redemptive figure, interacting with public desire in a way that no actor has done since John Wayne; served as the mayor of Carmel; won four Oscars and received many other awards, including a hug from Nicolas Sarkozy while becoming commander of the Légion d’Honneur, last November. Those who were skeptical of Eastwood forty years ago (I’m one of them) have long since capitulated, retired, or died. He has outlasted everyone."

---the Smurfette principle and the token chick

---33 billion dollars rusting

---A. O. Scott and Sunset Boulevard

---The Joneses and the simulated family

---78 ways to celebrate Elizabeth Taylor's birthday

---the British use classical music to exercise social control

---lastly, Dr. K's film teaching style (I can relate)