Sunday, December 23, 2012

American Guns

In Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1947), a distraught and confused (but certainly unarmed and not evidently dangerous) George Bailey slugs the Pottersville counterpart of Bedford Falls's cop Burt and runs off down the street. Despite having earlier speculated that George may be seriously mentally ill, Burt responds by letting fly with six shots, emptying his revolver.

This would appear to be an excessive and disproportionate use of force. Dangerous too: Burt has to worry about a lot of bystanders, including people in moving cars behind the running George (highlighted by the oval) and directly in the line of fine.

Yet in all of the American paenes to IAWL that I've read or heard over the years, I've never heard anyone query Pottersville-Burt's behavior. Maybe if he'd shot Clarence dead for resisting arrest back at George's abandoned Pottersville-house there'd have been some push-back!

I guess there is some question about whether Pottersville-Burt's behavior is supposed to deplorable/corrupted/Pottersville-only, so that, as it were, Bedford Falls-Burt would never let fly like that, but I dunno... maybe Americans really do believe that anyone who resists arrest or flees may (or even should) be shot and killed.

Friday, December 21, 2012

RS on Rage Remaster

Rolling Stone assessing the remastered version of Rage Agianst The Machine's eponymous debut:

The rap appropriation has lost the force of novelty, of course, but blaming Rage Against the Machine for Fred Durst is like blaming Abraham Lincoln for John Boehner

Monday, December 17, 2012

Indie Babes o' the Year


Chairlift's Caroline Polachek, who had one of the songs of the year (here sung quite gloriously mostly in Japanese):

And Au Revoir Simone's Erika Forster:

Gorgeous group generally of course!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advertising Psycho in 1961 in New Zealand

The first advertisement for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in NZ's paper of record, The New Zealand Herald was a long column on May 25 1961:

Psycho had opened in the US a full year before, in June 1960, so presumably the NZ movie-going public was absolutely ravenous to finally see the new sensation, and possibly ticked off at having had to wait so long. The second Herald notice (May 28, 1961) appears to acknowledge that situation:

although the rumors referred to may also be to censorship possibilities/worries (NZ's censors followed the UK's in imposing cuts on Psycho's shower sequence).

The third Psycho ad. repeats the savagely chopped and inserted title/logo, but also dramatically announces and imprecates!

The fourth ad., now directly underneath the ad. for the current occupant (The Sundowners w/ Kerr and Mitchum) of the St James cinema announces that tomorrow there'll be a big announcement:

The (possibly anti-climactic) announcement turns out to be that bookings will now be taken:

On June 7, 2 days before Psycho opens, Hitchcock the showman returns:
Psycho does different things to different people! And no one but no one will be admitted after the film begins.

The same day, the evening paper in Auckland, The Star announced the winners of its various Psycho-related competitions including its Hitchcock-look-alike:

Come on down Mr H. Pietry to the most terrifying, shocking, and generally incredible film experience of your life!

One day to go and the Herald can barely control itself:

Thursday evening's Star and Friday morning's Herald indirectly hail the grand opening:

Friday night's Star, however, takes the biscuit:

It's now Psycho time and DO NOT KILL YOUR FRIENDS' (enjoyment by telling them the ending). Note the specification in the ad. of exactly when the main feature will start, i.e., after roughly 40-50 minutes of shorts (including travelogues features such as 'Ports of Paradise' and short documentaries from Rank films' Look at Life series. Water shortages in England before Psycho - who woulda thunk it?!)

As in North America, Psycho played in NZ with no previews so both the Herald and the Star reviewed Psycho on Saturday June 10. Both reviewers act very wise about Hitch's marketing savvy. Neither mentions Herrmann.

After Psycho is released the ads become a parade of Alfred Hitchcock Presents drollerie sometimes with two Hitchcock representations to drive the point home:

Even William Castle would be proud of "Pay no attention to the rumour that this film may send you completely berserk!' or "If you can't keep a secret keep away from people after seeing Psycho". Most tho' not all (e.g., not the rumor of speechless wives) of this schtick was drawn from an acclaimed media/marketing package of teaser ads prepared by Paramount:
.

A couple of post-release ads are worthy of special note.

I thought that use of supposed infra-red footage of audience reactions in advertizing began with '70s mega-thillers such as The Exorcist and Jaws, but here it is as part of Psycho's ad. frenzy. Was Psycho then the first with this?
And, finally, a reference to shows packing out:

Psycho was a well-deserved, monster hit world-wide, the showbizerry of which left an imprint on a whole generation.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Getting in touch with your inner Scorpio

Via Google Earth:

And via youtube:

One of the best opening scenes of all time with one of the best scores.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cinefantastique's review of The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back was not as fondly welcomed at the time as is often recalled these days. A lot of people initially held the inconsistency of both 'the twist' and Emperor with the original Star Wars against the film - were quite grumpy about it - and had to gradually talk themselves into going with the flow. Of course, everyone loved Yoda and the Imperial Walker attack on the Rebels and the Cloud City's design from the get-go, so there were plenty of good starting points from which affection for Empire could and did grow.
The leading sci-fi film magazine of the time, Cinefantastique roasted the film in its review. Here's that notorious review from the Hitchcock's The Birds issue both in original images (click on images to make big, then save the images so that you can zoom in on them as required):

and as text:

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK 

"A lifeless copy of STAR WARS propelled chiefly on the momentum of that earlier film."

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK 20th Century Fox. 5/80. 124 minutes. In 70mm Scope. Dolby Stereo. Executive Producer, George Lucas. Directed by Irvin Kershner. Produced by Gary Kurtz. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas. Production designer, Norman Reynolds. Director of photography. Peter Suschitzsky B.S.C. Edited by Paul Hirsch. Special visual effects, Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund. Associate producers. Robert Watts, James Bloom. Music by John Williams. Design consultant and conceptual artist, Ralph McQuarrie. Art directors, Leslie Dilley. Harry Lang, Alan Tompkins. Makeup and special creature design, Stuart Freeborn.
Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill
Han Solo Harrison Ford
Princess Leia Carrie Fisher
Lando Calrissian Billy Dee Williams
See Threepio (C-3PO) Anthony Daniels
Yoda Frank Oz
Darth Vader David Prowse
Chewbacca Peter Mayhew
Artoo Detoo (R2-D2) Kenny Baker
Ben (Obi-wan) Kenobi Alec Guinness

It's hard to argue with success. In a summer of boxoffice doldrums that is seeing many potential hits playing to near empty auditoriums, this film is packing full houses. If the downturn in film business is indeed being caused by the current recession as many suspect, then audiences are getting by with less somewhere just to go out and enjoy THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. In the hardest of times people can eat less, stay at home, and wear their clothes longer, but they can't survive without a dream.
Considering the impact THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is having, it's probably irrelevant whether it's a good film or not. With some form of merchandising, tie-in or promotion connected with the picture striking you in the face at every turn, it's difficult to perceive the movie as anything more than a two hour commercial specifically designed to sell more model kits, action figures and comic books. Before I could reach my seat, ushers had twice thrust a copy of the "official collector's edition" program book in my face, hawking it like carnival barkers. I later examined a copy and found that some 37 pages—more than half its contents —consisted of a plot synopsis, a real handy thing to have. (Incidentally, the book is published under exclusive license from Shorebrook S.A., a Swiss company, which probably indicates George Lucas is trying to shelter some of his STAR WARS lucre in a tax haven.)
But despite its pervasive impact and obvious success, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a lifeless copy of STAR WARS propelled chiefly on the momentum of that earlier film. Without the likes of a Peter Cushing or Alec Guiness to add some dignity and solid support, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford flounder in roles that are certain to doom their careers regardless of the series' success. Critics who labeled this film "better than STAR WARS," must have been watching the audience instead of the performance.
What's at fault is an atrocious script which marks time for most of its length, then winds up unresolved, leaving the audience dangling on a plot contrivance. I fail to see the contribution of a fine screenwriter. not to mention fine science fiction writer, like Leigh Brackett in any of it. I assume the comedy patter which passes for dialogue was the work of co-credited Lawrence Kasdan. What, after all, could Brackett, or director Irvin Kershner for that matter, do with a non-story like that supplied by Lucas? When it turns out that Han Solo has flown his ship inside a slow moving space slug, and we see it narrowly escape from the jaws of what looks like a kid's hand puppet, this is surely the most ludicrous science fiction seen since the days of live television in the '50s!
In this film its often impossible to figure out whether audience laughter is unintentional or not. And it doesn't seem to matter. Whether laughing at it or with it, people are having a good time. The fun, the generally high production values, some remarkably convincing and imaginative special effects, and most of all that momentum from STAR WARS, manage to carry the script's dead weight.
The use of stop-motion animation is a tremendous plus and provides the film its single most outstanding sequence, when Imperial walkers attack the rebel base on Hoth. The animated Tauntauns also delight and amaze audiences and further demonstrate that dimensional animation is indispensable in putting across this kind of screen fantasy. Use of the technique in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK with such outstanding results is going to prove to be a boon to the field. Surely Hollywood, if not Dino De Laurentiis, will now sit up and take notice!
Other effects are equally eye-opening. Frank Oz uses puppetry to bring Yoda to life to a degree I would not have thought possible, an achievement that bodes well for The Muppets' own fantasy themed feature THE DARK CRYSTAL. And even though it's an old cliche when Han Solo runs into the ever present asteroid field. the wonders of motion control photography can visualize the dizzying excitement as it's never been done before.
But, as in any performance, the play's the thing. And in that department THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is not nearly so wondrous. It's at its apex when the opening reprise of John Williams' STAR WARS theme blares out over the loudspeakers, and from there it simply runs down like a big wind-up toy, in fits and starts, until it jerks to a halt. The bad pacing is the direct result of a script which at its core has no story to tell. At fault is the basic premise George Lucas devised for the sequel, to do it like a twenty-minute serial chapter ten times over. It that's his idea of an "epic" - I suggest that after all nine chapters are filmed he sit down with his wife Marcia at the editing bench and do one of those 90-minute condensations for those of us who don't want to be bored silly. An hour and a half should be more than adequate to contain his epic story once he cuts out all the pointless running around.
Although we're continually being told by studio p.r. that Lucas has a grand design for the series, I get the distinct impression that he's bluffing his way through, making it up as he goes along. The result is that what little story development we get in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK often seems at odds with what we know from the first film.
It's a fact that Lucas decided at the last minute, during filming, to kill off Ben Kenobi in STAR WARS. Maybe this was before he had his plan jotted down? In any case, it's a decision that's literally come back to haunt us, as Kenobi now pops up in the sequel at the oddest times like some spectral Greek chorus, dropping pearls of wisdom or just providing a little stage direction ("Go to Dagobah."). Somehow I found his disembodied voice in STAR WARS less troublesome. Now that I can see as well as hear him, the question of what actually happened on the Death Star, when Ben miraculously dematerialized out of his clothes, is starting to nag. Apparently he went back and picked up his duds because he's wearing them again. And you'd think Luke would do some head scratching about it too, after all, he thought Ben was dead. Now he has regular conversations with him.
I'm troubled too by the type of Emperor Lucas introduces in the sequel. I distinctly remember Governor Tarkin telling Darth in STAR WARS, "The Jedi are extinct. Their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion." So naturally, I was a bit surprised in the sequel to see the Emperor phone up Darth long distance and complain about a disturbance in the Force: If any more practitioners of this extinct religion turn up they're going to have enough to form a congregation.
The Force itself isn't quite so interesting either, now that Lucas has begun to elaborate on exactly what it is. It was a simple but intriguing idea in STAR WARS, "an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together," according to Ben. In THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK it somewhat disappointingly turns out to be just your basic telekinesis. In a conclusion best described as CARRIE meets STAR WARS, the script has Darth Vader mentally hurl all the loose furniture at Luke in order to defeat him. This is a good example of the tendency Lucas has of lifting ideas, often inappropriately. from other sources.
The big puzzle is the film's "big revelation", when Darth Vader tries to work up some family feeling with Luke after cutting off his hand! Bad timing to pick that particular moment to confess his little indiscretion with Luke's mother and call the boy "son"- But then Darth has always shown very little tact in dealing with people.
Actually though, the script made him do it. You just need to have some kind of big pay-off for these penultimate light-sabre duels. Unfortunately, George Lucas doesn't have the heart to kill off any of his characters, so he's been forced to come up with some pretty convoluted resolutions. I suggest he just suspend dueling, before it gets too confusing. After all, the duel in STAR WARS turned Obi-wan into a ghost, and now the duel in this one turns Luke into a bastard. This latest development is getting a bit chancy on a PG-rating.
Actually though, there's probably another explanation. Could it be that Darth Vader and Mr. Skywalker are one and the same person? I suppose this is what Luke himself has in mind when he shouts his reply to Vader's revelation its the film: "That's impossible!" Sure as hell seems to be, judging from what we've seen in STAR WARS. Ben tells Luke in that film, "A young Jedi named Darth Wader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father." It's the scene, you'll recall. when Ben gives Luke his father's light sabre.
So, if you ask me, Luke's got to be a bastard—Vader's illegitimate son, perhaps as a result of rape? That would certainly be in character for Darth and would add a new dimension to the catch phrase "seduced by the dark side of the Force." I guess we'll just have to wait for Lucas to consult his master plan and have old Ben Kenobi's ghost explain it all in the next film. Somehow, I get the feeling watching THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, that it's not going to be a very convincing explanation.
Frederick S. Clarke (Cinefantastique 10(2), Fall 1980: 40-41)















Friday, November 30, 2012

iTunes 11 f---ing sucks

Too exasperated to even anatomize here, but let's just say that directly adding a new item to, say, the n-th place in a playlist on your ipod is now impossible. That's a deal-breaker for me.

More generally, at every turn, any attempt to get a clear picture of all of your media at once (even on your main computer, let alone on that and (in a separate window) any other device you may have) is frustrated. Even the ability to navigate between songs at the level of their information has been removed (so, e.g., if you want to enter the track number and name info for an album you have to exit from the informational summary for one file, go back to song listing then choose the informational summary for the next file, and so on: what was formerly a one click operation now takes a 4 or 5 steps. Entering the info for a whole album that used to take 10 clicks, now takes 40 or 50.)

In sum, a program that has up till now been unwieldy and irritating, has with version 11 finally become unusable and non-functional. Sell Apple now. The company has completely lost its mind.

Update: Having slept on it... things aren't quite as bad as I thought. For example, the multi-information I mentioned seems to have more contextual than I realized - you can't manoeuvre at that level in some playlist views and in artist view, but otherwise it seems OK (maybe the database has caught up with the problem overnight - it definitely seemed to be a more prevalent problem yesterday). So... grumble grumble OK. But another big problem: I've found that the search doesn't work as it should. I have songs by Annie Lennox both on her own albums and on compilations like Red, Hot and Blue, yet searching on 'Lennox' or 'Annie Lennox' no longer brings up the latter. Staggeringly, I can get the latter to come up when I home-share my collection and search using the older itunes on the other device. So in the strongest possible way iTunes 11 has gone backwards. That's unacceptable, dismal, etc.. Yes iTunes probably is improved in various ways but, like a car with all sorts of arguably interesting new features that nonetheless runs off the road or can't take a corner, it's still a piece of shit.

Update: To get iTunes search to behave reasonably, go to the search box and uncheck 'Search Entire library' and go with just 'Filter by All' checked. With that and the sidebar permanently turned on things feel almost back to functional (except for the no multiple windows problem which inflicts inefficiency across the board, presumably on the theory that inflicting what's optimal for ipads/iphones etc. on every other environment is acceptable now).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma

Gap-filling on Sight and Sound's new Hot 100, I'm checking out Godard's Histoire(s) (1988-1998), which some have praised, see, e.g., here and here (for a vital aid). In his New Biographical Dictionary of Film Thomson lauds as follows:

Of course, it was natural that Godard would provide his own retrospective—and sweep up the entire medium. Histoire(s) du Cinéma is a great catalogue work, worthy of Robert Musil or Walter Benjamin—or Chris Marker. But in its astonishing beauties, and the suggestiveness of its editing, one may still see and feel the Godard of the early sixties. Thus, the Histoire(s) reasserted, beyond doubt, that his is one of the great critical yet poetic minds in the medium.
Unfortunately, so far (just one headache-causing hour in) I feel like Thomson's more caustic remarks about Godard's 1950s criticism apply equally well to Histoire(s):
"[T]ruly useful insights were offered in writing that was appalling, trite, chaotic, and gratuitously unreadable. It came armed with frightful name-dropping from literature and painting. Hardly a film could be classified without reference to Faulkner, Proust, Auguste Renoir, or Velázquez. In part, this was his need for classification, the unappeasable urge to cross-refer rather than to describe a thing itself. And these references are meaningless....Godard’s criticism is so aggressive that one feels only its insecurity... It means that his articles are addressed to himself, rather than to readers. The tone is austere and forbidding, as if to exclude others from cinema in the very act of celebrating it."
Godard actually says relatively little in his own voice, and there it's mostly sententious nostrums to which one mostly wants to shrug or perhaps laugh (much as you would to a standard, empty political speech). But occasionally he makes a factual claim, some of which are plainly wrong, e.g., at 19 mins into the first part of the doc., Godard claims that Howard Hughes was a producer (producteur) of Citizen Kane, which is false. (Compare: a fluffy, largely content-free political speech that nonetheless makes a few it's easily-checked claims about unemployment rates or Benghazi or whatever.... that turn out to be flatly false.) The impact is devastating... it becomes very hard to stick-with Godard, to take him seriously. Overt contradictions such as between 'Cinema is not part of the communications industry or entertainment. It is part of cosmetics, the industry of masks.' (2nd part, 7 mins in) and 'It [cinema] boils down to entertainment. It can't be explained otherwise.' (2 minutes later) don't help either.

Since Godard doesn't care enough to get basic stuff right it's hard to have faith in or even ascribe determinate content to his more oracular, necessarily uncheckable remarks. Whether Histoires(s) can be satisfactory conceived as its own self-contained mega-video-art-piece/work of political science fiction remains to be seen, but on current evidence (update: 2 hours in) it can't be. Rather it appears to just be a mess, stuck in some messy zone between The Power of Nightmares, Sans Soleil, Cremaster Cycle, and Inland Empire, and decidedly inferior to all of those boundary points.

So who got Godard's Histoire(s) onto the Sight and Sound list (and ahead of, I dunno, Rear Window, M, NbNW, Touch of Evil, Night of the Hunter, and Sunset Boulevard)? Jonathan Rosenbaum, Richard Corliss, and who else?

Update: Finished it! Good God, well that's 4+ hours I'm never etc.. One of the (in my view, relatively few) highlights is his tribute to Hitchcock in the penultimate Chapter 4a (Le Contrôle de l’univers (1998) - The Control of the Universe). Godard's characteristically hyperbolic remarks (whch work much better accompanied by counterpointing, often slow-mo Hitchcock clips) are as follows:

We forget why Joan Fontaine leans over the cliff.
Why was Joel McCrea in Holland?
What confession did Montgomery Clift keep secret?
Why did Janet Leigh stop at the Motel?
Why does Theresa Wright still love Uncle Charlie?
What isn't Henry Fonda entirely guilty of?
Why did the American government hire Ingrid Bergman?

But we remember a handbag.
But we remember a bus in the desert.
But we remember a glass of milk, a windmill, a hairbrush.
But we remember a row of bottles, a pair of glasses, a musical score, a key chain.

Because with them and through them Alfred Hitchcock succeeded
where Alexander, Caesar, Hitler and Napoleon failed:
In taking control of the universe.

Maybe 10,000 people haven't forgot Cèzanne's apple
but a billion remember the lighter in Strangers on a Train.

Hitchcock, the only accursed poet to meet with success.
Our century's greatest creator of forms.
Forms tell us what is at the bottom of things.

What is art, if not the way forms become style?
What is style... What is style, if not man?

So it is a bra-less blonde tailed by a detective scared of heights
who proves that it's all cinema, that is, child's play.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The White Shadow (1924)

Great intertitles:

Here Nancy, the girl without a soul, sang and danced and gambled.

Bohemians live and die – but the Cat still laughs!

Friday, November 09, 2012

American Democracy in Action

Pennylvania’s awful gerrymandering of congressional districts (since the post 2010 census redistricting) has ensured that it grossly over-represents Republicans and under-represents Democrats at the Federal level. So this year (2012) Repubs won 13/18 PA congressional districts = 72% of the available representation despite winning only 49% of the vote! (See all data here - you have to add things up yourself at this point):

Total/popular votes for Dem House candidates in PA = 2,702,901
Total/popular votes for Rep House candidates in PA = 2,627,031

PA is truly a travesty of democracy with a downright evil Republican establishment (much anti-Clinton nonsense during the '90s sprang from Western PA) that should shame any principled conservative.

Sadly it’s the same story nationally (modulo recounts and provisionals still to be counted), although corresponding Democratic hackery elsewhere evens things up considerably:

total/popular votes for Democrat House candidates ~ 54 million
total/popular votes for Republicans House candidates ~ 53.5 million

Less than 50% vote share gets the Repubs at least 233 reps, i.e., at least 53% of the House.

The US has much to be proud of politically speaking, but also much that's patently disastrous, completely avoidable, and finally just shameful.

Friday, November 02, 2012

God's on Twitter

And evidently knows his away around 140 chars:

Personally speaking, it's conceivable that Obama's going to win re-election and that he wouldn't have without Superstorm Sandy throwing various bad-for-Mitt issues into newly sharp relief. If that's Divine Intervention, while one can question the Big Guy's methods, I guess I'm for it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hitchcock in How To Steal A Million (1966)

More images here. Audrey reads the April 1965 issue of Hitchcock Magazine: La revue du suspense, a battered copy of which was recently for sale on ebay:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gail Collins on Men Who Yell

.....in the end, the whole election came down to the time Mitt Romney put Big Bird in a binder on the car roof.
Full Collins here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hopelessly Devoted

The movie Grease is mostly shot fairly perfunctorily, but 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' is pretty well thought out. It’s mostly one long 2 mins+ shot – nothing fancy, but affecting and intimate. The song itself is another great Farrar composition and Olivia Newton-John's loveliness and splendid voice makes the time and close-up worth the camera’s while. The mind recoils at the thought of the edited and post-produced to death fate that would almost certainly befall such a number in a movie musical today.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Has anyone seen Madonna lately?

My first thought on seeing this image of Lady Gaga a few days ago: 'Oh no, she's done it now: she's eaten Madonna.'

Update Sept 27: No, Madge is alive and well and making bone-headed Obama jokes...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Maybe contemporary film isn't so bad

An artist relative o' mine who lives on a small Pacific Island that mostly only gets Hollywood blockbusters/Oscar winners on (pirated) dvd asked me to burn him a few dvds of relatively good recent stuff to take back with him, i.e., that he'd otherwise be unlikely to see.

I wanted to cram in 2 movies per (single-layer) dvd (so no epics), and, since I had only a fairly crappy burner program, I couldn't use any movie files with soft subtitles.

Here's the eight films (four pairs) I came up with:

  1. (Untitled) (2009)
  2. A Serious Man (2009)
  3. Moon (2009)
  4. Following (1998)
  5. Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
  6. Winter's Bone (2010)
  7. Let The Right One In (2008)
  8. In Bruges (2008)
All except Following are from 2008-2010, and I was struck by what an attractive group of films that is. I know that they only scratch the surface of the period, but it's still somewhat heartening to be able to so easily come up with such a convincing bunch of (at the very least) superior entertainments. Maybe film's currently in better shape than I thought.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans

God help me, I'm really enjoying listening to Yes's prog monsterpiece, Tales From Topographic Oceans. Reading Dave Weigel's wonderful Prog Spring series (re-)lit the fuse for me: it's great stuff, really, so long as you just relax into it. I've listened to a lot of trance/dance mixtapes over the last few years and they've lost their power for me (either to interest or relax). Right now, Yes is hitting the sweet spot for me that that other stuff used to.

You can listen to the whole album on youtube here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

End Credits Audio from (Untitled) (2009): David Lang's Stick Figure

The climax of Jonathan Parker's (Untitled) (2009) is, in many ways, its end credits. There we hear the first straightforwardly gorgeous piece of music in the film (although possibly only the prior ninety minutes of thonk-bonk contemporary music has allowed us to hear it as gorgeous and not monotonous): just over half of David Lang's Stick Figure (the Fourth Movement of his Child (2001)) performed by the Italian contemporary music ensemble, Sentieri Selvaggi (a 2003 recording that's available on iTunes, Amazon, etc. at an incredibly reasonable price). One way of interpreting the piece in context is as the finished version of the last piece of noodling that we hear from the composer within the film, Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg).

(Untitled) (2009) is a pretty good film with its own uniquely equivocal mood and tone, and a standout performance from (should-be-a-star) Marley Shelton as downtown NYC gallery owner, Madeleine Gray. Definitely worth checking out (esp. if you've ever dabbled in art-walks, gallery-hopping, and the like).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Passion Pit's Little Secrets

OK, so I'm two years late discovering this slice of Time-to-Pretend-style awesomeness.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Madonna's Drowned World/Substitute for Love

Man I miss this more mysterious, adult Madonna. 2012's born-again teenager Madonna doesn't do it for me (does anyone like it?).

Madonna has had two terrific albums since Ray of Light: Music and Confessions on a Dancefloor. But apart from those....

Update: Listening again to Madonna's ignored/semi-reviled American Life (2003), I find that it's quite a lot better than I remembered. It now feels to me a little like the Amnesiac to Music's Kid A: similar but less commercial and without the big boost that being the immediate successor of a career-changing/zeitgeist-defining album (OK Computer, Ray of Light respectively) affords. At any rate, anyone who likes Music should definitely check out the following tracks: Nobody Knows Me (a dark version of Music), Nothing Fails (a dark Don't Tell Me), Easy Ride, and X-static Process. And three other tracks - Die Another Day, Hollywood, and Love Profusion - are at least OK.

2008 Election Revisited

The Electoral Commission has recommended doing away with overhangs that increase the size of parliament - what I call 'external overhangs' - for sub-4%-threshold parties if the Commission's 'no one electorate seat exemption/waiver' recommendation is accepted.

Its reason for this linkage is:

For example, if the one electorate seat threshold had not applied at the 2008 General Election and the current provision for overhang seats had been retained there would have been eight overhang seats.
But this example and reasoning assumes the crudest possible way of doing away with the electorate seat exemption, one that makes all MPs for sub-threshold parties overhangers. Better to allow sub-threshold parties to keep any party share entitlements they have up to their number of electorate MPs, i.e., # of quotients for sub-threshold party i = min(# of i's electorate wins, # of quotients i's party vote share would entitle it to).That sort of proposal strips out tag-along list MPs of the ACT/United Future/Progressive sort while preserving genuine overhangers - the genuine inconsistencies with/violations of party vote share that so far only some Maori party MPs have been.

In the 2008 election, Progressive, United Future and ACT all earned enough party vote share to 'cover' their electorate successes, and the Maori party earned enough party vote share to 'cover' three out of its five electorate wins.
Here's what the 2008 election looks like under various regimes holding voting behaviors constant (click to enlarge):

The Commission's proposal is unjustified overkill, mostly leading to less proportional outcomes (LSQ(2008, Report policy) = 3.046 > 2.932 = LSQ(2008, external overhangs w/o tag-alongs), and it should be abandoned.

A simpler example than what the actual world provides us with may be valuable (click to enlarge):

In this toy case the disproportionalities are exaggerated and the separation between the Report's policy (III) and our proposal (IV) is correspondingly clearer (23.5 > 18.5). Indeed (III) gives the most disproportional outcome in this toy case, which isn't true in the real-world Election 2008 case. Finally, note that even if our proposal didn't generally have the edge in proportionality/non-distortingness, it might still be worth accepting for its basic intelligibility as a hack to avoid an allegedly nasty consequence (i.e., of too large overhangs given the maxially natural and intelligible policy).

Is trouble with its (internalize the) overhang prescription the Report's only infelicity? Decidedly not. More on that soon. But note that the allegedly fiendish 2008 Status Quo saw Act get 5 MPs for its 85K party votes while NZ First got 0 MPs for its 95K party vote. Quelle horreur! Under the Commission's policy, however, nearly exactly the reverse happens: Act gets 1 MP for its 85K party votes and NZ First gets 5 MPs for its 95K party votes. The more things change.... And in both cases the Maori party cheerily gets 5 MPs on 56K party votes. What progress!

If you were inclined to whine before, surely you must either be inclined to continue whining or to rethink your original inclination? Perhaps you were just being a baby about boundaries? More anon.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Two Recent Vids

"Turn Your Back On The Wind"/"Believe In Love" (1970) was one of The Fourmyula's final, unsuccessful singles, but it has since achieved renown on their various Best Of/Compilation releases. It hasn't been available on youtube up till now except in a recent live version here. I hereby plug that gap:

My visuals are the heartbreaking last few minutes of King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937) w/ Barbara Stanwyck in the title role. The story is as follows: Stella wants what's best for her daughter, Laurel (Anne Shirley), and she realizes that Laurel will only be able to 'marry up' if she exits from her daughter's life (Stella's hard-scrabble roots constantly show through, vulgarities cause embarrassment, etc.). Laurel, however, won't abandon her mother just to better herself. So Stella has to fool Laurel that she, Stella wants her daughter out of the way so that she can herself pursue another husband. In the final scene Stella watches her daughter's wedding from out in the street in the rain, happy that her ruse has secured her daughter's future and probable happiness. It's a 'two boxer', and a triumph for both Vidor and Stanwyck. The obvious strong case for Stanwyck as one of the 2 or 3 greatest screen actresses starts here perhaps.

Soon after the release of Bob Fosse's film Sweet Charity (1969) (which adapted Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, via the original stage-show that Fosse also directed and choreographed), Paul Mauriat rearranged and reorchestrated part of Cy Coleman's Overture into this magnificent pop-classical/lounge band confection. This piece of music was used as background music, e.g., for events montages, throughout the 1970s.

Fosse's film starred the great Shirley MacLaine as Charity Valentine. The film's a bit of a dud overall. but MacLaine is dynamite, as is much of the music and dancing. Many of the stills I've used come from a very warm appreciation of the film due to Ken Anderson here.

If you want to see what a more successful, ultra-dramatic version of the underlying story looks like, watch the ending of Nights of Cabiria here. In my perfect Hollywood-world, MacLaine would have got to star in a straight remake of Nights of Cabiria as well as Fosse's musical. Oh well.

Note that Mauriat's Sweet Charity first appeared on his album Un Jour, Un Enfant (1969):

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Anna Chicherova (High Jump, Gold Medalist 2012)


While Britain's Jessica Ennis may have won the race for pure, Olympic sweetheart, for cool cheekbones and for the body of an alien robot from the future here to kill us all, it's hard to go past the High Jump gals. C'mon down gold-medalist Anna Chicherova (Russia).
Is she ready for her closeup? Yes, yes she is.
Get on this Hollywood. I'd even go for her and Isenbayeva as a dynamic duo of some sort. Make it so.

Note that High Jump is one of those events where records set in the 1980s still stand (for both women and men), notwithstanding all the improvements in diet, training, and general sports science ever since. (Things that make you go 'Hmmm'!) Current athletes, however, are getting close, especially on the female side. Chicherova's personal best (2.07m) is 2 cm short of equaling the World Record, hence 3 cm short of breaking it. And Croatia's Blanka Vlasic is 1cm closer still.