Keep It Simple, But Not Too Simple
Happy 75th, Philip Glass, everyone's favorite minimalist.
Happy 75th, Philip Glass, everyone's favorite minimalist.
Been reading a lot of authors' bios lately. For instance, just finished And So It Goes, Charles J. Shields' life of Kurt Vonnegut. (Shields had the cooperation of his subject, but Vonnegut died almost as soon as he started). Like Joseph Heller, Vonnegut's WWII book simmered for many years until it came out and made him famous. His generation served in the war, and many big novelists made their name soon after, but Vonnegut, who landed in Europe and was captured almost immediately, wasn't sure how to write about his experiences as a POW, especially his time in Dresden, before and after it was firebombed.
It happens to be the birthday of Saul Alinsky. He's been dead 40 years but it's amazing how often his name pops up, usually as an accusation. He was a community organizer who wrote Rules For Radicals, laying out his strategies to help the underclass, based on a lifetime of experience.
The Directors Guild named Michel Hazanavicius director of the year for The Artist. Not a great choice. Yes, a silent film may be striking, but it didn't seem to me the direction was that well done, and some of the staging was downright awkward. I suppose this makes him the favorite for the Oscars.
I recently heard something on NPR about the effect of Citizens United on the 2012 campaign. (I probably don't need to tell you it was one of those pieces where the media says "hey, we enjoy more freedom of speech than anyone, but it's still important that the government require everyone else to shut the hell up.")
I just watched an episode of Inside Comedy, where David Steinberg sits down with various comedians. There have been a number of shows with this sort of format, though it's a bit different in that we cut back and forth between the two interviews.
Dick Tufeld died earlier this week. He was one of the greatest announcers of the 20th century. If you watched TV from the 50s through the 80s there was a good chance you'd heard him.
I was reading this Michael Wood essay on one of my favorite films, The Shop Around The Corner, in the London Review Of Books when I came across this:
I just read Anne Heller's Ayn Rand And The World She Made. It's probably the best book about Rand--but then, it's one of the few books written about her from the outside. (An objective book about the first Objectivist.) Heller appreciates her accomplishments, but isn't an acolyte, and didn't even read Rand's novels until she was in her forties. She also offers a good balance of biography and literary analysis.
Touch is the new Fox drama from Tim Kring, who created Heroes. Heroes started out fun before falling apart, but Touch isn't fun right from the start.
The great Pajama Debate (as opposed to that silly one in Florida with the shrieking ninnies) continues.
I sometimes shop at the local Fresh & Easy grocery in Hollywood. They used to have this big station where they offered samples of their goods. Recently, they shut it down and now only fitfully give out free stuff. I never thought that's why I shopped there, but I have to admit, it's a bit out of the way and I now feel less likely to go.
I watched the American Masters documentary on Phil Ochs. The format was interesting in that there was no narration, just soundbites from those they interviewed to tell his story.
Happy birthday, Antonio Carlos Jobim. A lot of people who haven't heard of him have probably heard his music. Get ready to feel mellow.
There was an important event that had Americans glued to their sets yesterday. I'm talking about the Oscar nominations, of course. Let's go over the big ones:
Jesse Walker has no top ten for 1921 because he hasn't seen enough films from that year. Fair enough, but if he were into comedy shorts (and Chaplin) it might not have been that hard.
In the comments to a recent post about Newt Gingrich, there's been a discussion of how much character should matter in voting for candidates. I say very little.
Django Reinhardt was born 102 years ago today. When he was 18, a fire destroyed his ability to use his left hand's ring finger and pinky, but that didn't stop him from being the greatest guitarist in the world of jazz.
Jesse Walker is near or at the end of his movie lists, since he's now doing 1931. By this year, Hollywood had firmly made the transition to sound and we're starting to establish new stars, but what's fun is they haven't figured out all the cliches yet, so you get some weird stuff too. (Profits were also dropping considerably due to the Depression.) Meanwhile, there was some interesting work going on in Europe.
There's a scrabble site I check out regularly, where they draw letters and have visitors send in the biggest point play possible (which is sometimes incredibly stupid--they'll throw way an S for an extra point) on the ever-changing board. They update twice a day, at 9 am and 9 pm PST.
Some songwriters claim the songs are already out there, they're just channeling them. A bit too mystical for me, but I've always been fascinated by how poets can fashion words in such a way that they can't be forgotten, as if they were always meant to be in that order.
I just read Patrick McGilligan's biography Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure Of An American Director. It's sort of a sad life, filled with doomed marriages and affairs, drug and alcohol binges, and what amounts to a failed film career.
Is it Squirrel Appreciation Day already?
Fascinating. After having been written off a second time, Newt Gingrich is making another comeback. According to the most recent polls, he seems to be the favorite to win in South Carolina. His recent rise isn't that mysterious. There's still a lot of anti-Romney feeling among conservatives and the main question is which candidate will it coalesce behind. You'd probably think Santorum--especially now that Perry is out of the race--but Gingrich hit it out of the park in the last two debates. Conservatives hate the media, and Gingrich attacked the media. Conservatives are tired of being called racist, and Gingrich defended them. And he did it with some panache.
I just read Gary Wills Rome And Rhetoric, his looks at Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar--how Shakespeare creates the characters and their rhetoric, versus what he know about them from Plutarch.
David Lynch turns 66 today. He's a great director, but considering how unconventional his approach is, it's amazing he's had a career at all.
Happy birthday, Phil Everly. He was the younger half of one of the best rock duos ever.
I watched the first two hours of Alcatraz, the new series on Fox. The premise is when Alcatraz closed in 1963, the official story was a cover-up. What actually happened was the criminals there simply disappeared. Since then, there's been a task force run by former Alcatraz guard Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) researching the situation and awaiting their return.
I feel we have a special obligation to object to this particular proposed nanny state law.
Bobby Goldsboro was a big soft pop artist in the 60s and 70s, scoring a bunch of top 40 hits, hitting #1 with the lachrymose "Honey" in 1968. His first top ten song was "See The Funny Little Clown" in 1964, but how many remember the song that went to #74 later that year, the Bacharach/David composition "Me Japanese Boy, I Love You"? Anyway, happy birthday, Bobby.
Jesse Walker now presents his film list from 1941. I see it as the last year of the early talkie period. Yes, things had changed since the late 20s, but it was a time when all the studios were operating at their peak, just before the U.S. entered the war and everything changed. (Everything had already changed in Europe, of course.)
Time for my annual film wrap-up. Maybe I was just in a bad mood, but I thought 2011 was a weak year--even the stuff I liked I didn't like that much. Which is why I was so surprised when a lot of critics called it a great year. I don't see all the films they see, but I saw enough of the top-ranked titles to realize we have a difference of opinion.