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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A reviewer at Classic Images called it “the most detailed filmography I have ever come across”. Janet L. Meyer’s Sydney Pollack: A Critical Filmography is a comprehensive, painstakingly researched book on the late director’s entire career, from his early acting days through to his A-list position as one of Hollywood’s most respected producer/directors.


Publisher McFarland & Co. describes Pollack:


One finds that his style is marked by deliberate pacing, ambiguous endings, and metaphorical love stories. Topically, Pollack’s films reflect social, cultural, and political dilemmas that hold some fascination for him, with multidimensional characters in place that generally break the stereotypical molds of the situations.


Pollack, too, often shared his film experience with readers through introductions to reference works including Sanford Meisner on Acting (Knopf, 1987), Basil Hoffman’s Acting and How To Be Good At It (Ingenuity, 2007), and Timothy Bricknell’s Minghella on Minghella (Faber, 2005).


Sydney Pollack: A Critical Filmography by Janet L. Meyer was published in December 2007.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I try as much as possible to avoid overtly political commentary in this blog, because it’s not usually germane to discussions of music.  Sadly, this is primarily because politically oriented music is almost as anachronistic as phrases like “artistic values”.  I couldn’t help but comment on a recent National Review post that suggested that Barack Obama’s 75,000 person rally in Oregon was due in large part to The Decemberists opening with a free show.  I’m hardly uncritical of Obama and his followers, but doesn’t this claim smacks of tone deaf desperation. 


Do the Portland, faux Brit Oregonians really have that level of mass magnetism?  This is what happens when your clueless stepdad tries to politicize pop culture in order to denigrate an opponent at all costs.  Would the same undercutting claim be made if Toby Keith opened for John McCain?  Clearly, the Decemberists were not the draw all the Obama rally and nothing nefarious is going on by giving a free concert before a political rally a tradition as old as driving people to the polls and the far more questionable practice of “walking around money”.  God knows, “My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist” is certainly as frenzy-inducing as “We Will Rock You”.  But the worst part of the post are the unsubtle McCarthyite gestures suggesting that The Decemberists are a bunch of communist radicals purely based on selected lyrics from “Sixteen Military Lives”.  I mean, they make negative gestures about the flag pin in their video.  Clearly, The Decemberists are terrorists.  Surely, Obama deserved to be smeared for associating with a Molotov-tosssing librarian like Colin Meloy.  Next thing you know he’ll be drawing a crowd of a 100,000 by getting the Jesus Lizard to open for him.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I’ve always loved this song even if Dwight Twilley was probably the poor man’s Cheap Trick with many more misses than he ever had hits.  Even though this is more properly categorized as power pop, I love tamped down glam aspects of the song, particularly the flirtatious mouth movements, batted eyelashes and scrawny boy hip swivel. Not to mention Susan Cowsill barely breaking a sweat in her shades as she blasts out “Free, Free, Free” like Queen singing songs from “Hair”.  Even though they were contemporaries of T. Rex, they’re clearly avoiding the tarted up look that would soon overtake and eventually undermine glam rock.  Nothing says we’re power pop like your mom’s sweat shirt.  Still, the song has some absolutely soaring moments even if you can’t tell if it’s a straight-up come on or an insult wrapped in a come on.  Essentially, it’s a riotously harmonized chorus telling the object of his affection that she/he doesn’t have a love, so, well, why not?  And, if I’m not mistaken he also seems to suggest that he couldn’t wait to be single, but now he’s “on fire”.  Of course, this pre-dates the hair band days where everyone’s eyes were suddenly “on fire” and the metaphor became duly limp.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The new Gnarls Barkley video looks like a Saturday morning educational video invoking. The 1970s, tomorrow and beaded yesterdays still to be imagined. This video about a group of friends who find a portal to another dimension says that the future is mystical and not technological.  It says that the future happens in Africa, however vague that is.


But what starts out an exuberant celebration for many becomes a strenuous journey survived by few. For the leaders, or the “brave leader” and his fierce girlfriend, exuberance becomes fatigue and anxiety, whittled down to reverence by the time we get to the end. The two remaining heroes kneel like sprinters before the do or that they set up at the meeting between worlds. Their victory offers more questions than answers.


These two heroes a man and a woman, are lovers, and champions. Maybe we are meant to understand that these two heroes are Gnarls Barkley, an odd couple “going on” to another world that the rest of the music industry isn’t strong or brave enough to enter. 


The heroism of the final duo is complicated by the gender politics and love relationship that the song and the video present. I wonder about what levels of love are meant and residing there in words that seem to be spoken by the male hero. The video put the words into the mouth of the lead man, and projects them onto the sometimes smiling, sometimes pained, sometimes pensive face of the lead woman. I wonder if the words about there “being a place for you too” are for her? Who exactly is supposed to get left behind gender of us to be left behind while male explorers forge forward again?  What divides her from the “lead man” what connects her to him? Their movements are similar, the framing of the video makes it seem that a love relationship connects them, but the words to the song, which seem to be about leaving someone behind while also projecting that person into the future seem to divide the two characters.


Most explicitly the command “don’t follow me” made in words that seem to come out of the portal doorway after the man jumps could be meant for the woman who follows and jumps through the doorway, just as athletically anyway. If the words come to the viewing audience from both of the jumpers… why are they timed between the two jumps? Is the woman actor or audience in this video?


Either way… I’m going to keep watching.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

By coincidence, I spent Memorial Day in the town where the holiday was born: Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which is in Centre County a few miles from State College. The town naturally tries to milk this designation for all its worth and holds a day-long festival with Civil War reenactments, a maypole dance, local school kids reading patriotic essays, folk music (we heard “Roll Out the Barrel,” a Pennsyl-tucky favorite), and a parade that culminates at the cemetery where Memorial Day first occurred. (The festival also coincided with the Boalsburg Firehouse Carnival, where I played 25-cent Bingo and ate funnel cake. I steered clear of the deep-fried dill pickle.)


Along with the festivities were booths lining the town’s two main streets from which people (local artisans mostly) sold a variety of tchotchkes. Much of this was what you’d expect—quilts, soaps, candles, Penn State toilet-seat covers, homemade scrubbies, salad-dressing kits, wrought-iron garden ornaments, caricature drawings, hand-lettered wooden plaques with such slogans as “What happens in the Hot Tub stays in the Hot Tub” and “It’s hard to be pretentious in flip-flops,” bird feeders, wooden jewelry and whatnot. A lot of it was reminiscent of faintly discreditable stuff you’d see advertised on late-night TV or home-shopping channels, products that seem novel for a moment, before you realize how unnecessary or how unlikely to deliver on their promises they are. I end up feeling skeptical, thinking that the stuff would be sold in “real stores” if it were any good—you see how the retailers have me right where they want me. (The aura of authenticity that retail stores cast over their merchandise is of course a carefully calibrated accomplishment akin to the brand equity produced for products through advertising.)


Craft fairs don’t rely on bargain pricing, an approach the TV hucksters sometimes try. With the merchandise at craft fairs, room for bartering is typically built into the prices of the doodads on offer, but they also include what might be considered an anti-tariff, a fee meant to remind buyers that these are artisan-made goods, built by craftspeople and local artists and not Chinese factory workers (even when the goods are in fact Chinese imports, as was the case at a few booths). The extra expense (which in theory would drive consumers to choose cheaper foreign-made alternatives) serves as a kind of guarantee of that, it reinforces the feeling one gets in shopping at craft fairs in the first place: “I’m supporting local people, real people.” Buying local goods is environmentally beneficial (saves on transport costs), but ethnocentrism seems to be the main feature of craft fairs, even when some particular kind of folk art is not specified by the occasion. Ethnocentrism and a chance to indulge pious nostalgia for hardy craftsmanship may even be considered the primary goods for sale at such events. More important than the good is the connection established with a particular artisan, the good becomes a souvenir for that good feeling of providing patronage.


What struck me most about my Boalsburg experience, though, was one particular booth that had some moody lithographs and spare, unsentimental prints—a silhouette of birds congregated on a telephone pole, set at an ominous angle with the frame, for example. Nothing wildly original, but clearly an entirely different aesthetic sensibility than that embodied by the bedazzled teddy bears to be seen elsewhere. The booth’s proprietor was not a middle-aged flea-market veteran, as with most of the others, but a woman in her mid-20s, probably a recent art-school graduate who made the most likely difficult choice to give an honest go at trying to sell her work to a paying crowd. In the past, I might have found her to be sad, sort of pathetic, and quite possibly would have considered her to be some sort of sellout. But I see that impulse now as a defense mechanism, because I know I lack the bravery to do something like that. I wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection or the ego bruising that comes with general indifference to one’s precious creativity when it’s put on display.


The woman at the fair seemed to me more sincere about her work than, say, artists in established artists’ neighborhoods in hipster districts, amid an audience of friends and fellow “artists” who won’t bother to challenge their conceptions of what artists should do—which seem to be to elect one another to an elite class of art appreciators and applaud one another’s originality and distinct vision. They make art as part of a lifestyle, and teh lifestyle draws a circle around itself and wards away the outside world. The woman in Boalsburg confronted that outside world directly. It seemed to me that she wasn’t out to be recognized as an artist so much as she was trying to send her work out into the world where it might do something other than serve as a testimony to her sense of self. There’s a good chance that she probably didn’t sell a thing all day, but for me, anyway, she was the jar on the hill in the Wallace Stevens poem.


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