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by Sarah Zupko

27 Sep 2009

Hush Arbors
Yankee Reality
(Ecstatic Peace!)
Releasing: 6 October

Dinosaur Jr. singer/guitarist J Mascis produces the new Hush Arbors album and shows up playing on a few songs too. The production is straightforward and lets the atmospheric folk music breathe. It’s not noisy and in-your-face like you might have expected with Mascis turning the knobs.

SONG LIST
01 Day Before
02 Lisbon
03 Fast Asleep
04 So They Say
05 One Way Ticket
06 Coming Home
07 Sun Shall
08 Take It Easy
09 For While You Slept
10 Devil Made You High

Hush Arbors
“Day Before” [MP3]
     

by Justin M. Norton

27 Sep 2009

At least once a year I re-read Roughneck (Knopf, originally published in 1954), the second volume of noir author Jim Thompson’s autobiography. I first found an old Mysterious Press copy of the book in a small paperback store in northern California during a cross-country train ride in 1993. I read it during a long stretch from San Francisco to Denver and it has stuck with me since. It’s certainly one of the most intimate looks we’ll ever get at the life of a classic noir author—Chandler and Hammett, for instance, never penned their own life stories, saving details for their novels. Chandler’s look back likely wouldn’t have been as gripping as Thompson’s memoir; before he began writing detective fiction he was an oil executive with a chronic truancy problem. Thompson on the other hand, was a teenage bootlegger—his experiences there outlined in Roughneck‘s predecessor, Bad Boy.

Roughneck is never mentioned alongside Thompson’s classics like The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me, and probably for a reason—his fiction is better. However, I’m drawn back less for the quality of the prose (although it still contains vintage Thompson passages) and more for the heroic struggles Thompson faced to become a writer. While Jack Kerouac’s On the Road stoked my interest in and passion for the English language, Jim Thompson taught me that the act of writing and artistic creation is an inherent struggle. This book also taught me that it is possible to rise above the most challenging of circumstances to create art, even if you aren’t recognized until after your death, the same fate that befell literary heavyweights like Herman Melville and John Donne.

by Bill Gibron

26 Sep 2009

In the hierarchy of horror, Lucio Fulci usually falls somewhere between the post-modern macabre of Dario Argento and the creepshow classicism of Mario Bava. He’s not as nauseating as Bava’s son Lamberto, yet never achieved the artistic aplomb of Argento apprentice Michele Soavi. In fact, Fulci is loved more for his appreciation of violence and brutality than anything artistically substantive. From The Beyond to The City of the Living Dead, he’s created classic ‘double dare’ movies, the kind of gruesome, offal-filled freak outs that had fans cringing in their seats (and hurling in their barf bags). But there was an even sleazier side to the director, something clearly seen in The New York Ripper. While he still piles on the pus, everything else here is drowning in debauchery.

After a dog discovers a decomposing hand near the Hudson river, police detective Fred Williams learns that the victim had recent contact with a strange man speaking in a deranged, duck like voice. Soon, another body is discovered on the Staten Island ferry. With the help of psychological profiler Dr. Paul Davis, Williams starts to rundown a list of suspects. In the meantime, a high society woman with a penchant for rough trade and live sex shows makes intimate recordings for her perverted husband. Elsewhere in the city, a young lady named Fay has a run in with a man with two fingers missing on his hand. Suddenly, this deformed individual is the prime person of interest in the case. As Williams hunts for clues, the killer calls him, taunting him in that silly, sickening way. If he’s not careful, this New York Ripper will destroy everything he knows…and loves.

It goes without saying that if you’ve seen one Fulci giallo, you’ve seen The New York Ripper (recently rereleased on Blu-ray by Blue Underground). As far back as his infamous Don’t Torture a Duckling, he meshed borderline boring police procedurals with momentary lapses into splendiferous gore. Fulci is truly the father of non sequitor sluice. Give him a standard situation - police firing on a suspect - and you’ll see the person’s head literally explode in a stunning array of arterial ambivalence. It doesn’t matter if it fits the tone of what he’s attempting. As long as he can paint the screen red, Lucio likes. Perhaps that’s why New York Ripper is so much mean spirited fun. While the vast majority of the movie plays like a lampoon of serial killer shockers (the murderer speaks like Donald Duck with a disease), the frequent lapses into outright nastiness more than makes up for the unintentional laughs.

What’s different here though is the reliance on repugnant sexuality and decadent NY-seediness. Any film that has a main character getting a foot job inside a skuzzy dive bar, that perpetrates a horrendous vivisection on a completely nude victim - Heck, almost any Fulci fantasy that explores the corporeal with the cadaverous - is bound to throw fright fans for a loop. We expect a little T&A with our scares, but the disturbed way in which The New York Ripper delivers this material is mind-numbing. If Fulci ever wondered why he wasn’t taken more seriously, the sleazoid subtext here should have been all the proof he needed. This really is a repulsive little reject. 

It’s this deranged dichotomy that works both for and against The New York Ripper. This is a movie where half of what’s onscreen truly satisfies, while the other part seems purposefully set on destroying everything that came before. The mystery is mangled in a series of false leads, ridiculous red herrings, narrative u-turns, and any other perplexing plot pointing the script can offer. On the other hand, the performances win us over, Fulci mixing his cast between accomplished Americans (Jack Hedley, Howard Ross) and Italian imports (Andrea Occhipinti, Paolo Malco). As with most of his films, his female leads are rather weak, passive in their ability to stand on their own. Almanta Suska, as Fay, has a hard time balancing the demands of the role with the reality of the situation. She’s supposed to be a prime suspect, yet never comes across as anything other than whiny and confused.

Sadly, Fulci left us in 1996, meaning that most home theater content must rely on experts and other so-called scholars to fill in the filmmaker’s many creative blanks. That being said, Blue Underground does very little with this release, simply providing some basic information and leaving it at that. The image upgrade is startling, definitely worth the investment. The 1080p, 2.35:1 widescreen image is crisp and clean, with minimal grain and lots of tacky early ‘80s coloring. The new HD mix, offered in dynamic 7.1 DTS, also opens up the film, allowing for more metropolitan ambience and big city atmosphere.

As for bonus features, we get a look at the New York locations (then and now), and an interview with actress Zora Kerova. Toss in a trailer and that’s it. Certainly, there is someone out in the fright fan ether that can comment on how the filmmaker came to helm this particular project (he had been on an international roll ever since Zombi in 1979). While always a journeyman, Fulci did hold some particular ambitions, and it would be interesting to learn where The New York Ripper fit into these crazy career plans.

Of course, as the years go by, and as the ‘Net expands in the appreciation of the wrongfully marginalized, Lucio Fulci may yet find his place among the horror beloved. Of course, you have to get past all the cheesy comedies, weirdo westerns, and other genre jumps the director created over his decades in the industry. The New York Ripper doesn’t help or hurt his cause, mostly because blood blots out the substantial shortcomings. Still, if you really want to see what this director is all about, take a gander at his straight ahead horror romps. They are much more satisfying from a fright and filth standpoint. Films like this one are not really an anomaly. But they do underscore the reason why Fulci remains a valued, if underappreciated auteur.

by Rob Horning

26 Sep 2009

Will Wilkinson highlighted this paragraph about economism and behavioral economics from the FT’s Economists Forum blog:

Behavioural economists have uncovered much evidence that market participants do not act like conventional economists would predict “rational individuals” to act. But, instead of jettisoning the bogus standard of rationality underlying those predictions, behavioral economists have clung to it. They interpret their empirical findings to mean that many market participants are irrational, prone to emotion, or ignore economic fundamentals for other reasons. Once these individuals dominate the “rational” participants, they push asset prices away from their “true” fundamental values.

This helped me clarify in my own mind the muddle I’ve been in about the ideology of “perfect markets” and how that ideal is possibly used ideologically. The economists quoted, Roman Frydman and Michael Goldberg, seem to lay it out pretty clearly. At the behest of most economists, neoclassical or behavioral or otherwise, we’ve fallen into the habit of elevating what economists normatively deem rational to the only true form of rationality, while ignoring what human behavior seems to suggest should be called “rational”—that is, what ordinary people tend to do when confronted with various incentives or dilemmas.

And the motivating force behind all this is the effort to isolate “true” asset values—a quest that has had an ignominious journey through the history of political economy as Justin Fox’s The Myth of the Rational Market well documents. (For what it’s worth, I reviewed that book here.) “True” asset values underpin the financial sector, motivate its investment strategies and analysis. The pursuit of them keeps money circulating, which keeps economies growing (on paper, anyway).

Determining what constitutes value has vexed economists from the beginning of the discipline. Marx’s Capital is essentially a long meditation on the origin of “surplus value” as it arises out of exploited labor—a notion that depends on his definition of value as socially necessary labor time. The labor theory of value has been discarded by economists in favor of marginalism, which to remain coherent requires a human subject that exhibits the sort of “rationality” behavioral economists are undermining. 

The alternative (and I am not entirely sure it is prefereable) would seem to be to render “rational” those “other reasons” that people have for behaving—the decision-making approaches that are not driven by straightforward utility calculus. That means returning to a morality or an ethos that is not based on the market but on other norms of human interaction, ones that evolve not from impersonality (the market’s liberating feature) but from integrative social ties. The danger is that this would reinstitute tribalism and ethnocentirism as the source of norms—a return to feudalism or something worse instead of the development toward cosmopolitanism that arguably the globalization of market forces has ushered in.

by Tyler Gould

25 Sep 2009

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
Summer of Fear
(Saddle Creek)
Releasing: 20 October

His self-titled 2007 debut won hearts and minds with high-stakes, melodramatic folk-rock tunes like “Buriedfed”. The passion is still there in “The Sound”, from his autobiographical sophomore LP, Summer of Fear. He sings, “Why would I try to hate on anyone else? / It’s a hard enough time just trying to hate myself.”

SONG LIST
01 Shake a Shot
02 Always an Anchor
03 The Sound
04 Hard Row
05 Trap Door
06 The 100th of March
07 Summer of Fear pt 1
08 Death by Dust
09 Summer of Fear pt 2
10 Losing 4 Winners
11 More than a Mess
12 Boat

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
The Sound [MP3]
     

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