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Wednesday, Nov 14, 2007

I love miniature golf, the more preposterous the holes the better. I like loop-de-loops, rotating obstacles, crossing wood-plank bridges over moats, the whole thing. I even played a glow-in-the dark goofy golf course in some dingy cellar on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls.


But though I like a healthy amount of chance mixed into my mini golf, I still play to win. When I used to go down to a friend’s beach house in Ocean City, New Jersey, we became dork aficionados of the many boardwalk courses and eventually got to the point where we’d bring our own putters and balls to the courses, to up the level of competition (and to perhaps compensate for the edge taken away by the beverages that were also brought along). But no matter how geeky we got, we never approached the level of the men profiled in this Wall Street Journal story by Charles Forelle about competitive minature golf, as it’s played in Scandinavia.


In Europe, competitors like Mr. Ryner play a rigorously pure form of miniature golf. Course designs are more Mies van der Rohe than Myrtle Beach—clean lines, crisp angles, geometric obstacles. There are no garden gnomes astride the mini fairways. No toy windmills. No water hazards teeming with plywood crocodiles. Here, minigolf is an athletic fugue of golf and billiards, a challenge of precision and consistency.


I was shocked to discover that these hardcore minigolfers have a range of balls that they use for different surfaces and different angles, and that they can hit shots with deliberate spin. They even go to the trouble of heating or cooling balls when necessary to get the right amount of bounce off the walls.


Forelle maintains throughout the perfect A-hed-story tone of haute seriousness (“athletic fugue” is genius), but what makes the story priceless is the quotes collected from the stern Europeans who compete with such rigorous purity.


Minigolf requires stamina and precise control. Most of all, it takes mental fortitude, says Hans Bergström, a computer specialist at Volvo and president of the European Minigolfsport Federation. “You have a very small muscle movement that makes the difference. If you cannot control your nerves, you will get it wrong,” he says. “The very best players in the world are ice-cold men.”


What does this say about the Swedes and Germans who seem to dominate the sport?


To grow the sport in America, some entrepreneurs are encouraging enlivening the sport with goofier holes. But one of the champions is not pleased with the idea that courses will become more gimmicky to make the sport more enticing and perhaps televisable (and if you’ve read this far I definitely recommend you watch all the clips on the WSJ’s interactive video feature):


Walter Erlbruch bristles at the memory of a round of American-style minigolf. The passing blades of a windmill scooped up putted balls and flung them into a pool. “Luck,” sniffs Mr. Erlbruch. “If you make a nonsense of my sport, I don’t like it.”



I’m sure somewhere in America, miniature golf is played with this level of intensity, but it never managed to reach even the level of horseshoes in terms of respectability here as an adult game. That’s probably because it tends to be a family activity, meaning competitors are at unequal levels of ability. This encourages course designs that negate the role of talent, or else it makes adult players not to get too hung up on playing well in order to keep it “fun” for everyone—so they play down to the level of the kid who’s whacking the ball around with no conception of the rules or the purpose of keeping score. Also, it’s probably never caught on with adults here because, unlike, say, bowling or darts, drinking is not usually integrated with playing minigolf. Mini golf courses—inexplicably, to my mind—don’t typically have bars on site. You are discouraged from beer drinking while putt-putting, which is strange considering how commonplace drinking is on real golf courses, where players typically have to pilot motor vehicles around and send flying projectiles through the air with as much velocity as they can muster. But then, my pleasure in minigolf may strictly be a nostalgic thing for childhood, when cutthroat competition meant trying to get the ball in the clown’s nose for a free game, not trying to make sure you weren’t forced to work overtime without compensation just to keep your job.


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Wednesday, Nov 14, 2007

After Paste magazine decided to follow Radiohead’s lead and offer their magazine for a pay-what-you-want price, Premiere Guitar magazine is now doing the same.  What’s fascinating about this is that: 1) the publishing world is picking up on a music industry model, 2) there’s only speculative results back about how well Radiohead did though it’s believed that they raked in mucho bucks, no matter how many people downloaded for free.  Granted that like the music industry, the publishing industry is also in desperate straights right now, also flailing around to find a sustainable model.  Granted, these kind of moves are good for publicity and to shoot up subscription bases (which can be turned into increased ad dollars) but as you see here, it is a gimmick that gets you noticed.  The question now is, will this be a winning model for the magazine biz?


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007

Just in from the New York Times:


Ira Levin, a mild-mannered playwright and novelist who liked nothing better than to give people the creeps — and who did so repeatedly, with best-selling novels like Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil—died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 78.



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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007


Damn but the late Doris Wishman was a cinematic saint. She can entertain with a random shot of feet, or whisk us away on clouds of craziness with just a moment of badly processed post-production dubbing. In a motion-picture oeuvre that contained such breathless exploitation classics as Bad Girls Go to Hell, Another Day, Another Man, Gentleman Prefer Nature Girls, Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, Nude on the Moon, Double Agent 73, and Deadly Weapons, she never once established a single shred of celluloid logic. Her efforts frequently felt like fever dreams produced by too many Rob Roys, an excess of butt steaks, and untold hours sniffing sweat-accented Jean Nate. With stories centering around taboos and their imminent busting together with copious amounts of carnality, Wishman forged a name for herself in a realm where gals were typically given nothing more than a chauvinistic smack on the can. Later on, she would explore the outer reaches of the risqué, dominating the violence-tinged “Roughie” before heading into full-blown hardcore porno mode. But there was always an innocence in what this grindhouse pioneer proposed, a subtext that suggested that, no matter the circumstances, our heroines were genuinely good girls corrupted by the pasty, paternalistic forces of the male-dominated universe. In many ways, Wishman wasn’t just the first feminist—she was Bella Abzug with a Bolex.


It’s a typical sunny day in a pre-‘60s Miami. Duke, a dastardly criminal with robbery on his mind, cons his less than felonious brother Steve into holding up a local banking institution. They argue about it a lot while on the way. The heist goes off without a hitch, but their planned rendezvous to retrieve another getaway car ends in engine trouble. Desperate, they carjack dishy dame Dorothy. Duke wants a ride to somewhere safe while he works out travel arrangement to Cuba with a bewildered boat captain. Steve is more interested in something soft and sensual. When they arrive at Dorothy’s Country Club, it turns out to be a nudist colony. The thugs are initially horrified. Crime is one thing, but bare bodies??? While Duke stays in the room and frets like a ferret, Steve is invited to become one of the many sun-worshippers enjoying the clean living and healthy lifestyle. As numerous naked people frolic and gad about, our potential paramours become much, much closer. Of course, big brother just wants his trip to pre-Castro country, and is brandishing a gun to get it. But when love blooms, especially in a place where wholesomeness and natural beauty thrive, evil cannot win. This is one Hideout in the Sun that may end one goon’s larcenous career - and save another one’s soul.


Hideout in the Sun, the director’s first-ever film (and in color at that), is definitely a throwback to her goody-two-shoes days. Lacking anything remotely randy and giving equal time to both the actual nudists and the professional models hired to play topless, this is early raincoat-crowd fodder at its most tame and blameless. With the Supreme Court ruling that the inherent medical nature of the lifestyle lifted the otherwise solid smut tag, Hideout plays like baby steps into the brazen. It was Wishman’s debut, and yet the recognizable mise-en-mess that would symbolize her cinema is firmly in place. We get shots of shoes, dialogue delivered by individuals off-screen, carefully placed towels and beach balls, as well as numerous sequences of unclothed honeys sitting around, posing. Hideout amplifies some of these soon-to-be clichés as Wishman places lead Dolores Carlos in a fountain setting and lets delightfully dancing waters give her figure a noticeable dowsing. Of course, where there are nudists, there’s volleyball and swimming, and the obvious lack of athleticism is laughable. The guys cavort like girls, and the girls resemble infants just learning to lift their heads. It’s all part of the genre’s ditzy dynamic, and it’s a certifiable scream.

The lawless on the lam narrative, however, is less than successful. Duke is so highly and tightly wound he gives off metaphysical five o’clock shadow sparks. Steve, on the other hand, is like a rump roast reanimated with Brylcream. Even in a watery setting, his slicked-back barber hair is an Exxon Valdez waiting to happen. When actor Earl Bauer turns on his heartlight, however, he’s about as suave as a kidney stone. He should be playing a strip-club owner, not a wussed-out armed robbery wannabe with a penchant to acquiesce to his brother’s every wish. The laughable Cuban subplot, featuring non-Hispanic actors in full Jose Jimenez mode, will prickle your PC penchants, and the general lack of looks among the performers and local color will have you wondering what granddad saw in such shoddy sexuality. Of course, it’s important to remember the role exploitation played in cinema’s coming of age. Without films like Hideout in the Sun, movies made to challenge the status quo when it came to potential subject matter, we wouldn’t have had the ‘70s post-modern explosion in film. They took the lumps while Hollywood and its independent cousins reaped the lax rules rewards. Doris Wishman was doubly important in that she proved a woman’s commercial viability among a very male-eccentric marketplace. While Hideout in the Sun may seem docile by today’s standard, it was positively shocking in 1960, for reasons both in front of and behind the camera.


Oddly enough, this title is not released by longtime Wishman supporters, Something Weird Video. Instead, Retro Seduction Cinema, apart of Pop Cinema, is handling the release, and they do a damn fine job. Offered up in a two disc Deluxe edition, we get two different versions of the film (1.33:1 full screen - the proper OAR - and a newly cropped 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen edition), and it looks very good, even if there are abundant age defects and edit issues. One has to remember that a limited number of prints were struck of these demographically specific movies, and to find one in pristine shape is next to impossible. After traveling around the country for years, suffering the snips and clips of various community standards, that a copy exists÷period - is pretty amazing. Thanks to a digital revamp, the colors are bright, the details deliberate, and the skin tones nice and pasty. It definitely recalls flesh peddling of the early exploitation era.


Sadly, the sonic situation is the same as well. The Dolby Digital Mono is maintained expertly, the title song a hilarious mishmash of jerkwad jazz and lounge lizarding. As for bonus features, we get a commentary with Wishman biographer Michael Bowen (good, if a tad to centered on the man himself), an audio-only interview with the director herself (classic!) and a talk with grindhouse producer extraordinaire David F. Friedman (too short, but sensational nonetheless). Along with postcards from a nudist colony, a 1960 newsreel, a Retro-Seduction Cinema trailer vault, and a wonderful booklet containing articles and Q&A, this is an excellent digital package.


One day, Doris Wishman will be celebrated as the evocative, experimental, avant-garde directorial diva she clearly was. Until then, those of us already in the know can settle in with a selection of her notorious No Wave classics. Thanks to DVD, we can now add Hideout in the Sun to her legacy’s list. It’s a solid sunbathing enchantment.


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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Carbon/Silicon —"What the Fuck"
From The Last Post on Caroline Records
     


Filled with top-notch songwriting, propulsive energy and artfully biting lyrics, The Last Post is the rollicking debut uniting punk rock icons Mick Jones (Clash, Big Audio Dynamite) and Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik). Friends since 1975, Jones and James began writing together in 2002, the same year Mick produced The Libertines’ groundbreaking debut. With the addition of Leo ‘E-zee-Kill’Williams (Big Audio Dynamite, Dreadzone) on bass and Dominic Greensmith (Reef) on drums, the band gave away a few MP3s on their website, released a few singles and started gigging around. Produced by Mick and Tony and mixed by the legendary Bill Price (Clash, Sex Pistols, Pretenders), The Last Post is a roaring, unruly and infectious return to form that will please and excite fans old and new.


The Radishes —"Good Machine"
From Good Machine
     


The Radishes are a San Francisco/Los Angeles based band with a sound that has been described as Nirvana meets Motorhead. Other influences include such high-energy units as The White Stripes, The Stooges, Ministry, The Hives, Arctic Monkeys, Scratch Acid, and NIN, with hooky, angular guitar lines, ferocious vocals, and a unique, darkly ironic approach to songwriting.


Saturday Looks Good To Me —"Make A Plan"
From Fill Up the Room on K Records
     


Saturday Looks Good To Me is the songs and experiments of Michigan-born songwriter and producer Fred Thomas. Without ever straying from the goal of making perfect pop songs, this record draws deeper into a vault of personal feelings and intimate musical expressions, taking risks and trying to be as honest as possible. All the sounds are warm and urgent, joyful and kind of nervous, like an eerie celebration that starts right after something really horrible has happened. Lush string sections and electric piano lines dance with washed-out samples and bits of tape collages. Bouncy Smiths-like guitar lines stop abruptly and give way to white album-esque melodies. Wordless voices rise up at once then fall away; everything has its place.


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