Friday, August 31, 2012

Morning Eastwood

Video of Clint Eastwood's RNC speech.:

    The saddest headline of the morning is what I just saw on the front page of for a news video;

    Sometimes you imagine an iconic film maker/actor getting out of their comfort zone and attempting something edgy and avant gard , something steeped in a High Modernist aesthetic.

     Eastwood might   be further around the curve than I might have imagined. Rather than do a Beckett play, he instead morphed into a one man Beckett production, a self contained diorama of babbling alienation. This is the imagination of bad results, testimony to life replaying conversations on broken tape machines. What this had to do with what President Obama has done right or wrong is besides the point; what this reveals about politics is non existent. What this has to do with is staring too long at the intersection thinking that there is a face in the easy chair across the room that is listening to your views and inserting their own remarks,

    Is this is a man walking backwards into genius?

      Monday, August 27, 2012

      Norman Mailer’s movies: Revisiting Maidstone, Wild 90, and Beyond the Law - Slate Magazine

      Norman Mailer’s movies: Revisiting Maidstone, Wild 90, and Beyond the Law - Slate Magazine:
      Norman Mailer's experimental narratives will remain intriguing curiousities , examples of what happens when a brilliant writer attempts to conquer another medium that he has no natural affinity with. Mailer could talk a good game, to be sure, and he demonstrated skill as a film critic--his essay on "Last Tango in Paris" is especially sharp and eloquant on the task of getting to an existential moment within a developing storyline--but his improvisational forays seemed stoned and foolish. "Tough Guys Don;t Dance", not a film I recommend looking for a satisfying murder mystery, does rise above the rest for having a budget and some professional polish. It is awkward, but it does have wierdness to it that Mailer might have developed, ala David Lynch.Lynch, though,has his own problems , with  dead camera tonality descending , with continued viewing, from strangeness  to mere tedium.  

      Friday, August 24, 2012

      History of prog: The Nice, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and other bands of the 1970s. - Slate Magazine

      History of prog: The Nice, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and other bands of the 1970s. - Slate Magazine:

      This was a genre that had so much instrumental activity for so little music that was genuinely pleasurable. The conceit had been that rock had advanced to the degree that it was indeed an art form, concert music, in both the instrumental and lyric sense. This yielded some nice and clever albums and individual tunes that still endure, but in all the mass result was bloat, pretentiousness, ersatz mysticism or bargain bin despair; it was not fun and it was work to listen to. What is amazing is how much work many of us did trying to convince ourselves that most of this material would last beyond our lifetimes. It hasn't. Slate does a nice series detailing the history of the rise and fall and the contents of the progressive rock we all used to love .

      I remember the conversations with Steve Esmedina and David Zielinski and George Varga about this stuff; only Esmo defended progressive rock as a genre, on its own terms. I always thought the style was hit or miss for the most part, with the misses, the extended, busy and aimless constructions that occupied the air more than made it sweeter, becoming the norm, rapidly. There were prog rock bands I liked, those being most of King Crimson's career in all their line ups, Yes up to the Fragile album, and smatterings of Jethro Tull, ELP, and so on. What is missing from the story is anything about the American equivalent of British progressive rock; not Kansas or other bands directly copying the Euro style, but rather the likes of Zappa, Captain Beeheart, Steely Dan, Little Feat--the list could go on, of course--but these personalities and bands had the usual devices going for them, like tricky time signatures, off the wall lyrics, impressive instrumental chops, longish and dense arrangements.

       The key distinction, though, was the American tradition of blues, jazz and rhythm and blues came to merge very heavily into a mixture that included classical music as a matter of course--what resulted, though, is something altogether different and, I think, a damn sight weirder and less same-sounding than what the Brits were, in time, manufacturing like so many widgets. Let us not forget our glory days of rock/fusion : MILES DAVIS, WEATHER REPORT, TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME,GARY BURTON, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, RETURN TO FOREVER; love it or hate it, jazz musicians took up rock dynamics and created a sound that was a fleet, dissonant and complex response to the tinker toy music Europe sent to us. Sure enough, the American version   of  progressive rock became another version of slick commercialism ,  resembling  the dissonance and explosive virtuosity of the early days and evolving to ever more simple forms, resulting  at last in that horrid genre called smooth jazz.

      Wednesday, August 22, 2012

      'Justice League' #12: DC reveals Super Man's new Woman -- EXCLUSIVE | Shelf Life |

      'Justice League' #12: DC reveals Super Man's new Woman -- EXCLUSIVE | Shelf Life |

      This is a perfect development for the New 52 rebooting of the Superman universe--Lois Lane had been an imperiled paper doll for decades who was busy having her haplass presence rescued by Superman. She was an interesting character, used more as device to impede Superman's ongoing mission to fight for truth, justice and ...Now that she's free of Superman, DC writers can develop her character in ways they couldn't before. And since the new version of Superman emphasises his "otherness", his feeling of feeling apart from the human race he has sworn to protect, it is more realistic and dramatically compelling the he find attraction to some one likewise super-powered and sharing Superman;s alienation. It makes sense as well that he should have a partner who wouldn't be destroyed in the act of love making.

      Wednesday, August 15, 2012

      Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson: Watch the full Tonight Show interview. (VIDEO)

      Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson: Watch the full Tonight Show interview. (VIDEO):

      Ayn Rand is a one trick pony and an effective marketer of snake oil. The key is that her alleged philosophy has only one premise that things would be so much better had humanity not strayed from the Path it was intended to be on. Whether it lies in the cruder readings of Marx and Engels and the vulgar literalism that overtakes the Religious Right, these are variations on the Fall from Grace trope. It is a simple paradigm, simply presented, that presents a powerful and seductive reason for why things are not perfect. It is a fantastically reductionist movement that, although Rand protests that no one, not even the State, may initiate force against another to compel him or her to act against their own judgment, Rand's dogma isn't workable, even in the most botched and disastrous application, unless the absolutist policies favorable to her ends find implementation in a manner that brutishly and none so subtly exclude an opposing view.

      The inevitable result of her views and the views of her followers is to establish an authoritarian regime, with rights and privileges restricted to those with money, land, industry at their full disposal. Rand as much argued this in her writings. Now is the time for all of us to imagine the sheer hell an America governed by Randroids would be like. Bear in mind that I am talking about Rand's ideas and her followers and not about the Libertarian Movement in general. Rand has spent a good amount of her writings arguing who should have power and who should not, and regardless of the finer points of her grating prose, it comes down to that those with the business genius, which is to say downright ruthlessness, are the only ones who have the natural right to shape the world in which they live. Others are no consequence; it is implicit that others in the culture, the majority of us, must be subservient to those who build corporate edifices to their self-defined greatness. This comes across as authoritarian and calling it something else or claiming that it isn’t so does not change the matter that life for the rest of us, under Rand regime, would be Hobbesian nightmare, nasty , brutish and short.

      It's fitting. Rand was nasty, brutish and short.

      Ayn Rand continues to infuriate the left, because she clearly identified the basic and crucial political issue of our age: capitalism versus socialism, or freedom versus statism. “

      Ayn Rand famously presented herself as an atheist in her desire to be branded an intellectual, and yet the diagnosis she presents as to what the defining and most crucial issue facing America as a country and culture,, "free vs. statism", is a trope she borrowed from the Bible and it's fables of end times, of the war between Heaven and Hell being fought here on earth through the human agents for God and Satan. This Manichean view demonstrates the laziness of her thinking. Not that this habit of borrowing particulars from the narrative template Christian orthodox places upon us is limited to rigidly Hard Right demagogues; erstwhile atheist philosopher Karl Marx foresaw the end of history as process where, after achieving through violent revolution the "dictatorship of the proletariat", the State would wither away and the world and the people within in would be restored to a pre-Capitalist state of naturalness. Among both their sets of codified ideas are a great many notions taken from other sources, and the presentation of their ideas into comprehensible arguments entails rummaging through the same stock of rhetorical devices and sleights of hand. The upshot of all this, of course, is that it feeds beautifully to a population that desires an answer to the over arching question that consists of When Did Things Go Wrong?

       You can find an answer for ever No one is arguing against property rights; rather one is arguing against a belief system that insists to the exclusion of all other evidence that it is morally wrong for property owners to be held accountable for what they do with their property, or that there should be enforceable standards and limits on what can be done with that property lest it seriously and dangerously conflict with --gasp!--the greater good. When the hack architect Keating in The Fountainhead breaks his promise to Roark and allows government bureaucrats to alter the design he (Roark) ghost-designed for him, Roark feels betrayed and personally violated by the forces he abhors and takes it upon himself, by reason of him being a self-motivated and self-contained creator, to ignore the Law and all shared sense of decency and avenge his hurt feelings by destroying the finished destruction of the public housing project. 

      The shelter and elevated standard of living it would have provided the poor and needful was of no consequence--the solipsistic principles Roark lived by needed to be enforced over all else. Roark's long and one-note speech at the end of The Fountainhead is a fairly good outline of the Objectivist point of view, and with it Roark defends his action. There was a disturbance in the balance of things, much as it goes in classical tragedy, and only an act of severe violence, unmindful of what death might occur as a result, could put the balance right again. Roark here is conspicuously Rand's mouthpiece, a sock puppet peddling her peculiar brand of inverted morality; the implication is clear, conspicuous, very plain indeed: should the work of genius creators like Roark be interfered or changed, the creator reserves the right to become to rise above the petty, slave morality laws of common society and commit an act of TERRORISM to keep his point clear. This is not merely a fictional spiel intended to tie up loose plot threads, it is a serious if deluded argument meant to be taken seriously by the reader. Roark is very much a fictional creation whose example we are meant to be inspired by. ...more

      Tuesday, August 14, 2012

      Books and their secrets

      Thinking that books should have secrets like people do implies that you think books are very much people in the first place; the further implication is that books have their own private agendas to execute upon the world by way their readership.

      Books, if they had personalities and whims and manifest duties independent of the men and women who wrote them, would have no duties other than to be an enthralling, pleasurable reading adventure, the preferred result for the reader being an experience that challenges and shakes their assumptions, perhaps even depresses them a little, but which leaves them resilient above all else.
      The writer is not obliged to make his fictions cohere with anyone's enforced standards of content and result; otherwise it would cease to be fiction, that is art, and become instead a lie, that is propaganda. The secrets books remain secrets until the pages are read. Quality control is impossible, though, and not all secrets are created equal. Many secrets are dull, tacky, tawdry, inane altogether. Not every sin is spectacular , not every indiscretion is evil, not every thought of mendacity is , in itself, worth of another world war, or even a disapproving slant of the head and  crosseyed frown.

      The more exciting secrets, the truly enthralling ones, even in the context of a novel, can make you wonder if you're any better off for knowing what indecent things a writer was purging in character garb.

      Thursday, August 9, 2012

      Bleaky, batty and brilliant

      The Dark Knight Rises has inspired a dedicated coterie of nay sayers who complain that the film is a lugubrious  bore, muddled in plot and spectacularly pedestrian in superhuman feats; considering that the director is Christopher Nolan , an artist who chases bad ideas with the same meticulous ambition he pursues good ones, the charge might have credibility if one hadn't seen the film.
      Chris Nolan's last film "Inception" was a superb example of what this director does with an idea when he decides to worry the notion and overwork it to the extent that it becomes a slow, waddling crawl of a film bloated with intellectual pretensions that cease to be parts of an intricate premise and more a case of a screenwriters who have fallen in love with the sound of their own voice In other words, this auteur of bleak proves himself capable of being hung with the many strands of his own ideas--so many loose strings left untied. "Dark Knight Rises", though, benefits greatly for having comic books as its source material, a form that demands a leaner, straight forward narrative.
      Not that TDKR is a simple tale--it's a murky terrain of moral ambivalence, self doubt and ambivalent morality--but Nolan provides a masterful tone to all of this, a noirish brooding contained in this film's dark corners, and moves along the plot points at a relatively brisk pace, considering the length of the film. It is a murky film, but it is an epic murk, a series of catastrophes wherein in it appears that not just the characters fight for what it is good and decent in this world, but also the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, struggling to free itself of many foul diseases that have invaded its body politic. The Dark Knight Rises has a Gotham City that is a noble force battling every bit of foulness a malevolent universe can toss at it. It is an epic tale and to witness this is enthralling. Nolan, who can indeed be pretentious and vague in his work, did well, very well this time out.

      Tuesday, August 7, 2012

      Making a living

      Rock and roll is all about professionalism , which is to say that some one of the alienated and consequently alienating species trying to make their way in the world subsisting on the seeming authenticity of their anger, ire and anxiety has to make sure that they take care of their talent, respect their audiences expectations even as they try to make the curdled masses learn something new, and to makes sure that what they are writing about /singing about/yammering about is framed in choice riffs and frenzied backbeat. It is always about professionalism; the MC5 used to have manager John Sinclair, story goes, turn off the power in middle of one of their teen club gigs in Detroit to make it seem that the Man was trying to shut down their revolutionary oomph. The 5 would get the crowd into frenzy, making noise on the dark stage until the crowd was in a sufficient ranting lather. At that point Sinclair would switch the power back on and the band would continue, praising the crowd for sticking it to the Pigs.
      This was pure show business, not actual revolutionary fervor inspired by acne scars and blue balls; I would dare say that it had its own bizarre integrity, and was legitimate on terms we are too embarrassed to discuss. In a way, one needs to admire bands like the Stones or Aerosmith for remembering what it was that excited them when they were younger, and what kept their fan base loyal.  All I would say is that it's not a matter of rock and roll ceasing to be an authentic trumpet of the troubled young soul once it became a brand; rather, rock and roll has always been a brand once white producers, record company owners and music publishers got a hold of it early on and geared a greatly tamed version of it to a wide and profitable audience of white teenagers. In any event, whether most of the music being made by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and others was a weaker version of what was done originally by Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters et al is beside the point. It coalesced, all the same, into a style that perfectly framed an attitude of restlessness among mostly middle class white teenagers who were excited by the sheer exotica, daring and the sense of the verboten the music radiated. It got named, it got classified, the conventions of its style were defined, and over time, through both record company hype and the endless stream of Consciousness that most white rock critics produced, rock and roll became a brand. It was always a brand once it was removed from the black communities and poor Southern white districts from which it originated. I have no doubt that the artist's intention , in the intervening years, was to produce a revolution in the conscious of their time with the music they wrote and performed, but the decision to be a musician was a career choice at the most rudimentary level, a means to make a living or, better yet , to get rich. It is that rare to non-existent musician who prefers to remain true to whatever vaporous sense of integrity and poor.
      Even Chuck Berry, in my opinion the most important singer-songwriter musician to work in rock and roll--Berry, I believe , created the template with which all other rock and rollers made their careers in music--has described his songwriting style as geared for young white audiences. Berry was a man raised on the music of Ellington and Louie Jardin, strictly old school stuff, and who considered himself a contemporary of Muddy Waters, but he was also an An entrepreneur as well as an artist. He was a working artist who rethought his brand and created a new one; he created something wholly new, a combination of rhythm and blues, country guitar phrasing and narratives that wittily, cleverly, indelibly spoke to a collective experience that had not been previously served.
       Critics and historians have been correct in callings this music Revolutionary, in that it changed the course of music, but it was also a Career changes. All this, though, does not make what the power of Berry's music--or the music of Dylan, Beatles , Stones, MC5, Bruce or The High Fiving White Guys --false , dishonest, sans value altogether. What I concern myself with is how well the musicians are writing, playing, singing on their albums, with whether they are inspired, being fair to middling', or seem out of ideas, out of breath; it is a useless and vain activity to judge musicians, or whole genres of music by how well they/it align themselves with a metaphysical standard of genuine, real, vital art making. That standard is unknowable and those putting themselves of pretending they know what it is are improvising at best. This is not a coherent way to enjoy music. One is assuming that one does, or at one time did, enjoy music. . What matters are the products--sorry, even art pieces, visual, musical, dramatic, poetic, are "product" in the strictest sense of the word--from the artists successful in what they set out to do. The results are subjective, of course, but art is nothing else than means to provoke a response, gentle or strongly and all grades in between, and critics are useful in that they can make the discussion of artistic efforts interesting. The only criticism that interests are responses from reviewers that are more than consumer guides--criticism , on its own terms in within its limits, can be as brilliant and enthralling as the art itself. And like the art itself, it can also be dull, boring, stupid, and pedestrian. The quality of critics varies; their function in relation to art, however, is valid. It is a legitimate enterprise. Otherwise we'd be treating artists like they were priests. God forbid.

      Monday, August 6, 2012

      Endorsement: Clint Eastwood makes Romney’s day | The Salt Lake Tribune

      Endorsement: Clint Eastwood makes Romney’s day | The Salt Lake Tribune:

      Eastwood is one of my favorite directors, and it's frustrating when a hero endorses a candidate who espouses policies that essentially embody a meanness of spirit. Eastwood is a well known Republican, of course, but I had thought that he would have no truck with Romney, who has turned into a sock puppet for Wall Street and the Tea Party. The irony of this match up shouldn’t be lost on anyone; Eastwood, who has had a long career in movies portraying characters of genuine integrity and honesty, has endorsed a politician who has shifted,waffled, and misrepresented his political positions during this campaign in a conspicuous effort to say anything in order to attain power.  In effect, Hollywood’s Last Rugged Hero has taken up the cause of of a candidate who is a wrenching combination of Thurston Howell 3rd and Walter Mitty.  Republicans have always been about rugged individualism, and it's not a surprise that he aligns himself, philosophical, with the GOP's legacy bootstrap philosophy. But lately these fellows have just been mean, creepy social Darwinists in general, heartless bastards.  

      Eastwood never struck  me  a  mean guy, but rather  as a man with compassion for human suffering. Suffering may be inevitable in our lifetimes, but there are things we can do for each other to increase a sense of community, a sense of serving a greater goal.It is a revelation that a man who has demonstrated real genius as a film maker--Eastwood-- seems to be falling back more on Party loyalty rather than supporting a candidate with real principles.

      This makes the work of separating Eastwood's art from his politics problematic; it does, of course, introduce the notion that his best films have a political dimension, disguised under narrative diversions, that are not quite the Universal Truth of Human Experience liberal fans like me flock to when praising the director's films
       Eastwood's skill, honed over a long career, is that he has an instinct for a compelling human story and that he is especially adept at creating a framework where his direction is subtle, nearly invisible .           

      He is technically able , but not showy. A strong script and a strong cast is what makes this man an amazing director. He may not be the most nuanced political thinker, but he does appreciate the nuances of emotion and human frailty in times of struggle. We will just have to take what we like and disregard the rest for later reference, I suppose.

      Wednesday, August 1, 2012


      Gore Vidal will be missed because he was, perhaps, the last of the Great Public Intellectuals with the ability to discourse knowledgeably on an impressive variety of inter-related subjects. Let's say right here that Vidal isn't, of course, the last intellectual who will attempt to conquer all media and become on the few anointed by the Infotainment State to appear with bright elucidations on the variety of platforms available in a demonstration of Marcuseque tolerance that resists the codifications which allow corporate coffers to swell. There a number of others who can talk up a good contrarian view on a number of subjects, but none of them are as entertaining as Vidal had been, the cynic, the Wildean wit puncturing holes in the thin balloons of bullshit that his way. His presence on the talk shows throughout my childhood, admittedly, helped formed my progressive views and instructed me, more or less, to think harder on subjects, to be skeptical, to think critically, to be willing to change my mind based on new evidence; all that was good enough on the face of it, but that was essentially a side benefit of paying attention to what Vidal was, in fact, which was an entertainer, another distraction, a decent enough man to utter views half way critical of a racist/misogynist/ /homophobic status quo  who would not, all the same, dissuade viewers from purchasing the sponsor's products. It was a racket and Vidal knew it. But his performances on the talk shows did inspire me to read his books, which makes me thankful that the talk shows of the time--Carson, Cavett, Griffin, Mike Douglas--booked serious American writers as guests , a class of introverts who spoke of great things and ideas while the camera was on them and which, in turn, pushed me to the bookstore, the library sale, the library stacks to get their books. We can run down the list of items he had a nuanced opinion on literature, politics, antiquity, American history, film, particular and peculiar aspects, niches and submerged terrains of popular culture and the currents that ran under it. He was the man to read whenever a new essay appeared or a new novel appeared on the new release table in a local bookstore. He was a lively, challenging read.

      Still, there was something about Vidal that struck me as being a mile wide and an inch deep; there are points in both his essays and the many, many interviews he gave where he would cite the same facts, make the same sweeping declarations, offer the same crowd-pleasing diagnosis as to what exactly the matter with American at large happens to be and the same crowd soothing prognosis for the country, citizens and culture at large if his advice were heeded; Vidal would often sprinkle his views with scattered facts, but he rarely cited his sources, rarely delved into a matter and provided substantial, vetted analysis of many of things he spoke. As with many people I've met over the decades, Vidal seemed to be a brilliant writer who can make provocative and well-structured speculations to the origins of our lust for power and the cultural and institutional disguises we disguise our ambition with, but remaining, by and large, an intriguing conversationalist, the center of every cocktail party who offers things more quotable than useful as regards policy.

       That being said, allow me to insist that I agreed with most of what Vidal noted and recommended for the country. Vidal was a novelist, most of all, especially brilliant and grossly underrated by critics who were condescending even when they were giving his books favorable reviews. And I think his intellectual legacy will be less the political writings for which he most noted for and more for the large body of literary criticism and book reviews he wrote during his lifetime. He was a first-rate literary intelligence, powerful, insightful, able to detect fakes, fads, and balderdash in the work of other novelists who were trying too hard to be unique. I am grateful to him for a long essay he wrote reappraising the career of novelist Dawn Powell, author of "The Locusts Have No King" and other novels; she is, as Vidal wrote, the best American comic novelist of the 20th century. His essay helped bring her books back into print. I wound up being doubly blessed, being a man who had the honor of reading both Vidal and Powell in the same lifetime.