Saturday, December 31, 2005
2 - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five ~ The Message
3 - Latryx ~ Lady Don't Tek No
4 - Dr. Dre ~ Nuthin' But a" G" Thang
5 - N.W.A. ~ Straight Outta Compton
6 - Public Enemy ~ Rebel Without a Pause
7- Sugarhill Gang ~ Rapper's Delight
8- Eric B & Rakim ~ I Know You Got Soul
9 - Gang Starr ~ Full Clip
10 - Public Enemy ~ Public Enemy No. 1
11 - Incredible Bongo Band ~ Apache
12 - Kurtis Blow ~ The Breaks
13 - Ice Cube ~ It Was a Good Day
14 - Schooly D ~ Am I Black Enough For You?
15 - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five ~ Adventures on the Wheels of Steel
16 - Public Enemy ~ Don't Believe the Hype
17 - Eric B & Rakim ~ Follow the Leader
18 - Blackalicious ~ A to G
19 - Souls of Mischief ~ 93 'til Infinity
20 - EPMD ~ Strictly Business
21 - A Tribe Called Quest ~ Electric Relaxation
22 - Tupac ~ California Love
23 - Gang Starr ~ Jazz Thing
24 - Notorious B.I.G. ~ Hypnotize
25 - A Tribe Called Quest ~ Scenario
27 - Cypress Hill ~ How I Could Just Kill a Man
28 - Schooly D ~ Just Another Killer
29 - N.W.A. ~ Fuck tha Police
30 - LL Cool J ~ Goin' Back to Cali
31 - Warren G & Nate Dogg ~ Regulate
32 - Jurassic 5 ~ Quality Control
33 - Digable Planets ~ Nickel Bags of Funk
34 - Snoop Dogg ~ Gin & Juice
35 - Pharcyde ~ Passing Me By
36 - 7A3 ~ That's How We're Livin'
37 - Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg ~ Deep Cover
38 - Hieroglyphics ~ At the Helm
39 - Jurassic 5 ~ Concrete Schoolyard
40 - Lyrics Born feat. KRS-One & Evidence ~ Pack Up (Remix)
41 - N.W.A. ~ 100 Miles and Running
42 - Paris ~ Guerilla Funk
43 - Da Lench Mob ~ Guerillas in the Mist
44 - Eric B & Rakim ~ Paid in Full
45 - Boogie Down Productions ~ South Bronx
46 - Gang Starr ~ Just to Get a Rep
47 - Immortal Technique ~ Crossing the Boundary
48 - Eric Sermon w. Marvin Gaye ~ Music
49 - The Coup ~ Me and Jesus the Pimp
50 - LL Cool J ~ The Boomin' System
52 - N.W.A. ~ Express Yourself
53 - Afrika Bambaataa ~ Planet Rock
54 - Eric B & Rakim ~ Eric B for President
55 - Boogie Down Productions ~ 9mm Goes Bang
56 - Public Enemy ~ Can't Truss It
57 - Immortal Technique ~ You Never Know
58 - Blackalicious ~ Do This My Way
59 - Gold Money ~ Cop 'N' Blow
60 - Kid Frost ~ La Familia
61 - A Tribe Called Quest ~ Bonita Applebum
62 - The Game ~ Westside Story
63 - K-os ~ Superstar Part Zero
64 - Cypress Hill ~ Psycobetabuckdown
65 - Dead Prez ~ Mind Sex
66 - Da Lench Mob ~ Freedom Got an AK
67 - EPMD ~ It's My Thing
68 - Kings of Pressure ~ You Know How to Reach Us
69 - Melle Mel & The Furious Five ~ White Lines (Don't Do It)
70 - Common ~ I Used to Love H.E.R.
71 - Mos Def & Talib Kweli ~ Brown Skin Baby
72 - C.L. Smooth ~ T.R.O.Y.
73 - Geto Boys ~ Mind Playin' Tricks on Me
74 - Immortal Technique ~ Peruvian Cocaine
75 - Sons of Berserk ~ Change the Style
Friday, December 30, 2005
77 - Camp Lo ~ Coolie High
78 - Immortal Technique ~ Caught in a Hustle
79 - Wu-Tang Clan ~ C.R.E.A.M.
80 - Public Enemy ~ By the Time I Get to Arizona
81 ~ Aesop Rock ~ Zodiaccupuncture
82 - Mister Grimm ~ Indosmoke
83 - Blackalicious ~ Alphabet Aerobics
84 - JVC Force ~ Strong Island
85 - Rayzd ~ Apparition
86 - Mantronix ~ King of the Beats
87 - Public Enemy ~ Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
88 - Tupac ~ I Get Around
89 - Yalloppin' Hounds ~ Romantic Thugz
90 - South Park Mexican feat. Kid Frost & Low G ~ El Jugador
91 - Lyrics Born ~ Callin' Out
92 - A Tribe Called Quest ~ Can I Kick It?
93 - The Goats ~ Do the Digs Dug?
94 - Quannum MCs ~ Bombonyall
95 - Cannibal Ox ~ The F Word
96 - Digable Planets ~ Where I'm From
97 - X Clan ~ Funkin' Lesson
98 - MC Solaar ~ Obsolete
99 - Public Enemy ~ Welcome the the Terrordome
100- Eric B & Rakim ~ Know the Ledge
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
The art we once called hip hop has been dead for some time now. But because its rotting carcass has been draped in platinum and propped against a Gucci print car, many of us have missed its demise.
By this point, hip-hop had seemingly metamorphosed from an original and vital art form to a crass cartoon populated exclusively by "hos, guns and money"-fixated, gang-bangin', ho-pimpin' Republican rappers. My view, at the time, from this article:
Proactive “ghetto” entrepreneurs are selling us bogus black culture like a dodgy timeshare in the Costa del Crime. Cheap holidays in other people’s misery flogged by bogus tour guides in bandannas and dungarees. Peddling cartoon versions of recalcitrant criminality, misogyny and stereotypical representations of “ghetto life” is the new Black and White Minstrel Show (for the benefit of Casa del ionesco's non-UK readership: the B&WMS was an excruciatingly patronising "light entertainment" show, aired on the BBC from the late 50s until the late 70s. It "harked back to a specific period and location--the Deep South where coy White women could be seen being wooed by docile, smiling black slaves. The black men were, in fact, White artists "Blacked-up.""), but this time the patronising scam is perpetrated by authentic Harlem hucksters and Compton carnies, such as P Diddy and Suge Knight, rather than whitey. Hence, it’s characterised as “indigenous African-American culture” and must be protected like an endangered species rather than hounded out of house and home like some socially inept dinner guest who keeps grabbing his crotch during the hors d’ouevres. Johnny Cochrane, Snoop, Dre, Mike Tyson, O.J.Simpson, Diddy, Biggy, So Solid Crew et al are at the vanguard of the new consciousness, mining a rich vein of criminality both real and imagined. These playaz are pimpin’ that ghetto vibe while simultaneously dealing from a deck heavily loaded with race cards.By 2003 even Spike Lee, director of the incendiary, Public Enemy-propelled, hip-hop-infused Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, was saying:
"I've always felt you can feel the progress of African Americans by listening to their music," Lee said. "Some of this 'gangsta rap' stuff, it's not doing anybody any good. This stuff is really dangerous."When NWA burst on the scene in 1988 with Straight Outta Compton, "Gangsta Rap" was vital, visceral and transgressive, but, even that ground-breaking crew, in a prelude to the demise of the entire genre, quickly turned into a lame parody of themselves.
In 1992, ex-NWA alumnus Dr. Dre rejuvenated the form, shrewdly repackaging "Gangsta" as "G-Funk", with his mellow, souled-out, groovealicious album The Chronic. Of course, like Carlito's Way's "Benny Blanco from the Bronx", he was merely "refining his operation"/ safeguarding his supply: smuggling the same ol' sociopathic, sexist shtick into the mainstream via a new slick, sugarcoated supply route.
1992 is ancient history in a world where "old school" is the nanosecond before now, but as popular culture expands exponentially, and memes evolve, metastasise and perish in rapidly accelerated life-cycles that make the Mayfly look like Methuselah, hip-hop continues to churn out the same tired old clichés.
It's almost 2006, and talentless Neanderthals such as 50 Cent (another Dre protégé), and a plethora of wearisome wannabes, continue to act tough and talk dirty for the delectation and delight of a voraciously voyeuristic white audience. Hip-hop has become a facile, formulaic MTV-mediated parody of itself. Commercial rap's reductionist "algebra of need" elevates "dead presidents" over art and an omnivorous bottom line compels the substitution of the pop pusher's placebo for uncut rap. Inevitably, an unholy cartel of ex-drug dealers, organised crime, opportunists, big business and mainstream media gravitated towards, and refined, this seductively simple modus operandi. An infernal alliance, of a kind not witnessed since the botched hit on Castro, annexed the production and distribution of the ubiquitous opiate we call "Hip-Hop." Dre is the Simon Cowell of the rap cartel: a shrewd, telegenic manipulator with a preference for malleable newcomers over established artists.
Playlist-shackled, bottom line-fixated, myopic media pimp the product, and in collusion with risk-averse major record labels, create and satiate a market of indoctrinated dilettantes eager to exchange their cash for an intravenous injection of off-the-peg cool courtesy of the Ghetto Glitterati.
Let's take a Walk on the Not-So-Wild Side, sample the Lifestyles of the Rich, Fabulous, Inarticulate & Tasteless before hitching a ride in the latest faux-gangsta supastar's conspicuously-consuming, gas-guzzling Pimpmobile (Everyone's a "pimp" these days: from Iceberg Slim wannabes to mild-mannered accountants: a term, which formerly connoted transgressive criminality/the exploitation of women, has been assimilated by the mainstream and rehabilitated as "hip" sales pitch from corporate whores peddling shallow materialism masquerading as youth "culture"). Uncool kids the world over are eager to hang wit' the hoes and homeyz poolside at Half Dollar's Hamptons' crib; hoping to passively smoke (though, perhaps, not inhale) some vicarious gangsta ganja and sample a few counterfeit beats from the ersatz Heart of African-American Darkness.
Greg Tate, in The Village Voice, wonders if hip-hop's 30th birthday is a cause for lamentation rather than celebration:
I remember the Afrocentric dream of hiphop's becoming an agent of social change rather than elevating a few ex-drug dealers' bank accounts.And yet, reports of hip-hop's death continue to be greatly exaggerated. Dre's commercial instincts are as sure as those of George Soros, and his lightness of touch, as a producer, resists convenient recategorisation as "The Dead Hand of Dre." The Game's "The Documentary" is a microcosm of the macro-malaise: Dre refines his aesthetic with consummate skill, but the unimpeachable beats merely confer a palatable patina to the neophyte rapper's boring braggadocio. Even if Dre is clearly culpable of the elevation of Eminem's (admittedly lyrically dextrous, but dismally sexist/homophobic/parochial) "trailer trash aesthetic" into an pop culture phenomenon, this prodigiously talented innovator, producer and annexer of the airwaves, can hardly be blamed for the plethora of vultures who now devour the carcass of the calf he fattened.
Evidence of hip-hop's continuing vitality is to be found far from the genre's formulaic façade, away from the mainstream media's myopic sightline and well below Republican Rap's reductionist radar. Underground, authentic, independent hip-hop continues to evolve and artists such as Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, Aesop Rock, Hieroglyphics, DJ Shadow, The Coup, Cannibal Ox, Rayzd, Immortal Technique, Quannum MCs, Latryx, and countless others, ensure hip-hop's obituary notices are still premature.
As it's the season of post-mortems, panegyrics and prizes, "Casa del ionesco's 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Tracks" will follow, in 4 installments. The list is utterly capricious, completely meaningless and has been compiled with "extreme prejudice."
Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? ~ Socrates (c.469-399BC).
The executioner is, I believe, very expert, and my neck is very slender. ~ Anne Boleyn (1507-36).
I owe much; I have nothing; the rest I leave to the poor. ~ François Rabelais (1483—1553), French satirist.
Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms. ~ Alexander Pope (1688—1744).
I feel nothing, apart from a certain difficulty in continuing to exist. ~ Bernard de Fontenelle (1657—1757), French philosopher. Remark on his deathbed.
It is high time for me to depart, for at my age I now begin to see things as they really are. ~ Bernard de Fontenelle (1657—1757), French philosopher. Remark on his deathbed.
I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement; battered by the winds and broken in on by the storms, and, from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair. ~ John Quincy Adams (1767—1848), Sixth president of the USA. Said during his last illness.
How were the receipts today in Madison Square Garden? ~ Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-91), US showman.
My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go. ~ Oscar Wilde (1854—1900), Irish-born British dramatist. As he lay dying in a drab Paris bedroom.
On the contrary ! ~ Henrik Ibsen (1828—1906), Norwegian dramatist. His nurse had just remarked that he was feeling a little better.
Seventeen whiskeys. A record, I think. ~ Dylan Thomas (1914-53), Welsh poet.
I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis. ~ Humphrey Bogart (1899—1957).
Let's cool it brothers . . . ~ Malcolm X ( -1966), Black leader, spoken to his assassins, 3 men who shot him 16 times.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Rank Name Net Worth ($mil) Age Residence Source
1 Claus, Santa ∞ 1,651 North Pole Toys, Candy
2 Warbucks, Oliver "Daddy" $27.3 bil 52 New York, N.Y. Defense Industries
3 Rich, Richie $17 bil 10 Richville, U.S.A. Inheritance, Conglomerates
4 Luthor, Lex $10.1 bil 36 Metropolis, U.S.A. Defense, Software, Real Estate
5 Burns, Charles Montgomery $8.4 bil 104 Springfield, U.S.A. Energy
6 McDuck, Scrooge $8.2 bil 80 Duckburg, U.S.A. Mining
7 Clampett, Jed $6.6 bil 51 Beverly Hills, Calif. Oil & Gas, Banking
8 Wayne, Bruce $6.5 bil 32 Gotham City, U.S.A Inheritance; Defense
9 Howell, Thurston III $5.7 bil 60 Private Island, Pacific Ocean Howell Industries
10 Wonka, Willy $2.3 bil 57 Kent, England Candy
11 Bach, Arthur $2 bil 50 New York, N.Y. Inheritance
12 Scrooge, Ebenezer $1.7 bil 63 London, England Banking, Investments
13 Croft, Lara $1 bil 37 Wimbledon, England Inheritance, Antiques
14 De Vil, Cruella $1 bil 65 London, England Inheritance
15 Malfoy, Lucius $900 mil 51 Wiltshire, England Inheritance
Monday, December 26, 2005
Philosophers are supposed to see the world with clear eyes; with clear philosophical eyes, we can note that Sartre was a troll. He was five feet tall. Neither handsome nor dashing, nearly blind in one eye, and scornful of even the most basic conventions of bourgeois dental hygiene (mossy is a word that comes easily to mind). And yet he got girls like he was in the Beatles. As strange to the American mind as escargot is the French custom of beautiful young woman finding brilliant older men attractive merely for being brilliant—and then sleeping with them!Leland de la Durantaye
In October 1945 Sartre gave a lecture entitled "Is Existentialism a Humanism?" The answer was no, and the crowd went nuts. A Parisian newspaper described the scene: "A young woman with radiant blue eyes drinks in Sartre's every word. Another collapses in adoration before him: she has just fainted!" (Even after death, "the small man," as his friends called him, would make others fall at his feet. Twenty thousand mourners attended his funeral in 1980 and in the crush a cameraman fell... into the philosopher's grave.) Existentialism did not become a humanism, but it did become a way to get girls. If we are truly free and every moment is contingent, why not share your essence with my existence? Helping Sartre pull the strings of his desire was de Beauvoir. Rowley's book highlights various, and in some cases rather vile, machinations of the philosopher king and his philosopher queen with the young entourage at their feet. The tales of their amorous intrigues make disturbing and disappointing reading.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
A few months ago, a friend whose iconoclastic, unpredictable behavior I usually hold in high esteem handed me a book entitled "A Navajo Legacy: The Life and Teachings of John Holiday." Apparently, he expected me to read it, despite the fact that I am not really a Navajo medicine man autobiography kind of guy. Flummoxed but gracious, I took the gift home and put it on a shelf alongside all the other books that friends have lent or given me over the years. This collection includes: "Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association"; "Hoosier Home Remedies"; "A Walk Through Wales"; "The Frontier World of Doc Holliday"; "Elwood's Blues: Interviews with the Blues Legends & Stars," by Dan Aykroyd and Ben Manilla; both "Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality" and Allen's somewhat less Jesuitical "Hi-Ho, Steverino!"; and, of course, "Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed." If I live to be 1,000 years old, I am not going to read any of these books. Especially the one about the American Basketball Association.
Several years ago, I calculated how many books I could read if I lived to my actuarially expected age. The answer was 2,138. In theory, those 2,138 books would include everything from "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" to "Le Colonel Chabert," with titles by authors as celebrated as Marcel Proust and as obscure as Marcel Aymé. In principle, there would be enough time to read 500 masterpieces, 500 minor classics, 500 overlooked works of genius, 500 oddities and 138 examples of high-class trash. Nowhere in this utopian future would there be time for "Hi-Ho, Steverino!"
True, I used to be one of those people who could never start a book without finishing it or introduce a volume to his library without eventually reading it. Familiarity with this glaring character flaw may have encouraged others to use me as a cultural guinea pig, heartlessly foisting books like "Damien the Leper" (written by Mia Farrow's father) or the letters of Flannery O'Connor upon me just to see if they were worth reading. (He wasn't; she was.)
These forced reconnaissance missions ended the day an otherwise likable friend sent me "Accordion Man," a biography of Dick Contino by Bob Bove and Lou Angellotti. Though I revere Mr. Contino for his matchless rendition of "Arrivederci Roma," it disturbed me greatly that my friend would have mistaken affection for Mr. Contino's music for intense interest in his personal history. CD's are fine: you can read "Death in Venice" or Pascal's "Pensées" while "Roll Out the Barrel" is bouncing along in the background. But if you spend too much time reading about how Dick Contino finally came to record "Lady of Spain," you will never get to Junichiro Tanizaki's "Some Prefer Nettles." And "Some Prefer Nettles" is No. 1,759 on my dream reading list.
I do not avoid books like "Accordion Man" or "Elwood's Blues" merely because I believe that life is too short. Even if life were not too short, it would still be too short to read anything by Dan Aykroyd. And I am sure I am not alone when I state that cavalierly foisting unsolicited reading material upon book lovers is like buying underwear for people you hardly know. Bibliophiles are ceaselessly engaged in the mental reconfiguration of a Platonic reading list that will occupy them for the next 35 years: First, I'll get to "Buddenbrooks," then "The Man Without Qualities," then "The Decline of the West," and finally "Finnegans Wake." But I'll never get to "Finnegans Wake" if I keep stopping to read books like "The Frontier World of Doc Holliday."
Time management is not the only issue here. There is often something sinister about the motives of those who press books onto others. The urge to give "Elwood's Blues" to someone who already owns unread biographies of Franz Schubert and Miles Davis smacks of sadism; the books serve as a taunt, a gibe, a threat, an insult. It is as if the lender himself wants to see how far another person can be pushed before he resorts to the rough stuff. Hint: If you're going to really press your luck and give someone one of this year's models that you fear they might eventually smack you with, steer clear of Pantagruelian blabfests like "The Historian." Otherwise, you could find yourself with a few loose teeth.
I am certainly not suggesting that all given or lent books should be rejected, pulped, incinerated or mothballed. My sisters have impeccable taste in crime fiction and know precisely which Ruth Rendell to pass along next. A neighbor I met through my wife's garden club has given me several hard-to-get Georges Simenon mysteries, all of which proved to be delightful. But for everyone lending me "Maigret and the Insouciant Parrot," there are a dozen others handing me "Va Va Voom!: Bombshells, Pin-ups, Sexpots and Glamour Girls." Or "A Navajo Legacy."
In many instances, people pass along books as a probing technique to see, "Is he really one of us?" That is, you're not serious about your ethnic heritage unless you've read "Angela's Ashes." You don't care about the poor Mayans unless you've read "1491" and its inevitable sequel, "1243." You don't really give a damn about the pernicious influence of the Knights Templar unless you've read "The Da Vinci Code." And you're not really interested in the future of our imperiled republic unless you've read "The No Spin Zone," "The No Spin Zone for Children," "101 Things Stupid Liberals Hate About the No Spin Zone," and "Ann Coulter on Spinoza."
Some people may wonder, "Well, why don't you simply lie when people ask you about the books they've lent you?" There are two problems with such duplicity. One, lying is a sin. Two, experienced biblio-fobs will invariably subject their targets to the third degree: Were you surprised at Damien the Leper's blasé reaction when his fingers fell into the porridge? What did you think of that cute little ermine affair Parsifal was wearing when he finally grasped the Holy Grail? Were you taken aback by all those weird recipes for Sachertorte in "The Tipping Point"? After reading "The Frontier World of Doc Holliday," do you have more or less respect for Ike Clanton as a money manager? Pity the callow lendee who falls for the trick question and is unmasked as a fraud.
Because I live in a small town where I cross paths with promiscuous book lenders all the time, I have lately taken to hiding in subterranean caverns, wearing clever disguises while concealed in tenebrous alcoves and feigning rare tropical illnesses to avoid being saddled with any new reading material. Were I a younger man, I would be more than happy to take a gander at "Holy Faces, Secret Places: An Amazing Quest for the Face of Jesus," or Phil Lesh's Grateful Dead memoir. But time is running out, and if I don't get cracking soon I'm never going to get to "Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Kingdom," much less "The Golden Bough." Of course, the single greatest problem in accepting unsolicited books from friends is that it may encourage them to lend you others. Once you've told them how much you enjoyed "How the Irish Saved Civilization," they'll be at your front doorstep with "How the Scots Invented the Modern World," "The Gifts of the Jews," and perhaps one day "How the Norwegians Invented Hip-Hop." If you tell them that you liked "Why Sinatra Matters" or "Why Orwell Matters," you're giving them carte blanche to turn up with "Why Vic Damone Matters" or "Why G. K. Chesterton Still Rocks!" When I foolishly let it be known how much I enjoyed "X-Ray," the "unauthorized" autobiography of the Kinks' lead singer, Ray Davies, a good friend then upped the ante with a copy of Dave Davies's "Kink: The Outrageous Story of My Wild Years as the Founder and Lead Guitarist of the Kinks." Surely, "The Mick Avory Story: My Life As the Kinks' Drummer" and "Pete Quaife: Hey, What Am I, the Kinks' Bassist or a Potted Plant?" cannot be far behind.
This is why I recently told yet another friend that I hated a police procedural he'd dropped off. The novel dealt with a fictitious organization called the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, and was actually quite good. But when I found out that there were 15 other books in the series, and realized that my friend might own all of them, I feared that I would never, ever get to Miguel de Unamuno's "Tragic Sense of Life" at this rate. And at No. 2,127 on my list, Unamuno may only just get in under the wire anyway.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Gary Kamiya prefers swingin' Pottersville to boring Bedford Falls
All hail Pottersville!
The "bad" town in "It's a Wonderful Life" jumps and jives 24/7 with hot bars and cool chicks -- while "wholesome" Bedford Falls is a claustrophobic snooze.
'Tis the week before Christmas, and all through my house and 250 million others, people are blubbering helplessly as George Bailey overcomes despair and discovers that he really did have a Wonderful Life. I have no desire to rain on Frank Capra's heartwarming, seasonally-sanctioned parade. Let cynics deny that a brief sojourn in a counterfactual limbo conjured up by a bumbling, liver-spotted angel can really produce a life-changing epiphany. Let jaded roués deride George as an infantile weenie whose courtship of Mary comes to fruition only because she prudently massaged her scalp with Spanish Fly before he arrived. Such criticisms are mean-spirited, if not downright un-American. But even a master sometimes flubs a brushstroke, and there is a glaring flaw in Capra's great canvas.
I refer, of course, to Pottersville.
In Capra's Tale of Two Cities, Pottersville is the Bad Place. It's the demonic foil to Bedford Falls, the sweet, Norman Rockwell-like town in which George grows up. Named after the evil Mr. Potter, Pottersville is the setting for George's brief, nightmarish trip through a world in which he never existed. In that alternative universe, Potter has triumphed, and we are intended to shudder in horror at the sinful city he has spawned -- a kind of combo pack of Sodom, Gomorrah, Times Square in 1972, Tokyo's hostess district, San Francisco's Barbary Coast ca. 1884 and one of those demon-infested burgs dimly visible in the background of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
There's just one problem: Pottersville rocks!
Pottersville makes its brief but memorable appearance during that tumultuous scene when George, who has just been bounced from Nick's Bar and is beginning to seriously freak out, rushes down the main street. A large neon sign -- the first of many -- announces "Pottersville." As sirens sound in the distance and a big band wails jazz, George staggers on, into an unfamiliar nightlife district that has replaced the town he knew. In a rapid montage, we see a neon bar sign saying "Blue Moon." Another announces "Fights." Yet another blares "Midnight Club -- Dancing." There's a pool and billiards joint and a pawnbroker shop. A large marquee announces "Girls Girls Girls -- 20 gorgeous girls -- 3 acts." The "Indian Club" gaudily sports a kitschy neon sign depicting the face of a brave. The "Bamboo Room" promises a more Oriental setting. As the disbelieving George stares at the teeming entrance of the "Dime a Dance" joint ("Welcome jitterbuggers"), a scuffle breaks out -- some floozy is resisting being thrown into the paddy wagon. "I know every big shot in this town!" she shrieks as the gendarmes manhandle her. In horror, George recognizes the floozy -- it's Violet, the town flirt from his previous existence, now apparently turned full-fledged professional. After his protests almost land him in the pokey too, he stumbles off in shock and grabs a taxi.
George's confusion, even dismay, is understandable -- it's always a shock when the laws of space and time cease to apply. But if he'd hung out for a while, had a few drinks in the Indian Club, dropped a couple dimes in the dance hall, maybe checked out the action at the burlesque, he would have gotten a whole new take on the situation. Pottersville has its problems -- its bartenders can be undeniably ill-humored, for example -- but compared to the snooze-inducing Bedford Falls, it jumps. In the immortal words of Jeffrey "Janet Malcolm" Masson, it's a place of "sex, women, fun."
The gauzy Currier-and-Ives veil Capra drapes over Bedford Falls has prevented viewers from grasping what a tiresome and, frankly, toxic environment it is. When Marx penned his immortal words about "the idiocy of rural life," he probably had Bedford Falls in mind. B.F. is the kind of claustrophobic, undersized burg where everybody knows where you're going and what you're doing at all times. If you're a Norman Rockwell collector, this might not bother you, but it should -- and it certainly bothered George Bailey. It is all too easily forgotten that George himself wanted nothing more than to shake the dust of that two-bit town off his feet -- and he would have, too, if he hadn't gotten waylaid by a massive load of family-business guilt and a happy ending engineered by God himself.
There is no such thing as privacy in Bedford Falls. The place is like Bentham's Panopticon with picket fences. Take the scene in which George and Mary have just gotten married and are taking a taxi to their bridal suite in the abandoned house. The two newlyweds are simply trying to get in some heavy necking before they arrive at the freezing, waterlogged, no doubt lead-paint-riddled dump in which they're supposed to consummate their marriage -- is that too much to ask? Yes, it is too much to ask in Bedford Falls, because in Bedford Falls there is only one taxi driver: Bert. Not content with his sole claim to fame, having an obnoxious, potato-nosed puppet on "Sesame Street" named after him (which is actually far more than he deserves), the intrusive Bert insists on breaking into the hot and heavy moment with the inane statement, "If either of you two see a stranger around here, it's me." This gross violation of the see-no-evil taxi driver code sends the discomfited George off into a ludicrous speech which he concludes by making embarrassing "randy" animal noises.
Nightlife? Geneva in the days of Calvin had more action. In Bedford Falls, the big diversion of an evening is to walk down to the library (while being constantly greeted by nosy "friends") and see if it will close at 9:00 or 9:01. The sole bar in town appears to be Martini's, a rest home which has a policy against admitting anyone under the age of 60. The strict family values of its devoutly Catholic Neapolitan owner, heavily watered drinks, the constant attention of a kindly bartender who knows your mother and a particularly anodyne menu of Christmas music are the attractions of this morgue, where your chances of getting lucky range between nil and zero.
When it comes to entertainment, the situation is similarly bleak. After George Bailey is tricked by Clarence into returning to Bedford Falls (a fate to which an icy death in the "charming" local river is preferable), he runs ecstatically down the main street, now restored to its full moribundity, and passes the local movie house. "The Bells of St. Mary's and 2nd great feature," the marquee reads. There is no other choice -- it's "Bell's of St. Mary's" or nothing.
A film guide sums up "The Bells of St. Mary's" thusly: "Rambling, embarrassingly winsome sequel to 'Going My Way,' with Crosby's crooning priest transferred to a rundown parish where Barry Fitzgerald's roguish twinkle is replaced by [Ingrid] Bergman's wholesome (but roguish) nun."
Being forced to watch this movie for all eternity would be like finding yourself in one of those "Twilight Zone" episodes in which the same torture keeps happening again and again. (Yes, there is "2nd great feature," but who would dare risk all on that terrifying dice-roll? Since this is Bedford Falls, it is almost certainly "Here Come the Waves," an unspeakable 1944 Sinatra spoof in which Bing Crosby plays the heart-throb of the bobby-sox set.)
By contrast, Pottersville offers a rich variety of nightlife and entertainment. There is something for every taste and every budget. Pool and billiards sharpen hand-eye coordination. Dime-a-dance joints promote bonhomie. Prize fights and strip clubs provide weary citizens with much-needed catharsis. And a pawnshop makes it possible for those temporarily short on funds to participate in the full range of the community's activities.
Friday, December 23, 2005
The New World is Terrence Malick's fourth movie in 34 years. Almost as prolific as Joseph Heller or J.D. Salinger, Malick is one of a small cadre of American auteurs: he is a director of integrity, intelligence and insight, and his films testify to an inimitable, unique artistic vision. Like David Lynch, Malick infuses his work with the sensibilities of poetry, painting and philosophy: Malick transforms cinema into a transcendent, synesthetic medium.
Malick graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy and studied at Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. At Oxford he had a disagreement with his advisor over his doctoral thesis (on Heidegger), and left prior to graduating.
Malick taught philosophy at M.I.T. before moving into film with his 1972 directorial debut Badlands. Badlands is a masterpiece: a cinematic debut to rival Welles' Citizen Kane or Laughton's Night of The Hunter.
One of the few overtly philosophical and intellectual artists operating within the cinematic medium, Malick's Badlands script (a defining characteristic ~ he only directs his own screenplays) was clearly influenced by both Heidegger and Wittgenstein.
Days of Heaven followed in 1978 before Malick quit the movie business to live and teach in France. 1998's The Thin Red Line was Malick's third movie.
Ed Gonzales' review of The New World, from SlantMagazine.com, follows:
The New World's sociological and emotional heft is encased in a swirl of hallucinatory images. This is a fitting description given that Terrence Malick approaches the story of John Smith and Pocahontas as if it were a specimen of lost time trapped in amber. He turns the fossil in his hands, reflecting the light of the sun through the resinous shell of history and onto his characters from many remarkable, expressive angles, illuminating the tragedy of John Smith and Pocahontas's impossible love through the horrible conquest of the Powhatan tribe's paradise and the sad spectacle of Pocahontas's conversion into an English woman. The purpose of this lyrical experiment is an attempt to regain lost time—to substantiate the lore of John Smith and Pocahontas with profound, adult feeling. It takes back the story Disney hijacked and infantilized in 1995's Pocahontas.Permalink
A lesser filmmaker might have used shallow dramatic busywork and a thousand unnecessary words to communicate the same sense of moral and social consequence a single forlorn image from The New World conveys. Malick's vernacular is predicated on transcendental impulses and a liberal use of ellipses. This is why many critics and audiences have a hard time with his films: Like Terrence Davies, he's a poet working in a medium whose audience is unused to unconventional expressions of thought and emotion. Malick's lyrical style befits the The New World's long-storied context, and the beauty of the film is how he uses the reverie of his cinematic language to radiate the collective sensation of a half-remembered dream. This is the way this great filmmaker intimately connects us to the past—through the language of the soul and imagination.
Malick tells a better story through the subversive cartographic title sequence that opens the The New World than your average historical drama divulges during its entire running time. The maps Malick uses not only provide the story with geographical specificity but they also vibrantly portend the colonization of the new world and its inevitable spiritual destitution. This expressionistic artifice whets our appetite for the tour de force of sight and sound epitomized by the film's opening minutes, during which the 100-plus aristocrats of the London Virginia Company arrive in America and settle in Jamestown. As the Englishmen make their way nervously through the chest-high grass surrounding their new colony, Malick's images—combined with the alternately menacing and enchanting sweep of James Horner's score—evoke a weighty sense of danger and discovery.
Great poet that he is, Malick has a gift for parallelism and an affinity for romantic motifs. John Smith (Colin Farrell) arrives in America a prisoner. Chained deep inside the ship's hull, he uses his hands to catch falling drops of water and reach for the warmth of the sun that shines in the distant sky. This image of imprisonment at once contrasts and corresponds with the equally mythic vision of Pocahontas (a remarkable Q'Orianka Kilcher) swaying her arms in the wind toward the heavens. John Smith and Pocahontas find each other as if by chance; it's not exactly love at first sight but Malick's stunning shifts in register impart the intense feeling of history being set in irrevocable motion when they catch glimpses of each other in the warm summer wilderness. "Eden lies about us still," says Captain Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer) late in the film, a fitting allusion given that Malick plays the love story between his main characters as the rapturous birth of a nation, if not the world.
Malick may or may not have waited an eternity for a bird to strategically soar across one of his compositions, but you never question the organic aura The New World exudes. Malick's camera is so connected to his environment it's as if the nature of the film is responsible for directing the action; this is most instructive in the major battle scene between the Powhatan tribe and the Jamestown settlers when the flight of a lone bird seemingly launches both camps into battle. The abandon with which Malick gives himself to the world shames the calculated, unfeeling aesthetic of Theo Angelopoulos's fatuous The Weeping Meadow, which weeps only for its own besotted sense of seriousness, while the unease of John Smith and Pocahontas's impossible love affair—which Farrell and Kilcher beautifully carry out as performance art—shows-off the banality of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain.
The exquisiteness of The New World and how it reveals itself to its audience is flabbergasting—like a heretofore unknown cave painting impeccably preserved except for a few spots here and there eroded by time and nature. It's this purity of presentation and spirit that gives the film its universal attraction. With minimal dialogue and dramatic fuss, Malick examines the lifestyle and traditions of the Powhatan people on an elemental level, using visual and aural rhythms that feel as if they've been cued to the beat of the human heart—none of that blue-corn-moon Disney bullshit the director responds to when a broken Pocahontas asks, "Why does the earth have colors?" Some may scoff at the film's sudden tonal shifts, but these leaps in time (and faith) are profoundly in sync with the story's turmoil. Malick never loses sight of the story's history but his daring montage still leaves some things to the imagination, like the process by which the hungry British men of the original Jamestown colony went mad and how the Native Americans came to trust their new neighbors enough to trade with them.
The New World certainly calls attention to itself—any work of art this commanding always does—but it does so without arrogance about its design. It doesn't belabor historical accuracy the way Master and Commander does, which is not to say the film's details are arbitrary. Along with every other component—from the cinematography and score to the many fine performances—the film's attention to historical detail is just one composite of a Zen-like mise-en-scène bursting at the seams with emotion. It's this serene, uncomplicated conviction to truth that annoys some critics (fans of Titanic no doubt), who confuse Malick's generosity for pretense. Seriously, is there a more expressive and succinct illustration of Pocahontas's estrangement from her people than the images scattered through the film of birds moving further and further away from the girl's sightline?
Malick equates the union and separation of John Smith and Pocahontas to two worlds drawing near, grinding together, and subsequently pulling apart. In this way, The New World's epic scale has equal room for humanist compassion and breathtaking action. Banished from her tribe for cavorting with John Smith, Pocahontas goes to live in the Jamestown colony, where she marries the widowed John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and bears him a son. The film begins to lose some of its elasticity around this point, but that's only fitting given the restrictive social vice that ensnares the girl. Arriving in England, she is a stranger in a strange land, but while her displacement may be devastating, a reverential Malick conveys through the film's breathtaking final minutes a sense of divine reconnection through death. The English may have exorcised her freedom but not her spirit. It's an appropriate sentiment for a film that also refuses to shake itself loose from the confines of our memories.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
"Well," I said, tapping my arm, "duty calls. As one judge said to another: 'Be just, and if you can't be just, be arbitrary.'"
After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ''I want to see the manager."
On the Future: "The Planet drifts to random insect doom . . ."
Language is a virus from outer space.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
If you're doin' business with a religious son of a bitch, get it in writing. His word isn't worth shit, not with the Good Lord tellin' him how to fuck you on the deal.
A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.
Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has.
The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight ~ Rambunctious Heyday of Gonzo, When Journalism Aspired to Art
Mark Bowden reviews The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion and the New Journalism Revolution, by Marc Weingarten
I was a high-school and then a college student when the startling literary boom dubbed “The New Journalism” happened in the late 60s and early 70s. To me, it might as well have been happening on a distant, colorful planet. I was a teenager stalking the paltry magazine racks of the small drugstores of my Maryland suburb—this was long before the advent of big bookstore chains—waiting to pounce on each new issue of Esquire, Harper’s and Rolling Stone. No one I knew shared my addiction.More here
It would be hard today to explain the anticipation and excitement I felt over each new issue. New York magazine was not sold where I lived, so I had to wait until its best writers started producing books to discover them. The magazines were artfully designed temples of the written word, filled with language, people, places, events and ideas that were intoxicating and new. They helped shape my experience of those tumultuous years every bit as much as pop music and marijuana. My first taste of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was so thrilling that for weeks I wanted to read it out loud to everyone I met. I restrained myself, but Tom Wolfe’s book gave me an inestimable gift: I knew after the first 10 pages what I wanted to do with my life.
There have been many attempts to describe the kind of journalism popularized during this period—work that tells a true story using novelistic techniques; journalism where the writer is present in the narrative, whether as a character or as a voice; reporting that rejects “objectivity” and is infused with point of view—and all of them contain a piece of an overall definition. To me, what distinguishes the writing of Mr. Wolfe, John Hersey, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and the others is their ambition to create not just journalism, but art.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Bush wants to spread democracy abroad - and dismantle it at home.
Friday's three big news stories--the elections in Iraq, the president's flip-flop on John McCain's anti-torture amendment, and the revelation that the administration ordered the National Security Agency to conduct domestic surveillance without warrants--brought home in an unusually poignant manner one of the paradoxes at the heart of the past several years: The same group of people who've decided they're on a historic mission to spread democracy and liberal values around the world seem, based on their conduct at home, to have a very weak grasp of what those values entail.More here
The surveillance matter is disturbing not only, or even especially, for the casual disregard for civil liberty and Anglo-American tradition it entails. Rather, the main point here is about the law. It was universally understood on September 10, 2001, that, wisely or unwisely, intelligence agencies could not conduct this sort of operation without first gaining approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Nothing happened the following day to change that reality. To be sure, events occurred that caused many people to re-evaluate American policy in a number of regards, arguably including domestic surveillance policy, but the fact remains that the law is the law and there's a specified procedure for changing the law. As we recall from Civics class, bills are supposed to be introduced in the two houses of Congress, voted on in committee and then before the full body, sent to the White House, and then either signed or vetoed.
Faced with the pesky need to get warrants, however, the Bush administration chose another path--they simply issued a directive saying the old policy was out and a new policy was in. On hand to help rationalize things was John Yoo, the very same lawyer who provided the rationalizations required when the president wanted to start ignoring domestic and international law with regard to torture without getting any of the laws changed.
And if it was Yoo's work that made McCain's effort to close down Bush-created loopholes in torture law, then it's the continuation of the Yoo mentality that makes me pessimistic about how much good McCain will do. The president, quite clearly, didn't surrender to McCain's view at the end of last week because of a genuine change of heart. Instead, as in his previous surrender to the Arizona senator over campaign finance reform, he dropped what he had previously portrayed as a point of high principle for reasons of crass political expediency. Thus, we still have in office a president who believes in the utility and overriding moral necessity of torture, and a president who feels that--at least in matters of national security--he's not bound by the law. The debate over the torture amendment has obscured this fact, five years ago no serious person believed torture was permitted under American law. It happened not because it was legal, but because the president chose to believe the law was no constraint, or that insofar as it was a constraint it was a constraint to be waived off through such expedients as holding prisoners in the legal null zone of Guantanamo Bay, off-the-books facilities in Eastern Europe, or secretly shipping people off to Syria.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, head of the Genovese crime family, one of New York's notorious Five Families, died yesterday (Monday 19th), like John Gotti, in Springfield, Missouri's US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. He was 77.
Dubbed the "Oddfather" for his bizarre behavior, Gigante had scored a lengthy string of victories over prosecutors, but it ended with a July 1997 racketeering conviction. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
After a quarter-century of public craziness, he finally admitted his insanity ruse at an April 2003 federal hearing in which he calmly pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. That brought him another three-year sentence.
At that hearing, he chatted amiably with his son, shook hands with defense lawyers and said "God bless you" to U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser.
For the man described by The New York Times Magazine as "the last great Mafioso of the century," his admission was the final act in a 50-year career linking the era of old-time gangsters and the modern-day Mafia of Gotti.
At the height of his power, Gigante's empire stretched from Little Italy to the docks of Miami. Mob experts called him a traditional boss who settled issues by whatever means — verbal or violent — were required.
Denying he was a gangster, Gigante would wander the streets of the Greenwich Village neighborhood in nightclothes, muttering incoherently. Relatives, including a brother was who a Roman Catholic priest, insisted Gigante suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Authorities charged it was a brazen act to avoid the law — although it wasn't until 1997 that a jury agreed. The trial was a spectacle, with Gigante in a wheelchair, mumbling silently, seemingly oblivious to the proceedings. His lawyers claimed they could not communicate with him in any "meaningful way."
None of that swayed jurors, who convicted Gigante of racketeering, extortion and plotting the murder — never carried out — of ex-mob associate Peter Savino.
Born in the Bronx in 1928, one of five sons of Italian immigrant parents, Gigante became a small-time boxer and drifted into the crime family founded in 1931 by legendary gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano.
In 1957, Gigante was the hitman in a botched attempt to assassinate then-boss Frank Costello. After refusing to name his attacker in court, the shaken Costello retired, making Gigante's patron, Vito Genovese, kingpin of the family that still bears his name.
Over time, Gigante, a stocky figure with a pugilist's face and 1940s pompadour, proved better at beating the law than Gotti, the so-called "Teflon Don" who won two acquittals before tapes and turncoats sent him to prison for life.
Before 1997, Gigante had served only a five-year heroin rap in 1959.
Dwight Trible and the Life Force Trio ~ Equipoise
From Love is The Answer
One of 2005's best tracks. Equipoise sounds like Pharoah Sanders & Leon Thomas' The Creator Has a Masterplan filtered through a downbeat avant hip-hop soundscape. So, it was no surprise when a Google search revealed that Trible took over as vocalist with the Pharoah Sanders Quartet after Thomas passed away. This sublime slab of spiritual jazz/hip-hop soothes even those souls sick with sin.
From CalendarLive.com via Arts&LettersDaily.com
A moment of silence, please, for the imminent death of the old Mainstream Mass Culture.
Born sometime between the invention of baseball and the 1904 World's Fair, it began experiencing violent headaches and seizures shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, then lapsed into a coma during the launch of MySpace.com.
There will be no survivors, except on select reruns of "Lost." In lieu of flowers, friends may send checks to the "Bring Back Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw Emergency Fund."
There — that wasn't so painful, was it? After all, it's been common knowledge, or at least conventional wisdom, that traditional mainstream mass culture has been clinging to life for decades, like one of Anne Rice's mottled vampires. But 2005 is when a chronic condition may have turned terminal.
This was the year in which Hollywood, despite surging DVD and overseas sales, spent the summer brooding over its blockbuster shortage, and panic swept the newspaper biz as circulation at some large dailies went into free fall. Consumers, on the other hand, couldn't have been more blissed out as they sampled an explosion of information outlets and entertainment options: cutting-edge music they could download off websites into their iPods and take with them to the beach or the mall; customized newcasts delivered straight to their Palm Pilots; TiVo-edited, commercial-free programs plucked from a zillion cable channels.
The old mass culture suddenly looked pokey and quaint. By contrast, the emerging 21st century mass technoculture of podcasting, video blogging, the Google Zeitgeist list and "social networking software" that links people on the basis of shared interest in, say, Puerto Rican reggaeton bands seems democratic, consumer-driven, user-friendly, enlightened, opinionated, streamlined and sexy. Or so nearly everyone believes at the moment.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Jackson, surfing on a swell of sycophancy after his Lord of The Rings trilogy, has delivered three movies in one this time round. The stress of updating his "all-time favourite film" saw (the now streamlined) Jackson shed the pounds, but he diverted all the excess calories into the movie. Each pumped-up segment of this terrible triptych weighs in at around an hour, but seems infinitely longer. The titles attribute to Jamie Selkirk the oxymoronic accolade of "editor", though his primary duty seems to have been "caretaker of a fastidiously tidy cutting room floor." Either that or he ended up, like most of the rest of the tediously over-elaborated minor characters, as Kong bait.
This movie wasn't so much in need of cutting as disembowelling. Jackson should have hired Jack the Ripper rather than Jamie the faux-Snipper: I'm just glad he had the cajones to cut one sequence (the return journey from Skull Island) or I might have had to lodge an application for parole from Kong Pen after 4 hours of incarceration.
The 3 segments can be broken down pretty much like this:
1- The milieu is Depression-era New York. Al Jolson crooning I'm Sitting on Top of the World is used as an ironic counterpoint to the images of hardship. Good girl vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) loses her job, decides she'd rather steal food than work at a burlesque club and is "rescued" and recruited by unscrupulous movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black). As Jackson parsimoniously propels the tale forward at a couple of gears below "leisurely", I have to be restrained from shouting "Show me the monkey!"
2- This is the part where Denham, Darrow, scriptwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), the movie within the movie's male lead Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and a boatload of bait sail to Skull Island and, after some Titanic-style shenanigans, end up at "Isla Mordor", a genetically modified Jurassic Park/Lord of the Rings hybrid. The natives aren't just restless; they're damned ugly too. I'll give Jackson the benefit of the doubt and assume that he intended these sequences to be an authentic recreation of the original (including it's relatively "innocent" -- in the context of the era in which it was made -- approach towards racial stereotyping), as I can't believe he intended to produce material that makes D.W. Griffith look like Spike Lee.
3- Kong on Broadway. I fell asleep during this part, so I'll continue describing the "Isla Mordor" bit instead. It doesn't take long to figure out why Jackson's natives look so care-worn: the rest of the fauna of Skull Island are predators on physique-enhancing drugs. The movie loses focus here and it's not entirely clear whether the emaciated natives built the giant wall to keep out the aggrandized ape, the distended dinosaurs, the steroidal spiders or the massive maggots. It seemed pointless speculating upon such minor incongruities as "How on Earth, or indeed any habitable planet, did the Brontosaurus stampede cost a mere four lives?", "How did Miss Darrow survive being tossed and twisted like a trout in a tsunami during Kong's face-off against the trio of T-Rexs?", "What exactly did Jackson think the Attack of the Omnivorous Arachnids/voracious maggots et alia added to the proceedings apart from an additional 15 minute of unmitigated, CGI-enhanced tedium?" & "Surely the kid blindly blasting the bloated bugs from Jack Driscoll's body with a rifle might just have caused some collateral damage to the scriptwriter?" -- maybe he took out the real scriptwriter instead and blasted the director's brains into the bargain? -- as absurdity is heaped upon absurdity until Jackson erects an Everest of Imbecility.
I dreamt I awoke, briefly, during the final segment, but the vision of the giant monkey ice-skating with Naomi in Central Park must surely have been a product of my fevered imagination rather than Jackson's. Sadly, I did wake up in time to hear Jack Black utter the "immortal" line, "Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."
I just wish Naomi had taken that job in the burlesque club: that's the movie I wanted to see.... with David Lynch directing.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Blown Away by Lounge Act Beat Poet: The Strange World of John-Ivan Palmer, the Kerouac of the "Hypno Set"
Several paragraphs in and I was hooked:
What is it like to have someone attach themselves to the essence of who you are, and feed off that essence for the rest of your life and beyond, like a vampire sucking your nourishment? And what if you became rich and famous and this vampire on your essence also became rich and famous, so that no one could ever remember you without remembering them?
Once upon a time in the west there was a stage hypnotist named Dr Michael Dean, who performed his show at a San Diego night club called The Gaslight Supper Club. Dr Dean always wanted you to know that he is the world’s only stage hypnotist to have a legitimate doctorate, all the other ‘Drs’ and ‘Professors’ and ‘PhDs’ that litter the trade are from diploma mills or non-accredited ‘certification’ organizations, or simply self-conferred. He has stated most vociferously that you must have a doctorate to even think about making someone bark like a dog.
He received his doctor of philosophy degree in 1958 from Northwestern University (outside Chicago). His dissertation, A Comparative Treatment of Fact, Inference and Causation in the Theory of Argumentation and of General Semantics was based in part on the writings of Count Alfred Habdank Korzybski, a charismatic Polish emigré, who gained short-term popularity with his 800-page tome of terminal obfuscation titled Science and Sanity (1933). Korzybski’s thesis, oxymoronically, was that we should communicate more clearly. Example from page 15: ‘The multiordinality of terms is the fundamental mechanism of the full conditionality of human semantic reactions; it eliminates an unbelievable number of the old animalistic blockages, and is fundamental for sanity.’
Although he never practiced it himself, Korzybski proposed eliminating the word ‘is’ in order to make a happier world free from wars and madness. He is purported to have influenced the greatest minds of his generation, and is often quoted as saying ‘you think as much with your big toe as with your brain.’ William S Burroughs attended Korzybski’s lectures in Chicago in the late 1930s. Ted Morgan, Burrough’s biographer, points out that the ‘Ordinary Men and Women’ chapter in Naked Lunch (1959), where “a man taught his asshole to talk”, can be traced directly to Korzybski’s philosophy of social engineering. Korzybski’s relevance is reflected in the eight-volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy, where he has distinguished himself by meriting one entire sentence.
Now comes Ronald Dante riding into town. He was also interested in higher education and attended the University of Wisconsin. Eight years younger than Dean, he quickly caught up with him by dropping out of college and legally changing his first name to ‘Doctor,’ being known thereafter as ‘Dr Dante.’ Like Dean, he claimed to be a professor of semantics. For 15 years he followed Michael Dean around, from Chicago to Hawaii, sitting in the audience, and, according to Dean, copying his act word for word.
While the bookish Dr Dean was wavering between teaching appointments and gigs as a hypnotist, the tall, perfectly tonsured Dr Dante rode around Hollywood on a motorcycle, and performed his stolen act at the Peppermint Lounge. One night the fake doctor of semantics strode, elegantly dressed, into a disco called The Candy Store and met a broken down actress coming off her sixth messy divorce and a failed TV series. Her name was Lana Turner. Succumbing to what she called Dante’s unorthodox courting style and his soothing voice (not to mention his semantic agilities), she married him on May 9th, 1969.
During this period Dante appeared in numerous photos with all the stars of the day: Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr, the rock band Cream. A close examination of these photos will show some of the celebrities looking up at Dante while he smiles at the camera, giving the initial impression they are admirers. But archivist Jennifer Sharpe has pointed out that Dante probably made a funny noise or maybe goosed them with his thumb, which accounts for their expressions more accurately described as querulously repulsive. During the six months the marriage lasted, Dante not only hobnobbed with the stars, but worked diligently to defraud the Hollywood beauty, known for her tight sweaters, out of $200,000 dollars in cash, $100,000 in jewelry, and concocted forged documents allowing him, among other things, unlimited use of her name. Semantics became his slave.
Dr Dean, meanwhile, realizing there was no money in teaching young people how to think properly through general semantics, moved to San Diego and secured an open-ended engagement at the Gaslight Supper Club. Like his rival, he found it more lucrative to manipulate people into absurd acts of delusion. He made public speaking engagements, where he told people how to be happy and succeed in business. You could purchase one of his more than 140 self-help tapes, where he spoke in a strange, electronically altered voice, supposedly to make him sound more commanding. (Example: ‘Become a phony for a week and soon it will become the real you.’)  His photo on the tape box showed him in a funny suit, sideburns, and a hair-do that looked like a wig, making him resemble a last place runner up in an Elvis impersonator contest. But for the kind of cash he was making, looks were not important.
Clearly, Palmer is a cat on a cartographic kick; mapping out contours of the mysterious multiverse so adventurously he makes Henry the Navigator seem like an agoraphobic.
Google threw up his website and the revelation that Palmer styled himself as "The World's Fastest and Funniest Hypnotist." A link to one one of his articles at Exquisite Corpse switched me on to the the possibilty that Palmer might just be the Kerouac of the "Hypno Set":
With my library and files on cognitive psychology and everything I never learned in class, I moved to Turk St. with Felicia Fantasy and her snake. I don't know if anyone's written the intellectual history of the Tenderloin, but there was one. The cheap hotels along Eddy, O'Farrell and Turk Streets were indeed filled with garden variety losers. But peppered among them were people like me, the rejects of formal education, who wouldn't follow the syllabus-bizarre bookworms, amphetamine-addicted students of metaphysical poetry, erotomaniacal biblical scholars, socially crippled botanists, perversion seeking poets. Ricki Hilliard was among them, run out of Chicago, according to rumor, by some scandal in the Shakespearean theater clique. All these seekers of odd flavors and fragrances were too non-conformist for the middle class hippies, so they ended up in the Tenderloin, which was no love-in. As my behaviorist professors would put it, positive and negative reinforcement in a maximum displacement from zero. Violence was always imminent. You saw it in the doors, most of which had been repaired numerous times from being kicked in by police or people going berserk. Tenderloin doors were always old, the locks were always new. You had to fight for your ecstasy. Kicking was the name of the game. Get yer kicks, kick the junk, kick yer ass, what a kick. People just stepped over the blood on the sidewalk. It had to be as disturbing to Hilliard as it was to me. All night the screams and the sirens made it difficult to sleep, and when you did sleep you had nightmares. X-rated ventriloquism was how Hilliard kicked his way out of hell.:Sure enough, in another Corpse piece, Palmer describes his transition from aspiring poet to x-rated hypnotist
I don't care if people judge me. I was the poet John Pilcrow (pseudonym), even though your chances of recognizing me are about the same as waking up on a stage and finding yourself in a chicken suit. Maybe less. At the height of my publishing history I might have had as many as ten or--dare I dream?--twenty serious readers. Friends, mostly. Or at least I thought they were friends.
During the time I was publishing in Broken Streets, Fresh Air Magazine, Wisconsin Review and Jack of Triads, all the night club managers, pit drummers, exotic dancers and theatrical agents who knew me through my X-rated hypnotism show would never have guessed I was the author of Spit Clown Dies In Fire, Massage Parlor Honeymoon, and the 1973 Pushcart Prize selection, The Turtle. They didn't know me as a poet because they didn't want to know me as a poet. In fact, they didn't want to know me at all. It was more convenient for them to think of me as just another entertainer with a flashy suit and a big mouth.
Publishing poetry is hard enough, much less becoming a Rexroth or a Ginsberg. Obviously, total dedication is part of it, but it's by no means the single key. By comparison, if you think it's easy getting X-rated laughs on-stage, go down to your local comedy club on a Monday night and watch the amateurs give it a try. Tell me you can't feel the teeth of natural selection slowly biting down. Tell me you can't sense the indigestion and dry throat and the utter smell of fear as the young comic gulps in the groaning aftermath of that last dick joke.
Evolution happens a lot quicker on the stage than on the page. As a poet my struggle was against the lengthening Ice Age of silence and final extinction. As an entertainer, on the other hand, I lived under the hot metaphors of war. You kill em, you slay em, you knock em dead. One night you die, the next night you kill. The metaphors even run back in the other direction. A laughable tyrant. Theater of battle. A military engagement. A show trial. A kangaroo court. How many people have been hung in the name of humor? So if you're a stage hypnotist working the Frontier Room in Vancouver or the Fantasia Cabaret in Edmonton, you "pull out their gizzard," "rip out their ass." Because if you don't do it to them, they'll do it to you........
So judge me if you like. Condemn me for surviving at the expense of civilization itself. The last poem I published, "Chuckhole", appeared in Louise N. Johnson's poetry column and ended, "my last words / a crumbling billboard / torn apart by wind." When the news of her death finally caught up with me in Las Vegas, I drove all the way out the strip in the middle of the night, past the MGM, the Mirage, the Stratosphere and then past the "adult" motels and the old downtown, then further out, past block after block of smaller and seedier casinos claiming asymptotic payouts, until they gave way to alcoholic dives, last chance gas stations, salvage yards and finally the darkness of the desert itself under light-polluted stars. I stood at the edge of a pale yellow nimbus that radiated from a shack of wheel rims and hub caps and marked my transition from poet to cheap thrills hypnotist by letting the desert winds carry my remaining unwanted poems away to their final oblivion like the ashes of someone you couldn't live without.
Friday, December 16, 2005
The waves of riots that swept across France this year have had an unexpected consequence for the French music industry.more here
Last week, 200 politicians backed a petition by MP François Grosdidier calling for legal action against several hip hop musicians for their aggressive lyrics.
Although prime minister Dominique de Villepin immediately dismissed the idea, it could not have come as a complete surprise to the rappers to find themselves in the eye of the storm.
For more than a decade, French rap has been the voice of the banlieues, the poor suburbs, and it has long been full of warnings of violence to come in those areas. The tensions - and the musical culture - of these estates were briefly brought to international attention by the 1996 film La Haine ("Hate"), but it is the hip hop world that has kept the issues uppermost in the minds of French youth.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
If I had to sum up what the division between American and British journalism is all about, I'd say that America is Nietzschean and Britain is postmodern. Hello, Pseud's Corner! I'm not afraid any more! Americans are "Nietzschean" because they're interested in power, and unafraid of seriousness. They're also quite prepared to pose as something they're not, to remake and remodel themselves, to be boastful, to be utopian, and admit to optimism about the future...
I'm not saying Britain is less smart or sophisticated than the US....The layers of now-I-mean-it,-now-I-don't irony alone require a PhD to sort through, and it's all tremendously postmodern and meta and referential....Trouble is, when you get down to what's being said, it's often a little lecture on marketing, leavened by some TV Cream / pub quiz pop culture in-jokes. And, frankly, if we see this British style as postmodernism gone mad (references to references, ironies upon ironies, the collapse of high and low culture, and a bit of clever marketing as the bottom line), then it's just as pretentious as telling people what Descartes said in "Meditations on First Philosophy"... and possibly even more so.
This reminded me of Toby Young's short-lived, "more talked about than read", but undeniably brilliant, and profoundly influential, postmodern periodical, The Modern Review.
TMR's avowed intention was to peddle "low culture for highbrows." It was what Smash Hits (for the benefit of our American friends: an anodyne UK pop periodical aimed at teenagers) might have been like if it had been placed under the editorial control of FR Leavis (a relatively esoteric, but highly influential British literary critic). Leavis and Butthead, if you like.
TMR's crew -- hip, if by then, not-quite-so-young, ex NME gunslinger Julie Burchill and the wonderfully acerbic Will Self amongst them -- were patently mad, bad and dangerous to know. The tales of drugs, debauchery, internecine sex & incestuous squabbling may have been embellished for the sake of circulation, but clearly contained more than a scintilla of truth.
The Modern Review assimilated Kerouac's Dionysian spirit
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."into their hedonistic, hell-raising, sacred cow-sacrificing mission statement and mindset.
After a mere 21 incendiary issues, Toby Young torched the joint and set off to carve a rep at Conde Nast's Vanity Fair (his entertaining book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People chronicles how he crashed and burned, characteristically incandescently, in The Big Apple).
TMR also lured contributions from first class Yank talent ~ Camille Paglia, Pauline Kael, Rob Long et alia ~ but the party was on this side of the pond. The Modern Review was predicated upon dissonance: high and low culture, Anglo-American culture clashes, the Appolonian and the Dionysian, creativity and debauchery. Hitherto hermetically sealed, mutually exclusive categories, such as philosophy and pop, were conflated and condemned to an eternity of symbiotic entanglement, but the true Clash of the Titans, a seismic collision of tectonic forces, began when those dynamic divas Julie and Camille fought and faxed:
The full transcript of the Julie/Camille fax wars can be found here
Charlie don't surf!
Charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.
I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce.
Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way, so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life.
I once asked this literary agent what writing paid the best, and he said, "ransom notes."
Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains -- or his signature -- would be on the contract.
My father taught me many things. . . keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
The Godfather Part 2
No, Tom, I don't want to kill everybody... just my enemies.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
I was told you were the most beautiful woman in all of Casablaca. I see that was a great understatement.
Some Like It Hot
He wants to go to the Riviera, but I kinda lean toward Niagara Falls.
I could dance with you until the cows came home; on second thoughts I’d rather dance with the cows when you came home.
Remember you're fighting for this woman's honor…which is probably more than she ever did.
The Maltese Falcon
Here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.
Mrs Parker & The Vicious Circle
Razors pain you, rivers are damp, acids stain you, drugs cause cramp, guns aren't lawful, nooses give, gas smells awful; you might as well live.
You’re not too smart are you? I like that in a man.
The Usual Suspects
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
I’ve distilled everything to one single principle: Win or die.
Every Day’s A Holiday
Let's get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini.
Between two evils, I always try the one I never tried before.
I’m No Angel: When I'm good, I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.
It's not the men in my life that counts - it's the life in my men.
It's better to be looked over than overlooked.
You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter.
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
Hey, don't knock masturbation: It's sex with someone I love.
Those who can't do teach; those who can't teach, teach gym.
Life of Brian
All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
The Sweet Smell of Success
The cat’s in the bag, the bag’s in the river.
I’d hate to take a bite out of you: You’re a cookie filled with arsenic.
In brief, the best of everything is good enough for me.
Old age: It's the only disease that you don't look forward to being cured of.
I’ll have pancakes in the age of enlightenment.
Trent, the beautiful babies don't work the midnight to six shift on a Wednesday, this is like the skank shift.
Some men get the world, other men get ex hookers and a trip to Arizona.
Glengarry Glen Ross
First prize is a new car; second prize . . .a set of steak knives; third prize is… you're fired.
Only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted...A: Always, B: Be, C: Closing.
F*** you, that's my name.
You drove a Hyundai to get here tonight and I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW: THAT'S my name.
My motherf**ker is so cool, when he goes to sleep, the sheep count him.
I don't want you as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton: I want you as quiet as an ant not even thinking about pissing on cotton.
Well, I tried to imagine a fellow smarter than myself; then I tried to think what he'd do?
I think you're the opposite of a paranoid: I think you're under the insane delusion that people like you.
The Spanish Prisoner
Always be wary of any venture that requires new clothes.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Jesus Christ was dead and back again by the time he was 32. You better get crackin'.
And remember, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words do permanent damage.
When you're in love with a married man, you shouldn't wear mascara.
I want you to tell the angels in heaven that you never saw evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.
King of Comedy
Better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.
Go back to Jersey, Sonny. This is the City of Angels and you haven't got any wings.
The Third Man
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed -- but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
The Usual Suspects
Keaton always said, 'I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him.' Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.
To Have and Have Not
Bacall: "Give her my love."
Bogart: "If she wore a dress like that, I'd give her MY love."
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. It's time to die.
("You were once a big star.") "I'm still a big star. It's the pictures that got small."
There is no law in the arena.
Josh Agle ~ Palm Springs Weekend
There's a resurgent cool quotient to Palm Springs these days, thanks to an influx of hip new hotels, restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. What was just warming up a couple years ago is now sizzling.more here
No Johnny-come-lately, Palm Springs, California, was the daddy of retro back before it was retro and was just plain modern (think Ocean's Eleven). Modernist architects like Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, and Rudolf Schindler built this town in the stripped-down steel-and-glass style of the mid-20th century, when Palm Springs drew a Hollywood hive counting Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra among its buzz.
From Hip Hotels USA:
Bing and Bob did it. So did Frank and Dean. For a couple of decades Palm Springs lured the biggest names in show business to come and live in this barren patch of hot rocky desert two hours east of Los Angeles. Why? Why would household names with enough money to live anywhere settle for this sunscorched outcrop? Because unlikely thou it may now seem, for a while this was the brave new world. In the years before and particularly after World War II, Palm Springs was a hotbed of American innovation. War had bred a distaste for the past; modern was the new must, and nowhere was more modern than Palm Springs. Architects Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler and Albert Frey, industrial designer Raymond Loewy - all the big names in American architecture and design worked here. Some also chose to live here: Swiss-born Frey built for himself a groundbreaking house that barely touches the earth it stands on, as well as an avant-garde gas station straight out of The Fountainhead. For designers this was where the modern dream was being realized, a setting for lightly built open-plan structures largely in glass. With wealthy clients lining up with commissions, and no historical precedents to constrain them, there was freedom in "them thar hills."more here
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The results of the collaboration between bewitchingly beautiful chanteuse Chrysta Bell and surrealist auteur David Lynch are about to be unveiled for our delectation and delight. Three songs and accompanying videos (one of which was shot at Los Angeles strip club 40 Deuce) will be available for download at iTunes from January.
More info here
"The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don't."
''Thank you very much. That makes up for the strip search.'' -- Woody Allen, acknowledging a standing ovation at the 2002 Oscar ceremonies
"Awards! That's all they do is give out awards, I can't believe it. "Greatest Fascist Dictator: Adolph Hitler.""
Contests Really Take the Prize by J.Peder Zane
Gore Vidal once observed that there are more prizes than writers in the United States.
Ours does seem to be an age of unrivaled excellence. Never before have there been so many "award-winning" authors, actors, journalists, doctors, plumbers, car mechanics, librarians and quilters -- the Mary Diamond Butts Award, for example, honors fiber artists under 40 residing in the Canadian province of Ontario.
The standard reference work "Awards, Honors & Prizes" (Gale) runs more than 2,000 pages. And as James F. English observes in his provocative new book, "The Economy of Prestige" (Harvard University Press), it is adding "new prizes at the rate of about one every six hours."
If this "prize frenzy," as English calls it, seems straight out of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," that's because it is. Remember the Cacus race where "everybody has won, and all must have prizes."
Like all journalists, I have prizes on my mind. December is when we prepare contest entries for our own work and compile the infamous "Top 10" lists -- of the best records, DVDs, films, books, gag gifts -- that fill our pages during the holiday seasons. And when we aren't seeking or bestowing honors, we write columns decrying this awards mania. It is a busy time.
I write not to bury awards and top 10 lists but to praise them. I do not dismiss English's claim that the proliferation of prizes and top 10 lists casts a Darwinian pall over the culture, dividing artists into two groups: winners and losers. He has a point when he describes awards as "one of the glaring symptoms of a consumer society run rampant, a society that can conceive of artistic achievement only in terms of stardom and success, and that is fast replacing a rich and varied cultural world with a shallow and homogenous McCulture based on the model of network TV."
"Clearing a path through the thicket of abundant culture", Casa del ionesco's 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Tracks Ever ~ coming soon!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
For the past year the bald, ugly facts of the world we now live in have finally begun bubbling out from under the crust of officially sponsored bullshit that until recently constituted reality for many Americans. However, since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Hurricane Cindy Sheehan hit Crawford, Texas, Pandora's box has been irrevocably opened, the bats and rats of actuality pouring out of it on a daily basis: unfathomable incompetence and corruption, a Veep defending torture, Plamegate metastasizing hourly; a 360-degree cyclorama of corruption and deceit - and the media can scarcely avoid showing it. It took a while but, man, it's been worth the wait.
However, during the same period we've had to wait for the movies to reflect this new dispensation. Investigative reporters and bloggers can turn on a dime in response to breaking events. Hollywood, by contrast, has the turning circle of an oceangoing liner, and is compromised by the sheer cost of its product. Still, it's beginning to happen.