News and Notes
A contemporary of George Grosz and Tristan Tzara, Belgian artist Frans Masereel produced several collections of "woodcut stories." These quickly lead to the artist's widespread popularity in France and the United States. The images in Die Stadt are composed of the simplest colors, black and white, yet represent urban life in the '20s in rich detail.
Bastard Out of Carolina
Bastard Out of Carolina is one of the rare instances of a film being every bit as good as the original book. Adapted from Dorothy Allison's unflinching tale of child abuse in rural 1950's South Carolina, first-time director Anjelica Huston preserves the power and ambience of the original work by refusing to sanitize it. It's a gruesome, depressing story, but one that needed to be told.
British Open Championship Golf
It seems like just yesterday that golf simulations consisted of cartoonish players whacking a large white dot towards a flat, light-green circle. No more. Now most golf sims are graphically stunning and the key is finding new wrinkles. This game distinguishes itself by concentrating on the most intriguing major tournament in pro golf, the British Open. Two courses are included, St. Andrews and Royal Troon. The interface is simple and complete, and the soundtrack is great, featuring shot-by-shot commentary from Jim McKay and Michael Bradshaw.
An American Tragedy
Robert L. Duffus of The New York Times Book Review wrote: "Mr. Dreiser is not imitative and belongs to no school. He is at heart a mysticist and a fatalist, though using the realistic method. He is a totally undisciplined, unorganized power--yet, on the evidence of this novel alone, nonetheless a power."
There are three parts to the history of Dayton, Ohio's Guided By Voices: Before Bee Thousand (BBT), During Bee Thousand (DBT), and After Bee Thousand (ABT). The first and last are rewarding periods to investigate, but nothing will likely match the sheer thrill of listening to Bee Thousand the first few (dozen) times. "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" and "Awful Bliss" are just two of many instant classics.
The cards. The chips. The cigars. The odds. The ante. The bet. The bluff. The raise. The royal flush. Dealer's choice. Draw. Hi-low. Hold 'em. Stud. Spit-in-the-ocean. You can play poker for nickels and dimes or for thousands of dollars. No matter whether you win or lose, as long as you know the rules and a little bit of the lingo, you'll probably have a pretty good time.
The Troll Garden
"The concert was over; the people filed out of the hall chattering and laughing, glad to relax and find the living level again, but my kinswoman made no effort to rise. The harpist slipped its green felt cover over his instrument; the flute players shook the water from their mouthpieces; the men of the orchestra went out one by one, leaving the stage to the chairs and music stands, empty as a winter cornfield."
--from "A Wagner Matinee"
Going for the record
Sure, recent expansion has diluted the quality of Major League pitching, but hell, who cares! It's home run mania! And arguing Junior vs. Mantle vs. Mac vs. Ruth vs. Maris is just one of the pleasures of the grand old game that has been missing since the '94 strike.
1990 / 1997
When a novel is adapted to the screen, the question invariably arises: "Is the movie as good as the book?" In the case of L.A. Confidential, the new film based on a James Ellroy police procedural, the answer is complicated. The movie is as good as the book. Better, in fact. But the engrossing film also points out that, despite his often EXCLAMATORY style, Ellroy is a master of characterization and emotional intensity.
Cincinnati's Afghan Whigs are a self-confessed "grunge/soul band." Black Love, their fourth album, finds singer Greg Dulli still digging around in all the darkest places. Many of the songs have a cinematic feel, which is not to say that they're insincere. In any case, the storytelling is a strength not a weakness, especially since the Whigs are best enjoyed when they're taking you for a ride. Case in point: the instantly addictive (and incendiary) "Going to Town."
Nobleman, poet, adventurer, and creator of the brooding "Byronic hero," Lord Byron both dazzled and scandalized British society at the turn of the nineteenth century.
So we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.
--from a letter to Thomas Moore
All the Days and Nights
"The sun rose somewhere in the middle of Queens, the exact moment of its appearance shrouded in uncertainty because of a cloud bank. The lights on the bridges went off, and so did the red light in the lantern of the lighthouse at the north end of Welfare Island. Seagulls settled on the water. A newspaper truck went from building to building dropping off heavy bundles of, for the most part, bads news, which little boys carried inside on their shoulders. Doormen smoking a pipe and dressed for a walk in the country came to work after a long subway ride and disappeared into the service entrances. When they reappeared, by way of the front elevator, they had put on with their uniforms a false amiability and were prepared for eight solid hours to make conversation about the weather. With the morning sun on them, the apartment buildings far to the west, on Lexington Avenue, looked like an orange mesa. The pigeons made bubbling noises in their throats as they strutted on windowsills high above the street."
-- from "Over by the River"
Alban Berg's Violinkonzert
If Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele hooked up with poet (and fellow countryman) Georg Trakl and the two collaborated on a piece of music, it probably would've sounded something like Berg's Violin Concerto. Schiele, Berg, and Trakl all lived in Vienna in the first decade of this century, and all were affected by the Great War. (Trakl killed himself during it.) If you experience their respective works in close proximity to each other, the music, words, and images come together nicely.
Before he clammed up and created smarmy, silent Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson was the star of the BBC's Blackadder serials. The show followed the exploits of snearing, sarcastic n'er-do-well Edmund Blackadder and his trusty (idiot) sidekick, Baldrick. The twist? Each set of six episodes featured the depraved duo in a different historical era: 15th century, Elizabethan, Georgian, and World War I.
Anyone who gets nauseous walking through a shopping mall or severely depressed while driving on the freeway may find that Safe hits a bit too close to home. A depiction of a woman's "environmental illness," the film functions as both scathing indictment and subtle mood piece, working on a viewer's subconscious like a bad dream. You'll either get it or you won't, but at least give it a try. Safe may be the only horror film with no monster other than the everyday world.
Wholly owned by everyone's favorite billionaire, Corbis is more than just a Bill Gates side project. The company has quietly collected more than a million fine art and historical images, the by-products of which are some stunning CD-ROMs. Critical Mass covers the science, scientists, and situations that came together in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to produce the world's first atomic bomb. The history is fascinating, the user interface is elegant, and the images are just plain cool, from photos to video clips to declassified goverment documents.
The American Poet Laureate's first book, Field Guide won him the Yale Series of Younger Poets award. Here's an excerpt:
That professor of French,
trying to start his car
among the innocent snowdrifts,
is the author of a famous book
on the self.
The self has agreed to lecture
before a psychoanalytic study group.
On the appointed day he
does not appear, thereby
meeting his obligation.
The self grants an audience
to the Pope.
They talk shop.
There is a girl the self loves.
She has been trying to study him for days
but her mind keeps
from "Applications of the Doctrine"
Whatever and Ever Amen
Jerry Lee Lewis. Elton John. Joe Jackson. Ben Folds. The connection? Rock and roll piano, of course. And even though it's been a while since the ivories have played a major part in the rock genre, there is something undeniably familiar about the sound. The tricky part is taking a classic instrument, adding raw talent, and coming up with something fresh. Happily, Folds fills the bill admirably. There are obvious anthems on this record, but my favorites are the quieter tracks like "Brick" and "Evaporated."
Singin' in the Rain
Singin' in the Rain is more than just a light-hearted showcase for the singing and dancing talents of Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. It's probably one of the greatest musical films of all time. Set in Hollywood at the dawn of the "talking picture," it features Kelly as a silent-film star faced with the challenge of converting his latest movie to sound. Who can forget Kelly's rendition of the title song as he dances down a deserted, rainswept street? "I'm singin' and dancin' in the rain...."
Amusing Ourselves to Death
Postman's book, subtitled "Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business," postulates that while we may have avoided a world dominated by Orwellian fascism, we are in very real danger of slipping into Aldous Huxley's vision of oblivion via irrelevance.
"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy."
Violin Concerto in D major Op. 35
Perhaps it's a cliche to recommend so obvious a masterpiece. So here's a twist: Buy two copies of the Concerto, one featuring Jascha Heifetz on violin, the other Itzhak Perlman. It doesn't matter how many times you've listened to it before, listen again and often. Stick to just one version. (You decide which one.) Become so familiar with the piece that you'll know what's coming next. Get to a point, for example, where you know every beautiful step through the second movement. No surprises. Then switch to the other version. Compare translations. Listen for what's familiar, what's different. There's more than one genius at work here.
The Darkness Around Us is Deep
After Arguing against the Contention
That Art Must Come from Discontent
Whispering to each handhold, "I'll be back,"
I go up the cliff in the dark. One place
I loosen a rock and listen a long time
till it hits, faint in the gulf, but the rush
of the torrent almost drowns it out, and the wind--
I almost forgot the wind: it tears at your side
or it waits and the buffets; you sag outward....
I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark--
"Made it again!" Oh how I love this climb!
--the whispering to stones, the drag, the weight
as your muscles crack and ease on, working
right. They are back there, discontent,
waiting to be driven forth. I pound
on the earth, riding the earth past the stars:
"Made it again! Made it again!"
The Original Star Trek
I've got a confession: I never got all the spin-offs. Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine--I can't tell one from the next, and finally I'm just not that interested. The original was more than just costumes, humanoid aliens, and optimistic future-speak; it was great characters. Kirk and Spock are perhaps the prototypical buddy duo.
The Best of the Nat King Cole Trio
"...most of their best known and longest lasting vocal classics like 'Straighten Up and Fly Right', 'The Frim Fram Sauce', '(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66', 'Baby, Baby All The Time' and '(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons' are songs that they introduced and single-handedly catapulted into the strata of standards."
Chinatown is quintessential film noir. Starring Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston, the movie combines great acting, great screenwriting, and great visual style to emerge as one of the best films of all time. Robert Towne based the script on an actual Los Angeles water-use scandal. Roman Polanski directs. Best line--detective Jake Gittes (Nicholson) to Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway): "Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamned near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think that you're hiding something."
The Constitution of the United States
If you grew up in America, you probably studied The Constitution when you were in high school. At least the good parts. After high school, you also probably forgot most of it. Well, guess what--it's time to go back and brush up. What you may be suprised to find is that this landmark document is actually a fun read. It's especially interesting to note the changes that have been made since 1787; they're few in number, but far-reaching in impact.
1878 San Francisco
What if you could travel back in time, stand on a really tall hill, and take a look around? Well, thanks to the folks at meow.com, now you can do just that. They've taken a series of Eadweard Muybridge photographs and manipulated them using Apple's QuickTime VR. If you've got the proper plug-in, you'll be able to stand atop San Francisco's Nob Hill circa 1878 and see a complete 360-degree panorama. The only thing left to your imagination is the fog...
"When Miss Lonelyhearts quit work, he found that the weather had turned warm and that the air smelt as though it had been artificially heated. He decided to walk to Delahanty's speakeasy for a drink. In order to get there, it was necessary to cross a little park.
He entered the park at the North Gate and swallowed mouthfuls of the heavy shade that curtained its arch. He walked into the shadow of a lamp-post that lay on the path like a spear. It pierced him like a spear."
Bud Powell in Paris
Powell is to the piano what Charlie Parker is to the saxophone. As the first jazz pianist to play "bebop," Powell's influence is incalculable. In 1959 he moved to Paris, and in the years following he produced what are probably the best sides of his career. In Paris is a fine example of Powell's fluid, urgent style.
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