News and Notes
The Third Man
Post-war Vienna provides a gritty backdrop of bombed-out buildings and rubble-strewn streets for The Third Man, the prototypical noir thriller. Orson Welles plays Harry Lime, who goes missing just as his old friend arrives from America to see him. The American, played by Joseph Cotten, soon finds himself entangled in the intrigues of the city -- divided by war and haven to ruthless smugglers. Director Reed brings together an intriguing mystery (written by Graham Greene), compelling characters, superb acting, skilled cinematography, and a haunting zither score to make one of the classic films of all time.
Diehard Simpsons fans have long used the Internet for critiquing episodes and discussing favorite characters. In the early days, the conversation was limited to a couple of Usenet newsgroups. Today, we have the Simpsons Archive -- a massive collaboration that offers an exhaustive, ever-growing concordance of all things Simpson. The searchable episode capsules are great if you're looking for specific Homer/Barney dialogue, while the FAQs, guides, and lists will prove invaluable as you research your doctoral thesis on "The Fin de Siecle Rebirth of the Prime-Time Cartoon." Does the world really need a complete list of Bart's chalkboard openings? Maybe not. But it's a comfort just to know it's there.
Notwithstanding the fact that the base station looks like a cute little UFO, AirPort wireless networking is a triumph of packaging, technology, and ease of use. For a decent price, less than half that of Lucent's similar product, Apple has unlocked the door to local mobility for the average home or small-business user. Ten minutes after my base station arrived, I was sitting on the stairs on the other side of my office's brick wall, surfing away on my Powerbook. A short while later, I was connected via my laptop running LinuxPPC. Did I mention it looks like a cute little UFO?
"Many of Edward Gorey's most fervent devotees think he's (a) English and
(b) dead. Actually, he has never so much as visited either place. But
his work has imprinted itself on the American consciousness as something
from long ago and far away."
---The New Yorker
Sadly, this is no longer accurate. The author and illustrator of such strange little books as The Doubtful Guest, The Curious Sofa, and The Gashlycrumb Tinies died on April 15 at the age of 75. He has yet to visit England.
The Four Immigrants Manga
Imagine a humorous comic in which the hero immigrates to America, survives the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, serves in World War I, and avoids an influenza epidemic. These are just a few of the events of this autobiographical graphic novel, drawn in the 1920s. Many of the gags fizzle, due to the translation perhaps, but the history and the drama overshadow the punchlines. Kiyama attempted to interest a Japanese-American newspaper in printing his work, but the effort proved to be well ahead of its time. He finally self-published The Four Immigrants as a book, mostly in Japanese, in 1931 -- several years before the first comic book was published.
The Moral Animal
Digging deep into the dark side of human behavior, The Moral Animal says things we may not like to hear, such as the fact that men will hustle, betray, and lie in order to spread their genes, and that women will do the same to ensure the protection of their offspring. But Wright also explores such areas as evolution of cooperative behavior and altruism, from chimpanzee group dynamics and sexuality to computer-simulated models. Whether or not you find the theories and research valid, the book does the important job of making you think about humankind and our own society in a new light.
From the posthumous arrangement of Woody Guthrie's unsung lyrics to the hills-n-hollers crooning of Gillian Welch, it's a rich time for folk traditionalists, old and new. Perhaps the brightest light on folk's near horizon, England's Kate Rusby has released two albums, both filled with crystalline renditions of powerful songs, many dating from the Medieval period. Hourglass, her debut, offers Rusby's sweet-toned voice, a rogue's gallery of talented instrumentalists, and a bushel of magical tunes, from the playful "Jolly Plough Boys" to the aching "I Am Stretched on Your Grave."
For some incomprehensible reason, Amazon.com lists the first volume of the recently reprinted Pogo compendium as suitable for ages 9 to 12. From the proto-environmentalist sentiment of "we have met the enemy and he is us" to Kelly's skewering of Senator McCarthy as "Simple J. Malarkey," Pogo is perhaps the most sophisticated comic strip of all time, acknowledged by Trudeau, Pfeiffer, and Berkeley Breathed as a primary influence. Read it and weep for the sorry state of syndicated comics today. (SC)
This DVD rental service has changed the way I watch movies. For a reasonable monthly fee, I can rent up to four movies at a time with no due dates or late fees. When I'm done with a disc, I slip it into the postage-paid envelope and drop it in the mail. Once NetFlix receives it, they send me the next title in my personalized queue. Thanks to their selection of over 7,000 titles, together with reviews, links, and customized recommendations, I no longer have to settle for whatever is left on the shelf at the video store.
East is East
A depressed Japanese sailor jumps ship and washes ashore near an isolated artist colony on the Georgia coast. He quickly becomes a pawn in a bizarre game of dueling egos between the colony's residents and the bewildered locals. While it may sound like an improbable premise, it proves perfect for Boyle's wicked skewering of pretentious artists, petulant rednecks, and cultural prejudices.
The Night of the Hunter
"H-A-T-E. It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E. You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man- the right hand, friends, the hand of love."
Sinister Robert Mitchum preaches the right hand but practices the left. After murdering his wife, this twisted man of the cloth hunts down his newly orphaned step-children to get the money that they're hiding. Providing the only resistance to his greed and amorality, Lillian Gish sees the preacher for what he is: H-A-T-E personified.
Ford: The Men and the Machine
Smart, creative, driven -- words aptly applied to Henry Ford. Here are a few more: ruthless, bigoted, unstable. Undaunted by his subject's complexity, Robert Lacey undertook the task of telling Ford's story thoroughly and objectively. While researching the book, he even moved to Detroit and worked on a Ford assembly line. Happily, the experience shows. Detailed without being gossipy, intelligent without being windy, Ford: The Men and the Machine is a fascinating ride.
Weaving together threads of Jack Kirby super-heroism, H.P. Lovecraft horror, Nazi menace, ironic world-weariness, and, well, Rasputin, Mignola creates perhaps the richest fantasy tapestry since Alan Moore's Watchmen (clearly an inspiration). The warp and weft rewards attentive readers with both subtle details and shocking plot twists, as well as page after page of masterful artwork. Reminiscent of The Spirit, Hellboy is powerful, dark graphic art, embellished with a suprisingly lighthearted strand of humor.
Recorded in 1996, but still unreleased, this solo disc from Soul Coughing's singer and guitarist is more than just a rehashing of his former band's sound. Producer Kramer gives Doughty's unique voice and guitar more depth, but ultimately it's the songwriting that carries the day. From the folky "Cobain's Sarcoma" to the ethereal "Oh Lord, Thank You For Sending Me The F-Train" to the earnest Mary J. Blige cover "Real Love," Skittish is original, compelling, and for the time being, only available through Napster. Thankfully, downloading it isn't illegal, Doughty himself said it
Run by a super-computer, and ruled by logic, Alphaville is a place where emotion is forbidden and poetry is forgotten. It's a place where words like "conscience" and "tenderness" are removed from the dictionary, and where those who do not assimilate are executed in a public ceremony at a swimming pool. Shot with style, and infused with self-mocking wit, Alphaville is an intriguing, though sometimes baffling, sci-fi/noir thriller as only Godard could make.
C.S. Godshalk based her debut novel on the true tale of the White Rajah of Sarawak. Some 160 years ago this British sailor traveled far up the rivers of Borneo, and ruthlessly carved out his own kingdom. Through the eyes of the Rajah's 18-year-old bride, Godshalk shows us a lush world of missionaries, disease, ambition, imperial politics, and enormous loneliness. It's a difficult, gorgeous book that evokes both brutality and tenderness.
Harold and Maude
Harold is 20 and obsessed with death. Well, not really. He's just looking for a reason to live. He finds it in 79-year-old Maude and her zest for life. This black comedy, sweetened by the songs of the oft-maligned Cat Stevens, is more than a movie. It's a paradigm for living.
This papa's dream is to find some music that I can dig that won't bore or freak out my little ni�as. Sesame Street and Barney do have their merits; they just aren't always my thing. On Papa's Dream, Los Lobos mix Mexican folk songs with great rock-and-roll while Papa Lalo relates the fantastic tale of a high-flying balloon ride south of the border. Kids and parents alike will appreciate this on the next family trip. So get it and go.
Perhaps the greatest working cartoonist of the moment, Jim Woodring has branched out into web animation. The result, Whim Grinder, is the most faithful jump from comics page to animated cartoon that I have ever seen. Making the jump with him is Woodring's character Frank who, along with his pet, Pupshaw, encounters a devil-like character who attempts to divorce them from their reality. Watch carefully. Watch it again and again, and then tour the rest of Jim's site for comics, games, and mystery.
After playing second fiddle to Mike Scott in the Waterboys for two years, singer/songwriter Karl Wallinger broke away to form World Party. Their second album, Goodbye Jumbo, overflows with rich and tasty pop created with a nod to the Beatles, Al Green, Brian Wilson, and even Fairport Convention. Standout tracks include "Message in the Box" and "Way Down Now." (TN)
It's a damned shame that literature students must bury their noses forever in the so-called great books while being denied the beauty and adventure to be found in smaller, lesser-known works. Pynchon's first novel is one of these jewels. An extended flight of fancy and intrigue set in the Eisenhower years, V. is packed with symbolism and heady prose that The Crying of Lot 49 crystallized, and Gravity's Rainbow beat to a bloody pulp. )