News and Notes
My Solo Project
Remember making those tapes of your thirteen-year-old-aspiring-to-be-a-rock-star self singing and pounding on improvised instruments in your bedroom or garage? And remember how listening to it years later you marveled at the originality, energy, and charm of your simple songs and your uncensored self? Kori Gardner (vocals and keyboards) and Jason Hammel (vocals and drums) clearly enjoy making music for themselves and for each other. In the process they have captured the sound and feeling of a home-made, lo-fi masterpiece and given us all a copy in the form of their debut release. As Kori and Jason sing in the opening song, "It doesn't matter, what might come true/It's simply enough to try."
Using vivid color, careful composition, and no camera movement, Ozu explores a rich network of relationships in late-'50s Japanese suburbia. Gossipy neighbors, pesky salesmen, and what may be the most subtle series of fart jokes ever filmed contribute to a low-key, delightful story that focuses on two young brothers who refuse to speak until their parents buy them a television. With warmth and humor, Ozu exposes the intricate systems of communication that we all use -- that often get in the way of what we are trying to say -- as well as the growing generational divide in post-war Japan.
Gold Dust and Gunsmoke
This collection of jaw-dropping tales of Gold Rush anarchy will leave your mind reeling. Written by a San Francisco historian, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke provides an amazing insight into the birth of California's multiculturalism. French, Chileans, Chinese, and Italians all mixed together with an already volatile population of post-war gringos and Californios to create an outrageous and lawless frontier environment. The "wild west" is a familiar term, but until you read this account of the Gold Rush it's a term you don't fully understand.
Frankie and Johnny
Make it Frankie and Albert, or Amy and Albert, or Franky, or Johnnie. Swing it, blues it, countrify it, jazz it, rag it, rock it. Let Johnny repent, let Frankie miss her shot through that hardwood floor (or door), let the other woman be Alice Fry or Nellie Bly or Sara Siles, let the sheriff offer to provide Frankie an alibi, let the judge send her to the chair or to the scaffold. Try to unearth all of the 300-plus known variations. Sing the dirty parts loud. Seek out the Brook Benton, Furry Lewis, Mae West, Leadbelly, Elvis, and Harvey Fierstein versions. As you will. But one thing remains constant, and this is important: He was her man. He was doing her wrong.
The Collected Hutch Owen
How does a committed social revolutionary fight the power when the power is co-opting his own radical philosophy as a marketing tool? This is but one of the dilemmas facing Hutch Owen ("The Street Pole Dissident") in "Working Hard," the classic story which opens this collection chronicling the inherently ironic social and political fabric of the 1990s. Artist Tom Hart wields his dip-pen with the gentle dexterity of a Charles Schulz and the critical humor of a Jules Feiffer. This makes an excellent introduction to Hart's deceptively complex work.
In their heyday (aided by a cameo in a U2 concert movie), Satan and Adam seemed to be famous primarily because of their unusual pairing of a young, white grad-student and an elderly, black street performer; but it's their raucous blues music that has held up over the years. Popping this disc in and closing your eyes, you'll find yourself transported to 125th Street in Harlem, holding a brown-bagged bottle and tapping your foot along to the beat...
The Red Shoes
A young dancer and a young composer rise through the ranks of a prestigious ballet company, fall in love, and fall apart. Based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Powell and Pressburger's magnificent exploration of art, love, and sacrifice has had a major influence on Hollywood filmmakers from Gene Kelly to Martin Scorsese. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff took full advantage of the three-strip Technicolor process, creating some of the most gorgeous images ever captured on film. Chief among these is the fifteen-minute Red Shoes ballet, a stunning and surreal interpretation of the Andersen fable.
Don't be fooled by the atrocious movie they made from this book. This is one of the all-time classics of science fiction. Any book which can be simultaneously labeled by various critics as "fascist propaganda" and a "lovesong to liberty" has got to be worth reading. Heinlein's ground-breaking novel was originally intended for the juvenile market. However, mix together libertarian rantings, disgusted views on bloated military bureaucracies, a cynical polemic on our criminal justice system and you've got yourself a meaty and timeless story for readers of all ages. Oh yeah, it's got plenty of gnarly bug hunts too. Just pretend you never saw the movie.
If getting there is half the fun, then planning how you'll be getting there must be the other half. Updated every year, Rand McNally's U.S. road atlas beckons you to journey across the country with an earnest and endearing variety of symbols and colors. Every page suggests an expedition: what's Virginia's Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel all about? Is it a bridge or a tunnel? Why note the highest point in Florida if the locals didn't think its 345 feet were even worth giving it a name? Can your child get through the state of Washington without giggling at the signs for Walla Walla, Toppenish, and Snoqualmie? Hit the road and find out.
Do you know a guy like F.H.? If you do, you probably wish you'd never met him. He's never been able to hold it together, and he has a tendency to screw things up for the people around him. "Does everything you touch turn to s--t?" shouts an exasperated pal at one point. The short answer? Yes. But in the hands of Billy Crudup -- the best of the current crop of young actors making films these days -- F.H. is a character with odd charms and a life story made for telling from a barstool somewhere out west. Samantha Morton, Denis Leary, and Jack Black are also outstanding in this series of vignettes from Denis Johnson's book of the same name.