The first in a series of videos based on music and poems.
Around the house has been uneventful and quiet. It’s been enjoyable, though we’ve had our usual summer errands and engagements: doctor appointments, daycare water days, meetings at work, etc.
The goslings are longer and taller and gray, and a few have only wisps of green halos left of their original color and fuzz.
While I’ve done some reading and writing, part of the summer that I enjoy is a chance to watch more movies than during the school year. From this week:
Peter Greenaway rarely elicits indifference, though I bet some have slumbered off during one of those long tracking shots. His work produces a love or hate in the viewer, at least that’s been my experience.
I don’t think I’ve seen this in about 20 years, where I was introduced to it in a film class. Thank you, Dr. Hotchkiss! Part of the reason I hadn’t watched this again is that I can’t recreate the first time seeing it with a good friend in a film class. I believe this was the first Greenaway film we watched, and we both found it hilarious. Greenaway’s movies are generally gorgeous, but also full of the darkest, driest British wit. Part of our fun in watching The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) was due to my physical reactions to Michael Nyman’s score, which I detested at the time. I love his work now, but back then I was repulsed by minimalism like Philip Glass–it was tortuous. I would cringe every time the music started and my friend would laugh.
I like Greenaway’s films even more these days and even listen to Nyman on purpose.
Draughtsman’s is an art film, a period piece, a satire, and a murder mystery. And by art film I mean, yes, it eschews Hollywood traditions, but I also mean it is a film about art, and like other Greenaway films, it is full of allusions to the European tradition of painting and sculpture. As a trained painter, he also did all of the contracted drawings.
Another period piece by a divisive director I watched was A Field in England (2013) and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I want to watch it again and see how I feel about the ending. The use of rope as a device and image in the film was really interesting to me, but I can’t quite put it into words. Something about the soul tethered to the body, the mind tethered to the brain. I don’t know. The rope and mushroom imagery, both related to the images of circles and rings, were fantastically used. The music, sometimes folksy, sometimes noisy, and the sound design were darkly enveloping. I really hope to see this in a theater some day.
Jane Campion, one of my favorite directors, has several short films on FilmStruck. I didn’t know these existed and all of them, so far, are funny, sometimes sad, and often both. “Passionless Moments” (1983) is a catalogue of small moments in the lives of very ordinary people. The situations are silly, but believable. A boy pretends the vegetables he’s carrying are a bomb that he has to get to his mom’s kitchen in order to defuse it. A man does yoga and has an epiphany–I think–of something fairly obvious. Speaking of Greenaway, this reminds me of some of his early work that uses lists and voiceover as organizing principles.
Also on FilmStruck is Francis Thompson’s short “N.Y., N.Y.” (1957). He didn’t make many films, but this is one of the best short films I’ve ever seen–and it has a great score. I’ve read that it took 13 years to make. I’ve read that it took 20. Either way, it was a long time in the making. Thompson directed very few films, mostly (if not all) shorts. This one uses kaleidoscopic lenses to an amazing effect. Again, one that I hope to see in a theater. There is an ok transfer on YouTube.
While finishing the last week of the 2018 academic year, the family got some form of stomach virus that started last week. Since that cleared up, we’ve been able to do some much needed cleaning and organizing. We’re also planning our next academic year.
The youngest got her cast cut off and she is healing. The worst part of the ordeal (besides the smell–she dutifully peed into her cast the first night she had it) was the sore she gave herself by packing mulch into her cast. She hasn’t explained why she put the mulch in the cast, and sometimes there is no real answer. Maybe because it was there.
Tonight we were discussing different astrological systems at dinner and finding out which of us are dogs, snakes, sharks, dragons, etc. When told we were water bearers, the kids began chanting:
Water Bear! Water Bear!
Polar Bear! Polar Bear!
Poolar Bear! Poolar Bear!
The Phantom (1931) is a giant, wonderful mess of an attempt at a horror-comedy/action film. I tend to adore this kind of z-grade schlock and I want to like this one less than I do. I can’t say anything is done well here, but I still had fun. The plot revolves around a character called “The Phantom” who escapes from jail and promises more dastardly deeds. Sure. The plot is more confusing than the poster, which I think has a lovely balance to it–unlike the film.
The movie could partially be saved with a good edit. Scenes start early or end too late rendering the performances–not stellar to begin with–almost surreal. Every emotion becomes awkward humor or just awkward.
Still, I found it oddly charming.
Lilli Carré is one of my favorite comics writers and artists. Her stories, sometimes dark, sometimes absurd, sometimes neither, may remind one of O. Henry, Aimee Bender, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Beyer, or Edward Gorey. And whether or not these folks were actual influences, Carré is a unique and inspiring voice. I’m often terrible about keeping up with comics and the comics creators I like–I just discovered that she’s done some animated films that I’m excited to track down.
Paolo Bacilieri’s FUN: Spies, Puzzle Solvers, and a Century of Crosswords is a graphic novel that tells the history of the crossword. But it’s not that simple or straightforward. The crossword history is told as a work in progress by a writer named Pippo Quester, who I think is an homage to Umberto Ecco.
The art is fantastic, and the way the art and story inform and extend each other gives the story immediate and multiple pleasures. The book holds up on multiple reads. I was shocked at how many negative reviews this one got on Goodreads. Many of the complaints were that it should be at least two different books. I totally disagree. Quester is the vertical plane of the crossword. He is known for his intelligence. This book is also partially about his fall. Zeno Porno (a Disney cartoonist!) is the horizontal. He’s down-to-earth, moving through life, trying to figure out his life. I keep thinking of Mafalda as the face staring out of the first crossword in The Settimana Enigmistica. She is an enigma in the book. There’s also a way where I read the three characters as representations of three different generations.
I loved this book.
My workouts tend to be scored by either Public Enemy and older Ice Cube records or Slayer, Entombed, or other metal variations. I was scrolling through music the other day before cardio and I saw this and figured I’d give it a shot. The only thing I knew (or thought I knew) about the record was that it must not be that good because we always had 10 to 20 copies in the used bin of the record store I worked at for several years. The album art, well, just kinda sucks and I figured the rest of the thing must suck, too.
We all have our blindspots.
I didn’t recognize the opener, “Highway Star,” at first because I don’t think I’ve ever heard the actual song. I’ve heard covers, clips, and a radio edit. It’s a fantastic rock song. I found it funny that it’s a hyperbolic “girls and cars” song like a lot of the early material by the Beach Boys. I found a German TV appearance that has some great solos and a hilariously drunk or forgetful Ian Gillan. Maybe he’s improvising, but if so, it’s not very inspired.
This record also has “Smoke on the Water,” a tune off limits when I was growing up and playing music. It immediately signaled you were uncool and a beginner. I’ve never heard this song played or phrased correctly. I realized this when I finally listened to the actual song and not someone trying to play the riff. Also, the song namechecks, of all things, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. What?! I had to stop and rewind the song and then realized it was about the Montreux fire. It was the last thing I expected in such a ubiquitous song.
Much of the record is a kind of blues rock that’s fine for what it is. I love the organ riffs and solos. There are some fun lyrics like “Maybe I’m a Leo, but I ain’t a lion.” I really like “Pictures of Home,” which is a type of ubi sunt, or “Where are they?” poem.
Back to that cover: I will say that I thought the album was contemporary in the ’90s, so maybe that’s saying something. I assumed it was a compilation or best-of thing. But still, that cover’s so bad. Did it look trippy in ’72 or something? I don’t get it. I just imagine the doors closing on the worst elevator ride ever.
An overheard conversation between bath and bedtime:
6YO: “Ciao”…”Ciao” means…uh…”Ciao” means “hello” and “goodbye” in…in…
6YO: In Italian.
4YO: (clomps in on cast) ¡Hola, Big Dogs!
Despite a nice plate of shrimp, peas, orzo, and fresh parmesan, our children decided to skip that and eat the lemons off the cutting board. One of them danced like a robot while basically using her nose as a juicer. “Lemons are so sweet!” she yelled, and kept dancing.
Then she told me about watching a bird eat a poisonous snake during her zoo field trip. The little one decided to eat some cherry tomatoes and raw spinach leaves to go with her lemon slices. Maybe the zoo talk inspired her to eat like the turtles we saw there eat lunch once.
Later that night:
6YO: What are you doing?
Me: Fixing lunches. What are you doing?
6YO: The cat puked in our room.
Me: Can you tell mom?
6YO: She knows.
6YO: She stepped in it.
Me: Why are you telling me this?
6YO: Can I please may I have some ice water?
Me: Sure. Then bedtime.
6YO: With ice.
Me: Ice water with ice. Got it.
Richard Matheson wrote the story that became the Twilight Zone episode everyone knows (or should know!) with William Shatner. He wrote “Duel” which became Spielberg’s first feature-length film (or at least the first one most people count). When playground discussion went to horror movies, kids would talk about Trilogy of Terror‘s sequence with a Zuni doll, based on Matheson’s “Prey.” It was the only part of that film I ever heard anyone talk about. Stephen King has said that Matheson is the writer that most influenced his own work. “Prey” seems to directly influence King’s short story “Battleground” and the “General” sequence in Cat’s Eye (1985). Matheson also sets his stories predominantly within the “normal” US households and neighborhoods. For example, King took Dracula and brought the idea to a Maine town in ‘Salem’s Lot, but this homeyness has often been a strength of King’s work.
He also wrote I Am Legend, a great apocalypse novel that became The Last Man on Earth (1964), Omega Man (1971), and finally I am Legend (2007). While I haven’t seen the latest adaptation, Last Man on Earth is my favorite. Omega Man is a laugh riot even as an apocalypse film.
Ray Bradbury called him “one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.”
If that isn’t enough to make you go read his work then I don’t know what is.
I don’t know if this is truly the best of Matheson, but it is an amazing introduction to his short fiction. If I would have discovered him in high school, I don’t think anything could have kept me from writing horror fiction. What really clicks reading these stories is how writers take ideas from each other and re-work them. He’s a link between someone like Poe or Lovecraft to King.
Way back in February, I wanted to watch some more Buñuel. That didn’t happen until recently. Robinson Crusoe (1954) and Simon of the Desert (1965) make an interesting double feature. Crusoe is a favorite book of mine (the first book I remember re-reading), but this movie version isn’t great. It does, however, create a bizarre claustrophobia that helps achieve the mood of forced solitude. Evidently the film was made in some thick and dangerous jungles, while interiors were done on soundstages. This packed frame is the opposite of the visual imagery often seen with island narratives where we get broad expanses of sky and beach. Thematically this makes sense in something like Lord of the Flies (1963) and the chaotic freedom the boys feel without having grown-ups. I found the claustrophobic effect in Crusoe surprising and interesting, but not worth watching the film again.
Simon of the Desert also features a character dealing with solitude, but one which is self-inflicted. Also, the visuals of the man atop a pillar surrounded by desert and sky are the opposite of the cramped images from Crusoe. A short essay by David Heslin, “The Impotence of Asceticism: Luis Buñuel’s Simón del Desierto,” digs into the history of St. Simon and what Buñuel does with it. The film is short–I’ve heard a variety of reasons why–but it is an interesting mix of plot and Buñuel’s surrealistic images and sequences. It’s also perverse and funny, like his films often are.
That ending! Glorious for those who want to engage with the ideas and likely maddening for those who want everything neatly worked out.
Candles aren’t a usual topic here, but I do enjoy them. I decided to be a part of our department’s Secret Pal this year. I generally don’t like this kind of stuff and I wanted to push a little outside my comfort zone. Anyway, I received a Frostbeard Studio Oxford Library candle and it was fantastic. Thanks, Secret Pal! When I used that one, I tried The Shire, and while it’s a lighter fragrance, it’s nice, too. These are perfect sensory accompaniments to night reading or listening.
I really wanted to get the Old Books candle, but it is the only one I’ve seen with bad reviews. People who like book smells are persnickety–maybe. The major complaint is that it just smells like vanilla.
Once I leave The Shire, I’m journeying forth nosewise and elsewhere Frostbeardian.
Remember last week and all that great weather and trips to the park? This week began in rain (and ended in rain) and a broken foot for our youngest who was just getting the hang of sliding down the “fire pole” by herself. She’s in a cast and a Franken-boot since it’s more dangerous for little ones to have crutches. I assume more dangerous to herself, but I have a feeling if she had crutches, we would be treating her older sister for a concussion or worse. We know she’s been in pain and sometimes it catches up to her, but overall she’s been so good about everything, despite what I titled this entry.
It’s quite difficult to work with and respond to canonical texts without having the older work overtake the new one. Brown shows masterful control here. Where there are resonances with the Bible, the language never takes control of Brown’s own. He’s writing contemporary poetry rich in its own melody, yet rich in historical overtones.
I’m taking a break from the grind of the submission process, and to some degree a break from poetry writing itself. I’ve naturally fallen into nonfiction–it’s what I started writing back in sixth grade. And music is now taking up some of that time I used for writing and submitting. One of the benefits of this break is taking the time to read many of the contemporary poets I’ve been wanting to read. Brown’s name has come up a lot recently.
I think this may have been the first time I watched Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as a whole. Anyone with an interest in film or film theory has likely seen images from it (like the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein). This is a fantastic film built on a montage of daily life and the creation of film itself. The “man” of the title is often filmed by another man with a camera. I watched this in relation to Peeping Tom (1960), another self-reflexive film that I’m writing about for my next Test Prep essay.
One of my favorite movies is Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), so it’s strange that I somehow missed Escape from New York (1981). Overall, it’s a well-done popcorn movie. I liked the images of the city, blacked-out, skyscrapers green and hulking and empty. I also liked the palette for many of the night scenes: high contrast red and greens or cool blues (and grays and tans? if I remember correctly) played against the darkness (and Carpenter’s score).
Anyway, I’ve never noticed Carpenter use so many focus pulls.
Frank Doubleday’s creepy, oddball performance as “Romero” just about steals the whole movie, which is saying a lot for a film rife with scene stealers.
This week I’ve been listening to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1. It was his first published composition, but his only sonata. Berg wrote this as a student of Schoenberg, who developed the most lasting version of twelve-tone composition we have. I love the coloring of these chords and how within this context dissonance and consonance–or rather a traditional notion of these ideas–gets altered. I’m going to listen and pick through the score some, just to gain some understanding of what’s going on, though for the moment, staring at something like this:
seems way beyond my comprehension at the moment.
Anyway, I’ve mostly listened to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of it, but I plan on listening through some other performances to hear how different players approach a work like this. Glenn Gould has also recorded it, so I’m interested to see how his compares to others. I really hated his Bach recordings for years, but they’ve grown on me.
I’ve been working on the first Bach cello suite and had an insight that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. Maybe I will when I have the piece under my fingers again.
For sightreading practice I’m playing some of Haydn’s E Flat string quartet (No. 31) and playing the cello part on electric bass.
And for workouts this week I’ve been revisiting:
Metallica’s music never made me interested in playing guitar, but Megadeth, especially Rust in Peace, inspired me to try more guitar playing. Great riffs and solos. A friend’s dad once described Mustaine’s vocals as like “a little, green head yellin’ at me.” Sure, some of that’s cringy–but Mustaine takes on characters at times, which was kind of a risk in thrash. I forgot how funny some of the lyrics were (“Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall” –C-mon, it’s about a missile!–“Launch the Polaris! The end doesn’t scare us!”). I remember enjoying the references to Roswell and general dystopian theme of this record.
I’m also trying to redevelop the walking bass chops I once had. I’ve also discovered some Paul Chambers isolated bass tracks, which I’m excited to learn from as well.
If I can ever get these essays graded.
We’ve had great weather here, so when the kids get home we’ve been going to the park. I miss when the geese would waddle around us. Now there’s just screeching trees, but at least the insects and the heat haven’t taken over…yet. Mostly it’s just Spider-Man jumps and running around the playground. My oldest likes to run at least two laps before playtime and two after. She is the only runner in the family, even her competitive younger sister watches and says, “Let me hold the clock!”
I wrote a whole page on bassist Bakithi Kumalo that I ended up editing out of my latest post on Lost Chords & Serenades Divine. I’ve been researching a variety of African rock and pop styles, partially out of general interest and partially for bass playing inspiration. The one personal positive outcome from our flood has been my rediscovery of bass playing.
In true reanimated fashion, I published an essay I wrote on zombies over a decade ago for Test Prep to go with their episode on Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Mother! (2017). George Romero remains an inspiration.
I’m always reading a book of poetry, but that may mean reading only a poem or two a day. I had enjoyed a few of Smith’s poems in various publications, and I admired not only the individual lines and poems, but also the organization of Life on Mars. Smith weaves several topics together, grief, the death of a father, David Bowie, etc. What struck me was how Modernist the book was, while being contemporary. I don’t know much about Smith, but there was this echo of style and device of Eliot and Pound and Yeats, but not mimicry. The multiple dimensional use of Bowie as a reference reminded me of Pound’s use of references. After Silverstein, Hughes, Poe, and Dickinson, the Modern poets, for better or worse, were my first real poetry obsessions. I knew poetry would be a part of my life after reading them.
So this came with my Audible account I started two years ago. I enjoyed Krakauer’s Into the Wild, but I thought this was the Mt. Everest book, which only sort of interests me. I didn’t have any credits left and didn’t want to spend any more money on books, so I decided to listen to it since it was free. Wow. This isn’t the Everest book. This is the Mormon murder book. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you know that I’ve been studying religion and religious texts informally for over a decade. I hadn’t done much work on Mormonism, fundamental or otherwise, though I’ve had pleasant conversations with Mormon missionaries.
It’s a mix of Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Seriously.
Moby Dick is one of my favorite novels, and when I heard that there was a metal record based on it (to some degree), it cracked me up. Someone tried to get me to listen to it once, but I just wasn’t interested in hearing metal at the time. Time’s change. Mastodon’s Leviathan (2004) has been cued up several times this week and I think it’s a blast. I’ve previewed a few of their other albums and none of them have caught my ear yet.
I generally don’t write about stuff I don’t like. It just doesn’t seem useful. Sometimes work is just not for me at a specific time (see above paragraph) or simply not for me. That’s ok. I may personally analyze something that I don’t think works in order to learn from it. Anyway, this particular week brought me two unexpected cases.
I’ve been reading Clowes since he was in Cracked. I’m wondering if I missed something with this one. It felt like a chore getting though it sometimes and I’ve never had that experience with his work (though I recently attempted a viewing of the Ghost World adaptation–a movie I liked when it was released–and found it unwatchable). There were interesting nods to other cartoonists’ styles, like the time dimensions would be characters visiting different strips or universes drawn by a different author. Any other Clowes fans have the same reaction?
I had only heard good things about Diner (1982). While there are some sparkling performances here, I felt like Kevin Bacon’s character most of the time: I either wanted to drink or punch windows or both. I don’t think that was what I was supposed to get from it. I much prefer the Baltimore of John Waters.