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Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Someone asked, how many post-notes did it take? More to the point, how much patience?
Monday, March 22, 2010
I suspect, if someone was to do a study on the subject, that men would spend perhaps a minimum of two full days of their lives, in hitching up their trousers. I probably spend even more time hitching, because I have one hip that seems to be slightly lower than the other, and so my trousers have a tendency to slip off that side more than the other.
This is possibly a reason why so many men keep their hands in their pockets a lot of the time: it isn't to keep their hands warm, but to keep their trousers from slipping. I used to work with an English singer who sneered at the way NZ men kept their hands in their trousers; she thought it looked vulgar. However, I note that English men do it just as much as New Zealanders.
Of course, these days, you can always become one of those people who let their trousers slip down until their butt is exposed, but personally that doesn't strike me as an ideal solution to the problem. And anyway, most of them seem to have just as much trouble as the guys who wear their trousers in the normal position. Maintaining equilibrium with trousers virtually at half mast is quite some achievement, and perhaps shows that these young fellers aren't as dumb as they look.
Recently, I had to pick another pair of trousers off the hangers because my regular ones were all in the wash. I discovered a pair that must have come in by the back door; I don't even remember buying them. It turned out that they were just a little large around the waist, which wasn't, unfortunately, a sign that I'd lost any weight. I could use a belt, but it wasn't quite tidy, so I reverted to using a pair of braces that were in the clothes drawer.
For the period that I wore these trousers I spent no time at all in hitching them up. A pair of shoulders with braces slung over them is a great way to avoid the hitching problem.
When I was young, it was quite normal for men to have trousers with buttons for braces built in, as it were. Trousers were covered in buttons at that time, what with the flies usually having up to half a dozen, and probably another couple: one on the left to hold the right side in place, and another outside on the right to bring the front into line. Men would have to go to the trouble of fitting their braces (which didn't have the snap-shut clips on them then) over the buttons, back and front, in order to get the day started. The braces varied as to how much give they had in them, but most would allow for considerable pull before the piece fitted over the button would give way.
I tend to think of most people wearing braces at that time, but in fact there were just as many belts around. It would probably make (another) interesting study to find out just when braces were the norm, and belts were, and how often the 'norm' shifted. According to a writer on Wikipedia: There have been several precursors to braces throughout the past 300 years, but the modern type were first invented in 1822 by Albert Thurston and were once almost universally worn due to the high cut of mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century trousers, a cut that made a belt impractical.
After losing popularity in the first World War, as men became accustomed to uniform belts, braces were still standard throughout the 1920s. Because of their image as underwear, men switched to belts during the 1930s as the waistcoats which had hidden braces became worn less. This also signalled the switch of position of the buttons from the outside of the waistband to the inside. Though the return of fuller-cut trousers in the 1940s revived braces, they did not dominate over belts again to the same extent.
Note that Americans tend to call braces suspenders; the Brits don't, as suspenders to them are something that hold socks or stockings up.
These days you don't see many men wearing braces - although executives and lawyers in Hollywood movies seem to wear them as a kind of fashion statement quite regularly. And some well-known actors wear them off the screen as well. It appears braces ain't completely on their way out yet.
Nevertheless, however it's done - and it's done very well - it's probably a good deal more cathartic than having one of those colon cleanses, the very thought of which sends shivers up and down my spine. They may be for some, but they ain't for me!
The video of This Too Shall Pass' comes from OK Go's new album "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" available here, where you can also get more information about their tour. If you have time to focus on the song while the video's playing, you've got the ability to multi-task in a great measure.
It was directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs. The video was filmed in a two story warehouse, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The "machine" was designed and built by the band, along with members of Syyn Labs over the course of several months.
PS - Just discovered that OK Go is in fourth place on the Time Magazine's list of the top 50 videos on You Tube (top in terms of having been viewed the most). It's another very clever piece of choreography, taking place on several moving treadmills.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
That is why perhaps the best job in America is to be a failed CEO. You receive millions in severance and are once more given opportunities to either try it again, or serve on a board of directors where you can again escape accountability for failure.
Ron Ashkenas in an article entitled, A Dangerous Pattern: rewarding failure
Monday, March 15, 2010
I watched two movies over the last two nights which both starred Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The first was Julie and Julia, the second, Doubt. The first might be a chick flick, by description, the secondly is a serious adaptation of a seriously successful stage play.
I'd heard some reports about J&J which made me think I didn't want to see it; in fact it turned out to be a delight - well, at least the Meryl Streep part of it did. Amy Adams played a thirtyish woman, rather self-centred, not terribly sure of herself, who is persuaded by her husband to blog about cooking her way through Julia Child's cookbook, in a year.
Streep plays Child about fifty years earlier, at a time when she was trying to find out what she wanted to do with her life. And did find out, most successfully, as it turned out.
There were quite a few connections between the two characters, (both have 'saints' for husbands) who never actually meet in the movie (though there was a hint towards the end that it might happen), and the thing flits back and forth between the two periods with considerable ease.
The revelation of the film, however, is Streep's performance. It could be described as a striking imitation of Child - and everything is there: the awkwardness because of her height, the delicious laugh, the nonsequiters, the mutterings and mumblings, the surprised little noises. But it's much more than an actress playing the part of a person most of us will have seen on TV at some point. Streep thoroughly inhabits the role, so that you seldom think about her 'performing'; she just scoops Child up holus bolus and presents her as she would have been if she herself had made a movie at the time.
Streep has always had an uncanny knack of getting the voice right in a movie - I can still 'hear' her in the Australian film she made about Lindy Chamberlain. She had that accent down pat, and managed to make herself Australian, if that's the word I'm looking for. And she's done it in other movies too. But her Julia Child is a marvel. And the scene with her sister, with both of them full of delight at seeing each other again, and full of fun and full of suggestions that there might be a 'tall' man for the sister to marry (she opts for a small bloke, as it happens) is one of the best scenes in the movie.
Amy Adams has a slightly thankless role; she's never going to get the sympathy Streep gains, and there are scenes where she's required to turn the audience off her. And does.
Her role in Doubt is similar: another slightly self-centred character who's either more naive than she looks, or just a little conniving. I wasn't sure what to think about her. Still, she's a good deal more sympathetic than the Streep character, who is the devil incarnate when she gets going. Sure, she has a couple of sympathy scenes with an elderly nun who's losing her sight, but these are utterly overwhelmed by her sheer awfulness in every other scene. The priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman in an ambiguous role that never quite clarifies where he's at) calls her the Dragon in an early scene. She's far more than that. She's prepared to lose her soul to prove her point, and possibly does.
The story, set in 1964, centres around a large Catholic school run by nuns, with a priest theoretically in charge, but pushed to one side by Sister Aloysius. She doesn't like anything he does, doesn't like his sermons (which are short and punchy), doesn't like his use of a ballpoint pen, his need to have three lumps of sugar in his tea, his longish fingernails, but most of all, his concern for the one black boy in the school. Sister A takes it into her head that the priest is homosexual, and perhaps he is - neither the movie nor Hoffman ever allow it to be definite - and that he's intent on corrupting the boy. She determinedly brings him down - at least as far as her limited realm is concerned (he's given a 'promotion' at another parish, and school) - and makes sure that her control-freak nature is satisfied to the max. But at the end....doubts.
The film has some marvellous sustained scenes lifted directly from the play, I guess, but otherwise is opened out naturally, without any sense that scenes are broken up just for the sake of it. I've seen some of it twice now, and it remained as powerful on a second viewing as on the first.
Incidentally, the Julie character in J&J is described in the credits as being 'now a writer.' Julie Powell's second book, Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, which details affairs she had after the first book's publication, as well as her experiences learning the butcher trade, was published November 30, 2009.
So much for her husband the saint....
Photo is of Julie Powell
We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
and the statement of a graduate student :
They tell us that it is heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to a judgemtn sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any value we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true. [page 107]
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Milan Kundera: The devil laughs because God's world seems senseless to him, ; the angel laughs with joy because everything in God's world has its meaning.
Kundera again: Can there be major dimensions of a poem, a painting, a musical composition created in the absence of God?
Those two quotes are from page 88 of the book. On page 90 we have one from Neil Postman:
In consideration of the disintegrative power of Technopoly, perhaps the most important contribution schools can make to the education of our youth is to give them a sense of ocherence in their sutdies, a sense of purpose, meaning and interconnectedness in what they learn. Modern secular education is failing not because it doesn't teach who Ginger Rogers, Norman Mailer and a thousand other people are but because it has no moral, social or intellectual centre. There is no set of ideas or attitudes that permeates all parts of the curriculum. The curriculum is not, in fact, a 'course of study' at all but a meaningless hodgepodge of subjects. It does not even put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person, unless it is a person who possesses 'skills.' In other words, a technocrat's ideal - a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills.
How that rings true with our own educational system, and may well be the reason - or at least part of it - as to why so many students at University behave like such fools.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one. ~Charles Horton Cooley.
Charles Horton Cooley (born Aug. 17, 1864, Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S. died May 8, 1929, Ann Arbor) was an nAmerican sociologist ad the son of Thomas M. Cooley. He studied and went on to teach economics and sociology at the University of Michigan, and he was a founding member and the eighth president of the American Sociological Association.
He is perhaps most well known for his concept of the looking glass self, which is the concept that a person's self grows out of society's interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others.
It's estimated that Our Town is playing somewhere in the world every night of the year, including Boston - the place where it was first a flop. (So if you're an actor looking for work in the Boston job search site, it's probably not a good idea to apply for a performance of this particular play. Just kidding!)
I've got the script of the play here at home, included in a book with a couple of other Wilder plays (The Matchmaker is one) but I've only ever seen the play performed once - back in the early sixties, when it was done here in Dunedin. (Obviously Dunedin is another place where it's not regarded highly enough to be performed regularly). It's a play, as I recall, that manages to be both universal and local, of its time and timeless.
Talking of scripts, I find it somewhat curious that what one director and his actors will do with a script can be entirely different to what another director and his cast will do with it. Yet broach such an idea to the musical world and they'll throw up their hands in horror. The composer's intentions must be honoured to the last staccato dot.
Yet a piece of music is really no different to a play script. Both are scripts, in fact, and orchestra A will actually play the thing differently to orchestra B, though the difference may not be entirely discernable to most people's ears. Interpreting the composer's intentions is a major work of art in itself, and while most decent musicians will do their best, they will produce something different to other musicians, and will even produce a different performance of the piece themselves from night to night.
Take myself as an example of both a composer and a musician 'interpreting' my own work. I never play any of my pieces the same way twice. In fact, I probably can't. So to be horrified that this musician or that isn't fulfilling the composer's intentions is, I think, on a par with insisting that an opera must be performed in the original language when sung before an audience who, for the most part, doesn't understand the language.
Yes, there's a certain beauty in the original sounds and the way they fit the music, but there's a certain dulling of the experience for people who don't understand what's being sung. I heard a radio broadcast of The Daughter of the Regiment on the weekend. Though the composer, Donizetti, was Italian, this piece was written in Paris, and has a French libretto.
The audience at the Met - that most snobbish of opera houses - listened politely to the rantings and ravings of the spoken dialogue with barely a titter. The cast (which included Kiri te Kanawa in a small non-singing role) did their utmost to give life to the French dialogue, but it was all wasted on the audience, who only laughed when there was some visual comedy. (Which was lost on us listeners!)
How much more successful would the piece have been if it had been sung and spoken in English, especially since French isn't the most attractive language to sing anyway. The photo to the left, (by Silver Jade Deutch) by the way, is from a production by the Boston Lyric Opera - and was performed in English. Good old Boston - you get some things right!
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
When my own children were small I worked for the local City Council at a time when smoking was allowed not only in the tea breaks but while people worked as well. Thus we had the boss sitting in his cubbyhole smoking; we had the young feller chain smoking; we had the two women smoking, one of them with some vile roll-yer-own stuff that threatened your health just with the smell of it. We had the old bloke smoking - he rolled his own too, and the smell of his ones vied strongly with those of the woman.
And then there were the two blokes in the next office, which was only partially disconnected from ours. They smoked. Fortunately it wasn't an entirely enclosed space, but I guess I came home reeking of smoke every day. Although at that time, because so many people still smoked, we probably didn't even notice it.
So far I haven't died from secondhand smoke.
Nowadays, people have to stand out in the cold smoking. Or in doorways. I noticed in the Guardian the other day that the English are thinking of even banning people smoking in doorways. No more lighting fixtures in the vestibules for the Poms!
When we were in England in 2007, the smoking ban had just come in (an MP got caught smoking with his head out of the train, claiming he was smoking outside!) We went into a riverside pub on one occasion, and the place so reeked of smoke we couldn't stay there. Decades of cigarette abuse had rendered the place almost impossible to make smell clean again. Of course NZ had been smoke-free for some time by then, so our nostrils had forgotten just how rancid old smoke is.
And talking of abuse, one of the Brits calls smoking in cars when children are travelling with the adult, 'child abuse'. Might that be just a little bit over the top? As is the idea that all cigarettes might be wrapped in plain brown paper packages to rid them of their distinctive advertising and visual appeal. Brown paper wrappers. Crikey.
For a brief period Hollywood succumbed to the disapproval of smoking, but not for long. Movie after movie these days has people smoking, and cigarette smoke floating through the air still makes a shot look particularly good. In fact, my suspicion is that proportionately more people smoke in movies than smoke in real life. Just as more people per head of cinematic population hop into bed at the drop of a hat (or anything else, if it comes to that) that would in real life. I think.
Photo by Hamed Masoumi
Monday, March 08, 2010
"You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it...You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next."
Substitute the Pacific Ocean for the Atlantic or a photograph of my now deceased mother holding one of my sleeping grandchildren as a tiny baby for the old shoes, or a sloppy movie (in fact, not it doesn't even have to be sloppy) for the piece of music (not that I never get emotional about music), and you have a picture of what might cause me to be emotional any place any time.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
A longer clip, from Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, is also on You Tube, and contrasts the two artists to the benefit of neither. Limelight was produced in 1952, by which time Chaplin was 63 (almost as old as I am now) and Keaton only a little younger at 57. Chaplin drags out a not-particularly funny scene, with him as a violinist and Keaton as his accompanist on the piano, to an almost enormous inordinate length. Everything is overdone and repeated, until you want to scream for help. Chaplin had always dragged things out - it was only in his big setpieces that he really became funny. Keaton built his sequences over dozens of scenes, in which he spent his life struggling against the forces of gravity and the cussedness of machines, houses, and all manner of other paraphenalia. The grand climax was a climax of dozens of little moments, all of them hilarious, and all related to the story overall. (Jacques Tati also built over a long stretch, but required his audience to wait with him until the sudden climax of things - which sometimes was over almost before you knew it - before giving us the sudden belly laugh.)
Keaton is much more generous, and his movies remain more watchable as a result. In the Limelight, he plays second fiddle (as it were) to Chaplain's main role; this means he gets to do the same thing several times as the camera cuts back to him, to do the obvious (standing on Chaplin's violin when it's left on the floor) or looking perplexed when the piano reacts against them both. He has one spectacular moment - wiggling around on the piano stool leads to it flinging him off - but Chaplin tops that by falling into the orchestra pit - landing out of sight, whereas Keaton does his fall in full view.
Chaplin can be redeemed, however, by watching a piece of silent movie nonsense in which he, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Larry Semon, Fatty Arbuckle and Dizzy Daniels all appear. There's no story to it; just a bunch of inept players causing havoc out on a pretty scruffy golf course. Here Chaplin is only seen in short scenes in which his timing with a bunch of golf balls is impeccable.
Friday, March 05, 2010
On the other hand, I picked a book off my shelves recently that I'd had for a while, and have read it fairly speedily. This was The Playmaker, by Thomas Kenneally, the Australian author. His books can be quite uneven, (I read, but loathed, The People's Train - one reviewer said it combines a fluency of narrative with woodenness of thought, and enjoyed a much less well-known book called A Victim of the Aurora). He's best known for Schindler's Ark, and tends to write books that include real historical people.
In spite of its readability, The Playmaker is odd. It's situated in Sydney when the place was still nothing more than a site for deported criminals and the Marines who guarded them. The Playmaker is one of the officers and has been 'commanded' to put on a play in celebration of the King's birthday (whether the King is actually still alive is something they have no knowledge of). He - Ralph - chooses Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, and casts a bunch of the felons (or 'lags' and 'she-lags' as they're know throughout the book) to play the parts. The book works its way backwards and forwards in time, starting later rather than earlier, and we see the play progressing, and the lives of the various 'immigrants' interacting with each other, and with the ab origines (as Kenneally insists on writing it, no doubt to give some authentic flavour to the look of the words.)
Ralph and his cast were all real people, and at the end of the book Kenneally tells what happened to each one...as far as he's able to. Some of them led extraordinary lives after we leave them.
Kenneally is a brilliant researcher (or has brilliant researchers working for him). He's able to weave together historical reality and fictional episodes with a good deal of skill, and to be imaginative when it comes to filling in the gaps, or recreating the period, or adding to what little is known. However, I'm not sure that he's a great storyteller, at least in terms of structuring his books. As I've posted on more than a few occasions, storytelling structure and I are not the best of bedfellows. Nevertheless I can still see when a book hasn't hit the mark in terms of structure, even though I'm not always able to put my finger on what would have worked better.
The Playmaker's climax is weak, for instance. After a long haul through the book, the two intersecting events that mark the end of it don't gel. They're just annoying in the way they're put together. The climax should be the fact that the play has got off the ground and has hit the mark with its audience. But Kenneally chooses to add in the capture of one of the lags who has been on the run, and has been stealing food from the community. He's brought into the barracks where the play is being presented and his presence interrupts the whole mood, not only of the play, but of the book. As does the unexpected death of one of the other characters.
Equally, the shifting back and forth in time doesn't really seem to contribute greatly to the impetus of the book, although it's less of a flaw than the seemingly-botched climax. (The People's Train is infinitely worse - it has no climax whatsoever.)
Presumably it was intentional that the book should be brutal in its descriptions: not only of the various hangings and beatings that take place (not just of lags, but of criminal Marines as well), but also of the sexual encounters most of the characters have at some point. Sex pervades the book; I thought of putting it aside more than once, because of the way everything is coloured by sex. There are occasional oddities: for example, when a supply ship finally arrives, Kenneally tells us that a sudden storm strikes it as it enters the harbour. This is done in about one sentence, and then things carry on as though this had really made little difference to the crew or the people waiting for the supplies.
In spite of all the above, there are some great passages of writing in the book. The expedition to find the aborigines in order to get a cure for one of their number who has fallen sick is strikingly done, and the way in which Ralph experiences his increasing sense of creating something that comes alive through his criminal cast is also good.
Many years ago I read Kenneally's Three Cheers for the Paraclete, a book that's a lot less turgid than some of his later work (Wikipedia describes it as a comic novel), and which was generally a lot more enjoyable. His later books, however, seem to thrive on frequent obscurities that leave the reader struggling. Maybe it's a result of winning the Man Booker prize once too often.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
It's a bit like life in general: you decide to go for something and all these other possibilities arise. It's a 'Life of Possibilities' as some group whose name I think is Dismemberment Plan sings. Now there's a name to conjure with.
We had the pleasure of watching the movie in 3D, which certainly gave it an extra touch of extravagance. Without that, I'm not sure what I would have thought of the movie. It's overstated in a typically Tim Burton way: everything is extreme, and it's full of extraneous detail that even with 3D you don't have time to catch up with. And the characters, which start out as eccentric anyway, are heightened in this regard by all the possibility of modern CGI.
Thus Helena Bonham Carter (the Red Queen) is not only smaller than normal, but also has a larger head. Crispin Glover (who was, of course, the inept father in the Back to the Future series) here plays a full-blooded villain, whose size is just a little out of sync with the Red Queen's. Anne Hathaway is painfully beautiful, almost a mockery of herself, and yet still plays against her usual naive, sweet screen personality. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter really is mad; but in this world that's hardly noticeable.
The film opens with Alice as a six-year-old, being assured by her father (played by New Zealander Marton Csokas, who suddenly has a bunch of movies in the pipeline after seeming to be invisible for two or three years) that she isn't mad having nightmares - the whole world is mad. Eleven years later and Alice is due to be engaged to a nauseous Lord, and is surrounded by poncy English nobility. She breaks free of this unpleasant crowd, falls down a hole and into Wonderland, where there's some dispute as to whether she really is Alice, since she doesn't seem to remember anything about the place. (Shades of Hook.)
All the old characters are there, and possibly some new ones. I'm not au fait enough with the Lewis Carroll stories to be sure whether everyone who appears here is in the books. The Jabberwocky turns up as the Red Queen's 'champion' for a major fight with Alice at the end, something that isn't strictly Carollian (an unnamed boy despatches the beast in the second Alice book), and various other liberties are taken. Of course, it is eleven years later, so no doubt things will have changed. However, looking at synopses of the original stories, it appears that Burton and his scriptwriter have pulled in characters from both the books without regard to their original places in the stories.
Mia Wasikowska doesn't make the most exciting Alice. She's a bit pale and wan, and lacking in energy somehow. Even her fight with the Jabberwocky at the end is rather tame, and it's more than a little surprising that she manages to overcome him. And when she returns to real life, much more sure about herself, she still seems as though she's missing something in the way of strength. I found her the least believable part of the movie altogether, which is rather ironic.
And CGI has come so far that we almost fail to be impressed with what happens in movies now. Avatar (which I saw in 2D) managed to impress because it viewed the world in an original way. Alice doesn't quite do that. The story is fairly tame (and there are some odd holes in it), and while the CGI really is superb, it's mostly things that we've seen before....except that it was in 3D, which made it rather more exciting. (The sense of being able to reach out and touch the butterfly that hovers in front of you right towards the end is extraordinary.)
We're becoming blase about what can be done in the movies, regrettably. I saw Fantastic Mr Fox not long ago, and it was wonderful....yet.... How can we capture that sense of freshness when we come to the movies now? We've been spoiled silly by what's possible.