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Of little interest to most of you, probably, but pleasing to me.

Landmarks preservation in my neighborhood )
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This has been around since June, but I just found it. I admire it both for the elegance of the remix and for the argument. It is much LOL and full of win.



The aim of Twilight is to dismantle the grrl empowerment of Buffy by making the heroine excessively, exaggeratedly passive, helpless, and clumsy. It's interesting to me that the movies can't quite bring themselves to make Bella as inept and feeble as she is in the books. They are savvy enough to know that Buffy has had its effect: girls may want to Love the Vampire, and to have that love be overpowering and impossible to resist; they may want the hero to be all-strong and all-powerful (the more to be helpless in the thrall of that even stronger love); but the absolute disempowerment of the heroine won't quite fly anymore.

Like everyone else, I can't wait to see how the Twilight movie franchise handles Bella's lunatic pregnancy and the over-the-top horrendous birth scene, and I'm really hoping this mashup artist will do a remix when the time comes, including snippets from Alien and Rosemary's Baby, Hollywood's two iconic films about birth as The Worst Thing Evar, and proof that Women Harbor Monsters in those weird little bags they carry around inside them.
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Off to a roaring fucking start.

The fine poet Rachel Wetzsteon, who lived around the corner from me, committed suicide last week.

And I just learned today that a very dear friend killed himself in October. He lived far away, and I never remember to check Facebook, or I'd have heard sooner.
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Thinking some more about Terry Gilliam... I wonder why Brazil is never named as an originator of steampunk--or at least the first movie to take the aesthetic out of the sci fi ghetto and into a larger world of political drama. Gilliam's movies habitually change up the terms of film engagement, but hardly ever in a way that gets noticed. Viewers and critics are generally too distracted by their frustration with the patchy erratic storytelling and pacing (except in The Fisher King).

In Brazil the steampunk serves a purpose other than mere whimsy in the production design. It is disjunctive; it deracinates us, so that we can't be sure if we're in a terrifying future, an alt.universe past, or some creep's fevered imagination. It uses a 1930s look (pneumatic message tubes in the office, etc.) to link the fascism of that period to a future--pending--totalitarianism, and to identify the precise date on which the modern world went off the rails.

I enjoyed the much less inventive (but still visually nifty) steampunk in Sherlock Holmes this week. What are some other movies that use steampunk well? I mean, aside from the obvious sci fi ones like The Time Machine and Dr. Who and the LXG franchise.

All I can come up with (aside from other Terry Gilliam movies, of course) are Dark City and Franklyn.There's a bit of it in the Harry Potter movies and The Golden Compass. I'd maybe include Buckaroo Banzai and Batman Returns.

So, Avatar

Dec. 26th, 2009 11:11 pm
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I can't begin to count the ways I hate this movie.

I don't think I've hated a movie quite this much, or in quite this visceral way, since Schindler's List. It's not just bad; it's corrupt: dishonest at every level. It makes me feel soiled, in a peculiarly American way.

Sure, go see it for the 3D CGI and Teh Pretteh, which is all fairly groovy (and in spots very pretteh indeed), though in the end it adds absolutely nothing to the movie. IMAX is fun, 3D is fun, CGI is fun, yadda yadda.

In short: blech.

ETA: Some interesting discussion on BoingBoing: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/29/five-storytelling-ri.html
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I seem to get to big screen movies less and less often, but during the holidays I do manage to go to theaters. I usually hate the crowds at the megaplex but at xmas the packed theaters have a shared sense of pleasure--everyone luxuriating in a few days away from work and school, a treat, a bag of bad popcorn, and splosions. It gets dark so early; might as well head to the warmth and the lights of the movies.

So yesterday I saw The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus and Sherlock Holmes and tonight is IMAX Avatar. Herewith some comments. Mild spoilers, so here's a cut for Imaginarium. )

And here's a cut for Sherlock Holmes )

It was fun seeing these two movies back to back. Imaginarium, though by far the better and more ambitious film, was not injured by proximity to Holmes. Though they have little in common, both rely upon the idea of a sexy, mysterious, changeable, tricksterish anti-hero, a slippery many-masked fellow whose powers of ratiocination and addiction to fantasy are either their salvation or their undoing.

Oddly, both movies have a running gag about the difference between a dwarf and a midget--a hoary joke that was scarcely funny back in the day and is now just cringeworthy. (Gilliam nearly always scripts a dwarf or two into his movies; at least he has some excuse, I suppose, as it's part of his "One of Us" vocabulary.) Someone please tell the movie industry to give this one a rest.

Novel

Dec. 20th, 2009 11:10 am
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Book World:




The extraordinary book artist Brian Dettmer makes Book Autopsies:

Brian Dettmer Book Autopsy

More book art behind the cut. )
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Hey, weren't those Maccabee fellows extremist religious fanatics, kinda like the Taliban?

I'm all for festivals of lights at the winter solstice. I hate the early dark. Lighting candles is swell. But as for the rest...

Eight days and nights

Dreidel

Jewish cultural exceptionalism

Next up: Stepping up the War on Christmas Jesus sleazy neofascists who shelter behind Jesus.

Yay for the holidays!
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Here's a handy new tool for research from Google. Finding relevant case law on any legal topic is easy these days ... for lawyers, who subscribe to Findlaw or Nexis/Lexis, both of which cost a pretty penny.

Google has now provided a case-law search tool in Google Scholar. It is pretty cool: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/finding-laws-that-govern-us.html
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For font geeks, here is a hilarious article by a type designer on how movies flub the typeface test.
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Copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator and cannot be revived. So each year on January 1 a whole bunch of works enter the public domain for free use and reuse. This coming January 1, it is the turn of all authors, artists, musicians, and other copyright holders who died in 1939. This includes Sigmund Freud, Alphonse Mucha, William Butler Yeats, and Osip Mandelstam.

Remember: it's always a good idea to give credit when quoting or reusing someone else's work. But if the author died in 1939 or earlier, you don't need to ask permission or pay a fee.

And yes, this is true worldwide.

Word salad

Dec. 3rd, 2009 04:06 pm
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Look, a post that is not mere links to other people's LOLs, and is scrupulously free of political ranting. See? I can do it.

In Italy and Greece and other heavily touristed places, there used to be a kind of restaurant menu that listed everything in 4 languages, all of them riddled with wonderful errors. Chinese menus also used to use a fantastically baroque form of English. As we have gotten more global and grown-up, someone has been going around the world correcting menus, which is a shame. No longer is it easy to find a trattoria that will serve you a dish of "water-boiled paste with tomatoes gravy." Still, New York remains a first port of call for waves of new immigrants, who are dedicated to reinventing language, keeping it real. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

So last week I went down the jewelry district to buy a cabochon gemstone for a thing I'm making. I was thinking, tanzanite, or peridot or tourmaline. Now, tourmalines come in two colors, green and pink, or, sometimes, a sort of stripy green and pink combo, which is naturally called a "watermelon tourmaline." Of course, not everyone has seen a watermelon.

Sign in stone dealer's shop: On Sale: Water Million Tourmalines.

Coming home, I noticed that a new Thai restaurant has opened in the hole in the wall where there used to be a Cantonese place. Sign out front: "Pre-Fixed Lunch, $12!" Pre-fixed actually is not bad as a translation of prix fixe, as long as they aren't cooking everything a day in advance. Because, ptomaine.

Not that English is any more subject to Spontaneous Language Combustion than other languages. The other night I was trying to find a recipe for a dish traditional in northern Italy called strangolapreti (priest-stranglers), a kind of dumpling or gnocco made with chard. Poking around online I kept finding recipes for something called a canederlo, which claims to be the national dish of Trentino;Alto Adige, an alpine region up on the Austrian border where people speak a version of German and long to return to the good old days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Canederlo, I thought. That does not sound Italian. What sort of word is that, and what sort of a thing is it, when it's at home? The recipe calls for day-old bread soaked in milk and made into blobs which are rolled in flour and then poached in broth--in short, a sort of gnocco, only bigger and (if done right) fluffier. In short, a knödel.

Canederlo is what a native Italian speaker would come up with, if asked to pronounce "knödel." A German would say knerdl, through the nose and with the r mostly suppressed. Here we have the difference between the Italians and the Germans, in a nutshell: Italians, bountiful, generous, and musical, add vowels wherever they can and also in places where vowels were never meant to go, and sometimes in places where fitting in a vowel is a violation of the laws of man and nature. Germans, OTOH, are very efficient, and convey with perfect alliteration and a minimum of sounds and letters, exactly what a really good bread dumpling looks like to the eye and sounds like when plopped on a plate.

My Bavarian great-grandmother made spectacularly good knödel, and generously gave me her recipe with one step or ingredient missing at least 3 times. She took the sekrit to her grave, for which I will never forgive her. I can't get them right; they fall apart in the boiling, or turn to glup, or rubber. I shall have to practice my pronunciation.

* * * *

Also, Sometimes I really love my fellow Americans
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Dear fellow New Yorkers, it looks like the Marriage Equality Act is going to a vote today in the state Senate. It may actually pass, though it will be close.

Right now, this minute, would be a good time to phone your senator's office and register your support, and then also send an email. This website will do all the work of looking up your sen's phone number and contact info and will send the message for you:

http://www.newyorkequality.com/

Even if your senator supports the act, let him or her know you think it's important -- at the state level, constituent phone calls are hugely potent.

New York has more clout than Maine. If NY can join Mass. we will see CT and other states follow. This is a national vote today; don't let it fail!

OK, /spammode. (And sorry to all you non NYers)

ETA: Fuck.

Not to mention the whole Afghanistan thing. Crap.
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OK, I know that lately I haven't contributed anything original to this LJ; I'm becoming your irritating Aunt Hilda, who sends you cute pictures of puppies and clever jokes she got from someone at bingo night.

Still, this song is remarkable. It's a mashup of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, sampled into a haunting, addictive melody )
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Scene: 34th Street and Third Avenue, New York.

Citizen of our town (running to catch the last limited bus going uptown) to bus driver: “Are you limited?”

Bus driver: “My wife thinks so.”



*rimshot*
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Others around my Flist today have posted pomes by Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Yeats about the horrors of war. These are among my favorites, but today I want to post a pome that is both about the evil of war and about why, sometimes, war is a necessary response to evil; the trick is to know when. Either way, here's what it does to the soldiers who do the fighting.

The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden )
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In Rome, everyone huddled around the TV to watch the Wall come down. We said, Let's go to Berlin for New Year's, it'll be the party of the century. But the trains were already all booked solid, and no one knew anyone we could crash with, so we went to Paris instead.

Then, a month later, a frigid end-of-year night, everyone huddled around the TV again, as if it were a hearth, to watch live as Ceaucescu and his wife were tried and executed. It's like watching the French Revolution, we said. Yes, but what a grotesque mockery of a trial, we said.

And then, two months after that, on TV, Mandela walking free out of Robbin Island prison. Such joy! I felt something like it, in a way, the night Obama was elected, just a year ago. A reminder that good things can happen in the dark, short, cold days at year's end.

And yet I wonder if, exactly 100 years ago, in November 1909, people could imagine what was to come in August 1914. Were there reasons to know it would happen, or was it unimaginable in that little pocket of peace and progress between the wars of the 1860s and 1870s and the cataclysm that brought down the British Empire? We have scarcely begun our new century, after all.

Yeats wrote The Second Coming in 1919 and published it in November 1920.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,  
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Still, the fall of the Wall: that was the real millennium: 20 years ago--the change of centuries came a decade early, just as, in the previous century, it had come 14 years late. And if the actual Millennium didn't bring us everything we hoped, it hasn't yet brought us all that we feared. Lots still to celebrate.

Happy Fall of Wall, everyone!
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