Saturday, April 28, 2007

Quote of the Day

"In the fields with which we are concerned, knowledge comes only in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows." (Walter Benjamin)

Cinephile Ramblings

(For Andy Horbal.)

This clip of Tarantino talking about Hong Kong cinema and the French New Wave was really galvanizing for me when I was about 16. This was the age when I started to "get serious" about film, tried to stop just mimicking what the entertainment press and awards shows told me was important about movies. I started the long trip, one I'm still on ...

* * *

Tarantino's invocation of the French New Wave, about movie love bypassing the rules of filmmaking, is in one sense, of course, good and celebratory; but just as likely it is part and parcel with a justification of the consumerist ethos in cinema. The standard line about the French film critics in the 1950s and '60s (and their followers) was that they looked at genre cinema and realized some of it was great, contra some moldier bourgeois notions of high (film) art. True enough as a historical summary, assuming we all accept the crudeness of the formulation. But I feel like, in my generation, what this means is essentially now a carte blanche to always defend Hollywood against any attack. "There's no high and low anymore--I reject your false binaries!" Is it just me, or do invocations of nobrow, high-low-boundary-transgressing more often than not come from quarters that wish to defend Hollywood or otherwise corporate product, and almost never in defense of the stuff that doesn't have millions of dollars backing it up? As though stuffy highbrows are/were the real problem with society. (Someone like the great Jahsonic would prove an exception to this rule of course.) Where are the waves of attacks on hi-lo misconceptions that seek to defend the truly marginal works in our industry or in our larger culture, instead of only the movie-with-a-$50-million-marketing-budget? I want to see more cinephiles (this includes myself) write a few words also about some schlocky videofilm maestro, or an avant-garde horror filmmaker causing a stir among locals in the Cleveland area. Renew or re-engage cinema as something that has local clout (rather than being a product of international marketing & distribution schemes), that has to do with people more than the market, something that is wrested just a bit more out of the fingers of profit seekers. (I mean, I think this is more important film cultural and political goal than trying to explain how The Matrix and V for Vendetta are subversive.)

Otherwise, I just feel like the through-line ("Hey, those French guys saw that Hollywood entertainment could also be great art") has become this kind of platonic catch-all, brutally extracted from its historical development and nuances and applied with zeal to any number of for-profit entertainments, so that the origins of the auteurist polemic (which involved standards, erudition, and even a political dimension that was in some cases quite laudable) are appropriated entirely on the basis of their most reactionary-romantic elements to act as mass apologia for all the sanctioned-and-sold Hollywood "auteurs" of today--whether Michael Bay on the disreputable end or Steven Soderbergh on the respectable one.

But an impulse to have faith in the deliberately mass-consumed (whether "low" or "mainstream") in our current age is, if it is indeed to be held as a cardinal rule of cultural connoisseurship, best tempered by a dialectical impulse toward skepticism and mistrust of a spartan/maoist variety, a healthy unwillingness to never take capital or the state on its own terms, to never accept their products, to always read a cultural product in terms of its function in the economy (in this case, generally, as part of culture industry) and as an ideological operation in the interests of its moneyed patrons if not always its authors and craftspersons.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chelsea - Liverpool (first leg)

This season in the EPL Manchester United and Chelsea have been more or less consistent--Manchester just playing class football and having all sorts of things fall into place (though they've run into serious injury trouble at the moment), Chelsea acting like the total machine they are. The other two members of the big four, Arsenal and Liverpool, have been much less consistent, both producing amazing displays in league play as well as in competitions, but also putting up real messes. When Arsenal are off, it's frustrating, because it's a matter of seven beautiful one-touch passes in midfield that come to nothing due to passive attacking or incompetent finishing in the box--which is what can happen when your strikers slowly find their way onto the long-term injury list as the season progresses. But whereas Arsenal are frustrating when they're bad (a lot of sound & fury...), Liverpool are just boring.

I've certainly seen more boring games than today's Chelsea-Liverpool match-up, but when in contrast to Manchester's recent battles with the Italian teams (or even Liverpool's strong away wins at Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven in the CL), one comes away feeling depressed rather than invigorated. A Valencia-Liverpool tie just would have added more color to the proceedings.

Once again, I'm curious if a defense (i.e., AC Milan's) that doesn't know Drogba very well (Liverpool's does obviously, and they still had trouble with him) can cope with him, after his amazing season, on this highest level. Maybe we'll get a chance to see.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Working Through ...

"Xudong Zhang: Being a product of modernity, Marxism tends to secularize and demystify. But isn't Marxism also proposing its own notion of authenticity and totality?

Fredric Jameson: The first topic one wants to mention is religion. I have been re-reading Kojeve's lectures on Hegel. He makes the point that Hegel is a radically atheist philosopher, but not an antireligious one. Because for him many religions were existent, real social phenomena. They do mystify social phenomena, but it is not by ignoring these phenomena, treating them as delusion or sheer error or superstition (in the Enlightenment fashion), that one gets all the way through them and comes out from the other side. I think that contemporary religion is very interesting. For example, there are all kinds of reasons why Islamic fundamentalism has been able today, in the absence of socialism, to stand as this fundamental alternative to the American way of life. Yet I suspect that the new religious movements are of a rather different type than the great, older, all-encompassing religions of older modes of production.

Coming back to Europe, the more specific question is that the moment of the utopian is crucial. We are talking about the dialectic of ideology and Utopia. Demystification is always valuable, even when it is done by people who have no social vision. It is obviously always useful and always painful--it does not work unless it is painful--to demystify the illusions that we all have all the time, in our own individual heads and then floating through society. Marxism was certainly a very powerful form of demystification, and can always still be one, since the economic is what bourgeois people least want to think about, and class is something they would always rather ignore. There is always a job for a more specifically Marxist form of demystification of all those attitudes. But unless that demystification is linked to the vision or the attempt to envision an alternate society altogether, unless there is a utopian component or drive which is linked to the drive to demystify, then it seems to me that the most productive result of demystification is not achieved. Rather than say that Marxism has an other, semi-religious agenda along the side of demystification, it seems to be that one must see the two drives as linked.

But I think there is a difference between, let's say, most of the things we consider to be religious in this historical moment and in this daily life, and the utopian of the future, which you can call religion if you like, but which is also essentially political. Maybe those little Heideggerian moments in my work try to violently or forcefully re-inject that utopian thing alongside the other deconstructive, demystifying operations. My feeling is that it is only that larger, Marxian utopian drive that can compete with various religious impulses. Is the market utopian? Well, to be sure, in some intellectual ways, but I think that is not a Utopia that is really available for very many people on this planet now.

I also want to say that I greatly respect liberation theology and its equivalents in other great religions. There are reasons why that has been a more effective way of linking social politics in some countries than certain forms of Marxism. But I would prefer the terminology of the utopian. Then you have to remember the whole tradition of vulgar Marxism and Stalinism and their relationships to various different religious movements. That is a very sorry history that has left its mark, of course. So I suppose for many people Marxism is this narrowly Enlightenment rationality which excludes all those other things. I do not happen to see it that way at all. And indeed, some great Marxist philosophers have made the connections: Ernst Bloch is the most obvious reference, but there are others."

(from "Marxism and the Historicity of Theory: An Interview with Fredric Jameson" by Xudong Zhang)

Man Utd - Milan (first leg)

Apologies to those EL readers who aren't soccer fans--just keep moving, I'll be back with something else eventually.

How about that semi-final? Another great match between Manchester and an Italian side, this one obviously more evenly matched as the game produced not only some exciting football on individual and team levels, but also was a dramatic demonstration of tactics, mentality, and momentum. Milan were the smarter team but also the more passive one; tonight the assertive offense of Man Utd paid off--it was fascinating to see Milan's coolness under pressure after giving up an early goal, to see that coolness give way to almost intimidating tactical proficiency as they spent parts of the first half utterly dominating Manchester in flow, then to see that coolness turn into something just a little like complacency or even helplessness as Manchester got their spirits up and just doggedly directed themselves at the goal. They really fought & earned their victory the hard way. But Milan's two away goals have to give them some fortitude before the second leg at San Siro, obviously.

So readers--who deserves Player of the Year? Cristiano Ronaldo or Kaka? (Or Drogba? Because if it's a Milan-Chelsea final my only real interest will be to see if Drogba the Scoring Machine will wreak havoc among a super-experienced Italian defense like Milan's.) Tonight was obviously Kaka's night, but as I don't follow Serie A (yet) I can't say I've seen too much of him since the World Cup.

Of course, next season when Henry and Van Persie (and Walcott) are fit again, and Fabregas et al. have a little more experience, Arsenal are going to sweep it all. All.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


"They've as much right to live as anybody else. But when it comes to mixin' blood with 'em, that's goin' too far."

-- Big Dan Halliday (Ward Bond), The Halliday Brand (Joseph H. Lewis, 1957)

The Halliday Brand (or, The Autumn of the Patriarch--or, Equinox Cactus). A bookended-flashback narrative reveals a series of racially motivated, neither completely accidental nor completely intentional deaths at the hands of the Halliday family, namely the patriarch, Dan, who in the past brokered peace with "the Injuns" and the town so that both could settle & prosper. (How big of him!) The great Ward Bond, who was only two years Joseph Cotten's senior, plays Cotten's father; Dan & Daniel; dueling epochs and dueling values.

The film contains very crude psychologizing and social analysis. Jivaro, the "half-breed," speaks in spare, clear sentences about fear and love in our hearts (much like his sister)--a bit of a caricature of a man whose mother was indigenous, and who therefore is necessarily (according to white liberal diktat) spiritual, brave, austere, peaceful, and, strangely, with English both slightly accented and halting. Nevermind the white father or the presumably heavily white environment and socialization these children grew up with: they've got the role of Other to fulfill. (By the way, there are two absent mothers in the film, one for each family!) In fact the depictions of the few characters of pure or mixed Native American blood are actually pretty wince-inducing (of the well-meaning variety). The whole thematic subtext of the film is a periphery to the civil rights wave of the period in America: dramatization of the awareness of and struggle over miscegenation, a plea for its tolerance on the grounds of true love and racial harmony.

I believe this film has a decent reputation, though I think (as far as JHL Westerns go), I like both Terror in a Texas Town and 7th Cavalry slightly more. I once had an idea as to how to differentiate the use of color in a Randolph Scott Western directed by Andre De Toth and one by Joseph H. Lewis. In Lewis' films, there's a tendency to focus on objects: a tree or tree stump, a trinket, a noose, something tangible and contained by the image: there's symbolic or iconic power expressed in these objects. Color is expressed through this method: a red object, or a motif of green objects. Andre De Toth, meanwhile, focuses less intently upon the symbolism of an object (unless it's momentary and more utilitarian: like the bottle rolled down the bar in Day of the Outlaw: truly explosive). De Toth is concerned with color, light/shadow, and with visual composition in general, more in terms of modernist painting--broad swaths of diagonals, fields of colors swirling for immediate graphic, perceptual, emotional effects, rather than cerebral, symbolic ones. None of this is to suggest that De Toth's cinema is non-intellectual, or that Lewis lacks emotional content; I'm only talking about the ways in which I think the two solve problems of technique and give form to their ideas.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Leaves from the Notebooks

I flip through a notebook from last year and, having half-forgotten the contexts in which I wrote a lot of quotes down, I find charming, fascinating, or perplexing aphorisms:

"In contrast to Nietzsche, the Dionysian impulse for Warburg is not opposed to a lack of artistry so much as to its hypertrophy--a self-conscious use of symbolic forms emphasizing the intervention of human artifice." (Hans Belting)

"Descriptions of aerial vistas in Evelyn Waugh's novel Vile Bodies (1930) draw on his accounts of abstract paintings he had seen the previous year at the Parisian Panorama de l'art contemporain." (George McCartney; part of the context for this quote and my reading the article it's from have to do with Paul Virilio's War and Cinema, specifically the chapter, "Cinema Isn't I See, It's I Fly.")


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Frampton's Frames, etc.

Recently viewed: Zorn's Lemma ... (nostalgia) ... Dr. Jekyll et les femmes ... Hold Me While I'm Naked ... Eclipse of the Sun Virgin

I watched the latter two of these films on the Ubuweb page to which I'm linking; I'm sure they don't really give off all their best qualities in such small, digital format. Certainly something would be lost by watching Zorn's Lemma and (nostalgia) in such circumstances. (As for Borowczyk's Dr. Jekyll, I bet it's available on bit torrent sites if you're signed up with one of those. I saw it on the Cult Alley Theatre dvd, which I think is maybe the best version that is semi-readily available, though still imperfect. See here for an informative short review of the film's available versions, and the problems of mutilation and bad transfers--from 2005.) Something makes me think that the Kuchar titles I watched are something of a fusion of the Frampton aesthetic (only a little though: more likely I'm referring to a certain New York 1960s avant-gardism from which Frampton himself was coming) and the extremely painstaking cult craftsmanship of Borowczyk's work ...

My favorite anecdote about Frampton comes from David Ehrenstein on a_film_by (who said Frampton was an arrogant bastard, though Fred Camper came to Frampton's defense at the accusation):

"But Frampton wasn't marginalized. From his very first appearance he was hailed as Major Artist. Zorns Lemma was the first avant-garde film to get a screening in The Big Room at the New York Film Festival back in 1970. It was a major event. And to say something in Frampton's favor I recall his squaring off with John Simon in the Q & A that followed. Simon undoubtedly thought from Frampton's appearance that he was some sort of mindless hippie. It didn't take long for him to find out he was dealing with someone even more intellectually arrogant than he was."

I can just see that eminently cultured "highbrow" Simon drowning next to the vastly superior intellect of Frampton, who may or may not have been arrogant, but was certainly brilliant. His collection of essays, Circles of Confusion (not easy to find nowadays!) is pretty great, and the author seems to be erudite in a fairly charming way. A bit intellectually intimidating at times, yes, definitely--but he doesn't ever lord his erudition over the reader, as I experience it. And what's also interesting is that Frampton doesn't seem to be one to retreat into aesthetics like a turtle into its shell, a possibility one could be forgiven for suspecting given his commitment to esoteric problems of aesthetics (and his relationship with Ezra Pound). Frampton does not shy away from problems of history or politics even as he does not specialize in them, in my limited knowledge of the filmed & written corpus ...

(Also on a_f_b Camper wrote:

"By the way, not that it's strictly relevant, but I think Frampton was the most widely "cultured" of all avant-garde filmmakers. He studied with Pound in his youth (as one of the group of people who surrounded Pound at St. Elizabeth's); he knew Latin and Greek and God knows how many other languages; he was, unlike most filmmakers, well-versed in and fascinated by mathematics and physics, as witnessed by some of his movie titles; he was widely read in literature, poetry, philosophy, and history; he had a deep knowledge of and love for cinema; he was technically one of the most accomplished filmmakers, having worked in labs and become intimately familiar with photo-chemistry; he was originally a still photographer whose vast knowledge of the history of that medium is evidenced by his often brilliant essays, commixed by Annette Michelson for Artforum and October and published in his book, Circles of Confusion.")

Help Joe Out

Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's new film Syndromes and a Century has been banned in Thailand presently because Apichatpong has not agreed to make the requested cuts to his film (effectively stopping it from being shown). Please read & sign this petition if you care about this issue. Kong Rithdee writes: "The scenes the board found objectionable show a young monk playing a guitar, a group of doctors drinking whisky in a hospital basement, a doctor kissing his girlfriend in a hospital locker room, and two monks playing with a radio-controlled flying saucer."

I haven't seen Syndromes and a Century yet myself (soon, soon), but I have seen Apichatpong's other features, all of which are of the highest quality. I am largely ignorant of the context which has led to the current censorship administration in Thailand, and can only defer to Thai people on the intricacies of the debate (and leading the side to advocate its screening); I simply think it's unfortunate that one of this excellent and innovative artist's works is not shown in his own country.

(Thanks to Jit Phokaew for updates.)

Broken by the Middle Class Dream

A lot of cinephiles have an unsung and frequently unseen director (or several) from classical Hollywood that they cherish and champion. Quentin Tarantino has William Witney, you can find advocates for George Sherman or Hugo Fregonese (The Raid is a masterpiece!), myself I like to pump up John Brahm or possibly even Charles Marquis Warren from time to time. My friend Damien swears by a handful of Howard W. Koch-helmed films he's seen. Today, I watched Shield for Murder (1954), co-directed by Koch and Edmund O'Brien, also one of the stars.

In commercial cinema, some of the real gold mines come when an industry starts putting out relatively low- or modestly-budgeted material in a particular genre or vein that they know will turn a modest, steady profit, and which they won't have to invest too much planning or publicity into. Because of the (comparatively) low cost and low risk of such programmers, there's often less supervision from the "suits," and hence less interference with the creative talent on the set. Quite often you'll wind up with several talented people able to shake the formula up, aesthetically as well as thematically. Not "subversive" per se, it's still ultimately a product by elite interests for mass consumption just like every other industry film, and too much deviation from the prescribed, commercial(ist) norms will see the people responsible penalized and discouraged ... but there's enough potential material in there to show a system's cracks, and to show individual agency and opinion, in a way that big-budget committee works simply can't replicate. For the aesthete (who may also be a politically conscious observer), this is where the brilliant personal touches of B-movie auteurism come in. For the politically conscious observer (who may also be an aesthete), this is where standard representations are tweaked or sometimes altogether overturned, where indictments of The System or, more likely, some of its constituent parts are made (because, anthropomorphically speaking, these types of films are where The System speaks quietly, discreetly out of the side of its mouth). Low-budget Hollywood genre movies (noirs, westerns, melodramas, etc.) are only one example of this sort of potentiality in commercial cinema--there are comparable areas in the Italian genres of the 1960s and '70s (which I know less well), or Japanese erotic movies of the same period and later (less well still), or possibly the recent spate of low-to-medium-budget Hollywood horror films (almost totally ignorant of).

Shield for Murder is a great illustration of this tendency. The police force is largely crooked; one character in the film (a journalist) indicates why when he mentions the low pay and the lure of authority & impunity that tempt these working class goons to grab a better life for them & theirs. One of the main characters in the film is Barney (co-director O'Brien), a veteran cop and "pistol expert" whose self-proclaimed "wild shots" are known to ruthlessly, conveniently bump off small-time bookies and Mexicans. We see him find fiancée at a men's club where she starts a new job selling cigarettes in a skimpy outfit; he's furious and takes her away; he later takes her to see the house he plans to buy with the dirty money he's stolen off a bookie: it's furnished in grand 1950s middle-class style, with a great convenient kitchen (and what looked vaguely like a Buddha statuette--an orientalist consumer touch?). Through watching the film we gather very clearly that Barney is a racist, sexist, aggressive individual, and that his corruption suggests a lot of the thin blue line ... but neither does the film ascribe all of these flaws to simple personal moral failure or character evil (plus, he's shown to be a bit of an avuncular figure with troubled young men); it makes clear that these are the products of a certain amount of societal and economic hardship, and the privilege given to someone of Barney's stratum to "advance" at the expense of those even further below him--the more "expendable," the lumpen--petty crooks or Mexicans. There's a fantastic bit of parallel editing when Barney shows the home to his fiancée, and she walks around admiring the amenities while he escapes to the backyard to check in on his buried stash of money, a bit of work in the general direction of Eisenstein to indicate a material (and violent, dishonest) substrate to middle-class comfort and luxury.

(By the way, a type of product placement that I'd never noticed before--when one of the good cops has to call the fiancée about the model home, he asks who furnished it, and Patty says, "I don't know--Kling, I think." The credits reveal that a company named Kling indeed did furnish the model home!)

There's another interesting scene where a worldly blonde meets Barney in a bar; he doesn't respond to her advances, so she tells him "You know what your problem is? You want to be bad, but you don't know how." So they look in the mirror across the bar and she tells him how to hold his cigarette and narrow his eyes appropriately. If it were in a 2007 neo-retro-noir there would be obligatory references from critics about the "postmodernity" of such an instance. But such is the problem with presentist film appreciation--usually when people talk about post-1960s genre cinema as being fundamentally more violent, critical, subversive, skeptical, or self-aware than the earlier genre examples it usually just means the person doesn't know the classical stuff very well yet and has just bought what other "authorities" (authorities who wish to sell their companies' new products!) tell them.

I hope I'm not overselling the film; I don't think it's a masterpiece, it's not going to change anyone's life or bring down capitalism or anything nearly so impressive. But it is an example of how "Hollywood" doesn't always believe all the myths ascribed to "it" (i.e., the monolith doesn't exist; it's a system in which agents comply or rebel to varying extents); how the slightly autonomous, less-guarded sectors of an industry can and will burp up varying degrees of aesthetic experimentation (hence possibly beauty) and sociopolitical skepticism (hence also possibly critique) ...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

Ruy Gardnier (from Brazil), on Colossal Youth and the perceived benefits of understanding the language used in that film ...

"They don't speak in portuguese, but in crioulo, which is a black-colonies deviation from standard portuguese. Even straight portuguese spoken in Portugal generally needs translation for brazilian audiences, and Juventude em Marcha is completely non-understandable for a brazilian audience. Of course, you catch some words, some sentences, but not the whole sense of what's said. "Juventude em Marcha", it seems, is a political-liberation slogan, and naming the film with it is an act of dissonance with the characters' lives as of their diegetic present. In fact, the whole film builds itself between present and past, and the several-times-repeated letter is a way of juxtaposing present and past (of course, the letter does not correspond to the feelings of Lento, who was supposed to sign it). The song played in the gramophone is "Labanta Braço",which is also a liberation song. But as Costa films the scene, he mixes the political with the sentimental (political liberation = freedom = Ventura's love) in a way we can no longer define what's exactly at stake. The film's indefinition is a triumph, not a flaw, IMO."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Killer of Sheep


Nothing prepared me for the ferocity, the liveliness, the wall-to-wall richness. I was expecting something good, something special, but I wasn't expecting this.

Did I say "wall-to-wall richness"? Well, scratch that--because so many of the shots in Killer of Sheep (as in Colossal Youth, a film it resembles in a lot of ways) are composed and framed so as to usually show a hint of an adjoining space, not numbered and containable walls--characters seen through a doorway so that you can see the edges of white walls in the foreground; a messy room in the background; a stairwell; a neighbor's back yard; almost always there is an intimation of something else, the camera head-on and attuned to the horizontal network of space, the connectedness of the social universe, of this portrayed community; few shots of just people framed against a wall or the ground or the sky. Think it's all no big deal? Then consider too the use of sound in the film, which also links images, grabs them together and forces the images sometimes into a contemplation of a sound in a stream, like the amazing out-of-nowhere sequence (210% inspired poetry) where the mother (Stan's wife) is, I think, fixing herself up while her daughter sits on the floor (was it in a bathroom? was there a tub behind her?) and listens to music, singing along to it, her arms outstretched, the music uniting the spaces of the mother and daughter until the two finally interact ... my jaw kept dropping at moments like this, I kept craning my neck forward because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

And it all seems so effortless. No wonder what little I'd always heard about the film (I never tried to research it, waiting for the chance to see it screened first) seemed to leave little impression ... how do you put into words everything this film does? The first few minutes of the film, I was thinking, "OK, this is a really interesting application of certain Italian neorealist strategies to a different milieu." A few minutes later I was convinced that this had to be one of the most complex, deceptively simple, films that I've ever seen. This film (like Rossellini) goes way beyond any sort of program of realism, neorealism, social realism ... but formal/political strategies historically categorized or read as forms of realism are still just subsumed by the broader vision of life, of community and experience, this film presents. I have to revisit To Sleep with Anger, which is great, but no doubt I missed a ton of information in my only viewing, years ago. I have to rummage through my video collection and finally watch the few other Burnett titles I've got. Is Burnett really, contra Spike Lee, the "real" Great Black American Filmmaker? I don't know. (I do know that I haven't seen a Lee film that, to me, approaches this one by Burnett.) But we don't really need to hold contests, give awards, and enshrine father figures in order to appreciate this expression, this labor of love ...

When my friend and I got out of the theater we just gasped at each other, eyes wide.

I could go on and on, without saying much of anything. Maybe I'll be able to get into this film, the reasons for its richness, its political significance, more in the future. I don't even know. Anyway, the restored film is very likely coming to a theater near you (in America, at least) if it hasn't already. And it's supposed to come out on DVD later. See it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sukiyaki Western

I'm not breaking the news on this one, but I just wanted to point to it anyway, the film being a Western by Takashi Miike.

Births in Iraq

History Is a Weapon has a blog--I didn't know this. An entry from two weeks ago:

Tony Snow is the messenger dog of the empire using depleted uranium against the people of the world, Iraqi civilians and American soldiers included. It is said that new parents in Iraq are met with a new first question. No longer "Is it a boy or a girl?," but "is it normal?" The radiation across Iraq, from the current war and the previous ten years of constant bombardment, has poisoned everything and nowhere is it more apparent as in the deformities of a newborn. The chart above features the rate per 1,000 births of congenital malformations observed at Basra University Hospital, Iraq (reported by I. Al-Sadoon, et al., writing in the Medical Journal of Basrah University). The data for the period 1990-2001 show an incidence increase of 426% for general malignancies, 366% for leukemias and of over 600% for birth defects, with all series showing a roughly increasing pattern with time.

Champions League

Seven goals to one!? Not only was Manchester United's performance technically and tactically impeccable (fast on the attack, compact in defense, and working as a full eleven men), but they were absolutely inspired. I'm not a Man Utd fan or anything but it's hard to begrudge the team respect for their stellar performances this season. And I feel for Roma--being a fan of Arsenal (who've beat the Red Devils twice in 06/07, so ha!), I have great sympathy right now for a superb team performing poorly. (The one bright spot for Roma is that their single goal was actually quite superb, even if painfully small consolation considering Man Utd had already scored six fantastic ones of their own...)

Old Trafford must seem like a really scary place to supporters of Bayern Munich and AC Milan right now.

The only good thing about Chelsea's win (though I didn't see the game, just highlights) is the chance that Liverpool or Man Utd will crush them in the semifinal or final. I don't really care too much who wins the trophy, so long as the footballing is quality and entertaining.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


As I said, "real" content should return next week sometime. For now I'll just idly muse and point to more interesting people/places ...

1. A bit of lunch hour reading for tomorrow courtesy of Owen Hatherley?

2. As always, more and more good stuff, tons of posts, at Brownfemipower and Lenin's Tomb--the sorts of blogs that, through information, analysis, and community continually intimidate my ineffectual ass from even pretending to be a source of "political commentary." Add more catch-up to that lunch hour (and after) reading.

3. Speaking of reading, if one's goal is to try to finish and absorb a number of books on a regular basis, it is a really bad idea to try to do this with several really thick books. And if you don't even stagger them well in terms of when you begin page 1, you feel like you're perpetually on page 42 out of 600, no matter what tome you've got in your hands. I'm trying to read the damn Pickwick Papers but any time I feel like I make progress in that thing (MLA paperback edition's cover design a photograph taken by Gjon Mili, btw) I just look at the other things I'm nominally "reading" (Peter Gay, Klaus Theweleit, The Republic) and bury my face in my hands.

4. Champions League predictions: Roma barely stun Man Utd, Liverpool continue to trounce PSV ("duh" on that one), Chelsea edge out Valencia, and Bayern Munich pass Milan. Prediction for the final: Chelsea v. Bayern Munich, boring, I wouldn't even care who wins (I guess my sympathies would be with BM a little). Though I think it would be the most interesting match-up to see Liverpool v. Roma (whom I've taken a liking to in the CL with their rotating-midfield-attack-supporting-Totti tactics), a repeat of a final from over two decades ago. Both are defensive teams that have put up some really excellent attacking soccer lately. Any EL readers still have a horse in this race?

5. By the by, Football Is Fixed, an interesting blog.

6. New posts: choice political words via film personalities via two great cinephiles, Mubarak Ali and Andy Rector.

7. Need even more to read while you surf the net? Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Clayfield ...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why ...

... is there no book devoted to Dušan Makavejev? (At least not in English. There's one book that treats him with four other Eastern European filmmakers.) Not even a Senses of Cinema Great Director entry?

Here's Andrew Horton on the DM chapter in the aforementioned Eastern European director book:

"Daniel Goulding tackles that most carnivalesque of all world filmmakers, Dusan Makavejev, and traces this master of cinematic collage from his early experimental documentaries in Belgrade through his remarkable Yugoslav features culminating in WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and on to Makavejev's European and American projects down to Manifesto (1988). It is not clear whether Goulding meant to end his book on a cautionary note or not, but placing Makavejev last has that effect. Unlike Forman, Polanski and Szabo, Makavejev, despite capturing some critical attention with Sweet Movie (1974) and Montenegro (1981), has not been able to find a satisfying outlet for his considerable talent in American and European projects. Employing a plot summary approach to film studies, Goulding also relates Makavejev's works to a broader Yugoslav context."

Maybe I'll forget about it in a day or two, but this dearth of material might just be ... could it be? ... a calling ...

Speaking of dearth, I'm sorry about the lack of any content lately ... things should pick up next week some time.