Category Archives: cultcha

Daily Dispatch, 1 March 2009

Watched The Adventures of Baron Munchausen this morning. I hadn’t seen it before, and it’s indeed eye-poppingly great. The adventure to the Moon was especially great; the scale and style reminded me of Little Nemo in Slumberland. It looked like it was shot on an amazing soundstage, and it turned out to be shot at Cinecittà.  How much realer do even the fakiest live-action special effects look (vs CGI)? I also kept thinking about how much it must have cost to make.

We made some grocery lists went to Johnny’s Foodmaster as the snow started.

And now Terri is knitting and watching the Celtics, and I’m writing this.

Rip, Rig + Panic

One of my favorite (and highly underappreciated) early 80′s post-punk bands. Someday I’ll rip the couple of Rip, Rig + Panic albums I’ve managed to find on vinyl (as far as I know, none of them are available on CD or mp3 yet!). A couple of videos have turned up on YouTube, though. Yes, that is a young Nenah Cherry (yes, that Nenah Cherry) fronting. Her dad, Don Cherry (yes, that Don Cherry) appears on several tracks on the first album.

And then, naturally, there’s the appearance on the Young Ones which was the first time that I encountered them:

More thoughts on HONK!

We went to the parade today, and while my video from that is uploading, I have some amendements to make from my prior post.

I was sort of sour on the whole politics angle of the HONK! bands. I think what I said was true, that basically, if the goal is to convert the unconverted, spectacles like this aren’t going to be the forum where that happens. My experience is that the only time peoples’ minds are changed is when there is some personal connection between two people that transcends politics, and then they have to reconcile their feelings to their viewpoints. Anyway, so, maybe people are not going to hear the Leftist Marching Band’s song about Wal-Mart and are suddenly going to see the light and say, yeah, they treat their workers like crap, I’m not going to shop there.

But I think there is something to the politics of the music itself that I basically buy into. First off, it’s just a total non-product. Very few of the bands there were even selling CDs. None of these people are making their living from their music, they are just out there for the joy of the thing. (I’m guessing here, to be fair: but I suspect that only a relative handful of people are making a living from music these days, and the folks in the HONK bands have not given up their day jobs). But the format of this kind of music is just not salable; it can barely even be recorded well. I mean, it technically can be recorded, and it can even sound pretty good. But unless you have a really crazy sound system at home, it’s just not going to sound like 10 horns and 5 percussionists (or more) standing 3 or 4 feet away from you, there’s not going to be a crowd dancing all smelly after a day of dancing.

I also feel like it opens a viable door for popular music. I guess it’s not popular in the sense that a lot of people like it. But it is pop music in the sense that you don’t need any kind of specialized cultural context or background to have an immediate visceral human reaction to people blowing horns and banging drums in front of you. It’s a popular music that you can participate in just by listening to it and ditching the snobbery and admitting that you like it– you don’t have to buy a T-Shirt, you don’t have to participate in some kind of record store nerd snottery, you don’t have to claim your turf as part of a subculture (there were townies, trustafarians, old crusty Cambridge folkies, new somerville yuppies with their kids in their maclaren strollers, and Click and Clack the Tappett Brothers for god’s sake). You can just listen and shake your butt and be happy to be in the middle of something great on a couple of gorgeous New England autumn days.

... and it was beautiful... but so's Maine

And I love that it just harkens to a time when if you wanted music, you just made it. You didn’t go shopping.

Honk! 2008 photos and video

HONK! 2008

I’ve mentioned the HONK! festival in previous years. The third one is happening this weekend (parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square is just 2 hours from now). You can read more about them and what they’re about at their website.

Here’s Providence RI’s What Cheer? Brigade, who knocked my socks off last year (strongly recommend watching this full screen since it’s rather dark).

A shorter clip:

And another, where it’s actually light and you can sort of see them. The gorilla guy wore a scarier but probably significantly less hot mask this year.

Due to a program misprint (which said they were going on in statue park at 8:00, not 6:00), I almost missed What Cheer?. Happily, I did not, though I did miss the first few minutes of their set while I was distracted by these folks playing in front of the T station, whose name I did not catch.

Also a notable group from earlier on were the Loyd Family Players who were sort of a Brazilian-style drum group from California (yes, many bands trek very far to make the fest).
Loyd Family Players, HONK! 2008(Photo by Terri)

Loyd Family Players at HONK! 2008

There were lots of other bands as well who were also notable, but it’s almost impossible to see them all, what with 4 simultaneous stages going on all around Davis Square. Anyhow, I love the HONK! fest, and the general outpouring of energy and creativity and feel like I’m in a good place when such awesome stuff happens within walking distance of my house.

Davis Square during HONK! 2008

Still, I’m not a political guy, and while I wish them luck in their project, I’m mainly there for the spectacle and the talented musicians and the spirit of the thing. My impression of the effectiveness of most acts of political street theater is the same as Tom Lehrer’s eventual opinion of political satire:

I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted. I think the people who say we need satire often mean, “We need satire of them, not of us.” I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin cabarets of the ’30s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War. You think, “Oh, wow! This is great! We need a song like this, and that will really convert people. Then they’ll say, ‘Oh, I thought war was good, but now I realize war is bad.’” No, it’s not going to change much.

Kelly Link @ the Harvard Book Store

Summervillain sent me an email yesterday morning that there was a Kelly Link reading at Harvard Book Store at 7pm; he and Trixie couldn’t go, but he figured I was interested. He was correct.

At about 6 I left work, made time for a drink with the kids from work at Kingston Station (the kids were drinking beer, I left after one martini), and made it to the HBS right as the reading started.

I thought I had blogged more about her, but I can only find one passing mention, which is too bad because she’s been pretty much my favorite writer for a couple of years now. So, the Internets can fill you in on her as easily as I can, but I just recommend reading a couple of stories that are freely available online. “The Specialist’s Hat” had me so creeped out the night that I read it that I didn’t want to go downstairs alone and made Terri come with me. I think about “The Hortlak” every time I go into a convenience store late at night. And I have always loved “The Faery Handbag” because it mentions the Garment District in Cambridge near where I used to work.

She read part of one story from her new young adult book Pretty Monsters, and she basically just stopped as soon as it started to get really scarey. For the record, she mentioned that the Brian Johnson mentioned in the story is based on her real cousin, Brian Johnson, who told her to write the story.

Highlights from the Q&A:

  • The story “Magic for Beginners” is indeed inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer which she claims to have been obsessed with for a while. Specifically, it started with ideas that she had for it that couldn’t or wouldn’t be done on TV (diferent actors playing the same characters each episode, no regular airing schedule, etc.)
  • She had a good response to the question about why the new collection of stories is categorized as young adult when none of her others are. I can’t reproduce the answer perfectly, but the many points included that her stuff is always hard to categorize, that she thinks it’s definitely YA and it’s more than just a convenient marketing label, and that it is does not involve looking back on youth with nostalgia but instead has an immediacy and the sense of intense critical importance of everything.
  • She didn’t talk too much about her reasons for publishing this with large publisher (Viking) this time rather than publishing it through the Small Beer Press which she runs with her husband. But she did mention that she got far more creative control over the whole thing than she ever expected including working with the illustrator she wanted and veto power on the cover art. She said it was kind of a nice change to have someone else do everything, and just have to say “yes” or “no”.

No photos: it would have felt weird.

Postscript: I’ve wondered this before in respect to seeing films at the Brattle Theater but what is it about Cambridge audiences that laughter is their only reaction to any critical moment in any performing art? There were just moments in the story where there was certainly some sort of emotional peak or moment of revelation, but where laughter was totally inappropriate. It’s some kind of bizarre intellectual emotional repression that’s endemic to our fair neighboring city.

Thoreau and the news

The first time I read Thoreau was in 8th or 9th grade English class, and I had no use for the guy. I grew up on a farm, feeling pretty disconnected from the modern world, and was pretty actively trying to connect to it. So I had little patience for some earnest jackass who preached about renouncing it.

But clearly, I had a pretty strong reaction, and he definitely touched a nerve. And I find little bits of Walden coming in to my head from time to time.

Every time I find myself getting a news addiction, I think of this:

After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. “Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe” – and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself.

… And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter – we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.

…What news! how much more important to know what that is which was never old!

I find this kind of thing comforting when news cycles seem to be heating up, when world events seem to be impossibly dire. And I am occasionally attracted by more contemporary variations of this attitude.

I guess what I ultimately don’t buy is that withdrawal from the world is somehow the answer. I think that it’s better to stay engaged, while keeping it all in perspective. People have been feeling like the world is spinning out of control for thousands of years — O tempora! O mores! — and sometimes it is, but usually it isn’t. A coward dies a thousand times, etc. (which also comes straight to you from 8th grade English class…)

Nothing’s Sacred

TCM played Nothing’s Sacred the other week; I hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s a fun 1937 comedy with Carole Lombard and Frederic March, in dazzling 1937 Technicolor.

The plot is that a New York reporter seeking a tear-jerking human interest story finds a young woman in rural Vermont who is supposedly dying of radium poisoning. She isn’t, of course; she was simply misdiagnosed by her alcoholic rural doctor (played by familiar character actor Charles Winninger), but she goes along with it to get a free trip to New York City on the newspaper’s tab. The city relishes mourning her, but hijinks ensue as it grows increasingly hard to fake her incurable fatal illness.

It’s a potentially dumb plot, but as with many potentially dumb plots, it’s all about the excution. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of little touches that are so thematically consistent that it all adds up to a pretty entertaining and smart satire. For example, at a night club event where Hazel, our heroine, is being feted as one of the great women of history (including a stage show with a parade of Catherine the Great, Lady Godiva, Pocohontas– all on horseback), an average film would have cut to shots of other clubgoers looking mournfully at her. But in this, there are little extra touches: one of the “mourners” makes sure her table companions are watching her before she begins weeping; Hazel says “look at how miserable that man in the toupeé looks” (it’s not enough for there to be a miserable man looking at her, he has to have fake hair).  And these individual acts of personal hypocrisy all add directly up to individual acts of public hypocricy. When she’s exposed as a fake to a small group of government officials and “community organizers” they force her to go through with a fake funeral because they have each individually found ways to politically profit from public sympathies to Hazel’s bravery in the face of her illness.

The staging and cinematography are surprisingly avant garde. Several shots where key dialogue is happening are made where the speakers are completely offscreen (or are obscured by some large object, and you only see the speakers’ feet). In the opening montage, there’s a gorgeous rare color shot of Times Square ca. 1937 at night.

The final scene, on a boat, where Hazel and the reporter are in dark glasses, making a getaway after her fake funeral, the reporter is lecturing Hazel on how quickly the public will forget her. Suddenly, from below, a voice is crying out “Hazel! Hazel!”. You see the doctor’s panicky face through a porthole, then you see the ocean as he sees it, and then he’s scrambling to get out of his room. “Hazel, the whole city is drowning!” And then “The End”. Like much of the movie, it’s sort of a cheap gag, “haha, the drunk doctor thinks they’re still in the city”, but with the preceding dialog and the way that it is cut abruptly short, there is more than a little hint that it’s meant as a little commentary as well.

It’s no surprise that writing credits were from Ben Hecht (Scarface, The Front Page (later remade as the fantastic His Girl Friday), and according to the IMDB, Ring Lardner Jr.