Monday, January 29, 2007

Flying high - and low

I just made an amazing flight up I-5 from my house in Westchester to Peter's house in Berkeley at the controls of my Googled mouse. Google earth was interesting, but now, with 3-D and zoom and directional controls, it is fascinating. While traveling, I could ascend for a high overview and dive to buzz the big trucks and cars crawling below. After cruising over the Harris Ranch compound, I swooped down to check out the feed lot and all that good beef on the hoof. It was all there but the stink.

The clarity of the terrain and structures enabled me to revisit several of my favorite places along the way. And one of the most intriguing tools allowed me to revolve 360º at virtual ground level at any point.

Check it out and have fun.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Good Title

It looks like Babel is becoming the front runner for Best Picture Oscar, but somehow, I still have more regard for the Motion Picture Academy than to believe that those voters will roll over for this particular Critics' Darling. The picture does have a few good moments--none of them involving Brad Pitt or Cate Blanchett--but not enough good moments to override the restless twistings in my seat.

I suggested that the other Guillermo represented at the Academy this year had a dark vision but did not seem to be a cynic, but this Guillermo is not merely a cynic, he is a flat out nihilisitc neurotic. After he puts his characters through some preposterous and idiotically motivated behavior in order to punish them for being human, he signs off his film with a dedication to his children who-- Bring a bright light into the darkness of this world. Gimmeafuckin' break!

As with their previous films, Arriaga and his writer continue to use a story structure that involves cutting back and forth between different plot lines; the better to keep the skimpiness of their ideas from being too easily evident. Of course, each of these characters has some tenuous connection with the others, but these connections, introduced to imply some cosmic significance to the irrelevant little stories, are totally incidental and gratuitous and have absolutely no bearing on the fates of each other.

So much of the movie is merely incidental that I can't be bothered with specifics. Except maybe one. This entire nightmare is kicked off when a couple of innocent, young North African brothers take mindless pot shots from a hillside at a tour bus on the road below. I mean, what kind of idiots are these? Then the real kicker comes when the rifle sharpshooter takes aim at the bus when it is about a mile and half away. Now the shooter is several hundred yards up a hill on the RIGHT side and in FRONT of the bus when he shoots. When the big bus gradually comes to a stop, it is reasonable to assume that the engine of the driver has been hit. But we learn nothing at that time. Instead, we cut to one of the other stories for a while. Eventually, we return to the bus, but now we are inside it, apparently before the shooting as it is just cruising along and the tourists are engaged in their regular behaviors. Cate Blanchett rests her weary head on the the bus window in the middle and on the LEFT side of the bus. Shortly, a bullet enters cleanly through her window and into her neck area. This means that the bullet from the hillside traveled over a mile at about a 45º angle down toward the front of the bus, overshot the bus, then circled back and slammed into the left mid side of the bus at a 180º angle. This kind of shoddy filming and editing is usually the result of inadequate pre-planning. It can also be the result of indifference and disrespect of the audience, which is what the majority of this movie suggests to me: a false trajectory of story telling through time and space.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Many years ago I wrote a film for the American Playhouse series on PBS. The title was Labyrinthos. When it was broadcast in 1982 the producers had changed the title to the meaningless King of America. And I mean truly meaningless because the film’s protagonist possessed not regal bearing, ambitions or exalted expectations. He would have been totally happy as a workman at any occupation that would have rewarded an honest day’s labor with an honest salary and a little dignity.

This young Greek immigrant, however, was not to be so lucky. Seduced from his homeland by promises of gainful employment, instead he found himself frustrated and befuddled by the abusive and degrading challenges of industrial exploitation. Something still quite familiar in America.

My thoughts on the labyrinth are generated by a recent viewing of PAN’S LABYRINTH. My earlier use of labyrinth as a metaphor was based on the familiar and usual concepts of the labyrinth as a disorienting place of danger and dread from which the only exit was the point of entry.

As I watched PAN’S LABYRINTH, I was curiously surprised to see that, though the physical appearance of the Faun’s abode was grim and ominous, it was actually a place of refuge, even salvation. The only danger it engages comes from outside sources. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro turns the classical concept of the labyrinth inside out. A more accurate designation for this structure—and title for the movie—would something like “Temple of the Faun”. This would not make the movie any better but it would give me less to criticize.

Actually, I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth too much to bother with any real criticism. For differing opinions on this film you can check Peterme’s commentary and my replying comment on this site:

I wasn't planning to see Pan's Labyrinth until I discovered that del Toro was also the co-writer and director of The Devil’s Backbone. This story unfolds in a boy’s orphanage in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war. The living conditions are dire and their stark presentation is not for the squeamish. It is, among other things, a ghost story, but the great horrors are inflicted only by the living.

Despite the grimness of these two films, I don't feel that del Tory is either a cynic or fatalist. Nonetheless, he doesn't leave his audience with much room for hope.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A View From The Bridge

The Bridge Theater, that is, at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester.

Across the freeway (405) and the street (Centinela Blvd.) is Culver City and Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery.

In the photo, to the right of Mexico's #1 (beer? tequila? It is only a cell phone photo), is Al Jolson's memorial to himself. This memorial, with its gushing waterfall is definitely worth a visit to, if not a stay at, Hillside Memorial Park.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Milking MLK

Why is MLK's birthday a national holiday? Except for marching and praying and whining about his dreams I don't see that King has done anything significant for Americans--black or white.

This holiday is mostly a bit of Jim Crow condescension. King was a non-threatening figurehead and attraction for the mealy-mouthed white breast beaters who couldn't handle the real black heroes like Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali and Tommie Smith and John Carlos. If I can't use the library or the post office, let it be to honor some leaders who made more of an impact with their lives than with their death.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

“We’re O.K. down here.”

Stephen Crane wrote a book about it. The Red Badge of Courage. What is courage? What is cowardice? He doesn't offer an answer, just an observation.

Don't ask the hero in this New York Times story. He didn't have a choice; it's just something in the genes. Action/reaction.

And don't think he received applause from his wife when he got home. More likely a bop on the head.

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