i read the news today

I used to post a lot about current affairs on this blog. I spent several years working on a journal with the subheading "Political Education For Everyday Life", and I wrote 2 or 3 articles for them every year. In more recent years, I've cut back on my political blog posts. I have a feeling that someone else out there has made my argument more persuasively (although I never think that I shouldn't write about movies or music just because other people do it better), so at best, I'll link to others.

At times like today, I feel the absence of those posts. Also, more than ever I write entries and then post-date them, so when something momentous happens, I've got a pre-written blog post about Miranda Lambert.

Today calls for a post. More than a post, of course ... it's heartening to see people taking actions on the streets, even as I anticipate Sunday, which I'll spend sitting on the toilet prepping for Monday's colonoscopy. But I don't know that I have a post worth offering. People are reminding us that despair gets us nowhere, and they are right, but Despair is my middle name. (I recall an old underground comic from R. Crumb, "Plunge into the Depths of Despair", with a cover that showed a husband with arms crossed saying "See if there's anything good on..." and his wife gripping the arms of her chair as she replied, "Why bother?")

Here's a piece by Samuel Moyn (it has a tremendous drawing by Mathias Ball) in the Washington Post: "Counting on the Supreme Court to uphold key rights was always a mistake".

The situation reflects a flaw in our political system: The Supreme Court has been allowed to usurp the place of national majorities in envisioning and enacting the highest values of American citizenship — the rights we hold. Contrary to a popular misconception, when the court has assigned and defined rights, more often than not it has reinforced the rule of powerful and privileged minorities rather than protecting ordinary (let alone marginalized) citizens....

Arbitrary and unreviewable power of the sort the Supreme Court now possesses is the worst threat to democracy and rights alike. Abortion rights are at stake in the Dobbs case and its political aftermath but, equally fatefully, so is whether democracies can legislate rights of almost any kind. Only when rights are legislated, progressives need to learn, are they made reliable.

Heavens to Betsy, "Baby's Gone":

I grew up in your house
I grew up with your rules and I know sex is what I shouldn't do
I know what i can't tell you

Baby's gone away
Baby won't be back
Baby grew today and she won't ever be back

Maybe he loved me;
Maybe he didn't I don't know
It doesn't matter now because when I needed help I was all alone
Now baby's gone away
Sometimes condoms break
Your baby grew today, and she won't ever be back

I'd be a little girl forever
I won't make you ashamed
Little girl's gone away because I died on a knitting needle yesterday

Baby's gone away
Baby won't be back
Baby grew today
I did what you told me to do- now I'm dead
Goodbye. goodbye


random music friday

I was listening to Miranda Lambert's new album, Palomino. She is now tied with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Jeff Beck, as my 167th most-listened to artists. It's hard to imagine a concert with those three acts, although in the 60s, Bill Graham could have pulled it off. Robinson is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ... Beck is in twice (with the Yardbirds and as a solo act ... I admit I don't get the concept of multiple inductions). Nonetheless, if this concert happened today, Lambert would be the clear choice as headliner. She has more Academy of Country Music Awards than anyone in history. She has won six American Country Awards (these get a lot of crossover), eight CMT Music Awards, fourteen Country Music Association Awards, and three Grammies. She was named to the Time Magazine list of the top 100 most influential people of 2022.

Like many, I came to Lambert via her first crossover single, "Kerosene":

Without Smokey Robinson, there is no Motown:

Of course, the Beatles were everyone's favorite band back in the day ... I'm not trying to dispute that. But my other favorite band was The Yardbirds. I owned all four of their American albums back when I could barely afford to buy one album a year. Jeff Beck is one of the reasons I loved them. Here he is/they are, performing for Antonioni:


geezer cinema/film fatales #144: petite maman (céline sciamma, 2021)

About Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I wrote, "Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel as a painter and her reluctant subject are perfectly matched, and both deliver perfect performances." I also noted cinematographer Claire Mathon's excellent contribution to that movie. Sciamma and Mathon are working together again, and the result is a charming, gently magical film that once again shows Sciamma's talent with actors. The added factor here is that the main characters are eight-year-old friends, played by real-life twins Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz. I can find very little about these sisters, but it appears this is their first film, which is a credit both to Sciamma's ability to bring out their best and their own natural ways of getting into an audience.

A spoiler-free recap of Petite Maman is not easy, although there is a vague quality to the plot that might seem to be spoiler-free. But I think the film benefits from the gradual revealing of the story ... I am sure I would get a lot out of a second viewing, knowing what I do now (and at just 72 minutes, you could easily watch it twice in succession if you were so inclined). While the film is indeed magical in all meanings of that term, it isn't a film with a trick, like, say, The Sixth Sense, which grabs you the first time, and allows you to see how it was done on a second viewing, but after that leaves no reason to keep watching. No, Petite Maman is a lovely movie about grief and friendship and family and, most of all, childhood, beautiful to behold even if you don't connect with the magic. But you will.

There is a viral program making the rounds, Craiyon (formerly DALL-E mini), that features an "AI model drawing images from any prompt". I gave the prompt "portrait of petite maman on fire" and got this:

Portrait of petite maman on fire single frame


film fatales #143/african-american directors series: the watermelon woman (cheryl dunye, 1996)

The Watermelon Woman is a fascinating feature debut for Cheryl Dunye, who followed it with several features and, in the last several years, work on many television series, including Lovecraft Country. It is a selection in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Which is true ... it was the first feature directed by a black lesbian. But the pleasures of The Watermelon Woman go beyond its historical status.

The film is about a budding director, Cheryl, played by Cheryl Dunye herself, who discovers a little-known actress in an old film who is listed only as "Watermelon Woman". Cheryl sets out to learn more about this woman, whose name turns out to be Fae Richards. Fae was a lesbian, and was said to have had a relationship with a white female director, Martha Page. Cheryl begins working on a film about Richards, and Dunye moves between Cheryl's work and her personal life. Gradually, we come to know Richards through old photographs, brief film clips, and interviews Cheryl does with people who knew Richards. (She even interviews Camille Paglia as herself, who says things like "If the watermelon symbolizes African-American culture, rightly so, because look what white middle class feminism stands for: anorexia and bulimia.")

The transitions between the quest for knowledge about Richards, the attempt to make a movie, and the presentation of Cheryl's personal life are not always smooth, but Dunye never loses our attention throughout The Watermelon Woman's short running time (90 minutes).

Dunye has one last trick up her sleeve, or rather, the trick has been there all along but we in the audience are never quite certain we've got the trick. During the closing credits, we see pieces of Cheryl's documentary about Fae Richards, taking us back to the still photos and movie clips Cheryl has collected. Except the credits end with the following statement: "Sometimes you have to create your own history. The Watermelon Woman is fiction. Cheryl Dunye, 1996"

The concept of the film is audacious, but perhaps even more impressive is the technical skills used to pull it off. The stills and footage were all shot by Dunye and her crew. They aren't just old items gathered for other purposes ... the clips from Fae Richards' old movies and all of the photos we see from Fae's past are faked. And they are pretty flawless. Maybe it's not super-Marvel CGI, but it's a different accomplishment that is equally noteworthy. That it is used in a work that has historic significance is the icing on the cake.