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music friday: middle class streaming bandwidth

Hat tip for this week’s Music Friday goes to Nick Farruggia, who posted this in the Expert Witness FB group:

You die and go to Heaven. Things are pretty sweet, but the Koch brothers are still in charge. You're granted Middle Class Streaming Bandwidth, which means you can only listen to three artists from each decade, 1950-2010. "When you stop to consider it, that's unbelievably generous. 21 partial discographies!" Who ya got?

It’s something of a desert-island disc thing, only way more complicated. I’m not going to just pick my 21 favorites, because I have to consider that this is all I will listen to for eternity. I’ll want to mix things up a bit. Also, I’ll probably change my mind on a lot of these choices before this even gets posted. Here goes ...

1950s: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. Sample: “Johnny B. Goode

1960s: The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Velvet Underground. Sample: “Dr. Feelgood”

1970s: Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Patti Smith. Sample: “Because the Night” and “Because the Night

1980s: Prince, Hüsker Dü, Madonna. Sample: “Dirty Mind

1990s: Sleater-Kinney, Nirvana, Tupac. Sample: “One More Hour

2000s: Pink, Eminem, The Gossip. Sample: “Sober”

2010s: Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Chantel McGregor. Sample: “Voodoo Child

sing me a song: windows 10, day one

The first noteworthy thing about Windows 10 is that the opening screens look exactly like Windows 8.1. While I have a feeling the deep changes in the OS will manifest over time, at first glance, Windows 10 looks kinda like Windows 8.2. That is, while Windows 8 was a startling change from Windows 7, there is little about Windows 10 that is startling at all.

I think that’s a good thing. But the truth is, as I ran through the usual stuff I do on the computer, the most common thought I had was that I had no thoughts at all.. Everything ran the same as it did yesterday.

There are two major changes, though. I’m giving the new web browser, Edge, a tryout. I don’t know if I’ll stick with it ... I spent a lot of time just making it act like Chrome, which makes me wonder why I would bother to change at all.

But then there’s Cortana. First seen in Windows Phone 8, this is Microsoft’s answer to Siri. You talk to it, it responds. It does useful stuff, it does goofy stuff. It is integrated into Bing search, and it learns your preferences over time. It will set reminders or notes, play music, all sorts of things.

Here’s the Microsoft promo:

I’ll be honest, the most fun we had was playing with Easter eggs. We asked Cortana to sing us a song, and she gave us “Frère Jacques”. We asked her to tell us a joke, and she did.

As the video suggests, Cortana works best when integrated across machines, so you can tell her something on your Windows phone and it will be there when you move to your Windows computer. And this leads to an interesting problem.

For I’ve had something resembling Cortana for some time now. It’s Google Now, which as you might guess is Google’s attempt to enter this market. It works in a similar fashion ... you can talk to it, it knows your preferences, it integrates with your calendars and stuff like that. I’ve rarely taken advantage of the voice-recognition software ... I felt funny talking out loud to my device. But that seems more natural when talking to my desktop, for some reason, so maybe I’ll get used to this interface.

Which is where that problem comes in. Google Now knows everything about me that exists in the Google universe. And that’s pretty big ... it’s my email, it’s my calendar, it’s my Google searches, it’s all the things I do with my Android phone. it works with what I’d call Google Steven, and it’s pretty accurate for what it tries to do.

But Cortana will only know me by my actions on my desktop. It won’t know what I do on my phone. If I use Bing for searches, it will know that about me, and maybe my Bing searches are different somehow than my Google searches. The point is, Cortana will work with Windows Steven.

I can’t wait to see how the two Stevens differ.

film fatales series #2: american psycho (mary harron, 2000)

In yesterday’s weekly update, I mentioned a “summer film club” suggested by the “Film Fatales”. I was writing about Vagabond, which was in the category “Women-Directed Films That Inspired the Work of Film Fatales”, and said if I continued to watch some of the movies in the lists, perhaps I’d turn it into a series. I noted, “I won’t know if I’ve turned this into a series until I’ve done at least one more”. Then, by happenstance, I watched American Psycho, which is also in the “Inspirational” category. So I guess now it’s a series.

The most important thing I need to say in advance is that I never read Bret Easton Ellis’s novel. I mention this because it was apparently revolting, and I felt that many of the film critics praised Harron’s work because it wasn’t the book. I can’t make that point.

It’s also important to note that American Psycho is a film of its time (2000), and also a representation of an even earlier time (the late 1980s). Watching it for the first time in 2015 adds a level or two of distancing.

Whether or not you’ve read the book, the film American Psycho is playfully complicated. It’s not too hard to read things into the basic scenario. There are a lot of privileged yuppie men turning Manhattan into their playground. It’s easy, maybe too easy, to see these mostly interchangeable men as standing in for all men ... even the men who haven’t reached the peaks of these fellows at least want to reach those peaks. They are creepy, self-absorbed participants in consumer culture, and women are just another item on the shelf, to be bought along with the fancy clothes and the expensive restaurant meals. At this level, American Psycho is a mildly funny look at the inanities of men.

But in Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), we see what happens if the male attitude is taken to an extreme. Bateman one-ups his colleagues in what seems in the film to be a logical fashion: he murders people. He murders them in ways that are increasingly horrific (although apparently this is one of the areas where the book was many times worse). He murders men, but mostly he murders women, and his misogyny seems more virulent than his misanthropy.

Somehow, Harron (and co-writer Guinevere Turner) turn this stew of male rage and self-involvement into what both writers call a feminist movie. They pull this off by bringing satire to the forefront. There is something comical about seeing Bale running around naked with a chainsaw. Our attention is less with his potential victim, and more with his bare butt as he scampers around. He isn’t shown as a hero, or an anti-hero, or anything we would aspire to. He is shown as the personification of male lunacy. He is an American psycho.

I have no idea what’s going on at the end of the film. I got pissed at first, then decided I didn’t care. Did the murders really happen? Call it the film’s MacGuffin. #472 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.

what i watched last week

Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985). Sarah Mirk asked Film Fatales for a list of women-directed films. They offered two lists, one for recent movies, a second for movies that inspired today’s women film makers. “Summer film club, anyone?”, Mirk asked, and I thought that was a good idea. I’ve seen 11 of the “inspirational” movies, none of the more recent ones. I won’t know if I’ve turned this into a series until I’ve done at least one more, so I’ll start with Vagabond. Sandrine Bonnaire is blankly on target as Mona, a teenager on the road who doesn’t seem to have any forward-looking thoughts. She meets various people on her travels, but connects with very few ... she’s mostly just looking for money and weed and food. Varda gives each of the people she encounters a chance to talk about her, one-on-one with the camera. Each of them “explains” Mona according to how she fits into their own vision of life; none of them can really explain her. Nor is Mona “explained” by combining the various points of views into a whole, because she is unknowable. Varda doesn’t pass judgment on Mona, but she doesn't shy away from the character, either. The movie opens with Mona’s body in a ditch, dead (Varda says she was inspired by the structure of Citizen Kane), and ends in the same place. Mona gradually gets “worse” ... more estranged, more hungry, more tattered. But because she is presented as unknowable, we never quite understand how she is experiencing her decline. Varda shows us how each individual gets Mona wrong, but she refuses to show us a Mona we can understand. It’s as if such a demonstration would be corrupted by value judgments. Vagabond is stark, and Bonnaire is great, but ultimately we are too distanced from Mona to totally give in to her story. #827 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012). I really didn’t like Dominik’s Assassination of Jesse etc., but I didn’t know before watching this one that it had the same director. After the movie was over, I wasn't surprised that I had a negative opinion about the earlier movie. The only thing that makes Killing Them Softly better than Jesse James is that it is an hour shorter. Take a modern mob movie, inevitably influenced by Tarantino, with lots of dialogue and a mix of notable actors (in this case, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and others), and show off your greatness. Except ... Dominik is uninterested in pop culture references, which some might find admirable but which removes one of the ways Tarantino keeps our attention. Except ... Dominik’s dialogue isn't as good as Tarantino’s (OK, maybe that’s unfair, most movie dialogue isn’t as good as Tarantino’s). Except ... Tarantino loves his “Guy” characters, but he is also capable of a Jackie Brown or Uma Thurman's Bride. Killing Them Softly has one woman in the entire movie ... her character’s name on IMDB is “Hooker”, and that’s on target. She exists solely to suffer verbal abuse from Gandolfini’s character. Two scenes between Pitt and Gandolfini are worth watching ... the two actors pull off what doesn't work anywhere else in the movie. Remarkably, #771 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 4/10.

music friday: discover weekly

The streaming wars continue. Two of the last three Music Fridays had connections to the new Apple Music service. Now Spotify has a new trick up their sleeve: Discover Weekly.

“Every Monday, you’ll find two glorious hours of discoveries and deep cuts waiting for you in Spotify. It’s a tailor-made mix based on the tunes you listen to, and similar tracks discovered by fans like you. You’re going to love it.”

This week’s list contains 30 songs, with a running time of just under 2 hours. Some selected highlights:

Emitt Rhodes, “Somebody Made for Me”. An ironic “first-ever Discover” track ... made for me, indeed. This is just the kind of thing that should turn up on a list like this. I remember Rhodes from when I lived in Capitola in 1970-71, and probably haven’t thought of him more than twice in all the years since. I don’t have any of his songs on my hard drive, so this is Spotify making a guess. And hitting the target.

Patti Smith, “Redondo Beach”. Third on the list, and the first song that I have demonstrated affection for in the past, i.e. Spotify isn’t really guessing here.

Abner Jay, “Cocaine Blues”. This is recognizable as the song that Dave Van Ronk sang, but just barely. I had never heard of Jay, an eccentrie “one man band”. Again, this is just the kind of song I want to see in a list like this, connected to something I like but also something I’ve never heard before.

Link Wray, “Fire and Brimstone”. Another excellent choice. Growing up, I had a 45 of Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” that I played over and over. And of course, there was “Rumble”. This comes from a 1971 album he cut in his early-40s, and it’s a good one. I saw Wray in concert in the 70s, all dressed in leather and grinding noises out of his guitar.

Merry Clayton, “Gimme Shelter”. I’m someone who thinks Clayton’s best contribution to this song came with the Stones, not in her solo attempt, but I can’t argue with Spotify’s choice here, and I’m always glad to hear this version.

The Slits, “Instant Hit”. This came right after Clayton, and I’m not sure about the segue. But The Slits are yet another fascinating choice. This was the opening track from their debut album, the one with the band naked and covered with mud.

Lucille Bogan, “Shave ‘Em Dry”. I’ve played this more than once on Spotify, so it knew I’d enjoy hearing it again. Possibly the most dirty lyrics ever recorded ... the first line is “I’ve got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb”, and by the time the song is over, Bogan has told us that “I fucked all night, and all the night before, and I feel just like I wanna fuck some more” ... I can’t quit quoting, there’s also “Now your nuts hang down like a damn bell sapper, and your dick stands up like a steeple. Your goddamn asshole stands open like a church door and the crabs walk in like people. Ow, shit!” Thanks, Spotify! (Bogan recorded this in 1935.)

There were other fine choices from the likes of Jonathan Richman, Love, Courtney Barnett, Lucinda Williams ... even Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Jude”. It wasn’t all perfect ... nothing is going to make me like solo Scott Walker, although even there, I can see why they chose it. And there were oddities like William Onyeabor and Vashti Bunyan and Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir. It really was a terrific playlist, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next week.

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]

mchale's navy thrown to italy

The fascinating website Television Obscurities (“Keeping Obscure TV From Fading Away Forever”) has spent the last 12 or so months taking a weekly look at TV Guide during the 1964-65 season. All by itself, TV Guide qualifies as a throwback for me ... we never missed an issue when I was growing up. Here are some items from their look at the July 17, 1965 issue.

  • The cover article, on McHale’s Navy moving to Italy, was written by Peter Bogdanovich.
  • Also appearing in that issue: Curt Gowdy, Walt Disney, Agnes Moorehead, and Nancy Wilson.
  • “CBS is working on a series for British singers Chad and Jeremy, said to be a musical version of Route 66.”
  • “Kate Smith will make six TV appearances next season”.

Here is the first episode of McHale’s Navy in Italy:

what i watched last week

Neal Cassady (Noah Buschel, 2007). It would be a very big understatement to say I had a special interest in this film. I first heard of it back in 2007 ... all I knew was the cast was interesting (Frank Sobotka as Kesey! Beadie Russell as Carolyn Cassady!) and that there were some legal issues that might mean the film wouldn’t be released. Obviously it’s out there now ... I didn’t watch a bootleg, it was on Hulu. The Cassady family objected to ... well, here’s an extended quote from Carolyn:

I have also seen the film NEAL CASSADY made by Noah Buschel. Alas, his research only went as far as the hated films Kesey and the Pranksters made of Neal after his soul was dead, and he was desperately trying to destroy his body and mind. ... The film itself is based on false myths, disoriented, with no continuity, development, plot or purpose, as far as we can see. ... I hope no one will see it, but if you do, please don't take it as a portrait of Neal. as the title suggests--or any of us. Or Kerouac, except by then he was drunk all the time. None of what they say could we have said. I wish I could understand why people do this. Noah claimed he loved Neal so much, this is what he had to do. What a travesty, why?

I think her critique is accurate as far as the film itself goes ... it is disoriented, with no continuity, development, or plot. But this is true of lots of movies these days. I disagree that the movie lacks purpose, and in fact, I think what comes across is close to what Neal’s family might like us to see. This is mostly the Neal of Prankster days, but the tone is not celebratory ... this isn’t Tom Wolfe. No, Neal comes across as a person who is dying because people expect him to be Dean Moriarty, and no one treats him seriously as an actual human named Neal Cassady. It’s tragic.

Having said that, I don’t think the movie is successful. Tate Donovan overcomes his miscasting, barely ... he’s not as bad as I feared, and he has a view poignant moments. He makes the most of what he is given. But the lack of context is crushing. There is a brief opening where Jack and Neal spend time on the road, we get hints of how that book affects Neal’s real life, and then the film jumps ahead to the Prankster era. Hardcore fans of Kerouac, Kesey, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Cassady, don’t need context, but without that context, I imagine a viewer would be lost. Nothing in the film feels universal ... a person wouldn’t watch this and think hey, I’ve been where Neal Cassady has been. Without that ability to identify at some level with the protagonist, and without anything to explain why we should care about this guy, there is nothing to grab onto.

(One odd side note. Arguably the best movie I made in my film-major days was a short about Cassady (fictionalized). I based the character on what I knew from books. My Cassady talked nonstop and drove nonstop and died on railroad tracks, counting the ties, which matched an urban legend about his death. Well, spoiler alert, but in Neal Cassady, Neal dies counting ties on a railroad track.)

I’m not sorry I finally saw this. But very little in the film resonates with what I know of Neal and Jack and Kesey and Carolyn, and maybe that just shows the limits of my knowledge of people I never met, and I believe that Buschel wanted to do right by Neal, but ultimately, it fails. 5/10.

7 Women (John Ford, 1966). Some people like this movie. I suspect those people look askance at those of us who are less impressed with the film ... it feels like one of those works where those who like it accuse those who don’t like it of “not getting it”. I’ve read a lot of critical discussion about how representative 7 Women is of Ford’s career ... some say it’s an anomaly, others dig deep to find connections to Ford’s past films. It’s the kind of discussion that doesn’t really interest me. If I don’t like a movie, it doesn’t matter how it connects to the film maker’s past. 7 Women has one excellent performance (Anne Bancroft), and a couple of performances that benefit from the film’s short running time (there isn’t time to give them much screen time). Outside of those few, the movie is full of annoying overacting, and some truly astounding casting ... even if I put myself in 1966, accept that those were different times, the presence of ex-pro football players/rasslers Mike Mazurki and Woody Strode as Mongolian warlord Tunga Khan and his warrior second-in-command is either frightening in its casual racism (take a guy with a Hungarian background and team him with a black actor, let them play Mongols ... I guess if John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, anything is possible) or simply hilarious. It’s especially sad to see Strode, one of the screen’s most captivating actors, stuck in this movie, playing “Lean Warrior” ... why give his character a name? A few times, the actions of the Mongols are remarkably vicious ... it happens off screen, but there are scenes of mass murder and rape by the raging hordes that have quite an impact. Not a complete disaster, but certainly far from a masterwork. #778 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time, which is auteurism run amuck. 5/10. Honor Ford for his greatest film, My Darling Clementine, for Young Mr. Lincoln and The Grapes of Wrath and The Searchers ... there are a dozen or more John Ford movies to see before you get around to 7 Women.

Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007). This is a feature-length, re-edited version of Tarantino’s contribution to Grindhouse. It’s easily the worst of his movies ... I haven’t seen Four Rooms, and I’m not counting Natural Born Killers, but I gave every other one of his seven features at least an 8/10, which means Death Proof is a major disappointment. You could argue that he’s just goofing here, but he has demonstrated in the past that he is quite capable of turning a goof into something substantial. It’s not completely worthless ... as usual, he provides several women with impressive bad-ass roles, and stuntwoman Zoë Bell is excellent playing herself. But for the most part, what we see is pointless ... even Tarantino’s dependable dialogue is somehow less than good. The only saving grace is a terrific car chase scene to close out the film ... Tarantino’s skills are evident, and Bell gets a chance to shine. #393 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (huh?). 5/10.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney, 2015). Gibney directed a documentary I liked (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), and co-directed a movie that wasn’t as good but was right up my alley (Magic Trip ... for context, see Neal Cassady above). Since I’m anti-Scientology, I liked Going Clear, which shares my view. But I think it was closer to Magic Trip, which I liked simply because it was something I wanted to see, than to Enron, where I actually learned something. At this point, Going Clear isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know, although it’s useful for putting everything in one place. The movie would be better if we heard from some current Scientologists, but they aren’t talking, so Gibney and crew work with what they have. I don’t think they’re worried ... they wanted to show the darker side of Scientology, and it’s not hard to find examples. 7/10.

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949). 10/10.

Casualties of War (Brian De Palma, 1989). 8/10.

I Saw the Devil (Jee-woon Kim, 2010). 7/10.

get it anyway, anyhow

So while we congratulate ourselves on not having political prisoners like China or Cuba, we do have what we might call prisoners of politics. Again, Obama described the incarceration crisis as “containing and controlling problems that the rest of us are not facing up to and willing to do something about.” Politicians have not been willing to face up to and do something about the underlying problems and all too willing to seek means of “containing” them—i.e., warehousing the people left behind. The political decisions made in the age of neoliberalism and globalization, concurrent with the War on Drugs, have resulted in a surplus population that cannot be absorbed by the sort of economy advocated by Washington and a severe criminalization of the one economy that does work in communities left behind.

-- Matthew Pulver, “Why America’s prison problem is so much worse than Barack Obama wants to let on


“Some folks are born into a good life. Other folks get it anyway, anyhow.”