Friday, September 30, 2011

Sept 30

Watched Kobayashi's excellent Samurai Rebellion this week.  A pacifist and something of a gentle cynic, Kobayashi makes movies about the failures and inconsistencies of the samurai code. In Samurai Rebellion, for example, the injustness and capriciousness of the daimyo (the lord of a particular region) ultimately pushes one of his followers (played here by T Mifune) into open rebellion.  The inciting incident involves a courtesan whom the daimyo has grown tired of. Wanting a new lover, he forces the courtesan to leave his house and asks Mifune to marry her to his son. Mifune demurs at first but then, reluctantly, agrees (he had intended to choose his son's bride for himself and resents having to take a 'fallen woman' into his household.) The courtesan and the son eventually fall deeply in love, at which time the daimyo changes his mind and calls the courtesan back to his court. At this, Mifune balks. Ultimately, a mini-war breaks out, with predictably deleterious consequences.  The movie traces out Mifune's growing disillusionment and resentment toward not only his daimyo but the whole system which supports him. Really, really excellent.  (Harakiri, also by Kobayashi, is similarly great.)

Have been watching 30 Rock in syndication at night of late; it’s on twice here at 11:30 and 12. Surprised to find how poorly it holds up, how much less good it seems now than it once did. Not sure exactly why and would like to figure it out. A few great episodes, of course, but... hmm.  It's a lot less funny than I remember.  Also Tina Fey is starting to wear thin. The fact that she frames herself as a klutz who eats all the time when she’s in fact thin, pretty, and successful may be part of it. Feels all like a ruse of some sort, I don’t know.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"He Left Us Too Soon When He Croaked On Top of That Chick For Hire"

As I was reading the article in last week's New Yorker about Tony Bennett recording a duet with Lady Gaga, I thought occasionally of an SNL skit from a few years back called "The Tony Bennett Show."  In it, Alec Baldwin does one of his funniest bits--impersonating the irrepressible, and often inappropriate, old crooner.   This weekend, watching SNL, I was happily surprised to see Baldwin reprising the role.  The whole thing is pitch perfect and hilarious.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Anyone Would Go

I never thought I'd be writing this but after reading this piece in Slate, I think I want to go to Burning Man next year (!).  If only to be able to witness things like this...

There was also a Billion Bunny March. This involved hundreds of people—sorry bunnies, journalistic ethics require me to provide a factual attendance estimate—dressed in bunny costumes, parading together around the city. OK, I hear you saying, cute, fine, whatever. But then people in carrot costumes show up to protest the march! With signs demanding bunny-carrot equality!
Launch a slideshow of Burning Man signs.
 At one point I happened upon a wooden pier in the middle of the open desert. It was about 75 feet long, and 20 feet high at its furthest reach. Actual ocean-going yachts (they had been refitted with motorized wheels) pulled up to the pier and docked at it, sometimes three at a time. Passengers would disembark and party on the pier to the thumping sounds of a DJ. Then people hopped back on the yachts—often different yachts than they'd arrived on—and the boats pulled away and sailed off into the desert again.
When there were no yachts at the pier you could go fishing off its edges. A woman handed us a fishing rod with a small toy tied to the end of its line, urging us to dangle our lure and see what we might catch. After a few moments, a dude in a crab costume jumped out from beneath the pier and grabbed the toy in his mouth.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent.”

I highly recommend this fascinating and thought-provoking consideration of George W. Bush written by a former Washington Post reporter who had an opportunity to get to know him--well--over a number of years.  Whatever you think of his presidency or his politics, this is worth your time.  The comments beneath also bear looking at.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday, Sept 22

Long tedious day of driving and errands.  First to Gucci to haggle with people about a purse I've finally convinced them to take back (it's involved two separate trips and a long, crafty letter to their corporate offices).  That took an hour each way in traffic.  From there to [Bank Name] to deal with more ridiculousness for our refinance plans.  Even describing what the underwriter for our hopefully-soon-to-exist new loan is asking us to do, the hoops within hoops within hoops he wants me to leap through, singing, would take more energy and time than I can summon.  And it might not be plausible anyway.  Suffice it to say that the mortgage industry has gone from a policy of giving anyone off the street who wants a loan whatever they want without any background check to one of requiring DNA extractions, personality tests, and donations of blood and kidneys.  It's horrible.

Watched a fairly mediocre Samurai film a few days ago—Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman.  (Directed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano).  Zatoichi's a classic iconic Japanese figure, maybe a bit like Robin Hood for the UK or The Lone Ranger here.  He's a blind samurai master who travels around Japan righting wrongs and saving the downtrodden and such.  All sorts of directors there have used him in all sorts of ways--this is the second movie I've seen in which he was the hero.  

Movie didn't work on various levels.  Main problem was the hero's near total invincibility.  He can win at dice by listening to them roll in the cup; he can defeat any other samurai in battle; he can sense when a man is dressed as a woman just by...I don't know.  Smell?  Point is, this Zatoichi could basically do anything, which makes for poor drama.  Heroes without flaws are not heroes--they're Gods.  (How much less interesting would Superman be without kryptonite?)  The only drama in this Zatoichi was seeing HOW he would eventually be ranged against the various baddies threatening the peaceful countryside.  Once that happened, there was no doubt he would defeat them.  And so, no point in watching.

Movie was shot in 2003 and had some very stylized violence in it that made me think in bad ways of Tarantino.  Also, Monty Python (the skits where people have their heads cut off and blood shoots twenty feet out of their neck like from a hose).  Actually it may have been one of the no doubt nine dozen samurai swordfight movies that inspired (if that word can be used so loosely here) the two Kill Bill movies.  I don't know.  But it wasn't worth my time.

Tomorrow I go back to REAL samurai movies, with some Kurosawa and some Mifune.  And some real work without driving.  And, maybe, in the evening, a Sierra Nevada.  Sweet, sweet Sierra Nevada.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 20

Yesterday turned out to be a very good one for work.

Sunday's new student went all right but not great.  Didn’t get as good a ‘read’ on her as I would have liked.  Still the mother is no nonsense about work and she is driven enough to have told her mom she wanted an SAT tutor at the start of her junior year.  So it should be all right.  Still not sure if I didn't say a few things I shouldn't have.  I give myself a B to B- on our first meeting.

I think I’m giving up on Dead Souls.  300 pages in and I guess I should just finish.  But I feel little motivation.  Gogol's voice is for him the attraction I think and though it may have been ground-breaking when published the contant authorial interruptions and commentary feels now gimmicky, tired, and over-cute. (“Oh some readers may object to _ I know, but what can I do? This is how we poor Russians are!”)  Too much of that.  I started reading Isaac Babel short stories yesterday but I think I’ll also begin a novel of some sort.

Have been enjoying return of NFL far more than I expected.  Having DVR makes a huge improvement to watching games.  The ability to fast forward through commercials, kickoffs, and Dan Dierdorf makes the watching experience exponentially better.  The league itself continues to be the best run in pro sports; the salary cap allows relative parity (no Yankees and Red Sox buying the best team every year) and because of the season’s brevity the actual games all feel important.  It’s a surprise to me—as little a jock as there ever was one—but I’ve become a real football fan.  I even watch football ‘analysis’ shows (of which a great parody could and should be written—if I were on SNL I’d pitch this in week one).  Although I will say that, for my money, Mark Schlereth is the worse—and the dimmest—commentator in all of sports.

Watched a fascinating documentary on Bobby Fisher over the weekend (on HBO).  I knew already most of the facts about his life, but I’d never seen the video footage—his confrontation with Spassky in '72 and his steady devolution thereafter into an anti Semitic conspiracy nut.  (His radio address exulting in the attack on the World Trade Center was particularly unsettling).  The press conference he gives when he is allowed to enter Iceland and become a citizen (2001?) stands out, especially the exchange between him and Jeremy Schaap about J’s father’s “typical” Jewish treachery towards Fisher.  Then the older man from Iceland who talked about how exhauasting it was to be around Fisher, how he drove everyone away.  Not that that needed explaining—it was plain on the video.  But fascinating.  Made me feel much more sympathy towards him than I ever had.  His mother more or less abandoned him at sixteen and he clearly never developed even the most minimal socialization skills.  (He basically locked himself in his apartment and played chess from sixteen to his mid twenties).  Although I have a fatigue about the genius madness thing.  We like to have our geniuses nutty so we are freed from the burden of being not genius.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday September 18th

Planned to write all day Friday but decided to try and take things easier this weekend.  I've had to tutor both days this weekend so I won’t have much time to myself, and I'm down in the up/down fatigue excitement cycle that a long project involves.  I don't usually write on the blog much then, but I am trying to force myself to post every other day. 

Bink misbehaved Thursday night; howled for a while after bedtime and then began clawing up the box.  We have a box that we use to keep him inside the kitchen; a cardboard box, and on top of it a large plastic box containing his food, leash, playthings and sundry.  There used to be two cardboard boxes and then the plastic but he’s done so much clawing and eating damage to the first box we’ve taken it away.  Now he’s on the second box.  Some nights he goes quietly to bed and makes no fuss.  Other nights he makes considerable fuss.  You can hear him clawing and biting at the box from the bedroom.  Both wife and I got up a few times to try and stop him but he wouldn’t relent.  In the end the only solution was to go to bed and come in the morning and pick up all the shards of cardboard his work has left.  Then he's tired all day (from having spent the evening working on the box) and doesn't sleep that night.  And the cycle continues.

You might wonder why we keep him in the kitchen for the night at all.  We’ve tried letting him roam; the problem is that he will see one of the neighbor’s cat (or sense, more likely) outside the front door or back den windows at 4 in the AM and howl and how and howl.  The front door hallway is right next to the hall where our bedroom is and that howl shoots down the long hallway like a rocket.  No sleeping through that.  The ideal would be to somehow train him not to howl at things during the night (especially cats—burglars might be okay) but we don’t know how to do that. 

After all the fun on Thursday night, wife bought a pet gate for the kitchen which I then installed, using my many macho powers of...installing things.  So far the gate has not provoked his wrath--no nights of clawing and howling have yet occurred.  I don't know if that's because he's been tired again at night or if somehow the gate makes him less aggravated than the box.  We'll see.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday September 16th

I'm going to resume my 'journal a day' practice for the next month.  Except it will be 'journal every other day.'

Last night watched Taste of Cherry by Iranian director A. Kiarastami.  A man drives around Iran in a car trying to find someone to help bury him after he commits suicide.  That’s the story.  It’s mostly all shot inside the man’s car.  The people he meets are all men, and seem to represent the spectrum of people in today’s Iran (well, some spectrum).  They are each deliberately noted as being from different places (Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Lorestan(?)) and work a variety of jobs that seem to represent roles in modern-day Iran—soldier, seminarist, guard.  The movie ends with the man taking sleeping pills and lying down in the grave, as he’s told us he would.  The ‘drama’ such as it is involves whether or not the man has taken enough sleeping pills to wake up or not (this is the role of the person who has to help him—either to wake him, in the morning, or bury him).

Movie was not what you’d called thrilling.  In an interview on the DVD, Kiarastami talked about how he personally disliked movies that compelled you to be thrilled.  Movies that grabbed hold of you and didn’t let you think.  He said he preferred movies that you thought about for days after seeing them—even if, during the viewing, you fell asleep.  Some of my favorite movies, he said, are ones I fell asleep watching.  He went on to talk about how nice it is to nap in a movie.  I think he was joking, a little.  But maybe not.  Anyway, the movie definitely had a soporific quality.  I’m not sure I agree that that’s a useful or worthwhile goal.  In fact I think it rather isn’t.

Also you never find out if the man wakes up or not.  The movie's last scene is of the director and other film people (crew, cast) gathered on a ridge working to get the sound down for some shot in the film.  Post modern flim flam, is how it felt to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Didn't Know There Was A Basingstoke in Westphalia

Spending all of the morning dealing with bank and mortgage people.  Sweet lord is it difficult.  We're refinancing our house.  We have perfect credit, we have savings, we earn money--and still.  They cavil and harass.  The bank wants records and proof of everything.  The amount of documentation we've been asked to provide--at this point I'm not going to be surprised if my middle school report cards have to get faxed somewhere.  It's exhausting and aggravating but the banks have all the power; there are so many people right now trying to do refinances they can demand to see into every detail of your financial life.  And you have to take it.  It fills me with rage.

Other than that, not too much afoot.  We're planning where to eat in New York City, in November.  Also, what shows to see?  So far our only decision: Anything Goes.  Cole Porter + PG Wodehouse.  What could be better than that?  Also, the subject of a great, great Monty Python skit. (Starting above at the two minute mark)  The dining options are, of course, insane.  We've decided to leave Per Se for another time (a nine course four-hour tasting menu is more than we're ready for).  I'm not sure what else we'll do.  The Cloisters, I think, and maybe The Frick (where neither of us have been).  Why are we planning now?  It's fun to plan in advance--looking forward to things is a great source of human joy.  Maybe the greatest?  But before that can happen we have to get done with our mortgage people.  And that will not be among the greatest of human joys.  No, or even in the top ten....

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Dangerous?  Yes.  Insane?  Probably.  But also, strangely beautiful.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 7

I recommend this excellent if unsettling look at the malaise within the Republican party--from a Republican.  Depressing but informative.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1

I don't know why I didn't much want to write anything last week.  I was sort of down.  I don't know why.  I felt creatively at an ebb; I wasn't inspired, I felt very blah.  Maybe it was to do with what I've been reading?  I always assume that it's garbage in, garbage out, and of late I've been reading a lot of blogs and newspapers but nothing really nutritive.  I read the first Flashman novel, which was fun but not inspiring.

Now, for no reason I really know about, I've started reading Gogol's Dead Souls.  So far it's pretty excellent.  The wife and I are planning a trip to New York City in November and that has got me excited.  Also, I've got a new deadline for the play.  On September 15th, I'm sending into at least one contest.  I also intend to send it some friends for feedback.  The goal is to get it so that every page is a 'seven'--meaning on a scale of one to ten, that no page is worse than a seven.  Hopefully many pages will be better.  But they may not.  The ultimate goal is to have it all to be an 'eight' with moments of nine and ten.  But it's been harder than I anticipated to go from fives and sixes to seven.  After this draft, I'll take comments, and do one more rewrite.  And then, I'm done.