Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Mar 04 2013

Sterling Hayden: An Appreciation

One of the most influential books in my youth was Sterling Hayden’s autobiography: Wanderer.  For a young writer restless to get out of the confines of college and into the “real” world, his life’s story was an inspiration of boot-strapped pluck, luck, and determination to find some meaning on the deep blue sea. That he was a leading man during Hollywood’s Golden Era, married to starlets, called before the Communist witch-hunts of the House Un-American Committee, then revived in  the 60s and 70s as an actor’s actor in Dr. Strangelove and the Godfather was mere trim and icing on a life spent before the mast on a Gloucester fishing schooner and tall ships. Sterling Hayden was the real deal, a manly man who deserves a revival.

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Hayden wrote two books: Wanderer is still in print and a very worthwhile read. His one and only novel, Voyage: A Novel of 1896 is out of print, but worth tracking down from a used bookstore. It is one of the better maritime novels on my bookshelf. As for his films, other than Strangelove and Godfather, his other big contemporary film was The Long Goodbye. His early stuff — beginning in 1941 after he was discovered by Hollywood on the deck of a Gloucester schooner because of some newsreel footage shot at the annual schooner races in Boston — is pretty obscure, B-movie stuff. He hated the studio system which cast him as a pretty boy/beefcake but he put up with it to finance his expensive tastes in wives and boats. Hayden was a self-admitted bad actor.

He spent World War II in the OSS, working behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia with Marshal Tito’s band of resistance guerrillas fighting Nazis. That built some admiration for the Communists which got him into hot water after the war during the Hollywood witch hunts, a period in his life he long regretted after he uncharacteristically named names.

I met him once, in Sausalito, California in the early 80s, shortly before his death in 1986, when I was tending bar in San Francisco and writing as the Bay Area stringer for Soundings, a weekly boating newspaper. I read a profile of his first mate, Spike Africa, in the San Francisco Chronicle, learned Hayden was in Sausalito and tracked him down. I was 22 and the two interviews I had with him were my first experience with true hero worship. I never wrote the profile, the editors at Sounding weren’t interested and I was too flaky to freelance the piece elsewhere, a mistake I kick myself for.

There is a great appreciation of Hayden, the sailor and writer, by Captain Paul Watson at Sea Shepherd International’s blog. I’ll borrow his quote of Hayden’s because it was the kind of sentiment that fired me up as a confused and rudderless young sophmore:

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… cruising, it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about. I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone. What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”

– Sterling Hayden

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Jul 17 2012

Bluefin: interesting media analytics

Published by under Movies,Technology

Show me the word “analytics” in an ad and I instantly grow cynical for word feels like the refuge of the desperate trying to sell the great white whale of ROI to the tight-fisted.

Dan Lyons calls out a very very interesting technology coming out of the MIT Media Lab for correlating social chatter and user utterances with television programming. This company, Bluefin Labs, strikes a strong chord given my past interest into the role of the “back channel” among fans during televised real-time events: Red Sox games, State of the Union Addresses, the Academy Awards.

This TedTalk from 2011, by Bluefin’s founder Deb Roy, is interesting on several levels. First, it exhibits an amazing demo of data collection and analysis — in this case video footage and audio clips shot throughout his home and then processed to track the progress of his baby learning how to speak the word “water,” mapped against the context of where and when the word was learned (bathroom, near the kitchen sink, etc.). This capture model has amazing implications in terms of building an amazing “life record” and brought to mind the efforts of people like Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits project at Microsoft and Stephen Wolfram’s personal analytics analysis of his email history. I freak out when I see an old Super 8 movie of myself waddling around in sagging diaper circa 1959 at Cotuit Rope’s Beach. Imagine being able to see myself take my first steps, say “water”, etc.?

The interesting kicker to Roy’s personal experiment is the commercial application and the ability to map the Twitterverse and Social Graph to mass media events. If I was a media planner or TV stats wonk, I’d be freaking over this stuff from Bluefin.

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May 17 2012

Movie of the week: Malina

Published by under Movies

It’s been a while since I’ve stood up and walked out of a movie, but last night I simply had to.

The New York Museum of Modern Art film society has generally been a can’t-miss-proposition for feeding my art film habits, but last night’s showing of Werner Schroeter‘s Malina was a big disappointment.

I’m a fan of German cinema, but Schroeter, who passed away in 2010, was a new auteur for me and one I looked forward to exploring. Malina, however, was not the best introduction.

The film stars French actress Isabel Huppert. It consists of an interminable number of non sequitur scenes about the nature of madness with Huppert, a writer-academic, smoking cigarettes and behaving irritably at a typewriter and in a bed with one of two men. One of those men, Malina, lurks around the edges and in the hallways of a big Vienna apartment. The other, Ivan, cuddles with her in bed and issues proclamations about hands, fire, and letters. This user review on IMDB says it best:

“Malina is incredibly complex drama on the nature of insanity and to watch it, especially in the beginning, is quite a labour. A woman believes that she is a writer and all her men are fruits of her ill consciousness or personages of her unwritten book or alter egos of her split imagination. And episode after episode her consciousness keeps deteriorating more and more but the end breaks everything once again so all that was happening comes up in absolutely different light and changes its meaning. Malina is an anagram of ‘animal’ and it isn’t accidental but symbolic to the entire surrealistic content of the film. Malina is unique and utterly fabulous movie having many layers of narration and visualization.”

I made it two-thirds of the way, but lack of dinner had me squirming, and when about a dozen other film goers got up and strolled out, I too made my way to the door. This is from me, the guy who can sit through six hours of Satantango.

I can’t call it the worst movie ever, but if I wanted to torment someone, Malina would make the list. I composed a review in my mind during some of the weirder disconnected scenes and marvelled that a medium that gave the world Porky’s 3: Revenge can also give us Schroeter.


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Apr 05 2012

Artsy Movie of the Week: Tatsumi

Published by under Movies

The Museum of Modern Art’s film society presented the US premier of Tatsumi last night as part of its ContemporAsian film series. This is an animated biography/animation of the life and word of Japanese “cartoonist” and manga pioneer, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who led the movement in the late 1950s to move Japanese manga out of the realm of children’s comics to the art form now recognized as long form graphic novels.

I was into comics about as much as the next kid, but never really geeked out over them and have never been drawn to Japanese manga or anime. Speed Racer was about as much as I could take.

The film, directed by Singapore director Eric Khoo, intersperses a animated biography of Tasumi (based on Tatsumi’s autobiography, A Drifting Life) from his childhood during World War II through his life in the post-war 50s and the economic explosion of the 70s with animated versions of his “novels”, a form he invented and dubbed gekiga,  or “dramatic pictures.” There were five stories retold in the film. The first was a very heavy story about a young photographer who snaps a picture of a shadow of a son comforting his mother at the instant the bomb went off over Hiroshima, baking their silhouette into a wrecked wall. There was a terrible tale of a factory worker who lives alone with a pet monkey, loses his arm in a machine accident, and decides to free the monkey by dropping it into the monkey cage at the zoo, only to watch in horror as the zoo monkeys tear it to shreds. A story of a post-war whore who takes up with a GI and performs drunken incest with her father. A failed manga artist who decides to move from children’s stories to porn and is caught drawing lewd grafitti on the wall of a public toilet (lots of vomit and poo in that one). A retiree who hates his wife and wants to go out with a bang by having one last love affair but winds up being impotent when he gets his chance …..

This was heavy stuff. Some of the audience would get up and walk out towards the end when things got particularly heavy. But most of the audience was composed of Japanese ex-pats, and my sense was Tatsumi is a very good story teller with a penchant for getting into the complex post-war Japanese zeitgeist in a way an American can never really understand. Good film. Glad I went. Made me uncomfortable, choked me up, and I loved the blend of biography and fiction.

Having been to Japan a grand total of two times, I can barely claim to understand the culture, but Tatsumi seemed to confirm, in a bleak way, my darkest projections of what life must have been in that fascinating society in the days following the nuclear explosions through the astonishing rebirth as a world power; all told across the span of one man’s life.


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Mar 29 2012

Ben Gazzara 1930-2012: Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Published by under Movies

While walking in midtown last week my partner and I started talking about my addiction to art and independent film. “Like Cassavetes?” he remarked. Well, sort of, I mean I know I’m supposed to honor John Cassavetes as the godfather of independent film in America, but I have tended to put him in the box he built for himself with his acting roles in The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary’s Baby. Last night I rented his 1976 film, Killing of a Chinese Bookie and settled down to watch his one and only gangster movie, one destined to live on in the Criterion Collection.

When I was finished I ran the star’s name through Wikipedia — Ben Gazzara — one of those iconic character actors of the 60s and 70s that I thought I knew so well but ultimately didn’t until I watched Bookie.

I was also surprised and sad to learn Gazzara died last month, February 2012.

from the Criterion Collection

I’m not one to judge if Gazzara’s crowning achievement was Killing of a Chinese Bookie, nor am I familiar enough with Cassavetes to declare it his masterpiece. But the film came relatively late in their careers (Cassavetes died in the 80s at 59 from cirrhosis of the liver) and was a commercial flop thanks to the beating it took at the hands of the critics.

Forty years later and I was riveted. It is the simple story of a preening strip club owner, Cosmo Vitelli,  who finally gets out of debt, pays off the shylocks, then celebrates with his trio of loyal strippers by blowing $23,000 at a mob owned gambling club only to slide back into the hell of indebtedness. The gangsters (beautifully and quirkily played long before Scorcese borrowed them for Good Fellas and Casino and Jim Jarmusch in Ghost Dog) give Gazzara an option to erase his debt. Kill a Chinese bookie in Chinatown.

Cassavetes was not one for action scenes and bang-bang sequences, but he nails it during the assassination of the bookie and the resulting mess as the original gangsters try to rub out Vitelli. The art of the film is inside of the Crazy Horse West club, a Fellinesque (the most cliche adjective in film writing) setting of grotesque nudity and humor delivered by the awesome Mister Sophistication, a louche, sad, emcee that some critics say is Cassavetes himself, in all his artistic despair. Remember, Cassavetes acted in B-movies to make the money to make his art films: shooting them over several years when he could afford to, casting his friends and wife (Gena Rowlands) with no promise of payment, and paying for them out of his own pocket rather than take on an investor who might demand changes.

John Cassavetes from Wikipedia

Phillip Lopate wrote a great appreciation of the movie in the Criterion Collection’s online film blog, Current.

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Mar 08 2012

Film o’ the week: Niki and Flo

Published by under Movies

Once more I exercised my Museum of  Modern Art Film Society membership and caught a more-or-less free flick in the basement theater last night. It was a worthwhile two hours spent in the dark and was followed by a 15 minute video interview with the director.

The film was Niki and Flo (Niki Ardelean, colonel în rezerva), directed  by Romanian director Lucian Pintilie and released in 2003. Without straying into spoiler territory, I will say this has one of the more stunning endings I’ve seen in a long while, a surprise that had me and the rest of the audience a bit dumbstruck when the closing credits started rolling. I heard a few “whoa’s” as the shock sank in.

[The review of Niki and Flo]

Surprises aside, the film is the story of a retired Romanian Army Colonel, Niki Ardelean, his wife, their daughter, son-in-law and in-laws. The film opens on April 1, 2011 and concludes six months later. It opens with the funeral of the Colonel’s son, a clarinet player who died senselessly while changing a blown fuse with wet hands.

Flo is Florian, the father-in-law, a hyper bohemian who darts around in contrast to the Colonel’s exhausted state of post-Communist retirement, videotaping weddings and funerals and loudly delivering his opinions. Flo’s slapstick, physical comedy had the audience nervously laughing during the funeral scene when he had the pall bearers open and close the coffin of the Colonel’s dead son several times so he could tape the perfect shot. But those comedy teases were erased by the mounting sadness of the Colonel and his wife, first grieving over the loss of one child, and then again as their newly married daughter made plans to leave for America and more opportunity.

The film is about the Colonel’s dispossession at the hands of Flo. He loses control over every detail of his life. From organizing the flowers at the funeral, to Flo’s “confiscation” of the newlyweds belongings as they move to America, to senseless political arguments about the role of the military … Flo eats away at every aspect of the Colonel’s dignity.

Filmed mostly in cramped Romanian apartment interiors, Pintilie’s background as a theatrical director gives the film the feeling of a play, and indeed, in the interview that followed, Pintilie explained his theory of film in light of Milan Kundera’s (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) theories from The Art of the Novel, that the purpose of story in art is to expose the possibilities that surround the story, to condense and expose through ellipsis.

Whenever I find myself exposed to Eastern European film, I can’t help but try to impose a layer of post-communism to the experience. Santatango is about a loss of structure and identity after the Communist failure. Ulysses Gaze is heavy handed in its unforgettable shot of an immense toppled statue of Lenin being barged down the Danube with Harvey Keitel along for the ride.

Niki and Flo is only tangentially about post-Communist Romania. Pintilie says that critical interpretations of Flo’s tyranny as a metaphor for the country’s Communist dictator,  Nicolae Ceau?escu are off the mark.

Here’s the film in its entirety on YouTube:

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Mar 01 2012

Film in the City: The Return

Published by under General,Movies

As I work and live (three days a week) in one of the better art movie cities in the world — NYC — and because my apartment and office are literally behind the Museum of Modern Art and a 15 minute walk from Lincoln Center, I paid my money and joined the MoMA and Lincoln Center Film Societies (2 separate memberships) with the intention of taking full advantage of their incredible independent and art movie offerings in the evenings. Two weeks ago the Lincoln ran a retrospective of Bela Tarr’s work, including a Superbowl Sunday viewing of the seven-hour wonder, Satantango. I hoped to see his latest, and allegedly final film, The Turin Horse, but it is only being shown at 2:50 pm these days and I can’t break away from work.

Keep in mind that nearly all of the art film I’ve seen over the years has been on monitors and televisions and not the big screens they were shot for by their directors. The opportunity to see some of this work in a theater is too good to pass up.

I joined the museum’s film society online, paid an extra fee for the film membership, and received a spiffy membership card with a picture of Dave the Astronaut from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I check the film society schedule and book a free ticket online and then collect it at the film desk on 53rd St. for nothing more than a $1 handling fee. I haven’t paid $1 for a flick since college when the competing film societies on the Yale campus engaged in a shooting war for audiences.

Last night I saw Liza Johnson‘s first feature length film, The Return, at MoMA:

The heroine, Kelli, played with quiet, stunned anger  by Linda Cardenelli (Freaks and Geeks), returns to her husband and two children after a deployment with the National Guard to some unnamed warzone.  Hair tied into a severe military knot, she stands bewildered in an American airport looking for a familiar face until she’s startled by a sudden hug from her daughter. Her husband, a plumber played by Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Boardwalk Empire) has been minding the children and holding things together while she was overseas. Awkward hugs, smiles, laughs, homecoming parties and sex all follow in predictable course, but throughout Kelli is alienated, a stranger trying to ease back into familiar surroundings.

The film is set in some nondescript upstate mill town, all patched potholes and plywood windowed carpet stores, brake shops and abandoned factories. Around it all is a gorgeous fall season of changing leaves tossed by sussurating winds, distant purple hills and placid lakes. The radio and television is always blaring something banal — callers who ate 15 cupcakes, blooper videos of old ladies slipping and falling — and Kelli’s job stapling together heating ducts is waiting for her, the same job she’s held for 12 years.

She goes on a bender, quits the job, discovers the husband cheating, and gets arrested for drunk driving.  Husband moves out, takes the kids, and she ends up in a court ordered rehab where she meets silver-haired Mad Man John Slattery, a salty substance abusing fellow vet who empathizes with her and takes her to his Waldenesque cabin in the woods for lovemaking on the couch and the offer of a line of ground up hillbilly heroin.

The Return is a grim, careful film with a few flashes of thin lipped humor. There were a lot of parallels to my favorite French-Belgium realists, the Dardenne Brothers, specialists in the tedium-and-quiet-despair-in-a-northern-town genre. The cinematography by Anne Etheridge is remarkable and adores the autumn color contrast with the dingy town.

A thoughtful film about the American decline, the loss of uphill traction by the middle class, and the lonely fight of one soldier against opponents she can’t see.



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Dec 31 2010

Snow trains

Published by under Movies,Weird

Courtesy of Stuart Fullerton

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Oct 07 2010

Rowing and the Social Network

Published by under General,Movies,Rowing

I thought The Social Network was a great movie. I loved it and thought the casting, acting, writing and directing were superb. I especially thought the movie nailed the sport of rowing — as personified by the Winklevoss brothers, the 2008 Beijing Olympic oarsmen who thought they had hired Mark Zuckerberg to code their concept for a social network, only to sue him for going off on his own with their idea to launch Facebook.

I’d seen the Winklevoss’ row under assumed names at the C.R.A.S.H.-B sprints, the world indoor rowing championship, when they were still undergraduates at Harvard — probably 20o3-2005.  College rowers entered the competition under bogus names and club affiliations I think because of some NCAA/Ivy League rules against formal team competition. Whatever. They are big names in contemporary rowing, mainly because of their Olympic participation and Harvard’s position in the rowing world.

Row2K is running a great series by Dan Boyne, author and director of recreational sculling at Harvard’s Weld Boathouse. He staged the rowing scenes for the film and has a good insiders account of how he tried to make the point that the average elite rower cannot deliver a witty line penned by Aaron Sorkin while rowing full power in a race, let alone a word as they struggle to get their next gasp of oxygen.  The initial scene depicting a race in pairs (two-man shells which the Winklevii competed in at Shunyi, during the 2008 Olympic Games) is well rowed, but again, you can’t talk in a boat. Not while racing.

The Henley scene where the twins row in the Harvard eight and lose to the Dutch is very well done.

Rowing has a long history of appearing and being massacred in the movies. From the title sequence of the old George Peppard detective series Banachek, to some bizarre depictions such as Rob Lowe proving that you can perform boat repairs in the middle of a race and still win or various green screen weirdness that shows some hapless actor trying to ape a motion that takes years to perfect.

Two good lists of rowing and film are Rabbit’s Rowing in Film and Row2K’s feature.

My favorite rowing/film story was told to me by people who will go unnamed who rowed at the University of Washington in the late 197os. A director arrived seeking to film an after-school special about a rower who falls in love with his handicapped coxswain.  The director wanted to capture “the true essence” of the sport, and hired my two friends to help stage the rowing scenes, including any post-race festivities they might traditionally indulge in. My friend suggested that a local Seattle tavern be rented — a total dive — and convinced the director to film the “EMFBO” cheer — Every Man For Better Oarsmanship — when indeed the acronym stood for two utterly obscene phrases which I will not repeat here.

The director liked the noble sound of EMFBO and had big banners made to hang around the tavern. I cannot find the title of the film, but take it on good faith that it exists, somewhere.

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Apr 19 2010

Reading and watching – flight to Beijing

Published by under Books,Movies,Personal

I settled in for the 14 hour haul with some massive reading and viewing. I never sleep on long hauls — small naps and moments of narcolepsy aside — and so I need tons of mental stimulation.  It all begins with packing:

Hardcopy: this is paper-based reading for those non-electronic device moments the airlines are so fond of dogmatically imposing. Why a Kindle can’t be used during taxiing is beyond me. But I am not going to argue with the Man.

  • Sunday New York Times. $6 at the Hudson News in Terminal C. I repeat: SIX DOLLARS.
  • Ten back issues of a newsletter from a Club that shall not be named that I am a guest of this summer for a few days
  • Saints and Strangers: Being the Lives of the Pilgrim Fathers & Their Families, with Their Friends & Foes; & an Account of Their Posthumous Wanderings in Limbo, Their Final Resurrection & Rise to Glory, & the Strange Pilgrimages of Plymouth Rock, by George Williston, the best account of the Pilgrims I have read yet beyond Bradford, Mourt’s Relation and Nathaniel Philbrick.

Digital: Kindle primarily – working through William Vollman’s excellent World War II novel, Europa; the New Yorker, and a ton of other texts. I downloaded War & Peace for a re-read. Lots of Kindle usage going on in United business class from Chi-to-PEK. Saw one poor soul start off the trip with a new Apple iPad in his hands. He made sure everyone knew he had one. By Siberia the guy had a massive case of arm fatigue and was trying to prop the sucker up against something. I pitied the fool. Spied another iPad in a guy’s dutyfree bag going through immigration at PEK.

Video: loaded up the ThinkPad with some in-flight viewing. The video screens on the plane are super small, but I suffered through a historical costume drama, The Young Victoria then abandoned the in-flight options and went to my own library. Big surprise was The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke’s winner of the Palm D’Or at Cannes in 2009. Amazing, amazing movie set in pre WW-I northern Germany.

After that I started a Kurosawa flick about a bureaucrat with stomach cancer …. but that got old and I dove into the Willison’s excellent history of the Pilgrims, which had my attention all the way into Beijing.

All in all, I love flying only because I can get a ton of reading and viewing in. Sure, out of guilt I do a little work, but for the most part it’s just a lot of reading and watching, about the only such non-interrupted stint I get these days.

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Feb 12 2010

What I’m Reading: Depths of Farch

Published by under General,Movies,Reading

Farch: the mythical month invented by Tony Perkins long ago when Red Herring missed a month and he decided to combine February and March — which in New England is the nadir, the pits, the lowest point of the annual cycle when the blizzards roll through, then the  winds follow, the landscape turns grey, and slowly, as St. Pat’s draws nearer, the dog shit starts to surface through the grey snow  banks.

  • Red Sox Equipment truck left for Fort Myers — this is good. There are two halves to the year: the baseball half and the non-baseball half.  Truck Day is my personal Groundhog Day and now, with some luck, I’ll be blogging about the blooming of the crocuses, the planting of the sugar peas, and even — dare I tempt the gods — the launching of the boat for some clamming.
  • Reading. I’ve been busy on the Kindle and in print.
    • The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain: worth a read, definitely worth a read. How these escaped me is a mystery, but it takes a strong sense of humor to make a reader laugh out loud more than 100 years later.  I’m reading the Modern Library edition edited by Lawrence Berkove.
    • Istanbul: Memories of a City, Orhan Pamuk won Turkey’s only Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006.  This memoir of growing up in Istanbul introduced me to him. I will definitely visit his novels next. It has been the perfect coda to the recent Turkey expedition.
    • Europe Central, William Vollman. Lyrical history of the Eastern Front in WW II as seen through the eyes of various luminaries from the artist Kathe Kollwitz,  the composer Dmitri Shostakovich to the Wehrmacht General Freidrich Paulus.
    • The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons. I couldn’t finish it, but the beginning is great as he relives the glory dynasties of the Boston Celtics as only a true Masshole of my generation could. The rest of it — especially his “what-if” scenarios are confusing and indulgent.
    • Baseball America: monthly rag out of Durham, NC devoted to inside-baseball and minor league prospects. Feeding the inner baseball geek.
  • Watching. Lots of art film. In the past couple weeks ….

That’s it. Lots of things happening at work, still engaged with the church thing, thinking about social devices, emerging market internet usage behavior, censorship issues in Iran and China …. the usual and not enough time to blog about it all cogently.

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Jan 20 2010

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: the Nabua Diptych

Published by under Movies

The fascinating Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, has set two short films  in the village of Nabua in northeastern Thailand.  The Auteurs recently released, for free, the second short, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee. The first, Phantoms of Nabua, can be viewed at Animate Projects.

Both can be watched online for free and if you have an interest in current art film, this is what gets cinephiles very worked up. The emphasis is on art here, while Apichatpong has directed some more narrative “traditional” films, these short pieces are to be enjoyed for their aesthetic, not story.

Film critic Michael Sicinski writes a great critique of the two pieces which put them into the historical and cultural context that Apichatpong (aka “Joe” to his fans) draws upon on these two strangely beautiful ambient pieces.  I am especially impressed by the sound design and amazing wind sounds contained in these shorts.

“Nabua was an occupied town from the 1960s to the early 80s, when military forces considered it a stronghold for Communist farmers. It was a scene of intense brutality and repression, and many of those who were not executed by the government forces had to flee to escape a similar fate. In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in the form of an assertion of ghostly, vertical time.”

Thanks to The Auteurs for making this work available.

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Dec 14 2009

Turkey: cinema and social networking

Published by under Movies

I am in the process of planning my first trip to Turkey, hoping to travel in late January for a series of exploratory meetings to gain a better understanding of digital marketing opportunities, consumer personal computer preferences, new media, and social networking. To prepare myself I’ve been brushing up on everything from Byzantine history to contemporary Turkish cinema.

I’ve posted in the past about The Auteurs, a stunning site devoted to cinema, particularly so-called “art film” which I’ve been diving into over the past three years as a winter/travel diversion. Starting with the 50 disc collection of the Essential Art House by Criterion, The Auteurs is an awesome continuation and melding of social networking with streaming cinema, discussion forums, reviews, and external notification integration with Twitter and Facebook.

Last week, while in Raleigh, I took advantage of a free stream on the Auteurs of the 1964 black and white Turkish film, Dry Summer,(Susuz Yaz) (watch for free) which won a prestigious award in Germany that same year. A simple story of water rights, greed, fraternal jealousies, and lust gone wrong, the film was a nice way to spend an evening while lounging in a desk chair at the Courtyard Marriot Suites. When I returned home I started to dig a little deeper and plugged my ThinkPad into my big Panasonic plasma screen with a male-to-male VGA cable. I dug a little deeper into The Auteur’s archives and paid $5 to stream Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climate.

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Ceylan, who is about my age, is a former electrical engineering major who studied photography and released his first short film in the mid-1990s. Climate (Iklimer), his second feature length film, star himself and his photographer wife Ebru Ceylan. Shot in HD it is a gorgeous film shot with a photographer’s eye,  but a true art film in the sense that the shots dwell and linger, turning inconsequential objects and sounds into significant ones by lingering for a long time on the found art that surrounds us.

I noted my thoughts on the film on The Auteurs and without really being conscious of it, that review and my professed crush on the landscape of Turkey and Ebru Ceylan were automatically posted onto Twitter.  Later in the day, when picking through my email, a Twitter follower announcement jumped out at me: Nuri Bilge Ceylan was following me.

Cool, this is how social networking works. I post. He detects. He pings. All this online socializing is good for some global connection making. A little later in the day I received a direct message: “Mr. Churbuck, you make me happy to promote my film.” To which I replied: “Thanks for making it.”

Anyway. I watched another NBC film last night, Uzak, and it also made a great impact. This Ceylan guy makes great great films.

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Update: I started a list of Turkish films on the Auteurs.

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May 17 2009

What I’m reading and watching ….

Published by under Books,Movies


Steven Johnson: The Invention of Air, the story of the Reverend Joseph Priestly.

World War Z: Max Brooks. The zombie wars, told Stud Terkel style. Recommended by my good buddy T. Soon to be a major motion picture.

Thirteen Moons: Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain. Just getting into it. Not sure yet.

J.D. Lasica: Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing. Really good cloud computing primer. I am very into cloud services these days, working on some Amazon Web Services stuff, thinking about business models. Lasica does a great job with a summation of


Old Boy: Highly demented Korean revenge flick. Highly demented. Fight scene with a claw hammer is pretty unforgettable.

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Songs from the Second Floor: Swedish weirdness. Like a two hour television commercial with very pale people

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Star Trek: digging the Spock emphasis, I mean, seriously, when Spock gets the girl, pointy eared paste eaters everywhere got a lift.

Loves of a Blonde: Milos Forman, pretty funny Czech flick about factory workers behind the Iron Curtain looking for men. This bedroom scene was pretty awesome.

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May 01 2009


Published by under Books,Movies

I read a very interesting essay in the recent New Yorker about the repatriation of the Danilov bells from Harvard’s Lowell House belfry to the Russian monastary where they hung and rang for centuries.  Russian bells have been on my mind since December when I watched Andrei Rublev, the 1966 masterwork of Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. That film has an amazing scene where a young bell-maker is asked to cast a gigantic bell — something he has apprenticed with his late-father, but never done himself. As a depiction of art and craftsmanship, I think it is unequalled.

The New Yorker piece talks about the role of bells in Russian life, the destruction of most of the country’s bells by Stalin, and the preservation of the Danilov bells (a set of 17) by the wealthy benefactor, Charles Crane — the toilet and sink magnate — who was a protean renaissance man with a desire to preserve an amazing collection of bells ranging from 22 pounds to the 26,000 pound “Mother Bell”.

From the Wikipedia entry on Lowell House:

For three-quarters of a century, one of the more distinctive features of Lowell House was the presence of a set of Russian bells in a tower above the House, one of only a handful of complete sets of pre-revolutionary Russian bells left in the world. The set was bought around 1930 by Chicago industrialist Charles R. Crane in order to save the bells from being melted down by Soviet authorities. Crane is reputed to have bought the bells for the price of their bronze content. When Lowell House was built, Crane donated the set of 18 bells to Harvard (only 17 are in the House today; the 18th was thought to be too close in tone to one of the others, and it now hangs in the tower of Harvard Business School‘s Baker Library).

The bells originally came from the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, now the seat of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and were installed with the help first of Konstantin Konstantinovich Saradzhev and then that of “a Russian émigré who … claimed to have rung the Danilov bells before the Revolution.”[2] They range in weight from 22 pounds (10 kg) to 26,700 pounds (12,100 kg) (the largest bell is known as “Mother Earth”). The bells are consecrated, and are of great significance to the Russian Orthodox Church, where bells are regularly rung as part of the liturgy. At Harvard, the bells are rung every Sunday from 1:00 to 1:15 pm, and on certain special occasions, by an interested group of Lowell residents known as the Klappermeisters. The Bells had been rung for generations of students, for instance, following the Harvard-Yale football game, with Harvard’s score rung on the “Mother Earth Bell” and Yale’s rung on the “Bell of Pestilence, Famine, and Despair.” Visitors are welcome. They can also be heard on the Lowell House Virtual Bell Tower.

With the revival of Christianity in Russia and the reopening of the Danilov Monastery, a request had been made for the return of the bells to Moscow. After prolonged negotiations, they were returned in the summer of 2008 and replaced with replicas; the exchange was made possible by the financial and administrative support of the Russian industrialist Victor Vekselberg.[3]

Here is the bell casting clip from Andrei Rublev. The full scene needs to be seen for full impact.

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Mar 30 2009

The Auteurs

Published by under Community,Movies

The Auteurs

Criterion launches a social network for film geeks.  One of the best implementations I’ve seen.  Forums, reviews, friends, pay per view.

I like niche communities — a lot — and I like them seperate and not under a big tent like Facebook. Reel-Time for saltwater fly fishing. The Auteurs for art films. Chowhound for food. I know there have been an attempt or two at a rowing network — but it fell flat for me.

Anyway, I’m dying to figure out the engine under Auteurs. It’s a nice piece of code.

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Mar 20 2009

What I’m watching: Satantango

Published by under General,Movies

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One of the benefits of a son attending NYU’s Tisch School of Cinema Studies is you get an introduction to cinema that the local Cineplex can’t deliver, and a critic-on-the-couch to give an amazing introduction to what is happening on the screen.  As faithful readers know, I’ve been entertaining myself this winter with the amazing Criterion Art House collection — 50  films from around the world. This past week my son was home for a few days on spring break. He brought with him a Hungarian film released in 1996, but only released on DVD a year ago — Satantango — a 7-hour epic by Bela Tarr.

That’s right. Seven-hour hours. Three DVDs.

Plot:  The final days of a Hungarian communist-era collective farm. I guess late 198os, early 1990s. The “savior” of the farmers, Irimias, is coming, but the farmers, living in utter mud and squalor, think of leaving with what cash they have. Ten minute static shots. Moody music. Chapters revealing one character after another. At first the whole thing has the feeling of Valve’s Half-Life 2 video game and the viewer feels like Gordon Freeman, a visitor to an unfortunate black and white Iron Curtain hell of crumbling plaster, leaking roofs, and incessant rains.

From there — well, no way I am blogging a synopsis of a seven-hour flick. Let’s just say you get into the groove, you take lots of breaks, every now and then you say, “Whoa” and every now and then you nod off. The late critic, filmmaker and novelist, Susan Sontag said, “”Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.”

You can see some clips on YouTube. The opening eight minutes of cows is pretty good. The actual tango scene (I want the accordion music as the ringtone on my new BlackBerry — single most annoying and infectious piece of music ever) is worth a few minutes.

The movie is controversial due to a horrific scene involving a cat (which Tarr swears was unharmed and became his pet). It was pretty rough.

So — I suspect I am like one of a few thousand people to see this. I’d recommend it if you are really into art film. This isn’t a marathon stunt like some of Andy Warhol’s weirdness — 12 hours of the Empire State building. But it is a long committment best savored over a few days. Good luck finding it.

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Feb 21 2009

What I’m reading and watching this week

Published by under Books,Movies

The New Yorker: John Updike issue. Amazing. The excerpts from his writing over the decade were magnificent. Starting the current issue with A-Rod on the cover signing autographs for cartoon kids with Popeye arms.

Saturday by Ian McEwan. Due to a review in the current New Yorker. I kindled a copy and started it on a flight. About a brain surgeon. Great voice.

My Life in France by Julia Child. Recommended by Chas. Dubow at in response to last weekend’s sausage posting. I need to post more on French cooking, one of my winter weekend hobbies.  Julia Child was more than the woozy TV cook played by Dan Ackroyd on SNL, she wrote the bestselling treatise on French cooking for the American cook and loved France with a passion. Just a great book. I’d put it on the shelf next to A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals and Geo. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.

Atlantic Monthlycrash issue. Four different covers for four seperate metro markets. Each with the tag line that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco come out for the better after the current panic abates. Custom magazine covers aren’t news. The issue is okay. I need to go back and find the ultra prescient piece by James Fallows on the coming meltdown. Here it is. Great piece of early eco/sci fi crashapalooza set in 2016. It freaked me out when I read it three years ago, and I think a lot about it today.


  • The Reader, Kate Winslet up for best actress. I could argue for that.
  • Le Jour se Leve,  1939. Jean Gabin, directed by Marcel Carne. Wow. Poetic Realism at its best.  Jules Berry as the evil dog trainer was pretty awesome.

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Jan 25 2009

What I’m reading and watching

For baseball fans it is hot stove season, the interregnum between the World Series and the call up of pitchers and catchers to spring training. I’ve got my wood stove roaring and my bookshelf groaning with winter reading. Here’s a quick list of what’s in the backpack, on the nightstand, and on the Kindle these days; and then what I’m watching on the DVD player.

What We Had:  A brief memoir by James Chace of life growing up in the southeastern Massachusetts city of Fall River — once the largest cotton spinning city in the world — now a sad hulk and husk of its former self. This is where Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her father forty whacks, but Chace writes an amazingly poignant story of the decline of a Yankee family from privilege to irrelevance. From his grandfather, the former president of the Massachusetts State Senate to his brother, a crazed World War II war hero, Chace tells a elegant story of a family, a city, and a society in decline.

Not on the par of “Goodbye to All That” — but nevertheless a good book about the slide of a Yankee family and one man’s determination to make sense of it.

Going to See the Elephant: Rodes Fishburne’s first novel. He worked at Forbes ASAP when I was at but I didn’t know him. He edited the annual “Big Issue” — a compendium of essays by big thinkers and celebs — and that most shows in his brilliant portrayal of the mad scientist/big thinker that seems like an amalgamation of Dean Kamen, Nathan Myhrvold, Esther and Freeman Dyson, and every other digital visionary to draw breath and haunt a podium the last twenty years. This is a good San Francisco novel — worthy of the canon that includes McTeague and rolls through the ages — but being a comical effort, it may irritate on occasion as it reaches for laughs that are not always (but occasionally) there.


I decided to dig through my son’s amazing 50 DVD collection — Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films, and have been toting around some discs as I travel. This past week I viewed:

Brief Encounter: 1945 David Lean directed this Noel Coward weepie starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. Listed among the best efforts of all time in British cinema. Amazingly effective, melodrama aside, in terms of Lean camera work and impeccable editing, but mostly in the pre-WWII depiction of adultry and morals in suburban England. I wasn’t boo-hooing in my hankie, but it’s interesting to see how to do a weepie right.

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Ballad of a Soldier: directed by Grigory Chukhraj. 19-year old Russian soldier in World War II destroys two tanks, is hailed a hero, asks for a leave to go home to fix his mother’s leaking roof. Makes his way through peril and travail, falling in love along the way with the awesome Zhanna Prokhorenko (with whom I have a crush now). Interesting flick released in 1959 during the post-Stalin thaw, so not a lot of propaganda weirdness. Apparently a major sentimental favorite in Russia to this day.

Richard III: Laurence Olivier as the deformed evil tyrant and usurper Richard in Shakespeare’s masterpiece of treachery and lust for power. All I can say, is whoa, I mean I know Olivier had the reputation, but for some reason I had never full appreciated why (and it isn’t for his role as the Nazi dentist Dr. Zell in Marathon Man). This confirms why. The dude can act. Directed by him, this is considered his cinematic Shakespearean masterpiece. Technicolor makes the sets and costumes bizarrely gorgeous.

I wish I could memorize his “Now is the winter of our discontent …” soliloqy for my next staff meeting. Watch this piece of acting:

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M. Hulot’s Holiday: Faithful French readers will doubtlessly say, “Duh, where have you been?” — but this is the funniest movie I have seen in a very long, long time. Jacque Tati, director and star, has to be one of the greatest physical comedians ever — up there with Chaplin and Keaton. The tennis scene made me pee my pants.  See this.

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