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July 2008
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September 2008

I'm Too Sexy for My Cheese,
Too Sexy for My Cheese:
More Wensleydale, Please

Academy Award winning fool favorites Wallace & Gromit provide proof positive that just about anyone looks pretty darned good in Armani

The Daily Mail's related story -- "It’s Wallace and Gromit in ... The RIGHT Trousers" -- has video of the shoot.

[Initial link via  (Caution: link includes tasteful 1910 vintage Catalonian nudity.)  Daily Mail link via Google.]


Of related interest (if you missed it in Harper's Bazaar last summer):

The Church of Everything That's Happening Now, or,
My Life with the Ghosts of Bush

Much driving and flying about in the past week, and my musical accompaniment of choice has been Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Brian Eno and David Byrne's first collaboration since 1981's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.  The entire album can be streamed in its entirety -- song by song, actually -- with the assistance of this handy embedded song-streaming device:

Byrne is in good voice, and Eno's music is more muscular than on his last solo outing.  The thing that most impresses me is the sheer likability of this collection, derived I think from David Byrne working largely in the wise-innocent, openhearted vein that showed itself in Talking Heads tunes such as "The Big Country," "Naive Melody" and "Little Creatures."  Not that the oddball funkiness of prior Byrne-Eno projects is missing: I have no idea what is going on in "I Feel My Stuff," but it is fine earthy fun for sure.  Too bad about the exploding cars (in the title track) and the floods on the Interstate (in "The River," which also manages to invoke St. Cecilia), but this is the 21st Century after all and one must simply expect this sort of thing. 

Recommended.  The collection is purchasable in an array of formats, some including more tchachkes than other, only through the artists' website,

Hicks Nix Flute Flicks?

I remember reading a few years back that Kenneth Branagh was directing a film adaptation of Mozart's Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), but I had heard nothing more about it until this morning, when the Los Angeles Times' Mark Swed let it be known that "Kenneth Branagh's 'Magic Flute' deserves to be seen."

Shown at the Toronto and Venice film festivals four months [after premiering out of competition at Cannes in 2006], Branagh's 'Flute' was not disliked, but it failed to generate much enthusiasm.  Since then the film has had limited release in parts of Europe, Asia and South America and has been moderately well received.  French and British DVD versions have been released.  But the film has never been shown in the United States, and there is no word about a domestic DVD.

Swed turned up a bargain priced DVD copy in Amsterdam and, with a touch of trepidation, sat down to watch.  He declares Branagh's slightly eccentric take on the Flute to be "a joy."   

Branagh's "Flute" fascinatingly re-imagines Mozart's opera.  All the music is intact and excellently conducted by James Conlon, music director of Los Angeles Opera.  The English actor and humorist Stephen Fry translated the German libretto into colloquial English and supplied pertinent new dialogue.  The cast is attractive. Young characters are played by young singers.  Good teeth must have been a priority of the filmmaker.

Branagh's vision of the Great War is awful and magical at the same time, which is very strange and surely British.  The film opens with bright sun, lush fields and bouncy soldiers in the trenches.  This is cinema with a smile as big as Bergman's, but the sweetness doesn't last.  During the overture's development, soldiers charge, shells blast, bodies fly.  No composer dealt with darkness and light quite like Mozart, and Branagh is on continual lookout for every mood flick.

Says I to meself 'pon reading this, "This is exactly the sort of thing for which the good Lord made YouTube!"  And sure enough, a quick search yields up the complete overture sequence:

And here is a nine-minute selection of other well-known scenes in Branagh's version, including the Queen of the Night atop her armored transport and Papageno's encounter (at about 8:14) with an osculatory vision straight out of Man Ray:

Branagh's 1920's song and dance version of Love's Labours Lost was a hopeless misfire, but his choice to set Mozart in the trenches of the Great War is more a case of "It sounds crazy, but it just might work."  His innate theatricality is on full display, as seen in the long fluid tracking shots - and the butterflies, bunnies and military band -- of the overture.  It seems plain that Branagh loves and respects the material he's been given, and that he is trying to work with Mozart and not against him.   

Branagh's is never going to supplant Ingmar Bergman's Flute, but these excerpts combined with Mark Swed's article are quite enough to convince me that I Would Really Like to See This.  This is America: we are supposed to be able to get what we want here.  So who will heed the Mozartean call?


UPDATE [082508]: Independently, but also under the influence of Mark Swed's piece, A. C. Douglas has come to the same conclusions as I did, i.e., a serious hankering to see Branagh's entire film.  That's not so much to ask, is it?

Drive-In Saturday:
Fun With Your New Head

Here's a purely frivolous item for you all : a sequence from HeadThe Monkees' 1968 film debut recently described by the Los Angeles Times as

a plotless, weirdly self-lacerating and sometimes angry piece of arty surrealism they conceived with Jack Nicholson in an apparent attempt to kill whatever remained of their popularity.

In this segment, Davy Jones shows off the song 'n' dance skills he honed in his pre-popstar West End days.  The fun derives from shooting the sequence twice, once with Jones all in white on a black set and once with Jones in black on a white set, and then editing the two versions together more or less seamlessly, if a bit trippily:

Davy's song is "Daddy's Song," written by Harry Nilsson.  Nilsson was a smidgen more eccentric than Jones in his vocal stylings in his own 1968 recording of the number:


I have had Minimalism on my mind these past few days.

But I have had no time to post anything about it. 

And what, after all, would be the point of a long post about Minimalism?

Instead, here is a case of Minimalism minimized: 

One man, Peter Aidu, doing the work of two, performs Steve Reich's "Piano Phase."

Singlehandedly, so to speak:

[Via eMusic's 17 dots blog.]

Dr. Seuss and the Wisdom of Popovers


Dr. Seuss was already comfortably established as a children's author when I was in short pants*, so comfortably that it was and is easy to forget that he was an inveterate upsetter of apple carts and skeptic of received wisdom.

The National Association of Scholars has been running a series of articles on higher education reform, somehow built around themes from the Good Doctor's If I Ran the Zoo.  On her weblog, Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor has reproduced her contribution (with Maurice Black) to the discussion: an essay built around Dr. Seuss' graduation speech to the class of 1977 at Lake Forest College, the entire text of which speech is here reproduced:

My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers

My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare…
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
'To eat these things,'
said my uncle,
'you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid…
you must spit out the air!'

as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,
that’s darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.

Theodore Geisel became "Dr. Seuss," as Erin explains, while attending Dartmouth in the 1920s, in response to "Geisel" being banned by collegiate authorities from contributing to the school's humor magazine.  Variants on "Terwilliger" or "Terwilliker" had a recurring importance in Seuss World, including the authoritarian appearance of the latter, in the person of Hans Conried, as the titular "T" in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the very "embodiment of the worst sorts of pedagogical abuse."  The young narrator of If I Ran the Zoo, she suggests, in his utopian glee is not necessarily an improvement, as "he sounds a great deal like that generation of academic reformers, now reaching retirement, that has worked so hard to do away with traditional ideas of what is worth knowing largely because they are traditional ideas of what is worth knowing."

When he reemerges at Lake Forest many years later, the now-avuncular Terwilliger achieves his most benevolent form:

Having mellowed over time, Uncle Terwilliger appears at the Lake Forest graduation not in the capacity of a teacher, but in the special incapacity of an uncle -- who by definition has no real authority over his nieces and nephews.  His graduation advice reflects his comfortably powerless position.  When he tells students to be wary of hot air, he is telling them to think for themselves.  When he points out that popovers contain hot air, he is urging his audience to recognize that the good and the bad come jumbled together, and that in order to get at the one you have to be able to identify and reject the other.  He is, in other words, going to the heart of what education ideally enables one to do: to think independently, and to come to one's own conclusions about what to do, be, and believe.

As Thomas Mendip mused, "What a wonderful thing is metaphor." 

Read the complete O'Connor/Black/Seuss essay at Critical Mass or (with illustrations) at NAS.


Photo: "Popover with Ocean Backdrop" (at the Cliff House, San Francisco), by Flickr user Cameron Maddux, used under Creative Commons license.


*  Yes, I actually was in short pants.  There exists a photo, which I'll not reproduce here because it's not been scanned in to digital form, showing me in my bow-tied and short-pantsed Sunday Best in the company of my long-suffering Bear.  We were both of us much younger, and much closer to the same height, in those days.

Chopin Alley

Confess it: there are few things more wearying than a revved up "inspiring" or "motivational" speaker.  The most tolerable subset of the species is the speaker who avoids going all Overt with the Life Lessons and instead shares and articulates in plain style the things that he or she knows best and that most resonate at that speaker's core.

Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic obviously, and as one would expect, Throbs and Pulses and Rings and Resonates with the love of the classical Germano-Romantic repertoire, and he wants in the worst way to persuade you that you should share his enthusiasm.  In the TED lecture below, he strides up to the question, bruited about incessantly in print and on the weblogs, of "how can we possibly persuade you that attention must be paid to this music, and that you'll thank me if you'd just give in?" and, with a little bit of Chopin, a winning smile and an observation about buttocks, makes the case wittily and well. 

In pitching his woo, Maestro Zander subscribes more than I personally would like to the Therapeutic ["this is good for you, really it is"] School.  I could wish that he had more obvious faith that everyone will eventually succumb, Keatslike, whatever genre of music is at hand, to the play of Pleasure and Idea for their own sakes.  I fear his audience, too, may have drawn more lessons about business success and self-realization than they did about music.  And to my mind Zander rather overplays his hand when he feels compelled to conclude with a self-consciously uplifting Holocaust survivor anecdote.  Those are comparatively minor objections, and when all's said the play of Pleasure and Idea is here before us in abundance and in the flesh, so I would suggest that you set aside twenty minutes and . . .


One more quibble: The TED page describes this as a presentation on "Music and Passion," a phrase that is more commonly associated with someone else entirely.  [TED link via Lifehacker]



Do not stop to think or edit:
You must be the first who said it.

-- Baby’s First Internet


Some traveling music please, maestro:

I -- I can remember (I remember)
Standing -- by the Wall (by the Wall) . . . 

[via The Morning News.]


Genre, I'm Only Dancing:

The Los Angeles Times' Michael Chabon interview from a week or two back revisits, more interestingly than it deserves, the well-worn topic of Serious Writers Working in Genre Fiction:

Let's start with some of the pulp or genre writers who have spoken to you over the years and perhaps inspired your own books.

There are so many.  Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Ross Thomas, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Michael Moorcock, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber, Alan Moore.  And there are a whole list of borderland writers -- John Crowley, Jorge Luis Borges, Stephen Millhauser, Thomas Pynchon -- writers who can dwell between worlds.

[fool's note: That's a very nice list of very good writers there -- other than the comic book guys, whose work I am not qualified to assess.]

Where did this bias against work created for a popular audience come from?

In all fairness, it came from the fact that the vast preponderance of art created for a mass audience is crap.  It's impossible to ignore that.  But the vast preponderance of work written as literary art is high-toned crap.  The proportion may settle down in the neighborhood of 90/10 -- Sturgeon's Law said that 90% of everything is crud.


On the subject of recommended reading lists, Robin Varghese of 3quarksdaily points to China Miéville's top 10 weird fiction books for the Guardian.  It actually dates back to 2002, but the list -- at least the half of it of which I have personal experience -- is a good 'un.


With Deerstalker, Calabash and Tentacles:

Neil Gaiman is no stranger to weird fiction.  His tale, "A Study in Emerald" [PDF] cross-pollinates the worlds of Conan Doyle and Lovecraft, with not necessarily predictable results.  Several key characters go unnamed; readers reasonably familiar with the Holmes canon will draw the appropriate disturbing conclusions.


Unhappy with your bank?  Keep your chin up and remember that things could always be much, much worse.


Tom Wark offers up Lester Bangs' Lessons for Wine Writers.


Virginibus Puerisque:*

Friends, are you looking for lawyers rapt in the contemplation of life's rich pageant in all its scintillant richness?  Then, look no further than Victoria Pynchon's brightwhiteandsparklinglyvirginal edition of Blawg Review #171 on the IP ADR Blog.   It's lubricious and nutritious!   

Vickie, who is known to have a soft spot for poetry and other humanizing pursuits, is also well worth reading on a regular basis at her other shop, the Settle It Now Negotiation Blog (where, for the benefit of executives, millennials, blogging fools and others with foreshortened attention spans, she offers a handily pre-digested Executive Summary of Blawg Review # 171). 

As a twice-three-time Blawg Review host myself, I am appropriately awed by Vickie's accomplishment -- or her stunning Beginner's Luck, as the case may be.

* Don't get excited: that's just classical Latin for "boys and girls" or "youths and maids."


Photo: "Foolish House, Ontario Beach Park in 1910," via Flickr user (!) the George Eastman House.  More on the Eastman House collections here.  Existence of Eastman House photostream discovered via ::: wood s lot :::.

Theneth From Thurberbia


The last Sunday in July brought the final stand-alone issue of the Los Angeles Times Book Review section, but the Times in its decreasingly reliable wisdom did not see fit to print -- and it took Morgan Meis of 3quarksdaily to point out that I had missed -- Sonja Bolle's really lovely LAT-online-only appreciation of James Thurber generally, and of Thurber's The 13 Clocks in particular.

Prior to reading this column, I had no idea that The 13 Clocks had been allowed to go out of print.  The latest republication, under the benevolent auspices of the New York Review of Books Children's Collection, comes replete with a new introduction by Neil Gaiman, declaring The 13 Clocks no less than "probably the best book in the world." 

Neil Gaiman is a clever fellow, but in this judgment he may be wrong.  If so, he is not far wrong. 

By all means, mark me down as an enthusiast for The 13 Clocks, and for most everything else of Thurber's.  Let's trot out some examples of Thurberous murmurings in my own life:

  • At or around the time I was born, my father -- at the time a rising star engineer at Chrysler -- owned a more or less unique automobile.  It was known around the house as "The Golux," after the Golux of The 13 Clocks who is "the only Golux in the world, and not a mere device." 

[In reporting this, I must contemplate a time when I was either an infant or an as yet unrealized hypothesis.  Whichever it was, I was too young or theoretical then to have now any personal recollection of the Golux.  This was also a time when my father was something less than half the age that I am now, which is itself quite the thing to contemplate.  Hello Mother and Dad: love you much.  But I digress amid my digressions.]

  • In my junior high years, I participated in debate and speech competitions.  Among my stronger performances was a recitation of "The Night the Bed Fell" from Thurber's memoir-of-sorts of his Ohio youth, My Life and Hard Times.
  • Over the summer of 1974 or 1975, I joined with several high school friends to mount a respectful but totally unauthorized stage adaptation of The 13 Clocks.  I was director, portrayed the cold Duke, and of course came to a bad end at the hands of the Todal.  (The Todal doesn't actually have hands, I don't think.  "It gleeps," we are told.  It is not a pleasant thing.)
  • When our sons were very young, I read to them regularly.  (See, e.g., my five year old reminiscence concerning Edward Lear's "The Dong with a Luminous Nose".)  I don't recall now having read them the Clocks -- though we've always had a copy around the house, and I know they've read it themselves -- but I frequently ventured Thurber's Many Moons, which ought to be mandatory reading for anyone who thinks they can rely on the advice of "experts."  I was first exposed to that story via Burr Tillstrom's 1954 adaptation, which I heard a few years later when it appeared as Side 2 of my parents' copy of the Merry Christmas From Kukla, Fran & Ollie LP.  (Again we see the good graces of my parents at work in my life.)

The authorities at the Library of America usually entrust the editing of their editions to scholarly experts on the author in question.  In Thurber's case, they entrusted the project instead to the decidedly non-academic Garrison Keillor, a fellow writer in the short and humorous vein who has never made any secret of his own debt to the Master from Columbus.  If you are going to have only one volume of Thurber around your home, that's the one to have.

Thurber seems to be in the air recently.  Music writer Alan Rich quotes him in his most recent blog post.  The passage comes from a description of the woan, an imagined creature, and includes this wonderful sentence:

Scarcely larger than a small blue cream pitcher, the woan had three buttons on the vest of his Sunday suit, and was given to fanning his paws at spindrift.

"Given to fanning his paws at spindrift."  *sigh*  Appreciators of the gift of frictionless prose owe a perpetual debt to Thurber, who composed a larger number of perfectly pitched sentences than most any American writer I could name. 

I felt compelled to go hunting to find the exact source of the passage quoted by Alan Rich.  With the aid of Google Book search and Amazon's "look inside" feature, I can inform you that it comes from "Extinct Animals of Bermuda" in The Beast in Me and Other Animals.  Keillor left that particular piece out, for some reason, although he included a number of Thurber's drawings of imagined creatures from the same collection.

Both Bolle and Rich mention their impression that "no one" reads Thurber anymore.  Well, everyone should read Thurber, early and often; that's my stand.  And honoring his talents as a writer doesn't even acknowledge that he was also, despite a near total inability to draw, one of the finer cartoonists I know.  If nothing else, he must be credited with the
Best.  Wine.  Cartoon.  Ever.  Thurber wrote of his skillls with pen and ink:

My drawings have been described as pre-intentionalist, meaning they were finished before the ideas for them had occurred to me.  I shall not argue the point.

Those who were around at the time may recall that in the 1969-1970 television season, NBC broadcast My World and Welcome to It, in which William Windom played a Thurber-like writer/cartoonist and in which animated versions of actual Thurber cartoons were inserted as commentary on the action.  Although the series was a critics' favorite, and although it and Windom both won Emmys that year, it lasted only the one season, having been scheduled opposite Gunsmoke when that program was still five long years from completing its then-record run on CBS.  Below, a sample of an episode opening sequence, complete with a laconic Thurber dog amid the credits:


Photo: Statue of a Thurber Dog, at the Thurber House, Columbus, Ohio, by Flickr user billy liar, used under Creative Commons license.

The title of this post is to be pronounced as if spoken by Daffy Duck, and makes more sense that way.

12! Live Nude Tones! 12!

I do not know which class of persons will find this advert most appealing: those who really really like Schönbergian 12-tone music, or those who really really dislike Schönbergian 12-tone music. 

In either case, this collection is sure to provide hours of jolly atonal fun for the entire family:

[Via the Sounds & Fury of A.C. Douglas, who derived it from Timothy Mangan on the OC Register Arts Blog.]

I wonder if this set includes Heyser's Hissy Fit for Orchestra and Chorus.  I've been searching for a good recording of that one.