Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Music: Dinosaur Jr. - "The Wagon"

What's a few grey hairs?

September 2.0

It isn't exactly The Magnificent Ambersons, but there is a lost version of Woody Allen's September (which I just saw for the first time) floating around out there somewhere. Allen's Chekhovian country-house melodrama (inspired by Mia Farrow's house but filmed on a soundstage) was reshot with a cast changes after Allen was dissatisfied with the first cut. The unavailability of some actors for a second attempt necessitated changes:

The set was not all that evolved. Originally, the actors were Miss Farrow as the daughter, Maureen O'Sullivan (her actual mother) as the mother, and Dianne Wiest, Denholm Elliott (as the physicist-husband), and Charles Durning (as the neighbor). The writer was Christopher Walken, whom Mr. Allen calls ''one of my favorite actors. I used him in 'Annie Hall' and was dying to use him again. I think he's a great, inspired actor.'' But as sometimes happens between directors and actors, Mr. Allen said, after a few weeks of shooting, ''We couldn't get copacetic on what to do and decided that instead of his making concessions and my making concessions, we'd work on something else down the line.'' So Sam Shepard was brought on, and in 10 weeks the film was done. Sort of.

Sam Waterston actually wound up playing the writer who is loved by Lane (Mia Farrow), a troubled woman who has come to her family's Vermont home after a suicide attempt. Waterston's Peter has eyes for Lane's married friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest), who is spending the summer at the country house due to a case of vague marital unhappiness. On the heels of this retrospective post about Farrow at HND, it's not too much of a stretch to declare that September is Lesser Allen. Farrow gives a good technical performance, but she's saddled with a heavy backstory involving a childhood incident with the lover of her celebrity mother (Elaine Stritch). It's difficult to imagine Lane or any of these characters (including Jack Warden as a physicist and Denholm Elliott as an academic) caught up in their Allenesque crises (meaninglessness of existence, blah blah) existing outside of these small rooms. There are a million cliches about Allen and New York (or the European capital of your choice), but they're cliches for a reason. Watch Hannah and Her Sisters or the scene in Manhattan where Allen sprints down the street to try to catch Mariel Hemingway; his characters need that grounding in urbanity and culture that September doesn't have.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dept. of Change from Within

Blogs as tools of change in the Middle East. (American Footprints)

One way I've tentatively started thinking about these issues is to ask whether and how new technologies create new kinds of opportunities, such as radio providing the chance to reach out to the illiterate without a physical presence, or significant multiply existing ones, such as the replacement of parchment with paper in the 8th or 9th century Middle East making texts far more readily available.

Friday, November 28, 2008

An endorsement

NP on Sean Penn's performance in Milk. (Variety)

What Would Don Draper Do?

The blurry (at best) line between pop music and Madison Avenue. (Miller-McCune)

The watershed event that a lot of people will talk about is the use of The Beatles’ “Revolution” by Nike (in 1987). Which brought up a lot of the more moral aspects, since people became aware that The Beatles didn’t have the right to license it and therefore couldn’t deny the licensing either. This really brought the practice into the public eye. Then there were a number of years where you really didn’t hear much, partly because the music being featured (in commercials) was not very controversial and not often new — sort of R&B and Motown. For me, another tipping point was (in 2000) when (Nick Drake’s) “Pink Moon” was used by Volkswagen. Only this time it was really about the practice of redeeming someone’s career who had been sort of a cult artist, but essentially ignored for many years, and doing so in a really beautiful fashion — it was a beautiful commercial to watch. So that was maybe the most obvious predecessor to Moby because that album sold so much more after that commercial than it had sold previously. People started to see it as another venue through which you could make money, sell records, get exposure.

Lift Every Voice

Brian Eno on the virtues of group singing.

So I believe in singing to such an extent that if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks Mom

My Thanksgiving consisted of family, bad football, the food pictured above, and a Maigret novel. Here's hoping yours was just as good.

Thanksgiving Music: Band of Horses - "Marry Song"

Not officially a Thanksgiving song, but I think it works.

Gossip in the Grain

Why NP didn't get the role that went to Amy Adams in Doubt. (NY Post)

"It's important to keep challenging ourselves."

Joey Burns of Calexico on the band's creative process. (Muzzle of Bees)

MoB: What is the core of Calexico’s sound then?

JB: I think it’s an approach. It’s this kind of aesthetic the way in which John plays the drums. The way we look at the instrumentation. The way we produce it and the way we kind of bring out the sound. We leave enough ambiance and room sound to what we’re doing. It’s about having a lot of diversity, a lot of variety, but again, the drums being a very important part of the mix.

There’s also kind of this fluidness between the core instruments – the guitars, the bass, sometimes cello. There are these lines that are woven around each other that aren’t about separate parts but bringing them together in a natural and intuitive manner.

Rachel riches

I know what you're thinking: I should take Thanksgiving off. After dealing with Black Friday shoppers tomorrow I may be too tired to blog, so here are a few posts to keep the newsreader from filling up. Check out an interview (in podcast form) with Rosemarie Dewitt and screenwriter Jenny Lumet of Rachel Getting Married. (The Film Experience)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Bruges

The first feature from playwright Martin McDonagh concerns two hitmen (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) awaiting instructions in the Belgian city after carrying out a job. Like all the McDonagh I've encountered it's profane, violent, and funny and given some roots by Farrell's performance as a man dealing with the unintended consequences of his job. Gleeson, a supporting player I've always liked, is equally good as a rumpled killer who sees something of himself in Farrell's character. The city of Bruges itself is a character; filled with medieval buildings it gives the film a staginess which reduces its scope. In Bruges ends up being about little more than the decision to become a hitman and the consequences that choice entails. By the time Ralph Fiennes shows up as the boss with a score to settle, all the deadpan wit in the world can't hide where the movie is going. Still, Farrell's performance makes this worth a look.

When Blogs Cry

A minor flap has erupted about Prince's gay marriage views as expressed in The New Yorker. Perez Hilton rides to Prince's defense while Mr. Remnick & Co. stand by their story. (Listening Post)

Contrary to what a recent interview with the New Yorker is reporting, a source close to the rocker tells us that Prince was grossly misquoted and misinterpreted as not down with gay rightsm," reads a post on the site. "Apparently, the interviewer did not even use a recorder... What His Purpleness actually did was gesture to the Bible and said he follows what it teaches, referring mainly to the parts about loving everyone and refraining from judgment. 'We're very angry he was misquoted,' says our Prince insider."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Think Pink

Pink in The New Yorker. I'm no expert, since I've not listened to two of her songs back-to-back, but it seems to me that the mere fact that her lyrics seem to be about something (getting the party started or self-esteem usually) sets her apart from most of the artists she's most often compared with. Let's call her a Triple-A Christina Aguilera, though her bratty video persona can be a bit hard to take and Sasha Frere-Jones detects a pot/kettle situation.

Two songs on “I’m Not Dead” showed the strain of constructing the perfectly balanced anti-commercial commercial act. “Conversations with My 13 Year Old Self” is confessional writing at its least necessary. If Pink somehow managed to deliver these oily pearls of wisdom (“You’re the girl I used to be, you little heartbroken thirteen-year-old me”) to herself, I can’t imagine the younger Pink listening. More troubling yet was “Stupid Girls” (co-written with a group that included Billy Mann—as sure a predictor of a Pink failure as any name in her credits), a song that tries to recapture the mission-statement feeling of “Missundaztood” but fails owing to a lack of generosity. The song and the video seek to distinguish Pink from Lindsay, Paris, and Jessica, and the lyrics sincerely ask, “Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?” Pink has shown no small amount of flesh in her rise to the top, so calling out anyone else’s bra tactics is a highly suspect move.

The state of No on 8

More evidence of screw-ups in the No on 8 campaign. No one seems to have reached out to the African-American LGBT community.(Two Down, 48 To Go)

Q:Did you go to the Gay and Lesbian Center, did you go to California Equality…

A:All of the above. And Let Freedom Ring. We were approached basically to kind of showcase some of the couples especially when the courts permitted same-sex marriage. We were immediately approached, “do you have any couples who are going to get married?” However, they were looking for mixed couples, they weren’t looking for African-American couples, from the message that was provided to me. So it wasn’t a real attempt to get us involved in the marketing process, or also kind of going into our communities and canvassing and trying to educate our community on the issues of Prop 8.

Crime class

A little Thanksgiving love for Donald E. Westlake, author of the much-loved Parker series and a lesser known group of crime novels I'll be immediately looking into. (Ivebeenreadinglately)

Saturday I chose the next-best thing: one of Stark’s novels starring Parker’s cohort Alan Grofield. Stark wrote four of them in the late 1960s and early ’70s, one of which, Lemons Never Lie (1971, reprinted a couple of years ago by Hard Case Crime), was my introduction to Stark himself. Grofield­—who pulls heists to support his career as a small-time, but serious, stage actor—shares Parker’s competence, but whereas Parker is all lethal business, Grofield is, well, goofy. He’s an ironic wit, a ladies’ man, and a deft reader of character who has a bad habit of shooting off his mouth at people holding guns. Though the situations in which he finds himself are no less dangerous than those that confront Parker, the tone is lighter, as if Stark has mixed in a dollop of the comic crime novels he writes under his real name of Donald Westlake.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's your thing, do what you want to do....

It has now become fashionable to dismiss Facebook as some kind of soulless corporate machine, dedicated to squeezing every drop of information out of our friendships, music tastes, and facility at board games. For example, take a look at this: (PopMatters)

So we get friendship without the trouble of having to put effort into the relationships. It’s friendship rendered convenient through technology, and the convenience to a degree denatures the original significance—isn’t the substance of relationships ultimately anchored in the effort we feel ourselves putting in? (Or am I simply mystifying the ideal of working at things?)

I'm in partial agreement; the effort that one puts into maintaining friendships is a pretty good indicator of their success, but I don't think that the site itself has that much to do with how we're all "bowling alone" as a society. I recently received a new alumni directory from my college and, using that information, have reconnected with a couple of people on their Facebook pages! Maybe it's a conspiracy. If you want to reestablish and maintain relationships, Facebook offers a one-stop hub for doing just that. On the other hand, if you just want to play games and send people weird cyber-stuffed animals then Face is also the place. Facebook can't control how you use it and also to a large extent can't control how much of yourself (pics, personal info) is on your page.

I have just under 300 Facebook friends, and probably regularly communicate with less than 10% of them through the site. They tend to be the ones I see regularly, we communicate back and forth about plans and common interests. There is a also a segment of friends that I know I went to grade school with but honestly can't remember. They contacted me and I'm happy to know them. But the vast majority are like the minister in Michigan whom I went to an Indigo Girls concert with in college or the actress in Charleston who once received a Richard Bausch novel from me as a birthday gift. Not to mention the large contingent of actors I've worked with who have moved on to other cities. I didn't mean this post to turn into a hymn to Facebook, but merely to jab at the hysteria the site seems to excite. But I will say that in ways large and small my friends both cyber and real are a part of me, and I'm enriched by knowing that I can if I so choose have easy access to them. The rest is up to me.

(Oh, and every one of my friends who has expressed views similar to those in the post I linked to has eventually wound up getting a page. Hi guys!)

I Often Dream Of..

Robyn Hitchcock live. Having seen the man myself I can only imagine what this must have been like. (The Song In My Head Today)

You know how sometimes at a concert you hear a song you think you know well, and suddenly in performance it simply explodes with new significance? That's what happened last night with "I Used to Say I Love You." A seemingly simple acoustic number, floating along on a deceptively childlike melody, it came across last night as a spellbinding song, and a wondrously acute dissection of human emotion.

Potboiler 101

Guess who Ethan Canin's high school English teacher was? I've still got Canin's America, America in my to-read pile. (Tallahassee Democrat)

When it comes to a writer's bio, Canin's is an oddity. He started out studying engineering in college but switched gears and enrolled in the famed University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. The intense fiction workshops left him a bit rattled so he turned to his "back-up" plan by getting accepted at Harvard Medical School. (Aren't most struggling writers supposed to work as bartenders?)

While he was still in medical school, he published the short-story collection "Emperor of the Air" in 1988 when he was only 27. After graduating from Harvard, Canin practiced medicine and continued his writing.

"Medicine made me interested in the serious parts of life," Canin said. "Or, perhaps I was already interested in them and thus went into medicine. But when you're present at birth and death — all manner of calamity — you can't help but think about the nature of human existence. That's good for a writer."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Three in the bed

Growing up Tilda Swinton: (The Guardian)

She was a clever girl, and her brains made her miserable. At school, she was a year younger than her peers. "My parents wanted me to go there early, partly because they were moving to Germany. I didn't like being clever - I was bullied for it." She went to West Heath girls' school, where Princess Diana was a classmate and friend, and then Fettes, whose most famous pupil is Tony Blair. She hated both. "Being sent to West Heath early wouldn't have been a problem except for the fact that there was a regime there, and if you spoke to anybody who was a year older or in the division above you, you were called bumptious, which meant nobody would talk to you... I was labelled clever because I was in a division with people older than me." Swinton understands now why her parents put her into boarding school, but that doesn't mean she is glad for it.

Sunday Music: A.C. Newman - "Love Goes On!"

A Go-Betweens cover from the New Pornographers' frontman.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dept. of Stumbled across

Notes on the first hour of Where The Heart Is:

I know I saw Where The Heart Is when it came out but I had almost completely forgotten this feel-gooder based on a Oprah book club selection. NP is a pregnant girl abandoned by her boyfriend in the parking lot of a Midwestern Wal Mart. After she gives birth (while living in the Wal Mart) she's adopted by the town she landed in and blossoms. This is the kind of movie where characters have names like "Sister Husband" and "Moses Whitecotton" and where Stockard Channing asks forgiveness for "fornication" at every meal. No one, including NP, Ashley Judd (who invented this character in Ruby in Paradise), Channing, and Sally Field, seems entirely comfortable playing a resident of "Real America." Being a real American means not knowing when to say no in this movie: a few scenes after giving birth, Portman's character picks up a hot mechanic and gets another pregnancy scare. (Later, the baby is kidnapped by evangelists and left unharmed in a nativity scene) Oh, and Keith David plays a man who teaches Portman about photography. David's frequent voice-over gigs in PBS documentaries have ruined him for me. Every time I see him I expect him to turn to the camera and start talking about "Jazz, America's Music." This was a particular problem during Requiem For A Dream.

Take that, rock critics!

We movie critics aren't afraid to get our hands dirty with some negativity. (Culture11)

The tendency in movie criticism, on the other hand, is to prize strong, brassy opinions. I don’t know exactly why this is. Perhaps the historical influences? Pauline Kael, of course, as well Siskel and Ebert and others, all set the tone for bold critical judgments. Or maybe it’s just that movie critics are a more cantankerous bunch. There’s a downside to this, of course — a love it/hate it mentality that gives everything a thumbs up or thumbs down without any nuance — but on the whole, I think a non-trivial number of negative reviews is a good thing for any critical sphere, and I much prefer criticism that’s prone to overstatement rather than middling, mushy non-judgments, and critics who, rather than blandly praising everything that comes their way as "just fine," seem to genuinely believe that their chosen medium is one that has the potential to be wonderful, wretched, and everything in between.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pick of the litter

Last year I discovered The National because of Paste's Top 50 list. This year while I like the album they picked first I don't know that it tops Robert Forster, Nada Surf, or Drive By Truckers on my list. That said, I'm looking forward to Volume 2.

Singer not the song

Jonathan Lethem on what makes great rock singers great. (Rolling Stone)

Singers are tricksters. Sometimes we'll wonder if they're more like movie actors than musicians per se — we'll decide that the "real" R.E.M. are embodied by Buck, Berry and Mills, not that kooky frontman Stipe, or the "real" Rolling Stones are Richards-Wood-Watts-Wyman, rather than that irritating capitalist Jagger. But beware — go down this route and soon you'll find yourself wondering how the Doors sound sans "Mr. Mojo Risin' " or imagining someone can better put across Dylan's gnarled syllables than Dylan himself.

Fear the rainbow

Those "rejected by eHarmony" ads? A thing of the past. (Wall St. Journal)

In what seems like a novel claim to our ears, the Garden State asserted that eHarmony violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination by not offering a same-sex matching service. New Jersey got involved following a complaint by Eric McKinley, a gay match-seeker in the state.

eHarmony has denied violating the law, claiming that its business model has been based on its expertise to date. The company says it has researched thousands of opposite-sex marriages to understand what makes opposite-sex couples compatible.

But, as a result of the settlement, eHarmony next year will launch a same sex matching service called Compatible Partners, which will be marketed in gay and lesbian media outlets, according to a FAQ that the company released today. The document makes clear that users of will not be matched with users of the new site,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NP the activist

NP has taken time out from shooting a movie and celebrating Obama's win to throw her weight around for the Israeli music scene (OK!)

“Someone who has come some way in the world of performing arts, I only know too well the distance between a dream and its realization,” Natalie, 27, said at the event, “And can fully appreciate what it means for young aspiring artists to have such a wonderful organization guide and support them in pursuing their goal. And as someone born and raised in Jerusalem and still very much belongs to this great city, I can confidently say that the Jerusalem music center has revolutionized the cultural scene of Israel’s capitol both in quality and quantity.”

Ballot box

Interested in the Franken/Coleman Minnesota Senate recount? See challenged ballots and try to determine voter intent. (Sadly this will have no effect on the outcome of the race.) (MPR/Kottke)

On the couch

A site claims to be able to define blog "personality types." The results for Mostly Movies (we're an ISTP):

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Try it here.

That sound you hear... a veil of irony being pierced. Chuck Klosterman reviews (and likes) the new Guns N'Roses album. (AV Club)

I mean, one has to assume Axl thought about all of these individual choices a minimum of a thousand times over the past 15 years. Somewhere in Los Angles, there's gotta be 400 hours of DAT tape with nothing on it except multiple versions of the "Sorry" vocal. So why is this the one we finally hear? What finally made him decide, "You know, I've weighed all my options and all their potential consequences, and I'm going with the Mexican vampire accent. This is the vision I will embrace. But only on that one line! The rest of it will just be sung like a non-dead human." Often, I don't even care if his choices work or if they fail. I just want to know what Rose hoped they would do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Paging Dr.....

Disturbing new words from the Catholic Church on screening candidates for the priesthood. The LA Times calls them out.

Activism 4.0?

The failure to stop the passage of Proposition 8 looks like the death of much of the established gay rights leadership. (Wockner)

The organization No On 8 failed us. Before the TV ad war started, we were up 14-17 points in the polls. Then No On 8 spent some $37 million of your money to spam the California airwaves with really lousy ads, while the other side spent a similar amount to spam the California airwaves with ads that were, whatever else they may have been, effective. While the bad TV ads were not the only component of our loss (last-minute preaching from the pulpits was a factor), had our ads been good ads, we would have held onto our lead. And producing those mindnumbingly expensive ads (which I and many others publicly criticized as they were airing) was one piece of the war that No On 8 had 100% control over.

Pictures of each other

Speaking of music documentaries, here's a "trailer" for one man's quest to reunite the Kinks. (BoingBoing)

Free Silver

The documentary Silver Jew is available online for one week only at Pitchfork. The film, which chronicles musician David Berman (and his band the Silver Jews) playing shows in Israel during their first world tour, is part of a larger trend of free movies streaming online. Unfortunately Silver Jew provides so little context for anyone not familiar with the band's music that it will be of little interest unless you're already a Berman fan. (IFC)

The next time, they'll open for him

Wilco, Barack Obama, Farm Aid, 2005:

(hattip: Muzzle of Bees)

Noah Baumbach...

...stretches his legs. (In a short film from SNL) (SpoutBlog)

17. Be a Lousy Painter

Thomas Kinkade's 16 Guidelines For Making Stuff Suck. (Vanity fair/Kottke)

14) The concept of beauty. I get rid of the "ugly parts" in my paintings. It would be nice to utilize this concept as much as possible. Favor shots that feature older buildings, ramshackle, careworn structures and vehicles, and a general sense of homespun simplicity and reliance on beautiful settings.

Rachel rush

I'm not ready to make it official yet, but Rachel Getting Married may be my favorite film of the year to date. Here's a grab-bag post from TAS (and one of the most enthusiastic bloggers out there) that echoes many of my sentiments.

In the Spike Kitchen

It seems the much-discussed troubles surrounding Spike Jonze and his Where The Wild Things Are may not be so bad after all. The director talks about effects and the film-in-progress. (AICN)

Moriarty: Is it the fact that you guys came out of the commercial background and the video background and things where you’d been able to experiment that freed you up to think about effects this way? Because so often, I think guys get really rigid about, you know, you do it the ILM way, you get into the pipeline, and you do certain things a certain sort of way.

Spike Jonze: Yeah, we were talking about that recently. We’re working with this company, Framestore, it’s an effects company, and in dealing with them it’s so different from dealing with an effects company ten years ago because effects companies are so much more humble. And I think it’s partially because they used to hold the keys to the secret chest of magic or whatever, and a lot of directors who come up now through videos, it’s not as separate, doing effects; it’s just part of telling the story. And I do think with a lot of directors – and not even just like Robert Rodriguez or whoever, Fincher, Chris Cunningham, Gondry – it’s like effects are just one of the tools, as opposed to “Here’s a script that needs to be filmed, how do we execute this thing?” It’s more just one of the tools you use to create a feeling that you want the movie or story to feel like.

Stoppard talks

Tom Stoppard on politics, other career paths, and what's next. (About Last Night)

Back in the twentieth century, around 1989 or so, some Serious Theatre People averred that "Tom Stoppard is over." The Real Thing was his Tempest, they said, his farewell to the stage. Fast forward to Rough Crossing, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia, and Rock and Roll. Some farewell! By now Stoppard, who's in town to rehearse his new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard at BAM, has morphed into a sort of playwright-rock idol. Accordingly, he appeared in pale (though not blue) suede shoes at two public talks last week, both of them quickly overbooked. Though he was funny and charming as usual, it was fascinating to observe what a difference a moderator made.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Zack and Miri Make A Porno

The creative marriage of Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen, and Jason Mewes does no one any favors, so let's skip the main attraction and declare 2008 the year of Elizabeth Banks. Banks has spent the year going toe to toe with male co-stars mostly unworthy of her talent (Eddie Murphy, Ryan Reynolds, Rogen) and only been tested by the combination of Oliver Stone and Josh Brolin in W.. She's a worthy choice as one of EW's Entertainers of the Year and one of those actors whose presence in a film leaves you inexplicably happy even when the film as a whole doesn't work. Let's hope 2009 offers more Banks pleasures and at least one good dramatic role.

Dept. of Needs a Punchline

So Ellen Page, Eve, and Marcia Gay Harden walk on to a set... (MTV)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Music: Etta James - "Something's Got A Hold On Me"

From 1966. Beyonce Knowles is playing James in this fall's Cadillac Records. (NY Times)

Cassandra's Dream

Two middle-class English brothers are distracted by Hayley Atwell (above with Ewan McGregor) and gambling debts (Colin Farrell) respectively in the first Woody Allen movie I've ever seen in which I wanted the characters to sound more like Woody Allen characters. The two are lured into committing a murder by their rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson) with the promise of financial security and spend the rest of the movie fretting about the morality of it all. It isn't exactly Crimes and Misdemeanors but the movie is reasonably gripping until the end, when Allen grows weary of the recycled dilemma he has created and ends the movie too abruptly. Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) and Phil Davis (a Mike Leigh repertory player) add texture in supporting roles. Farrell continues his good 2008 work; In Bruges is coincidentally next on my Netflix queue.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Would "Bond 22" have been a better title? We'll never know. If you've been following the critical reaction to Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace you already know that Daniel Craig's second outing as 007 is supposed to be a. too short and b. forgetful of the Bond traditions we've all grown up with. The movie is a coldly efficient piece of storytelling with a curious attitude about giving key information to the audience and if you haven't seen Casino Royale you'll probably be a little confused about what makes Bond so mad (the death of Eva Green's character at the end of that movie motivates Quantum's plot).

Quantum of Solace is the first Bond movie with extended scenes that feel like they were directed by Michael Bay; the major action scenes are cluttered and over-edited. But there's also something new going on. No Bond film has ever depended so much on what happened in the previous installment, and in a series with no unifying creative force behind it it's a pleasant surprise to find Bond existing in real time. The story sets up the same dichotomy between the value of man-on-the-ground intelligence and neocon alliances with corporate behemoths. (The Americans are ready to hop in bed with Mathieu Amalric's tycoon, his plan is to hold natural resources hostage and charge governments an exorbitant fee for utilities.) Information about Quantum, the cabal of which Amalric's character is a member,is tantalizingly withheld at the end. That's why I think we won't know how good Quantum is until the next Bond movie comes out; this movie feels like the middle part of a trilogy. By the time Bond comes face-to-face with a chance to avenge the death of Eva Green's Vesper, we've forgotten all about what happened in Casino Royale and are fully invested in the larger story.

A couple of other points: as far as the "traditions" that Quantum ignores, who cares? They haven't worked for the series in a few years. I do think that the fate of Gemma Arterton's character is an allusion to one of the series' most iconic images. Second, when was Daniel Craig not grumpy on screen? It's not like Judd Apatow directed that movie where he played Ted Hughes. Quantum of Solace will frustrate newcomers, but it isn't as bad as you've heard. Here's to the continued "rebooting" of 007.

Friday, November 14, 2008

King Richard

Entertainment Weekly has named its "Entertainers of the Year." You can have your Robert Downey, Jr. I'll join the sentiments expressed here that The Visitor and Burn After Reading actor Richard Jenkins was an inspired choice. (EW/In Contention)

Only $5 billion

A bailout for journalists? (Ross Douthat)

Malick's mystery

Is there another more "Malickian" version of The Thin Red Line out there? (I hope so) If so, how much does it matter? (Moving Image Source)

Another scenario, raised in a long-lost magazine article written by an actor who claimed to have been cut from the film, maintains that Malick’s original five-plus-hour cut was a radically different film—that is, it was an orthodox narrative, close to the James Jones novel (and also using material from From Here to Eternity), attendant to a historical timeline, and focused to some large degree on Corporal Fife (Adrien Brody). Did this film ever exist? Can we even imagine it? The story continues that Malick’s intention was to prioritize the semi-familiar new actors playing the grunts and noncoms over the movie stars playing the officers, in what would seem to be an almost political gesture. Of course, the suits at Fox balked, and so Malick set about editing the film down by some 40 percent. Famously, when the producer of Breathless asked Jean-Luc Godard to cut 30 minutes, Godard obliged him by cutting, in critic J. Hoberman's words, "whatever he deemed boring," including transitions and expository scenes. In the embattled version of The Thin Red Line's genesis, Malick attacked his director’s edit in much the same manner, dumping most of the dialogue and nearly all of the story’s connective tissue. Fife was relegated to a few minutes of screen time, while scores of other prominent roles (including those filled by Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen, and Bill Pullman) were scrapped altogether.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jean Seberg

The star of Godard's Breathless, who committed suicide in 1979, would have been 70 today. A biographer looks back. (Film Threat)

Q: Why did Jean-Luc Godard choose Seberg, of all people (considering her lack of consistent box office appeal at the time), to be his leading lady in "Breathless"?

A:At the time, Seberg was married to Francois Moreuil and they lived in France. Moreuil was friends with a group of young filmmakers, some of which wrote for Cahiers du Cinema, which appreciated Seberg. Although both "Saint Joan" and the next Preminger-Seberg outting "Bonjour Tristesse" failed at the box office, Seberg did have a hit with "The Mouse That Roared." She was a household name and had international recognition.

The filmmakers of "Breathless" needed such a name to broaden its appeal outside of France and the art film circuits, and Seberg fit the bill so to say. Through Moreuil, Godard met with Seberg, and after much discussion, she agreed to appear in the film.

Thought for the day

People who don't follow politics closely often assume that candidates meet some basic level of competence. They have to, right? Otherwise, wouldn't someone have said something, or somehow stopped them?

As far as the Republican Party is concerned, the answer is clearly 'no'. It's not that no one has the power to keep obviously incompetent candidates from being nominated. Obviously, John McCain could easily have not nominated Sarah Palin. But other people could have blocked her as well -- recall that McCain supposedly wanted to nominate Joe Lieberman, but was told that the party would not accept it. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a Lieberman fan, but the idea that there is some standard for Vice Presidential nominees that Sarah Palin meets but Lieberman does not, and that enough people accept that standard that Lieberman could not be nominated but Palin could, is frightening.

More here. (Obsidian Wings)

Prop 8 broadside

Sara Quin (of Tegan & Sara) reacts to the passage of Proposition 8. (Spinner)

Sadly, I've managed to find discordant messages in my own community. The most heartbreaking judgment, the most powerful resistance, is in the hearts of those who are gay themselves. I know this could extend to any minority who developed their sense of self and their self-worth based on projections of "normalcy" in the world around them. We're overwhelmed with institutionalized homophobia, sexism, racism and classism. Feast on this your whole life and it's no wonder most of us battle to accept who we are. I could deconstruct the sexism in the gay community, the apathy of those who can disappear into "normal," who avoid supporting the fringe for fear of being associated with it. It goes beyond sex, or haircuts. It's truly disheartening that we can't come together to demand fairness. It's a human rights issue. Taxation without representation is right, Melissa Etheridge! Shame and fear keep us from demanding tolerance and acceptance. It divides us, our communities, our families and keeps us from connecting to the courage that is needed right now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stage to screen

Plans for a film version of the Pulitzer Prize winning play August: Osage County are starting to come together. Does the recent history of film adaptations of Pulitzer winners offer any guide to how this one will do? (Cinematical)

From the current decade, the only Pulitzer winner to make it to multiplexes so far is Proof (with Gwyneth Paltrow? Remember...?), with Doubt joining it this winter, and August: Osage County, which doesn't have a date set yet, making three. I suspect one reason you don't see as many Pulitzer-winning plays (or even non-winning plays) being adapted anymore is that it's no longer acceptable to make "stagy" films. Audiences want more dynamic action, more movement, more settings than plays offer, so a movie translation either has to change things (which often ruins what made the play good to begin with) or else keep everything the same and deal with complaints that it's "boring" or "un-cinematic."

Small screen stuff

  • NBC has given Life, about LAPD Det. Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) restarting his career after being wrongly convicted of murder, a full-season order. I haven't had time to do the week-by-week recap of each episode I did last year for South Dakota Dark, but I'm still enjoying the show as a less relentlessly procedural alternative to some of the cop fare on CBS. If you're not familiar, the first season is out on DVD and episodes are available at IMDB and NBC's site. Oh, and Christina Hendricks of Mad Men pops up occasionally as Charlie's dad's fiance.(NY Times)

  • Entertainment Weekly reports that One Tree Hill, now in its sixth season, gets higher ratings than it did when it debuted. The "craziest show on TV" (and a good way to kill a couple of hours in the afternoon if you're unemployed as I was last year) has gone from being a show about high school basketball playing half brothers who hate each other to one in which those two brothers have become a bestselling novelist/baskbetball coach and a once-paralyzed dad trying to come back to hoops by playing "Slamball." But seriously - a good looking cast, product placement, and a liberal use of music have all added up to a show still on the upswing. I wrote more here last year.
  • Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Veteran's Day Special

    A 2001 interview: Comic book legend Will Eisner on his years in the military. (Splash Page)

    MTV: Did people recognize your name when you went into the Army?

    WE: Yeah. I landed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which was just outside of Baltimore. And the Baltimore newspaper carried “The Spirit.” So I was something of a celebrity I suppose.

    MTV: Did your drill sergeants go easier on you?

    WE: No, they didn’t. As a matter of fact, my drill sergeant was a sadistic S.O.B. [laughs]. I remember standing there in line and he came over and looked at me and stuck his nose in my face, as all drill sergeants do. And he said to me, “Sh-t, man, you don’t look like the character you draw” [laughs]. So he was really kind of nasty on me. Picked on me because The Spirit was a heroic character and I looked a little less than that [laughs].

    But when the basic training was over, the camp newspaper editor came by with his assistant and asked if I’d be willing to come on their staff and do artwork, and do cartoons and so forth. And I said yes.

    DFW, etc.

    A 1987 profile of David Foster Wallace. (McSweeneys/Kottke)

    Twenty students are here, and for the next hour and a half they analyze two short stories written by their classmates. David guides the undergraduate workshop like a seasoned pro, dissecting, explicating, outlining the stories' failings and strong points. "When you write fiction," he explains as part of his critique of a story about a young girl, her uncle, and the evil eye, "you are telling a lie. It's a game, but you must get the facts straight. The reader doesn't want to be reminded that it's a lie. It must be convincing, or the story will never take off in the reader's mind."


    Mormon artistic director's pro-Prop 8 donation could cost theater company big. Is the retaliation warranted? (AmericaBlog)

    I'm on my hamburger phone

    Diablo Cody's James Bond movie:

    Jimmie Bond (Olivia Thirlby) is having an extremely hard time adjusting to life in a new high school after her mother has remarried and they’ve moved to Cleveland. Distrusting everyone, Jimmie starts jotting down every thought, idea, observation, and whim in a massive journal she carries with her at all times. It’s not long before she’s labeled pretentious and annoying by just about every clique in school, including the jocks, nerds, dweebs, debutantes, and academics. Even the drama club doesn’t want to associate with her.

    Read the rest here. (SpoutBlog)

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Miriam Makeba

    Singer and activist Miriam Makeba has died at age 76. (NY Times)

    To be the voice of a nation speaking to the wider world is a tough mission for any performer. To be the voice of an entire continent is exponentially more difficult. Both were mantles that the South African singer Miriam Makeba took on willingly and forcefully. Despite her lifelong claim that she was not a political singer, she became “Mama Africa” with an activist’s tenacity and a musician’s ear. She died Sunday, at 76, after a concert in Italy.

    Blogs, R.I.P.

    Who killed the blogosphere? (Rough Type)

    Yeah, I don't think so. For all the fuss about group blogs like Gawker, Defamer, etc. I don't know any serious person who thinks these sites are any kind of definitve picture of what's out there. (Huffington Post is an exception here) The people who care most about the big commercial blogs are, I'd wager, those whose lives intersect the self-perpetuating media industry in some way. The stats about the number of blogs that quietly expire from inactivity are interesting, but that's merely a natural winnowing process as the possibilities of the form have defined themselves.

    Weekend viewing

  • Role Models is a reminder of how fun it is to laugh at the movies when something funny happens, as opposed to at a concept or a personality. The dry Paul Rudd has fun as an energy-drink salesman whose temper tantrum lands him and his partner (Seann William Scott) a court-ordered community service gig. The movie doesn't go anywhere surprising and Scott's foul-mouthed young charge is overused, but there are a lot of offhand laughs along the way as Rudd's character learns to enjoy life by dressing up as a member of Kiss and joining a group of medieval re-enactors. Oh, and that guy who played McLovin' in Superbad can act! Matinee only on this one.

  • Odds are you probably didn't see Richard Jenkins's acclaimed performance in The Visitor earlier this year, but the movie is out on DVD now. Jenkins plays a widowed college professor who discovers two illegal immigrants squatting in his New York apartment. Allowing them to stay, he becomes a student of the djembe and starts hanging out at drum circles in the park. Disaster strikes when the characters cross paths with the War on Terror, but the movie is much less interested in politics than about the prof learning to reconnect with life. Jenkins (one of the strengths of Burn After Reading) is gorgeously understated but the movie feels a little too austere to generate much awards heat. I see a Golden Globe nomination for this performance but Jenkins will be shut out of the big show.
  • Saturday, November 08, 2008

    Role Models

    I'm trying to find time to sneak off to Role Models today. Reviews are good and Paul Rudd is getting the bulk of the praise. (Greencine/NY Press)

    Paul Rudd gets his best-yet starring part after traversing the lows and highs of contemporary comedy, from Apatow and Neil LaBute to the richness of Diggers and Role Models. How he does it—bringing bliss even to lousy material like Forgetting Sarah Marshall—is a mystery. Rudd alternates charm and honesty the way Joel McCrea once did, which is probably the gentlemanly secret propelling Role Models. Despite that mutinous smirk, the sparkle in Rudd’s eyes speaks sincerity. He confirms that good movies do more than pander to louts or flatter patriarchy’s ego. Role Models’ sweeter, more mature perspective on manhood and people-hood avoids the Apatow curse.

    Writer's brag

    Writers on Obama; Glenn Kenny singles out one young novelist for his pomposity.

    Friday, November 07, 2008

    A lonely painter

    I remember that time that you told me, you said
    Love is touching souls
    Surely you touched mine
    Cause part of you pours out of me
    In these lines from time to time
    — A Case of You

    Joni Mitchell is 65. (The Deno Diaries)

    A literary critiic...

    ...can change your life. Remembering John Leonard. (The Mumpsimus)

    Once, I sent him a fan letter. I've hardly ever sent any fan letters in my life, not because I'm not a fan of many people and many things, but because when I gush I sound like a Valley Girl, and my dignity can only bear it occasionally. But at some point or another I felt the need to let John Leonard know that I was the lost child of his sentences. He never wrote back or signed the adoption papers, but I didn't necessarily want him to -- a fan letter is not an invitation to correspondance, but a proclamation of joy, and once I finished proclaiming, I'd done what I needed to do. I imagined him going to soirees and hanging out with the literati, with Don DeLillo on speed dial and Salman Rushdie hiding in his basement. I imagined he might be amused for a moment to learn that a kid in the middle of nowhere heard his voice crying out in the wilderness and found comfort and inspiration in it, and I imagined he would toss the letter away and chuckle for a moment and then go back to sharing a smoke with the latest Nobel winner (if he even read the letter himself; I imagined he had hordes of assistants). Though now, in my cynical old age, I know John Leonard's life was probably a bit more prosaic than I imagined when I was young, I still like the fantasy, and I hold onto it along with the atavisms and avatars, the Chaos Theory and fractals, the library and its dissidents. One of the dissidents has left, but, as a bit of consolation, we get to keep his books.

    Let us now praise...

    ...The Go-Betweens. Robert Forster's The Evangelist is one of my favorite CD's of the year. (Monitor Mix)

    After the performance, we were lucky enough to meet them. We ended up back at the Phoenix Hotel, half of us on mattresses, the rest of us on the floor, guitars and beers out. I asked Grant to teach me The Go-Betweens' song "Love Goes On," and I played the chords while he sang. I cannot overstate the generosity of this moment. Later that night, I told Robert that my band's album The Hot Rock -- or at least my own writing and guitar playing on it -- was inspired completely by their music. Before The Go-Betweens, I never thought that delicacy could wield sharp knives.

    Chapter and verse....

    We take DVD "chapters" for granted, but should we? An unusual and needed post. (Moving Image Source)

    One occasionally stumbles upon a particularly ingenious and creative DVD segmentation. In the case of Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Columbia TriStar), for example, I can only imagine that director Paul Thomas Anderson himself made the radical decision to slice up certain sections of the film according to its musical score, not its traditional, narrative scene divisions. Look at and listen to, most strikingly, the transition between chapters 13 and 14: the split comes in the middle of a continuous event (Adam Sandler’s character cracking up in his office) but marks the appearance of a special musical "moment," the quotation of Shelley Duvall’s song "He Needs Me" from Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980). This decision—annotated nowhere on the disc, since Anderson eschews audio commentaries—reveals an aspect of the properly post-classical logic of a sublimely nutty and hyper-formalist movie: the music, sometimes straddling several scenes and battling it out in the mix with other sound sources, truly drives and structures the whole.

    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Dept. of struggling satirists

    How the Daily Show will survive an Obama administration. (Vulture)

    First of all, in one eventful day, the prototypical Daily Show viewer has been transformed: Once disaffected and angry at Washington's power structure, he's now delighted and hopeful about the new president and all that he symbolizes. And if you're an Obama fan — eager to give Barack the benefit of the doubt, and proud and excited about the change you've helped bring the nation — do you really want Jon Stewart sitting on the sidelines, taking potshots at your hero?

    Beyond the problem of audiences souring on Obama jokes is the question of whether Jon Stewart even wants to make Obama jokes. Of course, The Daily Show has found ways to goof on the Obama campaign, but it's no secret that Stewart and his writing staff lean leftward. And The Daily Show differs from nearly all other popular political satire in that the show's strength is in its writers' outrage and anger at the powers that be.

    Man overboard

    Leonardo DiCaprio on new films, the environment, and that big boat. (Times UK)

    “After Titanic I was focusing on things that had nothing to do with the art. All the business with agents and publicists and managers, that can be extremely frustrating and ultimately a waste of time. There’s no real control over how the media or the public perceives you. I know who I am. My friends know who I am. And, hey, I’m not complaining about my life. I’m doing something that I love and that’s a precious gift.”

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    No Us Weekly payday

    ...for Gwen Stefani and her new baby. I can legally show you this photograph because rather than cash a check from a checkout lane tabloid Stefani is distributing the photo this way. (photo by Dennis Stefani)

    Pride and Glory

    Ray, the black sheep (Edward Norton) of an NYPD family, discovers his brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell) may be the ringleader of a hit squad made up of fellow cops after four officers are shot and killed. Ray's brother Fran (Noah Emmerich) is Jimmy's commanding officer and may have been willing to overlook Jimmy's fast-and-loose style to advance his own career, but is Fran involved in the murders? Director Gavin O'Connor captures a wintry New York feeling and twisted family relationships very well; there's a terrifically awkward scene in which the brother's dad (Jon Voight, whose character is an NYPD higher-up)goes on a drunken ramble at Christmas dinner that clearly reveals which brother he likes best. The various drug dealers who cross Jimmy's path are never individualized and it's not clear what's driving Jimmy other than a desire to supplement his own income. Norton does his usual disappearing act in his role and gets good support from utility player Emmerich (Little Children), whose revulsion at what his command has become sets up a ludicrous climax in which Ray must bring Jimmy in Wild West style wile Fran defuses a race riot. The stage actress Jennifer Ehle (who looks great bald) is wasted as Fran's cancer-stricken wife; Ehle's one big scene is badly underwritten. I wouldn't mind if more cop films had Pride and Glory's lived-in feel (which recalls We Own The Night) and strong cast, but a little more mystery and a little less family angst might have lifted it out of the realm of the merely slightly above-average.

    Ponder this

    Roger Ebert:

    Lots of people stayed up late Tuesday night. They listened McCain's gracious, eloquent concession speech. He was a good man at heart, caught up in a perfect storm of history. He had the wrong policies and the wrong campaign. At the end, let me tell you a hunch I have. In the privacy of the voting booth, I think there is a possibility that Condolezza Rice voted for Obama. Her vote might have had little to do with ideology. She could not stomach the thought of Vice President Palin.

    Campaign in poetry...

    John Ashbery's election day poem. (NY Times)

    The Book I Read: Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

    What is it?: The first novel by journalist Chuck Klosterman, whose work you've probably read in Spin, Esquire, and other publications.

    What that means: Klosterman is attempting to make his reference-laden, hyper-ironic style work in a work of fiction.

    What's it about?: The residents of a small town called Owl, North Dakota, where the main activities seem to drinking, driving around, talking about high school football, and drinking coffee. Each of these activities is central to at least one of the books multiple protagonists.

    Why that's important: Klosterman grew up in North Dakota and wrote about his life in the state in his nonfiction book Fargo Rock City.

    Is there a plot?: Sort of. Each chapter follows one of three main characters. New high school teacher Julia learns that there isn't much to do in Owl besides hang out in bars and get asked out by men. Mitch wanders through his high school days fantasizing about killing his football coach. Widower Horace spends his days drinking coffee with friends and remembering his late wife.

    Why did I say "sort of"?: Once each character is introduced nobody really changes.

    Could that possibly be the point?: You betcha.

    Why are you writing the post this way?: I'm aping Klosterman's style. See Page 112.

    And now a word from....

    Bill Ayers:

    Ayers said that he had never meant to imply, in an interview with the Times, published coincidentally on 9/11, that he somehow wished he and the Weathermen had committed further acts of violence in the old days. Instead, he said, “I wish I had done more, but it doesn’t mean I wish we’d bombed more shit.” Ayers said that he had never been responsible for violence against other people and was acting to end a war in Vietnam in which “thousands of people were being killed every week.”

    “While we did claim several extreme acts, they were acts of extreme radicalism against property,” he said. “We killed no one and hurt no one. Three of our people killed themselves.” And yet he was not without regrets. He mocked one of his earlier books, co-written with Dohrn, saying that, while it still is reflective of his radical and activist politics today, he was guilty of “rhetoric that’s juvenile and inflated—it is what it is.”

    “I wish I had been wiser,” Ayers said. “I wish I had been more effective, I wish I’d been more unifying, I wish I’d been more principled.”

    (New Yorker)

    Monday, November 03, 2008

    Post-campaign music

    No matter which candidate wins on Tuesday, may I suggest that all of us spend a few minutes Wednesday downloading or otherwise acquiring Lou Reed's "There Is No Time"? Like the rest of the New York album it's funny, angry, political, and only a little bit dated (among the things there is no time to do is "smoke some vials of crack"). "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" is a fine pre-election sentiment, but now it's time for something a little more urgent.

    "Marital eccentricity"

    If you live in California, vote no on Prop. 8. The anti-gay marriage forces are being largely underwritten by the LDS Church, which is pretty ironic given the church's history of marital eccentricity.....(Salt Lake Tribune)

    Party line

    Why Obama shouldn't appoint Chuck Hagel Secretary of Defense if he wins tomorrow (but would be well served using him in another capacity). (New Republic)

    Engaging thoughtful Republicans such as Chuck Hagel and giving them prominent roles in an Obama administration makes a lot of sense. It sends the right signals regarding national unity and a new kind of politics, and as long as it can be done while still appointing people who fundamentally agree with Obama's views, there is not much of a downside. Still, given the historic national security deficit that Democrats have faced, and given the breadth of talent in the Democratic national security community, why do it if you don't have to?

    Back in the fold

    A plan for how to deal with Joe Lieberman should the Dems. wind up with 59 Senate seats. (Obsidian Wings)

    Here's my proposal -- a two-year "probationary" period. In short, purgatory. He should be exiled for two years. But... if he votes right during that time, then he could potentially get his seniority back in the 2010 session before his next election.

    Here's my thinking -- First, there has to be consequences for his over-the-top McCain support. A party cannot allow those actions to happen with impunity. For that reason, Lieberman should be forced to resign from his committee chair and lose any other leadership or seniority rights.

    Do the Shuffle #17

  • Poi Dog Pondering - Complicated (live)
  • Rickie Lee Jones - Running From Mercy
  • James McMurtry & the Heartless Bastards - Fraulein O. (live)
  • Indigo Girls - Shame On You
  • Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend (live)
  • Neko Case - Deep Red Bells
  • Midnight Oil - King Of The Mountain
  • The Decemberists - O New England
  • Rolling Stones - Happy
  • Neil Young - Buffalo Springfield Again
  • Erasure - Blue Savannah
  • Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Sunday Music: Iris Dement - "Our Town"


    I thought Thandie Newton was ill-used in W. as Condoleeza Rice; she's never asked to do more than be an enthusiastic second to Bush's ramblings. It's revelatory to learn that in crafting the look of the character, realism wasn't the desired effect. (Guardian)

    Q: You couldn't use prosthetics due to local humidity but the physical transformation is uncanny ...

    A: Hearing that was scary because we have different-shaped face muscles and jaw lines so makeup shading was key. I worked with makeup artist Kay Montano to create a look inspired by [conceptual American photographer] Cindy Sherman. This whole thing's like a dream, a whacked-out Wizard Of Oz, Cindy Sherman opera. And Condoleezza reminded me of Maggie Thatcher. They both went to a finishing school and there's a similarity in how much they smile, sometimes in the most inappropriate places.

    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Studs Terkel

    "A tape recorder is a revolutionary instrument. It's no good for a talk with a movie actress or a politician, because they're so plastic. But a tape recorder on the steps of a housing project is something else again. There a person who a moment ago was just a statistic starts talking to you and becomes human, becomes a person. Then it gets exciting."

    Studs said in 1980: "If there's something I want to do, it's create a sense of continuity — that there is a past and a present and that there may be a future. And that there isn't any present unless you know the past."

    As far as social justice goes.

    "I'm on a quest," he said. "I'm Don Quixote. Of course I want to tilt at windmills. I want to tilt at other things. It's the Don Quixotes of the world — call them the seekers of the ideal — who keep the juices going, give them pepper, the salt, change it for the good."

    Studs Terkel died at age 96. Wouldn't he have been a great Secretary of Labor in an Obama administration? (Sun-Times)