So Top Management and I just started watching the Cinemax television show Banshee, which neither of us had even heard of before, until Cinemax started running ads, trumpeting its upcoming second season. So we checked out the first season and, after only four episodes, Top Management has already decided it's Her Favoritest Show EVAH. (Disclaimer: she says this about every new show she enjoys. She's a fickle thing, as I well know, and I expect to be tossed aside Any Day Now for a new and improved model, who may or may not, in fact, be a model.)
Anyhoo, we were a few minutes into the first epi when she said, "Who do I think he is? I mean, I know he's not, but who do I think he is?"
"Liev Schrieber," I said. "Sabretooth, the bad guy from the bad Wolverine movie? And the utterly unnecessary The Manchurian Candidate remake?"
"Yup," she agreed. "That's who he's not but I was thinking he was."
A few nights later, she said, "Hey, remind me: who do I think he is? I mean, I know he's not, but who do I think he is?"
And this time my mind was a blank. Because we'd now watched several episodes and now he was who he was for me and I couldn't see who he wasn't anymore.
So naturally, I googled. And autofill informed me that Antony Starr looks like...Scott Speedman?
No, he doesn't. I mean, yeah, okay, he kinda does, but nowhere near as much as the guy I couldn't think of any more.
So I left it blank and hit enter. And on the first page of results is a hit that says Antony Starr looks like Ray Stevenson. Which, again, yeah, okay, I can kinda see that. Only not really, not nearly as much as he looks like the guy I couldn't think of any more.
And then I remembered. And as a service to others, I'll just leave this here.
(He does kinda look like a much smaller, younger Ray Stevenson.)
Still trying to recover from a wonderful but exhausting Thanksgiving week, I pop Fantasia on for the first time in many years, so many that the 12-year-old is the youngest to remember it.
Top Management keeps muttering "Leopold! Leopold!" in wonder and awe.
The 7-year gasps when the Sugar Plum Fairies appear and doesn't seem to realize she's singing along with the entire Nutcracker Suite.
The 4-year-old could not possibly care less about Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d minor, but gets sucked in by the sadly racist "Chinese Dance." Which means he's totally ready for The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
I keep an eye on him because it's late enough that I fear nightmares—as in, I tremble in fear at the idea of him having one in the middle of the night; he gets up to use the bathroom at least a few times a week, and that's more than enough of a interruption to my meagre sleep as is.
And sure enough, his grip on the lego stack he's holding keeps getting tighter and tighter the worse things become for ol' Mickey, and his eyebrows are drawn down lower and lower. Finally, at exactly 9:01 of the embedded clip, the boy can't take it anymore, and he yells at the screen in anguish and anger at the mouse's obliviousness:
"Take off the hat!"
Which never even occurred to me. But of course probably would have worked. And then he (maybe) wouldn't have gotten busted.
I'm impressed and disturbed by his insight and deviousness.
Here's a piece I wrote years and years ago—a decade ago, now, I think, on a Miles Davis email listserv, of all places—on the Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg film A.I. For some reason, I thought I'd crossposted it here, but don't seem to have, so here 'tis. And I still haven't rewatched the movie. (Yet.) I tried to recently, and got about twenty minutes in before the darkness became too much for me.
I’ve been thinking recently about A.I., the film Steven Spielberg made some years back. Actually, since I watched the movie about a year ago, I’ve thought about it quite a bit.
For those few who might not know, A.I. is a film that Stanley Kubrick had wanted to make for decades; he’d made copious notes and even a few tries at a screenplay. When he died his widow asked Spielberg, a good friend of Kubrick’s and the director Kubrick had finally decided was more suited for the film anyway, to take the project on.
So Spielberg ended up not only producing and directing, as normal, but writing the screenplay as well, something he hadn’t done in well over twenty years.
The result is…well, it’s odd. There are times the film could not be any more clearly a Spielberg film, and then there are times where it’s so damn Kubrick it’s bizarre. Sometimes it’s just part of a scene or a set design or even a single shot but there are Kubrick touches here and there that just suddenly scream at you. If you’re familiar with the work of both artists, it can be quite disorienting, but generally fascinating.
There are a few classic Spielberg mistakes, including a terrible, terrible bit of stunt casting in a cameo; what should have been an interesting three minutes pulls you right out of the film due to the intrusion. For the most part, however, the cast is outstanding, including a phenomenal Jude Law in one of his best performances ever, and the brilliant Haley Joel Osment, best known for his work seeing dead people in The Sixth Sense.
I should alert you: there are major spoilers coming up—in fact, I’m going to be discussing the last ten minutes of the film in detail—so if you haven’t seen the movie, well, you should. And then come back.
But I’m not waiting. It's been out for a long enough time already. Don’t worry, though, whenever you get around to it, I’ll be here.
Okay. The main criticism most people seemed to have with the film was its ending, which was slammed as being a typically Spielbergian uplifting happy ending, and one which seemed tacked-on at that.
This, I think, misses the point completely. Instead of being some saccharine sop to our bruised emotions, I think Spielberg’s premise is a withering critique of the human race and one of the darkest things he’s ever committed to film.
Allow me to explain. Throughout the entire film, the humans are shown to be self-absorbed, cold and uncaring about anyone or anything but themselves. There are a few exceptions—at the demolition derby the crowd does rally to save the android played by Osment, but even there, it’s clear that it’s only because he looks so human, not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with torturing androids which certainly seem to feel terror and regret. As long as they clearly look like robots, it’s okay to ignore what seem to be their genuine feelings. It’s only when it looks like a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy that they become uneasy.
Even his mother tosses him aside almost as soon as the going gets rough. The fact that she tries to help him stay safe—him, an unusually smart six year old boy—indicates she knows what she’s doing is wrong, and that it bothers her tremendously…just not enough to actually do the right thing. If anything, her anguish over the fact that she’s throwing the little boy away—pretty much literally—that she knows it’s not right, simply makes her actions that much more reprehensible.
But the boy runs into the Jude Law android, on the run for his life. And yet the android helps the boy, even though he suspects—correctly, as it turns out—that it’ll cost him his own life, something the android otherwise tries desperately to protect.
And that’s one thing that’s made clear repeatedly—their intelligence may indeed be artificial, but it’s been programmed for self-protection. This makes sense, of course—if you’ve got a piece of machinery as expensive as these androids undoubtedly are, it’s only logical to make sure they don’t simply wander into traffic.
But the only character who acts out of, well, character, and is willing to sacrifice for another is the Jude Law robot. Not one of the humans were willing to make that leap. And that’s one hell of an indictment of our species.
But it gets worse. Or, in terms of art, better. Because the movie seems to end with the little fake boy at the bottom of the ocean, praying and praying and praying to Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy to please, oh please, make him a real boy. He prays over and over and over again, never tiring, never losing hope, never losing faith, until civilization collapses and the planet freezes and he’s embedded in ice, still staring at the clouded vision of the Blue Fairy. He’s now unable to speak, embedded in ice as he is, but for two thousand years, he keeps faith. He keeps praying, hoping, believing, knowing that eventually his faith will be rewarded, that he will be turned into a real boy, just like Pinocchio, and then, at last, his mother will love him. Finally, he will truly know his mother’s love. He will know what it is to be loved unreseverdly, unconditionally.
And that’s where it seems the film will end. With the title character still hoping desperately that his mother will finally love him.
And that’s where the film drove people crazy. Because the film doesn’t end there, and instead that most Spielbergian of creatures show up—that’s right, aliens. Spielberg said in interviews that they weren’t actually aliens, just massively advanced androids…but (I believe) that’s never actually stated in the film and they sure look (and act) like Spielbergian aliens. And just like the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., these are kind and benevolent creatures. And they rescue the little boy and explain that civilization on Earth perished long, long ago, eons ago, and that they’re anthropologists, here to study what they can. They’re able to recreate the dead as long as there’s some DNA left, but of course his beloved mother turned to dust centuries ago so they can’t help him.
Ah, but the little boy android has a lock of hair he’d cut from his mother before she threw him away. And using that the aliens are able to recreate his mother for one day, and one day only—that’s the extent of their abilities. And when she goes to sleep, she’ll die again, this time forever.
They make sure that this boy understands this and wants to proceed and indeed he does. So they bring his mother back to life and the two of them have the kind of day every little child dreams of, just the two of them, together, playing, reading, having fun—loving. And she goes to sleep and dies, and he lays his head on her body and himself appears to die.
And there’s your happy ending. Except that it’s not. Not really. Or rather, yes, superficially it is: the hero finally got what he wanted—his mother’s love, and therefore managed to die happy. (If indeed he really died. Which, again, how happy can an ending be if the protagonist is a little boy who either dies with his mother or at least lovingly lays his head on his dead mother's body?)
But it’s how he got his happy ending that’s so powerful. He got it because aliens cared enough about him to help. Aliens whose quest in life is to study other cultures. Aliens who could have brought this one human back and used their twenty-four hours to study her as much as they could, to have asked her questions, learned all she could teach in that short time. Instead, they let her and the little boy have their day together even though it was their best chance to understand humans.
Likewise, they could have studied the little boy, questioned him forever. But they’d didn’t. Instead, they allowed him his day, in fact, facilitated, initiated it. Even knowing that by doing so they were throwing away forever their one best chance at achieving all their goals on the planet.
The only characters in the film who cared about the little boy enough to sacrifice their own goals—or in the case of the Jude Law android, even his own life—were another android and these aliens. They were the only ones who displayed what we normally like to think of as a trace of humanity.
And that’s why all those who see this as a typical happy ending are completely and totally missing the point. It’s not a typical happy ending. It’s an indictment of humanity. It’s a desperate hope, perhaps, that if artificial intelligence ever does come to exist, it’ll be better than us. An acknowledgement that it'd have to be.
So today is the first-ever day of school for Max. Given that she's 18 years old, that may seem a bit unorthodox but then I've sometimes gotten paid to read comics for a living so we're not exactly the typical family.
At freshmen orientation yesterweek, they stressed again and again how important it was not to be helicopter parents to your new college student children: you don't want to hover. You've done your part, now let them go and find their place in this world.
Given that I failed out of college, I decided the most prudent move was not to listen to that bit of advice.
So this morning, Top Management texted Max about 45 minutes before her first-ever class, just to make sure she was awake and would have time to eat before going to her first-ever class. Max replied right away, so all good.
But not good enough. Not for me.
So I chime in.
(On the off-chance there's a Left o' the Dialian so culturally-deprived as to not get the reference immediately, here's the origin. See? My kids aren't the only ones I coddle care about deeply.)
So we've got a New Year's Eve tradition in this here household. Since we've lived in SoCal, we've not only let the girls stay up (if they can) until midnight, but the past several years we've picked a classic film to enjoy as we await the countdown. We take stories pretty serious around here; we rarely just channelsurf and let them see something great starting in the middle. So some thought goes into our New Year's Eve selections. These are, generally speaking, movies that they've just become old enough to watch—The Princess Bride was the first, I think, years ago, Raiders of the Lost Ark another, Back to the Future a third, and so on.
Although 2012 is almost certainly the best year I've ever had, the last few weeks have been difficult ones, for various and not terribly-uncommonplace if not terribly pleasant reasons. Some things fell by the wayside, one of which was the careful selection of the New Year's Eve film.
Around about noon I started doing some investigating. Our first three choices were all checked out at the library—as in, the dozen plus copies of each were all checked out from the entire system. Redbox had a few decent choices, but nothing that really felt right, and there was nothing that quite fit the bill on television. We thought about various options when my eye happened upon a boxset Top Management's father had given me a few years earlier.
"Hey..." I said. "What do you think about Monty Python and the Holy Grail?"
Top Management's eyes lit up. We had actually found ourselves watching it just a few months earlier, for the I don't even know how manyth time. Max had already seen it at least once and I think maybe parts of it twice. And yet the idea of cuddling up on the couch with our girls and watching it again was intoxicating.
"But...do you think the Bean's old enough?" she asked.
Although she'll be (kill me now) 12 in just a few weeks and, like most of Top Management's offspring, unusually bright, the Bean is, in many ways, like most of Top Management's offspring, young for her age. And yet in the past year she's been showing signs that her sense of humor is developing in unforeseen ways.
So we gave it a try. Initially intrigued but perplexed by the credits, she and the Rose were laughing by the end of them. Ten minutes in, I look over and I see all four of my oldest girls howling during the Black Knight scene. And I realized I had very rarely been so happy in my entire life, and that ain't a bad way for a year to go out.
So be it.
I know I know I know.
I have been sorely neglecting y'all of late. Or neglecting you sorely. Whatevs.
I've got about a half dozen posts about 10%, so maybe if I smush 'em together? Prolly not the best idear.
Instead, I offer you this, the—seriously—greatest film evah. Not even sure it's out. Doesn't matter.
I am a geek. This comes as news to no one. Yet I’ve never come close to understanding why the hell Boba Fett is as popular as he is. I don’t think I even noticed him the first half-dozen times I saw the original Star Wars trilogy.
I am also a child of the 80s. So much as I hated this film, every second of this dance is imprinted on my DNA.
Put ‘em both together and you have yet one more reason to say God bless Al Gore and his mighty mighty invention, teh internetz.
This video proves several things:
I loves me my internets.
Americans are still inventive.
Unfortunately, not necessarily in ways which benefit all of mankind.
Still, this is wicked cool.
Someone will make a comment about “too much time on their hands.”
This video, courtesy the great Krissy, on the other hand, proves several different things:
Walking dogs are funny.
But too many walking dogs are creepy.
Dogs laughing rival the clown under the bed in Poltergeist for Scariest Thing Ever Filmed.
Maybe people always had too much time on their hands.
Making explicit what was always implicit.
This would have been twice the film (not to damn with faint praise) if they’d just had the stones to go in this direction in the first place—it’s clearly the way the movie itself wanted to go.
Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Top Management and I were happy to see ol’ Biff on a recent episode of House, but I had no idea about his stand-up career. The wonderful imdb indicates that he’s been pretty busy since his big break on Back to the Future. I can say that I do recall he was great as the mobster who killed Robin’s parents back on the Batman animated show.
Should I ever meet him, I shall refrain from him asking him any of those questions. But I shall damn sure about ask him what it was like when they were filming the movie with Eric Stoltz instead of Michael J. Fox.
H/T: List of the Day
And for Left o' the Dialian Tom E:
He's well over a thousand from the left coast, so the bit about her being a California girl doesn't quite work. But I'm guessing all the rest does.
Some of you might recall the most dramatic five seconds on teh intratubes.
We might just have surpassed that. Make sure your sound is up. Surround sound if possible.
Five times I’ve watched it now. And it just. Keeps. Getting. Funnier.
So I was channel surfing and I stumbled across The Last Waltz. Levon Helm was giving Martin Scorsese a little history lesson, which dragged me in; Levon's interviews are far and away the best in the film.
I planned on then turning it off, but immediately afterward Van Morrison came on to perform with The Band, which meant I had no choice but to keep watching. Sure, I own the film and, yeah, I've seen this part at least a half-dozen times, but that's not nearly enough. Not for a performance this great.
I wrote about it before, and you can read it here, if you'd like. I'm going to repeat some of what I said, but watching it again a year and a half later was…well, it wasn't like seeing it for the first time, but I noticed things I'd never seen before.
Van is just incendiary. He's on fire. He is Music Personified in one fat little Irish bundle of Yarrrrragh.
He sings "Caravan," a song which is not just the best song about radio ever but one of my personal all-time favorite reasons for being alive. And on this night Van is beyond belief. And the song is, as always, magnificent, as is The Band’s playing of it.
But here's the thing: where the words are normally moving, here they mean nothing. They are simply syllables he's singing, utterly devoid of their initial or indeed any meaning at all. The syllables are nothing more than a vehicle for his voice, his voice being simply a vehicle his body is using to convey his soul. Something like a fractal, the sounds he's making contain all the beauty that is and ever had been and ever will be in the universe.
Yet the words themselves are barely comprehensible at times. Which doesn't matter. They’re wonderful lyrics but in this case they don't need to be intelligible. You don't need to understand a supernova to be overwhelmed by it.
It's fascinating to watch him watching the band. For a musician who so clearly trusts the muse, he's also aware that playing with a band is team sport. This is his song: he wrote it, he recorded it, and it's one of his signature pieces; he owns this song in every sense. Yet playing here with a different group of musicians, you can see him feeling his way. He's good friends with The Band—they were neighbors and drinking buddies up in Woodstock. But it's not his band, and there's a certain tension there, albeit a happy and productive one.
When it comes to the coda, the "turn it up!" section, Robbie Robertson starts dropping tasty little bits of guitar obbligato in. Twice Van goes to sing, pulling the microphone up to his mouth, only to pause and lower it again, waiting for the right place to dive in. There's no wrong place, per se—it's all the same set of chords over and over. But just because there's no wrong place doesn't doesn’t mean that there's not a right place.
And finally he finds it. And off he goes, tentatively the first time, feeling his way in, but pleased, knowing he's on the right track, murmuring, "yeah." The next time he's sure of his footing, and starts scatting. And after he and The Band are locked together.
And then to the accompaniment of a musical sting he suddenly throws his arm up in the air and you can hear the crowd go wild. Again he does it and again the cheers. The camera pans and you can see The Band—or least Robbie, Levon and Rick Danko—are all laughing. Four, five times he does this, and then finally the camera pulls back far enough that you can see what he's really doing: he's kicking his leg in time to the sting. He does a little prefatory bunnyhop and then the kick.
There are many musicians with outstanding physical grace, such as Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie, Bono and Kurt Cobain, and this is without even going into amazing dancers such as Michael Jackson and Prince.
Van Morrison is not one of them. He's chubby and stubby and has perfect looks for radio.
But it doesn't matter. At all. Not one bit. Because this isn't about beauty, it's about joy, music and art and life and joy, which makes even his ungainliness beautiful. Still ridiculous but impossibly beautiful and oh so perfect. Just frosting on the cake that is the universe. All of which, for four and a half minutes, are contained in the music pouring out of one pudgy little Irish troubadour.
Some folks say this is the greatest five second video on teh internets. I don’t know that I’d disagree.
But this? This is almost certainly the greatest website in the known universe. In fact, I find it hard to believe there are better elsewhere. Yes I do.
I've written on here a bunch of times about recut trailers and how I think they’re at least fun entertainment, and at their best, are truly art.
This isn’t the best, mainly because (sorry for the spoilers) it’s got a weak ending. But the first 85% is well worth the minute and half it takes to watch.
As opposed to this, which the Llamabutcher pointed me towards in the comments a while back. It’s not as stunning as West Side Story or Shining, but in its quiet way, it’s just as dramatic. Check it out, yo.
I've written before about remix trailers. Done well, they are truly art.
I've seen some good ones. But I've never seen one that compares with this, so much so that it’s the first video I've ever embedded. A milestone worthy of note, I’m quite sure we’ll all agree.
Watch this—it is brilliant. [And terrifying.]
This is what happens when you consolidate power in the hands of just four or five enormous multinational corporations. They have the power to strip us of our rights to free speech, in effect.
There’s a new film coming out about the brouhaha over the Dixie Chicks criticizing President George W. Bush.
But NBC is refusing to air the ad for the film.
The ad isn’t being bounced for profanity, or nudity, or a call to violence.
No. It’s unacceptable simply because it criticizes the president.
Seriously. Variety says,
“NBC’s commercial clearance department said in writing that it ‘cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.’”
That’s not the land of the free.
Well-made, but fairly innocuous, innit? Would you ever have imagined something like this happening?
Just when I think I've seen it all.
Two more weeks.
Well, this sucks.
Bruno Kirby, one of the great supporting actors of all time, has died.
He was brilliant as the limo driver in Spinal Tap, fantastic in City Slickers (how can you top a line like, “Hey pal, I can get an erection any time I want. Watch.” Answer: you can’t.), devious as the driver (again) in The Freshman with Brando and Broderick and hysterical as the clueless lieutenant (“Percy Faith! Good!”) in Good Morning, Vietnam. And those are just the tip o’ the iceberg.
His most famous role, of course, is as Harry’s best friend in When Harry Met Sally. And you know, if you’re best remembered for the line, “You made a woman meow?” Well…there are far, far worse fates.
Rest in peace, babyfishmouth. Thanks for the laughs.
I was just discussing Steve Guttenberg with someone a few days ago and his utterly inexplicable success and how suddenly it seemed the public all realized at the exact same moment that he couldn’t act, he wasn’t charming and he wasn’t attractive and that therefore there was no reason he should be in films anymore.
Oh my. I wish I could say that’s unbelievable. And yet, alas, it’s not quite.
But it’s close.
So I’ve already posted twice similar items—you can find ‘em here and here. As before, I think this can be viewed as both simple comedy and legitimate art and raises, I think, questions about the intrinsic nature of film manipulation, in both senses.
This one may in some ways be the best. On the other hand, it’s the first one to cheat, by importing a tiny snippet of dialogue from another film. Given how brilliantly it’s done, however, I’m not inclined to quibble. Besides, I’m afraid I’ll be smote if I do.
[H/T: The Miles List and The Llamabutchers ]
A while back I ranted about something not entirely dissimilar.
Today’s rant is along the same vein, only different.
What is the problem with makers of DVDs? Why do they want to ruin a good surprise? Why do they feel compelled to show the coolest bits of the film during the damn menu?
You know what I’m talking about. You pop the disc in the player and sit back, ready to enjoy the magnificent experience of being told a good story, an experience virtually every human being on the face of the planet deeply craves on a regular basis.
But first you have to watch five or ten or twenty seconds of clips from the movie before you’re given the choice of clicking on "Play Movie" or "Languages" or "Chapters" or "Bonus Features." So now you know that at some point the mild-mannered accountant you’re introduced to in the first minute of the film is going to pick up a gun and shoot somebody while he’s trapped in a burning bus.
Great. So much for that oh-so-carefully-set-up scene the writer and director worked so hard on. Now you know it’s coming. Now somewhere in the back of your mind you’re just wondering when. Some part of you is going to be thinking the entire time, "Okay, great, his wife just got kidnapped…is this when he gets trapped in the burning bus during a gunfight? No? Oh…okay, maybe this is when he gets trapped in a burning bus during a gunfight. Huh. Not then either. Okay…this must be the burning bus gunfight then."
Why? Why? Why do they do this? I mean, I know why—there are people who specialize in creating DVD menus, and this way they can turn in a really cool product to the people paying them a lot of money. And the people hiring those folks, of course, have all seen the film, so they know about the burning bus gunfight and that it’s the coolest part of the film, so there’s no ruining of the surprise there.
The director, of course, might be less than happy about it, but he’s probably off directing not his follow-up movie but the one after that follow-up, so if he’s even consulted, he doesn’t have time to devote to this kind o’ minutiae.
And, dammit, it’s also just not necessarily. This isn’t a trailer, where they’re trying to get to you pay money to see the film. You’ve got the DVD! You’ve already paid money for it! There’s no financial incentive to screwing up plot points, no matter how small, in this way.
But what we’re left with is the majority of DVDs, where no matter how much you’re willing to suspend disbelief, some part of you is likely unable to suspend knowledge of coming story events attained involuntarily. And that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the original creators, it’s not fair to the viewers, and it’s not fair to the story, to Story, itself.
So as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve spent way too much time on YouTube recently, and way, way too much of that time on one video in particular, Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn.
For those who’ve never seen it, or don’t recall, you can go here to see the video. In fact, I cannot recommend it highly enough for any of them what like pop at all. Go ahead and check it out. I’ll wait.
Okay, so now presumably I can talk about it and not have to worry about spoilers. As you now know, if you were smart enough to go—and if you’re reading Left of the Dial it’s obvious that you’re way above average in terms of intelligence and taste—it starts off as a standard narrative video, your typical plaintive waif singing in her apartment, intercut with shots of her boyfriend, sometimes in the background, perhaps post-tiff, or the two of them kissing romantically.
And then out of nowhere another guy pops up—literally, he pops up into the frame—and moves both Natalie and her "boyfriend" back about a foot and half so the camera can catch more of them. And you wonder what the hell was that? And then you realize that he’s the video’s director. And then the video cuts again, and she’s singing once more. And another cut and you see folks working on the set behind them. And they keep quick cutting so that sometimes it’s just Natalie singing to the camera, all heartfelt and emotive, and sometimes you’ll see the make-up artists working on her hair, or the crew members working on the set, or her and her co-star acting out their planned roles.
It’s an odd and incredibly unusual choice the director made. I don’t know if it’s true or if it’s a video urban legend, but the story goes that they shot a normal video but in the editing stage realized that showing the "making of" section in the actual video itself had never been done and was really interesting.
And they were dead on. It’s fascinating. Because, and this is a bizarre paradox, by showing the behind-the-scenes stuff, they manage to both highlight the inherent artificiality of videos and give us a true glimpse of the artist behind the song at the exact same time.
It’s an amazing feat. You see her getting her hair done, you see her and her co-star screwing up their blocking, you see her idly stretching between takes, and you even at two different points see a wall on the set either collapse, or nearly so, and crew members rushing in to avert disaster. And that both illustrates perfectly how artificial all videos are and yet how authentic this one by dint of its honesty in revealing its artifice.
By letting us see these screw-ups and unguarded moments, by occasionally dropping the façade, this video lets us see the real people behind the pretense, in a way that’s very, very rare indeed. Not even interviews or concert videos can do that, because in those situations the artist always knows the camera’s rolling. Here the camera is basically ignored except during an actual take, so during the several days of taping, it simply morphed into another part of the furniture, at least much of the time. It became the proverbial fly-on-the-wall, and therefore, by extension, so did we.
The heart of the video may be the second time through the chorus, where she sings "illusion never changed into something real." She sings all the previous lines of the chorus directly into the camera—the longest uncut shot of the entire video—but halfway through this line they cut to her waiting for a shot to be set up, with a light meter being held in front her face, making sure the lighting was just right for optimal effect. In yet another beautiful twist, this video itself proves that line about illusion to be untrue, to be an illusion itself, and in doing so, uncovers yet another layer to the entire thing.
I should mention that if it weren’t for the greatness of the song itself, originally by Ednaswap, the brilliance of the video wouldn’t count for much. But it is an utterly perfect pop song, with good lyrics, a great, ever so slightly off-kilter melody and an absolutely flawless production. When it first came out I was completely entranced, but assumed I’d eventually tire of it. It’s been something like nine years now and although I’ve probably gone years between listenings occasionally, I’ve yet to get bored with it, even after hearing it scores of times. It is as wonderful as pop gets. The fact that there’s a video that’s up to its incredibly high standard is just a nice bonus.
But it is a very, very nice bonus indeed. And as great as the entire video is—and it is—the most glorious part is at the very end of the song, during the easiest (and one of the most effective) slide guitar solos in pop history. Just as the slide come in, Natalie begins dancing. But it could not possibly be more obvious that her dance wasn’t choreographed or even planned. She simply whirls around like a little girl, dancing the way you do when you think no one’s watching. Apparently, she was mortified when she saw the video and discovered the director had stuck that oh so unguarded moment in there. Which is understandable. She looks like a moderately graceful person just screwing around—miles away from the typical pop star, with her razorsharp and terrifically impressive moves honed to a cold, machinelike perfection.
This is not one of those dances. This dance is…well, it looks kinda goofy. It looks fun. It looks warm and spontaneous and joyful. It’s magnificently human and vulnerable in a way we so rarely see in popular culture. It is utterly transcendent and the marriage of that naked moment and the beauty of the music behind it reminds me of just why I love this stuff so much.
You remember back at the top of this piece up there, where I said I’d spent way too much time on this video? That wasn’t true. It’s not possible to spend too much time with art this brilliant.
So I’ve been ranting and raving—I know, I know, how terrifically out of character for me. But it’s been a bit more than usual lately and even if it’s all been completely, one hunnert percent justified—did I mention that the vice president of the United States shot a man in the face, has admitted he was drinking both before and after the shooting, and refused to speak with police until at least fourteen hours later? Did I mention that at any point? I wasn’t sure if I had—I can understand how it might get a tad wearing for even those who are enlightened enough to agree with me. So far there seem to be about a couple dozen of us who are all completely on the same page. It’s a start.
Anyhoo, here are some groovy links. I cannot guarantee they will make your life better over the next several decades, nor that they will get into a prime spot in the afterlife, but I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll make your life better while you’re watching them.
So. Some questions about this first one :
Are these guys spoofing? Or are they really this into the song? Because they’re phenomenal, and they keep at it all the way through. Great stuff. Their roommate, of course, nearly steals the show. What a performance.
Oh, and how long’d it take you to get the song out of your head?
And for something considerably different, there’s this.
I know, it’s been around a while. But it’s always worth going back to. I’ve probably played it twenty or thirty times. It’s simply gorgeous. I find that the video quality is improved considerably if you make the screen smaller. Just so's you know. Oh, and it might be interesting to keep in mind that the ukulele was one of George’s favorite instruments.
Well, here’s another in that series.
I know it’s supposed to be funny to take these films we all know so well and completely alter their mood with music and editing. And it is. But it’s more than that. It’s an incredible example of art and how the same piece can be transformed by context and how the art itself can be manipulated. There’s no artform where manipulation is more central to its very essence than film, and I think these are outstanding examples of that.
And finally, talk about going way, way, way back. This one’s from back in 2001; I know, practically prehistoric.
If I’ve got my history of it correct, it started with a mind-bogglingly terrible translation an animated sequence in a video game, Zero Wing, from Japanese into English. Tying some older Left of the Dial pieces together, this is a fine example of a meme. It’s also unaccountably disturbing, I find. If you’ve got the chance, watch it in a darkened room, and if you’ve got a slow connection, try to wait for the whole thing to load before watching so it flows smoothly. You don’t have to—the first time I saw it the thing stopped every seven seconds and I was still utterly transfixed. But it might make the experience more enjoyable for any of you what haven’t seen it before. If you’re interested, you can find out all about it at wikipedia, one of the handiest-dandiest sites known to humankind, even if it’s not completely trustworthy. Hey, who or what (besides Top Management) is?
So there you have it.
Absolutely no A bare minimum of rants but a maximum of raves for today. Tomorrow we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled bitchfest. Or maybe I’ll post a warm and fuzzy Daddy-who-loves-his-kiddies story. You can never tell. I’m edgy. I’ve got an edgy edgy edge. Oh, and I’m still looking for a sponsor. Just so’s you know. It’s not too late.
Left of the Dial: the repository of detritus from the internets.
And no Iraqi sleeper quails.
That you know of…
Okay, so I had a different post all set to go until Top Management pointed out to me today’s Word of the Day. So my regularly scheduled harangue shall simply have to wait until tomorrow. I’m sure you’re all on pins and needles. Well, if I had my way, you would be.
Not really. I just like to try out tough talk now and then to see if it fits. Not yet, apparently. But I’ll keep plugging.
Anyhoo, here’s today’s Word o’ the Day:
wunderkind \VOON-duhr-kint\, noun;
plural wunderkinder \-kin-duhr\:
1. A child prodigy.
2. One who achieves great success or acclaim at an early age.
Now, being the wondering sort, you’re probably wondering just why Top Management pointed this word out to me. Surely it can’t be because, unlike, say, "godwottery," "meme," or "quiddity," the word is generally unfamiliar to me and mine Left of the Dial readers.
Not a’tall. It’s that Top Management and I went to see our yearly film last month; this year ‘twas The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And outstanding (if not perfect) it indeed was. And amused were we to hear the voice of our much-liked Alanis Morissette singing over the credits at the end.
Until she got to the chorus.
Top Management turned to me and said, "She didn’t just sing—"
"No," I agreed. "She didn’t. She can’t have. We must have heard wrong. Must’ve been some other word."
So there we sat, waiting for the line to come ‘round again. And indeed it did. And indeed there it was again.
She sang the word "wunderkind." Only she pronounced it as though it were an English word and not the German word it is. In other words, she sang "won-der-kind," with the last syllable rhyming with "mind" or "find," rather than "skinned" or "chagrinned."
Now, I can understand pronouncing the first letter as a "w" rather than the more accurate "v"—sometimes you gotta bend a bit not to sound like a right prat, as my British brethren might (or might not) say. Saturday Night Live once did a great skit with Jimmy Smits over people so massively going overboard to correctly pronounce some common Spanish words, and who hasn’t rolled their eyes at a coworker saying "croissant" as though she’s from Provence? (Although perhaps that’s a bad example since maybe it’s pronounced entirely differently in Provençal.) But still—mangling that last syllable the way Alanis does is simply beyond the pale.
Ne’ertheless, I held out some dim hope that we might be mishearing it somehow, that it was some other word we were mistaking for "wunderkind."
Until the credits scrolled further. And we saw that it was the name of the damn song.
Okay. Pretty unambiguous there. So I call up my Canadian friend Tim, just to, you know, be all fair-like and make sure that this wasn’t some unique way of pronouncing the word north of the border, maybe a remnant from World War II or something, a slightly less-stupid version of our Freedom Fries.
Nope. Tim just laughed.
Then a certain, and certainly marvelous, sister-in-law suggested that Alanis was trying to play off the notion of being "kind," as in generous and warm.
It was a nice try on T-Baby's part, and appropriately generous and warm to boot. But no going. Alanis just got it wrong. Hideously, embarrassingly wrong. Look, she so grossly misunderstood the meaning of the word "ironic," should it really be any big surprise that she doesn’t know how "wunderkind" is pronounced?
How does that happen? I mean, it’s not uncommon for people, especially bright folks like Alanis who are likely to be largely autodidactic, to have read words and not actually know how they’re pronounced.
When I was but a lad I assumed that "origin" was pronounced basically the same way as "original" and why not? And I once mispronounced the word "indefatigable" to a vice-president, again, assuming it sounded basically like "fatigue." When Top Management was but a lass, she thought "monotonous" was pronounced with its emphasis on the third syllable (which, actually, works better—it does make the entire word sound more monotonous—but they didn’t bother to consult me before setting the pronunciation in stone). Max recently pronounced "addendum" with the accent on the word "add," and understandably so. Friend Karen once suddenly hesitated in the middle of saying something to utter the next word hesitantly: "in-satie-able?" Like many voracious readers, she’d only read the word, in this case "insatiable," but never actually heard it said aloud. Interestingly, this is one of those rare cases where your average young American male in the 1970s and 1980s may have had a leg up on The Superior Gender when it came to slightly esoteric knowledge.
But Alanis is surrounded by people supposed to be looking out for her best interests. So how’d this go by? Did none of them know either? I find that hard to believe. Or maybe it was a bit too late before someone realized—too much time and money had already gone into it? Does she simply have YesMen around her? Were they too embarrassed or timid to correct her?
Or did someone tell her and she decided she didn’t care? That seems both most likely and least likely to me. And yet I can’t really think of anything more (or less) plausible. I cannot believe she would have done it that way from the beginning had she known how it was pronounced, and yet I cannot believe the song would have made it all the way to the mastering stage without someone saying something.
And please don't misunderstand: I really dig Alanis. No snarkiness intended—I dig her music and I dig what I know of her as a person. But this whole thing is just...well, it's just plain weird.
Or maybe it’s just that this is the perfect way to start your day. I know it was for me.
And with excellent reason. It is all that is pure and true in this world wrapped up in one magnificent three minute bundle. It encapsulates the emotion of Capra, the depth of Ford, the energy of Hawkes, the introspection of Scorsese and the technical mastery of Spielberg. You may never be quite the same after viewing it, but fear not: you will be better for it. Oh, yes. You will be better for it.
When this world treats you hard and cold, remember this video and be warmed by the goodness inside each and every human being.
But none more so than in this man. This man with love for all humanity, and one heck of a sense of humor. No wonder my brethren love him so.
So we’ve got a little bit of a family tradition. Sometime around Christmas Eve, we cuddle up on the couch and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (And, no, it’s not a tale of Bill O’Reilly. After all, in this one the Grinch is redeemable.)
A good time is not, alas, had by all. Because The Boy doesn’t like television much. At least, he doesn’t like kiddie shows. All he likes are The West Wing, Signing Time and live concert DVDs. He’s…interesting.
Since the Grinch is animated, The Boy's got little interest. But he gets pissed that he’s left out of the fun, even though he doesn’t want to actually partake in the fun, so he just bitches until Top Management takes him into another room. So she misses most of it. Which sucks for her. But it’s for the best. Because the rest of us are happy. And isn’t that what counts at Christmas? And, for that matter, the rest of the year? Of course it is.
Actually, I grok where The Boy is coming from. That’s sorta been the story of my life. I don’t want to go to Place X or Event Y but when everyone else goes, I stay by myself feeling lonely. Waaah. Poor pitiful me. And, yes, The Boy really does enjoy curling up with us and watching The West Wing. Whenever we first put the DVD on, as the show’s menu pops up and the music’s playing in the background, he comes running in and just watches the stills slowly fading in and out on the screen. And he can watch the credits run over and over. He’s a freak.
So. Curling up and watching together’s one of our traditions and I realize it’s not exactly a unique one. But the girls love it and so do I. So naturally we’d like to keep it going, maybe extend it a bit. Top Management suggests Miracle on 34th Street, a film which I’ve never actually seen all the way through. But I’ve seen more than enough pieces of it here and there to know that much of the point is that no one believes Santa Claus is real. And since I don’t feel like introducing that doubt into our kids, I nix the idea for this year.
I should take this moment to say there are some spoilers coming up. So if you don’t want to talk about The Secret of Santa Claus, skip today’s edition of Left of the Dial.
Okay. All gone? All here? Good. Let’s proceed.
The one piece of advice my dad gave me upon the birth of our first kid was, he said, the one piece of advice he’d been given by my Uncle Roy when he, my dad, first became a father. And that advice was this: no matter how smart you think your kids are, they’re always way smarter.
Good advice and oh so true. Which isn’t to say they can’t be idiots and boneheads sometimes, of course. Because they can. After all, in our specific case, they’ve got 51% of my genetic material, so how could they not? But still and all, kids are goofy smart. Which is something that gets overlooked way too often.
But even more than it gets overlooked, it gets confused. Because just because kids are smart doesn’t mean they’re hip. Yet commercials and television shows and movies and books and so on don’t seem to get the difference.
When Top Management was expecting The Rose, we got a ton of books as presents. The books were intended to help Max deal with the arrival of a rival, someone with whom she would vie for her parents, their love and their affection for the rest of her life. The books explained that babies were noisy and smelly and fussy and turned life upside-down but that it’d get better eventually and that despite all the horror involved with a new baby, they, on balance, were a good thing. Or at least not an entirely terrible thing.
We thanked the people for the books and buried them on bookshelves in the closet. And when The Rose came along, Max loved her to pieces and never had any idea that she was supposed to be possessed by the green-eyed monster. The only sibling rivalry she ever showed was when Grandma came to visit. That was maybe a little tricky for the first few minutes. But Mom and Dad? Feh. More than enough to go around.
When The Rose was somewhere around three months old, she was laying on a blanket and Max was stretched out next to her, playing with The Rose’s toes. Top Management was in the next room and, unbeknownst to the girls, was watching. The Rose reached over and grabbed Max’s hand and tried to stick it in her mouth. Max laughed and the two of them lay there, holding hands, looking at each other. Max then said very quietly, "Friends forever."
What brings this all up? Just that a few nights after watching the Grinch we watched Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. That’s the one narrated by Fred Astaire and with Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle. Great stuff. Jessica Claus nee The Schoolteacher is so smokin’ly hot it’s bizarre; even Top Management gasped the first time young Jessica appears in profile. And the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Claus have been living in sin all this time—they say in the cartoon that they weren’t able to get married officially, so they just held an impromptu ceremony themselves, with only the animals as witnesses; I believe that their sham "marriage" is one of the things the Defense of Marriage Act is supposed to protect us good ‘Muricans against—is a bit of a mindblower. Oh, and Santa’s a felon. Which is weird. Actually, it’s even more than that. But whatever.
So far, so good. By and large. But then a few nights after that we decided to watch A Year Without a Santa Claus.
Now, the drop in quality is most noticeable. I loooooooved this show as a kid—it’s the one with Heat Miser and Snow Miser and Santa deciding to take a holiday (which seems to ignore the fact that he only works one damn night the entire year and he can’t even be arsed to show up for that?) and "Blue Christmas" and all that. But watching with adult eyes you realize that the story’s all over the place. It’s not well-paced and the acting’s awful—yes, even by puppet standards; there’s this one sequence where Santa just makes these utterly bizarre grunting noises for about a minute and a half with no explanation. Oh, and everyone lies all the time. Santa fibs to his wife, who then fibs right back. Then she sends two moronic little elves off to do a job for which they’re woefully unqualified and then they have to fib in order to do it and…ugh.
[And, yes, I know you’re really only allowed to use the word "arsed" in that context if you’re actually British but there’s no truly equivalent expression in the US. So I make do and risk the disdain of millions worldwide. Just another Thursday afternoon. And since it is, I shall now put on the Brian Eno album of the same name. Thank you for reminding me. Is this another of those rambling tangents I’ve been informed make up the majority of blogs?]
But there’s a bigger problem with A Year Without a Santa Claus, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s the same problem I have with Miracle on 34th Street or the otherwise beautiful book The Polar Express (and, I’m sure, the film as well, but I’ve not seen it). And that problem is this: it takes for granted the idea that people don’t believe in Santa Claus. That believing in Santa Claus is absurd and only for the smallest of children.
In A Year Without a Santa Claus there’s a little boy who helps out the elves and Mrs. Claus. Just how he does this isn’t really clear—what he really does is simply tag along in dangerous situations but they say he’s helping them so even though he doesn’t do anything helpful I guess he must be. The kid seems to be in about fifth grade. He’s a really nice kid, friendly and polite, and when asked if he believes is Santa, his reply is, "Heck no! I’m too old for that stuff. That’s just for little kids." And his dad then explains that he too felt the same when he was a little boy.
So I’m watching this with the girls and The Bean sorta cocks her head at that part. She’s too caught up in the story to ask the question that’s clearly just popped up in her active little brain and, thankfully, she doesn’t remember to ask later why only little kids believe in Santa. But there it is. The seed’s been planted.
And here’s the thing: we’ve never told the kids there’s a Santa Claus. Society does that for us. We’ve never had to bring it up because it’s absolutely everywhere (meaning my Jihad Against Christmas clearly continues to be a miserable failure).
Top Management doesn’t believe in lying to kids, and we’ve both met a surprisingly number of adults who said they truly felt betrayed by their parents when they found out the truth. So we’ve never told the kids there is or isn’t a Santa…unless they’ve asked. So far the only one to do that was Max, in a very roundabout way.
She asked if the Tooth Fairy was real. Top Management reminded her that we always answer a question if it’s asked so was she sure she really wanted to know? Max assured her that she indeed did. So the news was broken. Max smiled and said she’d suspected—the difference in pay between what she got per tooth and what a good friend got per tooth had sent up little red flags since, clearly, the Tooth Fairy had some sort of sliding scale or was skimming off the top when it came to our household.
Max thanked Top Management and started to walk away. Then she turned back and said very seriously, "Mom, some day I might ask you about Santa Claus. And when I do, I want you to tell me. But only when I ask, okay? And I’m not asking now."
So I’m not some dude who’s all into the whole Santa thang; in fact, I’m about as far from it as it’s possible for a semi-normal semi-Christian dad to get. But that’s not the point. The point is that our society encourages kids to believe in Santa, and then they tell ‘em stories that are designed to inspire doubt in the very same thing—and both those happen in the exact same stories. The dissonance there is just bewildering to me. Why set it up in the first fifteen minutes of the story just to knock it down in the next fifteen…and then build it up again in the last fifteen? Pick a damn lane, man.
I think what it comes down to is that people think kids are hipper than they are. I don’t believe that’s true. Smarter, yes. Hipper, no. Or at least, not naturally. But I think they’re forced into a state of premature hipness by people who simply assume the kids are there already and thus prod them into it before they’re necessarily ready for it. And then the kids are hip so if someone raises this kind of objection, the rebuttal is, hey, my kid’s hip already. And they are. But maybe they weren’t ready to be. And it’s too late to do anything about it now.
And, hey, some kids are ready for it. Of course they are. But some aren’t. And the one-size-fits-all thing really takes away some of the magic of childhood, I think. And I really don’t think a five-year-old, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is. And since that’s pretty much right there in the target audience for these things I’m mentioning, we run into that cognitive dissonance. A sixth grader? Sure. A kindergartner? Not so much. As in, not at all. I just don’t get it.
I’ve always had a Holden Caufield thing, even when I was in high school, but this just seems a shame to me. That whole adulthood thing lasts for the overwhelming majority of a person’s life, and it’s a wonderful thing (for the most part). Childhood’s such a fleeting period and, as Mister Young put it, "once you’re gone, you can’t come back." So why rush it?