Archive for July, 2011

The Spirit Archives 12

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Read a bunch of American manga recently. They are:

TSA12

TSA12


The Spirit Archives 12 – I read the first Spirit archive edition, and this is the latest one I could find. It is from 1946 and collects those stories published just after Will Eisner was discharged from the military – he served the war years in Washinton DC illustrating for the Army. The stories in this edition somehow seem a bit tame – there are no grotesque creatures, and the Spirit is typically involved in bringing down gangsters, or corrupt officials, or tricking shysters by using their art against him. He also tends to get defeated often and have the crap beat out of him, only to be saved by Ebony White, his little negro assistant, or Blubber, the eskimo boy he brings back to be his assistant after Ebony goes off to school to get an education. Great.

Since there had been some war years where other artists had taken over The Spirit while Eisner was away, with his return Eisner uses Dolan to re-tell the origin of the Spirit in this collection’s second story, explaining how The Spirit was created when eager beaver detective Denny Colt was doused in Dr Cobra’s special serum. There are other strange episodes, such as the one of the Siberian Dagger, with Niechevo, the great Siberian sleuth; then there’s the one about the re-discovery of the atom bomb (and,bizarrely, its re-re-rediscovery by a demented child genius); Ebony White’s investigation into black serviceman Fraternization H. Shack on behalf of As Ever Orange, a stuck-up African-American southern belle; Arctic adventures chasing blind pirates when the Spirit comes together with his new sidekick, the erudite Inuit kid Blubber; a nutty adventure out west to the town where everyone looks like Dolan (watch what happens when they strike oil); “The Fly” is a truly great, ironic story about someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a brutal gang war, a peripheral story to a Spirit adventure about a diamond hoax perpetrated by faded royalty; another truly great story, “The Trolly”, about a corrupt official meeting the people he’d betrayed on the trolly… as corpses; the chase for a compulsive graffittiist; mayhem and bondage (at Ellen’s hands) and a strange modus operandi by a thug who makes marks that look like lipstick on victims (so the boys in blue have to go around testing lips); more sadism inflicted on the Spirit by his lady friends (Hell hath no fury…); murder at a cocktail party; a bizarre story where a suicidal civil servant digs up and speaks to an ancestor who retreated for society many hundreds of years ago, and how he re-engages (funny gold tooth tales); a nice story of Ebony and Blubber getting acquainted as they wait for the Spirit to return for his birthday party with lots of invited guests; finally, there’s the interesting story of Mathilda Dolan’s sister. I’m amazed that Eisner would show anything as bizarre as the mock ad phrase “She’s ugly! She’ engaged! She uses Pool’s”! A funny scene when the Spirit escapes from a very sexy Ellen when he sees runaway crooks zooming past where they are having a picnic. He really knows how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it comes to the ladies. A story in the Bucket of Blood about prospectors fighting over a magic icon. The Rubber Band tells the tale of Dolan trying to get out of town and away from his crime-fighting so that his mind doesn’t snap, only to have it follow him to his hideout… in the form of a scammer who faked his own death. Weird. The final story shows Ebony’s struggle with soda pop addiction and the Spirit’s mission to break up a ring of Russian spies who have planted atomic bombs all over North America (?!?!).

One nice thing – the book is full of sexy woman, most of whom love The Spirit. First there is the little German pixie Hildie, who joins a gang of urchins, not to mention the very shapely Ellen Dolan, Satin, Orcha Chornya (wearing what looks like Moscow street hooker duds), As Ever Orange, the Russian spy Gurka Fyfe and the insatiable Nylon Rose.

China Southern Airlines: worst airline in Asia

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Monday to Wednesday of this week I went on a trip to Sanya, stayed at the Hilton. It was a nice trip, but on the way back I experienced the downside of Chinese hospitality – China Southern Airlines decided to cancel my flight from Sanya to Guangzhou (the first leg of a two-part flight, which was Sanya-Guangzhou, Guangzhou-Singapore) without informing me or putting me on a flight that would allow me to catch my connecting flight. I went to the check-in counter and the girl there didn’t know how to help me. Of course she couldn’t speak English, but at least I could talk to her in Chinese. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and I asked her why the flight was cancelled, she could only say “company policy”, as if that made everything all right. She told me that I’d arrive in time to catch my flight, that my luggage would go through to the connecting flight, and that someone would be meeting me at the airport to show me to my connecting flight, and that I should be okay. I had my doubts, but at that point I couldn’t force China Southern Airlines to conjure up a flight for me. So I had three hours to kill in Sanya Airport, where there is nothing of interest to do and where the shops don’t sell any beer, so I ate some food and I watched an AC/DC DVD on my laptop. After a long wait, I got on my flight, which was late taking off of course. The guy sitting next to me was a real weirdo, often brushing me with his elbows, crowding me with his newspaper, making loud yawning sounds, and at one point singing along to the music that the airline was playing. What a weirdo. When I got to Guangzhou airport, there was a guy to meet me, but he only took me 40 metres along a corridor to a transfer counter where he gave me a boarding pass to a flight at 7:55 the next morning. Oh… great. There was a Norwegian family of five there with me, they were in the same predicament as I was (I had seen them at the check-in counter in Sanya) and they had long-since missed their connecting flight to Cambodia. The six of us were given new boarding passes and told that we would be put up in a hotel for free, as if that made everything all right. We collected our luggage and found our transfer to the Tian Hong Hotel. Passing the luxurious China Southern Airways Hotel on the way, we arrived at Tian Hong and found it to be a dump. The girl who checked us in was totally unsympathetic and was going to split the six of us into three rooms with two in each room. I explained that I was not part of the Norwegian group, but a solitary traveller, and I wanted a room of my own. The girl told me that I’d have to pay an additional 100 Renminbi (about $12) if I wanted my own room, or I’d have to share with another male guest. I told her that this was unacceptable, that I was stuck in Guangzhou because of a mistake of China Southern Airlines and there was no way I’d share a room with anyone. She considered this for a while, and then gave the Norwegians two rooms (three in one, two in the other) and I got my own room. What a predicament.

The room was spare and basic, the walls discoloured, the wallpaper peeling, the bathroom ill-lit and the air conditioner was stuck at 29 degrees. Oh well. I got a call that said that I could come down for dinner, and I was shown their restaurant. I was the only person there except for two staff who were eating. A girl came over and put a plate of food in front of me and walked off. No menu, of course, no choice of food, nothing. It came with a plastic cup of water. I went and complained to the girl and asked her in Chinese what it was. She told me that it was pork with rice. I asked her if there were any options, she said no, that’s all that they could do for me. I said that normally in a restaurant you’re offered a choice of food.  The staff, after all, were eating fish. I asked her “what if I were Muslim?” I wonder how this would have all gone down if I didn’t speak Chinese? You’d think that some of these people would be happy to deal with a foreigner in Chinese, so that there would be fewer communication problems, but they didn’t bat an eye. Even when people can communicate, they can’t communicate. I went to the front desk to complain about the situation, but no help there either. In the restaurant, I pushed the situation and finally they conceded that they could offer chicken, pork, or eggs with the rice. Great. In the end I still had the pork. It was barfy, but it filled me up. I walked up and down the streets, but they were jammed with random people hanging around, many people selling stuff. A weird scene. I watched a DVD on the computer, drank some beer from the convenience store, and then went to sleep.

Thursday morning they woke me up at 4:42 for my 5:30 transfer to the airport. At 4:52 they brought me breakfast to my room – three buns and a drinking box (see picture below) served from big bins on a trolley. I packed and went downstairs and got my transfer. I got to the airport one hour before the check-in opened, so I watched more DVD. At least the day proceeded smoothly (except for the fact that they serve beer warm – oh, no, it’s all right, because they offer ice cubes for those who like their beer cold… yeah, that’s the ticket) and I got to Singapore okay. All together I’d spent 1.5 days at Sanli and 2 days travelling. It wasn’t worth it.

Breakfast, courtesy of China Southern Airlines

Breakfast, courtesy of China Southern Airlines

The packaging of the two buns on the right describes the contents as “French style fragrant milk bun”, but it was just flavourless bread. Any French person should be insulted, I’d say.

Recent update

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

On Friday we got some good news – Zen had come in third place among 160 fourth-graders in a 1.6 kilometer run.  Good job, Zen!

Last weekend Zen and I watched Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. Zen liked it a lot, but I found it long, loud, boring, plotless and pretty gruesome – lots of robot and human murders.

Monday to Thursday I went to China, to the resort town of Sanli on Hainan Island. It’s probably as far away from Beijing as you can get and still be within China, but it still looked very China. The conference was nice, but Sanli itself wasn’t really worth that long trip.  I never got into a town, so all I saw was hotels and airports. The airline messed around with me by canceling one of my flights, so that my three-day trip to China became a four-day trip.  I will reconsider if I’m ever invited to a trip that involves non-direct flights.

My room at the Sanli Hilton.  Not bad...

My room at the Sanli Hilton. Not bad...

My room at the Sanli Hilton - bathtub with a view.

My room at the Sanli Hilton - bathtub with a view.

Sanli beach

Sanli beach

Sanli beach - beware!!!!

Sanli beach - beware!!!!

Nice view from the plane from Sanli to Guangzhou

Nice view from the plane from Sanli to Guangzhou

Nice view from the plane from Sanli to Guangzhou

Nice view from the plane from Sanli to Guangzhou

Nice view from the plane from Sanli to Guangzhou

Nice view from the plane from Sanli to Guangzhou

Japan trip 2011

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Was in Himeji from June 18th to 28th (Naoko and Zen were there longer, from May 29th to June 28th).

As usual, the weeks that preceded the trip were jam packed with work, and I was busy most weekends with stuff.  I spent a lot of time at home, eating the frozen meals that Naoko had prepared in advance of the trip for me, and working away, although I also had some fun with the band practicing for gigs. I went to the airport on the evening of June 17th for my flight out in the early hours of June 18th.  The flight went without a hitch, and off I went to Himeji by bus, with Naoko and Zen meeting me to pick me up. Saturday afternoon we went downtown to do a bit of CD shopping and to hang out.

Sunday, June 19th we went downtown to see the Himeji culture museum, with some nice cultural displays like the one below, with the old horse, armour, ladies kimono display, old cultural artifacts (manga, confectionary, etc). Also saw some setup for the oncoming Himeji yutaka festival.

In Himeji Culture Museum

In Himeji Culture Museum

In Himeji Culture Museum

In Himeji Culture Museum

Zen in front of a haunted house they were building up for the Yukata Matsuri

Zen in front of a haunted house they were building up for the Yukata Matsuri

Tuesday, June 21st Naoko and I went to Zen’s school to see his open day, then we went shopping for stuff, like my new leather business bag and some shoes for me, one of them a bit funky to wear casually and the other some black leather shoes to wear to work. We also had a nice ramen lunch.

Zen's schoolwork on show at the open house for parents

Zen's schoolwork on show at the open house for parents

Hope-Ken Ramen, the best in Himeji

Hope-Ken Ramen, the best in Himeji

The rest of the week we mainly just tidied up the house. I went through tons of boxes of old stuff and threw many things away, we also threw away some old metal desks that had been in the house for over 30 years (one of them had interesting stickers on it, like Leif Garrett, and Super-Buddha), as well as some old stereop speakers from Naoko’s brother’s stereo. We took a bunch of stuff to the used goods shop and got a few hundred yen for it, not much at all. The place looks quite minimalistic now… or at least more than it did when we got there.

Zen in school uniform

Zen in school uniform

Old desks going into the garbage

Old desks going into the garbage

Desk stickers - Om, Super-Buddha

Desk stickers - Om, Super-Buddha

Desk stickers - Mega Punch and Leif Garrett

Desk stickers - Mega Punch and Leif Garrett

Saturday I arranged to go downtown to meet my friends, I first got to Koreatown in Tsuruhashi and we grabbed some Korean barbecue stuff and drank some beers, then headed over to El Zocala for some amazing burritos. Mere words can’t express how yummy those things were! We also headed to the Osaka Bridges pub, where we ran into a bunch of old friends and had some great pizza and beer.

Great use of Metallica font for a shop name that starts with "M" and ends with "A".

Great use of Metallica font for a shop name that starts with "M" and ends with "A".

The world famous El Zocalo Burrito in Osaka, Japan

The world famous El Zocalo Burrito in Osaka, Japan

Osaka Burrito Appreciation Society meeting

Osaka Burrito Appreciation Society meeting

The Matt abides...

The Matt abides...

Dave, Peter, Dave... check out how long Dave's left arm is!!

Dave, Peter, Dave... check out how long Dave's left arm is!!

Osaka birdman

Osaka birdman

Early morning Osaka scenes.

Smokin space

Smoking space

Himeji Station disappearing quick...

Himeji Station disappearing quick...

Himeji train station – better catch it soon before they’ve torn it all down.

Himeji Station disappearing quick...

Himeji Station disappearing quick...

On our last full day in Japan we went to Mt Shosha, a beautiful mountain monastery north of Himeji.  This place is famous for having been one of the places where the film “The Last Samurai” was filmed.  Yes, Tom Cruise was in that film.

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

Zen on Mt Shosha in Himeji

Zen on Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

Naoko, Zen and Yaeko on Mt Shosha in Himeji

Naoko, Zen and Naoko's mom on Mt Shosha in Himeji

Peter, Naoko and Zen on Mt Shosha in Himeji

Peter, Naoko and Zen on Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji - this temple was features as one of the locations for the feature film The Last Samurai; yes, Tom Cruise was here!

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji - this is one of the locations for The Last Samurai. Tom Cruise was here!

On Mt Shosha in Himeji - this temple was features as one of the locations for the feature film The Last Samurai; yes, Tom Cruise was here!

Fudo Myo-o on Mt Shosha in Himeji

Fudo Myo-o on Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

On Mt Shosha in Himeji

At the base of Mt Shosha in Himeji

At the base of Mt Shosha in Himeji

One of the last things that we did before we flew back was to play a bit of softball with Naoko’s dad.  Actually, Zen and I practiced nearly every day, a bit of catch ball and a bit of batting, and sometimes Naoko’s dad, a former baseball coach, came along.  Zen is enthusiastic about playing and works hard at practice.

Zen practicing softball with his grandfather in Himeji

Zen practicing softball with his grandfather in Himeji

Japan vinyl

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

I went to Naoko’s house in Himeji and discovered her eighties vinyl. She has some nice stuff:

Pink Floyd, “The Wall”

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 1

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 1

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 2

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 2

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 3

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 3

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 4

Pink Floyd, "The Wall" 4

The Smiths, “Hatful of Hollow”

The Smiths, "Hatful of Hollow" 1

The Smiths, "Hatful of Hollow" 1

The Smiths, "Hatful of Hollow" 2

The Smiths, "Hatful of Hollow" 2

The Smiths, "Hatful of Hollow" 3

The Smiths, "Hatful of Hollow" 3

The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now”

The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now" 1

The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now" 1

The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now" 2

The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now" 2

Bryan Ferry, “Bete Noire”

Bryan Ferry, "Bete Noire" 1

Bryan Ferry, "Bete Noire" 1

Bryan Ferry, "Bete Noire" 2

Bryan Ferry, "Bete Noire" 2

The Jam, “Snap1″

The Jam, "Snap!" 1

The Jam, "Snap!" 1

The Jam, "Snap!" 2

The Jam, "Snap!" 2

Talking Heads, “Remain In Light”

Talking Heads, "Remain In Light" 1

Talking Heads, "Remain In Light" 1

Talking Heads, "Remain In Light" 2

Talking Heads, "Remain In Light" 2

Japan books, movies and what have you

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

I spent ten days in Japan and watched a bunch of movies, read some books.

Book reviews:

BR

BR

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene – I tried reading this a few years ago, but couldn’t get into it and gave it up after a few pages. I somehow found it hard to get a finger on who the characters were and what they were doing. Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors, and he’s typical big with his ideas but subtle with his execution (except, of course, when he’s indulging in absurd parody/comedy, as he did in books like Our Man In Havana). In this book, we follow the adventures of absurd teen thug Pinkie, who’s a leader of a gang of killers and newlywed at the tender age of 17 (he’s not only the teen leader of the gang, but he’s its youngest member). We follow the demented paranoid Catholic travails of this young psychopath and the woman who loves him, as well as the thugs who are his loyal commandos (why?), as they saunter from one tea room to another, engage in gang warfare with a cocky godfather, etc. The seedy world of 1930s Brighton is explored in the fashion of a crime thriller, making this somehow the least Greene of Graham Greene’s books in my mind. It has become a classic, and it is a classic of psychology and motives. Somehow, however, I didn’t enjoy it very much and was glad to finish it and move on to my next book.

IALYAL

IALYAL

I’m A Lebowski, You’re A Lebowski – Life, The Big Lebowski, and what have you – A group of people have taken their fascination with the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski to its natural extreme and have organised a wildly successful Lebowskifest. This is the book of the event, although it’s more about the film than its decadent counterpart (which has, as of August 2011, been held in 19 cities, including 10 times in Louisville; they’ve launched a “Speed of Sound” tour, and in 2007 they held the event in Seattle, as a reference to the “Seattle Seven” mentioned in the movie).

The loving heraldry of the book probably needs to be read to fully appreciated, suffice it to say that it’s a grab bag of interviews, still pictures, graphics and factoids about the movie, along with some of the fun of the Lebowskifest thrown in for good measure in the form of descriptions and some pretty zany photos. Naturally, as true Lebowski fans (or “Achievers”, to use the parlance of our times) are wont to do, the text liberally paraphrases the film’s screenplay… paraphrases it incessantly… nearly to the point of irritation, man – sir! And, like the lurid, garishly tasteful design of the website itself (not to mention its awesome t-shirts and “goodies”, like the Jesus Quintana action figure), the book is well-designed and simply gorgeous. Images of bowling balls, bowling pins, valkyrie helmets, marmots, Ralph’s cards, and other Lebowski icons abound. The book opens with “instructions for enjoying the book”, which describe how to enter a state of “dude-ness” before reading, and then there’s a nice little foreword by none other than Jeff Bridges himself (he played the little Lebowski in the film The Big Lebowski, along with other roles in a long film career). And while the projects (Lebowskifest, this book, etc) of these bums (a self-imposed name) may not have the endorsement of the Coens themselves – “They have neither our blessing nor our curse” is their exact Coen utterance, which adorn the opening page – the book is heartily endorsed by Bridges, who not only writes the foreword, but also provides photos he took on the set (he’s a bit of photographer, Jeff Bridges is, and on page 45 there’s a great one of him and Sam Elliott at the bowling alley bar) and who has performed with his band at several Lebowskifests (I’m just not sure, though, whether he’s in character as Jeffrey Lebowski, Bad Blake, or just his bad old self).

An introduction provides the history of the Lebowskifest (and this is expanded in chapter four), there’s a bit of background, a quiz (with a brilliant Lebowski-referenced doodle on a random quiz sheet), and various Mad magazine-like segments, like “how to dude-ify your office space/car/living space”, a box article on Nixon’s history as a bowler, and various other stuff. Of prime interest to the film scholar would be the short interviews with the major stars of the film Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, John Torturro, Sam Elliott and Philip Seymour Hoffman, along with much-loved minor actors such as David Huddleston (the big Lebowski), Peter Stompare (Karl Hungus/Uli Kunkel; he was also the silent killer in Fargo), Jack Kehler (Marty, the Dude’s landlord), Jon Polito (Da Fino, the brother seamus, who has actually performed in six or seven Coen Brothers films), Jimmie Dale Gilmore (Smokey), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski/Bunny La Joya/Fawn Knudsen), Asia Carerra (Sherry in Logjammin’, the well-known MENSA-qualified porn star), Jesse Flanagan (Little Larry Sellers), Jim Hoosier (Liam O’Brien, the Jesus’ bowling partner), Jerry Haleva (Saddam Hussein) and Robin Jones (the Ralph’s checkout girl from the opening scene). Everyone’s got their story about how they got involved in the film, and their interaction with the Coens who, it seems, like to torture their actors by doing more takes than are needed, simply because they love watching them do what they do (happened to Sam Elliot, for example). Conspicuously absent from all this are people like Ben Gazarra, Steve Buscemi, David Thelwis, Flea, Aimee Mann and the fascist sherriff, not to mention the taxi driver who kicks the Dude out of his cab for complaining about his Eagles; but hey – I can’t complain.

Wait, there’s more! There are also interviews with the people who inspired the Coens in creating the film, and the book has a chat with Jeff “the Dude” Dowd (the inspiration for Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski), Peter Exline (one of the inspirations for Walter, and also the source for several scenes in the film), “Big” Lew Abernathy (ditto), John Milius (ditto) and Jaik Freeman (the “real” Little Larry).

The fifth chapter is the self-indulgent one (did major publishing house Bloomsbury, which made billions putting out the Harry Potter books, know about this when they signed on for the deal?) in that it gives the same interview treatment to “achievers”, i.e. superfans of the film, and it can be skipped (although it’s interesting that Tony Hawk is feted here for being a Lebowski fan and not for his career as a pro skateboarder). There’s also a funny section on the academic papers submitted in a symposium on the film (which, I suppose, were mainly serious). A long sixth chapter chronicles major incidents in the history of Lebowskifest, starting from the first one in a Methodist bowling alley in October 2002 (no booze or foul language) to the various fests of 2006, with great descriptions of the shenanigans and samples of the cool posters the organisers came up with to advertise the event. Also some cool pics from the Achievers’ appearance on The Price Is Right TV game show (why not, right?). Chapter seven is a guide to watching the film, with accompanying time stamps (random selections: “00:06:34 – what’s up with the bowling ball? One second it’s orange, the next it’s green!”, or “00:11:39 – In the early 1970s, Time magazine actually did produce a set of mirrors just like the one seen on the Big Lebowski’s wall,” along with a “nutrition table” of the Dude’s intake during the film (two servings of mints, one coffee, five servings of beer nuts, six oat sodas, four “J”s, and nine caucasians). There several interesting appendices, such as a phrasology and a glossary of Lebowski dialogue terms that are kind of funny, and then an inspection of the full range of music played in the movie (much of which never made it to the soundtrack, which doesn’t include any Creedence), and finally a run-through of the locations used in the film, whether known (the bowling alley, Maude’s loft, the Lebowski mansion, the coffee shop where the Dude and Walter have the “I can get you a toe” scene – Johnie’s Coffee Shop, Fairfax & Wilshire in Los Angeles – the Jesus walk of shame, Little Larry’s house, Jackie Treehorn’s pad, the Dude’s bungalow – which has been spruced up and recently and put up for sale) or unknown (the Ralph’s from the opening scene, Donny’s mortuary, the auto circus where the Dude’s car is towed, the place where Donny’s ashes were scattered, etc).

Great photos throughout the book especially one from the Autobahn “Nagelbett” album cover photo shoot.

TPATM

TPATM

The Professor and the Madman – I remember reading reviews of this book when it came out, and I recall thinking that it sounded like a very interesting literary biography, and a very unusual one at that – a history of dictionaries, culminating in the establishment of the committee that created the Oxford English Dictionary. The book manages to somehow find a way to tie together many different story strands:

  • the history of dictionaries
  • the formation of the committee that created the OED
  • the formulation of the OED volume dealing with the letter A, the formulation of the volume dealing with the letter B, etc etc etc…
  • eccentric British academics
  • freaky American missionaries
  • murder most foul
  • the onset of schizophrenia dementia
  • Victorian insane asylums
  • the history of the US civil war
  • methods at arriving at a word’s definition
  • the history of the printed word in English
  • myth busting

While the title of the book is the Professor and the Madman, and it is ostensibly about the genius who launched the OED project (the professor) and his relationship with one of his most prolific contributors (the madman – a US army surgeon who went insane and killed a random stranger, but who never lost his vast intellectual and linguistic capabilities), the book is more madman than professor; but, in fact, there’s still not quite enough of a story to fill even this slim book of 220 pages, and the story drifts around the world of dictionary-making and many of the other points listed above. The dramatic scenes it dramatizes to amazing levels of lurid detail and imagined Victorian zeitgeist, and the author does his best to dramatize the scenes that are profoundly un-dramatic. Sometimes interesting, sometimes not-so-interesting.

Having said all that however, none of the semi-dry pages that preceded it could really prepare me for the events that take place at the end of the book, which are truly bizarre and quite sufficiently demented. I was genuinely surprised when I read it, since none of the reviews or descriptions of the book could truly prepare me for this startling conclusion to the story of the professor and his madman (but not the OED – that had a life of its own that has continued well past that of its original contributors). And so, whatever can be said about the bulk of the book, the capping moments of the tale really to have a bang to them.

As a side note, my university in the late 90s was part of the team that digitised the OED, which meant that you no longer needed a bookcase to house the dictionary, just access to a computer.

WADS

WADS

Wonderland Avenue, by Danny Sugarman – Danny Sugarman was the son of a Hollywood businessman (maybe some sort of connected guy, it’s never disclosed but hinted at) who runs into trouble when his parents’ marriage falls apart and he drifts into the orbit of Jim Morrison and the Doors. Sugarman has family troubles, that leads to drug use, which becomes pronounced as he becomes a rock hanger-on, then a manager of sorts for the Doors (after the departure of Morrison), and then eventually some sort of rock journalist/manager for Iggy Pop, and then who know what. The first half is mostly taken up by Sugarman’s youth in Hollywood, with some parts about his apprenticeship to the Lizard King, while the second half is all about his life on drugs. Naturally, most of the second half is about the down side of being a junkie, but there are moments when he describes how fun it can be… for a while. Sugarman has several near-death experiences after taking too much heroin, and saves the lives of others who were in the same situation, but there were others he didn’t/couldn’t save – the second-last page is a list of all the characters who have drifted into the book at one time or another who didn’t make it. Rock ‘n’ roll is dangerous for your health.

Sugarman also wrote the Doors bio No One Gets Out Of Here Alive, and eventually married Fawn Hall (of Oliver North fame), he died of lung cancer at age 49.

CKSDACP

CKSDACP

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman – Chuck Kloterman writes great essays, the best of which are punctuated with just the right original phrases and a certain amount of cultural reference (it helps that he and I are close in age, so we have practically the same cultural references), while the worst of which just seem nerdy, arrogant and irrelevant.

The first essay is about love, and there are plenty of witty remarks in there:

What matters is that Coldplay manufactures fake love as frenetically as the Ford fucking Motor Company manufactures Mustangs. “For you I bleed myself dry,” sang their blockhead vocalist, brilliantly infoming us that stars in the sky are, in fact, yellow.

He goes on to write about other things, like the universe of the Sims (as in those video games about simulated living creatures), MTV’s The Real World, which he’s seen altogether too many times (and was once nearly a contestant on!), a really great (and very strange) essay on the quasi-hipness of Billy Joel, a week in the life of a Guns n’ Roses tribute band (ouch – I play in a rock ‘n’ roll tribute band), musings on Pamela Anderson, a terrible essay on why soccer is not a good sport (who cares what Chuck Klosterman, or anyone else, has to say about soccer/football/whatever you want to call it) that includes some awkward memories of being a baseball coach, some musings on the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers basketball teams, a strange essay on porn that references Carl Jung, the world according to TV shows (specifically “Saved By The Bell”), the non-geekiness of Star Wars, Tom Cruise’s role in Vanilla Sky (a chapter that has the greatest title ever: “The Awe-Inspiring Beauty of Tom Cruise’s Shattered, Troll-like Face”, and he’s not talking about Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder here…), the realness and honesty of the Dixie Chicks and new country, Klosterman’s disturbing interest in serial killers… which is jolted when his friend dances with someone who was arrested weeks later as a serial killer (and when he meets someone who went to school with Jeffrey Dahmer), writing about writing an article about Soul Asylum, attending a workshop on rock journalism in Seattle with a bunch of tee-totallers (where he comes up with a term I thought I coined many years ago: “rock and/or roll”), a freaky exploration of Left Behind and the religious views of Kirk Cameron and his comrades in arms (there’s some discussion of “pre-Tribulation Rapture” vs “post-Tribulation Rapture”?!?!), and the history and impact of breakfast cereal (the Cocoa Puffs of the title) and breakfast cereal mascots.

I eat sugared cereal almost exclusively. This is because Im’ the opposite of a “no-nonsense” guy. I’m an “all-nonsense ” guy.

Ha ha ha… hysterical.

Okay, so he’s a hipster who writes, and he needs to make sure that he’s writing about stuff that people care about since he’s basically a couch potato who watches way too much TV. Somehow, though, he knows a lot of people and has a lot of friends, which leads me to conclude that he’s probably never had a real job before. So what does he do when it all goes away? He’s probably too good a writer for that to ever happen… despite turning in passages like:

In the 1960s, the Rolling Stones realised that if you could make an audience unconsciously think about fucking, you could control the way they respond to music. Mick and Keith manufactured sexual aggression. Van Halen didn’t have to manufacture that sentiment, because their audience was already an ocean of lust, desperately wanting The Big Loud Show.

Okay, so he might be right about Van Halen, but doesn’t he mean “…make an audience subconsciously think about fucking…”? Subconsciously?  Okay, maybe Mick and gang were knocking people out literally, and when they were passed out they were thinking about fucking… must be, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense, what he wrote up there.

The chapters are separated by mini-chapters, which run like newspaper columns and which are usually only one page long, but one of them which runs over several pages is amusing as it’s a series of 23 questions designed to amaze and befuddle. Nice. The book also comes with an index of terms, so you can see how many times Motley Crue, M*A*S*H and Stevie Nicks are mentioned; but this index proves to be Kosterman’s downfall in attempting to prove that he can be both a geek and hip at the same time, as there is no entry for The Big Lebowski. How dare he!!!!

Funny/ironic point: I learn from the Wikipedia that Klosterman is now married, despite what he said about marriage in the first pages of the book, and that he’s now more a sports writer than a rock writer, despite talking about the misery of sports writers having to write about something that they can no longer enjoy. Let this be a lesson to aspiring snotty writers: never commit your words to print – they will only come back and haunt you.

RCWYPBQP

RCWYPBQP

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver – Twenty-two Raymond Carver stories, published between 1963 and 1976 when the price of a pack of cigarets and a bottle of beer was much less than it is now. These are tales of strange, rural Americans, individuals with peculiar motivations and torments who are often seedy, and who are morally fairly corrupt. The stories are talky and chatty, or they are just bleak and descriptive, written as if he can wring some sort of spooky back story out of the most mundane happenings, like a couple who are house-sitting, or a man who reacts in a deplorable fashion when he realises that people think his wife is fat. A random wrong phone call pushes a caller to embark on a mysterious encounter. A kid with a lousy relationship with his parents masturbates, plays hooky and goes fishing. A farmer deals with poachers on his land. A young couple gets stoned and talks about moving up to Alaska. A guy lives with his parents after his marriage falls apart and he has no money even for his own car (this particular story feels very Charles Bukowski, somehow). A man enjoys a strangely malicious visit from a vacuum cleaner salesman who attempts to get him to answer to his name (is it something satanic, or is the guy trying to serve him a legal notice). A postman observes a young beatnik couple’s relationship fall apart day-by-day from his route. A poor couple fail to dispassionately work through their frustrations. An older couple have a demented Christmas visit with their landlord, Carver lets their conversation builds into a serious, resentful confrontation. One awesome story is about a man having a crisis (the factory is laying off workers, he drinks too much, he has a mistress and his tense wife probably knows about it) who decides to get rid of the family’s new dog because it’s driving him crazy; he does, but he doesn’t. Another story, even better, is about an old woman recalling how her son went bad, she hasn’t seen him for over twenty years and now he’s the governor of the state (wow – intense). A city couple move to the deep countryside. There’s trouble with a group of parents (mainly dads) at a pow-wow when they meet to figure out how to deal with a problem: a bunch of them vandalised another kid’s bicycle. A man sends his wife out to sell the family convertible to recover some money before they go to bankruptcy court. An unsophisticated couple decide to splurge on a dinner in a fancy restaurant that doesn’t go so well (then again, it doesn’t go so poorly, either). The title story is about what happens to a man who confronts his wife about an encounter she had with another man three years ago. Great stories that contain worlds in between their sparse simplicity.

It’s just like reading Ghost World, but without the pictures.

DVD reviews:

ROAGE

ROAGE

Reflections of a Golden Eye – A truly strange film about Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando as an army couple stationed down South somewhere. She’s a nympho, he’s a closet gay, the screenplay is by Carson McCullers and full of frothing humanity and issues. One hunk of burning man, a private, is a horse lover, and Taylor’s lover’s wife is a repressed cookie who cuts off her nipples and has a creepy Filipino man-servant slavering for her. Really weird, man, really weird. Should have been on a stage… and probably was!

There’s an interesting anecdote about Warren Beatty’s film Bonnie and Clyde, which had been given a limited release by the studio but was getting great reviews. When he threatened to sue the studio for giving Reflections of a Golden Eye a wide release, where it stiffed, but not giving one to him, the studio acquiesced – the result was that Bonnie and Clyde was a major hit. Good one, Warren.

TU

TU

Unknown – Totally retarded, “I’ve got amnesia, people are out to kill me, who am I and how can I stop this insidious plot that I’m starting to unravel” type of a film. Incorporates elements of the Bourne trilogy, Memento, Salt, some of those stupid Tom Cruise movies, etc. Dumb dumb dumb.

B8

B8

Butterfield Eight – I only saw the first part of this before the stupid plane needed to land (why do I even bother to watch films on planes), but it seemed interesting. Elizabeth Taylor is a slutty chick who wakes up in a millionaire’s bed and enjoys herself with his belongings. She hangs out with her frustrated writer buddy (Eddie Fischer), who’s repressed about something or another. Stuff happens after that, I’ll have to actually watch it some day.

Interesting the casual sexuality you’d get from Liz Taylor in the 1960s that you wouldn’t really get nowadays. Have we become more prudish in the mainstream than we were then, perhaps as a backlash to the over-the-top anything goes stuff that’s available in the non-mainstream? Probably. She got an academy award for this, didn’t she?

M

M

Machete – I wanted badly to enjoy this film, because the tailer is so great and because Danny Trujo has deserved a starring role in a film for such a long time, but the plot was too hammy. Best scene was when Machete was making out in the pool with the topless wife and daughter of his adversary. Too many meatheads in this film, in particular the racist homicidal maniac senator (typical, typical) played by Robert “who believes he will ever be in a good movie again” DeNiro. Danny Trujo is good in the film, although they give him too little dialogue – the “strong silent type” thing doesn’t work forever. Jessica Alba nearly ruins the movie with her stupid participation, and Michelle Rodriguez doesn’t really spice it up much except as eye candy. Looking forward to Machete Kills and Machete Kills again – I just know that they can do better.

TT

TT

Tropic Thunder – A lot of people thought this was a great film, I thought it was so-so. The screenplay is very clever the way it makes fun of Hollywood while bringing all of its plot elements full circle, including Ben Stiller’s heart-warming flop about a mentally challenged man called “Simple Jack”. Every actor is merely being unoriginal by aping something in Hollywood (“Simple Jack” makes fun of Sean Penn’s “I Am Sam”, for example, while Ben Stiller otherwise apes Bruce Willis, Robert Downey Jr parodies Russel Crowe, Jack Black tastelessly mimics Chris Farley, etc). Probably the most enjoyable actor is Brandon T Jackson, someone I only know from that awful Percy Jackson film; as the only black actor in the movie, the scenes where he makes fun of Robert Downey Jr’s fakeness as an Australian actor with an American accent pretending to be a black man are pretty hilarious.

Tom Cruise has been lauded for playing Les Grossman, a truly evil studio executive. I’m not as impressed, since the idea of seeing a scabby fat suit and balding man make-up applied to the toned abs and creamy complexion of Jedi Master Cruise billows waaaaaay beyond irony and well into stupidity (his hairy fat hands are particularly icky). In his delivery Cruise is just imitating Samuel Jackson, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel in a terribly unbelievable way, and with his fat suit how different is he from Martin Lawrence in Big Mama’s House, Eddie Murphy in the Nutty Professor, John Travolta in Hairspray, or AC/DC’s Rosie prop? Les Grossman – so what. Apparently he’s going to get his own movie. Great, more fat suits in feature films…

Of course, the fake trailers are what keeps everybody talking about the film, and they’re pretty okay, although they’re nowhere near as good as those in Grindhouse (Don’t, don’t don’t don’t DON’T!). “Satan’s Alley” is so-so, as it reunites Robert Downey Jr and Tobey Maguire for a re-hash of their gay scenes in The Wonder Boys. The movie also has quite a few funny things about it, such as the way they created a website for the energy drink that the rapper character Alpa-China (played by Jackson – love the name) flogs called Booty Sweat. Hit the link and try the Booty Sweat challenge, man! Also check out his great site.  The Tropic Thunder site is pretty good too.

B

B

Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt – A bloody funny movie, although I recall that none of the anecdotes were as blazingly queer as the scene in Borat where the star and his fat and hairy assistant run naked through a hotel trying to kill each other. Yes, I definitely need to watch this movie again… The funniest scene I remember, which rivals that of the nude running scene from Borat, is the one where they launch a new wrestling league and Bruno and his assistant Lutz make up… and start to get hot and heavy in the ring in front of a once-exuberant now obviously disgusted audience of uptight Southern homophobes. He comes on to Ron Paul, mistaking him for RuPaul. There’s also a great scene where Bruno, risking his life, goes hunting with some good ole boys, who don’t react favourably when he comes on to them (there were guns about, Sacha – it you’d been killed that day, only half of the world would call you a martyr for your art… the rest would call you a moron!!!). There’s also a funny scene where Bruno tries to get “cured” of his homosexuality by a fraud that he quite successfully skewers, and another great scene in a swingers club with one particularly aggressive dominatrix. Great cameos from Paul McCartney, Bono, Elton John, Snoop Dogg and Slash.

Full disclosure department: my dad’s name is Bruno, although he’s not Austrian (and he writes it without an umlaut on the ‘u’).

S

S

Suck – Some people thought that Suck sucked, but I didn’t. The film is about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and vampires, and the challenges presented to a group of young musicians on tour with a bloodsucker in their midst. The film has relatively low production values, although it makes do fairly well with whatever money there was for some good visual effects, camera techniques, slow-mo and sped-up scenes, great cameos, and lots of blood and gore. It has a fine-tuned and somewhat crackling (but maybe a bit too hip to be genuine) screenplay that occasionally indulges in cliche (the series of famous album covers done in tableau vivant in the first part, for example – see pictures below).

With all of its cameos, and great songs by Burning Brides – the band of Dmitri Coats, the actor who plays the major vampire Queenie – being played throughout, and the film is probably the most rock ‘n’ roll film since Roadkill. But where Roadkill only had a famous cameo by Joey Ramone and Nash the Slash, this one has appearances by Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins (in a really bad mop top/wig), Alex Lifeson of Rush, Moby and Carol Pope of Rough Trade (and also Alice Cooper’s daughter Calico Cooper, and Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall). All of these cameos (except, perhaps, for Carol Pope’s) are stellar and any one of them is well worth the price of admission on its own, particularly Moby’s as Beef Bellows, the metal singer in the band ‘Secretaries of Steak’ (Moby is well-known as a life-long vegan), and Alex Lifeson as a psychotic border guard. Alice Cooper plays an elder vampire, so he’s just as Alice as you want him to be, while Iggy Pop plays it straight as an “aw shucks” studio producer who isn’t happy seeing our young protagonist making the wrong decisions about the vampire in his band. He’s Jim, and we all love him.

One of the more clever moments in the film is the use of footage of Malcolm McDowell, who plays vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsing (get it? Eddie Van Halen, Eddie Van Helsing?), in his appearance in “O Lucky Man!” from 1973 to show a young Eddie Van Helsing. Very good, very good.

Here’s the trailer, followed by some photos:

What other movie would include a cameo of Rush’s guitarist Alex Lifeson as a border guard? Nice mustache, Alex.

Suck Alex Lifeson 1

Suck - Alex Lifeson 1

This is what border guard Alex Lifeson sees from his desk. Do vampires need visas to enter the US?

Suck - The Winners

Suck - The Winners

Suck - Alex Lifeson

Suck - Alex Lifeson

Suck - Alex Lifeson 3

Suck - Alex Lifeson 3

Suck - Alex Lifeson 4

Suck - Alex Lifeson 4

Carol Pope, lead singer of Rough Trade, also had a cameo as a bouncer.

Suck - Carol Pope

Suck - Carol Pope

Finally, Moby also had a cameo as well as the lead singer of the Secretaries of Steak, a.k.a. the biggest rock star in Buffalo. Great live show with tons of raw meat.

Suck - Moby as Beef, the lead singer of Secretary of Steak

Suck - Moby as Beef, the lead singer of Secretary of Steak

Suck - Moby as Beef, the lead singer of Secretary of Steak 2

Suck - Moby as Beef, the lead singer of Secretary of Steak 2

Suck took it upon itself to do vampire recreations of famous album covers. What do you think?

Suck - Abbey Road

Suck - Abbey Road

Suck - Electric Warrior

Suck - Electric Warrior

Suck - The Kids Are All Right

Suck - The Kids Are All Right

Suck - Born In The USA

Suck - Born In The USA