Thursday, August 11, 2016

My 18 Favorite Films

Recently, my brother Alan inititated a Facebook thread about our favorite films!

I took this list of 73 and whittled it down to 18! It took me several hours to do this. Some difficult decisions -- I felt like I was chopping off something precious. The Final Eighteen are marked with an asterisk.
  1. Grand Illusion 1938 RENOIR, Jean
  2. *Seven Samurai 1954 KUROSAWA, Akira
  3. Andrei Rublev 1966 TARKOVSKY, Andrei
  4. Nights of Cabiria 1957 FELLINI, Federico
  5. Brazil 1985 GILLIAM, Terry
  6. Yojimbo 1961 KUROSAWA, Akira
  7. The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988 KAUFMAN, Philip
  8. Rashomon 1950 KUROSAWA, Akira
  9. 8-1/2 1963 FELLINI, Federico
  10. *Children of Paradise 1945 CARNÉ, Marcel
  11. Red Beard 1965 KUROSAWA, Akira
  12. *Ikiru 1952 KUROSAWA, Akira
  13. Floating Weeds 1959 OZU, Yasujiro
  14. Stray Dog 1949 KUROSAWA, Akira
  15. Smiles of a Summer Night 1955 BERGMAN, Ingmar
  16. Early Summer 1951 OZU, Yasujiro
  17. *Fanny & Alexander (312-minute
    TV version) 1982 BERGMAN, Ingmar
  18. Unfaithfully Yours 1948 STURGES, Preston
  19. Harakiri 1962 KOBAYASHI, Masaki
  20. *Ran 1985 KUROSAWA, Akira
  21. Late Spring 1949 OZU, Yasujiro
  22. Sansho the Bailiff 1954 MIZOGUCHI, Kenji
  23. Earrings of Madame de… 1953 OPHULS, Max
  24. An Autumn Afternoon 1962 OZU, Yasujiro
  25. The Exterminating Angel 1962 BUNUEL, Luis
  26. *The Human Condition 1959-61 KOBAYASHI, Masaki
  27. Shoah 1985 LANZMANN, Claude
  28. *The Umbrellas of Cherbourg 1964 DEMY, Jacques
  29. The Fisher King 1991 GILLIAM, Terry
  30. Run Lola Run 1998 TYKWER, Tom
  31. *Babel 2006 INARRITU, Alejandro
  32. North by Northwest 1959 HITCHCOCK, Alfred
  33. Boyhood 2014 LINKLATER, Richard
  34. *Irrational Man 2015 ALLEN, Woody
  35. Amélie 2001 JEUNET, Jean-Pierre
  36. Dil Chahta Hai 2001 AKHTAR, Farhan
  37. 127 Hours 2010 BOYLE, Danny
  38. *12 Monkeys 1995 GILLIAM, Terry
  39. 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 KUBRICK, Stanley
  40. Baby Snakes 1979 ZAPPA, Frank
  41. Audition 1999 MIIKE, Takashi
  42. The Artist 2011 HAZANAVICIUS, Michel
  43. *Birdman 2014 INARRITU, Alejandro
  44. *Cloud Atlas 2012 WACHOWSKI/TYKWER
  45. Eat Drink Man Woman 1994 LEE, Ang
  46. *Eroica 2003 JONES, Simon Cellan
  47. Eyes Wide Shut 1999 KUBRICK, Stanley
  48. Fantasia 1940 JACKSON/BEEBE
  49. Farewell My Concubine 1993 CHEN, Kaige
  50. Groundhog Day 1993 RAMIS, Harold
  51. Kill Bill I & II 2003-04 TARANTINO, Quentin
  52. Once Upon a Time in America 1984 LEONE, Sergio
  53. Lawrence of Arabia 1962 LEAN, David
  54. An Inconvenient Truth 2006 GUGGENHEIM, Davis
  55. *Napoleon 1927 GANCE, Abel
  56. Lust, Caution 2007 LEE, Ang
  57. Metropolis 1928 LANG, Fritz
  58. The Meaning of Life 1983 JONES, Terry
  59. Not One Less 1999 ZHANG, Yimou
  60. Open Your Eyes 1997 AMENABAR, Alejandro
  61. Parting Glances 1986 SHERWOOD, Bill
  62. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 2006 TYKWER, Tom
  63. *The Princess and the Warrior 2000 TYKWER, Tom
  64. Schindler's List 1993 SPIELBERG, Steven
  65. *Artificial Intelligence: AI 2001 SPIELBERG, Steven
  66. *Tampopo 1985 ITAMI, Juzo
  67. Together 2002 KAIGE, Chen
  68. *Waking Life 2001 LINKLATER, Richard
  69. Wall-E 2008 STANTON, Andrew
  70. Being Two Isn't Easy 1962 ICHIKAWA, Kon
  71. Minbo 1994 ITAMI, Juzo
  72. Raise the Red Lantern 1991 ZHANG, Yimou
  73. Steambath 1973 BRINCKERHOFF, Burt & Bruce
Here are some general ramblings about the Final Eighteen:
  1. Seven Samurai 1954 KUROSAWA, Akira
    -- 207 glorious minutes depicting a sprawling human tableaux of 16th century feudal Japan, painted with masterful brushstrokes by the Emperor of Film...
  2. Children of Paradise 1945 CARNÉ, Marcel
    -- An awesome feat of filmmaking under unthinkable conditions (the German occupation). Jean-Louis Barrault (Baptiste) steals the show, but everyone is fantastic...
  3. Ikiru 1952 KUROSAWA, Akira
    -- Unique filmic storytelling from one of the very first films post-occupation...
  4. Fanny & Alexander (312-minute TV version) 1982 BERGMAN, Ingmar
    -- Do not watch the 2-hour "theatrical version" which left the best of Erland Josephson's performance as Isak Jacobi on the cutting room floor...
  5. Ran 1985 KUROSAWA, Akira
    -- The culmination of a career of greatness with AK's take on King Lear switching the daughters to sons. Absolutely magnificent, including an awesome score by Takemitsu. Watch for all the triple axial cuts!
  6. The Human Condition 1959-61 KOBAYASHI, Masaki
    -- 9-1/2 hours (3 films); but the best antiwar film ever made...
  7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg 1964 DEMY, Jacques
    -- I'm a sucker for a film that is entirely sung from beginning to end! Not only that, but the music (Michel Legrand) is amazing and unusual -- filled with vocal leaps of major sevenths and ninths! And the story is beautiful and heart-wrenching...
  8. Babel 2006 INARRITU, Alejandro
    -- A many-layered hard gaze into life at several different places around the globe. What happens in Morroco affects Mexico and Japan and Southern California, like a crazy butterfly flapping its wings in Central Park. Great acting and hardcore direction...
  9. Irrational Man 2015 ALLEN, Woody
    -- Woody again reprises the "get-away-with-murder" theme he'd previously explored in "Manhattan Murder Mystery" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors." This is the best of all of them!
  10. 12 Monkeys 1995 GILLIAM, Terry
    -- The best Bruce Willis! The best Brad Pitt! The best Madeleine Stowe! Repeat viewings are always rewarding...
  11. Birdman 2014 INARRITU, Alejandro
    -- Twelve cuts -- total -- in the entire film! Raymond Carver would have been proud of the acting...
  12. Cloud Atlas 2012 WACHOWSKI/TYKWER
    -- Perhaps my favorite film of the new century. A mammoth production, put together by three brilliant directors...
  13. Eroica 2003 JONES, Simon Cellan
    -- The imagining of the very first rehearsal of the Third Symphony. I'll bet this is probably not in your library. Rectify that immediately: Amazon.
  14. Napoleon 1927 GANCE, Abel
    -- Unfortunately, you won't be able to see this film. At least, not in the way that I saw it several years ago at a movie palace in Oakland, California, where this 6-hour film was shown with three projectors and a live symphony orchestra! My blog post on that amazing event.
  15. The Princess and the Warrior 2000 TYKWER, Tom
    -- "Run Lola Run" would be #19 or #20 -- but having to choose between that masterpiece and this one, TPATW wins out by a hair. Watch the last shot and be amazed...
  16. Artificial Intelligence: AI 2001 SPIELBERG, Steven
    -- Of course, it would have been amazing to see what Stanley might have done -- but I think Steven outdid himself with this wonderful film. If the final minute doesn't bring a tear to your eye, check to see if your species matches mine...
  17. Tampopo 1985 ITAMI, Juzo
    -- or "I Dream of Ramen." Fabulous stuff by a director who left us way too soon...
  18. Waking Life 2001 LINKLATER, Richard
    -- Not just for the amazing technical achievements, but the way all the talking heads ultimately melt into your consciousness until you let go of the car door handle.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Amazon Echo "Skills" as of 2/21/16

Amazon Echo "Skills" as of 2/21/16:

OPEN       BART Status
                 Email Assistant
                 Hey Dad and tell me a joke
ASK         Powerball helper, for a good selection for powerball
                 Mindfulness for a minute meditation
USE         APRS and locate kilo victor sixmike dash seven
ASK         Basket if whole milk is on sale near Arlington, VA
                 Basic Fantasy to roll a Thief
OPEN       Lyrical
ASK         Aurora
                 Surfable about Ocean Beach Pier
                 Tube Status about the Victoria line
                 Magic 8-Ball if I am going to be rich
 Earthquakes what's shakin'
 My ghost what's Xur selling
 Area Code where is eight six zero
OPEN Daily Affirmation
ASK Stone Ridge Food what are they serving today
Automatic where my car is
TELL Moby link to turn my kitchen lights on
OPEN Stopwatch and start
ASK Teen Dating Violence
OPEN The magic door
ASK The L Train when it's coming?
ASK RhymeZone what rhymes with banana?
Cat Facts
ASK Scout to arm home mode
OPEN Quick Events
TELL The Listeners that I am filled with happiness
Me the current Bitcoin price
OPEN Starlanes
ASK Thermostat to set the temperature to seventy one
Toronto Transit when is the next streetcar 504
Mom Jokes to tell me a joke
ToughGuy to tell me a joke
OPEN Conversation Starter
TALK To Reflections
OPEN Focus Word
ASK Audio Goal for a goal
OPEN Domino's
Space Weather
ASK MotoQuote for a Quote
OPEN Metronome
ASK Battery boot where to buy it?
ASK DC Metro for the next train arriving at Columbia Heights
OPEN Fortune Cookie
ASK Haiku for a poem
TELL SkyBell to turn on quiet mode
OPEN ToughGuy
Dino trivia
ASK Lunch bot what's for lunch today
ASK Hebcal when is Passover?
Math Tutor for 3
The Doctor
Word Master to play a game
OPEN BioRhythm
The Name Game and use Alexa
ASK TV Shows when is American Idol on?
OPEN Subway
ASK The bartender, what's in a Tom Collins?
OPEN Lizard Spock
ASK Magic eight ball will it rain today
START Akinator
TELL Garageio to close my door
OPEN The Law
ASK Uber to request a ride
The dealer to deal the cards
Pug Bomb for three pugs
The Rabbi what time is Shabbos in New York?
OPEN One two three
START Trivia challenge
ASK Yo Mama to make a joke
The dog if we fed her?
Currency Converter to convert twenty dollars to euros
Founding Fathers for a quote
OPEN InsultiBot
ASK Math Mania to play
Craft Helper what's the recipe for a saddle
LAUNCH House band
ASK NYC Transit what is the status of 7?
LOAD Today's Astronomy Picture
ASK Trove about Barack Obama
Guitar Tuner to tune my guitar
For a fart
LAUNCH Guess The Number
TELL Me a dog fact.
OPEN Teacher
The Scriptures
Yo Mama Joke
START Seven minute workout
TELL Bean Jar to add ten points to Gryffindor
ASK Santa where is he?
HuffPost for headlines
Cat raiser how is my cat
Sassy persona to get the weather
7 Sigma for my update
TELL Mirror mirror
Fact Core
Baby Names
ASK Hanker what's happening today
Power ball for a quick pick
START Presidential Trivia
LAUNCH Booze Trivia
OPEN Combat and hit the dragon with my sword
TELL Dice Bag to roll for me
ASK Game Dice to roll three ten siders
START Big Game
LAUNCH Cove Trivia
START Dogecoin
OPEN Football Trivia
Laugh box
ASK Mr. Junky Food what to eat today
My Dermatologist what's the u.v. index
LAUNCH Space Trivia
ASK Daily Prayers for prayer times in Seattle
OPEN Bitcoin Rate
ASK Fantasy Football Nerd for headlines
Movie info about the Magnificent Seven
Powerball, what are the powerball numbers?
Superpower for a conversation topic
The Tube what's happening on the District
PLAY Manchester City Trivia
TELL Vivint to lock my doors
START My Messages
TELL HomeSeer to turn on the kitchen light
OPEN The Bible
High Low
Phone Finder
LAUNCH Happy Birthday
ASK Apollo to tell me a fact
TELL Me an Edgar fact
START Animal Game
ASK AnyMote to pause my Sonos
FreeBusy to see if Paula is free Tuesday
Techcrunch news for headlines
Event Guide what's going on today in Boston
Famous Quotes to tell me a quote
START Eliza (pronounced “ih-L-AY-z-uh”)
TELL Simple control to watch TV
OPEN Daily Word
ASK Campbell's Kitchen what's for dinner
OPEN Bingo
ASK Random Number for a number
Woot what is the deal on electronics?
Mojio where is my car
OPEN Essential Trivia
Pickup lines
ASK Animal Sounds what a noise a lion says
Grandmom for candy
OPEN Demotivate
Shower Thoughts
Tweet Pollution
PLAY Jeopardy!
OPEN Stock Exchange
ASK Horoscope what is the horoscope for Gemini?
My Buddy to help me get started
Glados to tell me something
START Star Wars Quiz
ASK Glympse where is Sylvia?
OPEN Math Puzzles
ASK The Bible App to read John 3 verse 16
TELL LIFX to turn my bedroom lights off
ASK Agog Reader for Barack Obama
LAUNCH Crystal Ball
TELL Stringify to run movie night
ASK StubHub what's happening this weekend
LAUNCH Music quiz
OPEN The wizard
LAUNCH Drive Time
OPEN Perfect Pitch
ASK AOL for the top headlines
Translator to say “it's raining” in Italian
OPEN Trivia Talk
ASK Zip Code what city is Zip Code 20120
TELL The Dude to give me a quote
ASK Baseball Archive about Willie Mays
LAUNCH Beat Cylinder
ASK The innkeeper to say hello to the image
TELL Math Kata to start an easy addition game
OPEN Memory Master
START Force Trivia
ASK Lotto Now for Powerball numbers
Meteor showers what is happening tonight
Angry Bard for a burn
Age Calculator, how old is someone born on June 12, 2015?
TELL Capital Quiz to start practicing
My admirer to make me smile
START Movie Quotes
LOAD Call Sign and find november zero uniform sierra mike
ASK Fidelity to get a quote for Amazon
Pronunciations how to pronounce B.I.T.S.
Daddy for a hug
TELL Rachio to start zone one for six minutes
OPEN Trivia Alex
ASK Mirror Mirror On The Wall who is the fairest of them all?
LAUNCH Impossible Baseball Quiz
ASK Linkboard to search news about [a topic]
LAUNCH “Spammy”
USE Ooma to call 650-555-1234
ASK Knock knock
Kasa to turn the lights on
START AccuWeather
OPEN Thirteen
ASK Tide Pooler to get tide information for major coastal cities
TELL Christmas Caroler to spread holiday cheer
LAUNCH Michigan Footabll Trivia
OPEN Adventure and play dave of doom
ASK Calculator for nine plus five [ALEXA DOES THIS BY DEFAULT!]
START 21 Dayz
ASK Trump how do you feel about China
OPEN Elf Trivia
ASK Hawk Bus about 7252
LAUNCH Mystery Castle
Hollywood Trivia
OPEN Tip of Tongue's
Women's underwear
LAUNCH Beer Trivia
OPEN Bitcoin Price Checker
ASK Block World Trivia
TELL Bulls Cows to start a game
OPEN Cheer lights
ASK Convrge, who's online
Cookbook how to make a burger
LAUNCH Cricket quiz
Domain Name information
ASK Esports Ticker for live matches
START Five Card Draw
ASK Loft Cinema what is playing now (Tucson, AZ)
OPEN Fortune
ASK Freedom Quotes for a quote
Gold Bug what's the price of (gold/silver/oil)
LAUNCH Gridiron Trivia
OPEN Hacker News
ASK Hacker News for top stories
START Hacking History
ASK Indian Guy to tell me an Indian fact
Iris to holler at John
OPEN ITIL Foundation Quiz
LAUNCH JavaScript Quiz
ASK KCRW what's playing
OPEN Let's multiply
Long Weekend
ASK Market for news
START Challenge memory
OPEN Missouri football
ASK My dee link to turn off bedroom light
Powerball for the winning numbers
OPEN Presidential Trivia
LAUNCH Quick Check Quiz
TELL Quoter to tell me quote
ASK Qvine, when is the next quarterly meeting
Randomizer for a random number
LAUNCH Reindeer Games
OPEN Resistor Decoder
ASK Sage of elements to tell me about calcium
TALK To Satoshi
ASK Seattle Transit for directions from Ballard to Capitol Hill
Tech Buzz to tell me something smart
USE Keeper and start a singles match with red team's serve
ASK The Tube if there any delays
OPEN Product Hunt
ASK Trainer Tips what's weak against Fireside
LAUNCH Air Force Trivia
ASK Trivia with friends for the free answer
TELL Uncle Shakespeare to insult me!
ASK USA Today to give me the news

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hospitals Suck

On Wednesday evening, November 18, 2015, I sat down to continue my perusal of my nearly complete Criterion Collection, Spine #359 -- "The Double Life of Véronique" by Krzysztof Kieslowski.

After the Polish changed into French, I began to notice that I was having an extremely difficult time concentrating on the film. That's not normal. I can watch Kobayashi's nine-hour "The Human Condition" without blinking.

Kobayashi: "The Human Condition"

Minutes later, I was both sitting on and kneeling in prayerful posture at The Porcelain Throne.

Some Pepto-Bismal was attempted (good OTC product -- usually works!) but by 3:00 A.M., it was obvious that something terrible was going on in my internal workshop. As much as I hated the idea -- knowing full well what we were probably in for -- we decided to go to the E.R.

Off to St. Mary's Hospital -- which is literally just five minutes away -- and I wait in pain for 15 minutes or so until I'm seen.

After a bunch of tests, I'm admitted due to a very high white blood cell count. The IV goes in the arm with no trouble and I'm wheeled into a room (thank God, no roommate the entire stay) ...

Okay -- here comes the fun part. This is why St. Mary's Hospital got a D.

St. Mary's Gets a D.

  • I have been taking Tylenol with Codeine #4 for 28 years for chronic back pain. I am what they call "Codeine-Dependent." I take a strictly limited amount to obtain enough relief so that I am actually able to compose music for a few hours each day when the pain subsides to the level that permits even the tiniest bit of creativity. My PCP once assured me that if I ever ended up in a hospital that I would get the same dosage of medication I normally take.
  • If I take a substantially lower dose of this medication, I become quite ill -- upset stomach, severe nausea, cramping, respiratory distress, etc. It is not fun.
  • When they wrote down my medication (we had brought in the pill bottles), they neglected to notice the #4 in the rx, and my first delivery of pain meds was a lone Tylenol #3.
  • One Tylenol #4 is exactly twice as strong as one Tylenol #3. As I begged the nurses to look into their mistake, I was quickly much sicker than I should have been at that point.
  • One nurse decided that perhaps I'd calm down if she faked me out:
    • "Oh, Mr. Sa-ool, don't worry -- our pharmacy carry very strong Tylenol #3 ... is equivalent to your Tylenol #4. Special potency from St. Mary Pharmacy. Don't worry."
  • Bitch.
  • It took two days to straighten it out -- the doctor was apologetic.
  • Meanwhile, the IV from the E.R. was leaking blood. My forearm was marked with lines of dried blood in no time. The nurses told me not to worry about it.
  • Finally, one nurse did worry about it. They tried to put a new one in the other arm, painfully sticking me two or three times before giving up.
  • It was another 24 hours until (finally) this guy Bill from the IV team came in and quickly found a new location on the same arm and painlessly inserted a new IV. More unnecessary suffering.
  • Here's one of the funniest ones. Try not to get grossed out, because it really is funny!
  • I was supposed to have "The Procedure" (upper endoscopy and lower sigmoidoscopy) at 10:00 A.M. on Friday. Two women came in to give me two enemas. One of them was a Muslim (she was wearing a hijab). This Arizona Enema Bandit was having the time of her life, twirling away -- and I started to moan a bit.
  • "Ooooh," she half-giggles. "Don't make sex sound! Don't make sex sound!"
  • Ugh.
  • At 10:40 the nurse walks in a says the procedure is cancelled because my Potassium level was sky high (or too low? who can remember?)
  • When I first sat on the Bathroom Throne, the high water level had my Twin Boys soaked in water halfway up. Thereafter, for the rest of my stay, I held up The Boys with two fingers of one hand while using my other hand to help Mr. Wonderful from also taking an unwanted bath.
  • Hospital food is supposed to be bad -- but inedible? Everything but the jello was completely inedible. Even Joannie -- who eats anything -- couldn't touch the stuff.
  • Speaking of Joannie, having your loved one around to help take care of you is a blessing beyond anything you can imagine when you don't have it!
Four days of torture -- and when I got home last night I felt happy -- yea, ecstatic!

Gonna watch my diet, drink lots of water (Evian of course) and thank God for getting me out of that place still alive.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


A few thoughts about yesterday's action, and baseball in general:


Two nights ago, The D-Back's incredible first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, was hit on the hand by the Pirates' Ernesto Frieri -- a relief pitcher -- a closer, actually -- with an ERA of 10.13 in 10.2 innings.

Think about that. A relief pitcher who gives up a run per inning. He often comes into the game in mid-inning when runs scored by any base runner already on base are charged to the pitcher who just left the game, not Frieri! In other words, that one run per game means that he gave up that run all by himself. One run in each inning he has appeared.

Why didn't the Pirates just keep Grilli?

In any case, look at the film:

It should be obvious when you see that film that Frieri was not trying to hit Goldy. His lack of control is not a huge secret. And -- as the announcers point out -- look at Goldy as he leans in to prepare to hit the pitch. He probably could have avoided getting hit -- but in any case, this episode can in no way be seen as intentional.

Now check this out, from last night's game:

Before the game, both teams had been warned. (Goldschmidt had to go on the DL.)

Nevertheless, Mr. Randall Delgado -- perhaps not quite the nightmare that Frieri is (5.61 ERA in 51 innings) -- decided it was time to revenge Goldy's injured finger.

It was the 9th, 5-1 Bucs, having scored big in the eighth, breaking a 1-1 tie.

Delgado got an out before walking the hot Josh Harrison. The highly touted youngster Gregory Polanco doubled to center, so Delgado was faced with a tough one-out, men on 2nd & 3rd situation.

Andrew McCutchen walks to the plate. What might Mr. Delgado be thinking about?


Hey, you're not gonna give Cutch a pitch to hit, period. Why not just get a little wild on this next one?

He hit him right in the back with a 95 MPH fastball. Not too subtle.

I sure hope Cutch is okay.


Blake Parker (CHC) might not be around in the big leagues too long if he continues to serve up juicy curve balls to the likes of Hanley Ramirez.


Gee, do you think the A's made out last week? (Lester's first start.)


Hey, do you think the Tiger's made out pretty well last week, as well? Uh, first of all they scored a run in every inning; 1st time in 8 years that's happened. Porcello pitched another gem, as usual these days, he's only 13-5.

David Price -- at 11-8, 3.11 (not bad at all), an under-performing Verlander at 10-9; Max Scherzer quietly ripping the AL apart by his lonesome at 13-3 and even Anibal Sanchez is 7-5. That is one helluva staff.

Gotta get ready for the game in Phoenix. I sure hope it's not a hbp - fest.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

MLB 2013

On this anticipatory stomach-growling withdrawal of an off-day, the sad reality of only TWO more games until April 2014 saddens me.

OTOH, I'll get a lot of (musical) work done.


Happily, I confidently predict that Mr. Wacha will continue his amazing run tomorrow, and defeat the Red Sox 5-1.

That will bring about the traditional Joe Wholestaff approach for Game #7, which tends to bring about a '93 Game #4 - type situation. Although both of these clubs have tremendous relief pitching -- I believe that Halloween at Fenway Park on Thursday night will be pretty darn scary!

15-14 Cards ...


Saturday, October 26, 2013

PROGRAM NOTES for MIDRASHIM, for violin and marimba (2013)

Composer Lewis Saul (b. 1952) graduated with a degree in Composition from the Interlochen Arts Academy and attended The Juilliard School before moving to Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger for two years.

Midrash means "story" (Midrashim is the plural). A clever Rabbinic device, midrash is a method of interpreting the biblical text in a wide-ranging, free-wheeling, almost stream-of-consciousness style -- somewhat resembling the head-scratching, double-entendre writings of the great Zen masters.

As an example, the two words from my opening movement generated over 17 separate commentaries in the Midrash Rabbah -- a massive collection of the Rabbinic midrashim -- including this unusual, seemingly challenging observation:

"Thus, whoever comes to say that this world was created out of tohu and vohu and darkness, does he not indeed impair God's Glory! R. Huna said in Bar Chappara's name: If the matter were not written, it would be impossible to say it..."

... "it" being followed by this footnote:

"God first created tohu and vohu, and out of these He created the world. But this is not to be taught publicly!" (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis I, pp. 2-3).

The sages spun extremely complex webs of word association and pun-like wordplay in their attempts to imbue the Bible verse with new meanings and interpretations, sometimes going far afield from the original text.

In that spirit, I have composed two separate midrashim for five verses from the Torah -- one from each book. In most cases, the "plain text" inspired a kind of musical midrash, perhaps less concerned with the actual textual meaning and more inspired by the possible midrash-like free association technique:

1. MIDRASH Ia. The longest of these ten movements, it is also perhaps the most literal. What is before the beginning? Do I dare teach this publicly?

2. MIDRASH Ib. Perhaps there was a phase variance in this pre-universe! (Yes, I love Star Trek.) Steve Reich -- one of the pioneers of minimalism and a master at using phased musical phrases -- has always been inspiring to me. Halfway through the movement, the violin shifts to a 9/8 + 7/8 meter, thrusting against the regular 4/4 of the marimba. Planets collide, nebulas sparkle, dark matter permeates...

3. MIDRASH IIa. The previous verse 25 reads: "If you take your neighbor's garment in pledge, you must return it to him before the sun sets; ..."

This is a mitzvah, a commandment -- one of 613 in the Torah -- but my concern is with those two Hebrew words in verse 26 -- "in what else shall he sleep?" God not only explains the (humane) reasoning behind the commandment, but He promises that He will follow through.

The feeling of "closeness" is intended here, as if wrapped in a warm, slightly atonal, blanket.

4. MIDRASH IIb. This is perhaps more literal, i.e. communicating compassion.

5. MIDRASH IIIa. The idea of something holy or sacred gradually coming to mean something real in one's life.

6. MIDRASH IIIb. This is a sort of tongue-in-cheek homage to Mozart, whose music seems to me always holy! The half-step modulations are a salute to the crazy intentional dissonances in "The Musical Joke," K. 522.

7. MIDRASH IVa. This verse is familiar to Jews and Gentiles alike -- it is read in nearly every worship service, and is the pinnacle of every Jewish boy or girl's Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

The commentaries suggest that the Rabbis interpret this particular verse to be a general blessing for material and spiritual well-being. Thus a high-energy, feel-good movement, followed by ...

8. MIDRASH IVb. ... a calm and relaxed hymn of thanksgiving -- nervously cut short.

9. MIDRASH Va. The key Hebrew word is the verb RODEF -- "to chase or pursue." My wife's synagogue in Pittsburgh was called Rodef Shalom ("pursue peace"). As I composed these segments, I thought about how difficult it is to truly follow or pursue the really important things in life -- but yet at the same time, how absolutely critical it is that we all at least try to do so!

This is a literal metric chase between the two instruments -- very short and aggressive. The difficulty.

10. MIDRASH Vb. And the trying. Here -- in a sinuous 7/4 rhythm -- the two instruments combine to dream, hope and work together.


-- Lewis Saul

Saturday, June 29, 2013

217. How and Why I Love Film

Up until 1982 -- the year I turned 30 -- I thought of films and filmmaking as something which could provide some nice visual entertainment. Like most film-goers, I sat back and let the movie wash over me. Any critical thinking -- even after the fact -- seemed unnecessary, a waste of time.

It was not until 1982 that I came to the realization that I was much more interested in studying the film; trying to figure out how it was made; beginning to understand the individual components, i.e., Director, Producer, DP, Set Designer, Composer, etc. -- and how things got put together.

During my time in Paris, I had been exposed to some Buñuel, Truffaut and others. It was pretty obvious that these types of films had little in common with the typical Hollywood product.

And then that day in 1982 when my wife and I went to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

I walked out of that theater having experienced what seemed like a completely new emotion: Filmic Manipulation Anger Syndrome.

I still had tears dribbling from my eyes from Spielberg's emotional, sappy ending.

And I was mad!

It dawned on me -- gradually -- that Mr. Spielberg had done quite a masterful job at prodding the sodium chloride from my tearducts. Bit by bit, scene by scene, John Williams cue by John Williams cue -- I was being manipulated!

And a damned fine job he (they) did of it. I spent the following months constantly thinking about how Spielberg had pulled it all off.

And for the next decade or so, I always kept at least one of my newly analytic eyes open during Hollywood attempts to lure me into their insidious design.


In 1999, everything changed.

I saw my first Kurosawa film (Red Beard). I could not get enough AK and soon had all 30 of his films.

What I noticed in his work (and later Ozu's), after much study, was that these guys used the exact same "manipulative" techniques that Spielberg was using -- but the difference was subtle. Instead of hitting us over the head with a musical/visual "cry now" cue, these non-Hollywood directors were trusting their audience not to need those types of sledgehammer clue-ins.

And it got better. Kurosawa, for example, took the corny old wipes from the 30's Saturday serials, and transformed the dusty old trick into an entire subset of his massive filmic vocabulary.

Ozu went even further, for example, by rejecting the artifice of lens size (he only used one, the 50mm) and set perfection (he loved to move a salt shaker two inches to the left from take to take, just for the hell of it). Some of the "heaviest" emotional scenes in Ozu occur in medium shots with no music or sound. Other times, crucial events in the plot (such as it is in Ozu films!) are completely elided -- leaving the (Ozu-presumed intelligent) viewer to figure it all out.

I soon realized I preferred watching this type of film to most of gunk coming out of Hollywood. Not much has changed in the past 15 years. My Top Twenty favorite directors:

  1. Akira Kurosaswa
  2. Yasujiro Ozu
  3. Zhang Yimou
  4. Andrei Tarkovsky
  5. Tom Tykwer
  6. Takeshi Kitano
  7. Stanley Kubrick
  8. Terry Gilliam
  9. Woody Allen
  10. Ang Lee
  11. Quentin Tarrantino
  12. Richard Linklater
  13. Alejandro González Iñárritu
  14. Frederico Fellini
  15. Wes Anderson
  16. Juzo Itami
  17. Pedro Almodovar
  18. Martin Scorsese
  19. Powell/Pressburger
  20. Jean Renoir

216. DONALD FAGEN: Suken Condos (2012)

Whoa! It's here.

Donald Fagen will be 65 in a few months. Old man, on behalf of all us aging motherfuckers who still think we can swing, plant funk, sew it all up and serve it on out -- we thank you! This has got to be one of the swingingest albums of all time. And as the kids say ... Really?

His fourth solo album promises to be a most delicious dish ... but is it a luscious dessert, a cherry-banana topping off the Trilogy ( Nightfly (1982) / Kamakiriad (1993) / Morph the Cat (2006) // or is it something brand new; perhaps the start of a new series ... or is it an enigma, to be slowly unwrapped over a long period of time; each listening revealing yet another wondrous kick on some ambiguous and-of-four which punches up a whole new set of matrices, weaving in and out of lyrics like this:

I can hold my breath
For a really long time now
I can hold my own
I'm not the same without you

Whoa! It's here.

Mike Ragogna's interview with Donald and Michael Leonhart

What stands out for me in this lovely interview with the two forces behind this product is the delicious way they "recall" the other talent on the disc, including Michael's father, Jay:

"DF: Well we've got a couple of acoustic bass players. We have a man named Jay Leonhart, of whom Michael is a progeny, we have a man named Joe Martin, I don't know whose progeny he is, probably Mr. Martin's ..."

Personally, I think this album should have been titled "q.v." Quod vide, which see; meaning check out every single musician on this date, and you will find an amazing artist in his or her own right, including Jay's daughter and Michael's beautiful sister, Carolyn:

For example, clicking on any of the three links above (Jay, Joe, Carolyn) will send you down a rabbit-hole of musical deepness (listen to the audio which plays when you click on Martin's name!) and must-check-this-out type of talent.


Especially, Michael Leonhart.

I. Slinky Thing

The first thing we notice is an acoustic bass! Mr. Joe Martin, ladies and gentlemen. As I said, q.v. Every single musician on this release ... and this dude is tasty! [If you click through on his name above, you will hear a clip from his latest...]

Check out the instrumentation here at the beginning: Bass, Clavinet (Leonhart [hereinafter referred to as ML]), Drums (also ML), Guitar (Jon Herington), and another sound which sounds like a soft synth sound; perhaps it is Fagen (DF) on Prophet 5.

It's interesting to note how the bass, clavinet and "soft-synth" parts are written-out while Herington slides around ...

It could not possibly be more deliciously funky!

It was an October morning
Near the carousel
I met a lithe young beauty
And we talked there for a spell
We walked up by the Great Lawn
And my heart began to sing
A madman on a bench screams out:
Hold on to that slinky thing (note the vibes [ML]!)
Hold on to that slinky thing

Sure is October, in any case. At least it was when I began this post...

An A Minor groove sizzles until the penultimate line in each verse when he shifts to some exotic false-dominant substitutions. The sizzle becomes positively steamy in the second verse:

We went to a party
Everybody stood around
Thinkin': Hey what's she doin'
With a burned-out hippie clown
Young dudes were grinnin'
I can't say it didn't sting
Some punk says: Pops you better
Hold on to that slinky thing
Hold on to that slinky thing

The vibes now stay in the mix while Donald and the girls chant More light -- more light six times.

II. I'm Not the Same Without You

III. Memorabilia

IV. Weather in my Head

V. The New Breed

VI. Out of the Ghetto

VII. Miss Marlene

VIII. Good Stuff

IX. Planet d'Rhonda

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

215. Arts and Entertainment

The video of Samura1man's (hereinafter "Samura" for simplicity) record-setting quest for the 100% Speedrun world record of the Nintendo Game Cube release, Mario Sunshine, begins with a failed wall-kick. A slip of his finger on the movement controller plunges Mario into a small stream, where he clings to the bank, ready to move on.

I would estimate this mistake -- which most casual players would have avoided -- might have cost him, perhaps, 15 to 20 seconds in lost time.

So, at 0:00:08, Samura says: "Let's reset."

~ ~ ~

The object of a 100% completion of Mario Sunshine is quite simple, actually.

You must collect 120 Shine Sprites and 240 Blue Coins. The Sprites (twinkling, rotating 8-pointed yellow stars with smiley faces) are earned after completing an "episode" of a "level" of the Mario world; in addition, sprinkled throughout the game are various Sprites that can only be won by some clever gameplay, often using newly acquired devices which augment the power of Mario's water-weapon.

My daughters and I played this game for years and years -- and at least one of my daughters (although not myself!) completed the entire game. I can only estimate vaguely -- but I suspect that they probably played for at least 100 hours -- perhaps more -- to accomplish this task.

In this video, Samura completes 100% of the game in 3 hours and 43 minutes, 15 seconds. All 120 Sprites. All 240 Blue Coins.

~ ~ ~

Understanding the SpeedRunsLive box on the left is quite simple: The name of the "level/episode" / the number of Blue Coins collected (in parentheses) / and the cumulative time. When an episode is completed, the cumulative time turns into a + or - figure, indicating the split between this run and the previous world record (held by Samura -- 3:48:00).

The actual gameplay for this run begins at 0:07:05. Mario's very first belly-slide (the quickest method for moving him straight ahead) results in a crash (see the stars?).

"Horrible," Samura exclaims. Nevertheless, he dispatches the first Petey Piranha boss quite quickly.

The next task is to chase down "Shadow Mario" and spray him until he "dies." Samura quickly picks up a Blue Coin before racing back to the big "M" where he will enter the next level. He cannot enter until Shadow Mario (resurrected) races back and paints that big "M" and he has to wait two or three seconds for Shadow Mario to finally show up!

"Hey!" Samura seems surprised that he had to wait those few precious seconds before jumping in. The clock reads 8:56 as he begins the final section of the episode; the previous record is 9:47:10; can he complete it in 51 seconds?

Once again, Samura fails to execute a clean belly-slide right out of the gate. I believe he curses in Finnish! But the rest of the run is note-perfect, as far as I can tell.

The split is in red -- 6:03. He must make up that time quickly if he wants to set a new record.

Monday, April 16, 2012

214. VARESE: Ionisation

13 musicians

#1: Large chinese cymbal; bass drum
#2: Gong; small tam-tam; large tam-tam
#3: Small and large bongos; field drum; medium and large bass drum
#4: Side drum; field drum
#5: Siren; lion's roar
#6: Siren; whip; guiro
#7: Small, medium and large Chinese blocks; claves; triangle
#8: Snare drum; small and large maracas
#9: High-pitched drum; snare drum; suspended cymbal
#10: Sleigh bells; cymbals
#11: Guiro; castanets
#12: Tambourine; anvil
#13: Piano

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

213. GANCE: Napoleon (1927)

From the website FAQ: Q: But will there be a DVD and BluRay release of the restored version in the near future? A: No. The cost of recording the 5½ hour Carl Davis score is prohibitively expensive for the DVD/BluRay market… and of course you wouldn’t have the dramatic Polyvision finale that you’ll experience in the theater. The triptych would merely be letterboxed onto your television — no matter how big it is."


When I read that, I knew that I had to see this film! Traveling to SF by myself would be difficult -- but hopefully not impossible ... with my eldest daughter, Sarah, ready to pick me up at the airport and take me to my friend Robert's house in Oakland -- six miles from the Paramount Theatre, where the film was being shown.


We left Robert's house at 12:20 PM -- plenty of time to drive six miles and make the 1:30 PM show...

... NOT!

We got to downtown Oakland and proceeded to make several wrong turns and finally -- just one short block away from the theatre -- we got caught in a gridlock traffic jam.

It appeared there were only two parking garages which the cars were snaking into, snail-like ...

It is now 1:25. The thought of missing even three minutes of this marathon (the actual running time of this film is 5:40) made me feel sad.

We're finally in (1:35). All the lower-level handicapped spots are taken, so we end up on the roof of the garage. Four separate areas marked "Stairs." Nothing with the word "elevator" anywhere to be seen.

Sarah had to carry the wheelchair down the steps (someone helped her). City of Oakland -- YOU ARE BREAKING FEDERAL LAW (see federal Disability Act) ...

Postscript 5/29/12:
Sarah checked into it -- and they actually are in compliance with the three or four handicapped spots on the lower level. Awfully nice of the fellas at the gate to tell us that there were no elevators after we asked about handicapped parking! not


A long line is curling around the theatre. Where is Will Call? Three different answers.

Finally, we get inside to pick up our tickets. Complete pandemonium. Our seats in Row VV actually no longer exist. The soundboard now occupies the space where those seats used to be.

We are moved and told that they'll try to find the right spot for us. Just a minute or so later, Carl Davis -- the conductor and score-creator -- takes to the podium and the movie begins -- just a few minutes late.

An usher is behind me whispering something -- I turn and tell her that the film has started and there is no way we are moving. It seems she was just trying to tell me that we could stay in these seats. The Department of Redundancy Departmental Redundancies.


This was the schedule:

ACT I 1:30 - 3:30
ACT II 3:50 - 4:50
Dinner Break
ACT III 6:45 - 8:35
Act IV 8:55 - 9:40

First -- the score.

Carl Davis has taken music from Beethoven and Mozart (plus a very brief Tchaikovsky quotation at one point) and stitched it all together to form this massive score of non-stop music. There is no point in the film where the music stops.

I would estimate that at least 50% of the score comes from the 3rd and 4th movements of the Third Symphony ("Eroica"), which was initially dedicated to Napoleon and written in the first decade of the 19th century -- a good 10-15 years after the events which take place in this film.

Also stitched in is the Seventh Symphony, Second Movement. (I wondered why he didn't choose to use the second movement of the Eroica -- the funeral march!)

The rest was Beethoven Overtures (Leonore, Prometheus); Mozart Symphonies (not sure, but think #38 or #39); C Minor Fantasia for Piano (orchestrated by Davis); and at one point a snatch of something by Tchaikovsky.

The Oakland East Bay Symphony was splendid; well-rehearsed and focused (no easy feat for nearly six hours of blowing, piping and scraping).

Try to imagine sitting through four or five complete performances of the third and fourth movements of the Eroica -- that's what it seemed like!


I wanted to take notes, but it was took dark and I would have risked missing things. So here are my memories of last Sunday afternoon, on this early Tuesday following:


The film opens with the young Napoleon engaged in a serious snowball fight. His side consists of around ten young fellows who are ensconced in a circular fort-like structure in the middle of the scene, throwing their projectiles outwards towards their enemies -- who outnumber Napoleon and his buddies by at least four or five to one.

Both sides escalate the battle by inserting objects into the snowballs -- stones, twigs, etc.

At some point, Napoleon (the young Vladimir Roudenko) mounts a mirror on a stick and uses it as a kind of periscope, in order to see his enemies without presenting his head as a target.

In a relatively wide shot, Napoleon holds up the mirror and we see the reflection of the enemy gang. I was completely shocked to see that the image seen on the small mirror was so crisp, clear and visible. It had to be a composite shot. If so, it was a technical marvel which barely registered, but was important. And we see how Napoleon was already a great strategic thinker.


My ignorance compels me to admit that for the next several hours, the film covered history that I was only vaguely familiar with.

On the other hand, one must remember that Abel Gance was making this film in 1927 for the people of France, and I imagine that the average middle-school student was completely fluent with this history and Gance probably felt no need to drive home biographical details that were common knowledge among the French people.

Nevertheless, the action in Corsica -- where Napoleon must contend with Paoli (Maurice Schutz) and his own cantankerous family -- is quite compelling.

Certain characters just jumped off the screen with their astonishing silent presence:
  1. Napoleon (Albert Dieudonné). I would need to see the film at least two more times to register all the amazing performances; scene by scene. I can hardly think of a scene in which he does not appear. Although all of the actors bring a grandiose, stylized manner of acting -- completely typical of the period -- I felt that Dieudonné was particularly reserved for the most part. When he needed to project that authority and power, he was never over-the-top. At one point he is asked whether he is prepared to defend France. His YES is a powerful moment.
  2. Napoleon as a boy (Roudenko). In addition to the snowball scene, the kid is great as he interacts with an eagle (a potent symbol in the film, which Gance frequently superimposes over other images in gorgeous double-exposures).
  3. Robespierre (Edmond van Daële) who almost always is wearing the coolest pair of sunglasses you'd ever imagine existed in 1927!
  4. Joséphine (Gina Manés). Always gorgeous and her appearance (many hours into the film) marks the beginning of several humor-driven chapters, which gives the film an amazing burst of sorely needed energetic comicality. (One of my favorite scenes: Napoleon has just met Joséphine. She is fanning herself vigorously as she asks him, "What is the weapon from the other army that you fear the most?" Napoleon responds immediately: "Your fan, madame.")
  5. Louis Saint-Just (Abel Gance). One of Robespierre's buddies, he met the same fate in 1794. Reportedly, he was the only one that walked to the guillotine, "accepting his death with coolness and pride. At a last formality of identification, he gestured to a copy of the Constitution of 1793 and said, 'I am the one who made that'" (Wikipedia). Gance -- a young-looking 38 at the time of this film -- is a handsome devil. He wears an earring and shakes his head regally. Looking at him as Saint-Just -- try as one might to strip away the costume -- it is hard to believe that this young man conceived and directed this monumental masterpiece!
As the film progressed, history seemed to move in a tight ratio of film time to real time -- recall that this film covers a period of only seven years (1789-1796) in a nearly six-hour film. That's nearly one hour per historical year!

I noticed right away that Gance seemed more concerned with the feel of things rather than the specific historical facts or situations (although the title cards all had the notation "historical" in parentheses after a note or quote from the history books) as far as making all the history sine qua non, if you know what I mean! There was a sweeping feeling inherent in the cinematic medium (Gance was big on moving back and forth between regular black and white, and the blue and red tints) and the filmic techniques used to show the history.

At the first intermission, I was finally able to read the program and came across this note taken from Gance's original program notes of 1927:

"With Napoleon I have made a tangible effort toward a richer and more elevated form of cinema; let yourselves go completely with the images; do not react from a preconceived point of view. See in depth; do not persist in confusing that which moves with that which trembles, discern behind the images the traces of tears which often imbue them. Only after this effort will you know whether or not the journey into history that I have given you is a lesson or a poem..."

I was astonished, because the film was indeed more poetic than I had ever imagined. (The only other Gance I had ever seen was Beethoven (1936), a fascinating bio-pic, but not necessarily revolutionary in film technique.) I was beginning to feel that I was really watching something very very special.

Gance continues:

"In climactic sequences, I created a new technique, based on the strength of rhythm dominating the subject and violating our visual habits. I speculated on the simultaneous perception of images, not only of a second's duration but sometimes of an eighth of a second, so that the collision of my images causes a surge of abstract flashes that touch the soul rather than the eyes. Then, an invisible beauty is created which is not apparent on the film and is as difficult to explain as the perfume of a rose or the music of a symphony."
Skipping ahead to Act IV:

Suddenly the curtains on each side of the screen were drawn fully back away from the stage and


we are now watching three separate screens, each image projected by a separate projector, all timed with computer precision. The screen-shots in the above-scanned program will give you a general idea of what the three-screen format looked like -- but nothing of its unbelievably powerful effect!

The audience was roaring in approval. From this moment until the end of the film, you could just feel the excitement! The crowd frequently broke out into cheers and jubilant cries.

The final moments of the film were extremely powerful.

Gance has Napoleon -- on Screen #2 (center) -- galloping his horse towards the camera; while on Screens #1 and #3 (left/right), he has filmed what might be the side of the road, but in an astonishing trick of visual sleight-of-hand, he has simply reversed the image on Screen #1 and projected it onto #3. The effect is -- as my daughter leaned over and whispered -- almost 3D!

At times, Gance projects Joséphine on Screens #1 and 3, with Napoleon in the center.

At the end, with the exciting live music pounding out a live fortissimo which rocked the hall, Gance projects the same image on all three screens -- a rush of water, a torrential pounding -- and gradually, the image on the far left is tinted blue -- the far right, red, and the center, regular black & white (i.e., "white") -- the colors of the French flag -- blue, white and red!

The audience was on their feet, cheering, whooping.

No plain "The End" for our young director. After several moments of the raging waters, his name in cursive signature is displayed across all three screens! A B E L G A N C E

Thank you, San Francisco Silent Film Festival. What an experience!