Sunday, August 3, 2014

MLB

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

PITTSBURGH at ARIZONA (8-3)

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:

http://m.mlb.com/ari/video/topic/8879838/v35015681/pitari-goldy-hit-on-the-hand-in-the-9th/?c_id=ari

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:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v35038931/pitari-delgado-hits-mccutchen-gets-tossed/?query=mccutchen+hit+by+delgado

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?

2-0.

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.

CHICAGO CUBS at LOS ANGELES DODGERS (2-5, 12 inn.)

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.

KANSAS CITY at OAKLAND (3-8)

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

COLORADO at DETROIT (5-11)

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.

Love,
Lewis

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.

Amen.

-- 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.

q.v.

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXCgBmnqLFw

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
Intermission
ACT II 3:50 - 4:50
Dinner Break
ACT III 6:45 - 8:35
Intermission
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

WOW!

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!




Wednesday, March 7, 2012

212. Rush Limbaugh

Today's NYT.

The last sentence tells you everything you need to know. "He (Obama) doesn't know what's in my heart, but you do," Mr. Limbaugh told his (radio) audience. "And that is the key."

Translation: Obama is too polite to say it, but YOU faithful listeners know me by now! Of course, I'm a misognystic racist and I meant every word of it!

**

I was there at the beginning.

In 1988 -- the year Rush started his radio show -- I had become a father for the second time, and five years after that, I was a full-time househusband, schlepping three young girls around Tucson -- back and forth to and from three different schools in three different sections of town, music lessons, Hebrew school, doctor appointments ...

... and since I do not listen to music in the car if someone is going to talk (thus making it background music), I always had the radio tuned to 790-AM, the all-talk station.

Thus Rush.

I remember thinking that this guy really really really loved Ronald Reagan! He was God Almighty and of course -- as I soon learned from Rushbo -- The Great White Commie Hater come to save America.

An historic nanosecond later and there was no more Soviet Union -- all thanks to Ronnie and Rush.

Clinton -- the most conservative Democrat I ever voted for -- was soon the great big Evil Liberal (huh?)

Well, at least I got a daily chuckle from the show.

Talent on loan from God. Yeah, right.

**

Rush used the 1956 song by Clarence Henry called "Ain't Got No Home," as a theme song and background for his rants where he would "illustrate" his take on the homeless and the liberal politics flowing therefrom. It become increasingly clearer to me over the years that this guy had a really nasty streak -- a toxic combination of his own particular brand of elitism (and he dares to constantly criticize the elite himself [translate: Jews]), racism and of course a particularly nasty bit of misogyny...

And yeah -- antisemitism, too.

I'll never forget it.

It was in the early 90's and Rush took a phone call from Mary who had a thick English accent.

Mary began her rant somewhat calmly but worked herself up into quite a lather. That perfectly proper accent made her xenophobic spewings all the more spine-chilling.

She blamed the Jews for everything. They had infiltrated this and that and of course completely "controlled" the liberal media, the liberal movement in general and -- oh, yes of course, how could we forget? -- the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the secret councils, Rockefeller and Rothschild ... on and on and on ... she even managed to throw in a reference to the old medieval canard about ritual child murders.

During her rant, Rush interrupted her only once saying something like this:

"Mary, how do you think the things you are saying will resonate with my [conservative] radio audience?"

She said she thought that the majority agreed with her, even if they wouldn't say so publicly.

He gave a little "hmmm."

Then -- when she brought up the Protocols I thought to myself, here Rush can at least pull himself up out of this mud pit ... explain to her and his audience that this was one of the most vicious frauds ever perpetrated against the Jewish people --

but he just let it slide by...

**

Maybe someone important -- perhaps even Jewish? -- and close to Rush also heard that phone call that day -- because as the years went by, I noticed that any such references to Jews became subtly coded with terms like "The Elite" or references to Rockefeller or at its most obvious, attempts at trying to be subtle; descriptions of shadowy rooms filled with bearded men in yamulkes, hacking off massive chunks of world real estate from some imagined New World Order where Jews run and control anything and everything.

Rush let it all sweep through his EIB air, and as Alan Colmes reminds us daily, when R$ush speaks, the words and smooshed-up ideas reverberate in the Right-Wing echo chamber and are then regurgitated at every level of the media, new and old ...

Colmes, by the way, always includes the fact that he is not advocating muzzling Rush in any way shape or form; he does not call for any sponsor boycott ...

... but let's call a spade a spade.

What is in rush limbaugh's heart is a whole lotta HATE.

I knew it back in '92 and it's still pretty obvious.

I hate to love the hate, but I love this country as much as any drooling Spartanburg, South Carolina sheriff (who called Obama a "buffoon")

So keep bringing it on, Rush. I remember when mainstream just ignored you. This is much better.








Friday, October 21, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

208. Ozu Film #28: Dragnet Girl (1933)

*28. Hijosen no onna (Dragnet Girl) (4/27/33) (100 min.) [Silent B&W [buy it here]
  • The DVD requires a region-free player.
  • Like Days of Youth, there is no soundtrack -- try and imagine the music (and the benshi).
  • The Shochiku logo is similar to what we've seen on our first three available films: a bas-relief with the Imperial crest and the date (1933).
  • The background for the credits is a modern-looking painting which is dominated by dark crescent shapes surrounded by a connect-the-dots matrix.
  • The very first shot is a stunner: a high crane shot down on a large empty concrete space. Two men, each with a long camera-facing shadow, walk left to right, while another solitary figure walks away from the camera.
  • Cut; POV out a window with wooden slats hanging down. Notice the stunning composition here -- the right side of the window is open and two windows of the opposite building are perfectly framed between the wooden slats and the open window! (Ozu will repeat this shot near the end of the film.)
  • The pillow shots here are striking:
    • Cut; two grandfather clocks (one reads almost 3:40, the other around 3:47), swinging pendulums, time cards on far right;
    • Cut; time cards and hats hanging on rack.
    • Cut; a wall clock (showing 3:33).
    • Cut back to the hats; a white one falls;
    • Cut to ground level shot of the hat;
    • Cut and then pan left to right right behind a row of female typists.
    • Cut back to hats (including the empty peg where the white had once hung), panning left to right...
    • Cut back to the previous pan of the typists.
  • The pan stops and holds on a typewriter with no typist. She enters the frame and
  • Reverse cut to a medium shot of Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka), checking out her work.
  • Swinging office doors (WBK); Okazaki (Yasuo Nanjo), the president's son, looking over the mail, asks about his father and then has his assistant call in Tokiko. He gives her a ruby ring...
    "What you do think that means?"
    "If it means that, I'll give it back to you."
  • Transition shots; door ("Private"), clock (4:15), door, two clocks; resume pan of typewriters, now being covered.
  • Wastebaskets, overflowing.
  • High crane shot, people leaving building (long shadows facing camera)
  • Interior, looking out a translucent window with Gothic iron work ... Tokiko walking away; she stops.
  • Is looking at herself in a store window (shot with camera facing her directly).
  • Cut, Okazaki standing on corner. "Join me for some tea."
  • As they exit frame, Ozu holds on scene.
  • Two men enter frame; stop.
  • Cut to their POV: Okazaki and Tokiko standing, talking.
  • After Okazaki departs, Tokiko is walking with the two men, one on each side. It turns out they know each other. They have tabbed Okazaki as a "sucker" until she tells them that he's her boss's son and she does not want to get fired.
  • The men run away suddenly; she crosses the street.
  • We see why the men ran; a policeman enters the frame. He follows her (camera at feet).
  • Cut; more pillow shots: scale, rings;
  • Cut medium shot of boxers; Hiroshi (Kôji Mitsui) moves towards camera, skipping rope.
  • Jyoji (Joji Oka) scene. Tokiko arrives.
  • Cut to pan from behind bass, drums. Dance hall.
  • "Who's coming to attack us?"
    • Senko (Yoshio Takayama) approaches the strangers and does a little dance.
      • (We will see him do it again in a moment, and later, at the gym.)
  • As he will continue to do, Ozu elides the actual fight entirely. Note the sequence:
    • The strangers follow Senko into the back room. They face him, ready to do damage, until Jyoji appears.
    • Senko (dance) waves in the rest of the gang.
    • Jyoji tells them to "see to Tokiko."
    • The gang pauses, astonished that he will fight one against three.
    • Ozu pulls the camera back, as all four men begin to take off their coats.
    • In a cute bit of business, Senko reenters the room just as Jyoji is throwing his coat to him -- which Senko catches and then turns around and leaves.
    • Ozu holds on the tense moment, facing the men about to fight.
    • But ... surprise ... Ozu cuts to follow Senko out of the room and back to the rest of the group in the dance hall.
  • And then, in a fine bit of silent film construction: - a quick axial cut to a medium-close shot of the group, all heads turning together;
  • Cut to another group; girls rising from their chairs, and their heads all turning simultaneously;
  • Cut back to the first group; all heads turn twice;
  • Cut to a third group; people rising;
  • Senko runs towards camera which is placed right behind the drummer; motions for them to play;
  • Couples flood the dance floor;
  • Cut to a POV behind the bar, profiles of Tokiko, Senko and his girlfriend. Tokiko:
    • "Only a cannon could knock out my Jyoji."
  • He returns, framed through two girls on left and right. Senko is ready with his coat; he is cool and collected.
    • "Give some water to the three punks."
  • Cut to the beaten punks, trying to regain their wits;
  • ECU on three glasses of water on a tray, dice in the foreground;
  • Senko goes off to deliver the water; Jyoji and Tokiko dance. Girls with yo-yos pass in front.
    • Pillows: Tea pot pan; door opens to Jyoji, Senko, Tokiko and Kazuko (Sumiko Mizukubo), Hiroshi's sister.
  • Senko returns with Hiroshi who wants to join.
  • Visits sis at record shop. (Nipper, the RCA dog business) ... borrows money.
  • Hiroshi playing billiards. Chalk. Fight. Broken up. More billiards.
  • Comes home to an angry, disappointed Kazuko.
  • Gym, Hiroshi talking with Senko. Someone to see Jyoji. He goes outside and meets Kazuko. To Hiroshi: "You have a visitor."
  • "You'll never make it in this racket," then punches him.

207. Ozu Films #25-27 (1932-1933)

25. Seishun no yume im aizuko (Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth) (10/13/32) (ca. 90 min.) [Silent B&W {acc. to Richie, Shochiku negative exists, but the film has never been commercially released -- clip of 4:31 here}]

The shooting of "I Was Born, But..." was interrupted when one of the children was hurt and this film was hastily prepared. Four boys have graduated college. Three of them eventually have to ask the fourth, the son of a company president, for jobs. He, in turn, gets one of their girls.
  • The clip features Saitô Tatsuo and has a clean, bright look to it.
26. Mata au hi made (Until the Day We Meet Again) (11/24/32) (ca. 110 min.) [Sound B&W NEP]
  • Ozu's first sound film; albeit music and effects only (no dialogue).
An atypical story, a romantic melodrama about a prostitute in love with a boy whose father dislikes her; it takes place during the night before the young man must leave for the army.

27. Tôkyô no onna (Woman of Tokyo) (2/9/33)
(ca. 70 min.) [Sound (music/effects) B&W Existing Shochiku print but no commercial release; clip of beginning 7:52 here.]

A girl works hard to put her younger brother through school only to have him kill himself when he learns that she has financed his education by becoming a prostitute.
  • Filmed in eight days.
  • The clip shows two scenes: first the brother and sister at home; she gives him money for his school tuition. Next, she is at work, a typist. A policeman interviews her bosses -- who praise her work -- but seems to get suspicious when they tell him that she also works for a professor as a translator "till late at night." The clip ends.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

206. Ozu Film #24: I Was Born, But... (1932)

*24. Umarete wa mita keredo (I Was Born, But...) (6/3/32) (100 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here]

Through the eyes of two young boys (eight and ten), Ozu explores the loss of innocence as they gradually realize that their father is not the "boss" -- and since they can beat up the boss's son, they simply do not understand why their dad doesn't rule the roost, as well. They go on a hunger strike, but eventually realize that life seems to hold many cold and bitter truths.
Arguably, one of his best films from any period -- certainly, his greatest silent...

According to a Japanese friend, a fuller translation of the title might be something like:
  • "I Was Born, But ... why do I have to go through all this hardship?"
  • Shot between November '31 and April '32, but interrupted by the shooting of the previous film (#23). This partially accounts for the way the film turns dark towards the end -- Ozu's attitude toward it had changed...
  • Ozu: "I started to make a film about children and ended up with a film about grown-ups; while I had originally planned to make a fairly bright little story, it changed while I was working on it, and came out very dark. The company hadn't thought it would turn out this way. They were so unsure of it that they delayed its release for two months." [Richie, p. 215.]
  • The film went on to with the Kinema Jumpo First Prize for that year.
  • Donald Sosin again composes and plays one of the finest silent film scores I've ever heard.
  • The first Shochiku card resembles the one in "Tokyo Chorus" -- a bas-relief; a tall figure with a staff next to a lion with 1932 across its body.
  • The background for the credit cards is hilarious: a man is standing at the base of three leaves extending from a stalk. He has on funny round glasses and is naked, covering his privates with his left hand.
  • The first card reads: "A Picture Book for Grown-Ups."
  • Original story by "James Maki." This was a name they made up for Ozu.
  • In September of '31, five of Shochiku's big stars left to form their own company (including the soon-to-die Tokihiko Okada). Luckily, Ozu was able to retain Saitô Tatsuo, who is given the role of a lifetime here -- and he certainly delivers.
  • Likewise, the kids (Hideo Sugawara and Tomio Aoki), who carry the film for the duration. They are terrific!
  • Aoki was eight when he made this film -- his 14th IMDb entry! He died in 2004, age 80.
The script -- with surprisingly few title cards for so much activity -- is as tight as can be. Note the character introductions, done casually but with careful intent:
  • ECU on car tire stuck, spinning in the mud.
  • Truck driver, looking back.
  • Dad (Saitô Tatsuo) walks into frame; CU on him.
  • Spinning tire; back to Dad who is glancing up at something.
  • His two boys, standing in the back of the truck looking down.
  • Dad, tire and two-shot of Dad & truck driver who says something to Dad.
    • With no title cards whatsoever, Ozu makes it simple to follow the progression -- Dad looks at the kids and says something; the kids get out and prepare to push from the back of the truck.
  • Ozu finally fills the frame with the truck, which we see is loaded with a family's possessions -- trunks, suitcases and a doghouse.
  • Dad is vigorously turning the front crank; the kids have moved away and are talking.
  • Excellent ECU of tires spinning, truck rocking, getting out of the mud.
  • Ozu holds on the muddy path of road after the truck leaves the frame. We see only the legs of the kids as they walk by.
  • Cut to a front two-shot of the kids.
  • The first intertitle:
    • "You go on ahead. Tell your mother I went to see Mr. Iwasaki."
  • The kids get back in the truck and Dad exits frame -- as Ozu holds on the long narrow road, engirded by telephone poles.
It's all very subtle, but it's made clear that the father -- although he seems stern in his interactions with the kids at first (after all, they're in a tense situation) -- is in fact very gentle and loving with them. Conversely, we can see in the eyes of the older boy a kind of questioning of the father's behavior and decision-making. As I say, very subtle and observable only on repeat viewings.

  • We cut to we don't know where -- but Ozu has packed the foreground of this initial frame with all sorts of objects.
  • The truck pulls up in the background and we the older boy (Ryoichi) jumping out of the passenger-side seat and his younger brother (Keiji) from the back. Ryoichi moves towards the camera.
  • Gradually, Ozu puts it all together. The boys are talking to two young men who are putting away books. They are asking for their mother (Mitsuko Yoshikawa); they go off with her while Ozu remains with the young men. Two title cards reveal much. One man says to the other:
    • "Mr. Yoshii stopped in to pay his respects to the boss."
    • "That's why he's a manager, you could learn from him."
  • (i.e. the men work for Yoshii, who is visiting his boss, Iwasaki.)
A delivery boy, Kozou (Shoichi Kofujita), comes by and asks Keiji to "call somebody."
  • Keiji glances back into the house and then turns back to Kozou and makes a ridiculous face.
  • Kozou raises his right arm and makes a fist.
  • Staying on him, we watch as he unclenches, takes off his hat and bows.
  • Reverse cut and Mom is standing at the door with Keiji.
Compared to the two available films before this one, Ozu's use of humor is becoming much subtle.
  • Keiji and Kozou seem to develop a tentative friendship.
  • Cut to a large imposing house. Dad is bowing to Mrs. Iwasaki (Teruyo Hayami) and her young son, Taro (Seiichi Kato) as Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto, the man who was fired for being too old in "Tokyo Chorus") saunters into the scene from his tennis game (so Westernized).
  • "He's always getting into mischief," Iwasaki remarks, pointing towards Taro as he leaves the scene.
  • Dad responds: "All young boys should have a little mischief in them" (Beautifully ironic on repeat viewings).
The gang bullies little Keiji, taking away both the bun in his mouth and a ring toy that Kozou had given him.
  • Notice the little kid with the sign. After he tries to take a bite from the bun, the kid next to him -- perhaps his older brother -- snatches it away. Ozu then gives us a CU on the sign which is not translated with a title card, but with a modern subtitle:
  • "Upset tummy. Please don't feed him anything."
We get our first close-up of the little ring toy, as its new owner (the bully) tries to figure it out. Ozu then cuts to Ryoichi, who is playing with his own little toy just as Keiji arrives home, crying.
  • The boys return to the gang and Ryoichi confronts the bully. The fight is interrupted when Dad walks by. He tells the boys they need to "get along" with the local kids.
  • Note the beautiful transition which separates the scenes: a lone telephone pole which comes into view as the camera tracks the three characters. As soon as they exit the frame -- cut -- the pillow shot: the top of the pole, with bits of frayed cloth attached to the wires, being whipped by the wind.
  • Cut from this to a POV behind a fence, watching Dad exercise his arms (while smoking a cigarette). Dad is perfectly framed between two pieces of laundry hanging on the line (an Ozu motif).
  • Observe the breakfast scene, a microcosmic look at the essence of Ozu. Everything is played out in an extremely naturalistic turn (watch Hideo Sugawara, in particular). Dad is getting ready for work, the kids are eating ... it is nothing but a slice of morning life in which nothing happens.
  • The kids, facing a potential beating if they go to school, play hookey and eat their lunch early (note how the kids are always putting the bento box on their heads!).
  • Note a very clever transition: the kids are at school, marching, bored -- cut -- a rightward pan (rare for Ozu, even then) on office workers, all yawning (i.e., bored marching leading to a future of yawning).
  • The brothers share a cigarette butt.
  • Kozou runs into the boys and forges a teacher's "E" (for "excellent") on Keiji's calligraphy homework. The subtitle infers that he wrote the letter backwards!
  • The gang calls out the brothers, who successfully defeat Taro and another boy. The bully is conspicuously absent from this fight.
  • 0:36:56. Dad, who has found out about the bullying, walks the kids to school and pauses to make sure they actually go. At one point, the boys stop and turn around to see if their father is still watching (he is) and Sosin puts in this little cue that sounds exactly like someone saying, "UH-OH!" It's very clever.
  • Taro confronts Keiji, this time with the bully present. Keiji loses, but Kozou intervenes and sends the bully home, crying.
  • The brothers now point to Taro, and ask Kozou to "tell him off, too."
  • They learn a very adult lesson when Kozou declines, saying that the boss is a much better customer than their dad.
  • The brothers now "control" the rest of the hang. Given specific hand signals, any other boy must lie down on the ground at the leader's command. Taro did this, and now the brothers do it.
  • Ozu completely gives over this part of the film to the childrens' POV, as they compare the complicated hierarchy of both their own world and that of the adults.
  • 1) The bully's father calls back Ryoichi's earlier line: "Who made my kid cry?" The kids run away. This father is obviously a lot like his son...
  • 2) The next kid demonstrates teeth removal by offering his dad a piece of caramel. The kids shake their heads in wonderment and scurry off again.
  • 3) They meet up with Iwasaki and Chichi (Dad) and Taro finally settles the argument, once and for all, speaking to the brothers:
  • "That's my Dad's car. So my Dad's more important than yours."
  • The brothers test their leadership by ordering Taro to the ground. He does so, reluctantly, but Dad sees this and bows to Taro in apology as he dusts him off, looking at his sons sternly.
  • Dad leaves and the brothers repeat their command. Again, Dad sees it, and this time takes the boys away with him.
  • Again, notice the fermata, the pause -- such an important pacing tool for Ozu -- as he keeps the camera back as Dad and the boys walk further down the road.
  • The famous home-movie scene follows. Ozu takes his time setting everything up.
  • The kids, in their Sunday-finest, have to pay Taro a sparrow's egg as the price of admission; the adults are gathered around to watch the film.
  • The first reel. Ozu's fondness for scatalogical humor on full display:
  • The zoo. A large male lion.
  • "It's like the lion on the toothpaste tube."
  • "Which end does the toothpaste come out of?"
  • Keiji answers: "The tail end."
  • Next, a zebra. Taro asks:
  • "Are they black stripes on white or the other way around?"
  • The second reel: Iwasaki is crossing the street to meet what look like two young geisha girls. Offscreen, Mrs. Iwasaki is shooting daggers at her husband, while he desperately tries to save face by running the reel at fast forward speed (Sosin provides an appropriate cue).
  • Before the start of the third reel, Chichi lights the boss's cigarette with appropriate deference. As the reel begins, it appears that the employees are all doing calisthenics, perhaps on the rooftop of the workplace building. (I believe it is still fairly common for Japanese employees to exercise with their colleagues at work.)
  • The brothers are thrilled to see Dad on the screen.
  • Chichi begins making funny faces for the camera. Without intertitles, Ozu undulates between Dad looking ridiculous on the screen with a two-shot of the brothers watching all this, as we see them becoming more and more disgusted, disappointed, and disallusioned.
  • Meanwhile, all the adults, including Chichi, are laughing, although he seems a little embarrassed.
  • Ozu never confirmed whether or not his 1959 film, Ohayô ("Good Morning") was a "remake" of this film -- but the one strong parallel that both sets of brothers must come to terms with is the apparent hypocrisy of the adults' behavior.
  • In this film, after watching their father kowtow to the boss and look ridiculous, they demand that he should be the boss instead of Taro's father. They don't understand.
  • In the '59 film, the kids are bewildered at the way adults use phrases like "Good Morning" and "have a nice day" instead of saying what they really mean.
  • They go on a short hunger strike, which leads Dad to attempt to explain the nature of things to them. Do they understand?
In the final scene, we see Taro lie down on the ground at the brothers' signal, but when he gets up, the three friends march off to school arm in arm. The bully appears with the ring toy, still unable to figure it out. Ryoichi quickly demonstrates how to do it, but the bully still cannot duplicate the trick.
  • The scene ends on a wide shot -- the early morning rush, kids running to school, a tram whizzing by in the background...

201. My Seven Favorite Compositions

Links to my posts at The Best American Poetry blog on my seven favorite compositions:
  1. BACH: St. Matthew Passion
  2. BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131
  3. MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor
  4. STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps
  5. BARTOK: String Quartet No. 4
  6. BERG: Violin Concerto
  7. BERIO: Sinfonia