Saturday, March 21, 2015



OLD JOKE: A tourist passed violinist Mischa Elman on Fifty-seventh Street, Manhattan.

"Excuse me," said the tourist, noticing his violin case, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

"Yes," Elman said, continuing on his way. "Practice!"




OLDER JOKE: Bacchus wanted to retrieve the recently deceased poet Euripides from the underworld but wasn't quite sure how to go about it. Without a better plan, he decided to adorn himself with a lion's skin and club in a feeble attempt to appear like Hercules, who had successfully travelled to the underworld to wrestle Cerberus. Then he sought the strongman's advice.

He arrived at his half-brother's door, where the heroic Hercules mocked the effeminate Bacchus for his ill-suited disguise until the god of wine and theater revealed his serious intent.

"How may I soonest arrive at Hades below?" Bacchus asked.

Hercules, put out by his annoying sibling, replied, "A rope and a bench."


(Taken from Aristophanes' The Frogs, 405 BC)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

american sniping


Chomsky reviews the reviewers of American Sniper:




* * * 

For reasons that aren't particularly interesting, I won't be seeing American Sniper. I have never been convinced that Clint Eastwood is a very good filmmaker (or actor, for that matter) and, fairly or not, the fact that his films are generally praised very highly makes me feel differently towards them than I would, say, the films of another competent or better than average filmmaker whose work was consistently treated with the lack of reverence and respect I thought it deserved. I also have no patience for any of the recent movies about war and terrorism that couch themselves in vague notions of neutrality, whether that be through a director's insistence that the work is "not political" (and critics largely treat it as such), an actor says that a given film is not about war but rather a "character study" (meaning that the war itself is mere backdrop—an inherently political decision in its implications), or any of the other myriad ways this stance might be expressed. The Hurt Locker, with Kathryn Bigelow's insistence that the film was somehow "neutral" or apolitical, was for me the first and final straw in breaking any interest I had in watching these dishonest (at worst) or woefully naive (giving benefit of doubt) films. At the same time I do sometimes wonder how much this kind of framing is genuine sentiment and how much of it is merely a cynical marketing strategy designed to make the films appeal to the largest number of viewers possible, both pro- and anti-war1. (When it turns out that a given movie is "serious" enough to contend for awards, this strategy would also help ensure that it doesn't ruffle too many feathers in the Academy2, a body thought to be much more in opposition to the Iraq war than in support of it.)3

1: An easy shorthand. But yeah, I just did that unfair thing with language that anti-abortion types do when they frame themselves as "pro-life." (By definition, no sane person is ever "pro-war," however much they might support a particular action.)

2: Not a Birdman reference.

3: I already told you in the beginning that my reasons weren't particularly interesting; you have no one to blame but yourself.

* * *

A comment found below Matt Taibbi's online review of American Sniper :



Normally I wouldn't respond to this at all, or I'd respond to it directly on the page. But since the comments are closed, I'm snowed in, the comment itself is frozen directly below the article for all to see, and I have nothing better to post at the moment...

helloiamyo: You seem to be under the impression that it is somehow possible to go into a movie completely objectively, with no preconceived expectations or prejudice
—how quaint! The irony is that you did the exact same thing you criticize Taibbi for, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum: you expected to like the film. How do I know? Because you paid to see it. (Though you've already demonstrated that logic isn't your strong suit, I'm assuming that the reasoning behind this particular deduction is intuitive enough for you to infer without my having to explain it.) It follows, then, that you had the mindset of finding what is "right" and "good" in the film and therefore enjoyed it like "the rest of us" (who likewise paid for it). Add to this the possibility of having to face the disappointing prospect of having plopped down ten bucks for something you didn't even enjoy and, well, it's no wonder you found something to like, right? Or should I give you more credit than you're giving Taibbi?


The following comment can be seen shortly thereafter, wherein a marooned citizen proudly fires his cannons from the shores of Philistia:



Nothing to say to that; one can only marvel. (I would ask, however, that if "entertain" is truly "ENOUGH!" for movies to do, then why does Mr. Lously bother to spend time reading about them, let alone take the time to write a response? I sense some inner conflict...)