Netflix Rampage!
Agata of Melt-Banana

[crossposted from]

So here was the situation. I had the house to myself for just over two weeks, with no need to negotiate viewing times on the big livingroom TV. I was also freshly unemployed, and eager to extract the maximum value from every penny that leaves my pocket (in this case, my share of the household Netflix fee). I also had the ability to keep all three discs on our monthly plan in continual rotation (which meant I could watch up to six discs a week). So that’s exactly what I did.

None of what follows should be considered anything remotely approaching a review, just a few thoughts that occurred while watching.

IN THE LOOP – I’ll just repeat my FaceBook status update verbatim, where I described it as  ”a very dark political farce in the tradition of DR. STRANGELOVE and WAG THE DOG. If you like acidic British wit, this one’s for you – there may have been 2 or 3 lines in the entire hour and 46 minutes that did not draw blood, but I wouldn’t swear by that”.

THE HURT LOCKER - This was not an intentional segue from the previous film, but it occurred to me while watching that this is a film about the kind of ultimate result that can arise out of the process seen in IN THE LOOP. The film deserves all the praise it’s gotten, and I imagine that it’s a compelling experience whether or not you think this particular mission was a good idea.

MOON – Rock star progeny never seem to measure up to their parents, so it was probably a good move for Duncan Jones (the former Zowie Bowie) to go into a different line of creative work. That said, he definitely seems to have inherited his dad’s interest in science-fictional themes. I liked the fact that this film recalled late 60s-early 70s SF in its emphasis on concept and mood over action (I also liked seeing some non-CGI effects for a change, wasn’t sure anyone even knew how to build models anymore).

ROME OPEN CITY- I’ve been running into references to “Italian Neo-Realism” for decades now, so I thought that this would be a good time to educate myself via Roberto Rosselini’s “war trilogy”, shot at the end of WWII. This first one (dealing with Rome shortly before the liberation from German occupiers) was an early (if you don’t count all those little experimenters who flourished before the rise of the big studios) example of DIY filmmaking, made with any  scraps of film stock they could find. By necessity, they had to shoot many scenes in actual locations and use non-professionals, thus giving it a feel of authenticity that was revolutionary at the time.

UP IN THE AIR- What does it say about me that I find myself identifying (well, just slightly) with Ryan’s Bingham’s “How Much Does Your Backpack Weigh” presentation? I know Ryan (played by George Clooney) isn’t supposed to be a sympathetic character until he rejects the unencumbered, disconnected lifestyle his presentation advocates, but perhaps I’m influenced by the fact that I often feel bolted  in place by the sheer bulk of the stuff I’ve accumulated over the decades, and the enormous effort that would be involved in getting down to just what I really need and use (which also might make it possible to move to a cheaper part of the country – say Austin, TX – if the need arises, which it very well might). I’m not a case for “Hoarders”, but there are days when I fee a certain kinship.

PAISAN – This is the second of Rosellini’s war trilogy, which follows the Allied advance up the boot of Italy. In one case, the Germans were so recently gone that passengers on a passing streetcar thought the scene of Germans abducting a resistance leader was real and attempted to intervene (you can see the streetcar going by in the scene). If there’s one flaw in this film, it’s that it conveniently glosses over the fact that Italy had only dumped Il Duce when the Allies were at the door. You do get to see more of war’s real devastation than in the first installment (but much more was to come, as you’ll see in the entry after next).

NEW YORK DOLL – Arthur Kane’s quiet life working in a Mormon library is suddenly disrupted by the unexpected return of a piece of his past – the New York Dolls, who helped to lay the musical groundwork for punk (and whose visual style affected just about all of rock from that point on). Seeing him reclaim this part of his life was very touching, even though it turned out to be the last chapter in his story.

GERMANY YEAR ZERO - The Neo-Realist style was perhaps the only appropriate style for the finale Rossellini’s war trilogy. The impact generated by just setting characters loose in Berlin as it was soon after the war is hard to convey if you haven’t seen it. How did people possibly live in the middle of so much rubble?

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON - The tormented artist has been a romantic figure ever since, well, ever since the Romantic movement started in the late 1700s. An easier position to hold when you’re not dealing with the day-to-day realities involved. Luckily for Daniel Johnston, a lot of talented people were able to see past his spectacular dysfunction and rawer-than-raw performance style to the songs underneath it all.

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND – I’ve been a Forrest Whitaker fan since he played Charlie Parker in BIRD, and my perception has always been that he brings a great sense of gentle calm to his portrayals. Maybe I’ve been missing the exceptions, since this portayal of Idi Amin was a pretty spectacular change of pace, one that clearly earned that Oscar.

THE QUEEN – Another unintentional segue. Essentially, this is a movie about the kind of moment we all dread, the moment when we realize that we’re living in a different world than the one we thought we were in. Adjusting to the world as it actually is is never easy, and in this case Britain could be a republic today had the Royals declined to make the effort.

JOHN WATERS DVD SCRAPBOOK (listed by Netflix as “John Waters Collection: Extras”) – This companion disc to an old Waters boxed set has more than five hours of material on it – lots of mini-docs, interviews, old photos and such. I couldn’t get through it all, partly because of one of the worst-designed user interfaces ever. I still enjoyed it, especially “Love Letter to Edie” – what a life that Egg Lady led!

AS TEARS GO BY - Up till now, my knowledge of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wei was limited to Fallen Angels, but I’ve wanted to see more for a long time, so I figured a good way to end this marathon would be to go back to the beginning of his directing career and work forward later. I did this despite the fact that this first feature of his isn’t exactly considered a masterpiece, but I’m curious about where people came from and how they developed their style. As advertised, this one is a fairly-conventional crime flick, but with just a few touches of his later visual style here and there. Still pretty enjoyable.

I’ll have to do that again some time.

"Kind Of Blue" is 50 Today
Agata of Melt-Banana
 I haven't forgotten my plans to start posting here again (I do have some ideas), but while I still have five minutes of today (8/17) left, I just wanted to point you to a post by Dave Shaw commemorating the 50th Anniversary of one of the greatest albums ever recorded, Miles Davis' "Kind Of Blue".

Without further ado, here it is.

- B

Hello again.
Agata of Melt-Banana
Any of my old LJ friends still active?

I'm preparing to resume this blog in the near future.

And one big reason not to
Agata of Melt-Banana
Well, it didn't take long for it to rain on my parade.

The most upsetting part of all of this is listening to pundits gas on about how the Democrats will have to re-invent themselves. Not that a lot of thought doesn't have to be given to how to make the case more compelling. But everyone seems to assume that no one can govern America for the forseeable future without actively pandering to the delusions of the large percentage of Americans who prefer ancient superstition to reason and science as a source of truth. That may be true, but it's a hideous thing if it is.

Short of demanding a new country for those of us who don't want to be governed by evangelicals, secularists need to start organizing just the way evangelicals did back in the days (I'm thinking late '60s - early 70s) when they didn't have the kind of influence on policy that they have now. The voice of reason (by which I mean a worldview that goes by facts and evidence, not a vague, inoffensive "reasonableness") has been almost completely absent from civic discourse for many years now. That has to change, somehow.

Reasons to smile
Agata of Melt-Banana
Life has changed a bit since my last return-that-wasn't quite. For one thing, I'm employed.

Here's a tip; if you want to break into a particular field, volunteer in it. It was my volunteering at the local library that got me hooked up with a library-services temp firm. I was hired on as a "loose-leaf filer" (someone who keeps law and other loose-leaf reference works current by removing old pages and inserting their replacements) with the expectation that I would get about 10 hours a week at first (not a living, but a start toward one). The next day, they found me a month-long full-time assignment at a law firm, doing a different type of work for a better hourly rate.

That just ended, but the company wants me back when the next phase of the project starts (probably in a few weeks time). So things are looking up there.

Having more money coming in than I expected prompted me to indulge in three consecutive nights of music a couple of weeks ago, nights which taken together give a pretty good picture of my listening range (if we leave jazz out of it).

Tuesday the 12th at the Middle East Upstairs was a great night for lovers of songcraft. And while support acts Dolorean and Damien Jurado did indeed offer up a lot of well-written material, it was Richard Buckner's show, at least from my POV.

I've written about him before, and seen him at least twice since then (one day I missed him due to having broken my arm that day). My admiration for what the man does with words and music has kept growing throughout that time.

Anyone with a knowledge of late 60s music knows how embarrassing lyrics can become once they begin to aspire to the status of poetry. But there are people whose mastery of language earns the adjective "poetic" honestly, and Buckner is one of that small company.And he's obviously put some thought into it; one of my favorite albums of his is "The Hill", which sets a number of selections from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology to astonishingly gorgeous music. He only does one piece from that album in his current show (although I asked him this time if he'd consider adding "Oscar Hummel" back in sometime, so we'll see), but there are so many other great songs in his catalog that it's hard to get too upset about it.

The night after was the medical-expenses benefit for ex-SSD singer Springa. There was supposed to be a "day" and a "night" show, but they just kept going after the day show, with no separate admission. I got there just as Gang Green were finishing up; that seemed to mark a transition between a crowd that was there mostly for the hardcore, and one with a more eclectic bent. Accordingly, us latecomers got a show that ranged from the old-school punk of The Marvels and Unnatural Axe, to the countrified Wheelers and Dealers, the arty pop of Pastiche (first performance in more years than I can bring to mind right now), the garage rock ('tho that was more obvious back when they had a keyboard in the mix) of Prime Movers and the all-out r n' r assault of The Outlets, who just completely killed. Wonderful stuff all around (or almost), for a most deserving cause.

The night after that, Brian Wilson brought his lost masterpiece Smile to fruition in front of a deliriously happy Orpheum crowd. Undoubtedly, many in that crowd have been waiting for this day since we first heard rumors back in '66 about how completely out there the followup to Pet Sounds would be. "It was worth the wait" seems such a weak and insufficient way to describe how I felt in the presence of this.

Then the Sox go and win the Series!

Let's hope Kerry can keep the good news coming tonight.

Film Thought #3
Agata of Melt-Banana
I really enjoyed End of the Century, the Ramones documentary. It was very true to the way those early times felt.

The part that resonated most with me was when they were talking about how they got to know each other, which was the same way I found my friends in the early 70s. Basically, they were the only Stooges fans they knew. And that really was the most relevant musical question at that time. If you liked the Stooges (which meant that it was a pretty good bet that you liked the MC5 and Velvet Underground too), you were part of a extremely small group. And when anyone else you might want to know found out what you listened to, they got scared.

It was a proud and lonely thing to love that kind of stuff in that time. Who knew it would someday be used to sell beer and cars?

BTW, you Boston-area procrastinators will be glad to know that the film's run has been extended at the Kendall (don't ask me how long, but till Thursday at least).

Naked ambitions
Agata of Melt-Banana
In my Aug 8th entry, I talked about my strategies for getting more stuff done. So what kind of stuff am I talking about?

I want to talk about these things in some detail, but that post would probably be longer than most of you would be willing to read. So I'll just summarize now, and add more detail as time goes along.

The most pressing tasks are related to generating some kind of income. My main focus in this area is getting some new skills. The usual job search routine isn't all that effective when the only things you've done for money (outside of ancient jobs at a McDonalds and pre-computer clerical work, plus the three months I spent at the Kendall Square Cinema in '01) are programming (not likely) and tax preparation (not until next January). If I want to make more than $7 an hour, I need to learn some new tricks.

A relatively simple option is to learn how to type (at an acceptable pace), and then sign up with temp agencies. Once in the door, I'll concentrate on learning various office-related software. The receptionist often came in late when I was doing taxes, so I was often the de facto morning receptionist and I figure I could probably do that job pretty well with a little polishing. A side benefit of learning financial software is that I could set up a low-cost business to help small businesses or "creatives" (at least those who can't afford the usual professional rates) with their accounting and other back-office stuff (I can already do taxes, so this would be a logical add-on).

Long term, I'm actually thinking of getting an associate degree of some kind, just to have something to show the world that I'm worth at least $12 an hour. With my current income and assets (luckily, they don't count retirement assets), I could probably get a decent aid package (low-cost loan at least, and maybe some grant money).

I'm also looking for library work (circulation desk is the only thing I'm likely to qualify for now, but assistant librarian or library technician could come with time), and I'm helping my roommate's brother set up a business to market his investment advice (don't laugh, he's really good at this stuff and it's not impossible that this could turn into a real job at some point).

But life isn't all work, and there's a lot of other areas I'd like to be more capable (or at least knowlegeable) in. I'd like to improve my photography and get it on more band websites. This also involves graduating from iPhoto to Photoshop, so I can widen the range of effects I can produce. I also need to update my own site with some of the 1000+ shots I've taken since the last update. I've been an aficianado of graphics and design for a long time (that's why I started this organization, which has acheived great things under subsequent management), but have never really been a practitioner of any skill - I'd like to change that. I also realize that I'm not nearly as knowlegeable in areas like history, literature (outside of genre) and art as I thought I'd be by this time in my life - I'd like to change that too.

So that's a brief look at my priorities. As I said above, more detail later.

Radio Bob, 8/8/04
Agata of Melt-Banana
At the risk of launching yet another stupid meme, here's the last 20 songs my iPod (on shuffle play) served up to me:

1) Pixies - River Euphrates
2) Mission of Burma - Hunt Again
3) Robyn Hitchcock - Queen Elvis
4) Throwing Muses - Catch
5) Babyfat - Sloth
6) Jawbox - Cooling Card
7) Helium - Lazy
8) Duke Ellington - Backward Country boy Blues
9) Elliott Smith - I Better Be Quiet Now
10) Left Banke - Desiree
11) Kostars - Never So Lonely
12) Paula Kelley - My Finest Hour
13) Wire - From the Nursery
14) Geraldine Fibbers - California Tuffy
15) Elvis Costello - Shot With His Own Gun
16) Pixies - Dig for Fire
17) Richard Buckner - Stumble Down
18) Willie Alexander - You Looked So Pretty When
19) Montage - Wake Up Jimmy (Something Is Happening Outside)
20) Paula Kelley - For Someone

Of course, I've still got a lot of CDs that aren't up on it yet (and a lot of my vintage punk is on vinyl, which would be a pain to rip), but I think this gives a reasonable representation of what I've been listening to the last few years.

Winding my clock
Agata of Melt-Banana
It happened exactly like I had promised myself it wouldn't. When there was no free time to be had, I swore that once I got it back I wouldn't waste a bit of it, wouldn't drift through the days like I did after losing my job last year.

Three months and a bit more past April 15th and I feel like I'm just beginning to be productive again. A big part of it is my new PDA. I had a Treo 180 (combination Palm and cell phone), but I just didn't like the screen, so I used it rarely. So when 7 Eleven introduced a new cellular pay-as-you-go plan with an included phone and minutes that last for 120 days, I replaced my Treo with that phone plus a Tungsten E PDA with a really nice color screen (good enough so that I can display my photos at gigs). I figure that the savings in cell phone bills will let me break even on the combined purchase in about 18 months.

After that I sat down, figured out what things needs to be accomplished in the long term, broke those down into shorter-term goals, and began to put dates on them. It's the dates that do it. My earlier to-do lists all seemed to have "whenever" for a date on anything that didn't have to be done by a certain date. Now I just pretend that I have to do it by that date. It's not perfect, but it's much better than before. Now when I'm late I really do feel motivated to do whatever it is rather than "I'll get around to it".

So what is it I'm trying to get done? More later.

Back for more
Agata of Melt-Banana
Amazing. When I was working 50+ hour weeks a few months ago, I still managed to get a couple of entries in. I've spent an equal amount of time since with nothing but time, and nothing! I've spent most of my time thinking about what I'm going to do next. I've also gone to a couple of film festivals, started to organize my photo collection (more details soon), seen Mission of Burma a few times, seen a few other bands (like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum last night), and I'm probably forgetting a few things.

But I have a free moment here at TypeCon2004 in San Francisco, a conference for typography fans that I started back in the late '90s and which current management has taken to much greater heights than I could have (about 500 attendees this time). So it seems like a good time to get back to it.


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