31 December 2010

30 December 2010


“What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?”

- Bertolt Brecht

Why you shouldn't kill yourself

I wondered what I could I tell them. Don’t? I thought about telling them that it gets better, but the gays pretty much own that. Or I could quote that line from “Cast Away,” where Tom Hanks gets off the island and recounts to his friend how he survived being so alone for so long, even when he almost killed himself: “You just have to keep on breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide will bring.”
This Isn’t Happiness says: “All that matters is: What are you going to do, right now?” Mostly, I think this is the truest thing. That all you have to do is not kill yourself right now, in this moment. And then in the next moment, you don’t kill yourself again. And you keep on going like that, moment after moment, not killing yourself. Until those moments become minutes, and those minutes become hours, and those hours become days, and those days become years. And you are alive.
Susanna Breslin

Man with a tripod

Jamie Stuart put this short film together during the blizzard in New York a few days ago:

I loved the short on its own terms as a fine example of cinematography and editing. It's also an homage to Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera (full movie below):

Roger Ebert has a discussion of Stuart's movie on his blog. As part of that, he included some emails from Stuart talking about how he made the short.

"The simple answer as to how it was done so quickly: practice.
"Most of the work I've done for the past half dozen years has been improvised online press-related shorts, which by nature requires a fast turnaround. Before that, I used to storyboard all my work -- so I had a strong sense of film language. The trick is to step into situations, often without a plan, and try to make it look like it was all planned. For instance, when I first started doing work for Filmmaker Magazine, I had just done my NYFF44 series, and Scott Macaulay asked if he could see the scripts I used for the episodes; I had to tell him there weren't any.
"Technically, for "Idiot with a Tripod," I shot with my Canon 7D and edited it with Final Cut Pro. Early on, I was able to vary things a little more -- I used macro diopters for the close-ups during the day shots, my portable slider for the dolly shots and also, a 75-300 zoom for the rooftop shots. I was more limited at night because of the weather conditions, so I stuck with my 24mm, 50mm and 85mm -- all of which are manual Nikon lenses. Which meant that in the middle of that maelstrom I was changing lenses, wiping off the lenses and manually focusing/adjusting each shot.
"The funny thing is, for the first part of the shoot I felt early uninspired and almost stopped. But I kept going. And it ultimately turned out really nice.

I wrote him back: "What was the passage of time, start to finish? What did you eat, when did you sleep? How cold did he get?

He responded:
"I started shooting around 1pm for about 30 minutes outside. Went out for another 15 minutes around 3pm. Meanwhile, I intermittently grabbed shots through my apartment window. (Lunch occurred around 2:30. Dinner was around 7:30. Can't remember what I ate. Maybe pasta.) Then, the main nighttime shoot began at 9pm and lasted until about 10:30.
"I wasn't that cold -- I was bundled, had a hat, gloves and scarf. The one stupid thing I did was to forget my snow boots and wore my Adidas, which, along with my pants, were soaked by the time I got in.
"Because the 7D shoots H.264, which is a web format and not meant for editing, I made selects from the footage and converted the selects into ProRes 422. I started it that night, but it takes a while to do. Went to bed my normal time around 1:30 am. Got up my normal time around 10am. Finished converting the footage. Then, I edited until I finished around 5pm. (I took a regular lunch break at around 2:30 -- chicken noodle and Saltines.)
"The final shot, where the camera pulls back from the window, was done around 1pm.
"I uploaded the video just after 5pm, after I finished burning a Quicktime, and sent the link around. 

You can see the full post here

29 December 2010

When we championed trash culture, we had no idea it would become the only culture

Celebrities are not appendages of our society anymore; they are the basis of our communal lives. Literature and architecture, art and politics, are at most sidelights—small, ancient alleyways down which fewer and fewer minds wander. Pop culture has long since left the word culture behind to become the primary way we understand the world. Just before she died, the film critic Pauline Kael told a friend, “When we championed trash culture, we had no idea it would become the only culture,” and she was right. The average American household now watches eight hours and twenty-one minutes of television a day. If we want to understand ourselves, if we want to understand the civilization to which we belong, we have to understand celebrities, because the modern world of freedom and loneliness has produced them as the primary communal experience. (I know more about Tom Cruise’s sexual history than I do about my cousins’.) We confront the mysteries and the terrors of life through them.

"Say Good-bye to Big Daddy" by Randall Jarrell


     Big Daddy Lipscomb, who used to help them up

    After he'd pulled them down, so that ''the children

    Won't think Big Daddy's mean''; Big Daddy Lipscomb,

    Who stood unmoved among the blockers, like the Rock

    Of Gibraltar in a life insurance ad,

    Until the ball carrier came, and Daddy got him;

    Big Daddy Lipscomb, being carried down an aisle

    Of women by Night Train Lane, John Henry Johnson,

    And Lenny Moore; Big Daddy, his three ex-wives,

    His fiancee, and the grandfather who raised him

    Going to his grave in five big Cadillacs;

    Big Daddy, who found football easy enough, life hard enough

    To -- after his last night cruising Baltimore

    In his yellow Cadillac -- to die of heroin;

    Big Daddy, who was scared, he said: ''I've been scared

    Most of my life. You wouldn't think so to look at me.

    It gets so bad I cry myself to sleep -- '' his size

    Embarrassed him, so that he was helped by smaller men

    And hurt by smaller men; Big Daddy Lipscomb

    Has helped to his feet the last ball carrier, Death.

    The big black man in the television set

    Whom the viewers stared at -- sometimes, almost were --

    Is a blur now; when we get up to adjust the set,

    It's not the set, but a NETWORK DIFFICULTY.

    The world won't be the same without Big Daddy.

    Or else it will be.

23 December 2010

On marrying rich guys

There's this receptionist at my dentist's office who is both very sweet and very decorative. She also sports one hell of a big rock on her significant left ring finger. She's married to a well-to-do guy about fifteen years older than she is.

     He gave her a set of tires for Christmas.

     She was disappointed.

     Now, in the guy's defense, a good set of tires for your required SUV or Euro import will start at $600, so it's not a cheap gift. And, you can argue that it shows care about her safety and well being. It is undeniably practical.

     It is not, however, the sort of gift that makes a woman's heart beat faster.

     And there's the dilemma. Now, I'm going to launch into a horrible set of generalizations. Many of them will be easy to cite counter examples for, but my arguments are based on my experience and observations. Real life, that is, and that's not easy to come by.
     I have met many women who tell me they want to marry a rich guy. This was annoying, frankly. My financial status varied from destitute to pathetic, followed by a brief gust of prosperity, then back down to solidly middling -- in many ways, the worst spot to be.

     So, when I heard the dozens of women tell me this, their little glittery Cinderella fantasy, I'd get angry. Yes, it is true, I'd think, all women really are whores at the bottoms of their black hearts. Willing to marry for money -- what filthy materialists! Then, when I had some money, I realized it's pretty nice. You can't blame someone for wanting money, as long as it's not the only thing they want. And maybe there's an overwhelming urge, forged in evolutionary psychology, for women to crave security.

     Wealth offers that illusion.

     I put aside my bitterness. Then I also noticed how many women would take up with guys who had no money at all -- musicians, bad boys, or cases like me. My wife, for example, was the soul of generosity when we met.  So, women are not all gold diggers, not at all. Nothing in the universe can be more kind that a loving woman who gives her affections freely.

     So, I've admitted my bias -- that of a guy who's never been particularly rich, and that of one who really likes women.

     In that spirit, ladies, I want to offer you some advice.
Don't marry rich guys. Date them and take them for every penny they have, because I am in solidarity with the great socialism of pussy. But do not marry them. Why?

     Think for a moment about what it takes to become rich. Not that I'm an expert, but I've met several affluent men, read a few books, studied the species. You can rely on me as an objective, outside observer, maybe lacking a certain insider's insight, but yet, with certain exactitude you couldn't get from one on the inside.

     So let's break it down. There are two ways to get rich. You make it. Or you inherit it.

Now, it's a commonly observed fact that trustfunders are generally spoiled and troubled. Probably troubled because they're spoiled. Without any opposition to struggle against and the weight of previous achievement smothering them, they have some massive psychological issues.

     The best you can hope for, really, is some one who takes the philanthropic route -- you know, who founds a foundation or gets heavily into nonprofit work. These guys are no fun, and maybe even earnest vegetarians.   

     Often, they're simply victims of the Puritanical genes that helped fuel their families rise.

     On the other hand, you have the notorious drug addicts, alcoholics, psychos and thrill seekers, probably also the victims of the same risk taking gene that propelled their ancestors to prominence.

     Either way, it'd be a bad deal on a human level.

     Take the fate of poor Carolyn Bessette. She lived the dream in its purest form marrying the prince, John F. Kennedy, Jr. Handsome, smart enough to pass his bar exam after a few tries, a publisher. Really, about the best it could ever get in the rich dude game.

     And what happens? Dude crashes the airplane doing a stupid maneuver.

     You die.

     If you're still not convinced, consider Laura Bush. Now, I hate that fucking pseudo hick George W., but women find him attractive, and he was pretty rich. So you're a librarian, and you see this rich guy, and he likes you. You like reading, and smoking an occasional cig. BAM. Next thing, this guy who no one ever expected to go anywhere except to hell in the bottom of a bottle ends up being governor, then president.

    Pure torture. You'll never be left alone to read Jane Austen for years and years.

Those That Make It
Okay, so much for inheriting it. What about the guys who get rich on their own? Middle class money is not too hard to achieve, but it's not as easy as it looks on the outside. Achieving real wealth is hard.

     "Wealth" of course is a pretty fluid idea. A rich guy might mean a dude with a working truck and roof over his head if you're homeless. Wall Street defined it in typically charming fashion as "fuck you" money -- a while back that was $10 million. So, let's say a rich guy would be one worth more that a million or so.

     To a lowly serf like myself, that seems like a lot of money, but it's not really -- it's enough so you don't worry about basics, but it's still tenuous, still subject to folly, still . . . insecure. (If that seems outrageous, just check out a recent New York Times story about a guy who blew through his $14 million share of a company sale in just a few years. No excesses, except for the fatal one of real estate. That amounted to some ridiculous estate in upstate New York and a place in Somerset -- nothing totally crazy. Otherwise, he got trashed by the stock market.)

     Wealth, even self-important glossy money underscored by Lear jets and lovely homes, can disappear as fast as a genie's dream.

     Still unconvinced? I'll lay out for you what it normally takes to get rich. Sure, you'll hear about a few stories of fairy tale riches. But those are the ones that make the media, because they're fun to talk about and fantasize about. It happens, but so seldom, you can't really factor them in.

     Nope, what it takes to be a millionaire is a lot of hard work, discipline and a certain wealth in connections. Usually. A few years ago, a bestseller came out called The Millionaire Next Door. Its point was that the way most millionaires made their stash is just fucking incredibly boring. They worked a pretty good job. They didn't spend a goddam dollar they absolutely didn't have to. And they invested their money shrewdly. That means: a modest house. A modest car. No designer clothes. And tires for Christmas. And flowers three times a year, tops (unless you found those ATM receipts from the local strip joint in his pants).

      So that's one route.

      The guys who start their own businesses also have to be obsessed for it to go. (That counts the same for businesses that fail, too.) They have to put all their brains, time and sweat into the enterprise, or it isn't going to take off.
     That's not fun, either. Unless you share that obsession, then you could be very happy -- but that's not really the fantasy benefits of marrying a rich guy, is it? Working 60 hours a week making the auto repair shop or the liquor store or the software company go?

     And here's another dirty little secret -- the more boring the business, the greater the likelihood that it will succeed. Because most people want to do cool things, like start a restaurant or a graphic design firm or, hell, a boutique. Bad idea. Because lots of other cool, smart people want to do the same exact thing, and there's only so many buyers interested in your designs, your amuse bouches, or your take on Marc Jacobs.

      The real-life millionaires I've met made their money in such glamorous fields as software design, mechanical engineering, retailing minerals, restoring cars, repairing cars, or slicing and dicing demographic information. Still awake?

     Okay, you say, forget the entrepreneurs -- how about a nice professional in law or medicine?

Same deal, only they work in a clinic or law office. Worse, they are surrounded by women in there. Women who are often driven, Machiavellian and, particularly in the legal field, amoral. Nurses are an even bigger threat, because they are both smart and very caring. Who wants that kind of person taking your prospective hubby's emotional temperature? By the way, one of the jobs where people cheat the most? Nursing. (And real estate, too, something I didn't mention as a path to wealth because all those guys are sucking wind just now.)

Or, Up the Ladder?

     Another route is corporate America. Now, the system is brutal, but mixed. At the top levels, though, there is often a layer of sociopathic behavior that is breathtaking. Being a corporate honcho means you're willing to sacrifice just about anything -- partners, the people who work for you, your weekends and evenings -- to make it. Often, you'll notice, that list includes the first wife. Or the second. If you hook this dude, you'll have to have some mad discipline of your own.

     Not all the guys at the top of the pyramid are total assholes. But, and in my experience, this is universally true: they are all mindfuckers. I use the term mindfucking very precisely. Trying out synonyms like games players or manipulators or teases doesn't match the behavior. They like to dismantle, test and mess with your mental and emotional gears, find what strings to pull and then, for sport, yank them. Hard. That is, if they care about you for some reason, which usually translates into wanting something from you even if it's just a little bloodsport over single malts.

     Imagine that mentality put to work on you during some nasty spat about, oh, a credit card bill or the pool boy.


     So I'd say follow your heart's affections. Leave the gold digging to the professionals -- and if that's your gig, more power to you. Money comes and goes: just ask Madoff's victims. Or Madoff's wife for that matter. If your marriage fails -- and more than half do -- it will fail for reasons that won't embarrass you. And who knows, that shaggy haired layabout might even make a cent or two.

    After all, as Hemingway said, what you get, you pay for.

    And at least you'll have some fun along the way.

22 December 2010

Roosevelt -- Teddy Roosevelt -- on estate taxes

Abolishing the estate tax has been a goal of some conservative Republicans since the 1940s, so it's easy to forget that its modern champion was a president the GOP used to regard as among the greatest the party has produced — Theodore Roosevelt. Like many thoughtful Americans of his era, he believed the disproportionate accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few would make a mockery of our meritocracy and, ultimately, of our democracy. In 1910, he summed up those feelings.

"We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used," Roosevelt said. "It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.... The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and … a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate."
Tim Rutten, via

Ferenc Fricsay conducts the Moldau

21 December 2010


November was slaughter month. You'd kill the beasts before the winter. That way, you wouldn't have to feed them. Young women, their arms incarnadine, made blood sausage first. Blood spoils the quickest, and no sense in wasting it.

Rembrandt painted this slaughtered ox. While butchered animals had languished in the corners of paintings before him, he was the first to put the carcass front and center, to make it the subject of a painting -- to grant it the same attention as St. Mary or the king or the Lord Jesus Himself.

Rembrandt painted this after a particularly rough year, filled with misery, debt and sadness. Speaking of Jesus, some critics see a parallel here with the crucifixion. It's easy to make out. Only, this is an earthy, lowly crucifixion: just a humble ox laid open. Not Jesus dying for our sins. Mere suffering -- if pain can ever merely be pain.

Soutine took the subject a few years later. Soutine, beaten back home in the shtetl for the sin of making images. He was said to be the filthiest man in Paris -- he never bathed. While he worked on this canvas, the stench filled the apartment building. He sent his assistant out for fresh blood to keep the meat fresh and shiny over the weeks that he painted it. After a brief period during which Soutine was filthy rich rather than just poor and dirty, the Nazis hunted him. They wanted to pack him off in a cattle car. Soutine died on an operating table, the arena where we learn best how like the slaughtered ox we can be. If you have witnessed an operation with the surgeons stainless steel tools, you know how close the good doctors are to butchers.

The Nazis, devotees of efficiency, didn't bother with flaying or crucifixions. Suffering as individual and hand made is a classical notion, mythic, now that thermonuclear bombs can annihilate in seconds. In Africa and Cambodia, though, they pursued the old ways until recently.

Perhaps it was realizations like that which inspired Francis Bacon. The wreck of the Church, wretched and retching, a mad ecclesiastical howl below and between hunks of meat, the Lord absent and replaced with a cow's hollow ribs.

This photograph, from Lettres de Moscou, stands up to the burden of its subject. For once we see the butcher, a craftsman, unemotional, doing his job. We have the implied horror of death, together with the harsh colors and lights of the slaughter house, our modern hell. The crucified animal hangs on its hooks. But the butcher's confidence gives us a balance. If he's the executioner, then we're complicit. We need his skill in the kill. We need it to eat. But is he confident in the face of all that, a stoic? Or just callous? A master, or simply another part of the machine?

19 December 2010

As Tears Go By

Un soir de semaine

C'est un soir de semaine, le trottoir et la rue sont quasiment déserts. On marche sans dire un mot, en se frottant l'un sur l'autre; je l'aime bien la petite et je pense que c'est réciproque, nos corps parlent la même langue. Je lui passe mon bras dans le dos et la prends par l'épaule en tirant pour qu'elle se colle encore plus. Elle se faufile la main sous mon perfecto et vient planter ses ongles dans ma peau. Nos regards se croisent, elle me sourit, je lui montre mes dents et je grogne. En ce moment magique, il serait tout à fait stupide de prononcer une seule parole.
Patrick Caza, via


Courtesy of Lettres de Moscou comes this YouTube clip.
In America, we just drive Jaguars. In Russia, jaguars are driven:

13 December 2010

Russia in 15 Seconds

Gotta get my tickets now!

11 December 2010

Caught in the net

"Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from Internet … their funds have been frozen … media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization. What is really going on here is a war over control of the Internet, and whether or not the Internet can actually serve its ultimate purpose—which is to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions."
Glenn Greenwald via

10 December 2010

Husbands, directed by John Cassavetes

To paraphrase Mark Twain, everyone talks about independence, but no one does anything about it.

Well, almost no one. John Cassavetes makes so called film rebels look like kindergarten pansies. This movie is all about balls, in all senses. Balls in the guts it takes to let scenes take their own tempo, instead of working on Hollywood time. Balls in the courage to show all aspects of these guys: good, bad, ugly, vomiting, baffled, lost, home. Balls in one of the subjects of the movie -- the splendors and miseries of masculinity.

It starts with a photo montage of four guys clowning around, striking he-man poses, families in the background around a summertime swimming pool. Then, one of the four musketeers dies. The film starts moving with the funeral. The three friends who are left deal with their grief by going on a bender. They get monumentally drunk, hit the gym, smoke, lead an impromptu singing contest. and ride around on a subway. Sudden bursts of anger, exhilaration, grief and self-contempt erupt. Two controversial scenes in this sequence are particularly tough to watch: an extended bit in the men's room where two of them vomit. They're drunk, sure, but the real purgation is that of the grief that they can't deal with any other way. The other is when they bully a older lady in the bar, trying to get her to sing from the heart.
Including the men's room scene made sense to me. It works on many levels -- as an objective correlative of their anguish and their inability to articulate it, as an illustration of the relationships between the survivors, and as a piece of realism. You get smashed and go on a bender, you're gonna hurl. But this is existential hurling.

I haven't read much about the film. Some writers, though, seem to miss a major point: that these men are locked into their own wounds and their own grief. They don't have the formal rituals of grief to fall back on. So they use the ones we have at our hands -- the bar and the gym. The extremity of what they're feeling isn't expressed directly -- it pops out at weird, wrong, rude moments. Just as grief does in life, if not in movies.
Then Harry splits from his wife in a shattering scene, grabs his passport and heads to London, taking the pals with him. They hang out in a casino and pick up some women. But here again, we sense a certain cheapness and melancholy beneath the bravado and animal spirits.

At Harry's urging, they hit on some women and end up taking them to their rooms. The scenes that follow are some of the most acutely observed, awkward and truthful moments I've ever seen. In movieland, they'd just hump the girls, in and out slicko style and have a tearful goodbye or enjoy the dawn of a new love.

Instead, they fail. Harry suffers a bout of impotence. Archie -- Peter Falk's character -- literally can't communicate. The Asian woman he's with doesn't speak English, and Archie doesn't even know what language she uses. He tries and fails. He finally tries kissing her. She's unresponsive, he's insistent. When she starts kissing him back, suddenly passionate, he can't deal with her desire.  Gus, the Cassavetes character, horses around with a tall blonde. It's not clear whether they have sex or not. The next morning, the the pouring rain, she tries cajoling and manipulating him into saying something romantic. He refuses.

They meet with Harry, who's already lined up some fresh women -- but the two, still married, men decide to leave. It ends with their homecoming, the two dads wresting with ridiculous bags of toys they bought at the airport. Guilt offerings, bribes, and maybe an attempt to smooth things over with their wives.

It's rough and grinding. I read that Cassavetes had one version that was a crowd-pleaser -- funny, warm and accessible. He ditched that for the version we have now, with the acting so real it seems unlike acting at all, with all the excruciating moments left in, the random epiphanies and the sudden howls.

08 December 2010

06 December 2010


Age puts men in purgatory and women in hell.

Overflow by Andrew Wyeth

Overflow Andrew Wyeth

"Marketing is the death of the new . . ."

"Marketing is the death of the new. It has its purposes in this culture, where if something is not available for sale and distribution, it has no inherent meaning. Marketing hoists objects and activities out of the realm of the personal and into the public sphere -- quite literally into the marketplace, a location that used to be physical but is now psychological, financial, and transactional. It finds the things we like to dream of, dance to, play with, and shovels them into the maw of our collective desire. And we eat. And it is good, for a while. Then it all goes where consumed things eventually go, into the great ocean somewhere out of mind. Then the whole digestive cycle starts over with some new product."

04 December 2010

Piazza Piece by John Crowe Ransom

photo by jean-loup sieff
Piazza Piece

I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying
To make you hear. Your ears are soft and small
And listen to an old man not at all,
They want the young men's whispering and sighing.
But see the roses on your trellis dying
And hear the spectral singing of the moon;
For I must have my lovely lady soon,
I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying.

-- I am a lady young in beauty waiting
Until my true love comes, and then we kiss.
But what grey man among the vines is this
Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream?
Back from my trellis, Sir, before I scream !
I am a lady young in beauty waiting.

John Crowe Ransom

03 December 2010


If you want proof of how boring sociopaths are, just look around an executive boardroom.

Kinski & Mastrionni

The Orchids, by Brad Elterman

The Orchids, by Brad Elterman

"Nobody tells this to people . . . "

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

- Ira Glass