Monday, February 29, 2016

waking up to the Oscar results

How about that: Best Picture went to a movie I saw and actually liked, as opposed to the expected winner of a movie I wouldn't see on a bet. This is only the second time the former has happened so far in the 21st century, as opposed to the latter which has happened eight times. (The other six were somewhere in between: two I saw and thought tolerable, two I saw and didn't much like, one I turned off, and one I'd be willing to see but never have.)

Two I saw and liked: Spotlight, Argo (I'm not comparing these in quality, except that I enjoyed watching both. And to which I could add, just over the century's edge, Shakespeare in Love, one of my favorite movies of all time and one of only three in that category ever to win Best Picture, the other two being Driving Miss Daisy and The Sting)
Eight I wouldn't see on a bet: Birdman (sounds weird, and not in a good way), 12 Years a Slave (torture porn), The Hurt Locker (I filled my quota of movies about Iraq with Three Kings), Slumdog Millionaire (just does not sound appealing), No Country for Old Men (sounds way too gruesome), The Departed (gangster movies are one of the two genres I just won't watch), Crash (sounds way too violent), Million Dollar Baby (and boxing movies is the other genre). Note that this is my decision about what I want to spend my entertainment time on, and this is entertainment time, not a political or artistic judgment. I am not disputing these movies' quality, or their importance, or whether anybody else might want to see them. And it's not that I avoid movies on difficult or painful topics: didn't I just praise Spotlight? I would also give thumbs-up to Brokeback Mountain and Mystic River among Best Picture near-misses, among others. But I'm not going to see a movie just because the topic is important or meaningful.
Two I saw and thought tolerable: The King's Speech, Gladiator (both pseudo-historicals, a genre I have a weakness for)
Two I saw and didn't much like: The Artist (mannered and vaguely repulsive), The Return of the King (which I only watched because I felt obliged to see it on the grounds of "know thine enemy")
One I turned off: Chicago (I'd hoped its being a musical would overcome my distaste at everything else about it. It didn't.)
One I'd be willing to see but never have: A Beautiful Mind

two concerts

1. Solas. I must have heard of this band somewhere, because I'd felt positive associations when I'd seen the name on the Freight calendar, and so I'd impulsively picked up a ticket beforehand. But when I got to the concert, I found a band I'm sure I'd not known before. The hall was pretty packed, though, and rightly so as the band was a good one: a thoroughly pleasant way to spend an evening, which is what I want of folk music. Irish group, some of whose members are Irish-American, with a typically Irish repertoire mostly of slow songs and fast dances. Instrumental lineup of fiddle, button accordion, guitar, and multi-instrumentalist-usually-banjo, plus an occasional fifth at piano.

2. Marin Symphony. A baby began crying during the first movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony. What I wonder is, why was the baby there in the first place? This isn't baby music. Were you expecting Brahms' Lullaby?

Those responsible hastily exited. The rest of us heard a splendid interpretation. The orchestra was good, too: for a group that only plays three full concerts a year, Marin has it together. My only quibble is that the horns, and the winds in general, are a bit raw for ideal Brahms. I'd like to hear this sound in Tchaikovsky, though. But everyone responded superbly to Music Director Alasdair Neale's impassioned vision of the emotion, the tenderness and power, of this music. The Andante, in particular, had the soul of Brahms.

Brahms' symphony and his Tragic Overture framed Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, a piece I like but had never, I think, heard in concert before. Gently lyrical guitar-picking by Robert Belinic, dutiful attempt to keep the orchestra from drowning him out by the composer.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I wasn't feeling too chipper about lugging myself up to the City last night, but I just had to go. Herbert Blomstedt was conducting a Bruckner symphony, and I never miss one of those occasions.

This time the symphony was the Third. Of all the intractable textual tangles in Bruckner symphonies, the Third's is the worst. It exists in no fewer than five versions, compiled over some 18 years, the result of Bruckner's, and his helpfully interfering pupils', attempts to fix an imperfect work. General opinion is that they just succeeded at making it worse every time they touched it.

The standard text has long been the second version, of 1877, but a few decades ago the first version, of 1873, became generally available, and it instantly won the conversion of Robert Simpson, the leading English-language Bruckner scholar, who'd previously assumed it was just a sketchy draft. Simpson's endorsement of the 1873 as the best, most fully realized version of the Third is what convinced Blomstedt to give it a try.

I'd long held a tentative conclusion about this based on recordings, and now that I've heard it live I'm sure of it: Simpson was wrong. It isn't that the 1873 is sketchy, but that - unlike Bruckner's earlier symphonies, which stand on their own terms - this one is full of devices that he'd use brilliantly in his mature work from the Fourth on, but which here are not quite fully baked and which he doesn't yet know how to put together. Bruckner's mature work is built in large structural blocks, and here the blocks aren't attached properly.

It's also extremely long. Vast expansiveness is an essential quality in Bruckner, but in the case of the Third I think that the slight concision of the revised versions, plus their benefit of hindsight, give them the edge. There was nothing wrong with the performance last night: it's the work.

Beginning the program, Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. Soloist Maria João Pires performed the first two movements with such compellingly gentle beauty as to make the orchestra sound unjustly crass and awkward by simple proximity. She brought the same soft plushness to the perky and lively finale, playing it with a Mozartean gentility unlike anything I've ever heard in this work. The gentle buzz she gave to a passage where Beethoven wants you to pound the bottom end of the keyboard a few times was unbelievable.

Enormous ovation. No encore. Time was pressing: we had a giant symphony to get through.

Friday, February 26, 2016

uh-oh, ballet

I just read an article in the New Yorker lamenting that while excellent ballet dancers are numerous, currently active "interesting ballet choreographers are very, very rare." It says only three whose work is regularly seen in the US "are in the top tier." They are Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and Mark Morris.

That's just introduction; the point is to provide context to introduce a rising young choreographer, Justin Peck, whom the article is actually about. But when I saw that list of three greats, my heart sank, because on my last two visits to the San Francisco Ballet, I saw work by all three of those top-tier names, and I thought all three of them were terrible. Their work seemed ugly, pointless, and disconnected from the music, exercises in trivial athleticism.

(From my blog reviews. Ratmansky: "This one didn't cut it for me. The first act seemed full of each male dancer picking up his ballerina by the waist and setting her down in some other part of the stage, as if she were unable to get there by herself. The third act featured groups of people hunched over and jogging in place while wearing ugly unisex track suits. This is what struck me about the dancing." Wheeldon and Morris: "I hear music so strongly as structure that, if the ballet doesn't adhere to that structure, it feels to me totally disconnected from the music, like movie subtitles shifted off cue. ... There were some events I'd never seen before on a ballet stage: Morris had three or four of his male dancers carry another one onstage, his arms extended like Superman, and Wheeldon directed some of his to exit the stage by rolling off.")

I'm not blind to the art of ballet. When I was young I was struck by the beauty of the work of Balanchine, and I also liked the clever and witty ballets of Lew Christensen, who was director of the SF Ballet back then. But even before I knew that what I've seen recently is the top tier of contemporary choreography, I was thinking that, if this is what I'm going to see at the ballet, I'm not going back.

Possibly ballet is going through a period like the one contemporary classical music did between the 1950s and 1970s, when ugly, rotten music was praised as supreme art, and polemicists tried to convince you there was nothing else on offer. Even after being disappointed by Wheeldon and Morris, I went to see Ratmansky because I'd been wooed by reviews and articles proclaiming his greatness. Well, I've been fooled enough. If the ballet phones me up again to ask for a subscription, I'm telling them: you revive Lew Christensen, I'll come back. Otherwise, I'm done with ballet, permanently.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

measuring Gilbert and Sullivan

When I wish to quantify something subjective, I like to find an objective thing to measure that can serve as a proxy for what I'm curious about.

A while ago, in the continuing search for music to listen to while I'm engaged in the tedious task of exercising, I ripped my Gilbert and Sullivan collection. But not the whole thing. Why listen to the songs I don't like that much?

What now occurred to me was that the amount I chose to keep of each opera might correlate to how good I think the work is. So I counted up the percentages of the vocal tracks on my CDs that I'd put on the MP3 player. Of the 13 extant operas, there are two, The Sorcerer and The Grand Duke, that I don't have, but neither would have a high rating. Here's what I got:
  1. Iolanthe 92%
  2. The Mikado 90%
  3. Ruddigore 89%
  4. Patience 73%
  5. The Gondoliers 63%
  6. Princess Ida 62%
  7. The Pirates of Penzance 61%
  8. H.M.S. Pinafore 60%
  9. The Yeomen of the Guard 55%
  10. Trial by Jury 39%
  11. Utopia, Limited 37%
Both the top of the list and the bottom accorded closely with my subjective perceptions, though the middle had a few surprises. Iolanthe is unquestionably my favorite G&S. There is not a number in the first act, even a recitative, that I would do without. I think the act's finale is the greatest extended stretch of music that Sullivan ever wrote. And up there with it and the incomparable Mikado goes the somewhat neglected Ruddigore, equally great. I'd have thought I'd rank Pirates higher than Patience, but I think it's just more dichotomized: Patience is more even in quality, while the parts of Pirates I like I really, really like (The Sergeant of Police! The cat-like tread! The doctor of divinity!), but the dull parts (the Major-General's weepy songs in Act 2) are duller than Patience. On the same lines I also want to stick in a word for Princess Ida, not all of which is good, but what is good is really choice. Down at the bottom, Utopia, Limited is excellently composed, it just lacks a certain genius, except in the one brilliant Christy Minstrels number. Trial by Jury, by contrast a very early work, is bright and diverting but doesn't yet come together.

Monday, February 22, 2016

a mystery solved

And it was solved over 5 years ago, but nobody I came across had noticed it.

Supporters of the Oxford comma have long held up a glorious example of the nonsense you get without one: "This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

The mystery is, did anybody ever really dedicate a book to this risibly unlikely set of beings? With or without a comma?

And the answer is YES, they did. Only with a comma.

And with line spacing and a couple extra words (it's "the glory of GOD"), so there's no ambiguity. Just the risibility.

Nor is the book a political tract. It's an early treatise on microwave technology: Electromagnetic Slow Wave Systems by R.M. Bevensee (Wiley, 1964).

The citation was reported in the third comment in this post.

And you can see a snippet at a time from the actual dedication on Google Books. Enter different words to see different parts.

Robert M. Bevensee was an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at U.C. Berkeley at the time, and was still publishing as late as 2002, if it's not another person by the same name, at which time his affiliation was with something called Boma Enterprises in nearby Alamo, and that's all that a quick search gets me.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

two concerts, an operetta, and a message

I mentioned in connection to seeing Carmen that I don't get to much opera, but I make an exception - if it counts as opera - for Gilbert and Sullivan. Last weekend B. and I saw Ruddigore, probably their most under-rated, from the Lamplighters. Very well-sung, it was better-sung than -acted. I've noted that Gilbert characters should be unconscious of the absurdity of their actions, but it's funnier if they're armored in a serene self-confidence about it. It helps when uttering lines like "You've no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself, and how little I deserve it." Dick Dauntless, for instance, thinks he's noble because he always follows his heart's dictates, and doesn't notice that what it dictates is that he should be selfish and conniving. He should bask in that nobility, and not just be there and sing well. It would also help if he could dance a hornpipe, an ability of the role's creator that Sullivan exploited.

That was on Saturday, with a friend. Sunday was Valentine's, but we've learned not to celebrate on that day: it's the worst day of the year to dine out romantically, and in any case B. couldn't be out in the evening because of work hours on Monday. So that's why I went by myself to not one but two chamber music concerts that day, which I reviewed, grabbing a quick meal at a favorite unpretentious Chinese place between.

At the first concert, however, I received a Message. One of those occasions where God, the universe, or somebody seems to be telling you something. It came in the form of a pile of brochures which must have been left at the table by guest violist Barry Shiffman, because he's the director of what the brochures were for, the Banff International String Quartet Competition.

I'd heard of this. I knew it was prestigious and held in the Alberta Rockies and that Shiffman's old group, the St. Lawrence Quartet, whom I know well from their Stanford residency, won it long ago. It's only held every three years and this summer is it. But it had never occurred to me until I saw this audience brochure that it was something I could attend, and not for much money considering that it includes a week's room-and-board, and 14 string quartet concerts. Nor had I realized until I read the list of past winners that I've heard half these groups and they're all really good.

But what really sold me was a quote in the brochure from a journalist describing it as Bayreuth for string quartet music. I know people who've been to Bayreuth and who've had a transcendent aesthetic experience. That sounds great except that I'm not interested in listening to a lot of Wagner. But string quartets are more my speed. Here's the last competition's winners in a Beethoven finale: I want to hear more people who can play like this:

So I accepted the message, I made my reservations and I'm going.

Woody Guthrie on the 2016 election

Yes, old Woody, though dead these nigh-fifty years, has a few things to say.

"Old Man Trump"

And another version:

Yes, old Fred Trump - Donald's dad - was Woody's landlord at a racially-restricted development called Beach Haven in the early 1950s, and Woody wasn't happy about it. It helps remind us that Donald isn't a self-made man: he got his fortune, and his empire, and his attitude, from Dad. More details here and here.

"Christ for President"

More about it here.

Friday, February 19, 2016

wall around

The latest stupid meme is for Trump supporters to riposte to the Pope's comment that building a wall between the US and Mexico doesn't sound very Christian to him by tweeting pictures of a wall around the Vatican.

Yes, the Vatican has some impressive walls. But there's a big difference between that and Trump's proposed wall, which is that the Vatican's isn't intended to, or could possibly be effective at, keeping unauthorized people out.

I've been to the Vatican. I've even walked all the way around it, outside its wall. (It took me about 45 minutes.) I know the local geography. And that wall is only around the back and sides. (It has a gate in it for the art museums, but that's irrelevant since Trump's wall would have ticketed gates too.) But it has more than just a gate.

Look: here's a photo taken from the top of St. Peter's, in the middle of the Vatican, looking out right through the entrance towards central Rome. (By the way, the old grey castle to the left of the far end of the boulevard is the Castel Sant'Angelo, the Roman structure that Tosca leaped off the ramparts of. The Tiber can be seen just off to its right.)

See any wall? The national boundary between the Vatican and Italy runs through the gap at the far side between the semi-circular colonnades. It's completely open. So are the colonnades, which you can walk through. No customs stations, either. On either side, the boundary runs about a quarter-circle back along the colonnades, and then turns out to the sides. There's no wall there either; the walls only begin further out.

The Vatican is not closed off to keep Italian hordes from coming in and taking all the Vatican's jobs. In fact, Italians hold most of the Vatican's jobs; they held the top job continuously for centuries until 1978. Italians, and anybody else who wants to, pour into the Vatican to tour or to worship every day. They're particularly voluminous on days that the Pope gives an address or conducts mass. I took my little circumnavigation by foot while B. was attending a mass conducted by JP2 (a mass for which we'd gotten her a ticket by simply asking the Swiss Guard on duty when we first visited a couple days earlier). When we left, the crowds were so massive that we couldn't get a taxi out of the Vatican, so we simply walked across the border and a couple miles back to our apartment.

Wall around the Vatican, my foot. What's unChristian isn't having a wall, but what Trump would do with it.

PS: Jerusalem? Has a wall around it too. Didn't stop Jesus from getting in. (And with a name like "Jesus", he was probably an illegal Mexican immigrant.)

opera review: Carmen

I spent three hours last night watching a dysfunctional relationship. At least the music was good.

Yes, it was Carmen by G. Bizet, an opera about a woman who at one point claims to be using love potions, which seems to be the only explanation as to why every man she meets falls madly in love with her, including the one last previously seen ordering her to be taken off to jail.

One of the reasons I don't watch much opera is that my mind insists on reading it as drama with music in it, rather than music tout court, and the drama is not usually very good drama by my standards and the music often doesn't quite fit in. I think the main reasons I got a bit impatient and weary by the last act were that the drama was so sketchy that I had developed no reason to care about these characters, and that the main point of sitting there at all was to wait for Carmen to open her mouth and sing something really pretty, which she does mostly in the first act. The tunes are so good because, I understand, Bizet stole them all from a Spanish songbook.

This is only the second time I'd seen Carmen. The first was some 40 years ago, and my mother, who took me, said it wasn't a good performance. (I had hardly the knowledge to judge at the time.) So when San Jose Opera announced this production, I thought it was about time to try it again, the same way I tried Carl Ruggles again a few years ago to see if he'd gotten any better during the interim (he hadn't). This production has gotten very good reviews, and I can at least testify that Lisa Chavez made a strong and sultry Carmen. Don José is a truly pathetic character, but Kirk Dougherty did what he could with him. All three of the lesser baritone/bass roles had stronger voices than Matthew Hanscom as Escamillo, the lead baritone, and why should that be?

I'd be willing to let less than 40 years pass before seeing Carmen again, but in the meantime I'll stick to the orchestral suites.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

order amid chaos

I wrote last week that I'd found a total of 13 orderings for the 17 episodes of Patrick McGoohan's 1960s TV series The Prisoner. This show was, in essence, a mini-series before the form had properly been invented; consequently, it hadn't quite figured out things like definitive sequencing of episodes. There's a clear first episode and a final two-parter, but the other 14 are up for grabs. The original broadcast orders (of which there are actually two) have pacing and continuity problems and are not definitive. The production order gives some clues but places filming needs above internal ordering.

Over the years, I'd seen six other orderings by fans or rebroadcasters, which, along with the original broadcast and production orders, may be found here and here. Then there's the four newly-found ones here.

I decided to try to create a consensus ordering. I charted the ten existing orders (giving Donia, the author of the four orderings, only her final sequence so as to avoid giving her four votes), and put the episodes together using these rules:
1. Whenever five or more of the ten agree that the same two episodes occur adjacently and in the same order, put them there;
2. For the rest, use the average of their placement in all ten.

And I got this:
  1. Arrival
  2. Free for All
  3. Dance of the Daad
  4. Checkmate
  5. The Chimes of Big Ben
  6. The Schizoid Man
  7. The General
  8. A, B, and C
  9. Many Happy Returns
  10. It's Your Funeral
  11. A Change of Mind
  12. Hammer into Anvil
  13. Do Not Forsake Me
  14. Living in Harmony
  15. The Girl Who Was Death
  16. Once Upon a Time
  17. Fall Out
This is not identical to any of the previous orders, but it's closest to the one promoted by Six of One, the Prisoner fan club, changing it only by correcting an error and placing "A, B, and C" after "The General", and moving "The Schizoid Man" in front of both of them. Just about any of the later-day fan or rebroadcaster orders, except the original Six of One order with its continuity error of placing "A, B, and C" before "The General", would be acceptable to me, but the consensus order and the one from KTEH (my home PBS station, whose 1980s broadcasts, though not my introduction to the show, gave me the chance to get to know it well) most match my sense of the show's pacing. I see it as beginning with episodes in which the Prisoner tries to escape or otherwise break free, only to be cruelly batted down ("Checkmate" and "Free for All" are the classics here); followed by ones in which the captors try to break him ("A, B, and C", "Living in Harmony") or otherwise use him for their own purposes ("Do Not Forsake Me", "It's Your Funeral"), and fail, leading to a draw (a few, like "The Schizoid Man", "The Chimes of Big Ben", and "Many Happy Returns", serve both purposes); and concluding with a few in which he gets his own back ("A Change of Mind", "Hammer into Anvil"; "The Girl Who Was Death" falls here also; and the final diptych is sui generis).

Friday, February 12, 2016

quasigrecian thoughts

1. When you've been together mumblety years, it gets hard to think of Valentine's presents. B and I agreed that my present to her this year would be to set up her new heavy-duty music stand that arrived yesterday. I tackled that this morning. There were no instructions, and I'd never done this before; figuring out how it went together turned out to be rather entertaining. I also figured out how to set it up left-handed.

2. Now that South Carolina is the next stop on the primary trail, may we have a ban on referring to it as "the Palmetto state"? This article uses that term and then quotes two other articles using it. Enough! Nobody calls it that in actual discourse except tourism officials and bad writers desperately looking for a synonym so they don't have to use the actual name again, the equivalent of the fiction-writer's saidbookisms.

3. Four more orderings for the episodes of The Prisoner. That makes 13 different orders of the 17 episodes that I know of. Sine qua non, for me, since everybody agrees on the first one and the last two: "The General" comes immediately before "A, B, & C", not after it. I am now in the process of comparing them all to determine the ideal consensus order.

4. Eliminating time zones strikes me as a dumb idea. The main advantage of having different time zones is that they tell people in other time zones what time it is where you are, duh. Since the reformers are not proposing that we set our work hours by UTC and go to the office in the middle of the night, we'd still need to consult other places' local time (a concept they acknowledge we'd need to introduce) when we needed to deal with them on a real-time basis. The local time would become the "real" time (just ask anyone currently living in a place which unofficially defies the legal time zone): it has a huge psychological effect - if it didn't, we wouldn't need DST. We already have UTC for operations where local time is insignificant, like astronomical date stamps. This reform would only make life more confusing. Since you say the main problem with time zones is that they keep being changed, and you acknowledge you'd need to get the politicians on board for your reform, why don't you just try getting them on board for not tinkering with the time zones all the damn time?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How the movie Airplane! is like Gilbert and Sullivan

It is absolutely essential to the success of this piece that it should be played with the most perfect earnestness and gravity throughout. There should be no exaggeration in costume, make-up, or demeanour; and the characters, one and all, should appear to believe, throughout, in the perfect sincerity of their words and actions. Directly the actors show that they are conscious of the absurdity of their utterances the piece begins to drag.
- W.S. Gilbert, note to his play Engaged

I think we had shown him [Leslie Nielsen] Zero Hour! previously because we wanted him to see the style. We told everyone that "playing it straight" doesn't quite do it, because [when they do that] they think they have it, but they're still winking. We told them to play it like they don't know they're in a comedy. Like no one told them. Just the way Leslie would have played this in The Poseidon Adventure, or any other of the films or television shows he had done.
- Jerry Zucker, co-director of Airplane!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

quiet weekend

If the local traffic wasn't bad on Super Bowl weekend, you can credit me. (Among others.) I didn't go anywhere. I cocooned at home all weekend, not wanting to know what I'd find if I went anywhere. Just please, God and the local politicians, don't try to gift us with the Olympics. Three weeks of disruption instead of one.

Prompted by various online comments, I did, however, subsequently seek out the video of Lady Gaga singing the National Anthem. It was like an anthology of jazz-vocalist ornamentations.

From what I've read about the game - you don't think I'd actually watch it, do you? - the Denver defense shut down the other team's quarterback. Commentators seem to think this was admirable, though they admit it makes a dull game. (Why? They seem to love it when baseball pitchers shut down all the batters, and that's duller than John Foster Dulles.) But you know how football defenses intimidate a quarterback, don't you? They do it by walloping him so hard when they catch him that he loses his nerve. That's exactly the sort of thing that leads to all those brain injuries being tutted over these days.

I did get out, however, on the anchor days. Friday I got an emergency editorial assignment: go ye this evening unto the Concrete Tent in Palo Alto and cover the New Century Chamber Orchestra, because the alternatives would be to take in Saturday's in the City (far away) or Sunday's in Marin (even further). It was a Yehudi Menuhin commemorative concert, though his birthday's not till April, featuring Daniel Hope, the violinist I remember so glaringly not fitting into the Beaux Arts Trio because his style differed so much from the other players'. If he'd sounded at all like Menuhin, the fit would have been a lot better. He didn't sound any more like Menuhin this time (nobody does, actually), but it mattered less.

There were eight pieces in this concert, but I got mention of all of them in, despite the restricted word count.

Then on Monday I ventured up to the Freight in Berkeley for their monthly classical concert, a little Schubertiade (his birthday was last week). Ben Simon and friends played an early string trio (D.471, though they didn't say so), the piano impromptu in G-flat (exceedingly Chopinesque, this performance: his birthday was last week also), and the Trout Quintet. The last got up to its greatest verve in the finale, and the audience - probably due to being, in this venue, mostly untrained in classical - didn't even applaud by mistake at the false ending.

I took BART, fairly relaxing this time, which lets off only a block away, one of the many reasons I like the Freight's new venue much better than their old one down in the flats, but due to traffic it took over an hour to drive to the station (25 minutes coming back), so I await eagerly the completion of the extension, which should make this a little easier.

Friday, February 5, 2016

eh, Caesar

I'd been charmed by the trailer, so I yielded to curiosity and went out to see the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar! on the first day. I'm not inherently interested in 1950s Hollywood the way I am in the early 1960s folksinging of Inside Llewyn Davis, but I was intrigued.

It's not like the trailer. Which isn't to say I wasn't entertained, it was just ... more different than I was expecting. There are a lot of amusing things in it, and it pretty much lacks the dark undercurrents of most Cohn Brothers films, but it's not really a comedy.

While Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix is a fast-talking, fast-moving fellow, this isn't that fast-paced a movie. It doesn't really have a plot, either: the subject is basically A Day In The Life of Eddie Mannix. George Clooney's kidnapping is only one event in that busy day, and, judging by Eddie's reaction to it, not that alarming of one. Nor is it particularly dramatic, either. There is some tension in another character's taking the initiative to rescue him, but then it turns out he was about to be rescued anyway.

Of the people listed as stars, Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill actually have only brief single-scene cameos.

The Coen-style surrealism, with one big exception (the submarine scene), is mostly limited to a few scenes where it's not quite clear under what auspices you're watching one of the studio's movies. Considering the intense and vast detail put into several quite superfluous (plot-wise) scenes of movies being made, it appears that the real purpose of this film was to allow the Coen Brothers to indulge in re-creating the style and content of big Fifties genre movies.

Which is fine. You like those, you'll get a kick out of this.

Oh, and the familiar-looking actor in the trailer who says "Wondering what's going on?" Turns out to be this guy, who has a much bigger part than some of the name cast.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

where you are going

One of the smaller perks of working for SFCV is that I don't have to go into the office, which is good because the office is 50 miles away. But that means that when there is a gathering, once every year or two, I try to go. There was one yesterday, at a board member's house on the very tippy top of Russian Hill in the City. I'm sure the view was spectacular, but by the time we got there it was kind of dark. On the other hand, there's a living room large enough to hold two pianos, on one of which one of our writers performed Ravel's Sonatine, bringing out the Couperin in it. So it was a mini-concert as well.

It was over early enough to give me time to dash over to Oakland in time for a meeting of the C.S. Lewis book discussion group, which I rarely get to. Discussions here are heavily moderated, wisely in this case as attendance was very large. We discussed Surprised by Joy, or rather mostly didn't discuss it. Analysis of what Lewis meant by "Joy" (which he says he's using as a technical term) led to a question of what a metaphor is. My contribution to this was to attempt to describe Barfield's "ancient unities," while another member's definition of a metaphor as a word representing a concept, and his description of that concept as a Platonic archetype [I'd describe that as a sign rather than a metaphor, but whatever], led me to consider (to myself) whether Barfield's idea isn't the reverse of Plato's. A Platonic archetype is the center of a fuzzy set of items that resemble it to a greater or lesser degree, so they all point to it. Whereas a Barfieldian unity is a word that has multiple implications, like musical overtones, all at once, including those we now call metaphors and those which aren't (the "ancient unity" is the proposition that there was once no distinction between "literal" and metaphorical), so by reverse of Plato it (the word) points to all of them (the meanings). I need to mull this over before I suggest it to the Barfield scholars.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Foreign climes

One on my list (f'locked) has listed every foreign country she's visited, by year. I thought, I should do that. But instead of foreign countries, I'm listing overseas, i.e. out of North America or immediately adjacent islands. Because I've been to Canada quite often (and Mexico a few times too), and I can't remember all of exactly when, but this way I can stick in Hawaii, which though part of the U.S. is definitely overseas. I'm separating out the nations of the U.K., as well.

It's not a long list, and goes like this:

1976+ Hawaii
1979 England, Wales
1992 England, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany
1995* England, Wales
1998 England, Wales
2000* Hawaii
2001* England, Wales
2002* (France), Italy, Vatican
2005+ England

Asterisks are trips I took with B, crosses are ones I took with my mother (and, in the first case, much of the rest of my family). France is in brackets because, though I went through customs and was thus legally as well as physically in France, all I did there was cross from one side of De Gaulle Airport to the other, which doesn't really count. On the other hand, in parts of only two days in the Vatican, I explored it more thoroughly than any other country I've been in.

I'd like to go back to some of these places, but I have no compelling need to do so right now. There are some other places I'd like to go to, but not enough to make it worth the trouble. Some are particularly iffy. I'm not going to Israel until they straighten things out over there, so it's probably not going to happen. I'm rather attracted by Australia and New Zealand, but I am far more strongly disattracted by the intervening distance. Most of your more romantic or tingly tourist destinations are either a little too exotic for my conservative tastes, or else - as I'd like to tell the people who've set their phone robot to keep offering me a free cruise to the Bahamas - too boring. (I can't think of anything to do in the Bahamas that could possibly interest me enough to make even a free trip worth the trouble.) Most of my faunching for travel is here on my own continent.

Potlatch restaurant guide

Here we go: it's my restaurant guide for this year's Potlatch. What it is, is a cut-down, streamlined, reorganized, and most importantly updated version of the one from two years ago. Having re-centered the coverage on our new location, and limited it to a small radius because this is just a one-day con, I checked everything for ensuring it's still there and to update the hours, and then over the last three weeks tried out most of the new places.

A one-afternoon event may not really need a restaurant guide, but I'm hoping that having this up seven weeks before the con will whet your appetites and encourage you to attend.