Friday, August 9, 2013

Film Friday: postponed due to back injury!

Yes, I pulled a muscle the other day, I think cleaning my toilet. (Last time I do that, for sure.) been basically only able to be upright and prone. Anything in between? Ouch. 

I should NOT have tossed out the oral surgeon's scrip for Vicodin. Didn't need it then...

Saw the chiropractor, now wearing back brace, the official start of Old Age...

If I get any real relief, I will post later. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pete Rose Should Thank A-Rod

It looks like Pete Rose has found the best way he can get into the Hall of Fame: shake your head while talking about the steroid guys because it makes your crime seem less reprehensible. 

I saw a picture posted on Facebook, from a page that is demanding Rose be put into the Hall of Fame.  It's a signed baseball by Rose, wherein he writes the number of hits he got playing baseball (4256) and the number of steroids he took (0).  I've heard his name come up a buncha times in connection with the finally-announced suspensions by Baseball in the Biogenesis investigations, including a ban of 214 games for Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez aka A-Rod aka A-Roid.  ESPN's Colin Cowherd certainly thinks it's silly that A-Rod is playing baseball tonight while Rose can't get a phone call from anyone about getting reinstated. 

This is a very old trick.  Readjust the standards of justice to fit your argument.  See -- these guys are bigtime cheaters breaking sacred records and they're still getting to play! You got regular users in the NFL and nobody gives a shit! (You also have guys who have killed people driving drunk, and one guy at least who killed dogs, playing in the NFL.)  How can we compare their sins to mine?  Outrageous!!!!

Sorry, Pete.  Let's keep the issues separate, and keep your story simple.

Since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the most prominent offense in baseball has concerned gambling, so much so that every clubhouse has it right there: DO NOT BET ON BASEBALL. It is the only "death penalty" on the books in the sport for a first offense.  Baseball was so shamed by the scandal that it vowed never to ever let it happen again.  And every person associated with Major League Baseball knows it:  you bet on baseball, you're toast. 

Pete Rose bet on baseball. 

Not only that: he denied that he did for years.  He accepted the lifetime ban as part of an agreement that baseball would not officially release a formal finding based on the infamous Dowd Report (which had documented seven volumes' worth of evidence that Rose bet on the sport).   He insisted that he never bet on baseball, even as he admitted to having a gambling problem, even as he admitted he bet on other sporting events (complaining along the way that what he did was legal in Nevada but not in Ohio), even as he had to deal with tax evasion troubles.  Then finally fifteen years after the Dowd Report, he admits he bet on his team (to win, not to lose; the Dowd Report never found evidence he bet against his club).   

It doesn't get any more complicated than that.  Like A-Rod and a lot of other steroid-ers, Pete Rose deludes himself into thinking that what he did was no big deal, that "they" are out to "get" him, and that he's special and deserves to be considered as such anyway.  But let me stop comparing the juicers to Rose, because it should make no difference what penalties are applied to these cretins on the Biogenesis list (especially the fraud named Braun) in relation to the cretin who bet on the sport and denied it.   You bet on baseball, you're done. 

Is steroid use a real problem? Hell yes.  I'm all for really stiff penalties.  First offense, either 100 games or 50 and a lifetime ban from the Hall of Fame.  Second office, you're gone. Out of the game forever.   Part of the reason why these guys have hung around is because the waters were murky and no one wanted to change how things were going after Baseball's great return with the McGwire/Sosa home run chase.  So steroid users weren't caught, and weren't sent into total exile.  The situation is clearer now, and we will see some juicers booted permanently.  But the failures of one set of rules should not be used as a justification of loosening up the rules on a separate situation. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Keeping the campus secure...?

So, where I'm teaching this summer, the Office of Security has implemented a new procedure:  all of the classrooms are locked and can only be unlocked by someone with a faculty I.D. (No, I have not checked out if I can open up any other classroom besides mine, but I assume so, since setting up this thing any other way would be a pretty arduous task.)  I kept wondering why they are doing this.  In the classrooms where there is AV equipment, that equipment is locked up either in a cabinet or a full-sized closet, and the video projectors are bolted and locked securely into the ceiling.  (When one of the new buildings first opened up, three projectors were stolen in a week!)  It's not like furniture is going to be taken; who wants a classroom chair and desk?

Then it dawned on me.  Virginia Tech and other campus shootings. 

I suppose the theory is that a would-be-rampaging assassin won't bother wasting bullets trying to shoot through a locked door.  But of course, if you were running away from such a madman and wanted to hide in a classroom and could not actually get inside...

The truth of the matter is that this situation is particularly annoying for those of us who teach film classes.  We have to keep our doors closed so that the sound from our classrooms does not bother neighbors.  This makes it inconvenient for latecomers, who have to be let into the room.  Of course, this kind of dictatorial control is something I loved having ages ago, when my office key also locked all the classrooms in a specific campus building, because back then I really really hated latecomers.  But I'm a bit mellower now, and even for me this is frustrating.  Also, because I do have to monitor sound, in one of my classrooms I have to stand near the soundboard, and that is close to the sensor that sets off the door lock, and it makes an annoying clicking noise. 

This is hardly a matter of a few inconveniences for the matter of safety, since I'm not really sure if safety is the issue here.  Students don't like this set up either because it means they have to wait for their instructor to let them into the classroom, unless someone has left the door open.  (Easy to do for some doors, not so easy for others. We will see a lot of bent plastic garbage pails propping open doors in the coming months.)   I wonder if the convenience is for Security, who will no longer have to walk around campus locking and unlocking doors.  But if the system can lock all the doors at a remote location, then can't it unlock  those doors, too? And wouldn't it make sense for security then to lock all the doors at night?  I mean, after all, don't they have to go around to make sure everyone has left most of the buildings with classrooms anyway?  Or is that responsibility now going to the faculty, who must make sure that there are no sleeping students left in their classrooms? 

It's no accident that this system was implemented in the summer, when there are fewer faculty and students around.  Betcha this does not last into the fall term.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Film Friday: I am the Beach

Yes, thanks to the recent Disney tv-movie Teen Beach Movie, the narrative structures of the Beach series of films in the sixties are in the critical consciousness.  (My youngest of course loved it, but she's been addicted to all this sugar since the first High School Musical.)  It was coincidence that Disney film was shown the night before I was showing Beach Party (William Asher, 1963) to my Rock and Roll Films class.  And here are my "program notes" for the screening, which explains references to Gary Morris's journal article on the series of films.

Gary Morris’s essay “Beyond the Beach” is a very good study of the entire “Beach” series from American International Pictures, one of the most famous independent, “B” movie studios to emerge in the fifties. They specialized in exploitation pictures in that era: some juvee delinquent pix, some crime drama, some horror and sci fi as well. Anything to bring the teen market they wanted. 

But as Morris points out, AIP was looking for a little more legitimacy, a little more respectability (as long as profits were not hurt, anyway). Hence the series of adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories usually featuring Vincent Price (The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc.). This also led to efforts to make “clean teen” pictures, of which Beach Party  is the first. Instead of monsters and gangs, it was just “normal, healthy kids” having fun on the beach. These kids lived in a very idyllic world: in the transition from high school to college, with no income troubles, and no fear of nuclear holocaust (or the draft), they could indulge in the pleasures of surfing all day and swinging all night.

The narratives focus on pretty much the same thing: boys chasing girls. Yes, sometimes there are outside threats to their paradise, but they are clearly comical threats like the motorcycle gang led by Erich Von Zipper. Racial tensions? Forget it. Just like in most of the fifties movies, there are no people of color on the beach, except for the occasional Motown performer like Stevie Wonder or the Supremes. Violence? Nothing serious – these are “good teens” who will have no trouble carrying on their function in a postwar consumer-driven economy. The plots themselves are not all that important to the overall themes of “good times.” Indeed, as Morris notes, the films themselves are rather chaotic on a formal level (see 9-10). Stock footage of surfers, recycled images from earlier entries in the series appearing in later ones, and so on, frequently threaten to tear the narratives to shreds. Yet no one pays attention to the “messiness” – the films even flaunt their own incoherence at times, having characters directly address the camera/audience. (Frankie Avalon does this at least once in Beach Party). Just because the films participate in a minor act or two of deconstruction does not assure viewers of a critical perspective on the apparatus of the movie industry (or of capitalism, as several of the French New Wave film makers of this period wanted to believe). In that respect they are more like the musicals of a generation before than at first glance.

In Beach Party, the use of the explorer/anthropologist Robert Sutwell provides a representation of the outsider perspective, but of course that perspective is completely mocked and ridiculed. He is seen as a voyeur as much as he is a scientist. And his participant-encounters with the teens suggest some rather questionable anthropological methods. (I’m discussing this partly to remind you of Doherty’s arguments regarding the attitude that filmmakers had concerning teens: as you recall, some films clearly took an outsider position while others were more sympathetic to the kids.) But eventually he comes around to accept them from their point of view, even as he prepares to move on to his next project, apparently having learned a few pointers about romance/sex from the teens!

As for the music, the beach movies often had some decent pop and rock acts that often provided more entertainment than the plots. Beach Party features the King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale, and his group, the Del-Tones. If you’ve never surfed before, Dale’s music is about the closest thing to what it sounds like without actually being on the waves. You don’t really get a sense of that in this film, but his guitar work here is pretty impressive. Some of the other songs are moderately interesting pre-Beatles sixties pop. “ Treat Him Nicely” was a pretty sizable hit for Annette Funicello, who was, as you may know, a former Mouseketeer. (In fact, she was still under contract to Disney and was asked not to wear too revealing a bathing suit when she appeared in this film. Eventually, she got with the program and wore bikinis like the other girls.) 

AIP made several beach movies but also a few variants, like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, which stars Avalon as a junior spy who stumbles upon a plot of the aforementioned Doctor (played by Vincent Price, of course) to rob millions by creating female robots who marry and kill wealthy young sons of millionaires. The film is not set at the beach but in San Francisco, and there are no musical sequences with guest stars (though there are two amusing cameos in the film). It was one of the last movies AIP made with Avalon, and represents a drying up of the old formula. (But man, I love the title song, sung by the Supremes and almost impossible to find!)

And here's the trailer.  Surf's up. 


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Art of the Brick: Nathan Sawaya, Lego Artist

Okay, so, if you go to Discovery Times Square, you can shell out a pretty steep sum of cash to see a couple of different types of exhibits, which might take you about an hour to go through.  We're talking 25 bucks, basically, more than a movie, but less than a Broadway show. 

We went to see the artwork of Nathan Sawaya, a corporate lawyer who eventually quit his day job and began to create interesting works of art, from Lego bricks. 

The self-congratulatory video introduction to the exhibit impresses with his fame: he's been on lots of tv shows and met many a big shot.  His theme is that we all need creativity in our lives; it is essential for our happiness.   (His message is so very bourgeois, with the kind of platitudes you find watching pre-school television.) 

The exhibit itself is actually pretty cool. The first room you enter is his "history of art" room.  He's got a bunch of noted works of art from a diverse range of history and culture.  While the selections are obvious: -- Munch's scream, Rodin's thinker, Michelangelo's David, Grant Wood's farmers, Whistler's mother, Vermeer's girl with the Lego pearl earring -- it's still pretty damn impressive that he could create this stuff with the same pieces of plastic my kids have in their basement.  (Okay, but in the video, it looks like he coats some of the pieces with glue.  If I'm right, isn't that cheating?)

As we get to a room of his original pieces, we get these little messages in them.  "Overcome" shows a man climbing to the top of a wall, having succeeded with much effort.  The placard explaining the work really hits the reader over the head with its message about attaining success.  I found those explanations incredibly obvious and either condescending or really child-ish, in the sense that they could have been said by a child.  I'd have rather just had the art and gone, cool, and then go home. 

The final room was what we came for:  the room exhibiting contest winners.  My oldest made a really cool piece that I would not dare describe for fear of getting it wrong, but she was chosen months ago to have the Lego art in the exhibit, and it was really fun seeing her work on display.  the other kids' stuff was pretty cool, but I'm partial. 

The other really great thing about her winning was that she got six complimentary tickets to the exhibit for having her sculpture chosen! So it only cost us the price of one for seven of us.  I sure as hell would not have paid full price for this guy's stuff.  It's neat, it's cool, but indeed his homages to the great masterworks do reveal how brilliant the best of those works really are, and how limited in vision his Lego works are. 

Maybe i'm just in a bit of a cranky mood.  I keep thinking of child brides in Yemen, and I think: yes, lawyer Sawaya, children need to be creative, but they also need to be not getting married at ten.  But what the hey.