Friday, November 28, 2008

Me and Malcolm Gladwell

For those of you into that sort of thing, the new issue of Fashion magazine contains a short interview I did with zeitgeist trawler and afro enthusiast Malcolm Gladwell on his new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

If you do come across it, please note how cleverly I was able to write the piece without ever letting slip what I actually thought of the book.*

That’s called “paying the rent.”

* let's just say it took me a few days to get the smell of snake oil out of my clothes...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Where I sat

My (old) desk space gets profiled on, well, Desk Space.

NB: the links throughout the piece are like little Easter eggs...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Major General

I'm pretty sure I've already used this site to proselytize on behalf of Buster Keaton in general, and The General in, uh, particular. But who cares. It's a movie that is nothing but pleasure for me, and one that rewards multiple viewings. As Gary Giddens notes in this essay on the new re-issue of the movie on DVD, it's far less broad than the rest of Keaton's oeuvre, the humour deeper.

If I had the time or the patience, I would write a long essay about the movie, and about Keaton, and about the many hours I've spent watching his stuff without even cracking a smile – too busy simply marveling at the ingenuity of even the most minor gag. As some who knew me back when I was in the deepest throes of Keaton-worship (bolstered by Chaplin-mania, which is headier but less lasting), I used to go on at length about the need for the revival of the silent comedy.

And then Mr. Bean hit and I figured it was taken care of.

(Also, I started having kids, and many minor and pointless obsessions had to be put on the backburner – at least until they were old enough to share them with me...)

But in the meantime, here's Giddens on The General:
Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when television was awash in classic movies (Million-Dollar Movie, Shock Theater, The Late Show, and Silents Please were among the first schools in cinema—just ask Scorsese, Spielberg, or Coppola), are aghast to find that our children are often reluctant to watch black-and-white films, let alone silent ones. Especially those deemed to be among the greatest ever made. The imprimatur of the experts turns pleasure into obligation, and suddenly the notion of sitting through a comedy that had for decades convulsed audiences takes on all the promise of reading The Merry Wives of Windsor—the most annoying and witless of Shakespeare's plays, yet once upon a time thought to be a riot.

Still, for anyone who has never seen a silent picture or, worse, seen only speeded-up pie-throwing excerpts, Kino International has an offer you can't refuse: a spotless new transfer of Buster Keaton's 1926 epic, The General. Kino initially released a DVD of The General in 1999, which looks like every other version I've seen in theaters or at home—the focus is soft, and the tinted film stock is faded, scratched, and jumpy. The new edition, part of a two-disc set (most of the extras concern the historical basis for the story), is pristine, sharply focused, stable, and gorgeous.

Gorgeous is important, because The General is a peephole into history and by any definition an uncannily beautiful film. Indeed, for a first-time viewer, I would emphasize the beauty over the comedy. Many people are disappointed when they first see The General because they have heard that it is one of the funniest movies ever made. It isn't. Keaton made many films that are tours de force of hilarity, including Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, and Seven Chances (all available from Kino). The General is something else, a historical parody set during the Civil War.

The comedy is rich but deliberate and insinuating. It aims not to split your sides but rather to elicit and sustain—for 78 minutes—a smile and sense of wonder, interrupted by several perfectly timed guffaws.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who can bear Mark Steyn?

What with all the "look at me: I'm a novelist!" and "golly, my humble little book got a review somewhere!" and "schweet: I get to read my book aloud in the vicinity of authors people have actually heard of!" around here, there has been a serious neglect of unserious commentary on idiots like Mark Steyn.


I still have none, but only because the good people at Sadly, No! have once again eviscerated the man much more thoroughly and funnier than I could have. (Take a deep breath before clicking that link: it is NSFW, or rather, NMFSFW.)

I'll only add that this is just the latest in a long line of Steyn spewings that display a particular obsession, one I have noted before.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The In Crowd's in my Outbox

I wasn’t aware of this before, but as an official participant in the International Festival of Authors, I am entitled to a list of all the e-mail addresses of all the other participants.

Whether this is for the purpose of continuing an angry backstage argument about Henry James, to make a shamefaced apology for a late-night tryst (and/or to arrange another one), to send a long, jokey, self-deprecating message about how “a blurb from you would be great, and of course I would reciprocate the minute my book’s a bestseller, LOL,” or to secure admittance to the Order of Freemasons, I have no idea.

But my list arrived in the mail the other day. I’m in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mood ring band, vol. 1

Roy Orbison, Chet Baker, Robert Johnson, Marianne Faithfull's recording of The Seven Deadly Sins, "Something's On Your Mind" by Karen Dalton, Connexions by Alex Lukashevsky, "Hello Walls" by Faron Young, and, finally, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm younger and older than that now

Sign that I'm young: my neighbours were playing what I took to be that new Fleet Foxes record, but when they turned it up, it was revealed as Neil Young's Harvest Moon. Much prefer the Foxes.

Sign that I'm old: while talking to a high school senior writing class a few weeks ago, I tried to explain the necessity of editing by referring to the making of Star Wars. Only half the class had seen the movie.

Tolle tale

It's a sure sign that my blog well is temporarily dry when I am linking to something I assigned to myself. Nonetheless, go here to read my review of Oprah-approved nĂ¼-age guru Eckhart Tolle's first "book" for "kids."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Every silver lining...

I know we're supposed to be all "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" right now, but "Superstition" is a much better song, and while it may not be completely relevant this week, it soon will be again.

Here's Mr. Wonder just killing it on Sesame Street – watch the whole thing:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hope a dope

Obama's acceptance speech was so good, it got me drunk.

No idea whether the man will be able to live up to even a small fraction of the expectations that are now on him, but America is a country that lives on symbolism, and it has just been given a massive injection of positive symbolism for the first time in, like, forever.

    A very subtle and funny writer - one I've become obsessed with over the past year - in a decidedly Muriel Spark mood. Imagine The Pr...