Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: The Middle Ages (2015) by Johannes Fried

Book Review:
The Middle Ages
 by Johannes Fried
Published January 2015 by Belknap Press at Harvard University
Translation from the German by Peter Lewis

 The academic movement to revisit the so-called "Dark Ages" of post-Roman, pre-Renaissance European Century is well over a half century old at this point.  This project is just as "revisionist" as revisionist history can be, but since this period evokes few strong emotions among teachers and students, learned Professors have done their work largely unopposed.  Much of the work in this area has been done by Authors writing and French and German, so translation is very much a part of keeping current in recent developments and more long term trends in the scholarship.

 It's easy to see that The Middle Ages by retired professor of Medieval History at Frankfurt Univerity Johannes Fried is important merely by looking at the book.  The Middle Ages is a broad narrative synthesis, meaning that it is written as much (if not more) for a lay audience, but with a depth and attention to detail that is sufficient to evoke interest from specialists in the field.  It's like, the main narrative is for the general readers, and then the notes and bibliography are for the specialists.  In this case, many of the cited sources are in German, which means that The Middle Ages is likely as close as English readers are likely to get to those books.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Last Lizard is the new Dirty Beaches

  I wasn't exactly surprised when Alex Zhang Hungtai told me that he was done with Dirty Beaches.  I'd like to think at least part of his decision was based on conversations he had with me (which I was basing on my experiences watching bands like Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, Cults,  Best Coast and Wavves "come up" with varying degrees of success and/or failure) about whether he really wanted to be touring 300 capacity rock clubs in the mid west and south for the next decade plus of his life.

 If you don't have some kind of engineered instant success (often paid for with someone else's money) a career in indie music means steady touring, shitty gigs and no certainty of anything approaching financial stability.  Personally, I couldn't live that way, and I thought it was a fair question to ask Alex since it was clear that tuesday night shows in Nashville playing for 60 people didn't fill him with utter joy.

 I also knew that Alex was frustrated by the very fans that his Dirty Beaches persona attracted.  He very, very, very much did not want to be the guy who got yelled at to play "True Blue" by frat brothers.  I take a more nuanced view of that situation, but as I tell my criminal clients, "I don't do the time."  The decision to abandon the Dirty Beaches act essentially meant the end of Zoo Music so far as I was concerned, the actual end came afterwards, but when you have that flash of lightning and then the lightning decides it doesn't want to be lighting, you don't sit around waiting for another burst.  The play is to move on with your life, and if something else happens, so be it.

 So that is what I did. And while I've had talks with Alex about possibly running a label with him in a similar fashion to the role I played with Zoo Music, he is very much a free agent, with multiple high level indies having various levels of "interest" in him, so I have no idea how that will end up.  Alex Zhang Hungtai is going to continue to make music, as Last Lizard and not as Dirty Beaches.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Donkey Skin (1970) d. Jacques Demy

Catherine Denueve wearing her Donkey Skin.

Movie Review
Donkey Skin (1970)
d. Jacques Demy
Criterion Collection #718
Part of The Essential Jacques Demy

   Donkey Skin, Demy's take on the classic Charles Perrault (the French "Grimm Brothers") fairy tale, is a mouth-watering concoction, and it is one of those movies where the restoration of the film to its original technicolor glory is particularly important.  The story is a dark version of the lost princess fairy tale.  The King of the realm loses his wife, promising her that he will only marry a woman more beautiful than her.  That turns out to be his daughter, played by Denueve, who is torn between her desire to please her doting father and well, the obvious fact that a marriage between a father and his birth daughter is monstrous.  The voice of reason is her fairy godmother, winningly played by Delphine Seyrig, who tells her to obtain a donkey skin and wear it as a disguise.  Denueve does, and she ends up working as the maid for a family of farmers.  There, she is discovered by her prince, and singing ensues.

  The sets are the star here- Demy's production is richly colored almost beyond comprehension, and you will be left gasping, even thought this fifty year old film wasn't shot in HD.  Donkey Skin is a real tribute to the possibilities of color in film, and that is why you should give it a watch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Kingdom of this World (1949) by Alejo Carpentier

Henri Cristophe, first Emperor of Haiti and subject of The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier

Book Review
The Kingdom of this World (1949)
 by Alejo Carpentier

 Man would you take a look at the Wikipedia entry for this novel? It's kind of insanely detailed.  I get it though- The Kingdom of this World is a compelling work of historical fiction, early "magic realism" about the slave revolution in Haiti, which is itself one of the more interesting historical events from the western hemisphere in the last thousand years

   But the hook for The Kingdom of this World is that it is, I think, the first novel you can properly describe as magical realism.  Magical realism is one of the most significant developments in 20th century literature, and its authors would rise to world wide fame from the 1960s onward.    Magical realism is interesting in that it combines the well known (and century old in 1949) tradition of "realism" with a magical perspective that transcends the tired tropes of Dadaism and Surrealism.  In this way, magical realism creates a more convincing, compelling narrative then Surrealism ever could.  Magical realism doesn't reject narrative convention like the more radical outgrowths of modernism in the early 20th century. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Path to the Nest of Spiders (1947) by Italo Covino

The Path to the Nest of Spiders (1947)
 by Italo Covino

 Like many great novelists, Italo Covino had an ambivalent relationship with his first novel.  The Path to the Nest of Spiders was derivative (of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls) and Calvino acknowledges as much in the Preface to the edition I read.  In a sense, if you've read For Whom the Bell Tolls, you know what to expect in The Path to the Nest of Spiders, except it's set in Italy during World War II instead of Andalusian Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

 Calvino's preface also situates The Path to the Nest of Spiders firmly in the "Italian Neorealist" genre.  A canonical example of a film version of The Path to the Nest of Spiders is Salvatore Giuliano (1961) d. Francesco Rosi.  That film was actually post World War II, about rebel-gangsters in Sicily in the 1950s.  By comparison, The Path to the Nest of Spiders is strictly anti-Nazi/anti-Fascist World War II partisan stuff.

  His description of neo-realism as being "in the air" after World War II ties in with interviews I've watched of contemporary artists like Roberto Rossellini.  In the 40s and the 50s, even Fellini could be described as a neo-realist.  See for example, I vitelloni (1953).  That film is about as Italian neo-realist as you can get.  Like Fellini, Calvino would go on to eclipse the neo-realist label, but would carry it's influence throughout his career.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

8 1/2 (1963) d. Federico Fellini

Anouk Aimee as Louisa, the Fellini character's wife/tormentor.

Book Review
8 1/2 (1963)
d. Federico Fellini
Criterion Collection #140

 One of the peculiarities of watching the Criterion Collection is that you are more likely to see the minor and/or early works of  particular canonical director.    Minor and early works are more often available and less often have a prior DVD edition, allowing Criterion to essentially introduce the film to their audience.   Minor and early works are also more likely to show up on the Criterion Collection Hulu Plus channel, which is why the sudden appearance of 8 1/2 in mid May of this year was such a surprise.

  Getting a handle on Fellini without 8 1/2 under your belt is nearly impossible.  It's also one of the quintessential "movies about making movies" that seem to substantially define the mindset behind the "art film" as a genre.   In it, Marcello Mastroanni plays Guido Anselmi AKA Federico Fellini. The plot concerns Anselmi/Mastroanni/Fellini's trials and tribulations immediately prior to the principle photography portion of a movie he is supposedly making.  The movie remains un named and undescribed, but it appears to be a grand, complicated affair.

  Anselmi's musings are nearly universal and concern the struggle about whether the creation of art is worth the effort.  The role of naysayer is tellingly played by Anouk Aimee as Luisa Anselmi, the wife of the director.  She inserts herself into a cozy weekend getaway for the director and his mistress, and it isn't long before she is talking about the lies he creates with his films, and how his art is ultimately self-serving, masturbatory and useless.  Ultimately, Anselmi abandons the film, though a cryptic/surreal ending hints that maybe his decision is subject to a later reversal.

  Through and through a masterpiece, 8 1/2 is a must if you have Hulu Plus- it was just uploaded, so don't delay in watching it lest they take it down before you get a chance to watch.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Titus Groan (1946) by Mervyn Peake

Artist illustration of Gormenghast, the castle at the heart of Titus Groan, copyright Malcolm Brown

Book Review
Titus Groan (1946)
 by Mervyn Peake

   Titus Groan is the first in a trilogy of Gormenghast Novels by  English artist/writer Mervyn Peake. 
"Gormenghast" is the name of the Castle-complex where the Groan family lives and rules.  The Groans are an almost impossibly gothic bunch, with an Earl who ends up thinking he has become a death-owl and a cast of characters that most resembles the Addams family (minus the wit) or a Roald Dahl novel.  The Gormenghast novels are closest to occupying a slot somewhere in the "fantasy" genre alongside The Hobbit, but there are no wizards or dragons at Gormenghast.  Peake is resolutely terrestrial in his characters and plot devices. 

  Titus Groan is above all else gothic, in the 18th century sense of the word.  Like, literally gothic.  I would argue that Peake was the equivalent of a revivalist, someone concerned with aesthetics and seeking to make a point about the banality of contemporary existence by creating a stilted parody about the banality of existence in a quasi-fantastical milieu.  The write up in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books goes so far as to call it a "parody...of English aristocracy," which only makes sense if you are talking about the English aristocracy of the 14th century.

  Reading Titus Groan, what most struck me is how this entire trilogy should be required reading for any contemporary goths, be they the mall goths of hot topic and emo bands in the us or the cyber goths of the UK and Europe.  The Gormenghast Novels are gothic culture, and a relatively recent, accessible addition to the goth canon.

Friday, June 12, 2015

New Genetics Studies ID Indo European Homeland, Route into Europe

Map of Yamnaya culture, geneticists now posit this was the origin location for the Indo European language group.

  Two new studies published in the Science journal this week have identified the long sough, much argued about homeland of the Indo European peoples, a group that includes all the languages of Europe (Basque, Hungarian and Finnish excepted), Hindi and Farsi.

(NYTIMES Article)

  Basically, two separate studies looked at different genetic materials and came to the same conclusion, that the "modern" genetic composition of Europe is directly traceable to the emigration of people from the steppes of southern Ukraine to northern Europe.

  According to the write up from Science journal itself, the critical migration happened between 2900 BC and 2000 BC.  In that period, the genes of people living in Europe came to resemble those of people from the Yamanaya heartland. (SCIENCE journal)

  The same studies also provide a reasonable hypothesis for the division of Eastern Indo European languages- the "Indo-Iranian" branch and all others, having discovered a cluster of Yamanaya type genes in the Altai mountains focused on the time between 2900 BC and 2500 BC.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Should I go with the Public Defender for my Criminal Case?

Should I go with the Public Defender for m y Criminal Case?

    As a criminal defense lawyer, I hear this a lot. In the state of California (not everywhere) there is a Public Defender system in place in each county.  In all counties, anyone charged with a felony gets appointed a public defender at the arraignment UNLESS they have an attorney to represent them.  In some counties, the same is true for misdemeanors, but in others you don't get a public defender until your second hearing.   I've personally witnessed people in jail not getting a public defender for misdemeanors in Orange County, Imperial County and San Bernardino in the last six months.

  Every public defender is different, as is every private attorney, so it makes no sense to make those kind of statements.  There are amazing public defenders and shitty private criminal defense attorneys.  That said, all the California public defenders are organized by seniority.  So, for example, you know that you are going to get an attorney at the "class" of your crime.  If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your attorney will have between one and five years of experience, and then for felonies it will be more than that.

  Public defenders typically have a much higher case load than comparably experienced private lawyers.  A private criminal defense lawyer may have one or two cases a day, a public defender will have 10 in the same time frame. Private criminal defense attorneys typically have at least a receptionist who can take calls, public defenders do not.   Which is all to say that all other factors being equal, a private criminal defense lawyer will have more time to handle your particular case than a comparably experienced public defender.

 Most people who use a public defender do so because they either can't afford a private criminal defense lawyer, because they think they can't afford a private criminal defense attorney or because they can afford a private lawyer but they think it's a "waste of money."
 The first two reasons are best addressed together.  You can find a (not necessarily a good) private criminal defense lawyer who will do a misdemeanor for 500 dollars, and there are some that will take felonies for little more.  Many criminal defense  attorneys today will take credit cards or work with clients on payment plans.  Felonies are likely to be more expensive, but again, many lawyers will work with clients on payments and will take credit cards.

 People are often reticent to reach out to their support network for help with a criminal case, but I can honestly say that having a criminal case is a prime reason to reach out for help. You should consider the "cost" of having to go to court yourself (on a misdemeanor) and the value of avoiding stress beyond what is reasonable under the circumstances.

   So, if you absolutely can't come up with any money, you will get a public defender, eventually.  If you are in that third group (have the money but don't think it's "worth" it), I think the common mistake here is equating the value of a criminal defense attorney to "beat" the case or "get the case dismissed."  This is what I call "magical thinking."   Like doctors, criminal defense attorneys can't guarantee results, so if that what you want, and you find one who will say that, you've by definition managed to hire a shitty attorney.

  The value is in the time a private criminal defense lawyer will spend with you explaining the time line, the game plan, the twist and turns of your particular case.   Most private defense criminal defense lawyers will literally take all the time you need to feel confident and comfortable, most public defenders will not, simply because they do not have the time in their busy schedules.

 Do you have questions about a specific situation?  Feel free to give me a call.

 Here is a recent post I wrote about how to hire a reputable criminal defense lawyer.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Show Review: Make Music Pasadena 2015

Hundred Waters singer Nicole Miglis

Show Review:
 Make Music Pasadena 2015
Hundred Waters
Sir Sly
Nick Waterhouse

   I'm in the middle of a little love affair with Pasadena.  It isn't so far from my LA digs in Echo Park.  It has an Arclight movie theater that is just as far away as the Hollywood Arclight movie theater and about a million times less annoying and "sceney."   The downtown strip is a pleasant meander and there are lots of proximate bargain retail chains like Ross and Marshalls for that kind of shopping (Echo Park does not have a Ross.)  Make Music Pasadena has been on my radar for several years, probably since Best Coast played it.  I've always said, "I'd like to go to Make Music Pasadena some time."  WELL THIS PAST WEEKEND WAS THAT TIME.

   There is no specialized parking for the festival.  Basically I recommend that you look for on street parking at the far end of the festival, far away from where they have blocked off the streets.  We were able to find non-metered, on street parking at Colorado and Lake, then walked to the SESAC second stage in time to watch Hundred Waters.  Hundred Waters has certifiable buzz, a record out on Skrillex's OWLSA record label, and an active manager who believes in putting in "tons of money up front."  I'd heard all that prior to the show, so I was intrigued, even after reading the "Struggles with...comparisons to Dirty Projectors and Braids" language from their most recent Pitchfork album review.  I made it through...three songs?  That is no slam on the band, who do, indeed, play a brand of music that can best be described as "digital jazz folk."  They undeniably know how to play their instruments, and Miglis has the kind of high, quavering voice that sets scribes pens alight in the indie world.  But... it isn't really a band you want to watch at a festival standing in the parking lot of a theater at 4:30 PM.

  Sir Sly played a legitimate headlining set to an adoring crowd that seemed heavily weighted with all ages ladies.  They have been working on a new record and played a cut from it that sounded like it had genuine top 40 type potential- like cross over between alt rock and active rock.  Generally speaking they seemed to have gone with a "harder" edge (within the world of dancey rock) and have moved away from the more Foster the People type sound of their past.  I was genuinely impressed, and if the one new song they played is any indication, Interscope could have a break out artist on their hands with the next record.

  Nick Waterhouse played in a cool, old timey band shell at the north side of the festival.  It was a cool spot, and it was need to see all the soul fans all dressed up in their goin' out clothes, but I'm not much of a fan of his soul-revival stylings.

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