Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Venue Review: First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles (f/ Ariel Pink)

The First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles

Venue Review:
First Unitarian Church (f/ Ariel Pink)
DO LA party
Sponsored by Goose Island Beer

  I love a new venue and if the invite includes free beer (courtesy the lovely people at Goose Island Beer, Chicago's Craft Beer) and industry networking, SO MUCH THE BETTER.  Also, I happen to love driving between San Diego and Los Angeles- call me crazy.
Court Yard at First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles

  The First Unitarian Church is located west of Downtown Los Angeles, near the intersection of W 9th and Vermont Ave.  There are three separate spaces:  a gymnasium type social space, a church/venue and a lovely open air court yard that really made the night.  The venue is seated and it gets hot inside but it was a nice place for a mixed all ages/21+ show.

  On street parking is scarce but valet was provided.  I wanted to write about the Goose Island Matilda that I had.  The Matilda is a Belgian Style Pale Ale and uh... it was pretty solid.  I could have had a half dozen but driving so I couldn't.  Goose Island has a wide selection of fine beers and ales.. and last night people were saying positive things about Honker's Ale.  I would order Goose Island products in a bar scenario: it was crafty but not TOO crafty.

  Ariel Pink was ok.  He acts like he is on drugs and doesn't like to shower- more power to him as far as I'm concerned, I'm just saying.  I would def go back to First Unitarian Church for another summertime show.  In winter it might be too cold, but hey in LA- probably not?  Last night it was beautiful night that made me glad to be alive.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Orpheus (1950) d. Jean Cocteau

Jean Marais place Orpheus in Jean Cocteau's 1950 film.

Movie Review
Orpheus (1950)
 d. Jean Cocteau
Criterion Collection #68

  Today, special effects are treated with condescension by most film critics. Candidates for "Auteur" status are often given demerits for a body of work that relies heavily on special effects.  Consider the still tentative embrace of Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg by the critical/scholarly film community.  Or James Cameron would be another good example.

Maria Casares as Princess/Death

 And yet twas not always the case.  Jean Cocteau relied on cutting edge special effects in Orpheus, his 1950 retelling of the Greek Myth, (and the second such adaptation ALREADY in the Criterion Collection from the 1950s) as well as in Beauty and the Beast (1946).

  In fact, considering that both were adaptations (1) it seems fair to compare Jean Cocteau to say, a Michael Bay.  What exactly is the difference between a special effect driven adaptation of an ancient Greek myth and a special effects driven adaptation of a toy/Saturday morning cartoon.  After all, are not Saturday morning cartoons our modern myths?

Marie Dea as Eurydice in Orpheus (1950) by Jean Cocteau

  Unlike Black Orpheus, which was a loose adaptation of the myth with no notable underworld sequence,  Jean Cocteau delivers the underworld, which, as it turns out, is governed by a kind of administrative tribunal and looks pretty much like the French country side.

  In this Orpheus, the hero is a pop star of some sort- I imagine him along the same lines as a Serge Gainsbourg.  Death is represented by a wealthy Princess (living in suburban Paris in 1950 of course) and her chauffeur, and it is the chauffeur who ferries off Eurydice to the Underworld.

  Orpheus follows her down and obtains her release after a sort of mini trial, on the condition that he never look at her again.  In the original myth, the stipulation is that he not look at her UNTIL HE REACHES the surface, but it's a small difference.  I'd like to know how that part of the myth came to be. (2)

  The two notable features of Orpheus are the special effects and his use of be bop Jazz to score the sequences of mob violence.  I'm not sure if he was the first to do that- it may have been the case that American directors had been doing that before 1950, but it seems like a pretty early usage of be bop Jazz in that context.

 Orpheus was less tedious to watch then Beauty and the Beast- it's a technically more sophisticated production and the pace is business like and not "dreamy."  The two films make an interesting contrast.  It seems clear from watching both that Beauty and the Beast was a more "shoe string" production, whereas Orpheus is like an "A-list" film from an "A-list" director.


(1)  I try to avoid questions of grammar but the adaptation vs. adaption has been haunting me.  I think the proper spelling is adaptation though according to this article they are both valid.
(2) The non Greek influence on the myth of Orpheus can be seen first, in the fact that Orpheus is from "Thracia" which is an area north and east of the Greek heart land.  Second there is the well known Ancient Near Eastern Myth of Inanna an Dumuzi, where Dumuzi (Inanna's husband) rescues her from the Netherworld.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Erewhon by Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon

Book Review
by Samuel Butler
p. 1872

  Wrapping up the 19th century portion of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die means doing some clean up duty, but luckily I was able to hit Powell's books and pick up several hard to find titles.  Erewhon was in that category but rather then hold out for Powell's I bought the "Dover Thrift Edition."

 "Nothing Says "Minor Classic" Like a Dover Thrift Edition.  It's fair to say that a budget line of print books is threatened dramatically by the Ereader, because... who wants to buy a cheap book when you can buy a cheaper Ebook?  And yet... they persist.  It's hard to carp about someone trying to bring classics to the masses for cheap, but the resulting product mirrors the "Thrift Edition" description: BUDGET.

 Erewhon is in the category of Utopian fiction, common comparisons include Gulliver's Travels and News From Nowhere by William Morris. Like other Utopian novels, you get two parts: journey to Utopia and then lengthy discussions involving the strange ways and beliefs of the Utopians.  Here, the residents of Erewhon hate all machines and attribute moral characteristics to physical ill health.  Thus, being infected with a disease like measles or mumps results in a death sentence.  At the same time what we would call "crimes" are treated the way we treat physical illness. It's like a reversal.

 Thus, Butler's Erewhon is somewhere in between a Utopia and a Dystopia, and I'm pretty sure I missed a lot of what he was criticizing/satirizing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Classic Long John Silver- check out that parrot- he invented that.

Book Review
Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
p. 1883

  Man the Victorians really delivered some children's lit hits.  You read them today- I'm talking about Robert Louis Stevenson,  Lewis Carroll  and the guy who wrote Water Babies- and the only reason you would consider them children's books is because the main characters are children.  Otherwise, they Victorian versions bear about as much comparison to contemporary kids lit as their standards of hygiene compare to our standards of hygiene.
Long John Silvers also... a restaurant.

  The whole idea of childhood in the Victorian period was waaaaaay different then the molly coddling that certain classes of children are subjected to today.  First of all, Victorian children worked in factories for 16 hours a day.  Victorian children were more like little, poorly educated adults.  The tolerance for "childish" behavior was limited/non existent.

 This is probably why Victorian children's lit is so great:  because it doesn't condescend to the target Audience.  Much of what we consider to be "Piratical" behavior and terminology comes directly from Treasure Island-  Long John Silver the erstwhile cook/conspirator of Treasure Island fame is the pirate par excellance.  When you watch a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, you are talking about an idea that was essentially stolen from Treasure Island, which must have still been under copyright protection when Walt Disney was building the original ride.

   The main difference for me between reading the so-called "Childrens Lit" of the 1880s vs. the "Adult" lit is that I actually enjoy the Childrens books.  The adults- Russians aside are a tedious bunch and once I'm done with this survey I very much doubt I will ever return to Trollope, Eliot or Hardy ever again.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Museum Review: Lan Su Chinese Garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland Oregon

  The Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland is a replica of a late period Ming Dynasty Chinese Garden from Suzhou.

  I have to say that when it comes to East Asian garden museums in the United States, I think of Japanese Tea Gardens first and Chinese Gardens not at all.  But, as I read on the wall of the Portland Art Museum a day earlier, what is Japanese culture but a take on an earlier, more powerful Chinese culture.  It's at least comparable to the influence that Greece had on Rome, or England on America, or Persia on Arab- more ancient, better developed, etc.  You can certainly make the case that the student has surpassed the master in each case, but the master/student relationship is clear, and such is the relationship between Chinese and Japanese aesthetics.

Lingering Garden in Suzhou

  In another post, I discussed the garden related roots of the Christian concept of "Paradise."

A paradise is a place where "existence is positive, harmonious and timeless." The word "paradise" is from the French word paradis, which itself derives from the Latin and Greek. It's notable that the term does not simply appear in the western Greek/Latin/Romance languages/English wing of the Indo European language family. Old Iranian (Avestan) contains pari-daeza- which literally means walled enclosure. From Old Iranian it was adopted by Aramaic speakers- which is the language of the old testament and therefore the source of the Hebrew/biblical word for paradise.
Humble Administrators Garden

   Soooo... as it turns out the Chinese were pretty good at the Garden designing game as well. It's a tradition that extends back to 1600 B.C.  The late Ming Dynasty gardens were centered in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.  Two of the most famous tourist spots in China are the Humble Administrators Garden and the Lingering Garden.   So the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland is like a facsimile of these famous Chinese Gardens.

  And I was standing there and looking at the little booklet, and it was talking about how during the Ming Dynasty the Chinese Garden as a place of repose for the Mandarin class, where they could study, write and think in peace.  All of a sudden the Chinese Garden seemed pretty cool, like a little self contained paradie

  I think...looking at it through the Chinese Garden perspective, that I could roll with our new Chinese overlords.  Appreciation for Chinese Garden Aesthetics can't hurt, and according to the website for Lan Su Chinese Garden, this is the best example outside China.

Carnival of Souls (1962) d. Herk Harvey

This is actually the director, Herk Harvey playing "Man" in Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls (1962)
 d. Herk Harvey
Criterion Collection #63

Manny Farber is an American critic and professor whose seminal essay applying Auteur theory to B-Movies was published the same year as Carnival of Souls was released: 1962

  Manny Farber was an American film critic and painter.  In 1962, as luck would have it, he wrote an important essay on B-Movies called "Termite Art vs. White Elephant Art."  And basically he was a guy who applied the idea of Auteur theory to B-Movie directors.  Carnival of Souls is a fine example of Auteur theory in action in the context of B-Movie.

 Carnival of Souls was made by "industrial filmmakers on a limited budget."  But it survived in true underground fashion for decades after release thanks to bootleg VHS tapes.  Finally, Criterion Collection issued this version with a new digital transfer of an original film version.

Candace Hillgoss as main character Mary Henry from Carnival of Souls (1962)

  The idea of creating a lasting masterpiece on a limited budget with limited artistic expectations is a concept that is very near and dear to my heart.  It is something that my friends bands share in common: Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls & Dirty Beaches all started as what Manny Farber called "termite art" individual creators, working in isolation from the mainstream of their field, creating something that Audiences responded to.

  This process of the revival and elevation of B-Movies to "classics" is something I find fascinating, and I think it's those movies within the Criterion Collection- Samuel Fuller's two films I've already seen are another good example- and I think it's critical to have a firm understand of which aesthetic choices made due to a limited budget can be used to generate positive artistic elements: atmosphere, style, depth.

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