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20.11.05

Federico Fellini,

Commencing with the nightmarish traffic shot of silent, hemmed-in despair, and ever after that open to dream, suggestion and imagination, this is the culmination of a kind of cinema we’ll never see again. The era of Cinecitta, of oligarchic producers and fabulous set pieces and swirling arrays of extras, littered with personal recollection, wish fulfilments and fear. And total dubbing. And wholly personal, boyish, poetically inventive direction. I love that his critic character, besides spouting an endless bilge of intellectual clichés (all of their time), states early on that his film is nothing more than a sequence of disconnected scenes; a film about filmmaking must employ self-criticism at some point, and when he talks about the failure of a scene with the dream-girl at the therapeutic springs, which we’ve just seen, well, it’s significant that it doesn’t deflate the narrative at all. And of course the critic hangs later on (how could he not see that coming).

The strong mover of the film is the sense of being carried along by large events one is complicit in creating, yet losing all willed responsibility for; the alienating fear of losing the thread, to get off the moving train and admit to not knowing. The endless circus of faces asking for their parts or opinion, always a circular chaos of distractions crossing the line of sight or sweeping up from the corners. The continual demands. The unspoken fear of failure, hungrily grasping at every (feminine) distraction. One of the great films about failure, fact. Fellini has a gift for controlling very large studio spaces, making them buzz and thrive with visual activity and eclectic peoples; contrasted of course with Guido’s unflappable calmness at the centre, the quiet heart of adriftness.

Along with childish masculinity, the distractions of feminine beauty, the injection of personal drama (the wife, the musical director, and of course the producer) and ceaseless directorial invention. In a film that is ever erupting into dream and fancy, or rather, which is more dream than real (hence honest about the illusions of cinema). The scenes in the steam baths, the profound nocturnality of the film contrasted with the washed out, over-exposed daylight scenes, the sheer improbable cohesiveness of it all… again, one has to resort to lists to distil the breadth of the scope, and avoid wanting to analyse everything (fear of women, Catholicism etc).

This is filmmaking on the genius side of Italian cinema: the Fellini method. Renown, production excess, cartoon humour, gorgeous dolls, a frenetic chaos externalised yet humanised by uncertainty and a search for clarity, or simple, useful and effective filmmaking; and still to be able to say Yes, this is my (mad) method but there’s more to it than that… there are lies, begged indulgences, cover-ups and denials, tawdry lovers, common gossip, domestic despairs, staged resolutions and uneven or badly-paced ambiguities in life, and producers bearing gifts… So much personal free reign will never be given in a studio environment again.

posted by rino breebaart  # 9:51 pm (2) comments

17.11.05

Diverting attention, away, away

You gotta love the management of news-issues and debate-framing by the White House. Distract people from Katrina and the price of oil & petrol, distract them from Rove, Libby and DeLay and then divert them from all that Plame implies, then obfuscate on torture, Iraq, health care, and maybe heap a little blame on false WMDs with the Democrats, as though they're complicit in this illicit war, or unpatriotic in the very least... and in the meantime all the telling but smaller-scale stories of absolute significance get brushed aside like autumn foliage. Obfuscation and issue-management provide the best cover for spin. Take the Chalabi Tour. He got a bit of gladhanding press-coverage when he went to Washington recently, and the administration pundits all agreed he's a top bloke who gets stuff done; but he's also a convicted felon and highly suspicious fraudster whose information is always informed by personal politics; and yet, hard on the heels of his visit to Iran, not many analysts that I've seen are putting two and two together on the nature and possible narrative content (from Iraq to Iran to America) of his visit. Is he building a new case for war, or selling his Iran-line for whatever reason, or simply having lunch with his NeoCon pals..?

Anyway, I've gathered together some quotes through Google News, in what could be construed as quoting out of context, but I think the words say plenty already.
Washington Post
Ask about Chalabi among members of the administration, and off the record there is general agreement. "Very astute fellow," says one very high government official. "Extremely bright and competent," says a senior military man.

Chalabi says the administration knows "how little we influenced the decision."[to go to war over unreal WMD]
Myrtle Beach Online
"We are heroes in error," Chalabi proclaimed at a time when the post-invasion chaos had long since evolved into full-fledged, murderous insurgency. "As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."
Time (via Egypt)
DID YOU MAKE ANY SPECIFIC REQUESTS [to the Americans]? We put forward the idea that Iraq should buy American weapons. It will go a long way toward raising the morale of Iraqi troops and giving them something serious to work with. We discussed Syria and how we stop infiltration from Syria by getting the Syrian government to act responsibly.

WHY SHOULD IRAQIS TRUST YOU TO BE PRIME MINISTER WHEN YOU'VE BEEN CONVICTED OF FRAUD IN A JORDANIAN MILITARY COURT? Because they know that this is a false charge. And they also know the record of Jordan being the hub of corruption on the basis of Saddam's illicit dealings.

DO YOU THINK THE U.S. SHOULD SEND MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ, AS SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN PROPOSES? I think more troops in Iraq would make more casualties and would contribute very little to improving the security situation. I think the way to go forward is to arm the Iraqi army in a way that it can deal with the insurgency and the violence in a more professional way. The most important thing to do is revamp the intelligence collection. [That's beautiful, that is]
Petroleum World
According to senior associates of the Iraqi official, who have accompanied him to meetings with Bush administration officials, Mr. Chalabi has been threatening his friends in the Bush administration that if they do not support his candidacy to become the next prime minister of Iraq that there will be no way to contain Iran. He has told them in no uncertain terms that he is the only one who can make the Iranians behave.

"If Iran and Venezuela decided to team up and squeeze the United States, Uncle Sam might have to scream uncle," explained one of Chalabi’s friends.
Al Mendhar
What is more surprising is Al Chalabi's boasting of obtaining the approval of Tehran for occupying the position of Iraqi Prime Minister. After meeting with the Iranian leaders, Al Chalabi said in an interview with the New York Times newspaper that the Iranians promised him that they would not fail him or oppose him in case he attempted to become an Iraqi Prime Minister.
The New York Sun
"The Syrians are guilty," Mr. Chalabi said. "Foreign fighters are traveling through Syria to Iraq." He said Syria was providing both a "transit route" and a "safe haven" to the foreign fighters, and he said he hoped that would stop.

Mr. Chalabi also reflected on seeing Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi dictator's capture. He said he felt "sadness for the people of Iraq that this idiot ran their affairs for all this time." [This from Chalabi, mind you]
Now... I'm no wizz at spotting credible sources from the Middle East and MSMedia, but I thought it nice to do a bit of standard blog-mongering and stitch a narrative together, before the story becomes just another stale fact in the miserable war on conscience and truth.

posted by rino breebaart  # 9:22 pm (2) comments

16.11.05

The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

Yes, it’s still OK to like reference books – they’ll never be Starbucks cool. They only make them expensive to keep them away from the rabble, the great unwashed etc; or, to recompense the intensive tertiary scholarship that goes into them. Seriously. None besides grammar nerds and pedants read them, or copy-editors coveting sub-editing jobs ("Got the latest Chicago Style Manual the other day. Essential reading") and maybe the odd head of English looking to round off a budget application. Of course anything that promotes crisp and "maximally considerate" writing is good in itself, such materials need not be defended. But in case it ain’t obvious already, I’ve a rather persistent weakness for reference books that in no way corresponds to being a grammar fiend expounding subordinate clauses or squinting at modifiers. I like correct usage, efficient punctuation and well-cast prose. I don’t find reference boring in any way; it’s just another of the manifold entry points to superior writing-insight. As well as being etymologically interesting, and precision-ennobling, and usage-clarifying. Am I alone? Thank God, I thought I was alone!

Naturally there was a significant by-reason (ugh) for buying this particular thesaurus and that was DFW’s contributing editorship. Dave and me we’re like this * when it comes to reference. OK so his brain has far greater memorial firepower than mine (I must say part of the appeal of reference-reading lies in my inability to store facts for long. To which counter-laughs I respond that a slacker memory might leave the creative membranes looser and more responsive for improvising), and his upbringing was laced with hard-core grammar instruction and jollies compared to my lazy second langage. In fact, this is all starting to sound like my coming clean on a dirty or at least nerdy little secret: a) I buy reference books (lemme talk about Johnson, and later I will) and b) I brought a book purely because DFW’s name graced the cover. And worse, I brought an American reference book.

I should’ve guess from the flap byline "For the writer in everyone" that this is a beginner’s book. Which is not to say the book (1087 pages) is pedantically simple; but that in flipping through it the dominant impression is of standard-usage words being drawn to their nearest synonymous neighbours for everyday-acceptable essay writing. The dataset lacks a certain thoroughness or completeness that would otherwise gloss archaic or exotic words of limited but fecund usage. It feels limited to American English rather than Wordly Rich English (again, the title: my fault). This is a thesaurus for the average American college student: the kind that sits all robust and futile on a bookcase with a kegger in full swing next door. Mixed with a whole lotta usage guidelines and helpers and pointers. A college-usage-thesaurus then.

There’s stacks of guides (The Right Word) and Word Banks (taxonomic lists) and Word Spectrums (a scale of near-synonyms towards an antonym; see what I mean about undergraduate simplicities…), and, for the original purchase incentive, Word Notes by famous contributing editors (including Zadie Smith). DFW is on home turf here, dressed in full didactic regalia. He cannot but betray his teaching style and dry comedic precisions; and neither can he hide his mainline to grammar buzz & thrills. The man is a word fiend, and of all the contributors comes across most authoritative on usage for writers, and on rare and exotic sources and variants and the despicably changing state of usage and context (further, always pointing out he’s writing in 2004). But as always he’s well worth quoting in full:
WORD NOTE dysphesia
This is a medical noun with some timely nonmendical applications. Educated writers already use aphasia to refer to a brain-centred inability to use language, which is close but not identical to the medical meaning. Dysphesia can be similarly extended from its technical def to mean really severe difficulties with forming coherent sentences. As anyone who’s listened to our current president knows, there are speakers whose lack of facility goes way beyond the range of clumsy or inarticulate. Our president’s public English, like that of his father’s before him, is dysphesiac.
Actually, George W gets another nod somewhere else too. Regretably, these occasional glosses and rhymes (!) are just momentary personalisations, snapshots of the language in action from ardent practitioners; but this is by no means a thesaurus written by its contributors. Which is not to say that piffle and guff don’t have a place in reference, I mean, the peculiar inflections of interpretation that so humanise Johnson’s Dictionary are what make it a great work of reference. In any such text there’s a goal of prescriptive clarity and precision which overrides any descriptive rendering or accounting of the (historical) language at hand: which is always a matter of not un-subjective intelligence and perspective (just like encyclopeadias, dictionaries provide wide-screen pictures of how we understand ourselves and the world. And now to Wittgenstein). If the contributors worked on the floor of this book instead of just phoning in some anecdotal briefs, then maybe we’d have a nicely saucy and fallible and eminently quotable work of reference. We wouldn’t say, Oh, that Yankee Oxford, we’d say DFW’s Dictionary. We would have a thorough and indicative description of the state of English Of Our Time, with full glosses and footnotes. Such books, of course (and this deflates my argument completely) already litter the eye-level reference shelves: The Story of English. The Story of Johnson. The Story of the OED. The Story of the Comma etc. But I’m damned sure DFW would make an hilarious and maniacially thorough dictionary and pre/descriptive usage guide.

In the longest gloss in the book (1.25 column lengths), DFW kinda breaks down from his original and detailed explication of hairy (barbigerous, cirrose, crinite, glabrous, hirsute, hispid, lanate, pilose, piligerous, piliated, pilimiction, ulotrichous and tomentose ["covered with dense little matted hairs – baby chimps, hobbits’ feet, and Robin Williams are all tomentose"]) and provides the following, rather epiphanic footnote:
N.B. If you’re thinking of using any of the more esoteric adjectives here, you’d be well advised to keep an OED close at hand. This is not simply a gratuitous plug of another Oxford U. Press product. The fact is that some of these hair-related terms aren’t in other dictionaries; plus, the terms are often specialized enough that you’re going to want not just an abstract definition but a couple sample sentences so that you can see how the words are actually used. Only the OED has both defs and in-context samples for just about every significant word in the language. Actually, why not screw appearances and just state the obvious: No really serious writer should be without an OED, whether it’s bought or stolen or hacked into the online version of or whatever you need to do. Nothing else comes close.
Refreshingly honest, I’d say. Maybe the King’s English is next.

posted by rino breebaart  # 8:04 am (0) comments

15.11.05

State of British music IV: Supergrass, Life on Other Planets and Road To Rouen

What do you do when you’re in a guitar band and you get sick of making riffs and choruses with three of four pop chords? Every band comes to an impasse of this kind, from Black Sabbath to U2. The options out are pretty simple: you either bring in interesting producers to fiddle and tweak your songsounds, or you write songs with strings and horns in mind, and begin to stretch the format somewhat. Supergrass did the latter. From the punchy high of Life to the brief but crafted vignettes of Rouen (which I’ve combined into a killer twofer), the Grass are making interesting pop again, beyond mere 'spot the precursor and have a lark'. The last of the former (the wonderful stoner cut Run) seems to segue perfectly into the first of the latter. The production is crisp and clever, the instrumentation fresh and broad (with some welcome piano work), the canvas has been stretched and opened, and there ain’t a single flaky moment. Yet it’s distinctively BritPop: easy melodies, clear choruses, good guitar fun; and the sense that George Martin could’ve been involved in the project. And it’s great value at 35 minutes — I agree with shorter albums: greater quality and concentration on fewer songs rather than endlessly sprawling CDs stretched with b-material. I love the sense of containment and sufficiency of such albums: it reminds me of soul records somehow. Have yourself a really super album.

posted by rino breebaart  # 3:54 pm (0) comments

14.11.05

Martin Amis, Experience

Yes, again. This blog has now officially achieved circularity. What takes the average PostModernist a lifetime of reference and pose I've achieved in a year and a half. And I don't just mean Repetition. Which reminds of a nice little PoMo Manoeuvre involving laugh tracks and spare irony, which I'll have to relate at a later date. The thing I like, nay love about this book, besides the palpable enjoyment-factor of its prose and its contiguity to literature's furnace, is that it's a book about Family. Not just a dual biography, not just a stab at the fourth estate of Britain, but a meditation on the writing life seen through the lens of familial bond and narrative order. It's also one of the most pro-childbearing books in the genre. It is... a surprising book.

posted by rino breebaart  # 9:32 am (0) comments

9.11.05

I know that quality writing (quality reviewing especially) thrives on a contradictory meld of disinterested clarity and the catty, personalised wordplay of invective, where anger or outrage induce the fact — and on the other hand, balancing the sheer amount of review material at hand (I’m addicted to downloadahol) with the limited amount of motivated time to write and invoke non-clichéd shots at the target (the cliché being the shortest, straightest line to a critical truism, to be avoided absolutely but always lying in wait), and my often being at a loss to simply say something new about something new, all leave me in a state of mild indifference and wordlessness, no doubt typical of the jaded review mindset — washed up yet secretly hungry for that heartsinging work of inspiration — yet meeting everywhere its disappointment, the reactive ideas spent and thrustless like dull waves on a dun shore. That little voice calls out from within its rounded tower, in wiltingly pathetic tones: But what does all this music shit mean to me, I mean, personally?

posted by rino breebaart  # 12:58 pm (1) comments

6.11.05

Over on the Long Blog (all essay, no review), some Notes on Christianity.
The question of Christianity's veracity (ie the True Faith) is nowhere near as interesting or relevant as Why this religion has worked so well for so long. Is it because the formula and tenets of Christianity lend themselves so well to politics? From the first Christian emperors to the popes and the Jesuits and the sectarian parties of today? Or because of its dogma, so flexibly interpreted across Christian sects, churches and sub-denominations? Or because monotheism makes for great religions of war & conquest? For its relative ability to meld power with changing times? And where is the individual in all this? — weak, a sheep, in need of (shep)herding.
Anyhoo, it's a bundle of notes I've extracted from the notebooks, so much of which would never see the light (of day) otherwise.

posted by rino breebaart  # 10:03 pm (1) comments

4.11.05

State of British music V: Blur b-sides

I’ve taken to trawling through a few back catalogues, and by extension, the b-material and offcuts and stuff that never really progressed far from the rehearsal or aborted-conception stage. A U2 bootleg, for instance, from the early Achtung Baby sessions, was a revealingly embarrassing study in mild desperation: the band fumbling and trying to put coherent music together in the early stages, shouting cues at each other, missing notes and playing the same riffs way too long. In a way it’s almost emboldening to hear a megagroup sound so amateur and dysfunctional (and lost for ideas) before the big-ass production and mixing values kick in, before the songs were essentially found and embellished. They sound almost like anyone else dicking around with their instruments. It’s the complete antithesis of a finished record, and of course a band would be upset to leak this crap material, especially U2.

Anyhoo, the Blur. Never ones ashamed to put wholesale crap on the b-side, Blur have nonetheless got some stellar material in there as well. Although, maybe ‘stellar’ ain’t quite le mot juste when it comes to Britpop; OK, I was being hyperbolic. But, again, the b-material can be very revealing or function as great conextualiser for the a-stuff. Like Joyce says, errors are the portals of discovery. But is incompleteness an error? I remember a recent interview with Gorillaz-Albarn or maybe it was Mali-Damon talking about ProTooling his African recordings, and he said he’s good at generating ideas but not finishing them or rounding off the project. That’s what comes over clearest on my personal sampling of b-sides from Chemical World to Coffee & TV. It’s a great look at how Blur put songs together guitar-bass-drums-wise, and later, mix shit up. They’re not afraid to let stuff just run without proper fibre and mileage; they’re happy to let the search for melodic quality fritter away like so many uncomplaining drummers. They’ve left in the late-night or drunken no-brainers when anything on tape sounds adequate. Or just plain daffy. Even though the final finish and patina (or even the structure itself) is incomplete or patchy.

I’m a great believer in the aristocracy of talent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like slumming with all the slush and average shit at the bottom of the heap. With Blur especially, you can tell they just record a heap of stuff for an album, twenty odd tracks or more, then make harsh executive decisions about what should go in or get the full focus. But they always put in the basic minimal effort with their b-sides, whether it’s backing vocals or noodling effects and tricks. There’s still enough value in the tracks the for a lesser band to be quite happy with. There’s a few dinky drinky waltzes, and it’s remarkable how unlike the Kinks a lot of these cuts sound (comment, discuss) and Graham Coxon is easily 60% of the band. Damon’s predeliction for Frenchification is fun but his accent is truly shite. Personal faves include French Song (off Tender), Supa Shoppa (off Parklife), Threadneedle Street (off To The End), Theme From An Imaginary Film (Parklife), Woodpigeon Song and All Your Life (off Beetlebum).

posted by rino breebaart  # 2:30 pm (2) comments

3.11.05

State of British music VI: Robert Wyatt, Shleep

I'll let the mood generator at AllMusic handle this one:
Dreamy, Atmospheric, Laid-Back, Mellow, Gentle, Soothing, Whimsical, Trippy, Literate, Witty, Quirky, Nocturnal, Restrained.
Actually, I do have more to say. This is a fucking great album. Wise, crafted, nutty, alinear, obscure but fresh, gnomic but clean, superbly crafted and engineered, it’s a true listener experience. It’s joyous and affirmative and painterly.

There’s a way of gauging quality that I’ve been exercising of late, and that’s to listen for how into a song the singer is: Jackson is totally IN and experiencing and committed to Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, Marvin totally owns Distant Lover (his heart breaking). It’s a measure of identification, involvement, which comes across most clearly in Soul and which feeling I don’t get from so many of the indifferent singers emoting histrionically in modern radio pop. No doubt because the entire production is owned by the companies that allow them to put their vague stamp on the songs but which is all marketed uniformly (think of how much production work and listening-hours goes into the average turd on the radio, the voice is just an accessory on top of it all; they’re expressions of corporate ownership, not feeling). Anyhoo, in the case of Wyatt, with his distinctively fragile yet lyrical voice, the music of Shleep is almost the complete opposite of corporate shill: it’s individuated, crafted art: it’s everything we want the arty, expressive and affective potential of modern music to be. Most of the music is generated by contributors but it feels entirely Wyatt’s product; I’d even be tempted to rate this higher, musically, than Dylan’s work, where the feeling of a clear delineation between backing and lead is always maintained. The contributors don’t just make a springboard or conditional atmosphere for Wyatt, they’re participants in the whole expression, the gestalt. As though the magic of Wyatt is to open himself up in this way, in pure collaboration. The success of which is measured by the distinctiveness of his voice or lyrics never once sounding out of place, conflicted or lost in the music.

Most of the structures on Shleep are deceptively simple: he doesn’t rely on familiar chord patterns (must research his writing technique more) but there’s enough backing vocals to locate this as popular music. Maybe that’s the Eno touch. Instrumentation is almost always motivated by colour rather than virtuosity. The sounds (the means) are always in harmony with the lyrical intent: which I guess is the precedent of painting in Wyatt’s work (and Eno’s, for that matter). A Sunday in Madrid is probably the superlative song of the album, laden with travelling urgency. The long chorus and shifting melodies of Maryan are also super. The simplicity is pleasing but beguiling: this is very clever and organically progressive/unpredictable music. And dreamy, wistful and all those other nocturnal review terms.

posted by rino breebaart  # 12:26 pm (0) comments
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