Friday, September 2, 2011

and then there is one...

This is something that always happens to me, and for some reason I'm always surprised when it happens, as if I forgot the hundred other times it happened.

Let us speak in epitomes:

All I love in film can be boiled down to one director: Orson Welles

All I love in fiction can be boiled down to one author: Dashiell Hammett

All I love in poetry can be boiled down to one poet: T. S. Eliot

All I love in prose can be boiled down to one writer: C. S. Lewis

All I love in philosophy can be boiled down to one thinker: Etienne Gilson

All I love in rock-n-roll can be boiled down to one guitarist: Slash

All I love in jazz can be boiled down to one artist: John Coltrane

All I love in art history can be boiled down to one aspect: architecture

All researches must come to an end, all arguments, to a conclusion. Everything must come to a point. And at that point, the only thing that remains is disinterested contemplation. And why would I want to waste my time with an infinite variety when in each thing I can contemplate the best possible?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the pacino list

Sure, there are over a dozen more he's appeared in, but these are my favorites (and, if I'm not mistaken, some of his own favorites too) by The Actor, a.k.a., Al Pacino--

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

The Godfather (1972, -74, -90)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

...And Justice for All (1979)

Scarface (1983)

The Local Stigmatic (1989)

Looking for Richard (1996) *

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Chinese Coffee (2000) *

Insomnia (2002)

*also director

And here is the shorter list, the list of my most personal favorites, the "desert island" Pacinos:

The Godfather

Dog Day Afternoon


Looking for Richard


Thursday, August 11, 2011

what if...

Instead of the screenplay, the actors, the story, coming first...

What if the soundtrack were written first? What if the music for the movie were played for the actors, for each scene, and they generate the scene from the sense and emotions they get from the music?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

THE crime story

Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest is, without question, the greatest crime novel ever written. I say this because it is the only crime novel (that I've found anyway) that is about crime and nothing else. It's not about criminals with hearts of gold or some secret code of honor. It's not subliminally about "family" as one finds in, say, The Godfather. It's not about some bigger humanistic or Shakespearean theme. It's just a town of crooks, all of whom are trying to pull the wool over everyone else's eyes, a society of grifters, killers, and corrupt politicians.  A Hobbesian smorgasbord.

The one man who might have some kind of moral ambiguity or Shakespearean quality is the protagonist detective, the Continental Op. But his efforts are partly mercenary, partly vengeful. Every faction believes he is somehow On Their Side, but he rats out every faction to every other faction -- in his own words, he stirs things up. The objective: to instigate a war of all against all, with every yegg cutting every other yegg's throat. A harvest of blood.

That's all there really is to it, and that's one of the reasons I adore it so. So piss on Gatsby and Holden Caulfield and little Huck Finn. I breathe the smoke and tar of smelter-stack Poisonville.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the rub

Perhaps the root of all these interpersonal confusions, struggles and conflicts is that all I really care about is intellectual matters. I don't ask how people are or what they're doing because I just want, and want the other person, to get on with the discussion of ideas and to engage in rational argumentation. Then when everybody else is caught up in the phenomenon they like to call "Life" -- the most uninteresting of concepts -- they're actually surprised (or are they?) when I blow a gasket. I mock them for their contentment -- although, yes, I do sometimes envy it -- to shake them out of it, but it often backfires, resulting in the prevailing view that I'm just some sort of emotional sadist.

If I chose you -- and, trust me, if we're friends at all, it's because I decided we should be -- it's because I thought you were somebody I could actually talk to. But in about 90% of cases I have been wrong. And so, on the surface -- the hard, boring surface -- we remain...

Monday, June 13, 2011


The story goes that I used to never read, much less study, books. I played guitar and that was about it. Then when I discovered philosophy all of that changed (around 17), and for the next several years my life was almost exclusively about reading. Playing music became a very rare activity.

Now, in the past few months, I've taken up music again, yet I find myself finding reading to be just an option, whereas it used to be a compulsion (when I was a teenager it was music that was the compulsion). And now music has sort of become the compulsion again.

So my mind is a house divided. It disturbs me. I want to do both and I want to do both compulsively. As it stands I almost alternate days. On Guitar Days I read a little but not much; on Reading Days I play a little but not much.

One good thing to come out of it is I'm having a kind of a renaissance with one of "My Authors," and that is Hammett. My interest in him has been scarce the past year or so but now he seems like the only person I really want to read. So that's the silver lining.

Monday, May 23, 2011


One of the reasons I prefer an overdriven amp for jazz improvization is to have a level playing field with the horn players. In a traditional jazz combo, everybody gets quiet for the guitar solo; then when the trumpet player comes in, everybody has to step it up. I want the versatility that the horn players have. That's the long and short of it.

Also: I got a new pickup for the bridge position on my Telecaster: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails. This isn't a stack: it's an actual humbucker -- it employs side-by-side blades to keep the size of a single coil. What I like about this arrangement is (1) I still have a classic Fender sound in the neck (which is the only part of the Fender sound I ever liked to begin with); (2) as for the new humbucker, some will say, "for that sound you have to have a Gibson, no two ways about it," and I say, "To hell with your conventions!" The fact is that I prefer the way a Fender feels when I play it; I've always played a Fender; I'm used to it and I like it. So, now, with a classic single in the neck, and a scorching humbucker in the bridge, I have the ideal jazz-to-blues-to-rocknfuckinroll Master Guit-fiddle.


Sunday, March 27, 2011


Okay I don't know what the fuck happened to this damned blogger place, but fuck it, I'm going to tell you what I need to tell you here, and then post the videos above. What a waste of e-paper... Some time ago I started hoisting images, for various reasons, off the Internet and inserting them into photo-manipulation software and displaying (or "posting") them in various places for various reasons. I did this alot when Everybody was using MySpace; and that's one of the reasons I hate facebook [still don't know what that word is supposed to mean]: a bunch of people who can't spell anyway being given free rein to say anything about everything. But of late -- especially generated by my so-far year-long infatuation with Orson Welles -- I've been wanting to make movies. Once I read the interviews and saw F for Fake and the documentary Orson Welles: One-Man Band, I saw this as not only a possibility, but infinitely desirable for me personally. I have a long way to go on that score -- like owning a camera, going to need to do that one of these days -- but in the mean time, I've started making these videos with Windows Live Movie Maker. At the very least, I am, in practice, learning the principles of editing; and as Magister Welles saith: Editing is not an aspect of filmmaking -- it is the aspect. Hence I don't consider these "movies," but rather "montages." Consquently, you will find above the three montages I did this past week. With each one I learned something new, and the first two, you'll note, are very experimental. But really, it's all experimental. I don't know that there is a such thing as "non-experimental" art; if there is a formula involved, there is no seminal idea which gives life to the form being made. I have to keep rambling on because, apparently, paragraphs are no longer allowed here [?]. The first introduces a concept I hope to go places with in the future using, very possibly, a dramatic adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." The second is an obvious attempt at a romp in badassistry; I'm now convinced one would need actual "motion" pictures for this sort of thing to work right. The third is most important to me, I think. Formally I employed some neat tricks, including optimal video/audio timing and some iconographical dissolves; in content, I just love poor old Jack Bauer. Will there be a Part Two? I don't know yet.

--Update, 22 April 2011: As you'll note, I've added several more videos to the "three" I mentioned here. I think the above will be my permanent video posting "thread." Just f.y.i. and all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

the parable of flitcraft

-- from The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

[Sam] Spade sat down in the armchair beside the table and without any preliminary, without an introductory remark of any sort, began to tell [Brigid O'Shaughnessy] about a thing that had happened some years before in the Northwest. He talked in a steady matter-of-fact voice that was devoid of emphasis or pauses, though now and then he repeated a sentence slightly rearranged, as if it were important that each detail be related exactly as it had happened....

A man named Flitcraft had left his real-estate-office, in Tacoma, to go to luncheon one day and had never returned. He did not keep an engagement to play golf after four that afternoon, though he had taken the initiative in making the engagement less than half an hour before he went out to luncheon. His wife and children never saw him again. His wife and he were supposed to be on the best of terms. He had two children, boys, one five and the other three. He owned his house in a Tacoma suburb, a new Packard, and the rest of the appurtenances of successful American living

Flitcraft had inherited seventy thousand dollars from his father, and, with his success in real estate, was worth something in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dollars at the time he vanished. His affairs were in order, though there were enough loose ends to indicate that he had not been setting them in order preparatory to vanishing. A deal that would have brought him an attractive profit, for instance, was to have been concluded the day after the one on which he disappeared. There was nothing to suggest that he had more than fifty or sixty dollars in his immediate possession at the time of his going. His habits for months past could be accounted for too thoroughly to justify any suspicion of secret vices, or even of another woman in his life, though either was barely possible.

"He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand....

..."Well, that was in 1922. In 1927 I was with one of the big detective agencies in Seattle. Mrs. Flitcraft came in and told us somebody had seen a man in Spokane who looked a lot like her husband. I went over there. It was Flitcraft, all right. He had been living in Spokane for a couple of years as Charles -- that was his first name -- Pierce. He had an automobile-business that was netting him twenty or twenty-five thousand a year, a wife, a baby son, owned his home in a Spokane suburb, and usually got away to play golf after four in the afternoon during the season."

Spade had not been told very definitely what to do when he found Flitcraft. They talked in Spade's room at the Davenport. Flitcraft had no feeling of guilt. He had left his first family well provided for, and what he had done seemed to him perfectly reasonable. The only thing that bothered him was a doubt that he could make that reasonableness clear to Spade. He had never told anybody his story before, and thus had not had to attempt to make its reasonableness explicit. He tried now.

"I got it all right," Spade told Brigid O'Shaughnessy, "but Mrs. Flitcraft never did. She thought it was silly. Maybe it was. Anyway, it came out all right. She didn't want any scandal, and, after the trick he had played on her -- the way she looked at it -- she didn't want him. So they were divorced on the quiet and everything was swell all around.

"Here's what had happened to him. Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up -- just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn't touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger -- well, affectionately -- when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works."

Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man who was most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not into step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace again until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

"He went to Seattle that afternoon," Spade said, "and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that's the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

Monday, January 24, 2011

what the light used to do

I'm finally watching the Feist movie Look at What the Light Did Now. When it first came out and was touring all over the place -- everywhere except Atlanta -- I was worried I wouldn't get to see it. But, of course, agents and managers and producers don't let something like that go without a DVD-&-CD release. The first thing to say is that it reminds me alot of the kind of, as it were, "art documentary" first invented by Orson Welles in F for Fake (Welles called it an "essay" film). But I think the reason I find Leslie Feist so hypnotic (aside from the fact that I like her voice and style, and that she's quite a piece of ass) is she reminds me of what it was always like spending hours upon hours with my guitars and pens and papers, how tedious yet invigorating the creative musical process is. I get it; I know what she's doing; I've been where she's been (at least mentally: her love for, and cooperation with, other artists is something I was never good at).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"mainstream" noir

It has become increasingly apparent to me that all the best noir films were made by directors who, for the majority of their career, could be called "mainstream." The list should speak for itself:

Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd. by Billy Wilder
Kiss Me Deadly by Robert Aldrich
Touch of Evil by Orson Welles
Possessed by Curtis Bernhardt
Act of Violence by Fred Zinnemann
The Asphalt Jungle by John Huston
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers by Lewis Milestone

I think it worth noting that Van Heflin stars in three of these (Possessed, Act of Violence, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers). Interesting....

There are more, of course, but these make a good representative sample. I think it worked out this way simply because these were not per se "B-picture" directors; they were A-picture directors who, for whatever reason(s), employed -- even if only for one film -- an idiom, icononography, and style more common among B-pictures. It still all kind of goes back to my own view that Citizen Kane is really the first film noir ever made.