Saturday, April 27, 2013

6th Challenge - 20th review -- Ferry Tales

It is such a disappointment when a book that we think will turn out well ends up being not as good as we hoped.  Maybe the disappointment is even greater than reading an even worse book about which we had no preconceptions.  In any event, I found Ferry Tales: Mobility, Place, and Time on Canada's West Coast by Phillip Vannini to be a significant disappointment.  I had actually seen Vannini present some this research at a conference (in Victoria actually), and it was pretty interesting.  He had a slick presentation with video of the ferry and interviews with some of the passengers. There is website still up and running with much of the multi-media content, and that is worth a look here.  To me, this is closer in spirit to that presentation and is definitely the most enjoyable part of the Ferry Tales experience.

It's hard to pinpoint where the book goes wrong, but I'd say a large part of it is Vannini's adherence to postmodern social science.  There are certainly important things to be said about the difficulty of true objectivity, particularly when interviewing subjects (i.e. doing traditional ethnography); however, in many cases (and particularly this book) it actually seems like a cheap move to end up talking ad nauseam about the observer and his (or her) decisions about how to go about informing participants of their involvement in a study.  In this case (and a few others that I can recall), all this concern about the motivations behind doing a study just ends up putting the author at the centre in a way that isn't actually very enlightening.  I knew far more than I wanted to about Vannini and his step-kids and their trips on the ferry (and waits for the same) than I really wanted.  I know that Vannini really did interview scores of other passengers, but not enough of that comes across.

More fundamentally, I can't tell what he really is recommending with regards to ferry service off the B.C. coast.  Perhaps I found his style so annoying by that point that I no longer was very receptive to his proposals, but it really did seem to boil down to B.C. Ferries = bad.  He seems to want B.C. Ferries reorganized as a kind of non-profit cooperative or something.  He doesn't like that they cut back service and raised fares and essentially wants a bottomless subsidy to the ferry system.  From my perspective, this is unreasonable.  People do make decisions on current conditions, but they also have to be aware that things change.  They in turn have to make new decisions (like moving to a different (and closer) island with more service) if the new conditions are no longer suitable.  I don't feel it is my obligation to support people who want to pretend that they are Robinson Crusoe with a perpetual subsidy.  (And I didn't find Vannini's comparisons of supporting the highway network as the same thing as supporting ferry service to be convincing.)  Frankly, I can't quite understand why Vannini doesn't encourage the islanders to start their own informal ferry service(s), since surely most or at least many of them do have their own boats.  That seems to fit much more in the spirit of what he thinks is suitable for the islands -- and would promote independence and "agency" for these folks, rather than just being bound to an agency like B.C. Ferries and the vagaries of provincial financial support for ferry service. 

I should say this isn't a terrible book and it contains some interesting nuggets, but I was expecting so much more.  I would recommend poking around on the website and if you really enjoy that, then consider checking out the book, but be aware that you may know more about Vannini than you want by the end.

Since this is my blog and not a supposedly objective academic book, I will enclose a few photos of my family trip on the main ferry from Vancouver to Victoria.  We lucked out and had a really nice time on the ferry -- windy but sunny.  Even the return trip wasn't too bad, though a little overcast.  Getting to and from the ferry (via bus) was by far the worst part of the trip.

Other passengers enjoying the view

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Max Beckmann's Triptychs

I promised I would produce a blog post on Max Beckmann's triptychs.  He completed 9 with a 10th unfinished.  The critic Anette Kruszynski suggests that The Carnival (1920), The Night (1918-19) and The Dream (1921) could be assembled to make up an early triptych, with The Night as its centerpiece, but of course it was never displayed that way.  It might have looked something like this (definitely worth looking up the originals of course):

Given that the official triptych images won't display properly unless I push them way down the page, let me provide a bit of additional background on Max Beckmann.  He was denounced by the Nazis in 1937 and left Berlin immediately for Amsterdam.  In that sense, he left before things got completely untenable in that country for those that the Nazis turned on.  I definitely share with him this belief that when things start going bad, you don't stick around to find out how they turn out.  I generally don't find things take much of a turn for the better.

Beckmann is definitely an unusual artist for his times, still working in figurative modes though clearly much of his work isn't conventional.  It draws on myths and dreams, and the larger paintings are usually overstuffed with symbols.  There are no easy answers to what the paintings mean.  While the look is quite different, I find many similarities with Marc Chagall (another artist from roughly the same era, whom I also admire).  I may rate Beckmann slightly higher than Chagall, but quite possibly only because he is a bit more obscure, so you get more "cred" for knowing about Beckmann.  Anyway, much as I like both of them, they still don't quite rate as highly as Picasso or Matisse, who both moved back and forth from figurative and abstract modes in their later periods.

Many of Beckmann's late works are in museums in the U.S., with the greatest single collection in North America at the St. Louis Art Museum.  I was pretty blown away when I finally made it down there to see the museum.  I hadn't been aware of quite how many they owned, or I would have made a special trip sooner.

It appears that all 9 of the triptychs are in public museums (with 7 of the museums located in the U.S.).  I had the opportunity to see 5 at one time at an amazing Beckmann retrospective at MoMA Queens in 2003.  I actually managed to schedule a work trip to NYC around the Beckmann exhibit, and it was totally worth it.  Seeing these huge triptychs in one place and going back and forth and trying to soak in all the details was, frankly, overwhelming.  I only recently learned that there was an earlier exhibit at Guggenheim SoHo in 1996 that focused on Beckmann's later career (see review here).  Seven of the 9 triptychs were on display!  That is a bit disappointing that I missed it, but I was a poor grad student (relocated to Chicago) and I definitely couldn't fly back for such a thing, even had I been aware of it.  My understanding is that the retrospective at MoMA Queens was a much better overall exhibit, even if I missed out on a couple of the triptychs.

It really varies at each institution how frequently their Beckmann triptych is on display.  For years, you could see The Beginning at the Met, but it wasn't on view on my last two trips.  Departure is usually on view at MoMA, especially since their massive expansion.  I think the smaller museums do display their Beckmann's, but these are huge paintings, forcing 3 or 4 other paintings into storage.  At the National Gallery of Art, The Argonauts is typically on display, but Falling Man (1950) rarely is.  I don't recall seeing it there since the late 90s, but I also am not that frequently in D.C.  I think the last time I saw it in person was at the 2003 MoMA Queens exhibit.  Though it isn't a triptych by any means, I'll go ahead and post Falling Man here and then move on to the triptychs themselves.  I think they are pretty incredible but are really beyond my ability to explicate them.  (There is also now a postscript with some Beckmann news if you scroll all the way down.)

Falling Man (1950)

Departure (1932-5)
At MoMA (On display at the MoMA Queens exhibit -- obviously.)

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1937)

At Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Munich.  I have not seen this in person and am somewhat unlikely to at this point.  I guess I will just have to see if it ever turns up on a North American art "tour."

The Acrobats (1939)

I had been given info that this was in a private collection in, St. Louis, Missouri, but it actually went into the St. Louis Art Museum collection in 1983 (a good reminder that you do need to check what is on the internet).  Well, that's certainly good news (that is it in a public collection).  I wonder if it was part of the Guggenheim show from 1996 that I missed.  I have been to the St. Louis Art Museum twice, but I simply can't remember if it was on display.  Most likely it was, but I'll see if I can verify somehow.  In any case, I will check to see if it is on view the next time I visit St. Louis (not that this is likely to be anytime in the next couple of years.)

Perseus (1940-41)

At Museum Folkwang, Essen (On display at the MoMA Queens exhibit.)

The Actors (1941-42)

 At the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard (On display at the MoMA Queens exhibit.)

Carnival (1943)
Apparently at the University of Iowa Museum in Iowa City but on extended loan to the Figge Museum in Davenport until Spring 2014. While it is not that likely I will make the trip to Davenport or Iowa City for that matter, I will keep it on my radar.

Still, it does not appear that this was in the big Beckmann show at MoMA Queens, which does somewhat increase the odds that I try to view it in person, though I might wait until it is back in Iowa City -- perhaps I should set up a trip for the kids to discover their (other) Midwestern roots.

Blindman's Buff (1945)

At the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  While I probably saw this on a previous trip to Minneapolis, I am not 100% sure.  Someday I will surely take another trip to the Twin Cities, and I'll check ahead to confirm that this is on view at MIA.

The Beginning (1946-49)

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC (On display at the MoMA Queens exhibit.)

The Argonauts (1949-50)

At the National Gallery of Art (On display at the MoMA Queens exhibit.)

Newsflash: this news is actually less than two weeks old (as of today).  The Cleveland Museum of Art just purchased a late painting by Beckmann called Perseus' Last Duty (1949) -- story here.  This is a powerful, challenging work with some clear connections to both The Argonauts and obviously Departure.  I haven't been to the Cleveland Museum in probably 5 or 6 years, where I was there for work on a semi-regular basis, so I obviously haven't seen this painting in Cleveland and don't believe it was on display at the NYC art dealers I occasionally visited.  While unlikely, it is possible it would have made its way to the massive annual art fair at Chicago's Merchandise Mart, since the painting has been on the market for a while.  I probably won't make it back to Cleveland for another 5 or 6 years, but I will try to make a stop by the museum if I am ever in town (and hope this on view).

Here is the work:

I can't quite get over this idea that I have seen this painting somewhere, possibly in Chicago or New York in 2001 when it was up for sale by Sotheby's (before this more recent sale to the Cleveland Museum of Art).  I assume that Beckmann is referencing Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, though here the trick mirror is showing a slightly earlier point in time before the maidens were killed.  (I honestly have no idea what part of the Perseus legend Beckmann is referencing, since it doesn't seem these women are Medusa and her sisters -- seems more like Odysseus coming back and killing all the household maids.)  The dog(?) with the big breasts seems to have wandered in from some Egyptian myth, but perhaps provides a linkage to the dark, busty angel from The Temptation of St. Anthony.  Anyway, quite a fascinating picture, and I will try to get to see it someday.  I think it's great that it is in a public museum (and probably will be on display a lot more regularly than Falling Man for example).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Futurama cancelled again

Sad day.  This is one of my favorite shows of all time.

There is a small chance that Groening will find another outlet for the show, but it looks a bit unlikely (animation budgets are probably still a bit out of Netflix's reach).  There appear to be 13 unaired episodes that come out this summer (though not in Canada in any reasonable timeframe -- boo hiss).  So that is something to look forward to, though watching them will be a bit overshadowed by the knowledge that these are the last.  Un peu de melancholie, peut-etre?  Apparently the final episode can double as a series finale, and it sounds great, but I promise not to put any spoilers in this post.

I guess my favorite 10 episodes (in rough order) are:
Space Pilot 3000 (the first episode naturally -- they sure squeezed a lot in there!)
The Late Philip J. Fry
The Farnsworth Parabox
Roswell That Ends Well
Parasites Lost
Brannigan, Begin Again
Jurassic Bark
The Luck of the Fryrish
Where No Fan Has Gone Before
From the last two seasons, I thought these were the best (except for The Late Philip J Fry, which is in my top 10 of all time):
Möbius Dick    
Law and Oracle
Viva Mars Vegas
The Prisoner of Benda

In general, the last two seasons (and the movies) didn't quite live up to expectations, but I gave it a lot of slack, given that I was so glad it had come back from the dead, so to speak.  And there were definitely some dog episodes in the first 4 seasons (ironically, Jurassic Bark was one of the best).  I agree with some random internet critic who said that the average episodes of New Futurama were maybe a bit worse than Classic Futurama, but when they were on, they still hit it out of the park.  I'm still glad they had more episodes to squeeze in more of the universe (but why they didn't really explore more of the universe -- and make more deliveries! -- is an eternal mystery).

I have most of the comic book spins offs, though I have gotten a bit bad about keeping up with them.  I may need to get some back issues.  I definitely stopped getting the toys after a while, but still I have plenty to play with.

(Bender after my daughter used him as a chew toy! You can see he is missing "little Bender."  While I was a bit upset (ok, a lot upset), I decided I would just pretend I have a limited edition Bender from the "I, Roommate" episode.)

Ironically, I bought PS2 solely to play the Futurama game but barely broke it out, and now I can't even find the console (I think I can track down the game cartridge).  Probably my kids would get a kick out of playing this, if I can ever get it all together in one place and (space)time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ebert's Great Movies vol 4?

So I actually did contact the Ebert website and got a response from Jim Emerson that Ebert had planned on a 4th volume of the Great Movies series, and that the publisher was seriously considering it.  What I don't know -- and didn't really have the opportunity to probe --is whether Ebert had notes on which of his other reviews, particularly his 4 star ones, might be migrated to Great Movie status.  I assume that he didn't actually have any unpublished Great Movies posts lying about, since he pretty much put everything up on-line as soon it was ready.

It looks like there are roughly 65 uncollected movies (plus the review he did on the expanded version of Metropolis, but I don't think he would include that).  That is on the thin side -- most of the Great Movie volumes come in at close to 100 reviews.  I already suggested Chloe in the Afternoon, Bringing Out the Dead and After Life.  I think there are legitimate reasons that he would have eventually included these as Great Movies, particularly the last two given that he was generally more inclined towards philosophical movies and movies about death and the hereafter.

I spent a big part of the last couple of evenings archiving Ebert's recent 4-star movies and even some 3.5 star ones (operating on the somewhat paranoid assumption that some conflict will arise between the Sun Times and the Ebert estate and they will all be wiped out without notice some day).  Here are a few reviews that might not be out of place in a potential volume 4.  Not that I expect this to happen, but I'd hate for these to get lost in the cracks -- mostly too late to be in his book of 4 star reviews and not collected anywhere else at the moment.  Note that I am not including all of his recent 4-star reviews, but just movies that I have seen or where the review really resonated with me.

The American
Another Year
Broken Flowers 
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The Descendants
Le Havre 
I Am Love
The Informant!
Last Train Home
The Mill and the Cross
Monsoon Wedding
A Separation 
A Serious Man
Sita Sings the Blues
Still Walking
Synecdoche, New York (I guess this will hardly get lost given how much he promoted this film)
Up in the Air (Ebert really had a thing for Clooney apparently)

And one that I can almost guarantee you've never heard of:
Patang (one of the few movies that I sought out solely on Ebert's advice -- it was good but perhaps not 4-star good)

Pedro Almodovar:
All About My Mother
Broken Embraces
Talk to Her

I find it fairly astonishing that none of Pedro Almodovar's films made the Great Movies cut, when he had 3 movies garner 4-star reviews and a couple of 3.5 star reviews.  This may be one of the more significant oversights in the Great Movies list, especially since Ebert generally liked what he was up to.  But it was a slowly acquired taste.  In the High Heels review, he admits that he simply didn't get Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which remains my favourite Almodovar film, even if I realize some of the later films are more artistically complex.

(At least Ebert continued engaging with Almodovar.  He really didn't care for Terry Gilliam and didn't like Brazil at all, whereas he was quite taken with the even more anarchic and difficult to follow Holy Motors.  I do wonder if he gave more of a pass to French and Italian directors than to directors of English-language films.  David Cronenberg gets just a little love here, but not surprisingly it is Eastern Promises -- a most atypical film -- that gets the highest approval from Ebert.)

But enough quibbling.  I agreed with Ebert about 75% of the time, and respected him whether I agreed with the review or not.  I know I'm not alone in really missing Ebert and his take on the movies...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kurelek's O Toronto

William Kurelek is an interesting case. He had studied as an artist, but his approach to his subject matter came across as quite naive for a 20th century artist and certainly vastly more religiously oriented than most of his contemporaries.  He really strikes me as an outsider artist, like Grandma Moses or Howard Finster (perhaps a more apt comparison) but with more training.  In terms of the actual look of the art, it is often a mix between Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch, at least for the more intriguing pieces.  What is actually kind of odd is that Kurelek also painted more domestic scenes where he does look a lot more like an outsider artist and the style is much less refined.  I assume this was deliberate.  (It took me a while to fix the images below.  Hopefully there will be no further problems.  Sorry about that for those early viewers.)

I really knew almost nothing about Kurelek, but I was visiting Toronto and stopping in at the expanded AGO.  I was pretty overwhelmed at the new galleries, particularly the Thomson Collection on the 2nd floor.  There was a room devoted to Kurelek, who was really completely new to me, whereas I was pretty familiar with the Group of 7.  This domestic scene of a bachelor was by far my favourite.

Now what is particularly odd is that not a single Kurelek painting shows up in the AGO's on-line highlights of Canadian art, but in the book that AGO published on the Thomson collection Kurelek has his own chapter and this image is included.  (I don't have any awareness of what goes on behind the scenes at the AGO, but I suspect that the current curators aren't particular fans of Kurelek.)

Despite Kurelek's very public Christianity, he was a bit more sophisticated in his dealings with the art world.  He did a number of paintings that are essentially aimed at the middlebrow crowd.  He published books of paintings based on several of the provinces, as well as "the north" and Toronto.  While he has faded from popular view, he had published calendars of these domestic scenes.  O Toronto has a number of these paintings, including this one of a snowy street.

The O Toronto book is a bit more interesting than the others in that his religious paintings do spill over and kind of overwhelm the more domestic scenes.  So we have Christ on the steps of the old provincial capitol building, completely ignored by the busy Torontonians on the sidewalk in the foreground.  A detail below:

(Kurelek does draw the people a bit more realistically than L.S. Lowry for example, but the feel is somewhat similar.)

"Harvest of Our Mere Humanism Years" may be Kurelek's most famous painting, which cribs so heavily from Bosch that Kurelek should have paid royalties (joke).  It is also included in O Toronto.

While I find this an interesting painting, it is so opaque to me that I have no idea what Kurelek is actually getting at (much like Bosch in fact).  Apparently, the bomb is about to drop on the modernist Toronto City Hall, and all the learning that goes on at UT will be of no help at all.  I still can't quite wrap my head around why the fact that Canadians (rather than the Soviets) are humanist and/or godless is any more likely to bring about nuclear war, but so be it.

As it turns out, I was visiting Victoria last fall and apparently missed being able to see a major retrospective on Kurelek by about a week or two.  Review of the exhibition here.  Now that I have seen the catalogue of the exhibit, and I have to say that I really only wanted to see 3 or 4 pieces up close, Harvest among them.  (Harvest apparently belongs to Manulife Financial and is in their Toronto HQ, but it isn't at all clear how one goes about asking to view the painting.)

The truth is that the more I learn about Kurelek, the less I like him.  He truly was a religious fanatic and frankly much of his art is lousy.  When it isn't overtly religious, it is sickly sentimental.  So for instance, this one is titled "Hope of the World" (a cross in the window).  Gag me with a spoon.

In contrast, some scholars (though not all) claim that the tiny cross in the window in this Max Beckmann painting ("The Night") serves the same general purpose, though it seems to me that it is by no means clear that the tiny cross will triumph over the general degradation of the times.  The painting can certainly be read ironically as well.  And despite its intentional ugliness, the artistic quality of the Beckmann piece is just so much higher than what Kurelek achieves.

There does not appear to be a clear consensus on whether Max Beckmann was conventionally religious, though his early work was occasionally on religious themes (like Christ and and the Woman Taken in Adultery or Descent from the Cross).  In most of the later works, working in his high Expressionist mode, Christianity and legends from various other mythologies are combined in a style that suggests to me Beckmann was on the same wavelength as Joseph Campbell (of The Hero with a Thousand Face).  One aspect of his personal history that cannot be overstated in its impact on his art (and his general outlook on life) is that Beckmann was targeted by the Nazis for being a degenerate artist in 1937.  Beckmann wisely left Germany immediately and lived in Amsterdam for 10 years; apparently the U.S. officials -- to their great discredit -- refused to grant him a visa.  He was able to move to the U.S. after the war but only lived another 3 years, primarily in St. Louis and New York City.  Beckmann was also very aware of the depths that humanity had sunk to, but unlike Kurelek this was from first-hand knowledge and not an abstract notion that humanity had abandoned Christianity (observed from the relative comfort and safety of Canada).  In an upcoming post, I'll try to write more on Beckmann's triptychs, many of which I have been fortunate to see in person (6 of 9, I believe).

Back to Kurelek, I basically cannot shake the feeling that he is a religious prig who would have been really unpleasant to be around (there is another painting where young people are massed in this near orgiastic state, just waiting to get paired up, by the devil apparently).  It's a little hard to see at this scale unfortunately.

One painting included in O Toronto but not in the exhibition is this one called "Our My Lai, the Massacre of Highland Creek."  While it is hard to see in the small reproduction, the buckets are full of aborted fetuses, many of them near full-term babies.  Personally, I find this completely outrageous.  It just reminds me of the horrid tactics the right-to-lifers employ in the U.S., suggesting that nearly all abortions are late term and so on.*  As if doctors would just throw out aborted fetuses in a nearby stream (in buckets no less).  Though I have to admit the "blood" that seeps outside the frame at the bottom adds to the overall effect.

I wasn't too crazy about Kurelek up to this point, but this really caused me to lose all interest in him as a person and really as an artist as well.  It would have been interesting had the retrospective organizers had the courage to show the unvarnished Kurelek by including this painting, but they did not.  Most likely the controversy engendered would have been good for his estate.  As for me, I will steer clear from Kurelek, and I certainly won't be buying any calendars or prints of his paintings from here on out.

* Since this is my blog, I am not going to be publishing any comments from outraged Right-to-lifers, just so you know.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ebert's Great Movies

I mentioned that I definitely appreciate Robert Ebert's Great Movie reviews where he reviews the classics or re-reviews more contemporary movies that he felt should join the list of greats.  He collected them into 3 books and a fourth may have been in the works.  To go to the original source (which then allows you to read the entire review), click here.  (I hope that these reviews stay up indefinitely, but his wife and/or the Sun Times may decide to move them elsewhere for more permanent archiving.)  I see that they have already revamped the Great Movies site (and possibly added one or two more that Ebert always intended to include).  In many ways it is better with links where you can order the DVDs, but now slightly harder to get the basics (and a few are mischaracterized according to their sorting app), so I think I'll keep going with my own version of the list below.

There appear to be 363 movies in the list -- a great movie each day for a year with just a couple of days off for rest!  Though at my typical rate, it might take 10 years, and there are some I really have no interest in seeing.  More than many posts, this will require some editing.  I think what I shall do, is sort them by decade, as well as add director's name, and then put in a note as to which Volume the review appears in.  This may take me a while, so this post is definitely a work in progress.  An X in front the title means I have watched it (it's too embarrassing to list the ones I own but haven't watched).  I clearly have a long ways to go...

Incidentally, while I would like to introduce my children to these cinema classics, there are a lot that are completely inappropriate for children.  I have tried to watch the Tati films with them, but even these are just a bit over their heads.  In terms of my own personal viewing, I will probably re-watch Iriku next (to celebrate getting the U.S. taxes done -- Canadian taxes still undone...) and then Werckmeister Harmonies, mostly because the novel I just started (Michael Crummey's Galore) starts off with a whale beaching itself in a small town, though it plays itself out completely differently of course.

Note any links below will link to my own thoughts on the movies, and not Ebert's, so forewarned is forearmed.  Actually, there are three exceptions -- 3 italicized movies were 4-star reviews that Ebert didn't have the time (or perhaps inclination) to include in his collection of Great Movies, so I shall link to the original reviews.

Movies from the 1910s & 20s

   X The Battleship Potemkin - V1
   The Birth of a Nation - V2
   Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith) - V1
   The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene)
   X The Circus (Chaplin)
   Diary of a Lost Girl (G.W. Pabst)
   The Fall of the House of Usher - V2
   Faust (Murnau) - V3
   The Films of Buster Keaton
   The General - V1
   Greed  (Erich von Stroheim) - V1
   The Last Laugh - V2
   The Man Who Laughs - V2
   Man With a Movie Camera
   X Metropolis [2010 Restoration] (Fritz Lang) - V1
   Nanook of the North - V3
   Nosferatu (Murnau) - V1
   Pandora's Box - V1
   The Passion of Joan of Arc - V1
   The Phantom of the Opera
   X Safety Last - V3
   Souls For Sale (Rupert Hughes)
   Sunrise - V2
   X Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel/Dali) - V1

Movies from the 1930s

   The Adventures of Robin Hood - V2
   X Bride of Frankenstein (James Whalen) - V1
   X City Lights (Chaplin) - V1
   X Dracula - V1
   X Duck Soup (Marx Brothers) - V1
   X Gone With the Wind - V1
   Grand Illusion (Renoir) - V1
   X King Kong (Merian Cooper) - V2
   L'Atalante (Vigo) - V1
   M (Fritz Lang) - V1
   Make Way for Tomorrow
   X My Man Godfrey - V3
   The Only Son (Ozu)
   The Rules of the Game (Renoir) - V2
   The Scarlet Empress  - V3
   X Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - V2
   Swing Time - V1
   The Thin Man - V2
   Top Hat - V3
   Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl) - V3
   Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch) - V1
   X The Wizard of Oz - V1

Movies from the 1940s

   X The Bank Dick (W.C. Fields) - V2
   Beauty and the Beast  (Jean Cocteau) - V1
   The Best Years of Our Lives (Goldwyn) - V3
   X The Bicycle Thief / Bicycle Thieves (De Sica) - V1
   X The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks) - V1
   X Casablanca - V1
   Cat People (Jacques Tourneur) - V3
   Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne) - V2
   X Citizen Kane (Welles) - V1
   Detour - V1
   Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder) - V1
   X The Great Dictator (Chaplin) - V3
   The Grapes of Wrath  - V2
   Great Expectations (David Lean) - V2
   X It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra) - V1
   X Kind Hearts and Coronets (I actually find this film over-rated) - V2
   X Laura (Otto Preminger) - V2
   The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell & Pressburger) - V2
   The Lady Eve - V1
   X The Maltese Falcon (John Huston) - V1
   My Darling Clementine (John Ford) - V1
   Notorious (Hitchcock) - V1
   Orpheus (Jean Cocteau) - V2
   X Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur) - V3
   X Pinocchio - V1
   Red River (Howard Hawks) - V1
   The Red Shoes (Powell & Pressburger) - V3
   Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock)
   The Thief of Bagdad - V3
   X The Third Man - V1
   The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston) - V2
   Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtiz)  - V2

Movies from the 1950s

   12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet) - V2
   Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder) - V3
   All About Eve - V1
   The Apu Trilogy (S. Ray) - V1
   The Ballad of Narayama
   The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli) - V3
   Beat the Devil - V2
   The Big Heat - V2
   X Bob le Flambeur (Melville) - V2
   The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean) - V2
   X Chuck Jones: Three Cartoons - V3
   Diary of a Country Priest
   The Earrings of Madame de... (Max Ophuls) - V2
   Floating Weeds (Ozu) - V1
   Forbidden Games (Rene Clement) - V3
   The 400 Blows (Truffaut) - V1
   French Cancan (Jean Renoir)
   X Ikiru (Kurosawa) - V1
   In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray)
   Ivan the Terrible, Parts I & II (Eisenstein)
   Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray) - V3
   The Killing (Kubrick)
   The Life of Oharu (Mizoguchi)
   X M. Hulot's Holiday (Tati) - V1
   A Man Escaped (Bresson)
   X Mon Oncle (Tati) - V2
   The Music Room (S. Ray) - V2
   The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton) - V1
   Nights of Cabiria (Fellini) - V2
   On the Waterfront - V1
   Ordet (Carl Dreyer) - V3
   Paths of Glory (Kubrick) - V3
   Pickpocket (Bresson) - V1
   X Rashomon (Kurosawa) - V2
   X Rear Window (Hitchcock) - V2
   Rebel Without a Cause - V3
   Rififi (Dassin) - V2
   Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks)
   The River (Jean Renoir) - V3
   Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi) - V3
   The Searchers (John Ford) - V2
   Senso (Visconti)
   The Seven Samurai (Kurosawa) - V1
   X The Seventh Seal - V1
   Shane - V2
   Singin' in the Rain - V1
   X Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman)
   X Some Like It Hot - V1
   X Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock) - V2
   Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder) - V1
   The Sweet Smell of Success - V1
   Tokyo Story (Ozu) - V2
   Touch of Evil (Welles) - V2
   Touchez Pas au Grisbi - V2
   Ugetsu (Mizoguchi) - V2
   X Umberto D - V2
   X Vertigo (Hitchcock) - V1
   Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk) - V1

Movies from the 1960s

   8 1/2 / Eight and a Half  Fellini - V1
   X 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick) - V1
   The Apartment (Billy Wilder)
   Army of Shadows (Melville) - V3
   Au Hasard Balthazar (Bresson) - V2
   An Autumn Afternoon (Ozu)
   The Battle of Algiers - V3
   Belle de Jour (Bunuel)  - V1
   Blow-Up (Antonioni) - V1
   Bonnie and Clyde - V1
   Breathless (Godard) - V2
   Chimes at Midnight (Welles) - V3
   Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda)
   La Collectionneuse  (Rohmer)
   Cool Hand Luke - V3
   X La Dolce Vita (Fellini) - V1
   X Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick) - V1
   Easy Rider - V3
   The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel) - V1
   The Firemen's Ball (Milos Forman) - V2
   X Goldfinger - V2
   The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone) - V2
   The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini) - V2
   A Hard Day's Night - V1
   The Hustler  - V2
   (Truman Capote's) In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks) - V2
   Inherit the Wind - V3
   Jules and Jim (Truffaut) - V2
   Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini) - V3
   L'Avventura (Antonioni) - V1
   X Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais) - V1
   Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean) - V1
   Leon Morin, Priest (Melville)
   The Leopard - V2
   X The Manchurian Candidate - V2
   The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
   My Fair Lady (George Cukor) - V3
   Pale Flower (Mishima ?)
   Peeping Tom - V1
   Persona (Bergman) - V1
   X Playtime (Tati) - V3
   The Producers - V2
   Psycho (Hitchcock) - V1
   Red Beard (Kurosawa)
   Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti) - V3
   Romeo and Juliet - V2
   X Le Samourai (Melville) - V1
   Samurai Rebellion - V3
   X The Silence  (Bergman) - V3
   X Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman) - V3
   Victim (Price) - V2
   Viridiana (Bunuel)
   Vivre sa Vie / My Life to Live (Godard) - V1
   West Side Story - V2
   What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich) - V3
   The Wild Bunch - V1
   Winter Light (Bergman) - haven't made it through Bergman's Faith Trilogy (yet) -V3
   Woman in the Dunes - V1
   Yellow Submarine
   Yojimbo (Kurosawa) - V3

Movies from the 1970s

   Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog) - V1
   Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder) - V1
   Alien - V2
   Amarcord (Fellini) - V2
   X Annie Hall (Woody Allen) - V2
   X Apocalypse Now (Coppola) - V1
   Badlands(Terence Malick)
   Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
   X Being There - V2
   Le Boucher / The Butcher (Chabrol) - V2
   Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Peckinpah) - V2
   Chinatown (Polanski) - V1
   * Chloe in the Afternoon (Rohmer)
   The Conversation - V2
   X Cries and Whispers (Bergman) - V2
   Day for Night/La Nuit Americaine  (Truffaut)
   Days of Heaven (Terence Malick) - V1
   The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie  (Bunuel) - V2
   Dog Day Afternoon - V3
   Don't Look Now - V2
   El Topo - V3
   The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Werner Herzog) - V3
   Five Easy Pieces - V2
   Gates of Heaven - V1
   The Godfather - V1
   The Godfather, Part II - V3
   Heart of Glass (Werner Herzog)
   X Jaws (Spielberg) - V2
   Killer of Sheep (Burnett) - V3
   The Last Picture Show - V3
   Last Tango in Paris - V3
   Late Spring (Ozu) - V3
   The Long Goodbye (Altman) - V3
   X Manhattan - V1
   The Marriage of Maria Braun  (Fassbinder) - V3
   McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman) - V1
   Mean Streets (Scorsese) - V2
   Mon Oncle Antoine - V3
   Nashville (Altman) - V1
   Network - V1
   Night Moves (Arthur Penn)
   Nosferatu the Vampyre  (Werner Herzog)
   One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - V2
   Patton - V2
   Picnic at Hanging Rock - V2
   X Saturday Night Fever - V2
   X Solaris (Tarkovsky) - V2
   Spirit of the Beehive 
   X Star Wars (Lucas) - V1
   Stroszek (Werner Herzog) - V2
   X Superman
   Taxi Driver (Scorsese) - V1
   3 Women (Altman) - V3
   Walkabout  - V2
   A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes) - V1
   Woodstock - V3
   WR -- Mysteries of the Organism - V3

Movies from the 1980s

   X After Hours - V3
   Amadeus - V2
   Atlantic City - V3
   Au Revoir, les Enfants - V3
   The Big Red One - V3
   X Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Ridley Scott) - V3
   Body Heat - V1
   X A Christmas Story - V2
   The Color Purple (Spielberg)  - V2
   Come and See
   X Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen) - V3
   X The Dead (John Huston) - V3
   X The Decalogue (Krzysztof Kieslowski) - V1
   Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix) - V3
   X Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee) - V1
   El Norte - V3
   X  E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial - V1
   Fanny and Alexander (Bergman) - V3
   Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog) - V3
   Grave of the Fireflies - V2
   House of Games - V2
   The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese) - V3
   Mephisto - V3
   Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters - V3
   Mon oncle d'Amerique
   Monsieur Hire (Patrice Leconte)
   Moonstruck - V2
   My Dinner With Andre - V2
   Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch)
   Paris, Texas  - V2
   X Pink Floyd: The Wall
   Pixote - V3
   X Planes, Trains and Automobiles (John Hughes)  - V2
   Raging Bull - V1
   X Raiders of the Lost Ark - V2
   X Ran (Kurosawa) - V2
   The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman) - V2
   Say Anything (Cameron Crowe) - V2
   Scarface - V2
   The Shining (Kubrick) - V3
   A Sunday in the Country - V2
   Tender Mercies
   X This Is Spinal Tap (Reiner) - V2
   The Up Documentaries - V1
   Vengeance Is Mine - V3
   Veronika Voss (Fassbinder)
   Wings of Desire - V1
   Withnail & I - V3
   A Year of the Quiet Sun - V3

Movies from the 1990s

   After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley) - V3
   X * After Life (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
   The Age of Innocence - V3
   Baraka - V3
   La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette ?)
   X The Big Lebowski 
   The Blue Kite - V2
   *X Bringing Out the Dead (Scorsese)
   La Ceremonie (Claude Chabrol)
   Crumb - V3
   The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski) - V3
   Exotica (Atom Egoyan) - V3
   X Fargo - V1
   GoodFellas - V2
   X Groundhog Day - V3
   The Hairdresser's Husband
   Hoop Dreams - V1
   Howards End - V3
   JFK (Oliver Stone) - V1
   X L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson) - V3
   Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis) - V2
   Leolo - V3
   Magnolia - V3
   The Match Factory Girl (Kaurismaki)
   My Neighbor Totoro - V2
   X Pulp Fiction (Tarantino) - V1
   Raise the Red Lantern - V2
   Richard III
   Santa Sangre - V3
   Schindler's List (Spielberg) - V1
   X Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh) - V3
   The Shawshank Redemption - V1
   The Silence of the Lambs - V1
   A Tale of Winter  (Eric Rohmer) - V2
   Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red (Kieslowski) - V2
   Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood) - V2
   A Woman's Tale (Paul Cox) - V3

Movies from 2000 and after

   25th Hour (Spike Lee)
   Adaptation - V3
   A.I. Artificial Intelligence
   Babel - V3
   Cache (Michael Haneke)
   Chop Shop - V3
   X Dark City - V3
   X Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
   The Grey Zone (Tim Blake Nelson)
   X Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
   Moolaade - V3
   Mulholland Dr. (Lynch)
   Pan's Labyrinth - V3
   The Pledge (Sean Penn)
   A Prairie Home Companion (Altman) - V3
   Ripley's Game - V3
   Spirited Away (Hiyao Miyazaki)
   Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring
   The Terrorist - V3
   Waking Life (Richard Linklater) - V3
   X Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr Bela) - V3

I'll try to add the rest of the director's names and then provide some simple stats on which decade and directors got the most nods from Ebert.

It looks like close to everything Kieslowski put out was on Ebert's Great Movies list, and a large proportion of Kubrick's output.  A healthy but by no means exhaustive serving of Ozu but virtually no Rohmer, who generally was a director Ebert liked and respected?  Other directors are rewarded for their ambition, but Rohmer's 4- and 6-part series are not covered well.  I am not really pleading for Rohmer, just intrigued by how this works.  What is particularly curious is that La Collectionneuse made it to the list (3rd of the 6 Moral Tales) when in his 4-star review for Chloe in the Afternoon (the 6th of 6), Ebert basically says that it is the best of the bunch.  Perhaps he would have had time to come back to his review and expand it just slightly and add it to the list (and volume 4?).  While I have a bit more cleaning up to do, it appears that there were roughly 60 reviews that didn't make it into one of the published books, and some were very fine movies: Blow-Up, Truffaut's Day for Night, Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, and the review for Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, which really ought to be published somewhere.  Thus, a 4th volume seems completely justified.  While I will go ahead and archive the reviews, I really do like having them all in one place, so I can easily flip between them and read them on the train, in bed, etc.  I will go ahead and email my suggestion to the Ebert website shortly.

* Thus, I will make Chloe an unofficial member of the list to bring this to 364 entries, and, just because I want to add it, Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead makes it 365.  Heck, 2012 was a Leap Year, so I will also add his 4-star review for After Life -- a film that I enjoyed very much and consider a kind of bookend to Departures, which Ebert did include on his Great Movies list.  It does strike me that he always was interested in the more philosophical movies, like After Life or Depatures and certainly Terence Malick's recent work and he might well have gotten back around to After Life, given enough time...

In any case, the spacing in the books does appear to be a bit more deliberate, with the truly great directors (Fellini, Bergman, Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick, Tati, Renoir, Godard, Truffaut, Melville, Kurosawa, Ozu and, according to Ebert, Altman and Kieslowski) getting one or two great films per book, rather than overloading the reader in the first book.

It is hard to argue with many (any?) of Ebert's entries, though I tend not to be as interested in documentaries, so probably would not have viewed nearly as many.  It would probably not have crossed my mind to put Altman's final film A Prairie Home Companion on the list, but the many other Altman entries are certainly justified.  On the other hand the Rivette that Ebert picked seems like a strange choice. I think, conversely, people will certainly say oh this film or that film should be on there.  So for instance, I actually don't care that much for Vertigo and prefer North by Northwest for example, but I certainly respect Ebert's take on Vertigo and his reasoning for its inclusion.  Anyway, it is a healthy and interesting debate.  I will think of some of the "missing" films that I would include on my list of greatest films and post them in a week or so.

I would say that Satyajit Ray is a bit under-represented with just The Apu Trilogy and The Music Room on Ebert's list.  It turns out Ebert was very taken with Mahanagar (The Big City) and might have returned to expand this 4-star review.  Personally, I am quite interested in Ray's unofficial Calcutta trilogy: Pratidwandi (The Adversary) (1971), Seemabaddha (Company Limited) (1971) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman) (1976).  I will try to put my own reviews of these movies up at some point (in their own post).

Unless I have missed it, Naruse is completely unrepresented on Ebert's list (and he may never have actually reviewed in Naruse at all), but that speaks mostly to the sheer unavailability of his filmography (the situation is slightly better in R2-land but far from ideal).  Given how taken Ebert was with Ozu, it is all but inconceivable that he wouldn't have consider Naruse to be a great fellow director.  And given that Criterion did just put a bunch of Naruse up on Hulu (and Ebert watched an increasing number of films that way), it certainly is possible he caught one or two in his last days.  It is nice to imagine that happening at any rate.  While it is a bit morbid, I do wonder if we will ever know the last film Ebert watched.  I kind of hope it was Ikiru, not that he needed further encouragement in living a meaningful life.

As it happens, we do know that his last review was a positive review for Terrence Malick's To the Wonder.  Probably not quite Great Movie territory, but still a movie that moved him and left him full of "wonder."  Not a bad way to go out.

RIP, Roger.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert passes

I am so, so sad to hear of Roger Ebert's passing.  I am not terribly surprised, simply because he had so many health problems, though he faced them a lot better than most of us would have done in his place.  Maybe it is crazy that I am more affected by his death than Gene Siskel's, but I didn't actually watch that many episodes of At the Movies and I certainly didn't read many of Siskel's reviews, whereas I have read hundreds of Ebert's reviews and most of his blog posts over the past couple of years.  So the relationship (as one-sided as it is) just feels deeper.

I really liked his reviews and agreed with him maybe 75% of the time.  I thought he had really good insights into what made certain films work, in contrast to the critic for the Chicago Reader (Rosenbaum?) who insisted on viewing all films through a political lens (his reviews were boring and predictable, though he did have a soft spot for Tati).  I also liked the fact that Ebert was flexible enough that he could watch a movie again and revise his opinion on it, in some cases fairly dramatically.  He didn't worry that this made him look like a "weak" reviewer, whatever that means.  Most of all he clearly loved the movies, at least when they lived up to their potential.

I particularly liked Ebert's recently books: Great Movies vol 1, 2, and 3.  I was already planning on working my way through them, trying to see the films I haven't gotten to yet, and this will definitely spur me on.  Maybe I will start with Ikiru, which I have seen (and loved).  It just so fitting right now, since it is about a man who learns he is dying of cancer and decides he must do something worthy of his remaining time on earth.  It is one of Ebert's favorite films as well, and he often said that it could change your life and make you a better person, which I largely agree with as well.  I think it {Ikiru} is just a bit too sad (and deep) for my kids right now, so I'll just have to find some time to watch it after they are in bed.

I saw Ebert one time at a Borders in downtown Chicago, where he was doing a book signing.  This was after he had started losing weight, but before all the problems with his jaw.  I actually lived in his neighborhood for a year or so (or maybe just a few blocks over) but never saw him around.  My wife says she saw him on the street once.

I am glad that he got around to writing his memoirs and the really personal blog posts, but I wish he could he been with us for several more years.  Of course, I didn't mind the political and religious topics that he covered (since I was generally in agreement with him), though they turned off some long-term readers.  I just thought they made him an even more rounded personality. (This is the same reason why I write posts that aren't strictly reviews, though I wouldn't say I was particularly influenced by Ebert in this instance.)

Anyway, RIP and thanks for all the reviews.

Works in progress

I like "works in progress" so much more than "unfinished work" or in some cases "work not yet started."  Anyway, I've heard that the public shaming aspect of the internet can be helpful in keeping people on track and on their toes, so I will list various projects in various stages of completion to see if it motivates me to get any of them done (and remind me not to spend so much time on the internet -- a bit of a paradox, whut!?!).  In truth, while the blogging can be a bit of a time drain, it is useful in the sense that it has gotten my "writing muscles" back in shape, which in turn makes it more likely that I will actually return to work on these projects, esp. as they are mostly writing based.  I'll list them basically in order of how close to completion they are (and not chronologically, i.e. when I started the projects -- that would be far too depressing!).

Actually, before I get started, I should list some things that I have actually completed, so this post doesn't become a total downer.  It will also give me a bit of inspiration to believe that I can cross off many of these projects once I am ready to be serious about them.  Time is always an issue, but sometimes lacking inspiration is a bigger problem...

First, my work accomplishments:
  • I have contributed a great deal to advanced transportation models in New York City, Columbus, OH, and Houston in particular.  
  • I have co-written 10 papers on modelling and transportation policy for Transportation Research Record and the Journal of Public Transportation.  
  • I am so very close to completing the upgrade of the Vancouver Regional Transportation Model.  While it isn't a particularly advanced model (still a 4-step model) it is so much better than what was here before.  And it has my fingerprints on every component, and this will be the case for roughly the next decade.  I have been working overtime on this for months and certainly is the main focus of my energies.
I am reasonably involved with my children, and they seem to be growing up to be decent people.  They seem to be doing quite well in school and are both becoming avid readers.

I completed my dissertation in sociology at Northwestern University, even though it wasn't strictly necessary for my chosen profession (my Master's in transportation has always been sufficient).

I had a chapter on Johannesburg and its suburbs published in an edited volume on comparative suburbanization outside the U.S.  This felt like a particularly sweet accomplishment, and I think it is a really strong piece (one of the stronger ones in the collection).  Not being in academia, and particularly not on the hunt for tenure, allows me to spend more time on the projects that I do undertake.

I self-published a poetry chapbook and placed 5 or 6 poems in small literary magazines.  This was right after college but before I decided that being a poet and trying to teach in a MFA program somewhere wasn't really what I wanted to do with my life...

I have actually written two full-length plays (and 4 or so shorter theatre pieces), though I have them down as works-in-progress, since they still need heavy editing.  Still, I got them over the finish line in the first place, which was quite an accomplishment.

Ok, enough patting myself on the back.  What have I left undone?

1) Poetry anthology on the topic of transportation
     Status: two sections sent in to a publisher with 85% of the rest of the anthology complete.
     Notes: this was the main project I worked on this past summer.  I could definitely whip it into shape in maybe 2-3 weeks if the publisher expressed interest.  If they decide to pass, I will have to think seriously about how hard I want to shop this to other publishers. In fact, the anthology began life as a subway poetry anthology that I shopped around with a few nibbles but no takers.  I think this has slight broader appeal, but publishers are still wary of anthologies where they don't have 100% control over the publishing rights from the outset.

2) "No More Robinsons" - a SF short story
     Status: nearly the entire story has been written out except the ending, though most still needs to be typed up.
     Notes: this really shouldn't take that much more time, though I am worried that the ending I am heading to is not strong enough.

3) "Dharma Donuts" - a play
     Status: 2nd draft of the entire play was completed but some revisions still required.  Some sections have have a staged reading.
     Notes: I think I can manage to get through the edits this summer.  I have had a bit of useful feedback on the play.

4) "Final Exams" - a SF short story about the Earth after a Borg-like alien presence arrives on the scene
     Status: the plot mostly worked out and a few pages were typed up
     Notes: in some ways, I think this would be a bit easier to sell to a SF magazine than the Robinson story, so perhaps I will work on it next.  The idea came to me while I was biking back and forth from work, and that still is where I do some of my most useful brain-storming. 

5) "Corporate Codes of Conduct" - a play
     Status: 3rd draft of the entire play completed but some significant revisions to second act required.  The 1st draft received a table read, which I taped for reference.
     Notes: I think this is a good play, but it is hard to get motivated to put in the time to work on it when it is all but impossible to stage works by unknown authors, esp. those that can't be marketed as the next fresh young voice!  I will write about that below.  The play was loosely inspired by Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and to a lesser extent David Auburn's Proof.   One thing that may help me make these necessary changes is that I am making a day trip soon to SF to catch a revival of Arcadia.  There is also a company in Seattle that would be a natural fit to put on Corporate Codes, but that is basically just wishful thinking on my part.

6) Dark Heart of the Moon - SF novel with some mystery elements.
     Status: large section typed up (maybe 25-30 pages worth) and much of the plot was worked out but some changes are required.  I am doing some plotting out of potential sequels.
     Notes: I think this needs a better title.  I also need to see if the writing style still holds up.  I am a bit torn because the more realistic I make it (as well as laying down the seeds for the plots of sequels), the smaller the lunar colony has to be, which in turn undermines some of the other elements that I have already written.  I think I am getting closer to being able to thread the needle, but I have to put more and more power into the hands of the shadowy figure who started the colony, and I don't want it to get to the point it is ridiculous a la Dr. Mabuse.

7) "Northern Latitudes" - a novel about Toronto and the misadventures of an American who wants to live there but has no appreciable skills    
     Status: the first chapter and part of ending written out.  I have extensive notes on the entire plot and have even given some consideration to potential follow-up novels.
     Notes: this has been a novel-in-progress for a ridiculous length of time -- close to 20 years.  It basically is a historical novel now, since it really does need to be set in 1994-95. I certainly do need to go through and make sure I want to write in the style that I started out writing in -- if I can even maintain that.  I did recently come across all my journal articles and email from the period I lived in Toronto and right afterwards.  That might prove to be helpful.  It is too bad that MacLean's doesn't have its back issues on DVD, but I can go to the library (perhaps this summer) and skim through the relevant months.  This is probably the project that means the most to me to finish up, but one which must be blocked in some way or I would have tackled it more seriously in the past 20 years.  Perhaps the fact that I am on the verge of moving back there (to Toronto) will actually inspire me to cross the finish line, not completely unlike how moving back to Chicago was the motivating factor to finally finish the dissertation.  When I feel the first chapter is ready for sharing, I will link to it.

8) Turning my dissertation into a book on Chicago transportation
     Status: I have an entire 500+ page dissertation complete, but published books are very different things from dissertations.
     Notes: I have basically stayed on top of major Chicago transportation controversies, but I would have to do some research to keep the chapters up-to-date, and I would probably have to arrange interviews with more people, which I am not particularly eager to do.  Also, I might end up at a company that would frown on such a book if it is too critical of the Chicago powers-that-be.

9) Article on the (unbuilt) Chicago Crosstown Expressway
     Status: a paper that made it to revise and resubmit status at the Journal of Urban History.
     Notes: this is horribly embarrassing, but because I went on leave, I never got around to dealing with this R&R paper (from roughly 15 years back).  I would basically have to swallow my pride and start over from scratch at that journal or even send it somewhere else.  It would have been 3 or 4 weeks' worth of work back then, but now I'd have to really refresh my memory before I tried to fix it, and I would probably extend the time frame of the analysis (to justify why they should re-consider it after I dropped the ball so badly).

10) "Lester's Last Testament" - a play (heavily) inspired by King Lear.
      Status: I have 3 or 4 pages written and the rest is only partly plotted out (though it does follow Lear/Ran fairly closely).
      Notes: Just not really sure the world needs another adaptation of Shakespeare, though two that I have seen were brilliant.  Also, it is really hard to justify spending time writing for the theatre when there is just so little pay-off.  But now and again, I am really drawn to work on this and can visualize the characters having their conversations.  As they say, when the Muse comes knocking, you really have to answer the door -- or she will refuse to come around anymore.  I imagine it will be the last thing I ever write for the theatre.

11)  Writing an academic book on Toronto, Johannesburg and Shanghai
     Status: mostly a handful of Powerpoint presentations made at various conferences.
     Notes: while this could be really interesting (and I recently thought of ways to make this a more doable project), I'm just not sure the world needs such a book.

12) Writing an academic book on transportation infrastructure
     Status: several conference papers on the topic and a lot of background knowledge.
     Notes: this came pretty close to happening with a co-author, but neither of us could really devote the time to getting an outline just right to get approval from a publishing house.  I think I would really have to demonstrate (to my co-author as well as myself) that I could handle the deadlines and my job, and I am not sure that is true.  Nonetheless, I sense this book would be more important in some ways than the one on Toronto, Johannesburg and Shanghai.

13) Writing an academic article on African suburbanization
     Status: a couple of conference papers and a lot of background research already completed.
     Notes: I might actually submit a variant of this to an upcoming conference.  The real Achilles heel is not having quite enough data that is truly comparable across the cases, so it might not be worth it.

14) Writing an academic article on "non-events"
     Status: a conference paper was written and part of the intro to my dissertation discussed this issue.
     Notes: my advisor wanted to do this but then kept flaking out, even after I sent him an outline and the introduction.  That was quite disheartening.  I think if he were a more typical (and organized) academic, we would have polished this off a few year's back.

15) Article on Crosstown and Westway
     Status: the Crosstown parts have been written up, but I would have to draw comparisons to the Westway.
     Notes: I have gathered virtually all the data there is to be gathered on the two unbuilt projects.  It would be a shame if no one ever benefited from my extensive research and digging through archives, but that happens sometimes.

16) Writing an academic article on the importance of studying regionalism in a meaningful way.
     Status: some material from the intro. to my dissertation
     Notes: this might be fun and even a bit provocative.  I don't really have anything to lose, so I may write this up one day (or simply take the more interesting observations and post them here).

17) Writing academic article about trust and youth hostelers
     Status: a conference paper, as well as some graduate student papers written on the topic.
     Notes: I think the sun has set on this one.  I simply don't see it as important anymore.  Worst of all, I never managed to get back in touch with the youth hostels where I had done a follow-up survey (almost 5 years on now) and I would have to provide them with this fairly out-of-date (for their purposes) data before I could even feel right about publishing a paper using the survey data.  So hard to see this happening.

18) Writing academic article on casino impacts
      Status: a conference paper was presented
      Notes: Not sure I can ever get the data to the level I would like.  We found that the data on impacts was just so hard to make heads or tails of, because the gambling population is so dispersed, with many people traveling from several counties away to gamble and even crossing state lines in many cases.  This is almost certainly a dead project.

At one point I wanted to write more about environmental justice and transportation, but it isn't that compelling to me any more.

I think the biggest issue I face is that the projects that I tend to believe I really ought to pursue are the ones that are 1) the hardest to complete or 2) have almost no pay-off, monetary or otherwise, because the acceptance rates are so low.  Writing plays is in many ways far more pointless than writing novels, since the chances of finding a publisher for a novel (slim as they are) are so much better than finding a theatre company that will stage one's play.  As I ponder this (reasonably complete) list of work that I still might complete one day, I really need to take that into consideration.  I also need to weigh the fact that my job is quite demanding (I almost always work more than 40 hours in a week, generally 50+) and that virtually none of these projects will gain me recognition at work -- and in some cases might be viewed negatively.  I probably will continue to refocus on the creative writing over the academic writing.  But I think the main thing is to try to set aside some time each week to work on one of the projects and eventually cross one or two off the list, so that they may be added to the list of accomplishments.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

BTR - updates

Well, there are already some minor updates to my book pile, which I suspected would happen (well, knowing myself I knew for a fact the list would keep growing), but I haven't decided if I will actually add to the list in that post or just post the updated list every couple of months.  I am just wrapping up On the Road, and maybe 2/3 of the way through, Kerouac starts talking about Dean Moriarty (well, actually Neal Cassady in the original scroll version I am reading) as a kind of holy fool, which is similar to the way that Allen Ginsberg is also portrayed throughout (personally I would be slightly more inclined to give Ginsberg the benefit of a doubt, whereas Neal just seems like a totally selfish a-hole*).  His status had been sort of implied up 'til now, but Kerouac is really explicit about it on one of the later trips back East (they do indeed go back and forth across the country and not just head westward). This got me thinking of Doestovesky's The Idiot, where he basically riffs off the idea that anyone who truly tries to emulate Jesus would be considered a madman in contemporary society (even more true today than back when he was writing).  I clearly won't be able to read it in time for Easter, which has already come and gone, but I think it might fit nicely between Lolita and Anna Karenina, so I'll see if I can get to it and round out a bit of a Russian detour embedded in the pile.

One of the more tempting book buys is the Colour Your Library collection over at Chapters.  I saw a few of them and they seem to have expanded the series out to 25 or so volumes.

On the one hand, I don't like how they are so clearly pitching this at designers and not really at readers.  On the other, they are nice looking, if somewhat simply designed, books.  But I own a few of the titles already and I'm not really that interested some of the other selections.  And for sure, I would not stack them together -- they would go alphabetically like everything else, which really undermines the impact to be sure, particularly if you only see the spines!

Do you think the "colour" books might get a bit lost?

Nonetheless, I went down to Chapters to check them out and write down the titles of some interest.  It turns out that you can get them for $15 each or $25 for 2.  That is almost within reason for a new book.

Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart (I believe this was sold out at my local branch)
Margaret Atwood - Alias Grace
Shauna Singh Baldwin - The Tiger Claw
Julian Barnes - Arthur & George
Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
Camilla Gibb  - Sweetness in the Belly
Wayson Choy - All That Matters
Douglas Coupland - Eleanor Rigby
Jeff Eugenides - The Virgin Suicides
Mark Haddon - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Elizabeth Hay - A Student of Weather
John Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany
Kazuo Ishiguro - Never Let Me Go
Jhumpa Lahiri - Unaccustomed Earth
Vincent Lam - Bloodletting/Miraculous Cures (kind of a mustard instead of the more obvious red)
Lori Lansens - Rush Home Road
Anne Michaels - The Winter Vault
David Mitchell - Black Swan Green (one of the few to have the colour correspond to the book)
Michael Ondaatje - In the Skin of a Lion
Tom Rachman - The Imperfectionists
Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things
Salman Rushdie - The Satanic Verses
Shyam Selvadurai - Funny Boy
Diane Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale
Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger

I believe this is the entire list.  It's kind of an odd series.  In many cases, these are titles that didn't sell all that well and are sort of the less-regarded novels by these authors (Alias Grace, Black Swan Green), though the novels by Asian authors are generally chosen fairly well.  The problem is that I have many of these already (Satanic Verses, Reluctant Fundamentalist, Unaccustomed Earth, Things Fall Apart).  I was a bit underwhelmed by the offerings from Canadian authors.  I was probably most interested in Wayson Choy's All That Matters until I realized this was essentially a sequel to The Jade Peony, so it made little sense to get one version in this series and the other in a different binding.  Of course, there are plenty of copies of his novels in the Vancouver Library, and that makes more sense anyway.  It might almost be worth picking up The Satanic Verses in this binding for when I decide to reread the novel so as to avoid quite so many stares on the train.  I was sort of circling around to Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale and Rachman's The Imperfectionists when I went to look at reviews on Amazon and realized that 1) they could be picked up super cheap (another odd thing about this series is how long-in-the-tooth the books are) and 2) I liked the alternate covers much better (being such a bibliophile).

It would be possible to find another two books, but it would certainly be a stretch.  There are a handful that I would consider reading (Bloodletting and perhaps In the Skin of a Lion), but these aren't books that I feel compelled to own.  I think in the end, I may add a bit to my BTR pile using this as a jumping-off point (Wayson Choy for example), but that I won't buy any in the series proper.

I do remain on the lookout for Canadian books of interest.  I'll have to fit Hill's The Book of Negroes in there somewhere.  And I certainly will begin adding some novels set in Montreal to the list, both by Anglophones and Francophones.  Probably something by Dany LaFerriere fairly soon and Gabrielle Roy's The Cashier (assuming I like The Tin Flute).  Well, one thing is for certain, the BTR will keep changing and growing.  (I guess I'll stick this here as well as anywhere: I had run across some odd cult book probably through an Amazon linkage.  It was about a boy who sort of shadows this woman from the elite.  I'm not describing it well -- largely because it is a novel that supposedly defies easy categorization.  I wasn't quite gripped enough to seek it out, but recently decided I might as well still it in a list, so I wouldn't forget.  After poking around on some lists of cult novels, I was about to try to do some Amazon searching when the title just popped into my head -- Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz.  Memory is a funny thing and mine is still fairly good, knock wood...)

* I think I already mentioned this, but viewed from the outside, these Beats just seemed to be pretty unpleasant to interact with.  They felt the need to cut free from conventional society and not hold down any boring job, so of course they were always mooching off the more respectable people in their circles.  Kind of a drag when you think about it.  You always have to pay the piper somehow, and these folks really were a fairly substantial burden to their friends and relatives, but of course they didn't see it that way.  I guess I would try for more of a middle ground -- to not be hopelessly conventional and rule-bound (can't describe how much it irks me when somebody says you have to obey the law and if you disagree with a law, work on changing it -- as if obedience in and of itself was the highest moral principle and with no awareness or concern over how much is stacked against those who try to change bad laws) but not be a total slacker and a deadweight on my family.

Actually, let me follow up on this theme.  I am really struggling to finish On the Road because at roughly the 3/4 mark, Neal Cassidy switches from a ne'er-do-well to a psychotic scumbag: beating one of his girlfriends or ex-wives (hard to tell her status at this point), chasing after 16 year old girls, stealing cars, wrecking car after car because he drives them too far and too fast (including a nice Cadillac that they were hired to drive across the country).  And Kerouac basically comes across as a pathetic enabler, who actually is trying to glorify this criminal after the fact.  Both of them make terrible decision after terrible decision.  I just don't think "freedom" for its own sake is of any value when it leads to these horrible behaviors.  Sorry if that makes me square.  Kind of like the 60s, this book has overstayed its welcome and become a sorry shadow of its self.  I didn't react this badly when I read the book years ago, but I am sure I wouldn't have identified with Neal or Jack even back then.  I think from this point on, it is going to be really hard for me to ever want to crack open a book by Kerouac.