How to Age Disgracefully in Hollywood

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

The main problem facing today’s aging women is not sexism, Camille Paglia argues, but the lingering youth cult of the 1960s:

Traditional mating patterns have been disrupted: Marriage is postponed by extended education and early career demands. Because of easy divorce, middle-aged women are now competing with younger women for both men and jobs — and thus are resorting to costly interventions to look 20 years younger than they are.

If aging stars want to be taken seriously, they must find or recover a mature persona. Stop cannibalizing the young! Scrambling to stay relevant, Madonna is addicted to pointless provocations like her juvenile Instagrams or her trashy outfit with strapped-up bare buttocks and duct-taped nipples at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in May. She has forgotten the legacy of her great precursor, Marlene Dietrich, who retained her class and style to the end of her public life.

Pro-Catholic Propaganda

Monday, January 16th, 2017

William Peter Blatty recently passed away. He wrote the original novel The Exorcist as well as the screenplay.

I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen the movie — and, perhaps more importantly, I’ve seen the DVD extras. In one of the making-of pieces, he explains that he wrote the story as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda! My jaw dropped. But I guess I wasn’t his target audience.

He knew a thing or two about propaganda, by the way. Earlier in his career he had worked his way up to become head of the Policy Branch of the USAF Psychological Warfare Division.

He also got divorced three times (and married four).

Oh, I almost forgot, the original true story that the novel was based on wasn’t quite true.

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

A new series from Studio Ghibli, Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter — based on the Astrid Lindgren novel — is coming to Amazon Prime Video.

It’s directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, and narrated by Gillian Anderson.

The original trailer for Sanzoku no Musume Ronja feels rather different from Amazon’s English trailer:

Richard Adams

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Richard Adams passed away on Christmas Eve. I recently listened to the audio version of Watership Down — for free via Amazon’s Audible Channels for Prime:

Adams did not begin writing until 1966, when he was 46 and working for the civil service. While on a car trip with his daughters, he began telling them a story about a group of young rabbits escaping from their doomed warren.

In an interview with the Guardian two years ago, the author recalled: “I had been put on the spot and I started off: ‘Once there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver.’ And I just took it on from there.”

It was made into an animated film in 1978, and the following year the film’s theme song Bright Eyes, sung by Art Garfunkel, topped the UK charts for six weeks.

The book, which critics have credited with redefining anthropomorphic fiction with its naturalistic depiction of the rabbits’ trials and adventures, won Adams both the Carnegie medal and the Guardian children’s prize.

The statement announcing his death quoted a passage from the end of his best-known work. It read: “It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

“‘You needn’t worry about them,’ said his companion. ‘They’ll be alright — and thousands like them.”’

A spokesman for Oneworld publications, which brought out a new edition of Watership Down with illustrations by Aldo Galli, said: “Very saddened to hear that Richard Adams has passed. His books will be cherished for years to come.”

[...]

A new animated TV mini-series of Watership Down, co-produced by the BBC and Netflix, is due to air next year in four one-hour parts.

The Gun Industry’s Lucrative Relationship With Hollywood

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Hollywood and the gun industry see themselves as mortal enemies, but they have a lucrative, symbiotic relationship:

“Until they stop making films and outlaw weapons altogether, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” says Gregg Bilson Jr., president of the American Entertainment Armorers Association and head of the Independent Studio Services, one of Hollywood’s biggest prop houses.

ISS is a massive, family-owned business — renting everything from Chinese takeout containers to canoes. With more than 16,000 guns in its arsenal, nearly all real, ISS is the largest armory in Hollywood (about 80 of the guns at the NRA’s Hollywood exhibit are on loan from ISS). Bilson’s crew of armorers and gunsmiths helps finicky directors from Michael Mann to Oliver Stone find and use historically appropriate weapons, train A-list actors (like Bradley Cooper, Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) in how to wield them safely and shepherd complex projects to completion. “You can’t have a modern movie without a car rolling down the street or someone taking out an iPhone,” says Larry Zanoff, an ISS armorer who has worked on many big Hollywood productions. “Seventy-five percent of the time there’s at least one gun involved.”

This bit of trivia amused me:

To serve Hollywood’s marquee felons like Mark Wahlberg (currently brandishing a Glock 17 as a cop in Patriots Day) and Danny Trejo (most recently armed with an M1911A1 pistol in 2013′s Machete Kills) — who aren’t allowed by law to bear arms — ISS has a roster of realistic electronic guns (also known as e-guns or non-guns) that can stand in for everything from Smith & Wessons to Uzis. “They get a lot of use on hip-hop music video shoots,” says one weapons specialist. Producers working with ex-cons or shooting outside in neighborhoods with noise restrictions rely on them since they discharge at a much quieter level. They also are used in close-fire situations like a point-blank execution scene, where real weapons firing blanks are deemed unsafe (e-guns don’t eject shell casings).

Filmmakers now have much more incentive to get things right technically:

IMFDB.org is a wiki list-serve that functions as a clearinghouse for every possible bit of trivia, analysis and commentary on the interplay between guns and movies. Able to be cross-referenced by virtually any metric — actor, movie, firearm or manufacturer, for instance — the site is a testament to the appetite for information on Hollywood guns. There are 71 gun manufacturers listed and more than 1,500 pages in the “gun” category, along with thousands of actors and more than 5,000 movies.

“The only other product that gets people as excited when it appears in movies is cars,” says Chris Serrano, 32, the self-described “geek” who started IMFDB in 2007 from his home in Glendora, 30 miles east of Hollywood. At the time, there was much discussion but little agreement about guns in movies on the web. Serrano, who worked in real estate at the time, thought IMFDB would be a good way to crowdsource consensus.

Interest was immediate. The first visitors were fans of Westerns eager to weigh in about history and authenticity. Some modern movies generated intense discussion. The entry on Michael Mann’s Heat now tops two dozen pages. When Chad Stahelski and David Leitch debuted the 2014 thriller John Wick, IMFDB editors began itemizing the array of weaponry on display in the gun-heavy film. “As soon as it came out, it was big on the site,” says Serrano, a gun enthusiast who says he likes “a nice lever action” rifle.

Today, IMFDB gets more than 1 million unique visitors a month and has a team of 12 administrators and editors scattered around the world. “I’ve gotten word that Hollywood people do come and do research,” says Serrano. It’s mostly prop masters and armorers, but sometimes actors also come to the site to do research for their shows.

I didn’t know they traced this one back to its origin:

Sometimes armorers find that their onscreen handiwork worms its way back into real life. John Patteson, a Florida-based armorer (Cape Fear and Bad Boys II), recalls an experience on a 1980s TV show that he will not name in which a director wanted two guys with semiautomatic handguns to fire while standing next to each other. Patteson pointed out that the ejected rounds from one gun would hit the second man, at best creating an annoyance and at worst a potential safety hazard. “The director says, ‘How about we ask the left guy to tilt his gun sideways, so brass goes up and arcs away?’ ” Patteson adjusted the scene accordingly, but “next thing you know, I’m seeing guys in 7-Eleven videos holding the guns sideways.” There’s no way to trace whether incidents of sideways shooting in real life increased as a result of movie portrayals, but the anecdotal trace of his craft in real-life criminal activity left Patteson feeling disconcerted. At some point, he says, people do get “educated” by cinema: “A lot of the time, unfortunately, it takes on a life of its own.”

Apparently the initial article referred to Clint Eastwood’s iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum — “the most powerful handgun in the world” — as a “massive Smith & Wesson Colt .44″. Sigh.

The Key To Trump

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

The key to Trump is reading him like a celebrity:

Trump became a star in the 1980s by acting out the dream of the revitalized American male: reassurance of American capitalist acumen, coupled with the sort of guile and glee that made making money seem, well, fun. That revelry was essential: Before 1940, businessmen like Henry Ford had become their own sort of celebrity, what cultural theorist Leo Lowenthal calls “idols of production,” celebrated for their ingenuity, their hard work, their embodiment of the American spirit. The problem, however, was that most of them were boring: All work and no play made them dull men indeed.

Which is part of why coverage began to shift, over the course of the first half of the 20th century, toward “idols of consumption”: men and women who don’t make things so much as live lives of privilege. When you read about them — in the gossip columns, in magazine profiles — the focus was on where they went for lunch, what they were wearing, the lusciousness of their homes, how they spent their seemingly endless leisure time. (Today we have the same focus, only most of it plays out on Instagram instead of being filtered through the mainstream press.)

Trump was at the center of the Venn diagrams of these two types of idols: a self-styled dealmaker who used the wealth from those deals to consume conspicuously. Yet Trump didn’t drink, smoke, or even have a morning coffee; he loved an expensive steak, but had little concern for fine dining. Trump cares far less about actually enjoying luxury, far more about others knowing he’s enjoying luxury. Which is why he doesn’t live in a private home, but Trump Tower: a place where his lifestyle is written in bold, unmistakable print for anyone who walks in off the street to see.

Flaunting his wealth may have been perceived, in some quarters, as gauche, but Trump figured his flamboyance could become the central engine of his business. The more his image became one of shameless decadence — of Playboy Trump — the more he could use that same image to make deals, sell properties, attract people to his casinos, which in turn allowed him to be more brazen, more decadent, and attract more people, across the globe, to the Trump brand. Decades later, one of his advisers crystallized Trump’s appeal to the working-class: “If you have no education, and you work with your hands, you like him. It’s like, ‘Wow, that’s how I would!’ The girls, the cars, the fancy suits. His ostentatiousness is appealing to them.”

Trump’s ‘80s brand rose to prominence alongside celebrations of consumption like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and Wall Street, with its ruthless antihero Gordon Gecko proclaiming “greed is good.” The valuation of unmitigated greed of course had everything to do with American masculinity and the nation’s still-fragile understanding of itself amid the Cold War. But Trump was no movie character: He was a real person, and thus proof that this sort of masculine capitalist potency was still alive and thriving.

But in the early ‘90s — with the Cold War over, the Gulf War stalled, and Trump overextended and in bankruptcy — he became a symbol of the past, not the present. And so the self-styled avatar of American success became a punchline. In the late ‘90s, Trump loved to recall the story of looking at a homeless person on the street and realizing that man had more money than he did. For Trump, that moment was one of great sadness: because he’d lost his fortune, but also because he’d lost his relevance. Suddenly, he was a loser.

While Trump’s ‘90s melancholy had something to do with not having money to spend, it had far more to do with no one wanting to watch him spend it. The core of his celebrity image — and, by extension, his power — had been compromised, and he spent the bulk of the ‘90s trying to regain it. He endured the humiliation of bankruptcy. He released The Art of the Comeback. He divorced Marla Maples and started dating a rotating carousel of supermodels, which had something to do with his “love of beautiful women,” but was also a reliable way of getting his name in the tabloids and gossip columns.

And Trump still had his casinos — which, even more than his massive New York construction projects, made millions of gambling Americans associate his name with their own ideals of wealth and decadence, no matter how precarious. It didn’t matter if many actually wealthy people thought those casinos (and his newly acquired beauty pageants) were trashy, so long as millions of Americans thought otherwise.

By 1999, Trump’s rebound was in full swing. He teased a run for president on the Reform Party ticket, but pulled out before ever officially announcing his candidacy — because the cost would be too much, but also because he knew, as a third-party candidate, that he couldn’t win.

And Trump, as we now know, is obsessed with who gets to be winners and losers, and he’d only just pulled himself out of loserdom. So he exploited the idea of a presidential run just long enough for it to promote his new book, The America We Deserve — and a series of paid speaking engagements with Tony Robbins — and then pulled the plug.

His businesses may have been healthy again, but Trump, as a celebrity, was still out of fashion. Steve Jobs in his black turtleneck, Bill Gates in his nerdy glasses — those were the men who seemed to embody the American capitalist spirit. Not Trump, who didn’t know how to use the internet and largely ignored the dot-com boom because he thought it would pass.

There was a new type of celebrity, however, that had started to resonate with the American public: the reality star. In Trump, Mark Burnett — the producer behind Survivor — saw the potential for a different sort of reality program. It would be a competition like American Idol, but instead of charisma and natural talent, the driving skill would be business craftiness. Not acumen, or knowledge, but cunning: a particularly American understanding of how capitalism should work, and also an ideal ingredient for reality drama.

Trump was the perfect fit for Burnett’s vision. The Apprentice would be his path back to exposure and, by extension, relevancy: The rhetoric, framing, and shooting style of the show suggested he was the smartest, most skilled, most important businessman in America. Its popularity accomplished the thing for which Trump was most desperate: the broad, global re-visibility of his image, effectively surrounded by dollar signs.

The image-making apparatus around Trump has never been subtle, but The Apprentice took its bluntness to a new level. The theme song consisted of one word: “Money,” reiterated at different lengths and with difference punctuations. The logo featured Trump’s face as a Mount Rushmore monument amid the New York skyline. Most episodes involved some iteration of Trump talking or gesturing toward his wealth (in models, in property holdings) and judging the contestants on their ability to help him inflate it.

No matter that the show’s “boardroom” was a simulacrum, or that the “management jobs” in Trump Inc. intended for the winners were a sham: Reality television succeeds not when it depicts reality, but when it suggests that reality is actually a game with clear winners and losers. Trump wasn’t a contestant in this world, as he had already won all the spoils — a proposition the show never questions, and an image that has now been solidified through 14 seasons.

In truth, Trump was a reality star just waiting for the reality age: No other medium portrays his impulse toward conspicuous consumption and conspicuous demonstrations of power as effectively. With The Apprentice, Trump solidified the reality era–tinged understanding of the American dream: It’s not actual hard work that makes you successful, but the ability to evince the feeling and effect of power and wealth.

The Ankara Assassination looks like Bertolucci’s “The Conformist”

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Images from the Ankara assassination look like they come from an avant-garde 1970s film, Steve Sailer notes — namely Bertolucci’s The Conformist:

The extraordinarily cinematic-looking assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey today in an Ankara art gallery by a young Turkish policeman is the latest in a long series of events I routinely characterize as “Byzantine” because I have no idea what’s really going on, but it makes me sound knowing.

Ankara Assassination

I may have to rent The Conformist from Amazon.

Everything has been done better by Dumas

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Ryan Holiday looks back at the (very) best books he read in 2016 and names an old favorite of mine I’ve been meaning to reread as an adult, The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas:

I thought I’d read this book before but clearly they gave me some sort of children’s version. Because the one I’d read as a kid wasn’t a 1,200 page epic of some of the most brilliant, beautiful and complicated storytelling ever put to paper. What a book! When I typed out my notes (and quotes) after finishing this book, it ran some 3,000 words. I was riveted from cover to cover. I enjoyed all the stuff I missed as a kid: the Counts struggle with his faith in light of what was done to him, the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s return, his rants against technology, the criticism of newspapers, the influence of ancient philosophy, ultimately, a warning against being consumed by revenge. Please — if you’re going on a long trip or looking to check out of modern events for a while — get this book. I recommend the Penguin Classics edition.

It was definitely one of the books that influenced that me:

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas – I don’t mean to imply that Dumas’s novel furnished me with an unquenchable desire for vengeance. Rather, reading The Count of Monte Cristo in 11th grade clarified just how derivative most of the entertainment we consume really is — everything has been done better by Dumas, and he did it over a century ago — and it got me wondering why we don’t regularly enjoy the pop classics. We read new books, listen to new music, watch new TV shows, and wait in long lines to watch new movies, when most of the best works produced — best for our own middle-brow tastes — are still new to us. (It also reminded me that our public-school curriculum goes out of its way to avoid books that kids, especially boys, might enjoy, under the pretense that teenagers with no life experience will learn literary analysis by parroting back what the teacher said about The Scarlet Letter, or some other work that does not speak to them at all.)

Adam Curtis and the Secret History of Everything

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Jonathan Lethem looks at Adam Curtis and the Secret History of Everything:

He’s a cult figure in England, but he has access. The BBC is the greatest broadcasting organization in the world. In ‘Bitter Lake,’ he had all the material. He’s standing in the right place, inside that archive.” Even among those skeptical of Curtis’s narratives, his masterly use of the BBC archive — his uncanny capacity to excavate sequences from the dark side of journalism’s moon and the expressive power he finds in their juxtaposition — produces awe. Curtis possesses a “dazzlingly acute eye,” wrote Andrew Anthony in The Observer, even as he accused him of “superimposing his own creative theory as journalistic fact.”

Curtis is justly proud of his adeptness in the archives: “It’s all stored in a giant warehouse on the outskirts of West London, deliberately kept anonymous. It’s the biggest film archive in the world. The cataloging is good, although it’s been done at different stages. But, because the BBC is an organization that has a vast global news output, I discovered that, throughout the 1980s, there were these giant two-inch videotapes, called COMP tapes, onto which satellites would just dump stuff overnight. And they’re not well cataloged. You can go to a news item and see; if there was a COMP tape for that day, you can order it up. Those two-inch tapes start to degrade, but they’ve been transferred, and they’re amazing.”

[...]

Curtis grew up in Platt, North Kent, just outside Greater London. His father was a cinematographer who worked with the British documentarian Humphrey Jennings, with the “Death Wish” director Michael Winner and on “The Buccaneers,” a pirate-themed television program starring Robert Shaw. Curtis’s family was left-wing. “According to family talk,” he said, his great-uncle was a committed Trotskyite. His socialist grandfather, meanwhile, “would stand as a member of Parliament for seats he would never, ever win — and he did it every election.”

Curtis earned a degree in the human sciences at Oxford, then briefly taught there. Unsatisfied with academia, he took a job at the BBC, eventually going to work in the early ’80s as a segment producer on “That’s Life!” a kind of cross between “60 Minutes” and “Candid Camera.” There, Curtis learned his craft. “One week I was sent up to Edinburgh to film a singing dog,” he said. “His owner said that when he played the bagpipes, the dog would sing Scottish songs. We set the camera up. The owner dressed up in a kilt and started to play the bagpipes. The dog refused to sing. It just sat there looking at me just saying nothing. It just sat there, with a really smug look on its face. This went on for about two hours.” Curtis phoned his producer. “She said: ‘Darling, that is wonderful. Don’t you see that the dog refusing to sing for a man dressed up in a kilt is actually very funny? Go back and keep filming. Film the dog doing nothing. But film the man as well.’”

“So I did. We ran a long close-up shot of the dog’s face with the sound of out-of-tune bagpipes. It was quite avant-garde, but the audience loved it, especially when you cut it against the face of the man puffing at the bagpipes who genuinely believed that the dog was about to sing.

“That time with a dog taught me the fundamental basics of journalism. That what really happens is the key thing; you mustn’t try and force the reality in front of you into a predictable story. What you should do is notice what is happening in front of your eyes, and what instinctively your reaction is. And my reaction was that I hated the dog as it looked at me silently. So I made a short film about that.”

Despite his Oxford education, a hint of a provincial resentment defines Curtis’s attitudes toward London’s cultural intelligentsia. Americans might model this as the “John Lennon syndrome” (as opposed to the sense of ease and entitlement exhibited by, say, Mick Jagger). “The snooty people disagree with me,” he said. “The posh literary lot. They don’t like me because they think I’m not elegant and literary and I don’t make enough references. And what I do is I play fast and loose — not with the facts, they’re not interested in that — but with my aesthetic responses. I put pop music, David Bowie, in the middle of an Afghan film. It’s all a bit vulgar.”

Read the whole thing, if you’ve enjoyed Curtis’s works.

The Bubble

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

It may be time to move to the Bubble:

Batgirl Gatchaman

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Jordan Gibson’s Batgirl Gatchaman mash-up art is delightful — if you grew up on 1960s Batman and 1970s Battle of the Planets:

Batgirl Gatchaman 01

Batgirl Gatchaman 02

Batgirl Gatchaman 03

Batgirl Gatchaman 04

Batgirl Gatchaman 05

Batgirl Gatchaman 06

Set Phasers to “Vaporize”

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Star Trek‘s phasers have a top setting that will vaporize a human:

That’s not just overkill, that’s an insane level of overkill. It’s like using a TOW anti-tank missile to target an individual.

And this is one of the things that Star Trek got wrong. Not that it’s necessarily impossible for a weapon the size of a keychain to vaporize a human, but that the process of vaporizing the human wouldn’t utterly trash the surroundings. Face it: you’re converting, oh, 180 pounds of water to steam, and converting the calcium in the bones, the metal and plastic in his clothes, tools, weapons, etc. into plasma. And if the target is also holding a phaser, you’re converting that into vapor, which means that its battery (or whatever the power source is) is going to explode.

Phaser-vaporizing someone on board a spaceship is going to be a disaster, because by converting 180 pounds of water into steam, you’re increasing the volume by a factor of around 1,000. Imagine if the room the target was in suddenly found itself loaded with 1,000 more people. The pressure will blow the hull apart. While a blaster will simply poke a hole in the target, maybe burning their clothes.

Star Trek always made the result of someone getting vaporized pretty… well, sterile. Zap, bright light, gone. But it wouldn’t be like that. If you want to know what someone getting phasered at full power would look like, YouTube provides. Behold the phenomenon of the “Arc Flash,” where enough electrical energy can be dumped into a human to convert said human into a steam explosion. Obviously, this might be considered slightly grisly, so gather the kids around (occurs at 1:14; you can adjust settings to .25 speed to watch the guy go from “normal” to “Hey, he’s a glowing blob, just like in Star Trek” to “Where’d he go?” in three frames):

It’s kinda unclear just what the hell happened here, but it sure looks like the guy was converted into mostly a cloud and a bit of a spray. In any event, there’s no missing the fact that something really quite energetic happened to the guy. The captain of the Klingon scout vessel vaporizes one of his crew on the bridge, they’re going to be scrubbing it down for *days,* assuming that the steam and overpressure doesn’t kill everyone else on the bridge.

It turns out that the arc flash did not vaporize the worker:

(Hat tip to Nyrath.)

“Don’t Stop Me Now” Tina Turner Soul Style

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Covering Queen songs isn’t easy, because Freddie Mercury could sing, but Melinda Doolittle performs a beautiful Tina Turner Soul Style cover of “Don’t Stop Me Now” with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox:

Audible Prime

Monday, October 31st, 2016

Amazon now offers a variety of Audible “channels” free to Prime members. In addition to “handcrafted playlists” — which seem to be NPR-style radio shows or podcasts — they have a number of classic audiobooks, including Dracula, which seemed timely.

Conservatarian Novelist Brad Thor

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

“Conservatarian” novelist Brad Thor talks to Nick Gillespie:

His books are also chock full of philosophizing and political and economic commentary from a “conservatarian” perspective. 2013′s Hidden Order, which revolved around attempts to assassinate nominees to head the Federal Reserve, quoted extensively from libertarian economics writer Henry Hazlitt and histories of the Fed. Thor notes that he was raised in a part-Objectivist home and exposed early and often to the works of Ayn Rand. That upbringing infuses his fiction with a love of ideas and his education at the University of Southern California with acclaimed novelist T.C. Boyle helps imbue his work with literary flourishes.

Thor’s latest book, Foreign Agent, engages the threat of extremist Islam and provocatively argues (amidst the action scenes and plot twists) that the truest form of the faith isn’t practiced by contemporary reformers but by fundamentalist Muslims and the terrorists in ISIS and Al Qaeda. A native of the Chicago area, Thor talked to Reason in his adopted hometown of Nashville.