...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Thursday, December 24, 2009


128 min. dir. Alfred Hitchcock NR

Supposedly, Hitchcock’s rage at his beloved Grace Kelly for leaving Hollywood led him to try to remake her with a series of cool, aloof blondes, beginning with Kim Novak. She stars here as the object of Jimmy Stewart’s obsession, but the casting is, happily, a little off. Unlike the brittle Kelly, Novak fills her dress with fleshy concupiscence. You understand why Stewart goes from detective tailing her to man under the influence: His appetite has been whetted. Aside from the garish dream sequence, the images in this movie are understandably iconic: a woman falling into San Francisco Bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the pallid face of Carlotta Valdez staring out from a museum canvas, a habited nun un-merging from the inky night. However memorable such images are in themselves, they serve the story by imbuing what is essentially a boilerplate mystery with an aura that is deep, strange, and enchanting. The ending may seem unsatisfyingly abrupt, but give it time. Our obsessions do not resolve--they are ended, and not by us. (Sunday, at the Egyptian in Hollywood.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Christmas Story

94 min. | Dir. Bob Clark | Rated PG

According to IMDB.com, this movie is up 78% in popularity this week. This is also the percentage of Americans who have seen all or part of it, as it plays in heavy rotation on cable each December. So why bother heading to the Bay in Seal Beach and plunking down your cash in order to watch it with a bunch of strangers? For one thing, it’s better than that other holiday tradition we partake in among people we don’t know—shopping—and the reason is because this movie has a quality that is hard to find this time of year: A refusal of sentimentality. Jean Shepherd’s memoir, of an Indiana Christmas in the 1940’s, cuts out religion, baking for neighbors, and singing carols on moonlit streets. Instead, all his hero, cute-as-a-bespectacled-button Ralphie, wants for Christmas is a BB gun. His dad wants his sexy-leg lamp. And his mom wants to escape embarrassment. And yet there’s an unforced love among the lot of them that gives the movie genuine warmth. Bring the family. Soon, movie theatres will be as retro as the decoder ring Ralphie sends for and is ultimately disappointed by. Why? The message he decodes is an advertisement. It’s a throwaway joke, and a haunting one. // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published this week in the print edition of The District.]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

100 min. dir. Mel Stuart Rated G

For the first twenty minutes, the movie based on Roald Dahl’s classic is realized with an exquisitely crafted landscape that mixes fantasy and realism, with an actor playing poor, sweet Charlie Bucket who nails, without sentimentality, the character’s innocence. You sit rapt by the story, anticipating the arrival of that mysterious man who will guide Charlie and a posse of selfish brats through his sprawling, confectionery compound. And then Johnny Depp shows up and you feel your teeth begin to rot. Let it therefore be stated: Expensive remakes of perfectly good movies, especially when directed by one Tim Burton, are bad for your health. Sure, the original (screening this week at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach), has its flaws—cheesy songs, plastic sets—but, as everyone knows, it’s also got Gene Wilder, who captures Willy Wonka’s eviscerating wit and impish delight in (near) chaos. He drives the movie toward an almost heartbreaking conclusion, when he delivers one of the best lines ever uttered on screen: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” It may not come from the novel, and here’s the lesson: If you want to enchant, you need little more than the right actor and a used copy of Shakespeare. // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[From this week's print edition of The District, though in a fairly different form. My editor--a super-cool person, by the way--made some changes based on the fact that the Gene Wilder Wonka movie had a different name than the novel and the Johnny Depp Wonka movie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Also, she pointed out that the producers specifically said that the Depp version was not a remake of the Wilder version. I appreciate her journalistic integrity. I still stand by my ambivalence, expressed elsewhere on this blog, about Tim Burton movies. What courage! I've taken a stand about a director's work! And my stand is ambivalence! Sad. And maybe a tiny bit rad.]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera

93 min. dir. Rupert Julian NR

This film, based on an early 20th C. novel, found in its setting the perfect metaphor for the charge an audience gets from horror. On the stage, the world is reflected back to us, as in a funhouse mirror: time is compressed, the grotesque stands alongside the beautiful, and evil is unmasked before being tidily, if uneasily, vanquished. The novelty of film (you watch in the dark on a screen that fills your vision) transforms the external image of the mirror into the internal, unshakeable dream, and this movie helped introduce and codify the visual vocabulary of such dreams: Shadows moving against a wall; white-clad women rising like angels on a staircase; a murderous monster with sad, lonely eyes. The black-and-white photography is simultaneously intense in its contrast and soft around the edges, both forbidding and inviting—again, like a dream. You begin to see why Hitchcock and David Lynch and the unscary Wes Anderson are so fond of the proscenium: Knowing it’s fake somehow gives us leave to enter another world. (Friday at 11:55pm at Art Theatre, featuring a live score performed by The Creative Artist’s Collective; more info at mondocelluloid.com.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[From the print edition of this week's District Weekly.]

It's a Wonderful Life

130 min. dir. Frank Capra NR

Well, is it? The annual exhumation of this movie, I mean. Is IT wonderful? The question may be pointless, like asking why people put up holiday lights in November. There’s no response to irrational rituals sanctioned by neighbors, big box stores, and—in the case of this movie—NBC, which shows it every Christmas, like clockwork. Before I’d seen it I was already sick of it. Still, each time Jimmy Stewart walks Donna Reed home from the dance and they sing and throw rocks at the old house and make wishes and she loses her shirt and he behaves like a rascal and so on, I’m hooked. Like clockwork. Watching it with a bunch of other tenderhearted souls sitting in the dark, as devoted as churchgoers, may be the nearest some people get to religion. As for the plot, here’s the band Fishbone, who remind us in their pithy, concise way just how weirdly sullen this movie gets before its rousing conclusion: “Angel made me numb/ The angel made me void / Got thrown out the bar / Then I wrecked my car / Got socked in the jaw / Cussed out by my mama / Someone stole my money / Screamed at by my honey / Things was gettin' worse…” Indeed they was. And then the angel gets his wings. (At the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[From the print edition of this week's District Weekly.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Word of the Day

Court poetry and Folk poetry were bound by the common tie that both were made by hand and both were intended to last; the crudest ballad was as custom-built as the most esoteric sonnet. The appearance of the Public and the mass media which cater to it have destroyed naive popular art. The sophisticated "highbrow" artist survives and can still work as he did a thousand years ago, because his audience is too small to interest the mass media. But the audience of the popular artist is the majority and this the mass media must steal from him if they are not to go bankrupt. Consequently, aside from a few comedians, the only art today is "highbrow." What the mass media offer is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.

- W.H. Auden, "The Poet and the City" from The Dyer's Hand

Action Alert


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Apartment

125 min. | Dir. Billy Wilder | NR

Might as well say what can’t be defended: The Apartment is the greatest American screen comedy ever. Jack Lemmon plays an office worker with a charmingly lecherous boss (the never-better Fred MacMurray) who, along with his cronies, uses Lemmon’s apartment for extramarital assignations. Though not happy about it, Lemmon’s professional ambition keeps him from intervening until the elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine, in a role that explains why she became a star) gets in the way. The screwball-like dialogue, clearly an influence on the Coen Bros., keeps the action humming along, even when things turn dark. In the later, more desultory seasons of The Office, the lesson is that the system corrupts: Jim gets promoted and succumbs to an incompetence rooted in the desire to be liked, just like Michael Scott. This movie makes a similar case but without the Kafkaesque endlessness of a sitcom. The last scene is hopeful and bracing, suggesting that clear-eyed (i.e., sweet but not easy) love is the only way to escape. [This Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[To be published this week in the print edition of The District.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Word of the Day

Bresson's Movies

A movie of Robert
Bresson's showed a yacht,
at evening on the Seine,
all its lights on, watched

by two young, seemingly
poor people, on a bridge adjacent,
the classic boy and girl
of the story, any one

one cares to tell. So
year pass, of course, but
I identified with the young,
embittered Frenchman,

knew his almost complacent
anguish and the distance
he felt from his girl.
Yet another film

of Bresson's has the
aging Lancelot with his
awkward armor standing
in a woods, of small trees,

dazed, bleeding, both he
and his horse are,
trying to get back to
the castle, itself of

no great size. It
moved me, that
life was after all
like that. You are

in love. You stand
in the woods, with
a horse, bleeding.
The story is true.

- Robert Creeley
[read it aloud!]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


153 min. | dir. Fritz Lang | NR

The story of a futuristic, vertically oriented mega-city, where the rich live in the heights, enjoying the luxuries of “eternal gardens,” while the poor who finance their paradise live in the depths below, it’s hard not to read this movie, anachronistically*, as a parable of our current global inequities. The workers in this film inhabit a literal version of William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills.” Dwarfed by astonishing sets, they move in precise rhythms, like gears in a machine, until they are worn out and fed into the maw of the sinister, insatiable god of industry. The movie manages to be both time capsule (check out those pantaloons!) and prophecy, anticipating, in 1927, the day we would prefer man-made avatars to humans. Its influence is all over popular cinema, most obviously in George Lucas, Tim Burton, and Stanley Kubrick. You should take this rare opportunity to see this movie in a theatre, especially as it will have live musical accompaniment from Long Beach’s Creative Artists Collective. (Friday at 11:55pm at Art Theatre; more info at mondocelluloid.com.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published today in the print edition of The District.]

(*Did I mean to write "archetypally"?)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Word of the Day

From today's Slate:

Rand expresses, with a certain pithy crudeness, an instinct that courses through us all sometimes: I'm the only one who matters! I'm not going to care about any of you any more! She then absolutizes it in an amphetamine Benzedrine-charged reductio ad absurdum by insisting it is the only feeling worth entertaining, ever.

This urge exists everywhere, but why is it supercharged on the American right, where Rand is regarded as something more than a bad, bizarre joke? In a country where almost everyone believes—wrongly, on the whole—that they are self-made, perhaps it is easier to have contempt for people who didn't make much of themselves. And Rand taps into something deeper still. The founding myth of America is that the nation was built out of nothing, using only reason and willpower. Rand applies this myth to the individual American: You made yourself. You need nobody and nothing except your reason to rise and dominate. You can be America, in one body, in one mind.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Night of the Living Dead

96 min. dir. George Romero Rated R

You may wonder why your zombie of today is so fleet of foot. It may be that his preferred diet—brains, donchaknow!—has become so information-saturated and Ritalin-rich that he feels within him, if feels is the right word, a drive for rapid achievement his parents would be proud of—would be, that is, if he hadn’t just delectated upon their rich and creamy frontal lobes. Back in simpler times (1968, to be precise), when our fair republic glowed with the light of peace and brotherhood, Mr. Romero unleashed Night, the progenitor of a zombie industry that, a la this movie’s tagline, “won’t stay dead.” The monsters here—shot in harrowing black and white in a low-budget, verité style—move in on their victims at a stately if somnolent pace. As is always the case, reaching their goal means the end of humanity, but unlike our current crop of undead whippersnappers, these zombies knew to take their time. (Dress up as your favorite zombie for the Zombie Walk, starting at 10:30; or just go the movie, starting at 11:30 at the Art Theatre. Info: mondocelluloid.com.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published TODAY in the print version of The District.]

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Shining

142 min. Dir. Stanley Kubrick Rated R

Some movies immerse you in their consciousness, flooding your brain then leaving an oily residue of unpleasantness you can’t seem to wipe from your memory. Half of David Lynch has this quality, as do many of the cheap revenge-horror flicks from the ‘70s. And then there’s The Shining. You walk away from it carrying in your mind un-erasable images of The Woman in the Tub, The Twin Girls Hacked To Bits, and Jack’s Face Frozen in Ice. That ice serves as a good metaphor, for much of this story, about a man and his family caretaking a remote (and haunted) mountain hotel for the winter, is glacially paced. Things keep threatening to happen but don’t. Then they do, resolving with the increasing frequency of notes tying up a fugue. A really creepy fugue. (Wednesday—i.e., tonight!—at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published last week in the print edition of The District.]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Serious Man

A scene maybe a third of the way through has the beleaguered protagonist Larry on a lake shore at a picnic, watching his eccentric brother go swimming, sitting next to a woman named Mimi, both of whose legs are in braces. Larry's telling Mimi his troubles and commenting on his brother when Mimi says he should visit Rabbi Marshak and see what he can find out, maybe get some guidance. The tone of the scene, the acting, the dialogue--everything about it--is the most unstylized bit of filmmaking I can recall ever seeing in a Coen Bros. movie. There is a welcome tension in their films that you nevertheless get used to. You come to expect certain strange things to happen--surprise blasts of violence, a behavioral tic moved from the margins to the center of our purview, the repetition of jokes and choice bits of dialogue--all under direction that avoids naturalism, deliberately so, as they comment on here. The audience for their movies is often unsure if they should laugh or cringe, and that's a reason why people enjoy them: to be in that uncertainty. No Country for Old Men certainly had more "natural" acting than other Coen movies, but it was within a total, precision-calibrated framework. The scene in A Serious Man, on the other hand, in its guileless sincereity, seems to come from not only a different movie but a different universe. Mimi, who has clearly had a rough time of it (physically, at least) speaks in hopeful, warm, and encouraging terms, and there's nothing about what she says or how she says it that makes us think we should mock her or distrust her or "read" her in any way than as she has presented herself. We witness for a few minutes the boys playing it straight, and this brief absence of Coens-ian tension makes for a new kind of tension: What are they up to? The moment is as thrilling as anything they've committed to film.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Spy Who Loved Me

125 min. | Dir. Lewis Gilbert | Rated PG

Thirty-two years ago, the country suffered from massive economic uncertainty, tension with the Middle East, years of exhaustingly ugly politics, the aftermath of a seemingly pointless war, and a populace wracked by self-doubt. The producers of this movie knew exactly what people enduring such malaise needed: exotic locales; vehicles hurtling off cliffs; explosions, gadgets, and babes galore; disco; stilted, expository dialogue; shark tanks; jokes with punchlines broad as the desert horizon; a gigantic, oceanic villain's lair rising, Kraken-life, from the briny deep to eat unsuspecting submarines. And a henchman with metal teeth who bites people to death. (His name is Jaws.) Snooty know-it-alls will say Sean Connery was the real James Bond, or that Daniel Craig—in his broody, unsmiling seriousness—has returned the character to relevance. These same people like to slag Roger Moore’s 007 as a mere frivolity. My advice to you is to ignore the popinjays and head over to the Cinemark Wednesday for a sublimely frivolous evening. When it comes to having fun in bad times, the ‘00s could learn a thing or two from the ‘70s. (July 15th at the Cinemark 14) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published July in The District.]

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Haunting

112 min. | Dir. Robert Wise | NR

After West Side Story and before The Sound of Music, Robert Wise directed this beautifully shot (in black and white) horror movie, based on a Shirley Jackson novel. A paranormal investigator (Richard Johnson) pays a visit to the mansion called “Hill House” in order to determine if ghosts really exist there. He is accompanied by the heir to the house (Russ Tamblyn, father of poet/actress/local hero Amber), along with a pair of “sensitives,” one played by Julie Harris, in full-on space cadet mode. Like Rosemary’s Baby and The Blair Witch Project, the film uses suggestion to create an atmosphere at once claustrophobic and deeply uncanny. This really is a story where “things go bump in the night,” often at high volume, though one brief, nearly silent scene near the end is the scariest thing in the movie. If the resolution of the film’s loose ends risks banality, it doesn’t erase the effectiveness of the filmmaking that came before it. Instead, it affirms one of the main reasons we go to horror movies: We often prefer mystery to the truth. [Friday through Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

(Published in the current print edition of The District.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Sonny Sharrock

[Thanks, Jay!]

Monday, October 5, 2009

Word of the Day [2]

'Be slow at first in permitting your passionate beliefs to surface; they will be pummeled on the surface of someone else's thought.' ('green shoots' in forces of imagination)

- Barbara Guest (via Sarah G.)

Word of the Day

My parents were awesome.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

House on Haunted Hill

75 min. | Dir. William Castle | NR

There are few better ways to prepare for Halloween than by spending time with Vincent "Thriller" Price, who stars in this gleefully ridiculous movie, directed by huckster auteur William Castle, a filmmaker who used to drive from town to town and rig up the theatres showing his movies for a truly interactive experience. For The Tingler he wired selected seats to electrically jolt moviegoers at key “boo!” moments. This movie, Haunted Hill, featured a climax where a skeleton came toward the camera and then magically burst through the screen to fly over the audience’s heads1. (Don’t expect the Bay to reproduce this effect: it requires destroying the screen.) Vincent Price plays a mad millionaire with a bombshell of an unfaithful wife (his fourth!), who invites assorted broadly drawn characters to a party at the titular house, promising $10,000 to each guest who makes it through the night without fleeing, or getting murdered. They arrive to the party in hearses. What else do you want from a movie? (Saturday through Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) //CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published in the current print edition of The District.]

1. I wrote a poem called "Halloween" that includes this particular episode from cinema history.

Purple Rain

111 min. | dir. Albert Magnoli | Rated R

In the 80s, when Prince was a major commercial force, someone decided he should star in the movies. It’s an old story, as any Elvis or 50 Cent fan can tell you: The young man who electrifies the stage when before the mic becomes dull as toast in front of the camera. Prince at least maintains some of his mystique in this picture, the best of those he made, by keeping relatively quiet and letting his entertainingly loquacious co-star Morris Day do most of the (jive) talking. While it’s not a great movie, it’s got great music and loads of period detail for nostalgia trippers or anyone else wanting to know what the movies thought Minneapolis during the Reagan Years looked like. As for the plot, like most musicals, there’s not much to tell: Prince stars as The Kid, an aspiring musician competing with his past and a rival for success in life and love—you know, the American Dream. (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.) //CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published in The District, August 2009]

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Action Alert

When you have an hour, listen to this.

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

84 min. | Dir. Sam Raimi | Rated R

I saw the first Evil Dead at a friend’s house when I was a kid, and it scared me cock-eyed. The story of five co-eds going to a cabin in the woods (yes, yes, it’s a trope) who then fight and/or become possessed by evil spirits was shot on the cheap and, for someone who hadn’t grown up on indie movies, was all the scarier for it. It was like watching cinema verité. Because of this terror I refused to watch the sequel—essentially a higher budget remake of the original—until I was an adult. What I feared would haunt my dreams turned out to be a live action Chuck Jones cartoon. The anything-goes ethos of the movie results in the most comedic (and copious) bloodletting one could (or could not) imagine, precipitated by, among other creepies, an undead succubus, a killer severed hand, maniacal trees, and a giant, human-eating head sprouting the heads of the humans it’s eaten. Oh, and a liberal use of a chainsaw. Star Bruce Campbell—he of the iron jaw and broad acting chops—is tossed around like Wile E. Coyote and filmed in a surreal, off-kilter, just barely slowed down camera speed. The whole thing feels like a funhouse more than a nightmare. It is, in a word, groovy. (Friday, Mondo Celluloid at the Art Theatre.) //CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Publised last week in The District.]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

90 min. | Dir. Tim Burton | Rated PG

In recent years, Tim Burton’s palette seems to have shrunk to two clashing tones: pall and sheen. Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd represent the former, while Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory represent the latter. The tones cover everything, especially the charm of the source material, like someone who tells all stories in one of two ill-fitting inflections. It wasn’t always so, as a brief perusal of his early movies reveals. These were elastic models of visual wit and verbal economy, celebrating pop-trash culture like the neighbor who goes all-out at Halloween, making his yard into a funhouse for trick-or-treaters to get a little scared in when not laughing in delight. The first of his feature films, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, follows the titular boy-man on a quest to recover his stolen bicycle. Each new chapter of adversity he greets with single-mindedness and a sense of play—witness his look of innocent excitement when he dresses up as the girl of a prison escapee in order to fool the cops at a road block. (The comedy represents the rarest of movie miracles: it's both good-natured and very funny.) Pee-Wee’s nemesis is, on the surface, the same kind of person as him: a boy stuck in a man’s body. But like the earlier and later Tim Burton, there’s a key distinction: one is the embodment of childlike wonder and imagination, the other is stuck in a state of arrested development. (At Mondo Celluloid Friday July 17.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Written for, but, due to space limitations, cut from a July issue of The District Weekly.]

Action Alert

Go to this show. It is curated by my friend Dan Callis and features his son, my salon collaborator Ryan Callis. It also includes a number of important L.A. artists, including two others who have participated in our salon. I will be going to the opening.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Hard Day's Night

87 min. | Dir. Richard Lester | Rated G

Just in time for Rock Band Beatles comes your chance to experience the charming lads in their first, large-scale (albeit single-platform) multi-media presentation. When puzzling over the longevity of this band, this movie’s not a bad place to start: From the beginning, the quality of the Beatles’ work, not just in the music but in the publicity machine accompanying it, comes through. The film is shot in a New Wave-inspired black and white that still looks crisp and stylish, and since the songs have never left the airwaves, the soundtrack speaks a modern vernacular everyone knows. The “plot” follows a semi-fictionalized Beatles as they travel by train from Liverpool to London for a performance, occasionally being chased around by hordes of screaming girls. There are several proto-music videos, lots of amusingly arch British dialogue, and the rare sight of young pop stars not acting like morons. When, after they broke up, Lennon would sing, “The dream is over,” this is partly what he meant: That brief time when the innocence of teen longing coincided with an uncynically marketed product perfectly tailored to suit it. It may have been untrue, but it remains a lovely dream. [At the Bay in Seal Beach, Sat. 9/12 – Wed. 9/16.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published last week in the print edition of The District Weekly.]

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

103 min. | dir. John Hughes | Rated PG

I remember reading somewhere that, really, Ferris Bueller’s a big jerk who, when he grows up, will become an even bigger jerk: He lies, he wrecks property, he leads his friends down the wayward path, he torments idiots, and so forth. But everyone wants to be the kid who does whatever he wants and is loved by everyone else for it, whether you’re ditching school for a Cubs game where the scoreboard frets for your well-being, or springing your girlfriend from math class by posing as her father, or commandeering a float, and an entire parade, in downtown Chicago to lip sync to the Beatles. The movie may be dated by pegged pants and Jennifer Grey, but its fantasy of responsibility-free privilege remains potent, perhaps more so in recession-addled 2009. It’s not always as funny or as hip as it thinks it is, and Ferris may or may not have turned into the kind of man who invented credit default swaps, but when, early in the film, he addresses the camera (and therefore you) to describe his problems, you feel in league with him. You’ll follow him anywhere. This particular showing is billed as a tribute to the late John Hughes, efficient deliverer of ‘80s teenage pathos. (Friday at 11:55pm, Mondo Celluloid at the Art Theatre.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published in the print edition of The District Weekly September, 2009.]


124 min. | Dir. Steven Spielberg | Rated PG

I’m sorry kids, but the news is bad: rising ocean acidity is exacerbating the effects of global warning, collapsing fisheries threaten world food supplies, and our California sand is laced with fecal contamination. So let’s embody that bad news in a metaphor—in, say, a Great White Shark—that thrills and disgusts with its senseless killing of oblivious pleasure-seekers before yielding to the hunt of three men embodying science, law, and intuition, respectively. We can face our fears and master them, just like we’ll do with the planet we’re trashing! Of course, it’s not that tidy, though one of the cinema’s functions is to distract us from that fact. This movie is no exception, and I nerdily insist it be seen on the big screen. I grew up with it on t.v., but not till I was immersed in the dark of the theater, my ears awash in the amazing soundtrack (the music, certainly, along with other evocative sounds, like the gurgling of a man being devoured alive), did I really see it. Boy, that Spielberg knew—and sometimes still does know—how to play an audience, even one not yet afraid of the briny depths and the horrors therein. [Friday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica; for a depressing lesson in capitalism at its most cynical, stick around for the rest of the triple feature: Jaws 2 & 3.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published in the print edition of The District Weekly August, 2009.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why We Suck

In a conversation I recently had w/ a pair of conservatives1--one a social conservative, the other a fiscal, free-marketer--both complained about the ways environmentalists have weakened their liberties, undermined the republic, etc., etc.. They were met with this response from me: "What are you complaining about? The environmentalists are losing, are losing badly, and have been losing, since the movement was born!" Exhibit A, from the Times:

Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.

Environmental groups say the number of Clean Water Act violations has increased significantly in the last decade. Comprehensive data go back only five years but show that the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act grew more than 16 percent from 2004 to 2007, the most recent year with complete data.

Polluters include small companies, like gas stations, dry cleaners, shopping malls and the Friendly Acres Mobile Home Park in Laporte, Ind., which acknowledged to regulators that it had dumped human waste into a nearby river for three years.

They also include large operations, like chemical factories, power plants, sewage treatment centers and one of the biggest zinc smelters, the Horsehead Corporation of Pennsylvania, which has dumped illegal concentrations of copper, lead, zinc, chlorine and selenium into the Ohio River. Those chemicals can contribute to mental retardation and cancer.

Some violations are relatively minor. But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in “significant noncompliance” — meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments by state officials. And the E.P.A. has often declined to prosecute polluters or force states to strengthen their enforcement by threatening to withhold federal money or take away powers the agency has delegated to state officials.

1. I regret using the term "conservatives" here, b/c it automatically sets up an opposition between myself and these two men. Though I don't self-describe as "conservative," much of what these persons believe I agree with. Unfortunately, my post unintendedly contributes to the reductionist rhetorical climate we find ourselves in in this country. I should have just included the Times excerpt under the "Why We Suck" heading, but it seemed important to me to make this point about environmentalism: that, as a movement, it doesn't have a whole lot to show for all its valiant efforts. Despite some heartening (and small) victories, too much stands against ecological preservation and stewardship.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To no one in particular...

...I am the sun and air...

For Long Beach alt newspaper The District Weekly, I've been writing short little reviews of movies in revival in the Long Beach, Seal Beach, greater L.A. and O.C. region. Since the reviews are not available online, I'll be posting them here, starting way back with my first one, which came out late spring. If I can figure out how to footnote them, I'll be adding those as well, since 150 words (roughly) ends up being too few to say anything worth saying about anything. [If I could, I'd put a footnote here and say that that's crap, as more people--I'm looking at you in the mirror, buddy--should really, really, say much, much less. I think there ought to be a daily word budget, like money on a phone card, where each of us is only allowed to utter or write something like 5,000 words before the vocal cords or finger joints fall out.]

Why We Suck

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

- Upton Sinclair, by way of Paul Krugman

Unconscionable Rant

The last Replacements tour was, if recollection serves, opening for Tom Petty. This was around the time of the Jeff Lynne produced Petty albums (w/ "Freefalling," et. al.)--all sanded off, sheeny edges, inoffensively authentic pop. At the end of that tour, Petty released a new album, featuring the single "Into the Great Wide Open," the chorus of which celebrated (or lamented? mocked?) the central character, a "rebel without a clue." Nice turn of phrase, no? Except that it was maddening to hear on the miserable radio. Two or so years before, the last Mats song to get any play was "I'll Be You," featuring this very phrase, Paul Westerberg being known for taking cliches and making them new, mostly by his own sense of desperation. Some examples:

God, what a mess, on the ladder of success
Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung
- Bastards of the Young


Well a person can work up a mean mean thirst
after a hard day of nothin' much at all
- Here Comes a Regular


Heartaches, on your wedding day
double takes when they look my way
knees quake, there ain't a shotgun in the place
you like the frosting, you just bought the cake
your eyes can't fake you're still in love with nobody
and I won't tell nobody
- Nobody (The last great Mats song)

I know: Talent borrows, genius steals. I find Tom Petty pleasant enough, but not quite genius (except maybe at marketing), so when I came across this song--or do still, on classic rock outlets, uggh--I'm reminded of my beef w/ Petty. Let it therefore be known. This has bothered me for decades. Hooray for the internet!

Word of the Day: What Are Songs?

"It's terrible, but I guess songs are just interesting things to do with the air."

- Mistah Waits

"This Woman's Work"

For a certain kind of American the song's all allusion--a vague and dreamlike Kevin Bacon kept from the hospital room where his wife suffers complications from childbirth, sliced up by flashbacks from the previous ninety minutes--that prevents him from hearing it. He looks in the mirror to see a grown up Breakfast Clubber feeling still like a teenager. But one day he, too, will be forced into maturity by the near death of a beloved: just like a sophomore's short story.

Outside of She's Having a Baby (and at high volume) the song has fewer site-specific, and more overwhelming, effects. Like the tide overtaking the sand, the song gathers force by washing into ear canals, first airily (foamily?), then with density, tide-like, in waves, the last the most powerful, a congregation of Kates floating on piano deluge and synthesizer, submerging ears, a concentration of tears the singer says she cannot shed. Then it retreats. Listen in headphones to see what I mean.

"I should be crying but I just can't let it show. I should be hoping but I can't stop thinking." Aside from intimations of vague relationship breach and the bracing pleasure of being bereft, the subject matter is never clear. The meaning is.