Friday, September 30, 2005

9/30/55 at 50

It's appropriate (for me) that I'm putting together what textbooks I'd like to teach for my upcoming class on movie stars because it's 50 years today that James Dean etched his permanent place among the Hollywood firmament by crashing his Porsche Spyder and dying. Not necessarily a great actor nor one with a tremendous range, Dean was only in three features: East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause and Giant. The 50th anniversary of the release of Rebel, his most iconic film (and, hokey as it is today, one of my very favorites -- the image above features him and the also-doomed-in-real-life Natalie Wood), will be in three days. Dean's beyond-intense acting style, paired with a man-boy look (and an ambiguously sexual sensuality) that epitomized unsure adolescence (a concept just emerging in the 50s), changed (along with Brando and Clift) what it meant not only to be a leading man in the movies -- but what it meant to be an American man to begin with. It was OK for boys to cry and to still become men (as I assured my son this morning, when he got his third and final quadruple vaccine). Indeed, we can credit Dean partially for "sensitive new-age kinda guys" like myself. Dean's death was mourned by millions of confused adolescents and the date was etched in desktops and put on t-shirts by the thousands.

(The irony here? I am utterly fascinated by Dean and his star image -- and be that as it may, I think I'm actually going to forego him for the class and screen Red River so I can get the two-fer of man's man John Wayne and girly-man Montgomery Clift.)

Anyway, we miss ya, Jimmy -- even guys like me who are too young to have ever been directly affected by you, even if your death assured that you wouldn't become the old, sad, obese caricature that your contemporary pioneer Brando has become.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I think that I shall never see/A billboard as lovely as a tree

(Ogden Nash)

As I mentioned the other day, a very large tree branch fell off the other day, injuring a student. Somehow, it didn't dawn on me that the entire tree would be taken down -- a gorgeous old shade tree under which it was very nice to have lunch or read. Indeed, we took a family picture of sorts (with me in my robes) at the last AU graduation under the tree. Of course, if the branches are snapping off in such a willy-nilly fashion, it probably had to go. Still, there is something that makes me sad when I walk into work and see a big tree like that cut down, reminscent of either The Giving Tree or The Virgin Suicides. It makes me wistful, nostalgic.

(Then again, the ensuing stump will probably make a great platform from which to speak at today's student protest concerning the presidential follies set to happen today.)

Little Boy Blue

"These shoes sure are yummy!" Posted by Picasa
Gosh, but doesn't he look like a little boy here? Angela and I keep marveling at how less like a baby he looks and how more like a little guy he's becoming. Of course, this first attempt at both pants and shoes helps a bit, not that he can walk quite yet or anything. But the attempts at crawling are progressing: he can now both lift his head up with his hands and lift his butt up with his feet. All he has to figure out is how to do that at the same time. And then I should probably teach him how to shave and all.
Believe me, I don't want him to walk quite yet. Because rather than that being a godsend because he can totter after me, I know quite well that this will only mean that I will have to run after him -- and that once I get him, I'll still have to carry him. (My father is undoubtedly cackling in revenge now, since I faked being asleep in the car so that he would carry me out until I was almost 12.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fasten your seat belts, boys, it's gonna be a bumpy ride

So here's what happened on campus this afternoon, in about the space of two hours:

  1. Walking out of my 2:10 class, my TA Nora and I notice that there are a huge bunch of people on the Quad. I say to Nora, "What's going on? Is there a demonstration?" (See #2 for why I might have thought this.) Another student who was going by in the other direction overheard me and said, "Tree branch." Indeed, the very large tree in front of my office building had a very large branch toward the top fall right off. And, since it was during the changeover between classes, someone was hit. Taken away in an ambulance, but thank goodness it was only one person.
  2. At 4:00, the entire AU faculty met to discuss the current situation concerning AU President Ben Ladner, blown open earlier this week in a Washington Post story (emailed to me by two alumni within five minutes of each other). I would rather not comment in this kind of public forum concerning my personal response to the issue -- but I will say that I agree with my colleagues at the College of Arts and Sciences and the decision we have all come to. (You AU folk who read my blog are welcome to email me if you'd like to know my opinion -- off the record, natch, for you journalists...) UPDATE: It appears the story is already out at the Post, so now you know what I think. :)
  3. Leaving the front of the building with my colleague Eric, we passed the remnants of the fallen tree. We then saw a a fire truck out on Nebraska Avenue. I joked to Eric, "Did your car spontaneously combust again?" He said, "You know, it's possible!" I assumed it had something to do with the tree or something -- and then we saw the blown-out windows of a Reston limousine bus, which had indeed burned up and blown apart. I still have no idea whether said bus was, in fact, heading toward DHS (which is only a block away) but all of Nebraska Avenue got shut down right during rush hour.

All sorts of craziness. At least it finally rained after a month of dryness!

(Tomorrow: More Xan's pics!)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Rita, are you decent?"

"Who, me?" Posted by Picasa

I mean, what more do you want from me? I talked about you extensively in class the other day, even showing a selection from Gilda. I'm even considering adopting a textbook in order to do a whole unit on you next semester. And yet, you still choose to threaten the Texan coast, threatening poor Houston where the other Middents academic (and all of his family, including my closely listening blogging nephew) had been before they fled to College Station today.

Enough is enough, Rita. You once said, "My problem is that men have always gone to bed with Gilda and woken up to me." Well, Rita, how about this time you leave quickly and quietly in the middle of the night instead?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Little 50 (Per) Cent

It's September 20th, which marks my late abuelita Susana's birthday. More to the point, however, my little boy is six months old!

Happy 1/2-Birthday, Alexander!!!

In case you're wondering, we celebrated by introducing sweet potatoes into the diet today, following the successful introduction over the last two weeks of butternut squash and papilla. (Mmm, papilla.) We're trying to decide if to follow this with peas, carrots...or actually take a dive into uncharted fruit terrain with apples or bananas.

We also celebrated by supplementing his favorite afternoon activity: watching traffic. Today, someone must have known that Xan wanted something exciting, because a nasty three-car accident happened kitty-corner to our house (!). No one was hurt, but our street was closed for over two hours during rush hour, with the cops taking lots of pictures and dusting for prints, so methinks that perhaps there was more to this crash than we thought. Nonetheless, the police cars, policemen, police dogs and halted traffic (until they closed the street down) provided much excitement for a little six-month-old brain.

My kid is half a year old! Where did the time go?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

MmmBop til you drop (some change)

Just a few days ago, my nephew posted on his blog some musings about Hanson, the band that gave the world "MmmBop." ("My thoughts are as follows: Yep, Still gay. Gay and out of tune, at that.")

How amusing then to find that the very same song was in the news, at least in the DC rag Express, being used as a torture device in induce high school students to give money for Katrina relief efforts.

Joel, I think you may have found a new punishment mechanism for your daughter, waaaay more effective than any old time-out.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Today's lesson: Some food is a little too solid

Mmmm... plastic... Posted by Picasa
As you can see here, X-Man has entered the realm of solid food. He does not yet seem to understand, however, that hard plastic is not exactly solid food. While it is solid, it is not food. The same goes for my shoulder and the plastic part of the backpack contraption. Clearly, he has misunderstood me and has now learned, and I'm sure tomorrow he won't try to ingest my entire hand or anything else that comes remotely near his mouth.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Toto, I don't think we're in N'awlins anymore...

I’ve been to New Orleans three times. The last time was for the MLA conference in 2002, where I had some fun with friends from grad school and had two interviews for jobs that eventually didn’t call me back. A good time with great food because Nirmala had lived in NOLA, but that’s not how I remember the town.

No, the way I remember the city is from my first trip, which was a doozy. The Dartmouth College Glee Club goes every year on tour somewhere in the United States, drumming up alumni support and basically having a good time. Tour is one of the reasons I stayed in the group (mainly because I usually didn’t have any better plans for spring break), so when I graduated in 1993 and discovered that our director, Louis, wasn’t planning a new tour, I was outraged. “How do you expect to keep the freshmen in this group? We need to build the camaraderie, and tour does that!” I told him. “Well,” he said to me, “who’s going to be tour manager – you?”

And so it was that I became tour manager for the 1994 DCGC Spring Break tour through the southeastern United States, where we went to Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. And in the process, we went through Louisiana, even stopping in Monroe, the hometown of our bus driver, for a picnic lunch. We had a free day in New Orleans, however. This gave me some trepidation because (a) I was in charge of everyone, (b) we had a large number of freshmen, and (c) the drinking age in NOLA is 18. Recipe for disaster, I thought. I remember thinking, You know what? I don’t want to babysit these kids, I’m going to have fun by myself. I ended up pairing off with Rick Owen (who apparently is now a conductor himself now) and Itir Sayin and Itir and I made it our mission to find a good place to dance.

After strolling up and down Bourbon Street for a while, we eventually found this great place called Oz. There was no cover and the music was great. We both went in, hit the dance floor for a little while and had a great time. I told Itir, “We need to tell the rest of the group and come here!”

We were to meet the rest of the Glee Club for beignets at the-place-where-you-get-beignets (I can’t remember right now the name), and immediately upon arrival told the rest of the group about the great place we found. Not everyone wanted to dance, but a large group did, so Itir and I happily led this group of about 20-25 college kids down the street to Oz, perhaps even humming “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

Upon arrival, we discover two things:

  1. There is now a guy at the door charging an entrance fee; and,
  2. There is a sign that reads, in capital letters, THIS IS A GAY BAR.

“I swear, that wasn’t there before,” I say to the somewhat shocked group. Not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-this, but this is after all the Dartmouth College Glee Club, which would hardly admit the fact that there were any gay members until at least three months after graduation.

“Was that there before?” someone said, pointing to the dancers on the bar wearing nothing but thongs with dollar bills sticking out.

“No,” I say, unconvincingly.

Undeterred, Itir and I go in anyway and have a great time.

Interestingly enough, this experience helped me for the only other time I went to New Orleans, for the first academic conference I ever went to, a Latin American film conference at Tulane. My first presentation was embarrassingly bad on many levels, but I remember getting adopted for a while by this group of gay Latin American film scholars who were looking for something to do one night. (They thought my Peruvian Spanish was cute as I would spoke it on the streetcar. Oddly enough, I was young and clueless and had no idea that they were gay, nor that two of them were hitting on me.) We ended up going to Lucky Chang’s, notable for its fusion of Cajun and Chinese cuisine… and its waitstaff consisting entirely of drag queens. (I remember watching a waiter stroking an older gentleman’s hand while reciting the desserts, with the gentleman’s wife attempting to refrain from laughing at the fact that her husband had no idea that a man was stroking his hand.) After dinner, they were looking for something to do and I remembered Oz was down the street. I had a great time dancing with Carmelo, the one guy who wasn’t desperately trying to get me into bed and the only one of the three whose name I still even remember. (And no, you dirty-minded people, Carmelo and I didn’t hook up either; both of us were taken at the time and respected the other’s relationship. I think this is why I’m still friends with him.)

So there you go. Some of my best memories of Nawlins revolve around a gay discotheque. Which I saw on TV the other day, if I'm not mistaken, shown as an example of a place that had been looted.

Friday, September 09, 2005

And the best part is that you have to spray it on yourself

Yes, I'm posting this during the telethon for Katrina victims, serious enough that we're watching it on PBS.

And yet, I find in Entertainment Weekly mention of a new male fragrance I just have to find out about. Indeed, apparently there will soon be an entire beauty care line, so that all us guys can share in the experience of Cumming all over our bodies.

(I can't wait to read your comments on this. Please. Indulge me. Especially Russell, whose own blog never fails to entertain.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

TFF, Day 4+: Closing Conversations

It's late and I've been up since 3:30am MST in transit, but I did want to get notice about one more movie in. We managed to stick around just long enough for the first night of the After-the-Fest Fest. I almost stayed for Fateless, a stylish meditation on the Holocaust, but decided that perhaps I wanted my Festival experience to end on a high note. Unexpectedly, Conversations with Other Women turned out to be a fun and breezy, yet contemplative way to end the festival. Starring Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter as two late-thirtysomethings who meet at a wedding, the movie is witty and light until after it has already taken a couple of interesting turns and then it's way too late: you're sucked in. It's also done enitrely with a split screen. When I heard about this, I thought, "Egad, what a tired gimmick," but it turned out to be very effective, particularly when the image would momentarily shift from what the character was doing to what s/he was thinking. A fascinating flick, and a great way to end.

Back to everyday life and my adorable, sweet little kid with the beginnings of a tooth sticking out. Amazing, that kid is.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

TFF, Days 3 & 4: Festival of the Bs (and, When the Parents Are Away...)

The festival is officially over, although we'll get to watch two more films at the After-the-Fest fest tonight. As you may be able to tell from a lack of entry yesterday, things were pretty hectic ovr the past couple days. In full, my favorite film remains the Singaporean film Be with Me. That said, there were still plenty of fun thigns to see. Here's a recap of what I saw, in the order that I saw them:
  • I saw another of the Eugene Green films, but my second experience wasn't as good as the first. Green's style, which I liked for the highly entertaining modern-day fairy tale Le monde vivant I found far less effective with his most recent film, Le pont des arts. I wondered after seeing the first film whether his style would work with a more urban setting and a more "realistic" narrative; ironically, I found it less effective than the parable. Then again, I could be wrong: many other people I respected loved it.
  • Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (snarkily called by some passholders Bareback Mounting)was a really beautiful adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story, although I found it a bit long. Then again, Proulx's economy of words is hard to dictate in film. Gorgeously shot by Rodrigo Prieto, the film is a love story between two cowboys and the Alberta mountainside that stands in for Wyoming. (If you're a South Park fan, you may be amused if I tell you that everyone here was saying, "But there was no pudding!") I could never really get over the fact that Jake Gyllenhal looked like the budding movie-star that he is; Heath Ledger, however, is completely unrecognizable in the role and deserves some recognition for it. And oh yeah: the sex is violent, just like in the story.
  • My good friend Pam Chandran told us we had to see Spirit of the Beehive yesterday morning, an allegorical film by Spanish director Victor Erice from the 60s. My manager asked me to tell her what it meant afterward. I said, "You know, I think this is the 4th Spanish civil-war oriented allegorical film that I've seen and I always think they're so beautiful and so deeply allegorical that I never get it." We may think twice now about taking Pam's advice, even if she was my rush chair.
  • Labor Day Picnic followed. Mmmmm, steak. Mmmmm, ice cream.
  • But I didn't stay long because I was running up for a gondola ride to the Chuck Jones Theatre to see two films in a row. The first was the other silent film at the festival Anthony Asquith's A Cottage on Dartmoor. An interesting little thriller that involved an attempted murder a la Sweeney Todd (sans meat pies), the real stunner was the amazing piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne (who occasionally accompanied his own piano with flute and/or plucking the inside of the piano). Really, a great experience.
  • Contributing to my "festival of the bees," I stayed up at the Chuck for Bee Season, the new film by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the guys behind Suture and The Deep End. Some of my students may know that I loooooove The Deep End, so I was really excited to see this. I liked it, but I'll have to sit on it for a while. It was not as tightly structured as their other films, but perhaps this is because it's an adaptation. The acting is really quite good, though, particularly Flora Cross as the young girl. I have no idea how they're going to market this one, though; hopefully it'll still find an audience.
  • I ran down to see the Palestinean film Paradise Now, though I only was able to catch the last half hour or so. I will have to check this out when it gets released (which it apparently will). It seemed both powerful (as you would expect a film about suicide bombers to be) and gorgeously shot.
  • Finally, our theater closed with a documentary called Sisters in Law, about Muslim women in Cameroon fighting for their own justice. It's always fun to see a doc sans voice-over, in my opinion, and most people really enjoyed it. Must remember to tell Pat Aufderheide about this one for the Center for Social Media.
Missed at the festival, though I wanted to see them: Everything Is Illuminated, Hidden, Capote, Three Times, Live and Become, all the Mickey Rooney films and (ironically, the only Latin American oriented feature) The Lost City. Nonetheless, a good year.

The trend through most of the films I did see, however, was "the word." In many of these films, the main argument revolved around the use and power of the word: Bee Season, Sisters in Law, Be with Me, both of the Green films, and even A Cottage on Dartmoor, where a missed note provides a misunderstanding that nearly leads to murder, all had this in common.

Up tonight: Conversations with Other Women and Fateless, though we may only see one of these.

The more amazing thing, however: we called Linda this morning to see how she and Xan were doing and discovered that, in the few days we've been away, our little boy has hit a milestone: his first tooth, which emerged yesterday with little fanfare and a lot of drool. We can't wait to see it... although let's just say that Angela is looking to the first meal back with just a little trepidation.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

TFF, Day 2.5: On Chang and Theresa Chan

This is the first chance I've gotten since yesterday morning and there's been a bunch of film watching going on. First, the stuff that didn't thrill me at all. I had to work two films -- The President's Last Bang, about the last hours before the Korean president was assassinated in the 70s, and Lemming, a French thriller-romance-oddity starring festival tributee Charlotte Rampling -- both of which underwhelmed me at best, made me think why some art films are useless at worst. That said, I've had an amazing other experience withfour other films I've seen.

First up, my Kong festival continued with a double feature of Chang and I Am King Kong. The first was a silent film dramatizing the life of a family in Siam, directed by the same pair that directed King Kong. Seeing this earlier film, the character of Carl Denham was obviously close to home for director Mairen Cooper. All the scenes of natives shooting the tigers (and the conspicuous absence of an ASPCA statement saying "no animals were harmed in the making ofthis picture) made me a little queasy; that said, the movie featured some extraordinary filmmaking with wild close-ups of both an elephant stampede and a growling tiger. Plus, it was accompanied by the always amazing Alloy Orchestra, which is why I went in the first place. The rain kept me inside, however, to see the documentary on Cooper that followed and wow, what a lifethat man had. It turns out that indeed Denham's character is all about Cooper, who was Indiana Jones with a camera before there was Indiana Jones. If nothing else, the audio interviews with Cooper provided the most colorful uses of the word "goddamn" (and the most frequent usage) that I've heard since my dad used to hit his head on our low basement when I was a kid. It will accompany the November DVD release of King Kong, so check it out.

This morning, I saw two interesting films. The first was Le monde vivant, part of a three-film retrospective of French director Eugene Green that the festival is putting on. It's very stylized and yet features some simple filmmaking related closely to innocence and myth. I think some of the audience found it silly, but I found it utterly charming. I just got out of an Iranian film called The Iron Island, clearly a parable about hopelessness among the unprivileged in Iran where a rusting ship stands in for the country as a whole. The ending left me a little unsatisfied, but thinking.

Finally -- and this will disappoint Jen Lien, although I'm hoping she will comment on what she knows -- my favorite film of the festival so far was the Singaporean Be with Me that I was hoping to get into when I wrote yesterday. Mesmerizing: so much so that I traded shifts with Angela to ensure that she could see it this morning. With very little dialogue and an almost still camera, the film is a lovely slow boil that becomes totally engrossing when we start putting everything together. It features an amazing performance from Theresa Chan, a blind and deaf woman who nonetheless learned how to speak (speak! audially articulate!) English even after both disabilities developed. It's a heartbreaker -- and you'll be surprised if I say that none of the sad parts involve her, but rather the other three characters that are revolving around one another. Interesting uses of language and just gorgeous cinematography. In my mind, it ranks up in festival fare with 2000's Yi Yi (by Edward Yang) which became a festival favorite by word of mouth. Indeed, I haven't talked to a single person who has seenthe film who didn't totally love it.

On the parental front: yes, I am being a bad father in that I hadthe cell phone all day yesterday and by the time I realized I should call, it was way too late. We called Linda this mroning, however, and the little boy is having the time of his life. We keep seeing lots of babies around here though, which makes us think we should have brought him. We'll see what happens next year.

Up for possibility this afternoon is Brokeback Mountain which, surprisingly, was announced to show in our theater this evening.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

TFF: Day 1 - The 800 lb. gorilla

There are a whole bunch of iMacs around the festival, thanks to Apple's sponsorship this year, so I'm actually able to offer a quick update. (This is also because I just found out that the movie I wanted to see, Andy Garcia's directorial debut The Lost City was sold out. I expected this, so no big deal, although I hope to catch it during the festival. It is an adaptation of Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Three Trapped Tigers and therefore might be appropriate should I teach my course on the Boom again. Right now, my attempt to see it justifies the price of my ticket as a legitimate tax write-off, so there we go.) We've also connected up immediately with the Dartmouth/Alpha Theta crew, which is fab.

There is not much to say right now, other than we are slowly remembering that we are over a mile above sea level and that running up stairs is a bad idea. The weather is pretty good though: typical Telluride with a mix of sun and clouds and the chance of thunderstorms all day. Thankfully, no snow this year (yet). Angela and I both now seem to be no longer considered newbies at our theater, which is a good feeling too.

There are some big-name films at the festival (Everything Is Illuminated, Brokeback Mountain, etc.) but one quickly learns at this festival to avoid the big box films, at least right away, and head for more esoteric fare. The theater that we work at is perfect for this: the Mason's Hall is small, intimate and clearly has the most eclectic program.

So far, we've only seen one film, but it was a beaut: King Kong. No, not the new one by Peter Jackson. This was the old one, with Fay Wray and the special effects that inspired Harryhausen. I hadn't seen the whole thing before, and certainly not from such a beautiful 35mm print, so I was thrilled. Poor Kong: he fights off all sorts of beasts (dinosaurs, snakes, pterodactyls, racially stereotyped natives, Hollywood producers) and the girl is totally unappreciative in the end. I mean, really, what's a guy gotta do?

Next attempt: a Singaporean flick called Be with Me. Not sure if I'll get into that, but we'll see.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Sorry for the lack of updates of late -- beginning of semester business already draggin' me down. And now, I'm heading out of town with Angela to Telluride for FilmFest. Update perhaps throughout, definitely when we get back.

Feel free to guess the ratio between film watching enjoyment and baby missing blues.