Monday, November 27, 2006

Thank you, LOC!!!

This is wonderful news -- now all I need is the time to actually make the clip discs...

From the Associated Press (via the Hollywood Reporter) --

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Copyright Office has rejected an exemption that would have allowed owners of DVDs to legally copy movies for use on Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod and other music players.

But film professors now have the right to copy snippets from DVDs for educational compilations, the Copyright Office said Wednesday...

The exemption granted to film professors authorizes the breaking of the CSS copy-protection technology found in most DVDs. Programs to do so circulate widely on the Internet, though it has been illegal to use or distribute them.

The professors said they need the ability to create compilations of DVD snippets to teach their classes -- for example, taking portions of old and new cartoons to study how animation has evolved. Such compilations are generally permitted under "fair use" provisions of copyright law, but breaking the locks to make the compilations has been illegal.

Hollywood studios have argued that educators could turn to videotapes and other versions without the copy protections, but the professors argued that DVDs are of higher quality and may preserve the original colors or dimensions that videotapes lack.

"The record did not reveal any alternative means to meet the pedagogical needs of the professors," Billington wrote.

Next donation: bone marrow

We have already given money to our local NPR station. This year, we also donated our old car, thinking that we weren't going to get any money for it if we tried to sell it (and at auction, as it turns out, it went for three times what we thought we would get for it! woohoo! tax deduction!). I am now beginning to believe that NPR is just wants more and more from me than, quite frankly, is even legal.

This morning, you see, I realized that NPR has secretly been going through my CD collection for relatively obscure music selections to play as outtros for the news reports.

I mean, really, I was tickled that they selected the beginning of The Cure's "The Kiss" for "appropriate music" for reflection on the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. (I'm glad they didn't go for "Killing an A-rab"...) But who else has heard of St. Germain's "So Flute," a peppy little quasi-techno piece?

I suppose I should just wait a few years until I am no longer the perfect demographic for NPR. Or perhaps a better security system may be in order. My cat is clearly not doing a good enough job of keeping the NPR music director trolls out of my stash in the middle of the night.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Why this household buys Kleenex at Costco

The bad news is that the Middents-Dadak household is heading down the path again of the interminable cold. Mom and Dad have been staving things off with Tylenol Cold and Sinus formula (mmm, goooood drugs...) while Xan is, alas, still relegated to infant formula drops. This also means that, rather than going to the zoo on this most gloriously warm of November Saturdays, Xan spent most of the afternoon asleep and feverish on Dada's chest, with both Middents boys still pajama'd at 4PM.

The good news? Xan's flexing of new-found vocabulary skills may have finally come in handy. Cries of "Wipe! Wipe! Wipe! Nooooose" have been heard throughout the house as he chases after us, instead of us chasing after him to make sure snot doesn't go everywhere. He still hasn't quite figured out that he can, of course, wipe his own nose with the blanket he has in his hand, but we can work on that.

On a similar note, Xan's cold really must have started last night, since he was still babbling away at close to 11:30PM, almost 4 1/2 hours after he had been put to bed. He usually babbles at who-knows-what for about half an hour or so before nodding off, but this was ridiculous. I finally thought I should tell him to go to sleep and walked into his room with a stern expression (akin to Willow Rosenberg's "resolve face"). But then, all of a sudden, a little face with wide eyes turned to me and very clearly said, "Helloooooo!" It was all I could to do not to crack up right then and there. (This, by the way, was repeated only 20 minutes later with Angela, except then he cheerily said, "Hi!") Even with snot, the kid cracks me up.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Daddy's budding metrosexual

Particularly at this time of year, Xan's (and my) skin gets a little dry, so we've been trying to be better about rubbing lotion on him before he goes to bed. About a week ago, I noticed that after I squeeze some lotion into my hand, Xan has insisted on getting a dab onto a finger, then immediately puts it into his hair. I have found this more amusing than frustrating.

The other night, Angela saw this happen. I said, "I don't know why he does that." And she replied, "Oh, simple. He's seen you squeeze hair gel into your hand and rub it in your own hair. He thinks it's hair gel."

Just wait until I get to teach him about facial moisturizers!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I needed you, Robert Altman

I was driving this afternoon by Ward Circle, having listened to Terry Gross' great interview with Parker Posey and on my way in to pick up my stack of papers to grade. It promises to be a cinematic weekend indeed, what with fifty mini-tomes on González Iñárritu's Babel. But then Terry Gross announced, "Coming up next, we take a look back at the life of Robert Altman, who died last night at the age of 81" and I cried out, almost stopping the car in the middle of the circle.

One thing is to appreciate a director and his work and, as a film scholar, I dutifully venerate Altman as the auteur he is. If nothing else, I use his films every semester to teach how sound can be used to focus attention on the screen instead of the camera, a technique he basically pioneered.

Perhaps more than any other contemporary director, however, Altman's work has connected with me on a personal level for quite a long time. One of my best students during my current tenure at AU wrote a fantastic piece in my course on the musical extolling the virtues of Nashville, brilliant enough that I was convinced to include it the next time I taught the course. My own interest in genre (and indeed of higher film study in general) started largely because of a paper I wrote in graduate school on the fascinating anti-Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a movie that still takes my breath away. I remember wrapping up an evening of chatting about pedagogy with my very first mentor, Julie Kalish (who laid the foundation for everything I know about teaching), by our going to see Short Cuts, still one of my favorite films. (The closing credits started to roll and, after three hours, Julie and I were mystified that there wasn't more movie to watch.) M*A*S*H; Three Women; Gosford Park; The Long Goodbye; Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean: the list goes on and even when Altman failed (such as in the steaming pile that is Pret-a-Porter), he failed impressively.

It is even arguable that I would not be where I am today without Altman. As a senior in college, I wrote a paper bringing together reactions of Willa Cather's A Lost Lady and Altman's just-released ransom note to Hollywood, The Player. I was intrigued that both texts garnered the same responses from my peers: thrill for most of it, only to be met with disappointment at the end when the anti-hero triumphed instead of receiving a come-uppance. In clearing my paper topic, Professor Jahner (who I later realized I wanted to emulate when I would become a professor) laughed and said, "I don't know what you're talking about, but you seem more than fascinated by this movie. Go for it and see what happens." I was so proud of this paper that I submitted it as my writing sample to get into graduate school -- and sure enough, it got me into Michigan.

But my relation to Altman goes even further than that.

You see, my first memory of having a cinematic experience involves an Altman film.

Surely, I had been to the movies before 1980; I have a vague recollection of having seen Star Wars like everyone else on its release in 1977, and Grease and Xanadu came out before then as well, fueling my obsession with Olivia Newton-John. But the first visceral joy of going to the movies? That belongs to 1980's Popeye.

I didn't get to go to the movies too often as I was growing up. We really didn't have the money to spend on anything in those days, so I spent most of my time in the backyard. (This is fine for a kid, by the way. My own son is growing up like this.) Going to the movies, like going out to eat, was therefore a big deal. I distinctly remember one day my parents were fighting about something and Mom got really angry. She grabbed my hand, marched me to the car and started driving. "Come on," she said, "we're going to the movies." "We are?!" I said, incredulous and thrilled. I don't even think I knew what we were seeing, but I was 8 and any movie would be fine by me. And, truth be told, I loved this movie. I watched the Popeye cartoons all the time before school, and the funny guy with the puffy forearms (some guy named Robin Williams) was just great. There was a certain joy in seeing the lunacy of the cartoon come to life, not to mention that Shelley Duvall looked exactly like Olive Oyl. (Eerie.) I remember watching the movie at the Baldwin Twin Cinema on Grand Avenue with a bag of popcorn, aware of my mother steaming in the seat next to me, but calming down and eventually laughing through her tears. By the end of the movie, everything was OK, we went home -- and, in my 8-year-old way, I learned that the movies have a curious and magical power.

Popeye is today considered one of Altman's worst films: a commercial flop and the last straw that sent him careening away from Hollywood forever. Years later, when I discovered who "Altman!" was, a name to be venerated in hushed tones amongst fellow film snobs, I was tickled to find that he had directed this. I haven't seen it since back then (except the ending, which I caught once as the movie was finishing on cable) and I wonder if, like Xanadu, the film will age so badly that I will now find it laughable. I doubt it. Even so, the memory of that first truly cinematic experience will remain -- and for that alone, Robert Altman, I thank you more than I can possibly express.

Shelley Duvall, needing Robert.
If you're looking for more tributes, check out this rather comprehensive list at GreenCine.

I am so fab...

...that I can change my son's diaper without his waking up. Score!

This may have something to do with the fact that we arrived hom from the airport just before 10 and he was still somewhat awake (if only to say "Bed!" but with a gigantic smile), so he was probabl knackered from the flight. (That, and apparently he made a friend in the Providence airport who he then proceeded to chase around a SmartCart station at least two dozen times.)

Or, I'm just fab.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pondering the pigskin

Oge (who I just noticed is now a Texan!) will not necessarily be happy with this, but he won't be surprised by this admission either: I'm not really a football fan.

This may in part be due to my upbringing. My dad was not really a football fan and I went to high school in Peru where fútbol is something else entirely. That changed slightly when I went to college when, in order to be a freshman in relatively good standing, one went to football games. I therefore became a fairly ardent fan of the Big Green, even if we are currently 2-7. I didn't really understand the game all that well even then. This changed when, of all things, I joined the marching band my senior year (I switched to cymbals after playing the videocamera for a season) and I wanted to know when -- and more importantly why -- we had to start playing. (I also learned for the aforementioned Oge, the 'shmen on my hallway who played. And who derived great pleasure from tackling me in the hallway when I went to brush my teeth. Shall I describe what it's like having an offensive tackle doing something called the "turkey trot" on your chest while the rest of my 'shmen are looking on? I digress...) My dear wife played with the DCMB for five years and still can't really tell you what is happening on the field, but I finally picked up a cursory understanding.

This was not enough to turn my into a football fan, however. I don't really follow the NFL, nor do I really follow college football. After all, I teach at a school which happily doesn't have a football team (I've talked to the athletic director and she used the word "happy"). This also comes after having gone to graduate school at a place where football (along with basketball and hockey) was somewhat sacred: I shamfacedly confess that I never attended a game while I was there.

All this is meant to preface the peculiar things I'm feeling today, when NPR, colleagues at work and even my neighbors are asking me how I feel about the Michigan-OSU Game-to-End-All-Games this afternoon. (No, I didn't know they were both undefeated, although somehow i knew that Rutgers was.) And to be honest, with Angela and Xan out this weekend on Cape Cod and me here trying to get some serious writing done, I will reluctantly have to refrain from watching The Game.

But today?

Today, I feel like a Wolverine. Go Blue.

(UPDATE: So I lied, slightly. I have to make an appetizer for a birthday dinner tonight and I just turned on the game, where I discover it's 7-7. More perplexingly, however, I heard for the first time the opening strains of "O Fortuna" (from Orff's Carmina Burana) done by a marching band as fight music. I'm impressed -- and slightly disturbed. [Actually, I am more disturbed by this. Apparently, this is a common marching band thing?] But hey, Xan can actually sing that. I'm not kidding: he heard it on the radio the other day and has been happily screaming what sounds like "O Fortuna" all the time, appropriately fortissimo.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

As much as I wanted to be Satine...

Which NICOLE KIDMAN Character Are You?

"Grace Mulligan" in DOGVILLE

Whoa! No matter where you go, small town or large, we both know you'll be the center of things. So fill the empty places with mercy rather than judgment next time around, won't you?

(Take this quiz!)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Movie memedom

I was tickled to discover that I had been tagged by Nathaniel of The Film Experience for a particular movie meme -- particularly since it seems to be originating with him. I've therefore taken some time with these amusing, yet kinda thought-provoking questions.
  1. Popcorn or candy? If forced to choose, definitely popcorn, with slight butter. But I came into movie geekdom thanks to the Dartmouth Film Society, whose twice-weekly screenings at the Hopkins Center were in a theater that did not allow food. As such, I am now happy and content to make it through a three-hour long flick without the need for sustenance. (Also, I only buy popcorn at independent theaters that desperately need my concession cash.)
  2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever. I am almost embarrassed to say I have a PhD and I have still yet to see Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I have seen the other nuclear-bomb film from 1964, Fail-Safe, which still freaks me out, but I really need to see Strangelove soon, or else my students will legitimately have reason to not respect me.
  3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom? For years, I have been telling my students that the ever-fabulous Anna Paquin should have lost to the even more fabulous Rosie Perez, whose performance in Peter Weir's Fearless is outstanding. That said, Paquin's 12-year-old self does fine, nuanced work in The Piano, so she can still keep the statuette. Instead, I would take it away from Geoffrey Rush for Shine. I liked the movie at first, but then over time realized how much I despised it. Rush gets by and wins the award for the tired-and-true "I'm afflicted!" performance that is ultimately uninspiring. Not to mention the fact that the actor that does the real work in Shine is clearly the unheralded Noah Taylor. In 1997, I would have almost been happy with anyone else nominated that year when the indies took over the Oscars -- Ralph Fiennes for The English Patient, Woody Harrelson for The People vs. Larry Flynt, Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade. My choice, however, is a surprising one for me, given how happy I was at the indie revolution: I really wanted Tom Cruise to win for Jerry Maguire. I felt that the role stood out as being very old Hollywood in a very new way, that Cruise embodied the likes of Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, but with a 90s spin. Cruise will never get a role like that again (and, quite frankly, I have soured on him as an actor considerably since), but I still think that was his year
  4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. Which will it be? If I'm allowed to cross-dress, I would chose almost anything from Carmen Miranda, who I have been threatening to go as for Halloween for years now, just because she is outrageous fun. But there's a bigger single costume item that I'd prefer more than anything: James Dean's iconic red windbreaker from Rebel without a Cause. It's classic, it's simple, and it's the coolest thing on film ever.
  5. Your favorite film franchise is... the "Before Sun" movies by Richard Linklater, i.e. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, both with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I am eagerly awaiting Before the Noontime Sun and Before the Solar Eclipse, though I hope they have fewer car chase sequences than the other two. (Wait, this isn't a franchise?)
  6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them? I'd probably have two dinner parties. Alfonso Cuarón, Billy Wilder, Atom Egoyan, Pedro Almodóvar and Francois Truffaut would probably produce some wonderful conversations between guys who really love the art of the movies; we'd have to have some wonderful seared duck, risotto and some good red wine. But I'd also love a gaggle of fun, spirited women who are icons in their own ways: Mae West, Katherine Hepburn, Emily Watson, Ingrid Bergman and Rita Moreno (with Kate Winslet also crashing the party) would make for lots of great stories, particularly after some good sauvignon blanc and lots of yummy hors d'oeuvres made with puff pastry and sauce.
  7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater? Decapitation. That way, they can't talk or hear. As ringmaster at Telluride this year, I threatened patrons with immediate deportation to the (fictional) Central South Dakota Film Festival.
  8. Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens. Mystique from X-Men. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. The Bride from Kill Bill. Mace from Strange Days. This is really simple: Mace from Strange Days. I would trust Angela Bassett with my life any day anyway, but the character is also the most even-headed of this group, and the only one proven to defend a grown man. (The fact that I actually have an article out there on Strange Days, the first one I ever got published, also helps.)
  9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie? How about the scariest thing I didn't see? I ran from the theater in college at the meathook sequence in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because I couldn't stand the sight of the girl getting hacked to bits with a chainsaw on a meathook. It took me three additional attempts at watching the movie before I finally discovered you don't see anything there, that my mind had filled things in just a wee bit much.
  10. Your favorite genre (excluding comedy and drama) is? I confess to having a soft spot for two of the most unrealistic (and related) movie genres out there: the musical and the melodrama. That's why I really love Mexican cabaret melodramas (cabareteras) from the 1940s, since they combine the two genres so beautifully. You've never really lived until you've seen Aventurera when the exquisite Ninón Sevilla, fallen on bad times, sings and dances defiantly, only to discover that the mother of her rich, new lover is actually... the madam of the brothel that forced her into prostitution in the first place!! I also got to spend a 1-1/2 hour van ride with Ms Sevilla who turned out to be more than gracious and, in her 70s when I met her, still with the verve and spirit that she had in the movies years before.
  11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power? I would bring directors from outside the United States to see what they could do with a larger budget in English, perhaps in the hopes that they could become the next Billy Wilder who invigorates American cinema. Tops on my list: Lucretia Martel from Argentina, Christoffer Boe from Denmark, Wong Kar-Wai from Hong Kong (who is actually getting this chance), Alvaro Velarde from Peru.
  12. Bonnie or Clyde? Bonnie. She is doomed, doomed, doomed and by the end when she asks him what he would change and he answers "nothing," she knows it -- and she sticks by him anyway. She's a class act.
  13. Who are you tagging to answer this survey? (Three or more) Dan (aka JJ), who I am surprised didn't get tagged by Nat for this the first time around; Nell, because the world needs to know what the Movie Mom really thinks; Jenny, because she always has great responses to memes whenever I tag her; and Kathy, because I have a sneaking suspicion (as the medical doctor, shoe-happy, not-even-remotely-film-oriented person that she is) that she may have some fun answers to this meme.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This will be a decidedly shorter post, despite the fact that I'm home about two hours before I was the last time. The reason for that is because, unlike last time, things went swimmingly at elections today. Our precinct (hooray for Woodmoor in Four Corners, even if I don't live there) had an unusually high turnout, with over 1400 people voting in an area that only has about 1100 households. We were consistantly busy almost all day, meaning I got no work done and I got to eat at 7:55PM. (We closed at 8.) I view this as an amazingly good thing: it means that people cared and cared hard. Perhaps it was because, for the first time in a long while, Maryland was actually in play this time around. Our two students, having gone through an exciting election last time, were almost disappointed that they got to do normal stuff this time around. At least one won't be back as a student volunteer... because she'll be 18 then and said she wants to now be a regular volunteer. Woohoo! Hooray for civic responsibility!

(Even better: as I type this, it appears that the good people of Pennsylvania have decided to finally clean the santorum off the Senate sheets.)

All this is not to say that things weren't exciting at out polling place. We did have the homeless man (living up to stereotypes, alas, for being drunk and crazy) who voted at around noon, then came back right before the after-work rush, claiming he hadn't actually voted. Some of my colleagues who lived in the area and knew he was (a) homeless and (b) that the house that was on the pollbooks had been sold to someone else a while ago wanted us to not let him vote; I, who processed him, felt that if he was on the pollbooks, he should be able to vote -- and so he did, the first time. The second time he came in, however, he claimed that he hadn't voted in one of the races and wanted to revote. When it was calmly explained to him that he had already voted, he became massively belligerent. Later, one of my colleagues explained to me that my usual method of dealing with angry people (smiling, reasoning, discovering how to assuage their fears) worked completely against me because my methods, alas, implies knowledge of logic. (I'm not kidding when I say that man was crazy.) We called 911 as we were trying to get him to vote provisionally which this time we knew would not count since he had already voted, but thought that it would get him to quiet down. His tirades at the entire polling staff were actually disenfranchising voters who were legitimately afraid to go in (not to mentione scaring the bejesus out of me and the other pollworkers, particularly when I realized that he wouldn't respond to normal methods). The police came quickly, however, and he was taken away in handcuffs, poor guy. Even as I was shaking afterwards, I still felt badly for him.

The best part? Our 12-year-old (male) helper arrived during all of this. (The custodian -- named Sonja, who is the best person ever -- had already gathered all the children from the hallways immediately upon finding out what was going on. "That's a code red," she later told me. "I don't care if school's in session or not. I just care about those kids not getting hurt." Can Xan go to the school this woman is at? Please?) I asked his mother to keep him outside for a while until things blew over (even though by this point the police had arrived); the boy, sensing excitement, insisted that they stay. Just like a 12-year-old.

Thankfully, the media stopped by long before this happen. (See, Priscilla? You missed out. WBAL got us on tape instead. I wonder if I came across as insightful or insipid...)

Oh yeah, and Marcy: The count was 22, almost all because of people who moved into the area and forgot to change addresses.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ready, set...

Let's see. Alarm set for 5:00AM? Check.

Grading materials and copy of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime for Wednesday's class, to be completed during downtime (haha)? Check.

Pear-almond-chocolate chip muffins for morning yummies baked? Check.

Last-minute chief election judge materials read? Hmmm... I knew I had to do something still...

Good luck to everyone for tomorrow, until the next hurrah!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mmmmm... Electronic ballots...

(The above is meant to be read in Homer Simpson's voice.)

We're almost at that time again: Election Day. This will prove to be interesting, what with tight races for both Senator and Governor in Maryland. As Chief Judge, all I care about right now is that we don't have a repeat of the hell of last time.

Then, I bought a whole bunch of stuff and made a crazily yummy curried lentil dip. This time around, I'm bringing different things:
  • Pear-almond-chocolate chip muffins for brekfast
  • Artichoke-green olive tapenade and spicy bean dip with crackers for snacks
  • Maybe some flowers for the amazing school janitor who gets there at 4:00AM and doesn't leae until after we do at around midnight
Here's hoping things are better organized this time around. Hey, at least this time the BOE sent us a kit equivalent to Opening Procedures for Dummies. Marcy, I plan to count all the provisional ballots this time. And Priscilla, am I going to have to dress up nicely for Polish television?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"No, I don't want it."

Angela said she heard this yesterday, said (as it turns out) almost right after the cupcake shot shown below. I was skeptical, particularly since I was right there and hadn't heard it.

This morning, I heard him say it quite clearly. Spoken calmly, not even shouted.


A sentence.

With a comma, even.