Thursday, April 26, 2007

On having a face for radio

When I was in college, I never listened to public radio. Ever. "VPR? What's that?" I would say, feet having firmly taken root years ago in Top 40 radio. There was a point even when I considered broadcast journalism and joined the radio station, first as a newscaster, then as a DJ (since I knew the music on alternative radio better than the DJ who I had to work with). Still, I had never even listened to a broadcast of "All Things Considered."

I reflect on that especially considering that our house radio rarely leaves the public radio stations, leaping back and forth between WAMU and Classical WETA (with occasional stops at the pop station -- yes, we're trendy, and that new Nelly Furtado song is hot).

Lately, they have been advertising the public radio version of American Idol, as they look for a new host, the "host with the most hostiness," so to speak. I listened to a few entries and, well...

I succumbed.

Inspired by the very hotel room I was staying in in Puebla, I decided to record an entry of my own (using my pathetic laptop microphone, but for effect!) and throw my hat into the ring. I'm actually pretty pleased with the results as well. (Although many people are sending in show ideas -- and heck, I have one of my own -- what they've asked for is simply a two-minute introduction, so theat's what I did.)

So, for once, dear readers, I'd like to promote myself: listen to my entry, and then vote for me if you wish. And tell others to vote, too. (This is actually getting fun, listening to other people's material. And I realize I may be in waaaaay over my head, but what other way should it be?) Needless to say, I will let everyone know if somehow I make it past Round 1!

The Public Radio Talent Quest

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

If I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick

At some point in the planning stages last semester, I realized that the last Wednesday of the semester would fall on my birthday. Wednesdays for me are generally long, particularly if the department schedules a meeting early in the morning, which it chose to do today. Luckily, however, it also falls on my screening day, which means at least I could pick some movies that, quite frankly, I wanted to see.

So, as I have been saying all day today, I have finally joined the ranks of what the media advertising executives might term as "undesirable"; that is, I turned 35 today. And to celebrate, I ignored the fact that I was missing a meeting and gleefully watched Casablanca on the big screen, which always makes me happy. Between Claude Rains as Louis Renault, perhaps my favorite supporting character in all moviedom, and the Silver Screen goddess Ingrid Bergman (or, as she is known in our house, She Who Jeff Would Stalk If It Were Still the 1940s And/Or Ingrid Were Still Alive), I was perfectly in my element. Naturally, the movie has something for everyone (intrigue, romance, guns, sharp dialogue, iconic music, Paris, etc.), so I don't understand if people say they don't love it, but I do find it an "adult" movie of sorts. I don't remember the first time I saw it, though I imagine it was in college, when I really started watching movies in earnest; that is to say, whenever I saw it first, it was not like an immediate revelation. Instead, my relationship with Casablanca has been a slow, constant burn. I do not quote dialogue from films, and yet this is one that I can actually quote. I could easily get through the rest of the day after watching this.

Casablanca: the present I gave myself. Happy birthday to me, old man.

(Coming soon: the trip to Mexico, and my run for NPR)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hmmm, what can we make Xan do?

This is exactly what I thought when I saw this. Yes, I know I'm promoting Will Farrell's new site by posting it. Yes, I don't care. I laughed that hard. The best part, naturally, is Pearl's last line.

UPDATE: Gosh, that was annoying. Damn video would start every time you opened the window. Argh. The video can be found here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The dangers of working in a cafe

I am currently trying to get some work done at Mayorga, a cafe in Silver Spring where I occasionally write. I'm in a quiet room off to the side, which is generally where people work to get away from the mild roar that dominates the larger room.

I have to note, however, that there is a couple who have sat down near me who are clearly having coffee and snacks and seem to be having conversation resembling a first date. I am not eavesdropping; his voice is just semi-stentorian in this already somewhat quiet room. (It's distracting enough that I may move any moment now.)

I'm an Alpha Thetian (indeed, wearing a Dartmouth sweatshirt right now), so those in the know will get an extra kick out of me saying this, but an indication of how this date seems to be going (and why I'm trying to suppress laughter right now) can be summed up in the somewhat disappointed line the guy just uttered a minute ago: "Ah. I guess you don't watch very much Star Trek, do you?"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jolie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Last year at her birthday, Xan and Joles pushed each other around in a cart. This year, they shared cake. Not just any cake: Dora the Explorer cake.

If these two ever start dating, I'm going to mark this as the starting point in their true admiration for each other. You can see how totally smitten she is with him here. I mean, really: how can you resist a guy with neon orange frosting on his mouth like that? Hey, is that how I landed my wife?

Either that, or somehow the kids got into the (really) yummy sangría the parents were drinking at Jolie's birthday party. This would also explain both his semi-fratboy expression and her head in the cake, not to mention our complete obliviousness. (This has not stopped the parental planning for a sleepover at their place in the near future involving much more sangría, plus a movie that doesn't involve Dora and hopefully features bad words the Catholic Bishops would totally disapprove of.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Five easy pieces

I was intrigued by a posting at Where's My Cape? last week where a reader had posed five individual questions to be answered -- a meme of sorts, but personalized. I thought it was a neat idea, but I figured KC has been pretty busy with the double blogging and impending birthday preparations and what-not. I thought I wouldn't bother her.

To my glee, I found another five questions directed to laloca at Baggage Carousel 4 this evening. Laloca and I go waaaay back -- she knows more about me than I almost want to imply, which is what happens when you meet at 14 and her first words to you are, "Why are you talking to him? You should talk to me" -- and I thought, what could she possibly come up with for me?

Her questions turn out to be spot-on, and even allow me to talk about a couple things I have been thinking about blogging about anyway. Since I just finished a huge batch of grading (and can therefore really get back to writing tomorrow), I will delay going to bed just yet to respond.

1. in the wee hours of the morning, you toss and turn as your dreams take a nasty turn into nightmares. you've entered the march madness office pool, and your picks have Crime Zone vs. Un Chien Andalou and Heavy Metal vs. The Day After in the final four. Then, in a surprising upset, nuclear war falls to bladerunner-esque Lima. what did you eat before going to sleep?

Let me delay my response for a moment to fill in everyone (including laloca) about how perfect this question is.

The whole brackets thing may seem old hat now that March Madness has come and gone and I didn't participate in the actual basketball thing anyway. (This may be residual effects from when AU came thisclose in 2002 to making it to the dance, bringing ESPN to campus and driving me batty with the constant voice-mail messages to "support our team at the pep rally!" -- only to have us then lose by one point to Holy Cross. Secretly, I was pleased, having attended said rally with my misanthropic TA, both of us wearing black and saying "rah" at inappropriate moments.) I have, however, been unusually active in an internet version called Band Madness, which I accidentally caught in its first week. The concept of deciding which is better, the Eagles or the Pet Shop Boys (I voted the latter, naturally), makes me smile. It shouldn't, but it does.

This question also brings up a movie called Crime Zone, which is a major blast from the past that has come back to haunt me lately. Directed by Luis Llosa for Roger Corman's production company way back in 1988, this post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie is pretty good for the crapola-level it was aiming for; it also features a large number of random cameo appearances by many people I went to high school with: two English teachers as bickering shopkeepers, the librarian as a freeze-dried aristocrat, an ex-girlfriend as a robotic bank-teller. As it turns out, I actually auditioned for this film, for a role as a profane 15-year-old taxi driver who said "fuck" a lot. (Given that I was kinda born-again at the time, the audition was lots of fun.) Given that the only lead film roles I've gotten were in three productions by a former student (including one entry into the 24 Hour Film Festival, where I played the superhero Shoe-Man), you may tell that I didn't get the job.

Fast-forward fifteen years: I am now a film academic asked to present something on American production techniques used in Latin America for a conference. I decide to expand what was essentially a footnote in my book to a full-blown presentation on Luis Llosa's films for Corman. (The original title: "Babes in the Amazon, Ponch in the Andes: Roger Corman and Peruvian Cinema.) In the process, I bought copies of all these old films, including Crime Zone. The paper went over well enough that colleagues of mine who were putting together a book on Latin American exploitation film have asked me to expand this piece for their collection, which I'll have to have done by mid-summer. Funny how things work out.

Back to the question: what did I eat to generate such a nightmare? Easy: I must have eaten the god-awful pizza and sangría sold on the Calle de los Pizzas in Miraflores in Lima. Circa 1988, this was consumed nearly every other weekend before going out dancing at Nirvana. It was cheap and awful -- and back then I didn't know I was semi-lactose intolerant. So I'm sure nightmares would have been the alternate result.

2. paper or plastic?

Usually plastic, because then I don't have to buy more plastic bags to use as trash bags. But I'm shopping a lot at Trader Joe's these days, which means a lot of paper. Since I'm in Takoma Park, I will answer what is in my trunk: hemp.

3. how does it feel to be rapidly approaching your 14th birthday?

Laloca asks this question because, in her mind, I am still 15 and getting younger. This is because I replaced her as youngest-person-in-the-class when I moved to Lima in 1986. She has never forgotten this, nor has she let me forget this. As a result, the following conversation ensued only a few years ago when I joined her and her boyfriend for some birthday sushi:

MIDDENTO: So how does it feel to be 30?
LALOCA: [shrugs] Really, not any different than 29.
MIDDENTO: That's funny. Because now you look 30. [Boyfriend literally spits out his miso.] You know, I think I've been waiting 15 years for my being younger than you to finally pay off.


In any case, it's great to finally be turning 14. I appear to be growing a chest hair and, if I'm lucky, I'll get that Wham! cassette I've been asking for. (George Michael is so the next thing in music. No, he is.)

4. if you could ask anyone in the world (living, dead, or as yet unborn) a single question - and have it answered with full honesty - who would you ask, when would you ask, and what would the question be?

J.J.'s gorgeous elegy for his grandmother (really, go read it now, it's gorgeous) reminded me of a moment with my own grandmother in 1998. Abuelita's mind had long since gone to Alzheimer's, though she was healthier than anyone else in the family otherwise. (She would live two more years, in fact, after this moment.) She was, however, confined to her house, shuffling back and forth with the help of a nurse, hunched over with very vacant eyes. My aunt took primary responsibility for her, and had done so for several years.

I was there doing the first research for The Book and Angela had come with me. By that point, we were already engaged -- and yet, for reasons that still baffle me, my aunt wouldn't let Angela meet Abuelita. I found this silly, but I respected her decision.

I had brought a video camera to get some footage for some language instructional videos for the Spanish language program at Michigan -- and, on one of the last days, I decided to shoot just a few minutes of footage of my grandmother so that I could bring that back to my mother as a gift. And, choosing to do this while my aunt was out, I asked Angela to come with me to meet her. It was the only time they got to meet and I thought I would just get some random shots of my grandmother sitting. The minute I turned the camera on, however, my abuelita changed: hunched as she was, she suddenly straightened up, looked at the camera and walked sprightlier than I had seen her walking in years. And, caught on film, there was a mischievous glimmer that I recognized from years earlier when I was little and she would conspire with my uncle Ernesto to douse me with water balloons.

My question, therefore, would be a very simple one to my grandmother at that moment: Are you really still in there -- and if so, how are you?

5. your inanimate object question: you are a table. describe yourself, and what is on you.

I am a coffee table made of light-colored wood, sturdy but with relatively thin legs, lacquered lightly. No drawer, just the table, with only a little bit of ornamentation at the lip. Books and magazines are in piles on me, along with some dust and someone's stocking'd feet.

and the bonus, i-didn't-come-up-with-it-myself question: as i was going to st. ives, i met a man with seven wives. each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats. each cat had seven kits. kits, cats, sacks, wives, what kind of sack can hold fifty-six felines without breaking?

Hemp. More importantly, however, is the question: how did you get all those damn cats in the bag without your arm getting torn to shreds?

I'd be happy to direct five questions of my own creation to anyone who requests them. It's more fun than I thought it would be -- and definitely not your everyday meme.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I have no idea how I missed the news that Premiere magazine would be shutting down. I believe I still have about, oh, a year on my subscription -- but let's not even mention the economic losses here. For someone who studies movie magazines, I'm here to confirm that this was one of the last of its kind, at least in the U.S.

I've just quickly gathered some info on this and, quite frankly, I agree with many of the sentiments. Yes, there are problems with "long-lead" entertainment magazines in this day and age, particularly with the blogosphere around where we can make all sorts of scandal immediately upon hearing a rumor. Yes, this was particularly true with their Oscar predictions which, predicted months before publication, now tended to be way off. Yes, they had become -- just say it -- trashier.

But they weren't that trashy, certainly not to the (delectably trashy) level of Entertainment Weekly. I have always felt that EW is eminently disposable and dispose of it I do; as my wife can confirm, however, I have kept my copies of Premiere since my subscription began sometime in the early 1990s. Seriously, I have them all. Mainly because sometimes the articles came in very useful for historical purposes: when I found it, EW's Popwatch blog mentioned one of my absolute favorite pieces ever, one where Ben Affleck interviews himself. (The cover is picturered here as well.) More than anything, the articles that mattered were the longer pieces that really got at the heart of matters. I think of those kind of pieces in Vanity Fair and indeed am surprised when I see something like it in EW -- but I expected it from Premiere. A year's subscription has been the top prize for my Oscar Party every year: a good film rag that wasn't too pulpy, nor too academic.

The website will live on in an interesting new form and, given I hadn't appreciated their site before (which was really a retread of the print version, yawn), I will be checking it out now. But I'm a print kind of guy and I'll really miss not getting my monthly copy. It's definitely a sign that that part of my life is over.

Then again, maybe my book about film magazines as historical pieces suddenly has relevance.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What I'm (Not) Reading

I usually dread the "what's your top ten favorite...?" questions. I get them all the time, being both a lit professor and a film professor. I cop out always, saying, "There are too many for me to list."

So I'm not really sure why I'm responding to Jenny's meme-tag asking for my ten favorite books. I had to go back to the person who tagged her to find that it's really "ten books I can't live without"; nonetheless, I'm taking Jenny's approach to the first set that comes to mind, in no particular order. Catch me tomorrow and the list might be altered somewhat.

  1. If on a winter's night a traveler, Italo Calvino. I was mesmerized by this the first time I read it and my passion for it grows each time I read it. I assign the book whenever I can because it's that fantastic.
  2. Kiss of the Spider Woman/El beso de la mujer araña, Manuel Puig. It combines some of my favorite things: Latin American chamber thriller and the ecphrasis of old-school Hoolywood genre movies. Also assigned whenever possible, and I learn more with each reading.
  3. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge this book that I picked up early and turned me into not only a reader but a die-hard consumer of hair gel (which is what I'm sure those Oklahoma boys would have used on their tuff hair in the 80s). Has never been assigned for class, although I'm toying with showing Rumblefish next year.
  4. Stars, Edgar Morin. Lovely high concept theoretical stuff about movie stars, yet as readable as a novel -- although maybe I love it because he also has a James dean fascination, writing in the late 50s as he is.
  5. Scissors, Paper, Rock, Fenton Johnson. Along with Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, an inspirational text for the creative side in me. Johnson's novel is really a set of linked short stories, though the whole that results from reading all of them paints a brutal family portrait.
  6. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie. A formative book for me, given that I wanted to read it after seeing a Newsweek review in Lima -- right before the ensuing fatwa allowed me to justify importing the book to Lima for a major project in 12th grade social studies. That was the first of four papers I would then write throughout college on the book, culminating in a senior thesis on Rushdie.
  7. The Tempest, William Shakespeare. Actually, if heading out to a desert island, I'll be taking my honkin' big Riverside Shakespeare, thank you very much. But Shakes' near-final work is so fascinating, I eat it up every time.
  8. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri. Along with Salvador Plascnecia's The People of Paper, this is one of the best pieces of contemporary writing I've read in a while. My class currently is writing about Mira Nair's adaptation of her novel The Namesake (which I have yet to read), but I would love to assign this as reading at some point, just so that I can have added reason to read it myself again.
  9. La ciudad y los perros, Mario Vargas Llosa. No English version here: it's one of the first Peruvian books I tried to get through in Spanish and, given the stylistic acrobatics throughout the book, this wasn't easy at the time. 'Twas highly rewarding, however, and I still go back to it every so often.
  10. The Bachman Books, "Richard Bachman" (Stephen King). I am something of a closet Stephen King fan, although I haven't read his most recent work (yet). Many of his books -- Carrie, The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, It -- got me through the first months of my time in Peru when I knew nobody. King's collections of novellas, however, are particularly well-written: if my copy of Four Past Midnight isn't falling apart, my copy of Different Seasons (with "The Body" and "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption") definitely is in pieces with the cover completely gone. His collection written as Richard Bachman, however, holds a particular place in my heart, perhaps because I tried my own hand at adapting two of my favorite stories there: I used "Rage" (somewhat) as inspiration for a script for my (somewhat useless) high school film production class and still have some ideas in mind for an adaptation of "The Long Walk," ideas which old friend Matt Strauss and I bonded over at Michigan. I also like that King "gave" these stories to an alter ego to see if "he" could establish himself as an author, which almost worked.
What's fun here: I linked all the titles to Amazon and found you can get a used copy of some of them for as low at 8 cents. While that may be depressing in some ways for writers, it does make it worth your while to check some of these out -- for just 8 cents plus shipping, after all.

Who gets tagged? Hm -- who is still reading who has a blog of their own? Heh, despite my desire to see people like Patty K and Señor Pájaro answer this one (and feel free to do so in the comments), I may have to pass the meme on to KC (who might have one for me anyway) and Joel (because I should know what he's reading in addition to what he's listening to).