Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Last Smackdown Show

The Supporting Actress Smackdown is up! This is an interesting one, with a really wide variety of opinions. (I'm stunned that I'm the one championing Ann-Margaret.) It really was fascinating to watch this set of flicks and I'm delighted by the collective disagreement. (Even if my gal didn't win.)

In case you're wondering, the nominees are:
  • Ann-Margaret in Carnal Knowledge
  • Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show
  • Barbara Harris in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (trivia fact: the longest title to ever garner an Oscar nomination!)
  • Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show
  • Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between
Don't know some of these films? Me neither -- which is why this was such a hoot. Carnal Knowledge features a very young Jack Nicholson who is all kinds of sexy; Who Is Harry... features a younger Dustin Hoffman who is all kinds of not. Check it out.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Crash boom bah

There's an amazingly awesome storm going on right now, while I am finding things for my last syllabus and I'm recovering from a lovely day. Today we had a completely family-oriented day, complete with something we have been wanting to institute for quite a long time:

Family Reading Time.

Yes, at some point today (probably inspired by the ridiculously hot weather), chez Middents-Dadak got right down to it with all three of us with a large book in hand, quietly reading away. Xan's current choice of obsession, found last week at the library: Richard Scarry's Cars, Trucks and Things That Go. This is a monster book that takes us almost a half-hour to get through: about 50 pages or so, chock-full of all sorts of pictures of the best things in the world, which are cars and trucks. (In the library the other day -- X: "That's a pickle truck!" J: "Yes, Xan, that is a pickle truck." Noticing a mom looking at me funny, I continue: "You think I'm nuts. It says right here, 'pickle truck.'") This afternoon, he sat quietly leafing through the pages on his bed while Ange and I secretly beamed, surrounding him with love and books of our own.

At this moment, the rain (much-needed) is pouring down in an amazing display, and a thunderclap broke nearby with a loud crash. I just checked the house and everyone still slumbers; all is well.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is officially my last day of summer, what with the new semester starting on Monday. If I finish the syllabi early enough, I plan to finally put up a summer recap. Also, tomorrow is the Supporting Actress Smackdown for 1970 over at Stinkylulu - check it out to see how my gal Ellen holds up against the other candidates 27 years later.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Now that's what I'm talking about

If you would like to know what it's like to do my job sometimes, I would recommend reading this long, but scarily accurate posting about what it's like to go from a graduate student to a professor. I have felt much of this at many times and, from the comments, it also clearly resonates with other young professors.

A fun read, as we head pell-mell into back-to-school mode. (Gee, do classes really begin Monday? And gee, am I really leaving for Colorado a week from today? Wow...)

UPDATE: Gone, baby, gone -- the manuscript got sent out today. Will arrive in the midwest on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Xanasaurus Rex

Wow. I just saw this picture that Angela took from a visit to the Zoo this weekend. I absolutely love it. Would anyone like to caption this?
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I am a film studies god

At least I tried to convince my new set of students of that yesterday, when I met the large majority of them at the University College kick-off. (Humorously, the Dean said that all of the professors in the program were tenured. Maybe he knows something I don't know? "Hey, folks, guess what? The Dean said I was tenured! It's all over with!! Woo-hoo!!!" Ah, if it was only that easy.) I'm excited by the new semester, and the group of students seem very cool -- and hey, without knowing it, one of them even cited as one of his favorite movies of the year a film that we'll be watching in class!

Anyway, I'm not claiming to be a real film studies god -- but I will get a chance to play on someone else's blog this coming weekend. Perhaps because of my participation in various blog-a-thons, I have been asked to participate in Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown! (This month: 1971.) As it turns out, JJ will be participating as well, so we're currently going to shuttle videotapes back and forth. Yes, tapes. Wow. I'm excited to see how things turn out, myself. Tune in on Sunday!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Exposing my child to Evil

At lunch today, I told the Pájarotorres that I had exposed my child to Evil. "Oh?" said Señor Pájaro. "Yes," said I, "and can you guess what that means in my world?" He thought for a moment. "It does not involve Dick Cheney," I added.

They were stumped.

"I have exposed him to Disney*," I said.

"Well," said Señor P, "not all Disney is bad. I mean, how about the old stuff."

"Ah," I said, "but that's exactly what I exposed him to. Old Disney."

Specifically, The Three Caballeros. Full disclosure: Last night, I was previewing this for my upcoming course on Cinemas of Latin America. I have wanted to include this for quite some time now and I usually just show a clip; my being away for the Telluride Film Festival right at the beginning of the semester, however, allows for it to be shown right at the beginning.

I show the film in this class for a very simple reason: the film exemplifies what Disney (read: Hollywood, read: U.S. filmmakers/audiences) thought of Latin Americans at the time. It's significant because the film was made in 1944 explicitly as part of the Good Neighbor policy to appeal to both U.S. and Latin America markets to show how the entire hemisphere are "birds of a feather." Walt Disney was, in fact, one of two Hollywood filmmakers that toured Latin America on the government's dime to make films that would inspire such camaraderie. (Famously, the other was Orson Welles, whose unfinished film It's All True was exactly not what the U.S. government wanted.) The premise of the film is simple: it's Donald's birthday and his "friends from Latin America" send him some presents, including a filmstrip about a crazy penguin and a gauchito with a flying donkey, a book which produces his good friend Zé Carioca (a cigar-smoking parrot, established in Saludos Amigos, the preceding fuller-length venture into Good Neighbor cartoons) and a piñata-carrying, gun-toting new best friend from Mexico, Panchito the rooster.

Looked at with a keen eye, the film is horribly racist and sexist on many levels. For one thing, at two points in particular, the Latin Americans seem ignorant about their respectiveown cultures: Zé, after extolling the virtues of Baía, admits he has never been there himself; meanwhile, Panchito sings in the title track, "We say, '¡Ay, carramba!'/ What means, 'ay, carramba'?/ Oh yes, I don't know!" Panchito, in particular, is rife with stereotypical depictions reminiscent of Pancho Villa with his two guns and a giant sombrero, and he brings Donald and Zé to Acapulco explicitly to dive-bomb the bikini-clad girls on the beach while flying on a serape. ("Typically American," Donald is a horn-dog from start to finish, of course.) The film is in line with many other studio-period depictions of Latin Americans, from 1933's Flying Down to Rio to 1939's Stagecoach and beyond.

Anyway, last night while previewing, it hit me: Xan would love this.

With that in mind, I could appreciate the wacky zaniness when Donald gets stuck within the animation that precedes Panchito's entrance. I absolutely love the gorgeous images and luscious music of "Baía." Indeed, I think the entire sequence in Brazil is fantastic -- and that includes the part that I slammed above:

The antics of the aracuán are not only hilarious, but also prefigure some antics in the (superior) Warner Brothers cartoon Duck Amuck:

So this morning, right before heading out for lunch and since he and Angela had just come back from checking out the new baby anteater at the Zoo, I decided to show him about 20 minutes of the movie.

Naturally, he loved it. Particularly the aracuán.

So it is that while I am teaching to my students as an example of "horrific portrayals of Latin American in Hollywood film," I may purchase it for myself to show to my son. I figure as long as I stop it before the Mexican sequence begins -- I don't need to explain guns, really, nor Donald's trippy end sequence, and really, it's not like there's a plot within the film -- I may still be OK. And hey, it's just as incongruous as my being Latin and still loving West Side Story... right?

Still, I have exposed him to the Evil Mouse Empire. How long before he wails to go to Disneyworld instead of to colonial Williamsburg? Sigh.

* Apologies to KC, who blogs nice with the Mouse House, heh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A little shook up

I had planned tonight to finally blog about something fun, but my parents just called to inform me that a really major earthquake hit Peru very close to Lima earlier this evening. For those not in the know, Ica is on the coast in the heart of wine country and not far from Nazca, where the lines are located. This quake measured somewhere between 7.5 and 7.9 on the Richter scale, which puts it in league with the last Big Quake to hit Peru in 1970, which is one of the worst ever to hit worldwide, having caused an avalanche that wiped out entire cities. Making that connection right now makes me so thrilled that this wasn't as big of a disaster as it clearly could have been. (Nontheless, this also disproves my theory that Larcomar, the posh mall built into said cliffs, would fall right into the ocean with the first major earthquake. I always said that that would bring new meaning to the phrase, "Shop 'Til Ya Drop." I slay me with my wit.)

For as dirty and horrible as it is -- indeed, there is a book from the 60s by Sebastian Salazar Bondy called Lima, la horrible -- I do still consider Lima as "the place where I come from," much more so than Long Island. Beyond my own academic work, I have very personal ties to the city and to the country. The odor of dust, smoke, smog and sea that greets me when I step off the plane at Jorge Chávez International Airport has long been the smell of home for me, something instantly familiar, if also bracing. In many ways, Lima is the worst part about Peru and the thing I hate the most -- and yet, it's home.

All that said, no matter how long I lived there, I never got over a (not necessarily irrational) fear of earthquakes, particularly the Big One which would (will? yikes) decimate Lima. I have never been in a really major earthquake, although living on the 15th floor of an apartment building made some major tremors seem pretty horrible. (One happened when I stayed home from school to get a paper done. My parents weren't home and I ran to the elevator shaft, where I prayed to God that if He would make it stop and brought my parents back safely, I would never stay home from class ever again just to get an extra day of work. I kept that promise, too.) Given Lima's location right on the fault line between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates (I think I have that right), the prospect of a Big Quake is an inevitability. Thankfully, this wasn't it. But -- and this is true -- I still occasionally randomly think of my family in a big quake and it hurts my heart in so many ways.

I will also confess this here and now: they say that what you fear most often brings about some great creativity -- and it is true that the long piece of fiction that has been sitting in my head for over a decade, waiting to come out (tenure, please... tenure...) is based around a seismic event.

In any case, my aunt called to say that everyone in the family was OK. In fact, one side of the family is now hunkered down in her house -- which is built like a giant concrete bunker -- just in case a stronger aftershock should come. My love goes out to them, and to everyone else in coastal Peru tonight.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back to life Soul II Soul once said. I have been very lax on posting, mainly because of a lack of a high speed connection (and, quite frankly, some time). But the vacation ends on Friday when I head back to DC with the boy and hopefully I'll be able to relate some fun info soon thereafter.