Monday, December 29, 2008

Like a kick in the head (Actually, not "like" at all.)


Guess why my son has this really nasty, gigantic bump on his head?

(A) He really wanted to be a unicorn for Christmas. Or a rhino.
(B) He was brained in the head by the school bully with a wooden car
(C) Voldemort stopped by, but messed up the scar.
(D) He had an encounter with the Przewalski's horse at Zoolights the other night.
(E) He is a klutz, falling down on a concrete step near the Capitol.

Despite (B) having actually happened earlier (see the other bump on his forehead, now almost healed) this time it's actually D. This confirms once again that he is, after all, my son.
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Friday, December 26, 2008

The snow always shines on TV

Earlier this month as the holiday season came upon us, I was chatting with my dean about favorite holiday flicks; my head currently embroiled in Ernst Lubitsch films, I mentioned The Shop Around the Corner as a favorite. "For me," she said, "I love nothing better than the hokey wonderland that is White Christmas. I just love that film."

"If you can believe this," I said, "I've never seen it."

Her jaw dropped. Indeed, somehow I have never managed to catch Bing, Danny, Rosemary and Vera-Ellen do their post-WW2 tinsel-wrapped spectacle in any form (television, video or otherwise). I have no idea why I missed this, since I'm a sucker for everything that the movie stands for: musicals, Bing Crosby crooning, implausibly mild Vermont winters, etc. My dean (who is not a film expert, mind you) was genuinely upset that I had not seen this; within two days, a DVD copy that had been lying around her house appeared in my departmental mailbox. The end-of-semester grading mayhem quickly commenced, however, and I didn't get to watching it, despite her constant cajoling in the hallways, until a few days before Christmas, with my parents in town and a cold wind blowing outside.

Since I'm still ovewhelmed by holiday cooking, I'll say that my first response is that White Christmas is something like a meringue: a light, fluffy, pretty confection that isn't very filling. I was stunned to find that a drag routine done by two of the most popular jocks in my Peruvian high school was lifted verbatim from this movie (costumes and all!); I was less stunned to discover that Donald O'Connor was originally slated to do Danny Kaye's part, given its similarity to his role in Singin' in the Rain.

I decided to post about the movie after reading a holiday posting by Glenn Kenny on the film, mainly because one particular aspect piqued my professional curiosity and has stuck with me. The plot finds Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye up in Vermont at Christmastime, where their beloved general has fallen on hard time following the War while running an inn; to cheer him up, the boys decide to ask all the members of their infantry who live in New England to come to Vermont for a surprise. In order get them there quickly, however, Bing decides to go to New York and appear on the Ed Harrison television show (Harrison also being a fellow infantryman, coincidentally enough) to encourage them to come. Everyone watches this show, including the general (Kaye must fake a knee injury to get the general out of the room from where the television set is located) and Rosemary Clooney, who watches backstage from the nightclub act that she is doing in New York when she mistakenly thinks Bing is using the general's plight for cash.


This use of television fascinates me and I want to investigate it more. For one thing, using television as part of the plot seems to run counter to the entire point of the movie in the first place, since the film was known and marketed at the time for being the first to be filmed in Vistavision, Paramount's entry into the widescreen market. From what I understand (and it's been a while since I've read Bolton's book on widescreen), this technological innovation was meant to combat the encroachment of television into the entertainment market. (Drive-in theaters and 3D also were technological innovations, but widescreen is the most interesting to me). It is therefore somewhat surprising for me to see a television screen within a wide theatrical screen. From an international perspective, this might have been the first time that some countries would have seen televisions and how they might be used; according to this, television didn't arrive in Peru until 1958, and this movie was released four years earlier and was undoubtedly screened there. So what was the general reaction to seeing television in this film? And what about in the United States? Why did Paramount choose to include the use of television as part of the plot, when the movie industry was trying to combat television? How many other movies in the 1950s did this? What kind of relationship between TV and movies existed for this?

We'll see. Give me your thoughts, if you want, and let's see what happens.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jingle bells all the way, man!

'Tis the season for all sorts of wonderment. Due to my potential jury duty (which so far hasn't actually occurred, yay), we stayed in the DC area this year and instead brought my parents here. This means that we've gotten to experience the holidays in DC for the first time. It's been a lot of fun to actually put up the tree and lights and actually enjoy them for Christmas. Santa will be coming down our chimney (which, come to think of it, may mean that we shouldn't start a fire in the fireplace tonight). We almost went to Michigan, which is currently overrun with bad weather, so this turned out to be great foresight on our part, even if Xan won't quite have a white Christmas. And we're having some good friends over for Christmas dinner whose families are otherwise far away (in Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and Michigan again), which may be accompanied by Stinkylulu's holiday soundtrack which he sent. (Should I play the "Festive" CD, or the "Filthy" one? Hm.)

For me, one of the funnier stories has to come from a couple weeks ago, when I had a bit of deja vu. Oma and Opa were due to arrive in a couple days and I was started to indicate to Xan that they would be arriving. "Are you excited that Oma and Opa are coming for Christmas?" I asked in the car.

He thought for a moment. "No," he said.

I was a little taken aback. "Really? Why not?"

"I don't want Oma and Opa to come for Christmas," he said with finality. "I want Ruben and Gabriel and Liam to come for Christmas." These are three of his best friends at school, part of what I call The Gang. The first two are twins, the second is the sweetest kid ever.

All three, however, also happen to be Jewish. "Well, Xan, that's sweet, but they don't celebrate Christmas?"

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because they celebrate Channukah." I knew he knew about that, because a parent had done a special thing at school about Channukah and he was therefore well-versed on dreidels and menorahs.

"Why do we have to celebrate Christmas? Why can't we celebrate Channukah?" he asked.

And suddenly, I was taken back about thirty years to when I started school myself, only to discover that all of my friends were Jewish as well. Growing up on Long Island, where everyone is either Roman Catholic or Jewish, I was a bit of the outcast as the Hispanic Protestant.

We have since gotten totally into Oma, Opa and Christmas (with all the songs, as you can see below, and the going to church), so we're dedinitely in the swing of things. And man, Santa is a great bribe to get a wayward child in line. What will I do tomorrow?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

video

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A great way to fall off the wagon

While I've been grading, my dear friend Marcy has pointed out that our dear alcoholic current president has apparently been partaking of the national drink of Peru.

In an effort to explain the significance of the pisco sour, I provide below a recipe for the drink that I had published in the International Cookbook for AU's International Student and Scholar Services office. (Please feel free to order the cookbook, which has been created to raise funds for an emergency fund for international students on campus, something greatly needed. Not only does the book make a great stocking stuffer, but you'll find a whole menu that I've come up with with Peruvian food.)

Pisco sours also make a great drink for Thanksgiving, as would making the stuffing infused with some pisco, as I did a few years ago. If I only knew the president would have partaken with us, I would have invited him over for dinner!

Pisco Sour
Submitted by Jeffrey Middents, Assistant Professor of Literature
Serves 4

History tells us that the War of the Pacific ended in 1883, but disputes linger on over 100 years later. The northern territory claimed by Chileans in the middle of the Atacama desert turned out to be very rich in nitrates, copper and saltpeter – and happened to be a wonderful growing area for grapes. Today, Chile is internationally recognized for alcoholic beverages made from grapes, including a lucrative wine industry and, recently, pisco. Peruvians would claim otherwise: a very potent type of brandy distilled from grapes, pisco has historical connections to many areas of southern Peru, including Chicha, Ica, Arequipa, Lima, Tacna and – not so surprisingly – Pisco. Although both countries now make pisco, there are subtle differences, primarily involving how long the fermented drink is aged. Although Peru has filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization for proprietary rights to the drink, it may still be easier to find Chilean pisco in the United States. As a Peruvian, I would disapprove and tell you to purchase it online... but if don’t tell your guests, they’ll never know.

The pisco sour is a very simple drink to make, and a favorite among tourists. I will warn you that its taste similar to lemonade masks the very potent alcohol. Being American and not knowing the Peruvians are notorious for starting everything late, my father mistakenly arrived on time for a function in his honor held in Peru in the 1960s and started drinking this tasty concoction – only to find he had become rather inebriated by the time the event got under way. (Thankfully, he didn’t make a scene.) The recipe I am providing here is a more traditional preparation; in a rush, my good friend Barbara says that substitute limeade concentrate for the limes and sugar syrup works just as well. The general proportions are 3 parts pisco for 1 part juice and 1 part sugar syrup.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 7 ½ oz. pisco*
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 ½ oz. key lime juice
  • Ice, lots of it
  • Angostura bitters (optional)

  1. Combine sugar in a small saucepan with just enough water to moisten it. Heat over very low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
  2. Add the lime juice and pisco to the still warm sugar syrup and beat quickly until everything is mixed well. Put into blender and add enough ice to double the volume.
  3. Blend at high speed for approximately 30 seconds, until the ice has broken up. Add the egg white and blend for one minute. There will be a signature foam on top of the liquid. Add more sugar if you’d like a sweeter
  4. Serve in old fashioned or white wine glasses immediately. If desired, place a drop or two of bitters as a garnish on top of the foam in each glass.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A time to laugh, a time to cry

The family was heading out late last week for our semi-annual joint haircut at Cabello's, having let our manes get quite shaggy. We scheduled the visit on the day I didn't teach, which corresponded with the day that Xan was not in school due to a day of parent-teacher conferences. Ange had to teach, however, and so just before the appointed time, we were parked relatively close to her classroom to wait. We were listening to a mix-CD (is that what you call the slightly more modern version of a "mix tape," before we get to playlists?) made by a friend as a party favor for his three-year-old's birthday party earlier this year. Since this CD features Elmo, Xan was in a particularly good mood.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a quiet voice from the back seat of the car said, "Dada, when someone kills, that means someone dies, right?"

I was a bit shaken by this, but the word "kill" has come up a few times before. I think one of the kids at his school had talked about "killing" things, perhaps because he has a video game or something and I had dissuaded Xan from blithely using the word, trying to indicate the serious finality of killing. He also understands the concept of death, somewhat, mainly because his great-grandfather died only a year ago. So I said, "Yes, that's what that means."

There was a pause.

And then: "Dada, when will I die?"

In the rear view mirror, I could see the earnest expression on his face. At that point, I had to figure out how to hold it together. I was not preapred for this at all, nor the way that such a question would put me near tears. Quite frankly, I don't think about this possibility at all because, deep inside, I know this would crush me in ways I really can't imagine. (This, even though we upped our life insurance the other day. My own potential death? Apparently, I can handle that.)

I replied, "Oh, sweetie. I have no idea when you will die. Hopefully, not for a very, very long time."

He pondered that. "When do people die?" he continued.

"We don't know," I said. "No one ever knows when they're going to die. That's why we have to do the best we can while we're still here."

He seemed to accept this, and I gave him a squeeze. I did think, however, What on earth inspired him to ask that question?

On the way home from the haircut, the CD had started over again and I realized that one of the songs we had heard in the morning was Dolly Parton's version of the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn." I absolutely love this song in virtually any form (part of my amusement comes from the fact that this is probably the only #1 pop song to be inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes), but of course the song posits a series of opposites. In fact, as I thought about it, I realized that a few days earlier we heard the song and Xan, having processed the concept "kill = bad," had said, "Dada, they said 'kill.' That's bad." I had explained what the song was trying to do, and that we needed the bad things in life in order to appreciate the good. Somehow, however, I hadn't thought about him processing the concept of death as it might apply to himself.

All this simply means that I better take my copy of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" out of the car.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Back from outer space (or maybe just Macchu Picchu)

I'm so very sorry that it's taken me this long to get posting again. In all honesty, I simply vowed that it wasn't right for me to blog while I still had some papers due back to my students. It's been a rougher semester than what I originally planned. Among other things, the infamous tenure file got submitted and I had to quickly race through edits on the book. Speaking of which, as it turns out, if you think I'm not legit about this whole getting published thing, I apparently now have an official ISBN! How exciting! You can now even read the synopsis, and even pre-order at Amazon! (Hopefully by the time a cover is designed and/or the book actually gets published, the powers that be will have figured out that my middle initial isn't "R." Sigh...) I can't think of anything more fabulous than that.

Well, maybe I can. Because you know what would be really fabulous? These days, I've been getting into Bollywood movies a little more. I even showed Dil se... to my general class this semester. What a shame, however, that I can't combine my growing interest for Bollywood films and my Peruvian heritage. I mean, wouldn't it be cool if, say, a Bollywood film were to film in Peru or somethng? Maybe some giant science fiction flick starring worldwide goddess Aishwarya Rai frolicking around Macchu Picchu with some alpacas frolicking in the background?


Well, well. Dreams really do come true!

And this flick might even be better than the last science fiction film set in Peru (which, mind you, encouraged the main Lima newspaper El Comercio to create a brand-new "no-stars" rating). The only reason to apparently see that flick was to catch super-telenovela hunk Cristian Meier naked. That, and a fake UFO over Maccu Picchu.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

O? Yeah.

More a little later today on yesterday's election experience, but for now, I'll note that Angela pointed out to me last night that the first president that Xan will ever remember will be Barack Obama.

And that is a wonderful thing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Listen to Diddy



(And know that those of us working those polls on Tuesday are going to do our damnedest to make sure those lines move as quickly as we can manage them.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Would Disney-owned ABC show movies about leggy, murderous transvestites?

When The WB and UPN merged to become the WB, the leftover stations apparently turned into a network lamely called myNetworkTV. According to Wikipedia (and I remember this when they started up), they originally began as the place where English-language telenovelas started up; they didn't catch and, quite frankly, I am never sure what these stations are for except as literal way-stations from one of out PBS affiliates to the other.

Except that occasionally these networks show some pretty funky movies for network television.

I haven't been watching too much prime-time network TV, but it's fun to do while folding laundry. About a month ago, I remember channel surfing and discovering to my amusement that Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark was showing. Thinking that only PBS would have the nerve to show a long, difficult film with non-stop handheld camera punctuated by musical numbers all featuring Bjork, I was truly shocked when all of a sudden a commercial for fast cash appeared.

Tonight, they appear to be showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show.






Who is programming this stuff? This is great.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why Zithromax and amoxycillin are welcome guests in our home this week

Upon picking up the boy at school today:

A: So who did you play with at school today?
X: I didn't play with anybody.
A: Really? I thought I just saw you playing with Shaya-
X (adamantly): No, I wasn't playing with him.
A: Why didn't you play with anybody today?
X: Because I have germs.
A (slightly worried, "is he being ostracized?"): Really? Who said that.
X: I did.
A: You did.
X: Yes. I have a hundred and fifty-seven germs.
A ("oh"): Really.
X: I have a hundred and seventy germs.
A: I see.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Beats in Barranco

Lima has grown far more cosmopolitan in many ways since I lived there almost 20 (crikey!) years ago. At the time, I was heavily into music and I still relish whatever little clubbing I did, bopping away to the likes of Depeche Mode and New Order in the black, black rooms of Bizpix and Nirvana. These bands, however, never played in Peru, as if the mere thought of touring the area was anathema. French band Indochine came and I think Roxette gave a few concerts at my high school (!) shortly after I left Peru, but the big bands from England and the U.S.? Not then. Erasure came many years later (my cousin says that her super-macho now-husband danced the night away like a transvestite superstar), but the closest we ever got was Air Supply -- and I even think that concert was cancelled.

This is why, despite what I know to be true about Lima's resurgent cosmopolitanism, it still surprises me when I get something in my Inbox indicating that yes, pop culture arrives there as well. I used to buy Global Underground's CDs fairly frequently, given my penchant for electronica (now somewhat dormant) and as the series went around the world (Moscow, San Francisco, Ibiza), I kept thinking to myself, Well, they ain't never gettin' to Lima. Punta del Este, Uruguay, sure, but that's a resort town. And here I am, eating my words. (Plus, the music is pretty good.)

(And if I'm listening to music again -- and writing here again -- can you tell that the tenure file went in today? Wheeeeee!)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Dat's wat I'm talkin bout

Naturally, Angela and I are so out of touch, we hadn't heard of the original song before we laughed our heads of at this. The scary thing is that, as you can imagine, some of this regularly seeps into some of the papers I receive.

Plus, this (at least visually) features the amazing HotforWords, who has to be doing something for rising interest of English-language etymology among teenage boys.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Is it so wrong...

...for me to expect a candidate running for election to be able to pronounce "nuclear" as it is spelled?

Then again, what do I know. After all, the person I'm referring to is a rather accomplished poet.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Raising my bottle of vinaigrette

Oddly enough, one of my favorite Newman clips remains this screen test for East of Eden:



Naturally, I think this in part because James Dean is in it and everyone knows how I swoon for Jimmy. (Note: Giant played on PBS tonight. All kinds of good.) But man, this is so wonderful in part because Dean and Newman are so wonderfully different. Dean is clearly taunting the boy with the bowtie in a very sexual way -- and I don't say that just because he says, "Kiss me." The mutual stare at the end almost looks like they will either come to blows or make out. Either way might have worked for the film.

The funny thing, of course, is that it's arguable that Newman got his big break because of Dean's untimely, pointless death. His role as Rocky Robert Wise's Somebody Up There Likes Me broke Newman out of pretty-boy roles on television and into film and, quite frankly, the movies were never quite the same (or at least the leading men). As much as I am a Dean fanatic, I'm fairly certain that, like his idol Brando, he would have burned out or became large and eccentric had he survived. At the very least, he would never have had the career that Newman did -- or, indeed, the life that Newman did. The clip above is a funny reminder of how two stars diverged so very much from this point on -- and yet how both have gone down in infamy glow brightly, only in our collective memory.

Thank you, Paul.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

He knows not of what he narrates

No, I am not referring to any of my lectures. I am referring to my son's current narrative strategies, which is to take several things he has learned about and combine them into a new, even more exciting story. As I have previously mentioned, The Blob has already entered the family parlance, although now it refers simply to tasty jello. Somehow, however, the boy did manage to also process the correct definition of "The Blob," i.e. scary monster that creeps (and leaps and gliiides... OK, yes, please stop me now). I swear, he hasn't seen the movie. (Yet.)

This was apparently combined this evening at dinnertime while Angela and Xan were riding home together on the bicycle with the concept of "robots," apparently acquired through a friend at school. (I was not a first-hand witness to this, by the way, because it was "back to school night" at the preschool and I was the one on hand; at this meeting, the parents of the aforementioned child wanted to know is "camping" was a topic at school, because their son suddenly wants to go camping. It's hilarious how quickly these concepts are picked up.) Add the ever-constant Thomas the Tank Engine, who appears in all narratives these days. (Even when they involve pirates. Don't ask).

This results in the following narrative, explained matter-of-factly by Xan to Angela tonight: "The Blob and the robot were chasing after Thomas very, very fast. Thomas was scared -- but then he was faster and got away. From the Blob. And the robot. Who was big."

Personally, I think this would make a fantastic movie myself.
Apparently, Thomas doesn't share my opinion.

Friday, September 19, 2008

After all, it's just jello...

As indicated by the last post, we're becoming slightly obsessed with The Blob over here chez Middents-Dadak. Since Angela has been posting about this on her Facebook page, I suppose I let the world know why. For the last few years, our department has hosted a Literary Dessert Party, featuring all sorts of inventive confections inspired by works of literature. Since I am one of the film folks, we decided last year to enter with a film-inspired dessert instead. (You can see last year's entry here.) I still like the idea of One Hundred Cookies of Solitude, but our oven's being on the fritz prevents that from happening. In fact, that prevents most desserts... except, of course, gelatin.

Hence: our entry this year will be The Blob.

Angela gets all the credit for this, having heard the NPR story about the flick's 50th anniversary last week. I did go out, however, and acquire the flick from the library's collection. It was wonderfully campy and, I thought, hilariously funny, right from the opening credits with the fab Burt Bacharach theme song. ("Beware of the blob, it creeps, and leaps and glides and sliiides across the floor!" Priceless!) I watched it on Tuesday when no one else was home and was telling Angela all about it at the dinner table that evening.

Xan, of course, was listening. "Can I see The Blob, Dad?"

Angela looked at me and said, "I don't know. Can he?"

I considered this. Remember that he has been exposed to a grand total of about a half-dozen movies in his lifetime so far, mainly ones featuring musical numbers or trains like Singin' in the Rain or The General. So if we were to show him The Blob, it would be one of the very few we've allowed. On the one hand, I'm loathe to show him what is actually a horror movie at the tender age of three-and-a-half. On the other hand, when I taught my course on horror movies, my students indicated that they had been exposed rather early to really terrifying movies at the age of five. Besides, the boy has already entered Pirates phase and is all about swashbuckling and what-not. (There seems to be a progression of interest from trains to dinosaurs to pirates among young boys; if this is true, we seem to have skipped over the Tyrannosaurus for now.) So how much harm would cinematic man-eating jello cause? Certainly this is less creepy than Grimm's Fairy Tales (which we also haven't started) and I suppose there are worse things to happen than to develop jangelaphobia.

Luckily, I had to return the movie before Xan could watch it. But now he's curious about it. So I open the idea to you: do you think it's to early for The Blob? (It creeps!)

(By the way, we are not dressing him as the Blob for Halloween. Although maybe that's not a bad idea for me...)

UPDATE: In case anyone wants to see what the end result looked like (although it's a shame you can't taste it, because it tasted far better than it looks...):

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beware the Blob!!

I just got finished watching The Blob and all I have to say is that if the Republicans want a real reason to prevent climate change, perhaps they should consider what's frozen up there...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

That Darn Cat

So I have a cat, named Vega. Or rather, my wife has a cat named Vega. We got her together, but now matter how many times I happen to be the one who either feeds her or gives her water, she only seems to have love for Angela. Unless I happen to by typing, in which case she shows love by purring on my wrists so that my chances of acquiring carpel tunnel syndrome triple every ten minutes.

This evening, I was taking two bottles out to the recycling. It was a little warm and I was wearing a t-shirt and boxer briefs, but I would be out for only a moment, so I thought, why bother? I turned off the front porch light (just in case the neighbors would be offended) and opened the door,

Vega took this moment to dash out the front door.

This has happened before. Thankfully, she is also a Scaredy Cat, so usually one car going by on the main road will freak her out enough that she realizes she doesn't like being outside and runs in. Either that, or a brief chase. I took off after her, but this time she quickly dashed back into the darker driveway.

I realized that this might take slightly longer than the usual 90-second chase and therefore pants might be more prudent. I quickly found a pair of shorts and raced outside again. After a few minutes, I saw she appeared at the back door. I went up to open the door for her, but then she abruptly turned.

And subsequently disappeared.

I started freaking out at about the 15-minute mark when I realized that if I couldn't find her, going meticulously through the yard with a (mini) flashlight might also be pointless. I started asking random dog-owners out walking their mutts to please let them loose in the yard to flush out my cat, only to find that all the dogs out walking by me were already used to cats and wouldn't bark. I went through the whole back yard several times with a flashlight, including the sketchy area next to the garage. Where I got my face stuck in a spider web. Uh huh.

Angela knew none of this, being on a red line train. At the 30-minute mark, I finally called her, saying that I can't find Vega anywhere and that I would pick her up when she got to the train station, because by this point I've also called our neighbor Meipo to watch Xan (who is fast asleep) while I stretch further away from the house to look for her. At this point, I'm in a state of mild panic: a feeling of I-hope-she's-OK mixed with stupid-cat-why-did-she-sneak-out to what-the-hell-is-Angela-going-to-do-to-my-testicles-when-she-finds-out-her-cat-is-gone. None of these are pleasant feelings. When I pick Angela up from the train station, I'm tense and near tears.

We arrive home. Angela whistles once and says, "Vega!" Out of nowehere, our cat scampers to the porch and meows once.

On the one hand, I'm so happy that stupid wretch of a cat is OK. But after 45 minutes outside looking for that fucking loser excuse of a cat who didn't even acknowledge that I was looking for her, no matter what I said? I'm telling you: I ain't feeding that damn thing for a week. Maybe some bananas.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hot for....

Jimmy Kimmel recently said that VP candidate Sarah Palin "looks like one of those women in the Van Halen videos who takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair, and then all of a sudden, she's in high heels and a bikini."

Like so:



Despite my love and appreciation for "Hot for Teacher," as someone who appreciates the English language (perhaps more so than Palin or Halen), I much prefer to be hot for words.

I mean, really, wouldn't you?

(h/t to Ange via GrammarBlog, who says "She makes me feel funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class." Ahem. Yes.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Tellurium-Plated Life



As I'll be busy throughout the fest, I thought I'd post the official Telluride Film Fest widget in the regular part of the blog. I'll update my own schedule and this little contraption is pretty neat, given that it will feature updated information as it happens at the fest. Moreover, there will be some clips of on-the-street interviews shown on Starz! through the weekend and apparently Turner Classic Movies (my home theater!) will be featuring two days of TFF material. The lineup, by the way, has already been announced. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Whee!!

I'm here! (And already having issues with altitude.... maybe some wine will help....)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

CAMERA



CAMERA
D: David Cronenberg, Canada, 2000, approx. 7 minutes.
Source: Viderdrome (Criterion Collection version)

A narrator starts to tell a story off-camera: "One day, the children brought home a camera." It's a simple statement; it starts simply, with a man -- no, not a man: an actor. Images of the children with the camera are intercut with images of a nice gentleman with graying hair, shot with a video camera in medium shot. As he continues, however, the (video) camera starts to push forward, so that the man is in close-up when he announces something unexpected: "When you look at it in a cold light, photography is death."

Camera continues a fascinating interplay of images as the actor delivers a monologue about the "dangers" that the Camera proposes. The children matter-of-factly do all the tasks needed to make a movie: check lights, process film, measure the f-stop; these are all shot in a very matter-of-fact manner as well, with relatively "normal" lighting and camera distances. These are all in stark contrast to the images of the actor, who the video camera moves into shots so close that we as viewers feel uncomfortable. The actor appears unattractive, even sinister: the light from the windows appears too harsh, his eyebrows are thick and menacing. The actor is also edited in an odd manner: often, we are presented with jump cuts to sudden extreme close-ups of his eyes. The images are not necessarily horrific, yet the tone established throughout this piece is horrific.

In many ways, Camera is an interesting precursor to Cronenberg's 2005 feature film A History of Violence, which cannily comments on the movies in a similar way. In that film, scenes of violence and gore which would otherwise titillate the viewer are presented in a stark, cold manner than unnerves even the most seasoned viewers, making us question the very nature of the horror film genre. (One can argue he this is a common preoccupation for the director, also seen in eXistenZ, Naked Lunch and especially the brilliant Videodrome, which also featured Leslie Carlson, the actor featured here.) In Camera, Cronenberg does not present any gore and yet the whole film is structured to terrify. I particularly like this piece because the link between photography and death so clearly derives from Roland Barthes' tragically final work Camera Lucida. These ideas were not academic for Barthes: the work is inspired by his mother's death, and every photograph of her does not remind him of the joy that her life brought, but instead serves to mock him, reminding him that she is dead. Cronenberg highlights something very similar: the life captured by motion pictures only demonstrates that such moments cannot be repeated and taunt us with what once was and can never be again.

Camera becomes truly haunting in the last minute or so, when the children bring the large, old 35mm camera into the room with the actor. They apply make-up, change everything around and then a young boy (bespectacled, like Cronenberg) says, "Action." And suddenly, the image changes: it is warm, gorgeous, widescreen. And suddenly we realize that the harshness of everything that has come before is largely due to the use of video instead of film. (This section was actually filmed with the very camera seen throughout the short.) And yet, as soft and beautiful as this looks/sounds/feels, we are acutely aware of everything that the actor has noted before this. He repeats his initial line -- "One day, the children brought home a camera" -- but the line is changed, no longer innocent. And this time, the shot hangs on just a little too long. It catches the actor's face in a private moment: in the last seconds of the film, Carlson's face breaks for just a moment, his eyes watering and distant, filled with despair. The film cuts away to black -- and the effect is terrifying. Can we watch movies again the same way?

This entry is part of the Movies About Movies Blogathon hosted at GoatDogBlog -- please feel free to visit the other entries listed on that site. This is also cross-posted as the first entry at the newest incarnation of The Short Films Blog, the blog associated with my course this semester. New entries on short films will appear every day until December 11th, with students starting to post next weekend. Please visit there often -- and comment on the students' work, since they earn extra credit for more comments!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Of trains and sewing machines

Hide and Seek


We were introduced to this song, I'm almost ashamed to say, because of So You Think You Can Dance. (Yes, admitting it.) And this song completely bowled us over, so much that Angela bought the song for her ipod. This is somewhat surprising on the surface, since she's not exactly a fan of electronic music at all. Yet she's listened to it non-stop. It's also become an earworm for me, enough that I tried singing the tune to Xan in an effort to calm him down at some point over the last day.

We might be a little obsessed.

I have since found Imogen Heap's whole website, where she has ridiculously cool video-blog entries about the creative process. The song also seemed ripe for use by collegiate a-cappella singing groups -- and, sure enough, I found that the group I sang for (well, the summer version, I never even tried to make the regular version since they had ridiculously talented basses already and I didn't stand a chance in hell) has a pretty decent version.



So what's your favorite earworm these days? Or did I just provide one for you?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Just like Casey Kasem...

Right now, we are counting down to several things:
  • The first day of classes, for the whole family;
  • The first day in "Green Room" (aka the Big Kids' Room), for Xan;
  • J&A's departure for Telluride, which happens during the first week of classes; and
  • the relaunch of this.
We can't do anything if you want to participate in the first three; for #4, however, please e-mail me if you're wondering how you can participate in making my students' lives that much better or worse. (Yes, grading is involved. Señor Pájaro, here's your chance!)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I don't watch movies. I prefer good film criticism.

I just found out that Metropolitan, one of my favorite movies from the early 1990s, just got release on Hulu, of all places. The movie was an oddly daring debut from director Whit Stillman, and garnered a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for a talky piece about some rich kids maneuvering through the upper echelon of Manhattan.

I saw this when I was a freshman or sophomore in college, just before I started really appreciating "films" and yet I found this movie utterly refreshing, having giggled incessantly throughout. I thought that perhaps it was because I was at Dartmouth, where many of these people who were really so full of themselves seemingly ended up (or so it seemed, work-study kid that I was, surrounded by what seemed to be very privileged people). On my exchange term at UC-San Diego, however, I convinced someone on my hall -- a very loopy, arty guy that I respected -- to come to a campus screening with me, and he laughed throughout the whole movie and thanked me profusely when it was over.

There's a great moment which, I'm sad to say, isn't spoken by my favorite character, the insouciant Nick (played with gleeful abandon by Chris Eigeman), but rather in an exchange between Audrey (Carolyn Farina) and Tom (Edward Clements). (I wasn't able to snip out a clip from Hulu, so look for it around the 27-minute mark.) Not so surprisingly, Audrey loves Jane Austen and is unnerved by Tom's vehemence against her work -- when all of a sudden he admits the he's never read Austen at all. "Oh no," he says, "I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking."

Every so often, I wonder about whether literature (and film) professors in general suffer from this conundrum. And then they wonder when people like Audrey, who rightly live in the pleasure that the book provides, think that we're nuts for looking too closely at what we read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Las olimpiadas peruanas

The Olympics are on again, which means that NBC must remind everyone in this country that no one cares about anything that the Americans don't win. Though I am as swept-up as the next guy with the impressive swimming out there, the constant rah-rah becomes tiresome, overshadowed only by the singularly dumb "commentary" offered by the "sportscasters" who seem more interested in Philip Dalhausser's lack of hair than his playing ability. My good friend laloca seems to be upset that equestrian events are being given the short shrift in television coverage; I think that she should thank her lucky stars that she doesn't have to hear about how Gandalf really loves to eat carrots in the morning. I try to alleviate all the flag-waving by checking the medal tracker every day to discover heretofore unknown athletes from countries you wouldn't expect to get a medal. (For example, I see that Togo has won a bronze medal in kayaking! Why isn't there a story about that? I bet you it's big in Lomé right now...)

All this brings me back rwenty years to August 1988 when I was just starting my senior year of high school in Lima. Peru has never been one to make a huge presence in any international sport these days (in soccer, for example, I thank God for Bolivia for keeping Peru from the bottom of the pack of the South American World Cup standings), but that year the country sent a world powerhouse team for one sport: women's volleyball. Strange but true: Peru used to be a feared presence in women's volleyball.

To the delight of millions of Peruvians, the women made it all the way to the final game, where they played against the "Confederation of International States" -- which is to say, the Soviet Union, having just broken up and not figured out what to do in time for the Olympics. Given that the big event was happening in Seoul, the medal match got under way very late at night, probably around 2am or so. I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the game, even though it was a school night, although I was so tired I couldn't stay awake.

When I woke up, I turned on the TV to see what the final score was -- and discovered that the game was still going on.

Indeed, after soundly winning the first two sets, Peru subsequently lost the following two sets, leading to a do-or-die fifth set, with both teams trading points. The game was still going strong when my family realized that the school bus was on its way -- and with my school all the way on the other side of town and us not having a car, I had to race down the stairs to get the bus on time. Someone, probably Vicente, had a portable radio to listen to the rest of the game; I remember Jenny complaining about a lack of equestrian events being shown in Peru. (Some things really never change.)

The bus ride offered one of the more surreal images I will ever see. Despite the fact that it was rush hour and the route to school traversed some of the most traffic-laden roads in Lima (and that says something), there were barely any cars at all. The bus zipped to school in no time flat -- and the only people we saw on the street were all crowded around electronics stores, which had graciously turned on television sets in their display windows so that dozens of Peruvians stood staring, immobile, at a single screen.

When we got to school, the game was still on. A teacher had a portable TV in the trunk of their car and various teachers crowded around; we students were stuck with radios. I had never seen the final points until tonight when I happened upon a sketchy YouTube clip of the final ten minutes of the game:


If you look at this video, you will note around the 7-minute mark the point where Peru had this in the bag: 15-14, championship point, Peru serving. I distinctly remember this moment being transmitted over the radio. The ball went into the air --

And the transmission stopped. Silence.

Everyone who was listening at school basically let out a loud cry of "WTF?!" in both English and Spanish. What happened? Satellite feed? Sendero Luminoso? Crappy Peruvian 1980s technology? Aaaaigh!

Less than two minutes later, the feed came back. Just in time for us to hear the announcer say that the Soviets had just gotten the last point. 17-15. Peru lost.

Peruvian women's volleyball never came back to that high point on the international stage: despite being recognized as a major player throughout the 1980s, you will note that Peru is not playing in the Olympics this year in that event. The loss at this game still meant that Peru won the silver medal, one of only four won by Peruvian athletes at any Olympics. This merited a major celebration when they got back home, which remains memorable.

That is, maybe, until 2020. Since, apparently, if Alan García gets his way, Peru won't just be a major player at the Olympics: Peru will be the Olympics. Hell, that Great Wall ain't got nothin' on Macchu Picchu, man. Can Francisco Lombardi match an opening ceremony to the level of Zhang Yimou? And if the athletes can take Beijing's smog, how will they do in Lima? (Actually, Lima's probably better than Beijing in that department. Maybe.) There are those who think the idea of a Peruvian Olympics isn't so bad. Then again, this comes from the government so full of itself that it actually, seriously tried for a bid for the 2016 Olympics... even though the deadline had passed nearly a year ago.

Still, check out the "promotional video!" I, for one, am convinced.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Scene: Int. Night. Somewhere on the blogosphere.

A door is in the middle of the screen. It is fairly non-descript, lacking adornment beyond a round doorknob and a small sign with a hand-printed sign that says "Summer 2008."

Slowly, the doorknob turns. The door slivers open, creaking ominously. An EYE peers out. Blinks once.

VOICE
Hm.

The door creaks open further, and a HEAD pokes out. This is MIDDENTO, a slightly frazzled guy with dark hair and glasses set askew on his face. Behind him, glimpses of a richly colorful, playful images can be seen in the background: a young boy and girl on a swing; a carousel horse; the Ann Arbor art fair; many, many road signs; a squirrel stealing a green tomato; Peruvian food consumed by many; The Dark Knight.

Quickly, MIDDENTO steps out of the door and slams the door shut. He brushes some dust off his hands and the top of his jeans. He looks around.

MIDDENTO
Well. I guess I should get back to blogging.

He looks around, offers a perplexed eyebrow.

MIDDENTO
I wonder if anyone is still here. Or will mind if I just jump back in after being away for so long.

He looks at the camera.

Cut to black.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where parents fear to tread...

I had promised to take Xan to the playground after a nap on our last day in Ann Arbor, fully aware that it was supposed to storm that day. Luckily, there's a cool indoor playground/coffee shop called Jungle Java that has a giant structure to climb around. Xan saw it, went in and didn't touch the floor again until they closed.

At some point, I decided that this was a good moment for me to take my trusty new pocket video camera and venture inside this structure. Clearly, a Steadicam would have been more useful here, if even more impossible to go around various corners; clearly, this was also not made for a thirty-six-year-old man. (That said, you may note I'm not the only one in there.) Please note how appreciative my son is of my travails in maneuvering said obstacle.

video

Monday, July 14, 2008

The power of bargaining

There is so much to blog about, and it's criminal that I really haven't had an opportunity near a fast connection. Not to mention the fact that my poor camera lost its button, and therefore I have lost the ability to take pictures.

But, then there's this.

We are currently on summer vacation in Ann Arbor visiting my folks. My cousin Ed also happens to live here and he and his wife have two kids. John, the elder, is a year older than Xan, but is exactly the same size. Last year, John was three (and all that implies) and this year he's an angel -- but now Xan's three (and all that implies). So when they invited us out for pizza, I was worried how things would go. Luckily, being boys, they were both thrilled at their mutual interest in toy cars and fries. Things were going swimmingly.

As we were leaving, however, I noticed that Xan had the two cars (one larger, one smaller) that he had brought in one hand, and one of John's cars in the other. This could not be good. "Xan," I warned as we went down the staircase, "you have to give John back his car."

"But I don't want to!" This is a common retort.

"It's not your car. It's John's car."

"But I like John's car."

I decided to try logic. Again. It only works occasionally, but I'm persistent like that. "What would you say if John wanted one of your cars." I waited for the expected response: I wouldn't like that, no no, it's my car.

But there was a pause as he went down a few more stairs. Thoughts were being processed. My ears perked up as I realized we were officially off-script.

He replied, "I would tell him OK, and he could give me the car back the next time we see each other."

Holy crap. "Really?" I said.

"Yes."

OK, then! "Well, let's ask him then."

Sure enough, at the bottom of the stairs, Xan heads for John. They talk for a moment and John happily grabs both of Xan's cars while Xan happily comes back with the single (but very cool) car of John's. It takes me a minute to tell John's parents that no, he does not need to give the car back, that the boys have (somehow) worked it out. All of us marvel at this unprecedented event.

Since then, Xan and "John's car" have been inseparable. Which makes me a little nervous as we head to tomorrow, where we will be joining forces at a local (kick-ass) water park. But for now, I revel in the negotiation skills of my son. And how logic worked. Well, for a moment, at least.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Everyone agrees that...



In terms of movies made in 2002, Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her is better than Tom Tykwer's Heaven.

Totrilla española is tastier than potato pancakes.

If I wanted to leave tomorrow and come back in a week, Orbitz indicates that it will cost me $2000 less to fly Iberia to Madrid than it would for me to fly Lufthansa to Berlin (or, actually, Madrid).

Hm. Movies. Food. Flights. Soccer.

Yep, Spain is better than Germany.

(yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!! sorry, Hausfrau, but that was one heck of a game!)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

¡Gooooool!

YES!!! (Have I mentioned that I'm a fan of the Spanish national team? With Turkey down several players in the semi-final against Germany, Spain only needs to get through Russia to get to the final. And then, the husband of the Desperate Hausfrau and I can definitely start the trash-talking...)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

With the family out of town...

...I've naturally taken to watch some porno.


Particularly, you know, if said porno features Isabella Rosselini. And an impish grin. Meow.

(Hat tip to Stinkylulu! This turns out to be great stuff for my fall course...)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nothing beats a great pair of legs

My students hate the "Broadway Melody" sequence. Every time I show Singin' in the Rain (which is practically every semester, since it is a great film to reference throughout any film course), I always brace myself when we get to the big number about three-quarters' through the film. It stops the plot dead with absolutely no relevance to what has come before and it will take about 17 minutes for us to return to the story at hand. No matter that this was the reason why audiences went to see the film back in 1952, my students generally hate the sequence.

But oh, those legs. No one can deny those legs.

Every time I see Singin' in the Rain -- which, between my classes and my son, is often -- I still get chills every time those green-clad legs come on screen. I remember that even as a kid, I was mesmerized by those legs. Cyd Charisse never says a single word and yet, in this spectacle-within-the-film, she has a brilliantly executed character arc, created only by dance. And while the movie isn't done in widescreen, Charisse's stretched legs certainly makes it seem otherwise.

Charisse's passing follows the other greats from the film: Lina Lamont (1977), Don Lockwood (1996), Cosmo Brown (2003); only spunky Kathy Seldin remains with us. Each one dancing into the afterlife makes me thankful for the wonderful world they left behind. Mme. Charisse, you will be missed.

Wednesday Whyning 2 (now with added mooning!)

It has been hot around here. Like good American consumers that we are, we bought a cheap inflatable swimming pool (made in China, natch) for all of us to cool off with in the backyard. Last week, Xan had returned from school, only to remove all his clothes to throw himself with wild abandon into the pool. We are, needless to say, not exactly the most modest of families.

I had been cooking, realized the rest of the family was home, and went outside to say hello. This included a trip to the aforementioned pool.

"Daddy, I want you to take off your clothes and come into the pool."

Hm. Yes. Well. I did say the whole family is like this, and back in the day when it was hot and Xan and I stayed home together (before school), there were many celebrations of Naked Boy Day. (I used to have a posting about this, but I have no idea where it went...) "I'm sorry, Xan, I'm cooking. I can't take off my clothes and come into the pool right now."

"Why can't you take off your clothes and come into the pool?"

I decided to tell him the truth. "Because there are laws against Dada taking his clothes off outside where the neighbors can see him."

Oddly enough, he accepted that idea.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

15 years from now, this posting would probably show up on Facebook titled "After the first frat party"

Angela and Xan left last night for the road trip to Cape Cod, with an overnight pit stop in New York. The trip was uneventful and actually fun for everyone involved. (If I'm not mistaken, Angela has not had quite the solitary summer road trip experiences with Xan -- with optional emergency issues -- that I have had in the past.) They arrived without incident early this afternoon and he took one look at the grandparents' backyard, said "I need to mow," and clicked back into his summer groove. Apparently, he has also managed to completely scrape up one knee less than 6 hours after arriving. Beautiful.

After putting him to bed and checking her email in another part of the house, Angela went to check on Xan in his bed as she normally does. She fumbled around in the bed for a little while in the dark . . . only to discover that he wasn't there. For a moment, she got confused and a bit worried, wondering if he had perhaps gone in with his grandmother? maybe? did I put him here?

And then she heard some light snoring coming from elsewhere in the room.

At which point she found the boy in the following position:


Naturally, the whole family was called to witness this. Many photographs were claimed to have been taken. A beer was almost placed into his hand. Please make note of the seeming cat-skin hat perched on his head: to get the full effect, you must also know that the kid-snores were accompanied by the obsessively purring cat (not Vega; this is good ol' [friendly] Cous-Cous).

Angela called me about this. How can he sleep like that? she asked incredulously. I really don't know what you mean, I replied, but he sure looks like a drunk frat boy to me.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A new set of eyes

I was perfectly happy with the old blog template, having had the same (Dots Dark) since the beginning with only a few modifications. Then Angela told me, luddite that I am, about RSS feeds to manage blog-reading more efficiently. I then discovered I could post the feeds on here, simply by adding a new form of a blog-roll. Neato.

Doing so, however, threw my whole template out of whack. Primarily the picture of Xan's eyes, which were now floating in Nowheresville instead of over the blog title, like I originally had it. And no matter what I did, I couldn't get it back to the way I had it.

Basta, I said, it's time for a slightly more radical change.

Truth be told, I really didn't care for many of the other template choices. It's the first time I've been peeved by blogspot for screwing up my original format. I was annoyed by the one I finally settled on as well, since it had this random orange star right at the top.

That is, until I discovered I could simply cover it up with a banner.

I think it will take getting used to seeing my blog this way, but change can be good. Tell me if you think agree that change is good (bonus points if you can identify the other set of eyes). Who knows: I might even post more often.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sick day

Xan had a 102-degree fever today, which pretty much matched the weather outside. Luckily, celebratory revelry this weekend forced us to bring down the giant air conditioner, thus the boy was able to exist in relatively cool temperatures. We'll see where he's at tomorrow.

Since he was a baby, however, living with fever basically means one thing: he becomes the Cling Monster. A parent going to, say, the refrigerator to get him some orange juice is taken as if the limbs of his favorite stuffed animal have been ripped off. (Going to the bathroom? Forget it.) Basically, the entire day he wants to be held, even if it's ridiculously hot between the weather and his feverish body. On the plus side, this activity is a relatively good indicator of whether he's better because then he wants to, you know, play or stand up by himself or something. On the minus side, until the fever is past, there is no plus side.

Like I said, this has been this way since he was a baby. Sucker that I am, I give in to whatever he wants when he's sick, to my own detriment. Case in point: my lunch today consisted of some crackers with hummus that I managed to shove into my mouth before my lap was demanded in a pathetic whimper.

By dinnertime, he felt much better. As we were eating, however, Angela observed with bemusement that I was still in my bathrobe, having never made it to the shower. (Don't think she got off too easily today: as her bike was stolen late last week, we replaced it over the weekend; as this bike wasn't quite up to speed, however, she spent roughly an hour and half at Target this evening trying to return it.)

Xan, who was polite all day today (!), asked to be excused from the dinner table. He scampered off a little and I finally relaxed a bit. "I noticed you're still in a bathrobe," Angela said, bemused.

"Yep," I replied. I jerked a thumb toward Xan's favorite tiger and affected a Marshall Dillon accent. "Me and Tigeroo have been clutched to all day long. First moment we've had free pretty much all day. I'm thinkin' he and I should go for drinks."

"There's all that margarita in the fridge."

Oooh, indeed there was! Someone brought over a gigantic vat of margaritas, mixed nice and strong, over the weekend. (Really tasty.) Surprisingly, we hadn't finished it all yet. "I think that's a great idea!"

She poured a glass, stepped back and laughed. "This would make a great picture. You could post about how you deal with a sick day."

I laughed. "Go get the camera."

Who needs a shower when you have tequila?

Friday, June 06, 2008

The terrible threes(ome)

M is a sweet and pretty little girl at Xan's school who apparently is relatively shy and reserved, often plays by herself.

That is, unless my son is involved.

Xan had a hitting incident with me this morning (for which he was reprimanded with some stern words and a three-year-old lecture on the perils of hitting, particularly the perils of hitting me). When I brought him to school, another kid came up to hit him while I was there. I was proud that he didn't hit back right away and mentioned this morning's incident to one of his teachers. "Oh yeah," she said, "it's his new thing, the hitting. He's definitely in that rambunctious phase." We've known this for a while: don't let anyone tell you anything about the "terrible twos," which I now think is a completely myth -- it's the threes you have to worry about (and Ange's Mom said she was the worst at four so I guess it could get worse). His teachers mentioned, however, that this new bravado turned out to be a good thing in another way: apparently, his current wild-man phase has been pulling M out of her shell a bit, since she adores him and will happily follow him around, even doing some naughty things herself because he did them. This is actually a good thing for her, according to the teachers, since they would like her to mix things up a bit. So while they are not letting him get away with everything, secretly they are pleased about the residual effect on M.

Anyway, Xan went over to M's house yesterday for a play date after school and they had a great time. This evening was the school potluck and M's mother sat next to me while the kids were supposed to be doing this group exercise thing in the campus amphitheater; my kid, meanwhile, was running around the back part of the plant area. "Look," M's mother said, pointing to her daughter who was running after him with the biggest grin on her face. "She is so smitten with him. I think she has a crush."

I had seen this a little earlier, when the two of them went off together to play on the playground and then she followed him to the tricycles. He had pedaled away and she was standing there. "Would you like to ride as well?" I asked her. She shook her head and said simply, "I don't know how to ride the tricycle yet." (This is totally understandable: Xan has only just learned, and through much determined effort because of his neverending obsession with wheels.) I watched him ride away with me and her standing there, looking after him. And she had that look in her eyes that said, Wow, he is just so cool. I thought to myself, Oh my goodness, I think M totally has a crush on my kid. This is so freaking adorable. Except, male that he is, he isn't really noticing at all. Typical guy.

I mentioned some of this to M's mother, who laughed. I looked back at the kids and at M running after Xan, trying to get his attention. But at that point, I noticed he was doing the same thing -- only not with M. I turned to M's mother and said, "M may have a crush on Xan, but right now it looks like Xan has a crush on R" -- one of the twin boys in his class, who Xan was indeed chasing after and imitating, no matter than R was trying his best to ignore him. In an exact parallel of what was happening with M.

For a moment, I realized with some surprise that this was mimicking the plotline of Threesome, a movie with Lara Flynn Boyle, Stephen Baldwin and Josh Charles that isn't all that great but that I still have an affection for, maybe because in 1994 I identified with it a bit too much when I saw it (and that is all of that story any of you people need to know, thank you very much). Still, all we need is for R to have unrequited affection for M, and then they go to college and...

No, no. No.

Still, it's incredibly cute to see what seems to be the first crush. (Just don't tell Jolie. Seriously. M doesn't stand a chance.)

Attention: Worlds officially colliding

Buffy_lI read Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog semi-religiously. It keeps me in touch with what's happening in pop culture, it occasionally has some great things to dish about and it produces America's Next Top Doll, which makes me bust a gut every time.

Today, they brought up the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverse happening right this second in Arkansas. This is a fab conference, with lots of really fun Buffy geeks. I should know: I went to the first one in Nashville several years ago. I'm even an official "Buffyologist" since the paper I presented there subsequently was picked up and published in Slayage. And yes, it's part of the scholarship material of my tenure file (which, incidentally, went to outside readers this morning). I am very proud of my little piece on the treatment of race in the American musical genre and "Once More (with Feeling)" I am also particularly proud that one of my graduate students is there right now (hi, Lauren!) and can't wait to chat with her about her experience.

But I digress: back to Popwatch. I decided to leave a comment on the article earlier in the day. I checked back again tonight, just to see what else had been posted about the conference. And in the comments, I discovered the following comment left by someone named Alissa:

Middento is a professor at my school. This popwatch comments section has become too surreal.

Ah, the 'verse is small indeed. Not to mention surreal.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The birth anouncement

Please welcome the birth of Writing National Cinema: Film Journals and Film Culture in Peru, which will be published by the University Press of New England sometime in 2009. The author, Jeffrey Middents, reports that he is exhausted but doing fine.

O Happy Day!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quietly, with Madeline

Many things will be said about the comic genius and fantastic, zippy presence of Madeline Kahn during Stinkylulu's Kahn-fest today. There will undoubtedly be a lot of wonderful commentary on her roles throughout her career; I hope, for one, that someone does a comparison of her Blazing Saddles singing with Marlene Dietrich's warbling in the westerns that she did.

For me, however, thinking about Madeline Kahn oddly comes back to Judy Berlin, a quiet wisp of a movie that happened to be her last. Her supporting role as a Lawn Guy Land mother, just realizing her marriage ain't what she thinks it is, is pitch-perfect.

I remember less about the film itself, however, and more about the experience watching it. I wanted to see it not only because it happened to win Sundance that year, but also because I heard both Madeline Kahn was fantastic in it. It was playing at a theater I had not really been to in downtown Monterey, California, right on the main drag. The only time that I had to see the movie was a matinee sometime during the week; in those days, I was mostly trying to finish my dissertation during the daytime and waiting tables at night, so movies had to get squeezed in by hook and crook sometimes. I remember racing to the theater, buying my ticket and walking in.

Upon entering, I realize that the space I've entered is somewhat cavernous: a relatively large theater for what is really a small town. There are only a few lights on, although maybe there was only one, as I only remember one, right above. The rest of the theater was curiously dark. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw that I was in what had been a lovely old theater, with some wonderful details on the sides -- but that had been years ago. Fallen somewhat into disrepair, there were cracks on the ceiling in a number of places, some plaster on the floor somewhere. I saw it was a beautiful theater, if a bit sad in its manner of cracking.

And so began the movie: Judy Berlin. And quickly, before I get into the movie itself, I realize that I am alone in this grand old theater. It is, I think, the only time I have had such a privilege -- awkward, because this should have more viewers, because movie-watching is a social experience where we are collectively alone. And yet, also amusing and intimate. And so, when Madeline comes on the screen, I don't feel as if she is speaking only to me; she really is only speaking to me -- large, in black-and-white, wonderful, cracking.

This entry is part of Stinkylulu's Madeline Kahn Appeciation Day -- please visit the other sites on the list, since at least one of them is sure to bring up that fact that she was in possibly the best flick of 1979 The Muppet Movie.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday Whyning #1

Today we begin a new series akin to Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts where you, gentle reader, may contemplate some of the issues brought forth in our world today as funneled through the ever-inquisitive mind of my three-year-old who NEVER. SEEMS. TO STOP. ASKING. WHY. I have at times, in fact, placed a limit on the number of why-questions he can ask while in the car on the way to school, mainly because I have already answered 619 of them and I still haven't had any coffee. (I have also discovered perhaps the best response to these questions. Trust me, I will find a way to use this at some point.) Feel free in the comments to provide some good answers to these questions.

This week's selection, said to Mama:
"Why do you have legs, Mama?"

(Husband's response: "For me to ogle, kid.")

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Smackdowning John Malkovich

It's been ages since I have had the chance to participate in one of Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdowns -- so when a call went up for 1999 and I realized I had already seen most of the performances involved (I had only not seen one of the films), I jumped at the chance. For the record, the nominees are:
  • Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense
  • Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich
  • Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted
  • Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown
  • Chloe Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry
A pretty interesting year, one that yielded some fun nominations indeed. As a curio, however, it turns out that I actually kept track of the movies I watched back in 1999 and chose my own list of a top five back then. In apparent order of preference from nine years ago, my choices then for Best Supporting Actress were:
  • Julianne Moore for Magnolia (but also Cookie’s Fortune and An Ideal Husband)
  • Sissy Spacek for The Straight Story
  • Toni Collette for The Sixth Sense
  • Cameron Diaz for Being John Malkovich
  • Nora Dunn for Three Kings
Poor Cameron Diaz will never get another shot like this again, I fear. I do wonder why Spacek wasn't nominated: it's such a great little performance, and Richard Farnsworth got an acting nomination out of it. (Plus, hey, she was playing someone mentally challenged! It's a sure thing! Heck, look what it did for Jolie!) Then again, what was I thinking about Nora Dunn?

Anyway, my views have changed slightly in the ensuing years. Check out the Smackdown to see the winner (who, by the way, I'm totally happy with).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Eureka!

(UPDATED to include picture of item in question...)

Our family tends to shop at the Salvation Army.

I should qualify that statement: we usually shop for Xan at the Salvation Army, where we can pick up a whole bag of shirts for under $10, of usually really nice stuff. One has to take the time to rifle through everything to find the right sizes, but that's half the fun. Angela often finds great things as well and the prices simply can't be beat. The SA store near Takoma Park also happens to be know for pretty good quality clothing items as well.

I never find anything.

I usually chalk this up to most men's fashion habits. Or at least mine. Basically, I don't get rid of anything unless the item has too many holes or stains to merit not wearing -- and even then I usually just put it in the pile of painting/gardening clothing that I also have. I can't even bear to get rid of the overwhelming number of t-shirts I have. Surely, I cannot get rid of my beloved NIN black t-shirt, even though the logo is mostly worn away. No way, man.

If most men are like this, this is why I can't find anything worth buying at the Salvation Army. I usually end up shopping as frugally as possible at outlet stores.

Yesterday, I went on half-price day. This was a new experience and the store was completely overrun with all sorts of folks in there grabbing everything left and right. For the next month of so, Xan and I are spending Wednesdays together, so he was there as well. I went on a whim to satisfy a particular fashion issue in conjunction with my class this summer (which I'll detail more on later, if the class figures it out). Once I had resolved that issue, I went looking in the boys' section for shirts for Xan. I found several that seemed promising. Alas, sometimes people also put things in places where they don't belong. For example, this shirt that was clearly not a child-size shirt. What is it doing in...

Hmm. That's a familiar crest.

And this fabric seems like the football jersey mater-

Oh my God.

I start looking at the shirt all over and it dawns on me that I had found an authentic football fan jersey from the Spanish national team. Older, naturally, but in otherwise perfect condition.

I have wanted an España shirt for the last three years, when I made my prediction that Spain would take the World Cup in 2006. I was horribly wrong -- and yet still I have remained a fan of Spanish soccer and, given that Peru once again seems like it will flounder like nobody's business and not make it into the big game, I'm still on board behind Spain. I have ben actively considering for almost two years to just hunker down and spend the roughly $70 it costs for a jersey, just because I'm a fan.

The price tag on this shirt: $3.99.

Oh, wait: it's half-price day. That means $2.

I showed this to Angela last night. She said, "Oh, man, someone's girlfriend is in biiiig trouble for getting rid of that shirt."

"Girlfriend?" I said incredulously. "It better be a wife that threw this shirt out. Because if it isn't, I guarantee they're not boyfriend and girlfriend anymore."