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Thursday, June 30, 2005

10 Favorite Autocrats


(in alphabetical order)

1.) Akhenaten, aka Amenhotep IV (1352 - 1336 BC)
2.) Alexander The Great (356 - 323 BC)
3.) Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, aka Boadicea (died 61 AD?)
4.) Emperor Claudius (but only as fancifully depicted in the BBC mini-series "I, Claudius")
5.) Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603 AD)
6.) The God Emperor, Leto II (from the book "God Emperor of Dune" by Frank Herbert)
7.) Henry II of England (1133 - 1189 AD)
8.) King Lear (from the play "The Tragedy of King Lear" by Shake-speare)
9.) Sauron (from the book "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien)
10.) Prince Vlad III Dracula, aka Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler (1431 - 1476 AD)


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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Presidential Salute

Some weirdo sent us this picture. I think it's utterly disgusting. What do you think?

Read last night's speech at: www.whitehouse.gov

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Last night, I saw "Sunset Boulevard", the latest film in the Motion Picture Academy's "Great To Be Nominated" film series, in which the Best Picture runners-up--Best Picture nominees that had the most Oscar nominations but didn't win--are given their due. The series is presented by Randy Haberkamp, the Academy's Program Coordinator of Educational and Special Projects--likeable, possessed of a formidable knowledge of film history, and passionately devoted to the movies. As is common in the bitter ironic struggle that is Life, the runners-up are sometimes of higher quality than the winners.

The print of "Sunset Boulevard" was in excellent condition, almost literally without a speck of dust on it. The image was of very good quality, the grain almost imperceptible, with a wonderfully wide range of tones. The only possible flaw was that the print seemed just a little dark--as evidenced by heavy shadow areas or dark costuming becoming featureless black shapes. This might have been the result of the projection--the long throw length of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, or an ever-so-slightly dim lamp--but I doubt it. The projection at the Academy is almost always first-rate. I don't expect to ever see a better print of the film. But, oh, to have seen a brand new nitrate print in 1950!

"Sunset Boulevard" is timeless not because show business has remained unchanged for half a century, though this is true ("There's nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you're trying to be twenty-five"), but because the human ego has remained unchanged for half a century. "Sunset Boulevard" makes a fine companion piece with "Citizen Kane", timeless not because politics has remained unchanged for half a century ("You supply the prose poems, I'll supply the war"), but again because the ego--perhaps specifically the "American" ego--continues to remain a central problem in our lives. Both movies inimitably depict how insatiable is the ego's need to be rescued by a material condition outside of itself, and how when it does get what it most craves, it only hungers all the more.

Norma Desmond and Charles Foster Kane cling to fictional personas they have created for themselves, ego constructions which once briefly afforded comfort but now sustain them like an astronaut's space suit on a hostile world. In an effort to keep out genuine illumination--which would be death--they applying layer after layer onto their own facades, until they become fossilized beneath it all, the layers upon layers producing the appearance of a thing distorted and inhuman. They are fighting for their lives, the dread and terror of being nothing, nobody--which is something we will all eventually face--chasing them into the next illusion and the next and the next.

Illustrating this in the movies is no easy feat. When the rare film does pull it off--once every twenty years--it shines. Most Hollywood movies, most narrative entertainment of any kind, depict a pursuit of ego gratification which results finally in the ego's success, often in a surprising but not unpleasant way, and as a result happiness and stability prevail. Life is not like this, but we don't go to the movies to see life.

The only escape route for Norma Desmond--and for Joe Gillis too--is the surrender of all that they desire. How wonderful that Joe Gillis saves his soul by denying the girl he has fallen in love with. His story begins with "Please, just let me keep my car" and ends with "I don't want to keep anything". How horrifying that Norma Desmond upon being threatened with words ("Words! Words! Words!") even hinting at the truth, flees into the whirlpool of her own ego forever. And how strange that the people enjoying life the most in "Sunset Boulevard" are the young Hollywood dreamers at Artie's New Year's Eve party who, if asked, would say they are nowhere near getting what they really want.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Tutankhamun's Crap

King Tutankhamun, or at least some of his leftover crap, is on display at the L.A County Museum of Art until November 15, 2005 (Coincidentally, my birthday is November 12! Yet I am no relation to the be-fabled Tut!). My wife and I, accompanied by Warren Leonard and his wife also, viewed the dead Boy-Pharoah's crap at 10am yesterday morning, accompanied by 5000 white people.

Having heard that this was something in the vein of a monumental estate sale. We came with our checkbooks out, hoping to pick up some fine knick-knacks cheap. But when inquiries were made, we were told the objects in the exhibition were "priceless"-- which did not answer our questions. And still we are baffled. Is "priceless" cheap or expensive? Was everything out of our price range? Or should we have pulled up a van and hired a few Mexican day-laborers? It's going to be bugging me for decades to come, I know.

As I said, the King himself was not at the exhibit. He's buried in a cemetary in Greece. But there was a lot of stuff there that could royally spice up a place--any place at all. That is how much good taste it was in. Much of the great wealth on display was gold-plated--and not just 14K, but more like 1400K!!

I learned a lot about King Tut from the exhibition. Not just that he was an Egyptian and the ruler of Egypt, but also that he died YOUNG. Makes you think.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

K-I-T-T = Keep It Together, Tom

Steve Martin has been one of my patron saints since I first heard my older brother recite highlights from Martin's first Long Playing (33 1/3 rpm) vinyl record album "Let's Get Small". I see now that my devotion has not been misplaced, for Steve, if I may call him Steve--and I may--and I shall--and I am--is also blessed with great insight into the ways of men. Also he is a privileged Hollywood insider who gets all the real dirt on on our fave celebs (e.g., Rodney Dangerfield was really a woman, Marlon Brando ate steaks medium-rare, Bernadette Peters breasts are even more spectacular than you would imagine).

"Bowfinger" (1999) was directed by Frank Oz, a Hollywood hack known only for creating Yoda, and Miss Piggy, and "The Dark Crystal", and "Bowfinger" (1999). We all know the real "author" of "Bowfinger" is Steve Martin. In Hollywood the writer is King, and this is no more completely clearer than in the case of Monsieur Steve. And so, this is how I know that "Bowfinger" (1999)--featuring Eddie Murphy as a half-mad mega-star being carefully managed by the upper echelons of a powerful pop religion, pursued by a low-budget film crew trying to incorporate him into their alien invaders sci-fi picture--is, beyond question, based on the life of Tom Cruise.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Something New

"Land of the Dead" opens this weekend, and next month "The Devil's Rejects", sequel to Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses".

It's been a while since I have anticipated seeing a movie, and it feels good to feel good about buying some theater tickets. Of course I looked forward to seeing "Star Wars Episode III", and did see it on opening weekend, but it was something like a duty - like going to your cousin's wedding. A pleasure and a privilege, I suppose? But still a duty. Am I finally slowing down? Becoming sluggish and agoraphobic? Or am I starting to have healthy boundaries, drawing a line in the sand, demanding real bang for my theater-going buck - or forty bucks by the end of the night.

I love the movies, but my default stance for movie-watching is becoming Netflix on the couch with some pizza and my wife and cats, and I feel like I need some extraordinarily good reasons to actually drive out to a theater these days. And seeing the same thing over and over and over - movies copied from other movies which have been copied from other movies - is not going to do it.

I want to see something new. I want to see something I've never seen before.

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