image of washizu and wife from Throne of Blood
movies, Uncategorized

Quick Note on Throne of Blood

Here’s the late Donald Richie on Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood:

I was present during the location shooting for much of the film. Particularly fine were those rushes of the advancing hunting party, both the long silhouette shots and, later, the advance, taken with longdistance lenses which flattened the figures out and looked like a medieval tapestry. After they were taken Kurosawa said he was pleased. “I have about ten times more than I need.”

In the finished film this morning’s work takes ten seconds. Gone are the living tapestries (“they only held up the action”); the wonderful turning shots of the messenger (“I don’t know—they looked confused to me”); a splendid entrance of Mifune skidding to a stop (“you know, Washizu wasn’t that upset”); and a lovely framing shot of the procession seen through the gate (“too pretty”).

I still think of Kurosawa that morning, up on his platform, directing everything, always quiet, suggesting rather than commanding, looking through the view-finders, getting down to run through the mud to the other camera, making jokes, getting just what he wanted. And then—having the courage, the discipline to choose from that morning’s richness just those few frames which contained what would best benefit the film.

It is, indeed, a very good film. As Kurosawa’s fans point out, literary critic Harold Bloom has written that Throne of Blood is the “most successful film version of Macbeth.” (Perhaps more interesting to note the subordinate clause Bloom tacks to the end of his declaration: “though it departs very far from the specifics of Shakespeare’s play.”)

In any case, Richie’s description of what was cut leaves me wanting to see the deleted scenes.

The trailer:

image of washizu in command

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Quick Note on Occupy

Like many, I find the Occupy encampments incredibly interesting—if perplexing at times—and I think there’s a lot of merit in the larger “We are the 99 Percent” concept, which will surely last longer than the occupations. I think both efforts have done much to highlight questions of economic inequality, political corruption and collusion, and state power. There’s a good argument that the Occupy message is lately drifting to one of state power at the expense of the economic argument. But I think these messages are all of a piece. After all, it highlights the government’s enforcement priorities (it’s easier to arrest a bunch of tangible protesters standing in a street than a bunch of financial wizards practicing monetary alchemy) as well as a more metaphorical theme of how powerful interests will scramble to retain a status quo that maintains and consolidates their own power.

By resisting or subverting conventional tactics and rules the movement displayed a kind of strategic brilliance. A few examples:

  • It highlights immediate economic problems like the housing crisis and homelessness (they’re living in tents!), spiraling prices (particularly the University of California protests), and, especially, joblessness. After all, who else would have the time for this kind of effort?
  • It is grounded in the concept of the peaceful sit-in, which harkens back to the American civil rights movement and, even before that, Gandhi. So it has that sheen of righteousness, particularly when that sheen is a coating of pepper spray.
  • It promotes overt creativity in the face of opposition, whether symbolic (Cal’s balloon-borne tents; the 99% bat signal) or practical (the people’s mic, which started as a way to get around a prohibition on megaphones in Zucotti Park; the choice of Zucotti itself, whose confusing public-private legal status they exploited to great effect for almost two months)
  • It makes a mockery of the current political system by highlighting how that system has made a mockery of democracy. I’d argue this is the overarching message that encompasses the Wall Street gripes, the fairness issues, the democracy rhetoric, the tension between order and the rights of speech and assembly, etc.  And it’s not even a new idea, really.

As the major occupations seem to be winding down and the movement (possibly) reaches a turning point, it’s that last bullet point that I think of when I hear exasperated observers say this movement is not legitimate until it starts organizing phone banks to call congressman, starts letter writing-campaigns and the like. Those are fine things to do, and if done smartly (targeting the rare undecided, open-minded politician), still have potential. But set aside the occasional Occupier’s rhetoric about starting a true revolution and a new kind of government; by staying outside of conventional political tactics, they sidestep the lobbyists and special interests and the politicians themselves. A lot of commentators says Occupy needs to grow up and get overtly political. It’s the classic “reform from the inside” argument used to justify political expedience. But if the political system is rigged to disenfranchise citizens, as the occupiers convincingly argue, then they’d just be setting themselves up for failure.

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influence, lost, television, Uncategorized

Nickelodeon Encomium

What happens when people my age (28) or younger start to feel nostalgic? Some turn to the common cultural thread of television. I’ve found a handful of YouTube tributes to the cable channel Nickelodeon, which, according to a couple of these videos, enjoyed a golden era from about 1990 to 2004.

The kids born in 1990 will be starting college this year, so I’d guess some of these are a product of that cohort more than my own. Still, there are some good shows in there, and a few nods to the 1980s–which I still remember, anyway. After all, that was a decade that Nickelodeon carried shows like Mr. Wizard, Double Dare, Danger Mouse, Belle and Sebastian, The Little Prince, and You Can’t Do That on Television. (And at least one musician my age got a name out of this list.)

I think there’s one feature common to several shows that Nickelodeon broadcast that makes them worthwhile. Think of the earliest in that list: You Can’t Do That on Television. The element (and value) in subversion was a feature of these shows more than the average television fare available to young people. The existential frustration of Ren and Stimpy, the striving defiance and ingenuity in The Adventures of Pete and Pete, and the quotidian repression (and weird sexuality) of Rocko’s Modern Life–all these things were tossed into the cultural stew of the 80s and 90s and helped prepare those kids who listened for John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Arrested Development, Napoleon Dynamite, and the sensibility referred to, sometimes derisively, and, I think, not always accurately, as “quirk.”

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journalism, politics, Uncategorized

Dartmouth Maintains Its Bad News Streak

“Bad” is probably too strong a word. But it’s not exactly “good” news, either. What follows are some rough thoughts on article “Dartmouth alumni battles become a spectator sport,” NYT, 21 June 2006.

Dartmouth does get mentioned in the news for interesting things like research, especially in engineering, economics, and medicine; and advances in campus computing. Just check out the Times Topics listing for Dartmouth. If you search on the New York Times site for “Dartmouth,” you’ll get even more results, many of which reflect the social cachet associated with an Ivy League pedigree–the wedding pages. (Slate‘s Tim Noah in 2002 wrote, “The wedding pages remain because a very small aristocracy demands that they remain. And when Chatterbox says ‘aristocracy,’ he means it largely in the traditional sense, i.e., ‘those who pass great wealth or power on to their children.'”)

But Dartmouth in the news. The college has plenty of high-profile alumni and faculty who make the papers: Henry Paulson, the incoming Treasury Secretary; Jeff Immelt, the GE chief; a good number of President Bush’s economic advisers; and probably some others whose primary aim is possibly something other than the generation of wealth. These people, especially the alumni, tend to reflect very well on the school.

Which is why the college is probably a little put out by the Times article about the pitched alumni battles over the board of trustees and the Alumni Council constitution. Like many of the notable news items about Dartmouth in recent years, it reveals some cracks in what I’ll call “Dartmouth Life.” And Dartmouth Life is probably the college’s biggest selling point. (That is, the image that Dartmouth wants to project of a wholesome, meritocratic bastion, a pastoral retreat where one can indulge in the life of the mind, attain the old Greek ideal of arete in a holistic sense, engage in chummy debate, celebrate all kinds of diversity, and gain a set of liberal arts values that will stick with you for life. Is that rhetoric enough? I also receive a newsletter every couple months full of good news about Dartmouth called Dartmouth Life.)

Dartmouth probably doesn’t want you to see those cracks. Just take a look at the school’s own “Dartmouth in the News” site, a great resource to find out about all the great things that Dartmouth people are doing all over the world. One can’t blame the college for trying to manage its image. Any organization that wants to present a message with any effectiveness strives to brand itself and speak with a unified, coherent voice (plus, it helps with fundraising). The Bush administration does it. Look at the American Civil Liberties Union which, of all groups, is considering limits on what its directors can say about what’s going on within the ACLU.

But the Times article doesn’t just show how enthusiastic Dartmouth alumni can be (and they can be rabid). Take a look at this: “The outsiders [petition candidates who won trustee elections] accused the college administration of sacrificing free speech to political correctness and of abandoning Dartmouth’s historical focus on undergraduates to turn it into a ‘junior varsity Harvard.'” With coverage like this, one might think that Dartmouth is becoming a red hot front in the wars of culture and ideology.

So what’s new about that? Not much. I think it’s fair to say that Dartmouth might stand out from other schools because conservatives have established a prominent foothold there in what is often perceived (not necessarily accurately) to be a liberal Ivy League–this despite finding much of the student body to be quite comfortably apolitical during my time there. That foothold is the conservative Dartmouth Review, which was founded with the backing of William Buckley and whose alumni include Dinesh D’Souza and Laura Ingraham. I have very mixed feelings about the Review, an independent publication with offices off campus, but it does sometimes spark conversations that the college’s student body might not otherwise have. And while Dartmouth is a great school, from a national media perspective it tends to be more interesting when it invites controversy or is subject to tragedy. A few examples of this type of newsworthy Dartmouth issue spring to mind:

  • The Alpha Delta raid earlier this month
  • The Zeta Psi sex papers
  • The Chi Gamma Epsilon ghetto party
  • The Alpha Chi/Tri-Delt attempted luau (I’m really not trying to pick on the Greek system)
  • The computer science mass cheating allegations
  • The Zantop murders
  • The destruction of protest shanties

All of those took place in 1999 or later, with the exception of the shanties. That, which occurred in 1986, is one of the college’s more interesting conflicts. In the fall of 1985, students erected shanties on the Green to protest apartheid in South Africa and encourage the college to divest itself of any South African investments. Eventually, the town of Hanover ordered the shanties removed, but student protestors physically blocked the College from carrying that out. At about 3 a.m. on January 21, 1986 (Martin Luther King Day was January 20), the “Dartmouth Committee to Beautify the Green Before Winter Carnival” smashed the shanties with sledgehammers. Turns out, the committee was mostly made up of students on the Dartmouth Review staff. Controversy, of course, ensued–you can read more here and here–and some from their ranks were suspended (indefinitely).

Jeffrey Hart, an emeritus English professor and regular Review contributor, said about the shanty dismantlers and their efforts:

If the conservative movement lets these kids down, these kids who are fighting the last vestiges of Sixties leftism–if the conservative movement does not come to the aid of the students who, at the moment, have their backs against the wall–then we might as well pack our bags and go home. For there will be no point carrying on the battle here in comfortable Washington, D.C., if we permit the Left to gang up on and lynch our people on America’s real battlefront, the college campus.

—Remarks published in the New Republic, 11 April 1986

*

I found the Times article useful mainly because it elucidated what’s happening with the Alumni Council constitution, which I haven’t followed too closely. But the ultimate aim of all these machinations is to determine who sits on the board of trustees.

As for our “renegade” trustees, Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason, hasn’t said anything terribly controversial, that I’ve yet heard. In an interview, the Dartmouth Review asked:

TDR: There were some alumni who saw you as a sort of an ideologue or a reactionary. Is that true? Are they right?

TZ: [Laughing] No, that’s not true. That’s not true at all.

Of course, at Dartmouth, having a friendly interview with the Review is enough to be painted a hellfire-spouting conservative by others on campus (I’ve given a quote to the Review on a subject important to me when no one else would give them one, but I’ve not been interviewed). Zywicki has a position with the Bill of Rights Institute, which has been described as a conservative organization; I haven’t read much about it, except that it’s partnered with the Jesse Helms Center in the past.

Trustee T. J. Rodgers is probably more accurately described as a libertarian than a right-winger. When his concerns are described as “increasing the budget for teacher salaries and preserving the primacy of Dartmouth’s role as an undergraduate institution,” one can, I hope, take him at his word.

“Outsider” trustee Peter Robinson has conservative bona fides: he was a Reagan speechwriter, authored How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, and works at the Hoover Institution. When asked, as a candidate, what traits or experiences would be his “greatest contribution to the Board,” Robinson answered: “After watching the fortieth chief executive of the United States stand up to the Kremlin, I’d be perfectly happy to stand up to the bureaucracy in Hanover.” Commenting to the Times on the proposed alumni constitution, Robinson said, “This is as much a reform as when Joseph Stalin decided to hold elections in Eastern Europe…Voting? Yes. Democracy? Not at all.”

It’s too easy and too often that issues of political philosophy and education philosophy are confused. While Peter Robinson talks about “excellence in undergraduate education,” he also campaigns for his concept of freedom of speech. Rodgers and Zywicki, as well, have stated that they wish to preserve freedom of speech at the college. And how can you be against that? But I think the concern among many alumni is that “freedom of speech” is becoming a sort of code that doesn’t just mean rooting out “political correctness,” however that may be defined–and which is a debate over what kinds of ideologies are allowable–but may also signal something more. It puts me in mind of how George Bush, during the 2004 debates, mentioned the Dred Scott case–which, while an important issue in itself (like freedom of speech), was also a loaded reference to something quite different from ante-bellum slavery.

It’s twenty years since the shanty controversy, and maybe Jeffrey Hart is as right as ever: “America’s real battlefront, the college campus.” While I think there’s a been a shift away from the campus as the unequivocal center of political and ideological conflict, perhaps the “outsider” trustees disagree. After all, in this country, with all of its freedom and variety, you can pick your battles.

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Let’s Parse: Last Night’s Dream

I don’t like to talk about myself on this blog. But I had this bizarre dream last night. And if we parse it out here—or part of it, anyway—we’re talking more about the dream than about me. Right?

Part of Tim’s dream last night:

Tim stands in a circular hall, watching a federal hearing. At its center is the nation’s overseer of nuclear materials, a Bush administration appointee. Many chairs in the audience are empty, but those that are taken are filled by white haired white men in navy suits. The man who previously held the overseer position, during, presumably, the Clinton administration, turns out to be the California controller, Democrat Steve Westly. Westly is looking visibly aged and grey. Westly stands and the audience watches him, transfixed, as he accuses the current overseer of illegally passing radioactive materials to various people in the room. Many of those who received this material are the old, white-haired, official-looking businessmen. One of them is wearing a tan camelhair blazer, who, under Westly’s withering criticism, walks out of the hall. Several others of the accused follow him. Westly’s criticism includes the revelation that investigations have revealed those men to be devil worshippers from Oregon.

When the meeting is over, Tim walks outside the hall, into the streets of the Tenderloin. He walks north, uphill on a street like Leavenworth or Jones. A youngish man follows Tim closely, hoping to be given money. A woman begins to do the same, but she doesn’t keep up (the man following him also pushes her away). Tim walks back downhill, west on Geary, and rounds a corner to the south onto a sunny street. Near the recess formed by an alley, the man following Tim suddenly shoves him, and Tim falls to the ground. As Tim gets back on his feet, the man draws a gleaming silver pistol with wooden handle. The man points the gun at Tim and demands money. Tim thinks this is a very nice looking weapon, suitable for any serious collector. Tim is being mugged. “Unbelievable!” Tim thinks. Awake Tim is also pretty sure that Dream Tim thought, “You’re not supposed have these kinds of dreams,” the kind in which puzzling bad things happen. As Tim looks through his wallet, rifling through various receipts and little notes, he finds a couple of dollars which he hands over. But as he looks further, he notices more money in the wallet that seems to appear from nowhere. A fifty dollar bill pokes out, which Tim fails to keep hidden from the mugger. An older man on crutches hobbles up and yells at the mugger that he’ll report him to the police. The mugger throws a couple of dollar bills at the old man and says, “There you go, officer.” The old man is satisfied. A two dollar bill peeks out from one of the pockets in Tim’s wallet, and the mugger demands that, as well. Tim reluctantly hands it over, but tells him not to fold it up or sell it.

*

There is no single, accepted explanation of why we dream. The Contemporary Theory of Dreaming contends that dreams are guided by emotion, incorporating events or their symbolic counterparts in order to adjust to new situations and emotional states. Other possibilities include, but are surely not limited to, exercising fantasies, interpreting experience, or just processing information. I recently read a study tip advising people to read before bed because the brain consolidates the subject material during sleep. Also, when I experience moments of déjà vu, they are typically the result of possibly predictive scenes or images in dreams.

What information was my brain consolidating in this dream? What was predictive?

Consolidating:

  • Easily transportable nuclear material was mentioned in a commercial for KTVU news last night (I didn’t see the report).
  • Steve Westly is quite actively campaigning for governor with several commercials on television. Did you know he went to Stanford and opposed apartheid?
  • Yesterday’s New York Times web site ran the image at right, by Lee Celano, of a couple of businessmen scooping up oil rights from the government in a story about untaxed royalties. Several unfilled chairs there.
  • The Bush administration is known for hiring lobbyists and businessmen and is widely considered to make decisions that favor business over the commonwealth.
  • A friend of mine has a nice camelhair blazer.
  • I eat in the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s lost district, multiple times a week.
  • I have been wondering if I’ll get mugged. A friend of mine was mugged (and punched) in front of a restaurant in February—I had just gone into the restaurant. I was talking to a guy about his camera on Sunday and he advised covering the brand name of a camera with black tape so it won’t be so obvious to criminals.
  • Last week, I kept finding more money than I expected in my wallet. Several times throughout the week I thought I’d need to go to the ATM, then discovered I had 40 bucks in there. Kaching!
  • Two dollar bill—I got one in San Diego in January. Chris tells me they use them to count out your change at the San Diego Zoo. Two dollars came up twice in this dream, in singles and in a single bill.

Predictive:

  • Walking back from lunch at Original Joe’s (in the Tenderloin) today, a man kept pace with Tom and me, occasionally asking us if we had a quarter. I wondered if he would mug us. Tom said he looked like a “twitchy character.” Lots of those in the Tenderloin.

Unclassified:

  • Not sure if there really is a national overseer of radioactive material. Maybe that’s the Secretary of Energy.
  • I really don’t know where the concept of devil worshippers comes from, though my impression is that Oregon does tend to attract cults. Haven’t seen Rosemary’s Baby in some time.
  • I don’t know why an old man on crutches hobbled into the scene. The Tenderloin has numerous infirm on the streets. And I’ve been on crutches a few times in my life. But I’m not so easily bought off as that guy (I hope). Two dollars.

Really, I’m just making up for a dry spell in which I posted no new content on this page. I used a recent dream, didn’t go with an old favorite, like the one with polar bears laying purple urchin-shaped eggs (really), or one of the very few in which I fly. Critics say dream sequences in books, movies, or television are cheap ways to solve problems of plot or character. Why not with blogs, too?

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