Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This'll Take More Than Just A Tweet

At NPR, 'National Correspondent' Maw-ra Liarsson and Juan 'The Yawn' Williams make obeisance to Fox News. Why shouldn't NPR's Most Serious And Credible Correspondent, Tom Gjeltin, get a piece of the action, too?

Gjeltin is currently doing a 3-part series on natural gas exploitation in the US. He is an evangelist for the newish technique of blow-jobbing millions of gallons of water into stingy shale strata below the Keystoned State (and anywhere else that is eligible within the Homeland), so as to deliver the US from smack-like addiction to heavy oils as pedaled by candymen in hostile countries.

OK, that's a noble cause - on the surface. Who WOULDN'T like to be free of any addiction? Thing is, Gjeltin's angle ain't quite what it seems to be. You see, there are many aspects to this extraction process that make for unpleasant side effects. Naturally. Like, harmful chemicals, seismic side effects, uncertain safety, etc. Stuff like that.

Gjeltin appeared on the Diane Rehm Show this morning, to do a little junketing, supporting the NatGas company men. His appearance on the Rehm show proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is an advocate for the natural gas industry. Dismissing any sort of criticism as 'anecdotal', Gjelten's embeddedness within the industry is nothing short of blatant. Several of the callers, especially an attorney in Ft. Worth, provided a wealth of contradictions, to which Gjelten responded with restrained huffiness, which says more than words can in these situations.

What's in it for Gjelten? Realistically, I can only speculate that, if it isn't kickbacks, it's the egotistical notion that he can say, down the road, 'I helped save the nation from oil-dealing Antichrists like Hugo Chavez' - or some such.

This is a cardinal example of corporate forces tapping into the NPR networking system. You can imagine in a given board room, the conversation: 'It is imperative that we get NPR in the loop on this. They have some credible-sounding people there who know how to sell a story. Tom Gjelten's got a gravitas that people respect and don't question. Let's give him a call...'

And Gjelten, good, high-level shill that he is, takes up the cause with enthusiasm.

[Superficial note: Gjelten is well within my list of NPR-niks who are officially difficult to listen to. That over-serious, dry voice has 'constipation' written all over it. He should go back to the toilet and finish now what he couldn't finish then.]

In the Rehm show many other issues and concerns about this nouveau gas culling were brought up by other guests and callers, to which Gjelten and the company men stonewalled.

But Gjelten & Co. bank on the fact that the audience who listen in detail to these talk shows are only a fraction of those who catch the PR package on the ME and ATC drive hours. It's all very slick and calculated.

Another Gjeltinism thought: beware those who are aggressively sober in their presentation. The Becks and Coulters are easy for the opposition to brand as 'over the top', while the wily Gjeltins are getting much more done in their quieter 'establishment' ways. Just like Cheney did, all those years before and during his presidency.

And Gjeltin's resume is there for all to see, if we choose. From his NPR bio:

"His new book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: A Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work. His 1992 series "From Marx to Markets," documenting the transition to market economics in Eastern Europe, won an Overseas Press Club award for "Best Business or Economic Reporting in Radio or TV." (quote courtesy of NPR)

Talk about an agenda! I suppose his next book will be: 'Unjustly Ripped Off: How The US Lost Cuba Because Hyman Roth Was Kicked Out'.
(To non-'Godfather' fans: Hyman Roth was a mob leader who was exploiting pre-Castro Cuba via underworld activities. His character was based on multiple real life mobsters. How could Bacardi NOT have been involved??

Finally (for now), a thought on PR technique. During the Rehm show, Gjeltin, in the face of considerable opposition, reverted to the old maxim that Bob Moses used when he was ruthlessly transforming NYC into an automobile-dependent metropolis: 'to make an omelet, you gotta break eggs.'

The dignified Gjeltin didn't use such coarse words of course, but his wussy 'rebuttal' used the same damn theme.

Public Relations is a craft, not an art, and sometimes you don't even need to know how to operate a soldering iron to effect proper attachment of wires in order to make a communication network operative.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Urgently-Needed Spit-Up Concerning NPR

So much to deride this morning. I heard the whole crappy Mourning Edit show, and it didn't help my PRE-EXISTING stay-at-home bellyache, naturally.

Inskreep had a glee-moment when he actually had the nerve to exhort the name of GEORGE ORWELL. Seems an eatery in evil old Moscow was compelled to change its name from 'Anti-Soviet' to 'Soviet' cafe, but folks still tend to call it by the old name. 'George Orwell would be thrilled', uttered our Steven, no doubt rubbing his hands with a 'touche for Free Market Capitalism' flourish. NOW will you use the word 'torture', Steven? If you pretty-please do, George Orwell will be thrilled.

He already is, Steven. He already is.

Inskreep still must writhe on our front burner. His parlay with Best Foxy Friend Liarsson about Obama's AfPak dilemma was outrageous. HOW DARE these, these, self-loving FREAKS make qualified statements about a president's handling of such a f-ing monstrous war? It was as if they were treating it like some K Street gossip or something. Mawra's imperiousness has reached new heights of megalomania. Even Inskreep seemed in awe, hearing such words from a goddess, who lives on Mt Olympus, herself. She has spoken, and she's wiser than Athena, folks. And like most egomaniacs who are getting away with all they do, she's coming across as softer, more serene, and more SURE than ever that what she's saying has metaphysical certitude (as McLaughlin would say...)

Then we've got Miss Julie (McCarthy) giving absolutely worthless hearsay reports from Islamabad, and the increasingly controversial Jaysuck Bobo-bian, worshiping his beloved Gramps from far-off Ciudad Mexico.

(However, until further notice, I will heartily defend good Quist-Arcton in her reports from DAKAR, if only for the stylish way she says that word - just about the only style that appeals to me on Neurotic Public R.)

And speaking of imperious, you can’t get much higher in NPR royalty than Dame Linda (Werthenweisenwhatever). Her too-cool banter with the clearly enlightened head of the Mayo Clinic seemed to spoil her morning because all she could do to try and trip him up was that tasteless bit about there being no poverty in the upper Midwest. Like my good buddy Paul Wolfowitz, who stated that there were no sacred sites in Iraq (because they weren’t sacred to HIM), Dame Linda does not have the scope to recognize things she doesn’t – and can’t - understand. Typical, oh-so-typical dismissive NPR-ism.

More gigantic evidence that these NPR-niks are in the world WAY over their heads. They never seem to have grown as individuals. But what am I thinking? Shills simply don't grow, they can't grow. They are in denial of their puppet strings because their egos are constantly being jacked off by the very fact that millions (?) of people are listening to them, and that they think they're doing 'journalism' and all that rot.

I can scarcely think of anyone now at NPR who has any of that classic and healthy skepticism that made Mencken so wise or Murrow so perceptive. All their academic accomplishment (totally conventional and mainstream) hasn't helped much, either. It's just made them into a rinkydink elite class - a fact they would of course vehemently deny.

Once every five centuries or so I dedicate about two seconds to actually feeling sorry for NPR. They're so hopelessly mixed up, and I'd brand them as a failure. They often come up with interesting subject matter (methods totally copied from BBC's much longer tradition), but to my mind, the botch-up frequency in handling said interesting subject matter is plainly unacceptable.

I'll revive an old war cry: Scrap NPR. Start over.

I could even adopt a Teabaggy point of view: I don't want no government in broadcasting!!!!

(I wonder what entity Mawra's & Yawn Williams' health insurance is with: NPR or Fox? I know, stupid question...)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lost In Place

Fig.1 Dreaming of his own planet (nothing against chimps; I respect simians!) Image courtesy of Mytwords

We have duly noted here, repeatedly, how much NPR is relying on its in-house mutation, Planet Money/Monkey/Moneygrub/Monkeygrub, WHATEVER. With its' lousy - but whimsical! - mascot: a Mr Magoo astronut suit, all topsy-turvy, so that you have to rotate your head to see who's inside, and it is...... one-buck George Washington!!! Ha ha!

Here's the point though. As a self-appointed Style But No-Substance cub reporter making a pest of himself, scratching around this blog, I have to tell you that Adumb Davidson's fatal flaw as a money guru can actually be distilled down to one very telling characteristic.

(Yes, he was on Mourning Ed with Renaay Mundane, explaining some more about how Narcissistic Capitalism - my term, not his - works.)

And what is that telling characteristic? (If we were tweeting, I could ask for a multiple choice quiz...)

On with it!

It's that little quasi-laugh - almost a suppressed snicker - or a titter - or a scoff-laugh, that Adumb strategically applies to various words and phrases that immediately and permanently makes him invalid as any sort of source for information. He is, of course, a veiled apologist for raw, untreated capitalism, no matter what he says or implies, but that's not my point.

To dissect on a nano level, this little Davidsonian laugh or smirk indicates that he, the wise one on all things, considers himself above and beyond the stupidity of things lower than himself, so he betrays this attitude by these little mirth punctuations, just to remind you that he is just so cool and hip. beyond that it gets harder to explain.

You can tell he actually succeeds in stopping short of outright guffaws when talking about things that he particularly considers stupid or absurd, so listeners might actually characterize him as a clever but well-mannered gentleman who knows how to reign himself in.

Bottom line though is that, giggles or not, Davidson is difficult to listen to, difficult to absorb, digest, eliminate. The verbiage is delivered by bulk mail, supposedly ingenious, but not worth the VU readings its carried on.

See what you think when you listen to him. One of my favorite bits of observant wisdom is from Wally Shawn, and I paraphrase him: these people, these media people (and Neocons, essentially), they CHUCKLE as they're talking about death (or in this case, money).

I interpret such chuckling as indicating a superior-minded detachment, a smug knowledge of profiting from the game. But you know, Davidson is actually quite a tinkertoy player in such a league, as compared to the Richard Perles of the world.

OK, I plainly don't like this Adam Davidson person. neither do many of us, for varying reasons. At least Glenn Beck is a certified loony and Jim Cramer is an obvious fake and Lou Dobbs is plainly an abomination. But Davidson & Co. smirk their way through a Cheneyan dark side, relishing their self-delusions that are facilitated by public broadcasting, laughing all the way to the bank.

I, uh, don't like that sort of thing at all.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Where Michael Lieth

I, your host, have indeed stood in the Court of Honor, deep inside the Great Mausoleum in fabled Forest Lawn (Glendale), in the year of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust Tour.

While that was many a summer ago, I still have the eerie, unsavory, and unclean feeling of that experience, which, out of sheer common sense, led to quiet mockery on the part of myself and the two friends who accompanied me on that edgy expedition.

There, above us in the so-clean-it's-sterile but so-icky-it-can't-be-ignored environment of expensive stone from quarries around the world (despite the fact that much of the building's jumbled and incoherent exterior is covered in standard LA stucco, with sober Gothic accents tacked on for propriety's sake) was the candy-colored and sexed-up rendition - in stained glass - of Leonardo's 'Last Supper', for all those who would never bend their steps to Milan, to wonder at.

Aggressively regarded as a sacred trust, the management (hereafter referred to as 'The Builder' - the avatar of 'Dr.' Hubert Eaton, the all-but-canonized godfather of the empire that became Forest Lawn) obviously feels that this stained glass masterpiece is more better than the original, because it's new and improved, and it lights up at all hours. Quality-wise, it's a conventional exercise in Middle American small town churchiness, but there's a kind of comic book vividness to it that's more Archie & Jughead than Classics Illustrated.

Anyway, it's this Last Supper mixing bowl that serves as lobby for the nether galleries that house some of the VIPs of our cinematic lore, and there are some dandy ones there. I can't help but think though, that thank God Gable & Co. aren't alive to see the package that contains them.

Of course, I'm pretty much odd man out in my tastes. People seem to be duly impressed, and feel confident that Forest Lawn 'does it right'. America is a democracy, but most everyone wants a royal monument to themselves. They at Forest Lawn can give you just that. (e.g. Do it not for yourself, but for your family! Our Wide Range of payment plans can be readily negotiated by our alert team of Councilors, housed in the sinister Vaguely Tudor offices next our heavenly front gates...!)

I must say, the bread-and-butter stretches of Forest Lawn Glendale, with the mandatory flat markers, are pretty tasteful and routine. Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, with its rather well thought-out 'patriotic' American theme works much better; Old North Church knockoffs in the hills are reminiscent of a movie set - most appropriate for cinematic Hollywood, instead of the botched and bilious Christendom of Forest Lawn Glendale... But alas, the Hills are not secure enough for Michael...

Back at Glendale, the climax features crown the hill, like the Great Maus, Das Wee Kirk 'o the Heather (Ronnie's knot-tying #1 site; Nancy would NEVER have chosen such a ghastly concoction...), and, most troubling, the Hall of the Crucifixion/Resurrection, which looks like Sister Sharon's doomed tabernacle in 'Elmer Gantry'. In the latter are housed two mega-paintings, 'The Crucifixion', a worthy work by Jan Styka, in Cinerama proportions, which is the best thing about the Glendale site (at least it is a work of academic competence) and 'The Resurrection' by '?', (no artist credit was given when I was there), a really awful panorama of sickening colors, not even worthy of a fourth-rate Sunday School circular. The worst Brigade Painting from the Stalinist era has more comfort, more character...! Anyway, you sit in a vast auditorium while these paintings are presented, with full narration, instructive tips, and musical cliches: I ask you, what else would/could accompany the unveiling of this 'Resurrection' painting than Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus'? A bit of muffled stage machinery operation was heard as the set changes occurred. I think that the big Vegas showrooms studied here for automated stagecraft tips.

Let us hasten back to the Great Maus before things really get out of control. Even the Columbarium at Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery, itself a disturbing contrast to the surrounding lively and varied tombs overground that positively throb like one big jabbering conversation, is downright homey compared to the tedious and disappointing galleries that extend past the Last Supper's public point. Like the Closed Stacks of an elitist library, those privileged enough to access their Loved Ones back in there can shed uneasy tears amidst the brain-dead aesthetics designed to impress. Oh, how one pines for a country churchyard under sweeping skies and fresh air!

But no, the Loved Ones here are supposed to conform, like good little shades crossing the River Styx in orderly fashion. Yet there is no mythos, no Poe-poetics, not even any cinematic qualities present. Why, given the opportunity, Tim Burton could really make something cool out of this depressing repository!

The bottom line resources for any sane overview of Forest Lawn and its kind remain Jessica Mitford's 'The American Way of Death' and, most rewardingly, via satire, like Evelyn Waugh's 'The Loved One', brought to the screen in perfect fashion by Tony Richardson, Terry Southern et al, and starring everyone from Jonathan Winters to Bob Morley to Ayleen Gibbons (as Mom Joyboy!) to Liberace (as Council Starker) to Ed Reimers. It is a masterpiece of a film, and it brings us back to earth with a refreshing and satisfying belly laugh.

But right now, this is about Michael Jackson, you know. Yesterday he entered unto this exalted but disquieting environ, shut away from the palm and pine in the mellow smog-tinted LA sun...

Yet! A cinematic - if not apocalyptic - backdrop to the King of Pop's wrapup: the tragic and malevolent doomcloud of the Station fire, which has been raging in the further hills these many days! A sign - of farewell and disapproval for the King's untimely and now homicidal departure?

Not to compare this procedure with the recent and very great loss of Ted Kennedy, but how appropriate, inspiring, and classy was the farewell to the great man of the Senate, from Hyannisport to the JFK Library, to stately Arlington. The American way of death can still be noble and well done.

But I did compare the two, didn't I? Well, Arlington is East Coast and Forest Lawn is West Coast. No further explanation is necessary. Condolences to all. Requiescat in pace.

I can only wish anyone who interacts with Forest Lawn well, for if they are comforted by such an environment, and they think it's right for their Loved Ones, so be it. Because, when you get down to it, Forest Lawn themselves make no bones about what's up with their scene. Their motto (at least when I visited) ran: FOREST LAWN SERVES THE LIVING. Fair enough. After all, the Dead have gone on before us. What care they for the earthquake-proof halls and The Builder's Creed? Michael can lie in private, with the rest of them, and shall tread in Neverland nevermore. I never knew the guy, but I hope it all turns out okay...

(Hollywood Gothic can really hook one, can it not?)

I can only end by paraphrasing Mark Twain's wonderful maxim concerning dogs: 'If there are no dogs in heaven, I'm not going.' (My puppy loves that one, too!)

Thus, if paradise be Forest Lawn Glendale, I'M NOT GOING.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dogs of Straw and Dogs of Plasticine

Question: which film is more violent:

A) 'Straw Dogs'

B) 'Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'


Answer: B), of course.

I really didn't care for either one, although the cinematography in 'Straw' was intriguing, and the animation in 'Were-Rabbit' was of course brilliant. Thing is, when a film is off-target from the get-go, and all the elements are considered, chances are iffy that it will get better.

'Straw' hasn't aged well. Dustin Hoffman's character is a vacuum-brain type, but he's actually very 21st century in his self absorption, narcissism and simple selfishness. He's supposedly a 'pacifist', but seems more interested in smoking cigs than anything else. He FINALLY blows up at the intruders who are closing in on his house, though he doesn't even know that his wife has already been raped repeatedly. Poor but Brit-pretty Susan George does her best, and David Warner (unbilled) does what he can with his greasy hair, but everyone else is a tedious contributor, and not much more than a parody.

Now I think Peckinpah is an interesting director, and not just because of the much-hyped violence factor. 'Major Dundee' was truly a different kind of western - edgy and uneasy, in the guise of a mainstream vehicle for Chuck Heston. But with 'Straw' Sam P. doesn't seem to know if he should do a 'Wuthering Heights' approach or play it as a 'Sky West And Crooked' (i.e. bucolic Englishness) gone horribly wrong. I for one know firsthand how off-putting rural Cornwall can be. (I spent a bleak midwinter there), but, except for some action with Dustin's Triumph Stag and some interplay with a neat old beater lorry (a Commer?) driven by the hooligans, the scenery could just as well have been cardboard. Any Cornish bleakness was squandered in favor of cig smoking and chalkboard backgrounds.

While 'Straw' of 1971 is of course a period piece that was breaking awkward new ground in pushing the borders of violence, 'Were-Rabbit' of 2005 was manufactured (because it is a construction first of all, and a film second) well within a mainstream where violence is a foundational ingredient in roping folks into picture shows, because even more than sex, violence always sells - and for all ages, too!

But wait - the premise of 'Were-Rabbit' may be quasi-spooky, but the application of the violence therein is so aggressively done with gentleness that any Great British censor, like grumpy old Lord Harlech, would have to find it unimpeachable in its kiddie appeal. It's in the Road Runner category where its non-stop action is concerned, but without the brevity of wit.

This kid-friendly picture aspires to be 'very British' (or more accurately, 'very, very English' - or even Home Counties-ish) in its' appeal, but I'm afraid it doesn't do that very well at all. Charm-wise, this ain't no 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' or 'Genevieve'. Any Englishness that it tries to extol is cut and pasted into the fabric with ham-fisted forcefulness. Like Shostakovich was said to say about the final movement in his Symphony #5, it's 'forced celebration; we ORDER YOU TO CELEBRATE. WE ORDER YOU TO CELEBRATE.' This may sound a bit cruel to apply to a DreamWorks animation masterpiece for the whole family, but I swear, the assertiveness of the film ruined any chance it had to be a winning bit of now-vanished Albion. An Austin Seven does not a Penguin Book-perfect portrait of postwar Britain make.

In Peter Greenaway's 'Drowning By Numbers', a remarkable ambience of Englishness is presented in multiple ways, most memorably in a nighttime scene of lovemaking amidst a fall harvest's bounty. The strange comfort of that scene was so perfect, so accurate, and completely genuine. Not that I expect it to be reproduced in a Wallace & Gromit adventure...

(I wonder if 'Were-Rabbit' director Steve Box is related to the stellar John - David Lean's premier production designer, or Betty, one of the most durable of rare women producers of the 40s-70s...)

Actually, I really shouldn't push the violence issue with 'Were-Rabbit'. That isn't the main thing that rankled me about it. It was simply too much - as in, excessive. Excessive cleverness, excessive skill, excessive frenzy, excessive anxiety to top the previous scene with eye-popping ingenuity. 'Were-Rabbit' tries - oh, how it tries - to make something of its opportunities, but it suffers from a lousy, unfunny script. Ralph Fiennes's character is supposed to be THE butt of jokes and slapschtick, but like John Candy, I was waiting in vain to crack a smile. Ten seconds of Terry-Thomas is better than the whole of this strained affair.

The music score is, well... pretty dreadful, I think. But I know that the makers were very pleased with it. I suspect they were hoping for a bit of grand old Arthur Sullivan or Eric Coates, or even Ketelby, but to me Julian Nott's music inspired a sort of biliousness that some of the visuals merely completed. Why? Excessiveness! Trying too hard. American brashness instead of English understatement. Missing the target, old boy.

I just can't get away from being repulsed by the makers' standards of human or animal appearance: the polished eyeballs and tooth-baring mouths (easy for animators to rotate, easy to reach all the teeth...), which constricted the individuality of the characters, so that only hairstyles or 'Freaks'-inspired craniums seem to be their standout features. The Vicar and the Lady Totten-whatever characters possessed hair that looked like some sort of ghastly glandular discharge that has been coagulated and modeled. I know, it was supposed to be bizarre and funny and over-the-top. A satire on the aristo classes. But... but... very off-putting, chaps. Laid on a bit thick, eh?

In the grand scheme of W&G lore, it is, I'm afraid, a fatal mistake not to have Gromit able to talk - even in dog language. The poor pup doesn't even get to have a mouth! Instead we are too dependent on Wallace (voiced by saintly/beloved Peter Sallis, who does the cliched old brick routine ad nauseum). And somehow, I just can't leave behind the Gromit/Vomit word association. Who would name a nice puppy something like that? Gromit is of course a can-do hero, and his makers chose to make him the strong, silent type - a shocking bit of cruelty, as far as the way they do it. I'd take the wise-cracking Charlie Dog any day.

There's no doubt that 'Were-Rabbit's intentions are sincere. Yet it's as if the freedom of its technical abilities has ruined any chances of deftness or wistfulness or even quality entertainment. I admire the makers' skill of course, but I feel sorry that they couldn't combine with, say, a John Mortimer or a Harold Pinter (both now, alas, no more) or a Bob Larbey or someone who wrote for 'Red Dwarf' or 'The Brittas Empire', for crying out loud. Get your ingenious script FIRST, then apply your ingenious animation to it. I really did want 'Were-Rabbit' to be a stunner. I just couldn't lie to myself that it was.

Finally, I confess, I didn't finish watching 'Were-Rabbit'. I forget exactly where I left off. Oh, I think something fantastic and carefully animated was happening. That much I know. (I assume the bunnies who were trapped in the Dyson-ish vacuum chamber were cheerfully rehabilitated...) I actually made it through 'Straw' though, but emerged, as Sir Walter Scott would say, unamused and unrefreshed. Sometimes I'm just out of step with films, (I never bought into the whole 'Star Wars' wonder-package) but I readily own up to such a responsibility. On the other hand, some films, despite their craft, have no art. To have art, you have to have a soul, and some films just don't have one.