Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Exit The Critic: Terry Lawson
Reading Defamer earlier today I came across a post about the Detroit Free Press' decision not to replace film critic Terry Lawson, who took a buyout offer late last year. I could go on about the death of film criticism, but I want. For the record, I think there are plenty of fine critics out there and plenty of people reading them. But there is a problem with newspapers and the fact that a paper like the Free Press can't keep Lawson around says everything about that problem.

I grew up reading Lawson when he wrote for Dayton's Journal-Herald and later the Dayton Daily News. (A merger brought him from the city's morning paper to its only paper.) He was a tough, fair critic with a personable prose style who wasn't afraid to criticize a sure-to-be popular movie if he didn't like it or champion one he liked even if it didn't look to be a popular favorite. (I remember his four-star review of Robocop making me feel like I had permission to think of a really great genre film as just a really great film. Period.) He was also a local. I remember attending a Sunday-afternoon art film series in 8th grade where he would show up for Q&A sessions after the film.

Other reviews that mattered to me: His declaration of Hannah And Her Sisters as a masterpiece meant a lot. I saw the film in junior high and loved it. I'm sure I didn't get all the nuances—-Why would Allen need to buy white bread and mayo to convert to Christianity?--but I'm with A.O. Scott in thinking that it's okay for kids to stretch out of their comfort zone. His review of Jean De Florette brought me downtown to my first foreign film.

I don't want to write about the guy like he's dead. Hopefully he'll keep writing for someone else. But I also hope the Freep and all the other papers trimming back their local arts coverage realizes what they're losing by getting rid of their local arts sections and replacing their critics with, say, the semi-ubiquitous, widely syndicated Orlando critic Roger Moore. There's no sense of connection there. As a budding film buff, it felt important to have a guy who was just as passionate and a lot more knowledgeable about the things I loved in town. It felt like these things were important to where I was and not just something that happened somewhere else.

And, yeah, I recognize the irony of me saying this as someone who's mostly read online and published in a newspaper distributed in 10 cities. Why should someone in our Denver edition feel like I'm writing for them? I don't know. But I only hope that someone reading me develops a passion for what I'm writing about of the sort Lawson prompted in me. Even if I did like Cloverfield.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Mysteries Of Chicago: The identity crisis bookstore
On Belmont St. over by the old Onion office there's a fine little bookstore that, for as long as I can remember, has done business under a sign saying "Town Cleaners."

I can't even remember the real name most of the time since it's pretty dull. It's The Gallery Bookstore I've always thought of it as the Town Cleaners Bookstore. It reminds me of a character from Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol named Danny The Street. Danny was a transvestite street. On the outside he featured Guns and Ammo stores and other macho fixtures. But on the inside he was all nice boutiques.

I'm pretty sure the Town Cleaners Bookstore was just too cheap to have the original sign removed, however.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Mysteries Of Chicago: Cafe Muppet
What is it? How can it exist in a copyright-intense business culture? Why does it barely show up on Google? (All I could find was a Yelp entry from someone who had never eaten there.) Some questions may never be answered. (Click to enlarge and you'll see that, yes, that's a little Kermit on the sign, or you would if it weren't so blurry.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

PERMANENT RECORDS REMOTE: The Feelies' The Good Earth (1986)

We put our Permanent Records feature on hiatus over at The A.V. Club so of course I find an album I have to write about. The feature will probably be back in some form later on, but I need to say some words about The Feelies' The Good Earth, the New Jersey band's second album. Released in 1986, it followed their debut Crazy Rhythms by six years. Crazy Rhythms is often, and rightly, cited as an influential albums. It jittery, post-punk jangle can be heard in countless subsequent bands from '80s college rock on. But it's The Good Earth that I love. I parted it with it in a cash-strapped CD purge somewhere between high school and gainful employment. I don't know how I could ever have let it go. It's fallen out of print in subsequent years but thanks to eBay and a part-time wholesaler in Thailand I now own a copy again.

R.E.M. was among the bands wearing out their copies of Crazy Rhythms and Peter Buck repaid the favor by producing The Good Earth. The band had a slightly different line-up by then and a slightly different sound. R.E.M. had listened to them and clearly they'd listened back. The Good Earth mixes the jangle and countryside spirituality of early R.E.M. with a Velvet Underground drone but the sound is all its own. Here's a favorite track:

Always a cult favorite, never a popular success, The Feelies signed to Warner Brothers, put out two more albums, then called it a day. I don't have those but I suspect eBay does. But I might wait. The Good Earth is pretty much all I want to listen to right now anyway.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Hunter Adams, The Man From Planet X: The She-Beast

Brian Aldiss, Starswarm

James Blish, A Life For The Stars

James Blish and Robert Lowndes, The Duplicated Man

John Boyd, The Last Starship From Planet Earth

Ray Bradbury, Chad Olivr, and Theordore Sturgeon, Three To The Highest Power

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The People That Time Forgot

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Mad King

John Coleman Burroughs, Treasure Of The Black Falcon

A. Bertram Chandler, The Alternate Martians

Gordon R. Dickson, Naked To The Stars

Gordon R. Dickson, None But Man

Philip Jose Farmer, Down In The Black Gang And Other Stories

Philip Jose Farmer, A Private Cosmos

Philip Jose Farmer, The Green Odyssey

Philip Jose Farmer, Flesh

John M, Faucette, Crown Of Infinity

Ian Fleming: Thunderball, The Man With The Golden Gun, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Doctor No., Thrilling Cities

H. Rider Haggard, Cleopatra

Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint, The Blind Spot ("The most famous, fantastic novel of all time," according to the cover.)

Robert Heinlein, The Puppet Masters

Nat Hiken, Sergeant Bilko

Robert E. Howard, Wolfshead

Otis Adelbert Kline, The Outlaws Of Mars

C.M. Kornbluth, Not This August

A. Merritt, The Metal Monster

Ed McBain, Vanishing Ladies

Larry Niven, Neutron Star

Larry Niven, World Of Ptavvs

Andre Norton, Lord Of Thunder

Andre Norton, The X Factor

Philip Francis Nowlan, Armageddon 2419 A.D. (The original Buck Rogers Novel)

E.E. Doc Smith, Grey Lensman (2 copies), First Lensman, Children Of The Lens, Second Stage Lensmen

Cordwainer Smith, Space Lords

O.F. Snelling, James Bond: A Report

George R. Stewart, Earth Abides

Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human

William F. Temple, Battle On Venus

Jack Vance, The Five Gold Bands / The Dragon Masters (Ace Double)

Jack Vance, Space Opera

Various Authors, The Avengers: The Passing Of Gloria Munday, The Avengers: The Afrit Affair

Various Authors, The Alien Condition

Jules Verne, The Demon Of Cawnpore

A.E. Van Vogt, Slan

H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man

Leonard Wibberley, The Mouse That Roared

Leonard Wibberley, The Mouse On Wall Street

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I interviewed Michel Gondry yesterday in advance of the terrific new film Be Kind Rewind and it was a terrific experience. He was an engaged, thoughtful interview subject and I found the whole experience quite pleasant. He's French and has a pretty good command of the English language, even though he sometimes needs to take the roundabout way to get to his point. He also has a distinct French accent, which, of course, only makes sense. When I'm talking to someone who's not a native English speaker, I find, as I'm sure everyone does, that the mind naturally adjusts to meet them halfway. It just kind of happens.
If you're not there, however, it can be baffling. I passed the audio file on to one of our new interns who started work on the 38-minute conversation at 10am. I got busy and didn't check on him until around 2:30 and I asked him how he was doing. He said, "It's tough." I said, "How far into it are you?" (Because, you see, it kind of has to be done soon to make the deadline for our Sundance issue.) He said, "Twelve minutes." And here's a sample of what he had done:
AVC: It’s seems to me, maybe I’m making the wrong connection here, but was this in any way influenced by Dave Chappelle’s Block Party?

Gondry: Yeah, completely. And in that, she’s(?) the ground basically. I had this concept for years, the fact that this kid remakes these movies. Uh, it’s as if(?) someone fears if he got a concept that had, for years, if he couldn’t keep it up he put it down for 10 months(?) and then he doesn’t do it itself, because there are needs. And the film would not have to be typically achieved, because it’s like watching a home movie. You don’t watch it for the technique or aspect, you watch because it’s reminiscent of the good men known to these parts(?) as your friend, or it reflects who it belongs to.

It's beautiful, in its way. And completely unrunnable. I ended up doing the transcript myself.
And I don't blame the intern at all. I probably would have transcribed it the same way if I weren't a participant in the conversation. Funny how that works.
Also funny: Gondry's parody of the popular "Will It Blend?" clips that float around the Internet that doubles as a commercial for his film The Science Of Sleep.