October 29, 2002
How to help recruit terrorists

I attended a preview of Bloody Sunday last week. On January 30, 1972, in the Northern Ireland town of Derry, British soldiers fired on an unarmed crowd of civil rights protesters, killing 13 and wounding 14. The movie is based on Don Mullan's book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. The eyewitness accounts that fill the book led to a new government inquiry of the events.

Two women stood outside the theater afterwards asking movie-goers what they thought. "Powerful" was the most common word used. And there is probably no better word to describe this film. It was done in a documentary style, the camera moving quickly along with the action. This, of course, gives the viewer the feeling he is there in Derry in 1972. There was a bit too much shaky-cam for my liking, however. An excess of that device distracts and urges upon you the fact that you are in a movie theater, rather than making you forget.

Watching the movie, I was struck that it would not have been nearly so powerful if it had been made in Hollywood. The film has a very raw quality to it. The look is unpolished. The actors are rather ordinary looking people. You can easily see them as the slightly-aimless teenager and the earnest MP, rather than as pretty boys playing dress-up. Julia Roberts portraying the long-suffering girlfriend of the MP, or the very scared teenaged girlfriend of another protester, would have been laughable. (Not to mention her previous attempts at an Irish accent...)

The movie is squarely on the side of the Irish. But you do not get the feeling that it ignores facts or embellishes. There are a number of sympathetic British military characters. And we see the frustration of Ivan Cooper, the MP who leads the protest (played with an understated intensity by James Nesbitt), when some protesters separate from the main group, and begin shouting and throwing rocks at the British soliders.

The images are shocking and will take your breath away. Three scenes that have stayed in my mind, long after the movie is over: One man is shot. His wife or girlfriend runs over to him, and she is then shot. Another man runs over to help, and he too is shot. A man waves a white hankerchief, tentatively stepping out into the open. He thinks he's safe—and then he is shot. A man is shot and falls to the ground. The soldier moves closer and fires repeatedly at his motionless body.

Afterwards, the British scramble to make sense of it all. "We better find some justificatory evidence," officers keep saying. One of the soldiers says at the scene that three rounds were fired. Later, we see another solider questioned by a superior. "How many rounds did you fire?" "22 rounds." The officer is incredulous. "How did you shoot 22 rounds? That's more than I gave you."

After all this unbelievable death and destruction, we see a queue of men in an underground room, each handed a gun when reaching the front of the line. One of them is the friend of a now-dead teenager. At the press conference, MP Cooper is barely able to suppress his anger toward the British. "You have given the IRA its biggest victory. All over the city tonight, young men—boys—will be joining the IRA. You will reap a whirlwind."

October 24, 2002
It's back!

Arts & Letters Daily has returned. Slate reports that the Chronicle of Higher Education has purchased the politics and culture weblog and the assets of its former owner, Lingua Franca. As I noted below, LF went bankrupt and A&LD closed earlier this month. The site's editors, Denis Dutton and Tran Huu Dung, moved shop to Philosophy & Literature. Visitors to that site will now be directed back to A&LD. It appears they will continue new, fun features recently added, like the Hot Button poll. Where else can you vote on whether Chris Hitchens is truly still a leftist?

October 21, 2002

I must thank Will Femia at MSNBC's Weblog Central for his kind words about this weblog. I wrote to him praising one of my favorite blogs, The Two Blowhards—as I wrote, likely the most erudite on the web. I'm grateful to the Blowhards themselves for a nice mention and the readers they've sent my way.

At a DC blogger party last month, I met Eve Tushnet and Jim Henley. I had long been a reader of Eve, a "rock 'n' roll conservative." I am now also a fan of Jim's site, Unqualified Offerings. In addition to its other virtues, it's a good source of information on the DC-area sniper. Both Eve and Jim were kind enough to send traffic over after the gathering.

Others I'd like to thank for readers: Colby Cosh—a port in the Canadian storm, A.C. Douglas—punchy and cultured, Alina Stefanescu—thoroughly paleolibertarian, Julian Sanchez—philosophy and coalition-building, Jerry Brito—future IP lawyer who doesn't believe in IP, and Gregory Hlatky at A Dog's Life—dog shows and much more.

It's all appreciated.

October 15, 2002
Smoked out

I attended the DC opening night screening of The Trials of Henry Kissinger this past weekend. The documentary is based on the book by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens and the film’s writer-producer, Alex Gibney, were on hand to answer questions afterward. Gibney was mostly ignored—the packed house was clearly there for the unrivaled Hitchens.

The film makes a compelling case that the world’s most famous diplomat is a war criminal. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho (who declined the award), for the ceasefire agreement in Vietnam. Never mind that the war didn’t actually end until two years later. The movie presents strong evidence that Kissinger helped scuttle Lyndon Johnson’s peace talks five years earlier, prolonging the war for years. The conditions agreed upon in 1973 were much the same as those almost reached in 1968.

The documentary also maintains that Kissinger was responsible for the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and endorsed Indonesian President Suharto’s massacre of 100,000 East Timorese—using U.S. weapons. The least persuasive part of the film is the the contention that Kissinger ordered the death of Chilean General René Schneider, who refused to participate in the coup against Allende. The evidence is mixed. That seems to be the worst you can say about any of the evidence.

Hitchens’ book is clearly the main inspiration for the film and Hitchens appears often. But the movie features a fair number of other Kissinger detractors—most notably, Seymour Hersh—and supporters—most faithfully, Alexander Haig.

There are also lighter moments. We see Henry swinging with a string of beautiful actresses, including Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Marlo Thomas, and Liv Ullmann, to the tune of a funky '70s song. (I can’t remember exactly which song it was, but I like to use “Jungle Boogie” in replaying this scene in my mind.)

The theme of the film is how many civilians may have died because of Henry Kissinger. So it was fitting that the first question asked of Hitchens was how he resolves that concern with his support for war against Iraq. He didn’t expend much effort attempting to give a convincing answer. The main reason he offered is that Saddam Hussein is a “theocratic fascist.” Apparently it would be different if he were just a regular fascist. One wonders if he would have preferred Pinochet to Allende if the former had not been a right-wing Catholic.

Which reminds me why Hitchens is becoming a bit of a bore. He is obsessed with religion now. He sees it as the root of all evil in the world. He does not take it seriously nor give any thought to the idea that many good people get much good out of it. There is a difference between a thoughtful atheist and a reactionary one.

Hitchens, by the way, looked suitably pococurante, in very baggy jeans and a wrinkled blue button-down shirt. The Q&A went on for quite a while, and Hitchens got a bit antsy. He pulled out a cigarette and lighter. Someone in some official capacity walked quickly down the aisle, and whispered something in his ear. Hitchens pulled the smoke away from his mouth, though keeping it in his hand. I thought, You’ve got to be kidding. Someone is telling Christopher Hitchens he can’t smoke? The hapless employee only highlighted his own lack of cool.

You can also read Jerry Brito's take on the evening. And Colby Cosh notes that Hitchens smoked in another illicit venue.

October 14, 2002
Taking God seriously

The Onion A.V. Club asks celebrities, "Is there a God?" Why we care what actors think about important things, I've never been able to tell. But the answers do give us an idea of what at least a certain sector in America believes.

Bill Maher, former host of television's Politically Incorrect, offers us this thought:

Religion is so childish. What they're fighting about in the Middle East, it's so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven—no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It's like, "Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you're really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?"

Yes, both sides should give up on trying to claim what they consider holy ground and the land of their ancestors. That's just silly. Go read some New Age instead.

(link via Bookslut)

October 13, 2002
The fascinating Gould

Reader A.C. Douglas responds to my comments on the film Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould:

While it's been almost a decade since I last saw the film, I think you missed the gestalt of _Thirty-two Short Films_ because of zeroing-in too closely on the individual "variations." That gestalt tells one all one has to know about Gould the man, and Gould the artist, that's of real importance. The untouched (in the film) minutiae of the life may in itself be interesting and of interest, but that's the subject for a different sort of film altogether.

Perhaps he is right. I still think, however, that many more variations could have been played.

You should head over to A.C.’s blog, where he recently discussed Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Gould’s two interpretations of this intensely beautiful work.

Tomorrow is Canadian Thanksgiving. David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen is thankful for Gould, “God’s gift to Canada.”

Gramophone’s August cover story on Gould is now online. It is, on the whole, quite fawning. Even when Gould is criticized, he’s praised:

Not all of his recordings were stellar. Page believes that some were actually quite bad. But that’s the appeal. Good or bad, Gould was always challenging, always fascinating.

October 10, 2002
The wonder of sex

Chesterton on monogamy, from Orthodoxy:

I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once.

(From Alina Stefanescu)

October 09, 2002
The process of discovery

Colby Cosh comments on the below-mentioned article on classical music label Naxos. Naxos’ founder notes that it costs less a dollar to make a CD. Colby writes:

You might remember this the next time you hear a swollen record company explain to you that God intends for a CD to cost $15 and file-sharing should be a crime punishable by commitment to the galleys. Naxos offers customers the pleasure of adventurous record-buying--of discovering new artists, composers in its case, for nickels and dimes. This is a pleasure the majors have denied the pop public for about 20 years now.

Now, Colby lives in Western Canada, where CD prices in Canadian dollars are about the same as in the U.S. in American dollars. So it's hard to have much sympathy. He’d probably respond that Canadians make less, which is true to some extent.

Of course, I wish CD prices were lower, too, and get excited when people talk about making DVDs the price of magazines. But at the same time, I feel I am getting a huge bargain when I buy a good CD. Fifteen dollars for years of immense pleasure? One of the most amazing deals around.

And I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again—there are even more incredible bargains to be had. Another non-Naxos example—you can order online a four-CD collection of the complete Schubert symphonies, conducted by Karl Böhm, for $23. That’s less than $6 a CD for a set that should bring you countless hours of happiness.

I would argue that the number of bargains makes up for any money lost on risky purchases. I also think there are many ways to discover new music. As I mentioned before, Naxos’ website is a treasure trove for classical lovers. Your local public library may have a good selection. Books and web sites can point you towards things you may enjoy.

As for popular music— Radio and music television are almost no help at all. (I like television for background noise in the morning, but I may have to listen to endless sniper news because I cannot stand another second of the insipid Pink.) But there are plenty of excellent magazines that, if they don't provide you with the music themselves, can at least describe what’s new and interesting. British publication Q, my favorite music magazine, even offers buyers a free CD with two issues a year. Their last, “The Best New Music of 2002,” turned me onto the Hives and Electric Soft Parade. Investigate opening acts for bands you like, whether you attend the concert or not. And there is legal music available free on the Internet. It’s becoming more common to find entire albums streamed free, like the new ones of Beck and Supergrass. (I cannot guarantee these links will last long, however.) Artist sites, like those of Moby and the Fountains of Wayne, sometimes offer a track or more. You can hear samples at places like Amazon, which will recommend similar artists. Or a friend may send you a link to a very charming video of punk kittens doing the White Stripes.

October 07, 2002
Arts & Letters Daily, RIP

It's a sad day for lovers of culture and politics—Arts & Letters Daily is dead, after four years. The blog, which was bought some time ago by the now defunct magazine Lingua Franca, pointed readers to interesting new essays, reviews, and opinion across the web. It was an invaluable service. It was also unusual (in cultural circles) in the libertarian bent of its editor, Denis Dutton—A&L Daily would link to Reason magazine almost as often as the New York Times. Its catholicism is what made it so good. It would link to articles on everything from Salman Rushdie's new book to Salman Rushdie's new lover.

You can read about its heyday in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the National Post.

There is hope, however. Denis Dutton has started a new site, Philosophy & Literature. Not quite as catchy a name, but it looks very much like A&L Daily. The links could be a bit larger, but I'm happy enough to see Dutton continuing to point me and A&L Daily's other 130,000 readers a month to the best of the web.

Just in case, suggestions for my browser's new starting page are appreciated.

October 02, 2002
A personal view of a common experience

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies is an almost four-hour history of American cinema, seen through the eyes of a great director who still considers himself a student of film. It was made for television, but is available for rent or purchase on DVD and VHS.

The first thing to note is that it does not mention many movies that were made after the 1960s. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is really the only one given much screen time. Scorsese says this was a conscious choice. He began making movies in the late 1960s and other moviemakers of the time are his friends and companions. “I can’t do it from the inside,” he insists. Of course, it would be insightful to hear him talking about movies made in the time about which he knows the most. But I suppose it is understandable not to want to pick favorites amongst friends and colleagues.

The documentary begins with a discussion of the Western. Clint Eastwood notes that it is a distinctly American art form. But even American directors have been blasé about it, he says. They consider their European counterparts to be working on a much higher level. As Scorsese observes, American directors often don’t call themselves artists. I don’t think this is mere modesty. Perhaps it’s the common American fear of sounding overly pretentious. An amusing illustration of this comes in an interview of legendary Western director John Ford by director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich in the latter’s documentary Directed by John Ford. As Bogdanovich’s questions become increasingly high-minded, Ford’s mood rapidly changes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he would crankily respond. Finally, Bogdanovich asks, “Would you say that the point of Fort Apache is that the tradition of the army is more important than one individual?” “Cut!” Ford yells. The interview is over.

Scorsese points to the dilemma American directors often face between artistic and self-expression and commercial imperatives. I wish he had explored this in greater depth. Attention to the market is often met with derision among critics and artistes. But at the same time, it is what has made Hollywood as big as it is, and created the audience and opportunity for so many great artists.

Looking at the Western and the gangster film, Scorsese comments on “America’s fascination with violence and lawlessness.” The documentary seems to focus on the darker undertones of American cinema. This is not a surprise, given Scorsese’s own films. I’m not just talking about the gangster films, either. Even a costume drama (which, for some odd reason, many men seem to think are all sweetness and light, with little in the way of action or intrigue) like the Age of Innocence is a dark story about the crushing nature of civilized society.

Another theme is the movement from Europe to America. Many of America’s greatest directors, including Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder, and Frank Capra, were born abroad. An American genre like film noir developed out of European sources, such as German Expressionism (of which Fritz Lang's M is an outstanding, must-watch example). Dvorak’s New World Symphony continually recurs, an inspiring soundtrack to this theme.

There is much of interest here to anyone who loves movies. Other segments include “The Director as Smuggler” (of ideas), and “The Director as Iconoclast.” One of the most useful things is Scorsese’s discussion of a number of lesser-known directors and films that inspired him. You are almost certain to find yourself scribbling down the names of films you want to watch. (And, perhaps, saddened by the lack of availability of many of them on DVD. For that matter, as a friend pointed out to me, why aren’t classic Scorsese films like After Hours and The King of Comedy available on DVD? Apparently the latter will be out this year, though.) There are a number of significant absences, however, including Alfred Hitchcock and Preston Sturges. I found this rather disappointing. Scorsese says these directors have been celebrated elsewhere, most notably in books. But so have so many other directors on whom he does spend a great deal of time—Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick, for example. The documentary is a look into Scorsese’s mind, and hearing his own views on these great directors would have been illuminating.

Some of the best parts of the documentary are when Scorsese turns to the personal. He talks about the spiritual element of movies like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hitchcock’s Vertigo. This discussion is short, but one of the most revealing. Scorsese had originally wanted to become a priest, and sees many parallels between the two very different callings: “Both are places to come together and share a common experience.” A Personal Journey is an enlightening partial record of American common experience.

October 01, 2002
Death and cheap CDs

Three interesting articles via ArtsJournal:

Historian John Lukacs mourns the death of the Intellectual, but suggests the Reader may take his place.

As for the death of classical music— Sir Simon Rattle reaches out to a younger audience as the new conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.

In a previous entry on the death of classical music, I mentioned the Naxos label. The company celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year. This article gives some insight into how the company chooses its performers and repertoire.