Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Have a nerdy new year

Happy New Year, peoples. As has been my trend in recent years, I will ring in the coming of 2009 at the Brave New Workshop. My lovely wife works front-of-house there, but is typically off-duty by midnight, so I've usually shown up just in time for the festivities, but had a mess of unstructured time to fill beforehand.

Last year I filled this time by watching Helvetica, a documentary about the typeface Helvetica.

Let me repeat: on New Year's Eve, 2007, I happily elected to watch, on my computer, an 80-minute movie about a font.

I had actually wanted to see the movie for some time. It came to the Walker Art Center a few years back, but I missed it and didn't really want to pay to see it. Then it became available on Netflix, crucially as a "Watch It Now!" title. That meant I could watch it without the outlay of additional monies, and without having to anticipate when I would want to watch a font flick. Which is apparently on the biggest party night of the year.

The movie was great. In addition to showcasing the development of the font and how many major public uses it has had over the years (answer: lots and lots, including Target, 3M, AT&T, NASA, Microsoft, airports, the NYC Subway...), it used the font as a through-line to follow the history of graphic design and typesetting in the past century or so. Being who I am, I ate this up like candy.

Tonight I don't know what exactly I'll be up to until 11, but I can guarantee you, it will be nerdy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Weeklypedia Quiz #14, many fortnights later

Oh, and Merry Christmas.

It's been a long time since we did the [Weeklypedia] stroll. Lemme get back, baby where I come from. I started writing this quiz mid-summer, and since then have had to update two of the clues because of changing circumstances. Hint, hint?

But wow: as of the last Weeklypedia quiz, the presidential general election had barely started. I could've written a question about Sarah Palin, and it would've been really obscure. In fact, I think I had decided against just such a thing at some point earlier this year. Oh well, I'll have to switch to Jennifer Granholm questions instead.

1. In April 2001, American millionaire Dennis Tito became the first of this elite group, currently numbering six in the world.

2. On January 31, 1976, this Arizona native was killed in a bar fight. Ironically, the one suspect invoked his right to remain silent. The case was never solved.

3. An hairy man, this biblical character sold his birthright to his brother for a mess of pottage.

4. This large fish was thought to have gone extinct in the Cretaceous Period, until one was found alive off the coast of South Africa in 1938 (bonus points if you can spell it).

5. As a matter of protocol, this US Senator is currently (as of December, 2008) the highest among Senators on the ceremonial US order of precedence, but only under particular circumstances. Otherwise, it's President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-WV).

6. She was America's first Second Lady and its second First Lady.

7. Twenty days after representatives of Spain and France met to ceremonially mark one of the property transfers from the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, representatives of France and the US met in the same room in The Cabildo to transfer the same property as part of this agreement.

8. In 1898, in the only coup d'├ętat of a municipal government in US history, white supremacists took power over this city on the Cape Fear River, which is not, incidentally, in Delaware.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Performing this weekend!


First: Happy Birthday, Mike Fotis (pictured)! And happy Festivus: I hope you and the rest of the cast can get Caleb to the theater tonight to wrestle him as the creative head of the Brave New Workshop household.

Second, for everybody else: Mike's leaving town for a few days, and I'll be stepping in for him in the Brave New Workshop's Christmas Show, All I Want For Christmas Is 700 Billion Dollars, Our 50th Noel. So on Friday at 8PM or 10:30PM, Saturday at 7PM or 10PM, or Sunday at 7PM, come check me out. It's a great, goofy show, and I'm looking forward to playing with the cast for a few days.

Before then, if you see me glaring and muttering to myself, it's because I'm reciting Mike's rap from the show over and over and over.

That's right: I will be rapping this weekend.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"My God, it's full of stars"

I've never believed that the synchronicities between Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the movie The Wizard of Oz were anything but a really interesting coincidence. I've watched the combination a couple of times, including one time that some coworkers and I set it up in our Hollywood Video store. There are some cool moments, to be sure, but not enough lines up for me to believe the band structured the album to work in this way.

That said, there is a synchronicity I do believe is intentional: I believe that "Echoes," the last track from (and entire second side of) Pink Floyd's Meddle, was written as an alternate soundtrack to a portion of Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So here's the theory: in 1967 or early 1968, at the height of the band's psychedelic period, Kubrick allegedly approached them to score 2001. They refused, for some reason (Wikipedia says they'd had a bad experience scoring another film, but the first movie scored by the band, More, wasn't released until 1969, so I'm not sure I buy that), and later regretted this, after having seen the film. So later, when they were assembling Meddle for
a 1971 release, they rescored the last segment of the film.

The evidence is compelling enough that I believe it. The planetary alignment / eclipse imagery would become prevalent in the band's subsequent work, especially the afore-mentioned Dark Side of the Moon. The length of the song exactly matches the last section of the movie. And each scene within the finale matches with an equivalent, and tonally appropriate, shift in the music.

Ideally, you can set this up at home with a DVD of the movie and a CD of the album. Cue up the film to the title card reading "JUPITER AND BEYOND THE INFINITE" in that Futura font so favored by Kubrick (and in bold form by Wes Anderson). This will be a chapter stop on the DVD. Cue up the album to the beginning of "Echoes." Unpause both simultaneously. Be amazed. But if you haven't seen the movie before, prepare for spoilers, to the extent that a notorious head-scratcher of an ending can be spoiled.

If you don't have access to the movie or the album, some helpful somebody on YouTube has done the heavy lifting. Check it out below. And I suspect this version will miss some of the most excellent, split-second matches between the media, when Floyd's musical hits line up precisely with inserted freeze frames of hapless astronaut Dave Bowman (above) contorting his face in agony. Oh, and it's almost half an hour long. So watch it at home or be prepared to explain things to your boss.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Annotated Beukemix, 2008

I did it last year, I'll do it again this year. These are the official liner notes for the 2008 Beukemix. If you get a hard copy of the mix, it comes in a paper sleeve with a track list in ten-point Courier. So if you're wondering where the hell the music came from, here's your info. Again, many of these videos are just fanmade stuff I picked because it had the song in full. Caveat Spectator.

1. Foux Du Fafa - Flight of the Conchords
Nels had given me the heads up on the Conchords' stage performances just before they got their own HBO show. This year I got their EP, their album, and their first-season DVDs. This song is especially charming if you've ever taken high-school French. The video linked above has optional English subtitles.

2. A Well Respected Man - The Kinks
The movie Juno reminded me of this fine song's existence. Somehow I'd missed it in my participation in the massive David Beukema Oldies Download Project of 2005-2006.

3. The Laws Have Changed - The New Pornographers
People have been recommending the New Pornographers to me for years. After "The Electric Version" showed up in Rock Band I decided to download their album and give 'em a whirl. Co-ed power pop at its finest.

4. Don't Make Me a Target - Spoon
Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga came out last year, I finally downloaded it at the beginning of this one, and decided it would be an appropriate listen en route to the band's hometown of Austin in January.

5. War Pigs - Cake
This Sabbath cover was a b-side to something or other. This was the first song I listened to this year that immediately made the Beukemix. Bonus points for giving the anthemic guitar line at the end of the song to the trumpet. I spent an evening early this year figuring the line out on my own. (Horn section count = 1)

6. With the Dark - They Might Be Giants
I've been deeply disappointed with TMBG's new output for nearly a decade. A shame, because they'd long been one of my favorite groups. Anyway, I was delighted by this new mini-suite from their otherwise largely underhwelming most recent album. I think this clay-mation confection is an official video, but I'm not sure. (Horn section count = 2)

7. Run (I'm a Natural Disaster) - Gnarls Barkley
I love how frantic and menacing this song is, that the refrain is mostly "Run, children! Run for your life!" I also love how unrepentantly nerdy Gnarls Barkley are, in general, which especially comes across in their videos and performances. (Horn section count = 3)

8. New Shoes – Angelo Badalamenti
Got the second soundtrack to Twin Peaks this year. This cut is a moody, atmospheric standout.

9. I’m Not Crying - Flight of the Conchords
Rarely do I include two songs by the same artist, but this time I just couldn't decide. When Melissa and I watched the series for the first time, I think this was the song that hooked her. Anyway, this is on the Conchords' EP, The Distant Future.

10. Paper Planes – M.I.A.
Melissa's brother David was way into M.I.A. when we visited for Christmas last year. Understandable. Nels subsequently highlighted a couple of her videos on his blog. This song was used to great effect in the Red Band trailer for "Pineapple Express."

11. You Don’t Understand Me – The Raconteurs
I don't know what makes some songs appeal to me and others not, but I find that a strident song in a minor key with interesting instrumentation doesn't hurt.

12. Regulate – Warren G feat. Nate Dogg
As explained in episode 7 of Yacht Rock, this smooth Death Row Records jam samples from a somnambulant 1982 Michael MacDonald cut.

13. Polite Dancing Song – The Bird & The Bee
Another band I'd first heard of from Nels. Heard this song on The Current and liked it. (Horn section count = 4)

14. Moonage Daydream – David Bowie
Appears as a downloadable track in Rock Band that was included in a track pack for the Wii. Is excellent, but I had largely overlooked it in my previous listening to Ziggy Stardust. (Horn section count = 5)

15. Nel Cimitero Di Tucson – Gianfranco Reverberi
Music from an obscure spaghetti western. If you're wondering why it's familiar, click here. (Horn section count = 6)

16. Tell Me – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Melissa got really into Sharon Jones late last year and early this. This song jumped out at me this fall. It's like someone at Motown forgot to release an album back in 1965, and it was found in 2007. (Horn section count = 7)

17. My Iron Lung – Radiohead
Apparently every song from The Bends, or a cover thereof, is destined to end up on a Beukemix. Next year, will it be High and Dry, or Fake Plastic Trees? Played this song in Rock Band at Joe's on Labor Day. The bridges are difficult as hell.

18. Technical Difficulties – Dr. Octagon
Ex-roommate Dan Hetzel hooked me up with Dr. Octagon, one of Kool Keith's many alter egos a couple years ago. This popped up immediately before that Sharon Jones cut one morning on my commute. This album was produced by the same team behind the superior Deltron 3030. Absent Deltron II, it'll have to do. If you want to know what a truly crazy person would do with a rap career, look no further than Kool Keith. I don't mean he's a weird, wacky guy who sometimes behaves badly. I mean he seems literally insane.

19. Surfin’ Snoopy – Vince Guaraldi
"'Find the true meaning of Christmas. Win MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. Spectacular, Super Colossal Neighborhood Christmas Lights and Display Contest!' Lights and display contest? Oh, no. My dog, gone commercial. I can't stand it. Oh!” (Horn section count = 8)

20. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours – Stevie Wonder
You probably know this song as the theme music of the Obama campaign. It made the cut this year because of that, but also because it has a special sentimental significance for me and my lovely wife. Aw! (Horn section count = 9)

21. Gamma Ray – Beck
Beck's been singing with a peanut butter sandwich in his mouth since Sea Change, so I haven't felt the hook of his bizarre lyrics since Midnite Vultures. But this beat is great.

22. Powerhouse – Raymond Scott & His Quintette
Another musician Hetz flagged for me. If you've ever seen a Looney Tunes cartoon set in a factory, there's a good chance you'll recognize the bridge. (Wow.) (Horn section count = 10)

23. Frontier Psychiatrist – The Avalanches
Heard this on the Current a couple weeks back, and loved it immediately. The video is greatly entertaining. (Horn section count = 11)

Enjoy. Same time next year...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day

Not much time to blog on a busy Thanksgiving, so instead, here's a Turkey Day treat: a Mystery Science Theater 3000 short film that was never released on TV. Assignment: Venezuela was an industrial film about the oil boom in Venezuela at mid-century. MST3K gave it the business for a CD-ROM project in the mid-to-late '90s. The project fell through, and they showed the short at the 1996 "Conventio-Con Expo Fest-a-Rama II: Electric Bugaloo" in Minneapolis. Later it was included as an extra on one of their DVDs. I remember it being funny, and through the wonder of YouTube, we can confirm or deny. It's in three parts, top to bottom. Enjoy!

Part One:


Part Two:


Part Three:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Improv: word up

Thanks to all who came to the Improv a-Go-Go last night. 7:22, the group I coach, had a fine -- if incredibly smutty -- set. And I had a blast DJing Five Man Job's set. For those who missed it, here's how it worked: at the end of intermission, we collected offered iPods from the audience. During the Five Man Job set, each scene was begun and inspired by music I selected from people's music collections. So much fun. That said, let me tell you, it's pretty harrowing to be entrusted with $2000-$3000 worth of pocketable personal electronics for a short period of time.

Also, I should note that if you've been using various iPods for five years (has it only been that long?) and are suddenly confronted with a Zune, the interface might as well be made of those crystals from the first couple Superman movies, with a display in Esperanto.

In any case, thanks to FMJ for the opportunity to play with them. I'm looking forward to the next time, which should be after the 1st of the year. More info as it becomes available.

Blogging will be light this week, as I will be jetting to the San Joaquin Valley tomorrow to join my wonderful wife and her family for the Giving of Thanks. I've blogged every weekday since the election, resulting in more posts than any previous month, which has been a hectic pace but enjoyable. After the holiday I'll be back with more stuff.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jams! #2: The Ecstasy of Gold

Happy Friday, people.

Ennio Morricone's music for the Sergio Leone spaghetti western "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly" is amazing. Everybody recognizes the opening theme, of course, and it is great, but the best stuff comes at the end of the movie. The music in the last half hour is not only my favorite stuff of Morricone's, not only some of my favorite film music, but some of my favorite music, period.

On the soundtrack album, the last two tracks are called "The Ecstasy of Gold" and "The Trio," and I love them both. I got the album when I was in my first year of grad school, and would listen to these tracks, plus the opening theme, on my discman immediately before tests to get myself pumped up. It worked. Structural analysis never felt so epic and purposeful. I would categorize these pieces as "get shit done" music.

The segment from the movie with "The Trio" in it kind of gives away the end of the movie, so those who don't mind spoilers can check it out here. So good. Meanwhile, here's The Ecstasy of Gold:



And here's an excellent concert performance of it:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Senate and Sesame

First, an update for out-of-state friends who have been asking what's going on with the Senate election here in MN. The national media's been throwing around the word Florida a bit, it seems, which is not accurate. Minnesota has a close election, going into a mandatory, statewide recount. Florida had not only a close election but problems with their ballots in several counties, leading to a large number of people possibly voting for someone they didn't intend to vote for, and then recounts in some counties but not others (team Gore's big mistake, in my view), and so on (yadda yadda yadda). Anyway, that's not happening here. Here are some good sites for more info:

MNPublius is a good start for a lefty take on MN political news. This site is partisan to the point that I find myself rolling my eyes from time to time, but also does a good job of linking to other sites with related information. They in fact pointed me to the following links.

Media Matters takes on the overwrought rhetoric and purple prose of the national commentators, who seem somewhat ill-informed about what's going on here. As I say, this isn't Florida 2000. Also, contra Bill O'Reilly and the Coleman campaign, the state did not certify a winner based on the certified first vote count. 206 vote difference with Coleman in the lead, yes, but less than 0.5% difference, therefore too close to call, therefore no winner, therefore recount.

And KSTP gives a nice (video) overview of the "trunk ballots," a set of thirty-some ballots that were rumored to have been found in the trunk of somebody's car. It's not true:

As Media Matters has noted, Fritz Knaak, Coleman's recount lawyer and apparently the media origin of the story, has been quite up-front that he was misinformed. And yet some of the media has perpetuated the story. Check yo'self, media.

Finally, as an antidote to all this political business, here's a little something we can all enjoy. I'd intended for this song to be on the Beukemix this year, but can no longer find the link to an mp3 of it. So instead, here it is as a Youtube treat instead. I give you the haunting, melancholy "Lower Case n":

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shames (Three Different Ones)

Here are three links to make you more disappointed in your fellow man.

First, with a hat tip to John Cole at Balloon Juice, is a Christmas decoration for the "there's a war on Christmas!" crowd.

Cole puts it well:
In all seriousness, I guess you can’t expect people who reject evolution, who think the world was created 6,000 years ago, and who think Adam and Eve roamed the world with dinosaurs to know anything about basic American history, can you?
Next, via Andrew Sullivan, we have a head-slappingly inane piece of exercise equipment.



Words fail. Buildings tumble. The ground opens wide. I'm hopeful that the looming depression will kill this thing dead, for the sake of the species and for civilization.

Finally, found originally on Joe. My. God., The New Yorker spends some time with Prince and discovers that along with his conversion to Jehovah's Witness, he's not so cool with the gays:
He pointed to a Bible. “But there’s the problem of interpretation, and you’ve got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn’t. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you’ve got blue, you’ve got the Democrats, and they’re, like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right.” When asked about his perspective on social issues—gay marriage, abortion—Prince tapped his Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’ ”
Prince's spokesbots have claimed that he was misquoted or taken out of context. But Coates points out that the New Yorker fact-checkers are famously stringent. Also, the quote is remarkably specific, and seems to include its context. Super-disappointing. Way more than when I found out Beck is a lifelong Scientologist. Disappointing that the guy responsible for some of the most perfect pop music in the last 30 years, much of it highly popular in dance clubs, which figure in some way, as I understand it, into gay culture (I mean, I guess), is a total phobe. I'm reminded of when my music history prof. in college (himself of Russian Jewish heritage) got to Richard Wagner: he implored a separation of the music and the man. Just because Wagner was in some ways a horrible person doesn't make the Siegfried Idyll not beautiful or the Prelude to the third act of Lohengrin not stirring. With that in mind, I present some of the great work of an idiot with backwards views on homosexuality:

Watch more Purple Rain videos on AOL Video

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Updated, see bottom.

I saw Quantum of Solace on Sunday with Carson. It was ok. I give it a FOT on the FOTIS scale.

Here's the quick rundown of my complaints:

One of the things I liked about Casino Royale was that it de-cartooned the series. No invisible cars or nuclear scientists played by Denise Richards. Also, I liked the fact that for the most part, the plot from the novel was intact. It had been fleshed out a bit, but it was all there. The fights felt realistically brutal, like the violence in Ian Fleming's books. And with that came the real sense that Bond could be hurt or die. Quantum director Marc Forster seems to have decided that brutal hand-to-hand combat and chase scenes were what made the first one work, and he amped those up. My main complaint is that the movie's action got a dose of the fast cuts and shakycam used in the Bourne series. Chris Orr, in his generally favorable review in The New Republic, put it best:
Following the temper of the time, Foster presents the movie's many action sequences in a wash of choppy, hyperedited shots, but he pushes the tendency to such extremes that he makes the Bourne films (on which Quantum is clearly modeled) look like Rope. The result is a near-total lack of spatial continuity--I have fifty dollars for anyone who can put salt shakers on a table and show me what took place in a particular boat chase--but an unmistakable visceral intensity.
In general, any given Bond movie could be improved by subtraction or simplification of some sort, and Quantum is no exception. Cleaning up the direction & editing of the action scenes would have made them much more interesting. The opening song by Jack White and Alicia Keys would have been better for the absence of either performer -- doesn't matter which. Also, everything that graphics house MK12 did could have been done less distractingly and better. For starters, the opening credits sequence they did was far less interesting than the playing-card-suits-meet-fractals opening of Casino Royale. It felt like they'd asked: ok, what's this movie got in it? A desert? Is it sandy? It isn't? More of an antiplano? No, wait, screw it, we're going with sand. Now throw in some naked ladies and DONE! They also apparently did all the iPhone-on-crack table/wall display interfaces in the film, which were too cute by half and served only to distract from and thereby muddy the expository dialogue going on.

But the thing that struck in my craw the most as a needless flourish was that every time there was a change in location, the new locale was announced with a country-appropriate font. "Siena, Italy" is displayed in flowery script. "Bregenz, Austria" is rendered in a modern, geometric face. "La Paz, Bolivia" looks like it just fell off the poster of The Wild Bunch. Again: distracting. Again: doesn't serve the story. Just a bunch of graphic designers needlessly dicking around.

So, although the film is a highly competent and enjoyable action film with some cool spy touches, and Daniel Craig is fantastically cool but also makes Bond seem like he does, in fact, have a soul, I liked it much less than its predecessor. The Bond series has always been in tension between efficiency and intrigue on the one hand, and over-the-top spectacle on the other. The films that lean more towards the former (the earlier Connerys, the first two Brosnans, Casino Royale) are pretty great. Those tending toward the latter (uh, most of the rest) are, as far as I'm concerned, utterly disposable. Please keep it together, EON, and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Now, on to the next movie. Will they, as they did with Quantum of Solace, mine the remaining Ian Fleming Bond short stories for an unused title? If so, Bond 23 , starring Daniel Craig and with a song by The Killers, will be called one of the following:
  • Risico
  • The Hildebrand Rarity
  • The Property of a Lady
  • 007 in New York
My money's on Risico.

Update: in his comments on the film from a geopolitical/intelligence community perspective, Matthew Yglesias brings up something else that bothered me. In the film, all the conspirators in the Quantum group, who seem to be plotting regime changes as a means of locking down private control of natural resources, wear little lapel pins of the letter Q in the font of the movie's logo. That'll make it easier for Bond and M to clean up the rest of them, eh? Idiotic.

Monday, November 17, 2008

George W. Bush & Email Addresses


There was an article in the NYTimes over the weekend about Obama's addiction to his Blackberry. Due to presidential records laws, he is likely to have to go cold-turkey on the device as part of his transition. Buried in the story was an interesting tidbit about poultry of another kind (wetter, and with a leg injury). George W. Bush apparently loved communicating with friends by email, and had to give up his personal email just before taking office. The Times helpfully provides his old address, which is a random little bit of trivia:
“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,” Mr. Bush wrote from his old address, G94B@aol.com. “This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.”
I haven't tried the address, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't bounce back.

My immediate question was: why 94? Sometimes numbers in email addresses are borne out of necessity and random. When I had to come up with my first handle for my America On-Line screen-name in 1993, I was seated at my parents' kitchen table while on the phone with the service's customer service people, and scrambled to pick something suitable on short notice. There was a Nintendo Power book on the table, and I flipped through it looking for something I somehow identified with. I found an entry in the book about the Hunt For Red October Game Boy Game, which mentioned the Red October's captain, Marko "Mosht thingsh in here don't react well to bulletsh" Ramius. I liked the book and the movie was great, I thought; why not? I asked for Ramius as my screen-name.

It was taken, of course, so they added some random numbers. Thus, once AOL connected their email to the rest of the internet (not originally part of the service, I think internet email came along with billing not by the minute -- thank God internet billing by time doesn't exist any more), my first email address was Ramius6561@aol.com. Feel free to try sending a message. Maybe it will go back in time and 1995-me can tell you how awesome the first Mystery Science Theater Conventio-con was. The answer is: very nerdily awesome.

So again, why 94? The fact that the number is internal to the rest of the name suggests a personal choice, rather than random appendage. To Wikipedia! Is Bush's birthday September 4? No. Nor is it his daughters' or wife's birthday or his wedding date. The only significant September 4 in his biography seems to be his DUI arrest in 1976. I wondered if, given his Born Again status, and how his alcoholism was part of what pushed him in that direction, he looked back at that date as important in his spiritual development. I'd say maybe not, since he didn't give up drinking until 1986.

Then I realized he was elected Governor of Texas in 1994. So that's probably the answer.

What was your first email address? If it had numbers in it, were they meaningful (and why) or random?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jams! #1: Rock the House


It's Friday; time for a jam!

Doin' back spins, Running Man and more
Party down with vigor and candor

This is Rock the House by Gorillaz. Not my favorite Gorillaz cut or my favorite rap of Del's (those titles go to Clint Eastwood), but it is the origin of this blog's name. The line above is early in the second verse. This video is goofy as hell, and marginally disturbing. Enjoy, and happy Friday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

'Cause what you see you might not get

Today's topic: lessons in narrative swiped from Russian formalism -- the syuzhet and the fabula.

So have you guys seen this movie Primer? Excuse the language, but it is a mindfuck. The main characters, engineers working on potentially patentable projects in their garage as a side business, discover that they've created a time machine. They use it at first to get rich daytrading, but then one of them gets involved in re-engineering social situations (in particular an incident with a gun at a party). Subsequently, both try to prevent each other, or other versions of themselves from completing certain actions, sometimes taking the place of themselves in conversations they previously experienced and reciting their earlier lines from recordings or notes they've made, sometimes taking an extra time machine inside the time machine to make loops within loops, and so on. On top of all of that, the movie portrays these events in both non-chronological and non-sequential order. Good God.

I saw this movie on DVD a few years ago, and liked it, even though it made my head spin. My head didn't spin for the reason it might watching a movie like Mulholland Dr. (a favorite of mine) or some other Lynch flick that's mindbending for being oblique. Rather, it's mindbending because it's complicated. It's smartly written by guys with backgrounds in math, physics and engineering, so the jargon is convincing. And it doesn't hold your hand to explain anything, even as the plot seems to quintuple back on itself and pile paradoxes upon paradoxes.

A current or recent Grinnell College student who I do not know recently posted on her Plan (text-only blog accessible to people in the larger Grinnell community) her intention to rewatch the movie until it all made sense. She posted a link to this paper (spoilers!) by one Jason Gendler that analyzes the film and attempts to iron out its narrative. The paper repeatedly, and centrally, uses two words with which I was not familiar, fabula and syuzhet. Context suggested that each were somehow components of narrative structure, but to really understand what Gendler was writing, I did some digging.

Neither term had a dictionary.com or wikipedia entry, though they were mentioned in the article on Russian formalism, from which the terms originate. Google brought me to a helpful table from a Penn State comparative lit course that explained them well: the syuzhet is what is presented by the creator of a narrative, what you perceive directly by watching or reading; the fabula is your interpretation of the actual story, of what happened, which may expand beyond what you are told or shown. Here's the table, which is great...

Fabula Syuzhet
  • Story
  • Plot
  • Constructed by Reader/Viewer
  • Constructed by Writer/Teller
  • Chronological Order
  • Order of Recounting
  • What we interpret
  • What we perceive
  • As many different ones as there are readers
  • Generally only one, agreed upon by all
  • Mental
  • Perceptible

And some examples off the top of my head (spoilers abound!):

Star Wars: In the syuzhet, Greedo tells Han Solo that Jabba doesn't take kindly to smugglers who dump their cargo at the first sign of an Imperial patrol. Han responds that even he gets boarded sometimes. In the fabula, the viewer imagines further the incident described.

The Searchers: In the syuzhet, Ethan Edwards grabs his left arm as he walks out a silhouetted doorway. In the fabula of certain viewers, Edwards is having a heart attack.

The Sopranos (NELS, SKIP THIS ONE!): In the syuzhet, in the final moment of the show, as "Don't Stop Believing" plays on the jukebox, Tony Soprano looks up in response to the dinging bell at the front door of the diner where he and his family are eating. The screen and music cut abruptly to black silence. In MY fabula, Tony has just been shot to death by the guy in the Members' Only Jacket who went into the bathroom moments before.

Memento: In the syuzhet, at the end of the film, Leonard has been looking for the man he says raped and murdered his wife. He has been telling the story of Sammy Jankis, a man who like him, suffered from a loss of any short-term memory. A man who claims to be acting as an ally, but who Leonard killed at the beginning of the film (which comes chronologically last), accuses Leonard of lying to himself, that Sammy was a con-man. In a montage of shots playing under the audio of this conversation, Leonard is shown giving his wife insulin shots, something Sammy did in the earlier stories. In the fabula, it is up to the viewer to decide whether Leonard killed his wife by unintentional insulin overdose, whether he had in fact already had his revenge, whether Sammy was a con-man, and indeed, whether Leonard was what he claimed.

I find these concepts very intriguing and potentially useful for understanding and discussing films. It draws a bright line between what you saw when you watched the movie, and what the film was "supposed" to be about. Thus, David Lynch isn't being an ass when he refuses to explain what the hell was happening in one of his movies. He's just letting the syuzhet speak for itself and leaving the fabula to the viewer. They also help explain my reaction to Oliver Stone's JFK, which Melissa and I watched a couple weeks ago. I find the film's syuzhet masterful: it's well-plotted, scripted, cast, acted, shot & edited. But my version of the fabula is somewhat different from the one Stone presents through the author's voice character of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). Granted, this is based on the intrusion of the real world into my interpretation of the narrative, but there it is.

Thanks, Russian formalism!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Blogiversary!

In all the election excitement, I missed the fact that the one-year anniversary of this blog had passed. It was November 1st of 2007 that I started this BS. In between, I've run hot & cold on posting, sometimes barely writing in a given month, sometimes posting as much as three times a week (or four, last week, my highest rate of blogging yet). I've experimented with a regular feature, the Weeklypedia quiz, which became increasingly less regular and more inaccurately named.

Trafficwise, I passed the 1,000-pageview mark at the end of April. Given that I didn't add StatCounter to the front page until at least a month in, it might have been sooner. That said, there have been about 2 1/2 as many views since then as before then. I started using Google analytics a few months ago, which is great, and tells me not only how much traffic I'm getting, but where it's coming from.

In the last month, there have been single page views each from Mexico, Costa Rica, Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Afghanistan, the UAE, and Indonesia and three hits each from The Netherlands, UK, and Canada. It is unknown how many of those visits were accidental. The most popular Google search that led people here (vigor space probe), with 22 hits, probably was intended to find information on an actual Vigor probe that was intended to study Venus, but failed due to a major error in units of measurement. Take that with a grain of salt, though, as I haven't been able to find another reference to this probe besides the one I just linked.

Anyway, thank you for reading and humoring me in my flights of fancy and delusions of grandeur. I enjoy writing this stuff, and especially have enjoyed your comments. I've got some fun ideas to write about, which I hopefully will not dawdle on too long.

Finally, a request: do any of you know of a good, free option for hosting short audio clips online for streaming? Something like YouTube but for audio? Lemme know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An after-dinner Beck mint

Alright, now that the big election posts are out of the way, it's back to the random connections that inspired this blog in the first place.

I discovered last week that Beck's song "E-Pro," from his album Guero, samples the drum beat from the Beastie Boys' "So Whatcha Want," from way back on Check Your Head. In fact, Beck gave the Beasties a songwriting co-credit on the track. Both songs are good, especially the original. Incidentally, both songs are in Rock Band 2; once that comes out for the Wii, I'll have to investigate whether the drum parts in the game are tracked the same. Here are the videos:

[E-Pro: Universal Music Group are jerks for disallowing embedding of YouTube videos]

[So Whatcha Want: The Beastie Boys are not jerks
]

This provides me with an opportunity to state that Beck's last really good album was Midnite Vultures in 1999. I'm probably biased, since this came out when I was in college and I listened the hell out of that album for about a year and a half, and even drove 5 hours in a snowstorm to see Beck in Kansas City during that time but dammit, he hasn't been the same since. There are a few cuts on Guero I liked, but the biggest problem I have is that you can't understand his insane lyrics anymore. I mean, what's the point of stringing together bizarre turns of phrase and clever wordplay if you're going to mumble your way through it? I may not know what "Norman Schwartzkopf / somethin' tells me you wanna go home / champagne bottles / custom clothes you own / calling up from special area codes" means, but I could understand the words and it is funky. I'll have to give Modern Guilt a listen, and see if he's cleaned up his act and his diction.

For the record, Odelay was Beck's best album and I wish I could dance like Beck.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Reaction: Proposition 8

The most disappointing result of Tuesday night was the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The margin by which it passed (52.3% to 47.7) was surprising, given that in the last weeks before Election Day, polls showed the measure failing by about the same difference.

Some notes:

1. Why is it that in California, ballot items that involve tax or spending issues seem to take a supermajority to pass, but amending the constitution needs only a simple 50%+1 majority? This seems hopelessly backwards.

2. Thankfully, the CA Attorney General has stated that the approximately 18,000 same-sex couples who married this year will remain married. Here's hoping that continues to stand, and that the normalcy of those marriages continues to undermine claims that gay marriage somehow endangers the sanctity of heterosexual unions. Of course, the way that opponents of equality have lied and spun statistics (Sweden is dying, you know!) thus far, perhaps this is wishful thinking.

3. It is disappointing that two particularly high-profile opponents of the amendment didn't do more to stop it. Barack Obama and Gov. Arnold Schwartzanegger both voiced their opposition to the proposition, but did not campaign against it. I find it hard to believe either that their voices wouldn't have at least made up some of the difference OR that spending this bit of capital would have harmed them politically enough to make a difference for their respective electoral chances. Grow a backbone, people.

4. Early exit polls suggested that African-Americans might have made the difference in passing the bill, but subsequent analysis seems to prove otherwise, though it is true that, of ethnic groups, African American voters in California showed the largest proportion of support for Prop. 8 (about 70%).

5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, officially, as an organization, poured money into the Yes-on-8 effort in California, and encouraged its supporters to do the same. Mitt Romney recently explained why:
[S]everal months ago, not long before he died, I had the occasion of having the Rev. Jerry Falwell at our home. He said that when he was getting ready to oppose same-sex marriage in California, he met with the president of my church in Salt Lake City, and they agreed to work together in a campaign in California.
Romney's difficulties in the Republican primaries came in part from being a Mormon in a party dominated by a religious base distrustful of that religion. Was this agreement by the Church of LDS a way to buy respect from the religious right? Gross.

Note that not all Mormons were willing to follow the Church's lead. Hall-of-Fame 49'er Steve Young, a Mormon, contributed and campaigned for the No-on-8 efforts. Here's hoping that he can continue to be a strong example. It's disturbing to see the official institution of an entire faith group play politics in such a hateful, discriminatory way, but heartening to see that some of their membership is bucking the leadership.

On this last note, Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy wrote an either under-informed or under-honest post painting the marriage equality supporters in California who have taken out their frustration by picketing at a Mormon temple as mindless bigots. He trots out the misleading exit polls and suggests the protests would be more accurately (but "less-politically-correctly") pointed at black churches. Even with two updates, he does not address the very substantial role that the Mormon Church played in the passage of Proposition 8. His blogging colleage Dale Carpenter, who writes often about gay rights, had a much more on-point post discouraging people from tarring all Mormons with the same brush, while still encouraging drawing attention to the church's actions and making constructive suggestions as to useful projects for protest.

6. One lesson I'm personally taking from the Proposition 8 campaigns in California is that it isn't enough to argue against these marriage amendments, as the No On 8 campaigns did, from a perspective that says "no matter what you think of marriage, we shouldn't put discrimination in the constitution." That may be true, but it isn't the point, nor is it the whole point that supporters of 8 lied in suggesting that kids will be indoctrinated or recruited. The point is that America needs to get past thinking of gay people and their relationships as necessarily icky. There is nothing icky about a committed monogamous relationship that seeks to grow deeper with time. What those of us proudly allied with the gay rights movement seek is not somehow special or unique, but the same boring stuff to which the rest of us are already blessed to have access. Tuesday was a setback. But it's not the end of the story. Onward and upward.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Election Reaction: In Congress

OK, more election reactions; let's look down ballot across the land.

The Dems picked up a chunk of seats in the Senate and House, and depending on the results of a few outstanding races, they stand to pick up some more. That includes Senate races the afore-mentioned MN, the about-to-runoff-on-December-3rd GA race, and the still-counting AK, and a number of House races mostly too obscure for me to know about them, save Darcy Burner (D) vs. Dave Reichert (R - i) in the Washington 8th, where the Burner, a former Microsoft project manager, got a raw deal from the Seattle Times throughout the campaign. Trivia!

A theme this year seems to be "Re-elect Your Corrupt Congressman or Congresspeople!" Like Michelle Bachmann but for different reasons, Reps. Jack Murtha (D, PA) and William Jefferson (D, LA) are embarrassments, and should not be in their offices. The former was re-elected, even after calling his constituents racists, and the latter, who apparently STILL hasn't been indicted for corruption despite it being almost two years since the Feds found he had a freezer full of cash (literally, literally!), advanced to a run-off later this month. I don't understand how elections in Louisiana work, but it seems to take about as long as the NBA post-season.

And then there's Alaska. Oh, Alaska. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, who had been on top of Alaskan corruption rumors and investigations long before Palin was selected by McCain, jokes that the rest of the nation should take the Alaska Independence Party up on their offer to secede. They seem to be on their way to re-electing not only their soon-to-be-indicted Representative-at-large Don Young but their Septuple-felon Senior Senator Ted Stevens. Both of these despite polling that in the final days of the campaign reliably showed both of them losing. And, despite having their governor on the presidential ticket, apparently turnout is looking like it was down around 10% from 2004, even though early voting records in the state were shattered. Zuh? Really, rhetorical flourish aside, this is truly bizarre and I'm not sure I buy it. I guess they're still counting early and absentee ballots, of which there are many, but this is weird.

I wouldn't be sad to see Stevens or Young go, neither of whom I would be happy about in the Congress if they were Democrats, either. Getting Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens as far away from oversight of the internet as possible seems to me to be a worthwhile project. Despite being convicted two (?) weeks ago on seven counts of corruption by accepting undisclosed gifts of great value, he subsequently claimed that he is not, in fact, convicted until he has exhausted all appeals. That's true in every way except fact and spirit of the law.

Actually, Stevens' re-election may not be as irrational as it appears. Thanks to the nepotistic shenanigans of former governor Frank Murkowski (appointed his daughter), Alaska voters stripped the governor of the ability to appoint Senators to vacancies. So while Sarah Palin may not be able to pick the next Senator if Stevens goes to jail, resigns, or is kicked out (the latter of which is likely if he is indeed re-elected), she may run for the open seat in the proscribed special election. And I suspect she'd win. So maybe the conservative voters of the Last Frontier are crazy like foxes.

In South Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) is gone, after describing the agenda of her opponent Kay Hagan (D), who is in fact a Sunday school teacher, as "godless" and an "atheist agenda." Good riddance to Dole and welcome another moderate Dem to the mid-Atlantic seabord.

It took a couple days to call, but it seems that Democrat Jeff Merkley may have unseated incumbent Republican Gordon Smith in Oregon. Smith is a Republican Senator I wouldn't have minded if he'd stayed. He's moderate on a lot of issues, gay-friendly, and has a history of working with Democrats. He even touted projects he'd worked on with Sen. Obama in campaign ads. Also, he is second cousins with the two Udalls who were elected to the Senate in New Mexico and Colorado. Had he stayed, the Smith-Udall family would have made up 3% of the Senate.

If Franken pulls it off in the recounts here in MN, and Stevens loses as the remainind votes are counted in AK, and (this is the big stretch) Saxby Chambliss loses the runoff in GA, the Democrats will hold a 60-vote majority in the Senate. Filibuster-proof. Neat, except it doesn't really matter. Having a simple majority grants control of the body, of course. But voting on cloture on an issue isnt automatic. You actually have to have 60 votes on a given issue, regardless of party. This swings both ways. Liberal Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have voted with Democrats on divisive issues on occasion, as has John McCain, for that matter. So even without 60 Democrats, they can get to 60 votes to end debate if they put together a workable coalition. By the same token, conservative Democrats could join in a filibuster if so inclined. Honestly, I'm just relieved that the Democratic majority is now Lieberman-proofed.

Next time: Prop. 8. Boo Prop. 8.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Reaction: Minnesota Edition

Note 1: MN Senate numbers changed to reflect update by Secretary of State.
Note 2: Changed the number again, down to 236, due to a data entry error in one county.

For liberals in Minnesota, the local news was a bit less positive than the big national story.

The race for US Senate and top Jewish-Minnesotan-guy-born-in-New-York between Norm Coleman (R,i) and Al Franken (D) is extremely close. At last count, Coleman leads by 236 in a field of 2.9 million votes. The difference is 0.008% of the total votes cast. To put that in perspective, if you equate the total votes to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge (8,981 ft), the difference between Coleman and Franken is about 9 inches. Wow! In Minnesota, a statewide recount is triggered automatically by any difference less than 0.5%, so that will be happening.

According to MN Sec. of State Mark Ritchie on MPR yesterday, the vote will first be certified by the canvass boards in mid-November, and then each county will recount their votes by hand. It is not uncommon, apparently, for people to be baffled by the, honestly, really easy instructions on the Scantron ballots. Ritchie says some people will mark an X or a check mark in the bubble instead of filling it, or circle the candidate. So the counties will look for these votes, under the no-doubt annoyingly watchful eyes of both campaigns' legal observers.

I do, of course, hope for a net gain for Franken of at least 237 votes. It's time the Brave New Workshop had a Senator. But for every me in this state, there's approximately one not-me on this question. The divisiveness of this Senate race was unusual (clearly proven by the numbers). It's tough to say what Barkley's effect on the race was. I suspect he got a lot of "a pox on both your houses" voters. There was as much, if not more, advertising against each major candidate on the basis of personal rancor as actual issues. For everyone who finds Franken personally repellent, there are those who feel the same about Norm Coleman. I'm one of these latter, finding Coleman somewhat moderate as Republicans go but also completely slimy and opportunistic. His suggestion that a recount should not proceed due to the "need for the healing process" plays into this impression. Seriously, Norm, "hopefully, you don't have TV ads during an election recount"? No kidding; why are you even bringing it up?

In other MN election news, I'm disappointed that Madia lost to Paulsen in the 3rd district. Madia's biography (young, South Asian heritage, Iraq war vet, Republican until recently) and moderation make him seem like he should be appealing to moderates and a kind of person the Democratic party could use more of. I hope he finds his way into politics yet.

An open letter to the 6th District: What the hell? Conservative district or no, to re-elect Bachmann after she shit the bed on national TV and then spent two weeks distorting or lying about what she said? And if El Tinklenberg can't make use of an opening like that, and the flood of national money that ensued, I've got no use for him. Bachmann's an embarrassment. The 6th, like the Gubernatorial race, needs a better DFL candidate (seriously, Dems, Mike Hatch?).

Finally, this guy is both an asshole for his actions, and an idiot for writing about it in public under his real name. Good riddance.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election reaction: The Big One

What a night. We had 12 or so friends over to watch the returns last night. We allowed ourselves to go into full media saturation mode, flipping the TV from CNN to Fox to Comedy Central, the radio in the dining room staying on NPR, MSNBC on the desktop computer, and three laptops floating around. Plus lots of delicious junk food & cheap champagne.

The atmosphere was electric. People yelled news from room-to-room as states were called by various networks. The big marker board was scribbled-in. When the networks called the election, seemingly all at once, the noisemakers came out. At this point, we were all excited seemingly on a horse-race level as much as anything else. I'm speaking for myself and projecting on the others, but I think we were delighted to each have voted, for the first time in our lives, for a winning presidential candidate.

McCain gave an excellent and gracious concession speech. He rejected the bitterness and divisiveness of his campaign, silencing some boos at first, and made a strong appeal to finding middle ground and shared solutions to the challenge ahead. He invoked the history of the moment, too, reflecting on what it says about the United States to have elected its first African-American president (the first black executive of a major western power, too, if I'm not mistaken). This was the McCain I admired in the 2000 primaries and throughout the first Bush administration, little seen in this general election. If Obama does some reaching out to McCain, and works to overcome the distrust McCain seems to have had of him since early 2005, McCain could be a helpful ally across the aisle. Honestly, if the circular conservative firing squad takes aim at McCain as much as I expect it will, the Senator may find more common cause with the President than his party on some issues (immigration and the environment chief among them).

When Obama spoke we were mostly silent, and for several of us, it got a bit dusty in the room. For my part the symbolism of the moment was incredibly moving, as were the possibilities of the return of American soft power on the global stage and an inspirational, oratory leadership not seen in this country in my lifetime.*

Lots of work to do, people, but last night is worth celebrating.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

* OK, conservatives, Reagan was a Great Communicator. I'm thinking Kennedy, I'll grant you Reagan -- I'm feeling magnanimous today. You're welcome.**

** Magnanimous and arrogant.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Done and Done


Vote #207, St. Helena Catholic Church, Minneapolis.

Melissa and I got in line around 6:45. Waited an hour and 15 to vote. A similar wait, incidentally, to the one I had at a precinct across town in 2004. I ran into a former improv classmate and a college classmate, both of whom it turns out live on our street within two blocks of us.

Plenty of ballots and booths. Choke point was table where registered people checked in. There were only two or three spots for check-in; they could have used at least one or two more teams.

I don't get why other states muck around with old-school machines, complicated ballots, or dubious electronics. Gimme a Scantron (Scantron and Scranton have literally -- literally! -- the same letters in them) any day of the week. It's the best of both worlds: rapid results when you scan it in, but it leaves a verifiable paper trail that's difficult to mess with.

Ultimately, while symbolically exciting, my voting experience was procedurally boring. That's the way I like it. I don't know why other states can't seem to figure out how to run an election, but I'm glad they have around here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No, it's not SANCHEZ!


Whoa: two posts, one day.

I don't read Time Magazine's Swampland political blog every day, but when I do, and when I encounter a post by Karen Tumulty, there's a pretty good chance she'll refer to her writing for the print edition of Time. And when she does, she invariably uses the words "dead-tree," as in the "dead-tree version" of the magazine. I find this annoying. The word print is three letters and one syllable shorter than "dead-tree." It's a needless affectation that's perfectly fine as a spice, but her over-reliance on it simply weakens the phrase and draws attention to itself.

Kind of like John McCain with "my friends" or Joe Biden with "Literally — literally!" for that matter.

A simple Google search for ["karen tumulty" "dead tree"] finds 704 occurences on the web, including 290 on the Swampland blog alone. This is ridiculous. Tumulty's first post on the blog was on January 7th, 2007. She seems to have made 802 posts. So about 36% of her posts use this phrase, which occurs on average once every 2 and 1/4 days. Overuse!

Now, I don't want to impugn her reporting or commentary, with which I have no particular beef. But someone at Swampland needs to stage an intervention, like Dave Foley's character in one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches:

Ascertain

Say the right things when electioneering

Updated 10/21/08 -- see below.

Some of you might have heard rumors to the effect of "you can't vote if you're wearing a campaign button." This varies by state, but yes, this is technically true in places, including Minnesota.
From MINN. STAT. § 211B.11(1) (2004): Soliciting prohibited. A person may not provide political badges, political buttons, or other political insignia to be worn at or about the polling place on the day of a primary or election. A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day.
Emphasis mine. Unlike many states, this is pretty-clear cut. So if you're wearing a campaign button, shirt or sticker, you may be asked to cover it up, or leave and come back without it or with it covered. After that, theoretically, you should have no problems. If you're persistent in your electioneering, you could be fined or even arrested. It's a misdemeanor, as I understand it (lawyer dad, help me out here?). Bottom line: wear a jacket or sweatshirt over your Obama shirt and pocket your button before heading into your polling place.

Spread the word.

(Post title from "Electioneering" by Radiohead from OK Computer, easily one of my top ten favorite albums. Music here, paired with some crappy skateboarding video that looks like it was shot by an alternate universe Spike Jonze whose career never took off.)

Update! Although the comments seem not to be working for him, my Dad responded with some legal info:
"Lawyer Dad" here. Actually, the statute says a violation is a "petty misdemeanor" (which is supposed to signify something about the penalty that may be imposed rather than describing the legislature's action in criminalizing such trivial conduct). I took a look at the criminal statutes (not my area of expertise) and can't find anything that spells out exactly what the penalty for a "petty misdemeanor" is, but I think it's probably limited to a fine. So you probably won't get thrown in the slammer for wearing an Obama button -- or even a McCain button -- to the polls. But why run the risk of riling up a cranky election judge, who probably takes his/her limited authority much too seriously?
Indeed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Halloween Traditions: Creature Feature

Another Halloween tradition I have kept recently is participation in Creature Feature, the annual improvised monster movie show put on by Huge Theater. Since 2004, Creature Feature has been a staple of the Minneapolis improv scene every October, and I've had a freaking blast playing with a group of funny, talented people.

Here's how it works: every show, one performer is The Monster for the night. They get a suggestion from the audience of a monster that might star in a movie, and a title for that movie. For instance, this past Thursday: "Furballs From Hell," about a gigantic, murderous hamster. The rest of the cast sets a scene, describing an atmospheric location in which the "movie" will open. Then the Monster actor does a solo scene as the creature's first victim. After their grisly death, the cast introduces themselves in monologues as the characters they will play for the rest of the show. The scenes that follow show the characters conspiring, teaming up, backbiting, hiding, fleeing, and getting picked off by the hamsters or butterfly or clowns or mermaids or whatever.

Some favorite Creature Feature memories:
  • Kim Sigler crosses gender lines to play a Cub Scout caught between two rival park rangers / surrogate fathers (Butch Roy & Dan Hetzel). She spends much of the set running up & down their respective observation towers as they yell at each other.
  • Tim Uren plays a registered sex offender who ultimately prevails over the monster of the week, a Minotaur. Following his victory, he explains that it is he who is the real monster.
  • Aric McKeown, week after week and year after year, comes up with some of my favorite character names including Rusty Trombone, Dr. Assless Chaps, and Prof. F. T. Quickdraw. His names are the ones I never forget in the middle of a set.
If you've seen the show in the past, please share some of your favorite bits in the comments.

You should come see the show. This year as last, we're playing in a double bill with the Survivors of the Undead Plague, who I've written about before, and are really excellent. Their set this past week, in which the heirs of Wendy's and McDonald's teamed up in a helicopter and then a tank to brave hordes of zombies and rescue their aggressively lesbian half-sister while an eight-year-old grew up really fast as he was forced to take out both of his zombie parents and drive a car, was a thing of beauty. Come see them so we can talk knowingly together about how awesome they were.

Here are the details on the remaining shows:

Creature Feature, featuring the Survivors of the Undead Plague
October 16th, 23rd and 30th at 8PM
Tickets $10 via Bravenewworkshop.com, call 612-332-6620, or visit the box office at 2605 Hennepin Ave S in Minneapolis


Creature Feature
Directed by Mike Fotis
Starring:
Lauren Anderson
Fred Beukema
Joe Bozic
Josh Eakright

Eric Knobel
Hannah Kuhlmann
Nels Lennes
Aric McKeown
Michael Ritchie
Jen Scott
Tim Uren


Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Halloween Traditions: It's Astounding

It's October, which means that it will soon be time for one of my stupid personal traditions: the annual listening of the soundtrack to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Now I don't really like the movie, and have only seen it all the way through twice. But since, I guess, 1994, listening to the soundtrack has been part of my preparation for Halloween. You see, that fall, around this time, I took the PSAT exam at my high school. On the way into school, I found a cassette of the film's soundtrack lying on the sidewalk. It was in very good condition. "Hey, free tape," I said to myself as I pocketed my musical windfall.

Not long thereafter, I was charged with carving the family pumpkin, a project my father only tolerated so long as my brother and I were incapable of doing it ourselves. I sat down at the kitchen table with my spread of newspapers, assorted cutting and scooping tools, and my walkman, loaded up with a Halloween mixtape featuring the theme from Ghostbusters, Werewolves of London (this was before learning of other, more excellent Warren Zevon tunes) and other appropriate fare. This tape was pretty short, so I turned to my recent find to keep the October mood going. I think my disdain for the movie has something to do with my being a band geek instead of a theater geek, although that's an assertion I think my brother, a theater geek with no particular fondness for the film, might protest. Anyway, the music is catchy as hell, and listening to it, you don't have to watch it, or be surrounded by assholes in their underwear throwing toast at the screen.

Thus a neural connection was made between The Halloween Spirit (TM) and this music. And so, every fall, once, as the days get shorter and crisper and the big orange squash await their slaughter, I revisit those halcyon days of 1994, just before the Democrats lost both houses of Congress.

Postscript: As long as we're talking Halloween music, back in 2005 during the Current's first year on the air, they did special programming for the holiday, wherein all day on the 31st of October, they played Halloween- and ghost- and death-themed music. It was fun, and exposed me to The White Stripes' excellent cover of Tegan & Sara's "Walking With A Ghost," which made it onto the 2005 Beukemix as a result.

Post-Postscript: When I hear "Tegan & Sara," it half-registers as "Teebo & Sara," and then I think that they're an Ewok singing duo. This only increases my enjoyment of their music.