Reading and watching – flight to Beijing

I settled in for the 14 hour haul with some massive reading and viewing. I never sleep on long hauls — small naps and moments of narcolepsy aside — and so I need tons of mental stimulation.  It all begins with packing:

Hardcopy: this is paper-based reading for those non-electronic device moments the airlines are so fond of dogmatically imposing. Why a Kindle can’t be used during taxiing is beyond me. But I am not going to argue with the Man.

  • Sunday New York Times. $6 at the Hudson News in Terminal C. I repeat: SIX DOLLARS.
  • Ten back issues of a newsletter from a Club that shall not be named that I am a guest of this summer for a few days
  • Saints and Strangers: Being the Lives of the Pilgrim Fathers & Their Families, with Their Friends & Foes; & an Account of Their Posthumous Wanderings in Limbo, Their Final Resurrection & Rise to Glory, & the Strange Pilgrimages of Plymouth Rock, by George Williston, the best account of the Pilgrims I have read yet beyond Bradford, Mourt’s Relation and Nathaniel Philbrick.

Digital: Kindle primarily – working through William Vollman’s excellent World War II novel, Europa; the New Yorker, and a ton of other texts. I downloaded War & Peace for a re-read. Lots of Kindle usage going on in United business class from Chi-to-PEK. Saw one poor soul start off the trip with a new Apple iPad in his hands. He made sure everyone knew he had one. By Siberia the guy had a massive case of arm fatigue and was trying to prop the sucker up against something. I pitied the fool. Spied another iPad in a guy’s dutyfree bag going through immigration at PEK.

Video: loaded up the ThinkPad with some in-flight viewing. The video screens on the plane are super small, but I suffered through a historical costume drama, The Young Victoria then abandoned the in-flight options and went to my own library. Big surprise was The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke’s winner of the Palm D’Or at Cannes in 2009. Amazing, amazing movie set in pre WW-I northern Germany.

After that I started a Kurosawa flick about a bureaucrat with stomach cancer …. but that got old and I dove into the Willison’s excellent history of the Pilgrims, which had my attention all the way into Beijing.

All in all, I love flying only because I can get a ton of reading and viewing in. Sure, out of guilt I do a little work, but for the most part it’s just a lot of reading and watching, about the only such non-interrupted stint I get these days.

What I’m Reading: Depths of Farch

Farch: the mythical month invented by Tony Perkins long ago when Red Herring missed a month and he decided to combine February and March — which in New England is the nadir, the pits, the lowest point of the annual cycle when the blizzards roll through, then the  winds follow, the landscape turns grey, and slowly, as St. Pat’s draws nearer, the dog shit starts to surface through the grey snow  banks.

  • Red Sox Equipment truck left for Fort Myers — this is good. There are two halves to the year: the baseball half and the non-baseball half.  Truck Day is my personal Groundhog Day and now, with some luck, I’ll be blogging about the blooming of the crocuses, the planting of the sugar peas, and even — dare I tempt the gods — the launching of the boat for some clamming.
  • Reading. I’ve been busy on the Kindle and in print.
    • The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain: worth a read, definitely worth a read. How these escaped me is a mystery, but it takes a strong sense of humor to make a reader laugh out loud more than 100 years later.  I’m reading the Modern Library edition edited by Lawrence Berkove.
    • Istanbul: Memories of a City, Orhan Pamuk won Turkey’s only Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006.  This memoir of growing up in Istanbul introduced me to him. I will definitely visit his novels next. It has been the perfect coda to the recent Turkey expedition.
    • Europe Central, William Vollman. Lyrical history of the Eastern Front in WW II as seen through the eyes of various luminaries from the artist Kathe Kollwitz,  the composer Dmitri Shostakovich to the Wehrmacht General Freidrich Paulus.
    • The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons. I couldn’t finish it, but the beginning is great as he relives the glory dynasties of the Boston Celtics as only a true Masshole of my generation could. The rest of it — especially his “what-if” scenarios are confusing and indulgent.
    • Baseball America: monthly rag out of Durham, NC devoted to inside-baseball and minor league prospects. Feeding the inner baseball geek.
  • Watching. Lots of art film. In the past couple weeks ….

That’s it. Lots of things happening at work, still engaged with the church thing, thinking about social devices, emerging market internet usage behavior, censorship issues in Iran and China …. the usual and not enough time to blog about it all cogently.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: the Nabua Diptych

The fascinating Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, has set two short films  in the village of Nabua in northeastern Thailand.  The Auteurs recently released, for free, the second short, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee. The first, Phantoms of Nabua, can be viewed at Animate Projects.

Both can be watched online for free and if you have an interest in current art film, this is what gets cinephiles very worked up. The emphasis is on art here, while Apichatpong has directed some more narrative “traditional” films, these short pieces are to be enjoyed for their aesthetic, not story.

Film critic Michael Sicinski writes a great critique of the two pieces which put them into the historical and cultural context that Apichatpong (aka “Joe” to his fans) draws upon on these two strangely beautiful ambient pieces.  I am especially impressed by the sound design and amazing wind sounds contained in these shorts.

“Nabua was an occupied town from the 1960s to the early 80s, when military forces considered it a stronghold for Communist farmers. It was a scene of intense brutality and repression, and many of those who were not executed by the government forces had to flee to escape a similar fate. In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in the form of an assertion of ghostly, vertical time.”

Thanks to The Auteurs for making this work available.

Turkey: cinema and social networking

I am in the process of planning my first trip to Turkey, hoping to travel in late January for a series of exploratory meetings to gain a better understanding of digital marketing opportunities, consumer personal computer preferences, new media, and social networking. To prepare myself I’ve been brushing up on everything from Byzantine history to contemporary Turkish cinema.

I’ve posted in the past about The Auteurs, a stunning site devoted to cinema, particularly so-called “art film” which I’ve been diving into over the past three years as a winter/travel diversion. Starting with the 50 disc collection of the Essential Art House by Criterion, The Auteurs is an awesome continuation and melding of social networking with streaming cinema, discussion forums, reviews, and external notification integration with Twitter and Facebook.

Last week, while in Raleigh, I took advantage of a free stream on the Auteurs of the 1964 black and white Turkish film, Dry Summer,(Susuz Yaz) (watch for free) which won a prestigious award in Germany that same year. A simple story of water rights, greed, fraternal jealousies, and lust gone wrong, the film was a nice way to spend an evening while lounging in a desk chair at the Courtyard Marriot Suites. When I returned home I started to dig a little deeper and plugged my ThinkPad into my big Panasonic plasma screen with a male-to-male VGA cable. I dug a little deeper into The Auteur’s archives and paid $5 to stream Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climate.

Ceylan, who is about my age, is a former electrical engineering major who studied photography and released his first short film in the mid-1990s. Climate (Iklimer), his second feature length film, star himself and his photographer wife Ebru Ceylan. Shot in HD it is a gorgeous film shot with a photographer’s eye,  but a true art film in the sense that the shots dwell and linger, turning inconsequential objects and sounds into significant ones by lingering for a long time on the found art that surrounds us.

I noted my thoughts on the film on The Auteurs and without really being conscious of it, that review and my professed crush on the landscape of Turkey and Ebru Ceylan were automatically posted onto Twitter.  Later in the day, when picking through my email, a Twitter follower announcement jumped out at me: Nuri Bilge Ceylan was following me.

Cool, this is how social networking works. I post. He detects. He pings. All this online socializing is good for some global connection making. A little later in the day I received a direct message: “Mr. Churbuck, you make me happy to promote my film.” To which I replied: “Thanks for making it.”

Anyway. I watched another NBC film last night, Uzak, and it also made a great impact. This Ceylan guy makes great great films.

Update: I started a list of Turkish films on the Auteurs.

What I’m reading and watching ….

Books:

Steven Johnson: The Invention of Air, the story of the Reverend Joseph Priestly.

World War Z: Max Brooks. The zombie wars, told Stud Terkel style. Recommended by my good buddy T. Soon to be a major motion picture.

Thirteen Moons: Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain. Just getting into it. Not sure yet.

J.D. Lasica: Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing. Really good cloud computing primer. I am very into cloud services these days, working on some Amazon Web Services stuff, thinking about business models. Lasica does a great job with a summation of

Movies:

Old Boy: Highly demented Korean revenge flick. Highly demented. Fight scene with a claw hammer is pretty unforgettable.

Songs from the Second Floor: Swedish weirdness. Like a two hour television commercial with very pale people

Star Trek: digging the Spock emphasis, I mean, seriously, when Spock gets the girl, pointy eared paste eaters everywhere got a lift.

Loves of a Blonde: Milos Forman, pretty funny Czech flick about factory workers behind the Iron Curtain looking for men. This bedroom scene was pretty awesome.

Bells

I read a very interesting essay in the recent New Yorker about the repatriation of the Danilov bells from Harvard’s Lowell House belfry to the Russian monastary where they hung and rang for centuries.  Russian bells have been on my mind since December when I watched Andrei Rublev, the 1966 masterwork of Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. That film has an amazing scene where a young bell-maker is asked to cast a gigantic bell — something he has apprenticed with his late-father, but never done himself. As a depiction of art and craftsmanship, I think it is unequalled.

The New Yorker piece talks about the role of bells in Russian life, the destruction of most of the country’s bells by Stalin, and the preservation of the Danilov bells (a set of 17) by the wealthy benefactor, Charles Crane — the toilet and sink magnate — who was a protean renaissance man with a desire to preserve an amazing collection of bells ranging from 22 pounds to the 26,000 pound “Mother Bell”.

From the Wikipedia entry on Lowell House:

For three-quarters of a century, one of the more distinctive features of Lowell House was the presence of a set of Russian bells in a tower above the House, one of only a handful of complete sets of pre-revolutionary Russian bells left in the world. The set was bought around 1930 by Chicago industrialist Charles R. Crane in order to save the bells from being melted down by Soviet authorities. Crane is reputed to have bought the bells for the price of their bronze content. When Lowell House was built, Crane donated the set of 18 bells to Harvard (only 17 are in the House today; the 18th was thought to be too close in tone to one of the others, and it now hangs in the tower of Harvard Business School‘s Baker Library).

The bells originally came from the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, now the seat of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and were installed with the help first of Konstantin Konstantinovich Saradzhev and then that of “a Russian émigré who … claimed to have rung the Danilov bells before the Revolution.”[2] They range in weight from 22 pounds (10 kg) to 26,700 pounds (12,100 kg) (the largest bell is known as “Mother Earth”). The bells are consecrated, and are of great significance to the Russian Orthodox Church, where bells are regularly rung as part of the liturgy. At Harvard, the bells are rung every Sunday from 1:00 to 1:15 pm, and on certain special occasions, by an interested group of Lowell residents known as the Klappermeisters. The Bells had been rung for generations of students, for instance, following the Harvard-Yale football game, with Harvard’s score rung on the “Mother Earth Bell” and Yale’s rung on the “Bell of Pestilence, Famine, and Despair.” Visitors are welcome. They can also be heard on the Lowell House Virtual Bell Tower.

With the revival of Christianity in Russia and the reopening of the Danilov Monastery, a request had been made for the return of the bells to Moscow. After prolonged negotiations, they were returned in the summer of 2008 and replaced with replicas; the exchange was made possible by the financial and administrative support of the Russian industrialist Victor Vekselberg.[3]

Here is the bell casting clip from Andrei Rublev. The full scene needs to be seen for full impact.




The Auteurs

The Auteurs

Criterion launches a social network for film geeks.  One of the best implementations I’ve seen.  Forums, reviews, friends, pay per view.

I like niche communities — a lot — and I like them seperate and not under a big tent like Facebook. Reel-Time for saltwater fly fishing. The Auteurs for art films. Chowhound for food. I know there have been an attempt or two at a rowing network — but it fell flat for me.

Anyway, I’m dying to figure out the engine under Auteurs. It’s a nice piece of code.

What I’m watching: Satantango

One of the benefits of a son attending NYU’s Tisch School of Cinema Studies is you get an introduction to cinema that the local Cineplex can’t deliver, and a critic-on-the-couch to give an amazing introduction to what is happening on the screen.  As faithful readers know, I’ve been entertaining myself this winter with the amazing Criterion Art House collection — 50  films from around the world. This past week my son was home for a few days on spring break. He brought with him a Hungarian film released in 1996, but only released on DVD a year ago — Satantango — a 7-hour epic by Bela Tarr.

That’s right. Seven-hour hours. Three DVDs.

Plot:  The final days of a Hungarian communist-era collective farm. I guess late 198os, early 1990s. The “savior” of the farmers, Irimias, is coming, but the farmers, living in utter mud and squalor, think of leaving with what cash they have. Ten minute static shots. Moody music. Chapters revealing one character after another. At first the whole thing has the feeling of Valve’s Half-Life 2 video game and the viewer feels like Gordon Freeman, a visitor to an unfortunate black and white Iron Curtain hell of crumbling plaster, leaking roofs, and incessant rains.

From there — well, no way I am blogging a synopsis of a seven-hour flick. Let’s just say you get into the groove, you take lots of breaks, every now and then you say, “Whoa” and every now and then you nod off. The late critic, filmmaker and novelist, Susan Sontag said, “”Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.”

You can see some clips on YouTube. The opening eight minutes of cows is pretty good. The actual tango scene (I want the accordion music as the ringtone on my new BlackBerry — single most annoying and infectious piece of music ever) is worth a few minutes.

The movie is controversial due to a horrific scene involving a cat (which Tarr swears was unharmed and became his pet). It was pretty rough.

So — I suspect I am like one of a few thousand people to see this. I’d recommend it if you are really into art film. This isn’t a marathon stunt like some of Andy Warhol’s weirdness — 12 hours of the Empire State building. But it is a long committment best savored over a few days. Good luck finding it.

What I’m reading and watching this week

The New Yorker: John Updike issue. Amazing. The excerpts from his writing over the decade were magnificent. Starting the current issue with A-Rod on the cover signing autographs for cartoon kids with Popeye arms.

Saturday by Ian McEwan. Due to a review in the current New Yorker. I kindled a copy and started it on a flight. About a brain surgeon. Great voice.

My Life in France by Julia Child. Recommended by Chas. Dubow at Businessweek.com in response to last weekend’s sausage posting. I need to post more on French cooking, one of my winter weekend hobbies.  Julia Child was more than the woozy TV cook played by Dan Ackroyd on SNL, she wrote the bestselling treatise on French cooking for the American cook and loved France with a passion. Just a great book. I’d put it on the shelf next to A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals and Geo. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.

Atlantic Monthlycrash issue. Four different covers for four seperate metro markets. Each with the tag line that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco come out for the better after the current panic abates. Custom magazine covers aren’t news. The issue is okay. I need to go back and find the ultra prescient piece by James Fallows on the coming meltdown. Here it is. Great piece of early eco/sci fi crashapalooza set in 2016. It freaked me out when I read it three years ago, and I think a lot about it today.

Movies

  • The Reader, Kate Winslet up for best actress. I could argue for that.
  • Le Jour se Leve,  1939. Jean Gabin, directed by Marcel Carne. Wow. Poetic Realism at its best.  Jules Berry as the evil dog trainer was pretty awesome.