Put Your Hands On The Screen

Mad Men didn’t used to be about people all watching the same thing on TV. The current season, however, is irradiated with television. The newly-redubbed Sterling Cooper & Partners is making a lot of its money off it. Harry Crane is swimming in it. Characters build their interactions out of what they’ve seen on it. The people on Mad Men have never had so much in common, nor been so isolated from each other.

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Zero Dark Thirty: The Ashes Of American Flags

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is politically abhorrent, an ideologue’s digest of how torture “works” on behalf of democratic governments seeking to defend from or avenge themselves upon terrorism.  There’s no debate: by means of torture, CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) digs her way from Osama bin Laden’s outer network to his inner circle, one, two, three. As journalist Malcolm Harris put it, “That Kathryn Bigelow used to be involved in left aesthetics should make us shiver in fear about who we may yet become.” But subtly, in the way Bigelow presents her lead character’s view of the battlefield and the flag under which she strives, Zero Dark Thirty betrays mixed feelings about its own ramifications.

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Iraq + 10: The Usefulest Idiots

After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?”

Q. I have a question. [Laughter]

The President. Okay. I’m sure you do have a question. Continue reading

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EARWORM! It’s Your Very Last Chance To Hurt Me

They howled for me at just the right time. I’ve been an evangelist for Brooklyn-Boston postpunk group the Beatings for several years now, as the band that distilled the anger and displacement I felt during the worst of the Bush years. Revisiting their mid-2000s discs this week the enthusiasm is unabated — but so are the wars, so is the suctioning of wealth from lowest to high, so is the whittling of constitutional freedoms. The scar’s still hot and raw, demanding a scratch.

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The Friday Archives: Phil Alvin

Phil Alvin, photographed by Alex Flores http://fozzybear783.tumblr.com/ I keep pointing people to this as one of the most brain-bending interviews I’ve ever done, and it wasn’t easily accessible online. (Although if you google “Phil Alvin” + “set theory” it comes up pretty high in the rankings, but who’s combining those search terms habitually?) I thought my experience with Phil Alvin, Ph.D. was unique, but it turns out this 2008 conversation with the cofounder of the Blasters is the kind of thing he does all the time, whether in interviews, on camera, or in conversation.

Alvin, who started the Blasters with brother Dave and other players in their hometown of Downey, California, fell badly ill on tour in Spain in 2012, leading to benefit concerts to raise money for his medical bills. Now 60, he’s on the mend and playing again, including an appearance at his own fundraiser. My only regret about this interview is I forgot to mention to Phil the first time I saw or heard the blasters: in that cracked-out ’80s action-musical Streets of Fire. The text was first published here.

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Comix Trip

Gerry Conway, writer: “We were just winging it, sort of like jazz riffing. And if you can think of the idiocy of trying to manage a jazz set, that’s kind of the idiocy, in my view, of trying to manage comics. Because comics, at their best, should be a jazz set.”

This was probably my favorite view of Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon 2013: Gerry Conway, who made the comics of my youth, in a concise and on-point interview with comics writer and journalist Blair Butler. The savvy interviewer and a series of esteemed creators carried on one-on-one talks (many archived for webstream) that got to the heart of their work and their business. Conway told his fair share of stories out of school, and critiqued the industry from his current outsider’s perspective. (“He’s got that Law & Order money,” one comics journalist told me in the hall, “so he can let fly.”)

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The Monster In The Painting

The Curse of Frankenstein: Peter Cushing

There’s a moment in Terence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) that seizes the eye. The film holds many small wonders of composition, but this one hides just beyond the shoulder of the actor holding the frame, and it suggests deep implications about the path Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) pursues in his creation of life out of death.

This essay is a section of a book-length work in progress concerning the film, in which Frankenstein crafts his Creature with the reluctant help of his longtime tutor and friend Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), out of sight of his devoted but neglected fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court). “We’ve only just started — just opened the door,” Victor tells Paul at one point, urging their work on. “Now’s the time to go through that door, and find what lies beyond it.”

The scene in question begins about 34 minutes into the film, after Victor has horrified Paul by hinting at his plans to acquire a wise, experienced brain for his creation. Continue reading

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