Seeing with new eyes

moss glen fallsIt’s amazing how much more I do when someone’s visiting from out of state. My mom’s in town and I’ve gone to some beautiful state parks (including the beautiful Moss Glen Falls), shopped at the Vermont Country Store, climbed Mt. Washington’s Cog Railway, and driven north around Mt. Mansfield. Some of this is made much easier because I’m on vacation, but New England is so close together–I need to do fun things like this more often with Suri, myself, and our friends.

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A little wine for the cook . . .

One thing I really respect about food service is its meritocratic nature. Unless you’re selling very cheap food to lots of people, the only way to survive is to consistently put out good food. You can’t bullshit diners into thinking that bad food is OK or OK food is good. It doesn’t matter where you went to culinary school, where you’ved worked before, how much people like you, what awards you won in the past, or who your relatives are–dry chicken is dry chicken.

I think this emphasis on quality has a lot to do with the high proportion of drunks and druggies in the restaurant business. It’s one of the last industries that pretty much never does drug testing, maybe because it’s increasingly become a haven for skilled people who lead legally suspect lives. I’ve got really old fashioned ideas about this. I’m happy so many big companies have employee assistance programs to help workers in trouble, but if someone shows up on time and sober then it’s not any of the boss’s damn business what they were doing before they showed up. Don’t get me wrong, a cook shooting heroin on the line and fucking up orders is a big problem, but until he’s so far gone that he’s actually incompetent THERE AT WORK, no one wants to train up somebody else. If the diners are happy, no one’s stealing much, and cops aren’t raiding the place, then the kitchen staff can be the biggest pack of high, drunken malcontents you ever met.

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15 movies

Books shouldn’t get all the love! 15 movies that stick with you, not necessarily the movies you feel are the best made. We’re talkin’ the ones that have become part of you, that come directly to mind when you think about film. Tell or tag other people if you want, I never do.

1. Blade Runner. After watching this I feel like I’VE seen attack ships off the shoulder of Orion.
2. Amelie. My love for this movie know no limit. It’s what I think life should be like.
3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Honestly, I wish I could erase it from my memory. I’ve seen it TOO many times.
4. Casablanca. Love, courage, greed, friendship, patriotism, fear, cunning. They’ve never been done better.
5. The Professional. Works as an action movie and as an unusual buddy movie–look, a kid who’s neither cutesy nor a full-time hostage!
6. Unforgiven. What a peculiar way to begin a movie–with a title card about events in the hero’s prior life that have no direct bearing on the plot. It reads “She was a comely young woman and not without prospects. Therefore it was heartbreaking to her mother that she would enter into marriage with William Munny, a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition. When she died, it was not at his hands as her mother might have expected, but of smallpox. That was 1878.When you reach the end, it makes perfect sense.
7. The Dresser. Amazing performances in a movie that’s mostly about just two actors, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. There’s so much going on here about the price of dedication, making a place for one’s self in a frightening world, and the ravages of age.
8. The Breakfast Club. Teenage frustration and isolation has never been depicted so well in film. I still find this movie hard to watch.
9. Star Wars. In fairness, the way this movie has stuck with me might be because I had a) a soundtrack album with much of the dialogue, b) Star Wars bedsheets, and c) a significant number of action figures.
10. Barton Fink. Not one of the Coen Brothers’ best known movies, but one that bears repeated watching and thought. The Coens’ antipathy towards their protagonists is well balanced hear with real sympathy for Fink’s plight(s).
11. Silence of the Lambs. It’s a textbook example of how to adapt a novel to a screenplay and one of Hollywood’s best-ever thrillers. It remains the only movie I’ve ever watched twice in one day, the first day I rented the tape.
12. My Neighbor Totoro. There’s almost no tension or conflict in this film, but its charm and imagination never falter.
13. The Princess Bride. Like it says on the box–“Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”
14. Wings of Desire. Dreamlike, challenging, and unusual, but never pointless or self-indulgent. Its optimism and quiet passion never fail to move me.
15. Aliens. That’s how you make a sequel. You take the compelling setup you inherited, give it an utterly different genre spin from the original, spend a giant Hollywood budget, and have the courage to give the world a woman as real action hero.

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Cracked? Really?

When I was a kid there were three humor magazines on pretty much every magazine rack: Mad, Cracked, and Crazy. I say humor, but Mad was the only really funny one–the other two were pale imitations. Imagine my surprise this year when I kept running across really funny articles from cracked.com. I don’t know when the turnaround occurred, but I’m really glad it did. Kudos to the company for coming from behind so that I can read humor pieces about baffling sex scenes in fanfic, how videogames should work, and real-life conspiracies.

A very Barre moment

At the stoplight just where you get into Barre, there’s this really well done statue of an Italian granite worker. When high-quality granite was discovered here in the 19th century there weren’t nearly enough skilled laborers in the U.S. to handle the stuff, so lots of immigrants came over from Scotland and Italy . They mined the stuff and shipped it all over the U.S.–if you’ve got a big stone statue or imposing mausoleum near you, there’s about one chance in three that the rock came from this quarry. The town has a rich history of working class struggle, immigrant pride, labor activism, and craftsmanship. I often think about it passing this statue.

Of course I couldn’t enjoy any of that this evening because a loutish sideways-cap-wearin’ degenerate apish meth-addled douchenozzle was angry at the car behind him for some dumbass cracker reason. He hopped out of the beat-up Honda, threw out his chest, flipped the driver the bird, flung a beer can at the car, and generally acted like an adolescent silverback who is afraid he will never be inside a female silverback’s vagina. For all intents and purposes he looked like the guy to the left. In fact, I cannot conclusively prove that the guy in this picture I randomly found on the Internet (I just Googled “wigger”) was not in Barre this evening. It was a nice reminder of why I’m so very, very glad I no longer live in what is now a run-down, skanky, tired old town.

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Isn’t she pretty in pink

The most influential film director in my life isn’t Sergei Eisenstein or John M. Ford or Orson Welles. It’s Hollywood director John Hughes, who died this week at the age of 59. The day after I saw The Breakfast Club in the theater I stayed home from school. My mother was a little alarmed at how upset I was by the movie and decided not to press the issue. That’s the moment, right there in the darkened Parkway Cinema in Natchitoches, that I first realized how seriously I was depressed. Yes Hughes’s movies were calculated Hollywood comedy, but those stories about the hopes and insecurities of high school kids in Shermer, Illinois were real to me, real in a way that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else in film or television.

Gen Xers will be posting plenty of blog entries about Hughes over the next couple of days. Rather than dwell further on his contributions to our generation’s psyche, I’m going to take a slightly different tack. In case anyone significantly younger than me is reading this, I want to pay tribute to one part of Mr. Hughes’s legacy that might not be obvious from watching these films on DVD: the construction of the soundtrack. The title of Pretty In Pink was inspired by the Psychedelic Furs song of course, but look at all the other songs here: Suzanne Vega’s “Left of Center” (for years this was the only place to find the song), “If You Leave” by OMD, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Bring On the Dancing Horses,” and the Smiths’ great ode to adolescent desperation “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” Some of these songs feature prominently in the film, but some are just playing in the background. OK, what’s surprising about that?

Everything. That’s not how soundtracks were made in 1986. For most of the history of talking film, a good film score might well be released on vinyl, but if a song was going to be associated with a movie (aside from musicals) it would be ONE song, specially commissioned by the studio in hopes of getting a hit. Hughes paid more attention to incidental pop music in film than anyone before him, carefully picking little-known songs to highlight scenes and being sure to secure the rights to release them on a soundtrack compilation. It’s the beginning of the film soundtrack as we know it today.

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