Resist making value judgments.
(Parts 1 & 2 & 3.)
Craft Notes & Mean / 15 Comments
March 3rd, 2013 / 11:20 am
Sol LeWitt: “Wall Drawing #1111: A Circle with Broken Bands of Color” (2003, detail). Photo by Jason Stec.
[Update: Part 2 is here.]
I wrote about this to some extent here, but I wanted to expound on the issue in what I hope is a more coherent form. Because I frequently see concepts confused with constraints, and the Oulipo lumped in with conceptual writing. For instance, this entry at Poets.org, “A Brief Guide to Conceptual Poetry,” states:
One direct predecessor of contemporary conceptual writing is Oulipo (l’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a writers’ group interested in experimenting with different forms of literary constraint, represented by writers like Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, and Raymound Queneau. One example of an Oulipean constraint is the N + 7 procedure, in which each word in an original text is replaced with the word which appears seven entries below it in a dictionary. Other key influences cited include John Cage’s and Jackson Mac Low’s chance operations, as well as the Brazilian concrete poetry movement.
I would argue that the Oulipo, historically speaking, are not conceptual writers/artists—although it’s easy to see how that confusion has come about, because the Oulipians have proposed some conceptual techniques, such as N+7 (which I’d argue is not a constraint). (Also, it’s each noun that gets replaced, not each word.)
What, then, distinguishes concepts from constraints? And why does that distinction matter? In this series of posts, I’ll try answering those questions, starting with what we mean when we call art conceptual.
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Craft Notes / 44 Comments
February 25th, 2013 / 8:01 am
I’d sure go to this if I could.
More on Steve Katz (here & here) and Yuriy Tarnawsky (here, here, here, here, & here).
Events / 2 Comments
February 17th, 2013 / 4:39 pm
Entitled You’re Human Like the Rest of Them. Both DVD and Blu-Ray formats (Region 2 / PAL). Comes out on 15 April. Includes:
- You’re Human Like the Rest of Them (1967, 17 mins): multi-award-winning tale of a teacher confronting his own mortality [click here & here for more info]
- Paradigm (1968, 9 mins): William Hoyland gives a performance of supreme virtuosity in this arresting experimental film
- The Unfortunates (1969, 15 mins, DVD only): Johnson brings aspects of his book to life in this short BBC TV film
- Up Yours Too Guillaume Apollinaire! (1969, 2 mins): humorous animated take on the calligrams of the famous poet and eroticist
- Unfair! (1970, 8 mins): provocative agitprop piece with Bill Owen
- March! (1970, 13 mins): documentary made for the ACTT union
- Poem (1971, 1 min): poignant short set to the words of Samuel Beckett
- B. S. Johnson on Dr. Samuel Johnson (1972, 26 mins): a learned and full-bodied appreciation of the great writer
- Not Counting the Savages (1972, 29 mins, DVD only): Mike Newell s adaptation of Johnson’s intense play, made for BBC TV’s Thirty Minute Theatre
- Fat Man on a Beach (1974, 39 mins): part documentary, part creative exploration, this was a highlight of 1970s TV programming
This should be enough to make anyone’s Fat Tuesday.
& if you haven’t read B S Johnson, then what can I say but you’re missing out.
Bonus movie review: I watched the 2000 movie adaptation of Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, one of my all-time favorite novels. I’m sorry to report that it was awful.
Film & I Like __ A Lot / 3 Comments
February 12th, 2013 / 3:15 pm
Well, we had all that data on the most critically-admired films from 2011 and 2012, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t resist compiling it.
In 2012 we counted 240 films that made critics’ best-end lists. In 2011 we counted 250 (not, as I originally miscounted, 248). They add up not to 490 as you might expect, but to 463, because there was some overlap between the two years. (27 films, we can now tell, made year-end lists in both years.)
. . . And, actually, since I posted about the best 240 movies of 2012, the Year-End site I draw this data from has added four more critics’ lists—in particular Jonathan Rosenbaum’s. So I’ve folded in those results as well, yielding 251 films in 2012, 250 in 2011, and 474 films total between those two years. Though remember, of course, that this is all very approximate!
Now, because we’re dealing with more votes for 2012 than for 2011 (77 critics/organizations vs. 58, yielding 1293 mentions total vs. 1072), we should expect there to be a bias toward films from 2012. Furthermore, I predict that bias will be most evident in the most top-rated films from this year (since that’s where critical opinion concentrated).
So here are the 13 most-mentioned films from the past two years. [The format is # of mentions, title, (director)]:
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Film / 11 Comments
February 4th, 2013 / 8:01 am
Over at io9 there’s this post, “How to make sure the language in your historical fantasy novel is period-accurate.” And while “fantasy novel” and “period-accurate” seem contradictory to me, I was happy that the article directed me to two interesting online resources that may also interest . . . you!
1. The Jane Austen Word List: Author Mary Robinette Kowal compiled a list “of all the words that are in the collected works of Jane Austen” (14,793!). You can install it as a “language” in OpenOffice (click here for instructions), then spell check your document against it, which will highlight any words that Austen didn’t use. (Kowal: “It also includes some of Miss Austen’s specific spellings like ‘shew’ and ‘chuse.’”) This would obviously be useful for anyone who wants to write a project using only Austen’s vocabulary. And assuming that Kowal didn’t slip up, we can see that Ms. Austen’s works are zombie-free, the only z-initial words that she used being zeal, zealous, zealously, and zigzags. (Sorry, Seth Grahame-Smith.)
2. The Google Ngram Viewer: This allows you to see check how frequently a word appears over time in any book that Google Books documents. So, for instance, here are the results for “zombie”:
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Craft Notes / 4 Comments
January 31st, 2013 / 4:52 pm
The House with a Clock in Its Walls
by John Bellairs
Dell Publishing, 1973
179 pages / buy at Powell’s
- I first read this novel when I was a kid, checking it out from the library. Actually, I first read John Bellairs’s novel The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (1978), which I picked it up because of its Gorey cover and illustrations. And it’s through these novels, I think, that I first learned about Edward Gorey.
- I got my current copy of THwaCiIW from my friend Rebekah, last November, at her Friendsgiving party. And it’s only appropriate that Rebekah should have given me a horror novel, because my nickname for her is “Ghost Mouth.” (Thanks, Ghost Mouth!)
- THwaCiIW is a Gothic horror novel for kids, and it’s genuinely spooky. For one thing, it’s about a house with a goddamned clock in its walls! And not just any clock, but a doomsday clock that, when it goes off, will bring about the end of the world. The book’s protagonist, Lewis Barnavelt, along with his Uncle Jonathan, can hear the clock ticking all throughout their house, but they cannot find it. (The evil wizard who made and hid the clock cast a spell that causes the clock’s ticking to sound the same from inside every wall). And so neither the heroes nor the reader know when the clock will go off and cause the world to end. Which is like . . . Christ!
- The whole novel is tremendously suspenseful. Rereading it now, I still wanted to zip through to find out what would happen.
- I remember that, as a kid, the book scared the crap out of me. I found it frightening even now, reading it as an adult. I mean—it’s about a house with a goddamned doomsday clock hidden in its walls!
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January 24th, 2013 / 9:53 pm
Last year I wrote a post, “The 248 Best Movies of 2011,” where I tallied all the film data reported at the site Year-End Lists, which reports critics’ year-end lists for movies, music, and books. Film critics surveyed include Andrew O’Hehir, A.O. Scott, Dennis Cooper, J. Hoberman, John Waters, Kenneth Turan, Manohla Dargis, and Roger Ebert, as well as journals like the A.V. Club, Cahiers du Cinéma, Film Comment, and Sight & Sound. The site also reports on the accolades dished out by various organizations and critics circles.
Since 2012 is now mostly a matter of record, I once again tallied things up, in order to see how critics have already begun to regard the past year. But before we dive into the data, a few caveats:
- The value of the numbers below is primarily relative, not absolute. Some critics were sampled more than once, since they not only make their own lists, but also contribute to larger lists (such as the Sight & Sound poll, or the New York Film Critics Circle Awards).
- Every time a film was mentioned, I gave it a single point. In other words, I didn’t weight films, even if a given critic’s year-end list was ranked. (I just don’t have the time to do that.) Honorable mentions and near-misses also counted for a point; that’s just the way it goes. But I think this is OK: my primary intention is to see which films are being thrown about in regards to “the best films of the year,” and I think an honorable mention does just as well as the #1 spot. We’ll let the frequency of mentions do the weighting for us.
- I also counted each award received as a single point. Thus, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded Zero Dark Thirty three prizes: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematographer—and that counts as three points for our purposes. I think this is fair because, in addition to seeing which films are being singled out, we’re trying to gauge how much they’ve been praised relative to one another. Counting awards like this will pull the most honored films toward the top.
Again, keep in mind that this is all pretty relative. I also won’t claim that we’re sampling all the data we should be sampling; I just went with what’s at the Year-End Lists site. Also, note that a strong bias was given to English-language critics, especially US-based ones—but that, my friends, is the data to which I have the readiest access.
Caveats aside, however, the results strike me as representative of the cinematic zeitgeist c. January 2013. Because without doubt, the two films from 2012 that I’ve seen critics talking the most about have definitely been—
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Film / 30 Comments
January 21st, 2013 / 8:01 am
“Star War’s Uncut: Director’s Cut” (2012)
Here’s a roundup of my favorite newish movies, with some thoughts on each one. If you appreciate and/or doubt my taste in motion pictures, here are my lists from 2009 & 2010 & 2011. And here are some overall notes:
- Films marked with an * can be watched for free online; just click on the title.
- Roughly half of the films are from 2012; the rest hail from 2008–11. As I argued in my posts “How Many Movies Are There?” and “How Many Movies Have You Seen?“, no one can watch every new release when it comes out (especially when they’ve recently started a PhD program). I prefer to think of my lists 2009–present more as an ongoing project than as definitive statements on any given year. (I also feel free to revise my opinions over time.)
- You may find relevant two older posts—“How Many Cinemas Are There?” & “Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?“—where I decry the habit of so many film critics to consider only feature-length theatrically-released films when making these kinds of lists. (All other cinema somehow disappears at the end of the year! Which is particularly odd at the present moment, when broadband has been revitalizing the short movie form.)
- If you want straight lists of the titles without any commentary, just skip to the end.
And now, without further to do, here are 30+ relatively-new movie-things that I saw and have thoughts on, starting with—
I. MY 10 FAVORITE NEWISH FILMS THAT I SAW THIS YEAR AND FEEL COMFORTABLE RECOMMENDING THAT OTHERS CHECK OUT
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Film / 18 Comments
January 14th, 2013 / 8:01 am
I sometimes joke that I became a writer so I could justify spending all my time in coffee shops (despite what Tom Waits said about them). When traveling, I always seek out new ones where I can do some writing. I’ve been in Denver since Xmas Day, during which time I’ve managed to sample about half a dozen places.
The nicest one I’ve found, by far, has been the Denver Bicycle Cafe (which is where I wrote this, on my second visit there). If I lived in town, this would definitely be one of my writing hangouts.
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Vicarious MFA / 9 Comments
January 1st, 2013 / 4:15 pm
On the 2006 Xiu Xiu album The Air Force, there’s a song, “Wig Master.” Lately I’ve been listening a lot to a cover version done by Why?, on the 2007 album Remixed and Covered. It’s easily my favorite piece on that album.
I was looking for the lyrics of the Why? version and I realized 1.) they’re not already online (that I could find) and 2.) they’re substantially different from the Xiu Xiu version.
So I thought I’d type them up, and put up a post about the differences. This is that post!
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Music / 2 Comments
December 27th, 2012 / 8:01 am
I am looking for a movie I once saw. I’ll describe it as best I can remember.
It is an Asian movie.
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Film / 11 Comments
December 13th, 2012 / 8:53 am