Saturday, March 20, 2004

Quite a day.
The nieces, all four of them, were previously all in one small room over in the main house. They shared it with little more room than a bed, a crib and a bunk bed. And then they had a play room next door which they never used except to store their toys on the floor. All of that changed today as we undertook the Herculian task of moving Faith and Moriah into the play room. Abi was happy because now she has a "big girl bed" which is a trundle bed. Moriah and Faith are happy because they've got their "big girl room." And I doubt Lily even notices the difference. I'm happy because in the shuffle I got a bed frame and a matress. No more sofa bed and sore back for me. The sofa is now in the first room and the bed is where the sofa was. I moved the hanging clothes into the first room next to the sofa for more walking space in the bedroom part. Now I've got a bed. It's an extra long twin sized bed with white headboards in a Rhode Island bed and breakfast kind of style.
I spent most of the day wrassling with the lawn mower. My brother has asthma so I've volunteered to mow the lawn around here. Today I remembered some advice that the poet Rob Morris gave me many years ago. He said, "Never volunteer for anything."
The lawn mower sat in the backyard through the winter, freezing and thawing a few times I'm sure. After reading that it's one of those gas and oil tanks and mixing and getting it all measured out properly, I spent about a half an hour pulling the cord to try to start the engine. It started and I got about a third of the yard done before it seized up and died. In about forty minutes I got it going again for about another ten minutes and then another half an hour pulling the cord before I called it a day.
Look at me all domestic.
All of this mixed with about lower 90's in the temperatures today and about a half an hour after lunch jumping on the trampoline with the nieces. So I'm tired. And I've got a new bed to sleep on.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

And the other news of the day is that I got fish. I got a dalmation molly, four neon tetras, a frog, and a snail. All will have names soon.
Charles wrote me to let me know that it was in fact Carol Reed that directed The Third Man and not Orson Welles. That's true on paper, but on set it was a little different. As I understand it, Welles scared the crap out of studios. He made the brilliant Citizen Kane that really didn't do very well at all at the box office. Then The Magnificent Ambersons which the studio butchered and, frankly, ruined the ending. Then he started It's All True on the set of which an actor drowned.
So, as I understand it Carol Reed acted as sort of a second unit director in The Third Man and Orson Welles was in the pilot's seat. Reed was there to keep it from being directed by Orson Welles and Orson Welles was there to direct it on the days when the producers weren't on set. But these stories get all muddy. It's the story I wrote my review under the assumption of and I probably should have explained that.
Thanks to Charles for keeping me honest. Sorry I didn't get to write longer, but just as we were having that conversation Moriah knocked on my door and wanted to buy a book from me. With my suggestion, she bought her first T.H. White. They grow up so fast.
I probably should have said "best movies" instead of "greatest." I know it's a minor language difference, but if somebody were to ask me what the best movie ever made is I'd say either Brazil or The Third Man. It would usually depend on which one I'd seen more recently. So I decided to watch them both and write reviews.
I may do things like this for a while and I'm sorry about that. The library up here doesn't carry movies besides Titanic, which I won't see, and a few westerns, which I have seen. So I'm only watching films from my film library. Therefore I may have reviews for a while that are all enthusiastic and positive.

BRAZIL

I really think that Terry Gilliam painted his masterpiece early in his career here. Lucky for him he continues to make great films.
Everytime I watch this film I have terrible nightmares over the two nights I split up the film over. But I still watch it about once a year. It cleans out the pipes.
Part of the brilliance of this film is the acting. Jonathan Pryce's character arch is so well done that if I were teaching acting (and I may some day) I would refer students to this film as the best example of a character arch I knew of. The flow is seamless. So much so that it makes me mix my metaphors. But I've buttered my bread and now I must lie in it.
Gilliam sure has an eye for character actors too, doesn't he? It's got Jim Broadbent. It's got one of the most entralling performances I've seen of Ian Holm's and I think he's a great actor. He can be a little hammy and in this role he's a big hammy. But whenever he's on screen he's got so much nervous energy that you can't take your eyes off him. On the other side of that coin, Michael Palin has such a sinister calm about him that you can't take your eyes off him. And I've shown this film to more than one person who has said in conversations afterwards, "Robert DeNiro was in Brazil?" He completely sheds himself as Tuttle in a way that he just isn't doing anymore.
One of the elements that border on genius and could have revolutionized an aspect of the film making industry that is in dire need of revolutionizing is the lighting in this film. It's strange, arty, shocking, unnerving and seems totally natural. It's not like one watches it and says, "Gosh the lighting was odd." One watches it and thinks "Gosh that film was psychotic."
And I even like the message of the film. The moral to the story, to me, seems to be that it's better to be insane in an insane world than sane in an insane world. One of the funny elements to this moral is if you do a little research on the original release of this film, the knockdown dragout fight that was, and see how much that moral relates. Also if you consider how unlikely it is that Hollywood will allow another masterpiece like this to be made. The film kind of comments on its own existence. A stunning piece of art.

THE THIRD MAN

Those who know me know that one of my favorite people in the history of film and theater is Orson Welles. It's easy to say that Kane was his greatest film, his masterpiece. I wouldn't even argue with that, but mine is a subtle difference. Kane may be his "greatest" film but I think The Third Man is his best. Just as the Mass in B Minor might be Bach's masterpiece in a career of masterpieces, I hardly ever listen to it. It's been well over a year since I've watched Citizen Kane. I just think Third Man is his most subtle work.
He has the Orson Welles cinematography, but it's not so overwhelming in this one. It makes it just off enough to give the tone the sparse darkness it needs to communicate Vienna right after the war. With Kane Orson gets a little bombastic at points. In Arkadin he goes mad with his cinematography. Touch of Evil, aside from the awesome beginning and end, almost doesn't have enough of it (which is not to say that Touch of Evil isn't also a great film. It is.) In Third Man I believe he hits his mark just right. He works a lot in shadows, even to the point where you're looking at a black screen sometimes and you're still watching the action.
The cast is, as is always the case with Mercury Productions, beyond the pale of anything else being made at the time. Joseph Cotten carrys the film with his drunken underdog swaggering ease that he's so good at. I think he's one of the more underrated actors of the period. There's Trevor Howard who never for a moment allows us to doubt that he's the chief of British Police in Vienna. There are some of the most eccentric character parts that we'll see until Brazil.
And there's Orson Welles. I won't give anything away except that he third acts the film and gives what I believe to be the best entrance in the history of film. And one of the most rewarding. His character is Vienna right after WWII with the darkness, but still with the energy and delight of a Strauss waltz.
And the film score is entirely played on the zither! What other film do you know that can boast that?
The story pushes ever forward. There's not a frame wasted. It's as close to perfection as I know of.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I don't usually do this because I'm usually happy to get anything at all for my birthday. Actually I'm usually happy just to get a free meal. Actually, I'm usually just happy to get phone calls.
That having been said.
It's a little over a month until my birthday. Just enough time to order one of the coolest things I've seen for sale in a long time. Loompanics, who have a website that one can order from (www.loompanics.com), has published a biography of Kerry Thornley. It's called The Prankster and the Conspiracy.

I really don't like doing that but I had to throw it out there into the universe. Now that I've had a moment of self indulgence here on the blog, I'll have a moment of generosity tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm going to review the two greatest movies ever made. So there.
Yesterday can only be described in one word, YEEARRGGH.
I woke up and Toulouse had passed on in the night. Actually I think I woke up once when he died. I heard him thrash around and I thought, "Well, he must still be alive... Unless that was him dying."
Poor guy. I know you're not supposed to be too broken up over fish but he was a really cool fish and he was with me for four years. And he was the last living thing from down south that I see every day up here. Well, except for my venus flytrap. And my brother I guess.
I got ready in a hurry and went to Sacramento. I learned from my trip that Sacramento is the type of city that you can't drive around and look for things. You need to know exactly where you're going or you're going to get lost. It's all one way streets that take you further and further from anywhere you want to be. And it is a big city with big city type drivers (and a lot of them.) So after about an hour of driving around and finding not the bank nor the library nor any type of thrift store, I got frusterated and started driving back to Chico.
Then some good things happened. I found a barn sale in the middle of a field far from any kind of town. A whole barn full of junk, but there were some interesting books. I think it might have been my first time in a real barn. I also stopped at a few thrift stores in tiny towns along the way. I stopped in Historic Downtown Gridley. If you ever want to have a strange experience, that's the place. I walked down the main street, saw nothing, and walked back to my car and got the feeling that the people of Gridley will be talking about it for a month. That is the few people I saw. It was like something out of American Gods, but the creepy kind of places, not the helping friendly kind of places. Maybe it was just me seeing it with yesterday's eyes. It might be a terribly charming little town for all I know.
I got back and walked to the bigtime chain pet store. There was a surly punk kid working in the fish section who wanted me to go away and never come back. He didn't tell me that with his voice, but he told me all the same. I usually find with bad employees that everyone is happier if I take my money elsewhere. I don't have to deal with them, the employee gets to slack, and the employer eventually gets to fire that swine.
On my walk home I noticed that I was having a crummy day and decided to leave all that behind. I usually find that when I start thinking I'm having a bad day I find ways to prove it.
I got home and there was a knock on my door. Moriah and Abi had picked me dandelion flowers. We found a vase for them.
Then Nissa called and we talked for a long time.
Then Pat, Andi and I went out to the Olive Garden with Miss Stephanie and some of her friends. I'd only eaten an apple, a granola bar and another granola bar all day. So I ate myself stupid. So did Pat.
Then we went to Miss Stephanie's and played a card game late into the night. I got to bed a half an hour late and was really groggy this morning, but things are looking better. Things are better. I'm going to go get a new fish today, or frog or turtle or crawdad or something. Then I'm going to put all those books online.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The bad news first. I think Toulouse is not long for this world. He's looking very ill. He's been spending most of his time at the top of the tank gasping air from the top while swimming vertically. I hate to see him having such a hard time. I've taken care of him for around four years, since he was a baby fish and very small. Poor guy. I wish there was something I could do for him.
Otherwise it's been a good day. Much of the day was getting things in order, getting my taxes ready to ship, packing orders and paying bills. It's good to have a day of getting everything in order like the end of Godfather part II. Also spent the afternoon jumping on the trampoline with the nieces until my heart began to rip and tear.
Andi's got us all on the South Beach Diet. Well, kind of. She's on it and so she's cooking South Beach meals. I'm still eating my secret stash of dark chocolate.
Tuesday I'm going to Sacramento to find books and cash my checks (there's no branch of my bank up here. I need to change banks.)