Monthly Archives: February 2011

1950s movies marathon – part 23

The Thing From Another World (1951, USA)

The scientists at the Arctic research station believe the frozen alien they have found in a crashed flying saucer may be a superior being, who has come to Earth to share of his emotionless wisdom.  But the soldiers know that when one encounters something unknown or abnormal, some .. alien thing, you have to shoot it and burn it and stamp on it until it’s dead dead dead, or it will do the same to you.  Watched it all.

The Golden Horde (1951, USA)

English crusaders head out east to save Samarkand from Genghis Khan.  Hey wait a minute..  Watched: 10 minutes.  This is remarkably stupid, but kind of impressive in its utter disregard for history.  (Oh, and there’s an obligatory decadent banquet scene!)

Dårskapens hus (1951, Sweden)

It’s quite possible that this mash-up by Hasse Ekman of clips from his own movies is hilarious.  The intro certainly is.  As for the rest, it is possibly hilarious.  I’m not laughing, but yes, there is a distinct possibility of its having this effect on viewers at the time.  Watched: 11 minutes.

Penny Points to Paradise (1951, UK)

Yes, it’s comforting to know that Peter Sellers has teamed up with Spike Milligan at this point.  They’re not funny yet, but it’s comforting. A sign that, all in all, the world is taking a turn for the better.  Watched: 13 minutes.

10 year blog anniversary

I just realized – I started my first blog 10 years ago, in February 2001.  Woo!

Actually, including pre-blogs, my full online writing history looks like this:

1995-1997..8: Heated, enlightening discussions on BBS’s, (a non-internet modem-based forum technology)

1997-2000: Rare and increasingly pointless discussions on Usenet, (large, unmoderated anonymous forums – yikes!)

November 2000 – February 2001: A bloggish diary and a few articles at Kuro5hin, a writing collective. Here’s a typical post.

February 2001 – July 2001: First blog, Threepwood ‘01, which had a profile somewhat like this one. Some culture, some opinion. Here’s a post on why games are fun.

September 2001 – 2007: The war blog, inspired by the September 11 attacks, morphing gradually into an essay blog. Here are my favorite posts.

2008: An unblog in static HTML. Here’s an essay on historical mythologies, one of my all-time favorites.

2008 – present: Max 256, the antidote to my bloggers block.  (Occasional essays sold separately.)

March 2010 – present: Twitter, hyperactivity for the rest of us.

If blogs are now “dead”, at least I’m no worse off than when I started. They’re certainly as free as they always were. I’m free to think. Free to experiment, and invent new rules for new games.

Strange as it may seem, all my blog experiments have represented what I found most relevant to focus on at the time.  At the moment, I do not simply not write about current events – I find it entirely irrelevant to do so.  That may change.  Everything changes.  But whatever happens, I will keep searching for some way to express it.

Stefan Gates – E Numbers

Perhaps the most provocative statement you can make today that also happens to be true is this: That the words “healthy” and “unhealthy”, as non-experts use them in everyday speech, are virtually meaningless.  Political topics provoke a few, but bore the rest.  But talk about what’s good or bad for your health, and everybody has a pet theory.  And they do not like it when you say, “actually, that probably doesn’t affect your health at all”.

I came across Stefan Gates’s E Numbers first as a documentary series, and here’s the book version.  E numbers are those spooky additives the food industry fill our food with.  And yes, apart from making our food taste and smell better, (much the same thing), and last longer, what have additives ever done for us?  Well, they’ve also made food safer and less fattening.  But apart from that?  Absolutely nothing.

The reason you can expect almost every item of food you buy to be both affordable and almost perfect, is because we’re cheating – partly by using additives.  Regular nature doesn’t work that way.  And even some seemingly nonsensical additives, like coloring, actually have a large impact on how things taste.

This book quickly summarizes the ideas in the series, and is mostly just a long list of E numbers that explains what they all are and whether you should be afraid of them. (Short version: probably not).  The series is more entertaining.  But it’s a handy reference for the next time you’re stupid enough to start another health discussion.

Book roundup: Terry Pratchett, Rose Wilder Lane, Michael Chabon, Michael Moorcock, Fredric Brown, Robert Heinlein

Terry Pratchett - The Last Continent

Terry Pratchett – The Last Continent (1998)

A novel so awful, and yet so quintessentially Discworld, that it seems to expose the pointlessness of the entire series.

Recommended: Only if you want to be cured of ever wanting to read a Discworld novel ever again.

Rose Wilder Lane – The Discovery of Freedom (1943)

Poetic libertarianism built on a foundation of Stoicism and bad history.

Recommended: Almost .. but I am unforgiving with history cranks.

Instead of this, read: Epictetus and  Hayek.

Michael Chabon - Gentlemen of the Road

Michael Chabon – Gentlemen of the Road (2007)

Aka The Jews of Lankhmar.

Recommended: Yes.

After this, read: Fritz Leiber.

Michael Moorcock – The Land Leviathan (1974)

The 20th century we actually had was probably the best of all possible 20th centuries.

Recommended: Moorcock is a lovable angry leftist, and my second favorite author, but no.

Fredric Brown - Martians Go Home

Fredric Brown – Martians, Go Home! (1955)

This novel’s relevance to online trolling and the data retention debate is accidental, but striking.

Recommended: None of your business, Mack.  I mean, yes.

Robert Heinlein – Starman Jones (1953)

If you’re honest, eager and hard-working, the universe will bend to fulfill all your dreams. (Well, maybe not, but it’s certainly worth the attempt.)

Recommended: Yes.

1950s movies marathon – part 22

Five (1951, USA, Oboler)

The post-apocalypse – it is finally here.  It is time.  The mid-20th century has felt empty without it, that sense that somehow we broke the world and can’t put it back together again.  Watched it all.  This is the earliest post-apocalyptic movie I’ve seen, and the format hasn’t changed in 60 years, or if so only by becoming more lighthearted.  This must be one of the most depressing movies that had been made up to this point.  Writer-director-producer Arch Oboler is most famous for his radio plays, though.  I’ll need to find some of them.

Fingerprints Don’t Lie (1951, USA)

Here’s another 1951 B-movie that appears to be using a Hammond organ for the soundtrack.  This may very well be the worst idea in the history of movies.  Watched: 1 minute.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, USA)

It’s hot in New Orleans.  Really hot.  Watched it all before, but not so much this time.  Sometimes you just don’t feel like a Tennessee Williams movie.

Flight to Mars (1951, USA)

These guys looked at the success of Destination Moon, and concluded that the secret of making a space flight movie is to make it as boring as possible.  And hey, let’s steal (or buy?) Rocketship X-M‘s ship set while we’re at it.  Watched: 9 minutes.  This is basically an episode of Stargate SG-1 with all the life drained out of it.  On the plus side, the Martian women are innovators in the field of sci-fi skirt lengths.

1950s movies marathon – part 21

That’s My Boy (1951, USA, Walker)

Jerry Lewis is a sickly nerd with jock parents, so when he goes off to college they team him up with Dean Martin to make him more Dean Martiny.  Watched it all, but all in all it’s played too straight, and the point about the bullying father is hammered in even beyond what must have been necessary in 1951.  Worse, Jerry overcomes his challenges in the end by abandoning all his dreams, conforming to social expectations, and becoming a big football hero.  Boo!

Encore (1951, UK)

This is the third movie based on W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories that opens with him personally making a statement about the meaning of his Art.  What a horrible horrible idea that is.  Whatever the merits of the rest of this movie, I certainly don’t want to like it now, and I refuse to even try.  Watched: 2 minutes.

Five Men of Edo (1951, Japan)

Yes, it was pretty silly of the Japanese to try to conquer Asia with arms, when they could have conquered the whole world with historical dramas.  Even when, like here, the interwoven storylines of ronins, lords, bandits and courtesans expand into one  unfocused epic mess.  Watched: 48 minutes.

1950s movies marathon – part 20

The Man in the White Suit (1951, UK, Mackendrick)

Matter hacker Alec Guinness sneaks about in laboratories, testing his theories right under the noses of the chemical priesthood that shuns him.  He invents a new material that will revolutionize the textile industry, and Big Capital and Big Labor unite to suppress it.  Watched it all.  Yes there really seems to have been something libertarian in the air at Ealing Studios.

Mask of the Dragon (1951, USA)

Wait, is that a Hammond organ they’re using as the soundtrack to these ridiculous Korean stereotypes?  It’s a disaster.  I don’t think they even bothered to write a score.  They just asked someone to play around on the organ for an hour.  “And here comes a chase scene, so step up the tempo a bit. No, not that fast – we don’t want it to be too exciting.” Watched: 2 minutes.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951, USA)

Bob Hope again.  I’m going to get that hack one day.  Just wait and see.  Watched: 2 minutes.  (It’s strange how angry I get about these awful old comedians.  What did they ever do to me, apart from destroying my illusions about the greatest generation’s sense of humor?)

Death of a Salesman (1951, USA)

There’s a salesman.  He’s sad.  And everything is awful.  Well, I won’t say the title didn’t warn me.  Watched: 10 minutes.

Media ideas that feel dated

It may just be me, but here are some media and technology ideas that right now feel a bit dated.  Not much, just enough that I pause a little when I encounter them, and think “yes, but ..”:

- That everything must be connected with social media.  That there must always be a “tweet this” or “like this” button, everywhere.  (But whenever I see a Facebook box that says “hey, we notice you’re visiting this site – here are some of your friends who like it too!” it freaks me out.)

- That everything must have an URL.

- That everything must be free, or noone will care.

- That everything must be personalizable.  (I don’t want my search results and App Store bestseller lists adapted to where I live.  I do want to pick and choose from media sources, but I want each of them to speak with their own voice, not ask me what I want to hear about.)

- That the best sources of information are automated or crowd-sourced.

It’s not new that I am skeptical of these ideas.  What’s new is that they now feel over-extended as well, and their promoters just haven’t discovered it yet.  Again, it may be just me.  But here is one thing that does not feel dated:

- Anything, no matter the format, that is well-written, well-made, well-selected, well-presented, by individuals with a vision of what they want to create.

There’s not necessarily a conflict here.  It’s about what feels relevant.  The last one does, more than ever.  None of the others do.

1950s movies marathon – part 19

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951, UK, Powell & Pressburger)

Powell and Pressburger have gone and filmed an opera!  They’re mad!  Mad!  Watched it all.  This is basically the two hour equivalent to the ballet scene in The Red Shoes.  As with all their movies, my reaction is partly amazement that such a thing can exist at all.   Unlike most of their movies, though, that amazement is more or less all there is to it. But still .. !

Let’s Make it Legal (1951, USA)

So now Marilyn Monroe is at third billing, and rising.  Watched: 3 minutes, then fast forwarded to find her scenes.  I still don’t quite get Marilyn Monroe.   There’s something annoying about the way she slurs her words.  Did she get less annoying later?

Varieties on Parade (1951, USA)

Hey this is unexpectedly enjoyable: It’s a vaudeville show put on film, with no stupid plot lines or stars, just ordinary vaudeville stars doing stand-up, acrobatics, music, animal tricks, magic, etc.  And it’s actually really enjoyable.  Friendly.  Watched it all.  It’s .. it’s the Muppet Show.  I finally get the Muppet Show now!  They were doing vaudeville with puppets!

Appointment With Danger (1951, USA)

So, in the series of movies based on the Exciting! Thriller! Breathtaking! Death-defying! life of government officials, we’ve now come to the postal inspector?!  Is this for real?  Watched: 3 minutes.

T. E. Vadney – The World Since 1945

T. E. Vadney - The World Since 1945

Broad histories of the recent past tend to start out focused, and then gradually degenerate into news-media like ADHD, leading us up to the “chaotic” present.  So with T. E. Vadney’s The World Since 1945, which, having been published in three editions since 1987, has an unusually long such news-like section.  And then this happened, and then this happened, and today it’s just all a big mess!

The early parts of the book, about the Cold War and the end of colonization, have their biases too.  Vadney prefers to explain the actions of states by what is in their strategic interest, (“it was in their interest to” is used so often as to become a cliché), and less by their beliefs.  I suspect he goes too far.  But it’s all interesting and perceptive, clearly the result of this material having been pre-digested by several generations of historians before being summed up by Vadney.

As we reach the present (80’s and later), the digested analysis gives way to poorly written news cavalcades that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wikipedia entry.  The bias becomes more clearly leftist – the election of Ronald Reagan is ascribed ominously to the rise of the “militant right”, and economic inequality of any sort is sternly admonished.  What’s most annoying are the lazy, empty formulations, like summing up the Koreas in the 1990’s by saying that they both had “problems”.

But then, nobody gets recent history right.  And I like the early part enough to forgive Vadney not achieving the impossible.