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Washtenaw Flaneurade
19 July 2010
Tickled By Onions
Now Playing: Brasstronaut--"Lo Hi Hopes"

A mid-life crisis, I would expect, is a very personalized phenomenon, and I think mine may well have finally struck. One might think it would have been something dramatic and attention-getting (my favorite portrayal in pop culture terms is probably Matthew's reverting to an English punk at turning thirty on NewsRadio). I suppose I should be thankful that it isn't (and that I'm not trolling Conor O'Neill's Friday and Saturday nights or out buying a sports car--not that I could), but mine might be a little more alarming, if I weren't convinced it was a mere passing phase.

I'm not interested in anything anymore. Or at least I haven't been, in staggered phases over the past few weeks. Part of this may well be down to the fact that I've been taking on a number of extra duties at work (or, more to the point, worrying about taking on a number of extra duties at work), and that I've been staying inside to avoid the heat after an ostensibly harmless birdwatching trip out to Barton Park (before noon!) wound up in a mild case of possible heat-stroke (or whatever's a lot milder). Part may be to down to my increasing alienation from pop culture. It's not just getting older, either--I haven't seen a movie in the theater since Star Trek (unless you count the Cinematic Titanic presentation of 1972's The Oozing Skull at the Michigan*) and after I lost the return envelope to my Netflix delivery of The Hurt Locker, it took me almost three months to send it back; I just couldn't be bothered. There are hardly any new bands that inspire me (yet) and even my fondness for the "Long Tail" (movies, music, TV made before the "present moment") has dissipated to some extent. It doesn't help that I can hardly go to a site on the Internet without seeing all that dopey slang that hits me like nails on a chalkboard (FTW! I'm looking at you, [insert noun or verb or whatever], FAILFAILFAIL, etc.) and have, for various reasons, cooled on some of my favorite sites, even ones that were second online "homes". My writing's been stalling for the past couple of months, and though I know you can't force it, it's been a little irritating. And then, of course, there's the lack of blogging (which may be the longest I've gone without since I started this thing five years ago).

Conversations at work suggest that disillusionments with each are just natural phases, but it's a little unnerving that they've all struck at the same time. Ever since I can remember, I've always loved watching movies. I've always loved reading. I started writing at a fairly early age, and though it took me a while to become in any way savvy regarding music, I caught up with a vengeance during grad school and after (maybe too much). These have been constants for practically my entire life, and it's a little chilling to think that one or more can just wink out, however temporarily, like a guttering candle. As I write this, I'm listening to Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras on BBC 3. It's wonderful and I love it, but I've gone some time without listening to a single uninterrupted stretch of orchestral or indeed any other music at home until I put on Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe a few hours ago. I just can't be bothered. I'll read a few articles online, surf a few sites, maybe read through a book or two or watch a soccer match (I have gotten into Major League Soccer and SuperLiga 2010 after the conclusion of the World Cup, and that's been a lot of fun) before I go to bed, but there's no application, and that's really something I have to get back. I started trying today. There's only so long I can go before blaming the weather sounds even more ridiculous.

Hoosiers (1986): As with so many great 80s classics, I managed to make it for decades without seeing this one. Gene Hackman is characteristically exceptional (he was even the best thing about Superman, which admittedly wasn't hard--sorry, Jon, if you're reading), but the movie as a whole seemed a little light to me. Some of it's refreshing, as apart from Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper (who was nominated for an Oscar, at about the same time as his classic Saturday Night Live hosting gig), there aren't any "name" actors in it. The closest I came to recognizing offhand was Chelcie Ross, the guy who played Harris in Major League, as a local who feels threatened by the appearance of Norman Dale (Hackman) as a high school basketball coach in 1951 rural Indiana. Dale's got a "troubled loner with a past" thing going on, but he uses it in the service of his team and their slow but steady progress to the state championship. This was actually a pretty good choice to try and break out of this grinding ennui, as not a lot seems to actually happen. Basketball-crazed locals try to thwart Dale and his crazy newfangled ideas about coaching, Dale falls in love with teacher Myra Fleener (Hershey), town drunk Shooter (Hopper) finds redemption and respect from his basketball-player son as an assistant coach, and it's all very laid-back and weirdly soothing. David Anspaugh's no-frills direction fill out the countryside nicely--there are several scenes that I might have biked through earlier in the summer (if they weren't in Indiana). Hackman's introspective masculinity works brilliantly, but I can't help feeling that he and the film are a little mismatched. Still, it was a pleasant way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Ossessione (1943): A rather more bracing way to spend it was by watching Luchino Visconti's spectacular debut, one of the most important forbears of the Italian neo-realist movement later in the decade and the source of major controversy in then-Fascist Italy (the authorities believed they were about to see a simple love story and then banned it near-instantly and nearly destroyed it forever). Visconti would later be famous for some of the more sumptuous and opulent entries in Italian cinema (1963's The Leopard is still probably the most perfect match of cinematic style and substance I've seen), but started his career off with a bang by adapting James M. Cain's classic The Postman Always Rings Twice to northern Italy. Gino (Massimo Girotti) happens along a roadside trattoria run by a grotesque buffoon and his sexy wife Giovanna (Clara Calamai). Gino and Giovanna immediately start and affair and decide to do away with the husband. Of course, things aren't that simple, and the two lovers find themselves in hotter water than planned. It starts off slowly, but quickly builds up speed, like the cars along the autostrada who figure so prominently in the story. Visconti's revolutionary, sweaty, realistic treatment of characters and setting was worlds away from the "white telephone" melodramas so popular during Mussolini's regime; there seems little doubt in hindsight about the success of the new way of doing things. Girotti is hugely charismatic (the start of another long story in Italian film) and the ravishing Calamai (never more alluring when she threatens Girotti with blackmail or exposure) would finish her career in Dario Argento's 1975 classic Deep Red, bookending two enormously influential Italian contributions to world cinema. Great stuff and well worth a look.

* Cinematic Titanic, for those who don't know, is a troupe composed of Mystery Science Theater 3000 creators and writers Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, and especially Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl, who travel the country riffing on the kind of film fare MST3K made famous. I was a little worried that the act, love it though I did, wouldn't translate to the stage. I couldn't have been more wrong, especially after seeing 90s TV fixture Dave "Gruber" Allen take the stage as a warm-up act. He wasn't that great, to be honest, but anyone who's been on NewsRadio twice... well, words fail me. Being in the same theater with that assemblage, especially Conniff and Pehl, was like--actually, vastly better than--meeting the Pope.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 11:47 PM EDT
Updated: 20 July 2010 12:06 AM EDT
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20 July 2010 - 12:09 PM EDT

Name: "Tara"

Yay, you're back! Sorry to hear that nothing is interesting right now. The weather is actually a good excuse. Also, I find that I go through some similar sadness at the end of a good baseball season. World Cup withdrawal, perhaps? Anyway, I have no doubt that interest in your many pursuits will rebound soon.

20 July 2010 - 4:31 PM EDT

Name: "Jen"

Sounds to me like you rather need a vacation. Come to Iowa in September. You can stay in the new house and write and cook and harvest fall vegetables from the current tenants' garden.

23 July 2010 - 11:31 AM EDT

Name: "Wendell"

Now that you mention it (or *then*, apparently), I've never actually been to Iowa....

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