Film Music Suggestions

Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb

This looks rather interesting

Roscoe Holcomb is one of the giant iconic figures in American traditional music. He personified the “high lonesome sound” so celebrated and admired today for its powerful and haunting effect. His style of singing and his brilliant banjo and guitar playing transport the listener straight back to the earliest roots of American music, a style that remained vital in his native eastern Kentucky long after disappearing everywhere else. Although Roscoe died in 1981, his masterful performances have only gained in recognition and respect since then. This DVD gathers together 2 documentaries about Roscoe made by filmmaker John Cohen and classic performances captured in the 1960s. It presents a comprehensive overview of Roscoe’s great and varied artistry as well as offering an incisive and intimate portrait of the man himself and his background and environment.

(click to continue reading Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb: Roscoe Holcomb: Movies & TV.)

ABC published this:

Odds are you haven’t heard of Roscoe Holcomb. If you’re a fan of American music, though, his is most certainly a voice worth hearing.

Holcomb was the “high lonesome” singer of eastern Kentucky, a man whom performers from John Cohen to Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton revered as a source of spare, original mountain music and the hardship behind it. His voice, which reached almost into falsetto at times, told of work and pain and wondering — stoicism and emotion delivered by a man on a porch with his banjo and the traditions within him.

In the early 1960s, Cohen, a musician and historian, traveled to Kentucky to film a stark, black-and-white movie about Holcomb called “The High Lonesome Sound.” It helped propel the aging Holcomb into a career that took him away from manual labor and, for a time, into a world of performance where people appreciated him for his music.

Now, Cohen has taken unused footage from that session and several others to create a compelling new movie, “Roscoe Holcomb From Daisy, Kentucky.” It is the anchor of a definitive new DVD called “The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb” that also features other rare video of performances and a copy of the original 1962 movie.

Quiet, introspective and moody, the new film reveals a man trying to make sense of his life and his music — a kind of music that Dylan referred to as “an untamed sense of control.” In long, lingering clips around Holcomb’s house, interspersed with performances, he comes across as a man lost in time, figuring himself out. In short: authenticity, the kind that any Nashville wannabe today would hand over his pickup and his hound to acquire.

(click to continue reading Review: DVD Revisits a ‘High Lonesome’ Musician – ABC News.)

Film humor Photography

Still a Virgin

Still a Virgin
Still a Virgin, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

I know it is an ad for a probably inane film, but I still laughed.

Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone
Lens: John S
Flash: Off
Film: Pistil

From IMDb:
Four guys, one camera, and their experience chronicling the exhilarating and terrifying rite of passage: losing your virginity. As these guys help their buddy get laid, they’ll have to survive friends with benefits, Internet hookups, even porn stars during an adventure that proves why you will always remember your first

Like I said, utterly and irredeemingly lame.

Film government

Before Subsidizing Movies, States Scrutinize the Message

Meant to weave this into the Blues Brother posts from earlier this morning, but real life intervened1

I guess if you depend upon taxpayer money to make your film, you have to expect some restrictions and censorship. Make a film that the Tourism Board approves, in other words, or find your own financing.

Death of a President

“This film is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light,” wrote Janet Lockwood, Michigan’s film commissioner. Ms. Lockwood particularly objected to “this extreme horror film’s subject matter, namely realistic cannibalism; the gruesome and graphically violent depictions described in the screenplay; and the explicit nature of the script.”

The easy money is not quite so easy any more.

Among the states that began underwriting film and television production with heavy subsidies over the past half-decade — 44 states had some sort of incentives by last year, 28 of them involving tax credits — at least a handful are giving new scrutiny to a question that was politely overlooked in the early excitement: What kind of films are taxpayers paying for?

(click to continue reading Before Subsidizing Movies, States Scrutinize the Message –


In Texas too, the Film Board is becoming more discerning as well

In Texas, the verdict is still out on “Machete,” a thriller from the filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, set for release by 20th Century Fox in September.

In May, Mr. Rodriguez used a mock trailer to promote the movie as a revenge story targeted at Arizona in the wake of its new anti-illegal immigrant law. Conservative bloggers and others then called on the Texas film commission to deny it support under a rule that says the state does not have to pay for projects that include “inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.”

Bob Hudgins, the film commission’s director, said he had never yet denied financing to a film under the provision — though he warned the makers of a picture about the Waco raid that they need not apply because of what Mr. Hudgins saw as inaccuracies about the event and people connected with it.

Mr. Hudgins said would reserve judgment about “Machete” until he sees it. Texas, like many states, doesn’t pay its share until after a film is finished.

“This is tough for filmmakers to understand, but this is not about their right to make the movie,” Mr. Hudgins explained. “It’s about the public investing in it.”

In an e-mail message, Mr. Rodriguez, who is still finishing “Machete,” said the objections have come from people who do not know what is in the movie.

“The film is not about Texas specifically and it most certainly does not paint Texas in a negative light,” he wrote.

(click to continue reading Before Subsidizing Movies, States Scrutinize the Message –

Did the Medici have restrictions on their artists in Tuscany? Probably.

  1. If you haven’t noticed, I’m usually a lazy blogger, and if a post doesn’t get finished quickly, it usually never gets published. []
Chicago-esque Film

Blues Brothers and Jane Byrne

“The Blues Brothers (Widescreen 25th Anniversary Edition)” (John Landis)


Jane Byrne was the first mayor after Richard J Daley died1, and she was willing to do things differently than Daley. Thankfully, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi waited, or else an iconic Chicago film wouldn’t have gotten a green light.

John Belushi walked into Jane Byrne’s office, sweat beading on his forehead. Dan Aykroyd waited outside the door. He gave Belushi, a Wheaton native, the breathing room to appeal to the mayor, hat in hand, local boy to local girl. Belushi was nervous. Byrne expected him to be. She sat at her desk stone-faced and silent, she recalled, offering no relief.

Mayor Daley the Dictator

Belushi and Aykroyd wanted to shoot a movie in Chicago, but, as everyone knew, Chicago government wasn’t exactly amenable to movie production. There wasn’t an official policy or anything. Movies did shoot here. Brian DePalma shot “The Fury” here a year earlier. A lot of commercials were shot here. There was even a cottage porn industry in River North. But the cooperation needed for a large-scale Hollywood production — the kind Belushi, Aykroyd and director John Landis had in mind, only bigger — was out of the question. It had been for years.

It was 1979, and Byrne had just started her term. Mayor Richard J. Daley, the reason movie studios usually didn’t consider Chicago a viable location, had died three years earlier. Byrne, now 76, remembered that Belushi “looked kind of fat, a sweaty guy already, but he wore a suit jacket and I thought he looked sick, to be honest. To the point that his hair was getting wet. I was a fan of his. But, of course, I wasn’t going to say this right away.”

So, for a laugh, she let him drown. She thought it would be funnier if she “acted like the first Daley, nodding like Buddha.”

“I know how Chicago feels about movies,” the comedian said to the mayor. Byrne nodded. Belushi said the studio would like to donate some money to Chicago orphanages in lieu of throwing a big, expensive premiere. “How much money?” she asked. He said, “$200,000.” She nodded again.

“And so he kept talking,” Byrne recalled. “Finally, I just said, ‘Fine.’ But he kept going. So again I said, ‘Look, I said fine.’ He said, ‘Wait. We also want to drive a car through the lobby of Daley Plaza. Right though the window.’ I remember what was in my mind as he said it. I had the whole 11th Ward against me anyway, and most of Daley’s people against me. They owned this city for years, so when Belushi asked me to drive a car through Daley Plaza, the only thing I could say was, ‘Be my guest!’ He said, ‘We’ll have it like new by the morning.’ I said, ‘Look, I told you yes.’ And that’s how they got my blessing.”

And that, more or less, is how Chicago became a regular location for movie production.

(click to continue reading Blues Brothers movie 30th anniversary –

but it all wasn’t peaches and cream:

Few claim “The Blues Brothers” changed filmmaking here overnight — retired casting director Alderman, for instance, pointed out that the industry has gone through dramatic swings, generating $24 million in 2003, $155 million in 2007. But few debate that those 14 weeks of production in 1979 were the turning point. Indeed, to Byrne, “The Blues Brothers” should be remembered as no less than the dawn of contemporary Chicago, “part of one big push to remind people how attractive their city was.” “I didn’t see it any different from sidewalk dining or Taste of Chicago,” both of which started during her term, she said.Richard J Daley Bicentennial Plaza

Landis, however, doesn’t remember it as a bright, new civic dawn. By summer 1980, he was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. His previous film was “Animal House.” “The Blues Brothers” was then one of the most expensive movies ever made (and became a blockbuster). But as he entered the lobby after the Norridge screening, he said the tension seemed elsewhere.

“These two Cook County commissioners approach Jane,” Landis said. “And they start shouting at her. They were really abusive, and you could see her getting mad. ‘How could you have let them do this?’ they screamed. ‘They ruined the floors! Troops on Daley Plaza!’ It was the most bizarre scene. She’s saying back, ‘They replaced the floors!’ A guy’s shouting, ‘No way we let this happen!’ She’s saying, ‘It happened months ago! And you didn’t even notice!'”

  1. one term only, I think []
Chicago-esque Film

Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers memories

“The Blues Brothers (Collector’s Edition)” (Universal Studios)

Would have been fun to stumble upon The Blues Bar. Wonder which building specifically Dan Aykroyd is talking about?

1355 wells

On the Blues Bar:

“Here’s the story on that. When Second City switched companies with the Toronto company, which I had been a part of, I moved to Chicago. I lived there with John Candy. I was with Gilda (Radner), too. I fell in love with Chicago and loved being a resident. I explored the blues culture and would go to Checker Board Lounge and blues clubs on Halsted. I absorbed the culture. And at that time there was this bar on Wells, near Second City and the Old Town Ale House. It was yellow and had been one of the few houses to survive the big fire. So when we came out to make the movie, we found the lease on the place was up. So John and I took the lease and basically opened this (unlicensed) tavern. We would come to drink when we had time off. Weekends became precious to us during that shoot. We’d go across the street to see improv, wake up at four in the afternoon. We were living in Astor Towers. But the bar — we gave everything away, it was basically a promotional thing. But a lot of musicians came through. Jackson Browne. Joe Walsh.”

(click to continue reading Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers memories: On the 30th anniversary of The Blues Brothers, Aykroyd recalls filming the blockbuster comedy in Chicago –

Wells Street in the rain

Haven’t seen The Blues Brothers in years and years, not since before I moved to Chicago actually. Curious to how it plays now that I have some familiarity with the city and its history1

One more snippet from the interview:

“Our story (Jake and Elwood get their band back together to raise money for an orphanage) came from a newspaper story. The story was that the city was going to levy taxes on orphanages with schools located in them. So this is where we came up with this idea of dealing with state and religion, because if you look at many Catholic populations, in Chicago, and in Canada, where I’m from, the two are pretty linked. I think we used that as a starting point, then dealt with other cultural characteristics and figures.

Certainly when we were there, (the film) was spoken of as this great event, and the city, of course, became a character alongside all those great musical numbers and beautiful musicians, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown. The antagonists are the state, and Landis did a great job — Chicago looks as good as Paris the way he treated the architecture and drawbridges and the grit of some of the factories on the South Side. … Certainly Chicago was this known cultural entity. In Europe, they know Capone and the blues and the architecture, so I think the city was already famous, of course, but what we did was enhance its beauty while poking fun at its institutions. But it was John Landis’ picture. It wasn’t perfect, but to this day if you have someone who has never been to America before, (that film) might provide them a lot.”

  1. Netflix []

Lost John Ford movie unearthed in New Zealand

Cool. Wonder how long until these are released on DVD for Netflix purposes?

Netflix- Watch InstantlyNetflix- Watch Instantly

Collection of 75 early American films, including several that had been considered lost to history, have been discovered in New Zealand

An extraordinary collection of 75 early American films, including several that had been considered lost to history, have been discovered in New Zealand and are being returned to the US.

The cache includes the only copy believed to exist of a late silent movie by one of the giants of American film-making, John Ford, as well as several works produced between 1910 and 1920 starring important female actors such as Clara Bow and Mabel Normand.

The collection had been stored at the New Zealand Film Archive but their significance was not fully recognised until last year when they were dug out by a Los Angeles-based film preservationist. A deal has since been struck with the National Film Preservation Foundation based in San Francisco to preserve the reels and return them to the US.

The batch is being seen as a time capsule of American film from the 1910s and 1920s. Only about a fifth of all US films produced between 1900 and 1940 have survived, the rest having been lost through decay or neglect.

The collection comes from a period when the American film industry was just taking off and, propelled by the success of westerns, had begun to triumph around the world. About nine out of every 10 films shown in cinemas globally in the 1910s were made in the US.

“This is a wonderful group of movies,” said Annette Melville, the NFPF’s director. “About 70% of them are complete, which is extraordinary in itself, and many have their original colour tints.”

The crown jewel of the collection is Upstream, a 1927 film by John Ford, the director who later made such Oscar-winning classics as The Grapes of Wrath and The Quiet Man. Ford made more than 60 silent films between 1917 and 1928 but only about 10 are known to exist in their complete form.

The copy of Upstream found in New Zealand has a little damage from decay to its nitrates at the start of the film, obscuring the credits, which might explain why it has taken so long to come to light. The collection also includes a trailer for another Ford film, Strong Boy, which has otherwise been lost.

(click to continue reading Lost John Ford movie unearthed in New Zealand.)


Film Suggestions

Netflixed: Fantastic Mr. Fox

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Wes Anderson)

Saw my brother-from-another-mother1 Wes Anderson’s new film recently:

Netflix Fantastic Mr Fox

When Mr. Fox’s nightly raids on three nearby farms raise the ire of the selfish farmers, he must outwit the men’s increasingly outrageous plans to catch him in this animated adaption of the Roald Dahl book. As the farmers’ schemes take a toll on his hungry family, Mr. Fox must find a new way to get his paws on the bounty. Wes Anderson directs, and George Clooney and Bill Murray lend their voice-over talents in this Oscar nominee.

(click to Netflix Fantastic Mr. Fox.)

Better than expected actually, if you are in the mood for quirky humor, and adult situations. Not a kids movie, really, though intelligent children would probably grok most of insinuations, just light-hearted stop-animation, like a picture book brought to life.

I quite enjoyed it.

  1. not really, we just share a last name, and an overlap of being at the UT film school at the same time, probably had some classes together, or sat in some screenings without noticing each other. In today’s hyper-connected world, we might have known each other, in those ancient of days without computers and without social networking, shy folk like myself kept our own company []
Film Music Suggestions

The Rolling Stones forbidden documentary

We’ve discussed Cocksucker Blues before,1 but apparently if you are wealthy enough2 to purchase the Super Deluxe package release of Exile On Main Street, you’ll be able to see snippets from Cocksucker Blues:

Exile On Main St Dlx

It’s hard to know what the Stones expected from [Robert ] Frank, whose previous films, including the Beat landmark “Pull My Daisy” (1959), showed little interest in conventional narrative of either the fiction or nonfiction variety. (At one point, Frank theorized he was chosen because his friend Danny Seymour, who appears in the film, was adept at procuring hard drugs, which made him a valuable commodity in the Stones’ circle.) In any case, the Stones didn’t like what they saw — or at the very least considered it unwise to release. According to one account, Jagger told Frank he liked the film but worried that “if it shows in America, we’ll never be allowed in the country again.” The band successfully sued to prevent the release of “Cocksucker Blues,” with showings limited to those at which Frank was physically present (a requirement that has been slightly loosened in recent years as the 85-year-old Frank’s ability to travel has been curtailed). Video was verboten as well, of course, although VHS bootlegs and now Internet downloads have always been within the reach of the curious and determined. It’s also made appearances on various streaming video sites, although its tenure is inevitably short-lived.

“Cocksucker Blues” is infamous for its scenes of debauchery, like an incipient orgy on the Stones’ private plane where women shriek as their shirts are pulled off and Jagger and Richards bang instruments like a satanic house band. (Carefully edited snippets appear on the “Exile” DVD, although the Glimmer Twins now seem to preside over a mild outbreak of tickle fighting.) But such spectacles would hardly have damaged the reputation of a band whose image was based in excess. And besides, the Stones are absent for many of the movie’s most notorious scenes, including those in which unidentified hangers-on stick needles in their arm and a sperm-spattered naked woman sprawls on a hotel bed and fingers her crotch in postcoital reverie.

What was perhaps more damaging — and, to the outside observer, most intriguing — is just how dull the life of the world’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll band could be. At times, Frank goes out of his way to portray the drudgery of life on the road, as when he intercuts footage of a couple shooting up in a hotel room with scenes of Keith Richards quietly playing cards. In one sublime sequence, included on the “Exile” DVD, a lugubrious Richards makes a slurred and unsuccessful attempt to order a bowl of fruit from a woman in a Southern hotel.

There’s concert footage as well, much of it astonishing; many fans regard the 1972 tour as the Stones’ finest hour. It’s a shame the “Exile” DVD only shows us the second half of their duet with Stevie Wonder, who toured as their opening act, picking up with “Satisfaction” but omitting the segue out of Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” But the vividly colored stage performances only heighten the dolorous feel of the black-and-white behind-the-scenes footage. In his novel “Underworld,” whose third section is named for the film, Don DeLillo described it thus: “The camera phalanx in the tunnels. People sitting around, two people asleep in a lump or tripped out or they could be unnoticeably dead, the endless noisy boredom of the tour — tunnels and runways.”

(click to continue reading The Rolling Stones’ forbidden documentary – Documentaries –

  1. Wikipedia entry []
  2. or a big enough Rolling Stones fan []

Robert Ebert: My old man

Trust me, click through and read the whole history.

9 great movies

Until the day he died, I always called him “Daddy.” He was Walter Harry Ebert, born in Urbana in 1902 of parents who had emmigrated from Germany. His father, Joseph, was a machinist working for the Peoria & Eastern Railway, known as the Big Four. Daddy would take me out to the Roundhouse on the north side of town to watch the big turntables turning steam engines around. In our kitchen, he always used a knife “your grandfather made from a single piece of steel.”

I never met my grandparents, and that knife is the only thing of theirs I own. Once when I was visiting my parents’ graves, I wandered over to my grandparents’ graves, where we’d often left flowers on Memorial Day. I realized consciously for the first time, although I must have been told, that my grandfather was named Joseph. My middle name.

What have I inherited from those Germans who came to the new land? A group of sayings, often repeated by my father: If the job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. A good woodsman respects his tools. They spoke German at home until the United States entered World War One. Then they never spoke it again. Earlier than that, he was taken out of the Lutheran school and sent to public school, “to learn to speak American.” He spoke no German, apart from a few words.

[Click to continue reading My old man – Roger Ebert’s Journal]

Parenthetical note/confession, I never watched the Ebert and Siskel television show on a regular basis. When I lived at home in the early 1980s, I was always too busy doing whatever, and when I moved out, I didn’t own a television set. I actually got my first television when I was 30, and DVDs were the rage. I always watched a gazillion movies, but didn’t see a need for a television of my own until watching a film at home was comparable to watching a film on a big screen. Also, at least when I was in college in Austin, there were several films a night to choose from, ranging from art-house fare to blockbusters, for a nominal fee. I always watched dozens of films a week up until I moved to Chicago.

All that said, Roger Ebert’s film reviews are a guide to my Netflix viewing habits, especially his Great Movies archive.

This is all hijacking the thread, by the way, and can be safely ignored. Go read Mr. Ebert’s essay about his dad now.


Oscars 2010

A few top-of-mind thoughts re: the 2010 Oscars

  • What the frak was Sean Penn babbling about? Said something like, “I’m not a member of the Academy, and don’t agree on the best actress nominations.” So vague as to be incomprehensible, why bother? And if he is not a member of the Academy, why was he chosen to present one of the most prestigious awards? (Best Actress)
  • Cringeworthy interpretative dance number involving jazz hands and break dancing to Oscar scores, especially the Hurt Locker theme. 95% of the Best Score nominations are instantly forgettable anyway, but why not show film clips for context instead of Up With People, or whatever that was?
  • Elinor Burkett interrupting Roger Ross Williams after he won Best Documentary Short for Music by Prudence, there’s a lawsuit between the two, why was she allowed to speak and not the actual winner?
  • Horror film montage was a waste of time. What exactly qualified a film as being a horror film? Marathon Man was included, for instance, by what measure is that film in the horror genre? Such a random montage without meaning or depth.
  • Sycophantic introduction of Best Actor and Best Actress by some other Hollywood luminary. A few were heartfelt, but most triggered rolled eyes in my viewing audience.
  • Did Kathryn Bigelow win Best Director because she was a woman? or because she was the best director? Seriously, why was her gender hyped so much? Am glad that Avatar didn’t win1 but did The Hurt Locker win on merit or on quota?
  • Why a closeup of some random African American each time Precious won an award? Morgan Freeman and Samuel Jackson had absolutely nothing to do with Precious, why look for their expression?
  • Sandra Bollock’s The Blind Side, which I have not seen, appears to be a little racially skeezy, plus is about football. I doubt I’ll ever sit through it, should I? Her acceptance speech was ok though.
  • Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, should have thought a bit about his speech because it was a mess. I’m happy he finally won an Oscar, and Crazy Heart looks interesting, so it goes. I mean, groovy, man.

Whatever, I watch the damn things every year, despite how frequently lame both the winners and the ceremony are.

youTubery of Sean Penn announcing something or other: httpv://

A few other points from various other, more astute critics:

Hamish Hamilton making the wrong choice at virtually every turn.

He gave us long shots when we needed something more intimate (for instance, when all the John Hughes movie alums first came on stage at the end of the Hughes tribute), random and confused edits, terrible choices on who to cut to in the audience (anytime “Precious” won, we of course had to see every notable African-American person in attendance, and after spending half the show cutting randomly to a surly George Clooney, nobody could bother when Sandra Bullock told a joke at his expense in her acceptance speech), etc., etc. After everyone screamed bloody murder about the framing of last year’s In Memoriam segment, which focused more on Queen Latifah than the images of the movie people who died, what excuse was there to make the exact same mistake for the first few entries in this year’s montage? (Unless you were squinting, you may not have even realized Patrick Swayze led things off.) And after giving us shot after shot after shot of former spouses/collaborators Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron every time one of “The Hurt Locker” or “Avatar” won, how in the world did Hamilton fail to show us their interaction when Bigelow beat Cameron for Best Director?

[Click to continue reading What’s Alan Watching?: Oscars 2010: Can’t anybody here make a good TV show?]

Salon explains the on-stage feud re Music by Prudence, and interviews both sides:

[Elinor Burkett] claims she found the movie’s story, that she brought it to you.

[Roger Ross] WILLIAMS: No, not at all. The truth is that she saw the band perform [in Zimbabwe], and told me about that, and then I opened up a dialogue with the [King George VI School & Centre for Children with Physical Disabilities] school and went on my own – which you would’ve heard about in my speech — and spent $6,000 going to Africa shooting myself. And when people expressed interest in the film, I asked her to come on board. And then I regretted that decision. Then she sued.

[Click to continue reading The story behind Oscar’s “Kanye moment” – Oscar Nominations, Academy Awards 2010 –]

  1. even though I’ll probably eventually see it. Though maybe not, I’ve still never seen Titanic, Cameron’s other blockbuster smash []
Film Photography

Alice in Wonderland with Shrooms

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” (Lewis Carroll)

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

a clearer photo of the billboard that peeks at me through my office window

Details visible if you embiggen:

I probably will see this movie, but maybe not in the theatre. Sometimes my agoraphobia1 is stronger than my desire to see films on large projection screens.

DVDs come out pretty soon these days

  1. or whatever, agoraphobia is probably a little strong []
Arts Chicago-esque Film

Roger Ebert – an Esquire Profile

“The Great Movies” (Roger Ebert)

An absolutely heart-rendingly poignant profile of Roger Ebert by Chris Jones of Esquire.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Afred Caldwell Lily Pond, from a few years ago. Apparently, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, live nearby, and frequently walk here. I’ve never seen them when we stroll around, but then what would I say?

Ralph Waldo Emerson
University Club of Chicago, also from a few years ago.

After saying their goodbyes to his colleagues (and to Riccardo’s), Ebert and Chaz go out for dinner, to one of their favorite places, the University Club of Chicago. Hidden inside another skyscraper, there’s a great Gothic room, all stone arches and stained glass. The room is filled mostly with people with white hair — there has been a big push to find younger members to fill in the growing spaces in the membership ranks — and they nod and wave at him and Chaz. They’re given a table in the middle of the room.

Ebert silently declines all entreaties from the fussy waiters. Food arrives only for Chaz and a friend who joins them. Ebert writes them notes, tearing pages from his spiral notepad, tapping his fingers together for his words to be read aloud. Everyone smiles and laughs about old stories. More and more, that’s how Ebert lives these days, through memories, of what things used to feel like and sound like and taste like. When his friend suddenly apologizes for eating in front of him, for talking about the buttered scallops and how the cream and the fish and the wine combine to make a kind of delicate smoke, Ebert shakes his head. He begins to write and tears a note from the spiral.

No, no, it reads. You’re eating for me.

[Click to continue reading Roger Ebert: The Essential Man]

Lumenssomewhere in the University Club, I’ve only been there once, when some aunts came to visit

Memorial Flowers
Another photo taken at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond…

And I’d read of CereProc previously, I hope Ebert is happily re-united with voice. When I used to live alone, I always turned on the Mac Text to Speech option so that the computer would talk to me1

They head home and meet with the people from Comcast, who talk mostly to Chaz. Their Internet will be back soon, but probably not until tomorrow. Disaster. Ebert then takes the elevator upstairs and drops into his chair. As he reclines it slowly, the entire chair jumps somehow, one of its back legs thumping against the floor. It had been sitting on the charger for his iPhone, and now the charger is crushed. Ebert grabs his tray and laptop and taps out a few words before he presses a button and speakers come to life.

“What else can go wrong?” the voice says.

The voice is called Alex, a voice with a generic American accent and a generic tone and no emotion. At first Ebert spoke with a voice called Lawrence, which had an English accent. Ebert liked sounding English, because he is an Anglophile, and his English voice reminded him of those beautiful early summers when he would stop in London with Chaz on their way home after the annual chaos of Cannes. But the voice can be hard to decipher even without an English accent layered on top of it — it is given to eccentric pronunciations, especially of names and places — and so for the time being, Ebert has settled for generic instead.

Ebert is waiting for a Scottish company called CereProc to give him some of his former voice back. He found it on the Internet, where he spends a lot of his time. CereProc tailors text-to-speech software for voiceless customers so that they don’t all have to sound like Stephen Hawking. They have catalog voices — Heather, Katherine, Sarah, and Sue — with regional Scottish accents, but they will also custom-build software for clients who had the foresight to record their voices at length before they lost them. Ebert spent all those years on TV, and he also recorded four or five DVD commentaries in crystal-clear digital audio. The average English-speaking person will use about two thousand different words over the course of a given day. CereProc is mining Ebert’s TV tapes and DVD commentaries for those words, and the words it cannot find, it will piece together syllable by syllable. When CereProc finishes its work, Roger Ebert won’t sound exactly like Roger Ebert again, but he will sound more like him than Alex does. There might be moments, when he calls for Chaz from another room or tells her that he loves her and says goodnight — he’s a night owl; she prefers mornings — when they both might be able to close their eyes and pretend that everything is as it was.

[Click to continue reading Roger Ebert: The Essential Man]

His blog and Twitter feed are worth checking out, by the way.

Thanks to fellow-traveller, Marie Carnes for the link, via Twitter, where else?

update: Roger Ebert follows up

Christy Lemire wrote me: “So, everyone seems pretty moved by the Esquire piece on you, but I’m wondering what you thought about it. It’s so intimate, personal.”

Yeah, it was, wasn’t it? It was also well written, I thought. When I turned to it in the magazine, I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw drooping. Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell. It’s just as well it’s out there. That’s how I look, after all.

[Click to continue reading Roger Ebert’s Last Words, con’t. – Roger Ebert’s Journal]

  1. for a while, I collected snappy sayings that I input into the Text-To-Speech control panel. These phrases prefaced any error message – the computer would randomly pick sentences to recite in its robotic voice before telling me “printer out of ink”, or whatever. Sometimes better than silence. []
Film Suggestions

Netflixed: Daytime Drinking

“Daytime Drinking (Naj sul)” (Noh Young-seok)

Korea is one of the countries I wish to visit before my life ends abruptly:

After his girlfriend dumps him, Hyuk-jin (Sam-dong Song) spends a night getting drunk with friends, who convince him to go to the distant town of Jeongseon. But when he wakes up at the Jeongseon bus stop in the morning, none of his friends are there. Walking along the road in his underwear, he finds himself on an unexpected journey as he becomes involved in a series of misadventures. Young-Seok Noh directs this Korean drama. [Click to Netflix Daytime Drinking]

shochu iichiko

Loneliness mixed with soju inebriation, a delicious combination. Lots of ennui, lots of silence, and a tale worthy of Holden Caulfield. Though accompanied with several gallons of soju, and some karaoke. And a lot more soju…and some healing booze with arrowroot, garlic, and ginseng…

Sort of a Korean version of Slacker.

20,000 Won is about $20 US dollars, if you didn’t know.

Rob Christopher of The Chicagoist compares the film to After Hours, which is apt enough, but not quite exact

A young man’s oafish buddies convince him to take a bus to the countryside and meet them at a college chum’s guest house, where “there’s lots of booze and delicious barbecue.” Of course when he arrives his friends are nowhere to be found; and getting back to Seoul proves to be an unexpectedly tall order. Among the problems he has to contend with are crappy cell phone reception, con artists, and the constant necessity of being polite by accepting drinks from strangers.

To really enjoy Young-seok Noh’s debut feature you need to know the basics of Korean drinking. First: over three billion bottles of soju, the national spirit, are consumed annually; second: soju is usually between 20-45% alcohol; and three, it’s considered rude to refuse a drink. That’s enough to addle anyone’s brain.

A hilarious and agreeably gentle comedy, Daytime Drinking plays like a Jim Jarmusch remake of After Hours. There’s even a Catherine O’Hara-like character, a flaky woman with the power to help our unfortunate hero but who only ends up tormenting him. Shot on a budget of only $20,000 this film puts to shame most indie American fare, let alone the drek coming out of the studios. It’s the funniest movie we’ve seen this year. The wry ending is particularly satisfying.

[Click to continue reading See These at the Siskel: Daytime Drinking and Objectified – Chicagoist]

Worth a rental

Film Suggestions

Netflixed: Being John Malkovich

“Being John Malkovich” (Universal Studios)

I re-watched this Charlie Kaufman / Spike Jonze film after seeing it over ten years ago in a theatre, it still made me laugh with the sheer absurdity even on this second viewing.

When puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) discovers a door that’s, in fact, a portal into actor John Malkovich’s brain, he concocts a plot to sell 15-minute excursions into Malkovich’s mind — and the ultimate head trip — for $200 a pop. Spike Jonze directs this uncommon dramedy from writer Charlie Kaufman, co-starring Cameron Diaz as Craig’s wife, Catherine Keener as his co-worker and Malkovich as himself. [Click to Netflix Being John Malkovich]

Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich

Endlessly inventive film – if you missed it the first time around, or haven’t seen it in a while, give it a viewing. The scene with John Malkovich playing hundreds of dopplegangers is well worth a third or fourth viewing, it’s that much fun.

Apparently, the Steppenwolf Theatre building in Chicago has a half-floor used for storage.

Roger Ebert:

What an endlessly inventive movie this is! Charlie Kaufman, the writer of “Being John Malkovich,” supplies a stream of dazzling inventions, twists and wicked paradoxes. And the director, Spike Jonze, doesn’t pounce on each one like fresh prey, but unveils it slyly, as if there’s more where that came from. Rare is the movie where the last half hour surprises you just as much as the first, and in ways you’re not expecting. The movie has ideas enough for half a dozen films, but Jonze and his cast handle them so surely that we never feel hard-pressed; we’re enchanted by one development after the next.

[Click to continue reading Being John Malkovich :: :: Reviews]

Scott Tobias:

Putting aside the fact that Charlie Kaufman’s insistently surreal script for Being John Malkovich was staked on the actor’s willingness to appear in a supporting role, it’s still a miracle that a film conceived with such brazen disregard for the marketplace ever got made. In description, Kaufman’s lunatic flourishes seem to have emerged from a haze of pot smoke: an ulcerous chimp with feelings of inadequacy, a building designed to accommodate miniature ladies, a production of The Belle Of Amherst featuring a 60-foot Emily Dickinson puppet. But there’s sturdy intelligence and depth behind the material—aided immeasurably by Spike Jonze’s ultra-realistic direction—that keeps it grounded in basic human desires

[Click to continue reading Being John Malkovich | DVD | Review | The A.V. Club ]

David Edelstein:

Being John Malkovich is everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a crazy comedy. It’s close to pure farce, yet its laughs are grounded in loneliness, impotence, self-loathing, and that most discomfiting of vices to dramatize: envy. The action is surreal, the emotions are violently real. The screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, is a genius at finding slapstick correlatives for people’s nebulous sense–or non-sense–of themselves. It’s possible that no one has ever come up with a more absurdly perfect metaphor for our longing to be someone–anyone–other than who we are than a portal into the head of John Malkovich.

[Click to continue reading Insiders and Way Insiders – By David Edelstein – Slate Magazine ]

yadda, yadda, you get the idea

Film Links

Reading Around on January 24th through January 26th

A few interesting links collected January 24th through January 26th:

  • The Lakers Meet President Obama at BasketBlog – “I do want to point out that six of them came with the Bulls,” said Obama, a big time Chicago fan. “You remember that, Magic?”

    That one had all in attendance cracking up, particularly after Obama turned towards Magic to pantomime Michael Jordan’s right-hand-to-left-hand layup in the 1991 Finals, when Jackson’s Bulls defeated Johnson’s Lakers 4-1.

    “It was really a special moment in time that I’m going to always remember that the President of the United States trash-talked Magic Johnson,” said Johnson. “And me restraining myself not to come back at him. He was the only man on earth that ever trash-talked me and I (didn’t) say anything … it was a great moment.”

  • Wal-Mart Using Fake Community Group to Manufacture Support – Chicagoist – While Wal-Mart certainly has the right make its case to Chicago, the way they’ve gone about this – creating a fake community group that purports to represent a community’s residents and interests – is sneaky and underhanded. If what they have to offer Chicago is such a great deal, why did they need to go through the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to set up a bogus grassroots group? When I started asking questions around their tactics, they refused to talk to me
  • Love Story :: :: Reviews – I was so put off by Erich Segal’s writing style, in fact, that I hardly wanted to see the movie at all. Segal’s prose style is so revoltingly coy — sort of a cross between a parody of Hemingway and the instructions on a soup can — that his story is fatally infected.