Books and Movies

THE AGE OF HOMESPUN: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich uses various objects—spinning wheels, an Indian cloth pocket-book, a sampler, a table-cloth—to chronicle the development of home sewing and weaving in response to the British refusal to tolerate an American textile industry (so depending on homegrown rather than imported fabric was a mark of independence) and America’s preference for Self-Sustaining Republican Farms rather than Squalid Manufacturing Towns. In addition to showing the changes in New England culture (from proud rural simplicity to would-be aristocratic elegance), Ulrich also digs into the stories of ethnic cleansing of the natives (and the fantasy that they were gone much sooner than they were) to explore the darker side the vision of the ‘age of homespun’ avoids. Well done (and certainly useful if I ever want to research the mechanics of spinning!).
DREAM OF PERPETUAL MOTION by Dexter Palmer is an absorbing tale of a steampunk dystopia in which the protagonist finds himself caught up in the lives of the super-genius whose technology runs the world, his restless adopted daughter and his Frankensteinian son. On the down side, Palmer’s style didn’t work for me and his determination to avoid heroism or a happy ending feels rather forced by the end. A good first novel, though.
The advantage of rereading is that I pick up things such as Keith Laumer’s taste in protagonists—predominantly either pragmatic professionals such as Retief or drifters who go the zero-to-hero route.
GALACTIC ODYSSEY is one of the latter wherein a black drifter escapes freezing to death by hiding out on a spaceship, joins the crew and winds up wandering across the universe to rescue the attractive girl he unwittingly let fall into slavery. A picaresque reminiscent of Laumer’s Earthblood, but much superior. This Baen Books collection also includes “A Trip to the City,” a surreal story of a country boy finally making it to the Big City only to discover an elaborate charade of animatronic puppets (reminiscent of Leiber’s “You’re All Alone.”). Quite different from Laumer’s usual, though reminiscent of the reality warping Night of Delusions.

THE GARDEN (2010) is a documentary about a community garden on several acres of city-owned land in Los Angeles that suddenly found itself under siege when the city sold the land back to its original owner in what appears to have been a rather shady deal. More of a downer than I expected (I’d assumed this was going to be one where the workers triumph) but certainly absorbing. “He said we could buy the land if we got the money—we got the money and he doesn’t want to know us.”
MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1946) is one of the Whistler B-movies based on the same-name radio series, using the Whistler purely as narrator; in this entry, he tells the story , of crooked detective Richard Dix attempting to milk the search for a lost girl for big bucks, only to wind up paying a fatal price in the course of finally trying to do the right thing. Pretty good. “Are you or your family related to the Swedish singer, Jenny Lind?”
NICK AND NORA’S INFINITE PLAYLIST (2008) stars Michael Cera as a teen musician recovering from a breakup when circumstances throw him and a young girl together during one crazy night in Manhattan. A good cast and some cute moments, but mostly flat—and is an alcoholic teenage girl wandering alone through Manhattan really funny? “I’ve made boys cry before but my god, I really broke him.”
MICMACS (2010) is an oddball comedy from the director of CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and AMELIE in which a man with a bullet permanently in his brain because of a drive-by shooting recruits an oddball band of outcasts for revenge on the arms dealers who made not only the bullets but also the mine that killed his father. The result is reminiscent of a very quirky Mission Impossible; relatively mainstream for the director, but solidly entertaining. “I’m proud to have sold weapons to the ETA and the IRA!”
NOBODY KNOWS (2005) is an unmemorable Japanese drama in which a drunken, party-girl mom sneaks her kids into an adults-only apartment complex, then disappears leaving her 12-year-old to find ways to pay the rent, buy the food and keep the landlord from learning how many children she’s brought in. “Don’t you know how big Totoro is?”
DIE HARD (1988) holds up much better than I think the later True Lies does,mostly because the action is backed up by a better cast and a genuine sense of peril (as Action Speaks Louder puts it, it would be easy to see Bruce Willis not making it through) and the skyscraper-confined battles make for more interesting viewing than the later film’s stunts. Easy to see why “DIE HARD on a-” became an industry catchphrase for several years. “I negotiate milion-dollar deals for breakfast, I think I can handle this Eurotrash.
GOLDFINGER (1964) was the movie that really gave the world Bond-mania in the sixties, as Sean Connery proves equally adept at saving Fort Knox, outwitting Gert Frobe at golf, defeating Brute Man Oddjob or convincing lesbians to swing the other way. A stylish pleasure to rewatch; it’s also interesting how relatively vulnerable Bond seems here (even one ordinary man at the beginning makes him struggle to survive). “Choose your next witticism carefully-it will be your last.”
UNFORGETTABLE (2010) is a documentary about Brad Williams, nicknamed “the human google” for his ability to remember what he was doing, eating and hearing about on the news for any day of his life, which makes him one of the few recorded cases of “hyperthymesia” (though the PR surrounding him has made more come out of the woodwork). Interesting. “Only three people have ever seen the inside of Brad’s house.”
As an Alias fan, it’s odd to realize it’s a young Victor Garber playing Jesus in GODSPELL (1973), the bouncy Jesus-freak musical re-enacting the gospel of Matthew in song and dance in modern-day New York (you know, when I say it like that, it sounds really weird). I find myself wondering how well this works with anyone who wasn’t at least my age in the sixties, but as a product of its time, it works better on film than Hair did. I do wonder though about odds and ends such as why Judas and John the Baptist are rolled into one, and why Jesus mentions Thou Shalt Deny Me Three Times when no-one actually denies him. “You feel bad/You’re under a curse/Life is bad/your prospects are worse/Crying, crying/And your olive tree is dying!”

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  1. Pingback: Superstars, Sherlock Holmes and a Brooklyn attorney: movies | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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