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埃米尔

Sunday, January 21, 2007

11:05AM

   I have to say that I was flattered to get not just one, but two, notifications from friends on my LJ list asking me to update my journal.  I realized that I had not updated my journal in a long time (22 weeks, apparently), but I have occassionally checked in to see how other people are doing.  In the interest of ensuring that turnabout is fair play, it is only right for me to update my journal so that you can see how I am doing.

   I started my new job recently, as a technical writer for a software company.  I now have an office, and in a hip building with a fireplace in the commons.  And I totally get to experience grabbing coffee several times a day in the kitchen, as opposed to the retail world where I, you know, had to pay for luxuries like coffee.  

   My spare time is mainly divided between watching movies and reading books, generally with a careful eye toward some kind of future job in the film industry.  I'm less and less interested in filmmaking (in the sense of directing, writing, acting) and more interested in the means of film production, distribution, exhibition and/or preservation.  So in the most dreamy sense working as anything from a producer to a film archivist is my goal.  Companies that can call and offer me a job any time, however, would include the Criterion Collection and Something Weird Video, proving that I have my "high-art/pop-art" goals in place.

Speaking of Criterion and the messy divide between high-art and pop-art, I just saw the DVD reissue of Nakagawa Nobuo's Jigoku (Hell), one of the few "big" Nakagawa movies I didn't see at the retrospective in Berlin last year.  It ranks lower than any of his costume dramas (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) or literary adaptations (Kaa-chan, from the memoir Nendo no Omen) because its plot is essentially ridiculous.  The movie's reason to exist is to protray cinematically the horrors of Buddhist Hell (which are much more detailed than Christian Hell ever really gets), and thus like any Christian movie about Hell (such as... umm...) it is a morality play.  Now, the problem with morality plays is this:  If you are making a movie about how horrible Hell is, you need to show some sinners suffering in Hell.  But you cannot just plop some people in Hell, because then it doesn't necessarily seem like they deserve to be there, and the audience won't pick up on the "morality" side of the morality play.  So there has to be a backstory about how the sinners became wicked enough to go to Hell.  But they can't be stock wicked people, because a movie about, say, Vlad the Impaler going to Hell would not really be relatable to the audience's everday lives ("Oh my, if I don't stop boiling my dinner guests alive, that could be me!").  So the movie has to have relatively normal, relatable people who become sinful and thus suffer the torments of Hell.  And this could be a really good plot device, if you are writing an elaborate novel and you have hundreds of pages to flesh out the slow descent into iniquity that a person might face.  But if you are trying to make a 100-minute movie with 40 minutes of demons thwacking people with truncheons, it is necessary to expediate the normal, likeable characters ignominy.  And this is where one gets a prologue such as to Jigoku: A seemingly straight-laced college student, engaged to his professor's chaste daughter, is accessory to a hit-and-run and, within the course of about three days, descends into a spiral of drug use, debauchery, incest, depression and murder.  At the end of the first act, every single character in the movie was killed, frequently in some eleventh-hour fashion (Says a messenger to the protagonist, who is dying from strangulation and poison, "Your professor and his wife... they just threw themselves in front of a train!").  But it's ok, because how else do you get a cast of more-or-less wholesome 60s archetypes to face such torments as being flayed by demons, or the dreaded Needle Hell?  And although the plot is abjectly silly, it's also sort of delirious in its evocation of a typically religious conservative view of the absolute corruption sin produces.  And visually, the movie was amazing.

   All of is reminding me that I once participated in a Forensics reading of Jean Paul Satre's No Exit, which included another fellow LJer.  "Well then, let's get on with it."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

12:57PM

My return to the US has been fairly uneventful.  We flew back shortly before the liquid bomb scare that delayed flights in London and prevented passengers from bringing carry-on luggage.  Everything arrived safe and sound and the rest of August has been spent moving in, changing the empty apartment we arrived to into an apartment where we live, and reading.  Lots of reading.  I have been in job interviews but won't know anything until the end of the month, so I am spending some personal time with a mixture of old and new books.  Since returning, these are:
Awakenings by Oliver Sacks
The Dead Fish Museum, a collection of short stories by Charles d'Ambrosio
The Keep, a novel by Jennifer Egan (not to be confused with the 80s "Nazis and vampires" horror novel of the same title)
Orlando by Virginia Woolfe

All were worth the time spent reading them, the two "classics" in particular.  I am thinking of reading the Phillip Pullman(n?) teen fantasy series His Dark Materials, because I had them recommended to me in England and I understand that the forthcoming movie versions are flirting with controversy in the US, over their apparently critical view of organzied religion (it's a good thing the Playstation strategy game Final Fantasy Tactics was too unpopular to catch the eye of church groups, I think).  Now that I once again have lending libraries at my disposal, I can read whatever I want, without having to, you know, pay for it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

1:05PM

I got a disgusted snort from a young woman today, when I allowed her to exit the subway in front of me.  But--Santa Claus please take note--I did not shove her nor run her through with my umbrella.  And I totally could have.

Meanwhile, I am no longer sure how I'll be able to start my mornings when I don't have proper German pretzels.  Mmm... pretzels...

Monday, May 15, 2006

1:40PM

If all of the neighbors across the street keep their curtains closed all day, how can I spy on them as a cheap source of entertainment?  I will have to chalk it up to cultural misunderstanding... on their part.

Friday, May 12, 2006

11:34AM

Is it just me, or does (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmanidejad bear an uncanny resemblance to a scruffy, Godard-era Jean-Paul Belmondo?  All politics aside, every time I see a picture of him, I think, "Now that's a good-looking man."

Can our next president look like Alain Delon?  'Cause then international politics would be so hot...

toofondofbooks, back me up.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

4:31PM

I think I might be allergic to... something....  This year, more than in years past, I am sniffling and red-nosed when in the presence of Nature.  This is especially harrowing because part of my daily commute involves walking along a wooden bridge through a small stand of trees and a meadow ("The Enchanted Forest," I dubbed it), all of which is on the same city block as the massive educational complex where my classes are held.  I realized the depths of my agony when, during class this morning, I saw on my desk the reflection of some sort of spore floating in front of the window-sill, and I froze as if it were the shadow of a knife in the hand of a villain in some 1940s murder mystery.  For those who know that they have allergies, how do you cope with a daily existence so rooted in fear?  I see spores (milkweeds?) floating outside our fifth-floor window right now, and all I can think is, "It's them or me." 

Speaking of my Chinese class, my ego (and my NQ, or "nerd-quotient") hit a new high today when, during the session wherein a native Chinese speaker leads us in informal discussion to practice our everday speech, my classmates refused to sit by me.  Their rationale was, as I seemed to be understanding what the student-teacher was saying and they did not, it was "embarrassing" for them to be seen by me because they looked that much less aware of what was happening.  If I were still... their ages, actually... I probably would have been saddened that no one wanted to sit by me, but now it just seems really cute, and kind of flattering.  It's like I'm a superhero, only instead of being on fire or made of radium or something, I am capable of paying attention in class!  Look out, it's The Diligent Learner!  My weakness:  those lousy tree spores!

Sunday, May 7, 2006

3:58PM

I was thinking a little bit ago about the role of blogging for the individuals involved both in its production and consumption.  Do we write entries in these journals out of a great desire to express something of ourselves, to transmit information we feel other people need, to promote ourselves as points of interest or possible friends?  Do we write entries specifically in the hope that other people will post responses, and if so, do we prefer responses in the nature of direct feedback on the subjects which we have posted, or in more generic terms of multi-directional communication?  Is it enough for me, for example, to write this entry for the purpose of writing it, either to entertain or inform you, or to endear myself to you for having written something interesting?  Or do I want people to respond to it, and if so do I want them to give me their opinions on what I've written, or simply write anything at all so I feel like I have communicated with them?  Do I have specific readers in mind (the people on my Friends list) or am I writing in awareness that there may be other people who read my entries, either casually or intently, whose consumption does not ever come back to me directly?

I look at the various types of entries I see in other peoples' blogs, and especially the proliferation of memes, and I find it very interesting.  I feel like the meme is increasingly the normative unit of blogging, passed from one friend to the next as a social activity.  But it is also a way of generating a large number of topics of conversation.  Suppose, for example, that I filled out a meme asking about everything from my favorite books and movies to what features I find attractive in others, to what objects are in my field of vision.  What purpose does such an entry serve?  What sort of comments are people likely to leave in response to it?  If I fill out a meme and people write back with comments specific to my answers ("Hey, I also like that movie," or, "You like people with glasses?  Then you'd like me!"), was my goal to get them to talk about the subjects at hand, or just to talk in general?  And what was their goal in responding to those entries?  Do we really want to talk just say our respective pieces about how a certain movie was good and then move on, or are we hoping to attract further discussion once a reasonable segue from the meme-response to other topics comes up?

I do not mean to place any moral valuation on meme-ing as an activity, but I am curious about it because I find myself commonly attracted to the prospect of filling memes out, and I see that a lot of other people do as well.  It could be that they are a formula through which we can have things to say even when we do not have some specific entry idea in mind, or it could also be a mark of solidarity, as with the "Friday Five" I recently saw here and there.  If we all fill out responses to the same meme we can compare notes, but then what?  It is a bit like surveys, but I notice that survey entries seem to be on the decline.  We are less interested, it seems, in formulas that evaluate us on our responses, and more interested in creating lists. 

But I also wonder about personal journal entries, which can range from details smaller than most would put into written journals (as per my last post about coffee and the bad movies I saw that day) to broader comments on politics, society, or at least our circles of friends and acquaintances.  All of these are worthwhile purposes for writing (and I read nearly every entry that each of my LJ friends writes with interest), but I am really curious about what motivates us to write these things in such a strange medium: at once both massively public--beyond even the limits of our circle of friends--and decidedly small and passive when viewed in the larger mass of online blogs.  Why, I must be asking, am I writing this?

Addendum: I realized in re-reading this post that it sounds sort of whiny; I was not at all intending to single out anyone's blog for scrutiny, but rather to write about my own wonderings about the social practice of "blogging."  And to create conversation.  ;)

Saturday, May 6, 2006

9:56AM

I think I read somewhere that drinking a pot of coffee every day, like a glass of wine, is good for your health.  Really, I did not in fact read that?  That's odd... (sips more coffee)

Yesterday I indulged my bad-movie proclivities by rewatching The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire.  I have written before on my fondness for vampire movies, and my relative surprise to find that I like them as much as I do.  To be sure, I have no interest in vampire-action movies, vampire romances, or anything of the John Carpenter-school of vampire movies.  But there is no getting around how many great vampire movies (Nosferatu, Tod Browning's Dracula) and interesting vampire movies (Martin) and funny vampire movies (The Fearless Vampire Killers, or, "Pardon me, but your Teeth are in my Neck") there are.  Having said this, the particular movie I watched yesterday does not fall into any of those camps.  But it merits a viewing on the suavity of Richard Quarry as a Hugh Hefner-ish vampire in 1970s LA.  Terribly acted by everyone else, and full of nonsense, but there is something irresistable about a movie where a stately European immortal monster has to bum a ride home with some hippies in a VW bus.

Then I was further rewarded (punished?) when The Chipmunk Adventure was broadcast on TV.  You know, the 80s animated movie where the Chipmunks (and their female clones, the Chipettes) are duped by vaguely Germanic international jewel thieves into racing around the world in hot-air balloons, Jules-Vernes-ing their way through a series of broadly drawn ethnic vignettes?  And there are a bunch of songs that make you feel like maybe you'll want to see that new Billy Joel musical after all?  (Except that you don't, because as with your willingness to let songs from The Chipmunk Adventure get stuck in your head, such feelings are wrong.)  Well, it was strange to see the movie as an adult and not a child, and to question what sort of planning went into a movie where cast-off cartoon characters from the 60s are imperiled by some fairly threatening cartoon villains.  (Also, as a further creepy aside, the Chipette version of Simon, the bespectacled rodent, wears a "belly dancer" outfit for a large part of the movie, and looks fairly cute, which is extra creepy.  But it's not the Orientalist costume nor the cartoony-ness that makes her cute, I swear.  It's the glasses.)  It sends a powerful message to children, which I believe is, "Exploit any opportunity for world travel you may find, even if it comes from clearly bad people.  In the end, your ability to run around an airport to chase music will prevent you from any actual harm."

Shouldn't  I be doing something more productive than all this?  Yes, yes I should.

Monday, May 1, 2006

5:17PM

How have the proposed immigrant boycotts of businesses gone in the US?  A socially-conscientious American in Germany wants to know!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

11:42AM

We saw Good Night, and Good Luck yesterday, which was quite good.  But I kept feeling as though the movie were a sad memorial to a bygone age, when the ideas of confronting abuses of power or raising the level of public discourse in the US were still imaginable.  Then again, that is probably what the movie wanted me to feel.

Meanwhile, China may resume its case against Zhao Yan, the Beijing correspondant for the New York Times who was jailed after accusations of leaking state secrets.  The charges against him were withdrawn last month--though he remained imprisoned--but there is now word that a new investigation is being made and that he may be tried next month.

Friday, April 14, 2006

7:23AM

As I reminded myself yesterday, there are very few movies that can produce an enjoyable afternoon viewing quite like The General.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

9:17AM

We returned on Saturday from our study tour of Germany; over the course of two weeks we saw Leipzig, Munich, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, and a number of small towns along the way, and we ended it in Brussels, Belgium.  I saw a large number of great churches and museums, we went to two of L's favorite galleries in Munich, and we heard a staggeringly inflammatory speech in Brussels about racial politics in Europe.  It was a lot of fun.

And it ended with an eight-hour train ride, which is always a good thing in my book.

What happened to other people while I was gone?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

11:06PM

Some kind of superstition on my part tells me that if three of my Livejournal acquaintances do a meme, I might as well too.  Hence,

this long survey-thing that isn't all that interesting, sorryCollapse )

Monday, March 20, 2006

9:47PM

Tonight the outside temperature was cool, as opposed to cold, and I was glad to indulge in it.  I went to the Arsenal, an arthouse cinema in Potsdamer Platz, to see the last screening of their Nakagawa Nobuo retrospective, Kaa-chan (Mother).  I had gone to see two of his better-know ghost story films (Mansion of the Ghost Cat and The Ghost of Yotsuya) previously, and I am very happy that I saw this as well.  Made prior to the others, it was an entry in the haha-mono, or "mother-story" genre of films, centering around the sacrifices of a mother to care for her family.  This genre was popular before, during, and shortly after the Second World War, as it could be applied to a number of broader social themes.  The Japanese mother giving herself up for her children was a good icon for patriotism, and then later it was also a good icon for dignity in the aftermath of the destruction of Tokyo.  This film fell into the latter category, and although it is not really the best of its kind, it was enjoyable in its own right.  It is a shame, but I don't know of any plans to release this or any other Nakagawa movies in the US.

When I got to the Postdamer Platz U-Bahn stop a violinist was playing "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.  And on the way back, I listened to some kids arguing about whether the word "wait" was English or French.  I knew the answer but didn't tell them; some mysteries are best left unsolved.

There's a modern Japanese horror movie (Uzumaki) on tonight, which I have never seen.  I partly feel like I should stay up to watch it, but why?  I am so grumpy when it comes to modern Japanese movies.  In the cinema I heard some Germans thumbing their noses at Memoirs of a Geisha as "typisch Americanisches Film."  I haven't bothered seeing the movie because I know I would enjoy it not at all, but I had to fight the urge to lament to them that rather the problem is it is a "typisch modernes Film."  The Japanese make equally bad movies about their own country.  

Anyway, no harrumphing the state of cinema.  I saw a good movie, which I may not ever have a chance to see again.  That's a good thing.  Now I'm starting to feel like the protagonist in Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions.  At least no one burned the film afterwards.

Rambled my way right into a snack.  Goodnight!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

10:49PM

I must have listened to Herbie Mann's album Gagaku and Beyond half a dozen times this weekend.  What a great work it is.

What other Japan-themed jazz albums do I play as often as possible?

Ugetsu - Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers
The Tokyo Blues - Horace Silver Quintet
Jazz Impressions of Japan - Dave Brubeck

And, though not Japan-inspired,

Eastern Sounds - Yusef Lateef

Orientalism and jazz... what could be better for me?

4:48PM

The Berlin snow is almost entirely gone once again, and once again I am hoping that it is indeed gone for good.  No more than a few errant flurries, which seem to disappear as quickly as I notice them, have intruded on this.  However, the city is very, very cold.  And it is a dry cold, so every morning I wake up with a sore throat.  Our best remedy for this is boiling pans of water and setting them in the bedroom, which I did again today.  But no more than 30 minutes later the water was quite cold.  I have to resort to using the heaters, the efficacy of which only really strikes me when I go out into the freezing hallway.

amanda_mary deserves a great show of thanks from me for reminding me of Project Gutenberg.  I have availed myself of it a great deal these past two weeks, and have been able to get my hands on any number of texts relating to Japan and China, from Isabella Bird's Unbeaten Tracks in Japan to Herbert Allen Giles' treatises on China during the Qing dynasty.  Even some lurid Orientalist Sax Rohmer fiction found its way into my reading list.

Tonight, pizza.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

12:21PM

During the course of a somewhat fitful sleeping cycle, I had a dream in which Philip Seymour Hoffman (ostensibly "as himself") was in fact a serial hotel arsonist, and my parents and I foiled his latest plot and saw him arrested.  However, I was left inexplicably alone with him at the local prison, where he attempted to do away with me until I found a large empty barrel and pummeled him with it.  The part about Hoffman as a villain seems reasonably to stem from his forthcoming role in Mission Impossible III, a movie I have no real desire to see, but it does have Philip Seymour Hoffman.  As a bad guy.  The barrel part... umm... "Donkey Kong?"

Saturday, March 11, 2006

1:27PM - These topics really deserve separate entries, but do you know how much work that would entail?

Last night we saw Brokeback Mountain, which opened this week in Berlin.  I think it is a very well-made film; in addition to the all-around good performances and the emotional restraint of the film (which gave some of the best lines their poignancy), I was so pleased with the shot composition and length.  It feels almost like a dirty secret for me to confess but I periodically time shots in my head these days when watching movies.  For me the best cinematography treats scene cuts and even panning shots as rarities.  (It must be all the Ozu influence.)  But any time a character stays on screen in one shot for more than 15 seconds, I feel some kind of vindication.  What kind is a little unclear, since I guess the most I could shout in triumph is "Take that, Michael Bay!"  Oh well.  We all pick our battles.

And speaking of picking battles, Germany must have felt my need for nostalgia, because I discovered this past week that on Sunday nights a TV station runs the 70s version of "Lone Wolf and Cub."  (The TV series, that is, not the movies, which were also made in the 70s.)  It's dubbed into German, sure, but I'll take my Itto and Daigoro adventures wherever I can get them.  Will I be here for the tragic "grandson...of my heart" finale?  I hope so!

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

10:03AM

The sun is shining in Berlin right now.  I am afraid that if I make any sudden movements, however, it will disappear and the snow will start again.

Also, every time I think "Berlin," in my mind it is substituted with "Brazil."  But always in the context of the Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova song and the Terry Gilliam movie, both of the same name.  So when I think "Berlin" I either see flying men or think "doo-doo-doo... doo-de-doo-de-doo."  (Which is my attempt to transcribe music.  A musical genius I am not.)

I saw the Oscars on Sunday night, and now I am eager to see many of the award winners when they reach cinemas here ("Brokeback Mountain" is premiering next week, I think). 

Thursday, February 23, 2006

10:25PM

I heard back on my grad school application today, but the news was that I had not been approved.  This is a disappointment for me, to be sure.  But now I will just have to redouble my efforts for next year.

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