Archive for July, 2011

PURE PLEASURE

July 29, 2011

It pays to be a virtual explorer sometimes as one can alight upon sites which are pure pleasure to peruse. Somehow this morning when in work avoidance mode, I landed on an Expats Taiwanese Blog HERE. Thanks man.

Aside from seeing myself in the blog roll, I discovered a virtual corncupia of other interesting sites, and this ONE in particular Film Studies for Free tended by an academic (?) Catherine Grant. Then I hit pure gold, that being her sections on Japanese Movies and Road Movies. Just so much quality, referenced reading provided.

Since I’ve already tried my hand at a Japanese film review to deadening silence HERE, hopefully some words about the classical road genre will get me beyond the wall of reader indifference.

Point One. The road genre is not inclusive to movies. Beginning with a great read. James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss conforms to the road movies genre in all its essentials, plus having an introduction to die for.

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart out of a fine spring afternoon… “

This was then followed by a bar brawl with a couple of redneck shade tree mechanics, a point to which I shall return.

I had the pleasure of running up a massive phone bill talking to Mr Crumley in the early eighties, and regret to this day that I didn’t follow through with his request, that being to send him half-dozen novels by Arthur Upfield in his Boney series. Crumley had a particularly high regard for Upfield’s Boney the Aboriginal police investigator. You can read a questionable wiki treatment of Crumley HERE and an good account of Upfield HERE.

The first American road movie ever was unquestionably Detour by Edgar G Ulymer in 1945. And did it explode into existence. Filmed in a couple of weeks on a shoestring budget by Czeck expat director Ulymer. Female lead Ann Savage set the standard in terms of pure evil female tarantula, while Tom Neal, playing Al Roberts the hapless low rent nightclub pianist hitching the US from NY to LA, was in fact a vicious scumbag in real life. He shot his third wife dead with a bullet in the back of the head. And Neals son appeared in the 1992 remake of Detour. There your go! Thumbing a lift on the great highway guarantees a whole mess of trouble. Neal link HERE and a good review of Detour HERE.

To be continued….Road Movies

The 1970s were a watershed in American cinema with great revisionist westerns – The Shooting and Ride the Whirlwind – by Monte Hellman, and that monster Easyrider which was really a western with Harleys and acid instead of horses and bad whisky. While Vanishing Point HERE has its share of devotees, and offers a amphetimined sociological view of the main themes characterising ’70s counterculture, I have a decided preference for Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop and its main protagonists.

1955 Chevy; 468 cubic inches; twin Holley mechanical carbs.

The Driver, The Mechanic @ The Girl

A very nattily attired Warren Oates

[So much muscle car worship in the 21st century, I probably need counselling.]

Now if you want a conventional review go to this LINK. I want to concentrate on the introductory scene as our protagonists (who really could double for cyborgs) drive to an illegal street race meeting held in Nowheresville in the good old US of A.

They count their collective cash, pay an entry fee, park their motor and open the hood for an inspection by the rubes and local rev head wannabes. “468, Holleys, Hurst shifter, blah, blah, and we are open to offers”.

Is this competing manhood measured in terms of engine displacement and speed over a quarter mile? Not even close. Your post feminist sensibilities are blinding you, friends.

Welcome to the great American tradition of the hustler: “Someone who conceals their skill level to fleece money from players they “gamble” with, although they are relying on disguised skill rather than a strict gamble or chance match”.

Fast Eddy Felson in The Hustler and its update The Colour of Money epitomised this tradition, while the highly underrated movie Rounders worked thru this theme at the card table. I Spy the sixties TV show with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby dealt with tennis hustlers who also indulged in a spot of espionage.

As much as I despise golf, it is a sport with more than its share of hustlers, and it you don’t read any link on this page, read THIS one on Titanic Thompson and THIS.

And what are the origins of this tradition of separating suckers from their cash? It is the Medicine Show or Carny Culture of rural pre-modern America, something to which I shall return in the near future.

Too rational to be hustled. This guy doesn’t think so.

Now, if our Small Town USA street racer had out hustled our grungy pair of blow-ins to the local race meet, he would also have encountered this delight, but it was not to be.

Race Queen - multicultural version

To be continued….

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Different Narratives about Trains.

July 24, 2011

Even the non-musicologist, and I don’t include myself in that category, is perfectly aware that songs about trains play a central role in the pantheom of popular American music, however configured: Blues, Country, Traditional, Bluegrass and even Soul. In the time it takes to prepare tea and toast, I had no problems coming up with three dozen titles.

As per SOP, I turned to Wikipedia and was bowled over by the fact that here are literally thousands of songs dealing with trains or train derived themes HERE.

Train lyrics encompass all of the most endearing themes central to great songs – rootlessness and Manifest Destiny, love and romance, significant meetings and departures, outlaws and ladies (loosely termed), hobos and travel lust, hard times, fast trains, slow trains and every other variant in between.

While the railroading of America during the 19th century had its dark side – the demise of the buffalo, the use of Chinese coolie labour, the destruction of indigenous Indian culture, and the rise of the Robber Barons, lets dwell on the musical and cultural positives and briefly review the Wiki entry.

Modern rock and roll was ushered in with Elvis’ version of Mystery Train, although I prefer The Band’s version, which surprisingly was not included in the Wiki entry. I was also most fortunate to see that great rockabilly journeyman Sleepy La Beef cover this song on two different occasions. This MAN provided a non-stop two and a half hour revue which covered the pre-modern foundations of modern popular music.

Casey Jones and Big Railroad Blues by The Grateful Dead would have to feature in any Boomer’s list.

Five Hundred Miles by Seldom Scene, again not included, must rank due to the sweetest bluegrass harmonies ever put to vinyl.

Locomotive Breath by those poms Jethro Tull involved a power riff which exemplified hard rock circa 70s at it very best.

The blues staple Ramblin On My Mind was covered by Clapton with truly exemplary guitar work. Incidentally, it was his first vocal outing.

Love in Vain by the Stones(wrongly attributed to Woody Paine and not Robert Johnson) showed why the band was wise in signing up Mick Taylor after the death of Brian Jones.

Perhaps the darkest country song of all times was Travellin’ Man by Hank Williams.

And who can forget Loco-motion by Little Eva. Shit, even that truly forgettable power-trio Grand Funk Railroad managed to turn in a formidable version.

And to show my multi-media explorations, I thoroughly recommend the The Yardbirds version of Train Keeps a Rollin’ all Night Long. Killer stuff found on YouTube.

Now, lets cut to the chase and revue the narratology of trains in China, and I will only provide Chinese media links when they are able to be located in a hurry.

I strongly suspect that the Ministry of Truth has been working overtime deleting some China Daily entries following last nights disastrous collision, given that some of the more hubristic statement by railroad officials seem to have disappeared. (Possibly my search skills need upgrading.)

US train narratives celebrate individual agency/freedom of action – be it positive or negative – whereas the praise songs coming out of China celebrate the overarching institution within Chinese society, the CCP ie opening the Beijing Shanghai superfast connection coincided with the 90th anniversary celebrations.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Unfinished op pieces the story of my virtual life. If you aren’t totally exhausted by the Wenzhou train story, which is now losing its precision and turning into a soupy fog, I leave you with the following.

The WSJ has done some okay reporting on the numerous issues involved, including the larger commercial-financial considerations which make the share market go round. There has been a bit of smirking by a couple of Japanese newspapers which I scrolled thru.

Custer at ChinaGeeks has had his hand on the pulse of outraged domestic opinion, and so doing provided a better platform for my scribbles. I leave you with Justrecentlys latest entry on Wen’s big press conference at Wenzhou, which I recommend be read in conjunction with the silly hat entry on ESWN HERE.

If Monty Python didn’t exist, China’s Ministry of Truth would have invented him.

Finally, I discovered the existence of another blogger with musical taste (Gram Parsons and the Who) almost as discerning as mine, so this has not been a lost exercise.

Extending the Reading Boundaries.

July 9, 2011

Due to other committments this new venture has almost died on the vine, so lets update this scribblers excellent reading adventures. One of the highlights has been the “false rumour” of Jiang Zemins reported demise. While uber bloggers JR and FOARP tackled the issue head on and proffered explanations revolving around placemen, the maintenance of upper eschelon spheres of influence and the 2012 handover to Li Xinping, I wisely opted for a number of juvenile zombie jokes on ChinaSmack HERE.

While ChinaGeeks and Peking Duck are fast losing their reading attraction, due to polarised and acrimonious posts which really don’t advance discussion of the issues at hand any which way, Adam Cathcart maintained his steady course, and totally surprised recently with this delightful post.

C. Wang and Christine Holch, “Crazy, But Right: His Judgment of an Intensive Search for a Young Woman Whom He Met on the Train,” chrismon (supplementary magazine to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 July 2011) July 2011, p. 54. [Translated from the German by Adam Cathcart.]

This piece has great potential as a plotline for a quirky trans-Asian art house movie. Replace the auto-bahn with an airport encounter, and you have perfectly captured the idea of random love attraction in the global transit lounge which is the world today. Lighten up, read the piece, hit the endedded link in Mr Wang’s flight of fantasy and enjoy the artwork he provided on his homepage honey trap.

Turning to serious heavy hitters, I recommend a visit to academic Frank Dikotter’s site. It offers high quality potted accounts of his various Chinese research findings, and to obtain a good pre-1949 background to Mao’s Pol Pot experiments, I recommend his Age of Openness.

We are all creatures of habits, in reading as in other things, so I obtained pleasure in perusing two (for me)new Sino-Enlish blogs: The China Hotline and Loawai Times. The former is an aggregator site with comments, while the latter is run by a Scotsman, who I suspect has a Bolshy background as he makes use of that wrongly ignored term class. It looks like both offer forums for serious discussion.

Loawai Times notes that:

There is, even to this still-green observer, an anarchistic streak in the Chinese character: not for them the orderliness of the Japanese or the Germans. Similarly, the relative strength of central government is often overstated, with provincial governments enjoying a lot of leeway to simply ignore laws and regulations which might inhibit economic growth. Thus, “stability” here means the policy of holding China together and ensuring basic laws are obeyed.

The other thing I liked about his Stability Stability Stability piece was his emphasis on established and newly emerging classes. Insufficient attention is paid to the concept of class generally, and it is only by identifying the old ossified classes and the newly emerging dynamic classes in China today, that we are arrive a a half decent analysis before proceeding to the crystal ball future/predictive stuff.

Penultimately, what is missing in Sino analysis today is a theoretical understanding of the surveillance apparatus being developed by China’s domestic security organs. The manner in which the internet and social media is managed is well documented, but the larger urbans systems of surveillance AND their political objectives have yet to be described in theoretical terms. The massive digital camera roll out in Beijing, Chongqing and other cities are only dealt with empirically, but that is the extent of discussion. Been posting on the Foucault approach to this issue for ages, but it simply fails to resonate.

I was going to finish by sinking the boot into James Fallows and some of his precious confreres such as Granite Studio, but why bother. And I will spare you my snarky remark about ball powdering.

Finally, if you thought food price rises and food inflation have simple explanations, read this.