Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Buñuel Riots

This article originally appeared in Brush of the Dust on November 22.

I'm a fan of history and film, and with recent riots hitting news (especially stupid riots) I was reminded of the most famous civil unrest at a movie theater, the Buñuel Riots. Rarely does a movie lead people to attack the screen (unless it's with popcorn), but Lois Buñuel's did that, twice.  Yet, early film history is like all history, full of half truths and half lies. Since we're all starting off unclear on what exactly happened, I'll start with what I know so far.

Lois Buñuel, a surrealist director, with the help of Salvador Dali, famed 20th century painter of melting clocks, made two notable films around the end of the silent era. One,  "Un Chien Andalou" is not for the squeamish. The other,  "L'Age d'Or," is not for the easily offended. As for the riots, Total Film repeats what I know:  the films "literally provoked riots at screenings." Time to find out if it was not just literal riots, but physical too.

Now onto the discovery phase:

The first film by Buñuel, "Un Chien Andalou", was called by Roger Ebert, "the most famous short film ever made," (although more likely that award would go to a Wallace and Gromit or Pixar short). It is certainly the most controversial short film.

Video: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Note: the opening scene may make you faint. Offenses and perversions within.

The filmmakers knew how controversial their film would be when it first premiered at Studio des Ursulines in Paris. In an article titled "When Art History Goes Bad"  the author claims fear of a riot, "prompted Dalí and Buñuel to bring sacks of rocks with them on the film's official opening night, just in case they might need to defend themselves." IMDB concurs. "At the Paris premiere, Luis Buñuel hid behind the screen with stones in his pockets for fear of being attacked by the confused audience. "

Roger Ebert cautions belief in "sacks of rocks" story. In his Great Movies article on "Un Chien Andalou", he writes:
Bunuel's memories were sometimes a vivid rewrite of life. When he and his friends first saw Sergei Eisenstein's revolutionary Soviet film "Battleship Potemkin," he claimed, they left the theater and immediately began tearing up the street stones to build barricades. True?

Although it is possible Buñuel had stones on hand, he did not need them. The premiere on June 6, 1928 came and went without incident.  Film writes,  "Buñuel brought rocks in his pockets to the premiere screening to throw at the audience if they hated it, but the surrealists loved it. The film had an eight-month run at the prestigious Studio 28." As for any riots, I'm siding with Michael Koller in Senses of Cinema  who writes, "although there are reports of disruptions of screenings, these seem to be based on false memories of events surrounding the release of Buñuel’s next film, L’Age d’Or."  No riots. Let's move on to the good stuff.

Video: L'Age d'Or
Note: contains scenes of perversion, blasphemy, and dog kicking.

I can say, for certainty, the film "L'Age d'Or" caused riots. Or more accurately, a screening of L'Age d'Or at Studio 28 in Paris was the scene of a riot. Confusion over the event begins with its date. Some articles say this happened at the film premiere on November 28, 1930. Others claim it happened on December 3.  From what I can tell, the more in-depth articles claim the latter. Bernard P.E. Bentley, in "A Companion to Spanish Cinema", writes "the film officially opened on November 28, but the riots did not start until December 3."  IMDB agrees, and add the time of the riot occurred half way through the film screening.

Here is a dossier of events, played out like a news feed:

  • The BBCIMDBSydney Morning HeraldFilm all report ink being thrown at the screen.
  • claims rotten eggs were thrown at the screen.
  • The BBC and report "stink bombs." Film says there are "smoke bombs"
  • claims tear gas was set off.
  • claims members of Studio 28 were clubbed. Sydney Morning Herald says "patrons were beaten up".
  • The BBC adds, rioters "fired guns into the air."
  • Film reports chanting. claims these chants include cries of "Death to the Jews".
  • The BBC reports the foyer was trashed.  Film and says the lobby featured a surrealist exhibit, which was destroyed. Jim Loter says "several Surrealist paintings" were destroyed.  Sydney Morning Herald says there were painting from Dalí destroyed. IMDB says the paintings slashed included ones from  Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Man Ray. Village Voice's film guide states, there were Dali and Max Ernst paintings in the lobby which were slashed.
  • Jim Loter claims there was damage to "the cinema's projection equipment."
  • says "the police stormed the theater" and "patrons endeavored to set it aflame."
  • IMDB and placed blame the violence on the fascist "League of Patriots". also blames the Anti-Jewish League.
Victoria Advocate says the film "led to six days of right-wing attacks on the theater."  Village Voice says the film was shut down two days after the riots. New York Magazine says seven days. Film says three months. Village Voice and New York Magazine say the police banned the film, Jim Loter blames, "the official French censor, after ordering a few scenes to be cut, banned the entire film." Film says it was not seen again until 1980. More accurately copies of the film were still available but in limited supply. According to, the film was first shown at New York's Museum Of Modern Art in 1933, and again in the 1960s. It was not widely seen until it's official US premiere in 1979.

There are a few theories to why the riot occurred. One thought is the Fascists and Anti-Semites were led on a misguided belief that the film was the work of Jews. In fact, Buñuel was a lapsed Catholic turned Atheist. Dalí was an on-again off-again Catholic. Yet, if you were an Anti-Semite and heard of a very Anti-Christian movie being released, you might make assumptions. (Full disclosure: don't be an Anti-Semite.)

Jim Loter believes the right-wing attack on L'Age d'Or was neither an attack on the film's controversial images nor a misguided belief that it was the work of Jews, but the alignment in Paris between the surrealists and the Communist Party in Paris. The intellectuals behind surrealism were starting to focus on political will. This might explain why the paintings were slashed. This was an attack on Surrealists as a whole, not just the film. Buñuel's film was just one of the intended targets. I was swayed by this argument when I originally thought the riot took place on opening night. Since the stink-bombs and rioting 30 minutes into the film inferred premeditation on the part of the rioters, why would they prepare to riot at a movie they haven't seen yet? But a December 3rd riot means they had five days to hear about the offensive and sacrilegious imagery throughout.

The most popular reason for the riots is the most obvious reason: the film offended the audience. The film easily offends Christians (full disclosure: this includes me), capitalists, as well as the high and middle class. As for the Anti-Semitism, since the film was anti-Catholic, angered patrons assumed the director was Jewish.  The plot can be confusing, the sexuality nears pornographic, and did I mention the protagonist gleefully kicks a dog?

This all goes towards what many think is true: Buñuel wanted a riot. If he had rocks to throw at the "Un Chien Andalou" audience, it meant he was prepared. Some believe he was hoping to throw the rocks. In "British Film Institute film classics", Rob White and Edward Buscombe theorize that Buñuel and the surrealists wanted a riot, as it would give them added attention from the media. Multiple articles mention Buñuel's disappointment at the success of "Un Chien Andalou," with Jim Loter stating, the director showed, "dismay at his film's being appreciated as an artistic expression instead of a call for violent Revolution."  Pacific Cinematheque believes the L'Age d'Or was intended to offend and "didn’t take long to hit its intended mark, meeting with howls of indignation and outrage soon after its Paris release." This is backed up by film critic Ado Kyrou who said it was the filmmakers goal, "not to please but rather to alienate nearly all potential spectators."

What can't be debated is the effectiveness of the riot. It clearly succeeded.  French surrealists immediately lost interest in filmmaking. Buñuel, having burned all his bridges is Paris, left just days after the riots to begin work at MGM Studios in Hollywood. If It would be decades before he'd return to success in artistic film, and even longer to see his first two films become among the most influential in experimental cinema.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Skaneateles Skedaddle

I grew up on Skaneateles Lake, one of the cleanest public lakes in the world, Syracuse's drinking water, and one of two locations where hydrofracking is banned in New York State. Other than the beautiful lake, the beautiful village, and the exemption, Skaneateles-ians have something extra special: a love for the word Skaneateles. It's a weird love.

It certainly was not love at first pronunciation. It can produce anxiety in those new to the word, and most telemarketers give up without even trying. Those who try are bound to fail. Twice over the last two weeks I've heard it pronounced "ska-needles" and "skittles." I applauded their effort and laughed in their faces. It's "skan/ee/at/eh/liss" or "skinny-atlas."

Another reason for our pride and love of "Skaneateles" is its meaning. Everyone agrees Skaneateles is an Iroquois word, and for good reason, it's the truth. Most people agree that it means "long lake," and for good reason, it's the almost the truth ("long water" is more accurate). But my interest does not lie in the truth, but in the lies. The fictional origins of "Skaneateles" are more fun than the truth.

There are fat stories. My mother's favorite version concerned an overweight lady, who upon gazing at the lake from the top a hill, tripped and tumbled all the way to the lake shore. When she stood up, miraculously thinner, she yelled "Skinny at last!"  The same punch-line is used in the story of a fat Native American who ran around the lake 20 times."Skinny-atlas" has been around since at least 1902, but I know of no story about a fat map. So here's my try, focusing less on the obese:

Two land-surveyors were debating if they should map the whole world, or just a small area. When they set their eyes upon our beautiful lake, they agreed: Skaneateles.

The Reverend William E. Danforth, in a two-act farce called "The Old District School," claims Skaneateles is "the heathen that held the world up on his shoulders -- they called him Skinny Atlas because he was skinny." The joke would work better if Danforth (who died in 1941, in Skaneateles) had related it back to the lake itself. Let me try:

The great Titan, Atlas, after years of holding the world up on his shoulders, retired to a relaxing lakeside home upstate. He did little but look at its beautiful waters. Whenever his old friends would visit, they'd exclaim, "wow, Skinny Atlas!"

Some 19th-century writers wrote more believable (though still untrue) accounts of the word "Skaneateles." In the 1886 non-fiction book, "The Truths of Spirituality," author Ebenezer V. Wilson claims there once was an Onondagan Chief named Skaneateles. While under the influence of "King Alcohol" the imbibed chief accidentally drowns in the lake. As a spirit, he oversees the citizens of the lake as "an angel of mercy," aiding even those white-men who stole his land. As of 1886, the fake Chief Skaneateles was still in contact with mediums through seances.

The most-referenced false meaning of Skaneateles I could find, is "beautiful squaw" in the Mohawk language. The "beautiful squaw" is meant to mirror the coastal outline of the lake (as one poet put, "she appears molded in thy translucent waters sweet."). If you think about this, the theory doesn't hold water (pun intended, sorry). This theory would work if the Iroquois tribe: 1) cared what the lake looked like from 5 miles above the Earth, and 2) viewed all objects facing northwards.

Onondagan Chief Totowahganeo, on March 18th, 1862, looked to put such silliness to rest. He wrote the Skaneateles Democrat, Skaneateles, "literally rendered, is Long Water." Yet, the myths and the jokes did not abate. Nor should they discontinue. It's a fun name.

Additionally, in his article, Totowahganeo states the lake should be pronounced, "Skeh-ne-a-ties." I guess this means:

A man who dropped his fat tie in the lake. When he picked it up, it reappeared as three smaller pieces of fabric. So the guy says...

Got any alternate meanings I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fustigating "Slams"

Slams sucks, almost as much as Martin Van Buren. Slams (verb), via freedictionary, means:
  • To shut with force and loud noise
  • To put, throw, or otherwise forcefully move so as to produce a loud noise.
  • To hit or strike with great force.
  • Slang To criticize harshly; censure forcefully.
I hate "slams" in news headlines. The bible of the industry is an editor's stylebook, yet when it comes to headlines, use of the slang "slams" (not in the stylebook) is AOK. "Slams" is harsh and unreasonable, even when you agree with the substance behind it. "Slams" can even ruin a person's intention, as the headline Ex-senator Danforth slams harsh rhetoric hillariously proves. The most aggregious user of "slams" is CNN and its political ticker. Some examples:

Obama slams health insurance companies
Palin slams Fox's 'Family Guy'
GOP 'survey' slams Obama
Schwarzenegger slams Palin
Biden slams Palin comment
RNC slams Obama award
GOP slams Obama in Keystone state
Ex-aide slams Palin in leaked book
Davis acknowledges faults, slams GOP
Obama promises new jobs initiatives, slams GOP
Carney slams GOP budge
Al Qaeda No. 2 slams Obama's first months in office
Foxx slams Obama, gets autograph
Republican slams Obama administration on terrorism
GOP senator slams Obama over Libya
Kaine marks start of traditional fall campaign season, slams GOP
RNC slams Obama in first TV ad
RNC slams Obama on his 49th birthday
Palin slams 'bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie'
Left slams Obama over safety net
Fidel Castro slams 'assassination' of unarmed bin Laden

"Slams" itself tells you nothing about reasoning or motives. There was a tremendous force, but it's origin and it's trajectory is unknown. No reasoning. No motives. Just an attack. Why is the attack more important than the substance and reasoning behind it?

Even if you're okay with knowing about "slams", the headlines rarely tell you the accuracy or success of the political attack. In the case of a few of those headlines, like "Schwarzenegger slams Palin" gives you only a glimmer of an idea of the article's newsworthiness. The article says Arnold is suspicious Palin's anti-environmental statements are all political theater to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Who's right? Any response? At the very minimum, is this a shift in the political winds? By focusing on the fight and not the substance, we get nothing. All we get is boring political theater. Maybe "slams" is a keyword to let the reader know "this article contains useless political posturing".

I guess this isn't all about "slams." This might me my bigger distaste with political theatrics. Let's compromise. Let's start a scale of political attack. Low, Medium, High, Super-high, and Doug Benson. Let's leave "slams" for Doug Benson-sized criticism. For low critical attacks, how about "appraises" or "evaluates". For medium, I like "scrutinizes". For high, the thesaurus has plenty of options, but my favorite is "fustigates". And don't forget the most important part of reporting, finding the truth within the posturing.

So let's reduce or remove "slams" from our political discourse. It's the most essential movement of our lifetime. If there are to be political slams, let it be:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Van Buren. You Suck.

Martin Van Buren and his muttonchops
Truman gets a bad rap. He dropped the atomic bombs, he failed to reign in Stalin, and led America into the Korean War. Nevertheless, he led America out of World War II and depression, saved Western Europe from Stalin, and promoted a wise domestic policy. There was little Truman did that FDR would have disapproved of. When Truman left office he had few supporters. Historians and octogenarians agree FDR is one of the greatest presidents. The Truman fan club is much smaller.

The same situation goes for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Van Buren kept many of Jackson's cabinet and continued most of his policies. Yet, Andrew Jackson is on the ten dollar bill, and the best you can say for Van Buren is he was mentioned on Seinfeld. Has Van Buren's legacy been as unjustly maligned as Truman?


I have never hid my total hatred for Martin Van Buren. In elementary school, each student was given a president to report on. Unlike some classmates who got "awesome" presidents like Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington and the Roosevelts, my assignment was the eighth president of the United States. I combed his story for amazing details but was left with sadness. As a young student in 1991, I knew there was a bad president. His name was Richard Nixon and he was a mean man who almost ruined America. I also knew America did bad things in the past. Slavery wasn't a good thing. Also we weren't too nice to the "Indians" (excuse me for the pre-1992 lingo). With my introduction to Martin Van Buren, my childhood innocence (presidents-wise) was lost. This man was awful.

"Martin Van Buren was the Vice President under Andrew Jackson, and he oversaw the Trail of Tears. In conclusion, Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the United States. The End."

B+. How dare you ruin my perfect grade in social studies.

Andrew Jackson started two major policies which ruined Van Buren in the short and long-term. The short term disaster was the elimination of the second national bank. Jackson entrusted the states with handing finances. In Van Buren's first year in office, banks closed, inflation and unemployment grew, and the president did nothing to assuage the crisis. Another panic occurred two years later, leaving America (and Van Buren) in further ruin. The crisis was relatively temporary, but cost Van Buren any chance of reelection.

The long term disaster set-up by Jackson was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The law allowed the United States, as they saw fit, to remove Native Americans from their land. During Van Buren's presidency, the Treaty of New Echota was ratified, leading to the forced removal of the Cherokee. The Chickasaw were also kicked off their land at the start of his term.

In Florida, Van Buren fought Seminoles who refused to leave their land. In his 1838 State of the Union speech, Van Buren said action of the Seminoles left "no alternative but to continue the military operations against them until they are totally expelled from Florida." This was a costly and bloody success.

In the same speech, Van Buren summed up the Trail of Tears.
"The recent emigrants, although they have in some instances removed reluctantly, have readily acquiesced in their unavoidable destiny."

Unavoidable destiny? You're awful! I have not seen a more vile statement by any other American president (prove me wrong). For more awful Van Buren quotes, visit this site. If you don't hate Van Buren yet, reread that statement again.

Although he was vocally against slavery later in life, as president he did nothing of importance to affect this critical issue. In fact, Van Buren opposed the mutinying slaves in the Amistad case. Not cool, Martin.

Van Buren was the first in a long line of terrible presidents. He was followed by William Henry Harrison (died a month in), John Tyler (hated by both parties, later joined the Confederacy), James Polk (started land-grab war against Mexico), Zachary Taylor (slave-owner but otherwise okay), Millard Fillmore (know-nothing loser), Franklin Pierce (terrible president, Confederate sympathizer), and James Buchanan (do-nothing apathetic loser). Quite simply, these eight incompetent presidents presided over the worst bit of American History. The mediocrity began with Martin Van Buren, with the help of his mentor and predecessor, Andrew Jackson.

Van Buren. You suck.

You too Jackson.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Script Doctor: USA vs. Brazil

On July 10, 2011, USA played Brazil in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals. After an exciting first 90 minutes (including a few controversial calls), the score was tied 1-1. After scoring within two minutes of overtime by Marta (don't forget to yell her name loud, reach to the sky and roll the "R"), Brazil holds on until the man-down USA team scores the tying goal with seconds remaining. USA wins in penalty kicks, and celebrations continue today. I must admit, their win still makes me smile.

As the game ended, and the commentators, coaches, fans, and players made their statements, everyone agreed: it would make a great script. Hero of the match, Abby Wambach, said "I don't know if you can write a better script." Many many many others agreed. So I sent it to my local script doctor, and here is his take:

I admit. It was a very good script, especially for an unscripted event. Good script, but not the perfect script. Good job team. But let me make a few suggestions:

1. The back-story needs some fixing. In the script it says the USA team beat Brazil in four of the last six tournaments. That stat should read "zero". Brazil should be seen as an unstoppable force. Brazil is also listed as third in the world, while the USA team is first. That should be switched.

2. I like the Marta character. Can you make her more evil?

3. I'm not a fan of Brazil's own goal in the beginning. Please nix. Plus the woman who made the mistake, Daiane, also missed a penalty kick at the end of the game. This would lead the audience to sympathize with her. Please replace her with Marta. Marta missing the kick is much more exciting. Make it the last kick. And make the final score 5-4. Perfect.

4. Make the match the final game, not a quarterfinal match. We need to see a trophy hoisted, otherwise what was the fight for? Bragging rights?

5. There are two characters with similar names: Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe. This will confuse the audience, please change Rapinoe to Megan Rogers.

6. I like how the crowd came to USA's defense as they battled back, but wouldn't it be even more fantastic if the game took place in Brazil? Just saying. Well okay, maybe Germany works. Or Iraq. Just throwing that out there.

7. If it has to take place in Dresden, change the coach of the USA team, Pia Sundhage, from Sweedish to German. As a child in World War II, she survived the allied bombing of Dresden. Adds another layer. She could have flashbacks throughout the match.

8. After the event, there needs to be at least one of these scenes:
  • proposal(s) of marriage
  • unexpected birth(s)
  • dance sequence
  • team returning 50 years later to the ruins of the stadium.
  • meeting with the president
  • settling the alien/predator conflict
9. Okay, one last thing: can one of the players be a man in drag? Maybe Megan Rogers.

Good luck with the script, "you're almost there."

-Pete the Script Doctor

If you got any other script changes needed, let me know in the comments section.

Check out:
-Greg Cote's match thoughts, and love for the "unscripted possibility of ... anything" in sports.
-ESPN asking women sportswriters their thoughts on USA's victory and its importance.
-The replay of the game on ESPN3.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spielberg's Dueling Movies

Steven Spielberg will be releasing two directorial efforts this December. One, "War Horse," looks like a standard Spielberg drama. The trailer is filled with filled some jaw-dropping images, including a shot of a woman opening a door reflected on a horse's eye (reminds me of a similar scene from "Citizen Kane" involving a snow globe). The trailer doesn't say much, in fact, it plays more like a silent film, with only one character giving any dialogue over John Williams' always-cinematic score.

Five days earlier, Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn" will come to theaters. Spielberg's first animated film, it looks to be a twenty-year labor of love, though we'll see how he and Janusz Kamiński deal in a new medium.

Two movies in one year (actually one week) might seem like a rare accomplishment, but it is not without precedent for Spielberg. Let's look at the director's previous bi-annual-release track-record, and maybe get an idea of how 2011 will fair.

1989: "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Always"

Always is one of the few Spielberg films I have yet to see, and I have yet to find someone to encourage me to do so. So I'll take the advice of Roger Ebert (who didn't like it) and the American public (who did not see it) and continue to avoid this one. The "Last Crusade", conversely, was the #1 movie in the world in 1989, and a favorite of my childhood.

1993: "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List"

What's there to say. These were two of the biggest movies of the 1990s, released within six-months of each other, by a single director. Take that James Cameron. "Jurassic Park" was Spielberg's most successful film, a landmark for computer-generated imagery, and the highest-earning film of 1993. "Schindler's List" won Spielberg his first Oscar, and is considered one of the top ten American films of all time by AFI.

1997:  "The Lost World" and "Amistad".

Okay, a poor comeback for the director after a four year hiatus. Don't get me wrong, I really like "Amistad" and I am a fan of the last third of "Lost World", but following his most successful year, it's a disapointment. These two films do continue a trend for Spielberg. Just like in 1993, he released a blockbuster in the summer, then a quality drama in December. He returns to form six months after "Amistad" with "Saving Private Ryan".

2002: "Catch Me if You Can" and "Minority Report"

"Catch Me" was an enjoyable caper film, known best for its opening credits. "Minority Report" is a grand piece of film-making, one of my favorite science-fiction films, and what "AI" should have been.

2005: "War of the Worlds" and "Munich"

Again, a blockbuster summer release followed by a winter prestige film. "War of the Worlds" I have yet to see (it has been in my Netflix Queue for the last six years) but was the forth most popular film that year. "Munich" was another incredible work, one of my top 10 films of the decade.

So what makes this year different than the last bi-annual years? First of all, both movies will be released in the same week. If I had to guess, War Horse looks more like the prestige picture, though Tintin has a talented writing team. If Spielberg's past record is any clue, odds are at least one of these movies will be worth seeing in theaters. My guess is War Horse will be the better film, but people will go see Tintin instead. If Spielberg can pull of two concurrent-running critically-acclaimed blockbusters, it will be unprecedented. Unlikely, but unprecedented. Here's to trying.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cohan vs. Cohan

In 1904, George M. Cohan wrote the patriotic "Yankee Doodle Boy." In 1906 he followed up with "You're a Grand Old Flag." For July 4th, I decided to review the eight-line choruses of each, comparing and contrasting.

Line 1
I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
You're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag,
A good introduction for both topics. I like the stand alone description for Mr. Doodle, but "high flying flag" wins out here. It gives us a little bit more to savior with the spicy words grand, high, flying, and old. I don't know if I'd want to hang out with a "Doodle Dandy" on July 4th.

Line 2
A Yankee Doodle, do or die;
And forever in peace may you wave.
We get it, you're a Yankee Doodle! I do like the "do or die". A hard line tough America. Cue Chevy commercial. The flag knocks the Yankee out of the park with "forever in peace," a nice hope and goal of our country. We're still on track with the "forever" part, at least. Adding wave is perfect. All we know about Yankee Doodle is that he's a do or die dandy. The flag on the other hand is old, wavy, and high-flying.

Line 3
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam,
You're the emblem of the land I love.
I really enjoy the rhyming of of with love. Emblem I'm a little less a fan of, though I can't think of a better synonym. Symbol?  Nah. I also like Cohan's use of real live instead of real life. These two lines are very patriotic, but I think Yankee Doodle Boy wins this round, as its lyric is simply more imaginative.

Line 4
Born on the Fourth of July.
The home of the free and the brave.
Dang, more greatness from the songs. For rhyming, I do like wave and brave, die and July not as much. For the substance of the lyric itself, Yankee Doodle Boy gives us a decent backstory for the character (Depending on who you believe, Cohan was born on July 3 or 4). I'll give it to the Yankee for the more personal and memorable line.

Line 5
I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart,
Ev'ry heart beats true 'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Now we are introduced to secondary characters, the soul-mate and the American public. I like them both. I want to be around my wife and my nation on July 4th, and I ain't gonna pick one over the other. I can be a fan of clippin' words to fit songs, but 'neath is an iffy choice. Would it have been that hard to say beneath? Otherwise, if the tie goes to the more imaginative, "Grand Old Flag" wins out here.

Line 6
She's my Yankee Doodle joy.
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Joy is a nice word, I like it's simplicity. As for never boasting or bragging, the lyrics have already described Americans as brave, free, true-hearted people. So the added compliments ring hollow. The Yankee wins round six.

Line 7
Yankee Doodle came to London, just to ride the ponies;
But should auld acquaintance be forgot,
George M. Cohan might have been the first sampler. "Yankee Doodle Boy" samples the first line of "Yankee Doodle", while "It's a Grand Old Flag" samples the first line of "Auld Lang Syne". Dandy loses points for using London instead of town. It made sense for the play, but not for the song on its own. Otherwise, it's a perfect sample. "Grand Old Flag" earns points for sampling another sing-along tune, but "Auld Lang Syne" was a Scottish folk song! We're talking America here, why is Cohan referencing London and Scotland? Yankee wins round 7.

Line 8
I am the Yankee Doodle Boy.
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
"Grand Old Flag" wins this one. This is the sixth use of "Yankee Doodle" and I've had enough! I'd rather stare longingly at the grand old flag, who's majesty we've come to regard over the first seven lines, than hear Yankee Doodle remind us he's a Yankee Doodle. Last round goes to the flag.

Line for line, they tie for quality. "Yankee Doodle Boy" gets extra points for arriving first and being autobiographical, while "It's a Grand Old Flag" is a better stand-alone song, as well as a more patriotic. Either way, USA USA et cetera. Take it Cagney!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A to Zeppelin: Encouraging you to buy albums I've never heard

I do not own a single Led Zeppelin album, nor have I ever listened to one. All my "get the lead out" knowledge comes from radio. So I decided today to review all nine Led Zeppelin albums. How? Because I taped every song off the radio.
Plant and Page (photo by Heinrich Klaffs)
Led Zeppelin defined my 40 minute bus rides during my junior year in high school. This was thanks to a local station's decision to play their entire catalog, A to Z, one Labor Day. Instead of spending the day at a barbecue or taking a last swim in the lake, I sat in my room with a stereo and five 90-minute cassette tapes. From "Achilles Last Stand" at noon to "Your Time is Gonna Come" at 7pm, I hit record, pause, and sometimes, a quick rewind. By the end of the day I owned hours of hard-rock Tolkien-inspired music.

So to figure out my favorite Zeppelin album, I first rated my A to Z mix. Each song I gave 1 to 5 stars (aka Lemon to Immigrant). You wouldn't think good songs or terrible songs would clump together, but in a few cases they do. The first 90 minute tape I played the least, and the evidence shows good reason: B and C songs are, on average, much worse than any other songs by Led Zeppelin. "D", on the other hand, is full of gems. Here's a graph of the results:
Here's the best section as a 10 song album:
  1. D'yer Mak'er - love the guitar/piano play
  2. Dancing Days - love the slide guitar
  3. Dazed And Confused - overrated but still like it
  4. Down By The Seaside - love the blubbly sounds
  5. Fool In The Rain - love the whistle
  6. For Your Life - love... none of it, not a fan.
  7. Four Sticks - love the dreamy chorus
  8. Friends - love the strings
  9. Gallows Pole - love the folk standard
  10. Going To California - great song
  11. Good Times Bad Times - also great
Next I took the songs, listed them out chronologically, and graphed the results:
Part of my hope was to be surprised, but my tastes seem typical to most reviewers. I guess the main difference is my distaste for Physical Graffiti, which starts off well but decreases in quality at a rapid pace. Actually, Led Zeppelin's career takes a huge nose dive with that album, never regaining the quality of the first five albums. Four, to no one's surprise, has the best songs. Two, minus a lemon of a song, is just as good.

Led Zeppelin produced two albums, although I've never heard, through song quality alone ranks among my favorite albums of all-time. But, as I've argued previously, album quality resides not in songs alone.

I figure the only way to appropriately end this article is to listen to Led Zeppelin II and IV. This was easy to do since youtube is still a pirates paradise when it comes to music. Here's my review of the song flow.

II: Side one has great songs but unimpressive song flow. "The Lemon Song" certainly doesn't help. Surprised they didn't put "Thank You" last on the album. The second-side has brilliant flow, especially "Heartbreaker" to "Living Loving Maid". A seven for flow and a three for intagables give Led Zeppelin II a final score of 85, a great album, cursed by one bad song and an uneven flow.

IV: Side one features three of their most popular songs, and "The Battle of Evermore", which I've always loved for its mood and mandolin. I also really like the transition between "Evermore" and "Stairway to Heaven". "Misty Mountain Hop" is a great start to side two. "When the Levee Breaks" is a great song, but not a great last song. Switched it with "Going to California" and you got a great somber finale. Also, eight songs? That's it? I wanted more. (Then again, Physical Graffiti had 15 songs, beggars can't be choosers.) So with eight for flow and four for intagables give Led Zeppelin IV a final score of 92, making it one of my top 25 favorite albums ever.

What are your thoughts on the Zep, the great terrible prideful plagiarizing critically hated critical darlings?
 Let me know in the comments. I'll leave you (thanks again to youtube) with the alphabetical album "Dy'er Mak'er" to "Good Times Bad Times":

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

LBJ: First and Last, Anything but Average

Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ Library)
Every six years Siena College releases a poll of the Best Presidents of all-time. Usually the race is between Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but in 2010 Franklin Delano Roosevelt came in first. This might irritate some (like some historian friends of mine), but I want to look beyond the top and focus on the fascinating

Siena released their findings category by category, which makes me, a list nerd, very happy. Did you know Washington was the best at avoiding crucial mistakes? Buchanan had the worst leadership ability? But only one president ranked first in one category and last in another. Some people say Richard Nixon would be remembered as a good president if it wasn't for Watergate, but it's safe to say LBJ would have been considered one of the greatest if not for Vietnam. In the Siena poll, historians ranked Johnson 16 out of 43. Closer to average than to greatness. A three-star presidency. Here's how Johnson ranked, from best to worst:

Relationship with Congress, Rank: 1
With the help of congress, LBJ pushed through the biggest series of government changes since The New Deal (FDR ranked second). Even with foreign policy, he had an excellent relationship with congress. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving Johnson a blank check to yield unilateral military might in East Asia. As a former member of both houses of Congress, and Senate Majority Leader for six years, Johnson was able to strong arm and compromise when needed to get his programs passed.

Party Leadership, Rank: 3
LBJ: kicking-ass and
taking-names (LBJ Library)
Two years as Senate Minority Leader, six as Majority Leader, three as Vice President, five as President, LBJ had a powerful sway over the Democratic Party. If Barry Goldwater is credited as the ideological leader of the modern Republican Party, Lyndon Johnson should receive equal credit for engineering the modern Democratic Party. In domestic policy, there is little or no difference between Johnson's ideals and actions, and the current party platform. In 1964, over 80% of African Americans voted for Johnson, a stat that has continued for Democratic Party candidates ever since.

Court Appointments, Rank: 5
This high ranking has little to do with nominating Abe Fortas to the Supreme Court. Fortas was a justice for only four year before having to resign in disgrace. This has everything to do with the selection of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American nominated to the Supreme Court. Marshall was an extremely accomplished lawyer best known for his civil rights victories. He served for twenty-four years. The man even has a feast-day in the Episcopal Church, May 17, the day his Brown vs. Board of Education case proved victorious. Thurgood was a helpful ally of Johnson's policies.

Domestic Accomplishments, Rank: 5
Ability to Compromise, Rank: 9
Overall Ability, Rank: 9
Signing Medicare into law
with Truman by his side (LBJ Library)
Again, these show his success with the Great Society, civil rights, and anti-poverty legislation that continued the United States success as the leading world power, and LBJ's success as a great leader (when it came to working with American politicians).

Handling of the U.S. economy, Rank: 10
Willing to take Risks, Rank: 12
Executive Appointments, Rank: 12
Imagination, Rank: 12
Executive Ability, Rank: Rank: 12
More positive rankings, mainly for his ability to use the executive branch to promote his ideas. Imagination for his Great Society, War on Poverty, and Space Race success. Even with his failures, America began and ended his tenure as the most powerful country in the world. Note the high rank for "willing to take risks" when you see his rankings for "luck" and "avoiding crucial mistakes" later on.

Background, Rank: 15
LBJ was a college graduate who became a teacher before getting into politics. I guess historians took that information and said: "15". I consider this the least important and most confusing of all of Siena's rankings. Other than putting Thomas Jefferson first, I don't understand any of these rankings. They gave the otherwise-great Abraham Lincoln his lowest marks for his background. I guess being born poor, with little education, dealing with depression, but still becoming a lawyer, state senator, and popular orator means "28".

Leadership Ability, Rank: 15
Communication Skills, Rank: 16
His leadership was successful for 4 of his 5 years as president. For communication skills, which equal his overall score, I point you to an animatronic LBJ:

Intelligence, Rank: 21
A president of "average intelligence". No surprised super-brained Thomas Jefferson ranks first.

A frustrated gentleman (LBJ Library)
Luck, Rank: 28
Integrity, Rank: Rank: 34
Avoid Crucial Mistakes, Rank: 37
Pretty poor rankings here. Luck and Crucial Mistakes seem equally paired. The man was on a great hot streak, but Vietnam was the end of his luck. His successor, Richard Nixon, was even worse when it came to avoiding crucial mistakes. As for integrity, I'm kind of shocked he's ranked so low after taking the moral high ground when it came to civil rights, health care rights, and poverty aid. Seems dropping agent orange and napalm on a foreign country made him lose points.

Foreign Policy Accomplishments, Rank: 43
43 is the worst a president can be ranked in a category, and Johnson got it for one reason: The Vietnam War. The war was a quagmire, one which many consider the first (and maybe only) war The United States lost.

Inspecting the troops (LBJ Library)
Johnson went all-in for victory but did not succeed. Eventually, the communists were victorious, and the U.S. lost over 50,000 troops. Johnson refused to run for re-election, as his foreign policy disaster overshadowed every single domestic success.

The war split the Democratic party, leading to the election of Republican Richard Nixon. This ended an era where 28 of the past 36 years Democratic presidents were in power. Republicans took power and held the presidency for 28 of the next 40 years. Still, over 40 years later, many of Johnson's policies are still in place, and his work for civil rights helped push the south into democracy for the first time. 

What do you think of LBJ? What other president deserves a high five and a middle finger?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Yay Barca, Nay Yanks

I broke my most important sports commandment. The five commandments are as follows:

  1. Always root for Syracuse.
  2. If Syracuse is not involved, root for an Upstate New York Team.
  3. If not Upstate team, root for Team America.
  4. If not any of these, and the teams are evenly matched, root for a good game.
  5. In all other games (99% of them), Always Root for the Underdog.

Then along came Barca.

FC Barcelona has only two games left this season, but they are about to cap a season that some claim to be the best ever. They have won 42 games, drawn 10 times, and lost 5. They've won the La Liga title, and they are one win away from being crowned Champions. They are not underdogs.

I came to Barcelona via Ronaldo, the top-class striker for Real Madrid. I played Ronaldo constantly on my PES 2009 video game as he was always quick with a goal. ESPN 3 (one of the Internet's greatest non-Netflix related gifts) was showing a match, known as El Clásico pitting Real Madrid against Barcelona.

Ronaldo was serious. The whole game. Every game I've seen him play in I doubt he has cracked a smile. Then along came Barcelona's Lionel Messi. His hair was shaggy, and he always seemed to be smiling off the pitch. On the pitch, he was incredible. The whole team was incredible. Their time of possession was over 60%, passing the ball precisely, slowly working their way up the field, slowly looking for a player to break through. While Ronaldo earned a yellow card for pushing Barca coach Josep Guardiola, Barcelona routed Real Madrid 5-0. I became a fan.

I'm having a tough time reconciling my love for Barca with my total hatred for the New York Yankees (note my "upstate" commandment clause). The Yankees, for the last century, has been the dominant team in baseball. And don't get me wrong, I idolized their heroes in my childhood. But the Yankees of the last 30 years have left me cold. It probably has a lot to do with money. They consistently have the highest paid team in the sport, grabbing superstar after superstar to puff up their chances of victory. Barca, similarly, doles out huge salaries to their superstars. But it's, uh, different. Barca has a youth system that help condition and improve most of their superstars from a young age.  Messi, Iniesta, Puyol, and Xavi were all members, and have rewarded Barca's early investment by staying at the club.  Also, Barca's sponsor is UNICEF. The team actually pays UNICEF for the rights to have their logo on their jerseys, a rare deed (unlike some notable corrupt bargains in the news).

Or maybe it's just I'm relatively new to association football, and thus I gravitate to the team that does the best. Or maybe I like Barca because it's European. Or maybe I hate the Yankees because I'm jealous of their success.

Or maybe it's how they play. Incredible. That's how. Great plays, pristine passes (as Dick Vitale would never say "Fundamentals Baby!") and never a dull second in a game regularly mocked for dullness. On Saturday, May 28th, Barcelona will face Manchester United in the Champions finale and I will be stressed out the whole game. Should be a close game (no, not all soccer games are close). I seriously can't wait.

I was in a Paris shop a few weeks ago, when, for the first time in eight years, I bought sports merch. Now, quietly resting in my dresser for nine more days, is a red jersey. On the front, the FCB badge and the UNICEF logo. On the back, a #10 and the words MESSI. There's no turning back now.

I must ad a sixth sports commandment: To root for Barca until they turn evil -- next year maybe.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Netflix Instant: A Cinematic Stimulant

You can watch this right now.
I recently convinced my friend Neil to set up Netflix Instant on his Wii. We watched part of "Spinal Tap" and I headed home. I week later I asked him if he used it since. "Oh my God, it's like crack!"

I recently did a search for my top Twitter terms. "Netflix" and "Instant" were the top words. These came from post after post of excitement over each exciting addition to their library.

I recently read an article stating Netflix Instant accounts for 30% of all Internet traffic.

I recently added nearly 50 MST3K movies to my queue.

I recently began watching "Baseball" one of eighteen Ken Burns documentaries available.

I recently found out Netflix added my favorite foreign film. In fact, most of my favorite foreign films are on Netflix Instant.

I recently realized, hey, I'm paying Netflix for this service, and I'm harping on it like a shill! Calm down me, don't give it to the man! Where's my chill pills?

I'm just happy that Netflix Instant, coupled with my Roku player, has been, for two year, my favorite entertainment product. It's like owning a video rental store. And just like a video store, the selection is limited, full of terrible films I will never watch, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Woe be the day when I will be without either a television, the Internet, or a Netflix account. I will go through withdrawal. That is when I will crash.

(if only "Crash" was on Netflix Instant, that would have been perfect. Ah well. Eegah!).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Beatles and the curse of the Best ofs.

When anyone asked me what my favorite album was, I always said it was something by The Beatles, usually "Help!", "Revolver", or "Abbey Road". So one lonely day I sat down and tried to settle this question by rating each Fab Four album.

Four lads from Liverpool (Library of Congress)
I rated each song of The Beatles from 1 to 5 stars (in reality from 2 to 5, they've never had a truly terrible song). I gave the song content of an album 85% of the score. I gave another 10% to the tracklisting. As anyone who's made a good mixtape (or watched "High Fidelity") knows, how songs flow together matters. The final five percent is for personal bias. If it was the album that started my obsession (Sgt. Pepper's), or reflects an era in my life (Help!), it deserves higher marks. If it's a great album, but also a soundtrack to a dull movie (Magical Mystery Tour), it might lose a point or two.

Then there's the problem with compilations. If you're to advise someone on buying a Beatles album, you wouldn't avoid suggesting "Past Masters 2" just because the songs were recorded and released over a five-year period instead of all-at-once. You certainly need "Hey Jude" and "Day Tripper" in your Beatles collection. (I don't care that you can buy the songs separately online now -- albums still matter -- what's that? I can't hear you). If you think that allowing compilations will lead to a slippery slope, you are correct! Let's do this.

Album Songs Flow Bias Total
Sgt. Pepper83.710598.7
Rubber Soul81.410596.4
Abbey Road81.010596.0
White Album80.59594.5
Past Masters 281.48392.4
Please Please Me76.59590.5
Magical Mystery Tour77.38489.3
With the Beatles75.38487.3
A Hard Day's Night74.58486.5
Let it Be73.78485.7
Past Masters 171.88382.8
Beatles for Sale68.08480.0
Yellow Submarine72.34278.3

The success of Past Masters 2 on my list, (sixth overall, tied for second for song content) even with lower flow and bias ratings, is alarming to album purists. It only gets worse when you include their best of albums, "Red", "Blue", and "1".
Red album 85.09599.0
Blue album85.09498.0

Now this top Beatles album list is starting took bad. The Red Album, due to being full of great songs, no filler, and has the bias of being the first Beatles album I've ever owned, skyrockets to the top of the list. The only detriment that album has is its tracklisting is in chronological order. For the most part, hearing their musical progression makes for an exciting listen. Though sometimes the songs just don't flow well together from one to the next. It's no side 2 of "Abbey Road" (otherwise known as the standard of flow).

It's about to get worse. Here comes a Beatles mix tape! A collection of great songs, each one flowing together perfectly, creating a perfect album to love and cherish. Is this mix tape my "favorite Beatles album of all time"?

1. I am the Walrus
2. Helter Skelter
3. Help!
4. Day Tripper
5. She Loves You
6. Hey Jude
7. Can't By Me Love
8. Revolution
9. I Should've Known Better
10. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
11. Tomorrow Never Knows
12. A Day in the Life

Okay, that's not a real mix tape of mine. But who knows, it just might be the greatest album of all time.