Books I’ve Been Reading & Films I’ve Been Watching (Ongoing) by Robert Nagle

Update: Left here for legacy reasons, but you should really look here and here for the most current lists.

This post contains a list of books I’ve been reading recently. Starting September 2004.
A few remarks. I’m reading several books at a time, and to be honest, sometimes I don’t read all of them depending on the content or my interest. Usually however, it’s been a matter of attention span and what other projects I’ve been doing. Also, you might want to check my book collection, my favorite novels, and my wishlist. Also here’s an annotated photo of my bookshelf Also, I haven’t read most of these books, but I’ve been setting up Amazon lists of classic Texas novels (100 novels and counting). At the bottom of this page you will find a list of movies I’ve been watching.

  1. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. Terrific.
  2. Definitive Guide to Plone by Andy McKay. Reading in preparation for a Slashdot book review. I’ve been reading this very carefully and trying out the examples.
  3. Dive Into Python by Mark Pilgrim. A bit over my head, but a good learning guide. I’ve been referring to other python programming guides.
  4. Tales of an Amorous Woman. Saikaku Ihara
  5. Lots of works by and about Anton Chekhov, including several anthologies and a collection of letters and Janet Malcolm’s biography
  6. Right Ho Jeeves by P.D. Wodehouse (audio)
  7. Penguin Lives biography of Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick
  8. Canzoniere, (Sonnets), Petrarch, trans. Mark Musa. Reading slowly, but it’s really great stuff!
  9. Life of Petrarch, Wilkins, Ernest Hatch, 1880-1966. Oops, I never got around to reading more than the first chapter.
  10. Boomtown by Greg Williams. Greg is a classmate of JHU’s writing workshop.
  11. A Book of Luminous Things : An International Anthology of Poetry
    by Czeslaw Milosz. A surprisingly accessible collection, with interesting comments by Milosz.
  12. Passage to India, EM Forster, for Great Books discussion group
  13. Othello by Shakespeare (also for discussion at Great Books).
  14. Fallen women: A sceptical enquiry into the treatment of prostitutes, their clients and their pimps, in literature by Martin Seymour-Smith. Good literary history with interesting treatment of Shakespeare.
  15. The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep, by WILLIAM C. DEMENT (audio).
  16. Dreaming of Hitler, personal literary essays by Daphne Merkin originally published in the New Yorker.
  17. Influence by Robert Cialdini. I’ve read this about 5 times and am reading the newest edition again!
  18. Dr. Kookie You’re Right and other articles by Mike Royko. Mike Royko is a Chicago journalist who writes funny anecdotal essays. One of my favorite writers to pick up when I don’t want to do anything. I’ve been reading several collections of his essays. His compilation, One More Time, Best of Mike Royko, is an excellent place to start.
  19. Lucian, Satires. A series of Voltairian parodies and sketches. Hilarious.
  20. Dante, a biography by Bocaccio. a short fascinating read.
  21. Plone Content Management Essentials by Julie Melioni. More for beginners than for developers, but very well written and easy to understand.
  22. What’s to Become of the Boy?: Or, Something to Do With Books, Heinrich Boll, short autobiographical essay about being a teenage boy in Nazi Germany before the war.
  23. Short Stories by Colette
  24. Child of the Century: Musset. This turbulent romantic work has lots of good moments and lots of excessive writing and emotions. Musset wrote this at the age of 25, and it shows. It lacks a “mature perspective,” but Musset taps into the egotistical nature of the Werther type personality. Good writing, but callow.
  25. Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig
  26. Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg
  27. Locked in the Cabinet, by Robert Reich. A delightfully funny insider’s account of working in Clinton’s White House by a former Secretary of Labor.
  28. The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren, a sobering account of how middle class families are struggling to stay afloat. Update: Didn’t finish; the book repeated itself and seemed to rely an awful lot on anecdotes. Interesting ideas here, but a definite agenda to watch out for.
  29. Common Nonsense — by Andrew A. Rooney. I’m almost ashamed to admit enjoying Andy Rooney as a writer; his droll essays are so throwaway. I’ve written previously about how much I enjoyed his world war II memoirs My War (which I wrote about here ). Colorful writers like Rooney and Royko are easy to dismiss, but oh! so pleasant to read. (update: I just bought another book of his! Oh, the shame!)
  30. Eating Well for Optimal Health by Andrew Weil, MD. Weil is an excellent author and nutritionist, and I read an earlier book by him in the 1990’s. This book tackles the nutrition problem from an almost anthropological point of view, recognizing the communal nature of good eating and offering insights into how it doesn’t necessarily conflict with good eating.
  31. Breathing Under Water and Other East European Essays by Stanislaw Baranczak
  32. Short Stories by Lu Hsun (on my ereader)
  33. Three Minutes or Less: Life Lessons from America’s Greatest Writers, by Pen Faulkner Foundation. Great 3 minute tales by the best American writers. Entertaining, cheap and a great gift book.
  34. Fiasco by Stanislaw Lem, an intriguing suspenseful and thought-provoking sci fi tale. (Update: The first 100 pages were fantastic, but the story became implausible, and the characters became dull.
  35. The New Guide to Modern World Literature by Martin Seymour-Smith, the 1985 literary reference guide to works written by authors alive for at least a time in the 20th century. Great infuriating opinions. This man reads in 20 different languages. Indispensible.
  36. (Jan 22, 2005) Master Class by Paul West. Paul West riffs about teaching a writing workshop.
  37. Twelve Chairs by by Ilya Ilf, Evgeny Petrov. Just started. As with Gogolesque Communist works, it always is a fine line trying to be comic and politically correct at the same time. Update: this book is not impressing me. Might not finish.
  38. How to Think like a Dinosaur by Jim Kelley. First class “humanist” sci fi stories. Starting.
  39. Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. A work of dizzying imagination (book on tape).
  40. 2 Books on XSL. Definitive XSLT and XPath by G. Ken Holman & Just XSL
    by John E. Simpson. I’ve read Holman’s XSLT reference and am familiar with Simpson’s chatty programming guides. XSL and XSLT is fairly involved, but luckily the tools and the object databases have improved considerably, making these things actually useful.
  41. Building Websites with Plone by Cameron Cooper, another excellent plone book. Might even be better and more comprehensive than McKay’s book.
  42. Feb 28, 2005. Six Records of a Floating Life (Penguin Classics)by Shen Fu. Short novella/autobiography about an official and his wife. Besides giving an excellent glimpse into aspects of Chinese culture (flower arrangement, filial piety and mythologies), this story is fascinating and lovely to read. At times the story is sad, but you appreciate the ability to go into the world of 18th century China.
  43. Writers at the Movies: Twenty-six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty-six Memorable Movies. A good collection of short readable essays on cinema. Impulse buy at a nearby bookstore. I’ll be nibbling on this a while.
  44. Crystal Express, short stories by sci fi writer. Bruce Sterling. Futurist and author, Sterling also cranks out a lot of fiction. He presents at sxsw every year and hosts a famous party on the last evening. I’ve been mooching his food at his party for the last three years and I’ve decided that it would only be fair to read one book of his a year (or at least a story) before mooching again. I’ve already read his excellent and fun Tomorrow Now . I just started his book, but the first story, Swarms is a real humdinger! Update: These stories later go into Schismatrix Plus, which I’m now going to read soon. Update Number 2: I can’t quite figure what to make of Schismatrix Plus. Way too plotty and full of cybernetic/biologically enhanced characters for me to care. The two stories I loved came from the story cycle, but the sequence as presented in this book confused me.
  45. March 16 2005. A Rebellious Heroine, John Kendrick Bangs. Free download, metafictional comedy. Looks cerebral and light-hearted. And funny. (Upon finishing) I am feeling very positive about what’s going on ontologically here, although the conceit is somewhat cute.
  46. Stable Strategies by Eileen Gunn, fantasy stories with a satirical edge.
  47. Platty and Pongo (unpublished) a brilliant and hilarious pseudo children’s novella by San Antonio writer (and college friend) Michael Barrett.
  48. Crescent: A Novel by Diana Abu-Jaber. Well-received novel by California/Arab writer. Listening to it on tape. Update: The novel has grand moments, but near the end I felt that the action was a little manipulated for narrative effect; nonetheless the characters are rich and interesting, as are the dramatic situations. This is one of the few novels that has tried to engage a political theme (an Iraqi expatriate), and it succeeds in not sounding too preachy.
  49. Digital Video Pocket Guide by Derrick Story (Oreilly). Good intro to the basic stuff and techniques. With some framemaker-pro specific info (yech!)
  50. HDTV for Dummies, a surprisingly useful book on HDTV technologies by Danny Briere.
  51. Sleeping Fires by Victorian writer George Gissing. on my ebook reader.
  52. An Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett (free, on my ereader). This long book, raved about by Martin-Seymour Smith, is easy to get into and seems to be more of a character study than a plotted novel. (I just started). It’s a bit slow going, although I appreciate Bennett’s fascination with ordinary people and ordinary lives. This is a long book, so I’ll be staying with it a while. Update: This is now one of my alltime favorite books.
  53. Contempt by Alberto Moravia. (also the inspiration for the Godard film, which I saw last year). I’ve only started this book, but I can tell immediately that it will be one of my favorites. Strong, psychological, couples-related. I’m not a huge fan of Moravia, but this work could make me a convert.
  54. Classical Music: Third Ear: The Essential Listening Companion, Harold C. Schonberg. A classical music reference work. Admittedly I’ve only been browing through it.
  55. April 23 2005 Tie-Fast Country: A Novel by Robert Flynn. Flynn, a former writing teacher of mine, writes novels with a Texas regional theme, sometimes involving cowboys. In this wonderful book, he alternates the lives of a grandmother rancher and a program manager of a local TV news network. Funny, acerbic and full of guilty pleasures and unromanticized insight into the cowboy lifestyle. I’ve read 3 books by Flynn so far, and this one seems to have the most interesting characters and story structure. Update: The ending didn’t really deliver, but it wasn’t a total loss. (Here’s my long essay about it).
  56. Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. (audio book version, read by Anna Massey). I’m a fan of Hitchcock’s film version, and I’m pleasantly surprising how deeply this novel gets into the psychology of the characters and maintains suspense. Anna Massey is a remarkable reader too.
  57. Indulekha by O. Chandumenon, 19th century Indian writer. Looks great, philosophical and poetic (reminiscient of Tagore). Update: started good, but a typical forced marriage plot, interspersed with philosophical dialogues on the human heart. 90 pages into this story, I can’t say I’ve figured out what kind of beast this book will be.
  58. Problems in Titian: Mostly Iconographic by Erwin Panofsky; famous art prof riffs about my favorite artist (Titian, although Bronzino, Ingres & Frieseke are up there too). I think I just enjoy paintings of beautiful ignudos.
  59. City of Truth by James Morrow. Satirical sci fi novella about people who live in a city where everything people say must be the literal truth. This clever light-hearted novella is comic and superbly written, and I like how the book’s writing style changes from more literal language to metaphorical language as the story progresses. James Morrow writes about many biblical and spiritual themes, although he doesn’t knock you over the head with it.
  60. Venice Observed, by Mary McCarthy. Supposedly a coffee table book about Venetian art, it is in fact McCarthy’s idiosyncratic (and fascinating) retelling of Venetian history, intermixed with her observations on contemporary Venetian life (well, life in the mid 1950’s) and other people’s perceptions of Venice over time. I only had time to read 2/3 of this before the library book was due, but reading it makes me want to revisit Ruskin’s Stones of Venice essays. One note: the publisher did a horrifying job of putting this book together. None of the illustrations have anything to do with McCarthy’s discussions.
  61. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the principles of screenwriting by Robert McKee. A surprisingly insightful book on the practical aspects of writing screenplays, both for film and TV. After reading it I’m less enamored of the book than originally; there’s a lot of prescriptive analysis that seems needlessly reductionist; It’s hard to accept all of McKee’s formulas and archetypes, and he seems to believe that in the plot v. character debate, plot takes precedence. Similarly, he has an annoying smugness about arthouse films; he seems more tolerant of Hollywood films (and by implication the Hollywood production model). His examples about constructing and editing beats (using Kramer v. Kramer, Chinatown as examples) are good exercises.
  62. Decameron by Boccacio. Just started.
  63. Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger. This indispensable book covers the history of the documentary genre, narrative techniques and practical advice for managing such a project. I’ve read only 100 pages, and have learned a tremendous amount not only about filmmaking but about narrative in general. Rabiger’s book is so good because it is geared towards lowbudget/independent filmmaking. On the basis of this book, I can assume that his companion book, Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, Third Edition, is equally valuable.
  64. Bronzino by MAURICE BROCK. Coffee table artbook/biography which is surprisingly engaging. Italian Renaissance art is a hobby of mine.
  65. Learning to Program by Alan Gault. This online book covers programming basics, mainly on python, but also does a compare/contrast between languages (such as javascript). A surprisingly easy and useful book. Believe it or not, I learned a lot about python last summer and fall, but I’d fallen away from it and needed a refresher. This book fits the needs perfectly.
  66. Digital Video Hacks by Joshua Paul. Group written Oreilly book about video production. I’m reading it in preparation for a Slashdot book review.
  67. Lighting for Digital Video & Television, Second Edition John Jackman. Great introductory book to lighting techniques and equipment.
  68. On film editing : an introduction to the art of film construction by Edward Dmytryk, a surprisingly relevant book about the language of films.
  69. Producing Great Sound for Digital Video, by Jay Rose. Another great primer on sound for video production
  70. In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch. an insightful look into film editing. Profound.
  71. 303 Digital Filmmaking Solutions, Chuck Gloman, lots of quick tips to video production. A slight tilt toward commercial production, but lots of good experiences and anecdotes. Great index of tips, special effects, tricks.
  72. The Complete Kama Sutra: tr. Alain Danilou. This complete translation reads more as a social and religious tract than as a sex manual. Fascinating on many levels, especially in how it reveals Indian attitudes towards love, marriage, duty and spirituality.
  73. Ascetic of Desire: A Novel of the Kama Sutra, Sudhir Kakar; a novel about a character who meets Vatsayana, Kama Sutra’s author. Interesting, sexy and enjoyable reading (so far).
  74. Decorations In a Ruined Cemetary, by John Gregory Brown. Brown is a JHU classmate who won a $200,000 fellowship on the basis of this novel. The novel is slow, evocative and involving emotions and their relations to memory. It has a New Orleans theme, so I thought I’d read it post-Katrina.
  75. Freedom of Expression by Kembrew McLeod. This creative commons work details some of the lunacies of copyright law, including derivative works and the follies of trying to obtain clearance. McLeod rails against corporate ownership of creative content and does a good job of relating the intertextuality debates of structuralist/deconstructionist criticism to public policy debates on fair use and copyright. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book is how McLeod relates the need to challenge corporate control of culture to the dadaistic desire to mock the social valuations of culture. Particularly recommended here are the sections on music sampling cases, which are horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
  76. Alive and Well in Pakistan : A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time by Ethan Casey; Casey is a literary travel journalist who decided to visit and live in Pakistan post 9/11. Besides choosing a fascinating subject, Casey’s literary treatment is a delight in and of itself. Highly recommended.
  77. 2 Works on the History of Musical Recording: A century of recorded music : listening to musical history by Timothy Day. Edison, musicians, and the phonograph : a century in retrospect by Harvith. In my research about copyright, I read portions of both books. The first book covers mainly classical music. The second covers fascinating interviews with people who recorded music over time, starting with several people who recorded with Edison’s own phonograph company. Interesting, though esoteric.
  78. White rose of weary leaf by Violet Hunt. Novel that I’ll be scanning into the public domain pretty soon. Hunt was a notable female writer in the early 20th century. This work is considered to be her finest. Update: After reading some more and learning more about Hunt’s biography, I’m coming to the conclusion that this book is not as interesting as it appeared. Too much jabbering and not enough becoming.
  79. So Many Books, Gabriel Zaid. Ruminations of living in a society with plentiful literature and not enough people to enjoy them.
  80. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje. Extended thoughts by Murch on various film projects. Great anecdote about how he reedited Welles’ Touch of Evil to conform with Welles’ original instructions. Update: This book just gets better and better. I’m now calling it one of the most important essays on art and creativity I’ve found.
  81. Mary Robison, Tell Me (30 Stories). Fun, perplexing stories.
  82. Voice Book, Michael McCallion, comprehensive book about training your voice by famous voice coach.
  83. Hesiod, Theogony. 30 page poem about how the Greek gods came to Parnassus. Of historical interest mainly; still some of the depictions are interesting to read about.
  84. Accidental Buddhist, by Dinty Moore. Off-the-wall first person account about an American who discovers Zen Buddhism. Enjoyable reading by the writer/editor and master of creative short fiction.
  85. Python Cookbook by Alex Martelli. Not really “reading” this book, merely skimming. But it looks good so far. Update: this kind of book really works. Reminds me a lot of Mark Pilgrim’s Dive into Python. It contains user-submitted recipes and includes commentary from the author and the recipe submitter. A simple formula, but it really has a lot of pedagogical value.
  86. Joyce Carol Oates The Assignation. A lot of Oates’ shorter pieces seem like exercises than living pieces, but the sentences read like gems. I am prepared to enjoy the experience of reading than what I’ve read.
  87. Collected Stories of Peter Taylor, started.

I might as well list film titles and plays. Actually I watch a lot of TV, sitcoms and serials downloaded from the Net. Also see my somewhat tongue-in-cheek Doomed Romance Film Series List (!)

  1. Midnight Cowboy. It had great moments, but Roger Ebert’s lukewarm assessment about sums it up.
  2. She Done Him Wrong (Mae West)
  3. Garden State
  4. Fahrenheit 911
  5. Swimming Pool
  6. Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune (play in Chicago)
  7. Camp Nimrod for Girls (play in Chicago starring a friend Michelle Dahlenburg)
  8. Lots of old Twilight Zone episodes
  9. Insomnia: film by Skjoldbj?rg, Erik
  10. Solaris, 1972, dir Andre Tarkovsky. Truly one of my favorites. Read my thoughts about the actress Nataliya Bondarchuk
  11. Memento. Suspense film with a trick.
  12. Primer, a low budget sci fi film made by a Texas engineer. Fascinating.
  13. Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward (play at UH School of Theatre)
  14. Drew Carey Show, TV sitcom
  15. As Times goes by, BBC TV Series, (started)
  16. Rich & Famous by John Guare (play). One of Guare’s lesser comedies (which I didn’t particularly care for).
  17. Smokey and the Bandit, cops and robbers film I saw as a child.
  18. I Hate Hamlet! play by Paul Rudnick (actually I saw this earlier in the year). Great UH performance.
  19. In the Mood for Love, a lovely understated Hong Kong love story, dir Kar Wai Wong.
  20. Princess Caribou, a moderately amusing historical comedy. Phoebe Cates glows
  21. Lost in Translation, a dreadfully boring film.
  22. Flowers of Shanghai by Hsiao-hsien Hou. A subtle thoughtful work about brothel life in 19th century Shanghai during the opium decade. Slow and full of pauses, the film highlights the tentative existence of the mistresses and their treatment as chattel by wealthy visitors. The film is not degrading, but depicts the women as beautiful toys in a world of comfort and luxury. And yet, the spectator sees the emptiness and despair in the women’s existence. The connections between this and Robert Bresson are clear.
  23. In Good Company, a funny mainstream satire of corporate takeovers. Surprisingly entertaining, although it stuck to Hollywood formula in some respects.
  24. Million Dollar Baby: Typical mainstream hollywood “drama” (the quotation marks are essential). The characters are caricatures, the emotions manipulative, but some of the cinematic effects (the gross one) are at least striking and original.
  25. Ghost World, Thora Birch/Scarlet Johansen high school comedy. Well, this didn’t quite work, but it was harmless fun. I like the ambling quality to it, (reminiscient of Jafar Panahi’s White Balloon), and the fact that time is almost going nowhere. I’m pretty well-versed in the teenage wierdo experiencing angst genre, but at least this film seems to recognize that the girl’s nonconformist tastes are simply poses and not really a part of her identity. Liking the film depends on whether you accept that Birch’s character would actually develop an “intellectual crush” on the record collector, and I think that it’s credible under the circumstances.
  26. Closer, (Natalie Portman, Jude Law, etc). Titillating and slightly obnoxious romp into the libido of 4 sexually attractive people. Based on a play. Intelligent dialogue (and filthy), but little development. One scene seemed to work: the strip club scene with Natalie Portman’s character and Clive Owen.
  27. Rapture, dir Michael Tolkin. Excellent character study of a sinning woman who lets herself become “saved” and has to live through the consequences. Excellent acting, script and great existential premise. The theme is how do we know whether religious or spiritual experiences are actually valid or simply figments of our imagination. It grapples with doubt and redemption very successfully.
  28. Great Ziegfeld, one of my alltime favorite musicals. Luise Rainier is precious, and that wedding cake sequence!
  29. Return to Oz, a nearly great sequel to Wizard of Oz based on Frank Baum’s book. It doesn’t have the magic of the original, but the story is still compelling and fun, and there are lots of surprises. Update: I later learned that this was directed by Walter Murch, author of the Book Conversations (see my post about Walter Murch). He discusses certain key scenes of the film in the interview book. Walter Murch is everywhere!
  30. Persona (Bergman). This is my favorite film which I’ve seen dozens of times, and this time I watched the DVD release. Watching it again, I’m aware (and accepting) of its imperfections, as well as how simple it was to produce the modernist effects.
  31. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a genre-breaking French musical, clever and melancholy and romantic, with an understated lovely ending. Although the director takes some liberties with the narrative structure, it was not too heavy-handed, and the end (well, the ending) justified the means.
  32. Mister Hell, a low budget horror flick produced in Houston.
  33. Good Girl, mediocre quirky star vehicle starring Jennifer Aniston. The main thing I enjoyed was the retail setting (I was a supermarket cashier for 7 years and can relate).
  34. Breaking Away, bicycling competition/small town coming of age comedy. One of my alltime faves. Watching again, the script looked less remarkable than I remembered previously (although it had some good one liners). The race at the end is absolutely amazing, from every angle. Watching it again, what strikes me the most is the sound and sound editing. During the race, everything is muted, except for the whirring of the bicycles, punctured briefly by crowd noises and very low noises of the announcer. It is almost a dreamlike state. When the main rider comes to the pitstop after the fall, he’s groaning in agony on the bench, while his less-athletic teammates are staring in utter confusion. “Get on the bike! ” the injured boy yells, “Get on the bike!” That moment, when you realize that his teammates were totally unprepared to do any riding during the race and had been intending to let the biker dude do all the riding, is just a fabulous moment. And then the few seconds, where the three of them awkwardly figure out who’s going to take up the bike is frustrating, agonizing, hilarious all wrapped up together!
  35. Triangle, a surprisingly competent TV horror/suspense about a haunted ship. Directed by Lewis Teague
  36. Apartment Zero, a slow suspense film. After 30 minutes, I was bored, but I might watch the rest of it (after browsing through the raves on amazon/imdb).
  37. Sotto Sotto by Lina Wertmuller. A lyrical comic film. After 30 minutes of it, I became bored, although I knew that watching the rest of it wouldn’t be unpleasant. It’s probably a couples comedy, with zany characters, a song or two and lots of good outdoor footage. It doesn’t take a lot of risks.
  38. Red Shoes, 1940’s musical ballet on film with an amazingly evocative set piece in the middle. Although the characters were interesting, the plot and the resolution was weak. I am so sick of characters falling off cliffs and getting in car wrecks just to give something the whiff of tragedy.
  39. 7 Up, Michael Apted’s milestone documentary tracking the growing up of 20 British children from various social backgrounds. He releases a new documentary every 7 years, and I just got on the wagon today. I watched 7 Up and 7 Plus 7 (Them at 14), and was struck by how the director is trying unsuccessfully to manipulate the documentary to make his social and political points. As the documentary progresses, I have a feeling that he will drop that ambition and simply record the fluid nature of their maturation and their changing perspective from a personal (not a political) perspective.
  40. Man with the Movie Camera–Vertov; Artsy, clever 1920s Russian silent film. Never a dull moment here; it’s all about angles and motion and contrasts (the comparison with Koyaanisqati comes to mind, especially with the minimalist music of Michael Nyman for this version). Ultimately, the story lacks focus, and we never really stay with one character for very long (except for the character who is supposed to be the filmmaker). This film successfully straddles socialist realism with the avante-garde, and the reflexive nature of the subjects makes us forgiving of its lack of a point.
  41. Decalogue, by Krzysztof Kieslowski; 10 hours of Polish TV with stories themed around the 10 Commandments. These have been terrific and understated, moral without moralizing. I’ve watched 1,2, 3, 4, 8,9, 10 so far. Update: I’ve watched all them now. My faves: 1 (I am the Lord your God), 5 (Thou Shall Not Kill), 7 (Honor your Mother and Father), and 10 (Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods). If I have time, I might write more on the main portion of my weblog.
  42. Celebration, directed by Thomas Vinterberg. One of the first (if not The First) Dogme 95 films. The plot is interesting and full of twists, though the characters were larger than life and the central conflict (the awkward revelation of a family secret at a reunion) probably would have caused the reunion to come to a halt instead of proceeding as it did here. Also, some aspects of the reunion party are hard to believe; hiding keys? people returning to the banquet hall after the outburst? Not much was lost cinematically in this film’s “vow of chastity” (Dogma’s pledge to minimalist production values), although there were an abundance of rooms with large windows and lots of fields and outdoor settings (A filmmaker in an urban city would not have such amenities readily available and in fact, clearance problems would make outdoor shooting very difficult). The highlight of the film were the 20 minutes of night scenes using matches, muted indoor lights and lots of shadows. I couldn’t believe how this director managed to pull it off.
  43. 21 Up, a sequel in the Up Series. The most interesting insight I gained from this volume is that 21 Up revealed more about 14 Up than the people at the age of 21. At 21 these individuals have learned to give an act for the camera, to reveal certain parts of themselves that will not embarrass themselves totally. It’s not an unintentional dishonesty nor does it harm the overall viewing experience, but it’s important to remember that you may not learn what is reallygoing on in their life until the next episode or later. The self-referential nature of the film is wonderful; as one character put it, these 7 year jumps give the misleading impression that getting into Oxford or getting married was painless or without struggle. The film contains a lot of suspense about what is happening with each person; a question that nags at the viewer is: which person is going to turn out the happiest or most successful? Will it be the one with all the social advantages? Or the underdog? Who will be the first person to undergo a personal tragedy?
  44. Yeelen, Mali film of a legendary magical story. I don’t have much of a context to understand this film, but it was interesting, though not a totally satisfying experience on the small TV screen. I would have loved to watch this on HDTV where the panaramic views of the desert could be better appreciated. Sometimes this story went by too slowly, and quite frankly the main character wasn’t terribly interesting (a little too stoic for my tastes). I’m uncertain about whether the cinematic treatment of the story would have worked. On the one hand, you can take advantage of natural settings. On the other hand, lots of it might have looked better in a stylized presentation onstage. As such, the individuals just don’t look imposing onscreen; maybe it needed more closeups for the action shots. I wasn’t quite sure whether to regard the protagonist as an individual or as a mythical or even religious figure.
  45. Galaxyquest, a mock sci fi epic, involving an alien race that mistakenly assumes that a TV show about space explorers is in fact a historical document. Some funny jabs at the Star Trek franchise, but not worth watching unless you are incarcerated or too sick to make a trip to the video store.
  46. Smile, a charming light-hearted 1975 satire of beauty contests and the middle aged people who run the scenes. Lots of stars (including my heartthrob Barbara Feldon), lots of terrible musical numbers (hilarious), lots of bawdy scenes. At one or two parts it goes over the top, but all in all a very sweet comedy.
  47. 28 Up, an interesting episode, especially when finding who has dropped out and who hasn’t. The director decided to give a little extra coverage to one person, who seems slightly mentally ill and down-on-his luck. Great interaction between subjects and spouses, and interesting to note that three of the more educated people dropped out (2 are lawyers). I am curious if they reappear in later episodes. Delightful to see one couple now in USA.
  48. Open Water, a surprisingly intelligent film about a married couple being left at sea. Although the ending didn’t feel right, I was hard pressed to come up with a better one. Sidenote: I wrote a similar short story about survival at sea stories and can report that my research showed that it’s quite common for people to survive several days at sea without potable water, despite what the film portrayed. Interesting note: this film was shot originally with a Sony VX2100 camera, which I’m thinking of buying.
  49. Last Life in the Universe, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. I wrote about it here.
  50. Compromis France, Sebastien Sort. Clever 15 minute video short spoofing the artistic compromises directors make.
  51. Waiting for Godot, directed by Samuel Beckett! Videotaped version directed, the only authorized videotape version by Beckett himself. Smithsonian release, 1993. I’m no fan of Beckett, and the story drags (2 1/2 hours), but the acting was extraordinary, and it’s easy to see themes in the 2nd act. My favorite line (when Pozzo lost his glasses: “I think I left it at the manor on the Steinway.”). I think the tedium would translate better into a radio play than a staged performance, even though there were theatrical effects (the hat, the whip, the shoes). Ultimately, the abstract symbolic nature of the comedy renders it irrelevant to modern day living; it’s hard to relate the isolation of these characters in an imaginary world to a universal existential predicament. Yes, there is repetition, loneliness and boredom in life, but nowadays, we are too much in a rush to notice it. I was struck in Act 2 at the foreshadowing of death, the certainty that the daily rituals to pass the time would ultimately end (the play is more a commentary on old age and retirement than everyday living). One effect that made the video particularly interesting: the interaction between Gogo/Didi and the boy. When I helped the crew on a performance in high school, the boy was dressed in a uniform, cheerful, optimistic, efficient. In this version, he is dumbstruck, clueless, unsure of himself or even what he is supposed to be doing.
  52. Touch of Zen, classic Chinese action drama based on classic literature. Unfortunately the damn DVD was defective, so I only watched Part 1!
  53. Head, a Monkees rock movie, recommended by Filmbrain. Couldn’t get into it.
  54. Russian Ark, dir by Aleksandr Sokurov. Famous for its single sustained take. I ended up stopping midway. The continuous tracking shot was a novel effect, but the director didn’t
    really do much with it, and often the setting was static enough not to
    really justify a longish tracking shot. The dialogue was weak, the characters didn’t grab me, and I didn’t really enjoy what the director was doing. The director just didn’t do
    anything with this technological limitation imposed on the project. It reminded me a bit of those first person shooter videogames. As much as I wanted to be enthralled, I found the tracking shot to be both monotonous and distracting. Movies like Ark introduces a new film syntax,
    which is fine, but I just don’t see why. The tracking shots might have produced more dramatic effects for two or three scenes, but not if it’s used for the entire frickin film.
  55. Princess Diaries, Walt Disney. A loathsome, laughable film which I watched only because I had a headache. Light-hearted enough, but the underlying themes bothered me. To wit, that having a fancy hairdo makes you gorgeous, that all teenagers are single-mindedly cruel, that the girl’s three story apartment was considered “living in squalor,” that secrets are kept for 15 years and all of a sudden sprung on teenage girls, that luxurious living is a dreary necessity. The movie is about one thing: making lavish, ornate sets. And so this mythical country (a conceit I partially accepted) is having their ball in San Francisco? So the grandmother buys/rents out a mansion purely to be close to her granddaughter (doesn’t she have more important things on her mind?). So all the guests at this diplomatic reception speak English almost fluently? For the love of god, couldn’t Disney have paid the 50,000 bucks to rent out some Pacific Island to shoot their scenes? Yes, Anna Hathaway is adorable, and anything with Julie Andrews is a treat (though a grandmother?!). Loved the Mandy Moore number as well as certain minor details (barfing during debate class, changing panty house inside a limo), but all in all, empty calories. Update: For a more more amusing denunciation of this film, check this out. If you are looking for the royalty in America theme, the best example is Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, which is corny, charming and utterly hilarious.
  56. 35 Up, a film that is only becoming more profound. Highlights: the arrogant solicitor returns to the project after previously dropping out to promote his Bulgarian charity. The nuclear scientist’s wife backs out because she didn’t like her portrayal in the previous volume. Truthfully, these 35 year olds seem very jaded and unnaturally old for their age (maybe it comes with having children). One can’t help making comparisons with one’s own life, comparing how and when we matured, as well as when the glumness sets in. 42 UP, which I’m going to watch this weekend should provide more worldly wisdom. It definitely has a soap opera quality to it, and it’s wierd watching these people as children, and suddenly they are older than I am .(In the next episode anyway)
  57. 42 Up, great finish to a great documentary series. I think I’ll write about it separately, but a few favorite parts: the physics teacher hopes that the fame of his physics research will overshadow the fame gained from this film (fat chance), the woman singing a Carpenters song in a lounge, the return of certain people and the disappearance of others. Not to be missed is the director’s commentary, which is practically a course in producing documentaries.
  58. Napolean Dynamite, an unremarkable dorky teen film. The only whiffs of originality come not from the nerdy characters but the unconventional rural settings.
  59. Blind Shaft, Yang Li, gritty underground Chinese film about two migrant mine workers who murder another worker in a scheme to profit from the insurance money. Cynical and perhaps a little farfetched, the film had remarkable settings and set pieces (especially inside the mines, and in the brothel and open markets). It’s a side of China that Western audiences never see.
  60. 6ixty9, another (earlier) offering by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Spectacular & succinct cinematographic syntax, though ultimately wasted on a stupid gangster/murder plot. I just love the lighting and camera shots, and the protagonist’s apartment is cleverly photographed (that’s where all the mayhem takes place, with all its nooks and crannies).
  61. Badlands, Terrence Malick. Interesting character study of a humane outlaw who apologizes for killing people. Great early work with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Spacek had the harder role; liking the film depends on whether you can accept that the female character would passively go along with him on his spree. My, Spacek had lots of freckles!
  62. River, Dir Renoir. Beautiful film about Bengali idea which actually put me to sleep two separate times. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, though these coming-of-age dramas can really be plotless sometimes (“And then this happened, and then that happened, and then…”). Among the highlights: one girl reading aloud another girl’s “secret diary,” child’s wonder at a snake charmer, a girl’s first kiss as watched by two other girls. I like how the protagonist was in fact not the center of the story, though an outsider. But the story never really amounted to much.
  63. REMEMBRANCE (18:40, 2001) Stephanie Morgenstern (Territory). Beautiful short about a man with the ability to remember everything. Lovely cinematic effects, though ultimately I wanted to see it as a feature.
  64. The Heart of the World, Guy Maddin. Wierd and clever parody of early Soviet sci fi propaganda films. Kitschy.
  65. Wishful Thinking. Surprisingly well-done Hollywood-produced romantic comedy starring John Stewart and Drew Barrymore, written & directed by Adam Park. Although its dramatic aspirations are not immense, the narrative of 3 sections interweaving the stories of each characters (in Rashomon style) is clever and provocative. Ultimately, the story doesn’t bring great melodrama, but the characters are real, flawed and sympathetic. Just when one thinks the male protagonist is going to go psycho, he calms down and becomes terribly human. ,
  66. One Hour Photo, starring Robin Williams, dir Mark Romanek. Chilling and somewhat absurd story about a harmless/harmful stalker guy at the local photomat. Ignore the plot, characters and for a moment concentrate on the stunning visuals and sets of the shopping mall. As one commentator pointed out, the colors of the protagonist just blend into the artificially cheery colors of the products on the shelf. I do appreciate how the film doesn’t try to become too outrageous. Kudos to Williams for staying as muted as the story itself needs him to.
  67. Wayne’s World 2, a surprisingly well done self-conscious sequel to the first film. It’s a shock to see that the talented Mike Myers did those terrible Austin Powers comedies afterwards.
  68. Clueless (rewatched on cable). One of my faves. As good as I remembered. Two details that stand out: Alicia Silverstone having a scene where she and her stepbrother have a minor tiff and she insists, “Well it’s not like you’re my brother!” Actually I missed that point the first time around, and I recognize that the writers put this scene in precisely to prevent this misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the structure of the film itself left this detail ambiguous. The visual jokes were great (the nasal protectors, the “Hanging with the Homeboys” reprise, etc). The shopping sprees were excuses for exhibitionism, but we tolerate and secretly enjoy these things.
  69. Blues Brothers (on TV, for the 100th time). One comment. The concert scene had about 10 different camera angle, with lots of quick cuts. As a result, the scene was absolutely exciting, with lots of interplay between audience and performers. But how many takes were required?
  70. Rock ‘n Roll High School, Corman/Allan Arkush campy rock and roll musical. The great thing about this film is how it fulfilled every single high school fantasy, even to the point of cruelty. High point: P.J. Soles imagines herself being serenaded by the Ramones’ singer in her bedroom.
  71. Eddie Murphy’s Raw. Comedian Concert performance, with great set pieces and storytelling pieces. Funny how in this footage there are no jokes per se but just great stories. The last story ended on a strange hilarious note: a foul-mouthed father answering the phone who tells his son about how they grew up so poor that they had to eat their toys for food. As good as this is, I’ve been told by every Amazon/imdb poster that Murphy’s true masterpiece is Delirious (not yet out on DVD).
  72. Eddie Murphy, Delirious. Funny live act movie. Not remarkable, just funny.
  73. 20 Dates, directed by and starring Myles Berkowitz. This film was panned by critics, but I enjoyed lots of moments: the cameos with Robert McGee, the restaurant scenes where the star runs out of money, the feminist ballet dancer. Ok, it may be a puton, but the experiences are true to life.