Friday, February 12, 2016

Februrary Thaw

When a short warm spell broke the back of the winter of '70 it was good excuse for my then-girlfriend (shared, it's complicated) to play hooky in the cemetery. Splashing around in the puddles, her cuffs soon became soaked—like a little kid's.

She acted like things were the same between us, but I could see that she was giving me a thorough inspection.

When she finally was convinced that I wasn't going to die, we walked back to the car:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Would That It T'were So Simple

The Coen Brothers on set with Josh Brolin and George Clooney, Universal

Hail Caesar! 
A Coen Brothers film.

I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers work, they even have their own 'section' in my DVD library. Whenever they release a new movie I'm there on its opening weekend. Hail Caesar! is a giddy romp through the now obsolete world of the Hollywood studio system of the early 50s. I won't give any plot summary other than the most basic: Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 'fixer' for Capitol Pictures goes through a series of tribulations on and off the studio during a day and a half of his life.

The Coens movies aren't for everyone. There is so much information in them that each one of them usually requires multiple viewings to allow it all to sink in. Many people don't have the depth of knowledge needed to be able to pick up on the various obscure references these films contain and find them uninteresting. That fact, coupled with the almost perverse situations in which the Coens place their characters, might give even the most open minded viewer pause (Joel Coen once described The Man Who Wasn't There as a film about a barber who wants to be a dry cleaner.) Despite all  that, I think it would be a sad world indeed if there were no Coen Brothers comedies. Hail Caesar!, while not as uproariously funny as, say, the middle third of The Hudsucker Proxy,  is humorous and packed full of philosophy—much as A Serious Man was.

Hail Caesar! is notable for its cast—almost all the principals are stars in their own right and even relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, playing a 'bad' actor, lights up the screen.  The production is, of course, first-rate.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has worked with the Coens numerous times, is able to accurately portray the six different 'films within the film' as well as capturing the early 50s world which the actors and directors inhabit.

One note on the some of the disparaging reviews of HC I've read: there is a large number of critics who insist that Hail Caesar! is, compared to their other efforts,  a 'minor' Coen Brothers film. These types of reviews have always surfaced with almost every one of their films, The Big Lebowski was especially savaged upon its release, Inside Llewyn Davis was another. One reviewer of Hail Caesar even proclaimed that the 90 second (!) swimming  sequence in HC  'interminable': this is definitely not a film for those suffering with ADHD.  Fortunately, most reviews have been sympathetic, if sometimes missing the point. The Coen's films are modern morality plays, thinly disguised as light entertainment, but there is always more to them than what they reveal on a first impression.

I you want to read a "real" critic who does understand Hail Caesar and the Brothers Coen, check out the great Sheila O'Malley's glowing review.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 6 


Monday, February 08, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #48

Ist das ein Eisberg?

Saturday I found myself in the company of a posse of exploratory Germans, heading northwest to Snæfellsnes on a day trip. We started in the dark, braved the swirling snows north of Borgarnes, and were out on Snæfellsnes by the time it was bright enough to see the ghost of the mountain spine down the center. The moon hung overhead, still fat and nearly full, and the air had that fresh Icelandic country flavor I adore so much.

By the time we reached Arnarstapi at the south of the tip, the sun was properly up, creating window-glow and turning the clouds above the mountains pink. There´s a tiny harbor there, among improbable turrets of moss-topped basalt. On that quiet Saturday morning, the only other activity was a trio of fishermen at work on their little boat. The faint sounds of the radio announcer drifted out from the open car door on the dock, and there were muffled clunks and engine noises coming from inside the ship. Down there at the edge of the country the rocks contort themselves into fantastic curves, cliffs, and parapets, the castle walls that protect Iceland. It's a place I want to visit more, wander on those little paths that disappear over the undulations of the landscape. It's always been just a day trip though, and the plans of the day snatch me away before I'm able to go around that next corner.

We stopped for lunch at the turf-roofed kaffistofa there, where the low wood-framed room inside was cozy and the coffee was plentiful. The lone attendant there, a woman d'un certain age, was resolutely non-English speaking in spite of the foreign crowd, but pressed the coffee refills on us, and brought us our fish-flavored french fries quickly. By the time we departed, the weather was looking a bit lower but we continued on to the famous rock formations at the end. These frozen lava-splashes look like sentinels keeping watch at the end of the peninsula, and are accompanied by a wide beach composed entirely of black lava pebbles that have been tumbled and smoothed by the busy sea there. It's the perfect place to find a pocket-rock, a smooth hand-held memory of other places that you find when you tuck your hand into your winter coat pocket. I selected a promising one and tucked it into my mitten, where it grew warm as the seawater dried off.

There's an old shed near the beach there that's gradually being consumed by the landscape that surrounds it. The windows and doors are missing, the bolts holding it together are rusting brilliantly, and detritus from fishermen clutter the more solid corners. It's the kind of place that's crowded with ghosts of other times, and I always wonder if those who constructed it enjoyed the astounding location, or was it just a nuisance to be there in that relentless wind, with waves the height of two men roaring against the coastline? I see these places after arriving comfortably in a car, full of hot coffee and sandwiches, knowing that I don't rely on this tormented sea beyond for my very life.

By then the light was beginning to look murky and we'd planned to get a bit closer to Snæfellsjökull before going, so we all got back in the cars and headed for the road that goes into the mountains. After assessing the experience and the vehicles, we decided to change the plan, and instead hiked the kilometer up to Sönghellir, the singing cave. It had started to snow in earnest by then, so we followed the tire tracks up into almost complete whiteness, the snowflakes plastering our backs and the wind swirling around our heads.

The cave is a very tiny entrance that opens into a dry ante-chamber, and beyond that I don't really know, since nobody had planned to come here, and we were flashlightless. I managed a few dazzling looks at the tiny area we were in by taking flash pictures, which illuminated the walls briefly, but brilliantly enough that I could make out the scrawled initials from the centuries of visitors in the past. Must come back with better light!

When we came out, the snow had blown away, displaying the view below, a wide arc of seacoast and mountains, so monochromatically perfect and cloud-swathed that they looked painted. How can I ever doubt that this is the place I should live when the views are like this? Still, the darkness was closing in, as was another snow squall, so we traipsed back down the hill and made our way into the gloom back to Borgarnes.

In Borgarnes, the flames from the elf-fire were swirling brightly on the opposite side of the causeway, and the tail-lights there indicated something exciting was going to happen, so we pulled in just in time to witness a dazzling fireworks display and the last burning of sparklers and little rockets. We stayed by the warmth of the fire for a few minutes, watching as the last sparklers were lit and the final New Year greetings were exchanged. By the time we also departed, only one vigilant fire-watcher remained.

The trip back was dominated by the distant city-glow of Reykjavik behind the mountains, and by the time we rounded the edge of Esja, we could see the fireworks blooming over the spread-out stretch of city like tropical flowers, their jagged explosions a testament to the wind coming off the sea. Somehow, returning to the city here is always one of the most surreal parts of journeys here. Is this really my home, and what is this apparently huge city doing here so close to empty mountain passes?

Originally posted by ECS, January 7, 2007, used by permission.

Re-posted by

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 


Friday, February 05, 2016


The neighborhood I moved into when I left home was, to put it mildly, in transition. Many of the houses and businesses had already been razed; there were plans for more redevelopment. One location, a block away from my house, was a prime example. The Salvation Army had (and still has) a large complex where they processed donations and sold some of them in a store (on the corner, pictured above.) Upstairs from the store was a men's dormitory. It is still there as well, although it is now only a minor player in Minneapolis' burgeoning homeless problem. The anomaly was the large house which sat directly across street from the Sal:

I had the opportunity to inspect it when the owners, middle-aged men who had grown up in the house, were having an estate sale when it had been sold (for a parking lot.) It was quite a building in its heyday, seventy years prior. It had fabulous woodwork, fireplaces, and many spacious rooms that had not been butchered by remodeling. The sale was a disaster. They had done almost no prep, the house was filled their parents mementos and personal things. Nothing was priced. When I asked about a some 45 rpm records one of the men embarrassedly said, "Oh, that's not in the sale." I gave up on buying anything, the vibes were too weird. There were obviously some issues that needed to be reconciled. Nevertheless I did spend some time looking around. One thing I did notice was a stack of photographs—8x10s, professionally shot. They were of the Minneapolis Aquatennial parade, sometime in the early fifties. There were many pictures of the "Junior Royalty"—and I realized that the boys in the pictures were the owners of the house. 

There were dozens of houses in my old neighborhood that were destroyed. Everyone of them had a story, a story of better times, before the world changed around them and they became "redundant."  My story was only beginning then, it was still full of joy and promise, although ultimately all of us who shared in that great adventure were also forced to leave, supplanted by freeways and parking lots. In an ironic twist, many of the buildings pictured behind the Salvation Army have been turned into pricey condos. Just to the right of building in the center of the top picture (with the water tower), sits a new Major League Baseball stadium, a modern commuter rail line meets the light rail system in the same location.

We were forty years too early.

A North Fifth Street Story.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 


Wednesday, February 03, 2016


The winter that wasn't isn't anymore. Whether El Nino's influence on the weather means anything or not is not for me to determine. What I do know is that today I've been shoveling snow. Free exercise.  That's how interesting my life is.

I recently received a survey that asked about FITK. Here's the gist of the email:
I’m interested in how the thoughts and experiences written by people like you on weblogs and other social media can be used to make conclusions about society as a whole. I am contacting you because I am trying to collect reliable data about bloggers’ opinions, experiences, and characteristics in order to refine and evaluate my analyses. 
You can watch this video about the project (funded by the U.S. Army, btw,) if you are interested:

It got me to thinking. Is FITK like these other, "daily life" blogs? Am I deluding myself in thinking that my efforts here are somewhat different, dare I say unique? My daily life is usually pretty unremarkable excepting, of course, meeting with fellow bloggers IRL. Some of the questions in the survey struck me as facile, i.e.; "Do you sometimes post things that aren't true? Do you sometimes make things up?"

Is it true? I try to be. Sometimes you have to make things up to be truthful. I don't think the researcher figured fiction into his equation. Or Art. Or "Common things which are actually strange and strange things which are really common," which, from the very beginning, is what FITK is all about. My life, albeit the tabla rasa upon which this glorious mess is drawn, is only the medium. The message lies somewhere beyond the mundane plane of everyday life. The part the researcher did get right is "Friends You Haven't Met Yet."  I'm not big on social media, but those bloggers I have met have been worth all the time and effort I've spent.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 


Monday, February 01, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #47

Bobby Fischer's chair.

Not listed on any tour, this questionable attraction is in a back corner in a bookstore in Reykjavík.  Embroiled in a dispute in 1992 with U.S. authorities over money earned in Yugoslavia, Fischer had kicked around the world, ending up in Japan without a valid passport. He was granted Icelandic citizenship, he moved there in 2005 and died in Reykjavík in 2008.

Fischer had a few friends in Iceland, the owner of this bookstore was one of them. He let Bobby sit in his store for hours at a time. I actually may have seen him when I was browsing there in 2006, I don't remember:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 


Friday, January 29, 2016


Everett/REX Shutterstock

It has been a while since the Professor has posted about movies. It isn't that I haven't seen any lately, it's just that I haven't seen many that were exceptional enough to comment on.

The Todd Haynes film Carol is, indeed, exceptional. Todd Haynes makes very stylish movies, from his Douglas Sirk inspired Far From Heaven, with its deep psychological color schemes, to his film I'm Not There, where he gave each of the six or seven Bob Dylans in it a completely different "look". His latest film, made from the 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel, is a love story between a shop-girl/photographer and a wealthy woman who is in the middle of a divorce. I must remark on the stunning cinematography by the great Ed Lachman, as well as the production design by Judy Becker. The early fifties never looked so true (and yes, I can remember them) especially the department store sequences and the pre-modern decor. All of this worked in support of the very delicate play of emotions between the two main characters—a showcase of of subtle acting.

Jim Jarmusch gives us a different look in his 2013 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive:


Kind of silly, this film explores the notion that ageless vampires are cultural connoisseurs, a lot of time is spent prowling the streets of modern Detroit, a metaphor for a collapsing society. The always great Tilda Swinton is magnificent as Eve, while Tom Hiddlestons Adam is suitably dark. Lots of fabulous vintage guitars and electronics. The great John Hurt portrays a 500-year old vampire Christopher Marlowe, still kvetching about how Shakespeare stole his work!

Sometimes films get lost in the shuffle and are hard to find. After browsing my usual haunts for a cheap copy I finally broke down and purchased a new copy of Robert Altman's seriously deranged 1977 masterpiece 3 Women :

Lion's Gate Films

Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek reach the highest levels of absurd realism in this strange story of personality-transfer. More great color motifs going on here, as well as great art design and really, really creepy murals by Bodhi Wind.

As long as I'm on Shelly Duvall and Robert Altman, we recently re-watched Popeye (The Weaver's favorite film.)  Robin Williams does a great Popeye and Shelly Duvall, in the role of a lifetime, is Olive Oyl. The Harry Nilsson soundtrack is a little weak at times but, I have to admit, for a colorful comic-strip movie it is pretty entertaining:

Paramount Pictures

It has an insanely great comic-riffing scene between Popeye and Poop-deck Pappy (Ray Walston).

On a whole different plane (a spy-plane?) is Steven Spielberg's cold war legal procedural Bridge of Spies. Set in the early sixties, it is a much more somber mood-piece:

Walt Disney Films

Scenes of men in suits in courtrooms offer a limited palette to be sure, and the murky photography (Janusz Kaminski) and period-correct production design (Adam Stockhausen, supplemented with the graphic design of Annie Atkins) gives a result that is not what one would call "festive." This kind of movie-making is like a BIG MACHINE with lots of power, running on a very high level, although the story is a bit slow. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast but I'm still not quite convinced of the genius of Mark Rylance. The Coen Brothers worked on the dialog; it helped keep this film from becoming a pedantic bore. Spielberg can make movies like this in his sleep.

Speaking of the Brothers Coen, Hail, Caesar! will be out next week. I'll be sure to review that one:

Working Title Productions

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0