Archive for September, 2002

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September 17, 2002

Robot vs. Pyramid

Finally, after sort of keeping track of the various efforts to send a robotic explorer into the mysterious soul-shafts of Khufu’s pyramid for a year or so, I got a chance to see the newest endeavour live on television last night. A specially-designed miniature robotic tank with a towed computer system slinked through a tiny corrider in the Great Pyramid and drilled a hole through ancient stone for a peek at the past. How cool is that?

What did they find? Well, I totally called it. A few inches of forbidden space unseen in thousands of years, and then more stone. Learn more at the National Geographic website. This is some of the coolest television the networks could offer me. Except for that lousy host-guy. Let Zahi talk, man! Zahi Hawass is the jolliest archaeologist I’ve ever seen. I love to see him work. What’s more, he’s on a council that actually has “Supreme” in the title.

(Please notice that I’ve tried to avoid the temptation of the internet publisher and have not made any jokes using the phrase “got the shaft.”)

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September 6, 2002

Champagne on Your Blimp

I got to see a zeppelin get christened today. On television, but still … it’s something. It’s one a them GoodYear lighter-than-air dirigibles. The wonderful old couple with the old world accents talking to Al Roker about it (the owners of GoodYear?) called it a fucking “airship.” I have gone too many days without hearing the word “airship” used in real-life. Airships are where it’s at. In a good future, that’ll be the way we get around. No more rush, fuss, coach and vomiting babies when the Pope’s St. Louis visit is keeping you on the ground. Instead, we’ll drift gently (yet still speedily) over the globe, dining on nice, simple meals and stretching our legs while we travel. That’d be a good future.

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September 1, 2002

Amadeus
This is a review of the original theatrical cut of Amadeus as seen on a DVD so old I had to turn it over in the middle of the picture. There is a director’s cut (oh how I loathe the phrase) which was released earlier this year. I haven’t seen it, but at least one additional scene in that cut explains something I wasn’t so sure about in the original film. I first saw this movie years ago, as a youngster, and seeing it again this weekend makes me realize what an impact it must have had on me. This is a picture of historical grandeur, concerned with concepts not limited to the bygone context and easily accessible to a large audience. It’s a lovely film with pretty modern subject matter set in the 18th Century. It’s operatic.

As a production, Amadeus is terrific. Shot in the gorgeous surviving districts of Prague, the film’s locations have an authenticity that elevates everything else. Since the score is entirely the music of Mozart, we’re also spared the curse of 1980s period pictures: the synthesizer. Wardrobe is wonderful, fitting both the period and the individual characters. Sure, Mozart wears wigs like everybody else does, but his aren’t like everybody else’s. He’s got spiky pompadours that suggest a bit of the punk rock movement, and Thomas Hulce (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) gives a performance to match. Hulce makes Mozart at once an arrogant court fool and a likeable fop artiste.

Since the film is told from the perspective of maestro Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), so much of the story’s punch falls on Abraham’s performance. A great deal of jealous insight and insight on jealousy is written into Salieri’s dialogue. It’s sometimes chilling and sometimes pitiful, and whatever impact it carries on its own, Abraham doubles it with his work. He shows us so much more about Salieri than we’re told. Salieri believes he has murdered Mozart, but that’s just more selfishness on his part. Mozart is killed by his liver, most likely. But Salieri wants so madly to carry some of the weight Mozart will in history that he’ll settle for being known as Mozart’s killer. The final scene between Salieri and Mozart is the only chance we really get to see them working, get to understand what composing is to them. Perhaps it’s the fascination of seeing maestros talk shop, but the scene is so moving and so descriptive of geniuses and jealousy that it makes sense for Milos Forman to withold a scene of actual composition until the end. By the time we see it, we’re hungry for it. When it’s over, we want more. Much to Abraham’s credit, Salieri isn’t strong in this scene. He’s weak.

What the director’s cut better explains is the relationship between Salieri and Mozart’s wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge). In the beginning, Constanze is sweet and lively. By the end of the picture she’s a cautious business manager, wary of the sort of show biz type that’s likely to appeal to her husband. Early on, she goes to Salieri for help with Mozart’s career. In the end, she doesn’t want him anywhere near Mozart. The director’s cut explains why, but I won’t. Suffice to say that Berridge plays both modes well. As a character, her heart is in the right place even when her accent isn’t.

For the most part, none of the actors seem to attempt any accents, which is fine. Jeffrey Jones (Emperor Joseph II), Abraham and many of the supporting characters in the royal court have great voices. A few (noteably the Mozarts) have domestic American sounds. It makes them seem ordinary and honest, I suppose.

Regardless, I recommend Amadeus. See it again if you’ve seen it already. If you haven’t seen it, you should. A lot of people make referential Salieri jokes and you’ll look smarter if you get them.

Sidebar Recommendation
If you’re like me, the two-faced black mask (an obvious metaphor believably implemented in the reality of the film) is one of the highlights of the picture. If you like creepy gentlemen in deep black outfits and tri-corner hats stalking streets of intricate artistic detail, you should check out Guy Davis’s startling comic book, The Marquis. Fair warning: it’s cast with grotesque demons and hellish imagery that makes terrific use of the time period’s debauchery. It’s not actually historical, either. It’s set in a fantasy land which looks like 18th Century Europe and may or may not be Hell. For a morally ambiguous horror-adventure with pepperbox pistols and an anti-hero that draws gasps of recognition from his enemies (“It’s de Marquis!”), get the trade paperback.

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September 1, 2002

Not Gambling, but the Lottery
Two days after my birthday, the pick three numbers were exactly the numbers I always joke about playing. Those of you who know me can probably guess. Needless to say, I have not won the lottery. Carry on.

Rules of the Road
In my experience, every part of the country has their own little rules, customs or policies which explain why area drivers make the choices they do. That is, there are certain common driving practices in different parts of the country which are specific to that part. Basic, overriding rules, if you will. In Chicago, I maintain that the policy is “just go!” Sometimes, “just go, you idiot!” In Wisconsin, drivers like to huddle together on the road. When one driver pulls ahead, he or she accelerates, maybe regardless of the speed limit, until he or she arrives at the next herd of cars. I don’t know if this is truly throughout Wisconsin, but I’ve encountered it all throughout southern Wisconsin, where there are actually enough drivers on the road at any one time to constitute a “pack.” Once you’re used to it, it’s a very simple practice to go along with.

I cannot figure out Minnesota drivers yet. There’s something I’m missing. Should I be going as fast as the guy on my left? Is that why I’m getting tail-gated? Why won’t anyone let me merge? Why do people seem uncertain when I give them an opening so that they may merge? Why is it that my turn signal causes other drivers to flock to my side, making any turning or lane changes impossible? One second, the rule seems to be one way. The next second, the opposite. I’m stumped. Right now the only rule I can figure is “don’t merge.”

Folks With One-Word Names Can’t Do the James Bond Bit
Tried to think of a title for this little anecdote, and came to realize that if Madonna wanted to do the James Bond routine with her name, I guess she’d just end up saying her name, like, three times. Funny, that. (“And you are?” “Madonna. Madonna, Madonna.”)

My brother was recently in the proximity of Madonna (and Guy Ritchie-Madonna) while she was shooting the video for her title song to “Die Another Day,” the gazillionth picture in the James Bond franchise. Not really an anecdote, I suppose, so I’ll pad this out by saying that Madonna has actually gone from being in an Austin Powers music video first (The Spy Who Shagged Me), and then on to a Bond picture. Is that a lateral step? I don’t know.

I was going to review three things (Amadeus, Imposter, and “Scrubs”) tonight, but I’ve got a freaking software update that’s tying up my connection, so I can’t go and find the nice links that I usually leave for you in my reviews. This is all just a form of procrastination, I suppose. I hope White Wolf‘s not reading this.