Friday, July 31, 2009

Your Gold Teeth I & II

Will try to actually post something this weekend. For now, more summer music...

Steely Dan and their pair of "Gold Teeth" songs. A good example, I think, of a band in transition.

"Your Gold Teeth," from their second album, Countdown to Ecstasy (1973), features the Dan's first extended excursion into a more jazz-inflected sound. The driving groove is still propelled, however, by the Latin percussion and heavier rock guitar common in their first albums, with definite hints at "Do It Again," the big hit from their debut LP the year before.

"Your Gold Teeth II" comes from the band's fourth album, Katy Lied (1975), the center point of the band's career (or at least the first part: 1972-1980), which captures both the grungier rock sound of their earlier work ("Black Friday") and the more sophisticated and often elegant jazz tones of the future ("Doctor Wu"). The musical journey Fagen and Becker embark on here will ultimately lead them to the soundscape of Aja, their masterpiece from 1977.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

UPDATE: [BELOW] "Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did." Glenn Greenwald says what I wanted to say but didn't.

Walter Cronkite, one of the true giants of American broadcast journalism, passed away last night at the age of 92. Often cited in public opinion polls in the 1970s as "The Most Trusted Man in America," Cronkite was, for me, the embodiment of what a broadcast journalist should and could be. A consummate professional, he told us what was happening with a blend of integrity, humanity, warmth, and a rare and genuine gravitas.

After growing up in Houston, Cronkite attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked on the student newspaper The Daily Texan. Though he left UT in his junior year to become a newspaper reporter, he maintained a connection to the school throughout his life. His personal papers are housed there at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and he also served as the voice of numerous recruiting ads for the school. While a lot of famous people have attended UT, I've always felt especially proud that Walter Cronkite was a fellow alum.

Maybe because I grew up watching Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, and his voice seems to resonate in various childhood memories, I felt a real loss upon hearing the news of his death. Not a loss for him, because he lived a tremendously rich and full life, but a loss for the rest of us. It's the simple, powerful feeling that a great and good man has passed from the world.

The last few days, I've been following the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing - is a terrific site - and it's interesting that Cronkite passed away during this time, because I have some wonderful reminiscences of the Apollo missions - lying on the floor of my old house, a kid totally enthralled by the events taking place on TV - and it seems to be Uncle Walter's voice that narrates those marvelous moments.

Cronkite loved the space program, and in the clip above, speaks eloquently of what it meant in an often dark and chaotic time in our history. Incredibly, his was probably the voice that first told millions of Americans about the darkest and brightest moments of the 20th century: World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Vietnam, the Lunar Landing, Watergate, and Three Mile Island.

Here are some clips of Cronkite reporting these events. It's like a tour of 20th Century History.

The Assassination of JFK. (November 22, 1963)

Editorial on Vietnam. (February 27, 1968)

The Assassination of MLK. (April 4, 1968)

Apollo 11 Landing on the Moon. (July 20, 1969)

Death of LBJ. (January 22, 1973)

Three Mile Island. (March 30, 1979)

Other interesting videos are Cronkite in his own words and President Obama remembers Cronkite.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald eviscerates our flabby, obsequious contemporary "news" media in his post on Cronkite: "Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did."

"The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .

"For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past" -- Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.

"I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role" -- David Gregory, MSNBC [and current host of Meet the Press], May 28, 2008.

. . . .

Tellingly, [Cronkite's] most celebrated and significant moment -- Greg Mitchell says "this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million" -- was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn't trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do -- directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won't even use words that are disapproved of by the Government.

Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite's death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and "accommodating head waiter"-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today's media stars actually do). In fact, within Cronkite's most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today's modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

"And that's the way it is."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bruce Cockburn on a Coastal Road in Maine

The music I most enjoyed while driving along the coast of Maine on our journey last week. . . .

Bruce Cockburn's great 1976 album, In the Falling Dark. This is the title cut.

and the lights lie tumbled out like gems
the moon is nothing but a toothless grin
floating out on the evening wind
the smell of sweat and lube oil pervades the night
and the rush of life in flight at the speed of light

a million footsteps whispering
a guitar sounds -- some voices sing
smoke on the breeze -- eyes that sting
far in the east a yellow cloud bank climbs
stretching away to be part of tomorrow's time.

earthbound while everything expands
so many grains of sand
slipping from hand to hand
catching the light and falling into dark
the world fades out like an overheard remark
in the falling dark.

light pours from a million radiant lives
off of kids and dogs and the hard-shelled husbands and wives
all that glory shining around and we're all caught taking a dive
and all the beasts of the hills around shout, "such a waste!
don't you know that from the first to the last we're all one in the gift of Grace!"

(Ottawa 9/3/76)

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Song Stuck in My Head When I Woke Up This Morning

Fats Waller & His Rhythm
"I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter"

Recorded 11/07/1934.

Music by Fred Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk

I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,
And make believe it came from you,
I'm gonna right words oh, so sweet,
They're gonna knock me off my feet,
A lot of kisses on the bottom,
I'll be glad I got 'em!

I'm gonna smile and say, "I hope you're feeling better,"
And close with love the way you do;
I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,
And make believe it came from you!

Gonna smile and say, "I hope you're feeling better,"
And close with love the way you do;
I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,
And make believe, make believe, make believe it came from you!

Monday, June 15, 2009

100 Favorite Films

Every so often, I sit down and make a list of my favorite films. Here's the most recent edition - 100 Films in alphabetical order.

À bout de souffle [Breathless] (1960)
Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes [Aguirre, The Wrath of God] (1972)
El ángel exterminador [Exterminating Angel] (1962)
Animal Crackers (1930) ***
Ansiktet [The Magician] (1958) ***
Apocalypse Now (1979) ***
L'armée des ombres [Army of Shadows] (1969)
L'atalante (1934)
The Awful Truth (1937)
Ball of Fire (1941)
The Band Wagon (1953)
Bande à part (1964)
La belle et la bête [Beauty and the Beast] (1946)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
La bête humaine [The Human Beast] (1938)
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Bob le flambeur (1956)
Born Yesterday (1950)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Bringing Up Baby (1938) ***
Capitaine Conan (1996)
Casablanca (1942)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Crna macka, beli macor [Black Cat, White Cat] (1998)
"Dekalog" (1989)
Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)
Desire (1936)
La dolce vita (1960)
Double Indemnity (1944) ***
La double vie de Véronique [The Double Life of Veronique] (1991) ***
Down by Law (1986) ***
Du rififi chez les hommes [Rififi] (1955)
(1963) ***
Les enfants du paradis [Children of Paradise] (1945)
El espíritu de la colmena [Spirit of the Beehive] (1973)
Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain [Amélie] (2001)
French Kiss (1995)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
The Godfather (1972)
La grande illusion (1937)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Help! (1965)
Der Himmel über Berlin [Wings of Desire] (1987) ***
His Girl Friday (1940)
Holiday (1938)
Intervista (1987)
It Happened One Night (1934)
Jean de Florette (1986) ***
Kagemusha (1980) ***
Key Largo (1948)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Lady from Shanghai (1947) ***
Life of Brian (1979)
The Maltese Falcon (1941) ***
Manhattan (1979) ***
The Matrix (1999)
Le mépris [Contempt] (1963)
Midnight (1939)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail [Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen] (1975) ***
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
North by Northwest (1959) ***
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) ***
Orphée (1950) ***
Out of the Past (1947) ***
Pépé le Moko (1937)
Paris, Texas (1984) ***
The Philadelphia Story (1940) ***
Pierrot le fou (1965)
Le quai des brumes [Port of Shadows] (1938)
Quai des Orfèvres (1947)
Quick Change (1990)
Ran (1985) ***
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) ***
Roman Holiday (1953) ***
Sabrina (1954)
Le salaire de la peur [Wages of Fear] (1953)
Le samouraï (1967)
Shichinin no samurai [The Seven Samurai] (1954)
Silk Stockings (1957)
Simple Men (1992) ***
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Det sjunde inseglet [The Seventh Seal] (1957) ***
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Swing Time (1936)
Tengoku to jigoku [High and Low] (1963)
The Thin Man (1934) ***
Three Days of the Condor (1975) ***
Tierra (1996)
To Have and Have Not (1944) ***
Top Hat (1935) ***
Touchez pas au grisbi [Grisbi] (1954)
Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994)
The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
Vincent, François, Paul... et les autres (1974)
White Christmas (1954) ***
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Yojimbo (1961)

***Films that also appeared on my list of Favorite 50 Films done in 1995 and Favorite 100 Films done in 2004 (1-50 and 51-100).

By Director

Akira Kurosawa (5) - Kagemusha (1980) ***, Ran (1985) ***, Shichinin no samurai [The Seven Samurai] (1954), Tengoku to jigoku [High and Low] (1963) , Yojimbo (1961)

Jean-Luc Godard (4) - À bout de souffle [Breathless] (1960), Bande à part (1964), Le mépris [Contempt] (1963), Pierrot le fou (1965)

Howard Hawks (4) - Ball of Fire (1941), Bringing Up Baby (1938) ***, His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944) ***

George Cuckor (3) - Born Yesterday (1950), Holiday (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940) ***

Federico Fellini (3) - La dolce vita (1960), (1963) ***, Intervista (1987)

Krzysztof Kieslowski (3) - "Dekalog" (1989), La double vie de Véronique [The Double Life of Veronique] (1991) ***, Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994)

Jean-Pierre Melville (3) - L'armée des ombres [Army of Shadows] (1969), Bob le flambeur (1956), Le samouraï (1967)

Billy Wilder (3)- Double Indemnity (1944) ***, Sabrina (1954), Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Two Films: Bergman, Carné, Clouzot, Cocteau, Coppola, Curtiz, Hartley, Houston, Jarmusch, Terry Jones, Renoir, Mark Sandrich, Welles, Wyler

By Actors

Cary Grant (7) - The Awful Truth (1937), The Bishop's Wife (1947), Bringing Up Baby (1938) ***, His Girl Friday (1940), Holiday (1938), North by Northwest (1959) ***, The Philadelphia Story (1940) ***

Fred Astaire (5) - The Band Wagon (1953), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Silk Stockings (1957), Swing Time (1936), Top Hat (1935) ***

Humphrey Bogart (5) - Casablanca (1942) Key Largo (1948), The Maltese Falcon (1941) ***, Sabrina (1954), To Have and Have Not (1944) ***

Jean Gabin (5) - La bête humaine [The Human Beast] (1938), La grande illusion (1937), Pépé le Moko (1937), Le quai des brumes [Port of Shadows] (1938), Touchez pas au grisbi [Grisbi] (1954)

William Holden (5) - Born Yesterday (1950), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Sabrina (1954), Sunset Blvd. (1950), The Wild Bunch (1969)

Three Films: Cyd Charise, Kathrine Hepburn, Marcello Mastroianni, Toshiro Mifune, Yves Montand, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck

By Language

Fifty-seven films were in English. Of the 43 films in other languages, 26 were in French.

By Date
1930s: 17
1940s: 17
1950s: 18
1960s: 14
1970s: 11
1980s: 9
1990s: 13
2000s: 2

Fifty-five films were from before I was born.

Other Films

It's interesting for me to see how my lists have changed over the years. I've discovered or explored more fully different directors (Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Becker), actors (Gabin, Holden, Stanwyck) and genres (musicals, French film noir and film gris). Films that meant a lot to me at one time just don't resonate as much now. Or, maybe I just haven't seen them in a long time. Here are some films that appeared on my two previous lists.

1995 & 2004
Alice in den Städten [Alice in the Cities] (1974)
Beat the Devil (1953)
The Big Steal (1949)
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. [The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly] (1966)
Dom za vesanje [Time of the Gypsies] (1988)
Manon des sources (1986)
Raising Arizona (1987)
'Round Midnight (1986)
Vertigo (1958)
You Can't Take It with You (1938)

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Delicatessen (1991)
Un dimanche à la campagne [A Sunday in the Country] (1984)
Duck Soup (1933)
Europa (1991)
The Fisher King (1991)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Jules et Jim (1962)
The Grifters (1990)
Truly Madly Deeply (1990)

Adam's Rib (1949)
After the Thin Man (1936)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Fanny och Alexander (1982)
Fargo (1996)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Un flic (1972)
Gilda (1946)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Lone Star (1996)
Nikita (1990)
No Such Thing (2001)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Sting (1973)
The Third Man (1949)
Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993)
The Usual Suspects (1994)

You can also check out the series of posts I did on The Greatest Films of All Time. Twenty-one of my 100 Favorite Films were in the Top 100.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Cole Porter Birthday Bash

Cole Porter was born on June 9, 1891. Some songs to celebrate his 118th birthday. Enjoy.

Cole Porter Playlist (12 songs)

"Easy to Love"
Billie Holiday

"It's Alright With Me"
Tom Waits

"Get Out of Town"
Caetano Veloso

"I've Got You Under My Skin"

Frank Sinatra

"Don't Fence Me In"
David Byrne

"Love for Sale"
Cannonball Adderley & Miles Davis

"Well, Did You Evah!"
Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry

"Just One of Those things"
Ella Fitzgerald

"Night and Day"
Fred Astaire

"Every Time We Say Goodbye"
John Coltrane

"So in Love"
Caetano Veloso

"I Get a Kick Out of You"
Frank Sinatra

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Recent Screenings

La Moustache (2005) - French writer Emmanuel Carrère directs his first fictional feature film based on his own novel by the same name. As with most current French thrillers, the back of the DVD calls it "Hitchcockian." Evidently, no other director ever made a psychological thriller. But Hitch never made a dreamy, non-linear film like this. The one movie that came to mind for a while was actually Gaslight, which was directed by Geroge Cuckor, but even that comparison breaks down as the story plunges further into surreal territory. In fact, I can't think of any film that really resembles La Moustache. All I know is that I really enjoyed it.

The film concerns a man named Marc, who casually asks his wife in the opening scene what she would think if he shaved off the mustache he's had for years. She doesn't think it would be a good idea. And, as it turns out, it's not a good idea. After he shaves it off, she appears to not even notice. This increasingly irritates him. When they have dinner that night with two friends, neither of them, nor their little girl, notice either. Finally, on the way home, he gets really angry with his wife for not saying anything. To which she, with a look of terror, tells him that he's never had a mustache.

And so it goes. His colleagues at work don't notice anything either. Is this a conspiracy of some kind? As it turns out, we learn from the dinner scene that the wife's honesty may be questionable. Is she gaslighting him? Are his colleagues in on it? He sees a recent photo of himself with his mustache, yet everyone tells me he never had one. His wife tells him to see a psychiatrist, and he does seem to be having some kind of breakdown. As things deteriorate, he overhears his wife and his business partner whispering about having him committed. He flees his home, and after going around the city for a while in a taxi looking for his mother's house, he decides to take a last-minute flight to Hong Kong. He travels back and forth on the ferry between the island and the mainland. He grows his mustache back, stays in a rundown hotel and seems at peace as some kind of expatriate. Until events turn again.

It's hard to describe La Moustache. I can tell you the plot - or what I can fathom of the plot - and you can read the synopsis on back of the DVD, and it doesn't sound like much. How can you base an entire film on a guy who shaves off his mustache? I asked myself that many times as I would pick up, then put back the DVD. But it works. Carrère uses the psychological thriller as a means of exploring issues such as identity and our conception of reality. (I think.) Yet, he keeps the film moving well, never fully abandoning the thriller genre for a slog through philosophical meditation. It's sort of a cross between the more poetic explorations of Claire Denis, where plot doesn't seem to matter at all, and the conventional structures of something like Gaslight. (Or Hitchcock!)

Vincent Lindon, who has worked with Caire Denis, does an outstanding job as Marc, and the wonderful Emmanuelle Devos (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) plays his wife Agnès. These two actors already have seven César nominations between them, and it's a pleasure to watch them at work here as a successful professional couple living in Paris who seem to love each other but may be going through a difficult time. There are some powerful and tender moments between them. You know, when she's not gaslighting him. If she is. Or when he's not freaking out and tearing through the garbage to show her the hairs he trimmed off. If he actually had a mustache to begin with.

If you want everything ironed out at the end, you will be disappointed in La Moustache. But if you just let go and go for the ride, you may be pleasantly surprised. This is a cool little journey through territories of cinema we rarely get to see.

RECOMMENDED for those who can live without plot resolution. If you're trying to control everything in life, you're not going to like this. Men with mustaches may feel uneasy.

Frost/Nixon (2008) - Frank Langella and Michael Sheen deliver great performances as Richard Nixon and David Frost. And though they didn't get much attention when the film came out, the key supporting actors also do very well, including Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon and Matthew Macfadyen. The screenplay is by Peter Morgan, who wrote the original Broadway production which garnered so many accolades. The story of Nixon and Frost's now historic series of interviews in 1977 is fascinating, not only for the mythic elements of a fallen king jousting with a pretty-boy journalist out to prove something, but also for the wheeling and dealing Frost had to do to even get the interviews on the air in the U.S.

So with all this excellent acting, a good screenwriter and a great story, why did I feel somewhat empty afterwards? Two words: Ron Howard. Is there any other director in Hollywood who can produce such competently made yet hollow films? They look good. They move well. They usually have actors delivering excellent performances. They're entertaining. Yet they never add up to much. Frost/Nixon may be his best effort yet. It's definitely worth seeing, especially for the acting. It's a good movie. Very good in some ways. But given this material and this cast, it should've been a profound movie. In the hands of another director, it could've been.

Swing Vote (2008) - This propaganda film disguised as a comedy is meant to encourage participation in our electoral system, but its obvious emotional manipulation, its condescending attitude towards its audience, and the participation of real-life figures like Arianna Huffington, Bill Maher, Larry King and others left me feeling more cynical than ever about the twisted and parasitic relationship between the media and our political system. The election of 2008 plays out like a repeat of Bush-Gore, with the fate of the country hinging on one poor, dumb drunk named Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) whose vote wasn't completed because of a technical glitch. (I did my best to get past that ridiculous set-up.) Both presidential candidates and their teams come to the small town - you know, "real" America, unlike the cities, where everyone's a fake - to convince Bud to vote for them. While Swing Vote is touted as a bi-partisan film, I found it interesting that both candidates are played by longtime Republican supporters, Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper. Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci play their campaign managers, and you can imagine from the casting what that's going to be like. Bud's daughter, who's miraculously intelligent and wise despite coming from two somewhat slow parents with substance-abuse problems, is the real heart of the story, and she's played well by young Madeline Carroll. She and George Lopez, as a local TV news producer, are the best parts of the film. Costner is okay, but he gets annoying after a while. There are some funny moments here and there, especially as the candidates change their platform positions to win over Bud, who doesn't even know what he thinks about anything, but you have to wade through a lot of bad writing for those little treats. It's hard to argue with the premise that every vote counts, especially after Bush-Gore, but after watching the cynical, self-serving media-political complex try so hard to convince me of that fact, my initial reaction is to skip the next election. The least one can do is to skip this film.

The Hallelujah Trail (1965) - This wonderful comedy western tells the story of an oncoming harsh winter and panic among miners in Denver because they've run out whiskey. The liquor distributor (Brian Keith), who's almost bankrupt, leads 40 wagons of precious cargo to Denver. Indians want to steal it. A temperance group wants to stop it. One group of cavalry is sent to guard the wagon train, another is forced to escort the temperance group to Denver. Meanwhile, Irish drivers on the wagon train threaten to go on strike. Burt Lancaster plays a cavalry commander and man's man battling the feminist-temperance leader, played with spark by Lee Remick. Despite his toughness, she continually outwits him, getting him to do more and more that he doesn't want to do. The film has a funny, well-executed meta-fiction element, with a serious-sounding off-screen narrator growing steadily confused as he tries to map out the story for the audience. And the big showdown, when all of the various groups collide in a raging sandstorm, belongs on a list of great comedy sequences in cinema. Under-appreciated director John Sturges (The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) keeps the action moving, and Robert Surtees delivers spectacular Technicolor cinematography of the glorious landscapes around Shiprock, New Mexico. RECOMMENDED.

Angel and the Badman (1947) - John Wayne stars in this somewhat unusual film that also marks his first effort (of 20) at producing. The movie literally opens with a bang, as Wayne has a shootout and then rides, wounded, for miles through the desolate west while the opening credits roll. By the time they stop, he collapses near an isolated ranch that happens to be run by a Quaker family. Nursed back to health by the lovely daughter, played by Gail Russell, he spends the rest of the film struggling between his love for her, curiosity about her funny Quaker pacifism, and his own desire to settle down on one hand, and his own gunslinging ways, a sheriff determined to hang him, and the hard realities of the west on the other. A little corny at times, but for 1947, it's a thoughtful look at violence, masculinity, and the tension between Christian ideals and the quest for power. It makes me wonder: How would Jesus have dealt with the American West?

Twilight (2008) - Yawn. A toothless vampire love story. Perfect for an uptight, prudish, adolescent-souled society that yearns for real passion. La Reina read the book (has anyone ever seen a man reading Twilight?) and thought the movie was okay but didn't capture the story as well. Pattison and Stewart have some chemistry, but it's mostly squandered. The movie won't kill you - it moves well enough and has some good moments, but it's ultimately forgettable. You want vampire passion, skip this and (re-) watch Herzog's Nosferatu.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Recent Screenings

Transsiberian (2008) - Roy and Jessie (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) are Americans who've gone to China with Roy's church to work with underprivileged children. A train buff, Roy books them passage on the Transsiberian Express from Beijing to Moscow, before flying back to the States. On the journey, they meet Carlos (Eduardo Noriega), a sexy, well-travelled Spaniard who seems to knows a lot about Customs, and Abby (Kate Mara), a young woman who has run away from Seattle.

Meanwhile, Grinko, a Russian narcotics detective (Ben Kinglsey) is tracking down whoever killed a drug dealer in Vladivostok and vanished with both the drugs and the money.

Jessie, who had a fairly wild past before marrying Roy and trying to settle down, feels sympathetic towards the seemingly lost Abby. And she feels something more unsettling for Carlos, who gives off an aura of raw sexuality and physical danger. When the train stops at a snowy village somewhere in Siberia, Roy goes looking at old coal locomotives with Carlos. When the train starts up again, Roy is no longer aboard.

Hoping that Roy has simply missed the train, Jessie gets off at the next village to make inquiries. Carlos and Abby decide they will stay with her until she finds her husband. They're concerned about her safety. In this isolated, wintry and foreign environment, the sexual tension between Carlos and Jessie begins to heat up, culminating in an abandoned Orthodox church off in the woods near the village.

The pacing of Transsiberian reflects that of the train itself. It starts off slowly -- introducing these people, telling their back stories and actually developing characters and relationships -- and then picks up more and more speed as the film chugs along. The subtle tension in one scene links to another, which links to another, until the total becomes almost unbearable. It's Hitchcock, not Quantum Solace or other contemporary "thrillers" that substitute action and quick edits for genuine suspense.

Director and co-writer Brad Anderson (The Machinist) offers some good twists and turns on the trip, which keeps the film moving along in surprising ways. The story of Jessie and Carlos doesn't end in the Orthodox church in Siberia, it only marks the beginning of a new stage in the journey.

Despite excellent acting all around, the film really belongs to Emily Mortimer. Transsiberian is Jessie's story in the end, and Mortimer does a great job of portraying the internal struggle between her restless nature, with its wild past, and her desire to live a positive life and love Roy, who saved her both physically and emotionally after she slammed head-on into his car while she was drunk. Jessie makes some really poor decisions on this journey. But Mortimer gives her the dignity of a human being really wrestling with good and bad aspects of herself, and the fact that they may be more intertwined than we normally care to admit. As she says to her husband at one point, quoting Tennessee Williams, "Kill off all my demons, Roy, and my angels might die, too."(So that's where Tom Waits got the line.)

But this isn't just a metaphorical journey. It is a physical one as well, through contemporary Russia, and Anderson does a great job capturing the ambience of traveling through a strange land, both in the small details and in the starkly beautiful shots of the train passing through the Siberian wilderness. While the landscape and people can seem exotic to the Americans, there's also a sense of the chaos, hardship and danger in the post-Soviet Union era. This becomes more evident as the film progresses. As one character says, "In Russia, we have expression. 'With lies, you may go ahead in the world, but you may never go back.' Do you understand this, Jessie?"

Where is that line? At what point can you no longer turn back? Brad Anderson has fashioned a fine suspense film that touches on these darker questions as it speeds on its way to a dramatic climax, with action sequences that seem to organically rise out of the need of the moment rather than being a constructed set-piece to show off CGI. The writing and directing are excellent. The acting is consistently great, with special kudos to Woody Harrelson, who has the thankless task of playing a fairly simple guy who's positive by nature, but who imbues Roy with real humanity. The cinematography by Xavi Giménez is top notch. There's a lot going on in this film. It lingers well and leaves you slightly unsettled. And it's easily the best movie that takes place on a train in a long, long time.

STRONGLY RECOMMENDED, unless you must have hyper-kinetic action with lots of explosions.

Duplicity (2009) - Clive Owen and Julia Roberts in a corporate espionage screwball comedy. Tony Gilroy, who did such a great job with Michael Clayton, offers up a much lighter take on capitalist morality this time. Owen is ex-MI6, Roberts ex-CIA, and now they both work in corporate espionage, for competing cosmetic companies. They love each other and are scheming together to make their big pay day and get away from it all.

Or are they? She may be playing him. He may be trying to get revenge for the first time they met, when she seduced him, knocked him out and stole Egyptian military secrets from him. That never set well. They're at competing companies, but she's a mole for the company he works for, and now he's her handler. Or is she a mole for the other company, using him to get information?

Gilroy piles on the layers of doubt, especially in the relationship between Owen and Roberts, which is both passionate and wary. They know they're both liars and schemers. Will they stay together, because they understand each other so well? Or will they be unable to resist the temptation of getting the best of the other? It's classic screwball comedy material taken to another level. Despite a deep vein of cynicism, it wouldn't be hard to imagine Cary Grant and Claudette Colbert in the same roles.

The best part: The film feels like it was written for adults. There may not be a lot here, but at least it's smart and savvy and knowing. If you like Clive and Julia, they have some good chemistry and the film is a lot of fun. And we finally know now: Clive Owen can do comedy. He actually has the funniest scenes in the film, getting excited over developments in the secret battles between two frozen pizza giants. This from a man who once stole Egyptian military secrets. (And that is the sly, darker underside to the film. Gilroy, who explored corporate espionage in Michael Clayton, doesn't go in depth much on the subject, but you realize afterwards how weird this whole new era is in some ways.)

The best sequence in the movie, however, may the opening credits, as Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson - heads of the competing cosmetic corporations who hate each other - get into a delicious slow-motion fistfight on the tarmac between their two executive jets.

RECOMMENDED, especially if you're in the mood for some smart fluff. Not recommended for Julia-haters.

Quantum of Solace (2008) - Casino Royale was such a pleasant surprise in the Bond franchise: Action, class and a dash of tough humanity, thanks to Daniel Craig, the best 007 since Sean Connery. Unfortunately, Q of S exchanges any of the human touches in Casino Royale for even bigger and sillier action sequences. The plot of the film is so unimportant that you don't even know what's going on at times. It's like watching a scene unfold as you pass by in a fast-moving car: "What was that? Who was that?"

On the positive side, we get more Judi Dench. M stands for Mother now, with 007 as her favorite son who gets into trouble all the time. (He's gonna break her heart.) How she keeps winding up in obscure international settings so quickly was weird though.

Strangely, I've never seen a Bond film so intricately tied to the previous one. Someone should've warned me that I had to re-watch Casino Royale immediately before starting this one. I'm supposed to remember all of these people and story lines from the last movie? The director and screenwriters obviously don't care about their characters or plot, though, so why should I?

Too bad. There are some interesting elements at play here, but everything get lost in the blur.


Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - I should write extensively about this one, because it's truly a classic, and a landmark in trial films. If it seems unusually dark and cynical for late 1950s Hollywood, that's because it's directed by Otto Preminger. Jimmy Stewart is great, and well chosen for the role of a small-town lawyer who gets involved in a rape and murder case. Lee Remick was way sexy in 1959 - and later, too. The score is famous in and of itself, coming from Duke Ellington, who has a small role in the film. Highly recommended.

Burn After Reading
(2008) - No, it's not up to the level of No Country for Old Men, but it's much better than some reviewers said when it first came out. Funny, dark, weird. It's classic Coen Brothers. Brad Pitt excels. And the scenes between two confused CIA superiors are worth everything. "Report back to me . . uh . . . when it makes sense."

2 Days in Paris (2007) - Julie Delphy wrote, directed, starred in, and even did the music for this film about a New York couple - Jack and Marion - who stop at Marion's parents' house in Paris for two days before returning to the States after a long trip. Things haven't gone well between the couple, with tensions brewing, restlessness showing its head, and possible incompatibility issues. While showing indebtedness to both Annie Hall and Richard Linklater's pair of Sunrise/Sunset films that starred Delphy, 2 Days in Paris creates its own personal identity, thanks mostly to Delphy's intelligent script. Some very funny scenes, a lot of excellent dialog, and delightful performances by the director's real-life parents. Delphy, who recently completed a film-making degree at NYU, has made an impressive directorial debut.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ronald Reagan: Hard Left Ideologue

From Glenn Greenwald's post yesterday at Salon - "Ronald Reagan: vengeful, score-settling, Hard Left ideologue":

Ronald Reagan, May 20, 1988, transmitting the Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Convention Against Torture, signed and championed by Ronald Reagan, Article II/IV:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.
The views that Ronald Reagan not only advocated, but signed a treaty compelling the U.S. to adhere to, are ones that are now -- in the view of our dominant media narrative -- the hallmarks of The Hard Left: torture is never justified; there are "no exceptional circumstances" justifying it; it must be declared to be a serious criminal offense ; and -- most of all -- the U.S., as Ronald Regan put it, "is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution." Reagan's explicit view that the concept of "universal jurisdiction" permits signatory nations (such as Spain) to prosecute torturers from other countries (such as the U.S.) is now considered so fringe that it's almost impossible to find someone in mainstream American debates willing to advocate it. . . .

It's literally true that if you say today verbatim what Ronald Reagan said in 1988 about torture and the need to prosecute those who do it, then you are immediately and by definition a rabid score-settler from the Hard Left who is unfit to be trusted with national security decisions. Conversely, the views that Reagan vehemently rejected by words and by treaty -- that torture can be justified in some circumstances; that torturers should be shielded from prosecution; that other countries have no right to prosecute the torturers from other countries under "universal jurisdiction" -- are now not merely acceptable, but are required views in order to be not only a conservative, but to be a centrist. That's how severely the political spectrum and our elite consensus on these questions have shifted -- descended -- even from the time of the right-wing Reagan era when American exceptionalism and military aggression thrived.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Banality of Bush White House Evil

As a follow up to my previous post, I recommend Frank Rich's article in today's New York Times - "The Banality of Bush White House Evil."

His conclusion:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Dark Side

"When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but it's well outside the norm. You can't go to that dark a place without it changing you."

Unidentified former CIA interrogator

A few weeks ago, I started reading The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, by Jane Mayer, a writer from the New Yorker who has been investigating the Bush administration's torture program for several years. Just as I finished the book, President Obama released four crucial memos on the program, all of which Mayer had discussed in her work.

The Dark Side may be the most disturbing book I've ever read about my own country. Not because of the accounts of torture, as bad as they were, but because it became clear after 360 pages of accumulating detail and revealing interviews, that the United States of America under the Bush administration had bureaucratized and institutionalized torture. The memos and reports released in the last week only confirm this tragic and terrifying state of affairs.

It is one thing to cross over into the dark side in the heat of the moment. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, given the horrible nature of what happened and the genuine concern about additional attacks, it's not hard to imagine some interrogators getting out of control. (Ironically, the experienced and highly trained FBI agents conducting interrogations in late 2001 and early 2002 did not get out of control but conducted several crucial and legal debriefing sessions that revealed highly valuable information. They were subsequently removed by the CIA, with blessings from the highest levels of government, and, when it became clear that detainees were being tortured, FBI Director Robert Mueller forbade his agents from participating in further interrogations. For a good description of this devastating turn of events, see "My Tortured Decision," an op-ed by former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who was directly involved in the initial, pre-torture, debriefing of Abu Zubaydah.)

It is another thing altogether, however, to systematically and rationally develop a torture program, to intellectually lay out legal groundwork over a period of years for making torture the established norm. In that case, we have crossed the line of darkness and employed logic and reason to justify our new-found citizenship on the other side. We have embraced evil and legally changed its name to "light."

"[Torture] has become bureaucratized. . . . Brutalization doesn't work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul."
Daniel Coleman, former FBI interrogator

What has genuinely puzzled and disappointed me in the past week has been Barack Obama's inconsistent pronouncements on torture, especially his vague and weak call for the country to move on, to look toward the future, by basically sweeping Bush's illegal program under the rug. Apart from the fact that a torture program violates numerous national and international laws and treaties, and the president doesn't even have the legal right to decide what can and cannot be investigated; apart from the horrible international precedent of the United States willfully refusing to investigate its own involvement in torture; I am stunned that Obama doesn't recognize what a crucial moment this is in our nation's history.

You cannot cross over the line of darkness and then hope to move forward simply by ignoring that you're on the other side now.

If individual interrogators in the CIA and FBI are speaking publicly about losing one's soul from torturing others, where does that leave us as a country, when we implemented a systematic torture program and used our legal system to justify it?

If the United States of America doesn't deal honestly and responsibly with the Bush torture program, we are betraying the very ideals upon which this nation was founded. We may "move on" by ignoring what we've done, but it won't be in the right direction.

In a 2005 piece in the Los Angeles Times, "America's Anti-Torture Tradition," Robert Kennedy, Jr. wrote:
"In 1776," wrote historian David Hackett Fischer in "Washington's Crossing," "American leaders believed it was not enough to win the war. They also had to win in a way that was consistent with the values of their society and the principles of their cause. One of their greatest achievements … was to manage the war in a manner that was true to the expanding humanitarian ideals of the American Revolution."

The fact that the patriots refused to abandon these principles, even in the dark times when the war seemed lost, when the enemy controlled our cities and our ragged army was barefoot and starving, credits the character of Washington and the founding fathers and puts to shame the conduct of America's present leadership.

Fischer writes that leaders in both the Continental Congress and the Continental Army resolved that the War of Independence would be conducted with a respect for human rights. This was all the more extraordinary because these courtesies were not reciprocated by King George's armies. . . . Captured Americans were tortured, starved and cruelly maltreated aboard prison ships.

Washington decided to behave differently. After capturing 1,000 Hessians in the Battle of Trenton, he ordered that enemy prisoners be treated with the same rights for which our young nation was fighting. In an order covering prisoners taken in the Battle of Princeton, Washington wrote: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren…. Provide everything necessary for them on the road."

John Adams argued that humane treatment of prisoners and deep concern for civilian populations not only reflected the American Revolution's highest ideals, they were a moral and strategic requirement. His thoughts on the subject, expressed in a 1777 letter to his wife, might make a profitable read for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as we endeavor to win hearts and minds in Iraq. Adams wrote: "I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this — Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won't prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed."
Perhaps the most disturbing piece of news that has come out in the last few days is that a number of detainees were tortured not to gain information to prevent an impending terrorist attack, but to prove the non-existent link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, in order to justify the administration's poorly conceived invasion of Iraq. That is, the Bush administration tortured people simply to satisfy their own political agenda.

Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind discussed this issue last Wednesday, in one of the better segments I've seen on the torture program revelations:

"They were torturing people. No question. They did disgusting things to people. Their attitude was, 'Laws? Like who the fuck cares?'"
Former CIA official with extensive knowledge of the CIA program

As usual with systematic programs of torture and brutalization, the most troubling and creepy aspect is how many innocent people became victims.
The CIA, concerned about the paucity of valuable information emanating from [Guantánamo], in the late summer of 2002 dispatched a senior intelligence analyst, who was fluent in Arabic and expert on Islamic extremism, to find out what the problem was. The report he wrote up from this sensitive, early reconnaissance mission is classified top secret. But after he left the Agency, he described what he found. . . . [H]e concluded that an estimated one-third of the prison camp's population of more than 600 captives at the time . . . had no connection to terrorism whatsoever. . . .

A later study by a team of law students and attorneys at Seton Hall University Law School bolstered the CIA officer's impressions. After reviewing 517 of the Guantánamo detainees' cases in depth, they concluded that only 8% were alleged to have associated with Al Qaeda. Fifty-five percent were not alleged to have engaged in any hostile act against the United States at all, and the remainder were charged with dubious wrongdoing, including having tried to flee U.S. bombs.
Several detainees, including ones with no connection to terrorism, were killed during interrogations. Other innocent people were tortured in secret prisons for months or even years. Mayer writes at length about one detainee, Khaled el-Masri, a car salesman from southern Germany (and a German citizen), who was detained while on holiday in Macedonia because he had a similar name to an Al Qaeda terrorist. After being tortured for a few months, it became clear that the CIA had made a mistake. Yet they refused to release him. Someone at Langley was sure he was holding out on them. Finally, after six months, the CIA flew Masri to Albania, drove him blindfolded down a long road, and kicked him out of the car. He was later flown back to Germany.
He had lost so much weight, and looked so haunted and aged, the airport authorities accused him of using someone else's passport. When he arrived at his apartment, it was deserted and ransacked. His wife and sons, he learned later, had assumed themselves abandoned and moved [to] Lebanon.
There's so much to talk about. I haven't even touched on the bizarre reverse-engineering of the military's SERE program, which was developed to help American soldiers withstand torture, into our own torture program. In a surreal and typically incompetent Bush administration twist, we took a communist program intended to produce false confessions for propaganda purposes and tried to use it to extract useful information from detainees. As Rachel Maddow said before her interview with Colonel Steve Kleinman, former military interrogator, "What could possibly go wrong?"

What gave me hope while reading The Dark Side was the brave conduct of many people in the U.S. military, the FBI, various intelligence agencies, and within the Bush administration itself, who refused to participate in the administration's torture program and who tried to stop what was happening.

The right-wing and even the mainstream media may try to paint those who are against torture as being "on the left" or "liberals," but the reality is that the push-back against the Bush torture program began among people who were usually conservative, some of them very conservative. But they believed in the U.S. Constitution and knew it was being damaged.

In one of many examples Mayer details in her book:
"The senior uniformed lawyers for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines . . . all sent extraordinary memos of dissent to Haynes. . . .

The Defense Department promptly classified them as a secret. In 2005, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina, who had been a military judge advocate general himself, publicly revealed the passionate memos. He noted that the authors were 'not from the ACLU. These are not from people who are soft on terrorism, who want to coddle foreign terrorists. These are all professional military lawyers who have dedicated their lives, with 20-plus year careers, to serving the men and women in uniform and protecting their Nation. They were giving a warning shot across the bow of the policymakers that there are certain corners you cannot afford to cut because you will wind up meeting yourself.'

The memos from the uniformed lawyers to the politically appointed general counsel were brimming with barely concealed disbelief at the direction the Justice Department was proposing for the soldiers to take.
Mayer writes in the Afterword of The Dark Side:
[W]hat began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country's soul.

In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush Administration was warned that the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America's interests in the world. These warnings came not just from political opponents, but also from experienced allies, including the British Intelligence Service, the experts in the traditionally conservative military and the FBI, and perhaps most surprisingly, from a series of loyal Republican lawyers inside the administration itself. The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America's ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring.
So where do we go from here? It's hard to tell.

I don't know what to make of President Obama. On one hand, he released the four torture memos. On the other, he seems irritated by having to deal with the repercussions of releasing the memos. One day he makes declarative statements about not prosecuting CIA interrogators who conducted the torture, even though he has no legal or constitutional right to make that decision. Then, after people point out that he doesn't have the authority to make that decision - despite Rahm Emmanuel and Robert Gibbs declaring otherwise - he rightfully says it's in the hands of the Justice Department. Then, the next few days, he tries his best to quash investigations.

On such a grave and important issue, Obama has been indecisive and inconsistent, failing his first real test of leadership in an unplanned crisis. When he released the memos, he should have declared without hesitation that the United States of America would follow the law and investigate the Bush torture program. Period.

It's not a political issue. It's the law. If a Republican robs a liquor store, arresting him is not a partisan act. If a Democrat cheats on her taxes, arresting her is not a partisan act. Obama could've said he would pardon CIA interrogators if they were found guilty of torture, but by trying to supersede the power of the Attorney General and saying there wouldn't even be an investigation, he sent all the wrong messages. By bungling the release of the memos, equivocating when he should've been clear and strong (trying to placate too many people?), Obama has now turned the issue of the Bush torture program into a political one.

Even worse, the media narrative, fueled in large part by Washington insiders and often stunningly ignorant pundits, has devolved into chatter about the "politics" of releasing the torture memos and what it means for Obama. Perhaps in this age of impunity, when so many people have gotten away with so much, the media can only discuss the politics of breaking the law. Instead of recognizing the legal issues involved, or discussing the serious repercussions of a supposedly civilized country developing a torture program in the 21st century, we get to watch Sean Hannity offering to be waterboarded for charity and the smug Meet the Press crowd echoing Obama's empty "we need to move forward" mantra.

One of the notable exceptions to the glassy-eyed media drones has been Glenn Greenwald at Salon. His writing on this topic has been informtive, knowledgable and politically astute in a deep way. Yesterday's column, "Democratic Complicity and What 'Politicizing Justice' Really Means" was another excellent read.

But what happens if we don't investigate?

Already, as Mayer points out in The Dark Side, countries that torture are now pointing to the United States and saying, "See, they do it, too!"
Meanwhile, corrupt and repressive states, including Egypt, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, have all justified their own brutality by citing America's example. Egyptian president-for-life Hosni Mubarak declared that the U.S. treatment of detainees proved that "We were right from the beginning in using all means . . . to combat terrorism."
So, we've abandoned George Washington and John Adams for Hosni Mubarak and Robert Mugabe? Is that what America has spent the last 230 years working towards? Are we to usher in a new age of torture and barbarism at the beginning of the 21st century? Will that be our legacy?

I suggest you write to Attorney General Eric Holder ( and ask him to investigate. I suggest you write to your Senators and U.S. Representatives and tell them how important this matter is. And write to the President himself.

There are a myriad of critical reasons to investigate the Bush torture program. But there is also a spiritual principle involved. We as a nation crossed over the line of darkness. We are torturers now. The only way back from from the dark side is some form of confession and repentance. Acknowledgment. The cosmos/life/G-d/karma - whatever you want to call it - doesn't put up with sweeping things under the rug. Until we deal honestly and justly with what we have done, we as a nation will never be able to move forward.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brooklyn Meets the Česká republika

Bang on a Can All Stars & Iva Bittová
"Bolis Me Lasko" from Elida
23.6.2006 Palace Akropolis, Prague

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Tax Day

From Political Wire:

A new Gallup Poll finds 48% of Americans saying the amount of federal income taxes they pay is "about right," with 46% saying "too high" -- one of the most positive assessments Gallup has measured since 1956. Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low.

First Read: "In the last few years, the GOP has seen its advantage on the issue of taxes deteriorate, and it's something that has thrown the party for a loop -- as without taxes as a rallying cry, the GOP has found itself with fewer issues to brag to the public about."
And, of course, the obligatory soundtrack:

Monday, April 06, 2009

Knights Templar Hid the Shroud of Turin, says Vatican

Yes, but the Vatican still won't admit Templar links to JFK, Elvis and Roswell!

Excerpts from the Times online story:

Medieval knights hid and secretly venerated The Holy Shroud of Turin for more than 100 years after the Crusades, the Vatican said yesterday in an announcement that appeared to solve the mystery of the relic’s missing years.

The Knights Templar, an order which was suppressed and disbanded for alleged heresy, took care of the linen cloth, which bears the image of a man with a beard, long hair and the wounds of crucifixion, according to Vatican researchers.

The Shroud, which is kept in the royal chapel of Turin Cathedral, has long been revered as the shroud in which Jesus was buried, although the image only appeared clearly in 1898 when a photographer developed a negative.

Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, said the Shroud had disappeared in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century. Writing in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Dr Frale said its fate in those years had always puzzled historians.

However her study of the trial of the Knights Templar had brought to light a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access”. There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

Dr Frale said that among other alleged offences such as sodomy, the Knights Templar had been accused of worshipping idols, in particular a “bearded figure”. In reality however the object they had secretly venerated was the Shroud.

Medievalist to the rescue:

In 2003 Dr Frale, the Vatican’s medieval specialist, unearthed the record of the trial of the Templars, also known as the Chinon Parchment, after realising that it had been wrongly catalogued.

Damn catalogers! Always causing problems.

And, of course, the Spanish are involved:
The self proclaimed heirs of the Knights Templar have asked the Vatican to “restore the reputation” of the disgraced order and acknowledge that assets worth some £80 million were confiscated.

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, based in Spain, said that when the order was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties, farms and commercial ventures belonging to knights were seized by the Church.
Finally, what the Vatican doesn't want you to see! A new Laser UV-visible-NIR microspectrometer for spectra of sub-micron samples developed by NASA reveals a more detailed image of the shroud: