Sunday, January 22, 2017

Not to live in the past, but ...

The last novel that I mentioned in the prior blog post reminds me of what is surely the most astounding 3-film run in the history of cinema: Hitchcock's Vertigo, followed by North by Northwest, followed by Psycho.

The first of these was so perverse and personal that, by his standards, it was both a critical and commercial failure at the time. So he decided: "I'll show them," by making one of the most delightful and perfectly commercial films ever, albeit still wholly rooted in his own distinctive feel for paranoia. Then, when the studios wanted him to just keep making more of the same, he went for maximum shock and discomfort, at a time when doing this was daring and startling.

The individual greatness of each of these three films is augmented by seeing how they change course and react to each other.

Books I read on the beach

Counting right before and right after my 6 days in Jamaica:

1) Theodore Dreiser, The Titan - I had initially thought that, in my literature book, I would only write about the predecessor volume, The Financier. But this one is in some ways even more interesting sociologically. It foreshadows Ayn Rand (and is much closer to that than to Horatio Alger), except that the author stands somewhat apart from the lead character's regard for his own "greatness." Someone, perhaps David Frum, called this book an Ayn Rand novel written by a socialist, and that's a good way of putting it.

2) Lindsay Cameron, Biglaw - I read this for my first-year reading group, covering 4 novels about law school or  legal practice (with the other three being by Lisa McElroy, David Lat, and me). The idea is that we read the books, then meet and talk with the authors, including Ms. Cameron this coming Wednesday. Biglaw does a great job of satirically yet horrifyingly conveying the NYC Biglaw corporate setting. I certainly hope that it's exaggerated for literary effect, rather than meant to be accurate! But I fear that it actually is all too accurate. Something to ask the author about.

3) Edith Wharton, House of Mirth - also for my literature book. Great and very sad; I was half or more of the way through before I saw my line of approach for writing about it. An odd point about the book's structure: it's all about Lily Bart having one chance after another after another after another to succeed in achieving complete financial security. But she throws all of these chances away, sometimes whimsically or self-indulgently, but often based on her actually accepting the Old Money social ideals that everyone else realizes by now are wholly fraudulent.  And she's the only one who still actually believes in those ideals (which are aesthetic, not by any means ethical).  Okay, Selden believes in them too, but they cost him nothing rather than everything.

4) Booth Tarkington, Alice Adams - interesting Midwestern early 20th century social portrait of a whimsical and ill-starred character, by the author of The Magnificent Ambersons (which I may also, though only briefly, write about in the literature book). I kept picturing a flightier Katherine Hepburn (who played the title part in the movie of Alice Adams), but the book mercifully lacked the movie's saccharine ending.

5) Margaret Millar, A Stranger in My Grave - interesting mid-century noir fiction, although the resolution was a bit pat.

6) Georges Simenon, The Mahe Circle - very dark and perverse, concerning a mad and suicidal obsession. One of his "dur" rather than Maigret novels.

7) Elmore Leonard, 52 Pickup - fun reading for the plane, though it got a bit tense near the end.

8) Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Vertigo - The novel that was the basis for the immortal Hitchcock film. They apparently wrote it in the hope that he would option it. Set in 1940s France, and with a couple of key plot differences including a different (but also dark) ending. Obviously, I knew what the key plot twist would be before it happened. Quite good in its own way, especially if you come to it from the movie and find the transmutations interesting.

I seem to have used the word "dark" quite a lot in this blog entry. Sorry about that from a writerly standpoint, but it certainly is the word of the day for me these days.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Back in the U.S.A.

It's a shame to have left behind this:

But at least I got to come home to this:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Temporary escape

I'm leaving for a warm climate (outside the U.S.) for 6 days, returning late on January 20 as I don't teach my first class (Tax Policy Colloquium with paper by Lily Batchelder) until Monday, January 23.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Three ways a president can make money through his businesses, absent a blind trust

One is to shape government policies, procurement decisions, etcetera, to favor his businesses. A second is to get business from others who seek to curry favor (the emoluments issue). A third is to have the businesses act on inside information about impending news before it becomes public.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

This should not be normal

It's not just Trump.

As Rebecca Kysar notes, courtesy of Tax Policy Center estimates:

"The House blueprint ... awards three-quarters of its tax cuts to earners in the top 1 percent ....  Even factoring in favorable macroeconomic effects, the plan would also add trillions to the country's debt, creating an unsustainable fiscal chasm."

We've been too gaslighted for too long to find this surprising. But if you step back for a second and just think about it in political, social, economic and budgetary context, its reckless and malicious irresponsibility beggars belief. In no still-sane country could such a plan even be proposed by anyone, apart from tin-hat lunatics ranting on street corners.

This is not normal.  A country in which it has become normal is not normal.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Plus ca change

From Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, which I am reading (and so far enjoying) on the view that I might use it in Part 3 of my literature book (U.S. from the Civil War through World War I):

"He does anything he likes to, without any regard for what people think. Then why should he mind so furiously when the least little thing reflects upon him, or on anything or anybody connected with him?"

Eugene patted her hand. "That's one of the greatest puzzles of human vanity, dear; and I don't pretend to know the answer. In all my life, the most arrogant people that I've known have been the most sensitive. The people who have done the most in contempt of other people's opinions and who consider themselves the highest above it, have been the most furious if it went against them. Arrogant and domineering people can't stand the least, lightest, faintest breath of criticism. It just kills them."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Beatles' Let It Be (Spectorized version)

I hadn't played the official Phil Spector version of Let It Be for probably 30 years, since I have alternate versions that I prefer (the original Get Back as compiled by Glyn Johns, plus various compilations of outtakes and alternative versions). But needing something fresh to play in the health club, I decided to save it on Spotify and give it a shot.

The Spector version is better than I remembered or expected. Although all the extra orchestration is a bit questionable, only on The Long and Winding Road does it really go beyond the pale, and that song drags enough to need something (albeit, not what Spector gave it - one can appreciate how much lighter a touch George Martin had on orchestral backing for their songs).

Let It Be has a different George Harrison solo, which I hadn't heard for the 30 years. It's well-done, but less original (more standard issue late-60s Lead Guitar Part) than what George usually played.

You can see how they try to cover up the lack of Lennon songs by including Across the Universe (well worth it, but from 1968), his lead vocals on Dig It, Maggie Mae, and of course the delightful retread of One After 909. He hadn't written (or at least completed writing) anything suitable apart from I Dig a Pony and Don't Let Me Down - which Spector disliked, so relegated to Side B of a single.  There's an outtake where John slags himself for not having anything good on hand for them to play.

The album remains the Beatles' only failure to convert material on hand into an entirely suitable finished product. But over the 40+ years since, they've done their fans and themselves a disservice by not releasing (a) an expanded version of the movie that shows more of the tensions (c'mon, it's old news by now), plus (b) a box set of the sessions - say, one CD for Let It Be plus other official releases from the sessions, one for the Glyn Johns versions of Get Back, and two more for outtakes. There's enough good  (if often rough and unpolished) extra material from the sessions to support, say, two 50 or 60-minute extra disks, one from Twickenham and one from the Apple sessions.  McCartney's Let It Be Naked (with a ridiculously short, inadequate, and unlistenable "bonus" disk) was worse than nothing as it apparently supplanted doing the reissue properly.

Or they could just put everything from the sessions on iTunes and let people make their own compilations.

Okay, I guess that's enough Beatles nerding for now.