The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Saturday, February 26, 2005
SELF-PROMOTION: The April issue of Reason, just out, includes an essay by yrs. truly on the collision of hippie culture and redneck culture in the '70s.

It's not online yet. But the March issue is, so if you'd like to read my review of Tom Frank's
What's the Matter With Kansas? but you can't stand to pick up an actual magazine, you're in luck.

posted by Jesse 10:02 PM
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PRE-OSCAR SHOW: I have a hard time caring about the Oscars, but they're as good an opportunity as any to spout off about last year's movies. If The Perpetual Three-Dot Column were handing out the statuettes, here's the prizes we'd award:

Best Picture: Tarnation
Best Fiction Picture: Bad Education
Best Older Picture That Didn't Get an American Release Until 2004: The Saddest Music in the World
Best Science Fiction Movie: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Best Superhero Movie: The Incredibles
Best Animation: In the Realms of the Unreal
Best Sex Scene: Team America
Good Teen Movies: Mean Girls; Napoleon Dynamite
Really, Really Shitty Teen Movies: The Perfect Score; Saved!
Best Movie I Saw on an Airplane: Barbershop 2
Most Underrated Movie: Seed of Chucky
Best Underrated Movie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Most Welcome Sequel: Kill Bill Vol. 2
Most Pointless Sequel: Tanner on Tanner
Inspired the Silliest Positive Hyperbole: The Passion of the Christ
Inspired the Silliest Negative Hyperbole: The Passion of the Christ

I trust the difference between "most underrated" and "best underrated" is clear. Seed of Chucky wouldn't make it onto my top ten list, but it didn't deserve the drubbing it got from most of the critics.

Music notes: Ray gets a special Saved By The Soundtrack award. Yes yes, Jamie Foxx was good, but it was the music, not the performances, that made that terrible script bearable. The year's best original song, of course, was Team America's "America, Fuck Yeah!"

A special booby prize goes to Saved! for reminding us that blue-state liberals really can be the condescending bigots of Michael Medved's nightmares. A second booby prize goes to Medved, whose assault on Million Dollar Baby showed more contempt for audiences' intelligence than anything concocted by any actual filmmaker.

And the real Oscars? They're a joke, of course, but they can be fun as long as you remember the rules of the game. The Academy rarely honors genre movies because it thinks they're lowbrow; and it doesn't honor genuinely challenging art films because they usually don't do well at the box office. The prototypical Best Picture winner is a financial success that also bears what Hollywood takes to be the marks of "quality" -- period costumes, liberal politics, handicapped characters, "epic" scope, English accents, the Holocaust, etc. Sometimes, of course, these happen to be genuinely good movies. But they're almost never the best.

I'll be pulling for Sideways, but I don't expect it to win.

posted by Jesse 9:54 PM
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Tuesday, February 22, 2005
IN THREES: I was wondering how the deaths of Sam Francis and Hunter Thompson might be fused into one story. Now I know the answer.

Rest in piece,
Dr. Gene Scott.

posted by Jesse 12:09 PM
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Wednesday, February 09, 2005
SELF-PROMOTION: Yesterday's Reason
column argues that D.W. Griffith paved the way for Ed Wood.

posted by Jesse 2:53 PM
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WOLFMAN JACK 3000: When I was a college DJ, one of my colleagues lived in an apartment filled with obscure albums, reel-to-reel tape loops, sound-effects records, videotapes of UFO cranks, and cassettes of old programs he could re-edit and broadcast anew. Sometimes he'd conclude his late-night radio show with minutes of silence, interrupted occasionally by a recorded voice declaring, "There is no sound here at all."

Once he brought a personal computer into the studio, hooked it to the console, and programmed it to replay a sound effect, over and over again. Then he started a record or two -- he never liked to play only one thing at a time -- and wandered out of the room.

A visitor entered and saw a Macintosh where a disc jockey would ordinarily be.

"What's that computer for?" he asked me.

"It's the DJ," I explained. "This is some new software we're trying out. The computer's been responsible for all the programming in the last hour. It's been doing a good job, don't you think?"

The stranger blinked a couple of times. "Yes," he finally said. "It certainly has."

"We're thinking about replacing a lot of the DJs with machines," I said. "This is sort of an experiment."

"It's amazing," said the stranger, "what they can do with computers these days."

"It is," I amiably agreed. "And this isn't even the best program. We're hoping to make enough money this pledge drive to get one of the newer models."

The DJ reentered the studio and got back to work.

"All right," I admitted. "I made all that stuff up."

Our guest looked embarrassed, and a little disappointed. "Uh...yeah, I thought so," he lied.

The computers had the last laugh, of course. These days they're doing DJ shifts all over the country, and when they aren't playing the music they're still picking it. Rarely, alas, do they broadcast such creative chaos.

posted by Jesse 1:40 PM
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Friday, February 04, 2005
KILLERS X 3: A recent
DVD set from Criterion pairs Robert Siodmak's 1946 noir classic The Killers with Don Siegel's 1964 remake of the movie. (Both are based very loosely on Ernest Hemmingway's short story.) I'm a big fan of the original film, and I had never seen the remake, so I rented the set eagerly last night. In addition to being made by Siegel -- one of my favorite directors -- the '64 version is notable for featuring Ronald Reagan as a villain. That I wanted to see.

I wasn't disappointed. Even if this were a lousy movie, it would be worth watching just to see Reagan as a gangster who hits Angie Dickinson and says things like "I approve of larceny; homicide is against my principles." The man who steals the show, though, is Lee Marvin as one of the eponymous killers -- I don't think I've ever seen him give a better performance. A very good, very underrated picture; I recommend it almost as highly as Siodmak's version.

But here's the strangest thing. Among the set's many extras is a 19-minute student film of "The Killers" made in 1958. The chief director was, of all people, Andrei Tarkovksy. The thought of Tarkovksy making anything so short boggles the mind, but Tark fans needn't be disillusioned: In his hands, 19 minutes feels like three hours. Aside from one inventive sequence in the middle, his film is leaden stuff. On the other hand, it's the only version that faithfully follows the original Hemmingway.

posted by Jesse 6:54 PM
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Monday, January 31, 2005
THE POLITICS OF GROWING UP: I have two articles in the March Reason: a brief squib on the WIPO broadcasting treaty and a much meatier review of Tom Frank's
What's the Matter with Kansas? One topic I didn't have room for in the review was the book's entertaining -- and inadvertently revealing -- chapter on Frank's days as a teenage conservative. Influenced by his alienated middle-class neighbors, "self-made" men disgusted by the changes of the '60s and '70s, Teen Tom embraced Ronald Reagan, the ideal of rugged individualism, and nostalgia for pre-'60s America. He turned left when he got to college and discovered that the frat-boy Republican crowd was filled with spoiled snobs. (He also got his first real jobs, and learned how unpleasant low-paid work could be.)

As a smart, funny description of a particular time and place, this is excellent stuff. As an insight into the conservative experience, it's less impressive. Frank's days as a suburban Reaganite may reflect the lives of many middle-class kids, but they don't say much about why someone might find conservative ideas intellectually attractive, as opposed to emotionally rewarding. I suspect one reason Frank often has trouble distinguishing free markets from crony capitalism is the fact that he didn't pay much attention to the theoretical case for markets when he was on the right, and subconsciously assumes that no one else did either. "Here was I," he writes, "a Mission Hills lad, growing up in one of the perfect regional arcadias of American capitalism, a place more like the grounds of Versailles than the average postwar suburb, and what I had managed to do was invent a romantic justification for precisely the system of social arrangements that had made Mission Hills possible."

I can sympathize. While Frank's chapter reminded me very little of most conservatives I've known, it reminded me quite a bit of my own teenage days, even though I've never been a Republican in my life. Five years younger than Frank, growing up in a liberal college town, Teen Jesse looked back with nostalgia not at the lost days before the '60s but at the lost days of the '60s themselves. My politics were skeptical, humanist, and leftist, a combination I'd absorbed from the city's old hippies, young punks, and liberal professors. Here I was, a Chapel Hill lad, growing up in one of the perfect regional arcadias of American academia, and what I managed to do was invent a romantic justification for precisely the system of social arrangements that had made Chapel Hill possible.

And what changed my mind? Well, I was already a libertarian of sorts by the time I reached college, but what made me decide I wasn't a part of the left was watching the P.C. authoritarianism of so many university progressives, a group whose high-handed bullying had more than a little in common with the frat hounds Frank faced at the University of Kansas.

Tom Frank's memoir was supposed to describe a political type. Instead it reveals a personality type. Like so much of his book, that makes for better literature than sociology.

posted by Jesse 8:39 PM
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