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

Thursday, December 29, 2005
SELF-PROMOTION: The February issue of Reason won't be online for another month, but it's available now at newsstands. I have one substantial article in it (a review of the silent Soviet comedy
My Grandmother and the ethos that produced it) and one shorter item (about flexible manufacturing networks).

posted by Jesse 7:04 PM
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THE 30-YEAR ITCH: For those who came in late: Rather than listing the best films of the year now ending -- a task I'm especially ill-qualified to do this December, since I haven't made it to many movies since my daughter was born in July -- I'm recommending my favorite pictures of
1995, 1985, and now 1975:

1. Nashville
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Joan Tewkesbury

Some of my friends dismiss this one as a smug left-coaster giving a raspberry to flyover country. To them I point out that the least sympathetic characters in the whole vast cast are the rocker from LA and the reporter from the UK. Altman's withering satire is nothing if not universal.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Directed by Milos Forman
Written by Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben, from a novel by Ken Kesey

Perhaps it wasn't obvious at the time, but this scathing attack on the nanny state suggests an invisible fissure in the counterculture. I imagine some young hipster watching All in the Family one night in 1975 and then heading out for a late screening of this movie, never dreaming that his hero Rob Reiner would turn out to have more in common with Nurse Ratched than with McMurphy.

3. Love and Death
Written and directed by Woody Allen

His funniest film, and his most pointedly political picture too.

4. Dog Day Afternoon
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Frank Pierson

Best bank-robbery movie ever. "Sal, Wyoming's not a country."

5. Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Cliff Green, from a novel by Joan Lindsay

If you want to understand the mass media's fixation on disappearing white girls, start here.

6. Swept an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August
Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller

A comedy about the complexities of love, lust, and power, and the difficulties in discerning who wields the latter when the first two forces are in play. I'm reminded of a line from the Firesign Theatre: "It's a new world now, honey! Nobody's gwine have to be a slave all de time no mo'. We's gwine take turns."

7. Fox and His Friends
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by Fassbinder and Christian Hohoff

Fassbinder was a trailblazing gay director, a man who somehow managed to fuse the aesthetics of Douglas Sirk and John Cassavetes, and, like Wertmuller, a radical with no patience for political correctness. I'll steal a passage from Roger Ebert: "Years before Hollywood made its first faltering steps in the direction of a new frankness about homosexuality, Fassbinder was miles out in front. He was so comfortable with gay characters that he felt no hesitation in portraying some of them as selfish, brutal and grasping -- as evil, indeed, as heterosexuals in other movies. Here is a movie about characters who define themselves by their sexuality, but the movie doesn't. It takes the sexuality as a given, and defines them by their values and morals."

8. Jaws
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, from Benchley's novel

There's a small handful of Spielberg movies that I like, but if all his pictures were to disappear from the earth tomorrow this is the only one I'd miss.

9. Grey Gardens
Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer

The best documentaries are about people, not events. This one captures two aging eccentrics whose relationship can never be entirely explained, just observed.

10. The Man Who Would Be King
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston and Gladys Hill, from a story by Rudyard Kipling

"They're Masons!"

posted by Jesse 3:17 PM
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Thursday, December 22, 2005
THE WAY IT WAS IN '85: In which we continue our look back at the best movies made in years ending with the numeral 5. Monday we covered
1995. Here's my ten favorite films of ten years earlier:

1. Ran
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, and Masato Ide

The story of King Lear predates the Bard, so it shouldn't seem odd that the best movie it inspired doesn't include a single line of Shakespeare.

2. Brazil
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown

They could have called it Monty Python's 1984.

3. Louie Bluie
Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Zwigoff's first film is a charming documentary about the bluesman, artist, and porn aficionado Howard Armstrong. It's also utterly fake: The living room it's filmed in is an artificial set, some of the people reminiscing with Armstrong barely know him, and the director had to persuade his subjects to play the early string-band songs he loved rather than the more complex music they preferred. You can decide for yourself whether all that artifice is a flaw or an enhancement.

4. Vagabond
Written and directed by Agnes Varda

Not a simple celebration of a free spirit, and not a disdainful condemnation of a marginal life either. Like a hobo Citizen Kane, it circles its title character but never touches her directly; instead it views her through other people's eyes, and never claims to have solved all the riddles she poses.

5. After Hours
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Joseph Minion

Better critics can weigh this picture's place in Scorsese's filmography. I'll just point out that it's the best movie Cheech and Chong were ever involved with.

6. Static
Directed by Mark Romanek
Written by Romanek and Keith Gordon

Before he was shooting videos for Bowie, Beck, and Johnny Cash, Romanek made this terrific indie flick about a man who believes he's built a machine that'll let you peek into heaven. Why doesn't this have a bigger cult following?

7. Prizzi's Honor
Directed by John Huston
Written by Richard Condon and Janet Roach, from Condon's novel

The godfather of mafia comedies.

8. Fluke
Directed by Emily Breer

An animated collage.

9. Chain Letters
Written and directed by Mark Rappaport

In most conspiracy movies, the plot -- funny word, that -- reveals a hidden order lurking behind our seemingly chaotic world. This one's about the order we invent to make sense of the world's genuine chaos.

10. The Purple Rose of Cairo
Written and directed by Woody Allen

A different sort of cinephilia: Mia Farrow's character falls in love with a movie character, and vice versa. Those of you who prefer Allen's onscreen persona to his offscreen life will appreciate the ending.

posted by Jesse 5:20 PM
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Monday, December 19, 2005
SELF-PROMOTION: Reason ran my
Christmas column today, titled "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and subtitled "The war on Christmas is over. Guess who won?"

Also, a few articles previously published in the print edition of Reason are now online as well: my review of America's Right Turn and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an extended version of my Web column on Katrina, and a brief bit about creationist roadside attractions.

Finally: This past weekend CounterPunch posted an annotated list of some of my favorite live recordings.

posted by Jesse 7:46 PM
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THE MOVIE THING: This blog doesn't run an annual countdown of the year's best films, on the grounds that I never manage to see all the movies I'm interested in before the year is over. That's especially true in 2005: Once you've got a baby, it's a lot harder to make it to the theater, or anywhere else for that matter. (Of the pictures I did manage to see, my favorite is either The Curse of the Were-Rabbit or The Dying Gaul.)

As a substitute, the tradition at The Perpetual Three-Dot Column is to list my favorite movies of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and on backwards until we all get bored. And so, without further ado: the top ten movies...of 1995:

1. Safe
Written and directed by Todd Haynes

Haynes made several exceptional movies before stumbling with the middlebrow Far from Heaven (which, naturally, became his biggest hit). This one's a parable about an egoless person who consumes her life rather than living it, even -- or especially -- when she turns her back on "consumerism."

2. Smoke
Directed by Wayne Wang
Written by Paul Auster

A loving ode to coincidence.

3. Trainspotting
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by John Hodge, from a novel by Irvine Welsh

A sad, hilarious, disgusting, and inspiring movie about drug abuse. Refreshingly, it never condescends to its characters: There's no question that these are individuals making choices, not zombies possessed by a disease.

4. Twelve Monkeys
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by David and Janet Peoples, from a story by Chris Marker

That shot of a giraffe galloping through the city is one of my favorite moments in any film.

5. Mabarosi
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Written by Yoshihisa Ogita, from a novel by Teru Miyamoto

Ozu lives!

6. The Secret of Roan Inish
Written and directed by John Sayles, from a book by Rosalie K. Fry

Aside from Limbo, which doesn't entirely fit the mold anyway, I'm not a big fan of Sayles' big-canvas movies -- those labored flicks where he tries to create a politically engaged portrait of an entire community but ends up producing a clockwork-powered speechmaking machine instead. But his small movies can be wonderful, especially this eerie and endearing fantasy.

7. Toy Story
Directed by John Lasseter
Written by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow, from a story by Lasseter, Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft

"One minute you're defending the whole galaxy, and suddenly you find yourself sucking down Darjeeling with Marie Antoinette...and her little sister."

8. The City of Lost Children
Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by Caro, Jeunet, Gilles Adrien, and Guillaume Laurant

If Twelve Monkeys was 1995's best semi-surrealist science-fiction saga, then this is the movie for viewers who prefer their surrealism without a "semi" prefixed. Jeunet went on to make Amelie, while Caro seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Anyone know what he's up to these days?

9. Shanghai Triad
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Written by Bi Feiyu, from a novel by Li Xiao

A lush, hypnotic gangster movie. Like Miller's Crossing on opium.

10. Funny Bones
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Written by Chelsom and Peter Flannery

Fellini in Blackpool.

Honorable mentions:

11. Get Shorty (Barry Sonnenfeld)
12. La Ceremonie (Claude Chabrol)
13. Tierra (Julio Medem)
14. Casino (Martin Scorsese)
15. The Drivetime (Antero Alli)
16. A Close Shave (Nick Park)
17. Underground (Emir Kusturica)
18. Clueless (Amy Heckerling)
19. Heidi Fleiss, Hollywood Madam (Nick Broomfield)
20. Exotica (Atom Egoyan)

posted by Jesse 4:38 PM
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Saturday, December 10, 2005
R.W. BRADFORD, RIP: Raymond William Bradford, the founder and editor of Liberty magazine, died of cancer Thursday night. He was 58 years old. He gave me my first job in journalism, and I worked for him for three and a half years, squirreled away in his big creaky house in rural Washington state. He slept in the day and worked in the night, and he could talk for hours about American history, fringe politics, old movies, baseball, and his favorite foods. (I remember him querying Backwoods Home magazine to see if they'd be interested in an article on the proper preparation of popcorn.) He loved cats, maps, and motorcycles, and would cite Ludwig von Mises and David Letterman with equal relish. We had a running argument about whether it was possible for one item to be "more unique" than another. Now that he isn't here to correct me, I can say that Bill was one of the most unique people I ever knew.

I'm not sure where he was born, but he was raised in Traverse City, Michigan, the rebellious son of an IRS agent. He'd been active in libertarian circles since his teens, going back to his days editing the mimeographed zine Eleutherian Forum in the '60s; his early articles appeared in a variety of venues, including Reason. In the meantime, he did very well for himself as a dealer in rare coins, and used his earnings to launch Liberty in 1987. It established itself quickly as a lively mix of movement-oriented material -- philosophical debates, recovered libertarian history, critical coverage of Libertarian Party politics -- with the occasional travelogue or movie review thrown in just because it was a good read. As the magazine's audience broadened beyond its initial ideological base, its contents grew more varied as well; the writers soon ranged from Milton Friedman to Bob Black, from Randy Weaver to Randal O'Toole. The quality eventually dipped, but in its best years Liberty published some remarkably good material, all the more remarkable for being produced by a tiny staff on a shoestring budget in the middle of nowhere. We didn't even pay the contributors. For them, like Bill, it was a labor of love.

Eventually we had a falling out, and I spoke to Bill only once after I quit the magazine nine years ago. But in the last few months, after I learned of his condition, I mostly remembered the good times -- all those conversations we would have about everything from Orson Welles to the Civil War. He was an ornery, eccentric, independent man, and he made the world a little richer by living in it.

(cross-posted at
Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 1:16 PM
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Saturday, December 03, 2005
HOME FROM THE HOLY LAND: Yet another sign that this blog is in decline: I spent over a week in the Levant last month and not only failed to post any dispatches, but failed to post anything about the trip after I got back this past Monday. It's not as though I did any real reporting while I was there, but at least I could cough up some anecdotes, man!

Well, maybe I'll post something about it next week. In the meantime, the site can still fulfill what has become its chief function: to offer links to what I've written elsewhere. So:

1. This week I composed a
long article about the Ku Klux Klan, which Reason Online published yesterday. (I tried to interest Baby M in the subject too, but she turned up her nose.)

2. The new print edition of Reason, dated January 2006, includes a much shorter piece about a video game that simulates a nonviolent revolution. It ain't online yet, so get thee to a newsstand, bub.

3. CounterPunch has again asked me to send them a list of the music I've been listening to recently, with annotations. My reply appeared on their site this afternoon.

posted by Jesse 4:57 PM
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For past entries, click here.

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