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Link Dump: #20

Anne Hathaway can try – and best of luck to her – but she’ll never out-Catwoman the beloved Eartha Kitt. I mean, her last name was “Kitt”! You can’t get more Catwoman-y than that. Luckily for Anne, though, she’ll undoubtedly outdo the previous incarnation – i.e., Halle Berry’s. Guess we’ll just have to wait until 2012 to know for sure! In the meantime, some links:

  • Runt of the Web has a very funny observation about “Why I Need To Quit Facebook.”
  • I think these film noir woodcuts by Guy Budziak may be the coolest things ever. Feel free to contradict me on that… but you’ll probably be wrong.
  • Oh, women. First they’re menstruating all over the place, now they’re falling asleep during movies. Luckily AskMen.com’s scienticians are here to tell us the very scientific reasons why!
  • If you’ve never checked out Banksy’s website, it’s got a great collection of his bitingly satirical graffiti pieces, both in and out of doors.
  • Speaking of Oscar nominees, aren’t the Coen Bros. awesome? This chart contains all 15 of their films to date, plus info about actors they’ve reused.
  • Christopher Hitchens in Slate points out a few of the “gross falsifications of history” present in The King’s Speech. A glossy piece of prestigious fluff chooses to overlook unpleasant truths? I know, I’m shocked too! (Matt Singer of IFC responds with a comparison to The Social Network.)
  • I always love jokey photoshopped posters, so TheShiznit brings us “If the Best Picture nominee posters told the truth.” The alterations of are of varying quality, and to be truly nitpicky, neither Love and Other Drugs nor The Ghost Writer was nominated. But it’s worth a laugh. And no matter what you do, there’s no way to make that poster for The King’s Speech worse.
  • This was published last June, but I just discovered it: an essay by Matt Mazur talking about Fassbinder alongside The Night of the Hunter. As a massive fan of both, I had to read it.

On the search term front, we don’t have much this week. But there is the odd, lie-filled “why aren’t gay men attractive”; the extreme long “first atempt menses vigina in indian femle with clear videos,” which doesn’t seem sure what it’s searching for; and finally, the ominous “pictures of pussys you’re not supposed to see.” Which pictures are those, exactly? Do I even want to know?

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Link Dump: #13

Inspired by today’s Kindertrauma Funhouse, the above picture comes from Roger Corman’s early black comedy A Bucket of Blood (1959), something of a companion piece to Little Shop of Horrors (1960). In it, Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley (a character he would play many more times), a busboy who wants to be a beatnik artist. He gets the chance when he accidentally stabs his landlady’s poor kitty, Frankie, and turns the corpse into a sculpture. What follows is Corman’s usual Faustian drama wrapped in dark humor, all filmed on recycled sets with a budget of pocket change. And yet another horror movie kitty bites the dust (or, I guess, bites the clay).

And now, to celebrate our lucky 13th Link Dump, I’ve got a ginormous parade of links that runs the gamut from depressing to hilarious to fascinating and back again. The Internet was pretty talkative this week, and now you get to reap the fruits of my copy-and-paste labor. Enjoy!

  • As you’ve probably heard, actor/comedian extraordinaire Leslie Nielsen died last Sunday at age 84. The Internet is full of remembrances; here are a few from Paracinema, My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second, True Classics, and Roger Ebert. Also, here are my own Twitter-bound reminiscences.
  • Here are two awesome LGBTQ lists: one of comic book characters and one of 2010 books.
  • Empire has a fun time-waster: a poster quiz featuring individual letters from movie posters. I got 16/46, including Showgirls. (Who could forget that typography?) What score can you get?
  • Over at Splitsider, former Simpsons writer/producer (and Mission Hill co-creator) has been writing about the Simpsons writing process; most recently, he’s done a detailed look at the evolution of “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song.”
  • The Criterion Collection! Female filmmakers!
  • Leo McCarey’s hard-to-find My Son John (1952) is on Netflix Instant! Let’s all go watch it, quick! [Thanks to the Self-Styled Siren for the tip-off.]
  • Artforum has 2010 Top 10 movie lists from John Waters and Mark Webber. The latter’s list is mostly avant-garde, while Waters’ is predictably wild and eclectic. Alas, out of all 20, I’ve only seen Dogtooth and Life During Wartime. Better get watching! (And more: Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw’s best of 2010.)
  • From a Vanity Fair interview: Johnny Depp on his characters’ sexualities and his desire to play Hamlet.
  • Terence Malick’s making a movie immediately after The Tree of Life!! Has anyone checked to make sure this is the same Malick we’re talking about? His new project (potentially titled The Burial) will – according to the TheWrap.com article linked above – feature Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem.
  • Hey, it’s that time again! Censorship Time! Thanks to the Catholic League and Speaker of the House John Boehner, a David Wojnarowicz video piece has been removed from an exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery. Don’t you just love the abuse of political power to supplant the artistic expression of a man who’s been dead since 1992? JESUS. (Literally – the piece was about Jesus.) [GLAAD has another article about the censorship.]
  • As a pick-me-up, how about some terrible but still funny typography jokes?
  • Matt Mazur of PopMatters wrote a long, in-depth essay on one of my favorite movies, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. I love it when people do that.
  • Speaking of long, in-depth essays on movies I love, Ed Howard at Only the Cinema has one on Edward Dmytryk’s disturbing, underrated film noir The Sniper! “Stop me. Find me and stop me. I’m going to do it again.” Arthur Franz is terrifying.
  • We all love Criterion’s gorgeous DVD cover designs, but some genius decided to make fake Criterion-style covers for movies like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) and Bio-Dome (1996). Delightful.
  • This just in! Sarah Dopp wants to make a marketplace for genderplayful clothing! It’s a super-cool idea, and you should totally show your support! Yeah!

We’re running tragically low on funny/weird search terms because of how WordPress has reformatted their system, but I still have some porntastic treats for you. For example, “the horny lady in the caravan” is a pretty enigmatic search, as is the horrendously spelled “sex pusy bleak girlls.” One of those four words is not like the others. (It’s “bleak.”) Someone sought out “xander berkeley + sexuality,” which I applaud. (Berkeley, for what it’s worth, is an underappreciated character actor in films, TV, and animation; he played insensitive husbands in two of my favorite films of the ’90s, Candyman and [Safe].) And finally, we had that old classic, “pussy om nom nom.” And a merry pussy om nom nom to you too, dear reader!

[Note from Ashley:  Andreas is no longer allowed to pick the pictures for the link dumps. He picks too many disturbing pictures of kitties and it upsets me greatly.]

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Gardens of Artistic Delight

The other day I was driving past Lake Minnetonka, thinking about how much this area sucks, and then started wondering what I would prefer. And I realized that I wish it were more like this.

Mmm, forbidden fruit.

This is a detail from the center panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s great, beautiful triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights. A night spent examining this painting is what Ashley and I consider our first date – and it certainly beats going to some random movie or eating dinner. Why did it come to mind when thinking about how to fix the Lake Minnetonka area? Because around here, everyone cuts up the lake and seals off their own little spots – either they’ve got lakeside property that they hoard like a defensive rodent, or else they’ve got some boat they’re obsessively proud of, or some other bullshit attitude toward the lake that comes down to “this is mine.” Well, fuck that. And it occurred to me that the opposite attitude – “this is ours,” more or less, with “ours” referring to all of us, everyone who lives here – is wonderfully embodied in Bosch’s frolicking debauchers, all naked and gleefully having whatever kind of fun they want to (albeit amidst scads of 16th century Dutch symbolism). Honestly, why can’t we have more of this?

I want a peach/flower submarine, dammit.

And don’t give me any of that “It’s completely physically impossible” bullshit. If all the uptight, self-obsessed suburbanites that live around here would just start acting a little more nude-friendly and orgiastic, soon everybody could be hugging owls, eating enormous, allegorical strawberries, and fucking everyone else out in the open. So, to make it short, that’s the reality I want to live in. Even if it is deliberately surreal and a giant religious metaphor. With mermaid knights, too!

And now, I think I’ll talk about something I should’ve brought up a long time ago. There is a blog. I haven’t been there for a while, but when I’m not indulging in punk cabaret, it’s one of my major sources for music. It’s called “Music for Maniacs,” and its premise is carved out of sheer awesomeness. As the homepage explains, it’s “the Web’s longest-running strange-music blog! Dedicated to extremes in music and utterly unique sounds.” Strange, extreme, and unique, in this context, translate into outsider, avant-garde, and novelty music, along with weird, out-of-left-field recordings from mainstream artists, or else music that’s extreme just because it’s so bad. (If you’ve ever heard of The Shaggs, you know what I’m talking about.)

Singing Sadie: Australia's multi-untalented queen of nostalgically obscene ditties

It’s all well and good to gravitate toward “great” works of art, after all – your Citizen Kanes and Hamlets, your lovely lovely Ludwig Vans and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bands. But sometimes you just need something that, good or bad, is out of the ordinary. Weird. Or, if you’re me, then you need it more than sometimes and you end up writing about it ad nauseum. My point is that Music for Maniacs is a great source of weird, and provides a needed service on the Internet. They introduced me to the untalented, yet weirdly wonderful Singing Sadie. They uncover long-buried treasures, whether sublime or, uh, not so sublime.  I see M4M (as the blog’s author calls it) as providing a service not unlike my beloved publishing house Feral Press: turning over those big rocks in the garden of culture and bringing all the worms and pillbugs out into the sunlight. So go browse through M4M’s archives, check out some mash-ups or long-dead musicians you’ve never heard, and dive into the world of weird music. It’s very worth the effort.

Speaking of something that’s worth the effort, I finally finished Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1980 mega-film Berlin Alexanderplatz this morning. It’s pretty much the longest narrative film ever made (15 1/2 hours), and it earns the title. Incidentally, it’s also a great, visually impressive, emotionally involving film about a simple man who longs for escape but finds his environment (the scummy yet resplendent Weimar Berlin of 1926-28) perpetually dragging him down. That man is Franz Biberkopf, played to perfection by Günter Lamprecht. Franz is an endlessly fascinating, well-developed character, yet one of his defining characteristics is that he’s so ordinary and complaisant. As the film starts – the first episode is fittingly entitled “The Punishment Begins” – Franz is being released from Tegel prison after serving 4 years for killing his girlfriend Ida. (The verdict was manslaughter, and the murder itself, in which Franz mercilessly beats Ida with a shaving brush, is repeated periodically throughout the film.)

The Punishment Begins: Franz Biberkopf leaves prison

Franz vows to go straight, but is unprepared for the trials he’ll face. From episode to episode, he meets a variety of characters, each played by a member of Fassbinder’s stock company (and surrogate family). As enormous a film as it is, a synopsis could never do it justice, but suffice it to say that Franz encounters one challenge after another, and is frequently overcome. Some characters help him (the maternal whore Eva pops up now and then, played by The Marriage of Maria Braun‘s Hannah Schygulla, and there’s also Franz’s old friend Meck) while others put further obstacles in his way – the gangster Pums, the unscrupulous peddler Luders, and the sniveling, stuttering villain who’s also Franz’s best friend, Reinhold (Gottfried John).

Berlin Alexanderplatz might be interesting to examine (if one had the inclination) vis-à-vis a film made shortly after it’s set, Fritz Lang’s M. Although Fassbinder had the benefit of hindsight, both films still follow helpless protagonists (Franz due to his past and economic conditions; Hans Beckert to his own psychotic impulses) trying to navigate through a city (and nation) teetering dangerously close to the abyss of Nazism. I’ve thought in the past about the German New Cinema: if the orphaned Werner Herzog, through his remake of Nosferatu, sees himself as a child of Murnau, whose legacy is Fassbinder picking up? His Lola refashions elements of The Blue Angel – so maybe, with his glittering visual excess and doomed heroes, he could be the offspring of von Sternberg and Lang. Just a thought.

Mieze screaming in the pink glow of neon lights

So, Berlin Alexanderplatz… where to even start discussing this movie? I haven’t yet mentioned one crucial character: Mieze, aka Sonia, whose real name is Emilie Karsunke. An innocent, joyful prostitute (man, this movie piles up contradictions) introduced to Franz by Eva, she rapidly forms a close attachment to him, making up for all the brief, shallow relationships Franz has throughout the film’s first half. She’s played by Barbara Sukowa, who’s cute as a button, wears a little ribbon in her hair, and is prone to breaking into ecstatic screams around the people she loves, Franz und Eva. (Or not-so-ecstatic, like after she receives a particularly brutal beating from Franz that’s terrifyingly reminiscent of Ida’s murder.)

Berlin Alexanderplatz is on one hand a study of the blithely childlike couple of Franz und Mieze, each of whom have an uneasy, uncertain relationship with Reinhold, and on the other hand a probing look at the very specific historical conditions that force Franz from place to place, like hands moving a pawn across a chessboard. It’s also a masterpiece from a brilliant but troubled director, as well as a very personal one – Fassbinder claimed that the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz saved his life, that he knew it by heart, and that Franz, Reinhold, and Mieze were all him in different ways. He had an amazing devotion to the project, and it shows; only such devotion could produce a work of this magnitude, and yet have it all come out coherent and beautiful.

Fassbinder, who made 40 films, yet died at age 37

I’m still pretty much at a loss as to how I can get a handle on this movie. It’s so sprawling and has such dramatic breadth. It’s been said that the novel’s author, Alfred Döblin, was inspired to write it by reading Ulysses. Well, along those lines, I say this: if there’s a way to turn a novel as allusive, complex, and defiantly literary as Ulysses into a movie, Fassbinder found it. The narration (provided by the director himself) recites newspaper headlines, crime statistics, poetry unrelated to the plot; the length doesn’t seem excessive, because Berlin Alexanderplatz is so broad it needs a full half-day to unravel. It speaks of violence and theft and their effects on Franz’s precarious psyche; there’s the impossibility of being as sweet as Mieze in so sour a place as Berlin; and then the omnipresent problem of politics, as Franz goes from selling Nazi newspapers to attending communist rallies, without ever ideologically committing himself. Unless, of course, you count the ideologically of “trying humbly to get along in the world.”

The fact is that to get through the whole movie, you need to have some level of commitment to these characters, their personalities and experiences, even their disastrous mistakes. Special kudos should also go to Xaver Schwarzenberger’s cinematography which lets eyes and skin shine in the city lights and lets us see the beauty in beer, hats, and bird cages. For such an abysmally gritty place, it sure looks great. If you’re still not convinced that Berlin Alexanderplatz is worth spending so much time on, take a look at the trailer. It’s a great movie and even if you’re not a hardcore cinephile, even if you wouldn’t normally go out of your way for an art film – you should still watch it. It’s a valuable experience, and it’s very worth the effort.

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