Two weekends ago (or roughly one million years ago in mental time) I was trying to catch up on the magazine backlog and read Emily Nussbaum’s review of the HBO show Westworld. I can’t remember exactly at what point during my reading that I realized that the Colourbox song Just Give ‘Em Whiskey extensively samples the original Westworld movie, but I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.
Colourbox is one of my more favorite underappreciated bands from the 80s. They were on the arty British 4AD label, and sort of oddballs even among their labelmates. (One of the founding members of the band, Steve Young, died last summer, another in the sad string of deaths of great musicians this year). Their songs ranged from boppy electronic songs — including one of my favorite covers of You Keep Me Hangin’ On — to trippy collections of samples from movies, TV, and elsewhere. So I’m reading the New Yorker article and all of a sudden it hits me: were most of the samples in Just Give ‘Em Whiskey, which I’d long wondered about, from the 1973 film Westworld on which the current show is based? A bit of internet searching confirmed it and led me to the original film trailer.
And wow, watching that trailer is a trip. It turns out that many (most?) of the samples in the song are from the trailer, and though they’re not necessarily chronological, the song still seems to convey the plot of the movie (or at least as much of the plot as I can figure from only having seen the trailer): a luxurious theme park for rich white people where the robot workers become sentient and revolt. One of the samples that’s prominently featured in the song is an exclamation made by one of the park’s visitors when he realizes that the robots have gained agency: “that’s not supposed to happen!”
The last 10 days have felt like a lifetime. Another line that’s prominent in the song is “do you fight?” (which fellow nerds on the old 4AD listserv suspect is from the 60s British TV show The Prisoner). I’ve been reading, calling elected officials, donating, editing Wikipedia, talking to friends and family and colleagues, thinking about what comes next and how I can help move from “that’s not supposed to happen!” to “do you fight?”
The semester’s been over for a few weeks now, though things are still busy with library projects and the college grant I work on and my own research. I’m not sure that I’m ready to write about the long of it yet, but the short of it is that I piled way way way too much on my plate this past year, and ended up somewhere on the spectrum of crispy, singed, fried, burned out, feel free to use whatever flame-based descriptor you like best.
Key to a successful summer for me, I think, will be having a bunch of non-work-related projects to chew on. Dare I call them leisure goals? I do dare. I like projects; projects provide a good framework for me to muck around in. Here are my summer project thoughts, in no particular order:
1. The Great Vinyl Digitization Project
Oh yeah, I got records: 12″, 7″, even a couple of 10″ EPs, some in fun, transparent colors. I’ve had a USB turntable for a while now but hadn’t made much headway on ripping the records to MP3. It was somewhat onerous and required me to push a button to break the digital file into individual songs. There’s also not really any way to speed it up the way that ripping a CD can happen at a faster speed than the recording — you just have to listen to the entire record. But I downloaded some new software that does a reasonably decent job of sensing the track breaks and cuts down the time considerably, so I’ve been hauling my laptop out to the living room each weekend to rip a few records.
It’s funny to listen to my records again. I bought most of them in high school before my family or I had a CD player, so there’s lots of 80s pop and new wave. Then there’s another segment from college, when I was either too stingy to shell out the extra cash for a CD or wanted something on vinyl only — that group includes lots of Wax Trax/industrial stuff (hey, it was Chicago in the late 80s, what can I say?). Finally there’re the mostly 7″s from my big indiepop buying days, the mid-to-late 90s. Some of this music has aged well, and some not so much.
First ripped this time around? Psychocandy by Jesus and the Mary Chain, because for some reason the song was stuck in my head and I kept having to listen to The Hardest Walk by watching the video on YouTube.
2. Buffy Rewatch
A couple of weeks ago something intriguing came through my Twitter stream: a website called NoWhiteNoise was organizing a Buffy Rewatch, in which fans watch the entire TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (either on DVD or on Netflix or websites) at the same time on Mondays throughout the summer. It’s been ages since we’ve watched them so we thought what the hell, we’ll bite (ha!).
If you had asked me before this whether watching the same episode of BTVS and live-tweeting about it with a bunch of people you don’t know was fun, I’d probably have given you a puzzled face. But you know, it’s actually surprisingly enjoyable. There are lots of younger folks who didn’t watch the show live like us oldsters, and there’s an incredible amount of foreshadowing that I of course hadn’t caught the first time around. And it’s just such a fantastic show, really, like catching up with old friends.
The only problem is the time: the Rewatch starts at 9:30pm on Mondays and includes 3 episodes @ 45 minutes each, which runs a little late for us on a school night. Once we make the transition from school to camp in a week or so things should get easier.
Wow, I have totally run out of steam, probably the 100 million degree heat is to blame (happy summer, ugh.). Stay tuned for leisure goals 3, 4, 5, and maybe 6, coming soon to this very blag!
A quick search shows that I’ve blagged about daylight savings time in the past. I’m generally a fan of falling back, though since becoming a parent it’s less of the extra-sleep-fest than it once was. My kid still doesn’t get the sleeping in thing, but at least he’s old enough now that he lets us sleep even though he wakes up at the usual schoolday time.
I spent the whole day today thinking about the “Time Travel” episode of Pete & Pete, most of all about one of the songs in the episode. Of course I don’t know the name of the band or the song. I could probably just go out to the living room and fire up our DVD player and see, but I prefer to sit here typing and believe that it’s a Drop Nineteens song.
Alternatively (who’s been writing a scholarly paper!), you could watch it for me and let me know whether that’s the song I’m thinking of. Here you go:
Lately the hot media pick in this house has been all manner of National Geographic/Discovery Channel shows available on Netflix watch instantly.* The flavor du jour is paleontological: the life + times of ancient land, sea, and air animals. These shows are almost all the same, only the species differs. Each show focuses on one or several prehistoric animals. Actual paleontologists show us fossils and bones as they discuss the animal. But the real appeal of the show (I think) for Gus is that these fossily bits are interspersed with computer-generated footage of the animals running around and (usually) hunting for prey.
* BTW have I told you yet how weird I still find it that we are watching teevee shows streamed over the internet and brought to us via our videogame system (the Wii) hooked up to the actual telemavision? Mmm, futurey!
The whole package is really sensationalistic. The narrator and music are tense and dramatic, Many of the scientists (almost always male, sigh, and often Australian, which is kind of funny) are stoked to tell us how badass all of these creatures were. It’s all about the biggest, fastest, meanest, etc. In one show the scientists even crafted a dinosaur head out of metal to test the jaw-crushing powers of the megabeast. (Okay, it was kind of cool when they put a huge thick block of jello-like stuff in the mouth to simulate flesh.)
I’m not sure how to feel about all of these shows. Better than Pokemon cartoons, hells yeah. But I kind of hate that “we need to make science into a crazy dramatic movie in order to get people interested!” tendency. I’m sure it’s partly due to technology — when I was little they just couldn’t do those kinds of computer graphics on nature shows, so it was all about fossils and still art, which can’t be nearly as sensationalistic as “recreating the entire life and death struggle from beginning to end” — an actual quote from an actual show we are watching right now.
Plus I just find it jarring and discordant to have the computer-generated dinosaurs (or whatever) layered onto a real landscape background. You got your future in my past! The whole thing makes me wrinkle my nose like an old lady.
Q: What’s going on around here? Why so quiet lately?
A: Oh, you know, the usual: work, research, chores, weekend bike rides + park visits, fencing (now with mask + glove!), homework, last-minute costume prep, etc.
A: Also, the unusual:
– The bathroom renovation, which has really been much less stressful than it could be (and also mad props to J for acquiring most of the needfuls, including tile, which is very heavy). I haven’t been in there in a while, but I hear things are progressing swimmingly. Right now there’s a hi-tech plastic sheet spanning the hallway in front of the bathroom door from floor to ceiling, with a long red zipper for entry and exit. So CDC!
– Gus’s prehistoric technology studies at school are in full effect. Yesterday was one of the wigwam field trips, and Jonathan helped the kids make fire. (Fire! Fire!) Also I got a slate pendant necklace that Gus had drilled a hole in with a stick, bringing this month’s homemade necklace haul up to 2 — yay!
– So I am on a team that got a very very big grant at work which is very very exciting. My responsibilities have shifted somewhat, though, and I am still getting my bearings time-wise. Which is a complicated way to say that I am very very busy.
Q: Are the cats freaked out by the bathroom renovation?
A: The big one kind of is, and spends lots of time sitting on Jonathan’s lap during the day. The little one could care less.
Q: Have you quit Twitter and/or Facebook?
A: No! See above about the busy. Mostly succeeding in keeping up w/Twitter these days, but can’t really seem to find time to look at Facebook more than a couple of times a week. But our library has a Facebook now so you should be our fan!
Q: What is Gus planning to be for Halloween?
A: Well originally he wanted to be a bat. And we looked all over the internets for a costume only to find that it’s apparently pretty easy to make one with an old black umbrella. So I brought my spare umbrella home from work to sacrifice it, but then in true Gus fashion he changed his mind, and now he’s going as the grim reaper. Which I think is kind of spooky for him these days, but what do I know? Maybe he just wants the scythe. He’s going to a Halloween party before the trick or treating on Sunday afternoon, so maybe we’ll go have a grownup halloweenniversary lunch or somesuch.
Q: Is minute 2:13 in “Leaders of Men” still your favorite part of any Joy Division song ever?
Q: Are you sad now that Mad Men is over?
A: Sort of. I do miss it, but it’s nice to be caught up on the other TV. House has been decent this season, though Fringe is disappointing. It’s just so *flimsy* with the dual universe storylines. Jonathan keeps saying that they are spreading their story butter too thin across the toast of the show. Also we got a new toaster oven, which performs well enough but has an annoying digital readout (power vampire!) and makes a beeping noise when it’s finished toasting that is much too close to the standard smoke detector noise around these parts. Which is sort of funny given that excessive toasting could in theory set off the smoke detector.
Q: Are you tired? Right now? Because you’re getting a little loopy with that progression from TV to toast, is all I’m saying.
A: Right again! Gold star for you! But you’ll have to wait for it, I’ve got some work to do right now.
So as I mentioned, we’re watching Mad Men. It’s been both good and bad to be working our way through a pile (3 seasons!) of TV. The good is that there’s always something to watch, which is particularly good since none of the other shows we watch are back on yet. Which is of course the bad, too, esp. when it’s 11:30pm on a school night and that tiny evil voice is saying “just one more…”
It’s definitely making me feel kind of weird. I mean, it’s a great show, but I feel conflicted about it. It’s kind of depressing (Jonathan: “it’s a drama!”) — I guess I hadn’t realized that so much of our other TV viewing is comedy. Except Fringe, which doesn’t count because it’s scifi. And House, which is much too funny to be a real drama.
I have a antagonistic mental relationship with the 1950s. Yes, I know the show’s set in the early ’60s, and that all of the in-your-face sexism and racism is pretty much the whole point. But watching it makes me annoyed that the whole myth of the perfect postwar 1950s even existed in the first place. And still does today: I read a great book on the subject a few years ago by family studies professor Stephanie Coontz called The Way We Never Were.
Even with eyes wide open, though, the myth of the 50s is powerful stuff. Because who doesn’t want things to be that way, at least on some level? The (theoretical) good parts: the dream of the middle class. A nice backyard and a Girl to come clean up the dishes. Jonathan made us a Delmonico steak for dinner the other night while drinking an Old Fashioned, and it was tasty.
It would be easier for me to ignore the myth if I weren’t so madly in love with the style. The mid-century modern furniture, the awesome skirts + blouses, even the mustard-yellow appliances: it all makes me swoon. Jonathan remarked that the set and costume designers must be having a ball. How can an era that invented brown plaid wallpaper be all bad?
…but so veryverybusy. The Fall semester (and the class I’m teaching) started last Thursday (13 students this semester, yay!). Gus’s school doesn’t start until next Wednesday, and even then it’s only 1 day back before they’re off for 2 days for Rosh Hashanah. I keep meaning to blag at night, but by the time chores + bedtime are finished it’s late–Gus is still on his summer schedule even if I’m not–and all I want to do is watch season 1 of Mad Men (which we finally started watching last weekend) and go to sleep.
So even after all that blaggy bluster about whitewashing, we went to see The Last Airbender. In the end we just couldn’t resist, plus it was a nice confluence of kid through teen through adult love of the show (we went with Jonathan’s aunt, uncle and teenage cousins). Of course it wasn’t as good as the TV show, but how could it be? But, you know, I so wanted it to be good that even though I’ve seen the bad reviews I couldn’t make myself entirely believe it wouldn’t be good.
I get that it’s hard to adapt a 20-episode TV show into a 2 hour movie, really I do. There’s lots of character development that needs to get shortened, and some stuff needs to be left out. But as someone said (can’t remember who) it was like M. Night Shyamalan had never actually *seen* the show. There didn’t seem to be any attempt at all to distinguish between the important and unimportant bits, and the movie felt kind of slapped together willy nilly. I can’t imagine how it would feel to someone who’d never watched the show before, but my guess is that they’d be completely lost.
That was the biggie. Two minor, nitpicky points:
1. For an expensive movie, the effects were just not all that special.
2. And for heavens sake, WHY did they change the pronunciation of several of the main characters’ names?! This isn’t like when you see a movie based on a book and think, “oh, I didn’t realize his name was pronounced like that.” This film is based on a TV show! With audio! So very annoying, and seemed like it was especially designed to get under the skin of hardcore fans.
And in *good* movie news, last night Jonathan and I watched the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Which was a GREAT example of how to take something very very long (600+ pages) and make it into a 2 hour(-ish) movie. I’ve read all 3 of the books so of course my brain filled in the missing bits and added story around the characters, so it was difficult for me to tell if the movie was hard to follow. The whole way through I kept asking Jonathan, who’s read none of the books, whether there was stuff that he didn’t understand or jumpiness or things that didn’t connect, but there wasn’t. Maybe M. Night should contact the screenwriter for some tips?
I don’t think I’ll want to see the American version of the movie, the Swedish version did a great job. But that doesn’t prevent me from having a pretty strong opinion about who should play Lisbeth: Natalie Portman (obvs!).
Time for the end of TV season finale wrap up! Pull up a chair and join us, won’t you?
(P.S. Spoilers ahead! Duh. And anyway these were all aired over a week ago so they really shouldn’t be news to anyone.)
Man, this finale was intense, with a capital TENSE. Nothing tweaks me like watching the aftermath of a building collapse. I’m not claustrophobic, but there’s just something primal fear-ish about being trapped in a small space; I was literally squirming during the entire show. Add to that a commando, disaster-scene IV in the tibia — yowza! (Also: OUCH! The tibia is no trivial bone, I tell ya.) This episode was pretty near perfect, really. My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough Wilson. But the ending was nice, esp. the way they pulled a hallucination fakeout on us. Have a good summer, Hugh!
Ah, the two-part finale. It often starts out so well, and then…
Fringe has been much better since they’ve gotten back to the main storyline in the second half of this season, and the pre-finale episode made great strides in pushing that plot forward. I love the alternate universe: zeppelins docking at the Empire State Building (so fun!), random buildings + people encased in that weird temporal solidifying amber goo, Walternate is creepy, and Charlie’s alive (yay!) Badass tattooed alternate Olivia is a bit precious, but what can you do?
So things were moving along just fine, and then they had to go mess it all up by sending the badass Olivia back instead of the real one. I guess we should have expected it: really where can anything go once there’s been a scene in which you’ve punched your own self out? Fighting with your alternate universe double is such a cliche. Let’s hope they wrap this up quickly at the beginning of next season. Does anyone actually believe that the real Olivia would sit in the dark blubbering about her fate?
Meh. I mean, kind of funny, but not laugh riot funny. Except for Woof, Ryan the Temp’s social media service. That was awesome.
Also a two-parter. Overall, much more consistent than Fringe. I’ll miss Julianne Moore’s stupid Boston accent. Matt Damon was pretty funny, too.
I know the finale-est finale last week was for Lost, but I abandoned that show years ago so don’t ask me! Jonathan watched, though, and reports: “I liked it.” So there you have it.
1. Yesterday I spent an oddly large amount of time talking about cats. Not just any old cats, but mine and the cats owned by the other people I was with. First the subject came up at a meeting I was in, though I can’t quite remember how. Then cats came up again last night, when Jonathan and I were hanging out with some pals from my old job. Both conversations were pretty much the usual cat suspects: complaining about all the annoying stuff they do, wondering whether we’re giving them too much/too little/wet/dry food, interactions in multi-cat households, etc. I do love our cats, but still I was happy to hear that many folks had similar complaints to us about the weird stuff cats do. In the past sometimes I’ve gone looking on the internets for answers to cat questions, and you KNOW that is just a mistake.
As a cat-related aside, here is Gus + my most favorite kitten video on YouTube: kittens on a roomba! Guaranteed to cheer you up whenever you’re crabby.
2. Only 2 episodes of Dollhouse left until the bitter end, and it’s making me sad. (We haven’t watched last night’s ep yet, will tonight.) It’s intense and even kind of exhausting to watch a show that’s been canceled. There’s no filler at all, just episode after episode featuring hard-charging mythology plots.
(Not that the occasional monster of the week episode is at all bad; one of the best Buffy episodes ever was a one-off [The Body, when her mom died — so amazing]).
I’m still pretty bummed out that Dollhouse was canceled. The episodes since the cancellation have been a little whiplashy as they try and get things wrapped up before the end of the series. But they’ve also been great, relying much more on the ensemble cast than just Echo, and bringing back teh awesome guest stars (Amy Acker! Summer Glau!).