Best Sitcoms- The Honeymooners

Ok, tv is the little cousin to film, and I deplore top 10 lists. But this is not so much a Top 10 list, as much as me thinking over the parameters of sitcoms, and what made a sitcom great or not.

Recently, I was looking over the list of sitcoms from the start of American tv thru now, and in the 1940s and 1950s, only one sitcom stood out. Not Leave It To Beaver, not The Life Of Riley (Gleason nor Bendix versions), not Father Knows Best, and not even I Love Lucy.

Only one sitcom stands out, and that was The Honeymooners, originally part of The Jackie Gleason Show, but for a year its own show.

All the prior mentioned shows had moments, but none broke new ground. I Love Lucy was far and away the most popular of the bunch, but no one ever cared about Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball's character). Also, neither Desi Arnaz nor Vivian Vance were good enough straight men to form a great comedy team with Ball.

But Gleason and Art Carney (as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton) were the first of three great comedy teams in television history. The Honeymooners tales could be set in any era. They are not bound by time. And Gleason, unlike Ball, imbued his character with pathos. And unlike Lucy, Ralph Kramden NEVER won. Some of the episode ends are total downers.

But, it was never what was going to happen to Ralph that mattered, but how it would happen, and how Gleason would make you care, even mist up, that made the show so special.

So, in the annals of great sitcoms, the 1940s and 1950s can submit only one immortal show, and Gleason bests Ball, finally!


The Sacrifice

One of Ingmar Bergman's main men, Erland Josephson, in Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice:


Chariots Of The Gods (Part 6)

Chariots Of The Gods (Part 5)

Chariots Of The Gods (Part 4)

Chariots Of The Gods (Part 3)

Chariots Of The Gods (Part 2)

Chariots Of The Gods (Part 1)

I recall seeing this in the early 1970s, on the big screen of one of the local theaters in my neighborhood:

Tarkovsky's Mirror

Got a gift this Xmas- an Amazon gift certificate. Bought a few books and DVDs I'm awaiting.

One of them is Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror. Of the few films of his I've seen I can say the artist is intriguing, even when not in top form: Stalker, The Sacrifice, and Solaris, are all very interesting films, no matter whether one agrees with their philosophic posits or not.

Some scenes:

"It's Complicated."

This past weekend, while my mom visited, we went and saw the latest Meryl Streep movie, "It's Complicated." (Though it's hard to say what is the 'latest' since she does so many films). My mom is a big Meryl fan, so I knew taking her to see this while she visited was the thing to do. She was not too thrilled with the thought of seeing "Avatar."

The film is a romantic comedy larded with predictable formula, but it was entertaining for a one time shot. If it weren't for the actors in the film--notably Meryl, this would have sucked, since the writing was not good enough to sustain itself on its own. Steve Martin takes on a new type of character, in that, he is shy and reserved and not the usual Steve Martin. So in other words, he has to act. Also, Roger Ebert noted the ridiculous size of her fancy house--even when we left the theatre I asked my mom, "How does a baker afford such a large house in California?" I mean, the property taxes have to be through the roof. 

There is a funny scene where Alec Baldwin (Meryl's ex that she is having the affair with) and she are fooling around in a hotel room. He, in turn, passes out, and has to call a doctor. When the doctor arrives, he informs him that he is on Flomax, a drug that is known for a "decrease in semen." Then Alec adds, "This isn't good for my wife," (referring to his young wife who wants to get pregnant)--but the doc thinks that the 60ish Meryl is his wife. Meryl, in turn, responds with: "I prefer lots of semen."

It is nice that some movies are being geared for an older audience (in terms of casting) but this is one of those popcorn movies you watch once and never bother having to watch again. This isn't "Another Woman," after all.


The Twilight Zone: Five Characters In Search Of An Exit

I'd mentioned Rod Serling in an earlier post, and while looking up In Search Of... videos I came across this classic episode:

Watch 14. The Twilight Zone - Five Characters in Search of an Exit in Horror  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Bigfoot (Part 3)

Bigfoot (Part 2)

Bigfoot (Part 1)

More funny stuff.

Atlantis (Part 3)

Atlantis (Part 2)

Atlantis (Part 1)

A typical episode, which conflates Atlantis with Easter Island and other things.

In Search Of....

I recall this tv show from the mid-1970s. It was Leonard Nimoy's first successful show after Star Trek (cannot count Mission: Impossible since that was a hit when he joined it). While I recall it went into the big 1970s themes: UFOs, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, Ancient Astronauts, ghosts, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, etc., it never really broke new ground. It was a de facto generic series of unexplained phenomena.

Nimoy's role as Mr. Spock, in Star Trek, lent him the allure of logicality and SCIENCE that the series never really had. The show had evolved from a series of films re: the unexplained, that had been hosted by Rod Serling, of The Twilight Zone fame.

While initially made for television, in many poorer neighhborhoods, like that I grew up in, these films were actually screened in theaters, and I recall looking up at grainy footage of UFOs, and one particularly compelling image of a Mayan warrior supposedly depicted in what was claimed to be an Apollo-like space module. It was all nonsense, of course, but the In Search Of... films wer merely one of a wave of documentaries released in the early 1970s that pushed the bounds of the medium. The best and most famous one of all, of course, was none other than Orson Welles' F For Fake.

As I said in my review of that film:
'In a sense, its closest cousin was the kitschy old 1970s television ‘documentary’ series In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy, wherein Star Trek’s once and future Mr. Spock would explore the ‘scientific verities’ of such things as the Bermuda Triangle, ghosts, and Judge Crater’s disappearance. Welles’ last finished and distributed film is really a filmic treatise on art and truth, and, given Welles’ voluminous intellect and dazzling talent, it’s a near-masterpiece, and very close to being the ‘new kind of film’ that Welles claimed it was. Of course, its closest antecedent would not be in film but in the supposed ‘nonfiction’ literary works of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Marcel Proust (Remembrance Of Things Past).'

Naturally, I was right, but these films, or mockumentaries (of a sort- they differ from the Christopher Guest version of that genre), do have a place in film history, if for no other reason than that they were heralds of the mass media saturation and dumbing down of culture that the ensuing decades have wrought. Information that is dubious is treated as if it were gained from on high, and credible science is treated with a skepticism bordering on the manic. That's you Fox News.

But, in looking back at these shows, all these decades later, the kitsch value not only survives, but thrives, and as a time capsule of Americana it is invaluable. Not bad for crap, eh?


Hell Breaks Loose In Hopkinsville

Is the title of one of my best paranormal-based poems. It was based upon the 1955 Kentucky incident described in this video:


A Christmas Story

A mediocre film that's somehow become a classic.


My Fave Christmas Song: Judy Garland of course!

This is by far my favorite Christmas song. It's taken from "Meet Me in St. Louis," directed by Vincente Minnelli. Judy Garland, of course, eventually married Minnelli, and they had a daughter you might know as Liza.

Another famous song from this film is Judy's performance of "The Trolley Song." I own a number of Judy Garland DVDs, and although many of her films were merely what some might call "fluff," (notably those with Mickey Rooney that is) her talent as a singer always transcended the genre.

If you're looking for another great Christmas film, that is, a film other than "It's a Wonderful Life," "Meet Me in St. Louis" is a great family film and beautiful to watch. The film came out in 1944, and following that, Garland and Minnelli worked together in "The Clock," which came out in 1945. (I am still waiting to see this one).

"Meet Me in St. Louis" includes a 2 disc DVD set with many bonus features.

The Thing From Another World

A fairy prescient sci fi classic from the 1950s. It's last line is a killer.


The 27th Day

A classic B sci fi alien invasion film. This one starred Gene Barry, who previously had starred in The War Of The Worlds.


A Query

I give you Quentin Tarantino:

I give you Tim Burton:

Which film director is the more puerile? The man who fetishizes violence, or the one who admits his puerility in every film? And, will either ever grow up?


The UFO Incident (Part 10)

The UFO Incident (Part 9)

The UFO Incident (Part 8)

The UFO Incident (Part 7)

The UFO Incident (Part 6)

The UFO Incident (Part 5)

The UFO Incident (Part 4)

The UFO Incident (Part 3)

The UFO Incident (Part 2)

The UFO Incident

A telefim version of John G. Fuller's seminal UFO book, The Interrupted Journey, about the Betty and Barney Hill UFO Abduction case. Saw this years ago.


Clifford Odets

Recall this great production of Rocket To The Moon, by Odets, on PBS, back in the '80s. A much underrated playwright, although this is arguably his best play.

Judy Davis and John Malkovich are terrific.

Interpreting Tennessee Williams (Part 2)

Interpreting Tennessee Williams (Part 1)

Eugene O'Neill Clip

Anton Chekhov Documentary

Belated Apology

Time to let the Ebert stuff rest. It was nice as a prop, but I did not win a lottery, I did not have a face-to-face with a divine being, etc.

As a coda, I did receive an email this morning from the initial emailer who started the whole connection between me and Armond White, et al. He basically admitted that he had once harassed me in a dark period in his life but was sorry and genuine in his appreciation of my site now. Fair enough.

He seems to have led a rough life, and caused much of his own problems via addictions. I feel sad to hear of his plight; even sadder that it mirrors so many lonely souls online- from porno addicts to blog addicts to cyberstalkers, etc. But, as he was genuine, and as he was never my worst cyberstalker, no hard feelings, and I wish him success in the future. Time for all involved to move on: him, me, Ebert, White.

As we head into the New Year, at least one person online is doing better. That leaves merely another billion or so to go.

Oscar Wilde (Part 7)

What a shame. What a waste of talent, by both the society and Wilde, himself, for not being able to control himself. How many masterful plays were lost? Books, essays, even poems?

Oscar Wilde (Part 6)

Oscar Wilde (Part 5)

Oscar Wilde (Part 4)

Oscar Wilde (Part 3)

Oscar Wilde (Part 2)

Oscar Wilde (Part 1)

The best comedic playwright ever. Shakespeare's comedies are sub-Three Stooges crap. Wilde was the best, with no clear #2 in his wake.


New Review Up: Shakespeare Behind Bars

Here it is.

Why Do You Do It?

Of all the emails and queries I've gotten in response to the Roger Ebert blog post, the titular question raised is probably the most interesting. Thankfully, Ebert's fans, when emailing me, have been significantly less troll-like than the fans of other blogs (especially political ones), but some of the questions, as I've addressed in a few earlier posts, are still so mind-numbingly banal.

I mean, the things I write of simply are not that controversial if one really cogitates on them with logic. They are not only correct, but manifestly so. One of the canards I always seem to have to debunk is the claim that all art is political. This is so silly, of course, and I often rebut by simply telling the claimants to substitute the phrase 'about poodles' for the word 'art,' and one will see that the logic (or illogic) of the statement is not affected in the least.

All art is about poodles. To claim that all art is not about poodles is to say that one does not live and converse in a world with poodles. To claim that art is not about poodles is merely to demonstrate how little one is willing to talk about poodles and their relevance to the everyday world. All art has to be about poodles. And on and on. Art, of course, comes from the same root word as artifice is based upon: the Latin ars. Art is about a fake thing (unreal) conveying some information about real things.

Art is not only not about politics; although individual works of art can be, as long as the art in the art is not overwhelmed by the politics (or religion, philosophy, etc.), but art is also not truth. It can contain or reveal truths, but art is fundamentally a lie. It CANNOT be truth, no more than darkness can be light, although darkness, as film shows, can craft and define light.

But, back to the simple query one lone emailer sent me- with no real name attached. The query might have meant why do I run the website, why do I write essays or criticism, or why do I create art? Or all of that and more. Simply, because I can. I have an ability to distill and transfer wisdom that most people cannot get into things that are digestible.

Here is what art is: communication, and at its highest level. Art is a verb, first, then a noun. A work of art, a film, as example, may have a political or religious or philosophic message, but its art is in how it sends the message. Bad philosophy can come in great art, and great philosophy can be kyboshed in bad art. Modern multicultural PC often is a good idea mangled in bad art. Great art, even if transferring a bad idea, helps illumine the cosmos and the self.

And, as someone capable of producing great art, why would I demur dispensing that to others? Also, as one capable of helping others understand others' great art, why would I not want to do that? If this is not passion, what is?

And while greatness, in life or the arts, certainly has some subjectivity, there are objective things. Subjectivity, to exist, must be total. One objective fact objectifies all around it for everything then can be measured and/or parallaxed against that one objective fact. But, an objective universe, as the one we inhabit, has plenty of room for subjectivity. I can and have shown why certain works of art are objectively great or bad, but never have I precluded anyone (myself included) from liking a bad work of art. Why would I? When I grade a poem or any other artwork, there is a degree of argumentation between it and a similarly graded work. But, simply put, a poorly wrought and trite limerick is not the equal of a great sonnet by me, Wordsworth, or Rilke. Subjectivity and objectivity are not mutually exclusive. They inform each other. But, recognize their realities, do not obfuscate them. I am not a woman, not an Eskimo, not a lesbian, not a Jew, not an elephant. These are not subjective statements.

But here is one, and one that is in no way empirical, even though I have many years of anecdoture to back it up: in the arts, at least, greatness can be said to be measured by the amount of positive feeling, thought, and effort that is outgo vs. the amount of ego gratification the artist receives as income. In other words, there is nothing wrong with having an ego. Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame baseball player, noted for being clutch in the Word Series, once said, 'It ain't bragging if you can back it up.' I agree. False modesty is deceit, and this nation grows fat on deceit, in thousands of daily ways. If I say I'm a great poet, critic, writer, artist, and can back it up, there is no problem. I'm not claiming to look like Brad Pitt nor play baseball like Alex Rodriguez.

But, eventually, although all artists are separate entities from their work (which is why artist bios are so contradictory to the works of many artists), the artist, once dead, becomes the art. All of Beethoven's, Mozart's, Bach's, or Gershwin's music is not referred to as whatever specific Concerto in F Minor (Andante) it might be. No, it's simply Bach. Shakespeare refers not to the man rotting under Avon (and yes, it was not Edward de Vere nor Kit Marlowe), but the great quotable lines of poetry and plays. And, Picasso or Goya or Rembrandt are the paintings first, then the dead dudes who painted them.

All artists want to affect the world, even after they have become their art. It is the closest humanity has yet to come to immortality, and it sure is a hell of alot better than mere mundane existence (despite Woody Allen's dissents). Of course, the effects should be positive. A negative review I write of a bad film or poem or book is a good thing, because it will help people save time, effort, and resources they would otherwise waste, on something not deserving of them because it does not give out more than it sucks in.

As for ego? All artists- good, bad, great- have egos, as do all humans. The real question is does one's ego fit one's talents and accomplishments. Reggie Jackson's did. So do mine. But, for most people the answer is a resounding no, even a laughable no.

But, the work is more important than the creator. If my poems, reviews, stories, novels, memoirs, plays, etc. are going to be read centuries and eons from now, and become part of the communal property that mankind gifts to the other sentient civilizations of the cosmos, is my name really important? Is Sir Gawain And The Green Knight a less important early Anglo poem because its author is anonymous? Of course not. Will my great The Twin Towers Canon or Siamese Reflection be lessened an iota if the name attributed to it is Xia-wan Ho, Lawrence Edelman, or Tanya McNeill, rather than Dan Schneider?

Yes, one reading a bio of me, or my memoirs, may think they see a connection that is illuminated, and may be correct, in a small way (although bios just as often masque and confuse artistic matters as illuminate them). But the great works stand by themselves, divorced from me, perfect children of the sort no other living human being can sire.

So, in short, that is why I do it (specifically and generically).



I enjoyed rewatching this classic Marty last weekend, as I've been on a Marty kick as of late, though I don't know what has inspired it. Goodfellas is a great film not because it is like the typical high-concept plot-driven crap of Hollywood, but that the film is character driven with good and memorable characters. Ray Liotta is well cast--esp. with his blue eyes that offer a convincing look into one who is half Irish and half Italian.

The ending is great and takes on new meaning when you think about those with certain advantages who suddenly get them all taken away: "I'm an average nobody... get to live the rest of my life like a schnook."

Julie & Julia.

I went with my mom to watch the Nora Ephron film Juilie & Julia over Thanksgiving, and although I enjoyed the movie on an an emotional level, it is probably a film that I liked more than thought was good. Ephron's movies are generally fun and witty (with exception for You've Got Mail which sucked) but they're not overly deep or inventive.

Julie & Julia, however, had some really good moments and then some not so good. In fact, the dullest part of the film was the whole Julie Powell life/character, for I have yet to see why she was even needed in the film. The parts involving Meryl Streep, her cooking classes, and her life in France were all far more interesting, and as usual, Streep delivers a convincing role.

An interesting point was made by The Seattle Times reviewer, who noted: "Every time, I have a wildly mixed reaction: The Streep scenes are genius. The Adams scenes -- why???

"If you, like me, are a connoisseur of romantic comedies, you immediately recognized that Adams is doing Meg Ryan, specifically from "You've Got Mail": the cutely nonthreatening haircut, the perky way she bobs her head when she types at her computer, the childlike whining, the chirpy voice ("I have thoughts!"). It's a fairly uncanny imitation when you think about it, but it's no accident -- Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed both "Julie & Julia" and "You've Got Mail," wrote the character that way and directed her that way." 

I pretty much agree with this reviewer's thoughts on the film, though I must mention that upon leaving the theatre, I was left in a foul mood. Why? Because there is a scene where the Julie Powell character is bombarded with book offers and lit agent offers after an article on her appears in the NYT; and so, I must ask, why is a cooking blog worthy of a book? At least Julia Child invented her own recipes. But all Powell did was cook someone else's invention and blog about it, and yet this is worthy of a book? When I watch how hard Dan works for Cosmoetica, from his excellent film reviews and criticism, to his great poetry, to his memoirs and fiction, to his interviews, all of these things are peerless, and yet because he doesn't appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator, he has to work all the harder. After all, it simply doesn't take any brain power to understand a cooking blog. And apparently a number of Julia Child's fans dislike her, believing that Powell just mooched off Child's fame.

But all this aside, perhaps the most nauseating part of the film was seeing (or rather hearing on her answering machine) these publishers and agents acting like lap dogs. Ooh! You've had an article on you in the NYT. Clearly you're "somebody" now! And after a while, it is hard not to tire of hearing the Julie Powell character boast about being a "real writer" now that she's published. Yawn. Unfortunately, this is how drones think. Overall, the film is worth the watch for Streep's performance, but about the only thing more boring than commenting on someone's blog post is watching a movie about someone writing a blog. Check out the trailer below:

Subtitles, Likes, Hitler, etc.

Naturally, more people are contacting me re: the Ebert column referencing me. Rather than reply and repeat the same things ad nauseam, it's simpler to address them in toto, here.

First, let's take the Hitler references. Here is my quote of Ebert's quote of Svensland's quote of my quote of Ebert's quote (whew!):
Critic-at-large, Roger Ebert, rightly took Denby to task for his puerility, stating, "I do not feel the film provides 'a sufficient response' to what Hitler actually did,' because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient." But, after such a concise summation, he then adds, of Hitler, "He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil."

This is a remark clearly mindful of Louis Farrakhan's claims, a few years back, that Hitler was a "great man," that unleashed a firestorm, but it is also logically self-defeating, and shows that Ebert is not only not a student of history, but much better in phrasing words than thinking out their logical consequences. Hitler did not merely waltz onto the world stage, and have everything fall into his la-p- from admirers to world events. He had a precise blueprint, aka Mein Kampf, worked for years perfecting his "craft," demagoguery, and actively shaped his future. He came within two or three bad decisions of wiping out Eurasian Jewry, and even more minorities, as well as the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Like it or not, Hitler was a great man, as were Stalin and Mao, and Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great before them. Mass murderers all, but all great, as long as one is mindful that great does not only mean 'good' nor 'decent,' and that great men also can have great flaws.

Now, reread the last sentence. there simply is nothing to argue with.


Click and read the definitions. Hitler (or Stalin or Mao, etc.) clearly qualify in 2 or 3 of the meanings.


Whether one believes in the Great Man Theory of history, contingent history, or the reality that history is a mix of both, again, Hitler and his genocidal pals clearly qualify.

So, other than attempting to morally grandstand, whilst showing a profound deficit of gray matter, why would anyone argue the point? Ok, sycophantism to the man who runs the blog, yes. But, after that?

Morality has a very dubious association with art. Picasso was a misogynist. Rilke was an adulterer and bad father. Sylvia Plath was a psychotic. And on and on. One affects not the other. If Dr. Mengele were a great poet, as example, would it be wrong to print or praise his poems? Of course not. If Ted Bundy created great sculptures, would it be wrong to praise his art? Of course not. The person and the art are discrete things.

As for subtitles. I always chuckle when folks who do not recognize what many great directors have claimed, that a great film ALWAYS starts with a great screenplay, but instead claim that film is a visual medium (duh!) that is outside the scope and strictures of 'mere narrative, turn around, and with a straight face claim that subtitles (which cover up to a third of the screen, and force one to read and miss key visuals) are better than dubbing.

First, even poorly dubbed Godzilla films show how utterly irrelevant misaligned lips are, because no one really notices them. Think I'm wrong? Yasujiro Ozu's films prove the dictum that eyelines must match in countershots wrong because no one ever complains about such (save for a few film school diehards with axes to grind).

Second, watch the Spider Trilogy of films By Ingmar Bergman. Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence, all vividly prove the superiority of dubbing. First, the very use of a different voice aids in the definition of character apart from a familiar actor- see Max Von Sydow in the films. Each different dubbed voice aids in separating Max from the characters. Also, dubbed voice actors are amongst the best actors going precisely because they have to act with that one faculty. Their 'acting' can often improve a mediocre performance by the physical actor. And, think of how many effective cartoon characters have been conveyed through voice alone.

Of course, a good subtitling job beats bad dubbing, but good dubbing beats good subtitling with ease. When I rewatch foreign DVDs with commentary, and am free to watch the visuals unencumbered by subtitles, I often pick up the things that may have been 'missing' in the film. Thus, I often get the more 'complete' film (usually for the better) because of the LACK of subtitles. Anyone who claims differently, or that they can read and watch the screen simultaneously is doing the scientifically impossible. This is precisely why texting and cell phone car accidents have soared int he last decade. It simply cannot be done.

Of course, subtitles have myriad problems aside from those mentioned. There is the problem of undubbed dialogue. How many times have you seen a character talk onscreen for 45 seconds or so, and only a sentence or two of translation is shown? Uh-huh. And how about words that blanch out against a light background, making them unreadable, even whilst squinting? The Criterion Collection, a top notch DVD company, is rightly lambasted by many reviewers (including me) for the fact that, especially their old black and white releases are shown with unbordered white lettering. If one is going to fuck up a film with graffiti, at least let the shit be bold enough to be made out legibly and readably. Imagine, if you will, going to a museum, to see Picasso's Guernica, and instead of the museum's explanatory plaque being to the side of the painting, it was, instead, bolted over the agonal mien of the dying horse in the painting. Think that might not affect your experience of the painting? The visual equivalent comes in Ozu films that depend upon low set tatami mat shots, wherein many great shots are utterly rent by subtitles.

So, now that I've yet again trounced the ridiculous notion that subtitles are better than dubbing, let me turn to some other things: likes and dislikes. My claim, re: Ebert has always been simple- he's an average film critic (in terms of ability to discern quality), a very good writer, but an excellent film historian, film commentarian (yes, that is a word!), and a marvelous film buff. How this has been misconstrued that I don't like Roger Ebert is silly. Did I label him a tax cheat, a pedophile, a serial killer? No. Re: Gene Siskel, I think he 'got' the art of film at a fundamentally deeper level, but Ebert was always better at expressing his views.

And there is a difference between good and bad reviews, and positive and negative reviews. There are essays and reviews of things that I hold a contrary opinion of (see William F. Buckley's columns) but that are excellent. They are presented well. A positive review can be good, if well thought out and written, or it can be a bad review if poorly wrought and cogitated upon. Same goes for negative reviews. Good and positive and bad and negative are simply not synonyms.

And, ironically, whereas the initial emailer who kicked off this Ebertfest claimed an 80-90% agreement with Siskel's views over Ebert's (when they disagreed), the fact is that I probably only sided with Siskel 2/1. Yes, I think Siskel got things more, but not to the degree that was stated in the original email (and, incidentally, assented to by a number of the commenters who laughably then turn around and claim that i was dissing Ebert). Even the initial emailers turned up a dead heat in terms of critical opinions on films I mentioned Ebert's and my opinions on: 6 assents, 6 dissents, and two draws- I've never formally reviewed Taxi Driver yet.

As for 'like,' though, the fact is that while I did agree with Siskel more, there's no doubt that Ebert always was the more ingratiating personality, and like most, if I was asked to choose, I'd probably have preferred to broken bread with Ebert (no offense to Siskel) because a) he seemed more personable and b) we'd argue more (in the dialectic, not fisticuffs) sense. Arguing is simply fun. How else does one learn, if not from things that differ?

But, Siskel had a better critical temperament. He was more dispassionate (but not in the sense of lacking passion); he was just 'cooler.' That's the way I approach things, with dispassion critically, but also with abundant wit. Look at film reviews from a Rex reed or Pauline Kael if you want dry, dull writing. No one has ever said Ebert lacked passion for films or writing of them. But, it's silly to see the claims that others (me included) are somehow not passionate, or clinical. Being detailed and explaining things in depth actually aids in understanding. That, however, is 'arrogant'? If you are famed, you have passion if forceful and persuasive. If not, then you are arrogant. Reminds me of the double standard for women. Men who are go getters are determined and career-minded. Their female equivalents are cold hard bitches.

As for Armond White, the odd thing is that he is FAR more emotional than Ebert. He lacks almost any intellectual critical ability (having scanned a dozen or so of his reviews the last few days). Mr. Ebert is Mr. Spock in comparison to White, so how the hell I ever got mentioned in the same breath as White is pretty wacky. The more I read of White the more it confirms just how much in need of cleanup film criticism is.

Finally, as to elitism- of course I'm an elitist. We all are, and should be! Do you want a bad doctor to examine you, a bad dentist to pull your teeth? It's the type of elitism. If it is based on things outside of quality, that's the bad sort. Money, religion, race, professions, are simply not things that elitism is applicable to- although how one does their job (janitor or Senator) is something that falls under that purview. When someone starts trying to apply a belief in ethics, politics, religion, etc. to art, and claim an elitism on that basis, it is not only wrong, but silly. But, the definable measures of quality that all arts have, are under the purview of quality- the good sort.

One can reasonably agree or not about great artists and works, as to which is greater, but it's silly to compare widely disparate things. Comparing a Three Stooges comedy short to a documentary from Louis Malle is silly, as is trying to compare the cliche ridden garbage of a Steven Spielberg to, say, the well written films of Joe Mankiewicz. Does Spielberg have some talent? Sure, as a cinematographer, but his puerility as a storyteller is only exceeded by the Quentin Tarantinos and Tim Burtons of filmdom. To use his name in a league with Welles, Bergman, Antonioni, Angelopolous, Kurosawa, etc., proves only one of two things- the claimant is either witty or dumb.

Choose your poison!


Breathless's Jean Seberg

Jean-Luc Godard was a bad filmmaker who rose to mediocrity, then faded back to nada. He was part of a bad group of film critics for a magazine called Cahiers du Cinema. I mention this because I was recently thinking of his first film, the Charles Bukowskian 'so bad some idiots think it's genius' film, Breathless. The link will give you my take on this lame film.

But, in scanning over some of the increasingly inane comments over at Roger Ebert's post about me, and aside from the silly digressions on Hitler, perhaps the oddest claims (made by Ebert and others) is how the film Casablanca is so geared toward the beauty of Ingrid Bergman. True, she is highlighted, and she was quite a looker, in her day. So?

The film is not even about her character, nor even the two men in her life's takes on her. To read some of the comments one would think she was the first actress to ever be adored by a film camera. Hello? Two words: Greta Garbo.

But, this returns me to Seberg:

Godard and his camera fetishize her even more than Curtiz did Bergman. And, while Casablanca's not a great film, it is a fun film. Breathless is neither. But Breathless is far more about the beauty of Seberg, by Ebert's definition of 'face time', than Casablanca is about Bergman. And, let's face it, attraction is subjective, beauty is not, and Seberg's face is as flawlessly symmetrical as Halle Berry's. In short, Ingrid was a babe, but Seberg was a goddess. I'm talking rival to Grace Kelly gorgeous.

But, again: so? Does her beauty make Godard's bad film good? No. Neither does Bergman's lesser beauty make the solid and enjoyable Casablanca a great film.

A few other cleanup points: I'm hardly a snob. On Cosmoetica I've written of soap operas, Godzilla films, and pro wrestling, enjoying them all. There's simply a difference between liking something and its quality. I like many bad works of art, and dislike great ones. But, I recognize the differences. I like Richard Brautigan's doggerel, but don't really like Ingmar Bergman films. But, I know Bergman was a great artist. However, Saraband was a terrible film. And I didn't like it. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a terrible film. So is Robot Monster. I love them. It's really not difficult to grasp. No one has ever said it's wrong- in a moral sense- to like bad art. But, acknowledge the bias. I prefer Roger Moore to Sean Connery as James Bond. I can make good arguments as to why. But, on a purely acting level, Connery's a better actor. So? I like Moore's irreverent Bond more. But, I acknowledge my bias. That's not snobbery. It's honesty and intelligence.

Folk like the Cahiers du Cinema critics were snobs, broadbrushing whole schools of work, rather than seeing good and bad in all. They were the film school/film theory/auteurist snobs. Folk like Ebert or Siskel or Maltin are pop critics of film. I bridge the gap between both, exposing both the extremes' flaws: the fundamentalism of the snobs and the embracing of dumbed down culture of the pop crowd.

On a small note: I've gotten some bizarre emails re: this whole thread- ranging from the sinister to the absurd. On the dark side, an emailer who claimed to have posted on the thread issued me a dire warning that the original emailer to Ebert, Peter Svensland, had intended his email to cause Ebert to unleash a firestorm of scorn against me- thereby consigning my website to a Dantean outer ring, but it all backfired, and that there might be hell to pay from a cyberstalker's revenge denied. Well, while I wouldn't put it by that character, I doubt it. I do believe I may have been just a tool to get Ebert's attention because when the great man deigned to recognize him, he went into ecstasies, and this is a familiar pattern with stalker types. Either way, this isn't 2001, and I'm much more prepared for shenanigans of the cyber/virus sort.

On the absurd side, one of my biggest fans thinks I blew it with Ebert. He claims that Ebert is on his death bed and (having watched too many samurai films) was looking for a successor to bequeath his critical fiefdom to, and that I was not suitably deferential enough ('You gotta kiss the brass ring, Baby!'). This fellow, I know, is harmless, although his own home planet is a place I do not think I'll travel to. But, if correct, it means I won't 'own' Chicago, like Ebert, and Capone, before him. Too bad, I've always heard Chicago had fine babes.

Natheless, I'll always have Jeannie:

Y'all can have Ingrid!


Ebert Epilogue

Had a nice, brief email exchange with Roger Ebert. Very nice, classy guy. Have to admire, whether you agree with him or not, how he's always willing to champion an unknown film, critic, documentary, cause, etc., just because he believes in it.

Ebert is a walker- he walks the walk, whether you agree with his talk or not. I respect that because I practice it, as well. Too often, the talkers dominate. Most readers and commenters on blogs (Ebert's, political blogs, celebrity blogs, arts, social networks) could take a lesson.

I filled in a bit of the background to him, in answer to a query he posted in the comments about not understanding cyberstalking (of me, or anyone else). In short, I'm no Herlof's Marte. Never have been, am not, never will be. If you cross the line, I'm not afraid to toss you and yours back over it.

As to a few other points re: the depressingly predictable thread that follows the piece: many folks seem to not 'get' that the pieces I do on films, while called 'reviews' (for the sake of search engines), are more formally essays, and, since I concentrate on older films, I care not of spoilers, and usually review not only the film and DVD presentation, but also the misconceptions many have about certain films. This includes the critical opinions of the day. I also am not fixated on Roger Ebert- a dozen or so mentions, of the most famous critic of the day, out of hundreds of essays I've written, is hardly much (especially given that I come down in the middle in regards to Ebert's career). One need only look at the times I mention (read- mock, skewer) Bosley Crowther, the laughably bad film critic of the New York Times, from the mid-20th Century (the Ebert of his day, in terms of power and influence).

But, for those interested in the needed 'cleanup' of the film criticism (be it 'pop' or 'serious' film theory crapola) that's been laying fallow for decades, I'd suggest interested readers read, among others, my defense of It's A Wonderful Life, my take on Au Hasard Balthazar, my praise of La Jetee over the crap of Stan Brakhage, my piece on My Kid Could Paint That, and my debunking of some of the crap and critical cribbing written about Last Year In Marienbad and Blowup. And, for fun, read my take on L'Eclisse. I do not try to tell people what to think, instead show them how to think- a craft lost in this day and age.

As for Ebert, here's hoping his ills lessen and he can stick around for quite a few more years, on the lighter side of the soil.


Siskel Vs. Ebert

Apropos of recent events, I found this clip online; a classic take on the battling critics.

Nothing against Richard Roeper, but, after Siskel died, the show never had the same feel.


Roger Ebert Praises Cosmoetica And My Film Criticism

A bizarre turn of events in the last few days. Back in 2007 I tried for months to get film critic Roger Ebert to be interviewed for my then new interview series. He was one of the top 5 or so names that I wanted, along with Steven Pinker, Charles Johnson, and Desmond Morris (whom I got) and Woody Allen and Werner Herzog (whom I've not- although Herzog remains a possibility).

For months I emailed Ebert at his newspaper, as well as his tv show. I even called the paper twice, and may have even left a voicemail. I then even tried to look up his booking/speaking agent. But, not a nibble. Of course, he had major medical problems then, so that would have likely factored into things.

Then, last night, I get this email from this nutty fan (who used to cyberstalk me back in the days I went to poetry readings in the Twin Cities) stating that a letter he wrote to Ebert, about me- or rather my opinions about Ebert's opinions- had somehow become the subject of a long column by Ebert, himself.

About a month ago I got an email from said person, who told me he had just done the deed, but knowing the fellow as being unstable (I'm being VERY generous), and not having heard from him in 5 or 6 years, I figured it was BS. Add to that the fact that my own entreaties, several years ago had gotten me nowhere, and I laughed it all off as a delusion that he'd even get a personal reply, much less that Ebert would actually think favorably of my website and opinions.

Without going into the grim details, this person seems to have spent the better part of his life in and out of 'happy farms,' but is a good representation of what I've long said: that the line between some of my more obsessive fans and those of delusional cyberstalkers of my site is very thin. He's not the first hater to become a fan of mine, and who knows what near death experiences or drug therapies may have contributed to his turn in my favor? But it certainly is ironic that one of the many, many delusional idiot cyberstalker types that I've had over the years actually, in the long run, ends up doing me a favor- bigger than pieces on me that ran online, in City Pages, or in the New York Times have done.

All of this also comes at a very busy time of the year for me, as this is the busiest season at work. But, I will send Roger Ebert a personal thank you in a day or two, once things calm down a bit, and in time to be read by him on Monday morning, as well as ask him a couple of other things (barring I am not so tired I fall asleep when I get home).

So, thanks to Mr. Ebert, thanks to the vagaries of psychosis, and let me end this post with Ebert's specific comments:

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a friend have been debating about my qualities as a film critic, and they've involved a considerable critic, Dan Schneider, in their discussion. I will say that he (Ebert means me) has given the question a surprising amount of thought and attention over the years, and may well be correct in some aspects. What his analysis gives me is a renewed respect and curiosity about his own work....

(then a very lengthy and rambling email- with links, photos, and quotes by me and Ebert- follows, and the piece ends with this)

I suggest you buy one of those big T-bones and share it.

Dan Schneider is observant, smart, and makes every effort to be fair. I would agree that I am a more emotion-driven critic than Siskel or Schneider, and indeed many others. My reviews usually include a reflection of how I felt during a film, since film itself is primarily an emotional, not a cerebral, medium. For example, although like most everybody I found "Triumph of the Will" evil, I also lingered on how boring it was. If you're not comfortable sitting through a film, what can you easily get from it?

I must say I still agree with my opinions as quoted by Schneider, and I conclude he is more analytical and less visceral that I am. Readers find critics who speak to them. What is remarkable about these many words is that Schneider keeps an open mind, approaches each film afresh, and doesn't always repeat the same judgments. An ideal critic tries to start over again with every review.

There are three things on which we adamantly disagree. (1) I do not have a broader film knowledge than Donald Richie, and Schneider may be the only person who has ever thought so. (2) I disagree with his dismissal of Spielberg. The man who made "E.T." is not a schlockmeister purveying tripe. (3) The third is Ingrid Bergman, and my "burblings" about her lips. A critic who doesn't acknowledge the role of her face and presence in a "Casablanca" will, I fear, date just about anybody. Our critical differences I leave to you. I invite you to continue your discussion in the Comments below.

In the matter of Ingrid Bergman, I offer the final word to Miss Bergman.

A final note, I had never even heard of this Armond White critical clown until this all came up, but in looking over some of his film reviews (and I agree- he's a contrarian with political and personal axes to grind), he reminds me of this homeless fellow who wrote for alternative newspapers in the Twin Cities. His writings were also borderline paranoid and incoherent, and- surprise, surprise- he obsessed over me to the point where I had to go to court and get a restraining order on him because, like the initial emailer, he was a former mental patient. (And, no, I'm not claiming White's a nutcase, just that his writing and critical faculties devolve down to that level.)

Ah, mental illness, who knows what wonders it hath wrought?

Again, thanks to Ebert, but really, Roger, that photo of Ingrid- cheap shot, baby, but maybe it was a winner, after all! ;-)


The Movies of Kim Ki-Duk

Scenario #1:
An eccentric 60 year old man realizes that he will not be able to keep the 16 year old girl he raised on his boat for 10 years. Right after the marital ceremony and while his -now- wife naps he launched an arrow towards the sky and drowned himself into the sea. Some time later the wife wakes up alone on the boat, surprisingly spreads her legs in preparation for having sex (with who?) and has orgasm after an arrow falls from the sky and strikes her between her thighs.... so eventually consuming her marriage (red blood spreading on her dress). (From: THE BOW)

Scenario #2:
A young eccentric guy finds the only solution left to reunite with his beloved who is unhappily married to an abusive man. He achieves a state of "lightness" that permits to trick the guards and escape his prison, but also to live "happily ever after" with his woman in her marital house by hiding behind (literally) her husband (from: 3-IRON)

This is how two (and almost all) movies of Korean director Kim, Ki-Duk conclude: Absurd -almost ridiculous- way-out to his helpless characters, a dream-like state that help them transcend the limitation of the real. Moments like these are almost solely present in a kim ki-duk movie. While those moments are not as elegant or spiritual as Tarkovsky's levitation states (Mirror, Solaris, Sacrifice...) they -in my opinion- work better since they're not directed towards aesthetics but to take the narrative to a different level.

From Tarkovsky's last movie

Kim Ki-Duk made an international reputation by the time he released his 9th work: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring. It was one of the first movies of his that I'd seen. The cycles of life through a young boy raised by a monk.

Few particular things that are common in Kim's (his last name) movies:
1. They are centered around one or two characters.
2. His main characters are eccentric, isolated -or eliminated- from society
3. Movies has recurrent musical motifs (at times annoyingly cheesy) paired with each central character.
4. His movies climax usually towards the last third of the narrative by breaking the barrier of reality (at times he is criticized for his extremely eccentric fantasies)
5. His narrative almost lack dialogues (like in the movie showed above, but in the scenario#1 presented The Bow, scenario#2: 3-iron.... etc)
6. They are unpopular in Korea (breaking social taboos maybe) but appreciated in western Europe, to the point when Kim decided not to release his movies in Korea (interestingly enough, a decision that made his work popular among young Koreans).

Kim's characters are usually "loners", placed (or place themselves) in unusual conditions. They are not the victims of some cruel destiny but choose an unorthodox path for their lives:

. 3-Iron -one of his best works- is about a young man who uses a smart way to break into houses: placing flyers on front doors and checking them in few days he recognizes empty houses but instead of stealing, or attacking..... etc he just lives there, he fixes the house, clean dishes, laundry.... etc he is a "good" person but living in a socially unacceptable manner.

. Samaritan Girls, two "innocent" teen girls decided to prostitute in order to save money for a vacation in Europe

. The Isle, a mute -again eccentric- young girl lives on one of many fishing isles and provide fishermen with their needs

. The Bow, an old man raises a girl he found for more than 10 years waiting to marry her when she reaches the age of 17. They live alone on an old isolated boat. His bow is his weapon against intruders, it's also his musical instrument and his fortune teller. The two main characters (the old man and the young girl) do not have any heard dialogue during the whole movie.

Kim ki-Duk is not a director at the level of contemporary European masters like Angelopoulos, Tarr, Ceylan.. but he is definitely one of the most interesting Asian directors currently. He is better than Kar Wai and Zhang or Europeans like Almodovar, Ozone, Breillat, Haneke... given the facts that he is 1) consistent and 2) UNIQUE: his movies have his signature style in cinematography (simple editing, long shots, landscapes), narrative (crossing the reality boundaries) character (rare dialogues...) and pace (slow). Unlike those mentioned he doesn't have a bad movie, it's almost impossible not to identify his work after watching one of his movies. I can't say that he made masterpieces but movies like 3-Iron, Summer...., The Isle are all very good and definitely worth checking.

DVD Review: Remembered Earth: New Mexico’s High Desert.

Read my review of of this doc here.


Offensive Rudolph Video

Racism, sexism, drug use, and all other shit.

But funny!

Faux Chaplin Interview

Interesting what can be done nowadays. But, a number of historical miscues are evidenced- such as Chaplin's being Jewish, and Hitler's reason for his mustache.



A much underrated film from journeyman director George Roy Hill. Hill hit the big time with his next film, The Sting, and a decade after that had a hit with The World According To Garp.

But, this is easily his best film.

Why? Because it comes from the best source material: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade. As many directors of note have claimed, all great cinema starts with a good script. Period.

Cinema is a visual extension of literature, rather than a narrative extension of the visual arts. This good (not common) sense reality has too often missed by fundamentalists of 'pure cinema,' but it is true, nonetheless.

The tale folows a man who becomes 'unstuck' in time- a great device that makes the man's insanity palatable enough for the viewer/reader to be able to identify with; despite the obvious things that are not true in the narrative.

The book and film differ, but only in slight ways. Michael sacks, in his only lead film role, is outstanding as lead character Billy Pilgrim, who ages over forty plus years in the film. He has just the right mix of naive-te andhumility to masque the absolute insanity of the character.

Here is a trailer of this film that just misses out on greatness:



Buster Crabbe

Buster Crabbe was amongst the favorites when it came to acting, at least for my dad. I spent hours with him watching the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers serial on PBS, back int he 1970s.


Joe Franklin

I grew up watching the old Joe Franklin tv talk show on WOR in New York City. Franklin used to feature clips from old silent films; the place I first saw stars like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Fatty Arbuckle.

In a humorous asides, a couple of years ago I tried to get Joe Franklin to do a DSI for me, hoping that, since he faded away from the public eye years ago (over a decade since he was a radio host and nearly 15 years since his television show ended) he might be amenable to an interview.

But, he had a really snotty agent, whom I contacted on a really out of date website that looked like it had been made in 1994. The guy was a real character, something out of the great comedy film by Woody Allen, Broadway Danny Rose- a film about an out of his depths booking agent. The fellow was what is known, in cyber-terms, a Last Century Jones. He simply had no idea about how to market stuff in the 21st Century.

Our conversation went something like this: I'd ask if Franklin would be willing to do the interview, that I was a fan and would like to help the old man gain a popular foothold with a new generation of potential fans, given that the Franklin show had been off the air so many years and had never broken beyond the Northeast, in terms of viewership. Totally unawares of how obscure his client now was, the agent went into pure Allenesque schtick, telling me that Franklin had fans from 8 to 98. Furthermore, he was absolutely clueless about the power of the Internet and that there was no paradigm for the old culture of paying for what amounted to trivial information. He kept asking me what I was gonna do for him and Joe if Joe did me this favor. He then asked for a fee that was ridiculous, even had I the means to pay it.

The funny thing was that the agent had no clue that I was the one holding all the cards, that I had built an large audience in a new medium, one which the agent and his client had no clue of.

As a favor to an old tv fave of mine, and without any rancor over my idiotic treatment, though, I informed the agent about a little thing known as YouTube, and how it might behoove him to put up free clips of his client's old show online, and then try to market the best moments and interviews on DVD, and use the free YouTube clips as de facto commercials.

Well, it looks like the agent may have taken the first half of my advice, although, as I write this, there are no DVDs of Franklin material online.

Even if there were, though, something tells me I wouldn't get my fair cut from the agent for giving him a great marketing tip. C'est la vie!

This clip is from 1987, near the end of his show's run:

Time On Woody


Gal got fired by Woody Allen and made a documentary.

Woody Standup