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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Sunday, 31 July 2005

Topic: Science

Heat Wave: Is This Weep-Silently-Apologize-To-Your-Children-And-Throw-Yourself-Out-A-Window Depressing?

300 scouts collapse in the heat waiting for President
James Bone, The Times (London, UK), July 29, 2005
The quadrennial gathering of 32,000 boy scouts now under way at an army base in Virginia has been struck by a series of misfortunes that have cost four lives and made hundreds ill.

… On Wednesday, tens of thousands of scouts waited for Mr Bush for three hours in an open field in their dress uniforms.

Although the scouts were given exceptional permission to remove their uniform shirts, as long as they were wearing undershirts, many were overcome by the sun and high humidity and temperatures approaching 100F.

… About 300 people were treated for symptoms of excessive heat as soldiers ferried scouts to the medical post on the base.

The day ended with the announcement that Mr Bush was calling off his trip because of bad weather - just as he had done four years ago.
Note this from James Wolcott:
It struck me that hundreds of Scouts collapsing in the heat awaiting a no-show president is a symbolic portent. I fully expect incidents of mass heatstroke to mount as we enter deeper and deeper into the baked Alaska of global warming. Years of ranting and heckling by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and other ignorati that global warming is a myth propagated by environmental wacko and economic no-growthers have lobotomized the lobes of millions of Americans and their greedy representatives, inducing a state of denial that no amount of news footage seems able to shatter.
Note to Wolcott:

Bush Comforts Thousands at Scout Jamboree
Deb Riechmann, Associated Press, Sunday, July 31, 2005
Succeeding on his third try to visit them, President Bush comforted thousands of Boy Scouts on Sunday at a national jamboree marred by the electrocutions of four leaders and stifling heat that sickened 300.

"The men you lost were models of good citizenship," Bush told the estimated 50,000 Scouts, leaders and visitors attending the event near Bowling Green, Va., where boys yelled "Boy Scouts Rock!"

"As scout leaders, they devoted themselves to helping young men develop the character and skills they need to realize their dreams. These men will always be remembered for their leadership and kindness, and you scouts honor them by living up to the ideals of the Scouting they served."
Third time is charm, and one suspect his political advisors knew this was looking real bad. So he showed up and said the appropriate things. The guy gets enough grief for seeming contemptuous of others and an arrogant, uncaring frat-boy prankster.

The visited fixed all that? Hardly. I'm not sure you get points for showing up (late) - and for mouthing platitudes. But he did get around to it.

But what is Wolcott getting at with this dig at those who say global warming has not been proven? What is this about denial?

Wolcott links to the most recent news (July 29) of what he calls "The Great Arctic Sea Ice Melt-Off" - the source is this - scientists from our own government saying this is pretty ominous. (Will they keep their jobs?) This summer's melt is way out of line, and some of these science guys "are wondering if the melting of the sea ice has already gone beyond a critical threshold from which it can't recover."

Well, this has been the hottest June-July ever recorded in several eastern cities, according to data compiled by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. See this - and CNN here says it's the whole country.

Maybe a very cold winter will even things out, to a nice average.

Is something up? The Caribbean got warmer earlier this year, the kind of warm that provides the energy to turn minor storms into hurricanes, and this item quotes James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, saying that as the world warms, we expect more and more intense tropical hurricanes and cyclones. Of course. That's logical.

One wonders - or some may wonder - if something is up. Of course it doesn't help that HBO in it current rotation is running the recent disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) five or six times a week. In the movie, curiously, global warming causes serious melting of the ice caps, and then all the fresh water in the ocean shifts the North Atlantic Current's salinity so it now runs cold, and then the climate patterns go all screwy - massive storms (Los Angeles is wiped out by tornados, one of which wipes out the Hollywood sign itself - and the Columbia Records building down the street!) - all followed by three new gigantic storms in the now much colder northern hemisphere, resulting in a sudden new ice age with most of the United States and all of Europe just sheets of ice, and the US government forced into exile in - get this! - Mexico. In the movie no one in the government would heed the warnings of the scientist-hero, especially the arrogant Vice President, who looked a lot like Dick Cheney, and sounded like him too. An oil man. Yeah, yeah.

Wolcott is on it. He quotes Ross Gelbspan who writes books on energy policy and global warming. Oil production will peak out in 2006 and then decline. And the climate is changing. And it may be too late now to do anything about any of it anyway. "Events are now set to run their course."

Wolcott:
From Energy Bulletin:

"A few days ago Roger Pielke Jr. pointed to a paper (PDF) by Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics called 'On development, demography and climate change: The end of the world as we know it?' Pielke called it 'refreshingly clear thinking on climate change.' That's true, if by 'refreshingly clear' he means 'weep-silently-apologize-to-your-children-and-throw-yourself-out-a-window depressing.'"

If events run their course, what will that course be?

Here are the five main points made, quoted directly from the abstract:

"First, that since about 1800 economic development has been based on the burning of fossil fuels, and this will continue to apply for the foreseeable future.

"Second, due to momentum in economic, demographic, and climate processes, it is inevitable that there will be a major rise in the level of atmospheric CO2 during the twenty-first century.

"Third, available data on global temperatures ... suggest strongly that the coming warming of the Earth will be appreciably faster than anything that human populations have experienced in historical times. ... Furthermore, particularly in a system that is being forced, the chances of an abrupt change in climate happening must be rated as fair.

"Fourth ... the range of plausible unpleasant climate outcomes seems at least as great as the range of more manageable ones. The agricultural, political, economic, demographic, social and other consequences of future climate change are likely to be considerable - indeed, they could be almost inconceivable. In a world of perhaps nine billion people, adverse changes could well occur on several fronts simultaneously and to cumulative adverse effect.

"Finally, the paper argues that human experience of other difficult 'long wave' threats (e.g. HIV/AIDS) reveals a broadly analogous sequence of reactions. In short: (i) scientific understanding advances rapidly, but (ii) avoidance, denial, and reproach characterize the overall societal response, therefore, (iii) there is relatively little behavioral change, until (iv) evidence of damage becomes plain. Apropos carbon emissions and climate change, however, it is argued here that not only is major behavioral change unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it probably wouldn't make much difference even were it to occur."

If mankind is intent on committing mass suicide via stubborn denial, it could be argued that we will have earned our collective fate, even if that fate was reached largely without our consent. But the self-destruction of the planet also means the billions of animals and other living beings that inhabit this planet will also die, and their deaths will be truly innocent, the final indictment of mankind's failed stewardship of the earth.
Well, Wolcott is a tad upset that we're all in such denial, and that such denial led is to this situation where there really is no way to fix any of this. The oil supply is finite - and will peter out. And even if we stop burning fossil fuels and do all the green things, "it probably wouldn't make much difference even were it to occur."

We're screwed. Assess all the blame you want. What difference does that make?

Actually, if this is so - and the evidence points to it being so - then denial seems somehow appropriate. Fly in and say pleasant nothings to the sweating crowds of Boy Scouts. What's the difference?

Posted by Alan at 21:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 31 July 2005 22:07 PDT home


Topic: Announcements

Redirection

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log, is now on line. That would be Volume 3, Number 31 for the week of Sunday, July 31, 2005. This web log is only the staging area for a number of the current events items and a few of the photographs. The weekly, in magazine format, offers much more than do the immediate, sketchy items here.

This issue of Just Above Sunset, for example, introduces "Our Man in London" - Mike McCahill, film critic for The Scotsman, The Sunday Telegraph and the BBC. In what we hope will be a regular feature, he provides his personal insight into just what is happening there. Of course, we still have "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson (two columns this week) and a collection of this week's shots of Paris from Don Smith of Left Bank Lens. All this, along with columns now and then from "Our Man in Tel-Aviv," Sylvain Ubersfeld, make Just Above Sunset an international sort of thing. This week we also have an exclusive photo from the Green Zone in Baghdad, and a one from the Pocono Mountains. And there's more of Malibu for those readers who expect Southern California.

The commentary and analysis in the Current Events section is six deep this week - from Washington to Baghdad to Cincinnati - but that is balanced by six non-political feature items, including media notes, everything you ever wanted to know about "leap seconds" and a film column having to do with elevators.

Bob Patterson is back as usual, with book notes and some observations on what folks want written, and why they might not get what they want.

The usual quotes are there - Dali is quite mad Mark Twain isn't - and there's a link to a new photo album, another one.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago...
Tipping Point: Something Becomes News?
Hints and Rumors: Judy's Secret and the JAG Protest
Secrecy: News of What Didn't Happen, and of What Won't Happen
Ohio Gets Noticed: Cincinnati to the Moon
Ironies: Ironies that can only be seen from the left side...

Features ________________

Our Man in London: Greetings from London: Host City for the 2012 Olympics and Suicide Bombers' Paradise!
Our Man in Paris: France Paradise
Our Man in Paris Illustrated: Under the Sand, the City
News Notes: What's The News? What You Want It To Be.
Film Notes: Something for a Hot Day in Los Angeles
Basic Science: Counting the Seconds, or Not

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Things done capriciously for no apparent reason are fun!
Book Wrangler: In the Bookstores During the Summer of 2005

Guest Photography ________________

Left Bank Lens: This Week in Paris
Baghdad Exclusive: New Photo from the Green Zone
The Pocono Mountains: A Nature Shot

Local Photography ________________

Malibu: Not Just Surfers

The Usual ________________

Quotes for the week of July 24, 2005 - Truth and the Root of All Evil
Links and Recommendations: A New Photo Album, All About Malibu

Malibu Pier:


Posted by Alan at 16:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 31 July 2005 16:29 PDT home

Saturday, 30 July 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago…

As reported Tuesday, July 26, in the New York Times, on Monday last things changed - U.S. Officials Retool Slogan for Terror War. The Global War on Terror is over. Or it has been renamed.

Salient points:
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice. Administration officials say that phrase may have outlived its usefulness, because it focused attention solely, and incorrectly, on the military campaign.
Whatever. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, Monday was saying he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution."

They're not? Then what are we doing in Iraq? He clarifies and says future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military."

Oh. But? Nevermind.

The Times reports this all grew out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January - and it reflects "the evolution" in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the September 11 attacks. But didn't Bush say the jury is still out on evolution?

The Times also snags an interview with Steven Hadley, the national security adviser to Bush.

His point? "It is more than just a military war on terror. It's broader than that. It's a global struggle against extremism. We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."

So this is the positive alternative.

Reactions? Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM is skeptical
Are these guys really this clueless?

What else to make of the story's opening sentence:

"The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday."

Three subquestions arise just from the lead. First, this is the administration's solution to the spike in terrorist incidents, the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, and the politico-military deterioration in Iraq - to retool the slogan?

Second, the White House and the Pentagon are just now coming around to the idea that the struggle is as much ideological as military? This wasn't obvious, say, three or four years ago?

Apparently not.

... It took four years for the president of the United States to realize that fighting terrorism has a political component? It took six months for his senior advisers to retool a slogan? We are witnessing that rare occasion when the phrase "I don't know whether to laugh or cry" can be uttered without lapsing into cliché.
But what really gets to Kaplan the comment from Steven Hadley that they were basically looking for an alternative to gloom - a positive alternative. In short? A happier acronym.

And they got it:
Look at the first letters of Global War on Terrorism. GWOT. What does that mean; how is it pronounced? Gwot? Too frivolously rowdy, like a fight scene in a Marvel comic book (Bam! Pfooff! Gwot!). Gee-wot? Sounds like a garbled question (Gee what?).

Then look at Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Its acronym is GSAVE - i.e., gee-save. We're out to save the world, see, not wage war on it. Or, as national security adviser Stephen Hadley puts it in the Times piece, "We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."
Kaplan goes on to wonder whether Hadley and all the rest of our other top officials really believe this nonsense? The question he asks whether they so enraptured with PR that they think a slogan and a strategy are the same thing - and that retooling the one will transform the other?

It would seem so. Reality is what you make it, and these guys make it.

Remember these guys say things like this -
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Got it? Change the words and you change the reality.

Sidney Blumenthal suggests all this renaming is how the Bush administration is silently signaling defeat - but I suspect they don't it see that way. Blumenthal is just the disgruntled left, after all - that other reality, that one doesn't count any longer.

I haven't found anyone saying it yet, but I'm sure it has been said - GSAVE is just a shorted form of "Jesus Saves." It's a crusade thing. (Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney also points out that GWOT was far too close to G-Spot.)

Paul Glastris, curiously, here asks us to consider this passage from Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War" -
The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man.
Yep, it's all how you look at things, and who controls the words used.

And who reads Thucydides these days?

People read John Hinderaker over at Powerline - and Time Magazine says Hinderaker with what he writes on his site is one of the most influential people in America. And Hinderaker says this:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
It's all how you look at it. One man's reality is not another's.

So it's GSAVE now. And the guys in the military may have to turn in these and get the revised version.

Posted by Alan at 13:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Friday, 29 July 2005

Topic: Science

Basic Science: Counting the Seconds, or Not

Much has been said, again and again, about the "ugly American" trying to make the whole world over to be just like us, and offending others who don't much want to go along - but this?

Why the U.S. Wants To End the Link Between Time and Sun
Astronomers Say Wait a Sec, Sundials Would Be Passé; Mean Blow to Greenwich
Keith J. Winstein, The Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2005; Page A1

Okay, it was on the front page of the newspaper-of-record for the captains of industry here in America, but is it news or, perhaps, just a giggle?

What's the deal?

It seems the WSJ has a scoop here, that we made a secret proposal at the UN and the word is leaking out -
Time to change the way we measure time, according to a U.S. government proposal that businesses favor, astronomers abominate and Britain sees as a threat to its venerable standard, Greenwich Mean Time.

Word of the U.S. proposal, made secretly to a United Nations body, began leaking to scientists earlier this month. The plan would simplify the world's timekeeping by making each day last exactly 24 hours. Right now, that's not always the case.

Because the moon's gravity has been slowing down the Earth, it takes slightly longer than 24 hours for the world to rotate completely on its axis. The difference is tiny, but every few years a group that helps regulate global timekeeping, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, tells governments, telecom companies, satellite operators and others to add in an extra second to all clocks to keep them in sync. The adjustment is made on New Year's Eve or the last day of June.
Ah! It's these ad hoc "leap seconds" that are the problem. The last one was added in 1998 and we may be due again. And it seems this is going to create no end of problems for a subset of computers that cannot tolerate even one 61-second minute. And we are told of Symmetricom, an outfit out here in San Jose, that makes really, really, really precise clocks for telecommunications and the military – and for the space program. One of their executives is quoted as saying this is a "huge deal."

And it's not just the guys up north. It seems at the start of 1998, the last time an extra second was added, Associated Press Radio crashed - or at least started sending out the wrong tapes. The year before the Russian global positioning system (Glonass) was down for twenty hours when they uploaded an extra second and everything went bad. And we're told that in 2003 a leap-second bug made GPS receivers from Motorola briefly show customers the time as half past 62 o'clock - and no extra second was even added.

Well, it's not Y2K but it is a problem.
"A lot of people encounter problems with their software going over a leap second," said Dennis D. McCarthy, who drafted the U.S. leap-second proposal while serving as the Navy's "Director of Time." Because of these problems, the U.S. government last year quietly proposed abolishing leap seconds to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the U.N. body that tells the Earth Rotation Service how to keep time.

"Safety of life is an issue," said William Klepczynski, a senior analyst at the State Department in favor of the U.S. proposal, who asserts that programmers who ignore the need to add leap seconds present a "risk to air travel in the future" because a glitch might shut down traffic-control systems.

Eliminating leap seconds will make sextants and sundials slowly become inaccurate, but supporters say that's OK now that the satellite-supported GPS can give exact longitude and latitude bearings to anyone with a receiver. Sailors "don't navigate with the stars any longer," said Dr. McCarthy.
So what's the problem? (And our Navy has a "Director of Time?" Cool.)

One problem is the French, specifically the Earth Rotation Service's leap-second head, one Daniel Gambis, of the Paris Observatory. To wit: "As an astronomer, I think time should follow the Earth."

Don't we all?

He calls the American effort a "coup de force," and an "intrusion on the scientific dialogue." And he say ninety percent of the subscribers to his service are quite happy with the extra seconds now and then. And some of them?
"We should not so blithely discard the ties between our clocks and the rotation of the Earth," wrote Rob Seaman, a programmer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, Arizona. Jean Meeus, an influential Belgian astronomer, called the U.S. proposal "a disaster for classical astronomy" and a "dirty trick."
A dirty trick?

Well, ask the British about this. They want none of it. From 1884 to 1961 the world set its official clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, based on the actual rise and set of the stars as seen from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, just outside London. Well, now everyone uses Coordinated Universal Time - atomic clocks and all that - and everyone agreed to insert leap seconds in order to keep the official time within one second of the old Greenwich time.

Now?

It seems BBC and Big Ben now follow Coordinated Universal Time, but Parliament has just refused to change the country's official standard away from Greenwich time. It's a matter of national pride, after all. But if getting rid of the "leap seconds" may be necessary, so much for GMT - it slowly becomes just another quaint and utterly useless British custom.

But the WSJ reports that Britain's science minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, decided in April, during Tony Blair's re-election campaign, to oppose the U.S. proposal. "It could have been used to attack the government," said Peter Whibberley, a scientist who represents Britain to the ITU. "People regard GMT with some sensitivity," he said. "It gets tied up with the general anti-Europe feeling."

Many of us missed all that in the reports on the recent British elections.

But you see the real problem with dropping "leap seconds," don't you? Do that and the sun starts rising later and later by the clock - a few seconds later each decade.

But we have an answer! We're proposing adding a "leap hour" every five hundred years or so. After all, the Earth's rotation is expected to slow down further. You have to do something. It seems Ronald Beard of the Naval Research Laboratory - our man who chairs the ITU special committee on leap seconds (and favors their abolishment) - thinks this is no big deal. Think of the shift to Daylight Saving Time each year. "It's not like someone's going to be going to school at four in the afternoon or something."

But this whole "abolish leap seconds" proposal is, as noted, secret. The WSJ couldn't get any top US officials to comment. They called the head of our delegation - D. Wayne Hanson of the National Institute of Standards and Technology - but he won't talk. Through a spokeswoman, he said that our proposal "is a private matter internal to the ITU and not for public discussion."

Still the astronomers are ticked - do the extra seconds get dropped and do the upgrades to the telescopes have to be made - or not? They want some openness here.

Well, maybe it just has to be done, if only to coordinate air traffic control. That's what our State Department is saying (see above). It's a matter of safety. (But don't forget the military and space programs.)

The WSJ ends with this:
Deep down, though, the opposition is more about philosophy than cost. Should the convenience of lazy computer programmers triumph over the rising of the sun? To the government, which worries about safety more than astronomy, the answer is yes.
But then there's the one astronomer they quote: "Time has basically always really meant what you measure when you put a stick in the ground and look at its shadow."

Really? Not these days.

Posted by Alan at 20:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005 20:29 PDT home


Topic: Film Notes

Film Notes: Something for a Hot Day in Los Angeles

Friday morning in Los Angeles, already mercilessly sunny at seven and getting hotter by the minute, I notice in the Los Angeles Times that thumped on my doorstep before dawn that their film guy, Kenneth Turan, tells me I can go sit in the air-conditioned dark and spend ninety-one minutes on the cold, rainy streets of Paris in the 1950's - if I'm willing to struggle down Santa Monica Boulevard to the Laemmle Royal on the other side of UCLA, that movie house between Dolores - a real fifties greasy spoon, not something fake and trying to be retro - and the place that has some cool antique pianos. It's a thought. They're showing the restored print of Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" - a film discussed in these pages two years ago: August 17, 2003 Reviews. Back then, on a page formatted in three columns, the middle column was about the film and the right-hand column about the Miles Davis score for the film. (I had just purchased a used copy of the soundtrack at Amoeba Music on Sunset.)

The middle column ended with: "I'm not sure if the film is available - it is not listed on Amazon or sites like that. It's not showing anywhere I've seen. But were I running a film distribution company, I'd re-release it."

So it happened two years later.

Turan opens with this:
As beautifully fatalistic as its title, the classic thriller "Elevator to the Gallows" is a consummate entertainment rich with the romantic atmosphere of Paris in the 1950s. Coming at a turning point in French cinematic history, it drew upon several major talents - director Louis Malle, star Jeanne Moreau, cinematographer Henri Decaë, musician Miles Davis - and achieved near-legendary results with all of them.

Made in 1957, when first-time director Malle was only 24 years old, "Elevator" ("Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud") has the brisk craftsmanship and efficiency of classic French cinema and a breathless hint of the energy of the New Wave that was but a few years away.

It made a major film star of Moreau, whose work remains completely bewitching. It called forth from Davis an improvised jazz score that, anchored by his piercing work on the trumpet, has become iconic in its own right. And in a pristine restoration by Rialto Pictures, the gold standard of reissue distributors, it showcases Decaë's luminous, adventurous cinematography. It's not something you want to miss.
That'll do.

Turan gives a bit of the plot but concentrates mainly on the cinematography, and on Jeanne Moreau - how the performance works and what it did for her career.

I'm still interested in the plot, and its political resonances today - the good soldier and hero, trained by the powers that be to kill, gets fed up with the war profiteers, wants to take back his honor, so he kills one of them. That one happens to be his boss and his lover's husband. And things go sour of course. What happens after the war and the guys come home…

Anyway, while our flawed hero-murderer is stuck in the elevator, there's this problem with identity theft. His car is stolen by a young fellow who signs into a hotel with his girlfriend, under our hero's name. During the stay at the hotel the young dude shoots a German couple with a gun he found earlier in our hero's car, and the goes on the run. When our hero-murderer finally manages to escape from the elevator - he spends the weekend stuck - he is arrested by the police and charged with the murder of the German couple. His lover, Jeanne Moreau, manages to track down the real murders - rainy streets, very noir - and gets the evidence needed to clear him. But in so doing, well, she incriminates him in the murder of her husband. Oops. Black, French irony, of course.

What still strikes me is an odd undercurrent here. The guy caught in the elevator, who shot the husband of the woman he loves, is an ex-paratrooper, a war hero, reduced to working for a wealthy, fat war profiteer who may or may not have collaborated with the Germans in the big war, and who now is rich from what he made in arms sales during the French wars in Indo-China (Vietnam) and now in Algeria. He loves the guy's wife and seems to think the fat-cat doesn't deserve her. She agrees. And he shoots the fat-cat with the guy's own gun.

The dialog? "What is this, a joke? What do you want? Money? I'm not frightened of you, Tavernier. I'm too used to being unpopular to be frightened. Anyhow, you're not so foolish as to shoot. In war, yes, but not in more important things." A Halliburton moment? So the arms merchant is a bad guy - "Don't laugh at wars. You live off wars... Indo-China - now Algeria. Respect wars; they're your family heirlooms."

Ah, well. The more things change, the more they….

As for the Miles Davis score, you can click on the item from two years ago and read about how he recorded the whole thing in one evening. How it sounds?
The album is rather fine. Moody, "cool" and spare late fifties jazz. It holds up well. It's a lot freer and less mannered than the stuff on the Kind of Blue album that is so famous. It's better, and sounds just fine now. Odd that when I hear it I know this is what is known as the "West Coast Sound," born here in Los Angeles with The Birth of the Cool album. Recorded in Paris for a French film, this might just as well have been recorded at the old Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach.
And for reference here's a recent photograph of the old Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach.

For the Los Angeles readers:

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud ("Lift to the Scaffold" in the UK and here, "Elevator to the Gallows")
MPAA rating: Unrated

A Rialto Pictures release. Director Louis Malle. Producer Jean Thuillier. Screenplay Louis Malle, Roger Nimier, based on the novel by Noël Calef. Cinematography Henri Decaë. Editor Léonide Azar. Music Miles Davis. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581, and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.

































Posted by Alan at 15:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005 15:17 PDT home

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