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October 19, 2003 Reviews

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Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....

Books: Scholarly Paranoia - A Study of Institutionalized Meanness

As I mentioned in this week's discussion of how mean-spirited political discourse has become (October 19, 2003 Mail), you might want to glance through this book, The Triumph of Meanness: America's War Against Its Better Self   Nicolaus Mills, 1997, Houghton Mifflin ...
The review got a bit long so I put it here The Triumph of Meanness 

Film: It takes about four hours to learn all the necessary skills to make a movie?  Maybe so.

Claude Chabrol's fiftieth film, with the English title The Flower of Evil, opened in Los Angeles last week.
Details: Flower of Evil  ("La Fleur du Mal") - yep, one does think of Baudelaire   MPAA rating: Unrated
A Palm Pictures release of a Marin Karmitz presentation of a co-production of MK2 and France 3 Cinéma. Director Claude Chabrol. Producer Marin Karmitz. Executive producer Yvon Crenn. Screenplay Caroline Eliacheff and Louise L. Lambrichs; adaptation and dialogue by Chabrol. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra. Editor Monique Fardoulis. Music Matthieu Chabrol. Costumes Mic Cheminal. Art director Françoise Benoît-Fresco. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

I haven't seen it yet, even if four million French folks saw it last year.  I am, however, fascinated by what one reads in the promotional interviews Claude Chabrol has been doing.

"The thing that makes me despair the most is when people say after a film, 'Oh, it was great. I forgot my problems for two hours.'  I would like that a film helps people to resolve things, on the other hand."
I'm still thinking what that could mean.  Well, the guy is seventy-three years old, with an odd sense of humor.  He may be called "the Hitchcock of France" but the Hitchcock had an odd sense of humor too.
Apparently his latest book, How to Make a Film  - a series of  interviews with the French journalist François Guérif - is where he points out that he has always said, and still believes, that it takes about four hours to learn all the necessary skills to make a movie.   Cool.  I hope he doesn't say that too loudly here in Hollywood.  Here everyone is a genius of depth and vast technique.  Jusk ask them.
It seems, like Hitchcock, Chabrol does prepare meticulously.  Hitchcock had a real low cutting-ratio.  He didn't waste film stock - he planned. 
For Chabrol planning is a different thing.  Everything is "thought out but never planned" - he hates storyboards and once wrote that he quit trying to imagine his films years ago.
The point about making a movie, he says, is showing up on set knowing what you want to say.  What a concept!
"Even films that are based on sensation pass by the head.   But I've seen films in which manifestly the guy making it didn't know what he was doing. Like Independence Day. That guy had no idea what he was doing! He didn't realize what he was saying - I will say, it's rather Bush-esque."  Now that's funny.
And Chabrol doesn't like conventional endings for his films, or any sense of ending at all.  "To finish things means that things are resolved.  And nothing ever is."
That's so damned French, and so not-American.  I love it.
I shall catch the new film, but even now I'm smiling.

Music: Seventies Rock and Roll Dies, and Irving Berlin Lives.

I see in the Los Angeles Times that Rod Stewart has recorded a second album of "old standards." 
Were talking "I'm in the Mood for Love." And "Time After Time."  And "As Times Goes By."  And not "Maggie May." 
When Stewart released his first album of standards, It Had to Be You ... The Great American Songbook, on J Records last year, the thought was that it would sell a couple hundred thousand copies at best.  It sold four million copies. 
The Great American Songbook: Volume II comes out Tuesday (October 21) and it has Stewart doing duets with Queen Latifah and Cher.  Oh my.  There are advance orders from retailers for more than a million copies.

What is the world coming to?  This guy was hot in the seventies, a raspy, burnt-out Brit a dissolute, charming roué.  But very hip.  Then.  Now he lives here in Los Angeles he's lived here since the seventies   and he has turned into Jack Jones?  What?

Stewart is quoted as saying, "It's so enjoyable to do these songs.  You can really bring a bit of soul to 'em.  A good mate of mine in England said to me, 'You know why I like this album? When I bring a girl home, I feel a bit old putting on Frank Sinatra. So I put your stuff on, and it seems almost like it's reborn and contemporary again.'  Yipes.
Stewart adds he thinks the second album will do as well as the first: "So I think maybe the fact that there's a relatively contemporary voice singin' these songs has made a difference. They're so uncluttered, these tracks. There's no jazz, there's no one jamming. ... I think that's given us a little sound all of our own.  It's the first one of the day the first drink of the day, you put this album on."

Okay.  Rod Stewart is doing a second album of the popular songs of the thirties and forties.  I think a member of the Rolling Stones, but not Mick Jagger, did the same thing seven or eight years ago - I seem to recall a weak voice, a lot of strings, and the tune was "Long Ago and Far Away."

Well, these are the tunes I know inside out.  I've played them in piano bars, in "big bands" and in small groups. 

Is the world ending now that such things are being recorded by such people?  Or am I justified in thinking this was pretty good music in the first place and, wonder of wonders, someone agrees with me on something?