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August 17, 2003 Reviews

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


I will not giggle.  I promise, Mr O'Reilly, I will not giggle.

A few months ago the Los Angeles Times had its annual book fair over on the UCLA campus.  That's a fifteen-minute drive but the parking is always difficult, so I skipped it.
Of course I missed the forum where the liberal columnist from Texas -yes, there are such things - moderated a discussion between Al Franken who has a new book coming out regarding Fox News, and Bill O'Reilly, their star host.  Molly Ivins was the moderator.
Al Franken likes to make fun of Fox News, citing what he calls their "obvious lies" and lack of fairness and balance.  As you know, the Fox News motto is "Fair and Balanced." 
O'Reilly is a bit sensitive about being mocked, as we all are.  And of course he markets himself in a distinct way.  He stands up "for the little" guy and seems to usually want to show that he, and by extension his audience, doesn't ever take crap from clever intellectuals with degrees.
Ivins sort of gave up when the shouting began. 
At one point O'Reilly, after listening to Franken listing some rather blatant inconsistencies in Fox news coverage, used a technique that has served O'Reilly well when interviewing liberal intellectuals on his show.  O'Reilly started shouting, "Shut up! Shut up!" 
As much as his audience loves to watch him do that on his television show, it may have not been the best, most sound "argument" to use at a book fair.   Franken, in turn, said, "Bill, we're not on Fox News." 
Obviously I should have attended this.  Oh well.
So the big news this week is that Al Franken's new book was published - Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Penguin).  It is a satirical look at Fox News and other right-conservative news organizations.  Well, Franken's 1996 book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot was a best seller. 
As for the new book, Bill O'Reilly was not happy, and Fox News was not happy.  They sued.
Here are the grounds of the suit.
The court papers were filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and became public Monday the 11th.  In the lawsuit, a judge is being asked to decide an important question: who has the right to use the word "fair" and the word "balanced" together, connected by the word "and"?  Fox has registered those words as a trademark.
Lawyers for Fox News Network, part of Rupert Murdochs' media empire, News Corporation, contend that Franken should not be allowed to use those words in the title of his new book.  They argue that Fox has trademarked "Fair and Balanced" to describe its news coverage and that Franken's use of the phrase would blur and tarnish it.
"Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality,"
according to the complaint. "He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."
Fox also takes issue with Franken's book cover because it "mimics the look and style" of two books written by Bill O'Reilly.  O'Reilly is pictured on the cover, just beneath the word "Lies."
The court papers refer to Franken as a "parasite" who hopes to use Fox's reputation to confuse the public and boost sales of his book. 
In response, Lisa Johnson, the executive director of publicity for Dutton, a division of Penguin Group, said this: 
It is extraordinary that one of the largest media corporations would take such action.  In trying to suppress Al Franken's book, News Corporation is undermining First Amendment principles that protect all media by guaranteeing a free, open and vigorous debate of public issues.  The attempt to keep the public from reading Franken's message is un-American and runs contrary to everything this country stands for.
Franken said he's trademarked the word "funny" and every time Bill O'Reilly says Franken is not funny, he'll sue O'Reilly.  I suspect he's kidding.
Fox lawyers say they hope to win an injunction to stop Mr. Franken from selling his book as is, and to recover its legal fees.  Lawyers are expected to argue their respective cases before a judge soon.
Well, this is fun.
Eugene Volokh, of the UCLA law school says this:
I suppose that the criticisms of Franken are in some measure to the tarnishment theory - but they still make the complaint sound like a snit fit.  Also, the tarnishment theory is in any event very weak: 15 U.S.C. sec. 1125©, which discusses 'trademark dilution" (the legal rubric under which tarnishment claims generally fall) specifically exempt "All forms of news reporting and news commentary" as well as "Fair use of a famous mark by another person in comparative commercial advertising or promotion to identify the competing goods or services of the owner of the famous mark." 
First, Franken's book is news commentary.  Second, the more that Fox argues that Franken is referring to it, and unfairly competing with it, the more Franken would be able to claim that he is therefore engaging in "comparative . . . promotion" that identifies his work as an alternative source of commentary to Fox.
The result of all this?  Franken's book went from one hundred and forty seventh place on the sales charts at Amazon to number one.  Bill O'Reilly's new book Who's Looking Out for You? is coming out next month.
I'm not sure what to make of all this.  In a previous issue I reported on Fox suing a satire site to stop them from making fun of Fox News.  See I'm Just Wild About Harry for that.
As Fox News has pretty much become the mouthpiece of the current administration and chief cheerleader for President Bush and the Republican Party, it seems one could conclude that dissent, particularly comic dissent, will be quashed by those in power.
Fox is betting that most Americans feel this way.  And perhaps they do.
And out here in California? 
Arnold Schwarzenegger has said next to nothing all week about anything, but still seems to be the fellow who will be our next governor. 
The man is defined by his fascination with power, and by his ambition to attain it.  But he is enamored with power itself, not with power for any particular purpose.  Just to have it.  Everyone needs a hobby? 
Arnold Schwarzenegger has the makings of a Nazi fuehrer.  And whole lots of people out here are sucked up into that strength.  This must be what it felt like in Bavaria in the late thirties.  Well, my family is Czech on one side and Slovak on the other - so I may be a bit overly sensitive here.  But I don't think so.  The frightened, demoralized sheep want their fuehrer - or something like that.

The joke making the rounds out her is that even if Arnold Schwarzenegger may be pro-life, pro gay-rights, and pro gun-control, the Republicans can live with that because at least his father was a Nazi.
Vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger and don't make fun of people in power, and don't make fun of the news organization that supports the people in power.  You will be crushed.  You have been warned.

I will not giggle.  I will not giggle.



What happens after the war and the guys come home... 

    Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold in the UK and here, Elevator to the Gallows)

    This was Louis Malle's first feature film, black and white, 1958 a crime drama, a film policier, the most popular genre in French cinema of the 1950's.

    Details: the screenplay is by Louis Malle and Roger Nimier from a pulp crime novel by Noël Calef, the cinematography by Henri Decaë, the music by Miles Davis and the cast is this: Jeanne Moreau (Florence Carala), Maurice Ronet (Julien Tavernier), Georges Poujouly (Louis), Yori Bertin (Veronique), Lino Ventura (Inspector Cherier)

    The plot: Julien Tavernier kills his lover's husband but is trapped in the elevator to his offices.  Meanwhile, his car is stolen by a young man who signs into a hotel, with his girlfriend, under Julien's name.  During the stay at the hotel, the young man shoots a German couple with a gun he found earlier in Tavernier's car, and goes on the run.  When Tavernier finally manages to escape from the elevator in which he was forced to spend the weekend, he is arrested by the police and charged with the murder of the German couple.  His lover, Florence, manages to track down the real murders and obtains the evidence needed to clear Julien.  But in so doing, she unwittingly incriminates him in the murder of her husband.

    Okay, got that?

    Why this film, now, other than the merits of long film noir shots of rainy streets in Paris, and a good mystery?   Louis Malle: "I was split between my tremendous admiration for Bresson and the temptation to make a Hitchcock-like film."

    I guess what strikes me now 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 seem 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."   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."  

    My goodness.

    So the subtext here is the good soldier and hero, trained by the powers that be to kill, gets fed up with the war profiteers.  He wants to take back his honor. 

    It's as if one of our guys from the Third Infantry now in Iraq comes back, after doing the best he can, and finds himself working a low-level assistant manager position for Halliburton, Fluor or Bechtel.  These guys made all the money while he took the risks and did the killing for them.  They stayed home with the mountains of cash, and got the pretty women, the trophy wives.  He's now just a flunky for the real power guys.  Not fair.  So he tries to get what he wants.

    But of course on the way out the elevator quits on him, trapping him (see New York last week) and everything goes wrong.  Two punk kids steal his car and kill some German tourists with the gun he had in the glove compartment. 

    Well, the hypothetical remake, to maintain the irony, would in today's film, be two punk kids finding the gun and thoughtlessly killing an honest Iraqi-American couple who run a 7-11 or whatever.  It seems the young punks love assuming the identity of the war hero and killing the "bad guys."  Just like kids these days who harass Arab-Americans and spray-paint mosques, and, in Dallas, spray-painted a woman's garage door with the words, "Go Home - Your Kind Aren't Wanted Here, Bitch."  The woman was an American citizen but had been born in France. 

    So this film is pretty much of the times.  Just change the nationalities.  The war had a different name.  The punk kids were, back then, the face of "the New France."  The ultra-patriotic vandals in Dallas and Phoenix are the face of "the New America" you see around you.

    Well, the lesson is that rich arms merchants and war profiteers are what they are, and one should not trust elevators powered by large corporations, and life isn't fair.

    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.


    Miles Davis, recording the soundtrack for a feature film in one afternoon...

    Miles Davis Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold in the UK and here, Elevator to the Gallows) Original Soundtrack, Complete Recordings - Miles Davis, trumpet, Kenny Clarke, drums, Barney Wilen, tenor saxophone, René Urteger, piano, Pierre Michelot, bass.  Fontana UCCM-9065 distributed by Polygram Records.

    This was Louis Malle's first feature film, black and white, 1958, with Jeanne Moreau , Maurice Ronet and Lino Ventura - see the second column.


    Thursday night was dinner with a friend at the best Thai restaurant in city, Chan Dara, smack in the middle of Hollywood on Cahuenga Boulevard between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.  It's a little hole in the wall place, often with "celebrities" at a few tables.  None on Thursday.  And after dinner a walk across the intersection to Amoeba Music on Sunset to see what's new.  And I found this Miles Davis album I've been looking for in last year or two.  It was in the giant back room with all the used jazz albums. 

    Miles Davis recorded this in the first week of December in 1957, at the end of a three week tour of Europe - two Paris concerts, the Olympia and the Salle Gaveau, then Brussels, Amsterdam and Stuttgart, then a week at Club St-Germain (one of the many jazz basements on rue St-Benoit back then - many still there).  Marcel Romano had booked the tour, and his friend Jean-Claude Rappeneau, who was working on the film with Louis Malle, suggested the idea of Davis doing the soundtrack.  Malle liked the idea.  Davis saw a private screening of the film, got Malle's explanation of who was who and the plot and conflicts, and agreed to do it.

    A few weeks later, December 5th, Davis gathered his notes - and worked for four hours with his group watching loops of the scenes to be scored and improvising all this from the changes and themes he'd come up with.  Malle kept and used what seemed right.  The whole thing was over by early evening.

    This recording has all the takes of all the pieces used in the film, so it's sort of long - on vinyl it was two LP's worth of stuff.  Malle couldn't use all of it. 

    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.

    It's good evening music.  I listen to it watching the moon rise over the city lights.  Or you can close you eyes and think of Davis and Julliette Greco at the Flore sipping cognac well after midnight and being in the moment, watching the few cars slip by on Boulevard St-Germain in the December rain long ago.