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Gatsby, the Great American Masterpiece

» F. Scott Fitzgerald did not know, while writing The Great Gatsby (pub 1925), that the stock market Crash of '29 (and subsequent Great Depression) approacheth nigh. Nor could he ..

.. barring some divine, prophetic instinct .. or perhaps an artist's sense of intuition.

The artist, they say, is the antennae of the culture (Ezra Pound, perhaps?). Does the range of their sensitive antennae extend to things financial and economic? (Or simply catastrophic?)

If you have never read the book that Modern Library ranks #2 on its list of The Best English Language Novels of the Twentieth Century [100 novels, 100 years, 1 language] ..

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, pub 1925.. and that others rank #1, then this is a perfect time. Most opportune. (And all for only 190 pgs.)

Cuz Baz will be releasing his vision of the Gatsby story in another week or two (.. starring Leo).

That gives you just enough time to bust a cinematic move on opening night. (~15 pages/day.)

Might be fun to leave the ending unread .. so you will be surprised at the theater.

[ Must be lots of people with the same idea, cuz I noticed that the book is fluctuating between #1 and #2 on Amazon's Best Sellers list. (Scroll down halfway to where it says 'Product Details'.) ]

» The Roaring 1920's vs The _____ 2020's

I must admit, the timing here does indeed feel TIMELY .. does it not? Because for you, me, and most everybody else .. the 20's is our very next decade. Ready or not, it lies next in line.

It is the decade currently on-deck .. currently waiting there for us on the stormy horizon of time .. to hurry up and finish our current-decade (now one third thru).

How will our twenties compare to those of Fitzgerald's age? To the Roaring Twenties [.. see t=2:05 ] to the decade of the days when the "restlessness approached hysteria." (Yowzah!)

I heard Grandma Rita say [ at t=3:15 ] about the Roaring Twenties » "People believed everything was going to be great always. There was an optimism in the air that you cannot even describe today."

That sounds a lot like » "If you weren't there, you can't even *imagine* what it was like." [ Try me, grandma. ]

A great opportunity, I think, to compare-n-contrast and perhaps even see if we can recognize any similarities or corresponding patterns ..

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerld, pub 1925.. because, in looking ahead to the future, we instinctively LOOK BACK to the past ..

.. as we attempt to plot the trajectory of our society, of our culture, of our way of life.

We seek insights, telling signs, that illuminate the angle of our ascent (or descent) among the nations .. our direction, our slope, our velocity, our rate-of-change, both short-term and longer term.

You get the feeling, reading Gatsby, that Fitzgerald realized what a remarkable age it was.

[ thanks in part no doubt to Zelda, a southern belle, tho she was surprisingly wild, being the daughter of an austere Alabama Supreme Court justice.

Remind me later to tell the story that ends with a teenage Zelda responding to her daddy's 2AM question by saying » "Isnt't this the time that all hussies come home?" ]

And that he therefore wanted to c.a.p.t.u.r.e the essence of his sparkling time .. of his magical age, of his too-good-to-be-true era .. about all this wonderful shit going on and on for ever and ever ad infinitum .. 'til kingdom come.

This Age of Permanent Prosperity. To capture the euphoric optimism as best possible. As artistically as possible. To bottle it in a book. In a novel. So future generations will to be able to sample for themselves a taste of the sparkling effervescence of the roaring twenties.

» Alfred Hitchcock is considered a master filmmaker by master filmmakers.

Vertigo - directed by Alfred Hitchcock 1958Update - 02 Aug 2012 » What a coincidence! Looks like Alfred is now the Director of #1, most highly critically-acclaimed, top-rated film .. of all time. In any language. (Ever!)

Bumping off Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Wells in 1941 (.. the same year that Bob Dylan and Dick Cheney were born) ..

.. a movie which had held the highly-coveted TOP slot since 1962 (.. the year when the list was conceived).

In other words, Citizen Kane has set atop the Filmmaking world for 50 years. That's a long time.

Vertigo, the new throne-sitter, was released in 1958 (.. also before the year the list began).

Filmmaking is arguably the most creative art form .. able to transport us, quite effectively, as you know, to distant worlds .. of both reality & imagination.

While a novel [ Writing ] can convey far more narrative DETAIL and nuance, Filmmaking is certainly the most sophisticated art form .. employing a remarkable number of different crafts, witnessed every time the credits roll at the end.

Today's development can only make the remainder of this New Year's eve entry seem even more timely. Gives it an almost prophetic flavor .. cinematically speaking ..

.. especially when you consider HOW the term 'Vertigo' is defined. (Think fiscally.)

Funny how the Wikipedia entry, which has nothing to do with Hitchcock, (near the end of the second paragraph) talks about the "notorious symptoms of vertigo". You'll see what I mean shortly. </update>

Behind the scenes with Alfred Hitchcock directing an actressThe meticulous storyboard planning Alfred invested in each shot is famous for yielding a remarkable economy of narrative.

[ An effect I admire, cuz I constantly strive for economy-of-narrative myself, artistically as possible, in writing.

Writing for the Web is very much about economy (.. as is programming). Saying much with few words.

Tho unlike Alfred, I dont plan very much. Only today, for example, did I get the idea for today's entry. Trying to keep it organic. ]

Regulars might recall how, back when I was dating Wendy, the Film school student, I accompanied her to many graduate classes at USC (.. perhaps the world's finest Film school).

While I was there, Drew Casper held the Hitchcock chair. I sat in on some of his Hitchcock classes. High energy. Entertainingly confrontational. Big auditorium. Lots of students. I was impressed that he seemed to know all their names .. so early in the semester.

Drew was certainly stimulating, but none could match the cool-oozing Todd Boyd .. specially when he made his entrance strutting on stage to some hip, groovin' music ..

.. wearing a plush fur-coat and a gangster fedora .. pulled down low over his eyes. See this photo for a better idea. (I see him on TV every once in a while .. discussing cinema.)

He was teaching a course on culture and style in cinema .. so what better way to begin the class?

He was also at a Valentine's Day party I attended .. up in LA .. at the home of another Cinema professor (.. tho I forget her name .. the lady that helped Wendy get into the undergrad Cinema program there at USC. She seemed very young to me.).

Todd came late (.. to the party) .. but you can't miss him .. with that fur coat and hat. He pretty much takes up an entire room to himself. Professor Barry White. =)

I remember how stoked Wendy was the day she came home and told me how she'd MET Hitchcock's daughter (.. now in her 80's) who had visited Drew's class and presented all of his students with a wrist watch.

She was so excited. You might've thought she'd touched the hem of the garment of the master himself. (Nice watch, too. Not a cheapie.)

Anyway, one of Hitchcock's most famous scenes came during the filming of » Notorious. An excerpt from the Wikipedia entry (3rd paragraph) reads:

"The film is known for two scenes in particular. In one of his most famous shots, Hitchcock starts high and wide on a second floor balcony overlooking the great hall of a grand mansion.

Slowly he tracks down and in on Ingrid Bergman, finally ending with a tight close-up of a KEY tucked in her hand. So arresting is the shot that an outline of the KEY became a graphic element in the film's promotional material."

Famous scene from Hitchcock's film 'Notorious'Key word » arresting. The scene is posted » here (40 secs). You neednt be a film critic to understand this KEY will play a crucial part in the story.

» A Week of Holiday Pause

We'll return to Hitchcock and his famous shot later, but first, let's shift gears and let me wish you a happy & prosperous New Year.

The week between Christmas & New Years always feels like the world is on pause.

My favorite way to spend the holiday week is at » Two Bunch Palms .. relaxing, reading, soaking & sunning.

If you go, say Hi to Rick the waiter for me. He has the best stories! (Ask him about Anna Nicole.) Those are Rick's arms you see in The Player .. when he says, "Right away, Mr. B." =)

Have you noticed however, how much faster the other 51 weeks seem to be moving .. since the quantum leap in Connectivity (.. the advent of Web + Cellular)?

Next stop » 2012. That's right, dawg .. the year about which more modern movies have been made.

While it's fun to joke about 2012 as being the long-prophesied Apocalyptic year .. I suspect there's a hint of nervous laughter behind much of that kidding.

It's not like we need Hollywood or some ancient calendar to make us feel as tho the world is starting to come apart .. or like the wheels are starting to come off.

Cuz things do feel wobbly out there. And not just here in the States either, but the world over. Lots of new words are take-offs of 'Armageddon.'

I mean, if you were hired to write an article on the End of the World, with the sole condition that it absolutely must be plausible and believable .. you wouldnt have to work very hard .. or need very much imagination.

» Expect the Unexpected in 2012

No, I dont expect to see a tsunami come crashing over the mountains, but I will be keeping out a wary eye for the unexpected. Those who have expected the unexpected, specially these last few years, have not been disappointed.

So even without the Mayan calendar or the Hollywood dramatization there's an underlying sense of unease and apprehension about the coming new year.

Certainly a major source of this anxiety comes from » the economy. Europe seems to have some new crisis every other week while we here in the States are still trying to recover from the economic meltdown of 2008.

Many pundits claim that nothing structural has really changed, except that Too-Big-to-Fail banks are now even bigger and our national debt is exploding.

The housing market would dry up and blow away without government support. Meanwhile, Fannie & Freddie, now in government conservatorship, continue to require injections of billions of taxpayer $dollars on a predictably. Regular. Basis.

And every time the Fed tries to wean the economy off its regular doses of financial steroids, the markets start to tank.

Famous scene form Hitchcock's film 'Notorious'» Researching Economic Theory

I am no Economist. Tho I did have an Economics class in college (Macro).

But our nation's economic trajectory is so depressing that I tend to avoid the subject.

(Like most Americans, I already have plenty of distressing stuff to deal with.)

// Begin collegiate coincidence sidebar.

By pure chance (coincidence) I happened to take both Economics & Sociology during the same semester .. the only two courses I took that semester (.. while working full time).

And I learned that » the Economic system controls & defines the Social system. (« That last sentence is worth re-reading.) Communism, for example, is both an economic and a social system. Same goes for Capitalism.

The two are linked (politically) .. the economic and social systems .. in ways that were not readily apparent when I signed up for the classes. You cant separate one from the other. (Nor can you separate questions of Fairness & Justice from the subject of Society.)

Here in America, MONEY (capital), more than any other thing, defines our Social status, our class. You are your bank account, your net worth. It may not be very pretty, but everybody seems to accept it.

The more wealth a person possesses, the more highly our society esteems him. The fabulously rich are revered, almost worshipped. Rich crooks are esteemed more highly than poor saints. Quite a bit more.

This inherent, systemic exaltation of money as the principle thing in our Capitalistic culture speaks volumes about the values promoted by our society .. by our very culture .. implicitly suggesting that money is even more important than than things such as right & truth & honor.

And even more important than KIDS. But that's a discussion we'll save for another day.

Alan Greenspan | George W. BushMoney .. but at what cost?

The ends always justify the means. (Or maybe it just appears that way.)

Capitalism could just as easily be called Moneyism .. were that moniker not so obviously unflattering. "In God We Trust" .. we who?

In Societies where Capital is king, if you have nothing, you're a nobody.

Have you noticed how our culture has become more about "doing more with less" .. than it is about the Doer doing the doing?

It was also in this Economics class that our prof enthusiastically proclaimed (on numerous occasions and with a loud voice) » "Alan Greenspan is the most powerful man in America!" [ .. back when Alan was the groovy chairman of the Federal Reserve ].

It may seem obvious to you .. but it actually came as a revelation to me .. that the reason the SY$TEM is about the money .. is because » the people who RUN IT .. are about the money. Think about it.

I call 'bullshit' on the bullshit.

When you consider how the EU is primarily an Economic union, you can see how many different nations have voluntarily entered into a solemn, binding, and surprisingly dictatorial agreement (.. a 'covenant' of sorts) based primarily, and almost exclusively, upon » money.

Which reminds me of something Paul wrote to Timothy, where he called "corrupt" people who » "suppose that gain [$] is godliness" .. cuz that would probably include many of the Americans you know.

Anyway, this was all major food for thought while driving home from class each night (.. after first stopping by In-n-Out, a bastion of fast-food known for its delicious Capitalist burgers).

And yes, it would've been nice, very nice, if my folks could've paid my way thru college, like many of my friends' parents did for them. Or at least chipped in a little.

Then maybe I wouldnt've had to work my way thru college, and it wouldnt have taken me 10 years to complete a 4-year degree (BSc) .. by taking a course here and a course there. But hey, things dont always work out the way we would like. And friends say I'm a better man for it.

// End collegiate coincidence sidebar.

Nevertheless, on the eve of 2012, and in the shadow of its looming implications, I've done a little research .. to try-n-bring myself up to speed .. to attempt to wrap my head around the problems that our economy faces.

I'm talking » big picture stuff. Ballpark perspective. Tho it's funny, cuz it's precisely this ballpark perspective that has allowed me to to focus on [ pinpoint ] what I feel is the heart of the matter .. the crux of the issue.

John Maynard Keynes - British economist (1883 - 1946)» Keynes vs Hayek

I discovered that you dont get very far into Economic Theory without encountering the names of two prominent Economists » Keynes (British, 1883 - 1946) and Hayek (Austrian, 1899 - 1992).

There's actually an entertaining rap video (10 mins) that compares and contrasts their differing views/theories on the best ways to implement governmental policies in order to foster economic growth.

Break out the headphones. Plug 'em in and turn it up.

Even better tho, are the three videos (by Lawrence White) that EXPOUND on the Hayek side of the rap video:

[ That's right, dawg. Everything I know about Economics I learned from a rap video. =) ]

Keynes' most popular book is » The General Theory Of Employment Interest And Money (1936). Hayek's most popular book » The Road to Serfdom (1944) .. which is still selling like crazy. (« If you think about it, that's an encouraging sign.)

There's even a simplified cartoon version of the Road to Serfdom posted » here (5-min YouTube video).

Finding Your Breaking Point in 127 Hours

» I saw 127 Hours this weekend (on DVD). Wow. What a movie! I mean, how it makes you feel like you're there .. like it's YOUR OWN arm stuck .. and your only hope of getting out alive is with a cheap, dull pocket knife.

127 HoursMakes our own afflictions seem petty by comparison. No matter how bad you got it (.. even if you've been waterboarded 183 times by a team of CIA black ops) he has it worse.

Getting you to identify with the character and tricking your mind into believing you're really there .. that's what movies are all about. And this movie does that remarkably well .. tho I'm not sure why.

Almost too well. (I had to hit the pause button a few times and go for a walk.) For example, the Wikipedia article says:

During the screenings at Telluride Film Festival, two people required medical attention. At the first screening, an audience member suffered from light-headedness and was taken out of the screening on a gurney. During a subsequent screening, another viewer suffered a panic attack. Similar reactions were reported at the Toronto International Film Festival.

I mean, everybody who sees this movie already knows the punchline. So there's no element of surprise regarding the plot. Yet it rocks your world. I'm still kinda freaked out.

Eventually I'd like to see ALL the nominees for Best Picture (.. which includes 127 Hours). Social Network is next.

» Finding Your Breaking Point

127 Hours would be a good movie to discuss the topic of » "finding your breaking point." Aron (in the movie) found his .. literally, when he broke both bones in his forearm .. one at a time .. which was necessary to extricate himself from his dire predicament.

He talks to himself in a calm tone (after he freaks out) » "Don't lose it, Aron. Don't lose it. Keep it together." What's he talking about there? Dont lose what?

I dont want to give away any more of the film than has already been given .. but I am familiar with the concept of finding one's breaking point. No, I have not yet crossed the threshold .. but I've been down the street, and I'm familiar with the neighborhood.

Inception Review & Game Levels

Couldn't stand it any longer & went to see » Inception .. the new movie (starring Leo) everybody's talking about .. how it represents a generational divide. Younger viewers love it (totally), while old farts don't get it. (Huh? Say what?) Unable to follow the 'dense narrative'.

Inception: The Movie / FilmLet me tell you. I am sooo glad I get it. Cuz that means I'm not an old fart. (Least not yet.) But I was worried.

The movie is mentally stimulating. I love movies that do that. No, I didn't find it difficult to follow. Not at all. I don't get what there's not to get.

And there have been other movies that WERE difficult for me to follow (.. such as Syriana). Yes, you *do* have to pay attention.

Inception is defined as » beginning, start, origin, source. So, the question naturally becomes » Beginning of what? The origin of what? [ Answ » an idea. ]

Biggest thing that struck me was the recognition of an 'idea' as something powerful. Dangerously so. That ideas can grow & spread & grow some more .. until. [ Check out some of the ideas contained in the book titled » The Great Thoughts, which you can open to at any random page .. for examples of ideas that have grown. ]

The driving force of the plot is the goal of planting an idea into someone's subconscious .. so deep that they think the idea *originated* with them. That it was their own idea. That they believe *they* were the source. Hence the film's title.

And dreams are how you go deep, because our protective psychological defenses are suppressed during sleep. But to go real deep, you need to have a dream within a dream. All of a sudden, your point-of-reference for reality becomes obscured.

Inception poster - Movie FilmThis is where you need to pay attention, and where older viewers might depart from narrative 'reality.' The film actually does a 'triple' » a dream within a dream .. within a dream. Where am I? would not seem a strange question at this point.

The scene from which I grabbed the screenshot posted above is destined to become a classic in the annals of 'special effects'. In the trailer, it's cool. But in the theater, on the big screen, with big, honking speakers turned up loud, it's a real trip.

And they just sit there .. on the sidewalk at the cafe. (Just like you in your seat at the theater.) Great contrast with everything going to pieces around them. That one scene is reason enough to see Inception on the big screen.

They're sitting in an unreal world called a dream. You're sitting in an unreal world called a movie. What's the difference? I'm sure you've always wanted to know what it feels like to have your world go to pieces around you.

Other James Bond-like effects were thrown in. All nicely done. Maybe even better than.

Cold Turkey & Rad Movies

No coffee for a week. That's right. Seven full days. Cold turkey, baby. Not even tea or a cola.

Cup of coffee beansI detox periodically .. in an effort to keep the hounds of addiction at bay. Been a while tho, since I went without. So the bean-monster had ample opportunity to grow big-n-strong.

After the second day with no headache, I thought, This is cake.

Then it hit. With a vengeance. Ouch. Sweet Jesus. (Big ouch.) And Advil did nothing to loosen Fester's cranial vice.

Musta had enough caffeine in my system to keep me crankin' for a few days.

Few more days later and the headache started to subside. But by then .. well, do you recall that old song by Aerosmith? .. with lyrics that said » "My get up & go musta got up & went."

That's the hardest part. I can handle the headaches .. cuz I know they'll go away. (Eventually.) And because I've become quite chummy with mister pain-n-suffering, lately. But having no energy .. that really suks. Cuz it feels like the jam machine might not ever restart.

Lost 5 lbs, too. Without even trying. That was weird. Sorta lost my appetite. Drank lotsa water. Always thirsty. Never hungry.

So it's been a somewhat altered state this last week. Speaking of states of consciousness...

»»Shutter Island SHUTTER ISLAND

Saw Shutter Island last night. It's currently the most rented movie. Wasn't nearly as scary tho as I thought it'd be. Actually, it wasn't really scary at all. More suspenseful than scary. The trailers made it look pretty scary.

[ Must say, I enjoy most everything Scorsese does. He's an East Coaster. ]

Speaking of the East Coast .. when I was a kid, my dad would take the neighborhood kids to see scary movies at the local theater on weekend nights during the summer. They'd stop by during the day, eagerly asking, Is your dad going to the scary movie tonight?

We'd all climb in the back of his pick-up. The whole neighborhood. And go watch scary movies on the big screen at the local theater. We loved it. Would hoot & holler all the way home. Sometimes we'd stop for pizza.

But getting back to Shutter Island .. I love when movies challenge your view of reality like that. You think you know what's real. But then .. maybe you don't. Doubts arrive. Make you think.

The Laptop, The Road & Long John Silver

 Been having more trouble with my laptop. Now it's blue-screening midway thru start-up (at different points) .. followed by an automatic hard-reset. Sukus maximus. Only option is Safe-Mode (with Networking), which is where I am now (nasty 640x480 rez).

Palm treeThe problem is intermittent, tho a normal restart is becoming increasingly rare. This machine, I suspect, may be on its last leg. Lots of hard Rad miles.

I hate safe-mode. Torture for techies. Like nails on a chalkboard.

Speaking of torture, I saw The Road last night. (The movie.) Left me feeling .. weird.

Probably should've waited. Obviously wasn't ready. In retrospect. Felt yucky afterwards. Disturbed. Took a shower before bed .. to try to wash off the ickiness.

While reading the novel, I was able to put down the book if the story started getting to me. (Never read very many pages in any single sitting.) Not so however, with the DVD. (One-day rental.)

I thought the boy did a great job, acting. He wasn't just along for the ride (.. so to speak). Viggo, I expected to do a good job. Same with Charlize. But not the boy. Speaking of which, I really like the way the lady reached out and touched his face at the end.

Che Guevara: Jesus with a Machine Gun

CheSaw the movie Che last night .. based on the life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (from Argentina) .. starring Benicio Del Toro. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. (Matt Damon makes a cameo.)

Wow. Actually *two* DVDs .. plus a supplemental. Ten years in the making. Thoroughly researched. Different kind of movie. Easy to recommend.

Did you know that the image of Che found on so many t-shirts and posters is the world's most reproduced image? (In the history of mankind.) Made from a photo shot by Albert Korda on March 5, 1960.

Che was a medical doctor. (Dr. Guevara.) 'Che' was his nickname. During his life he was considered the most dangerous man on the planet.

Inequality South America RioAlso worth seeing » Motorcycle Diaries, which chronicles his travels thru South America during his youth. (That's where he witnessed the social & economic inequality that led to the outrage which affected him so profoundly.)

Soderbergh said (in the supplemental DVD) that Guevara's ability-to-sustain-outrage, and his willingness to put his life on the line to effect a change .. were the most prominent aspects of the revolutionary's life.

We all get outraged from time to time .. but our outrage wanes. There's so much krap out there. (Our government is in bed with Wall $treet & corporations & their lobbyists.) Easy to suffer from outrage fatigue.

Anyone who has ever been a victim of injustice knows how badly it suks to be on the receiving end. But who will put their life on the line to effect a change? In a true revolution (Guevara says) you either win or die trying.

He walked away from a life of wealth & privilege to (try to) help the peasants in South America by fighting for social & economic change. (He died trying.) Jesus with a machine gun.

Took the Bug this week to see his first theater-movie. Actually I've taken him before, but this was the first time he stayed awake and didn't want to leave after 30 mins. (He recently turned 5.)

How to Train your Dragon (Dreamworks)I knew it was gonna be cool, but it turned out even better than expected. Very satisfying .. especially since I was feeling bad about blowing off Cirque du Soleil. We made a big deal of the occasion. An event.

The whole experience was cool » from the initial planning (anticipation) to walking there as the sun started to set.

Heck, even standing in line to buy tickets was fun .. as were the neat discussions we had on the way home. (I had a dream at mom's I was flying. Like Peter Pan.)

Perfect, summer-like evening. We had fun the next day, too, telling folks about our first-timer's experience.

The theater is close enough that we could walk there, tho the Bug rode his razor (.. a scooter, which he wheeled into the theater and right up to our row).

I taught him how to choose the perfect seat (as described at USC) » Imagine the screen lying on the floor. Find where the top of the screen would fall. Move back 5 rows and sit close to the center.

We arrived early enough to see the previews, which was fun in itself. Oh, we definitely gotta see that one, dad.

First half of the movie he sat in he own seat, which seemed to swallow the little guy. Later he climbed on my lap. (He has the best-smelling hair. And the softest.)

We saw How to Train your Dragon. (Dreamworks 3D.) Girls might not enjoy this movie. Definitely boy-flick.

I'd just finished reading him a book titled » The Ice Dragon (100 pgs), so we were definitely primed for dragon-riding adventures.

» Dragons Do Not Like It When You Try to Steal Their Treasure

Before that we'd read about the #1 baddest dragon of them all (.. during bedtime story-time) » Smaug .. who lives on Lonely Mountain in 'The Hobbit' .. or There and Back Again.

Smaug does not appreciate when people try to steal his treasure. Puts him in a downright foul mood. And you know how ornery dragons can get. Nobody rides Smaug .. and lives to tell. Ask Bilbo.

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