Archive for January, 2010

Spaghetti Westerns Disc 3

Posted in Movies and TV on January 28th, 2010

The Man from Nowhere (aka Arizona Colt, orig. Il pistolero de Arizona), 1966, color. Michele Lupo (dir.), Giuliano Gemma, Fernando Sancho, Roberto Camardiel. 1:58 [1:53].

We open on an adobe prison (or “prision”), with a handful of guards and a drunken old coot riding up with a wooden whiskey flask around his neck. The guards engage him in idle chatter while he lights a fuse on the flask, tosses it at them and—well, boom. Then this huge band of gun-crazy outlaws rides up, shoots all the guards (and loses a few of their own) and busts all the prisoners out (except that one cool dude, Arizona Colt breaks out on his own).

The catch: The prisoners have been broken out to build the ranks of the bandit gang—and your choice is to join them (with a brand on your arm) or get shot down immediately. (We learn this via a grumpy guy who was in jail for drunkenness and due to be released the next day. Bye, grumpy old guy.) Colt says he needs time to think about it—and he’s as good a shot as the maniacal, sadistic, superhuman-shooting gang leader, so he manages to ride away.

That’s just the start. There’s bank robbery in Blackston Hill (yes, spelled that way), killing a young woman because she recognizes the brand, lots of killing for the fun of it, not just to get a job done, the drunk seeking redemption…and a long, slow scene near the end between Colt and the maniac that should be more exciting than it is.

I dunno. On one hand, this is not only widescreen, it’s in stereo (or at least the awful theme song at the start and finish is in stereo), although the picture’s also soft, presumably from overcompression. And it’s a long’un, almost two hours (but missing five minutes). On the other, the maniac and his gang are so evil that they go beyond stereotypical to repulsive in an annoying way. We never do learn why Colt (who’s a bounty hunter) was in jail; neither did I much care. In the end, while it’s not incoherent, I found it pointless and dispiriting. Maybe $0.75.

Minnesota Clay (orig. L’homme du Minnesota, or “The Man of Minnesota”), 1965, color. Sergio Corbucci (dir.), Cameron Mitchell, Georges Riviere, Ethel Rojo, Diana Martin, Antonio Roso, Fernando Sancho. 1:30 [1:25].

The setup: A prison labor camp in the old West. Thanks to a brawl of sorts, Minnesota Clay (Mitchell) escapes (using a doctor—who’s already informed him that his eyes are bad and one good blow would blind him—as a hostage). Goes back home, where one gang (run by the bad guy whose testimony should have acquitted Clay) has taken over the town from another Mexican gang, now holed up nearby (the new gang was invited into town, and the bad guy’s the sheriff).

Clay is the Best Shot in the World. He also has family secrets nearby. And, by the time we get to the long, slow-moving climax, he’s essentially blind. But still the Best Shot in the World with superhuman reflexes.

I’m not sure what to make of this. The print’s unusually good, widescreen and high quality with great scenery, but with just enough missing frames to mess up the soundtrack (never the visuals) at times. As these things go, the innocent body count is on the low side. The last 20 minutes are slow and somewhat suspenseful, but the ending’s—well, it’s not happy. Balancing good and bad, I come up with $1.25.

White Comanche, 1968, color (original title Comanche blanco). José Briz Méndez (dir.), Joseph Cotton, William Shatner (dual role), Rosanna Yanni. 1:33.

Twin brothers, half-Comanche, half-white, shunned by both—but one of them has convinced a bunch of Comanche he’s their savior, takes too much peyote, and goes around slaughtering white devils. His twin (Johnny Moon), trying to live as a white, keeps getting in trouble (e.g., nearly hanged) because you can only distinguish him from White Comanche (Notah) by the color of their eyes. Not that Johnny’s not pretty good at killing people also (he’s a crack shot, and this isn’t one of those westerns where everything’s settled with fistfights) but he always seems to have a reason.

Johnny tells Notah this must be settled and to come to Rio Honda within four days. During that period, there’s a range war in Rio Honda between two factions, with Johnny helping the sheriff maintain some semblance of order. Eventually, of course, the showdown happens. In the meantime, there’s much thoughtful standing around and an odd love subplot (involving a woman who first thinks Johnny is the evil half-Comanche who raped her, but eventually sees the eye-color difference and falls for him).

Good color, acceptable production values, a good job by Joseph Cotton as the sheriff—but the real selling point here is William Shatner as an arrogant sexist tinhorn ruler who doesn’t happen to be on a starship (and is always half-dressed, and has the body for it). And, for good measure, his twin brother. It’s a curiosity, but a watchable curiosity thanks to Shatner. (Note: This review is from October 2008, when I saw the same movie—and, apparently, the same print—in the 50 Movie Western Classics set.) $1.25.

China 9, Liberty 37, color. Monte Hellman and Tony Brandt (dirs.), Warren Oates, Fabio Testi, Jenny Agutter, Sam Peckinpah. Original title Amore, piombo e furore. 1:38 [1:32].

Again, this movie was also in the 50 Movie Western Classics set—and, although the picture and timing are identical, there’s one difference. The original had good monophonic sound. This version has stereo sound—but it’s muffled and hard to understand. The review’s slightly modified from October 2008.

Good production values, good background music, a fair amount of moral ambiguity, some odd accents from some of the actors, and in this case an unhurried plot marked by two or three big gun battles. A condemned gunfighter Clayton Drumm (Testi), about to be hanged in China (a tiny little Western town, 46 miles from Liberty), is reprieved so that he can shoot down Matthew Sebanek (Oates), a rancher, on behalf of the railroad that wants Matthew’s land. Only Clayton doesn’t do it, meets Matthew’s whole clan (three brothers)—and when he leaves, Matthew’s wife Catherine (Agutter) (who knifes Matthew in self-defense and mistakenly thinks she killed him) catches up with him. This is all slow moving: lots of talk and essentially no action.

Matthew and brothers try to gun down Clayton (and fail), and Matthew takes back his wife—but later, the railroad stooges are trying to get rid of both Clayton and Matthew, resulting in a 2.5-way gun battle that’s interesting and a little above the usual gunplay. Not to provide spoilers, but Clayton and Matthew (and Matthew’s wife) all wind up alive, with a fair number of corpses around. In the middle, there are nice little side-plots, including Sam Peckinpah as a dime novelist trying to buy Clayton Drumm’s story—or, rather, lies—to sell to the folks back east, and a non-animal circus (acrobats, little people) whose head wants to hire Drumm as a sharpshooter/showman.

If you can get past Clayton’s accent (explained by dialogue about him coming over from Europe as a child) and the curious acting of the bride, it’s a decent flick if you like a slow, sometimes languid, fairly naturalistic style—which I do. A good flick, damaged by the muffled soundtrack, but still $1.25.

Universalisms, hype and straw men

Posted in Stuff on January 27th, 2010

I’d had a note on my “maybe blog about this” pad for a while about absolutes and universalisms. Today, I was pushed into turning that note into a post–a brief and ill-thought-out post, but a post nonetheless.

I objected to Steve Jobs’ statement that everybody has a smart phone and a notebook (as part of his introduction of the iPad)–just as I’ve previously objected to his assertion that nobody reads books (which came, to be sure, before he introduced a device well-suited to ebook reading).

And a library person said I was setting up a straw man and that when this library person says equally absurd “everybody” things, he means something else–he’s just marketing. I thought about that for a while and reached a conclusion.

Bullshit.

Consider the following three absolutely false statements:

  • Everybody uses Windows.
  • Everybody has a cell phone.
  • Everybody has a smartphone.

Guess what? If you used any of those statements in an advertisement, the FTC could (and probably would) be down on you like a hawk. I’m never quite sure what constitutes “marketing,” but ads and press releases are part of it–and you couldn’t get away with using any of those in either one, without drawing (at least) a lot of derision.

Now, did you recognize one thing about the three statements?

They’re in increasing order of falsehood. Around 94% of PCs in the U.S. run Windows (and most people own some PC of one sort or another). That’s not “everybody.” But it’s close. Let me run that statement by Apple and see how they feel about it…

Not everybody (in the U.S.) has a cell phone; last time I looked, it was around 80%.

As for smartphones: They’re a relatively small minority of cell phones, even in the U.S. I think it’s fair to suggest that fewer than half of Americans have smartphones, probably a lot fewer.

But it doesn’t really matter–they’re all false universalisms.

The strawman accusation

It’s really convenient to dismiss criticism by saying “You’re setting up a strawman.” When you can do that when somebody’s been quoted, you’re doing even better.

What you’re saying is, in essence: “You’re not allowed to criticize what this person’s saying–because you don’t know that they mean what they’re saying. And, you know, it’s OK to say any damn fool thing for marketing purposes, without being criticized for it.”

The librarian offering this theory actually said that, when he uses universalism, he doesn’t mean it–he’s “marketing.” But it’s OK for him to call me out for setting up “straw men,” where it would obviously not be OK for me to call him out on absurd universalisms–because, you know, he didn’t mean it. He just said it.

The death of discussion

At which point, there can no longer be any sort of reasonable criticism or discussion. If people can legitimately say “I didn’t mean that” when they’re correctly quoted, then the whole process breaks down.

From a personal perspective, I might find this interesting. Since I couldn’t really do Cites & Insights at all–after all, any commentary could be dismissed on the grounds of “X not really meaning what X said”–I’d give it up and catch up on reading. But I’m old. I’m not sure “what the hell, nobody really means what they say” works for younger folk.

Saying what you mean

If what you mean to say is “In another few years, anybody in a first-world nation who wants a smartphone can probably afford one”–well, you know, you could say that. (Which does not mean everybody will have a smartphone. Being able to afford something and choosing to have it are two very different things.)

If what you mean to say is “In another few years everybody will have a smartphone,” you’re just plain wrong, and should take a look at the demographics of the world.

In either case, turning that into “everybody has a smartphone” is nonsense–and justifying it by saying “it’s just marketing” or “it’s just hype” is, I think, worse than nonsense. It makes it impossible to carry on any serious discussion.

Oh, and saying “everybody” followed by much of anything other than “needs to eat,” “needs to breathe” or “will eventually die”? Almost certainly wrong.


Written in haste, after dinner, with little or no editing. But, you know, if you want to criticize anything I say here, be my guest. You won’t see me saying “I didn’t really mean that–it was just marketing.”

New OA-related question (and status report)

Posted in Books and publishing on January 26th, 2010

Two semi-related brief topics:

The Question

I asked a similar question of Peter Suber and another person who shall remain nameless, and got a positive response from Suber, no response from the other. So I’ll broaden it a bit:

Do you think it would be worthwhile to have all the scholarly-access-related articles from Cites & Insights collected into a single document, in chronological order?

If I finish this process, the result would be a substantial book–right now (copyfitted but lacking indexing), it’s 511 6×9 pages containing 191,000 words in 34 essays.

The book would be available in (at least) two forms:

  • As a free PDF download (from Lulu), carrying a Creative Commons BY-NC license, with no DRM or other disabling issues.
  • As a (thick!) trade paperback, priced at $5 more than Lulu’s actual production cost, yielding $4 per copy to me (basically to provide a little payback for the indexing and putting the whole thing together).

Note the word free. While Lulu now charges $1.45 plus 20% of set price for PDF downloads, Lulu continues to waive that $1.45 if the set price is $0.

The book would not have updates or corrections (other than a few corrected typos). The index would probably be fairly minimal; there’s no way I’m going to spend the time to do proper indexing for 191,000 words, given that I suspect almost all “sales” will be of the PDF variety.

UPDATE, February 1, 2010: If this book appears at all, it will be without an index. I don’t know if it’s a Word2007 bug or just the complexity and sheer length of the book, but when I try to index using Word’s indexing tools, and do more than about 50 pages of the 519 (using “Mark All” as appropriate), the saved version of the file comes back as garbage–expanded to more than 1,200 pages thanks to very long, meaningless, unchangeable pagefooters. I can’t justify taking the time (I’d guess 60+ hours, minimum) to prepare an index manually–so, although I understand that it’s abhorrent to do an unindexed nonfiction book, that’s the only way this can happen.

NOTE: I am not asking for commitments–and in any case I’d have no way of knowing who downloads or buys the book. I’m only asking for expressions of support for the idea or, if you think it’s a terrible idea, expressions of non-support. Leave a comment or send me email (waltcrawford at gmail dot com). Say within the next week; the copyfitting’s done, and I’ll do indexing after writing the first essay for the March C&I, unless I decide to abandon it.

The Status Report

On January 1, I noted the first review of But Still They Blog and also noted that Lulu could now handle ePub, the apparent “universal standard” for ebooks. I looked for “indications from, say, three people that they would buy an ePub version” before going to the trouble of locating software to do the conversion, testing the conversion, and uploading an ePub version.

I received one response–from a colleague who’s already purchased the print version but offered to test the ePub version.

Based on that level of interest, it’s hard to generate any enthusiasm for going to the trouble of doing an ePub version of this possible new book–particularly since I’d probably give that one away.

So: Anybody out there who would be more interested in the OA-related book if it was available in ePub? Not asking for a commitment, just for legitimate interest.

After all, if a universal standard is met by universal ennui, there’s little point in adopting it.

Blogs by community college/junior college librarians?

Posted in Libraries on January 22nd, 2010

I’d love to hear about blogs by people who work in community college or junior college libraries. You can either comment below or send me email (waltcrawford at gmail dot com).

There are probably a few among the 500 (or so) liblogs I subscribe to–but when I categorized libloggers for The Liblog Landscape, I didn’t distinguish them among the 170+ “academic librarian” blogs.

Why do I care?

  • I was vividly reminded during at least one Midwinter session that academic libraries (and librarians) just aren’t the same as public libraries (and librarians). I always knew that, but it was driven home with some force.
  • My sense is that many, if not most, community college/junior college libraries are hybrid institutions, with characteristics of both public and academic libraries.
  • If that’s true, then I’d like to pay more attention to those librarians (and other library staff).

(If there are other equivalents for community college or junior college, the latter being what it’s called in my home town, I mean y’all as well–that is, publicly-funded institutions primarily offering 2-year degree programs with lots of continuing ed as well, usually with lower entry bars than state colleges and universities. City colleges? Whatever.)

Feel free to add your own blog or let me know about others you’re aware of. And thanks!

Losing me in a single sentence

Posted in Stuff on January 21st, 2010

A minor post on a major offense.

I was browsing through various books during the ALA Midwinter exhibits–specifically (but not exclusively) books related to librarianship and my areas of interest.

At one booth, I ran into a book that I’d heard about when it was being written but hadn’t seen “in the binding.” It’s not new. The author and title aren’t terribly relevant; neither is the publisher.

I opened it to a discussion of a social topic that I do care about (involving the breadth of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech in the U.S.). And there, at the beginning of a paragraph, was a sentence that begin (possibly paraphrased):

“No sane person could believe X”

where “X” is something I firmly believe.

I closed the book, offered the author–who I’ve been acquainted with, knowing our opinions don’t always match but thinking he (of course it was a he) had interesting perspectives–a one-fingered salute in absentia, and walked away.

I did read just enough context to be sure the author wasn’t quoting someone else or setting up a strawman. Nope–the author called me insane. Not to my face, not by name, but the author explicitly called me insane.

Call me irritable if you wish, but I don’t see any reason to continue reading something like that. If the author was actually trying to change any minds through reasoned argument, he lost his chance. I suspect that sort of thing happens a fair amount. I find it puzzling, but what do I know? (I know that I now consider this person a former acquaintance.)

Midwinter musings

Posted in ALA on January 20th, 2010

I don’t know that this qualifies as a Proper Report on my ALA Midwinter Meeting 2010 experiences–but it’s as close as I’m likely to provide, leaving out a bunch of stuff I didn’t remember, don’t feel any need to comment on or, in at least one case, choose not to weigh in on. Think of this as incidents and, fortunately, no real accidents…

Getting There [Thursday & Friday]

This could have been a whole lot more exciting, in all the wrong ways…

  • Booked American’s SFO-Boston redeye nonstop way back in October, because there was an excellent fare for roundtrip nonstops (just over $230). I snagged Seat 9C, which on a 757 is one of the two best coach seats (as long as you don’t mind the complete lack of view): Exit row just before First Class, aisle, 2×2 seating and loads of extra legroom. And I put in for “sticker” upgrades, thinking a redeye might have some empty space in First.
  • Took BART to the airport (for the first time–but certainly not the last). Deliberately got there very early–my wife doesn’t drive after dark if she can avoid it, and I figured a leisurely dinner and reading at the airport would be fine.
  • AA.com wouldn’t let me print a boarding pass Thursday morning, so I stopped at the checkin desk to get a boarding pass and see whether an upgrade had come through. The agent brings up the record and says, “It wouldn’t let you check in because we refunded your ticket.” What?
  • After I assured him I hadn’t done any such thing, he called someone else, they discussed the situation and said [a] the charge had definitely been reversed, but [b} I still had the reservation, and [c] since I asserted I hadn’t initiated the refund (and nobody else could have done so on my behalf-), they’d honor the price (about one-third of what I’d pay at that point) and reissue the ticket.
  • I handed him my credit card…and he handed me a receipt and a boarding pass for 9C, saying I was on the upgrade list. Had a good dinner. Read, walked around the American section…
  • Got a little worried when the arrival board showed the inbound flight from Boston delayed by almost three hours. But the departure board still showed the Boston flight as ontime. Turns out it isn’t a turnaround: an inbound Chicago flight was our ticket to Boston.
  • Boarding was scheduled for 10:30; the flight departure desk opened around 10, along with the display of upgrades and standby. As an AAdvantage Gold member, I was #21 on the upgrade list, so I wrote off the possibility of an upgrade.
  • In fact, nobody got upgrades–and the flight was 100% full (although not checked in beyond capacity; a couple of others there would have stayed an extra day and taken the payment). The Platinum/Executive Platinum boarding (after First, before mere Gold) was a horde–possibly 1/3 of the plane’s capacity! Experienced flyers said the Boston redeye is frequently that way–it’s cheaper, you get to Boston before work the next day, and it’s very popular with business travelers.
  • What this means is that the screwup on my reservation could have put me on the standby list for the flight–and the one person on that standby list didn’t get on the plane. Which would have meant spending the night in SFO or at an airport hotel and taking my chances the next day. Fortunately, AA’s people made the best of an odd situation, taking me at my word. (AA’s people are the main reason American’s still my preferred airline.)
  • Perfectly acceptable flight. Departed a few minutes late because some carry-on luggage had to be gate-checked (three rows ran out of overhead room), arrived 20 minutes early, got some middling sleep during the night. No question: row 9 gives you as much legroom as first class (and in Boston, seats 9B & 9C got off the plane before first class, ’cause they use the midplane door).
  • Got off around 7:30 a.m. and remembered the possibilities for the Westin Waterfront–namely the water taxi. Prompt and free airport shuttle to the dock, there was a taxi (covered motorboat) waiting. Neat! Ten minutes or so, $10, riding the waves over to the World Trade Center, then a short walk to the Convention Center and Westin.
  • Westin’s people had said flatly there was no way I’d be able to check in before mid-afternoon unless I paid for Thursday night. Since that was still cheaper than taking a typical daytime roundtrip flight, that’s what I did. Immediate checkin, giving me time to shower, have breakfast, get my badgeholder, and take a nap before starting the conference proper.
  • Main event Friday: LITA Happy Hour, in a bar at the Renaissance hotel roughly two blocks from the Westin. A good setup, I think–enough room, not too noisy. Only really convenient for people either coming from BCEC, the Westin or one or two other hotels, but it’s hard to site a LITA Happy Hour. Chatted with loads of folks I only see twice a year (one main reason for going to conference).

Being There [Saturday-Monday]

Went to a number of interest groups and discussion groups and that group that I’d been a panelist for, from its inception through 2005. I’m not going to comment on that particular session at all, thank you.

I found the ACRL copyright discussion group (on fair use) worthwhile.

LYRASIS’ “meet & greet” was interesting, although I didn’t stay for the whole time.

“Set Sail to Fail” was an interesting experiment and, I think, a success.

The exhibits were…the exhibits. Publishers seemed to be doing well; others seemed sort of light. The dry goods booths were odd, as usual (10 pairs of socks for $20: really not why I flew across the country, but maybe meeting some needs). Other sessions that I didn’t take notes on…

Many informal discussions, valuable as always. Not true lobbyconning–ALA’s too big & dispersed for that.

The OCLC Blog Salon was back on track (2009 was an odd year, with very large rooms and relatively fewer people)–the room was the right size, there were quite a few new people there, it was a good event.

I was running tired throughout and unwilling to pay big bucks for taxis, so I neither saw much of Boston nor ate at a fascinating range of places. The Westin’s a bit odd in having a hotel restaurant that’s closed for dinner (but the “Irish pub” was OK).

I will say the BCEC’s food court was unusually good for a convention center, at least based on my past (limited) experience–I ate lunch there three times (one burrito, two lunches at Sam Adams) and found the food good, freshly prepared and reasonably priced in each case.

Monday, the day I could have spent most time roaming Boston, was just not a good day to explore. I’d wondered whether I should have tried to change to a Monday flight–but, fortunately, didn’t. Not only would the change have been expensive, it looked as though Monday flights were pretty consistently delayed for hours on end, and I really didn’t want to get back to SFO late in the evening or in the middle of the night.

It’s rare for me to spot “the theme” at an ALA conference, particularly at Midwinter. This wasn’t an exception. Lots of people who think everybody else is exactly like them: Something you usually encounter with gurus and technophiles, along with the use of “everybody” to mean “the 10% of people I find most interesting” or, maybe, “everybody who matters.” It continues to be tiresome and annoying, particularly if your heart is in public libraries, but it’s so predictable that I start to tune it out. Lots of other people who are technologically knowledgeable and see the world as a complex place full of different kinds of people with different skills, different resources and different interests and who see lots of virtue in the kind of reality that doesn’t always involve electronics–my kind of people. I think I encountered a lot more of the latter than the former; at least I hope so.

Coming Home [Tuesday]

  • Water taxis don’t start until 7 a.m. and my flight was at 7:50, so I wanted to be there by 6, so… a “ground taxi” was the only real possibility. Fortunately, the weather early Tuesday was much better than on Monday; fast ride, reasonable fare, easy checkin–and #2 on the upgrade list. (But I had seat 9D, the other best seat…)
  • This time the upgrade came through (at least three people got upgraded in all: the third one, right behind me, said fairly loudly and delightedly, “This never happens any more!”)
  • So I rode home in seat 6F, in style, with a good hot breakfast, plenty of room–and American’s “DVD players.” They’re not DVD players, but they’re neat–individual media players with fairly large screens (maybe 9″-10″?), loaded with at least 20-25 movies, using Bose noise-cancellation headphones. The person in the next seat just plugged the Bose phones into his iPod in place of earbuds; I watched a movie (and listened to some music on my Sansa Express–the noise cancellation made onboard listening much more pleasurable).
  • All in all, a good way to get home–perhaps a 10-minute delay for deicing (it started snowing just as we were boarding, but very lightly), but we made that up on the way to SFO, arriving a bit early. BART back to Pleasanton/Dublin, home by 2 p.m.

That’s about it. No deep insights. East Coast conferences are still the better part of a day lost in travel, and it does seem a shame ALA Midwinter is so often in cold climes–but that’s an old song. (Sad that San Antonio seems to be off the list; the perfect Midwinter rotation would be San Antonio, San Diego, New Orleans and, I dunno, some other city–maybe Seattle–but that will never happen.) Got some insights and ideas (I have some marginal notes in my handwritten notes that will play into Library Leadership Network and, to a lesser extent, Cites & Insights), met some new people, renewed some old acquaintances…can’t ask for a lot more.

Cites & Insights 10:2 (February 2010) available

Posted in Cites & Insights on January 19th, 2010

Cites & Insights 10:2 (February 2010) is now available.

The 32-page issue (PDF as usual, with individual articles available in HTML, using the links below) includes:

T&QT Perspective: Trends & Forecasts (pp. 1-16)

A heaping helping of trends, forecasts, ghosts of trends past–and deathspotting. (No, this roundup does not include the Midwinter LITA Top Tech Trends–or any other trendiness actually appearing in 2010. Maybe later.)

Perspective: Music, Silence & Metrics (pp. 16-25)

Are the loudness wars mushing up your music? Maybe so. I report on the problem with excessive dynamic compression, some steps being taken to identify and combat the desire of producers to MAKE IT ALL LOUD, and two sets of real-world metrics. If you ever really listen to music, you should care about this issue.

Offtopic Perspective: Mystery Collection Part 1 (pp. 25-32)

Notes on the first six discs in the 250-movie, 60-disc Mystery Collection, including half a dozen Bulldog Drummond flicks, three Dick Tracy–and eight Sherlock Holmes. Here’s a mystery: Will I keep doing C&I long enough to review this entire set? That would take us into Volume 14…

Mystery Collection Disc 7

Posted in Movies and TV on January 12th, 2010

Impact, 1949, b&w. Arthur Lubin (dir.), Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Charles Coburn, Helen Walker, Anna May Wong, Robert Warwick, Tony Barrett. 1:51.

Walter Williams (Donlevy) is a high-powered San Francisco industrialist, who worked his way up through the ranks—and who’s married to (and deeply in love with) a faithless wife. She’s out to do him in, conspiring with her lover to kill him in the course of a road trip (where the lover pretends to be her cousin, hitchhiking back east).

But things go a little awry. The car’s destroyed in a flaming wreck (colliding head-on with a gas tanker on the highway to Reno, apparently)—and Williams, left just off the road as dead, isn’t (although the unrecognizable corpse in the wreck is assumed to be Williams). He chooses not to return to SF right away, instead making his way to Larkspur, Idaho, where he forges a new life under a new name…until he decides he needs to make things right.

That’s only part of the plot, and in some ways the most interesting part is the last half-hour or so, where the faithless wife attempts to pin the lover’s murder on him. It’s quite a story, involving detection and (of course) a new love interest, well played and plotted by all involved. The print’s excellent and I found the whole thing surprisingly satisfying. It’s one I’ll watch again. $2.00

He Walked By Night, 1948, b&w. Alfred L. Werker (dir.), Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, Jack Webb. 1:19.

A true-crime (rather, true-criminal) story and police procedural, with lots of narration and a feel that’s reminiscent of (apparently the template and inspiration for) Dragnet. It has a young Jack Webb—a couple of years before the original Dragnet, in his second adult role, as a forensics technician, not a detective as such. It’s set in LA and heavily features the LA sewer system.

Richard Basehart plays Roy Walker, who seemingly could make an excellent living as an electronics whiz but prefers to be a burglar (and, later, robber) with electronics innovation as a sideline. We never learn his motive for seemingly-needless crimes; as one reviewer noted, all we learn is what the police learn. Among other things, this may be one of the first flicks to involve a criminal listening in on police-band radio.

It’s an odd one, and of course I don’t know what LA was like in 1946. Apparently, the storm drain openings are big enough so a full-grown man can just roll into them. The idea of getting crime victims to help build a good drawing of the perp’s face was new (in this case, they use slides as a sort of identikit, working with a couple dozen robbery victims). And, to be sure, LA had an endless supply of police to send to a crime scene. The sleeve description’s off (as it is for Impact), but that’s irrelevant.

Not bad, not great—a little heavy on the narration, a little light on the logic, specifically the motivation for the criminal. Still, it gets points as, apparently, the first of its kind: A fact-based police yarn set in LA, with the names changed to protect whoever and showing police as hard-working people who sometimes have trouble with investigations, not as quick-witted romancers who have lots of shootouts. The print’s OK. Including a $0.25 bonus for its significance as the inspiration for Dragnet, I’ll give it $1.50

Quicksand, 1950, b&w. Irving Pichel (dir.), Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre. 1:19.

This one’s not a mystery, but a film noir—exploring how an auto mechanic going after the wrong woman can go from “borrowing” $20 to murder in about half a dozen not-so-easy steps. Although I’m not a great Mickey Rooney fan and he’s in almost every frame of this film, I have to say he did a good job.

It’s a fairly effective story, with a continuously moving plot. Peter Lorre plays one of several fundamentally dishonest people, in his case the proprietor of an arcade. Good but not great; I’ll give it $1.25.

Eyes in the Night, 1942, b&w. Fred Zinnemann (dir.), Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Donna Reed, Stephen McNally. 1:20.

The setup: a woman (Harding) finds that her stepdaughter (a 21-year-old Reed) is in love with her own former lover, who’s managed to turn the stepdaughter against her. The former lover’s an actor and the stepdaughter plans a dramatic career; they’re both involved in a production that’s in the works. But the actor turns up dead…and the daughter believes the stepmother’s to blame. She goes to a famous blind detective, Duncan Maclain (Arnold) to see if he can help.

The reality: It’s all espionage. The woman’s husband has invented some formula important to the war effort. He’s flown off for a final test before delivering it to Washington—and the butler in the house is a plant, part of a ring determined to steal the formula. The playwright who’s directing the production is the leader of the gang, and they killed the former lover because he was unreliable (or something)

The bulk of the movie’s set in the scientist’s estate, with the detective portraying the woman’s uncle and trying to keep the bad guys from getting the formula. Somehow it all works out—largely due to Friday, the detective’s seeing-eye dog.

Generally well played. Arnold’s very effective as the blind detective. Not great, but pretty good. I’ll give it $1.50.

HDTV and Judder: A real question

Posted in Movies and TV on January 9th, 2010

This one’s a real question, specifically to readers who:

  • Have LCD HDTVs with 120Hz or 240Hz refresh rate and the option of interpolating new frames (which can go by any number of “smooth” or “blur-resisting” or similar names).
  • Actually watch HDTV movies, preferably from Blu-ray but maybe even upconverted from DVD.

Here’s the question or questions:

  • Do you use the frame-interpolation option?
  • If you’re a movie buff, do you find that its “video-like” look harms your appreciation of the movie?

Here’s the thing. We don’t have an HDTV yet. When we get one, it will almost certainly be an LED-backlit LCD model, which also means it will almost certainly have at least a real 120Hz refresh rate (and either a 240Hz rate or the “pseudo-240″ fast-switching backlighting option).

The home theater/av magazines I read mostly have reviewers who believe that the judder in film–the fact that, at 24 frames per second, film action isn’t actually smooth (you’re seeing the flicker, at least subconsciously)–is what makes it film: That smoothing out that judder by adding interpolated frames somehow damages the flick, turning it into video.

That’s not a universal view–and I’m less than fully convinced that every director and director of photography really *wants* a flickery movie. Sometimes, yes–I believe that Woody Allen’s b&w films are probably intended to be seen with all the flicker of the original. But many times, I suspect, the director and DP deal with what’s feasible. I feel the same way about the notion that, in all pictures (as opposed to certain stylized pictures), the grain of the film should be visible.

So: How about you? I haven’t actually had the chance to make the decision yet. If (when) I do, I’ll try it both ways on a variety of flicks…but I’d love to gain the experience of those who’re already there.

Oh: If you’re thinking of giving me a sermon on how the creator’s work must be honored, don’t bother–unless you can prove to me that all those directors viewed judder as a positive, not simply the reality of film-based moviemaking. Just say “I would never use the smoothing feature on movies” and let it go at that.

Friday Peculiar

Posted in Stuff on January 8th, 2010

A bonus post–not a Friday Funny, ’cause you can’t expect a string of them, but a Friday Peculiar.

In this case, a couple of “news” stories that struck me as, well, interesting.

Low-Cal Frozen Dinners “Have More Calories Than Advertised”

Here’s one version of this story, and here’s The Consumerist’s take.

I’m not dealing with the restaurant aspect; I can certainly understand why restaurant meals will vary significantly in calories, particularly when they’re not quite as controlled as, say, McDonald’s.

I’m only looking at the low-cal frozen dinner aspect–where the difference was 8%.

I eat some of those frozen dinners, specifically Healthy Choice and, sometimes, Lean Cuisine. (Healthy Choice dinners never exceed 600mg sodium, and they’ve been reformulating the dinners with whole-grain starches, even less sodium, and significantly more dietary fiber. And some of them taste pretty decent.)

Here’s the thing: The dinners range from 260 to 400 calories, in most cases. (Lean Cuisine entrees can be even smaller–down to 160 calories, which is a snack, not a dinner.)

8% of 400 is 32. 8% of 260 is 20. So instead of getting 13% to 20% of my daily calories from one of these dinners, I might be getting 14% to 21.5%. Wow.

Most of this is, in other words, a non-story. Realistically, the frozen food makers almost have to err on the side of slight excess: They can be fined if one of those dinners comes in half an ounce shy, but not if it comes in an ounce over.

And speaking of non-stories, or at least oddly interpreted stories…

Digital albums, vinyl and CDs

There’s a legitimate story here, if Nielsen’s tracking is accurate (and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t): That is, Digital music sales continue to cut into physical sales (and “cut into” appears to be the right wording).

But Ars Technica’s version of the story is a little strange… particularly the first graph. To wit, it leaves out one big piece in its year-to-year comparisons: Physical CDs *not* from e-commerce sites. Which, as far as I can figure out, must amount to 272 million CDs–a substantial drop from 335 million in 2008, to be sure, but still the biggest piece of the pie.

And, of course, a piece that makes the whopping 2.5 million LP albums seem a bit insignificant by comparison, even if it’s a HUGE 33% INCREASE from 2008’s 1.9 million. I don’t know if you can call 600,000 LPs–or a physical-album market share increase for vinyl from 0.5% (that is, one-half of one percent) to 0.8%–all that much of a “shocker.”

The interesting thing, actually, is that total music purchases actually increased, if you believe Nielsen SoundScan. And 40% of those purchases were digital–remember that 1.15 billion digital tracks is equivalent to roughly 110 million albums. I would have assumed overall music sales were dropping, given what’s out there and the supposed reign of illegal filesharing. Apparently not. (Here’s the Nielsen report, by the way. It’s an eight-page PDF. Read on to pages 6-8 for some truly odd medium-term items.)


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