It was sunny and warm on Saturday, and ding! my wife got flowers and ding! I strung lights on the gazebo. And so:
It’s here, in an instant. The Good Season. Long-time readers know how the gazebo has figured into the outdoor life here at Jasperwood; how the first one rotted and fell, the second blew away, the third collapsed under heavy snow, and the fourth was the source of much distress when I ordered it online and UPS refused to deliver it because it was too heavy - leading to a tweetfest that resulted in UPS managers donning the uniform and bringing it up the steps to the backyard.
Last summer the corner ripped and one of the support beams bent, because of snow, but also because it’s made of Madeinchina Metal, a uniquely pliable substance, and the stitching on the corners was specially designed to rip should any weight be placed on the roof, like snow, or rain, or photons. I understand that making the structure more sturdy would have increased the cost, but it still rankled when the fabric roof became unusable.
A few weeks ago I found a replacement cover, and today I opened the package, praying it fit. The dimensions seemed right; it had the same fancy meaningless name Sunberry Woodenford Gazebo Cover, or whatever. How to get it on, that was the question. For a few moments I thought I’d have to take the metal structure off, attach the fabric roof, then put the metal structure back on, and I was actually halfway through removing one of 16 metal bolts before I realized this was madness. Found an online manual.
Well, this is helpful:
Do it! But don’t finish it! Eventually I figured it out, used a ladder, pulled and tugged and grunted and swore and huzzah, the gazebo is whole again. Put up the chandelier, which I’d cleaned and rebulbed. Meanwhile my wife installed the ring of flowers around the tree and put more color in the back, and then I grilled bratwurst.
Best of all: we did this before the flowering trees burst forth with their white adornments, which is always the signal the clement season of joy and warmth is upon us.
One year they came out when it was not only warm but had been warm for days, and this ruined every subsequent year, since that’s the memory I always use as the way it must be. Not the way it should, or sometimes is. Good memories can do bad things.
And now, for an intellectual Turing Test:
Watched “Gravity,” which made me sad I didn’t see it on 3d IMAX Ultra-Immersive Puke-O-Vision. Remarkable movie; harrowing 90 minutes. Desperate, gripping, and exhilarating - it’s just a shame the entire thing is ruined by white female privilege.
The catastrophe that sets off the events requires that two males be killed, which is fine, but one of them is an Indian scientist. Can you name any movie in which an Indian astronaut is the hero? No? No. But he has to be sacrificed so the white female can carry the story. So Sandra Bullock can have her “Ripley” role. Honestly, this character has been a sci-fi staple for 35 years; there’s nothing new about it. Yet Hollywood continues to give us indomitable, resourceful single white females in sci-fi stories, and when the chance is offered to give us a hero from another culture with darker skin, what do they do? Put space junk through his head. (He had been infantilized earlier when the movie showed him engaging in EVA hijinx.)
Even with the confines of the traditional female sci-fi heroine, the movie goes awry on two significant points. When the character is introduced we learn she suffered the loss of a child, thereby suggesting we should not define her by her accomplishments as a scientist, but her procreative ability - indeed, her description of her life after her child ceased to exist downplays the importance of her professional work, and elevates the absence of the procreative outcome above professional accomplishments, suggesting that even when a woman does something so remarkable she is literally lifted above the earth, her real role is either to give birth, or mourn the birth product.
Second, when she enters the International Space Station, there is a jaw-dropping sequence in which she removes her space suit, and, luxuriating in a brief lull in the panic and terror, poses in a way that invites the male gaze to judge.
The director might point out that the posture and frozen nature of the moment are a necessary counterpoint to the ceaseless disorientation that preceded it, and a reminder of the extra-terrestrial context; such a moment would simply not be possible on earth, and establishes the reality in which she finds herself. Which, essentially, is the director saying “not all men” objectify women.
No, I don’t believe a word of what I just wrote. It’s a flawless movie, except for a few science details. I couldn’t help thinking: if she survives - and she probably will, because we all love Sandra Bullock - she won’t have to work another day in her life.
BIOSHOCK: THE END
Don't worry, it's not a spoiler. Just wanted to scare some of the beauty:
I didn’t see any of it coming, but that’s the point, that’s the gift, that’s the skill: set up the player for a series of slaps across the face with a thick wet towel until you don’t know what’s going on, what happened, what you did, who you are - and then provide a few moments of beauty where you want to stay, but can’t, and a moment of stunning OH. I SEE NOW where you get it, and then end with something that leaves your head revolving for an hour, a day, a week.
Then toss in a scene after the closing credits to yank your heart one one more time.
As I’ve said before: movies you watch. Games you inhabit. I can’t show any other screenshots without spoiling something for someone. I will just say this: FOR GOD’S SAKE put “return to sender” Vigors on the ship’s blue-power thing, because otherwise it’s just going to be shot to pieces by a procession of infinite mechanized Lincolns.
Oh, that again? you say. Sigh.
Which brings me to a point I tweeted in frustration before I googled some hints for the last level. Boss levels on games should be hard, but not impossible. Without the thing I did the level was impossible. There was only one trick, and while I feel stupid for not realizing it, the amount of frustration I felt overwhelmed the pace of the game, and when you play for 15 minutes and lose AGAIN you want to kick something. Again, my fault for not tumbling on That One Weird Trick That Repels Lincoln Robots, but still.
Why Lincoln robots? Because he was a figure of evil the story, having freed the slaves. Let’s just say that the city in the clouds went off the rails. And let’s just say this to conclude the matter: it’s an extraordinary story that makes you feel ashamed and shaken for having done the thing you had come to do with all the righteousness in the world, and heartbroken to see the most fearsome, awful thing you had struggled against perish before your eyes. This was the finest game I’ve ever played.
On to the expansion packs!
Instead of a movie this week, a TV show. From one of the best.
He’ll always be a radio guy to me, even though I first saw Jack Benny on my Grandfather’s TV out at the farm. Grandpa loved Benny; they were peers, after all, and it must have made a fella feel modern and connected to the world out there if your guy moved from radio to TV and you moved right along with him. By the time I first saw Benny he seemed like an old man in thick black glasses, but from the start he seemed a nice guy. He almost looked like my Grandfather, inasmuch as a 7 year old kid can make those distinctions.
He was in his prime here:
The Benny radio show was an interesting conception that really twists your mind around in Mobius strips: it was a show about Jack Benny, radio star, but the show itself wasn’t the show. Unless it was. Usually it concerned his domestic life, but his radio co-stars were always around, in his house, at the restaurant, in the store. The show was not the show but the show was the show. Unless it wasn’t, or was: sometimes they’d do a bit. A satirical playlet. Then Dennis would sing. Phil Harris would drop in; or Phil Harris was leading the orchestra. It all made sense.
But that didn’t translate to TV. Except when it did. Jack would come out, face the audience, do a few jokes, then get interrupted by the show’s other featured players:
Here’s Bob Crosby, complaining that his song has been cut from the show. Again, meta-meta: the show is about the singer complaining about The Show, acting as if it’s something else to come later, or elsewhere. Bob Crosby was Bing’s brother, and I mention that to give him context, and probably reinforce the thing that dogged him his entire life: the fact that people saw the Crosby first and Bob second, and were always disappointed. Not because Bob wasn’t good; he was. But to have a Crosby and not a Bing, well, it’s like getting Jim Belushi instead of John.
Then Don Wilson comes on, and here it gets interesting. Don was the pitchman. Don could sell anything. My radio-pitchmen idols are George Fenneman for cool, Don Wilson for good-naturedness, and Harlow Wilcox for surreal monomania. Don was more than a pitchman here, though. He was a character: Don Wilson, Pitchman. Here he comes out to complain about the ads, and Jack explains: Lucky Strike wants the ads to be integrated into the show.
Imagine your favorite comedy. Say, Modern Family. Imagine a routine that involves floor wax turns into an actual ad for floor wax in the context of the show, with the show’s tone; it calls attention to the artifice of the entire enterprise, which all the actors recognize, and poke fun at. And then they move on. That was ads in some shows. Jello, Johnson’s Floor Wax, Luckies - the way they were integrated into the show was the weekly surprise, and on a podcast I do elsewhere I try to keep up the spirit by leading into the ads in a way that always blends the show and the ad and sneaks up on you.
Anyway. There’s one skit. It’s a satire of a police drama. There’s a brassy broad who’s brought in for pickpocketing:
That's Sara Berner. Wiki: “She played the upstairs neighbor in the 1954 feature Rear Window.”
Berner was also active as a radio and cartoon voice talent, working primarily with the Warner Bros. animation department but receiving no screen credit; all on-screen voice credits were given to Mel Blanc at that time. Examples include the uncredited voice of Mama Buzzard in The Bashful Buzzard and Bugs Bunny Gets The Boid, the singing voice of one-time character A. Flea in the 1943 short, An Itch in Time and an uncredited role as the female voices in 1947's Book Revue. In the 1943 propaganda short Tokyo Woes, she voiced the titular character, modeled after Japanese radio announcer "Tokyo Rose”.
She worked for the Walter Lantz studios as the title character in a number of Andy Panda shorts, as well as voicing Chilly Willy in his first film appearance.
For MGM she voiced Jerry Mouse a few times, most notably in the fantasy dance sequence with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh.
Then they bring in Baby Face, the crook.
On the radio, applause for guest stars was normal. The tradition is carried over here. But the cast applauds, which is completely breaks the spell - except there isn’t any spell, which Benny’s voice-over recognizes.
Later Benny grills Bogart, and the questions come down to . . . well.
He’s almost doing a Bert Lahr there. Keep in mind that Benny had been talking about the sponsor’s desire for more integration with the routines; keep in mind that this isn’t the sort of ting you can do without being very, very obvious - so you’d better hit it straight on, play it for laughs, and let your actors react with the dismay over what they’ve just done.
Everyone’s in on the joke.
At the end Bogart comes out for a curtain call. Even though the play’s over, there’s still Benny’s voiceover instead of dialogue, which extends the conventions they were spoofing into something that never used that convention. And now we have something you couldn’t do on radio: a sight gag. Benny’s VO notes that Bogie has a new movie coming out, and we get this:
Eight years later, and people were expected to get the reference. And they did!
Work blog around 12:30, Tumblr around noonish or so - see you then!