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Shaken and Stirred | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Shaken and Stirred

My new Think Again column is Tax Cuts: The Faith and the Facts.

My Nation column is Rupert Murdoch and the 'Jewish Owned Press.'

A few words about “Skyfall”

Things that are too stupid about “Skyfall” to accept, though it does not make it impossible to enjoy the movie:

1) It is based on a total absurdity: No intelligence would ever (or even could) compile such a list.

2) There is never any explanation given for the existence of said list.

3) When Bond “dies” in the beginning and then ends up on that beach, well, what? How did that happen? Again, no explanation.

I don't mind absurdities within the movies. I do mind a) the plot being based on one and b) them not bothering to try to explain them.

Things that are silly but okay, because this is Bond: Everybody in the movie has hundreds of chances to kill everybody else. They prefer to describe how they are about to kill them instead. That's standard fare in all bad guy movies.

Letter to the editor of the New Yorker, which I hate to do, because I’m a professional writer and so it’s blockhead-ish of me to write anything for free, and what’s more, it wasn’t printed:

Alex Ross's fine meditation on the history of gay political liberation, but when he writes "In the nineties, talk of gay marriage sounded kooky and futuristic, like something out of a left-wing version of “The Jetsons." he should be aware of the actual left-wing version of the Jetsons and it was released, coincidentally, in 1990. I speak of the much under-rated, "Jetsons: the Movie," in which George and his family switch sides in the the battle over intergalactic capitalistic exploitation and join a group of revolutionary "Grungees" who have been forced to work under Foxconn-like conditions in their fight against the evil Spacely Sprocket corporation, for whom, all Jetsons fans, will recall, George labored. The Grungees win their fight and instead of returning to manufacturing sprockets under unsafe conditions, engineer a recycling solution which is embraced by the newly enlightened Mr. Spacely and George and his family bid their fellow revolutionaries--now in the charge of the means of production—a fond farewell. A fairy tale, I know, but you can look it up.

Sincerely,

Eric Alterman

New York, New York

Altercation Gift Giving Guide, Part II: Hitchcock “masterpieces” on Blu-ray, the complete Beatles on vinyl, the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Charles Mingus, circa 1964-65, and some other stuff.

The Beatles on vinyl: Everyone with a turntable, disposable income (or generous friends and relatives) and any taste whatever will NEED a complete set of the Beatles albums, just out in time to empty someone’s bank account. The set is beautifully (albeit quite heavily) packaged and contains:

  • Please Please Me

  • With The Beatles

  • A Hard Day's Night

  • Beatles For Sale

  • Rubber Soul

  • Revolver

  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • Magical Mystery Tour

  • The Beatles (The White Album) (2LP)

  • Yellow Submarine

  • Let It Be

  • Abbey Road

  • Past Masters (2LP).

All manufactured on 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl with replicated artwork, including the posters from The White Album and the cutouts from Sgt. Pepper. You also get a really class 252-page 12-by-12 hardbound book with a chapter dedicated to each album and lots of new (old) photos.

Like the CDs, the albums track the 12 original UK releases, plus Magical Mystery Tour, and Past Masters, Volumes One & Two, which collects everything else that was officially released but would otherwise be missing. I’ve been reading about complicated it was to do these transfers from the masters and make them sound as pristine (and punchy) as they do. It was quite a job and too complicated for me to explain it here (if in fact I even understood it) but you should read up on it—and you can do so here, and then be glad that everybody at EMI realized how important it was to human civilization to get this right. In fact, it inspired me to propose teaching a seminar on the impact of the Beatles on American culture next year, but they haven’t gotten back to me on that yet. Anyway, run, don’t walk….

Oh and while we’re on this um, fab topic, I’m happy to be able to recommend a new book by a man with the interesting name of Andrew Grant Jackson and it’s called Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of the Beatles’ Solo Careers. Many of us were traumatized by the breakup of the Beatles and you would not believe how often it keeps coming up in my class on the culture and politics of the seventies. The fellow is pretty smart and the book is wonderfully well researched but arguable on many points. And the material, which critically reviews. (An aside: Amazingly, John Lennon was the worst seller of the Beatles in the seventies including Ringo and despite putting out one masterpiece and one album that has the worst song in history—with two possible exceptions from Mr. McCartney.) But anyway, many of the songs are great. There are about, I’d say at least four really good Beatles albums packed into the 1970s stuff alone (through “Band on the Run.”) And with the Beatles having been covered to death, this is really new territory, at least for me. Check out what I mean, here.)

The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization

I was unfamiliar with the Posen Library, but together with Yale University Press, they have undertaken a project of enormous ambition and terrific importance: an entire library of Jewish Culture and Civilization in the form of a ten volume anthology of (what the editors believe to be) the most important literary works produced primarily by Jews from the Biblical period through the end of 2005. Overseen by James E. Young, and a board that included (Robert Alter, Yehuda Bauer, Menachem Brinker, Rachel Elior, Paula Hyman, Jonathan Sarna, Anita Shapira, A.B. Yehoshua), 120 scholars contributed to the collection primary sources, documents, texts, and visual images. So far, all we have is volume ten, which is the last one. I have to say, I have enormous differences with the editors over some of the choices. But that is as it should be. After all, what are Jews without arguments. Still, I’m grateful for the resource and look forward to the coming volumes (though they tell me that the one I really need for my forthcoming (one day) book on postwar American Jewish culture, volume 9, won’t be published until after volume 8, the interwar years. Allegedly all ten volumes will be available by 2015, which feels awfully ambitious, but hey, that’s great news if true. Each volume is about a thousand pages and each, also true to the culture and spirit of the project, raises far more questions than it answers. For instance as the project’s editor, James E. Young explains in an introductory essay:
What is Jewish art, or photography, or architecture? What makes Barnett Newman, or Philip Guston, or Mark Rothko Jewish artists? Do Newman’s meditations on martyrdom constitute “Jewishness” in his work? Do Guston’s reflections on identity and catastrophe make him a “Jewish artist”?

Is Rothko’s iconoclastic insistence on the abstract color field after the Holocaust a gesture toward the second commandment prohibition of images, and if so, does that give him a Jewish sensibility? And what about other art forms? Is William Klein a Jewish photographer? Or Weegee (née Arthur Feelig), or Robert Capa (née Andreas Friedmann), or Brassai (née Gyula Halasz)? Aside from its cheekiness, what are we to make of William Klein’s mischievous remark that “. . . there are two kinds of photography— Jewish photography and goyish photography”?

And architecture. Is there such a thing as “Jewish” architecture? The current generation of Jewish architects is certainly legend (think of Frank Gehry, nee Frank Owen Goldberg, Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Santiago Calatrava, James Ingo Freed, Moshe Safdie, and A.M. Stern, to name but a few of the most prominent). But what are we to make of Gehry’s suggestion that the undulating steel forms for which he is so famous are inspired by the live carp his grandmother kept in a bathtub before turning it into gefilte fish?

Read volume 10 of the Posen Library and decide for yourselves. More here.

Yale has issued a companion book with the Posen volume. It’s a little book called Jews and Words by the great Amos Oz and his daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, a professor of literature, and they talk about pretty much everything, since I mean, they’re Jews and the topic lends itself to that. Hard to resist if you like the title. I carry it around and read little bits at a time, since it’s a nice size for that but you can read the whole thing if you like.

And speaking of Jews, and we are almost always doing that here, I strongly recommend the new play by Nathan Englander at the Public Theater called “The 27 th Man.” The idea to turn this old story by Englander into a play was Nora Ephron’s and it has been beautifully realized by the Public’s production: The plot is this: 27 writers are rounded up and imprisoned in Stalinist Russia. 26 of these writers are great intellectuals with minds and public reputations to be reckoned with. The 27th writer, Pinchas Pelovits, is a clerical slip: he’s an unpublished writer, a mere enthusiast of books.

However, as the published writers face down their impending executions by bickering over their respective achievements, Pinchas is hard at work writing a story that floors them all. Pinchas’s story ends with the question “Which one of us is to say the prayer [for the dead]?” It stars Ron Rifkin, among others and is both deeply moving and simultaneously thought provoking. More here

And for jazz enthusiasts, my big discovery this week is a seven CD collection from Mosaic of a series of previous unreleased concerts from Charles Mingus done in 1964 and 1965. Called The Jazz Workshop Concerts, 1964-65.

Nobody packages their box sets with more useful information about their contents than the folks at Mosaic, who were doing this kind of thing decades before major labels realized what they had. And after contacting Sue Mingus following a remastered 1964 Town Hall concert, they discovered these shows in the archives as well. Mingus would have been 90 this year and so the scouring was particularly energetic, and what a find these shows are. Of the seven discs in the collection, only one of them has even been available on an authorized CD and much of it has never been on cd at all. The band is stellar: Eric Dolphy, Charles McPherson, Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, Clifford

Jordan, Dannie Richmond. The repertoire includes some Mingus’ best known compositions, along with three never-before-issued songs recorded at time when Mingus had left the world of major labels and was both at the top of his form, but still undertaking radical experiments. Among the highlights are a previously Unreleased "Sophisticated Lady," a 20-minute version of "Peggy's Blue Skylight," and an incomplete performance of his Charlie Parker tribute "Parkeriana" before the tape ran out. I could go on and on about this but the fact is either you’re hooked or your not. And if you are, you’ll be spending a lot of time reading up on the recordings as you listen, I’m

guessing. It’s a limited run of just 7500 copies and again, the packaging, notes, photos,

etc are all you’d expect from Mosaic. Read all about it here.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection

I was watching The Man Who Knew Too Much on Blu-ray and the murder scene in the classical music hall, struck me as the obvious inspiration for the final scene inGodfather III with the murder in the opera house—right down to the opening of the wrong doors in the boxes up top. Watching Hitchcock on lovingly restored bluray in the Masterpiece Collection of fifteen films, one sees all kinds of things one missed the first time around. (Well, I like the restorations. There have been complaints about some of the transfers, though I’ve not yet come across any problems.)

One can argue with the choice of the fifteen. I certainly do. Some of these films are not “masterpieces” by any stretch of anyone’s imagination and quite a few that are, are not here. But without exception, each film is done justice and the box itself is a handsome (and in some respects) beautiful thing. It comes with 13 films previously unavailable on Blu-ray, a 50-page book featuring storyboards, costume sketches, correspondence, photographs, and more. There are also more than 15 hours of documentaries, filmmaker commentaries, interviews, screen tests, trailers and a new documentary about “The Birds, I’ve been watching them after watching the films. There is a certain sameness to them as many feature the same interviewees in the same places. (Hitchcock’s daughter is particularly prevalent.) The makers did go to all the people they could find who were involved in each of the films and did a decent job of getting the most pressing questions answered. Nobody says anythin nasty about the guy though, which, (if you’ve seen the recent HBO film about Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, will strike you as leaving out a significant part of the story.

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The collection demonstrates the artistry of roughly 35 years of film-making that we’ve not seen before or since, along with an occasional clunker. The films here are: Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, The Trouble with Harry, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy and Family Plot. The degree of mastery of so many aspects of film-making can sometimes be jaw-dropping, whether in technical terms—Rear Window is a standout in this category, as are of course, Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, and Northy by Northwest. But the dialogue and the story-telling are also remarkable and refreshing, especially when compared with the kinds of thrillers Hollywood turns out today. This is true in many of the films that are rarely according much respect today. (Take a look at Shadow of a Doubt” if you want to see what I mean.)

The bonus features include:

For Saboteur (1942):

  • Saboteur: A Closer Look

  • Storyboards: The Statue of Liberty Sequence

  • Alfred Hitchcock’s Sketches

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

     

For Shadow of a Doubt (1943):

  • Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film

  • Production Drawings by Art Director Robert Boyle

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

For Rope (1948):

  • Rope Unleashed

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

 

For Rear Window (1954):

  • Rear Window Ethics: An Original Documentary

  • A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes

  • Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of The Master

  • Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock

  • Hitchcock-Truffaut Interview Excerpts

  • Masters of Cinema

  • Feature Commentary with John Fawell, author of Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Re-Release Trailer Narrated by James Stewart

  • Blu-ray exclusives: BD Live, Pocket Blu

 

For The Trouble with Harry (1955):

  • The Trouble with Harry Isn’t Over

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

 

For The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956):

  • The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much

  • Production Photographs

  • Trailers

 

For Vertigo (1958):

  • Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece

  • Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators

  • Hitchcock / Truffaut Interview Excerpts

  • Foreign Censorship Ending

  • The Vertigo Archives

  • Feature Commentary with Associate Producer Herbert Coleman, Restoration

  • Team Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, and Other Vertigo Participants

  • Feature Commentary with Director William Friedkin

  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Restoration Theatrical Trailer

  • BD Live, Pocket Blu (Blu-ray Exclusive)

 

For North by Northwest (1959)

  • Feature Commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman

  • The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style

  • Cary Grant: A Class Apart

  • North by Northwest: One for the Ages

  • Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest

  • Music-only audio track

  • Stills gallery

  • Theatrical trailers and TV spot

 

For Psycho (1960)

  • The Making of Psycho

  • Psycho Sound

  • In The Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy

  • Hitchcock-Truffaut Interview Excerpts

  • Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho

  • The Shower Scene: With and Without Music

  • The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass

  • The Psycho Archives

  • Posters and Psycho Ads

  • Lobby Cards

  • Behind-the-Scenes Photographs

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Re-release Trailers

  • Feature Commentary with Stephen Rebello (author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho)

 

For The Birds (1963):

  • Deleted Scene

  • Original Ending

  • The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie – New! (Blu-ray Exclusive)

  • All About The Birds

  • Storyboards

  • Tippi Hedren’s Screen Test

  • Hitchcock-Truffaut Interview Excerpts

  • The Birds Is Coming (Universal International Newsreel)

  • Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock (Universal International Newsreel)

  • Production Photographs

  • 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics

  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lot

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • BD Live, Pocket Blu (Blu-ray Exclusive)

 

For Marnie (1964):

  • The Trouble with Marnie

  • The Marnie Archives

  • Theatrical Trailer

For Torn Curtain (1966):

  • Torn Curtain Rising

  • Scenes Scored by Bernard Herrmann

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

For Topaz (1969):

  • Alternate Endings

  • Topaz: An Appreciation by Film Historian and Critic Leonard Maltin

  • Storyboards: The Mendozas

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

 

For Frenzy (1972)

  • The Story of Frenzy

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

 

For Family Plot (1976):

  • Plotting Family Plot

  • Storyboards: The Chase Scene

  • Production Photographs

  • Theatrical Trailer

 

It ain’t cheap, but it should last forever.

Ok, that’s enough for today. But I have lots of other (and much cheaper) stuff to recommend, so I will return with Part III tomorrow, in case people want to get their shopping in sooner rather than later. And Reed should be here too.

More in benefit news:

Hot Tuna’s Beacon shows are here this weekend. Alongside Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady the great Barry Mitterhoff will be lots of special guests both Friday and Saturday. (I’m going Friday because Graham Parker and the Rumor are reuniting at the Ethical Culture Society on Saturday.) Proceeds for special tickets purchased for the Hot Tuna Concert on Dec. 1 will go to support local NYC area non-profits including those assisting in storm relief efforts. If you already have your concert ticket, you can contribute $50 or more to receive the poster. (Your total amount contributed is tax deductible)

TICKET PRICING FOR BENEFIT CONCERT

(Includes t-shirt with graphic designed by David Isaacs for this special fundraiser.)

  • $150.00 or more – Great Orchestra or Loge Seats for the Concert (All but $60 is tax deductible)

  • $250 or more – Front Orchestra Seats for the Concert (All but $70 is tax deductible)

For this Virtual Benefit, tickets can be purchased only through here.

Also this, which I can’t make because I’ll be on The Nation cruise:

SUZZY & MAGGIE ROCHE - A HOLIDAY-ISH SHOW

  • with Lucy Wainwright Roche

  • & Special Guest Julie Gold

A BENEFIT CONCERT for the Church of St Paul & St Andrew

Thursday, December 13, 2012

7:30 PM
at the Church of St Paul & St Andrew
263 West 86th St @ West End Ave
New York, NY 10024
spsaconcertinfo@gmail.com

The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (SPSA) has been a progressive force on Manhattan's Upper West Side for decades. SPSA houses New York's largest emergency food program, the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), which distributes food for more than a million meals each year; a shelter for homeless women; and Homework Help, an all-volunteer tutoring project for children grades K-12. Through a partnership with Goddard-Riverside Community Center, SPSA helps to provide meals- on-wheels for 400 seniors on the West Side. For ore than twenty years, SPSA has been on the cutting edge of interfaith work, partnering with B'nai Jeshurun (which shares SPSA's building) and Muslim groups including the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood. SPSA has also played a leadership role in challenging the United Methodist denomination to become fully inclusive of our LGBT members.

The mail:
Rich Gallagher
Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

On the subject of box sets, be sure to pick up Sony's outstanding restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. Two discs of extras, a nice coffee table book and an actual 70mm frame from the film.

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