the candler blog

A Comment on a Comment

Writing

It’s not a regular habit, but this morning I decided to weed out a few old passwords stored in 1Password. One in apparent need of updating was Disqus, where all the comments for the candler blog are hosted. So I logged in only to realize I hadn’t in many months. There were three unmoderated comments waiting for me. One moved me to write this.

For roughly the past year, I’ve kept comments off on new posts. My default is still to have comments on; I manually make the call on nearly every post to turn them off. The comments here have never really gotten out of hand as they do on other sites. I guess it just seemed like another thing I didn’t feel like managing.

The comment from this morning is making me rethink that call, and took me back to a different time on this site, and in my life.

About a month ago, “TimOB” left the comment on an eight year old post on the death of Steve Friedman, known to Philadelphia radio listeners as “Mr. Movie.” His comment is longer than my post by a hair, and a beautiful tribute to Friedman, Tim’s friend. I feel bad that I left his words in limbo for so long, but I’m glad I was finally able to get them online.

Discourse online has changed a great deal since 2009, when I started the candler blog and wrote the post on Friedman. Tim’s comment was a nice reminder about the value of sharing thoughts on a site like this. If I had written the same on a social site, it would have been gone within a month.

Thanks, Tim, not only for your kind words on Mr. Movie, but for helping me remember what writing online can be like. Leaving the comments open on this one.

Jonas Mekas and the Small Branches

Interview, Movies

Bilge Ebiri interviewed Jonas Mekas for the Village Voice and every word of it is wonderful. Here is his most quotable response:

I keep repeating this, but the cinema, like any other art, is like a big tree with many, many branches. Some are bigger, some are smaller, but all of them are important, and the smallest ones sometimes are more important than the big ones — because they catch the light, the sun, they feed the big lump of the tree.

I feel like this point is often lost on modern audiences. Cinema is ever changing, but the change almost never comes from the top. The wildest experiments break open our understanding of the movies, eventually bubbling up into popular art.

Here is my favorite answer, in which he returns to the theme of trees:

My films are about the present moment. You cannot film a memory. But yeah, how I film is affected by what I am made of — from the moment when I was born, I was made by every moment, every second I lived, and already even generations before were in me already. Otherwise, how would I learn to speak or anything? So, I’m like a last leaf of a big, big tree that goes, you know, centuries and centuries back. So that whatever I do and say, how I film, is affected by what I am. But what I film is now — not a second before, not a second that will come, but what is now, the present moment. And that is not memory.

At 94, Mekas is close to realizing what he calls the completion of Anthology Film Archives. Ebiri’s interview comes on the occasion of a new book, A Dance With Fred Astaire, that comes out next week. It’s a self-described “visual autobiography.” Being that Mekas has been at the center of New York film culture (and a curator of world cinema) since the 1950s, I have no doubt this will be an incredible read.

Life Imitating Art: Baseball Edition

Baseball, Movies

Here’s a great little tidbit from a recent podcast with Charlie Manuel, the manager who took the Phillies all the way to a World Series championship in 2008. Back in 1993, he and yet-to-be five-time All-Star Jim Thome, were at a Cleveland Indians minor league team. As the story goes, Manuel walks into the locker room where his players are watching Barry Levinson’s The Natural.

“I saw Robert Redford standing there pointing the bat with one hand, bringing it back. I looked over at Thome, I said, ‘you can finish watching the movie. From now on that’s going to be your load.’ I took him down in the cage and worked with him. The game started and the Phillies had a left-handed pitcher named [Kyle] Abbott. He was pitching that day. I told Jimmy, ‘From now on that’s your stance.’ He gets up there the first time up, Abbott throws him a breaking ball away and he hit a home run to left center… I mean a longways. He come up the next time he hit another one to right center. I think he had three hits that day.”

”That’s a true story,” Manuel added.

I love the idea of a bunch of ballplayers sitting around watching The Natural in the locker room. Crazy to think Thome would take his stance from a film, but if it works, it works.

As a side-note, I happened to rewatch The Natural last year after reading Bernard Malamud’s novel for the first time. It’s amazing how a few changes can alter the entire tone and meaning of a work. The Roy Hobbs of the novel is unrecognizable in the film, even though so much of the film pulls scenes straight out of the book.

“This Faithful Machine Remembers”

Writing

I heard a great Ian McEwan quote on The Writer’s Almanac this morning:

In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.

This is from a 2002 interview with The Paris Review (subscription required). Last year Matthew G. Kirschenbaum excerpted the quote in a blog post on the history of writers and word processors, which is a great read.

I was surprised the post doesn’t mention Douglas Adams, who famously owned the first Mac in Europe and continued writing on them up to his death.1 Luckily, Kirschenbaum wrote an entire book on writers and their machines, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. Added to the list.

My own writing workflow has been in flux for some time. I love writing on paper, but I have trouble holding on to those bits once they’re down. I’m trying my darnedest to wrangle all my thoughts and write more. Hearing how other writers work always fascinates and inspires me.

  1. You’re really going to want to click that link for an incredible story about a used Mac.

A Great AirPod Accessory for Runners

Running, Technology

For a few weeks now I’ve been enjoying Apple’s AirPods. Since the EarPods that come with iPhones have never really stayed in my ears too well, I wasn’t sure these would work for me. I’ve always preferred an earbud that goes as far into my ear canal as possible. But the allure of the AirPods won out.

They actually fit quite well in my ears and stay put for the most part. After my first attempt at running with them, though, I realized I would need something to keep them in place. Luckily, a few companies have tried to find a solution to this problem. I hopped on Amazon looking for some kind of AirPod cover to keep them in place in my ears, and I think I stumbled on the best set.

The goofily named EarBuddyz 2.0 keep my AirPods snug in my ears for an entire run. They’re little rubber (ahem, elastomer, I guess?) covers for the tips of the headphone that add a little hook that presses up into your ear lobe. Without them, I had to push the right earbud back into place every minute or so, the left one maybe every five minutes. Once I put them in, there was zero movement on them. Those things were completely snug in my head.

The best part is that the latest version of these things (2.0!) features cutouts for the little sensors on the AirPods that determine whether they’re in your ear or not. When I ordered these I figured a 50/50 chance they would actually line up, but they line up perfectly with the sensors. It takes a bit of fumbling to actually put the cover on straight. My tip is to use the front of the AirPod, where the sound comes out, as a guide. Once that’s aligned, everything else falls into place. It’s nice to have them securely in my ear without compromising on the great features of the AirPods, like automatically playing or pausing when you insert or remove an earbud.

To my ear, using one of these covers does alter the audio slightly. It’s hard to describe, but I find these cut off some of the higher frequencies, resulting in audio that’s a bit bassier than what I was listening to without them. It didn’t make anything I listened to sound bad, there’s no muffling or garbling. Honestly on some tracks I preferred the bassier sound. It’s just different. For me, it’s barely worth mentioning because the advantage of being able to take these running without worrying about them falling out is worth it.

The one major knock against these things is that there’s no great way to store them. You can’t keep them on the AirPods all the time because they don’t fit in the charging case. They come two pairs (there’s only one size) to a pack in a small envelope, so you really have to stash these somewhere good on their own. They’re practically made to get lost.

I ordered the clear ones, which are basically white but a little translucent. EarBuddyz (ugh) also come in black, if that fits your style better.

These little covers are a great addition to the AirPods, especially if you want to wear them while working out. There are plenty of other wireless headphones specifically designed for exercise, with features like ear hooks and sweat resistance built in. But the AirPods are the only wireless headphones with the integrated play/pause features and tap controls, and the charging/battery case makes for elegant storage by comparison. Plus, they’ll be getting better in iOS 11. So it’s nice be able to take them for a run and not worry they’ll fall out and go into the sewer. They’re a wireless headphone I can use for anything now.

Right now the EarBuddyz 2.0 are $10.95 on Amazon for the clear ones; the black ones are $9.95. Buying them from these links supports this site, so I thank you in advance. If you have AirPods, I can’t recommend them enough. And if you were on the fence about ordering AirPods because of the fit, know that there are solutions to keep them in your head.

Scorcese on Cinema in Context

Movies

Martin Scorsese in The Times Literary Supplement:

Every time I get back into the editing room, I feel the wonder of it. One image is joined with another image, and a third phantom event happens in the mind’s eye - perhaps an image, perhaps a thought, perhaps a sensation. Something occurs, something absolutely unique to this particular combination or collision of moving images. And if you take a frame away from one or add a couple of frames to the other, the image in the mind’s eye changes. […] This “principle”, if that’s what you could call it, is just as applicable to the juxtaposition of words in poetry or forms and colours in painting. It is, I think, fundamental to the art of cinema. This is where the act of creation meets the act of viewing and engaging, where the common life of the filmmaker and the viewer exists, in those intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless. This is where a good film comes alive as something more than a succession of beautifully composed renderings of a script. This is film-making.

A rousing defense of the cinema from one of its greatest students.

Scorsese’s article is about one of cinema’s fundamental conflicts: its relationship to the other arts, namely literature. The portion I’ve quoted above, though, resonates with me because of the current climate of film appreciation online. So much digital ink is spilled over scenes and shots and spoilers and trailers and the like.These things are fun and interesting, but they are not cinema.

The “intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless” is a beautiful definition of cinema. The complexities of this art form come from its inherent dichotomy, that there is craft in both instant and a span. You cannot have cinema without the frame, but the frame is not cinema.

We get so lost in the minutiae of film that it helps to step back and look at it as a whole form. Scorsese offers just that opportunity in this essay, which I’ll link again because it’s a must-read.

This Piece of Film Criticism Woke Me Up This Morning

Cannes, Criticism, Movies

Look, I had to wake up anyway. After snoozing my alarm a few too many times, I snatched my phone off the charger and started scrolling through Twitter. This is an unhealthy habit, scrolling through piles of hot takes on depressing news, I know, but some habits are tough to kick.

I can’t remember the tweet that led me to Bilge Ebiri’s Village Voice piece on Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. I don’t even know why I clicked on it. Cannes news can be a bit numbing from afar, with most articles that bubble up covering all the same festival buzz. (What got booed!? Who was chummy on the red carpet!? Almodóvar v. Smith because Netflix!) The piece even has a hallmark headline for the sort of piece I was in no mood to read: “The Best Film At Cannes Almost Didn’t Make It There On Time.”

But! I’m glad I clicked it, because reading the piece invigorated me. It reminded me that great criticism happens every day, and that I need to seek it out.

What’s so great about the article is that it is both criticism and journalism. It offers, expediently, a history of Cannes latecomer films, setting the stage for the premiere of Ramsay’s film. Ebiri then reviews the film in question on its own merits before weaving it into the context of this year’s festival, and then puts this year’s festival in a more macro context against all other Cannes. All in under 1200 words!

It’s criticism because it goes deep on the film. (“In Ramsay’s cinema, emotion is memory, and it feeds the present and the future.”) It’s journalism because it reports facts from the ground. (“We’d already heard, even before it all started, that Thierry Frémaux’s programming committee had viewed Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here in incomplete form but had still included it in competition because they saw ‘the potential of an artist, a poet, and an author.’ All fest long, there were rumors that Jonny Greenwood was still finishing his score, that the film was due to arrive right before the premiere. Would the screening even happen?”) And it’s just plain great because of descriptions like a “95-minute nervous breakdown of a movie.”

Last week I published a piece here about regaining my enthusiam to write. Reading great writing is a solid way to get motivated. Bilge Ebiri provided that shot in the arm for me today. He cut right through my own cynicism about the sameness of so many articles that cross my path.

And now I need to see that movie, too. Added to the list.

Joe Steel’s WWDC Apple TV Wish List

Technology

Joe Steel isn’t asking for much from an updated Apple TV, though I don’t know that he’ll get any of it. His piece reads more as a critique of what Apple offers than a wish for what could come next. In the TV space, Apple, one of the pioneers of digital entertainment1, is years behind. Hoping change is coming soon.

(via Six Colors.)

  1. QuickTime and Apple Trailers were a delight long before YouTube, iMovie could cut HD well ahead of the curve, buying movies digitally didn’t make much sense before iTunes, etc.

Rewatching Dr. Strangelove

Movies, Reviews

It’s been years since I last watched Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Current events gave me a hankering to revisit it, so I rented the Blu-ray and popped it in last night. Some stray thoughts.

I’ve always remembered the overtly sexual mechanics of the film’s opening sequence, but I had forgotten Pablo Ferro’s beautifully designed titles. Over the years, graphic design has become a more central daily concern for me, so I sit in wonder of the gorgeous lettering. From card to card I stand mystified by the creative placement of each word. It feels at once perfect, everything in its place, and yet completely wrong, setting fire to common sense.

I was planning to add in a remark about how organic and alive these titles feel compared to the similar but much drier titles to Men in Black, but it seems those were done by…Pablo Ferro. Go figure.

One thing that feels so shocking by today’s standards is how compact Kubrick, along with Terry Southern and Peter George, manage to keep a narrative about the end of the world. If a film about an impending nuclear holocaust were made today, there would be at least one sequence where you see wide shots of public squares around the world reacting to the news. You would see people running in the streets. Or at the very least, given the secrecy of the scenario, scenes of happy life going on undisturbed. These sorts of macro scenes are crutches that help set the visual stakes. Dr. Strangelove brilliantly resists this urge, limiting itself to three main locations: Ripper’s base, the War Room1 and Major Kong’s plane, with only a brief moment in Turgidson’s mirror-clad hotel room. Kubrick gives the audience enough credit to understand the stakes.

I forgot just how good Peter Sellers is as President Merkin Muffley.2 His extended call with the Russian premier is one of the most brilliant bits of one-sided telephone. It’s Bob Newhart level good. I tend to think of him as Dr. Strangelove, desperately trying to control his right arm, but it is the Muffley role that, I would argue, requires a higher level comic genius.

Speaking of the good doctor, I noticed on this viewing that he is introduced at the exact halfway point of the film. I think he may appear in a single shot prior to that, but it is when his name is first uttered that he bursts into the film, changing the mechanics of the story. It feels as though the film’s title is a setup for a joke whose punchline is Strangelove’s entrée.

George C. Scott’s comic timing is a thing of beauty. He lands every single laugh. Line’s like “I’d like to hold off judgement on a thing like that, sir, until all the facts are in” and “He’ll see the big board!” could so easily be dry, but coming from him they’re centerpiece bits. I need to catch up on more of Scott’s films, but he is always a towering figure in anything I’ve seen him in. Even in a frothy picture like Not with My Wife, You Don’t!, he seems to work at one speed: intense.

It doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but it blows my mind a thirty-something James Earl Jones sounds exactly like an eighty-something James Earl Jones.

Another little something: “WORLD TARGETS IN MEGADEATHS.”

Something I never took note of before last night is the film’s visual effects. Any viewer can discern that they are looking at miniature aircraft superimposed over flying footage, but great care is taken to match the lighting conditions and movement of the planes to the background footage. The effect works well, perhaps better than audiences need it to. Kubrick, of course, was a detail-oriented filmmaker.

I forgot there is a comedic beat between when Slim Pickens takes his iconic ride on a nuclear missile and the film’s concluding “We’ll Meet Again” sequence. Another stroke of genius to have a room full of powerful men discussing, to the bitter end, the sexual Xanadu they could have created underground if only they had had the foresight. Kaboom.

I can’t quite figure out if Dr. Strangelove, a political satire steeped in the blackest cynicism of its era, is timeless or not. The film plays just as well today, but perhaps it is because the Cold War looms larger than we’d like to admit.

I hope I don’t wait as many years to revisit the film again. No doubt, I will find even more in it the next time around.

  1. I feel like the ingeniousness of the design and use of the War Room set goes without saying at this point. One thing I noticed on this viewing is how smart the sound design is as we go around the table. When the camera is far away, so is the sound. It’s not a necessarily audacious choice, but it’s an important one that helps deliver some of the absurdities of the situation.

  2. Incidentally I also forgot how great the character names are. “Strangelove” is tame when put next to Jack D. Ripper.

Getting Back To It

Writing

I recall, often, something John Gruber wrote a few years back when Andrew Sullivan gave up blogging:

Blogging isn’t hard work in the way that coal mining is, but above all else it demands enthusiasm. There’s no other way to keep going — blogs cease when their authors run out of enthusiasm.

Admitting you’ve lost your enthusiasm is hard to do because it’s practically admitting defeat. I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel on the candler blog. I can admit that my enthusiasm has waned, but I refuse to be defeated.

I take great pride in having built a home for my thoughts on the web. When inspiration strikes, I love being able to publish my work at an outlet I control completely. But I suppose that diminished enthusiasm has caught up with me, keeping me from writing regularly.

I want to get back to it, though. Perhaps I need to tweet less. Or maybe there is something about my writing workflow that has gone wonky. I’ll work through it, and I’d like to do so on these pages, if you’ll indulge me.

This is my second post in a row about blogging. I’ll try to avoid that. I don’t know that I’ll write about the same sort of stuff I’ve always written about film, technology and the like. Probably, I will. To be honest I don’t know what I’ll write next, which has always been the fun of having a site like this.