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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Three idle questions about the Oscars

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 11:19 PM

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Why wasn't a single reference to George W. Bush made by anyone--including Ellen DeGeneres in her gently laid-back stand-up routines? Probably for the same reason that I rarely heard Bush mentioned by anyone in conversations when I was recently in Rotterdam, Toulouse, and Paris. Why beat a dead horse?, the deceased in this case being the fate of the world, or perhaps innocent civilians in Iran, not a spry but clueless leader. Once it’s become accepted and mutually acknowledged that the overall will of the world’s population and the will of the American people--insofar as either will can be correctly inferred--has almost no bearing on what Bush decides to do, speaking out of rage and impotence about a stupid dictator’s whims won’t accomplish very much. So instead of cracking jokes about how Clinton risked impeachment for getting a blow job while Bush risks nothing but a little wrist-slapping for endangering the survival of the planet as well as his own country, DeGeneres brings out a vacuum cleaner. The closest she ever got to evoking Bush was implying at one point that more of the American public voted for Al Gore. The overall implication: when in doubt, lie down and turn on the TV. Which is presumably why such PC questions as the importance of someone using the word faggot elsewhere on TV is supposed to matter so much. Once you give up on the prospect of saving the country or saving the planet, much less improving the quality of your own life, there are still loads of other things to get even more worked up about.

And why is it that on a relatively well-managed, intelligently orchestrated show almost every time world cinema was evoked it had to be alluded to only in relation to tearjerkers and the most egregiously banal cliches? I’m speaking more of the montages than of the awarding of an Oscar to The Lives of Others, a film already understandably tweaked by Pat Graham in a recent post (even though I recently made it a Critic's Choice), but the same overall principle might be said to apply to both: tears, kids, madonnas, and wistful, impotent smiles are apparently supposed to constitute the sum of what we’re supposed to get from the world’s collective cinematic wisdom.

As for the multiple Oscars to The Departed—none of which convinces me that I should necessarily see it, any more than the Oscars given to Braveheart ever made me feel I was missing something important—it seems par for the course to give belated consolation prizes after neglecting to give Oscars to filmmakers when they deserve it. But if I'm wrong--if there's something exceptional or different about this movie that's being recognized--could somebody explain what is it? 

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Election day dispatch #31: Early tallies from the 25th Ward

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 07:54 PM

Giles Morris offers another dispatch from the field: 

 7 PM and I'm at the 21st and 26th precincts in the Tri-Taylor area of the 25th Ward. Solis won 61 percent, followed by Martha Padilla's 18 percent and Cuahutemoc Morfin's 11 percent in both. Solis normally wins big at about 75 per cent here, so these numbers are scary for him and mean he has got to do better than usual in Pilsen and also has to have nailed Chinatown. Everything is packed up.

The Second Ward also polls here: challengers  Bob Fioretti and Larry Doody ran very close at around 35 percent; incumbent  Madeline Haithcock, Kenny Johnson, and David Askew were all between 15 and 25 percent.

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Goodbye to a "creative music" great

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 06:36 PM

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I've never been fond of the "creative music" tag—it kind of goes in the same insulting file as "intelligent dance music"—but one of the genre's leading figures, Leroy Jenkins, passed away this weekend in Manhattan at the age of 74. A violinist from childhood, he was instrumental in the AACM and helped to establish the notion that there is no instrument that can't be employed in riveting improvisation.  He formed the Creative Construction Company with Anthony Braxton, Leo Wadada Smith, and Steve McCall, and the group's 1970 performance in New York is considered one of that city's first exposures to the Chicago sound.

Jenkins went on to play with both Alice Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, but it was his Revolutionary Ensemble that enabled him to stretch his bow in unprecented directions and develop his radical, logical, and lyrical style to the fullest. Over the years he undertook ambitious multimedia works that drew on his classical background and even dabbled in fusion and meditative music of a new-agey bent, but he never sounded like he was pulling his punches. Both the confrontational and conversational sides of his playing were there for a reason, in their own balanced measure.

WKCR in New York is honoring Jenkins with a 12-hour marathon of his music that kicks off Wednesday at 6 AM. You can stream the whole thing here. (Thanks to Margaret Davis on the Chi-Improv mailing list for the tip.)

 

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Election day dispatch #30: On the King Drive bus

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 06:28 PM

A reader who calls himself Hunter Clauss sends this report from the 2nd Ward: 

 "They say only 25 percent of people came out to vote," said an elderly man riding in the back of the King Drive bus number 3. He flipped through a newspaper while talking to woman--presumably a friend. The bus drove past a 2nd Ward polling place near the corner of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road--or at least it looked like one. The area appeared as if a nuclear bomb of election signs exploded, littering "Re-Elect Madeline Haithcock" and "Vote Kenny Johnson" signs all over the ground.

"They say it's the lowest turnout ever. Last year it was 35 percent and that was low. Things just aren't the way they used to be," the old man said with his female friend nodding. "What do you think about Jennifer Hudson winning the Oscar?"

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Election day dispatch #29: Poll crime in the 50th?

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 06:16 PM

The Greg Brewer campaign writes:
 
One of our (Greg Brewer's) poll watchers is reporting that one of Bernie Stone's precinct captains was arrested for electioneering an hour ago (5p.m.). No confirmation yet. Maybe someone can shake something loose. It was 50th Ward, 25th precinct.

Do they even arrest people for that sort of thing?

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Sad Swedes and synths

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 05:51 PM

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They have a dumb name and an album (Retrospektiv) with a pretentious, graphic-designy album cover, but Audionom is not, in fact, an IDM band. They're actually a bunch of Swedish dudes who seem to subsist on a strict diet of Krautrock, Joy Division, and terrible depression, which sounds pretty good to me right now, seeing as how it's been months since direct sunlight touched my body and my cabin fever has reached near-psychedelic levels of madness.

Since the band seems to work exclusively in shades of matte black sound, calling any part of the record a "bright point" seems like a contradiction. But the best parts run a wall-of-sound drive lifted from the psychier end of the Krautrock spectrum into the gloomy atmosphere of Closer with a whole bunch of cold-ass synth sounds thrown in, and end up sounding sort of like Georgio Moroder scoring a Bergman film. In my mind I see the band in their rehearsal space finishing up a 20-minute extended jam, sort of spacing out and staring at the floor. One of them, maybe the synth guy, says, "The rock and roll, it does nothing for my sorrow." Then everyone sighs at the same time and they break out the vocoder to see if that will cheer them up.

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Election day dispatch #29: WGN posts bad "results"?

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 05:48 PM

According to (unconfirmed) buzz in the 49th Ward, WGN today posted some bogus election results on its Web site. The errant page has now been taken down, evidently, and WGN has explained it was only a test. Fragments of the story can be found on Craig Gernhardt's blog, especially in the comments.

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Ennio Morricone, now and then

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 05:41 PM

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There was something sweet about Ennio Morricone getting a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars on Sunday night, watching him sit impassively with his wife by his side and Quincy Jones one seat over—wearing one of the ugliest tuxedos ever made—and getting emotional when he gave his acceptance speech in Italian. But there was nothing sweet about the performance of “Knew I Loved You” by Celine Dion—a ballad from Once Upon a Time in America that was given lyrics last year and opens a strange new album called We All Love Ennio Morricone (Sony Classical). The album features a truly bizarre hodge podge of musicians fronting several different orchestras on popular themes written by the maestro over his long career (he’s scored more than 500 films). Among the guests: operatic cheese ball Andrea Bocelli, smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury with the great arranger/keyboardist Eumir Deodato, classical vocalist Renee Fleming, and, oh yeah, Metallica. While the range of talent certainly speaks to Morricone’s broad appeal, the album is kind of a train wreck, albeit one perfectly timed to coincide with the Oscars and the composer’s first ever U.S. concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Morricone is, of course, best known for the spaghetti western scores he created for filmmaker Sergio Leone—movies like For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—that are instantly recognizable thanks to the twangy guitars, sound effects, wah-wah’d brass, and dynamic arrangements. But he’s been more successful scoring a wide range of mainstream films, from The Mission to The Untouchables to Cinema Paradiso, in a more conventional fashion. In 2005 I wrote about a killer collection called Crime and Dissonance of his more outré work (Morricone has scored all kinds of obscure genre flicks in Europe that most of us would know nothing about), but most overlooked in career overviews was his participation in the radical Italian free improvisation ensemble Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, which formed in 1964. Each member was a composer, but their work was all improvised.

Last year the fantastic Italian label Die Schachtel released an elaborate box set—beautifully packaged with 2 CDs, a DVD, and a thick booklet—called Azioni that featured some powerful, rare recordings that showcased the ensemble’s grip on extended technique in the improvisational setting. (They may even predate similar discoveries made in England by guitarist Derek Bailey with the Joseph Holbrooke Trio.) There’s little surprise the general public knows nothing about this phase of Morricone’s career—where he was mostly playing trumpet—because it’s pretty out there. (On the other hand, I don’t know why GDINC aren’t more famous among fans of experimental and improvised music—maybe their academy training cursed them in such eyes.) Conventional elements like melody and fixed rhythms weren’t concerns of the group, who instead explored texture, dynamics, and careful interaction, but if you’re open to this sort of thing I’d say this item is worth its hefty price tag ($58 from this mail-order source). Once you hear it you’ll cringe even more knowing that Morricone would choose to be represented on American TV by a gloppy, overwrought tune sung by Dion.

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Election day dispatch #28: Heating up in the 25th

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 05:33 PM

From reader Giles Morris in the 25th Ward:

5 PM and things are starting to warm up at the polls. The turnout is
low at the precincts I've been to, about 150 out of 460 where I am
now. It's really a two-and-a-half-horse race now. Medrano's folks are
turning out for Morfin, a big help for him in the Taylor corridor and
in Tony Sutter's precinct. Solis is killing Chinatown and Tri-Taylor
as expected. The questions are how many votes will Padilla and Del
Valle pull out, and then a race down the backstretch between Morfin
and the 50 per ent mark for Solis. His people are worried but
present. Morfin's people are hopeful. Medrano's are angry and
determined.

Giles Morris

 

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Election day dispatch #27: Heads up in the 21st

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 05:24 PM

From a reader who calls himself northside Josh:

Heads up in Chicago's 21st Ward. SEIU came out in force and along 
with Leroy Jones's volunteer organization seems to have been all over 
incumbent Howard Brookins.  At 4 PM turnout was runing about 80 percent of 
2003 levels, and there seems to be a real chance than Jones will win 
without a runoff.

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