Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stop! Oh, you guys are too kind!


"I hope I'm not being too forward, but do you mind if I chew on your butt?" Weird Al croons to a clearly enthused spectator.

The Grammy-winning musical satirist appeared at the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo. on Monday night to entertain a few thousand audience members in the sticky evening heat.

I attended this event with my brother-in-law, an avid Weird Al fan, and was pleasantly surprised by the performer's energy and wit as he performed nearly nonstop for two and a half hours. When I was younger, a couple of Weird Al CDs had circulated through the players of my household--the ones featuring sweet tracks like "Dare To Be Stupid," "Fat," and "Eat It." In recent times I've lost touch with Al's exploits, so the blast from the past was pretty entertaining.

Further research also reveals that Weird Al has directed music videos for various artists including Ben Folds and, most surprisingly, Hanson. Maybe they were wooed by the hair.

Attending this concert got me thinking about about the "weird" tradition of the encore. According to Wikipedia, "the encore is an additional extra performance of a musical piece at the end of the regular concert, which is not listed in the event setlist. In most circumstances it has become quite standard for most rock and pop groups or artists to give an encore performance, especially in large setting such as stadium performances."

While I love the idea of the encore, I do wonder about the impact of the practice becoming so standard. At one point in time, it apparently used to be a novelty--a special occurrence, called for after a sensational performance. Additionally, at its heart, the encore is a way for the performer to thank an especially appreciative audience. Now, it's almost expected (by both the performers and the audience), and I think that it's possible that some of its original uniqueness has been lost. 

(One popular performer who was known for his consistent refusal to perform an encore was Elvis. The immortalized tag line "Elvis has left the building" was originally conceived as a way to inform the audience that the star would not be returning to the stage.)

In order to combat the expectedness of the encore, audiences will sometimes applaud for a really extended period of time, at which point the artist might return for an impromptu encore. I think this is more at the heart of the matter, but it's interesting that the original idea of the encore has basically been incorporated into the standard performance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

En garde!

Fencing. What a sport!

I was digging through the attic before moving, and I came across a fencing foil that my brother
purchased at a garage sale some years ago. As usual, this piece of equipment found itself in my hands long after he had finished with it.

I found it, antique and rusty, with a worn inscription on its thin, bendy blade
that read, "Toledo." The most adventurous of swashbuckling tales (for instance, The Walking Drum by Louis L'amour) claim that only the best blades are made of Toledo steel, and I felt an excited thrill.

What would this foil say if it could speak? What harrowing tales would it tell? What knowledge would it impart? Was it wielded by a clumsy, novice fencer, or did a seasoned veteran harness its power? What were its greatest successes and worst failures? What would it say about the in-between times--the times in spent rusting in the attic, as it had in mine? After we have parted ways, how will its story continue?

Come to find out, there's a fencing club nearby, so as intrigued as I am about the possibilities, I've decided to check it out. It seems like a pretty classy hobby and a great way to become and stay fit. Tune in to the fencing competition of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing.

(CREDIT--This fencing-inspired fashion shoot was captured by Rasmus Mogensen.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Everybody comma on!

I can say it: I'm into commas.

It hasn't always been this way. In fact, it had a gradual beginning, just like most things of its kind. I started by dabbling.

"Oh, it's okay; just use it this once!" I thought to myself. But, of course, it didn't stop there.

The first time wasn't so bad; there wasn't anything wrong with using just one, so why not use two this time? By then, was already too late. I had begun the addict's justification.

Then, pretty soon, I began incorporating them all the time, and my usage became irrational, out of control. Commas were popping up everywhere, I was even doing comma splices just to feel anything.

When I finally realized how out of proportion things had become, I scaled our affair back to the other extreme. Total overcompensation. Before long I wouldn't I would even have anything to do with them. Even if they were absolutely definitely needed I wouldn't use them. My sentences became jumbled hard to understand messes pieced together with detailed descriptive image-conjuring adjectives without separation.

Now I'm taking my life back from the two extremes, trying to strike a satisfactory balance, and trying to rekindle a healthy relationship with commas.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Want to see a pencil disappear?

The Dark Knight. Sigh. Spectacular.

Shockingly pertinent and applicable to humanity, it raises troubling questions about good and evil, truth, hope and the life decisions we make.

The Nolan brothers offer a fresh interpretation of a hitherto playful comic book series whose main audience used to be children and so-called nerds. In this, possibly the best film of the year, the story and its characters toy with your heart while challenging you to consider some of the heavier questions of life.

There's meat to this movie; it's challenging. It's riveting, an emotional roller-coaster, and constant climatic tension. Usually, that's not such a good thing, but this time it's different. The tension between superhero good-versus-evil has never been so gripping. 

And in the middle of it all are difficult philosophical questions. Is it right to put the hope of an entire city in one man--a white knight? If so, whose life do you choose to save: his, or the woman you love? If faced with the choice, is it right for a "good" group of people to kill a "bad" group of people in order to preserve their own lives? Is there ever a time when concealing the truth for the greater good is the right choice?

This is not a light movie, but it's not supposed to be.


Unfortunately, however, there are some esteemed critics that don't share these sentiments.
You may emerge more exhausted than elated. Nolan wants to prove that a superhero movie needn't be disposable, effects-ridden junk food, and you have to admire his ambition. But this is Batman, not "Hamlet." Call me shallow, but I wish it were a little more fun.
Warner Bros. has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton’s original conception for “Batman” (1989), completing the job of coarsening the material into hyperviolent summer action spectacle. Yet “The Dark Knight” is hardly routine—it has a kicky sadism in scene after scene, which keeps you on edge and sends you out onto the street with post-movie stress disorder.
I'm sitting here watching Batman--the one that Tim Burton made in 1989. Of course the Nolan brothers have drained the comedy. There's little about this interpretation of Batman that is meant to be comedic, and that's part of the beauty of it.

It's possible that I've just gotten fat off on the rich visual diet of today's cinema and can't appreciate the seemingly sophomoric approach Burton's Batman takes. Or maybe it's just not my style.

Denby does raise some good points about the action sequences--they could have been more artfully done--but he and The Dark Knight's other detractors miss the mark by not realizing the greater impact of the film. It's not meant to be a weightless action-only flick like Wanted. Instead, it tries (and achieves) a relevant commentary on deeper matters of life.

And Maggie Gyllenhaal! The look on her face and the composure she displays during that scene is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. You actually feel something walking out of this movie. But it's something less like Denby's "post-movie stress disorder" and more like a heightened sense of the highs and lows of humanity.

Some negative criticism has been directed at Christian Bale's acting as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Unfortunately for Bale, this was less because of his any deficiency of his own and more because of the late Heath Ledger's vast superiority.

He is a chaotic demon who can't stop tonguing his carved-on leer. He wields a chilly voice--modeled after ventriloquist dummies--that stealthily infiltrates your soul. But oddly, when he isn't on screen, you almost miss him. He is nihilism followed out to its extreme extent. He is likely the most wicked villain you've ever witnessed.

One thing that was interesting about Burton's version is that the fear created by Nicholson's Joker relies on a senseless public acting irrationally. Stay out of his way, and you'll avoid harm. Ledger's Joker, on the other hand, is truly frightening. If he wants to, he'll find you.

This was undeniably Ledger's magnum opus, and it's a shame that he left so soon.

Perhaps this belies a lack of understanding of the acting process, but it's difficult to pin the responsibility for Ledger's demise on the character he played. It is an undeniably ferocious, depraved character, and Ledger certainly becomes him. But would it be fair to say that the Joker killed Heath Ledger?

Flitting through this 10-ton expressionist murk is a diseased butterfly with stringy hair and a maniacal giggle. Played by a dead actor, he's the most alive thing here.