Friday, January 29, 2010

Flag Friday II

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Without explanation, he gives it “B“, 70/100.

Michael5000: I confess I am not a great fan of the Argentine flag. The baby-blue and white tricolor feels a bit washed out, and the sunshine face -- the "Sun of May," apparently a representation of the Inca sun god Inti -- seems like it would be more at home on an old Jefferson Airplane concert flyer. On the upside, there's no mistaking it for any other flag (Uruguay also uses blue, white, and the Sun of May, but in a totally different configuration). Too, although sunshine face is fussy it is constructed from just two colors, making it replicable from whole cloth by a skillful sewer.

Argentina is what looks to be the exception to the rule: a flag I judge more harshly than Mr. Parsons.

Grade: C


Parsons: Citing "Bad Colours," he gives it “B-“, 65/100.

Michael5000: You can't argue with a tricolor -- it's the very essence of flagginess -- and Armenia's trio of red, blue, and orange are an attractive and upbeat version of the classic design. The red and orange wouldn't be great if they were adjacent, but when separated by a field of blue they are unobjectionable. Furthermore, a 2:1 ratio makes the Armenian flag unusually long and slender, giving it just a hint of distinctiveness. A good flag.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Unhappy with "colonial nonsense" and "too many stars," he gives it “C”, 55/100

Michael5000: By "colonial nonsense," Parsons is refering to the British Union Jack taking up a quarter of the Australian flag's real estate. I see his point, and so do a sizeable minority of Australians.

What bugs me about the Australian flag, though, is that it is mighty difficult to distinguish it from the flag of New Zealand. The whole point of a flag is to create a strong visual distinction between two polities, no? Well, the two major powers of the Southwest Pacific have utterly failed at distinguishing one from the other. This could be seen as a nice, cozy symbolic representation of international friendship, but if I were (like Josh Parsons, incidentally) from one of the countries in question I think I would dislike the implication that they are basically just two peas in the same ANZAC pod.

Too many stars? Arguably. The five on the right form the iconic Southern Cross constellation, and the one on the left is a general symbol of the Australian Federation. They are fussily placed, in three sizes, and have different numbers of points, all of which complicate a flag more than you'd like. I'm throwing in with the Australian minority -- the current flag simply has too much going on.

Grade: C-


Parsons: He calls it "simple," and awards it a “B+”, 75/100

Michael5000: Austria more or less ties with Denmark for the oldest flag still in use, and it's hard not to assign sentimental points just for seniority. And although red and white are far and away the most common flag colors, somehow Austria has managed to keep a monopoly on the horizontal red/white/red tricolor. Easily made, easily distinguished, visible from miles away, and with the most impeccable of pedigrees, Austria's is the ur-flag, a touchstone for all other flags to measure themselves against.

Grade: A


Parsons: Complaining of "bad colours," a "bad shape," and an "eyewatering" quality, he gives it “B-”, 65/100

Michael5000: A strong tricolor with unconventional but handsome colors and two simple white symbols at its center, with a longer-than-usual horizontal access. Armenians and Azerbaijanis can feel good about this, in any event: they both have good flags.

Grade: B+


Parsons: "Yuurgh... awful colours," he writes, "but not quite as bad as Aruba." He assigns a "B-", 65/100

Michael5000: We didn't look at Aruba because, although it's a Caribbean Island, it is a colony -- or shall we say an "autonomous region" -- of the Netherlands. The colors on the Bahamas flag are blue, yellow, and black. It's distinctive and handsome.

Grade: B+

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Library Book Sale CD Trove X

Still reviewing my CD finds from half-price day at the Friends of the Multnomah County Library Annual Booksale.

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies #2 & #4
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra

Tchaikovsky is a strange figure in the pantheon of classical music. If you want to be a real classical music intellectual, you can't afford to take him too seriously. He's a little too clumsy, a little too transparent, a little too heart-on-sleeve. Or, maybe a lot too heart-on-sleeve.

This always seems to stress out the writers of liner notes. They feel compelled to signal that they are in the know about Tchaikovsky's limitations even while they are being paid to praise the product. The notes on this Naxos recording, for instance, begin:
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russian composers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions in its melodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more to Tchaikovsky than this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement because of what sometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.
It's hard to imagine any other musician, of any genre, being treated quite so dismissively in his own marketing materials. It begs the questions: if Tchaikovsky is so superficial and obvious, how come he gets to occupy one of the limited number of spots available for Household Name Composers? It is hard to explain without recourse to a fairly radical theory of his compositions, which is this: most of them sound really cool. They have obvious attractions in their melodies, and rich orchestral coloring, and this, over the years, has continued to attract a great deal of popular attention. They are, in a word, good.

I've been fond of Tchaikovsky's symphonies since I was a little kid, and the Second and Fourth are two of my four favorites. Out of the, um, six. I had recordings of both of them already, but my other recording of the Second isn't very good and the Fourth is worth having two interpretations of. Like most Naxos CDs, this is a first-class recording by a might-as-well-be-first-class orchestra. Amazon has some copies for three bucks and shipping, which is not bad at all. I'm happy as a clam to have got my copy for a buck fifty.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Wednesday Quiz I:9 -- Twentieth Century Art

The Wednesday Quiz -- Season I -- Quiz 9

Twentieth Century Art

The Wednesday Quiz is a test of knowledge and intuition. Looking up answers or asking your buddy is a capital crime. Questions about the rules are answered here.

This week's Quiz is a identification game. For each image,

Name the Artist

There are twelve images here, so they are worth 8 1/3 points apiece. If you can't recall the artist's name, but can give a title or some other relevant information about the piece, you may receive a subjective score of up to five points.













Submit your answers in the comments!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Great Movies: "Vertigo"

Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

Previous Contact: I had seen Vertigo before – I recognized certain scenes after they happened – but didn’t remember it well enough to predict events before they came. I think I have it scrambled up in my head with another Hitchcock film set in San Francisco, because some of the scenes I was waiting for never arrived.

- - - -

I’m puzzled enough about Vertigo’s presence here in the Great Movies list that I’ve looked into the history of its reception. At its release, it got mixed but accurate reviews as a stylish thriller with pacing and plot problems. From the late 1960s on, though, it became a critic’s darling, “one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us” in the words of one dazzled soul. Ebert’s own evaluation is uncharacteristically vague, florid, and divorced from reality:
And the camera circles them hopelessly, like the pinwheel images in Scottie's nightmares, until the shot is about the dizzying futility of our human desires, the impossibility of forcing life to make us happy. This shot, in its psychological, artistic and technical complexity, may be the one time in his entire career that Alfred Hitchcock completely revealed himself, in all of his passion and sadness.
Huh. Well, from where I was sitting, Vertigo is not a Great Movie, nor even an especially strong Hitchcock movie. It starts slowly, with a leisurely portrayal of a relationship that subsequently becomes entirely irrelevant. The development of the central puzzle is interesting and conveys a stylish air of mystery, but also consists of numerous long scenes of people driving around in cars. The back half of the movie is not only implausible on its own terms, but retroactively ruins the mystery of the development section by giving it such a clunky explanation.

To spell out what I mean, I’ll have to employ the following radical spoiler: We learn that Marguerite established her relationship with the protagonist for the sole purpose of luring him to the scene of the crime so he can be an unintentional false witness. This itself is a whopper of a Rube Goldberg machine, completely beyond the pale of criminal planning, in which -- or so it has always been my impression -- less is more.

But it gets worse. The fruition of the plan comes when Gavin takes his wife up to the top of the tower, breaks her neck, and waits for Marguerite to lure John up the stairs. Now: for that to work, Gavin has to act in confidence that Marguerite will be able to get John to (1) figure out the location she is hinting at, (2) decide immediately to drive the 100 miles to get there, while (3) thinking it’s his own idea, and (4) on a very tight timetable. This is beyond preposterous. What if he didn’t know about the place? What if, say, he’d had a dental appointment that day? What if they’d had a flat? What if any of thousands of other perfectly normal things had happened? Then Gavin’s stuck up there in the tower clutching his stiffening wife and wishing he’d staged a simple burglary-gone-wrong like a sensible spouse-murderer.

No, the murder plot is only a overextended contrivance that sets up the final reel of the movie, but here we run into more problems. Ebert praises the interesting psychology at work, but he's off base. For cinematic psychology to be interesting, it has to bear some relation to actual human behavior, and the behavior in the second half of Vertigo is all cartoonishly false. This doesn’t make the movie bad, necessarily – most movies are a little dodgy in their portrayal of how humans really tick – but it makes praising Vertigo as an amazing psychological thriller a bit of a stretch.

Also, the ending is so abrupt that’s it’s unintentionally funny.

Plot: Hoo-boy, let's see. Man gets hired to track old friend’s wife, who turns out to be manifesting odd paranormal symptoms. Man falls for old friend’s loony wife. Old friend’s loony wife dies. Man falls for woman who was pretending to be old friend's loony wife.

Visuals: Very sleek and stylish in the best Alfred Hitchcock mode. Excellent use of slightly too-garish period color film. There’s a trippy dream sequence that has Saul Bass written all over it.

Dialog: Surprisingly little for long stretches of the film, when the protagonist is following various people around in his car. Occasional stretches of fairly blunt exposition, especially in the opening scenes and during the inquest.

Prognosis: Certainly not a Great Movie, but a fun entertainment with a strong first half. Recommended for anybody who likes Hitchcock, San Francisco, Jimmy Stewart, or the style and fashion of the high 1950s.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Some Quiltiness

I showed you the face of this one -- a copy of a Mondrian composition rendered in scrap corduroy -- last summer, after I finished its face. Now it's quilted and I've got the binding on it. It just has a few hours of handwork left.

And here's StormQuilt #10, a heavy utility blanket made out of a bunch of worn-out t-shirts. It's completely done, albeit a bit... you know... ugly.

I decided to see if I could make a one-day blanket on Saturday. I used the same big box of corduroy that the material from the Mondrian and SQ#11 is from. I couldn't quite finish it, but it only needs a few more hours' work now.

Mrs5000 bought the big box of flannel for a buck at a yard sale, and there's still at least one more quilt's worth left. At 25 cents per blanket, it's a pretty good price for fabric.

Then, I completely finished this one before taking a terrible fuzzy picture of it. It was kind of an experiment; I bought the same set of six fabrics as frequent L&TM5K commenter Jennifer, with the idea that we would both put a quilt together and see how similar or dissimilar they ended up.

Clearly, we are peas in a pod:

Strangely, I'm not the only one to have finished up a quilt in Castle5000 lately! Honorable Vice-Dork Emeritus Rebel finished this quilt while she was staying with us over the holidays. It's awesome.

Also on the Creative Front...

Many of you will remember Phineas, who was a regular around these parts a while back and a major player in the Monday and Thursday Quizzes. He's deeply into the food thing these days, and writing about his culinary adventures at And to keep things really interesting, he's in the process of trying out for some kind of cooking-related reality television show. We'll keep you informed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Reading List: "The Moral Animal"

Robert Wright
The Moral Animal

Here's the problem with evolutionary psychology: its style of reasoning is all what I believe the brainy types call ex post facto. That is, practitioners take a look at features or patterns of human behavior today, then ponder about why that kind of activity might have been advantageous in "the evolutionary environment," back when we were out there gathering and scavenging and occasionally trying to take down one of our fellow large mammals. Explanations tend to be extremely tidy, and awfully difficult to test.

For all that, many of the ideas of evolutionary psychology seem to have a startling degree of explanatory power. Probably the best-known example regards the widely cross-cultural sexual behavior of men and women. Men's brains, or bodies, or genes, "want" them to sleep with essentially any woman who moves, we are told, because this is in the best interest of pushing his genetic material forward. Women's brains, on the other hand, "want" them to snag and secure a mate who is likely to stick around and help gather food, run off predators, and do the dishes. Since these were successful reproductive strategies back in the day, the logic goes, more humans who embodied these characteristics survived to spawn the next generation.

Suspiciously neat and tidy? You bet! Able to explain a nearly universal observation about human behavior in a logical and intuitively attractive fashion? Absolutely! A tricky business, this evolutionary psychology.

The Human Condition

Robert Wright's 1994 synopsis of what was at the time still a relatively new academic discipline is beautifully written, balancing provocative arguments with careful reasoning and considerable erudition. He covers, for instance, the pros and cons of polygamy, and polygamy emerges seeming like a pretty reasonable option. The human drive to seek status, our frequent tendency to discount and reject strangers, and our peculiar habit of developing friendships are all traced to the possible genetic advantage that they would confer in the long eons of prehistory.

Some readers might be disconcerted by evolutionary psychology's apparent reduction of all human motivation and morality to pure biological self-interest. But this is hardly a new concept. Hobbes blew my mind all the way back in college, after all, with a vigorous argument that whatsoever is the object of any man's appetite or desire, that is it which he for his part calleth good; and the object of his hate and aversion, evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable. Oh, and he wrote that in 1651. I bet he wasn't the first cynic to come down the path, either.

But Wright's look at the human condition is less of a bummer than it could be, anyway. What saves us -- or could save us -- is the mechanism of "love," a genetic tic that confers a reproductive advantage by aiding the survival of the offspring and close relatives of those who possess it. Because kin groups united by love in the evolutionary environment tended to succeed at the expense of every-primate-for-itself kin groups, we have inherited the capacity to feel fond and protective of each other. Now, living in (basically) the post-evolutionary environment, we can more or less choose to extend our capacity of love to people who don't share our genetic material -- friends, a community, a nation, even a stranger on the other side of the world. Ultimately, Wright's prescription for the human condition is much the same of that in Ozzie in his epic rock anthem Crazy Train: "Maybe it's not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate."

There is also some business about whether we possess free will or are just the expressions of a mechanistic brain chemistry. The answer, if I read it right, is that we are probably mechanistic, but it's important not to act like you think so.

The Darwinian Condition

The Moral Animal applies each of its... findings? insights? speculations? the case study of a single human being. That human: Charles Darwin. So, a chapter about the evolutionary psychology of courtship will be followed by a chapter about Darwin's courtship, and how it did or didn't seem to embody evolutionary psychological principles. This structure is pretty weird, to say the least, but in practice it is not nearly as clunky as you might expect. The case-study aspect is actually kind of interesting, and Darwin left a massive-enough paper trail that there's plenty of documentary evidence of his thinking. Plus, the continuous weaving of the modern perspective with Darwin's own development of his ideas points out areas where he anticipated ideas that wouldn't be fully developed for more than a century, where he went off on tangents that have since been discredited, and where he seems to have been afraid to tread.

My only complaint about this book is that it is seventeen years old. It is written very much as a dispatch from a new and exciting area of science, and I am sure that much has happened in the interim. Are Wright's ideas now passé? Have they been bolstered and supplemented by lots of exciting new research? I dunno. Meanwhile, a few details he cites in support of his arguments, in particular relating to modern hunter-gather societies and to neurochemistry, are so out of date that even a casual reader dude like myself can flag them. I imagine that someone has written a newer synthesis of the field. I just hope that they wrote it half as gracefully and entertainingly as Wright wrote The Moral Animal.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yes, I'm Showing You More Pictures of My Bathroom

More compulsive readers might recall that Mrs.5000 and I spent most of Thanksgiving Week putting our shoulders to the wheel of our years-old bathroom remodel project. We made much progress -- but did not quite make it to the finish line.

So January 9th found our salle des bains in preparation for the final push.

Through the ensuing weekend we worked!

Creating a floor where before there had been but, um, a floor!

We took the next Wednesday off of work!

We celebrated the Martin Luther King weekend!

And on Monday, January 18, 2010, we declared the project [basically] finished. Which is to say, there's still a lot of little nit-picky stuff to do, but it is fully functional as a rather nice bathroom, as long as you aren't finicky about doorknobs.

If you want a good before-and-after effect, these pictures correspond with views I, III, and VI in this post and this post.

Tours available by appointment only.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Miscellany

The County Map in the Digital Age

At long last, the fancy digital version of my county map is ready for show.

The key is like so:
Brown: counties I had been in up to my departure to graduate school at the University of Kansas.
Purple: counties I went to during the five years I lived in Lawrence, Kansas.
Red: counties I went to during the three years I lived in Emporia, Kansas.
Blue: counties I went to during the four years between returning to the City of Roses and my 2003 marriage to Mrs.5000.
Green: counties I went to between our [UPDATE: ongoing] marriage and the end of the aughts.
My next county will be a new color. Where it will be, and what color it will be -- only time will tell.

Update your Style Book

I've been trying for years to keep "michael5000" uncapitalized, except that I never know what to do at the beginning of sentences or when writing out the title of the blog. Therefore, from now on, "Michael5000" will follow the usual conventions of proper names -- despite that it represents a persona, not a person per se -- and be capitalized at all times. I knew you would want to know.

Most Desperate Phish Ever

Let's Try This Biodegradable Thing Again

Mrs.5000 received some Australian footwear for Christmas. This was part of the packaging.

"This bag will decompose within 3 months of disposal," it says.

Well, I've been hurt before. I'm putting this into the CompostHeap5000, and we'll see what happens. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Wednesday Quiz I:8 -- Human Anatomy

The Wednesday Quiz -- Season I -- Quiz 8

Human Anatomy

The Wednesday Quiz is a test of knowledge and intuition. Looking up answers or asking your buddy is unpatriotic. Questions about the rules are answered here.

This week's puzzle is about your innards. Identify them properly!

Human Anatomy

1. In the above diagram, what bone structure does the blue arrow point to?

2. What bone is the green arrow pointing at?

3. What bone is in the blue oval?

4. The green arrow at the upper left is pointing to what?

5. The black arrow is pointing at what?

6. The gold arrow at the lower right is pointing to the beginning of what?

7. The big tube pointed at by both of the gold arrows is the what?

8. The two pointed at by the blue arrows are the what?

9. The brownish bits are called what?

10. The green, blue, and red bits are called what?

Submit your answers in the comments!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Great Movies: "Star Wars"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Star Wars
George Lucas, 1977

Previous Contact: I first saw Star Wars in its original release, as a nine year old boy. I was entranced. Upon returning home, I immediately asked for permission to see it again the next day. I may have eked out a third watching during the original release, and I'm sure I would have gone to see it every night given the option.

Also, I don't think it is too revealing to mention here that the character of Princess Leia was the subject of my conscious sexual awakening. This is after all true of every heterosexual American male born within a year either side of me.

My most recent viewing was during its 1997 20th Anniversary re-release. That time around, it seemed mostly pretty dumb.

- - - - -

A while ago somebody saw Star Wars (now rather fatuously, I note, marketed as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) coming up on the Great Movies list and objected that its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, is the better movie. Well, maybe. I personally find the sequel a more interesting film. But in terms of sheer cultural impact, not to mention impact on subsequent movie making -- both on how movies are made and on what kind of movies get made -- the original Star Wars is by far the "greater" of the two. Indeed, it is easily the "greatest" movie made in my lifetime. A case could be made, I think, that it packed and packs more cultural significance than all the other movies made in my lifetime put together. If ever there was a Great Movie, Star Wars is a Great Movie. So it's too bad that it kind of sucks.

For it really does kind of suck. I mean, sure: the technical effects, the editing, the music, Sir Alec Guiness -- all terrific. The costume design, the set design -- impeccable. Clearly, it was an incredibly successful entertainment, and I'd be a fool to deny that. But it is also a profoundly stupid movie, and -- here's the important point -- it didn't need to be. It could have been massively entertaining and smart, but George Lucas was either unwilling or incapable of making it so. He went the low road instead. And given the movie's incredible and enduring cultural power, that's kind of tragic.

Ways That Star Wars Sucks

1. It is politically reactionary. In the first sentence of the famous opening titles, we are told that there is an "evil galactic empire" and a virtuous rebel army. Says who? I bet some people in the galactic empire think that the men and women of their armed forces are heroes protecting the established order against rebel terrorists. And yes, I noticed that the Death Star is used to make a statement by blowing up a civilian planet -- in much the same way that, say, the Allied air forces firebombed German cities during the Second World War -- but beyond that, we aren't given any reason to support one side over the other. We are just told to. And this, not to put too fine a point on it, reeks of fascism.

2. The plot hinges on an "armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet." Big whup. Once you're in space, you can drop a big rock -- say, half a kilometer across -- and effectively destroy an entire planet. For a trillionth the cost of the Death Star, the Empire could strap engines onto small asteroids and take out entire planets by the score. Conversely, the Death Star's allegedly critical design flaw -- that its "fusion core" has a two meter vent on the outside surface -- is completely irrelevant. It is every bit as vulnerable as a planet, or anything else in space, to having a big rock thrown at it, except that since it's pressurized the rock wouldn't have to be so big. Therefore, the entire premise of the movie is ridiculous. Call me crazy, but I think this takes a little something away from the viewing experience.

3. Luke Skywalker's long day. He wakes up in the morning to find one of his new robots missing. He goes looking for it, gets mugged, gets rescued by a local oddball, returns home to find that the only family he has ever known has been killed, travels with the oddball to the big city for the first time in his life, then heads into space, rescues a princess from the Death Star, and returns her to her rebel base. This is all explicitly shown as continuous action -- it's one day of his life. When he discovers the charred skeletal remains of his aunt and uncle, he seems a little saddened; when Ben Kenobi, whom he has known for perhaps twelve hours, vanishes mysteriously in a cloud of cloak, he acts as though he has lost the most important person in his life. A few scenes later, asked about the robot R2D2, he will exclaim "that little 'droid and I have been through a lot together." This is not true. He bought that little 'droid yesterday afternoon, and even since then they've spent very little time in the same room with each other.

4. Mark Hamill. He had perhaps the most visible role of all time, and yet it did not launch a successful acting career. And boy, you can sure see why.

5. A million little inanities:
  • Your ship has been swallowed within another ship thousands of times its size. A boarding party enters, and you line up to shoot at them. What the hell for? If you want to make a significant sacrifice, blow your own ship up and cause some damage. Otherwise, surrender. Resistance is, quite literally, useless.
  • Luke's little jalopy has what is clearly a jet intake mounted immediately behind his head. Yet it does not rip his head off of his shoulders and spray a plume of red foam out behind the vehicle, as one would expect.
  • Kenobi points to damage on a desert vehicle and notes "only Imperial storm troopers are so precise." For the rest of the movie, no Imperial storm trooper can hit the broad side of a barn.
  • The stupidest alien ever born holds Han Solo at gunpoint, but then allows him to fish around under the table, draw his weapon, and fire. Seriously? That's a mistake a bounty hunter is going to make?
  • A Storm Trooper tells his men to "load your weapons" as they trot into action. None of them respond to this command, which kind of makes sense, because their "blasters" clearly aren't a kind of weapon that one would "load" with something.
  • Spaceships make noise. Specifically, they sound almost exactly like jet airplanes.
  • At the beginning of the movie, the robots are allowed to get away because the pod they are in is remotely scanned and no "life signs" are found. When the Millennium Falcon is sucked into the Death Star, four large mammals are able to hide in the closet.
  • Luke Skywalker, whose sole credential is that he managed an inept but extravagantly lucky rescue of the Princess earlier in the day, is given a military spacecraft to pilot in the assault on the Death Star. Uh-huh. This is only slightly more far-fetched than the possibility that you, dear reader, might be allowed to volunteer later today to fly a combat sortie off of an aircraft carrier. Hell, I'm sure you could handle it. You know how to drive, after all.
  • When all three survivors of the attack on the Death Star return to base, everyone is exuberant and joyful -- until they notice that a robot has sustained temporary damage.
6. Things that may just be personal annoyances:
  • C3PO
  • The idea that the Death Star followed the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace. This is no more unreasonable than anything else going through hyperspace, I suppose, but it just kind of feels wrong for something the size of "a small moon" to be that nimble.
  • Darth Vader's piloting skillz. What is that he's doing when he's flying his personal spacecraft? He constantly looks like he's opening a hip flask. Maybe flying makes him nervous.
  • From having seen the sequels, we know that when Vader's troops kill Luke's uncle, they are in fact killing their commander's brother. Now clearly Darth isn't above a little casual fratricide, but it is not like him to let the event pass without some ceremonial gloating.
  • I have always found the Leni Reifenstahl-style award ceremony that concludes the movie kind of embarrassing to watch. It's a surprisingly leaden ending for a movie that, despite all of the above, certainly manages to keep a strong sense of momentum right up through its penultimate scene.

Plot: Naive farm boy gets embroiled in an epic geopolitical struggle about which he could not possibly have any real understanding. After a few minutes' training with an oddball mystic, he pilots a small, unfamiliar spacecraft to destroy the most sophisticated piece of military technology ever created.

Visuals: Nothing like Star Wars had ever been seen before. To say that the visuals were amazing is an understatement. It almost goes without saying that my imagination and fantasy life have been deeply etched by the visual world of Star Wars, and that yours have too.

Dialog: With the exception of the action that takes place within the Death Star, easily the best stretch of the movie, the script is really pretty wooden. Obviously this didn't hurt the movie's impact, but a little wit or freshness of writing wouldn't have killed anybody. Even Harrison Ford, a very talented actor, is not always able to make his lines work. Sir Alec Guiness does manage to make all of his lines work, and to watch him do so is a fairly awesome demonstration of the actor's craft.

Prognosis: Mandatory for cultural literacy, of course, and a required stop on the History of Film grand tour. As an entertainment, highly recommended for nine year old boys.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Mrs.5000 Report

You probably already noticed this in your own copy of the most recent Bound and Lettered....

...but Mrs.5000's piece A Short Course in Recollection is the lead image in the article on the nationally touring "Marking Time" Exhibit.

The exhibit is currently in Seattle, and will continue on to Salt Lake (March and April) and then such L&T reader-friendly cities as Denver (May and June), Cincinnati (July and August), and Easton PA (September and October).

But is Mrs.5000 resting on her laurels? Not likely. Even as I type, she's down in her subterranean bookarts lair, working on a nine-"page" trilogy that looks something like this:

I think Mrs.5000 is amazing. She gets all mad at me when I say she's better than Joseph Cornell, but she totally is.