Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Della Quercia v. Raeburn!

Jacopo Della Quercia
1374 - 1438


Sir Henry Raeburn
1756 - 1823


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, January 29, 2016

At the Movies: Footnote

At the Movies with Michael5000

Hearat Shulayim
Joseph Cedar, 2011.

imbd: 7.1
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90% Fresh

Footnote is one of the funniest and most touching movies I’ve seen since I started reviewing movies. I want to say that right off, because it might also be a bit of a tough sell for your movie night. This is, after all, the story of an extremely competitive father and son, both Talmud scholars, who have mutually hostile approaches to scholarship and a shared craving for recognition by the intellectual establishment. And it’s great. It’s funny not like a joke is funny, but like your troubles are funny on the days you’re able to laugh at them. It’s touching not because the father and son at the center of the story are able to resolve their estrangement, but because their failure to connect makes them so damn human.

The story told in the movie is simultaneously ludicrous and all too plausible. I’m not going to tell you any more about it here, for two reasons. First, from an outline of the plot, you would not think that this movie would be watchable, let alone entertaining. And second, I don’t want to spoil the fun: this is a film best watched not knowing where it’s going to end up. Mind you, part of where it’s going to end up is “unresolved,” too such an extent that Mrs.5000 and I initially howled at the screen in protest when the credits rolled. The more we thought about it, though, the more we realized that the film ended at the right point, indeed at the point where it absolutely had to end.

The film begins with the son being received into a prestigious academy of sciences and humanities. We see the father and son sitting together as the son is introduced. But as he mounts the stage and begins a speech filled with praise of his father, the camera stays on the older man, watching his obvious discomfort and envy. It is a very long scene, acted almost entirely with facial expression, but when it is over we have already begun to understand the mutual resentment that these two men are trapped in.

This kind of deft, unorthodox framing is a big part of what makes this film work so well. Another example appears in a scene where a young reporter is interviewing the father, who is anything but media savvy. The reporter, who is a lovely young woman, begins to sense the depth of animosity that her subject has for his son’s research, and we watch her predatory journalist’s instincts kick in. As she asks a series of questions inviting the naïve older man to talk trash about his son’s research, the camera pulls in so close to her that her features take on a distinctly devilish aspect. Instilling a distinct sense of menace into the scene, it’s the kind of directorial trick that works whether you notice it or not.

In addition to visual flare, Footnote has a great original soundtrack and virtuoso performances by its two leads, Shlomo Bar’aba as the father, wonderfully curmudgeonly in a performance of few words that is carried almost entirely by body language, and Lior Ashkenazi as the son, charming, exasperated, and insecure, who seldom stops talking long enough to take a breath.

This is such a terrific movie. You should watch it! Maybe you’d enjoy it as much as I did!

Michael5000's imdb rating: 9.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Morandi v. Léger!

Giorgio Morandi
1890 - 1964

Lost to Gustave Moreau in Round 1.
Squeaked by Giovanni Battista Moroni in First Round Elimination by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955

Tied with Frederic Leighton in his First Round debut, also in July 2014.
Shellacked Sir Thomas Lawrence in his second shot at Round 1.
Blown out by French Impressionist Claude Monet in Round 2.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Wednesday Post

Exploring the Evergreen State, Part III
Mt. Rainier, Calif.

On the third week of our tour of the state of Washington, we're heading up from Tacoma to beautiful Mt. Rainier National Park.  At least, I hear it's beautiful.  It's only a few hours away from the City of Roses, but I've only been there once, a long time ago.  Maybe we'll hear more about it from these postcards!

Peaceful and tranquil Ohop Valley guarded by majestic Mt. Rainier.  A view no tourist will want to miss.

Posted: August 10, 1971

Dear Aunt C,

I'm spending a few days visiting a friend who lives in Washington (State) near Tacoma, and last night we had a wonderful view of Mt. Rainier.  In fact she lives near enough that we could drive up to the Lodge for dinner, see alpine glaciers and some remaining patches of snow.  It was great!

Best love, NCO


Between the icy fingers of the glaciers lie natural gardens of wild flowers, in which the White Heather blooms profusely.  There are 364 varieties of wild flowers some of which thrust their heads through the snow in June.

Posted: April 14, 1939

Dear June

Glad to hear from you.  hope you are well.  I feel so much better having lovely weather.  some of my flowers are up.  I all so had a nice Easter. 
with love, Ethel

A [unintelligible] of the hundreds of species of wildflowers that abound in Paradise Valley in Mount Rainier National Park.

Posted: August 3, 1954

Mt. Rainier, Calif.

Having a picnic up here in the snow.  Wish you were here,

Love, Mother.


Aug 28, 1936,
Dear Miss Searles,

The is the place to get and keep cool.  I can shiver here most any time.  I'm having a grand time.  Hope you are feeling better.

Grace Pratt


Mt. Rainier, with an altitude of 14,408 ft., is the second highest mountain peak in the United Sates.   From the summit of this extinct volcano a gorgeous panorama of lakes, streams, and wooded trails can be seen.

Dear Friend:  Thanks for the nice card. Thanks very much for the remembrance.

The hands are a little better but none too good.

I hope both of you are in good health, we are fairly at present.

Tell Charles Hello for me until I can get to see you both again.  Answer soon,

John Opuk
4049 Front Blvd 
E. St. Louis, Ill.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Picasso v. Piero di Cosimo!

Pablo Picasso
1881 - 1973

Beat Piero della Francesca easily in Round 1.

Piero di Cosimo
1461ish - 1521

Skunked Pietro da Cortona in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1210s

Niece #4 feels that The Monday Quiz is rather too difficult, and it's true that I haven't really tailored the thing to eighth grade students.  On the other hand, if you are Niece #4, keep checking out the questions.  It will be a fine day when you answer your first "Through History with The Monday Quiz" question.

1. In 1211, a Jin Chinese army was outmaneuvered and slaughtered at the Battle of the Badger Mouth. Following the battle, the general of the army retreated to Beijing and assassinated the Emperor. Shortly thereafter, the city was put under a siege that would last for four years, cause incalculable human misery and not a little cannibalism, and end in humiliating surrender. What invading army brought such unhappiness to the Jin state?

2. With the help of the newly converted local tribes of Livs and Latgalians, Christian warriors of the the Livonian Crusades initiated raids into Sakala and Ugaunia in the early years of the decade. “War parties of the different sides [also] rampaged through Livonia and Latgalia." Where was all of this happening, in modern terms?

3. On July 16, 1212, Almohad troops were decisively beaten at the Battle of Navas de Tolosa. This was the beginning for the end of the Almohad Empire, and a key moment in the long process of _________________.

4. Also in 1212, a French shepherd boy had a vision of Jesus and gathered 30,000 children with a plan to recapturing Jerusalem. Except, they all ended up being sold as slaves. Except, it probably never really happened. But it’s a well-known historical story! What do we call this supposed event?

5. The Ten Foot Square Hut, written in 1212, depicts the Buddhist concept of impermanence through the description of various disasters such as earthquake, famine, whirlwind and conflagration that befall the people of the capital city. The opening sentence:
The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.
In what country do school students still read this set of essays?

Accidental Extra Question #5. On January 18, 1213, Tamar the Great died after a prosperous 24-year reign during which the Kingdom of Georgia reached the apex of its cultural and political power. Canonized as the Holy Righteous King Tamar by the Georgian Orthodox Church, Tamar remains an important symbolic figure in Georgian history and culture. Having said all that, what makes Tamar a little… different from most historical kings?

6 & 7. Here are four pretty things made in or about the decade of the 1210s. For a half mark apiece, speculate in a rational manner about what culture produced each of them.

8. During Easter week of 1215, English aristocrats assembled a small army near London and invited King John to join them in a free and frank dialogue about taxation policy. On June 15th, the resulting document was signed at a meadow called Runnymede. Name that document!

9. The Khwarazmian dynasty had ruled modern Iran and Central Asia for a couple of centuries, but came under aggressive attack at the end of the 1210s. Some of the most prosperous cities in the world were not only sacked, but their populations put to the sword:
The people of Samarkand were ordered to evacuate and assemble in a plain outside the city, where they were killed and pyramids of severed heads raised as the symbol of… victory.

The Persian scholar Juvayni states that 50,000… soldiers were given the task of executing twenty-four citizens [of the city of Urgench] each, which would mean that 1.2 million people were killed.

Who would do such a thing?

10. In 1219, the city of Al Mansurah, shown here, was founded. Where?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1200s

1. Riga is the capital of Latvia.
2. The Fourth Crusade attacked Zadar to either capture it or eliminate it as a rival for Venice, because they hadn't brought enough money to pay Venice for the ships they needed.
3. The Fourth Crusade, an undertaking that had a lot of trouble with "mission creep," murdered, raped, looted, and destroyed in Constantinople.
4. Uniting the peoples of the Mongolian Plains was the charismatic young Genghis Khan.
5. The Mamluks -- these Mamluks, anyway -- took charge of Northern India.
6. The Chinese capital, largest city in the world, big fire: Hangzhou.
7. The cloth merchant's son going through a fervent religious phase: St. Francis of Assisi
8. Building plots were sold on London Bridge.  Very picturesque, especially on days where there were relatively few heads on spikes.
9. The goal of the Albigensian Crusaders was to stamp out Catharism, and if that extended the power of the French state southward into Provence, they were probably OK with that too.
10. The university near Ely: Cambridge.

I'm going to give top honors to Morgan and pfly, at basically nine apiece.Well done all around!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Modigliani v. Moholy-Nagy!

Amedeo Modigliani
1884 - 1920
Italian; worked in France

Tied with Paula Modersohn-Becker in his first try at Round One.


László Moholy-Nagy
1895 - 1946
Hungarian; worked in Germany and U.S.

Tied with Piet Mondrian in his first try at Round One.


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, January 22, 2016

At the Movies: Tangerines

At the Movies with Michael5000

Zaza Urushadze, 2013.

imbd: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 85% Fresh

So here’s something kind of interesting: apparently throughout the twentieth century there were little colonies of Estonian farmers in the Caucasus. When civil wars started breaking out after the end of the Soviet era, most of these folks high-tailed it out of there, leaving abandoned villages behind them. How do I know about all this? Easy -- it’s explained in the opening credits of Tangerines, a somber but engrossing Estonian-Georgian joint production.

The movie takes place in one of these abandoned settlements. Two Estonian guys have stayed behind. One, Magnus, is a dim but affable farmer who just wants to get his bumper crop of tangerines off the trees and to market before making for Estonia. His friend Ivo, the film’s central character, is an older and wiser man who is sticking around for more mysterious (although, it must be said, eminently guessable) reasons. Their exposed isolation makes them extremely vulnerable, and it doesn’t make things any easier when a running battle leaves two opposing soldiers badly wounded at their doorsteps. Being decent guys, they try to save both men from their wounds, and then from each other, and ultimately, I suppose, from war itself. As you would expect in real life, the results are mixed.

Tangerines is something of a closed-room drama about four men, and only four men, in an unusual and dangerous situation. Aside from them, there are only a country doctor, occasional passing soldiers, and a picture of a young woman. The setting – village, houses, tangerine orchard – are elegantly simple, modest places that are filmed sympathetically, so we can see how important they are to the people who live in them.

Prognosis:Tangerines' impassioned message and the strong work of a solid cast,” says the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, “more than make up for the movie's flawed narrative and uneven structure.” I agree with the bit about the solid cast. Otherwise, I’d say that a strong structure and well-paced development keep the film from being buried by an impassioned message. Fortunately, what we have here is not a message but an intelligent, effective story.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Moore v. Morisot!

Henry Moore
1898 - 1986

Lost badly to Claude Monet in Round 1.
Beat portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence in First Round Elimination.

Berthe Morisot
1841 - 1895

Defeated Giovanni Battista Moroni in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
Lost to Gustave Moreau in Round 2 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Wednesday Post

Greetings from 5000 Miles!
The Avatar, just to be clear, has not run 5000 miles.

We interrupt our tour of Washington for this important update from Central Missouri!

I reached 5000 miles on Monday!  5000.83, to be exact.

What that means is, I've logged 5000 miles since I started keeping track in August 2009.  I had flirted with running off and on for eight or nine years at that point, and figured "hey, I like data.  Maybe keeping a spreadsheet would be a good incentive to track my mileage."  It has worked like gangbusters.

I didn't really notice the "5000 for Michael5000" thing until Mrs. pointed it out.  That has to be a post, she exclaimed, and sure, absolutely.  So we've got a postcard here from Marshall, Missouri, where the Avatar was hanging out the day before the big 5K happened.  The Avatar, just to be clear, has not run 5000 miles.  He came into being long after the spreadsheets did.  He has only run 2880.91 miles.

Since tracking my running is a jolly sort of obsessive-compulsive hobby that, as a side benefit, keeps me from ballooning up to 370 pounds, I've decided to keep a small, EXTREMELY niche-audience blog just for yapping about it:  Feel absolutely no compulsion to look at it.  (Or on the other hand, if you share my enthusiasm for quantifying your physical fitness or other deeds of note, let me know and you can post to it too.  It could be, like, a numbers-driven mutual admiration society.)

We'll still want to check in with the Avatar here from time to time, of course, especially when he visits an art museum or sends in postcards.  In a few months, actually, I expect to take a trip where I will be able to track him down and see how he's doing.  Who knows!  Maybe I'll even go for a run with him.

Downtown Marshall, Missouri is still there.  Marshall has lost a lost of downtown buildings, but the church at the bend in Arrow Street (it's a curious thing about modern cities, that their streets are more permanent than are their buildings) is altered but recognizable, and the building just to the left of it is almost completely unchanged from this distance.  Country Floral Keepsakes, on the right, still describes itself as being "on the South Side of the Square."