Monday, February 29, 2016

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1220s

It's been a few weeks since the last Monday Quiz.  Rather to my surprise, there have been mild complaints.  Well, here we go again!  Another decade of progress, horror, invention, and incident!

1. In England, trial by ordeal was abolished by 1220. What was "trial by ordeal"?

2. Sometime between 1220 and 1243, Ljubljiana was granted its town charter. Today, the city ranks with Ulaan Baator and Ouagadougou among national capitals with the coolest names. But, of what country is Ljubljiana capital?

3. After a revolt against the Chichen Itza-based ruling elite in 1221, the city of Mayapan was built to be the new capital city, a role that it would fill until the 1440s. Or at least, that’s how we think things might have happened. Of what civilization was Mayapan the cultural hub of the “Late Post-Classic Period”?

4. Also in 1221, Merv – up to this time, one of the largest cities in the world – opened its gates to an army led by one Tolui. Subsequently, according to the Persian historian Juvayni, Tolui
…ordered that, apart from four hundred artisans… the whole population, including the women and children, should be killed, and no one, whether woman or man, be spared. To each [soldier] was allotted the execution of three or four hundred Persians. So many had been killed by nightfall that the mountains became hillocks, and the plain was soaked with the blood of the mighty.
Tolui was the fourth son of what better-known, but equally sociopathic, historical figure?

5. At the Diet of Fehérvár in 1222, King Andrew II of Hungary was forced to sign the “Golden Bull,” a document increasing the power of the Hungarian nobility and reducing royal authority. The Golden Bull was almost certainly inspired and influenced by what English document of seven years before?

6. 1222 is the first recorded use of this banner – or at least the rampant lion; the border was probably not used until half a century later.  Although now officially restricted to use by representatives of the Sovereign and at royal residences, the Royal Banner continues to be one of what country’s most recognizable symbols?

7. In 1224, St. Francis of Assisi became the first recorded stigmatic. What’s a stigmatic?

8. In 1226, Rǫgnvaldr Guðrøðarson was overthrown as King of the Isles. The Kingdom of the Isles had at this point been around for 300 years or so, but would only last a few more decades. Which isles?  Where?

9. Lý Chiêu Hoàng was the only empress regnant (meaning, a ruler in her own right, as opposed to the wife of a ruling emperor) in the history of her country. However, since she was six years old when she assumed the throne in 1224, and surrendered her authority after an arranged marriage to Trần Cảnh in 1225, it’s safe to assume she wasn’t really able to implement much of a personal policy vision. Of what country was Lý Chiêu Hoàng briefly the child empress?

10. Hey, speaking of Hungary (as we were, back at question #5): Since 1211, a military order called the “Teutonic Knights” had been fighting on behalf of King Andrew in exchange for control of a chunk of the kingdom. In 1224, Andrew was alarmed to learn that the knights had asked the Pope if they could answer directly to him, instead of to the Hungarian crown. What, roughly speaking, do you suppose happened to the Teutonic knights as a result?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1210s

1. The Jin were routed by the Mongols.
2. The Livonian Crusade was the Christian conquest of the Baltic, particularly modern Latvia and Estonia.
3. The Battle of Navas de Tolosa was the beginning of the endgame in the Reconquista, the Christian conquest of Islamic Spain.
4. The Children's Crusade happened, or probably didn't happen, in 1212.
5. The Ten Foot Square Hut is an important piece of medieval Japanese literature.
Extra 5. King Tamar the Great was different from most kings in that he was a woman.  Not in the newfangled "Bruce Jenners is a woman" sense, of course.  She just ended up occupying and doing a good job in a conventionally male role, and it was easier to call her the king than to rethink the conventions.
6&7.The four artworks: the first is the roof of a German church, the second is a Japanese carving, the third a Chinese painting, and the fourth a Persian plate.
8. June 15, 1215, Runnymede: the Magna Carta!
9. Khwarazmian Smarkand and Urgench were slaughtered by the Mongols.
10. Al Mansurah is in the Nile Delta, in Egypt. *Not* India.

And geez, all four people who threw down -- pfly, Susan, the Owl, and gS49 -- did at least as well as I did, returning to the questions a month after I wrote them.  I SALUTE YOU AWESOME QUIZ-TAKERS.

The Quadrennial Manifesto

It is the continuing belief of Infinite Art Tournament that Leap Day, by virtue of its uniqueness and its inherent interest as a matter of Earth-Sun geometry, ought to be a international holiday in celebration of our common humanity, our mathematical and scientific achievements as a species, and our eternal connection to the sun and to the seasons.

The IAT imagines a full-blown festival with its own branded color scheme, civic and family traditions, handful of beloved seasonal songs, spike in air travel fares, and long commercial and media rollout. I encourage you to get the ball rolling in your own community.  2020 is right around the corner.

In the meantime, may I again be the first to wish you a wonderful Leap Day and a healthy, happy, and prosperous next four years?

Also, my condolences to all of us on an annual salary who are working for free today.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Rego v. Reinhardt!

Paula Rego
Born 1935


Ad Reinhardt
1913 - 1967


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, February 26, 2016

At the Movies: F for Fake

At the Movies with Michael5000

F for Fake
Orson Welles, 1973.

imbd: 7.8
Ebert: Three Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Fresh

So once upon a time there was a painter named Elmyr de Hory who discovered, after the Second World War, that he had a remarkable ability to mimic the best-known painters of his day. Specializing in Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani, he was able to make a reasonable living selling previously unknown “minor pieces” that he had, of course, cooked up himself. In the late 1960s, he met a writer named Clifford Irving, who wrote a biography of him that doubled as an expose’ and a publicity stunt. The biography was called Fake!

Then, things got a little weird. After the success of Fake! Irving moved on to his next project: ghost-writing an autobiography for the reclusive industrialist Howard Hughes. But this autobiography was a fake. Irving had letters, documents, and signatures forged, betting that Hughes was so reclusive that he would not break his silence in order to interfere. He lost the bet, and although it was hard for Hughes to get people to take his denials seriously over the phone, his lawyers were eventually able to put the kibosh on the whole crazy scheme.

When Orson Welles made an impressionist documentary about this business in 1974, this story had been on the cover of Time and was common knowledge. People watching the film understood that they were seeing an idiosyncratic film about a strange-but-true story, and when they hit the big twist at the end – for there is a big twist at the end – it must have been pretty effective.

Watching the movie 41 years later, however, I completely failed to track that what I was watching was in any way documentary. I was impressed by the naturalistic acting of the principle characters – although, to be honest, I found de Hory’s eccentric artist schtick a bit over the top. Similarly, it didn’t seem very plausible that what I thought of as “the Irving character” would sit through his interviews being continually groomed by, but oblivious to, his pet monkey. But, as I learn for the thousandth time, truth is often pretty strange.

F for Fake is the last movie Welles completed, and it is best thought of as a film collage. None of the footage is remarkable, and much of it is of home-movie quality, but it has been lovingly edited into something resembling a coherent – but not too coherent – whole. Like the subjects of the film, Welles indulges in some fakery himself, retelling the famous story of his War of the Worlds radio program and including a long passage at the beginning from a different movie, one that doesn’t really exist. This passage is a drawn out joke on the way that film continuity works, jumping between shots of an attractive woman walking down the street in tight skirts and men craning their heads to look. The men craning their heads are probably just random guys on the street checking traffic or noticing something happening nearby, but the effect of the editing is to make them look like they are caught in the woman’s overwhelming sexual spell.

In the DVD commentary, a famous Hollywood guy whose name escapes me at the moment described F for Fake like this: if you fight it, he said, it will be incomprehensible, and you’ll hate it. But if you just accept it on its own terms, it will be captivating. Most people in 1974 fought it, and hated it. It was a complete commercial flop (hardly helped, I shouldn’t think, by its useless title).

Personally, I rolled with it, and found it pretty mesmerizing and a lot of fun. But then, I was watching it all wrong. I thought it was fiction. It’s impossible to say if I would have enjoyed it so much if I had realized it was all true.  Or mostly all true.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Orozco v. Pannini!

José Clemente Orozco
1883 - 1949

Defeated Bryan Organ in Round 1.
Beat Claes Oldenburg in Round 2.

Giovanni Paolo Pannini
1692ish - 1765

Defeated Parmigianino easily in the Toasted Cheese Sandwich Bowl.
Skunked Palma Vecchio 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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Man Ray v. Marc!

Man Ray
1890 - 1976
American; worked in France

Franz Marc
1880 - 1916


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.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Rauschenberg v. Redon!

Robert Rauschenberg
1925 - 2008


Odilon Redon
1840 - 1916


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, February 19, 2016

At the Movies: Playtime

At the Movies with Michael5000

Jaques Tati, 1967.

imbd: 8.0
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Fresh

Playtime is one seriously odd movie. I have no idea how it ended up in my “to-watch” pile, so I had no context for it and spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I’ll give you a little orientation here to spare you that kind of confusion.

• This is nominally a film featuring the internationally beloved Jacques Tati slapstick comedy character Mr. Hulot.  By the time he got around to making Playtime, however, Tati was sick unto death of Mr. Hulot, so he’s rendered here as shall we say an existentialist deconstruction of himself. I considered this an improvement, personally.

• Tati was a little obsessed with this project, and dumped far more money and time into it than could ever possibly be justified in commercial terms. It is shot in 70 mm, and meant to be projected onto the largest possible screens; I may not have got the full effect watching it on my laptop. Students of the film say that the depth of field, and the amount of activity going on simultaneously in any given frame, make it reward an almost unlimited number of watchings.

• There is no story per se, only a sequential series of six absurdist scenarios.
1: People act peculiar in the sterile environment of an airport. A group of American tourists arrive as does, very inconspicuously, Mr. Hulot.
2: Mr. Hulot attempts to keep a business appointment in a sleek, modern office building. Trapped in Kafkaesque dream logic, he strives ceaselessly to meet the person he needs to see, but runs up against endless obstacles.
3: Mr. Hulot and the American tourists both visit a trade fair featuring bizarre modern innovations.
4: Mr. Hulot is invited to a friend’s apartment; for an unbroken ten minutes or so, we look in at them and the inhabitants of the neighboring apartments from the street, watching their normal/strange activity but hearing only the noises of traffic.
5: A nightclub is still under construction when it is time to open for its first night. The guests begin arriving, and will eventually include Hulot and the Americans. Things start out pretty sedate, but after a while – this episode takes a lot of screen time – the party will get pretty outrageous. At dawn, everybody straggles out.
6: As the Americans take their bus back to the airport, they get caught in a roundabout that begins to imitate a circus carousel.
Absurdism! Existentialism! A critique of the modern! This is surely a festival of mid-century intellectual preoccupations, and if it had been released a couple of years after 1959, when Tati thought it up, it might have been a runaway hit. Since it wasn’t released until 1967 in Europe, and in a truncated U.S. version in 1973, it probably missed its moment. But now that ’59, ’67, and ’73 are all safely in the distant past, we don’t really have to worry about that, and can just sit back and enjoy the fun.

And it really is a lot of fun, taken on its own terms. (Taken on other terms, such as “I want a clear storyline” or “I want people to act rationally” or “when the hell is something going to HAPPEN, for crying out loud!” it would be a nightmare.) If you aren’t interested in what’s going on in the foreground, there’s usually something pretty interesting happening in the background, and the set design is pretty delicious to look at in and of itself.

My favorite aspect of the movie was a certain unpredictability in its gags. Again and again, it sets up a slapstick moment that doesn’t happen. An example: As the revelers leave the nightclub, talking about how beautiful Paris is in the early morning, they approach workers who are shoveling muck out of a hole in the pavement. We can tell what is going to happen: as a character pontificates about the beauty of the dawn, he’s going to get a shovel’s worth of mud slopped across his evening clothes. Ha! Except, it doesn’t happen: the workman notices the pedestrians, and stops shoveling to let them pass. This kind of thing happens over and over again in Playtime, messing with our expectations and achieving a kind of comic one-two punch, in which we get to experience the joke-that-doesn't-happen twice, once in anticipation and a second time when it is suddenly jerked away from us.

Playtime is big, strange, and unlike anything else I’ve seen. I’ll want to see it again. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you see it, let me know what you think.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Noguchi v. Nolan!

Isamu Noguchi
1904 - 1988

Lost to Ben Nicholson in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
Beat neon artist Bruce Nauman in First Round Elimination.

Sir Sidney Nolan
1917 - 1992

Trounced minimalist Kenneth Noland in Round 1.
Trounced by Georgia O'Keeffe 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, February 17, 2016

The Wednesday Post

Exploring the Evergreen State, Part V
mostly Mts, flowers, & water scenes.

The tour of the state of Washington arrives today in the state's great Eastern metropolis, Spokane.

Scene on the Spokane River, Showing Suspension Foot Bridge, Down River Park, Spokane, Wash.  3004

This magnificent view of the Spokane River near Down River Park gives some idea of the vast, rugged beauty to be found at every hand in the great Northwest Country around Spokane, Washington.


Hi.  Thanks for card.  See you been very busy, been swell.  Weather here 60 and sunshine  no snow yet, rainy today tho, deer hunting opens tomorrow here, yes Xmas presents get to be made soon.

Write soon

Love Agnes

Route #4, Government Way  Spokane, Wash.
Phone TE 8-1405

The Cross of Inspiration, architectural award winning Garden Crypts and a view of the city from atop Greenwood Memorial Terrace.

a corner of the cemetery overlooking the river valley and city of Spokane with Idaho hills in distance.


Posted: March 6, 1950
From 1323.

P.CCC of A,

Thanks for card from Maine.  I could exchange one at a time.  ours are mostly Mts, flowers, & water scenes.  

Mrs. M Gardner


Posted: July 27, 1938

Dear Mary,

Just a card from Spokane.



Posted: July 18, 1949

Newport, Washington, just before crossing line into Idaho.  49/7/18.  Took time off in Spokane and went to P.O.  Got your two letters and many thanks for them.  You surely are doing double duty and your time must be more than filled.  Glad to hear about the new baby.  Yes, we are ahead of schedule, more than a week.  So we went to Olympia & Seattle as an extra.  Heading for Banff tomorrow.  Love, Lilla.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Nicholson v. O'Keeffe!

Ben Nicholson
1894 - 1982

Defeated Isamu Noguchi in Round 1.
Fended off his contemporary Barnett Newman in Round 2.

Georgia O'Keeffe
1887 - 1986

Beat German Emil Nolde in Round 1.
Walloped Australian Sir Sidney Nolan 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.