erik lundegaard

Friday July 31, 2015

The False Equivalence of Max Brod in the 'Go Set a Watchman' Debate

Last Friday I posted on Facebook what I thought was a rather straightforward Joe Nocera column on the publication of Harper Lee's long-held manuscript, “Go Set a Watchman,” the forerunner to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Nocera goes over the agreed-upon facts, connects the various Murdoch-Empire dots (the book is published by Murdoch's HarperCollins and was defended in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal), and reaches his conclusion (it's all a rather shoddy business). 

Turns out, to some, the issue isn't that straightfoward.

I'm actually shocked by the number of people—writers even—who are pro-“Watchman” publication. One posted the same column and then wrote that what he finds offensive about columns like Nocera's is the notion that we should never make available unfinished or previously unpublished works of an artist. Which isn't Nocera's argument at all. His argument is specific to Lee's case.

But the main point pro-publication folks make is this:

What about Kafka?

Here's the short version of that story.

Franz Kakfa died in 1924 at the age of 40. On his deathbed he told his friend, contemporary and literary executor Max Brod to burn all of his previously unpublished works, which included the novels “The Trial,” “The Castle” and “Amerika,” as well as numerous short stories, letters, and diaries, but which did not include “Metamorphisis,” which was published in 1915. Brod didn't do as Kafka wished. For the next decade, Brod published most of Kafka's oeuvre and made him famous; in essence, he made him one of the great writers of the 20th century.

So if Brod hadn't ignored Kafka, no Kafka.

And if Tonja Carter, Lee's current literary executor and guardian, hadn't ignored Lee's lifelong wish to not publish anything after “Mockingbird,” then no ... Well, no “Go Set a Watchman.” A book that is getting mixed reviews and ringing up record sales. 

Here's the difference. Brod preserved Kafka's work because he considered him an artist of the first rank. Carter, et al. are publishing “Watchman” because there's money to be made. 

To put it in modern terms: Kakfa wasn't a brand before Brod; but Lee has been a brand since 1962. And now that Lee is incapacitated, the Powers that Be are monetizing her. That's why it's a shoddy business. There are ethical gray areas for Brod but none for Carter. There, it's all green.

Franz Kafka 

Franz Kafka in 1905. We'll always have “Metamorphisis.” 

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Posted at 06:00 AM on Jul 31, 2015 in category Books
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Thursday July 30, 2015

'Blue Angels, Ugh'

I was biking into the Bellevue office today for a team-building event when I was stopped on the I-90 bridge by the police. Not for speeding (wucka) but because the bridge was closed to pedestrians and bicycles. Cars were still able to cross for another 15 minutes, then they too were banned for a few hours. The Blue Angels were in town and were practicing over Lake Washington. 

This happens every year so I should have anticipated it. 

Alternate routes? Cars can go the 520 bridge, or drive I-5 south to Renton. On a bike, you're kind of screwed. The 520 bridge doesn't allow for bikes and going north or south around the lake takes a good long while. So I missed the event.  

Why don't they let traffic across I-90 during the Angels practice runs? I guess because they don't want drivers being startled and getting into accidents and suing the city and whatnot. As for how this applies to foot and bicycle traffic, I'm not sure. Wouldn't the lack of cars, for example, be a giveaway to anyone crossing the bridge? Couldn't the same police officers that told me I couldn't cross the bridge stop me and tell me to watch out for Blue Angels? Look! Here they come! FOOOOOOOSH! 

When I texted my predicament to Patricia, she texted back the feeling of a lot of Seattlites at this time of year: “Blue Angels, ugh.”

It's very Seattle being Seattle. We have some of the worst traffic in the country, yet several times a year we close down this major thoroughfare in the middle of the day. We also have drawbridges over the ship canal, and we'll raise and lower these on a dime for boats going from Lake Washington to Puget Sound and back, stopping traffic in both directions. Except during rush hour, which we quaintly designate as something like 4:30-6 PM.

First world problems, I know. In some parts of the world, when similar jets scream overhead they drop things.

I did stick around for a bit today; and while everyone else was watching the Blue Angels I took photos of the bridge without any traffic on it. All that concrete.

 Blue Angels stop I-90 traffic again

Bike cops patrol the empty I-90 bridge before letting on foot traffic. 

I-90 bridge during Blue Angels

A view you don't normally get on foot. 

 I-90 bridge during Blue Angels practice

'And here you are; and it's a beautiful day.' 

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Posted at 03:34 PM on Jul 30, 2015 in category Seattle
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Burnishing Cobb ... to a Fault?

Beyond baseball prowess, Ty Cobb is basically known for two things: being 1) a spikes-sharpening SOB who tore up opponents' legs, and 2) a virulent racist. In his bio “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” Charles Leerhsen attempts to burnish Cobb's tarnished image. 

To exonerate him of the former charge, Leerhsen quotes contemporaries who said Cobb was a fighter within the basepaths but not beyond that. He was fierce and feared but a professional. He didn't take cheap shots. And he took as well as he gave. 

Ty Cobb: A Terrible BeautyIt's a little tougher to exonerate him of the latter charge but Leerhsen gives it a go. Cobb was involved in many incidents, many brawls, that could be construed as race-related. Leerhsen argues, though, that either race wasn't a motivating force in the incident or it wasn't present at all. I.e., his combatant wasn't black.  

It's an interesting angle and it would be easier to take if Leerhsen didn't occasionally slip up himself. 

Example. In a game against the Red Sox in 1915, Cobb is facing Carl Mays, who would, of course, infamously kill a batter, Ray Chapman, with an inside pitch in 1920. Apparently there was bad blood between Cobb and Mays, too. Leerhsen writes:

Mays started him with a fastball very near his face. Cobb said nothing. But when the next pitch came just as close, Cobb yelled “Yellow dog!” and flung his bat, which flew over Mays and came down near second base.

Nothing much happens; Mays simply retrieves the bat and hands it to Cobb. Then Leerhsen writes:

With the count now 0–2 ...

I'm like, “Wait a minute. Two pitches near his face, and both strikes? Who's screwing up here: the ump or Leerhsen?”

He also takes cheap shots at Christy Mathewson for no reason I can fathom. 

It's a minor thing. But if I don't have to leave Leerhsen's pages to find his own contradictions, why do I take the rest of it without at least some grains of salt?

Leerhsen does bring to life the lively, helter-skelter style of Cobb's playing and baserunning—what made him what he was. I'm near the end of the book now, and looking forward to seeing if—and if so, how—Leerhsen tears into the 1994 Ron Shelton bio, “Cobb,” and Ken Burns' “Baseball,” both of which, for modern fans, did great harm to Cobb's reputation.

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Posted at 05:53 AM on Jul 30, 2015 in category Books
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Wednesday July 29, 2015

Lancelot Links

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Posted at 08:01 AM on Jul 29, 2015 in category Lancelot Links
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Tuesday July 28, 2015

How Two Men Connect the Battle of Fredericksburg with Today

The following quote is from Charles Leerhsen's biography “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.” I'm at the point in the book shortly after Ty Cobb is besmirched in a 1926 betting scandal on a 1919 baseball game, and thus forced out as player-manager of the Detroit Tigers, the only team he'd ever known, and shortly before he would play two years for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, where he would hit .357 and .323 (w/OPSes of .931 and .819), before retiring for good after the '28 season.

This is the quote:

Connie Mack, who was born a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg and who would live long enough to manage a game called by Vin Scully, had already been around a long time at that point.

I like these throwaways from Leerhsen that bend the mind a bit. Mack was Mr. Longevity as a baseball manager just as Scully was in the broadcast booth. Both exuded/exude class.

Mack was born in 1862, played professional baseball for 10 years (1886-1896), then managed the A's from 1901 to 1950. He died six years later at the age of 93. Essentially he managed from before the Wright Bros. to after breaking the sound barrier; from cannonballs to the atom bomb.

Scully, meanwhile, was born in 1927 and began broadcasting Dodgers games in 1950 when they were in Brooklyn. He's still doing so 65 years later. 

But wait. Dodgers are NL, A's AL. Did Scully announce a game managed by Connie Mack? 

Yes. Here's what he told Mariners' announcer Rick Rizzs about the first game he announced:

I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A's in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there in the black suit, and the celluloid collar, and the straw hat. I remember in that game I think Ferris Fain was the first baseman and it seems to me there was a triple play which Red Barber called and I remember sitting there thinking, “He made it sound so easy,” and I was scared to death.

Anyway, that's how we get from the Civil War to today, and from baseball in 1886 to today. Takes two men who were good at what they do and loved doing it.

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Posted at 05:00 PM on Jul 28, 2015 in category Baseball
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My Top 10 American Movies, as of July 28, 2015

My Top 10 American movies: Thin Red Line, Breaking Away, The Insider

The dark side of the American dream: war, profits, and the death of the working class. None of these movies wound up on the BBC list.

I'll have a few more posts about that BBC list of the top 100 American movies as chosen by 62 international critics, but, as a reminder, each of the 62 chose their own top 10, with No. 1 being worth 10 points, 2 worth nine points, and so on. Since I'm a bit critical of the list, I thought I'd come up with my own Top 10. Haven't done it in a while. And never from a wholly American perspective. 

It's not easy. This is what the BBC says about its process:

What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source. The directors of these films did not have to be born in the United States – in fact, 32 films on the list were directed by film-makers born elsewhere – nor did the films even have to be shot in the US. ... Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best. These are the results.

I went after movies that say something deep and real about life. And if they say something deep and real about American life, all the better. “The Godfather,” after all, is about the dark side of the American dream (first line: I believe in America) and so is “All the President's Men.” I guess most of these films are, now that I think about it. Even “Breaking Away.” It's lighthearted in tone but it's about the death of the blue-collar working class. It's about owning your epithet (nothing is more American than that), and, in a very funny way, it's about the American talent for reimagining yourself—in this case as a non-American; as an Italian. 

I also tried to pick movies that I've watched at least five times and would like to watch again. Like right now.

Enough gab:

My Rank Movie Director BBC Rank
1 The Thin Red Line (1998) Terrence Malick n/a
2 The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola 2
3 The Insider (1999) Michael Mann n/a
4 Casablanca (1943) Michael Curtiz 9
5 Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen 23
6 Breaking Away (1979) Peter Yates n/a
7 All the President's Men (1976) Alan J. Pakula n/a
8 Amadeus (1984) Milos Forman n/a
9 Singin' in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly 7
10 Monkey Business (1931) Norman McLeod n/a

Immediate thoughts:

  • It's a very '70s-centric list but it could have been more so: “Chinatown,” “Cuckoo's Nest,” “Love and Death,” “Jaws,” “The Godfather Part II.” The '70s were a good decade for American film and I was coming of age during it. 
  • Six of my 10 aren't on the BBC's top 100.
  • When will “The Thin Red Line” get its due? When will “The Insider”? (I have no hope that “Breaking Away” will ever get its due.)

Feel free to post your Top 10 (or 5, or 3) below. 

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Posted at 06:40 AM on Jul 28, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Monday July 27, 2015

Box Office: 'Ant-Man' Wins Weekend, Game Over for "Pixels' (and Sandler?)

Jurassic World box office

It's Jurassic's world but it's still Cameron's universe. 

Several milestones this weekend:

  • “Jurassic World” earned another $7 million domestically and surpassed “Marvel's The Avengers” for third place on the all-time domestic charts. It's at $624.08 million. Ahead is Cameron Country: “Titanic” at $658.6 and “Avatar” at $760.5. Has a shot at “Titanic.”
  • Even if you adjust for inflation, “Jurassic” is at 27th all-time, just ahead of “Thunderball,” and just behind “Grease” and “Mary Poppins” and “The Godfather.” Good company.
  • “J-World” also surpassed “Marvel's The Avengers” on the worldwide chart, with a $1.541 billion haul against “MTA”'s $1.519. Again, ahead of it is Cameron Country, but you can barely make it out it's so far ahead. “Titanic” is at $2.1 billion, “Avatar” at 2.7.
  • “Inside Out” earned another $7.4 mil domestically and is now at $320. In pure domestic gross, it's the third-highest-grossing Pixar flick (after “Toy Story 3” and “Nemo”); adjust for inflation, it's seventh (but since 2004, only “TS3” is bigger); while worldwide it's eighth (but Pixar movies tend to open slowly abroad). All in all, a huge success. Moneywise. Quality-wise, it's already a success.

Did anyone pick “Pixels” in the summer box office sweepstakes? I hope not. It earned a mere $24 mil, not even enough to unseat “Ant-Man” from the top spot. The diminutive superhero grossed another $24.9 mil and is now at $106. Meanwhile, the third weekend of “Minions” finished in third place with $22.9 (for a $262 total), while the second weekend of “Trainwreck” earned another $17.2 (for $61 total). 

Jake Gylenhaal's counter-programming boxing movie, “Southpaw,” opened in fifth place at $16 mil, which is better than I thought it would do, while another teen movie, “Paper Towns,” opened in sixth with $12. 

BTW: In my search for box office predictions, I came across Entertainment Weekly's summer 2015 forecast, which ... whatever. The point is the pointed commentary by a guy named Andrew about their predictions:

A lot of these predictions are way off in my opinion. They're saying that Trainwreck will make over $100 million but Pixels and Tomorrowland won't? No chance. I also don't see Magic Mike doing quite that well and I think Ant-Man can crack $200 mil. Especially coming directly after Avengers 2. Never underestimate Marvel.

“Tomorrowland is at $92 and not budging while ”Pixels“ probably won't quadruple it's opening weekend. ”Trainwreck“? Still has a shot at 100. Women-centered movies tend to open more slowly than the male version. But Andrew did nail ”Magic Mike XXL," which EW had at $155 and is currently floundering in the 60s.

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Posted at 05:29 PM on Jul 27, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office
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Movie Review: While We're Young (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young,” Josh, a struggling, 40-something documentarian and his wife Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) become friends with Jamie, a 20-something film student and his wife Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), and anxious humor and personal revelations result. Except the humor isn’t that humorous and the revelations aren’t that revelatory. Plus Baumbach confuses the generational (illegal downloads, et al.) with the universal (assholes get ahead).

At the start, Josh is in a rut. He’s been working on his next big documentary, “about America” and its class system, for nearly 10 years. He has 100 hours of footage, a six-hour doc, and hasn’t paid his assistant in years. His father-in-law, the great documentary filmmaker Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), actually watches the six-hour version and makes helpful comments, which Josh rejects violently. He’s 44 but remains as sensitive to criticism as a 22-year-old.

Noah Baumbach's While We're YoungThen after one of his sparsely attended film lectures, an attendee, Jamie, compliments him, and talks up Josh’s first and painfully obscure documentary, which he says he found on eBay. He’s a true fan and Josh is enthralled. “I wanted to be admired,” he says near the end. “I wanted a protégé.”

The couples become friends, and tend to do what the younger couple does. They go to a street party, foodie restaurants (Josh always picks up the check), and an Ayahuasca ceremony (don’t ask). The older couple struggles to keep up. Josh wears a hipster fedora (w/o having read his George W.S. Trow), and rides a bike in the city (then discovers he has arthritis), while Cornelia is always a step behind in hip-hop dance class. They lose their older friends who don’t get what’s become of them. Neither do we, really. We suspect early that Josh is being played, that Jamie is an opportunist who is using any connection to get ahead, and that early sense is corroborated to the tenth degree. Jamie is a massive douche. But Josh is enamored. “I loved you,” he says to Jamie at the end. Meaning the story is a love story that makes no sense. Love stories that make no sense may feel true—we’ve all wondered over the bad partners of good friends—but they’re rarely interesting as stories.

Here. I’m 52, eight years older than Josh and much less successful, but the only thing of Jamie’s I covet is Amanda Seyfried, which is the one thing that Josh doesn’t covet. He likes Jamie’s energy, even if Jamie is all ironic energy. He wants to help him with his documentary, even though he thinks the concept is stupid.

Actually, let’s talk about that documentary for a second.

Jamie tells Josh, whom he keeps calling “Joshy” and “Yosh,” that he’s never been on Facebook, but he’s going to create an account and then visit in person whoever friends him. The first one to do so is a guy named Kent (Brady Corbet), a high school friend who had everything going for him. They all show up at his front door in Poughkeepsie, camera rolling, but Kent’s sister tells them he’s not there; he’s in a hospital because he tried to kill himself. Turns out he’d been a soldier in Afghanistan. He’d both fought there and fought against the U.S. being there. He’s a true hero who won a Purple Heart. Josh finds all of this information online. And suddenly the stupid documentary has life. More than life. There’s a poignant scene where Jamie tells Kent about his own mother dying of ovarian cancer, and, as Josh films him, Jamie, with a remote, zooms in on himself. Leslie even agrees to help out with the doc. Everything is falling into place and Joshy is getting passed by.

But it’s all a lie. Jamie knew about Kent’s Afghanistan service from the get-go; the Facebook thing was just a front. In fact, Kent was Darby’s friend, not his, and it was Darby’s mom who died of ovarian cancer. And Jamie finding Josh’s first documentary via eBay? Bullshit. Josh was just Jamie’s excuse to get to Leslie. Josh finds out all of this at the 11th hour and then rushes to a black-tie honorarium for Leslie, which Jamie is attending, with the evidence. Except, at Leslie’s table, no one gives a shit. Jamie fesses up, but in a way that minimizes the damage, while Josh is bursting at the seams with the indignity of it all, the lack of integrity. No one else cares. “I think he’s an asshole,” Cornelia says, “but the movie’s pretty good.”

Which is fine. Assholes get ahead. Way of the world.

Except later, outside, she parses it further:

It doesn’t matter if it was rigged. Because the movie isn’t about Afghanistan or Kent. It’s about Jamie.

This is backwards. If the doc is about Kent’s service in Afghanistan, which is real, then how Jamie found him is irrelevant. But if the doc is ultimately about Jamie, then Jamie’s lies do matter. He’s on film talking about his mother dying of ovarian cancer, yet his mother is still alive? He’ll be the James Frey of documentarians; he’ll take Leslie down with him.

“While We’re Young” has some good lines. “It’s like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” I like a lot of the issues raised, particularly how cutthroat and opportunistic you have to be to succeed. Charles Grodin is wonderful, as is Naomi Watts in a small, thankless part. But Josh’s angst isn’t interesting angst. It’s obvious what’s wrong with him in the beginning, and it’s obvious his solution to what’s wrong with him (Jamie, youth) is the wrong solution, and the resolution to all of this is both muddied and untrue. I think Noah Baumbach’s a pretty good guy, but his movie’s an asshole.

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Posted at 06:12 AM on Jul 27, 2015 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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