Gutbrain Records

Friday, 2006 March 31

Fun with punctuation. A favorite example is how Graham Greene left the world in turmoil after his death by adding a comma to a one-sentence document he signed on his deathbed. The addition of the comma made it unclear if only his authorized biographer were to be allowed access to his archive, or if the person named as his authorized biographer were to be his only authorized biographer. I remember reading something which suggested that Greene added this comma on purpose, for mischief's sake.

In case you're interested, the sentence before the comma was, "I Graham Greene grant permission to Norman Sherry, my Authorised Biographer, excluding any other to quote from my copyrighted material published or unpublished." Then Greene added the comma: "I Graham Greene grant permission to Norman Sherry, my Authorised Biographer, excluding any other, to quote from my copyrighted material published or unpublished."

This came to mind because of an article I read in The New York Times yesterday about same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided that same-sex couples could legally marry in Massachusetts only if they are residents of Massachusetts or intend to become residents of Massachusettts.

This made Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney happy because he opposes same-sex marriage. The article in the Times made me happy because I support the use of the hyphen in "same-sex marriage".

The Chicago Manual of Style — or as a copy editor I know calls it, The Chicago Manual of Common Sense — states that "in general, a compound modifier comprising an adjective plus a noun and preceding the word or words it modifies should be hyphenated."

It gives as examples "deep-dish pizza" and "first-floor record store". It notes that a "mental-health official" is an official of mental health while a "mental health official" may be a health official who is really upset. It points out, though, that there are some compounds which "are completely unambiguous without the hyphen", "always seem to go together" and would "tend not to be misread". They give "physical therapy expert" as an example of this.

But back to Gov. Romney and same-sex marriage. I like the hyphen in same-sex marriage. One of the things I like about it is that this phrase is used a lot in the New York Times article, making the case for the hyphen so well that when Romney is described as a "gay marriage opponent", I immediately interpreted that to mean that Romney is gay and opposes all marriage, all the time, of anybody to anybody. What a grouch! That man needs a good husband.

Saturday, 2006 March 25

So far this year I've watched 32 movies and two of the best ones have been so-called family entertainment, National Velvet and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I watched Finding Nemo, too, and while I enjoyed it, I found myself wondering, what is it with Disney and killing the main character's mother? I'm not sure I'd want my child to watch Bambi. National Velvet and Wallace & Gromit are much better. That early Technicolor process creates a look that's like painting come to life. Lassie is another good one.

Today I watched Tetsujin 28-go, last year's live-action movie of a much loved Japanese comic book and cartoon known here as Gigantor. The special effects were very good but the movie was surprisingly subdued. The robots look great but they mostly stand in one place and take very slow punches at each other. Is this what the original was like? I haven't seen it, but I suspect it had more action.

I wish there had been more action in Tsui Hark's The Chinese Feast, which I watched a few days ago. I'd seen it when it came out, in 1995, no doubt at the Music Palace, but I didn't remember it. The cooking scenes are great but there are too few of them. Tsui Hark was apparently aiming at a mish-mash of Wong Kar Wai, Iron Chef and a typical Hong Kong New Year's comedy film. It made me sad to see Leslie Cheung, who has the lead role. I don't think I've seen one of his movies since he committed suicide a couple of years ago.

Red Peony Gambler 2: Gambler's Obligation is not as good as the first movie in the series. Director Norifumi Suzuki seems always to have trouble concentrating on plot and pacing and will go ambling after one exploitation element after another, as if they were wills-o'-the-wisp. Tai Kato, whose work I usually enjoy, made the third movie in the series, so I'm looking forward to that. What was the plot of this one? Oh, yeah, something about gangsters wanting to take over small businesses.

The well regarded 1952 film, directed by Anthony Asquith, of The Importance of Being Earnest was as good as I'd expected and contained a surprising bonus. While watching it I realized that Oscar Wilde's play must join the list of literary allusions in Alice Munro's short story "Wenlock Edge", published in The New Yorker a few months ago. I think this story is both very diffferent from most of her work and one of her best. You can read it here.

A quick word of advice to people making movies out of plays. Don't "open up" the play by contriving to photograph all sorts of exteriors and movements which we wouldn't have seen on stage. At the least, this usually throws the scale out of proportion. Asquith's film of Earnest only has two brief instances of this but one of them is quite detrimental, ruining a character's surprise entrance for the sake of some lame humor.

Wednesday, 2006 March 8

There was a typically annoying article in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section last Saturday. I suspect it came from a pile of stuff which they draw on to fill holes in the paper. The ads are sold in advance after all. The pages must be filled.

The headline was "Cash Film's Missing Ingredient: Religion". The headline is more of a problem than the article. The article doesn't demonstrate much knowledge of Cash — his 1997 autobigraphy was his third autobiography; his music doesn't have anything to do with "gangsta rap"; and "A Boy Named Sue" is one of the most violent songs in his repertoire, though it is also a comic novelty song — but it doesn't contain any real howlers.

But the headline troubles me, just as the front-page headline about Bush's budget proposal was troubling. That headline trumpeted his Medicare "savings" when the word they should have used was "cuts". That choice of words threw a bone to... to... I don't know to whom. Are there more than half a dozen people who want Bush's insane budget?

But the Cash article throws a bone to right-wing Christian freaks who wanted Walk the Line to be an infomercial for their church. The article is about how some reverend at the Princeton Theological Seminary was upset that religion didn't occupy center stage of the movie. He seems to have been particularly galled that we see Cash sing "Cocaine Blues" at Folsom Prison but not "Greystone Chapel". Obviously, he's no music critic.

A better headline for this article would have been the pull quote that you find when the piece continues on a second page: "Some Christian critics have a problem with 'Walk the Line'". That is perfectly accurate and nonjudgmental.

Imagine if an article about Ray had carried this headline: "Ray Charles Film's Missing Ingredient: Right-Wing Politics". Hey, I nervously anticipated an appearance by Ronald Reagan while I was watching Ray. Probably George Will or someone was upset that Ray Charles wasn't shown casting votes for Republicans in the movie.

A better article about Walk the Line would have had this headline: "Cash Film's Missing Ingredient: Trains". Johnny Cash was obsessed with trains. He often included a filmed vigenette about railroads as part of The Johnny Cash Show, and he produced and starred in a documentary about the history of the American railroad, Ridin' the Rails.

He made the album "Come Along and Ride This Train". "Folsom Prison Blues" is about a train, as is "Orange Blossom Special".

Johnny Cash was so nuts about Jimmie Rodgers, "The Singing Brakeman", that he bought Rodgers's cap and guitar.

But you won't read about that in the New York Times. It must be anti-train.