Monday, March 28, 2005

Getting jigae with it

Outside it's raining cats and dogs, along with associated kittens and puppies. All day long it's been coming down. It's Wong Kar-wai weather.

We try to keep our cool here at Dizzies central—too much excitement gets us wobbly—but Rex Reed's review of Oldboy in the recent issue of the New York Observer really bugged us. Not because he didn't care for the film, but because of the amazingly hostile, indefensibly racist comment that kicks off the proceedings:

"For sewage in a cocktail shaker, there is Oldboy, a noxious helping of Korean Grand Guignol as pointless as it is shocking. What else can you expect from a nation weaned on kimchi, a mixture of raw garlic and cabbage buried underground until it rots, dug up from the grave and then served in earthenware pots sold at the Seoul airport as souvenirs? "

Another "senior moment," perhaps? The logic is too silly to argue with, at the same time too hateful to ignore. We'll stop for now, Dizzyheads. Will Rex Reed be this year's Whitney McNally?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Postal League

Has anyone remarked on how the male/female interplay on the Postal Service's "Nothing Better" recalls that of the Human League's "Don't You Want Me?"?

I am looking for duets in a similar vein.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Destiny's children

I now know of two couples in which the members share the same birth date and year. The first: my friends Eugene and So-Young, who celebrate their tenth (!) anniversary this year, I believe.

The second: Christo and Jeanne-Claude — the back flap of this Gates book has a C/J-C timeline, and 1935 reads:

"Christo: American, Bulgarian born Christo Javacheff, June 13, Gabrovo, of an industrialist family. Studies at Fine Arts Academies in sofia and Vienna.

"Jeanne-Claude: American, French born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, June 13, Casablanca, of a French military family, educated in France and Switzerland."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Movie review!

Caving in to popular demand, I'm posting my review of Oldboy, which opens in New York tomorrow. This piece appeared in the winter issue of Cinema Scope, a Canadian film magazine edited by the indefatigable Mark Peranson. (A careless mistake of mine has been deleted from this version, and "Oldboy" and "Chanwook" have been rendered solid.)

PS I was joking about "popular demand."

* * *

Directed by Park Chanwook

Michael Moore’s Palme d’Or-winning Fahrenheit 9/11 cut the visuals when portraying the attack on the World Trade Center, letting that day’s terrifying audio tell the story. But festival-goers could glimpse the catastrophe in another Cannes contender, South Korean director Park Chanwook’s ferocious, style-packed revengers’ tragedy-cum–memory play Oldboy, which took the Grand Prix. Oh Daesu (leonine Choi Man-sik, star of Im Kwon-taek’s *Chihwaseon*) finds himself imprisoned in what appears to be a dilapidated hotel room. His hair gets Rastafarian. Ants crawl out from holes in his skin. His guards, infuriatingly, reveal nothing. Food comes under the door; a certain melody signals the entry of valium gas, from which he will emerge with a haircut and fresh clothes, as well as to the benefits of light housekeeping. “If I knew it was fifteen years,” he says of his inscrutable sentence, “it would have been easier to endure.” He sews a line on his wrist for each year that passes. The outside world enters only through the TV. It appears that he has murdered his wife, though he has no memory of the crime. A current-events montage compresses the arrest of former South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan, the Hong Kong turnover, the death of Princess Diana, the IMF crisis, Kim Jong Il’s visit to Seoul. The destruction of the twin towers is followed, incongruously, by Korea’s World Cup victories. Could any of these incredible things possibly have happened? The world without becomes so much fiction.

“I thought I had lived an average life, but I sinned too much,” Daesu writes in a notebook that serves as “both a prison journal and an autobiography of my evil deeds.” His Kafkaesque conundrum conjures demons of guilt, but no clear crime. If philosophy is the outcome of a man restless in a room, here Park is both elliptical and economical in showing the dimensions of that room, the shape of the resulting thoughts. Filleted with jump cuts, ruined by damp, it’s an arena of existential heebie-jeebies—closed off and internal, but never claustrophobic. The space is exponentially more impressive than the DMZ limned in Park’s 2000 hit Joint Security Area. Politics and history are a bad dream here, image-planet products that rush by without sweeping away Daesu’s singular nightmare.

Fans of rug-pulling mindbenders like Dark City, The Game, and Memento will find much to savor in Oldboy, and viewers of this year’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will detect not only thematic similarities but a scene of visual overlap. Is this my increasingly bizarre life—or is it all a big experiment, game, memory defect, and/or commercial service? When Daesu finally emerges, into a soulless Seoul of cybercafés and high-tech penthouses, he’s bent on revenge, and Park has stated that Oldboy and its predecessor, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) are the first two-thirds of a trilogy on that most understandable and taboo of human drives. Daesu’s season in hell resolves crisply—or morphs, agonizingly—into a cluster of incestuous backstories.

The psychology isn’t any more sophisticated than that found in Hitchcock’s Spellbound: Brainwashing and hypnosis work without a hitch, and flashbacks happen when you stare at something hard enough. But Daesu’s rage to order—Choi is an old hand at this force-of-nature stuff—and Park’s inventive stagings propel the scenario past the incredible into a hermetic universe of you’re-fucked conspiracy, decades-old bloodlust, and unhealable wounds. For a fight scene both mesmerizing and purposefully exhausting, Park captures, in a single take, a hammer-wielding Daesu’s lurching rightward progress along a corridor churning with thugs. (One anticipates what mischief Cannes jurist Quentin Tarantino might harvest from such inspiration.) The gross-out factor is considerable, and those who blanched at the super-fresh sushi on offer in The Isle may want to skip the part where Daesu consumes a live octopus, its tentacles slapping his face as it goes down the hatch. The eye-opening meal is cringe-making, but hardly gratuitous. In a previous article in these pages (“Cries and Whispers,” Fall 2002), I considered the curious muteness present in some recent Korean cinema, and the creature/snack’s doomed struggle in Daesu’s maw will resonate by film’s end. The casual rumor writhing in the story’s dark heart demands a grotesque silence—and the intricate if fantastic plot requires silence from this critic’s pen, so as not to mar your experience of Oldboy’s sinister, labyrinthine pleasures.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A winter quartet

1. Today's weather is straight out of Van Morrison's "Madame George." Not in terms of transvestites, but the bit about "the rain hail sleet and snow."

2. On the way home I passed someone wearing a Kerry-Edwards sweatshirt. (I wanted to turn this into a haiku, but can't make it work.)

3. Highly recommended: Luc Sante's Bob Dylan piece in The New York Review of Books. The article has so many good lines, it's hard to pick one, but this sentence made me laugh out loud: "[Blood on the Tracks] is so many people's favorite Dylan album in large part because it is the one that people can imagine themselves creating, were the muse to tap them on the forehead with a nine-pound hammer." How does he do it? Not Dylan; Sante!

4. On the reverse of a piece of scrap paper not long ago, I found some of the draft for my article on Charles Portis. The passage was about the importance of names; I mentioned that in True Grit, there's an outlaw who goes by the tag "The Original Greaser Bob," to distinguish himself from a johnny-come-lately who's impudently named himself Greaser Bob.

Upon looking at the printed article, however, I discovered that I'd cut out the line about the competing G.B.'s. Had I left it in, I might have profitably added a footnote about a parallel process undertaken by the various "Ray's" pizzerias in New York, some of which bear the additional moniker "Original."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Why I oughta...

Our friends over at Ought Magazine (I did a fun-filled internship there, back in the day) have posted a Keeler-related nugget, for those Dizzyheads hungry for a few sentences from the master.

My favorite... right now is "My Favorite"! It's not my favorite name for a band, though. I suspect a trick name, like the Who, or the Guess Who. (Let's form a band called the Excuse Me Could You Say That Again?) Many thanks to Dizzyhead Jen for the loan of some My Favorite albums.

My favorite My Favorite song is called "Burning Hearts," and my favorite My Favorite line is that song's first—or *was*. I thought it ran:

We met first in cafés
And later in dreams...

But a recent (OK, *just now*) internet search turned up only

We met first in cafés
And later in ruins...

Which is nice, but I'm going to sing it the other way. (Paging Dr. Freud! Are ruins "dreams" for me? And vice versa? And why did I wake up yesterday thinking I was inside a "breakfast burrito"?)

Other recent listens: Cursive's THE UGLY ORGAN (intense!), Petra Haden singing *The Who Sell Out* (thematic! see above!), and the Magnetic Fields' "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin."

Things I've been thinking of doing: Going to the new MoMA.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


I am trying to think of every Harry Stephen Keeler novel I've read!

1. The Bottle With the Green Wax Seal
2. The Five Silver Buddhas
3. The Mysterious Mr. I
4. The Riddle of the Traveling Skull
5. The Book With the Orange Leaves
6. The Marceau Case
7. X. Jones—Of Scotland Yard!
8. The Wonderful Scheme of Mr. Christopher Thorne
9. Y. Cheung, Business Detective
10. The Man With the Magic Eardrums
11. The Vanishing Gold Truck
12. The Case of the 16 Beans
13. When Thief Meets Thief
14. Finger, Finger!
15. Behind That Mask
16. The Peacock Fan
17. The Sharkskin Book
18. The Box From Japan
19. The Case of the Two Strange Ladies
20. Cleopatra's Tears
21. Portrait of Jirjohn Cobb
22. The Voice of the Seven Sparrows
23. The Amazing Web
24. Sing Sing Nights
25. Thieves' Nights
26. The Face of the Man From Saturn
27. The Strange Will
28. The Man Who Changed His Skin

The lacunae dog me! I have four more unread Keelers in my personal "stash"—then it's time to hit eBay! Harry Stephen Keeler often wrote prose like this! It's very exciting!

Tom Wolfe sometimes writes like this—with dashes—and exclamation points—and italics!

The last Keeler I read was Thieves' Nights—stories within stories within stories—seven levels deep! What Borges—or "I"—would call "structural vertigo"! Hold me up! I'm falling!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Crunch time

Music at the gym: Some of it's OK, and some of it's so bad I mutter, "I would be very happy never to hear that song ever again!"

Toward a comprehensive list:

1. Mary Jane Girls, "In My House"
2. The song that goes "We like to party, we like, we like to party."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Post post

Many Dizzyheads have sent me this link to a nice piece in The Washington Post. Thanks!

Monday, March 14, 2005

I went to Thrilladelphia but the Dali show was sold out but I had a good time with my friend David

En route, I read a review of the exhibit in the TLS.

Later, I opened Dalí's OUI, recently out from Exact Change. Here is an epigraph for all of us:

"Enough denial. One must be affirmative. Enough wishing to be cured. One must be sublime!"
— Dalí

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Gorp tempore

A faithful Dizzyhead mentioned that the evergreen Cindy Adams, coiner or at least primary employer of that eternally corny yet infinitely utterable catchphrase "Only in New York, kids—only in New York," had this to say about The Gates:

"East Siders staring at the tourists staring at the orange schmattes hanging in Central Park. 'Gives a new meaning to the words Central Park Zoo.' "

I crossed the park on Tuesday for my weekly novel-writing session at the NYSL, and noticed a whole row of Gates lying on the ground. It's over! *Cuncta suo tempore*, I thought—I'm not sure what that means, but it's the title of one of my numerous abandoned fictions.

The phrase would presently become significant. My usual routine at the NYSL—just predating the opening of the Gates—was to hole myself up in one of the two "research/typing" rooms on the 12th floor. I would get there as soon as the library opened, take the key for room "A," generally from librarian Marie. But Marie wasn't there—and the room was already occupied, though I was just 15 minutes late. Fortunately, the 12th floor stacks have a secluded (though doorless) nook, where I set up shoop. It provided an excellent view of Room A, now usurped. My usurper was not in the room for quite a while—only a userless laptop was visible. I grimaced as the snow began to fall.

It turns out that the library is now reverting to its policy of accepting reservations for the research/typing rooms—and in the course of the week following my last visit, all the Tuesday spots (indeed, most spots in general) appear to have been gobbled up. This is all outrageously uninteresting, of course, but the breaking of a routine, at this stage of novel writing, has thrown me in a bit of a tailspin. The 12th floor nook is nice, a bit uninsulated. The only problem with it is that it's in the stacks, which means I need to keep my wandering in check if I want to get anything done.

(Skip this paragraph if you like.) And so on Tuesday I looked at a gardening book by Vita Sackville-West, Wayne Koestenbaum's short biography of Warhol, my former colleague C.Carr's excellent collection of performance art criticism, ON EDGE, and a monograph on "The Level Club," a Masonic hobnobbing spot/hotel on West 73rd Street, long since out of commission. From this curious little book, I learned some things, such as that in the 1960s, 25% of the country's registered drug addicts lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (Which explains why I live there! Just kidding, Mom!) I also learned a bit about the Hall of the Knights of Pythias, the ornate building on West 70th Street, which is mentioned on the first page of Bob Dylan's CHRONICLES. The Knights of Pythias were a fraternal organization, with some Masonic overlap, founded in 1864 to foster brotherhood between North and South; its members abhor extremism and violence in politics and daily life (that last bit is more or less a quote from the book). It's the only fraternal organization whose charter was approved by an act of Congress (signed by Lincoln). As it turns out, the place on 70th Street (you can't miss it if you stop into Café Mozart for a cappuccino al fresco) wasn't officially connected with the Knights—oh, anyway, you see what the problem is. If I work in the stacks, I dip into a million books. It's great as an idea tinderbox, but I'm at the stage where concentrated writing is more important. I go to the library, really, to escape *my* library—the hundreds of books cramming the shelves of my apartment.

The nook is dedicated to a NYSL benefactor from days of yore, one John Cleve Green—next time, I'll copy down more of the inscription, which takes up an entire wall—and bears the motto CUNCTA SUO TEMPORE. Latin-loving (Latino?) Dizzyheads, tell me what this means! The CUNCTA is done with a V for a U.

Outside the snow was swirling. I had no gloves. I wore a silly floppy-brimmed hat and a raincoat against what had suddenly turned into freezing weather, after a marvelous Monday that had basked in the low 60s. I kept thinking of the guy in METROPOLITAN who assures the rich kids that his flimsy coat *has a lining*. I picked up a prepackaged Cobb salad at Butterfield Market and got hypnotized at the cash register by a mysterious-looking snack item called "Bridgehampton Gorp."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Making flippy-floppy

Tonight, David Byrne delivers the Marshall McLuhan lecture at NYU. Guess who *doesn't* have tickets!

I've been thinking about DB and the Talking Heads a lot lately, after a long spell of not really thinking much about them at all, despite my near religious teenage ardor. The recent Ed-Heads-meme germ? Either listening to the Arcade Fire for the first time ("Neighborhood #2") and thinking it had some of the texture of a Talking Heads song (it was later reported to me that DB joined the Arcade Fire onstage in New York, to sing "Naive Melody")—or hearing the DB song (from his latest album) that kicks off the enjoyable film IN GOOD COMPANY.

Then came Jonathan Lethem's excellent autobiographical piece "The Beards" (in last week's New Yorker), in which he shares his thoughts on the Talking Heads, Eno/Fripp, Philip K. Dick, Dylan, Godard, and more, braiding his response to these artists with his own family dynamics and his *own* eventual art.

After reading it on Saturday, I met my sister for a midnight showing (at the Sunshine) of STOP MAKING SENSE, which I hadn't seen since its original release (in . . . oh man . . . 1984). I enjoyed it even more than I did the first time around. People were dancing in the aisles!

I could talk about it forever, but perhaps I'll just leave you with this thought: Chris Frantz was a dead ringer for the young Bill Clinton!

* * *

Speaking of "The Beards": My friend Michael has a vigorous ginger-colored beard now, grown while walking through Cornwall in September. Won't you send us a picture, Michael?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

"Orange Crush" b/w "Who's Schoolin' Who?"

I'm a bit verklempt about the "end" of The Gates, which has been my companion—my crush—this past fortnight . . . though of course they're still up, many of them, as I saw this morning from my perch on the crosstown bus. I was headed to the New York Society Library, one of those grand, soul-boosting places that make you say, with a smile, "Only in New York, kids—only in New York." And then somebody slaps you. And steps on your foot. And takes your wallet.

The NYSL—I call it the "nissle," as opposed to the "nipple," or New York Public Library, the branches of which seem to be open only every other Wednesday from 3 to 3:45—a.m.!—is my favorite place for reading and writing. And spacing out. What was that?

Thinking about this bit of posh in my life (the NYSL's sweeping staircase always conjures up a similar s.c. from my middle school days) brings me to Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Prep, which I recently read and reviewed. In the first paragraph, I mentioned some fictional prep schools. Shortly after the piece appeared, other literary tie-and-blazer locales came to mind. There's Rushmore, from everyone's favorite Wes Anderson film; St. Benedict's Academy, in Ethan Canin's solid novella The Palace Thief (and in the film version, The Emperor's Club); and Welton, from the film Dead Poets Society. Dizzyheads are encouraged to send me the names of other nonexistent prep schools! Let's put together the most comprehensive list we can!

[In the distance, the entire Dizzies readership can be heard to groan.]

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