Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vote for my Boss

Hi there, Snowman enthusiasts.

Take a minute, if you can, and vote for my boss in this video competition hosted by Crain's Chicago Business. He's the one labeled The Sky's The Limit, by Irv Shapiro--it's about a third of the way down the page.

There's no registration or log-in required.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Video Essay of the Week

Jim Emerson on the shared physical memory of Mad Men, also featuring the gaze. (Spoilers through season 4, episode 9.)

Beautiful Girls (and Mad Men): Ghosts of the 37th Floor from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

His comments here are also worth reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Pale King Cover

Two things to note about the cover of DFW's latest (last?) book, The Pale King.
  1. In publishing, it's kinda a big deal to have the author's name in bigger print than the book's title. DFW's been at this for a while.
  2. The cover is designed by DFW's widow, Karen Green.
The book, set largely in an IRS tax-processing center, will be released on April 15, 2011. Seven months.

[via The Howling Fantods!, naturally]

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From David Foster Wallace's Kenyon Commencement Speech, two years to the day of his suicide:

    As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From Ian Frazier's "On the Prison Highway," from the August 30, 2010 edition of The New Yorker:

    Beneath a surface layer of unbelief or Orthodox Christianity, Russia is an animist country. Ordinary physical objects are alive in Russia far more than they are in America, and, however Russia's religious or political currents flow, this native animism remains strong. Trees, streets, utensils, groves, machines--each has its own spirit and its own personality, like the cabin belonging to the witch Baba Yaga that could get up on its chicken legs and run around. A Russian telephone isn't just a phone, it's a being; once, at my friend Alex Melamid's mother's apartment when I was having trouble dialling her phone, she showed me how, explaining, "He likes to be dialled slowly." In Russia, alarm clocks don't ring; they burst into rooster-crowing.


    In Russia the windshield wiper on your car isn't called a mechanical name--it's a dvornik, a word whose more common meaning is "custodian." What we call a speed bump in America the Russians call lezhachii politseiskii, which means "lying-down policeman."

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Video Essays: The Wire's Opening Credits and Man Men's Visual Style

    Looking back, the thing I liked most about Phillips' description of Pele from two posts ago is that it felt very much like a video essay, just with the commentary separated from the video, in this case taking the form of the paragraph preceding the video. Video essays are one of my favorite things about the internet: the mixing of mediums allows for smart people to demonstrate arguments and theories with the very evidence needed to best convince the reader of the point being made. Phillips did exactly that and this is why I was struck by the beauty of what he accomplished. I only recognized what he did as a video essay in retrospect.

    These essays are perhaps the best form of commentary because it requires the writer to show his work. Video essays are particularly well suited to visual mediums, and there are loads of great ones illuminating films. But the low technological barrier of entry has allowed for some wonderful pieces on serious TV dramas. Here are two examples of what I mean, the first on the visual language of the first two seasons of Mad Men and the second on the opening credits of The Wire's first season.

    RETRO: The Camera & 'Mad Men'
    Uploaded by Jefferson_Robbins. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.


    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Pele's Brilliance and the Art of Description

    Here's something surprising: Brian Phillips, of the great Run of Play, composed a fantastic post analyzing Pele through the prism of DFW's famous "Roger Federer as Religious Experience" article. That isn't the surprising part. Wallace's piece is ripe for analysis and extrapolation. No, the surprising thing is that, as good as Phillips' application and critique of DFW's is, it pale in comparison to this brilliant description of how Pele does work:
    There are moments in Pelé’s games when he dribbles straight into a crowd of three or four defenders. He seems to have done that often, though in the videos now it’s sometimes hard to say who he’s playing against or what year it is or even what the score is or how much time is on the clock. He’ll dribble into a crowd of three or four defenders, which is suicide for a footballer, even in Brazil in the 1960s. 


    It’s almost impossible to keep the fine control you need to take a decent shot when all the defender needs to do is wallop the ball away from you. Pelé dribbles into a crowd of players who have put themselves between him and the goal and whose whole purpose is to get the ball away from him, to keep him from scoring, which again is infinitely easier than the task facing the attacking player, and often in these situations, instead of trying something dazzling or virtuosic, Pelé will just stop. He’ll come to a sudden halt, with his foot lightly resting on top of the ball, and a ripple of confusion and wrong-footedness will go through the crowd of defenders as it tries to react and not fall over. Pelé will do one of those dancing shivering whole-body fakes he excelled at, dropping his shoulder, say, as if he’s about to lunge to the left, but almost simultaneously hinting right with his hips, and rolling the ball just slightly in a teasing way under his toes. Half the defenders start to guess one way and the other half start to guess the other way, but they recover, they’re professionals paying attention, and then just at the precise moment when it looks like a stalemate Pelé knocks the ball through the semi-opening created by their split-second almost-guess and tears through after it, so that one of them falls over and one of them whips around in the wrong direction, and then he’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper and it’s easy to flip the ball up into the corner of the net, in that afterthought way that characterized a lot of Pelé’s strikes. He leaps up in the air to celebrate, that famous happy hop, and the surprising thing about the way he jumps is always how much he seems to belong on the ground; there’s something physically dense about him, something that looks like it wants to sink, so that you sometimes have the impression that the game is keeping him afloat the way the ocean keeps up a battleship. So he comes down, and you laugh, because you have just seen an intelligence perform the remarkable task of solving the complete problem represented by the presence and position of the defenders and the need to control the ball without the use of hands, and you have seen a body so perfectly balanced and controlled that it could act transparently as the agent of this solution even where the solution itself required timing, strength, speed, and awareness far surpassing what most athletes possess. You have seen a thousand different soccer players face this position, and Pelé probably faced it a thousand times, but even if you were reluctant going in, the effect of the Pelé Moment is that for as long as it lasts you are prepared to swear that no one who ever got into this situation got out of it quite like Pelé.
    It's a long quote, but I love how Phillips here gives context and meaning to the variety of Pele's actions, a variety that represents one particular skill-set and form of physical genius. Phillips' video compilation illustrates his points:

    I think I'm finally starting to understand what makes Pele Pele.