more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

maybe an apolitical roundup

But probably not.  Whaddaya gonna do.


1. First and foremost, the best news this week: Frinkiac!  If you haven’t checked it out, get over there, put in some Simpsons quotes, and raise the level of your online discourse with perfect screencaps.  If you don’t like it, that’s a paddlin’.

2. Slate can vary wildly in terms of quality, but they had a stellar interview with A.O. Scott this week.  He’s the co-chief film critic (along with Manohla Dargis) of the New York Times, but he’s about as unpretentious as can be.  He’s got a new book, which I’d like to read, because he knows what he’s talking about (a good quality to find in someone who reviews things for a living, you know?):

You know, it’s hard for me to say what or to give an answer [about values to uphold in criticism] because it’s not like registering in a party. It’s harder than to say I’m a liberal or I’m a conservative. My default position is a kind of humanism. I think that art exists in the service of the dignity of human beings. I think the reason that cinema exists and the thing that gives it its power and charisma is the human face and the ways that it can represent the human face on a scale and with an emotional immediacy that surpasses any other art.

Darn right.

3. If you, like me, respond with a hearty affirmative to “Aimez-vous Brahms?” – then this collection of listening guides is for you.  Many, many thanks to my friend Christina for bringing it to my attention.  I’m afraid I’m a complete idiot when it comes to understanding music on a structural, theoretical level – but these seem like a great way to dip a toe in the water.  They are often richly emotive works of music, and Kelly Dean Hansen (the annotator) doesn’t ignore that; indeed, he explains exactly how and why the music creates the emotional effect that it does.  For instance, there’s my all-time favorite, Symphony no. 1 in C minor, Opus 68.  Here’s the listening guide for the glorious, breathtaking, magnificent few moments in the final movement when the main theme is first introduced:

3:04 [m. 30]–Over a soft timpani roll and the first entry of the trombones, the horns enter with a suddenly noble and grand presentation of what Brahms called the “alphorn” tune or what others have labeled as the “London chimes” melody.  After a bar, the violins and violas begin to play a shimmering tremolo underneath the tune.  The horns pass the melody between themselves to maintain breath support.  The main characteristic of the melody is its opening descent with prominent short-long rhythm.  The melody is nine bars long, with two longer notes in the second phrase extending it a bar more than expected.
3:45 [m. 38]–As the horns reach their cadence, the flutes enter in overlap with their famous presentation of the “alphorn” melody.  Like the horns, they pass it between each other to maintain full breath and tone.  The trombones are largely absent now, but other instruments, such as bassoon and horn, have prominent motions, including half-steps, under the flute melody, and there is a trumpet echo.  The shimmering, hushed string tremolo continues along with the timpani roll (which swells slightly), and the flutes play the complete two-phrase melody without any overlap at the end.
4:31 [m. 47]–The trombones, with bassoon support, intone a solemn chorale.  This chorale will not appear again until the very end of the movement, at the moment of triumph, but its isolated presentation here is quite memorable.  The last leap downward of the chorale is punctuated by another timpani roll.
4:58 [m. 52]–The horns, along with one flute and one clarinet, pass the first bar of the “alphorn” melody among themselves.  The string tremolo and timpani roll surge forward in volume.  After four bars, the second half of the melody, beginning with its highest note, is heard.  The prominent half-step motions are played by the trombones.  The end of the melody is fragmented and repeated, and the volume settles back down rapidly.  At the end, the horns play a last echo of the tune with the trombones and hold it over as the other instruments, except for the timpani, drop out.  Horns and trombones are isolated on a preparatory “dominant” chord.  This anticipatory pause qualifies as one of the most “golden” moments in all of music.
EXPOSITION – Allegro non troppo, ma con brio, C major
5:42 [m. 62]Theme 1.  Emerging out of the “golden moment” is the “big tune,” the one that was compared with the “joy” theme of Beethoven’s Ninth.  The violins, in their rich low register, present the glorious melody while the low strings pluck beneath them, horns and strings adding support.  The opening upbeat leap is distinctive, and the connection to the “dark” anticipation at the movement’s opening is clear.  Halfway through the melody, in the second phrase, is a melodic turn that is most reminiscent of the Beethoven melody.  This second phrase delays its cadence by a bar as the oboes join in to support it.  This creates a 17-bar melody.

Look, I know I’m a sap, but I’m getting misty-eyed just reading about it.  He describes it perfectly.  If you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and listen to it (but the whole thing, please).

4. Via Amanda Hudgins of UnwinnableThe Revenant and The Hateful Eight were both pretty dumb, especially because they both used rape to shock or awe or amuse or whatever.  I cannot tell you how many of the film people I’m friends with who thought Hateful Eight was a rollicking good time, who thought any objections to it were coming from squares who just plain missed the point.  That’s as may be, but it was still shit.


5. Okay, okay, okay, I can’t help myself; I’m going to get a little political.  As you know, I am feelin’ the Bern.  I think his policies are the best by a long shot; I think he understands how to accomplish those policies; I appreciate that his focus is always on the issues and never on ad hominem attacks – whatever his opponents may say.  It’s telling to me that the loudest argument we’ve heard against him is that he supposedly has mean supporters.  On what grounds can anyone attack him?  Either you agree with his policies or you don’t, but he’s pretty unimpeachable as a person, and even as a politician.  Therefore and ergo: the alleged Bernie Bro phenomenon.  What else can you accuse him of?  During primary season, not much.  That’s just not the case for Clinton, though.  There are myriad reasons to criticize her policies in the past and in the present: they’re either terrible or they’re disingenuous.  I agree wholeheartedly with this Guardian opinion piece: who is she, really?

Is she the kindly Grandma-knows-best who made a brief appearance at the start of her campaign? The self-professed workers’ champion who raked in millions of dollars delivering high-priced speeches to banks and corporations? The born-again climate change advocate who, as secretary of state, was ready to sign off on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline? The self-proclaimed defender of women’s rights who waited until it was almost too late to declare her support for marriage equality?

Rather than engage with any of those inconsistencies, she throws a sulk if someone – Bernie, a reporter, some anonymous nobody on Twitter – brings up her actual record and what it indicates about her actual political intentions.  To her supporters, I ask only this: what is it about her policies that you think makes her superior to Sanders, or to anyone else?  It really does matter that she accepts huge contributions from Wall Street, from for-profit prison companies.  It really does matter that she’s changed her mind and seen the light as of, oh, 2015 with regards to Keystone, TPP, etc., etc., etc.  Bernie forced her to the left on those issues, but her record really does speak for itself.  We’re all allowed to change our mind once in a while, but I don’t think anyone is wrong to be cynical about the reasons and timing behind all her latest changes of heart.

6. Semi-related: a long read, but a good one, from Jacobin about the Sanders/Coates reparations question.  It is very far from my place to offer any kind of opinion about what should or shouldn’t happen regarding reparations – but I think it’s a good piece there.

2 comments on “maybe an apolitical roundup

  1. Jnana Hodson
    February 5, 2016

    Whew! Now, to immerse myself in Brahms and watch snow while waiting to see if any of the candidates show up in the neighborhood. Cruz was at an Irish bar around the corner Wednesday.

    • mcwhirk
      February 5, 2016

      I daresay that Brahms will be far more enjoyable company than Cruz 🙂

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