The Codex Seraphinaianus

Fans of surrealism, fantasy, and late ’70s European illustration should find much to groove on in Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, a 400-page imaginary encyclopedia of a world similar to ours populated by bizarre creatures. The above site features a little background on the mysterious work, and links to illustrations. Totally out of print, used copies cost boogaloo bucks. (Or do they?) At least the Amazon link suggests other strange books, even if there’s not a Codex in stock.
Serafini has a site, but it’s under construction. There is, however, a site devoted to the Codex. And apparently Serafini is just updating the original “mysterious” work, the Voynich Manuscript.

Preview: Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

When we first got cable in the early 80s, before HBO was an option to us, my dad subscribed to a channel called the Z Channel. I don’t remember too much about it except that everytime I tuned in they were showing one of two films: “Agatha” with Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Smith, and “The Great Train Robbery” with Sean Connery. If you made it all the way to the end of one of these, there was a good chance you’d run into “Hardware Wars.”
Well, apparently Z Channel was much more important than that–an L.A.-based channel run by a troubled film buff who, ahead of his time, insisted on director’s cuts and restoration. Filmmakers like Verhoeven say it lead to their success by screening their early works. Tarantino got an education in foreign film.
Xan Cassavettes, daughter of John, now has a documentary that examines the channel and the fall of its owner Jerry Harvey.
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession was the hit of the Los Angeles Film Festival is making the rounds soon.

Love the G-Mail!

That standup chap William sent me a Gmail invite and now I’m seriously into it. After years of using the naff naff naff Yahoo mail interface, the Gmail system offers many answer-to-my-prayers features. The interface is simple and graphics-free, like the main Google web site. Yes, it does have text ads running down the right-hand side, but it took me several days to even notice them. And after I did notice them, I went back to ignoring them. My second favorite feature is its ability to remember frequently used addresses just like a regular email app. finally, it can collapse and expand back-and-forth exchanges, allowing for a continual thread on one screen.
I still have six invitations left. If any reader of this blog would like one, please drop me a line.

Yet another to our cause…

A friend of mine, George Yachtisin, who once wrote for the Independent and now serves as publicist for UCSB’s Arts & Lectures (that’s how I met him), has now started his own blog called I’m Not One to Blog, But…
He claims that “in order to put the spurs to the pony that is my dwindling imagination, it seems necessary to see if I can keep one of these [blogs] going.” He also hopes that the blog will be a daily musing on a random song, “or, I should say, let a song lead my writing.”
The first entry is on Phil Manzanera/Brian Eno’s Big Day, which shows the man has taste.
Welcome aboard, George…

Sopranos Season Three

Prod. David Chase
Sins of the fathers…Season Three of the Sopranos (yes, I know we’re going at a bloody clip) is much stronger than its predecessor,
almost as if the out-of-control Ralphie (Joe Pantaliano) was infecting the entire show. We have beatings, a grim rape, numerous bullets to the head, and plenty of people not thinking straight at all.
Tony tries to keep one son (his) out of the business, going as far as enrolling him in a military academy. Yet he fails to keep the son of his former boss–the drippy Freddie Prinze Jr.-lookalike Jackie Jr.–out of the game, despite numerous warnings and slappings about. The results are inevitable, tragic, and a waste.
Elsewhere, some of the episodes this season are some of my favorites. The premiere, Mr. Ruggeriostktktk Neighborhood, focused on a few days in the life of the Sopranos as the FBI try to plant a listening device in their house. It was a taught, time-specific episode, unlike the rather loose, rat-ta-tat plotting of a usual episode. Plus the use of the bootleg mashup of “Every Breath You Take” and “Peter Gunn” was hair-tinglingly brilliant. (The female tennis instructor who had the hots for Adrianne also tingled the body, just not the scalp.) I also liked the Blair Witch-meets-Joisy episode where Paulie and Chris get lost in the woods after being overpowered by a hardy Russian they have taken out to whack. Their fate juxtaposed with Tony’s problems with his hot goomah (Annabella Sciorra, oozing sex) brought out the black comedy this show does best.
Two missteps: the very awkward final Livia episode, where Marchand was pasted electronically into one last scene with James Gandolfini (memories of Bruce Lee in Game of Death!). It didn’t look right and it was obvious, awkward, and sad that Gandolfini was acting to air. The episode came back, though, and delivered a knock-out ending as Carmela lets rip at the wake and speaks what’s on everyone’s mind.
The other sour note was Chase’s attempt to universalize the sad song sung by Uncle Junior at the finale’s funeral. The soundtrack switched from the Italian song to a Chinese ballad, a Portugese fado, and beyond, a real jarring experience.
This third season ends with numerous loose threads, and the sense that the chaos hinted at here is one mistake away from exploding.

The Vintage Mencken – H.L. Mencken (ed. Alistair Cooke)

1951, reprinted 1990

I picked up this Mencken book after seeing his name used many times in the same sentence as Twain.
Before then I hadn’t heard of him, but fortunately Amazon had a good guide to him and the Book Den had it in stock.
Selected by Alistair Cooke, this is a fairly decent overview of the man, starting off with Mencken’s memories of Baltimore, the city he rarely left, and ending with an essay on death.
Mencken was one of the original crusty curmudgeon journalists, chomping on a cigar, attacking the typewriter, and assailing all preconceived notions, left and right. He’s not exactly a fan of democracy, either, if by that you mean mob rule. In one of the most fascinating long articles near the center of this collection, “The National Letters,” he takes on the paltry (up to the time of writing, 1920) contributions made by Americans to world literature. (Hemingway and Steinbeck were right around the corner, but miles away, and that doesn’t necessarily mean Mencken would have liked them.) His view that it is our inherent Puritanism, coupled with a pleasant moderation, which has led to weak lit is close to Robert Hughes’ view of American art before the Modern era. yet Mencken’s prescription is for the creation of a true aristocratic class. This is a hard thing to parse, but he doesn’t mean the rich either, who have all the money in the world but no sense of heritage or class. (He has a lot to say about the idiotic rich, as well.)
Elsewhere, his look back at the Wilsonian era is notable for its parallels to life under Bush: fearmongering (Germans instead of terrorists), a leader who speaks in sound bites without substance, a cowed press and academia, intolerance of dissent. But enough of me, here’s some choice quotes by Mencken that should give you some taste:

Civilization is at its lowest mark in the United States precisely in those areas where the Anglo-Saxon still presumes to rule. he runs the whole South–and in the whole South there are not as many first-rate men as in many a single city of the mongrel North. Wherever he is still firmly in the saddle, there we look for such pathological phenomena as fundamentalism, Prohibition and Ku Kluxery, and there they flourish.”–from “the Anglo-Saxon”

Or how about this comparison found in a review of what we would now call a puff-piece bio on Wilson:

“This incredible work is an almost inexhaustible mine of bad writing, faulty generalizing, childish pussyfooting, ludicrous posturing, and naive stupidity. to find a match for it one must try to imagine a biography of the Duke of Wellington by his barber.”

Mencken also wrote many an epigram: “Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.”
“Puritanism–The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Who knows what Mencken would have made of Bush, but I don’t think it would have been favorable. He certainly would have seen through the phony bravado and “common man” play-acting, as he does in his reports of politicians excerpted here (when FDR wins the nomination during a very tight convention night over challenger Al Smith, Mencken is sure it will spell upcoming defeat for the Dems.
For the insight into American tastes and politics, this book is worth reading. Although Mencken’s style is wordy, it still has bite. Charges of racism are refuted at least in this volume by his strong support of allowing blacks and whites to mix in public (in Baltimore, of course). He is quoted elsewhere as putting down the intelligence of the “negro,” but read alongside his even more vicious attacks on religion, corrupt politicians, and the great unwashed, Mencken lets them off easy.
Side note: This book’s previous owner, I would guess, looks to be an angry undergrad, full of righteous political correctness, who had gone through the book and checked off all the sentences where Mencken fails as a member of the 1990s. This, of course, is missing the point, but these wrongheaded annotations almost seem appropriate to this volume.