Monday, May 25, 2009

5/25/09

Memorial Day weekend so I took an extra bump day on posting-- plus the last post was double length. I'm pretty pleased with the NPC series, but I have to go back eventually and polish those entries.

Long weekend and the allergies have been pretty rough. The temperature in the house finally broke 80 for a bit so I went to turn on the AC, and discovered it had gone out. So now I'm looking forward to spending money on that come Tuesday. Plus we ended up with a couple more obligations than I'd intended to have and we missed the Big Eat gathering this year. On the other hand, our niece got accepted into the Indiana Academy, which is a pretty big step for her. She's been bored to tears at her current school and this will mean a significant ramping up of challenge for her. Plus she'll be going away to school (it is located at Ball State) which will give her a leg up on the college experience. She decided on her own she wanted to do this, although we backed her up on it, and went through the process on her own steam. I think I'm impressed with that as much as anything. I recall high school being a time of ideas larger than execution so I'm happy she had the drive to do that.

So a mixed blog post today-- just some notes on some interesting things I've seen or read.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse: This is Fritz Lang talkie, the last movie he made before fleeing Nazi Germany. I've been more familiar with the idea of Fritz lang himself than his films. I can only think of three that I've definitively seen: Metropolis, Spies, and M. One of my favorite books, Flicker, has its central enigmatic McGuffin character loosely based on Lang. Mabuse turns out to be quite an enjoyable film. Based loosely on a series of pulp novels featuring the Mabuse Supercriminal, the commentary suggested that figure has great resonance and power in Europe-- akin to Fu Manchu or Moriarty. Lang had made an earlier silent film featuring the Mabuse character and this one can be considered a sequal in some ways. It also serves as a sequel to M in that the police detective character returns and several sets are reused. Criterion does a nice job of presenting a restored and complete version clocking in at a little over two hours. Previous available cuts had significant editing, usually running at around 80+ minutes.

The commentary on the disk is worth listening to-- I actually enjoyed the movie enough that I watched the feature and then the commentary back-to-back. Lang's got a distinct visual style, but he doesn't quite fit into the category of German Expressionism of Dr. Caligari or Nosferatu. But he seems to be one of the earliest users of a certain kind of visual/narrative trick that we've become used to. Essentially visual, audio or speech elements carry over from one scene transition to the next-- where they become changed to a different context. In one scene we hear the ticking of a time bomb in the room where a couple is trapped. When the scene fades and changes the sound continues but is revealed to be the tapping of someone breaking open a hard-boiled egg. In another scene we have the police detective wondering about what drove on of his associates mad. We cut to a doctor lecturing about madness and assume he's talking about that person, but in fact he's introducing another character. There's the classic narrowing in on an object, like a gun, and then when we pull back we're in a different scene with the same gun. Alan Moore's well known for borrowing this trick, and if you've read Watchmen then you've seen him use that to great effect. I enjoyed seeing one of the earliest uses of this in cinema.

Other odd trivia from watching this. I'd seen pictures of Lang, an slightly formal, very German-looking fellow with a monocle. I'd assumed that was an affectation, but it turns out one of his eyes was injured in WW1 and he used the monocle to correct his vision. I'd also thought of such things purely as ornamentation, but they had a practical purpose. Sherri pointed out that sort of thing would have been more common in the past where injuries or diseases would have debilitated only one eye. It makes sense, but it honestly hadn't occurred to me-- especially since the monocle's become such a shorthand visual element denoting fanciness or high society.

Oishinbo (A La Carte) is a manga covering food. I've read another food manga, Yakitate!! which was more of a boys adventure manga about a kid who battles to become the world's greatest baker with his magic warm hands. Seriously. That's a fantastical series, more like Naruto than anything else. Oishinbo, on the other hand, is a serious exploration of Japanese culture and cuisine. The main character's a kind of lazy guy who has a refined palette. He's a reporter assigned to come up with the Ultimate Menu feature to celebrate his paper's 100 year anniversary. He battles with various critics, his awful father and the rival paper in his effort to find the great things about Japanese cuisine. The stories also feature domestic and personal turmoils that can only be overcome by learning about the true soul of Japanese food.

I won't say the art's that great-- it seems to serve the story, but it does have some great and exacting depictions of cooking scenes. The first volume covers the ethos of Japanese cuisine, the second looks at Sake and spirits, and the third has Gyoza and Ramen. Each volume has a couple of color plates with some recipes. Interestingly for the Viz English language editions, they assembled the stories thematically. The original manga didn't appear in such an order. I think that's a pretty good choice for a manga which has such a strong educational purpose rather than an evolving plot. However it does mean that when you're reading, you'll see characters appear as regulars who haven't been introduced yet, references to incidents we haven't seen, and changes in the lives of the characters which go unexplained. Still it is fascinating if you like food and manga. The end notes are adequate-- not up to the standard of Dark Horse's wonderful commentaries, but enough to answer a couple of questions.

I'll keep it short today and come back to a couple of like things tomorrow.