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Month: August 2004

In like Mitt

From time to time, people talk about Mitt Romney running for President of the United States. For those uncertain, Mitt Romney is the Republican Governor of Massachusetts; he also ran the fairly successful (if you ignore the scandals) Salt Lake City Olympics a few years back. He is a Mormon.

(Yes, Massachusetts has a Republican Mormon Governor. Please don’t let that shake your belief that Massachusetts is some kind of a Communist protectorate, though; it’s always fun watching people underestimate Massachusetts and its politicians.)

Anyway, as occurs with all successful Massachusetts politicians, people are talking about Romney as a potential candidate for President a few years down the line. This strikes me as a wonderful possibility, not so much because I want to see Mitt running this country but because I think his candidacy could strike some of the fracture lines in the Republican coalition. I think it would be fun watching the conservative Christian faction within the party grappling with a Romney candidacy, let alone a Romney nomination.

So this is a thumbs up for a Romney run. You heard it here first. Alas, the guy’s probably smart enough to know he’d go the way of Orrin Hatch.

Travel plans

Hey, I hear I’m going to be at GenCon. So, they say, are some of you.

I am not going to post my full schedule because nothing horrifies me more than people knowing where I’m going to be. Shudder. However, I will be at the Indie RPG Awards on Wednesday night around 9, and before that I will swing by Nicky Blaines since there’s a rumor that some people I know will be there, if they don’t mind me crashing the party. Hopefully the fine people at Nicky Blaines will have forgotten me from last year.

I will also be at the D&D Thirtieth Anniversary Party. I think this is Thursday night.

If anyone local needs me to pick anything up while I’m there, let me know — in particular, harder to find indie stuff. The No Press Anthology, the Iron Game Chef Fantasy Compilation, Nine Worlds, and Dogs in the Vineyard will be out. Mmm mmm good.

Blind eye

Zatoichi reminded me of Twin Peaks. Where David Lynch uses the iconic FBI agent as the entrance point into his off-kilter Pacific Northwest, Takeshi Kitano uses the iconic figure of Zatoichi as the entrance point into bushido. Now, obviously Kitano isn’t Lynch — there are no midgets — but there are distinct similarities in the precedence Kitano gives metaphor over reality. Does it make sense for a group of peasants to dance in the middle of a long shot? Does it matter, if the metaphor is there?

Zatoichi is a chambara movie in the same way that Twin Peaks is an FBI series. Kitano’s interested in the people and the tragedies; the swordplay is frequent, but it’s not the flashy lengthy battles one might expect. It’s punctuation that (sometimes) lessens the tension built up by the tight unspoken relationships between the characters.

Hm; come to think of it, the tension is also built up by the score, which is nothing short of incredible. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie in which the score was so perfectly integrated into and essential to the movie. I mentioned the peasants dancing; that’s one example, but even when there’s not something whimsically musical going on, the sound design is immaculate.

The other thing I found really striking — well, besides Kitano’s screen presence, which is always impressive — was the texture of the movie. The use of flashbacks is precise and skilled. There’s one scene, another dance scene, in which past is intercut with present to make a certain point about how the past affects the now. Just when you don’t want to see another intercut, just when it’s getting gimmicky, Kitano provides a reaction shot and resets the entire scene. Masterfully done.

There’s also some really spiffy stuff going on with masks and who wears them and who (if anyone) does not. Consider that Zatoichi, in his guise as a masseuse, is in effect wearing a mask. So are an awful lot of other characters. It struck me that the most noble character, or at least the the most honest character, is Gennosuke Hattori the ronin. (Parenthetically, he plays the lead in Last Life in the Universe, which I’m getting more and more excited about every day.) He’s certainly one of only a handful of characters who doesn’t hide behind something.

This is just opening wide (in the arthouse sense of the word) in the US. If you’re patient and you don’t mind giving a movie room to breathe, take the time to see it.


If and when I run that 70s Boston Angel game, the WhedonWiki is gonna be a useful resource. Kind of a pity they don’t let anyone edit, but I can understand why — the spammers are getting aggressive about using wikis to improve their Googlerank. If I were doing spam fighting at Google, I’d be seriously considering removing wikis from the pagerank equation.

(Bill, I still need a name for that wiki. Give me one and I’ll set it up.)

Fire at will

Versions of “Shoot Out The Lights” in my music library:

  • The original, off Shoot Out The Lights, one of the best albums ever. Linda Thompson provides backup vocals. They were months from divorcing at this point, and you can tell; Shoot Out The Lights is also one of the most voyeuristic albums ever.
  • An acoustic version, from A Rare Thing. This album is a bootleg from the 1994 tour (August 13th, 1994, in Chapel Hill); middling quality, but good music. This is the only acoustic version I have, although I have a number of acoustic Richard Thompson albums. It’s not really an acoustic song. Then again, that’s what makes this version interesting.
  • A version from Two Letter Words, which is the legitimate live album also from a 1994 tour. This is electric, from earlier in 1994.
  • The X cover version from Beat The Retreat, one of two Richard Thompson tribute albums. Alas, this is X without Dave Alvin… but it doesn’t really matter, cause it’s still just about perfect. Actually, that whole album is pretty amazing; it’s a who’s who of alternative rock in 1994, with X and R.E.M. and Bob Mould and Los Lobos and David Byrne and so on. All this reminds me to pick up a copy of The World is a Wonderful Place, the other RT tribute album, which is a bunch of Brit folkies you’ve never heard of.
  • Where was I? Oh yeah: a new Los Lobos cover, off this year’s Ride This: The Covers EP. This is a companion to their recent The Ride, on which Thompson guests. It’s the roughest-edged of them all, I think, with pained guitar and hoarse vocals. Very tasty.
  • Bob Mould’s cover from Poison Years. This is the other version I feel somewhat guilty about owning, because Mould was none too pleased about that album — Virgin Records released it without his blessing and it doesn’t track very well as an album, even if we needed a greatest hits album from what was then a two-album solo career. However, it does have a live “Shoot Out The Lights” on it, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to buy it. Mould makes the song into even more of a dirge than it already is, with furious guitar solos. Beautiful.
  • Finally, a live version from Watching The Dark, the big sprawling Best Of album. This version was recorded on a 1983 tour, which is not long at all after Richard and Linda divorced. The order in which I list these is the order in which iTunes happens to sort them, but I think this is the perfect way to finish: back to where it all began, shortly after the pain inherent in the song found resolution.

I need to rip More Guitar, which also has a version on it, as does the new live CD Faithless. More Guitar is a recording from the 1988 tour, which was an electric tour: I saw it live and it literally changed my understanding of what guitar playing could be. John Mellencamp’s old drummer, Kenny Aronoff, played drums on that tour and brought a really aggressive tone to the music. The CD is likewise amazing. Faithless is from the 1985 tour, which I know nothing about, and I haven’t gotten around to ordering the CD yet.

There is no shortage of bootlegs that have “Shoot Out The Lights” on them. I wouldn’t mind owning Live At Toad’s Place; I’ve heard a couple songs from that set, including his “Hey Joe” cover, and wow. Rafferty’s Folly is also of interest — it’s an alternate version of Shoot Out The Lights. After Thompson recorded the take documented on the bootleg, he swapped producers and went back into the studio. There’s another version of that album, Before Joe Could Pull The Trigger…, but I think both use the same version of “Shoot Out The Lights.”

The Covers Project knows of no other cover versions, and Richard Thompson’s site knows of no other versions on legitimate albums, so there it is.

Bicoastal Asian

If you were in the mood to get a taste of some cool Asian movies, there are two film festivals coming up in New York and San Francisco. New York has the New York Korean Festival, running from August 13th to the 22nd. I haven’t seen any of those movies, but I do hear good things about Memories of Murder. The Uninvited also got good reviews at FantAsia.

Meanwhile, over in San Francisco on the same dates, the Four Star is running the 8th annual Asian Film Festival. Note in particular Battlefield Baseball and Azumi. Hm, and not one but two Shaw Brothers flicks: One-Armed Swordsman and Lady General Hua Mulan. Old school 60s swordplay movies, both of them. Plus they’ll be showing both Ju-on and Ju-on 2.

Go do the right thing, and don’t forget that seeing movies at the Four Star will help them stay in business.