Wednesday, January 31, 2007

sweet music

It's time for this week's roundup- the last one for January 2007. February is going to be the beginning of a big year for classic film releases, with some great stuff heading our way next week; but more on that later. For now, let's head straight into this week's Top Shelf Pick.

Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
Harry Connick, Jr.
We make no pretense here that we enjoy Harry Connick, Jr.'s music. Mrs. Loophole loves Harry Connick, Jr. She likes his music too. I do not begrudge her that one bit, as I am a fan. And for fans, this is a great week of two concurrent releases: Oh, My Nola and Chanson du Vieux Carre. Both are a tribute to Connick's home town of New Orleans, and in a way, is a heartfelt love letter to New Orleans, and its music and people. Oh, My Nola features songs that are closely related to the city, and several new tracks by Connick. Chanson du Vieux Carre focuses on the music tradition of New Orleans that reverberates with big band, swing, Dixieland and jazz. A must for any fan of the music or of Harry Connick, Jr.

Norah Jones: Not Too Late
Norah Jones hit the big time with her first major studio release, and hasn't looked back since. Her sophomore effort was just as outstanding and some feared that the dreaded "follow up slump", that accompanies so many artists who achieve success so early, would catch up to her soon. It appears that may not be the case here. Her third album, Not Too Late, continues on the path of self-expression, multiple threads of musical styles, and features that same, sweet, hypnotically soothing voice.

Dave Koz: At the Movies
With the Oscars coming up, and especially the marathon goodness that is 31 days of Oscar now happening on TCM, this is a great disc to get to get you in the right mood. Featuring several guest artists such as Chris Botti and Anita Baker, Koz does his take on many iconic and perhaps less well known, but beautiful, movie themes. Somewhere, As Time Goes By, The Pink Panther, and the always present Over the Rainbow are just of few of the classic tracks you'll find on the discs. Yes, many artists have done their take on many of these songs, but- this is the Koz, man!

Hitler's Beneficiaries by: Gotz Aly
When Gotz Aly published this book in Germany, it immediately became a controversy. Aly looks at the question which many have asked, but few have come up with an answer for: How did Hitler win the allegiance of ordinary Germans? The answers are complex on several levels, but Aly's book examines at how Hitler focused his propaganda, not just on nationalism, but on "the German people." Hitler promised many things to the poor and the Germans who felt dispossessed. Using many records and documents to support and back up his findings, Aly demonstrates how Hitler used the plunder from the war, taken from Jewish families and business, and others deemed enemies of the state in Germany; by funneling the goods and funds not just into the war effort, but also into redistribution of wealth and handouts. This book is not only important to read for understanding our history, but it is important for understanding our present day situation. It is difficult for me to look at what is going with Hugo Chavez and not think of the tragedies, like this one, of the past.
Flyboys (Reader Mini-Review alert!)
Disclaimer: I have not seen this film. Assessment: It looks pretty cool.
Opinion: I think I will get it. Reason: It looks like a good, old fashioned swashbuckler war movie. Any questions?
Verdict: We'll let you know when we see it. If you've seen it and would like to give us your own mini-review, email us at The Shelf: and we will randomly select one out of all the entries and put your mini-review up on next week's roundup! This is a new feature that we are trying out so we can have more interaction with our readers! Please, no profanity or diatribes. Let us know what you think and you may be featured in next week's Reader Mini-Review!

Madame Curie
The lovely Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon star in this bio-pic about Marie Curie and her work and discovery of radium, and the story of her marriage to Pierre Currie. The film was directed by Mervyn Leroy, and based on the book by the Curie's daughter, Eve Curie.
Alright, forget Danny Glover- and forget Disney on this one. The original Angels in the Outfield is much better. Starring Paul Douglas, Keenan Wynn, and the beautiful Janet Leigh was made in 1951 and has more charm and humor than the lackluster remake. The sad thing is that few people know that the 90s film was a remake. Special features include several cartoons and a radio adaptation of the film. This is an Amazon Exclusive disc.

Can you say 1980s grade-A cheese? Can you say guilty pleasure? In the mid 1980's, Ninjas were huge. Me and the gang loved watching Lee Van Cleef in The Master on television (by the way where is that DVD set?) and we played Shinobi in the arcade. Ninja movies were everywhere, and somehow, somewhere, a big wig in Hollywood said one day: "Hey let's combine America's fascination with Ninjas and it's love for competitive Gymnastics. It's a win-win!" Kurt Thomas may have never been able to compete in the 1980 Olympics because of the ban, but he had his shot at taking on the Cold War in ... Gymkata!

Band of Angels
Clark Gable, Sydney Poitier, and (the recently and sadly deceased) Yvonne DeCarlo star in this 50's film about a Southern Belle whose fortunes turn south when her father dies during the Civil War era. Hmmm...sounds familiar. And it stars Clark Gable? Oh, but wait...the similarities end there. The film delves into slavery, family secrets, and torrid romance. Did I say they end? Well, actually the movie is quite different from that other one you are thinking of. Worth checking out, indeed.

Well that's all folks... Wait! No TCM picks today? Well, don't worry we have a massive TCM Shelf picks coming up next that celebrates- The Academy Awards. Stick around and don't miss it!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

There are many sounds around us, each is slightly different. So small as to go un-noticed by the person who is unaware. Do not hear the wood split. Hear the only sound of axe, cutting air. Read the air itself. It has much say to you.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

ridley scott gets it

One of my pet peeves as both a student of history and a student of film, is that so often the two mix like oil and water. The students, I mean. I have heard many discussions where the historians discuss an upcoming "Historical film" and go out on a limb to make everyone understand that "things didn't happen that way." I have also heard similar discussions from film critics, who, absent any knowledge of history, feel the director or "artist" has a responsibility to bring out the emotion and story and shouldn't have to worry about facts. In other words, when it comes to art one must require carte blanche.

I believe that most of these discussions occur within groups of pointy-headed and uptight cultural elitists. (I oughtta know, I have observed them in their natural habitats. Ahem.) Most of what I am talking about has to do with their attitudes towards the audience. Some issues lie within how much academic historians distrust "popular history" and the general public's perception and understanding of it (For some reason they can't figure out why their monograph on the evolution of the toothbrush in 17th century in the Atlantic world never flew off the shelves).

Also some critics and film makers have issues with how things really happened in the past, and their reluctance to be bold enough to address them in an honest way. ("Historical notions of class and courtship? Pish posh! We have to put a modern spin on it! And, all the white guys are the bad guys. Don't forget!")

Me - well, I take a different view. What we have are essential forms of communication: film and books or teaching. When I go to a movie, I generally do not expect to see a museum documentary (which, if we are being honest, also have their slants). And when I go to a museum, I generally don't expect to see CGI, Russell Crowe, or a car chase. In essence, I believe there are a lot of people who understand the difference. That is not to say I don't believe film makers have a responsibility to some degree of accuracy when portraying a historical time or figure, I do. I also believe that historians and writers have a responsibility to accuracy and to working towards a better understanding of the past as well as some degree of objectivity. In other words, I believe that the two sides can learn from each other. And I believe that films, with some accuracy, can take some creative liberty with events, etc. as long as it is done responsibly. It is, after all, entertainment. And this entertainment can lead to more learning and understanding of the past. Film makers should use historians, not just as consultants, but as launching pads; ways to introduce and discuss the film. As long as they are upfront about what they are doing. I tend to be wary of the film maker who claims his film is the "true story," because, that is not always possible. Point of view, experiences, and biases always play some role in any narrative form, whether it's film making or history. An excellent demonstration is Kurosawa's great film, Rashomon.

By the same token, historians shouldn't be so quick to condemn or judge. They have got to get out of the ivory tower every now and then. They need to realize that films can be the springboard to further learning. I had a professor who showed several "Hollywood" films and then led a discussion on what was the real story and what wasn't, and encouraged us to read more about the subject, now that we were interested. It's much like what we talked about, in regards to history books- interest is half the battle. That professor got it. He understood that he would be more successful in making sure the real story was understood, not by trying to fight the film, but rather by incorporating the film in the discussion, weighing its pros and cons, and capturing that interest.

Someone else who "gets it" is film maker Ridley Scott. I have been enamored of the four disc director's cut of his film, Kingdom of Heaven. The film didn't do that well at the initial American box office, for two reasons. Primarily because the studio forced cuts which should never have been made. Many critics, after seeing the theatrical version, didn't like it, but have since retracted some of those criticisms upon seeing the director's cut. Many said that it was the version that should have been released. Fox made a critical area in that regard. Secondly, historians, critics and political pundits lambasted the film from all sides. Christian critics had problems with it because it portrayed the Crusaders too harshly and was pro-Muslim. Muslims critics stated that the film wasn't accurate and too harsh in their portrayal of Muslims. Historians took issue with everything. All of this came out, before the movie premiered. These two issues really hampered the film with movie goers.

Then came the DVD. Ridley is not afraid of discussing, not just how the film was made, but also why he made certain choices that he made. He is also quick to point out "I'm a moviemaker, not a documentarian. I was brought up on Ingmar Bergman, and in The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring, he brilliantly touched on areas where you can talk about religion without any discomfort. I try to hit the truth. We try to show both sides in a very balanced light." And it's not just about balance, as it is about making a film, with some accuracy to history, but also acknowledging where things are fictionalized and what was the real story. The 4 disc DVD set includes a documentary feature with several historians and theologians called "Creative Accuracy", which discusses the actual story and historical figures and what was accurate and what was not. This is somewhat bold, but wonderful, as there are several features in both the two disc and four disc versions which attempt to discuss actual events and what in essence is a movie. Ridley uses the DVD as way to springboard into discuss of a subject he is passionate about and a movie he clearly loves. The scriptwriter, William Monahan, also discusses his lifelong research and interest in the crusades, and how Ridley and Tony Scott sent him every book he requested for even more research while finishing the script.

In the the great commentary track, Ridley discusses why he loves to do historical pieces, and why it's important try and get it right: "I love to create the world, which I know I keep saying this, and I've said this before, but I actually think the real enjoyment is in creating an environment and a world that you feel lives, within which you are going to put your characters. And that's going to become one of the characters in the movie;, how the movie is presented. So standing here, on a daily basis, in January, on the foothills of the Pyrenees, with all these people dressed this way, eating medieval food, with horses, shoeing the horses, the smell of the burning horn on the [horse's hoof], I really felt like I was at that particular period. And that is really one of the thrills of doing this, and the smell of the livestock, the smell of the chickens...and you are literally in a time-warp. You've got a modern unit standing in a time warp. Thats if it's done properly. And that's my job, that's one of my big additions to what I do as a filmmaker; to make sure the whole world that I am dealing with is real."

Ridley also "gets it" about DVDs and the audience. When discussing on the commentary track about the cuts the studio pushed for, he explains that flashback scenes with the main character's wife (who is dead in the beginning in the film) were among those requested to be cut by the studio. He explains that audiences understand the story, and if the studio and film maker are willing to trust the audience, so to speak, they will appreciate nuances and more scenes that expound the character or story. He states "I think there is a tendency today to say 'Let's get to the story quicker and we're going to put the film out to movie houses.' I think the value of this digital market is that people are more willing or more ready to sit at home and actually enjoy the longer version. Thank God for DVD." Ridley Scott is one of the few directors today, who understands the home DVD market and audiences, and appreciate that a director can really give them something to enjoy and value after they have left the theater. His different DVD sets of films like Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Blackhawk Down, and even Legend aren't double dips. I haven't thrown my other sets away or sold them, when I've gotten the extended sets. There are great extras. My Kingdom of Heaven set has become a virtual five disc set, including the bonus disc of the two disc set.

I heartily recommend the four disc Director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven. Here is the DVD Times review for you to check out.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

return of the roundup

Whatcha lookin' at punk?
This is it: The long awaited (at least by a few) return of the roundup! The weeks since Christmas are traditional dry spells, as far as releases go, but that's OK. We need a break to catch-up with all the goodies we may have received during the Holidays, or to pay bills for those goodies. Or begin to pay the bills. *Sigh...*
Nonetheless, we are back! It's nice to get back in the swing of things. We got several nice releases this week, and some great stuff on over on TCM (and they've got some great stuff coming up- but more on that next week.) They may have announced the nominations for the Oscars today, but I couldn't tell ya' much about them. I haven't seen any of the films. So you came to the wrong place for prognostication. If it's classic films on DVD you are after- well, buckle up, cause we're about to take off.

Top Shelf Pick of the Week!
Robert Mitchum Signature Collection
Last year one of my favorite "Bargain Bin Discoveries" was Volume 1 of Warner Brother's Film Noir Box set. I really loved the set and got it for a price that I'm afraid to mention here, because I don't believe the retailer has any more copies. Let me just say it was a steal. One of the first movies I watched was Out of the Past starring Robert Mitchum. I loved it, and thought it really brought him more out of obscurity for me.
I've always kind of liked Robert Mitchum. I hadn't really sought out his films, but when I came across them I would watch. He had a rough-hewn, laid back cool about him. He always seemed to be a tough, no-nonsense character. Heck, when he did those beef commercials, I always knew that eating beef was manly, but hearing Robert Mitchum talk about it...hell, I though it wasn't manly if you didn't eat steak. "It's what's for dinner, by God. And don't screw around with it." Yessir, Mr. Mitchum.
This set includes several films that aren't necessarily among his best, but certainly demonstrate the range and breadth of his career. I think that is what these Signature sets have become. They seem to be more about the actor, his range and versatility than just his or her greatest hits. Included in this set are the films: Home from the Hill, Macao, Sundowners, The Yakuza, Angel Face, and The Good Guys and the Bad Guys.

Criterion Collection: Yojimbo and Sanjuro
If you have never seen these films, you are in for a treat. Directed by the phenomenal Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), Yojimbo was the inspiration for Sergio Leone's A Fistfull of Dollars, on its own terms an influential Spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood. (For those keeping score, Yojimbo is based on Dashell Hammett's story Red Harvest. An American film inspires a Japanese film, which inspires an Italian film, which launches the career of an American star and inspired Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing. If that isn't a global market, I don't know what one is.) Yojimbo is the story of a nameless Samurai who comes into a down bitterly divided by two warring clans. The Samurai decides to take matters into his own hands and help the farmers out by pitting the factions against one another.
Sanjuro is a sequel of sorts which finds that our nameless Samurai now has a name: Sanjuro. Sanjuro comes into another town and helps another Samurai at the mercy of some corrupt officials. The sequel is more of an action comedy than the first film, but both films are excellent. This set is a re-release of sorts, but as with last year's Seven Samurai, the films have been digitally restored, the audio improved and new special features added. Check it out.

Fiddler on the Roof: Two Disc Special Edition
If you love musicals, and you don't already own the previous special edition, this will be an enjoyable edition to your DVD library. The musical is excellent and the songs very memorable. However, this is a repackage special edition set. Most of the previous features are present, except everything is spread out on two discs as opposed to a flip disc, like the previous edition.
There are a few new special features added here, but if you own the previous edition, you'll have to make the choice about whether or not it's worth the double dip. Nothing against the film, but for me, I'm sticking with the set I have.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd: 10 Days Out:Blues from the Backroads
Don't let this simple cover fool you: this is a very important album. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, young blues guitarist extraordinaire, took a road trip in 2004 to record some of the surviving blues guitarists of the previous blues generation. Kenny isn't the frontman here, he takes a sideman role to let the masters take center stage and record some of their best work. The artists are the famous (BB King) as well as the little known (Gatemouth Brown, Wild Child Butler and lady blues guitarist, Etta Baker). Some of them have passed away since the album and accompanying documentary were recorded, making this an album to treasure for a long time to come. Shepherd captures the blues in it's truest habitats, the porches, the kitchens, and the dives. This is a must have.

The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public
by Sarah Elizabeth Igo
This may seem an odd choice, but I am intrigued by the book. Igo takes a look at the history of surveys and polls and their effect on American culture and Americans in general. She examines the roll that they have played in the 20th century and how they have come to create such a wide spread influence today. This is very much about not just the creation of public opinion, but the creation of the importance of public opinion. This is no social science textbook, rather a history of the "mass public", and it's (perhaps over-inflated) importance in mass media and it's manipulation by the same. Igo is a history professor out of U Penn, and early reviews make me very interested. I believe it is more relevant than reviews surmise. I may report back when I get my hands on it and finish reading it.

This week: All new- NCIS, The Unit, and Numb3rs. Crossing Jordon is back as well. Don't forget that come February, The Amazing Race and the Mighty Phil K. return for an All-star version of the race!

Turner Classic Movies
Shelf picks for TCM

Jan. 23: Framed (1947) with Glenn Ford in a pot-boiler. Angels Over Broadway (1940) features Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Rita Heyworth, and don't forget the Boston Blackie marathon: Meet Boston Blackie (1941, Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941), Alias Boston Blackie (1942), and Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942).

Jan. 24: Federico Fellini's excellent La Strada (1954). Then catch Kirk Douglas in Detective Story (1951), Lonely Are The Brave (1962), and Ace In the Hole (1951).

Jan. 25: It's the classic Shelf favorite: Anatomy Of A Murder (1959). Later don't miss Martin and Lewis in The Caddy (1953). Then sit back and enjoy an evening of musicals: Summer Stock (1950) and The Harvey Girls (1946).

Jan. 26: Paul Newman classics: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963).

Jan. 27: Start your day with the sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), then head right into the action with Gunga Din (1939). Also don't miss the classic Anthony Mann / James Stewart Western, The Naked Spur (1953).

Jan. 28: First it's Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet (1954). Then watch the film that inspired Webb to create his classic police drama: He Walked By Night (1948).

Jan. 29: Watch Tod Browning's classic, Freaks (1932) and then the sad tale of The Elephant Man (1980).

It's good to be back, kids. And don't go away- next week there is even more roundup goodness and February looks to be an awesome month for classic film fans. So stay tuned. Plus we have Part II and Part III of our Book series coming up during the rest of this month, more wisdom from Wolf and our picks for the best DVDs of 2006 in year-end roundup. So don't go away! Well, if you must, at least be sure to come back...

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Cooper. Two coffins... No, maybe three.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

read a good book lately? part I

Lately I’ve had several people ask me for a suggestion on a good history book to read. And sometimes, they’ve asked me why I recommended a certain work. I’ve also been asked for a list of books that I liked or recommend in certain areas. That is somewhat an ambitious project, if not a pretentious one. I have a list that I’ve used in class, but it needs updating. I intend to attach it along with a list of films as a link on the sidebar in the future. In the meantime, I’ve taken someone’s suggestion and instead decided to explain how and why I choose certain books and what to look for in selecting something to read. It’s too easy to say whatever floats your boat, but in many ways that is the short answer. That didn’t satisfy my friend however, and so I present a multi-part series on good books. I am no true expert by any means, but this is what works for me. Perhaps it will interest or help you. While this mainly focuses on History, I believe, with some alteration, it can apply to most genres.

I think this is something that can engender discussion and insight. Why do you pick the books that you read? What makes a book enjoyable to you? Please add your thoughts and comments to the discussion in the comments section. I hope to have this presented in three parts:

Part I: “Just one more question…” Like Colombo discovered, sometimes the right question will get you the right answer.

Part II: “Just the facts Ma’am” Joe Friday knew that sometimes you just gotta cut to the chase. It’s easier to do that when you know what you are looking for.

Part III “Shaken, not stirred Sometimes the difference is all in the technique, Mr. Bond. There are tips and techniques to finding information and reading that you may not have considered.
Without further adieu, we present part 1

“Just one more question…”

“What’s a good history book to read?”

I’ve been asked this question by fellow peers, students, friends, and even co-workers in other areas who know of my predilections. My answer is usually in the form of a question:
“Do you want to read about something in particular?”
“What have you been reading/watching on TV/listening to lately?”
Or “What are you interested in?”
Surprisingly enough, many have not asked themselves these questions. Why are they important?

“Do you want to read about something in particular” and “What are you interested in?” are fairly self-explanatory. Usually when someone asks me this question, they know enough about me to realize I am not the guy to ask about books on quarks, math, or generally most fiction. While they know I have eclectic interests and read a wide ranging selection of non-fiction and stuff on anything from animation and comic strips to jazz and geography, they are usually coming to me for a recommendation for an interesting history book to read. Often former peers and students were asking about what were essential history books to read or my opinions on what books I enjoyed in a particular area. So in a way when someone asks me this question, they know about my tastes and interests, but they often have not stopped to consider their own. That is very important. One individual may not enjoy a book on social economics in Colonial America (of which there are several essential books), however, they might enjoy one on crime and city life in early 20th century New York. Or one might really be interested in military history or royalty, but might really only be interested in a certain nation or timeline. While I think it is vitally important to be informed and at least somewhat knowledgeable about a wide range of human knowledge, (and in the case of history- world history) I also recognize that people are really interested in a limited number of areas. I am a little different – I really like learning about so many different things; I was once described by a debate coach as “jack of all trades, master of a couple.” So not just knowing what you like, but verbalizing it to yourself can be helpful. In that way you can narrow things down for yourself when searching in a library or asking someone for a recommendation.

“What have you been reading/watching on TV/listening to lately” is a not quite as simple, but still important. Tangential thinking and pursuits are a part of human nature. Consider the following: It was reported recently that attendance at the New York Museum of Natural History was up by some 20% in the week or so after the premiere of the movie “Night at the Museum.” CD’s by certain singers will increase in sales after a successful appearance on an awards show on television. Books about a certain artist or actor rocket in sales, after they have passed away. This is not a bad thing. Human beings will follow a line of inquiry to discover what we can until it either eludes us or no longer holds our interest. This is why scientists, anthropologists, psychologists and a whole host of other “ists” work for years in their fields of human endeavor looking for answers. It’s what leads you to discover your “likes” as a kid or teenager. It’s what museum professionals hope will happen to you after you visit an exhibit. Popular culture, like anything else, can lead to further discoveries. You can see something on TV or in the movies, and develop an interest and want to know more. However, a word of caution- not everything you see, hear from a friend, or read in a magazine may be completely accurate. I don’t think that I am bursting any bubbles when I say that most historical movies or shows set in a historical time are not always accurate or completely faithful to the record. That’s OK- its entertainment after all. And as long as you realize that going into it, that’s quite alright. So figuring out not only what you are interested in, but perhaps realizing what sparks those interests may be helpful. It will lead you and the person you are talking to perhaps focus on an area that might be of interest.

Then the next things you should consider are a set of three “working rules” that I kind of apply to recommending or even reviewing any book in any subject.

Is it interesting? Or an important work?
Does it tell a good story?
Does the author know their stuff?
The “So What?” factor.

Why? The first two are plain enough- it really has to be interesting. If the author is a colossal bore, or fills pages with indecipherable lexicon, no one will enjoy it. It will feel like walking through thick mud with cement shoes; page after page of drudgery. Sometimes, however, a work is important enough that it may warrant an attempt. I have to admit that Crime and Punishment seemed to never end for me in High School, but I am glad that I read it for certain passages have stuck with me through the years. I feel overall that the importance of the book and some of its passages and message were important enough to make up for the dull bits. This is where students are an exception, because sometimes they will have to read something to learn, but not because it interests them. Sorry.

Does it tell a good story? C’mon- to me the exciting thing about history is that it has so many good stories that can be told. Sure, you need to read your Dickens and Twain and Shakespeare; but where do you think they got the inspiration for some of their stories?

Does the author know their stuff? When it comes to history two things need to be evident, the author has to do research and has to start with a thesis. Many people will believe that just because it’s a book labeled “History” that it is accurate and true. Believe me, that isn’t always the case. In some cases, it’s just the fact that a work is old and new research has turned up important material. Other times, the author’s own biases have clouded the work and honed it to fit their own agenda or views. Be wary and be smart. Look at the author’s brief bio page- what else have they written? Are there notes and bibliography included in the book? Too many times I’ve seen a book that has no bibliography of any kind. Those kinds of books can be dangerous, because the author wants the reader to take them at face value. Any historian worth their salt now knows that you really have to put up or shut up. Objectivity is the golden compass… a worthy goal and direction that must be followed. However, one’s views, experiences, and ideas will spill over somewhat. I have found that as long as I know where the author is coming from, I enjoy the book all the more, even works that I don’t always agree with. (More about this in part II)

And finally we come to the “So What” Factor. This is quite simply a question that needs to be asked. After you have read a book, ask “so what?” In other words, why was that story or book important? What was the underlining or ultimate lesson or result? How does it continue to exert influence, or does it? Sometimes, a history book just brings entertainment, but sometimes, (and I hope, often) it should illuminate one’s understanding of their past. One of my favorite historians, Gordon Wood, once stated in an interview:

“Historical knowledge is essential for understanding yourself in the present. It’s like an individual without memory. A person suffering from Amnesia is a scary, lost person. And a society that doesn’t understand its past and doesn’t understand it correctly is going to make all kinds of mistakes in the present.”

In part II: What to look for in a good history book.

What are your thoughts? Have you read a good book lately? Share your ideas and comments with us in the comments section.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

One has to have a sense that the past is different and can't be easily condemned by a different present.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Sorry for the derth of posting here...
Wolf and I have been a wee busy with real life lately.
However, we obviously have spiffed things up around here for the new year. We hope you like the new curtains. We will continue to tweak and improve the look of things, and we will be back shortly with our regular features. Also we will have our roundup of The Shelf Picks of 2006, and hopefully a preview of classic films coming to DVD in 2007.

No roundup this week- the offerings were few and far between anyway.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

There's truth in lies too, if you can get enough of them.

Friday, January 05, 2007

sad news...

I hate to make my first post of 2007 a sad one, but I just learned about the death of animator and filmmaker, Helen Hill, in New Orleans yesterday. Amid over at Cartoon Brew posted the news and you can read about the story at Columbia, SC's The State Newspaper.
I went to high school with Helen and her mother was my fourth and fifth grade teacher. Perhaps one of my favorite teachers that I ever had. Helen and her husband, Dr. Paul Gailiunas had evacuated New Orleans right before Katrina hit. They almost lost everything. They moved back this year, and began anew. Helen was Visiting artist at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and was working on a short film. Her husband is a Doctor and was working for Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans treating low income families. They have a two year old son. I was on the debate team with Helen and in several classes with her. I remember her as being one of the most creative, genuine, and sweetest people I've ever met. I was lucky to have known her.

About 5am Thursday, Police responded to a call about a shooting and found Paul shot, but alive and holding his son. Helen had been shot and killed. The State reports that Paul was in good condition on Thurday. New Orleans' paper, The Times-Picayune, reports that Helen was the sixth person shot and killed in New Orleans in about a 24 hour span. It's pretty sad that people as good as Helen and Paul, and devoted to teaching and helping others, and trying to help rebuild that city, would be killed by a bunch of low lifes intent on nothing more than destruction. They have got a hell of a lot more to work on in New Orleans than just levees.

Helen's mom introduced me to so many creative activities in the fourth and fifth grade. One of them was making an animated film. We prepared by watching a home made stop motion film Helen and her brother had made. Then we listened to several selections of music and illustrated whatever thoughts came into our heads at the time. I drew a picture of an elephant sucking up a rainbow into his tummy and dancing to the music with the colors swirling about on his stomach. (Hey, I was in fifth grade. Give me a break.). My music was Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, and I remember Helen coming into class one day to help us on the film. Making that film remains one of my fondest childhood memories, and animation has remained one of the things I am most passionate about.

My prayers go out to Helen's husband and son, and her brother and parents.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.


Monday, January 01, 2007

happy new year

The holidays are winding down, but confusion and activity are still in full swing for Loophole and myself. J.C. and I will have the round-up of 2006 ready for you in the coming week and if our technology comes through for us, we may have a podcast edition of the round up of 2006.
Enjoy the New Year...we'll be back soon.

In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. " ~Benjamin Franklin


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