Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Night Thoughts

Oakland, California

My wife spent all day working on an accounting document, a spreadsheet, for a meeting tomorrow morning, but around 4:30 p.m. the mainframe ate it and all earlier versions of it. So now at 11:06 p.m. I am sitting in a cubicle somewhere in downtown Oakland keeping watch over my flocks by night.

That is, I'm not going to let E. spend half the night in an empty office building alone. It's better to be bored and semi-miserable here than to be bored, semi-drunk and fully anxious at home.


Today I talked with someone from a local non-profit that squeezes pennies and asks for nickels so that it can do its good work. It does do good work. I admire the idealism, the willingness to grind. We were talking about a recent fund raiser the organization held and about deciding whether to sell tickets or ask for donations and about how one goes about apportioning what few funds are available among panelists.

One has to do a kind of economic triage: Who has a real job, even if meanly paid, and doesn't need the $50 or the $75 that might mean so much to the activist who eats the bread of passionate poverty.

Do you try to keep knowledge of the existence of such modest stipends and their invidious distribution from those who are considered flush enough not to "need" them. And never did quote marks earn their irony as when they surround that equivocal "need."

But here's the insight I got from my acquaintance. Thank God for the cash bar, he said. Two 1.75 liter bottles of gin, a little tonic water and some lemons, he said -- That made a $150 profit with which the good work was manured.

So that's one night thought. Let's see what else? In Arts Reviewing we finally settled on a movie for the class to review, Mr. Woody Allen's 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona.' Since I last taught this course 20 years ago, and the media landscape has changed so drastically and my notion of what a good review is has changed so inexorably, I consider this a 'first teach' and thus I give myself a free pass. That is, I will try whatever strikes me as fun -- let me say both fun *and* useful to the kiddles; I'm not a complete intellectual sybarite.

Thus, I'm not going to prep the kids for VCB. No summary of Allen's career and its ups and downs. No heavy analysis from the several scholarly books explaining how he means, he means and means some more.

Let them come to the movie knowing only what they know. But the day after their reviews are turned in, I will hit them with three or four essays and interviews and ask them what, if anything, such essays would have contributed to their reviews. I'm curious. On the most elementary level, are they aware of his semi-pedophilia? How much will they care? But we will go deeper than that.

They are a bright class, plenty of raw brains, but I haven't teased out of them how sophisticated they are about movie history and movie theory. Having so little myself I may be the wrong man to ask the question!

One more inky musing. Today Chronicle TV critic Tim Goodman talked to the class. He's an ebullient guy. He likes himself, and I mean that as a compliment, with no snark rimming the glass like salt on a margarita. He said that he really doesn't like many movies after all his years reviewing TV. A good TV series lets character unwind, develop, unearth nuance, he said. But so many movies seem rushed and crudely stitched together in comparison with the best of episodic TV, he said. Think of The Wire. Consider The Sopranos. Regard The Shield.

I will now sit on his idea until it hatches.
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