Thursday, June 28, 2007

You Are (Eminently) Ready For This

Slate's Jody Rosen has a nice article here. The long and the short of it is that while the individual elements of the dance can be isolated, it's true genius is its whimsical retro feel: it's one part vintage late-80s hip-hop (think Kid N' Play meets Rob Base), one part early-century jazz-dancing, and one part pure silliness, the body language of small kids and old people after dinner at a wedding. In short, it's the sort of thing that, twenty years ago, I totally would have been practicing in a mirror after my sister taught me how to do it.

Thoughtful quote from the Slate article:

Whatever repercussions the rise of online video has for music and the music business, it's doing wonders for dancers. One can't help but suspect that we are entering a new dance craze golden age, in which the emphasis will be laid firmly on the dancing in dance music. Regional steps and styles, zapped across the world via the internet, will compete for global predominance.

The Auteur From the Provinces

A.O. Scott has a supremely enthusiastic review of the new Brad Bird/Pixar movie Ratatouille. The double billing of both director and studio is important, as Scott notes:

[W]hile the visual effects in “Ratatouille” show a recognizable company stamp, the sensibility that governs the story is unmistakably Mr. Bird’s. A veteran of “The Simpsons” and a journeyman writer for movies and television, he has emerged as an original and provocative voice in American filmmaking.

Scott goes on to compare Bird's movie favorably with Vincent Minnelli's musicals. He also says that

“Ratatouille” is a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. It provides the kind of deep, transporting pleasure, at once simple and sophisticated, that movies at their best have always promised.

Dang. That sounds pretty good.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Efficiency in the Queue

This is a good news story about a pretty mundane slice of life -- waiting on line at the supermarket. Whole Foods in NYC has mastered the art of the bank-style single-line with multiple cashiers. The secret is to have lots of cashiers -- so the line moves quickly, and you still get all the efficiencies in space, time, consumer satisfaction, etc. of a one-line system.

This is news to me -- I shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's in Philly, which is still rocking inefficient "traditional" or "suburban" queues, where you get to guess which line (and which cashier) might get you through most quickly. Trader Joe's on Market St. is actually particularly good at opening new lines when the lines grow to epic proportions.

But the little things I liked about this article were the pocket insights into shopping psychology (“We have good clocks in our heads for roughly three minutes... Once we get beyond that, time expands wildly. If somebody is [waiting] for 4.5 minutes and you ask them how long they waited, they will say 15 minutes”) and corporate anxieties ("Lines can also hurt retailers. Starbucks spooked investors last summer when it said long lines for its cold beverages scared off customers. Wal-Mart, too, has said that slow checkouts have turned off many.")

Oh, to be a queue management guru, a pioneer of the graceful and fickle art of the efficient line, sought after by elite businesses to optimize the intersection of space, time, shopping, and the soul. Take a number.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Sopranos and Van Morrison

My favorite TV show ended this week, an HBO mob-themed drama set in New Jersey. I won't add any superlatives about the show being the greatest dramatic achievement in the history of television, how the show's characters gave viewers a vicarious glimpse into the life of the criminal underworld/angst-ridden upper-middle-class, or how the cable-serial format in its various broadcast and digital forms has become the 21st-century equivalent of the realist novel. Because all of that goes without saying now, don't you think?

No, instead I'll just call The Sopranos my favorite television show. (It was better, really, when it was just a small obsession a handful of us shared? I guess there's always The Wire.) And a lot of people are upset with how the show ended. Probably because it ended with a Journey song -- even if it didn't somehow manage to lend "Don't Stop Believin'" a surprising dose of ambiguity.

The musicial reference I thought of, though, wasn't Steve Perry, but the singer who has probably been featured most often (and most prominently) in the history of the show -- Van Morrison. (See "Gloria," "Mystic Eyes," "Glad Tidings," and notably, this season's Morrison cover of "Comfortably Numb.") Chase is clearly a fan. And forgive me, but Chase's build-up-and-cut-off ending takes a page right out of Van the Man's book. But it involves a Van Morrison song that's never (so far as I can remember) been used on the show.

I'll defer to Lester Bangs's classic account of Morrison's live shows from the early 1970s:

Now we get to see three of four songs from a set by Van Morrison. He climaxes, as he always did in those days, with "Cyprus Avenue" from Astral Weeks. After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock 'n' roll set-closers. With consumate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of "It's too late to stop now!," and just when you think it's all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it's sensational: our guts are knotted up, we're crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we've seen and felt something.

Instead of Morrison's "It's too late to stop now!" the episode closes midline with "Don't stop...!" Would the other line have been too on the nose? Or would it have been too implausible that the jukebox would have carried a Van Morrison live album?

Or, like a thousand other Sopranos fans, am I digging just a foot too deep?