Programming Note


I haven’t been watching the vital Congressional testimony taking place today, but I have been following it, largely through the lens of social media and online news sources. Particularly when considering the courage it took for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to go to that chamber and recount the worst moment of her life in front of a fleet of privileged men who were at best politely indifferent to her pain and at worst cautiously hostile to it, I feel cowardly, like I’m watching a scary movie through the narrow slits between fingers that mask my face.

Still, I am exhausted by the rage and aching sympathy I feel despite the distancing tactic I’ve adopted. I can only imagine — or, rather, I can’t truly fathom — what today must be like for those who are survivors of sexual assault or harassment, for those who have been reflexively dismissed because of their gender, for those who have endured the worst of a power structure that boxes out their concerns.

I have struck myself a requirement to put something in this space every day, but I can’t bring myself to tap out my usual breezy assessments of pop culture. And this moment certainly doesn’t require another male voice weighing in. I’ve already tapped out more words than I’ve intended.

Instead, I’d like to redirect any who stumble here to…

—Lili Loofbourow, writing for Slate: “The awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category—a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.”

—Jia Tolentino, writing for The New Yorker: “In college, fraternity costume parties, engineered to encourage women to dress as sluttily as possible, felt to me as distant from actual sex as Trump’s remark about Tic Tacs: men seemed to be getting women to doll themselves up as ‘tennis hoes’ to their ‘golf pros’ just to prove that they could.”

—Liana Schaffner, writing for Teen Vogue: “While our male counterparts apparently drank and partied with impunity, my classmates and I had to endure morality class, where we learned that French kissing outside of marriage is a sin because it could lead to arousal, which is also a sin unless you intend to conceive a child, because birth control is (surprise) a sin.”

—Emily Jane Fox, writing for Vanity Fair: “’I still have a fear of being outed. You see how people are questioning [Ford] about her character and her choices—why didn’t she come forward? What was she doing in that room? Why was she in a swimsuit?’ she said. ‘But for a lot of us who kept silent for a long time, we’ve been waiting for an opportunity to right this. You can’t talk about trauma without talking about shame, because it gets hardwired into the experience. But shame can’t survive the spoken word.'”

—Jessica Valenti, writing for Medium: “You don’t have to be an abuser to enable abuse, and over the last few weeks, Americans have watched that reality play out on the national stage.”

—And finally, for anyone who might reasonably need a goddamn break from thinking about this, the ludicrously brilliant Taffy Brodesser-Akner writing about Bradley Cooper for The New York Times.

Programming Note — TV Week


True story: When I was a wee child, springing from bed far too early once per week because I was excited to watch Saturday morning cartoons, I soothed the anxiousness that arose when I switched on the set to be greeted with pre-broadcast-day static by convincing myself I was watching an especially basic animated program comprised of Snoopy and Woodstock in a physical brawl.


Two of my favorite current television creators are Michael Schur and Vince Gilligan. They create distinctively different programs, but they have one peculiar, mildly masochistic trait in common: They love boxing themselves into scenarios for which they don’t have a plan for handy extrication. They set up cliffhanger plot turns, particularly in season finales, without an exit plan.

The tricky brinksmanship doesn’t always work in their favor (Gilligan still laments the machine gun in the trunk in the fifth season of Breaking Bad), but I am sympathetic to the writerly need to establish a deadline or other stakes that can’t be easily escaped. With that in mind — and, admittedly, with a certain mental weariness that prevents the creation of anything more intricate or robust this evening — I am declaring this television week at Coffee for Two, in recognition of the annual presentation of the Emmys taking place one week hence from the point in time that finds me typing these words.

That means — and here’s the potential self-sabotage — that not only do I need to come up with a new installment of the regular television-related feature in this humble digital space, but I also must figure out two more offerings before the arrival of “One for Friday” provides me rescue. I think I maybe-kinda-sorta know how I will conquer this self-bestowed puzzle, but I also have a little bit of a shruggy emoticon feeling right now. Maybe this will be fun. Maybe disaster looms.

Either way, stay tuned.


With the occasional exception, I haven’t used this space to promote an ongoing charitable effort my household has undertaken since the most recent U.S. Presidential election. This month, however, I want to put these words wherever I can. The following information originally appeared on the Tumblr page established for our personal campaign to counter the regular abominations of the federal government.

On the 9th of every month, the anniversary of the morning after the 2016 election, we will donate to an organization engaged in the hard work of standing against and undoing the damage of the presidency a minority of voters put into place. In tribute to Hillary Clinton’s greater share of the popular vote, we will donate $48.20 to the organization in question and invite others to join us in doing the same. The original post that explains it all is here.


(Image via CBS News)

We are closing in on a year of this endeavor of putting our money where outrage is. More specifically, our household looked at the rhetoric of those moving into the U.S. Executive branch — and the predominating experience of those being given high-ranking positions — and determined that the federal government was about to slide into a period of colossal ineffectiveness. And that was the most generous projection.

Even beginning with that grim prediction, the regular procession of ineptitude has been astounding, especially when it has been coupled with a lack of basic empathy that borders on the inhuman. How can someone in a major leadership position view once-in-a-lifetime natural disaster devastation brought down upon U.S. citizens and emerge mostly chagrined that they as an individual aren’t getting enough credit for associated relief efforts? How can someone be so utterly lacking in humility that they follow a meeting with people who have lost everything by being sure to assert, “And also when I walked in the cheering was incredible.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 20th. As of October 7th — nearly three weeks later — approximately 90 percent of the population was still without electricity, and over half the citizenry did not have ready access to drinking water. Puerto Rican officials have felt the need to literally plead for assistance through any forum available to them, largely to churlish indifference from the federal government. Just today, the governor of Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory where everyone is a full-fledged citizen of the “most powerful nation in the world” — wrote to Congressional leaders, noting a mounting inability of their “central and municipal governments to meet basic human needs.”

This is not — it should go without saying, writing, or implying — how things are supposed to work. It goes beyond the strained, unwieldy, insufficient response to Hurricane Katrina’s leveling of New Orleans. This is callous abdication of one of the federal government’s most fundamental roles, perpetrated by brutish figures who perversely can’t stop patting themselves on the back for their imagined genius and heroism.


According to their website, ConPRmetidos is “an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization operating from San Juan, Puerto Rico since 2012″ with a stated mission of “connecting people to foster commitment with the personal, social, and economic development of the Puerto Rican communities.”

Under the current circumstances, ConPRmetidos has understandably shifted its focus somewhat. The organization has established the “Maria: Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund,” promising that every dime donated will go to providing long-term relief in the U.S. territory. As of right now, the organization lays out their priorities thusly:

We are currently financing (1) needs assessment efforts, (2)  long-term structural repairs to the most vulnerable communities, and (3) power as a service.

There are a multitude of tremendous organizations responding to the needs of Puerto Rico with comprehensive, generous efforts. To our eyes, ConPRmetidos is approaching the enormous task ahead with a admirable balance of addressing immediate and long-term needs.

That’s why we’re giving the ConPRmetidos Maria: Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund our October 2017 donation of $48.20. 


On Memorial Day


I struggle over what to post on holidays. Except for a few instances in which I’ve settled into a comfortable, easy pattern — a silly animated gif on Thanksgiving, a Calvin and Hobbes comic on Christmas Eve — I find I come to the most significant individual days on the U.S. calendar with a measure of uncertainty. I have no wistful memories to offer up, no strident calls to value the meaning of the day within me. Usually, I punt, tapping out some bit of simple nonsense in a minimum number of words, confident no one is much likely to read it anyone, distracted as they surely are with barbecues and family gatherings.

Today, the challenge has been a little different. Memorial Day has left me wishing I had something more to say, some set of mildly profound words that express the depths of appreciation I feel for those who have laid down their lives for an enduring ideal.

I am lucky. Although I have friends and loved one who have served in the military — and seen combat — I know of no lost relative carved into a wall, a gold star by their name. I have no grave to visit.

More than ever before, the meaning on this particular holiday weighs on me. I suspect it has something to do with the cavalier buffoons who currently stand in control of the setting the global agenda of the U.S. military, blithely committed to the dangerous bluster of sending men and women headlong into harm with no plan, strategy, or sympathy as a sign of commendable strength. As if the bravery of those in uniform is so easily transferred to those soft-handed imbeciles who see their travails in superficiality as somehow akin to the terrors of the battlefield. I grieve for the lives that will be lost due to the haphazard decisions of callous men.

Simultaneously, I marvel at the courage that exists in the everyday. Make no mistake, Ricky John Best, twenty-three veteran of the U.S. Army, may have taken his last breath within the borders of a major U.S. city rather than on foreign soil, but he died defending his country.

Even now, I believe my words are feeble, my grappling insufficient. So I will concede my shortcomings by offering digital passageway to an article posted today on CNN’s website. Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling writes of his own personal remembrances, sparked by the collection he keeps of, as he puts it, “the photographs of 253 soldiers, sailors, airmen, allies and civilians who served and made the ultimate sacrifice under my command in combat.”

My words today were earnest and inadequate. I am aware of that. Hertling’s words? Those matter.


Top Fifty Films of…

Top Fifty.jpg

This all started in the middle of 2009. As the calendar moved into the second half of the last year of what might awkwardly be termed “the aughts,” I decided I was going to revisit an exercise I’d indulged in about a decade earlier, albeit without a public outlet. As I explained at the time, I previously commemorated the end of the nineties by swapping lists of the top fifty films of that span with my colleague from our bygone days offering up movie reviews on the radio. Now with a swanky digital platform at my disposal, I decided I was going to do it again, dispensing a countdown of the best films of the prior ten years (well, more like nine-and-a-half years when I got underway) at a pace of about two per week. In theory, I allowed myself the indulgence of slipping a couple of latecomers into the mix while the countdown was in progress. In practice, I stuck with the fifty that I tallied up before writing a single word. Were I inclined to revisit the list, I’d probably make room for late 2009 releases Up in the Air and A Serious Man (and the astonishingly bold Spike Lee effort Bamboozled, released in 2000 but unseen by me until well after the full list was shared), but I’m happy with the collection of titles as it stands.

Then I couldn’t stop. Originally finding it irresistible to share a new version of that old list of the best films of the nineties, I found myself slipping back to another patch of years that could be conveniently grouped together according to their shared third digit, launching a new top fifty list shortly after champagne corks were popped to the cliched accompaniment of “Auld Lang Syne.” Now, some six-and-a-half years after I tapped out a introduction to the inaugural iteration to my unexpectedly long-term project, after three hundred and fifty reviews, after a trek that went from Triviatown to Citizen Kane, I am at the end. Much as I’d like the ready excuse to write about Bringing Up Baby, Duck Soup, and Modern Times, there will be no Top Fifty Films of the 30s. I simply feel ill-equipped, and I was severely compromised in my ability to engage in the sort of brushing up that always been part of the lead-up to a new list.

Though the tags at the right (or wherever they might land on a different iteration of the page’s layout on various devices) can provide passage to any of the lists, here are a few direct links, just for the sake of commemoration:

Top Fifty Films of the 00s

Top Fifty Films of the 90s

Top Fifty Films of the 80s

Top Fifty Films of the 70s

Top Fifty Films of the 60s

Top Fifty Films of the 50s

Top Fifty Films of the 40s

Thanks to anyone and everyone who read even a single word of this. I guess it’ll be time to take a crack at a new list somewhere around July of 2019.

More fun than humans should be allowed to have

Screen shot 2015-05-19 at 1.00.19 PM

I was just about the ideal age for Late Night with David Letterman. The program was there for me throughout my teenaged years, providing absurdist, anarchic, highly ironic comedy at the exact point that my swarming hormones made me inclined to reject staid sincerity and childish silliness. Letterman operated his show with a thin undercoating of hostility for the very showbiz conventions he was charged with upholding, and yet his jagged view of the proceedings was tempered by a Midwestern decency that was very familiar to me as I watched in my small town Wisconsin home. It was this latter quality that his bookers were constantly exploiting by filling the guest’s chair with individuals sure to make Letterman uncomfortable, whether it was the sexual explicitness of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the lunatic ravings of Brother Theodore, or the persistent crankiness of Harvey Pekar. Sure, that choice was partially driven by the relative difficulty the show faced in those early years nabbing big-name guests, but there was a clear sense that everyone also knew that placing unpredictable people across from Letterman made for great television.

I was enough of a disciple of the device then still referred to as the idiot box (hardly a term that gets bandied about in the Breaking Bad era of televised entertainment, no matter how many Kardashians infest the landscape) to recognize all the ways Letterman and his team were bending the rules into bold new shapes. Led by certified genius head writer Merrill Markoe (who I hope and assume will be lauded at some point during tonight’s momentous telecast), the Late Night creators sharply deconstructed the very sort of program they were creating, beginning as early as the third episode, which found guest Hank Aaron being stopped as he left the studio, asked by a sports reporter for a “post-game” interview. That sort of inventiveness extended to experiments that consumed entire episodes, such as the custom-made show, the program on which they spent the hour gradually rotating the image, and — my personal favorite — the instance when they supposedly sent the entire audience home and instead staged the whole thing from Letterman’s office, culminating in Teri Garr, one of Late Night‘s most dependable guests, taking a shower in the adjoining bathroom. Those are larger scale examples of the “Hell, let’s give it a try” spirit of the show, but it was completely pervasive, found in the impulse to fill out a national television program with a steamroller crushing stuff or strapping a camera and a pair of roller skates onto a monkey. Every night was a new adventure, always charted by restless comic minds.

Given the outsider status of Letterman and his show back then — sometimes cultivated, usually genuine — it’s difficult to think of the most famous alumnus of Ball State University as a national institution, but that’s precisely what he is (he’s a Kennedy Center honoree, for God’s sake). Mere longevity is a partial explanation for that, if only because the added time has given time for his pronounced influence to catch up with him. Letterman leaves a late night that is filled with performers who owe more to him than the do to Johnny Carson, an assertion that would undoubtedly fill him with dismay. That makes it no less true. Had Letterman gotten the Tonight Show post he deserved upon Carson’s retirement, there’s no way he would have devoted lengthy segments to duplicating the Password game show of old (in part because Letterman’s done it for real), but Jimmy Fallon’s impulse to just play around in whatever way tickles him is a direct extension of Letterman’s bored revolt against celebrity chatting. There’s a deeper knowingness and a resolute intelligence across much of modern comedy that owes a lot to Letterman (and, it bears repeating, Markoe).

A common complaint about weak drama is that a plot is built in which there’s nothing really at stake. Letterman recognized the same potential flaw could do in comedy, where complacency and safety are even more deadly. That’s why Bill Murray was the go-to guest for the most important episodes, the debuts of a new show or, just last night, the penultimate edition before the lights are put out for good. In a Playboy interview, Letterman talked about Murray’s appearance on the first Late Night:

letterman bill murray

“And it was very funny.” For all the just celebration of Letterman’s many innovations and his winning moments of serious reflection (far more prominent later in his career), I have a strong sense his bottom line for worthiness didn’t ultimately budge much from that simple phrase over the years. If it was very funny, it was worth his time. More importantly, it was worth the viewers’ collective time.

Ultimately, what I appreciate most about Letterman is that he was a broadcaster to the very end, and that’s the quality that hasn’t really translated to his entertainment world descendants. (There’s a reason Regis Philbin was the most frequent guest, by a wide margin, on Letterman’s programs. Together, they’re the last of a dying breed, at least within the confines of television.) The kid who hosted a college radio show back in the nineteen-sixties was always there, at least somewhat. He worked his way through an hour of television like he knew he had to hit everything on the broadcast clock and still catch AP Network News at precisely the right moment at the top of the hour. That aspect of Letterman’s approach may have been blunted when the show moved to CBS and became The Late Show. The increased prominence, budget, and respect from the network that employed him allowed spectacle to overtake scrappy ingenuity. I was reminded of much the show had changed when the cable network Trio started airing old Late Nights in 2002, and I watched an episode from roughly twenty years earlier on which Letterman interview a welder about the accuracy of the welding scenes in Flashdance, the sort of bit that wouldn’t have made it past the brainstorming stage in the offices on the Ed Sullivan Theater. In recent years, those instances when Letterman was clearly a broadcaster again — just sitting behind his desk and speaking extemporaneously about the physicians who performed quintuple bypass surgery on him, his feelings in the wake of the September 11th attacks, or, best of all, remembering Johnny Carson shortly after the legend’s death — were the clear highlights of the show, arguably because they were the points when he was most clearly himself.

I had a profound appreciation for Carson, and I found it moving and significant when he left the air. (And I can’t overstate how impressed I was that he treated his retirement with real finality, rebuffing almost any attempts to get him back on the air for any reason. Notably, the only one he’d do it for was Letterman.) But losing Carson was losing part of history, a person who’d always been there on my television. Bidding goodbye to Letterman is different for me, in large part because I remember when his Late Night was just beginning, perplexing legions and offering a secret handshake of whip-smart invention and withering ridicule to the rest of us. Hell, I remember watching his morning show and marveling at how different a television program could be. As it turned out, at least one revolution was televised, and I watched it in real time. For that, I am grateful. My oh my, we had some fun.

You’ve Always Been the Caretaker: The Many Lives of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

This is a piece I wrote for a friend’s self-published magazine about a year-and-a-half ago. With Room 237 in theaters now, it seems a fine time to share it here. With only a few modifications–including some helpful hyperlinks–here’s my take on the long reach of The Shining.


When Stanley Kubrick started filming The Shining in the late nineteen-seventies, movies weren’t a disposable medium, but they were fleeting. VCRs were commercially available by that point, but they were hardly pervasive. A movie was something that was experienced in the theater, once or maybe a few more times for those who locked into an obsession about wars among the stars or some such thing. After a stint on a premium cable channel promising unexpurgated content, the film would eventually make the rounds on commercial television, though with a sizable chunk of the content finessed to keep the film palatable to the ever-skittish public and the federal overseers who swore to protect them. Beyond the fact that a movie’s impact was almost assuredly diminished with each repeat viewing as elements that were meant to be surprising became familiar instead, the real experience of a movie was available only briefly, during its run in theaters which lasted anywhere from a few weeks to several months. From there, it lived on in its truest form—uncropped, unedited, larger than life—only in the memory.

Even still, the control over the inevitable modification laid elsewhere. Networks and studios collaborated to figure out which dirty words needed to be excised, which images needed to be blurred and which needed to be knocked out altogether. What’s more, the aspect ration of televisions was drastically different than those of movie screens, reflecting a modification that theaters had made in part to combat the suddenly availability of visual entertainment in the hidden comfort of the home. When a theatrical release had its television run, the image was cropped, sometimes leaving as much as two-thirds of what was originally offered outside of the plane of the television screen, another adjustment in the hands of broadcasters rather than consumers. The movie always belonged to others. The best an audience member could do was buy a ticket.

That control residing solely with the creators (and those that, ideally, the creator had some direct connection with and sway over) was what Kubrick preferred. The famously meticulous director wanted his films exactly the way he wanted them and no other way. After 2001: A Space Odyssey had its premiere in 1968, the director decided that almost twenty minutes of material had to come out of it, even though it went into general release just a few days later. Instructions were sent to theater owners that already had the print instructing them on how to edit the movie to his satisfaction. There were even stories about Kubrick himself pedaling his bike from theater to theater to make the trims personally, a story that may not be true, but is plausible enough to stand as a good indication of his exacting nature.

By the time he presided over The Shining, meeting Kubrick’s standard had reached all new levels. Always a director willing to burn film, Kubrick now engaged in endless takes of seemingly insignificant scenes, presumably in order to get the physical demeanor of his actors to match the vision in his head as clearly as the art direction and camera angles did. With this particular film—depicting the gradual but stark descent into madness of the winter caretaker in a snowbound Colorado hotel, a mounting lunacy coaxed along by the supernatural doings in the lengthy hallways and drab rooms—he may have also been simply trying to wear down his actors, pushing them until they exhibited a natural exhaustion in line with the characters they were playing. Certainly, the behind-the-scenes documentary his daughter Vivian shot shows Kubrick verbally berating actress Shelley Duvall with such unbridled maliciousness that it begins to seem like an extension of the punishment her character was facing at the hands of her onscreen husband. He does everything but pick up the ax, and if he ever was casually carting around that on-set prop, Duvall surely must have felt at least a tremor of genuine fear.

As with many of his films, The Shining wasn’t all that well-received at first. It did earn respectable box office, a take in the range of $44 million, double its budget and a sizable sum in a year when only three releases crossed the $100 million mark (current blockbusters are expected to cross into nine digits in their opening weekends). Critics were far less kind, with David Ansen of Newsweek one of the few prominent supporters: his proclamation that it was “the first epic horror film” became a central part of the ad campaign. It surely had its impact, led by the immediate cultural touchstone of Jack Nicholson’s improvised appropriation of the Tonight Show introduction “Here’s Johnny!” as he shoved his crazed visage through the shards of a door he’d just cracked to pieces with his ax. (As someone who’d lived outside of the United States for several years and was somewhat insulated from the pop culture of his discarded homeland, Kubrick reportedly didn’t get the reference at all and had to be persuaded that this was the take that should be included in the film.)


What’s really interesting about The Shining, though, is the long reach it’s had since its release decades ago. Just a few years after it came out, the home video revolution started freezing cinematic pop culture in time. A movie was no longer something that came and went. Instead, it came, went and found a home at some sort of rental outlet in the neighborhood (or, more rarely at the time, in a household collection), forever waiting for someone to revisit it because they were in a certain mood. “You gotta see this,” was no longer a fervent recommendation reserved for something current enough to be threaded through a projector at the downtown movie house. It could mean something from years earlier. And, in some ways, those sorts of suggestions were even more urgent. “What do you mean you haven’t seen The Shining? Oh my god, it’s the scariest movie ever. Let’s go get it, right now!” The movie lingered, always, to borrow from more modern vernacular, on someone’s queue.

As it’s endured into the internet age, the memorable nature of the film, the way certain elements of it practically imprint on the psyche, have made it one of the most inviting targets for those gifted with creative wanderlust. Ironically, the fierce precision of Kubrick, honing scenes down further and further until that are exactly what he wants them to be, has wound up contributing to the astounding malleability of the film. It’s so tight, so controlled, so wound up in its own exacting construction that it can be pulled apart like loose bricks and rebuilt into so many temples of tribute.

One of the first notable tweaks of Kubrick’s film was Robert Ryang’s brilliant reworking of The Shining into a trailer that presented it as a sweet, sanguine romantic comedy called simply Shining. Even the simple alteration of dropping the article from the title changed it from something strange and ominous into a little declaration of hope. Cut to music that seemed wholly at home in a deliberately non-offensive Hollywood offering (including especially ingenious deployment of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” which had, at the time, been recently used as the background music for the spectacularly nondescript Dennis Quaid comedy In Good Company), Ryang’s trailer traded in on the established knowledge of Kubrick’s film as a force of grueling terror, cheekily cherry-picking the footage to find moments of uncommon sweetness between Nicholson’s character and Duvall’s character instead of the more famous swings of blades and bats. Even the typewritten pages of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” are transformed from a revelation of madness to evidence of nothing more than the harmless frustration of writer’s block.

Ryang’s fake trailer is an inspired gag, but it also provides something more: a glimpse at the way that even a work as indelible as one made by Kubrick can be artfully recreated and misrepresented. A movie trailer is just a sales job, after all, and sometimes the promised great new taste is an evasion meant to close the deal. The widely reviled but useful custom of a movie trailer giving away every detail of a film (often the whole goal of a movie’s marketing campaign is to do little more than reassure the potential audience that the product is going to fulfill rather than challenge their shared expectations) is so entrenched that a trailer that doesn’t follow that pattern but plays a tricky shell game instead is all the more striking. As exacting as Kubrick was, Ryang’s trickery showed that all that precision isn’t a bulwark against even the most ludicrous reinterpretation.

Similarly, the film is not exempt from becoming fodder for the sort of crackpot conspiracy theories that are prevalent on the net, as truth itself is another set of shifting plates. Most infamously, Jay Weidner cooked up a treatise on how the entire film is a thickly veiled confession from Kubrick that he was enlisted by the U.S. government to help fake the moon landing over a decade earlier. Weird little details from the film, such as the shifting of important room numbers (widely acknowledged to have happened at the behest of the Oregon hotel that provided exterior shots for the fictional Overlook Hotel, which wanted Kubrick to use a number that didn’t correspond to any of their actual rooms), are reinterpreted by Weidner as an array of sneaky clues that would make the most hackneyed mystery novelist scoff. This information isn’t just muttered on a street corner or scrawled feverishly into spiral notebooks at home; it’s out there in the digital landscape, in some ways indistinguishable from legitimate interpretations of the art.

Even though The Shining is sometimes turned upon itself, it’s also preserved in the oddest ways. It’s not necessarily held in amber in a manner that’s true to Kubrick’s complete version, but it’s picked apart and held up for tribute. It’s an especially enticing subject for individuals that create animated gifs, taking a few frames from a film (or some other video source) and putting them together into an endless looped animation. Sometimes referred to as cinemagraphs or, in the more elegant phrasing of the Tumblr If We Don’t, Remember Me, “living movie stills,” the tendency is to take the most striking single moments and hold them in subtly shifting place for as long as anyone cares to looks. Jack Nicholson nods lasciviously for all eternity and the effect is both reductive and expansive, simultaneously cutting something vast down to tiny parts and elevating those fragments into their own little works of art, even if they’re merely echoes.

For a filmmaker who had a great command of the technological developments within his field—the sole Oscar win claimed by the visionary director was for his oversight of the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey—it’s perhaps fitting that his work is being reshaped by a technology with global reach that exploded shortly after his 1999 death. The authority that Kubrick claimed over his art has been trumped by the unfettered, egalitarian freedom of the web and the different software that helps feed it with new content. The original films still stand and, in many cases, are still duly revered. But there will eventually be more people who know films such as The Shining through the mosaic of their reworkings and reinterpretations. That may even be the case now. The Shining is available through a variety of means, but it takes fewer keystrokes to get to the long shadows the film casts.

Same As It Ever Was

From the October 31st, 1981 edition of Billboard:

That’s right. This crap has been going on for ages. I’m honestly sympathetic to the creators who’ve had their viable marketplace chipped away by the ease of sharing copyrighted material, even as I myself have been one of those shifty online perpetrators of questionable distribution of their sonic wares. But then I’m also sympathetic to the ways artists–the ones who actually create the material that I value–has been routinely and systematically fleeced by entertainment conglomerates over the years. Aside from maybe Tom Petty, I’m not sure how many of those artists were particularly sympathetic to me when, say, the record labels were selling CDs at a grotesquely inflated markup, approximately double what they were selling vinyl records for even though the CDs were notably less costly to manufacture.

The recording industry railed against radio and the movie industry wailed about television harming them beyond repair. Audio cassettes were the final instrument of destruction and then VCRs were the perpetrators. Apple’s iTunes was going to leave everyone hopelessly impoverished because only one person would buy a song and then share it with the world. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga has annual earnings of around $80 million and the labels do everything they can to squeeze every last meager dime from independent, locally-owned record stores while simultaneously setting up policies that flagrantly favor the big box stores. And we’re supposed to feel bad that the industry is hurting so much that the CEO of Best Buy only made $5 million last year.

I’m not denying that piracy is legitimate issue, but I’m seen little evidence that the corporate bigwigs have any capability whatsoever of distinguishing between that which is theft and the sort of fair use sharing that could be the greatest array of free promotion imaginable. What’s more, most of the protections they need are already well-covered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1988, a piece of legislation that was onerous in its own right (and, not coincidentally, often exhibited a basic misunderstanding of how digital communication actually worked) but any lingering infringement has less to do with any loopholes in the law and more to do with the general ineptness of the media overlords to protect the fiefdoms. Or, more accurately, an astounding inability to leverage new delivery resources to their advantage. As others have observed, there are lessons to learn from the recent success of Louis C.K. to self-distribute his latest comedy special via the web, but the big execs are too busy tightly shutting their eyes and jamming their fingers in their ears, shouting nonsense syllables to block out any mention of progress.

As always, instead of adjusting to the shifting landscape, the major media companies have instead decided that they’re at war with their consumers and have dipped into the huge reserve funds they have for lobbying purposes and tried to bully Congress into doing their bidding with SOPA and PIPA. Up to this point, they have largely complied, despite outrage from a wide array of concerned citizens, including significant companies whose backbone is built around web commerce: in other words, companies that actually understand how web-based communications work instead of crusty oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch, who apparently have difficulty putting bread on the table because of the invaluable, ubiquitous services Google provides.

The abusive burden these bills place on users and creators on web-based material is put best by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing (in a quote I found at another spot) who asserts, “”Boing Boing could never co-exist with a SOPA world: we could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.” The strictures laid out by the bill are so ludicrous that not even the author of the bill currently meets them.

There is ample testimony out there as to why these bills should be stopped. If you agree, call your representative in the House, call your Senators, call the White House. The residents of my home state have worked tirelessly and are now in the midst of potential proving that, despite all appearances to the contrary, representative democracy is not fundamentally broken. Hopefully, the sensible opponents of SOPA and PIPA, a group I truly believe represents the majority, can do the same.

Resign yourself that radio’s gonna stay

R.E.M. had a lot of theoretical end-dates. I may be misremembering, but it seems like various band members used to speculate on the moment that they’d collectively decide to call it quits, pegging that date as roughly equivalent to their thirtieth birthdays or coinciding with the dawn of the year 2000. I’m fairly certain that there was open discussion that the band wouldn’t soldier on if any member of the original foursome–Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe–decided they didn’t want to do it any more. R.E.M. endured past all of those proposed last calls. There were digressions for individual band members, but no true solo efforts. No matter what, they went on being R.E.M., offering another new album every few years. Different fans might peg different albums as the point when the group should have dissolved (it’s been an awfully long time since a new R.E.M. was greeted with the sort of critical and fan enthusiasm the band enjoyed during their extended heyday). Increasingly, that didn’t seem to matter; their last couple of releases demonstrated that they might have the sort of late career pioneered by the Rolling Stones, with efforts that were admired for being respectable enough to not leave an ugly dent in the legacy forged by their best work.


I first set foot inside a college radio station in the fall of 1988. By that time, R.E.M. already stood as the undisputed titans of the left end of the dial. With five largely beloved full-length albums already filling the bins of cooler record stores everywhere, the little ol’ band from Athens, Georgia were seasoned veterans and yet still at the peak of their jangly powers. Even though they’d crossed over to the Billboard Top Ten with “The One I Love,” the lead single from their 1987 album Document, the band still belonged to us. U2 had turned into international pop superstars with barely a backwards glance, but it seemed like R.E.M. would forever reside in the mustier, cozier land of college radio, no matter how many major magazine covers they snared. There was something homey about the earnest abstraction they brought to their music. Even if they weren’t going to turn down the millions that were dangled before them, they also didn’t seem to covet them. Even after they got a taste of major success, it never seemed like R.E.M. was anxious for that next hit. They made the music they wanted to, it seemed. That doesn’t seem especially revolutionary to me as I type it out, but it sure made them seem like a band that made it worthwhile to keep the faith.


R.E.M.’s Green arrived during my first semester in college. I can still recall the tactile sensation of easing the album jacket out of its duly designated place in “Heavy Rotation,” the little thrill that came with being able to play new R.E.M. There were all sorts of cryptic details that we tried to puzzle out. Why was there a ghostly image of the number 4 superimposed over uses of the letter R on the front cover? Why did the letter R replace the number 4 in the track listing on the back cover? Why did they choose to make “World Leader Pretend,” and only “World Leader Pretend,” the first R.E.M. song to have its lyrics printed within the album’s packaging? I had multiple debates with friends about the deeper meaning of the song “You Are the Everything,” pushing my slightly offbeat theory on anyone who’d listen. In retrospect, much of what we wrestled with probably represented little more than the band goofing around, but part of the accidental genius of R.E.M. was the way the cryptic nature of the lyrics, especially on the earlier records, imposed added mystery onto absolutely everything they produced. They seemed less a conventional band and more like an extended art project, asking observers to serve as collaborators in creating the deeper meaning. A new R.E.M. album invited study and devotion. And afterwards, we’d talk about the passion.


Before I was done with my college radio days, R.E.M. released two more great albums, Out of Time and Automatic for the People. After I graduated and moved on to commercial radio, working at a “new rock alternative” station, there was a new R.E.M. album to welcome me there. Monster came out in the fall of 1994, and was arguably the last release from the band that made a major impact on the pop culture landscape. There was still excellent music to come (I think the next album, New Adventures of Hi-Fi, is an underrated wonder), even if their influence waned. After drummer Bill Berry collapsed on stage due to a brain aneurysm and subsequently retired from the band and music in general, it really seemed like the band’s true era had passed. They were even eventually something of an afterthought for college radio, considered a worthy part of music history, but not the beneficiaries of the sort of the long-term adulation enjoyed by the likes of Sonic Youth.


There are already some jaded music fans that have greeted today’s news of the band’s dissolution with snide insinuations that it will only last until the outset of some inevitable reunion tour. Maybe so, but I don’t think so. Any band that has three decades of miles under the tires of their tour bus probably has a pretty good idea of whether or not they’re actually up for any more. And, unlike other bands that pendulum back-and-forth between inactivity and cash-in concerts, R.E.M. seems to be framing their decision as a true closing of the book instead of a natural outcome of splintering relationships. They may very take the stage as R.E.M. again someday, but I suspect it will be some one-off that feels right instead of a crass grab for filthy lucre. It’s seemed lately that the whole process of creating music together and then bounding across the globe to promote it hasn’t been all that pleasurable for them, especially Peter Buck, who’s long struck me, rightly or wrongly, as the one whose readiness to pick the guitar (or mandolin) back up in the service of R.E.M. drove the band’s timetable. These guys are all in their fifties in what is ultimately a young man’s game, no matter how much crusty old-timers like Mick Jagger and Stephen Tyler try to prove the contrary by continuing to gambol across stages.

Could this be the legitimate final end of R.E.M.? To borrow a few words from an album with which I recently had the great pleasure to become reacquainted, “I believe my shirt is wearing thin/ And change is what I believe in.” Me too, gentlemen. Me too.