Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Author: Chad (page 2 of 53)

Libraries = Internet IRL but better

American Libraries magazine’s “Ten Reasons Libraries Are Still Better Than the Internet”  is some grade-A, top choice librarian bait. Excerpts:

Libraries are safer spaces. The internet brings people together, often in enjoyable and productive ways, such as over shared interests (pop culture blogs, fanfic sites) or common challenges (online support groups). But cyberbullying and trolling can leave people reluctant to engage with folks they disagree with or to share their ideas in the first place. Libraries are places where people can gather constructively and all are welcome.

Libraries respect history. Web pages are ephemeral, and link rot is a real problem. The content of library collections is much more stable. Printed materials are generally published on acid-free paper, which will not disintegrate. And librarians are leading the way to bring similar stability to the web through services like the Internet Archive and perma.cc.

Librarians do not track your reading or search history to sell you things.  Amazon’s book purchase recommendation feature is useful for learning about new books. But this usefulness comes at the expense of your privacy because your reading data is valuable business intelligence for Amazon. The same is true for your web searching history, which is why you often see ads for a product for weeks after searching for it just once. Librarians value and protect your privacy.

The last one is my personal favorite. Though modern library catalogs provide the option to record your checkout history, it is opt-in and the data it collects isn’t sold to anyone.

If I could add one more to the original list:

Libraries are local. Though most libraries are in a consortium or resource-sharing system of some kind and have a lot of the same materials, no one library is the same, and each is the product of its community. I marvel at how true this is when someone asks in a listserv about how other libraries do something and each response is something different.

Highlights from #XmasMusicBinge2017

As I near the end of my annual Christmas music binge, a few songs have stuck out. Check them out while the mood is right and the spirit’s up:

“Mvmt II: Begin and Never Cease” by The Oh Hellos, The Oh Hellos Family Christmas Album. You really ought to listen through the whole (short) album in one go, which is like one long medley, but the second movement’s ecstatic exuberance echoes Mumford & Sons mixed with Anathallo.

“Snow” by Sleeping At Last, Christmas Collection. O’Neal explains on a recent episodes of his podcast that it’s heavily inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life but also about the concept of home during the holidays.

“Silent Night” by Rosie Thomas, A Very Rosie Christmas. Rosie’s bouncy original “Why Can’t It Be Christmastime All Year” is always a fun listen, but don’t sleep on the rest of the album’s dreamy, riverine covers like this one. Great for a cozy nights staring at a twinkling Christmas tree.

“All I Need Is Love” by CeeLo Green & The Muppets. For successfully turning “Mahna Mahna” into a Christmas song.

“First Snowfall” by Over the Rhine, Blood Oranges in the Snow. Leave it to OTR to capture a different kind of Christmas, ramshackle and real, far from the Norman Rockwell scenes traditional Christmas songs paint.

“12 Days of Christmas” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer. There aren’t a lot of great versions of this song because it’s such a pain to make 12 repetitive verses interesting. But Relient K pulls it off with verve.

Entertaining ‘Angels’: which ‘Home Alone’ fake gangster film is the filthiest?

home_alone_filthy_animal-1

Here’s an important question for the Christmas season: which is better, Angels with Filthy Souls or Angels with Even Filthier Souls?

Both share a template: character walks in, gets threatened/insulted by Johnny, gets blown away by Johnny, and gets a memorable kicker. Kevin McCallister also enjoys a smorgasbord while watching both of them, and gets scared by the violence (which is ironic given his casual sadism toward the Wet/Sticky Bandits later in the films). Let’s dig into them to decide:

Angels with Filthy Souls

From Home Alone, it features Johnny and Snakes, who wants his money for “the stuff”:

(Vanity Fair wrote a cool feature on the making of this one.)

Johnny’s Threat/Insult: “I’m gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your ugly, yella, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead!”

Tagline: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Angels with Even Filthier Souls

From Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, it has Johnny confronting Carlotta, his two-timing smoocher of a gal:

Johnny’s Threat/Insult: “I’m gonna give ya ’til the count of 3 to get your lousy, lyin’, low-down, 4-flushin’ carcass out my door!”

Tagline: “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal. And a Happy New Year.”

Verdict:

I gotta go with the original. While I like the seasonal application of the latter tagline and reference to four flushing, the threat/insult and tagline in Filthy are perfect ersatz gangster noir lines. I also like how Johnny jumps right from 2 to 10 and that he has a typewriter at his desk.

Tipsy temperance titles

Here’s a Christmas gift idea for the alcoholics in your life:

Working at a museum archives dedicated to the temperance and prohibition movements means I see books, pamphlets, posters, and other promotional/educational material like this all the time. I could put together an entire exhibit of temperance titles that are a) trying to be funny and hip in the youth pastor kind of way, or b) actually funny like this one.

Hear Ye! Listening to ‘The New Analog’

new-analog

“Noise has value.”

So goes the thesis statement of The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, a wonderful new book by musician Damon Krukowski. He reckons with how digital media has changed how we consume music and what we’ve come to expect from it. New technologies have begat new ways of listening, but to get to that newness, music has been stripped of its context and surrounding “noise” and turned (for a profit) into pure “signal” over a disembodied digital stream.

In theory this would be ideal; noise is usually considered a bad thing, and boosting signal above it separates the gold from the dross, the wheat from the chaff, etc. But what happens when everything becomes signal? What happens when we cede the authority to determine what ought to be signal to Spotify’s mysterious algorithms and the rigid perfectionism of digital recording equipment?

Krukowski illuminates what we lose when we ignore or eliminate noise. It’s not only the small things— incidental studio sounds captured alongside the recorded music and how smartphones flatten the richness of our voices—but bigger ones too: how we’ve come to occupy space “simultaneously but not together”, and how streaming encourages “ahistorical listening.”

This isn’t a fusty screed against newfangled media. Krukowski avoids nostalgia as he straddles the analog/digital divide, opting for clear-headed rumination on “aspects of the analog that persist—that must persist—that we need persist—in the digital era.” These aspects involve early 20th century player pianos, Sinatra’s microphone technique, the “loudness wars”, and Napster, among other topics I learned a lot about.

The book overlaps a lot with Krukowski’s podcast miniseries Ways of Hearing, though I’m not sure which informed the other more. Ironically, despite its inability to convey sound, I thought the book was better at explaining the concepts and aural phenomena of analog that Krukowski dives into. With the relentless iterations of new media keeping us ever focused on the present and future, it’s more important than ever for thoughtful critics like Krukowski and Nicholas Carr and Alan Jacobs to help promote intentional thinking and challenge our modern assumptions.

What’s your number?

Not sure when I learned about the Enneagram, but almost immediately after I did I knew I was a Five.  However flawed and subjective it is, I’ve found it to be a good model for understanding human nature as an individual and in relationship with others. Plus it’s easier to remember than the Myers-Briggs.

Discovering the Enneagram podcast Typology reignited my interest in it. (I’ve liked the episodes with Rob Bell, Shauna & Aaron Niequist, and the panel of Fives especially.)

It was through the podcast I learned Ryan O’Neal of the band Sleeping At Last is writing a song about every Enneagram number, as part of his ambitious Atlas project. He’s done One and Two thus far, and they are exceptionally beautiful.

Say hi to Mosul Eye

The AP has an incredible story about an Iraqi man named Omar Mohammed who courageously chronicled the savagery of the Islamic State as an undercover blogger, using the moniker Mosul Eye:

For nearly two years, he’d wandered the streets of occupied Mosul, chatting with shopkeepers and Islamic State fighters, visiting friends who worked at the hospital, swapping scraps of information. He grew out his hair and his beard and wore the shortened trousers required by IS. He forced himself to witness the beheadings and deaths by stoning, so he could hear the killers call out the names of the condemned and their supposed crimes.

He wasn’t a spy. He was an undercover historian and blogger. As IS turned the Iraqi city he loved into a fundamentalist bastion, he decided he would show the world how the extremists had distorted its true nature, how they were trying to rewrite the past and forge a brutal Sunni-only future for a city that had once welcomed many faiths.

Working at Mosul University when the city fell in June 2014 to the extremists, he decided to start gathering information:

By day, he chatted with Islamic State fighters and vendors, and observed. Always observed. By night, he wrote in his native Arabic and fluent English on a WordPress blog and later on Facebook and Twitter. The city turned dark, and Mosul Eye became one of the outside world’s main sources of news about the Islamic State fighters, their atrocities and their transformation of the city into a grotesque shadow of itself. The things IS wanted kept secret went to the heart of its brutal rule.

As you’d imagine, the IS thugs weren’t too happy about the Mosul Eye:

When the only Mosul residents left were fellow Sunnis, they too were not spared, according to the catalog of horrors that is Mosul Eye’s daily report. He detailed the deaths and whippings, for spying and apostasy, for failing to attend prayers, for overdue taxes. The blog attracted the attention of the fanatics, who posted death threats in the comments section.

Spoiler: he makes it out OK, but read the whole story to learn about a modern hero.

Little Women

I was a good amount into a post celebrating the 1994 film Little Women when I discovered I was basically writing Alissa Wilkinson’s appreciation of the film at Vox from last year. It’s one of many movies I watched a lot with my sisters as a kid, in rotation with other female-focused ’90s films like Ever After, Never Been Kissed, Return to Me and You’ve Got Mail. (Also the Ace Ventura duology.)

In my mind it was a Christmas movie, but after my latest rewatch I realized it’s not. Its Christmas and winter scenes might be the best ones, but they are only part of the story that follows the passing seasons and growth of a Civil War-era New England family.

This time around I understood more historical context than I could have as a kid, context that grounds the story in its particular time. Jo mentioning the March family’s adherence to Transcendentalism, for instance, and the gravity of Beth contracting scarlet fever in a time of epidemics and poor medicine, which forces uninoculated Amy to be sent away. And despite living in what looks like a nice, big house, the March family is struggling through trying times. Writes Wilkinson:

The Civil War is still taking place when the story begins, Mr. March is away with the military, and money and rations are tight. Meg is embarrassed about her clothing, Amy doesn’t have the faddish pickled limes that her peers trade and eat at school, and things are actually quite difficult.

Navigating these challenges while cohering as a family is what makes the film a delight, and much more than just a Christmas movie. A big part of this is its soundtrack by Thomas Newman, who also scored The Shawshank Redemption in the same year and got Oscar nominations for both films. (The Lion King beat them and Forrest Gump.) The score even sounds like Christmas, writes Wilkinson, with Newman’s

strings, bells, oboes, and some joyful melodic patterns. There’s a hum of happiness to Newman’s soundtrack that reminds me of the season, a buoyancy that portends a new year, new surprises, new life.

In addition to capturing a nostalgic Christmas feeling, the score is exactly what it needs to be moment to moment, throughout the seasons and circumstances. Lush and triumphant at a climactic encounter, tender and dramatic when Jo sells her hair to pay for Marmie’s train ticket to visit their ailing father. (Sidenote: Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress for The Client that year, along with Winona Ryder for Little Women, but she could have earned a nod for that scene alone:)

In one sense: Duh, a good soundtrack should appropriately underscore moments and moods. A great soundtrack like this one, however, makes its film better.

Top films of 2007: will ‘There Will Be Blood’ be there?

Filmspotting’s recent Sacred Cow review of There Will Be Blood inspired me to rewatch it for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and go back and look at my top films of 2007. They were:

1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
2) Once
3) Waitress
4) Zodiac
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
8) Ratatouille
9) Juno
10) 3:10 to Yuma

As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.

I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.

So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand. But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:

1) The Lives of Others
2) Once
3) Zodiac
4) No Country for Old Men
5) Waitress
6) Munyurangabo
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
9) Ratatouille
10) Into the Wild

Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the ButterflyHairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!

Favorite Christmas song lyrics, ranked

I’m terrible at remembering lyrics. Even for favorite songs I’ve heard dozens of times. It’s an annoying deficiency when I try to sing along as so often I end up having to mumble certain lines.

But now, my yearly Christmas music binge in progress, I’ve started paying attention to the lyrics that have peaked my interest over the years. A phrase, a couplet, a stanza—whatever somehow embodies the Christmas season with lyrical grace.

So, to separate the cookies from the coal, here are my top 20 Christmas lyrics:

20.
Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow!
— 
“Let It Snow”

19.
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night

He will bring us goodness and light
— “Do You Hear What I Hear”

18.
Deck the halls with mistletoe

Let all your heavy burdens go
Up the chimney in a cloud of smoke
The fire’s burning bright
— “Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More” by Relient K

17.
It’s that time of year

When the world falls in love
Every song you hear seems to say
“Merry Christmas
May your new year’s dreams come true”
— “The Christmas Waltz”

16.
Then comes that big night

Giving the tree the trim
You’ll hear voices by starlight
Singing a Yuletide hymn
— “Mistletoe and Holly”

15.
Later on we’ll conspire

As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland

— “Winter Wonderland”

14.
These wonderful things are the things

We remember all through our lives
— “Sleigh Ride”

13.
May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white
— “White Christmas”

12.
Light and life to all he brings

Risen with healing in his wings
— “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

11.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
— “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

10.
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new glorious morn

— “O Holy Night”

9.
Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more
— “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

8.
Snowflakes a-fallin’

My old heart’s a-callin’
Tall pines a-hummin’
Christmas Time’s a-comin’
— “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'”

7.
Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace
— “Silent Night”

6.
Repeat the sounding joy

— “Joy to the World”

5.
But what is this music

That falls on my ear
It’s the very first snowfall
Of a very long year
— “First Snowfall” by Over the Rhine

4.
Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
— “Angels We Have Heard On High”

3.
Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love-light gleams
— “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

2.
Like the petals in our pockets

May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts
— “Snow” by Sleeping at Last

1.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

— “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

With special mention to:

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne
— “Auld Lang Syne”

Yes, it’s not really a Christmas song, but it’s in It’s A Wonderful Life and it’s the song I want played at my funeral, so it gets grandfathered in.

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