Monday, March 31, 2008

The Other Money Bubble

A couple of winters ago I found myself wandering through a casino in Atlantic City.

In a glimmering inner chamber awash in electronic chimes nestled at the end of a serpentine mirror-plated corridor, I witnessed one man’s windfall.

He had hit on his slot machine and won a trip into the Bubble, a giant clear acrylic sphere suspended over the machines.

A red-vested casino employee cordially showed the man to the elevator cylinder at the center of the floor and explained the rules to him: once he was in the Bubble, he was not allowed to step beyond the defined area of the central platform; dollar bills would be blown around the Bubble by fans; he would be allowed to keep only what bills he caught in the provided butterfly net. Under no circumstances was he allowed to use his hands, except to hold the net. Any deviation from the rules would result in expulsion from the Bubble and forfeit of all funds acquired therein.

The man, who looked to be in his early sixties, bespectacled and fit, had the glazed look of someone who’d been breathing casino air and keeping himself hydrated with complementary cocktails while staring at flashing lights for several dozen hours. He smiled vacantly and nodded comprehension before stepping into the cylinder and rising sixteen feet or so into the center of the Bubble.

A siren sounded, followed by the whirring of fans, and the Bubble filled with dollar bills dancing on jets of air.

The man’s vacant smile broadened and he swung the butterfly net back and forth steadily. A dollar bill plastered itself against his glasses, but he dared not use his hands to remove it lest he should be stripped of his winnings thus far. He continued to swing the net blindly.

The siren sounded again, the fans cut off, the dancing dollars wafted gently to the bottom of the Bubble and the elevator brought the man, eyes moist, clutching the butterfly net to his chest, back to the casino floor.

I don’t know how much he’d pumped into the bandits prior to his trip into the Bubble, but he came out of it with thirty-six bucks, counted out for him by the Red-vest, who directed him to the counter where he would be given his, er, windfall in chips.

As the man nodded and turned towards the counter, the Red-vest spotted two rogue bills, caught in the static electricity of the man’s sweater, stuck on his shoulder.

He plucked them off and tucked them into his vest.

What I want to know is, where was the SEC?

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini

orange colored sky

(click image to enlarge)

copyright © 2008 Wyatt Doyle

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Meet EasyRaoul. He's just a guy on YouTube who walks around different places while accompanying himself with his own renditions of easy-listening favorites.

...Such as Al Stewart's "Time Passages"

...And "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vanina Marsot in Vietnam

(click image to enlarge)

Tu Duc tomb

copyright, © 2008 Vanina Marsot

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Borgnine Saturday, everyone!

Hail to the Chief!

Easter weekend can be a tricky one. Good Friday is on the books, and Easter Sunday's what it's all about. And while I seem to recall from my Catholic school years that the day between the two was considered Holy Saturday, that always seemed like more of a holiday by default - a result of its being bookended by two Big Ones, as opposed to honoring of any specific event.

With a perfectly good holiday sitting idle, it was decided some years back to claim the day for a great man who still walks among us; a man who, thanks to the frequent Easter weekend re-runs of Jesus of Nazareth, we also tend to think of at this time of year:

Ernest Borgnine.

But it's not just for his stirring portrayal of The Good Centurion in that all-star miniseries from 1977 that we celebrate the actor we affectionately think of as "The 'Nine." No, we also honor him for his role as Fatso, in From Here to Eternity; for Shack, in Emperor of the North; for Dutch, in The Wild Bunch.

For Mike Rogo, in The Poseidon Adventure; for Sam Paxton, in The Trackers; for Baldo Cacetti in Spike of Bensonhurst; for Santini, in Airwolf.

For Ragnar, in The Vikings; for Barney Yale in The Oscar; for Isaiah Schmidt in Deadly Blessing; for Sheriff Lyle Wallace, in Convoy. For Cabbie, in Escape from New York.

And what about Quinton McHale of McHale's Navy? Or Jonathan, from Little House on the Prairie? Or even the Mermaid Man, from SpongeBob SquarePants?

Can any sane person argue against such an encomium, for such a man?

Today is Borgnine Saturday. Plan your celebrations accordingly.

need more Borgnine? check out how Ernie spent Golden Globes night here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Springtime, Sunny Murray and Me Me Me

Yes, yes, Sunny Murray.

Soon it will be spring, and the better part of a season of hurt words will have come and gone with barely any hurt words having been slung. Instead all that's been happening is a lot of worrying and fretting about bringing this goddamn Sonny Murray liner note up to "presentation standards." if!

Rather than exhuming 2 year old liner note that no one gave a shit about in the first place, let's instead take a stroll down memory lane and revisit the "social conditions" behind the failed essay in question.

That said, I realize the chances are good that the four of five of you who intentionally tune in with any regularity have already heard the story or don't give a fuck one way or the other.

I also realize that the four of five of you who intentionally tune in with any regularity see this blog nonsense as the tawdry substitution for any meaningful participation in music that it is. But better "a bunch of imaginary notes" than throwing rocks through bank windows, so bear with me.

+ + +

The very fine Les Perles Noirs, featuring (among others) the very wonderful pianist John Blum was still getting put together in January of 2005. I was asked to do the liner note, then I was asked not to do the liner note.

Compared to the indignities endured before, during and after, "losing the contract" was a mere speck against the much larger yellow and brown drip painting that was my situation at the time.

I had just moved away from Portland. You see, when the New York Times starts to write about something, that means it's "in the cross-hairs" or, as in the case of Portland, already dead. I realize this may be confusing to the countless aspirants looking for the antidote to their even more fucked up metropolitan/suburban dystopia, to say nothing of the millions of New York Times readers who not only take what ever the New York Times says as truth but see the New York Times as a force of civilizing good.

As thousands migrated North from Los Angeles to get their PNW on at The Doug Fir, I migrated South to Los Angeles to come to terms with a festering family problem. Not a real auspicious start to a life after Portland.

My hatred for Los Angeles is different than my hatred for the San Fernando Valley and yet I hate them both the same amount. Isn't that something? Do I hate them more than New York City? That's a tough call. I like the plants of Los Angeles, and I am encouraged by the fact that after the robots and plagues and every other damn thing working day and night to solve the human problem finally triumphs, plant life will consume Los Angeles rather quickly. Then I imagine it will quickly die away, as there won't be anyone left to turn the hoses on.

New York is a little different. Plant life is going to have a tougher time in New York not because of the climate or ecosystem, but because of the overwhelming concentration of human urine and feces saturating the streets and subways and many of the apartment floors and stairwells and entrances. In Los Angeles, the human urine and feces is more disperse across the geography. Los Angeles is more like range. New York is more like a feed lot.

For most of my time in Los Angeles, I lived in a 125 square foot apartment just off Melrose. There was no kitchen (food comes from a menu, silly) and there was scary blue carpeting with no discernible carpet pad underneath. Not like that really mattered; almost immediately upon entering my new home, one of my dogs made a spectacular (auspicious?) diarrhea on the carpet. There wasn't much a carpet pad was going to do in that situation.

Next to my 125 square foot apartment was another building--it was one of those classic situations where the only window looks out on to a wall. Even more classic is that said wall had extensive fire damage from the airplane that crashed into it a few years earlier. How auspicious is that?

Oddly enough, shortly after arriving, I came down with a horrible cold. A memorable cold--memorable in a history of memorable illnesses. Oddly enough, it seemed to last the entire time I was in LA. Hmm.

I guess because the architecture of the building next to mine was so grand, and because the air craft was a small one, the building was in the process of being rebuilt, as opposed to being razed entirely and built anew. Construction started at 7:30 am. Well, the noise started at 7:30 am. The nail guns started doing their thing significantly later in the day.

Because Southern California is actually a Mexican territory, most of the employees at the construction site 5 feet away from the one window in my 125 square foot apartment spoke and (mostly) sung in Spanish. Each morning I would awake to the best hits of the 70's 80's and 90's sung in Spanish by the construction dudes across the way.

When there was an English word in the song they didn't know, or they didn't have a suitable translation for, they would simply sing "na na naaaaa naaa" and everything ended in an unnerving Tejano cry that went "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii!"

For example, the Thin Lizzy hit "The Boys are Back in Town" went something like this

"told them na na naaa down town"
"na na naaaa old men loco"
"Los boys are back in town, los boys back in town"
"Los boys are back in town, aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii!"

Similarly, the Pretenders hit "Back on the Chain Gang" went sort of like

"na na naaa beyond my control, na na na naaa na na"
"I'm back on el Chain Gang, "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii !""

Those two songs seemed to be real favorites. Long after the radio had been turned off you could still hear construction dudes singing "yo soy back on el chain gang, "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii !" and "los boys are back in town, back in town, "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii !" as if they all had Tourette's syndrome and Thin Lizzy and the Pretenders were their tics.

Believe it or not, that always started my day with a smile, even if that smile only lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

Much of the un-smile had to do with the residual effects of my grandmother's passing--specifically the "collateral damage" resulting from the sale of my grandmother's house. Apparently the terms of the real estate deal were such that the remaining resident (my uncle) was not included in the purchase of house.

Not only was I coming to terms with the fact that I no longer lived in Portland, not only was I living in 125 square feet of polyester carpeting and animal excrement, not only was there thick angry mucous in my nose and lungs at all times, not only were the (mostly Spanish) Boys back in town, not only was I trying to put together some vaguely humane, non-indicting narrative explaining why my special needs uncle was being evicted from his home of over 30 years, but I had this Sunny Murray liner essay to write.

Which was good. Without the focused listening and transmutation of sound into words, without the sparkly feeling that come with the knowing (or pretending anyway) that I too would be a "part of"--a collaborator this groovy happening featuring the not only the wonderful Sunny Murray, but also my dear friend of over a decade, the equally wonderful John Blum on the very prestigious and personally much admired Eremite label, I don't know what I would have done.

Working on that essay was, as they say in gospel circles "a rock in a weary land."

And so it went: family shit getting too nuts? Put on the Sunny Murray. Tired of parallel parking the F-350 crew cab on Melrose? Turn up the Sunny Murray. The boys are back in town? Introduce them to Sunny Murray.

The other mental sanctuary was a book called Ether God and Devil by Dr. Wilhelm Reich. Have I mentioned Ether God and Devil yet?

Being in LA, browsing at the finer crystal shops in Hollywood and Van Nuys, reading Reich and listening to Sunny Murray made me think there might be a connection. Now, two years later, I am absolutely positive there is a connection. I began to explore those ideas in that fateful non-essay.

Who knew that very constellation of crystals, Reich, Orgone, free improvisation and my failure to enunciate the connection in a readable, non-confrontational, capitalism-friendly, sales-positive manner in very small print on the inside of a CD would inspire a "blog."

While this escapade didn't teach me, it did remind me that failure is a gift that keeps on giving. What's more, it's cheap and plentiful and seems to be available everywhere, at every turn.

The criticism leveled at the essay that I remember most clearly was objection taken to the "marxist hysterics." Yes, yes, I know I know, there's that fag talk again.

I also remember the occasional, though fleeting plea to "talk about the music--talk about what the music sounds like."

Talk about what the music sounds like. Not like you should or do give a fuck, but I have to tell you, it's been two years and I'm still trying to figure out how one talks about how music sounds. Can that really be done? Can it really be done and still be readable? I really am asking.

When management finally decided to cut their losses and go with someone punctual, professional and sensible (Ed Hazel, as I recall) the response from those near and dear to me was

"What the fuck do you mean he isn't going to use your essay?"

Mind you, this reaction by those near and dear to me was less about my missed opportunity, and more about their time with me robbed from them for naught--time that could have been better spent parallel parking the F-350 crew cab on Melrose, for example or driving to crystal shops in Van Nuys.

I realize that time spent listening to Sunny Murray and John Blum, looking at crystals, thinking about Reich wasn't exactly "social" time.

Since the rest of my time was split between navigating social services that weren't available and meditating on the dichotomy between creme brulee not made by Sirio Maccioni (but by his pastry chef) and sugar-free apricot pies pulled from the dumpster behind Jon's, I wasn't the jolly, personable bouquet of sunshine kisses I usually am.

If only I was totally to blame for it all, then that might be something to be proud of. Unfortunately, many others contributed to making my time in LA the nightmare it was--the particular details of which are another story for another time.

Anyhow, both volumes of Les Perles Noires are really quite excellent. Surely you have them both by now. If you don't, visit the Eremite web site and get them. Pick up a copy of the Astrogeny quartet while you're at it.

+ + +

Now that I've finally passed that stone, please stay tuned for more maladjusted invective!

copyright © 2008 Stanley Jason Zappa

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nice New Fiction!

As promised, here’s some nice new fiction for you to enjoy!

So hoist up your suspenders, suspend your disbelief, fire up the wouldn’t-it-be-nice machine and join me on a speculative whirl around the world as we step into the not too distant future, where…

Barack Obama is elected president after convincing the Super-delegates (and the American public) that the possibility of Hillary Clinton’s brutal brand of politics inspiring a second Contract on America (sic) that would stalemate the government and kneecap progress at this critical and fragile time is very real and too dangerous to allow.

His campaign against John McCain was a clean fight full of clear-sighted debate about where this country is and where it’s headed.

He finally admits that his understanding of real-world political complexities does, in fact, run deeper than his very real inspirational vision of change and that the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. He acknowledges that Americans are, for the most part, smarter than needing to be spoon-fed simplistic buzz clips (possibly even smarter than some of their own news media…). Americans, so used to public figures making transparent and embarrassing efforts to dumb themselves down are, in fact, elevated.

Hillary Clinton applies her leadership, formidable political acumen and strength of ideas to restore a productive system of Checks and Balances by reinvigorating the moribund Legislature (a far more unwieldy branch of government requiring far more skill and experience to revive from obsolescence than the Executive) and with wide popular support and a convincing majority passes laws providing universal health care, reigning in out-of-control CEO pay and establishing a practical and equitable national budget.

The Republican minority, under the sane leadership of guys like John McCain, Arlen Specter and (come back, come back!) Chuck Hagel provides constructive counter arguments and healthy debate, which ultimately strengthen the laws.

(But seriously, I always thought that the President wasn’t supposed to be a democratically elected dictator. And wouldn’t a functioning legislature negate the need for the Supreme Court to legislate from the bench? Anyway…on with the fiction…!)

Technological advances (nanotech fuel cell membranes?), new patents and innovative business models give birth to new American manufacturing, and the business models are exported rather than just the labor, stabilizing South and Central America and leading to a mutually beneficial system of trade in the hemisphere. (I’m not so much worried about Canada. They’ll be fine.)

Christian fundamentalists take over South Carolina, and nobody cares.

Right-wing terrorists calling themselves The Sons of McVeigh wage an underground war against the Bicycle Anarchists.

A law-abiding Michigan plumber named Alfonso Cayeda is finally taken off of Homeland Security’s watch list after a decade of round-the-clock surveillance, freeing up all kinds of valuable resources.

Pakistan’s new government says fuckit and nukes Waziristan.

Cannabis is legally regulated in the U.S. and Europe and becomes Afghanistan’s cash crop, squeezing out the poppy trade and building schools and democratic institutions, lifting the people out of the kind of medieval poverty that makes religious extremism so appealing. Elsewhere, the number of young black men enrolling in, and paying for, college outpaces the number of them locked up in prison at taxpayer expense, and thousands of existing hopeless drunks discover they’re much happier and possibly less obnoxious as hopeless stoners, and western civilization rolls merrily along…

Italy finally realizes that it’s better off without a federal government.

After being led into financial and social near-ruin by a bunch of semi-aristocrats in love with reruns of Dallas, France wakes up from a cocaine hangover and figures out that its intellectual tradition just might be worth something after all…

China dedicates its new wealth to buying its own cheap goods and dealing with the huge freakin’ environmental catastrophe they’re cruising for.

Kim Jong Il finally completes the project he’s been working up to all these years: directing a sweeping cinemascope musical epic starring the entire population of North Korea. When he is unable to place it in film festivals and finds himself further marginalized in the international community, he begins writing cogent, funny examinations of what’s wrong with the film industry and posting them on a Los Angeles-based blog.

Africa. Sweet Jesus, maybe something goes right…micro-investment networks continue to expand and nurture local economies...the cash infusion from non-Colonialist Chinese investment sparks competitive entrepeneurship...and everybody stops blowing each other away...

Iran and Syria agree to put the kibosh on Hezbollah and Hamas, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, stop fucking with Lebanon and take over as peacekeepers in Iraq in exchange for equitable participation and influence in the regional economy and a return to Israel’s 1968 borders.
I don’t know why they do this, because God knows the U.S. has squandered any influence we’ve ever had in the region again and again (the Shah, anyone?), Israel isn’t traditionally known for diplomacy, Iran is being run by fascistic nutjobs, the Iraqis are still pretty trigger-happy, Syria seems to have had a complicated relationship with honesty and you can’t count on the Saudis for anything beyond self-interest... But I don’t have to know, because this is fiction!

And in the spirit of fiction, John McCain is named Secretary of Defense and gets on famously with Wes Clark as National Security Advisor! Secretary of the Treasury Paul Krugman restores sanity and sustainability to the national economy! Secretary of State Bill Clinton reminds the world that Americans don’t suck at diplomacy after all! And a Giant Super-intelligent Beefsteak Tomato becomes Secretary of Agriculture and takes on the corporate food establishment (Big Food vs. Big Food!), and the resulting re-investment in small, regional farms restores the possibility of a good life in rural America, wrenching it free of the scourge of meth!

Oooh, isn’t fiction fun???

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New Media Now part 2

At the risk of overstaying my time on the soapbox (more fiction coming soon, I promise), I'm going to expand a bit on my previous post regarding the current state of independent movies. Bear with me through a brief diagnosis of a problem in the current system before I get to the rainbow...

Currently, film festivals have become the de facto conduit by which most independently produced movies reach the audience. While festivals are terrific opportunities to present curated rosters of new or rare work, they've proven to be completely insufficient as a means of distribution.

The volume of quality work produced far exceeds available spots in festivals, creating a severe bottleneck and gumming up the works.

Quality is, of course, subject to taste. Specifically, the tastes of festival programmers, and many in the Industry believe that a curatorial component is critical to distribution.

This is a flawed notion.

While individual exhibitors will naturally want to choose product based on their audience, too often the curatorial process has the effect of choking off new voices and modes of storytelling and encouraging homogeneity in the marketplace.

The danger is that large sectors of a potential audience become alienated. For example, does anyone who isn't a post-collegiate twentysomething care about Mumblecore? (Sorry. No knock on the filmmaking or the filmmakers, but I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and if I wanted to watch a bunch of tragically semi-articulate hipsters puzzle over a doorknob I'd look out the window.)

By allowing only works that they like, or that adhere to a trend or 'movement,' exposure to the market, festival programmers have, unfortunately, come to represent the same obstacle to the circulation of feature-length movies that the old-line corporate studios and broadcast networks have.

As I said last time, in order for markets to function optimally, goods need to be able to get to the marketplace.

The stated fear seems to be that lowest-common-denominator business realities could squeeze out serious or challenging works. (What's worse? A bunch of Jackass wannabes or a bunch of Juno wannabes? Depends on who you ask. And those audiences aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.)

But if media-makers are able to find their audience and an apparatus exists to reach them, odds are that more good and interesting work will be made as more talented people are able to work.

I guess I believe that independent movies should be made for more people than just festival programmers.

Another danger of the festival system as it exists is the dead-end effect. Say a movie plays at a festival and three hundred people in the audience love it and put the word out to their social circles. Where can they see it? The next festival it plays, wherever that may be?

And be honest, have you ever watched a movie because it won the jury prize at the Bumblefork International Film Festival?

(I was a little hard on Netflix last time. They pushed the Puffy Chair pretty hard and it did well for those guys.)

Alright. Enough complaining. Time for some constructive thinking...

One model that I find interesting is the regional theatrical distribution of independently produced movies in the 1950's, where small local companies would take on the regional promotion and distribution of independents, mostly genre pictures, booking screens, hanging posters, wrangling local press and generally working to get asses in the seats.

Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. was in the regional distribution business, and with funds raised from pre-sales to other regional distributors financed what I think was the first indie blockbuster -- 1958's The Blob.

Granted, the model doesn't translate exactly because, at the moment, the primary markets for independents are small-format. Emerging Pictures seems to have a toe in the water with this model, but it's not yet enough.

I mentioned in my last post that I believe in indiepix's model for small-format distribution. (Shameless plug: Don't forget to pick up your copy of Every Dog's Day today!)

All this said, I'm honestly excited by the number of genuinely talented people making movies these days, and encouraged by the increasing number of them whose works are being made available by various means, and I urge everyone who happens to read this to get out there and explore what's going on.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cough it up for Destri - and PHLEGM

You might recall a post in this space a short time ago about filmmaker Destri Martino's efforts to raise funds for her film, PHLEGM.

Here's an update from Destri. Now show the lady behind the camera some love - and some greenbacks!

Hello Generous Friends!

I'm just about a month away from shooting my short film PHLEGM and I still have a lot of money to raise. If you've been planning to donate, now is the time. I'm still $10k away from my minimum estimated budget of $15k, so anything you can give will help immensely! (And if you haven't been planning to donate, maybe you could reconsider? ;-)


That's a good question! I certainly support your desire to help those in Africa and other areas in need, but if you could help us both out, that'd be really fantastic, too.

As most of you know, it's hard to break into film directing—and even harder for women. Typically only about 3-5% of the top 100 films are directed by women each year. With more balance behind the camera, we hope to see more balanced portrayals of women on the screen (anyone tired of the mother/whore characters, yet?).*


By donating to my short film, you're helping me make a big leap toward establishing a career as a filmmaker. You are being a direct patron of the arts! And you're not only helping me, you're helping the filmmakers of Filmmakers Alliance, my fiscal sponsor, who receive 3.5% of all donations I collect.

Since I plan to use this project as a calling card for my writing and directing ability, it's very important that the production value (i.e., the look of the film) is solid. And, although I will be calling in a few favors, there are some things that just don't come cheap—camera cranes, steadicam and locations, to name a few. These are the things that make a film stand out. Your donations will help me secure these important elements for my film. Don't forget, donations made to the production of PHLEGM are tax-deductible**, thanks to FA.


There are now easier ways to donate! If you lost your checkbook and/or can't remember the last time you actually used a stamp, you're in luck. You can now make donations via PayPal: Go to your existing account at and choose 'Send Money', enter this email address: and follow the prompts. Please include your address, so I can send you your tax receipt.

If you're a Facebooker, you can also use the PayPal badge on my profile to give. All previously mentioned donation incentives still apply, see for details. If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to FILMMAKERS ALLIANCE and mail to:

Destri Martino
4470 W. Sunset Blvd., # 407
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Thank you for reading, and thank you so much for all your support so far! I look forward to sharing the finished product with you. Hope this finds you well!


Destri Martino
destrino (at)

* If that reason is too simplistic for you, you're welcome to read my dissertation on the subject-- Just wanted to save space here. ;-)

** For those of you paying U.S. taxes at least. Check with your accountant to make sure it will work for your tax situation.