While I was on vacation

I’ll slack off from blogging soon for a bit of travel.  Comment response will be slower.  In case anyone is interested, here’s a brief list of some of the books, music, and films I consumed while taking a break from blogging this spring:

The most interesting book was probably A Time for Everything, a fairly long Norwegian novel that takes some of the Biblical stories quite seriously, although they are transported to a location that seems a lot like Norway.  I also read Microscripts, by Robert Walser and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira (both of which I found slightly disappointing.)  I found Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky to be delightful.  And I greatly enjoyed Tiepolo Pink by Roberto Calasso.  I’m told that Danube by Claudio Magris is a classic.  It is certainly impressive, but is probably better suited for those with a greater knowledge of Central Europe.  It left me with the impression that the Danube River contains the most dense and complex cultural mosiac on the planet.   If the internet had never been invented I’d be well read enough by now to have handled it, but the internet was invented.  I got 220 pages into Underworld by Don DeLillo, and gave up.   I just finished Peter Hessler’s River Town, and liked it alot.   He’s my favorite observer of Chinese culture (this is the first of three books that he has written.  I should probably do a book review.)

Here’s some quick music comments:

The Wild Hunt by Kristian Mattson was my only discovery, as I’m afraid I don’t keep up with pop music.  I also got his two newest EPs.

Oh but rumor has it that I wasn’t born
I just walked in one frosty morn

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.   I can’t understand why Lucinda Williams isn’t a superstar.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  I can understand why Kanye West is a superstar.

Jonsi Live.  The lead singer from Sigur Ros

Bob Dylan Live 1964.  For some reason I love his voice, but find Joan Baez (who also sings on the album) to be very annoying.  Go figure.

And now some brief film reviews.  These are mostly new films, but a few old ones.  I see what’s available at the theater, and almost never watch films on TV

Uncle Boonmee Can Recall His Past Lives (Thai)  3.9  Apichatpong Weerasethakul might just be the best director in the world today.  It’s a tragedy that few will see this on the big screen, where the visuals/sound/atmospherics are so impressive.  Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010.

Poetry (Korean) 3.8  Another great movie by Lee Chang-Dong, director of Secret Sunshine.  Like some other great directors (and unlike Hollywood) his movies are partly defined by what they choose not to show.  Great use of sunlight.  Brilliant ending.  I’m sure I’d get lots more out of it on a second viewing.

HaHaHa (aka Summer/Summer/Summer) (Korean)  3.6  Song’s films are reminiscent of all those French films about young people adrift in and out of relationships.  I’m not sure if it’s the Korean setting that makes them seem fresh, or his skill as a director.

Cameraman: The Life and Times of Jack Cardiff  (British)  3.5  A must see film for fans of “Black Narcissus.”  I wish I could have lived his life instead of mine.

Incendies (Canadian)  3.5 A very powerful look at the Lebanese civil war.  Does a lot of things well, but doesn’t really excel in any single category””except perhaps acting.

City of Life and Death  (China)  3.4  The rape of Nanjing.

Deep End (British)  3.3  An old British film by a Polish director.  Reminds me of Peeping Tom, although not as good.

The Robber (Austrian)  3.2  Interesting film based on a true story of a marathon runner who robbed banks.  Stylistically reminiscent of many films of the 1950s and 1960s, which makes it seems derivative at times.

The Tree of Life (US) 3.2  Worth seeing, but I found it much less impressive than some of the critics suggested.  The visuals were nice, but not visionary as in Tarkovsky and Kubrick films.  Did a great job of capturing the feel of childhood.  The scenes with Sean Penn didn’t work for me.

The Housemaid (Korean)  3.2  Like many Korean films, it’s a movie that loves extremes.  It’s interesting seeing Western culture symbolizing decadence and evil.  Korea’s quite nationalistic.

Cold Weather (US)  3.1  An independent film that is ostensibly a detective story, but is actually a sly comedy about slackers.

The Strange Case of Angelica (Portuguese) 3.0  Charming at times, but in the end he doesn’t quite pull it off.  The director (Oliviera) is 102 years old.  Time to retire?

Midnight in Paris (US) 3.0  Another entertaining and completely forgettable film from Woody Allen.

Battleship Potemkin  (Russian)  3.0   Thrilling visual images, corny dialog, overacting, simplistic message and a really big ship.  No, it wasn’t Titanic, it was a “film classic.”  Didn’t Eisenstein steal that baby carriage sequence from Brian DePalma?

Nostalgia for the Light  (Chile) 2.8 Well-intentioned film that overreaches.

Summer Wars  (Japan) 2.5  Disappointing anime by the director who did The Girl Who Leap Through Time.

My favorite film blogger is Colin Marshall.  Here’s an except from a recent post:

Another essayist, centuries older but still a friend-maker in his way, may point to the escape route. A couple weeks ago, I interviewed Sarah Bakewell, Michel de Montaigne’s latest biographer. I admire many things about Montaigne, not least having invented the modern essay form, but his lack of strong opinions really wins me over. In his work “” point out the staggering oversimplification in this if you must “” I see a man struggling so hard to be honest about himself that, in the process, he strips himself of his opinions. I’ve come to think of honesty as a solution that, poured on one’s own opinions, dissolves them. When we dig down to bedrock, claims like “I love Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies” and “I hate Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies” amount to little more than “” well, grunts, right? We can’t credibly call them honest or dishonest, since their vagueness and rootedness in impulse takes them out of territory where that sort of truth and falsity applies.

Which isn’t to say that we should stop talking about the cultural products that attract or repel us. I just wonder if we should talk about them from richer angles than liking and disliking. In the best critics’ vocabularies, do words like good, bad, and any synonyms thereof have any place at all? In our interview, Geoff Dyer mentioned his current work on a book entirely about Stalker, in which “” and only my own conjecture follows “” he will not say “Stalker is good,” or even “Stalker is great.” I wager he’ll say something more interesting like, oh, “It’s not enough to say that Stalker is a great film “” it is the reason cinema was invented.“ Hence, I suppose, the fact that I showed up to interview him, not the other way around.

I won’t say Stalker is great, but I will say that it has shown at Harvard about a half dozen times in the past 30 years.  And I will say that I saw it twice at Harvard.  And I will say that the 4 times I missed it were four of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.

PS.  I really need to read Montaigne—he sounds like he has exactly what I like in a essayist.



19 Responses to “While I was on vacation”

  1. Gravatar of Lee Kelly Lee Kelly
    31. July 2011 at 06:02

    Ever notice that “The Money Illusion” initials are “TMI.” ;P

  2. Gravatar of mbk mbk
    31. July 2011 at 09:01

    “I really need to read Montaigne””he sounds like he has exactly what I like in a essayist.”

    But, Scott: you do have very strong opinions! 😉

  3. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    31. July 2011 at 09:31

    Scott wrote:
    “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. I can’t understand why Lucinda Williams isn’t a superstar.”

    Me neither. But keep it a secret (shhh), otherwise she’ll be forced to play in larger venues.

    By the way I prefer live music. Thus I recommend you give a listen to Lucinda Williams’ “Live @ The Fillmore.” It’s version of “I Lost It” is much better than the one on “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.”

    And if you like Lucinda Williams, you might also consider Ryan Adams. I recommend “Cold Roses.” “Magnolia Mountain” always brings out my inner hillbilly.

  4. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    31. July 2011 at 09:42

    Why talk, when you can listen?

    Lucinda Williams – State Theater – Ithaca, NY – I Lost It – 03/07/2011

    “I think I lost it
    Let me know if you come across it
    Let me know if I let it fall
    Along a back road somewhere
    Money can’t replace it
    No memory can erase it
    And I know I’m never gonna find
    Another one to compare
    Give me some love to fill me up

    Give me some time give me some stuff
    Give me a sign give me some kind of reason
    Are you heavy enough to make me stay
    I feel like I might blow away
    I thought I was in heaven
    But I was only dreamin
    I think I lost it
    Let me know if you come across it
    Let me know if I let it fall
    Along a back road somewhere
    Money can’t replace it
    No memory can erase it
    And I know I’m never gonna find
    Another one to compare


    I just wanna live the life I please
    I don’t want no enemies
    I don’t want nothin if I have to fake it
    Never take nothin don’t belong to me

    Everything’s paid for nothing free
    If I give my heart
    Will you promise not to break it
    I think I lost it
    Let me know if you come across it
    Let me know if I let it fall
    Along a back road somewhere
    Money can’t replace it
    No memory can erase it
    And I know I’m never gonna find
    Another one to compare
    Money can’t replace it
    No memory can erase it
    And I know I’m never gonna find
    Another one to compare”


  5. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    31. July 2011 at 14:16

    Lee, Yes, and I’m working hard to live up to the initials.

    mbk, Actually, I don’t have strong opinions. Between 1982 and 2007 I don’t recall ever having an opinion on monetary policy. That’s what’s so weird about my current crusade. I followed it, but my attitude was always “eh, it seems reasonable to me.”

    I don’t even have an opinion on who I should vote for next year.

    Mark, I can see you have good taste. Oddly I don’t even like country music; I’d think country fans would like her even more than I do.

  6. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    31. July 2011 at 17:07


    You don’t have any opinion on whom you would vote for? I thought Gary Johnson seems like a pretty good pick, although he has even worse chances of winning than Ron Paul. Actually, now it makes sense — you’re far from the median voter, so your vote doesn’t really count anyway. Chalk one up for the paradox of voting.

  7. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    31. July 2011 at 17:56


    PREDICTION: I will force Scott to vote for Rick Perry.

    I will do this by forcing him to admit that the expectations of the consensus economists that the Fed listens to CHANGE when they view the government as kissing the ass of the private sector.

    He will bob and weave, and not want to accept where the logic goes, but eventually he will admit it is true…

    And as such, those that wish to see looser monetary policy can have their desire for it measured by whether they vote politically to achieve that end.

    And of course, Rick Perry will win the primary.


    Scott agrees a return states’ rights the best possible outcome for 21st century US.

    I just don’t think he is familiar with Perry’s dedication here. He’s basically the 10th Amendment candidate.

  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    31. July 2011 at 18:30

    Related to nothing except a comment Sumner made recently about obscure baseball stats, did you know that Ron Fairly played for more than 20 years and had an OBP of .360? Unheralded.

    Also, Ted Williams lost six prime seasons to wars–four to WWII and two to the Korean War. Hi stats would have been amazing. He flew fighters.

    Okay, I will stop.

    Did you know only one ballplayer ever hit it out of Dodger Stadium? And he did it twice? And that he was not a Dodger?

    Willie Stargell.

  9. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    31. July 2011 at 22:02

    I was really psyched about Stalker, saw it with a Russian classmate, and was disappointed.

    Morgan, Rick Perry is not going to get the GOP nomination. U propose the following: if he does get it in 2012, I mail you $100. Otherwise, you mail $10 to Glenn Greenwald.

  10. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    31. July 2011 at 22:25


  11. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    1. August 2011 at 08:23

    johnleemk, Yeah, I’ll vote for Gary Johnson. But he has no chance. I was talking about the general election.

    Morgan, States rights are great, but who came out yesterday for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage?

    Ben, Yes, and I’ll bet Williams was a GREAT fighter pilot.

    TGGP, Stalker’s definitely an acquired taste.

  12. Gravatar of James Hanley James Hanley
    1. August 2011 at 08:26


    Given the damage Perry’s done to Texas, and his incessant religioneering in place of governing, he’s been long crossed off my list even though I’m a staunch federalist. He’s not the worst of the Republican candidates so far, but only because Michele Bachmann is even more fanatically religiously fundamentalist.

  13. Gravatar of The Window Washer The Window Washer
    1. August 2011 at 21:08

    Thanks for the culture post. Be wating for more film comments for quite some time now.

  14. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    1. August 2011 at 22:31

    I checked the InTrade odds after commenting and noticed that Rick Perry was actually being given much better odds than I assigned (Morgan could arbitrage!). Should have done that before, but a bet is a bet.

  15. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    1. August 2011 at 23:19


    It is SUPER easy to support an amendment the states won’t ratify. Smart folk would say it is genius.

    James & Scott,

    Good lord, my entire 100 year political narrative is based on brutal realpolitik wherein small government is achieved by ANY MEANS NECESSARY…. and you think Rick Perry is really a religious nut?

    Seriously, once we know that almost ANYTHING is acceptable to end theft, how dare you look down your nose at the folks who deliver the goods.

    You either think libertarian ideals are imperative enough to manipulate religious weirdos, or you don’t really believe in them.

    Choose. If you can’t say Rick Perry’s a genius for getting the ball across the line, manipulating the god idiots, you aren’t really rooting for the small government team – so stop pretending you are.

    During 2004, my business partner and I were throwing the biggest gay circuit parties on the west coast, so I had plenty of opportunity to argue politics with a horribly repressed minority.

    And the truth is this, if it wasn’t Gay Marriage, the right would have amped up whatever polled next best to make sure Bush won.

    The message to all liberal social special interest groups is this, don’t tie your agenda to bigger government, or you are BEGGING the most competent to repress you.

    Instead take the hard road, convince your opponents to leave you alone, prove your worth by standing by the small government crowd.

  16. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    2. August 2011 at 13:27


    I’ve been reading your blog since shortly after its inception, and your comment on Montaigne sparked a thought. I’m almost certain that you would enjoy (if you haven’t read it already) Erich Auerbach’s beautiful classic, “Mimesis: the representation of reality in western literature”. At the very least, I’d recommend reading the first chapter, which lays out his themes, and the chapter on Montaigne (“L’Humaine Condition”). It’s right up your alley.

  17. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    12. August 2011 at 11:47

    Chris, Thanks, I’ve had the book on my desk for two years–time to read it.

  18. Gravatar of book photo book photo
    20. August 2011 at 04:56

    I read a lot of norvegian book and I must say the novel “A Time for Everything” is really a good read

  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. August 2011 at 15:56

    book photo, Glad to hear you liked it.

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