How are you surviving the recession? Well, I’ve rediscovered the local library and long walks. I have also stopped buying books, comics, CDs, iTunes, DVDs, or any other cultural products. (NetFlix rentals don’t count.) Chances are, you’re slowing down on these fronts as well.
But how to cope? Sure, there’s the internet but, culturally speaking, it favors essays over long-form work. This month’s edition of “Out and about” leads you to some free items online that can pull you into their worlds for days at a time. Most of it’s been available for a while, so consider this a cultural clearinghouse. Don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya.
First up, there’s Michael Ventura. I first heard of the Austin-based cultural critic in a profile for the L.A. Weekly. In it, John Powers describes Ventura this way:
What made Ventura’s criticism extraordinary was his faith in his own perceptions. He went to the wall for great directors who would never be popular—John Cassavetes had no more eloquent champion—and had a knack for noticing things that forever changed your way of seeing. I never felt the same about Third World movies after Ventura discussed the way Hollywood pointedly lightens or darkens ethnic skin tones for dramatic effect. Even when I found him silly—he once described some starlet’s breasts as “numinous”—or shuddered at his fondness for the execrable Henry Jaglom, that didn’t change anything. Maileresque in its baroque pithiness, Ventura’s movie criticism was so profoundly personal—so unlike anybody else’s in style and ambition—that I never picked up one of his reviews without a sense of high drama. I expected to find something new, something I’d never thought of before.
So, I sought out Ventura’s (well-designed) site, which features most of his writings over the last three decades. Of particular interest is his Filmcraft, a collection of his 1980s interviews with the big guns—Steven Spielberg, Louis Malle, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Vanessa Redgrave, John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, and more. It’s essential film reading.
On that score, but with a more scholarly approach, there’s David Bordwell and his Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, which he’s made available for free. Originally published in 1988, it’s one of the first (and still one of the most definitive) studies of the master Japanese filmmaker. It’s been a big help to me as I’ve wrestled with Ozu’s movies. Go here for the dedicated site where you can download the (big) book and read Bordwell’s new introduction to the book.
Bordwell’s a big deal amongst film intellectuals but I’ve always had a soft spot for the intellectuals who toil in relative obscurity. Ever since reading one of George Scialabba’s book reviews in an issue of N+1, I look eagerly for his byline. (He’s on my blogroll, folks. Hop to it.) His new collection, What Are Intellectuals Good For?, has brought him some much-deserved attention, but it’s his earlier book that made me a fan. In keeping with his Leftist principles, Scialabba has made his Divided Mind available on his site at no cost. It’s brief but it’ll have you thinking for a long time. (A particular favorite—and one that hits uncomfortably close to home—is the finale, “Message from Room 101.”)
Derik A. Badman (aka Mad Ink Beard) is a comics theorist and cartoonist with a growing reputation as a formalist thinker. With Two Pages, Two Comics, One Abstraction, he’s brought together in zine form some of his greatest hits from his blog and other sites. He’s an exciting voice on the scene, and a disciplined alternative to the Scott McCloud and Comics Journal schools of comics argument.
I’ve made no secret of my love for Kelly Link’s short stories, or her publishing outfit, Small Beer Press. A forward thinker in terms of e-books and online distribution, she’s made her first two collections of sexy, plainspoken, uncommonly magical and scary stories available for free. Yes, Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners (well, most of it, anyway) are free for download, with Link’s encouragement. You no longer have an excuse not to fall for her.
Would you like a free primer on hip-hop? Oh my, I have the gift for you. The Rub, a Brooklyn-based DJ collective, has created a 20-year “History of Hip-Hop” series. Each mix is devoted to a single year, starting in 1979. You will spend days listening happily to the best beats ever created.
Finally, it’s… well, I don’t remember where I downloaded this from. Pinball, 1973 is one of Haruki Murakami’s earliest novellas, and the only one of his books not available in English in the U.S. Well, here it is, as translated by Alfred Birnbaum. I love Murakami, and I think others ought to love him, too, so I’ll keep it up until I’m told not to, so download it NOW.
That is all.