Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I saw The Aristocrats last week. Good fun. I was uncertain how a film about one joke could be amusing for 90 minutes, but it was. I figured it would be interesting, a look into the darker netherregions of the comic mind, but didn't know how entertaining it could be. Turns out it's damn entertaining, and while a few tellings of the joke really fall flat, most of the film had me in near-hysterics. All this without really having much of substance to say; I had a good time, but can't say I learned anything. Which is fine, as not every film must have the deep social commentary of Road House--which, I recently learned, has a sequel in development. But lots of funny, horribly offensive humor is on display, and maybe you leave the theatre with a bit more understanding of the mechanics of obscenity. And I was reminded that, lame sketches on Leno notwithstanding, Gilbert Gottfried can be very funny (his telling of the joke at the Friar's Club Roast of Hugh Hefner is the climax of the film, but his earlier explanation of just why their is blood involved in the routine of the joke's titular family act probably got the greatest belly-laugh out of me over the course of the film).

Going back to my Vegas trip, my decision to fly, and spend several hours sitting around airports, meant I finally finished Rising Tide. It took me awhile, it's a long book, epic in scope. Overall, I enjoyed it very much, but I found it interesting that the set-up to the flood was actually more interesting than the discussion of the flood itself. I guess that's because my thumbnail understanding of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was fairly accurate. Of the history of civil engineering and efforts to control the Mississippi River over the nation's history, I knew almost nothing. I also was aware of the racial tensions that erupted during the struggle to survive the flood, but I was unaware of the paradoxical pattern of the racial strive; the "refugee camp" (which, like most such camps during the flood, was actually a concentration camp to keep black sharecroppers, who would be needed to rebuild the post-diluvian South, from fleeing to the North) in Greenville, Mississippi, perhaps the most racially-harmonious community in the Mississippi delta, became a poster child for abuses in the system. Greenville's racial harmony emerged from necessity; making the delta region profitable required enormous manpower, and treating black sharecroppers fairly could prevent a labor shortage. Yet when the flood put pressure on this arrangement, things got ugly. Rising Tide covers the flood, and it's massive impact on American history, about as thoroughly as possible (I think a little bit about the role of the flood in propelling Huey Long to power). And as the overall impact of the flood is difficult to overstate, it is a very important story to tell.

I should note, the main reason I read Rising Tide is to gain a better appreciation of the Randy Newman song, "Louisiana 1927." And it served its purpose. "Louisiana 1927" has virtually the same tune as "Sail Away," another Newman tune, with slavery as its topic. The dichotomy between the beautiful orchestral score of "Sail Away" and it's subject matter has always been clear; the more I learned about the flood, the more the irony of "Louisiana 1927" came through. Now that I've finished Rising Tide, I have begun Randy Newman's American Dream, an unauthorized biography by Kevin Courrier. I'm not very far into it, and should withhold judgement, but I'm not yet hugely impressed. Newman declined to participate in the project, so the book seems to rely heavily on published material. Which is fine, but the more he references various articles and interviews and critiques, I find myself wishing he hadn't written a biography, but instead edited The Randy Newman Reader. Now that's something I'd like to read. I'll share my full opinion of his biography once I've finished reading it.

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