D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, from 1916 is — not to put too fine a point on it — the greatest movie ever made, maybe the greatest movie that ever will be made.

Pauline Kael summed up the film eloquently and passionately when she wrote:

Intolerance is like an enormous, extravagantly printed collection of fairy tales. The book is too thick to handle, too richly imaginative to take in, yet a child who loves stories will know that this is the treasure of treasures. The movie is the greatest extravaganza and the greatest folly in movie history, an epic celebration of the potentialities of the new medium — lyrical, passionate, and grandiose. No one will ever again be able to make last-minute rescues so suspenseful, so beautiful, or so absurd. In movies, a masterpiece is of course a folly. Intolerance is charged with visionary excitement about the power of movies to combine music, dance, narrative, drama, painting, and photography — to do alone what all the other arts together had done. And to do what they had failed to.


Fabrizio del Wrongo of Uncouth Reflections, who understands Griffith’s art as well as anyone currently writing about film, recently praised the the new Cohen Entertainment high-def restoration of Intolerance, so I bought the Blu-ray of it and it has exceeded all my expectations.  It’s just miraculous — almost as good as watching a fine 35mm print in a theater.

Griffith’s images make you want to jump out of your chair and into the magical spaces they conjure up, and this Blu-ray makes you feel you could actually do it.

A copy of it belongs in every civilized home.  It’s the most important Blu-ray that has ever been released.

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I don’t open presents before Christmas Day.  Since I’d be on the road then this year, I just took a few presents to open in whatever motel I’d be staying at when the day rolled around (you can see them here) — the rest I left at home to open when I got back.  It would still be Christmas, of course, which doesn’t end until Twelfth Night, 5 January.

The haul was rich.

Mary and Paul sent me two choice Criterion titles:


Adrienne and Bill sent me this terrific Robert Crumb art book — for adult intellectuals only:


J. B. sent me a CD of new tracks he’s been recording over the past year in Nashville — they might be available on iTunes before too long and if so I’ll let everybody know, because they are magnificent:


My sister Anna sent me a gift basket of treats from North Carolina — which are mostly eaten and so can’t be photographed:


My sister Libba sent me a supply of smoked salmon and tuna, which her family makes in Upstate New York — the best in the world:


Jack White sent me a complimentary LP from his label Third Man Records, as a beau geste because a larger set of LPs I’d ordered was delayed:


My cup runneth over — thanks to all!

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I just cleaned a disc from the soundtrack to The Bells Of St. Mary’s and spun it with the new 78 cartridge and stylus I ordered from Japan.  It played perfectly — a few pops and clicks which I expect a more thorough cleaning will mostly eliminate.

These 78s are more than 68 years old.  They’re made of one-third shellac and two-thirds finely pulverized rock, with a bit of cotton fiber added for tensile strength.  Their surfaces are super-hard but the discs will snap in two like flatbread if bent even slightly.

The fact that they’ve survived in this condition between 1946 and today really is a kind of miracle.

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I just got this book via eBay.  I lost my original copy of it somehow in the course of a break-up in 1977 and have been trying to find another one ever since — that is, for 37 years.

It’s not what a bookseller would call a rare book, because it’s not in much demand, but it’s scarce, because it didn’t have a big print run.  I got it for slightly less than its list price when it was first published in 1973, with free shipping in the bargain.  It’s in very good condition, nearly fine except for slightly bumped corners and a few small tears in the dust jacket, easily repaired.

Patience has been richly rewarded.



Not many people are heading out to see Tommy Lee Jones’s The Homesman and it’s really hard to imagine why anyone would want to see it, just as it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to make such a film.


At its center are two fascinating, eccentric, oddly appealing characters who are, when we meet them, desperate, isolated, lost.  They forge an inspiring bond between them then part, even more desperate, isolated and lost than they were when they first met up.


This is not a story — it is a monotonous non sequitur that attempts and fails to glamorize despair.  Many puerile storytellers think that glamorizing despair constitutes a form of high art — profoundly mature, courageously realistic.  It does not.


Jones has said the film is about American imperialism, which I guess means that the hardships faced by Western pioneers were some sort of retribution for the hubris of belief in Manifest Destiny, but it’s difficult to discern how this idea relates to the drama of the film in any but the most abstract and artificial way.

The Homesman : Premières photos du film de Tommy Lee Jones

In any case, trying to sell this sort of arty nihilism as a Western (or social criticism or anything else, really) constitutes a formula for commercial disaster — richly deserved commercial disaster.  A terrific premise for a story, some fine cinematography and some brilliant acting, including one of the best performances Jones has ever given, are wasted in the process.

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. . . on Front Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, across from my grandfather’s men’s clothing store.  I saw movies here in my youth — now it’s a parking lot.

My grandfather’s men’s clothing store is now a brew pub, though with much of its old interior still intact.