Friday, May 19, 2006

The juggernaut rolls on, absorbing everything in its path

What was it? The green bottle? The way “Latrobe, Pennsylvania” would trip off our Wisconsin tongues? The goofy little pony on the label, an equine David against the huge, clomping team of Clydesdales that pulled Goliath’s monsterwagon? Was it the mysterious 33 on the label? (Careful readers of the link to Cecil’s Straight Dope will note the remarkable coincidence of this blog’s second printer’s error anecdote in one day -- how weird is that?)

Or maybe it’s just the memory of an unforgettable anniversary trip to Big Sur, the eponymous river rippling past our cabin as night fell under the redwoods, when Rolling Rock assuaged our thirst and also provided the bedside vase. Never again. Nobody’s going to put wildflowers in a bottle of Budweiser.

Vikkitikkitavi, another heartbroken RR drinker, reminisces about her relationship with the brand.
I stuck with you, Rolling Rock, even after the Latrobe Brewing Company sold you in '87 to InBev. Because you were still brewed in the Latrobe Brewery. But now...
She also names her favorite song reference to her favorite beer.

I just have to get this off my chest, even though I know it’s too late to change this punctuation atrocity

What difference does an apostrophe make? It’s the difference between Land's End and Lands’ End. Everyone knows that the retailer put the apostrophe, or inverted comma as the Brits call it, in the wrong place. They even admit it, and have a cutesy cover story to explain it, one that begins by congratulating the reader on catching the mistake. (Even the estimable Wikipedia bought it, you’ll note. But not this reader -- oh, no.)
Have you ever glanced at our catalog cover and noticed something out of place or different? If you said the apostrophe, you're correct!
It was all a mistake, the story goes on to explain -- a printer’s mistake.
It was a printing error that rendered the company's name "Lands' End" with the apostrophe in the wrong place. Since we couldn't afford to have the piece reprinted, Gary Comer decided to simply change the name of the business to correspond to the printed piece.
Yeah, right. Like all founding myths, this one seems just too good to be true. If you’re going to name your company after a place with well-known nautical connotations, your lawyer has probably already told you that you can’t trademark the proper placename all by itself. Tweak "Land's End" a bit, and that's a different matter. And your art director -- “printer,” if you insist -- has probably also told you that nothing makes a logo look klunkier than an apostrophe breaking up one of the words. No amount of kerning will make it look graceful, up there in the spotlight. You want to be able to tuck it in neatly after the word -- or else, forget it, pick another name. But they liked the name, and the rest is history.

Will Lands’ End ever come clean? I doubt it. But somebody should at least hold their feet to the fire. I simply don’t have the time or the resources, or an army of punctuation mavens at my beck and call. It strikes me that this is a job for the invaluable Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. They’ve done a yeoman’s job of policing the double inverted commas. Perhaps they could broaden their scope to take the lowly single inverted comma under their wing. After all, this isn’t the only atrocity out there. Here’s a BBC resource that might help. After all, who better knows the Queen’s English?

Meanwhile, I'm on my way down to one of the great bargain spots here in Madison -- the wonderful Land's End State Street Not Quite Perfect Store -- to check out the summer shirts. And because the SSNQP Store cuts the labels, I don't even have to worry about the apostrophe being in the wrong place.

Factoid of the day

Except in the wildest dreams of John Conyers, George Bush will still be president when this icon turns fifty. In fact, he'll still have some five months left in office.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

They keep falling, but we have more important things to think about these days

A busy nation has much on its mind. Will and Grace hang it up after seven years, and Marissa checks out of the OC, taking her doomed charisma with her. Angela Jolie is due any minute. Paul is getting divorced, probably because the headlines would be just too damn embarrassing after he turns 64. Kenny Lay goes on trial for another set of charges as the jury in his first trial deliberates. The FBI digs up a farm, looking for Jimmy Hoffa. General Hayden tells Senators that he, personally, thought the NSA data mining scheme was a stretch but that the White House reassured him it was legal. Oh, and by the way --
Four U.S. soldiers and their Iraq interpreter died when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. It had earlier said a U.S. sailor died Wednesday in Anbar province.

The five deaths raised to at least 2,455 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Did we look up when they fell? Of course not. As Auden reminded us, people have been going on about their business and looking away for a long time.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
We all have places to go, things to do, and we commute on by. More or less calmly.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Upper State Street condo magnet gives itself a “Standing O” and continues to cloud men’s minds

Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts celebrates its completion with a 3-day mini-celebration starting tomorrow. The event is called the “Standing O,” a name about as smug and self-congratulatory as most of the hype surrounding the center. From the start, the Overture Center has demonstrated an almost supernatural power to cloud the minds of men and women who should have known better -- unwilling to look local businessman Jerry Frautschi’s gift horse in the mouth and awed into submission by the crowd-pleasing theatrics of “world famous architect” Cesar Pelli. Important questions went unasked by most local leaders, such as what effect would this supersized vanity project have on downtown development, and what would be the long-term impact of its overhead structure on local arts groups? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile there is art to be reviewed at the center’s museum with the silly, stuttering acronym, MMoCA, or Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and Kevin Lynch of the Capital Times fearlessly leaps into the breach, beginning with the building’s glassy prow that serves as the museum’s entrance at State and Johnson.
Regardless, the museum's iconic entrance is now an unforgettable experience of downtown Madison. One can imagine an Ahab-like incantation shouted from the stair top.

Last I saw, there was no white whale within thousands of miles of MMoCA, but you never know… Next, Lynch turns his hyperactive imagination to the Oldenburg on the rooftop sculpture garden (photo by Mike DeVries), imbuing it with qualities it was not previously known to have.
Easily the strongest of the three permanent sculptures is "Architect's Handkerchief." The painted polyester by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen is all fluttery wit and flip-flop beauty. In effect, Oldenburg bunches a fistful of his famous "Running Fence" and lets it fly in the windy crosscurrents between the lakes.
Um, would that be “Running Fence,” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, that so famously shimmered across 24 miles of Sonoma and Marin counties in California in 1976? A curious misattribution, but there you have it -- the Overture Center obviously has lost none of its mysterious power to cloud men’s minds. Must be "the windy crosscurrents between the lakes."

So, if Opus Dei wasn’t responsible for the catcalls at Cannes, who was?

How about Sony? Now that it’s clear the answer to yesterday’s somewhat rhetorical question about “The Da Vinci Code” is no, you have to wonder -- what were they thinking? The lack of advance screenings could have passed as shrewd marketing (though now it looks more like a cover-up), but why on earth would they open this camp-classic-in-the-making at Cannes, pretty much guaranteeing a reaction like this?
At Cannes, one scene during the film, meant to be serious, elicited prolonged laughter from the audience, and when the credits rolled, there was no applause, only a few catcalls and hisses.
Ouch. Controversy at Cannes might help sell movies, but laughter at the climactic scene, not so much. Sony could blow off the chorus of bad reviews that followed on the principle that most people don’t read movie reviews anyhow, but that laughter is likely to have a more lingering impact on their box office -- as it’s likely to be repeated.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Can “The Da Vinci Code” possibly live up to its hype?

The huge box office racked up by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” caught the attention of every studio in Hollywood, including Sony -- which seems to think it can clone that success with “The Da Vinci Code.” By reducing Gibson’s success to a formula -- religion plus controversy equals blockbuster -- they missed the point. Gibson created an intensely personal version of Christianity’s central myth for an audience of true believers. Peddling an ancient heresy as studio entertainment for an audience of disbelievers is hardly the same thing. And as source material goes, Dan Brown’s book may be a huge bestseller, but it’s certainly not the Bible.

It gets worse. The secrecy-laden rollout is a strategy based on fear, and that hardly bodes well. Using security as a pretext to pass up test screenings and advance media showings forfeits the opportunity to fine-tune the movie and build media momentum. It almost guarantees that there will be a backlash, both in mainstream media and on the internet, by people who resent the heavy-handed marketing tactics.

And then there’s the talent: Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman last collaborated on “Cinderella Man.” They were safe choices, despite the rare achievement of creating a Russell Crowe flop, but playing it safe with this material is a recipe for disaster. And Tom Hanks is best at playing lightly comic Everyman roles. Can he carry an obscure mystery set in a conspiratorial world shrouded in darkness? It’s a stretch, even with the hair.

Finally, there’s the whole alternate history, arcane lore and conspiracy aspect. This is great material for an ongoing TV series -- “The X Files,” “Alias,” and “Lost” all being examples. But the same material that keeps fans buzzing and endlessly analyzing TV epiosodes is material that’s hard to wrap up and resolve in the dramatic confines of a 2-hour movie. The movie version of “The X Files” is just one example. On TV, you can push inconsistencies and questions off into future episodes. There’s no escape with a movie -- leaving audiences feeling let-down can lead to awful word-of-mouth and rapidly shrinking box office grosses.

Maybe the movie will surmount all these challenges, but I’d be surprised. What do you think?