November 25, 2002, 5:10 pm
I have received the latest issue (#100) of Derogatory
References, Arthur Hlavaty's highly regarded personalzine. Arthur,
who has turned 60 but disdains the title of Curmudgeon as "too
flattering," has turned many a brilliant phrase in DR, and this issue
A major function of the mass media is to deflect envy away
from those with power to those with ability. The way most people use the
word elitist shows how well it's working.
[Andy] Warhol represented scrap irony, the cheapest kind of
I think this whole "Silence Is Consent" meme is a bad one.
There are times one is trapped in a situation where that is true, but that
is the pathological case. Silence Is Consent goes with a lot of bad
ideas, from blaming everyone in a country for the evils that go on there
to feeling obligated to tell strangers on the street that they are too fat
or don't really need their canes.
Depending on the kindness of strangers may not be as bad as
depending on the competence of strangers.
The anti-downloading thing reminds me of that good old
sexual warning, "If he gets free milk, he'll never buy the cow." Makes as
much sense here.
And there's lots more, from the peculiar self-hatred of the Velvet
Underground to the humor of the NFL Player Draft. To get an electronic
copy, send email to hlavaty at panix dot
com; to get the print version with artwork, send $1 to Arthur D.
Hlavaty, 206 Valentine Street, Yonkers NY 10704-1814.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
November 25, 2002, 12:49 pm
Back to Detroit. A few weeks ago, my class at Wayne State University Law School
had a reunion; my classmates and I were invited to write some comments
about our experiences in law school and since then. I wrote, in part:
We were at Wayne during the absolute nadir of
Detroit's history, a moment when any hope for the city seemed foolish and
misplaced. When we emerged from the law library in the evening, the smell
of abandoned buildings burning was in the air; car alarms, ignored, would
wail sometimes all night long; huge billows of foul-smelling steam poured
from every street grating, since there was no money to fix the leaking
Longtime Detroit institutions were dying: the downtown
store] closed during our school years; the stately old train station was
abandoned in favor of some temporary aluminum structures; the vast Ford Rouge auto
and steel plant, which once attracted visitors from around the world,
ended all public tours. Student life was a bit like the Samuel R. Delaney
which portrays a handful of eccentric holdouts living in the ruins of a
Those images returned to me quite vividly yesterday when I saw the new
movie 8 Mile, set
and filmed in Detroit and showing the familiar scenes of abandonment and
devastation. A couple of scenes are even set in the old Michigan
Theater, a 1920s movie palace crudely converted to a parking
garage, where the domed plaster ceiling, the proscenium arch, and even the
tattered remains of the curtain can still be seen above the top parking
As a law student, I didn't live the life of Eminem and his friends, but
my classmates and I knew the same shattered neighborhoods, lived in the same
run-down apartment houses, rode the same oh-so-familiar Detroit buses -- except
that the real buses are much more infrequent, crowded, and noisy than the ones
in the movie.
I'm not at all familiar with Eminem or his music. I only just found
out that he was also known as "Slim Shady". I knew already he was a big
rap star, a white guy in a predominantly black genre. Judging by the
reactions of my fellow viewers -- a group of middle-aged Ann Arbor Jewish
men as unacquainted with Eminem as I was -- the movie served as an
effective introduction to the world of rap. Indeed, the rhythms rang in
my head for some time.
Coincidentally, on the same day I saw 8 Mile, Maureen Dowd
published a scathing
column about Eminem fans among the middle-aged baby boomers. I'm
sure such people exist, but I don't think I know any of them. My friends
and I enjoyed the movie, but I doubt any of us will buy any of his
The group that Eminem hangs out with calls itself "313", for the
Detroit telephone area code. It may be overly geeky to imagine an
allusion to "414", the gang of early-1980s Milwaukee computer hackers who
also named themselves for their area code.
When I lived in Detroit, in 1979-82, 313 was the area code for the
entire region of Southeast Michigan, Detroit and all of its suburbs
together -- the entire media market or metro area. In those days, I
frequently traveled between East Lansing and Detroit; the Dorr Road
overpass on I-96 between Howell and Brighton was something of a
landmark to me: the actual boundary and symbolic gateway to 313. I
visualized a billboard at that location: "WELCOME TO AREA CODE 313: PLEASE
But southeast Michigan now has six area codes; with all the other
territory peeled away, 313 is confined to Detroit and a few enclaves and
close-in suburbs. I would guess that no other U.S. area code territory
has a population as predominantly African-American as 313 -- not even
Washington DC's 202.
And Eight Mile
Road (Detroit's northern city limits) is an area code boundary. At one point
in the movie, another character jeers at Eminem, "you're not 313, you're 810."
Since Detroit has no mobile home parks, the trailer where the Eminem character
lives with his mother and sister was presumably in Macomb County -- north of
Eight Mile, in (what was then) the suburban 810 area code.
Back in 1969, when Arlo Guthrie had become famous, he got to make a
movie called Alice's
Restaurant, in which he was the hero and musical genius,
struggling to do the right thing, unappreciated by the world but adored by
all the girls; it seemed just interminable. 8 Mile is Eminem's
version of this same project -- every bit as hagiographic, and just one
minute shorter, but a lot more successful as entertainment.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
- sim shady, 2/5/2003: Does anyone know the name of the song
during the opening credits of 8 mile? it has a close up of the rappers
mouth. Who is it also? ...
- koolkid88, 11/20/2003: Eminem is the hottest guy on
earth!!!!!!!!!!! NO JOKE!! I have liked eminem for 3 and a half years now.
He is the best rapper I know. I look up to eminem. I think of Eminem as my
- Allison, 5/22/2004: What is the song from 8 mile called when
eminem is driving around with his buddies. The lyrics go something like
"you don't know" I can't remember it and I desperately want it.
- bling bling, 11/10/2004: What is the song that is playing while
M is riding around on the bus> When the lady is staring at him???? On his
way to work after his car breaks down?
- email@example.com, 11/7/2005: hey i just wanted to know the
first song that comes up on tha movie....its tha one that hes listening to
on his headphones in tha beginning..
November 22, 2002, 1:15 pm
Grand Trunk Station. Some months ago, the editors of a literary
magazine called Fourth
Genre (published by the Michigan State University
Press) chose one of my late father's photographs ("Grand Trunk
Station") for the cover of their Fall 2002 issue. Normally, they also
publish an essay by the photographer; since my father is gone, they asked
me to write it.
Now the issue has appeared. Since the editors assured me that it
would be all right to put the text on my personal web site, I include it
My father, Justin Kestenbaum (1925-1995), was born in New
York City. Following the separation of his parents, he grew up in a
series of foster homes and (after he got into trouble) in Pleasantville
Cottage School, in Pleasantville, New York. It was there, in the late
1930s and early 1940s, under the tutelage of German refugees from Nazism,
that he began his lifelong passion for photography.
In 1943, following graduation from high school, he lied
about his age to join the Army, and was sent to the Pacific to join a unit
already in the thick of hostilities.
After the war, my father and his brother Al, who also had
photographic skills, worked in nightclubs from New York to Buffalo to
Chicago. "Photo girls" would go from table to table taking pictures of
patrons, while my father and his brother worked behind the scenes in a
tiny darkroom, developing and printing the photos. later on, they settled
in Chicago, where the two brothers worked at places like Lakeview Photo.
In those days, photo processing was still done largely by hand, and
required a lot of skill.
Eventually, my father, with the helo of the GI Bill and a
William Randolph Hearst fellowship, pursued graduate work in American
history at Northwestern University. In 1963, he accepted a faculty
position in the history department of Michigan State University, where he
remained a professor for the rest of his life.
But all this time, in each of the apartments or houses
where we lived, he always had a darkroom full of sophisticated equipment
and plumbing that kept the water at exactly 68 degrees Fahrenheit,
considered ideal for developing black-and-white photographs. He mixed
his own chemicals and even formulated his own developer, which he called
I disappointed him by seeing photography as a pragmatic
means to an end, and took little interest in the details of darkroom work.
But he generously shared his skills with many others, who came to our
house and his darkroom to learn. I remember the little aphorisms he
often repeated, such as "Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights"
(he always scoffed at the recommended settings) and "Film is cheap!" (that
is, go ahead and make multiple images with different exposures.
He took pictures, too, but at first the picture-taking was
almost casual, an adjunct to his darkroom work. We have boxes and boxes of
hundreds of pictures he took of my sisters and me when we were
By the 1960s, he was snapping candid, unposed pictures of his
friends and colleagues, using only available light. Some of these portraits
became quite memorable. One of the greatest was his picture of John Robison,
founder of Jocundry's bookstore in East Lansing, showing John in a
wide-brimmed hat with a twinkle in his eye. No other picture quite captured
that twinkle. When John and more than two hundred others died in a 1979
plane crash, my father's portrait of John Robison became one of the main
images used by the national media.
By the 1970s, he took a great interest in the photographers
who traveled the country for the Farm Security Administration during the
Depression, such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lenge. They made documentary
photographs that transcended documentation, often unpeopled images of buildings
and storefronts and signs that expressed the poverty and dignity and humor of
America at that time.
He made a slide show of many of these images, accompanied by
music and commentary about the United States in the 1930s. And pretty soon he
and I were driving around the countryside looking for similar kinds of images
he could photograph: abandoned barns and houses, the paint weathered off, old
windmills, schoolhouses, and cemeteries. He would take the pictures; I would
carry the cases and lenses and film. As I became more interested in architectural
history and preservation, I guided our tours toward the most interesting (and
threatened) old buildings of the region.
He and I visited both of the old railroad stations in Lansing
while they were still in use for passenger trains: the Michigan Central station
on East Michigan (now Clara's Restaurant) and the Grand Trunk station on South
Washington. Both were built in the era when the railroads were far and away
the dominant form of transportation in the country. A whole new architectural
motif was invented for the train station: the wide roof with the sheltered
platform to protect passengers from the weather; the large and very high-ceilinged
space inside the terminal to provide glorious relief froi a long trip cooped
up in a train compartment.
By the time he and I were exploring these places, they were no
longer appreciated. Passenger train service was fading away, and the ornate,
high-ceilinged train stations were seen as ugly as well as outmoded. So many
of the old buildings of Lansing were being demolished at that time that we
did not expect the train stations to survive.
In my 13-year-old pragmatism, I had a clear documentary purpose
in photographing them, but my father was an artist. He considered the interior
photograph of Grand Trunk Station to be one of his best.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
- ken long, 9/24/2005: an obscure web search for your father led
me to this post; i had the very great privilege of being a student of his
while i attended MSU from 1978-1980; he was my faculty advisor and i had
several classes with him; he encouraged my independent research in history
and my desire to teach. i spent many hours in discussions with him and he
stands out in my memory as one of the most influential people in my life
(i just turned 48 a few days ago, retiring from the Army after 25 years).
He taught me a lot about integrity, intellectual courage and honesty and
the virtue of independent inquiry. It was a great priviledge to know and
work with him, and i just wanted to let you know i think your dad was a
November 19, 2002, 2:43 pm
At the movies. As parents of a four-year-old, we don't get to
go out to see movies very often, but just in the last few weeks, we have
seen a couple.
My Big Fat Greek
Wedding is a fun movie, mostly deserving of the widespread praise
it has received. But there is one thing strikingly odd about it.
The movie portrays a large extended family of Greek immigrants and
their children in Chicago. They have small businesses: a restaurant, a
dry cleaners, a travel agency, but they are basically working class.
Apparently the heroine is the first in this large family to go to college.
We see this family through many private moments at home, at work, at
Yet never once does anyone smoke!
It's not that I enjoy watching people smoke cigarettes -- quite the
contrary. I saw my mother (a native Chicagoan and granddaughter of
immigrants) smoke herself to death by lung cancer in 1985. At the county
board meeting tomorrow, I plan to vote in favor of a proposed measure to
ban smoking in most workplaces in Washtenaw County. But it strains
credulity that the entire family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would
As I commented
earlier, smoking is now seen very negatively by television and
presumably movie audiences, so that "if you put a cigarette in a
character's hand, you're saying that he smells bad and doesn't take care
of himself." That impression, at least among middle-class viewers,
would interefere with the sympathetic image of the Portokalos family that
the movie seeks to convey. So that aspect of realism was quietly excised
from the picture.
I'm not even sure there's anything wrong with that. Including a lot of
cigarette smoke would have made it a darker movie, even from a stylistic
standpoint. And arguably smoking rates are declining to the point that
the total abstinence in this context is, or soon will be, merely
improbable, instead of inconceivable. Still, given all the in-your-face
family foibles that the groom and his parents have to confront in the
movie, it is ironic that one of the most commonplace is omitted
Columbine. A few weeks ago, we went to Royal Oak to see a preview
screening of Michael Moore's new movie, "Bowling for Columbine."
Afterwards, Michael Moore himself was on hand to answer questions about
Those of us who grew up in mid-Michigan have been aware of Michael
Moore for a long time. He's a radical kid from Davison, a working class
town just east of Flint. He got elected to the local school board at age
22 (another friend from Davison explains: "It was a low turnout
election"), started the Flint Voice alternative paper, which
reached a statewide audience and was renamed the Michigan Voice.
In Flint, he discovered and published a column by Ben Hamper, a/k/a
"Rivethead", a marvelously funny writer about life on the assembly
Then he went off to San Francisco to become editor of Mother Jones,
which turned out to be a debacle. So he turned himself into a filmmaker and
made a documentary about the decline of Flint titled Roger and
I wasn't too impressed by Roger and Me (maybe because I had
already seen almost all of it in the pages of the Michigan Voice),
but a lot of people liked it, and it made Michael Moore into a national
figure. He had a TV show and a couple other good gigs since then.
Now he's come out with a new film called "Bowling for Columbine".
It's won some awards, and supposedly it's breaking box-office records for
a documentary (though that may not be saying much).
I guess this is what you might call an "argumentative documentary".
Moore explores the Columbine incident, not the details of what happened
there (though we were stunned to see graphic security camera footage from
inside the high school during the massacre), but the Why questions.
What makes the United States such a violent society?
At first, he seems inclined to blame guns, but then he discovers that
guns are even more plentiful in peaceful Canada. Others interviewed in
the film point to the U.S.'s violent history, but other countries have
much bloodier histories. Moore's answer seems to be our "culture of
fear", a topic which is rarely addressed these days.
Moore is surely older than me, but he still looks and carries himself
like a kid: a fat, sloppy kid from the wrong side of the tracks, dressed
in a limp t-shirt and jeans and baseball cap, with a patchy beard that is
grotesquely unflattering. Perhaps because he looks like a harmless slob,
so seemingly gentle in his questioning, his interviewees are unguarded,
sometimes startlingly so.
"How did you get people to open up to you like that?" I asked him after
the movie. I didn't record his exact words, but he said approximately:
"That's the $64,000 question. You'd think they would know who I was.
Really, nobody should talk to me. Hell, I wouldn't talk to me.
But they probably thought I would be lucky to get on community
Moore has a paranoid's fixation on coincidences, and there are a number
of them here, all useful for connecting parts of the story together. The
Columbine massacre took place the same day as the biggest day of U.S.
bombing in former Yugoslavia. One of the two creators of "South Park"
was a student at Columbine High School, and hated it. And on and on.
The political line of the film is not simplistically pro-gun-control.
But the NRA is not presented positively, to say the least, and Charlton
Heston, leading a pro-gun rally in Denver only days after the Columbine
killings, is the heavy. The climax of the movie, the part you have
already heard about, is where Moore confronts Heston is his Beverly Hills
mansion, and Heston hangs himself on camera, with some racist comments
about "our ethnic problem", which gets even worse when he tries to clarify
it. A moment later, Heston flees, with Moore pursuing him Colombo-like
with just one more question.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
- Laurie Mann, 11/27/2002: Smoking in Movies
Before the '80s, smoking in movies was common. All kinds of characters
smoked. In the '80s, it seemed like only evil characters smoked. Beginning
in the '90s (particularly in Pulp Fiction), evil characters and "cool"
characters smoked. While I am as fascist a non-smoker as they come, I
think movies and TV should reflect real life, which means that about 23%
of all kinds of people should smoke - old and young, cool and uncool, good
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