The best DVD commentaries

When it comes to books, games and music I’m often happiest away from the bright lights of the charts, exploring dark, dusty corners of the catalogue. Film, though… I never seem to enjoy going beyond big budget megahits. I’ve fallen asleep in every single one of Pedro Almodovar’s films.

These three threads (one, two, three) on the always excellent Ask Metafilter feature people recommending their favourite DVD commentaries, and sound like they might inspire me to be a more considerate and appreciative student of film. The posts are worth reading in their entirety, but the following were consistently recommended:

  • Spinal Tap ( “This Is Spinal Tap is pretty excellent- the cast does their commentary in character, complaining about how the movie was a hatchet job. It’s sort of like having a whole new Spinal Tap movie” – COBRA!)
  • Ghostbusters
  • Roger Ebert’s commentaries on Citizen Kane and Dark City
  • Various seasons of The Simpsons and Futurama
  • John Carpenter and Kurt Russell on both Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China

I can’t stand Wes Anderson’s films – tedium that mistakes faux-depressed self-regard for genuine self-revelation – but I liked¬†thirteen’s description of how to listen/watch a film with commentary:

“I find the commentary tracks on the Criterion Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaum DVD’s to be very relaxing. I know the movies backwards and forwards, and Wes Anderson’s voice is good company when I am drawing late at night. Plus his observations are often things perpendicular to the movie so it feels more like what you would talk about at a party than what he is trying to do in a scene.”

Arthur Ransome and Communism

Another English writer who was in bed with the Bolsheviks? Literally, in the case of Arthur Ransome. He was a journalist in Moscow in the early 20th century, and his lover was Trotsky’s press secretary. A new biography of Ransome (best known for his children’s books such as Swallows and Amazons) focusses on the time he spent reporting in Russia in the early 20th century and his links with the Bolsheviks:

Between 1917 and 1924, as Russian correspondent for the Daily News and Manchester Guardian, he was an uncritical apologist for the Bolshevik regime, with unique access to the revolutionary leaders. As the Red Army engaged with an Allied invasion of Russia, Ransome was conducting a love affair with Evgenia Shelepina, private secretary to Leon Trotsky, then Soviet Commissar for War. As the intimate friend of Karl Radek, the Bolshevik Chief of Propaganda, he denied the Red Terror and compared Lenin to Oliver Cromwell. No English journalist was considered more controversial, or more damaging to British security. At Whitehall, he was accused of being the paid agent of a hostile power and only narrowly escaped prosecution for treason.

I caught the author of The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome, Roland Chambers, on Radio 4’s Open Book this afternoon. It’s well worth a listen again – especially the entertaining tail of Ransome leaving Russia for Sweden in a Bolshevik’s uniform carrying a diplomatic passport and millions or roubles in a satchel. I loved Swallows & Amazons when I was younger; quite cool to think that it was hiding revolutionary ideas…

Update: I posted this story to Metafilter, and there’s some interesting discussion there in the comments.

Voodoo Economics: the credit crunch explained

Like many people I suspect, I’ve been wondering about the credit crunch. About what it is – other than a little lego block of language – about how real it is, how real all these stratospheric amounts of money being talked about. Wondering, I think, about what, in context of the CC, ‘money’ is. Digits on a screen, years of work, part of a company…

I’ve read quite a few articles on the crisis, so I thought I’d put down a few of the best links. The title of this post comes from a comment on a Metafilter post, which has consistently produced some of the best discussion of the events I think. People trying to get to grips with it. Told you so’s, cynics, wits, fascinated students.

This particular post links to a great article on Wired about the role of maths geeks in the economic implosion, but before you get there I’d recommend some other links:

1. The Crisis of Credit Visualised is a good 10 minute intro to the basics.

It’s quite US focussed (and centred very much on housing) but is an excellent indication of how seemingly disaparate parts of the economy become interlinked.

2. To get a better sense of the delicate complexity involved in modern economic instruments, set aside an hour of your time for a brilliant episode of This American Life, aptly titled ‘Another Frightening Show About The Economy.’ You can stream it from their site for free.

3. Once you’ve listened to that, you begin to get some idea of the role of instruments such as Credit Default Swaps in this mess. And that means we’re now on to the role of computers, quants, algorithms and far out maths. This NY Times article frames the CC as quite possibly the first time that humanity on a large scale has been out-thought by computers.

4. Wired’s aforementioned piece is less scifi, and frankly, just plain excellent. It makes it clear that while algorithms played a role, two age old factors really drove it: the desire to trust in systems, and, of course, greed.