Archive for March, 2006

Random Rules on the Onion

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

The Onion’s A.V. Club is the famous humor mag’s better-than-it-needs-to-be pop culture section. It’s smart and funny and original and features one of our favorite columns in arts journalism, Random Rules. Here they ask their “favorite rockers, writers, comedians, or whatevers” to hit shuffle on their MP3 players and riff on the first few tracks that pop up. The latest? Comedian Patton Oswalt yaps about Yo La Tengo, ’60s British garage band The Haunted, and the B-52’s, whose song “Wig,” is about people wearing wigs. Let’s have a peek:

It’s a fun song, man. They’re singing about people wearing wigs. I love the chorus “On the neon side of town.” These guys are from Athens, Georgia, and you know that they heard some suburban housewife going, “Oh, that was happening on the neon side of town.” You know that must’ve been code word for “faggot.” “We can go see Brokeback Mountain, that’s kind of on the neon side of town.” I did a movie in West Virginia, and we all went out one night looking for gay bars in West Virginia. We were so obsessed with trying to find a gay bar, and I was even saying, “We gotta find the neon side of town,” and it was cracking me up.

Instant Karma at Trader Joe’s

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

[preamble: Slate on the insider's guide to shopping at Trader Joe's]

When the world is a monster, bad to swallow you whole, sometimes a well-timed section of an old-school print newspaper can be a savior. Say, for instance, you’re working on SMITH’s email newsletter from a booth at Perch, your new favorite cafe in Park Slope, Brooklyn. When—what’s this?—no less than a dozen baby strollers roll in. Could it be some kind of hipster parenting group meeting? No such luck. Mother or father or nanny & child have arrived en masse for an Altie Rocker Sing-a-Long … and quicker than you can say, “This Land is Your Land,” SMITH is soaking in a rollicking rendition of the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” No matter. I order a peach and banana smoothie, drop a buck in the café’s Karma Boomerang tip jar, put down my laptop and reach for the paper. I’m then pleased to see a big, fluffy piece on the gourmet and indeed soulful supermarket, Trader Joe’s.

There is nothing quite like the chain anywhere else on the American food landscape. “Trader Joe’s is radically different in many ways from other food retailers,” said Stephen Dowdell, editor in chief of Progressive Grocer magazine. (more…)

Viral Video Round-Up

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

Whooo doggy, got a lot of them today. And no, I will not make a Brokeback Mountain joke.

How about this one? It’s a commercial for England’s Sky network, featuring the classic intro to The Simpsons… with live humans. Crazy. And hilarious.

And this one — MySpace: The Movie. An 11-minute short made by a 21-year-old amateur filmmaker, this one’s been making the rounds of the Internet, building up a heavy buzz wherever it goes, and if you watch, you’ll see why: it’s the rare parody that’s actually both funny and relevant at the same time. I never thought it was possible to sum up the reasons I don’t have a MySpace account in an 11-minute video short (alright, I admit it, I never really gave any thought to the possibility of summing up my reasons for not joining MySpace in an 11-minute video short) but this guy did it.

Then there’s the Huffington Post’s “Contagious Festival,” a contest to find the next big Internet viral smash. You can view the current entries here. My current personal favorite is the “Bush + Condi AMATEUR SEX TAPE.” It’s horrific, funny and disturbingly sexy all at the same time; sort of like the Scott Stapp/Kid Rock tape, actually.

And last but not least, I know it’s not a video, but it’s contagious as hell: courtesy of the Smoking Gun comes what is without a doubt the best thing ever, a totally legit court order in which a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge cites — and you might want to be sitting down for this one, folks — Billy Madison. Seriously. Swear to God.

I can die happy now.

More MySpace Boogeymen

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

Mostly what we hear in the media about, the social networking site, is the ridiculously overblown notion that it’s somehow dangerous. (Criminals lurking on a website waiting to snatch your children - tonight on Channel 10 Action News!)

What we don’t hear much about is the other side of the equation - the authorities are lurking on Myspace too, and they’re ready to bust you. I’ve reported on this before in the case of a group of New Jersey students suspended for photos they had posted to Myspace, but today in California there’s a new angle to the story: students there are being suspended not for posts they made, but for viewing something another student wrote.

To be fair, there’s nothing sympathetic about the original post, but to me there’s still something profoundly disturbing in the notion that we can be punished just for reading something authorities don’t like. (And there’s something almost certainly unconstitutional in what the school did — the Supreme Court has put limits on the ability of public schools to discipline students for activities that happen off-campus — but that’s a discussion for another day.) I suppose, ultimately, that’s the reality of personal media in the online age: all of us have a story to tell, but sometimes we forget who can listen in.

This Just In! New Stories

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Just a quick update: we’ve got some new pieces to share—drop by and check them out.

The Secret of Brokeback Mountain: “How do you make an Aussie and a California boy sound so convincingly cowboy that their accents aren’t even noticed?”

New Orleans Diary: C’est Levee! Post-Katrina and Pre-Gras, the Annual Krewe Du Vieux Has Got the Bawdy and the Beautiful Dancing in the Streets of New Orleans (with Photos)

Excerpts from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Eat, Pray, Love: “A book for Italiophiles, meditators, medicine-man lovers, spiritual seekers, storytellers, travel junkies, anyone who has ever had a bad breakup, bad year, or bad day … or always wanted to read a couple pages on the perfect pizza.”

Brokeback Mountain’s Secret Weapon

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Penelope Whitney writes about people with unusual jobs, like a cow ob-gyn, for SMITH.

“How do you make an Aussie and a California boy sound so convincingly cowboy that their accents aren’t even noticed?”

Brokeback Mountain dialect coach Joy Ellison has a voice so velvet smooth you want to curl up into it. She also has pretty green eyes and long red hair, and when she switches flawlessly from a Texas to Russian accent it’s hard not to wonder if she really is some kind of James Bond spy.

Then you find out that when preparing for her work on Brokeback she actually hid a microphone up her sleeve. This was in a roughneck bar in Riverton, Wyoming, the kind of place where people are especially sensitive to being taped. “I held my beer up and leaned my elbow on the bar,” she says, “Then I just starting asking questions about the town and what had changed.” By the time she and actress Michelle Williams roadtripped through Wyoming and up to Calgary (where the movie was shot), she’d pinpointed the sounds that would make Brokeback believable.

BrokebackDialectPad.gifTHE IN SOUND FROM WAY OUT WEST:
Dialect coach Joy Ellison’s notes for Brokeback Mountain

The work of a dialect coach includes phonetics, but more than anything it’s about having an ear. “I’ve always been good at picking up languages,” Ellison says. “The major basis of this work is to hear something, recognize it, and analyze it.”

As a child actor in California on shows like Andy Griffith, Ellison grew up on sets — but the acting bug didn’t stick. She found her true calling when she began working as a dialect coach. After her first job, when Isabella Rossellini begged her to stay and help hone her German accent, there was no turning back. Since then, Ellison has helped Melanie Griffith with an Alabama accent, Eric Bana do Israeli, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger pull off Wyoming.

How does someone who’s not from a culture parachute in and capture a precise local dialect? How do you make an Aussie and a California boy sound so convincingly cowboy that their accents aren’t even noticed?

It starts with the writing, says Ellison. “They don’t all walk around saying ‘Can’t swing a cat without hitting a Dairy Queen.’” Once you have a beautiful script like Brokeback Mountain, it comes down to the essence of the sound. “Wyoming has some Canadian dialect influences. They’ll say ‘oh no,’ with that little rounded mouth. Another vowel that really identifies Wyoming is the ‘i’ in pineapple. It’s very slight, say, compared to Texas where they’d say “pineapple upsy-ide down cake’ with a longer stress on that ‘i.’” (See her process, via her hand-written notes, above.)

To work with Gyllenhaal, Ellison sat down with the script and went line by line to break down the major sounds. From there, she’d go back through the script and find those sounds in his dialogue and make lists. “Jake might have a line like, ‘I’m trying to buy the fried eggs.’ So I’d go back and go ‘I try fry,’ take all those words out so he starts to recognize that sound in all its forms.”

Not overdoing the accent is vital to making the voice authentic — Ellison calls it 75 percent of the challenge. “Jake was funny because at the end of the movie he said to me, ‘I know, I know, pull it back.’ “Because,” she shifts to a twangy Texas accent, “he always wanted to go real strong, y’know, TEXAS.”

The two Brokeback actors had wildly different approaches. “Jake is theater trained and analytical, and pulls acting apart intellectually,” says Ellison. “Heath is very seat of the pants, in the moment, his mind is going a million directions all at once. So as an actor it was even a greater stretch for him to play this character.”

Ledger’s speech caused a stir in the dialect coach world due to the way he held his lip, as if he were chewing tobacco. “A lot of the guys that we met and voice samples we had were guys that were chewing,” Ellison explains. “We even talked about him keeping a piece of paper or gum there all the time, and then we thought that would be impractical. It so suited his character to keep that lower lip in that position that cowboys do when they’ve got chew.”

“Other dialect coaches have said, ‘What is that thing that he’s doing, why is he holding his lip like that? That was a weird choice.’ Afterward they thought it worked.”

Joy raves about director Ang Lee’s dedication to detail (”Ang knew the eyeshadow color ladies in Wyoming wore in 1963″). The Taiwanese native was also a quick study of American accents. “A couple of times during the shoot when someone would go way off with their accent, Ang would look at me and say, ‘Joy, was that right?’ He could hear the difference.”

Ellison is deep into her next movie, working with Catherine Zeta Jones on location in New York City. If you find yourself in a downtown bar and a pretty redhead starts asking too many questions, ask what she has up her sleeve. Your accent could be next.

The People Have Spoken on & Gawker

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Readers rule! Interactivity rocks! Your vote counts! These basic truths SMITH mag holds to be self-evident to the personal media explosion changing the world today. All that in mind, some days it’s funny to be me, Larry Smith (person), rather than editor of SMITH mag.

Yesterday, you see, you the people spoke to and about me in two very different votes.

Win some: My piece for Popular Science on Juan Manuel Lozano, a self-taught Mexican rocketbelt builder, made the front page of, a tech-y/news site where readers vote for their favorite stories. Thousands of people read the piece and deemed it Digg-worthy just five hours after Pop Sci posted the story. I’m biased, but this true tale of one man’s obsession to fly is wild— and part-and-parcel to the power of personal passion that we want to be a beating heart of SMITH magazine.

Lose some: The snarky and irresistible NY-centric media/fashion/gossip site Gawker (if you don’t live in NYC, the appropriate soundtrack to Gawker is that of the world’s smallest violin playing) held a poll about which editor at Men’s Journal (an old stomping ground of mine) my former boss Michael Caruso tried to fire for six months, but the big boss Jann Wenner wouldn’t allow him (and therefore, according to Caruso’s current wrongful termination suit against Wenner, meant MC couldn’t make MJ better). Although I am flattered that as articles editor of Men’s Journal I seemingly had the power to destroy the thing—and the competitor in me wanted to win!—my friend and former colleague Leslie Lewis squashed me like the bug I am. To Leslie, I say: congrats, and good luck. To my constituency, I thank you for voting and your continued support during what is obviously a very emotional time for my family and me. When I emerge from seclusion, beware: I may be sporting a beard.

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