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Six hands

One and two.

On the one hand, housepainting is completely absorbing, and forces me to come to terms with my perfectionism: for hours at a time, I have to determine whether it makes sense to paint details that (almost) no one will ever see.  And then, when the job is done-but-not-quite-done, I have to determine whether to tolerate mistakes that everyone can see.

On the other hand, last week it rained five days out of seven.  The week before that, it rained five days out of seven.  When I wake up I check the skies, and every hour thereafter I check the radar, and even that doesn’t help, because with these mountains you never know which way the rain will go.  And this week it rained so much as to damage the paint job on one side of the house even after the paint had dried.  I blame George Bush Will.

Three and four.

On the one hand, The Third Man has a great plot and some great performances and some great shiny-wet cobblestones in the Vienna night and a great ferris-wheel scene.  Thanks, many commenters, for insisting that I see it next!

On the other hand, The Third Man has The.  Most.  Annoying.  Zither.  Soundtrack.  Ever.  Heavenly Ba’al, people, it’s your job to warn me about such things.  What do you think the comment section is for?  “Michael,” you’re supposed to say, “definitely check out The Third Man—but watch out for that maniac zither!!!” Please don’t let me down again.

Five and six.

On the one hand, Internets wingnuttery is valuable, because it constantly reminds us that there are millions of people in our fair land who should never, ever, ever be allowed anywhere near the levers of state power.

On the other hand, Internets winguttery isn’t any fun anymore.  Not even as material for satire.  Back when it involved dimwit attorneys praising the artistic genius of George Bush and doughty warriors presenting themselves as military analysts with years of advanced training in Dungeons and Dragons, Internet wingnuts were a laff riot.  But now that the wingnuttery is all about Obama’s latest terrible and utterly revealing photo gaffe and Obama’s seekrit extra-kerned Muslim birth certificate, it’s ... different somehow.  Oh, sure, they still remind us that there are millions of people in our fair land who should never, ever, ever be allowed anywhere near the levers of state power.  But they used to be funny.  Now they’re just kind of sad and pathetic and a tiny bit scary.  And the Internets are a drearier place for that.

Posted by on 08/03 at 01:31 PM
  1. It is true that wingnuttery has lost its appeal.  I blame our muslim Preznit whoe doesn’t take them nearly as seriously as the former President.

    Posted by coeruleus  on  08/03  at  03:05 PM
  2. Most annoying zither soundtrack ever?  I’d beg to differ…

    ...except, now that I think about it, I realize that it’s absolutely true.  NOT because it’s an annoying soundtrack.  It’s actually quite awesome.  Infectiously so.  You’re the first person I’ve ever heard complain about it.  Ever.

    No, it’s the most annoying zither soundtrack ever because it has no competition whatsoever in either direction.  It’s the ONLY zither soundtrack ever.  So it is alpha and omega, best and worst, first and last.

    The Band, btw, also did a very fine cover version of that zither theme.  Just sayin’…

    Posted by Gil  on  08/03  at  03:07 PM
  3. You know the fact that a Kenyan birth certificate was issued before Kenya existed is pretty interesting. I think we need a blue ribbon panel (probably including Sean Carroll) to investigate.

    Of course I’m not saying it didn’t happen.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  03:12 PM
  4. Coeruleus:  8 lbs. 4 oz.?  Really?  I find that hard to believe.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  03:17 PM
  5. Always watch the trailer first--not only does it feature said soundtrack, it boasts of “the famous musical score by Anton Karas,” claiming “he’ll have you in a dither with his zither.”

    My guess is someone at some point has used a Laraaji track in a movie.

    Posted by George  on  08/03  at  03:26 PM
  6. Pretend you’re a dim witted advocate of the artistic genius of the smaller George Bush. Or maybe you’re just a blowhard D&D fan who never figured out how D&D could be played for fun. As such, you wake up one day and your overworked denial mechanism has pinched out its last bit of relief. You discover you’ve bought yourself a long ride on a slow boat. You have a pile of stupid stupid shit permanently attached to your name, no way out.

    This is way worse than getting profoundly drunk at a party and saying the kinds of things that drunks loudly say. Drunks get hangovers and everyone forgets. This internet thing doesn’t forget.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  03:42 PM
  7. I’m on the pro-zither soundtrack bandwagon; but perhaps you’d prefer a ska version? Is it the melody or the instrument?

    “The cuckoo clock!”

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  03:44 PM
  8. Berube, Mr Radical, defending Obama and DemoCo as per usual, as well as reminding us--as per usual-- that everything in regards to BO’s vetting was proper and perfect ( even some Dems have objected to lack of access to BO’s records). Was Obama’s agreeing to Bailout, or re-funding troops with more shekels than BushCo ever spent-- cool too?  Or his business oriented health care-- a sweetheart deal for medicine and insurance pros.

    Yes, the COLB looks legit. But you don’t know that (BO did have dual citizenship at a very early age).

    Posted by Perezoso  on  08/03  at  04:02 PM
  9. Is it the melody or the instrument?

    Both, multiplied by the obsessive repetition. I’m old enough to remember that for a brief while “The Third Man Theme” was a big AM radio hit, so even if you hadn’t seen the movie (which I hadn’t, being only seven) it assailed you from the little plastic radio in the kitchen, or the one in the neighborhood candy store, or the neighbors’ radios off the airshaft (no A/C back then either.). AM pop radio, in the years before rock, was pretty dreadful; when they said heavy rotation they meant Heavy Rotation, of hits like “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” and “Cry” and “You Belong to Me” and, so help me Mitch Miller, “Ricochet Romance,” with gunfire sound effects. In fact I think that kind of material, rather than rock or jazz, may have been what got Adorno’s Unterhosen in such a twist.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  04:03 PM
  10. The soundtrack might play differently were you to see it on the big.  I found it incredibly compelling, but could come out tinny with suboptimal sound.  I still have a hard time watching Holly’s inevitable meeting with the literature club- is that how you feel when you get asked to speak by the wrong crowd, perhaps people who don’t quite know that you are as dangeral as you are?

    I even own the soundtrack- Anton Karas- Have Zither Will Travel!  It’s not called that, but it should be.

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  08/03  at  04:43 PM
  11. Painting details where no one would notice? My friend, we call those holidays where I come from (which is pretty much where you come from too).

    If you hated the maniacal zither music in The Third Man, then you’ll really hate the sequel --The, ahem, Fourth Man.

    Finally, I’ve been hearing some strange stuff on the Interwebs today too. Tell me, did something happen to Michael Jackson?

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  05:50 PM
  12. On the one hand, housepainting is completely absorbing, and forces me to come to terms with my perfectionism: for hours at a time, I have to determine whether it makes sense to paint details that (almost) no one will ever see.

    Dude one time I broke out the artist brushes. That’s pretty damn bad. (I was getting paid by the hour, so it wasn’t all that bad I guess. But still...)

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  06:11 PM
  13. #3 - actually, Kenya did exist.  When Kenya became independent in 1963 it was the Dominion of Kenya, and Elizabeth II was Queen of Kenya (doesn’t that sound good?), just as she is still Queen of Canada, Australia, etc.  In 1964 it declared itself a republic - thank you, Elizabeth, we won’t be needing your services any longer - although it did remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  06:30 PM
  14. I’m with you on the zither—though I’m sure a clever critical interpretation could be worked up as to why it is so intrusive.  I respectfully disagree about the wingnuttery, however: it is more than a tiny bit scary.

    Posted by Jim  on  08/03  at  06:59 PM
  15. I don’t know which makes me happier--listening to ska versions of my favorite zither soundtrack, or the fact that you watched and enjoyed it.  Score.  I’d have warned you, but then you might not have watched it.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  07:02 PM
  16. The annoying zither trumps the redeeming qualities to make Third Man unrewatchable for me. Probably the only time I can think of a soundtrack ruining a film.

    Could you please post a list of the films you haven’t seen, so teh internets can tell you what to watch?

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  08:43 PM
  17. Add me among those fond of the zither soundtrack. I suspect a lot of postwar movies were in the habit of picking up a distinctive melody and running it through the whole movie. If you haven’t yet watched The Bridge on the River Kwai, you should (terrific cast--William Holden (yum), Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa, nifty scenery,psychological drama, suffering, explosions, trains, native babes and sunbathing army nurses); then you can check out the whistled theme song that runs throughout, though not always whistled, for comparison to the zither. I think it works, anyway.

    If you want annoying, just to establish an accurate measure, as sort of platinum meter stick or wavelength of cesium standard of annoying, check out Robert Preston’s multiple singings of something called “A Day in the Life of O’Reilly” in the also pretty confusing oater, The Sundowners. You’ll wish you were out painting some more.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  08:48 PM
  18. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass did a fairly fetching version of “Third Man” once upon a time (ca. 1966).

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  08:48 PM
  19. Always watch the trailer first--not only does it feature said soundtrack, it boasts of “the famous musical score by Anton Karas,” claiming “he’ll have you in a dither with his zither.”

    Grandmother of Moloch, it really does claim that.  How about “his zither will make you slither,” instead? 

    There were moments—most of them in the second half of the film, after, say, Holly is “kidnapped” and driven to his lecture—when the suspense mounts, the lighting contrasts get stark, and the atmosphere gets tense ... and then comes this slicing, tinny, way-too-loud-and-weirdly-jaunty slithery zithery noise.  Which was extra extra annoying precisely because I liked the opening credits and the theme.

    From yon blog, I learn that Roger Ebert loved the zither:  “The sound is jaunty but without joy, like whistling in the dark. It sets the tone; the action begins like an undergraduate lark and then reveals vicious undertones.” OK, I got the jaunty part.  But I remain baffled by how intrusive it is.  I’m talking Spike-Lee’s-dad’s-score-for-Do the Right Thing intrusive.

    Janet and I are now going to watch the last half hour again, from the ferris wheel scene onward.

    Posted by  on  08/03  at  08:48 PM
  20. sorry kids, there is another zither soundtrack. “black cat white cat” in 1998.  a Yugoslavian film.

    Posted by skippy  on  08/03  at  11:30 PM
  21. re: zither:
    I always hated that soundtrack, too, after having watched The Third Man as a child, and I never knew why I hated the music. It had strong associations of odors, like smelly feet and strong cheese and bad breath.
    Now as an adult I looked into Anton Karas and had another, Third Man-less listen to him. He is apparently some kind of Austrian national treasure. I think the annoyingness of the soundtrack is due to an intentional choice by the filmmakers to pick pieces that heighten the tension, with repetitive motives and harmonic structure that builds to a climax. It’s actually kind of genius.
    The reason many of us were annoyed by it is not that zither music is intrinsically annoying; it is that the filmmakers were using the music to make the viewers feel a certain way about Central Europe in general, Austria in particular, and specifically the knife edge stress of living poised between The Capitalist White Hats and The Communist Black Hats. They succeeded brilliantly; but in doing so, they soured many viewers on what is actually a charming and inoffensive art form.
    I think Karas has somehow been done a disservice by this film, even though the film is ingenious and even though the world outside Austria would otherwise never have heard of Karas, probably.
    Those of us who are musicians and kulcha vulchas owe it to ourselves and to Karas to take a second, Third Man-free look at Karas’ music. He deserves to be judged outside the context of That Movie.

    re: birthers:
    That woman who stood up and took over the meeting in that youtube we were all supposed to see by diktat of The Central Lefty Committee, the one who heckled the hapless guy trying to have a meeting and who made everyone stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance—she provokes a Very Strong Reaction in me. The reaction causes me to worry that I am Becoming Like Them.

    I don’t think that They spend much time worrying about becoming like Us, though. This may or may not be a defining difference, rendering Us superior.

    Dr. B, you’re an expert on all this. Should we squash the annoying birther pledge heckler lady and the right-wing Austrian zither-inflicting racist daughter-imprisoners like the bugs that they are? Help us out here, please.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  01:06 AM
  22. @rootlesscosmo

    Wow, that really carried me back. Yes, you could not escape that theme in 1950, and there was a flurry of interest in the zither, now long forgotten. But did you have to mention

    I don’t want a ricochet romance,
    I don’t want a ricochet love.
    If you want to ricochet, baby,
    Find another turtle dove


    I think I’m going to be sick. At least I may have infected somebody else, so I won’t have that running through my head.

    ...  a blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare…

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  04:04 AM
  23. Now that you’ve seen The Third Man, I wonder have you seen Touch of Evil? Less zither music (which sounds like it comes as a welcome relief), more noir, more Orson Welles, and depictions of the way physical disability plays out in the detective genre. What’s not to love?

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  09:56 AM
  24. dveej @ 20:  The Tea Partiers (Health Insurance Conglomerate Division, Goon Squad) provoke a very strong reaction in me, too.  My desire to see this happen to them makes me worry that I too am Becoming Like Them, except with a deeply inappropriate soundtrack.

    And that’s really my problem with that damn zither.  Listen to it while they’re digging up Lime’s coffin and discovering Joseph Harbin inside—it’s as bad as that repurposed Lost Ark in yon hyper-link.

    Mr. Seidman @ 22, if that is your real name, I saw Touch of Evil 20 years ago, then again 15 years ago, and would see it again in a heartbeat.  What’s this about disability, now?

    And skippy, thanks.  Thanks a heap.  Now I suppose I have to see “Black Cat White Cat.” Is it anything like “Worker and Parasite”?

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  10:17 AM
  25. Zither music in The Third Man = feature not bug.  Part of the incredible sense of place that is one of the movie’s strongest assets. (Touch of Evil is a great film, too, and one that Welles was, of course, much more responsible for. I find it difficult to feel real affection for it, however.  Do see it if you haven’t though, Michael. Be sure to get the restored director’s cut that was done about a decade ago.)

    re: wingnuts on line:

    You have a pile of stupid stupid shit permanently attached to your name, no way out.

    But this isn’t true. See John Cole, who had a huge pile of stupid shit attached to his name (some of it so stupid that it inspired arguably the greatest blog post of all time), but has since become a real font of sanity.

    Why oh why do we not hear more former voices of the wingnutosphere declaring, “I used to be a conservative, but after the last eight years, I realize that Chappaquiddick is of no political significance whatsoever”?

    Captcha: “music”.....zither music.

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  08/04  at  11:26 AM
  26. It is, indeed, my real name. My identity has been unmasked - cue the zither music.

    In terms of Touch of Evil, it might not be really as big a point as I think it is but here it goes: Orson Welles’ character can be added to a long list of physically disabled noir villians (playing off the idea that the body being “corrupted” symbolizes a corrupted morality). Although, I think it may go deeper than just that. In Touch Of Evil, Orson Welles’ character (Quinlan) has what he describes as a “game leg” which, when it twitches, indicates to him that someone is guilty. As I recall, he even refers to this body signal as his “intuition” (hmm… Colson Whitehead connection?). In any case, this intuition is called into question when Vargas discovers that Quinlan is corrupt and has been planting evidence on suspects. Indeed, it’s sort of the fact that Quinlan has a game leg that clinches Vargas’s suspicions about Quinlan’s involvement with his wife’s kidnapping and subsequent frame-job as Menzies displays the cane that Quinlan left at the crime (i.e. trying to frame Vargas’ wife for murder). However, during the final scene, when Vargas is trying to tape the conversation between Menzies and Quinlan in order to get the incriminating evidence he needs to put Quinlan away, Quinlan puts together that Menzies is wearing a wire by the fact that he feels his game leg twitching. So Quinlan’s fabled intuition has been in existene, and linked to his disability, the entire time (even if the actual evidence to justify putting someone away for the right reasons has not). I’m not sure where I’m going with all this but, in short, there seems to be a lot going on with disability here.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  11:37 AM
  27. Let’s not forget the cleverness of Hank Quinlan/Welles being found out because he leaves his cane/Kane at the scene of the crime, too.

    That Touch of Evil soundtrack is Henry Mancini, btw.

    Posted by George  on  08/04  at  12:34 PM
  28. Heavenly Ba’al, people, it’s your job to warn me about such things.

    Actually, it’s our hobby to deliberately refrain from warning you about such things.  [INSERT MANIACAL LAUGHTER W/ ZITHER ACCOMPANIMENT HERE]

    Now they’re just kind of sad and pathetic and a tiny bit scary.  And the Internets are a drearier place for that.

    I would classify the behavior of the mob at Rep. Castle’s town hall meeting as slightly more than a “tiny bit scary.” The illegitimate foreign-born usurper who’s actually a Muslim, and hence an enemy of America?  The executive who’s trying to make the US into the Soviet Union?  The person who’s betraying Israel by suggesting they at least slow down their extermination of the Palestinians?  The man who wants to impose mandatory euthanasia on older Americans?  And he wants to confiscate your guns.  I think there’s plenty of middle ground between “sad and pathetic” and full-blown David Niewert. Chris Matthews just repeated the lie about Obama wanting to kill grandma, a lie which has been flogged nonstop on Fox News.  Meanwhile, the teabagger astroturf groups are transporting angry mobs around the country to crash more congressional town hall meetings.  And there’s non-zero overlap between the people who claim that a Muslim whose presidency is illegal, and his entire political party, wants to exterminate old people; and the people who kept gunning for Dr. Tiller.  So today I’m feeling more than a tiny bit scared.  And I say this who finally shook the last dust of his offbringing from his robe over the way American conservatives behaved toward the previous Democratic President, so I know that hysterical prevarication has become par for the course.

    Anyway, I vaguely recall reading The Third Man way back in the day, but I’ve never seen the film.  I need to add it to my recent list of Charade and The Prestige, of movies that I’ve thought of renting, but have put off until the mdslet rediscovers his brief habit of sleeping well.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  12:48 PM
  29. Not that it’s related in any way, but the soundtrack for Punch-Drunk Love was so jarring I was preoccupied with it for the entire film. But it also fit the action, so I enjoyed that preoccupation.

    I don’t think I’d enjoy a zither.

    Posted by Jason B.  on  08/04  at  01:02 PM
  30. Also, I deliberately coined “offbringing” as a convenient shorthand for “off-putting upbringing.” No, really.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  02:00 PM
  31. "Anton Karas wrote the now-iconic zither score that topped the charts in 1950.” Wikipedia.  Do your own damn research.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  02:59 PM
  32. Why oh why do we not hear more former voices of the wingnutosphere declaring, “I used to be a conservative, but after the last eight years, I realize that Chappaquiddick is of no political significance whatsoever”?

    I only see John Cole greatest hits (and there are quite a few of these getting linked from places I visit normally). From my vantage JC hasn’t formally renounced his political worship of Chappaquiddick—he simply stopped worshipping the party canon and kept thinking and writing. I’m not sure how one renounces Chappaquiddick thrall. There’s an element of cessation of wife-beating. Better left unsaid.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  03:59 PM
  33. The Prestige was very odd; some good bits, but I think I liked the book better.

    Posted by Dave Maier  on  08/04  at  04:28 PM
  34. "Touch of Evil is a great film, too, and one that Welles was, of course, much more responsible for.”

    So far as I know, Welles disavowed responsibility for anything about 3rd Man except for his improvised speech about Cuckoo Clocks. I know it looks Wellsian, but it also looks like Reed’s excellent odd man out.

    In re: Punch-Drunk Love. GREAT soundtrack. If I’d been in charge, I would have good with a different Henry Nilson song and screwed the whole thing up.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  06:40 PM
  35. I used to be a disingenuous political opportunist and liar but after Orly Taitz I’m outraged by Ken Starr*. Does not quite work, since it’s an admission of a different kind of error.

    *Iran-contra, the Brooks Brothers riot/Bush v Gore/the Niger forgeries/Karl Rove/Colin Powell’s UN speech/ take your pick..

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  06:55 PM
  36. you really should have started with the Pinky and the Brain version “The Third Mouse”.  I’m fairly certain there was no zither there.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  08:20 PM
  37. The bouzouki in “Never on a Sunday” is almost as alarming and wormholing as that zither in “The Third Man.” I prefer the other major Carol Reed films from that period, “Odd Man Out,” “The Fallen Idol,” “Outcast of the Islands” and “The Man Between.” They are all great.

    Posted by  on  08/04  at  08:22 PM
  38. What’s wrong with zither music? It rocks. In its own way.

    Posted by Bob In Pacifca  on  08/04  at  09:39 PM
  39. I’m fine with the zither.

    What do you think of the sound of Once Upon a Time in the West? Cuz I love the creeking windmill, but perhaps some people hate that.

    But of course, as you said, it’s the plot that rules, rules, rules—gotta love Graham Greene.

    Posted by steventhomas  on  08/04  at  11:06 PM
  40. There are opinions, and there are facts.  The annoying nature of the zither music in that movie is a fact, not an opinion.

    There.  I’ve said it.  And let it be known that I spent a great deal of time in Hungary - before, during, and after the transition from Communism. I played a lot of music there, and am the proud owner of a homemade version of a zither that I bought from a gypsy there in 1989.

    But THAT zither music is just plain annoying.

    Posted by  on  08/05  at  09:03 AM
  41. RJ is dead to me.  I love how it becomes clear that Anton Karas’ zither seems to be detecting some underlying genetic differences in the population, like a chemical only some people can taste.  Perhaps it is the cilantro of music?

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  08/05  at  11:54 AM
  42. Mmmmmmmm, cilantro.  Just the thing to get that abominable zither out of my mind.

    Posted by  on  08/05  at  01:13 PM
  43. @sfmike: Yes about those other Reed movies. “Outcast of the Islands” isn’t available on DVD, unfortunately--that one’s worth buying.

    @porlock junior: nice handle, and sorry I roused a worm. Dave Barry used to run Worst Song of All Time contests, but I think the range of entries started about the time of Wayne Newton, i.e. a little later than the vintage of cheese you and I recall with a shudder.

    Posted by  on  08/05  at  04:44 PM
  44. Now, imagine idly browsing a high end Kyoto department store; the kind that stocks western designer goods and has uniformed staff employed to greet customers at the door.

    The Third Man theme - original zither version - drifts through the piped music system.

    This happens more often than you might expect. It is… unsettling.

    Posted by  on  08/06  at  04:03 AM





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