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Playing with a little flex appeal

Magic is overstating it a bit. Unless, perhaps, you're in a drunken hen's-night mood, in which case the copious displays of male flesh might prove sufficiently diverting in and of themselves. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
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Magic Mike is the latest film directed by the impressively eclectic Steven Soderbergh, whose career has encompassed everything from comedy to drama to biographical movies (he also did his own editing and cinematography under pseudonyms). Written by Reid Carolin, it is apparently based, to some extent, on star Channing Tatum's own experiences working as a male ''exotic dancer'' and the scenes in which he and his colleagues strut their stuff are certainly atmospheric and impressively choreographed if, ultimately, a little repetitive. It's the offstage drama that is a bit disappointing and the film doesn't have enough going on to justify its length.

Mike works by day in construction in Tampa, Florida and, as a self-styled entrepreneur, has other concerns going, including a car-detailing business (of which we see little).

He seems like a decent enough guy with hopes of pursuing his dream, designing custom-made furniture (but is having trouble getting a bank loan).

A few nights a week, however, he shows another side of himself at the strip club Xquisite, joining other buff, bronzed and oiled men who perform on stage for the titillation of the ladies (and the cash said ladies stuff in their g-strings). One night, Mike brings along a young building-site colleague, 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and the club boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) sees potential. ''The Kid'', as Adam is dubbed, is thrust on stage and, despite his initial awkwardness, is a hit with the ladies.

Mike means well and promises Adam's protective sister Brooke (Cody Horn) he will look after the young man but - no surprise here - Adam soon gets caught up in some of the temptations of the business, which doesn't do much for the interest Mike and Brooke slowly develop in each other.

And ''slowly'' is the keyword. With fairly familiar themes of innocence corrupted and good intentions thwarted, Magic Mike is played out far too ponderously for its own good. Soderbergh spends a lot of time playing with filters and camera angles ensuring the movie has some visual pizzazz, especially in the club scenes. But not enough attention is paid to keeping the story and characters compelling. Boogie Nights, which dealt with some similar ideas, does a far better job.

Still, Tatum is likeable in his regular-guy way, Pettyfer is sympathetic even as his character spirals downward and McConaughey's blend of narcissism, charm and sleaze works well. Horn is low-key to the point of dreariness.

If only Magic Mike had been as lean as its characters' stomachs, rather than as puffed-up as their muscles.

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Writers, please take note

There are times when only a notebook and pencil will do.ONE of the most important projects we are engaged in at the Bleeding Edge Institute for Preserving the Past is the maintenance of the ability of the human hand to form meaningful shapes, using unfashionable implements called ''pens'' and ''pencils''.
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This skill, which is known as ''writing'' - in our opinion a much warmer word than, say, ''texting'' or ''typing'' - was long considered, with ''reading'', an essential element in one's education, vital for the transmission and preservation of knowledge and the literary arts.

Alas, the pen, for so long considered a superior weapon to the sword, has proved to be little match for the keyboard and other electronic recording devices. The beauty of copperplate script, and indeed the very idea of penmanship, survives only among determined hobbyists. The modern hand seems to have suffered from sheer lack of exercise.

It tends to cramp after producing a few paragraphs of comparatively crude and not terribly clear shapes.

The situation is even worse when it comes to shorthand writing. The classic form of the phonetic symbols, developed by Sir Isaac Pitman and refined over more than a century, have all but disappeared, along with the concept of taking dictation.

It might have been expected to survive among journalists, who are forced to record what others tell them.

But a profession that once demanded the study of Pitman's New Era, or its slightly slower relative, Pitman 2000, these days seems happy enough with Teeline, which is simpler to learn but less capable of recording verbatim transcripts of the spoken word. And there is little in Teeline to delight the eye.

There is little logic in this. Relatively few people can type quickly enough to take adequate notes, while recordings have serious limitations.

There are far too many situations when the best choice is a pen or pencil and a notebook.

Given that, and given the modern hand is so easily fatigued by the demands of forming words, the economy of shorthand surely ought to make it even more popular than in the past.

Indeed, Sir Isaac first developed the system as a medium for the recording of personal notes and it won immediate popularity for precisely that purpose.

Ironically, Pitman's - in particular New Era - and the fountain pens and pencils of manual writing have a great friend in another form of modern technology, the internet, thanks to an English woman named Beryl Pratt.

Beryl's Long Live Pitman's Shorthand! website (bit.ly/MmNYsu) and its associated blog are more than a showcase for the efficiency and sheer delight of Pitman's system; they are an indispensable aid for students.

A highly proficient shorthand typist with considerable artistic skill, Beryl was determined to do her bit in ensuring the system she learnt as a young woman survived. The site includes PDFs for ''origami'' booklets of the ''short forms'' (which allow common words to be written with a stroke, curve or circle or two), self-printed practice pads and dictionaries of the most used words in English with shorthand forms. She even offers a shorthand calendar.

On the blog she provides passages for revision, with her bewitching shorthand ''translations''.

If you are a lover of practical writing implements, her recommendations for fountain pens are also worth reading. She uses Noodler's ''flex'' pens, which can be ordered from the Goulet Pen Company (gouletpens南京夜网).

She designs her pages with Serif PagePlus X4. She uses Serif MoviePlus to produce YouTube videos of shorthand writing demos (bit.ly/SUQslg).

She says the idea that New Era shorthand is more difficult to learn is absurd. ''I am sometimes amused, but more often dismayed, by the comments I see that shorthand is difficult and takes a long time to learn,'' she says.

''It has been taught over the past century to countless office workers as the 'easy' option for those not gifted academically, i.e. leaving school at 16 or earlier.''

The main difficulty these days is that, generally, one has to learn online or by correspondence. Swinburne offers a course in Pitman 2000 but for New Era you'll have to check out Brisbane-based Tanya Battel's correspondence course (eliteeas南京夜网.au). Customers for her 22-week course include cadet journalists at The West Australian.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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The harmony of digital music

Orchestre Nouveau conductor Zach Tay leafs through a score of a Haydn horn concerto obtained through the Internet Music Score Library Project.MUSIC is conveyed to us in lots of ways in a digital world, but for the musicians it all begins with the little black dots on paper. Music has a pulse of its own, and these dots and squiggles are moving through their own graceful and melodic revolution.
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Singer-songwriter Missy Higgins is part of the revolution, releasing her new album simultaneously on CD, iTunes and as printed sheet music through publisher Hal Leonard. Meantime, British singer-songwriter Adele, who as a hit-maker trumped the US and European song-production factories that churn out material for Katy Perry, Beyonce, Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson and their ilk to win several Grammy awards with her own booming love songs, is perhaps the most downloaded singer-songwriter of the year - for her sheet music, as well as her recordings.

A century ago and through the early decades of the 20th century, hit charts did not mean just record sales or radio airplay. Home entertainment was big business, and the backbone was the home piano - or organ, or even the guitar.

Before records and, later, cassette tapes and CDs dominated the scene, music stores employed music ''pluggers'' to play and sing the latest offerings from the big US sheet-music publishers based in lower Manhattan, in a district known as Tin Pan Alley, to win over potential buyers. The Judy Garland movie In the Good Old Summertime is the perfect evocation of those days.

Music stores were not the only sales point. In the US and Australia, too, the big sheet-music publishers such as Chappell and Alberts would employ pianists and singers to go to ballrooms, hotels and anywhere music was played to plug the latest songs, building up sales in the days when just about every home created music of some sort.

This was also a time when every choir, ballet school or dance academy would employ pianists to accompany the dancers as they learnt their steps or performed. Recorded music all but wiped out this group of performers and their demand for sheet music, but professional ballet and opera companies and producers of Broadway-style musicals still rely on those little black notes and the remarkable people who can decipher them.

So while sheet music might no longer be the dominant force it was, much live music-making is still dependent on the printed page. However, delivery methods are changing and the internet is supplementing those traditional music publishers and stores.

There are dozens of online sheet-music suppliers, most based in the US, as the sheet-music publishing industry was from the 1890s.

One company leading the way is OnlineSheetMusic南京夜网 from the US, with its affiliate program for retailers, Sheet Music Now. OnlineSheetMusic and Sheet Music Now have a library of about 140,000 digital sheet-music titles available for instant downloading and printing. Songs for every genre and instrument are available.

This was the first company to launch a worldwide interactive sheet-music system, and its director, Hal Morton, boasts that its launch, in 1997, was five years before iTunes revolutionised recorded-music sales online.

But forget Tin Pan Alley. Control of print music shifted long ago from New York to California, and OnlineSheetMusic is headquartered in Los Altos about 14 kilometres from Cupertino, where Apple is based.

Visiting the website is a fascinating experience. Piano-vocal-chords arrangements sell for $US4.95 ($4.80) and lead sheets for $US1.95. I visited the site to familiarise myself and found it a breeze to download and print a piece of music using their free sample offerings, choosing a composition by recent Medal of Freedom winner Bob Dylan.

I took an amateur's viewing. Actual buyers of a product can use either ''Instant Print'' for a complete piece of sheet music or download the Online Sheet Music Viewer, which allows you to transpose certain pieces by key, instrument, clef or interval, and print from there. That's everything a professional would need.

And in the digital world, what are the big sellers? The results are surprising, with British sensation Adele rubbing shoulders with Leonard Cohen and Irving Berlin - and with a surprising predominance of religious-themed songs, reflecting American obsessions.

That is the commercial face of downloading. But there are other sites whose creators believe in the freedom of music. Young Harvard Law School student and composer Edward Guo is working assiduously to bring the world of classical music to the masses through his Canadian-based Internet Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), which you can reach via the website imslp南京夜网.

His project is making more than 100,000 scores available, from Wagner to Stravinsky, and the service is proving a boon to many, especially to members of amateur orchestras. There have been some legal issues with copyright holders, though being based in Canada, where copyright lasts only 50 years instead of our 70, does give him some protection. The site has closed three times because of legal issues, but has arisen each time: a musical phoenix. Guo says the world of music must come to terms with technological change.

Here in Melbourne, Zach Tay, director and conductor of local orchestra Orchestre Nouveau, found out a couple of months ago just how useful IMSLP was, when he found there were no sources for an arrangement he needed of the Haydn Horn Concerto No. 1 in D for horn, strings and two oboes.

He checked out IMSLP, where he finds most of the scores for non-copyright concert music, but there was nothing there. So he posted a notice on a web forum hosted by IMSLP. Within two days he had a response from a musician who had the physical printed score. Showing true musician's camaraderie, this musician transcribed to his computer all the parts from the score and sent them in PDF form to Tay. Concert saved, courtesy of IMSLP.

''That's what musicians do for each other,'' Tay says. ''We couldn't pay for that sort of effort.''

The online experience is leaving some room for the retailer. Many buyers of sheet music make their purchase after visiting a dedicated music store or instrument showroom, and here the burgeoning internet business lets stores create an account and instantly buy and print sheet music on customer demand.

Sheet Music Now lets music stores have access to 140,000 titles ready for instant sale, without the need for inventory or even sheet-music racks.

Diligent scourers of the web can find free and often illegal download sites for sheet music, or even digital files to output not onto paper but to computer tablets . But the legal publishers aren't overly worried by the piracy, which they see as analogous to the old ''fake'' sheets of popular songs that used to be circulated in loose-leaf books for musicians to improvise around.

Online Sheet Music says that while a digital version of sheet music might be useful for someone such as a school's bandleader who has to travel a circuit, most professionals want to stick to the conventional paper product, even if it becomes increasingly digitally delivered. Musicians will always want to scribble and annotate on that paper. And the digital retailer has found that people who illegally download a single song become prime candidates for the legal purchase of a complete printed songbook.

Renowned french horn virtuoso Barry Tuckwell is technologically alert, but simply cannot imagine doing without old-fashioned paper as he teaches and takes part in international masterclasses and seminars. He agrees that while the revolution is here, past practices can't be dropped easily.

This is the sort of digital revolution that enriches the future while respecting the heritage of the past.

Would that all the digital revolutions we're living through be so harmonious.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Marilyn’s mysterious last days

IN THE strange, lost days before her death, Marilyn Monroe remained mostly indoors digesting good news, bad news and large quantities of chemicals. The good news was that her career appeared to be back on song, with a satisfying deal to make two new pictures for 20th Century Fox. The bad news was that she was struggling more than ever with the depression, bordering upon despair, that had brought her to a state of wretched dependency.
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In the 50 years since that night, Monroe has ascended to a state beyond myth, beyond rhetoric, beyond celebrity itself.

Monroe found it easier to stay inside her modest, Spanish-style bungalow, conveniently sited for visits from her Los Angeles psychotherapist, Ralph Greenson, and her friend the raffish English actor Peter Lawford.

In the early hours of August 5, 1962, Greenson, whose other clients included Frank Sinatra and Vivien Leigh, arrived at the house, summoned by an anxious call from Monroe's housekeeper. When no one answered the door, he peered through the French windows and saw the actress's naked body on the bed. She was 36.

Already the most written about woman in history, she is the subject of several new books being rolled out for the 50th anniversary, and the Monroe industry grows with every year. Jamie Salter, head of Authentic Brands Group, which acquired the rights to Monroe's image last year for an undisclosed sum, calls her "the most iconic personality on Earth".

Yet for all the chronicling and investigation, no entirely convincing account of her death has been established. Admittedly, a life as chaotic as hers was unlikely to have a tidy conclusion, yet every credible theory put forward to explain it - including the favoured one of an accidental overdose - is riddled with questions, doubts and contradictions.

The countdown to her death began in late July, when Monroe set off for Nevada gambling resort Lake Tahoe with Lawford and his wife, Pat - the sophisticated, movie-struck younger sister of President John F. Kennedy - on Sinatra's private jet.

Neither Monroe nor the Lawfords particularly wanted to go. Monroe was facing a career crisis having just been fired from the production of Fox's Something's Got to Give on the grounds of her chronic unreliability. Even a house-party invitation from US attorney-general Robert Kennedy, with whom she was rumoured to be having an affair, was rejected on June 13, with an enigmatic note reading: "Dear Attorney General, I would have been delighted to have accepted your invitation … unfortunately, I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of the minority rights of the few remaining earthbound stars. After all, all we demanded was the right to twinkle."

Lawford, though, was reluctant to turn down Sinatra. The Rat Packers, once close, had drifted, and Lawford saw the trip as a chance to mend fences. Sinatra was his hero and, to some extent, his meal ticket. "If Frank wants us there we have to go," he told his wife. She reluctantly agreed - as long as their friend Monroe came too.

Sinatra was a lot keener to see Monroe than he was the Lawfords. The pair had had an affair the previous year and, although Sinatra had realised there was no future in it, he remained, like almost every other man who had been part of her private world, more than a little in love with her. The reports he had heard of her life disintegrating worried him. He wanted to know more. And, if possible, to help.

Instead of a mercy mission, this last weekend in the actress's life would be the one that pushed her over the edge.

The plane touched down on Saturday, July 28, and that afternoon Monroe went to the Cal Neva Lodge, a ritzy gambling and entertainment joint, co-owned by Sinatra.

Accounts of her condition differ. Singer Buddy Greco remembered: "When she arrived you'd never believe that she had a care in the world. I was sitting with Frank and Peter Lawford outside Frank's bungalow when a limousine pulls up and this gorgeous woman in dark glasses steps out. She's all dressed in green. I thought: 'My god, what a beautiful woman. No taste in clothes, but a beautiful woman.' ''

Others recall it differently. "When Frank saw her he was pretty shocked," says Joe Langford, Sinatra's Tahoe security aide. "As soon as he had got her settled in he was on the phone with her psychiatrist and started in on the guy, 'What the hell kind of treatment are you giving her? She's a mess. What is she paying you for?' ''

What no one disputes is that by showtime that evening, Monroe was in a state. Witnesses describe her as angry, confused and clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As tended to happen, everybody wanted to meet her, to share her magic and, as also tended to happen, Monroe couldn't cope with it.

By now Sinatra was alarmed. According to witnesses he feared she might die at Cal Neva. The embarrassment would be too much. "Get her out of here," he ordered. So they did. On the Sunday night, Monroe returned alone to her bungalow in Brentwood. As far as is known, she did not leave it again.

Yet the next few days brought a stream of encouraging news. On August 1, Fox rescinded her sacking from Something's Got to Give. To complete the studio's capitulation, it agreed to replace the director, George Cukor, who had found Monroe impossible to work with - the last straw was her leaving the set to sing ''Happy birthday, Mr President'' at John Kennedy's 45th birthday - and offered her a contract for two further movies worth $US1 million.

Two days later, Life magazine published a long, sympathetic interview, pulsing with Monroe's wit and core intelligence, and conveying the sense of a woman who had triumphed over a lifetime of bad breaks and a heartless Hollywood.

"I never quite understood it, this sex symbol," she mused. "I always thought symbols were those things you clash together!

''That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing. But if I'm going to be a symbol of something, I'd rather have it sex than some other things they've got symbols of! These girls who try to be me, I guess the studios put them up to it, or they get the ideas themselves. But gee, they haven't got it. You can make a lot of gags about it, like they haven't got the foreground or else they haven't the background. But I mean the middle, where you live."

One of the very last people to see her alive was Lawford, a hard-drinking charmer who had turned his back on the English upper classes to become a Hollywood actor. The much talked about relationship between the pair was almost certainly platonic. At least, his wife seemed to have no worries about it, saying that Lawford saw Monroe as more of a helpless child than a temptress.

August 4, the last full day of Monroe's life, is almost impossible to decipher. Dozens of people have either claimed or been alleged to have visited her bungalow. Among them are Bobby Kennedy, mob boss Sam Giancana and various FBI men who were investigating her relationships with politicians and organised crime.

One person who was definitely there was Eunice Murray, her housekeeper, but Murray's accounts of what happened are so varied and contradictory as to be near-meaningless. Almost certainly there was a visit from psychotherapist Greenson.

About midnight, Murray, who had been installed by Greenson as Monroe's helper and confidant on the, as it turned out, untrue basis that she had a degree in psychiatric nursing, saw a light under Monroe's bedroom door. She says she knocked to check that all was well, and upon receiving no answer called Greenson. He arrived within half an hour and, after seeing the body on the bed, broke in through the French windows.

The conspiracy theories have been raging ever since, implicating the Kennedys, Lawford, the Mafia, the studio honchos, the Sinatra set and the FBI. All have been aided by the absence of medical proof of the cause of death.

The autopsy was, to put it mildly, cursory. Few proper tests were done, basic records were not kept and vital organs were destroyed. Such evidence as remains suggests that Monroe's body contained large doses of barbiturates and sleeping tablets. If she was not murdered, the only credible alternatives are suicide or accident.

The case for the first is weakened because she was clearly looking forward to getting back to her movie, and the positive tone of her magazine interview suggested that whatever the ups and downs of her life, she had no intention of ending it. Tape recordings she made for Greenson - now lost but substantially transcribed by John Miner, a district attorney who investigated her death - are surprisingly upbeat and suggest she felt the therapy was working.

A further piece of evidence is a cheque she wrote the day before her death, for a chest of drawers. While people contemplating suicide will sometimes make extravagant, last-minute purchases, psychiatrists say this one, for a mundane piece of furniture costing $228, more likely suggests she saw life continuing in an everyday fashion.

Which leaves an accident as the most likely possibility. Yet even this explanation isn't without its problems. Monroe, however prone to pill-popping, had a good idea of what was too much, and if in doubt had plenty of expert medical advice to draw on.

Half a century later, the fascination lives on. At Crypt 33 in the Westwood Memorial Park, the flowers are piling up, and visitors drawn from all over the world by the approaching anniversary leave notes and cards of fondness and regret.

Monroe was the child of a brief, unhappy relationship, shunted around foster homes, ignored, abused and seemingly destined for a life of ordinariness until, one day, while at work in a factory, she was spotted by a photographer who said: "You're beautiful."

It is doubtful that the myth would have endured had she lived on, found the right man, had children, landed those late-career character parts as someone's grandmother and still been with us at the age of 86. Long gone, she may be, but she retains the "right to twinkle".

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Pies: We don’t fear tank probe

COLLINGWOOD president Eddie McGuire says the Magpies would have nothing to hide if an AFL investigation into whether Melbourne tanked spread to other clubs.
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The Demons could know as early as today whether they will have a case to answer after Brock McLean, who sparked the re-opening of an investigation into the Demons' controversial 2009 season, was interviewed by the AFL's integrity department yesterday. The AFL would not comment last night.

If McLean was able to substantiate his allegations that Melbourne's priority was not to win games late in the '09 season, and the directive came from club powerbrokers above coach Dean Bailey, then it's likely those people would be investigated.

Bailey was interviewed and cleared of any wrongdoing last year.

Carlton coach Brett Ratten yesterday revealed he had been interviewed twice by the AFL over tanking rumours, and cleared.

It has long been speculated the Blues lost matches late in the '07 season in order to secure Matthew Kreuzer in the national draft.

If an AFL probe is widened, it could include other clubs. In 2005, the Magpies put players into surgery early and lost their last eight games, allowing them to draft Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas.

McGuire said the Magpies had not been interviewed about their actions that season and said the club had nothing to fear. ''I don't think we had much in our control that year. We had injuries left, right and centre,'' he said.

''Why would there be anything to hide? Our seasons are all on record, they are all there. It's a bit staggering this has come on the back of Brock McLean, when we had an investigation and quotes [last year] from Dean Bailey. I don't know what they [the AFL] are hoping to achieve from this.

''It apparently didn't happen, they had their investigation; move on. I would have thought the next thing we should be looking at is fixing up the match review [panel] and the score review system going into the finals.''

Former Carlton assistant coach

Tony Liberatore said in 2008 the Blues had tanked late in the '07 campaign, but recanted that allegation when interviewed by the AFL.

Ratten said he had no concerns about being interviewed by the AFL over the allegations. ''They've investigated Melbourne, they've investigated us,'' he said.

''I got investigated twice in regards to this so I've gone through that procedure and the AFL have ticked it off. They've done their findings behind the scenes and everything's clear. If the AFL want to speak to anyone at any time, they've got the right to. They are the chief of the game … and they can call on any person at any time.

''They interview you for a reason, whether it's a rumour, or something's there or someone said something. I didn't find it offensive at all.''

It's understood West Coast was not interviewed about its dismal 2010 when it finished last and was the subject of speculation it had tanked. The Eagles rebounded last year and finished fourth.

McLean revealed this week he had quit the Demons after the '09 season because the club's philosophy had not sat well with him. The Demons lost six of their final seven games and secured coveted youngsters Tom Scully and Jack Trengove in the national draft.

''They don't call it tanking - we would call it experimenting, or whatever it was. It just went against everything I was taught as a kid, taught as a footballer and as a person,'' McLean said.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has maintained tanking does not exist.

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