Michael Haneke (BSS #316)

Michael Haneke is most recently the director of The White Ribbon, which opens in theaters on December 30th.

The Bat Segundo Show expresses profuse gratitude and thanks to translator Robert Gray for assisting in this conversation, which is presented here in German and English.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Tying a white ribbon ’round the old oak tree.

Guest: Michael Haneke

Subjects Discussed: The roots of human behavior within Haneke’s films, the film as a ski jump, the relationship between the cinematic spectator and semiotics, the spectator’s lack of freedom, the director as god and Martin’s spared death on the bridge, the baroness’s moral choice, truth and the denial of inherent human nature, Anna Karenina, social status and imprisonment, terrorist acts that are tied to specific occupations, the mistreatment of young children, planning a film for open-ended interpretation, whether or not a film can be entirely calculated for the spectator, the use of the Z-axis to accentuate a prewar setting, the perception of daily life, the role of the police in Haneke’s films, the trouble with dramaturgical constructs, and the impracticalities of theory in everyday situations.


Correspondent: In Funny Games, you have a scenario in which we don’t actually understand the motivations of the two killers. Cache, same thing. The actual motivation behind the videotapes is not entirely spelled out. And, of course, in The White Ribbon, we have a similar situation in which its more about the consequences than it is about the origins. And I’m curious why your films tend to not dwell upon the origins of terrible acts, as opposed to the consequences. Do you think that looking for the root cause of human behavior is a folly? At least with these particular characters in your film?

Haneke: (through translator) Mainstream cinema raises questions, only then to provide immediate answers so that the spectator can go home feeling reassured. But I think if film is to take itself seriously as an art form, then, like every other art form, it has to allow the spectators a certain freedom of possibility — of investing themselves, of grappling with the issues that are involved, of bringing their own feelings and explanations to the work that they are receiving. I always say that not only film, but every art form should provoke the spectator so that they feel motivated. The work has to be constructed in such a way that the spectator is led to investing himself in search for his own answers. I always say that not only film, but books too, are like ski jumps. They have to be built in such a way that people can jump properly. But the film is the ski jump and it’s up to the spectator to jump.

Categories: Film

Ken Auletta (BSS #315)

Ken Auletta is most recently the author of Googled and writes the “Annals of Communication” column for The New Yorker.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if his Chinese food takeout history can be Googled.

Author: Ken Auletta

Subjects Discussed: Clarifying Auletta’s theory of Sergey Brin and Larry Page as “cold engineers,” responding to Nicholson Baker’s review, whether an engineer’s viewpoint is applicable to business, the efficiency of newspapers, Talking Points Memo, journalism that is translatable to the online medium, addressing the Gray Lady’s deficiencies, the McSweeney’s answer to the newspaper, Coach Bill Campbell, Eric Schmidt, Brin and Page’s apparent insensitivity to the book industry, Al Gore’s observations about Google’s eccentricities, the Google Chrome EULA controversy, user trust, the moral dilemma of Google Book Search, whether Google should be recused to some degree because the world has become increasingly privatized, the CIA and outsourcing, whether or not Google Book Search’s threat to an author’s livelihood has been overstated, Google’s obsession with 150, comparisons between Itek and Google, collapsing computers, Auletta’s affinity for control, Eric Schmidt’s views on promotional value, Rupert Murdoch’s recent dealings with Bing, CBS’s early involvement in YouTube, traditional media and online advertising, when Google is efficient, and investigating the semantics of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra.


Correspondent: There’s one question that is presented in the book, but never actually quite answered. It’s probably something I just observed. And that is Google’s fixation with the number 150. They have 150 projects. They have cafeterias and conference rooms that are max 150. Did you ever get an answer as to why they were obsessed with this number? Numerologists?

Auletta: (laughs) I don’t think they’re obsessed with the 150 products. In fact, now they’re probably below 150 projects. The 150 — Larry [Page] actually did a search. Larry’s fixated on 150. It’s the size of cafeterias. To have people collaborate and talk to each other and not pull back and engage. And he did a Google search and came up with that answer to confirm his instinct. Now have I done that search to check that he’s right? No, I have not. But he, in his scientific way, came up with that answer. And he goes around the cafeterias. And he’ll say, “This is too big. This is the right size.” You know, each of them have little fetishes that they’re passionate about. And they’re insistent on. And that’s one of Larry Page’s. And who’s to say he’s wrong? They’ve done pretty good.

Correspondent: Let’s go back to the three horses you were talking about earlier. Google is developing anywhere from 150 projects to less, as we’ve just established. Search revenue is starting to dwindle. I’m curious if some of the more recent products — like, for example, Chrome OS, which is an open-source scenario, and Google Wave — these are a little bit different from the norm. Because the learning curve is a little bit more. It’s something that’s more designed for geeks than for regular people. Do you see this as a way of them anticipating that more regular people, more lay people, will become power users? Or are they just essentially carrying on with the same instinct that drove their company in the first place? Which was, “Let’s go ahead and do this and the revenue will come later.”

Auletta: Everything’s a jump all. Everything is “Let’s experiment. Let’s try this.” And that’s part of the genius of Google and the genius of the two founders. Their willingness to try things. To basically ask uncomfortable questions. And the why question: “Why not?” They come into every meeting and they say, Why not? So why not do Chrome? Why not do Wave? Why not have cloud computing? We have this computer capacity? Why don’t we utilize it? And why do people have to spend three hundred some odd dollars for Microsoft packaged software? Why not have it in the cloud which will follow you wherever you go on any device you’re on? So they’re asking those questions and they’re trying those things. And I think it’s much more the latter point. It’s basically: Let’s take some risks. We have the resources to do it. And wouldn’t this really be cool?

Correspondent: Or maybe it’s just a natural expansion. For some reason, reading your book, I was struck very much by the history of Itek in the ’60s. You know, Itek, where they were the people behind Project CORONA. And they just gobbled up companies left and right. Similar to what Microsoft did two, three decades later. But Google is a little bit different in the sense that everything is essentially developed in-house. Does this ensure that they won’t implode like Itek and, to some degree, Microsoft?

Auletta: But Google buys. They bought Android.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Auletta: They didn’t invent that. They bought it and took the guy who invented it. And he’s there running Android for them. Mobile device business. One of the dangers they have — and, for instance, the argument is that they don’t have a social network engine. So they’ve been slower in that area. So you noticed yesterday, what they did, they announced that search would extend to social networks in real time. And it’s a weakness they have. And it’s a weakness that any company, if you rely just internally. It can be a weakness if you just go out and acquire, and outsource everything. They’re trying to do both. Will they succeed? I don’t know. No one knows. The game continues and there’s no end in sight. But at some point, we’ll find out. Other great companies failed and then came back. Apple failed and then came back. So I take a long view of this stuff. They are trying things, but they’re getting large. And as you get large, you start losing creative people.

(Image: JD Lasica)

Categories: Ideas

Terry Teachout (BSS #314)

Terry Teachout is most recently the author of Pops.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Playing for handy water closets.

Author: Terry Teachout

Subjects Discussed: Managing professional duties, the exigencies of sifting through 650 reels of Louis Armstrong’s tapes, Armstrong’s encounters with the mob, Armstrong’s relationship with manager Joe Glaser, the aborted Duke Ellington collaborative album, Pierre “Frenchy” Tallerie’s rough tour management, Frenchy as company spy, the effect of Armstrong’s star status on his musicians, the disparity between the net worth of Armstrong’s estate and Glaser’s estate, Armstrong’s remarks on the Little Rock Nine, FBI files and FOIA requests, condemnations Armstrong received in later years, rivalry between Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, James Baldwin, Armstrong’s aversion to bebop, why Armstrong didn’t break from his popular style, whether or not an artist has a responsibility to push past a middlebrow reception, floundering artists, disbanding the All Stars and improving the musical dynamic with the All Stars’s second iteration, Armstrong’s unexpected late career collaboration with Dave Brubeck, Armstrong’s ability to sell records during the Great Administration, popular tunes and mainstream accessibility in the 1920s, the dangers of critical consensus, Armstrong’s in-performance improvisation within “Stardust,” Armstrong’s unwavering affinity for the Swiss Kriss herbal laxative, the 1953 conflict between Armstrong and Benny Goodman, the question of artistic ego, the entertainer’s instinct, Armstrong’s conflict with Earl Hines’s showboating, Duke Ellington’s insistence on top billing, Armstrong’s tour of England and racist critics, the mistaken notion of Europe as an Eden for jazz musicians, exploring reception histories, Armstrong’s lawsuit with OKeh Records, the difficulty of collating Armstrong’s correspondence, Armstrong as writer, and self-awareness.


Correspondent: In light of Armstrong’s remarks about the Little Rock Nine, and of course his infamous remarks about Eisenhower, did the guy have an FBI file? Were you able to…?

Teachout: He did. It was mostly innocuous.

Correspondent: Oh, okay.

Teachout: There just isn’t anything of interest in it. I know this because I’ve seen it, but also because I FOIAed Joe Glaser. He doesn’t have a file.

Correspondent: None?

Teachout: None.

Correspondent: Despite his mob connections?

Teachout: I appealed the decision to make sure. And they told me that there was no file in Glaser. And this is a guy whose business was taken over by Sidney Korshak, who has an FBI file the size of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. So I can only assume that the FBI saw Glaser as too small-time in terms of their interests to start a file on him.

Correspondent: Unless, of course, it was expunged in some capacity.

Teachout: It could have been. I don’t have any reason to think that it was and, since Korshak’s file wasn’t, I assumed that there simply wasn’t anything there. Armstrong’s file contains nothing of any interest because he didn’t play at political benefits. I mean, the FBI was aware of the fact that he used marijuana. Because he was vetted by the State Department. But other than that, there wasn’t anything that was even worth passing on in the book. I mention actually in one of the endnotes that he had a file and that its contents were of no interest. But Glaser — we were all on pins. I had actually alerted the Armstrong Archive that I FOIAed Glaser. Because no one had ever thought to do this before.

Correspondent: Wow.

Teachout: And it took me a year and a half from end to end, from the original Freedom of Information request to wrapping up the appeal and concluding that there just wasn’t anything there.

Categories: Ideas, People