Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29

Will Meyerhofer shares many of the same concerns that I have about weddings:

Really, the American "wedding industrial complex" has become so ghastly that one looks back longingly on those scenes in Forties movies when the eloping couple wakes a Justice of the Peace out of a sound sleep at 2:00 A.M.; that seems considerably more romantic than our fabulously rococo and/or tacky modern productions. Admittedly, weddings have always been a bit of show and conspicuous consumption for the neighbors (check out Spencer Tracy's discomforts in 1950's Father of the Bride). But nowadays a huge part of the point of a wedding is to make it re-consumable through the use of photography, videography, and probably eventually holography; and this requires rehearsals, blocking, re-takes, and possibly the hiring of Ron Howard to manage it all for you.

A more basic and scarcely new problem with weddings is that the ceremony relies, as Meyerhofer points out, on a kind of "magical thinking" that has unhealthy aspects. Weddings offer the promise of a day of perfect happiness (for which people get seriously indebted and emotionally worn out) that can be "frozen" as the state of a marriage forevermore. Consider some of the traditional words: "from this day forward...until death do us part." That's not a vow, it's a spell, intended to ward off the corrupting influence of any and all future developments on the love we are trying to fix in place. Well, it's an ambitious thought; but I think it not only impractical and ungrateful, but even irreligious, to try to wish away all the aspects of the future that we can't control (which include love fading, people growing apart, and so on). This is why Will Meyerhofer sensibly recommends re-writing wedding vows to concentrate on what can be meaningfully and truthfully be said in the present.

Although I wrote a "Goodbye to Sports" two years in this blog, I've backpedaled a bit on that, allowing myself to renew my spectator interest in golf and baseball. I never really gave up baseball altogether, as I attended plenty of Wisconsin Timber Rattlers minor league games while I was in Appleton. I wrote about my ups and downs with that; I enjoyed the atmosphere in the stadium and knowing all the front office staff, but I became antsy watching the games. Partly that was a matter of the quality of the product -- A-level ball is nothing much compared to the bigs -- and partly, too, it was because I've always enjoyed watching baseball on television more than in person; it is the ideal television sport.

Last night I happened to be watching the Giants-Diamondbacks game, and was privileged to witness one of the best-pitched games I've ever seen, a one-hit, no-walk, nine-strikeout shutout masterpiece by the Giants' Matt Cain. I enjoyed what Bruce Jenkins wrote about it afterwards:

I was in the stands last night, as a fan, enjoying what might go down as one of the Giants' most significant games of the season. Afterward, I ran into Duane Kuiper, who smiled and offered a single word: "Seaver." Couldn't have said it better. Matt Cain was Tom Seaver last night, a thick-legged bull of a right-handed pitcher with a nasty fastball and the kind of command that says "nine innings: forget the bullpen."

As someone who grew up watching Tom Seaver in the New York area, I concur. It's about the highest compliment you can pay.

David Cairns at Shadowplay has a nice touch with half-forgotten French directors such as Julien Duvivier (1896-1967):

And Rene Clement (1913-1996):

I've already read a number of mixed-to-negative reviews of George Romero's latest zombie opus, Survival of the Dead, but Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi (Mubi?) demurs from the general dismissal:

...if it's a minor film, it's one full of major ideas—and if it lacks overt ambitions, it more than makes up for it with unforced intelligence.

The Japanese playwright and theater director Shu Matsui, starting to come in for international attention, has this in common with Romero:

I prefer the image of a zombie. Why? Because zombies represent the future of mankind: they have no soul, no interior, no emotions. They wander about with no purpose, they respond to stimuli — for example if there is an escalator at a shopping center they’ll go up and down — but that’s all they do. Their form to me somehow represents what humans are heading toward.

The image of the shopping center in that quotation suggests a direct influence from Dawn of the Dead, of course. Matsui would also seem to be in the line of playwrights such as Fernando Arrabal, Edward Bond, and Sarah Kane, who add an overt Grand Guignol element to Artaud's conception of "the theater of cruelty" (which might be better expressed as "the theater of uncomfortable truths," a phrase I think Matsui might endorse).

Among notables born on this date are President John F. Kennedy, Founding Father Patrick Henry, philosopher Oswald Spengler, novelists G.K. Chesteron and T.H. White, poet Alfonsina Storni (Argentina), film director Josef von Sternberg, composers Isaac Albeniz, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Iannis Xenakis, film composer Danny Elfman, conductor Helmuth Rilling, rock singer Melissa Etheridge, and actors Bob Hope, Beatrice Lillie, Annette Bening, Anthony Geary, and Rupert Everett. The only daytime soap opera I have ever followed, because it is like a religion in my family, is General Hospital, which during the years I watched in the Eighties and Nineties featured good, sometimes very funny writing, and a host of excellent actors, such as the gifted comedienne Lynn Herring, and today's birthday boy Anthony Geary, Luke of "Luke and Laura" fame. Geary has deservedly won six Daytime Emmy Awards; he is a terrific actor who has simply chosen soaps as his canvas (or been chosen by them, it comes to the same thing). He is hardly the only one; for every Julianne Moore who graduates from soaps to movie acclaim (and who recently paid a warmly appreciated return visit to As the World Turns), there is a Geary who stays in soaps and shines.


I'm traveling to Korea for my new job tomorrow, but the impact here at PMD should be minimal as far as posting goes. There will be at least one dated post for each day, as there has been since December, but there might be slight delays (or even early postings; I might get tomorrow's post done today, for example).

The discipline of doing the blog is very good for me personally -- even therapeutic, you might say. Especially during periods of unemployment, you need a focus for your positive energies, a place to channel your excellence. Whether it's a personal project like this, or volunteering in the community, or some other focus, it's terribly important to have something; without it, the nasty corollary of unemployment, that feeling of not being needed, will suck out all your life energy. You are needed. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28

Bartenders are far more powerful than waiters, which is one reason why I liked bartending. Waiters have to go to customers to receive instructions, which defines them as subservient and makes them prone to abuse. But bartenders command the room from their fortress, the bar; customers have to come to them to get something they (often badly) want, and the bartender has the right to not serve them or to cut them off if they are unworthy. No wonder bartenders have a mystique (and consequently get laid a lot); they have real power in their domain. In the New York Times, Frank Bruni profiles master bartender Doug Quinn of P.J. Clarke's. Love the bow tie look!

Mr. Quinn wears pastels, sometimes with French cuffs and cufflinks, and always, always with a vividly colored bow tie — it’s his thing, plus a bow tie never flies up, flaps around or otherwise slows him down. A forelock of his hair, glistening with product, usually dangles low across his brow. He should be in a carrel at Oxford.

Until the recent downturn in commercial real estate (which, as a former broker, I can tell you is going to last a while in most places), the term "mixed-use development" was a hot catch-phrase. Two such projects caught my eye at ArchDaily, the first, the Akerselva Atrium, in Oslo:

The unsettling tilts of the Atrium are of a piece with recent in-your-face expressionist architecture, but I like this better than many such buildings; its humor and style move it out of the pure stunt category. The interior shots at the link are cool, too:

The other development is the Broadcasting Place in Leeds, Yorkshire, also a building with genuine panache:

When Alain Resnais was filming the bewitching landmark Last Year at Marienbad, actress Francoise Spira (who sadly committed suicide a few years later), documented the production on 8mm. That film has re-surfaced and been assembled into a documentary by the German director Volker Schlondorff:

The blog Wuthering Expectations, new to my RSS feed, considers Mad Toy by the Argentine novelist Roberto Arlt (1900-1942), whom Martin Seymour-Smith called "a landmark in the history of Latin American literature -- a great writer":

Arlt's only other novel to be translated into English so far is The Seven Madmen; hopefully more will follow.

Among notables born on this date are novelists Walker Percy, Fred Chappell, and Patrick White (Australia), spy novelist Ian Fleming, poets Thomas Moore and May Swenson, playwright Fritz Hochwalder (Austria), zoologist Louis Agassiz, politician Rudy Giuliani, civil rights activist Betty Shabazz, etiquette expert John Morgan, architect Clough Williams-Ellis (Wales), painter Carl Larsson (Sweden), composer Gyorgy Ligeti, pianist Youri Egorov, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, bluesman T-Bone Walker, ska musician Prince Buster, singer/songwriter John Fogerty, pop singer Gladys Knight, punk singer Wendy O. Williams, cinematographer Gordon Willis, and actors John Payne, Sondra Locke, Zelda Rubinstein, Carroll Baker, Thora Hird, and Rachel Kempson. It was nervy of Alan Gilbert to cap his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic with a semi-staged version of Gyorgy Ligeti's great and difficult opera Le Grand Macabre; but all three performances have sold out, and Anthony Tommasini is enraptured by the production:

Here, courtesy of the Philharmonic, was the New York premiere of a piece that by rights the Metropolitan Opera should have produced long ago...Thursday night’s presentation was an exhilarating success, offering an eager and excellent cast, a brilliant and assured performance of Ligeti’s daunting score and a disarming production....The hero of this production, of the whole endeavor, is Mr. Gilbert, who conducted the score with insight, character and command. The Philharmonic players seemed inspired as they executed this complex music with skill and conviction. Mr. Gilbert brought out Ligeti’s wildness. Yet moment after moment was ravishing.... This was an instant Philharmonic milestone.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27

One of my favorite library books as a kid was Robert M. McClung's melancholy Lost Wild America, about our extinct and endangered animals. One species that specially interested me was the Sea Mink (more of a seaside mink really, not a truly aquatic mammal like the Sea Otter):

Joel Sartore's Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species is a modern equivalent of McClung's 1969 volume, with excellent color photographs by the author. Here is one of the last two individuals of the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit subspecies (both have since died):

In an off-exhibit room at the Oregon Zoo, the staff was quiet, even reverent, as they brought in Bryn. She was one of two Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits left, and since both were old females, this was a solemn occasion. A keeper placed her gently on my black velvet background, and i began to take photos. I stopped to watch her from time to time, but she didn't move much. She wasn't even scared. Nearly blind, missing half an ear, and with fur falling out onto the cloth, she seemed to have already given up. The whole experience left me morose and extremely disappointed.

Illustrations such as Peter Parnall's helped teach me to care about animals when I was young:

Research on this blog has put me in touch with a world of artistic prizes that I had known nothing about -- for example, the Polar Music Prizes (!) given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, going this year to two extremely worthy recipients, Bjork and Ennio Morricone:

Although a building's "star quality," its ability to be photographed handsomely, is certainly not a bad thing, what it's like to live in and with it spatially is as or more important, but sometimes little discussed. Daniel Burnham's Flatiron in New York is undoubtedly one of the world's most memorable structures visually, and so it is very interesting to read people's thoughts about working there:

“I never, never wanted to leave,” said Matthew Shear, executive vice president and publisher at St. Martin’s, whose curved windows on the 16th floor at the prow give him a stunning panoramic view of the city and beyond. “I think [the new owners] were surprised by the response of people wanting to stay in this building, even with its foibles...You see these strange little offices. There’s nothing cookie-cutter here. I mean, did you see the 21st floor?” he asked, laughing. “It’s like a place you’d put your mad aunt. It’s a little quirky sometimes, and I think that’s a good thing...I think when authors or agents come in here, they feel that kind of quirky energy.”

"Quirky energy" is just the phrase to describe the British man of letters Julian Maclaren-Ross (1912-1964):

Debt, alcoholism and a love of debauched living all featured heavily in his life.

Staying on quirky, who more so than the irrepressible John Malkovich? The new DVD The Infernal Comedy is a...

...pseudo-opera -- actually a drama for one actor, two opera singers and an orchestra -- [that] recounts the life of Jack Unterweger, the Austrian writer and serial killer who murdered a number of prostitutes in Europe and Los Angeles...."The Infernal Comedy" imagines the killer coming back from the dead as part of a book tour to promote his latest memoirs. For much of the production, Malkovich is seated at a table where he recites a comic monologue about his character's life, loves and dangerous liaisons.

Glenn Kenny enjoys the offbeat -- OK, quirky! -- release choices made by the British Film Institute's DVD branch: area where the home video arm really excels is in very specifically British stuff that isn't necessarily gonna find a home at an American label. The staggering Jack Bond/Jane Arden films Separation, The Other Side of Underneath, and Anti-Clock (films I was so both exhilarated and flummoxed by that I found myself completely unable to write about them in a way I felt satisfactory to me, for which I apologize), for instance. Bill Douglas' should-really-be-seen-by-everybody Comrades, to name another example. And then there's the side label, BFI Flipside, devoted to "rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions."

One recent such release is of the 1970 groupie drama Permissive and the 1971 pop-music-and-pornography opus Bread.

Among notables born on this date are novelists Arnold Bennett, Dashiell Hammett, John Barth, John Cheever, Max Brod, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Herman Wouk, Tony Hillerman, and Harlan Ellison, historian Ibn Khaldun, scientist Rachel Carson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, statesman Henry Kissinger, golfer Sam Snead, baseball players Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas, painters Georges Roualt and Wols, dancer Isadora Duncan, composer Louis Durey, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, cinematographer Lee Garmes, and actors Christopher Lee, Lee Meriwether, Vincent Price, Louis Gossett Jr., Joseph Fiennes, and Paul Bettany. The great cinematographer Lee Garmes did beautiful work on the film noir Nightmare Alley -- the look of the movie seems like an extension of Tyrone Power's dark Irish cast:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26

Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post eviscerates Rand Paul. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy:

...the general idea....that it's wrong to hold private firms strictly accountable for disasters such as the gulf spill....appears to be something that Paul really believes, since he also dismisses the recent West Virginia mine explosion in which 29 miners were killed. ....Maybe accidents are less likely to happen when appropriate safety standards are established and enforced. This kind of cause-and-effect reasoning is meaningful only to those who live in the real world, however. From all evidence, Paul lives in Libertarian La-La Land, where a purist philosophy leads people to believe in the purest nonsense.

(Love the subtle effect of "purist" / "purest" in that last sentence -- the sort of fine prose you can expect from a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary.)

When writers and artists go into manifesto mode, even writers and artists whose work I otherwise like, they tend to lose me (although such positions can become historically amusing after enough time passes). I'm not at all tempted to read David Shields's "livre du jour" Reality Hunger, because I just don't care whether Shields thinks the novel is dead; he wouldn't be the first, yet people go on writing the things anyway. I am much more interested to look at John D'Agata's anthology The Lost Origins of the Essay, in which the also "hot" D'Agata pushes his concept of the lyrical essay not particularly beholden to facts, and gathers some offbeat texts in service of his thesis. Yet after reading Alexander Provan's careful but unadmiring critique at n+1, I am far less tempted:

The Lost Origins of the rife with made-up quotations, false attributions, and elisions that alter the meaning of the texts in the anthology.... Fabrications abound as D’Agata quotes anonymous critic after unnamed historian, and their cumulative effect is to undermine his credibility—as a writer of nonfiction or fiction or whatever lies between. This is not a matter of flouting convention, or even of disingenuousness, but, I think, of mistaking artfulness for art.
It is often difficult to shake the feeling that D’Agata is addressing those who have paid a large sum of money to have their creative personas validated. He is both a product of the MFA system and one of its current darlings: he teaches at his alma mater, Iowa, and his essays—and now anthologies—are read widely and praised loudly by students and instructors across the country. In this context, D’Agata’s curiously anachronistic emphasis on the artist-genius and the struggle of literary invention makes sense. If you’re going to shell out $80,000 for a degree that is unlikely to have any lasting impact on your success as a writer, you’ll be pleased to at least have the sanctity of your endeavor to express yourself confirmed, however incoherently.

The blog Eve's Alexandria arouses my interest in the French feminist science fiction novelist Elisabeth Vonarburg and her 1981 novel The Silent City:

While David Auerbach at Waggish informs me about the eccentric mathematician Charles Hinton (1863-1907), also a science fiction writer, with a serious investigative interest in the fourth dimension, and a bizarre biography besides:

[Hinton] invented a gun used in baseball batting practice....He married a daughter of logican George Boole, but was forced to leave England after a bigamy conviction. An instructor of mathematics at Princeton (fired) and assistant professor at Minnesota, he served at the Naval Observatory and as patent examiner in Washington. There he died suddenly when asked to give a toast to "female philosophers" at the Society of Philanthropic Inquiry meeting.
Hinton later introduced a system of coloured cubes by the study of which, he claimed, it was possible to learn to visualise four-dimensional space....Rumours subsequently arose that these cubes had driven more than one hopeful person insane.

Rick Moody at The Rumpus makes a strong case for tracking down the music of "an Italian exponent of extended vocal technique named Romina Daniele." His long interview with her goes deep into philosophical territory in a way that I can take more seriously than the art exhibition press releases full of Heidegger and hegemony that I complained of the other day (although Daniele mentions Heidegger too!). "Supremely dense and continental," Moody calls her, as one might expect of someone who titled her second CD The Tragedy of Consciousness. There are a number of moody clips of Daniele which suggest that she could collaborate very fruitfully with a film-maker on a similar wavelength (which she would perhaps be open to; she cites Pasolini as an influence, and wrote her master's thesis on Miles Davis's score for Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows).

Among notables born on this date are novelists Maxwell Bodenheim and Alan Hollinghurst, fantasy writer Robert W. Chambers, diarist Edmond de Goncourt, letter writer Mary Wortley Montagu, photographer Dorothea Lange, composers Moondog and William Bolcom, soprano Teresa Stratas, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, jazz singer Peggy Lee, singer/songwriters Stevie Nicks, Hank Williams Jr., Levon Helm, and Lenny Kravitz, comedian/film director Bobcat Goldthwait, film directors Tarsem Singh and Ole Bornedal (Denmark), cinematographer Burnett Guffey, animator Matt Stone, and actors John Wayne, Norma Talmadge, John Dall, James Arness, Roy Dotrice, Alec McCowen, Genie Francis, Al Jolson, Robert Morley, Jay Silverheels, Paul Lukas, Pam Grier, Peter Cushing, and Helena Bonham Carter. Say what you will about Al Jolson, he was one of the most whole-hearted entertainers ever, and it is that aspect of him which Mandy Patinkin astonishingly channels in this legendary clip from The David Letterman Show. Apologies for the video snow, but who cares; this is great.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25

Besides being a unique film director, John Waters is a wickedly funny writer and lecturer. His yearly "Ten Best Films" list for Artforum is one of the very best such lists every year, because it is never like anyone else's. I broke up at his one line description of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist:

If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, this is the movie he would have made.

Now Waters has contributed a list of favorite books (I believe he's done several of these over the years) to The Week:

Swimming Underground by Mary Woronov (out of print). Still the best book written by a Warhol superstar. If a speed freak’s memoir makes you feel nostalgic, like this one did for me, is there something the matter with you? Unfortunately, yes, there is. 

The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq (Vintage, $15). My favorite politically incorrect novelist can write like nobody’s business, including yours. Incredibly cruel, sexist, and outside any moral standards, this insanely brilliant science-fiction novel is as good a place as any to start reading this author … or stop.

A fellow film-maker whom Waters might appreciate is Hammer horror writer/director Jimmy Sangster, whose memoir is brilliantly titled Do You Want It Good or Tuesday?

Good to hear that Jafar Panahi has been released on bail; I have to think that the pressure emanating from Cannes, as well as the director's hunger strike, had something to do with this. But he is still charged; the story is not over.

Juliette Binoche, who has been so eloquent on Panahi's behalf, is perhaps the pre-eminent art film actress of her generation; surely none other has acted for so many great directors. Next up: Jia Zhangke. I think everyone wants to work with her.

Amelia Atlas at n+1 takes an interesting look at three recent Berlin novels:

Going back in German time, Jaime J. Weinman at Something Old, Something New offers clips from a 1961 West German musical, So liebt und küsst man in Tirol, which he doesn't seem to think much of but which strikes me as insanely charming:

Marc Myers at JazzWax considers the Fifties/Sixties phenomenon of the jazz album with strings:

Sally Gabori is an Australian aboriginal painter who works in bold abstractions -- is there a touch of Robert Motherwell influence here?

Among notables born on this date are essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, short story writer Raymond Carver, novelists W.P. Kinsella, Jamaica Kincaid, and Rosario Castellanos (Mexico), poets Theodore Roethke and Naim Frasheri (Albania), playwright Eve Ensler, lyricist Hal David, historian Jacon Burkhardt, journalist John Gregory Dunne, dancer Bill Bojangles Robinson, singer/songwriters Tom T. Hall and Lauryn Hill, soprano Beverly Sills, film directors Frank Oz and George Hickenlooper, and actors Steve Cochran, Jeanne Crain, Ian McKellen, and Dixie Carter. It would be hard for me to let Theodore Roethke's birthday pass without including a poem of his. I taught "The Waking" to high school seniors this past fall, concentrating on its unusual form (a villanelle). I found in teaching this and many other poems and lyrics that my students easily became quite interested in formal and metrical analysis once they were exposed to the basics; they hadn't realize that poetry is not just words you slop down on a page. They knew nothing of technique beyond a crude understanding of rhyme, but we made a lot of progress, to the point where they could scan pop song lyrics with ease. 

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24

Cannes 2011: Hey, it's not too early to start thinking about next year, is it?

So I can add 20 titles to my "Cannes 2011 Speculation" list already. And you all thought we'd get a day off! Ha!

If films that play at Cannes are matter, then films like Zaat (1975), about a man-catfish terrorizing a Florida town, are anti-matter. May they never make contact and destroy the universe!

On an altogether more serious note, Robert Gottlieb at The New York Review of Books assesses the history of Charles Dickens biographies:

There are a few writers whose lives and personalities are so large, so fascinating, that there’s no such thing as a boring biography of them—you can read every new one that comes along, good or bad, and be caught up in the story all over again. I’ve never encountered a life of the Brontës, of Dr. Johnson, of Byron that didn’t grip me. Another such character is Charles Dickens.

A novelist who can claim to be the Dickens or Balzac of Estonia is A. H. Tammsaare (1878-1940). His mammoth five-novel series Truth and Justice is not yet available in English (though the art of translation tends to catch up to such books). But The Misadventures of the New Satan, his last novel, was published in an English translation in Moscow in 1978, and that edition has been revised and put back into print:

"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of literature," we move next to Bhutan, which just hosted the first Mountain Echoes Literary Festival:

Teddy Jamieson at The Herald (Scotland) surveys several graphic novels, including Justin Green's somewhat legendary and now reprinted Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary:

Look, there’s no delicate way to put this. When he was a teenager back in 1950s America, struggling to reconcile a Catholic upbringing with his hormonal urges, Justin Green came to believe that every time he felt even the slightest stirring of sexual excitement, Satanic rays of light would shoot out of his penis.

If you had shown me John Buckland Wright's 1932 woodcut illustrations for Poe short stories without a name attached, I would have thought immediately, "Lynd Ward." Wright, however, was a New Zealander who worked in various styles, and this just happens to be one of his most Ward-ian projects.

Among notables born on this date are Queen Victoria, novelists William Trevor and Michael Chabon, poet Joseph Brodsky (Russia) and Henri Michaux (France), dramatists Arthur Wing Pinero, Arnold Wesker, and Eduardo De Filippo (Italy), literary critic Declan Kiberd, jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, pop singer Patti LaBelle, conductor Paul Paray, painter Emanuel Leutze, jurist Benjamin Cardozo, and actors Siobhan McKenna, Stanley Baxter, Jim Broadbent, Alfred Molina, Mai Zetterling, John C. Reilly, Michael Lonsdale, and Kristin Scott Thomas. I do wish sometimes that those who post archival footage of musicians to YouTube would include just a little information on the provenance of the footage. This marvelous film of Archie Shepp and his musicians recording his blistering composition "U-Jaama" is, I figured out, from Ron Mann's 1981 documentary Imagine the Sound, available as a Canadian DVD:

The (Numeric) Decline of Popular Culture

Numbers of viewers and percentages of households tuned in to last episodes of popular television series, in chronological order:

The Fugitive (1967) -- 30 M / 45.9%
M*A*S*H (1983) -- 106 M / 60.2%
Cheers (1993) -- 80 M / 45.5%
Seinfeld (1998) -- 76 M / 41.3%
Friends (2004) -- 53 M / 29.8%
Everybody Loves Raymond (2005) -- 33 M / 20.2%
ER (2009) -- 16 M / 10.4%
Lost (2010) -- 14 M / 8.6%

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Political Comments by Cannes Winners

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: "Thailand is a violent country. It’s controlled by a group of mafia.”

Elio Germano (Co-Best Actor, Our Life): "I dedicate this prize to Italians, who are better than their ruling class."

And the awards ceremony kept the plight of Jafar Panahi front and center; there was a placard inscribed "Jafar Panahi" on the podium, which several announcers and winners held up. Juliette Binoche: "There is a man who is in Iran today. His fault is to be an artist, to be independent and I'm thinking of him specially this evening."

Cannes Awards

Congratulations to all the winners at Cannes:

In my web discussion group, I flagged the top three films! What do I win?

I would be surprised, very surprised, if Uncle Boonmee came away with nothing.

I would not be surprised if A Screaming Man and Of Gods and Men were recognized in some way.

Beautiful Women Alert: Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Penelope Cruz, and Salma Hayek all looked stunning tonight.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun was eloquent in his post-ceremony interview about what A Screaming Man's award will hopefully mean in terms of greater exposure for African cinema. He had the most delighted look!

My read on the awards is that they went a long way toward remedying the malaise engendered by this year's relatively weak line-up. There was a palpable feeling in the French television interviews that the winners were a very strong group, and that will probably be what people remember.

May 23

After Rand Paul stated the other day that he would support repeal of the key public accommodations provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, conservative commentator John Stossel on Fox News called for that repeal as well. I know that it's not going to happen, but still, how is this even considered a legitimate part of the public discourse? (Libertarians sometimes make nice pets, but not when they pee on the carpet.) I've often been afraid for my country, but I think this is the first time I've ever been afraid of my country. Media coverage of the "Tea Party" is legitimating crazy talk. And some people are starting to act. It could get a lot uglier before it gets prettier.

On another worrisome front, the Daily Kos ran a good piece on continuing unemployment and economic concerns:
Why is it that I feel my departure from the country is well-timed? I shouldn't have to feel that.

I learn from Arabic Literature (in English) and the New York Times that last month, a car bomb in Baghdad destroyed the home of the late Palestinian writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, killing his wife and son and obliterating a lifetime's collection of culture, including books, paintings, and irreplaceable documents. There are no words. Well, perhaps these words:

There is a line of ancient poetry that every educated Arab can recite. “Stop and let us weep,” it famously begins, “for the beloved and the home.”....Friends say Mr. Jabra incarnated the ideal of his house — a dissident who drew determination from the dispossession of his people, a Christian who celebrated his identity as an Arab, a secular artist who was inspired to link the societies of his birth and his education, and a thinker who found strength to be open to the world through faith in his own culture. 

Kevin from Canada writes what I think is the third rave review I have read of Tom Rachman's new novel The Imperfectionists -- clearly a book to put atop the TBR pile:

Jason Crane at The Jazz Session interviews soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, who has concentrated exclusively on that challenging instrument for the past 15 years, and whose new album Blue Soliloquy sounds most impressive in the excerpts that Crane plays:

The prose copy of art exhibition press releases often verges on the pretentious and academic in a way that does injustice to the actual visual qualities of the artworks. Case in point, the release for French painter Romain Bernini's first U.S. exhibit, at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art in New york:

Philosophically, Bernini questions the idealized l’idée de l’ état (the idea of the state) creating a bow from Plato to Hegel and Heidegger, the absurdity of a constructed reality with demarcations, unnatural to the human existence. By nature originally nomadic, civilizations have struggled to keep their populations within a certain territory, preventing them from a physical or cultural exodus or averting other populations from penetrating their cultural or economical domain.   

Well, OK, I get this and it's not terribly difficult conceptually (some of this sort of prose is far worse, trust me), buy what does dangling Heidegger have to do with engaging me visually? Since Bernini's paintings are plenty good, let's talk about that:

RIP: Martin Gardner. Gardner (1914-2010) was an incredible writer and polymath. His annotated versions of the Lewis Carroll classics, which he continued to work on for decades, are absolute models for that sort of effort. His mathematical games books are endlessly stimulating. I devoured everything I could find by Gardner from childhood on; his name on the spine was a guarantee of quality. (Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

Among notables born on this date are novelist Per Lagerkvist (Sweden), children's novelist Scott O'Dell, science fiction novelist James Blish, poet Thomas Hood, journalist Margaret Fuller, composer Jean Francaix, pianist Alicia de Larrocha, jazz clarinetist/bandleader Artie Shaw, pop singer Rosemary Clooney, aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal, scientist Carolus Linnaeus, physician Franz Anton Mesmer, Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, racehorse Seabiscuit, film directors Reinhard Hauff and Tom Tykwer, and actors Herbert Marshall, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Joan Collins, and Drew Carey. One of my favorite episodes in the original Star Trek series is "City on the Edge of Forever," in which Joan Collins must be sacrificed so that future civilizations might live. When this played in reruns during my high school years, Spock's phrase "Edith Keeler must die" became a password among my group of friends!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22: Special Follow-Ups Edition

The New York Times ran a piece on the upcoming Monte Hellman film (PMD, May 5), which is a decent level of attention:

Levi Stahl at The Constant Conversation is as skeptical as I am that Philip K. Dick's Exegesis (PMD, May 2) will be readable:

Stefanie Peters at The Millions takes on the Shakespeare Cardenio / Double Falsehood  controversy (PMD, March 16, April 2 Follow-Ups):

The New York Times is as impressed by Rajiv Joseph's play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo as the Los Angeles Times was (PMD, April 29):

Another voice in support of Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers (PMD, May 7, May 12 Follow-Ups):

David Cairns does more investigative work on director Roy William Neill (PMD, May 19):

For fans of modernist footbridges (PMD, April 4), here is another snazzy (and another Slovenian!) example:

May 22

One of the best book covers ever:

Niona Bisyarina's A Trip to the Seaside is a very accomplished and charming piece of animation:

J.P. Smith at The Millions relates Nicolas Roeg's wonderful film Don't Look Now (and the Daphne Du Maurier story on which it is based) to a larger tradition of stories set in Venice:

Rosemary Hill at the Times Literary Supplement describes the history and aesthetic of Horace Walpole's 18th century villa Stawberry Hill:

Patrick Lennon at The Rap Sheet discovers a 1936 Swiss crime novel, Friedrich Glauser's Thumbprint:

Glauser was not your typical shy, quiet Swiss guy. A schizophrenic with a lifelong addiction to opiates, he progressed from reform school to prison--he escaped and was recaptured--and then to a series of mental hospitals and detention centers where he spent the bulk of his life in the 1920s and ’30s. Along the way, he worked as a waiter, forester, and coal miner; he also found time to join the French Foreign Legion for two years in North Africa. Thumbprint was originally published in 1936, and Glauser died two years later at age 42. With that kind of background, you might expect Glauser’s work to be highly distinctive, with dark undertones--and you would not be wrong.

The Chinese artist Zhang Huan works in unusual media:

[The exhibition includes] ash paintings and cowhide sculptures. This new series of ash paintings are different from his previous paintings. Whereas in the past they were based on existing photographs, the new works are imagined wildlife scenes. The brushwork has a more expressionist and looser feel than before.

Among notables born on this date are novelists Arthur Conan Doyle and Peter Matthiessen, poets Gerard de Nerval and Catulle Mendes, graphic novelist Herge, journalist/historian Garry Wills, painters Mary Cassatt and Jean Tinguely, television producer Quinn Martin, rock lyricist Bernie Taupin, composer Richard Wagner, jazzman Sun Ra, conductor Georg Tintner, pop singer Charles Aznavour, politician Harvey Milk, and actors Alla Nazimova, Laurence Olivier, Susan Strasberg, Richard Benjamin, and Paul Winfield. Sun Ra: Four words: Space is the Place.

The one time I saw Sun Ra live was in Berkeley in the late Eighties. This clip is from a 1988 San Francisco appearance, so the vibe is pretty similar to what I recall.


In contemporary America, teenagers (and many post-adolescents as well) are a purely parasitic class. They expect to have almost all the freedoms of adults; they expect to have as full a range of activities and amusements as adults (or even fuller). Yet because of the paucity of part-time jobs (taken by desperate adults these days), most of them can contribute absolutely nothing financially to the arrangement. All of teenagers' and college students' needs and wants, from clothing to cell phones to cars, from music to extreme sports, from junior proms to tuition, must be provided by parents who make enough money to subsidize all that. In the New American Economy we've created, I don't see how it can go on.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Future of Art

[As part of a discussion of the Cannes Film Festival at my web-group Confabulation, my friend Robert Kennedy mourned the death of filmmakers who work in 35mm as opposed to video -- a change largely dictated by economics, even if some directors pretend otherwise. This is my reply.]

Despite my cinephilia, I'm ultimately more of a literature guy, and part of the reason is, that although economics can dictate what films come into existence, it cannot dictate what books come into existence. A non-commercial book may have a harder time getting published (although nowadays, there are more options for that), but publication is only a final step; the text already exists. All it needed to be born was the author's time, energy, and imagination. With a pencil and scraps of paper, an inmate in a concentration camp can create literature. It is an incredibly open and egalitarian process.

In spite of the losses to film-making that you accurately describe, Robert, there are some potential benefits in DIY cinema, although I think that by and large we haven't begun to see those benefits yet. To the extent that making a film becomes more like writing a book ("le camero-stylo," the camera as pen), that could have liberating effects.

Since I have just enough economics to be dangerous, let me say what I think is happening. The malaise at Cannes is indeed related to the passing of an era. What is ending is the use of a highly expensive apparatus of film-making to create works that are essentially non-commercial. The financial returns are increasingly just not worth it to anyone. Soon, the notion of a major studio release that has any intent other than that of raking in the dollars will be laughable. Name actors will not make less on indie films; they'll make nothing.

You describe a cheapening of the product, Robert, and in terms of production values (including, unfortunately, the quality of the visual image), you are right. Again, big difference from literature, where the "production values" of War and Peace or Les Miserables or Little Dorrit, which would be (and have been) astronomical to put on the screen, are entirely in Tolstoy's and Hugo's and Dickens's words. It is nice that, for a few decades, considerable money could be spent on cinematic visions of greater artistic than commercial appeal; but that was for a moment only, in the larger scheme of things, and it is over.

One of the mythologies of Cannes is that it is where art and commerce meet, but as the years roll forward, art and commerce will barely be on speaking terms, and that myth will fade. It's not just affecting film: symphony orchestras and opera companies, which I dearly belove, will go out of business for exactly the same reason -- a huge expensive apparatus requirement for a style of discourse that truly appeals to less than one-tenth of one percent of the general population.

On a more optimistic note, I do believe that true art will go on. It always has. But it will re-jigger in surprising ways. The future lies almost entirely with Manny Farber's "termite art," of great imagination and modest means.

May 21

My resistance to an enterprise entitled Diary of a Wombat is going to be non-existent:

The poet Dante Gabriel; Rossetti had a couple of pet wombats, as well as other exotics; after the second one died, he had it stuffed and placed in his entrance hall.

Television Obscurities uncovers I Love Lucy comic books from the Fifties:


The Classic TV History Blog has an excellent two-part interview with character actor Jason Wingreen:

I had the reputation of being able to play different characters with different accents, different situations.  I’m not blowing my own horn, but I was a talented actor.  And easygoing.  Very easy to work with.  I gave nobody any trouble at all.  I did what I was told, or asked to do, with a smile and a shoeshine.  To quote Willy Loman.

I jumped when I saw the photograph at the top of Part One, recognizing it immediately as a shot from "A Stop at Willoughby" on The Twilight Zone:

Richard Beck at n+1 discusses how quality series television became a favored form of the Americxan intellectual class, citing a Joyce Carol Oates article about Hill Street Blues in TV Guide that I well remember:

I disagree with Beck about Mad Men, which he dislikes but which I think is every bit the equal of the other shows he discusses. Otherwise, interesting essay.

Stephe Harrop at the London Theatre Blog is glad to finally have the chance to see Shakespeare's Henry VIII on stage:

In a literary list that is truly off the beaten track, Rachel Trezise enumerates her top ten Welsh underground novels. I want to buy and read all of these:

Michael Orthofer and Steve Donoghue, two of the most dependable critics in the literary blogosphere, are both taken with the English translation of Alexandros Papadiamantis's grim 1903 Greek novel The Murderess:

The Basque artist Javier Riano has a way with interior architecture -- I can't think of too many artists who can spook me out with a stairwell:

Among notables born on this date are novelist Suzanne Lilar (French Belgium), science fiction novelist Manly Wade Wellman, poets Alexander Pope, Robert Creeley, and Tudor Arghezi (Romania), painters Albrecht Durer and Henri Rousseau, scientist Andrei Sakharov, comedian and U.S. Senator Al Franken, trumpeter Maurice Andre, oboist Heinz Holliger, jazz pianist Fats Waller, and actors Robert Montgomery and Raymond Burr. No less than wombats, I am exceedingly fond of Albrecht Durer's famous hare:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20

On Point addresses the startling and upsetting series of attacks on schoolchildren in China over the past two months:

Here is a timeline of the six attacks (March 23, April 28, 29, and 30, May 12 and 16):

Marc Bousquet and Megan McArdle take on the unbelievable blindness of the American professoriat with respect to the heinous labor practices in their own institutions:

American faculty aren't leftists; they're liberals, deeply influenced by market ideology and fantasies about meritocratic education outcomes (wonderfully unencumbered by data). They work in institutions that manufacture and legitimate steep economic inequalities that hamper the progress of other egalitarian commitments....[Their] commitments to equality are relatively clear in matters of ethnicity and gender, but hopelessly confused when it comes to class and workplace issues generally.

The other day, I mentioned Josh Brolin's serious approach to choosing the films he appears in and the directors he works with. Another of like mind is the star of the Star Trek reboot, Chris Pine, who is taking on serious roles on stage, including an upcoming part in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore:

“I’m going to struggle and try my best to search out the roles that are a little more interesting and not based on how good your tan looks and how coiffed your hair is,” Pine said....So [he] has been studying the log of such...captains of his industry as Paul Newman. Pine’s other American idols? “George Clooney, for the conversation about commerce and art. Daniel Day-Lewis for his almost monkish pursuit of protecting artistic integrity, which I’m in sheer awe of. I would certainly love to be held in the kind of esteem he is. Sean Penn and Gary Oldman, I’ve had an acting crush on for years."

Let me say this in the most whole-hearted way: I applaud Chris Pine, I applaud Josh Brolin, for taking their craft seriously and for having a real sense of responsibility toward it. I believe that most gifted actors share their passion, and I think it is incumbent on us as audience members to support their efforts to work on challenging and interesting projects. Bravo, gentlemen.

If you were waiting patiently for a sense of occasion to manifest itself at Cannes 2010, Olivier Assayas is here to oblige you with his 5 1/2 hour biopic of Carlos the Jackal:

I learned long ago not to underestimate Assayas; I didn't much like Late August, Early September the first time I saw it -- but talk about films that bloom in the mind!

RIP: Hank Jones. In honor of the great jazz pianist's death, Leonard Lopate has re-posted a December 2005 interview from his New York radio show. I love to hear Jones at age 85 affirming the importance of daily practice. It reminds me of the story of the young Curt Flood observing his fellow St. Louis Cardinal and baseball elder statesman Stan Musial in the late Fifties. Flood realized that if this immortal still took extra batting practice every day, how could he hope to prosper on less effort?

Painter Ron Ehrlich is in the main line of color-inspired modernists:

Among notables born on this date are novelists Honore de Balzac, Hector Malot, and Sigrid Undset, playwright Wolfgang Borchert, philosopher John Stuart Mill, architect William Thornton, baseball player Sadaharu Oh, rock singer Joe Cocker, pop singers Cher and Iz, and actors James Stewart, Dave Thomas, Anthony Zerbe, and Timothy Olyphant. I had no idea who Iz (Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) is until a friend came back from Hawaii with a stack of Iz CDs. I was glad to be educated: Iz, who died way too young in 1997 at age 38, is hugely important to Hawaiians. He had a delicate, poetic gift as both a singer and a ukulele player, and it is a terrible shame that he was afflicted by the morbid obesity that eventually killed him.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19

Never pass up an opportunity to come into contact with as distinguished and humane a thinker as economist Amartya Sen:

I very much enjoyed listening to Sen's thoughts about how Indians have been both historically receptive to outside influences and open to going abroad. He echoes Rabindranath Tagore: Anything we admire becomes ours. That is a beautiful guiding principle.

John Self at Asylum posts a compelling account of the experience of reading Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard, whose books may not be as fearsome as they look:

I approached Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters with trepidation.  His reputation precedes him: long sentences; long paragraphs (no paragraphs!); a relentless assault of misery on the reader....[the book] floods, in one unbroken block of text for 250 pages (albeit of large print in this new edition). Fears of this format are unfounded: rather than acting as a block to the reader, the unbroken text dragged me on, resistant to stopping, and I emerged from it like a man resurfacing, gasping and disoriented but invigorated.

Bette Burgoyne's white-on-black drawings made quite an impact on me:

Gregory Krum adapts some of the conventions of the painted still life to photography with intriguing results:

RIP: Yvonne Loriod. Olivier Messaien's pianist wife was also one of his greatest interpreters:

British film director Roy William Neill, best known for helming 11 of the14 Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies, had an eye for images. Look at this, from Dr. Syn (1937) -- is it not positively Bergman -esque? (It's also a little reminiscent of Lev Kuleshov's 1926 silent By the Law; Neill himself began in silents in 1916.)

Here, for comparison, is a still from the Kuleshov film, looking even more like The Seventh Seal than I had remembered.

This next, I suppose, was an inevitable development; the excellent French film site has a post on "Le Porno 3D au Festival de Cannes":

Among notables born on this date are philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, British politician Nancy Astor, activist Malcolm X, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, broadcaster Jim Lehrer, rocker/composer Pete Townshend, and actors James Fox, Nancy Kwan, and Bruce Bennett. As a hard-core classical music guy, I want to pay tribute across the aisle: Pete Townshend is a very seriously under-rated composer. Take Tommy as an example: what is striking now is how of a piece with operatic history it seems, using vivid music to tell and heighten a theatrical story. Granting the work's brilliance and originality, there is nothing all that terribly radical in the approach. Townshend makes his points musically and wins his arguments musically, like Mozart, like Bizet, like Wagner, like Gilbert & Sullivan, like Schoenberg, like Gershwin, like Sondheim. In the number "Go to the Mirror!", the passage beginning "Listening to you..." strikes me as easily the equivalent of any of the other great climaxes in opera:   

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18

There was a story in the New York Times this weekend about how there's a new residential building boom in Las Vegas, a city with an extremely depressed economy, 9,517 currently unoccupied new homes, and 5,600 recent foreclosures: "Yet builders here are putting up 1,100 homes, and they are frantically buying lots for even more." One promoter says the next housing boom is going to be bigger than the last one. Say what? From what alternate universe do these buyers come? Whatever the answer to that puzzling question, the developers insist that those buyers want NEW CONSTRUCTION, not some damn foreclosed 2005 mini-mansion. And forget about all that "small house" stuff: "With our buyers, they always want bigger."

Well, I know that the article is about Las Vegas, delusion's capital on earth. Still, pretty funny reading. You do get the sense that the Times reporter was shaking his head while he was writing the piece. I like it when he says, "...many Americans will always believe the latest model of something is their only option, an attitude builders are doing their utmost to reinforce." It is certainly true that Americans would rather repeat their mistakes than learn from them; I used to notice this in corporate life, too. A big mistake might be the elephant in the room, but it was not to be spoken of (unless it could be blamed on someone who was already gone) and definitely not to be analyzed. Only losers dwell on the past.

Those empty houses in Nevada are accusatory reminders of past errors which very few want to be reminded of. They're a downer. But new construction is always optimistic! It's the American spirit in action!

We're such babies in this country, honestly.

Julian Barnes welcomes the new French edition of Eugene Delacroix's Journal in two volumes and 2,520 pages -- another of those stupendous productions like Thoreau's Journal, “un document étonnamment complexe, hybride, chaotique, labyrinthique":

The coloration of artist Philip Taaffe's recent works suggest an explosion in a candy factory, but there is a lot else going on as well: 

In addition to being talented, handsome, and charming, actor Colin Firth is well-read and has excellent literary taste:

Michael Dirda, one of the finest contemporary book critics, still catches up with well-known titles as all of us do, and is mesmerized by his encounter with William Lindsay's Gresham's Nightmare Alley:

While I've known for a long time that William Lindsay Gresham's "Nightmare Alley" (1946) was an established classic of noir fiction, I was utterly unprepared for its raw, Dostoevskian power. Why isn't this book on reading lists with Nathanael West's "Miss Lonelyhearts" and Albert Camus' "The Stranger"? It's not often that a novel leaves a weathered and jaded reviewer like myself utterly flattened, but this one did.

Dirda has all the virtues of a great reviewer, and none of the flaws; if other writers in any branch of reviewing, not just books, want to know how it's done, they need to immerse themselves in his work. He is a descendant of and on par with Arnold Bennett, whose book reviews in The New Age and The Evening Standard early in the 20th century are the gold standard for engaged, whole-hearted, perceptive, and beautifully written reviews. (These are collected in Books and Persons and The Evening Standard Years.)

Vulpes Libris strongly recommends Claire Harman's biography of the British novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978), which gives a warm account of her relationship with the poet Valentine Ackland (1906-1969). Ackland, like the French provocateur Claude Cahun (1894-1954), was a woman who practised what we would now call "genderfuck":

...[she] set about challenging the female gender identifications expected of her. She took to wearing men’s clothing, cut her hair in a short style called the Eton crop, and was at times mistaken for a handsome young boy. She changed her name to the androgynous Valentine Ackland when she decided to become a serious poet in the late 1920s.

Here is a Cahun self-portrait for comparison -- s/he was a distinguished photographer:

Among notables born on this date are philosophers Bertrand Russell and Rudolf Carnap, novelist W.G. Sebald, Scottish journalist and belle-lettrist John Wilson, poet Omar Khayyam, theater composer Meredith Willson, bass Ezio Pinza, jazz trombonist Kai Winding, singer/songwriter Charles Trenet, country singer George Strait, pop singer Perry Como, rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman, architect Walter Gropius, film directors Frank Capra and Richard Brooks, baseball players Brooks Robinson and Reggie Jackson, dancer Margot Fonteyn, photographer Carl Mydans, and actors Massimo Girotti, Chow Yun-Fat, Tina Fey, Robert Morse, and Dwayne Hickman. Hickman's television sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which aired from 1959 to 1963 (and later in reruns on Nick at Nite, when Nick at Nite was good), is urgently overdue for a full DVD release. It was a sparkling, innovative show, and it holds up beautifully. Dwayne Hickman's effortless charm (akin to Colin Firth's!) carries the monologues in which he "breaks the fourth wall" and speaks directly to the audience:

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17

I hear that director Andrea Arnold is at work on a new film version of Wuthering Heights. I loved Red Road and have heard nothing but good things about Fish Tank, but Wuthering Heights -- that's a tricky beast. Many adaptations go astray by not including both generations of the story, which completely loses the point; and almost all of them err by substituting a Charlotte Bronte-like romantic tone for Emily Bronte's wildness. Jack Pendarvis at The Rumpus captures the real tone of the book:

...her people [are] coo coo bananas down to the very last one....It’s an amazingly cruel book....and a mad book, and nobody tells you it’s jeweled with poisonous humor....The overall tone is blasphemy and damnation.

Forget the whole love-on-the-windswept-moors cliche; Pendarvis is right. I do think that Andrea Arnold is fully capable of capturing the madness and cruelty, but covering both generations in one movie screenplay is challenging (television miniseries allow for that more easily), and every single character is difficult to cast....We shall see. Here is a run-down of some earlier versions:

This helpful web-page does not include the 1962 or 1967 BBC versions, or the looser foreign language transmutations -- Luis Bunuel's Abismos de Pasion (great title!), Jacques Rivette's Hurlevent, and Yoshishige Yoshida's Arashi-ga-Oka.

I like the lushness of Peter Bialobrzeski's tropical photographs:

Another artist who is working within an interesting palette is the Dominican Republic painter Julio Valdez:

Beth Carswell at Abebooks provides a droll rundown of villainous animals in fiction. (I love the entry for The Wind in the Willows: "The opportunistic chief weasel is a jerk who amasses a band of weasels and takes over Toad Hall.")

John Coulthart has great things to say about Steven Berkoff's 1992 production of Oscar Wilde's Salome, preserved on DVD:

Among notables born on this date are novelists Robert Smith Surtees, Dorothy Richardson, and Henri Barbusse (France), poet Jacint Verdaguer (Catalan), television playwright Dennis Potter, graphic novelist Dave Sim, composers Erik Satie and Werner Egk, horn player Dennis Brain, soprano Birgit Nilsson, bluesman Taj Mahal, rocker Trent Reznor, singer/songwriter Enya, scientist Edward Jenner, baseball player Cool Papa Bell, sportscaster Jim Nantz, and actors Dennis Hopper, Jean Gabin, Maureen O'Sullivan, Grace Zabriskie, and Bill Paxton. Although Enya only played with her family's band Clannad for a brief period around 1980, I'm going to use her birthday as an excuse to embed the group's beautiful version of "Down By the Sally Gardens," from their sensational 1979 live album Clannad in Concert. Her sister Moya sings lead: