Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 23

It created solidarity between me and my students that America and Korea were both eliminated from the World Cup competition this past weekend!

I think I'll root for Uruguay now -- plucky little nation and all that. (Back between the two world wars, Montenegro was often referred to that way by the British -- "plucky little Montenegro.") I pointed out to my students that even though Ghana keeps defeating the U.S. in the World Cup, our two nations are actually quite close, since Ghana was so honored to be the first African nation visited by Obama after he became president.

Ghana's team is called the Black Stars, and here's how it got that name:


Conceptually, visually, and musically, Josko Marusic's Fisheye is an animated horror short like no other.


Short films of all kinds, which have always been underexposed, find a natural home on YouTube, and it is one of the greatest benefits that remarkable website offers.

It is all Glenn Kenny can do to even halfway describe Giulio Questi's 1968 arthouse/exploitation/serial killer/chicken farming movie, Death Laid an Egg (which sounds like the title of a 1940s Phoenix Press mystery):



Five fun facts about pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904):

1. He was born Edward Muggeridge and changed his name several times before he came up with the unspellable "Eadweard Muybridge."
2. He murdered his wife's lover, pleaded insanity, and got off.
3. He identified with Helios, the Greek god of the sun.
4. The great painter Francis Bacon frequently used Muybridge photographs as a visual starting point.
5. Photography expert Weston Naef (which has to be the best name ever for a photography expert) believes that many of Muybridge's early photographs were actually taken by others, including my fave Carleton Watkins.



A huge show of Muybridge's work, including his famous motion studies that influenced the development of motion pictures, is on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Tony Shaw, on a literary mission in France, visits sites associated with the now somewhat forgotten French novelist Pierre Loti (some of whose work was translated into English):



The British World War II poet Keith Douglas is perhaps the closest equivalent for that war to the more celebrated World War I poets Wilfrid Owen, Isaac`Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, and Charles Hamilton Sorley:

....[his] poems demonstrate a range of skill and subject matter most people don’t master in a lifetime of writing, let alone by age twenty-four, Douglas’s age when killed. He composed the enchanting opening lyric, “Encounter with a God,” when he was fifteen or sixteen, and while its Poundian influences are unmistakable, the fact that a teenager can even have Poundian influences is astonishing.


The Irish Museum of Modern Art has mounted an exhibition of the Spanish painter Ferran Garcia Sevilla (b. 1949), whose work "draws on influences as diverse as his travels in the Middle East, philosophy, Eastern cultures, comic books and urban graffiti":



Among notables born on this date are philosopher Giambattista Vico, poet Anna Akhmatova, playwright Jean Anouilh, composer Carl Reinecke, conductor James Levine, country singer June Carter Cash, jazz bassist Milt Hinton, biologist Alfred Kinsey, mathematician Alan Turing, dancer/choreographer Bob Fosse, ex-Beatle Stu Sutcliffe, golfer Colin Montgomerie, television auteur Joss Whedon, and actors Dennis Price and Frances McDormand. Golf spatwatch: Current European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie and former European Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo are, um, not exactly getting along:


Monday, June 28, 2010

June 22

Do you recall the presidential campaigns of comedian Pat Paulsen? How about Screaming Lord Sutch of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party standing for several British offices? Neither man ever won nomination or office, although they sometimes got more votes than you might expect. But Icelandic comedian Jon Gnarr has succeeded where they failed, winning the mayoralty of Reykjavik:

In his acceptance speech he tried to calm the fears of the other [voters]. “No one has to be afraid of the Best Party,” he said, “because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.”


(Hat tip to Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.)

The series Heritage Heroes on BBC World News, which I discovered yesterday on Korean cable television, has taken on the attractive mission of demonstrating

...how, in the midst of the rush to modernise and expand our urban landscape, individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations have managed to salvage a part of our endangered built inheritance. The seven-part series shows how people from all walks of life – from princes to prime ministers, archivists to activists – have succeeded in carving out a place for the past in our increasingly urbanised present.


The program I watched yesterday included a very interesting segment on the High Line park in Manhattan, the story of which is also well told in this visual/verbal essay by Faith and John Stern:


Manhattan is scarcely a city lacking in "signatures," but the High Line is clearly a new one. Sydney's signature, of course, is the famous Opera House designed by Jorn Utzon, re-visited here by ArchDaily:



Utzon, who fell out with his Australian sponsors during the costly and protracted construction of the Opera House, is not a one-building architect by any means. The Kuwaiti National Assembly is a noble structure:


A.O. Scott at the New York Times welcomes a reissue of Yasujiro Ozu's 1932 silent film I Was Born, But..., about two young brothers who challenge the patience of their salaryman father:


Both this film and its loose 1959 sound and color remake, Good Morning, are humane masterpieces of the highest order -- and very funny besides. When I showed Good Morning at the Green Bay Film Society, I had a chance to see just what a crowd-pleaser it is with an audience.

The Toledo Museum of Art is gassing Ohio with an exhibit of classic psychedelic rock posters:



Cimenatographer and photographer Frederick Schroeder captures the neon-noir glitter of night-time Los Angeles:


Among notables born on this date are novelists Erich Maria Remarque and H. Rider Haggard, science fiction novelist Octavia Butler, philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, sociologist Norbert Elias, biologist Julian Huxley, politician Dianne Feinstein, baseball player Carl Hubbell, badman John Dillinger, tenor Peter Pears, singer/songwriters Jimmy Somerville, Todd Rundgren, and Cyndi Lauper, dancer/choreographer Gower Champion, artist Gordon Matta-Clark, film producer Mike Todd, theatrical producer Joseph Papp, film directors Billy Wilder and Abbas Kiarostami, fashion designer Bill Blass, broadcasters Ed Bradley and Carson Daly, voice actor Paul Frees, and actors Kris Kristofferson, Prunella Scales, Meryl Streep, Bruce Campbell, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Lerner, and Emmanuelle Seigner. I first became familiar with he great conceptual artist Gordon Matta-Clark at a Bay Area exhibition in the late Eighties, by which time he had already been gone for a decade; he died of cancer at 35, in 1978. It seems to me that the quality of a conceptual artist's thought must be very high, since thoughts are their basic materials; the manifestations can't much outstrip the concepts behind them. Matta-Clark, born into a family of distinguished artists -- his father was the Chilean painter Roberto Matta -- had an extraordinary mind, and my initial encounter with his work practically blew me into the Pacific Ocean. There is so much to him, but the famous and provocative "building cuts" are an excellent place to start:



Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 21

A native of New Jersey should know at least a little about the Channel Islands -- the British Crown Dependency consisting of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and some smaller islands. The islands are closer to France than to England, and have a fascinating hisory, including jurisdictionally, having never been part of the United Kingdom per se. They were occupied by the Germans during World War II, a history that forms the basis of Moira Buffini's play Gabriel, which recently had its New York premiere. According to her Wikipedia entry, Buffini "advocate[s] big, imaginative plays rather than naturalistic soap opera dramas, and is a founder member of the Monsterists, a group of playwrights who promote new writing of large scale work in the British theatre."




The Channel Island of Sark only gave up feudalism in 2008 (insert "better late than never" joke) and was the intended target of a one-man invasion in 1990:

In August 1990 an unemployed French nuclear physicist named André Gardes attempted a singlehanded invasion of Sark, armed with a semi-automatic weapon. The night Gardes arrived he put up signs declaring his intention to take over the island the following day at noon. He was arrested while sitting on a bench, changing the gun's magazine and waiting for noon to arrive, by the island's volunteer Constable.

This all helps me understand why film director Peter Greenaway is fond of Sark and features it in The Tulse Luper Suitcases (the third part of which is called From Sark to the Finish).


This charming, largely wordless Russian animated short, Dragonfly and Ant, directed by Nikolay Fedorov in 1960, is strongly reminiscent of the Fleischer Brothers' 1941 feature Mr. Bug Goes to Town (a commercial bust at the time, but now a cult classic).


The blog Classic TV History heralds the arrival of three television versions of Tennessee Williams one-act plays, directed by the great Sidney Lumet, that are included as an extra on the Criterion DVD of the Williams-based Lumet film The Fugitive Kind:

....the director....Sidney Lumet....had a nuanced understanding of Williams’s preoccupations and, crucially, his use of language.  All three of the plays are unapologetically verbose, and Lumet’s key contribution is to stage them so that nothing distracts from the almost unbroken exchanges of dialogue in each.



Dr. Tony Shaw devotes his uncommonly interesting blog to the more obscure reaches of literary history, as for example this post on the modern Charentais troubador Goulbeneze, born Evariste Poitevin (1877-1952):


Also of a pronounced regional flavor is an anthology of Rudyard Kipling's work focused on his adopted English county of Sussex:


The anthologist, David Arscott, has also started a Sussex Book Club "to keep readers abreast on everything that's being written on a vast range of local themes." I love this kind of thing. I'm signing up!


Neal Ascherson -- whose extraordinary geo-history Black Sea I heartily recommend -- blends an account of Charles de Gaulle's career with personal memories of his own intersections with that narrative:

....de Gaulle, this profoundly conservative  figure with “a certain idea of France”, an eternal France, went on to destroy for ever the old....political and social pattern which had defined France since about 1830, perhaps since the Great Revolution. He created the Fifth Republic. It was - still is - authoritarian, with heavy presidential powers. But it broke open doors in education, economic regulation, farming subsidies and much else, which meant that in the ten years between 1958 and 1968, France changed more than it had changed in the previous century.


The painter Robert Rahway Zakanitch (b. 1935) has been exploring the floral world in a series entitled "From a Garden of Ordinary Miracles":



Street photographer Leon Levinstein (1910-1988), much less famous than his peer Garry Winogrand, is receiving overdue attention as a result of a Metropolitan Museum show:






Among notables born on this date are philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Reinhold Niebuhr, novelists Mary McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Francoise Sagan (France), Fyodor Gladkov (Russia), and Machado de Assis (Brazil), poets Anne Carson and Adam Zagajewski (Poland), cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, art critic Heinrich Wolfflin, painter Rockwell Kent, sculptor Medardo Rosso (Italy), architect Pier Luigi Nervi, composers Alois Haba, Philippe Sarde, and Lalo Schifrin, conductor Hermann Scherchen, singer/songwriter Ray Davies, cinematographer Conrad Hall, film director Larry Wachowski, politician Benazir Bhutto, and actors Judy Holliday, Maureen Stapleton, Joe Flaherty, Jane Russell, and Doug Savant. One of the best sets of illustrations for any classic novel -- really quite stunning -- are Rockwell Kent's for Moby Dick:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 20

Putting this blog together, I often wish I had a Star Trek-style transporter that could take me anywhere in the world where a great cultural event was happening -- for example, the Jean-Leon Gerome show at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles:




Gerome may have been part of an "academic" tradition that the next generation of French painters had to reject in order to make their own progress. He may have been part of an exoticizing "orientalist" tradition that Edward Said among others has criticized. But he is also an amazing artist whom we can now take a better measure of. Rejection is seldom final. Almost everything that is rejected in the arts eventually comes back, and it is good that it does. 

Neglected books are usually not rejected as such; they just slip away. But literary explorers are always pulling back drowned books to the surface, as Graham Greene tried to do with his Century Library reprint series in the 1930s:


One of the most obscure authors intended for the series, although not actually reprinted in it, is Leonard Merrick, who seems to have been adored by his fellow writers -- when I was a book dealer, I handled a 15 volume set of his collected novels with introductions by some very big names, such as J.M. Barrie -- but today does not even have a Wikipedia entry. Someone ought to remedy that; he is the very model of The Neglected Novelist.

Although there are artists who take a while to attain the fame they deserve, or maybe never do, I generally think that those who do achieve and sustain fame in their lifetimes (like Gerome) have a lot to offer. I am not one of those "The emperor has no clothes" types. For example, take the film directors who are considered to be at the apex of cinematic expression right now -- Martin Scorsese, Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Olivier Assayas, Claire Denis, Bela Tarr, Ang Lee, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, the Dardenne Brothers, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wong Kar-wai, Gus Van Sant. They are all incredible. In the future, each of them may go in and out of favor at times, but I don't think that any of them will be lost. Michael Haneke is unquestionably of their number:

...what’s most interesting and important in his films is the way he deals with [representation], in terms of the formal techniques he uses, and the doubling. For example, you never know in Caché what the source of any image is. He destabilizes the image. You never know at any moment whether you’re watching a video done by some unknown person that you never discover who it is, or whether it’s Haneke’s shot. He’s keeping you on your toes. Watching his films....you have to pay attention. You can’t nod off. You can’t think about other things. You’ll miss something crucial.


As anti-Twitter and anti-Facebook as I am for my own purposes, I certainly am not against artists who find those media a useful way of projecting their activities around the world. Icelandic jazz pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs talks to Jason Crane about how participating in the virtual world makes her feel far less isolated:


Living as I now do in another country (and one that is very outward-focused), I see more than ever that continuing the global artistic and intellectual dialogue is urgently important. That dialogue may be at its highest pitch since the Enlightenment, and for all that is wrong with the world today, that is profoundly right.

As a further instance of our necessary internationalism, consider an American newspaper reviewing an English/Dutch co-production of an important recent Russian opera, Alexander Raskatov's A Dog's Life (based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov):



Suicide is a perennially interesting topic, and since I spent some time within the orbit of that idea and discussed it with my therapists, I try not to fear the subject, but to accept the intellectual exploration of it as something illuminating for me, rather than threatening. Andrew Hinderaker's "wise, rich and deeply moving new play" Suicide, Incorporated, currently being performed in Chicago, the greatest theater city in America, would therefore be a play I would attend rather than avoid:


My mother adored the American Craftsman furniture of Gustav Stickley, which we had more than usual exposure to in New Jersey because of Stickley's long association with the state (the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms is in Morris Plains, New Jersey). She was always delighted to see a new book about Stickley, or a new PBS documentary about him. So whenever I see a Stickley news item today, it revives happy memories:




Among notables born on this date are Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone, novelists Charles W. Chesnutt and Vikram Seth, poets Kurt Schwitters and Paul Muldoon, playwright Lillian Hellman, country guitarist Chet Atkins, Beach Boy Brian Wilson, pop singers Lionel Richie and Anne Murray, composer Jacques Offenbach, jazzman Eric Dolphy, pianist Andre Watts, painter Georges Dufrenoy, film directors Stephen Frears and Robert Rodriguez, and actors Errol Flynn, Audie Murphy, Olympia Dukakis, Martin Landau, John Goodman, and Nicole Kidman. One of my favorite films that never found the popular audience it deserved -- maybe it is really more for film and pop culture buffs -- is Joe Dante's 1993 take on the great schlockmeister William Castle, Matinee, with John Goodman irresistible in the Castle role, absolutely spot-on casting.

Friday, June 25, 2010

June 19

Liberate Your Inner Comic: I had my classes laughing pretty hard today with my re-enactments of American used car commercials, among them the classic featuring Rudy the Cuban gynecologist:

This has got to be the only used car commercial with a "making of" video:


Marc Myers at JazzWax interviews alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who got his start in the Fifties and is still going strong at 83:




The Lyric Opera of Los Angeles has performed a great service by staging one of the rarest operas by a major composer, Wagner's suppressed early work Die Feen:


We tend to think of mid-19th century composers as conventional and conservative, but as oboist and composer Heinz Holliger points out, Robert Schumann is anything but:

You never reach a dead end with Schumann and his analytical observations. New doors are always opening up. One door opens onto the next and there is another one behind that, and another and another. In his work, speculative thinking collides head on with a vast, labyrinthine imagination. Schumann was an extremely erudite man. He translated Sophocles at 17. He had considerable literary talents and he was probably one the greatest writers among the composers, up there with Berlioz and Debussy. This makes him an encyclopaedic character. A cosmic figure without limits. The same applies to his music.


Schumann's Swedish contemporary Franz Berwald is another decidedly individual composer of that time. (Hat tip to 3QuarksDaily.)

Larry Fahey at The Rumpus deconstructs the movie version of Mary Poppins (not the P.L. Travers novels). I adored this Disney classic uncritically when it came out in my seventh year, but Fahey is onto something when he notices that the "lovable" protagonist is actually rather unsettling:

The first thing you notice is that, despite her reputation as a paragon of patience, understanding, and love, Mary Poppins simply isn’t very pleasant. It’s not clear that we’re even meant to like her. For one thing, she’s highly and relentlessly critical of the children, Michael (Matthew Garber) and Jane (Karen Dotrice) — you slouch, she tells them, you’re slobs, your manners are deplorable, and when you let your mouths hang open you look like fish. She’s also largely humorless, never satisfied with anyone but herself, and terribly vain (she describes herself, quite sincerely, as “practically perfect in every way”). Furthermore, she’s a bully: When a line of nannies congregate outside the Banks’s front door to apply for the job, she conjures a violent windstorm to sweep them away.
Mary Poppins isn’t just rude and egostistical, she’s also faintly sinister. 


The great, challenging Guyanese novelist Wilson Harris has got to be one of the least-known contemporary writers of his stature. It is good to see him recognized with a knighthood at 89:





Yevgeny Fiks's ironic visual interpetations of the work of the Russian-born Ayn Rand, which appropriate images from Soviet socialist realism, attain a power that goes far beyond a mere goof on a dislikable author:



Spaceship Los Angeles: John Lautner's  1960 "Chemosphere," once futuristic, now almost old-fashioned in the way that visions of the future can become, is secure as a classic no matter what temporal angle you consider it from:




Among notables born on this date are novelists Salman Rushdie, Jose Rizal (Philippines), and Dazai Osamu (Japan), philosopher Blaise Pascal, film critic Pauline Kael, activist Aung San Suu Kyi, composer Alfredo Catalani, singer/songwriters Chico Buarque and Nick Drake, bluegrass guitarist Lester Flatt, baseball player Lou Gehrig, and actors Gena Rowlands, Moe Howard, Louis Jourdain, Pier Angeli, Charles Coburn, Mildred Natwick, Nancy Marchand, May Whitty, Phylicia Rashad, Paul Dano, and Kathleen Turner. Here is a great archival clip of a young and wickedly handsome Chico Buarque at a Brazilian music festival in 1967:

Wikipedia reminds us that "Buarque came from a privileged intellectual family background—his father Sérgio Buarque de Holanda was a well-known historian, sociologist and journalist and his mother Maria Amélia Cesário Alvim was a painter and pianist."


Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 18

Jeff Strabone has a clear-eyed view of what can and cannot be expected of corporations. He imagines the Congressional testimony of an honest CEO:

We must do whatever we can to be as profitable as our entrepreneurial creativity allows us to be. That is our only mandate. We cannot be motivated by anything else. If we were to stray from that mandate, we would be replaced by others who would not stray....If you don’t want us to engage in inhumane practices X, Y, and Z, then you must outlaw practices X, Y, and Z, for we will do whatever the law allows....We will swear up and down that we could never find a way to make profits if you impose rule A or regulation B. It’s not true, sir. We are American business leaders. We are smart and talented and devoted to making profits. We will always find a way to make money and beat the competition. We could sell water to a well....the system compels competitive, not benevolent, behavior. We are immune to questions of shame, decency, morality, even humanity. The corporation is inhuman in that it lacks free will. It will always pursue profit and disregard unprofitable goals like compassion and sympathy....The corporation has no decency and neither can its officers if they want to remain its officers. That is the logic of the publicly traded corporation.


Since for better or worse I am not immune to the questions that the corporation is immune to, I will never be a CEO swimming in dough and will never be able to afford this car. It's awfully nice though, an Austin Healey 3000 MkII convertible.


The early Michelangelo Antonioni film Le Amiche (The Girlfriends) has been restored and re-released. I can't wait for the DVD; the Fifties films of the great Italian directors such as Antonioni, Fellini, and Visconti are incredibly warm and vibrant. Each of those directors eventually became more mannered -- as fascinating as ever, but perhaps not as lovable.



Stephen Holden's cabaret reviews for the New York Times, such as this piece on Sutton Foster's new act at the Cafe Carlyle, are one of the least-commented-upon but most dependable delights of that great newspaper:


One of the best lists I've seen recently is this guide to songs of "displacement" (northward migration) in country music:


Bravo to the Library of America for acknowledging the graphic novel with a two-volume set of the woodcut narratives of Lynd Ward:



How I have missed this poem by Thomas Hood I do not know, but it is hilarious:

A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months

   Thou happy, happy elf!
(But stop, - first let me kiss away that tear) –
   Thou tiny image of myself!
(My love, he's poking peas into his ear!)
   Thou merry, laughing sprite!
   With spirits feather-light,
Untouch'd by sorrow and unsoil'd by sin –
(Good heavens! The child is swallowing a pin!)

   Thou little, tricksy Puck!
With antic toys so funnily bestuck,
Light as the singing bird that wings the air –
(The door! The door! He'll tumble down the stair!)
   Thou darling of thy sire!
(Why, Jane, he'll set his pinafore a-fire!)
   Thou imp of mirth and joy!
In love's dear chain so strong and bright a link,
Thou idol of thy parents – (Drat the boy!
   There goes my ink!)

   Thou cherub – but of earth;
Fit playfellow for Fays, by moonlight pale,
   In harmless sport and mirth,
(That dog will bite him if he pulls its tail!)
   Thou human humming-bee, extracting honey
From ev'ry blossom in the world the blows,
   Singing in Youth's Elysium, ever sunny –
(Another tumble! – that's his precious nose!)

   Thy father's pride and hope!
(He'll break the mirror with that skipping rope!)
With pure heart newly stamp'd from Nature's mint –
(Where did he learn that squint?)
   Thou young domestic dove!
(He'll have that jug off, with another shove!)
   Dear nursling of the hymeneal nest!
   (Are those torn clothes his best?)
   Little epitome of man!
(He'll climb upon the table, that's his plan!)
Touched with the beauteous tints of dawning life –
   (He's got a knife!)

   Thou enviable being
No storms, no clouds, in thy blue sky foreseeing,
   Play on, play on,
   My elfin John!
Toss the light ball – bestride the stick –
(I knew so many cakes would make him sick!)
With fancies buoyant as the thistle-down,
Prompting the face grotesque and antic brisk,
   With many a lamb-like frisk –
(He's got the scissors, snipping at your gown!)

   Thou pretty opening rose!
(Go to your mother, child, and wipe your nose!)
Balmy, and breathing music like the South,
(He really brings my heart into my mouth!)
Fresh as the morn, and brilliant as its star, -
(I wish that window had an iron bar!)
Bold as the hawk, yet gentle as the dove –
   (I'll tell you what, my love,
I cannot write, unless he's sent above!)


Despite its being, in terms of loss of life, New York City's worst pre-9/11 disaster, few people are aware of the tragedy of the paddle steamer General Slocum:



Among notables born on this date are fiction writers Richard Powers, Gail Godwin, Ivan Goncharov (Russia), Varlam Shalamov (Russia), and Raymond Radiguet (France), children's writer/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, lyricist Sammy Cahn, film critic Roger Ebert, poet Geoffrey Hill, sociologist Jurgen Habermas, Beatle Paul McCartney, and actors Jeanette MacDonald, Brian Benben, E.G. Marshall, Isabella Rossellini, and Carol Kane. Throughout my high school, college, and young adult years I worked off and on in the children's room of my hometown library in Passaic, New Jersey, and thus had seen every acclaimed children's picture book for a long period of years. So when I say that Chris Van Allsburg's second book, Jumanji, absolutely knocked me out in 1981, you'll understand that reaction was against a background of deep familiarity with the field. Talent tells.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 17

To start the day, a selection of reviews of new novels that capture my reading interest. Benjamin Markovits's Playing Days sounds like the opposite of your typical rah-rah sports narrative:

...at every quiet turn of this unlikely bildungsroman – set against the basketball courts of a small German town – Benjamin Markovits frustrates generic convention....The twenty-something narrator....leaves his hometown in Texas to pursue a basketball career in provincial Landshut....Playing Days is a deceptively slight-seeming narrative, composed largely of ‘empty time’: the ‘non-hour[s]’ before a game starts, and the ‘margin’ of early evenings before practice. Overarching this listlessness however, is a profound desire for shape and structure – visually encapsulated by the arcs and dotted lines of the playing court. 


Rodes Fishburne's Going to See the Elephant appeals in both its subject (journalism) and setting (San Francisco), although when the reviewer writes that "the novel soars into the surreal and absurd," I start to worry that it might be akin to two recent and overrated novels that go that route, Yann Martel's The Life of Pi  and Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End. (I was not in the least surprised to see Martel's and Ferris's follow-up novels tank with the critics; when thin talents are overpraised, backlash is inevitable and often happens quickly.)


Matthew Cheney at The Mumpsimus -- one of the rare blogs that give literature and cinema equal time -- is very impressed by Nnedi Okorafor's complex speculative novel Who Needs Death:



RIP (I guess): Sebastian Horsley. Horsley was one of those outrage-the-bourgeois-by-mortifying-my-own-flesh types that have never stopped surfacing in the arts since Baudelaire ratified the decadent attitude. Shock rockers can fall into this more-extreme-than-thou category (Sid Vicious, G.G. Allin), as do Chris Burden and a good number of his conceptual artist progeny. Horsley qualified by, among other activities, having himself crucified and (of course) filming it. ("When being crucified, his footrest slipped and he fell off the cross, which would have been funny if it hadn't been so gruesome.")

The son of an alcoholic millionaire, Horsley was found dead in his flat in Soho yesterday, aged 47 – reportedly from a heroin overdose....Unstoppable in his eagerness to share the grittier details of his experiences through his writing, art and interviews, he revelled in the intensity of his relationship with smack, crack, sex and death, and would rather stir up a room with an outrageous comment than tolerate a harmonious atmosphere. Once, when a woman offended him, he sent her one of his turds in a beautiful Tiffany box.



As individual and amusing to read as the details of their outrages are, these guys -- are there female exemplars? -- are certainly a recurring type.

Marc Myers at JazzWax clears up the legends surrounding the death of alto saxophonist Joe Maini in 1964:


El Museo del Barrio in New York is presenting a retrospective of the Puerto Rican artist Rafael Ferrer (b. 1933). Although it can be a cliche to say that the work of a Latin-Ameruican artists is explosive with color, it is hardly inaccuarate in this case:




Among notables born on this date are composers Igor Stravinsky, Charles Gounod, and Sammy Fain, violinist Christian Ferras, country singer Red Foley, tennis player Venus Williams, film directors Ken Loach and Lee Tamahori, poets Henrik Wergeland (Norway), Ferdinand Freiligarth (Germany), and Henry Lawson (Australia), politician Ken Livingstone, artist M.C. Escher, novelists Carl Van Vechten, John Hersey, and Gail Jones, designer Charles Eames, and actors Setsuko Hara, Ralph Bellamy, Thomas Haden Church, and Greg Kinnear. The Wikipedia article on Red Foley (1910-1968) notes that "his country boogie material was a clear precursor of [rock'n'roll]," and this incredibly brisk performance is a good example of that. The clip looks like it might come from Foley's series Ozark Jubilee, one of the first country music shows on network television, premiering in 1955.


Monday, June 21, 2010

June 16

On the lake in the center of my Korean city, there are a resident pair of very large Chinese Geese (the domesticated version of the wild Swan Goose) who are, to mix species, complete hams. They love the attention they get (and the food they are fed). They are also happy to do call-and-response honking with humans. Here is one of them hanging out by a little floating house; he also has a reedy area that he favors.

The lake is home to cranes, small brown ducks, turtles, and huge koi of many colors (who also greatly enjoy being fed). There is an octagonal pavilion out on the lake which you reach by a footbridge; they sell food and souvenirs there. "Enchanting" is a good word for all this.

Kyle Gann's ongoing series of posts at PostClassic about the economics and practicalities, the satisfactions and dissatisfactions of his composing and pursuing his musical interests, evokes a profoundly sympathetic response in me. I am 51 to Gann's 54, and understand completely what he means when he says that

I've been working very hard for 27 years, through weekends, through summers, on holidays, even on vacations. I've put out a ton of work and after much consideration I'm finding that what I've published and produced is not generating better opportunities for me. I always knew the books wouldn't make money; I thought they might help me in academia, but I have evidence that I've reached the end of that road. I'm just now realizing that to enjoy the rest of my life, I need to change direction. No self-pity here, no depression, just an assessment of unavoidable facts.

"To enjoy the rest of my life, I need to change direction": that is unquestionably a thought I had before coming to Korea.Whatever I was doing wasn't working for me, and ultimately it did not matter whether the fault was in "the system" or myself; something had to give. So far I am hopeful of the results of the change of direction I decided on; I am liking Korea, and even better perhaps, I am gainfully employed at a decent job with a decent boss.

The passage of Gann's that I give above is from a post he first largely scored out, then appears to have removed from his blog altogether; but it showed up in my Google Reader feed, and I don't think that Gann needs to be apologetic at all about writing so honestly of a dilemma that a number of us come to face sooner or later. He mentions that of all his music-related activities, "the blog is the only thing I do not costing me money (and not paying anything either)." That is a saving grace of blogs. Of course they are another sign of the "hobbification" that I have written about here, but for any but a select few, they never held the promise of making any money to begin with, or even of generating other money-making opportunities, and thus are remote not only from external commercial pressures, but even internal ones -- a form that floats free of the almighty dollar as much as anything can. Whatever activities Gann gives up, I hope he keeps blogging, which is something you do just because.



Joshua Cohen, the author of the new mega-modernist novel Witz, compiled a very stimulating list of novels from various countries that are comparable in some respect to Joyce's Ulysses, and then Omnivoracious chimed in with several more suggestions:




Some of these novels were specifically influenced by Ulysses (Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz for sure, Leopold Marechal's Adam Buenosayres); others don't seem particularly Joycean at all, even by analogy.  This sort of comparison is fun as long as one doesn't take it too seriously. The call for a similar list of national War and Peaces could be fruitful, because most European nations did spawn mammoth Tolstoyan novels (Jules Romains's Men of Good Will is a possible nominee for the French War and Peace). 

I am very glad to have discovered dance critic Marina Harss at The Faster Times, where she is doing excellent work; she has also written on dance and film for The New Yorker (a combo reminiscent of the great Arlene Croce). She writes very well about "readjusting her eyes" to the style of the British choreographer Frederick Ashton (1904-1988), in whom I take a special interest because I once attended an excellent lecture on him in San Francisco (artists, take note: it doesn't take much for me to adopt you!).



Some names seem to suggest what their possessors must do with their lives: what could a "Wade Boggs" or a "Chipper Jones" be but a baseball player? Similarly, if your child is named Rackstraw Downes (Rodney Harry Rackstraw Downes, to be precise), he had better be a significant British artist. Being named "Rackstraw" and being insignificant would be quite embarrassing; that is a name you have got to live up to.




The fun blog Television Obscurities discusses the charming British tradition of TV series "annuals":

What’s really interesting about annuals is that a show like The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was given an annual despite the fact that it wasn’t all that successful when it was broadcast in the United States. Three different annuals were published for The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., in fact, for 1968, 1969 and 1970 (likely published in December of 1967, December of 1968 and December of 1969, respectively). Shows like The Dakotas, Gemini Man, Logan’s Run, Man from Atlantis and The Quest also had annuals. Even Manimal was given an annual.

I would be more interested in the annuals for British series myself, and might part with a small fortune for any annuals related to The Avengers, Upstairs, Downstairs, A Family at War, and All Creatures Great and Small.


Among notables born on this date are travel writer Jean de Thevenot, newspaper publisher Katherine Graham, novelists Joyce Carol Oates and John Howard Griffin, science fiction novelist Murray Leinster, soprano Helen Traubel, golfer Phil Mickelson, rapper Tupac Shakur, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmnond, photographer Irving Penn, and actors Stan Laurel, Jack Albertson, Eileen Atkins, and Laurie Metcalf. Speaking of Upstairs, Downstairs (my favorite television series, besting even The Sopranos), Eileen Atkins was a co-creator of the series along with Jean Marsh, and originally intended to co-star in it (since she was stage-committed at the time, her slot was taken by Pauline Collins, and it put Collins on the map). Atkins later starred in Robert Altman's transcendent take on the Upstairs, Downstairs milieu, Gosford Park, along with Upstairs, Downstairs alumna Meg Wynn Owen. For me, quite predictably, Robert Altman + Anglophilia = Heaven.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 15: Mostly Asian Edition

I like the term that Ruby Cohn uses in the title of her excellent study Modern Shakespeare Offshoots, because it covers sequels, prequels, variations, re-imaginings, parodies, reboots -- all conceivable uses of and responses to source material. We need the term because such works are more numerous now than ever. (I think there may be other words in technical literary criticism with a similar meaning, although I cannot recall them offhand. There always seems to be a Greek word in these situations!)

Eric Rauchway's novel Banana Republican, which follows the career of Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby after that novel ends, is a brand new example of an offshoot:


The Chinese journalist Xinran discusses her favorite books about her country, including the multi-volume 18th century novel The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber), which I am currently reading myself; I'm nearing the end of the first volume of the five-volume Penguin translation.

For me it is like a bible for everything to do with Chinese culture. Cao belonged to the Han Chinese clan and the book is a huge family novel written in the 18th century. The family’s fortunes were tied up with the Kangxi dynasty and the book is all about the relationship between the family members and all the different classes....In the book more than 100 people, buildings, poems, paintings and dreams are described in great detail. So you really find out the lifestyles of the people living there.


That is absolutely true. Xinran singles out an episode that demonstrates "how important food is in Chinese society"; for me, an equivalently important part of the novel is a chapter on landscape architecture that is one of the greatest pieces of writing I have ever read on that subject.

Julia Lovell in The Guardian summarizes the career of a key Chinese writer that Xinran does not mention, Lu Xun (1881-1936):



Although I am scarcely very knowledgeable in Chinese literature, I prize the poem "Dead Water" by Lu Xun's contemporary Wen Yidou (1899-1946), which I first discovered in Martin Seymour-Smith's Guide to Modern World Literature, and which I have read several translations of. This is Lucas Klein's version:

This is a ditch of desperate dead water,
Where wind can blow but raise no ripples.
Best just to throw in more scraps of copper and iron,
Might as well pour in your leftovers of cold porridge. 

Perhaps the copper will green into emerald,
Tin cans rusting out stalks of peach blossoms;
Then let the grease weave up a sheet of silk,
While bacteria steam it into the clouds of dawn. 

Let the dead water ferment into a ditch of green wine,
Pearl-like whitecaps floating all over;
The laughter of little pearls will turn into large pearls,
Before being bit burst by mosquitoes stealing wine. 

So this ditch of desperate dead water
Can just boast of a few degrees of brightness.
And if the frogs can't bear the solitude,
Then just say the dead water will cry out a song.

This is a ditch of desperate dead water,
Which is certainly not where beauty resides,
Best just to give it up for ugliness to cultivate,
And see what kind of world he can turn it into. 

As clearly as E.M. Forster's Howards End represents England, Wen's "ditch of desperate dead water" is the China that he loved and hated. It sometimes seems to me that most great artists simultaneously love and hate their native countries, and this poem is one of the finest expressions of that contradiction in all of world literature.

The Korean photographer Han Sungpil has been documenting a peculiar brand of modern outdoor art installation that is meant to "cloak" construction sites:

(Hat tip to 3QuarksDaily.)

Of course I am especially alert to Korean material these days, as for example this laudatory review of Kim Young-ha's novel Your Republic Is Calling You at The Complete Review:


They say this is the Asian Century; I took them seriously and moved to Asia. Today there is as much "interface" between Asian and Western culture as there has ever been. Caustic Cover Critic points out how the Thai-born (but now London-based) artist Niroot Puttapipat has illustrated a volume of Russian fairy tales:


If you like your Asian culture less refined and more populist, you can always take in a Bollywood film like Sholay:

...the idea of a “curry western” was something I couldn’t resist. Sholay, released in 1975, is regarded as the first of this genre. It also happens to be the highest grossing Bollywood movie of all time. If you’re expecting something resembling a spaghetti western you’re in for some major shocks. It’s possibly debatable that it’s even a western at all. It isn’t set in the American West; it’s set in central India. And it’s set in modern times. On the other hand the main plot is a classic western revenge plot and the basic structure of the movie, and more importantly the whole ethos of the film, makes it absolutely a western.


Among notables born on this date are composers Edvard Grieg and Otto Luening, pop singers Waylon Jennings and Johnny Hallyday, jazz pianist Erroll Garner, painter Nicholas Poussin, cartoonist Saul Steinberg, politician Mario Cuomo, psychologist Erik Erikson, poets Ramon Lopez Velarde (Mexico) and Ibn-e-Insha (Urdu), children's writer Brian Jacques, humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina, baseball players Billy Williams, Wade Boggs, and Tim Lincecum, and actors Harry Langdon, Lash La Rue, Nicola Pagett, Simon Callow, Courteney Cox, Ice Cube, Helen Hunt, Alberto Sordi, and Neil Patrick Harris. I haven't seen enough of the work of silent film comedian Harry Langdon (1994-1944) to come to grips with his unique "child-adult" style (which by all accounts only reached fruition in a few films).  This is a nice clip (featuring several animals!) from his short Smile Please (1924), his first surviving film; pre-persona, as it were.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Autotopia Becomes Autonightmare

In a recent column, James Howard Kunstler describes one of the Unites States' key problems:

So far....the US has done nothing in the way of holding a serious national political discussion about the the most important part of the story: our pathological dependency on cars. I don't know if this will ever happen, even right up to the moment when the lines form at the filling stations. For years, anyway, the few public figures such as Boone Pickens who give the appearance of concern about our oil problem, end up down the rabbit hole of denial when they get behind schemes to run the whole US car-and-truck fleet on something besides gasoline.
     This unfortunate techno-narcissism shows that almost nobody wants to think about living with fewer cars driving fewer miles. We're going to be dragged there kicking and screaming, but that's our destination, like it or not. All the effort now going into developing alt-fuels and "green" cars is just a form of "bargaining" on the Kubler-Ross transect of grief.
     Traveling around the US, it's easy to understand our failure to come to grips with reality. The nation is fully outfitted for extreme car dependency. You go to places like Atlanta and Minneapolis and you understand how deep we're into this. We spent all our collective national treasure -- and quite a bit beyond that in the form of debt -- building the roadway systems and the suburban furnishings for that mode of existence.  We incorporated it into our national identity as the American Way of Life. Now, we don't know what else to do except defend it at all costs, especially by waving the talismanic magic wand of techno-innovation.
     The obvious remedy for the oil-and-car problem would be to live in walkable towns and neighborhoods served by the kind of public transit that people are not ashamed to ride in. But it may be too late for that. We're going to be a much poorer society from now on. We squandered the financial resources for that transition on too many other things. We're stuck with our investments in houses and their commercial accessories, built where they were built, and no Jolly Green Giant is going to pick them up and move them closer together in an artful way that adds up to real towns. A reorganization of American life will occur, but now it will be on much less deliberate terms, a much messier and more destructive operation, a default to the smaller scale by extreme necessity, with a lot of losses along the way. 


This car dependency is not much different in Korea, except that, escape hatch-wise, the public transit infrastructure -- including high-speed trains -- is already in place and does not need to be built; and housing arrangements are high-density. Thirty years ago, I am told, relatively few, well-off Korean had cars. Now, most Koreans do, although not because they really need them; rather, owning a car is clearly a status symbol here. Just trying to find parking spaces and fit into them is a major, time-consuming hassle, but people do it because they want to be seen driving a car. (And I must say, Koreans are expert at parallel parking, backing in, driving backwards, negotiating impossibly tight turns, and so on. The cars here should all be dinged up, and they're not.)

Since national progress around the globe has been equated with car ownership, Koreans will not like "fewer cars driving fewer miles" any more than Americans will. They will go grumbling back to their buses and subways and trains. But they will at least have them to go back to. Most of America is not so lucky.

June 14

"Communism" may seem to be in complete retreat, but Marxist economics never entirely goes away, because Marx was one of the most brilliant thinkers of all time, and his analytical insights are permanently valuable.

The fundamental problem with workers (to whom as much money as possible should be denied if commodities are to be affordable) is that they are also consumers (to whom as much money as possible should be supplied if they are to buy commodities). Marxists aren’t kidding when they talk about the contradictions of capitalism. In the end, as Marx wrote, “the ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses.” The result of declining or stagnant real wages since the ’80s has been global industrial overcapacity: too much plant turning out too much stuff for not enough buyers. 
A bubble occurs not when people pay for real estate with money they don’t yet have—as always happens, given the availability of credit—but when they pay with money they will never have, out of wages they will never receive—out of wages no one will ever receive. 
...the US consumer—a ravening appetite in a paper house—appears to be finished as the world’s buyer of last resort. It would add a nice dialectical twist to the future history of our period if it could be said that, around the time the post-Maoist Chinese took up shopping, the post-bubble Americans turned to studying Marx. 


"Doomsters" such as the folks who hang out at the Life After the Oil Crash Forum, are deeply suspicious of "techno-fixes"; nonetheless, even they might enjoy Jason Stoddard's list of positive futurological novels.


"Middlebrow" is a pejorative term to many, but not to me; I think America was a better place when it was upward-striving intellectually. Belinda Edmondson's Caribbean Middlebrow: Leisure Culture and the Middle Class looks at this issue in a less familiar cultural context.


Jonathan Ree at the New Humanist assesses the contributions of the late historian Hugh Trevor-Roper:

A new generation of readers has come to admire his astonishing verve as a historian: not only a knack for finding lost gems in scattered archives (he is said to have worked easily in eight languages) but also a talent for turning his discoveries into narratives as exotic as Graham Greene and as funny as Evelyn Waugh. Take for example The Hermit of Peking, his 1976 study of Edmund Backhouse – brilliant Sinologist, magnificent philanthropist and incorrigible fibber and fraud: the book could easily hold its own as a comic novel, if it wasn’t in fact a superb feat of historical detection. The same applies, in varying degrees, to dozens of lectures and essays and several book-length works, many of which he preferred not to publish in his lifetime – notably Europe’s Physician, a gripping survey of European cultural life at the turn of the 17th century, published posthumously in 2006.

I can heartily second the strong recommendation of Hermit of Peking, which is easily one of the best books I've ever read.


An account like this of the "Ruby Creek" sasquatch incident gets my youthful cryptozoological juices flowing all over again:


Bars, like coffeeshops, are "third places" that can (emphasis on the conditional) become venues of cultural re-vivification. Let's visit Budapest:

...it is District VII’s very dilapidation that makes the once-grandiose Habsburg-era squares and avenues so evocative. The façades may be crumbling, the paint peeling, the holes gouged by wartime bullets still unfilled, but the courtyards are packed and hopping. District VII is the epicentre of the “Romkocsma” scene. Romkocsma translates literally as “Ruin pub”, but these are not pubs in the British sense and they are a world away from the traditional dark and, by today’s standards, often rather drab Hungarian drinking dens. Instead, the best of the Romkocsmas, such as Mumus, Szimpla kert and Fogas haz, are a mix of hip bar and café, beer garden, music venue and cultural centre. Many Romkocsmas barely advertise their presence, hiding behind discreet signs and grubby doorways.


Elsewhere in Europe, we can rediscover the beauties of traditional Portuguese tilework:



Australia has a tradition of documentary photography that is little-known abroad:



Cultural Intersection: Director Olivier Assayas thrills to the work of his contemporary David Fincher:

What amazed me at the time [about Zodiac] and still does is the connection with 'Se7en,' because it's like the anti-'Se7en.' It's this incredible exercise in dialectics. In American cinema, I don't see an equivalent. The director who made 'Se7en' -- using all the elements that came to be expected from that type of genre movie, completely a fantasy notion of what a serial killer is about, a movie that has all the elements of classic Hollywood narrative culture -- would a few years later would make this movie that is the absolutely opposite of it, and that doesn't play games with what evil is about, but somehow acknowledges evil as something that floats around with no simple resolution.

I could not agree more. Zodiac is one of the best films I've seen in recent years (and Fincher and Assayas are two of the finest film-makers in the world today).


Among notables born on this date are novelists Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Edgar Wideman, Jerzy Kosinski, Laurie Colwin, Laurence Yep, and Yasunari Kawabata, journalist Pierre Salinger and Leon Wiseltier, politician Robert La Follette, activist Che Guevara, photographer Margaret Bourke-White, tenor John McCormack, theater composer Cy Coleman, pop saxophonist Junior Walker, singer/songwriter Boy George, architect Kevin Roche, businessman Donald Trump, and actors Dorothy McGuire, Gene Barry, Burl Ives, Sam Wanamaker, and Will Patton. We Irish and Irish-Americans excel at sentimentality, and when you wed that sentimentality to the exquisite voice of John McCormack, the result is magical:

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 13

Robert Reich found Obama's oil spill speech "vapid" and goes on to say:

Whether it's Wall Street or health insurers or oil companies, we are approaching a turning point. The top executives of powerful corporations are pursuing profits in ways that menace the nation. We have not seen the likes not since the late nineteenth century when the "robber barons" of finance, oil, and the giant trusts ran roughshod over America. Now, as then, they are using their wealth and influence to buy off legislators and intimidate the regions that depend on them for jobs. Now, as then, they are threatening the safety and security of our people. This is not to impugn the integrity of all business leaders or to suggest that private enterprise is inherently evil or dangerous. It is merely to state a fact that more and more Americans are beginning to know in their bones.


Reich nails the historical analogy, with which I agree 100%. Obama, to salvage his floundering presidency, has got to follow the lead of a Teddy or Franklin D. Roosevelt in articulating the ways in which the "pillars of society" (a phrase I taught to my Korean students this week) are actually threatening that society. I know that Obama reads about the Roosevelts -- he has said so -- but he has to do more than that; he has to emulate them.

World Cup fever is gripping Korea, and we talk about it every day in my conversation classes. So nothing could be more timely than a list of great soccer books:


There's a lot to be said for architects working especially hard to make utilitarian buildings attractive; there is no good counter-argument that they need to be ugly (although of course many of them are). The Altstadt Garage Building in Switzerland is sensitively and appealingly designed:


Before the tightening of ethics regulations surrounding medical and psychological experiments in recent decades, researchers used to try some pretty wild scenarios. Stanley Milgram's "obedience to authority" and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiments are famous, but what about this?

In the late 1950s, psychologist Milton Rokeach was gripped by an eccentric plan. He gathered three psychiatric patients, each with the delusion that they were Jesus Christ, to live together for two years in Ypsilanti State Hospital to see if their beliefs would change. The early meetings were stormy. "You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!" one of the Christs yelled. "I will not worship you! You're a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!" another snapped back. "No two men are Jesus Christs. … I am the Good Lord!" the third interjected, barely concealing his anger.  


A dance score called Estancia by the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, that was commissioned for Georges Balanchine but never used by him, has become the basis of a "gaucho ballet" by Christopher Wheeldon:




James Wolcott, who loves Wheeldon's new ballet ("After seeing it, I've decided to become a gaucho and roam the pampas, as soon as I order an appropriate poncho"), argues that

The Balanchine purists have become a pox on ballet, a reactionary drag that betrays Balanchine's forward spirit. Choreographer after choreographer gets scolded and rapped with the nun's ruler over not being Balanchine enough or being too Balanchine derivative, and it's a bore.

(Hat tip to Haglund's Heel.)

Covering Ensemble Modern's offering of Frank Zappa's concert music at the Ojai Music Festival, Mark Swed assesses that side of Zappa's protean creative career:

From the point of view of new concert music, Zappa’s works are very much a mixed bag....[He] was a tireless experimenter with sound and form. At its best, Zappa’s music boldly presaged the breaking down of barriers between pop and new classical music with restless imagination and refreshing irreverence. At its worst, Zappa’s concert music could be insistently defensive, messy, silly and headache-inducing. Zappa absorbed music widely but didn’t always digest it well....[But in his later works] Zappa was on to something, and had he lived we might now be celebrating the 70th birthday of a major composer.


James White's photorealist paintings in black and white have an inescapably noir aura:



One way to determine if someone is a true film geek is to say the words "aspect ratio" to them and see how they respond. If they hold forth as Glenn Kenny does here, you have a positive identification:

Most folks with a good understanding of the history of theatrical film projection will tell you that 1.85 matting came in pretty much in the wake of the introduction of Cinemascope, the 2.35 aspect ratio, itself. This does not necessarily answer the question of which directors really applied themselves to actively composing their frames for 1.85 in the wake of that.  


Among notables born on this date are novelists Fanny Burney, Bruno Frank (Germany), Etienne Leroux (South Africa), and Gonzalo Torrente Ballester (Spain), children's writer Heinrich Hoffmann (Germany), mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, poets William Butler Yeats, Fernando Pessoa (Portugal), Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau (Quebec), and Jay Macpherson (Canada), philosopher Etienne Gilson, fashion designer Lucy Duff Gordon, composers Carlos Chavez (Mexico) and Xian Xinghai (China), scientist James Clerk Maxwell, mathematician John Forbes Nash, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude (collaborators who happen both to have been born on June 13, 1935), photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue (France), film director Tay Garnett, and actors Basil Rathbone, Paul Lynde, Malcolm McDowell, Ben Johnson, Richard Thomas, Stellan Skarsgard, and Ally Sheedy. An unusually diverse and amazingly talented group today! French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) is one of the most amazingly precocious artists in history; he was taking fine photographs from the age of six on. Very few children can report on what it is like to see with a child's eye, but Lartigue could, and the pictures are irresistible, such as My Hydroglider with Propeller, shot when he was around age ten: