Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Don't Dream in Color

If there's one thing the internet is bound to make you feel better about, it's your obsessions. Because even the most casual perusal will teach you that as far as obsessions go, you are likely an amateur.

Recently, Fuzzy Bastard sent me a link to the Recycled Movie Costume website, after which I wasted spent a ridiculous amount of time looking at it. What they do is chart the reusing of costumes in movies and television (and in print media such as book covers and advertisements). I mean, I wasted spent hours. I've always found costume design to be incredibly compelling, and one of my great regrets is never learning how to sew. Whenever this was attempted in Home Ec class in West Egg, well, the results were less than fabulous. Though I am still proud of the fact that when I spelled out my name in puffy pillows, I turned my nose up at the eighties-tastic monstrous pastel satin that everyone else used, and chose instead two contrasting cotton patterned fabrics.

When I look back at the things that brought me to the movies, one of them is definitely the clothes. It was always all about the pictures for me. When I was about 12 or 13, I became obsessed with a book called "Those Glorious Glamour Years", which was full of hundreds of pictures, and was all about the costume design of the films of the 1930s. Through this, and other similar books, I first became aware of actresses like Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Marlena Dietrich and the earliest films of Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. I remember happily spending hours poring over the pictures and reading Edith Head's autobiography and learning all about Irene's tragic suicide long before I saw most of the movies.

My imagination was fired by pictures like this:

And this gorgeously posed shot of Carole Lombard:

And this one of Fay Wray in a publicity still for "Murder in Greenwich Village"(the DVD is completely out of print, and un-Netflixable, unfortunately)

I don't think I can over-emphasize how influential this one book was for me. It's intelligently written, and discusses the limitations of what will translate into black and white, about designing for not only the individual character, but for the over-all aesthetic of the film. About lighting and what looks good and is practical if there is going to be a lot of movement, or about not wasting your time on elements that aren't going to be seen. Obvious stuff, but extremely useful things to be made aware of early.

I think I began dreaming in black and white and my aesthetic sensibilities have never recovered. In these early 21st century times, glamour is all but dead in the talking pictures. Occasionally there will be glimmers of the sort of dreamlike, otherworldliness that drew me in when I was a girl in the pages of (mostly European) fashion magazines. It's all a dream, and some might argue a partially destructive one, but the pictures are so very, very pretty.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RIP Paul, the Prognosticating Octopus

Sad news hit my inbox this morning as I discovered that Paul, the octopus who predicted the outcome of all the World Cup games has shrugged off this mortal coil. According to Sea Life aquarium in Germany (where Paul resided until his untimely demise) he died of natural causes.

Hm. I wonder if a cephalopod necropsy has been performed. In case you have forgotten, after Paul successfully predicted to outcome of the Wold Cup final, there were threats to his life from disgruntled soccer fans. It was suggested that a proper place for Paul was to be deep fried and placed on a platter next to a bowl of dipping sauce, that is to say, that he should be made into calamari. I think a call for an investigation is in order. Was it a mob hit? Disgruntled supporters of the Netherland's football team? We won't know until this is properly looked into, but all suggestions (in my imagination) to do so have been ignored!

I smell foul play!

BREAKING: I am not the only Paul conspiracy theorist! See today's Guardian.

Sleepy Hollow is Still Clearly Haunted

We humans have been artificially scaring ourselves since we were tiny little people who sat crouched in caves telling each other stories waiting for Woolly Mammoth season to begin. The human psyche differs from the animal one most in its ability to comprehend abstractions, which leads to the ability to be both frightened and to know (or at least reasonably assume) that no actual harm will befall one. That's the theory, anyway.

This is the season of plastic masks and candy and slutty vampire nurse costumes all doing service to celebrate what started off as the Celtic celebration of the end of summer, Samhain and the Christian All Saints Day. In other words, it's all about death. Leaves fall, it grows cold and the long winter months begin. Even if you don't find the idea of ghosts and vampires particularly scary, the thought of a rural 16th century winter should scare the bejesus out of you. Like I said, it's all about death.

But back to this, the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. My dashing inamorato and I have been feeding ourselves a steady diet of monster movies, spook houses (well, two) and have an action packed Halloween weekend ahead of us. But mostly I want to talk about the town of Sleepy Hollow and the Horseman's Hollow haunted spook walk. As all of us know, Sleepy Hollow is the small town in the Hudson Valley that was the site of Washington Irving's famous tale of cowardice, bullying and - most importantly! - headlessness. Sleepy Hollow, just north of Tarrytown, is a forty-five minute rain ride from Grand Central Station. There is a 17th century church with vast and beautiful cemetery in which both Washington Irving and Katrina Van Tassel are buried. Across the road is Philipsburg Manor, a 17th century estate. Which is, from what I saw, inhabited by all sorts of spooks and ghosts and devils and tortured souls. And, of course, a horseman without a head.

The Horseman's Hollow "haunted experience" is both spooky, scary and period perfect. The production design, whether it was accomplished by supernatural means, or otherwise is impressive. The walk is also nicely paced. Trav and I went fairly early in the evening and we saw very few of the other people walking through, until there was a slight bottleneck after a (very scary to this easily startled clausterphobe) maze. All the spooks and monsters were a creepy assortment of dead Red Coats, eviscerated farmers, blacksmiths, schoolmasters and 18th century devil worshippers. And things that have no name. Sometimes they are right in front of you cackling with the hollow laughter of the damned. And sometimes they sneak up quietly behind you. I don't think I need to tell you which is scarier.

As you can see above, Trav was nearly eaten by evil Jack Pumpkinhead. The whole thing was absolutely loads of spooky fun and more than worth the $20 admission. I don't want to say too much as half the fun was being constantly surprised. One thing that particularly impressed me is that there weren't any dead (see what I did here?) spots. When one was walking between the major installations, there was always something to look at. You never had the feeling of "waiting for the next thing". And though I felt I spent most of the time walking in the open, I could never see what was ahead. And then, I saw a fleeting glimpse of a mounted figure on a large white charger, and yes, that figure had no head.

For a delightful recounting of the rest of our day in the village of Sleepy Hollow, as told by Mr. S.D., click here.

For information and tickets to Horseman's Hollow in Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For train schedules to Sleepy Hollow (the Philipse Manor stop on the Hudson River Line) click here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

RIP Ari Up

Punk rock (like most all other rock) was pretty much a boy's club, which was one of the things that made The Slits so super cool and exciting to me when I was growing up. Another thing that isn't paid enough attention to these days is how much the bands (in both NYC & London) that were collected under the umbrella of punk rock differed from each other stylistically. The Slits were punk as fuck, but sounded nothing like The Clash or The Sex Pistols, or anyone else really.

Well, Ari Up, lead singer and driving force behind The Slits died yesterday at the age of 48. She will be missed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Halloween is approaching, and with it, some Halloween coverage! But it's been a somewhat trying and stressful couple of weeks, so the ghosts and demons will have to wait. I need bunnies. In cups.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men Season 4: With A Whimper...

Mad Men's last episode until next July (Tomorrowland) was an odd disjointed piece of work. It felt a little soap opera-y, i.e. it felt as if it was just about what was going on with the characters, rather than about something larger or something else, you know, like in art. I'm not sure what they're doing with this. I hate the idea of "shark jumping" as I pretty much reject the idea of one moment from which there is no coming back (me: an optimist! I must be in love or something.). But this has reduced me to a state of listicle again. Some thoughts:

1. The editing and pacing were sloppy as hell. Particularly compared to episodes such as the John Slattery directed The Rejected or the Sally and Miss Blankenship-centric The Beautiful Girls, which were perfect little movies and this... felt like an episode of a television show. Below is Sun Times blogger Jim Emerson's short tribute to The Rejected's use of office architecture:

2. The scene with Betty and Don in the kitchen of the house they used to share was really nice. I miss seeing them together. Not in a fan-ish, "ooh, I wish they were together" sort of way. Just that there was always something so interesting about their interactions, and I miss that exploration of a really bad marriage.

3. Which leads me to Betty. Sigh. Why does Matt Weiner hate Betty Draper so much? This season she's turned into a one-note villain without any nuances. I found her story fascinating in the first three seasons, and maybe it's more a sad statement of where I was in my life at the time, but I kind of, like, related. She was so trapped and thwarted and so viciously manipulated by Don. I found it chilling in Season 1 when she was so deeply depressed and anxiety ridden she pretty much stopped functioning. And then she started seeing her shrink, D'Hoffryn - who reported back to Don what she told him during therapy sessions, breaking doctor-patient confidentiality. I also loved that early in the series, contrary to the typical way icy blonde WASPs are typically portrayed, she was shown as a pretty fully realized sexual being. She's always been a complete disaster as a parent (to put it mildly: see below), but she had layers. The degree in anthropology, the modeling career, the fluent Italian, the desperate seeking for something outside of a marriage in which she was treated like a child. The firing of Carla was just awful, but I think my problem is we've seen so little of her story, just her effect on other characters - mostly Sally.

4. There are so few movies or television shows that really interest me, I think I sometimes fall into the trap of wanting the ones I like to do everything. One stop TV shopping. That said, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Mad Men's flirting with, and then dashing away from the issue of race is getting truly problematic. Mad Men's exploration into the lives of women in the 1960s is brilliant. But it has pretty much used its African-American characters (who appear and disappear with very little fanfare) and the Civil Rights movement to show what's going on with a bunch of white men. Which, in a show as interested in the nuances of social interactions and progress as this one is, is extremely unfortunate. From Lane's Chocolate Bunny to Paul Kinsey's posturing to Carla's constant, unremarked upon presence there are so many opportunities for portrayals of depth that aren't capitalized on. The most interesting conversation about race thus far was between Peggy and that cute writer boy she met at the warehouse art party in which they get into a fight about civil rights, women's rights and working in advertising. But it was still a discussion by a couple of white people and it never really went anywhere. Many people on the internets have been dying for a Carla-centric episode. Obviously, after her wretched dismissal by Betty, we will all likely be waiting forever. And I had totally forgotten about this, which is actually kind of remarkable in its way:

5. After all this griping, I'm now going to turn into a Mad Men apologist on the issue of the abortion that wasn't. We can all list the abortions TV characters have had because there have been so few of them. Maud. Six Feet Under. Um... Oh! Tami on The Real World: LA. Party of Five, almost, but they bowed to pressure and copped out (as per usual) with a miscarriage of some sort. Friday Night Lights. I think that's pretty much it. In the entire history on American television. IRL, something like one in three American women will have the procedure. So, yeah, discrepancy. A couple of episodes ago, Joan found out she was pregnant with Roger's child and decided to terminate the pregnancy. She made the appointment, sat in the waiting room and then we saw her on the train coming home. Speculation was rampant: did she or didn't she? We learned in the finale that she didn't. She has told her [rapist] husband that the child is his (he's off in Vietnam), and she's keeping it. Normally, I would consider this a total bullshit development. But. Joan is in her mid-thirties. She's been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for a while. It's the 60s - fertility treatment options were pretty non-existent. She's already had two abortions, and has expressed concern about whether because of this she is capable of getting pregnant (her doctor seemed unexpectedly reasonable and told her there shouldn't be a problem). So, as this particular woman has been written, keeping the child seems like a choice she would reasonably make. I don't have a problem with it (though Roger likely will).

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6. Who is Don Draper? I've talked about this a little bit elsewhere, but I'm beginning to think that Don Draper isn't really anybody. He's a brilliant ad man, which means he's smart and ambitious and creative. But at its center, advertising is all about insecurity and want and surfaces. Maybe Don is so freaking good at his job because no one has spent more time figuring out how to put a glossy exterior on a pretty unsellable product (i.e. Dick Whitman). No one understands the romance of it all better. As Dr. Faye said as he broke up with her after coming back engaged from a brief working vacation with his children, "And I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things." She's right about Don, and that applies just as well to how America has sold the idea of itself to itself. We like beginnings. They're simple and romantic and they're easy. Day to day is hard. Years are hard. But you don't see any of that in a thirty second clip selling the adventure of stepping on a plane or selling weddings instead of marriages. Don proposes to a twenty-five year old woman he doesn't know at all. She looks right, and seems right, but they've essentially had a vacation fling in lala land, which doesn't sound worlds away from the start of his relationship with Betty. Don is an ad man, i.e. the king of the grand gesture. He's been compulsively unfaithful to every woman we've seen him with. He compartmentalizes to an extent that can only be called pathological. One of the more interesting bits of Tomorrowland was seeing how similar Don and Betty are in their inability to see their lives as a unified whole. They're all about clean slates and fresh starts, which, fine, but fresh starts in the real world always retain some residual odor of what has come before. I'm beginning to think the character of Don Draper is a cipher. A handsome face and a shiny suit standing in for an actual person. There's something... missing. His pitch to the American Cancer Society (Roger's question, "So, did you get cancer?" was priceless) at the beginning of the episode about youth and fear of mortality, explains his crazy-seeming marriage proposal.

7. Peggy's reaction to Don's engagement announcement was the highlight of the episode. The look in her eyes was pure "what the fuck?" and his little speech to her was so completely - albeit unintentionally - insulting, the mind just reels. "She reminds me of you." "She has your spark." The silent part of that sentence was "except she's way prettier and doesn't have my number at all!" And then that completely wonderful little bitchfest between Peggy and Joan.

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If the two of them become allies and cohorts I will truly be in TV bliss. I am almost tempted to write the most boring fan fiction ever about how Peggy and Joan split from SCDP and form Olsen Holloway-Harris and just kill. I'd also be okay with Olsen Holloway-Harris & Cosgrove. After all, they need someone to head accounts. I think it's become pretty clear that Mad Men has duel protagonists: Don Draper and Peggy Olsen. I recently rewatched the pilot, and Don was an advertising superhero. Glamorous and smart, with a brilliance so hard it was positively chitinous. Peggy was a mousy little secretary from Brooklyn at her first day of work. In the succeeding six years or so, Don's unassailable exterior has greatly chipped away. He doesn't quite know it, but he's in Cheever-land, and possibly on the wrong side of cultural history. Peggy is all youth and smarts and ambition. She's the one at the forefront now, and it's exhilarating to watch. We'll see what happens as the 60s take hold and Vietnam heats up. Will Don Draper finally drop out and move to sunny California? Shed yet another wife for a newer, fresher start and a different kind of life? I have a feeling Peggy will wind up running SCDP one day and is on the road to becoming some kind of legend. It's fascinating television to watch, because these differently packaged creatures have so much in common, and both seem to recognize that. But the chasm that separates them will only widen as the second half of the decade progresses I think.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

La EvoluciĆ³n Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution)

There's something about the idea of an undersea world that has always entranced me. I love that sequence in C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Narnia, Book 3, before the ridiculous, simple minded reordering of the books by Harper Collins) where Lucy looks over the side of her ship and sees a mer community, including a little mer-girl, and they silently become friends:
"Suddenly she saw a little Sea Girl of about her own age in the middle of them - a quiet lonely looking girl with a sort of crook in her hand. Lucy felt sure that this girl must be a shepherdess - or perhaps a fish-herdess - and that the shoal was really a flock at pasture. Both the fishes and the girl were quite close to the surface. And just as the girl, gliding in the shallow water, and Lucy leaning over the bulwark, came opposite to one another, the girl looked up and stared straight into Lucy's face. Neither could speak to the other and in a moment the Sea Girl dropped astern. But Lucy will never forget her face. It did not look frightened or angry like those of the other Sea People. Lucy had liked that girl and she felt certain the girl had liked her. In that one moment they had somehow become friends. There does not seem to be much chance of their meeting again in that world or any other. But if ever they do they will rush together with their hands held out."
Outer space seems empty and cold. But the deepest recesses of the ocean are mysterious, full of life and still greatly unknown to us.

Not in deep ocean, but in the shallow, clear waters off of Isla Mujeres in Mexico, British artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, created this eerie and lovely reef sculpture. The music included with the clip was a bit much for me, so I turned off the sound, but the sculpture itself is pretty extraordinary. On his website are pictures and videos of the evolution of marine life on and around his work.

It's all really worth taking a look at. My wish that divers just inadvertently come across it is all nonsense, as I know the underwater tourist hoards of Cancun will be lining up to take a look. I can dream though, right?

(Photo: © Jason DeCaires Taylor)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Crow's Nest and... Added Bonus Video!

Don't misunderstand me. I love my little gentrified corner of Brooklyn. We have freaking awesome pastries, a giant park and a blog covering it all. We also have the freakiest weather this side of Dorothy's Kansas, but that's a blog post for another day. What we don't have much of are performance venues. I mean, if you have a band, there's Southpaw. But if you happen to be more of a performance/theater/ burlesque person, you're getting on the F Train and going to Manhattan, or getting in the infernal G and heading to Williamsburg. Yeah, I know. First world problems. But you (unless you happen to be Trav S.D.) weren't with me the night it took FOUR FUCKING TRAINS to get home from Williamsburg, which is just completely outrageous.

Which brings me to Wednesday night, and my first time at Zora Art Space on 4th Avenue. They sell coffee and wine and snacks, there's art on the wall, and a nice little performance space in the back. And best of all, there was Esther Crow, debuting her variety night, Crow's Nest. I'm just going with the idea that it's the first of many, as there really should be more. She hosted in the guise of her hilarious Mrs. Goldblatt (see left) who reminds me of the lady that used to run the multi-purpose room in my elementary school in West Egg. It was a particularly well curated night, and completely entertaining. Amongst the acts were Anna Copa Cabanna who played her xylophone and sang a cover of Enter Sandman and a song about Ludlow Street. I've been wanting to catch her act for a while, so I'm glad I finally got to see her, as she was great. Charming and sweet and ditsy wearing a tiger-striped one-strap leotard (or body-suit as we used to call them in elementary school in West Egg). I also got to see Roger Nasser's (of Crispie Treat fame) ten minute, one man A Streetcar Named Desire (finally. Roger's the best), some hilarious sock puppet improv from Afternoon Playland (really, really funny), burlesque performer Foxxx Trot (after whose act the only word that popped into my head was "forceps". Catch her act, and you'll understand why), and most wonderfully, the inimitable Trav S.D. (okay. I'm totally biased). My always charming companion told two surreal and brilliant stories with the indefinable charm of the Great and Wonderful Oz, if the GaWO hailed from Williamsburg via Rhode Island, instead of Omaha. I mean that in the most exceedingly complementary way possible. It was a completely enjoyable evening, and for once, I could simply walk home.

Esther Crow also fronts The Electric Mess whose newest video was posted today. It was directed by Piper McKenzie (who were in the Crow's Nest audience in their Hope Cartelli and Jeff Lewonczyk disguises). You will likely recognize some special guests.

(Photo Credit: Angela Wieland Photography)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

50 Best!

As reported earlier, Laptop is Dead, Long Live Laptop! However, I am still working out some kinks in terms of my graphic capabilities, so the Cabinet is still crawling its slow way back up to full posting speed. So, sorry all, about the slightly sporadic posting of late.

That said, the nice people over at the Accredited Online Colleges blog (full disclosure: I have no idea who these people are, but they clearly have wonderful taste) published a list of the 50 Best Blogs For Theatre Lovers, and kindly included the very blog you are reading in their well curated list. In their Playwrights section, in addition to yours truly, they also noted the wonderfulness of Travalanche, the blog of my always dashing inamorato, Trav S.D.

Thank you, un-by lined blogger, whoever you are!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

RIP Laptop: Sword of Vengeance

Perhaps some of you have been wondering where I've been for the last week. Perhaps not. I just wanted to take this time to assure my readers that (never fear!) I have in no way abandoned you, or it. See my short explanation below:

And, okay. I know it's messy. But it's my first. And I'm grieving.