Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spotted Dick!

A week ago Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending Jack the Ripper's Holiday Spectacular at the Bowery Poetry Club. It was a thoroughly enjoyable outing, and I wish I had footage of Jack himself to show you, but as the past century has more than proved, he is a slippery fellow who cleverly eludes the camera's glare. This is surprising, as Jack's alter ego - the always silky Mr. Trav S.D. likes the limelight very much. So, if any footage should emerge, I will be sure to post it. In the meantime, here is the always entertaining Miss Lorinne Lampert performing "Spotted Dick (Is a Pudding)" with Mr. Albert Garzon accompanying her on piano.



Merry Christmas, everyone! And may you all have the pudding of your choice!

La Vie Parisienne

Recently, a friend with a vested interest in mermaids posted a couple of truly lovely illustrations on facebook (via the always wonderful Coilhouse), both from a French magazine, La Vie Parisienne, of which I had never heard.

I did a little digging and found that La Vie Parisienne, founded in 1863, but achieving its greatest popularity in the early years of the 20th century, was a high class rag, featuring art and humor and literature, but was best known for its charming illustrations of scantily clad pretty girls. It was all very tasteful (more Esquire than Playboy or Police Gazette) and none of the pictures I've seen would raise much of a modern eyebrow. However, during the war years, that old prude General Pershing warned his troops against its corrupting influence. History has neglected to note if there was a subsequent spike in sales.

What is of most interest to me are the illustrators. I'm pretty familiar with most of the great American and British illustrators of the fin de siècle, but not the European ones who remained in Europe (a few, such as Raphael Kirchner, wound up in New York working for Flo Ziegfield). But others, such as Chéri Hérouard and Georges Léonnec (who painted the lovely blue-haired mermaid above) are new to me - though, after performing a couple of image searches, I've realized I've seen their work without knowing who was responsible for creating it. I've been looking at pages and pages of illustrations from La Vie Parisienne for a few days now, and they are just gorgeous. Sexy and full of charm, not at all vulgar. I'm a little obsessed with old fashioned ink and watercolor technique - it all looks so perfect and seamless! I love fine art, but for good or ill, illustration is where I live. Below find some lovely examples from the glory years of La Vie Parisienne.

Chéri Hérouard, 1921

another Chéri Hérouard

Georges Léonnec, 1916


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Worries About Being A Tentacle-Free, Post-Cephalopodmas Letdown

I've been awfully full of "Bah Humbug!" this holiday season. I was sick for weeks, and now my poor inamorato has seemingly caught the bug. But, after all, as Fuzzy Bastard reminded me this afternoon, December 22 is the happiest day of the year. In addition to being my brother's birthday, it is also Cephalopodmas.

There are many wonderful ways to celebrate the season (none of which include Calamari or any sort of dipping sauce). One of the best is to sing Cephalopodmas Carols, such as the following, courtesy, cephalopodmas.com and penned by Caitlin Kiernan:
On the first day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the second day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the third day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the fourth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the fifth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the sixth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the seventh day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the eigth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the ninth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the tenth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the eleventh day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Eleven Architeuthis,
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the twelfth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Twelve inks sacs squirting,
Eleven Architeuthis,
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the thirteenth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Thirteen Hapalochlaena,
Twelve ink sacs squirting,
Eleven Architeuthis,
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

Or, you might want to indulge in some cephalopod themed art. In which case, you are in luck! The image above is by artist Justina Kochansky. In addition to her website, she also sells prints on Etsy. She's created these charming little squid-scape comics that, really, anybody would want hanging on their wall. In keeping with the winter theme, below is her piece Snow Day:



Happy Cephalopodmas, Everyone!

(Oh, just one more.)


(all images courtesy Justina Kochansky/articulatematter.com)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spider-Man: A Concussion, A Broken Foot, Two Broken Wrists, Broken Ribs and Internal Bleeding - Fun For The Whole Family!



The fact that people are buying tickets to Spider-Man just to see the wreckage is starting to get really unpleasant. Actors dangling mid-air: potentially hilarious. Four actors sustaining serious injury: really upsetting. Apparently, the most recent injury was caused by human error. The following is a statement from AEA:
Actors' Equity Association worked today with the Department of Labor, OSHA and the production to determine that the cause of the accident at last night's performance. Further protocols are now being implemented, including redundancies recommended by Equity, the DOL and OSHA, to address this situation as well as other elements of the production. Equity continues to vigilantly monitor the production for the safety of its members.
Which, of course, begs the question: why isn't there a redundancy system already in place? Doing stunts that complicated, in real time, eight performances a week (as opposed to in movies, when they just have to be done once - and if something doesn't look right, a safety or stunt person or rigger can go, "oh, wait. Stop.", something that can't happen in live theater), without a rigorous safety and redundancy system in place is going to get someone - either a performer or an audience member - killed. The hubris is mind boggling, and if one takes even a cursory look at the numbers, the odds of them getting their $65 million dollar investment back are puny.

Does Julie Taymor really want this to be her legacy?

(video courtesy of Peter Michael Marino)

Clowns and More Clowns

I hope I never get so jaded I start taking for granted the city I love, the city in which I live, the city of my birth, the city of my dreams. By which I mean, of course, Gotham. New York City. It's all finite space and building up and over. Forward looking, with an endlessly fascinating history that hardly anyone seems to know much about. Like the other great cities of the world: London, Paris, Tokyo - you can never come to the end of it. There's always more, always something you didn't know about, something old or new that you've never seen or done. It never stops being thrilling. It's like the internet, but in real life!

So, pretty much everyone knows there are clubs in our fair and violent city where jazz musicians experiment and play for mostly other jazz musicians, workshops where theater people show work that's still in process to other theater people. Rooms and coffee shops and bars where poets read their new poems for others of their bearded and bespectacled ilk, and open mikes where comedians mostly make each other laugh (or attempt to). But what of the clowns? Where do the red of nose and floppy of feet go to juggle and fall down and work out their complex physical business before presenting their artistry in Tops, both big and small? They go to The New York Downtown Clown Revue, that's where - as did I last night, escorted by silky downtown impresario, Trav S.D.

Founded, hosted and curated by Christopher Lueck (old friend and onetime collaborator - he played the White Bear in the FringeNYC version of Antarctica), he had seemingly retired the Revue last year, but it has happily re-emerged at Dixon Place, a venue close to my heart as they were the very first people to pay me actual money for being a playwright. The snazzy new seats were close to filled with off duty clowns who had come to see what their brethren were up to. Like any night of variety, it was a mixed bag. Clowns are curious folk, and at certain points during the program it felt a bit like being locked in the Monkey House after hours, when one is not a Monkey oneself. Chris is a delightful and enthusiastic host who has divided the program between Presented Acts and Commissioned Acts. Matt Mitler, one of the commissioned performers (his brief was to come up with a short, shamanistic clown piece with musical meditation themes) achieved something completely and distinctively strange, which he performed with absolute commitment and was really not much like anything I've seen (and, as I've said many times before, I've seen a great deal).

But the highlight of the performances was easily the masterful Joel Jeske (who also performs an act, The Hey-Ya Brothers, with Mr. Lueck), joined by surprise guest, Grandma (AKA Barry Lubin), of Big Apple Circus fame. They were simply hilarious. I fear sometimes, that with all the European training some clowns acquire, and all the theory, modern clowns sometimes forget to be funny. Mr. Jeske, in pitch perfect straight man mode, attempts to sing Christmas songs and play his ukulele. Grandma, the most disruptive audience member imaginable, prevents this from happening. Hilarious. Then Grandma brought an audience member onstage and they squirted water at each other. Hilarious. Comedy is unexplainable. It's all precision and practice and practice and more practice. Like being a ballet dancer. But funnier. And they fall down more.

The New York Downtown Clown Revue is the third Monday of every month. For more information, go here. For my darling inamorato's review of the revue, look here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sick

Hello, my dear readers. I had The Sick, resulting in an unfortunate and unscheduled pause in my posting. But now - I'm back!

Here's a picture of a pretty girl. Posting begins anew.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Written Language is Still Not My Friend...

So I'm posting this! I would like to give myself a big pat on the back for having the bravery to post something in which I look this hideous. When I come down from the sick (which is likely adversely affecting my judgment), I will probably regret this very, very much.

But, thanks to all my delightful facebook friends for all their wonderful suggestions for what I should watch while home sick! This is dedicated to all of you.
video

Friday, December 3, 2010

Whip It!

I started documenting my list of female movie directors more than two years ago, and I'm so pleased to say that I have a huge backlog of people I would like to write about, and since beginning this project Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for directing the (atrociously named, but very good) The Hurt Locker.

So, things, I suppose are looking up. I guess.

Which brings me to the career of ridiculously likable actor and first time feature director, Drew Barrymore, and her film, Whip It. Written by Los Angeles Roller Derby girl, Shauna Cross (AKA Maggie Mayhem), it's both an underdog sports story and a coming of age piece. Is it super original? No. But it's extremely enjoyable and possesses both an intelligence in its execution and a lack of cynicism that's extremely welcome in these dark movie watching days when people being mean to each other is supposed to be hilarious.

Ellen Page plays a young girl named Bliss who lives in a small town near Austin, TX and participates in pageants at her mother's insistence. After picking up a flier, Page and her BFF go to a Roller Derby tournament and she is completely entranced. One of the nicest things about the movie is watching somebody find something they love. There's an early scene in which Bliss is skating in preparation for tryouts with a look of absolute joy on her face.

And yes, the film contains most of the typical Bad News Bears styled clichés, but it's amiable and low key and often funny. And - Wow! - it really, really looks to me as if the actors do pretty much all their own skating! Barrymore's direction is skilled and doesn't get in the way of her story. During the Roller Derby scenes I always knew who everyone was and where they were in relation to the other skaters (something, for example, Christopher Nolan is completely incapable of), and it looked lovely. There's a sweet PG-13 romance between Bliss and a cute musician boy, but romance isn't the point. It's about Bliss skating, and about her relationship with her best friend and her parents.

I thought Bliss's parents (played by Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern) to be the weakest part of the film. They were painted a little too broadly and either Daniel Stern was completely miscast, or he's just a terrible actor, either way, I found his performance a little hard to watch. I did like that whatever issues Bliss was having with them, they were not painted as villains. After lying about her age and sneaking off to Austin to skate, when her parents found out they'd been lied to, they (understandably) freaked out. I liked that the script has Kristen Wiig's character point out to Bliss that she had lied, and that her parents clearly cared about her, and maybe she should cut them some slack.

Of course it ends with the big game in which the Hurl Scouts face their rivals, the Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven) led Holy Rollers, and none of the plot points are particularly surprising. But Whip It possesses in spades many of the simple pleasures one often wants from movies that seem so often in short supply. The film also had a really nice, understated sense of place. Another subtle touch, one I see very, very rarely was in the costume design. Bliss (later, Babe Ruthless), comes from a family without a great deal of money. And we see her character wear the same items of clothing, in different combinations, multiple times throughout the story. Barrymore paid a great deal of attention to detail, giving the film a really nice visual texture. There was nothing rote about the filmmaking.

Drew Barrymore has been acting in movies since she was four or five, and comes from one of the most legendary show business dynasties in American history. Whip It, while not perfect, didn't feel like a rookie effort. It was modern and self-assured and good hearted, all qualities one associates with her as an actor. It's one of those movies that I'll likely wind up seeing 600 times before I die, simply because I'll sit there and watch it every time it's on TV. It's the kind of movie that makes me unreasonably happy in an uncomplicated and unembarrassed way. Something that is actually pretty rare.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vogue: The Kraken

I have a complex, quasi-abusive, and completely unbreakable relationship with fashion. In so many ways the entire industry is indefensible. But, like with those people who like the running and catching and throwing and such, I remain, as they say, a fan.

And, like it or not, in the center of the melee, like a bloated, multi-tentacled Kraken, sits Vogue. Its current American edition is ridiculous, as gorgeously documented by former West Egg resident R.J. Cutler in his documentary, The September Issue. The film took a look at the nearly 40 year (!) working relationship of Editor in Chief Anna Wintour and Creative Director Grace Coddington (they started off at British Vogue in the 60s, then both made the move to New York). The various editions of Vogue are often out of touch and embarrassing. The American version is dull and stagnant and honestly, I couldn't care less about the current version of this particular beast. But in its first few glorious decades, it employed such luminaries as Man Ray, Edward Stiechen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton, and Lee Miller (who scooped the NY Times with her coverage of the liberation Buchenwald as she traveled with Patton's army. Miller is a personal hero of mine and deserves her own post.). In the teens and 20s the covers featured gorgeous, modern illustrations.

But, every once in a great while, most often in their Italian or Paris editions, Vogue will come up with something that produces at least a dim echo of their former glory. Such is the case in this month's British edition which contains an achingly lovely editorial spread based around a zodiac theme. The photographer is Tim Gutt. The sets were designed by Shona Heath. And the model is Siri Tollerød. You can see the whole thing here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More Murderous Muscovites and Pat the Bunny: Tom Rob Smith's The Secret Speech

I do fear that I'm scarily on the verge of becoming one of those tiresome people who rails endlessly and repetitiously about their pet cause and concern on facebook, so I'll just spew it all out here and be done with it. After all, why have a blog, if one can't spew? I agree with lots of the ranting and raving on the interwebs about the loss of what seem to me to be inalienable rights, but I'm extremely tired of phrases like "it's like Stalin" or "it's just like Nazi Germany", mainly because whatever badness might be going on, it simply isn't like those things. I know I'm not the most well informed person on earth, and the complexities of our modern governmental, economic and geo-political situations are such that I know I'm never really going to catch up (at least I don't spout complete gibberish 24/7). I fully admit that 90% of what I know about anything has been gleaned from reading novels. I have no idea what needs to be done in terms of security but, it seems fairly clear to me that U.S. vs. Davis needs to be revisited, as back in the 70s when the decision was written, the question was warrantless bag searches, and the fact that "flying isn't a right, one can choose not to fly and avoid the whole thing" was the general thrust. Which isn't entirely true. Yes, one might refuse to fly, but for many people that would entail things like quitting one's job in order to avoid what many, many people view as a violation of one's person. Also, the "in light of current technology" clause needs to be picked over, i.e. why not dogs? There is no, "well, we've paid for the damn machines, so we better use them or look like asshats" text in the decision, just saying. But, I'm not a lawyer, so what the hell do I know? I only know about novels, so back to the books.

The thing that keeps popping into my head is Efrafa. Okay. I know this is where I lose anything even resembling credibility. Efrafa is the rabbit warren in Richard Adams's 1973 novel, Watership Down, which was created and run by the terrifying General Woundwort. Woundwort had decided (not incorrectly) that most of the problems faced by rabbits were caused by predators and humans, so the survival of his warren was based on extreme security and discipline. There's a large part of me that thinks I should be hit about the head multiple times for conflating the problems faced by a bunch of fictional rabbits with the lives and safety of actual human beings, but whatever. The rabbits who are sent as emissaries to Efrafa from Watership Down are thrust into a nightmare world where they aren't able to eat, go above ground or defecate where and when they choose. A rabbit who goes to the ruling counsel and requests to leave with some other unhappy rabbits (the warren is over-crowded) has his ears shredded. Life is hardly worth living, and of course one must ask, at what price safety?

For me it becomes ridiculous when the chances of me being groped by some creepy stranger are exponentially raised because whatever halfwit the TSA has hired to do the screening, who is able to start work before the second round of background checks is complete (or, for that matter, has even begun), doesn't know what an IUD looks like and thinks I'm transporting some kind of dangerous exploding device. If one cannot distinguish between a belt buckle or a penny and something that can bring down a plane, I have very little confidence the people staffing these machines are able to do this with anything else, either.

You know in the movie Gross Point Blank, where John Cusack is nearly shot by an old high school classmate working as a security guard? And he asks him how he got that job? And the friend replies, "They were hiring"? This pretty much describes the crack team that has been assembled to keep us all safe from terrorists. And the TSA is hiring pretty much everywhere. I looked at the openings, and at all the government TSA hiring regulations, and the big qualification seems to be that one has never been convicted of a major crime like rape or murder or arson. Note the word convicted. In theory, someone who has been tried multiple times for sexual assaults, but not convicted, could be hired. I know, innocent until proven guilty. But if you know anything at all about the rate of successful prosecutions in cases of sexual assaults of any sort (abysmal), this will give one pause.

Hazel, the leader of the Watership Down rabbits was no dummy. What he did was assess risk, and balance it with quality of life. In my opinion, we seem to be incrementally eroding our civil liberties in the name of safety. And the assessment of which threats we should be worried about seems slightly arbitrary to me. But again, I'm correlating all of this with a bunch of fictional rabbits, so take it all with a big grain of salt. It just seems to me, that like with the brave pioneering rabbits in Richard Adams's book, the people who created this country did so at great personal risk. I'm sort of a fan of letting people assess their own comfort levels in terms of who is permitted to touch them and what seems like an appropriate risk. But again, I'm the lady babbling about rabbits.

One big caveat: along with my marked discomfort with what has been deemed an appropriate warrantless search of my bra, I hold onto the fact that it's still not much like life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Of course, as I mentioned earlier in this post, I know this primarily from reading novels. I reviewed Tom Rob Smith's excellent thriller, Child 44, a few months ago, which is set in the last months of Stalin's dictatorship and in the months following his death. He evokes beautifully what it must have been like to live in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and, I repeat, it is nothing like living in the United States in the first decades of the 21st century. We have our own problems, sure, but fear of being denounced by our coworkers and families to the state and being sent off to prison camps for years of hard labor on the flimsiest of pretexts really, really isn't one of them. Not to mention the completely wonderful and utterly game changing First Amendment. I would also like to point out that we are one of the only nations that has any such law. Not Canada. Not Britain. Not France.

At the end of Tom Rob Smith's first novel, Stalin was dead and the Soviet government had agreed to (hero/anti-hero) Leo Demidov's request to set up a homicide division within the Militia in Moscow. I wasn't sure where this would lead, as even with Stalin gone, the Soviets still were unwilling to (publicly) admit that individuals committed crimes against each other, rather than just against the state. I had some thoughts about where the series would lead, maybe Leo would solve crimes in Moscow? Another serial killer? Whatever I thought, I was wrong, partly because my Soviet history is, to say the least, weak.

At the beginning of The Secret Speech, copies of Khrushchev's eponymous speech were being distributed to former and current members of the MGB (the State Police). The actual title of the speech was "On the Personality Cult and Its Consequences" and it criticized Stalin and the excesses of his regime. In Smith's book this leads to suicides, murder, rage, fear and guilt in the former perpetrators of Stalin's policies. Smith is an excellent thriller writer, and his strengths lie most in his ability to craft believable human beings who behave in recognizable and complex ways. His hero Leo, is particularly fascinating. He's a former state security agent whose awakening to the moral implications of his work was documented in the first book. The question in The Secret Speech is: what should be done with the people who perpetrated these horrors? Mainly, can they, and should they, be forgiven? Is it possible to make amends? The way in which Smith shows various people's reactions to these questions is often incredibly insightful. One former security officer commits suicide, not because of his remorse over what he's done, but because he couldn't stand his wife knowing, and the social embarrassment the revelations would cause. Which seems ludicrous in the face of the enormity of some of the horrors he assisted with, but rings emotionally true to me.

What rang less true, as with in his first book, were some of the thriller aspects. Leo is painted as being wonderfully morally complex, but he also is a bit of a Teflon covered action hero. Sneaking undercover into a Gulag and escaping seemed a little far fetched, to put it mildly. One of the things I like about Smith is that his female characters have as much going on as his male ones. The journey taken by Leo's adopted daughter, Zoya, is particularly wonderful, part LeCarré, part Dickens, I would have been happy spending many more pages with her. Not so with his chief villain, Fraera. Formerly a mild-mannered priest's wife, she was arrested seven years earlier by Leo, sent to the Gulags, and after much hardship has become a kind of criminal mastermind, bent on revenge. It all felt a little ludicrous, particularly because so many of the characters seem so complex and real, in comparison Fraera felt a little like someone who should be fighting with Batman. But, over all, Smith likes complexity and hard choices in his fiction, which I like. He also writes a great thriller that is near impossible to put down. He is working on a third and final installment, and as this book ended amidst the bloodshed and disappointment of the Hungarian Revolution, and the formation of the KGB, I am excited to read his next instalment.