Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vogue, 1946

Hattie Carnegie dress. Erwin Blumenfeld photo. Vogue, 1946

I love how surrealism completely infiltrated fashion photography (after all, Vogue paid the bills for many an artist). I also love how even for a sort of workaday spread, Blumenfeld goes all out.

Mapp and Lucia and E.F. Benson

Much like with The Fountain Overflows, the covers of the most recent editions of E.F. Benson's Lucia books makes them look really boring so I won't be using them. Instead, I will be illustrating this post with Edward Gorey drawings. He never illustrated the Lucia books, but he was influenced by them and should have.

E.F. Benson is the sort of fiction writer that doesn't really exist anymore. He started off writing serious, historical novels that didn't go anywhere (and are reportedly dreadful), and then went on to write dark and witty indictments of high society, then many, many short stories in pretty much every genre imaginable. Of particular note are his ghost stories, which are still heavily anthologized and pretty easy to find. He also wrote mysteries, horror, adventure stories, comic pieces, satire and crime stories. He wrote volumes of history, too.

But, what Benson is most remembered for now are his six Lucia books. Most importantly: they are hilarious. They stand as the only books that have ever made me well and truly miss my subway stop - and they did it twice. I think the first time it happened was when I was reading about the "duel" in Miss Mapp, and the second time was when Captain Puffin drowns in his soup. But more on that later.

E.F. Benson was a member of a strange and illustrious family. His father was Archbishop of Canterbury, and all the Benson siblings were interesting and accomplished. One brother, a celebrated essayist, poet and Cambridge professor, penned the lyrics to Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" (which is a part of his Pomp and Circumstance, which we all recognize from every graduation ceremony ever). Another was a Catholic priest and popular novelist. Their sister was an artist, writer and Egyptologist. Sadly, the Egyptologist and the professor went mad, likely suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder - their father may have suffered from it as well. After the death of the Archbishop, his wife set up housekeeping with the widow of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury in a lesbian relationship that lasted the rest of their lives. It is likely that all the Benson siblings were also homosexual (E.F. certainly was).

The six Lucia novels span the years between the wars, the last one appearing shortly before Benson's death in 1940. They all (except for the previously mentioned Miss Mapp) star Mrs. Emmeline Lucas, who calls herself Lucia. She lives in the village of Riseholme and is constantly striving for social supremacy. She is elegant and snobbish and completely insufferable. All the squabbles and issues are ludicrous and overblown. I find the books incredibly difficult to explain as, if one is asked what they are about, the only answer is "a bunch of upper middle class middle aged English people who live in a village and bicker." Which is true. But they are so, so funny in an almost Fawlty Towers-ish kind of way. Lucia and her best friend Georgie pretend they can speak Italian, so of course Benson keeps throwing actual Italians at them. It's always hilarious.

Miss Mapp is introduced in the titular novel in which Lucia doesn't appear - but when the two of them meet in Mapp and Lucia, it is like clash of the titans. Lucia moves to Tilling, where Mapp reigns supreme and it's just great. They loathe each other. All the books are filled with comic set pieces and great characters. The Vicar who speaks in a made up Scottish accent. The young female painter ("Quaint Irene") who wears knickerbockers. The great opera singer who is always inviting Italians to stay. The medium who cons everybody. The local Riseholme museum that contains a taxidermied pug and some shards of pottery that everyone optimistically has declared Roman. The pages of intrigue surrounding Georgie's hair, or the "guru" with whom everyone is entranced who makes them do yoga.

There is no sex at all ("that horrid thing which Freud calls sex") and no children. I thought, at one point that there were, but then it was subsequently revealed that the character was actually around thirty but liked to effect a childlike pose. Gorey really should have illustrated them. What the books do, is turn a bunch of very ordinary, everyday people into stars of great drama. There was no television so they all had to make their own fun with their gurus and ouidja board and theatricals. Like all great leaders, Lucia is painted as being both monstrous and heroic, but the canvas she is painted on is miniscule. Women and gay men were so often portrayed in this period as depressed and thwarted or deviant. Benson was a very old fashioned writer, but in some ways he was radical. His open mindedness towards every brand of eccentricity and oddness is one of the things that makes the books so engaging. And they are, as I keep saying, very, very funny.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

May everyone be enduring this muggy Memorial Day by ingesting hot dogs galore and cavorting in the surf.

On this day I would like to salute the lovely and brilliant Carole Lombard. She died, tragically, at the age of 33 when her plane crashed after attending a rally in her home state of Indiana during which she raised over $2 million for the war effort.

Few movie stars are more missed. I have no doubt she would have segued seamlessly into daffy little old ladyhood.

Vogue: Cover by Dali

I occasionally buy decades old issues of Vogue when I see them and have the cash. This 1944 issue, however, can't really be had for love or money (okay, maybe for love).

(image via kenodoxia.tumblr.com)

RIP Leonora Carrington

"I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist." - Leonora Carrington, 1983
But still, in the very first sentence of her New York Times obit, her relationship with Max Ernst is referenced. I have a feeling that might have rankled, though she admitted her debt to him, often. She was a wonderful painter who lived a long, productive and interesting life.

Like all artists (particularly of the female variety) she was remarkably self determined. Born into an upper class English family, running off to Paris to join the Surrealists wasn't precisely what her parents had in mind for her, to say the least. She ran off with the much older Ernst when she was about 20 and painted and wrote. There's a great anecdote about Jean Miro handing her some money and telling her to go get some cigarettes, which she essentially threw back in his face.

She first came to my attention because of her obsessions with the occult, alchemy and myth. She wrote as well as painted and I think I first encountered her work in an anthology of fantasy written by women. Like Ernst, she was a surrealist down to her very marrow. Her work is strange and autobiographical, oddly matter of fact in tone.

As for most everyone of her generation, the war was the defining event in her life. Ernst was imprisoned by the Nazis (but arrested first by the French Vichy government I think it's worth noting), and Leonora fled to Spain. She suffered a breakdown and her parents had her committed to a horrific asylum. I have no idea how apocryphal this is, but I read that she was rescued from the madhouse by her former Nanny, who arrived in a submarine. She eventually made her way to Mexico where she spent most of the remainder of her life. She and Ernst, both damaged by the war, never reconnected.

In addition to her painting and writing, she also designed for the theater. The picture above shows costumes she created for a show directed by Chilean director and filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who she mentored. Her life was long and interesting and productive but, naturally, I suppose, most people want to hear about the short years with the Surrealists in Paris. It was a time of such outrageous creativity, one just longs to have been there. At least I do - in my time machine wish list, Paris between the wars ranks high.

Leonora Carrington died this past week at the age of 94. In an odd way, I wish she could come back, as she is a painter uniquely suited, I believe, to showing us what the afterlife looks like.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tap Your Troubles Away!

A late addition to the National Tap Dancing Day posting frenzy. Gilda Radner on The Muppet Show!

Huge thanks to Jillian Tully for posting this most charming of videos!

Happy Birthday Siouxsie Sioux!

May the creative and wonderful Siouxsie Sioux have a fabulous birthday!

Siouxsie Sioux (neé Susan Ballion) was born 54 (!) years ago in Southwark (that's where Shakespeare's Globe was located - it subsequently went into decline. Parts of it were known as "the Mint", where criminals would hide out in the 17th-18th centuries as it was outside of the jurisdiction of the authorities of London).

She is and was a punk rock legend, my inamorato and I just saw clips of her in the Filth and the Fury the other night. Like so many genius artists, she embodies a persona and a particular aesthetic down to her very bones. Her look was so interesting and visually striking, her imitators turned it into a goth cliché. And I loved her band, the Banshees, when I was growing up. I saw her live in the 80s at least once (possibly more - things begin to fade).

She was married for many years to her drummer, Budgie, and they lived in gothic decadence in the South of France. Of course, the Banshees first drummer was Sid Vicious. She and Budgie have since divorced, I was sorry to hear. You can see them in happier times at right.

But it's really about the music, and the performance, isn't it? See here her video for Dazzle (embedding disabled) and you can see that she might be almost single-handedly responsible for bringing back the aesthetic of movie stars of the teens or twenties - wouldn't Mr. Ziegfeld wanted to hire her? Below is The clip for Spellbound:

I love how tall and strong and elegant she is - such a huge and endless influence. May she have the happiest of days!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Never Say Goodbye Twice and Don't Go Against The Family!

No, I'm not getting all service-y again, spouting inexplicable advice via my posts.

The above heading contains the titles of two short films recently created and posted by friends of The Cabinet.

There's nothing I like better then pretend spies. I've watched every James Bond movie and all five Alias seasons (and some of those later ones were completely inexcusable). So, I of course watched the following with the utmost glee. Directed by Doug MacKrell as a part of the 48 Hour Guerilla Film Competition. Please watch it and send it to everybody, as they are intent on winning the competition, and that means hits. You will not be remotely disappointed.

Don't Go Against The Family is a hilarious short about a mob performance review by Josephine Cashman and Ken Simon:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Neko Case: Star Witness

Just 'cause.

Gentlemen and Flappers

Don't we all sometimes feel like we have a flapper inside trying to get out? Even me, who is so broody and anti-social. That said, one sometimes forgets, that as radical as the changes for women were at the start of the last century, there were many changes for men, too. After the aestheticism of Oscar Wilde and after the stuffiness and formality of the Victorians were thrown over, men as well as women were done with being buttoned up and middle aged and embraced youth.

J.C. Leyendecker was likely the most successful commercial illustrator in the first decades of the 20th century (before that honor belonged to Norman Rockwell). Famous for his illustrations of the 'Arrow Collar Man' and for his Saturday Evening Post covers (He painted something like 300 covers for them). His most famous image today is from a 1922 Life Magazine (not that Life, the other one) cover, called The Flapper. But, flappers aside, Leyendecker likely more responsible for how we picture men in the early 20th century than anybody else. He used as his model his "live-in companion", Charles Beach, with whom he resided for many decades. Leyendecker never officially came out, so this is all really speculation but, I mean, really. It's just unfortunate he lived in a time when such subterfuge was deemed necessary.

Sadly, the decline of the collar industry hurt his career and his close identification with the decadence of the 20s didn't help either, after the crash in '29. He spent the remaining decades of his life in his estate in New Rochelle, living in near seclusion with Beach.

Some examples of his lovely and elegant work are below:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy National Tap Dancing Day!

Today is National Tap Dancing Day, made so in honor of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's birthday. In The Cabinet's humble opinion the following is the greatest of all tap dancing sequences ever filmed. The Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway in five minutes of perfection:

I know I've posted this before, but this might be a close second (and my favorite). Here is the Moses Supposes number from Singin in the Rain. The Intellectual Property Gods have disabled embedding, so you'll have to click though and watch on YouTube. Gene Kelly had so many balletic pretensions, but for my money he was at his best when he just, you know, danced. I love Cyd Charisse, and think she's just lovely, but I'd far rather see Kelly and Fred Astaire dance with a hoofer, you know?

Speaking of which:

Swing Time is the film in which Fred dances his tribute to Bojangles (in the "Bojangles of Harlem" number) in which he sports, if not precisely blackface, something definitely akin to it. Which, I am sure, people have written dissertations on, as with most things, it's complicated. It's meant as a most sincere homage, but changing tastes and perceptions have made it somewhat cringe-worthy.

Dance in the form of tap (or otherwise) has nearly vanished form our screens. But, back in 1981, in Denis Potter's Pennies From Heaven, Christopher Walken danced to Let's Misbehave. This is a movie that had untold influence on me, and in some ways I've been ripping off the work of Denis Potter ever since. His strange and brilliant work for British television is simply unlike anything else. I believe everything you see that's interesting on television owes him something of a debt.

And now, finally, in honor of the man himself, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's famous stair dance:

Housing Works Is The Best!

I'm about to get all service-y again. As many of my fellow residents of Gotham know, Housing Works is one of the many things that makes living in this city a joy. Well curated Thrift Stores and auctions in many neighborhoods around the city and their truly wonderful book store. Most important, of course, is the good work they do on behalf of the homeless and people suffering from AIDS.

I, like many of us, have seemingly piles of old clothes to get rid of, but I'm not super fond of the Salvation Army's policy on homosexuality (to say the least), and because of rising rents it's getting more and more difficult to find places nearby to take one's old clothes. There used to be drop off bins, but they seem to have all disappeared.

Just today, I learned via the terrific Thrift Store Confidential blog, that Housing Works, in a partnership with the City, will now be placing clothing recycling bins in buildings around the city. I'm not entirely sure what this means for us residents of Brownstone Brooklyn, but hopefully there will be some sort of creep.

If you are interested in having your building participate, go here.

Todd Robbins: Play Dead

Many, many years ago, boys and girls, they used to have outdoor rock concerts on Pier 84 on the West Side. I remember seeing tons of bands there at one point: you could drink cheap under-age beers, and there were promoters giving out free packs of crappy cigarettes. I mean, can you picture that happening now? I can't remember everyone I saw there, but I do know I saw The Psychedelic Furs (awful), The Cure, The Smiths and other people I can no longer remember. They were all-ages and general admission shows and afterward, we would walk over to Times Square and go to the (now departed) Howard Johnson's.

It was essentially a diner with a ticky tacky bar at the back, and they'd let you sit there for hours nursing your diet coke. It was late at night and aside from us and some of the usual late night Times Square weirdos, there was always a table of magicians. I can't remember if we recognized Penn & Teller from television or what (this was around '86, long before they were as famous as they are now), but we somehow wound up chatting with them one night.

A couple of years later, when I was 18, I saw Penn & Teller's show off-Broadway with my boyfriend at the time who was (among other things) a juggler who had attended the Ringling Bros's school down in Florida. As you can see, there has been a kind of striking consistency to my life. I was plucked from the audience and levitated (see below).

Fast forward a decade or so, and I'm working at FringeNYC where one of the first things I hear about our Production Manager is that her boyfriend eats light bulbs. When I met him, he seemed terribly dapper and affable and not at all what I pictured when I heard he ate light bulbs. Well, my former co-worker is now Mrs. Todd Robbins, they have a delightful son, and I've seen him perform many, many times over the past decade or so: at FringeNYC, off-Broadway, and at Monday Night Magic. Todd Robbins is something of a carnivalesque Renaissance Man: actor, sideshow freak, Ragtime piano player (he performs frequently with Woody Allen's band), and magician. For a long and entertaining post about Mr. Robbins, go here. If you walk past the sideshow at Coney Island, and you hear a voice beckoning to you from the loudspeakers: that voice is his.

All this self-indulgent prelude brings me to the spooky wonderment that is Todd Robbins's and Teller's Play Dead. I'm embarrassed to say, that last weekend was the first time I'd seen it, as it's been open for some months now. I blathered endlessly about myself, partly because I don't want to say too much about the show as so many of its pleasures are contingent on surprise.

As you enter the Players Theater on Bleecker, you first see a dire warning above the Box Office. That if you are claustrophobic or prone to panic attacks, please alert the staff before entering, as parts of the show are performed in total darkness. Now: I am someone who is claustrophobic and prone to panic attacks and all sorts of general jumpiness. But, this is a spook show and I intended to be scared. And I was. And I was completely and thoroughly entertained. The show is full of magic and scares and tall tales and misdirection and gaffs and frights. In other words, it is a near perfect thing.

I love horror, but as I've mentioned in this blog before, I am seriously distressed by what passes for entertainment, what I like to call "torture porn". I don't understand it and I think it points to a sickness in our culture that people watch such fare as "entertainment". Todd's horror and frights are of a more old fashioned sort, and he demonstrated that if done right, with great authenticity and skill, they can be very scary indeed. At bottom, the show works because Todd is such a terrific performer and teller of tales. This total scardy-cat knew she was in thoroughly good hands when the lights went out.

Even if those hands were covered in blood.

(Photo credits: picture of Todd Robbins by Carol Rosegg, picture of Howard Johnson's via ephemeralnewyork)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Remarkable Animation of Ladislas Starevich

I don't remember what circuitous route brought me to the gobsmackingly great animation of Ladislas Starevich, but it hardly matters. I watched his 1912 animated short The Camerman's Revenge on YouTube and was simply blown away. I mean this was 1912! And it's just lovely. As the description on the YouTube posting so aptly puts it, "[it] is about infidelity among the insects, a topic which I dare say has never before or after been attempted on film." Mr. and Mrs. Beetle are dissatisfied with their bourgeoise marriage, so they both embark on affairs - he with a glamorous dragonfly who dances in a nightclub, she with a local artist. Well, just watch. I promise you, it's not like anything you've ever seen:

Starevich began as a naturalist - he had been made director of the Museum of Natural History in Kovno, Lithuania and his first films were live action documentary shorts about insect life. After directing a few films for the museum, he wished to feature insect behavior that was impossible to film, as the creatures were nocturnal and wouldn't behave normally under the lights. After seeing a short film by Emile Cohl, he decided to try stop action animation using insect carcasses. He soon branched into narrative shorts and moved to Moscow, where he created a series of animated shorts using dead animals which were acclaimed all over the world. Some people apparently couldn't believe they were animated and assumed the animals had been trained somehow - which sounds ridiculous to us, but imagine how magical his work must have seemed at the dawn of moviemaking.

You can see another of his charming insect films, The Dragonfly and The Ant, below:

After the September Revolution he joined the Russian expat community in Paris and worked there for the remainder of his life. He continued to make strange and creative animated movies until his death in 1965. Terry Gilliam has said he is a huge influence on his work.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

Remember Night Flight? It aired on USA from 1981 through 1988 and they played videos and movies and stuff? Things that never wound up on MTV or most anywhere else really?

I remember they played videos of lots of LA Punk and New Wave bands, but I mostly remember the movies. Breaking Glass, Rude Boy and some of the Paul Morrissey directed Warhol films. And best of all, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains starring a barely turned fifteen Diane Lane. I think I watched it every time it aired which was fairly frequently as they didn't have too many movies in their rotation. But then it disappeared. I left home and more or less forgot about it.

Since it had aired so many times during my formative teenage years, I had no idea how obscure and hard to find it would prove to be over the subsequent decades. There were all sorts of problems behind the scenes, and it never received any sort of proper release. The screenplay was written by Nancy Dowd who won the Oscar for penning Coming Home a few years earlier. She subsequently removed her name from the project for reasons that remain obscure. There is apparently only one print of the movie in existence and for many, many years it was pretty much impossible to see.

No more! In this age of accessibility, one can now stream The Stains via Netflix. Which is precisely what we did here at Cabinet Headquarters recently, and I got the chance to watch it for the first time in over twenty years.

First things first: it holds up. Truly. Recently, I've been watching lots of movies from the 80s and early 90s and it really makes one realize how strange and/or sanitized American films have become. Diane Lane plays Corinne Burns, a young girl who lives alone with her younger sister as their mother has just died of cancer (at 38). The two girls and their cousin (played by an extremely young Laura Dern) have started a band. They live in a dying coal town in Western Pennsylvania, where there's nothing for them. In a subtle way, the film correlates growing up working class and disenfranchised in Middle America to growing up working class and disenfranchised in London. Punk speaks just as well to kids in either place.

The film starts with a news interview with Corinne as a local station reports on "The Town That Wouldn't Die". Really, the moment you say that about a town, you know it's dead as hell. Corinne spouts teenage nihilism at the camera, calling herself, "Third-Degree Burns". Lane is remarkable with her tough little face and her eyes so full of hurt and anger. She's doomed and she knows it, all she has left is her rage and teenage bravado. She's about to lose her apartment, she can't find a job, school is a non-starter, she doesn't get along with her aunt (Christine Lahti), when she goes to see whatever band is playing at the local club that night. As Corinne watches The Looters, a punk band from London play, she first looks as if she's been hit in the face with a plank, then a look of recognition and joy plays across her face as she realizes this is it. This is what she's been looking for her whole life.

The fictional Looters sound as realistic as any fictional punk band in the movies, probably because it's comprised of two Sex Pistols and a member of the Clash (Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Paul Simenon). They are on a depressing, low-rent tour opening for an aging Spinal Tap like band of dinosaurs (the lead singer is hilariously played by Fee Waybill of The Tubes). The Looters have been promised sunny California, but have wound up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky. The tour is being run by a Rasta named Lawnboy who meets Corinne, and having seen her on the news report asks them to join the tour. Despite her bandmate's understandable reluctance (they've had all of three rehearsals), she jumps at it. The Stains are born.

Their first performance is something of a fiasco, and Corinne's frightened bandmates leave the stage when they're laughed at (cut them some slack - they're like 14 years old). But then Corinne reveals the look she's invented for herself in all its proto-Riot Grrl glory: striped hair, red eye shadow, see-through red top and tights. She sneers at the audience: "I'm perfect, but no one in this town gets me. Because I don't put out." As the tour goes on she develops a tentative relationship with the lead singer of The Looters (played by a very young and hunky Ray Winstone), but she's emotionally cut off and made of pure aggression and ambition, so he doesn't really stand a chance. Corinne's ability to grab media attention is worthy of Madonna (who I bet watched this movie with great attention). A local reporter knows she's news and starts following the tour. As little girls across the heartland start worshipping her and dressing like her, Corinne becomes something of a monster. But she's a pretty glorious one.

This movie is amazing in the way it anticipates both Madonna and the Riot Grrls. Dowd clearly knew that something was in the air, that girls were waiting for something, that there was so little out there for them. There are also shades of The Go-Go's who began as an LA punk band, but sold millions of records when they started playing sparkly incandescent pop. The Runaways may have also been in her mind, as the ultimate proto-punk teen rock band. Corinne is a creature of pure resentment and anger and carries a gigantic chip on her shoulder that causes her to do some pretty unforgivable things (mostly to Winstone, who proves to be something of a romantic), but that doesn't mean what she says on stage or in interviews is wrong.

The media satire is dead on and I'm always a fan of movies where the girl doesn't get broken. Let the girl be a monster, or a jerk, that's fine - just please don't grind her into powder. Enough of that. Third Degree Burns tells girls: "Don't get had". And the movie, remarkably, doesn't punish her for it. Awesome.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arthur Rackham: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Arthur Rackham is one of the acknowledged geniuses of the Golden Age of illustration, and his pictures for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens have long been some of my favorites.

To my absolute delight (and hopefully yours), I learned today via the always wonderful BibliOdyssey that all fifty of his illustrations are now available online via the Harvard University Library.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How Exene Cervenka Saved My Life

Last weekend, my inamorato and I sat down to watch the 1986 documentary X: The Unheard Music which I hadn't seen in well over twenty years. Back when I was a deeply alienated teenager, I saw it many, many times.

It was the weirdest thing. Aside from how much I love the band X, it was just like stepping into a time machine to the eighties. Let me just say right up front that few things are weirder and more off-putting to me than 80s nostalgia. It must have been how lots of people viewed the 70s nostalgia of the 90s, i.e. just baffling. The 80s were kind of the worst in a way, not miles away from living in these United States under Bush II. I think most people have forgotten or never knew.

It was the time of Iran-Contra, the first implementation of trickle-down economics, ketchup is a vegetable (when feeding children and the poor - so often the same thing) and the country, as whole seemed and felt culturally dead. In other words, a fine breeding ground for punk.

Exene Cervenka moved from Florida to Los Angeles in 1976 and formed X with John Doe (her soon to be husband whom she had met at a poetry workshop), Billy Zoom and D.J Bonebreak a year later. Their first four albums are all just great, all produced by Ray Manzarek from The Doors, and I had them all and played them again and again. My favorite has always been Under A Big Black Sun, their third.

Back in high school, I didn't have anywhere near the kind of money most of my classmates did. I mean, I couldn't compete with the mean little capitalist drones who sat in bio class with me, so eventually, and relievedly, I stopped trying. I wore clothes from thrift stores and yard sales (and there was some great stuff back then, believe me), my Mom's old clothes from up in the attic and my Dad's narrow lapeled suit jackets from the late 50s. I mostly stopped listening to Madonna and Duran Duran and began listening to stuff like X and The Cramps and The Replacements. Those first few REM albums and The B-52s and The Cure and The Velvet Underground and the (early) Clash records. And I began picking through my Mom's large and varied collection of LPs, stocked with folk and country and various oddities of all sorts.

Exene is a poet and a rock star and an artist right down to her bones and I worshipped her. I used to make all kinds of collages, and watching The Unheard Music, I wonder if I first started gluing stiff to paper because I saw her doing so in the film. Maybe. You can see at right a page from a more than 20 year old notebook. I don't remember where I found that picture of Exene. From Interview Magazine maybe? Way back in the early 90s she collaborated on a book called Just Another War about the first Gulf War. Henry Rollins published it on his press and I saw her on her book tour in '92. I was so thrilled to see her.

In some ways I feel she is the last of the true believers. She still writes and sings and wears thrift store clothes. She has a son in his early 20s who she had with ex-husband Viggo Mortensen (the amount of street cred he garnered when I found out he had been married to Exene for ten years is pretty much incalculable) . I just read she's been diagnosed with MS, which is just heartbreaking, and is likely why I haven't hear much from her recently.

I realize I've been writing a lot about people who have a very particular LA folk aesthetic. If I was to classify it, I would say it's a mix of old time Hollywood, punk rock, Mexican Folk Art and The Great American West. X's aesthetic falls somewhere in this too. I can't remember off hand if they are name checked in Weetzie Bat, but I think they might be. I'm a New York girl through and through, but there's something about the myth of California that's always appealed to me. When I was growing up in suburban NY, it saved me to know there were other places out there even if they were fictional: Narnia, Middle Earth, Old Hollywood, whatever. It was mysterious and glamorous and unattainable.

So, yeah, I don't know. I don't know if Exene Cervenka actually saved my life. But sometimes it sure as hell felt like it.

Photo: Jim Jocoy, We're Desperate

Friday, May 20, 2011

SPENT: The Game; or I miss the Connor Family

"This is the game that moves as you play" - The Have Nots, X
This is another entry in my "I don't really play video games but" series.

Early this year, the Urban Ministries of Durham collaborated with an advertising agency on a pretty amazing project. They've put together a video game called Spent that mimics what it's like to negotiate the world when you have had all your middle class safety nets taken away and you are starting from zero. You have no savings and you are an unemployed single parent.

Your first task is to find a job. The first thing I did was try to get a temp job, during which, I promptly (and expectedly) failed the typing test. This has happened before in a much more real life and humiliating setting. So I got a job in a restaurant and had to buy the damn uniform. I opted out of their health insurance plan as I could not afford the premiums. The game says "Better not get sick!". Tell me about it. Fuck you, game.

And the game goes on. Rents are raised unexpectedly. Things go wrong. You get sick. All of this costs money and it inevitably snowballs. You have to make awful choices, like if you are running out of food money, do you take the ten bucks your kid's grandma sent him? I ran out of money on day 6 the first time I played. The game gives the option of "asking a friend for money" via facebook. I didn't try this. Also, in real life, when you are poor, most of the people you know are also going to be poor. Also, no one likes to ask their friends for money.

Being poor is really, really expensive, you see.

Here's the thing, and I'm always shocked how the privileged of this world aren't aware of it (and, really, I'm one of them. But I had the incredibly illuminating early learning experience of growing up around people who were far, far more privileged - for the most part- than I was). This is the deal: if you are a white, abled, middle class/upper middle class person, all you have to do is not fuck up. And then everything will be more or less okay. Of course, awful things can happen to anyone - disease, tragedy, what have you. None of us are immune. But a safety net helps greatly. If you are working class or poor, really, everything has to go right. You have to be smart and lucky and work very hard. To transcend one's milieu, you have to be special in one way or another. If you are rich, you can be kind of average and not work that hard and maybe you won't have the best life ever, but nothing truly disastrous will occur either.

And if you are a poor person, and have bad luck, you are going to be royally screwed. Spent demonstrates this tersely and clearly.

The class based nastiness in our culture seems to be going through a really bad phase. Sneering at poor people seems to have become a national past time. A co-worker this week is going to a "White Trash Party". Which, as far as I can tell, is a bunch of rich people making fun of a bunch of poor people. This is really complicated stuff, entwined with all sorts of issues of race and gender (non-white people and women are more likely to be poor), and lord knows, I don't have any answers. But maybe the first thing we need to do, is to have maybe just a tiny bit of empathy.

Television seems to be going through a particularly vile patch of worthless rich people worship (and much as I love Top Chef: Bravo, will you please just shut the fuck up and go away please?). Occasionally you see a poor or working class person who is presented for the purposes of mockery. There was a pretty great piece up at The Awl the other day about a truly repulsive new TV show called Repo Games which is worth a look. As mentioned here before, Jennifer L. Ponzer's book, Reality Bites Back is pretty much a must read at this point for anyone who has even a passing interest in what we watch. She points out, in great detail, how these shows reinforce a truly regressive version of the status quo. One in which poor people and women are to be ridiculed and to be Paris Hilton's fake BFF is something that one humiliates oneself to be.

Empathy happens when people acknowledge that other people are, like, human. And have exactly the same sorts of feelings they have. It's the opposite of objectification, that often misunderstood concept that strips people of their humanity. Which brings me to a piece in this week's New York Magazine, written by Roseanne about her show (Read it! Seriously, just read it. God I love her. She writes as only someone with nothing else to lose writes). I don't think you see enough about Roseanne when you see articles about remarkable and groundbreaking television. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because it was a sitcom about a family, the most standard television format imaginable, it gets looked over. Maybe it's more insidious. I don't know. I miss the Connor family, and loved them as did the millions of other Americans who made the show number one in the ratings for half a decade. The Joss Whedon penned "Brain Dead Poet's Society" makes me cry just thinking about it, in which Darlene reads her poem in which she writes "too short to be quarterback, too plain to be queen".

So what I'm saying is, it would be nice if there were some working class Americans on TV who weren't the objects of ridicule. And I'm no Socialist, but this ultra-Capitalism we seem to be embracing is so culturally unhealthy and just gross. So, obviously, this grim little video game isn't going to do much in the face of all those "Housewives (TM)", but it's so bracing after a media diet that can seem like the equivalent of having frosting for dinner. Sweet, but so, so sick-making.

lluminating Fashion: The Morgan Library

I often think about the semiotics of Fashion and Clothing (not exactly the same thing), so I'm champing at the bit to see Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, an exhibit at The Morgan Library which opens today. In it, they purport to chart the evolution of fashion in (of course) France during the Medieval Era through illuminated manuscript illustrations.

So rarely do so many of my obsessions come together in one exhibition! Illuminated manuscripts are some of the earliest European illustrated books, mostly rendered in egg tempera, one of the hardiest mediums known to man. The surviving pictures are still as bright and fresh as they day they were painted.

For many hundreds of years, one was able to tell precisely where a person fell on the social scale just by glancing at them. Strict sumptuary laws prevented any but the entrenched nobility from wearing certain fabrics and colors and styles. It wasn't until the rise of the prosperous merchant class in the Renaissance that these laws began to be stripped away. Nearly all of what we know about what people wore in pre-modern times is from art as textiles rarely survive so long. Because of this, our understanding of undergarments is minimal. Fashions moved slowly in a time before travel was common and before Mr. Gutenberg invented his remarkable press. Great world events influenced dress remarkably - the Crusades and the opening of the East brought silks and velvets and brocade to Europe, and the shapes of clothing changed as well. The corset became de rigueur in the 14th century. So, needless to say, I'm looking forward to seeing what the curators of this exhibition have put together.

For information about visiting The Morgan Library and Museum, go here. The exhibition runs from today through September 14th.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lori Nix: Unnatural History and Other Worlds

In talking about photography, I most often say that I like pictures of people. And mostly, the same goes for paintings. But, as in most things, there are oftentimes exceptions and the photographs of Lori Nix are a huge one. I was first introduced to her work via a facebook link posted by the always interesting Artistic Director of Art House. I was instantly intrigued and spent a lot of time with them.

There aren't any people in them at all, and Nix has said in interviews that one of her great influences are the Hudson River School of landscape painters and, in a way, it shows. When I first saw her photographs I couldn't quite figure out what I was looking at. They were from her series "The City", in which we see strange, long abandoned urban scenes in which trees and other foliage have grown back. I didn't understand where they were taken, or how she found these remarkable scenes to photograph.

Lori Nix's wonderful settings aren't found, they are made. She creates them herself, on tabletops. She then lights them and doesn't use any digital manipulation at all. They are perfect and melancholy and exquisite. There are landscapes and interiors and insects. She shares some of my personal obsessions, as do many of the artists I feature here - the conflict between the natural world and the structures of men; museums and toy theaters of all sorts.

I both want to know how she makes everything and I don't. Am I the only one who wants her to branch out into animation? Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the power of her images comes from their silence and stillness. Qualities rare indeed in our noisy and over-stimulated world.

All photographs are the property of Lori Nix. If you are interested in purchasing her work, contact ClampArt. (Pssst: Wealthy admirers, I have birthday coming up, you know)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great and Wonderful L. Frank Baum

Yesterday, as reported elsewhere, the great and wonderful L.Frank Baum would have been 155 years old. 111 years ago, Mr. Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He devised it because he thought the world needed an American fairy tale, one for the modern age, for modern children, that would leave out both the horrors and moralizing of Grimm. As we are all aware, he succeeded marvelously. He had the great instincts of a true showman, and he pleased his audiences beyond measure. So much so, thirteen sequels followed.

It's always seemed kind of unfortunate to me that most people, if they have read any of his books, have only read the first Oz book, the one on which the movie is based, as I think it is one of the weakest. Compared to the amazing flights of imagination in (my favorite) Ozma of Oz, or in The Patchwork Girl of Oz for example, it seems a little bereft of whimsey. I've mentioned Ozma of Oz elsewhere in writing about modern steampunk, as Mr. Baum presents one of the very fist literary robots.

I don't know if there is another author who has ever been as attuned to what children want as Baum was. Something about his stories goes right to the center of childhood itself. I think it has so much to do with friendship and animals and the fact that nearly everything talks. If there's one dream shared by many, many children it's that one's toys and pets would talk back. In Baum's invented universe, they most often do. One of my favorite bits of retconning is in (I think) The Lost Princess of Oz, when all the animals ask Toto why he didn't begin talking like all the other animals from our world do upon entering the Fairy Land of Oz, and he says he just didn't feel like it.

Baum reportedly wanted to cease writing Oz books, as he had other stories to tell, so he kept on introducing elements such as the spell Glinda cast that would make Oz appear to outsiders as just a continuation of the Great Sandy Waste that surrounds it. All of this is documented in his author's notes at the beginning of each volume. Inevitably, he will end a book with Oz being cut off from us (and thus, Baum, The Royal Historian of Oz, will be unable to write any more installments). He also, inevitably, reports receiving a letter from a little girl in which she asks "What about wireless?", and his writing about Oz continues, as it did until his death in 1919.

His influence upon my life is incalculable. We had a full set of the Oz books when I was growing up and I read them all repeatedly. W.W. Denslow, who illustrated the first book, is considered one of the great illustrators of the Golden Age. But, John R. Neill, who illustrated the other thirteen books has always been more to my taste. I grew up trying to draw as much like him as I could, and his massive influence is still visible all over my work. I was a strange and lonely child, likely with an undiagnosed case of OCD, prone to list making of all sorts (I swear, I spent at least half my childhood alphabetizing). At one point, I went through all of Baum's Oz books and made a list of all the characters. I (of course) alphabetized them and then drew each one. I also remember drawing each of Princess Langwidere's thirty heads.

I haven't reread them all in years and years. I think it may be time to do so again. I will, of course, share my findings here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance

Park Chan-wook's Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005), the third film in his Revenge Trilogy, is a strange and beautiful thing. Vengeance, so common in movies, is unsympathetic and awful in real life, but I think its existence in the realms of fiction provides some sort of catharsis for people in their lives of quiet and ordinary desperation.

Lady Vengeance stars Lee Young Ae as Lee Geum-ja, a woman who has been wrongly convicted of the murder of a child who seeks revenge on the real murderer, who has ruined her life, and the lives of the families of the children he has killed. The story is slowly pieced together through stunning and often hilarious imagery. We watch flashbacks to Geum-ja's time in jail as she garners a reputation for extreme kindness as she helps her fellow prisoners, gaining their trust and putting them in her debt as she poisons a brutal prison bully and even donates a kidney. Upon her release, she calls in the favors she is owed - she needs money, a place to stay, a job, weapons. She has dropped the sweet facade she manufactured and is a creature of pain bent on revenge. We see her dreams of revenge and they are shocking and surreal.

One can't help but compare Park's film to the Quentin Tarantino epic, Kill Bill, as they were filmed at about the same time. Both are about a young woman who is seeking bloody revenge on an older male authority figure and her search for a daughter she has never met. But where Tarantino's film (which I enjoyed) is nearly entirely a complex and magnificent exercise in genre, Park's is something much stranger. There's a nearly operatic sense of grief and loss in it, and where Tarantino's film ends with what must be called a happy ending as Uma Thurman happily drives into the sunset with her daughter, in Park's film there are no such simple endings. Geum-ja knows she's turned into a monster and her daughter has been adopted by an Australian couple who are the only family she knows.

Not to say that many of the pleasures of this film aren't ones dripping with a pop sensibility, because they are. But bubbling underneath it is terrible loss, a strange melancholy. It's lovely, really.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tentacle Pot Pie

Learning how to cook more things has been on my agenda for quite some time. I really enjoy food and my culinary repertoire is somewhat limited, so I've been on the lookout for recipes I can try.

I've said elsewhere that I have no trouble eating meat, but I will not eat anything with tentacles. Maybe I spoke too soon!

I found this.

The Tentacle Pot Pie.

I'm entranced!

(photo and recipe via NotMartha.org and Megan Reardon)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Alfred Kubin: Symbolist Artist and Proto-Surrealist

Alfred Kubin, born in 1877, was a strange, reclusive and emotionally fragile artist and illustrator. When he was about 20, he attempted suicide on his mother's grave and suffered a series of breakdowns. It was around this time that he discovered the work of Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch and Max Klinger and was profoundly influenced by them. Previously apprenticed to a successful landscape photographer, he moved into working in mostly pen and ink and lithography and began traveling in German avant-gard circles.

His work is grotesque and nightmarish, and feels profoundly Freudian (lots of scary vaginas). One the war started he pretty much became a recluse, and remained one for the rest of his life, holing up in a 12th century castle in Austria. His work was declared "degenerate" and "decadent" by the Nazis (if one wishes to be strictly truthful, he was both. The question is really whether you have a problem with it or not), but they pretty much left him alone. Unsurprisingly, he illustrated work by Poe, E.T.A. Hoffman and Dostoyevsky.

He also wrote a couple of strange dystopian novels, all of which are sadly out of print in English (unless you have a Kindle!). It's all terribly evocative. I decided to feature him here because I found that once I started looking at his pictures, I simply could not get them out of my head. I haven't read his famous novel, The Other Side, but I've heard very good things. One wonders what went on in his mind as he worked alone in his castle. One looks at his work and shudders.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Rebecca West: The Fountain Overflows

Rebecca West is one of the seemingly limitless number of people who was colossally famous in the 20th century and now seems to be nearly forgotten. As you can see, she was a big enough deal to wind up as the cover story of Time Magazine in 1947. She had a truly remarkable life, living until she was 90. She was a world class journalist, covering the Nuremberg Trials for The New Yorker, a novelist, a Feminist (she's name checked in Virginia Woolf's a Room of One's Own - I mean, does it get any better than that? Chapter Two, if you're interested), political crank, an intellectual who began her adult life as an actress (her real name was Cicely Fairfield, Rebecca West was the stage name she chose, from Ibsen's Rosmersholm) and all around fascinating person.

Her personal life was equally interesting and varied. She had a decade long affair with the much older H.G. Wells and had a son with him while Wells was still married to somebody else. She feuded with her son their whole lives, one of his grievances being she pretended, in his early years, to be his "aunt". I first saw her when she served as one of the aged talking heads in Warren Beatty's John Reed biopic, Reds.

I'll likely revisit West again on this blog as I read my way through her oeuvre, but here I want to talk about her 1957 semi-autobiographical novel, The Fountain Overflows. I first read it a few years ago and I loved it so much I didn't trust myself. What I mean by that is, I loved it to such a degree I knew I was blinded as to its objective literary worth. I remember knowing after I finished the first chapter, that unless she did something very stupid indeed, this was likely to become one of my all-time favorites. Needless to say, she did nothing stupid whatsoever, so one of my favorites it remains.

If you ask me what it's about, I'd answer: It's about a musical family (The Aubreys) in the first decade of the 20th century with a father who is a political journalist and a compulsive gambler, a mother who is a former concert pianist, three young daughters (one of whom, Rose, is the narrator) and a young son who is some sort of genius and is little more than a baby when the book begins. It is set in the very first years of the 20th century as the Aubrey family moves from Edinburgh to London, and the girls begin to grow up.

I realize this makes The Fountain Overflows sound like the most conventional novel, but it really isn't. If you ask me again what it's about, I would respond: It's about the difference between children and adults and childhood and adulthood, about art and what makes good art and bad art. It's about poverty and how children respond to it differently from each other. It's about women and how they function in a world in which they have very little autonomy, and about how some optimistically make do and how others flail and nearly drown. It's about what it means if one is a real artist and if one isn't. And how hard it is for each. It's about the uncanny and about how men can sometimes simultaneously knowingly destroy their own lives and unknowingly destroy the lives of those who love them. It might be the funniest and smartest book about what people are like that I've ever read.

The twins, Mary and our narrator Rose, are budding concert pianists. Their elder sister, Cordelia plays the violin, and the great tragedy of the Aubrey family is that Cordelia is a terrible musician and does not know it. This is viewed by Rose and Mary as a far worse tragedy than their poverty or their father's inability to hold onto a job. The worst of it is, though she is a competent musician, she just isn't any good. A distinction that is lost on most people, and Cordelia is a pretty little girl who looks charming when she plays, so she receives heaps of praise. This is simultaneously hilarious and awful and is one of the main threads of the story.

Their father is also both wonderful and monstrous. He's a political journalist of very great repute, who gambles and borrows money, who alienates his followers and friends, who cannot suffer fools. His children are all in awe of him and think him the most wonderful man, but there is a thread of nihilism and self-destruction that also frightens them. Near the beginning of the book, when they are all still small, he gives the children a remarkable and magical Christmas in which they receive elaborate toys he's made himself. They love hearing the stories from his childhood, and they watch as strange men come to the house and demand money from their mother for debts unpaid. There is a remarkable passage in which we find out that public opinion has swung against him, and his friends in Parliament think him mad because of a pamphlet he's written in which all the ills of the 20th century are laid out in black and white. It's full of extraordinary passages as Mr. Aubrey's MP friend shares his dismay and horror with Mrs. Aubrey - who knows nothing about politics but everything about music. She tells him that it's possible her husband is a seer because:
"'I am a musician, you know. We find that in the great composers. Much of Bach and Mozart and Beethoven is much more comprehensible than it was when it was first written, or even than it was when I was young. My teachers found Beethoven's later quartets quite baffling. That can only mean he wrote with a full knowledge of a musical universe that was still chaos while he lived.'"
There is a sequence in which Rose visits her cousin Rosamund and her mother in their shabby house and she and her mother discover them besieged by poltergeists. The ghosts or demons or spirits or whatever they are real and awful. But they are immediately and permanently dispelled once the two little girls and their mothers are finally in the same room as each other. Rose's mother, Clare, calls the supernatural a "dirty business" and is not something to be played with. Everyone in the Aubrey family can prognosticate to some degree or another, but it is not viewed as something that should be indulged, and if one does so the after-effects are never good.

Among all the remarkable set pieces in the book is a good old fashioned, Victorian murder. A school friend of the girls' mother poisons her husband and the Aubrey family wind up taking in the little girl and her aunt. The murderess's family are rich, uneducated Cockneys (while the Aubrey's are, of course, painfully over-educated upper class paupers), and West's descriptions of Aunt Lily are very funny. But what's remarkable is that while they are funny, they are neither condescending or sentimental. West manages throughout the book a combination of uncompromising truth telling and extreme kindness that I've never really encountered before. She's never, ever cruel to her characters, though many do awful things or behave badly.

It's really the oddest book. In some ways it's like the books one reads when one is a child, about a family of (mostly) girls, growing up in genteel poverty, who want to be brilliant musicians. I mean, I know that when one describes it, it sounds like a Noel Streatfeild book. And in a surface way it is like that, and I think if I had read it when I was eleven I would have loved it, too, and it's likely one of the reasons for my loving it (and I use that word literally - the things or people I love more than this book I can count on one hand). But as is so often the case when one reads very well at a young age, one misses nearly everything, and I would have loved it without understanding it - which in some ways is so much of what the book is about, as it is as much about being a girl as it is about anything. It has the shape in some ways of a very traditional sort of book written for young people. But, at its core, its a modernist masterpiece with all the pleasures of Victorian fiction. It's not a book for children, but it's very much about what it's like to be a child, and the child narrator is one of the most extraordinary voices I've read. West manages to make her sound the way children feel in their heads, rather than how they are heard by adults. It's often unclear how much time has gone by or how old the children are, it all flows seamlessly without the traditional markers used in more conventional fiction.

Also unconventional is that the book is entirely about the Aubrey family and their home. There are very few scenes which take place at school. There is no romance of a traditional sort in the book. The more I think about it, the more I think The Fountain Overflows might be an extraordinarily complicated, 400 page character study of Clare Aubrey, the girls' mother. Again, in some ways she resembles that perfect mother of our dreams, Marmee from Little Women. He love is what keeps their family from falling into irreparable chaos and misery, and her love and kindness is on offer to pretty much everybody who enters her home, or is swept up in her wake - including a discarded mistress of Mr. Aubrey's and the mistress's husband (meeting whom, causes her to reread Madame Bovary, which makes her forget to be angry at her husband). We see her through her children's eyes and they are fiercely protective of her, as they think they are tougher then she is, as their childhood was far more difficult, but like children reading a grownup novel - they miss the point a bit.

There is a thread of politics that runs through the book, but West is wise enough, or perhaps I only think she is wise as she thinks as I do, that people are more important than politics. And this is book that is about people and about art and about family. Rebecca West writes as well as anybody I've ever read, and better than nearly everyone. Her prose is so clear, so sane and so sharp. Her sentences and paragraphs are long, and like the novel itself, perfectly constructed. As she writes about the Aubrey family and their friends it's as if she's wielding a sharp paring knife, cutting deeper and deeper into the truth of who these people are. Her criticism could be vicious when she was young. Shaw said of her: "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely." And here she cuts very deeply indeed, but never thoughtlessly, never unkindly.

In her author's note at the end of the book West writes:
"The main theme of the book might be said to be the way human beings look at each other inquisitively, trying to make out what is inside the opaque human frame. Piers and Clare Aubrey loved each other but never really knew how the other one thought and felt. Mary and Rose were divided from Cordelia and watched each other in irritated misapprehension, and were divided from Richard Quinn and looked at him in hope of comprehension. They were all looking for clues to understanding... But I only wrote this book, which is not to say that I am the best authority on what it means."
Whatever it means, I can say I love the Aubrey family and maybe that's enough meaning, really. West wrote two sequels, This Real Night and Cousin Rosamund, both still unfinished at her death in 1983. She apparently spent years tinkering with them and never thought them ready for publication. However, they have both been published posthumously, and they both sit on my shelf waiting to be read.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anthropomorphica: Doll Parts

One day, through channels I no longer remember, I came across a world, in the form of the blog Anthrpomorphica, I had never quite glimpsed before.

Originating in Edinburgh, the gifted proprietress of Anthropomorphica creates strange and wonderful dolls, names them, writes little narratives, takes their pictures and posts them on her blog. Her work is exquisite, gothic, charming. Sometimes she puts one of her dolls up for adoption (via her Etsy store).

She also sometimes features dolls made by other artists. It's a world I didn't know existed, with beautifully crafted figures made of clay and papier-mâché and paint and felt and bone. It led me through link after link of invented worlds and finely crafted beings. I love how so much of it is tied to narrative, and one certainly assumes that they do indeed come to life after the lights are put out.

Please look at:

Anthropomorphica (who, needless to say, owns the photo above)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Breaking: Deadly Knitshade Hits NYC

Yes, citizens of Gotham - the day has finally come.

Guerrilla knitter, Deadly Knitshade has struck our fair city. The result? Squid. Yes, you heard correctly - squid knit of orange yarn are hanging from some of our most storied skyscrapers.

I've covered the work of this particular band of rogues who strike seemingly at random across their native London in a previous post. But now... their most notorious, needle bearing member is Yarnstorming here.

Photo property of (the dread) Deadly Knitshade

Yuriy Norshteyn: Glorious, Glorious Animation

I'm hoping one of my loyal readers who's knowledge of all things filmic and Russian far surpasses my own, will have some further information on Russian animation genius Yuriy Norshteyn (Fuzzy Bastard, I'm looking at you!).

His work is detailed and beautiful and charming - and unprolific. He is referred to in Russia as "The Golden Snail" for the slowness of his process - he has been working on his (yet unfinished) film The Overcoat, based on the short story by Nicolai Gogol, since 1981. The work by him that is available (on YouTube - the only Region 1 DVD I could find is a long out of print anthology of Russian animation) is beautiful. Below see the magical, toy theater-like Seasons:

And the unbelievably tragic My Green Crocodile. I'm not precisely sure what happens, as it is untranslated, but it's a simple story and I think I get the drift. The Green Crocodile falls in love with a beautiful cow. The other animals are jealous (I think) and it all ends in tears - which at least make flowers grow. It's stunning.

It is for work like this that I endlessly praise the internet. Such beauty, such genius - all at our fingertips, in our homes. It's not too easy, is it? I don't think so. With all this variety, most people still watch the same old corporate garbage to the exclusion of almost everything else. But there's so much to look at and listen to and to read and to watch. How could anyone ever be bored in this true age of wonders?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Au Revoir!

I'm usually not super interested in optical illusion illustrations - perhaps because we see the same ones again and again (It's a vase! It's a lady!), but this one was too good not to share. From a postcard c. 1905-1910

Castles and 18th Century Theatrical Design: Whee!

One day last week I had a few hours to kill between work and drawing at the Society of Illustrators, so I walked a bit in Central Park and wandered into The Met.

Whenever I visit this most glorious of New York City museums, I always start by seeing what they have up in the constantly rotating Drawing and Print Gallery on the 2nd floor. The current exhibit, which is pulled from the permanent collection, is pretty fantabulous. They've pulled out all the big guns with Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt and William Blake well represented. I remember being twelve or thirteen and staring at the famous self-portrait Dürer drew when he was thirteen and being completely upset that I wasn't as good. Yes, for what it's worth, even when I was a child I compared myself with the Renaissance greats. One of my favorites is included, "The Sea Monster" (at left). I love the tortoise shell being used as a shield and the romantic castle of my dreams situated in the landscape.

Also on display, are a number of 18th and 19th century stage designs. Most are ink and watercolor. There are some glorious ones for a mid-19th century Magic Flute, and an 18th century design (at right) for a sadly unidentified production drawn by Johann Heinrich Ramberg that made me want to jump into my trusty (imaginary) time machine and create something in his glorious, repurposed space. There are more - beautiful Italian watercolors and chalk drawings and an interior of The Met Opera House from 1884 that put the currently used software to shame. Why is it that so many useful modern instruments also neglect to be beautiful?

The current exhibit is up through June 12.

I also made a quick sweep through the Alexander McQueen exhibit, and it even more wonderful than hoped. More on that later!