Thursday, September 27, 2012

Everyone Should Have a Zombie Mermaid In Their Drawing Arsenal

Here is mine. And she is up and available to be voted upon at Threadless. Each month, they print a number of submissions (some of which are really, really lovely) on T shirts, and pay their artists a really good wage, something which should be supported and commended. There are so many so-called contests out there right now in which the prize is "You get to work for us for free!" that those who have a figured out a business model in which the prize is both work and appropriate payment, should be both commended and supported. Yay, paying people!
Actual money!

I plan on submitting a couple a month going forward, so please (if you wish) bookmark my Threadless profile to keep apprised of what I have posted.

Thanks everyone!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Secret Adversary: A Web Series

Recently on facebook, I was alerted to the existence of a new web series when a friend commented on a post. (Really, isn't social media the best?) By and large, the web series I've seen haven't been super interesting to me. I love the idea of the form, but most of what I've seen hasn't excited me much content-wise. This all changes with Kevin Townley and Hanna Cheek's new series "Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary".

I mean, come on. This was clearly made for me.

Anyone who knows anything about me or my blog knows that I am pretty obsessed with classic mystery fiction in general, and Agatha Christie in particular. A while ago, I wrote a blog post in which I sung the praises of what I termed Christie's "Adventurous Flapper" books. Of which, The Secret Adversary is the first. Published initially in 1922, set in 1919 right at the end of the war, it's a completely preposterous adventure starring Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley. Christie went on to write a number of books starring Tommy and Tuppence, taking them into old age in the later entries in the series.

Lots of people consider them among her weaker books, but I've always enjoyed them. One of the main criticisms is that many, many (MANY) people find Tuppence to be a bit insufferable. I watched the BBC versions and thought they were dreadful, they went with the notion that the audience would find Tuppence as entertaining as she finds herself, which is pretty much a recipe for annoyance. One of the wonderful things the current webseries does is embrace Tuppence's self-aggrandizing self enchantment and use it for comedy, and Hanna Cheek is completely hilarious.

Agatha Christie unfortunately edited this scene out of the published version of her novel
The thing that really makes the series is one simple stroke of genius: the actors all dress in 1920s costumes, but it is filmed in and around modern day New York City. It's brilliant. At first it seems like a stunt, but as I've watched further (I've seen the first four episodes), I realize this has freed them utterly from the strictures of doing a period piece without essentially betraying the material. The dialogue is straight out of Christie, and they intend to film the whole, entire thing. I for one, am thrilled. Co-creator Townley has this to say about the production process:
"My idea was that we'd do an unabridged adaptation of the book (there are 28 chapters in it, so we would be set for content for a while) and that our motto would be "GET IT DONE". Any hiccup that would ruin a normal shoot (tourists walking into frame, "losing the light", bad continuity) would just be incorporated into ours. We'd try to get costumes that are as close to period as possible (whatever we could drum up from our own wardrobes or borrow) and shoot as much "on location" as possible; since we can't get to London, Times Square stands in for Picadilly and so forth. We've been kicked out of quite a few places, but we've gotten away with a lot, too! On some days we have access to super whiz-bang camera equipment, other days we shoot on our iPhones. Whatever happens is fine, so long as we really try our best and get it done! Right now we're trying to air a new episode every other week. If we stick to that schedule we should be done in about six months!  It's totally terrifying shooting guerrilla-style because Hanna and I are both terminally polite, but it's also liberating, not being so precious about one's "creative process". Plus, I've always wanted to be in a mystery story, and if I waited for someone else to cast me I'd be waiting till about Two-thousand-never."
One of the things I love about the early Christie mysteries are their breathless energy and their artless good humor, qualities this series embraces whole heartedly. Watch the first episode here, and if you can spare it, give them money! And (ahem), Townley is not the only one who has harbored dreams of being in a mystery story.

Agatha Christie's original dedication in "The Secret Adversary"

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why Riding The Subway Is Important (and: MUPPETS!)

I draw on the subway pretty much every day. Fairly often people ask me about it, mostly how I keep my hand steady and my usual answer is “It’s no big deal. If you have control off the train, there’s really no difference.” I still mostly think that, but one thing that (I think) might make it a little bit easier for me is that I have always had a very, very light touch, i.e. I don’t use the pressure of the pencil on the paper to keep me steady, essentially I’m drawing in air. So, I guess it’s all my hand. The subway is such a great place to work or read, I find it really depressing to see people playing solitaire or something on their phones.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that the subway is one of the things that makes New York City great. Everyone rides the subway, we live our private lives in public and we learn tolerance. We have to. On my list of possible income generating schemes is a fun class for tourists and people who are new to the city. Lessons will include things like "How To Walk Down The Sidewalk Without Making Everyone Hate You" and "There Are No Such Thing As Dress Shorts, We Are Not At the Club", and of course, "How To Ride The Subway".

And then I realize it will never, ever work. Because people who spend their lives in their large homes, in their cars, in their offices, nearly always eating at home, nearly always in private spaces just don't understand. They don't know how to be private in public, and they don't understand when people aren't "friendly", it's not rudeness, it's because they are being private. Lots of tourists simply don't know the rules, and they're difficult to learn, as they ones of affect and nuance. The main problem is they have little awareness of the space around them, and that's the toughest thing to teach. Some lady hit me in the face with her New York Times while turning the page the other day, and to be honest, this is why tabloids were invented. Sidenote: They taught us how to properly fold the NY Times so we could read it on the train without bugging people in elementary school. It's one of the two or three most useful things I learned in school

Back to drawing. If you want to draw, draw. If you want to draw well, draw a lot. And I like disposable technical (.5mm) pencils. That's all I really have.

EDIT: I had to include this because it's very, very important!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown, Joan Halloway, and the Legacy of the Cosmo Girl

Helen Gurley Brown was not boring. She was a self created wonder who had as much a hand in creating the second wave of feminism as anybody, though nearly all the second wave feminists would be appalled to think so (as, likely would be Brown herself). In some ways, I think Brown is responsible for both the best and the worst about being a woman in these United States at the dawn of the 21st century. She is, in other words, a titan.

The best is what she accomplished for herself and her part in sexually liberating ordinary women in the United States. She grew up poor in Arkansas, moved with her family to Los Angeles as a teenager, worked in factories, and then held many secretarial jobs. Her big break came, much like Peggy Olsen's did, when she was promoted to copywriter at an ad agency. In some ways, I find it sort of risible, that in five seasons of Mad Men, Brown has never been mentioned. Her book "Sex and the Single Girl" was unleashed upon the world in 1962 and sold millions and millions of copies. I own a 1963 edition (see above) and it's a pretty remarkable piece of work. Remember, in 1962 married men and women weren't permitted to be shown sleeping in the same bed in movies or television (the first television couple shown doing so were Herman and Lily Munster!).

I think perhaps Brown is never mentioned in the Mad Men universe because the Joan Holloway of the early seasons is, in many ways, Brown's book made flesh, though Joan, unlike Brown, is both beautiful and college educated. Brown wrote that her readers should have jobs and careers, because money equals freedom, and having a career gives one something to be. Removed from its pink, exclamation point strewn trappings, these are radical and essential statements of self actualization. Brown made these ideas palatable to women who couldn't afford to take time off to find themselves, who had roommates and no college education and had never read Virginia Woolf. Brown told these women, in no uncertain terms, that wanting things is okay, that being single is probably a better time for most women than being married, and you can have sex (with multiple partners if you want!) and still be a lady. The Cosmo Girl was born. Bless her heart.

That said, Brown isn't perfect and is not only a product of her time but probably a great influence on some of the more unfortunate trends in ours. Brown was all about upward mobility, which is fabulous, but she was also all about avariciousness. In true Ad Man fashion, she was focused on surfaces and she liked those surfaces shiny. She scrimped to dress well on the way up, and advocated dressing for the job you want, something I've certainly advised, as well. But she focused on these surfaces, placing their importance above whatever was going on inside of one's head. Brown was also a dinosaur in terms of her views of the workplace. She didn't see any problem with sexual harassment, and thought women's problems with it ridiculous. In her view, any girl worth her mettle should be able to stave off unwelcome advances with aplomb and wit, much like a character Katherine Hepburn would play in the movies. Sadly, this doesn't always help. Also demonstrated by Joan as she is quietly raped on the floor of Don Draper's office by her fiance. Not everything can be solved by a saucy remark and a disdainful flip of the hair.

Brown was profoundly apolitical. She wrote of a world of her own creation and it's a remarkable place. She said you don't need to be pretty (and used herself as an example) to get men or jobs or have a great life - But you should help nature along, by surgical means if necessary. Just, no, Helen. I saw her in person in the ladies' room at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center about 20 years ago, and she looked both terrifying and twice her age because of the amount of work done. At least a small part of the blame of this society we now have, in which perfectly ordinary women are shamed into thinking they have to look like supermodels belongs to her.

Helen Gurley Brown's legacy is complicated, indeed. The most lasting part of it, I hope, is her joyful insistence that women are sexual beings, and that the best way to please a man is to enjoy oneself. That single women aren't simply women who haven't gotten married yet, or have been left behind. That their lives should be fun and exciting and, most importantly, their own.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Etsy Store is Officially Open For Business

Just a quick note to let all of you delightful people that my Etsy store is open for business. Right now, I have two prints available and more items will be added soon. If there's anything in particular you would like to see, please let me know.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

FringeNYC 16: Immaculate Degeneration

I hate the idea that one person shows, or one woman shows in particular, are in need of any sort of special pleading, but I find that is so often the case. I like seeing people tell their stories and the stories of others, lives as led and adventures taken and embarked upon, both fictional and true, hilarious and heart-rending and all stops in between. And it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, that the lives of American teenage girls are of endless interest to this particular critic.

Pamela Sabaugh's Immaculate Degeneration hit me on a lot of those levels. I share with her a suburban/urban punk rock girlhood (mine in NYC, hers in Detroit), the need for escape and the wanting of better things common to most artists of all stripes.  The great thing that distinguishes Sabaugh's journey to independence in these United States as an artist, is her partial blindness, caused by a congenital disorder (juvenile macular degeneration) which presented itself in Junior High. She talks about how the onset of blindness interfered with her social life, her schoolwork, and her badass-ery. And most movingly, about how it limited her freedom, about growing up in the motor city unable to drive. 

Sabaugh's story, like all deeply personal stories worth telling, is bigger than herself. She tells about growing up in a subdivision in which pedestrians are viewed with suspicion. About a decaying city in thrall to the almighty automobile, in the epicenter of the public transportation-free rust belt. Her visual impairment made her dependent on others in a way that was both humiliating and sometimes dangerous (having a friend wander off with a guitarist at a local rock fest when the bus never shows). For her, moving to NYC meant not only artistic freedom, but having a true personal autonomy. She has a song about the MTA that actually made me cry. Her songs and voice are are lovely. I was really hoping there would be a CD in the press kit as I would have immediately loaded them onto my ipod.

Mostly, this is a joyful piece of work. Sabaugh is a delightful person to spend 90 minutes with, and in the spirit of full journalistic disclosure, I have to say that I do know Pamela, and her director/husband Fred Backus has long been a friend and a collaborator on various projects throughout the years. I'm not certain if Fred has directed before, but Immaculate Degeneration hits that really difficult balance of being both really tight (there's nothing I would cut, and I almost never say that, friends or not), yet being loose and casual enough that you feel a part of the event in a really nice way.

Pamela has had a lot of challenges, but for my money, her considerable gifts, both personal and artistic have enabled her to embrace them and allow them to inform but not define who she as as both a person and an artist. A very difficult balancing act, which it was my pleasure to watch her not only achieve, but transcend, with grace.

Immaculate Degeneration (click for tickets)
Woodward Avenue Productions
Writer: Pamela Sabaugh
Director: Fred Backus
The Huron Club, 15 Vandam St.
Remaining Performances: Tue 14 @ 4pm, Sat 18 @ 1:45,  Sun 19 @ 7pm,  Wed 22 @ 4:30

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy birthday, Ronnie Spector!

I love the girl groups of the early to mid 1960s and Ronnie Spector was (and in some ways, is) the best. La Diva Ross was the most elegant, the most polished, but Ronnie Spector's tough New York City girl voice always got me. Happy birthday!

FringeNYC 16

You know how when you get together with your siblings or cousins you can say super disparaging things about your grandpa or aunt or mom? But how if some person not in your family said awful things about your grandpa or aunt or mom you'd be really, really mad? Yeah. That basically sums up my feelings about criticism of FringeNYC in a nutshell. Unless you were in certain rooms round about 1998 or 1999, I don't want to hear about it. However, if you were, let it fly!

The 16th edition of the New York International Fringe Festival begins tonight, something that makes me feel shockingly old. This also marks the first festival since the very first in which I am a complete civilian. I haven't been on the festival staff since 2003 (nine years!). For better or worse, I did all my mourning for the early years of the festival in slow motion while I was still involved with it so, honestly, what I mostly feel is relief.

Let me explain.

A number of years ago I attended a book event at which art and performance luminaries of the 70s and 80s spoke about the downtown art scene back then, and about the state of the current art and performance scene. I remember Bogosian speaking and a few others, and person after person went on and on about how much more creative, what a better sense of community, how exciting it all was compared the scene now. Needless to say, I was furious.

Then the sainted Michael Musto got to the podium. The very first thing he did was blast (nicely) all the previous speakers for their criticism of the current young artists. He said (and I'm paraphrasing wildly - this is from my memory of an event like seven years ago), "It seemed so great back then because we were so young! Of course everything seemed so much better, we're all old and cynical now." Bless him!

I'm old enough that those (now curmudgeonly) 70s and 80s artists were a part of what my idea of the world of art was like. Downtown lofts and punk rock and nightclubs (the kind without all that table service nonsense) and galleries in Soho. I read the Voice (back when you had to pay for the privilege) and Interview (when Andy was still alive). I smoked cigarettes in the East Village, I saw bands play at CBGB and The Ritz. I wrote short stories about paranoid, displaced Lizard People living in New York. I became an actor. I drew pictures. I dreamed of Cafe Cino. In the 90s I interned at Circle Rep, Lanford Wilson's company and I became a playwright. That led me to the Present Company and FringeNYC.

You'll likely be reading lots about the early days of FringeNYC in my memoirs one day so I'll keep it short. We were so young. We worked so hard. It was messy and dirty and punk rock. We had the best time and it was hell. It was equal parts magic and exhaustion. We were very, very young. And I want to be very clear about one thing: FringeNYC gave me my life. I can't even imagine what my life would look like now without it and the downtown theater scene of the late 90s, because my life would look 100% different.

So, I look at Fringe NYC now and it looks like an institution. I was a participant last year and there are a lot of rules. I look at the kids working there and all I can think is, "my god it looks dull" and "poor things, they'll never know the fun and horror of what we had". And then I realize that I'm just old. Nothing is new to me and these young people need to find their own way as I did. And their community seems a little invisible to me because I'm not a part of it, and I'm not welcome because I'm not in the trenches. I can keep my memories of the festival's gritty, punk rock past intact. The festival as it now stands may not be my festival, but that's okay. It's theirs. I'm sure I'll be reading some of their blog posts 20 years down the road, writing about how very young they were in 2012.

The New York International Fringe Festival begins today. I will be covering it from the depths of my cold, black heart. Check back frequently.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In Which An Old Literary Form Makes An Appearance, And Our Author Expresses Her Approval

There is a brief mention at the end of this article about million dollar book advances that I find so thrilling, so game changing, I can't believe it's the first I've heard of it. A facebook friend posted this morning and most of the commenting (mostly by a bunch of white dude writers in their 30s and 40s*) was the expected (and understandable) sour grapes, and how nearly all the books mentioned by first time authors were about or geared to teen girls.

I've discussed this at length elsewhere on this blog, about how women read novels, women write novels, teen girls consume novels at a rate that cannot be over emphasized. Novel reading was called by the early Victorians a "feminine vice" and in many ways that still stands. The boys will just have to make do with their glowing reviews in the NY Times and their low book sales. The world is deeply unfair, I know.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

Right near the bottom we read that Mark Z. Danielewski (best known for writing House of Leaves), has received a million dollar advance for an upcoming serialized novel. Am I the only person who finds this earth shattering? I've been waiting to see what changes the widespread use of handheld devices would have on books, and I think this is one harbinger of things to come.

As I'm sure most of you know, many of the long novels of the 19th century by writers like Dickens, Collins, Trollope, Melville, and Tolstoy were serialized. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes were famously serialized in The Strand, as was the most significant American novel of the 19th century, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Then, with the decline of the periodical and the rise of the modern novel, with authors such as Hemingway, Woolf, Fitzgerald ascendant, the serialized novel was completely out of fashion. There were a few reemergences in the pre-internet era, most notably Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, serialized in Rolling Stone.

Now, we are once again in a world where serial is king. American movies are in deep decline, but our television, our serials, are in the midst of a new golden age. The conciseness of Modernism is no longer valued above all. And with the vast popularity of the Kindle and Nook and ipad, serialized novels are once again a completely feasible option.

I wonder if one day we'll look at the first years of the Kindle as we do the first years of cinema? Looking at filmed stage plays shot dead on with no editing or close ups seems a waste of this remarkable new technology. Will we view directly transposing existing novels in the same way? What narrative innovations will result? How will form dictate content?

Serialization seems an obvious first step. The medium lends itself to it, all they need is a hit.

Thrilling times are ahead.

*Delightful, all, don't get me wrong, but their perspective is, I think, a little narrow, bless them.

All illustrations © this blog.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Speakeasy Dollhouse: Murder, Dolls and Cocktails in Coffee Cups.

Back in 1935, Cynthia von Buhler's grandfather, Frank Spano, was murdered. Possibly a gangland hit. Possibly tied to Dutch Schultz. This is the kind of bloody family past that is so potent, so laden with untold secrets, it's kind of inevitable that the bodies cannot, will not remain buried.  Miss von Buhler wants to figure out what happened. This true life jazz age murder in her family has inspired her to create a multi-platform exploration of the crime, performed by dolls, actors (including the completely ubiquitous friend of The Cabinet Jennifer Harder), chorus girls and the audience.

I haven't seen the book version, save for the photos posted online, but from what I've seen, they are elaborately designed little worlds, and I hope they are exhibited at some point. Inspired in part by Frances Glessner Lee's Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, she has meticulously designed and created tiny little sets inhabited by dolls which enact her grandfather's death, the events surrounding the murder and scenes from her own life.

A couple of Mondays ago, me and a select group of my lady actor/artist friends attended the human size portion of Miss von Buhler's project which crops up every few months in The Back Room - what used to be Lansky's Lounge, and way before that, an actual speakeasy in back of Ratner's. It's best described as a combination of interactive theater, art installation, cabaret and fancy dress party. Guided by cops (dirty, of course) into a bakery area in which cannolis are proffered, one is then led one party at a time into the speakeasy proper. Heavy on atmosphere and fun, and light on narrative, the attention to detail impresses. Howard Fishman's combo perform period perfect jazz, cocktails are served in coffee cups, everyone looks fabulous. The one criticism I had would be that I would have liked a bit more direction in terms of where one should be looking. But, that's just a quibble, it hardly matters.

We drank many cognac based cocktails out of our coffee cups, saw the lovely Veronica Varlow perform, at one point, I heard someone playing a ukulele, turned around and Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer were right above me, singing Makin' Whoopie.

It's a beautiful space and we had a lovely time. No murders were solved when I was there. It's not some cheesy, interactive whodunnit murder game. It's an excavation of the past, an attempt to find at least the feeling of the truth by recreating it whole, and to simultaneously host a lovely party.

The past is a mysterious country, and as I've said so many times here before, all of my past is tied to this glorious city. Most of my New York Irish ancestors were lawyers and judges and newspaper men and real estate developers. Most of my family's contributions to this city have been definitively erased by time and rebuilding and short memories. At the time Miss von Buhler's grandfather was shot down, one of my illustrious great uncles was working at the Manhattan District Attorney's office, prosecuting high profile jazz age murders. I have to wonder if any part of this story made its way across his desk. This city is sometimes a surprisingly small place, so it's possible. The ghosts of the past never stop walking.

The next performances of Speakeasy Dollhouse are August 4th and 6th. Tickets are available here.

Photo credit: © Cynthia von Buhler, 2012

All illustrations © this blog.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Have Mermaids Swimming Around On Threadless

I have a design up on Threadless, available to be scored. As my ability to draw and paint surpasses my graphic design abilities by about a million, I'm a little worried it won't fare very well. It looks like this (but without the background and, like, on a T shirt):
So, kind people. Please vote, and vote high. Double Mermaid - Threadless T-shirts, Nude No More

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Girlfriend Experience

I'm beginning to feel that I just don't get Steven Soderbergh unless he's in Hollywood mode. I watched his 2009 film, The Girlfriend Experience staring porn star Sasha Grey last night and thought it was dreadful. I was going to couch my feelings in less blunt terms, but I think I'm running a fever, so screw it.

I'm really not sure what Soderbergh is trying to say with this film. It is set (and was likely filmed) during the economic collapse in 2008 during the lead up the the Presidential election. There's a lot of anxiousness exhibited by boring finance guys. Sasha meets with web designers and whatnot to advance her business. She meets with a sleazy wannabe pimp who runs a review site for hookers and wants her to exchange her services for a positive review and for the chance to participate in a potentially lucrative trip to Dubai.

I'm very unclear about what the point is. The Dubai/website guy later publishes a scathing review of her services and she cries. The thing is, everything he says seems to be completely accurate. He paints her as being boring, affectless, uncultured and unsexy, which from everything we've seen, she is. I've never seen any of Sasha Grey's pornos, so I can't comment on what she's like to watch when she's actually having sex. Mostly because I'm essentially a colossal prude (as is, I think, Soderbergh - more on that in a bit). Maybe the movie has more meaning if one has seen her porn films, maybe there's some frisson I'm missing. Maybe I'm supposed to be comparing the awesomeness of Grey in the sack to the listlessness of everything we're seeing in this film. I don't know anything about Grey, and all I know about how I'm supposed to feel about her is from this movie and there's not anything there.

The older I get, the less enchanted I become with sweeping analogies. The interest for me in this young prostitute's business isn't so much in how it's just like the larger economy, but how it isn't. There's so much in this film about how the service Grey's character provides is more than, or other than sex. This is where it all falls apart for me. In order to demonstrate the essential emptiness of this world, Soderbergh shows Grey sitting and have boring, listless conversations with her clients. Yes, Grey is very pretty. But the world is full of pretty girls available to really rich guys at the amateur, semi-pro and professional levels. Back when I was a very young girl in NYC, I knew a few young women, who used to essentially live off of dating very rich men, semi-pro, Holly Golightly-style (let me be clear: not me. See above re: me being a colossal prude). They tended to be vivacious and fun to be around in addition to being really pretty. The pretty young girl market is super competitive in NYC, and Grey's character, not being a famous porn star, doesn't seem to be bringing that much to the table. Which brings me to the prudery problem.

Grey's character's business is sex. There's no sex in the movie. There could be an argument that the movie isn't about sex, it's about commerce. To which I cry bullshit. I think Soderbergh is trying to have it both ways. The titillation of stunt casting a porn star in his movie which elides the subject of sex entirely, while sort of dancing around it and pretending it's not the point. If it wasn't for the sex, none of these rich guys would be paying Miss Grey a dime. Period. There's a confusing sequence in the film in which Grey half falls in love with one of her clients. I say confusing because we never really see any interaction between them. Everyone in this film is an idea for a character standing in for an actual human being.

I kept thinking of Godard's film Vivre Sa Vie, which I rewatched recently. It's a spectacular film in which Anna Karina plays a young prostitute. It's one of my favorites, and is everything The Girlfriend Experience is not. It inhabits a world of people who actually exist, it contains events and surprise and spontaneity. In contrast, the control exhibited by Soderbergh in his verité-manqué strangles any possible life out of it.

It looks lovely. Sasha Gray is lovely. Her clothes are lovely. It's shot in a faux-verité style in a Manhattan that actually looks like street level Manhattan. I'm glad I watched it on our shiny new TV, because it's so pretty. It looks precisely like a fashion spread for Muse or Vogue Italia. High class call girl wears nice clothes and is beautifully photographed in a spurious documentary style and looks blank and/or sad. I've seen this before, after all, it's a huge cliché. I've never seen a movie before that reminded me of a mostly forgotten magazine spread.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

James Ellroy and Red Riding 1974

Many, many years ago (before some of you were born, no doubt), I picked up a paperback copy of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential without knowing anything about it. I liked the cover. I liked hard boiled detective fiction and I liked St. Marks Bookshop - which was still actually on St. Marks Place back at the dawn of the 90s.

Ellroy's L.A. Quartet are the blackest of noir. He uses a gigantic canvas to tell his long, violent story of corruption, crime and the emptiness at the heart of the dreams of post-war Southern California. His style is baroque and deeply profane, troubling to its core.

A few weeks ago the Curtis Hanson directed film of L.A. Confidential aired. Trav and I hadn't seen it in a good long while, so we watched it and it's... fine. But it's awfully clean for a film about the ugliest perversions and the deepest corruption. The movie is a well made, intelligently plotted period piece with some nice performances. It doesn't wear its period particularly comfortably and those suits worn by all those cops look awfully new. It seems a little small compared to the book, which is a different sort of animal entirely. There are two (!) serial killer subplots (both excised in the screenplay), dozens of characters - including many clearly based on real people including Walt Disney (who commits suicide), spanning nearly eight years. When I first read it I was dying to see it as a movie, but thought it was unfilmable. I was right, in order to film it, it had to be cut so far to the bone it had to become a different species entirely.

Most telling, the movie's villain, corrupt police Captain Dudley Smith, is killed at the end. James Cromwell is perfectly cast, but in the movie he is just a villain, a bad man doing bad things. In Ellroy's books he's the devil himself. All human greed and corruption made flesh. And like evil itself, he's unkillable. He can be momentarily neutralized, but never destroyed. In the books, taking down Smith destroys Ed Exely utterly, and Smith still isn't dead.

L.A. Confidential is a perfectly respectable movie, but what it needed was HBO and the fulfilled promise of novelistic storytelling television has given us in the last decade or so.

All this brings me to last night when I watched Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1974. I haven't read David Peace's quartet of books of crime, corruption and perversion in Yorkshire in the 1970s and early 80s, but I have a feeling they were given the sort of treatment that would have served Ellroy's books well. Set in Yorkshire (the West Riding, I believe, Brontë country) the landscape is bleak indeed. I don't know it for a certainty, but I wouldn't die of shock if Peace was influenced by Ellroy. Both have police so corrupt, they murder and torture, both contain serial killers who attach the wings of birds to the back of dead children. The film is violent and sometimes hard to watch, but it's awfully beautiful. Filmed in gorgeous 16mm, its period setting is perfect.

Yorkshire is thousands of actual and conceptual miles from sunny L.A., but they share the same corrosive misery, a baroque inescapable violence and doom. The young reporter who ineptly tries to sort out the killings and the corruption and lies that surround him is destroyed utterly. Bam. The end.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chorus Girls

This started off as a quick sketch I made for the inamorato. I then inked it, scanned it, and painted it in photoshop. I’ve been talking forever about my chorus girl project - but I think I’ve finally figured out the form it’s going to take and I’m VERY excited. As always, stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why I Hope The Zombies Win

Hello, fellow consumers of culture!

Last night was the midseason (or season - I'm a child of the 70s and 80s, I find this new habit of seasons just popping up all willy nilly completely baffling) premier of The Walking Dead. The first season was enjoyable, for the most part, with its tense depiction of Atlanta and environs in the immediate aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The second season really fell apart for me. It's based on a well regarded comic book which I haven't read, and I've heard it's pretty faithful to the original. Since I'm woefully rusty in my blogging skills, I once again present a listicle containing my thoughts on the zombie apocalypse drama.

1. I'm tired of zombies. Really, really tired of them. Has anyone else read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies? Beyond tiresome. But I'm guessing most of the people reading it have missed the glut of zombie related theater I've seen over the past decade. Zombie Shakespeare! Zombie proms (I've seen at least three)! And on and on. And, really, zombies are kind of dull.

2. That said, I am enamored of Carrie Ryan's young adult zombie books which began with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Primarily because they do what no other zombie apocalypse story (that I've seen) has done: take place a couple of hundred years after the initial zombie contagion has struck and imagined a society in which zombies are a given. She's a lovely writer and she's obviously given this a great deal of thought.

3. That farm is super boring.

4. The Walking Dead has an all-male writing team, which a: is unacceptable, and b: shows.

5. Those scenes in season one in which the women spent all their time doing laundry made me want to put my fist through a wall.

6. The one black male character is written to be a eunuch. All the remaining female characters are white, and the writers of the show behave as if there is zero possibility that he could have a romance with one of them. All he seems to do is to assist the white characters to carry heavy objects or to dig holes. It hasn't seemed to occur to any of them that in their little farm at the end of the world, he might find one of the women, you know, attractive, or maybe would have his own ideas about running things. It's incredibly frustrating to watch.

7. Will a zombie eat that insufferable old guy already? He's just the worst.

8. When all of your action involves multiple trips to the local drug store, you have to know you're doing something wrong.

9. The whole pregnancy storyline really killed the series for me. It's such a potentially potent subject to delve into, and they squandered it. This was where the all-male writing team completely fell down on their job. The pregnancy was entirely viewed from a male or baby-centric POV. Call me crazy, but if I were pregnant in a place with zero medical care or possibly even hand-washing facilities, the thought "OMG, I'm going to die" would be pretty front and center. This was hardly even mentioned.

10. The final nail in the coffin for me was the drama surrounding the morning after pill. There seems to be some MAJOR confusion. The morning after pill is NOT an abortifacient. The morning after pill is emergency contraception. If you are already pregnant (i.e. missing periods, etc. as the woman on the show was) this will not work. The writers of the show are clearly oblivious to this. It angered me when it first aired, but have since heard this same misunderstanding of how The Science works from various Conservative pols who are trying to kill women by taking away their access to health care and choice. So, yeah, this stuff matters. And, no, I'm not going to just enjoy the zombie show and calm down.

11. All the characters are so dull, I'm pretty much just waiting for zombie attacks which makes me feel like a ghoul.

12. I have horrible completion mania, so I'm having trouble not watching. I mean, Season 4 of Alias was just unforgivable and I watched the whole thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! Bonne Année!

Happy new year, friends and comrades! Like so many others on this day, I am full of resolutions. Which ones will be kept remains to be seen, but in the spirt of sharing and accountability, I list them here.

1. Be nicer to people who don't understand how the internet works.

2. Learn how to make cinemagraphs.

3. Eat better. I eat so poorly, I'm in danger of getting rickets. I think my big stumbling block is actually having food in the house. I intend to remedy this in any way possible. If that means Fresh Direct, it means Fresh Direct.

4. Waste less time. Don't be intellectually lazy.

5. Implement all my schemes.

Obviously, this is a broad outline. But you get the picture.