Thursday, August 28, 2008

So long, summer

Photo via NYT

For me, today is the last official day of summer.

The Sunset Park Pool will have its last adult lap swim tomorrow night from 7-9 p.m., and it was my last night there tonight. On Monday at 2:00 it closes to the kiddies and the rest of the public, too. I've had a marvelous summer swimming at this Olympic size pool after work at least twice a week -- is there anything more refreshing? -- and I'm terribly grateful to have had a lovely, big, relatively clean place to swim not five minutes from my doorstep. Oh, and did I mention it was free, too?

I'm off to visit the NYC Parks website to tell them how much I love the pool, mainly because the kindly old Russian guy who works at the pool told me to.

Although the passing of summer always makes me sad, I have to relish the upcoming season, too. Here's to peaches, farmer's markets, dwindling tourists at my favorite museums, and nights so cold you almost *have* to bake cookies.

Happy Labour Day, y'all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Selfish Meme

Pam at Scarlett Cinema throws down a challenge, and I (sort of) rise to the occasion.

The point of this little drawing-room game (besides providing entertainment for a lazy Wednesday afternoon) is to pick a week-or-so worth of movies to show at an imaginary theatre (as presumably you are not an actual programmer and will not actually be screening any or all of these movies at the New Beverly Cinema due to the fact that you are merely some dork on the internet playing pretend). What follows is an extremely selfish list; I have not programmed these films with a view to edifying or even entertaining anyone. Nor have I thought much about it particularly. These are merely several films I either haven't seen (either ever or merely in a long while) and want to. Also, although I am fairly unimpressed with (by?) Diablo Cody's '80s-heavy selections, I will admit that Desperately Seeking Susan really is on my list of movies I want to see soon, that I think Stripes and Labyrinth are great movies, and that Grey Gardens is my favorite documentary ever. I am also kind of freaked out by the fact that one of my selections is actually playing at the Beverly later this month. That's just weird.

1. Purple Noon
I love The Talented Mister Ripley and have always wanted to see this adaptation of it. I just missed it at Film Forum, but it's on Netflix so I can always play Imagination Festival at home by myself ...

2. The Thing from Another World (1951)
I don't know why, I'm just in the mood to see it. We own it and it sits on the shelf and I think, I want to see this. It was even playing in our household at Christmas but I was in a post-Turkey daze and fell asleep.

3. Magnificent Ambersons
I have never seen this movie in its entirety. It floats around rep cinemas now and again. So if I had my way, it would be now.

4. Greed

5. The Women (1939)
The George Cukor version. Besides showcasing stars I love (Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell) and being apparently very risque for its time, this movie is about to be permanently defiled in public consciousness by Debra Messing and a barely recognizable Anette Bening (and Meg Ryan with collagen-rich lips and SJP-circa-1998 hair) and I'd like to see the original before that happens.

6. The Cable Guy
Just in the mood to see it I guess. It's in my queue, but I'd like to subject many other people to seeing it with me.

7. Let's Go Native (1930)
I was recently led to believe (due to my habit of skimming rather than reading) that this movie was playing on TCM this month. It's not. But now I've got a taste for it.

8. The Patsy/Show People (Marion Davies)
You know, I'd really like to see some of her comedies. I always hear about how underrated she was and how her shit was so funny, so I'd like to see some of that. I chose these two titles because they're supposed to showcase her to the best of her abilities.

9. The Crime of Monsieur Lang(e).
See #2 and #3.

10. The Wind
See #9.

11. Little Darlings
My favorite summer-camp movie ever. I don't know why I thought of this title, it just popped into my head. Turns out it was fate.

12. Big Business & other shorts
I was just lamenting that this movie is not available on DVD and I'd really like to see it again. Since it's short, I'd pad the bill with other short comedies.

So that's it -- I'd subject a city full of people to watching what I want to watch, recklessly programming movies I haven't even seen, just for my own amusement. It's probably a good thing I have no actual power.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A disappointment

The Met manages to suck the life out of Turner with its unbelievably boring exhibit, where crowds of tourists meet crowds of paintings to create dull chaos. Exhibiting room after room of his early works (muddy landscapes, interminable ships) to little effect (the law of diminishing returns kicks in early) with some notable exceptions, the exhibit offers little insight into the man as an artist, overlooks some of his best work, and generally fails to excite.

Turner's first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy, Fishermen at Sea (1796) probably suffers from looking like so many cheap imitations that would follow. According to the exhibit notes, painting moonlight on water was in vogue at the time, but that still doesn't explain this painting's positive critical reception to me. To me, it looks like kitsch. Unfortunately, it's representative of the first three or so rooms of the show. Notable exception: the first room, with its breathtaking watercolors. Truly the man was a master of detail and precision, and even if he did have an unfortunate predilection for rainbows, his watercolors are perfect.

His Swiss series, including The Pass of St. Gotthard (1803), is another notable exception. This is sublime landscape painting par excellence. Although the crowds in general annoyed me, I did manage to find some delight in the idiotic remark one man made to his companion here: "I've like totally felt that, when I'm surrounded by all this creativity." They were both wearing the audio tour headsets so presumably this remark was a propos of something (the feeling of the sublime, maybe?) or maybe he was just feeling really inspired by all the creativity and art and stuff.

Turner's Venice paintings weren't a disappointment -- they can withstand even the dullest curating and the most ornery crowds. Gorgeous blues, gorgeous whites, gorgeous light. Simply perfect and beautiful, as always. In the penultimate room there were even more Venice paintings and unfinished sketches, also exquisite. His later works demonstrate the talent for light and color for which he is known and remembered, including The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1834):

This oil painting was on display with two walls full of watercolour sketches -- he filled two notebooks -- in one of the better rooms in the show. The sketches themselves are incredibly vibrant, and enhance the feeling of immediacy conveyed in the burning landscape.

Nordham Castle, Sunrise, 1845

Finally, in the last room, we are treated to his most delirious and delightful swaths of color, and told that "by the 1840s his increasingly abstract images, in which forms were subsumed by light and color, were mockingly dismissed by critics as 'the fruits of a diseased eye and a reckless hand.'"* Of course this is what most people I know who saw the show responded to, and quite logically so, for it is really only here that Turner's creativity seems to become unrestrained. And I say seems to because this show gives little sense, apart from the Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, and possibly the Venice series, of the man's sense of atmospheric light and color. Where was Rain, Steam and Speed?

And this version of The Fighting Temeraire? (There were other versions there apparently, but there must have been a big crowd in front of them since I can't dredge them up in my tortured memory of this show.)

Are there behind-the-scenes politics at work here? Is The British Museum holding out on us? Is the Tate involved in an international conspiracy designed to posthumously destroy Turner's reputation as a master of light and color? The muddy, middling landscapes on display certainly don't convey the mastery of an artist who reputedly inspired this glorious work:

All I know is that one should never go to a blockbuster exhibit at the Met on a Sunday in August -- the exhibit felt crowded with too many pictures of too little significance, and the show itself was just far too crowded with humanity. I understand why they hold these things in the summer (money can be exchanged for goods and services) but no good can come of seeing this exhibit with a horde. The only pleasure I got out of it was seeing so many massive land and sea scapes devoid of any human more than a quarter inch tall -- if only that were true in life.

Conversely, maybe Turner is best taken in small doses. As in this New York Times review, "This show may be wearying because there is something imperious and impersonal about the sheer force of Turner’s ambition. It is almost as if his drive to capture nature or history in motion was so intense that it didn’t leave room for anyone else, including the viewer. Maybe that’s why despite all his hard work and even the majesty of his vision, you can emerge from this exhibition impressed but oddly untouched, even chilled."

* Quote from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's catalogue.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Please let this movie be funny ...

The House Bunny opens today, and, after seeing Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder last night, it might be nice to see some girls be funny, too.

Mister Spinster's ode to the film's Carole Lombard-meets-Goldie Hawn-esque star, here.

Update: it's funny! Emma Stone holds her own, too! I would have liked more scenes with the girls just dorking out, but it was still an enjoyable confection nonetheless.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Glamorous hijinks

A bit of Edward Gorey, a twist of Harris Burdick, a dash of Grey Gardens, here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Fandom: Ernest Fucking Borgnine

Hey Kids! You may remember me as Sargent Fatso Judson in From Here to Eternity!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Julia Child Was a Spy!

As if Julia Child needed to get any more rad, turns out she was a spy, too:

"[Julia ]Child shared a secret with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis threatened the world. They served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt. The secret comes out Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008, all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the U.S.'s first centralized intelligence effort. The National Archives will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives." (Associated Press)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Silent Movies For People Who Don't Like Silent Movies

As promised, I've thrown together a preliminary list of what I consider some of the best movies for silent film neophytes to watch.

They've been chosen for their accessibility and entertainment value, or for the sheer, indisputable force of their awesomeness. I don't consider this a top ten list or a best of, or even a list of personal favorites (though it skews very closely to the latter). Rather, this is a list that, in my opinion, would convert someone who claimed that silent movies "weren't their thing."

It's funny how often people lump "silent movies" into one category, like it's a separate genre or something. That's as ludicrous as lumping together all "black and white" movies. Some people say modern audiences just don't connect to silent movies, which I think is bollocks: the first thirty minutes of Wall-E were silent, and plenty of people connected with that. Well the acting is stagey, they might say, or the plots are sentimental or gimmicky, to which I can only reply, "What movies are *you* watching?"

Hence, this list. The movies here are so brilliant, so powerfull, so visually arresting and profoundly human that, if you watch all the movies on this list and still conclude you don't like silent movies, well, then, you really just don't like movies. I present to you:

The Last Laugh (Murnau)

Sunrise (more Murnau)

Sherlock Jr./Keaton Shorts

Modern Times/City Lights (Neither strictly silent)

Lonesome, if you can catch it at a theatre (also not strictly silent)

The Wind (starring Lilian Gish)

Ernst Lubitsch comedies (The Doll)

Josef Von Sternberg's The Docks of New York and Underworld

Griffith's Broken Blossoms; if you're into Victorian theatre, especially


Sadie Thompson (Raoul Walsh)

Laurel and Hardy shorts, esp. Stan Laurel shorts, and specifically Mud and Sand/Mighty Like a Moose (Charley Chase)

Battleship Potemkin/ Intolerance/Birth of a Nation/Metropolis/ Man With A Movie Camera (all the "big" movies that I wouldn't actually recommend as the first thing to watch, but feel compelled to include on this list due to their stature ... plus they're mostly awesome)

The Man Who Laughs

Tillie's Punctured Romance

Fatty Arbuckle Shorts, especially He Did and He Didn't with Mabel Normand

Comments, suggestions, feedback, argument and amendments welcome. Cheers!

Blogs of Note

The Virtual Dime Museum promises "Brooklyn and NYC history and genealogy, vintage pop culture, strange Victorian news items and ephemera," and delivers resoundingly. I have lately amused myself by trawling through its pages, and delighting in discoveries such as the Lewis/Van Guilder case (1883) and the Lemuel Hicks case of the Buglarious Entrance (1860). Besides learning fun facts about Brooklyn history (and crime!) I also enjoy the various old-timey ads for things like electric corsets. (If I can cast a vote for someone I'd like to hear more anecdotes about, it would have to be Preserved Fish, lately of the New York City Marble Cemetery.)

Also, I discovered The Vapour Trail through this site, and it has inspired me to concoct a list, a wonderful list, which I call Silent Films for People Who Don't Like Silent Films (Yet). It's a work in progress, but I can provide a little teaser here: I'll definitely include Sunrise. The full list should be up tomorrow, and I'd love it if readers wrote in with suggestions, too.

Also, let it be known far and wide that The Bowery Boys make life at work worth living. Their awesome podcasts make even data entry bearable. Though I'd heard about their podcasts a year or so ago, I didn't actually get around to listening to any (why, I can't imagine) until recently, which means I get to catch up on old episodes all the day long.

And finally, for a truly glorious appreciation of film, silent and otherwise, in all its splendor, Six Martinis and The Seventh Art provides lush visuals upon which to feast your eyes, should they be hungering for beautiful things. There are some simply gorgeous screen grabs on this site, each of which makes me remember why I love film (and art and photography and design and silhouette and shadow and, yes, light itself!) and refreshes the weary soul.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fan Friday: Dan Walsh

Usually on Fridays I find myself running out of energy and ideas, and this week is no exception. Coincidentally, on Fridays I also find myself posting about stuff and people I like. This happened by pure accident about three times in a row (Lon Chaney, Peter Lorre, Werner Herzog ... though maybe that was a Thursday) so I've decided now to make it all horrible and contrived by forcing myself to do it every Friday and giving it a silly name.

This week I simply must feature the Garfield Minus Garfield guy. Often I find myself going to the site for a laugh when I'm utterly depressed at work. Nothing makes me feel better about my own miserable life than the hilarious exploits and wacky adventures of Jon Arbuckle. Yup, G-m-G totally blows my mind with its awesomeness. So, hats off to you Dan Walsh, whoever you are. Whenever I am devastated by the mundane quagmire of my existence, or when I just need a hearty chortle or two, I go to you, and unlike so many others, you never let me down. Kudos.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A book smorgasboard

There's a new-ish (well, new to me anyway) Marie Dressler bio out that I'm dying to read. I find there aren't nearly enough book on my girls Marie and Mabel so I'm super stoked about this one. I wish there was a major occasion coming up so somebody could buy it for me! (As well as a few other things on my wish list, including The Suspicions of Mister Whicher.) For now, though, I am content to work my way through a re-reading of Ray Bradbury's Long After Midnight; I've also just picked up Switch Bitch (Roald Dahl) and The Yellow Dog (by Georges Simenon) at the ever-fabulous NYPL, so I'm pretty much set for the next couple of weeks. I feel summer dwindling to a close and all I can think about is how much there is still to read. Subconsciously, I'll always feel like late August/early September means back to school, though those days are long gone for me ...

Perhaps that's what inspired this particularly bookish post?

Also, I've been reading about Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland ... I sincerely hope he doesn't screw it up the way he did Sleepy Hollow. I loved the design of that movie, and I loved the casting (Depp, Walken and Ricci were all awesome) but I hated the tacked on story about Ichabod's mother being a witch (and a new agey Wiccan type at that)! Burton always gets to film my sacred texts, and while I clearly envy him for it, I'm also holding my breath over this one (I suppose Helena Bonham Carter will have to play the Red Queen, sigh)...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


You know life is good when, within an hour of your return to work, a lovely colleague excitedly approaches your desk saying, "Have you heard the news about the monkeys?!"

It's not every day a planet DOUBLES its monkey supply! (Technically, I think gorillas are not monkeys, but I'll let it go today because this is the BEST NEWS EVER.) Yay!