Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
'Many experienced cooks in the South assume that everyone knows how to bake. Virginia Willis, author of “Bon Appétit, Y’all,” sent me a coconut cake recipe she got from an 80-year-old family friend from Augusta, Ga. It begins: “Make a yellow cake.”'
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Bond No. 9 continues to send me free samples of their glorious perfumes, some of which are more memorable than others (my favorites are Saks Fifth Avenue For Her and Chinatown; my least favorite is Nuits de NoHo) but I treasure them all.
Well, a little gold vial showed up at my house last night, and while I was at first merely pleasantly amused by the copy ("Here is the incomparable beauty and derring-do of our island metropolis distilled in liquid form!" Tee hee, I love it!) my benign amusement suddenly turned deadly serious: this is THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER SMELLED. Seriously. I can't stop smelling it.
Do you want to know what it smells like? This is what it smells like:
Will they churn out a version in a non-gold, more reasonably priced bottle? Should they? Who cares! For now, I am going to deck myself out in this powerful sample for as long as humanly possible.... and breathe....
Friday, December 11, 2009
2) Ghost stories. I've been into them lately. Today I had a marvelous experience at the Brooklyn Public Library after a wondrous wintry walk: I got The Hours After Midnight (J.S. Le Fanu, who I've been loving recently) and The Lottery (which I've been dying to re-read; I may love Shirley Jackson even more than Highsmith). So this kick I've been on, it started with the ghost stories of Dickens, moved on to M.R. James, and in the past month has expanded to Le Fanu. I am completely entranced by his "Ghost Stores of Chapelizod" and "Dickon the Devil" (which I have the unfortunate habit of referring to -- in my head -- as "Dikon the Radish," which just makes it kind of cute instead of scary). What am I getting at with all this?
3) It's Christmastime (almost) and apparently, in England, telling ghost stories is a Yuletide tradition. Now I reckon there's about two weeks to Christmas, and I really want to write some ghost stories, so here's what I'm proposing: a story or two every couple of days until December 31st (I need an extension on my deadline already!) in rough form, right here, the best of which I shall revise and post on my website. Hopefully I'll get a few good tales out of it. Then again, in England they drive on the wrong side of the road, too.... so....
4) ... oh yes, punch. In Le Fanu, his protags are always drinking "punch." By the fire. With booze in it. Warm and wintry, indeed. In an attempt to be more ghosty, I have made a rather tasty punch of my own, currently simmering on my stove. Which means I stop typing.... now....
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Monday, December 07, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Construction workers found a three-foot-tall sandstone marker as they dug below Washington Square Park yesterday: a 210-year-old gravestone, the writing still clear.
“Here lies the body of James Jackson,” the inscription declares, “who departed this life the 22nd day of September 1799 aged 28 years native of the county of Kildare Ireland.”
A glorious treasure, surely. More on the story here.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I mentioned this before, here. (Since I've waited an awfully long time to blog about it, you are forgiven if you don't immediately recall.) Designed by the good people at Strange Attractor, and published by the Wellcome Collection and Trust, Medical London: City of Diseases, City of Cures, is a portmanteau, part map, part history, part walking-tour guide, stuffed with beautifully illustrated full-color prints of such points of interest as Bedlam Insane Asylum and Thomas Crapper's water-closet manufactory. This wondrous cabinet of endless delights promises to "guide its readers on their own journey through the city’s streets and landmarks, and resurrect the vanished traces of its past."
The six walking tours, organized thematically, are briefly outlined in the fold-out maps, and supplemented by a corresponding guidebook that presents the themes geographically (sound confusing? it is, at first, then you realize each walk is organized twice, once by theme and then again by location... and they don't line up quite exactly but presumably this all makes sense when you're walking the streets of London as opposed to lying in bed in Brooklyn).
Dr. Richard Barnett has a flair with his pen and phrases like this, in City of Pleasure, are thoroughly entertaining:
Monday, September 14, 2009
I've been fascinated by Betty in Mad Men ever since "Shoot" in Season 1 (you know, the one where she shoots the neighbor's pigeons). She is tragic, she is insipid, she is repressed (but she's remarkably dressed) she's the gorgeous blonde caged bird who's been clearly nuts from the start but hasn't yet totally boiled over. Season 3 is her time. Each year she becomes more and more insane. At first, it was just a little harmless couch time. Then it was drinking in bedraggled party dresses at ten in the morning and porking strangers during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But now, with last night's episode, our neurotic housewife and tattered WASP princess approaches horror-movie levels of madness.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Now, not to get silly, but there are certain places around this town with a little more presence than others. I'm not talking about the gaping hole in the ground where everyone is gathered today. I am talking about a small, pretty structure that lives right next door: St. Paul's Chapel.
St. Paul's has its back to Broadway; its entrance faces west onto its own compact churchyard, giving it an air of separateness from the city. There is a distinct feeling of peace in that churchyard, and the long-standing building, the oldest in lower Manhattan, is unique for having survived the many disasters that felled its Colonial neighbors. Inside it looks more like a baroque drawing room than a Protestant church, all pale blues and pastels and crystal chandeliers -- you wouldn't be surprised to see Cupids cavorting on the ceiling -- giving it a light, airy, and distinctly non-oppressive, non-denominational feel. In other words, you are not overwhelmed with religiosity. Now a surviving Colonial building may not seem like much unless you know what has happened in lower Manhattan over the years - for instance, a great fire in 1835 destroyed nearly everything. (Trinity Church, in contrast, has been destroyed and rebuilt twice.) And St. Paul's location right next to the twin towers is positively astonishing -- the towers turned into huge columns of ash and St. Paul's survived with nary a crystal of its chandeliers shattered. Only its pipe organ was damaged by dust, rendered unplayable, and a single tree -- one tree -- was felled.
The chapel now is the most vivid and moving memorial to 9-11 that exists in this city; simple displays of the cots used to shelter rescue workers as they sifted through the wreckage are still set up in the aisles, accompanied by handwritten notes of thanks. Somehow, between the strange, quiet, steady peacefulness of the church and churchyard, and these simple monuments to thanks and grace, St. Paul's gave me pause in a way that few other places in New York ever have. There is a steadiness to this place, an uninterrupted steadfastness, that quietly yet firmly whispers to you as you walk through, "This is our church. And our city. And no one will disturb it." Gazing at the front of the building from the strangely silent churchyard (where did all that street noise go?) you can believe the chapel is sternly warning you, daring you to touch it or its island's inhabitants. It's almost intimidating. This tiny, unostentatious chapel will not be moved. You don't see a lot a buildings so obstinate. St. Paul's, I think, will always watch out for this city.
Another important September 11, of course, was 1609. History nerds will be celebrating the voyage of the Half Moon today, without which New York would never have been colonized and we wouldn't have all those charming Dutch names peppering our streets and lexicons (Bowery, stoop). I'm rather fond of Henry Hudson myself, the strange man who overtaxed his crew in this relentless search for the Northwest Passage until they finally mutinied and dumped him in the freezing waters of Hudson Bay. I have to admire that kind of singlemindedness, and of course the tragic eloquence of all those explorers who searched desperately for passages that were never found, and died before the world was fully mapped. What can I say, I love stories of human failure. But wait -- a kind of posthumous vindication may have finally come to the captain of the Half Moon. Today on the cover of the New York Times I read the following headline: Arctic Shortcut, Long a Dream, Beckons Shippers as Ice Thaws.
See Henry? All you had to do was wait for the ice to melt. Now you know what would be really ironic? All that sea ice washing over our little archipelago and swallowing us whole. But that won't happen for many Septembers, I think.
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Early in 2009, I got caught up in a '30s mood, what with the economic collapse and all, and suddenly got a yen to read That Scatterbrain Booky. Now it doesn't take much to put me in a '30s mood -- I don't know what I like about the decade 1929-1939, if it's the drama of a total worldwide economic collapse, the amazing fact that red-blooded Americans actually dared to try the New Deal and give us the massive public works projects we still enjoy today (Sunset Park pool!), the slimming fashions or the wonderful, wonderful movies (probably the latter) but there's something about this era that really appeals to me. Now, after finally getting around to re-reading the Booky Trilogy (I had to go home to Ontario to get it, since it's not readily available in the States), I realize it may have been ingesting these books as a child that made me such a fan of the Depression. You know, if one can be said to be a "fan" of a Depression.
The Canadian specificity -- dropping phrases like "Bloor and Jane" without feeling the least need to explain that those are street names; adulation for L.M. Montgomery; rapturous descriptions of Ontario Place; references to Muskoka and Laura Secord chocolates -- is refreshing. It does a heart good to read a Canadian book, I tell you. Photographs and images from the Eaton's archives and catalogue are scattered throughout, interspersed with photos from the author's private collection (and what appear to be stills from a CBC adaptation, starring a girl who looks for all the world like Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall).
Saturday, August 29, 2009
A few days' hard work -- and some good advice -- helped me turn my POS screenplay around (yes, that's right, my point of sale screenplay) and it's not half bad now, if I may be so bold (it's amazing how letting things breathe allows them to, well, live... every time I write a new script I realize how much I cram scenes on top of one another out of a terrible fear of being boring, then I always have to go back in and rip out lots of chatter and create some quiet time for my characters). Plus, it's cold and rainy today which is so refreshing. It's definitely the perfect day for Green-Wood walks and Brit Noir. And I can cook -- in my own kitchen! -- without creating an inferno of biblical proportions. So what if it's too cold outside to have a picnic. I can create my own imaginary indoor picnic with Mad Men and booze! Rice Krispie treats for all!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Sure, it's a total beach read, and it's kind of silly -- it's about witchcraft, how eerie! -- and so forth, but come on! It's like a Nancy Drew for grownups! If you enjoy finding secret house filled with spells and think it's funny to call it "The Phsyick Book of Danity Kane" you'll like this book, I guarantee it. The fact that you're reading something a mere step up from the Da Vinci Code? Whatever, it's summer, and it's a pretty big step. The prose, in other words, won't make you choke. Sure the third act is inane (it involves stealing pee!) but it starts off so well that I forgave it any number of missteps (like, say, extreme obviousness). Our heroine, Connie, though oftentimes oddly dense for a Harvard grad student, is engaging and awkwardly charming, and the story speeds along at a brisk clip. I also like little touches, like the Wiccan at the local magic shop being kind of useless and unhelpful, and a purveyor of expired herbs (what can I say, I respect anyone who shows restraint whilst dealing with the eminently mockable neo-pagans). Anyway, if you enjoy witchcraft and whiling away the summer hours, you could do worse.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Thursday, August 06, 2009
As this article about Laura Ingalls Wilder proves (I recently re-read the series, remember?). It doesn't add much to what we already know: Laura had a hard life, she co-wrote the books with her daughter. Fin. Who cares, really, that her daughter was kind of a nutso bitch? Laura's political leanings are somewhat more interesting, and she was apparently the first person to use the word "libertarian" in its modern political context. The author of the article points out, though, that this staunch liberation benefitted greatly from the aid of many government institutions, including the state-funded College for the Blind that Mary attended and the "boughten" goods they loved so much. No settler is an island, I guess.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Well, now that the secret's out, I suppose there's no point in hiding it any longer: Governor's Island is freaking awesome. Last Friday a friend and I cycled merrily all the day long, and a funny thing happened. As we rode past the trees and water with nary a care in the world -- no cars! no helmets! -- we found ourselves regressing farther and farther back into a childlike state. The conversation stopped being about the economy and our search for work (there's a reason we're riding bikes at 10 am on a Friday) and started being about... how neat-looking the houses were, how much we totally wanted to see the zombie movie playing in the abandoned theatre (but couldn't stop cycling yet! just once more around!), how the island was shaped like an ice cream cone, and how truly we both loved hammocks.
There was little to buy on the island, nowhere really to spend or make money, no fear that anyone would steal our island-issued bikes, and (best of all) free mini golf. The sun warmed us, the breeze cooled us. We were four years old, we were ten years old. Our minds were empty yet present, like a happy Buddhist. By the end of the day we would require seven minutes to choose an ice cream flavor. There's something about that place, I tell you.
Perhaps it was the soothing motion of circling the island repeatedly, or maybe the sound of the waves. Maybe it was the distance from the city. I think the lack of anywhere to spend money was a big factor, and the feeling of safety, that nothing bad could possibly happen here. It was like being a child or being in... Canada. I felt protected, as though by a big benevolent government that would take care of all my basic needs, like some sort of cosmic mommy was watching out for us. I hope the island never changes. I could stand a little more mystical infantile regression, because being ten? It's amazing.
P.S. City of Water Day is tomorrow...
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Congratulations! You no longer need to go to film school, now that The Dancing Image has curated the world's most comprehensive syllabus of film-related reading! My suggestions are on there, so you know it's good.
Now you can go study something important instead, like science. Your parents will be so relieved.
Monday, July 06, 2009
So apparently some readers thought my last post was "too long." Ha! I say. Ha! Little do you know that was only the first part! I chopped it in half for you and it was still too long! What would Pa say? Something folksy and wise about not quitting before a job is done, I imagine. So read on, if you will, because we're not nearly done yet.
Book Four! On The Banks of Plum Creek! As a child, all I thought was, "Neat, they live in a sod house! Just like a hobbit hole!" Now all I see is an opening sequence riddled with regret and dark foreshadowing as the family rolls their covered wagon into Minnesota. When Pa trades the mustangs, Pet and Patty, for two stout oxen, he tells Laura, "Pet and Patty like to travel. They are little Indian ponies, Laura, and plowing is too hard work for them. They will be much happier, traveling out west. You wouldn't want to keep them here, breaking their hearts on a plow." Of course anyone but a dunderhead could see those two little ponies are Pa and Laura.
Not only does the series get darker at this point, but the writing becomes more self-consciously literary, like Laura's warming up with practice (she really loves foreshadowing, and perfects it in The Long Winter). Incidentally, the first two books were rather fictional -- recollections mixed with historical research, muddled dates -- whereas from this point on it becomes more accurate, with fixed dates that line up with actual events.
From page one, Plum Creek stews in an atmosphere of sadness and dread. There are some amusing episodes, like fixing up the dugout house and swimming in the swimming hole and sliding down haystacks, but for the most part we're just bombarded with Pa's sense of regret at no longer living out west, Ma's dissatisfaction at living in the dugout, and the great deferred reward of the first wheat crop which we all know will never come as soon as we read this passage:
"I never saw weather like this. The old-timers call it grasshopper weather." "Whatever do they mean by that?" Ma asked him. Pa shook his head. "You can't prove it by me. 'Grasshopper weather' was what Nelson said. I couldn't make out what he meant by it." "Likely it's some old Norwegian saying," Ma said.
As if we weren't 100% sure disaster was coming, Pa builds a magnificent house for Ma, all with lumber he got on credit. Credit! He'll pay it back after the first wheat crop comes in. Everything will be all right after that first wheat crop comes in. Oh, Pa.
More in the continuing man-versus-nature metaphor series: When Laura is compelled to go into the rising creek during a flood -- she simply has to feel that strong, rushing water around her -- and nearly drowns, she develops a newfound appreciation for almighty, terrible nature:
"Laura knew now that there were things stronger than anybody. But the creek had not got her. It had not made her scream and it could not make her cry."
Life goes on by the Banks of Plum Creek. School. Nellie Oleson. Church. And then, two summers in a row, terrible plagues of grasshoppers. Grasshoppers everywhere, destroying everything. And drought, terrible drought. Laura couldn't get the creepy feeling off her skin. Pa had to walk 300 miles east in his old, patched boots and work on a farm for a dollar a day to feed the family. The girls are alone without him for weeks at a time. Devastating stuff. And I complained when I found one little old cockroach in my bed.
The book ends with Pa spending four days in a snowbank during a terrible blizzard and coming home just in time to spend Christmas with his family. He had gone to town to get Christmas candy and oyster crackers but had to eat them all to stay alive during the blizzard. (Ironically, the snow-bank shelter was mere feet from the house! Oh, Pa!) But none of it matters, because Pa comes back and the family is together again.
But, characteristically, the sweet ending is merely a brief reprieve from more devastation. The first two chapters of By the Shores of Silver Lake reduced me to tears on the subway: Mary's gone blind from scarlet fever, and Jack the Bulldog dies. The family moves west to South Dakota, settling in a railroad camp, where Ma gets more uptight than ever. And who can blame her, with teams of rough men using rough language around her curious, pubescent daughter. More than once she and Pa warn Laura away from those rough men, and when they take in boarders, Ma gives Laura a sliver of wood to wedge beneath her bedroom door.
Silver Lake is all about Laura hitting puberty, from specific pronouncements of "being grown up now" (after Jack dies) to the horror she feels when she discovers a girl her age had been married, to this slightly mysterious passage wherein Laura is compelled to follow a path of moonlight late at night, and runs straight into a wolves' den:
"I had no idea you would go so far," Pa said. "We followed the moonpath, Laura told him. Pa looked at her strangely. "You would," he said. "Poor girl. You're as nervous as a witch and no wonder," Ma said softly.
Whoa, what's going on here? Is this just more of Laura's irrepressible spirit? Or is it something else that leads Ma and Pa to whisper earnestly once she's out of earshot? Is their wild daughter bursting at the seams with unbidden adolescent yearnings? Did she get her first period? Something is happening. The book is riddled with allusions to Laura's burgeoning maturity and sexuality, and it's no coincidence that it is here we finally see her life intersect with future husband Almanzo Wilder's (she first sees his strong, handsome team of horses and admires them, before she learns whom they belong to... wait, doesn't Freud have a thing about horses? Is that why there's a chapter about her wild older cousin teaching her to ride a horse? Oh my gosh! I never realized the Little House books were so sexually charged!).
Besides dealing with Laura's transition to adolescence/adulthood, the book is also unique for introducing, for the first time in the series, an impressionistic interior monologue. When baby Grace goes missing under Laura's watch and she's terrified that the child might have wandered into a slough, we get the following:
"Oh, Grace why didn't I watch you," she thought. "Sweet, pretty little helpless sister... Grace must have gone this way. Maybe she chased a butterfly. She didn't go into the Big Slough. She didn't climb the hill, she wasn't there. Oh, baby sister, I couldn't see you anywhere east or south on this hateful prairie."
This is the only instance I can find of first-person narration anywhere so far in the series.
Laura will be up to her old literary tricks again in The Long Winter, foreshadowing like crazy. I have to stop here for tonight, and probably won't re-read the book (having devoured it this winter, along with my weight in cheese curds) but if you just can't get enough Ingalls-ania, you might do worse than check out Lizzie Skurnick's compelling reading of it here.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
I recently decided to re-read the Little House on the Prairie series in its entirety. I can't say why. Perhaps its because the books are so vivid in my memory, with that sensuous and tactile prose... for whatever reason, I gave into the urge, and they're much darker than I remember them being (except for the Long Winter, which is exactly as dark as I remember it being, though much more complex).
I started with the innocuous Farmer Boy, a plodding, dullish read enlivened mainly by mouth-watering descriptions of what Almanzo Wilder ate. Almanzo, of course, is Laura's future husband, who won't come into the series again until book five, and Farmer Boy is a one-off about his life as a child.
The Wilders are upright, upstanding citizens who live on a prosperous farm in upstate New York. In Farmer Boy, children seem to work from sunup to sundown, not pausing to rest til Sunday. The long stretches of manual labor are broken only by immense quantities of the aforementioned food, served up hot and fresh daily by mother, who seems never to stop cooking. The children only play when their parents leave on a ten-day vacation, during which time they promptly eat up almost all the sugar. A staid little book, but nonetheless a romantic notion (imagining your husband's childhood is very sweet, isn't it?). Also, it sets the stage for their later meeting, showing Almanzo and Laura to be equally obsessed with horses. It's a meeting of the minds, see?
The Ingalls family, by comparison, is a riot. In Little House in the Big Woods, the girls actually play and Ma even helps them cut out paper dolls! I couldn't believe it -- imagine, playing! The Wilders never had that kind of leisure time. And at night, Pa would even play with them! He'd play Mad Dog, cornering them by the woodstove, his hair all on end. And then he would play the fiddle, something the bloodless Mr. Wilder would never do.
And the leniency, by jinks! Pa forgives Laura for being naughty on Sunday and even forgives her for slapping Mary! In the tenderest of scenes, he comforts the child, distracted by jealousy over Mary's golden curls: when the little brunette asks him which he prefers, brown hair or golden, he replies, "Well, Laura, my hair is brown."
Lizzie Skurnick 's somewhat breathless account of this scene, and of the whole book, really, hits all its highest points: pig slaughter, sugaring off dances, and Pa's mysterious yet undeniable attractiveness. Another point I'd like to bring up here is the faintly zen quality to the book's last paragraph:
Pa, you see, is singing Auld Land Syne, and four-year-old Laura is coming to terms with the very concept of time itself. How can it pass and be forgotten, when she is there, ever present in the moment, and writing it all down just for us?
So, moving from Farmer Boy to Little House, it seemed to me that the Wilders were about as much fun as a Pilgrim crossed with an Amish and Ma and Pa, by contrast, come off like a bunch of frivolous hippies. At least, in the beginning they do.
But then things get serious.
Life takes an interesting turn when the Ingallses trade their cosy, merry ways for the wild life on the road and in Indian Territory. Little House on the Prairie is by far the most adventurous and incredible of the books, the wildest and least domestic, even though a large portion of the narrative is devoted to the building of the house.
The book begins with a tinge of sadness, something I notice becomes more pronounced as the series goes on (subsequent books open with sadness, or foreboding, or both). It starts with them leaving the little house in the big woods: "They left it lonely and empty ... and they never saw that little house again."
They make a late winter crossing of the Mississippi and the very next night they hear the ice cracking: they crossed in the nick of time. It's the first of many scrapes and near-death experiences. The creek rises in the middle of a crossing and Pa must get out and swim with the horses while Ma takes the reins; they nearly lose Jack the Bulldog; Ma's foot is almost crushed during the building of the house; rings of wolves surround the house and howl at night; later, tribes of Indians on the warpath howl for days and only the intervention of a friendly Indian saves all the settlers from getting scalped; Pa and Mr. Scott are almost killed building the well; a prairie fire ravages the earth; and the whole family nearly dies of malaria. Finally, finally, through all of this, the family prevails, and begins to plant a garden in the first days of spring. Not long after the first green shoots appear, soldiers comes from out East to inform Pa that he's built his house three miles too far over the line into Indian Territory and the whole family must get out and move.
I'll give you a moment to let the devastation kick in.*
The house. The well. The cow. The barn. They must leave it all behind -- a year of hard work and sacrifice and waiting -- and go. Just when they're finally getting settled. It never occurred to me as a child to be utterly devastated by this, but now as an adult I read it and feel sick. "A whole year's gone," says Ma. But Pa cannot be defeated: "We've got all the time in the world, Caroline."
Of course, the series is nothing if not a tribute to Pa's indomitable spirit. He and Laura are kindred spirits, perfectly matched, both of whom long to run wild all over the west (if Caroline had let him, I'm sure Pa would've gone out to Oregon eventually). Their mutual love of wild country finds its outlet in a passage here wherein Laura's emotional reaction to the papoose is strong and mysterious and visceral:
Laura screams and cries for the baby, much to Ma's astonishment: "Why on earth do you want an Indian baby, of all things?"
"Its eyes are so black," Laura sobbed. She could not say what she meant.
I defy you to read that and not know exactly what she meant.
The family hauls picket pike and leaves, heading out once again and making camp on the prairie. Laura turns into Hemingway all of a sudden, describing the "good supper" ("They ate the good supper hot from the fire. Pet and Patty munched the good grass."). From time to time Laura's descriptive prose will be enlivened by pretty lyricism, like this passage about the singing stars:
That night was full of music, and Laura was sure that part of it came from the great, bright stars swinging so low above the prairie.
Pa and Laura share an appreciation of these beautiful things, a sense of the poetry of their hard life on the prairie, a love of motion and open space. When the family moves out of Indian Territory, they are chastened, and quiet, and yet Laura, "Felt all excited inside. You never know what will happen next, nor where you'll be tomorrow, when you are traveling in a covered wagon."
If only the rest of their tale lived up to the promise of adventure. But the next book, I'm afraid, will be very sad indeed.
To be continued.... (You can read the second half of this post here!)
* Apparently Laura played fast and loose with the facts here, and it may not have happened exactly that way... in fact, it probably didn't. There's also a good chance the family was living on that land illegally. There's an interesting article on the Osage point of view here.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The demolition of Penn Station is one of the great blots on New York's architectural history. Designed by the prestige firm McKim, Mead and White and completed in 1910, it was demolished a mere fifty-three years later when the prevalence of the automobile led to a decrease in train use and revenue. It was a much protested, and tragic affair, especially considering the great trouble it took to build in the first place. The Bowery Boys have a great podcast on this feat of design and engineering.
I'm kind of obsessed with the old Penn Station, the quintessential symbol of cultural loss through short-sighted urban planning, so I was struck when I saw Farley Granger running down those grandiose steps in Strangers on a Train. I love it when my obsessions intersect.
Look for it at the 7:05-minute mark.
There's a neat little website that lists Penn Station's celluloid cameos, should you want to run out and hunt them down immediately. Be forewarned though, you'll be saddened when you do.
Also be forewarned that someone actually wrote this on Imdb: "When Guy jumps in the cab after the tennis match he tells the driver "Penn Station", when clearly he arrives at Grand Central Station." Yes, clearly. Be careful what you read, for the truth can only be found on Spinster Aunt.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Because I will see literally anything with Betty White in it, I found myself at the cinema last night watching the Proposal. (Does that sentence sound ungrammatical? I don't care.) Here's the deal, kids. I don't like romantic comedies, usually, unless Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks has a hand in them. The Wedding Singer is one of the few modern romcoms I enjoyed and that was like what, ten, fifteen years ago? Other than that, I think the only romcoms I like that *aren't* in black and white are Romancing the Stone and Overboard.
But sometimes I like Sandra Bullock -- I thought Miss Congeniality was charming -- and the premise of The Proposal is basically exactly how my marriage went down, so hey, I thought, it's a Friday night and I've had some Prosecco, let's go. Unfortunately, The Proposal, unlike my tasty Prosecco or the films of Ernst Lubitsch, does not sparkle.
First and foremost, I have to scold director Anne Fletcher: it's called pacing, honey. Pacing! You're a dancer, you should understand rhythm. Blimey!
Also, how 'bout extracting some humanity from Ryan Reynolds, huh? Was he cryogenically frozen or something? I don't think he's completely thawed out yet. Oh, and Malin Ackerman? Sorry you had absolutely nothing to do in this movie. And Coach, poor Coach (yes, the honorable Craig T. Nelson), what a dreary, pointless subplot they gave ya. The writer shares the blame for that labored attempt at depth, which added virtually nothing to the story or its characters.
Sandra Bullock works really hard with the material she's given, and has a couple of great scenes, as does Betty White, and one running gag with Oscar Nunez pays off nicely, but honestly? I'm not about to be converted anytime soon. RomComs, you're still at the bottom of the genre pile for me.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
The cloudy days make me feel dreamy and impractical. When the rain clears briefly, I feel moments of lucidity, but then fade away again into the world of battling covens and the summer everything changed.... don't we all just want a magic ring to carry us into another world?
Make your choice, adventurous stranger
Strike the bell and bide the danger
Or wonder 'til it drives you mad
What would have happened if you had.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Sunday, June 07, 2009
1. The "perversely inaccurate" Fun in a Chinese Laundry, Josef von Sternberg's pastiche of a memoir. And when I say pastiche, I mean an amalgam of his paranoid ramblings, some fact, a few self-aggrandizing delusions and lots of apocryphal anecdotes.
2. Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich. You'll learn more about writing for the movies than if you read any number of silly books like The Writer's Journey or Save the Cat.
3. What Made Pistachio Nuts? I remember loving this book in grad school, mainly for the way Henry Jenkins irreverently pokes holes in the supremacy of James Agee's adulation of the "silent clowns." Just the kind of contrary thinking I like, plus, a canny appreciation of an undeservedly maligned moment in film history (early sound).
4. Without Lying Down. Frances Marion's biography is overlong and far too full of irrelevant details (like who cares about every single aunt and uncle she ever had?) but an important work nonetheless because it inspired me to learn more about Marion as a writer.
5. Preston Sturges: Five Screenplays. Not so much a book about film as a book with films in it, if that makes sense. Another invaluable tool for the writer who wants to be funny, or entertaining, or even both if you can manage it.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
So I've been out of commission for a while, finishing the revisions on my script about the sassy retro stewardesses, but I've managed to catch a few movies here and there, and finally finish the Masterpiece Theatre version of Little Dorrit. First things first.
Dickens' fraught relationship with the Marshalea Debtors' Prison created some of his most complex characters. All the main players in Little Dorrit are nuanced, layered and fallible, from the prideful and pretentious -- yet pathetic and vulnerable -- patriarch William Dorrit to the smug but sweet do-gooder Arthur Clennam to Little Dorrit herself, a rather ghoulish young lady who seems to thrive when those around her are in need of saving. She and Mr. Clennam both have slight martyr complexes, which makes them such a dandy match for one another.
Century-old societal critique doesn't always hold up, but Dickens' eye for hypocrisy outlasts social trends, and Little Dorrit's narrative of financial ruin tells a story as old as the moon and cyclical as the tides (I believe we're in the midst of some sort of slight financial crisis now, aren't we?). From a modern perspective I must admit I don't see the logic behind debtors' prisons.... how on earth are you supposed to pay back your debts if you don't work? Baffling.
The minor and peripheral characters are the broadest, silliest and most delightful. I was especially fond of Edmund Sparkler and his funny little turns of phrase: "Dad wasn't a bad old stick" and, of course, "No begod nonsense about her." As always, there's a great big lovely happy ending in which Mr. Clennam and Little Dorrit are married, and nothing solves everyone's problems forever like a wedding.
While the concept had potential, I suspected there might be third act problems when I read the script, and was disappointed to see the final (filmed) product confirm my suspicions. The first two thirds are an amusing romp peopled with outlandish personae; by the end, though, the repetitious heist/con pattern grows wearying (didn't McKee warn you about the law of diminishing returns? he actually was right about that, you know), and humor is sacrificed to mawkish drawn-out fraternal histrionics. It should have ended in Mexico ("I don't want to impugn an entire country, but Mexico's a terrible place"). More proof that tonal shifts can be pulled off by only the most delicate of touches.
In A Lonely Place
A master class in dramatic writing. Seriously. Besides adhering admirably to Aristotle's unities, and showing all action arising logically from character, and never permitting any disruption of the narrative, and showing-not-telling, and, well, the list goes on. Let's just say this script does everything a good screenplay should, and every aspiring writer should watch it. An added bonus: the source novel was one of the few hardboiled noirs written by a woman, and was reprinted by CUNY's Feminist Press in 2003. Bogart, good writing, genre, woman authors, and CUNY? Why, it's simply got everything. Oh, and some guy named Nick Ray directed it. He isn't bad either.
This just in: David Bowie's son has written and directed an intelligent, original, low-budget sci-fi indie. Seriously. He goes by the name Duncan Jones, precisely to avoid being written about as he is here, and he just made a really, really good movie. It opens in select theatres on June 12, and if you're even remotely intrigued by sci-fi you won't be disappointed. Both an elegant homage to classic genre milestones and a highly original, conceptual foray into identity and loss, plus! actual legitimate science, technical mastery, and a super-strong performance from Sam Rockwell, Moon is a refreshing indie experience that schools us all in what you can do with talent, brains, imagination and five million dollars.