Monday, November 23, 2009

Coming Out in New Moon


So I went to a movie the other day. It told the story of a high school girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend. She goes through lengthy angst and depression but finally turns to a young guy who likes her, who is sensitive and who wears long hair, beautifully coiffed. While they are together one day, they see a group of 4 other guys running around without shirts. He says the leader keeps staring at him, which makes him uncomfortable. Within probably ten minutes of the film, he has joined them—cut his hair and gotten a tattoo. And he takes off his shirt (for almost the entire rest of the movie). He tells the girl he has to stop seeing her. “I have a secret you will hate me for,” he tells her in another scene of teen angst. “I didn’t choose to be like this… I was born this way,” he concludes. His big secret is…

At this point I turned to a friend and asked, “Is this a gay coming out story?” I thought maybe I was in the wrong film.

Well, it turns out his secret is he is a werewolf. I didn’t realize there was a correlation between being gay and being a werewolf, but I guess there are some similarities—you function in a fringe group, feel you were born the way you were, and run around without shirts whenever you get a chance.

The film, of course, was the latest installment of the Twilight series, New Moon.

Many of my female high school students wanted to talk about the books and the film today. I asked them to explain the attraction.

A couple of girls spoke about how wonderful the descriptions in the book are. Many felt the book was much better than the film. (I have nothing to go on here because I haven’t seen the first film nor read the books.) Said one student, “The main character is the perfect high school student, and she dates the perfect boyfriend who just happens to be a vampire. We can see ourselves in her.”

An adult female teacher friend theorizes that the books allow the female student to fantasize about sublimated sexual fantasies and come to terms with their impact in a nice safe way. The main character keeps saying that she wants her vampire boyfriend to suck her blood and make her one of his family. Putting it crassly, she sounds like she wants him to rape her, but by the end of the film it becomes pretty murky with the boyfriend wanting her to wait until they are married. (Hmm, what are we talking about here?)

My girls talked about the attraction to the male characters. They were definitely attracted to Taylor Lautner’s six pack chest. They were turned off by Robert Pattinson’s bare chest because (ewww) he has chest hair. If the fantasy involves perfection, I guess those chest hairs can be disturbingly real.

I found many interesting moments in the film and it held my interest, but it definitely is a different audience.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Putting on the Drag Makeup

Years ago, I had friends in New Orleans who had many friends who did drag. I was always fascinated by the makeup they did, since my training was in theatre and I concentrated in theatrical makeup. Here is a really good professional makeup artist who shares the tips for doing drag makeup.



The resulting makeup reminds me of the brilliant Moira Shearer in the 1948 film The Red Shoes--one of my favorite childhood films and perhaps the greatest filmed ballet I can think of.

Men in High Heels?

Kylie Minogue gives great concert. Not since Rocky Horror Show are men in high heels sexy.

Time Warp Priscilla

The Drew Carey Show number where Rocky Horror meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dream About Me

Discovered while preparing the last post: Moby, Dream About Me ...a powerful and disturbing narrative.

More Mylène

Mylène Farmer and Moby's duet, Slipping Away



A very thought-provoking retelling of the Snow White story blended with Marxist and Lenin images.



Mylène Farmer, L'ame-stram-gram. The images remind me so much of "Wu ji" [The Promise].

Monday, September 21, 2009

John F. Kennedy on Diversity

If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal. (American University Speech, 10 June 1963.)

Amen.

(500) Days of Summer

One of the best films of the summer proved to be the (500) Days of Summer.



A story about love, but not totally a love story, told in a non-linear random way, the film had two incredible actors in the leads and a script that brought great freshness to its story. This dance sequence by Joseph Gordon-Levitt has stayed with me since I saw it. I feel good every time I see this.



This second dance number, although not in the film, uses the two leads and shows them to be quite proficient dancers.



If you haven't seen this movie, find it today.

Mylene Farmer

I love when I discover a whole new world I didn't know existed. While talking online one day with a friend who lives in France, he introduced me to the work of Mylene Farmer. "I've known her work since I was seven," he wrote--he's 28. Some of the following clips give you an idea of her range. I was delighted with her work.

It's nice to know that surrealism is alive and well in the music industry of France.







Mad Men with Their Feet in the Door

[Spoiler Alert. Don't read until you've seen the episodes.]

Mad Men finally feels back up to the standards of last year. Episodes 5 and 6 provide Mad Men junkies their fix.

Episode 5: The Fog

Several things stand out as far as I am concerned with “The Fog”:

First, as a fan of Alfred Hitchcock films, there seems some obvious homage going on in this episode.

Take, for example, the simple use of Betty’s name. In Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the main characters have several names. Jimmy Stewart’s character is called “Scotty” and “John Ferguson.” Kim Novak’s character is "Madeline" and "Judy." In Mad Men, Betty is called Elizabeth by her father, Betty by her neighbor friend, and Bets by Don. For each name she is actually a slightly different person.

Another of Hitchcock’s obsessions is the idea that beneath the world of ordinary things lays a world of menace and threat. In Betty’s first dream, for example, she could be channeling Grace Kelly in Rear Window with hairstyle and clothing, walking artificially through a “perfect” tree-lined neighborhood filmed using rear screen projection with vaguely “French music” in the background. (Hitchcock used rear screen projection because he hated going out and doing location shots. No matter how sophisticated the screen work, these shots are always obvious and theatrical in appearance.) He also liked to juxtapose happy music with threatening situations.

As Betty walks in the dream, a caterpillar drops down on a thread and hangs down in front of her. She takes it in hand and either merely covers or squashes it—the action is unclear. While the caterpillar is a fairly benign image, it is treated as something to vaguely fear. And it is shown in a close-up. Hitchcock loved using close-ups of ordinary things and often set his visual images so the object has more prominence than the person. So, does the caterpillar suggest Betty’s fear of the child she is having? Or is it a more ominous indication of the animosity she feels towards it?

As Betty is wheeled into the birthing ward of the hospital, we find a world of threat, introduced by her seeing her dead father working as a janitor. Her very ample nursing guide to this world is a character worthy of any Hitchcock film. Her use of a syringe suggests another ordinary threat.

In one of Betty’s later dreams, she finds her father once again functioning as a janitor in her own house mopping up blood from the floor. She asks him if she is dead and he tells her to ask her mother. Her mother stands over the bloodied Medgar Evers who has been alluded to earlier in the episode. Ruth, her mother, says “This is what happens when you speak up.”

While Betty has entered her own hell of sorts, Don is sitting in the waiting room. He reminds me of Cary Grant, Hitchcock’s often used everyman. (Is it irony that Grant plays an ad man in North by Northwest?) In a series of well-crafted scenes, Don encounters Dennis, a prison guard who offers him whiskey and who becomes more and more open as they drink. We already know that Don is much more open to people he does not know, and Dennis--as he drinks--gets more and more open with Don. In fact, Dennis leaves Don by telling him he’s a good guy, that he’s a good judge of character. The last encounter, however, could be easily out of Hitchcock. Don walks down the hall and sees Dennis wheeling out his wife in a wheelchair. He smiles ready to acknowledge him, but Dennis acts as if he doesn’t even know him.

In the last scene of the episode, the baby’s cries awaken Betty who goes to take of him. As she crosses the room, we hear the same music we have heard before. She stops, and I felt a moment of concern for this baby she has in her care.

Episode 6: Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency

As at least one blogger has already written, while Mad Men was winning the best drama on the Emmys, the episode that should win it next year’s Emmys was being presented. The episode had all the subtlety and nuance of character for which the show has become famous, plus the fireworks of an American Fourth of July and an obvious punch-line ending to the title.

The party scene will blow away many viewers. It is shocking, perverse, and involves a string of black humor jokes and sight-gags that makes one pause. The setup for the party begins with a story by Roger Sterling of his father dying in an accident with his arm cut off. Later, Ken drives a small John Deere tractor into the agency, high with enthusiasm for the account he has just landed. The London group, in obvious disdain for the customs of their American workers, requires that everyone put in a normal work day on July 4, 1963. They are there to do CUTS, although the only obvious cut is their British manager Lane (who is given a stuffed erect cobra and being sent off to Bombay). With typical British aplomb, they suggest Lane view this as a promotion and make no comment. The other cut is “inadvertently” leaving Roger Sterling, whose father founded the agency, off the new job structure chart.

The new British Turk, Guy (the “guy” in the title) proposes a party to announce the changes and celebrate Joan’s leaving. At the party, people get very drunk, and Lois, a secretary who has fared poorly so far, is egged on into driving the John Deere tractor. When it goes out of control, she not only wrecks one of the offices but slices off part of Guy’s foot. There is a brilliant shot of several of the copywriters standing with blood spattered all over them. Joan single-handedly takes control, applying a tourniquet and saving Guy’s life, but not his foot. From that point on the show utilizes a series of black humor punch lines and sight gags, capped for me by the British decision that no one can run a company with only one foot. “And he’ll never play golf again.”

While the John Deere episode instantly made a place for itself in the television history, there are other brilliant character moments.

Joan, who never registers defeat in front of others, actually cries at the idea that when she most needs the job, she has given it up for someone whom she had misjudged. In theatre we talk about showing what’s under the mask. Joan’s moment is truly heart-breaking to watch. Her obvious handling of the party tragedy reminded me of how much like Don and Peggy she is—and a character I would truly miss if she weren’t there. (Her exterminating the ants in Lane’s ant farm from “The Fog” was another perfect defining moment.) In my fantasy of where the show should go, Joan, Don and Peggy should start their own ad agency. The final hospital scene between Joan and Don and the sense of warmth and understanding shown between the two characters is what this show is all about.

Finally, Don has always shown himself the better parent. Sally, still reacting to her grandfather Gene’s death, has decided that he has somehow morphed into the baby—he sleeps in his bed and has taken his name. She must also have a sense of guilt since she stole money from her grandfather and he caught her at it. When Betty gives her a Barbie (looking surprisingly like Joan) “from the baby,” Sally throws it out. Don finds it in the bushes and returns it to her room. Sally begins screaming believing that her fears are real and Gene’s ghost is there. Don then comforts her, trying to show that the baby is just a baby, not her grandfather. The scene with Sally, Don, and the baby was touching and true. While Betty could tell their son to go beat his head against a wall instead of being bored—yes, I actually knew some mothers who talked to their children like this—Don instead holds his daughter and allows her to talk out her fears in one of the best father/child scenes since his son asked him about his father last season. Whatever Don’s faults as a husband, he shows himself a loving father. If most great works deal with sin and redemption, Don’s redemption is seen here in his treatment of his children.

If you despaired that this season has lost its zing, give the show another try. It is back in rare form and reminds me why I tell everyone they should watch it.


Afterthought:

As I was standing waiting for the elevator at school today, I thought of the image of Joan as the real-life Barbie in her green dress spattered with blood, and I suddenly realized that we have the foreshadowing for what happens in November 1963. Suddenly the humor of the situation took on a whole new meaning for me. I remember how I felt in those days leading up to that Friday and the shock and grief afterwards. Great art should teach us something new about our human condition. This show does.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

With Voices Raised

A powerful message which seems as appropriate today as it was in 1999.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Free Programs Worth Checking Out

Are you like me, trying to get some writing done this summer? Scott Rhoades in his article "Great Software that won't cost you dime," The Writer (May 2009), gives the following programs that might help in writing:

  • FreeMind [Windows, Mac OSX, Linux]--a program to help mind-mapping.
  • KeyNote [Windows]--a program that allows you to create one computerized notebook to hold notes, pictures, articles, and Web links.
  • yWriter [Windows]--a great little program created by Simon Haynes that acts as a "word processor for authors." But even more it allows you to plot out your chapters and scenes, make character notes, and keep notes that you need. Easy to use. I've already started and found it a great help. If you write novels or short stories, this is something you want to check out.
  • Stickies [Windows]--several computers back I had this little free program and used it often.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Hangover

I knew I was going to enjoy The Hangover when I walked into the theatre hearing the guy parking the cars telling a buddy, "You're going to love that film. I fell out of my seat laughing." Now, I haven't had that experience since I saw Something About Mary for the first time. Although I stayed in my seat, I really enjoyed the film.


Logo's Beautiful People


For me, one of the laugh-out-loud series I'm enjoying this summer is Beautiful People on the Logo channel.

The half-hour show alternates between the present-day life of fey 24 year old Barney's window dresser, Simon Doonen, and his fey childhood as a 13 year old schoolboy growing up in Reading, England, 1997.

Simon introduces his family in an essay for school.



Simon has ambitions to get out of Reading and into the glamorous life he knows should be his. When told he can't leave school to go to drama school, he whines to his parents, "Just because you can't go out and decent jobs, I have to be denied my destiny... I hate my life." He's sure drama is his way to escape. In fact, he can't open his refrigerator at night without belting out "Another Opening, Another Show." He has a truly quirky family who accept him for who he is. "You're not weird; you're different," comforts his mother.

Here are Simon, two friends, and his blind aunt singing and dancing in the street as the kids get ready to try out for Joseph and His Amazing Dream Coat.



Here the director Mr. Bell casts the show while the stage mothers show their colors.



Be prepared to laugh and check out the following:

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Looking for the Sims




I have to admit one of my guilty pleasures when I first retired was playing Sims 2. I enjoyed the creation process of creating settings and actors and then playing out stories with them. It was fun creating my own wallpaper and pictures to use in the houses. I found inspiration from various periods. At left is an example of one my walls with a mural based on the work of Henri Rousseau. At right is a Victorian wall uses a running border of cranes based on the work of Arts and Crafts British artist Walter Crane.


I was surprised at how exhilerating it was to modify a game into a world that I helped create.





Being able to design the house and interiors offers a great opportunity for individual expression. There are a huge amount of furnishings, accessories, wallpaper, and flooring available to the Sims 2 player. Being involved in not just planning of the setting but also the actors--the best kind, ones who don't talk back and do basically what you want them to do--allows for creation of relationships and drama.

Characters and costumes can be fairly standard or highly outlandish. Fantasy characters, such as the mermaid, pirates, knights, satyrs, are available. Sims 2 also is nonjudgmental in terms of the scenarios one can create. Most characters can be gay if desired.

The game revolves around individual households which can consist of one or numerous characters with relationships such as roommates, lovers or family.
I've played the basic Sims 2 and Seasons, which I've enjoyed.

So now, just when I get ready to check out Sims 2: Apartment Life this summer, comes the announcement of a new Sims 3.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Morning Starbucks

GLEE is for all of us who want something more.

I love teaching. And as an extension of that, I love films about teaching and kids discovering who they are. So one of the delights of a couple of weeks ago was watching the debut of Glee. You can watch the entire episode here on Hulu.com.

The show has wit, great musical numbers, edgy humor, and characters I can learn to care about.

Here's the finale of the show. The set-up is that the new glee club coach has decided to quit teaching so he can make more money to support his growing family, leaving the one thing he feels passionately about. As he leaves, he sees a number the club prepared on their own ...


I enjoyed every aspect of this show.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Just Wanna Dance Re-Edit

One of the musical numbers from Jerry Springer: the Opera, performed by Alison Jiear, says it all.



I was raised on 1950s MGM musicals--glorious technicolor and energy. No matter how many times I see these clips, I just wanna dance along.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Opposing Gay Marriage

In Los Angeles, Brenda Lee [not the singer but a journalist who claims to write for the Georgia Informer, lives in California, and identifies herself as a "Roman Catholic priestess"] wanted to personally give a letter to President Obama urging him to support traditional marriage. She had to forceably be removed from the Air Force One press area.

For more of the story, check here.

Frank Lloyd Wright is quoted as saying, "Tip the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lt. Dan Choi and the Three Words That Changed His Life


As a former sponsor of my school's GSA, I have to say-- in the vernacular of my kids-- "This sucks."

Little Ashes

For many Twilight afficiandos, the R-rated bioflick Little Ashes will be remembered as the film in which Robert Pattinson plays Salvador Dali, soulfully kisses another man, and shows his pubes. In fact, the film has much more to offer as it tells the complicated romantic relationship between Spanish dramatist and poet Federico Garcia Lorca and excentric artist, prompter, and self-styled genius Salvador Dali.

According to the bioflick Little Ashes, Luis Buñuel, Dali and Lorca were all college students living together in 1929 pre-civil war Spain. These bougeoise young men’s lives together consisted of producing art, discussing art, drinking, and dancing.


Lorca and Dali discuss art in Little Ashes

Little Ashes - Clip - Dali (Pattinson) and Lorca Talk


Above all, the goal of Lorca and Dali’s group was to thumb their noses at the establishment--rebel and revolt by using shock. Going to a dinner party in the film, for example, the brash and egomanical Dali announces to the hostess that he has just come from serving a prison sentence and then he continues to play off that fiction for the rest of the meal.

During their “romantic period,” the real Lorca writes an ode to his lover:

A rose in the high garden you desire.
A wheel in the pure syntax of steel.
The mountain stripped bare of Impressionist fog,
The grays watching over the last balustrades.

The modern painters in their white ateliers
clip the square root's sterilized flower.
In the waters of the Seine a marble iceberg
chills the windows and scatters the ivy.

Man treads firmly on the cobbled streets.
Crystals hide from the magic of reflections.
The Government has closed the perfume stores.
The machine perpetuates its binary beat.

An absence of forests and screens and brows
roams across the roofs of the old houses.
The air polishes its prism on the sea
and the horizon rises like a great aqueduct.

Soldiers who know no wine and no penumbra
behead the sirens on the seas of lead.
Night, black statue of prudence, holds
the moon's round mirror in her hand.

A desire for forms and limits overwhelms us.
Here comes the man who sees with a yellow ruler.
Venus is a white still life
and the butterfly collectors run away.


*

Cadaqués, at the fulcrum of water and hill,
lifts flights of stairs and hides seashells.
Wooden flutes pacify the air.
An ancient woodland god gives the children fruit.

Her fishermen sleep dreamless on the sand.
On the high sea a rose is their compass.
The horizon, virgin of wounded handkerchiefs,
links the great crystals of fish and moon.

A hard diadem of white brigantines
encircles bitter foreheads and hair of sand.
The sirens convince, but they don't beguile,
and they come if we show a glass of fresh water.


*

Oh Salvador Dali, of the olive-colored voice!
I do not praise your halting adolescent brush
or your pigments that flirt with the pigment of your times,
but I laud your longing for eternity with limits.

Sanitary soul, you live upon new marble.
You run from the dark jungle of improbable forms.
Your fancy reaches only as far as your hands,
and you enjoy the sonnet of the sea in your window.

The world is dull penumbra and disorder
in the foreground where man is found.
But now the stars, concealing landscapes,
reveal the perfect schema of their courses.

The current of time pools and gains order
in the numbered forms of century after century.
And conquered Death takes refuge trembling
in the tight circle of the present instant.

When you take up your palette, a bullet hole in its wing,
you call on the light that brings the olive tree to life.
The broad light of Minerva, builder of scaffolds,
where there is no room for dream or its hazy flower.

You call on the old light that stays on the brow,
not descending to the mouth or the heart of man.
A light feared by the loving vines of Bacchus
and the chaotic force of curving water.

You do well when you post warning flags
along the dark limit that shines in the night.
As a painter, you refuse to have your forms softened
by the shifting cotton of an unexpected cloud.

The fish in the fishbowl and the bird in the cage.
You refuse to invent them in the sea or the air.
You stylize or copy once you have seen
their small, agile bodies with your honest eyes.

You love a matter definite and exact,
where the toadstool cannot pitch its camp.
You love the architecture that builds on the absent
and admit the flag simply as a joke.

The steel compass tells its short, elastic verse.
Unknown clouds rise to deny the sphere exists.
The straight line tells of its upward struggle
and the learned crystals sing their geometries.


*

But also the rose of the garden where you live.
Always the rose, always, our north and south!
Calm and ingathered like an eyeless statue,
not knowing the buried struggle it provokes.

Pure rose, clean of artifice and rough sketches,
opening for us the slender wings of the smile.
(Pinned butterfly that ponders its flight.)
Rose of balance, with no self-inflicted pains.
Always the rose!


*

Oh Salvador Dali, of the olive-colored voice!
I speak of what your person and your paintings tell me.
I do not praise your halting adolescent brush,
but I sing the steady aim of your arrows.

I sing your fair struggle of Catalan lights,
your love of what might be made clear.
I sing your astronomical and tender heart,
a never-wounded deck of French cards.

I sing your restless longing for the statue,
your fear of the feelings that await you in the street.
I sing the small sea siren who sings to you,
riding her bicycle of corals and conches.

But above all I sing a common thought
that joins us in the dark and golden hours.
The light that blinds our eyes is not art.
Rather it is love, friendship, crossed swords.

Not the picture you patiently trace,
but the breast of Theresa, she of sleepless skin,
the tight-wound curls of Mathilde the ungrateful,
our friendship, painted bright as a game board.

May fingerprints of blood on gold
streak the heart of eternal Catalunya.
May stars like falconless fists shine on you,
while your painting and your life break into flower.

Don't watch the water clock with its membraned wings
or the hard scythe of the allegory.
Always in the air, dress and undress your brush
before the sea peopled with sailors and ships.

Buñuel watches with growing intensity the flirting of Lorca and Dali. Buñuel’s homophobia and yet obvious attraction to his homosexual friend Lorca seems to prompt him to try to steal the sexually ambivalent Dali away from him and take him off to Paris, where the two later collaborate in making films and joining the Surrealist Movement.


Luis Buñuel once wrote that one of the difficult things for a surrealist in today’s world is that it was too difficult to shock the viewer. Certainly the surrealists tried. Buñuel and Dali in their film un chien andalou have a man slice open the eyeball of a woman who stares directly at the camera. Buñuel in his autobiography describes how Dali was once thrown out of his house by his father when he scrawled on a painting, “I spit on the portrait of my mother.” Carrying on the outlandish childish performance art of the Dadaists, the surrealists attempted to bring together totally incongruent images intended to both confuse and shock the viewer.


Watch un chien andalou here Buñuel says the film began by his recounting to Dali a dream where a cloud, like a knife, slides across the moon. Dali in turn describes a dream where ants crawl out of a wound in his hand. The two then begin throwing out ideas, shocking images, incomprehensible phrases and situations. From that the film is born. While not part of the Surrealist movement when they made the film, they soon are asked to join.

Sexual repression in Spanish society appalled the Surrealists. Among the things they did was publish a sexual questionaire in their journal, asking such provocative [and scandalous] questions as "Where do you make love?", "With whom?", "Where do you masturbate?" Buñuel in his autobiography describes how liberating and how dangerous the questionaire felt (Buñuel, Vanity Fair 110).

The film Lorca, who history shows was comfortable with his sexuality in spite of strong anti-gay sentiments, shows the torment of an ultimately unrequited physical relationship with Dali. One of Dali's biographers says he reviled all personal contact from anyone. In contrast, in a period when it is dangerous to be homosexual in provencial Spain, Lorca continues openly with others. [His openness about his sexuality and his importance as a Spanish poet and dramatist ultimately lead to his death.]

In the film, Lorca’s disappointment with Dali’s rejection of him spurs Lorca on to succumb to a female friend's advances. As the two make love, Dali voyeuristically watches in the corner. Lorca says later that this incident was used by Dali in un chien andalau to mock him.

After several years, the married Dali meets again with Lorca. After his wife Gala makes a play for Lorca, Dali proposes that they all move in together—including a lover if Lorca has one—and work on more projects.

The bizarre artist whose behavior far outshone his art can be see in the following clip.


Dali – The Spanish Painter and Self Styled Genius


Little Ashes presents this story of thwarted love intelligently and often tenderly. While Pattinson gives a surprisingly nuanced performance, Javier Beltrán playing Lorca has true cinematic charisma. For me, he dominated all of his scenes. I highly recommend the film for an adult audience.



A clip about Luis Buñuel

To read more about Buñuel and Dali with the Surrealists, read Luis Buñuel's When Art Was Revolution, a fascinating article based on his autobiography, My Last Sigh, in Vanity Fair (September 1983, 108+). For a later view of Dali, check out Diedrich Diederichsen's Say Butterfly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Were They Thinking?

According to an article in the New York Times, AT&T, one of the biggest corporate sponsors of American Idol, gave out cellphones to Kris Allen fans attending two parties in Arkansas and showed them how to power text up to 10 votes in one call. Perhaps that's why a state that only has about 2 million residents ended up with over 10 million votes. Why does this all suggest "hanging chads"?

My reaction, having cast my one vote with my one phone, is that American Idol may well have lost me as a viewer next year. The outcome for me was clear and corporate machinery once again showed a real lack of respect for the customers it supposedly serves.

As far as I'm concerned American Idol and AT&T are now in my past news basket.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Truman Capote's Fruitcake Aunt

When teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, my kids were always surprised to learn that Dill was actually Truman Capote. Spending time with his aunts in Monroeville, Alabama, Capote was a childhood friend of Nelle Harper Lee.

The grown up Capote became a popular talk show guest becoming more and more outlandish with his comments. Often I would assume that he had spent a lot of time drinking before going on.

Capote captures his aunts in his short stories, A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor. One aunt, Edna Marie Rudisill, wrote a book on Fruitcakes and gained fame as an outspoken advice personality on Jay Leno's show. Rudisill died in November 2008, but it's interesting visualizing a young Capote/Dill reacting to this flamboyant aunt.


The Fall (2006)

In Magic Realism, anything can happen. In stories told by a great storyteller, the real only disguises truth. Director Tarsem Singh shows the magic of cinema and storytelling in his 2006 film, The Fall. [Note: Some spoilers follow.]




The Fall opens with a montage of a 1920s movie company filming on train tressle bridge, pulling up from a river a horse that has died in a stunt gone wrong. We later learn that Roy (played with subtly by Lee Pace), the main character and a stunt man in the movie, has been paralyzed in the fall.


Switch to a hospital in Los Angeles “once upon a time.” Alexandria (played by charming Rumanian child-actress Catina Untaru), an unaffected 5 year old, has written a note to her nurse which she throws down to her. It ends up in Roy’s room. Alexandria, a Rumanian refugee, had fallen while picking oranges and broken her arm which is set in a rigid cast. As she sets out in the hospital, she sees an X-Ray technician in his lead protective garb [who frightens Alexandria and
becomes the prototype of Odious’s henchmen dogs]. Searching for her note, she sees Roy reading it [we recognize it because it is decorated by cut out diamonds]. Alexandria goes in to retrieve her note from him. While talking with Roy, she stands looking toward a door. Through the keyhole (like through a camera lens) an image of a horse appears. When a nurse opens the door, Alexandria is transfixed with an image of man and horse. Roy begins telling her a story about her namesake, Alexander the Great, and she immediately imagines him on a horse in Roman ruins.

Breaking into the story, Alexandria joins Roy. He looks at the contents of her treasure box, which include an elephant trinket and a photograph of her family (with her father and her horse). Roy asks her if she has stolen these things. She replies that she has found them.

As the story resumes, Roy tells Alexandria that he was wrong, that Alexander the Great had no horse and was lost in a desert with his men and no water. We see then, in glorious vista, a group of men in a vast desert. One of Alexander’s men returns on horseback. He gives him a note to read (the note has diamond shapes cut out). The man gives Alexander a helmet with water saying that it is all the water that could be found. Alexander pours it onto the sand.



“Why?” asks Alexandria. “What would you do better?” asks Roy. “I would give every soldier just a little bit.” In this their first story, some of the ground rules for the film are set up: Roy will be the storyteller, but Alexandria imagines the story based on her experiences and suggests changes in the narrative. At any point, the narrative can be intruded upon, reminding us it is only a story. Roy asks her to return when he will tell her a great epic adventure of love and revenge. [Later in the film Roy says the only the reason he is telling her the story is to get her to steal his medicine for him.]

When the doctor comes and ends the interview, Alexandria meets an old man who offers her an orange. Then he takes out his false teeth and tries to entertain her with them. Later in bed, Alexandria is studying a picture of the itinerant workers in the orange grown, including an Indian in a turban. Only five, she goes to the head nurse, Nurse Evelyn her mother substitute, to be held and comforted.

At this point, we are introduced to other characters in the hospital story, including a compassionate doctor, an African-American iceman, and Roy’s film colleagues—the man with one leg (who tells Roy that losing his leg opened up new acting opportunities—especially playing one legged pirates), the leading man who has stolen Roy’s love from him (who becomes Odious), and the leading lady who has jilted him.



Symbols of the film include Alexandria’s box of treasures, oranges, the horse, false teeth, the man with the gap teeth. Everywhere Alexandria goes she carries her cigar box of treasures—an elephant figurine she found, a picture of her father [a man with gap teeth] and family with their horse. Her box later becomes Darwin's treasure box also. The symbol of the orange is obvious. It is how Alexandria’s immigrant family sustain themselves. The horse is a little more subtle. The first image of the horse is the dead horse being lifted up from the water. For Roy, therefore, the horse represents the fall which left him paralized. When Alexandria waits to talk with Roy, Alexandria faces a door and sees a horse reflected through a keyhole onto the wall. Later in the film, Alexandria’s imagination shows us how her father was killed by men burning their house and stealing their horse. For both, therefore, it might be the tangible symbol of what they have loss… a loss which bonds them.

Roy finally begins his “epic tale of love and revenge.” Five bandits—changed from pirates because Alexandria doesn’t like pirates—exist on Butterfly Island, sent there by their nemesis, Governor Odious. The five men have all been hurt by Odious. The first is an African who has been a slave to Odious The second is an Indian who strokes his eyebrow when he thinks (seen by Alexandria as her turbaned friend from India, even though Roy talks about his “squaw”). Odious has kidnapped his wife who dies escaping him. The third, an explosives expert, has been banished by Odious. The fourth, the scientist Charles Darwin who is trying to find the goal of his life--a butterfly (interjects Alexandria), the Americanus Exoticus. Finally there is the blue bandit, who Roy makes her father, complete with his gap teeth. The men are trapped on the island because the blue bandit can’t swim. Darwin’s pet monkey tells him of an elephant swimming—and the blue bandit rides to land on the elphant’s back.



When they reach the barren land, they find a tree with a mystic who has been trapped inside. Darwin says he has birds in his stomach. The mystic leads the men to Odious’ castle. At one point, he eats their map and that map eventually reappears on his body as magical tattoos.

In the hospital story, Alexandria eventually steals some hosts from the hospital priest and offers one to Roy. “Are you trying to save my soul?” he jokes. She doesn’t understand his question. At this point, Roy has the idea that perhaps she can steal for him the “medicine” he needs to commit suicide. He asks her to steal “m-o-r-p-h-i-n-3” and when she does, she brings him 3 pills instead of the whole bottle.

In Roy’s story the Blue Bandit eventually becomes Roy as Alexandria’s love for him grows. Eventually Nurse Evelyn enters as the Blue Bandit’s love interest, Sister Evelyn, and Alexandria becomes the Blue Bandit’s daughter, who saves him from Odious’ henchmen—and ultimately from killing himself.




The film gets very dark in the last third as Roy’s depression and desire to kill himself appears in the story. One by one he kills off the characters with whom we have come to identify. Ultimately, Alexandria begs him to live. “I don’t want you to die,” she tearfully tells him, "Make him live." And in a powerful existential moment, he rejects suicide and chooses life for his character--and himself.




The film ends with the hospital and filmmaker characters watching the moving picture that Roy was in. On the screen we see a feathered headdressed Native American Indian who strokes his eyebrow when he thinks, a one legged man who has arrows stuck in his leg, and a masked bandit. At the moment that the masked bandit jumps from the train tressle, he lands on his horse and rides off. Roy’s near-tragic jump has been removed by the magic of cinema. And the film within-a-film ends with the lovers reunited. Alexandria, who has never seen a moving picture, is enthralled.

Jump forward to Alexandria well and out of the hospital, picking oranges with her family. Her turbaned friend is there. She even finds a butterfly. And she tells us that Roy has recovered and gone back to being a stunt-man. We see him do stunts and Alexandria tells us she knows it is him—doing fantastical stunts that other people can’t do. In a glorious montage, we see all these surprising stunts. He has indeed chosen life.

The film sings the power of cinema and storytelling. Gene Siskel once said that great films take us to worlds we’ve never known. Tarsem Singh, the director, filmed in over 18 countries in exotic locales which create a fantastic vision. He allows us to see the subtle love growing between his two main characters while powering our imaginations with impossible actions.


Lee Pace discusses his role:






Don't miss it!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Wings of Desire"

"There are angels walking among us . . ."

I collect angel artwork. I'm fascinated by how many cultures have angels images and how those images both vary and are similar. For example, I took the picture above from a bowl in the Greek/Roman collection at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in last month.

A few years ago, I bought some angel items that were in a collection of a young woman's estate, which included a large wooden folk art angel, a ceramic plaque with two musical angels and a modern ceramic wall flower holder. The angel with trumpet ornament is a Christmas decoration.

Other figures in my collection include a large folk art angel at top, a realistic Spanish statue of S. Raphael, a beautifully painted small hanging Russian angel, a silver/gold candle holder, plate with angel and three kings, and a modern folk angel. Above all is a framed Christmas card.

There are several movies with angels, including It's a Wonderful Life and Heaven Can Wait. In The Bishop's Wife (1947), angel Cary Grant falls in love with mortal Loretta Young.

A similar theme is developed in one of my favorite films,

The Wings of Desire (1987). [The film was remade in 1998 as City of Angels with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.]

In Wings of Desire, the main character Damiel is an angel who wants to become human and experience love. My favorite scene of the film is when Damiel and the angel Cassiel walk into the public library and observes the readers sitting with their guardian angels whispering to them. I began thinking of libraries in a totally different way.



In literature, there's Elizabeth Knox's The Vintner's Luck which develops a similar theme as the above. in 1809 Frenchman Sobran Jodeau encounters an angel named Xas who Sobran determines is his guardian angel. For the rest of Sobran's life, the two develop a homo-erotic earthly relationship that goes way beyond the relationship Sobran and the reader expect.

Two graphic novels about angels come to mind.

The first, in two parts, is Yslaire's From Cloud 99: Memories Part One and Memories Part Two. In Yslaire's work, 99-year-old psychologist Eva Stern gets a series of emails from an anonymous sender with pictures documenting events in her life and the world of the 20th century and showing an angel in space who looks like her lost brother. With an assistant, she tries to decipher the messages, which seem to say that her brother is an angel--and eternal.


The second graphic novel, Murder Mysteries, is by writer Neil Gaiman and artist P. Craig Russell. A bum joins a stranger on a bench and begins telling him a story of how he is actually the angel of vengeance and how he solved the first murder of an angel. Why he is telling the story is another mystery.

Above is the angel from my Everyman paper doll set, done in the style of Albrecht Durer.

Below are more of my angel collection: first is a Balinese angel which I acquired at a garage sale. At right is a modern wooden folk African angel.

First is a 1980 Hallmark Christmas angel with lute, designed by Donna Lee; a 1997 Hallmark African-American angel with goblet; a Fontanini standing angel; large Fontanini wall angel with lute.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Brightman and Banderas - "Phantom of the Opera"

Susan Boyle at 25 - "I Don't Know How to Love Him"

Star Trek: The Beginning

A 1995 Hallmark ornament of Captain James T. Kirk sits in front of the backdrop of the new "Star Trek" movie's bridge. Picture C. David Claudon.

Earlier this week I watched an episode of Star Trek that I had never seen, and having been a loyal viewer of the show, I was surprised. It starred Jeffrey Hunter as the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I knew Hunter from his 1950s work in such movies as The Searchers and King of Kings (mocked by many as Jesus for having shaven armpits at his crucifixion). Hunter starred in the 1965 NBC pilot of Star Trek as Captain Christopher Pike, in an episode called "The Cage."

When the series was picked up, William Shatner took over as Captain James T. Kirk. That first season began in 1966, the year I began teaching, and continued until 1969, when I moved to my second job in Park Forest.

As was probably intended, after seeing the episode, I was primed to see the prequel.

Today I went to see the film and was delighted. The film had great special effects, the wit of the original, and great action sequences. The new crew pay enthusiastic homage to their predecessors. Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock make a fun duo. I found myself laughing with the recognition of the new crew:
Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the cynical Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Mr. Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) who does great action sequences, Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and the comedy relief of "Beam me up, Scotty" (Simon Pegg). Eric Bana makes a good villain. And there too is Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) as Kirk's mentor and father-figure.

I saw the film on large-screen with a top-notch sound system and can urge you to run out and see it while it's still in the theatres.

If you need inspiration, check out the movie website, here and watch the trailer. The movie is as good as the trailer.

If you want to know more about the Starships, check here.



Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

We all want a life of adventure, a life filled with drama and challenges forcing us to prove our worth. David, in John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things lives a life of magical thinking. He has grown up loving fairy tales and, after the death of his mother, begins having blackouts where he is able to see a world with a castle and his dead mother calling him on a quest to save her and bring her back home.

The real world is often mundane; people live unheroic lives of boredom, monotony, and (according to Thoreau) quiet desperation. In the world of fairy tales, however, like David’s world, ivy can grown into our room trying to reach us, crooked little men can turn into magpies and appear to threaten our family, and wolves can walk upright and speak – and we can do the impossible of bringing someone back from the world of death.

The importance of the quest. Joseph Campbell describes the pattern for all hero quest stories as “the monomyth.” He summarizes the pattern in The Hero of a Thousand Faces:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell then expands this pattern into various parts:
  • Separation from the Present
  • The call to adventure. The hero is sometimes thrust, sometimes enticed, into a new world.
  • Refusal of the call. Often the hero’s reponse is to refusal the call. Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit is ultimately forced to go on the journey much against his will.
  • Meeting with the Mentor – the hero is helped by someone older and wiser.
  • Often also the hero has a companion who acts as a confidant.
  • Crossing the threshold OR
  • Entering the Belly of the Beast – some times a death and birth incident gets the hero into the new world
  • Initiation
  • Road of trials – the hero must go through a series of tests and trials
  • Mother as Goddess – often the hero must encounter a goddess figure OR
  • Woman as Temptress - the hero must resist the temptations of a woman
  • Reconcilliation with the father – the hero sometimes has to reconcile with the father-figure
  • Apotheosis – through his trials, the hero ultimately changes his viewpoint
  • The Ultimate Test or Ordeal
  • Receiving The Boon
  • The Road Back
  • Refusal of the return
  • The Chase Sequence
  • Rescue
  • Resurrection
  • Crossing the Return Threshold – Bringing Back the Elixir
  • Master of Two Worlds
  • Freedom to Live
To see how the makers of The Matrix used this, check out this video:



Here’s a visual map of the journey

Assignment: Trace how these elements are used in The Wizard of Oz or another favorite film.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Vincent at Starbucks

The Van Gogh Cover-up


A researcher claims that Vincent Van Gogh has been maligned regarding the loss of his ear.

Art history tells us that Van Gogh, in a fit of madness, cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute. According to a new theory, Van Gogh and his friend Paul Gauguin were outside a brothel, having an argument about Gauguin's staying in the south of France. Gauguin, wielding a sword, waved it toward Van Gogh and somehow Van Gogh's ear ended up on the ground. Gauguin ran off and Van Gogh threw the sword in the river (says the researcher, to protect his friend from persecution). After presenting the ear to a prostitute, Van Gogh went home to bed. He refused to discuss the incident. Our knowledge of the incident came only from Gauguin who said Van Gogh cut off his own ear.

The friendship of the two fell apart, and seven months later, Van Gogh committed suicide.

Tsunami Hit New York?

Scientists believe that a huge wave, similar to the Christmas Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, hit the present day area of New York City around 300 BCE. Studying more than 20 earth cores, they believe that a large storm or rare Atlantic Ocean tsunami or some space impactor could have created the findings.

Read the fascinating story here.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Britain Indeed Has Talent

Everyone, including me, was blown away by Susan Boyle's rendering of a song from "Les Miz." Now comes Jamie Pugh to sing "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miz." Amazing.

What's Hiding in Your Cellphone?



This explains it all.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Gigapixel Imaging of Vancouver



I love Gigapixel Imaging. Click on the picture and you can almost join the people in the picture.