Sunday, October 31, 2010


Hello kitty ...


On Friday the local rec center had a great Halloween party with games of chance (she proved herself adept at rubber darts and throwing balls), snacks, a haunted house (which she found scary but was just dark and annoying to me because of the screaming tweens in front of us), and the most popular game—a jump and bounce tent.


Happy halloween!
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

scary monsters and super creeps

This is the time of year to indulge in scary movies, but which ones? There are so many, of all shapes and sizes it was hard to know where to start. I've thought that it might be fun to watch a film per classic movie monster—a sort of tribute to what used to keep me up late when I first discovered horror movies as a kid. Of course Halloween can be funny and fun, too, not just scary. I started watching some of these but my list has got longer and longer ...

Vamp out. When (grown-up) people think of vampires, Count Dracula usually comes immediately to mind, and not some shimmery teenagers from the Northwestern U.S. But which Count? Bela Lugosi was classic, but I'm not in the mood for a B&W barely-talkie. Frank Langella was beyond sexy. I admit it, I'm tempted. Gary Oldman was so over the top I'm afraid my movie marathon might get exhausted before it gets started. As much as I love Angel, I decided what I'd really like to see was Buffy vs, Dracula, with Xander quipping his way through his horror at how easily he became the next Renfield.

The Lycanthrope. There were  a lot of fun werewolves to chose from. Again, Universal horror offers up a classic, with Lon Chaney Jr. as the man who bays at the moon and the gypsies who love him. I remember being creeped out and fascinated by Albert Finney in Wolfen (and he was the good guy). Our local library has the complete She-Wolf of London television series. Admittedly cheesy, but I used to love to catch this series about a young female college student who gets bit by the wrong kind of dog and then becomes a sort of monster/superhero. But my first impulse in this genre is An American Werewolf in London, with David Naughton as the unfortunate title character and Griffin Dunne as his rapidly decomposing friend. I loved this movie when it first came out and watched it more than once in the theater, but haven't seen it in ages. It was hip and post-modern and referential. I may have to watch it and the T.V. show. This one may be a double-header.

I want my Mummy. This one was a no-brainer for me. It's The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and all the other cool guys, The Mummy all the way. Too. Much. Fun.

"It's Fronk-en-steen." Also an easy choice, Young Frankenstein is not only one of my very favorite movies, which I'm not afraid to admit that I can practically quote word-for-word, but it is still funny as hell. There are too many great moments to reference, but darts, neighing horses, rolling in the hay, and "putting on the Ritz" come immediately to mind.

Day of the Dead. I'm not a big fan of zombie movies. I guess because the idea of them really creep me out way more than the other monsters. My daughter was little when the recent crop of well-reviewed zombie movies came out—little enough for me to use her as an excuse to skip them in the theater (I told you, they creep me out!) so I'm going with the ultimate, the classic, Night of the Living Dead. It doesn't get much more scary or relentless than this. At least for me. And I think I can bring myself to watch it, with the lights on. I'll let you know what I think about Zombieland when I catch up.

It came from outer space. I know October is almost over, but this may have to be a double-header, too. There is nothing scarier than what happens to one of my favorite actors, John Hurt, in Alien, and female heroes have been trying to catch up to Sigourney Weaver ever since. On a more humorous side, Men in Black is a lot of fun, and the kid might actually be able to watch ... oh, Vincent D'Onfrio. Well, maybe not, but it's still a fun film, and this is MY list, anyway.

Ghost of a chance. I think Poltergeist is the way to go. It's not a perfect movie (I hate the guy in the bathroom scene), but it has such an easy relaxed vibe between Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as the two parents, that once it starts, you really don't want it to stop. There are other great ghost movies to choose from, especially if you're in a more classic ghost story mood: The Haunting, The Others, The Frighteners and the wonderful The Innocents, with Deborah Kerr, based on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw.

A little Depp'll do ya.  Finally, in a category all by himself, is Johnny Depp, who is drawn to all sorts of crazy and offbeat films—some of them quite monstrous. I personally would skip Sweeney Todd—once was enough, but to each his own. And there are so many others to choose from. Sleepy Hollow, if you're not put off by my Sweeney Todd warning and want to keep the decapitation theme going. If you're feeling ghostly, Pirates of the Caribbean is a good bet. There's nothing creepier than his portrayal of Willy Wonka. From Hell is actually quite a good film about real-life monster Jack the Ripper. But my Depp pick would be Ed Wood, hands down—the lovely and loving portrait of the world's worst auteur. It brings together so many of these classic monsters—creatures from lagoons, outer space, West Los Angeles—even Bela Lugosi himself.

This list of movies has kept things spooky and ooky around here and looks to continue to do so pretty much through Thanksgiving.

Happy Halloween!

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Friday, October 29, 2010

it's time for new judges or new rules

There's no point going on too long about the travesty that was Project Runway last night. Gretchen is talented, but c'mon. Kors and Garcia have been stacking the deck in Gretchen's favor for weeks. There was so much contradictory bushwa being spewed during the judges' deliberations that it became impossible to take any of it seriously. The only redeeming factor of this show is that you get to see glimpses of the creative process. The competition is rigged, and it becomes more obvious every year. All three guys—Mondo, Andy and Michael—had more going on in their work than the declared winner. Tan, drab, floppy shirts with over-sized dyed-to-match old lady undies? That's what's happening now, Nina? Heidi should have kicked Kors' and Garcia' asses. Jessica Simpson even has more taste than Kors, who just seemed to want to punish Mondo for daring to send his polka dot dress back down the runway. Papa Gunn could only say, "Wow," at the verdict. Indeed. Yeesh. Mondo, you seem to have a really strong sense of self. I wish you great future success.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010


My love for our local library is helping me indulge in a Halloween Gaiman-athon. After American Gods I felt like I needed a change of pace before I tried Anansi Boys, so I decided to read Coraline. It was a quick read, and a tad disturbing.  No surprise there.
"How do I know you'll keep your word?" asked Coraline.
"I swear it," said the other mother. "I swear it on my own mother's grave."
"Does she have a grave?" asked Coraline.
"Oh yes," said the other mother. "I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back."
I had seen the movie first, which was just O.K., and was happy to discover how much I liked the book. Part fairy tale, part pure horror, part girl's adventure story, Coraline deftly sketches tween angst. Coraline is caught not only between the real world and the alternate reality on the other side of the drawing room door, but between wanting to  be independent and a child's need for mommy and daddy. Aided by a black cat who can slip through both worlds, she uses her considerable smarts and sheer guts to not only get what she wants, but to help others.
"I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?"
I recently saw the movie again on cable and was perplexed by some of the additions (neighborhood kid friend) and subtractions—the book had such a great visual of the other mother's hair, blowing in an invisible wind, but the stop-motion style of the animation omitted this visual metaphor. But where the movie was really confusing was how it was marketed towards kiddies. Coraline is a creepy story. My six year old is too young for it—just a few moments flipping past it on television and she shouted out, "Too scary!" Animation is marketed towards a young audience. But those button eyes ... But movies are different from books and Gaiman seems fine with how the film turned out.

Coraline is the perfect Halloween read, as long as you're not afraid to encounter the beldam and would like to take a walk between worlds with a smart girl and a nameless cat.
"What's your name," Coraline asked the cat. "Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?"
"Cats don't have names," it said.
"No?" said Coraline.
"No," said the cat. "Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names."
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

i don't practice santeria

You never know what will wash up on the beach. This morning's find was a tad grisly. I can't pretend to be one of my favorite sleuths, Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, but a discovery of a plastic shopping bag with claws and feathers sticking out of it on the beach yesterday morning brought out my inner armchair detective. The horrible package seemed to be a clear clue pointing in only one direction—some ritual was performed on the beach involving the death of a rooster or very large winged bird. I didn't open the bag to check. I've said before I hate those CSI shows. To support my theory, there was a full moon a few nights back. If there was an attempt to dispose of the corpse in the ocean, the ocean refused to be an accomplice and gave it back to the beach.

Beach detritus

There have been recent stories in the news that local animal shelters won't allow any black cat adoptions this time of year because of ... rituals. I'm not sure this is connected to Santería, which was my first guess, or some other religious practice. I don't have any problem with people practicing whatever faith they want to, but I'm a little baffled as to why there still needs to be blood sacrifice. Other religions are o.k. with metaphor.

Are some people trying to get back to the earlier rites, the brutality of their ancestors? It makes me think of my recent reading of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Do we really still need to hang Odin in the tree for nine days and nights to get results? Can you feel good about whatever you have asked the gods for when you have spilled blood to get it? Is that why there are so many stupid vampire and zombie bowdlerizations? Misdirected blood lust?

I don't think the sacrifice of animals in a religious practice is considered illegal. I'm not questioning that right. But if you are using a living creature's life in a ceremony, shouldn't you dispose of its body in a respectful manner?And not just dump it, unceremoniously? Animal sacrifice may not be a crime, but I think littering is.

I really like Sublime [sigh]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

steve buscemi—sex object

What a career this guy is having. I've been catching up with Boardwalk Empire. It is still beautifully filmed and intriguing enough to keep me interested. It has the requisite sense of menace, especially in the storyline featuring Michael Pitt as a young gangster on the rise, hanging out with the likes of Al Capone. It's fun to see some of these true-crime personalities like Capone and Lucky Luciano. Who knew that New Jersey and Atlantic City was such an epicenter for crime back in the day? I always knew Atlantic City was a shade sleazy, but didn't realize Prohibition led the way for it to become such a crime zone.

What is keeping me interested and tuned in is, of course, Steve Buscemi. His multi-layered Enoch "Nucky" Thompson is so interesting to watch. He is a realist. He's also a tough businessman who isn't afraid to be brutal if it's called for. He's a womanizer. And a romantic. He has clearly fallen for "Irish lass" Kelly McDonald. But in the world he inhabits he can only set her up in style, like "the other concubines." He can't be faithful or even reliable enough to keep a date. At least that is the present situation. It remains to be seen if his true love will be his downfall, or what redeems him. McDonald's Mrs. Schroeder certainly wants him to, if not be a one-woman man, at least not leave her sitting by this new-fangled contraption, the telephone.

It is a bit of surprise to watch Buscemi as a romantic. He has played so many weaselly parts that it is refreshing to see him so in charge, so sure of himself. I'm sure he's enjoying the change as well, as he is throwing himself into the role. The final scene in last week's episode when Buscemi comes to McDonald's house and woos her by simply using her first name for the first time was downright sexy. Yes, Steve Buscemi, sexy.

But make no mistake, he's still a little whiny underneath it all. But whiny with menace. With regret. With an agenda. I'm looking forward to seeing where his fine whine takes us next.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

the game's afoot ... and on

Sherlock debuted on Masterpiece Mystery last night and it was up to all the hype (it debuted in Britain earlier this summer). The updating of the famous sleuth worked quite seamlessly. The gadgetry that is an essential part of our modern lives seemed like old hat for Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, who just needs to close his eyes and he can visualize a Google-map of London streets in order to chase down a perpetrator. Cumberbatch is pale and kinetic—a wax sculpture come to life—in a good way. Martin Freeman's Dr. Watson, a vet from the Afghanistan War was doubtful, for just a moment, before being swept into the adventure and Sherlock's strange world.

Like Watson, I am already signed on for the ride. I also liked Rupert Graves's Inspector Lestrade, who was less of a pain in the ass here, than in the Conan Doyle tradition (they left that role to his underlings), and more of a resigned collaborator. The first episode, A Study in Pink, was a nice combination of the Brit-procedural we have come to recognize and love, a la Prime Suspect—a tad grittier and more depressing than American detective shows, which only seem able to try, ad nauseum,  to get the camera inside a wound—and the long line of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, from the wonderful Basil Rathbone to the inimitable Jeremy Brett, and especially, Robert Downey Jr.'s recent portrayal.

In fact, the camera-work and pace seemed to echo a tad the Downey Jr. film, as we and the cameras raced to keep up with Sherlock's brilliant deductions. The film was a little more playful with Sherlock, introducing Irene Adler and giving her a kick-ass attitude as she flirts and subverts the hero at every turn. This television Sherlock is "married to his work" in the tradition of the books, but the pilot couldn't help but flirt itself a bit with the Holmes/Watson relationship. A scene in a diner played with the characters—two grown men that have chosen to be flatmates—a situation that might mean something quite different to a modern 2010 audience than one at the turn of the century—and then moved on. It was a skillful sidelining of something that could have been distractingly commented on in an updated version. Their partnership is sealed not with a kiss, but a gunshot, and to paraphrase from Casablanca, "Watson, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

happy halloween meal

McD's Happy Halloween Meal
We don't go to Mickey Dees all that often, but when we do, I'm always amazed at the happy meal toys. I know some consider the mere existence of a happy meal and its toy marketing tie-ins controversial, but I don't. We live in such an over-saturated marketed world that McDonald's is just part of the landscape. My six going on seven year-old could never bully me into a McDonald's visit. Many times when we go she doesn't even want a happy meal, as she doesn't like cheeseburgers and only every once in a while eats chicken nuggets. Most of the time she gets the grilled chicken snack wrap. Why McDonalds doesn't add that item to the happy meal I don't know. Or mac and cheese. I think if they offered mac and cheese they'd put the other fast food joints out of business. But I digress.

Sometimes the happy meal toys are junky, but sometimes they are actually collectible. I don't think that this Mr. Potato Head trick or treat bucket is exactly a collectible item, but it sure is fun for the kid to decorate with the stickers that come with it and it's good design. The way that the food and stickers were packed in the bucket was very clever. The skull handle rocks. It's just cool. And it will hold crayons later. Or maybe some of those other happy meal toys she has lying around ...

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

egret on the beach

Friday, October 22, 2010

raw talent, raw emotion

On last night's Project Runway ...

Everyone's favorite student adviser, Tim Gunn, visited each of the four designers at their homes. They all happen to live west of the Rockies, which was interesting, for this NYC-centric show. The home visit shows are always the most emotional, the most interesting, as you finally get to see each person out of their workroom and New York hotel that they could never afford bubble and back in their own environment. Last night did not disappoint. Tim got to probably do some of the most interesting traveling of his Project Runway career.

Top: From the Aloha Update: Andy South
Second from Top: From the Wall Street Journal: Mondo Guerra
Third from top: From Zeitgeist Studios: Gretchen Jones
Bottom: From Fashion Fame: Michael Costello
Tim saw Andy in Hawaii at his mother's farm. A beautiful location, but also a place of hard work and struggle, and not affluence. Andy wanted to use his Laotion background as inspiration for his designs.

Mondo lives in Colorado, and wanted to use his Mexican background (via day of the Dead iconography) married with some funky circus imagery for his looks. Totally Mondo.

Gretchen was in Oregon, living out of boxes after a shattered relationship. With all the confessionals on the show, Gretchen remained cryptic about what she had recently gone through, which is her right, but it was still a little off-putting. Just like Gretchen. She said she wanted her clothes to represent the Southwest where she comes from, but they just looked drab to me.

Andy, Mondo and Gretchen all had a parent with them and shared a meal with Tim. Gretchen's had some "homeless" stress, but was clearly gathering strength from her mom. Andy didn't have any of his designs completed, as his fabric had just arrived from Laos, but he positively beamed when his mother said she would support him in whatever he would do. Mondo seemed very cozy and happy with his sister, boyfriend and parents—clearly he had hurdled his "don't ask don't tell" dilemma from earlier in the season. No matter what their stresses, they all had the strong family backbone to support them.

And then we came to Michael's visit. Michael introduced his boyfriend, who seemed very supportive, but then over the shared meal with Tim Michael said how his boyfriend had "outed" him to his parents. Hmmm. Michael's boyfriend proceeded to then not exactly badmouth Michael's parents, but complain that they have never been supportive of Michael's career choice or orientation. Michael is the only one of the four contestants who has a child, who is responsible for supporting someone besides himself, so he has that added stress as well.

When they got back to New York with the inevitable last-minute create-a-garment challenge—c'mon guys, you've watched the show, you can't possibly be surprised by this—they all freaked out and then all rapidly knocked something out. But it was clear when Tim came to do his rounds that of all the four, he felt  most uneasy about Michael. Michael, as usual, was waffling about what pieces to send down the runway.

Michael always has the talent to whip something up, something usually quite lovely, but he lacks conviction and vision. He really has no idea of what he wants to say. I don't think that makes him a bad designer or a bad artist. He just doesn't know how to articulate what he feels into what he creates in a any clear, concise way yet—a la Mondo, who couldn't be clearer. It was clear all along, however, that out of the four, he was the least ready. I personally don't get or admire Gretchen's aesthetic, but I do believe that she has a vision. It's just one that I hope never makes its way anywhere near my closet.

The show was all a long build-up to, of course, Michael being the one cut. He sent three color-matched looks down the runway with no clear explanation of why he chose them. He should have remembered—Heidi told him once before that she hates "matchy matchy"—it's not fashion. He clearly wasn't ready.

And then he fell apart. Completely. It was excruciating and quite emotional to watch. Some might feel, inappropriate. But he was expressing pretty much what every single person in his position on this show or any close competition must feel. Just on camera. What was most upsetting about his heartfelt sobbing was the fact that he didn't feel he could go back and face his family. The family that doesn't support him. It brought me back to harsh critiques and obstacles and heartbreaks that I have faced in my life. I have had my moments of falling apart, thankfully, not with a video crew standing by. But I have never let whatever it was—a broken romance, horrendous painting teacher—stop me for long. I have never let anyone else dictate how I should be perceived. Maybe it's because I have the strong family base that the other three designers also have.

My heart goes out to Michael. He eventually pulled himself together, and Heidi saying ad nauseum "only three will compete" aside,  he did get to show his stuff at fashion week. He is talented. Maybe he isn't the right type of designer to front his own line. Not yet, if he doesn't have a clear vision. But I'm sure his amazing draping talents could get him quite a nice career at a fashion house. I hope that he realizes this. And I hope that he isn't too embarrassed by his outburst. He should read Tim's book. Tim certainly hasn't hesitated putting his most vulnerable moments out there for the world to see, in print.

Say what you will about reality television programming, but it does sometimes touch the real, raw nerve of life. Life is full of real pain and disappointment. The "only three out of the four shall compete at fashion week" construct that Project Runway has had from the beginning has always been stupid and cruel. It is pointless and it hurts people. But it's part of the show. And like life, it isn't always fair. Hang in there, Michael Costello. Don't worry so much about what others think about you or your work. I know that's not an easy thing, especially with a kid. But try. Don't overthink your designs, either. You didn't need all those feathers to say "luxe." That last, easy dress you whipped up was smashing. You're a good designer. Hang in there, kid.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

happy birthday uncle john

John Massimo, c. 1932

My Uncle John was my dad's older brother. He was the oldest child of four and the family star, trouble maker, and story teller. He's about eleven years old in this photo, which was taken on the roof of the 14th Street and First Avenue apartment building in New York City where the family lived.

One of our family stories about John Massimo from about this time, highlighting his trouble-making skills, was actually a staple of his repertoire. I really miss Uncle John.

John Massimo was always a great jokester and a smart-aleck. When he was ten (c. 1931) and his family was still living with his Don Peppino [his grandfather], he used to attend summer school across the street from where they lived on 1st Avenue and 14th Street. One of the older girls (16 or so) would pick on him, getting him to do her “pig work,” always making him clean the blackboards, erasers, etc. She probably had a crush on him, but John resented always having to do the dirty work.

One time when she asked him, “Johnnie, go clean the blackboard,” He responded, “ No, I won’t!” She said, “Why not?” He answered by calling her a dirty name in Sicilian (by making reference to her mother’s reproductive organs.) She, unfortunately for him, understood, and slapped him hard across the face, first one side, then the other.

Dove vive (Where do you live)?” she shouted angrily.

He answered, “Avenue D.” She didn’t know that he actually lived right across the street.

“I’m going to tell your mother. I’m going right now to tell her—wait until you get home!”

And she set off for Avenue D.

John Massimo crossed the street, went inside the building and upstairs to their apartment. Gertrude [his mother] saw him enter, with one bright red cheek. When she asked him why his cheek was so red he answered, “Because a girl hit me.”

“Why did she hit you?”

“Because I called her a name.”

“What name did you call her?” He whispered the word to her and she slapped him hard across the other cheek.

“Don’t you ever use those words!”

“But I hear you use them all the time!”

Gertrude was taken aback. “Never mind what I say. You don’t say them!”

At this point, Don Peppino and John Angelo [his father] couldn’t stop laughing and told Gertrude to leave the boy alone!
Happy birthday Uncle John.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the man with the golden Gunn

I recently downloaded Gunn's Golden Rules, Tim Gunn's latest book, which is a mix of etiquette, gossip, behind-the-scenes at Project Runway and some very personal revelations. It was an enjoyable read, if a bit of a mish-mash. The much-vaunted gossipy put-downs of fashion personalities like Anna Wintour and Isaac Mizrahi were hardly surprising. Vain, overinflated, nasty folks in fashion? Shocker.

Tim Gunn worked in the Parsons admissions office when I was an art student back in the day. I wish I could say I had a wonderful, personal memory, but I just have a vague recollection of a pleasant, laid-back office.

But Gunn is a pleasant force to be reckoned with, and there are some lovely little passages in the book of Gunn-wisdom:
With a certain amount of maturity, we can set up our own constraints. That's a lot of what education is about—letting people set those assignments for us so that when we graduate we can start to set them for ourselves. even now that I'm in my fifties, I still face certain situations where I have to admit that I need some rules to help me figure out what I should do.
I know that someone thought that fashion world gossip would be the selling point, but lots of folks like myself simply love Gunn and the sound of his voice, and I think the book suffered from not having a consistent and clear point of view—something that designers on Project Runway are frequently criticized for. The most interesting revelation was Gunn's personality—he simply cannot lie. His quest for honesty and integrity is fascinating, and I respect it, especially in the industry he has found himself in. His ideas of etiquette and desire to always "take the high road" are refreshing, and it would be nice if some of his colleagues made the same choices. I respect him for being so honest about his feelings about love and sex. I'm not sure I really felt I had to be on such a "need to know" basis—at times I was almost put off by the level of revelation, almost embarrassed. There were some excruciatingly detailed passages, mostly about his youthful love life and bout with depression. Some of his relationship stories just broke my heart—the decisions he made, the roads he took, or more accurately, didn't take. But Gunn puts his money where his mouth is—he said he believes in honesty and he means it. If he's going to tell a story, he's going to tell the whole story. Considering how hard it still is to be young and gay, Gunn's personal stories take on an even stronger meaning—if he can get through a failed suicide attempt and turn his life around time and again, even become a huge success in his fifties—then anyone who is having a hard time should know that it truly does get better. Bravo, Tim Gunn.
That is one thing I try to keep in mind when I talk about people's behavior. I believe very strongly that we should all try our best to treat another well, but I also know that some people who are difficult are doing their best, only their best isn't all that great.
After reading this book, spending time with Gunn, I was drawn again to watch him on Project Runway. I know, I know, I have said in the past that I was done, done, done with the show. Everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. I feel a bit like Pacino in The Godfather, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." I don't know if Gunn's self-realizations and revelations have given him a softer edge, but he really seems more the den mother and mother hen for the designers this season than ever before. He actually seems wounded when some are sent home. I started watching about mid-way through the season and couldn't believe the amount of back-biting and bitchiness that was going on in the workroom. There's always diva-like behavior and trash-talking—emotions run high in an artistic environment—but these contestants were re-damn-diculous with their attitudes. Especially bee-otchey were the women. The guys also wanted to dish the dirt, but no one seemed to get as down and dirty as the women. And not just critical, but nasty.

The mob mentality picked a whipping boy this season, Michael Costello. I'm not sure what set it all off, as I said I had missed earlier episodes, but from everything I could see Costello, although possibly not the most talented of the bunch (that's Mondo, without a doubt), at least was trying to do his best and didn't seem to want to engage in the nastiness. I'm sure a lot of the worst offenders will claim that they look bad in "the editing," but the show's editors did not make Gretchen and April consistently say derogatory things about whatever garment Costello was working on, or pull disdainful expressions whenever the judges praised his work.

What was great was when it all came to a head in a recent episode when queen bitch (and ousted former contestant brought back for one episode) Ivy started throwing around accusations of Costello cheating, in a pretty obvious attempt to get some camera-drama-time. Papa Gunn swept in, and in his inimitable, unflappable, style put a quash on all the nastiness, saying that whatever was said (by the girls in the girls' room!) was a non-issue. Taking the high road again, discussion over. High school's over, bitches, get used to it. Thanks to the positive force that is Tim Gunn and the upbeat designs of Mondo, I am enjoying watching Project Runway again, cattiness notwithstanding.

Fashion and art can be fun and uplifting. Even nice, sometimes.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

i came to casablanca for the waters

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

I was thinking about this great line, in a whole movie full of great lines, and how it seems to me the epitome of Humphrey Bogart's screen persona and his appeal. The words spoken are innocent enough, but let there be no mistake, Bogie's Rick Blaine is not going to tell anyone anything he doesn't want to.
Dialogue in movies like Casablanca is so subtle and multi-layered. Not only do they not make movies like this very often anymore, but people just don't seem to speak like this anymore. With subtext. I am constantly amazed at the brashness of people in conversation, the questions the have no hestitation in asking. Questions, that I was taught when I was growing up, are plain rude—How old are you? How much do you make?—And anything else that one might consider a tad personal.

It's not the facebook generation. They all grow up knowing each other's business, so they don't need to ask the rude questions. It's their parents' generation. Whenever I am confronted by someone that I feel may be prying, or has crossed one of my invisible boundaries, I am going to try and conjure up Bogie and how he answered Louis's nosy parker-ness. The Bogie of Casablanca, not this Bogie ...

Although I love that Bogie, too.
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Monday, October 18, 2010

american gods

After reading Neverwhere, I wanted to read some more Neil Gaiman. I've had Stardust gathering dust on my bookshelf, and was about to pick it up when I saw a copy of American Gods at our local library. It was a great choice and a great book. Gaiman manages to successfully weave together a mixture of gods and mythic heroes from many different cultures and folk legends that would impress even Joseph Campbell—all into a fast-paced, intriguing, even comedic,  thriller.

His idea is that America is not a country conducive to gods and god-worship. All of the immigrants, voluntary and involuntary, who have come to these shores for centuries may have brought their home gods and goddesses with them, but these old gods never really took to the country. Or the country didn't take to them. Americans, by their very nature, are always on the lookout for the next best thing, so even the relatively recently created gods of the media and internet will soon be ignored by their successors. The physical landscape of America itself is phenomenal, with natural, holy places.  Modern day folks are still drawn to such "mythical" places as Mount Rushmore. How could an Odin or a Kali or an Anansi or Horus compete with a gigantic, magic, mountain?

The characters of the hero Shadow and his boss, Mr. Wednesday, are terrific, as are the others that  Shadow comes across on his travels—especially Mr. Nancy, Whiskey Jack, and Sam Black Crow. Mr. Nancy (Anansi) was a huge favorite of mine, so of course this means I have to read Anansi Boys next, right? Or should I check if the library has The Sandman, because Odin and some of the other peripheral characters are suppose to figure in that one as well ... Or The Graveyard Book? It looks like my Halloween reading this October and beyond will be Gaiman. The depiction of the down-and-out gods of the Old World trying to eke a meager existence in the U.S. is consistently good. And humorous. And apart from all of the deep mythical background, what really was the best part of the book for me were the supporting, peripheral stories that Gaiman wove to tell how a few of gods traveled to the New World, via slaves from Africa, a female prisoner from Cornwall, a salesman from Oman. These supporting mythlets were powerful and never detracted from the main narrative and fate of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday.

There are some wonderful passages. A little more than halfway through the book, Gaiman lets a character step momentarily out of a story within a story to talk of the role of myth and legend and fiction:
No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we are not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. ... Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.
A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.
And also this wonderful speech:

Gaiman reading Sam's fabulous "I believe" speech
There were a few surprises, and a few plot points I was able to figure out ahead of time. Some of the characters' outcomes may have seemed left dangling or unresolved, but not in bad way. Just that their story might continue off-screen, if you will. Apparently Gaiman has written a novella with further adventures of Shadow. I'll have to check that out. The only very minor quibble I might have with American Gods is that the Götterdämmerung didn't end up being quite as dramatic as some of those other, stronger parts of the book. But the battle also didn't feature the hero front and center, and frankly that is where the book's and the reader's main interest lies—not in a long, drawn-out, detailed battle scene. Gaiman wasn't trying to rewrite The Two Towers or  The Return of the King and I'm grateful for that.

American Gods takes Shadow and the reader through some interesting places, both before and "behind the scenes," where anything might happen. I truly enjoyed accompanying Shadow and spending some time in a tiny nice town in frozen Wisconsin,  a funeral parlor in Cairo, Illinois, the mythical white ash Yggdrasil,  and the Underworld. As much as I enjoyed the narrative, I am left with the echoes of the forgotten gods and what it might mean to take your gods with you and then abandon them. All of our personal stories and histories, where do they go after we're gone? Who is that man driving the taxi cab, or that woman in the coffee shop with the too-bright hair and flower tattoo? Eccentric? Or maybe something else ...

Neil Gaiman's Journal
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