Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the company of wolves

It is midwinter and the robin, friend of man, sits on the handle of the gardener's spade and sings. It is the worst time in all the year for wolves, but this strong-minded child insists she will go off through the wood. She is quite sure that wild beast cannot harm her although, well warned, she lays a carving knife in the basket her mother has packed with cheeses.
I took out the Annotated Grimm's Fairy Tales from the library recently, which made me go back and revisit Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, one of my all-time favorite modern takes on fairy tales, which then led me to watch The Company of Wolves film, from 1984. Angela Carter worked with director Neil Jordan on the script. It was loosely based on her story of the same name from The Bloody Chamber. Carter's feminist fairy tales are full of sexual imagery and violence. She had definitely studied her unexpurgated Grimms.

 Children do not stay young for long in this savage country. There are no toys for them to play with, so they work hard and grow wise, but this one, so pretty and the youngest of her family, a little latecomer, had been indulged by her mother and the grandmother who'd knitted the red shawl that, today has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow. Her breasts have just begun to swell, her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started her woman's bleeding, the clock inside her that will strike, henceforth, once a month.
I remember seeing the film when it first came out. Before I watched the DVD, I didn't really remember anything about it except the scene where Red meets the Wolf in the forest, the best scene in the film. It was definitely worth a re-watch. But it's hard, in today's age of special effects ( i.e. state-of-the-art animation) to look at the state-of-the-80s werewolf transformation scenes. They take so looonnngg. They must have pretty amazing for 1984, but as I said, I honestly don't remember them at all. Maybe I blocked them out, as no movie werewolf make-up could compare with An American Werewolf in London, which came out in 1981. This film's creature scenes was clearly trying to compete with that and not quite succeeding.
The forest is closed upon her like a pair of jaws. ... When she heard the freezing howl of a distant wolf, her practiced hand sprang to the handle of the knife, but she saw no sign of a wolf at all, nor of a naked man, neither, but then she heard a clattering among the brushwood and there sprang onto the path a fully clothed one, a very handsome one, in the green coat and wide-awake hat of a hunter, laden with the caresses of game birds. She had her hand on the knife at the first rustle of twigs, but he laughed with a flash of white teeth when he saw her and mad her a comic yet flattering little bow; she'd never seen such a fine fellow before, not among the rustic clowns of her native village. So on they went together, through the thickening light of the afternoon.
Take away the now corny werewolf effects and what's left is still pretty interesting. The set design is wonderful. It has a creepy, yet magical fairy tale vibe. The movie is constructed as a  surreal dreamscape. It's open-ended, with one storyteller folding their tale into another. This helps to give the sense of how all versions of the Red Riding Hood saga are valid and have changed and grown over the years, with each teller of the tale.
Soon they were laughing and joking like old friends. When he offered to carry her basket, she gave it to him although her knife was in it because he told her his rifle would protect them. As the day darkened, it began to snow again; she felt the first flakes settle on her dark eyelashes, but now there was only half a mile to go and there would be fire, and hot tea, and a welcome, a warm one, surely, for this dashing huntsman as well as herself.
It also touches on the rites of passage of a young girl and the symbolic sexual imagery that is embedded in fairy tales. It's pretty to look at and also intellectual, something that movies don't seem to do so much these days. Compare it to the recent Alice in Wonderland, which is of course, much more technically-savvy, also with a young female heroine. But Tim Burton's Alice, although independent at the end of the movie, doesn't seem to have the drive and determination of The Company of Wolves's Rosaleen. Although a marriage is bartered at the beginning of Alice in Wonderland there is no sexual tension or sex issues at all. But there usually aren't in Burton's movies. It's all surface.
This huntsman had a remarkable object in his pocket. It was a compass. She looked at the little round glass face in the palm of his hand and watched the wavering needle with a vague wonder. He assured her this compass had taken him safely through the wood on his hunting trip because the needle always told him with perfect accuracy where north was. She did not believe it; she knew she should never leave the path on the way through the wood or else she would be lost instantly. He laughed at her again; gleaming trails of spittle clung to his teeth. He said if he plunged off the path into the forest that surrounded them, he could guarantee to arrive at her grandmother's house a good quarter of an hour before she did, plotting his way through the undergrowth with his compass while she trudged the long way, along the winding path.
I wouldn't say that The Company of Wolves can truly compare to its source, but it is an interesting visual collection of tales. It reminded me a lot of a sixties film, Spirits of the Dead, a trio of short films, the best one directed by Federico Fellini, Toby Dammit, or Never Bet the Devil Your Head, starring Terence Stamp. Stamp shows up here, this time as The Devil himself. There was something free and improvisational, yet also artistic about Spirits of the Dead and its directors' takes on tales by Edgar Allan Poe. A relaxed spirit which seems absent from so many current films. It can't just be the money involved. Hollywood was just as focused on the dollar back then.

I don't believe you. Besides, aren't you afraid of the wolves?

He only tapped the gleaming butt of his rifle and grinned.

Is it a bet? he asked her. Shall we make a game of it? What will you give me if I get to your grandmother's house before you?

What would you like? she asked disingenuously.

A kiss.

Commonplace of a rustic seduction; she lowered her eyes and blushed.

He went through the undergrowth and took her basket with him, but she forgot to be afraid of the beasts, although now the moon was rising, for she wanted to dawdle on her way to make sure the handsome gentleman would win his wager.

collage - Toby Dammit

That same openness in Spirits of the Dead is also present in The Company of Wolves. While watching I thought at first, too bad it wasn't made today, as they would have done a much better job with the werewolves, but then I realized that the whole claustrophobic yet wonderful make-believe woods would never have happened today. And I shudder to think what the planned latest version of the tale will be like.
"The visual design was an integral part of the script. It was written and imagined with a heightened sense of reality in mind."—Neil Jordan, Wikipedia
The slightly confusing story-within-a dream-within-a-story construct is open-ended enough to let the audience try to figure things out. So, I will watch it for what it is, a 26 year-old movie, with some great parts and some not-great parts. And urge everyone to read the original story.

Who has come to sing us carols? she said.

Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves. Look out the windows and you will see them.

Snow half-caked the lattice and she opened it to look into the garden. It was a white night of moon and snow; the blizzard whirled round the gaunt, gray beasts who squatted on their haunches among the rows of winter cabbage, pointing their sharp snouts to the moon and howling as if their hearts would break. Ten wolves; twenty wolves - so many wolves she could not count them, howling in concert as if demented or deranged. Their eyes reflected light from the kitchen and shone like a hundred candles.

It is very cold, poor things, she said; no wonder they howl so.

She closed the window on the wolves' threnody and took off her scarlet shawl, the color of poppies, the color of sacrifices, the color of her menses, and since her fear did her no good, she ceased to be afraid.

What shall I do with my shawl?

Throw it in the fire, dear one. You won't need it again.

She bundled up her shawl and threw it in the blaze, which instantly consumed it. Then she drew her blouse over her head; her small breasts gleamed as if the snow had taken over the room.

What shall I do with my blouse?

Into the fire with it, too, my pet.

The thin muslin went flaring up the chimney like a magic bird and now off came her skirt, her woolen stockings, her shoes, and they onto the fire they went, too, and were gone for good. The firelight shone through the edges of her skin; now she was clothed only in her untouched integument of flesh. Thus dazzling, naked, she combed out her hair with her fingers; her hair looked white as the snow outside. Then went directly to the man with red eyes in whose unkempt mane the lice moved; she stood up on tiptoe and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt.

What big arms you have.

All the better to hug you with.

Every wolf in the world now howled a prothalamion outside the window as she freely gave him the kiss she owed him.

What big teeth you have!

She saw how his jaw began to slaver and the room was full of the clamour of the forest's Liebestod, but the wise child never flinched, even when he answered:

All the better to eat you with.

The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody's meat. She laughed at him full in the face, ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing.

Midnight, the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves' birthday; the door of the solstice stands wide open; let them all sink through.

See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.

Excerpts from The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter
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Monday, November 29, 2010

under the boardwalk

I didn't really think I'd write about this show again so close to the finale, but last night's episode was something else. The prevailing mood is frequently ominous on Boardwalk Empire, but ominous took a walk right into out and out hostility and violence. Agent Van Alden took his frustrations and suspicions about his deputy out into the open, killing him by baptism as a crowd of horrified Baptists looked on. It was the perfect culmination of his growing religious mania and just plain mania. But has he completely lost control, to think that he could do that, in broad daylight, with no repercussions, just because he flashed a badge? Or because the witnesses were black?

Jimmy discovered that his mother, Gillian, was trying to murder his father, the Commodore. His male parentage is not as big a surprise as his female parentage was, as the hints have been coming and help to explain Jimmy's behavior towards Nucky—feeling he owes him something for looking after him, but also that he's better than him. Gillian was putting her son's anger into action. And hoping to inherit the Commodore's money. Jimmy quickly put a stop to her scheme, adding another shade to his character. Michael Pitt just keeps getting better and better, and he is matched by Gretchen Mol as his mother. We learn just tiny bits about her character each episode, but they always pay off in a big way. Here's hoping her part will expand next season. Jimmy also dealt smoothly with Angela's attempt to leave him. I know for the sake of the story's anti-symmetry that she had to fail, but I have to say hers is the least interesting character on the show. I would have been happy to wave her goodbye at the dock.

Steve Buscemi's Nucky had confrontations of his own. His brother tried to strong-arm him about Kelly McDonald's Margaret and Nucky responded by firing him as sheriff, deciding he was his weakest link. Good call. While Nucky can read most people like a book, where Margaret is concerned, he's clueless. He started what he thought was a simple domestic tiff with her about her supposed jealousy, only to be surprised when she confronted him with what's really been bugging her—his ordering the murder of her husband. She was not mad at him for that as much as his manipulation of her as a chess piece, bringing her onto his board. Margaret forgets that she has been doing quite a bit of manipulation herself.

Nucky finally addressed the throwaway Lysol scene from a few episodes ago, which I questioned on another blog, and showed how much it hurt him that she was preventing any chance of pregnancy. But where Jimmy's girl is weak, Nucky's is not. Margaret was packed and gone the next day, leaving Nucky consulting fortune tellers. I'm worried for Margaret. Nucky's brother thinks she's a liability. I'm not sure about Nucky. He has done a lot to protect her and win her in the past, but will he now see her as an enemy? Is she now in even greater danger?

The title of this episode, Paris Green, was quite clever. An artist's pigment which is not used anymore, it could be made from arsenic. The can that Jimmy placed on the table ties together his mother's and painter Angela's plans quite neatly, while also hinting at the trip to Paris that never was, and Nucky's accusation of Margaret poisoning herself. It's a smart show. Boardwalk Empire has proven itself as more than a creative stunt by Scorsese and friends. Its characters are intriguing and its setting continues to provide atmosphere and history (Ponzi!) for those who are listening carefully. I'm eager to see what happens next in Atlantic City.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010


I can't believe how much I liked Tangled. Our plans for the day took a different turn than originally planned, so I suggested taking the kid to see the latest output from Disney, loosely based on the Rapunzel fairy tale. I settled down to endure, I mean enjoy, another princess movie. Although Disney twisted the original fairy tale a tiny bit to make their new heroine join their princess sorority, that aspect of the tale is the least important. Tangled is not just a fairy tale, but a sassy animated action-adventure, with lots of comedy and a minimum of songs.

This will sound like blasphemy to many, but we had just seen Beauty and the Beast for the first time recently, and apart from the Jerry Orbach "Be Our Guest" number, I really didn't care for it. It's just a matter of taste, but I didn't like Belle's voice. I'm a huge fan of fairy tales, but have always felt that the message of Beauty and the Beast is pretty messed up—Belle supposedly comes to love the Beast no matter what he looks like, but oh what a relief when he is turned into a handsome prince at the very end, just in the nick of time before any bestiality might occur. Talk about the opposite of Shrek, who loves Fiona no matter how she looks. Beauty and the Beast is close to the original fairy tale of course, and the animation is superb, but Angela Lansbury aside, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

But back to Tangled. There are some great scenes and characters. Rapunzel trades barbs with a cute thief (not a prince!) in the best tradition of romantic comedy. Maximus the amazing horse almost steals the movie. And a musical number in a tavern is clearly inspired by Monty Python, which is always a good thing in my book. Tangled is definitely more in the tradition of the Shrek movies than Disney's recent Princess and the Frog. And we all love Shrek around here. The animation is first-rate. We saw it in 3-D and it wasn't too gimmicky. It did give a nice sense of the characters being three-dimensional at times, but it would work just as well in 2-D.

I was happily surprised that I wasn't the only one who felt she was seeing something special. As the movie ended the whole audience broke into applause. I can't remember the last time that happened at a movie I attended, certainly not a "cartoon." I'm actually looking forward to seeing it again, before the holiday season is over. The kid won't even have to twist my arm.
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

crazy buffets

It's been a week of meals and it looks to continue. Oh well, November is never the month to start a diet. On Thanksgiving I brined my first turkey and glazed it with roasted garlic, honey and thyme. It was incredibly moist, but I think the natives were expecting more of that traditional roast turkey flavor, so the chef liked it best. My pumpkin honey pie and homemade cranberry sauce were crowd pleasers.

Today we went to Crazy Buffet for lunch, a local favorite of my daughter's. She loves buffet-style restaurants—being able to hop up and down every few minutes,  as well as the independence of getting her own food. I get a kick out of watching what she picks. As this is an Asian-fusion buffet, she gets to sample all sorts of items, but she usually goes for sushi, chicken sticks and fresh fruit. And of course the plentiful dessert bar ...

Tomorrow our cousin is supposed to visit and we are planning a Sunday dinner of fried artichokes and spaghetti and meatballs and homemade garlic bread. And I might concoct a parfait with some of the leftover cranberry sauce.
You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, "Let's get some parfait," they say, "Hell no, I don't like no parfait"? Parfaits are delicious!
... Parfait's gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!—Donkey, Shrek

The mantra for the rest of the weekend: pace yourself.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

black friday

Gingerbread lane
Today is Black Friday. Someone asked me if I got up early to take part in the feeding frenzy. I responded that nothing is worth getting up at 4 a.m. for. Seriously, I don't get it. I'm not a Xmas-time shopper. I usually buy things a few months before the holidays (sometimes eleven!)—things that strike me that might be appropriate for someone and then stash them away. I never have to hunt for that difficult gift.

Maybe I'm lucky that I don't have such a long Xmas list. Maybe I don't really invest that much time or money in it. I don't fret that someone will hate it or even keep it. I hope that they like it. I try to give them something that says a little something about me, and what I like and think they might like.

Of course, that all goes out the window with my daughter. She's going to get books I think she should read (or I should read to her until she can all by herself), and Santa is going to give her that one "big" toy—the one I would never fork over the dough for,  or would really be my taste, i.e. Disney-related—but I know she is dying to have. Since she is getting older (almost seven), this year there will also be a "big" gift from me—a bike—but it may not be here by Xmas. We'll have to shop for it together, to make sure it's the right size, etc. She's an ex-city kid and this will be her first real bicycle. We're both getting bikes. It's part of our "welcome to Florida" (welcome to the real world) initiation.

I've always had some issues with gift-giving. Once I got past the age of Barbies there weren't as many "things" that I had to have. In fact, unless the gift is a movie or a book, I'm usually a tad disappointed. I really don't want to try and find some room for any more "stuff." I don't begrudge anyone their thrill-shopping. Or our economy, which needs a boost. But I don't get the madness, the mania that accompanied today. The lining up. I had enough of standing on line and waiting—for everything—when I lived in New York. I guess for some Black Friday is a sport. Or being part of the crowd. Neither things that I ever aspire to. I did buy some groceries today.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

giving thanks ...

... for a wonderful, exasperating, beautiful, energy-filled, rambunctious, alarming, brilliant, fantastic kid. She's a constant surprise and I can't wait to see what's next.

At the Four Arts
... that I have imagination and curiosity, a killer combo.
collage - Marcello

... that my mom and my daughter can enjoy each other and let me pretend to be running this show.

At the Four Arts

... for the sand beneath my toes, the wind in my hair, the ocean in my ear.
Sunlight on ocean

... for all of my friends and family, past and present. Each person is a piece of the mosaic.
Family in Lodi, NJ, c. 1925

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

out on a limb

I'm so glad I decided this year to only hang up the unbreakable ornaments. It may not be as shiny and glam as I usually like it, but it still looks festive and fun. I suspected that the tree might be a source of interest, but not that it would become a place to (literally) hang out ...


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

lennon naked, in new york

There was a meme going around recently to name your top 10 or 15 artists. A lot of friends, who also went to art school as I did, listed fabulous painters and sculptors—visual artists. I couldn't do the meme. It got right to the crux of the problems I had way back when at Parsons with how art and artists were defined. I never thought of myself as a painter. Or someone who draws. Or a collagist. I tried to fit myself into one of those categories, Lord knows.

I have always thought of myself as an artist. An artist can do a lot of different things, work in different media. This is a theme I am exploring personally and will write more on in the future. But watching the recent Lennon specials on public television brought it all to the fore. If I was ever to do that meme there would be a painter or two on the list (Edgar Degas, Botticelli, certainly), a sculptor maybe (probably Giuseppe Penone), but also writers and filmmakers and actors and certainly John Lennon. When I was a child my lullaby was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. My mom was a huge Beatles fan and passed on her love of the fab four to me. My "favorite Beatle" was George, because I always root for the underdog, but the one that I connected with most as an artist was John.

According to the Masterpiece Contemporary biopic Lennon Naked, John Lennon could be a real prick. As can we all. The difference between John Lennon and the rest of us is that now that he is dead he is an even bigger icon than he ever was alive. A symbol of love, hate, Beatles. Exactly what he never wanted. The movie ends with John and Yoko taking off for the promised land, New York City. We all know what happened there, which is supposed to lend an automatic gravitas. But that's not what this film is about, if it's about anything. It bludgeons us with John's disenchantment with the Beatles and his first marriage. Yawn, we've seen it all before. Any Lennon fan worth their salt knows that part of his resume by heart. It would have been more interesting to just start things off where he met Yoko. Show the sea change, in depth, rather than this t.v.-movie gloss. Why bother writing a weak fictional scene of him meeting Yoko, leaving out how he met her through her art first, a story I've heard him tell in more than one taped interview, and is much more interesting and romantic than any dreamed up scriptwriter's version.

Words that John said in his life are now "quotes," forever floating, to help us try to understand the man. But quotes can be chosen selectively. I love the actor Christopher Eccleston, and he does a good impersonation, but the quotes used and the life snippets shown here seem to have the sole purpose of portraying John as a first-class shit. To his ex-wife, to his son, and in an especially nasty scene, to his childhood friend. There are intimations that most of his bad behavior was drug-fueled, but isn't that a cop-out, or too simplistic? Are we supposed to believe that the man who wrote "Love is all you need" and "Give peace a chance" could never forgive, never reconcile? Maybe that's true. Maybe that was his fatal flaw. Was his constant anger why he wrote these songs—to try to follow his own advice?  If so, we'd never know from this depiction. John is depicted as such a flat, negative character, gentle only with Yoko, that the movie seems like a one-note smear.

Things got better the following night with the documentary LennonNYC. This began with John and Yoko's arrival in New York and how they immediately gravitated towards what was considered by the current administration (Nixon) the radical political movement. A more interesting depiction of their lives, LennonNYC used real footage of John as well as talking heads of musicians, contemporaries, and Yoko. It got bogged down when it gets lost, along with John, in druggy and boozy L.A. His separation from Yoko and his battles with drugs were too detailed. Again, it's an old story, old gossip. More interesting would have been an exploration of how he managed to continue to be creative throughout his cliche rockstar bad boy period and how he eventually pulled himself out of the pit. But no.

The tragedy of it all is that when John finally seemed to get all the disparate, battling aspects of his life—his history as a Beatle, his family life, his relationship with his wife, his music—together, his life was cut short by an assassin's bullet. Those are such strong facts that no depiction can be any stronger or more interesting. I was living in the Parsons dorm in downtown New York City for just a few months when it happened. One of my roommates waked me up in the middle of the night, because she knew I loved the Beatles (how kind!), to tell me that he had been shot. I didn't take it in at the time, but when I woke up the next morning, it must have penetrated my subconscious, because I knew as soon as I opened my bedroom door that something awful had happened. I didn't go to the Dakota or do anything of that nature. I just bought the papers, and like everyone else in the world, asked, "Why, why?" We're still asking that question.

One of the things that did come out strongly for me in LennonNYC was that even though John's life was cut short, he managed to pull it together in such a fantastic way it's hard not to feel good about him and his life. To feel happy for him—especially after his second son Sean was born. He was the primary caregiver for his young son. That was an invaluable experience for them both to share, and how lucky for them both that it worked out that way. Not everyone, especially artists, can hit the heights, then hit the skids, and then come back up again. But John did.

Watch the full episode. See more American Masters.

No matter what Lennon did, whether it was his music, or his writing, or his drawing, or just his sassy way of being, was honest and true to who he was. He was sometimes brutal, and under the influence damned unpleasant, even dangerous. He was also poetic and gentle. He was always searching, always trying to tell a story about the world, through his eyes. What else is art? Or an artist?

An observation made by one of his fellow musicians in LennonNYC was that "John liked being in a group." This is very interesting, and essential to understanding his personality and his work. He would write songs on his own, but truly finished them collaboratively, once he was in a studio with other musicians, where he could get feedback and inspiration. Yoko was good for him in many ways, the ultimate collaborator and partner. She didn't put up with his crap. She could be momma if he needed. But she was an artist, and easily became the artistic partner he needed once he left McCartney and the Beatles. Not only were the drugs, which may have started out as experimental fun, bad for him (duh rockstar cliche territory), but they caused him to isolate himself from what was (pain) or wasn't (Yoko) around him. Not a good situation for a gregarious personality.

Neither of these films can truly capture Lennon, but the more satisfying one, LennonNYC, does get a bit of his essence, his thought process. He was truly a product of his times. It's always hard to imagine where someone whose life has been cut short would be if they were still alive. Would he and Yoko have continued to have made music together, or would Double Fantasy have been enough for him and would John  have gone back to watching his son grow up and baking bread? His death is still such a shock that LennonNYC ends there, abruptly, helpless. It doesn't know what else to say. Not like John. He always had a witty quip or rejoinder at the ready.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

a thin line

While I won't challenge the evidence that actresses in Hollywood seem to be incredibly thinner than the rest of us, I am always a little amazed at the periodic outcry and finger-pointing that seems to single out a few particular actresses as "having a problem" or taking it too far."  Basically someone is calling someone else their idea of ugly based on how that person looks, and that is messed up and juvenile and unnecessary. What are we people? Stupid Marie Claire editors? I'd like to think we're better than that.

I'm not sure we can ever get over our size-obsession. It's hardly anything new. And in the age we live in, with the abundance of food (even in a recession) on most people's plates, it is extremely easy to go up on the scale, and as everyone who has ever tried knows, not so easy to go back down. So anyone who stays thin, or gets thinner, has appeared to win the "genetic lottery." And that creates resentment. Being thin in this country is connected to concepts of beauty, definitely, but also to ideas about health. The prevalent idea is that to be thin guarantees good health. Even if we know that's simplistic and not true, it's an idea that seems firmly ingrained in most American minds.
If we were living in ancient Rome or Greece, I would be considered sickly and unattractive. The times dictate that thin is better for some strange reason, which I think is foolish.—Gwyneth Paltrow
So why does the media keep telling us that "too thin" is a recent epidemic in Hollywood? Why are actresses like Angelina Jolie and all the other skinny gals (Keira Knightly, eg.) excoriated regularly? Why do we look to Hollywood as the gauge for a woman's size? Why not to the world of sports? Folks would rather criticize Venus Williams on her fashion sense than hold her as a model of physical health and beauty.

Case in point, Angelina Jolie. When she's not being internet-bashed for her relationship with Brad Pitt, or number of children, critics can always start pointing out her skinny arms. Jolie is skinny, maybe skinnier than a few years back. But there could be reasons for that beyond the only reason anyone thinks anyone should ever lose weight—to look better, i.e. thinner than the next guy. Angelina lost her mother recently. She's a UNHCR goodwill ambassador for children and refugees worldwide. I know that if I was traveling to Darfur, Pakistan, Cambodia and other places where children and adults are literally starving, I would not want to go home and stuff my face. But is she really so startlingly thinner these days?

She is very slender in this picture, taken when she was a young starlet

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie (Photo credit: Wikipedia).
Angelina's lost any baby fat she may have had in the top photo, but I'd say that she has always been a skinny chick. What's really scary is how the publicity machine thinks that even this skinny chick isn't skinny enough and Photoshops her to within an inch of her life to make her even more skinny.
How can women be as thin as we are? We have personal trainers to work us out. We have specially prepared meals.—Sarah Michelle Gellar 
"Thin is in" is hardly a new concept, especially in the film industry. Some of the most famous faces (and bodies) of Old Hollywood aren't painfully thin, but boy are they skinny—all the better to show off those clingy bias-cut gowns, which would show off the tiniest bulge or curve.

Claudette Colbert, in Cleopatra

Universal style icon Audrey Hepburn, screen test from Roman Holiday

Barbara Stanwyck publicity photo

Fabulous actresses come in all shapes and sizes, just like fabulous people. The cult of skinny in show biz is nothing new. Every decade over the past 80 years Hollywood has promoted skinny, beautiful icons to an adoring public:

30s - Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert
40s - Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis
50s - Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly
60s - Julie Christie, Jane Fonda
70s - Diana Ross, Faye Dunaway (70s t.v. actresses are all pretty thin, too)
80s - Michelle Pfeiffer, Daryl Hannah
90s - Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts
00s - Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley
I was a scapegoat. The media had to put responsibility on somebody, and I was chosen. They felt free to say that because someone was thin they were anorexic, which is ridiculous.—Kate Moss
I'm not defending Hollywood's or any of our culture's insistence that actresses and women be and stay skinny. We all know how Judy Garland was tortured by pressures to lose weight.
From the time I was thirteen, there was a constant struggle between MGM and me—whether or not to eat, how much to eat, what to eat. I remember this more vividly than anything else about my childhood.—Judy Garland
I'd just like us all to stop commenting and snarking that Angelina should eat a burger. Or that Jessica Simpson should stop eating them. Let's all lighten up—figuratively speaking.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

happy birthday pop

I love this picture of the old man. He looks so relaxed.

Joseph Periale, Deep Creek

xoxoxo e

Saturday, November 20, 2010

down the garden path

There's nothing deceptive about the garden at the Society of the Four Arts.

It is beautiful

Arts - Waterlily


At the Four Arts

even exciting

At the Foura Arts - Florida panther

and full of exotic surprises.

At the Four Arts

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Friday, November 19, 2010

button, button ...

Your home is a box. Your car is a box on wheels. You drive to work in it. You drive home in it. You sit in your home, staring into a box. It erodes your soul, while the box that is your body inevitably withers ... then dies. Where upon it is placed in the ultimate box, to slowly decompose.—Frank Langella, in The Box

The Box isn't a great movie. I'm not even sure if it's a good one. But it sure held my attention. It was enthralling. Maybe it was the performances by Langella, Cameron Diaz and one of my favorite actors, James Marsden. Or maybe it was the out-of-this-world set design. I was a child in the seventies, but I never saw patterns like the ones on Diaz's and Marsden's walls and upholstery—but I have to admit I loved them in this movie and found them as intriguing as the convoluted plot. The crazy plot can be blamed on famous sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, best known for I Am Legend, Hell House and Nightmare at 20,00 Feet. The whole film does have an extended Twilight Zone episode feel to it. It doesn't quite successfully pull together the disparate themes of (possible) alien intervention, religion (is Langella a god or a devil?), or existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit is an oft-referenced subtext.)
I have an offer to make. If you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don't know, will die. Second, you will receive a payment of one million dollars. You have 24 hours.—Frank Langella, in The Box

But mostly I keep going back to the visuals. Some of the film's scenes have the color and tone of an old Kodachrome print. That crazy wallpaper. The scene at the school where Cameron Diaz is challenged by a creepy student. Gigantic rectangular shapes of water. Arcade Fire's creepy-beautiful score.

I had to laugh at a scene that was full of danger and suspense, but also humor (It's a Christmas movie!)—a waving Santa Claus (creepier than any clown, and we all know how creepy clowns are) blocks the hero's progress in the middle of a road, causing the car to crash. I remembered at that moment that the film was directed by Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly.

Where can I get that wallpaper?
Sometimes a movie can be scary and funny and not make any sense and you can still enjoy it. It may never be on the "greatest movies" [arbitrary] list, but it's still worth watching. If movies weren't so g-d expensive we wouldn't have such high expectations, be so hard on them. I guess because it's getting rarer and rarer for me to rush out and see a movie first-run (I'll make an exception for Harry Potter, of course) I can be a little more open-minded. I've only invested a DVD rental or my monthly cable bill at most to see it, and not a six dollar soda and 12 dollar popcorn and parking, etc., etc. So I didn't think The Box "owed me" anything. Not even, as Dr. Evil might say, "One Meeelllyun dollars!") I just found it interesting. Interesting enough to recommend. Maybe even interesting enough to see when it rolls by again on cable, if I'm in the mood for a puzzler. And great set design.

Film is ephemeral. It's a shame that it is so industry- and profit-based. Taking a quick glance at the box office receipts on Wikipedia it seems that The Box cost about $30 million dollars to make. It made its money back and then some. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus cost the same amount of money to make. It also made its money back, but like The Box, not from its U.S. release, but predominantly from receipts outside North America. But both movies, I'm sure, are considered by Hollywood to be flops. I love movies, but this way of thinking sucks.

Anyway, check out The Box—not the greatest movie you'll ever watch—intriguing, interesting, and original. How's that for a conundrum/recommendation?
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

the imaginarium of terry gilliam

The movie may be titled The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but we all know that Dr. Parnassus is a Terry Gilliam stand-in, doppelgänger, alter-ego, just as Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell are for Heath Ledger.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is about an old man, Dr. Parnassus's deal with the Devil for his daughter Valentina's soul. But that is only the framework for Gilliam's fabulous visual depictions of Dr. Parnassus's ability to let his audience wander into their fantasies. Christopher Plummer was wonderful as the mad old mystic/king and Tom Waits was a delightful and quite affable Devil, who is much more interested in the game than in the spoils. Anyone who thinks the movie is a pasted-together save attempt by Gilliam and friends doesn't know what a Gilliam movie is like. And as Gilliam movies go, this is a quite good one. Like the sepia-toned start to The Wizard of Oz, Gilliam's movies usually start out murky and grubby, but then someone turns the handle and the door opens to the technicolor beauty of his imagination gone wild.

Heath Ledger plays a man who has fallen in with this strange traveling dream troupe by chance or design, but he quickly shifts the focus of their performances and the film on himself. Even with his part played posthumously by three other distinctive actors, Ledger owns the film. It is a true tribute to him that the talented trio actually manage to effortlessly convey the character he created, including inflections and mannerisms—so much so that a few times I had to really look hard to be sure it wasn't Ledger again.

Johnny Depp is a director's best friend. Anyone who has seen Lost in La Mancha knows just how much of a friend he has been to Gilliam. Gilliam, the eternal optimist, always tilting at Hollywood windmills, is still bound and determined to get his Don Quixote film off the ground, no matter how long it takes. Maybe he'll do it. At the moment it's supposed to be cast with Ewan McGregor and Robert Duvall. Who knows—by the time he finally gets to begin production, it might have Depp as Quixote.

Depp's sequence in this film is set in a Wonderland far superior to the one dreamed up for him by Tim Burton. At one point he tells his customer/victim, whose fantasy has taken a darker tinge, that burning out and dying young is not tragic, as she will never have to get sick and will always be young and beautiful. Just like Heath.

Colin Farrell may have gotten the best alternate-Heath, as he gets to play a love scene with Valentina (the lovely Lily Cole), as well as some dramatic character twists and turns. It's hard not to view the movie as a stunt, with its cast of superstar substitutes, but the three actors who took over for Ledger are all fantastic, and work seamlessly as mirror images/facets of his character. In fact, they may add a dimension to the piece that wouldn't be there if the role had been played by one man. Depp is the emotional side, Law the lighthearted side, and Farrell the darker aspects of the character. All traits are already present, but not immediately visible, when Ledger's character is on the other side of the mirror.

There were so many fabulous visual references I will have to watch again and again to catch them all, but the ones that registered this go-round were The Wizard of Oz, King Lear, Monty Python (of course) and Gilliam's own films, especially The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits and The Fisher King. There were also numerous nods to paintings, including those by Hieronymous Bosch.

At one point early in the film Valentina says to her father, "You never finish a story!" There is so much in this movie that has a double, even triple, meaning—Gilliam's constantly thwarted efforts at film-making, the fate of star Heath Ledger, the role of the artist as a storyteller, the audience as the listeners, what it is to make and watch a film. In the end, everyone has their own imaginarium.

p.s. from Wikipedia:

Depp, Farrell, and Law opted to redirect their wages for the role to Ledger's young daughter, Matilda, ... and Gilliam altered the part of the credits saying "A Terry Gilliam film" to "A film from Heath Ledger and friends."
“ Maestro Gilliam has made a sublime film. Wonderfully enchanting and beautiful, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a uniquely ingenious, captivating creation; by turns wild, thrilling and hilarious in all its crazed, dilapidated majesty. Pure Gilliam magic! It was an honor to represent Heath. He was the only player out there breathing heavy down the back of every established actor's neck with a thundering and ungovernable talent that came up on you quick, hissing rather mischievously with that cheeky grin, "hey... get on out of my way, boys, I'm coming through..." and does he ever!!! ... and as for my other cohorts, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, they most certainly did Master Ledger very proud, I salute them.”—Johnny Depp
“ I have always loved Terry Gilliam's films. Their heart, their soul, their mind, always inventive, touching, funny and relevant. When I got the call, it was a double tug. I liked Heath very much as a man and admired him as an actor. To help finish his final piece of work was a tribute I felt compelled to make. To help Terry finish his film was an honour paid to a man I adore. I had a great time on the job. Though we were all there in remembrance, Heath's heart pushed us with great lightness to the finish.”—Jude Law
It’s not hard for me to imagine that if I ever look back on the films I’ve been a part of, and the stories I’ve had a hand in telling, one will stand out as so unique an experience, as to be incomparable. This experience was the shooting of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The reasons for its uniqueness, sadly, are probably obvious to anyone who reads this. Three of us had been asked to complete a task that had been set in motion by a man we greatly liked and respected as both a person and an artist. Being part of this film was never about filling Heath’s shoes as much as seeing them across the finish line. ... It was this spirit of grieving the loss of Heath, that Johnny and Jude and I joined. But there was also a sense of dogged insistence. Insistence that Heath’s last piece of work should not be kept in the shadow of the light of day. More than anything, though – more than the sadness and shock, the vulnerability and un-suredness as to whether it was right to complete the film or not – was an incredible sense of love. ... Such a gift and an honor, from Heath, to be a part of the trail that he left behind. RIP Heath Ledger x—Colin Farrell
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