Archive for the ‘the arts’ Category

Vintage Bob

August 11, 2017

A birthday present to my online friends


Classic Movie Scene – Casablanca

July 26, 2017

“We’ll always have Paris”; “Here’s looking at you, kid”; 1940 Buick Convertible

Haiku, Anja Harteros

July 4, 2017

“Caring for ailing – loved ones; the bane of many – talented women”

Bonne Fete Des Meres from BB & Buona Festa Della Mamma from CC

May 14, 2017

Setlist for Holi

March 14, 2017

1. Early Mornin’ Rain “Where the mornin’ rain don’t fall And the sun always shines”, 2. Jesse James “He took from the rich and he gave to the poor”, 3. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine “But, oh, Lord, we’d do it again”, 4. Fishing Blues “Spied them catfish shimmying around, Got so hungry didn’t know what to do”, 5. Crawdad “What you gonna do when the crawdads die, Sit on the bank until I cry”, 6. I Saw The Light “Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight, Praise the Lord, I saw the light”, 7. Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms “Mama’s a ginger cake baker; Sister can weave and can spin”, 8. Wildwood Flower “The wild flowers to weep And the wild birds to mourn”, 9. The Fox “Prayed for the moon to give him light”, 10. Reuben James “And remember the name of that good Reuben James”, 11. San Francisco Bay Blues “Walkin’ with my baby down by the San Francisco Bay”, 12. Roddy McCorley “There is never a one of all your dead More bravely fell in fray”

Eric Rohmer, master of mise en abyme

August 14, 2008
Screenwriters on the films of Eric Rohmer.


Zou Zou as Chloe in Chloe in the Afternoon (1972).


ERIC ROHMER REMAINS one of the most revered and enigmatic directors to survive the French New Wave. His films rarely exhibit the revolutionary fervor so often associated with that cinematic movement. Indeed his chamber comedies of bourgeois desire and disappointment could easily be mistaken as nothing more than pretentious talk fests. But what keeps his feather-weight dramas and supercilious characters infinitely engaging is how their actions serve to illuminate complex philosophical and ethical dilemmas. In Rohmer’s films the focal points are never on what the characters say or do, but in the distance between those two, in that netherworld between language and action in which we all try to make sense of the world and of ourselves.

Having first been a journalist, then a novelist, Rohmer never lost sight of the power — as well as impossibility — of words. He entered the French New Wave through the journal Cahiers du Cinema, serving as its editor from 1956 to 1963. When Rohmer started making films in the ’60s, he framed them as cycles (“Six Moral Tales,” “Comedies and Proverbs,” “Tales of the Four Seasons”) emphasizing their reliance on literary, rather than cinematic, genres.

In 1969, My Night at Maud’s catapulted Rohmer to international fame, even garnering Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay and Foreign Film for this comedy of inaction centering around a man failing to take advantage of a sexual situation. In his next two films, Claire’s Knee and Chloe in the Afternoon, what characters do not do is always more telling than what they do. His (male) characters, bound by social convention and place, create exquisite comedies of repression just to see how far they could take their desires.

In the ’70s, Rohmer experimented with historical allegory before returning in the ’80s to the breezy philosophical love stories that made him famous. In his “Comedies and Proverbs” series — The Aviator’s Wife, Le Beau Marriage, Pauline at the Beach, Summer, Full Moon in Paris, Boyfriends and Girlfriends — Rohmer made his protagonists women, examining the consequences of them trying to take control of their lives and romances. With the novelistic skill reminiscent of Henry James or Jane Austen, Rohmer turned the most banal social settings — beaches, summer vacations, a weekend of windsurfing — into the thorniest and most demanding ethical arenas.

This winter Winstar Cinema has collected a select retrospective, “Tales of Rohmer,” with new 35mm prints set to tour over 30 North American cities, beginning in New York City on February 9. In tribute to Rohmer, we asked three screenwriters (and sometimes directors) — James Schamus, Larry Gross and Ira Sachs — to write about their own sense of Rohmer and why he matters. –P.B.



Jean-Claude Brialy and Laurence de Monaghan in Claire’s Knee (1970).


Ira Sachs on Rohmer’s toughness

I admire Eric Rohmer for many of the same reasons I love Henry James: both find drama in the precise observance of shifting emotions. Every scene in a Rohmer film is taut with possibility; every character, on the verge of falling — falling in love, falling into melancholy, or just falling from their own sense of high and stable ground. His protagonists are an arrogant lot — his women are particularly surly — and that is what gives the films their subtle tension; we are always wondering how the mighty will fall.

Rohmer’s films are made up of conversations; they are filled with nervous, talky people, who act as if language could protect them from experience. With continual attempts at self-description (“I was born to be unhappy,” says Laura, typically, inClaire’s Knee), his heroes and heroines imagine that they can talk themselves out of anything, and thus be saved from pain, or even more specifically, the surprise of emotion. And they, like all of us, are wrong.

In almost all of Rohmer’s films, his characters run into themselves — they discover, or are made to discover, their own precariousness — and the result of this reckoning is always extraordinarily moving. At first glance, Rohmer seems like a very soft filmmaker. He works gently, but always, by the last reel, he has tightened the screws. Like the coming of seasons, with which Rohmer is clearly obsessed – witnessLe rayon vert (Summer) and Autumn’s Tale — we almost don’t notice the arrival of strong emotions. And then, like winter, they are upon us.

Eric Rohmer has the most consistent career of any of the great filmmakers alive today. There’s not one false note in his huge and expansive body of work. In that way, again, he’s a bit like Henry James. Of no one else but Rohmer could it be said that he is making films at 80 that are as perfectly realized and as emotionally risky as the ones he made 40 years before.


James Schamus on Rohmer’s depiction of character

Rohmer uses annoyance to achieve the sublime. His trick: to make us think that personality is a kind of illusory irritant, an encumbrance that keeps us from our presumed moral centers, but which, finally, turns out to be the very register of our moral being. Think of Delphine, the irrititatingly depressed secretary heroine of Le rayon vert (1986) — and one of the great mise en abymes of dialogue in cinema history: she’s at her friend’s summer cottage, an outsider surrounded by solicitous friends of friends, and she refuses the barbequed pork, politely explaining that she’s a vegetarian.

A polite query follows: “Should we prepare you something else?” “Sorry, we didn’t know of your specific dietary needs.” She tries her best to brush it off, but as she talks, and the more she talks, the more absurd, grating, hostile, self-defeating, alienating, tragic, weepy her explanations and excuses become. Rohmer creates an embarrassment so exquisite, a self-consciousness so finely attuned, this little scene takes on the psychic dimensions of a Busby Berkeley musical number, and all in glorious 16mm.


Larry Gross on Rohmer’s conception of intelligent masculinity

I went to Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s, with my 19-year-old brother, the week that it opened in a subtitled version in New York. 1967, I believe. I was 14.

I enjoyed it a lot. The enjoyment was enhanced by a certain bewilderment, which I confess, I haven’t entirely gotten over after all this time.

Here were three adults, who looked like adults you knew from everyday middle-class life, and all they did was what people you knew did. They discussed their past relationships, stuff they’ve read, and they expressed their opinion of things that mattered to them. So little happened, and yet it was somehow entertaining and never boring — but you couldn’t quite tell how it could be so entertaining and avoid being boring.

Obviously some of it had to do with the three central performers, Jean Louis Trintignant, Francoise Fabian and Marie-Christine Barrault. Trintignant in particular does something in the film that has only grown in significance with the years. He supplies a near perfect image of an intelligent man in love. A compelling alternative — and one of the few — to the silent, stoic, macho-killer tradition of Cinematic Masculinity embodied by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I would point in particular to the scene late in the film where Trintignant stands on a snowy hill with Barrault and hears about some unsavory details of her past love life. In that moment his expression of tenderness, disappointment, along with his determination to keep loving this woman define for me a type of conscious intelligent masculinity that has all too rarely found embodiment in cinema — or in real life. Indeed if I were to attempt to explain to a super-intelligent alien why the male race shouldn’t be erased from the order of things, I’d start by showing Trintignant in this film.

There are so many great things about this movie. It demonstrates brilliantly one of the iron laws of romantic comedy. When a plot turns on a character’s choice of mates, the stronger the “wrong” one is, usually the better the movie. Other demonstrations of this principle include the temptation James Stewart offers Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story or the alternative Kristin Scott Thomas presents to Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. In the latter case she’s almost “too” attractive an alternative for the movie’s denouement to be entirely credible. Here Francoise Fabian’s Maud truly represents all the mysterious roads not taken by all of us in our romantic lives. I remember my brother being unusually somber and meditative on the subway ride home after the movie. I asked him why, and he explained that it was truly painful to contemplate all the excuses one offered oneself for not having pursued or followed up with certain women. I didn’t entirely get what he was saying at the time, but 30-some years have gone by and I sure do now.

Two other things. This was the first film I ever saw photographed by Nestor Almendros. Although it was almost all interiors and close-ups, I knew without quite knowing how or why that the black-and-white images had a crispness and delicacy fundamental to the film’s mood. It was the beginning of a vague understanding on my part that to be “cinematic” didn’t necessarily mean epic locations, lavish production values or overpoweringly flashy visual mannerisms.

Finally I remember being puzzled and charmed by a unique fact about how this film was edited. Rohmer often chose to stay on the character, listening rather then always cutting back to the person speaking. Once again, without knowing why, I got the feeling that there was something momentous about such a procedure.

Zoning laws inhibit artistic expression

March 7, 2008

A Man’s 6-Pack Can Serve as His Castle

NY Times, Published: March 7, 2008
HOUSTON — From his front porch, John Milkovisch was able to see the beer truck heading for the local grocery, spurring him into action. “He’d run over there and clean them out,” recalled his son Ronald. “He never had less than 8 to 10 cases stacked up in the garage.”

Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Last-minute preparations are made before the opening ceremony of the Beer Can House.

John Milkovisch, left, with his wife, Mary, spent 20 years at work on what is known as the Beer Can House.

From 1968 until his death 20 years later, Mr. Milkovisch, an upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, not only emptied 50,000 cans or more of his favorite beverage but also put the containers to good use, cladding his house and workshop with thousands of maintenance-free flattened beer cans (Falstaff was a favorite) and shading the sun with garlands of tinkling beer can tops and tabs.Known to generations of sidewalk gawkers as the Beer Can House, the folk art monument was dedicated Thursday and will open to the public on Saturday for the first time since its purchase from the Milkovisch family and a seven-year restoration project totaling $400,000.“Most people who take the lead in doing something truly innovative are considered a little bit crazy,” said Mayor Bill White, cutting a ribbon and paying tribute to “the hard work of generating all those beer cans.”Inside, a quote from Mr. Milkovisch adorns a wall. “They say every man should leave something to be remembered by. At least I accomplished that goal.”What may now be Houston’s second-zaniest spectacle was bought by the zaniest — the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, a foundation growing out of one man’s obsession with his favorite citrus fruit.Working alone from 1956 to his death in 1980, Jeff McKissack, a Houston postman, built a maze of connected chambers, balconies and tiled walkways extolling the health benefits of oranges. The structure costs a dollar to tour, the same as the Beer Can House.Marilyn Oshman, the art patron who founded the Orange Show, said it was no accident Houston played host to such attractions. “One good thing about not having any zoning is you can do stuff,” Ms. Oshman said.

James Taylor is a certifiable genius even though he loved his career more than his kids

March 3, 2008

Carolina In My Mind Lyrics » James Taylor

In my mind I’m goin’ to CarolinaCan’t you see the sunshineCan’t you just feel the moonshineAin’t it just like a friend of mineIt hit me from behindYes I’m gone to Carolina in my mindKaren she’s a silver sunYou best walk her way and watch it shinin’Watch her watch the mornin’ comeA silver tear appearing nowI’m cryin’ ain’t IGone to Carolina in my mindThere ain’t no doubt it no ones mindThat loves the finest thing aroundWhisper something soft and kindAnd hey babe the sky’s on fire,I’m dyin’ ain’t IGone to Carolina in my mindIn my mind I’m goin’ to CarolinaCan’t you see the sunshineCan’t you just feel the moonshineAin’t it just like a friend of mineIt hit me from behindYes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mindDark and silent late last nightI think I might have heard the highway callingGeese in flight and dogs that biteSigns that might be omens say I going, goingI’m gone to Carolina in my mindWith a holy host of others standing around meStill I’m on the dark side of the moonAnd it seems like it goes on like this foreverYou must forgive meIf I’m up and gone to Carolina in my mindIn my mind I’m goin’ to CarolinaCan’t you see the sunshineCan’t you just feel the moonshineAin’t it just like a friend of mineIt hit me from behindYes I’m gone to Carolina in my mindGone to Carolina in my mindThen I’m on to Carolina in my mindGone to Carolina in my mindGone – I’m gone – I’m goneSay nice things about me’Cause I’m gone southCarry on without me’Cause I’m gone

Jeff Mangum & Neutral Milk Hotel, the best indie band you’ve never heard of

February 29, 2008

Slate, music box

The Salinger of Indie Rock

What happened to Jeff Mangum?

By Taylor Clark

Ten years ago this month, a songwriter from nowhere and his ramshackle band brought out one of the few truly great albums of this generation, a musical curio so gloriously odd that it almost defies explanation. The group called itself Neutral Milk Hotel, and the record, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is a concept album about Anne Frank in which vocals about lost Siamese twins and semen-stained mountaintops mingle with the sounds of musical saws, fuzzy tape loops, and an amateur psychedelic brass band. It seems like a formula that would blister your eardrums, yet Aeroplane is a gorgeous, much adored work of art. In 2003, the alternative music magazine Magnet dubbed it the best album of the past decade—better than Nirvana, better than Radiohead.While the record sells better today than ever, you won’t see Neutral Milk Hotel onstage anytime soon because, for all intents and purposes, they’ve vanished into thin air. At the end of Aeroplane‘s final song, you can hear Jeff Mangum—the band’s singer, songwriter, and all-around mastermind—set down his guitar and walk off, and, minus a few months of under-the-radar touring, that’s exactly what Mangum did in real life. When the major labels and the glossy magazines and the half-crazed fans came calling, Mangum never responded. There was no breakup announcement, no reason given for the radio silence—he just faded out. After a decade of speculation, sightings, and hoaxes, his story remains a mystery: Why did he decide to disappear? And where has Mangum gone?

Even before his public vanishing act, Mangum was something of an elusive character. Raised in the arts vortex of Ruston, La., he bristled at his hometown’s jocks-and-booze ethic and hoped from an early age to unchain his creative spirit. In the early ’90s, Mangum and a few friends formed a now-legendary collective called Elephant Six, which grew to encompass dozens of strangely named bands creating eclectic music mostly for their own enjoyment. Yet Mangum himself seldom stayed in one place for long; he constantly hopped from city to city, acoustic guitar in hand. At home in the collective’s base of Athens, Ga., or out on his peregrinations, Mangum cut a strange figure: a long-locked, intense-looking man with a gale-strength singing voice who liked to wear garish thrift-store sweaters and embellish the cuffs of his pants with cartoon sketchings.

Because he suffered from night terrors, Mangum often stayed up until dawn working on his songs, sometimes addressing them to the ghosts in a haunted closet. At first, this method produced modest results: His first album, On Avery Island (1996), showed flashes of promise but had its sludgy and spotty patches. One day, Mangum wandered into a bookstore and happened upon a copy of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. The book consumed him. After finishing it, he spent a few days crying over Frank’s story. As he told a Puncture magazine interviewer before Aeroplane‘s release, “I would go to bed every night and have dreams about having a time machine and somehow I’d have the ability to move through time and space freely, and save Anne Frank. Do you think that’s embarrassing?” The songs and lyrics he started writing about Frank could be so nightmarish in vision that Mangum grew afraid of what was issuing from his brain: verses about “pianos filled with flames” and eating “tomatoes and radio wires.” At times, he seems possessed, singing on Aeroplane‘s title track, “Anna’s ghost all around/ Hear her voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me.”

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is so expansive in its weirdness that one of its 11 songs is a rollicking bagpipe jam—yet it would be wrong to call it a “cult” record, since that would imply it’s some sort of flawed art-school project. Sure, Aeroplane occasionally sounds like a mariachi circus fed through a broken amplifier, but it all weaves together as Mangum guides the proceedings with percussive guitar strumming, singalong melodies, and his booming, emotive voice. The album plays like a document from a parallel-universe version of the 1940s, inlaid with Mangum’s haunting lyrics: “And here’s where your mother sleeps/ And here is the room where your brothers were born/ Indentions in the sheets/ Where their bodies once moved but don’t move anymore.” Aeroplane isn’t about airtight instrumentation or tricky songwriting—most of the songs have just three or four chords—but about a remarkable range of feeling put into melody. (Mangum recorded his part of the song “Oh Comely” in one scratch take, at the end of which you can hear a stunned band member yell “Holy shit!” in the background.)

When Aeroplane first debuted, sales took a while to warm up. Those who found the record would appear at shows and (to the annoyance of many audience members) collectively drown out Mangum’s singing with their own rendition, but this was still indie music’s dark, pre-blog era. By the time magazines started paying attention, toward the end of 1998, Mangum already had one foot out the door. Worn down by months of touring, he grew fed up with discussing himself and explaining his lyrics, eventually declining to accept any calls—yet friends say he still fixated on every word written about him. As his bandmates pressed him to capitalize on Neutral Milk Hotel’s success, he withdrew more and more. When R.E.M. offered a chance to open for them, he said no. And for the last decade, that’s nearly all he’s said.

As Aeroplane‘s legend began to build, Mangum kept himself busy by having a total nervous breakdown. Laura Carter, his then-girlfriend, told the Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing that he spent entire days sitting in his house in a state of near panic, wearing a pair of old slippers and doing absolutely nothing. He became paranoid, hoarding rice for the inevitable post-Y2K apocalypse. Since 1998, Mangum has rejected every interview request save one 2002 conversation with Pitchfork in which he explained his meltdown. “I went through a period, after Aeroplane, when a lot of the basic assumptions I held about reality started crumbling,” he said. One of those assumptions was that music would somehow erase his problems. “I guess I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after,” he continued. “So when so many of our dreams had come true and yet I still saw that so many of my friends were in a lot of pain … I saw their pain from a different perspective and realized that I can’t just sing my way out of all this suffering.”

It took Mangum years to rebuild himself after this spiritual crisis—and since part of that crisis was his recognition that music would never save him from his demons, he couldn’t very well embark on another record. So he wandered the globe to find spiritual balance, even spending time in a monastery. (Aeroplane‘s steady sales helped finance the quest; the album still moves a reported 25,000 copies a year.) Occasionally, Mangum flitted ever so briefly into the public eye. He released a disc of field recordings of Bulgarian folk music, then disappeared. Calling himself “Jefferson,” he hosted a late-night radio show on New Jersey’s WFMU a few times until he was discovered, then vanished once again. Sometimes he’ll appear onstage at friends’ rock shows for a song, sending the crowd into paroxysms—but when those friends suggest he record his own music, they say he becomes evasive.

Mangum’s continued silence has angered some fans, who accuse him of being selfish or “indifferent to his talent,” as if musical ability comes with some sort of obligation to society. At least once a year, someone writes a hoax message from Mangum and posts it online—generally throwing in some fanciful verbal junk to bilk fans into believing it’s the genius himself wielding the keyboard. Some have announced forthcoming records or tours, while others have revealed the long-hidden sources of Mangum’s misanthropy; they’ve all been debunked. All we really know for sure is this: According to his record label, Mangum now lives in New York City. He recently married filmmaker Astra Taylor. Friends say he still creates art and that he seems “very happy.” If he has plans to record more music, he hasn’t told anyone.

And if Aeroplane really is Jeff Mangum’s final statement to the universe, maybe we should be happy with that—not because of some tired line about going out at your peak (which he likely didn’t reach), but because his story is a kind of modern fable. Many fans see his disappearance only in selfish terms: They’ve been deprived of more great music for no good reason. They can’t understand why Mangum would shun success just to shuffle through his days, and, indeed, when musicians abandon this much promise, the culprit is usually drugs or debilitating accidents or people named Yoko. So he must have gone nuts, right? Well, no. After all, what if Mangum is just being honest? What if he poured his life into achieving musical success only to discover that it wasn’t going to make him happy, so he elected to make a clean break and move on? We should all be so crazy.

As always, though, hope for Mangum’s return still glimmers. Last month brought news that he may play a guy in a lobster suit in a soon-to-be-released conceptual film. But who knows? You can’t see inside the suit.

Taylor Clark is a writer based in Portland. His first book, Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture,was published in November.
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Lewis Black is better than the four blue collar comedy guys put together

February 17, 2008

Lewis Black will host his own Comedy Central series in March of 2008. The show, titled The Root Of All Evil, will pit two people or pop-culture topics against each other as a panel of comedians argue which is more evil, two examples being “Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney” and “Internet Porn vs. YouTube”. At the end of the argument Lewis Black will make the final decision as to which is more evil.

On February 18, 2008, Lewis Black will host “History of the Joke, with Lewis Black”, a comedy-documentary on The History Channel. confirms it, saying “Join comedian Lewis Black in his provocative quest for the secret ingredients of a great joke. Black discovers living history among America’s greatest joke tellers, including George Carlin, Shelley Berman, Robin Williams, Robert Klein, Kathleen Madigan, Penn & Teller, Kathy Griffin, and Dave Attell; and he looks to the future of joke-telling, with jokes and interviews from over 50 standup comedians working today. Black’s hilarious journey uncovers where jokes come from, what inspires comedians to get into comedy, the nature of laughter, improv, the dirty joke and the role of truth in comedy. Black recounts what it takes to tell the perfect joke.”