Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Sports Shouting" was great (not to mention the crawls), but "Scottie Shofar"--the name--is pretty much the most happily brilliant thing ever. Clearly I don't know how to like this without lapsing into tedious hyperbole-speak, but there you go. It's brill.

Friday, November 27, 2009

constant dream weirdness

One bit from last night's doozy: Somebody discussing her involvement in a "conflict theology" church, which meant one that incorporated differing religions under one roof. Like Quaker/Fundamentalist or Catholic/Jewish. The whole thing was very trendy. Oh, really? You're not familiar with CT?

can't win

Helpful commentary on the female form from E!:

Helpful diet wisdom--very old-school--from Kate Moss, quoted in People. I haven't heard this shit since the 70s:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Swiffer Dusters camisole!

(I bet an art school fashion student has made one of these already.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm fascinated, when not irritated or infuriated, by the managed flow of Fat in media imagery. That is, the particular way that images of fat people are let in--or not--for public consumption. Everything is managed to varying degrees, but fat is its own particular problem--TV producers who don't like to feature fat people onscreen as witnesses, for instance, because they "lack credibility."

I can speak only to the print part of Martha Stewart's world (I haven't watched her TV show post-poncho) but there is almost NEVER fat in her magazine: no fat people in the little dinner parties, features on entrepreneurs, models, anything. There is actually a pretty specific beauty ideal attached to the MStew world (very scrubbed, subfusc, JCrew, spare/lean). So I was amused to see this in her blog the other day. Because sometimes you just have to let the fat in, baby. And then, I guess, you call it voluptuous. Which they certainly are, not even particularly fat, but--what can I say, I noticed it. Little essay on class-race-money-NYC-media-fame-etc. here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Are you going to be afraid of the facts?" he said. "And you a scholar?"

"I don't think I did it in malice. I hope not. But I was bitterly unkind to her."

"Happily" said he, "a fact is a fact, and your state of mind won't alter it by a hair's breadth. Let's go now and have the truth at all hazards." (more Gaudy Night...)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I had Latka Gravas for a cab driver today. He had a really cute precise voice--sort of sounded like he was beeping.

Me: "So, may I ask...are you new?"
He: "Yes. In the US...two. Two months."
Me: "Ahh."
He: "For, two, days. Today is seventh day."
Me: "Ahh, I see. Just wondering."
He: "I am in Chicago three months now."
Me: "Wait--"
He: "I like very much, Chicago. Three months in Chicago."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The only product I know that is (at least where I buy it) more expensive in bulk: Scott toilet tissue. I've calculated the costs many different times, but it always comes up cheaper in the single rolls. There's a lesson there, not sure what it is.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Leonard Bernstein's MASS

Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University
November 14, 2009

I have been familiar with Leonard Bernstein's MASS--"a theater piece for singers, players and dancers" commissioned for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971--for a long time through its music only. I do not think I'm at all alone in this. It was not performed much until recent years, and as far as I know there are no visual recordings of the first performances--for a long time there was only one audio recording, which was more popular than the production itself. This explosion of theater (MASS is staged with over 200 performers, including a brass band, orchestra, rock band, children's and adult choirs, and dancers) existed for me as "just" music.

I grew up over-listening to the album my parents bought after seeing it at the Kennedy Center. I listened to it when my mom played it and on my own, out of our heavy sand-filled speakers, in headphones. When I went to college I had bits of it on mix cassette tapes with me. I had never seen it performed until this weekend and was really curious to see--hear--how it felt.

MASS is a challenge, giving people something to debate forever in Bernstein's absence. I can understand why people feel dared to recreate it these days. For myself, I love it but also find it cheesy and corny at times, not just dated; feel it relies on a reaching and sentimental twist to find its ending amidst a lot of devolving hyperbole. I also find it incredibly beautiful, especially in its details--more beautiful, the more closely you look at it.

MASS is also, I have come to believe, fundamentally sad. There is rebellion and catharsis, but not a lot of joy. Its anti-war themes seem less strong than a kind of personal sadness, from the increasingly well-known "Simple Song" (a perfect piece of music) to "Thank You," in which the singer grieves for a loss of feeling and gratitude. It feels old at times, but not always wise.

The desire is to take MASS apart, enjoy the bits that move and overwhelm, instead of subject oneself to the whole denim-clad, finger-snapping theater experience, but either way, I finally got to do it this weekend. The Northwestern production had too much to do--catch me up as well as woo.

One thing the performance highlighted is that MASS is difficult to perform not just because of the sheer, over populated (and non-intermissioned) spectacle, but because it requires an incredibly powerful lead in "the Celebrant." He must deliver the show-stopper first--start the piece at 100 mph with "Simple Song," which requires great precision and mature control to not let it careen sentimentally out of your hands. After that, the Celebrant has to act with most of the focus on others until the end, when he dives into a mad scene and the ending, not to mention (hah) that the part is for a baritone but veers high into what seems like tenor territory. The Celebrant is isolated, has little scripted interaction with others.

Alan Titus sang the role in the original recording, and he seems to own the part more than other singers own roles they originate, in part from having the field to himself for a long time. The Celebrant in the Northwestern production, Andrew Howard, struggled with "Simple Song" and other bits in the first half (he was often flat), but gained traction in the latter, and especially in the ending, when there is more to do onstage.

The same might be true of the performance as a whole: it did best as it got bigger and louder (although the dancers were especially good all the way through). There is not much middle ground in MASS--it goes from quiet to loud and back like somebody playing with a volume dial. The music is not served well by American Idol-y swooping and sliding, so there were parts that felt shrill and showbiz and obfuscated the pleasure of the music. The microphones (some soloists had microphones, some had headsets) were more distracting than I expected, undercutting the theatrical dynamic of the piece--they did not seem like people in church, moved to sing. It all created a funny convergence, though. Parts of MASS are shrill and showbizzy. The cumulative effect of the performance's energy at its biggest was (as the friend I went with put it) that of a rave, a Rent-y rave, which doesn't feel quite right to me (Bacchinalian rather than rebellious?). The lyrics in this performance had been toned down, with the blessings of Bernstein's daughter--gone, for instance, was the ringing phrase "local vocal yokels," as far as I could hear, from "The Word of the Lord." (Although that also meant that phrases like "his Bible and his breviary" became just "his Bible," which made me sad--I used to roll that world around in my head.)

The saddest realization that arose from seeing MASS rather than just listening to it came while watching the ending, which was obviously resolving more than lines of melody and musical themes. The last line is delivered by the Celebrant, who turns to the audience, breaking the fourth wall, and says (as a priest would), "The mass has ended; go in peace." It felt wincey--from the best of intentions--and glib, demanding our reaction. MASS uses the structure of the Catholic mass to great effect, but the journey of the Celebrant wants more meat to it with all those highs and lows--it does not feel peaceful or resolved itself. It's kind of thin.

I felt guilty for feeling disengaged, as if I were betraying my fondness for the piece and all the years I liked it when MASS wasn't fashionable. Except that I still love it. Since Saturday I have been listening--in addition to the Alan Titus recording--to parts of the recent Marin Alsop recording with Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant, enjoying its crisp precision, although I'm not quite sure what I think of Sykes.

I don't know what to do in general with the piece--what do you do with something that is so good at being sad? And showed its age right from the start? That has an addictive quality that doesn't feel entirely healthy? Which is so spectacularly hooky and rhythmic? (You know these beautiful young NU students will hum "doo-bing-doo-bong-doo-bing-doo-bang-doo-bang-doo-BONG" at random moments for the rest of their lives.) It's a rough piece of music to be engaged with--you have to admire Bernstein for that.

Thanks to Kerry Reid for the ticket/company!

if you've never heard

Here is Julie London smoking through the "Mickey Mouse March," the strangest collision of sexy and something that's not supposed to be sexy I've ever heard. It feels like the song must have jump-started puberty for many, many younguns.
The Stress Bomb: One packet tangerine EmergenC, 3 oz. Coke, 1 oz. seltzer. Sip it through a paper straw at the soda fountain and twirl on your stool.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

oh I liked it

I finally visited the new Renzo Piano-designed wing of the Art Institute, and I loved it. I was surprised to have such a strong reaction, but that's part of why it felt wonderful.

The primary impression I retain is of light: filtering through glass ceilings, screens, shades and elevators, saturating the walls and floors, overlapping planes defining space with rectangles and squares (the right angles are just grand). I love that the energy of the project--or so it seems--appears to have been spent on answering the most important questions. The design of the building feels intelligent, demonstrably serving function first. Sun piercing hotly through skylights isn't right, nor are dark corners; this building seems to avoid both. It feels like it is turned inside out from a regular building. Not in a Pomp-i-doo way--it's just missing the usual pitfalls that plague exhibition spaces. I love the layers of glass and screens. In order to achieve a focused, but extremely complicated goal--gathering light, dispersing it as evenly as possible, keeping the space not too hot or cool--it husbands its resources and gets the job done, without a lot of sops to architectural ego or plumage. I don't mean that in a howardrourke-y way--more that it feels honest. The visibly complicated bits feel like they are in the right place. All that harvested north light is just delicious and it is (again) very very different from the aggressive sunlight you might get through so much glass. It is managed.

I have been trying hard to remember, but I do not think that I have been back to the Art Institute since I worked there, which means nine years. That hardly seems possible, but I think it is so. Being there again, seeing art with which I forgot I had such a strong everyday relationship, was a rather overwhelming experience, and a happy one too. Being able to visit the Von Gogh bedroom or Ando screen room or Beckmann nude when the mood struck was a great perq.

Stodgy, but good

(recipe made from working backward from amount of choc chips in the freezer)

* Cream 1 stick of unsalted butter with scant 1/2 c. white sugar and 1/2 c.+ dark brown sugar * then beat in: one egg -- 1 t. vanilla, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. baking soda, 1/4 c. cocoa -- 1/2 c. flour -- 2 c.+ oatmeal -- 6 oz. bittersweet Ghiradelli chocolate chips. * Bake at 350 for 12? minutes.

Edited to add: I think I over-oatmealed (re: stodgy). But still...good.
We interrupt this period of not blogging to note that Leman's football mints--a new treat to me--are really good (I see that they used to be made by Peerless in Chicago before they closed, but now are being made in Texas). My mom, being an Indiana-raisedling, clued me in. Thanks, mom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shelley Winters wrote in one of her biographies (I think it was she) that while sad and sobbing over some breakup she wore out her record of Doris Day's "April in Paris" listening to it over and over. It really is a great, heartbreaking performance of the song, skirting the edges of sentimentality, but powerful and right out there. Especially in the held notes. You get the feeling she really gets to be herself in this one.
I am seriously thinking about trying to go to the TCM Classic Film Festival in April, if I can do it super way-cheaply, and if my ass can be accommodated by the theater seat widths of Grauman's, the Egyptian, and the Roosevelt Hotel. I am spectacularly overdue for a visit to the west coast, for many reasons, and I dream of a somewhat leisurely trip that might include northern and southern California, as well as the PNW. Just putting it out to the universe...feel like I should do this.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Coyote So Ugly

I love watching movies in appropriate locales. I saw Rudy in South Bend, Ocean's Eleven in Vegas. Last month I watched Coyote Ugly in New Jersey. It was perfect. Perfectly bad!

I think Coyote Ugly might be one of the more underratedly (bad) bad movies out there (striking a rhetorical pose to just get to the next idea here). I love to watch it. It's not a what-the-fuck-are-they-doing fun/bad movie like Showgirls in which people make baffling decisions in every possible scenario, it's a Frankenstein of a movie that sews together clichés wholesale, every stitch glaring at you. It is aggressively derivative. The padding in the movie--the batting that fills it out--is what we woulda called Jiggle, back in the Aaron Spelling days. Endless freakin jiggle atop the bar, only it's really more like Gyrate. Many many many bellybuttons.

You get a lot of Flashdance in Coyote Ugly--motherless workin girl finding artistic success you just know she deserves (esp. at age 21), while working a job that allows us to ogle her for 100 minutes and vindicate the impropriety of watching her along with the movie's characters as they justify her (temporary) involvement in a basically salacious activity to reach her goals. (The movie is very Flashdance, down to all the fog and mists--there is even a scene in which the main character, Violet, swipes some hiphop for her musical compositions, à la Jennifer Beals swiping breakdancing moves for her big finale.) You get a lot of Cocktail, including bottle-flipping. You get a lot of Working Girl--outer borough girl making it in Manhattan.

You get a lot of cinematic archetypes--such as the Slightly Dykey Den Mother, with Maria Bello as the bar owner who is so relentlessly worldly wise and tough--with one episode of vulnerability that proves it--that it starts to seem like she's just trying to get through the movie as fast as she can (probably true). You get the gaggle of fellow Whatevers--dancer/bartenders, in this case--who are more outrageous/sexual/practiced than our protagonist, so she doesn't have to be, and the gaggle of hometown friends who are more working class with thicker accents, so she doesn't have to be. You get the struggling overeating working class single dad (John Goodman) who has his coworkers make a public gesture of good luck for his daughter. You even get a very weird final scene in which a male character engages in the salacious girl activity in question, turning it on its head, like Jan Wenner aerobicizing at the end of Perfect--in this case, Goodman jokingly being an outrageous Coyote Ugly bartenderess and dancing on the bartop.

Watching the movie is like watching a brazen shoplifter, your mouth open at what they'll steal next. The movie mostly steals Flashdance, though, down to a fundamental assurance that no woman is taken advantage of by the gyrating (the official summary describes them as "sexy, resourceful women"). Also in the ending, which tells us she's Made It, in this case by having Leann Rimes sing the shitty songs Violet writes. She wins, she wins. Elizabeth Gilbert must be proud.

today's get-rich scheme

Unemployment trading cards. Unemployment all-stars! Endorsements, shoe contracts, fantasy unemployment leagues. Dole video games. I'm gonna be rich.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The thing people should point out more about recycling is how satisfying it is. I mean, the actual act, not (exactly) in a larger, do-gooding sense. It is an extremely satisfying activity for the nudgey mind--fabuous fun to send packaging and all its tyranny back from whence it came. No matter what it is--mayonnaise jars, birth control pill containers, seltzer cans--it all goes back the same way. Collecting like things together ruthlessly, regardless of origin. It's even more satisfying, somehow, with boxes. Not corrugated boxes, but the thin boxes that so much stuff is packaged in--cookies, Bounce sheets, frozen food, medicines, whatever. I love to break them down, take away their power to take up so much room, and send them back on their way. It kind of gives you a little of your own back, as a consumer, feeling like you're decimating all the elaborate attempts to win your attention and turning it back into wood pulp. Lots of immediate gratification.
I think I may have found my fav King of the Hill episode, at least for now: the season 8 Christmas episode, when Hank drives furniture out to his mother's in a huge truck. The scene when Dale shoots his way out of the back done bout killed me. Or it was 1:43 a.m. and everything was funny, but more likely both.
I wish this blog weren't PG-13, otherwise I could go into detail about a very vivid dream I had about Steve Martin last night. Can't stop snickering! He was newly single. Later in the dream I saw him in a ad--they had snagged him in a celebrity coup--and I thought, how clever. He was playing the banjo and through the ad showing how single people are all the same out there, looking, and here's his particular goofy charming skill set. Hah!

Monday, November 02, 2009

weather schmeather

I find the Weather Channel to be a grave disappointment. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say: "I'm such a nerd! I love watching the Weather Channel!" But I'm not buying it. THERE IS NO NERDY VIRTUE THERE.

The Weather Channel actually misses an opportunity to be a repository of nerdy obsessive fun. As I once heard somebody say at a research conference, any time you need a news story, open up the census report and you will have it. Certainly weather is the same? It is always, by definition, happening. The fun is figuring out what is happening where. There is a whole planet full of weather every day!

The Weather Channel doesn't show that off well. It's very huckstery for a channel devoted to such a previously decided topic. The anchors are jolly and feeb and vague and the graphics don't well serve the data management--it's like bad local news weather segment 24 hours a day. I wish it were smarter. There is so much to know about what's happening in the world and the Weather Channel never makes me curious about it. Not to mention (on the other hand) I can sometimes have a hard time getting local weather on the station when I'm on the road, depending on where I am. I think in lots of areas of the country you actually can't use the Weather Channel to get your weather--you just wait hopelessly as they talk about the rain expected for this year's Masters in Augusta. That's neither nerdy fun nor, actually, remotely helpful. Seems pretty lame.

The worst part are the one-hour shows, such as When Weather Changed History (the title of which continues to bother me--don't they mean "Affected"?) or It Could Happen Tomorrow. It could happen tomorrow--really? It could? Earthquakes sunamis floods fires? Don't they already happen? It's revealing that the first episode of It Could Happen Tomorrow was about the potential of a hurricane hitting New Orleans and made just before Katrina--and still there is a need for this show. Weren't there 1,000,000 stories from Katrina? Aren't there still? I just don't get the appeal of watching Ends of Days shows on the Weather Channel. It's like 2012 without the expensive CGI when the real news is happening elsewhere unattended.

Maybe I'm missing a corner of real nerdy fun on the Weather Channel, other than drinking games. Maybe I need to play a drinking game to find it.

why I love TCM

Tonight TCM is showing four films that showcase the title sequence work of Saul Bass (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Anatomy of a Murder and Bunny Lake Is Missing). I want to be Saul Bass when I grow up. Period full stop.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

very very colorful food I had in Baltimore

Thanks Hanne!

I'm just going to say it

1. If the phrase "pitched a reality show" shows up in somebody's biography, it seems like their file should be flagged, flagged like somebody's who has sold crack to infants. Cripes.

2. I have never gotten over the disappearance of Marshall Field's and it's starting to look like I never will. Screw Macy's and their sans serif coup d'etat.

3. I have absolutely no cynicism about pesto, a good 10-15 years after it hit menus hard. There is every reason to be cynical about it, or sick of it, but I am never anything but thrilled to find it in my food.

4. I cannot deal with Cirque du Soleil's goofy nouveau nouns and their gratuitous diacritical marks. Koozå...what the hell. Tell me that ring over the A is necessary. Somebody in Scandinavia needs that ring.

Cranky cranky happy cranky.
I am not a wholesale fan of Shakezpeare in Luv, despite its charms, and Paltrow Issues erode the experience further, but I am an enormous sucker for the last three minutes, including this shot.* Sometimes I'll watch the ending a bunch of times in a row. It is very Tidy, probably too much, but as it wraps things up it also opens new things, hints at the worlds past the ending. It doesn't rely on (just) the last clinch/tearful parting to do its dirty denoumental work.

Good endings can redeem/make a whole film. Birdy has a great last shot. Truly Madly Deeply has an amazing ending and an amazing last shot. Moonstruck's great ending has force because it ends in the morning, lit with morning kitchen light. Bull Durham has a great ending because it saves the happy sex for the end, rather than the middle. The ending of Brief Encounter--the real ending, when she goes back to her husband--is fabulous and full of power.

Being There
ruins its ending by tacking on bloopers. The last shot of The 400 Blows probably made me cry when I saw it for the first time in college, but now it seems cheesy thinking about it. The Fugitive's ending doesn't quite do it for me (the convention confrontation, I mean). The most fucked-up ending in the history of the world has to be Grease, a plot twist that I am still making my peace with, thirty years after seeing it for the first time.

Much more to say about all this, just a-thinkin. I sure love the ending of Shakespeare in Love, though. The swell of possibility out of all the sadness is really heart-rending.

* Part of the appeal is that I am a huge sucker for anything in movies involving pens and ink, although I wonder about its authenticity in this film. I do like the fact that the movie makes it clear how messy writing is when you're using pen and ink. All over your fingers.

god, I love my dishwasher

And not (just) because it washes my dishes and even disinfects them when I want them so. It is because it creates flow in the kitchen; opens up a box of space that lets movement happen, lets dishes start to march through the dirty-to-clean cycle by opening up some crucial room. Especially in a small kitchen. Owning a place to have Dirty Things until they become Clean is half the battle. The fact that unloading the dishwasher is more onerous than loading it is a testament to where that activity falls in the cycle--starting over--it's harder--but it all still works.

Laundry, however: I don't have figured out. Still. My Ved Mehta-sized autobiography is going to be centered around laundry.