Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Have you ever been poitrined?

Have you read Little Me (1961), darlings? If you haven't, you have to, and there isn't really anything more to say about that.

It's the biggest joke ever, all the way through--and as such rewards repeated readings extremely well, as there is so much to absorb and catch from slightly different points of view and snortle at and see differently in the text and sometimes very naughty photos that accompany The Intimate Memoirs of That Great Star of Stage, Screen & Television, Belle Poitrine, as told to Patrick Dennis.

Belle Poitrine, née Belle Schlumpfert, of Venezuela, Illinois, is forever mercenary, sluttish, committedly deluded, and vain, whether bleeding dry a series of men ("As Fred had only five thousand dollars, I saw no need to squander it in that squalid hotel"); dumping her two-year-old daughter in boarding school ("I stood silhouetted in the doorway as Baby-dear toddled after Mademoiselle toward the car…'Who's the big blonde?' Baby-dear asked."); or -- my favorite -- offing or otherwise doing nothing to prevent the passing of a series of spouses, such as husband number whatever, studio owner Morris Buchsbaum, who expires after seeing Belle's bank-breaking version of Cleopatra, Nights on the Nile:
"Better I should plotz than see another picture with a gurnisht like you!" A convulsive shudder passed through his entire body. "Ausgeschpielt," he breathed. He sank back onto the pillows, lapsing almost completely into the vivid tongue of his faraway European childhood. But even at this moment my Morris could praise me!
Later Belle is helped down the aisle by her next husband, Letch Feeley (their estate is Belletch), at "dear Morris' high requiem mass."

If nothing else, page through Little Me to see the genuinely amazing poitrine of Jeri Archer (the model who plays Belle in the photos by Cris Alexander), Dennis' virtuoso abuse of scare quotes ("Momma had engaged the services of several very attractive young ladies and held a perpetual 'open house' for America's jolly 'Jack Tars'" [Belle's mother's latest whorehouse, in San Diego]), or the weaving in of imagined interactions with real-life show-biz celebrities ("I approached Ivor Novello to compose an operetta suited to my vocal range. 'CAN PROSTITUTE ART ONLY SO FAR' was his cabled reply.") It is the best. As Charles Busch says in the intro the 2002 re-issue:
This faux memoir of a deluded but determinedly optimistic Grade-Z movie star is a forerunner of the 'mockumentary' that is more and more becoming a staple of American film comedy. This Is Spinal Tap and the films of Christopher Guest…owe much of their deadpan and meticulously accurate tone to this seminal work.

Belle's version of The Scarlet Letter, set at Allstate U.
"Just try to change one comma in some old book about a girl
having a baby in Massachusetts and they're all up in arms!!"

Friday, September 21, 2012

Recession sludge!

I'm lucky: I really love brown rice. Am I lucky? Is that unusual? All I know is I don't get sick of it. Which is good in a recession. This recipe isn't interesting, but I like it. It sustains me, sitting in the deep, heavy Calaphon pan in the fridge, as I scoop out bowls' full during the week. It reheats incredibly well, and can be added to, and sauced, and made more cheesy as the pantry and wallet dictate.


• 1st stage: You need flavoring and fat now--and protein, if you can afford it. So, for instance: very browned meat with aromatics if you're in the mood to chop them (I'm often not), or just spices: heat up some olive oil or butter and crush some dried herbs into it and let them sizzle. This is the stage where I really like to get the extra protein in if I can.  If you have a little minced ham or ground meat, add that. I tend to buy decent-quality protein only on sale and put it in my freezer if I can't use it right away.

In the image below I used four Italian sausages (crumbled out of their casings), browned very crisp and excess fat drained, to which I then added oregano, dry mustard, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, some tomato paste, paprika... I think I threw in some Cotes du Rhone from the fridge door and let it boil off a bit. Basically you want to make a good flavor base of some kind, in enough fat to toast your rice. High temps and a lot of stirring are good here. Make sure there's enough salt and pepper.

• 2nd stage: Throw the rice in and toast it. Plain brown rice is good, but I also like grain combos, if you can get them working: Lundberg rice blends are good, or rice with barley, or rice with quinoa (added later in the cooking process). Stir, stir, stir.

• 3rd stage: Add liquid. Here is the place for stock or broth if you have it, or can afford it. Water's fine, too.

• When it's done: Fluffing the rice and letting it sit is essential once it seems like the rice is really done.

I like to eat it straight with a little extra salt. Or reheated with cheese, if I have some, or a spoon of yoghurt on top. Sometimes instead of putting in the protein in the beginning, I will make a basic veloute sauce and add the protein to that: organic chicken breast, for instance - much easier to deal with in volume - that I roast and make stock from to use for the sauce and and to cook the rice. Make sure the sauce also has lots of flavor: Worcestershire, dry mustard, pepper, thyme, etc. You can make it a cheese sauce with the roux base. Mix it with the cooked rice.

The point is: it is yummy, and because it's whole grain you feel very satisfied, and there aren't a million pans, and it keeps extremely well in the fridge and there are a lot of variations and you know - yum.

Google Voice translates a butt-dial

Very few of these words were actually said: what was actually being "translated" was the sound of walking and then a bit of radio patter. And certainly "Beth" and "Betty" were never said—but Google Voice knows my first name, I guess.
Hey Beth, bye bye bye okay bye, hey. I just bye. Okay bye. Bye, okay hey, bye. Okay bye. And okay bye okay bye bye and bye applicant bye hold on hullabaloo you didn't want to the pretty don't call and hundreds of move. My the guy. And as I would be possible. But if I could call. Okay bye. So, holler, called the are you call. I think it's in it. And what's up. It would be better. Late. Because, below them. Hey, You, hey hello. Please, hey. You is leaving, hopefully The hey and Okay bye. Okay bye. It's okay This. My cancel it, ohh ohh well, call one on east of fun. No, no, and stuff. Yo Yo, hey, it's just the computer okay. We were talking about me would be. We were talking about club okay with you, hey. Hello. Uh huh, okay. Hey, okay. Bush did okay bye week okay. Hey Betty, okay 15 degree. We're gonna be gone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This is what finally inspired me to learn how to make animated .gifs. Her scene is a little tour de force!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Because everything I know and understand comes from Gaudy Night, it is inevitable that upon seeing the above, parts of the following crucial passage from that book, about managing one's highest priorities (quoted here before, even--pardon me), floated up in my brain:
You can usually tell . . . by seeing what kind of mistakes you make. I’m quite sure that one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of lack of genuine interest. In my opinion, that is.  
 . . . The big proof is that the thing comes right, without those fundamental errors. One always makes surface errors, of course. But a fundamental error is a sure sign of not caring. I wish one could teach people nowadays that the doctrine of snatching what one thinks one wants is unsound.
I think some people might call them the opposite--call "Amercia" and "Regan" surface errors--but it didn't feel like that to me. In the middle of heavy political rhetoric like that, I couldn't help thinking: What do they really care about?

Monday, June 04, 2012

neologisms from the subconscious

fompe [noun]
: a type of novel in which the plot makes sense only when viewed by the somewhat paranoid protagonist
[The E is silent; pronounced like "pomp."]
Do not remember what was going on in my dream, but this was all I was left with from it when I woke up--this made-up word. Apparently it is from the French. Who knew.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Upstairs, Upstairs

Last month it was 30 years ago exactly that the finale of Brideshead Revisited aired in the United States.

I was 15, although in my memory I was older (you may hear that read in Jeremy Irons' languid voice if it helps get you in the mood). I was gripped by the series when it first aired, holding my breath from week to week. So were my friends. I think we loved: 1) the Stuff, big and small: Castle Howard, the period clothes, Oxford; 2) hot dudes--I was especially besotted with Anthony Andrews; 3) the doom and nostalgia and sacrifice and love; 4) the fantastic score; 5) the words. Words, words, words--drowning in them (stingless). Poured into our ears for eleven solid episodes, via Irons' voiceovers and a lot of other English actors with quite notable diction.

I watched it again recently for the first time since then, I think--the whole thing. It was the equally popular Downton Abbey that sent me back to it, for, truly--I say this with all the love in my Anglophilic, Maggie Smith-worshipping heart--Downton Abbey sucks now. The first couple episodes were great, but I have never seen a series pulled so thin, so far past its natural size; it's like a string of gooey mozz stretching halfway across the room.

Nothing really happens in Downton Abbey. Characters are collected in groups, over and over, as letters arrive and even the most dramatic events--like Bates' wife's murder--are patched together off-stage in lamp-smelling ways. It reminds me of Veterinarian's Hospital on The Muppet Show (the intertwined cheeseball plotlines in season two of the perishing Lavinia and the will-Matthew's-wiener-work? war injury pushed me over the edge). It's soap opera, but it's not good soap opera, which is a very good thing.

That's what made me curious to watch Brideshead again. Downton Abbey has devolved into such meager story-telling most of the time that I can only assume it's the art direction and location shooting at an English castle and costuming that makes people so melty about it. That stuff was a huge part of the popularity of Brideshead Revisited as well (influencing fashion and decor at the time), but I wondered if there was as much to it as I remembered, outside of the gorgeousness. There are superficial similarities between the two, too, that made me want to go back: Mary Crawley and her grasping ex-fiance Richard Carlisle are a bit like Julia Flyte and a more unidimensional Rex Mottram; youngest daughter Sybil Crawley's interest in good works is rather like youngest daughter's Cordelia Flyte's, for instance.

Brideshead Revisited has aged well, it turns out. The fact that it so closely follows the novel is in retrospect its greatest strength; because it is allied first to the book's language, plotting, and surfeits, this inhibits, paradoxically, the worst of cinematic excess. It's still about the agonies of beautiful English aristos, but there are so many words to get through in this TV serial--dialogue, voiceovers--that too much stretching isn't possible, despite lingering shots of Oxford walls and Venetian canals. They don't actually linger that long. There are missteps; scenes of a hunt in Episode 5, for instance, are filled with needless aerial shots and scoring that departs from the more understated music in the rest of the series (extremely well done by Geoffrey Burgon)--too smug and Ralph Lauren. Sebastian's decline into sothood certainly happens for a very long time in very gorgeous rooms. But most of the time there is a forward-moving quality to the lush world Brideshead inhabits. It has bones. People who hate the story won't think so (it isn't often funny), but I think it does. Even the way the editing at the end of each episode is designed--with a fast cut to the credits, accompanied by the start of the theme--feels refreshing and brisk and is still one of the oddly affecting things about this adaptation.

The book has been much criticized--by author Evelyn Waugh himself, even, not long after the book's publication--for its snotty and gluttonous mourning for an aristocratic world presumed dying when it was written (during World War II). There is something about our distance from the story now that neutralizes the self-pity of it all a bit. Time has dulled the nostalgia into something a little more straightforward; the framing device of Charles stationed at Brideshead later in the Army--his despair at the "age of Hooper"--is much less compelling than the main story, although it is not effaced. I wonder now at my 15-year-old love of the elegiac qualities of the piece--the way I remember it, my friends and I just gobbled that up, found it a completely natural way to involve ourselves in the story, as if we ourselves were mourning our lost Oxford youths in Ohio. Perhaps that is a testament to Brideshead's estimation (as Martin Amis called it) as a "good bad book."

Another thing that stands out watching it again is the way that Brideshead Revisited handles the relationship between Sebastian and Charles that drives the first half of the series. The book is not explicit about the nature of the relationship between the two men ("naughtiness high on the catalogue of grave sins"), and neither is the series. Despite showing the men together in all kinds of intimate situations, dressed and undressed, they never kiss or make love. The story is not silent on the topic of gay sexuality--there is casual reference to "sodomites"; Charles and Sebastian are called "fairies" by dance-hall girls; their "pansy" friend, the stuttering, debauched Anthony Blanche, points by his existence (with derision, sometimes) to the end of the spectrum on which we are to see their connection--but it is not overt. It is, however, extremely romantic, especially the first two/three episodes, which depict the connection between the two men, lost in each other at Oxford and their summer idyll at Brideshead. Charles' famous thoughts about going to lunch for the first time at Sebastian's, seeking love, hoping to find that "low door in the wall others, I knew, had found before me," seem so universally poignant and true. More so now.

Maybe it is a failing, to not flesh out the intimacy between the men more, despite the limitations in the book's text. Maybe that makes this series complacent in its desire to see their love (as Lord Marchmain's mistress says) as one of "these romantic friendships of the English and the Germans…very good if they don't go on too long." One thing that strikes me strongly watching it now, however, as it often does when comparing how we handle things Now to things Past, when there more restrictions about what could be said or shown, is (strangely) how much more disapproving--disbelieving--we can seem in our desire to do credit to something shocking for the time. The 2008 movie version of the book (I tried to watch it multiple times, but just couldn't) marketed itself luridly with the idea of Charles! In Love! With a Brother AND a Sister! but it in this adaptation it all unfolds pretty naturally. At age 15 I didn't see this with much subtlety, but I accepted it without question, as I think I did the romance between the two men. I remember buying a magazine with a friend at the time because Anthony Andrews--or maybe Jeremy Irons--was featured in it and realizing only later that it was a magazine for bisexual men, which made us twitter in embarrassment--we were sure the clerk must have thought we were gay. We didn't even notice until afterward, though.

Race, and class, beyond public school variations, aren't handled with any particular sensitivity in Brideshead. There is no Downstairs. The occasional servant, such as the butler Wilcox, who appears throughout most of the series, is shown only in reference to the other characters, given no life of his own. And the occasional racist comment is casually tossed off with no self-awareness: "dago," "Jew-boy," "N-----," "Chinky vases," "half-castes," some comments about black partygoers. What did I think of this then? It bothers me to think that maybe I heard it mostly as general evidence of snobbery/class. I wonder if filmmakers would take out these comments now--I wonder if filmmakers did in the 2008 version? Or maybe (guessing here) rounded them out to make their disapproval of them clear? The blithe way these distancing words are spoken by the main characters makes me think of a passage by Dorothy Sayers; how "the real offensiveness of the educated Englishman [is] that he will not even trouble to be angry…the awful, bleak, blank…facade."

The issue of class begs more comparison to Downton Abbey, which looks above and below stairs for its stories. This is one of the things I like about Downton Abbey--and like much more about Downton writer Julian Fellowes' Gosford Park (2001), an infinitely better country-house creation all the way around--Lady Trentham is a less jolly, but more interesting creature to me than the Dowager Countess of Grantham--but I wonder if in its attempts to live in the past without offense that it cleans up some of its horrors. I like that Downton Abbey shows how interdependent the worlds above and below are, but (I'm sorry, Hugh Bonneville, I love you, but) it reeks of a paternalistic complacency at times, to keep viewers content with its inequities. As one critic of Downton Abbey has pointed out, the servants' clothing is awfully clean for the dirty work they had to do. But they are people. They aren't in Brideshead.

There are amazing characters--and acting--in Brideshead Revisited. That hasn't paled. Nickolas Grace's turn as Anthony Blanche is still exhilarating and bold and makes you long for more real eccentrics in your life (and in Downton Abbey), friends who bawl The Wasteland through a megaphone off the balcony. John Gielgud as Charles' father is just amazing: batty and waspish and reactive; thoroughly outside of the world of the Flyte family, but holding his own against it. Lawrence Olivier is (I'll say it) kind of a mumble-mouth in Lord Marchmain's famous Castle Hill speech, but extremely charismatic. Claire Bloom seems somewhat bland as Lady Marchmain, lacking the charm that makes her so deadly, but Bloom's unearthly perfect diction and composure does add to her character's formidable quality. Irons is a real star in his difficult role as observer/participant, carrying the whole thing through with great change in his character, becoming rather dreadful for at least one whole episode without reproach.

These characters all have a lot of room to do that--to change, to expand, to be. As Troy Patterson wrote in his excellent estimation of Brideshead Revisited, "the pleasure's in the leisure." It seems rather unusual for these days, when filmmakers often forcefully shape our reactions to period pieces with seemingly so little faith in us or the text. It's especially notable in the last episode, which is almost wholly given over to the climax of the tension about religion--Catholicism--that charges the book; there's even less scoring in the denouement than in other scenes. Brideshead Revisited gets quieter at the end. That seems like a great gift to have gotten at age 15: the spaciousness and size of tangled emotions and language. It still clutches at your heart. The words, the music, these people, the doomed, fantastic Anthony Andrews sliding down the hole to ruin--it's all still there.

Ought we to be drunk every night?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Movie & TV Violence Guides!

Here are all eleven of the violence guides I have so far! For your--partial--viewing pleasure. Violence guides (see previous posts here and here) are chronologically arranged summaries of potentially nervous-making violence in movies or TV shows, so that you know what to expect and how to watch/watch around them/watch through your sweater, knowing when it's safe to watch again. When it's all less gross, violent, gloppy, gory, whatever.

These guides were written by my friend Will. (That is--I can take credit for nothing but the phobia and the page-coding.) You will notice his efforts to pacify nervousness in the way things are worded, and in his kindly but addicted use of the smiley face emoticon. I edited some of those out but after a while, figured...ah. What the heck.

Some of the guides, when you click on them, are color-coded (black = not scary; green = kinda; yellow = gah; red = OMG). Some are not. Some in addition/instead contain a 0 - 3 ranking scale (0 = not scary; 1 = kinda; 2 = gah; 3 = OMG). Some do not!

A sample time stamp might look like this (from No Country for Old Men) :
00:18:20 - A man gets shot at a few times and at 00:19:10 he gets shot in the shoulder, but he's only slightly wounded.
So you can see that every guide contains by definition some (usually very vague) SPOILERS. You've been warned. In every case the guides were written to MINIMIZE SPOILERS, but--but. It happens. The whole point of the violence guide is to help you get through the movie you couldn't watch without it--information will be spilled. There will be blood, yo...there will be blood.

Thanks, Will!
Note: These violence guides do not constitute a thumb-up of the movie in question.

Saturday, January 07, 2012