Friday, March 30, 2012

The black-and-white era fades a little darker

     You never knew his name, but he was always turning up:



          Warren Stevens, a lanky, square-jawed actor with swept-back hair and a husky voice whose face became familiar through his more than 100 roles on television and in movies over six decades, died on Tuesday at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 92.       
          ...Mr. Stevens, who first made his mark on the Broadway stage in the 1940s, became a versatile and ubiquitous presence on television in the ’50s. He played three different characters on episodes of “Have Gun, Will Travel” between 1957 and 1963; three different characters on “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” between 1965 and 1967; four characters on “Bonanza” between 1965 and 1970; and four on “Ironside” between 1967 and 1975.
          While Mr. Stevens would make appearances on dozens of other television series, perhaps his best-known role was in the classic 1956 science fiction movie “Forbidden Planet.” He played the ill-fated Doc Ostrow, who perishes at the hand of a mysterious force on the planet Altair IV, 16 light years from Earth, after his spaceship arrives to search for a long-lost colony.
          In 1952, he had a supporting role as a reporter in the movie “Deadline, U.S.A.,” in which Humphrey Bogart played the managing editor of a big-city newspaper seeking to dissuade its owners from selling it simply to free up their capital. Mr. Stevens was among the cast members who gave “conspicuously flavorsome and good” performances, Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times.
           Among his more than 40 films, Mr. Stevens also had roles in “The Barefoot Contessa,” “Gunpoint,” “Madigan,” “Red Skies of Montana” and “Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell.”
          His more than 60 television roles over the years included appearances (and sometimes recurring roles) on “Return to Peyton Place,” “The Twilight Zone,” “M*A*S*H,” “Rawhide,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” and “Gunsmoke.”
          In recent years, he appeared with Lou Diamond Phillips, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Majors in the 2004 western “The Trail to Hope Rose” on the Hallmark Channel and in a 2006 episode of “ER.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Zombie-ocracy, 2012

   



Curiously, both candidate and series are
from the metro Atlanta area.

 From a Politico roundtable:

Doug Thornell

Senior Vice President, SKDKnickerbocker:

There is more life in the zombies on The Walking Dead than in Newt Gingrich’s campaign.



Monday, March 26, 2012

Once it was cold turkey. Now, it's cold water. Or...

     First it was cold medicine. Now, The Stranger's David Schmader reveals, suds:


     Liquid Gold.

MONDAY, MARCH 12 This week of novel robbery, exhausting prevarication, and a plague of bus crushings kicks off in every supermarket in the USA, where security guards are beefing up patrols to combat a new shoplifting scourge: detergent thieves. "Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it," reports the Daily. "Most thieves load carts with dozens of bottles, then dash out the door. Many have getaway cars waiting outside." Why Tide? "Police say it's simply because the Procter & Gamble detergent is the most popular and, with its Day-Glo orange logo, most recognizable of brands." Also, Tide is pricey, selling for $10 to $20 retail and going for $5 to $10 on the black market. Driving all this Tide heisting: the drug trade. "We sent in an informant to buy drugs," said Maryland police detective Harrison Sprague to the Daily. "The dealer said, 'I don't have drugs, but I could sell you 15 bottles of Tide.' We think [users] are trading it for drugs." Sprague's suspicions were confirmed by Oregon police detective Rick Blake, who told the Daily: "They'll do it right in front of a cop car—buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide. We would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it." Remember, kids: Tide kills.




In the long run, probably cheaper, too

     An alternative to talk therapy also gets you a credential:

          When people ask why I became a writer, I tend to emphasize the era, in my mid-20s, when I turned off the television and became a more serious reader. I talk about the sentences of Saul Bellow and Lorrie Moore, how enraptured I was, how I wanted to emulate them. It makes for a nice story.
          But it’s not the part of the story that really matters. What really matters, it seems to me now, is that I was bored with my job as a newspaper reporter and depressed. I was living in exile from my family and driving away the people I loved with an astonishing efficiency. What I needed was therapy. As it happened, I applied for a Master of Fine Arts in fiction.



Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gonna catch some Zs...

     As faithful readers will recall, zombies are popular in the Low Country.
     Here's something an enterprising soul might add to the area's tourist treats:

It's sprung

     Despite all of what we think we remember, spring arrived in South Carolina one day earlier than everage this year. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Left- and right-brain dumbness

Two adjoining entries from Arts & Letters Daily:

“Becoming a member of the Communist Party nullifies all trace of intelligence,” Dali warned Buñuel, who clung to two ideals: Stalinism and Surrealism... more»


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Prada’s paradoxes. The mercurial doyenne of high-fashion is a droll contrarian. “To be a fashion designer, you must give up your brain”... more»

Not helpful in Scrabble, either

     I don't use it that often, but on my self rests the Roget's Thesaurus* my mother gave my father for Christmas, 1959.
     Now it's all digitized, it seems:

          Another significant effort in contemporary thesaurus-making admirably straddles the print/digital divide. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary was conceived in 1965 at the University of Glasgow as a project that would index all the words in the OED, organizing them by their meanings and by their first known date of use. In 2009, at long last, HTOED was published in two massive volumes, the first providing a chronological listing of words in different conceptual classes and the second providing an index to find particular meanings of words in the book’s elaborate Roget-style hierarchy, from the abstract to the specific. While it is easy to get lost in its pages, HTOED clearly needed an online home to maximize its practicality for both casual and scholarly readers. Thus it was incorporated into the online OED in 2010, and there it truly thrives. Because the categories of words are presented chronologically, one can quickly see, for instance, how 149 terms for a “contemptible person” extend from “worm” and “wretch” in Old English to late-twentieth-century slang offerings like “scuzzbag” and “sleazeball.” For a writer, searching for just the right word can turn into an adventure in historical verisimilitude. A novelist or playwright seeking epithets for dialog set in the early seventeenth century can zero in on such terms as “viliaco” (1600), “snotty-nose” (1604), “sprat” (1605), “wormling” (1605), and “shag-rag” (1611).


_____________
* In my Young Boy Dinosaur Phase, I imagined a Thesaurus to be an especially learned one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Low Country Zombie News

     Do zombies poop?
     Experts say: more'n likely.

"Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century."

    
This time, she says she means it.

John Lahr has an appreciation of Dame Edna Everage that explains her far better than my feeble tribute the other day. An excerpt:

          ...In the annals of joy—a very small book indeed—Dame Edna has a large chapter.
          Dame Edna lived the fame that she satirized. Her very presence, when staged against the grandees of the day—the Queen Mother, Princess Diana, Sir Robert Menzies, the Australian Prime Minister—turned history into fiasco. She was so real to the English public that her autobiography, “My Gorgeous Life,” was published on the non-fiction best-seller list. Mistress of the low blow—“What an interesting person you probably are,” she traditionally cooed—Edna’s “caring, nurturing way” personified envy’s appetite for revenge. Dame Edna was a monster of invidious comparison and insisted on the distance between herself and her audience, whom she frequently called onstage to abuse and who included the “pawpies” or “paups” in the cheap balcony seats to whom she waved and threw gladiolus as she sang:
     You can keep Roman Polanski and Bianca
     It’s for the company
     of Nobodies like you I hanker…
          In her sensational Dadaist passage through time, Edna has called the audience up for a barbecue, only to leave them alone onstage while she exited to change costumes, been elevated on a cherry picker to sing her finale to the balcony, and infantalized adult viewers, asking them to raise and tremble the thrown gladiolas. “There’s nothing more holy,” she’d say looking out at an auditorium full of phallic symbols. “Than massed gladioli.”
          Dame Edna is that rarest sighting in our time of the absolute comic, an inspired personification of caprice whose comedy answered the primal call to take the audience for a tumble. “The art of the comedian is perishable,” Humphries said long ago. “Not only is it gone by the time you get home and pay the babysitter, but you’re thinking ‘What was it we were laughing at? What did Edna say? Did you get a gladdy?…’ That’s all we’ve got to remember.”
          Dame Edna, along with her Rabelaisian opening act, “Sir Les Patterson,” the Australian cultural attaché with “an enormous encumbancy,” are mythic characters, as well as legends of comedy, who will live on in British culture. Nonetheless, Edna’s antic stage presence—far more daring and sophisticated than TV would ever allow—will be part of how many of us remember our time on earth. We were there when she called Mary of Surbiton up onstage to do “nude cartwheels”; or when she got two thousand audience members to pose for a Polaroid snap; or when she handed out blankets to catch anyone who might fall from their box seat trying to catch a gladiolus. “Thank God this doesn’t happen every night,” Dame Edna exclaimed.
          Dame Edna may leave the stage, but she will never leave my heart. I love her. I honor her. I cherish the high times she has made for me and millions of others. I wish her tempestuous spirit peace in her retirement and thank her for the great gift of her mischief. She gave us courage, and in her very real way, she was courageous....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"par Abel Gance"

    I was a boy- and young man- before there was an Internet. There were three TV networks. Cable was something we got to improve the reception on the three networks. A side benefit was that we got the UHF channels, which was where the fledgling PBS lived. Movies were scarce. Nothing unusual ever played. In college I figured the only way to see some of the things I'd always wanted to see was to take over the film series. So I did.
     Foreign movies were so...foreign. As a teen I'd read about them in Time. They sounded pretty interesting. What did the world look like to a Frenchman? I wondered. In the South people looked at you funny for being interested in things like that.
     After college I got to spend two years in the UK, in a university town with several art house cinemas (there you could call them "cinemas" without being thought snooty. It's what everyone called them). It was a marvelous time. I saw scores of films from all over the world. It was a practice I kept up the rest of my life, especially in Portland, Oregon, where I lived next, and for ten years (for a reminiscence of my movie-going in Portland, click here. Some cool neon is involved).
     And it was in Portland, in 1981, that I saw Abel Gance's 1927 silent epic, Napoleon.
     The movie anticipated Cinemascope. Cinema 21, the theater where I saw Napoleon, had to add two screens on the sides of the main one. Gance loved multiple perspectives of the same events, especially to convey the confusion of battle; then, with split-second timing, they'd merge into one panorama.
     The film was reissued in 1981 by Francis Ford Coppola in a four hour version. It made a triumphant tour of the US, and in really big cities orchestras were laid on to accompany it with a score by Coppola's uncle, Carmine.


Vladimir Roudenko as the young Napoleon.

     Thirty years later I can still remember the glint in the boy Napoleon's eye as he saw a glimpse of his destiny in a childhood snowball fight. I've always wished I could see it again, but it seems to have been tied up ever since in rights battles and an endless series of new restorations: longer, shorter, longer, shorter.
     Now it's back for a limited run in San Francisco. This article on its confused history illustrates how, like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, a great film can survive almost anything men can do to it. I can't make it to San Francisco, but in the movie house of my mind, there's always a screen available for Napoleon.

Napoleon

"Perhaps I, too, can have talk show."

     Past and future Russian President Putin wants a national version of Oprah's Book Club.


Putin's a "nyet to get."

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Farewell, Possums!"

     Dame Edna Everage is retiring at 78.

Dame Edna

Her NPR Weekend Edition interview with Scott Simon remains a traffic-stopper.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

To be continued...

A life, in seven years:

My Life, by E.M. Brewer


i am writing a story about my life. i was born when my mom was 28 years old in 2004. it was in may 5 2004. when i was 1 i liked to watch thomas the train. when i was 2 i liked to run around. when i was 10 months old i said my first word when i dropped my toy and my dad picked it up and i said dada. when i was 3 i started preschool. when i was 4 i liked to be very, very crazy. when i was 5 i liked to watch star wars. when i was 6 i started to play football. when i was 7 i liked to play football every day. when i was 7 and a half i was very good at football. and now i am writing a story about my life.



Alone.

Louis Begley:

Having rehearsed the bitter gifts reserved for age, T. S. Eliot wrote in “Little Gidding” that “the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” The closer that place — the human condition — is to home, the harder it is to take in. I could speak movingly of Schmidt’s loneliness after the loss of his daughter, calling his existence an arid plane of granite on which she alone had flowered. But it has taken me until now, at age 78, to feel in full measure the bitterness and anguish of my mother’s solitude — and that of other old people who end their lives without a companion.



Friday, March 16, 2012

Pray for rain- please!



This week, with three days in the 80s, trees have gone berserk with pollen sharing, the ants have come out, the bees are everywhere and the crickets are cricketing at night.
     It's killing me. My sinuses are like Niagara, and my whole chest aches from endless coughing. Of course, that irritates my windpipe and leads to more couching and, sometimes, a vaguely alarming sense of being short of breath.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

They're turning up everywhere--

     It's a big time for discovering undiscovered works by Leonardo da Vinci. Cotton Boll Conspiracy has an item up about a mural thought to be hidden behind a wall.
     And now The National Geographic Society (which also funds the exploratory effort Cotton Boll writers of) is claiming it has another lost masterwork in hand- a portrait of a Sforza family heiress.

Photo: Possible da Vinci painting

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Several feet of shelf space, now cleared

     My family was a Collier's household:



          ...In the 1950s and 1960s, a set of encyclopedias on the bookshelf was akin to a station wagon in the garage or a black-and-white Zenith in the den, an object coveted not only for its usefulness but as a goalpost for an aspirational middle class. The books were often a financial stretch, with many families paying for their encyclopedias in monthly installments.
          But in recent years, print reference books have been almost completely wiped out by the Internet and its vast spread of resources, particularly Wikipedia, which in 11 years has helped replace the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds.

          Created as a free online encyclopedia that is now written and edited by tens of thousands of active contributors, Wikipedia has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate source, even by scholars and academics, and one that meets the 21st-century requirements of comprehensiveness and instantly updated material. It has nearly four million articles in English, many of them on pop-culture topics that would not pass muster in the pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

          The oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has become a luxury item with a $1,395 price tag; it is typically purchased by embassies and well-educated, upscale consumers who feel an attachment to the set of bound volumes. Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they can be purchased.

          The 2010 edition had more than 4,000 contributors, including Arnold Palmer, the professional golfer (who wrote the entry on the Masters tournament), Jack J. Lissauer, a space scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center (who wrote about extrasolar planets), the professional skateboarder Tony Hawk (skateboarding) and Panthea Reid, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University and author of the biography “Art and Affection” (Virginia Woolf).
          Sales of Encyclopaedia Britannica peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold in the United States. But now print encyclopedias account for less than 1 percent of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s revenues. About 85 percent of revenues come from selling curriculum products in subjects like math, science and the English language; the remainder comes from subscriptions to the Web site, the company said.
          About half a million households pay a $70 annual fee that includes access to the full database of articles, videos, original documents and access to mobile applications. A selection of articles is already available free on the Web site, said Peter Duckler, a spokesman for Britannica.



          At least one other general-interest encyclopedia in the United States, the World Book, is still printing a 22-volume yearly edition, said Jennifer Parello, a spokeswoman for the company, who declined to provide sales figures but said it is purchased primarily by schools and libraries.
          Gary Marchionini, the dean of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the fading of print encyclopedias is “an inexorable trend that will continue.”




Earworms break out in South Carolina

     From Talk of the Nation, NPR, today, research into a common affliction*:



...DONVAN: All right. Well, let's do some very quick on-the-fly research now and listen to what some of our listeners are saying. Allan in Dillon, South Carolina. Hi, Allan, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.


ALLAN: Hey.

DONVAN: Hi.

ALLAN: I just found that song that's been in my head is Steve Miller Band, "Abracadabra," and it's pretty, pretty terrible song. But what I've noticed, the songs that I think are obnoxious tends to stick in my head better than songs that I actually enjoy.

DONVAN: Really?

ALLAN: I'm remembering those lyrics.

DONVAN: There's something about being irritated that sticks with you, it sounds like. Can you hum a few bars for us so that for people who don't know all the songs? And I'm going to ask listeners if you're brave enough to just whistle or hum a tune or two so that we know what we're talking about. So, Allan, you're on.

ALLAN: You want me to sing it?

DONVAN: A little bit. Fear not.

ALLAN: (Singing) Abra abra cadabra. I want to reach out and grab you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: All right. Allan, thank you. Thank you for going first. We really appreciate it.

ALLAN: Thank you.

DONVAN: Donovan, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Hi, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

DONOVAN: Hi. How are you?

DONVAN: We're good. We're good. What's the song that's in your head?

DONOVAN: I have the "Sesame Street" theme song stuck in my head.

DONVAN: And you do right now or that's one that's there for you a lot of the time?

DONOVAN: It was all last week. I actually mentioned the phrase earworm, and then I teach school, so I passed it on to some of my students. And they came back the next day and were, like, "Sesame Street" is still in my head.

DONVAN: Well...

DONOVAN: And I just...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: Yeah. I wonder, if that's - Vicky Williamson, if that has something to do with it being a childhood song? Is there anything about songs from childhood sticking with us a long time?

WILLIAMSON: Possibly. I mean, simplicity is the one the elements that we're looking into. It does seem that majority of the earworms that people report are relatively simple. But it can't be the whole story because I've got people reporting the whole symphonies being stuck in their head, so it does vary, very much, from the person to person. But definitely, kids songs - one thing about earworms is in being repeated a lot, so I get many, many great parents who have listened to too many children introduction songs or learning songs, and they heard them 30, 40, 50 hundred times and they're stuck as a result...


________________
*Readers are strongly advised NOT TO CLICK THIS LINK to the Mark Twain story, "Punch, Brothers, Punch!"



Is there a Gresham's Law for publishing?

Tim Parks, New York Review of Books:



         “Sir—” remarked Samuel Johnson with droll incredulity to someone too eager to know whether he had finished a certain book—“Sir, do you read books through?” Well, do we? Right through to the end? And if we do, are we the suckers Johnson supposed one must be to make a habit of finishing books?
          Schopenhauer, who thought and wrote a great deal about reading, is on Johnson’s side. Life is “too short for bad books” and “a few pages” should be quite enough, he claims, for “a provisional estimate of an author’s productions.” After which it is perfectly okay to bail out if you’re not convinced.
          But I’m not really interested in how we deal with bad books. It seems obvious that any serious reader will have learned long ago how much time to give a book before choosing to shut it. It’s only the young, still attached to that sense of achievement inculcated by anxious parents, who hang on doggedly when there is no enjoyment. “I’m a teenager,” remarks one sad contributor to a book review website. “I read this whole book [it would be unfair to say which] from first page to last hoping it would be as good as the reviews said. It wasn’t. I enjoy reading and finish nearly all the novels I start and it was my determination never to give up that made me finish this one, but I really wish I hadn’t.” One can only encourage a reader like this to learn not to attach self esteem to the mere finishing of a book, if only because the more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start...

Monday, March 12, 2012

A zombie marathon, as it were

    Zombies, Run! is a phone app that makes your daily jog seem like you're running like your life depends on it.

The largest leprechaun colony west of Ireland, so they say.

     Visiting Portland, Oregon? At the foot of SWTaylor- across from Riverfront Park- is the smallest park in the world:



     Even the Guinness Book says it's so. Here's a small history.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

-and always carry your towel.

     Today author Douglas Adams would have turned 60:

          It's the birthday of science fiction writer Douglas Adams (books by this author), born in Cambridge, England (1952). He was unemployed, depressed, living in his mother's house, when he remembered a night from years before. He was a teenager traveling around Europe with his guidebook The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, and that night he was lying in a field in Innsbruck, drunk, looking up at the stars, and he thought somebody should write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy as well. And so years later, he wrote the radio play The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chronicling the adventures of the kindly and boring Arthur Dent, who is still wearing his dressing gown when he is whisked away from his suburban English home just in time to escape Earth being demolished by an interstellar highway.

           In 1978, the radio broadcasts were such a success that Adams turned them into a series of five successful novels: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984), and Mostly Harmless (1992).
          He said, "I find that writing is a constant battle with exactly the same problems you've always had."



     He also said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."



Thursday, March 8, 2012

The first to say, "Been there, done that."

     Nobody reads F. Scott Fitzgerald any more.
     Come to that, nobody seems to read anyone much any more, but that's for another time.
     I came across a Penguin collection of his short stories recently, and have been amazed by how good they are. Of their time, to be sure- all literature now seems to show its age first in the technologies people us, so fast do they no change. But the people are people of any time, and all time. The Rich Boy, whose indolence and snobbery serves only to leave him rotund, alone and pleased to the end with how he has avoided life's entanglements. The Pat Hobby stories show a Hollywood scriptwriter's bewilderment at how the world has changed from the silent days, when the money was easy and the work was plentiful, to the age of talkies and the studio system, where everyone is your friend until you need them for something.
     Here's a wise, thoughtful appreciation of one of Fitzgerald's last works, the autobiographical articles that became, collectively, The Crack-Up. Fitzgerald, at forty, hit the wall with a life crisis and dealt with it one of the only two ways he knew: writing about it (the other was drinking).
     His friends, mostly, hated the articles. Hemingway went after him with a will, but FSF declined the bait:

          Hemingway, he says in a final remark, “is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.” About as good a mutual character assessment as either of them ever got...

          In the eyes of his friends, Fitzgerald may have broken decorum. But his essays kindled a narrative revolution that continues to simmer in American writing—in the rise of memoir and the appeal of personal essays in daily newspapers, to name only two obvious shape-shifters in publishing. And it is publishing, not only writing, that is at stake here. As John O’Hara wrote to Fitzgerald in a considerably more sanguine letter after reading the essays in Esquire, “I suppose you get comparatively little mail these days that does not dwell … on your Esquire pieces, and I guess few of the writers resist, as I am resisting, the temptation to go into their own troubles for purposes of contrast.”
          ...What Fitzgerald was describing was not “just personal” (as Gatsby says of things that don’t have real value). His misery was native to his time and place. It was cultural. And he knew it: “My self-immolation was something sodden-dark. It was very distinctly not modern—yet I saw it in others, saw it in a dozen men of honor and industry since the war.”
         The publication of the “Crack-Up” essays looks now like a sharp pivot, marking a fundamental change in American consciousness and therefore in narrative voice, an evident moment when the center of authorial gravity shifted from the “omniscience” afforded by fiction’s third person to the presumption (accurate or not) of greater authenticity provided by the first-person voice with all its limitations.
          ...As he did at the end of the first essay, he adopts in the second the language of spirituality to describe the quality of his desolation and despair, doing a turn on St. John of the Cross: “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
         ...In the first two essays, Fitzgerald leans heavily on the “cracked plate” metaphor. In the third, as he moves beyond description of his condition toward a solution, he retains the same figure of speech, but turns it inside out. In considering those who “survived” the “self-immolation” he has been describing, he realizes they “had made some sort of clean break.” He doesn’t seem to notice that he has reversed field with his metaphor. Or perhaps the realization that the solution to his “crack-up” is to make a “clean break” is so enchanting to him that he forges ahead with it. “A clean break,” he says, “is something you cannot come back from.” He will continue to be a writer because “that is my only way of life.” He won’t break with that. But he will no longer be “a person.” Things get muddy here—and self-dramatizing. He will no longer be “kind, just or generous.”
          ...None of this sounds genuine. It is the recognizable infuriated (and impotent) frustration of someone who has felt his life overused by others—not just the killing demands of Zelda’s illness and the vagaries of publishing, but all those letters of recommendation, blurbs, and reviews, the middle management of being a successful writer. Still, the clean-the-slate determination in the essays does feel authentic: “I have now at last become a writer only.” He had not, of course—Zelda was still there to be kept in private hospitals, Scottie to be sent to good schools, and later he would fall in love again, with Sheilah Graham. And he was writing a “first-rate novel” when he died, the unfinished Last Tycoon. But in the “Crack-Up” essays he stopped in his personal and professional tracks, and described the dark night of his soul, against all advice and prudence. He wrote his lament.
          ...In the essays that so appalled his friends, paradoxically Fitzgerald notes of his bleak despair that it felt “strange to have no self—to be like a little boy left alone in a big house, who knew that now he could do anything he wanted to do, but found that there was nothing that he wanted to do …”
          ...He was exhausted. That’s what comes through—not “self-immolation” but sheer exhaustion. He drank, he caroused his way through his success, but how he had worked—“my limitless capacity for toil,” he says with astonishment as he looks back at his years of literary labor from the vantage of his collapse.

     Four years later, he was dead.



     

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Love triangle, set to music

Recently I spent a lazy Saturday afternoon with my radio and The Met's production of Ernani. It was the first time I'd heard it since I saw a Welsh National Opera production in Londno in 1980. Here's a review that, in the process, explains why opera can knock your socks off:

rosen_1-032212.jpg

Monday, March 5, 2012

Movie Days

One of the joys of living in Portland, Oregon thirty-odd years ago was the amazing array of "art house" cinemas around town. There was a double screen up at Portland State, and The Guild, nearby behind the Arlington Club and across from the legendary Vat & Tonsure restaurant.



The Bagdad was another confection of the 1920s:



There was the Clinton Street, which had the Rocky Horror franchise-



 and The Mt. Tabor; not to mention The Movie House on Taylor, a former Women's University Club, now closed a decade and more; the gloriously restored Hollywood:



- and the Laurelhurst, with its brilliant neon:



and Cinema 21 up in Northwest, where the north-south streets are named alphabetically-





 and of course, the lovingly restored Roseway way out near the airport:



(On the inside it looked like one of those Edward Hopper paintings).

     J.J. Parker's Broadway ("It's Always Better At The Broadway" read some of its block-long facade) was a classic movie palace let run to ruin by the early 1980s; I saw one movie there and thought I was going to freeze before it ended.


    
And, oh, the things I saw! Jewels like the early Peter Greenaway puzzle, The Draughtsman's Contract. One of the first AIDS-era films, Parting Glances. A little indie film about a bar closing in Houston, Last Night at the Alamo. All the obscure Altman titles. And a very strange Russian film I could have sworn was called The Zone, but now turns out to have been called Stalker when I saw it in 1981.

Still from Stalker

   Plus, now I know what it meant. At the time, I walked out of the theater utterly baffled.