Thursday, March 31, 2011

George Tooker, 1920 - 2011

One of my favorite contemporary artists, who died this week in Vermont. The middle painting is a self-portrait.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Actors with Cats

Slow news day today. But I'm not afraid to admit that I've always had a soft spot for pictures of celebrities with their pets. So in honor of absolutely nothing, here are actors and their cats.

Mary Pickford

Susan Hayward

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard

Grace Kelly

Audrey Hepburn

Laurence Olivier

Liz Taylor

John Cassavettes

Errol Flynn

Peter Lorre

Claudia Cardinale

Monday, March 28, 2011

Poetry Monday

Careena Melia as Hecate in Sleep No More
Went to see Sleep No More this weekend in New York City. I'd seen this play (well, more of an immersive play-like experience of Macbeth) before in Boston, but it was just as amazing the second time through, and because the audience is free to walk through the forty-plus rooms of the play at will I saw all sorts of parts I hadn't seen before. The best scene I saw was the character of Hecate (brilliantly played by Careena Melia) lip-syching along to Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is." It was like standing in the middle of David Lynch film. So for today's poem I present the chilling lyrics by Jerry Leiber:

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a fire?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don't know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a circus?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes.
We were so very much in love.
Then one day, he went away. And I thought I'd die -- but I didn't. 
And when I didn't I said to myself, "Is that all there is to love?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing.

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
If that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?
Oh, no. Not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment.
For I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my lst breath, I'll be saying to myself,

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dead Man's Folly (1956)

Not a classic but a very solid Poirot mystery. I picked it up a) because I hadn't read it before and b) because it featured Ariadne Oliver, probably my favorite recurring Christie character, the dry and self-deprecating mystery novelist. Poirot attends a fete in which there is a scheduled murder hunt, a kind of figure-it-out-yourself mystery devised by Mrs. Oliver. Naturally the young girl who is hired to play the murder victim winds up strangled for real. The solution is both ingenious and a little bit out of left field.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Margaret Peel in Lucky Jim

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis is my all time favorite novel, and I'm fairly certain it will never relinquish that spot. Anyway, just read it again, as I often do in March, a month in which I always need some comfort, and enjoyed it as much as I always do.

But I'm not here to talk about that: I'm here to talk about the character of Margaret Peel in the novel. She is the neurotic lecturer that our hero Jim Dixon has become entangled with, despite his many misgivings. She is needy, manipulative, unsure of herself, self-conscious, but also somewhat kind and intelligent. She is a character in the novel that I become more and more interested in each time I read the book. Even though she is made out to be a ridiculous fool (and that was Kingsley Amis' intention -- I wouldn't suggest otherwise), I think she is also a tragic figure, someone who is just not comfortable enough with herself to make it in the world.

Margaret is based on Monica Jones (her full name is Margaret Monica Beale Jones), a lecturer who was a long-time friend and sometime lover of Amis' own best friend Philip Larkin. It's a cruel portrait, and I wonder how Larkin felt about it. But the bottom line is that Margaret (more so than her foil Christine Callaghan) is such a well-written character that she takes on a life of her own. I think she's one of the great characterizations in the novel.

Larkin and Monica Jones on one of their holidays

Liz Taylor, 1932 - 2011


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Changeling (1980)

A very decent haunted house film with an excellent George C. Scott as a bereaved composer who inexplicably relocates to Seattle and rents a gigantic and creepy mansion. There are several genuinely scary moments, and a few dopey ones as well, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. Like all good ghost stories, this is a story about uncovering the past, and the story that Scott uncovers is a complex, hideous tale involving the changeling of the title. Scott's wife at the time, Trish Van Devere, is good as the rental agent that helps Scott tease the truth out of the house, although one wonders why she keeps willingly running through the mansion's rooms (not to mention the attic) when we all know it's a terrible idea.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poetry Monday

The Museum of Comparative Zoology

by L. E. Sissman

Struck dumb by love among the walruses 
And whales, the off-white polar bear with stuffing 
Missing, the mastodons like muddy buses, 
I sniff the mothproof air and lack for nothing.

A general grant enabled the erection, 
Brick upon brick, of this amazing building. 
Today, in spite of natural selection, 
It still survives an orphan age of gilding.

Unvarnished floors tickle the nose with dust
Sweeter than any girls' gymnasium's;
Stove polish dulls the cast-iron catwalk's rust;
The soot outside would make rival museums

Blanch to the lintels. So would the collection.
A taxidermist has gone ape. The cases
Bulging with birds whose differences defy detection
Under the dirt are legion. Master races

Of beetles lie extinguished in glass tables: 
Stag, deathwatch, ox, dung, diving, darkling, May. 
Over the Kelmscott lettering of their labels, 
Skeleton crews of sharks mark time all day.

Mark time: these groaning boards that staged a feast 
Of love for art and science, since divorced, 
Still scantily support the perishing least 
Bittern and all his kin. Days, do your worst:

No more of you can come between me and 
This place from which I issue and which I 
Grow old along with, an unpromised land 
Of all unpromising things that live and die.

This brick ark packed with variant animals -- 
All dead -- by some progressive-party member 
Steams on to nowhere, all the manuals 
Of its calliope untouched, toward December.

Struck dumb by love among the walruses
And whales, the off-white polar bear with stuffing
Missing, the mastodons like muddy buses,
I sniff the mothproof air and lack for nothing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Any Human Heart (2002)

I can't make the claim that this is necessarily one of the great books of modern times, and I won't, but I will say that, having just finished this, it will probably wind up on my own personal top ten books of all time. This was just one of those novels that seemed almost written for me and me alone (is that how everyone feels about their favorite books?); essentially, it hit a lot of my own personal preoccupations. The novel is in the form of a series of diaries, kept by the fictional Logan Mountstuart, a mildly successful writer who careens through the twentieth century. He spends time in Paris in the 1920s, works under Ian Fleming during the war years, runs an art gallery in New York City in the 1950s, and along the way, meets all sorts of famous (plus fictional) characters. It's ultimately a fairly tragic novel about a full life that could have been fuller. It also perfectly expresses my personal philosophy of life: that it boils down to the luck you get, the good luck, and the bad luck. Not a popular philosophy, I know, but us agnostics/atheists have to believe in something.

I read this because I had just caught the televised miniseries on Masterpiece Theater that aired last month. It was well-done, and captured a lot of the book, but somewhat paled compared to the written version. Pictured below, the lovely Matthew MacFayden and the equally lovely Hayley Atwell as Logan and Freya in the filmed version.