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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, the Sweet Liquid that Seduced the World

Part dissertation, part anecdotes, this book could be much more than it is. Bishop tells the story of how she fell into honey producing and beekeeping. The historical sections of the book are superbly researched, telling the tale of beekeeping from the earliest days in Ancient Egypt and Greece to the modern era. This history is interesting, but predictably dry. The anecdotes should provide the levity, humor, and driving interest to keep the book going. Unfortunately, this is not what we get from Bishop. While a few anecdotes are interesting, mostly concerning her own early efforts at beekeeping, including amusing mistakes, far too much time is devoted to the minutiae of the work of veteran beekeeper Donald Smiley. These episodes might be beneficial for anyone interested in beekeeping, but they are too long and, as they have no real point to make, purposeless. Perhaps condensing these stories, focusing more on her own efforts, or even exploring what she learned from following Smiley around, rather than simply logging what he did and how, would have made this book a far more interesting read.

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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Grey Gardens (1975) -Documentary

The Bouvier Beales, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” were the relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, her aunt and cousin respectively. They had come to notoriety through a battle with the Hamptons over the state of their property, Grey Gardens. The idea of two relatives of the famous former first lady, living as recluses, was too juicy not to pique people’s interest. Having met filmmakers (and brothers) Albert Maysles and David Maysles, the ladies invited them in to film a documentary. What follows is a fascinating view of a co-dependent relationship of two women who seem to share a mental illness. As any trained psychologist will tell you, diagnosing someone from video footage is liable to be inaccurate. Since I’m not a trained psychologist, I will venture to guess that they might be diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder.

Big Edie, a former singer and society beauty, reigns mostly from her bed. It is filthy, with newspapers strewn on it for the dozen-plus cats to do their business, pictures and random memorabilia on top of the papers, and a hot plate next to her from which she cooks the random bits of food she eats rather than balanced meals at regular times. Little Edie, who, by nature of being more ambulatory than her mother, features more heavily in the film, is a failed actress and society beauty for whom living at Grey Gardens seems to be as much punishment as refuge. There is a story that emerges through the documentary, although it is unclear just how much of it is fact and how much delusional fantasy. Little Edie, who had moved to New York to become an actress, is recalled by her mother to Grey Gardens after an eye surgery when she needs nursing. By then, Big Edie had been left by her husband, “Mr. Beale” as they both call him. Not believing in divorce, she has lived as a separated woman for the rest of her life, even as her husband divorced her and re-married. Little Edie feels that she was on the verge of making it, and blames her mother and father for conspiring to keep her at Grey Gardens. She is distraught by the male companions her mother has invited to live at Grey Gardens for years at a time, whom she neither gets to approve of nor considers to be her friends, rather just her mother’s. She is also distraught by the men who got away. She mentions all the men whom she could have, should have married, including one whom her mother supposedly scared away in just 15 minutes. This is very distressing to her as she returns to it again and again.

To say the house is decrepit is to put it lightly. If this were not a documentary, one could blame a production designer of being too contrived in using a broken down home to represent the broken down mental state of the two women who live within. Little Edie, in her headscarves made from scarves, sweaters, and towels, her tight skirts, sometimes made from sweaters, and ever-present fishnet stockings, speaks to the Maysles, explaining herself as her mother screeches at her from other rooms. Her mother could be seen as harmless, until you notice how cutting she is with her words. When Little Edie is singing and dancing, her mother criticizes her for singing so badly, unlike herself with her trained voice. She berates her daughter constantly for her failures, never accepting her own.

This is not a Ken Burns-esque ultra slick documentary. It is full of rough camera work, out of focus shots, and camera movement while in tight closeup (which creates dizzying motion blur) and yet, this is all so appropriate. The raw look of the film gives a sense of immediacy and seems a commentary on the mentality of these two women, fascinating, eccentric, and a bit off.

“It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.” -Little Edie, Grey Gardens

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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A Note on Recent Events

In all the craziness of this week, there is something that has been re-enforced for me…”breaking news” is a pseudonym for “rampant speculation”. It was very disheartening to hear, over and over, news anchors say, “well, we don’t know for certain but…here’s this totally out there idea.” All this speculation does is foster conspiracy theories and confusion that will never truly go away.

Consequently, I chose to remain out of the breaking news cycle. I found that, once I was apprised of any truly breaking news (you know, the kind that happens when you’re asleep), there was really no point in any further news seeking. It’s just as bad online…and I don’t even have a twitter account!

All I choose to say is, my thoughts are with all the victims and I am glad that the second suspect was caught alive, at least we may have some opportunity to find out what these young men really thought they were doing.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Mar Adentro/The Sea Inside (2004) -Spanish with Subtitles-

Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem) is a Spanish quadriplegic with a desire to end his life. This fact-based film chronicles his struggles to procure this right while ensuring that no one who helps him will later be prosecuted; a decades-long effort. A furtive love affair with Julia (Belén Rueda), the married lawyer who is helping him fight his case (and who also suffers from debilitating strokes), ends when their suicide pact is called off and she returns to her husband.  A local woman, Rosa (Lola Dueñas), recently unemployed and lonely, becomes his unlikely hero. She falls in love with him and brings her children to meet him. He doesn’t want to lead her on, as he is still in love with Julia. Eventually, she wins him over to allow her to be his companion, even if there is no love for her in his heart.

The story, which could easily have been very stilted due to the limitations of a film consisting mainly of a man who can’t move and lies in bed all the time, instead is alive with feeling and emotion. Dream sessions in which Ramón flies to the beach, which he can smell but not see from his bed, are spectacular. The colors are super saturated in these scenes and one can almost feel the breeze and smell the ocean. The refusal of Ramón to fall into the trap of self-pity, his willingness to debate with a clergyman who has condemned his desire to commit suicide, and the power of his spirit, make this film powerful and uplifting.

 

**I am a native Spanish speaker but I do enjoy foreign films in all languages. Don’t let the subtitles dissuade you. If the movie is good, you will eventually be so engrossed with the story that you’ll forget you are reading the dialogue.**

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Serendipity Strikes Again

I have an injury that’s kept me on the couch most of today. I’ve been reading online at my usual sites, longform.org and slate.com and decided to follow the rabbit hole of links available. I read an article from The Guardian, which had a link to a blog post on bookstellyouwhy.com Instantly smitten, I poked around the site, scrolling all the way to the bottom where I discovered that they are based in Mount Pleasant, SC…just across the bridge from where I live! Love it!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Favorite Things

 

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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

War is hell. All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the first talkies to take on this theme. Following a group of German schoolboys who are riled up by a professor into enlisting for WWI. It shows the devolution of the group from idealistic boys, to cannon fodder, to bitter cannon fodder. Interesting that the filmmakers feature German youths. This movie could not have been made a few years before because of the lack of sound technology and could not have been made a few years later because of the rising threat of a re-emergent Germany. It was made at a perfect moment when German youths could still be shown as fully sympathetic characters and the movie could focus on the detrimental effects of war, the blind war-mongering of men too old to be endangering their own lives, and the loss of innocence that affects an entire generation.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Wild Bunch (1969)

Exploding the mythological conventions of prior Westerns, The Wild Bunch tells the story of a gang of outlaws (William Holden, Ernest Borgnine) looking for a new racket after a bank robbery yields nothing but metal washers.They are pursued by a posse of bounty hunters hired by the Rail Road and led by Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former member of their gang. The gang crosses over into Mexico and quickly find themselves recruited by the self-styled General Mapache (Emilio Fernandez) to rob an American Army train carrying rifles and ammunition to be used in the fight against Pancho Villa. Upon robbing the train, of course, the gang adds the U.S. Army to the list of those pursuing them.

One of the members of the gang, a Mexican named Angel (Jaime Sanchez) is upset that the General, after plundering Angel’s home village, has taken his girl as a concubine (of her own free will). He avenges this slight by helping the Natives who live in the mountains outside Agua Verde (the General’s garrison) steal a box of rifles and ammo. At the last of a series of exchanges of gold for weapons, the General seizes Angel who is abandoned by his fellow gang members.

The gang finally returns to Agua Verde in order to hide out among the now heavily armed Mexicans. They witness the dragging death of Angel and, when they seek to reclaim his body, the Mexican’s slice Angel’s throat. The four remaining gang members open fire, improbably killing dozens of the General’s men before finally being taken out themselves. The posse come across the scene of the carnage and are delighted to scavenge the bodies of the Mexicans for goodies and collect the bodies of the gang members in order to cash in on the reward. A feeling of what? Compassion? Sadness? strikes Thornton and he stays behind at Agua Verde, eventually joining the Natives in their crusade against the Mexicans.

The violence, gore, nudity and language show the impact of the adoption of the MPAA standards in 1968. None of it is gratuitous. The cinematography is most effective when showcasing the vast vistas of the open West. Stereotypes about Mexicans and Natives, although utilized in the movie, are not nearly as egregious as other Westerns of the period. Slow paced (it takes an hour to get to the train robbery), but with richly developed characters, this is a Western that can be enjoyed by someone who really hates Westerns (me!)

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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