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A few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things…

One) I heart longform.org! It’s a great site that gathers the best of historical and contemporary non-fiction (and recently, fiction) in magazines, newspapers, and websites. I usually set aside a good chunk of Sunday to read articles that strike me that have been posted over the week. I prefer to read non-fiction, and I love how they curate all these sources (many of them that you’d have to subscribe to ordinarily).

 

Two) The local “Friends of the Library” group receives donations of used books from the public and books culled from the library’s own stacks throughout the year. A few times a year, they host book sales in the different branches, proceeds benefiting the library. Once a year, in October, they host “THAT Big Book Sale”. Thousands upon thousands of volumes for sale. This is Heaven for me. I hit the Art, Dance, Theatre, Non-fiction, Foreign Languages, and (especially) Biography sections…HARD! For example, last Fall, I cleaned up. I acquired around 125 volumes for less than $200. After cataloging and shelving them, I’m quite content that I have enough reading material to last me the year. In fact, 99.9% of the books I’m reviewing for my blog come from this sale. 🙂

If you don’t know if your Library has a similar group, I highly recommend checking it out!

Three) IMDb (or the Internet Movie Database) is THE best resource for information on movies, especially American movies. They give synopses, cast lists, photos, information about productions, alternate titles…heck, there’s even an area where they point out goofs and bloopers. I particularly like looking up old movies and finding out about the careers of supporting actors, you know, those people who you recognize by sight but not by name. All my links on American movies are to their IMDb page, that’s how much I love them!

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Favorite Things

 

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Sunrise (1927)

As silent films gave way to talkies, this little gem transcended the “limitations” of silent film by sheer force of inventiveness. The story-line is of but marginal importance; a married country man (George O’Brien) is seduced by a vacationing city woman (Margaret Livingston), leaving his sweet wife (Janet Gaynor) and child to worry as he hocks the livestock to spend money on his mistress. One night, as they kiss under the moon, she suggests that he run away with her back to the city. He is indignant, what about his wife? Her answer, “what if she got drowned?” He fools his wife into sailing with him on their boat, where he intends to get her overboard to drown, capsize the boat, and float home on bulrushes. At the crucial moment, he has a change of heart. They have a day on the town, at first he’s just trying to get her not to be afraid of him, then it turns into something of a second honeymoon. On the way home, a storm rises and the boat is capsized. He manages to get to shore, but she is lost and presumed drowned. In the end, she is found alive, he is happy, and the city woman slinks back home. Morals triumph, hooray!

The incredible things about this movie are all the visual effect. Double exposures abound, communicating the hustle and bustle of the city. The light is so beautiful. It has such an important role to play in the storytelling. The scenes with the mistress are moonlit and exquisite. Leading lady Gaynor seems to radiate light from within, her skin an alabaster canvas. Instead of placards in neat typed text on black, as in most silent films, the text is written in a font that looks like paint strokes. It dissolves in at crucial moments (the suggestion from the mistress) and sits over the image, pregnant with meaning and holding the tension of the moment that white on black just can’t match.

A feast for the eyes. This is a film I’d love to see again, on a big screen next time.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Ghost Light & Synecdoche, New York…a Theatre Extravaganza

I’ve been very busy lately, staging a musical theatre production (AristoCats Kids) with 24 children ages 6-15. I also designed and make the costumes and props for this show. This is in addition to designing costumes for a show with three actresses whose lives are told over a ten year period (Vanities)…and whose clothes must change to reflect this. I love being this busy. Today, though, I took the morning off to read a book, and then watch a movie, both about the world of the theatre.

 

 

Ghost Light: A Memoir is written by former The New York Times Theatre Critic Frank Rich and tells his story of growing up, and growing into his love of theatre. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, a product of a “broken home” (as he puts it), Rich escapes time and time again to the Broadway Musicals his parents had brought home as records. His step-father, a pompous Washington D.C. lawyer, is an avid theatre-goer and relishes his role as provider of Rich’s favorite activity. Unfortunately, he also is a volatile man, given to farting, yelling, domineering, and beating his children, step-children, and wife. Ghost Light is absorbing and showcases Rich’s great writing. He ends his memoir sometime in college, leaving us with just a taste of his future. It’s amazing how much he was able to fit into his 17 years leading to his high-school graduation. I am envious of his memory of premier productions of such great shows as A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and so many others, all before actually embarking on his career! A great read, very worthwhile.

 

Synecdoche, New York (2008) is a brilliant movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as theatre director  Caden Cotard whose life is more than a little out of whack. Living in Schenectady, New York (near where I grew up), his wife (Catherine Keener as Adele Lack) belittles him for not doing something “real”, hiding in his regional theatre rut, where casting young actors to play Willy Loman and his wife, Linda is considered avant garde. She, a painter whose miniature works must be seen with magnifying glasses, runs away to Berlin to show her work, taking their daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein).

Things have already been weird, now they get weirder. You will get lost, it’s okay, you’ll sort it out as the movie progresses…mostly. Time is fluid, with actors sometime aging, sometimes not, a single trip to the E.R. apparently happening over the course of several months. A second marriage to Claire Keen (Michelle Williams), who had played Linda Loman at the start of the movie, leads to the birth of a second child, another girl whom Cotard constantly confuses with Olive.

Things have already been weirder, now they get weirder yet. Cotard receives a MacArthur Genius Grant and feels pressure to create a new show, a grand master-work, a “real” play. Things are misheard, and misspoken. Cotard himself exhibits signs of Cotard’s syndrome, a delusional belief that one is dead. The play he is staging is like a giant experiment in psychological delusion. Cotard hires a man, who claims he’s been studying him to 20 years (Tom Noonan as Sammy) to act as Cotard in the play. The casting becomes more and more surreal as Cotard’s double is doubled by an actor of his own. Eventually, Cotard has doubles for all of the people in his real life, including his almost-mistress, Hazel (Samantha Morton), who is doubled by Tammy (Emily Watson) with whom Cotard consummates the aborted affair of twenty years before. Hazel has an affair with Sammy, ending her marriage to Derek (who is then written out of the script). She and Cotard eventually decide that who they really want is each other, after all. Sammy’s suicide leaves the role of Cotard’s double open, which Ellen (Dianne Wiest), who had been hired to play Adele’s housekeeper, convinces him she can play.

Is this all just a dream? A hallucination? A difficult story told by a woman who disguises herself as a man? What I love most about this movie is that it is undefined, but in the best way. The viewer isn’t left hanging in an unpleasant way. Instead, we are left with our own thoughts and our own ideas as to the real meaning of the movie, much like any great work of art. Highly recommend, be prepared to watch it more than once.

 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2013 in Book Reviews, Movie Reviews

 

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