Saturday, December 31, 2005

While It's Still December...

Good thing I bought T's presents eight months ago, and better yet that they are still in fashion....

Speaking of fashion, here's the picture I made last May for the cover of a DVD I was putting together for my daughter's graduating class. The theme for their Senior Dinner, which was given by the parents, was The Wizard of Oz, and the DVD was planned as a party favor. They're an extraordinarily close and affectionate group, with a great attachment to their beautiful, brill and good-hearted school, and I had proposed the theme, so I was v. happy with the project all around and threw myself into it. Here's what I did for the cover, with about a hundred bucks, a cooperative daughter in her sister's six-year-old school graduation dress, and a few hours in Photoshop.

The picture is a spoof on Dorothy, of course. Here, she's a graduating high school senior with a novitiate eye on style, yet with the looming prospect of college as Oz, where she will no doubt quickly lose her budding dress sense for a while. It had to be a white graduation dress to fit the metaphor, so I stuffed a blue and white checked shirt of mine into the tote to suggest that she had flung off her pinafore with childhood -- because we all know Dorothy wears a blue gingham pinafore -- and stuffed it into the tote right along with Toto, the way people with small dogs do. In the event, because of my difficulties activating Compressor in Final Cut Pro, I had a major crash and didn't finish or duplicate the DVD until late August. It wasn't until early September that about ninety copies went out to a small and close-knit circle with this picture on the DVD case.

Imagine my surprise and mixed emotions when I found my very idea -- the Beginning Fashionista Dorothy,
out and about in a nightmare landscape, wearing a plain white dress and high-heeled ruby slippers -- given an industrial strength budget, top speed negotiations with couturiers, hair and makeup stylists, a full cast and and top ranked production talent, and most of all, Annie Leibovitz...and then spread out in variations over twenty pages of the December issue of American Vogue!

Instead of a six-year old linen shift from J. McLaughlin, here were the cleverest new cocktail dresses in white from Vera Wang, Prada, Donna Karan, Nicholas Ghesquière, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs... and a sort of chemise-over-croquembouche number made of white chiffon by Comme des Garçons....a very pale and very twee lavender frock from Rochas, a very pale pink pinafore dress from Oscar de la Renta. Important dresses, every one!

And the shoes! Instead of the sequined ankle strap pumps by
a Chinese firm called Cathay Shoes that I had bought on eBay from their distributor in Boston, here were glittery ruby T-strap sandals on five inch heels by Marc Jacobs, glittery red platform loafers from Chanel, glittery cherry mary janes by Miu Miu, red pumps, possibly on six inch heels, by Christian Louboutin, bright red ankle strap sandals from Balenciaga, red velvet pumps from Lanvin and Repetto, red sequined pumps from Rochas, red patent leather from Lanvin....a shoe museum's worth of ruby slippers!

Now, I don't admit that I did such a terrible job improvising with a single barrette, nor that Keira Knightley was an improvement over my daughter, blonde as Dorothy may have been, but I hope KK had a good time and got lots of money. B said it was agony standing that way for more than two seconds, but she did it for me anyway as a one time thing.

I was torn-- on the one hand, nobody had so much as called to thank me, especially galling if I took into account that Stefano Pilati's commissioned sketch had been published and credited in the writeup, and that this spread had served as the perfect counterpart (or riposte?) to the December edition of French Vogue, which was given over to Jean Cocteau's La Belle at La Bête and Kate Moss -- and the song she recorded with Pete Doherty. We're Off to See The Wizard sounds as clean as apple pie in comparison. On the other hand, the spread was a tribute to the girls I did this for in t he first place, and as B pointed out, it was as close as I was ever going to come to getting a compliment from Vogue. The pictures were exactly what I had in my mind's eye, too, though I didn't have the skill, money and experience to pull it off myself, Even Time magazine had given the spread a story of its own, so I could play nice, read it all as wish fulfillment of a sort, and feel perfectly free to pat myself on the back for the rest of my life. After all, it is well known that you can't copyright an idea....

Mohenjo-daro Man

I thought I had a really clever idea for B's late Christmas present. Since she got her first A+ in Archaeology, I would take a leisurely stroll down to the Met and buy her a repro Mohenjo-daro figurine -- of the priest-king, I was thinking. This Guy.

Why did I think the Met must sell reproductions of this famous man? First, because he's famous - and iconic, as far as I know. Second, because the Met is omniscient, as far as I know, and the stores are still full of voracious shoppers so Mohenjodaro repros must yet be in stock. Third, because I could have sworn I saw something similar among the Assyrian exhibits, which of course is not the same thing, but I figured if they didn't reproduce the good priest-king, then an Assyrian figurine would do to suggest Mohenjo-daro or Harappa in a pinch....

So first, I combed the regular gift shops downstairs, then I ran up and down and around and around the Met. One saleswoman on the kids' floor said she'd never heard of Harappa, and if there was anything about archaeology in India in the shop, she would know about it. She pointed out a board game or some such thing, based on the mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang. When I said "No, thanks," she thanked me instead for telling her about Harappa. I tried a young salesman who seemed to be Desi, and although I realized he might have been Born Confused, I was surprised to hear he had never heard of Mohenjo-daro either.

Upstairs, I pushed through huge crowds on the main balcony who had come to catch the last day of the Van Gogh exhibit and all the reliquaries from Prague, to the nearly empty South and South East Asian Wing and hurried past all the statues of Gautama, looped back past the Korean statuary, and found a tiny gift sales counter. There, I scoped the few books and cards and turned to the saleswoman, who said, "There really isn't anything here about Asia at all, is there? I'm from the Phillipines and it makes me very sad." I pushed back through the crowds to the Islamic section, where I figured someone might have placed yet another gift shop. I scurried past a few vitrines displaying seals and ceramics excavated from West Asia, and past all the seventeenth century art that seemed to come next, and came across a guard, who said, "Gift shop? Yeah, sure, there's one over by the Impressionists if you go all the way down this hall and take a right, but no, I guess there isn't one for this section-- you know? I never thought of that!"

At the Asia Society, there was nothing at all on Mohenjo-daro or Harappa, but there were resin Buddha statues in primary colors-- neither here nor there in terms of my quest, but sort of hip - although monstrously expensive to buy in three colors, as I did in my mind's eye.

I gave up, went back, and bought B a beautiful book about the Ajanta Caves that I had seen earlier at the Met bookstore, with photography by Benoy Behl, who used long exposures and natural light to create luminous images. Then, I went down to Pearl River Mart on Broadway, where I found replicas of Emperor Qinshihuang's guards, and chose a large, kneeling figure of a Qin terracotta soldier, quite grown up, for B. A couple of millenia off, no doubt, but still and all, my feet were killing me.

Came home and watched Fellini's Casanova on tv --much more convincing, although not based on the man's own supposedly deadly dull diaries. Here was a lavish production indeed -- all those chandeliers coming down, down, to be fanned out by a cadre of uniformed and bewigged chandelier extinguishers who frog-marched out on barked orders afterwards, the crazy court, the terrible doll, each frame an extraordinary composition with eeriest lighting, the unforgettable golden coach carrying away his witchy old unfeeling mamma. Donald Sutherland with a nose job, a spooky, ever-receding hairline, or a wigline, the monstrosity of old age inthe eighteenth century, and hardly any need to talk. Properly depraved and detatched, the action interspersed with dry, brutal, manic climaxes.... Italian and German courts and coach houses depicted and the close relationship of the cultures conveyed with the weight of knowledge -- all of it intensely atmospheric, too.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Being English in Two Movies

(an all-video post)

Lasse Hallström's
Casanova is very grand-looking - beautiful costuming, fabulous lighting, dazzling editing, strong performances-- but why, oh, why does everyone speak in London English of different kinds? I realize the intended conceit is that it somehow evokes Shakespeare to be English and inperiod costume in Italy, and Francesca Bruni channels Portia, etc., but it just sounds wierd and carries a few inexplicable, or, at best, out of date messages, viz., feminism and ballooning were brought to 18th Century Venice by an especially bright Englishwoman -- plus Sheridan keeps popping out from behind Shakespeare, although Casanova is hardly the stuff of English drawing-room comedy.

And the story of the 18th Century libertine is not right for a Shakespearian romp either. Now that it's fashionable in England to play Shakespeare in funky Elizabethan English, it's clear that Jeremy Irons' elegant drawl, and probably Oliver Platt's Cockney, would be completely unintelligible to Elizabethans. The Elizabethans, at least, had plenty of reasons/excuses to revel in the spectacle of their countrymen playing broadly at being Italian for a laugh. It's not working now. Still fine and fun to watch Shakespearean comedy, which is broad by nature, played any which way, of course. The plot and many lines in this screenplay, which is by Jefferey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi, is great fun and deserves less ham-handed interpretation. Also, I think Sienna Miller looks gorgeous as a blonde airhead but pretty dull as a sort of auburn out-of-time suffragette.

No doubt people who don't examine this Casanova movie too closely will go around thinking 18th Century Venetians were actually Londoners. London English misused is the sonic equivalent of those 1960's movies with blonde Bris as Ancient Greeks and blonde Americans as Romans -- not so believable now, but very persuasive then.

J, who is highly educated and blonde, explained Classical blondeness to me, apparently without a clue that he'd picked it up at the movies.

"Oh, sure," he said," The Greeks, yes, they're dark now, but they used to be blonde."
I challenged him on this. "What about the vases, then? Nobody's blonde on the amphorae."
"Well, those are just pictures," he said.
"But they could have drawn blondes with outlines," I pointed out.
"Oh," he said, frowning slightly. "I guess they weren't always blonde then. How bizarre. Maybe you're right."

About the accents, it's been twenty-three years since Meryl Streep showed everyone how to maintain a credible Czech accent in Sophie's Choice, and twenty since she told Robert Redford, speaking bitterly as Karen Blixen/ Isaak Dinesen in Out of Africa, "You want to häv eet âll..!" It's only one year since Minnie Driver showed us in The Phantom of the Opera how well and hilariously the new Englishwoman can play an Italian diva in a foul mood. Plus, right now, here are THREE Redgrave women, speaking flawlessly thick and broken English as Russian emigrées in Shanghai. Yes, speaking English like an Englishwoman is definitely passé.

The White Countess: This last Merchant-Ivory not-quite-chick-flick is the best they've ever made. Kazuo Ishiguro's screenplay has finally released them from the demands of pinched and painful screenplays past, and they have outdone themselves. The acting is superb and, who knows, possibly flawless. Ralph Fiennes does an amazing job of looking blind with his eyes wide open. Each Redgrave is a study, with the elderly women's struggle to stay correct very finely drawn, and Natasha Richardson doing a lot of un-English things with her face that give substance to her accent. There is an astonishing amount of exquisite music dovetailed into the action, lots of clearly careful research into the look of things, and the cinematography and editing are nothing short of poetic.

I think I don't need to see any more movies for a while...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Perriconing Around the World

I am a fan of Dr. Nicholas V. Perricone, although at this point I just buy his books, not the pre-packaged pills or creams, leaving myself something to look forward to. Among all low-carbing advocates, he is the one who has got it right, so that it actually feels normal and reasonable to eat and live according to his thinking, and to call it "Perriconing." A big part of Dr, Perricone's message is to eat more berries and oily fish, and especially fish oils, and brightly colored vegetables, with lashings of olive oil, and Alpha Lipoic Acid, and DMAE...

which seems to agree with the work of pediatric hematologist and Oxford University DNA researcher Stephen Oppenheimer and the Bradshaw Foundation. If you look at their representation of The JOURNEY OF MANKIND, which illustrates the argument for a single point of human origin, and especially, if you read other pages on their web site, it is easy to see that their mapping lies quite far beyond the realm of conjecture. They show that for the first forty-odd thousand years after some human ancestors left Africa, they made their beachcombing progress clinging to the coastlines of South and South East Asia and then Australia.

Conjecturing freely from there, on the other hand, and this is where Dr, Perricone comes in, one imagines forests growing close to the shore,
full of menacing beasts of prey, rather than open grasslands full of grazing animals waiting to be eaten up right by the sea. It seems fair to assume that one's beachcombing ancestors caught, ate, and easily digested fish of all kinds-- which, very likely, they already knew to do from being around streams and rivers -- and much sooner and more often than they might have caught scampering rabbits and such, to eat them freshly killed and raw, or organized the tribe to go into the dark and threatening forest to chase down leaping stag with especially prepared weapons. Eating fish is probably still the best idea. After all, it still is correct and proper to eat it raw, although not necessary to catch them with one's hands.

I mentioned some of this to R, who was about to leave for Easter Island, over scrambled eggs and sautéed green beans, the new substitute for fries at
The Columbus Bakery, but he was skeptical. All he said was "Sounds delicious!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas 1967

Hear the song at this link:

Christmas Time Is Here Again
is the Beatles' Christmas card to their fans and an affirmation of good times had by one and all in 1967.
They hit their stride with this one, and it's worth a listen. Every inflection, drumbeat, harmony, gasp, whistle, snort and wheeze is as familiar to me now as it was 38 years ago. My own plastic copy, if indeed it still exists, has languished somewhere in my mother's house halfway around the world ever since, so this knowledge of my own memory might have been lost to me were it not for CounterPunch, whose 'Website of the Weekend' on December 24/25 pointed me in the right direction, i.e., back to blogspot.

This offhand masterpiece predates Monty Python's BBC début by a couple of years. Never mind simpe tunes like Volare, w
ho knew millions like me have been walking around all over the world for nearly forty years with 'Christmas Time is Here Again' lying silent but neatly coded in their brains, ready to karaoke?

...Oh, right, somebody did, because it was released again
in 1995 as the flip side of Free as a Bird...