Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seth MacFarlane: What a Boob. Iran Would Have Him Photoshopped.

Good luck to historians 200 years from now trying to make sense of the society and customs of early 21st century from the artifact of the Oscar broadcast.

In a mere 3 and 1/2 hours, the cultural mirror that is both the TV Oscars show and the films themselves reflected back a very confusing tableau.

Seth MacFarlane is the incarnation of the Frat Boy, sophomoric humor that fuels the adult animations of Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show. These shows have found their audience (FG is in its 11th season), and this has made Seth a very rich man. Good for him.

The great thing about these animated shows is that they are contained: don't like the bathroom humor and fart jokes, don't watch.

The Oscar awards show is a different matter. For decades it has been a show that many people are interested in and feel a little connection to because the American love of movies is so broad based. And that makes the Academy Awards show a national treasure of sorts, like the World Series and Super Bowl. In more recent years the world audience for the show has grown and grown. Because, it seems, love of moves is international, and the level of skill and imagination coming out of Hollywood interests people of many countries. Excellent. All are welcome in the audience.

Who Decided to Let the Silly Boy Host?

It was an embarrassment all around to let one type of infantile, tawdry humor host the Oscars. It's sad that the Academy has lost faith in itself, that it feels it has to actively do something to bring in younger viewers.  Good films, good stories will do that.

Seth then took his shtick to a pathetic level with his ditty "We saw your boobs." As countless people have written/tweeted, it's not that it was a funny, clever look to challenge the moirees of women and how they dress or to challenge if nudity serves a role.

Instead, he just trivialized actresses in dramatic roles about serious issues like rape, the death penalty, and a serial killer

Halle Berry Monsters Ball
Heleun Hunt The Sessions
Charlize Theron Monster
Jodi Foster The Accused
Hilary Swank Boys Don't Cry

like an 11-year-old who's just found Playboy and then decided to do a faux Vaudeville number in front of the mirror in his parent's room. Adding in the gay men's chorus--for whom women's breasts are always and only funny--just made it uglier. And he did it at the very place and moment the craft of women acting in films was going to be honored.

I can't even call this "sexism," because it's deeper than that corporate word. I wish the best actress nominees had walked out, and said they'll come back when an adult is on the stage.

The "boys will be boys" crap is so tolerated in Hollywood that we saw The Onion slide unconsciously down the slippery slope to crudely tweet curse at a 9-year old actress. Gross.

Michelle's Iranian Makeover

Because I don't watch Family Guy, I was surprised at the height of baseness Seth hit all night. To make this cultural whiplash even more surreal, CNN reported that Iran's Fars News published a story about the Oscars on its website, and showed a photo of Michelle Obama presenting the Best Picture from the White House.

CNN pointed out that the photograph had been retouched: short sleeves were added to the sleeveless dress, and the neckline filled in to cover her chest. No boob peeking here at all, because the Qur'an asks

"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women."

More about the state run Iran TV tactics in The Guardian. In Muslim countries we see that the modesty idea has lead to men controlling what women wear along with many other aspects of their life to the extreme degree. But at its root, there is an underlying truth here: men think about sex a lot. Seeing more flesh of more women will lead them to thinking about even more sex. So, an 'out of sight, out of mind' strategy isn't entirely crazy in a power struggle. The cover-up also robs women of the power of their sexuality, another thing men strive to do, when they want.

So, a lessoned learned, again:  Seth & his cohorts is the price we pay for freedom. But: if women produced more in Hollywood, and particularly the Academy Awards, we could have our plunging necklines, and a good Oscar show too. Isn't that a win, win for everyone?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Can Name That Best Picture in 2 Frames!

A beautiful compilation of the history of Best Picture Winners from Nelson Carvajal, via Andrew Sullivan by way of David Haglund.

Seeing Clark Gable fly by in It Happened One Night,  Mutiny on the Bounty, and (in spirit) in Gone with the Wind reminded me of the strong girlhood crush I had on him. Which is connected to one of the earliest instances of understanding that the world doesn't really makes sense, when I learned that Robert Donat's Mr. Chip's beat out his Rhett Butler for Best Actor in 1939. Sigh.

And tonight. One can argue craft, but to me Best Picture is a contest of sensibilities pitted against each other: the heroism of Lincoln & Argo; the fantasy side of life in Les Miz, Life of Pi, & Beasts of the Southern Wilds; the dark underside of life in Django Unchained & Zero Dark Thirty; the difficult ordinariness of the human condition of Amour & Silver Linings Playbook.

My tipple. Oddly, I'm drawn to Les Miz. And tonight we'll see what sensibility the academy was drawn to more often than the others.

I didn't write about all the films except for Lincoln.  And Skyfall, which I hope wins best score. I am looking forward to the James Bond at 50 homage.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From Venus With Love, Poetry

 Valentine’s Day summons up memories for me of  the time Steed and I spent with the BVS (British Venusian Society) a while back.

It also calls to mind some of the great poetry of the ages.

I always thought Matthew Arnold had the best all round take on love in that exquisite last stanza of Dover Beach. We imagine the lovers are happily at some cute Victorian B&B near the English Channel, when the speaker (choose your gender) starts to hear the waves bring “the eternal note of sadness in.”

After more depressing thoughts, the speaker turns and utters the timeless supplication:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,

[actually . . . ]

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

It’s just you and me, babe.

Parallel Lines

The Metaphysical Poets are the supreme masters of the heartsick. In their striking metaphysical conceits—from nature, geometry, physiks of varying sorts—they capture deep, intense difficulties of the heart with amazing wit and beauty.

Here is Andrew Marvell in his “The Definition of Love”

As lines, so love's oblique, may well
Themselves in every angle greet:
But ours, so truly parallel,
Though infinite, can never meet.

Those haunting, parallel lines. Filled with the infinite, in sight of one another, but apart. I have known those lines well. I am one of those lines.

Then there is John Donne’s great “Valediction on Weeping,” with the exquisite image of the tear minted, like a coin, with the face of the beloved who is the cause of the crying. And again, the lovers are apart, on diverse shores.

Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth,
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee;
Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more,
When a tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a diverse shore.

And then the powerful image of breathing for each other

“Since thou and I sigh one another's breath,
Whoe'er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other's death.”

So thanks, Valentine's Day, for the look at great poetry even outside of April's National Poetry Month.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Monopoly: A Tale of Yesterday & Today

The Referendum
by 14-year old M.A. Peel

The scene: 1976. My character, Ellen Ashley, is a representative of a town in New Jersey, attending an information session about the referendum proposal  for gambling to be brought to Atlantic City. She checks in at the front desk to the completely booked Traymore Hotel.

"Here it is, room 1500. I am afraid it is in the very back of the hotel. It would be more convenient to use the back door and stairs."

"Thank you. Please have my bags sent up." And with that I left to find my room.

When the clerk said it was in the back of the hotel, he wasn't kidding. The first meeting is scheduled for 9:00 pm tonight. That gives me six hours to get changed, eat, and do some sightseeing and some thinking.

I suppose I want the gambling to be instituted. It will restore Atlantic City's aura of money. People will get dressed up in tuxedos and evening gowns and go to the casino and then to an elegant restaurant. The city will have the beautiful Hollywood tinsel it once had, and the city will prosper.

All I can do is to collect the information at the meeting and bring it back to my town.

For now, I'll walk around town and see what the city is really like.

I took the desk clerk's suggestion and went down the back stairs and out the back door. I walked around to the front of the hotel, but there was not a single person around. I looked at the street in front of me. Mediterranean Avenue. The street had taken on a dark purple color. At my feet I saw an envelope. Inside there was play money of different colors: 2 $500s, 2 $100s, 2 $50s, 6 $20s, 5 $10s, 5 $5s, 5 $1s. I put the money in my purse and started down Mediterranean. All the buildings and stores had become masses of dark purple bricks. I continued walking until I reached Baltic Avenue, which looked exactly like Mediterranean. I walked the length of Baltic, to where the street just ended. Beyond the last corner was total, blinding, whiteness.

Scared, but determined, I pressed on, determined to find some people. After walking some distance, I saw a small storefront. Inside there was nothing but an oversized hat on a chair, and $200 on the table. I moved on, and in an instant I was out of the whiteness and standing on a railroad track. Out of nowhere a train comes speeding at me. I jump out of the way at the last second and start rolling down a hill, rolling and rolling, I could not stop. I was getting dizzy, rolling faster and faster. Suddenly, I hit bottom.

I laid there a minute or two and got up. I was on Oriental Avenue. It looked just like Baltic, but everything was light blue. I came upon two green houses, and I was ecstatic with the thought of people. I ran to one, started banging on wall, there was no door. I ran around back, but there were no windows, no doors, no way to enter.

Disappointed, I blindly start walking again. On Vermont Street I saw a man in a racing car.

"Wait, wait. Where are we? How can I get back to the Traymore Hotel?"

"I've got to go to the nearest railroad," started the driver. "That's going to cost me $200. I will be over $3,000 in debt."

A tear rolled down the man's cheek. Then he and his car vanished.

Onward I went, when I came upon a jail. Inside was a puppy dog, wailing somberly for someone to let him out. There was nothing I could do. Suddenly, I was saturated with panic. I started running again, passing light purple houses and another railroad, and an orange street, when I saw a policeman.

"I'm saved," I screamed, and ran toward him.

"Go to jail," he grunted.

Before I could open my mouth, I was sitting in the cold, dark, dreary cell. The puppy was gone, and I  was staring at the bars, when a thimble half my height appeared next to me. A tired woman's face with dark circles under her eyes and a sagging chin became visible on the thimble.

"You know I lost $900 last time around," the face said.

"Who are you? Where are we really? What are you doing?

"What am I doing? I'm playing the game like everyone else. And losing, like everyone who plays this game."

"Why don't you stop?"

"Stop? I can't stop anymore than anyone else can here."

I looked out the jail window and saw a hat, a dog, a battleship, and an iron going by, all with sad human faces.

I took the $1500 play money out of my purse and gave it to the thimble. "I hope this makes your life a little happier."

"Oh thank you. Now I can buy 3 more hotels and another house . . ."

The thimble disappeared, her voice trailing behind her. I saw a magazine on the floor, with Chance on the masthead. I opened it and the all the pages said advance to Boardwalk.

Then there I was, on a street that was all royal blue. After walking for just a bit, I saw the ocean at the end of the street. I ran to the water's edge and sat on the sand.

Wherever I have been, however I got there, does not matter. I now know that there are two sides to everything. Sure, gambling will bring some tinsel and money back to Atlantic City, but it will also bring destitution, heartbreak, and ruination to many.

I stood up, and when I turned around, I was in the Parking Lot of the Traymore (which had all red cars). I walked back to my room and got ready to go to the first referendum meeting.

The end.

You Don't Mess with the Iron
I though of this little story I wrote so many years ago when I learned about this ridiculous move to replace a Monopoly piece to add a Cat. What strikes me about the story now is how cinematic it is! This would be so easy to film. Plus the obvious Twilight Zone influence, and the Bond movie influence that everyone in casinos is in tux and gowns. Too funny. Also, I've since learned that the Traymore Hotel was on Illinois Street, not Mediterranean. Before the Internet it was hard for a 14 year old to get these details right.

So beyond the usual memories of playing Monopoly with the family, the game fueled my teenage imagination. That was then. And now: the idea to add a cat is just stupid. One thing I loved about the tokens were they were not symetrical.  There was only a Scottie dog, and in my childhood: Wheelbarrow, Battleship, Racecar, Thimble, Boot, Top hat, Canon, and Iron.

To make this situation worse, who votes to lose the Iron? Of course it should have been the Battleship, which has its own game.

I have a hankering to start a game now, so I can own the lovely yellow of Marvin Gardens, once again.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rooting for New Orleans: And Oil Paintings of the City from David Barton

I'm really not following football this season. But having the Super Bowl in New Orleans is a good reason to shine the light on my extremely talented painter friend, David Barton. A specialty of his is architectural oil paintings. He captures building details as though he was taking a photograph, but the pieces have the dimension of emotion and story that is particular to the medium of oils. The combination is very satisfying art.

David starts by photo research, for places he doesn't visit in person, or taking his own pictures of building that he does go to see. He went down to New Orleans in what turned out to be the year before Katrina to take pictures.

He created a series of New Orleans buildings (above), including the great St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Place (below).

Barton: "It wasn't 'til I cropped the image, radically formatting it to the horizontal, that this painting worked for me."

Me to, since I'm the proud owner.

Here is more of his work from his website.  The jpegs really don't do justice the vibrancy of the art in person. Yay New Orleans! Yay David! And if I had to chose, I'd go with The Ravens because they named themselves after the Poe poem.

Red Door in the French Quarter, New Orleans

Soho, New York

Cooperstown Inn

Savannah Porch

African Series