Tuesday, December 29, 2009

High Society: The Philadelphia Story remake I never knew existed

Hello :) Welcome back to this little space after a few weeks of much needed hiatus and retreat. I have been away in Nebraska for Christmas, and no, I'm not really ready to be back in the city. But never mind all that, lets jump in, shall we?

I used to play a little game with friends and strangers called 'Let's recast The Philadelphia Story.' The Philadelphia Story, if you weren't aware, is one of my all time favorite films. You can read about it here. One of the many things that makes this film remarkable is that three of the biggest actors from the early 1940's star in it-- Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn.

So next comes the question of who would we cast in these roles if the film were to be remade? What actress could ever fill the shoes of Katherine Hepburn as Tracy Lord? Cary Grant as Dexter? (George Cluny, clearly. And perhaps Tom Hanks in the Stewart role. MAYBE Brad Pitt. Cate Blanchett as Hepburn could work. I'm open to suggestions.) Could it even be done?

Well APPARENTLY it has! Imagine my surprise when I opened my stocking to find High Society, a 1956 REMAKE OF THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Mind blowing. (And thank you, Emily, for the stocking stuffer!) High Society, starring (are you prepared for this?) Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and to throw in an extra punch, Louis Armstrong.

High Society follows The Philadelphia Story's script to a T, with the addition of a few musical numbers (by the great Cole Porter) and a few minor plot shifts. The biggest addition is C.K. Dexter's reason for being on the estate-- a jazz fest. Oh, and that the story is set in Baltimore. (Which also explains the title change.) The Jazz fest does seem a bit disconnected from the rest of the script, and come to find out, it was only added to the film because the writer decided to combine two films-- The Philadelphia Story and a new film about the jazz scene in Baltimore. There ya go.

As for the cast change-- trying to compare makes me dizzy. Do we ask who is better? Bing Crosby or Cary Grant? Grace Kelly or Katherine Hepburn? Frank Sinatra or Jimmy Stewart? Ahh! It's a mean game of Sophie's Choice. I just can't do it. (Except, well, Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart. They win. There, I did it.)

That said, High Society is glorious. Glamorous, amazing, perfect. See it. When else will you see a duet between Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra? (Do you have chills?) Or, how about Bing Crosby and Louis Armstong!? Bananas. Craziness! Really lovely craziness. And a nice start to the New Year, don't you think?

Happy New Year, everyone :)

PS. A special thanks to my dear friend Amanda, who reminded me why blogging is good, and who has her own NEW little bloggy that I would like to share with you all: amandascates.blogspot.com Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day

I've never really been one for poetry, yet here I am with two poems in one month. Imagine that. I suppose that I don't understand most poetry but every once in a while something will jump at me and clutch my heart, making all the sense in the world. It happens most often when the rest of life isn't making much sense-- the abstract becomes so very clear.

And isn't that what poetry is for? Poems and paintings and songs are there to fill the voids that cannot be thought through with common words and voices? Well, this is one of those poems. An abstraction that understands all of my misunderstandings.

I actually sent it to Annie a few months ago, because it reminded me of her spirit and her sentiment. The last few stanzas (stanzas?) get to me, so if nothing else, skip over the first part about the warbler and spend some time with the lying in bed portion of the poem. (But then, of course, you will want to circle back and read the warbler part because the laying in bed portion was so very perfect.)

I think I first heard this read on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, which if you don't already listen to, please start immediately. (You can, of course, get the podcast version if you don't listen to radio, so there are no excuses.)

So here you are, New York. Enjoy this poem and enjoy this sunny December day.

And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day
by Michael Blumenthal

Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
or dreamed. Take, for example, how the warbler, perched on a

mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,

come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets

and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed

so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto

but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,

waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,

and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Single Man

Movie Monday was resurrected last night with the stunning Tom Ford creation, A Single Man. Now, when I say stunning, I mean visually, and when I say creation, I don't mean movie. Because this wasn't so much a movie as much as it was a--- I don't know-- painting? photograph? vintage gown?

A Single Man was a chance for Tom Ford to visually create a world that includes all of the 'things he likes' for lack of a better phrase. It would be like me making a film about exposed brick walls, jars of white peonies, Brooklyn wine bars, Jimmy Stewart films, crackling fireplaces, and vats of salty olives. All the women would be very smart in turtleneck dresses with black tights and massive gold bracelets, and the men would all be funny. A bit indulgent, don't you think?

For his film, Tom Ford chose thin black ties, freshly pressed oxford dress shirts, square silver cuff links, and gin martinis. He also bowed toward beauty like no one has before. Super models played the extras, all the men had crazy tans and chiseled abs. The women were manicured into magazine cut outs who smoked pink cigarettes in their candy colored lips.

Mr. Ford also remained somewhat non-specific and general in his telling. Although based on a 1964 novel by the same title, Ford's adaptation wasn't deeply personal or too intimate, like we might expect a film-about-a-gay-professor-attempting-suicide-upon-the-death-of-his-young-and-charismatic-love to be. The film was a symphony, not a folk tune. This might help explain why it didn't feel like a movie to me-- it was removed, like how paintings are removed-- it was still, hushed, subdued.

Julianne Moore completely stole the film, you have to agree. She was the red paint, the splash of color and noise. I am completely obsessed with her 60s eyeliner and redheaded up-do. (Can we please bring black coal back into rotation?--I've asked before and I'm asking again.) While George's home was rich brown and grey and ivory, Charley's home was decorated with orange trees, silk upholstery, and a peach colored crescent shaped sofa. In fact, I saw this film for one scene, as described in Vogue magazine as 'iconic 60s perfection'--- Julianne Moore and Colin Firth doing the twist. And, yes, it was well worth the other 100 minutes of viewing. As were the Gatsby eyes. (If you know what I'm referring to, you get a gold star.)

Did I love the movie? Well, no. Alison, Katie, and I kind of nodded afterwards, agreeing that we 'got it', that we understood what it was supposed to be, who it was for. (It was for Luke Foss, duh.) It was a absolutely stunning film, we cannot argue that. But after coming to these somewhat broad conclusions we moved right along, back into our silly lives on the C train to Brooklyn.

See it. But please don't take this film seriously. Like is too short to brood over starched collars and square cuff links. Just have a gimlet and a very Merry Christmas. :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Image: 'Tracks' by one of my very favorite printmakers, Richard Bosman, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

I'm sure I'm breaking a million copyright laws by posting this, but after searching for a nice Grinch quote to match my gorgeous Grinch illustrations, I found the full text! My heart grew three sizes just reading it again this morning and I think we're all in need of some heart growth right about now.

The illustrations above are taken from the original 1959 text. Note that the Grinch is not green-- the green was added later to the cartoon movie version in 1966, then further shown in that terrible Jim Carey movie that I'd rather not think about. The original drawings by Dr. Suess himself were simply black and white line drawings with some bright Christmas red highlighting. I adore them.

I could go on about the morals of this story, or compare it to Dickens, or reminisce on the importance of children's books but instead I'll just let you read the story. Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy.

(Note: For those of you who think I overuse caps lock and exclamation points to convey excitement in my blogs and emails, keep reading. Looks like I'm not the only one! DR. SUESS seems to be guilty of this as well!!! I learned from the best.)

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

by Dr. Suess

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Who-ville,
Did NOT!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
Whatever the reason,
His heart or his shoes,

He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos,
Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town.
For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath
Was busy now, hanging a mistleoe wreath.

"And they're hanging their stockings!" he snarled with a sneer.
"Tomorrow is Christmas! It's practically here!"
Then he growled, with his grinch fingers nervously drumming,
"I MUST find a way to keep Christmas from coming!"
For, tomorrow, he knew...

...All the Who girls and boys
Would wake up bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That's one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!
Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast.
And they'd feast! And they'd feast!

They would start on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast
Which was something the Grinch couldn't stand in the least!

They'd do something he liked least of all!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing.
They'd stand hand-in-hand. And the Whos would start singing!

They'd sing! And they'd sing!

And the more the Grinch thought of the Who-Christmas-Sing
The more the Grinch thought, "I must stop this whole thing!
"Why for fifty-three years I've put up with it now!
I MUST stop Christmas from coming!

...But HOW?"

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!


"I know just what to do!" The Grinch Laughed in his throat.
And he made a quick Santy Claus hat and a coat.

And he chuckled, and clucked, "What a great Grinchy trick!
"With this coat and this hat, I'll look just like Saint Nick!"
"All I need is a reindeer..."

The Grinch looked around.
But since reindeer are scarce, there was none to be found.

Did that stop the old Grinch...?
No! The Grinch simply said,
"If I can't find a reindeer, I'll make one instead!"

So he called his dog Max. Then he took some red thread
And he tied a big horn on top of his head.


He loaded some bags
And some old empty sacks
On a ramshakle sleigh
And he hitched up old Max.

Then the Grinch said, "Giddyap!"
And the sleigh started down
Toward the homes where the Whos
Lay a-snooze in their town.

All their windows were dark. Quiet snow filled the air.
All the Whos were all dreaming sweet dreams without care
When he came to the first house in the square.

"This is stop number one," The old Grinchy Claus hissed
And he climbed to the roof, empty bags in his fist.
Then he slid down the chimney. A rather tight pinch.
But if Santa could do it, then so could the Grinch.

He got stuck only once, for a moment or two.
Then he stuck his head out of the fireplace flue
Where the little Who stockings all hung in a row.
"These stockings," he grinned, "are the first things to go!"

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took every present!
Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums!
Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!

And he stuffed them in bags. Then the Grinch, very nimbly,
Stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimney!
Then he slunk to the icebox. He took the Whos' feast!
He took the Who-pudding! He took the roast beast!

He cleaned out that icebox as quick as a flash.
Why, that Grinch even took their last can of Who-hash!
Then he stuffed all the food up the chimney with glee.
"And NOW!" grinned the Grinch, "I will stuff up the tree!"

And the Grinch grabbed the tree, and he started to shove
When he heard a small sound like the coo of a dove.
He turned around fast, and he saw a small Who!
Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than two.

The Grinch had been caught by this little Who daughter
Who'd got out of bed for a cup of cold water.
She stared at the Grinch and said, "Santy Claus, why,
"Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?"

But, you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick
He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!
"Why, my sweet little tot," the fake Santy Claus lied,
"There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side.

"So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear.
"I'll fix it up there. Then I'll bring it back here."
And his fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head
And he got her a drink and he sent he to bed.

And when Cindy-Lou Who went to bed with her cup,
HE went to the chimney and stuffed the tree up!
Then the last thing he took
Was the log for their fire.
Then he went up the chimney himself, the old liar.
On their walls he left nothing but hooks, and some wire.

And the one speck of food
The he left in the house
Was a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.

He did the same thing
To the other Whos' houses
Leaving crumbs
Much too small
For the other Whos' mouses!

It was quarter past dawn...
All the Whos, still a-bed
All the Whos, still a-snooze
When he packed up his sled,

Packed it up with their presents! The ribbons! The wrappings!
The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mount Crumpit,
He rode to the tiptop to dump it!

"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!
"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
"The all the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!"

"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch,
"That I simply must hear!"
So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow...
But the sound wasn't sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so!

But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"

And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

And what happened then...?
Well...in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!

And he...
The Grinch carved the roast beast!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sufjan Stevens: Come Thou Fount

Well, it's December, folks. Christmastime is here. And before I dwell too much on the glory of December, let me paint you a few pictures of the holiday season here at 50 Downing Street.

Scene 1: Annie, Katie, and I were gathered in my bedroom in the late evening sometime last week. Annie and Katie were laying on my bed, drawing magpies and swallows and other birds of doom, while I was at my sewing machine, messing around with bits of fabric and paper. The mood was an attempt at optimism, although notably somber.

Our discussion somehow suddenly shifted from bird allegories to that silly yet relevant discussion where one gets to imagine big things, out of the realm of reality that we would wish for had we the chance. What would you wish for if you were granted three wishes? (If you don't remember the rules from grade school, you can't wish for money and you can't wish for more wishes.)

Lots of big, heartbreaking wishes were thrown into our little world framed by my bright blue walls and all-white linens. The wishes hung there in the middle of the room like clouds for us to ponder their possible shapes and meanings. We wished for love, wished for understanding. We wished for clarity and talent. I wished for a washer and dryer.

But my favorite wish of all was Katie's wish for the fronts of houses to be set on hinges. She wished that we could open up all of Brooklyn like a dollhouse, and observe the little worlds inside. We could pick up chandeliers like jewelry and watch first hand discussions on little things like paint colors or movie choices to big things like mortgages and marriage. We could learn so much by what is kept indoors and not shared in outside conversation.

Well, fast-forward to scene 2, same apartment, a week later. I found myself standing on the hardwood floor of our little attic apartment, with the proverbial rug pulled out from under me, thinking of Katie's dollhouse wish. Had 50 Downing street been set on hinges, the world outside could have observed the same three girls, the same somber faces (I promise that this post will become less doomy. Bear with me.) all staring at strong and handsome Irishman hacking at the trunk of a 6-ft Christmas spruce with a kitchen knife and a hammer, completely humbled by his kindness.

I'm not going to even attempt to share with you how we got there, who the Irishman is, and why we remained so gloomy (one highlight: me putting the finishing touches on my lovingly dressed tree only to have it topple over immediately, revealing my complete incompetence in doing things like 'putting a real live Christmas tree in a stand with water.') But what I will share is this: what started out to be a miserable evening turned out pretty okay. Nice, even.

I found myself in the third scene, a few hours later, surrounded by my make-shift Brooklyn family of four (John came up after a bit), eating fish sticks and 1/8 of a frozen personal sized pizza off a card table in the middle of the room (we replaced our normal table with a Christmas tree, ha). Sufjan Steven's Christmas album was playing softly behind our laughter.

I hadn't listened to this particular album in a while, and was shocked and so very pleased to hear 'Come Thou Fount', one of my very favorite hymns (one of everyones favorite hymns?), stuck there between 'Angels We Have Heard on High' and 'I Saw Three Ships.' It isn't even a Christmas song, not in the least, and I'd like to think that Sufjan stuck in there because of the word 'Ebenezer' in the second verse. I always thought of Dickens too.

In that moment, surrounded by friends' stories and the heavy scent of evergreen, Sufjan's version of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing kind of saved my life. Well, it didn't save my life, I really am okay. We're all okay. But it did, at the very least, save my evening. Hello, glorious December. Looking forward to whatever you may bring.

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy grace I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.