In an attempt to cheer me up a bit at the end of a rough week, Bryan Caskey sent me this link. As the page explains,
The White House’s Pete Souza Has Shot Nearly 2M Photos of Obama, Here are 55 of His Favorites
I’ve long appreciated Souza’s work. You see it here on the blog from time to time, often illustrating my Open Threads — even when it has nothing to do the topics in the thread — partly because I like them, and partly because they’re in the public domain and I can use them without being sued.
Anyway, here are a few that particularly appealed to me out of the 55.
Well, I’ve got a tougher one today. This morning, I was listening to “One-Note Samba,” and wondered how in the world that could reach out and grab me or anyone else.
Maybe it doesn’t speak to you, but I’ve always had a thing for samba music ever since my Dad brought back some records from a trip to Rio when I was a kid (sort of the way Liverpool kids learned about rock ‘n’ roll from the discs brought into port by sailors). And obviously some people besides me like this one, since it’s been covered so often.
So tell me:
Why does it work? Why isn’t it too monotonous? Does it keep us listening purely because of the rhythm? Is that it? Or is it the fact that we know, as we endure the one-note parts, that it’s going to change, and that change is what rewards us? Or is it because of what the instruments are playing while the singer is stuck on the one note?
Just wondering. Because to me, music is just magic, and far beyond my ken…
Ride of the Valkyrie: Think how disappointing ‘Apocalypse Now’ would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.
It’s bad enough that amateurs are providing video content to news organizations shot with their stupid smartphones in a vertical position — thereby causing us to miss most of what is going on, and having to look at those irritating black bars where we should be seeing something that provides us with additional perspective.
Now, we have professionals telling them not only that it’s OK to do that, but it’s the right way!
And their only excuse for doing that seems to be, Everybody’s screwing up this way, so let’s just say that’s the way to do it.
It’s more comfortable to read things when the phone is standing up. Smartphones and their software were designed to fit in our hands. So why do we turn our phones to shoot and watch video? We shouldn’t. Those of us who used to scream, “You’re holding it wrong!”—we were really the ones who were wrong.
Mobile video is exploding. Fifty-five percent of the world’s mobile traffic is now video, according to Cisco. And U.S. adults now spend 29 minutes a day watching video on their mobile devices, says eMarketer…
Yep, I’m one of those people. Although when I do watch video on my phone, I turn it sideways to see everything that’s going on. And of course if I’m near my Apple TV at home, I project it onto the TV screen — which is way more horizontal than TVs used to be, because the TV industry finally developed a rudimentary aesthetic sense. Because horizontal is the best way to present practically anything.
Notice how much better TV is now? I don’t think it’s an accident that it got better when it went horizontal. Who wants a closeup of Walter White standing there in his silly underpants? We need to see the RV and the desert spread out around him.
Vertical video is the unmistakable mark of the clueless — or of someone who’s hiding something, trying to make you look at this one thing rather than see the context in which that one thing is occurring.
When Burl Burlingame and wife Mary were here last month, we took them with us to check out First Thursday on Main. While we were strolling about in Tapp’s, Burl shot a picture of J and me and processed it through the app Prisma before showing it to us. It was pretty cool.
So tonight, while we were playing a game of Words With Friends across the kitchen table with our iPads — a bit weird, as you wait for your opponent’s move to bounce off a satellite or something and come back down to the table where it originated so you can make your move — J took a picture of me, downloaded Prisma, and chose the “Mosaic” filter.
You see the result above. The really awesome thing about it to me is what it did with our wild kitchen wallpaper — made it look a lot cooler than real life. I’d like to have wallpaper like that.
Anyway, she posted it on Facebook, and Kathryn Fenner responded, “The Old Man and the iPad.”
This takes me to the film we watched last night on DVD, “Love and Mercy,” starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Brian Wilson at different stages of his life — in the ’60s, when his mental illness first interfered with his career with the Beach Boys, and in the ’80s, when he began the process of recovery.
I definitely recommend it.
A few points I came away with:
It had never occurred to me before that Cusack and Dano were so much alike. But when Cusack first appeared after several scenes with Dano, I immediately knew he was supposed to be Wilson, only older. I can’t put my finger exactly on what the commonality was — I said to my wife “I never realized before how much they look alike.” But that’s not it. They don’t really look alike. It was something else. Maybe the voice — the lost-child voice Cusack affected for the role. In any case, deftly done.
If you are, like me, fairly ambivalent about the Beach Boys — enjoy their music, but not a huge fan — this film will help you enjoy their work more deeply, especially the “Pet Sounds”-era music. Watching Dano struggle to translate what he was hearing in his head into something others could hear as well, and gradually recognizing the sounds he was picking out on a piano or through some other means, will connect you to his vision on a whole new level. The best pop-music biopics do that, and this one does it better than most. That’s because the music is so central to the character’s central conflicts.
The sounds only he could hear…
This was probably the best depiction I’ve ever seen of the fabled connection between creative genius and madness. At one point in the film, Wilson says he started hearing “voices” in 1963. In late ’64, he experienced a terrifying panic attack on an airliner while traveling home from a gig, and persuades the band to tour without him while he stays home and works in the studio. That eventually led to “Pet Sounds,” which was all about getting the sounds in his head out onto tape. Well, that’s not all it was about — he thought the band needed to grow to keep from being left behind by the Beatles. The problem was that he was the only one who thought this — the others, especially Mike Love, wanted to stick to the surf and sand and cars and girls formula. But because he was the only one pushing in a new creative direction, the sound became much more about what only he could hear, as his bandmates and studio musicians looked on in bewilderment and tried to follow along, when they weren’t resisting with all their might.
For a time, this tension led to some great work — before Wilson pulled away from everyone and everything, fell further into drug abuse, lost his wife and family, spent three years in bed and ballooned to 300 pounds — all of which happens off-screen, between the Dano and Cusack periods. That brought therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) into Wilson’s life, which led to Landy taking over his life, overmedicating him and ruling him in a fashion reminiscent of Wilson’s abusive father. Which is where Cusack takes up the story.
To a great extent, the film is about how Melinda Ledbetter, who become’s Wilson’s second wife, manages to involve his family in freeing him from Landy.
Best — and possibly most painful — scene: Dano is tentatively, his voice cracking, playing a demo version of what would become “God Only Knows,” just sitting alone at a piano. At least, you think he’s alone until the camera shows his father seated on a sofa in pajamas and bathrobe. Wilson is seeking his father’s approval for his new direction. The father’s brutal, knife-twisting rejection of the song tells you almost everything you need to know about Brian Wilson’s problems. Later, you learn that his Dad slapped him upside the head so often as a kid that he is 96 percent deaf in his right ear.
Here’s the first part of that scene. If it doesn’t make you appreciate the song more than ever, don’t bother watching the film:
When I walked into the church last night, I was handed an Order of Worship with the above image on the front of it, and I was blown away by it.
First, it just had so much heft to it, compared to the usual clip art that appears there. It’s usually something illustrating one of the readings, and it’s generally also forgettable. At the Spanish Mass I attend most Sundays (but not last night), it tends to be an innocuous-looking line drawing featuring people who look vaguely like campesinos in some rural setting, acting out the reading. OK, but they don’t grab you.
This grabbed me. It had such immediate, powerful life to it that for an instant I thought it was a photograph (the part in Jesus’ hair is so naturalistic), then realized it was a reproduction of a painting — one that made extraordinary use of chiaroscuro. It also let me know right away that this would be the Gospel reading:
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and: With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.
So, yeah, heavy stuff.
I started at the image a good bit during Mass, noticing the detail. First, there was the youthful, brooding Jesus, somehow reminding me of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov — partly because he looked younger than usual, but then still believable for a 30-year old. He’s hungry; he’s tired, and you can see that brushing off the Tempter’s blandishments under these circumstances isn’t as easy as we might assume.
Then there’s the intensity of the Devil, who is trying to seem reasonable, but whose desperation can be seen in the tension of his fingers clutching Jesus’ shoulder in a way intended to seem amiable, avuncular, even fatherly, but which is suggestive of an animal desperate not to lose its prey. After all, for Satan, this is the Big Game, the one to pull out all the stops for. He doesn’t offer the whole world to just any victim. (It also occurred to me that this Devil was a close relative, visually, to the Emperor in “Return of the Jedi.” But I brushed that aside; I rather think the Emperor was imitating Satan rather than the other way around.)
Anyway, I later looked up the painting, and found it. It’s a recent work, painted in 2011 by Eric Armusik. And no offense meant to Mr. Armusik, but his full-color original was a disappointment after the reproduction I had seen in our order of worship. Somehow, by cropping it tightly, dumping the color and photocopying it — which made the image much darker than the original — it was made more powerful. For me, anyway.
So for this post, I grabbed a cropped-down version, got rid of the color and darkened it, recreating what I originally saw — which was an image perfect for contemplating during Lent…
Nobody retweeted it, so I guess no one was struck by the similarity the way I was. (It’s not any particular detail about the photos. They just felt alike, to me. I saw it, felt it, got my phone up, zoomed in quickly and shot it, less than a second before she sat down.)
Is this beautiful or what? Has South Carolina ever had a license plate that looked this good? If our state leaders had the good sense to adopt it, could you ever imagine us wanting to change the design again? I can’t.
Thank our own Mark Stewart for putting the image together, based on a conversation he and I had on an earlier post.
Reacting to the blah new design we’ll have to start putting on our cars next year (it lacks lust; it’s so lackluster), Mark said:
I see they are still designing license plates by committee over at the DMV. Another dreadful effort is on display here. Better than last year’s; but that isn’t saying much as those were clearly DOA.
When you have a flag like SC’s for inspiration, how hard is it to bollocks it up?
Absolutely, said I:
I know! We need a dark blue plate with white letters and a white Palmetto tree and crescent moon in the center. How complicated is that? It would be beautiful, and we would never need a redesign, because it couldn’t be improved upon…
I have a lot of respect for states like New Jersey, who have a simple design and just stick with it. You can tell a NJ plate at quite a distance.
I want a plate like that, only beautiful. The flag design is the way to go.
Anyway, we riffed back and forth on the subject for a few more comments, and then Mark, fired up, went and created the above.
Isn’t it gorgeous? If only we could adopt this plate, we’d never need another. It would be impossible to improve upon.
If I were to make any change at all, I might make the blue just a tad darker. But I’d also be satisfied with it just as it is…
No, this is not Fitsnews. The nekkid woman at right is a work of art — a very valuable work of art.
An ex-cab driver who is now a billionaire in China bought the above Modigiliani, titled “Nu Couché,” for — maybe you should sit down first — $170,405,000.
Unlike with some extremely expensive works of art, I totally get why he liked it. It’s appeal is rather straightforward and visceral. But so is the kind of picture that will no longer appear in Playboy. I would not pay $1.70 for a picture in Playboy (which is why Playboy is struggling), much less $170 million for any picture that has ever been put on the market. If I had $170 billion, I wouldn’t spend that much for a picture. I wouldn’t want to be such a sap for one thing, and there are far better ways to spend the money.
Besides, to see that very same picture, all I had to do was Google it. I don’t care how nice the brushstrokes are, a picture is a picture.
Which means that even if I were a billionaire, you probably wouldn’t find me at Christie’s. Although I did have a pint in a pub across the street from Christie’s when I was in London. In the pub were a number of guys who apparently worked there, but I didn’t talk to them while enjoying my bitter.
However, I’m not entirely lacking in the sensibilities necessary to see marketability in art. Check out this interactive feature from The New York Times, which asks you which works of art brought the highest price. I got the first three right and thought I was really savvy, but I missed on the rest of them.
Another good reason for me not to spend millions on a painting even if I had billions. I’d be a lousy judge of resale value.
I’m an editor, and as an editor — although not a book editor, I’ll allow — I understand why a book, or a column, or a news story, doesn’t get published: Because it wasn’t good enough.
Here’s what happened: A wannabe novelist submitted a manuscript, and an editor took a look at it, and said, essentially, This is not the novel you want to publish. The novel you want to publish is in these flashback passages. Dig into those, make those into your novel, and then you’ll have something.
He saw the truth in those passages, when Scout was just a girl. So, the editor did what I did when a piece just needed way more change than I had time to give it in the editing process — he kicked it back, gave her the chance to redeem herself as a writer, to write the great book that the editor saw in her.
No one has said this, but I strongly suspect that the editor had had his fill of novels by young folks who had come to New York, donned a mantle of self-conscious sophistication, gone home to visit their small-town homes, and then thought they were being terribly original by coming back to Manhattan and writing about how small, provincial, narrow and stultifying their home towns were. When really, they were being painfully trite.
He wanted Nelle to dig into the true story that she had in her, the one before all that, when she and Scout were unspoiled by the world, and yes, her Daddy was a hero.
And of course, being the editor, he was right. What he directed her to write was perhaps the best-loved American novel, one that was true, that spoke to people, that hit them where they lived, that said something about the American experience and its central conflict that needed to be said, and needed to be said in precisely that voice. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the two great, profound American novels that examine the narrative of race in this country — this and Huck Finn — are both told from the perspective of a child…)
I plan to read Go Set A Watchman, and I expect I’ll enjoy parts of it, here and there — it will be nice to hear that voice again. But I’m not going to get upset thinking something happened to Atticus. I know the real Atticus. This isn’t some sequel revealing some new, shocking side to him; this is just an imperfect, throwaway, first draft of him. And I know how little first drafts may be worth, before an editor gets ahold of them.
Anyway, this morning I was looking for something unrelated among my pictures from my recent trip, and ran across this one that I had failed to share when I wrote about visiting Burl’s aviation museum on Ford Island.
It was a touch of home, one rivaling those sunsets in pulchritude.
On a display next to a C-47 — something that fills me with nostalgia, since it’s the first aircraft I ever flew on (in South America, over the Andes, when I was about 9 or 10) — there it was: The most popular pinup of South Carolina model Jewel Flowers Evans, whose face and figure was made famous by artist Rolf Armstrong.
Her obituary in The State in 2006 called her “probably the number one pin-up girl of all time.” Whether she was or not, she gets my vote. Here are some other images of her, including this photo that is apparently from the same session in 1941 that produced the one on the nose of that plane.
It was the first time I’ve actually heard Phillip in concert, and it was awesome. (I’m not counting this impromptu performance in Kathryn’s salon.) Although he would have been even more entertaining had he given us some of the extremely intense facial expressions offered by the lovely visiting violinist. That was worth paying extra for.
But seriously, folks, Phillip is an amazing talent.
I apologize for the low quality of the photo below. I shot it as the musicians were taking their positions as the intermission ended. I wanted a shot of Phillip and also of the violinist, so we could tell the Twins that if they really practice hard on their cellos, they, too, will be able to wear such a shiny dress.
That’s Phillip behind the grand. The guy whose head you can see, not the guy in the khaki pants — that’s his page turner. Talk about having a great seat! I was pretty envious of that guy…
Seems a bit off, doesn’t it? Here’s what they were reaching for.
The website the Pin linked to didn’t offer any information beyond the headline, “Abbey Road Album Cover Outtakes.” You’d think there be a word or two about the photographer, etc.
But no. In this increasingly image-oriented world, too often we only get the pictures.
But I went and found this info elsewhere:
Iain Macmillan was a freelance photographer and a friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds.
Prior to the shoot, Paul McCartney had sketched his ideas for the cover, to which Macmillan added a more detailed illustration….
A policeman held up the traffic as Macmillan, from a stepladder positioned in the middle of the road, took six shots as the group walked across the zebra crossing just outside the studio.
The Beatles crossed the road a number of times while Macmillan photographed them. 8 August was a hot day in north London, and for four of the six photographs McCartney walked barefoot; for the other two he wore sandals.
Shortly after the shoot, McCartney studied the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. It was the only one when all four Beatles were walking in time. It also satisfied The Beatles’ desire for the world to see them walking away from the studios they had spent so much of the last seven years inside….
Of course, we are left to guess whether that’s accurate. But it sounds right. Notice how Paul was driving everything? By the end, he was the only one interested in doing things together as Beatles…
It’s one of Robert Ariail’s most popular ever, and it served a good cause — it was turned into a poster, copies of which were sold, and the proceeds donated to disaster relief.
Unfortunately, it’s from the pre-digital days, so I couldn’t find it online.
Robert was kind enough to email this to me, so I share it now.
The original that ran in the paper was black-and-white, although color was added for the posters. After scanning the original to share it with us, Robert photoshopped in some color to recreate the poster effect…
The sweet spot for serial television drama right now exists on non-premium cable channels. After decades of dominance by the broadcast networks, followed by a period in which the premium cable channels broke the mold with hits that reached mainstream culture like Oz, The Sopranos, and Dexter, non-premium channels like the Fox property FX, BBC America and AMC have rushed in to, at least temporarily, hold a lock on the highest volume of compelling drama on the small screen today.
That’s something I might have said two or three years ago (think “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead”). What I sense happening now, or about to happen now, is a shift beyond non-premium cable TV, and on to series made for streaming and bingeing, such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”
But the general observation of the piece is that there is a seemingly deliberate lack of characters to root for, or even care about, in the most compelling recent dramatic series.
It ends, as do so many episodes of these popular series, on a dark note:
It is at least marginally troublesome that as a society, our most compelling entertainment increasingly eschews the concept or even the ideal that good exists in the world and ultimately should prevail. An artistic criticism of this view can legitimately point out that life is rarely so neat as to allow for the inevitable victory of the white knight. However, the rejoinder to this point is that we are not considering real life but rather television, which exists because we would rather watch it than real life. The entire raison d’etre of the medium is to idealize real life interactions into conclusions that are satisfying on at least some visceral level. If our television tastes are any guide, America increasingly takes satisfaction from a muddled mess of emotional responses which are provoked by disorderly and sometimes directly contradictory stimuli. Perhaps, if a society can be judged by its entertainment, what we are witnessing is the leading edge of the end of America’s desire to collectively be the good guy, or even to support the good guy in his efforts to be good. Or perhaps we don’t need television to tell us this; perhaps we need look no further than the ballot box.
Do we really not want to find good in characters and root for it? I don’t think that’s the case, although there’s no doubt we are living in a more cynical world than the one I grew up in.
I think we are still human, and there is still good in us, and within us lives a desire to perceive good, and embrace it — however many times we’ve been disappointed. I think the dark, moral emptiness of these recent entertainments is a function of writers and directors who are trying to produce high-quality material, and who buy into the insidious notion that moral clarity is lowbrow and insufficiently “artistic.” So they steer clear of it.
But does “quality” really have to be so dark, so morally arid?
I think if someone would come along and produce similar series, but with the humanity-affirming characteristics that marked “The West Wing,” the world would joyfully cheer, and reward the effort with their loyal patronage.
Think of that — a new series with the cinematic quality of “Breaking Bad,” but with characters like Jed Bartlet and Leo McGarry and Josh Lyman — characters you want to see succeed. As I watch the series for the first time, each night as I work out, I simply don’t see any characters who are utterly lacking in appealing characteristics. Even the adversarial figures who try to thwart our heroes have understandable, sympathetic reasons for taking the positions they do. While there are occasional digressions from this approach (one of the weakest scenes I’ve encountered was the one in which Jed Bartlet humiliates a character based on Dr. Laura with what he seems to imagine is a clever manner, but which is painfully trite — by asking her whether she literally supports all of the strictures in the Old Testament), by and large there is an appealing understanding of everyone’s motives.
Which is the way we should all live our lives. We should take strong stands based on what our discernment has taught us to believe is right, but strive to appreciate the convictions of those with whom we disagree. It could serve as an antidote to the default mode of today’s partisans, which is to demonize opponents, and scoff at their motives.
Imagine that — television that not only gives us heroes to root for, but which shows us ways to be a better society.
The main point of the column didn’t interest me much — it was of a certain type, which we see written from the perspective of an ideologue complaining that ideologues of the opposite camp have a double standard, and criticize people of the writer’s camp for doing a certain thing, but don’t criticize people of their camp when they do the same thing. You know what I mean. You’ve read this one a million times.
In this case, he was angry that people who vehemently defend a guy named Michael Sam — apparently someone who people who follow football know all about — did not equally defend Tim Tebow when he was playing the game and taking a lot of flak.
The part of that that interested me was the Tim Tebow part.
And here, I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me as I propose an anachronistic topic. I realize that everybody who follows football, or is really into Culture War stuff, thoroughly hashed and rehashed everything there is to say about Tebow years ago. Well, I didn’t. I get interested in stuff when I get interested in it. Like “The West Wing,” which I will continue trying to interest y’all in discussing until I run out of episodes to watch on Netflix… and probably far beyond.
The advantage to you of a topic like this is that y’all have already thought it out and have wonderfully well-honed, nuanced positions on it. So you’re ahead of me. Assuming you can still remember your positions after all this time.
While everyone who followed football was really, really into taking strong stances on Tebow, I was peripherally aware of him. And what I was aware of was the kneeling thing. The “Tebowing.” Because it was kind of hard to miss, permeating visual media the way it did.
And each time I saw the image, as this morning, I wondered what to think of it. And I was always of two minds, at least.
On the one hand, it’s great that a guy isn’t embarrassed about his faith, and willing to witness to it in public — and in his case, in a considerable spotlight. On the other hand, it was awfully showy and “look at me,” seemingly a textbook example of what Jesus spoke against in Matthew 6:5.
And I find myself wondering whether Jesus’ judgment on this topic was culture-specific. He was speaking in a time and place when public prayer was a way of raising yourself in public esteem. Whereas, as Tebow himself can attest, doing so now subjects you to considerable abuse and ridicule. Especially when you play for a New York team.
Finally, on the third hand (yes, I know this metaphor is no longer working), I like the Tebowing gesture totally apart from theological questions. I’m a big fan of Arthurian legend — I may have mentioned that before — and Tebow’s gesture evokes the kneeling knight, his sword held before him like a cross. Which, to a geek like me who thinks pre-Raphaelite paintings are cool and not at all trite or corny, is appealing.
Thoughts? Or is this just too anachronistic for y’all? If so, I won’t try yet again to get a thread going on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars…
My youngest daughter, the one who’s in Thailand now, adopted the above image as her new profile picture on Facebook. As I said in response, this is one of my favorite pictures I ever shot — perhaps one of my favorites that I ever saw.
It shows my two youngest. This was back when they were known in the family as “the little girls.” We had the three “big kids” who were close together in age, then a five-year gap, then the little girls.
Now they’re grown, like the big kids.
This was also back when I was still using my Nikon 8008, an awesome camera that now sits in a drawer because dealing with film is such an expensive hassle. I used to shoot black-and-white all the time — this was probably shot either on Tri-X or T-Max — which I would develop at home, and make my own prints. I would close off a bathroom that had no windows, set up my enlarger, put towels down at the crack under the door, and spend a whole Saturday printing.
This is one of those prints. The resolution is a little soft (actually, we would have referred to focus and grain rather than “resolution”), but that’s the way it was with 400 ASA film with ambient light indoors. But that’s one of the things that makes the picture work.