Category Archives: Art

‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

UMBRELLAS-OF-CHERBOURG

Having recently become members of the Nickelodeon, my wife and I on Sunday attended a special showing of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, ” the film that launched Catherine Deneuve as a star.

I’m not what you’d call a big fan of colorful romantic musicals of the early 1960s, but this one was unusual, if not unique. And not just because it was in French.

First, it was at first glance visually very much like Hollywood films of the time — very Kandy-Kolored, none of that somber continental auteur black-and-white stuff. In fact, the colors were sort of a foreshadowing of the later psychedelic portion of the decade. The wallpaper alone in some of the interior sets would make you suspect there were some very funny mushrooms in the vicinity of Cherbourg.

Then there was the fact that it wasn’t just a musical musical, in the sense of people suddenly and without warning breaking into song for no good reason. Every word of dialogue, down to the most pedestrian remarks, was sung. A bit disturbing at first, but this operatic device worked, even with me. In the opening scene, a guy who works with one of the protagonists at a garage sings that he doesn’t like opera; give him movies instead. I could identify, ordinarily. Anyway, it made for a nice little internal joke.

If you get the opportunity to see the film sometime — it’s no longer showing at the Nick — it’s worth it just for the moments when suddenly, you recognize a tune the characters are singing. I was delighted and frustrated by this, because these tunes were very much a part of the background of the 1960s — the grownup, Muzak, “standards” part that was always playing somewhere, even though it’s not what we kids sought out. Here’s a cover of one. I’m proud that I made the connection on this one before the film was over, when suddenly my brain replaced the French words with “If it takes forever, I will wait for you.” Here’s another earworm from the film.

I had never heard of the film back in those days, but I certainly knew the tunes.

SPOILERS to follow…

That warning seems a bit unnecessary, but I’m hoping that some of you who haven’t seen it will see it sometime. As for those who have seen it, I’d be interested in what you think about how the film turned out.

As happens at the Nick, there was discussion of the film there in the theater before and after the showing. At the start, we were told that this apparently light story was set within the context of France’s traumatic experience in the Algerian War. But… I didn’t see any heavy political subtext. The structure of the film was in three parts, the first being boy-meets-girl and the second boy-leaves-girl-to-go-to-war. It could have been any conflict, or some other cause. The point was that the boy went away. There was nothing special about the fact that it was to Algiers.

Madeleine -- not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on...

Madeleine — not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on…

Then there was the ending, which in a sense was the least Hollywood thing about the film. And this is the real spoiler. We’d been set up to think it would be a terrible thing if Geneviève and Guy didn’t get back together — in conventional Hollywood terms. But from the moment Mssr. Cassard and Madeleine made their appearances, I felt that they were better mates for our star-crossed lovers. Sure, in Hollywood-values terms, Deneuve was beautiful as Geneviève — being beautiful was her specialty, especially when she was older — but Madeleine was more my type, and Guy’s, too, I thought. Not only did Ellen Farner have a kind of pre-Katharine Ross thing going on (and it was a law of movies in the ’60s — if Katharine Ross appears, you the male viewer will fall in love with her), but there was depth of character in her face. This is the girl you marry, Guy. And Messr. Cassard was more the kind of mate Geneviève needed, despite — or perhaps even because of — his over-trimmed mustache.

Anyway, I guess that’s enough on the subject of a film you probably won’t see unless you go out of your way. But it impressed me and I wanted to share that…

The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.

The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.

Remembering ‘American Girl in Italy’

american_girl_in_italy

The girl in the famous photograph became an old woman, and died this week at the age of 90.

I just thought I’d post the picture and see if y’all wanted to discuss it. I hope this will be seen within the bounds of Fair Use, because I can’t afford to buy rights to photos.

It should stir all sorts of reactions based in all sorts of worldviews. At one end of the spectrum is the attitude of the woman herself, who “said the image represented nothing more than admiration and curiosity and was ‘a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time.'” She elaborated:

“Women look at that picture and feel indignant, angry,” she told the Times. “They say, ‘That poor woman. We should be able to walk wherever we want to and not be threatened.’ As gently as I can, I explain I was not feeling fear. There was no danger because it was a far different time.”

On the other end of the spectrum is the whole #metoo movement, and the notion that what the photo depicts is barely distinguishable from sexual assault.

As for me, I’m somewhere in between. I personally would never behave like the men in the picture, and yes, some of that is a matter of character — a gentleman does not act that way. But maybe I’m just less honest than those guys. Also, I’m not Italian and I wasn’t alive in 1951.

My wife backpacked around Europe with another girl the summer before we met, and in Italy she experienced worse than what is depicted here. Which, needless to say, displeases me and makes me feel protective. But it happened before I knew her, and she came through it OK, and, generally, seems to have done OK taking care of herself without me.

My reaction to that picture lies somewhere between a wry smile at human nature and a contemptuous “look at those a__holes….”

Sex, and the way people are about sex, are complicated things. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand it with regard to myself, much less other people. This picture remains iconic because it depicts the power of sex both as a creative and destructive force.

What does it say to you?

The State House monument to Confederate women

Confederate women monument

As part of my daily walking regimen, I had probably passed by it scores of times over the last few months, but never turned my head at the right moment to notice it — which is weird, because once you notice it, it’s hugely imposing.

I’d missed it because if you’re walking up the concrete incline from Pendleton toward the State House, you can’t see it until your eyes are at the right level, and if you don’t look more than 90 degrees to your left at that precise instant, it’s behind you. (When I took the shot above, only my head was higher than the base of the statue.)

Yesterday, the freshly-planted (I think) flowers caught my eye first, and as my eye rose above them, I saw the monument.

It’s so huge and elaborate, it’s kind of startling when you first see it, so close by.

I looked it up when I got back to the office, and found this page, which told me:

The Monument to Confederate Women, called Angels of the Confederacy, was erected in 1912. The sculptor was Frederick W. Ruckstull. The inscription on the northwest side reads: “In this monument, generations unborn shall hear the voice of a grateful people testifying to the sublime devotion of the women of South Carolina in their country’s need. Their unconquerable spirit strengthened the thin lines of gray, their tender care was solace to the stricken. Reverence for God and unfaltering faith in a righteous cause inspired heroism that survived the immolation of sons, and courage that bore the agony of suspense and the shock of disaster. The tragedy of the Confederacy may be forgotten, but the fruits of the noble service of the daughters of the South are our perpetual heritage.”

The cult of the Lost Cause ran to flowery exaggeration, didn’t it? But of course, that was the style of the time. And what was being described was something that stirred strong emotions.

The really sad thing about it, though, is that the real tragedy escaped the practitioners of this faith. It escaped them, and in some cases yet escapes some among us, that all of that suffering, which was entirely real and even awe-inspiring, was in the service not of a “righteous cause” but of its opposite. The ultimate tragedy is that South Carolina and the other states started the whole thing, causing so many to suffer, to defend the institution that was the central evil of our history.

In other words, it would have been extremely helpful if that “faith” had been less “unfaltering.”

But it wasn’t, and our collective psyche as a people was further scarred by what happened as a result…

Another angle so you can see the base, and know how massive this thing is.

Another angle so you can see the base, and know how massive this thing is.

Obama portrait: Is this modern? Do you LIKE this?

Obama portrait

I’m still kinda buggin’ in reaction to the Obama portrait unveiled yesterday.

As I said on Twitter last night:

Yeah, it looks like him. But what is this, a Grateful Dead album cover? Why does he seem to be floating in the middle of a hedge or something (specifically, the 12-foot-high hedge of hibiscus that ran the length of our backyard in Hawaii in 1971… except… the flowers are different), with leaves and flowers threatening to envelop him?

Barry in the Sky with Blossoms?

I guess you’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus.

As I told Bryan in a subsequent Twitter discussion, this really brings out my Tory sensibilities. Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock” once said:

A horse is one of only three appropriate subjects for a painting, along with ships with sails, and men holding up swords while staring off into the distance.

Hear, hear. And certainly not something from the fevered imaginings of Timothy Leary. Harrumph!…

"LOOK at them!" cried the emperor. This is nonsense!"

“LOOK at them!” cried the emperor. This is nonsense!”

A better use for $450 million

800px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_(attributed),_c.1490–1519,_Salvator_Mundi,_oil_on_walnut,_45.4_×_65.6_cm_(framed)

I just thought I’d share here what I had to say last night when I got the news….

I mean, seriously: You know how I got the above image for this post? I right-clicked on it and saved it. It’s in the public domain. Look at it all you want, for free.

I mean, that’s OK, right — you attorneys out there? Or does the new owner own the rights to the public domain photo on Wikipedia, too?

John Ashbery: He was a poet, and I didn’t know it

Ashbery

The other day, I showed a screenshot from my NYT app in which everything visible on the page was about Hurricane Harvey. Well, that’s not the only thing the paper covers thoroughly.

A couple of days back, poet John Ashbery died, and the Times went pretty big with it — as you see, four separate headlines.

And this made me feel dumb, and out of it.

It got me to thinking: Aside from that anthology of Yeats (which I’ve had since college) that sits on a shelf in our upstairs bathroom, which I may glance at once or twice a year, when do I ever read poetry any more at all? (And let’s be really honest here: When I do pick up the Yeats book, I don’t read anything new — I turn either to “The Second Coming” or “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”)

Can I even name a living poet? I mean, I sort of think of Elvis Costello as a poet, and some people might cite rappers, but here I’m using a more restrictive definition: Can I name any living people who just write verse without being known for anything else, full-time poets like Yeats and Keats and Coleridge and e.e. cummings, or, I don’t know, Edwin Arlington Robinson (who I had to look up to add to the list, even though I do remember one of his poems)?

No, I cannot. As much as I was immersed in such in school, it’s like poetry was a thing that ceased to exist after graduation, as much a thing of the past as knights in armor. And I’m a guy who’s always made his living with words! If there’s a latter-day belle dame sans merci, or a goat-footed balloon man still out there whistling far and wee, I am unaware of it.

Apparently, this John Ashbery was a major deal. He won every poetry prize there was, and lived to be 90 without my being aware of him.

Were any of y’all as ignorant as I?

Here’s one of his poems:

This Room

The room I entered was a dream of this room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.
The oval portrait
of a dog was me at an early age.
Something shimmers, something is hushed up.
We had macaroni for lunch every day
except Sunday, when a small quail was induced
to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?
You are not even here.

So now you can say you read some poetry today. How often can you say that?

Yikes! A statue even neoConfederates should want taken down

forrestMeant to share this the other day. It was in a Tweet from Noelle Phillips, who used to work at The State:

Yowee! Never mind the meaning! That is one ugly statue!

Personally, I would lead the charge to get that taken down — if I were the president of a society dedicated to protecting the reputation of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Meanwhile, folks who don’t want the Confederacy glorified would seem likely to demand that this one stay up.

The sculptor must have really hated the early KKK leader. Do they keep that up to frighten children? Or to make them laugh? I think the former would be more likely to happen…

A laser display that lasts 10 years?

I read with mild interest the news that someone was going to set up an “installation” of laser beams criss-crossing our rivers downtown.

It might be an interesting thing to see one dark evening. I might even pause and contemplate it for a moment or two.

But then I got to the wild part, set out in this headline from Free Times:

I had to reply to that, asking “Ten YEARS?” You might not have been able to tell on Twitter, but I was channeling Jeremy Piven in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (see above).

I was assured that yes, that was correct.

Huh. It sounds cool for a night, sort of, but don’t they think people might tire of the same shtick over the course of TEN YEARS?

I think so. Some folks might even grow to find it irritating.

I mean… isn’t the really cool thing (or one of the really cool things) about light the fact that it’s so fast. 186,000 miles per second? Having a beam of light last for 10 years seems to take the shine, so to speak, off that reputation. It might make some ungrateful philistines wish they were 10 light years away from it.

I’ll close with what my state representative, Micah Caskey, had to say about it:

RenderingGervais2_Robinson(1)

Ladies who lunch: Real-life Rosie the Riveter and friends

imrs

Women employed as wipers in the roundhouse eat their lunch in the break room of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in Clinton, Iowa, in April 1943. (Jack Delano/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Taschen)

As you know, some of the more creative ways FDR tried to get the economy going again were pretty cool.

We’re all familiar with at least some of the work done by photographers under the auspices of the Resettlement Administration, such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”

Well, there were color photos, too, and they’re all stored at the Library of Congress.

The Washington Post brought some of them to our attention this morning, with this explanation:

A new book by Peter Walther, called “New Deal Photography. USA 1935-1943 (Taschen, 2016) brings together a comprehensive survey of the work done by the FSA, including that more rarely seen color work. From street scenes to pictures of field laborers and train yards, these images show us what the United States looked like in a bygone era, one rife with economic struggle. Here are a few of the incredible images produced by photographers Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, John Vachon, Fenno Jacobs and Russell Lee.

Be sure to go check them out.

The “Rosie the Riveter” photo above was to me the most striking of the lot. It’s just so perfect — the women’s work clothes being right out of a poster — it seems staged. But I don’t think it was…

Some of Pete Souza’s very best work

svcz4xt

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.

Thanks, Bryan…

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How does ‘One-Note Samba’ work?

OK, one more pop-music-oriented post. It’s obliquely related to the one on Leonard Cohen.

Remember long ago when I asked whether Phillip or other musical experts here could explain how “Hallelujah” worked, what it was about it that was so appealing? Phillip and many others rose to the occasion.getz-gilberto-from-tv-show

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…

No vertical video! Not now, not ever! It’s WRONG!

Ride of the Valkyrie. Think how disappointing 'Apocalypse Now' would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

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.

Here’s the latest apologia for shooting video the wrong way, from The Wall Street Journal:

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.

No, we were the ones who were right. We still are. We always will be. And everything you say, every example you provide, convinces me more of that.

The WSJ piece goes on:

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.

breaking-bad-marithon

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.

Look, I can see being sympathetic. I could see writing a piece such as this one: “Defending vertical videos: They’re stupid, but it’s not your fault.

But defending them as the right way to do it? No. Never. That would be like saying reality TV is a good thing because lots of people watch it. Absolutely not.

Where am I? What's going on? Where's the rest of the picture?

Where am I? What’s going on? Where’s the rest of the picture?

The Old Man and the iPad

Prisma Mosaic

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.”

Indeed.

He was an old man who played alone on a tablet in the Web Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without winning a game.

A man can be destroyed but not defeated. So it is in Palabras Con Amigos.

The connection between genius and madness, pop version

Time for another of my way-late, long-after-it-was-in-theaters, movie reviews.

This morning, in response to an earlier post, our regular Bill quotes Albert Ayler:

Music is the healing force of the universe.

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...

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:

A strikingly perfect image for the first Sunday of Lent

FullSizeRender

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…

Rockwell’s ‘Freedom of Speech,’ updated

Rockwell

I Tweeted this during the Q&A of an appearance by John Kasich at the SC Chamber of Commerce today:

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.)

But I go ahead and share it here anyway…

Freedom-of-Speech_4_5_web

 

Here it is: The last license plate South Carolina will ever need

plate

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…

I get why he LIKED it; I don’t get why he BOUGHT it

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.modigliani

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.

But I thought you might have fun taking the quiz, too…

art quiz

 

Life, clinging…

clinging

See this photo I took of scraggly trees desperately clinging to a clump of fertile soil on a bleak, muddy, flood-swept landscape?

Actually, it was a tiny weed, about four inches high, in the driveway next to the ADCO building on Pickens.

I was amazed that none of us had run over it. I thought I’d immortalize it before that happened. The very essence of fragile life, clinging on against the odds.

That’s all. No political message…

driveway

Take it easy, y’all — Atticus is still Atticus

Atticus

Over the weekend, there was a national (and international) cry of pain as folks heard that, in the long-lost Harper Lee novel Go Set A Watchman, Atticus Finch turned out to be a cranky old segregationist.

Don’t worry. Atticus is still Atticus.

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.

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