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Monthly Archives: November 2007

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Bette in Bookstores

Dark Victory by Ed SikovAlthough only the latest in a long string of similar bios, Ed Sikov’s Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis is an excellent book which manages to uncover new insights into the subject. Having considered Sikov’s 1998 bio on Billy Wilder one of the finest books on filmmaking ever, I devoured this one in galley format last summer. It’s a great, brisk read. Well-worn topics like Davis’ unfulfilling marriages and the production of All About Eve get a good going-through here, but the most satisfying parts are when Sikov simply describes the films themselves — even the most rudimentary Warner Bros. programmer in Davis’ career gets a fresh perspective. It leaves you with the impression that Bette was the consummate actress of her time, which is the ultimate compliment for a woman who made sacrifice over sacrifice for placing career over everything else in her life.

Another thing I have to mention: perhaps as a gift to Miss Davis’ most ardent fans, Sikov doesn’t shy away from giving his book a pronounced gay sensibility. The result is that even his most offhand observations have a zippy panache. Take his quip on the costuming in her 1942 soaper The Great Lie: “Orry-Kelly went out of his way to make Bette look dowdy — at one point he sticks her in a bizarre bonnet that makes her look like a cross between Little Bo Peep and Elvira Gulch …” Or this bit on daughter B.D. Hyman’s scathing tell-all book: “My Mother’s Keeper is a sour, whiny book written by a spoiled child who grew up and found Christ.” The book is filled with delicious little nuggets like those.

Perhaps the most tantalizing passage in the book comes when Sikov describes an unsold TV pilot Bette made in the mid-’60s. This show (which I’d never heard of before) was a sitcom scripted by Boys in the Band playwright Mart Crowley in which Miss Davis hams it up as a flamboyant interior designer. Dahlings, what I wouldn’t give to see that!

Snacks on a Plane

The wonderful Christopher sent me a link to the self-explanatory world of AirlineMeals.net. I submitted the meal from our recent Delta flight between Phoenix and Atlanta to the site’s administrator. It wasn’t a meal per se, but a snack of rosemary crackers, fancy cheese spread, raisins and a large shortbread cookie all packaged in a nifty wrapped container. Not too dissimilar from the boxed comestibles from 2001, actually:

2001 A Space Odyssey Meal

A Mii for Every Mood

It’s been a few days since the Wii arrived, so now I can safely say that I love it. Although we’ve been logging some gameplay on the console, I have to confess that I’ve spent the most time on the Mii Channel, where you can create little avatars in the spirit of a virtual paper doll set. The first one I did was of the Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. Then I made Miis of Diana Ross, Mahatma Ghandi, Lucille Ball, David Bowie, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. It would be a gas to pair off Bette and Joan in a round of Wii Sports Boxing.

Wii Mii Channel

Speaking of Wii Sports, that game definitely lives up to its reputation for fun and accessibility. The controls are nicely responsive, and I love getting up and moving around during gameplay. Even Christopher got into a few bowling matches. Favorites are, in order: bowling (amazingly realistic), baseball, tennis, golf (pretty but simple), and boxing (can’t tell what I’m doing half the time). WarioWare: Smooth Moves has also proven itself as a lot of fun, easy to get into, but perhaps better enjoyed with a larger group than just myself. Playing something like that by yourself is kinda beside the point, but I liked the weird Japaneseishness of the whole thing and being surprised by whatever crappy looking minigame they throw my way. I also just received The Simpsons Game. Despite bad reviews, I was holding out hope that this would be good. It’s not very good. Despite having the self-awareness and humor to parody other games, it’s a fairly typical deal where you basically run and jump from place to place collecting things. The controls are not very responsive and it feels secondhand, like it doesn’t really belong on the Wii. It’s moderately amusing and I will stick with it at least until reaching the “Mr. Sparkle” level.

My only gripe with this thing is that the games cost too much. Then again I can remember Asteroids for the Atari 2600 costing thirty bucks 25 years ago, so maybe fifty bucks a pop for an exponentially complex game is pretty cheap. The next game I’m expecting will be the puzzler Mercury Meltdown Revolution, only $17.99 at Amazon. Should that one be a disappointment, I won’t feel so cheated anyhow. Oh, I have to check out stuff on the Virtual Console someday, too. Whee.

You Can Practically Smell the Patchouli

Jennifer Sharpe recently did an NPR story on finding a stash of discarded old photos taken by the studio of James Kriegmann (via Coudal Partners). At his mid-20th century height, Kriegsmann was the preeminent photographer of every type of musical entertainer. I just love the lighting, the outfits, the props, and the poses in his work. Explore the photos in Sharpe’s accompanying flickr set — and try not to think too hard about the seedy dives these people must’ve played!

Hamster Love

Is it any wonder that one of my childhood rituals was listening to Dr. Demento every Sunday night on Phoenix’s long-running rock station, KUPD? Among my favorite tunes from back then was “Hamster Love”, a parody of the Captain & Tennille’s mushy hit “Muskrat Love” extolling the deliciousness of rodents. You can listen to it here on YouTube, although the version there is missing a segment where some kid can be heard ordering various hamster delicacies at a fast food joint. The song was recorded by Big Daddy in 1977 and went unreleased on an album until it appeared on a Dr. Demento CD compilation four years ago.

Guest Programmer Month at TCM

TCM November 2007 Now PlayingThis is kind of a nice month on Turner Classic Movies, since my beloved “best channel ever” is devoting every night of November to the guest programming of various well-known folk. It could have been a dud, I know, but luckily only three of the thirty celebrities fall into the “Who cares?” category (those would be Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and … Kermit the Frog). One can also quibble with the fact that a great deal of the movies chosen happen to be the same movies that TCM already plays all the time, ad infinitum.

For the most part, however, an eclectic array for both guests and films are in the offering this month. My personal favorite might be the playwright Charles Busch on November 8th, who picked a variety of overlooked leading lady performances which include Norma Shearer in Escape, Joan Crawford in A Woman’s Face, and Ida Lupino in The Hard Way. Although I’ve seen all three films, it might be worth tuning in just to see what Busch has to say. Crime fiction author James Ellroy has a bunch of cool noirs to share on the 13th, and I found it interesting that Matt Groening selected the wonderful 1941 Warner Bros. melodrama Blues in the Night to show on his night (11/14). Tracey Ullman‘s offerings on the 17th include a few lesser-known British films and the eccentric Peter Sellers vehicle The World of Henry Orient (in which he plays a famous pianist hounded by two persistent teenage girls), which makes me love her all the more. Finally I also have to laud opera’s Renee Fleming for doing a night of classical music-themed romances on the 19th, and Mark Mothersbaugh for including the groovy combo of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits and the cheese-o-rama Hot Rods to Hell on his night of the 29th. Guess I’ll have to set the TiVo for overtime.