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Monthly Archives: June 2008

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Puppet Organization

What’s happening today? Gay and lesbian couples got married in California and the world didn’t stop turning. Cyd Charisse died. After a week of knob turning and button pushing, I’m still trying to figure out Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

What else? I’m bored. How about amusing ourselves with the opening credits from Madame’s Place? This was a fitfully funny sitcom starring a scary marionette and the bustier of the Landers sisters. Cory Feldman was also in it, but I don’t remember him as the kid next door:

Ear Candy

Spent part of my sweltering Monday updating the musical selections at scrubbles.muxtape.com. This time I’ve got a dozen lesser-heard bubblegum tunes from 1968-72, including a quartet of songs at the end which can be classified as “bubblegum soul” (whoda thunk that Marcia Brady could sound so funky?). Break out your mint condition Partridge Family lunch box and enjoy.

Weekly Mishmash: June 8-14

Warning — obtuse pontificating on obscure old Asian movies to follow:
Daughter of the Dragon (1931) and A Study In Scarlet (1933). Two films that show Asian American actress Anna May Wong’s uneasy transition to early sound. These are both clunky and formulaic programmers in which Miss Wong plays a supporting role to two legendary characters. Daughter of the Dragon finds her doing an okay job playing the offspring of the murderous Fu Manchu (Warner Oland). Truthfully it’s a deadly dull slog and Wong is about the only interesting thing here, but the effort may have been worth it just for the awesome publicity photo below. Wong fares even worse in the cheap-o Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation A Study In Scarlet from two years later. As a murder suspect, she’s lousy and can barely summon up enough energy to bother — our reaction exactly!

Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon

The Goddess (1934). Our second vehicle for Chinese star Ruan Lingyu, following The Peach Girl from last week. This one is also silent, but in every respect it’s miles better than that earlier, more primitive film. In the kind of role that Irene Dunne might have done in the U.S., Lingyu plays a prostitute who tries to overcome social stigmas and raise her son to be a respectable, educated person. Knowing that she committed suicide shortly after this film was made brings a lot of depth to her performance.
Mr. Wu (1927). An occasionally goofy but wholeheartedly entertaining and polished silent starring the great Lon Chaney. Sure, the storyline is silly and dated — Chaney plays a member of Chinese royalty who goes ballistic when his daughter falls for a white man — but I enjoyed the lead performers and the photography/sets/costumes were stunning. Even René Adorée, not looking the least bit Chinese as the daughter, excels in several scens. Poor Anna May Wong essays the tiny role of Adorée’s confidant.
Nine Queens (2000). An exciting Argentinean heist film; I kept thinking this would benefit from a well-made American remake. Lo and behold, it was remade — although “well-made” might be generous based on the reviews I read. The ending reveals a plot hole to rival the Grand Canyon (something Christopher noticed as well), but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this briskly paced treat.
19 — Adele. Adele is an emerging soulful British singer-songwriter in the Amy Winehouse mold, and already she’s had several hit singles in the UK. I chanced upon this album at eMusic, which is strange since this type of music’s a bit too mainstream for that site. No matter, it’s an excellent album. Sometimes she can get too navel-gazey and her cockney affectations are hard to adjust to, but like Winehouse she’s a gutsy talent to be reckoned with. The three hits are the highlights — “Chasing Pavements” (on which she sounds bizarrely like Dusty Springfield), “Cold Shoulder” (helmed by Winehouse’s producer, Mark Ronson), and “Hometown Glory” (despite the fact that it was used in a Grey’s Anatomy episode, puke). I also adored her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”.
Pride and Prejudice (2005). Going in I actually had pretty low expectations for this one (perhaps due to Keira Knightly’s Oscar nomination?), but it was great. Maybe I was used to the airy confection that is the 1940 Greer Garson version, but this film seemed more gritty and realistic and possibly truer to Jane Austen (which I’ve never read). I still don’t think Keira deserved the nom, but she was good — along with Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as the parents.

Bad Movie Alert

The OscarIt is my civic duty to inform everybody of two intriguing bad movies coming up on Turner Classic Movies. Sure, you can always catch a screening of Lawrence of Arabia or the umpteenth showing of Father of the Bride, but how often does one get to see The Oscar (1966)? TCM will be showing it this Monday at 11 p.m. EST, introduced by Bill Maher. I can remember seeing bits of this Hollywood potboiler on the TNT channel way back in the day, and I can’t wait to check out the whole enchilada. This one begins with an actor (Stephen Boyd) at an Oscars ceremony, reflecting on his past as he awaits whether or not he’ll win the Best Actor award. It also stars Elke Sommer, Milton Berle and Tony Bennett (one can picture Bennett’s agent saying something along the lines of “Trust me, Tony, this’ll make ya a big time movie star!”). At least seeing it will at last illuminate SCTV‘s parody The Nobel, with Catherine O’Hara doing a perfect, cross-eyed Elke imitation.

As if that weren’t enough, TCM will also have the notorious 1980 musical The Apple on their schedule later this month. Probably hoping nobody will notice, they have it set for a 2:00 a.m. EST showing on the morning of Saturday the 21st. Personally I can’t vouch for the quality on this one, about an international music making competition set in the far-off futuristic era of 1994. It could either be fabulously awful like Xanadu or painfully awful like Can’t Stop the Music.

Oh, and another reason to live — a new Two Bunnies and a Duck! Click on the TWC button on the right to vote for my little baby.

Book Review: Leisurama Now

Leisurama CoverDoesn’t everyone yearn for a special little place that they can get away to, especially this time of year? With Leisurama Now: The Beach House for Everyone, writer/designer Paul Sahre explores a short-lived product of early ’60s consumer optimism which ties into that basic need — the affordable middle-class summer beach house.

Specifically, this book chronicles a tract of 250 homes built under the promise-filled name of Leisurama. For a minimal down payment, ordinary New Yorkers could buy their very own beach bungalow which came fully furnished right down to the toothbrushes in the bathroom, located a short drive away on Montauk, Long Island. This was a big deal at the time — promotional models of the basic “Convertible” Leisurama model were built on the 9th floor of Macy’s and at the 1964 New York World’s Fair — and many a starry-eyed young family wanting a no-fuss summer getaway ate it up. Unfortunately, the costly program proved unprofitable and so the program was discontinued after a few years.

Sahre has catalogued and organized everything about this modest outcropping of homes with an admirable anal retentiveness. In the chapter titled “Inventory,” black and white photos of Leisurama’s original furniture, melmac dinnerware, flatware, lighting fixtures and even heating vent grates are obsessively annotated. Another section collects images of the Leisurama homes as they currently stand. Although this part takes up too many pages and the photos aren’t all that exceptional, it is interesting to see how various owners over the years have individualized the spare, modern original designs into something more homey (not to mention often overgrown with shrubbery). Starting with the kitschy clear plastic jacket, this book is full of quirky design touches. I’d even recommend the book more for designers than for architecture buffs or retro-living fans — although those would enjoy it, too.

If anything, the book is less about the properties themselves than about fundamentally what people want from a home and the expectations that are tied within those needs. A neat chapter on architect Andrew Geller contains a remarkable early rendering of a typical Leisurama model in which the design was much more daring and original than the boxy final product. The “illustion vs. reality” subtext continues in a revealing chapter interviewing a couple who have held onto their Leisurama home since 1965. Not only does it deal with the hassles of constructing the home in the ’60s, it also outlines how the neighborhood has changed since then — with many owners converting the homes into year-round residences currently worth many times more than their original investments. The neighborhood in and around Montauk may be radically different today (for an example, check out the galling photos on page 222 of a charming old Leisurama razed and replaced with a horrid contemporary McBeach House), but the basic need for a place to call “home” remains timeless.

Leisurama Now: The Beach House for Everyone was recently published by Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at Amazon.com here.

Leisurama Spread 1

Leisurama Spread 2

Step, Pivot, Step

Remember the super-groovy title sequence to the 1972 TV movie Probe that I posted on YouTube last year? Just today some creative person took Dominic Frontiere’s evocative music from that sequence and synced it up with a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance number. Too weird, but it actually matches up pretty well! I only hope that this inspires more remixes.