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Monthly Archives: July 2008

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World of Tomorrow

World of TomorrowA couple of decades ago, I remember seeing a cool documentary on the 1939 New York World’s Fair on PBS. It was narrated by an old guy looking back upon a special family trip to the Fair as a child. In the end, the man concludes that the Fair symbolized the mixture of optimism and apprehension going on in the world as it was in 1939. It was a fascinating film, filled with clips from beautiful color home movies, newsreels, and campy industrial films.

I didn’t think I’d ever see that movie again, but now — thanks to an gift certificate from my friend Joy — I was able to track down the DVD. Directed by Lance Bird and Tom Johnson in 1984, The World of Tomorrow features the great voice of actor Jason Robards narrating. Although the DVD is pricey and bare bones (lacking even a basic menu!), it was a blast revisiting this film and learning about the herculean efforts to get the thing started in the first place. Gleaming pavilions tout the future’s promise, only somewhat coming off like arrogant statements of power by corporate sponsors like G.E., Ford and Sealtest. Foreign countries take the opportunity to show off their uniqueness, only to find that their homeland has undergone Nazi occupation. Once the fanfare of the gala opening subsides, organizers found that the tacky, carnival-like addition in the rear proved the most popular area with guests. In the Fair’s second and final season, the showman-like lead man is replaced with a dull banker and the Fair takes on a more approachable image. Pretty soon, the World of Tomorrow became yesterday’s memories.

Although seeing the vintage footage from the Fair was a unique treat back in the ’80s, it now occurs to me that much of it can be viewed for free at

Weekly Mishmash: July 13-19

Craig’s Wife (1936). I’ve been wanting to see this Dorothy Arzner directed melodrama for years now, and was delighted when it turned up recently on the TCM schedule as part of their Rosalind Russell film fest. Mostly I was interested in seeing how it compared to the 1950 remake with Joan Crawford in the same role as the possessive Harriet Craig, a wealthy woman who alienates her family and servants with her smothering perfectionism. Both are hugely entertaining, biting commentaries; not exactly the most feminist premise ever, but Russell and Crawford both skillfully interpret the role with distictiveness. I read someone on the TCM boards comparing Crawford with a lion (shredding her enemies with gusto), while Russell approaches Harriet in the subtle manner of a python (slowly strangling her victims to death). Craig’s Wife‘s plot seems rushed, as if everything happened in a day or two. With that in mind, I’d give Harriet a slight edge (the remake also replaces an implausibly random murder subplot with a better one in which Harriet sabotages her husband’s promotion). Good fun.
The Citadel (1938). Russell again, as the dutiful wife of Robert Donat. This veddy British tale follows an idealistic young doctor as he progresses from poor miners to rich hypochondriacs, losing a bit of his soul in the process. It’s a bit too pokey and episodic, but I enjoyed the lead performers. Donat ages realistically as his character goes from idealistic 20s to world-weary 30s (Russell, of course, looks exactly the same). Although not as transforming, it’s similar to what he goes through in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
Little Children (2006). Kate Winslet as a desperate housewife — pretty brilliant. The film portrayed an insular little world with frightening accuracy, I thought. American suburbia is full of people, many contented with what they have but many others stuck up on petty nonsense and imposing their own morals on everyone else. Some viewers complained about the open-ended nature of the ending, but by that time the more observant among us know the characters of Sarah (Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) well enough to know how things would eventually pan out.
The Sorrow and the Pity (1969). Christopher rented this famed WWII documentary, which I’d previously known only as a punchline in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Supposedly it’s one of the best docs ever made, well worth enduring its four hour length — but we couldn’t get through it (embarrassed shrug). After 90 minutes, the endless b&w parade of middle-aged talking heads got to us. Should we have stuck it out?
Warning Shadows (1923). This early silent is much admired by fans of German Expressionist cinema — or masochists, depending on whom you ask. I’d side with the latter. Man oh man, this was one dreadful slog of a movie! From what little I could make out, the Napoleon-era plot revolves around a jealous husband who invites his flirty wife and her admirers to a lavish dinner, then entraps and tortures the party with shadow plays and lots of bug-eyed gestures. It’s certainly an unusual film, with no dialogue cards and a sporadically interesting usage of light and shadow — but it’s also really, really boring.

Eight Years of

8 Year Birthday FigurinePsst. I never notice these things until they’ve gone and went, but over the past week this very weblog has entered its ninth year of operation. Happy birthday to! To celebrate the occasion, I put on my best metaphorical party dress and cherry picked a few of my favorite vintage (don’t call them old!) posts.

Looking back, I’d venture to say that’s legacy (if there is one) might be that it was among the earliest of the “look at the crap I found” type weblogs. It’s always been my mission to write about whatever ephemera or pop culture catches my fancy, with a distinct lack of trendiness, and hoping what amuses me amuses others. Gotta admit that sometimes I come across popular, more thematically focused blogs and wish I had even half their traffic. But in the end I’d rather have a small, loyal audience than a large, fickle one. “Love me, love my quirks” is pretty much the dictum around here.

So sit down, grab a piece of cake, and savor the results of trolling the archives going all the way back to the beginning (note that the pre-2006 entries suffer from broken style sheets, outdated links, and a general look of krep). Behold, “ The Greatest Hits”:

09/11/01 — September 11th, 2001. A personal observation of what happened over the course of that day. For some reason, I could only process the horror of what I was feeling through the lens of pop culture.
09/27/01 — A floor-by-floor analysis of the break rooms at work. Quirky, navel gazing posts like this were unusual in 2001 but would become more common as the years went on.
06/13/02 — Introducing Discards. A cache of found slides becomes a little-known corner of the universe.
10/27/02 — On the groovy costumes in UFO.
01/28/03 — A rant against Frida Kahlo. Honestly, I forgot about this. Didn’t know I hated Frida Kahlo so much!
01/09/03 — Influential songs in my life.
06/26/03 — Recollections of ’80s Movies Filmed in Arizona.
10/31/03 — Seven Things That Frightened Me As A Child. Fun.
02/02/04 — A Yuppie Teakettle for Everyone. Musing on design for the masses.
04/22/05 — Illustrations of Charles Harper. Ladies and gents, the most visited page at Had I known, I would have included more examples. Unfortunately, other weblogs still link to this page even as I’m coming up with newer, better stuff. Attention, Charles Harper fans: please read my new stuff. Please.
05/30/05 — Captured on Film. Screen shots and commentary on the glamorous Manhattan of The Best of Everything (1958).
06/02/05 — Wonderland in Chrome. An unassuming little post that got linked on Boing Boing and drove hundreds of curious clicks. Who knew?
07/10/05 — Off the Treadmill. On learning to enjoy a downsized life. I need to write a sequel to this one.
01/07/06 — Artistry In Motion. More Harper discoveries, given a nicer setting.
02/14/06 — Blogging Tips from a D-Lister. Somebody had to find that advice useful.
03/26/06 — White Lace and Promises. Ruminations on twenty different versions of “We’ve Only Just Begun.” May have been’s definitive “jump the shark” moment.
05/12/06 — The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The first time embedded video was used on the weblog.
01/01/07 — Another Year of Couch Sitting. A self-pitying reflection on 2006, the year of lowered expectations. 2007 and the first half of 2008 followed right along in the same vein.
01/22/07 — What Makes a Making Of. I thought this was a nice post. I worked hard on it. It generated zero links or comments!
06/04/07 — Cheap Thrill: Joan Crawford on The Sixth Sense. This was fun; I have to do more “Cheap Thrill” posts.
01/21/08 — Cheap Thrill: Children’s Books 1957-69. Speaking of which. This might be the most real estate hogging Scrubbles post ever.
04/23/08 — WDW Day One: Epcot Future World. In which I bore my dwindling audience to tears with an exhaustive, five-part travelogue.
07/04/08 — Riverside, July 3.

It’s Called Poetic Justice

Futility Vehicle — faced with escalating gas prices, a New York Times blogger wonders why she bought a huge SUV in the first place. This is funny and sad, but mostly sad. It’s a bit nice that this lady is seeing outside her myopic little suburban bubble and finally understanding the greater consequences of the choices she makes. But it also underscores that just as people choose to own SUVs for primarily selfish reasons (I want to protect my family), they’re wanting to dump the vehicles for equally selfish reasons (I can’t pay through the nose for gas). And this woman represents millions of disillusioned drivers (sigh). At least I take comfort that she’s getting blasted in the comments by lots and lots of sane and reasonable people.

Barry’s Blitz

Oh dear. What’s up with the controversial New Yorker cover depicting radical Barack and Michelle Obama fist bumping in the Oval Office? Artist Barry Blitt immediately went on the defense, but unlike his previous covers this one misses the mark. Good satire needs an element of truth to work. This one’s not based in truth but in the radical right wing’s ignorant perception of the Obamas. Only someone insufferably caught up in his own smugness (a typical New Yorker reader, in other words) would find it clever or funny.

Whenever the New Yorker gets all über topical, it make me miss the old days when they’d slap a harmless painting of the side of a barn on the cover. As an antidote to this madness, I present Rea Irvin’s lovely cover art from exactly fifty years ago:

New Yorker: June 14, 1958

Weekly Mishmash: July 6-12

Last Orders (2001). A recommendation from our dental hygienist. Michael Caine heads up a sturdy cast of old pros as a simple butcher who wants his ashes strewn at a favorite seaside resort after he dies. It’s up to his old buddies (Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings), his son (Ray Winstone), and his wife (Helen Mirren) to carry out his wishes as they reflect bitterly over memories of the last fifty or so years. Great cast, nice concept, iffy execution. Confusing shifts in time and inscrutable British accents contribute to a film that’s not nearly as compelling as it could have been. On the upside, I did enjoy some of the flashback scenes with younger unknown actors playing the principals — and the gloomy score was pretty good.
No Time for Comedy (1940). Another Rosalind Russell vehicle finds her playing an actress married to playwright James Stewart, in their first and only teaming. I had high hopes for this one, but it was incredibly dull and Stewart’s character is a complete ass who never redeems himself at the end. The film was based on a stage hit, and one can detect glimpses of sophisticated humor in a few spots, but the end result is so turgid and heavy where it desperately needed a light touch. In exploring the plight of a comedic artist trying to make a serious statement about a world in peril, Sullivan’s Travels trod the same path with much better results.
Diana Ross - Everything Is EverythingDiana Ross — Everything Is Everything Expanded Edition. Yeah, hot and sizzling new CDs come out every week, but I was most excited about getting this reissued version of Diana’s second album from 1970 — got a problem with that? This funky little detour for the ex-Supreme is best known for “I’m Still Waiting,” a single which barely made a ripple in the U.S. but managed to become one of her biggest and most enduring hits in the U.K. Maybe American audiences weren’t used to hearing Miss “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sounding like a vulnerable little girl, but it’s a beautiful song and Ross plays it to the hilt like the bravura actress she’d briefly become. The rest of the album is a glossy treat, albeit one padded with blah Beatles covers and the like. Seven bonus tracks include an odd and delightful 1990 remix of “I’m Still Waiting” which lays on the phat dance beats, a la Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” from the same year.
Stormy Weather (1943). Never saw this pioneering all black musical until now. It’s a slight movie with a nothing plot somewhat redeemed by numbers performed with pizazz by an energetic cast (except for Lena Horne, who seems surprisingly dull here). My favorite parts were Horne’s performance of the title number, presented in imaginative multi-part fashion, and the Nicholas Brothers’ gravity defying tap dance. Personally I prefer Cabin in the Sky, but this one’s worth watching as well.