Monday, January 28, 2013

A Good Day

Sometimes you desperately need to find a perfect anecdote to an imperfect day.  My sister and I found ourselves thrust into such a predicament and in desperate search to redeem our failed venture one July evening. 

We had planned a blissful evening in Bryant Park where we would finally view A Rebel without a Cause.  (A still yet-to-be-watched movie on my part, does this make me a terrible cineophile?)  We arrived there for around four, in plenty of time to catch the anticipated 5pm start time.  It didn't occur to us that this was an open air cinema...

When we were still naive.

Overpriced stale gourmet popcorn. 

I was a little obsessed with my pedicure

We found a perfect viewing spot, spread out our quaint little towel in anticipation for the festivities.  We stared on in envy as throngs of people arrived evidently more prepared than ourselves.  Wine, fruit, and spoils you could hardly imagine Marie Antoinette indulging in emerged from baskets and carrier bags all around us.  We maintained stoicism in the face of our oversight.  Although we did invest in overpriced stale cheese popcorn.  As you do.

And then.... we waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Finally at sometime around half five, there was an introduction of sorts, in where the speaker informed us of the schedule of festivities, where in nothing was going to happen until about half seven, and the movie was not airing until about 9pm.  Obviously we had not factored in outdoor cinema's greatest nemesis, the sun.  

Only in Union Square

If you're a Mad Men fan I think you'll appreciate this

I admire his arrogance

There was nothing to do but laugh and high-tail it out of there for a different kind of adventure.  And so Union Square beckoned us with its clash of 21st century modernity and the vestiges of the counter culture movement.  We sprinted to the closest theatre to catch a showing of Ruby Sparks, which you can find my review of here.

Simpy wandering in Manhattan of course proved to be far more endearing than being bitten by mosquitoes in Bryant Park for seven hours. 

Not only did we catch a film we were dying to see, but we also got to peruse the selves and tables teeming with books in The Strand for over an hour. I spent too much money as usual, but the employees at The Strand have such impeccable taste I trusted my instincts to splurge.

This day was just a stand out day in 2012 for me.  You may be thinking, "you achieved absolutely nothing," but the combination of spontaneity and good company provided laughs and memories a plenty, and as I have said, the perfect anecdote to a failed venture. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg

One of the most arresting art shows I have been privy too in the last year was without a doubt The Parade by Nathalie Djurberg which I saw at the New Museum down in the Bowery in New York.  

The show consists of a mix of eighty-two bird sculptures, composed from painted canvas, wire, and clay materials, which accompany five videos interspersed throughout the exhibit.  The videos feature nightmarish claymation shorts. 

Entering into the show is initially unsettling, although the group of bird sculptures are colourful and grand in design, the sheer volume is intimidating.  As you journey through the show, you feel you are being stalked, as if you have been selected as prey.

We are guided by the overseeing birds to each film, each a provocative document of the human condition.  Greed; violence; the exotic, unknown other; all culminates in a staggering final short, "The Parade of Rituals and Stereotypes," depicting the grotesque dominance of prejudice; of the racial, gender, and religious capacity.  One of the figures literally "irons out" another, eradicating the person's right to freedom.

An evocative show that demands analysis, themes that we assume have been previously dealt with at length are spectacularly readdressed by Djurberg. She herself has said:

"In the sculptures, Ms. Djurberg said, “I’m trying to show how birds are always trying to get the upper hand” with one another, as evidenced by aggressive expressions and combative poses. The films, which are at times quite violent, with clay figures being mutilated and oozing luridly colored blood, address more “hidden emotions, things that we don’t let out,” she said."

These hidden emotions equate to the upheaval that the 20th century brought with. Although an impressive and successful progress has occurred in terms of civil rights movements, Djurberg's show appears to allude to the suppressed hangover society society still harbor. The monstrous clay figure seem to insinuate that a Jekyll and Hyde quality still exists beneath the remnants of progress.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Comprehensive List of the Minuscule Amount of Books I read in 2012 and My Subsequent Thoughts About Them

I feel quite ashamed of the amount of books I read this year.  Hmm... more like the amount of books I didn't read....  There were a few left unfinished, Anna Karenina, Lolita, and American Psycho, I'm coming for you! Also, can Anna Karenina taking up two months of reading time be my excuse for the paltry list below?  Yes?  Right, onward.

By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham
Honestly, I am not exactly sure when I read this, whether it was December or January, but considering I didn't start reading the following entry until February, I'm going to guess By Nightfall was my initial read of 2012.

Cunningham is a beautiful writer, and paints a stunning narrative about a Manhattan art-buyer Peter and his wife Rebecca.  Peter is already facing into existential mid-life crisis territory when Rebecca's troubled brother "Mizzy" shows up and further exacerbates tensions.

An addictive read from the author of The Hours.  Never has anyone managed to make such narcissistic characters so sympathetic.


The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
My curiosity was struck for this novel when the eponymous film was released to much controversy a couple of years ago.  It's funny what the public accept through prose, but freak out about on film, but I digress....

I still have yet to see the film, but the book was thoroughly engaging.  I wouldn't say it is any literary masterpiece, but it is uniquely effective in delving into the mind of psychopath; not just merely seeing things from his perspective, but we witness the constant negotiations our protagonist engages with himself; wrestling between his sadistic desires and conscience guilt.

Death in Spring, Merce Rodoreda
Rodoreda's novel is a feast for the senses.  It is lush in imagery, allegory, and symbolism.  Our protagonist is a fourteen-year-old boy, whom we meet when he watches his father commit suicide.  This traumatic opening sets the tone of the novel, one filled with descriptions of the rituals and superstitions that pervade the life of this teen and the village he lives in.  Through his eyes we see those who grapple with these limitations that subsequent these rules, and even those who rebel against, and the consequences they suffer.

It's traumatic, terrifying, and emotional, but quite possibly one of the most gorgeous narratives I have ever read, and this is just the translation, just think how beautiful the original Catalan script could be. Highly recommended. 

Lady Chatterley's Lover,  D. H. Lawrence
Ahm, dare I say this was anti-climatic? 

Published in 1928, this is a revolutionary novel in many ways, and faced years of censorship.  It even managed to play a role in the American sexual revolution, as referred to in Mad Men that one time when Peggy is still an innocent lost soul.

Lady Chatterley is lost in an unfulfilled marriage. Themes of class, love, and sexuality (obviously) filter throughout the novel.

I guess what disappointed me was the heroine, I didn't expect her to be quite so selfish, obviously she goes through quite a development and become more grounded, but by then the fairy tale ending is of course out of her grasp.

I don't know, overall I was just underwhelmed, as can happen when one reads a cult literary classic I suppose.

Then Again, Diane Keaton
If you want to laugh, cry, and appreciate your parents to no end, then Then Again is the read for you!

Keaton takes us on a lyrical, journey of her life, an undertaking that itself was inspired by the actress's discovery of her own mother's journals.

It's just poignant and refreshing because it has none of the self-serving narcissism you would expect from a Hollywood biography.  It's very much to do with who she is as a person and where she has come from.  Keaton is a very self aware individual who lives beyond the glamour of her industry, and seeks clarity from the choices she has made.  This book is very gratifying and will indeed make you reassess your own life choices.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams
I guess this technically shouldn't be on the list, not a novel, but, I read the extended version, with the alternate original ending that Williams wanted to be staged.  It was far more bleak and abstract and would have been staggering on stage I am sure.

2013 will hopefully bring me to finally watching the film now....

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kahling
This is the kind of book that makes me re-evaluate what the fuck I am doing with my life.  When Kahling was my age she had already achieved so much professionally, and has only continued on to do more amazing things.  She was the only female writer during the first series of The Office, and now she writes and stars in her own show.  I'm not saying I want to be a "star" of anything, but her ambition is staggering and admirable. And her memoir proves that, as well as that she's humble and hilarious to boot. 

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Back in July I headed to New York, and post-seven hour transatlantic flight I was dying to escape the sorrowful dilemmas in Anna Karenina.  My sisterly encouraged me to read Fahrenheit 451, and quite frankly I think she may have been offended that I hadn't already.

It's a dystopian treat for all you masochists out there.  A criticism of censorship and dictatorship alike, the novel takes place in a world where books have been banned.  Reading is regarded as anarchistic.  Fire men no longer stop fires, but rather start them.  They are out to punish those who dare stash books under the floor boards, hiding above light fixtures...

Guy Montag is a fireman, we meet him as he himself experiences a moral turning point.  Is one man enough to overturn the misconception that society has forced onto literature?

An addictive and evocative read.

Cherish your books children.

Also, avoid the film at all costs.

Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
One of the highlights of the year, I happened to be in New York City when I read this, feeling as if I was journeying along with the Dolls, through the Upper East Side, Midtown, and the like.  Fortunately I didn't yield the same dependence on men and pills as they did.  But never say never I guess.

Anne, Jennifer, and Neely start out as plucky young women who arrive in New York with aspirations, some modest, in Anne's case, some excessive, in Neely's showbiz-obsessed mind.

Life in the big city soon reveals itself to not be as simple as first presumed.  When pressures get to much Jennifer turns to her "little dolls" to help her cope and achieve her dreams.  This is a decision treacherous for all three woman, and leads to a life of unrelenting misery.

Frustratingly brilliant depiction of women on the wrong side of the feminine revolution.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, Rob Sheffield
Sheffield's first novel, Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, weaved an endearing tapestry charting his relationship with his first wife through their shared appreciation of music, specifically through the lost art of the mixtape, and the symbolism that encapsulates.  Love is a Mixtape was decidedly poignant because we are aware of the inevitable, Renee's death.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran is a more light-hearted affair, and thoroughly charming in the process.  Sheffield wields an incredible talent of utilizing music to evoke a period in his life and the emotions surrounding that.

Deliriously nostalgic, Sheffield is a candid writer who brings out the feels.  

In Zanesville, Jo Ann Beard
I bought this on a whim in The Strand (like I do with most of my purchases in The Strand, the employees there have such impeccable taste).  Having never heard of the author, or the book, I wasn't sure what to expect but the plot intrigued me enough to indulge.

It's a book about that contentious time in a teenager's life.  You are no longer a child, but you are certainly not an adult yet.  In Zanesville poises many questions, some of which many of us can relate to surely.  What do you do when your best friend in the whole world, your beacon of safety, suddenly seems aloof?  When you have no one on the outside to turn to, where does one turn when the home situation is so precarious?

We don't learn the name of our protagonist, perhaps Beard wanted this to be a novel of self-reflection for the reader.  We all went through the same tumultuous time when hormones made surfacing to the day difficult, so there is undoubtedly something here for everyone.

A coming of age tale with a curious sense of doom throughout. 

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
A stunningly complex book about a unique family of unique talents.  The Binewski clan are the head of a travelling circus. The patriarch and matriarch, Al and Lil, devise a plan to create their own little circus freaks.  Throughout each pregnancy, Lil is willingly subjected to drug taking and radioactive elements in the hopes that at the end of gestation, they'll have a masterpiece befit for a circus.  Given how the children come to be, Geek Love is a tale of family with some seriously sinister undertones.  Their's is a love they that warns against the dangerous of dependency.  Olympia (Oly) is our main narrative voice.  The story switches between two periods of time, building towards two equally consuming crescendos.

The highest honour of the year goes to Geek Love, book of the year, wish I had heard of this 1989 publication a long time ago.

Stephen Fry in America, Stephen Fry
Listen, Stephen Fry can do no wrong.  Even though he's the smartest person any of us know, as he travels across the United States he is graciously humble and honest.  He admits the preconceptions he had about various aspects of American culture, and is respectfully remorseful over then.

The book is entertaining, and isn't simply a feast on tourist attractions.  In the prologue he alludes to the fact that America cannot simply be painted with one brush, that every state is like its own country which holds its own culture.  His journey of epic proportions proves this, and most states (bar a couple unfortunately) have been given the utmost attention in the portraits he creates for each.

He's a true gent and when I finally get around to my own grand tour of the fifty states, this will undoubtedly be my companion guide. 

Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children,  Ransom Riggs
I spied this book during an ill-advised browse through the Urban Outfitters website.  The cover was quite arresting and it was decided it must be purchased.

After his grandfather's mysterious death, Jacob Portman sets out on his own investigation which brings him al the way to Wales, to search for the home where his grandfather was housed as an orphan of World War II.  The ensuing adventure is accompanied by reams of old photos that we are assured haven't been doctored in any form.

This was a huge disappointment, but the reason I believe is not because it was a bad or even badly written novel, but because this belongs in the Young Adult genre.  I am not saying I am above this genre, but I didn't enter into the book knowing this, and so was woefully underwhelmed by the two dimensional characterizations as well as the predictable narrative progress.  Jacob was just such a predictable protagonist!  Mighty frustrating stuff.


2012 brought alot of unexpected treasures my way.  Here's hoping my 2013 reading list will be more ambitious and impressive as well as continuing with the amazing quality. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cosmopolitan Magazine

I could never quite verbalise why I hate Cosmopolitan magazine so much.  Years ago I thought it was the garish way the publication was edited together.  The colours, the layout, maybe?  Maybe, or maybe my brain was trying to warn me about something.  Not that I ever bought this magazine anyway, it just happens to be what my housemate always bought.  

Then I realised, it is the backhanded way they treat women.  They send out deplorable mixed signals concerning woman's self esteem, which they then compound with a bunch of shit letting us know what men really want?

Anyway, watching this very articulate lady rant about Cosmo made me want to share her good word.   She saying it best, so I shouldn't really say anything at all. 

Here's her video; feast your eyes, ears, and brain. 

Finally Watched the Remaining Four Episodes of Veep....

.... and they were amazing.

Watch it.

Shopping the Film Stash #7 - Super High Me

Finally got around to watching Super High Me recently.  The concept for the film derived from a joke delivered on stage by comedian Doug Benson, filmmaker Michael Blieden's interests were piqued and thus the toke-reef-ic (I apologise, now that it is out of my system, it will not happen again, I swear) documentary was born.

Doug quipped that "...if there's a movie called Super-Size Me, why couldn't there be one called Super High Me, where I smoke pot every day?".

We follow Doug as he continues his stand-up comedy alongside two 30-day experimental cycles.  The first sees him go teetotal in preparation for phase two, where he smokes and or ingests cannabis all throughout the day, maintaining a state of inebriation for the entire thirty days.

It ain't all fun and games and sitting around listening to his breathing and marveling at the ways of the universe though, Benson is a self-professed seasoned smoker, and functions well in maintaining a productivity level befit to someone involved in making a film.

Thus we journey with Benson to some of the Los Angeles drug-dispensaries.  The proprietors detail the products they sell outside of the regular green.  They are in fact tending to medical needs, some of whom are suffering because of smoking-related troubles.  The idea of the lip-balm blew my mind.  Check it out.

What the film lacks in resolution it makes up for with its protagonist, if you can call Benson such, it being a documentary I am unsure.... our hero?  Benson guides us through the wayward path nicely, neither becoming preachy or defensive for the 420 past time.

Containing cameos from a slew of brilliant American comics, if all the wordy-ness and mind-boggling facts gets too much for the indulgers out there, you can enjoy the various snippets of comedy gigs where Benson and co preform.  The movie also features the legendary UCB comedy theater in LA, as well as footage from some of Benson's infamous "The Benson Interruption" shows.  (He literally interrupts another comic's set with querys, comments, and stoner confusion.)

The concept is hilarious, the outcome is curious, and the journey is equally hilarious and curious.

Shopping the Film Stash #6 - American Graffiti

Nostalgia is a glorious thing, for it allows you to rose tint the past and blur the memories of the not-so-fond times. Sometimes, however, nostalgia is utilised to expose flaws of both the past and the present.  This is my personal assessment of nostalgia concluded from the research I conducted during the course of my thesis.  My subject was Mad Men and American identity, so nostalgia was one of the first port of calls in theoretical aspects.  My journey through academia brought me to Frederic Jameson's essay, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, analysing the state of pastiche in film.

His main argument centered on the unoriginality and lack of depth that any postmodern text remotely nostalgic or indicative of pastiche.  He lambasts postmodernism and its attachment to commercialism, signifying how it favours commodity, indulges nostalgia, and ultimately negates critical value.

American  Graffiti is mentioned in his hit list of films that is guilty of submitting to pastiche and la mode retro (nostalgia mode).  On the offset, it contains all the symptoms of what Jameson's describing; we've got a period piece, 1962, perfect for the selective retrospective eyes; a coming of age tale; one night in the lives of Californian youth before summer ends and another school year begins; a ensemble cast, every niche and stereotype is ripe for the taking.  Jameson argues that this this template enables an ideology to be created.

Claiming the nostalgia mode to be a colonization of the past is redundant to the artifice of the film.  It's utilization of the historical past is hardly the kind that pillages an era of its own authenticity.  Yes, American Graffiti sets out to capture the mood of a certain era, that burgeoning transition between 50s American commercialism and the 60s revolution to be precise (ha, could that BE any more vague?), but it does not get lost in preoccupying itself with the recreation of the diners, the automobiles, the fashion, the haircuts, the lingo.

Perhaps it is because it was made merely a decade after it was set, but George Lucas's film feels raw and natural.  The cinematography isn't over stylised, so much so that it feels documentary unlike the romanticism that Jameson suggests.

The premise lends itself to pastiche, with the action taking place on one of the last nights of the summer, two soon-to-be college students, Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard as Curt and Steve, decide to have one last night out in their one horse town.  It is a transitory time in their lives, much like 1962 was a transitory time for America.

Along with a couple of more friends and memorable characters, (along with a particularly memorable cameo from a post-carpentry, pre-Star Wars, Harrison Ford), an unforgettable night ensues.  The original, modern-day coming of age high-schooler movie?

Sure the backdrops are familiar; the girls and boys toilets, the chats in front of the mirror; the drive-in movie; the local hang-out is a diner where the waitresses are on roller skates; the arcade; and there is even an open road notorious for drag racing, where a climatic scene takes place. 

Template settings aside, the teenagers feel like teenagers, a rarity in a film with teenagers.  There isn't a bulging jock, twerpy nerd, nor asinine cheerleader for miles around.  These are normal youth in flux, without the inexplicably wordy, introspective gobshites around to kill the moment.  Interestingly, Lucas is said to have vetoed the first version of the script because he felt like, "It was overtly sexual and very fantasy-like, with playing chicken and things that kids didn't really do, I wanted something that was more like the way I grew up."  

American Graffiti is more like a snap shot, a long lost postcard rather than a pastiche that threatens to obliterate our true relationship with the past.  This is not an attempt to be a sermon on our history, or even a rewrite of history, this is simply a moment in time, with ordinary people.  Bar an end-credit revelation of what became of the characters, there is no omnipresent wink, no case of dramatic irony setting the tone of film.  It is an homage to an era, and a dedication to lost youth and rebellion, taping into the spirit of early rock and roll culture of America.  

You are following these teens around on a night where nothing really major happens, because that is you.  Haven't we all wandered around aimlessly with friends, because we have all at the awkward age where staying home with the parents is boring, but there really is no place for you to go and be civilised.  You didn't belong anywhere and neither do these guys.  There is no motive about Kennedy, Vietnam, or the Civil Rights amendments (you know, the juicy stuff film usually sinks its teeth into in the 60s), this is pure unadulterated nothingness and that is what makes it fun and familiar.  However, as mentioned previously, there are some coming of age moments abound, but not in the epic, monumental, uncouth manner of today - it is more like Curt and Steve come to some realisations and then act upon them accordingly. 

Lucas has given youth a voice and depth of character that feels unaffected.  The nostalgia emerges not from the construction of the film, but from where we relate to the people and their happenings.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Alice's Tea Cup

Three years ago I spent a summer over in New York, where I was spoiled by my sister, and we had the greatest times exploring.  I had what you might call a New York bucket list.  And I accomplished and saw so much, but there always things that are left behind.  The grandest of intentions sadly do not always come to fruition.  So when I returned to the city this summer, things were seen.  Because bitches get stuff done

One of the excursions left at the wayside previously was a trip to Alice's Tea Cup.  As an Alice in Wonderland obsessive (though I shamefully still haven't actually read the CS Lewis classic) I had been dying to make it here for quite a while.

This time, within 48 hours of my arrival, we were seated in Alice's Tea Cup, Chapter II, but first...

We went to an 11 am showing of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which was glorious.  Something I hate about living two hours away from a decent cinema is that I usually invariably miss all the great, limited release films.  I am sure some will think, "You were in New York city, where there is sunshine-a-plenty and you chose to go to a cinema at 11 o'clock in the morning?"  And to those haters, I say HELL YES.  Moonrise Kingdom was even more spectacular and uplifting than even expected.  

After that we descended on Anthropologie, one of my favourite places to shop and where I actually cannot afford, but let's just say I got some good deals.  With Anthropologie it's more than just going to browse and buy clothes, it's an experience.  While there is literally art exhibited within the store, the way the shop is so meticulously curated, the entire place feels like you have wandered into an interactive art installation.  Unfortunately I have no pictures of the beautiful new Anthrolpologie on 3rd Avenue, because I didn't want to be thrown out.  

After a tough morning of wandering around the decrepit paths of the Upper East Side we decided we finally needed to quench our collective thirst and hunger.  After all, our breakfast that morning was only a measly (read - delicious) buffet of popcorn and chocolate M&Ms.  

Soon we had finally entered the fabled quarters of Alice's Tea Cup.

In all it's glory from the street.  Classy and dingy.  So Upper East Side.

There was a twenty minute wait to get a table, which I guess for a Sunday afternoon in Manhattan is to be expected?  I was honoured to sit on the dog piss-infested stoop beside Alice's Tea Cup.  The anticipation to enter was that blinding. 

I've noticed throughout the years, when I take pictures, only a small percentage of what I seem to take are the stock expected photos.  Fear not, you will find many snaps of the New York skyline in my library.  There is, however, another strange, probably more boring side to the photos I take.  Maybe it's the lifestyle blogger in me waiting to escape, but I love taking pictures of the finer details in places I go.  And Alice's Tea Cup presented a treasure trove of opportunity for me.  
(I restrained myself once our order came.  More on that momentarily.)

The details that catch my eye are usually what give the place I am visiting at that given time the character that is so enthralling, and the brief snaps I take are my attempt to capture that spirit.  The were only a few that were taken in Alice's Tea Cup.  There were a lot of children roaming about in fairy wings who were enjoying their own tea parties (jealousy knows no bounds, oh to be a child and grow up in New York) and I did not want to be that person.  So in the end I just bathed in the atmosphere.


Makes me yearn for an old timey displace case.

I am not normally, in fact at all, a tea drinker,  (I know *GASP*, what kind of Irish person do I think I am?), except it happened to be my un-birthday, and when in Wonderland...

Parousing the menu alone felt otherworldly.  It was a directory of teas from around the globe.  It seemed like traditional tea was there for obligatory reasons, the rest pandered to the brave, the Alice in everyone.  

I stuck to the sweet family, it was a safe option.  Shamefully.  But I wasn't about to spend $6 on a tea that was going to be abandoned.  The caramel chocolate goodness felt natural.  It catered to my senses.  'Cause I am a smooth operator.

After we had made our quaint order, one of the waiters arrived to the table next to ours with what could only be described as a banquet befitting the English countryside, after an afternoon of croquet.  Vintage cake platters laden with sandwiches, scones, and deserts, along with multiple pots of tea, were sprinkled around the table.  We could only look on in envy.  

Tucking into the curious deliciousness of blueberry and orange and bacon and cheese scones obliterated the green eyed monster and we reveled in our mini feast. 

My beautiful sister drinking tea in all her New Yorker fabulousness

Blueberry and orange scone with caramel chocolate tea.  Much NOMS.

Awh yeah.  That's the stuff.

See.  It's the little things that make a place. 

Mitch-matched crockery everywhere.  Eclectic eccentricity heaven.

We had been meaning to return, go for an all out Alice-inspired day, one that would have seen the tea party followed by a trip to the statue in Central Park.  But as I said, grand intentions, and there were other, more emergent things to be seen to.

There is room for a rabbit-esque quote in here, but I feel I have done enough injustice to the worlds of word play, puns, and Alice in Wonderland for one day.

Go.  See.  Explore.  Have some tea.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Americana.  Tis a wonderous style that many a wannabe immigrant tend to emulate.  Artistically and stylistically.  The fourth of July is nearly upon, so whenever the media decides to get over its nauseating Royal family obsession, the next trend they will be cooing over will most likely be that of Americana.  Prepare for magazine spread with Star Spangled banner embellishments and classic American pie recipes.

I was thralling through a little music shop the other day, trying to decide what to do with my last fifteen euro, when what should I see before me but this:

It was in the new releases section.  I was perplexed.  I thought this collaboration had long since ceased recording together.  Checking the date in disbelief, seeing a 2012 stamp, I purchased the album with unbinding excitement and anticipation.

Once out in the car, upon further inspection while pouring over the enclosed booklet, it revealed itself to be a bit of a concept record, the hint lying in the title Americana.  It is a collection of folk songs and ballads, shaken up with an alternative edge by Young and Crazy Horse.

Something about American folk has always been haunting.  It may be the lonesome vagabond quality attached to the voice of the respective singer; most likely however, it is attributable to the underling presence of the Frontier Myth and the colonisation of the Native American people.  Folk embodies conflicting emotions: the pride of the Frontier Myth and the so-called honour attached to that, and subsequent disintegration and obliteration of Native tribes.

Geronimo himself is referenced in the album art, where Neil Young and Crazy Horse's heads have been superimposed onto a press photo of Geronimo in a Locomoblie during a 101 Ranch Show in 1906.  Geronimo's significance as a historical American figure complements the weighted themes of American folk.  Geronimo  was a Bedonkohe Apache leader who rebelled and protested against the infiltration by Mexico and America into Apache tribes.

The song "Clementine" is particularly resonant when recalling the history that the sleeve refers to.  The harmony is eerily reminiscent of a war chant, possessing the same charging momentum as Johnny Cash's "Ghost Riders In The Sky".  It evokes resilience and strength, and a unity that reinforces the usual solitude of lone folk heroes.

Another tune on offer, "Oh Susannah", epitomises what Americana has done with what one assumed were traditional and outdated songs.  You anticipate that Young will simply croon his way through a rendition of Oh Susannah and beg her to cry for him, but instead they have delivered a grungey orchestration, leaving a decidedly melancholic stamp on a otherwise old hat.

This is a case of faith in folk being revitalised with a spirit of transgression, essential to that of any American arts canon.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse lift away the stigma of cringe-inducing "she'll be coming round the mountain when she come"  narratives, to instead present a story of gravitas and integrity.  "Jesus' Chariot", similarly to Clementine, retains the momentum of the chant and serves to reinstate folk as a musical force once again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'm Shakin'

Jack White for Interview Magazine, May 2012

Shopping the Film Stash #4 - Dogville

*Whoops forgot to publish this*

I can't imagine how difficult it was to review Dogville as a film journalist.  I personally could never have reviewed it objectively because of the emotional journey and visceral toll this brought me.  But luckily this is a personal blog so I will not have to worry about that until I am being paid.  Any day now....

Dogville tells the story of a young woman Grace, Nicole Kidman, who, seeking sanctuary from a gangster, stumbles into a tiny, isolated village and thus comes under the mercy of its mysterious inhabitants.

At first, though the village elders are reluctant to take Grace in  and shelter her from her undefined threat, once she has been welcomed into the community, things seem altogether rosy.  Lars von Trier is the master of luring one in to a false sense of security (hark back to the lavish wedding festivities in Meloncholia, the seemingly innocent band of outsiders in The Idiots).

Little by little, deceit and foreboding treacle into proceedings.  As the vulnerable asylum seeker, the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace both mentally and physically.  They use their apparent kindness in taking her in as collateral to commit abhorrent acts.

Just when Grace, and the audience, think that they can rely on Tom (Paul Bettany) to uphold his knight in shining armour role, he too succumbs to the decaying morality of the Dogville locals.


Aside from the relentless storyline, one of the most striking elements of the film is obviously the set design.  The sparse, stage-like open plan serves to reiterate the bleakness of Grace's position and the invisible walls emphasise the ignorance of Dogville folk.  She is helpless in the isolated and unforgiving terrain of Dogville.

Without spoiling anything, just a note of the closing credits, whereby the use of the David Bowie's "Young Americans" inspires a severe "a-ha" moment.  Von Trier's scathing criticism is as equally grim as this bastardised Gothic fairytale.

Dogville and its people represent the nature of human flaws and the misguidance of greed and selfishness that in the end cripple modern society.  The vocabulary of cruelty and manipulation are all too familiar, and the casualness with which they are wielded in Dogville provoke uncomfortable reassessments, particularly alongside the final, redemptive act of the film.

Shopping the Music Stash #2 - Oh Land

Another album eponymous of the artist, this could very well become a trend in this loge.

Danish songstress Nanna Oland Fabricius, stage name Oh Land, is another of my NYON-inspired musical finds.  She further epitomises hipster cool and fails to buck trends as she has since relocated to Brooklyn since her first album Fauna back in '08.  (As of yet I have still failed to get my hands on her debut).  Oh Land's like-named 2011 album does however serve to sound a million miles away from the Williamsburg oeuvre that clouded the music scene in recent years.

If I were to describe Oh Land's sound generically, then it would be a contemporary fusion of pop and electronica, Bjork's baby perhaps.  But this is my blog, my territory, so from henceforth, I decree that Oh Land is the Queen of celestial pop.

Close your eyes when listening to her sophomore effort, you'll feel like you been transported to a outer space cavern looking down upon earth, doing cartwheels of inexplicable glee, free from the anxiety-ridden gravity of this world.

Now, if anything, Oh Land's style has been cultivated through the school of Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree thought.  Multi-instrumental pieces, containing everything but the kitchen sink, but in the hands of the right minds and producers, the finished product is cohesive with beautifully distinct elements, like a patchwork quilt.

All at once introspective and uplifting, Oh Land's lyrics weave a philosophical and endearingly defiant tapestry when combined with the percussion-dominated melodies.

It sounds ghastly redundant, but when listening to Oh Land's music, you sense twinkling.  I feel so twee after stating that.... So to reassert my academic credentials, it is an otherworldly experience, and due to her pseudonym, Oh Land is obviously greatly conscience of her second self and in contradictory possession of her Other.  Jane Eyre, she is not.

She owns, and cultivates the fiction surrounding her.  She tells Interview that she has created what she feels is an epic poem, something that is not hard to agree with when she gives a glimpse of the environment she grew up in.

“We had turtles and rabbits and cats and guinea pigs and birds and chickens,” she continues, describing the fable-like environment of her childhood. “We had sewing machines and instruments and there were always the craziest people coming in and out because my mom was teaching opera or my dad was rehearsing with some musicians or my sister was making clothes.”  Source - Interview Magazine

It's little wonder her music excels in eclecticism and celestial manifestations.

I shall not litter the post with song suggestions, but this, Turn It Up, was one of my anthems from last summer, essential, I believe, to all playlists.  Enjoy.

She's a more refined Lady Gaga, this is music you will not tire of, you are welcome.  

*Disclaimer -  I admire Lady Gaga, even listen to some of her music, but it gets tedious let's be honest.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shopping the Film Stash #5 - I Could Never Be Your Woman

Let's just get one thing out of the way before I continue, a great disservice has been done to the world because Amy Heckerling's I Could Never Be Your Woman was never released in theaters.

Heckerling's film is an ode to the sorry state of 21st century feminism.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays the disillusioned heroine, Rosie Hanson, working as script writer and producer for a TV show that invariably encapsulates the garish influence of commercialism in society.  Her confidence and personal identity is already under threat due to her neurosis, but that further multiples with the onslaught of her daughter Izzie's adolescence and the unexpected presence of a younger lover, the goofy Adam (Paul Rudd).

Rosie is what has been missing from the canon of the romantic comedy, and what, invariably due to how poorly the film was clearly received, will continue to be absent from this canon.  She is an honest depiction of the modern woman, particularly that of the more mature, successful variety.  Sure she's sexy and has a thriving career, but she's also a divorcee, a mother, and a frustrated (read - pissed-off) feminist.  She is pissed at the male-female dynamic, and she's passing her wise philosophies onto her protege.  Saoirse Ronan has often played beyond her years, but this time it's nice to see her play her own age with abandon, if depicting one who is a little precocious.  She is well on her way to becoming a very independent and self-possessed lady.  She teaches us all a lesson worth noting.  See video below.  (These days this message may be more applicable to the likes of Katy Perry or Rihanna, amiright?)

The film is not perfect, the plot's a little thin, the subplots are way too Scooby Doo-ish, Paul Rudd is the anti-love interest, but not in a good way.  But there's something about the message I just find to be rather empowering, as I just don't see it enough in cinema, or in media for that matter, nowadays.  On an aside, the recent backlash targeted towards Girls is just pissing me off....  Which brings us to the best part of the film, Mother Nature.  Tracey Ullman brings life to Heckerling's sardonic pessimist and Rosie's personal conscience/wise-ass.  She's pretty much a personification of everything women, of the realistic and honest variety, would like to say, do, and eat.  She empowers Rosie with her honesty and witticism, but is also there to ground her and call her out for being ridiculous.

This bohemian, rational version of Mother Nature is the antithesis of the Mother Nature that predominates in culture.  Usually we are led to believe women are at the mercy to the whim of the all-ruling mistress of our bodies.  The cliches of the emotionally unstable crying lady, and the hormone-enraged bitch.  Mother Nature is blamed.  We are weak because of the apparent existence of this ruler and our subservience to her.  Women, Rosie in this instance, can in fact live harmoniously with her.  It's a democracy, not a dictatorship.  Rosie and her Mother Nature have a back and forth; a relationship rather than a negotiation.

Sorry for the rant, but this film just magnified for me how women are treated and portrayed.  I'm not exactly one to talk, one of my favourite genres is War film, where women are one of three things usually, the mother, the devoted partner, or a prostitute.  And I couldn't even name a list of fabulous female directors or writers that I respect and yearn to emulate.  If anything this movie has called me out on my own sexism.  My own ignorance is palpable in my preferred tastes.  Rosie struggles to sustain the love of what she does, not because of her own issues, but because there are people like me who are forcing her into to unfulfilling careers because it's convenient for us.

Guys, let's just try to be better to each other.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

21 Day Photo Challenge

My sister drew my attention to this the other day, and as I have been dying to expand my creative horizons these days, I'm definitely going to partake.

Elle Moss's blog has a lovely DIY feel to it, and her aesthetic matches my own.  Unfortunately I can't seem to comment or subscribe to her blogger or Tumblr, so, sadface....

Here's the breakdown of the list for those who might be interested.

1 - Favourite Colour(s)
2 - Trees
3 - Little Things
4 - Rainbow
5 - Architecture
6 - Low on the Ground
7 - Signs
8 - Dress
9 - Grass
10 - Favourite Place
11 - Words
12 - Horizon
13 - Favourite Colour    (Hmm is this an intentional repeat?)
14 - Three Things
15 - Travel 
16 - Warmth
17 - Music
18 - Pretty Patterns
19 - What's in your Bag?
20 - Symmetry 
21 - Breakfast

Stay tuned for results!