Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tony Bennett’s pencil

In The Zen of Bennett (dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012), Tony Bennett tells his granddaughter about the mechanical pencil he’s using to sketch:

“David Hockney told me to use these pencils. They’re really like, really like stationery stores for cheap. They’re great, they’re great — it has a great eraser, great eraser. It just works great, you know?”


We later see him sketching at a rehearsal and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


[All images from The Zen of Bennett (dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012). Click any image for a larger view.]

But what kind of pencil is he using? It’s a yellow-barreled mechanical pencil, black or grey eraser, black at the point, black print on the barrel. Except for the black accents (and the silver sticker (?) in the third image), it looks like a Paper Mate Sharpwriter. Identification might be easier were it not for the tricks with focus that run through the film.

Any guesses about Tony Bennett’s pencil?

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)
Tony Bennett at ninety

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reinventing philanthropy

Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation, on the PBS NewsHour tonight, speaking of Bill Clinton:

“The president has reinvented philanthropy in this country.”
And how.

“A tremendous desire for order”


Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday . 1943. Trans. Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964).

I don’t need to tell you whom Stefan Zweig is writing about. It’s enough to say that the parallel between the world Zweig writes of and our own is unmistakable.

Other Zweig posts
Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : Urban pastoral, with stationery

[I do not endorse Zweig’s generalization about “the German people.” Nor would I endorse a generalization about “the American people” or any other “people.” People are too various.]

Word of the day: wayzgoose

It turns out that August 24 means something: wayzgoose , the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

An entertainment given by a master printer to his workmen around St Bartholomew’s Day (24 August), marking the beginning of the season of working by candlelight. In later use: an annual festivity held in summer by the members of a printing establishment, consisting of a dinner and (usually) an excursion into the country.
A sample sentence (1875): “The wayzgoose generally consists of a trip into the country, open air amusements, a good dinner, and speeches and toasts afterwards.” A 2005 citation makes clear that the annual festivity continues in the world of printers. Seattle printers will have a wayzgoose in September.

Post-Depression cuisine

Talking on the phone recently, my mom and I got onto Foods of the Past. Here is her best recollection of a week’s meals in her post-Depression girlhood:

Weekday dinners
Monday: chicken soup, chicken
Tuesday: escarole soup, chicken croquettes
Wednesday: meatloaf
Thursday: macaroni (i.e., pasta) and meatballs
Friday: fish

Weekend lunches and dinners
Saturday: pizza, steak
Sunday: chicken, cold cuts

Everyone listened to The Shadow while eating cold cuts for dinner.

Potatoes and vegetables (carrots, green beans, peas, zucchini) accompanied chicken, fish, and meatloaf. Produce came from a fruit and vegetable store. (Gardening in my mom’s family was devoted to roses.) Chickens were freshly killed at a poultry store. Everything was homemade: my mom’s grandmother ground chicken to make croquettes, and she made and cut pasta, even spaghetti, by hand, without a machine, every strand the same.

My mom wants it to be clear that this schedule was not unvarying: lamb chops and pork chops and other dishes came into play. This schedule was more or less a routine — and a pretty nice one, I’d say.

All details used with permission. Thanks, Mom.

A related post
Depression cuisine

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sense of History

A short film by Mike Leigh: A Sense of History (1992).

As one says in the American midwest, this film is spot on, spot on in so many ways that one finds nothing more to say about it. One should just watch.

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

High Hopes (dir. Mike Leigh, 1998). Classism, socialism, gentrification, adultery, fidelity, aging, hospitality, and rudeness. I think highly of every Leigh film I’ve seen, with one exception: Mr. Turner .

*

Where to Invade Next (dir. Michael Moore, 2016). Michael Moore’s grand tour, which takes him to nation after nation in search of good ideas to bring back to the United States (ideas that, guess what, originated, at least sort of, in the United States). Other countries, it turns out, are filled with shiny, happy people. And gosh: Iran is a leader in stem-cell research. (Never mind its approach to human rights.) While watching this film, I began to think of Michael Moore as the Garrison Keillor of documentaries: a shambling folksy caricature who must be in the scene at all times. (If you’ve ever heard Keillor pitch in on a song, you should know what I mean.) Moore’s habit of playing the naïf — What, you have windows in a factory? — quickly becomes insufferable.

*

Populaire (dir. Régis Roinsard, 2012). Love and speed-typing contests, with manual typewriters. From the opening credits to the archival footage that runs in the credits, a delight. Like The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2011), Populaire recreates a style of filmmaking: it’s a 1950s romantic comedy, a loving and knowing imitation teeming with tropes. There’s even a brief homage to Vertigo , with non-1950s nudity. My favorite moment: the boss, having given up on his secretary/beloved, looks at a photograph of himself as a boxer and decides that he must fight. Yes, fight!

*

What Happened, Miss Simone? (dir. Liz Garbus, 2015). “People seem to think that when she went out on stage that was when she became Nina Simone. My mother was Nina Simone 24/7, and that’s where it became a problem”: Lisa Simone Kelly. This documentary follows the story of an immense talent struggling against racism, domestic violence, and mental illness. With a stunning performance of “I Loves You, Porgy” from Playboy’s Penthouse (not available online).

*

The Search for General Tso (dir. Ian Cheney, 2014). Who was he? Or did he even exist? The mystery is not one: for some years, anyone with a browser or a library card has been able to get the goods. The real questions: how and why Chinese food became “American.” An engaging, well-paced meditation on otherness, assimilation, appropriation, and originality.

*

Iris (dir. Albert Maysles, 2014). Iris Apfel, ninety-three when this documentary was made, describes herself as “a geriatric starlet.” She is a woman of fashion and, well, clutter. Iris is enthusiastic, witty, and utterly unconcerned with anyone’s idea of what’s appropriate in clothing or interior design. My favorite moment: at a big event, Iris presses the photographer Bill Cunningham about coming over for dinner, and he blithely dodges her by pointing out that her public is waiting.

I am thrilled to realize after all these years that Old World Weavers, the textile importer my friend Aldo Carrasco worked for in 1984 and 1985, was Iris and Carl Apfel’s company. Aldo worked for Iris Apfel! He sent telexes to Elaine at her day-job in Boston (a sample) and sent us beautiful fabric ends that we turned into curtains.

*

Pete Kelly’s Blues (dir. Jack Webb, 1955). A movie about jazz musicians directed by and starring Jack Webb? Yes, and there was also a radio show: Webb had a genuine love of jazz. There is a startling and beautiful beginning at an African-American burial service, and fine musical moments from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, but the core of the movie, a musicians-v.-hoodlums story, lacks energy and interest. Interesting to see a young Martin Milner, who would go on to appear on Dragnet and star in Adam-12 . I didn’t know that he and Webb went back so far.

*

The Paper Chase (dir. James Bridges, 1973). I know that lawyer-types love it. I prefer the television series, which has more warmth and camaraderie. (Maybe that explains why I’m not a lawyer.) At the center of the movie is a bafflingly dysfunctional, claustrophobic love story between first-year student James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) and Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner). All Hart can talk about is Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman). Casual, unexamined sexism is everywhere, with sensitive-looking long-haired guys (Hart, Susan’s ex) staking their claims to a woman. Or not. One of the movie’s taglines: “You have to choose between the girl you love and the diploma you’ve worked for all your life. You have 30 seconds.” You ? Girl ?

Look for Blair Brown as a student in Contracts. She speaks with a southern accent.

*

A River Runs Through It (dir. Robert Redford, 1992). Pretty good but pretty predictable. And just plain pretty. Pretty natural scenery. Pretty water. And a pretty good fight scene with sardines.

*

Paul Williams: Still Alive (dir. Stephen Kessler, 2011). He co-wrote, among other songs, “Rainbow Connection,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” He was everywhere on television. And he’s still alive, still performing, now sober and happy. “My life is pretty interesting right now,” he says. But there’s this guy following him everywhere wanting to make a documentary. Most revealing moment: Williams, appalled, watching a videotape his younger self — high, arrogant, crude — on a talk show.

*

Teacher’s Pet (dir. George Seaton, 1958). We thought this might be a good follow-up to Populaire . Not exactly. Did viewers really find the pairing of Clark Gable and Doris Day appealing? Mid-century, what was wrong with you? It reveals little to point out that the teacher is Day; Gable is the night-class faux-student who grabs and kisses her in her office. Jeez, this movie was awful. And there’s Mamie Van Doren, “The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll.” Day later offers a reprise. Jeez, this movie was awful. Did I say that already?

One odd detail: Day’s character is a college instructor (not professor). Yet she has her own office, with an assistant (Marion Ross) who manages the opaque projector in the classroom and answers the telephone from her own outer office.

Okay, fambly, now we know where Parker Posey’s song in Waiting for Guffman (dir. Christopher Guest, 1997) came from.

*

The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music (dir. Beth Harrington, 2014). The story of the Carter Family, A. P., Sara, Maybelle, their many descendants, and their relations by marriage (who include Johnny Cash). Placards pop up to fill in details of fact: a welcome alternative to what could too easily have been a Ken Burns-like voiceover. With Louis Armstrong, Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bessie Smith, the Carters are in the DNA of vernacular American music.

What would you recommend?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Another twelve

Monday, August 22, 2016

Gotham tumblr

The Gotham Book Mart Project is a tumblr devoted to the inventory of Manhattan’s defunct Gotham Book Mart. The books and other materials are now in the collections of the University of Pennsylvania.

I thought it would be fun to browse the tumblr for something I bought at the Gotham and quickly found John Bernard Myers’s anthology The Poets of the New York School (1969). In the mid-1990s, I bought a copy from a stack of a least a dozen. Price: $8.50. If, as legend had it, the Gotham never threw away a book, the store was also not always much concerned about repricing older inventory. $8.50! I remember a poet of my acquaintance perking up when I mentioned my find. He didn’t buy every copy, as there was at least one left when the Gotham closed in 2007.

A related post
A Gotham bookmark, by Edward Gorey

[Found via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.]

Modest proposals

[Exceedingly modest proposals to improve college. I regret that I did not develop them in time for Fall 2016 implementation.]

~ Goodbye to Big Sports. The NBA and NFL can subsidize their own farm systems. Convert the money that supported Big Sports into increased adjunct pay, new tenure-track positions, increased academic support services, and need-based scholarships. Current players retain their scholarships.

~ Goodbye to minor administrators, who can step back into lower-paying faculty positions. Convert the money that funded those administrative positions into increased adjunct pay and new tenure-track positions.

~ Use Peter Drucker’s 20:1 salary ratio to cap salaries: the highest full-time salary on campus should be no more than twenty times greater than the lowest full-time salary. Note: there will be no basketball or football coaches to complain about drastic reductions in pay. Presidents will have to deal.

~ Goodbye to all busy work assigned by administrators to faculty. Not all elements of program review and assessment, just the busy work.

~ Establish some version of tenure or, at the least, long-term contracts for adjunct faculty of some years’ standing.

~ Reduce doctoral programs to plausible numbers of students, in proportion to the realities of the job market. Then again, creating substantial numbers of tenure-track positions may make doctoral study increasingly plausible.

~ Require all first-year students to attend a convocation about academic endeavor. No cheers, no dance-offs, no face-painting, no door prizes. The convocation should include a faculty member who says something like this: “You are not here to learn how to make a living. You are here to learn how to make a life.” Emphasis should fall on the ways in which college will differ from and be more difficult than high school.

~ Require faculty and all first-year students to read (with appropriate background material and study questions) a work of some weight and difficulty over the summer. (Not an inspiring memoir or a work with a plain and unimpeachable message.) I nominate Sophocles’s Antigone , which raises every question one might want to consider about conscience, civil disobedience, gender and power, isolation and community, morality and law, competing claims about what’s right, conflict and negotiation. Utterly relevant to our present condition. The convocation should include some consideration of the reading.

~ Require all students and faculty to participate in small-group discussions of said work. These can take place during what so many (too many) students mistakenly think of as “syllabus week”. There should be some measure by which to determine that students have in fact done their reading: a brief written quiz and participation in a discussion. The faculty-student ratio will determine the size of the groups. In a school with, say, a 20:1 ratio, each faculty member can be responsible for two groups of ten students, two hour-long meetings. Students who are unprepared will be given additional opportunities to complete this work.

~ Require writing — genuine writing — in all courses. Class sizes will be small enough to allow for careful evaluation of students’ written work.

That’s all for now. Any questions?

[“You are not here,” &c.: something I heard at my freshman orientation. I’ve never forgotten it. I haven’t forgotten the high cost of college either. My proposals here aim to improve institutions. We must also make access to institutions more affordable.]

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Harlem 1958 interactive

From the New York Daily News , Stoop Summit, an interactive version of Art Kane’s famed photograph Harlem 1958 . Click on a musician and you get a YouTube video and a link to a relevant website. Smart choices: the videos lean toward live performances rather than recordings. See and hear.