We're big fans of Joe Brainard and have written about him several times, most recently here. We were delighted to get an e-mail telling us of a new film about this singular artist and writer whom, we're happy to say, seems to be gaining in popularity. The film was directed by Matt Wolf and is built around archival recordings of Brainard reading from his famous memoir-poem "I Remember."
Here's what Matt Wolf has to say about his film:
I've always been a huge fan of Joe Brainard's art and writing, especially "I Remember," which is probably my favorite poem ever. When I found archival audio recordings of Joe reading the text on the online archive PennSound, I knew that I wanted to make something— to bring to life the poem, but also to tell Joe's story. I approached his best friend, the poet Ron Padgett, after reading his very moving book Joe: A Memoir, and he connected me to great photos, films, and materials to tell the story. I also interviewed Ron about his lifelong friendship with Joe from elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma up until Joe's death. When I was editing the film, I wanted to create a kind of conversation between Ron's recollections of Joe, and Joe's memories from the poem. I started to realize that the film wasn't just a tribute to Joe, but a film about deep friendship, and the unique bonds artists form with each other.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises stands on its own, undiminished by the success of 2008’s The Dark Knight or even 2005’s Batman Begins. Nolan delivers a story that takes clear inspiration from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Eight years have passed since the events of the previous two films. Batman has effectively retired. Gotham City, much like Eighteenth Century France, is a land of obvious socioeconomic disparity. Though the city has been virtually crime-free due to the enacting of a Patriot Act-like law, the poor and dispossessed, as represented by an underfunded home for orphaned children and an overflowing prison, have been neglected, while the wealthy elite, represented by Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne and his friends, have been “living large,” as Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman puts it, all of them blissfully unaware of the powder keg they are sitting on. Wayne, having hung up his cape and cowl now sulks around his mansion in a Howard Hughes-like existence, tended to by his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and pursuing a romance with a lovely Wayne Enterprises board member (Marion Cotillard).
This tranquility is shattered with the arrival of the masked villain Bane and his army of mercenaries. Bruce Wayne is eventually convinced to don the cape and cowl once more in order to confront the threat to his city, aided in his efforts by the techno-savvy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the battle-weary Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and a heroic young beat cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It would seem that director Nolan is running the risk of leaving his film overstuffed with characters. However, Nolan manages to avoid this problem by successfully creating a narrative in which every character’s role is intertwined to the benefit of each. This is in direct contrast to Sam Raimi’s bloated 2007 Spider-Man 3, where none of the many supporting characters seemed to relate to each other or contribute much to the larger storyline.
Of all the many characters in TDK Rises, Bane offers the most material for analysis. Tom Hardy, succeeding the late Heath Ledger’s electrifying Oscar winning performance as The Joker in TDK, wisely presents a low-key portrayal, preferring to let the movie’s subtext carry the role. Bane is more of a crypto-Stalinist representation than a larger-than-life villain. Upon the necessary elimination of Batman, Bane’s agenda, obviously inspired by countless revolutions, is to lead a revolt of Gotham’s lower classes to overrun Gotham and “return the city to the people,” preaching “we have come not as conquerors, but as liberators.” What makes Bane seem Stalinist is the ever-present reminder that he is a strongman who leads his revolution from the top down, with him firmly in control. The complicated plan in which this is to be accomplished need not be spelled out, other than that it involves the employment of cat burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway), a raid on the Stock Exchange, the destruction of a football stadium, and the detonation of a hydrogen bomb.
There are many references to A Tale of Two Cities, including Commissioner Gordon’s recitation of the final passage “it is a far, far better thing that I do” and (for aficionados of Dickens’ book who listen closely) the introduction of a minor character named Stryver, a direct reference to a supporting character in Dickens’ novel. In one of the best sequences of the movie, following Bane’s successful siege of Gotham, angry hoards of revolting “peasants” storm the Park Avenue penthouses of the ruling classes, helping themselves to their material spoils, and herding the dethroned members of the elite out onto the street. These unfortunate aristocrats are then subjected to mock show-trials where they are forced to choose between public hanging and “exile” onto the thin ice of the frozen harbor.
Many commentators have detected a right-wing message in this movie. It can be argued that the revolting masses are portrayed as a force to be feared and disparaged and that it takes a wealthy Christ-like capitalist savior to repel the barbarians at the gate and turn back the tide of the revolutionaries’ repressive violence. Bruce Wayne/ Batman is to Gotham City’s anarchist siege what the Scarlet Pimpernel was to France’s post-revolutionary Reign of Terror—a masked counterrevolutionary hero. Indeed, it is hard to miss the real-life parallels with the Occupy Wall Street protests that have shaken America throughout the past year, which have made the country’s wealthy elite very nervous and much more likely to throw their support to Mitt Romney (who could very well be the real world’s Batman/Scarlet Pimpernel capitalist savior) in the upcoming presidential election.
Contrary to the charges of Rush Limbaugh-esque conservatism, TDK Rises comes off not as a deliberate right-wing backlash attack on the 99 Percent movement, but rather as a liberal commentary on the social conditions that lead to revolution and the vengeful excesses that follow the current regime’s overthrow. This is the same message that Charles Dickens conveyed in A Tale of Two Cities. Nolan is therefore establishing his liberal reformist credentials, where Batman represents not Mitt Romney, but instead Barack Obama, the consensus builder designated to curb both the excesses of revolutionary activity and the wealthy elite’s exploitation of the masses.
Though not as well made as the previous two films of the trilogy, TDK Rises makes for a nicely fitting conclusion to what has been a superior trilogy. The film affirms Christopher Nolan’s status as one of Hollywood’s finest directors, if not merely one of the most imaginative.
She sings it in Some Like It Hot. Music by Joseph A. Livingston and Matt Malneck; words by Gus Kahn.
She died today fifty years ago.
The great character actress, Celeste Holm, died this past weekend at age 95. Miss Holm was a fixture in the acting world for more than six decades. The first Ado Annie in Oklahoma, she famously won the part when she demonstrated for Rodgers and Hammerstein her ability at hog-calling. In 1948, she received an Oscar for her performance as Anne Dettrey in the social drama about anti-Semitism, Gentleman's Agreement, and was nominated twice more, for Come to the Stable (1949) and All About Eve (1950). She more than held her own against Frank Sinatra in 1956's High Society. She performed extensively on Broadway and later, on television, including a recurring role in the 1980s nighttime melodrama, Falcon Crest. She was one of those wonderful actresses who can do almost anything.
But I remember her chiefly and most fondly for her role as the Fairy Godmother in the 1965 television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. It was a yearly event awaited with great anticipation at my house, and even now, I can sing most of the score at the drop of the hat. Here's "Impossible," with Lesley Anne Warren as Cinderella. Good-bye, Miss Holm, and thanks for making this little girl happy.
[i] “Album Zutique” Text: “The Album Zutique was a communal journal for the poets and artists with whom Rimbaud associated while living in Paris....They called themselves Zutistes, a word coined from the French exclamation “zut,” which, depending on context, can mean anything from “golly” to “damn....” Most of [Rimbaud's] poems here are parodies of the work of other poets, and many are ribald in nature.” (Wyatt Mason, from Rimbaud Complete); Image: Grace Jones, from Vamp (1986)
[ii] “Blood of a Young Girl Streaks the Altar” Text: Aeschylus, from Agamemnon; Image: Michael Spinks, from Spinks vs. Tyson, 27 June 1988
[iii] “Disorganized Rainbow” Text: Albert Ramsay, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine” (Saturday Evening Post, Vol. 207 Issue 13, September 1934); Image: Miners, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine”
[iv] “Merle in Switzerland” Text: R.F.; Image: Rivi’s eyes, from Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
[v] "Shelley" Text: R.F.; Image: Amelia Curran, from Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)
[vi] "Take Me Away" Text: "Take Me Away" (1992), Mix Factory; Image: from Tyson
Happy birthday to the sensational Jane Russell, who was born on June 21, 1921 and passed away last year.
She caused a stir in 1954 when she sang "Lookin' for Trouble" while wearing a bodysuit with three strategic cutouts in The French Line. Producer Howard Hughes reportedly designed the film's outrageous costumes himself.
The star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mystifies the panelists of "What's My Line?" including Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Martin Gabel, and Pamela Tiffin. John Daly is the moderator. O Mnemosyne, mother of the nine muses. This is what TV was like on Sunday nights in the era of Mad Men. "Bobby" Morse in another interview says that he sometimes shows up for work on the Mad Men set singing "A Secretary is not a Toy" from How to Succeed way back when. -- DL
George Bernard Shaw famously remarked that dancing is "the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music." For proof, just watch this Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers scene from the 1934 film "Night and Day."
I love Toni Bentley's analysis of this dance in her New York Times review of Kathleen Riley's The Astaires: Fred & Adele (OUP): "Put down the Kama Sutra and its impossible acrobatics," writes Bentley. "Rent The Gay Divorcee and watch Astaire seduce a resistant Rogers, transforming her from a feisty, fast-talking, fast-walking, too-good-for-you dame into a dewy-eyed ingénue, slowed and silenced by love." She continues:
In the Cole Porter number “Night and Day,” Astaire pursues her about the dance floor with the wit of changing rhythms, sometimes syncopated, sometimes right on the beat, sometimes pausing to breathe the moment. He chases her, coaxes her, mirrors her, challenges her and goes hip to hip with her. He even spoons her, vertically. She isn’t sure, she turns away, she reconsiders, gives a little, gives a little more, then, overcome, bends backward and surrenders completely to the rhythm, the moment and the man. He flips her around, catches her, sends her off spinning alone only to meet her, unexpectedly, when she slows, pulls her in tight and takes her into a thrilling crescendo, then to a fantastically casual ending, as if to say, “That? Oh, that was nothing,” his modesty after brilliance his most disarming charm . . . As “Night and Day” closes, Astaire lands Rogers gently on a steep incline — she’s mesmerized by the magician who just took her on the ride of her life — bends over her suggestively, pulls back and says, “Cigarette?”
from one point of view it's always marilyn monroe's birthday. june 1st. these sequences are from her last movie, "Something's Got to Give" (1962).
Sasha, a brilliant young Russian violinist, needs a visa to stay in New York. He gets a fellowship to study at Juilliard and he's good, but his domineering father, a cellist from the old country, keeps interrupting Sasha's lessons with his teacher, Marie, an exceedingly attractive American pianist (Carolyn McCormick) who knows her Tchaikovsky and can down her vodka with the best of them. The young man (the extraordinarily talented Phillipe Quint) meets Ramona, a bohemian blonde keyboard player and singer (Nellie McKay), who lives hand to mouth, raiding garbage dumpsters for her next meal. Meanwhile, Papa (Michael Cumpsty) gets it on with Marie, and will Sasha bone up for his recital or will he throw caution to the winds and join Ramona's band? The movie is tender-hearted and sweet but not sentimental with great shots of street musicians on and off the subway. New York City (Brighton Beach, Lincoln Center, the Russian Samovar) is happily on display. The superb soundtrack veers from Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and ambitious cavatinas to "classic rock" songs featuring violin and keyboard and written by Mr. Quint. It's an homage to dualities: two cultures, two love affairs, two kinds of music. Brilliant. See it. -- DL
Read this interview with Beth Harrison, acting director of the Academy of American Poets, on "poem in your pocket day" (April 26), movies and poetry, and much else, from the current issue of Guernica.
An excerpt I loved:
Guernica: I noticed that one of the Academy’s suggestions for National Poetry Month is to watch a poetry movie. I must admit, all I could think of was Howl until I looked at your list. Do you have a recommendation?
Beth Harrison: Stacey Harwood compiled a terrific list of movies that include poetry, as well as a great essay on the subject, and anyone who wants their cinema with a side (or sometimes main course) of poetry can do no better than to start here.
Usually I recoil from snarky letters to the editor pointing out errors in an article, although sometimes the unseemly back-and-forth between bitchy intellectuals in the back pages of the NY Review of Books is the best thing in the rag. When I see an error I usually think someone else will run with it so I just turn the page. But in yesterday's Wall Street Journal there was a review by Frederic Raphael, an English writer of some note, devoted to Alice Yeager Kaplan's Dreaming in French, a book about three redoubtable American women who spent formative time in Paris: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Mr. Raphael is not terribly impressed with Ms. Kaplan's writing: not all of it is "sycophantic gush," he writes, but "banalities and imprecisions abound."
In discussing the treatment of Jackie Kennedy, Mr. Raphael writes that "A gauche juvenile poem in French ('Who knows why an April breeze / Never remains / Why stars in the trees / Hide when it rains') is gravely admired, and construed for us, by Ms. Kaplan." Although I admire the critic's adroit use of the adverb ("gravely"), the errors here are too splendid to go unremarked. The lines that the reviewer (and, I infer, the book's author) believes are taken from a "juvenile poem in French" are actually from Johnny Mercer's lyric for Hoagy Carmichael's song "How Little We Know," which Lauren Bacall sings in her screen debut in To Have and Have Not (1943). Gauche? I don't think so. It's a gem of a song, and it must be said that Jackie remained loyal to Mercer: everyone knows she adored "Moon River," which Johnny wrote for Henry Mancini's tune in Breakfast at Tiffany''s (1961).
Here's the scene from To Have and Have Not. Judge for yourself. -- DL
According to Hollywood Reporter, actor/poet James Franco (above right) has paid a record price for the film rights to "The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School," David Lehman's seminal study of the four poets (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch (above left), Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler) who during the mid-20th century "revitalized poetry at a moment when it seemed that everything that could be done had been done."
In a separate statement, Lehman revealed that he would likely collaborate with Franco on the screenplay. Production is scheduled to begin later this fall. Early scenes will be shot on location in Cambridge, Mass, where the young John Ashbery befriended Koch and O'Hara while at Harvard. Production will move to New York City for the remainder of the film.
"Franco is a talented writer and actor with a deep appreciation of poetry," said Lehman. "I'm thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement on the film." Word is out that actor Seth Rogan will portray James Schuyler and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey's Matthew Crawley, below right) will play John Ashbery. Franco is tight-lipped about who will play Frank O'Hara, giving rise to rumors that he will play the ill-fated poet himself.
Negotiations for the film rights reportedly began shortly after Franco appeared as Allen Ginsberg in the critically acclaimed "Howl." At first Franco refused to disclose how much he paid for "Avant-Garde" but when pressed he admitted that he tapped several poetry-loving investors to come up with the record cash amount of continue reading here.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.