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Posts Tagged ‘Film’

The (once) hidden art of street photographer Vivian Maier

In antiques, beauty, cities, culture, journalism, life, photography, US, women, work on August 10, 2014 at 12:13 am

By Caitlin Kelly

20120415141416My photo, not hers!

Have you seen the terrific documentary “Finding Vivian Maier”?

I finally saw it, and it’s an amazing true story of a French woman who spent most of her life working as a nanny for wealthy Chicago families, all the while shooting film and video, as — self-described — “a sort of spy.”

She lived in a tiny French town and in New York City in earlier years, but mostly lived in her employers’ homes as a way to live more frugally and to partake in family life. She never married or had children of her own and, it seems, was not at all close to her own family.

The film traces her history and interviews many of the people who knew her, from the children she cared for (and sometimes poorly) to their parents to a few of her friends. She was intensely private, insisting that everywhere she lived there were multiple locks on the door to her room.

And it all started with an auction, when the film-maker, John Maloof, bought a box of negatives:

After John Maloof purchased his first home and pursued a career in real estate in 2005, he began to get more involved in the community where he lived. He delved heavily into historic preservation and eventually became the president of the local historical society on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Given that this part of the city is often ignored, he came to believe that by writing a book on the neighborhood, he could work to promote awareness of its often overlooked charm. It was this decision to co-author the book Portage Park that would change his life forever.

The publisher required approximately 220 high-quality vintage photos of the neighborhood for the book. To gather enough images for this project, John and his co-author, Daniel Pogorzelski, were forced to look everywhere for any old photographs good enough to make the cut. The result was a nearly year-long scavenger hunt where they followed lead after lead to compile the pictures needed for the book. It was during this process that John visited a local auction house, RPN, to see if by chance, they would have any material for the book up for auction. Sure enough, he found a box of negatives depicting Chicago in the 60’s. Unable to get a thorough look at its contents, he took a gamble and purchased the box for around $400.

As someone who began her career as a photographer, and whose husband is a career photographer and editor, this story was even more compelling to me. Her images are truly extraordinary, and also now for sale — how sad and ironic that this has happened only after her death.

But Vivian’s story also intrigues me because we know someone personally whose trajectory is somewhat similar — a single European woman who nannied for wealthy families and who is also an artist. Even her first name initial is the same.

If you haven’t watched the film or seen any of Maier’s photos, I urge you to take a look.

Powerful stuff — and a sad, mysterious and memorable story.

Stepping — or being dragged — beyond your comfort zone

In art, behavior, blogging, books, culture, film, journalism on April 9, 2014 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day

I enjoyed this recent book review, which the blogger Victoria Best, a former lecturer at Cambridge, admits she found both challenging and beyond her normal taste. Her blog, Tales From the Reading Room is always smart and thoughtful:

(author Susan) Nussbaum was a drama student in her twenties when she was knocked down by a car. Now nearing sixty, she has spent her adult life in a wheelchair with partial function in her arms, working as a playwright and a disability activist. Good Kings, Bad Kings is her first novel and it achieves the wholly admirable feat of giving a memorable voice to some forgotten members of society.

Good Kings, Bad Kings takes place in a nursing home for adolescents with disabilities, a grim institution…

So much fiction is for comfort or escapism, so much is created with pleasing and appeasing the reader in mind, that you have to love a book that has the courage to tackle a really difficult subject…

Books should raise our awareness of the vulnerable and forgotten, we ought to be jolted out of our comfort zones sometimes. It’s one of the things we rely on writers to do, when most of us lack the courage.

Having recently visited a country of head-spinning poverty — average annual income is $1,080 — working for a week in Nicaragua, I’ve been thinking a lot about when, why and how any of us choose to leave or stretch our comfort zones.

The poverty there was stunning; in Bilwi, where we stayed, only 20 percent of people have access to running water. Most houses are made of wood and corrugated metal. Many people do not go beyond a primary school education as it’s not available in their village or they need the income.

It is profoundly — and usefully — unsettling to see how differently others live.

We often choose to create a cozy and familiar world for ourselves and then begin to think everywhere is like that or should be like that.

Just because we know and like it doesn’t mean it’s the best or only way to live, just the one we know and are used to. The one all our friends and family know and are used to.

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, where I lived at 14

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, where I lived at 14

I moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother when I was 14. I had lived my life in comfort in Toronto and didn’t especially want to go.

There, we lived in a simple apartment building with an empty field next door with cows in it. We had no telephone, only a pay phone on the street corner below. We got hot water by lighting a burner in the heater in the kitchen. We had no bathtub, only a shower. The floors were tile, cool and smooth beneath our feet — but not carpet or hardwood, which I was used to.

I walked up a short, steep hill to attend school and sat at a desk with two tall narrow windows facing south. One contained Popocatapetl, an extinct volcano and the other Iztaccihuatl, another. One of my school pals had a brother named Willie, who was suffering from intestinal worms. That, too, was new to me.

I only stayed there for four months before returning to Toronto.

But that experience changed me, for good, in many ways. Living, even briefly, within a wholly different culture — whether literally, or through art or music or design or a great book — will do that to you, if you let it.

My photo, from 1986, of the late Philippe Viannay, who founded Journalistes en Europe

My photo, from 1986, of the late Philippe Viannay, who founded Journalistes en Europe

Just before my 25th birthday, I received word that I’d been chosen, with 28 other journalists from 19 nations, to spend eight months in Paris and traveling through Europe reporting. I would leave behind all my dear friends, a thriving writing career, my dog, my apartment, my live-in boyfriend who wanted to get married. My identities.

I shrieked with excitement when I opened that acceptance letter, but the day my plane left I was weeping in a corner, unable to do anything but toss a few things into my suitcase. I knew, (as it did), that year would indelibly change and mark me.

I dedicated my first book to M. Viannay, shown in the photo above that I took of him on the balcony on Rue du Louvre, in gratitude for this extraordinary experience he created — one that shoved me abruptly out of my comfort zone and into an entirely new set of competences and friendships.

What a gift!

I wish I’d been there when Nijinksy first danced to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, on May 29, 1913, when Paris’ bourgeoisie were well and truly epatee. From The Telegraph:

the Rite is the most over-documented premiere in history, and yet so many things are obscure. Was it the choreography that annoyed people, or the music? Were the police really called? Was it true that missiles were thrown, and challenges to a duel offered? Were the creators booed at the end, or cheered?

There were certainly plenty of good reasons for outrage, starting with the high, almost strangled bassoon melody that begins the work, soon draped with fluttering, twittering woodwind sounds.

It’s often said that the pulsating rhythms of the Rite of Spring are what caused the outrage, but pulsating rhythms at least have an appeal at a visceral level (an appeal certainly felt at the Rite’s premiere, where according to one eye witness one excited onlooker beat out the rhythms on the bald pate of the man in front). It’s more likely that the audience was appalled and disbelieving at the level of dissonance, which seemed to many like sheer perversity. “The music always goes to the note next to the one you expect,” wrote one exasperated critic.

The trick is being open, being emotionally porous enough to allow something new — and possibly frightening — to enter.

Here’s a blog post from Rewireme.com, a website I’ll be writing an essay for soon about my experiences in Nicaragua, about making a major life change.

Nancy wrote Jump as “one massive attempt to help you disengage from your inner stalemate and make the best decision you can.” She helps you do this by breaking the process of change into ten steps:

  1. Admit to yourself what you already know.
  2. Tell the truth to someone safe.
  3. Imagine yourself free.
  4. Make one different choice.
  5. Set your new boundaries.
  6. Ask for help.
  7. Honor your resistance.
  8. Jump!
  9. The graceful exit.
  10. Say yes…and then say it again…and again.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/journeys/learning-jump-nancy-levin/#sthash.Wd1QKsAf.dpuf

Nancy wrote Jump as “one massive attempt to help you disengage from your inner stalemate and make the best decision you can.” She helps you do this by breaking the process of change into ten steps:

  1. Admit to yourself what you already know.
  2. Tell the truth to someone safe.
  3. Imagine yourself free.
  4. Make one different choice.
  5. Set your new boundaries.
  6. Ask for help.
  7. Honor your resistance.
  8. Jump!
  9. The graceful exit.
  10. Say yes…and then say it again…and again.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/journeys/learning-jump-nancy-levin/#sthash.Wd1QKsAf.dpuf

I recently watched Australian film director Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby. Much to my surprise — as I love the 1970s version with Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan, (much better cast than Carey Mulligan) — I really enjoyed it, even though it’s crazily over the top, as he usually is; my friends’ reactions on Facebook were interesting.

Some were appalled by the film and shocked that I liked it. Because, harrumphed some, it wasn’t true to the book. He had thoroughly messed with their expectations.

When did you last leave your comfort zone?

What happened — and what happened after that?

 

Starting 2014 by seeing “2001” — a classic from 1968

In beauty, culture, entertainment, film, Technology, travel on January 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

There are films you see once and never forget, their images locked inside your head for decades to come.

If you’ve ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” it’s unlikely you’ll forget it.

It opens with a blank screen and long minutes of music. The first word of dialogue is 20 minutes into the film.

It’s unlike anything I’ve seen since, and I watch a lot of movies.

Close up of satellite model used in 2001 a Spa...

Close up of satellite model used in 2001 a Space Odyssey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of you who’ve yet to see it — and it was recently playing at IFC in Manhattan — it’s a science-fiction film of almost three hours, shot on sound stages in England at a total cost of $10.5 million — a staggering sum in those days. It also arrived in theaters 16 months late, premiering in D.C. on April 2, 1968.

I love this film, but it’s definitely an acquired taste: little dialogue, extremely slow pace, focused mostly on visuals and music.

The "centrifuge" set used for filmin...

The “centrifuge” set used for filming scenes depicting interior of the spaceship Discovery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s fascinating to see what — in the mid 1960s — a filmed notion of 2001 might look like: space stations (yes); “picture phones” (Skype, yes); liquid and mashed-up foods eaten through straws (hello, juicing!)

2001: A Space Odyssey "Picture Phone"

2001: A Space Odyssey “Picture Phone” (Photo credit: Dallas1200am)

And to see what didn’t last — the sleek Concorde jet (gone) with the Pan Am livery (gone) ferrying passengers to the space station.

The sleek white interiors and stunning Djinn chairs in hot pink wool still look gorgeous. The flight attendants, with their bulbous white helmets, are both elegant and weird. But the guys still wear suits and carry briefcases.

My favorite part of the film is the final one, long minutes of astonishing beauty — yellow and magenta and turquoise and orange shapes and landscapes, (the Hebrides and Monument Valley), flashing past us, re-colored, at dizzying speed. You have no idea where you are or what you’re seeing. but you’re dazzled.

The "Star Gate" sequence, one of man...

The “Star Gate” sequence, one of many ground-breaking visual effects. It was primarily for these that Stanley Kubrick won his only personal Academy Award. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s interesting to see how dated the film is in some ways — the final scenes feel like an extended psychedelic drug trip (very 60s) — yet how timeless the themes and questions are: Where does human intelligence come from? Are we alone in the universe? What would it be like to travel to Jupiter (and beyond) and what would we find there?

Elements of the film will be familiar to viewers of the television series “Lost” — like earlier scientists offering counsel via pre-recorded video and to fans of the “Alien” films, whose every voyage ends up (as here) actually being a secret mission, with technology that kills off all the crew but one, leaving us to cheer on a lonely, terrified explorer left unaided to face unknown dangers in the deepest reaches of space.

Does it get much scarier than that?

Over the years, the film has grossed $56.9 million in North America and $190 million worldwide.

I’d see it again — even though the young guy beside me snored for the first half, then left at intermission. (Some movies in the 60s had intermission.)

Have you seen it?

Loved it? Hated it?

Attention, movie buffs! Batman’s cape and the Maltese Falcon at Bonham’s auction Nov. 25

In antiques, art, culture, design, entertainment, film, History, movies on November 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you love movies as much as I do, this is the auction for you, to be held in New York City Nov. 25.

You can register from anywhere, then bid online or by telephone. (Don’t forget that auction prices will include an additional 12 to 25 percent added in the buyer’s premium.)

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in the 1941 film ...

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in the 1941 film adaptation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The variety of the 309 lots is amazing, with the priciest object likely to be the Maltese Falcon, the title object — a lead bird — from the 1941 film directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, estimated to head into seven figures.

A few highlights:

– The lacy white cotton nightgown worn by Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”; estimate: $12,00-15,000

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

– A leather bullwhip used by Harrison Ford in the 1989 Indiana Jones film; estimate $20,000-30,000

– A pair of derby hats worn by Laurel and Hardy; estimate $15,000-20,000

Laurel & Hardy

Laurel & Hardy (Photo credit: twm1340)

– A replica pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz; estimate $12,000-15,000

– An Edith Head sketch of Elvis Presley, estimate $1,500-2,000

– A maquette (3D model) of a terror dog from Ghostbusters; estimate $2,000-3000

– A Gotham taxi license plate from the Batman movies, estimate $300-500

– A French poster for A Night at The Opera, by the Marx Brothers; estimate $800-1,000

– A still photo from The Wizard of Oz; estimate $200-300

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (Photo credit: twm1340)

– A pale blue silk pleated negligee worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind; estimate $50,000-70,000

– A revised final draft of the film script for Citizen Kane; estimate $1,500-2,000

– The taupe-colored 1940 Buick Phaeton automobile from Casablanca; estimate $400,000-500,000

The dragonfly’s visit — and what it meant

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, Money, work on August 30, 2013 at 12:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The other day, a dragonfly got trapped in our small dining room, where I work on my laptop. He buzzed and banged against the window but couldn’t get out. I opened the balcony door but he didn’t budge.

photo(19)

It was not a great day.

After feeling triumphant over winning a Big Women’s Magazine as a new client and getting nice feedback on my work, I received their all-rights contract, the now-normal land-grab that means they own everything in a story.

Given that most of my stories only earn between $1,000 and $2,000 apiece, that’s a lot of territory to claim for very little money. There are a few ways to make good money in freelance journalism:

1) earn $5,000+ per story on every story, (tough to do)

2) re-sell your material, in various iterations, to as many places for as much money as often as you can.

3) crank out a ton of copy asfastasyoupossiblycan.

An all-rights contract, in my view, is restraint of trade and a PITA way to limit my income. The serious cash  comes from better-paid media — re-use by television or film options or rights and/or books; I earned $5,000 from CBS’ television option for a possible sitcom derived from “Malled”, my book about retail.

With little stomach for the email argument with my editor, (and their legal department) that followed, I requested a different contract, knowing that many publishers have them, but will only offer one if pushed to do so.

They agreed, noting the exception. (Which means more such arguments probably lie ahead.)

It is wearying, every day, year after year, to defend the value of your ideas, trying to win the highest possible market valuation for them.

Publishers are increasingly greedy and their legal departments strong-armed. Many editors won’t fight for you, but simply drop you for someone who never fights back in order to protect their intellectual property.

The publisher for “Malled” has also passed on my new book proposal, which was disappointing.

The whole week felt like one long, exhausting argument with the world, over money, over revisions, over what to do next, over how to do it better — or whether I should even be doing it at all.

My lovely husband came home to find me in tears, an extremely rare occurrence in our 13 years together.

He looked up this website, which explains the significance and symbolism of the dragonfly:

To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn, admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity

And then there’s this:

Maturity and a Depth of character The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.

  • Power and Poise
    The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise – something that comes only with age and maturity.
    The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour,  hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness…with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects.
  • Defeat of Self Created Illusions
    The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body…the end of one’s self created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life…self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
  • Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.

Gently, using a newspaper and a strainer, he captured the dragonfly and safely released him on the balcony.

photo(20)

Message delivered.

Who’s your audience? At what cost?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, entertainment, journalism, men, Money, movies, news on February 25, 2013 at 8:04 pm

If you missed last night’s Oscars, lucky you!

I watched Seth MacFarlane as host — and yes, I had to Google him — and thought “Seriously?” I found him crude, sophomoric (freshmanic? even better) and deeply off-putting.

English: Seth MacFarlane at the 2010 Comic Con...

English: Seth MacFarlane at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not, however, the demographic the Academy Awards producers so desperately crave, 18 to 49 year old men. By hiring MacFarlane, and larding the show with sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic “jokes”, they thought for sure they had a win.

And they did.

But for every teen boy yukking it up out there, a million others, men and women of all ages, were tweeting and Facebooking their shock and disgust throughout, and after, the show.

Sure, grow your audience…

At what cost?

From msn.money.com:

Seth MacFarlane was full of surprises when he hosted the Oscar awards show last night. This morning came another one: TV ratings for the 85th celebration of Hollywood’s love affair with the movies were up over last year in the key 18- to 49-year-old demographic.

Early tallies for the show say it earned a 12.1 rating for that group, up more than from 3% from last year’s final 11.7 figure, according to a report in Broadcasting & Cable, citing preliminary figures from Nielsen. Entertainment Weekly notes that total ratings for the Oscars also probably rose over last year’s show hosted by Billy Chrystal. Final ratings, which may be different, will be released by Nielsen later today.

If these ratings hold, it will be a pleasant surprise for ABC and its corporate parent Walt Disney (DIS +0.22%).Some had wondered whether MacFarlane, whose TV shows and movies appeal largely to men, would turn off the mostly female Oscar audience. His song-and-dance number celebrating actresses who have shown their breasts on the silver screen may have offended some, but it was tame stuff by MacFarlane’s standards.

Best known as the creator of “Family Guy,” MacFarlane got mixed reviews for his performance.

Best Actress Academy Awards

Best Actress Academy Awards (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

For Broadside, an unpaid gig, I want an engaged, civil conversation with smart, global, interesting people. I have them! Yay, you!

For my books, I want readers of all ages simply open to new ideas, especially those interested in a new spin on old narratives — whether gun use or low-wage labor. Fortunately, I’ve found them as well.

When I write on business for The New York Times, I want readers to enjoy, think, argue, share. My stories are consistently the third most read and emailed of the entire Sunday paper. So, I’m pleased that my fairly careful targeting of the audience I seek is indeed out there.

But the pursuit of the Big Bucks, in many fields, means lowering the bar — of taste, execution, style, content, tone or intelligence.

It’s not a trade-off I’m willing to make.

How about you?

Who is your audience?

How do you try to win and keep and grow them?

Does it involve making trade-offs between your personal ethics and principles — and making a decent living?

Caine’s Arcade: A little LA boy creates a cardboard world

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, cars, children, cities, culture, entertainment, film, Media, news on April 14, 2012 at 12:09 am
Taipei Arcade Games

Taipei Arcade Games (Photo credit: Michael Kwan (Freelancer))

Have you heard — surely, yes, by now if you live in the U.S. — about Caine’s Arcade?

Here’s the link.

In one of those unlikely fairy tales, a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy decided to build an entire amusement arcade out of cardboard boxes and packing tape. He created “fun passes” and used calculators to make sure each pass was legit. His arcade had every variety of game but the place, at the back of his father’s east Los Angeles auto body shop, lacked the crucial element — customers. Most people now buy auto parts on the Internet.

Until Nirvan Mullick, a film-maker, needed one for his old car.

He found Caine, played in his arcade, made a film — and asked everyone he knew to come and play there. They did. The event made NBC Nightly News and a college scholarship (and college prep tutoring) fund has topped $145,000 for Caine, a sweet-faced kid in a bright blue T-shirt.

Although — as someone not wild about traditional college education — I wonder where his amazing imagination would flourish best. Cal Arts?

It’s an astonishing video and I hope you’ll make the time, 10 minutes, to watch it.

It embodies everything I love:

Having a dream

Being persistent enough to make it into something real, even when no one is looking

Finding the tools to build your imagined world

Making stuff up from scratch

Finding someone who believes in you

Having that someone believe in you so much they want to do whatever they can to help you succeed.

I suspect for some people Caine’s win is that he’s now “famous”. It’s not.

The grin on his face when he saw how many people had finally shown up to play in his world was one of the sweetest sights you can imagine.

Related articles

Watching A Movie Over And Over And Over…

In behavior, culture, entertainment, film, movies on December 19, 2011 at 12:24 am
Cover of "The Good Shepherd (Widescreen E...

Cover of The Good Shepherd (Widescreen Edition)

Do you have favorite movies you’ve watched a dozen times, maybe more?

I recently watched “Any Given Sunday” again on TV; it’s a 1999 football movie by Oliver Stone. I’m not a big football fan but this has remained of my favorites. I love the hard-ass female team owner, played by Cameron Diaz, the crazed characters of the coach (played by Al Pacino) and his players, the scary wives, the creepy team doctor who keeps shoving badly injured players onto the field. The soundtrack is fantastic, the editing dizzying.

Every time I re-watch a film, I find something I missed or forgot — a line of dialogue or a snippet of music. Or I simply revel in familiar and well-loved images, whether the snow-crusted towers of Varykino in Dr. Zhivago or the astonishing and awful shots of a white wedding dress falling from the sky in The Good Shepherd or Michael Clayton’s car exploding as he stands on a wintry hill with a trio of quiet horses.

I’ve seen Dr. Zhivago, David Lean’s gorgeous 1965 epic, probably a dozen times and have memorized entire scenes. I love analyzing the color palette of any film — Dr. Z’s is severely and beautifully limited to khaki, cream, red and black. A few touches of lilac, a specific pale shade, mark Lara’s initial innocence. (It’s the eighth-highest grossing film of all time and won five Academy Awards.) I love the irony that Canada, Finland and Spain all stood in for Russia — as the book had been banned there, and so was filming it.

I’ve also watched The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid many times and (dare I admit it?) love re-viewing all the Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. I even know its signature opening music off by heart.

In crazy and uncertain times like these, when the Dow plummets overnight, when unemployment is still appallingly high, when protest and rage erupt worldwide, there’s something very comforting about knowing how it all turns out. (And that it’s usually for the best.)

Another recent favorite I’ve seen repeatedly is The Good Shepherd, from 2006,  a scene of which was filmed on my town’s main street; it was pretty funny, trying to walk to my accountant’s office, to be told that Matt Damon was filming on that block and I’d just have to wait. It’s about the birth of the CIA, focused on one man and his relationship with his son. Despite a few scenes of unwatchable violence, there are others of haunting beauty. I love the film’s themes: to whom do we owe our deepest loyalty? Why? When does one evil act outweigh another?

My father made films for a living, so maybe this explains my ongoing fascination with the medium. I’m in awe of the many skills it takes to create (even a lousy) movie — writer(s), editor(s), director, producers, designers, grips and gaffers and, oh, yeah, the actors.

Here’s a fun post by one of the bloggers I read listing her faves.

What films have you watched over and over — and why?

The C-Word We Avoid — Class

In behavior, business, culture, entertainment, Money, movies on December 29, 2010 at 2:14 pm
Working Class Hero

Image by christian.greller via Flickr

Finally!

Even if it’s only in the entertainment pages, we’re talking out loud in the U.S. — land of the mythical meritocracy — about social class and who’s rising, who’s (much more likely now) falling, and who’s most terrified of sliding from “middle” (defined as…?) to lower or working class, words used more easily in nations whose central identity doesn’t rely as heavily on the idea of equality and assured social mobility.

In a recent New York Times piece by film critic A.O. Scott:

The idea of the universal middle class is a pervasive expression of American egalitarianism — and perhaps the only one left. In politics the middle has all but swallowed up the ends. Tax cuts aimed at the wealthy and social programs that largely benefit the poor must always be presented as, above all, good for the middle class, a group that thus seems to include nearly everyone. It is also a group that is, at least judging from the political rhetoric of the last 20 years, perennially in trouble: shrinking, forgotten, frustrated, afraid of falling down and scrambling to keep up.

In the movies, which exist partly to smooth over the rough patches in our collective life, the same basic picture takes on a more benign coloration. Middle-classness is a norm, an ideal and a default setting. For a long time most commercial entertainments not set in the distant past or in some science-fiction superhero fantasyland have taken place in a realm of generic ease and relative affluence. Everyone seems to have a cool job, a fabulous kitchen, great clothes and a nice car. Nothing too fancy or showy, of course, and also nothing too clearly marked with real-world signs of status or its absence.

Last year I viciously mocked “It’s Complicated” in this blog for the absurd affluence of a divorced woman character, played by Meryl Streep, who lives in a $5 m home, runs her own bakery business and wears impossibly lush clothing and jewelry. Most women divorcees fall far and fast from their married affluence, if they had any, drained from the start by legal fees.

It’s a mug’s game to try and pinpoint “middle class” in New York, where I live in a a suburban town, when a 1,000 square foot shoebox of a 60-year-old house on a postage stamp lot runs $400,000 with $12,000 a year in taxes — barely affordable on an income of $100,000 to 150,000 a year.

In New York, you can make six figures and not have someone snort in derision for calling yourself “middle class.”

Fact is, anyone paying $30-50 per trip by (subsidized) commuter train into the city to work or look for a job, struggles hard here on an income of less than $50,000 for one, let alone $40,000 or less trying to raise a family.

Only now are we seeing films address how we really feel about money and what we really feel about who has it, who doesn’t and what we’re willing to do to get and keep some.

In the New York Post, critic Kyle Smith writes:

Without ever saying so, “Blue Valentine” is centrally about class, and class, in America, anyway, is centrally about much more than income — it’s about tastes and values, as we see when Dean’s idea of a healing getaway means a cheesy lovers’ motel. It seems obvious that if Dean had arranged such a trip with cool irony instead of urgent eagerness, Cindy would have accepted it in a larky spirit. And if Dean painted canvases instead of houses, his lack of accomplishment wouldn’t be an issue.

American filmmakers largely avoid class, which is fine because virtually all of them were well-born and tend to portray their inferiors as piteous, comical or (especially when they’re minorities) as sprites whose magical simplicity can be used to cure the angst of therapy-needing professionals.

As someone whose own income plummeted by 75 percent after losing my last full-time job in 2006, this is no idle fantasy. When I went to work as a sales associate for $11 an hour, no commission, at a mall, I began to understand the extraordinary income inequality that is increasingly defining life in the United States.
Our mall attracted the hedge fund guys and their size 0 wives tending their 10,000 square foot Greenwich mansions.
Such attitude! Such entitlement! People who think nothing of snapping their fingers in the faces of the growing servant class.
You and me, babe!
From the Huffington Post:

Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression, according to a recently updated paper by University of California, Berkeley Professor Emmanuel Saez. The paper, which covers data through 2007, points to a staggering, unprecedented disparity in American incomes. On his blog, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the numbers “truly amazing.”

Though income inequality has been growing for some time, the paper paints a stark, disturbing portrait of wealth distribution in America. Saez calculates that in 2007 the top .01 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000.

As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that’s “higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the ‘roaring” 1920s.'”

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Here's A Movie I Want To See — Trolls!

In business, Media on June 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Some of you are too young to remember when a troll wasn’t just a jerk on a comments page but a small, rubbery Danish-made doll with a head full of hair that came in neon colors.

Now they’re about to star in a film made by DreamWorks Animation:

The trolls, with unique faces and shocks of colorful hair, were first sold in the early 1960s and experienced a resurgence in the 1990s. Several competitors have sold copies of the original trolls.

“My father would have been very happy to know that his troll has found its dream partner in DreamWorks Animation,” said Niels Dam, who owns the family business.

DreamWorks Animation produced “How To Train Your Dragon” this past spring and has announced plans for a sequel. Its other movie franchises are “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar.”

As an only child who hated classic girly dolls, and who spent hours playing with Lego and trollswhat makes Danes such great toy inventors? — I think this is a hoot. I loved their simian little faces and crazy hair. It’s time a new generation gets to know them as well.

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