Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back To School

School starts early in Phoenix, about a month earlier than in L.A. I'm not sure why this is. At first I thought it had something to do with the oppressive heat in summer. Phoenix finishes their school year in May instead of June, but going back in August hardly makes sense. Sure, the monsoon cools things down a little but it's still consistently above 100 degrees.

If you've read my entries from earlier in the summer, you'll know that I'm not the type to let my kid just sit around and watch TV or play on the computer all day. I have to keep my daughter busy doing something creative or educational, anything besides just vegging out. Consequently, I've found that summer is a very busy time for a parent with these priorities, but now that she's back in school, I suddenly find that I have free time on my hands. So what have I been doing?

I've been indulging myself in some old-lady-in-training activities like learning how to crochet. I never thought I'd be into crocheting granny squares but there you have it. As Jockohomo wrote in a comment to me, it's kind of like the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi"; it gives me a kind of relaxing, meditative pleasure to be doing something simple and repetitive without worrying too much about the perfection of the end result. Wabi-sabi can be loosely defined as "nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." That's pretty punk rock. I also tried my hand at knitting but it's not as forgiving so I quickly gave it up. I prefer crafts where the basics are simple and easy to learn so I can go off on my own tangent sooner. That pretty much sums up my aesthetic when it comes to crafts, sewing, cooking and music. Show me the basics, then get out of my way. I prefer to put my own stamp on everything I do, even if it's not perfect.

A person with a similar aesthetic is boy genius Andy Milonakis. I don't allow my daughter to watch very much TV but the Andy Milonakis Show is one that the whole family enjoys. His theme song has replaced Give Me The Food as the soundtrack in my head. I love his random, absurd sense of humor and the way his skits seem to be practically improvised with a great deal left to chance and I love that the people in his skits are varied in age and ethnicity. He pulls everyone into his twisted world without discrimination.

It reminds me of my days in the Afro Sisters when we'd go onstage with the bare bones of an idea and let the show and audience take us in unexpected directions. Although Vaginal Davis claims that it wasn't improvised and was always thought out, she never gave us detailed lines or direction. Being onstage with Miss Davis was probably very much like being on TV with Andy. Like Miss Davis, Andy is anything but PG - there's Itchy and Scratchy type violence in some of his skits and plenty of potty mouth humor, so consider yourself warned.

Greg and I have also been enjoying catching up on some old movies on TCM. I'm really into the Thin Man series right now with the classic pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy in the roles of Nick and Nora Charles, who have got to be one of the coolest screen couples of all time. Who else could order scotch with a champagne chaser and still look so glamorous? I love their witty banter and snappy exchanges. Add in the drinking, the fabulous outfits and their keen detective skills and you have the perfect couple.

They've even inspired me to do a little day-drinking of my own. Of course, I justified it by reason of having a toothache; I figured the alcohol would kill any germs in my mouth. I hate going to the dentist. Somehow seeing Nick and Nora drink at all hours made it acceptable to sip my Chivas on the rocks at two in the afternoon. Besides, it makes me feel like I'm earning my Bad Housewife title.

To paraphrase Nick Charles, I've got to go now. All this blogging is putting me way behind in my drinking.

Just kidding, it's time to make lunch.


Anonymous said...


I love Nick and Nora..and Asta!!You're not kidding,they really do make drinking at odd hours acceptable.You may be interested to know that there is a clothing line called Nick and Nora(sold at Target). I own a very cool pair of maroon pajama pants decorated with everything bar on them..imbibers,shot glasses filled to the brim,martini glasses,etc,etc.They are a few years old but they are my favorite pjs.


Chris Petrizzo

Its Sunset Junction weekend here!!

Anonymous said...

p.s.s.- you and Greg should dress up as Nick and Nora for Halloween!=)


Jenny Lens said...

The whole reason I took punk photos is due to my love of movie history/photos! Movie photos literally kept me alive.

I thought: if movie photos gave me inspiration, turned me onto an art that at that time was hidden (no tapes, no DVDs, no cable, no satellite, no TCM), then my photos will keep this era alive.

I just knew that someone in the future will stare and study my photos as I did, and still do, of old movie photos. And that person will be inspired and find joy and mystery because I took the photos. Not that I matter, but because the photos matter.

Cos the reality is no one remembers who took the photos. Not the movie photos, not the punk photos. The only thing that matters is the photo and sometimes, the people in the photo. That's just life. In this case, photos of an era that was yet to happen.

If I were not into old movie photos, I would not have picked up a camera and shot you and everyone else.

I just finished reading "Fast Talking Dames" and now "Dangerous Men." (and re-read "PLease Kill Me" in-between).

Of course Myrna Loy and William Powell in those books. My therapy, my salvation are early movies and the many books about them. I have read more movie books than most in the industry.

During this unexpectedly tough summer, when the stress made it difficult to sleep and my sleep full of restless dreams, I turned to something that would relax, inspire and give me joy: reading about the movies I love so much. Of course I watch the movies, but they don't relax like a good book before bedtime.

TCM is God's gift to entertainment! I only wish they would show more of their rare films, ones still in the vaults or rarely shown.

It always surprises people that I am such an avid movie fan and have read so many books, seen so many movies. But art is art, and the late Arthur Knight, in his landmark early movie history book, called movies "The Liveliest Art." Knight was one of the earliest film professors, and at USC, taught the great American directors of the '60's and 70's.

A great William Powell classic screwball comedy, with many serious undertones, came about because his ex-wife, Carole Lombard, insisted he be cast as "My Man Godfrey."

Have you ever read a bio about Myrna Loy? She spent quite a bit of time during WW2 doing humanitarian work rather than focusing on her acting. She was pals with the great Eleanor Roosevelt and involved in early days of the UN.

She starred in a timeless classic, "The Best Years of Our Lives," a bittersweet, complex movie dealing with servicemen returning from the WW2. The kind of movie no one will ever make again. Too human, too touching, too controversial. I watch it often on TCM.

Another fave, with Cary Grant, is "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." The scene wherein she tells the contractor, who tells the house painter the exact colors she wants is so female/male and funny!

Myrna was considered by studio head, Louie B Mayer, the "perfect movie wife" and "Queen of Hollywood" when Clark Gable was crowned the King. Gable was always known as the King, but the title never stuck to Myrna. She was just too down-to-earth, too real.

She was beloved in her lifetime, having started out as a dancer (modeled for the statue at Venice High School, danced in front of the Egyptian Theatre, now the American Cinematheque, for a Valentino film!), an exotic vamp, a wicked woman, then one of many MGM ingenues and finally for/with more high-profile actors and directors.

She was cast opposite bad-guy Clark Gable and good-guy William Powell in "Manhattan Melodrama." They were childhood buddies (with young Mickey Rooney being the young Clark Gable!) who both loved Myrna. Public enemy #1 John Dillinger was such a Myrna fan he left hiding to see the film. The Feds gunned him down, and Myrna always felt badly about that. She wasn't a fan of his, but you never want a fan shot, right?

But the point is she had a wicked sense of humor, and her off-stage banter with co-star William Powell, along with their professionalism (like Myrna, Powell started as a heavy back in the silent days), impressed the director, "one-take" WS [Woody] Van Dyke. Woody was set to direct an upcoming comedy and guess the name of that film?

The Thin Man!! So Woody cast those two because of their off-stage chemistry and professionalism.

Yesterday I needed to file proof of service cos I'm suing David Ferguson, who stole thousands from eBay sales of my photos on his eBay store, kept a donation made in my name, and more. I got off the bus in front of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to walk to the courthouse. I passed the Fiber Fest at the Civic and thought of you. I thought of me.

My whole art background/education/degrees were doing the things you are now doing. The yarns, the beads, the hand-made dolls, the quilts I saw by peeking through the windows gave me pause.

I gave all that up for my photos. I have no regrets, but I wish I had enough space to dig out my art supplies and make some art. But then I'd have even less time for my photos. And reading about/seeing old movies.

I agree about crochet. I preferred the freedom to knitting. I wish you were in LA and a few years earlier. I dumped tens of thousands dollars worth of amazing yarns cos I needed the space for room-mate when my marriage ended. I threw out boxes of cloth, yarns, laces, so much . . .

It broke my heart. I tried to find homes for it, but the local yarn shop was no help. I had no time, no money. I kept those from childhood up through college.

Oh well, life goes on.

Blogging gets in the way of drinking. Oh what fun!

Do you know who Nick and Nora were based upon? And who is the Thin Man?

The author of "The Thin Man" book, Dashiell Hammet, and his lover, author Lillian Hellman. The thin man was the murdered man, Maureen O'Sullivan's father, the one with the shrapnel in his leg. Not Nick Charles.

Don't you love it when Asta drags Nora into the bar and she slides across the floor, dropping paper and string wrapped purchases, and as she's being helped up, she quips: "Women and children first."

Myrna Loy. William Powell.

As Bob Hope sang (from "Big Broadcast of 1938"), thanks for the memories!!

Jenny Lens said...

Does anyone think a middle-aged man, with a dropping chin, could be a heart-throb? And a woman who lisped could be a role model for women?

Two of my all-time films are with the dapper, charming, delightful William Powell and the most confident and relaxed woman in show biz, another humanitarian, Kay Francis.

"Jewel Robbery" (chuckle at the reference to funny cigs aka wacky tobaccy in the film).

"One Way Passage." It was remade with Merle Oberon and George Brent. Remakes often reiterate the obvious: some people have charisma and others turn a sensitive love story into melodramatic mush.

It's important to realize both these films were released in 1932. By July, 1934, the Code was being enforced and these movies couldn't be re-released, let alone made.

The sophisticated wit and adult emotions/actions in the hands of these stars soon was forbidden. Notice how the Thin Man series quickly became diluted compared to the original film, release in June 1934, just under the wire.

Watch TCM or if not available, start renting DVDs. William Powell and Myrna Loy, William and Kay Francis, then all Kay's early Warner Brother films, and Myrna's MGM films. Although both were also at other studios, esp Paramount.

One of Kay's greatest films is also director Ernst Lubitsch's classic, "Trouble in Paradise," with another older leading man, the incomparable Herbert Marshall. Heavy, with a wooden leg due to WW1, but I get goosebumps just thinking of him. Kinda like Top Jimmy. The kind of men you wouldn't think could make women melt. Intelligent, charming, relaxed and always considerate and attentive to women.

I often think about how I could have spent the '80's and '90's. What did I do instead of working on my archive? One answer is continuing my first love, delving into these old movies. I wouldn't trade the movies nor the books I've read about them for anything.

The downside is never going to old film fests because of my photos now. It's ok, I catch what I can on TCM. No regrets.

These movies teach me so much. Examples how to handle rough times with grace and charm, wit and sometimes silence. But of course, they had scripts and directors. Their personal lives were very rough too.

That's their talent: to leave troubles at home and become characters onscreen to inspire and entertain us.

It's TCM's "Summer Under the Stars" this month in August. Each day is devoted to one star. Today another fave, the fastest talking dame in the biz, the big and tall, commanding, dark-haired modern woman, Yankee Rosalind Russell.

"Auntie Mame" and "His Girl Friday" on later today (and "The Women" of course!! Roz steals that film, not easy to do, when amongst the biggest actresses on MGM's lot). I'm totally revising my website/blog, so I'll listen/watch as I work later.

It took years and years of toiling in movies for Roz to shine. The studios never quite knew what to do with this unique, timeless woman, who epitomizes any and every woman with energy, intelligence and talent

That was her gift: anyone could be her or do what she did, if she just did it. She preserved, despite ill health and being under-utilized.

Roz was so often better than her scripts. When she got a chance to show what she could do with a great script and story, she did it better than anyone else. You can tell Roz was a great influence since my youth. And yet she is mostly forgotten.

Roz is tied with Meryl Streep for both winning the most Golden Globe Awards, five. Ain't that a kick in the head?

Closing with a line from "Auntie Mame" and Roz's autobiography:

"Life is a banquet" ["and most poor suckers are starving to death."]