Love: Audrey Hepburn (1953/1961 [tie])

June 22, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

Hoo boy.

Where to start… I’m not sure. I’m sort of nervous just writing about her. There’s a lot to live up to. For all the noble dames of classic Hollywood, she’s the one that is held in the highest regard. The Nobleiest Dame if you will. I mean, people adore this woman. You want to live up to that. You have to live up to that.

Where to start… This was sorta inevitable right? I mean there was no way in hell that Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t be included in this series, right? She has to be here. Heck, her and Rita Hayworth will be elected captains and then they’ll just pick the rest.

Where to start… Maybe a transition? Some of the same things that make Grace Kelly awesome are the same things that make Audrey Hepburn awesome. The key difference is a matter of affectation. Audrey had the same quality of being austere, only she was somehow more accessible. Maybe it was just her inherent “cuteness.” Maybe it was how so many of her films were about the austere girl falling for the gruff regular Joe. Maybe it’s because there was something so effortless kind about her. Maybe it’s that she was approachable.

Where to start… Well, she’s gorgeous. Yeah that’s for sure. She’s not Grace Kelly, with the pristine model looks, but unquestionably beautiful. Sure, it seems there’s a little bit of Elf in the DNA there, but unquestionably beautiful. So that helps right? Or is that too obvious…

Where to start… How about the mission statement? When would I want to meet her? How about 1953? ROMAN HOLIDAY(1953) made her a star and for good reason. She’s simply charming in it. She’s delightful. She’s the life and integrity of the film and she’s playing of Gregory Peck for chrissakes. She’d win an oscar and become and instant icon.  It would have to be 1953…

Where to start… No, actually I have to say 1961. Yeah that’s the ticket, I mean BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S(1961)… what other choice is there? It might be one of the most iconic performances in anyone’s career let alone hers.  Even the image of her Audrey in character is seminal enough. Google “Audrey Hepburn” images and 95% of them are from that movie. The film is fantastic to boot: incredible source material from Capote, Blake Edwards making his mark as a director, just stunning quality all around. And perhaps what’s best is Hepburn’s complete inversion on her image, albeit done in the most graceful way possible. In many ways, Holly Golightly is the  same demure princess that we always consider Audrey to be, only she’s fallen from grace. It’s not abashed or sordid mind you, she’s just a small-town girl whose efforts to make it in the big city fell flat so she became just another playgirl trying to land a big whale. She’s just so damn alluring. Hepburn’s Holly is the complete characterization of the the oft-chased wild girl with a heart of gold. And coming from Capote’s novel, they do an incredible job both indulging in that stereotype (though it wasn’t really so much a stereotype at the time) and transcending it. It’s a perfect movie/role/performance. But that’s not really a place to start is it? More like the climax?

Where to start… I feel like I always had a deep connection with Hepburn. It honestly started with the famous Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster and for some reason I just abstractly decided she was one of my favorites. We often forget that we do this sort of thing when we’re kids: you like something for some silly reason, like a baseball player having the same name as you, or you like the logo on the front of something, or some other weak connection. So that’s why I started liking Audrey Hepburn. But like anything you keep up with, that circumstantial “like” turned into something tangible and genuine; a lifelong affinity for a timeless actress. And let’s be honest that poster is just fantastic.

Where to start… I don’t know. There’s so much to say, but nothing feels like it fully captures what makes Audrey Hepburn, well,  Audrey Hepburn.

Where to start…

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Like: Eminem’s RECOVERY

June 22, 2010

Eminem seems like he could be a sexist, homophobic, stupid, crazy person.

So why do I like him?

Because he’s compelling as hell.

Eminem is fully realized pop entity. Think about it: over long a career he’s shown us a full range of representations of himself, and unlike say, Madonna, Gaga, or other pop entities, Eminem has made his career on blistering honesty.  Whether he’s exhibiting his fully humorous cartoony-songs, his rap battle antics, or his deeply personal moments, they are all startilingly honest. To Eminem, rap is PERSONAL. Marshall Mathers is not a genius mind you, he isn’t carefully orchestrating his image with some calculating manner. He is working off his intuition. His work is visceral. He is painfully sincere to the point that he’s not even aware of how sincere he’s actually being and how remarkable that is (think about, how many other rappers are all about posture and the exhibition of cool?). The end result is that we’ve gotten to see the real “story” of Eminem play out in public; he’s all but documented it for us.

Believe or not, we know that story well. I’ve always considered myself tangentially aware of his life, but in sitting down to write this I’m shocked by how much I know off the top of my head: Marshall Mathers was a young man who grew up poor in Detroit. He suffers from Munchhausen syndrome by proxy, at the hands of his mother.  He begins rapping as a teenager and slowly builds his way up in the underground rap scene of Detroit. He features a unique penchant rap battling. He both embraces the complicated nature of his “whiteness” and yet doesn’t use it a crux. He is mostly just plain talented. He gains notoriety. He releases self-made EPs and a album. These allow him to hook up with Dr. Dre and they produce the Slim Shady LP. At first, he is first regarded as rap’s new silly jokester who tosses insults at celebrities. Then people hear the rest of the album. It’s dark as hell. Matricide, suicide, other “-ides.” Parents get upset. He owns the controversy. We start to get a picture of angry and confused young man, albeit one who is hungry to prove himself as an M.C. And he wants to prove himself especially because his whiteness is still regarded as one-off Vanilla-Ice-ism.

His next album, The Marshall Mathers LP explodes. The critical reception is enormous. He proves he is not a one-off trivial distraction. The first single continues his tradition of an obligatory jokey song, but the album actually shows depth. He gets angry. He gets border-line poetic. We get a bigger picture of his world. It’s clear he’s not in it for the money. In fact, he barely raps about money. He raps to prove how good he is. It’s pride. It makes all the difference. He stays true to his roots by taking up his old friends from Detroit and they form a side project, D-12. They have nowhere near his talent but he did it anyways, and they are marginally successful. From there the career goes on. He becomes increasingly complex. More brazen. He becomes more mature in some ways. He grows more frustrated and indignant in others. His albums continue to sell. They earn emmys. He stars in a movie by a uniquely talented director. The movie is a smash hit. It showcases a realistic portrait of where he comes from and what he values. Some of the songs from this movie are, without a doubt, his best work. He is on top of the world. He can do no wrong. He doesn’t know where to go now. He starts having weird reconciliations with his ex-wife. They don’t go well. He falls into problems with drugs. His albums suffer. He becomes lazy. He takes a hiatus.

… It’s a traditional musician’s career if we’ve ever seen one.

So what does this all mean? It means that since he documented all of turmoil  and “story” in his music (rather than do what most do and hide it, establishing a youthful and desperate front), he became a tangible, “known” figure. Unlike so many other figures, we really do feel like he we know Eminem. The very concept is insane, but he’s geniune. And even though what he’s saying might be crazy, it’s still fascinating. He’s an anti-hero. He’s Tony Soprano. You want to watch him even if you might not want to know him.

And now. Eminem is back. He’s off drugs. He doesn’t like the fact that he faded away. He doesn’t like the fact he released two sub-par albums. He’s vibrant. He’s hungry. He’s angry. He’s ready to go.

He first came out to play on this year’s “Forever”, a collaboration by Drake and Little Wayne. It’s actually a kinda crappy song. Then you get to Eminem’s verse. Take a listen:

Yup, awesome. Just awesome. The first thing that’s clear is that Eminem is still absurdly talented. The second thing you notice is just how ready he is take on the rap world.

Sure, he gets a lot of attention for his clowning-around-songs, or his more trite/preachy/”serious” stuff, but in my opinion Eminem is strictly his best when he’s angry and spitting venom.

Which is pretty much the entirety of RECOVERY.

This new album came out this week and I happen to think it’s fantastic.

A lot of folks have already taken a look at his first clunky (yet still kinda honest) song “Not Afraid” and made their conclusions:

Those conclusions fair in some ways. It falls into the previously mentioned “trite” territory… I don’t really dig the song.

But, luckily, that’s not the good stuff. The best song without a doubt “No Love” which shows of Lil Wayne’s obtuse stylings followed by what may be Eminem’s best verse in his entire career. Yes, it’s just more of the typical rap-boasting “look how awesome I am! You suck!” stuff, but that’s most of rap. We’ve come to accept it. The key is it’s freaking engaging. It’s paced perfectly. It’s (more) mature. It’s interesting. It’s fast as freaking hell. It gets your blood pumping. There’s  a reason Daniel Day Lewis picked Eminem to get his blood boiling in the mornings when he played Bill The Butcher in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Really, it says it all.

“No Love” Take a listen to the whole song, but especially Eminem’s part:

And then “Won’t back down” is a little more silly and try to ignore Pink, but it’s just as speed-laden addictive:

There’s a lot more to boot: “Cinderella Man”, “Talkin 2 myself”,”25 to Life”,”Love The Way You Lie””

All very good.

Eminem has recovered. And he’s spitting venom, just the way we like.


Love: Stephen Strasburg

June 9, 2010

Okay. We’re one start in. It’s a bit early to be declaring love for a player, right?

Of course. But so what?

This kid is a fucking star.

Perhaps we should back up a moment. I love baseball. I’m from Boston and have been a Red Sox fan all my life, but if I were to be honest, I would say that I love the game itself more than any one team. Likewise, I love fantasy baseball and tend to look for up and coming young talent on the horizon, particularly in one of my deep prospect leagues. So two years ago I started hearing rumblings about a kid who looks absolutely fantastic down in San Diego State. He shows remarkable control and just filthy break on all his pitches. He continues to move along and mow folks down that season. He becomes the absolute-lock number 1 pick. Scouts pour into see him, weary of the hype, and then become converts after about an hour. He is just that good. The Washington Nationals select him #1 overall and begin to pimp him out as the next coming of whatever, the Lebron of Baseball. This is merely as a matter of economics, as they’re struggling and want people to be excited about the team. He gets to spring training and everyone agrees, he’s the real deal and could probably start for them now. Understandably cautious, they relegate him to AA, where he dominates after several starts. So they move him up to AAA. He dominates. So they target a june call up date (which was really the target date all along) and he proceeds to give them no reason not to.

His Minor league stats: 7-2 – 1.30 ERA – 65 Ks – .79 whip! – 13 walks. ( http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=strasb001ste )

He’s ready. June 8th he will be called up.

The start gets national attention. The Nationals sell out the game in 2 hours. Some folks already herald him as the next great pitcher. Some folks are cautious and don’t believe the hype. The town of Strasburg VA thinks about changing their name to Stephen Strasburg VA just for the day. Curt Schilling comes out on ESPN and says that Strasburg could be the best pitcher in the league as soon as he’s called up. Fellow baseball analysts laugh him out of the room, somehow failing to recognize that Schilling was an absurdly cerebral pitcher and thus he might know more about pitching than anyone other than like 3 other dudes on the planet (maddux, smoltz for example). ESPN runs a pre-show three hours before the start time of the game explaining to everyone why this is such a big deal. Even if you don’t have an opinion, you’re at least curious.

For all the talk, Strasburg finally gets a chance to go out there and show what he’s got…

And what he’s got is unreal:

7 IP. 4 hits. 2 Earned runs. 14 Ks. Zero Walks.

Believe it or not, these stats are actually somewhat misleading. I watched the whole game and I can tell you he was even MORE dominating than that stat line. He still had a sub-100 pitch count so he could have gone into the 8th easy, but they’re being cautious. Three of the four hits were scattered-barely-there-opposite-field hits that only-professionals-can-make. The home run was off a mistake pitch, but not really on his part. Pudge called a really bad pitch on a 3-2 count to Delvy Young. He called for the change-up which is easily his weakest pitch and wanted it low and inside. Young had a beautiful piece of hitting and muscled it over the fence. The pitch wasn’t horrible, but Pudge had no business asking for it in that full count situation. It’s big leagues, they can hit your worst pitch even if it’s actually decent. Especially when they know their swinging. Besides that change-up isn’t a strike out pitch yet it’s a foul pitch. The 14 Ks, however, were simply ridiculous. He K’d seven batters in a row… Twice. He struck out every hitter in their lineup. He struck out the last 7 batters he faced. On one of them in the seventh inning he hit 103 mph on the park’s gun. THE SEVENTH INNING. Just electric stuff: His 4 seem fastball moves left or right. His 1 seam sinker works just like a hybrid of Rivera’s cut fastball mixed with a traditional downward movement of a split… only he can throw it 95-97 mph. His slurve is just stupid in terms of break and he can target it on either side. His change-up is weakest, but it’s still a totally viable major league pitch.

And most important is that last stat on his line… He didn’t walk anyone.

That is the thing about about young pitchers. They have great stuff, but can’t command the strike zone. The walk people. This was King Felix’s problem. Lirano’s problem. Dontre Willis’s problem. Jon Lester’s problem. It’s a standard problem really, and the good ones learn to overcome it in due time… But Strasburg didn’t walk anyone. And he barely walked anyone in the minors.

He’s the complete package. Here. Now. At 21.

Unreal.

Here’s every strike out from the 14 K performance: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=8802881&c_id=was

Naturally, this is real life so things could fizzle out at any second. He could blow his arm out or get hit by a bus. But unlike guys with control problems, or mental problems, or maturity problems, or physical problems, Strasburg shows us no reason not to believe in him. So, why not believe in him?

Here’s hoping he stays healthy.

It’s going to be a lot of fun for all of us if he does.