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.


Don’t Like: The 42 Funniest and/or Scariest Search Terms Used to Find My Blog

May 26, 2010

Reader: Beware.

You are about to stare into the dark id of the internet… and it is not pretty.

Those of you who may have your own website may be aware that you can see the search terms that one entered to click on your site. The results are often shocking.

Those afraid of being found out, don’t worry. We can’t see who you are or where you are… just the terms independently. So technically we can only see “what” you are.

I’ve seen the mind of the internet. And it is sexist, racist, ill-informed, and completely nonsensical

Without further ado, the top 42:

……….

42. Sexiest budwieser

-I don’t get it and It’s still hilarious. I have no idea why someone would search for this, nor what it even means. I sorta picture a dancing budweiser bottle.

41. Patrick swayze basketball

-Did he ever play basketball in a movie? I’m not sure about this one. Maybe something I’m not aware of. I just like it.

40. what kind of roids give you acne

-All of them. Glad to know that’s your primary concern though. Good luck with that.

39. reality tv informs people about health

-No. It doesn’t.

38. sweating basketball players players

-Players is doubly important. Also their sweat.

37. how people look when have aids

-As bad as your syntax.

36. scottish terriers fucked up dogs

-Scotties are adorable you jerk.

35. fuck her

Previously discussed.

34. 4 friends hang out with drugs

-My guess is they needed a picture. Otherwise this makes no sense.

33. Does shane black like fan mail?

-I wonder if Shane Black likes fan mail? To the internet! Really, I think most people don’t understand the difference between a search engine/yahoo answers/the concept of general inquiry.

32. Mia who is she?

-Again. The internet is not something you can ask questions to. And fyi, it’s M.I.A. and she’s a really good hip-hop/tribalesque/alternative recording artist.

31. sugar cookie death

-Sweet, sweet death.

30. black basketball player guarding a white

-I get TONS of shit like this. Vaguely racist basketball talk fuels the internet.

29. I don’t like safety laws

-Darwin award forthcoming.

28. can u play football if you have hiv

-Yikes.

27. “Busy?”

-You don’t need quotes for one word searches. And what the hell are you going to find asking this? No Idea.

26. iconic boxing images with gloves

-Hope you found some.

25. nazi+herion / naked heroin users (tie)

-The plus sign kills me.

24. kobe bryant gay pictures

-This one is really popular.

23. i like to do it with my sox on

-Notice the baseball spelling of socks.

22. old fit men

-I like to think of this as hopeful

21. “veronica lake was not a good”

-Is the “a” a mistake? Did they mean “god”. Why did they have the presence of mind to put quotes if their sentence if it makes no sense? The questions are endless.

20. Crystal meth 2008 like election

-Whereas this just plain makes no sense.

19. makes no sense

-Whereas this is literal.

18. Fear of pooping when around people

-Everybody Poops.

17. i’ve just dumped someone i really like

-Why’d you do it then?

16. touching badass buffy

-Who wouldn’t?

15. feminists but…

-Haha. One of my faves. The possibilities are endless.

14. Elizabeth taylor puffies

-Bwahahahaha.

13. Snorkel, woman / Fat people snorkeling / Snorkel fuck (3 way tie)

-Snorkel is truly a great word.

12. i don’t like football am i gay?

-No.

11. i’m going to kill you in the face

-Not in the face!

10. mr. manhattan watchmen

-The “mister” kills me. Like “mister manager” from arrested development.

9. complete ass compleat ass completely asi

-I desperately want to know how this ends.

8.  jessica alba mayo

-Gross imagery abound!

7.  how do i pick a title for my memoirs

-If you have to ask this question you probably shouldn’t be writing memoirs. Or writing in general.

6.  iron giant sex

-Oh god. We’re entering weird cartoon nonsensical fetish territory. This one actually makes the LEAST sense of any cartoon to boot… Amazing movie though.

5.  maribel – fucks daughter classic

-And it gets darker. Down the rabbit hole we go…

4 – white baseball players don’t like ugly black players

-Again. More weird basketball racism. What makes this one special is that it seems to be implying all black players are ugly… yikes.

4a – Dumb Michelle Obama Beaten Up Fuck Sex and then: Dumb Michelle Obama Beaten Up Fuck Sex Pics

-DEAR GOD. I mean… ugh. You wish you could pull out a person’s mind and look at it sometimes. See how someone’s entire fears/racism/attraction all get mashed up in this reactionary nonsense where they turn to the internet to satisfy some insatiable and completely fucked up desire. Better yet, there is NOTHING about this search based in any kind of reality. And then the insistence to come back and look for “pics” again is the icing on the cake.

3.  acceptable molestation

-Nope, it’s never acceptable

2.  my vomit is red

-Please call your doctor.

1 .  abiggail breslin nude feet

Just… I mean… god. I can’t… it’s just… GOD. Forget about the pedophilia/foot fetish cross over, and the mispelling…it’s just even the syntax… i mean… how… why… ugh… I don’t feel so good.

Forget this…

… Then again, it’s sort of scary knowing that these search terms can actually somehow lead to my blog.

… Yikes.

Honorable Mentions:

toilet plugged, self-improvement stuff i like and stuff, fuck hansbrough, who s who, love, normal kid, public speaking is like…, miss daisy racist, freakin nuts, “george carlin” 2008 photo, david merkin asshole, showtime synergy, funny internet, white and black basketball players fight, how to make the most of my gym, people who don’t like country, irish faggot, youkilis swearing espn, stuff the irish like, basketball players penis, Basketball intelligence black white, Medicine sucks, Girls pants pissing, Puking and peeing.


Love: Grace Kelly (1954)

May 21, 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.

It’s amazing what a couple of Hitchcock movies can do for a actress’s legacy.

Let’s be honest, acting is not really Grace Kelly’s legacy, is it? After all, this is a woman who ended up being an honest-to-god Princess.

Grace Kelly was probably too beautiful to be confined to a normal life. She had the kind of beauty that doesn’t exactly feel real. If you asked someone to sketch an ideal version of a “pretty blonde lady” it would probably look like her: pristine, bright and colorful, free of imperfection. This is not to imply that Grace was a bombshell type mind you. She wasn’t Marilyn. She wasn’t overly curvaceous. Nor sultry. Grace Kelly was elegant. Shapely, but slender. Statuesque. She truly had this eponymous grace… Gosh…  Here I am, hurling around adjectives like someone who can’t articulate a coherent narrative, but oddly it feels like the best approach…

… Impeccable… Perhaps that’s the best word.

In my previous piece on Elizabeth Taylor I mistakenly made it seem like Taylor was the defining style icon of this era. It was the wrong appraisal: Taylor had a defining and highly influential look, but it was Grace Kelly who was THE style icon of the time. So much so that fashion and clothing were synonymous to her identity.

Let’s do an exercise. Those of you who are familiar with her, picture Grace Kelly in your head right now. How does she look?

I bet her clothing and hair is a big part of what you picture. There’s no singular facial trait (like with Julia Roberts you’d go “big smile”), she just had a perfect symmetrical face. So it’s about the look. She had a few different looks, but we likely know them all. She would most likely be wearing white. She could be wearing a stunning evening dress with a large, conservative skirt,  but a liberal reveal of her shoulders. She’s most likely wearing diamonds. Her hair could curve into an elegant wave, or be pulled straight back with a bit of volume. She could be going to a fancy cocktail party, she a fancy dinner, or be the belle of the ball. It wouldn’t matter because she’d never be under-dressed for an outing, would she? It’s all so classic. You have your more casual looks as well though. Maybe, she could see her lounging on some fancy sailboat. White khaki shorts. A modest sweater. Sunglasses. A forerunner to Jackie O. The air of the distinguished. The yachting crowd.

There’s a reason you can picture Grace so easily. It’s because we all have the same iconic images in burned into our minds. Her physical presence and style are inexorably tied together, and specifically tied up with something very important in addition…

There’s this popular cliche about how men like to worship women from afar.  It’s not necessarily voyeurism, but more of an ingrained belief that the immaculate feminine perfection can only be maintained in absolute form from a distance (otherwise you see the imperfections). Other kinds of figures give us shortcuts around the imperfections, often upfront. Unlike television stars, the buddy-like comediennes, or even the hapless airheads, who are considered approachable and accessible, the “movie star” is the perfect example of the effects of that distance. We go into darkened theaters and stare up at these amazing specimens with our mouths agape. It is there that the distance becomes a chasm. And with someone like Grace Kelly: whose looks are so perfect, with every bit of her definitive flair of upper class style which we (generally) so desperately envy, that chasm instead becomes a vast expanse.

We love her, because it’s almost inconceivable to be her. So really, what other choice is there?

Back to Hitchcock.

Did you know that Grace Kelly only starred in movies for 5 freaking years?

I bet you didn’t know that. She’s considered one of the great movie stars of our time after all. But just five years of work: Two bit parts in FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) and HIGH NOON(1952). She erupted on the scene as “that beautiful blonde woman who stole the scenes from Ava Gardner” in MOGAMBO (1953). The next year was a big one as she starred in five freaking movies alone. GREEN FIRE and THE FIRE OF TOKO-RI. Then she starred in two consecutive Hitchcock classics, DIAL M FOR MURDER and REAR WINDOW. !!!.  She didn’t even do all that much in them, but they have virtually defined her screen career. She’s often considered the ideal model of “The Hitchcock Blonde.”  I guess it helps that both are just outrageously good movies. The fifth film of that year? THE COUNTRY GIRL, which earned Grace Kelly a freaking Oscar. You haven’t heard of it (most likely) because it’s not all that good. But really, that’s often what people win Oscars for, their not-so-good work at the just-the-right time. I’ve gone on my “oscars just being awards for previous performances and politics” rant before so I won’t again… but please note that this forgotten, blah performance prevented Judy Garland for winning in A STAR IS BORN and Audrey Hepburn for winning in SABRINA. Ugh. Moving on… Grace seemed sort of weary of a lot of the attention that came after all this. She didn’t look forward to raising kids like this (and she wanted kids). So she only did three more films (which I honestly haven’t seen so I can’t really comment), but at the end of 1956 she hung up her acting shoes for good. She was 26.

Again. She was 26…. Whoa.

Of course it helps if you meet the Prince of Monaco and he falls hopelessly in love with you. Anytime you can get the fairy tale ending I say you go for it. If only to see what it’s like, right? She never really acted again, though she was tempted by her old friend Hitchcock a few times. Instead, she did all the princess/stately duties. She did an immense amount of humanitarian work (the funniest of which was breast feeding advocacy thing). She gave birth to Princess Caroline.  Basically, she got to be a princess.

Given everything we’ve discussed… A fitting conclusion for Grace Kelly, isn’t it?


Don’t Like: How Everything Is Totally Shitty Right Now

May 6, 2010

Everything is totally shitty right now. This is worth acknowledging.

You may have noticed I’ve been posting subjects of pretty much only stuff I like for the last year or so.  Part of this stems from a desire to be optimistic and not just resort to the ease of snark.  At one point I went back and skimmed all my posts and I realized just how easily I fell into inane belittling and mean-spirted-ness. Not overtly so, I’m not one of those bloggers who just unleashes pure venom against everyone and everything… just more than I’d like. It was mostly surprising because I don’t believe that to be part of my nature.

But it’s hard to deny that there’s a lot not to like right now.

For example: The gulf coast is now engrossed in one of the worst ecological disasters ever. For those thinking I’m about to crow on about environmentalism, there is in fact a larger human tragedy to this. The gulf coast fishing industry is now hampered once again. Maybe even effectively killed. The magnitude of the damage will have ramifications for years and it will cost the local gulf economy untold millions. Think this is exaggeration? The Exxon Valdez spill wasn’t a fourth the amount of oil spilled here and they are still feeling the effects 20 years later. I visited New Orleans just a week and a half ago and cannot tell you how much I love that city. And now to think that as they were just getting back on their feet after Katrina, all may be undone.

But there’s a lot more than just this. Horrible storms have flooded Tennessee’s great cities. Arizona just made racial profiling not only legal, but an active policy. Oklahoma legislature just made it okay for doctors to withhold information from patients. Britain may be in the midst of actively overthrowing their party in a special election. Cuba had their worst sugar harvest in over a century (this will be a bigger deal than you think). Oh yeah and Greece is going broke and effectively destroying the worldwide economy in the process. They’re not happy about trying to deal with it either.

I understand the impulse to politicize all these stories. Please. Don’t.(1)  Just take them at a human level.  Yes, there are always tales of something going horribly wrong somewhere in the world, but what’s striking about the climate right now is that all of these problems are of incredible magnitude. They’re the kind of stories that could dominate front page headlines for weeks and since they’re happening all at once our magnet-ball media doesn’t even know how to construct a uniform narritive. People need to be caring, but really there’s almost too much to address. So let’s just notice how extreme these situations are are… pretend they were happening directly to you. For some of you, maybe they even are.

These problems are not distant. They are immediate. They are American. They are all the kind of problems that we usually respond to with the kind of self-sustaining vigor that defines us.(2)

We just can’t seem to keep track of them all.

1 – It’s really hard not to politicize them, especially as Fox News continues to spit insidious conjecture about almost all of these subjects; including Michael Brown’s claim that the Obama administration wanted the oil spill to happen and did little to shut it down. Not only is that radically unsubstantiated, but it’s the kind of claim reserved for nutty 9/11 conspirators.  I’m not going to say that it can’t be put on television. That’s fine. I’m just saying you’re ethically bound to standards when you put this kind of information under the guise of “news.” It’s Fox’s fundamental flaw. Not that they are conservative, but that they undermine their own credibility with this kind of haphazard nonsense.  In fact, most of my favorite sources of information tend to lean conservative and I like them because they help me think about a problem in a different sort of context. Meanwhile, I have to out ignore fox news  in order to just get through the fucking day.

2 – and possibly our bullish-ness.


Like: Elizabeth Taylor (1952)

May 5, 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.

Once upon a time Elizabeth Taylor was just smoking.

I realize that comment is about as blunt as it gets, but let’s just acknowledge that she was the kind of attractive that can make people feel uncomfortable. So with that, the first half of this article is largely concerned with the aesthetical value of Ms. Taylor, but I promise that this article will delve into the things that made Taylor a legend and not just some pretty person.

So now then. By looking at the picture of above, you realize that we have unquestionably left the sensibility of the 40’s, with the glamor ringlet hair-doos and vaseline-caked camera lenses,  and are now in a completely different era all together. Elizabeth Taylor’s look was so distinct that it was actually ahead of its time: the thick slanted eyebrows countering years of impossibly thin arch-shaped ones (for comparison see Stanwyck, Barbara), the uber-dark mascara, the shaping at the far corners of her eyes. It was so divergent. You know what? We can even go further than that: she wasn’t just ahead of the curve, she invented the curve. Think about the “mod” look of the 60’s and tell me that it doesn’t stem from Taylor’s look (see Twiggy).  Taylor’s one of those honest-to-god trendsetters.(1) Even more astounding is that Taylor was at this pinnacle of everyone’s collective “wow” for about 15 straight years.

So the question at hand… when would you like to meet Elizabeth Taylor?

But first a quick tangent: One thing I’ve noticed in doing this “it’s not just who but when” series is that people can really look different in different periods of their lives (and I’ve already picked everyone I’m going to write about in the series so I have a big sample size here). Some stars have aged beautifully. Some not. Some shock you with their youthful, luminous glow at age 20 that you never knew they had, while others barely look like their ultimately famous personas years we come to know later. And so far, many of the upstanding women I have covered have been in that latter category.

Taylor is different. Up until a certain point in her career she just seemed so… ageless. She first got her start as a child star, where her presence is somewhat jarring in retrospect, because she just looks like a Tiny-Elizabeth-Taylor. It’s bizarre. Check out THERE’S ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE (1942)  and be thoroughly weirded out.  It is less jarring with her “awkward years”(2)  in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) and CYNTHIA(1947), where certain features seemed out of whack with the mini and adult versions of Taylor. She got closer to her period of distinction with her role as Amy in LITTLE WOMEN(1942), except she has this scary platinum blonde hair. I mean, yikes. Then her breakthrough role came in the original FATHER OF THE BRIDE(1950).  It marked her transition from teenager to “young woman”(3) and from that point on she was the “it” girl until about 1966. Picking a moment to meet Taylor in that long period is a daunting task.

And sadly, my answer depends on hair. Yes. Hair.

You see Taylor spent much of that period with a hairstyle I that particular hairstyle that many of us younger folks recognize. You know what I’m talking about. This one:

She had Grandma hair.

Yes, it was the style at the time (and she certainly knew how to rock it,) but the problem for today’s onlooker is that Taylor’s face had such a relate-able, modern aesthetic; she would simply look so much better with modern and/or longer hair. Perhaps it’s just generational and simply due to how our current era identifies someone as being in their 20’s. Granted this is astoundingly subjective and I’m behaving as if it’s not, but it is an interesting dynamic to consider when discussing the timelessness of “style.” Could there be people who are “style” outliers? Born out of a time that style fits their features best? Maybe it’s more black and white than that;  certain people look great with long hair, certain people look great with short hair. So I insist there can be a rough consensus on the basis on facial structure and norms of symmetry. And even if there isn’t, screw it.  I subjectively think Taylor looked stunning with longer hair. So there.

Her first cinematic appearance with longer hair would be in QUO VADIS(1951)… but since she was barely in that movie anyway so we must go to IVANHOE(1952). (1)

So there’s the long hair (props to getty images, a great overall resource for old movie pictures). You can’t see her so well, but you get a sense of how much it works with her profile and facial structure. And yes, I know those are probably extensions, but whatever! It’s what we got to go on. So what about pictures that show her more clearly?

Damn.

Coincidentally, IVANHOE was the first film I saw her in…  I think. It was elementary school and I had to do a book report on one one of those silly abridged novels and I picked Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe.”  In traditional lazy fashion I watched the movie instead. (5) And boom, I was hooked on Liz. Then again, I had a surprising amount of crushes in elementary school and they tended to be out of left field (Alley Mills!?!). So as silly as this childhood crush seemed, it was really just par for the course.

Taylor dominated the next six years in terms of star power, including a starring role in the uber-popular film GIANT (1956). But while her work was always high profile, she was not necessarily known for her actual acting ability. Then came CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF(1958).  I love all of Tennessee Williams’ work and I feel like this is one of the best adaptations. Between Paul Newman’s drunken seething and Taylor’s smoldering sultriness/angry fireworks, this film provides such a tangible mix of mood and energy. You can practically feel the oppressive and titular heat. And Burl Ives, ladies and gentleman! Burl Ives! If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list for sure. It marked Taylor’s arrival as a real talent and established a persona she could really sink her teeth into in the coming years (aside from the “attractive woman” she had been playing before).

Taylor was deservingly nominated for an Oscar in the role, but of course it went to the immortal performance of Susan Heyward’s I WANT TO LIVE!(1958)… Huh?!? That nonsense movie won her an Oscar?! See, this is a great example of why I can’t stand the Oscars.  Little do people realize, they’ve always sucked. Mostly because the level of misappropriation is off the charts. Yes, I know “opinion” is a part of it, but the politics of choosing a winner truly is the rule of the thumb. Trust me, I know Oscar voters. They don’t watch a lot of the films. They pick to spread awards around and reward past performances, their friends, and whoever would be the better story over the more impacting and lasting performance almost every time. Case in point: everyone was so impressed with Taylor’s performance in CAT that it garnered her sufficient clout that she actually won the Oscar for her subsequent performance in the completely mediocre BUTTERFIELD 8(1960). Plus she was then sick in real life  and everyone felt sympathetic for her [Facepalm].  Of course that undeserving reward had further consequences: Taylor receiving the nonsense Oscar is what prevented Shirley Maclaine from winning an Oscar for THE APARTMENT (1960). This horrible cycle has gone on and on for years. We’re giving out awards to people because we fucked up and didn’t give it to them for the performance they deserved it. This happens every year. It happens in every category (only like 30% of the movies on AFI’s list are best picture winners). It’s political, inane, and nonsensical. That’s why I hate watching the Oscars…  Sorry about the tangent. End Rant.

Anycrap… Taylor’s pin-up heyday had one last Hurrah with THE SANDPIPER(1965), but her next film was a dramatic reversal of that image. A singular performance that took what she established in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and brought it to fruition.  I’m speaking of course, of Martha.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?(1966) is probably on the list of my 50 favorite films. Some of the most ardent readers here might find that odd because I’ve hated pretty much every modern incantation of the “marriage sucks” mini-genre (Revolutionary Road, etc). You know the kind of movie I’m talking about: a married couple yells at each other and say bitchy things and it’s all about how the institution of marriage is  corrupt, yada, yada, yada. It the kind of assessment that is so far off base from my personal disposition, but that’s they the whole when-the-film-was-made thing comes into play. The film works best as a counterpoint to the long tradition of sterile marriage comedies of the 40’s and 50’s.(6)  It’s scathing really; the popular discourse is something that really, truly matters in this world and WOOLF had a sincere and lasting impact. It was the kind of sobering portrait that made a lot of couples really uncomfortable the night after watching. Particularly, a lot of intellectual, “progressive” couples. Plus, WOOLF isn’t really saying those inane negative things about marriage itself. In the best tradition of grim art, it’s meant to work as a mirror, albeit one with constructive intentions. It never caves to banal platitudes or trite moralism, but instead presents an distressing alternative to your own life. It is meant to give you a glimpse into the abyss, so that you can stay clear away. After all, most of us are not like George and Martha.

What also helps WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is that it is, you know, a flawlessly constructed work. Richard Burton channels the empty vessel of nihilism, a man clinging to his last shreds longing, so completely that it’s frightening.(7) George Segal and Sandy Dennis simply nail the young couple, who ride the roller coaster of the evening, falling into various context after context, examining themselves. And then there’s Taylor. She imbues Martha with pure venom, her words are practically corrosive. More importantly, they’re often right. She’s is at once an acute characterization of all the points in the feminist movement, while still being a singular, faulty, and angry-as-hell human being. The movie depends on Martha having credibility and a (distanced) sense of sympathy, otherwise it’s an indictment of women at large. (8)  As horrible as these people are, most of their anger comes from the fact that deep down they need each other. That reality cannot be conveyed in some cheesy way either or else the whole thing collapses in on itself. Luckily, it all comes together beautifully. The source material of Albee’s seminal play is the main reason for this; it’s a work that should stand the test of time, but the director of WOOLF understood exactly what to do with it. In fact, I can only think of a handful of directors whose first film is a total masterpiece and with WOOLF, Mike Nichols is one of them. (9)

There is a true lasting legacy of WOOLF upon Taylor’s career. It defined her late period roles and showed she was better than a pin-up, even better than a political choice for an academy award. She could deliver an iconic performance. Something that more than set the model for the litany of “unhappy marriage performances” that followed, but actually altered the discourse of feminism and liberalism. The word iconic was chosen carefully. Unlike most others, she is an Icon with every facet of her career.

So there. There’s over two-thousand-five-hundred words of my long, rambling thoughts on Elizabeth Taylor.  I could actually say a lot more as I feel like I barely covered anything. Like most of the people in this series, she has a crazy personal life and a ton of marriages that a lot of people seem to care about. I just don’t. I care about the performances. I care about the legacy. I care about her effect on culture, aesthetics, and politics.

She’s the game changer.

Welcome to the 50’s.

ENDNOTES

1- You know… like J-Lo.(a)

(a) intentionally semi-dated reference. (i)

(i) I hate having to explain jokes in blog/extended-footnote from. This is more because of my selfish insecurity that people won’t get it, because, yes, I know most people get it… ugh. Moving on.

2 – Awkward for her standards, not our hellish ones.

3 – Remember, this was back when teenagers didn’t act like young women in films.

4 – Ivanhoe. I can’t think of it without thinking about the classic Simpsons line. [Bart is writing a book report and reads it back to himself]: “Ivanhoe is the story of a Russian Farmer and his tool.”

5 – My more studious nature didn’t kick in until middle school.

6 – Which is not to say the era was devoid of more adult themes. It’s just of societal darkness was crammed subtlely or uns-ubtlely into the Noir genre.

7 – I realize this could be interpreted like I’m advocating the idea that women tear down men until they are shells of their former selves, which is an opinion many take away from the film. I could not disagree more. Burton’s nihilism is strictly his own doing.

8 – Similar themed works by Updike and Yates, fail to understand that basic principal. They’re pretty much sexist pigs who think women are to blame.

9 – He actually upped things with his next film “The Graduate”… or as it’s more colloquially regarded “the best comedy of all time” and/or “one of the top 7 movies of all time”… If you want to get all qualitative or whatever.


Like: TREME Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” … and the effects Malcolm Gladwell framework from “The Tipping Point”

April 28, 2010

On the plane to New Orleans this past week I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I’ve been meaning to read it for years and so when I saw the paperback in the airport bookstore I bought it as an impulse purchase. This moment I consider to be a bit serendipitous.  It ended up providing a fascinating sociological framework with which to approach my visit to N’awlins.  For those who haven’t read it (like me, last week) the basic conceit of the book is that little, seemingly trivial details can push huge trends and epidemics in the community wildly in one direction or another.  Of course it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but this specifically applies to the idea that context and environments play a huge role in terms of our actual behaviors, far more than we previously believed. One example he explores in great detail is the dramatic turnaround of crime prevention in New York City largely being a matter of physically cleaning up trash and graffiti on the subway. The idea: an environment that accepts simple lawlessness and petty crimes will therefore accept/encourage harsher crimes. So they changed the physical environment and crime plummeted. Context rules.

But what about more specific community traits? For example, Fist-Fighting in Boston is a largely tolerated cultural; two knuckleheads would beat each other up, the cops would show up and ask who started it, and then they’d go to the can for a night and be released. No one would sue anyone else. This happened all the time. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Los Angeles is “where are all the dudes fighting each other in front of bars?” There weren’t any. And if they did, someone for sure was getting sued. Same laws. Same country. It’s just that one place is more culturally tolerant of a behavior and the other is not. But Los Angeles is a city five times the size of Boston and bars are everywhere, so how does this happen? Maybe it’s the kind of people who live here. Maybe it’s the nice weather putting everyone in a better mood. Maybe it’s because people are wearing less clothes. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that the other person is gang affiliated or something and maybe carrying a gun (the violence situation south of the 10, and east of the 5 is far different after all). Either way, I’ve seen hundreds of fist fights in four years in Boston and none in five years in Los Angeles. The difference is the environment, and therefore the context. And context rules.

So what if the difference is about positive behavior? What if a city had a context of joy and indomitable spirit? Would the context of that that spirit really hold sway over the city’s constituents? Over the tourists? Can the overwhelming joy and kindness of a city be as contagious as Gladwell argues? My conclusion was yes. After all, context rules.

By the way, that city is New Orleans. I spent the last four days there and, prompted by the Gladwell read, I spent the entire time being fascinated by the context/environment. Every single person I met was relentless positive, affable, and engaging. Not just the cab drivers, bartenders, hotel managers and assorted folks whose jobs it was to be cheerful and welcoming. And not just the citizens of New Orleans, who always seemed to manage to say a friendly hello as they walked to work, or strike up a conversation as they stood in the doorways to beat the sweltering sun. But what contagiousness argues for best, is to look at your fellow visitors. What mood do the Tourists and the Party Folks take upon their visit? By all accounts, they were likewise celebratory, kind, affectionate. People who you couldn’t imagine dancing on the street would do just that. One wonders how so much (relative) good behavior happens with so much alcohol involved, but it’s a function of the environment. People are there to drink, enjoy music, and have a great time. It’s a kind of debauchery that lacks the animosity that seems to characterize much youthful partying these days (think woodstock 99, etc).  Especially after the storm, where it seems the desire to embrace and reignite the things that make New Orleans special have become priority #1. The environment is now one of healing and pride. And it’s frickin’ contagious.

After all, Context Rules.

So upon arriving home, I watched TREME episode 3, with a sense of… is there a word for “immediate nostalgia?” So as far as cinematics goes, here’s the good and the bad…

Good:

-Wendell Pierce plays the best drunk ever. This is inarguable.

-The episode struck me as funnier than the previous two.

-Khandi Alexander is poised to win some serious awards. Maybe? She’s putting on a clinic.

-I remembered that John Goodman can do subtlety. We’re always wrapped up in his usual gravitas and Walter Sobcheckian-yelling that we forget just how acute he can be too. The scene on the porch between him and Zahn is priceless, “Just piano lessons.”

-Melissa Leo, high marks all around. She’s perfectly cast.

-Zahn. Not as manic as the first episode. A bit more manic then the second. But still finding balance and had some real nice moments. Even his doucheyness is starting to be charming, which seems to be the point. He mostly works as a great foil for Kim Dickens.

Bad:

-Meanwhile, Sonny is the douchiest douche in douchetown. How are we supposed to feel about him again? Are we supposed to like this guy? Because he’s giving hipsters and even badder name. Drinking his girlfriend’s birthday present because she got a surprise big-deal-gig and just happened to be busy for a little bit? And Sonny got to go to the gig too?! What is he, fucking five? Shut up Sonny you whiny little brat. For the record, I find most complaints of hipsterism and/or emo to be inane, simplistic, and often just plain irrelevant, but dear lord Sonny. Come on man. You’re actually justifying all of those diminutions. And yet, because this is David Simon, I will wait patiently. Maybe we’re suppose to hate this douchebag in the long run. My guess though is that his seemingly pretentious stories of saving people in his boat (the ones that people can’t seem corroborate) will actually end up being true. And really he’s just working out his shit or some other backstory. I dunno.

-His girlfriend Annie is far more tolerable, except she makes a face when playing fiddle that looks like she’s passing stones.

-There’s a fine line in film/tv between something that feels real and something that feels forced. This seems obvious, but authenticity is such a rarity in entertainment that we’ve learned to embrace the ridiculous as an alternative. Meanwhile, Simon’s shows (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) have built a reputation on being authentic above all else. So in regards to the scene in episode 3 where the cops suddenly go ape-shit on Antoine for, like, no reason… well, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. Which is odd, because I’ve seen that exact same kind of horror go down in real life multiple times. But if it is something that’s painfully real, what’s the problem? The problem is the “how” of course. Since DO THE RIGHT THING(1), we’ve seen the no-reason-police-beating many, many times in our cinematic experience, and many of these immitations are often done for contrived/imitative/knee-jerk reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t help but bring all those negative connotations with it. This scene in episode 3, however, builds up beautifully; Antoine drunkenly sings with Annie and Sonny as the police car slides carefully into the backround. They finish their song. He starts to drunkenly walk forward. You slowly feel it coming. It’s perfect film-making. Then the second his horn taps the cop car, the police are instantly on top of him and within a second are beating the shit out of him, spewing the kind of dialogue we see in “evil cop” movies. Even the style of the scene changes, as it ultra-edited and with multiple angles to accentuate the violence.(2) You sense the filmmakers wanted to show how quickly things can turn and how impacting real police violence can be, but in doing so they’ve created a scene that achieves in the exact antithesis of what it was achieving when it started. In this culture of stylistic violence you need to be doubly careful. Even the shaky cam has a action-movie connotation now. You need the same kind of unblinking de-stylization that made the action of The Wire so heartbreaking.

Anywho it’s just something to look out for in future episodes, as it’s the crux of what makes a David Simon show work.

And I swear I’m going to have have another “It’s not just who but when” post up this week, it’s almost done.

(1) – It goes back further of course, but the scene of Radio Raheem remains the last major touchstone for a lot of us.

(2) – In comparison to the normal Simon standards, not, like, Michael Bay.