December 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Every so often, an article leaves me laughing, crying or feeling pangs of jealousy about a writer’s talent. These ten articles elicited one of those reactions in me and, in my meager and humble opinion, were some of the best that I read in 2010:
Katie Roiphe examines the country’s obsession with Mad Men and comes to some interesting conclusions. In the height of summer’s Mad Men mania, this article provided an interesting take on why we’re so drawn to Don Draper.
“In the early ’60s they smoldered against the repression of the ’50s; and it may be that we smolder a little against the wilier and subtler repression of our own undoubtedly healthier, more upstanding times.”
Susie Linfield, who directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU, writes about Gilles Peress’s “Here is New York” – an exhibit that displayed 9/11 photography taken by Magnum photographers and amateurs alike.
“Documenting 9/11 meant, also, documenting the look of the city itself: not just as an agglomeration of buildings, bridges, sidewalks, and street signs but as a living, breathing, achingly vulnerable actor in this drama.”
Like most of Lindy West’s reviews for the Stranger, this article got me laughing like crazy. But even though her writing is completely caustic and utterly comical, I appreciated her hilarious commentary on Sex and the City 2.
“SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human—working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled cunt like it’s my job—and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.”
2. A New Page:
Nicholson Baker’s article for the New Yorker pries deep into the inner workings of the Kindle, explaining the technology behind the device, Amazon’s marketing strategies, and even his own experiences with it. He gives the Kindle a fair chance, examining whether or not the Kindle could actually replace books with binding.
If you spoke to me at all since the July 25th issue of New York Magazine, you probably heard me raving about this article and proclaiming it “the best celebrity profile of our time.” After rereading, I might take back all the comparisons I made to Guy Talese’s profile of Old Blue Eyes. But in a year where celeb-profiles provoked twitter battles over who ordered truffle-flavored french fries (thanks, MIA), Sam Anderson’s peek into the life of (quite possibly) the busiest man on the planet really stood out.
“Before he turns to walk away, Franco does something surprising: He winks at me. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.”
Have any favorite articles of 2010? Did you rant and rave about one for months like me?
December 1, 2010 § 1 Comment
Never before has anything been made of things I love as well as things that bother me like one million pet peeves all competing for my attention.
Piano? Check. Slightly offensive refrains (think “no more drugs for me/pussy and religion is all I need”)? Check. Elton John? Check. A 5-minute-long, expletive-ridden monologue by Chris Rock? Check.
It makes sense that Kanye West would create something leaving me feeling so torn. (I love it but I know I shouldn’t.) After all, if West isn’t a figure that leaves the public feeling torn and confused, I don’t know who is. Sure, grabbing the mic from Taylor Swift was in poor taste but everyone knew he was right (Beyonce DID have the greatest video of all time – well…at least until Runaway… but that’s another blog post). He’s a jerk – but a self-proclaimed one, which somehow makes his antics more palatable. He’s a decent rapper but a magnificent producer. He raps about getting “pussy” and getting drunk, but he tweets like a twelve year old. His declarations of self-importance make the masses physically ill. Even Obama called him a jackass. But when you sit down and listen to a record like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, you can’t help but wonder: is West’s inflated ego actually…justified?
After listening the album a fourth time – and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh time – I realized that maybe there’s a lot more behind West’s egoistic ramblings. Perhaps underneath his incessant self-inflation there’s something lurking. Something darker, deeper, sadder, smarter. Something complex in West that allows him to recognize his own foibles without too much guilt. He presents himself as flawed and flawless all at once.
On the album, his rhymes are brazen and ballsy, (and sometimes ridiculous: “Cause the same people that tried to black ball me/forgot about two things: my black balls”). But they’re also sincere and vaguely poetic… at least by pop music’s standards. And, to be frank, sometimes I wish I had the balls that West has.
Maybe if I give the album a hundredth listen…
November 15, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Bookbook is not a bookstore in the modern sense of the word. It does not consist of three stories, no one sells e-readers, and the store is not equipped with a fleet of staff members. The shop’s inventory is marked with hand-written price tags and owners Chuck and Carolyn Epstein work behind a small register that sits across a shelf labeled “Children’s Books.”
In a market where many people purchase books online or read electronically, retailers like Bookbook are rare. More and more, independent booksellers in New York City are forced to shut their doors due to high rent and competition with larger retailers. In 2009, after over 20 years of business, repeated rent increases forced the Epsteins to move their store, formerly known as Biography Bookshop, to a new, more affordable location. Bookbook employs a series of strategies unique to smaller businesses to attract customers and sustain itself in a neighborhood where rent is high and location is paramount.
Before moving to its current location at 266 Bleecker St., Bookbook was located at 400 Bleecker St. The store’s former spot, on the corner of Bleecker Street and West 11th Street, was ideal for the bookstore, Carolyn Epstein said.
Epstein said the corner provided ample space for sale tables. The new location, in the middle of the block, provides less space for sale tables that attract much of Bookbook’s business.
“We get at least as much traffic if not more but people would buy eight or 10 books in the old location instead of one or two here,” Epstein said.
Bookbook sells much of their inventory at reduced prices. By buying remainders from publishers, Epstein said, Bookbook is able to sell books at a fraction of their normal retail price. At Bookbook, The Age of Extremes, by Eric Hobsbawm, sells for $5.58, as opposed to its $19.00 list price.
The main ways Bookbook attracts shoppers is with low prices and continual discounts. Hardcover books are always 20 percent off and all New York University students are given 10 percent discounts. Epstein said that larger retailers could not implement these types of discounts. “It is something a smaller store can do but volume is important,” she said.
Epstein said she hopes these kinds of discounts will attract more customers, allowing her to keep prices low and maintain a profit. “Business is good in the new location but it needs to do better,” she said.
For independent bookstores across the country, maintaining a profitable business has become more and more difficult. According to a study conducted by the Small Business Development Center in 2007, the number of independently owned bookstores decreased from 4,700 to 2,000 from 1993 to 2004. In the span of eleven years, almost 60 percent of independent stores were forced to close.
Jeff Milchen, of the American Independent Business Alliance, said selling books is one of the most competitive businesses in today’s market. He said this competition is due to online sellers, major retailers and the new trend of e-readers. “Bookselling is definitely one of the most challenging businesses you can run independently,” Milchen said.
Booksellers across New York City have experienced this competition firsthand. In an e-mail interview, Chris Doeblin, a founding member of the Independent Booksellers of NYC (IBNYC), wrote that few independent shops have been able to sustain their businesses in the current economic climate. “Much of the battle is a question of real estate,” he wrote. “Those of us in pockets where the rent allows us to compete manage to survive.”
But Milchen said it is not necessarily all bad news for booksellers. “The encouraging thing for bookstores is that they’ve become the most proactive independent businesses in the
country,” he said. By working together with other businesses and joining community alliances and trade associations, many bookstores are able to sustain their businesses and gain community support, Milchen said. Bookbook is a member of the IBNYC, which works to promote the value of independent stores in their communities.
But despite the use of discounts and membership in community alliances, Bookbook was confronted with rent increases that afflict many small businesses. “The rent went up eight times,” Epstein said. After these increases, Epstein said Bookbook had no choice but to relocate to a less expensive area of the West Village.
On September 3, 2010, Marc Jacobs, whose women’s wear store is located on 385 Bleecker St., opened a bookstore of his own, BookMarc, in Bookbook’s former location. In an e-mail interview, Scott Gray of Marc Jacobs International wrote that when 400 Bleecker St. became available, Mark Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs International, thought it would be a perfect place to sell the small selection of books the company carried in their apparel stores.
BookMarc, unlike Bookbook, is not independently owned but part of Marc Jacobs International. The store’s inventory is vastly different from Bookbook’s. BookMarc sells fashion, art and photography books, as well as some first editions, Gray wrote. Joseph Weiner, a sales associate at the store, said, “We definitely wanted to branch out away from any other bookstore.”
Weiner said that since its opening, BookMarc has been drawing crowds. “People associate this area with the Marc Jacobs name now because our women’s store has been there for so long,” he said, “it definitely helps being a Marc store in the neighborhood.”
November 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
Imagine going on a cross-country trip for two months relying on complete strangers for a place to sleep each night. With nothing but his family’s car, his passion for filmmaking and his curiosity about the state of American hospitality, Greg Grano did just that.
This summer, Grano, a 21-year-old film student at NYU, traveled across the country filming a documentary entitled “American Bear.” With his girlfriend, Sarah Sellman, Grano set out to investigate whether he could travel across America relying on nothing but the generosity of strangers. Grano said the experience impacted his filmmaking, his creative process and his outlook on life in ways that he never imagined.
From the beginning, Grano said the project seemed like a product of fate. While staying with his girlfriend’s family in Colorado last year, Grano started talking in his sleep. He insisted upon visiting Bear, Colo. “I said it something like five times,” Grano said. To his dismay, he discovered there is no Bear, Colo. But there are five other towns scattered throughout the U.S. named “Bear.” Inspired by their love of traveling and filmmaking, Grano and Sellman planned to visit every Bear in America with a camera in tow.
It was only after they began brainstorming ideas for the film that Grano and Sellman decided to focus the project on the kindness of strangers. “We wanted to make this film in order to explore and hopefully disprove our alleged culture of fear,” Grano said. So they ruled out hotels and spent each day on the road asking strangers to take them in for the night. Out of the 60 days they spent travelling, there were only four days when Grano and Sellman could not find a place to stay.
Grano, a self-proclaimed people-person, had no qualms about asking strangers to let him spend the night in their homes. “I really do love people’s stories and getting to know people,” Grano said. Grano even attributes his passion for filmmaking to his love of people’s stories.
In high school, Grano started using films to tell his own stories. While growing up in Morristown, N.J., Grano studied classical music and learned to play both the cello and the bassoon. In ninth and 10th grade, he began making films and completed a trilogy of feature-length films starring eight of his closest friends. When it was time to decide what college to attend, Grano was torn. “I debated for many hours whether I wanted to study music performance or music composition and film obviously won out,” Grano said.
Before “American Bear,” Grano had never made a documentary film. Many of the screenplays he writes are fictional and inspired by movies like “The Fountain” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Although Grano’s current film projects are fictional, he said “American Bear” has influenced his fiction and informed his creative process. “I’m just really interested in other people’s lives and other people’s stories in a more serious way than I ever was,” Grano said.
One of Grano’s current projects is inspired by experiences he had during his trip. In a film Grano is working on this semester, the main character shares a tragic story about her life with people she hardly knows. “Just recently I realized that this is directly inspired by the people that we met who opened up to us like that,” he said.
The first night of filming “American Bear,” a forty-five year old retired cop opened his doors for Grano and Sellman and told Grano that during their trip, they would meet the people they were supposed to meet. Grano said he believes many of the encounters they experienced were destined in a way. “It’s not just that we had good luck but that almost all of our experiences with people formed these really strong connections in such a short amount of time,” Grano said.
While Grano uses Facebook and e-mail to stay in touch with some of the people he met, he said he feels distant from the film. “American Bear” is currently being edited and although he and Sellman are supervising the process, Grano says nothing can compare to the excitement of filming.
Grano said that decisions are still being made about how to promote the film but he is confident that “American Bear” has real potential. “But that is just a hope. And hope is not a business plan,” Grano said.
Grano has a similar view about his future. “I’ve made all these student films to be screened at festivals so that someone will see them and fall in love with them and help me with my next film. But that’s always a distant hope,” he said.
Although Grano said he is unsure what is in store for him after college, he said he definitely wants to travel cross-country again. “It was such a one of a kind experience that I don’t want to let it be just one of a kind.” But Grano said if he and Sellman were to do it again, they would leave the camera at home. “I don’t think we would film it. We would do it for our own personal sake because it’s a fascinating way to meet so many different kinds of people.”
July 21, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Last night as I was lying in bed thinking about if I would be … incepted (?) in my sleep (and wondering what raw subconscious is like), I decided I should update the old (and abandoned) blog. Shortly thereafter, I decided I would write about Contempt, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 classic drama. Today I awoke to find A.O. Scott’s most recent installment of his Critics’ Picks video series on NYtimes.com to be about what else? Nothing other than Contempt! But before watching his take, I would write a blurb on the film and compare A.O.’s and my notes – only to find that I’ll never be half as fabulous as that genius of a man, of course.
Contempt is, in many ways, an expression of deep admiration for cinema and its history. Le Mepris, in French, is as much of an homage to film as Godard’s own Breathless (1960). But instead of inserting dear ol’ Bogey as the main character’s hero, Godard implants Fritz Lang, accompanied by an obnoxious American producer, Jeremiah Prokosch, into the beautiful Italian sea-scape. Here, on the shores of Capri, they attempt to create a film adaptation of The Odyssey. Dissatisfaction with the script leads them to hire a suave French screenwriter by the name of Paul Javal (played by Michel Piccoli).
From the get-go trouble is brewing. The film’s noisy, lewd and rude American producer (played by Jack Palance) provides annoyance as much as he provides comic-relief. He noticeably ogles the half-naked “mermaids” in Lang’s artful Odyssey footage and even more obviously makes passes at Paul’s wife, Camille. But it’s hard to blame him as the breathtakingly beautiful Brigitte Bardot plays Paul’s wife. American pig or not, it’s impossible to keep your jaw from hitting the ground as Camille lounges naked with her screenwriter husband in the very first scene, playfully asking him what parts of her he loves. (Um, ALL parts?!) This sensual moment is one of the most beautiful scenes in the film. (Which, taken with a little back story is ironic as Godard did not want Bardot to appear naked at all, but was pressured to have at least one nude scene with the famous vixen.) Although Paul and Camille lay with one another intimately, their relationship will soon be challenged and changed. When Paul is hired by Lang and Prokosch, he finds himself in the middle of a failing film project that echoes the disintegration of his own marriage.
As Lang, Paul and American Pig but heads in their attempts at creative expression (or, in the Prokosch’s case, money-making), Paul and Camille face similar troubles. Just as art can be a difficult compromise, especially film – where creation is often limited by concerns for big screens and bottom lines – similarly, love and marriage are complex balancing acts. In love, the eyes (and hands) of piggish Americans cause more stress than the questions of production fees and ticket sales. But the pressure is similar. In both cases, compromises must be made and promises are sometimes broken. Just as Paul must placate Jeremiah at the expense of his art, Camille shrouds her feelings and lashes out at the expense of her marriage.
This element of compromise, of the push and pull that drives all human relationships, is most evident in Paul and Camille’s ongoing, circular argument that takes place in their chic Italian pad and comprises a large portion of the film. At times the conversation lags, or even fails to make complete sense, but it exhibits the realities of compromise, cooperation and concession. All three of which are sometimes achieved through mundane, drawn out discussions. These elements of making art and making love not only drive the plot, but also serve as reoccurring motifs throughout the film.
Contempt is not as fast-paced as Breathless, it lacks the silly and endearing humor of A Woman is a Woman and it doesn’t make any social commentary on the “Marx and Coca-Cola” generation as in Masculine Feminine. What it does do, and remarkably well, is examine the changing landscape of film and art during the early 1960’s within the framework of two people struggling to maintain a functioning marriage. Some may complain that the narrative is empty or even predictable. But outside the confines of what some may call a simple formula (girl loves boy, boy loves girl, boy and girl drift apart, girl is beautiful and Fritz Lang is arty), a wealth of questions about love, art and spirituality are raised. What is man’s (and money’s) relationship with art? With love? With the God’s? (With women?) And, are all these relationships fated to be defined not only by compromise but also by contempt? Contempt that, perhaps, is generated when compromises and concessions are made begrudgingly?
June 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
Firstly, I’d like to apologize for being very MIA for the past two or so months (no, I don’t mean I’ve been eating truffle-flavored French fries). It seems as though with finals and moving out and summer and now job, I just ended up failing miserably with updating this thing. Devoted blogger I am not! With that said, I thought it would be appropriate to come back from my short hiatus with an entry on Glee. That’s right, Glee. (I may divulge some details from the season finale, you were warned!)
I have some words of warning. Firstly, I (typically) hate contemporary musical theater. Don’t talk to me about Rent, don’t try to tell me how great Spring Awakening is. If Gene Kelly isn’t in the film version that was later filmed in Technicolor, I’m not so sure I really want to see it. If there’s no tap dancing, I don’t know if I can sit through it. And don’t even get me started on the reaction I have to BAD musical theater. The sweat glands from my scalp to my stomach just start to overreact in a last ditch effort to rid my surroundings of the discomfort that is bad acting/singing/ etc…
With that said, my first experience with Glee induced a similar reaction. At the sight of the Glee kids crooning with a group of deaf choir singers, my palms started sweating and I don’t think they stopped until at least four hours had passed. It was so uncomfortable that I swore Glee was a creation of the devil and carried my hatred like a badge of honor for months to come.
And then Hulu-related procrastination began to take over my life. Hours of watching old movies, TV shows, crappy documentaries that I’d never heard of before. I was watching anything I could just so that I could avoid the pounds of work piled on right before finals. So, knowing myself all too well, (and recalling the bodily reaction I’d experienced during my first glimpse of Glee) I decided to use it as a mechanism to force me to do my work. If I procrastinated by watching THAT, then I wouldn’t even want to procrastinate at all! “Hey, Alyssa and Helen!” I would shout from my bedroom. “Guess how much work I have? So much that I’m watching GLEEEEE!” It became the darkest of omens during finals time. A phrase, ironically enough, met with horror: Noooooooo, not GLEE!
But then, to my utmost surprise. I couldn’t stop watching. It became completely counter productive. I was giggling instead of cringing! I was entranced by the musical numbers, the witty dialogue, the cast that (almost) looks like real teenagers. And, if nothing else, the talent. Personally, my favorite is Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt Hummel. (That rendition he did of “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy? I was almost brought to tears – not sweat.) The show is just filled with people who can actually sing. In a world where some of the most lucrative pop music is created by people who can barely carry a tune – think Britney Spears’ breathy wheez-singing or auto-tune’s infiltration into almost every popular song – it’s nice to be able to sit down for an hour and watch a group of people just straight out belt it.
Not to say that my weekly allotments of Glee have been sweat free. Sure it’s still saturated with sentimentality and offers at least one cringe-inducing scene each episode. Even the season finale had its fair share of awkward moments. What with Quinn, the resident preggers teen, giving birth to her baby as the groups’ arch nemesis choir troop performs “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (As they sing “Mamaaa” she becomes one….dear lord) But the show still manages to, well, be quite watchable. Maybe it’s the casts’ talent. Or maybe it’s the saccharine sentimentality that lies at the heart of the show that makes it so watchable and yet so unwatchable at the same time. The show is simply miles and miles apart other from contemporary teen dramas. The kids on Glee live in Ohio. Not Manhattan or the OC. They live in the “real” world. Their minds aren’t clouded by their bulging wallets. Their parents, when present, actually seem to … well … care. They fall into some of the same pitfalls as characters on other teen dramedies, (teen pregnancy, homosexuality, unrequited love) but with tears and a tune! Glee manages to address the tough stuff with actual feeling.
In his E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, David Foster Wallace claims that, the “next real literary ‘rebels’” will “…treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction.” (Not that I’m promoting Glee as the answer to the problems DFW addresses in his essay…just sayin’.) Instead of relying on “shock, disgust, outrage,” real rebellious fiction in the modern era risks “the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists” and “accusations of sentimentality, melodrama.” Hey, maybe it also risks a few sweaty palms.
April 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Experiencing extreme backlog! There’s actually been a lot lately that I’ve seen/watched/heard that I’d love to write about but lately I just haven’t had the time! Finals have ravaged my existence – last night I actually passed out in my clothes. But since I can’t foresee having the time to update on anything any time relatively soon, I’ll just give some brief synopsizes and hope I’ll get the chance to expand upon them soon!
- Everyone Else: German film (Originally Alle Anderen) detailing the roller coaster ride that is a relationship between two young adults. Gitti and Chris spend their time on a Mediterranean getaway traipsing about Sardina half-naked and being dysfunctional. If you can get past how annoying these characters are (at least they were to me!) then it’s definitely an enjoyable film: Quiet, pretty to look at, uber, uber German.
- “Hadestown:” Folk Opera with Anais Mitchell that details the myth of Orpheus and his love Persephone in a “modern-day post apocalyptic world.” It was fabulous! Sure to be enjoyed by all classics majors, folk-loving nerds, people from Vermont, and white people over 50.
- The Whitney 2010 Biennial: Finally! Finally, finally, finally I saw this! Call me a snob, but I’ve enjoyed previous Biennials much more. It definitely had some very impressive pieces, including some really interesting video, but the walls looked unpleasantly sparse and reminders of the art world’s financial distress were at every corner. Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic …
- The Ghost Writer: Speaking of drama! Exciting thriller showing just how handsome Ewan McGregor always will be and how messed up politics probably really are. It’s difficult not to watch this movie and read too much of Polanski’s personal life into the plot, but if you can get past the tendency to relate every detail to Mr. Polanski’s recent affairs (which eventually I did), it’s a really fantastic, suspenseful thriller. I can’t say it kept me guessing since it was fairly predictable, but it certainly kept the wheels in my head turning the whole time. (And the eyes in my head turning due to Ewan’s beauty.)