News and Notes
A Collaboration with Nature
To any artist who was ever discouraged by the ridiculous cost of materials, Andy Goldsworthy is an inspiration. Finding his subjects in nature, he creates sculptures out of organic objects (stone, wood, leaves, ice, snow) without leaving a permanent mark on the environment. From simple thorn-stitched leaf rainbows and spheres of slate to undulating rivers of fallen trees, Goldsworthy challenges our perception of nature and how to be in harmony with it. A Collaboration with Nature makes one hell of a coffee table book, so don't be surprised if you lose a guest or two, entranced by these amazing photographs.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
This classic screwball comedy features Gary Cooper as a "pixilated" small-town poet who moves to the city after he inherits millions. Jean Arthur is Babe Bennett, the sassy, unsentimental reporter looking for a story. After dubbing Mr. Deeds the "Cinderella Man," she proceeds to lose her slipper to his charm. Our hero finds himself in trouble with the law for his "insane desire to be a public benefactor" until Babe takes the stand in his defense. Bonus points if you can think of a rhyme for Budington.
The Obscure Store and Reading Room
Journalist Romenesko scours the web's newspapers and magazines for those perfect "man bites dog" stories, turning his fascination with bizarre news into this lively and addictive site. It's all here -- the sick, the twisted and the just plain stupid. But what's that? You want more? How about great links to news outlets like AP, Reuters, Liz Smith, and the Smoking Gun. Still not enough? Check out shelf after shelf of underground media -- Duplex Planet to The Palindromist to West Virginia Surf Report.
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
Amazon.com's customer reviews are always a great read, not so much for the advice, but as an unedited transcript of public nuttiness. While the negative reviews are usually the best, you'll rarely see reactions as divided and intense as for Aimee Bender's debut book of short stories. These surreal tales of loss and lust inspire both adoration and venom. You can almost see the spit flying as one reviewer types: "Kafka she ain't!" In the end, the conversation makes for fascinating reading. And, in my humble opinion, so do Bender's stories.
Following close on the heels of Guilty, a 4-CD career retrospective, Bad Love offers darkness from every corner of Newman's personal Pandora's box. You'll hear sad tales from the songwriter himself ("I Miss You") and from a brilliant supporting cast -- the lecher ("Shame"), the historian ("Great Nations of Europe"), the fool ("I'm Dead") -- each character's voice as clear as if they'd stepped straight out of a novel. And while Newman's pop-music idiosyncrasy has always been the distance between the singer and the fictional narrators of his songs, with Bad Love, the distinction seems unimportant -- it's all lies, it's all hilarious, it's all sad, and it's all true.
The radiant Dutch film Antonia's Line offers the story of four generations of strong women in a small village. When Antonia, the matriarch, returns home to her family farm after World War II, her grandeur of spirit infuses the lives of the people around her. The fluid narrative balances Fellini-esque magical realism (village idiots and talking statues) with the certain rhythms of country seasons, while the film's cinematography evokes a 16th-century Flemish landscape inhabited by characters who might have stepped straight out of a Brueghel painting.
While most animation sites seem like works-in-progress at best, the folks at JibJab know exactly what they're doing. Flash cartoons like Capitol Ill, which features Al Gore and George W. Bush busting out stupid-fresh rhymes, are both technically adroit and bizarrely funny. Of all the ways to waste time at work, this is one of the best.
From his early paintings, which featured a single stylized word emblazoned on a solid background, to his recent canvasses of mountain peaks superimposed with seemingly unrelated text, much of Ed Ruscha's work explores the relationship between image and language. Despite this motif, his portfolio is well mixed, including everything from photo-essays documenting gas stations, swimming pools, and parking lots, to a series of paintings stained with cherry extract, egg yolks, and spinach. Always sharp, sometimes enigmatic, Ruscha's art undoubtedly provokes responses just as varied as his subjects and techniques.
Weasel is, among other things, a confession of perversions, a love letter, a pillow book, a loony toon, a book of lush drawings, and an entertaining comic book. The main story, concerning an artist struggling to write a memoir of his obsessive relationship with a full-figured model, is shaping up to be one of the most passionate and personal illustrated narratives ever written.
#1 Record/Radio City
Comprising a veritable Rosetta Stone of modern indie rock, these two albums are the key to understanding everything from the Replacements to the Blake Babies to Nirvana to Teenage Fanclub. Put simply, it's just great power pop. The fact that the music never found much of an audience during the band's lifetime only adds to the mythic vibe. Thankfully, these two gems were resurrected and reissued together on CD in 1992.
Juliette Binoche is captivating in this first of three films representing the colors of the French flag. After surviving an auto accident that kills her husband and daughter, she attempts to wipe the slate of her life clean and start anew. But freedom from the past is not as simple as selling all her possessions and moving to a new apartment. Kieslowski died in 1996, but not before completing his Trois Couleurs with White and Red.
At the age of 40, an unsuccessful Parisian actor and painter named Eugene Atget picked up a camera for the first time and documented his city in a monumental project that would eventually amass more than 10,000 images. Aside from an occasional glimpse of a streethawker or a prostitute, Atget's city is apartment buildings, alleyways, parkbenches, churches, cobblestones, and predawn light. Ansel Adams described these images as "direct and emotionally clean records of a rare and subtle perception." Indeed, Atget Paris is a beautiful, haunting portrait.
Sure, I dropped a ton of money on my last trip to Vegas. If I'd only known of this site, I could have offset those losses with savings! The site's glib tour guide, Casino Boy, tells you everything you possibly need to know about Sin City, from how to score the best comps to where to play 25-cent craps. With its exhaustive reviews of hotels and casinos spun in true smart-aleck fashion, Cheapo Vegas should be your last stop before you hit the strip.
The Wind in the Willows
"He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before--this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver--glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea."
Feelin' Kinda Lucky
Not to be confused with swing-revival poseurs, Big Sandy and the Boys craft original western dance tunes reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s. The Fly-Rite Boys are a tight unit and Feelin' Kinda Lucky offers the group ample opportunity to show off their country-western chops and showcase the always pleasing sounds of the steel guitar. Big Sandy's happy-go-lucky voice blends in beautifully as he belts out simple ditties devoted to loves past and present. Put this album on and you just might find yourself cutting a rug. (EG)
A writer, actor, producer, and director, Dennis Potter is probably best known for his television series, The Singing Detective, a noirish psychological study of a middle-aged mystery writer immobilized in a hospital ward. As in many of Potter's tales, the action moves back and forth between fiction and memory, jumping from a dizzily remembered past to a jarring present, filtered by pain, humor, and hallucination. In Pennies from Heaven, with Bob Hoskins, Potter uses '30s and '40s musical numbers to paint his characters' inner lives; in The Last Interview, he speaks sensitively and insightfully, morphine flask in hand, about his life, work, and his imminent death.
The Cowboy Wally Show
Kyle Baker is a very sick person, and it's obvious the only way he can remain in polite society is by getting his sick ideas down on paper. Fortunately for us, he's also a comic genius with an excellent sense of both absurdity and drama. Here Wally, a beer-swilling, cigar-smoking lunk with a knack for being easily manipulated, leaves behind kiddie shows and westerns to become a talk-show host of some repute (mostly ill). If you want "witty, intelligent, socially redeeming contemporary fiction... with pictures," read Why I Hate Saturn. If you just want to laugh out loud, read this book.
The King of Comedy
A legend in his own mind, Rupert Pupkin is so pathetic it's easy to forget that he's really Robert De Niro, putting in another amazing performance, this time as an intensely delusional would-be comic who kidnaps his idol. Despite a small cult following, this slapstick commentary on celebrity and obsession may be one of Scorsese's most overlooked films. In addition to De Niro, it features fantastic performances by Sandra Bernhard and, in a straight role, Jerry Lewis.
Cry Me a River
Cry Me a River has this wicked and lonely way with its language that creeps along, sneaking up on a reader. Yet once I'd sat down with it, I found myself quaking with mirth. The lawman narrator takes his own sweet and backward time recounting a Southern town's most recent and notable murder, along the way managing to unearth truths about how ridiculous, how brutal, how gentle, and how salacious people are, as they devour their romance novels, as they poke through the contents of a dead man's wallet, or as they sit rocking side by side on a rickety porch, saying nothing whatsoever at all.
Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space
Cleverly designed to look like a prescription drug, this album proves to be a large dose of musical pleasure. Ex-Spacemen-3 guitarist J. Spaceman grasps for redemption through his music, with themes of drug abuse, God, and broken hearts running deep throughout the 12 tracks. Many of the songs start slowly, eventually escalating into full rock n' roll freakout with wild guitar, horns, and organ lending a frenzied revival-style feel to the music. Take this pill to cure whatever ails you, body and soul.
The Honesty Room
The music on The Honesty Room is the sort that gets passed around on third and fourth-generation tapes, building an audience through coffeehouse performances and word of mouth. Williams manages to blend an untarnished innocence ("The Babysitter's Here," "When I was a Boy") with wise reflection and self-knowledge ("In Love But Not at Peace"), and an undertone of responsibility and action ("The Great Unknown"). Dar's guitar is kind, her words are quirky and intelligent, and her songs are well worth sharing. (SC)