Friday, June 24, 2016

Ted Greenwald (1942–2016)


Ted Greenwald, “Breakout,” from the poem “I Hear a Step,” Common Sense (Kensington, CA: L Publications, 1978).

I pulled another Greenwald book from a shelf and found that it was dedicated to Bill Berkson. The two poets were friends. Bill Berkson died on June 16; Ted Greenwald, on June 17.

Related reading
Bill & Ted (Cuneiform Press)
Remembering Ted Greenwald (Poetry Foundation)

DFW on utilize

David Foster Wallace wrote notes about twenty-four words for the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (2004). In 2011, Dave Madden announced his discovery that these notes, and other notes, from other writers, could be found in the thesaurus included with OS X’s Dictionary app — namely, the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Some of Wallace’s notes are still available in OS X El Capitan; some have disappeared. They all appear as “Twenty-Four Word Notes” in the posthumous Both Flesh and Not: Essays (2012).

The OAWT now titles these notes "Reflections.” You can hear Oxford University Press stepping away, in the manner of a The-views-expressed-do-not-necessarily-reflect disclaimer: “Conversational, opinionated, and idiomatic, these Word Notes are an opportunity to see a working writer’s perspective on a particular word or usage.” Wallace’s opinionated and idiomatic take on utilize appears to have been toned down. Here’s the 2008 OAWT note:



In the 2012 OAWT note (now in the Mac Dictionary app) the twit is gone:



There are other, smaller changes: rather is gone, you becomes he , and “I tell my students” prefaces the observation about pomposity and insecurity. It’s possible that Wallace himself revised this note in preparation for a later edition of the thesaurus. But in Both Flesh and Not: Essays the twit returns:



There are other changes: utilize is now called “noxious”; he becomes (an awkwardly self-conscious, avoiding-sexism) she ; smart becomes sophisticated; formal is uncapitalized. The double quotation marks replacing Wallace’s usual single marks are no doubt an editor’s work. Aside from the quotation marks, I suspect that the Both Flesh and Not version is Wallace’s entry as submitted to Oxford, with both noxious and twit merrily standing.

But all that aside: what I value in this entry is its final sentence: “‘formal writing’ does not mean gratuitously fancy writing; it means clean, clear, maximally considerate writing.” Listen up, students!

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

[There may be a legitimate use for utilize : The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989) says that “More than use , it suggests a deliberate decision or effort to employ something (or someone) for a practical purpose.” But to my mind, utilize suggests a capitulation, deliberate or not, to the pompous style. I have seen and heard the word often enough to have made up my mind.]

From Lucy Gayheart


Willa Cather, Lucy Gayheart (1935).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Ralph Stanley (1927–2016)

The New York Times obituary calls him the “guardian of unvarnished mountain music.”

Rachel and Ben and I were fortunate to see Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys in 2008. (Elaine was at a gig of her own.) It was an unusual performance: trouble with the sound system meant that the group had to play gathered around a single microphone, as in the olden days. Rachel took a photo.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Red Rose redesign

 
[The old and the new.]

It is difficult to find Red Rose Irish Breakfast tea in stores. We hadn’t bought a box in years. When I finally decided to order a few boxes from This Bulging River, I was surprised to see a redesign in the direction of the dowdy. The new design looks older, flatter, plainer. The tea tag is dowdier too. You’ll have to take my word for that, as I have no old tag with which to compare.

Red Rose Irish Breakfast is once again our household’s favorite all-occasion black tea. Better than Twinings, more drinkable than Barry’s or Punjana. Not expensive. And now, dowdy.

*

5:09 p.m.: Elaine found an old Red Rose English Breakfast teabag. Here are old and new tags for comparison. The old Irish tag was of course black and green. The new tag: dowdy!


[The old and the new.]

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

[“This Bulging River”: my name of the moment for Amazon. With apologies to the Mississippi and Waiting for Guffman .]

Another twelve movies

The Sniper (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1952). Arthur Franz as Edward “Eddie” Miller, who kills dark-haired women with a long-range rifle. Part psychological thriller, part police procedural, part policy debate. With Richard Kiley as Dr. James G. Kent, a progressive psychiatrist whose solution to the problem of sex crimes is to lock up offenders indefinitely.

*

Jeopardy (dir. John Sturges, 1953). Barbara Stanwyck plays Helen Stilwin, a wife and mother whose husband Doug (Barry Sullivan) is caught under a jetty’s broken piling — as the tide rises. The only hope of rescue lies with Lawson, an escaped convict (a Brando-like Ralph Meeker). What will Helen have to do to persuade him to help? Lurid and terrifying.

*

To Please a Lady (dir. Clarence Brown, 1950). Midget racers! And many scenes of racing and stunt driving, which must have felt novel and exciting — to someone. Zero chemistry between brash racer Mike Brannan (Clark Gable) and tough syndicated columnist Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck). Their dialogue needs help:

“We’ll win it next year, baby.”

“Or the year after.”
On a DVD with Jeopardy , which is the only reason to watch.

*

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (dir. John Hughes, 1986). Required viewing for anyone who doubts Julius Lester’s contention that the white American male idea of freedom is freedom from — freedom from restraint and responsibility. Hilarious, to be sure, and the battle between Bueller (Matthew Broderick) and Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is a Chicagoland version of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Bueller is charming, clever, and fiendishly indifferent to other people — a perfect psychopath. This film was a crucial one for so many of my students. I’m glad I never watched while I was teaching.

*

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1946). You can go home again, but if you do, it’ll be messy, in more ways than one. How did they ever get the ending past the censors? With Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, and Lizabeth Scott. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers has fallen into the public domain, which makes it reliable fodder for low-budget television programming.

*

Good Ol’ Freda (dir. Ryan White, 2013). The title comes from the Beatles’ 1963 Christmas record: “Good ol’ Freda!” the lads shout. As Brian Epstein’s secretary, Freda Kelly ran the Beatles’ fan club. Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats: “Giving a job like that, to what became the biggest band in the world, to a girl of seventeen, that was an unbelievable thing to do — and she never let them down.” Freda Kelly: “I’m still a Beatle fan.” As the film makes clear, Kelly was and is a deeply private person. Thus there’s not much here in the way of inside stories. George was the best Beatle when it came to signing things for fans — that’s about as deep as we get. Did Freda have an affair with one of the four? She’s not saying.

You can see Freda in the big group photograph at the back of the Magical Mystery Tour booklet: she’s on the far left, the third person from the top, someone’s pointing finger just below her face.

*

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (dir. Les Blank, 1968). The world of a Texas bluesman. Like every Les Blank film I’ve seen, it’s devoid of voiceovers, devoid of plot. Just watch and listen, as the film moves from place to place. The opening sequence, with Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Billy Bizor, is worth the price of admission, or would have been if I hadn’t borrowed Criterion’s Les Blank collection from the library.

*

God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance (dir. Les Blank, 1968). Silent footage of a 1967 love-in at Elysian Park, Los Angeles, with a musical soundtrack added later. Did people really look like this? And was it really fifty years back ? No, only forty-nine years back.

*

Spend It All (dir. Les Blank, 1971). Cajun culture, with music by Nathan Abshire, the Balfa Brothers, and Marc Savoy. Music here, as elsewhere in Blank’s films, is not a matter of performers and their audiences but a form of life — something people do, like eating and drinking. This film might be your only chance to see self-dentistry, with pliers.

*

A Well Spent Life (dir. Les Blank, 1971). A portrait of Mance Lipscomb, a Texas singer and guitarist with a distinctive fingerpicking style (an insistent 4/4 bass) and the eclectic repertoire (blues, rags, pop ditties) of a so-called songster. Music, food, and philosophizing about love and marriage. One favorite moment: the filmmaker’s conversation with Elnora Lipscomb, Mance’s wife, who sits away from the table while eating:
“Could you tell us why you don’t eat at the table with Mance?”

“It’s just a habit I’ve got.”

“How long have you had it?”

“About fifty years.”
She does goes on to explain. Another favorite moment: the freight train that rolls by and blows its horn after a baptism. Sheer serendipity.

*

The Man in the White Suit (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1951). A chemist invents a miracle fabric. Complications ensue. Ealing Studios, Alec Guinness: I had every reason to like this film, but it felt rather dreary. I did notice that Michael Gough appears to have been separated at birth from Benedict Cumberbatch.

*

All or Nothing (dir. Mike Leigh, 2002). Three working-class British families facing daily difficulties and larger crises. A favorite moment: Ruth Sheen’s character taking her turn at karaoke. A viewer who suspects she’s being set up to fail will be caught short: she does a fine job. And her willingness to stop mid-song shows what a good friend she is. There are no ordinary people here.

My affection for this film and other Leigh films makes me feel unhappy about not liking Mr. Turner . (Timothy Spall, who plays J. M. W. Turner, is terrific here as a despairing cabdriver.) If Netflix can ever solve its Availability Unknown problems, our household will soon have seen every full-length Mike Leigh film.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CNN, sheesh

A CNN reporter just spoke of Hillary Clinton bringing in the calvary — Elizabeth Warren et al. No: cavalry .

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[I don’t go looking for this stuff: I just want to see what passes for news.]

Bill Berkson (1939–2016)


[“Call It Goofus” appeared in An Anthology of New York Poets , ed. Ron Padgett and David Shapiro (New York: Random House, 1970. This post is, I think, the poem’s only online appearance.]

Related reading
Bill Berkson, Poet and Art Critic (New York Times )
Bill Berkson, 1939–2016 (Paris Review )

From Lucy Gayheart


Willa Cather, Lucy Gayheart (1935).

Marcel Proust and Wallace Shawn would understand.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

“Close enough”

Verlyn Klinkenborg on helping his father build a house:

“June,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)