Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More blizzardous

I went looking for John Ashbery’s word blizzardous in Google Books and found this passage:

The word “blizzard” seemed to strike many people here as a good novelty, and many looked upon it as a clever American invention of the moment. And yet “blizzard” has long been in Nuttall’s Standard Dictionary, with its proper definition, “a sudden, violent, cold snowstorm.” A modern humorist has invented a novel application of the word. Where anything is absolutely wretched, disastrous and disagreeable, he speaks of it as “blizzardous.” This makes a fearful and strong-sounding adjective that will probably achieve a very great popularity. As we receive some of our most popular and most expressive words from America, it seems only fair that we should occasionally attempt to send them something in return. I really think that “blizzardous” ought to suit some of your people down to the ground.

J. Ashby-Sterry, “English Notes,” The Book Buyer (May 1888).
So a word in a John Ashbery diary entry also shows up in a column by one J. Ashby-Sterry. Crazy! Ashby-Sterry further glosses blizzardous: “I think it a mistake to call some of these expressions ‘slang.’ Slang very often arises by the adoption of technical terms in general conversation, and what is the slang of one generation not infrequently becomes the refined language of the next.”

The Oxford English Dictionary on the origin of blizzard:
As applied to a “snow-squall,” the word became general in the American newspapers during the severe winter of 1880–81; but according to the Milwaukee Republican 4 Mar. 1881, it had been so applied in the Northern Vindicator (Estherville, Iowa) between 1860 and 1870. It was apparently in colloquial use in the West much earlier.
Which would suggest that blizzard was indeed “a clever American invention,” earlier than 1888. The OED’s first definition for the noun blizzard: “a sharp blow or knock; a shot,” with an 1829 citation from the journal Virginia Literary Museum. The verb, “of snow, sleet, etc.: to form a blizzard,” first appears in 1880 in the newspaper The Idaho Avalanche: “Oh, the snow, The bee-yew-tiful snow! It made last night so jolly, you know, Belating the trains and grounding the Wires, as blizzarding over the land it fires.”

[I can find nothing to suggest the identity of the “modern humorist.”]

Martha Penteel


[Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944).]

In a movie full of doors, this one is the oddest. The eye is the doorbell.

A blizzardous Wednesday

From a diary, February 19, 1941. The writer, John Ashbery, was thirteen years old:

Wednesday (written on Wednesday). February 19. Wea. Blizzardous Ther. 16° Today (Wednesday) the weather was extremely blizzardous. The day seemed so much like Wednesday. In English we are reading poems. At noon I walked uptown even though the weather was blizzardous (I think I mentioned that before). I made up the Social Studies which was given on the Friday I was absent. 92%. The marks in the Latin test yesterday were very poor, but I managed to get 100%. For dessert tonight we had a sealtest ice cream cherry pie, a rare treat. After supper I started to illustrate Poe’s “Hop-Frog” But I did not get on very well. I listened to Eddie Cantor and Mr. D.A. Wednesday. Wednesday. I am feeling silly today. Blizzardous. Written (oh definitely) on Wednesday.
This diary passage is reproduced in Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).

Related reading
All OCA Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

[The Oxford English Dictionary has the adjective forms blizzardy, blizzardly, and blizzardous. But no citation for blizzardous.]

“The end of walking”

“There are vast blankets and folds of the country where the ability to walk — to open a door and step outside and go somewhere or nowhere without getting behind the wheel of a car — is a struggle, a fight”: Antonia Malchik writes about “The end of walking” (Aeon).

[Found via Daughter Number Three.]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trump as student

Watching today’s joint press conference with Donald Trump and Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, I thought of characterizations of Trump from associates past and present. These two Trump responses to reporters’ questions put me in mind of a student who comes into an exam with almost nothing to say. Transcriptions from the White House Press Office:

Q: Why would you encourage the U.S. companies to invest in Greece? And how can the U.S. support the Greek efforts to fully turn the page, attract investments, and manage its debt? Thank you.

A: I can say that we have a great confidence in Greece. I think it’s a land of tremendous potential. I know many people are looking to invest in Greece. A lot of the problems are behind it. They’ve had some very good leadership. They’ve really made done a lot of — they’ve made a lot of difficult decisions.

We are helping, as you know, with a massive renovation of their air force and also of airplanes, generally, going to Greece. They’re looking at buying additional planes from Boeing. And we are helping — we’re very much involved with Greece and with helping Greece get back on its feet. We have a tremendous Greek population in this country, people whose heritage is Greece. And we love that country, special country, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. So I think it’s got great potential, and we are helping it along.
There’s nothing in that response to answer the question. And really just one specific: Boeing airplanes, mentioned in Trump’s opening statement.

One more:
Q: Mr. President, you praised Greece’s role in NATO with the contribution and in Souda Bay amid the volatile region of the Eastern Mediterranean. What do you see as the potential of Greece being as a pillar of stability in the region? And what would the U.S. like to see happening in order for Greece to achieve its potential? Thank you.

A: Well, I’d just start by saying that I think it has a great role in stability in the area. We have a feeling that it will get stronger and stronger. Very stable people. It's got the potential to be — once it gets over this tremendous financial hurdle that it’s in the process of working out, we think that there will be great stability in Greece, and militarily and in every way we look at it as very important, and very important to the United States.

We have great confidence in Greece as a nation. We have great confidence in what they’re doing relative to their military, because I know they have plans to do some terrific things. And we know they will be an ally for many, many years to come. You know, they’ve always been a very reliable ally, and we’ve always been very reliable to them. So we look forward to that for many years. We’re going to be friends for many, many years, and stability is very important. And we look upon that, with respect to Greece, as being a key.

Thank you.
Here too there’s just one specific: a financial hurdle. Other than that, it’s all stability, great confidence, and some terrific things. And the emptiest phrasing: “And we look upon that, with respect to Greece, as being a key.” A Greek key!

Imagine these answers not as presidential responses to the press but as responses to exam questions in a college course on foreign policy. I think a D (as in Donald) would be generous.

Separated at birth

 
[The actresses Bérénice Bejo, as seen in The Artist, and Paula Beer, as seen in Frantz.]

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Henry Daniell and Anthony Wiener : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi, 2016). From the director of A Separation (2011), the movie that made me want to see this one. When an apartment building is shaken to its foundations and rendered uninhabitable, two of its tenants, a husband and wife in “the arts” (theater), move to a new building, where their marriage is shaken to its foundations by an assault and its aftermath: the victim’s self-doubt and shame, her partner’s need for revenge. All against a backdrop of Death of a Salesman, whose relevance isn’t always especially clear. A DVD-extra interview with the director helps.

*

Columbus (dir. Kogonada, 2017). In Columbus, Indiana, a town filled with modernist architecture, Jin (John Cho), the son of an dying architectural historian, and Cassandra, or Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young local, meet and talk and walk and look at buildings, again and again. Their relationship (which begins as they stand on opposite sides of a fence) cuts across barriers of age, culture, and class. The leads are excellent: Cho as a son who professes no interest in architecture and resents the gestures of mourning that will be required of him; Richardson as a young woman obsessed with architecture who sees no way to escape her obligations to her mother and get away to college. The film was too perfect, too pretty for me, with virtually every shot displaying symmetry or pleasing asymmetry. And yes, Jin and Cassandra talk about symmetry and asymmetry. But unlike Elaine, I was able to refrain from checking the time while watching. Columbus has had rave reviews, so consider these sentences a minority report.

*

Más Pedro Almodóvar

What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984). Domestic comedy and tragedy, with three dysfunctional generations in a tiny apartment: a grandmother who keeps her mineral water under lock and key, her cabdriver/forger son Antonio, his amphetamine-addled cleaning-lady wife Gloria, a drug-dealing elder son, and a younger son who’s prostituting himself to men. And Gloria’s next-door best friend Cristal, also a prostitute. This movie felt to me like preparation for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

Broken Embraces (2009). A brilliant, richly plotted story of fathers and sons; love, loss, and revenge; and movie-making, informed by the spirits of Audrey Hepburn, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), and Michael Powell (Peeping Tom). With Penélope Cruz and other Almodóvar regulars. Prerequisite: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I now have three favorite Alomdóvar films: All About My Mother, Volver, and this one.

*

Good Morning, Miss Dove (dir. Henry Koster, 1955). Something like a schoolroom version of It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jennifer Jones as an elementary-school geography teacher, strict, severe, devoted to duty, and somehow loved by her students and townspeople. In the one extended scene of Miss Dove (no first name) at work in her panopticon, she interrupts the “lesson” again and again, stopping to address every transgressor of the rules. What’s really being taught here? Not just the products of the Argentine pampas. I was made to read Frances Gray Patton’s story “The Terrible Miss Dove” in middle school. What was that about?

*

L’Argent (dir. Robert Bresson, 1983). “O money, god incarnate, what wouldn’t we do for you?” Bresson’s last movie, all tans and blues, with money as a means not of exchange but of betrayal. A young man passes a counterfeit bill, and that one act proves to have disastrous consequences in other lives, far removed. Bresson works with extraordinary economy, letting the viewer fill in the implications. From a Tolstoy novella, The Forged Coupon.

*

Deux films avec Isabelle Huppert

Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016). Huppert as a philosophy teacher who finds her life — no spoilers — upended. And then — no spoilers — life goes on. I loved this film, which makes intellectual work feel as everyday as any other kind of work. How could I not love a film that begins with a protagonist grading papers while on a family outing? For advanced grown-ups only.

Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 2016). Huppert as the owner of a video-game company, a woman whose life is saturated in violence, sex, and sexual violence. This film is by turns intensely disturbing and strangely funny. It’s like a comedy of musical beds interrupted by scenes of stylized terror, or a whodunit interrupted by scenes of domestic farce. Excellent, but Things to Come is the film I’d choose to see again.

*

Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944). Had we seen it before? Yes? No? Maybe? Yes, I think, years ago. Ray Milland plays a man who stops by a village fête and walks away with a cake that was meant for someone else. Trouble follows. An excellent noirish thriller, with a séance, spies, a great scene on a train, and strong overtones of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. This film makes conspicuous use of doors — one after another, each opening onto new trouble. My favorite moments: the man crumbling cake, Martha Penteel’s doorbell, light shining through a bullet hole.

*

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker (dir. William Gazecki, 2014). Sometimes a movie appears to rise of its own accord to the top of the Netflix queue. I became idly curious about Sophie Tucker after seeing her in
an Ed Sullivan clip that evoked a lost world of stage performance. But Tucker, singer, entertainer, the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, was made, really, for these times. She was frankly sexual and frankly fat, a pioneer of commercial endorsements (in English and Yiddish), and an early social networker, collecting names and addresses in her travels and sending out cards when she was about to play a city. This documentary has too little Tucker, too many talking heads, and several awkward moments of digital trickery to put old photographs into motion. (Why?) Fortunately, YouTube is full of Tucker herself.

*

Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1939). “Garbo laughs,” as the movie poster promises. Ninotchka, Nina Ivanovna Yakushova (Greta Garbo), grim, prim Soviet envoy, comes to Paris to check on the doings of three comrades who have been sent to reclaim jewels from a Russian duchess. Ninotchka proceeds to fall in love with a Parisian count (Melvyn Douglas). The famous Lubitsch touch might now seem like the stuff of a hundred rom-coms since. But those pictures don’t have screenplays by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (and Walter Reisch). “You’re the most improbable creature I’ve ever met in my life, Ninotchka . . . Ninotchka.” “You repeat yourself.” And when Ninotchka asks for raw beets and carrots: “Madame, this is a restaurant, not a meadow.”

*

Frantz (dir. François Ozon 2016). The vaguely Zweig-like premise made me curious about this film: a young woman who has lost her fiancé in the Great War sees an unknown young man leaving flowers at her fiancé’s grave. There's nothing more I can say about the story without giving something away. I can say that Frantz is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (1932), an atypical Lubitsch film (which I first learned of from a DVD-extra interview with Ozon). Frantz is a delight to the eye, filmed in rich black and white with occasional elements of color. Paula Beer and Pierre Niney offer understated, deeply moving performances. If I were running the Academy Awards I'd have chosen Frantz (not The Salesman) as the best foreign-language film of 2016.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Media studies: file drawers, notebook, EXchange name


[District Attorney Brander Harris (Hugh Marlowe), man with a notebook. From the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Fraudulent Foto,” February 7, 1959. Click for a larger view.]

The file drawers caught my attention well before DA Harris took out his notebook. Or pocket calendar. Or whatever it is. When he finds the crucial page (whatever it is), he reads a telephone number aloud: “DAkota 6-7054.” There are many ways to enjoy television. Or whatever it is.

More EXchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City 3 : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

A joke in the traditional manner

Where does Paul Drake keep his hot tips?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite snack of demolition crews? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the produce clerk, the amoebas, the worms, the snack, the toy, the shepherd, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Talia Ivy Raab


[Click for a larger baby.]

Our daughter Rachel and her husband Seth have announced the birth of their daughter, Talia Ivy Raab, born not yesterday but the day before yesterday, Thursday, October 12. Talia weighed in at seven pounds, thirteen ounces. All three Raabs are doing just fine.

[“We’re excited you’re here!”: now the blog-description line makes another kind of sense. Yes, Talia, we are!]